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Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice
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Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  302 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
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 comma ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published June 1st 1996 by Presidio Press (first published May 1st 1995)
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Jul 18, 2016 Gwern rated it really liked it

The Theory of Special Operations by William McRaven 1993 is a book-length thesis describing 8 case-studies of special ops missions and the degree to which they adhere to a few principles for spec-ops success that McRaven extracts from their successes/failures. The case-studies are in chronological order and primarily WWII-oriented:

Battle of Fort Eben-Emael
Raid on Alexandria (1941)
St Nazaire Raid
Gran Sasso raid
Operation Source
Raid at Cabanatuan
Operation Ivory Coast
Operation Entebb
Patrick Belair
I've had the pleasure of meeting Adm McRaven on several occasions and have heard him speak,Knowing this I was not surprised in the least on what a great case study he has written here.Here is a man who has been there and done that so I respect his judgement on the 8 operations detailed.I won't get into details, pick up this book and make up your own mind,you won't be disappointed.
Jun 06, 2011 William rated it really liked it
"Spec Ops--Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice" by William H. McRaven.

Quite often, books about special forces are heavily based on anecdote and action. They still explain and illuminate the tasks and missions of special forces, if the reader pays attention to the details and connects all the dots. William R. McRaven eschews that approach and makes the case for special forces in his book "Spec Ops", a book he penned while commander of Seal Team 3 in the 1990s.

By appl
Dec 29, 2014 Cropredy rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
First of all, this book is part narrative and part instruction manual for professional soldiers and their civilian counterparts. Raven set out to develop a methodology for evaluating special operations missions with an eye towards teaching planners of future operations.

So, the narratives are interesting but the application of the methodology to each historical mission can be a bit dry and repetitive to the lay reader.

I was certainly aware of each chapter's mission although not to the level of de
Todd O'boyle
Jan 26, 2017 Todd O'boyle rated it really liked it
Gripping and raw, yet intellectual. If you ever read one book on the role of special operations in world affairs, this should be it.
Nov 17, 2012 Jack rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
“Spec Ops by William McRaven uses a case-study methodology for illustrating his six-principles of special operations. Most of the case studies used occurred in WWII, although he also includes one from Vietnam and one of a terrorist airplane hijacking involving Israeli citizens. In the case studies, McRaven analyzes in what ways the operations were successful, and in what ways the operations could have been improved.

I would like to compare the raid on bin Laden's compound, which McRaven was the a
Jack Silkstone
Aug 06, 2011 Jack Silkstone rated it it was amazing
Vice Admiral William McRaven is a bit of a legend in the Special Ops world. The current head of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has been leading, planning and directing SEAL Team Ops since Jesus was playing fullback for Nazareth.

Word on the street is he played a pretty key role in the death of Bin Laden. He may not have pulled the trigger but it was his command that planned and executed the Op. Panetta, former head of the CIA, is said to have handed Operation Neptune's Spear over to McRa
May 26, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it
Overall an interesting read from the angles of military history and from the point of view of theory development. The author states that "first and foremost a theory must have the power to explain" and it must also be timeless, it should not change with technology or philosophy. I should be able to explain success or failure in modern and historical operations.

To summarize the book, the author, in the attainment of his masters degree, sought to develop a theory of special operations. In his vie
Jun 01, 2015 Andy rated it liked it
Overall an interesting depiction of what special operations should mean and why it is important. I am not completely sold on the theory promulgated by Adm. McRaven, nor do I believe that the 8 case studies were the best to demonstrate it. He makes a claim that his theory cuts across times and wars, so that it is broadly applicable to warfare in general. However, he includes 6 case studies from World War II, 1 from Vietnam, and 1 hostage rescue from the 70s. This does not appear to be a very broa ...more
Apr 22, 2013 Joe rated it really liked it
Referenced in several accounts of Operation Neptune Spear, the SEAL Team Six raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, the book is a study by Admiral William McRaven, head of US Special Operations Command, as he outlines a theory of military specials operations used in direct actions.

The theory is that successful special operations share six attributes: Simplicity, security, repetition, surprise, speed, and purpose, that when present through the appropriate phase of the operation (plannin
Bas Kreuger
Jun 28, 2013 Bas Kreuger rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book on special ops. The analytical way Mc Raven has written the book makes it both very readable and informative and gives a lot of insight in where, when and how special erations may be used in the modern world with its opaque threats appearing seeminly from nowhere.
A country cannot have only special forces, that is also very clear from the book, as they don't have that much staying power. A mixture of conventional forces for more mundane tasks and special forces for those ope
Phil Boyle
Oct 24, 2014 Phil Boyle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book alternates between narrative and operational details that may be dry to someone who wants only a story. Granted, the tales are there, but they are moreso introducing you to the amazing feats, the immense difficulties, the apparent impossibilities that various armies (US, Italy, Britain, Germany, Israel) faced and triumphed. The book delves into the guts of 6 WW2-era and 2 post-WW2 missions.

