Long Range Desert Group

Long Range Desert Group

The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) was a British Army unit during World War II. The unit was founded in Egypt, following the Italian declaration of war in June 1940, by Major Ralph A. Bagnold with the assistance of Captains Patrick Clayton and William Shaw, acting under the direction of then General Archibald Wavell. The group specialised in mechanised reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and desert navigation. The group was disbanded at the end of the war. The LRDG was nicknamed the "Mosquito Army" by Wavell. Special Air Service soldiers would refer to it as the "Libyan Desert Taxi Service".

During the Desert Campaign of 1940 to 1943 the LRDG invariably operated hundreds of miles behind enemy lines; although its chief function was reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, units of the LRDG (called "Patrols") did carry out some hard-hitting strike operations, the most famous one of which was "Operation Hyacinth", an attack on the town of Barce and its associated airfield, which took place on the night of 13 September 1942.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was to state::"The LRDG caused us more damage than any other unit of their size." [O'Carroll, 2000, p. 189]

Formation and equipment

During World War I reconnaissance and light-strike forces known as Light Car Patrols (LCP) operated against Senussi and later Turkish forces across Egypt and Palestine. These units, manned by Australian and British personnel, used converted Ford Model T cars armed with Lewis machine guns.

Between the wars Major Ralph Bagnold, an officer in the Royal Signals Corps pioneered long range travel and navigation techniques. Travelling extensively throughout Egypt and Libya in Ford Model A trucks he succeeded in negotiating areas hitherto thought impassable. Among other things, Bagnold had made major improvements on the Sun Compass, the new version of which was patented by him and later used by the LRDG. Bagnold's experiences with Italian military forces persuaded him that they posed a major threat to Egypt and the Suez canal in the event of war being declared. With this in mind, in 1939, Major Bagnold proposed setting up a unit similar to the Light Car Patrols which could be used to spy on the Italians. His ideas were roundly dismissed until, through a set of fortunate circumstances, he was able to get his ideas to then General Archibald Wavell who, by the entry of Italy into the war in June 1940, was in command of the British and Commonwealth armies in the Middle East. Wavell immediately saw the merits of Bagnold's scheme and Bagnold was given a free hand to look for volunteers amongst the forces which were available. [ [http://blindkat.hegewisch.net/lrdg/lrdgbeginnings.html LRDG Origins] Retrieved: 16 March 2008] The unit, initially known as the Long Range Patrol, was founded on 3 July 1940. From the start it was thought that Australians and New Zealanders, with their mostly rural backgrounds, would be more self-reliant than their more urbanised British counterparts. However, General Blamey was restricted by a directive issued by the Australian government that Australian personnel were to fight together as the AIF and were not to be parcelled out to non-Australian formations. The New Zealanders were approached next and 150 New Zealand volunteers were then selected with the permission of General Freyberg, the New Zealand commanding general in the Middle East theatre. Bagnold had reasoned that the New Zealanders, being mostly farmers, would be more adept at using and maintaining machinery. Later additions to the group included British and Rhodesian units. An Indian Long Range Squadron was also set up, which operated as a semi-autonomous formation within the LRDG.

During the Desert Campaign, from 1940 to 1943, the LRDG went through several phases of organisation, although in the first year or so it was broadly organised into Patrols of two officers, 28 "other ranks" and four reinforcements manning 11 vehicles. Later it was found that it would be more flexible to split each Patrol into two Half Patrols each of which comprised one officer and 15 to 20 other ranks in five or six vehicles. Each vehicle was manned by a vehicle commander, a driver, who also specialised in maintenance and loading of the vehicle, and a gunner, who was responsible for maintaining all weapons and associated equipment. W/T trucks had a navigator/wireless operator added to the crew in place of one of the gunners.Jenner, List, Badrocke, 1999]

The LRDG gained a well earned reputation as the experts in navigation in the Middle East. The LRDG was also frequently called upon to transport personnel of the SAS, the Free French, Popski's Private Army and other commando units, as well as British and Arab undercover agents. Allied prisoners of war were sometimes rescued as well as downed aircrew, and enemy personnel were often captured by LRDG patrols.


