Who Dares Wins: The SAS and the Iranian Embassy Siege 1980, Gregory Fremont-Barnes

Who Dares Wins: The SAS and the Iranian Embassy Siege 1980, Gregory Fremont-Barnes

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Who Dares Wins: The SAS and the Iranian Embassy Siege 1980, Gregory Fremont-Barnes

Who Dares Wins: The SAS and the Iranian Embassy Siege 1980, Gregory Fremont-Barnes

This fourth entry in the new Raid series covers an event I actually remember -the pictures of the SAS on the balconies of the Iranian Embassy in London was one of the defining images of the 1980s, and brought the privative regiment out of the shadows and into the limelight.

This look at the siege falls into three roughly equal sections. The first third looks at the history of the SAS, the evolution of its counter-terrorism role and the background to the siege. The second looks at the six days of the siege, and the SAS planning and preparation. The third looks at the hostage rescue itself, emphasising just how quick the actual operation was.

One new problem introduced in this volume is that of operating in a peacetime legal framework. The SAS soldiers involved in the raid knew that they would have to justify every shot afterwards (successfully in this case). This makes for a very different environment to the purely military considerations in the first three volumes.

The complexity of the SAS assault is well illustrated by a cut-away 3D diagram of the embassy, showing each point of entry and the major incidents of the surprisingly brief fight.

This an interesting read that tells the inside story of an event that for me had previously been no more than a series of frozen images (included on pages 41-45).

Author: Gregory Fremont-Barnes
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 64
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2009

Raid: Who Dares Wins : The SAS and the Iranian Embassy Siege 1980 (Series #04) (Paperback)

For 5 days in May 1980, thousands watched around the world as the shadowy figures of the SAS performed a daring and dramatic raid on the Iranian Embassy in London, catapulting a little-known specialist unit into the full glare of the world's media. Hailed by Margaret Thatcher as a brilliant operation, carried out with courage and confidence, the raid was a huge success for the SAS, who managed to rescue nineteen hostages with near-perfect military execution, although two hostages were killed by terrorists. Despite the acclaim and media attention, details of the siege are still largely unknown and those at the heart of the story, the identities of the SAS troopers themselves, remain a closely guarded secret.

This book takes a concise and in-depth look at the dramatic events of the Iranian Embassy Siege, revealing the political background behind it and carefully analyzing the controversial decision by the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to sign over control of the streets of London to the military. Unique bird's eye view artwork illustrates the moment the walls were breached and show how the strict planning of the operation was critical to its success. With input from those involved in the mission, and discussion on the effective training regimes of the SAS, the author strips away some of the mystery behind the best counter-terrorism unit in the world and their most famous raid.

• Author: Gregory Fremont-Barnes,Pete Winner • ISBN:9781846033957 • Format:Paperback • Publication Date:2009-10-20

The Day The SAS Became Famous: Operation Nimrod And The Iranian Embassy

On the anniversary of the storming of the Iranian Embassy, Forces Network takes a look at the event that made the SAS a household name.

SAS Iranian Embassy Siege Hero To Sell Medals

For a place that didn’t even exist, ‘Arabistan’ sure created a major headache for the British government in the late Spring of 1980.

It was the aspiration of separatist Arabs living in Iran’s south-western province of Khuzestan that this region should break away and form a new nation. (Most of Iran’s population is, of course, Persian rather than Arab).

To this end, six of them were prepared, with Iraqi assistance, to commit an act of terrorism at the Iranian Embassy in London.

Located at 16 Princes Gate, just across from Hyde Park, this attractive corner of London was about to be thrust into the epicentre of a frenzied political storm.


At 11:30 am on Wednesday, April 30, 1980, the terrorists’ very first hostage was drinking coffee inside the front door of the Embassy with the concierge.

His name was PC Trevor Lock and he was on guard duty. Armed only with a revolver, he was soon overwhelmed by men packing far heavier weapons, likely sneaked into Britain via the Iraqi ‘diplomatic bag’.

There were six gunmen in all and four of them came face to face with Lock at that moment, drawing their weapons right after they’d entered.

One of them sprayed a burst into the ceiling with his machine pistol. Lock and then the concierge were instantly subdued (though Lock did manage to covertly send a distress signal on his radio) and the entire building fell to the hostage-takers within minutes.

What Led To The Troubles In Northern Ireland?

This particular incident may have come out of the blue for Lock and his fellow captives but it was very much in political vogue with the times. Just as it is a feature of our post-9-11 world, the 1970s had also seen an uptick in terrorist activity.

The IRA, of course, had been active throughout the decade and there were other international events that had the potential to influence the politics surrounding this one.

One example was the killing of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics. A botched police attack at the airport had turned the entire affair into a bloodbath. And, as Gregory Fremont-Barnes points out in his book ‘Who Dares Wins: The SAS and the Iranian Embassy Siege 1980’, following this, “security organizations discovered that, paradoxically, the public tended to view the government and not the hostage-takers with disapprobation if the crisis ended in violence”.

Another disastrous international event was the abortive Delta Force mission, Operation Eagle Claw. This was intended to rescue US Embassy staff taken hostage in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. It was aborted before it even started due to faulty helicopters, though even the abandoning of this operation became a disaster in and of itself when one of the helicopters collided with a transport plane.

The west, it seemed, could use a ‘victory’.

Fortunately, the British government wouldn’t be starting from scratch. Out of all this came a number of specially-trained units for dealing with hostage-taking terrorist groups – GIGN in France, GSG-9 in Germany and Delta Force in the US, which was modelled on the SAS.

Meanwhile, the SAS itself had hostage rescue incorporated into the remit of the CRW (Counter-Revolutionary Warfare) Wing, and it later conducted training and operations in this area with the aforementioned foreign units.

Military involvement though could only ever be the last resort. Fremont-Barnes outlines the reasons for this:

“Even during (such a period of crisis) the SAS is stringently subject to the rule of law, with the rules of engagement carefully detailed in the tactical operations room established near the scene of the crisis. In this way the SAS plays no role in the negotiating phase of a siege, and thus is a politically neutral force whose sole function is to carry out military operations if these are deemed necessary.”

And pressure to keep things this way came from inside as well as outside the military:

“Nor is it in the interests of the SAS merely to go in ‘with guns blazing’, for their members are well aware that they could be prosecuted for using excessive force, and that the regiment’s reputation could suffer as a result of the deaths of hostages, whether at the hands of the terrorists or, worse still, at those of the soldiers. In short, public perception that a military operation is heavy-handed could result in a disastrous political situation for the government and a propaganda victory for the terrorists. Much depends, therefore, on the training and equipment of the unit established to thwart hostage-takers.”

Last resort or not, the SAS heard about the Embassy crisis very quickly, thanks to a former member now working in the Met. He relayed information to commander of the regular 22 SAS Regiment up in Hereford, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Rose. (The SAS has two other units, 21 and 23 SAS, which are both reserve, or at the time, territorial, units).

News quickly spread from Rose to men in the regiment. The BBC documentary ‘SAS – Embassy Siege’ introduces us to three of them: Tom, a sniper, ‘Mac’, an assault specialist, and Robin Horsfall, a karate expert who remembers a sniper team member telling him:

“Hey, there’s an operation going on in London. Apparently, the Iranian Embassy’s just been hijacked by some terrorists.”

Mac, meanwhile, was happy at first to find out that the planned training exercise had been cancelled – maybe he could do something fun that weekend instead.

But when he learnt the reason for the sudden change in the schedule, he didn’t believe it:

“Yeah… bollocks”, he said, and walked off.

Tom, on the other hand, was on ‘First Team’ and his beeper going off meant this almost certainly wasn’t a drill, or a rumour:

“From there we were briefed very quickly and we were gone from the camp very very quickly.”

Rose had taken the initiative to send his men south (they drove to Beaconsfield, near London), expecting their presence would be welcomed when official channels finally got around to requesting it.

The police and the government, meanwhile, were rapidly moving their own people to get the situation properly sized up and as under control as possible. Counter-intuitively, this wasn’t as difficult as one might think, something Metropolitan Police Negotiator DCI Max Vernon reminds us of:

“When you think about it, you have a number of hostage takers – they’re armed, they have hostages, they’re in charge. (But are they?) They’re isolated in a house, they can’t communicate with anybody, unless they communicate with the police – they can’t even get cigarettes without asking for it. Everything they require has to be asked for, and over a period of time it does have an effect on them. They aren’t as in charge as they think they are.”

The police also began an urgent investigation into how many hostages were stuck inside the embassy and just who the six gunmen were. Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Dellow told the BBC:

“There were many officers who spent hours and hours looking into the backgrounds of these people… to try and find out who was controlling them. And from their activities they had already bought presents to take home for their families. They’d been shopping in Harrords and other places and some of those presents had actually been sent home. They were also, shall we say, wining and dining, and enjoying the pleasures of ladies that they paid for.”

Interestingly, the investigation also turned up something else. According to the BBC:

“The police also discover that there’s a seventh member of the group. He’s the mastermind, a mysterious Iraqi intelligence officer called Sammy Mohammed Ali. His orders are to orchestrate an armed siege at the Iranian Embassy in the heart of London. He’s recruited and trained the gunmen in Baghdad. Once in England, he supplies guns and grenades and assures them that they’ll return to Iraq as heroes. He then does a runner to Heathrow and flies out as the Embassy is seized.”

“I don’t think those that had organised (the hostage-takers) had told them the truth, that chances are that they would be holed up (at the Embassy) and that it would end up as a terrorist situation. Because they really thought that they were going home within 24 hours, that we would capitulate, put them on aeroplanes and they’d be back in their own country. But the reality was that they weren’t going anywhere, and it took a long time for that to begin to dawn on them.”

Two of the hostages, as it turned out, were themselves BBC men. One was cameraman Chris Cramer and the other was sound recordist Sim Harris, both of whom had gone to pick up visas.

And there was a third journalist inside, from Syria. His name was Mustapha Karkouti and as a fellow Arabic speaker, he could communicate with the terrorists in their own language:

“We told them, ‘if it was publicity you want, the best idea for you is to decide to give up, you will get all the world media inside this embassy – at that moment, you make your decision, ‘we decided to give ourselves up and the hostages are free to go’. Can you imagine what kind of victory your coups would have achieved if you do that?’ We reached that stage, talking to them.”

They didn’t give up, but they did utilise the media to lay out their demands. They were:

a). Respect for their ‘human and legitimate rights’

b). An independent ‘Arabistan’

c). The release from jail in Iran of 91 Arabs

d). Safe passage for them out of Iran to their chosen destination.

