The Special Air Service (SAS) is a special forces regiment within the British Army which has served as a model and inspiration for the special forces of other countries. The SAS forms a significant section of United Kingdom Special Forces alongside the Special Boat Service (SBS), Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), and the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG).
The Special Air Service is divided into two distinct parts:
The Special Air Service is under the Operational Control (OPCON) of the Director Special Forces and is a strategic asset, however, OPCON may be delegated to Operational and Tactical commanders as required.
The Regiment is a Corps of the British Army under the United Kingdom legal system which authorises the raising of military forces and comprises three battalion-sized units, one Regular and two Territorial Army (TA), each styled as 'regiments' in accordance with British Army practice; 22 SAS Regiment being the Regular unit, with 21 SAS Regiment (Artists Rifles) and 23 SAS Regiment as the TA reserve units, known together as the Special Air Service (Reserve) or SAS(R). The Artists Rifles appellation comes from the amalgamation in 1947 with an unusual pre-existing TA Regiment originally raised from the artistic community at a time when the Rifle Volunteer movement was at its height. The Artists Rifles (originally Artists' Rifles until the apostrophe was officially dropped from the full title as it was so often misused) were of such quality they were used as an officer-producing unit in both World Wars, although the 1st Battalion fought as part of the Royal Naval Division in the latter years of World War I.
Each Regiment comprises a number of "Sabre" Squadrons with some supporting functions being undertaken within 22 SAS; Headquarters, Planning, and Intelligence Section, Operational Research Section, Counter Revolutionary Warfare Wing, and Training Wing. ('Sabre' Squadrons are so called to distinguish the operational squadrons from administrative or HQ squadrons.)
|22 SAS Regiment||21 SAS Regiment (Artists)||23 SAS Regiment|
|'HQ' Squadron (Credenhill)||'HQ' Squadron (Regent's Park)||'HQ' Squadron (Kingstanding)|
|'A' Squadron||'A' Squadron (Regent's Park)||'B' Squadron (Leeds)|
|'B' Squadron||'C' Squadron (Basingstoke/Cambridge}||'G' Squadron (Newcastle/Manchester)|
|'D' Squadron||'E' Squadron (Newport/Exeter)||'D' Squadron (Invergowrie/Hamilton)|
Each 'Sabre' Squadron of 22 SAS is divided into four 16-man Troops which specialise in a variety of insertion skills (Air Troop, Boat Troop, Mobility Troop, and Mountain Troop).
The Squadrons also rotate through the CRW Wing (originally designated "Pagoda") and is relieved every 6 – 9 months. The squadron is split up into two combined troops, "Red" and "Blue", with each troop made up of an assault group and a sniper team. Though the counter-terrorist teams are based at RHQ in Credenhill, a specialist eight-man team is based within the outer London region (4, south London border & 4, north London border/Hertfordshire). This team rapidly responds to any situation in London as required.
'L' Detachment, formerly 'R' Squadron, is a TA unit comprising former Regular soldiers and assigned to 22 SAS for the provision of casualty replacements or to supplement manning levels for operations. Optionally it also had its own role in the event of limited or general war.
The three regiments have different roles:
Each TA Squadron and the Honourable Artillery Company, includes attached regular personnel as Permanent Staff Instructors - a ruling established by the then Brigadier Peter de la Billière, as Director SAS, specifying that promotion within the Regiment for any officer or senior NCO would be predicated on experience with the SAS(R).. In the 1980s and 1990s the SAS provided the Commanding Officer and some directing staff for the NATO International Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol School (ILRRPS) based at Weingarten and then Pfullendorf as well as men for the British Army Jungle Warfare Training School in Brunei.
The SAS was formally garrisoned in based at Stirling Lines (formerly Bradbury Lines) , Hereford which was named after the founder of the regiment, Sir David Stirling. The unit has since 1999 been relocated to a former RAF station in Credenhill.
Personnel are trained in diving using Open and Closed Circuit breathing systems, learning skills in sub-surface navigation, approaching the shore or vessels underway and the delivery of maritime demolition charges. Much of this training is undertaken with the Special Boat Service.
Once proficient in diving, personnel learn methods of surface infiltration.
Whenever possible, naval warfare tasks are handed over to the SAS sister unit, the SBS
On entry into the regiment personnel are required to limit dissemination of their employment. Anonymity is provided during service and personnel are not required to provide identifying details to police and authorities whilst co-operating. Effectives are entitled to a 24-hour 'warm down' period following offensive action within the United Kingdom, during which they are debriefed. Members are not obliged to provide information to civilian agencies during this period.
