SPEAKING OF AMAZING LOGOS—ONE WOULD BE HARD PRESSED TO TOP THE SAS’S—NOW THERE IS A CAP BADGE WHICH COMMANDS ATTENTION & RESPECT
I first became interested in the SAS because they were founded by David Stirling, someone from my old school, Ampleforth College; and, secondly, because their initial area of operations was North Africa—where I had had a relation killed. His name, JOHN LENTAIGNE M.C. was carved into on the paneling of our house refectory, and picked out in gold, so it was rather hard to forget him. M.C. stands for Military Cross.
Beyond that I found special forces particularly interesting. They did away with much of the posturing and spit and polish that characterizes conventional forces, and focused almost entirely on their mission. Further, the dead weight frequently associated with rank—a significant, but inadequately discussed problem in my opinion—was minimized and individual troopers were encouraged to think and act for themselves—albeit within the context of the mission.
Strange as it may seem, that is not way the military normally work. Most armed forces, the world over, are authoritarian to a fault—and authoritarianism, mindlessness and micromanagement are close relations. Conventional big armies—regardless of the bravery and professionalism of individual soldiers—tend to be crude, clumsy, and bloody instruments of policy.
The special forces approach just seemed common sense to me, so I read everything I could about unconventional warfare; and how units, such as the SAS, operated. After that, I dug a little deeper—and got to know people; and had a few adventures into the bargain. Do that for fifty years—it really has been that long—and you develop a certain base of knowledge and a sense of things. That said, I have never had any ambition to be in such a unit. I am a writer; and I say that with some pride.
Do I write about everything I know or surmise? No. I’m not out to reveal operational details which might put our people at unnecessary risk. Instead, I focus on telling a rattling good story which feels both credible and authentic—and, above all, is entertaining.
Amongst many other things—this is a major adventure story—my fourth and latest Fitzduane book, THE BLOOD OF GENERATIONS, tells the remarkable story of the actual foundation of the SAS. It involved David Stirling, who was still on crutches after an injury, breaking into British military headquarters in Egypt in order to pitch his innovative plan. Madness? A true story—and he succeeded.
Ironically, the newly founded SAS’s first mission was a disaster so it seemed highly probable the unit would be disbanded. Sterling solved that problem by refusing to return to base until he had racked up some success. That success came quickly, and it was spectacular.
The SAS was originally designed to function in the distinctive desert terrain of North Africa where infiltrating German lines was relatively straightforward because of the sheer scale of the battlespace. The Germans hadn’t enough troops to guard both their flanks and their rear. But heavily populated mainland Europe, for instance, was held to be different. Accordingly, severe doubts were expressed as to whether the Regiment could operate as successfully in more restricted terrain. Results in WW II and since then have shown that the SAS is terrain independent, and that its real strength lies in the quality of its people and mindset.
In my book, the main WW II action sequences are set behind German lines in France. Their mission, based upon actual events, is to delay or destroy a German SS Panzer Division from deploying from its base near Toulouse, in South West France, to Normandy in order to counter the allied invasion.
The names of those members of the SAS who have died on duty are inscribed on the regimental clock tower at Stirling lines. Those whose names are inscribed are said to have failed to "beat the clock" by surviving members. Inscribed on the base of the clock is a verse from The Golden Road to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker:
- We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
- Always a little further: it may be
- Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
- Across that angry or that glimmering sea ...