To many the SAS was a WWII unit tearing up the North African desert in jeeps shooting up Axis airbases and fuel dumps….. only to reemerge on the Iranian Embassy balcony in 1980, clothed in black wearing gas masks. But what is not so well known is there rebirth after the Second World War, and their long and illustrious history as jungle warriors in the 50’s and 60’s.
1 and 2 SAS were disbanded in October 1945, 3 and 4 French SAS and 5 Belgium SAS were transferred to their respective armies. However, in 1946 the War office decided to reverse their decision and in 1947 the 21st
SAS Regiment (Volunteers) was formed resurrecting the SAS name. The regiment chosen to take on-board SAS mantle was the Artists? Rifles, originally formed in 1860. The new 21 SAS Regiment therefore took over the Artists Rifles headquarters in London.
The Malayan Scouts Kit Display
With the growing problems of the Malayan Emergency (1948 -1960) Major Mike Calvert (of Chindit fame) was asked to raise a special unit to counteract the insurgents (Communist Terrorists). He came up with the idea of
a deep jungle penetration. The unit was trained to stay for long periods of time in the jungle denying the Communist Terrorists (CT?s) the freedom of movement and access to villages to food and supplies. So in 1950 the Malayan Scouts SAS came to be. The first volunteers were recruited from army units in the region with a number of Officers and NCO being old SAS and Chindits. This squadron (A Squadron) was called the “Happy Hundred”. With Calvert?s resources rather limited he had to come up with unconventional ways of training men. One such way was one-on-one tracking and elimination in the jungle fringes armed with an air gun and wearing a fencing mask for protection. Major David Sharp an ex. Malayan Scout said recently “I?ve still got the marks from those air gun pellets on my backside”. Learning to navigate in the thick jungle was a considerable feat as large areas of the maps were blank apart from rivers and aerial photos of the time were poor. Not only did the volunteers have to get used to the constant heat, high humidity and rain they had to get to grips with the jungle itself, walls of impenetrable barbed vines, swamps, bogs, tall sharp elephant grass, slippery moss covered rocks and of cause the wild life. This included ants, mosquitos, venomous snakes like the banded krait and the bamboo beat lace, not forgetting the dreaded leech that attached itself to any part of the body.
Malayan Scout – Long Range Patrol Beltring Jungle
In January 1951, a squadron of the 21st SAS Artists Rifles bound for Korea was sent to Malaya, merging with the Scouts to become B Squadron Soon after a C Squadron was formed from Rhodesia, hand-picked by Calvert himself. Many years of jungle life and illness had taken its toll on Mike Calvert, so he was invalided back to the United Kingdom in late 1951. Colonel John Sloane was appointed his replacement, soon after in 1952 the Malayan Scouts (SAS) were renamed 22 SAS Regiment and formerly added to the Army list. During their time in Malaya the SAS developed many new ways and theories of fighting. They pioneered the use of the helicopter for resupply and removal of casualties the first hearts and minds program for working with the indigenous population by having a medic on every patrol to render first aid and penicillin to win over the local tribesmen and turn them away from the CT?s.
Tree jumping where troopers would parachute into the jungle hoping their chutes would catch in the jungle canopy allowing them to abseil down to the ground therefore saving days of hard walking. The four man patrol also became a SAS trait. Major John Woodhouse, who had a pivotal role in the development of many of the SAS techniques, returned to the United Kingdom in the spring of 1952. He set up a selection course, for the men going to Malaya in Snowdonia. This was so successful that it was developed into the selection course the SAS use today. 1955 saw the Rhodesian C squadron return to Africa and they were replaced by a New Zealand one. The C prefix was retired out of respect for the Rhodesians and the 22 SAS was enlarged to five squadrons with the addition of a D squadron and a Parachute Squadron. Since its conception in 1947 the SAS had continued to wear the maroon beret which had been worn in the late war years but in 1957 they severed their links with Airborne Command and reverted back to their sandy/beige beret. By the time 22 SAS had left Malaya in 1958 and moved onto operations in Omen, they had contributed greatly to a hard fought victory. Harassing the CT?s, denying them a safe haven, freedom of movement and many ambushes with the aid of the Gurka Regiments.
The Maroon Airborne Beret with SAS Patch
In 1963, 22 SAS was sent to Borneo for the Indonesian–Malaysian confrontation, where they developed tactics of patrolling over the Indonesian border and used local tribesman for intelligence gathering. They lived in the indigenous tribes villages for anything up to five months gaining their trust for information, tracking and combat, in return for providing gifts and medical treatment. In the December of that year, the SAS went onto the offensive, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John Woodhouse, they adopted a “shoot and scoot” policy to keep SAS casualties to a minimum. They were supported by the Guards Independent Parachute Company, and the Gurkha Independent Parachute Company.1964 saw Operation Claret initiated; soldiers were selected from the infantry regiments in theatre, placed under SAS command and known as “Killer Groups”. These groups would cross the border and placed under SAS command and known as “Killer Groups”. These groups would cross the border and penetrate up to 11 miles disrupting the Indonesian Army build up, forcing them to move away from the border.
Borneo Kit Display
“Bersayap Tentara” Reenactment Group This reenactment group was created by two militaria collecting brothers in 2012, and portrays the SAS„s activities in Asia during the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation in Borneo during the 1950’s and 196’s. These two conflicts have been referred to as Britain?s Vietnam. The groups primary aim is to promote public awareness of these somewhat overlooked British small wars. The groups name “Bersayap Tentara” is Indonesian for “Winged Soldiers” and comes from an inscription found on a tree near the border with Kalimantan (Indonesian part of Borneo) which read “Go no further, Winged Soldiers of England”
See the groups display at this years War and Peace Revival. If you have a vehicle that you would like to add to the groups display please get in contact with us and we will forward on your details
For more information on The War and Peace Revival, visit warandpeacerevival.com
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