Recomended Military Books: Commando/Special Forces/Unconventional War/Intelligence

Jedburghs Special Forces predecessors in World War II, dropped in three-man teams in France during 1944 to assist the Allied advance from behind the German lines.  The photo shows the Jedburgh supply room at Milton Hall
Jedburghs: Special Forces predecessors in World War II, dropped in three-man teams in France during 1944 to assist the Allied advance from behind the German lines. The photo shows the Jedburgh supply room at Milton Hall, a large estate four miles from Peterborough, England. Operational training for the Jedburghs began there in February 1944, emphasizing guerrilla warfare tactics and skills: demolitions, use of enemy weapons, map reading, night navigation, agent circuit operations, intelligence, sabotage, escape and evasion, counterespionage, ambushes, security, the use of couriers, and hand-to-hand combat. Almost all Jedburghs practiced French, Morse code, and long marches. The Jedburghs also received briefings on the history and organization of the resistance in France and other European countries.

Today in WW II: 4 Jan 1945 Operation Talon: British troops invade and occupy Akyab Island, Burma.   

Books About Commando/Special Forces/Unconventional War/Intelligence

American Sniper [Movie Tie-in Edition]: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice. 416 pages (November 25, 2014) William Morrow Paperbacks. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle became known as 'the Legend' for his spectacular success on the battlefield, neutralizing targets at impossible range under extreme conditions of danger. Many times over, his skills as a warrior saved the lives of others. The book tells his story, not only in Iraq but also at home where his wife and family had to live with the stress of his work and his long absences. This story is a true, insider view realistically bringing you into intimate contact with an extraordinary SEAL, his family, and the war he fought. This edition includes new material by Taya Kyle about the making of the American Sniper film.

US Naval Special Warfare / US Navy SEALs by Greg E. Mathieson Sr. (Editor) and others. 409 pages (2013) NSW Publications, LLC; 2nd edition. Photo documentary of Naval Special Warfare units from their origins to today's actions against terrorism. An outstanding work, both in the quality and uniqueness of the photography to the unprecedented access to secretive operations. From their website: "This, a first of its kind book on all of U.S. Naval Special Warfare; the home of the US. Navy SEALs and Special Boat Units. From the CIA forefathers, the OSS Maritime Units, through to the Raiders and Underwater Demolition Units and into the development and birth of the SEALs to the present day. With an opening tribute by United States President George W. Bush (43), who utilized their skills to track down terrorists after the attack on 9-11."

Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present by Max Boot. 784 pages (January 15, 2013) Liveright. Well known and highly respected military historian Max Boot presents a comprehensive view of guerrilla wars, from ancient history to present day terrorism and insurgency. An excellent combination of analysis and storytelling, this book will quickly become a classic, required reading for serious military thinkers and responsible officers.

Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage by Douglas Waller. 480 pages (February 8, 2011) Free Press. At the beginning of WW II, the United States had almost no foreign intelligence capability, even in friendly parts of the world, let along Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Pres. Roosevelt changed all that with one move: he appointed William "Wild Bill" Donovan to head a new agency, eventually named the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Donovan was more than up to the job. A self-made millionaire, he had the drive and imagination coupled with a WW I military background and long experience in world travel. Donovan, in a few short years, while fighting the war, designed and built the structure of intelligence gathering and clandestine operations that eventually became the post-war Central Intelligence Agency. While Donovan never headed the CIA himself, most of the early directors and major officers of the CIA were drawn from his OSS cadre. The operations of the OSS plus Donovan's colorful personality and truly wild episodes make this an exciting read.

American Heroes in Special Operations by Oliver North. 304 pages (November 1, 2010) Fidelis. Col. North reveals the intricate operations of the elite U.S. Special Operations forces, an organization whose capabilities are increasingly important in the 21st century environment. Often the first in, before formal hostilities, or working completely behind the scenes, the Navy Seals, Rangers, Green Berets and even less known units can get results when regular military units cannot.

