This ground-breaking documentary series reveals the secretive operations and unorthodox military culture that have made Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment so highly effective since it was raised in 1957. The series presents the real people, their values and their strategic flair in war and peace that have won the SASR the unstinting respect of the best Special Forces units around the world.
The intangible value of this documentary is that it captures the essence of military service, what Samuel Johnson called ‘the dignity of danger’, with real men telling real stories.
Lt. Col. Ric Bosi (Ret’d) Ex-SAS
Episode 1 Heads and Hearts
Introduces the SAS and the world of Special Forces, selection, analyses the crucial SAS Selection Course, and the head and heart values which give rise to the term ‘Special’.
Episode 2 Arc of Instability
Indonesian aggression against Malaysia during Konfrontasi in 1965 leads to the first SAS action in Borneo. This is a tough, sharp test of the new SAS. But Borneo is eclipsed by Vietnam.
Episode 3 Phantoms of the Jungle
In Vietnam the SAS attacks the Viet Cong infrastructure, and plays the savage Viet Cong at their own game—terrorising and demoralising the jungle enemy. But after Tet, anti-war Western politics frustrate the SAS.
Episode 4 Fortress Australia
With the Fortress Australia defence policy after Vietnam the SAS finds few friends in high places and extinction looms. But it wins a reprieve by introducing unconventional warfare training and long-range patrolling of Australia’s vast northern coastline.
Episode 5 The Black and the Green
When global terrorism mushrooms, Australia turns to the SAS “Black” role of counter-terrorism (CT). This gives the Regiment a future. But the “Green War” roles of free falling, diving and motorised patrols are preserved and perfected.
Episode 6 The Search for Meaning
As the novelty of CT wears off, SAS finds other outlets for its talents in training foreign forces in The Philippines and in small peace keeping in Somalia, Rwanda, Bougainville, Cambodia, the Solomons etc.
Episode 7 The Postmodern Regiment
After the collapse of the USSR SAS faces a challenge from within – it has lost much of its vital unconventionality. But as it rallies to become truly postmodern, disaster intervenes when two CT Black Hawk helicopters collide and crash in flames.
Episode 8 The Force of Choice
After three decades of peace, SAS plunges into 15 years of continuous action. Its versatility is challenged in delicate operations in 1999 in East Timor and in the controversial boarding of the refugee rescue ship Tampa.
Episode 9 The Strategic Soldier
After 9/11 SAS joins the American-led Coalition invading Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden—aiming to destroy his terrorist support base. In the Taliban the SAS faces its toughest enemy ever in the shooting war in Afghanistan.
Episode 10 A War of Attrition
The effectiveness of SAS teams is dramatically demonstrated in the assault on bin Laden’s forces in the formidable Shah-i-Kot valley. SAS wins a Unit Citation for the fierce 12-day attrition battle, Operation Anaconda.
Episode 11 Fighting the Asymmetric War
In 2001 and 2003 SAS captures illegal shipping on the high seas. In 2003 it joins the invasion of Iraq before returning in 2006 to a new kind of warfare in Afghanistan. The series concludes with reflections on SAS veterans’ long-term health, the global threat to food security, possible tasking of SAS against narcotics, and the possibility of SAS deploying across the entire strategic spectrum.
The myth surrounding the SAS has been created by over-zealous journalists or egotistical authors. Thankfully, neither applies to this documentary. It provides unprecedented insights into the uniquely demanding lifestyle of SAS.
Trooper John Delgado Ex-SAS Borneo & Vietnam
The Australian SAS: the Untold History really began with a note from ex-SAS Vietnam veteran Baron Michael von Berg MC: “Hi Bruce. Loved your Long Tan documentary. Now, why not a documentary on the SAS? There are some great stories there.” I wrote back, “Thank you. Love to, but how? They are a highly secretive organisation”. But, to my great surprise, shortly later I received a unique approval to proceed from the then Director of Special Forces, citing the accuracy and balance of my documentary work.
That was in 1995! Now, in 2015, production of the eleven-part oral history series is finished. Why so long? Many reasons: changes of senior Special Forces and SAS Association staff, grievous delays in raising production funds, health setbacks, and the lack of reliable research data on certain topics—such as the desperate battle known as Operation Anaconda, Afghanistan 2002—all slowed progress. Then the Blackhawk tragedy of 9/11, which led to the project’s being cancelled and my putting it out of my mind. At this time I was Professor of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, and had plenty to keep me busy.
