Tunisia 2019 Expedition Planning

It is a pretty rare thing in the modern world to discover in the texts of decades-old accounts a ‘lost’ treasure that is both accessible and, as far as we can tell, no one has gone in search of yet. But here we are and plans for our upcoming expedition to the dune seas of Tunisia are well advanced.

What treasure are we seeking? Well, not gold or jewels or lost cities of antiquity; but something a little closer to our hearts for those that are fans of Popski’s Private Army (PPA) and the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). Towards the end of the WWII North African campaign a joint PPA and LRDG patrol set off from Libya seeking to gain more information about defences west of the German Mareth Line. Thirteen vehicles set out including jeeps, LRDG Chevrolets and a pair of 3-ton heavy section supply trucks. The supply trucks turned back before crossing into Tunisia after establishing a supply dump and the remaining eleven ‘fighting vehicles’ pushed on, eventually reaching the eastern edge of the Grand Erg Orientale sand sea. Here seven of the vehicles were hidden in the dunes while four jeeps set off to scout the area around Matmata. However, the stashed vehicles were discovered by the Luftwaffe and the crews had to abandon all seven vehicles as aircraft strafed their hideout. Later the survivors linked up with the returning jeeps and marched northwest to link up with the approaching American 1st Army near Tozuer, 200 miles away.

So what ever happened to the seven abandoned special forces vehicles left behind? Well, we know that the LRDG always tried to recover their lost vehicles, but since these were all damaged by aircraft fire or explosives set by their own retreating crews, they may not have made the effort. The PPA had a more laissez faire attitude and Popski always claimed ‘war is wasteful’ and went on to acquire replacement jeeps from the Americans. The quick end to the African war and pressure to look towards Europe may also have played a part as the LRDG was to give up their vehicles in future operations in the Adriatic. Did the local Tunisians drag off or dismantle the wrecks? The answer to all the above is that we just don’t know.

So, towards the end of October 2019 the PPE is going to set off in four desert-equipped trucks with eight crew and go in search of any remaining signs of the ‘lost patrol.’ Having studied a number of print accounts, old War Office records and maps we have narrowed the area down to a reasonable size. Our search will be led by a former search and rescue pilot experienced in coordinating ground searches. The rest of the crew members include experienced desert hands, a paramedic, journalist and other adventurers up for the trip.

What will we find? In all likelihood nothing but sand. Maybe a few old ration tins or ‘flimsy’ fuel cans if we are lucky. But perhaps as the sands shift we may discover the actual remains of a late desert war special forces vehicle or two. But those discoveries yet lie ahead of us…so stay tuned.

Our Lightweight Takes Shape....

Our latest addition to the PPE fleet is taking shape as it goes through its transformation into a desert expedition vehicle. ‘Shimi’ is a 1982, ex-Dutch army, Land Rover Lightweight. It has had a 200 Tdi engine installed (less the turbo) and a completely new Painless Performance waterproof wiring harness, making it far more reliable than your typical 37-year-old vehicle.

Shimi has just received a couple of coats of BS361 Light Stone paint and is getting it’s cargo area modified for desert travel, similar to the set up of it’s larger stable mates. This includes internal ‘walls’ in line with the raised wheel wells to keep kit from moving about and a 3mm chequerplate hinged deck to keep everything secure while travelling. The deck surface also gets a large number of staples to tie down gear that doesn’t fit inside the cargo space. Shimi will travel with one under-seat 45L fuel tank (the other side holds the battery and various tools). Spare fuel will be carried by Tembo, while Shimi carries 80L of water in jerry cans stored in the cargo area.

The name ‘Shimi’ comes from the slightly eccentric but quiet and courageous Lord Lovat who was the Commanding officer of 4 Commando during the Dieppe raid and later led the 1st Commando Brigade ashore on D-Day. Nicknamed ‘Shimi’ by close friends, Lord Lovat can best be remembered for being followed around by a equally unusual bagpiper, Bill Millen who played throughout the fierce fighting on D-day. Both can be seen in the film The Longest Day coming ashore and moving to relieve the beleaguered para-glider troops holding the Orne River bridge.

Shimi the Lightweight

Shimi the Lightweight

Next Expedition: Tunisia 25 Oct-08 Nov 2019

We have currently begun planning for our next expedition to the Grand Erg Orientale sand sea in Tunisia. The objective of the expedition is two-fold: to search for the location of the lost PPA/LRDG vehicles destroyed by the Luftwaffe during WWII; and to navigate a crossing of the sand sea where a small group of survivors travelled on foot for nearly 200 miles to escape capture.

It won’t all be serious exploration as we will take time out to just enjoy another part of the Sahara and the culture of rural Tunisia. There may even be a few abandoned Star Wars movie sets to explore along the way. Add in our version of desert glamping for good measure.

Currently, we have three trucks going and up to four crew positions open. So if you are interested in joining our expedition, please get in contact.

A Sahara sunset….

A Sahara sunset….

Adding to Our Vehicle Fleet

While we have never really planned to build our own 'expedition' fleet, it was probably inevitable. Some overland travellers feel comfortable travelling alone...maybe because it removes the complication of having fellow travellers getting on your nerves after days or weeks together. Or perhaps it is just a a desire to accomplish something just for themselves...and by themselves. But we have always found it much more enjoyable to travel in a small group. It broadens the experience, gives you an opportunity to share the highs and lows of the adventure and the many hands make light work of the chores that come along with vehicle-based expeditions. There is certainly something to be said for the safety of not being a vehicle along in the wilderness in case of a breakdown or medical emergency. 

