SAS founder broke into army HQ on crutches to persuade generals they needed crack uni



SAS founder broke into army HQ on crutches to persuade generals they needed crack unit

Last updated at 14:03pm on 21st February 2008

Extraordinary footage of the only interviews ever given on film by the founders of the Special Air Service, the world's most elite fighting unit, has emerged for the first time.

Colonel David Stirling, the founder of what was to become the SAS, was interviewed with several so-called "Originals" in 1984 but the footage was put in a vault and forgotten.

The previously unseen interviews, recorded at a secret location in a "reunion" dinner, reveal how Stirling's "misfits, rogues and rule-breakers" changed modern warfare forever.

In the only interview ever recorded by him, Stirling explains just how hard he had to fight to bring the SAS into existence - and how close he came to failing.
Col Stirling, who was knighted in 1990 and died later that year aged 74, tells how he risked imprisonment to sell his revolutionary idea to the military top brass.
The 25-year-old 6ft 5ins second lieutenant came up with the idea while recovering in hospital from partial paralysis of his legs after an unofficial parachute jump went wrong.
Stirling, the son of a Scottish Brigadier General, was a Commando but had become frustrated with the lack of action and the cancellation of missions.
In the spring of 1941, while recuperating from a bungled parachute jump, he scribbled his plans out in pencil.
He proposed the formation of small-scale raiding groups which would operate deep behind enemy lines destroying aircraft and supply links.
The revolutionary aspect of his idea was that the raiders would act independently of the traditional military covering defence and lines of support.
Stirling needed to present his plans to the top brass, but his unenviable reputation as a playboy and gambler - he was thrown out of Cambridge University for betting - had made him several enemies among the pen-pushing staff officers.
He knew that if he gave his brainchild to the petty-minded middle-ranking officers, it would be strangled at birth, and he realised he had to offer it to the generals.

Convinced his idea would work, the daring Lieutenant hatched a plan to break into the British Army's Middle East Headquarters in Cairo - while still on crutches.
In his interview, he said: "There was no way anybody was going to back the scheme at Middle East Headquarters except possibly at the very top.
"The situation was that because of the short gap between the First and Second World Wars, all the great active soldiers who had survived were in active command.
"But there was an enormous residue of staff officers from the First World War who set the spirit of the administration and were wholly obstructive to anything that looked like a new idea.
"I had to more or less ignore the normal rules and regulations, so I decided to go and see General Ritchie (Deputy Commander of British Forces in the Middle East)."

Without a pass to get into Middle East Headquarters and despite his injuries, he scaled the fence.
"I had to use my crutches as a kind of ladder to get over the wire when all the guards weren't looking - unfortunately they did just after I got to the ground on the other side and I was not able to run very fast," he said.
Pursued by the guards, he managed to enter the building and by sheer chance found General Ritchie's office.
Col Stirling said: "That was a rare bit of good fortune and I asked him to read this paper.
"It took him rather by surprise - it was only in pencil - but he was very courteous and he settled down to read it.
"About half-way through he got quite engrossed in it and forgot the rather irregular way it had been presented.
"There was a lot of screaming in the passage. Ritchie pushed a button for his aide to come in and he was astonished to find me sitting snugly in the general's office.
"What's all the fuss in the passage?' Ritchie asked. 'Well there's an individual who's got in here illegally and we're chasing him. Er, we don't know where he's got to'. 'Oh well, sit down, I've got an important paper here'.
"And Ritchie went on reading - didn't even look up.
"When he finished the paper, he said, 'This is something we can use, this paper looks like real promise'.
"That was the beginning of the SAS."
If he had been caught before finding General Ritchie, he would have been thrown in prison.
Instead he was promoted to captain and tasked with raising a special force of 65 officers and men, which he called "that band of vagabonds".
Now Stirling set about recruiting men for the force and, like their leader, they were all misfits and rule breakers.
They included Jock Lewes, a former president of the Oxford University Boat Club; Blair Mayne, an Irish and British Lions rugby international; Johnny Cooper, who had lied about his age to enlist; and even the Prime Minister's son, Randolph Churchill.

He said: "One entire commando of 600 men or so probably could not succeed in tackling more than perhaps two landing grounds on the same night [as we used to operate].
"More than three-quarters of the force would be taken up with defending those who were actually operating.
"We preferred every sub-unit of four or five men to tackle a target area on their own and if they failed, it was more than compensated by the fact that with 60 men we could attack up to 20 targets on the same night.
"It had to be regarded as a new type of force to extract the very maximum surprise and guile.
"We never put a unit in requiring defence while it undertook its mission.
"When we decided that the four-man model was the right number, it was psychologically easier to make them all interdependent so we had four pairs of ears which were listening and four pair of eyes which were looking.
"As we were going to develop methods and techniques which were new in army terms, we [knew we] would have to have a special status of our own."
Despite General Ritchie's enthusiasm, however, lower-level officers denied Stirling's men the equipment they needed so they set about getting it for themselves.
When his 65 men met for the first time at their "base" on the Suez Canal there was nothing apart from a sign in the sand which read 'L Detachment SAS'.
A confused soldier asked where the camp was and Stirling told them that was their first operation: steal it.
So they raided the camp of a New Zealand regiment while the troops were away on patrol and nicked their tents, broke into a Royal Engineers depot for stole bricks and cement, then stole a piano from a cinema - and had built their own base by morning.

However, the SAS's first official mission in November 1941 went badly wrong during a storm in the desert and just 21 of the 65 men survived.
Col Stirling said: "They [staff officers at Middle East HQ] were very chuffed that the unit had apparently been annihilated and they were going to disband us as it was."
So, without orders, he told his men to return to their camp secretly the following month to be transported behind enemy lines by the Army's Long Range Desert Group to resume their mission to disable enemy aeroplanes.
It was a resounding success with scores of Axis aircraft disabled in just one night, and it set a stunning precedent.
Night after night Stirling and his men walked or drove into the desert, planted bombs on the German planes and escaped into the night, while, back at HQ, top brass struggled to find out who was doing the good work.
He became known as the "Phantom Major" among Rommel's troops after destroying nearly 400 enemy aircraft as well as scores of fuel and ammunition dumps in attacks behind German lines.
Col Stirling, who would later be captured by the Germans and escape four times from Prisoner of War camps, was allowed to recruit more men when it emerged that his unit was responsible.
The interviews will be broadcast in three programmes, which are interspersed with dramatic reconstructions and archive footage.
They chronicle the SAS from its creation to the first covert operations in the liberation of Europe and North Africa from 1941-45.
Presenter Colonel Tim Collins, who served with the regiment for 12 years, said Stirling had led an "incredible bunch of mavericks".
He said: "Most military historians believe Stirling and the people with him on day one, The Originals, died without ever putting their story on record. They are wrong.
"At that [reunion] dinner more than 20 years ago, Stirling and those Originals fit enough to travel told their story for the first time.
"Ever since, those interviews have been locked in archives." He added: "The SAS of today is very different. It has very different techniques and different skills, it's a different world.
"But it is founded on the principles established by David Stirling in 1941 and by an incredible bunch of mavericks - The Originals - without whom there would be no SAS."
SAS: The Originals is a three-part series which begins at 9pm tomorrow (February 22)on The History Channel.)
True story, interesting origin of the SAS is.