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The Special Air Service (SAS) Originals

Daring to Win

“… I have always felt uneasy in being known as the founder of the [SAS] Regiment. …”

–Sir David Stirling, June 30, 1984

The Time: The night of Nov. 16-17, 1941.

The Place: The Western Desert of North Africa in World War II.

The Force: 65 picked and trained men.

The Mission: Parachute behind German lines and destroy enemy aircraft on airfields, which will threaten an Allied counteroffensive, code-named Operation Crusader, due to launch in just two days.

The Facts: It’s their first mission. The unit, the Special Air Service (SAS), is revolutionary and brand new. Their leader, then-Capt. David Stirling, is considered by his own superiors to be a maverick. And to top it all off, the military bureaucracy of Middle East Headquarters (ME HQ) wants them to fail. Before the SAS can take off, a massive storm blows up and the 65 men are given the option of pulling out. They face a difficult dilemma: Cancel the drop and their own high command will kill off the unit before it has run its first mission. Or jump into the storm, and chances are that many of them won’t survive.

They decide to go and jump. In the storm, the men are separated from their gear and explosives, and don’t even reach the targeted enemy airfields. Of the 65, just 21 make it out, across the desert, to the rendezvous (RV) point for the trip back to their base camp.

This should be the end of the story. In fact, it’s the beginning of the story of a modern military revolution: The birth of modern special operations forces. And to understand what happens next, it’s necessary to know what has gone before. Because the 21 men who jumped into that storm, and somehow survived to fight on, are the founding members of the British SAS. Within their small, insular community they are today known as “The Originals,” and this is their story.

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