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Aristocrat, gambler, innovator and special forces legend, the life of David Stirling should need no retelling. His formation of the Special Air Service in the summer of 1941 led to a new form of warfare and Stirling is remembered as the father of special forces soldiering. But was he really a military genius or in fact a shameless self-publicist who manipulated people, and the truth, for this own ends? In this gripping and controversial biography Gavin Mortimer analyses Stirling’s complex character: the childhood speech impediment that shaped his formative years, the pressure from his overbearing mother, his fraught relationship with his brother, Bill, and the jealousy and inferiority he felt in the presence of his SAS second-in-command, the cold-blooded killer Paddy Mayne.
Stirling lived until old age, receiving a knighthood and plaudits from military forces around the world before his death in 1990. Yet as Mortimer dazzlingly shows, while Stirling was instrumental in selling the SAS to Churchill and senior officers, it was Mayne who really carried the regiment in the early days. Stirling was at best an incompetent soldier and at worst a foolhardy one, who jeopardised his men’s live with careless talk and hare-brained missions.
Drawing on interviews with SAS veterans who fought with Stirling and men who worked with him on his post-war projects, and examining recently declassified governments files about Stirling’s involvement in Aden, Libya and GB75, Mortimer’s riveting biography is incisive, bold, honest and written with his customary narrative panache. Impeccably researched and with the courage to challenge the mythical SAS ‘brand’, Mortimer brings to bear his unparalleled expertise as WW2’s premier special forces historian to dig beneath the legend and reveal the real David Stirling, a man who dared and deceived.
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