Skip to content

Myth: British government wouldn’t confirm or deny existence of Special Air Service (SAS)

Much of what the British Special Air Service (SAS) does is top secret. This naturally leads to rumours and myths growing up around them. One myth is that the British government refused to confirm or deny their existence, until the dramatic conclusion of the Iranian Embassy siege meant that they were literally broadcast to millions of TV viewers.

The Special Air Service was originally formed during the Second World War, and disbanded soon after the war ended. 21 SAS (formed in 1947) and 23 SAS (formed in 1959) are Army Reserve (formerly known as Territorial Army) units. 22 SAS, formed in 1952, is the only Regular Army SAS unit. The myth is vague about whether it refers to only 22 SAS, or all of them.

Debunking this myth only requires a quick search of Hansard, the official report of all British parliamentary debates. The earliest mention by a member of the government that I could find is from March 1952. The Secretary of State for War, Anthony Head, states unambiguously that “It [Special Air Service Regiment] is in existence today“. It’s not specified, but given the date, he’s probably referring to 21 SAS, then part of the Territorial Army.

The myth tends to be vague, but it might only refer to 22 SAS, the Regular Army regiment. The earliest mention of 22 SAS that I could find is from July 1959. The Under-Secretary of State for War, Hugh Fraser, says that British forces, including the Special Air Service Regiment, assisted the Sultan of Oman’s armed forces between December 1958 and February 1959. He doesn’t specify which SAS unit he is referring to, but 22 SAS was the only one deployed to Oman.

Another variant of the myth is that the government has never admitted deploying Special Air Service troopers to Northern Ireland during the troubles there. Once again, Hansard proves this to be false. In January 1976, none other than Prime Minister Harold Wilson referred to the Special Air Service in Northern Ireland. He clearly states that “… the SAS will be employed and deployed … in dealing with all the problems of terrorism in the area.

The British government are often coy about exactly what the SAS do and how they do it, but they’ve never been shy about the unit’s existence.

Published inCold WarMyth


  1. Richard Baber Richard Baber

    Wasn`t it proven by the fact they were forced to give evidence (their identity shielded) that it was an SAS team that killed those IRA members in Gibralter in 1988?

    • They also had to give evidence (again with their identity shielded) at the coroner’s enquiry following the Iranian Embassy siege.

Comments are closed.