The obvious difficulty with this patently ridiculous plot was that the British government not only had no control over the Iranian government, but an antagonistic relationship existed between them.

For their part, the Iranian government believed this might be a CIA/MI6 scheme to meddle further in their country.

Years of grievances had built up this point. In 1953, at British prompting, the CIA had organised a coup against Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran. He’d wanted to nationalise Iran’s oil, which likely would have driven up prices and removed BP, formerly the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, from the scene.

A cruel dictator, ‘the Shah’, was installed instead but his reign ended in turmoil following the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Iraq: At The Crossroads Of Empires

So here the British government was in 1980, caught between Iraq, Iran and a hard place, as it were.

The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, insisted on the application of UK law inside the embassy, even though it was technically international territory, and, to that end, that the terrorists were under no circumstances to leave the country.

She was, though, prepared to pursue a peaceful resolution as much as possible. As she herself later stated:

“The Iranian Government had no intention of conceding these [the terrorists’] demands and we, for our part, had no intention of allowing terrorists to succeed in their hostage taking. I was conscious that, though the group involved was a different one, this was no less an attempt to exploit perceived western weakness than was the hostage taking of the American embassy personnel in Tehran. My policy would be to do everything possible to resolve the crisis peacefully, without unnecessarily risking the lives of the hostages, but above all to ensure that terrorism should be – and be seen to be – defeated.”

Much of the government response to the crisis was not, though, handled by Thatcher herself but by Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw.

He chaired COBR, pronounced ‘cobra’ and short for Cabinet Office Briefing Room, a body that came into effect during a hostage crisis that was political and not merely criminal in nature. It was advised by senior MoD and Foreign Office officials as well as reps from the SAS, the Met and MI5.

On the morning of day two of the crisis the absurdity of the terrorists ambitions was brought home to everybody when the Iranian government announced that the 91 Arab prisoners would not be released.

Beyond that, expecting Iran to ever give up an oil-rich region like Khuzestan was also barking mad.

Unfortunately, with the apparent brains of the operation, intelligence officer Sammy Mohammed Ali, out of the picture and safely back in Iraq by now, responsibility rested entirely on the shoulders of the group’s leader, Oan (also known as ‘Salim’).

And Oan was getting frustrated. He set a deadline of midday for his demands to be met. If they were not, he said that he and his comrades would begin killing hostages.

Syrian journalist Mustapha Karkouti remembers:

“Immediately, the atmosphere in the room turned into a complete tension. Some of the hostages… were in tears… it was the first shock we had, all of us, that something serious was going to happen.”

The BBC’s Sim Harris was in a similar state of mind:

“I think most of us were panic stricken. I don’t think anybody was thinking straight. (It was) really, really scary… you really start thinking what your BBC pension’s going to leave your wife.”

And for his part, cameraman Chris Cramer, already slightly unwell, willed himself to get into an even worse state. This, he planned, would be his ticket out.

When PC Trevor Lock learnt of his intention, he encouraged it:

“So I said ‘Okay Chris, but don’t forget, once you get out, tell them on the outside (that) there are six of them, they’ve got two machine pistols, they’ve got three Brownings, they’ve got a snub-nosed .45, they’ve got hand grenades and spare ammunition – you’ve got to tell them on the outside’.”

When his captors finally relented, Cramer stumbled outside and into the arms of a waiting policeman:

“I was escorted to an ambulance… I said ‘I want to talk to someone now. Stop the ambulance, you know, there are gunmen in there with hand grenades and there are six of them’, and I was terrified that they were going to storm the embassy thinking maybe there was only one or two… ‘You need to get word to the authorites that there are six extremely well-armed gunmen in there’, and he stopped the ambulance and he jumped out.”

The SAS were getting ready – in fact, they’d been ready since they’d arrived. An IA, Immediate Action plan, was quickly assembled and consisted of assault teams busting in through various points on the upper floors and fighting their way down through the building.

In the meantime, a more detailed operation was being hatched and then rehearsed over and over again at nearby Regents Park Barracks.

This was possible because the SAS were divided into two main groups, Red and Blue Team. Whilst one waited near the Embassy on a knife edge, ready to enact the IA, the other group practised the more detailed plan. Then they switched places.

Fortunately for them and everybody else involved, the deadline passed without incident. Salim had relented, for now.

In the meantime, on top of Chris Cramer’s important intelligence about the level of threat posed by the gunmen, an even more vital asset was located: the building caretaker.

Up until this point, the SAS had developed their plan to include not just the IA’s top-down assault but also additional entry points on the ground. The method of entry? Sledgehammers.

This seems to be one of the most quizzical aspects of the SAS operation. The reason is that while under the rule of the Shah, the Iranian government had consulted experts in the UK on how to bolster the defences of their embassy in London.

The ‘experts’ who were consulted were the SAS and they had advised the Shah to add armour-plated glass. What they didn’t know was whether or not this recommendation was ever implemented, which begs the question: Why bother with sledgehammers if they knew the plan might not work?

In any case, the arrival on the scene of the caretaker the day before had confirmed that armour plating definitely had been added to the ground floor.

They went back to the drawing board, and they needed to work fast. On day three of the crisis things heated up again.

Inside the Embassy, Oan/Salim was getting angry that the phone lines had been cut and thus the terrorists’ message to the outside world blocked. Salim said he might kill a hostage and Trevor Lock convinced him to let he (Lock) speak to the police.

He shouted through a first-floor window: “There is a hostage about to be killed unless you allow Oan full use of telephone and telex”.

This was refused and instead, Salim asked to speak to the BBC. Sim Harris’ colleague Tony Crabb, managing editor of BBC TV News at the time, was brought along to help. Harris shouted the terrorists’ demands through a window to his friend and colleague who noted them down.

As well as the broadcasting that evening of the group’s grievances, the demands were:

a) A coach to Heathrow for everyone inside the embassy as well as the provision of an Arab ambassador to meet with the group

b) The subsequent release at the airport of the non-Iranian hostages and

c) A getaway plane to convey the terrorists and their remaining hostages to an undisclosed Middle Eastern country (likely Iraq).

Again, this wasn’t straightforward. The British government were naturally reluctant to have diplomats from another country dealing with their terrorist problem. Said diplomats wouldn’t necessarily have the same objectives as Downing Street, and controlling the situation through them could prove extremely difficult.

In addition, at that point, the feeling was that even if they did arrange for an ambassador the only Arab country in the region they trusted was Jordan and the Jordanian ambassador didn’t want to do it.

The next day Salim demanded to speak to Tony Crabb again. He was displeased with the way the BBC had reported the crisis the previous day.

This time, Crabb, standing beside a police negotiator, agreed that the terrorists’ statement would be taken down and read out verbatim on the news, but Salim had to agree to the release of two hostages.

One of these was to be a pregnant woman, Hiyech Kanji, and the other a Pakistani teacher named Ali Guil Ghanzafar (whose snoring had apparently been keeping everyone awake at night anyway).

Initially, a standoff ensued as Salim demanded his statement be read out first whereas the police insisted on the release of the hostages as a pre-condition for the BBC broadcast.

The most logical compromise presented itself: the pregnant Hiyech Kanji was let go first and, following the airing of the statement, Ali Guil Ghanzafar was released.

The statement on the news read as follows:

“We demand the three ambassadors, Algerian, Jordanian and Iraqi, to start their jobs in negotiating to secure the safety of the hostages and to terminate the whole operation peacefully.”

While this went on in the foreground the SAS, who the press were still unaware were even there, continued their quiet preparations.

That night they crept over the rooftops towards the Embassy. Abseil ropes were calmly attached to chimneys, though not everything went smoothly. A tense moment occurred when one of them broke a tile.

The snapping ceramic sounded like a pistol shot and the man in question had to point frantically to his boot to show that it had just been him. They all signalled a nearby police sniper to stand down and continued to number 16 Princes Gate.

Gregory Fremont-Barnes describes just what happened next:

“The team carefully made its way across the rooftops, avoiding the forest of aerials and telescopic poles, wires and satellite dishes. The reconnaissance leader then discovered it: moonlight reflecting on glass – the embassy skylight. The word was passed at a whisper, and the recce leader knelt down to discover if the skylight was locked. It was. Another member of the team then proposed peeling back the strip of lead waterproofing positioned around the edge of the glass. Careful work for a quarter of an hour offered success: one of the team was able to lift one of the glass panes from the frame, enabling him to reach through the gap and remove the lock. He gradually eased open the skylight.”

SAS trooper Pete Winner recalls:

“Moonlight immediately flooded the small room beneath us. We found ourselves looking down into a cramped bathroom. Directly below us was a large white enamel bath. In the left-hand corner was a grimy wash-basin, and opposite it was the door that could lead us to the top landing of the Embassy and eventually to the terrorist stronghold. I felt a sudden rush of excitement, a surge of adrenalin, at the thought of the options this new development offered. I had to stifle an urge to become the first SAS man into the Embassy. It would have been quite easy to grip the wooden surround of the skylight base and lower myself down on to the edge of the bath. But thoughts of immortality were interrupted by a hand on my shoulder and by Roy’s voice whispering, ‘Come on. Let’s get back to the holding area. We can tell the boss we’ve got a guaranteed entry point’.”

On day five things improved further when another hostage was released.

The trickle of those coming out confirmed existing intelligence: Six gunmen, well armed with automatic weapons and grenades, and, by this point, 22 hostages.

What they couldn’t determine was whether or not the gunmen were bluffing about having rigged the building with explosives.

This, though, wasn’t for lack of trying. The police and military had been drilling holes in the wall, removing bricks ready for a forced entry and lowering microphones down chimneys.

At one point the scratching of a drill had alerted the terrorists, though, in a fluke, Sim Harris and Lock had managed to convince them that this was just mice in the walls.

The authorities, listening carefully, realised they’d been far too careless and Home Secretary Whitelaw got on the phone to organise all manner of ambient noise. He later acknowledged the supreme professionalism of his government employees - gasmen who promptly found ‘faulty’ non-existent pipes that ‘needed’ drilling and air traffic controllers and pilots who re-rerouted planes from Heathrow. The blanket of sounds now covered up the continuing preparations.

Meanwhile, Mike Rose and assault team leader Major Hector Gullan got together with the then commander of SAS Group, Brigadier Peter de la Billiere. They met at the latter’s London flat to pour over maps and continue fine tuning the assault plan.


Day six, May 5, opened badly.

Salim was convinced the building had been infiltrated by police because he’d heard strange noises in the night. Bizarrely, he sent Trevor Lock to look around instead of doing so himself.

