Episode 1 SAS: Rogue Warriors


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Episode 1

The remarkable story behind an extraordinary fighting force. Episode one tells the story of the founding of the SAS in the heat of the north African desert in 1941.


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On a November night in 1941, high above the North African desert,

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five ancient RAF planes clawed their way through a ferocious storm.

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Inside, 55 paratroopers from a new and intensely secret combat unit

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were ready to jump over the target.

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But the planes were lost, far behind enemy lines

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and under heavy fire.

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The pilot turned to the officer in command and asked,

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"Should we turn back?"

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Many would not survive the mission.

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All the men knew it.

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None hesitated.

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One by one, they hurled themselves into the gale.

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These were the first men of the SAS.

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Today, the Special Air Service is the world's most famous combat unit,

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with the motto Who Dares Wins.

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But the story of how it came into existence has been, until now,

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a closely-guarded secret.

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With unprecedented access to the SAS archives,

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unseen footage

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and exclusive interviews with its founding members...

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..this series tells the remarkable story behind

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an extraordinary fighting force.

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It was essential that some success should be recorded

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and recorded quickly.

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That band of vagabonds had to grasp what they had to do.

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We should never have dropped under those conditions.

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But, if we hadn't,

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there would never have been an SAS, that is for sure.

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The SAS is one of the most mysterious military organisations

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in the world.

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Its missions are closely guarded secrets.

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The records are kept securely locked away.

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Now, for the first time,

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the SAS has agreed to open up its archive and allow me to reveal

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the true story of their formation

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during the darkest days of World War II.

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This is the official image of the wartime SAS.

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The one-dimensional macho men of popular myth.

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But the archive reveals that, in truth, they were, by turns,

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eccentric, resilient, intelligent, amateur,

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and, in some cases, borderline psychotic.

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The regiment very nearly died at birth.

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It faced as many enemies inside the British military establishment

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as it did on the battlefield.

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But these rogues and misfits fought from the deserts of North Africa

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to the very heart of Nazi Germany

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and recorded it all in the archive's most revealing artefact.

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Hidden in the SAS archives is this - the war diary.

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An extraordinary scrapbook of combat reports and original photographs,

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secretly put together by the men themselves in a leather binder,

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liberated from Nazi Germany.

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It lists every detail of every mission.

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But, more than that, it also contains the words and memories

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of the men who carried out those missions,

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providing a unique insight into the psychology,

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character and personalities of the people who forged the SAS.

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In the summer in 1941, at the height of the war in the Desert,

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a bored and eccentric young army officer

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was planning to take on the German and Italian forces

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with an elaborate scheme that was imaginative, radical,

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and entirely against the rules.

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This young soldier wasn't exactly the stuff

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of traditional military heroes.

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He lacked the most basic military discipline.

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He'd never seen any actual fighting.

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And he couldn't even march straight.

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He was so tall and so lazy

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his comrades nicknamed him the Giant Sloth.

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David Archibald Stirling was a dreamer

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who had once hoped to be the first man to climb Mount Everest,

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or perhaps become a famous artist.

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When the war came, Stirling joined the commando force in Africa

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hoping to seize military glory.

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His seniors considered this unlikely.

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One report described him as "irresponsible and unremarkable."

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But Stirling wasn't quite the layabout

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his commanders thought he was.

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Britain was losing the war.

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And Stirling, who was nothing if not self-confident,

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believed he knew just what to do to reverse the tide.

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'Film roll. 42, 53, take one.'

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In 1987, David Stirling agreed to tell his complete story on film.

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Hidden away for decades,

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it is an extraordinary first-hand account from the maverick visionary

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who dreamed of reinventing the way war was fought.

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From the start, we knew we would never make it to a regiment

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unless we succeeded in establishing a new role.

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It had to be regarded as a new type of force

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to extract the very maximum out of surprise and guile.

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By 1941, the Axis powers of Hitler and Mussolini had overrun Europe

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and were seeking to dominate the Mediterranean.

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Under the command of Hitler's most formidable general, Erwin Rommel,

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they seemed close to achieving just that.

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His aircraft dominated the skies,

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effectively halting any counterattack.

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For the British to break the deadlock,

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a way had to be found to destroy the enemy's aircraft on the ground.

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But with his airfields hundreds of miles

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behind the lines in the desert,

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massed British commando raids were practically impossible.

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Stirling could see what the generals could not.

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That the commando force were simply too large and cumbersome

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to be fit for purpose.

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He began to imagine what it would be like if the unit was split up

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into smaller raiding parties.

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These would be far more mobile and could react quickly to changes

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in terrain or weather.

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They might be able to penetrate deep behind enemy lines

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and attack several targets at once without warning.

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First of all I had to relate it to an operation in order to capture

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the imagination of the top command.

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Stirling knew that the Germans had used paratroopers to great effect

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and he believed that the British should develop a force of their own.

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Parachuting would give him the advantage of novelty

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when selling the idea of his unit,

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and it might be quite fun to try it as well.

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Stirling acquired a shipment of parachutes,

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and, with no training whatever,

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carried out his first experimental jump.

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He simply strapped on a parachute and jumped out of a plane.

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I was a bit unlucky,

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because my parachute, when it opened,

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was attached to the tail pin,

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and, before it broke loose,

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it took off a panel or two off the parachute.

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I descended a good deal faster than my companions.

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I couldn't move either of my two legs

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and I went to Alexandria Hospital.

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And, of course, it gave me a marvellous opportunity

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to do some homework on the project.

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Undaunted by his disastrous first parachute jump,

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Stirling was inspired to develop his plan in a different way.