Initially the LRDG used a combination of ex-civilian 30 cwt [30 cwt = a total carrying capacity of 3,360 lb or 1.5 tons] Chevrolet WBs and 15 cwt Ford 01 V8 "pilot cars"; the latter were used by Patrol commanders to scout the terrain ahead of the main unit. From about mid-1941 the 30 cwt Chevrolets were supplemented and gradually replaced by Ford F30 30 cwt 4x4 trucks. Although these vehicles, with their four wheel drive, were good at crossing rough terrain their heavy fuel consumption was a big disadvantage; [Note: The more fuel that needed to be carried the less room there was for other essentials.] another problem was that the engine was mounted partly within the cab - this meant that conditions for the driver and passenger became very hot and uncomfortable. To aid cooling the radiator grills and bonnets of the F30s were usually removed. The Ford 01s were also replaced by 15 cwt Chevrolet 1131X3 4x2, "Indian Pattern".

Converting LRDG trucks for desert use entailed removing the cab roof and doors, replacing the windscreen with "aero" screens and fitting radiator condensers, Bagnold sun compasses, steel sand channels and heavy canvas sand mats, [Note: The steel channels and the sand mats were used to "unditch" a vehicle caught in soft terrain. This entailed unloading the vehicle and digging angled trenches in which the channels and mats could be placed under the wheels. It could be exhausting work.] plus weapons mountings. A number of trucks were also equipped with "aero" compasses of the type used by RAF aircraft and others had magnetic compasses in addition to the standard Bagnold sun-compass. Special wide-tread, low-pressure desert tyres, which could be identified by their "diamond" or square tread pattern, were fitted. Spare wheels were often carried on quick release mountings on the sides of the vehicles, with additional spare wheels being loaded in the cargo tray. Because the trucks carried up to two and a half tons of equipment and supplies at the start of each mission the suspension springs were reinforced with extra leaves.In March 1942 the LRDG began to receive the first of 200 Canadian-built Chevrolet 1533X2 4x2 30 cwt trucks, with a steel Gotfredson 4BI "ammunition body". Each of the Gotfredson bodies had lockers incorporated into the front face and forward of the rear wheels. The body sides were made higher by fitting wooden "greedy boards"; the posts onto which the "greedy boards" were mounted also doubled as weapons mountings capable of carrying a light machine gun. A reinforced post mounting for the rear machine gun was fitted to the rear half of the tray. Another weapons post was fitted to the front left door pillar. Brackets for carrying Lee-Enfield rifles were usually fitted to the rear door posts on both sides of the open cab. The Bagnold sun compass was fitted to the centre of the front bulkhead, above the instrument panel. Most of these vehicles also carried racks of three two-gallon oil cans on the rear of each running board. A good illustration of where equipment was fitted is shown in the photo of "T10" of "T 1 Patrol".

In the case of W/T trucks a special compartment was built into the forward right side of the Gotfredson body in which was fitted an Army No. 11 wireless transmitter and a Philips model 635 receiver; wooden masts for the "Windom" aerial array were fitted on brackets to the "greedy board" above the radio installation and an insulated aerial mount was fitted to the front of the body. The compartment was covered by a bottom-hinged flap which doubled as a table when lowered; in addition the No 11 wireless was covered by a door which slid backwards along the side of the body.

Although these vehicles were two wheel drive an extra low ratio gearbox and powerful straight-six engine meant they could deal with the terrain types traversed by the LRDG. On flat, firm surfaces they could easily reach and cruise at 100 km/h. More importantly, they consumed petrol at half the rate of the F30s which was a vital factor in allowing the unit to carry out successful long-range missions. [ [http://blindkat.hegewisch.net/lrdg/fordchev.html Ford vs Chevrolet] Retrieved 20 March 2008]

