Beyond Hell and Back: How America's Special Operations Forces Became the World's Greatest Fighting Unit


An inside look at seven of the most harrowing and significant Special Operations missions ever.

Courage beyond reason. Loyalty beyond faith. Perseverance in the face of overwhelming adversity. These are just some of the qualities of the members of the U.S. Special Operation Forces. BEYOND HELL AND BACK details the seven defining Special Ops missions that have made the Special Operation Forces the best fighting unit in the world, including:

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Beyond Hell and Back: How America's Special Operations Forces Became the World's Greatest Fighting Unit

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An inside look at seven of the most harrowing and significant Special Operations missions ever.

Courage beyond reason. Loyalty beyond faith. Perseverance in the face of overwhelming adversity. These are just some of the qualities of the members of the U.S. Special Operation Forces. BEYOND HELL AND BACK details the seven defining Special Ops missions that have made the Special Operation Forces the best fighting unit in the world, including:
*THE RESCUE OF BAT-21: The largest and longest Combat Search and Rescue mission in the Vietnam War lasted 17 days and cost the lives of 13 Americans--all to rescue one man and the invaluable knowledge he alone possessed.
* TASK FORCE NORMANDY: Planned in secrecy and executed with flawless efficiency, Task Force Normandy was an Army/Air Force Special Operations joint op that fired the opening shots behind enemy lines in Operation Desert Storm.
*OPERATION EAGLE CLAW: The devastating Special Forces operation mounted to retrieve 52 American hostages in Iran resulted in the deaths of eight members of the rescue team. This failure ultimately led to the creation of Special Operations Command.
*BASHER 52: Captain Scott O'Grady was shot down over the "no fly" zone above Bosnia, and his daring rescue was one of the Marine Corps' finest operations ever.

These are a few of the dramatic true tales that represent the defining moments that helped shape the operational methods, planning, and deployment for all future Special Ops missions. BEYOND HELL AND BACK is the greatest collection of Spec Ops missions ever assembled.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Zimmerman and Gresham excel at distilling incredibly complex mission planning and execution, making this a great read for military buffs, as well as for casual readers interested in the underlying issues that have fueled recent U.S. military conflicts." —Publishers Weekly

"Two highly qualified writers on military affairs provide an excellent introduction to the U.S. Army Special Forces in combat. It consists of a series of excellent narratives of crucial episodes, from the abortive Son Tay POW rescue mission in Vietnam to the Iran hostage rescue to recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In each, Zimmerman and Gresham cover the action well and integrate portraits of key leaders, from Bull Simons of the Son Tay mission on, and the development of support technologies, especially reconnaissance drones and stealth helicopters. They also account for how recruitment has changed with changes in tactical doctrine required by new areas of responsibility, and they provide a superb bibliography for readers wishing to press their Special Forces knowledge forward. Neither Special Forces nor this study of them has very many equals." —Booklist

"From the audacious Son Tay raid, to the tragedy of Desert One, to the remarkable successes in Afghanistan and Iraq, Dwight Zimmerman and John Gresham have compiled a remarkable history of the missions that span the full spectrum of SOF capabilities. BEYOND HELL AND BACK is an excellent beginning to providing insight into some of the hundreds of historical missions that have helped forge today’s modern Special Operations Forces." —Sgt. 1st Class Frank Antenori, US Army (retired), bestselling author of ROUGHNECK NINE ONE: The Story of a Special Forces A-Team at War

"Once regarded as the red-headed stepchild of the armed forces, special operations has become the point of the spear in the global war on terrorism. This book records the recent feats of America's special operations troops—Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Delta Force, others—in a clean, crisp narrative that often reads more like a riveting screenplay or novel than military history. It shows that even in an age of high-tech gizmos, the human element—the warrior with guts and skill—is as important as it was in the days of Alexander the Great. A must-read for military professionals and laymen alike."—Philip Caputo, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of the bestselling A Rumor of War.

