Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Daring Dozen - Gavin Mortimer

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in Sabretache Journal. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the Journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact:  Website for the Journal is:

Title: The Daring Dozen
Author: Gavin Mortimer
ISBN: 978-1-84908-842-8
Pages: 303
Photographs: 14 b/w

It has been commonly said that necessity is the mother of invention, certainly in the case of warfare many obstacles are removed as the operational need outweighs tradition and convention. Mortimer's book The Daring Dozen, tells the story about twelve unconventional warriors and the impact that they made on the outcome of the Second World War. His approach is to provide an overall introduction to the nature of and what contitutes special operations followed by twelve chapters each dedicated to an individual and their exploits. He focuses upon the UK, Italy, US and Germany and it is interesting (and somewhat telling) that the USSR and Japan do not have any additions.

What is fascinating about the book is the similarity of challenges faced by Special Forces' advocates in each of the countries and also the common personality threads that each of the national advocates shared. In almost every case, the individuals behind the creation of these organizations were considered to be poor traditional soldiers (not in terms of ability but in terms of acceptance of status quo) and faced significant resistance to their “out of the box thinking”. They also tended to have a short fuse when it came to dealing with conventional chains of command.

Mortimer has not provided a conclusion with his work. This is not a significant issue in my opinion as his focus is upon the individual leaders not the concept of special forces themselves. What is noteworthy to be gleaned from the studies is insight into why some countries were more successful than others regarding the development of special operations. For example, the question relating to why the Germans never developed an equivalent force to the UK’s Long Range Desert Patrol is interesting. After all, they both operated in the same environment and the Germans had shown a marked ability to think non-traditionally (note the airborne glider attack on Eben Emael). It would appear that the appetite for the development of operations outside of the conventional envelope was much more limited within Germany than in the UK.

The author approaches his subjects as unique chapters. Therefore the book may be read in individual chunks without losing any of the flow or content. This is beneficial if you have an interest in the subject but little time to read. The approach and layout is similar for each; topics are traced from their pre-spec ops period and followed as they developed into the driving force behind their nations’ operational development. Through this, challenges, operations and successes are identified and discussed. Additionally, the difficulty many had in the post war period is also discussed in some detail. One can imagine the shock of trying to transition from a semi-autonomous fighting commander involved in high risk, high adrenaline activities to suddenly finding oneself once again under the scrutiny of conventional forces in a peace time environment; many, understandably, had significant difficulty transitioning. Also of interest was the change in attitude of the Governments towards the post war maintenance of special ops forces. In many cases units were summarily disbanded (such as the SAS) as Governments and conventional militaries could not appreciate a continued requirement for their skill sets.

Overall, this was an informative and well researched book. It was not a difficult read and serves as a good introduction to the major players of the early special operations communities. What we take for granted today regarding the use of special forces in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan owes its conception to those pioneers reviewed in this book. Naturally, the degree of detail for each individual is limited due to the amount of space allotted to them; nevertheless, I would recommend this book as a solid general history of the inception of Special Forces.

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