Churchill’s Band of Brothers￼
Churchill’s Band of Brothers – WWII’s Most Daring D-Day Mission and the Hunt to Take Down Hitler’s Fugitive War Criminals, by Damien Lewis. Citadel Press, 2021, 410 pp.
“Once again he was returned to Britain, so his injuries could be treated and to convalesce. Instead, and demonstrating a truly indomitable spirit, on 15 February 1944 Garstin volunteered for 1 SAS, a unit commanded by a fellow Irishman of towering repute, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne. Of course, it was no exaggeration to say that Pat Garstin shouldn’t have been in any position to put himself forward for special service duties: in truth, he should have been invalided out of the military some three years earlier. It was the mark of the man that he volunteered, regardless of the dangers that were to come. “
The preceding passage captures my main takeaway from the book—the attributes that Capt. Pat Garstin, Lt. Wiehe and many other characters embodied are worth striving for in our current professions. The 1 SAS (Special Air Service) Commander, Lt. Col. Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne describes the attributes that made an effective SAS member, like Pat Garstin, “…stamina, both mental and physical; intellect and cunning, the ability to operate as a team; a certain versatility and self-confidence, without ever being brash or arrogant; iron-willed self-reliance; and an indomitable spirit.”
The author, Damien Lewis, from Britain, has written extensively and produced multiple films that span from thrillers to documentaries like the effects of war in Burma. His resume is impressive, with a portfolio of important work accomplished over the years. He tackles the most challenging assignments, raising the voices of the downtrodden, and holding people accountable for their actions. His writing is well-researched, flows smoothly, and engages the reader through captivating storytelling.
Churchill’s Band of Brothers: WWII’s Most Daring D-Day Mission and the Hunt to Take Down Hitler’s Fugitive War Criminals honors the men who courageously went behind enemy lines as part of the 1 SAS, SABU-70 (Safe All Business As Usual) patrol during World War II to degrade Germany’s military capabilities. The first mission objective described in the book captures the SAS’ general role, “For tonight’s mission they were charged with parachuting into the heart of France to block German heavy reinforcements from reaching the D-Day beachheads, which would have calamitous consequences for Operation Overlord. Dropping some 200 miles behind the Normandy beaches, they would blow up railway lines, rolling stock and road transports, halting the German military in its tracks.”
Churchill’s Band of Brothers can be dissected into three parts: 1. Background and SABU-70’s first mission; 2. SABU-70’s second mission that led to their captivity and Nazi war crimes against the unit; 3. The Secret Hunters investigation to take down the war criminals. Based on my aviation background, I was predisposed to find parts one and two of most interest. The intense flying accomplished while dropping the SABU-70 patrol behind enemy lines was riveting, as was the subsequent survival, evasion, and escape that took place. However, parts one and two serve as the backdrop for the main thrust of the book in part three, which was to tell the story of how the SAS went back to mainland Europe to determine what had happened to their missing brothers-in-arms and hold the Nazis accountable for their crimes. Through incredible determination, persistence, and extensive investigative research by the Secret Hunters, the Nazis were held formally accountable.
The author describes both SABU-70 missions in France and how the team and their mission was impacted by the Germans. During the second mission, the Nazis ambushed the drop and took SABU-70 members captive. After committing numerous war crimes, their final heinous action was to gun down several SABU-70 members in cold blood in what would be known as the Noailles Wood massacre. Two members escaped the massacre, providing the Secret Hunters much-needed information for their investigation.
As a side note, I have read a number of books on World War II over the years, primarily on broad aviation topics or American military leadership. This is the first WWII book I have read from an author from another nation, something I should consider more often to broaden my perspective and expand my horizons.
As intriguing and informative as this book was to read, there is more than enough material to split the account into two separate volumes. The author could have described each of the 1 SAS characters in greater detail in the first volume. The second volume could have focused on showcasing how the Secret Hunters conducted their investigations and held the Nazis accountable. This is an observation for the author’s future works—I envision other stories that would be excellent candidates for a multi-volume project.
Recommended reading for those looking to hone their own personal attributes like strength of body, mind, and character by reflecting on leaders who have “been there and done that” like the British 1 SAS operatives. It also makes one consider the importance and the responsibility of holding people accountable for their actions.
In conclusion, the author does a remarkable job weaving tactical stories about military leadership, character, resourcefulness, persistence, and accountability by describing the “free -wheeling, free spirited and unorthodox, the SAS had rarely proved popular with those in high places, and for the very reasons that had made it such a spectacular success waging war behind enemy lines.” Further, the author ties events back to Winston Churchill was one the SAS’ backers. If there were more Pat Garstins in the world and other members of 1 SAS, we would all be better off.
Lt Col Christopher P. Mulder, USAF is an active duty Air Force officer. He is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, an Air Force pilot, and engaged in national security and leadership topics.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the US government or other organization.