'Special Air Service'

The Special Air Service (SAS) has its origins in the North African desert. It was formed in 1941 to undertake small-scale raids behind enemy lines. Many of its men were drawn from Commando units in the Middle East including Nos. 7, 8 and 11 and also operated under the title L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade. A brigade was usually made up of around 5,000 men, so this name was a fiction designed to deceive the enemy.

L Detachment was later redesignated as No 1 Small Scale Raiding Force. It went on to target enemy airfields and port installations during the North African campaign (1940-43), often working closely with the Long Range Desert Group.

In October 1942, the unit was renamed 1st Special Air Service. The following April it was reorganised into the Special Raiding Squadron and undertook raids in Sicily and Italy alongside the 2nd Special Air Service, which came into existence in May 1943 in Algeria.

In 1944, these two units were placed under the umbrella Special Air Service Brigade and were joined by the 3rd, 4th and 5th Special Air Service. The latter were formed by renaming Free French and Belgian parachute units.

The brigade’s formations took part in many operations, frequently behind enemy lines, from D-Day (June 1944) until the German surrender in May 1945. But shortly after the war, the SAS was disbanded until being reformed in 1947.

Primary source
National Army Museum.

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