British Special Air Service SAS History and Contribution to Navy SEALs

The British Special Air Service (SAS) and the United States Navy SEALs are renowned special operations forces with a rich history and remarkable contributions to military operations worldwide. This paper explores the history and development of the SAS and examines their significant influence on the training methods and ethos of the Navy SEALs.

The Origins of the SAS:

a. World War II: The SAS was formed during World War II in 1941 as a specialized unit designed for covert reconnaissance and unconventional warfare behind enemy lines. Its primary objective was to disrupt enemy operations and gather intelligence.

b. Founder David Stirling: The SAS was founded by Lieutenant Colonel David Stirling, who envisioned a highly mobile and versatile unit capable of conducting long-range desert raids and hit-and-run operations.

Lieutenant Colonel David Stirling was a British Army officer and the founding figure behind the Special Air Service (SAS), one of the world’s most renowned and elite special forces units. Stirling’s vision and leadership were instrumental in shaping the SAS into the highly skilled and effective force it is today. During World War II, Stirling recognized the need for a small, highly mobile unit capable of conducting covert raids deep behind enemy lines. In 1941, he conceived the idea for the SAS and began assembling a team of like-minded soldiers who were skilled in unconventional warfare.

Under Stirling’s command, the SAS conducted daring raids and reconnaissance missions in North Africa, disrupting Axis operations and gathering critical intelligence. One of the unit’s most famous operations was the “Operation Crusader” raid, which involved attacking enemy airfields and supply lines in the deserts of North Africa.

Stirling’s leadership and audacious tactics earned him a reputation as a maverick commander, and he became known for his hands-on approach and willingness to lead from the front. His pioneering work with the SAS laid the foundation for modern special operations units worldwide, emphasizing the importance of adaptability, initiative, and audacity in unconventional warfare. David Stirling’s legacy as a trailblazer in the realm of special forces operations continues to influence and inspire military leaders and special operators to this day.

Operation Nimrod (1980): 

Operation Nimrod, conducted by the British Special Air Service (SAS) in 1980, is one of the most iconic counter-terrorism operations in history. The mission was prompted by the takeover of the Iranian Embassy in London by six armed terrorists from the Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan. The terrorists took 26 hostages and demanded the release of Arab prisoners in Khuzestan. As negotiations stalled, the SAS was given the green light to execute a rescue operation.

On May 5, 1980, the SAS launched Operation Nimrod. The assault team stormed the embassy, entering through various entry points, including balconies and windows. The operation was meticulously planned and executed with precision. The SAS operators moved swiftly and decisively, eliminating five of the six terrorists and securing the release of all hostages. The entire operation lasted just 17 minutes, and the hostages were brought to safety without any casualties.

Operation Nimrod showcased the SAS’s exceptional capabilities in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue operations. The success of the mission not only saved lives but also demonstrated the importance of specialized units like the SAS in dealing with high-stakes, high-risk situations. The operation solidified the SAS’s reputation as a world-class special forces unit and set a standard for future counter-terrorism operations.

Operation Barras (2000):
In Sierra Leone, the SAS conducted Operation Barras to rescue British soldiers who were taken captive by the rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front. The operation resulted in the safe return of the soldiers.

Operation Trent (2003): SAS teams were involved in the hunt for Saddam Hussein during the Iraq War, known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. Their efforts contributed to the eventual capture of the Iraqi dictator.

Operation Wrath of God (1972): The SAS cooperated with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad in a series of assassinations targeting individuals believed to have been involved in the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972, which killed 11 Israeli athletes.

Operation Certain Death (2000): In Sierra Leone, the SAS played a crucial role in the rescue of British Army Officer Chris McManus and numerous other hostages from a rebel group known for its brutality.

Counter-terrorism operations: The SAS has been involved in numerous classified counter-terrorism operations, both domestically and abroad. Their expertise in hostage rescue and counter-terrorism is well-regarded.

Counter-insurgency and reconnaissance: The SAS has been deployed in various conflicts around the world, such as the Falklands War and the Gulf War, to conduct reconnaissance and special operations behind enemy lines.

These are just a few examples of the many classified and high-stakes operations conducted by the British SAS. Due to the secretive nature of their work, the full extent of their operations is not always disclosed to the public. The SAS remains a symbol of excellence in special operations and counter-terrorism.

SAS Training and Operations:

a. Selection and Training: The SAS selection process is rigorous, with emphasis on physical fitness, mental resilience, and adaptability. Successful candidates undergo an intense training program encompassing navigation, survival skills, close-quarters combat, and specialized skills such as parachuting and amphibious operations.

b. Notable Operations: The SAS has conducted numerous successful operations, including the “Desert Rats” campaign in North Africa during World War II, the Falklands War, the Gulf War, and counterterrorism operations around the world.

Influence on Navy SEAL Training:
a. Formation of the SEALs: The United States Navy SEALs were established in 1962, drawing inspiration from the SAS and other special operations units. The founders recognized the effectiveness and versatility of the SAS model and sought to develop a similar force for the U.S. Navy.

b. Training Exchange Programs: The SAS and Navy SEALs have engaged in training exchange programs to share expertise, tactics, and operational experiences. These programs have allowed both forces to enhance their capabilities and learn from each other’s strengths.
c. Counterterrorism Focus: The SAS’s expertise in counterterrorism operations has had a profound influence on the Navy SEALs’ training and operational approach. The SAS’s emphasis on hostage rescue, close-quarters battle, and intelligence gathering has influenced the SEALs’ development of similar skills and tactics.

Shared Core Values:
a. Elite Standards: Both the SAS and Navy SEALs maintain the highest standards of physical fitness, mental resilience, and professionalism. These elite forces prioritize continuous training and strive for excellence in all aspects of their operations.
b. Teamwork and Leadership: Both forces place a strong emphasis on teamwork, effective communication, and decentralized leadership. They train their personnel to operate autonomously and make critical decisions in high-pressure situations.

Collaboration and Joint Operations:

  • Combined Anti-Terrorist Training (CATT): The SAS and the Navy SEALs have conducted joint training exercises in counter-terrorism and special operations. These exercises involve scenarios such as hostage rescue, direct action, and counter-terrorism drills, enhancing interoperability between the two units.
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003): During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, elements of both the SAS and the Navy SEALs operated in support of the coalition effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime. While they may not have directly worked together in every mission, their concurrent presence contributed to the overall military effort.
  • Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan): Both the SAS and the Navy SEALs have been part of the broader international coalition efforts in Afghanistan since the early 2000s. While they may have operated independently for the most part, they shared objectives related to counter-terrorism, intelligence-gathering, and special reconnaissance.

The British Special Air Service (SAS) has a storied history and has made significant contributions to military operations worldwide. Their training methods, operational techniques, and counterterrorism expertise have had a profound impact on the training and development of the United States Navy SEALs. The close collaboration and mutual respect between these elite forces have fostered a relationship that continues to enhance their capabilities and effectiveness in confronting modern-day challenges.

US Army Special Forces History
Who is Delta Force? The US Armys secretive elite operators

Seal Fit Stack

SGPT Upcoming Events

Personal Online Coaching

Work 1-on-1
with SEAL Grinder's Brad McLeod
To Achieve Your Goals

pic of brad

Personal fitness training from Brad McLeod, Navy Seal and CrossFit Level 1 instructor. Delivered online, directly to you.

"I recommend Brad to anyone that seriously wants to go to BUDs or anything else in life... try these workouts. Hooyah!" - Chris H.

learn more button