Special Air Service

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Special Air Service
Special Air Service insignia
Active1941–1945; 1947–present [1] [2] [3]
CountryFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
BranchFlag of the British Army.svg  British Army
Type Special forces
Role Special operations
SizeThree regiments [nb 1]
Part of22 SAS: United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF)
21 & 23 SAS: 1st ISR Brigade
Garrison/HQRHQ: Stirling Lines, Hereford, United Kingdom
21 SAS: Regent's Park Barracks, London, United Kingdom [4]
22 SAS: Stirling Lines, Hereford, United Kingdom [4]
23 SAS: Birmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom [4]
Nickname(s)"The Regiment" [7]
Motto(s)"Who Dares Wins" [8]
Colours Pompadour blue [8]     
MarchQuick: Marche des Parachutistes Belges [8]
Slow: Lili Marlene [8]
Engagements List of SAS operations
Colonel-Commandant Field Marshal The Lord Guthrie [9]

The Special Air Service (SAS) is a special forces unit of the British Army. The SAS was founded in 1941 as a regiment, and later reconstituted as a corps in 1950. [5] The unit undertakes a number of roles including covert reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, direct action and hostage rescue. Much of the information and actions regarding the SAS is highly classified, and is not commented on by the British government or the Ministry of Defence due to the sensitivity of their operations. [10] [11] [12]

Special forces Military units trained to conduct special operations

Special forces and special operations forces (SOF) are military units trained to conduct special operations. NATO has defined special operations as "military activities conducted by specially designated, organized, trained, and equipped forces, manned with selected personnel, using unconventional tactics, techniques, and modes of employment".

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.

Regiment Military unit

A regiment is a military unit. Their role and size varies markedly, depending on the country and the arm of service.


The corps currently consists of the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, the regular component under operational command of United Kingdom Special Forces, as well as the 21st (Artists) Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) and the 23rd Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve), which are reserve units under operational command of the 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade. [13]

The United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) is a Ministry of Defence directorate that provides a joint special operations task force headquarters. Director Special Forces appears to command 22 Special Air Service Regiment, the Special Boat Service, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, the Special Forces Support Group, 18 Signal Regiment and the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing.

Artists Rifles regiment of the British Army Reserve

The Artists Rifles is a regiment of the British Army Reserve. Raised in London in 1859 as a volunteer light infantry unit, the regiment saw active service during the Second Boer War and the First World War, earning a number of battle honours. It did not serve outside Britain during the Second World War, as it was used as an officer training unit at that time. The regiment was disbanded in 1945, but in 1947 it was re-established to resurrect the Special Air Service Regiment. Today, the full title of the Regiment is 21 Special Air Service Regiment (Artists) (Reserve) and with 23 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve), it forms the Special Air Service (Reserve).

23 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) is a British Army Reserve regiment that forms part of the 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade. Together with 21 Special Air Service Regiment (Artists) (Reserve), it forms the Special Air Service (Reserve). Unlike the regular SAS Regiment, it accepts members of the general population without prior military service.

The Special Air Service traces its origins to 1941 and the Second World War. It was reformed as part of the Territorial Army in 1947, named the 21st Special Air Service Regiment (Artists Rifles). The 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, which is part of the regular army, gained fame and recognition worldwide after its televised rescue of all but one of the hostages held during the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege. [14]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Iranian Embassy siege siege that took place from 30 April to 5 May 1980

The Iranian Embassy siege took place from 30 April to 5 May 1980, after a group of six armed men stormed the Iranian embassy on Prince's Gate in South Kensington, London. The gunmen, members of Arabs of KSA group campaigning for Arab national sovereignty in the southern Iranian region of Khuzestan Province, took 26 people hostage, mostly embassy staff, but also several visitors, as well as a police officer who had been guarding the embassy. They demanded the release of Arab prisoners from prisons in Khuzestan and their own safe passage out of the United Kingdom.


