James Owen’s account of the Commandos is one of affectionate myth-busting. The Commandos in this book are frequently failing, often disorganised and under-equipped, often of dubious military value – and almost always brave, dedicated and impressive. The mistakes and blunders as new ways of fighting were learnt do not take away from the incredible feats of endurance and bravery that so many so frequently demonstrated.
Those heroics are made all the more moving by the number of people who are introduced to the reader in some detail before dying early in their career. There is always the sense that over the turn of any page, one of the people you have just been told about may be killed. It makes the deaths more individual and more shocking, for they are the deaths of rounded personalities, not briefly mentioned names.
Commando goes through many individual operations, giving a good sense of the range of work Commandos carried out and how their training, their structure and their tactics evolved during the war. From the farcical ineptness of early raids through to the myth-making shock troops of later years, the account by James Owen keeps the story moving along briskly without glossing over wider questions such as whether or not the heavy losses by Commandos were justified by their successes.
The hardback edition of this book is very well produced, with interesting photos, a useful map, good quality paper and high-class typography. The audio book version, alas, far less so with some really bizarre pronunciations of names and places, including “Boulogne” as if it is “Bologna”. Plenty of scope for confusion the reader there!