The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture by Ishmael Jones. 350 pages (July 25, 2008) Encounter Books. Ishmael Jones is the pseudonym for a well regarded career CIA officer with wide ranging experience in the clandestine side of the Agency. He resigned to write this vigorous critique of the CIA as bloated, dysfunctional and out of touch with its mission and the world it is supposed to comprehend. Incompetence is the most prevalent attribute of its senior members while ambition, political skills, and greed are too often the prerequisites for a successful career. While public debate about the CIA continues, this book is a valuable contribution to a clear vision of the inside workings.

Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan by Doug Stanton. 416 pages (May 5, 2009) Scribner. Horse Soldiers is a heroic story, heroic in scope and heroic in deeds. In response to the catastrophic terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, a handful of American fighting men mounted wild horses and defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan. The achievement was astonishing when it became known in late 2001, and only becomes more so as Horse Soldiers relates the details of exactly what happened, who was involved, and how victory was earned under staggeringly bad conditions. Through extensive interviews with participants, including publicity shy CIA operatives and Special Forces soldiers, and on-the-ground investigation in Afghanistan where it happened, Doug Stanton makes it real through vividly described action coupled with fine grained details of sights, sounds, smells, dialog and emotions.

On 19 October 2001, just more than a month after 9-11, a Special Operations Aviation Regiment helicopter rose from Karshi-Kanabad (K2) Airbase, Uzbekistan, to cross 14,000 foot mountains with ugly weather into Afghanistan. Its mission: to carry soldiers of the Fifth Special Forces Group to an Afghan landing zone where they would join CIA teams already on the ground. The helicopter ride over the mountains was itself a harrowing adventure, but in this case just the prelude to much starker tests to come. The SOG team joined CIA-recruited Northern Alliance warlords, the sworn enemies of the Taliban who devastated their country. Skillfully maintaining the right balance of cultural awareness, political ties, and military incentives, the SOG team found ways to help the Northern Alliance leaders defeat the Taliban without stirring up resentment of American involvement. As the Americans proved themselves on horseback, in battle, and in the shared privations of life on the Afghan hardscape, they became cherished partners who earned the affection of their Afghan hosts and fellow warriors.

The campaign was a weird combination of space-age gadgetry (cell phones, GPS, laser targeting, aircraft and satellites, advanced comm gear and weapons) meshed with medieval combat (men on horseback, cavalry charges, hand-to-hand butchery, clanish rivalries, and primitive infrastructure). The role of horses was central since there was no other transportation for the tasks as hand. Failure to adapt to horseback would have doomed the effort, so adapt they did, though painfully since few of the SOG soldiers were horsemen.

The Americans had the ability to bring down immense firepower from the skis as they radioed targets to bombers circling high overhead, but that only assisted the Northern Alliance forces and was not in itself decisive. In the end, pure guts in firefight after firefight turned the tide as the Taliban were driven back to the final battles at Tanghi Gap and Mazar-i-Sharif.

At Mazar, the war seemed won as the Taliban were routed and hundreds of prisoners were herded into an old fort, Qala-i-Janghi. But disaster struck on 25 November 2001 when the prisoners staged a revolt, slaughtering their guards and seizing control of huge stockpiles of captured weapons. There the first American to die in Afghanistan, CIA paramilitary officer Johnny "Mike" Spann, was overwhelmed in the riot. Hundreds of Afghans were killed in days of savage fighting before the revolt was suppressed. It was a close call, a violent struggle that could have gone the other way, but the defeat of the Taliban at Mazar-i-Sharif led to the collapse of their entire front in Northern Afghanistan and set the stage to roll up the Taliban across the country.

Thus a relative handful of SOG and CIA men turned the tables on a force of tens of thousands of America's sworn enemies. The Taliban did not recover. The Northern Alliance, soon backed up by larger units of conventional U.S. forces, swept the field and assumed governmental control of Afghanistan.

Horse Soldiers does more than recount the actions and movements of the battles in the harshness of Afghanistan. It starts with the home front families, the shock of 9-11, and the fear and pride in the SOG community as their loved ones quickly deploy in reaction to the attacks. The book reveals the soldier's motivations for being in the military and Special Forces in the first place and the mixed emotions of men rushing to join the righteous fight, not knowing when or if they will return, while pushing back the pain of leaving wives and small children. Also vividly portrayed are the Afghan warlords, lieutenants, and civilians for whom the war was personal, the only way to liberate their country and avenge Taliban brutality.