Second World War

The Special Air Service was a unit of the British Army during the Second World War that was formed in July 1941 by David Stirling and originally called "L" Detachment, Special Air Service Brigadethe "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] [15] It was conceived as a commando force to operate behind enemy lines in the North African Campaign [16] and initially consisted of five officers and 60 other ranks. [17] Its first mission, in November 1941, was a parachute drop in support of the Operation Crusader offensive. [15] Due to German resistance and adverse weather conditions, the mission was a disaster; 22 men, a third of the unit, were killed or captured. [18] Its second mission was a major success. Transported by the Long Range Desert Group, it attacked three airfields in Libya, destroying 60 aircraft with the loss of 2 men and 3 jeeps. [18] 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. [19]

British Army during the Second World War

The British Army was, in 1939, a volunteer army, that introduced limited conscription in early 1939, and full conscription shortly after the declaration of war with Germany. During the early years of the Second World War, the British Army suffered defeat in almost every theatre of war in which it was deployed. With mass conscription, the expansion of the British Army was reflected in the formation of larger armies and army groups. From 1943, the larger and better-equipped British Army never suffered a strategic defeat.

David Stirling British mountaineer, World War II British Army officer, and the founder of the Special Air Service

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling, was a Scottish officer in the British Army, mountaineer, and the founder of the Special Air Service. He saw active service during the Second World War.

Commando soldier or operative of an elite light infantry or special operations force; commando unit

A commando is a soldier or operative of an elite light infantry or special operations force often specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting or abseiling.

SAS patrol in North Africa during WW2 Special Air Service in North Africa E 21337.jpg
SAS patrol in North Africa during WW2

In January 1943, Colonel Stirling was captured in Tunisia and Paddy Mayne replaced him as commander. [20] 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. [21] 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 renaming of the Small Scale Raiding Force. [22] [23] The Special Boat Squadron fought in the Aegean Islands and Dodecanese until the end of the war. [24] 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. [25] It was tasked with parachute operations behind the German lines in France [2] and carried out operations supporting the Allied advance through France, (Operations Houndsworth, Bullbasket, Loyton and Wallace-Hardy) Belgium, the Netherlands (Operation Pegasus), and eventually into Germany (Operation Archway). [25] [26] As a result of Hitler's issuing of the Commando Order on 18 October 1942, the members of the unit faced the additional danger that they would be summarily executed if ever captured by the Germans. In July 1944, following Operation Bulbasket, 34 captured SAS commandos were summarily executed by the Germans. In October 1944, in the aftermath of Operation Loyton another 31 captured SAS commandos were summarily executed by the Germans. [27]

Tunisia Country in Northern Africa

Tunisia, officially the Republic of Tunisia, is a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa, covering 163,610 square kilometres. Its northernmost point, Cape Angela, is the northernmost point on the African continent. It is bordered by Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Tunisia's population was 11.435 million in 2017. Tunisia's name is derived from its capital city, Tunis, which is located on its northeast coast.

Paddy Mayne British rugby union player, lawyer and boxer

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne, was a British Army soldier from Newtownards, capped for Ireland and the British Lions at rugby union, lawyer, amateur boxer and a founding member of the Special Air Service (SAS).

Special Boat Service Special forces unit of the Royal Navy. Formed originally from the RMBPD

The Special Boat Service (SBS) is the special forces unit of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy. The SBS can trace its origins back to the Second World War when the Army Special Boat Section was formed in 1940. After the Second World War, the Royal Marines formed special forces with several name changes—Special Boat Company was adopted in 1951 and re-designated as the Special Boat Squadron in 1974—until on 28 July 1987 when the unit was renamed as the Special Boat Service after assuming responsibility for maritime counter-terrorism. Most of the operations conducted by the SBS are highly classified, and are rarely commented on by the British government or the Ministry of Defence due to their sensitive nature.


At the end of the war the British government saw no further need for the force and disbanded it on 8 October 1945. [2]

Government of the United Kingdom Central government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The Government of the United Kingdom, formally referred to as Her Majesty's Government, is the central government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is also commonly referred to as simply the UK Government or the British Government.

