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The Jedburghs

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The Jedburghs
The Secret History of the Allied Special Forces, France 1944. By Lt. Col. Will Irwin (Ret). (PublicAffairs: 2006. Pg. 352.) ISBN: 1586484621

Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - March 2, 2006

The Jedburghs "Jeds" were one of the first special operation units to be activated. The Jeds were sent deep behind enemy lines in France as a precursor to operation Overlord, which was the code name for the operation that was to herald the D-Day invasion of Nazi occupied Europe by the Allies. The Jeds were populated by American, British, and Free French troops, and they were organized into teams of three. The teams were to be parachuted behind enemy lines and were tasked with the various jobs that would lay the foundation for the upcoming invasion. These jobs included sabotage and delaying German troop movements, distributing arms, communicating with French resistance cells and to set up guerilla operations timed to commence with the invasion. Basically, their job was to harass the enemy anyway they could, with a special emphasis given to actions that would disrupt the Nazi's communications and military effectiveness. One thing that the Jeds were not tasked with doing was espionage.

The riveting story of the Jeds is brilliantly told in Lt. Col. Will Irwin's aptly titled book, The Jedburghs. This is a gripping book that is anything but a droll history book. Irwin not only provides a general overview of the Jedburghs history and their training, but he also provides riveting accounts of their hair-raising missions, battles, and close-calls where they had to dodge not only German troops and the Gestapo, but also collaborators who could easily have blown their cover. Irwin was himself a member of the U.S. Special Forces, and he brings a sense of reality and understanding to this history that an unseasoned historian would not have been able to capture.

The Jedburghs is an exciting book to read, and once you start it, you will find it hard to set it aside - making this a great book for a long car trip or over a relaxing weekend when you have the time to read the entire book in one go. At times this book reads like a blockbuster World War II movie, but it is all real! Irwin has accurately captured not only the historical facts, but also the atmosphere of the period, and the personal commitment of the men who undertook these missions.

This is a story that has been all to long in the telling. In large measure, the Jedburghs story has not been told until now simply because so much of the material on them had been classified and because the men who served in these units were prevented from talking about their service due to secrecy regulations. It was not until the late 1980's that information on the Jedburghs began to be declassified, allowing historians and other interested scholars access to these important and informative documents. In writing this book Irwin has interwoven details garnered from these declassified documents with personal documents, such as diaries, and with family members and when possible, with veteran Jeds themselves. This combination of material serves to create an energetic and moving narrative that brings the story of the Jedburghs to life.

Relatively speaking, few of the Jeds died in the line of duty, which is a hallmark to their stamina and training. After the invasion of Europe, Jedburgh teams were sent on missions in the Far East, and they eventually matured into the modern Special Forces Units that serve most modern militaries. The Jedburghs is a fascinating book, and it is one that is sure to enthrall not only military history buffs, but also anyone interested in reading to an exciting and unforgettable book. Highly Recommended!


Related Reviews:

Secret Agent: The True Story of the Covert War Against Hitler, by David Stafford.
This riveting book offers the readers an in-depth look at ultra-secret World War II 'spy' organization called the Special Operations Executive. Details range from the groups formation, to the work that it carried out during the war, along with detailed profiles of its agents and auxiliary staff.

Zigzag: The Incredible Wartime Exploits of Double Agent Eddie Chapman, by Nicholas Booth.
A biography of the man who was awarded the Iron Cross by the Germans for his exploits while spying on them for the British.

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