Raiders from the Sea, John Lodwick

Raiders from the Sea, John Lodwick

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"I dream'd that Greece might still be free" (Byron)

This is the story of the Special Boat Service and its exploits in the Mediterranean during WW2, chiefly among the Greek islands. It is a paperback reprint of a 1947 original (then published as 'The Filibusters'), written in the summer of 1945 while memories were fresh, by the Dartmouth-educated author (who also wrote a novel about that place, pre-war, which Their Lordships must have much enjoyed reading). Lodwick (1916-1959) was himself a member of the SBS, as was Lord Jellicoe, his boss, who contributed the Foreword.

The first fifty pages document the SBS' confused beginnings, operating often with and sometimes under command of the SAS. Spring 1943 finds the SBS more autonomous, based near Haifa under Jellicoe, and entering a period of reconnaissance and hit and run raids among the Greek Islands. By August 1944 they were headquartered in Italy, exchanging the Aegean for the Adriatic, often ferried to and fro by much-appreciated RN motor launches. There follows the SBS' campaign in Greece, often with in conjunction with the RAF Regiment, which led to that country's early liberation although deliberately impeded by Communist partisans, who were working not for liberation - others could die for that - but for the eventual civil war. The Communists proved equally obstructive to the SBS in Crete and, under Tito, in 1945 in Istria;

The story of this crew of eccentric, often weird, but sublimely brave and resourceful individuals is skilfully woven. They come across as titans, many Scots or Irish, men born for war whose tattered and unpolished boots most men today are not fit even to lick. Their success rested on seizing and keeping the initiative via boldness, taking that extra margin of risk, perseverance and shock. It is, for us, a window on another world, where the death of friends had to be accepted and the war got on with, with none of the grief-fest that erupts today when even some completely worthless 'celebrity' dies. Not that Lodwick is insensitive; but he marks the bad times in a sub-fusc way that is the more effective for the dignity of his expression. As he put it 'The best were always taken'. This contrasts with the generality of the narrative where the tone is laconic, marked by sardonic humour. He writes with a novelist's style - for that is what he was - but always with an awareness that the subjects are real people, on real and deadly operations.

The narrative is peppered with accounts of German atrocities and war crimes, mostly the murder of civilians but also the maltreatment and murder of some captured combatants.

There are 35 photographs grouped in the centre of the book, and several maps, which are helpful but sometimes difficult to read.

Reprints like this are so valuable, let there be more of them. The heroes of these stories deserve such memorials. Lodwick - he ex-French Foreign Legion and ex-SOE before joining the SBS - closes with some reflections on war, by one who had seen rather a lot of it.

"It takes all sorts to make a war" - un-named General in Cairo.

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