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Rogue Heroes

Cover of Rogue Heroes

Rogue Heroes

The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War
The incredible untold story of WWII's greatest secret fighting force, as told by our great modern master of wartime intrigue

Britain's Special Air Service—or SAS—was the brainchild of David Stirling, a young, gadabout aristocrat whose aimlessness in early life belied a remarkable strategic mind. Where most of his colleagues looked at a battlefield map of World War II's African theater and saw a protracted struggle with Rommel's desert forces, Stirling saw an opportunity: given a small number of elite, well-trained men, he could parachute behind enemy lines and sabotage their airplanes and war material. Paired with his constitutional opposite, the disciplined martinet Jock Lewes, Stirling assembled a revolutionary fighting force that would upend not just the balance of the war, but the nature of combat itself. He faced no little resistance from those who found his tactics ungentlemanly or beyond the pale, but in the SAS's remarkable exploits facing the Nazis in the Africa and then on the Continent can be found the seeds of nearly all special forces units that would follow.

Bringing his keen eye for psychological detail to a riveting wartime narrative, Ben Macintyre uses his unprecedented access to SAS archives to shine a light inside a legendary unit long shrouded in secrecy. The result is not just a tremendous war story, but a fascinating group portrait of men of whom history and country asked the most.
The incredible untold story of WWII's greatest secret fighting force, as told by our great modern master of wartime intrigue

Britain's Special Air Service—or SAS—was the brainchild of David Stirling, a young, gadabout aristocrat whose aimlessness in early life belied a remarkable strategic mind. Where most of his colleagues looked at a battlefield map of World War II's African theater and saw a protracted struggle with Rommel's desert forces, Stirling saw an opportunity: given a small number of elite, well-trained men, he could parachute behind enemy lines and sabotage their airplanes and war material. Paired with his constitutional opposite, the disciplined martinet Jock Lewes, Stirling assembled a revolutionary fighting force that would upend not just the balance of the war, but the nature of combat itself. He faced no little resistance from those who found his tactics ungentlemanly or beyond the pale, but in the SAS's remarkable exploits facing the Nazis in the Africa and then on the Continent can be found the seeds of nearly all special forces units that would follow.

Bringing his keen eye for psychological detail to a riveting wartime narrative, Ben Macintyre uses his unprecedented access to SAS archives to shine a light inside a legendary unit long shrouded in secrecy. The result is not just a tremendous war story, but a fascinating group portrait of men of whom history and country asked the most.
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  • From the book Chapter 1

    Cowboy Soldier

    Five months before Operation Squatter, a tall, thin soldier lay, grumpy and immobile, in a Cairo hospital bed. The twenty-five-year-old officer had been brought into the Scottish Military Hospital on June 15, 1941, paralyzed from the waist down. A letter to his mother from the War Office stated that he had suffered "a contusion of the back as a result of enemy action."

    This was not, strictly speaking, true. The injured soldier had not set eyes on the enemy: he had jumped out of a plane, without a helmet or proper training, ripped his parachute on the tail and plummeted to earth at roughly twice the recommended speed. The impact had knocked him out and badly injured his spine, leaving him temporarily blinded and without feeling in his legs. The doctors feared he would never walk again.

    Even before his parachuting accident, the officer's contribution to the war effort had been minimal: he lacked the most basic military discipline, could not march straight, and was so lazy his comrades had nicknamed him "the Giant Sloth." Since being posted to Egypt with the British commando force, he had spent much of his time in Cairo's bars and clubs, or gambling at the racecourse. The nurses at the hospital knew him well, for he frequently popped in during the morning, whey-faced and liverish, to request a blast from the oxygen bottle to cure his hangover. Before his parachute jump landed him in the hospital, he had been under investigation to establish whether he was malingering and ought to be court-martialed. His fellow officers found him charming and entertaining; his senior commanders, for the most part, regarded him as impertinent, incompetent, and profoundly irritating. On completing officer training, he had received a blunt appraisal: "irresponsible and unremarkable."

    Lieutenant David Stirling of the Scots Guards was not a conventional soldier.

    The writer Evelyn Waugh, a fellow officer in the commando force, came to visit Stirling about three weeks after his admission to the hospital. Waugh had been misinformed by the matron that one of Stirling's legs had already been amputated, and he would likely lose the other. "I can't feel a thing," Stirling told his friend. Embarrassed, as Englishmen tend to be when faced with disability, Waugh kept up a steady stream of meaningless small talk, perched on the edge of the bed, and studiously avoided the subject of his friend's paralysis. Every so often, however, he would sneak a surreptitious glance to where Stirling's remaining leg ought to be, and whenever he did so Stirling, with extreme effort, would wiggle the big toe of his right foot. Finally, Waugh realized he was being teased, and hit Stirling with a pillow.

    "You bastard, Stirling, when did it happen?"

    "Minutes before you came. It takes a bit of effort, but it's a start."

    Stirling was regaining the use of his legs. Others might have cried for joy; for Stirling, however, the first sign of his recovery was an excellent opportunity to play a practical joke on one of Britain's greatest novelists.

    It would take two more weeks before Stirling could stand upright, and several more before he was able to hobble about. But during those two months of enforced inaction he did a great deal of thinking—something that, in spite of his reputation as a feckless gadabout, he was rather good at.

    The commandos were intended to be Britain's storm troops, volunteers selected and trained to carry out destructive raids against Axis targets. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had decided that the ideal theater in which to deploy the commandos would be North Africa, where they could conduct seaborne raids...
About the Author-
  • BEN MACINTYRE is a writer-at-large for The Times of London and the bestselling author of A Spy Among Friends, Double Cross, Operation Mincemeat, and Agent Zigzag, among other books. Macintyre has also written and presented BBC documentaries of his work.
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  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 25, 2016
    Macintyre (A Spy Among Friends), who specializes in writing about espionage and clandestine operations, describes the founding and operations of the British Army’s elite Special Air Service (SAS) regiment during WWII, in this well-written and comprehensive history. The SAS was born not from the staff work of military professionals but from the imagination of a very junior officer who was convalescing in a hospital. Macintyre uses unprecedented access to the SAS official records, along with memoirs, diaries, and interviews with the few surviving veterans, to chronicle the major operations, key personalities, successes, and failures of the regiment in WWII. He vividly captures the bravery and the sheer audaciousness of the SAS troopers and their leadership operating hundreds of miles behind enemy lines. Macintyre also illuminates their faults, including failed operations, lack of discipline, and drunkenness. He demonstrates that even in a global war, a few uniquely talented, imaginative, and bold individuals of relatively junior rank can have a major impact. Macintyre delivers a solid history and an enjoyable read that will appeal to those interested in military history as well as readers who enjoy real-life tales of adventure. Agent: Ed Victor, Ed Victor Ltd. (U.K.).

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Rogue Heroes
Rogue Heroes
The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War
Ben Macintyre
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