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Subject: Long Range Desert Group versus aircraft rss

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Mark Johnson
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I've been reading up & playing some games (Who Dares Wins, LRDG) about the famous Long Range Desert Group in Libya (1940-43). One thing that's escaping me is how it stacked up against aircraft. I mean that in two ways. One is that recon (or even attack) aircraft on the Axis side should make a lot of trouble for the LRDG. In fact, the stories ARE filled with accounts of them eluding these aircraft. And that's just it--eluding. I gather that the vastness of this territory, combined with the small size & number of LRDG vehicles, made aerial detection & cracking very difficult. I'm not sure that the Luftwaffe or the Regia Aeronautica had so many planes, either.

Then there's the opposite consideration: why not have Allied planes perform the same mission as the LRDG? For reconnaissance, in particular, I would think RAF planes could be a good alternative. Is it that LRDG ground vehicles could linger over a critical route longer (days) that the trucks were better than planes? For raids behind enemy lines, ordinarily I'd think of aircraft for that mission. Perhaps the distances are just too great, and there weren't sufficient airfields for refueling.
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Joseph McLachlan
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Refueling would definitely be a large concern. LRDG could operate deeper in theater for much longer then aircraft could.

Ultimately though, aircraft can not provide anyway near the level of ISR as operatives on the ground. Even in modern conflict with HD video and drones, recce units are still utilized heavily.
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Ivor Bolakov
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Quote:
why not have Allied planes perform the same mission as the LRDG?


The accuracy of airstrikes at the time was near rock-bottom. You couldn't get the same level of effectiveness in terms of delivering rounds/HE to target.
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Nick West
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An aircraft recce might tell you, "we saw some XXX today".

An SAS team in place will tell you they recorded YY MT an hour passing through Z over the past four days, increasing to KK motor transport per hour over the last day, including 40% POL transporters.
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Nicola S
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You probably have to consider that the primary mission of the LRDG was that of reconnoiter the actual ground ('going' was the term used in their reports) to see if it was suitable for armor. Initially, the Brits were wary that the Italians could 'pop up' from anywhere out of the desert and wanted the LRDG to scout any possible route. When the 8th Army went on the offensive, they were responsible for finding alternate routes with which to surprise the Axis.
As a by-product of these reconnaissance work, they found a back door to the Axis territory that then they exploited for the work that then made them famous.

As a side note, also consider that navigating the vast desert expanses with very small natural features as means to ascertain one's position was a pretty tough challenge. Indeed most of the operations in the air took place in a rather thin belt bordering the sea.

Last but not least, the state of the cartography of those areas was sooo bad at the start of the war that made flying almost blind anyhow (Bagnold used some 1930's Italian Maps and his own notes from the 1920's because British maps were just a huge blank of nothing, and even with those, they discovered that the Great Sand Sea area was actually a lot larger than had been reported on the maps until then).
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Joseph McLachlan
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_viper_ wrote:
You probably have to consider that the primary mission of the LRDG was that of reconnoiter the actual ground ('going' was the term used in their reports) to see if it was suitable for armor. Initially, the Brits were wary that the Italians could 'pop up' from anywhere out of the desert and wanted the LRDG to scout any possible route. When the 8th Army went on the offensive, they were responsible for finding alternate routes with which to surprise the Axis.
As a by-product of these reconnaissance work, they found a back door to the Axis territory that then they exploited for the work that then made them famous.

As a side note, also consider that navigating the vast desert expanses with very small natural features as means to ascertain one's position was a pretty tough challenge. Indeed most of the operations in the air took place in a rather thin belt bordering the sea.

Last but not least, the state of the cartography of those areas was sooo bad at the start of the war that made flying almost blind anyhow (Bagnold used some 1930's Italian Maps and his own notes from the 1920's because British maps were just a huge blank of nothing, and even with those, they discovered that the Great Sand Sea area was actually a lot larger than had been reported on the maps until then).


Have any suggested reading on LRDG?
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Mark Johnson
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InjunJ03 wrote:
Have any suggested reading on LRDG?


A couple that have been recommended to me:

Popski's Private Army, by Peniakoff

Killing Rommel, by Pressfield

I've got the former on hold at the library, and read the second one already. Despite the sensational title--and the fact that it's historical fiction--I found Pressfield's book grounded in enough reality to give me a much better sense of the LRDG, especially the considerations for equipment, logistics, and special driving over that terrain.
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Nicola S
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InjunJ03 wrote:
Have any suggested reading on LRDG?


