Historical Information
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Updated 07/30/2006
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Caithness Archives
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The Assault on Levita

The survivors of the enemy convoy sunk on 7 October were landed on Stampalia, where the
LRDG had M2 patrol. A small naval craft (the Hedgehog) dispatched from Leros to bring back
ten prisoners of war for interrogation, called with engine trouble at Levita, about twenty miles
to the west of Calino. A party sent by motor launch to the assistance of the Hedgehog found only a
smoldering wreck and was fired on from the island. As the possession of Levita was considered
essential to the Navy, and as it would be useful as an observation post, the commander of 234
Brigade ordered the LRDG to capture the island. Major Guild and Captain Tinker urged that a
reconnaissance should be made before the assault force was landed, but permission to do this
was not granted.

It was decided to attack with forty-eight men under the command of Captain J. R. Olivey,
the force including twenty-two from A Squadron under Lieutenant J. M. Sutherland, and the
remainder coming from B Squadron. Sutherland's patrol (R2), was withdrawn from the coastal
battery on Mount Scumbardo, in southern Leros, and was joined by a few men from R1 and T2
patrols. The B Squadron party included Y2 and part of S1 patrol. In case the enemy should be
occupying both ends of Levita, B Squadron was to land to the west of the port, which is on the
south coast, and A Squadron to the east. The objective was to reach the high, central ground over-
looking the port.

The landings were to be made from two motor launches in small, canvas boats, but as these
had been punctured in air attacks, the troops had to patch them with sticking-plaster before they

could practice rowing in them. The force had four infantry wireless sets for inter-communication
between the two parties and with the launches, and a larger set for communication with Leros.
When they were about to leave at dusk on 23 October, however, it was discovered that the
A Squadron set had not been netted in with the others.

Most of the men were violently seasick before they reached Levita. It took A Squadron a long
time to float the canvas boats from the tossing launch, but they eventually got away and landed
on a very rugged coast, where the men rescued as much of their gear as they could from the rocks
and dragged it up a cliff face. Sutherland told his wireless operator to try to get in touch with
Olivey, but at no stage was he able to do so.

After disembarking the two parties, the motor launches were to shell a house thought to be
occupied by the enemy in the center of the island. Instead of shelling this building, however, they
concentrated on an old hut on a ridge in front of A Squadron. When the shellfire ceased, Suther-
land's party moved towards the ridge and discovered nearby the burnt-out hull of the Hedgehog.
They then came under machine-gun fire from the rear, presumably from somewhere near their
landing place. This kept them pinned down on bare ground until they were able to get together
and rush the gun position, which they captured with a dozen prisoners. Trooper H. L. Mallett
was severely wounded and died despite the efforts of the medical orderly (Private B. Steedman)
to save him.

Although they again came under machine-gun fire, A Squadron continued to advance and
secured the ridge before daylight. They flushed the enemy out of the hut, but did not occupy it
because it was in a vulnerable position. Trooper A. J. Penhall was mortally wounded, but Trooper
R. G. Haddow, although severely wounded in the stomach, recovered as a prisoner of war.
Several other men received minor wounds.

At the first streaks of daylight, three or four seaplanes began to take off from the Levita harbor.
The New Zealanders, who overlooked the harbor from the ridge, opened fire, and for a moment
it seemed that Trooper L. G. Doel had put one seaplane out of action with his Bren gun, but it
moved out of range and took off after some delay. When the seaplanes came overhead and began
to strafe, the men returned the fire, but as their bullets only bounced off harmlessly they decided
not to waste ammunition.

Having met no resistance on landing, B Squadron was within 500 yards of the enemy head-
quarters by dawn and could hear fighting on the other side of the island. Had Sutherland been able
to make contact with Olivey by wireless, he would have advised him of his position, and B Squad-
ron could have gone ahead without fear of firing on A Squadron. The Germans, who received
reinforcements during the day, isolated the New Zealanders on the ridge with air attacks and
machine-gun and mortar fire, while they encircled and captured most of the B Squadron party.