Male hostages in room 9 (the telex room) on the second floor were also woken – Sim Harris and fellow hostage Ron Morris enacted their normal routine of cleaning cups in preparation for breakfast, which consisted of tea and biscuits and was passed out to the women hostages in room 9A first.

At 10 o’clock an ominous telegram from the Iranian government arrived, addressed to the hostages. It praised their stoic courage but ended with the following phrase:

“We feel certain that you are all ready for martyrdom alongside your nation.”

Martyrdom was certainly taken seriously by Abbas Lavasani, a press spokesman for and enthusiastic supporter of his government. He’d become annoyed by the graffiti insulting the Ayatollah that the terrorists had sprayed about, and raised his own profile in the process.

So when Salim spotted an incriminating bulge in the Iranian-Egyptian Embassy wall and decided someone must pay for ‘police meddling’, Lavasani became the obvious target of his retribution.

Bravely, Abbas pronounced himself ready for martyrdom.

Next door, SAS trooper Peter Winner heard three shots:

“I reached for my MP5, removed the magazine, cocked the action and caught the ejected 9-milly round. I then stripped the weapon and began to clean the working parts meticulously. This is it, I thought as I lightly oiled the breech-block. There could be no going back now. A hostage had been murdered. Direct action would have to be taken. As I threaded the metal beads of the Heckler Koch pull-through down the barrel of the machine pistol, I let my mind wander through the problems of attacking a building with over fifty rooms. We would need speed, we would need surprise, we would need aggression.”

For their part, COBR was headless. The Home Secretary had gone to his official residence in Slough and was about to sit down to a nice lunch when he found himself rushing for the car and being whisked back into London at top speed.

A final flurry of official activity ensued as the authorities tried to ascertain if a hostage, or two hostages (another three gunshots came a little later), had actually been killed. When Abbas Lavasani's body was deposited outside the main Embassy door, that confirmed it. (He was, in fact, the only dead hostage at this point).

Legality for the coming raid was now quickly nailed down between various levels of command, including for Whitelaw. He tracked down the PM by phone, catching her in the car as she too sped into London:

De la Billiere had paid one last visit to the men at Princes Gate:

“In the Forward Holding Area I talked to members of the assault team, and found the atmosphere typical of the SAS immediately before an operation: there was no sense of over-excitement or tension rather, an air of professionalism and quiet confidence prevailed. These men had been superbly trained, and they had so often practised the kind of task they were about to carry out that it had become almost an everyday event. This is not to say that they lacked courage or imagination: on the contrary, they knew full well that the terrorists were heavily armed, and that the building could be wired with explosives, and might go up as they broke in. They simply accepted the risks and carried on.”

Back at the embassy panic was setting in, the hostage-takers barricading doors and windows with furniture and Lock yelling down the phone that they were going to kill more hostages.

Somehow the police managed to get Salim back on the line, telling him the coach for his escape was arriving imminently, all while the SAS were visible to those outside the Embassy getting into assault positions.

On the roof Red Team heard “Hyde Park” and then “London Bridge” over their radios, the signals to hook up their ropes and to abseil into position.

But then a snag: The rope of one of the sub-team leaders, Sergeant Tommy Palmer, got caught. Adjacent colleagues swung over to try and tug him loose, but one of them smashed a window below him with his foot.

Inside, Salim heard the breaking glass and put the phone down, going to investigate with Lock in tow.

That was it, they’d lose the element of surprise if they didn’t go now. Their radios came to life:

At that moment the glass dome on the second floor, which had been rigged with explosives as a diversion, was blown.

It shattered violently and a few members of Red Team leapt through the now-gaping hole then bounded up the stairs to the third floor.

On the second floor, Lock seized the initiative:

“I ran as hard as I could towards (Salim) and managed to hit him with my shoulder in the hip, and ran him back maybe eight to 10 feet towards an office door, and I had him, and we were facing the door – and he was going nowhere.”

At around the same moment, the skylight on the top (fourth) floor was blown open and more members of Red Team jumped inside.

Next, snipers launched CS gas canisters through several back windows.

What couldn’t happen was for the explosive charges to be blown around the second-floor windows because Sergeant Palmer was still in the way.

Men below improvised, smashing smaller holes in the glass themselves, then flinging in stun grenades and CS gas canisters.

At the front of the building, Mac’s subunit, part of Blue Team, had climbed across to the first-floor window from a neighbouring balcony.

Sim Harris was right inside and remembers:

“Ever the brave soul, you know, courageous Harris decides this is the time to get out. And I head towards the windows… but they’ve got the shutters across. There’s a chink of light and I pull the curtain apart and there’s what I thought was a policeman.”

He was looking right at Mac who had to yell through is gas mask:

“I thought, ‘wow’, and this guy (gestures) ‘get down, get down’, and there’s one almighty explosion.”

The explosion this time was a frame charge – plastic explosive laid out in a line on a polystyrene base, contouring exactly to the window dimensions. When it went off it blew out the whole thing.

Mac and his comrade climbed back over the adjacent balcony again and dashed inside.

Syrian journalist Mustapha Karkouti recalls the deadly Iranian embassy siege of May 1980 http://t.co/LihPEKKEuOpic.twitter.com/UZUM8rd81v

&mdash BBC World Service (@bbcworldservice) May 5, 2015

Listening to events over the radio was nail-biting.

Metropolitan Police Negotiator DCI Max Vernon said:

“(I just) sat there and listened to the noise (and believed) that a wholesale massacre was going on. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. (I was) stunned. And drained, to be blunt. Totally drained… (I felt like a) failure. I’d failed because the SAS had gone in.”

For his part, back at COBR, de la Billiere was fretful about the fact that the explosions had occurred separately. They were meant to have gone off simultaneously.

What the hell was going on? Was the first explosion the start of the assault and the next one the terrorists blowing up the whole building? They’d never had a chance to ascertain if the thing had been booby-trapped as claimed. Was everybody inside and all those in the attacking force now dead?

They weren’t. In fact, despite the hold ups, all of the attackers – 30 to 35 SAS men – would soon be swarming throughout the building.

Ordinarily, of course, this many elite soldiers wouldn’t be needed to take on a mere six terrorists. The reason for such heavily weighted numbers was to spread the SAS out evenly so they could rapidly navigate the rabbit warren that was the Embassy’s 50 rooms, a network one soldier dubbed a “Fucking nightmare”. The point was the get to the hostages as quickly as possible before any more of them were executed.

For the rest of Red Team that meant getting Sergeant Tommy Palmer out of the way first.

The terrorists may not have laid explosives but they had doused their barricades by the windows with kerosene and the stun grenades flung inside had now started a fire.

It arched upwards, the flames licking Palmer’s leg as he desperately swung himself from side to side trying to avoid them.

On the balcony below men of Red Team, including Robin Horsfall, could do nothing but watch their comrade dangle precariously above them.

Fortunately, someone on the roof cut his rope just at the right moment. Had they mistimed it he could have plummeted to his death onto the concrete below, but as it was he fell safely, albeit it with a thud, onto the second-floor balcony.

Incredibly, despite serious burns, he plunged inside the Embassy with the rest of his team and carried on.

Once inside they fanned out. The procedure was to move in two-man teams, blowing off locks with shotguns or a quick burst of machine-gun fire, kicking the door in, flinging in a stun grenade, and then entering the room.

This was all done in the dark – power had been cut. The soldiers all carried Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine guns with an light on top to illuminate their targets – taken on in descending order of immediate danger. First gunmen, then those with grenades and finally those who might weld a knife.

The MP5s were lethal and could empty their 30-round magazines in two seconds flat if the trigger was fully depressed.

They were chosen for this kind of mission because, unlike some submachine guns such as the British Army’s Sterling L2A3, they fired with a closed-bolt action.

This made them more accurate – essential for hostage rescue. The tradeoff was that they were also more mechanically complicated and jams could occur.

Two-man teams helped mitigate this problem because the lead man could drop to his knee if he got ‘the dead man’s click’ and draw the Browning semi-automatic pistol on his thigh while the man behind moved forward with his MP5.

For safe measure, Brownings could take 13 rounds but were typically loaded with only 12 to reduce the odds of them jamming as well.

Another advantage of the Heckler and Koch was its layout.

Sterlings had a magazine on their side, which made manoeuvring in tight spaces difficult because it could catch on doors and walls.

The MP5, on the other hand, had the more normal downward-facing magazine which, when a spare clip was attached to it, helped weigh the weapon down. Many guns kick up when they fire but this extra weight helped keep the MP5 more stable, and thus, more accurate.

The careful integration of man and weapon was honed continuously at the ‘Killing House’, a CQB (Close Quarters Battle) training facility at the regiment’s headquarters in Hereford.

Here, endless live-ammo drills, sometimes risking the lives of SAS personnel who stood in as ‘hostages’, took place.

Realistic scenarios were rehearsed continuously, soldiers having to navigate furniture obstacles as they ‘rescued’ their comrades and shot dead ‘terrorist’ targets – DA DUM, DA DUM double taps to the head. That meant short bursts with the MP5 and two single shots with the Browning… preferably to the head.

In addition, the knowledge of the Embassy caretaker had been put to good use along with any maps that had been turned up.

A scale model of the building was constructed so that every part of the building could be analysed in painstaking detail by planners.

After that, life-size models of each floor were constructed out of wood and laid out at Regents Park Barracks.

Each team then rehearsed their part of the attack in their assigned area, learning every inch of the building they were to assault.

The training was certainly paying off now as, room by room, the SAS cleared the Embassy.

Careful planning aside, on the ground floor, Blue Team had also had to improvise. To limit the danger of running into each other’s gunfire, Red and Blue Teams had been assigned clearly defined zones. Those in Blue were to enter on the lower levels - the first and ground floors and then, once inside, the basement - whilst those in Red took the top three floors.

Pete Winner entered at the rear on the ground level and remembers:

“We took up a position behind a low wall as a demolition call sign ran forward and placed the explosive charge on the Embassy french windows. It was then that we saw the abseiler swinging in the flames on the first floor [sic: second]. It was all noise, confusion, bursts of sub-machine gun fire. I could hear women screaming. Christ! It’s all going wrong, I thought. There’s no way we can blow that charge without injuring the abseiler.”

“Instant change of plans. The sledge-man ran forward and lifted the sledgehammer. One blow, just above the lock, was sufficient to open the door. They say luck shines on the brave. We were certainly lucky. If that door had been bolted or barricaded, we would have had big problems. “‘Go. Go. Go. Get in at the rear.’ The voice was screaming in my ear. The eight call signs rose to their feet as one and then we were sweeping in through the splintered door. All feelings of doubt and fear had now disappeared. I was blasted. The adrenalin was bursting through my bloodstream. Fearsome! I got a fearsome rush, the best one of my life. I had the heavy body armour on, with high-velocity plates front and back. During training it weighs a ton. Now it felt like a T-shirt. Search and destroy!”

