Introduction: SAS (01:43)
Members of Britain’s Special Air Service stormed the Iranian embassy in London on May 5, 1980. Their mission was to free hostages taken by Iraqi terrorists. The SAS cut its teeth decades earlier in Egypt and Libya during World War 2.
Special Air Service Origins (05:14)
Adolf Hitler sent Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps to North Africa to help his struggling Italian allies. SAS founder David Stirling envisioned his force as small teams that would parachute behind enemy lines to attack supply dumps and airfields.
Formation and Training (04:10)
Brigadier Dudley Clarke named the SAS, and Bob Tait designed the unit’s winged dagger cap badge. Stirling recruited a team that underwent training in skills necessary to survive for long periods behind enemy lines.
Operation Crusader (02:45)
Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck oversaw Operation Crusader, an offensive to relieve Tobruk and drive Rommel out of the Cyrenaica region of Libya. The SAS was assigned to raid and sabotage airfields in Tmimi and Gazala, but sandstorms hampered the mission.
Axis Airfield Raids (03:32)
The main British attack on Rommel and the Afrika Korps opened on Nov. 18, 1941, but it did not go quite as planned. The SAS was assigned to attack airfields at Agedabla, Sirte, Agheila and Tamet in northern Libya.
New Tactics (05:24)
Rommel struck again on Jan. 22, 1942, driving the British back to Gazala. The SAS profile grew as the unit carried out attacks on the Port of Benghazi, nearby airfields and other targets in North Africa. Armed jeeps allowed SAS forces to attack enemy airfields without leaving their vehicles.
Stirling Captured and Imprisoned (06:17)
Prime Minister Winston Churchill overhauled his Middle East command structure. The SAS launched raids on the Port of Benghazi and other targets. Anglo-U.S. forces brought Morocco and Algeria into the Allied camp. The SAS began to operate in Tunisia.
Italy Invasion (04:29)
Stirling’s capture led to a reorganization of the SAS. The unit was divided into two parts: the Special Boat Squadron, led by Earl Jellicoe, and the Special Raiding Squadron, led by Paddy Mayne. The new squadrons participated in the invasion of Italy.
Aegean Operations (04:54)
While SAS forces were busy in Italy, Jellicoe and the Special Boat Squadron was active in the Aegean Sea. In the spring of 1944, the SAS was enlarged to brigade size and concentrated in Britain to prepare for the invasion of France.
Uncertain Future of SAS (04:03)
An SAS squadron returned to Italy in the autumn of 1944 and carried out attacks on communications. The SBS took part in the liberation of the Greek mainland towards the end of 1944. Brigadier Mike Calvert took command in March 1945.
Disbanded and Reborn (03:50)
The SAS was resurrected during the 12-year campaign against communist terrorists in Malaysia. Subsequent campaigns took the SAS to Saudi Arabia, the Falkland Islands, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Credits: Gladiators of World War II: SAS (00:56)
Credits: Gladiators of World War II: SAS
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