Having disposed of B Squadron, the enemy was then able to employ his full strength against
A Squadron, which was holding three positions on the ridge. Sutherland had with him the wireless
operator, the medical orderly, the wounded, three or four other men, and the German prisoners.
Sergeant E. J. Dobson was in charge of a party in a central position, armed with a Bren gun, a
Tommy gun, and some rifles, and farther away on high ground, Corporal J. E. Gill had the
third party. Trooper J. T. Bowler, who went down to the landing place for water, and a man
who attempted to deliver a message from Gill to Sutherland, were not seen again and were

presumed to have been killed. The enemy eventually overwhelmed Sutherland's force, but Gill and
three men avoided capture for four days by hiding among some rocks. They were unable to
attract the attention of a launch that circled the island and, as they were without food and water,
had to give themselves up to the enemy.

With instructions to evacuate the force from Levita, the commanding officer of the LRDG
(Lieutenant-Colonel Easonsmith)
* arrived by launch during the night 2425 October, but found
only Captain Olivey, the medical officer (Captain Lawson), and seven men of B Squadron at the
rendezvous. Olivey returned with Major Guild the following night to search for the missing men,
but found nobody. The LRDG lost forty men on Levita.

Merlyn Craw.   4/10/15 to 17/ 01/03:
Service No. 37112
NZ Divisional Cavalry.
Died in New Zealand, 17 January 2003, aged 87 years.   

The War Years as recounted by Brendan O’Carroll, the author of “Kiwi Scorpions” and “Bearded Brigands”

I have only known Merlyn for the last six years, yet I feel I have known him all his life.

Merlyn was a wonderful man and as history tells us, a great warrior. He lived independently in a very remote beach house at Te Kaha on the eastern coast of New Zealand. After spending most of his life farming, including being one of the pioneers of deer farming in NZ, he left the farm to his son, and took up commercial fishing for 20 years before retiring.  

He died of a massive heart attack after landing his boat following a days fishing, his favorite pastime. Merlyn died in the sand, something that he could have very easily done over 60 years ago. He was very active for his years and was still capable of driving long distances at 87 years. Merlyn would have hated being ill or bed ridden and couldn't have died a better way. 

My introduction to him came about when I was undertaking research for my book about New Zealanders in the Long Range Desert Group.  This unit was one of the first special forces of WW2 and operated behind enemy lines in Libya. The men who served had to be self reliant, tough and hardy, as they had to fight and survive in one of the most arid places on earth. Merlyn’s outdoor background and temperament seemed well suited to this type of work.  

I wrote to him asking about his time in the LRDG and he kindly responded with a wealth of information.  This led on to a volume of correspondence and a number of wonderful visits to his seaside home in Te Kaha.  My family would accompany me and they would walk along the beach with Merlyn’s faithful dog Jack, while I interviewed Merlyn about the war years. This was always followed by a lovely meal of fresh fish or crayfish. It was a great treat for us, and we really enjoyed those visits and I will miss those special chats we had.  

He said he had told me things he had never even told his family before. As with most veterans after the war he was reluctant to speak of such things to those who weren’t there, especially of the bad times; thinking that the people at home would never understand, as they hadn’t been through it.  He said he would never forget it, and there were men that may have saved his life, or he may have saved theirs. The bond between them remains until they are gone. Merlyn regularly attended LRDG reunions. 

Merlyn’s wartime adventures are well covered in my books, where his activities are explained in full, but I will outline a brief history of his war service.  

He went overseas with the NZ Divisional Cavalry in November 1940 and volunteered for the LRDG in early 1941. He served with distinction with T Patrol, first under the command of Captain L.B. Ballantyne then later under Captain N.P. Wilder. He remained with the unit until his capture after the Barce Raid in September 1942. He was particularly skilful at bomb making and demolitions, an art he said he learnt on his father’s farm before the war. On the Barce raid he destroyed 10 planes with his homemade bombs and was given orders to blow the Barce town safe, but his capture prevented that from happening.  

He spent a year suffering the privations of an Italian POW camp before he escaped, and with the help of Italian peasants he made his way to allied lines. After which he was sent home on furlough for six months.  Then he returned to Italy in 1944 with the NZ Divisional Cavalry to serve with armoured cars.  

