Special Air Service


Special Air Service
Special Air Service
Special Air Service cap badge.jpg
Special Air Service cloth cap badge
Active 1 July 1941– 8 October 1945[1][2]
1 January 1947– present[3]
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Type Special Forces
Role Special operations
Counter Terrorism
Size Corps of three units
21 S.A.S
22 S.A.S
23 S.A.S [nb 1]
Part of United Kingdom Special Forces
Garrison/HQ Regimental headquarters: Hereford
21 S.A.S: London[4]
22 S.A.S: Credenhill [4]
23 S.A.S: Birmingham[4]
Nickname Blades[7]
Motto Who Dares Wins[8]
Colors Pompadore blue[8]
March Quick: Marche des Parachutistes Belges [8]
Slow: Lili Marlene[8]
Engagements Second World War
Malayan Emergency
Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation
Dhofar Rebellion
Aden Emergency
Northern Irish Troubles
Falklands War
Gulf War
NATO intervention in Bosnia
Operation Barras
War In Afghanistan
Iraq War
Operation Ellamy
Commanders
Colonel-Commandant General Charles Guthrie[9]
Notable
commanders
Colonel David Stirling
Lieutenant-Colonel Paddy Mayne
Brigadier Mike Calvert
Major-General Anthony Deane-Drummond
General Peter de la Billière
General Michael Rose
Lieutenant-General Cedric Delves

Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950.[5] They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world.[8][10] The SAS together with the Special Boat Service (SBS), Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), and the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) form the UKSF under the command of the Director Special Forces.

The SAS traces its origins to 1941 and the Second World War, and was reformed as part of the Territorial Army in 1947, and named the 21st Battalion, SAS Regiment, (Artists Rifles). The Regular Army 22 SAS later gained fame and recognition worldwide after successfully assaulting the Iranian Embassy in London and rescuing hostages during the 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege, lifting the regiment from obscurity outside the military establishment.[11]

The Special Air Service presently comprises 22 Special Air Service Regiment of the Regular Army, 21 Special Air Service Regiment and 23 Special Air Service Regiment from the Territorial Army. It is tasked with special operations in wartime, and primarily counter-terrorism in peacetime.

Contents

History

The Special Air Service was a unit of the British Army during the Second World War, formed in July 1941 by David Stirling and originally called "L" Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade — the "L" designation and Air Service name being a tie-in to a British disinformation campaign, trying to deceive the Axis into thinking there was a paratrooper regiment with numerous units operating in the area (the real SAS would 'prove' to the Axis that the fake one existed).[1][12] It was conceived as a commando force to operate behind enemy lines in the North African Campaign[13] and initially consisted of five officers and 60 other ranks.[14] Its first mission, in November 1941, was a parachute drop in support of the Operation Crusader offensive.[12] Due to German resistance and adverse weather conditions, the mission was a disaster: 22 men, a third of the unit, were killed or captured.[15] Its second mission was a success: transported by the Long Range Desert Group, it attacked three airfields in Libya, destroying 60 aircraft without loss.[15] In September 1942 it was renamed 1st SAS, consisting at that time of four British squadrons, one Free French, one Greek, and the Folboat Section.[16]

SAS patrol in North Africa

In January 1943, Stirling was captured in Tunisia and Paddy Mayne replaced him as commander.[17] In April 1943, the 1st SAS was reorganised into the Special Raiding Squadron under Mayne's command and the Special Boat Squadron was placed under the command of George Jellicoe.[18] The Special Raiding Squadron fought in Sicily and Italy along with the 2nd SAS, which had been formed in North Africa in 1943 in part by the re-naming of the Small Scale Raiding Force.[19][20] The Special Boat Squadron fought in the Aegean Islands and Dodecanese until the end of the war.[21] In 1944 the SAS Brigade was formed from the British 1st and 2nd SAS, the French 3rd and 4th SAS and the Belgian 5th SAS.[22] It was tasked with parachute operations behind the German lines in France[2] and carried out operations supporting the Allied advance through Belgium, the Netherlands (Operation Pegasus), and eventually into Germany (Operation Archway).[23].[22]

Post war

At the end of the war the British Government saw no further need for the force and disbanded it on 8 October 1945.[2] The following year it was decided there was a need for a long-term deep-penetration commando unit, and a new SAS regiment was to be raised as part of the Territorial Army.[24] Ultimately, the Artists Rifles, raised in 1860 and headquartered at Dukes Road, Euston, took on the SAS mantle as 21st SAS Regiment (V) on 1 January 1947.[3][24]

man in British Army uniform, carrying a parachute helmet and wearing a beret, other men can just be seen in the dark background
21 SAS soldier after a night parachute drop exercise in Denmark, 1955

