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Early Days

Raised in 1957 during Communist subversion in South East Asia, the small and little understood SAS was seen as the Ugly Duckling of the Australian Army. The SAS proved itself in 1965 in the undeniable jungle war in Borneo during Indonesian Konfrontasi. Follow the Australian SAS missions from inception through to the 2015 rise of the brutal ISIS caliphate.

Australia's "Special Forces" can be traced as far back as the 1940s when Australian soldiers were part in AIB or Allied Intelligence Bureau. However it wasn't until July 25th, 1957, when the Army turned to Major W. Gook, that a proper "Special Forces" unit was formed. Major Gook was put in charge of a new unit: the 1st Special Air Service Company (Royal Australian Regiment). The total strength of the Company was only180 men at first. On August 20th, 1964, the SAS finally became a full Regiment consisting of three "Sabre" Squadrons, a Training Squadron, and a Headquarters. The SASR was modelled after the British SAS.

The SAS had previously worn a red beret (indicating them as a Parachute Company) with the Infantry Corps Cap Badge. In 1966, the SAS was given permission to change over to the beige (sand) beret. However since most of the SASR was deployed to Borneo at the time, all they could get were the British SAS berets with the cloth Winged Dagger emblem on them. Later on that year the cloth patch was replaced by a black flash and a solid gold metal Winged Dagger emblem on top of it.

Deployed to Brunei in 1965, it was 1 Squadron that would also be the first to see active duty. The British had already been in Borneo for some time and the initial request by the British Government for Australian SASR help was declined. As the "conflict" grew the SASR was brought in, tasked with stopping the communist Indonesian troops from taking over Borneo.

Living in the jungle, sometimes on patrols for months, they learned how to track the enemy, lay ambushes, and defeat him at his own games. This would prove effective again later in Vietnam. While defeating the enemy, SASR also won the "hearts and minds" of locals. 

Local tribesmen would often assist where they could and SASR would often step to to provide needed repairs, medical treatments, and food for the villagers.  The main threat came from a group known as RPKAD, known for being extremely brutal. Wearing a cap badge depicting a set of Airborne Wings with a dagger through them on top of an octagon, making the RPKAD easily recoginsed.


The war lasted until 1966. Three SASR men died while on active service in Borneo, however none died from direct enemy contacts.



The SAS soon found themselves in action again. This time in Vietnam. 3 Squadron was the first squadron to be deployed to Vietnam. The SASR was sent in again to help the Americans fight off the communist government of North Vietnam from overtaking South Vietnam. 

The SASR once again began the long patrols deep into the think jungles. They lived like the enemy and again started a "Hearts and Minds" campaign.  The SASR suffered the same types of problems as the Americans, with the enemy hiding amongst the civilians who were scared to turn them over. 

SASR did however use captured VC (Viet Cong) and NVA (North Vietnam Army Regulars) to help them locate the enemy. The SASR soon started operating with American SEAL (SEa-Air-Land) Teams and Special Forces, helping with the American Recondo School and with MAC-V-SOG missions. The Recondo School was started in Australia, and the principles were passed on to the Americans. 

The Patrol Course the SASR runs today is similar to that of the Recondo School. The bond between the SASR and the different American Special Operations units is still strong today.


The SASR fought this war in Vietnam until 1971. 4 SASR soldiers died during accidents, one died months later from gun shot wounds received, and one is still MIA (although now presumed dead).


After the withdrawal from South Vietnam, SASR first concentrated on developing surveillance skills in support of the defence of Australia then in 1979 as part of government direction outlined in Plan IRONBARK raised a Tactical Assault Group (TAG) based on elements of 1 SAS Sqn with higher command, intelligence and logistic support components.  The first TAG  in 1980 consisted of Gauntlet 1, a land operations capability based on A Troop, followed in 1981 by Nullah 1, the water operations capability based on B Troop.  The Nullah teams also included RAN Clearance Divers from Clearance Diving Team 4. 