From early 1942 the Chevrolet 1131 "pilot cars" were progressively replaced by Willys Jeeps as supplies became available. For several months the Special Air Service took priority over the LRDG when Jeeps were being allocated, the irony being that in several of its early missions the SAS relied on the LRDG for transport. The LRDG took particular delight in salvaging abandoned SAS Jeeps and restoring them back to running order before handing them over to their own patrol leaders. LRDG Jeeps were typically armed with either the Vickers K or .303 Browning machine gun in either a single or twinned mountings. [ [http://blindkat.hegewisch.net/lrdg/lrdgvehicles.html LRDG vehicles] Retrieved: 16 March 2008] From early 1943 Jeeps progressively became the main patrol vehicle as the Chevrolets and remaining Ford trucks wore out. By May, when the Desert Campaign was wound up, the standard establishment had become six Jeeps per half Patrol.

It should be noted that the LRDG maintained its vehicles to a very high standard and boasted well equipped workshop facilities at its base (called "The Citadel") in Cairo and at its forward bases at Kufra and later Jalo. Each patrol went out with a "fitters" truck which was a standard patrol vehicle equipped with tools and spare parts (extra springs, fanbelts, carburettors, clutches, spark plugs etc) sufficient to allow running repairs in the field. This truck always travelled at the rear of the column. The fitter who was part of the crew, was a fully qualified motor mechanic. The drivers of each vehicle were also able to carry out mechanical repairs. Many vehicles were salvaged through some ingenious improvisation; on one mission a truck cracked its differential housing and crushed the cover plate on a rock, completely losing the oil. Towing the vehicle the 1,600 km back to base was impossible. The solution reached was to seal the cracked housing with chewing-gum and to pack the differential with whole bananas. Once the cover plate was hammered back to shape and bolted in place, and a trial run carried out, the 1,600 km journey was completed without any problems. [O'Carroll, 2000, p 41-42.]

At the end of each mission the trucks were routinely overhauled and every four to six months they were taken to the base workshops and, in effect, rebuilt.

LRDG "Heavy" Section

The primary role of the Heavy Section was to establish and provision forward supply dumps for the Patrol units. Initially this unit used four six-ton Marmon-Herringtons, supplied by the "Southern Mediterranean Oil Company". These vehicles, with their six wheel drive, worked well in the desert; each could carry 144 cases of petrol as well as their own fuel and supplies. On occasion they could also be used to transport broken down patrol vehicles back to base. These were later replaced with four 10-ton Whites. In Spring 1942 the Whites were replaced by four Mack NR 9s and soon 20 Ford F60 CMP (Canadian Military Pattern) trucks were added. Captured Italian vehicles were sometimes used, especially the Fiat Spa AS37 light four wheel drive truck. [O'Carroll, 2000, p. 39-40]

Weapons, 1940 to 1943.

[O'Carroll, 2000, p 63 to 73] From the inception of the Long Range Patrol the weapons used and the numbers issued varied, depending on availability. The early "normal" equipment for each patrol was ten Lewis machine guns, four Boys Anti-tank Rifles, augmented by water-cooled .50 Cal Vickers machine guns [Note: To save on scarce water the LRDG used light hypoid oil in the water jackets to cool these weapons.] and a Bofors 37 mm anti-tank gun carried in the back of some adapted Chevrolet WBs and Ford F30s.Personal weapons carried were:
* Lee-Enfield .303 SMLE No. 1 Mk. III or No. 4 Mk. I rifle;
* Enfield .38 revolver No. 2 Mk. I* or Webley .38 revolver Mk. VI;
* Colt 1911A1 .45 automatic pistol.
* Thompson .45 cal M1928A1 or M1 sub-machine gun; 50-round drum magazine or 30-round box magazine.
* Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 Mk. III EY; Extra Yoke – fitted with discharger cup able to fire a No. 36M Mills grenade).
* Several types of grenades were used; Mills bombs, No 68 Anti-tank grenades, and No. 69 grenades were the usual types carried.

