Friday, 10 January 2014

Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II - Michael Dilley

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

Title: Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in
World War II
Author: Michael F. Dilley
Pages: 262
Publisher: Casemate Harvard University Press
Photos/Maps: 30 b/w

Michael Dilley has drafted an interesting work outlining the role of Special Operations in the execution of tasks during World War II. Utilizing criteria established by spec ops authors William H. McRaven and Lucien S. Vandenbroucke, he drafts a synopsis of an operation and then provides an evaluation of the planning and execution against the identified criteria. Additionally, he has divided his book into two distinct sections; the first relating to operations behind enemy lines and the second referring to operations behind friendly lines.
While Mr Dilley’s book provides some interesting insight into the operations that he has selected and draws attention to previously little known capabilities/units (such as the Japanese ‘Golden Kites’) I felt that his criteria for selection and review left me somewhat confused. Modern criteria will divide forces into Tier 1 and Tier 2 units; Tier 1 being the small unit assault for specific missions and Tier 2 being those units such as Rangers or Parachute regiments that require additional training and specialization. That being the case, his focus, I would suggest, is somewhat broader than Special Operations and more attuned to Special Forces.
A number of his reviews such as that of the Russian ‘Locusts’, Japanese ‘Golden Kites’ and the ‘Triple Nickle’ are confusing as they appear to be more along the line of standard parachute unit assaults or, in the case of Triple Nickle, aid to civil power. The exclusion of units such as the Italian Decima Flottiglia MAS attack on the port of Alexandria in 1941 was very surprising with its absence. Additionally, I noted that there were no footnotes supporting any of the narratives.
What was positive was the provision of a bibliography at the end of each chapter relating specifically to the missions discussed. Also, I did like the synopsis in the appendices which laid down the evaluation techniques of spec ops in detail.

Overall, a high production value book that sheds light on a number of units and missions that have faded from collective memory; from the perspective of viable case studies however, of limited benefit. I give this an average recommendation.

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