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The Phantom Major | [Virginia Cowles]

The Phantom Major

In the dark and uncertain days of 1941 and 1942, when Rommel's tanks were sweeping towards Suez, a handful of daring raiders were making history for the Allies. They operated deep behind the German lines, often driving hundreds of miles through the deserts of North Africa. They hid by day and struck by night, destroying aircraft, blowing up ammunition dumps, derailing trains, and killing many times their own number.
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Publisher's Summary

In the dark and uncertain days of 1941 and 1942, when Rommel's tanks were sweeping towards Suez, a handful of daring raiders were making history for the Allies. They operated deep behind the German lines, often driving hundreds of miles through the deserts of North Africa. They hid by day and struck by night, destroying aircraft, blowing up ammunition dumps, derailing trains, and killing many times their own number.

These were the SAS, Stirling's desert raiders, the brainchild of a deceptively mild-mannered man with a brilliant idea. Small teams of resourceful, highly trained men would penetrate beyond the front lines of the opposing armies and wreak havoc where the Germans least expected it.

The Phantom Major is the classic account of these desert raids, an amazing tale of courage, impudence, and daring, packed with action and high adventure. An intimate record based on eyewitness accounts, this book still stands as the definitive history of the early years of the SAS.

(P)2001 Blackstone Audiobooks

What the Critics Say

"This military story is ideally suited to audio: maps aren't necessary to follow its excitement, and the reader adds a pleasing dimension with his skill at accents, reminding us of whom the story is about." (AudioFile)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.4 (56 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Stephen Scarborough, NYK, United Kingdom 19/08/2005
    Stephen Scarborough, NYK, United Kingdom 19/08/2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
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    "The Phantom Major"

    Despite some rather dodgy attempts at accents this audiobook is a thrilling adventure - made all the more exciting because the incidents were factual.

    Less for the serious military historian than the casual 'war buff', factual backgrounds to the war in the desert are secondary to the escapades of David Sterling and his SAS (the LRDG gets good mention too).

    The listener is led from one dramatic incident to another - and one can recognise many of the episodes in this book, which have been undoubtedly, influences numerous war movies.

    An excellent 'listen' - though one might consider it cavalier, that is only fair as that is exactly what David Sterling was...Cavalier!

    A ripping yarn!

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard rochester, United Kingdom 10/05/2011
    Richard rochester, United Kingdom 10/05/2011 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    51
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    21
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    7
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    "Unappreciated in his time."

    This is an excellent boys own story made all the more extraordinary by the fact that it is actually true. The raids are legendary in military history and have been replayed many times in films and TV documentaries. For me however the most fascinating part of the story is how he managed to cut across military protocols and red tape to get what he wanted. His struggle with the established Victorian style military leadership who constantly tried to derail him was finally won after a chance meeting with a forwarding thinking Churchill who saw the wisdom of his vision. This autonomous band remained a thorn in the side of the generals who could do little to control them due to the spectacular results they where achieving. Not a bunch of ruthless killers but a demolition squad with incredible nerve and guile. This book is packed with information and the delivery is rather too rapid in some sections. This is the writing style (1958) rather than the narration which is extremely good. You could listen to this book as a one off and enjoy it, however I would recommend that you listen to Tobruk and El Alemein first if you have the time. These books describe the drawn out attritional war with the horrific loses going on in the desert at the time – if you then read the Phantom Major in context to these novels the impact of his actions and his way of fighting shows just how ahead of his time he was. Undecorated and unappreciated by the British military hierarchy he never returned to Britain and went on to work on human rights and equality in Africa. One of those special people who seem to turn up at the right time in History.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Amesbury, Wiltshire, United Kingdom 06/05/2006
    David Amesbury, Wiltshire, United Kingdom 06/05/2006 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
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    298
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    "The Origins of the SAS"

    A worthwhile listen as the book was originally written in 1958 but not read to audio until 2001. You are given a clear understanding of the daring raids undertaken in the Africa theatre and also the in-fighting prior to the establishment of the SAS.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-3 of 3 results
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  • Alec
    27/07/05
    Overall
    "Makes you feel like you're there"

    Stories of the SAS are of course intruiging, and hearing about impossible exploits are super thrilling. This book has kept me in ear phones solidly over two and a half days, I could not get enough of it.
    In typical "old boys" style, like reading a Boys Own book, you can see the images. The reading is fast and VERY accurate so your heart is racing. There is action EVERY minute, great explanations, "wowing" incidents, and a great incite into the actions of the SAS, SBS and most special forces groups of that era.
    I am not a military buff as such, but I challenge anyone to put this book down once started. Its brilliant, and I hope I have done it justice in these few words. And to those soldiers who took part, my hat is off to you!!