Special attention is given to the saga of Mike Spann, who became the first U.S. combat fatality in the war on terrorism. His background, home life, and career aspirations show him to be one of America's finest, his death a tragic loss not only to his family and friends but also to the country, another grim reminder of the cost of freedom. Contrasting with Mike Spann, the "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh was captured at Mazar-i-Sharif, and in fact was interrogated by Spann just before the revolt broke out. The exact nature of Lindh's collaboration with the Taliban is controversial, but he is serving twenty years in prison under a plea bargain.

Afghan warlord General Dostum, who is vividly featured in Horse Soldiers, said it best: "I asked for a few Americans. They brought with them the courage of a whole army."

First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan by Gary Schroen. 416 pages (May 1, 2007) Presidio Press. Before the military arrived in Afghanistan to confront the Taliban following 9/11, the CIA had a team there, on the ground. Special Operations units like the Horse Soldiers (see above) were met by CIA operatives when they stepped off their helicopters. The author, already a senior, experienced member of CIA management, was tapped to organize the effort to crush those who had attacked the United States. The full details are grippingly recalled in this book.

Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior by Dick Couch. 416 pages (March 25, 2008) Three Rivers Press. The author describes the selection, motivation and training of Green Berets as they make their way through the JFK Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg.

Camp 020: M15 and the Nazi Spies by Oliver Hoare (Introduction). 356 pages (September 15, 2001) UK Public Record Office. Camp 020 was the WW II code name for Latchmere House, the principal MI5 holding center where captured German agents were held for interrogation. Major Robert Stephens led Camp 020; this book presents once-secret files containing Stephen's observations on the methods employed and outcome for over 400 spies. Camp 020 achieved considerable success without resorting to extreme measures, turning many Germans into double agents and sources of important information that may have hastened the end of the Nazi regime.

Decision for Disaster: Betrayal at the Bay of Pigs by Grayston L. Lynch. 208 pages (January 17, 2000) Potomac Books Inc. When the 2506 Assault Brigade went ashore in Cuba on 17 April 1961, two CIA advisors went with them. One was decorated U.S. Army war veteran Grayston L. Lynch, who provides the inside story of the Bay of Pigs with this book. He provides a new description of the preparations and execution of the complex mission with full realism based on his own participation. He also makes the case that the mission was compromised and consigned to failure by the amateurish blunders of Pres. Kennedy.

Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda by Robert Wallace, H. Keith Melton, and Henry R. Schlesinger. 576 pages (May 29, 2008) Dutton. Written by insiders, this book reveals the extraordinarily fascinating world of spy technology. Included are chemicals, electronic and mechanical devices, software and much more in the form of cameras, audio devices, concealments, disguises, letter-opening devices, combustible notebooks, disguised dead drop containers, microdot equipment, and transmitters. Agents also delivered deadly explosive devices designed to destroy ships, aircraft, trains, cars or stationary targets along with poisons, disruptive drugs and more. Unique photos and drawings illustrate the many spy equipment examples. Beyond just a catalog of gadgets, the book reviews the development history, organizational setting and employment in the context of the intelligence goals of the time.

Brotherhood of Warriors: Behind Enemy Lines with a Commando in One of the World's Most Elite Counterterrorism Units by Aaron Cohen and Douglas Century. 288 pages (April 29, 2008) Ecco. After a priveleged but troubled childhood, author Cohen was sent to a Canadian military school to straighten out. There an officer inspired him with tales of the Israeli IDF, the world's most effective fighting force. He went to Israel at age 18 to join the IDF, happily finding that he had the necessary toughness to survive training. He then volunteered for a special ops unit that sent small teams into Palestinian territory to capture or eliminate wanted terrorists. Cohen describes in detail his training and life in the unit during his service during 1996 to 1998. To do their task, the team members had to blend into the Palestinian culture in dress, speech and movements. Once the target was located, they had to strike like a rattlesnake, then extract back to safety in Israel. The slightest misstep or mixed signal would likely mean death. This is a gripping read and an operational primer for counter-terrorism where the objective is to make the perpetrators pay big time for their acts. He not only describes his time in the IDF, but also the aftermath as he struggles to adjust to civilian life back in the US.