Some time after, due to a dispute with his superiors he went AWOL for six weeks, and sought out the Italians who had helped him to escape the year before. Later, while wandering the streets of Rome, by pure chance he met members of the British section of the LRDG who invited him to rejoin the unit. He did so without notifying 2nd NZEF and remained as a Sergeant with the LRDG in Italy till the end of the war.  He learnt mountain climbing, snow skiing, and undertook seven parachute jumps. Amazingly he was never brought to account for is disappearance from the Div. Cavalry.  But that was typical Merlyn, a real survivor.  

Merlyn’s total overseas service was 4 years 189 days.  

He won the Military Medal for gallantry during the Barce raid and other actions. His official citation that sums up the sort of soldier he was.  

On the night of 13/14th September 1942, Corporal Craw’s patrol entered Barce aerodrome to attack aircraft. Corporal Craw, in the last truck, was detailed to place short-delay bombs on the aircraft which had not been burnt by small arms fire. He carried out this task at great personal risk, as aircraft were on fire and blowing up all round him, and destroyed 10 single handed. 

In two previous occasions when on patrol, Corporal Craw displayed great gallantry. Once near Benghazi, his truck successfully attacked a vehicle carrying twenty troops, destroying the vehicle and killing the majority of the occupants. In a later engagement near Matruh he saved the life of his officer, Capt. Wilder, by his prompt action in picking up this officer who was on foot, while Corporal Craw’s truck was under heavy and concentrated fire from three 47 mm guns. 

As a non commissioned officer he always did extremely good work on patrol, and in action was cool and confident.” 

Though he was a tough soldier in a harsh environment, he was also a compassionate man. On one occasion after a small action, Merlyn, because he was also trained as a medical orderly, made great endeavours to save the life of a badly wounded Italian   He looked after him for five days as he lay in the back of his truck. Though he didn’t need to do this, because while behind the lines it was not the LRDG’s job to look after the enemy wounded or take prisoners. But Merlyn for some reason took it upon himself to take care of this man, who without his help would have certainly died.  

Another time he was ordered to dispose of two prisoners who got caught up in a special secret mission the patrol was on.  Contrary to his orders, instead of killing the men, he drove them out into the desert, gave them some water and a compass bearing; far enough away so that mission could not be compromised. 

Merlyn was a real gentleman from a generation the like of which we will never see again. I am so grateful I was able to gather his incredible LRDG stories and find him a rightful place in the history books before all was lost to time.  

Merlyn I salute you, a wonderful man and great warrior, it has been a very special for me to have known you. 

A Kiwi Scorpion now at rest.

This is to let everyone know that Major-General David Lloyd Owen, the last Commanding Officer of the LRDG has past away. The obituary below was published in the Daily Telegraph (UK). Our prays go out to all of his family.
Jack Valenti LRDG Preservation Society

Major-General David Lloyd Owen

MAJOR-GENERAL DAVID LLOYD OWEN, who has died aged 83, commanded the Long Range Desert Group from 1943 to 1945. In the course of the war he won both the DSO and the MC, the latter awarded for his part in the joint raid on Tobruk by the LRDG and the SAS in September 1942. "Danger," he wrote, "has some kind of satanic appeal to me. I am drawn towards it in an octopus-like grip of fear."

Nevertheless, he recalled, "I was often frightened, often tired, often worried, and very often longing to be doing some other thing or to be in some other place when danger was lurking."

His experiences caused him to analyse courage very thoughtfully and to decide that ultimately it stemmed from self-discipline. He was also strongly aware of moral courage, and recognized that this was sometimes needed in conditions which sorely taxed mere physical bravery.

Such situations were an almost daily occurrence for the members of the LRDG, which Lloyd Owen joined in July 1941. Born of the expertise of a handful of pre-war desert explorers, notably Ralph Bagnold, it ranged freely over North Africa, travelling hundreds of miles behind enemy lines to gather information for the 8th Army; in early 1942, the LRDG made a round trip of 1,500 miles in 19 days, much of it through completely featureless terrain.

Its troops navigated the sands with the help of the stars and a sun compass. They also knew how to negotiate treacherous surfaces, and to conserve water with special condensers, but above all they learned to read tracks so that they could tell how many vehicles, men or camels had gone in various directions.