From March 1942, with the issue of the new Chevrolets, to May 1943 and the end of the desert campaign, new weapons were introduced:

Vehicle-mounted guns:
* Boys Mk. 1 .55 cal anti-tank rifle. This rapidly became obsolete and was rarely used after March 1942.
* Lewis Mk. I .303; Rendered obsolescent by the .303 Vickers K.
* Vickers K (or V.G.O. for Vickers Gas Operated) .303; The Vickers K, taken from surplus RAF stocks, was the machine-gun most widely used by the LRDG. They were often used in "twin" swivel mounts on the passenger's side of the cab. One Messerschmitt Bf 110 was shot down by a Vickers K operated by Corporal Merlyn Craw MM in December 1941. Also carried by Jeeps.
* Vickers Medium Mk. I .303 and Vickers Heavy Mk. V .50 cal water-cooled machine-guns; mounted on a post in the rear body. The LRDG devised a "swan neck" swivel which was often used. The Vickers tripods were also carried so that the weapons could be dismounted and operated from the ground when needed.
* .303 Browning.303 Mk. II air-cooled; Taken from R.A.F. stocks; the .303 Brownings, originally aircraft weapons, were fitted with improvised butts and firing mechanisms, and were often mounted in pairs. The barrel sleeve featured rows of cooling slots rather than the holes of the American .30 M1919A4.
* .50 Cal. Browning M2/AN air-cooled: This was the light-barrelled version of the Browning, usually used in aircraft of the USAAF, USN and RAF. These started being issued in late September 1942, replacing the Vickers water cooled machine guns and the Boys Rifle.

The LRDG trained on many types of weapons, some of which were rarely used. Others were rejected for operational use or were issued in very small numbers:
* Bren Mk. 1 .303 Light Machine Gun; There is little evidence that Bren guns were used, although they may have been issued in very small numbers. It seems that if the Bren Gun was used, it was usually fitted with a 100-round drum magazine.
* 2 inch mortar; These were carried but were rarely used with the SMLE EY being the preferred weapon.
* Browning HP35 9 mm Para.; A reluctance on the part of the British armed services to adopt automatic pistols meant that the HP 35 was never issued to the LRDG.
* Sten gun 9 mm Para.; never used in action by the LRDG which had access to good supplies of the Thompson SMG, considered to be far superior. Trials of the Sten showed that the early marks especially were prone to jamming and were unreliable in other ways.

Examples of captured weapons:The LRDG made use of many weapons captured from Italians or Germans.
* Breda 20 mm Modello 35 dual-purpose cannon were mounted on the centre bed of several Gotfredson bodied Chevrolets. Replacing the slow-firing 37 mm Bofors, they were hard-hitting and reliable, and could deal with the occasional German or Italian armoured cars which were encountered. These were fed by ten round clips. The main disadvantage was that the vehicles were left with little load space for their own supplies, which had to be distributed among the rest of the patrol. One Breda truck per half-patrol was the standard establishment in 1942. Single or twin machine guns were also mounted in the cab passenger position.
* Breda M37 & M38 8 mm machine guns were the only Italian machine guns considered to be even marginally usable by the LRDG, and they were only used as a last resort if nothing better was available.
* The Erma Werke 9 mm Para. MP40 Maschinen Pistole was often used. Usually called the Schmeisser, this term was a misnomer by Allied soldiers – arms designer Hugo Schmeisser had nothing to do with designing the weapon, although he held patents on the magazine.

Explosive devices:

Land mines were frequently carried and used by the LRDG, the most common being the Anti-Tank Mine GS Mk.II. These were often laid in "strings" across roads or tracks.For sabotage LRDG used Lewes bombs, as well as manufacturing its own design of explosive device, made up with "Nobel's Gelignite" also called "808". These were planted in or against parked aircraft and other likely targets.

Communications equipment

LRDG patrols invariably included a W/T vehicle equipped with an Army No. 11 wireless transmitter and a Philips model 635 receiver. Although the No. 11 was designed for short-range communications, the LRDG were able to transmit over hundreds of km using one and two metre-tall rod aerials and the "Windom" aerial system, which was made up of a wire stretched between two 17 ft high poles. [Note: the LRDG used kilometres to measure distance.] Extra batteries to power the radios were carried by the W/T vehicles (on the Chevrolet 1533x2s these were mounted on the right, front running board).