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. [28] 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] [28]

Malayan Scouts

21 SAS soldier after a night parachute drop exercise in Denmark, 1955 21 SAS NIGHT DROP.jpg
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 Britain, it was informed that the squadron would no longer be required in Korea and so it instead volunteered to fight in the Malayan Emergency. [29] Upon arrival in Malaya, it came under the command of "Mad Mike" [30] Mike Calvert who was forming a new unit called the Malayan Scouts (SAS). [29] Calvert had already formed one squadron from 100 volunteers in the Far East, which became A Squadronthe 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. [31] The Rhodesians returned home after three years service and were replaced by a New Zealand squadron. [32] By this time the need for a regular army SAS regiment had been recognised; the 22nd 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, the 23rd SAS Regiment, was formed by renaming the Reserve Reconnaissance Unit, which had succeeded MI9 and whose members were experts in escape and evasion. [33]

22 SAS Regiment

Since serving in Malaya, men from the regular army 22 SAS Regiment have taken part in reconnaissance patrols and large scale raiding missions in the Jebel Akhdar War in Oman and conducted covert reconnaissance and surveillance patrols and some larger scale raiding missions in Borneo. [34] [35] They returned to Oman in operations against Communist-backed rebels in the Dhofar Rebellion including the Battle of Mirbat. [36] They have also taken part in operations in the Aden Emergency, [37] Northern Ireland, [38] and Gambia. [35] Their Special projects team assisted the West German counterterrorism group GSG 9 at Mogadishu. [35] The SAS counter terrorist wing famously took part in a hostage rescue operation during the Iranian Embassy Siege in London. [39] During the Falklands War B squadron were prepared for Operation Mikado before it was subsequently cancelled while D and G squadrons were deployed and participated in the raid on Pebble Island. [40] Operation Flavius was a controversial operation in Gibraltar against the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). [35] 22 SAS also directed NATO aircraft onto Serb positions and hunted war criminals in Bosnia. [41] [42] They were also involved in the Kosovo War helping KLA guerillas behind Serbian lines. According to Albanian sources one SAS sergeant was killed by Serbian special forces. [43]

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. [44] In Sierra Leone it took part in Operation Barras, a hostage rescue operation, to extract members of the Royal Irish Regiment. [35] Following the September 11 attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda in 2001, 2 squadrons of 22 SAS, reinforced by members of both the territorial SAS units deployed to Afghanistan as part of the Coalition invasion at the start of the War in Afghanistan (2001–present), to dismantle and destroy al-Qaeda and to deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power in the War on Terror. The Regiment carried out Operation Trent – the largest operation in its history, which included its first wartime HALO parachute jump. Following the invasion, the Regiment continued to operate in Afghanistan against the Taliban and other insurgents until 2006, where its deployment Iraq became its focus of operations until 2009, when the SAS redeployed to Afghanistan. [45] [46]

The regiment took part in the Iraq War, notably carrying out operations in Iraq before the 2003 invasion. Following the invasion, it formed part of Task Force Black/Knight to combat the postinvasion insurgency; in late 2005/early 2006, the SAS were integrated into JSOC and focused its counterinsurgency efforts on combating al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency alongside Delta Force. The counter-insurgency was successful, and the UKSF mission in Iraq ended in May 2009. [45] [46] [47]

Various British newspapers have speculated on SAS involvement in Operation Ellamy and the 2011 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." [48] 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." [49]

Members of the Special Air Service were deployed to Northern Iraq in late August 2014, and according to former MI6 chief Richard Barrett, would also be sent to Syria, tasked with trying to track down the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group that the press labelled the Beatles. [50] [51] [52] [53]

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. [54] General Michael Rose became commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia in 1994. [55] In 1997 General Charles Guthrie became Chief of the Defence Staff the head of the British armed forces. [56] 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. [57]

Influence on other special forces

Following the post-war reconstitution of the Special Air Service, other countries in the Commonwealth recognised their need for similar units. The Canadian Special Air Service Company was formed in 1947, being disbanded in 1949. [58] [59] The New Zealand Special Air Service squadron was formed in June 1955 to serve with the British SAS in Malaya, which became a full regiment in 2011. [60] Australia formed the 1st SAS Company in July 1957, which became a full regiment of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) in 1964. [61] On its return from Malaya, the C (Rhodesian) Squadron formed the basis for creation of the Rhodesian Special Air Service in 1961. [33] It retained the name "C Squadron (Rhodesian) Special Air Service" within the Rhodesian Security Forces until 1978, when it became 1 (Rhodesian) Special Air Service Regiment. [62]