As Gregory Fremont-Barnes points out, it was actually extremely fortuitous that the ground floor charges on the window weren’t blown. Right next to it was shelves of library books also doused in kerosene.

Had a fire started one imagines that the whole operation might have started to look like a miniature version of the disastrous Belsan school siege in Russia in 2004 in which hundreds of hostages died because of fire.

As it was, while they smashed and blew open doors with sledgehammers and shotguns and moved room to room, the only ‘danger’ turned out to be a dustbin – which Winner sprayed with bullets when he mistook it for a crouched terrorist.

On the first floor, there was a real terrorist. In Steve Crawford’s ‘The SAS At Close Quarters’, one soldier recalls:

“Then we were in. We threw in stun grenades and then quickly followed. There was a thundering bang and a blinding flash as the stun grenades went off. Designed to disorientate any hostiles who were in the room, they were a godsend. No one in here, good. I looked round, the stun grenades had set light to the curtains, not so good. No time to stop and put out the fire. Keep moving. We swept the room, then heard shouts coming from another office. We hurried towards the noise, and burst in to see one of the terrorists struggling with the copper who had been on duty when the embassy had been seized: PC Lock.”

What isn’t mentioned here is that before the SAS entered a stun grenade was flung inside and, just like the curtains that were set on fire, it too caused problems for one of the ‘good guys’.

The struggle between Lock and Salim had escalated when the policeman had finally drawn his pistol. Speaking to the BBC, he said:

“I thought, ‘I’m going to kill this bastard’. He couldn’t believe it – Mr. Trevor’s got a gun! He was saying ‘Please don’t hurt me Mr. Trevor, it wasn’t me, it was the others. I told them what you were saying was true but they wouldn’t listen. They wanted to carry on’. And I thought to myself, ‘If I kill him, I would be killing him out of anger and hatred. And that’s not the way I’ve been trained’.”

Here was the problem: Lock himself didn’t need to be rescued - he had the situation under control. But then:

“Two of these, what I call ‘Green Lemons’, they were like the anti-personnel grenades they used to carry, came rolling in – and these were the things that dominated and frightened the life out of me all the time I was in there. I thought ‘Good God’.”

Dominated and frightened Lock more than the terrorist, in this case.

“I can see Saleen going for his gun. And whilst I’m trying to stop him getting his gun, I hear the door fly open.”

The next thing he heard was:

“And I let go of (Salim) and I roll over to look at the door from where the voice came from and there he is standing there, this guy who knew me personally.”

Something else the SAS had been busy doing was looking at pictures, over and over again, memorising the names and faces of everybody in that Embassy, hostages and hostage-takers.

But Trevor couldn’t even see Tom’s face:

“He was dressed in black overalls, mask, had a futurist-looking gun (the MP5), a balaclava, and as I rolled over I immediately heard (gunfire). And I looked back, and there was Salim laying there, absolutely lifeless, and he had a line of bullet holes going at a diagonal, from his eye, across his chest.”

A 9mm Browning MP-35, a backup weapon (image: Askild Antonsen)

Tom had got to Trevor in the nick of time, but on the second floor two terrorists in the telex room (room 9) began shooting hostages.

They hit four of them, though, fortunately for one, a well-placed coin deflected the shot.

Two more lay gravely wounded and one was dead.

At this point, accounts vary. The BBC’s ‘SAS – Embassy Siege’ says the hostages convinced the terrorists to give up and that when the SAS stormed in they stood them against a wall and shot them.

These killings were the most controversial of the siege though the soldiers were later cleared of wrongdoing.

This may have had something to do with the fact that another account is far more indicative of necessary rather than excessive force being employed.

Gregory Fremont-Barnes’ book relates that the gunmen only stopped killing hostages because they tried to hide amongst them, and when they were spotted suspicious movements they made on the floor spooked the SAS enough to kill them.

Grenades are said to have been discovered in their hands.

Whatever the case, two of the terrorists actually were hiding successfully amongst the hostages and posed a critical threat.

With the building on fire and much of the gunmen dead it was time to get out.

The SAS assembled around the stairs and began passing hostages to one another in a long human chain.

It was rough and it was rushed but it was well controlled.

Everything seemed to be going to plan. Then, several members of the SAS spotted something. One of them was Pete Winner:

“He drew level with me. Then I saw it – a Russian fragmentation grenade. I could see the detonator cap protruding from his hand. I moved my hands to the MP 5 and slipped the safety-catch to ‘automatic’.”

But Winner realised he couldn’t take the shot:

“Through the smoke and gloom I could see call signs at the bottom of the stairs in the hallway. Sh**! I can’t fire. They are in my line of sight, the bullets will go straight through the terrorist and into my mates. I’ve got to immobilize the bastard. Instinctively, I raised the MP5 above my head and in one swift, sharp movement brought the stock of the weapon down on the back of his neck. I hit him as hard as I could. His head snapped backwards and for one fleeting second I caught sight of his tortured, hate-filled face. He collapsed forward and rolled down the remaining few stairs, hitting the carpet in the hallway, a sagging, crumpled heap.”

Winner couldn’t shoot the terrorist but now that he was on the ground men further down certainly could:

“The sound of two magazines being emptied into him was deafening. As he twitched and vomited his life away, his hand opened and the grenade rolled out. In that split second my mind was so crystal clear with adrenalin it zoomed straight in on the grenade pin and lever. I stared at the mechanism for what seemed like an eternity, and what I saw flooded the very core of me with relief and elation. The pin was still located in the lever. It was all over, everything was going to be OK.”

So far Salim, the man dead at the bottom of the stairs and the two terrorists shot in the telex room came to four ‘bad guys’ killed. One more had been shot in an office at the back of the building.

By this point the hostages were laid out on the grass at the back of the Embassy. They had their hands quickly strapped in front of them with plasticuffs and the SAS went by, identifying everybody.

Sim Harris spoke up. The final terrorist was laying nearby. Soon identified he was promptly dragged off and later jailed, the only gunman to survive the raid.

Now it really was over – well, apart from the after party.

Back at the barracks, Margaret Thatcher and her husband came by to meet members of Red and Blue Team and praise them for their huge success. Only one dead hostage (apart from the execution of Lavsani that initiated the raid) was well below the 40 percent casualties feared.

Beer cans popped as they all settled in to watch a news report of the day’s events. Mac recalled:

“Suddenly, it was going through the start of it on the telly. It was a newsflash thing… I see me (on telly)… You know, I’m a short arse, and there was this head right in front of me. I said, ‘For fuck’s sake’, I didn’t know whose head it was. I said, ‘Move your fucking head’… and she just moved.”


Decidedly less euphoric about things was Chris Cramer:

“The public at large saw that as a triumphal moment, as something to be celebrated. I found it despairing. You know, (there was) some pride, if you like, with a very small p, that Britain was still capable of producing people who were this well trained, and could execute something as brilliantly as this, but dejection – I thought… this is not civilised behaviour. This is not civilised behaviour. I can understand why it’s happened, but I can’t support it emotionally.”

But Cramer seems to have reserved the worst judgment for himself, claiming that he had to spend the years afterwards coming to terms with the fact the he, as he puts it, is a coward.

It’s hard to understand why he has chosen to be so hard on himself. Perhaps he confused his feeling of fear with cowardice – being afraid, after all, isn’t the same thing as being a coward.

He may also have just compared his own response to the crisis with the overwhelmingly successful one of the SAS.

Either way, it’s ludicrous for him to have expected himself to perform anywhere near as well them. He was ambushed by the terrorists whereas the SAS ambushed them he was unarmed whereas the SAS had the best possible weapons for the situation he was outnumbered six to one whereas just the SAS men inside the building outnumbered the terrorists by that same proportion.

Additionally, the take-home message of the Iranian Embassy siege isn’t that heroism wins the day. Everyone involved clearly was heroic, from the SAS operators to the stoic and resilient hostages to the police and government trying to end the standoff outside. But the point is that preparation was the deciding factor.

Men in 22 SAS were drawn from various elements of the British armed forces, often elite ones such as the Parachute Regiment (as was the case with Robin Horsfall). They were then given special forces training and then this particular unit, B Squadron, had trained specifically to deal with a terrorist hijacking or building seizure for seven whole years.

As Horsfall himself told the BBC:

“We’d go out all night practising exercise. You’d do drills, daily – five, six days a week. The amount of ammunition we used to use was phenomenal. A policeman may get 100 rounds a year to fire off. We used to get 400 rounds a morning.”

On top of that, these men had then spent the best part of a week rehearsing the assault inside an exact replica of the Embassy, as mentioned.

Chris Cramer, by contrast, was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and had he not managed to engineer his own escape the SAS wouldn’t have received as much intelligence about the terrorists.

It’s also worth remembering that the assaulters got incredibly lucky.

The terrorists were poorly trained and prepared and, mercifully, had not rigged the whole building with explosives.

The fact that they left the back door on the ground level unsecured and that SAS men coming in that way decided at the last minute not to blow the window charges might have prevented a catastrophic fire.

It’s also fortunate that when the gunmen in the telex room began shooting hostages, they only managed to kill one of them before deciding to either give up or hide amongst them.

Sim Harris was also lucky not to have come to the window a few moments after he did and been blown to bits by the frame charge. In fact, all manner of things that could have gone wrong apparently just didn’t.

In the end, the siege is a testament to the incredible training and bravery of the SAS and everyone who helped them. It’s also a reminder that members of ‘the regiment’ are not superhuman.

The government and the public can appreciate highly successful missions like Operation Nimrod precisely because they display incredible courage and skill for the greatest of reasons: Saving lives.

But complacency about the abilities of those in the SAS should never be allowed to set in, lest we forget that luck is also critical and expect too much of our special forces in future.

Who Dares Wins - the SAS and the Iranian Embassy Siege 1980 by Gregory Fremont-Barnes, Howard Gerrard, Mariusz Kozik (Paperback, 2009)

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Who Dares Wins: The SAS and the Iranian Embassy Siege 1980: No. 4 (Raid)

On 30 April 1980 six terrorists seized Iranian embassy in London and took 26 hostages. The attackers, Iranian citizens from Arab minority, declared that they were part of Democratic Revolutionary Front of Liberation of Arabistan (DRFLA), one of groups fighting for separation of their homeland, Khuzestan province, from Iran. They were without any doubt working for Saddam Hussein regime, as they received their weapons and some training from Iraqi intelligence service.