The CT capability has over the years provided security support to all major events held within Australia including the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games.  In addition it was used in the Southern Indian Ocean in support of the Australian Government’s counter fish poaching efforts in the early 2000’s, to secure the MV Tampa of Christmas Island in 2001 and to secure the Pong Su, a North Korean drug smuggling vessel of Sydney Heads in 2003.  This capability in concert with TAG (East) maintained by 2 Commando Regiment remains the Australian Government’s last resort option to deal with acts of politically motivated terrorism that may threaten Australia’s people and interests at home and abroad.


Whilst training in this role in 1996, two Blackhawk helicopters collided resulting in the deaths of 15 SAS soldiers along with three aircrew from the Army’s 5th Aviation Regiment. It was Australia’s worst peacetime military air accident.

Between 1994 and 2006 SASR provided a number of Squadrons, specialist teams and individuals in support of Australia’s contribution to United Nations (UN) and Regional Peace missions in Somalia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bougainville, the Solomon Islands and offshore Fiji. These deployments contributed significantly to the capabilities, situational awareness and security of the supported main force elements. 


In response to Iraq’s reactions towards UN inspection team activity in 1998 SASR participated in Operation Desert Thunder.  This contribution saw the deployment to Kuwait of a force element based on an SAS Squadron and the SAS Regimental headquarters, which commanded the ANZAC Special Operations Component as part of the US Coalition Special Operations Task Force.  Although escalation was averted the contingent established itself as a world class Special Forces organisation with US and coalition leaders.

Support to UN and other Peacekeeping Missions


The crisis in East Timor in 1999 resulted in the deployment of SAS force elements based on 3 SAS Sqn first on Operation Spitfire, the assisted evacuation of Australian and other international and locally employed staff, then in concert with elements from the NZ SAS and UK SBS as the Response Force on Op Warden / Stabilise in support of the broader International Force East Timor (INTERFET) operations.  The Regiment’s capabilities were employed across a wide range of tasks and significantly contributed to the shaping of the environment for the conventional INTERFET forces. 


The unit's importance to the successful outcome of INTERFET operations cannot be overstated.  The Regiment subsequently maintained a Squadron minus element on Op Tanager within each United Nations Transitional Authority East Timor (UNTAET) AUSBATT until late 2001.  An SASR element then redeployed as part of a Special Operations Task Group on Op Astute for a short period in 2007 in response to an attempted coup / assassination.



Following the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11 2001 the Australian Government committed troops to the US led coalition to rid the world of the threat posed by Al Qaeda and its affiliates.  As part of that response 1 SAS Sqn Group deployed to Afghanistan from October 2001 to April 2002.  They were followed by 3 SAS Sqn Group from April 2002 to August 2002 then 2 SAS Sqn Group from August to November 2002. 


Throughout the deployment period the SAS elements operated mainly in support of the US 10th Mountain Division in Southern Afghanistan.  The deployment was characterised by long duration vehicle mounted operations and contacts in very isolated locations far away from ground support.  An element also participated in Operational Anaconda, a large-scale battle (30,000 troops) in southern Afghanistan in 2002.  With the looming invasion of Iraq further Sqn rotations were halted.

Ops SLIPPER Phase 1


While engaged in Afghanistan a planning team from SOHQ with SASR representatives deployed to US Central Command in Florida and began planning the invasion of Iraq.  In early 2003 1 SAS Sqn Group deployed to Jordan as part of the Special Forces Task Group (SFTG).  Their task was to secure an area of western Iraq from which it was feared SCUD missiles could be launched.  1 SAS Sqn successfully entered Iraq by vehicle and helicopter and secured the main road from Jordan to the approaches of Baghdad after a week of fighting. Following this they patrolled the highways in the area to block the escape of members of the Iraqi government and to prevent enemy foreign fighters from entering the country. 