After the SAS was formed in November 1941, it came to rely on the LRDG to assist it to its destinations - and then to recover its men rapidly when their work was done. But reconnaissance always remained the primary purpose of the LRDG. They did not seek confrontation, but when they encountered it often inflicted just as much damage as the SAS.

In his memoirs The Desert My Dwelling Place (1957) and Providence Their Guide (1980), Lloyd Owen recalled that sometimes men were isolated on these occasions and left behind, but then accomplished remarkable feats of endurance. Once nine men walked 200 miles back to base, fortified by a single packet of biscuits and a few mouthfuls of water. He also remembered the discomfort of lying on watch all night in the pouring rain, and the constant worries for the wounded and the sick when a patrol was hundreds of miles from help.

Lloyd Owen took command of the LRDG in the winter of 1943, when it was operating in the Aegean. The troops he led were of the finest quality, but were independent and would not accept anything but the best type of leadership. This he provided, but did so by making his men feel like his partners in a joint adventure. He had a friendly and rather relaxed style of command, based on persuasion and shared hardships. The mutual confidence this bred would reap an uncommonly rich dividend.

David Lanyon Lloyd Owen, the son of a captain in the Royal Navy, was born at Hampton, Middlesex, on October 10 1917. He was educated at Winchester and Sandhurst and was commissioned into The Queen's Royal Regiment in 1938. He began his military service in Palestine during the Arab rebellion. When the Italians moved towards Mersah Matruh, his regiment was sent to Egypt and in December 1940 he took part in Wavell's offensive, which reached Benghazi.

In March 1941 he was posted to the Middle East Officer Cadet Training Unit in Cairo, and to his disgust found himself in charge of administration. But he soon met a member of the Long Range Desert Group, and managed to join the unit. At first Lloyd Owen was somewhat surprised by the informality - even the sheer scruffiness - of his new comrades, but he quickly began to blend in.

In September 1942, he was severely wounded in an air raid on Kufra, the LRDG's base, but recovered in time for the final stages of the North African campaign. In May 1943 the LRDG was sent to Lebanon, where it was trained for a new role in mountain warfare. However, it was then unexpectedly posted to the Aegean. There it took part in the battle for Leros, where Lloyd Owen's predecessor as CO, Jake Easonsmith, was killed.  

Having taken charge of the unit, Lloyd Owen based himself at Bari, in southern Italy, from which he mounted a successful raid on Corfu and staged operations in the Dalmatian islands and Yugoslavia. In September 1944, he was parachuted into Albania at night. Shortly after landing he fell 30 ft into a ravine and severely damaged his spine. The LRDG's doctor was parachuted in to set the back in plaster; he dropped with a bottle of whisky strapped to his leg, it being Lloyd Owen's birthday.

Despite being in continual pain, Lloyd Owen directed operations in the mountains for the next three months. As he became more mobile, he expanded his activities by adroit purchases of everything from mountain ponies to information. The only viable currency was gold, whose use brought its own risks. "I never felt really safe carrying 500 gold sovereigns," he recalled.

Eventually Lloyd Owen was evacuated to Italy, was successfully operated on, and told not to return to his former activities. But he managed to bluff his way past a medical board and returned to Albania, although this time by boat. The LRDG was eventually disbanded in June 1945. For his leadership in the Balkans, Lloyd Owen was awarded the DSO that year.

After the war, he had various appointments in Britain, including a period on the staff at Sandhurst. In 1952, he was appointed Military Assistant to the High Commissioner in Malaya. He then commanded the 1st Battalion of The Queen's Royal Regiment from 1957 to 1959. In the early 1960s he led 24 Infantry Brigade Group in Kenya and was then, from 1966 to 1968, GOC, Cyprus District. From 1968 to 1969 he was GOC, Near East Land Forces and, from 1969 to 1972, president of the Regular Commissions Board. He was appointed OBE in 1954 and CB in 1971.

David Lloyd Owen was a man of great charm, immaculate appearance (when not on operations) and remarkable skill and endurance. He won the admiration of the members of the LRDG - many of them tough Rhodesians and New Zealanders - not merely for his daring but also for his sheer stamina, as well as for his tactical knowledge and foresight.