See also "By Any Means Necessary" in Air Force and Military Aviation.
The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA by Ted Gup. Paperback: 432 pages, Anchor Books (May 1, 2001). Gup is an investigative reporter who shows his skills in this book by revealing the life stories of three dozen CIA men and women who died in the line of duty, often in obscure corners of the world. These never-before-disclosed facts are inspiring as lessons in the dedication of these patriots and the price of freedom and liberty, while also often troubling as revelations of ill conceived operations and excessive secrecy that increased the pain of operatives' families. The detailed biographies of these CIA officers are embedded in a wide ranging history of the CIA and its OSS roots. Gup published the book despite objections by the CIA -- much of the material is still classified -- another example of the tension between official secrecy and the value these stories to the public.
Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew, Annette Lawrence Drew. Paperback: 544 pages, HarperTorch (October 6, 1999). This is the most detailed description available of the U.S. submarine espionage operations against the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War and the Soviet response.
Official Assassin : Winston Churchill's SAS Hit Team by Peter Mason. Engrossing first person account with operational details of the author's years as a British agent. Starting in the closing months of WW II, tracking down Nazi war criminals, and continuing into the cold war and the British struggle with the IRA.
Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs by Patrick K. O'Donnell. 384 pages. (March 2004) No longer satisfied with gentlemanly intelligence gathering, with the advent of WWII the United States changed its espionage policy and opted for more daring tactics like decoding secret messages and detonating exploding cigars. Under the guidance of decorated WWI hero William "Wild Bill" Donovan, the Office of Special Services, the CIA’s predecessor, assembled a motley assortment of agents who set the stage for the Allied armies’ most important missions, like the invasion of North Africa and the storming of Normandy. Through first person narratives from a slew of OSS operatives, O’Donnell explores the thrilling world of spying before satellites and computer hacking boxed agents into cubicles. The WWII OSS hauled hardened criminals out of jail to burgle enemy embassies and culled spies from the Free French who fled to England and North Africa. The sophisticated seductress "Cynthia" used her sex appeal to gather ciphers for breaking Polish, Italian and Vichy codes from high-ranking military men. Elsewhere, Virginia Hall supplied the French Resistance with arms and continually sabotaged the Gestapo while limping with a wooden-leg. The book also chronicles psychological operations by the Allied "Sauerkraut agents" who demoralized German troops by spreading rumors of defeat, disease and desperation. The chapter on the OSS’ covert weapons, like exploding baseballs and umbrella pistols, vividly recalls 007’s pre-mission encounters with "Q."
Operation Rollback: America's Secret War Behind The Iron Curtain by Peter Grose. At the end of WW II the US and its allies faced the unprecedented task of organizing intelligence operations behind the new Iron Curtain. This detailed book provides careful accounts of the overall strategic plan, ultimately an overreaching failure, and the many tactical successes and operational flops during the early stages of the Cold War.
Air Commando : Fifty Years of the USAF Air Commando and Special Operations Forces, 1944-1994 by Philip D. Chinnery, Harry C. Aderholt. Reprint Edition. Published by St Martins Mass Market Paper, January 1997
Jungle Snafus ... and Remedies by Cresson H. Kearny, Major of the Infantry, United States Army, Ret. Major Cresson's had years of service as the first and only Jungle Experiments Officer in the Panama Mobile Force or in any other organization. That service began eight months before Pearl Harbor, and included direct involvement in the development and adoption of many of the specialized items used by Americans in jungles in World War II and in the Vietnam War. In the book he covers useful equipment needed to live, work, and fight in the jungles of the world based on his personal experiences of the testing and procurement difficulties as well as makes specific recommendations for the most useful and lifesaving items every soldier should have.

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