British Army SAS soldier responds to Al-Shabaab attack in Nairobi, Kenya (local TV footage)

Inside the SAS

The Best Books on the Special Air Service

Warfare.Today has put together a list of the top books about the Special Air Service (SAS) – and the Special Boat Service (SBS) – some of them written by former members of the British Army’s elite special forces, all of them fascinating.

Ollie Ollerton, Break Point: SAS: Who Dares Wins Host’s Incredible True Story

Ex-Special Forces’ soldier and host of SAS: Who Dares Wins, Ollie Ollerton tells his incredible story for the first time.

Matthew ‘Ollie’ Ollerton is a former Special Forces soldier and a member of the Directing Staff in Channel 4’s hit show SAS: Who Dares Wins. Ollie’s military career began at the age of 18 when he joined the Royal Marine Commandos and toured operationally in Northern Ireland and in Iraq for Operation Desert Storm. After completing the gruelling 6-month-long SAS selection process, Ollie joined the Special Boat Service (SBS). During his six years in the SBS, Ollie’s missions included counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, homeland security, counterinsurgency, operations and humanitarian efforts. Upon leaving the Special Forces, Ollie worked in Iraq as a private security contractor before heading to South-East Asia, using his incredible military training to benefit the lives of those less fortunate. While working for a charity, he was lead command of a three-man team bravely infiltrating child trafficking rings, rescuing children and bringing them to safe houses.

Ex-Special Forces soldier Ollie Ollerton has faced his own break points and now he tells us the lessons he has learnt along the way. From survivor of a freak childhood attack to elite fighter, Ollie’s incredible story features, high-speed shoot-outs, counter-terrorism and humanitarian heroics.

Special Forces soldiers are not supermen. Bullets don’t bounce off them. They don’t hit the target with every shot. They have the same vulnerabilities and doubts as the rest of us. But ordinary people can achieve the extraordinary, under the greatest pressure, in the most challenging situations.

Ollie’s life has taught him that everyone has the capacity for incredible achievement, because it’s only when it’s crunch time, when you’re down to your last bullet – when you’re at break point – that you find out who you really are.

Peter Ratcliffe, Eye of the Storm: Twenty-Five Years in Action with the SAS

Peter Ratcliffe served in the SAS for twenty-five years. Blooded in Oman in the 1970s, he also saw action in Northern Ireland, in the Falklands War, and in the Gulf campaign. From his early days in the Paras to his time as Regimental Sergeant-Major in the Gulf, he has lived and fought by the motto ‘Who Dares Wins’.

Eye of the Storm is Ratcliffe’s insider’s account of that exceptional career. Fast-paced, earthy, dramatic, funny, occasionally disturbing, it is laced with firsthand descriptions of ferocious and bloody fighting, sudden death and incredible heroism, and peopled with a cast of extraordinary individuals. Beyond that, however, it corrects many of the distortions and exaggerations of other books, and explodes several long-standing myths about the Regiment.

Here – at last – is the authentic voice of the SAS.

“His description of the Battle of Mirbat is second to none you could almost hear the ADOO rounds smashing into the sandbags as you read this chapter” – ARRSE (Army Rumour Service)

Ben MacIntyre, SAS: Rogue Heroes – The Authorized Wartime History

In the summer of 1941, at the height of the war in the Western Desert, a bored and eccentric young officer, David Stirling, has a vision for a new kind of war: attacking the enemy where they least expect it – from behind their own lines.

Despite the intense opposition of many in British High Command, Winston Churchill personally gives Stirling permission to recruit the toughest, brightest and most ruthless soldiers he can find. And so begins the most celebrated and mysterious military organisation in the world: the SAS.

With unprecedented access to the SAS secret files, unseen footage and exclusive interviews with its founder members, SAS: Rogue Heroes tells the remarkable story behind an extraordinary fighting force, and the immense effort of making it a reality.

Ben Macintyre is the multimillion-copy bestselling author of books including Agent Zigzag, Operation Mincemeat and A Spy Among Friends. He is a columnist and Associate Editor at The Times, and has worked as the newspaper’s correspondent in New York, Paris and Washington. He regularly presents BBC series based on his acclaimed books.

Harry McCallion, Undercover War: Britain’s Special Forces and Their Secret Battle Against the IRA

McCallion Undercover War

Harry McCallion, Undercover War

When British troops first deployed to Northern Ireland in 1969 to keep apart rioting factions of loyalists and nationalists, they could not have known that they were being drawn into the longest campaign in the British Army’s history, a battle against the threat of a new rising force – the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

While patrols, vehicle bombs and incendiary speeches are the defining memories of the Troubles, the real war was fought out of sight and out of mind. For thirty years, Britain’s Special Forces waged a ferocious, secretive struggle against a ruthless and implacable enemy.

Harry McCallion’s deep experience across the theatre of Northern Ireland offers a unique insight into nearly every major military action and operation in the Province. Having served seven tours with the Parachute Regiment, undergone selection for 14 Intelligence Company, completed six years with the SAS – including two tours with their anti-terrorism team – and received two commendations for bravery during service with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, there are few more qualified to tell this astonishing story.

This book is his blistering account of the history of Britain’s war against the IRA between 1970 and 1998. From new insights into high-profile killings and riveting accounts of enemy contact, to revelations about clandestine missions and the strategies used in combating a merciless enemy, Undercover War is the definitive inside story of the battle against the IRA, one of the most dangerous and effective terrorist organisations in recent history.