In retirement, much of his time was given to the Long Range Desert Group Association, of which he was chairman from 1945 until its final reunion last year. He married, in 1957, Ursula Barclay. They had three sons.

Clash of Forces in North Africa
Bagnold's Bluff
The Little-Known Figure Behind Britain's Daring Long Range Desert Patrols

Article donated by  Trevor J. Constable

"History of the Second World War"
The Mediterranean & Middle East
Volume I, London 1954
Her Majesty's Stationery Office

 The whole of the desert campaign took place in a comparatively narrow strip, though more than wide enough for the Armored Divisions to make full use of its mobility. Farther to the south, beyond the oases of Siwa, Jarabub, and Jalo, lies the inner or Libyan desert of which the Western Desert is a mere fringe Except within the oasis depressions, the Libyan Desert is uninhabited and utterly without life. This was the scene of many of the exploits of the Long Range Desert Group. Through this inner desert ran the eastern frontier of Libya, and within their territory the Italians had established a system of military posts and landing grounds. They had organized special colonial forces for duty in the desert: of these the motorized 'Auto-Sahara' companies had the advantage of the permanent co-operation of a few reconnaissance aircraft, but were designed to operate over comparatively good surfaces - principally between and around the posts......

The few people who knew by experience that sand seas were not complete obstacles to all forms of motor transport were a handful of Englishmen whose professions had taken them to the Middle East between the wars, and who had made a hobby of desert travel and exploration. Among these were W.B.Kennedy Shaw, P.A. Clayton, and G.L. Prendergast, with Major R.A. Bagnold as prime mover and leader. Between 1932 and 1938 they had learned much about motor travel in the inner desert, and some had actually crossed the Egyptian Sand Sea. They had acquired the skill to discern a course amidst the huge sand dunes,and mastered the art of driving a vehicle up and across them without embedding or overturning it. They had invented 'unsticking' devices, such as the sand-channel; they had studied and adapted methods of navigation; and they gained experience of desert surface of all types, from loose sand to fields of basalt......

In 1939 Major Bagnold foresaw the possibility of turning his experience to good account if Italy should enter the war, by creating patrols which could reconnoitre and harry the enemy in unexpected places. He submitted proposals which appealed greatly to General Wavell's imagination and love of the unorthodox, but nothing came of them until Italy had entered the war and the French had dropped out. The formation of a Long Range Patrol Unit was then approved. Bagnold was present by chance and was soon joined by Shaw and Clayton..... Three patrols, each of two officers and about thirty men, were chosen from the New Zealanders in Egypt and after six arduous weeks of training the small unit was inspected by General Wavell and declared fit for operations. Captain Clayton had already taken a small party on one valuable reconnaissance: he had discovered a second sand sea (the 'Libyan') to the east of the Jalo-Kufra track: and had found a way across it.

During Sept (1940) the new unit went out on it’s first long patrol. The crossings of the sand sea were further explored; several Italian landing grounds between Jalo and Kufra were visited and damaged; the exits from Kufra and Uweinat were reconnoitered, and some prisoners and transports were taken. Contact was also made with the French past at Tekro. Meanwhile quantities of petrol. food and water were dumped at points beyond the Libyan frontier for future use, and with the help of the Air Force a number of sites for landing grounds were chosen.

By now it was apparent that the Italian policy was purely defensive; there were no signs of any intention to raid the Nile valley, and there had not even been any activity in conjunction with Graziani’s advance to Sidi Barrani. The initiative seemed to be left to the British, and in October the Patrol set out again, this time with more aggressive intentions. The road between Aujila and Agedabia was mined in half a dozen places; Aujila fort was attacked, and made no resistance; the Italian post at Ain Zuwaia was reconnoitered and a Savoia bomber found on the landing ground was destroyed; the track between Uweinat and Arkenu was mined; and a large dump of bombs and explosives was blown up. A landing ground was made at Big Cairn, …… Several other landing grounds were made ready for future use. The Patrol’s own tracts were studied from the air and many lessons in concealment learned; valuable because Italian aircraft were their worst enemies, and were already to be seen and heard from time to time.

