The Special Boat Squadron (SBS) was Britain's most exclusive Special Forces unit, similar to US Navy SEALS. Highly trained, highly secretive and utterly ruthless, the SBS was established as an entity in its own right in early 1943 having previously operated under the auspices of the SAS during the war in North Africa.
Though the movie Guns of Navarrone was inspired by SBS exploits, most people know little about them. Unlike its sister unit, which numbered more than 1,000, the SBS never comprised more than 100.
These men were mostly former commandos of guardsmen, cherry-picked by the unit's leader Lord George Jellicoe for their daring, initiative, and proficiency in killing Germans. The new unit was first committed to action on the islands of Crete and Sardinia, before spending much of the war fighting in the islands of the Aegean.
Led by men such as the famed Victoria Cross winner Anders Lassen, the SBS went from island to island, landing in the dead of night in small fishing boats and launching savage hit and run raids on the Germans. Sometimes they blew up a telegraph station, other times they cratered the airstrip, and more often than not they laid waste to a barrack room of sleeping soldiers. Like modern-day Vikings or pirates, they terrorised the German garrisons and were even described in the House of Commons as a band of "murderous, renegade cut-throats".
By the end of the war they had served in Italy, the Balkans, and mainland Greece, and following the cessation of hostilities their deeds were airbrushed out of history by an establishment that had never warmed to their piratical exploits. Gavin Mortimer, with his unrivalled access to the SBS and through interviews with the surviving members of the unit, has pieced together the dramatic exploits of this elite fighting force.
Gavin Mortimer is the author of Stirling's Men (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004), a ground-breaking history of the early operations of the SAS, The Longest Night: Voices from the London Blitz (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005) and The Blitz: An Illustrated History (Osprey, 2010). An award-winning writer whose books have been published on both sides of the Atlantic, Gavin has previously written for The Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, and Esquire magazine. He continues to contribute to a wide range of newspapers and magazines from BBC History to the American Military History Quarterly. His latest book The SAS in World War II was published in 2011 (Osprey), excerpts from which featured in The Times, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Telegraph. He has lectured on the wartime SAS at the National Army Museum and will be discussing The SAS in World War II at the 2012 Brympton literary festival. The author lives in Paris, France.
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