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • Wolfpacker
    Memphis, TN
    12/12/06
    Overall
    "Will Hook You Before Page 2"

    This book starts out with a humorous account of a Scot sneaking into a general's office to finally get past the red tape and get an audience for his brilliant idea to sabotage Rommel's war in North Africa. There are other fun stories, such as the one where the unit (short on supplies) boldly enters the New Zealand camp in broad daylight and packs up their supplies including a grand piano. They justify this in their minds by saying the New Zealand Government takes better care of their soldiers and will replace all of the stolen property with better stuff.
    This book is one of my favorites on WWII.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Ian
    Farnborough, United Kingdom
    20/09/06
    Overall
    "Not just for military wonks"

    This is a very listenable book about a subject which should be of interest to history buffs and students of human nature alike. The reading is superbly done and the content is pacy and enjoyable. I suspect that this will get many listens in the future.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Ram Kavasseri
    Fremont, CA
    07/09/06
    Overall
    "Well written, superbly narrated"

    This book is by far my favorite Audio Book.
    It is well-paced, and moves the reader along without bogging down.

    One gets a very good feel for what it was like to be an SAS officer in WW2.

    Robert Whitfield's narration is masterful - the voice is clear and lively. Whitfield's Scottish and British accents are quite believable, and the narration pace matches the action in the book very well.

    I've listened to this book twice already.
    By far the most entertaining read I've downloaded from Audible.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    25/03/10
    Overall
    "best book ive downloaded so far"

    the phantom major is to date ther best audible book ive downloaded in the last 3 years. not just for SAS fans but thoroughly entertaining for all. the narrator is excellent give convincing accents to most charactors. a facinating true story with a real british stiff upper lip feel. worth downloading even if only a passing interest in WW2 for sheer entertainment

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Jane
    Chicago, IL, United States
    10/12/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "4 ½ stars. Great subject,"

    but the book could have used something more. I’d like a different author to do it.

    The greatest thing about this book is the character David Stirling and the unbelievable things he and his guys did. David conceived the idea of the SAS and got permission to train a group of men to go behind enemy lines, onto enemy property, and blow up planes, trucks, and supplies. This book is about the SAS in northern Africa in 1941-1942. I believe it was written from interviews and correspondence with SAS veterans. It is nonfiction enhanced with dialogue. Dialogue from recollections is fine with me. I would not want to read it encyclopedia style.

    I love these guys. I can’t believe the things they did. Their truth is stranger than fiction. They bluff, lie, and sometimes charge their way through German and Italian roadblocks. Many times they are shot at but they get away. David has unbelievable luck. He leads dangerous missions where others die and he gets shot at many times, but he never gets hit, and he survives all of it. Makes me wonder if part of it is making his own luck. Part of his success is that what he does is so outrageous and unexpected that enemy soldiers are not suspicious because they would never do it themselves. For example a group of SAS are lying on the ground behind bushes hiding. A German soldier sees them. One of the SAS makes a loud drunken snore. The German walks away doing nothing.

    The SAS are driving a truck full of explosives. The Germans are chasing them but they get away. Then one of the fuses ignites from going over a bump, so they jump out of the tuck. It explodes and they are stranded in the desert. And they laugh.

    The SAS remind me of fearless mischievous teenagers, seeking danger, excitement, adrenaline, and dares. David has just returned from one raid. He hears about a target and says to his men that sounds fun, who wants to go?

    MY SUGGESTIONS:
    I’d like to see a different author do this book. This was published in 1958. I would hope there is more material that could be researched and added. And maybe add more about David’s personality and character outside of the SAS. I know that he incurred large gambling debts later in life. That fits. He had to be a gambler to do the things he did. I believe he was a poor student in school. I wonder if he had something like ADD. I’d be happy with a longer book and to read more about some of the other characters.

    The audiobook needs a pdf file with pictures and maps. There are maps in the book but none for the audiobook. I think a glossary of some of the military terms would also be good (put in the pdf).

    AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR:
    This was narrated by Robert Whitfield aka Simon Vance in 2001. He did a good job, but at times he spoke a little too fast for me. I wonder if he was shortening the time for cd purposes.