So our little PPE fleet is up to three vehicles now. Tembo the 110 is still the lead vehicle and the best equipped with a number of expeditions under his belt. Pumba, our Defender 90 is currently being upgraded and kitted out for our autumn 2018 Morocco trip. Finally, our latest addition, 'Shimi' the Land Rover Lightweight will begin its expedition conversion over the winter of 2018/2019 for a debut on out planned Tunisia trip in late 2019. 

By adding extra vehicles we can invite old friends and new friends to join us, as well as build up a core of PPE expedition crew members that hopefully will become regulars on future expeditions. 

PPE Trucks 2 sm.jpg

Erg Chegaga Challenge, Morocco Oct 2018

So we are planning another Morocco desert expedition...this will be our fourth trip to the North African country. We love the fact that it is safe, no visas required, bringing our vehicles is simple and the people are friendly and relaxed. 

The plan this time is to board our southbound ferry from Portsmouth to Spain on 23 September for a two-night crossing to Bilbao, Spain. From there we drive down to our favourite beach campsite at Tarifa to rest up and resupply before taking another ferry for the short hop across to Morocco. From there we will head south east across the Atlas mountains heading for an abandoned French Foreign Legion fort at the edge of the desert. Setting off from here we ascend the escarpment up on to the Rekkam Plateau and begin our desert adventure. The goal is to move cross country until we reach the sand sea of Erg Chegaga where we will pause and spend a few days just enjoying the dunes and perfecting our driving techniques. When finally sated, we will turn back northward and follow the small tracks and roads to the famous blue town of Chefchouen before crossing back over to Spain on 11 October. Our ferry back to the UK sets off on 15 October. 

For anyone looking to join us, the easiest way is to fly in to Seville, Spain where we can pick you up ahead of crossing to Morocco and drop you off at the airport on our way back. Dates would be roughly 27 Sep in bound and 12 Sep outbound. Although ayone with enough time would be welcome to join us for the full trip down from the UK. For anyone driving their own vehicle, we will RV in Tarifa on 27 September. 

We would ask those joining us in our vehicles to contribute to the ferry costs, but other than that we carry all the necessary gear. You just need a passport, backpack with some clothes and a sense of adventure. Please contact for more details if your interested.

What does Popski's Private Expeditions mean?

So, I imagine that anyone who comes across the name of our group wonders where we got the name and what 'private expeditions' really means...

Well, first off, if you have seen the 'Our Inspiration' section of the About Page, you will see that the name is a tribute to Popski's Private Army, one of the more unique and little known British special forces units of WWII. It's founder and commander, Lt. Colonel Vladamir Peniakoff, was an inspiration to me as young soldier and his account of his military exploits a motivation for me as a man. 

The 'private' part of the name also suits because we are not a commercial tour company. We do hope to find others to join our expeditions but not just anyone can join up. Like the wartime PPA, you have to measure up to our standard of selection. Some of the key traits we look for:

  •  A reasonable state of physical fitness as the desert can test your endurance sometimes
  • A sense of humour and the ability to laugh at challenges and adversity
  • A desire to pitch in with group chores and with helping each other when we need it
  • A sense of adventure

Of course, a desire to experience vehicle-based expeditions without the bubble wrap of a roof, windscreen, air con or leather seats also is a basic quality we look for!

So if you think you have the spirit of a classic adventurer, introduce yourself and you may be able to join our private little club!


Adventure Overland 2018

Just back from another successful Adventure Overland show held over the weekend of 28-29 April in Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK. Despite the weather being less than ideal (cold, wet and grey) the show was a success with a pretty good turn out of overlanders, clubs, traders and presenters. 

I presented again, as I usually do on personal security on the road...always well attended and topical, as it is something everyone planning a trip worries about at least a little bit. Given that I am a global security advisor for humanitarian NGO's in my day job, much of that knowledge transfers easily to the adventure travel sector. 

I also had a fun presentation titled: "The Benefits of Traveling Light" on the Sunday where I got to poke a bit of fun at those overlanders who try to cram every shiny, expensive accessory onto their trucks...a personal pet peev of mine obviously. But the session went over well and I saw quite a few nodding heads as our messaging about looking at how successful motorcycle travellers are travelling around the world with virtually no gear came through. So, if they can do it with just a couple of side panniers why do 4x4-based overlanders feel they need so much gear?

Met some cool people and enjoyed the event immensely. Looking forward to the fall show on 22-23 September from which we will then set off on our next Morocco trip.


Welcome to the PPE News and Blog section!

Well, this is the first post on our new website, so welcome! I am writing in the expectation that at some point someone might actually stumble upon this site and stay long enough to find something interesting. We don't really expect many people out there will ever decide to take up the open-top overland lifestyle but even if we only reach a small community then we will consider it worth the effort. So what are we hoping to achieve here?

  • First and foremost, pay tribute to the memory of Popski's Private Army, that little-known band of WWII adventurers who accomplished amazing deeds while living and operating out of their stripped-down jeeps. 
  • Find others who might enjoy an open top adventure or link up with others who may be doing this kind of thing now.
  • Offer seats in our vehicles for those who would love to experience this kind of adventure but don't want to build their own open top overland vehicle.
  • Promote safe adventure travel through delivering personal travel security training.
  • Have fun and document our travels!

So, over the comings weeks, months and years I will be posting articles about our previous trips and upcoming expedition plans, how we modified our vehicles, issues affecting the overland community and anything else that strikes us as interesting. 

So, we hope you join us and enjoy what the PPE has to offer!