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Long Range Desert Group

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Long Range Desert Group
LRDG badge depicting a scorpion within a wheel[1]
Active July 1940 – August 1945
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Role Reconnaissance
Intelligence gathering
Raiding operations
Size maximum 350 all ranks[2]
Part of Western Desert Force
Eighth Army
Nickname Libyan Desert Taxi Service[3]
Pattuglia Fantasma (ItalianGhost Patrol)[1]
Motto Non Vi Sed Arte (LatinNot by Strength by Guile) (unofficial)[4]
Equipment Chevrolet or Ford trucks, Willys Jeep

Second World War

Disbanded 1 August 1945
Ralph Alger Bagnold
Guy Lenox Prendergast
John Richard Easonsmith
David Lloyd Owen

The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) was a reconnaissance and raiding unit of the British Army during the Second World War.

Originally called the Long Range Patrol (LRP), the unit was founded in Egypt in June 1940 by Major Ralph A. Bagnold, acting under the direction of General Archibald Wavell. Bagnold was assisted by Captain Patrick Clayton and Captain William Shaw. At first the majority of the men were from New Zealand, but they were soon joined by Southern Rhodesian and British volunteers, whereupon new sub-units were formed and the name was changed to the better-known Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). The LRDG never numbered more than 350 men, all of whom were volunteers.

The LRDG was formed specifically to carry out deep penetration, covert reconnaissance patrols and intelligence missions from behind Italian lines, although they sometimes engaged in combat operations. Because the LRDG were experts in desert navigation they were sometimes assigned to guide other units, including the Special Air Service andsecret agents across the desert. During the Desert Campaign between December 1940 and April 1943, the vehicles of the LRDG operated constantly behind the Axis lines, missing a total of only 15 days during the entire period.[4] Possibly their most notable offensive action was during Operation Caravan, an attack on the town of Barce and its associated airfield, on the night of 13 September 1942. However, their most vital role was the 'Road Watch', during which they clandestinely monitored traffic on the main road from Tripoli to Benghazi, transmitting the intelligence to British Army Headquarters.

With the surrender of the Axis forces in Tunisia in May 1943, the LRDG changed roles and moved operations to the eastern Mediterranean, carrying out missions in the Greek islandsItaly and the Balkans. After the end of the war in Europe, the leaders of the LRDG made a request to the War Office for the unit to be transferred to the Far East to conduct operations against the Japanese Empire. The request was declined and the LRDG was disbanded in August 1945.


Before the war, Major Ralph Bagnold learned how to maintain and operate vehicles, how to navigate, and how to communicate in the desert. On 23 June 1940 he met GeneralArchibald Wavell, the commander of the Middle East Command in Alexandria and explained his concept for a group of men intended to undertake long-range reconnaissance patrols to gather intelligence behind the Italian lines in Libya.[5] General Wavell was familiar with desert warfare, having been a liaison officer with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force during the First World War,[6] and he understood and endorsed Bagnold's suggested concept. Wavell assisted in equipping the force.[5]

six vehicles, each with a number of men on board; the one closest is overloaded with equipment
'Y' and 'R' Patrol Chevrolets meet in the desert, mid-1942. Note the amount of equipment carried on the nearest 'R' Patrol trucks

The unit, initially known as the No.1 Long Range Patrol Unit (LRP), was founded on 3 July 1940.[5] Bagnold wanted men who were energetic, innovative, self-reliant, physically and mentally tough, and able to live and fight in seclusion in the Libyan desert.[7] Bagnold felt that New Zealand farmers would possess these attributes and was given permission to approach the 2nd New Zealand Division for volunteers; over half the division volunteered.[7] Two officers and 85 other ranks including 18 administrative and technical personnel were eventually selected, coming mostly from the Divisional Cavalry Regiment and the 27th Machine-Gun Battalion.[8] Once the men had been recruited, they started training in desert survival techniques and desert driving and navigation, with additional training in radio communications and demolitions.[5]

The LRP could initially form only three units, known as patrols,[nb 1] but a doubling of strength allowed the addition of a new Heavy Section.[9] In November 1940, the name of the LRP was changed to the "Long Range Desert Group" (LRDG),[10] and the New Zealanders were joined by volunteers from British and Southern Rhodesian regiments.[11]The British volunteers, who came mostly from the Brigade of Guards and Yeomanry regiments, were incorporated into their own patrols.[7] The original patrol unit consisted of two officers and 28 other ranks, equipped with a Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) Ford 15 Imperial hundredweight (cwt) truck and 10 Chevrolet 30 cwt trucks. In March 1941 new types of trucks were issued and the patrol units were split into half-patrols of one officer and 15–18 men in five or six vehicles.[9] Each patrol incorporated a medical orderly, anavigator, a radio operator and a vehicle mechanic, each of whom manned a truck equipped for their role.[12]


Vehicle going down a steep embankment.
'R' Patrol Chevrolet WB radio truck; the rod antenna can be seen on the right. The man at the rear is manning aBoys anti-tank rifle

The Long Range Patrol comprised a 15-man headquarters with Bagnold in command. There were three sub-units: 'R' Patrol commanded by Captain Donald Gavin Steele, 'T' Patrol commanded by Captain Patrick Clayton and 'W' Patrol commanded by Captain Edward 'Teddy' Cecil Mitford. 'T' and 'W' Patrols were combat units while 'R' Patrol was intended to be a support unit.[13]