In 1950, a 21 SAS squadron was raised to fight in the Korean War. After three months of training in England, it was informed that the squadron would no longer be required in Korea and so it instead volunteered to fight in the Malayan Emergency.[25] Upon arrival in Malaya, it came under the command of Mike Calvert who was forming a new unit called the Malayan Scouts (SAS).[25] Calvert had already formed one squadron from 100 volunteers in the Far East, which became A Squadron — the 21 SAS squadron then became B Squadron; and after a recruitment visit to Rhodesia by Calvert, C Squadron was formed from 1,000 Rhodesian volunteers.[26] The Rhodesians returned home after three years service and were replaced by a New Zealand squadron.[27] By this time, the need for a regular army SAS regiment had been recognised; 22 SAS Regiment was formally added to the army list in 1952 and has been based at Hereford since 1960.[8] In 1959 the third regiment, 23 SAS Regiment, was formed by renaming the Reserve Reconnaissance Unit, which had succeeded MI9 and were experts in escape and evasion.[28]

22 SAS Regiment

Since serving in Malaya, men from the regular army 22 SAS Regiment have taken part in covert reconnaissance and surveillance by patrols and some larger scale raiding missions in Borneo.[29] An operation against communist guerillas included the Battle of Mirbat in the Oman.[30] They have also taken part in operations in the Aden Emergency,[31] Northern Ireland,[32] and Gambia.[29] Their Special projects team assisted the West German counter-terrorism group GSG 9 at Mogadishu.[29] The SAS counter terrorist wing famously took part in a hostage rescue operation during the Iranian Embassy Siege in London.[33] During the Falklands War D and G squadrons were deployed and participated in the raid on Pebble Island.[34] Operation Flavius was a controversial operation in Gibraltar against the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA).[29] It directed NATO aircraft onto Serb positions and hunted war criminals in Bosnia.[35][36]

The Gulf War, in which A, B and D squadrons deployed, was the largest SAS mobilisation since the Second World War, also notable for the failure of the Bravo Two Zero mission.[37] In Sierra Leone it took part in Operation Barras, a hostage rescue operation, to extract members of the Royal Irish Regiment.[29] In the Iraq War, it formed part of Task Force Black and Task Force Knight, with A Squadron 22 SAS being singled out for exceptional service by General Stanley McChrystal, the American commander of NATO forces: during a six month tour it carried out 175 combat missions.[38] In 2006 members of the SAS were involved in the rescue of peace activists Norman Kember, James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden. The three men had been held hostage in Iraq for 118 days during the Christian Peacemaker hostage crisis.[39] Operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan[40] involved soldiers from 21 and 23 SAS Regiments.[4]

Various British newspapers have speculated on the SAS involvement in Operation Ellamy and the Libyan Civil War, the Daily Telegraph reports that "defence sources have confirmed that the SAS has been in Libya for several weeks, and played a key role in coordinating the fall of Tripoli." [41] While The Guardian reports "They have been acting as forward air controllers – directing pilots to targets – and communicating with Nato operational commanders. They have also been advising rebels on tactics."[42]

Eight armed soldiers at the rear of a Chinook helicopter
Bravo Two Zero patrol members

In recent years SAS officers have risen to the highest ranks in the British Army. General Peter de la Billière was the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in the 1990 Gulf War.[43] General Michael Rose became commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia in 1994.[44] In 1997 General Charles Guthrie became Chief of the Defence Staff the head of the British Armed Forces.[45] Lieutenant-General Cedric Delves was appointed Commander of the Field Army and Deputy Commander in Chief NATO Regional Headquarters Allied Forces North in 2002–2003.[46]

Influence on other special forces

Following the post-war reconstitution of the Special Air Service, other countries in the Commonwealth recognised their need for Special Forces-type units. Australia formed the 1st SAS Company in July 1957, which became a full regiment of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) in August 1964.[47] The New Zealand Special Air Service squadron was formed in 1954 to serve with the British SAS in Malaya.[27] On its return from Malaya, the C (Rhodesian) Squadron formed the basis for creation of the Rhodesian Special Air Service in 1961.[28]

Non-commonwealth countries have also formed units based on the SAS. Impressed by the Australian SASR methods in Vietnam, American General William Westmoreland ordered the formation of a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) unit in each infantry brigade, modelled on the SASR.[48] Another American unit, Delta Force, was formed by Charles Alvin Beckwith, who served with 22 SAS as an exchange officer, and recognized the need for a similar type of unit in the United States Army.[49] It is claimed the Israeli Sayeret Matkal was also modelled on the SAS and even shares the same "who dares wins" motto.[50] The French 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment can trace its origins to the Second World War 3rd and 4th SAS, also adopting its "who dares wins" motto.[51]