Start with:
Long Range Desert Group by WB Kennedy Shaw (he was their intelligence officer and was with them since the very beginning)

This will give you a fairly broad overview of what they did and how, it is a first hand account and it is a joy to read (he has a great sense of humor).

Then you could move on to:
Bearded Brigands by Brendan O'carroll
It is OOP, but pops up quite often on ebay for a decent price (if you are in Europe I also have a shop that still sells it).

This is a diary by a trooper part of the LRDG. It gives you a perfect feeling of what it was to be on patrol with them and has stunning pictures taken from the guy himself.

Finally, once you are familiar with their story, you can tackle a serious study of their operations:
The Eyes of the Desert Rats by David Syrett

The guy was a former US Army intelligence officer and tsckles the subject very seriously. A word of warning: he started the book but then he passed away in the middle of it. The book was completed by his wife (with the help of his former colleagues) and unfortunately it somewhat shows through.

Then, two small books about two very specific subjects are worth mentioning.

The first will literally teach you how to use a sun compass for navigating the desert (dead reckoning as they called it) :
The Bagnold Sun Compass - The Long Range Desert Group by Kuno Gross

The second will show just how deadly aircraft were for the LRDG:
Incident at Jebel Sherif by Kuno Gross and Roberto Chiarvetto and Brendan O'Carroll

Finally, if you can find it (I have not yet) there is everything from the man himself:
Sand, Wind and War by Sir Bagnold

HtH

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Nick West
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MarkEJohnson wrote:
InjunJ03 wrote:
Have any suggested reading on LRDG?


A couple that have been recommended to me:

Popski's Private Army, by Peniakoff

<snip>


Popski's Private Army (aka officially No.1 Demolition Squadron, PPA) was an 8th Army Special Forces unit but it was completely separate from both the SAS and the LRDG. Sometimes the three units cooperated or were assigned a joint operation but there were different units, albeit with similar overlapping roles.

My father had a copy, it's still sitting on the shelves at my mother's house but I have not bothered to read it. My brother has (he has friends with 'Hereford' connections, via the British Military Parachute Association) and advised me not to bother - according to his friends the detail is virtually fiction. I would therefore probably treat both suggestions as historical fiction!
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Mark Johnson
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What about this one? I see it's in the reference section of LA's central library.

G Patrol, by Michael Crichton-Stuart (192 pp., published 1975 by Tandem)
 
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Nicola S
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I have not read it, but it is a first hand account by one of the patrol leaders, so it should be good.

And since it is from a library, no risk involved if it turns out a lemon.
 
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_viper_ wrote:

Finally, if you can find it (I have not yet) there is everything from the man himself:
Sand, Wind and War by Sir Bagnold

HtH



There are half a dozen or so on Amazon - BUT the prices are astounding!
 
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Mark Johnson
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Damjon wrote:
_viper_ wrote:

Finally, if you can find it (I have not yet) there is everything from the man himself: Sand, Wind and War by Sir Bagnold


There are half a dozen or so on Amazon - BUT the prices are astounding!


I was lucky enough to find a copy at the public library. A short book I’m racing through eagerly! The LRDG is just one small of his memoir.
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Jason Cawley
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Mark - night exists. That's the main reason a small motorized ground recon force can accomplish more than just scouting aircraft can.

From the thread title I was actually thinking of something else, their successful raids on Axis airfields. The LRDG - or more accurately, the young SAS operating with LRDG guides - destroyed more Axis planes on the ground than Axis planes ever destroyed of them from the air.

Notably, in one raid on 26 July 1942, the young SAS under its founder Colonel Stirling burned 30 Axis aircraft on the ground at Fuka airfield, in the space of 15 minutes. This was just driving onto the airfield in the dark guns blazing, against completely surprised and stunned defenders.
 
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Darrell Pavitt
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One more thing: air navigation in the desert was notoriously difficult. With no GPS, no map displays etc. it came down to a map and guesswork. Aircraft followed roads and geographical features, both of which are conspicuous by their absence in a sandy waste.

Knowing that a force is out there is not much help if you don't know where there is (or where you are!)

The LRDG otoh were skilled at navigating across the desert.
 
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