Members of No. 25 Patrol, F Troop, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment, at Nui Dat, SAS Hill, South Vietnam, on April 8, 1971. Back row, left to right: Cpl. Ian Rasmussen, second in command; trooper Don Barnby, signaler; trooper Dennis Bird, scout; and 2nd Lt. Brian Russell, patrol commander. Front row: Trooper Bill Nisbett, rifleman, and US Navy SEAL John Deakin. Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.
The British Special Air Service created the blueprint for modern special operations forces. After World War II, numerous other nations adopted the SAS model to stand up their own selection courses, tactics, and techniques. Australia, for its part, followed suit by creating its version of the elite special missions unit: the Special Air Service Regiment, or SASR.
In 2015, documentarian Bruce Horsfield, an Australian special operations veteran, produced The Australian SAS: The Untold History. The 11-part series, first released on DVD, provides insight into the unit’s history, which spans more than half a century.
The documentary project, clips of which are available to watch on YouTube, took Horsfield some 20 years to complete and includes exclusive interviews with Australian special operations veterans who served on combat tours in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
“Using rare archival and amateur vision, we examine the unusual and unorthodox military culture of the SAS,” the documentary’s narrator says, “a culture that relishes change and has continually reinvented itself to survive.”
Notably, the documentary explores the SASR’s first combat operations in the jungles of Borneo and Vietnam during the 1960s. Across these two campaigns, the Australian special operators completed more than 1,400 patrols, surveilled 5,600 enemy combatants, and killed more than 500 enemy soldiers.
The regiment, not unlike Navy SEALs in Vietnam, adapted their weapons, tactics, and gear to dupe their enemies into believing they faced a much larger force. Sometimes the Australians even converted their rifles to imitate the sounds of heavy machine guns.
“We were not afraid of the American GIs, Australian infantry, or even B-52 bombing,” a female former member of the Viet Cong says during an interview in the documentary series. “We hated the Australian SAS Rangers because they make comrades disappear.”
Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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