Organisation

Little publicly verifiable information exists on the SAS, as the United Kingdom Government does not usually comment on special forces matters.[52][53] The Special Air Service comprises three units: one Regular and two reserve Territorial Army (TA) units. The regular army unit is 22 SAS Regiment and territorial army units are 21 SAS Regiment (Artists) and 23 SAS Regiment.[6]

Squadrons

22 SAS Regiment has four operational squadrons: A, B, D and G. Each squadron consists of approximately 60 men commanded by a major, divided into four troops and a small headquarters section.[38][54] Troops usually consist of 16 men,[40] and each patrol within a troop consists of four men, with each man possessing a particular skill: signals, demolition, medic or linguist in addition to basic skills learned during the course of his training.[54] The four troops specialise in four different areas:

In 1980 R Squadron was formed which has since been renamed L Detachment; its members are all ex-regular SAS regiment soldiers who have a commitment to reserve service.[54][nb 2]

22 Special Air Service Regiment 21 Special Air Service Regiment (Artists) 23 Special Air Service Regiment
'A' Squadron (Hereford)[4] 'A' Squadron (Regent's Park)[4] 'B' Squadron (Leeds)[59]
'B' Squadron[60] 'C' Squadron (Bramley)[61] 'D' Squadron (Scotland)[62]
'D' Squadron[63] 'E' Squadron (Wales)[64] 'G' Squadron (Manchester)[65]
'G' Squadron[63][nb 3]

Special projects team

The special projects team is the official name for the Special Air Service anti–hijacking counter–terrorism team.[54] It is trained in Close Quarter Battle (CQB) and sniper techniques and specializes in hostage rescue in buildings or on public transport.[67] The team was formed in 1975 after Prime Minister Edward Heath asked the Ministry of Defence to prepare for any possible terrorist attack similar to the massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics and ordered that the SAS Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) wing be raised.[68]

Once the wing had been established, each squadron rotated on a continual basis through counter–terrorist training including hostage rescue, siege breaking, and live firing exercises — it has been reported that during CRW training each soldier expends as many as 100,000 pistol rounds. Squadrons refresh their training every 16 months, on average. The CRW wing's first deployment was during the Balcombe Street Siege. The Metropolitan Police had trapped a PIRA unit; it surrendered when it heard on the BBC that the SAS were being sent in.[68]

The first documented action abroad by the CRW wing was assisting the West German counter-terrorism group GSG 9 at Mogadishu.[29] In 1980 the SAS were involved in a hostage rescue during the Iranian Embassy Siege.

United Kingdom Special Forces

The Special Air Service is under the operational command of the Director Special Forces (DSF), a major-general grade post. Previously ranked as a brigadier, the DSF was promoted from brigadier to major-general in recognition of the significant expansion of the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF).[69] The UKSF originally consisted of the regular and the reserve units of the SAS and the Special Boat Service, then joined by two new units: the Special Forces Support Group and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment.[69] They are supported by the 18 (UKSF) Signal Regiment and the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing, part of which (8 Flight Army Air Corps) is based in Hereford with the SAS.[70][71][72]

Recruitment, selection and training

snow and frost covered mountain peak
Pen y Fan 2,907 feet (886 m) above sea-level. The location for the Fan dance.

All members of the United Kingdom armed forces can be considered for special forces selection,[nb 4] but historically the majority of candidates have an airborne forces background.[74] All instructors are full members of the Special Air Service Regiment. Selections are held twice yearly, in summer and winter,[73] in Sennybridge in the Brecon Beacons. Selection lasts for five weeks and normally starts with about 200 potential candidates.[73] On arrival candidates first complete a Personal Fitness Test (PFT) and a Combat Fitness Test (CFT).[nb 5] They then march cross country against the clock, increasing the distances covered each day, culminating in what is known as the Fan dance: a 14 miles (23 km) march with full equipment scaling and descending Pen y Fan in four hours.[73] By the end of the hill phase candidates must be able to run 4 miles in 30 minutes and swim two miles in 90 minutes.[73]

Following the hill phase is the jungle phase, taking place in Belize, Brunei, or Malaysia.[76] Candidates are taught navigation, patrol formation and movement, and jungle survival skills.[77] Candidates returning to Hereford finish training in battle plans and foreign weapons and take part in combat survival exercises,[78] the final one being the week-long escape and evasion. Candidates are formed into patrols and, carrying nothing more than a tin can filled with survival equipment, are dressed in old Second World War uniforms and told to head for a point by first light. The final selection test is arguably the most gruelling: resistance to interrogation (RTI), lasting for 36 hours.[79]