The terrorrists requested the release of Arab prisoners held in Iran as well as the right to leave United Kingdom to a safe place of their choice. British governement however had no leverage to obtain the release of Arab prisoners by Iran and anyway was not disposed to accede to terrorists demands.

Six days later the terrorists killed one of the hostages, an Iranian diplomat - after that there could be only one answer and indeed, elite soldiers from Special Air Service (SAS) regiment stormed the embassy. Five out of six terrorists were killed and one was arrested. Tragically, the terrorists had nevertheless the time to kill one of the hostages. One of SAS soldiers was also seriously wounded, but later fully recovered.

This book describes the whole crisis and the SAS attack quite comprehensively and very well indeed, with a lot of important (and also some less important but amusing) details. I learned a lot from it.

This anti-terrorist operation was the first of its kind for the SAS and even if it was obviously a success, from this book it clearly appears that there were still serious weaknesses in anti-terrorist tactics, equipement and training. Some blunders were indeed committed:

- the SAS failed to realise that terrorists disposed inflammable materials in many places as result, in the opening stage of attack they used the kind of explosives and tear gas grenades which set the embassy on fire - which could have had dire consequences.

- at the beginning of attack one of the soldiers managed to get entangled in the rope and was trapped, defenseless, hanging near to a window (and also was seriously burned as result)

- the attack didn't begin simultaneously at all access points - which could have been a problem.

- one of soldiers made noise just before the attack began, warning the terrorist leader

- another soldier forgot to chamber a round in his MP5 - and found himself face to face with an armed terrorist, defenseless. He was very lucky that the terrorist decided to run away rather than killing him. Author actually claims that it was not the case of forgetfulness and that the weapon jammed, but I don't buy it - and if that was the case that would be EVEN WORSE!

Once all those mistakes taken into account, it becomes clear, that to some extent the SAS soldiers were lucky, that at least four out of six terrorists were definitely not very clever and neither were they well trained or motivated - in fact, with the exception of their leader, Oan, and of one other attacker (who murdered one of the hostages, Ali Akbar Samadzadeh, in the telex room), the others were rather the Larry, Curly and Moe of world terrorism.

All that notwithstanding, the SAS soldiers carried the day BIG TIME, especially considering that it was their FIRST real anti-terrorist operation, that they were attacking a HUGE building with A LOT of rooms and that they were facing six terrorists (two more than the Germans at Mogadishu), who had fully automatic weapons, powerful Soviet RGD5 handgrenades and good Browning 9 mm pistols and who at the beginning of the action still held 19 hostages in THREE distinct locations.

As I already said, this is a good book, but at one moment author made a really BIG MISTAKE: on page 19 it is said that the terrorists also had a "Polish-made Skorpion sub-machine gun". Well, it is indeed true that the 7,65 mm vz. 1961 Skorpion is a weapon well liked by terrorists for its small size and massive fire power - but it was conceived and manufactured in CZECHOSLOVAKIA, with some being also produced under license in Yugoslavia, but NEVER in Poland!

Also on the same page author says that terrorists had "two 9mm SMG machine pistols" - and it stops here. I admit that I would really like to know precisely what were those weapons - were they maybe Stechkin pistols?

Finally, even if author tried to avoid giving that impression, from the description of events for me it was clear, that SAS soldiers were under orders to kill the terrorists even if they tried to surrender - and so they did, sparing only the one who was identified when hiding amongst hostages already OUTSIDE the embassy and therefore fully in view of many prying eyes. BUT, I don't mean that as criticism! Such orders could have been issued only by the Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcher), I believe she gave them and I think she was DARN RIGHT giving them, because a strong message needed to be send to all possible future wannabees - and it was send by SAS and evidently received 5 by 5 by everybody concerned, because such an incident never occured again in United Kingdom. Pity however that during all the 80 and 90s, in exchange for indemnity from attacks, United Kingdom allowed all Islamic extremists from around the world to live, labour and organise safely on British soil, creating the infamous "Londonistan" - with all the consequences which followed.

Bottom line, this is a very good, very interesting, very well written book, revealing maybe more than author intended - and therefore even more worthy buying and reading. Enjoy!

Who Dares Wins - the SAS and the Iranian Embassy Siege 1980

For 5 days in May 1980, the world watched as the SAS performed a daring raid on the Iranian Embassy in London. Hailed by Margaret Thatcher as a brilliant operation the raid was a huge success for the SAS, rescuing 19 hostages with near-perfect military execution, although 2 hostages were killed by terrorists. Despite the media attention, details of the siege are still largely u.

For 5 days in May 1980, the world watched as the SAS performed a daring raid on the Iranian Embassy in London. Hailed by Margaret Thatcher as a brilliant operation the raid was a huge success for the SAS, rescuing 19 hostages with near-perfect military execution, although 2 hostages were killed by terrorists. Despite the media attention, details of the siege are still largely unknown and those involved and the identities of the SAS troopers themselves, remain a closely guarded secret. This book takes an in-depth look at the siege, revealing the political background behind it and analyzing the controversial decision by the Prime Minister to sign over control of the streets of London to the military. Artwork illustrates the moment the walls were breached and show how the strict planning of the operation was critical to its success. With input from those involved in the mission, the author strips away some of the mystery behind the best counter-terrorism unit in the world and their most famous raid.

The Melting Thought

This is the first post of this section (Military Special Forces Throughout the World) and I’m so excited! First of all, I have never been in the military but I respect anyone who is active duty or is separated military. I have always been awed by regular military you know those gun-hoe GI Joe types who rush into a room filled with hostiles and blow the ever living crap out of everything? Movies like Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), Commando (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Navy SEALS (Charlie Sheen), Delta Force (Chuck Norris) and Heatbreak Ridge (Clint Eastwood) come to mind.

It was only during recent years that I have actually started reading books about Special Forces and have personally met members of some of America’s elite Special Forces units that I have gained an absolute amazing respect for these men. I say “men” because, as of yet in America, women are not allowed to enter into a Special Forces unit. See my post: “Women in the Military: Should GI Jane Become a Reality?” to get a better picture of what I mean.

In the ensuing posts, I will give a profile of Special Forces groups throughout the world, describe their history and list a bunch of mind-blowing stuff they’ve done.

The Pakistani SSG

If you don’t know yet, Special Forces and Special Operations Forces are military components who are specially trained, drilled and educated to carry out un-traditional operations 1. Special Forces began in the early part of the 1900s, with a large expansion during WWII. This was a time when “every major army involved in the fighting” fashioned elite units who were loyal to special operations behind enemy lines.

Varying by country, Special Forces may execute some of these wicked, bad-to-the-bone ops: airborne missions, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, foreign interior resistance, clandestine operations, targeted warfare, hostage recovery, high-value targets/man-hunting, surveillance/reconnaissance missions, mobility ops and untraditional combat.

Be ready to be educated and blown away by what you’re about to read…

SAS stands for “Special Air Service”. These three initials go hand-in-hand with maximum brute hardness, unrelenting resilience, calm fortitude and, when the moment strikes, tremendous aggression 45. Also known as “The Regiment”, these guys are a Tier One Special Operations unit of the British Army. Just think of the US Navy SEALS. But instead of saying, “The only easy day was yesterday,” these blokes say, “Who dares wins!”…only in a hardcore, Captain Price from Call of Duty accent! These guys can parachute from the sky at 35,000 feet at zero dark thirty into a sub zero arctic ocean 5 miles from shore. Then they will find bad guys in their sleep and slit their throats, gather intel, interrogate insurgents and beat the ever living crap out of anyone who threatens them. Then they will silently swim away, leaving no trace.

Remember, these blokes are from the UK, where they use more refined English words. So don’t interrupt their afternoon tea before they “spring” (rescue) hostages and “slot” (kill) the bad guys as per orders from their “ruperts” (officers). The SAS is one of the most ruthless, hard-line Special Ops teams in the word, according to Marcus Lutrell, a former Navy SEAL. You might remember him from the movie “Lone Survivor” 46. Their preferred method is to slip in, do the job and slip out again 45. They are one of the first modern-day Special Ops teams and many international SF groups have fashioned their tactics, training and methods after the legionary SAS. When the Regiment establishes a plan of action, they don’t completely rely on it because if the circumstances are modified – there must be room for adaptability. They never place themselves in an environment where they don’t have an escape route. At the core of their training, they always want to be able to fight or run. If they are cornered, they have no choice but to fight 45.

The first time I heard about these guys was when I played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. As unrealistic as it is for a normal chap like me to jump from a sinking freighter onto a helo hovering over the frozen Baffin Bay, that’s just a normal day at the office for these lads.

The SAS was founded in 1941 as a company and later on, they were rebuilt as a corps in 1950 2. The Regiment takes part in several operations that encompass clandestine recon, counter-terrorism, targeted warfare, hostage recovery and human intel collecting 3, 4.

The Regiment’s intel collecting and what they call the “hearts and minds” campaign with the local natives has protected countless lives during missions that were successful without any shots fired. The SAS stretches its realm of protection by utilizing troops to audit, monitor and collect intel. When operating outside the UK, the Regiment recruits the assistance of the local native people, donating medicinal care and help with tasks that are profitable to them. In return, the locals offer guidance about native food and medicinal plants, and intelligence about the activities of enemy forces. This successful hearts and minds method is a much more prosperous and effective way of handling a hostile incident instead of going in guns blazing and instituting your will on a local population 45.

The SAS also pioneered the techniques of modern-day advanced VIP protection 45. They are equivalent to the US Army DELTA force, Israel’s Yamam and Sayeret Matkal or the French GIGN.

One of the reasons why SAS men are so effective in so many different situations is that we apply the lessons learned in training not just in combat but to our entire lives. Continuous self-criticism is a way of life in the Regiment. We’re always looking for ways to improve our performance, and in planning for any mission we attempt to cover every conceivable eventuality. It’s meticulous, exhaustive and often unconventional, but gives us the best possible chance to second-guess our opponents. Many of the lessons SAS soldiers learn in training are lessons that can be applied outside the military environment, particularly awareness. The SAS soldier is always aware of his surroundings. He is constantly switched on, paying attention to what’s going on around him and what the likely dangers are 45.”

– Pete “The Joker” Scholey – 20 year SAS veteran

David Stirling “The Phantom Major” 1915-1990

History – WWII through the Malayan Emergency

The SAS Regiment can trace its roots to early WWII when a 6′ 6″ Scotsman named David Stirling created a special service team named the “L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade”. This name was intentionally selected to be deceptive so the Axis forces (the bad guys in Europe) would think they were actually a paratrooper unit in North Africa. The groundwork of this element began on July 1, 1941 and is believed to be the establishment for the original SAS Regiment (even though it dissolved at the war’s end) 6.

