The Story Of The SAS, General Sir Peter de la Billiere introduces this documentary investigation into the history of the world’s most feared fighting unit, from their development as an elite commando unit in North Africa during the Second World War, to their establishment as the best special forces regiment in the world.
The Special Air Service (SAS) has its origins in the North African desert. It was formed as 62 Commando in July 1941 to undertake small-scale raids behind enemy lines. This drew its men from No 7 Commando and also operated under the title L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade. A brigade was usually made up of around 5,000 men, so this name was a fiction designed to deceive the enemy. Two months after its formation, L Detachment was renamed No 1 Small Scale Raiding Force. It went on to target enemy airfields and port installations during the North African campaign (1940-43), often working closely with the Long Range Desert Group.
n October 1942, the unit was renamed 1st Special Air Service. The following April it was reorganised into the Special Raiding Squadron and undertook raids in Sicily and Italy alongside the 2nd Special Air Service, which came into existence in May 1943 in Algeria. In 1944, these two units were placed under the umbrella Special Air Service Brigade and were joined by the 3rd, 4th and 5th Special Air Service. The latter were formed by renaming Free French and Belgian parachute units. The brigade’s formations took part in many operations, frequently behind enemy lines, from D-Day (June 1944) until the German surrender in May 1945. But shortly after the war, the SAS was disbanded.
In 1947, the SAS was re-formed. This time it consisted of just one Territorial Army (TA) unit – 21st Battalion, Special Air Service Regiment (Artists Rifles). In 1951, Z Squadron of 21st SAS was deployed during the Malayan Emergency (1948-60). That squadron fought under the name of the Malayan Scouts. In 1952, it was absorbed into the regular Army as 22nd SAS Regiment. This marked the only time a regular unit has ever been formed out of a TA unit. Many of the first volunteers were Rhodesians and New Zealanders. In 1959, a third SAS unit was formed – again a TA force – known as 23rd SAS Regiment. This was a re-naming of the Reserve Reconnaissance Unit, successors to MI9, whose members were experts in escape and evasion.