On 11 April 1 SAS Squadron was concentrated to capture the Al Asad Airbase. While this base proved to be almost undefended, they captured over 50 MiG jets and more than 7.9 million kilograms of explosives. After securing the air base 1 SAS Sqn were reinforced by 4 RAR (Cdo) and the IRR elements. The Special Forces Task Group remained at Al Asad until the end of the war, when most of I SAS Sqn and IRR Troop returned home and the 4 RAR (Cdo) platoon (reinforced by elements of the SAS) deployed to Baghdad to protect Australian diplomats



Following the withdrawal of the 1 SAS Sqn Group from Iraq and a period of rest and refurbishment SASR elements redeployed to Afghanistan as part of a SFTG in August 2005. This Task Group consisted of elements from the SASR4 RAR (Cdo), IRR and support personnel. In addition a detachment of two CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the 5 Avn Regt deployed in March 2006.  During this period the SFTG operated in support of the Dutch in Uruzgan Province and faced considerable opposition from the Taliban.  The troops were involved in numerous contacts and several significant battles including support to the Dutch during the Battle of Chora. The SFTG withdrew from Afghanistan in September 2006.

In early 2007 Australia refocused its efforts and in April deployed the Reconstruction Task Force with a 300 Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) / Task Force 66 in support.  The SOTG included a Commando company group, reduced size SAS Sqn, IRR Troop and an integral combat service support team. Force elements rotated every 4 months with a reduced footprint based on an Army Reserve Commando Company from 1 Commando Regiment over winter.  Again the fighting from April to November was fierce.  Of most significance during this period was the Battle of Eastern Shah Wali Kot in May to June 2010 by SOTG Rotation XII consisting of elements 2 SAS Sqn, A Cdo Coy Gp (2 Cdo Regt), element IRR and helicopters from TF No Mercy US 101 Airborne Div.  The SOTG remained in Oruzgan province until December 2013.  During this period CPL Ben Roberts-Smith and TPR Mark Donaldson were awarded the Victoria Cross of Australia.

OpS SLIPPER Phases 2 & 3


International Engagement and Miscellaneous Operations

Throughout this period SASR has maintained an active international engagement program consisting of individual exchanges, visits, specialist training and exercises with like elements throughout the region and with our principal allies.  The program develops awareness of complex operating environments, allows SASR to remain abreast of the latest developments plus enhances regional security by improving interoperability, promoting good will and developing relationships. 

In addition considerable security, communications, specialised logistic and intelligence support has been provided to a wide range of official activities in Australia and abroad.

With the rise of ISIS in 2014 Australia contributed to the US led Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), in Iraq and Syria.  An SASR element was included in the supporting SOTG.

Syria - Op OKRA

Upon the closure of the Australian base in Tarin Kot a small contingent, including an element from SASR, deployed to Kabul to assist train the Afghan National Army.  This element remained in the country until December 2021. 

Afghanistan - Op HIGHROAD


Unit Citations for Gallantry
  • 1 SAS Squadron Group for effective execution of high-risk operations on Operation Falconer (Iraq) during the period March to May 2003. 

  • The Special Air Service Regiment and 4 RAR (Commando) for acts of extraordinary gallantry in Afghanistan from August 2005 to September 2006.

  • 3 SAS Sqn Group, for sustained outstanding service on Operation Warden (East Timor) during the period September 1999 to April 2000.

  • The Special Air Service Regiment for sustained outstanding service in Afghanistan in 2002. 

  • Force elements assigned to TF 66 (principally SASR, 1 Cdo Regt, 2 Cdo Regt/4RAR (Cdo) and SOER/IRR) for sustained and outstanding warlike operational service in Afghanistan from 30 April 2007 to 31 December 2013.

Meritorious Unit Citations

for distinction in battle in South Vietnam: 

  • 1 SAS Sqn, 02-Mar-67 to 18-Feb-68 and 03-Feb-70 to 18-Feb-71. 

  • 2 SAS Sqn, 29-Jan-68 to 04-Mar-69 and 18-Feb-71 to 15-Oct-71. 

  • 3 SAS Sqn, 01-Apr-66 to 05-Jul-67 and 03-Feb-69 to 20-Feb-70.

Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Unit Citation

Army Battle Honour Eastern Shah Wali Kot awarded to the Special Air Service Regiment and 2 Commando Regiment in due recognition of extraordinary heroism in Afghanistan, during the period May to June 2010.

Battle Honours


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