North africa

Bill Stirling – the brains behind the wartime SAS

‘The boy Stirling is quite mad, quite, quite mad. However, in a war there is often a place for mad people.’ Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was referring to David Stirling, the man largely credited with raising the Special Air Service (SAS) in the summer of 1941. Myth has always surrounded the formation of the SAS and one of the most abiding legends is that it was down to one man alone, David Stirling, whose L Detachment of six officers and 60 men grew into 1SAS. Gavin Mortimer’s vivid and meticulously researched book, 2SAS, does a good deal to redress the balance. It acknowledges the importance – too long overlooked –

The horror of tank warfare brought vividly to life

If Joseph Stalin was right about one thing it was his assertion that ‘the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic’. Numbers don’t inspire empathy. They don’t tell stories. Nothing exemplifies this principle better than the second world war. The deadliest armed conflict in human history killed an estimated 70 million people or 3 per cent of the world’s population, and yet these numbers will make few people weep. They are difficult to fathom without faces. James Holland’s greatest strength as a military historian is that he brings humanity to his work — a rare trait in a field of research that can

The Tunisian paradox

‘We swore to defend the constitution,’ shouted the deputy speaker of the Tunisian parliament, to which a young soldier retorted, ‘We swore to defend the fatherland’. This exchange in front of the locked gates of parliament last month sums up the paradox of Tunisia. President Kais Saied’s decision a few hours earlier to dismiss his government and suspend parliament had enraged the Islamist speaker and his deputy, who sought to enter the building now guarded by armed troops. Yet tens of thousands from every social class poured into the streets of Tunisian towns and villages, shouting their support for Saied. That support has remained rock solid over a month later,