Book Review: "Rogue Heroes" tells the story to its fullest extent

Ban Macintyre's book "Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War" was published in 2016. It tells the story of the British L-Detachment, also known as the Special Air Service. (Simon Cocks/Creative Commons)

War is cruel. It’s twisting and steeped in strategy, and utterly unconventional. It isn’t just fought by soldiers on the front lines, or with trenches and guns and bombs; it’s fought with pitfalls, discreetly planted mines, whispers and espionage in the shadows, with corpses and ruses and betrayal.

War is won through surprise.

This is illustrated in Ban Macintyre’s 2016 historical book “Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War.”

The book is, as the British would say, exactly what it says on the tin: the accounts, triumph and perils of the British L-Detachment, also known as the Special Air Service, who went behind the front lines and covertly blew up German and Italian planes, storehouses, vital supplies and machinery in the deserts of Northern Africa, through the valleys and mountains of Italy and one final, desperate last push through the heart of fascist Germany.

The idea of the SAS was first conceived by the boyishly charming and rebellious David Stirling while recuperating in a hospital following an unfortunate parachuting accident. With the aid of the stringent and inventive Lt. Jock Lewes, along with a temperamental international rugby player, a diplomat-turned-soldier after joining the British Parliament and a brave set of volunteers, these men helped Britain push through the Axis forces and win the war that changed the world.

Macintyre takes care to bring each character of the SAS alive, with their determination, love and losses all pushing through to the reader. Each character highlighted has their own unique history, and it makes you appreciate the individuality of not just the SAS, but of every human who has fought in any war. This makes their deaths, whether through injury, enemy or cruel execution (which became far more prominent in the later days of the war when Hitler issued an order calling for the death of thousands of prisoners) all the more painful.

Though the L-Detachment, and the story, starts out almost jovially with the introduction of Stirling and his shenanigans to get certifications and supplies for his newborn regiment (including climbing over a fence to get to a general so he could get some papers signed), it quickly turns grim when the very first operation of SAS goes sour, causing the deaths of dozens of men.

Though there are bright spots, victorious missions and intervals of humor, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for a betrayal from an internal spy or for cruel tragedy to strike and down more people.

Then you look up from the page and realize that it all really happened.

Perhaps the most triumphant and heartrending moment is when a squadron of the SAS inadvertently liberates the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Northern Germany. The sight of so many people, starving and killed by guards for the simple act of trying to obtain more food, drives many of the soldiers to nausea. Perhaps the best moment is when one of the SAS soldiers, upon seeing a guard relentlessly hitting a prisoner, goes up to the Nazi and decks him in the face.  World War II was absolutely formative in the shaping of today’s society. Though it’s only a couple of decades away from being a century ago, it still matters and we must not forget what it means, the terror and that war is almost never fought solely on the front lines.

“Rogue Heroes” tells this story to its fullest extent. 4.5/5 Polish artillery bears.


Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.