Non-Commonwealth countries have also formed units based on the SAS. The Belgian Army's Special Forces Group, which wears the same capbadge as the British SAS, traces its ancestry partly from the 5th Special Air Service of the Second World War. [63] [64] [65] [66] [67] [68] [69] The French 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (1er RPIMa) can trace its origins to the Second World War 3rd and 4th SAS, adopting its "who dares wins" motto. [70] The American unit, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, was formed by Colonel Charles Alvin Beckwith, who served with 22 SAS as an exchange officer, and recognised the need for a similar type of unit in the United States Army. [71] The Israeli Sayeret Matkal has also been modelled after the SAS, sharing its motto. Ireland's Army Ranger Wing (ARW) has also modelled its training on that of the SAS. [72] The Philippine National Police's Special Action Force was formed along the lines of the SAS. [73]


Little publicly verifiable information exists on the contemporary SAS, as the British government usually does not comment on special forces matters due to the nature of their work. [10] [11] The Special Air Service comprises three units: one Regular and two Army Reserve (AR) units. The regular army unit is 22 SAS Regiment and the reserve units are 21 Special Air Service Regiment (Artists) (Reserve) (21 SAS(R)) and 23 Special Air Service Regiment (23 SAS (R)), collectively, the Special Air Service (Reserve) (SAS(R)). [6]


22 SAS normally has a strength of 400 to 600. [74] The regiment has four operational squadrons: A, B, D and G. Each squadron consists of approximately 65 men commanded by a major, divided into four troops (each troop being commanded by a captain) and a small headquarters section. [75] [76] Troops usually consist of 16 men (Members of the SAS are variously known as "blade" or "Operator") [77] [78] [79] and each patrol within a troop consists of four men, with each man possessing a particular skill e.g. signals, demolition, medic or linguist in addition to basic skills learned during the course of his training. [76] The term "squadron" dates back to the units earliest days when the unit's name was intended to confuse German intelligence. [78] The four troops specialise in four different areas:

In 1980 R Squadron (which has since been renamed L Detachment) was formed; its members are all ex-regular SAS regiment soldiers who have a commitment to reserve service. [76] [nb 2]

22 SAS squadron duty rotations are set up as such that one squadron is maintained on Counter Terrorism duty in the UK; a second will be on a deployment; a third will be preparing for deployment whilst conducting short term training; and the fourth will be preparing for long-term overseas training such as jungle or desert exercises. In times of war, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it's not uncommon for two squadrons to be deployed. [78]

22 Special Air Service Regiment21 Special Air Service Regiment (Artists)23 Special Air Service Regiment
'A' Squadron (Hereford) [4] 'A' Squadron (Regent's Park) [4] 'B' Squadron (Leeds) [84]
'B' Squadron [85] 'C' Squadron (Bramley Camp) [86] 'D' Squadron (Scotland) [87]
'D' Squadron'E' Squadron (Wales) [88] 'G' Squadron (Manchester) [89]
G' Squadron [90]

Squadron Structure [91]

A Squadron: 1 (Boat) Troop – 2 (Air) Troop – 3 (Mobility) Troop – 4 (Mountain) Troop

B Squadron: 6 (Boat) Troop – 7 (Air) Troop – 8 (Mobility) Troop – 9 (Mountain) Troop

D Squadron: 16 (Air) Troop – 17 (Boat) Troop – 18 (Mobility) Troop – 19 (Mountain) Troop

G Squadron: 21 (Mobility) Troop – 22 (Mountain) Troop – 23 (Boat) Troop – 24 (Air) Troop

Special projects team

The special projects team is the official name for the Special Air Service anti–hijacking counter–terrorism team. [76] It is trained in Close Quarter Battle (CQB), sniper techniques and specialises in hostage rescue in buildings or on public transport. [92] The team was formed in the early 1970s 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 therefore ordering that the SAS Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) wing be raised. [93]

Squadrons refresh their training every 16 months, on average. The CRW'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. [93]

The first documented action abroad by the CRW wing was assisting the West German counter-terrorism group GSG 9 at Mogadishu. [35]