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The forces defending the Axis airfields were expecting

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to be attacked from the Mediterranean,

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and so had all their guns trained to the North.

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What if Stirling and his parachutists attacked them

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from the opposite direction?

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To the south lay the Great Sand Sea,

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a vast waterless desert covering 45,000 square miles.

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Temperatures here can reach 120 degrees by day

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and plummet to freezing at night.

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It is not an easy place to live.

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But it is a very easy place to die.

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One of the most hostile environments on Earth.

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The Germans and Italians considered it virtually impassable

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and therefore left it largely unprotected.

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Stirling observed this was one sea the Hun was not watching.

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From here, they could wreak havoc on the remote airfields

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by attacking from where they were least expecting.

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And then slip back into the embracing emptiness

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of the Sand Sea before the enemy knew what had hit them.

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Stirling had just drawn up the blueprint for an entirely new type

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of warfare that might be the key to defeating Rommel.

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We would have to have access to intelligence.

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We were going to develop methods and techniques

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which were new in Army terms.

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And, therefore, we would have to have a special status of our own.

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But, first, this lowly lieutenant with no battle experience would have

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to persuade high command that his idea could actually work.

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Housed in a large block of commandeered flats

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and surrounded by barbed wire,

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British HQ in Cairo was an impenetrable fortress

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of old-fashioned thinking.

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Stirling knew his plan was so radical

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that if it passed through the normal channels, it would perish

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on the desk of the first officer who read it.

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In the eyes of some, sneaking in by parachute,

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blowing up planes in the middle of the night and then running away

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was a job for saboteurs,

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not soldiers of His Majesty's Armed Forces.

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Well, that meant I had to more or less ignore

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the normal rules and regulations because there was no way

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that anybody was going to back the scheme,

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except possibly at the very top.

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Stirling's only option was to get his plan directly

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into the hands of the top brass.

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How he did so has become the stuff of myth.

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Still on crutches after his accident,

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Stirling hobbled up to the entrance where he was stopped by two guards.

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Unfortunately, I didn't have a pass and I was refused admittance,

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so I had to use my crutches as a kind of ladder

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to get over the wire when the guards weren't looking.

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Going as fast as his stiff legs could carry him,

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he burst into a room marked Adjutant General.

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It was an unfortunate choice.

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I had forgotten he was the same chap who tried very hard

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to have me sacked

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when I didn't take my military training very seriously.

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So when I appeared and put a paper for him to read,

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he was absolutely outraged.

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Hearing the guard thundering upstairs,

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he dashed into the next room.

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Which turned out to contain General Sir Neil Ritchie...

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..the very man he wanted to see.

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It took him rather by surprise, and he settled down to read it.

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He really got quite engrossed in it

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and had forgotten the rather irregular way it had been presented.

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He said this is something we can use.

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This is an almost perfect Stirling story.

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It has the patina of a tale

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polished, told, and retold after dinner.

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It is entirely possible that the whole thing was invented.

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But, whatever the truth of how Stirling got his notes

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under the noses of high command, his timing couldn't have been better.

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Richie's superior, General Sir Claude Auchinleck,

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had recently taken over as commander in chief and was under intense

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pressure from Winston Churchill to strike back at Rommel.

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With a major British counterattack looming,

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Stirling's plan could hamper enemy air power at a critical moment.

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And, if it failed,

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all that would be lost would be a handful of adventurers.

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Stirling was a mere lieutenant and an undistinguished one at that,

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but he had now won permission to create and command what looked

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suspiciously like a private army.

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To the fury of many at British HQ,

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Stirling was promptly promoted to captain and authorised to raise

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a force of six officers and 60 men.

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The Special Air Service, or SAS, was born.

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The name was the brain child of Brigadier Dudley Clarke,

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the chief of military deception in the Middle East.

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Operating from the basement of a Cairo brothel,

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Clarke distributed misinformation to baffle and mislead the enemy.

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He was also a master of disguise, with a taste for cross-dressing.

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Clarke wanted to convince the enemy that the British

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had a large airborne force in the area

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and so he invented the SAS Brigade in the form of

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Stirling's real, but very small, force of men.

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Clarke gave them the important sounding title - L Detachment,

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Special Air Service Brigade.

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Stirling would later joke that the L stood for learner.

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Stirling now set about recruiting men who would live up to the promise

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of the name Clarke had given them.

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'17, take one.'

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Those he chose were also interviewed in 1987.

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'Roll 67, take one.

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'29, take one.

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'41, take one.'

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Conventional soldiers were rejected out of hand.

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Stirling was looking for something rather different.

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An ability to think and react independently.

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I heard some, what you might term as a conversation that

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there was do or die boys being formed in Egypt.

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You'll get the diehards,

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they've got a nice, comfortable job polishing their seat.

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You was looking for men that you thought

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was better than the present ones that you were serving under.

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I had a lot of problems getting into the Army.

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A, because I was too young,

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and, B, because they thought that I wasn't big enough.

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I thought I was big enough.

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The adjutant sent a message saying,

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"There's a Lieutenant Stirling wants to see you."

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Then I realised he had an interest.

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He said, "Do you want to do something special?"

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Said to me, "What will your wife say if she finds out

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"that you've joined this parachute unit?"

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I said, "She won't know anything at all about it."

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So I was accepted.

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The men he chose were supremely brave

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and just short of irresponsible.

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Uncomplaining and unconventional rogues

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who could fight a new and secret sort of war.

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In a sense, they weren't really controllable.

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They all had this individuality.

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The object was to give them the same purpose.

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Most of them were escaping from conventional, regimental discipline.

