The Popski Story

The Popski Story section contains pages about Popski, his Private Army and PPA-related books, articles, comics and personal stories. Anyone who wishes to know more about the background to the Popski story should probably follow at least some of the daisy-chain of Middle Eastern desert exploration and warfare history backwards through Ralph Bagnold and his Long Range Desert Group, past Sir Ahmed Hassanein Bey, Rosita Forbes, Count Laszlo Almasy (and the English Patient), Prince Kemal el Din, Gertrude Bell and Freya Stark, to the Egyptian Survey, to the Light Car Patrols and the Imperial Camel Corps, to Lawrence of Arabia and on to Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta (a Popski favourite), to name but a few.

This is a truly rich seam of first-class reading which we would illuminate here in more detail but for lack of resources. As a temporary but effective cheat, we point you instead to the website of a Libyan Desert exploration company, Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions, not so much for the trips that they run as for their amazing list of books and articles about the Western Desert[18].

Doughty, Lawrence, Peniakoff: connected by their love of the desert and by their publisher, Jonathan Cape.

Jonathan Cape Ltd
Jonathan Cape Ltd
Friend of PPA Sam Watson’s great 2006 image here of an escarpment in the Western Desert shows the stunning sweep of the desert landscape that the Light Car Patrols, the Long Range Desert Group, the Special Air Service and Popski’s Private Army operated in.

But start your journey into the Popski Story below, with the Historical Summary written in 1945 by Popski for HM King George VI. You may find it useful, while reading, to see also the full-colour maps from Popski’s book, showing where he went in North Africa and Italy.

Escarpment in the Western Desert
Escarpment in the Western Desert. (See Image Credits)
This Historical Summary, written at the command of HM King George VI for his personal reading just after PPA was disbanded, is the original Popski Story. It briefly includes Popski’s time in the first half of 1942 behind the lines in the Jebel Akhdar with his Libyan Arab Force Commando, his attachment to the LRDG for the raid on Barce airfield, and then describes PPA’s formation and operations in North Africa and Southern Europe from late 1942 to mid 1945.

PPA Jeeps and LRDG Chevy in the Western Desert in 1943
PPA Jeeps and LRDG Heavy Section truck in the Western Desert in 1943 (Popski Collection, foPPA Archives)
It is quite possibly the source (rather than his best-selling book) of subsequent discomfort at some of Popski’s claims, as it appears to include some “material results” from the North African Campaign that were not solely PPA’s. The number of aircraft destroyed, for instance, seems to include those from the LRDG Barce raid, which is curious, given that PPA’s own achievements in Italy are, arguably, much more significant.

Perhaps with the perspective of time we are now able to get a better view on this, not least because, paradoxically, we have considerably more information available to us now than Popski had then. Our best guess so far is that Popski was writing purely to entertain the King of his adopted country, not for publication nor the official record, and allowed himself some artistic licence. Certainly his book (in which we have not found any inaccuracies) does not repeat some of the claims, but we are continuing to research and cross-correlate the LRDG, SAS, PPA, LAF, SOE and IS9 War Diaries, Operational Reports and other Special Forces records, to try to clarify the dates, events and achievements related here.

Regardless, it still makes a great introduction to the Popski Story, and sets the context for the many other personal stories, books and articles to be found in this section.