Spec Ops

Spec Ops

Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice

eBook - 2009
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Vice Adm. William H. McRaven helped to devise the strategy for how to bring down Osama bin Laden, and commanded the courageous U.S. military unit that carried it out on May 1, 2011, ending one of the greatest manhunts in history. In Spec Ops, a well-organized and deeply researched study, McRaven analyzes eight classic special operations. Six are from WWII: the German commando raid on the Belgian fort Eben Emael (1940); the Italian torpedo attack on the Alexandria harbor (1941); the British commando raid on Nazaire, France (1942); the German glider rescue of Benito Mussolini (1943); the British midget-submarine attack on the Tirpitz (1943); and the U.S. Ranger rescue mission at the Cabanatuan POW camp in the Philippines (1945). The two post-WWII examples are the U.S. Army raid on the Son Tay POW camp in North Vietnam (1970) and the Israeli rescue of the skyjacked hostages in Entebbe, Uganda (1976). McRaven--who commands a U.S. Navy SEAL team--pinpoints six essential principles of "spec ops" success: simplicity, security, repetition, surprise, speed and purpose. For each of the case studies, he provides political and military context, a meticulous reconstruction of the mission itself and an analysis of the operation in relation to his six principles. McRaven deems the Son Tay raid "the best modern example of a successful spec op [which] should be considered textbook material for future missions." His own book is an instructive textbook that will be closely studied by students of the military arts. Maps, photos.
Publisher: 2009
ISBN: 9780307547231
Characteristics: 1 online resource

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Mar 24, 2015

... for it is sometimes easier to get an Italian to lay down his life than to make the sacrifice of holding his tongue.

Mar 24, 2015

Relative superiority is a concept crucial to the theory of special operations.

Mar 23, 2015

..., the Israeli government announced that it would release the prisoners in exchange for the hostages.


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Dec 30, 2017

A SEAL commander, Admiral McRaven identifies the factors that make special operations different from ordinary combat. First is the relativity of their force superiority. Special forces may be two-man teams or 100-man battalions, but even the largest of special force attackers are necessarily numerically smaller than the forces of the defender. Nonetheless, they achieve relative force superiority with speed, stealth, and special weapons. Their mission plans are simple. While practicing their missions repeatedly, they keep their intentions secret. To the fullest extent necessary, each man understands the mission; and regardless of their role, every man is committed to the achieving the goal.

These narratives are interesting on their own merits. The German assault on the Belgian fort Eben Emael in WWII was pure blitzkrieg. Italian frogmen attacking the battleship Queen Elizabeth in Alexandria, and British midget submarines hitting the Tirpitz at Kaafjord, Norway, are almost science fiction. The American liberation of POWs in the Cabantuan camp in the Philippines and the failed mission at Son Tay, Vietnam, could have come from Hollywood. The Israeli raid to free hostages held by the PFLP at Entebbe in Uganda was retold in two movies and a TV series. Action and adventure aside, McRaven chose them and others to demonstrate his theory of special operations.

Not all of the missions exemplified the fullest use of all factors. The British raid on the Saint-Nazaire dry docks called for over 600 men, 18 attack boats, and a destroyer. McRaven labeled it a success because the primary target was achieved: the dry dock mechanical works were wrecked. However, the over-ambitious inclusion of many subsidiary goals only left a lot of men dead and a few men captured.

It is clearly a challenge, perhaps impossible, to bring a large force to the expert effectiveness of commandos. But there are lessons here for the individual.

You are a small unit. You have good internal communication. You can identify your own mission, create a plan, and exercise it. You know your mission, and you are dedicated to it. And you are authorized to improvise as needed in the face of contingencies. You can plan and train in secret. You can do this every day.

Your skills may be common, but the full set of them is unique to you. How you put them to work is also special. Rather than blowing things up – though Austrian economists speak of “creative destruction” – most of us build, create, deliver, and maintain. It can still be special operations if you bring that intention to your work.


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