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John Lodwick

Greenhill Books

paperback, 240 pages

23.3 x 15.5 cm format

35 black & white illustrations

Suggested retail: GBP 14.99


Verdict: A page-turner, but with a caveat.



"Half a mile offshore the officer made a prearranged signal with a torch. He sighted the submarine on his starboard bow. The two men boarded her from the gun-platform. The canoe was passed inboard and dismantled. The submarine got underway. Some ham sandwiches remained in the ward-room. The canoeists had eaten five or six of these when the officer was called for from the bridge. He mounted the steel ladder in time to see a train entering the far end of the tunnel. Fifty seconds later a large flash was visible. This flash was followed by an explosion."


So ended a successful mission carried out by men of the Special Boat Service on the night of 22 June 1941. I suspect that far more people are aware of the exploits of the SAS in North Africa than of those of their naval counterparts in the SBS. But the ranks of the SBS were filled with the same sort of daring individuals, willing to carry out feats of sabotage on the fringes of the Axis empire along the Mediterranean coastline. Raiders from the Sea chronicles their activities.


Originally published in 1947, Raiders reads much like a spy novel, which is not surprising considering that its author, John Lodwick, was a successful novelist after the war. Lodwick served in the SBS and thus had first-hand knowledge of its operations and the often colorful characters that carried them out. In Raiders he has created a rather engrossing narrative, although here and there it is sometimes difficult to figure out what is meant exactly by the period language, sprinkled as it is with naval terms and British colloquialisms. Nevertheless, I think that fans of naval history, especially those that are interested in commando-style raids and littoral operations, will find this book quite interesting.


There is one feature of this book that I find just a little disappointing, namely that there is no documentation at all -- not one citation or end note. The diligent work of historians has repeatedly shown us that first-hand accounts of wartime experiences often do not square exactly with the immense amount of military records that must be gathered, catalogued, organized, and at some point released to the public, often many years after the cessation of hostilities. Good end notes and a works cited section suggest to me a historian who has done his homework. In Lodwick's case we can only guess at home much of his material is derived from sources other than his own recollections. Thus there is a bit of a shadow that hangs over Lodwick's narrative. It's a great story, but the reader can never rest assured that his descriptions are correct in certain details, such as his assertions of the number of enemy combatants killed or the amount of materiel destroyed, such as the "... eight planes, six trucks, four bomb dumps, seven petrol and two oil dumps" supposedly bagged by a raid on the airfield at Kastelli on Crete. That's a pretty significant haul for a small-scale raid. Do any German sources verify the destruction? The reader isn't told. But Lodwick's account of this particular operation can be compared with one found at Wikipedia based on a Greek source, and the reader will note that their are discrepancies in both the descriptions of the personnel involved and of the damage inflicted. My suggestion is to take Lodwick's quantitative statements with a grain of salt and don't allow them to distract too much from the story.





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11 minutes ago, ccoyle said:

there is no documentation at all -- not one citation or end note.

That was not uncommon in immediate post-war UK publications. For this subject, the author would have needed permission from His Majesty's government to write it even before it went to publication and it is quite possible that he was forbidden from naming sources.



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