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They didn't fully appreciate they were running into

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a much more exacting type of discipline.

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That band of vagabonds had to grasp what they had to do.

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We had to get down to training immediately.

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Stirling's enemies at British HQ couldn't stop him.

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But they could make life as difficult as possible

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for his band of renegades.

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The new detachment arrived at the designated spot to find a sign post

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with the unit's name scrawled on it,

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a few ragged tents, and a couple of chairs.

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Someone said, "Where's the camp?"

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And David said, "That's the first job you do is to steal one."

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It happened there was a New Zealand brigade

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particularly well-supplied with camp facilities,

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including a grand piano.

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So, we decided while the New Zealanders were out on their march,

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we would take what we were entitled to.

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We stole tents, we stole a piano, bars, the whole camp.

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By next morning, we had a really spectacularly effective,

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probably the best camp in the area.

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We thought it was great.

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We thought this is the unit to be with.

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And so started L Detachment.

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Forging a new fighting unit required someone who understood

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the practicalities of combat.

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David Stirling was the inspiration for the SAS

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but the man to turn that into hard military reality

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was Lieutenant Jock Lewes.

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This is hitherto unseen footage of Jock Lewes before the war.

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Athletic, rich, patriotic and handsome,

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a darling of the society magazines.

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"Be someone great", his father had told him.

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And, when war came, Lewes set about fulfilling that injunction.

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Jock was encouraged by his parents to be someone great...

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..ever since he was a child.

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Jock had a very clear vision of what he wanted to do.

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He wanted to shorten the war.

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He was fulfilling the greatness that his mother and father

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had expected him to rise to.

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While Stirling had been planning the SAS from his hospital bed,

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Lewes had come to a similar conclusion on the field of battle.

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He was a man Stirling was determined to have on his team.

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I put him in charge of training.

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It's something he had been longing to do.

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He improvised all kinds of new training techniques.

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This is the only footage of Lewes's unique style of parachute training.

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British paratroopers had never been dropped into the desert before.

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Without a plane available for training,

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Lewes decided to improvise.

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None of us had ever parachuted in our lives.

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Let's get that straight. None of us had done it.

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So, he had a brilliant idea.

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He thought it was anyway.

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And we got some trucks.

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And the idea was at 10mph, we'd jump off it backwards.

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So we did it. And then he thought 20mph.

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30mph, I'm afraid we gave up.

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But Jock went on.

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So what could you do?

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He jumps off a truck at 40 mile an hour

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and he asks you to jump off at 30.

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You just did it.

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Lewes's training was harsh, exacting and extremely dangerous.

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Many broke bones, including Jock himself,

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but his steely determination captured the imagination of his men.

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That was the thing with Jock Lewes's training.

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He said, "Never run away."

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He says, "Because once you start running, you stop thinking."

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It was very sound advice.

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But there was another secret side to Jock Lewes that would have given

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Stirling pause, had he known about it.

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Lewes had very nearly become a fascist.

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Touring Germany before the war,

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Lewes had become deeply impressed by the organisation and strength

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of the Third Reich.

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Lewes even fell in love with a young German woman.

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Senta Adriano was a society beauty and an enthusiastic Nazi.

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Then came Kristallnacht,

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the night of broken glass,

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as the Nazis went on the rampage against the Jews.

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And the politically naive Lewes suddenly saw with horrible clarity

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the true nature of the regime he had so enthused over.

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Lewes found a new love - Mirren Barford.

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Unimpeachably British and a woman worth fighting a war for.

0:24:520:24:57

From the battlefront, Lewes wrote Mirren ever more loving letters.

0:24:580:25:02

And she replied with similar passion.

0:25:020:25:04

Finally, he asked for her hand in marriage,

0:25:060:25:09

but not until he had vanquished the enemy.

0:25:090:25:11

"I swear I will not live to see the day when Britain hauls down

0:25:120:25:16

"the colours of her beliefs before totalitarian aggression.

0:25:160:25:21

"I willingly take up arms against Germany."

0:25:210:25:23

Lewes's ruthlessness and determination,

0:25:250:25:28

his utter dedication to the task of defeating Germany,

0:25:280:25:32

was that of a man who had been wronged by a faithless lover.

0:25:320:25:36

One who had made a terrible mistake

0:25:360:25:38

and was now determined to make amends.

0:25:380:25:41

Jock's letters to Mirren and her letters back to him

0:25:450:25:50

are the incredible love story of two people who'd only met ten times.

0:25:500:25:57

But because he was convinced that he was going to marry her,

0:25:580:26:04

he was able to reveal everything to her.

0:26:040:26:08

He couldn't tell her what the military orders were,

0:26:120:26:16

but he could tell her of the huge challenges he was facing.

0:26:160:26:20

How his faith was really being tested.

0:26:220:26:25

He was a Christian.

0:26:270:26:29

He didn't enjoy killing.

0:26:290:26:33

And he had to find a way of squaring the circle.

0:26:330:26:38

These letters and this love affair, at a distance,

0:26:400:26:45

was what enabled Jock to bear the burden.

0:26:450:26:48

-TV ANNOUNCER:

-Our paratroops have been training in the western desert

0:26:520:26:56

as well as in Britain.

0:26:560:26:57

In late 1941, the War Office allowed a newsreel to be made

0:26:570:27:01

of the unit in training,

0:27:010:27:02

quite possibly as part of Dudley Clarke's deception operation.

0:27:020:27:06

This rare footage shows Stirling in shorts,

0:27:060:27:10

introducing General Auchinleck to his men.

