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Special Air Service

The Special Air Service (SAS) is a British special forces unit of the British Army.

Regimental Motto: Who Dares Wins

The 22nd Special Air Service (SAS) of the British Army is one of if not the best special forces and counter terrorist (CT) units in the world. They have been part of every major British conflict since World War Two including the Gulf War and the Falklands War. They are commonly referred to simply as "The Regiment". They are the only British regiment relieved of parade duty.

The SAS was founded by then Captain David Stirling during World War II. It was originally designed as a long-range desert patrol group to conduct raids and sabotage far behind enemy lines. Stirling looked for recruits with rugged individualism and initiative and recruited specialists from Layforce[?] and other units. The name "Special Air Service" was meant as a deception.

Their first mission in support of Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck's attack in November 1941 was a disaster. Only 22 out of 62 troopers reached the rendezvous. Stirling still managed to organize another attack against the German airfields at Aqedabia[?], Site[?] and Agheila[?]. They destroyed 61 enemy aircraft without a single casualty. 1st SAS earned regimental status and Stirling’s brother begun to organize a second regiment, 2 SAS.

During the desert war they performed long range insertion missions[?] and destroyed aircraft and fuel depots[?]. Their success was apparently one of the reasons for Hitler’s Kommandobefehl order to execute all captured commandos. When the Germans stepped up security, the SAS switched to hit-and-run tactics. They used jeeps armed with Vickers K[?] machine guns and used tracers[?] to ignite fuel and aircraft tanks. They took part in Operation Torch.

When the Italians captured David Stirling, he ended up in Colditz castle as a prisoner of war for the rest of the war. His brother Bill and Paddy Mayne took command. Prior to the Normandy Invasion, SAS men were inserted into France as 4-men teams to help maquisards[?] of the French Resistance. In Operation Houndsmith, 144 SAS men parachuted with jeeps and supplies into Dijon, France. During and after D-Day they continued their raids against fuel depots, communications centres and railways. They did suffer casualties – at one stage the Germans executed 24 SAS soldiers and a US air force pilot. At the end of the war, they hunted down SS and Gestapo officers. By the end of the war the SAS had been expanded to five regiments, including one French and one Belgian.

After the war, the British War Office[?] did not entirely disband the SAS regiments, but the French and Belgians returned to their own countries. The SAS was no longer a regular army unit but Territorial Unit 21 SAS Regiment still existed. However, in April 1948, the Malay Races Liberation Army[?] begun insurrection which ended up as the Malayan Emergency. Two years later Brigadier Mike Calvert practically re-created the SAS as a commando unit reminiscent of jungle troops like Chindits[?]. Territorial Unit 21 SAS was redeployed from the Korean War and sent to Malaya. Many other members were recruited from the original SAS, other units, Rhodesia, and even army prisons. The intended unit name "Malay Scouts" was scrapped for the reborn SAS.

Training new recruits took time. They learned tracking skills from Iban[?] soldiers from Borneo. They began to patrol in teams of 2 or 4 men. Less than sanitary conditions forced them to learn first aid. They also learned local languages and respect for the local customs and culture. Patrol periods in the jungle were progressively extended to three months. Soldiers unsuitable for jungle warfare dropped out. At that stage they were mainly armed with pump-action shotguns[?]. They also earned the respect of some of the indigenes by helping them. By the end of 1955 there were 5 SAS squadrons in Malaya. They stayed in mopping up operations until the end of 1958.

Strings of other missions followed. The SAS fought anti-sultan rebels in Jebel Akhdar, Oman in 1958-1959. They fought Indonesian supported “guerillas” during Indonesian Confrontation in Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak in 1963-1966. They tried to pacify the situation in Aden in 1964-1967 before the withdrawal of British troops. They fought against another insurrection in Dhofar[?], Oman in 1970-1977.

Most of these deployments were clandestine. Membership, missions, and the whole existence of SAS became a secret. The Regiment’s role was expanded to bodyguard training, counterinsurgency[?] and counter-terrorism. They also began to work in civilian clothes on missions unless they could use uniforms of some other unit as a ruse. The British Secretary of Defence still does not discuss the SAS or its operations.

The SAS have been active in Northern Ireland since 1968 (publicly from 1976), mainly in a plainclothes, intelligence-gathering role.

The Regiment’s counter-terrorism role began in the 1950s but they did not get finances to expand this role until the 1970s. Their reputation is high enough that in some cases potential terrorists have given up when they have been falsely persuaded that the SAS is coming.

The most public example of this role is the siege on the Iranian embassy in London on April 30 1980 - the event that brought the SAS into the glare of publicity. One terrorist survived. Afterwards thousands of people claimed to have been there.

During the Falklands War, SAS teams were sent beforehand for reconnaissance purposes. They destroyed an Argentine submarine in Cumberland Bay[?], guided Harrier attacks to Port Stanley airport to destroy Argentine helicopters, and blew up 11 jet fighters in Pebble Island[?].

In the Gulf War, the SAS's job was similar to their forerunners in World War Two: they were inserted inside enemy territory in Iraq to gather intelligence and destroy mobile Scud missile launchers. They did the job with anything from explosives to jackhammers.

Allegedly some troopers (officially ex-members of the Regiment) fought in the Vietnam War and helped Mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. Some ex-members have also become mercenaries.

They are also involved in the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan alongside Delta Force. When Taliban and Al-Qaida prisoners tried to escape in Afghanistan, the SAS was reputedly called in. They also rescued two CIA men who were trapped behind enemy lines.

The SAS has been based at Hereford in the west of England for many years. Stirling Lines, named after David Stirling, was initially the home of the Regiment but in 1999 they moved to a former RAF base at Credenhill[?] on the outskirts of Hereford.

Commanding officer John Woodhouse introduced SAS Selection in 1952. Before that, troopers had earned their credentials in the field.

The SAS Selection is the toughest selection procedure of any Special Forces team in the world. It is a 6 month test of strength, endurance and resolve over the Brecon Beacons[?] in Wales, the Elan Valley, and in the jungle[?] of Brunei. It includes tests of interrogation resistance. Anyone who fails the test is returned to his former regiment. They get only two tries.

After passing Selection, soldiers enter one of the Squadrons and then become members of a "Troop" which consist of Boat, Air, Mountain and Mobility each with special skills in their areas. They lose their previous rank when they join the Regiment. They are on probation for four years before they are fully accepted, trusted and trained in the SAS.

Apparently the more conventional officers in the British army do not much appreciate the "unruly" SAS members.

The SAS has accepted members from the entire world but particularly from the British Commonwealth countries including Rhodesia and New Zealand and not all the members are Caucasian.

US special forces unit Delta Force[?] was formed along SAS organizational patterns as did the Israeli commando unit that carried out the Entebbe raid. New Zealand[?] and Australia have their own SAS units.


  • Philip Warner – The SAS (official history)
  • Ken Connor: Ghost Force – The secret history of the SAS (unofficial history)

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