Some original members of the L Detachment SAS Brigade

The L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade was formed as a special military detachment that functioned behind the Axis military lines in North Africa. The SAS’s first mission was Operation Crusader late in 1941 in Egypt and Libya. However, about one third of the first unit was killed or apprehended by the Germans. Several months later, they tried for their second mission, which was a total success. With the supportive strength of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG – formed to carry out deep penetration and long range recon missions), both units completed an assault on Axis airfields in Libya where many German airplanes were destroyed. Stirling and his SAS daredevils and Bagnold with his far reaching LRDG renegades fought the Nazis in this battle without losing a single life 6.

The LRDG in North Africa, 1942. Now if this isn’t the definition of bad-to-the-bone, hardcore, fierce, tough, uncompromising, ultra-cool then Peyton Manning will never be inducted to the NFL hall of fame!

In September 1942, the L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade was renamed as the 1 st SAS Regiment which was also made up of the Special Boat Section (SBS). The SBS practiced in different areas than the regular SAS and possessed special equipment to conduct ops in the sea-going, amphibious and riverine habitats. The 1 st SAS Regiment was also made up of two foreign squadrons: one Greek squadron ( Ιερός Λόχος – The Sacred Band or Sacred Squadron) and one Free French squadron (a division of free French soldiers who fought along-side the SAS).

SAS riding in their “Pinkies” in Italy

The newly formed SAS extended their maneuvers in North Africa but also executed a number of operations in Greece. In January 1943, the creator and leader of the SAS, David Stirling, was taken prisoner by the Germans in Libya. Even though he managed to escape, he was again re-captured by the Italians, who took great pleasure in the humiliation this caused to their German comrades. Four additional escape efforts were made before Stirling was finally sent to Colditz Castle in Germany. He ended up staying in captivity for the remainder of WWII in Germany.

Paddy Mayne (left) and Bill Stirling (right)

In the 15 months from the founding of the SAS, they had eliminated over 250 grounded enemy aircraft, hundreds of vehicles and a large number of stored provisions. Robert B. “Paddy” Mayne was then chosen as the new leader for the 1 st SAS. Mayne was an Irish rugby player who’s sporting career was cut short with the beginning of WWII. William Stirling, David Stirling’s brother, was put in command of the 2 nd SAS Regiment in Algeria 7.

Under new command, the SAS was re-structured into the Special Raiding Squadron. Mayne’s unit usually operated in Sicily and mainland Italy along-side the 2 nd SAS with William Stirling. The Special Boat Squadron (SBS) was used for operations in Dodecanese (a group of Greek islands) and the Aegean Islands. In 1944, the 1 st and 2 nd SAS, the Belgian 5 th SAS and the French 3 rd and 4 th SAS were joined into the British SAS Brigade which conducted operations behind Axis lines in France and executed supportive missions during the Allied press into Germany 6.

The Free French SAS

At the end of WWII, the British Government had no further need for the SAS. It was formally dissolved on October 8, 1945 8. In 1946, the British leadership realized there was a need for a permanent extensive long-reaching Special Forces division. A new SAS regiment was then formed as part of the Territorial Army 8. Eventually, the Artists Rifles, a light reserve voluntary unit that was founded in 1860, adopted the SAS role as 21 st SAS Regiment (V) on January 1, 1947 8.

Mike “Madman” Calvert

In 1950, a 21 st SAS squadron was activated to take part in the Korean War. After they trained in England for three months, they were informed they were no longer needed in Korea. Any normal person would have given up and gone home but not these guys! They heard about the Malayan Emergency and went to fight over there instead 9. The Malayan Emergency was a Civil war fought in modern day Malaysia with the British supported Malaysian government against the Malaysian Communist Party from 1948-1960. Upon arrival in Malaya, Mike Calvert assumed command of the 21 st . Calvert was busy gathering a new team called the Malayan Scouts (SAS) 9. He was successful in organizing one squadron from 100 volunteers in the Far East who became the “A Squadron”. The 21 st SAS squadron subsequently became the “B Squadron”. After a visit to Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe, Africa), Calvert created a “C Squadron” from 1,000 British Rhodesian volunteers 8. The Rhodesian squadron served for three years before they returned home. The “C Squadron” was then replaced by a New Zealand squadron 8.

Calvert’s volunteer SAS gents set the standard in jungle warfare for all future military operations

At this time, the 22 nd SAS Regiment was formally included in the army list in 1952 after the British government recognized a need for a regular army Special Forces unit. It has been headquartered in Hereford since 1960 8. In 1959 the 23 rd SAS Regiment was created by renaming a Reserve Recon Unit, which had replaced the MI-9 division and were specialists in escape and evasion 8.

Famous Modern-Day SAS Missions

As with most Special Forces groups across the globe, the SAS is very secretive about their missions. The following is an account of some of their well-known operations throughout the world. I’m positive that these are only a fraction of the operations they’ve been involved in and there are most likely many others that will never be heard of and many heroes who will never be recognized.

Members of 22 SAS Squadron before embarking on a patrol in Borneo

Since the Malayan Emergency, operatives from the 22 nd SAS Regiment have been involved in secretive recon and surveillance missions as small units and even some extensive assault operations. Their first call to arms was in Borneo, an island in Southeast Asia 10. The 22 nd was mainly sent to provide a defensive effort for the Malayans.

A second operation the SAS took part in was against resistance fighters in the Battle of Mirbat in Oman 10. SAS commandos were sent to strengthen the counterinsurgency operation after a coup took place. They have also been called up for operations in the Aden Emergency in Yemen, the uprising in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s and in Gambia, Africa 10. Their Special projects team was on standby during the West German counter-terrorism group GSG 9 during operation Feuerzauber when Lufthansa Flight 181 was hijacked by Islamist terrorists in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1977 10.

Hostage passengers freed after Flight 181 was taken captive by Islamist Terrorists

One of the most well-known operations was the when the SAS assisted in a hostage rescue mission during the Iranian Embassy Siege in London in 1980 10. SAS teams Red and Blue started synchronized assaults under the name Operation Nimrod. In the aftermath, the terrorists murdered one hostage and wounded two others. However, the SAS was successful in killing all but one terrorist 14.

SAS team storms the Iranian Embassy in London – 1980 SAS during the Falklands War

During the Falklands War in the south Atlantic near South America in 1982, the SAS geared up for Operation Mikado 10. They were successful in taking part in nighttime operations against the Argentine Army and destroying many aircraft and vehicles. At one time, Argentina launched a man-hunt mission to look for an SAS recon team who had penetrated deep into their country to prepare for a mobile marine invasion. Once the commandos heard about the pursuit, they made it across to the Chilean border and were able to secure a civilian flight back to the UK. The war resulted in England winning back the Falkland Islands 15.

During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, SAS squadrons A, B and D were activated. This was the largest SAS deployment since WWII. The most notable mission during this time involved Bravo Two Zero, the call-sign for an 8-man SAS team 10. There is a movie by the same name starring Sean Bean about this mission that you should totally check out! Bravo Two Zero was tasked with collecting intel, locating a lying-up position (LUP) and preparing an observation post (OP) in north-western Iraq 16. Although, another source states that Bravo Two Zero was to locate and destroy Iraqi Scud missile launchers 17. Their mission was compromised when they encountered several Iraqi civilians. This scenario was very similar to US Navy SEAL Operation Redwing that took place in Afghanistan in June 2005. A four man SEAL recon team was ambushed and only one made it out alive. “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Lutrell is a book about the event and a

Chris Ryan (left) and Jack Sillito (right)

movie by the same name starring Mark Wahlberg was released in 2013.

Thank goodness, Bravo Two Zero ended on a different note than Operation Redwing did. After they were discovered, the SAS operators attempted to escape but they were overrun by Iraqi military. In the aftermath, 2 died of hypothermia, 1 was killed during a fire-fight, 4 were captured and later released and 1 (Corporal Chris Ryan) evaded capture and escaped to Syria. Ryan became an SAS legend with the “longest escape and evasion by an SAS trooper or any other soldier”, to make it to Syria. He made it through 180 miles of harsh Iraqi desert wasteland. This beat the previous record set by SAS trooper Jack Sillito, where he took a 140 mile jaunt through in the Sahara in 1942 16.

In the mid-1990s, the 22 nd SAS guided NATO war-planes onto Serbian locations and pursued war criminals in Bosnia 11, 12. They also took part in the Kosovo War, assisting Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerillas behind Serbian lines. According to Albanian sources one SAS sergeant was killed by Serbian Special Forces 13.

Members from Bravo Two Zero post prior to their mission

In Sierra Leone, the SAS participated in Operation Barras, a hostage retrieval mission, to rescue members of the Royal Irish Regiment 10. In recent years during the Iraq War, the SAS built a division of Task Force Black and Task Force Knight. Squadron A of the 22 nd SAS was recommended for extraordinary acts of service by General Stanley McChrystal, the American commander of NATO forces. In a span of six months, SAS operators completed 175 combat missions 18.

In 2006, the SAS took part in a mission to free 3 peace activists who were hostages in Iraq for 118 days during the Christian Peacemaker hostage crisis 19. The SAS 21 st and 23 rd Regiments also deployed to Afghanistan for missions to take out Taliban fighters 20, 21.

An SAS night-time operation

Some British newspapers have theorized that the SAS participated in Operation Ellamy and the Libyan Civil War in 2011 where Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and later killed. The Daily Telegraph revealed that “defense sources have confirmed that the SAS has been in Libya for several weeks and played a key role in coordinating the fall of Tripoli.” 22 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.” 23

The SAS has carried out many deadly attacks against ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria

Operators from the SAS were activated to Northern Iraq in late August 2014 and (claimed by former MI-6 chief Richard Barrett) are also responsible for hunting down the ISIS terrorists 24, 25, 26, 27. In October 2014, the SAS carried out operations that targeted ISIS supply routes in western Iraq. They also used helicopters to carry light vehicles that took sniper squads on various operations. It is possible that the SAS has taken out almost eight ISIS fighters every day since the operations started 28.

Inside the SAS

As with most Special Forces, the SAS is shrouded in secrecy and when it comes to inside information, there is little to no viable data.

Today, the SAS is made up of three components:

  1. The 22 nd Special Air Service Regiment
  • The active duty gents
  • Under the functional command of United Kingdom Special Forces
  1. The 21 st (Artist Rifles) Special Air Service Regiment
  • These are the reserve SAS chaps
  1. The 23 rd Special Air Service Regiment
  • Also a reserve unit
  • Unlike the first 2 SAS units, this regiment accepts regular men without any prior military experience
  • The two reserve units fall under the operational command of 1 st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade 5.