The W/T trucks carried a fully trained signaller and another qualified operator was carried in another vehicle. In the LRP most of the radio operators were New Zealanders, but the LRDG personnel were all from the Royal Corps of Signals. These men had to be highly skilled in communications and also had exceptional technical abilities in maintaining and repairing the equipment over periods of weeks, without outside help. There were only four occasions in three years of operations when a broken-down radio set had left a patrol unable to communicate with H/Q.O'Carroll, 2000, p. 55]

The rod aerials were generally used at ranges up to 300 km from base; the Windom aerials were used for longer-range transmissions. Although the No 11 set was low-powered the LRDG succeeded in communicating over great distances; the longest communications recorded were made by the Indian Long Range Squadron who transmitted between the Damascus area and Benghazi, a range of over 2,500 km. All transmissions from a patrol were made using Morse code. The Philips receiver was used to pick up time-pips from the BBC, but was also used to play music when the patrol was encamped at nights, if not within listening range of the enemy.O'Carroll, 2000.]

On occasion the wireless truck was also the patrol navigator’s vehicle, being equipped with a theodolite and maps.

Because the wireless/navigator’s truck was so vital, if it was destroyed or disabled the patrol was usually abandoned.

tandard markings

When new all LRDG Chevrolets carried black W.D. numbers L4618+++ [Note: Serial numbers allocated by the War Department to all vehicles used by units of the British and Commonwealth armies.] stencilled in three standard locations: both sides of the upper clamshell bonnets and on the upper third of the right-hand side panels of the tailgate. There was a fourth W.D. number which was supposed to be stencilled across the mid-section of the front bumper, but the location of this could vary.

The only other standard W.D. markings were a black "INSPECTED" stencil and a "PASS"; again the locations of these markings could vary, being either on the front bumper or mudguards.

Patrol markings

Vehicles of the different Patrol units were identified by a letter painted over a vehicle number (eg R 4 of R1 Half-Patrol). Up until about mid-1942 these were usually painted in white over a black, red or dark green circle or rectangle in three or four locations on the vehicle; there was no hard and fast rule about where they were painted. After mid-1942 these were simplified to black letters and numerals on a desert tan background.

During 1942 the LRDG was reorganised several times, so the markings on vehicles could change; as an example the Chevrolet L4618825 "Te Aroha III" of T1 patrol had, in March 1942, the markings ‘T9’ in white on a black (possibly dark green) square on the rear inset panels of the bodywork, and on the tailgate. The name was in white on a black background on the forward left, upper ‘clamshell’ bonnet. By the time of the Barce raid in September 1942 the markings had become ‘T2’, denoting the lead navigator’s vehicle, roughly painted in black on a desert tan background. This was positioned on the square vehicle loading plate on the left-hand front bumper. ‘Te Aroha III’ was also repainted in black on a desert tan background in the original location.

R {New Zealand) Patrol; R1 and R2 ‘half patrols’ used a green Hei-tiki with a red tongue, painted on the front right-side bonnet. On the left was an R letter Maori place name, usually stencilled in white on a black, red, or dark green background rectangle. T (New Zealand) Patrol; T1 and T2 carried a black Kiwi over green ‘grass’ and a Maori name starting ‘Te...’ in the same locations as R patrol vehicles.

W (New Zealand) Patrol; Carried a Maori name or word, usually in black on a yellow strip in the same locations as R and Y Patrols. W Patrol was disbanded in December 1940; its equipment was given to G Patrol and the personnel reallocated to R and Y Patrols. (Photos of an ex-W Patrol truck can be seen near the end of this article.)

S (Rhodesian) Patrol; S1 and S2 had names with a Rhodesian connection (e.g. ‘Salisbury’) painted on the left-hand clamshell bonnet. The trucks were identified with an S over a numeral.

G (Guards) Patrol; vehicles carried no distinctive markings, although some vehicles had the Guards insignia – a rectangle divided into three: dark blue, red, dark blue. This could have the vehicle designation, G over a numeral, in white on the red section.

