X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II, by Leah Garrett, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston and New York, 2021, $28
While the World War II achievements of Britain’s various commando units are widely known, the exploits of No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando were unique. It comprised expatriates and refugees from German-occupied Europe who were eager to take the fight back home. No. 1 Troop was French, No. 2 Troop was Dutch, and so on. The anomaly was No. 3 Troop, also known as the British Troop or X Troop. More than 90 percent of its personnel were Jewish, many having fled from Germany or Austria. Were they captured in occupied Europe, their fate was plain. Any apprehension they may have harbored was trumped by their desire to hit back at their Nazi nemeses. All fought under false identities and English noms de guerre.
While fully qualified in the range of commando skills—demolitions, unarmed combat and so on—they also possessed unique attributes that made them especially valuable. German was their native language, and they were intimately familiar with German society and culture. After undergoing supplementary interrogation and intelligence training, they were often farmed out in small teams to other units requiring their special skills or sent on special missions behind enemy lines.
Author Leah Garrett’s narrative of their exploits is a rollicking tale of derring-do, dumb luck and strange coincidences. It climaxes with a cross-country odyssey miles behind Russian lines during which Lt. Fred Gray (actually Manfred Gans) sought to rescue his parents from a concentration camp.
Unfortunately, the fascinating story is not without its flaws. Garrett is not a military historian, and at times this is painfully obvious. For example, the terms LCT and LST are not interchangeable, and 41 Commando’s 1944 assault on the Douvres-la-Délivrande radar complex occurred on June 17, not June 14. Barring these few cringeworthy errors, this is a well told tale.
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