Harry McCallion is in a unique position, as someone who has served right across British Special Forces during the Northern Ireland conflict. He served seven tours with the Parachute Regiment, before undertaking selection for the secretive and extremely selective for 14 Intelligence Company. He then completed six years with the SAS, including two within anti-terrorism teams, before joining the Royal Ulster Constabulary – where he received two commendations for bravery during a six-year service ended by a bad car accident. After his career in the police came to an end, he trained in law and is now a successful barrister based in the northwest of England, working in civil and criminal courts.

Harry McCallion is also the author of Killing Zone.

Cedric Delves, Across an Angry Sea: The SAS in the Falklands War

‘An exciting and honest account of a SAS command in war: of the leaders and the led; of offensive spirit and individual initiative; of doubt and uncertainty; of ingenuity and adaptability; and of sacrifice, courage and humanity. Those who seek to command in battle should study this account with care for it shows that, . . . ‘continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.’– General Sir Rupert Smith KCB DSO OBE QGM

In early summer 1982–winter in the South Atlantic–Argentina’s military junta invades the Falklands. Within days, a Royal Navy Task Force is assembled and dispatched. This is the story of D Squadron, 22 SAS, commanded by Cedric Delves. The relentless tempo of events defies belief. Raging seas, inhospitable glaciers, hurricane-force winds, helicopter crashes, raids behind enemy lines–the Squadron prevailed against them all, but the cost was high. Holding fast to their humanity, D Squadron’s fighters were there at the start and end of the Falklands War. Theirs was the first Union Jack raised over Government House in Stanley. ‘Across an Angry Sea’ is a chronicle of daring, skill and steadfastness among a tight-knit band of brothers; of learning fast, fighting hard, and winning through.

Sir Cedric Delves joined the Army in 1966, was commissioned into the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment and later joined the SAS, which he commanded at every level. He also led the Special Forces before becoming Commander of the Field Army. He was medically discharged after losing a leg to a drunk driver.

Rusty Firmin, The Regiment: 15 Years in the SAS

From its early beginnings in World War II, the Special Air Service (SAS) has won renown in some of the most dramatic, dangerous and controversial military special operations of the 20th century. It is a secretive and mysterious unit, whose operations and internal structures are hidden from the public eye. Now, one of its longest-serving veterans offers a glimpse into the shadowy world of the SAS. Rusty Firmin spent an incredible 15 years with ‘The Regiment’ and was a key figure in the assault of the Iranian Embassy in London in May 1980.

Rusty Firmin served for ten years in the Royal Artillery before volunteering for the SAS and, as a junior SAS NCO, was given command of one of the two assault teams at the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980. After 15 years’ service in the SAS, during which he served all over the world, he left the Army to become a private security contractor. He is the co-author of Go! Go! Go! The Story of the Iranian Embassy Siege.

Newly revised and available in paperback, this is the unforgettable chronicle of Rusty’s combat experiences – a fascinating and intimate portrayal of what it was like to be part of the world’s most respected Special Operations Force.

Ken Connor, Ghost Force: The Secret History of the SAS

“Controversial, blistering and unique.” – Andy McNab

An insider’s history of the SAS and a sensational examination of Britain’s true role in international politics over the last fifty years.

Containing explosive details of operations unknown even to 99% of serving SAS men, this is the definitive history of the regiment written by an ex-SAS soldier of 23 years’ experience. Connor reveals how the assassination of President Kennedy gave the SAS truly global significance. He tells the truth about SAS involvement in the Falklands War and the Gulf War and about their operation against the IRA in Gibraltar. Compiled from personal experience and the eye-witness accounts of friends and colleagues, this book reveals the inside story of SAS operations in both conventional war and counter-terrorist operations.

Ken Connor was a serving soldier in the SAS for 23 years and the key figure in the creation of the anti-terrorist unit responsible for storming the Iranian embassy. He is currently a much sought after television and radio commentator on the Afghan crisis.

Andy McNab, Bravo Two Zero: The Original SAS Story

“The best account yet of the SAS in action” Sunday Times “Extraordinary” The Times “Gripping” Daily Telegraph “Magnificent” Independent on Sunday “A gripping account of special forces at work… a tremendous adventure story” Daily Telegraph

From the day he was found in a carrier bag on the steps of Guy’s Hospital in London, Andy McNab has led an extraordinary life.

As a teenage delinquent, Andy McNab kicked against society. As a young soldier he waged war against the IRA in the streets and fields of South Armagh. As a member of 22 SAS he was at the centre of covert operations for nine years – on five continents. During the Gulf War he commanded Bravo Two Zero, a patrol that, in the words of his commanding officer, ‘will remain in regimental history for ever’. Awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Military Medal (MM) during his military career, McNab was the British Army’s most highly decorated serving soldier when he finally left the SAS.

Since then Andy McNab has become one of the world’s best-selling writers, drawing on his insider knowledge and experience. As well as several non-fiction bestsellers including Bravo Two Zero, the biggest selling British work of military history, he is the author of the best-selling Nick Stone and Tom Buckingham thrillers. He has also written a number of books for children.

Besides his writing work, he lectures to security and intelligence agencies in both the USA and UK, works in the film industry advising Hollywood on everything from covert procedure to training civilian actors to act like soldiers. He continues to be a spokesperson and fundraiser for both military and literacy charities.

If you haven’t read it by now, it’s high time you did.

And if you have read it, then check out this one: Michael Asher, The Real Bravo Two Zero: The Truth Behind Bravo Two Zero.

Top Pick

Ollie Ollerton, Jason Fox and Ant Middleton might be topping the charts of books by former SAS/SBS soldiers, but Ken Connor’s forgotten classic, Ghost Force, is definitely worth a read.

If you’ve only got time for one SAS book, we recommend Peter Ratcliffe, Eye of the Storm: Twenty-Five Years in Action with the SAS.