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Churchill’s Shadow Raiders by Damien Lewis
Churchill’s Shadow Raiders by Damien Lewis explores the Special Forces established by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in response to the airborne operations of the German military. The story shows how Churchill was one of the few people with enough insight to create a commando unit.
In February 1941 thirty-eight members, known as the X Troop, was sent on their first mission. Dubbed Operation Colossus, these men were sent into Southern Italy to destroy the aqueduct near Calitri. The original reports labeled this mission as a failure because the aqueduct was not fully destroyed and most of the Allied troops were captured. Yet, Lewis disagrees and explains in the book why the mission was actually successful. Lessons taken from the operation provided the British military with valuable operational and technical experience that helped shape future airborne operations, such as Operation Biting.
A second mission happened in February 1942. The airborne commandos were sent to raid the German coastal radar installation in northern France. Because of the German’s extensive coastal defenses, it was decided to do an airborne raid instead of a seaborne raid. Under the command of Major John Frost, they parachuted into France a few miles from the installation. The raid was completely successful since there were few casualties, and the radar was brought back to England. Basically, the German radar was neutralized after the English studied the parts.
Anyone who wants to learn more about the origins of the British Special Forces should read this book. It intertwines historical research and eyewitness testimony to tell the untold story of heroism, courage, and ingenuity.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Damien Lewis: I was speaking at a Military Literary Festival when someone approached me about the radar wars of WWII. There was an entire collection of documents, and I was able to examine them. This was the start of the book journey.
EC: Can you talk about Operation Colossus?
DL: It was the first airborne operation by Special Forces. It has been called a disaster, but is actually a success. The reason it was called a disaster was the surveillance photos seemed to show the aqueduct intact. Unfortunately, once a mission is declared a disaster in official reports it is almost impossible to turn it around.
EC: Why do you disagree with the official report?
DL: Those involved were quite clear that they blew the aqueduct up. They actually put out of action the Italian ports that depended on the aqueduct and proved that airborne operations could succeed. The Italians were unable to get fresh water for two weeks.
EC: What were the results from this raid?
DL: The Italians were terrified on how the British penetrated their air space. They put armed guards on all the key railways, aqueducts, and roads. This took the Italian troops away from the front lines. This also showed how the Allied forces could strike behind enemy lines. Colossus enabled the next operation, Biting, to succeed.
EC: Please explain Operation Biting?
DL: The radar was taken right under the German noses. The equipment was stolen. The results were that the Germans now understood the British have the capability to go behind enemy lines. After Hitler was told he transferred anyone in charge of guarding it to the Eastern Front. It also enabled the British to “blind” some of the radar.
EC: What was Churchill’s role?
DL: Without him none of the operations would have happened. He was willing to think the unthinkable. Dudley Clark, a British commander, came forward in early 1940 and told Churchill he wanted to form a unit of commandos to strike deep into enemy lines. Even though there was universal opposition from everyone in the high military command and politicians, Churchill succeeded in forming the unit. He was single-minded and undoubted in his belief that this was the way to fight the war.
EC: Were there other heroes?
DL: Colonel Clark who proposed to Churchill the creation of the commando unit.
Reginald Victor Jones who was a called the scientist to the spies. He was assigned to the intelligence unit, and was closely involved with the scientific assessment of enemy technology, along with the development of offensive and counter-measures technology. He solved a number of tough scientific and technical Intelligence problems during World War II.
Major John Frost who led the Operation Biting raid. He was one of those leaders who inspired his men to follow him into battle anywhere. Most of the men did not think they would return alive, but they did.
Royal Australian Navy Commander F. N. Cook who was in charge of the flotilla that would be used to rescue the commandos. He had orders not to go close to the beach unless he sees a signal from Frost. Because of the mist no one could see anything. He made the decision single-handedly to go against the orders and went towards the shore. This enabled the men and the radar to be rescued.
EC: How was Operation Overload, the Battle of Normandy, affected?
DL: Hitler ordered barbed wire to be strung around the installations after Biting. What happened was that the grass under this wire could not be cut. The result was that dark green circles grew up under all the German radar sites making the sites very visible and easily photographed. This allowed Allied commanders to determine which radars to destroy or “blind” prior to D-Day and which to keep operational.
EC: Why keep any operational?
DL: There were these Ghost Fleets that were decoys. The radar sites were purposely left intact for the Germans to see the Ghost Fleets and report wrongly where the landing would take place.
EC: What about your next book?
DL: It is about those SAS Paratroopers who went into France after D-Day to sabotage German trains and roads. It follows the stories from deployment to the end of the war and how they survived.
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Churchill’s Shadow Raiders by Damien Lewis
From award-winning war reporter Damien Lewis comes a blistering account of one of the most daring raids of WWII–and the top-secret weapon that changed the course of history . . .
In the winter of 1941, as Britain faced defeat on all fronts, an RAF reconnaissance pilot photographed an alien-looking object on the French coast near Le Havre. The mysterious device–a “Wurzburg Dish”–appeared to be a new form of radar technology: ultra-compact, highly precise, and pointed directly across the English Channel. Britain’s experts found it hard to believe the Germans had mastered such groundbreaking technology. But one young technician thought it not only possible, he convinced Winston Churchill that the dish posed a unique and deadly threat to Allied forces, one that required desperate measures–and drastic action . . .
So was launched Operation Biting, a mission like no other. An extraordinary “snatch-and-grab” raid on Germany’s secret radar installation, it offered Churchill’s elite airborne force, the Special Air Service, a rare opportunity to redeem themselves after a previous failed mission–and to shift the tides of war forever. Led by the legendary Major John Frost, these brave paratroopers would risk all in a daring airborne assault, with only a small stretch of beach menaced by enemy guns as their exit point. With the help of a volunteer radar technician who knew how to dismantle the dish, as well as the courageous men and women of the French Resistance, they succeeded against all odds in their act of brazen robbery. Some would die. Others would be captured. All fought with resolute bravery . . .
This is the story of that fateful night of February 27, 1942. A brilliantly told, thrillingly tense account of Churchill’s raiders in their finest hour, this is World War II history at its heart-stopping best.
First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros
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Churchill’s Shadow Raiders by Damien Lewis
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3 thoughts on “#TalkTuesday #Interview with author Damien Lewis #TeaserTuesday #TuesdayBookBlog #TuesdayThoughts”
I love reading anything about WWII. This book sounds really interesting.
Churchill is a very appropriate topic right now as an example of leadership.
This sounds like an interesting book.