Y (Yeomanry) Patrol; Y1 and Y2: Personnel from the Yeomanry regiments of the Cavalry Division; Y1 had names of famous drinking establishments (e.g. ‘Cock O’ The North’) on the left side of the bonnet. Y2 had names from the famous ‘Three Musketeers’ series of books (e.g. ‘Aramis’) painted, again, on the left side of the bonnet. The usual Y over a numeral was the vehicle designator. [Jenner, List, Badrocke, 1999. p 24 to 32]

Initial training

During the initial training, Shaw was responsible for teaching navigation, while Bagnold taught communications.

The first training patrol commenced in August with Bagnold taking two Ford trucks, five New Zealanders and an Arab guide to monitor the supply traffic on the Jalo–Kufra track. At the same time Shaw used the other patrols to build up supply dumps along the Libyan border, required due to the huge distances that would be travelled in future.

Combat history

On 13 September 1940 the unit formed its first base at the Siwa Oasis.

They arrived there by driving approximately 240 km across the Egyptian Sand Sea. On 15 September two patrols of the LRDG were engaged in the unit's first combat operations. In this action Captain Mitford's unit traveled via the Kalansho Sand Sea and attacked Italian petrol dumps and emergency landing fields along the Palificata. Meanwhile, Clayton's group passed through Italian territory to contact the French forces in Chad. It is believed that the LRDG helped persuade the forces there to join the Free French Forces.

The patrols joined at the southern tip of the Gilf Kebir (where a supply dump was located) and then returned to Cairo via the Kharga Oasis. Each patrol had traveled approximately 6,000 km.

Following the September expedition the War Office approved a doubling of the unit's size, its renaming and the promotion of Bagnold to lieutenant-colonel. The enlarged unit gathered volunteers from British, Indian and Rhodesian units.

Bagnold wrote, "During the next few months, raids were made on a number of enemy-held oases...isolated garrisons were shot up...the raiders seemed to appear from a fourth dimension...Graziani was beginning to doubt his intelligence reports [and] the Italian army halted for...months."

Chad and Kufra

In September 1940 Bagnold travelled to Fort Lamy, Chad, where he helped persuade the French colony to join the Allies. The LRDG and Free French forces worked together to raid Italian positions in the area of the Murzuk Oasis and the combined forces, using French artillery, captured Kufra. In April 1941 the LRDG's headquarters was moved to Kufra. Bagnold wrote, "Temperatures exceeding 50 °C were found to be tolerable, even on a restricted water ration, owing to the dryness. The worst discomfort came from...sandstorms, which lasted several days. They made eating very difficult."

From Kufra the LRDG commanders would essentially serve as the military commanders of a region approximately the size of northern Europe, a region which had not seen rain in 70 years.

During the summer of 1941 Bagnold recruited another pre-war exploration companion, Guy Lennox Prendergast, to serve as his second-in-command. On 1 July Bagnold left the unit to serve in Cairo as a full colonel and Prendergast became the LRDG's commander. Prendergast would be succeeded by John Richard Easonsmith (always known as 'Jake' Easonsmith) who was followed by David Lloyd Owen.

The LRDG air link

The LRDG maintained a secret airstrip between Kufra and Siwa used by their WACO aircraft to bring up personnel and special supplies, such as vehicle spares, and take out the sick and wounded. These aircraft were purchased privately by Guy Prendergast after the RAF refused to supply any. They were piloted by Prendergast and New Zealander Trevor Barker, always accompanied by a navigator, often Shaw, as the WACOs did not have radios.