Typically, 15–20% of candidates make it through the hill phase selection process. From the approximately 200 candidates, most will drop out within the first few days, and by the end about 30 will remain. Those who complete all phases of selection are rewarded with a transfer to an operational squadron.[80]

SAS Reserve selection

The Territorial Army Special Air Service (reserve) Regiments undergo the same selection process, but as a part-time programme over a longer period:

  • nine weekends of endurance training;
  • one week endurance training in the Brecon Beacons, followed by
  • a one week assessment (Test Week) at the Beacons.[81]

This is followed by Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) Training, comprising:

  • nine weekends patrol SOP's including surveillance and reconnaissance;
  • one-week live-firing including patrol contact drills and troop offensive action;
  • a nine-day battle camp comprising live-firing assessment and field training exercise to test the skills learned throughout selection;
  • culminating in Conduct after Capture (CAC) training.[81]

On successful completion of this training, ranks are badged as SAS(R) and deemed fit for appointment. They enter a probationary period during which they complete final training:

  • Basic Parachute Course;
  • Special Forces Communications Course; and
  • a main training period to be fit for mobilisation.[81]

Uniform distinctions

Normal barracks headdress is the sand-coloured beret,[8] its cap badge is a downward pointing Excalibur, wreathed in flames (often wrongly referred to as a winged dagger) worked into the cloth of a Crusader shield with the motto Who Dares Wins.[82][nb 6] SAS pattern parachute wings, designed by Lieutenant Jock Lewes and based on the stylised sacred Ibis wings of Isis of Egyptian iconography depicted in the décor of Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo, are worn on the right shoulder.[84] Its ceremonial No 1 Dress Uniform is distinguished by a light blue stripe on the trousers; the Commanding Officer and officer of the day wear a black leather pouch belt mounted with a silver whistle chain and the Mars and Minerva badge of the Artists Rifles.[8] Its Stable belt is a shade of blue similar to the blue stripe on the No 1 dress uniform.[8]

Battle honours

In the British Army, battle honours are awarded to regiments that have seen active service in a significant engagement or campaign, generally with a victorious outcome.[85] The Special Air Service Regiment has been awarded the following battle honours:[86][87]

North-West Europe 1944-45 · Tobruk 1941 · Benghazi Raid · North Africa 1940-43 · Landing in Sicily · Sicily 1943 · Termoli · Valli di Comacchio · Italy 1943-45 · Greece 1944-45 · Adriatic · Middle East 1943-44 · Falkland Islands 1982 · Western Iraq · Gulf 1991

Order of precedence

Preceded by
Line Infantry and Rifles
British Army Order of Precedence[88] Succeeded by
Army Air Corps

Memorials

The names of those members of the SAS who have died on duty are inscribed on the regimental clock tower at Sterling lines.[89] Inscribed on the base of the clock is a verse from The Golden Road to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker:[90]

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
Across that angry or that glimmering sea ...

The other main memorial is the SAS and Airborne Forces memorial in the Cloisters at Westminster Abbey. The SAS Brigade Memorial at Sennecey-le-Grand in France commemorates the wartime dead of the Belgian, British and French SAS and recently a memorial plaque was added to the David Stirling Memorial in Scotland. There are other smaller memorials "scattered throughout Europe and in the Far East".[91]

Alliances

 Australia: Special Air Service Regiment[92]
 New Zealand: Special Air Service[92]

References

Footnotes
  1. ^ On 31 July 1947, the 21st Battalion, SAS Regiment, (Artists Rifles) (Territorial Army) was formed. This was followed on the 16 July 1952, when the 22 SAS Regiment was formed and the 23 Special Air Service Regiment (Territorial Army) was formed in February 1958.[4][5][6]
  2. ^ The Regular reserve is made up of ex-soldiers who have a mobilisation obligation by virtue of their former service in the regular army. For the most part, these reservists constitute a standby rather than ready reserve, and are rarely mobilised except in times of national emergency or incipient war.[58]
  3. ^ Named G Squadron after the Guards independent parachute company which was disbanded in 1975. Most members are from the Brigade of Guards[66]
  4. ^ The regular elements of United Kingdom Special Forces never recruit directly from the general public,[73]
  5. ^ PFT —a minimum of 50 sit ups in two minutes, and 44 press-ups in two minutes and a 1.5 miles (2.4 km) run in 10 minutes 30 seconds.
    CFT — A march as a squad of 8 miles (13 km) in two hours carrying 25 kilograms (55 lb) of equipment.[75]
  6. ^ Designed by Bob Tait in 1941, it is a flaming sword, although it is often known as a winged dagger[83]
Citations
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