The CT role was shared amongst the squadrons, initially on a 12-month and later six-month rotation basis to ensure that all members are eventually trained in CT and CQB techniques. The SAS train for the CT role at Pontrilas Army Training Area in a facility that includes the Killing House (officially known as Close Quarter Battle House) and part of a Boeing 747 airliner that can be reconfigured to match the internal layouts of virtually any commercial aircraft. The on-call CT squadron is split into four troops, two of which are on immediate notice to move and are restricted to the Hereford-Credenhill area, whilst the other two conduct training and exercises across the UK, but are available for operational deployment should the need arise. [94]

Operational command


The 22nd 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). [95]


During Operation HERRICK the SAS Reserve were responsible for mentoring members of the Afghan National Police. Following a review of the unit's operational capability they were withdrawn from this tasking and the task handed over to a regular infantry unit. The report found that the SAS reservists lacked a clearly defined role and also stated that the reservists lacked the military capability and skillset to serve alongside the regular special forces. [96] On 1 September 2014, 21 and 23 SAS left United Kingdom Special Forces and were placed under the command of 1st Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade. [97] [98]

Recruitment, selection and training

Pen y Fan 2,907 feet (886 m) above sea-level. The location for the Fan dance. Pen y Fan from Cribyn.jpg
Pen y Fan 2,907 feet (886 m) above sea-level. The location for the Fan dance.

The regular elements of United Kingdom Special Forces never recruit directly from the general public. [99] All current members of the UK Armed Forces can apply for special forces selection, but historically the majority of candidates have a Commando or Airborne forces background. [100] Selections are held twice yearly, in summer and winter, [99] in Sennybridge and in the Brecon Beacons. Selection lasts for five weeks and normally starts with about 200 potential candidates. [99] Upon arrival candidates first complete a Personal Fitness Test (PFT) and an Annual Fitness Test (AFT). [nb 3] They then march cross country against the clock, increasing the distances covered each day, culminating in what is known as Endurance. This is a march of 40 miles (64 km) with full equipment scaling and descending Pen y Fan in 20 hours. [99] By the end of the hill phase candidates must be able to run 4 miles (6.4 km) in 30 minutes and swim two miles (3.2 km) in 90 minutes or less. [99]

Following the hill phase is the jungle phase that takes place in Belize, Brunei or Malaysia. [102] Candidates are taught navigation, patrol formation/movement and jungle survival skills. [103] Candidates returning to Hereford finish training in battle plans and foreign weapons and take part in combat survival exercises, [104] 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 grueling, resistance to interrogation (RTI), lasting for 36 hours. [105]

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. [106]

In October 2018, recruitment policy changed to allow women to become members of the SAS for the first time. [107] In May 2019, the first woman to apply was undergoing a six month SAS selection course. Her name was not revealed but she was said to be highly experienced. One source told the Daily Mirror that "She has already proved her worth in Afghanistan on countless covert operations ... She has already worked alongside the SAS, so many of the guys know her and trust her". [108]

Uniform distinctions

Normal barracks headdress is the sand-coloured beret, [8] its cap badge is a downward pointing Excalibur, wreathed in flames (often incorrectly referred to as a winged dagger) worked into the cloth of a Crusader shield with the motto Who Dares Wins. [109] [nb 4] 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. [111] Its ceremonial No 1 dress uniform is distinguished by a light blue stripe on the trousers. Its stable belt is a shade of blue similar to the blue stripe on the No 1 dress uniform. [8]


As an elite unit, there is a broad range of various firearms utilised by the SAS. Here are the known weapons used by the unit – some are made locally while others are imported from abroad. [112]

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. [122] The Special Air Service Regiment has been awarded the following battle honours: [123] [124]

Order of precedence

Preceded by
Line Infantry and Rifles
British Army Order of Precedence [125] Succeeded by
Army Air Corps


The names of those members of the Regular SAS who have died on duty were inscribed on the regimental clock tower at Stirling Lines. [126] Originally funded by contributions of a day's pay by members of the regiment and a donation from Handley Page in memory of Cpl. R.K. Norry who was killed in a freefall parachuting accident, [127] [128] [129] this was rebuilt at the new barracks at Credenhill. Those whose names are inscribed are said by surviving members to have "failed to beat the clock". [130] At the suggestion of the then Commanding Officer, Dare Wilson, inscribed on the base of the clock is a verse from The Golden Road to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker: [131]