Amphibious Troop – formerly known as the “Boat Troop”, they are specialists in maritime insertion techniques. This encompasses using SCUBA gear and even surf-boards to swim ashore. The Amphibious Troop also uses kayaks (canoes) and rigid-hulled inflatable boats. In recent years, they have trained with the Special Boat Service (SBS), the UK’s equivalent to the US Navy SEALs and have even participated in joint-missions 29, 45.

Air Troop – formerly known as the “Free-fall Troop”, every SAS trooper must be
parachute trained. The Air Troop are specialists who move beyond normal parachuting and are experts in free fall parachuting, High Altitude-Low Opening (HALO) and High Altitude-High Opening (HAHO) methods 29, 45. In a HAHO jump, a soldier can coast nearly 20 miles to their targeted landing spot. The Air Troop also

uses non-conventional methods like micro-light aircraft (kind of like a motorized hand-glider) and power-kites (a parachute shaped kite that pulls the user along on skiis or water crafts at a fast pace). The Air Troops attached to every squadron are known as the “Prima Donnas”. Being an Air Trooper is usually a solo mission. They will parachute ahead of the main SAS troops to secure a safe landing zone (LZ) 45.

Mobility Troop – these troopers are usually called the “Land Rover Troop”. They

The Pinkie

function using a number of vehicles, the best known being the SAS “Pink Panther” or “Pinkie”. During WWII, the desert sand would settle on vehicles, turning them a light pink color. The other Land Rovers were then painted in similar color in order to camouflage them. Other vehicles the Mobility Troops utilize are the KTM 350 and Honda 250 dirt bikes. However, the Honda 250 is the much more preferred because of it’s quiet motor. Training for the Mobility Troop takes several weeks with the Royal Electrical Band Mechanical Engineers. Mobility troopers learn fundamental skills in mechanics and cross country conditions 4.

Mountain Troop – the Mountain Troop is specially trained in Arctic combat and survival, using unique equipment such as skis, snowshoes and mountain climbing methods 29. Most Mountain troopers are educated in Europe, mostly in the German Alpine Guides course in Bavaria. The SAS usually chooses two Mountain Troop operators to attend a 12-month training course – six months on skiing and six months on alpinism. One of the squadrons also attends the annual NATO winter exercise in Norway 45.

Special Projects Team

SAS CRW training

The Special Projects Team is the formal title for the Special Air Service anti–hijacking counter–terrorism team 30. These hardcore blokes are experienced in Close Quarter Battle (CQB) and sniper methods and are experts in hostage rescue in buildings or on public transport 29. The Special Projects Team was founded in the early 1970s after Prime Minister Edward Heath solicited the Ministry of Defense to get ready for a potential terrorist attack. Many countries were on high alert after the slaughter of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics. Soon afterwards, the SAS Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) was started 31.

Once the unit was initiated, every SAS squadron circulated on regular intervals in counter–terrorist training that encompassed hostage rescue, blockade assault and live firing training. One source has stated that in the course of CRW exercises, each SAS operator expends as many as 100,000 rounds of ammo! Typically SAS squadrons are required to update their skills every 16 months.

Local police during the Balcombe Street Siege that lasted 6 hours

The CRW was first tested during the Balcombe Street Siege in Ireland. In December 1975, members of the Provincial Irish Republican Army (IRA) took hostages into an apartment building. The standoff lasted for six hours and the Metro Police had the IRA trapped. As soon as the terrorists heard the SAS was going to be sent in, they immediately surrendered and released of all hostages unharmed 31! Smart move, I’d say!

The CRW also helped out with the West German counter-terrorism group GSG 9 in Mogadishu, Somalia 10 and the 1980 hostage crisis at the Iranian Embassy in London 30.

How do I Join?

SAS selection occurs two times annually in the summer and winter in Sennybridge in Brecon Beacons. Strange names, I know. Just imagine what the British think of what we call some of our towns: Natchitoches and Waxahachie! Anyways, around 200 applicants endure a five-week recruitment time period that entails Personal Fitness Test, Combat Fitness Test and Hill Phase. This is capped off with the “Exercise High Walk” or better known as the famous “Fan Dance”.

The gents who are a part of the 22 nd SAS Regiment are chosen from the UK military so you can’t be a civilian if you want to join these blokes. However, you can join the 21 st or the 23 rd SAS Regiments directly as a civilian. You must be a healthy gent (a member of the male gender) from ages 18-32. Although women are allowed into the regular British armed forces, they are exempt from applying to the British Special Air Service or other Special Forces units. However, this might be changing in the near future 32.

As a professional soldier, going on to Continuation Training with the Regiment was, for me, a huge opportunity to improve my skills and learn many more new ones. It was equivalent of attending the finest university, with the additional bonus of studying in North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Arctic, Africa and the Middle and Far East. Along the way I acquired a variety of specialist skills. We constantly trained for war, but as well as learning how to take life, the SAS also trained me to preserve it. I learned to work as a paramedic, capable of treating my own or my comrades’ wounds – gunshots, blast injuries and fractures – and acquired a working knowledge of disease and tropical medicine 45 .”

– Pete “The Joker” Scholey – 20 year SAS veteran

The selection process for the 21 st and 23 rd SAS regiments is far less severe, however, the candidates have to meet rigorous demands to wear one of the two reserve badges.

SAS recruits during the “Fan Dance”

To understand the SAS, you first have to separate the realities of the Regiment from the myths. SAS soldiers are not supermen, they are not all budding James Bonds or Rambos and they are not infallible. So much nonsense has been generated around the SAS name in books, on TV and even in computer games, that it is worth remembering that SAS soldiers are just that – soldiers. But these are no ordinary soldiers. Whatever the myths and legends, one fact is not in dispute: the SAS is certainly the foremost military unit in the world, the elite of the elite, respected and feared in equal measure 45.”

– Pete “The Joker”Scholey

SAS Heroes

The following is a list of famous SAS gents who, despite overwhelming odds and experiencing immense danger, still accomplished some amazing feats. Some surprisingly made it out alive but others paid the ultimate price for their country and their mates. Let’s also take some time here to honor the unknown SAS operators who didn’t make it and whose stories will never be written…

Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba (1942-1972) – The Battle of Mirbat, Oman

Born in 1942 as a native of Fiji, Labalaba served in the Royal Irish Rangers and was in the B Squadron of the 22 nd SAS unit during the Battle of Mirbat in July 19, 1972. Sgt. Labalaba’s heroic act occurred when he continued to hold his position and fire his 25 pounder gun at rebel forces, although he was seriously injured from a bullet wound in the jaw. Cpt. Mike Kealy and other SAS troops arrived to assist, however they were soon killed. Labalaba’s brave actions kept the insurgents occupied so Strikemaster fighter jets could drop their ordinance and reinforcements from the SOAF (Sultan of Oman Air Force) could arrive. If it wasn’t for Labalaba’s valor, the battle would have certainly been lost. Sgt. Labalaba lost his life at the end of the battle and was posthumously “mentioned in dispatches”. This means that his name was placed in an official report written by a superior officer and was sent to the high command. In the dispatch, it described Sgt. Labalaba’s courageous or estimable action in the face of the enemy. Now if I was a witness to this battle, this “mentioned in dispatches” would be a great dishonor to this brave Fijian SAS operator. Although his mates pushed for him to receive the Victoria Cross (the UK’s equivalent to the Medal of Honor), it was denied 37.

8 SAS Operators (2016) – War on ISIS, Syria

This is an example of extreme awesomeness and just pure, gutsy courage. In early 2016, an eight man elite SAS team dressed up in burkas eliminated multiple ISIS terrorists right inside their home town. The SAS gents disguised themselves as wives of ISIS leaders, fully covered in a traditional Muslim black robe (called a “burka” or a “burqa”) worn by many female Muslims. They were delivered through town in a black Toyota pick-up by local Syrians who were working for the British Secret Service. The SAS operators even hid their rifles and some grenades inside their burkas in case they encountered any resistance. Upon arrival to the ISIS leader’s house, they relayed their position to a US AWACs spy-plane that was circling high above, unseen from the ground. The AWACs then informed the pilot of a US Reaper drone of the location. Moments later, a Hellfire missile was launched towards the unsuspecting ISIS hideout which was instantly obliterated, killing all ISIS leaders and fighters inside.

Muslim women clad in burkas

Several nearby ISIS terrorists were alerted when the explosion went off. They turned a corner, expecting a full-on fight. However, they were met by eight burka wearing women who instantly threw up their robes and became fierce hard-core SAS gents. Needless to say, none of those ISIS terrorists survived. A deadly gunfight continued and the SAS troopers made their way back to the vehicles they had arrived in. Later on, in local news, it was stated that the “infidels” sent women to fight for them. That’s just the type of thing they are best at. Twisting the truth to cover up the fact that they got their butts kicked by hardcore, burka wearing SAS chaps 38!

Staff Sergeant John Thomas “Mac” McAleese (1949-2011) – Iranian Embassy Siege, London, England

Is it just me or did the Call of Duty writers copy Captain Price from McAleese?

John McAleese was born on April 25, 1949 in Scotland 38. He is best known as the SAS trooper who was the first on the balcony during the Iranian Embassy crisis in London on May 1980 during Operation Nimrod 40, 41. Later, he recounted the mission in the TV series “SAS: Are You Tough Enough?”.

In 1969 at 20 years old, McAleese enlisted in the 59 th Independent Commando, Royal Engineers. He then relocated to Hereford, England in 1975 after completing SAS training and being accepted into the program. By 1980, he was a Lance Corporal, serving in Pagoda Troop, B Squadron, 22 nd SAS Regiment. As a member of “Blue Team”, his skills were put to the test during Operation Nimrod. On live TV, McAleese planted explosives on the first floor balcony of the Iranian Embassy just before the SAS stormed in and put an end to the siege.

Later, McAleese was called up to assist in the Falklands War in 1982 and received the Military Medal in 1988 for his exemplary service in Northern Ireland. During the later part of his career in the SAS, he served as a bodyguard for three British Prime Ministers 42. He retired from the British Army on February 8, 1992 with an honorable discharge at the rank of Staff Sergeant 38, 41. During his post-retirement years, McAleese was employed as a security advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan and was an airsoft instructor (a kind of paintball training for military).

In 2009, his oldest son, 29 year old Sergeant Paul McAleese of The Rifles, 2 nd Battalion, was killed in action in Helmand Provence, Afghanistan as a result of a roadside bomb 41. In 2011, John McAleese had a heart attack and died in Thessaloniki, Greece where he had lived with his wife. His funeral was at Hereford Cathedral 43. He is survived by his second wife, a daughter by his first marriage and two children from his second marriage.

