Book Review: Into the Jaws of Death-The True Story of the Legendary Raid on Saint Nazaire by Robert Lyman

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Into the Jaws of Death is a highly detailed account of the British Raid on the port at Saint Nazaire in France during WWII, but it is also more than that.  It also tells the tale of the founding and initial employment of the British Commandoes.

The book itself is 290 pages of text with a further 40 pages of maps, appendices, a source list, select bibliography, and an index.  One thing the work lacks is footnotes but as this work is a popular instead of academic history that is to be expected.

Roughly the first two-thirds of the book detailed the creation of the commandoes and the decision making and planning for the raid on Saint Nazaire.  I found the process of creating the commandoes to be fascinating as the commandos were created as a to overcome British weakness after Dunkirk that eventually paid off all out of proportion to the cost of creating and maintaining them.  The raid on Saint Nazaire, while mostly a strategic failure showed the tactical abilities of the commandoes to be well worth continuing the program.

The last third of the book is a blow-by-blow account of the raid itself.  The surprising thing is not the lack of accurate, up to date intelligence about the port but the way in which the participants of the raid adapted and still attempted to accomplish the mission while coping with unexpectedly heavy German resistance, the loss of the boats that should have transported the raiders home, and the failure of the HMS Cambpelltown to explode on time.  The raid did destroy the massive dry-dock at Saint Nazaire but it did not stop the Germans from using the port as one of their major Atlantic U-boat bases and the destruction of the dry-dock was rendered strategically meaningless by the German decision to keep the Tirpitz in Norway where she was eventually sunk by the RAF.

This is a highly readable, informative, and entertaining account of a daring raid that has become a legend.  Mr Lyman has done a good job of parting the veil of legend to present the facts behind the legend, which are extraordinary in and of themselves.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII era special operations in general and the activities of the British Commandoes in particular.