0:27:100:27:13

What we had was chaps who came from all walks of life

0:27:140:27:18

and there was short ones, tall ones, medium height.

0:27:180:27:21

We had to blend all that into a fighting body.

0:27:210:27:23

Stirling said that although he needed men who would be prepared

0:27:250:27:28

to kill at close quarters, he didn't want psychopaths.

0:27:280:27:32

Which was exactly how many people described

0:27:330:27:36

Stirling's most challenging recruit - Lieutenant Blair Mayne,

0:27:360:27:40

known as Paddy.

0:27:400:27:41

Paddy was very, very different.

0:27:410:27:45

The antithesis of Jock.

0:27:450:27:47

A former Irish rugby international,

0:27:500:27:53

Mayne was a hard drinker with a volcanic temper.

0:27:530:27:57

This is Stirling introducing Paddy Mayne to the general

0:27:590:28:03

but the Irishman had little respect for authority.

0:28:030:28:05

Stirling later claimed he'd found Mayne in prison,

0:28:070:28:10

awaiting court martial.

0:28:100:28:11

He found reason to knock out his commanding officer

0:28:110:28:16

and was doing time.

0:28:160:28:18

I persuaded him that our position was a good one and he joined up.

0:28:180:28:23

Recruiting Paddy Mayne was like adopting a wolf.

0:28:250:28:29

Exciting, certain to instil fear, but not necessarily sensible.

0:28:290:28:34

He had a marvellous battle nostril.

0:28:350:28:39

He knew how to exploit surprise.

0:28:390:28:41

And what looked to be absolutely foolhardy was legitimate with Paddy.

0:28:410:28:46

But I'd tell him, very firmly,

0:28:460:28:49

this commanding officer wasn't for hitting.

0:28:490:28:52

Stirling and his men were ready for battle,

0:28:540:28:57

and so it seemed was their commander-in-chief Claude Auchinleck.

0:28:570:29:01

Operation Crusader was planned as an all-out attack to relieve

0:29:020:29:07

the besieged town of Tobruk - a vital coastal stronghold.

0:29:070:29:10

But Tobruk was flanked by air fields,

0:29:120:29:14

bristling with enemy aircraft.

0:29:140:29:16

These would undoubtedly attack

0:29:170:29:19

Auchinleck's advancing ground forces,

0:29:190:29:22

unless they could be attacked first.

0:29:220:29:24

Stirling proposed to parachute in the SAS

0:29:240:29:28

deep behind enemy lines before the British ground attack.

0:29:280:29:31

These could then attack the individual air fields

0:29:320:29:35

and destroy as many aeroplanes as possible

0:29:350:29:38

using a new weapon designed by Jock Lewes.

0:29:380:29:41

Jock knew he had to find a bomb that would blow up an aircraft

0:29:430:29:48

and he had to find one that was light enough to carry.

0:29:480:29:51

The men could hear the occasional explosions during lunchtime when,

0:29:510:29:56

of course, Jock was working again.

0:29:560:29:58

Jock had mixed up a mixture of plastic, thermite and steel filings.

0:30:000:30:05

That was the secret - steel filings.

0:30:050:30:07

Of course, the thing blew up.

0:30:070:30:09

It was a great moment, a great moment.

0:30:110:30:13

He jumped for joy.

0:30:140:30:16

Shouting out and hugging the nearest NCOs.

0:30:170:30:21

He knew he'd cracked it.

0:30:210:30:22

And he knew that the SAS were going to be fully operational.

0:30:220:30:27

The war diary contains the SAS's first-ever battle order.

0:30:340:30:38

The top secret directive from HQ ordering the mission to go ahead.

0:30:380:30:42

Stirling and almost his entire force

0:30:460:30:48

would be dropped deep into the desert

0:30:480:30:51

with just five days' supply of food and water.

0:30:510:30:54

Armed with the new Lewes bombs,

0:30:570:30:59

the men would sneak onto the airfields at night

0:30:590:31:02

and plant their explosives on every aircraft they could find.

0:31:020:31:05

To escape from the desert,

0:31:070:31:08

a rendezvous was set up with the trucks of the LRDG -

0:31:080:31:12

the Long Range Desert Group,

0:31:120:31:14

a unit experienced in desert reconnaissance.

0:31:140:31:18

The pick-up point was dangerously close to the enemy.

0:31:180:31:21

The LRDG would wait no more than three days

0:31:210:31:24

before leaving the men alone in the desert.

0:31:240:31:27

Lewes was elated at the prospect of action at last.

0:31:300:31:34

His letters home ring with the chivalric tones of a crusader.

0:31:340:31:38

"We wait to prove ourselves.

0:31:380:31:40

"This unit cannot now die.

0:31:400:31:42

"It is alive and will live gloriously."

0:31:420:31:45

But for all Lewes's visions of glory,

0:31:470:31:50

there was one factor over which no-one had any control -

0:31:500:31:54

the weather.

0:31:540:31:55

With just hours to go before takeoff,

0:32:030:32:05

the weather forecast was atrocious.

0:32:050:32:08

Heavy rain and winds of at least 30 knots,

0:32:110:32:15

twice the maximum speed for parachuting.

0:32:150:32:17

Weather was against us going.

0:32:190:32:21

We were all given the option of opting out.

0:32:210:32:24

High command sent a message allowing Stirling to cancel the mission.

0:32:290:32:32

But, after months on the sidelines,

0:32:350:32:37

this was Stirling's first and perhaps his only chance

0:32:370:32:41

to demonstrate his radical new method of warfare.

0:32:410:32:44

Stirling and Lewes could have been tempted to say, "We'll cancel this."