Films, video games and television understandably forgo the exposition in favor of expedient thri
Apr 09, 2013 Joanne rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
McRaven and this book were mentioned in The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden. As a military master's thesis, it's definitely out of my normal reading. It develops a theory of special operations, complete with case studies, a graph, and a detailed analysis of each operation, including such questions as "was it worth it?" It's super detailed about military strategy and history and is sometimes fascinating reading, though also chock-full of detail that the layperson like me does not really ne ...more
If you are a novice in the Profession of Arms do not read this book. If this is your life style, read this book. This book is hard to place. It is a cross between a text book and opinion piece. It is a case study based on one mans standard. The bad thing is that one man compromises the standard as he sees fit to make a point, simply because he wants too. The plus is the standard the author has set is set in experience, probably the most experienced fighter in this kind of thing. I enjoyed the th ...more
Stephan Bolton
Jun 10, 2014 Stephan Bolton rated it liked it
An excellent read, but focused only on developing a theory of direct action, or "surgical strike," special operations, which are the sort of activity with which ADM McRaven engaged for the bulk of his career. The book falls short of offering a fully formed theory of special operations, which in their complete spectrum greatly exceed the tactical raids and combat actions from which the author's theory was derived. Nor is his particular theory applicable in the strategic/policy implementation of s ...more
Jun 01, 2012 Matthew rated it really liked it
A must-read for anyone interested in military history. McRaven outlines general principles for special operations and uses these principles to evaluate eight case studies. Most examples are from WWII, two from Vietnam, one the Israeli raid to rescue hostages from Entebbe, Uganda. The accounts make good stories, but are also detailed and presentation of each raid treated to analysis. There are sections that are rather dry, but overall the book is informative, enjoyable, and intellectually stimula ...more
Jun 19, 2012 Kristjan rated it really liked it
For an aficionado of spec ops, this is a must-read. For others, like myself, it is an interesting explanation of a theory of spec ops as well as an analysis of 8 different spec ops. A bit technical at times, but mostly very readable. The main drawback, for me, was a lack of information about the aftermath of each operation. Of course, as a development of a theory of spec ops, the book is not concerned with such trivial things as aftermath. Neither does it make any judgment regarding the morality ...more
Jan 11, 2016 Jimboninja rated it it was ok
I rated this book 2 stars, but to be honest I only read the first 100 pages and then the last chapter 'Conclusions'. In my opinion the writing is not great, and the content is not as focused as I would like in a book of this type. The author gives a great deal of detail in the first 3 cases which I read, but not all of that detail is useful or even interesting.

Perhaps I am the wrong reader for a book of this type, perhaps the intended audience is the group of people actively engaged in special
Sep 27, 2016 Janp rated it really liked it
Shelves: military
The standard work for special operations. No tough guy stories, no heroism, no bullshit. Just the fundamentals of special operations laid out by different exemplary stories. Not just Americans, also Italian and German successes being told and dissected using the fundamentals of special operations. I could tell everything that's in the book but I suggest you just go and read it if you're into in spec ops. It might even be a good handrail for when you're interested in the genre of (non) fiction st ...more
Jul 22, 2008 David rated it it was amazing
This book was written by a Navy Seal, former CO of a Seal Team and XO of a Special Warfare Group. Great guy and a great book. He discusses in detail a series of "special operations" and then evaluates why it was successful or not. From this he establishes a set of rules to guide Spec Ops planners as they prepare to send men into harms way.
Jan 19, 2016 Joe rated it it was amazing
A concise yet comprehensive account of how men facing insurmountable odds prevail. McRaven's concept of "relative superiority" offers a simple yet accurate basis for the development of special operations theory
Matthew Daniels
Nov 15, 2014 Matthew Daniels rated it really liked it
A terrific book. Very interesting and the case studies are gripping, There is lots of intriguing detail in each chapter. I recommend it to any guy who interested in daring tales of bravery played out by the best.
May 12, 2011 Trice marked it as interested-in
Shelves: military
Referenced in an article in The Atlantic titled "From Roman Legions to Navy SEALs: Military Raiding and its Discontents"
John Schreiner
Jun 04, 2015 John Schreiner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book with detailed examples

Really enjoyable book that examines spec ops case studies and evaluates how principles are adhered to. A must read for military members that are only used to "conventional force" employment.
Mar 17, 2013 Matt rated it really liked it
Really great information but also super dry. But...better too dry than sexed up for the sake of it. Great history and well researched.
MitchFam4 rated it it was ok
Sep 27, 2016
Derryn rated it really liked it
Sep 29, 2012
Thomas Matthew
Thomas Matthew rated it liked it
Jan 21, 2015
Liz Valade
Liz Valade rated it it was amazing
Jan 16, 2017
Michael T.
Michael T. rated it it was amazing
Jul 21, 2014
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“A successful special operation defies conventional wisdom by using a small force to defeat a much larger or well-entrenched opponent. This book develops a theory of special operations that explains why this phenomenon occurs. I will show that through the use of certain principles of warfare a special operations force can reduce what Carl von Clausewitz calls the frictions of war to a manageable level. By minimizing these frictions the special operations force can achieve relative superiority over the enemy. Once relative superiority is achieved, the attacking force is no longer at a disadvantage and has the initiative to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses and secure victory. Although gaining relative superiority doesn’t guarantee success, it is necessary for success. If we can determine, prior to an operation, the best way to achieve relative superiority, then we can tailor special operations planning and preparation to improve our chances of victory.” 1 likes
“After the war, Manor returned to New York University and finished his degree in 1947. Later that year he became an instructor at the air tactical school at Tyndal Field, Florida. Following that assignment he went to Maxwell Air Force Base at Montgomery, Alabama, and helped organize the squadron officers’ school, staying on to teach the first class. He departed Maxwell for the Tactical Air Command air-ground operations school at Southern Pines, North Carolina.” 0 likes
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