REVIEW: The Long Range Desert Group in World War II

The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and their work during World War II is the stuff of legends. Not only were these men fighting the Nazis, but they were fighting the elements, daily. This particular book has a ton of pictures that clearly depicts the men, their equipment and their dangerous missions in the Desert. A great history captured in print and in images.

Originally called the Long Range Patrol (LRP), the unit was founded in 1940, in the Egyptian desert, by Major Ralph Bagnold.  Bagnold had two great leaders helping him found the unit, Captain Patrick Clayton and Captain William Shaw. At first the majority of the men were from New Zealand, as the unit added personnel they were soon joined by Rhodesian and British troops and the name was changed to the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).

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The composition of the unit was a 15-man headquarters with Bagnold in charge. There were three sub-units: ‘R’ Patrol commanded by Captain Donald Gavin Steele, ‘T’ Patrol commanded by Captain Patrick Clayton and ‘W’ Patrol commanded by Captain Edward ‘Teddy’ Cecil Mitford. ‘T’ and ‘W’ Patrols were combat units while ‘R’ Patrol was intended to be a support unit.

By June 1941 the LRDG was re-organized into two squadrons: The New Zealand and Rhodesian ‘A’ Squadron with ‘S’, ‘T’ and ‘R’ Patrols, and ‘B’ Squadron with ‘G’, ‘H’ and ‘Y’ Patrols. There was also a Headquarters Section along with signals, survey and light repair sections. A Heavy section initially equipped with four 6-ton Marmon-Herrington trucks were used to provide logistical support by transporting supplies to bases. The unit also had an Air Section, using Waco ZGC-7 and YKC biplanes which transported key personnel, evacuated wounded and performed other liaison tasks.

Bagnold wanted men who were motivated, innovative, self-reliant, physically and mentally tough, and able to live and fight in seclusion in the desert. Bagnold felt that New Zealand farmers would possess these attributes and was given permission to approach the 2nd New Zealand Division for volunteers; over half the division volunteered. Two officers and 85 other ranks including 18 administrative and technical personnel were eventually selected. Once the men had been recruited, they started training in desert survival techniques and desert driving and navigation, with additional training in silent sentry takedowns, stealth kills, radio comms, weapons, and demo.
In the US a TV Show called The Rat Patrol aired on ABC between 1966 and 1968. The show was loosely based on the exploits of four Allied soldiers — three Americans and one Brit — who were part of a LRDG in North Africa during World War II. Their mission: “to attack, harass and wreak havoc on Field Marshal Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps”. The show ran two season with over fifty episodes but it clearly placed Americans into the roles which they did not serve. A move typical of Hollywood’s depiction of heroes in World War II movies of that period.

The LRDG was a formidable combat unit designed to carry out Long Range deep penetration, covert armed recon patrols and intelligence missions behind Italian and German lines. They were considered experts in desert navigation. These men also worked side by side with the SAS and other special forces units. Between December 1940 through April 1943, the LRDG roamed North Africa raising hell and raiding the Germans and Italians formations at will constantly disrupting operations. More detailed info on the LRDG can be found at their Historical Site here, https://www.lrdg.org/.

This book is available on Amazon.com (US),  Amazon (UK) and Osprey Publishing

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