0:32:450:32:51

But because of the opposition to the SAS in HQ Cairo,

0:32:520:32:56

they felt absolutely that if they didn't take this chance,

0:32:560:33:02

they might never get another chance again.

0:33:020:33:04

I wasn't prepared to see the first of our operations,

0:33:070:33:11

because of bad weather, being postponed.

0:33:110:33:14

It couldn't be postponed, it had to be cancelled.

0:33:140:33:18

We refused absolutely.

0:33:180:33:20

They gave us the option. So we went ahead.

0:33:200:33:23

Stirling almost certainly made the wrong decision

0:33:310:33:34

in allowing the operation to go ahead.

0:33:340:33:36

But if he had made the right decision and called it off,

0:33:390:33:43

there would probably never have been an SAS.

0:33:430:33:45

That evening, we were given a meal.

0:33:470:33:49

It was out of this world, the RAF had laid it on.

0:33:490:33:52

It was like the Last Supper.

0:33:520:33:54

I think the RAF thought they'd never see any of us again, you know.

0:33:560:33:59

Five of the RAF's cumbersome and outdated Bombay aircraft

0:34:100:34:15

clambered into the darkness.

0:34:150:34:17

With Stirling's men holding tight,

0:34:170:34:19

the planes flew into the worst storm in the area for 30 years.

0:34:190:34:24

As soon as they reached the coast,

0:34:310:34:32

the enemy's air defences opened up with a storm of anti-aircraft fire.

0:34:320:34:36

The plane inside was absolutely lit up.

0:34:410:34:44

Jock got up and just walked up and down as though nothing cared at all.

0:34:440:34:49

He gave you confidence.

0:34:490:34:51

"Well, he's not frightened, why am I frightened?"

0:34:510:34:53

He said, "Not to worry, but we'll have to jump.

0:34:530:34:55

"We don't know where we are, but we're going to jump."

0:34:550:34:57

It was a night without any moon, pitch-black.

0:34:570:35:02

And they dropped the 65 men

0:35:020:35:07

taking part all over the bloody shop.

0:35:070:35:11

Seized by the wind, most of the parachutists

0:35:170:35:20

landed miles from the drop zone.

0:35:200:35:22

Several, unable to unclip their parachutes in the high wind,

0:35:250:35:29

were scraped to death on the desert floor.

0:35:290:35:31

I don't know whether you know the desert at night-time,

0:35:540:35:57

but it gets as black as hell.

0:35:570:35:59

My arms, I had to hold them close to my chest because I was in pain.

0:36:010:36:07

Armed only with revolvers and a handful of grenades

0:36:110:36:14

and barely a day's supply of water,

0:36:140:36:17

as an attacking force, Stirling's team was now useless.

0:36:170:36:20

And, now, somehow, lost in the wilderness of sand,

0:36:220:36:26

the survivors would have to find their way to the rendezvous point.

0:36:260:36:29

Ahead of them lay a 36-hour march through high winds and driving rain.

0:36:290:36:35

Undaunted, Lewes said, "At least we won't die of thirst."

0:36:370:36:40

We saw this light in the distance.

0:36:520:36:54

Jock thought it was a star.

0:36:550:36:57

I said, "No, no, it's not a star.

0:36:590:37:01

"It's a light. That's the thing."

0:37:010:37:04

The handful of survivors had found the only way to get back out

0:37:040:37:09

of the desert - the trucks of the LRDG.

0:37:090:37:12

One of the last out was Stirling.

0:37:120:37:15

Dazed and exhausted, he asked, "Has anyone seen my men?"

0:37:150:37:19

One aircraft had been shot down,

0:37:250:37:27

some men had been killed in the parachute drop, some captured,

0:37:270:37:31

others dragged to their deaths, or left to die in the desert.

0:37:310:37:34

Only 21 of the 55 had returned.

0:37:360:37:39

Stirling remained at the desert rendezvous for two more days,

0:37:470:37:51

scanning the horizon in the hope that other stragglers

0:37:510:37:54

might eventually emerge.

0:37:540:37:56

None did.

0:37:580:37:59

It was tragic because there was so much talent in those who we lost.

0:38:010:38:05

We had to try and survive.

0:38:070:38:10

Thinking that 21 of us came out of that, we thought of the others...

0:38:190:38:23

We didn't know where they were, whether they were alive or dead.

0:38:230:38:26

I think most of us wanted to continue.

0:38:260:38:28

We'd gone through so much,

0:38:300:38:32

so whatever happened afterwards was going to be, as you would say,

0:38:320:38:35

a piece of cake. It wasn't, of course, but...

0:38:350:38:38

The raid had failed utterly.

0:38:400:38:43

But in disaster, as so often, lay the germ of salvation.

0:38:430:38:47

The thought now occurred to Stirling that if the LRDG could get them out

0:38:470:38:51

of the desert, they could surely drive them in as well.

0:38:510:38:55

With their distinctive Arab headdress

0:39:040:39:06

and their specially customised vehicles,

0:39:060:39:08

the Long Range Desert Group were part soldiers and part explorers

0:39:080:39:13

who had made the desert their home.

0:39:130:39:15

They had honed their skills by developing

0:39:170:39:19

advanced desert mapping techniques and using their own sun compass.

0:39:190:39:24

Their expertise made them the ideal desert scouting force,

0:39:270:39:31

primarily gathering intelligence while occasionally attacking

0:39:310:39:35

the enemy and committing piracy on the high desert.

0:39:350:39:38

One of the LRDG's best navigators

0:39:410:39:43

was 21-year-old Corporal Mike Sadler.