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". [132]

The local church of St Martin's, Hereford [133] has part of its graveyard set aside as an SAS memorial, over twenty SAS soldiers are buried there. There is also a wall of remembrance displaying memorial plaques to some who could not be buried, including the 18 SAS men who lost their lives in the Sea King helicopter crash during the Falklands Campaign on 19 May 1982 [134] and a sculpture and stained glass window dedicated to the SAS. [135]

On 17 October 2017 Ascension, a new sculpture and window honouring the Special Air Service Regiment in Hereford Cathedral, was dedicated by the Bishop of Hereford at a service attended by Prince William. [136]


See also

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The special forces of the Australian Defence Force are units of Special Operations Command and associated units of the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force that conduct and or support special operations to advance and protect the national security of the Commonwealth of Australia. The special forces of Australia have a lineage to a variety of units raised in the Second World War such as the Independent and Commando Companies, Z Special Unit, Navy Beach Commandos, and the Coastwatchers. Australian special forces have most recently been deployed to Iraq in Operation Okra as the Special Operations Task Group, as the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan in support of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and regularly for counter-terrorism pre-deploy to locations of major domestic events throughout Australia in readiness to support law enforcement such as the 2014 G20 Brisbane summit.

The History of the British Army's Special Air Service or SAS regiment begins with its formation during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, and continues to the present day. It includes their early operations in North Africa, the Greek Islands, and the Invasion of Italy. They then returned to the United Kingdom and were formed into a brigade with two British, two French and one Belgian regiment. The SAS Brigade then conducted operations in France, Italy again, the Low Countries and finally into Germany.

Special Forces of Zimbabwe are the units of the Zimbabwe National Army that operate as special forces. These forces have been deployed in several African conflicts, including the Mozambique Civil War and the Second Congo War.

Rhodesian Security Forces

The Rhodesian Security Forces were the military forces of the Rhodesian government. The Rhodesian Security Forces consisted of a ground force, the Rhodesian Air Force, the British South Africa Police and various personnel affiliated to the Rhodesian Ministry of Internal Affairs (INTAF). Despite the impact of economic and diplomatic sanctions, Rhodesia was able to develop and maintain a potent and professional military capability.

18 (UKSF) Signal Regiment is a regiment of the Royal Corps of Signals in the British Army that provides Communications and Information Systems (CIS) support to the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF). The regiment is under the operational command of the Director Special Forces and includes signal squadrons from both the Royal Corps of Signals and the Royal Navy.

Peter Ratcliffe, is a former British Army soldier who served in the Parachute Regiment and the Special Air Service in a career of almost thirty years, during which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry in action during the Gulf War. He is the author of the book The Eye of the Storm (2000).

2nd Commando Regiment (Australia) Unit of the Australian Army

The 2nd Commando Regiment is a special forces unit of the Australian Army, and is part of Special Operations Command. The regiment was established on 19 June 2009 when the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando) was renamed. It is based at Holsworthy, New South Wales. The 2nd Commando Regiment often trains and deploys with the Special Air Service Regiment, is highly regarded by coalition special operation forces abroad, and has been involved in operations in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, where it was used in a direct action warfighting role. It has also been involved in a number of domestic security operations including the 2006 Commonwealth Games and the 2014 G20 Leaders Summit.

Southern Rhodesian military involvement in the Malayan Emergency

Southern Rhodesia, then a self-governing colony of the United Kingdom, sent two military units to fight with the Commonwealth armed forces in the Malayan Emergency of 1948–60, which pitted the Commonwealth against the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party. For two years, starting in March 1951, white Southern Rhodesian volunteers made up "C" Squadron of the Special Air Service (SAS). The Rhodesian African Rifles, in which black rank-and-filers and warrant officers were led by white officers, then served in Malaya from 1956 to 1958.

Structure of the British Armed Forces in 1989

At the end of the Cold War in 1989 the British Armed Forces structure was as follows:



  1. On 31 July 1947, the 21st regiment, SAS Regiment, (Artists Rifles) (Territorial Army) was formed. This was followed on 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. [83]
  3. 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. [101]
  4. Designed by Bob Tait in 1941, it is a flaming sword, although it is often known as a winged dagger [110]


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