"Desert Storm's success depended on the integration of special operations and conventional air power. Task Force Normandy became the pattern that led to much larger operations in Afghanistan and again in Iraq. To understand how we now fight, you must read BEYOND HELL AND BACK." —General Chuck Horner, USAF (Ret.), former Commander in Chief, SPACECOM and co-author with Tom Clancy of EVERY MAN A TIGER.

"When I need to know something fast about the operational and technical aspects of the military today, I reach for the phone and call John Gresham. His decades of working closely with the military, here in Washington, DC and in the field are why I and others trust him regularly to give us the roadmap to what we need to know for our own work. BEYOND HELL AND BACK is just the latest reason for keeping his number close." —Larry Bond, New York Times bestselling author

"I was there from the beginning of modern American Special Operations, so for me the stories in BEYOND HELL AND BACK are more than just history. They are some of the threads of my life, and those of the community I served in for more than three decades. Ably told by Zimmerman and Gresham, this is the story about how we made the force that is today America's tip of the spear in the Global War on Terror." —Colonel Lee Mize, USA (Ret.), Medal of Honor Recipient

Kirkus Reviews
Nuts-and-bolts accounts of Special Forces missions. Military writers Zimmerman (First Command: Paths to Leadership, 2006, etc.) and Gresham (DEFCON-2: Standing on the Brink of Nuclear War During the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2006, etc.) recount seven operations of the past four decades, undertaken in places including Vietnam and Iraq. They show a SEAL team on the ground plucking two downed fliers from the midst of a major North Vietnam offensive after 14 air rescuers had already died in the attempt. They dissect a complex operation in which elite attack-helicopter teams flew far beyond their normal range to destroy Iraqi radar sites, opening the way for air strikes before the first Gulf War. In the Second Gulf War, half a dozen Green Berets slipped 350 miles inside Iraq, hid near a major road and military concentration site, called in intelligence and devastating air strikes, then withdrew after ten days without firing a shot. Some operations depicted here were misfires. A brilliantly executed 1970 operation to rescue prisoners in North Vietnam went off without a hitch, but the camp turned out to be empty. The operation known to most readers is the disastrous 1979 attempt to rescue American hostages held in Iran. The authors relate the excruciating details, emphasizing the lessons our forces learned and not neglecting the opportunity to criticize a Democratic president. Their narrative provides solid entertainment for military buffs with its densely technical descriptions of weapons, training and tactics, an avalanche of acronyms and the traditional purplish prose. Zimmerman and Gresham don't conceal their contempt for the Hollywood version of special ops: colorful but insubordinate soldiers,missions described as suicidal, big explosions, a dazzling triumph despite crippling casualties. In the real world, they remind us, brains and teamwork trump heroism, and planners reject operations likely to fail. Five out of seven represents a reasonable success rate. A portrait of elite fighting men at their best that will appeal to a largely male readership.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312384678
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/14/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 838,982
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN has written extensively on military-history subjects for American Heritage, the Naval Institute Press, Vietnam Magazine, and numerous military-themed publications. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
JOHN D. GRESHAM is a veteran military analyst and co-author with Tom Clancy on his bestselling series of nonfiction "guided tour" books about military units, including Special Forces and Marines. He lives in Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     6
List of Maps     8
Sources for Sidebar Information     8
Foreword     9
Introduction     13
Operation Kingpin: The Son Tay Raid     21
The Rescue of Bat 21     61
For Want of a Nail...Operation Eagle Claw     99
The 100 Percent Solution: Task Force Normandy     137
The Rescue of Captain Scott O'Grady     171
The Immaculate Mission: Oda 551 in the Karbala Gap     207
Twenty-First-Century Alamo: Task Force Viking at Debecka Pass     241
Afterword: The Way Forward     285
Bibliography     290
Military Abbreviations and Acronyms     302
Index     304
About the Authors     320
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