BRITAIN’S famous Special Air Service Regiment, much copied but never equalled, was the brainchild of the gifted military genius Lt Col David Stirling. His behind-the-lines unit, the SAS, helped by the veterans of the Long Range Desert Group, burst spectacularly onto the scene in the North African Desert in 1941.
A small force of well-trained, well-armed determined men operating deep behind enemy lines, the SAS achieved damage and destruction way out of proportion to its size, destroying – on the ground – over 400 of the enemy’s best war-planes. With variations, such as attacks on troops, trains, ammunition dumps and communication, this successful formula was repeated throughout the war in Italy and North West Europe and into Germany itself.
The SAS acquired their own famous transport, their feared armoured jeeps – bristling with deadly Vickers K and Browning machine guns. Virtually, every hand-picked soldier who served in the SAS and it’s sister force the Special Boat Squadron, was a hero in his own right, but Stirling’s crack regiment spawned some of the greatest fighting soldiers of all time, including Lt Col Paddy Mayne (DSO and three bars), Major Roy Farran (DSO, MC and two bars), and Anders Lassen (VC, MC and two bars).
After a short disbandment at the end of the war, the Regiment was urgently recalled to active service in Malaya and has been at the centre of hot spots the world over ever since.
The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) was Britain’s original Special Force in North Africa, long before the SAS burst on to the scene. With it’s unrivalled mastery of the Western Desert, in it’s wide ranging and heavily armed trucks, the LRDG even earned the praise of Rommel, the Desert Fox himself, for their skilful reconnaissance, punishing raids and powers of evasion.
The LRDG ferried David Stirling’s SAS raiders on their early missions to bomb aircraft on enemy airfields far behind the lines following the debacle of the SAS’s first parachute raid, where a ferocious gale scattered the raiders all over the desert.
Hand picked members of the unit came from the Guards, Yeomanry cavalry units, other specialist units and from New Zealand and Rhodesian forces.
Later in the war, they went on to further glory in the Aegean, Adriatic, Italy and Yugoslavia, fighting alongside bloodthirsty partisans and using their legendary reconnaissance skills to help the RAF and Royal Navy sink more than 100 enemy vessels.
The unit’s commanders include Lt Cols Ralph Bagnold (founder commanding officer), Guy Prendergast, Jake Easonsmith and the legendary David Lloyd Owen (see photo’ on left).