Across the desert wasteland of North Africa, a small group of Allied troops played an important role in defeating the Axis war effort. Organized in the summer of 1940, the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) was tasked with performing long-range reconnaissance for the Allied forces fighting across North Africa. The original commander of LRDG was Maj. Ralph Bagnold. Prior to the war, Bagnold spent year exploring the deserts of Africa and helped with further innovations on the sun compass, a device that would be useful during the war. Early recruits were selected from the 2nd New Zealand Division, largely because Bagnold felt these men possessed the necessary attributes for desert warfare. As the war progressed, British and South Rhodesian soldiers would help fill the ranks of the LRDG.
When the Italians launched their invasion of Egypt in September 1940, the LRDG was tasked to carry out reconnaissance of Italian positions near Kufra and Uweinat. Unable to locate the Italians, the troops turned south where they ambushed an Italian supply convoy. In response, the Italians were forced to divert troops from the front line, to aid in garrisoning rear echelon positions. On 31 January 1941, the LRDG was ambushed by an Auto-Saharan Company (Italian long range patrol units). The LRDG patrol lost four men in the ambush (one killed, three captured). In an amazing feat of endurance, some of the soldiers managed to escape the Italians and walked over 200 miles through the desert back to Allied lines.
By 1943, the LRDG had fought their way to Tunisia. Their final operation in North Africa was during the Mareth Offensive when elements of the LRDG guided the 2nd New Zealand Division around Axis defenses along the Mareth Line. The unit was transferred to Lebanon in May 1943 to undergo training in mountain warfare. With the Armistice of Cassibile between Italy and the Allies, the LRDG was deployed to the island of Leros in the Aegean Sea to assist in operations. The LRDG would later assist in Allied operations in the Balkans as well as Yugoslavia. When the war ended in Europe, the LRDG made a request to transfer to the Pacific to conduct operations against the Japanese. Their request was denied, and in August 1945, the LRDG was disbanded.
Look for more information regarding the was in North Africa in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #300 article “Rommel Factor” and join the conversation on Facebook!