In the summer of 1941, at the height of the war in the Western Desert, a bored and eccentric young officer, David Stirling, came up with a plan that was imaginative, radical and entirely against the rules: a small undercover unit that would wreak havoc behind enemy lines.
The wind had reached gale-force as the five elderly Bristol Bombay transport aircraft neared their target, bucking in the storm and threatening to flip over.
Driven sand and pelting rain covered the cockpits. The pilots strained to see ahead into the dark sky over the North African desert.
Suddenly, German searchlights picked them out and flak began exploding around them in blinding flashes. A shell ripped through the floor of one plane and missed the auxiliary fuel tank by inches.
In the back of each aircraft sat a ‘stick’ of 11 British parachutists, 55 soldiers in all; almost the entire strength of a new, experimental and intensely secret combat unit. The fledgling Special Air Service — the SAS — was on its first mission behind enemy lines.
“Part soldiers, part spies, these rogue warriors were, as one SAS officer put it, ‘the sweepings of the public schools and the prisons’ “
Despite intense opposition, Winston Churchill personally gave Stirling permission to recruit the most ruthless soldiers he could find. So began the most celebrated and mysterious military organisation in the world: the SAS.
The history of the SAS is an exhilarating tale of fearlessness and heroism, recklessness and tragedy; of extraordinary men willing to take monumental risks. It is a story of the meaning of courage.
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