"Operation Hyacinth"; The attack on Barce

In early September 1942 two LRDG patrols under the command of Major J. R. Easonsmith left their Egyptian base at Faiyum with orders to "Cause the maximum amount of damage and disturbance to the enemy". The destination was Barce, approximately 80 km north-east of Benghazi on the main coast road. [Note: The town, called Al Marj in Arabic, was devastated by a major earthquake in 1963. A new city, now with a population of some 120,000, was built some 5 km away. [http://i-cias.com/e.o/marj.htm Al Marj] Retrieved: 1 April 2008] This was a major administrative centre of the Italian colonial government of Libya and there was a large airfield on the north-eastern side of the town. G1 patrol, commanded by Captain J. A. L. Timpson, and T1 patrol, led by Captain N. P. Wilder, between them had a total of 47 men in 12 Chevrolet 1533X2 trucks and five jeeps. They were accompanied by Major Vladimir Peniakoff and two Senussi tribesmen who belonged to the Libyan Arab Force. Opposing them in Barce were a company of the "Polizia dell'Africa Italiana" (Italian-African Police) with Autoblinda AB.41 armoured cars, a company of "Carabinieri Reali" (Royal Carabiniers), "8ª sezione Camicie Nere" (8th Blackshirts section), "XVII Battaglione Mitraglieri" (17th Machine-gun Battalion), "10ª compagnia Carri L" (10th Light Tank Company) with L3/35 tankettes and a battery of 12.7 cm guns (captured British 60 pounder guns) of "51° Gruppo Artiglieria" (51st Artillery Group).On the Barce airfield were the "35° Stormo da Bombardamento"' (35th Bombing Wing), less a "Squadriglia" (squadron/flight), equipped with Cant Z.1007bis triple-engined bombers, and "131ª Squadriglia" of "66° Gruppo Osservazione Aerea" (131st Squadron of the 66th Air Observation Group) equipped with Caproni Ca.311 twin-engined observation aircraft.

Several other units of cavalry, Carabiniers and irregular Libyan manned units were in the area. [O'Carroll, 2005, pp. 42-43]

On the outward journey misfortune struck the Guards Patrol when Captain Timpson's jeep had rushed up a razor-back sand-dune and capsized over the top, forcing the evacuation by a Lockheed Hudson of Timpson and his driver, Guardsman Thomas Wann. [Note: This was done from a remote location, marked by a 1.5 metre tall marker called "Big Cairn" about 700 km south-east of Barce.] [O'Carroll, 2005, pp. 32-35]

The LRDG reached Benia, about 24 km to the south of Barce, on 13 September and set up camp on a hill in a belt of trees; the 1,858 km journey had taken 11 days. One truck had been concealed at a rear rendezvous point, later called "G5" along with small supplies of rations and water. [O'Carroll, 2005, pp. 35-36] For the rest of the day the trucks were hidden amongst the trees while the men prepared their weapons and explosives; at 3 pm Major Easonsmith held a final briefing; the main targets would be the main barracks and headquarters near the centre of the town, which would be taken by G Patrol, while T1 Patrol would attack the airfield

The Indian Squadron

In late 1941 an Indian Squadron of the LRDG was raised from the British and Indian Armies, and operated behind enemy lines independently of the rest of the LRDG, throughout 1942. It was disbanded in 1943.

One of the Officers was Sujan Singh Uban who was awarded the Military Cross for Gallantry. He later rose to become a Major General in the Indian Army and formed the elite Tibetan force, the Special Frontier Force as its Inspector General.

The LRDG's Royal Artillery unit

In August 1941 an artillery unit was formed to be able to attack Italian forts more effectively. Initially it consisted of a 4.5 inch howitzer carried on a 10 ton truck, with an accompanying light tank as an armoured Observation Post, however these were handed over to the Free French at Kufra. The unit was then issued a 25 pounder portee (truck mounted and fired). After successfully attacking and capturing fort El Gtafia, the truck had to be abandoned and the experiment ended.

The road watch at Marble Arch

One of the LRDG's most valuable contributions was the constant watch on traffic along the Tripolitanian coast road, deep behind Axis lines. A two-man team would hide up in a wadi and before dawn settle down under whatever cover they could find within a few hundred yards of the road. All day every movement was noted and categorized, using powerful binoculars and up-to-date photographs of enemy vehicles, then regularly radioed to HQ.

Later operations

After the end of the African campaign, the LRDG was trained in mountain warfare at the Cedars of Lebanon Hotel, in Lebanon. They were also trained in parachute operations. The unit went on to serve in the Greek islands (see Battle of Leros), Italy and in Normandy.