These successes confirmed General Wavell’s opinion that the Patrol was making an important addition to the anxieties and difficulties of the enemy, and the War Office agreed with his proposal that the unit should be doubled and become the Long Range Desert Group. The right men were hard to find, however, because they were of the type which units could least well spare, and Major-General Freyberg was indeed asking for the return of his New Zealanders. A new patrol was formed from officers and men of the 3rd Coldstream Guards and 2nd Scots Guards, and in November this patrol and the New Zealanders were sent out in the southern and northern areas respectively. They explored the dunes between Jalo and Jarabub, and made new store and fuel dumps. In the Uweinat area they were bombed by aircraft, but attacked the Italian post at Ain Dua and inflicted several casualties.

Letter from Kevin Canham
The song "Lili Marlene" was very popular with Germans soldiers during WWII, but not liked by official Germany. "Lili Marlene" was also popular with allied forces in all theaters of the war, but frustrated Brit officers when their troops sung the German version. See a  letter from Kevin Canham for some excellent historical information! Below are excerpts from Marlene Dietrich's version.

Song clip "Lili Marlene", German and English versions (Requires RealPlayer)

The Formation of LRDG Units
Text from Tamiya Plastic Model Co. Insert (Japan)

The military value of motor vehicles in desert terrain had been proven to some extent during World War I. British Forces had used such vehicles as Rolls-Royce Armored cars and Ford Model T light trucks with great success. One British staff officer who was greatly influenced was Archibald Wavell and when he became one of the British Army's senior generals in the late 1930s he was receptive to ideas using small motorized units. In October, 1935 Lieutenant Fox Davies of the Durham Light Infantry wrote to General Wavell and suggested using "guerilla" type troops to operate behind enemy lines. Wavell thought "motor guerillas" would be a good idea and in 1936 he had Fox Davies placed in command of a unit which was sent behind the "enemy lines", with great success, in a military exercise. A British group of explorers led by R.A. Bagnold made many expeditions into the desert in the late 19930s from Egypt, studying the desert and it's characteristics, and perfected ways of navigating across the vast desert wastes like a mariner at sea. In 1940 Italy declared war on Great Britain and the Italian forces in Libya posed an immediate potential threat to the British in Egypt, and to the Suez Canal the gateway to the East. General Wavell was the British Commander-in-Chief in Egypt at the time and he took R. A. Bagnold into the Army as an officer and gave him the job of forming a motor patrol.

The LRDG was very much like a "private army", formed to meet the particular conditions of desert warfare. Major Bagnold (as he then was) acquired suitable vehicles and the Chevrolet 15 cwt truck used by the Egyptian Army suited his needs. This was a standard "platoon" truck on a Canadian-built Chevrolet chassis, fitted with desert tires and with an open body big enough to hold the stores and equipment needed for long trips into the desert. For desert operations with a very heavy load, they had extra leaves inserted into the springs, desert type tires, wire-less, and a condenser fitted on the running board and connected to the radiator to conserve cooling water. Doors and door pillars were removed, extra spare wheels fitted and pintle mounts were added for machine guns and antitank rifles. The load carried might be up to two tons, consisting of food, fuel ammunition, water and explosives for demolition work. Sand-mats of canvas and steel channels were carried to assist vehicles through the many shifting sands and dunes. A sun compass was usually carried in the dashboard, a Bagnold invention and theodolites and sextants were used to fix positions. The Long Range Desert Group's task for most of the time was watching, waiting, plotting enemy movements and reporting back by radio. The LRDG took delivery of new vehicles in May 1942, namely 30cwt types with military general service steel bodies. These were sturdier than the original type of vehicle and more spacious. Built by Chevrolet (Canada) these were simple a desert service version of the standard production Chevrolet types. Because the LRDG was made up of volunteers it never really had regimental status. The men wore whatever clothes were comfortable. Beards and other non-regulation military practices were common, adding much to the "piratical" flavor and swash-buckling image of the LRDG force.

Vehicle Data
Chevrolet 30 cwt 4 x 2 General Service Lorry.
Wheel base: 134 inches.
Net Weight: 6,540 lbs.
Engine: 6 cylinder petrol of 235.5 cu.in. capacity. 80 BHP at 3,100 rpm.
Gears: 4 forward, 1 reverse.
Tires: 10.50 x 16 Runflat type.

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