0:39:430:39:46

Now aged 96, he's the only man left to have fought alongside

0:39:460:39:50

the original soldiers of the SAS.

0:39:500:39:53

How do you navigate in the desert?

0:39:530:39:56

-How do you do it?

-It was a bit of an art, really.

0:39:560:39:59

It came naturally somehow.

0:39:590:40:01

And so I was fairly successful at it.

0:40:010:40:05

Sun threw a shadow onto a little sun compass

0:40:100:40:14

and you had to set the disc depending on the time of day

0:40:140:40:17

and the latitude that you were on and all that.

0:40:170:40:19

Come nightfall,

0:40:210:40:23

we had to establish whether we were right or not by observing the stars.

0:40:230:40:27

And that was the thing which I found so fascinating.

0:40:290:40:32

Sadler came to the LRDG as a gunner,

0:40:400:40:43

but had become obsessed with plotting courses across the sands.

0:40:430:40:47

As I'd been taking interest in it,

0:40:480:40:51

the first thing they said was, "Would you like to be a navigator?"

0:40:510:40:54

And I couldn't believe it.

0:40:540:40:57

So I said, "Yes, I would."

0:40:570:40:59

And I never looked at an anti-tank gun again, with great relief!

0:40:590:41:03

Stirling soon realised that men with the desert expertise of Mike Sadler

0:41:050:41:09

could deliver the SAS on time and on target

0:41:090:41:12

far better than the RAF ever could.

0:41:120:41:15

He was a very quiet fellow.

0:41:150:41:17

He never raised his voice.

0:41:170:41:19

But he was a bit inclined to forget you because he was not concentrating

0:41:190:41:23

so much on the job in hand.

0:41:230:41:26

He was thinking much more about higher matters.

0:41:260:41:29

Stirling took his new plan back to Cairo to find HQ in a state of panic.

0:41:380:41:43

The Axis had inflicted a major defeat on the British,

0:41:450:41:48

driving them out of Libya and back into Egypt.

0:41:480:41:51

But Rommel's rapid advance

0:41:530:41:55

had left his forces overstretched and vulnerable.

0:41:550:41:59

This was an opportunity for Stirling to attack again.

0:41:590:42:03

We were rather on tiptoe, got hold of a truck or two,

0:42:030:42:06

and we were equipped to undertake our first series of operations

0:42:060:42:11

with the Long Range Desert Group.

0:42:110:42:13

Ahead of them lay a 350-mile journey to the enemy-held coast,

0:42:160:42:21

courtesy of the LRDG,

0:42:210:42:23

or the Libyan Taxi Service, as the SAS had taken to calling them.

0:42:230:42:27

Stirling had less than half his force left.

0:42:340:42:37

Every single one of them was determined to get back into the war.

0:42:370:42:41

They headed into the desert in the certain knowledge

0:42:470:42:49

that if they failed again,

0:42:490:42:51

this would be their last mission together.

0:42:510:42:54

It was essential for the unit that some success should be recorded and

0:42:540:42:59

recorded quickly.

0:42:590:43:01

Another failure like that and they would have disbanded it

0:43:010:43:03

before it even got off the ground.

0:43:030:43:05

There are few experiences more uncomfortable

0:43:290:43:33

than a long desert journey in a vehicle like this.

0:43:330:43:36

For three days, they rumbled and jounced their way north-west.

0:43:360:43:40

The heat and monotony inducing a state of sweaty semi-consciousness.

0:43:400:43:45

The trucks frequently broke down or sank into the sand

0:43:470:43:50

and had to be mended or laboriously dug out.

0:43:500:43:53

It was freezing by night, broiling by day.

0:43:530:43:58

The men called it devil country

0:43:580:44:00

and developed the desert sores and bad temper to prove it.

0:44:000:44:04

First few days, there was nobody, no Bedouins, no nothing.

0:44:080:44:13

But, as you got nearer the target,

0:44:150:44:18

so then the tension started to rise.

0:44:180:44:20

The trucks presented an easy target for the very aircraft

0:44:240:44:27

the SAS were aiming to destroy.

0:44:270:44:29

First got in bomber range,

0:44:320:44:34

then you got in fighter range,

0:44:340:44:36

and spotter planes, and they were liable to pick you up.

0:44:360:44:40

Then you moved in to the coastal belt,

0:44:420:44:44

you start to get a bit of shrub, stuff like that.

0:44:440:44:46

And the tensions start building.

0:44:460:44:49

Then you'd move in till you thought, "That's near enough."

0:44:490:44:52

The noisy trucks would attract too much attention.

0:44:520:44:57

The rest of the journey would be on foot.

0:44:570:44:59

The men hiked several miles until the target was in their sights.

0:45:110:45:15

The first ops, sentries not on the alert.

0:45:180:45:21

300 or 400 miles behind the line.

0:45:250:45:27

It was cushy.

0:45:270:45:29

The war was never going to touch you.

0:45:290:45:30

Across the target airfields,

0:45:360:45:38

the men planted Lewes bombs on every aircraft they could find.

0:45:380:45:42

Setting the fuses to detonate simultaneously,

0:45:420:45:45

they fled before the destruction erupted.

0:45:450:45:49

When they went up, they went!

0:46:000:46:02

You had great big volumes of flames.

0:46:020:46:04

By early morning, Stirling and the LRDG had disappeared

0:46:100:46:14

back into the desert, leaving behind them an epic trail of destruction

0:46:140:46:18

and a bewildered enemy.

0:46:180:46:21

There is no defence against a small party, three or four determined men,

0:46:210:46:26

getting in.

