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SBS: Silent Warriors – The Authorised Wartime History


Britain’s SBS - or Special Boat Service - was the world’s first maritime special operations unit. Founded in the dark days of 1940, it started as a small and inexperienced outfit that leaned heavily on volunteers’ raw courage and boyish enthusiasm. It went on to change the course of the Second World War – and has served as a model for special forces ever since.

The fledgling unit’s first mission was a daring beach reconnaissance of Rhodes in the spring of 1941. Over the next four years, the SBS and its affiliates would carry out many more spectacular operations in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Channel and the Far East. These missions – including Operation Frankton, the daredevil attempt by the “Cockleshell Heroes” to paddle up the Garonne river and sink Axis ships in Bordeaux harbour – were some of the most audacious and legendary of the war.

Paddling flimsy canoes, and armed only with knives, pistols and a few sub machine guns, this handful of brave and determined men operated deep behind enemy lines in the full knowledge that if caught they might be executed. Many were.

Yet their many improbable achievements – destroying enemy ships and infrastructure, landing secret agents, tying up enemy forces, spreading fear and uncertainty, and, most importantly, preparing the ground for D-Day – helped to make an Allied victory possible.

Written with the full cooperation of the modern SBS – the first time this ultra-secretive unit has given its seal of approval to any book – and exclusive access to its archives, SBS: Silent Warriors allows Britain’s original special forces to emerge from the shadows and take their proper and deserved place in our island story.


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Reviews of SBS: Silent Warriors – The Authorised Wartime History

"Excellent... David makes a strong case for the strategic importance of the tiny SBS to the Allied victory... [A] wonderful book."

Rupert Edis, History Today

"An extraordinary trawl though the archives, backed up with diaries and interviews; an accomplished act of storytelling... This is a book about big personalities, adventurers and inventors... Heroic history telling... An authorised history of a secret unit has to record not only the bravery of its unacknowledged warriors - which David has done with style - but also make a case for its strategic importance... The SBS were certainly great disruptors of supply lines, a low-cost offensive weapon that must have helped to sap the morale of the Axis powers, undermining their sense of invincibility. And they certainly helped to change the way we fight war in the shadows. David has written a book that often gladdens the heart, but also makes you think about the nature of sacrifice."

Roger Boyes, The Times

"Operation Frankton is one of the many tales of extraordinary courage in Saul David's riveting history of the SBS... A brilliant account of how the SBS was born from wartime needs, and just how much the organisation and its affiliated units were able to achieve in those early years."

Nick Rennison, Daily Mail

"A riveting story, and very British... [David] has shown great skill in pulling the disparate threads of unit reports into a cohesive story. This book is a must for naval and military historians. Beyond that, the knowledge of those involved, and their bravery and jeopardy, will grip the general reader."

Alan West, The Spectator

"Fabulously daring missions of men of astonishing courage...relayed with all the relish of a Commando comic... A cast of Boys' Own Heroes... A terrific book, written with all the gusto, thrills and heady excitement these SBS operations richly deserve. It really is one of the most enjoyable histories I've read in many a year."

James Holland, Daily Telegraph