    Narrative mode: 3rd person, plus readings from letters and journals.
    Genre: historical nonfiction, WWII.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Skipper
    California
    07/12/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Excellent narration, interesting history."

    I didn't buy the text, but only listened to the audiobook, narrated by Robert Whitfield, aka Simon Vance. He's simply an amazing reader, bringing characters to life no matter the nationality. In just a few pages, he neatly portrays Scottish, French, German, and British accents.

    This "true" historical narrative is sometimes boring and outside my field of interest or expertise, but it's also — and mostly — engrossing, humorous, heartwarming, and suspenseful.

    Told in 3rd person, this account covers from 1941-1944, from the origins of the British SAS to the capture of its "Phantom Major" — Lieutenant Colonel David Sterling.

    (No worries. Despite his capture, Stirling lived long and prospered, getting up to plenty more mischief along the way.)

    Based on original source documents and interviews, the author recounts the 1941 birth of a special forces military unit, the British SAS (called L Division at the time). Cowles tells how a Scot named David Stirling conceived of the idea of a small group of specially trained men going undercover, taking enemy supplies by SURPRISE, destroying planes, fuel dumps, etc. Stirling felt that surprise was the key. He had to sell his idea to the top brass despite derision, lack of imagination, status quo, skepticism. Next, he created and trained his recruits to extremely rigorous standards. Once trained, his men would destroy more Nazi planes on the ground in Northern Africa than any Royal Air Force squadron ever did, at the time.

    Officer Jock Lewis was a key member of that first SAS group. He's the inventor of the Lewis bomb, which the SAS put to immediate use. Good scene, that invention.

    Favorite parts? Fun stuff, political stuff, clever stuff (inventing the Lewis bomb) or like when David proved the worth of his new brainchild. He made a bet with some head honcho at the Britsh RAF that the SAS could sneak into the RAF airfield at Heliopolis and paper-mark their planes without getting caught.

    Quibbles: I found all the raids began to run together in my mind. It grew a bit monotonous. I wanted to know more about the people: David Stirling, Jock Lewes, Patty Mayne, Cooper, Seekings, Fitzroy McLean, etc. I wanted to hear more reactions from the generals of the Eighth Army, and from Winston Churchill himself. Also, I needed a map of Northern Africa, showing all the places the SAS went.

    Tip: Look up some of the videos about David Stirling and the original SAS at You Tube.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Carroll
    Alexandria, VA, United States
    08/04/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A great summary of a breakthrough unit attacking a"

    Amazing piece on a new initiative, resorted to in wartime to avoid defeat that grew into a whole new approach to modern warfare.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Ron
    Orleans, Ontario, Canada
    25/02/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "The REAL "Rat Patrol"!"
    Would you listen to The Phantom Major again? Why?

    I have listened to it more than once already. It is exciting from start to finish. Always discover something interesting on re-listening.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    It would have to be Major David Stirling of course.He had an iron will and incredible nerve facing overwhelming odds and harsh conditions every mission. However his demeanor was of a gentle giant who gained respect of his men;whom he treated with respect. After all,they were'irregulars' so the officer-non-com buisness was relaxed because of the hardships etc. all of the men faced. Each mission Major Stirling left the quiet,patient reserved part at home and set out across the desert to really cause the enemy maximum damage!


    Which character – as performed by Robert Whitfield – was your favorite?

    There were many incredible individuals under Major Stirlings' command who stood out by their brave and resourceful acts. Not ony British,but allied troops as well.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Just about every chapter. For example,as the commandos beetled back out from blowing up everything in sight with the enemy in hot pursuit,I think,anyone would find exciting .This was the true story of the formation of the SAS and their operations,"stirring it up", across North Africa during those years(1941-42) where things were at an impass because for every bit of ground gained,Rommel who was brilliant,would counter-attack and ground would be lost. These Commandos were a constant source of worry for the Germans,as their hit and run tactics were really effective and disrupted the enemies plans more often than not.


    Any additional comments?

    As mentioned in some of my other reviews,I take my time choosing,and VOICE is everything for me. I immediately loved Robert Whitfields voice,and will seek out other projects he is involved in. - Ron L.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • David
    Gawler, Australia
    18/12/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "great story well told"
    What did you love best about The Phantom Major?

    the way this real life story was written made it ideal for audio book.


    Which character – as performed by Robert Whitfield – was your favorite?

    the narration was well done


    Any additional comments?

    one of the best audio books i have listened too

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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