0:46:260:46:28

But destroying aircraft wasn't enough for Paddy Mayne.

0:46:300:46:33

He decided to attack the men who flew them as well.

0:46:360:46:40

The war diary contains Mayne's chilling account of what followed.

0:46:450:46:50

"I stood there with my Colt .45.

0:46:510:46:54

"The others at my side with a Tommy gun and another automatic.

0:46:540:46:57

"We were a peculiar and frightening sight.

0:46:590:47:01

"Bearded and unkempt hair. I said, 'Good evening.'

0:47:010:47:06

"At that, a young German arose and moved slowly backwards.

0:47:060:47:11

"I shot him.

0:47:110:47:13

"I turned and fired at another, some six feet away.

0:47:130:47:17

"Then, the two machine gunners opened up.

0:47:170:47:19

"The room, by now, was in pandemonium."

0:47:210:47:25

Despite the success of the mission,

0:47:300:47:32

Stirling was appalled by the shooting of some 30 men

0:47:320:47:35

at point-blank range.

0:47:350:47:37

He reported, "It was necessary to be ruthless,

0:47:390:47:42

"but Paddy had overstepped the mark.

0:47:420:47:45

"I was obliged to rebuke him

0:47:450:47:46

"for over-callous execution of the enemy."

0:47:460:47:49

Paddy Mayne's brutal attack veered away from sabotage

0:47:510:47:55

and came close to cold-blooded killing.

0:47:550:47:58

It showed just how far the unit had already moved away

0:47:580:48:02

from conventional warfare.

0:48:020:48:04

Over the next two weeks, the SAS mounted raid after raid,

0:48:130:48:17

often unauthorised and picking targets at will.

0:48:170:48:21

Bill Fraser's party got the biggest bag.

0:48:210:48:25

They got 37 planes.

0:48:250:48:27

And we went back to the same place and got 24 planes,

0:48:280:48:32

and, eight days later, we went back and got another 24.

0:48:320:48:35

That's when it all started, that's when the results started coming in.

0:48:360:48:39

They destroyed everything,

0:48:420:48:44

terrorising and demoralising the enemy before disappearing

0:48:440:48:47

into their oasis hideout deep in the desert.

0:48:470:48:51

Obviously, there was jubilation.

0:48:510:48:53

We're back in business, sort of thing.

0:48:530:48:55

Must have been on Christmas Day, the LRDGs shot a gazelle.

0:48:580:49:03

We made a little bar in the sun and we had gazelle and rum and lime.

0:49:030:49:09

We had a very, very nice Christmas.

0:49:090:49:11

Fired up by success, Stirling would not allow even Christmas

0:49:110:49:15

to slow the pace of destruction.

0:49:150:49:17

Rommel was falling back, ever more dependent on air support.

0:49:170:49:21

The SAS would attack again.

0:49:210:49:23

But the Germans and Italians were getting wise

0:49:270:49:29

to the tactics of the SAS.

0:49:290:49:31

Aerial patrols were scouring the desert,

0:49:350:49:37

looking for the telltale dust plumes of the trucks.

0:49:370:49:40

It was only a matter of time

0:49:420:49:44

before the enemy would have Stirling's men in their sights.

0:49:440:49:47

You had so much faith in the people you were with

0:49:490:49:52

that no-one anticipated that anything was going to go wrong.

0:49:520:49:58

Jock Lewes could tell his fiancee Mirren Barford

0:50:030:50:07

very little about their secret mission in the desert

0:50:070:50:09

and could only hint at their great success.

0:50:090:50:11

In a telegram, he wrote,

0:50:120:50:14

"Back today with a pullable beard and a possible medal.

0:50:140:50:18

"Off again tomorrow. Merry Christmas to all."

0:50:180:50:20

In his private diary,

0:50:230:50:24

Lewes expressed the lofty, martial sentiments

0:50:240:50:27

that burned brightly in his heart.

0:50:270:50:30

"I feel my strength and fear is far away.

0:50:300:50:33

"I will not seek to save my life,

0:50:330:50:35

"but will choose the most difficult and dangerous work."

0:50:350:50:38

But beneath the chivalric tone lay a hint of martyrdom.

0:50:400:50:43

He was so passionate to end the war early

0:50:480:50:52

and get back to his love,

0:50:520:50:54

and that meant there was a high chance of being killed.

0:50:540:51:00

"I am prepared for this to be my life's work

0:51:010:51:05

"because it will be well done

0:51:050:51:08

"and a thing to be proud of here or anywhere.

0:51:080:51:12

"I am losing my life

0:51:120:51:15

"in this hard, graceless, unpoetic,

0:51:150:51:20

"unbeautiful devotion."

0:51:200:51:24

He was a very studious character, Jock Lewes,

0:51:360:51:39

and, as a training officer and to go into action with,

0:51:390:51:43

he was a very good one, too.

0:51:430:51:44

He...

0:51:460:51:48

I think he probably had a slight too much regimentality

0:51:480:51:52

about him in active conditions.

0:51:520:51:54

I think that's one of the things that cost him his life.

0:51:540:51:57

Racing across the desert after a dawn raid,

0:52:020:52:05

Jock Lewes's convoy was spotted by a German plane.

0:52:050:52:08

In the open desert, they were sitting ducks.

0:52:110:52:14

The SAS trucks could not escape the speed and fire power

0:52:170:52:20

of their attackers.

0:52:200:52:21

As planes filled the sky, the men jumped for their lives.

0:52:240:52:27

But Jock Lewes delayed, gathering his papers.