* An original truck, recovered from the North African desert, is held by the Imperial War Museum.
* There is a war memorial at Papakura army base, in Auckland.
* Several private replicas of LRDG vehicles have been built in the UK, America and New Zealand.

Popular Culture

Various fictionalizations based more or less on LRDG's desert period:

* "Play Dirty", a 1968 film starring Michael Caine.
* "The Rat Patrol", American TV series 1966 - 1968.
* "Sea of Sand", 1958 Film, directed by Guy Green, starring John Gregson and Richard Attenborough
* "Killing Rommel", 2008 novel, by Steven Pressfield

W8 "Waikaha" at the Imperial War Museum

Pictures of the only original LRDG truck known to be in existence, at the Imperial War Museum, London:

ee also

* History of the SAS
* Popski's Private Army, irregular British special forces in North Africa and Italy.
* Sudan Defence Force
* North African Campaign
* Western Desert Campaign
* Moore's March
* Erwin Rommel
* Hans-Jürgen von Arnim
* Afrika Korps
* Panzer Army Africa
* László Almásy, Hungarian / Axis long range desert specialist. Depicted with the addition of many fictional elements in The English Patient.
* Auto-Saharan Company, an Italian unit which carried out similar roles to the LRDG.




* Gower-Collins, Clive. "Raids, Road Watches, and Reconnaissance: New Zealand's involvement in the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa, 1940-1943" MilitaryHistoryOnline.com
* Jenner, Robin; List, David; Badrocke, Mike. "The Long Range Desert Group 1940-1945: New Vanguard 32". Botley, Oxford UK: Osprey Publishing, 1999. ISBN 1-85532-958-1
* O'Carroll, Brendan. "Bearded Brigands: The Diaries of Trooper Frank Jopling". Wellington, New Zealand: Ngaio Press, 2002. ISBN 0-9582243-2-3
* O'Carroll, Brendan. "The Barce Raid". Wellington, New Zealand: Ngaio Press, 2004. ISBN 0-9582243-8-2
* O'Carroll, Brendan. "The Kiwi Scorpions". Devon, UK: Token Publishing Ltd, 2000. ISBN 1 870 192 41 9

External links

* [http://www.lrdg.org Website of the Long Range Desert Group Preservation Society]
* [http://www.lrdg.de Another LRDG site with background information on vehicles and equipment, and an extensive bibliography.]
* [http://blindkat.hegewisch.net/lrdg/lrdg.html LRDG 1940-43, Exploits in the desert with extensive information on weapons, personnel, and equipment. (Also includes detailed annotated bibliography.)]
* [http://mcwarr.orcon.net.nz/genealogy/leslie/leslie.html, Biography and photographs of Trooper Leslie Angus McIver, who was a member of the LRDG from early 1941 until his capture on 23 November 1941. McIver died on 16 February in a Polish hospital after being mortally wounded during evacuation from Ruckenwaldau (now Wierzbowa, Poland) POW camp.]
* [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Epi-c2-WH2-1Epi-e.html Raids in the Fezzan - description of LRDG and Free French operations in Libya from the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre]
* [http://www.specialforcesroh.com/browse.php?mode=viewc&catid=13 LRDG Roll of honour, awards and images.]
* [http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbeitskommando_10001 Arbeitskommando 10001 Rückenwaldau - Germany (now Wierzbowa - Poland) - Agency Camp German Stalag VIII-A Goerlitz = Filia niemieckiego obozu w Rückenwaldau - obecnie Wierzbowa, Polska.]
* [http://www.vickersmachinegun.org.uk/ The Vickers machine guns, including the .303 calibre "Medium" water cooled and .303 K and the .50 calibre "Heavy" water cooled.]
* [http://www.mrzsp.demon.co.uk/mwtc/index.htm Mountain Warfare Training Centre "The Cedars", Lebanon, 1942-1944]
* [http://www.ngatoa.com/news.php Nga Toa meaning "Many Warriors" in the Maori language is a project dedicated to preserving the oral histories of New Zealand’s last remaining World War II veterans.]

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