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Special Air Service – how it was founded [video]

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THE crack Special Air Service was founded during the Second World War and started as they meant to go on — deep undercover and hitting the enemy hard.

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David Stirling, then aged 25 and the son of a Scottish laird, came up with the idea for the elite raiding force in the spring of 1941. Here is the story of how the SAS was born…

 Colonel David Stirling with a patrol of Special Air Service (SAS) men in the Middle East
Colonel David Stirling with a patrol of Special Air Service (SAS) men in the Middle East

Who was David Stirling and how did the idea for the SAS come about?

The 6ft 6in Scottish aristocrat, mountaineer and cowboy quit Cambridge University to be an artist in Paris and later joined the Scots Guards.

He was training to climb Mount Everest when the Second World War broke out and volunteered for a commando unit in the Middle East.

While recovering in hospital from partial paralysis of his legs after an unofficial parachute jump went wrong, he hatched a cunning plan to launch surprise attacks using small teams of crack soldiers.

He scribbled down his plans for small raiding groups, independent of the traditional military.

They would operate deep behind enemy lines, destroying aircraft and supply links before melting away before their opponents had time to respond.

 Founder David Stirling rarely gave interviews after the war until his death in 1990 aged 74
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Founder David Stirling rarely gave interviews after the war until his death in 1990 aged 74

The amazing true story of the men who forged the special covert force in World War Two was revealed in the BBC series SAS: Rogue Warriors.

In December 1941, the new SAS unit proved its worth by raiding a German airfield at Sirte, Libya. They blew up 24 aircraft in all.

Among the crack game-changing squad was Paddy Mayne, who later took over as head of the SAS.

The troops then began using modified Jeeps mounted with machine guns to shoot up enemy vehicles and planes and blew them up with handheld Lewes bombs, invented by an SAS instructor

In 15 months Stirling’s forces put hundreds of enemy vehicles out of action and destroyed more than 250 aircraft on the ground, plus dozens of supply dumps, railways and telecommunications networks.

Stirling was dubbed the “Phantom Major” by German Field Marshall Rommel, and Britain’s commander Field Marshall Montgomery described him as “mad, quite mad”. He was rumoured to have personally strangled 41 men.

He was finally captured by the Germans in 1943. He escaped and was recaptured by the Italians. After four more escape attempts he was sent to the notorious Colditz prison where he spent the rest of the war.

Later he formed a private military company working in Gulf states. He was knighted in 1990 and died the same year aged 74.

 

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