John McAleese’s coffin draped in the British flag

Rusty Firmin, a friend and fellow SAS soldier who followed McAleese into the Iranian Embassy stated, “He was a very funny professional soldier. He wasn’t the smartest soldier I have ever met, but actually he was one of the most effective soldiers I have ever met. Mac was brave and fearless, a leader of men who myself and others would follow,44

“Who Dares Wins”

Every hardcore Special Forces unit needs to have some battle cry or slogan they yell out just before bludgeoning the ever living crap out of unsuspecting bad-guys who are usually sleeping or are totally unaware. The US Army Rangers have “Rangers Lead the Way!”, the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command uses “We Will Find a Way!”, the Finnish Rapid Deployment Force uses “Look Good, Do Good!” and the German Special Operations Division says “Einsatzbereit, jederzeit, weltweit!” That means “Ready for Action, Anytime, Worldwide!” Just in case you failed your German class in high school!

If you’ve played the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on-line streaming and have been placed in an SAS unit, you’ll hear the famous phrase “Who Dares Wins!” by some gun-wielding SAS bloke with muttonchops. Where did this phrase come from? Well, hold on to your bootstraps and I’ll tell ya.

“Who Dares Wins” is a slogan that was popularized by the British Special Air Service 34. The guy who is usually credited with first using it was none other than its founder, Sir David Stirling 35.

Imagine a bunch of bearded SAS blokes lounging in the Mayflower Pub on Rotherhithe Street in London after a deployment to Afghanistan. Sergeant Jenkins jabs Lance Corporal Jeeves in the ribs spilling some of his Scrumpy, “Hey you bunch of wankers! Who cares who wins! We all made it out with at least four limbs!” This is phrase sometimes joked about among tight-knit SAS operators. Remember, it can only be said among SAS mates though. Don’t go shouting this out to any former or current SAS gent or you might be drop kicked, called a “brass neck” or “daft as a brush” or given a punch in your gob!

This famous motto has also been utilized by twelve other Special Forces teams throughout the globe who have distant connections with the British SAS: the Australian SAS Regiment, the New Zealand SAS, the Hong Kong Special Duties Unit, the Tunisian Garde Nationale, the French 1 st Marine Parachute Regiment, the Rhodesian SAS, the Greek 1 st Raider/Paratrooper Brigade and Mountain Raider Companies, the Cyprus LOK, the Israeli Sayeret Matkal and the Belgium 1 st Parachutist Battalion.

An early expression for the origin is “τοῖς τολμῶσιν ἡ τύχη ξύμφορος” or “Fortune Favors the Bold” from the Ancient Greek soldier and historian Thucydides.

Little Known SAS Facts

The following is a list of humorous SAS facts that were taken from a member of the British Royal Marines. Some are actually real, some are made up and some are just downright hilarious 36!

  • All UK pubs are required by law to have one alcoholic regular who used to be a member of the SAS and was 2 nd man on the balcony at the Iranian Embassy
  • During selection, potential SAS recruits are required to bite the head off a live ferret – except in Dog Soldiers where they have to shoot a live dog
  • All SAS men must now sign a contract agreeing never to disclose anything about their service, never to call any officer ‘Sir’ and never to trim their moustaches
  • All serving SAS soldiers are discreet, witty, down-to-earth, good blokes none of them are Waltish, swollen-headed, egotistical, prima donnas with a hotline to the Daily Mirror’s Defence Correspondent
  • Since Dog Soldiers came out, all SAS weapons are loaded with silver bullets in case they meet real werewolves
  • David Stirling, the SAS founder, had a pet hamster called Bismark
  • During the Malayan Emergency the SAS were known by the Communist guerrillas as “The Moustaches from Hell”
  • The SAS spelt backwards is SAS
  • The real Iranian Embassy siege only lasted two minutes. The TV footage was a dramatized re-enactment for the cameras
  • During the Falklands Conflict the SAS pioneered the use of specially trained exploding penguins
  • SAS soldiers carry a tampon with them in their first aid pack it has many uses including stopping bloody noses
  • It is claimed that the SAS are so well-trained in covert operations, that a single soldier can steal a 24 pack of Wifebeater from Netto, drink it, and put the empty box back before anyone notices it’s gone

Thanks for reading my blog post on the legendary British SAS! In writing this, I have learned so much about these gents and have gained more respect for these heroes. Of course, if you ask one of these clandestine operators who the real heroes are, they’ll say, “Hey mate. The only real ones out there are the ones who didn’t make it. I’ll drink to that!

“All were heroes but none would have regarded themselves as such and none needed a medal pinned on his chest for his bravery to manifest itself.” 45


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By (author) Fremont-Barnes, Gregory By (author) Kozik, Mariusz By (author) Gerrard, Howard

For 5 days in May 1980, the world watched as the SAS performed a daring raid on the Iranian Embassy in London. Hailed by Margaret Thatcher as a brilliant operation the raid was a huge success for the SAS, rescuing 19 hostages with near-perfect military execution, although 2 hostages were killed by terrorists. Despite the media attention, details of the siege are still largely unknown and those involved and the identities of the SAS troopers themselves, remain a closely guarded secret. This book takes an in-depth look at the siege, revealing the political background behind it and analyzing the controversial decision by the Prime Minister to sign over control of the streets of London to the military. Artwork illustrates the moment the walls were breached and show how the strict planning of the operation was critical to its success. With input from those involved in the mission, the author strips away some of the mystery behind the best counter-terrorism unit in the world and their most famous raid.

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Top Ten British Special Forces Movies

Over the years, British special forces such as the SAS, and elite units such as the Royal Marines, have been depicted on the silver screen a number of times. In this article, we countdown 10 of the best British special forces movies.

This hollywood blockbuster is based on the book by Tom Clancy and features recurring Clancy character, Jack Ryan, a CIA operative who becomes entangled in the British-IRA conflict when he prevents the assassination of members of the Royal Family by terrorists. When an IRA training camp is found in Libya, the SAS are called in to take it out, while Ryan and other CIA men watch the operation via satellite. It's only a short scene but very effective. As the CIA supervisor says in the film, 'the SAS can be in and out in 2 minutes'. and they are!

Dirk Bogarde stars in this 1954 movie, based on a true story, about a group of SBS (Special Boat Section) Commandos on a mission to attack German airfields on the Greek island of Rhodes during World War 2.

Often preferring cameos to the starring role, the SAS only show up at the end of this 1986 political thriller starring Sigourney Weaver, when members of the counter terrorism unit storm a hotel room and save the day.

Before taking up the mantle of James Bond, Pierce Brosnan played the bad guy in this 1987 thriller based on a Frederick Forsyth novel. Brosnan plays a KGB agent hell-bent on smuggling a nuclear bomb into the UK and destroying a US air base. The film is relatively short on action until the climax which sees the SAS, with a little help from Michael Caine, assaulting a house in order to stop Brosnan completing his mission. Of note is the depiction of the SAS team being transported in Agusta A109s, as they would be by 8 Flight - a nice detail.

The Cockleshell Heroes

In November 1942, a small number of Royal Marines from Boom Patrol Detachment (RMBPD) carried out a daring Commando raid against the German-held port of Bordeaux in France. This 1955 British film immortalizes the brave men who carried out the operation and makes for a truly gripping and moving account of British derring-do.

Stuart Urban's film takes a wry look at the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982. It stars the late Ian Richardson as Governor Rex Hunt and Bob Peck as Major Mike Norman, the commander of Naval Party 8901, a Royal Marines unit tasked with defending the islands. Mixing scenes of satire and action, this is an excellent movie and comes highly recommended.

This 1962 epic about the allied D-day landings in Normandy has earned the well-deserved status of a classic. Among other depictions, it features Paras from the British 6th Airborne Division seizing Pegasus bridge following a glider and parachute insertion behind enemy lines. The Longest Day is truly one of the all time great war movies.

The One That Got Away

One of two films in this countdown based on the infamous 1991 Gulf War SAS operation, The One That Got Away is based on Chris Ryan's best selling book. Directed by Paul Greengrass, who would go on to make the Bourne series of spy thrillers, this film is less gung ho that Bravo Two Zero and somewhat critical of McNabb. It does however still feature some well executed action sequences and Paul McGann is great as Ryan.

Andy McNabb's account of an ill-fated SAS operation behind Iraqi lines in Gulf War I gets the hollywood treatment in this 1999 movie. Sean Bean gives a strong performance as McNabb and the film features several exciting and well-staged action set pieces, even if they most likely do not accurately portray what really happened. One of the few great war films about the first Gulf War.

Who Dares Wins (known as 'The Final Option' in the States, was made in 1982, quickly cashing-in on a new-found public fascination with the SAS following their dramatic intervention at the Iranian Embassy in 1980. It stars Lewis Collins, who was also playing ex-SAS soldier, Bodie, in the tv show, The Professionals, at the time. In a somewhat implausible plot, Collins plays an ex-SAS captain who stages being kicked out of the regiment in order to infiltrate a left-wing terrorist cell who go on to take over the U.S. Embassy in London. Despite a silly plot, the film does feature a number of exciting action scenes, including the SAS storming a house to rescue Collins' family and the film's climax, a full-scale SAS assault on the terrorist-held Embassy.

Some of the films that just missed out getting into the top 10.

We could have including any number of James Bond movies in this list. Bond is after all, a MI6 operative. If we were to include a Bond film it would have to be the Living Daylights, Timothy Dalton's first Bond movie. The pre-credits sequence features a exercise on the Rock Of Gibraltar between MI6 operatives and the SAS although they don't get to do much except get killed by the bad guy and shoot up a land rover.

An extremely popular war movie, The Guns Of The Navarone tells the fictitious story of a British commando raid against a heavily fortified German gun emplacement on the island of Navarone. Starring Gregory Peck, David Niven. Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle and Stanley Baker, this is a fantastic yarn which builds to a tense and exciting climax. A sequel of sorts, Force 10 From Navarone, was released in 1978 but failed to live up to the success of the original. Note: in the Alistair McClanee book the film is based on, the commandos include members of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and the SBS.

Stirring big budget hollywood movie about Operation Market Garden, the daring but failed allied airborne assault into Holland in September 1944. An all-star cast includes Sean Connery who is excellent as Major-General Robert E. Urquhart, the grizzled commander of the British 1st Airborne division who leads his Paras on a mission at Arnhem.

Watch the video: The Iranian Embassy Siege 1980 Day 1-5