Medals awarded to personnel, such as the Military Cross (MC), are publicised in the normal manner and officially and formally via The London Gazette however the individual's original parent Corps or Regiment, if they have such, is attributed as a matter of fact which sometimes provides security cover. The circumstances surrounding personnel killed in action are not routinely disseminated; should this be unavoidable the individual is also usually attributed to their parent Corps or Regiment where this applies. Not all decorations are gazetted. Those that are not gazetted are held as secure records by the Ministry of Defence. Information on un-gazetted decorations prior to a moving dateline, of about thirty years prior, are routinely transferred to the United Kingdom National Archives for public inspection, or are further held back from disclosure if any security considerations or other residual sensitivities are deemed to make this advisable. Before 2006 three officers have been recommended for the VC: two during World War II and one during the Falklands. Only one has been awarded; to Major Anders Frederick Emil Victor Schau Lassen, MC and 2 Bars, killed in Italy in 1945 when he was commanding a squadron of the Special Boat Service. His grave marker bears the badge of the Regiment because the SBS in which he served continued to wear this as their cap badge, and was considered part of the 'SAS family' even though it was a separate regiment, commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel and formed out of the Special Boat Squadron of 1 SAS. Another high ranking SAS officer to be awarded a second MC is now retired living in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA.
Following a number of high-profile book releases about the Regiment, candidates for selection are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, in addition to their duties under the Official Secrets Act. Former members may not release details of their employment within the organisation without prior consent. Ex-members of the Regiment who wrote exposés prior to the introduction of the agreement have used pseudonyms, such as Andy McNab and Chris Ryan. Books in the genre include both non-fiction and fictional accounts based on the experiences of the author.
The British Government has a standing policy of not discussing the SAS or its operations and makes few official announcements concerning their activities. When reports of military operations are given there is usually no mention of SAS, or other Special Forces, involvement. Since the inception of the British 'D' Notice system for the British Press during World War II any mention of the Special Air Service has been one of the cautionary or non-disclosure categories of reporting.
The SAS, like every other British regiment, has its own distinctive insignia.
Note that these officially sanctioned honours, first published in 1957, are for actions by the original 'L' Detachment, both numbered World War II British SAS regiments as well as the Special Boat Service regiment and the present regiment. The World War II honours Benghazi Raid, 1942 and Middle East, 1943-1944 are unique to the regiment. The odd dating for North Africa, 1940-43 is due to the fact that this is an omnibus theatre honour for units serving between these dates.
The SAS is classed as an infantry regiment, and as such is shown in the infantry order of precedence. However, because of its role, it is listed 'next below' the other designations (foot guards, line infantry, rifles). The expression 'next below' is utilised in British official publications as a form of 'grace note' to avoid the connotations of first/last since, in spirit at least, no Regiment admits of the claim to being last and all are deemed equal in the scope of their service under the Crown in Parliament.
The current units are shown officially as 21st, 22nd and 23rd Regiments but are styled 'Two-One', 'Two-Two' and 'Two-Three' and written, in short form, as 21 SAS, 22 SAS and 23 SAS. The number sequence derives from the 1944 re-formation of the regiments as a component, second-battalion, Regiment of the Army Air Corps which then consisted of three Regiments: The Glider Pilot Regiment (Only ever of three battalions), Parachute Regiment (Of many battalions, sequentially numbered from 1 upwards, with a separate sequence of numbers from 100 for battalions raised outside the United Kingdom) and SAS. 1 SAS was re-raised as 3 SAS, a decision subsequently rescinded by the War Office, giving 1st and 2nd battalions, Special Air Service Regiment, Army Air Corps. On re-formation it was appreciated that 3 SAS, 4 SAS and 5 SAS had been used to designate the French and Belgian regiments and that combining 1 and 2 as 'Twelve' or 'Twelfth' gave a hard-to-pronounce name and would automatically give the number 13 to the next raised unit (plus confusion with existing 12th Parachute Brigade ) so the identity proposed by the Regimental Association and actually adopted was 'Twenty-One', i.e., the numbers of the British units, reversed.
Files available to public scrutiny at The National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom
[N]Statistics, life events and other data derived and calculated from officially published UK sources: Army List: Army Council Instructions: Army Orders; Middle East Forces Orders; Commonwealth War Graves Register; Prisoners of War of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth; Public Record Office (now The National Archives) conventionally published histories and digital records now available online.