The U.K.’s Special Air Service needs no introduction to anyone remotely interested in military history or Special Operations. However, there is much more to learn about this elite unit when one traces its existence and influence across the once global British Empire. Much of the power of the Brits was derived from their colonies and their stock of available military recruits. Australia and New Zealand have kept the title of the SAS for their elite units.

After the end of the Second World War, the British government saw no further use for the unit and disbanded it in October 1945. Within a year of that decision, a reversal was made and the SAS was resurrected. They drew soldiers from the Territorial Army and continued training for future conflicts on the horizon. In 1950, Britain committed to helping the UN to stop communist aggression on the Korean Peninsula. After three months of preparation, 21 SAS was given orders to Korea. During this same period, another problem arose in Malaya, which was administered by the British. The problem perfectly suited the Unit’s capabilities.

In 1948, communist guerillas began attacking British infrastructure and challenging British rule. These insurgents were a reconstituted arm of the local units that the British had trained to fight Japanese occupiers in WWII. The terrain and tactics of the guerillas were difficult to counter with conventional forces. Sabotage and hit and run operations began against the transportation system and the lucrative rubber plantations that were vital to Britain. The guerillas would come from the impenetrable jungle and disappear back into it.

The British had learned many valuable lessons in jungle warfare while fighting the Japanese in South East Asia. This training and experience still lived on in the commanders of the Malayan detachment. With forces being committed to the Korean conflict and the need for manpower worldwide, it was decided to make a recruiting drive for men in the colonies to try out for the SAS. So troops were raised to fill A Squadron and B Squadron, mainly from experienced British Territorials who had geared up for wartime deployment to Korea.

These forces would form the Malayan Scouts (the forefathers of the modern SAS) whose primary mission would be reconnaissance and the interdiction of the Communist Terrorists (CTs) along their known supply routes. It was a steep learning curve for the two squadrons and jungle illnesses took a brutal toll.

C Squadron (Rhodesian) SAS in Malaya.

In 1951, Major “Mad Mike” Calvert, the expedition’s commanding officer, decided to take a trip to the far-away African colony of Rhodesia. Rhodesia had contributed greatly in proportion to its population in WWII and a few Rhodesians had served in the SAS. Rhodesian lads, who had felt that they had missed their chance to fight for the Crown due to their youth during the war, applied in droves. This caused quite a stir and the applications were capped at 1,000. These 1,000 applicants were carefully screened and 100 men were chosen to be a part of the Malayan Scouts and the resurrected SAS.

Once they were chosen they were trained by two Rhodesian veterans of World War Two, Lt. Peter Walls and Lt. Ron Campbell-Morrison. Both were combat experienced and were expected to be replaced by a British commander once in-country. With great fanfare and a crowd of 3,000 people in Salisbury, the 100 were sent off to war. Upon arrival in the harsh jungle environment, they were faced with the reality of a hard-bitten counterinsurgency campaign. The Rhodesians would be C Squadron, the unit designation that would stick with them far into the future.

Their reception was none too friendly and the men of A Squadron made an impression on the Rhodesian recruits. Yet, being highly motivated and unspoiled they remained hearty and willing to get on with the mission at hand.