Two years later the project’s Patron, Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery AC, AO (Mil.), CVO, MC (Ret’d), soon to become Governor-General of Australia, suggested I dust off the scripts and get back into action. He raised $25,000 from SAS fan the late Mrs Marianne Brockwell OAM in Perth and I made a one-hour pilot episode. This was given 9 out of 10 by Major General Jeffery, Major General Mike Hindmarsh and Brigadier Jim Wallace, all of whom had commanded both SAS and the Australia’s Special Forces directorate.
There were of course those serving and ex-SAS members who feared that a television documentary on the SAS Regiment might expose skills, strategic operations and identities. But security clearances from Special Operations Command Australia required for each episode protected identities and classified material. More than 100 of the SAS fraternity have been interviewed on camera and many have donated invaluable historical material on camera, often with personal photographs and video.
I have a soldiering background of sorts—three years in 1 Commando Company Sydney where I had completed the diving course, the basic parachute course and the fascinating raids course using submarine and kayaks. After Commando I took up sport parachuting and did some HALO [high-altitude free falling]. But with the recent Malayan communist emergency in mind Commando concentrated very much on jungle contact drills. I knew nothing of the “black” or (later) the “grey” SAS activities. In fact, I didn’t know the SAS existed until late 1960, and even then, what it was.
The pluralist, diversified SAS has a vast number of great battle anecdotes, rich impressions, professional opinions and unusual perspectives. To make the huge volume of anecdotal material manageable yet representative, I sought general truths and themes. These emerged readily—for example, the idea of the SAS as the Ugly Duckling of the Army, which finally finds acceptance, provided the narrative backbone for much of the series. Another luminous theme was the culture of excellence in the SAS; and with the formal and informal sub-cultures in the Regiment are woven into the series’ documentary. One question has always fascinated me: what makes the SAS so hugely successful? The SAS Selection Course, the Regiment’s open-minded postmodern ethos and its intensive contingency planning to exploit paradigm shifts came into focus. The organisational cultures, formal and informal, of the SAS are a central theme, which, appropriately, shapes the entire series.
Dr Bruce Horsfield Executive Producer, Forward Scout Films
I have been impressed with Professor Horsfield’s sympathetic treatment and understanding of the military system and personnel. His previous documentary on The Battle of Long Tan showed an honest, even-handed approach to the militaries of both sides of the conflict.
Lt Peter Ingram 3 SAS Vietnam 1966–67
This series would not have been possible without the generous assistance of these organisations and individuals:
- Major General Michael Jeffery AC, AO (Mil.), CVO, MC (Ret’d)
- The Commander, Special Operations Command Australia
- Major General Michael Hindmarsh AO, DSC, CSC
- The Commander and All Ranks of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces Special Forces
- The Australian Department of Defence
- The University of Southern Queensland
- Bill Gray and Libby Moffet, MG Media Communications, Sydney
- The Australian War Memorial, Canberra
- Ministerial Support and Public Affairs, Department of Defence, Canberra
- The Australian Special Air Service Regiment
- Abu Dhabi State Television
- The late Mrs Marianne Brockwell OAM
- The Council of the City of Perth
- 9 Squadron RAAF Association
- Blacktown RSL Sub Branch
- Castle Hill RSL Sub Branch
- Edward Hartley, Australian Commando Association (NSW) and the Airborne and Special Forces Association
- Jim Truscott OAM and Colette Truscott, Truscott Crisis Leaders
- Leigh Alver ex-SAS
- Ms Jie Liang
- SASR, Commando and RAAF donors of interviews, film, photographs, graphics and documents
A rare and unfettered insight into an organisation that has traditionally been out of bounds to the public. Essential viewing for anyone who truly wishes to understand the Australian SAS, its evolution and what makes it tick.
Major General Mike Hindmarsh AO, DSC, CSC Commander of the UAE Presidential Guard, Former Commanding Officer SAS and Special Operations Commander Australia
Praise for the Series
Have watched your SAS series today. I think it is fantastic . I learnt a lot about the war in Borneo.
Dr Sue Whereat, Retired GP, Sydney
Brilliant Bruce: I know what will be on my Christmas wish list this year and I will spread the word to everyone I know.
I loved it! I am delirious with joy and gratitude… (It is great to see the faces of these fellows and to see them get the recognition they deserve).
The package arrived safe and sound and I have watched them twice. You really are to be congratulated on a job well done. I have thoroughly enjoyed every episode and look forward to the third series. If they are not a big hit here and in the USA then nothing will be. It makes me wonder what you would produce next to better them…