0:52:290:52:31

He could see it was coming in,

0:52:330:52:34

it was coming in so low that everybody bears off.

0:52:340:52:37

Jock Lewes stayed too long in the truck...

0:52:460:52:48

..and he got caught in that fire.

0:52:490:52:52

Jock Lewes was buried where he fell.

0:53:010:53:04

His men would never know why he had delayed,

0:53:070:53:11

but perhaps he'd already given them a clue.

0:53:110:53:13

Never run away.

0:53:150:53:16

I regard him as a great leader.

0:53:190:53:21

I'd follow Jock anywhere.

0:53:210:53:23

He was a good fellow.

0:53:250:53:26

On New Year's Eve, the survivors of the Lewes raid limped back

0:53:450:53:49

to the oasis, bringing news

0:53:490:53:52

that one of the unit's most important members was gone.

0:53:520:53:55

Stirling was furious that Lewes's body

0:53:570:54:00

had been left behind in the desert.

0:54:000:54:02

But, then, it was Lewes himself who had insisted

0:54:020:54:05

that collecting the dead was a dangerous waste of time.

0:54:050:54:08

In Lewes's empty tent, his comrades found a letter from Mirren Barford,

0:54:120:54:17

joyously accepting his proposal of marriage.

0:54:170:54:20

-MIRREN:

-"Please remember you are my dearest and only love.

0:54:220:54:26

"Don't leave me ever.

0:54:260:54:28

"You always have my love and all I can do now

0:54:280:54:31

"is ask the almighty powers to be merciful

0:54:310:54:34

"and to keep you safe and free."

0:54:340:54:36

Mirren's letter accepting Jock's offer of marriage

0:54:380:54:42

arrived after Jock died,

0:54:420:54:45

but Jock did say one word before he died, and he said,

0:54:450:54:52

"Mirren."

0:54:520:54:53

We were a unit that if any...

0:55:010:55:03

anybody got killed, that was the end of it.

0:55:030:55:06

You know...

0:55:060:55:07

There was no shedding tears and getting handkerchiefs out,

0:55:090:55:14

or drying your eyes and thinking,

0:55:140:55:16

"There's my best pal. I'll get the Germans for this."

0:55:160:55:19

You know, like the Americans do it.

0:55:190:55:21

There was none of that.

0:55:210:55:23

I mean, you took your chance and that was it.

0:55:230:55:27

By January 1942,

0:55:350:55:37

L Detachment had destroyed more than 90 planes

0:55:370:55:40

and left almost as many enemy dead.

0:55:400:55:42

Behind them was a trail of wrecked munitions, vehicles,

0:55:420:55:47

and a demoralised and mystified enemy.

0:55:470:55:49

The SAS returned to Cairo with their heads held high.

0:56:030:56:07

Stirling was promoted to major, and Auchinleck,

0:56:130:56:16

recognising the great potential of his newest fighting force,

0:56:160:56:20

authorised the recruitment of six more officers and 40 more men.

0:56:200:56:24

L Detachment were no longer learners.

0:56:260:56:29

But success had come at a price.

0:56:290:56:31

34 men had been lost in the first doomed parachute raid.

0:56:390:56:43

And now the unit had also lost the man

0:56:450:56:48

who had been instrumental in their success.

0:56:480:56:50

It was very grave on all of us

0:56:520:56:56

and it did leave a very big gap.

0:56:560:56:59

The grave of Jock Lewes was never found,

0:57:010:57:04

lost forever in the Great Sand Sea.

0:57:040:57:07

Jock was absolutely key to this incredible regiment.

0:57:080:57:15

And, by the time he died,

0:57:150:57:17

everything he'd done had proved that it could survive,

0:57:170:57:22

but it still needed guarding.

0:57:220:57:26

Without his right-hand man,

0:57:280:57:30

Stirling would have to rely on the newly promoted captain, Paddy Mayne.

0:57:300:57:34

An officer as unpredictable and dangerous

0:57:360:57:39

as the new phase of war that was about to begin.

0:57:390:57:42

The SAS would have to adapt if it was going to survive.

0:57:440:57:48

But the game was changing.

0:57:520:57:53

The airfields were now being heavily defended

0:57:550:57:57

and, unknown to David Stirling,

0:57:570:57:59

the Germans were training special units to track,

0:57:590:58:03

intercept and kill the marauding SAS.

0:58:030:58:07

The hunters would soon become the hunted.

0:58:070:58:10

The Special Air Service is the world's most famous combat unit, with the motto 'Who Dares Wins', but the story of how it came into existence has been, until now, a closely guarded secret.

For the first time, the SAS has agreed to open up its archive and allow Ben Macintyre to reveal the true story of their formation during the darkest days of World War Two.

With unprecedented access to the SAS secret files, unseen footage and exclusive interviews with its founder members, this series tells the remarkable story behind an extraordinary fighting force.

Episode one tells the story of the founding of the SAS in the heat of the north African desert in 1941. David Archibald Stirling is an aristocratic dreamer who had once held lofty ambitions to be an artist or perhaps a famous mountaineer but now, with the war in the desert reaching its most desperate stage, Stirling has a vision for a new kind of war: attacking the enemy where they least expect it - from behind their own lines. But Stirling is up against the many in British High Command who do not want to see him succeed with his radical new way of warfare. Against the odds, Stirling wins through and helps the Allies towards victory in the desert. The cost is high. In combat, Stirling loses lieutenant Jock Lewes, his right-hand man. With his brilliant training methods and invention of a new weapon, Lewes has proved vital to making Stirling's dream of a crack fighting force a reality. Stirling must soldier on alone.