Founded by Ralph Bagnold in June 1940 to reconnoitre Axis forces and engage in “piracy on the high desert”, the Long Range Desert Group’s motto was “Not by Strength, but Guile.” Led by Bagnold and other prewar explorers such as Patrick Clayton, William Kennedy-Shaw and Douglas Newbold, it consisted mainly of New Zealanders, who soon learnt the arts of desert warfare. As with Special Forces ever since, the emphasis was on self-reliance and mobility. Each patrol took all it needed for a cross-desert journey of 1500 miles (which could be doubled by establishing a forward supply dump), in stripped-down Chevy trucks fitted with sand mats and tyre-tracks (doubling as air markers for supply drops) and a sun compass invented by Bagnold. Patrols operated for up to eleven weeks as they spied on convoys or delivered SAS commandos to attack airfields – in ten months, over four hundred planes were destroyed in this way (more than the RAF managed). You can read about the LRDG’s exploits in Bagnold’s Sand, Wind and War: Memoirs of a Desert Explorer, Saul Kelly’s The Hunt for Zerzura, Peter Clayton’s Desert Explorer (about his father, Patrick), or on the LRDG Preservation Society’s website w lrdg.org.

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