The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) was a reconnaissance and raiding unit of the British Army during the Second World War.
The LRDG was formed specifically to carry out deep penetration, covert reconnaissance patrols and intelligence missions from behind Italian lines, although they sometimes engaged in combat operations.
Because the LRDG were experts in desert navigation they were sometimes assigned to guide other units, including the Special Air Service and secret agents across the desert.
During the Desert Campaign between December 1940 and April 1943, the vehicles of the LRDG operated constantly behind the Axis lines, missing a total of only 15 days during the entire period.
Possibly their most notable offensive action was during Operation Caravan, an attack on the town of Barce and its associated airfield, on the night of 13 September 1942.
However, their most vital role was the ‘Road Watch’, during which they clandestinely monitored traffic on the main road from tripoli to Benghazi, transmitting the intelligence to British Army Headquarters.
With the surrender of the Axis forces in Tunisia in May 1943, the LRDG changed roles and moved operations to the eastern Mediterranean, carrying out missions in the Greek islands, Italy and the Balkans.
After the end of the war in Europe, the leaders of the LRDG made a request to the War Office for the unit to be transferred to the Far East to conduct operations against the Japanese Empire. The request was declined and the LRDG was disbanded in August 1945.
All photographs were taken in 2010 by Kuno Gross. In 2008 historians Brendan O’Carroll (New Zealand), Kuno Goss (Switzerland) and Roberto Chiavetto (Italy) travelled to Libya to track down three LRDG trucks that had been abandoned in 1941 at Gebel Sherif, in Southern Libya, after the LRDG’s first encounter with their Italian equivalent, the Autosahariana. Kuno goes on to explain:
After the long distance raids of the early phase of the the LRDG, the Chevrolet WA trucks were soon worn out and had to be replaced. Since no more Chevrolet WA were available, in March 1941, a number of seventy CMP Ford F30 4×4 30cwt were taken into service by the LRDG.
The Ford truck had the same loading capacity as the Chevrolets, but were 4×4 drive and much heavier in weight – what was the reason for fuel consumption which was about the double than it was for the Chevrolets. By March 1942, the Fords were replaced by 200 purpose built Canadian Chevrolet 1533×2 trucks – those we consider the typical LRDG trucks today.
When the LRDG moved its Headquarters from Siwa to Kufra across the Egyptian Sandsea in April 1941, they lost one truck on the foot of a dune range with a broken steering. The said truck belonged to the S Patrol.
So let’s take a closer look, at this unique vehicle Kuno stumbled across in the desert;
When the LRDG was based at Siwa, they took part in what has since became known as the ‘Road Watch’ along the Via Balbia (the Tripoli to Benghazi road).
Three patrols were engaged on road watch duties at any one time, with one watching the road for a week to 10 days, another would be en route to relieve them and the third was returning to Siwa after having been relieved. The site of the road watch was about 5 miles (8.0 km) from the Marble Arch monument.
The road watch patrol would park about 2 miles away from the road and the trucks would be camouflaged using camouflage nets, any local foliage and sand.
Before dawn each day two men would move into a well-camouflaged position about 350 yards (320 m) from the road.
By day they would record the details of all vehicles and troop movements, and at night they would move to about 30 yards (27 m) from the road and guess what type of vehicles were passing by their sound and outline.
At daylight they were relieved by another pair of men who took over that day’s road watch.
If tanks or a large number of troops were seen passing they would radio the LRDG headquarters at Siwa immediately so that by the time the enemy reached the front line, GHQ at Cairo would know they were coming.
Once a patrol was relieved they would transmit details of all they had seen back to Siwa.
The LRDG did not lose any men or vehicles when on the road watch, but they did have some close encounters.
On 21 March ‘R1’ Patrol was surrounded by a convoy of 27 vehicles and about 200 men who stopped for the night between the watchers and their vehicles.
While the road watch was ongoing, other patrols would be attacking targets along other stretches of the Tripoli to Benghazi road, by planting mines or attacking vehicles with machine gun fire. The road was kept under constant observation around the clock from 2 March to 21 July 1942