The early members of the Special Air Service were currently known as L Detachment, SAS Brigade and would not be designated the SAS Regiment until September 1942. The original name was intended to cause confusion amongst the Germans about the nature and strength of these unconventional forces – suggesting that it was just a small part of a large parachute Brigade.
The purpose of the SAS was to mount raids behind enemy lines – in the desert they arrived by truck or jeep, rather than parachute. Their early raids had been costly affairs where they sustained heavy casualties. But on the night of 26th July they mounted one of their most successful raids ever. They had driven for days across the desert, guided by men from the Long Range Desert Group, until they were well behind enemy lines. The men at the target German airfield at Fuka were caught completely off guard. Carol Mather was one of the officers on the raid, which was led by the SAS’s founding officer, Colonel David Stirling:
We left the escarpment RV at last light and climbed up the rocky cliff in our two columns. There was a full moon and so driving was comparatively easy. David led off at a terrific speed and it was not long before we were suffering from punctures. We had fifteen before we reached our objective, and for each one a halt of five minutes had to be made.
One jeep and its crew had to be abandoned on the way owing to a cracked sump, and at this halt David gave us our final instructions.
“Right lads, we haven’t got much time. At the edge of the aerodrome form a line abreast and all guns spray the area. When I advance follow me in your two columns and on my green Very light open fire, outwards at the aircraft – follow exactly in each other’s tracks, 5 yards apart – speed not more than 4 mph. Return to the RV independently moving only by night.”
He spoke casually as if putting us into our butts for a grouse drive.
We descended across an old battlefield, where some of our corpses were lying still unburied, in the full moonlight. The burnt-out tanks and corpses looked cold and comfortless, and I took another swig of rum.
Then we heard an aircraft overhead – it was circling low. Suddenly all the aerodrome landing lights were switched on and we saw our target perfectly illuminated, and the German bomber came in to land. The noise of its engines drowned our own.
A hundred yards more to the aerodrome edge and we formed line abreast, halted and suddenly fired our sixty guns. A minute’s fire to spray the defences and then we followed David in our two columns.
In one minute we were amongst the parked aircraft – Messerschmitts, Stukas, Junkers and Heinkels lay all around us. The green Very light went up and we wound slowly like a snake, firing at the aircraft as we went.
Clouds obscured the moon, and one after another the planes burst into flames, but not a gun was fired on us. We fired into their huts and tents, and we could see one or two figures running helplessly about. Some of the aircraft would only be fifteen yards away, and as I passed them at the end of the column they would glow red and explode with a deafening “phut” and there would be great heat.
We had passed through the dispersal area, and were swinging round for a second visit, when an Ack Ack gun some 300 yards away opened up on us wildly. Our port-side guns returned the fire, but the gunner had hit one of our jeeps in the centre of the column as we drew away, the shots passing over our heads.
As we moved off the aerodrome Paddy Mayne spotted an untouched bomber and, jumping from his jeep with a bomb in his hand, ran up to it and, placing the bomb in its engine, ran back and caught us up.
We had burnt thirty aircraft, damaged more, and lost one jeep and one man, a Frenchman, killed. The whole thing had taken fifteen minutes. Then we melted into the desert in two’s and three’s, as arranged.