In November 1940, the LRP was reorganised and re-designated the Long Range Desert Group. It was expanded to six Patrols: 'T','W' and 'R' Patrols were joined by 'G', 'S' and 'Y' Patrols. Each patrol was expected to belong to the same regimental group, but only the Brigade of Guards and the Yeomanry regiments formed their own Patrols, 'G' and 'Y' respectively.[13] The men of 'G' Patrol were drawn from the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards and the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards under command of Captain Michael Crichton-Stuart.[10] The 'Y' Patrol men were drawn from the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry[clarification needed] under command Captain P. J. D. McCraith, with additional men from the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.[14] In December 1940, 'W' Patrol was disbanded and its personnel used to bring 'R' and 'T' Patrols up to strength,[13] while 'G' Patrol took over their vehicles.[15]By June 1941 the LRDG was re-organised into two squadrons: the New Zealand and Rhodesian 'A' Squadron with 'S', 'T' and 'R' Patrols, and 'B' Squadron with 'G', 'H' and 'Y' Patrols. There was also a Headquarters Section along with signalssurvey and light repair sections. A Heavy section, initially equipped with four 6-ton Marmon-Herrington trucks,[nb 2] was used to provide logistical support by transporting supplies to bases and setting up hidden replenishment points at pre-arranged locations.[2] In addition there was an Air Section, using Waco ZGC-7and YKC biplanes which transported key personnel, evacuated wounded and performed other liaison tasks.[16]

In August 1941 an artillery unit was formed to attack Italian forts more effectively. Initially it used a QF 4.5-inch howitzer carried on a 10-ton Mack NR 4 truck, with an accompanying lighttank as an armoured observation post. However, these were handed over to the Free French at Kufra. The unit was then issued a 25 pounder portee. After successfully attacking and capturing the El Gtafia fort, the truck had to be abandoned and the experiment ended.[17]


posed picture of three men one sitting in the drivers seat and the other two aiming machine guns
A 'T1' Patrol Chevrolet 1533X2 30 cwt: the small drum behind the front mudguard is the radiator condenserand the truck's sand channels are mounted on brackets on the rear bodywork. The weapons are the Lewis gun (left) and a .303 Browning Mk II(right)

In October 1941 the LRDG was expanded to 10 patrols by the simple method of splitting the existing patrols into two-half patrols; the New Zealanders formed A Squadron comprising 'R1', 'R2', 'T1', and 'T2' Patrols and the British and Rhodesians formed B Squadron comprising 'G1', 'G2', 'S1', 'S2', 'Y1', and 'Y2' Patrols. The 'H' Patrol had been disbanded in September 1941 after three months service.[18]

These two squadrons were joined in December 1941 by the Indian Long Range Squadron, which had been formed by volunteers from the 2nd Lancers11th Cavalry and the 18th Cavalry, all part of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade.[19] The Indian Squadron was organized along ethnic and religious lines with the first two patrols originally known as 'J' (Jats) and 'R' (Rajput) Patrols. Their designations were changed to 'I1' and 'I2' to avoid confusion.[19] In October 1942 two further Indian patrols were formed: 'M' (Muslim) and 'S' (Sikh) Patrols, which became the 'I3' and 'I4' Patrols.[19] No. 1 Demolition Squadron, commanded by Major Vladimir 'Popski' Peniakoff, was briefly attached to the LRDG from December 1942. [20]

The vehicles of each patrol adopted their own markings. The New Zealand 'R' Patrol used a green Hei-tiki with a red tongue painted on the right side of the bonnet of the vehicle and on the left they put a Māori place name beginning with the letter 'R' (for example, 'Rotowaro').[21] The 'T' Patrol vehicles had a black Kiwi over green 'grass' and a Māori name starting with 'Te' (for example, 'Te Anau') in the corresponding places.[21] The 'W' Patrol vehicles had a Māori name or word starting with 'W' painted on their vehicles.[21]

The British 'G' Patrol vehicles carried no distinctive markings, although some vehicles had the Guards insignia. They took over 'W' Patrol's vehicles when that unit was disbanded.[21] The 'Y' Patrol vehicles were slightly different; 'Y1' half-patrol vehicles all had names of famous drinking establishments (such as 'Cock O’ The North') and 'Y2' half-patrol had names from the Three Musketeers books (for example, 'Aramis') on the left side of their vehicle bonnets.[21] The Headquarters Section used a sequence of letters arranged in a square (see photo of "Louise").[22]The Rhodesian 'S' Patrol vehicles had names with a Rhodesian connection (such as 'Salisbury') painted on the left side of the vehicles' bonnets.[21] By 1943 the practice of naming replacement vehicles was dropped.[23]



vehicles in convoy, each crewed by three men, in a desert terrain
LRDG Headquarters Section (note markings on "Louise") of Chevrolet 30 cwt. The first two vehicles are armed with Vickers guns, and have canvas sand mats rolled up and stored on the front wheel arches.

The LRDG vehicles were mainly two wheel drive, chosen because they were lighter and used less fuel than four wheel drive. They were stripped of all non-essentials, including doors, windscreens and roofs. They were fitted with a bigger radiator, a condenser system, built up leaf springs for the harsh terrain, wide, low pressure desert tyres, sand mats and channels,[nb 3]plus map containers and a sun compass devised by Bagnold.[12] Wireless trucks had special compartments built into the bodywork to house wireless equipment.[17] Initially the LRDG patrols were equipped with one CMP Ford 15 cwt F15 truck for the commander, while the rest of the patrol used up to 10 Chevrolet 30 cwt WB trucks.[24] From March 1941 the 30 cwt Chevrolets were replaced by the CMP Ford 30 cwt F30, although in some ways this was a retrograde step; because they were four wheel drive and heavier than the Chevrolets, they used twice as much fuel, which in turn reduced the range of a patrol.[17][nb 4] From March 1942 the Fords were progressively replaced by 200 Canadian Chevrolet 1533 X2 30 cwts which had been specially ordered for the LRDG.[24][nb 5] From July 1942 Willys Jeeps began to be issued for the patrol commander and patrol sergeant.[12][20]

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