This article is an edited transcript of World War Two SAS Veteran with Mike Sadler on Dan Snow’s History Hit, first broadcast 21 May 2016. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast.
I was working in Rhodesia at the start of the war and got into the army there. I went up to Somaliland as an anti-tank gunner before then being sent up to North Africa, to Suez, and ended up digging trenches around Mersa Matruh.
I got a few days of holiday and went to Cairo, where I met a lot of Rhodesians. They mentioned the LRDG, the Long Range Desert Group, which I’d never heard of.
We were drinking in various bars and they asked me if I’d like to join. They needed an anti-tank gunner, which I happened to be at the time.
They told me about the LRDG, a reconnaissance and intelligence gathering unit. It sounded exciting and interesting.
So I suppose I joined the LRDG by virtue of drinking in the right bars.
People tend to think of the LRDG as the forerunner to the SAS, but it wasn’t really, because at the time the SAS was already being formed, and I didn’t know anything about it.
It was being formed by David Stirling down in the canal zone and the LRDG headquarters at the time were in Kufra, southern Libya.
On the journey down to Kufra, I was so fascinated to see that they had to shoot the stars to find out where we were. I sat out with them during the night to see what they did.
And when we got to Kufra, the first thing they said was, “Would you like to be a navigator?”. And I thought, “Oh, yes”.
I never looked into another anti-tank gun after that.
I became a navigator and learned the business in a fortnight in Kufra and then went out on our patrol. From then on I was the navigator in the LRDG.
At that point the LRDG’s role was mostly reconnaissance because nobody knew anything about the desert.
For some time it was believed in the Cairo HQ that the deserts were more or less impossible and that therefore there was no possible threat coming from the Italians in Libya.
We also did a road watch. We positioned ourselves a long way behind the front lines and sat on the roadside, recording what was travelling up towards the front. That information was then transmitted back that night.
Two chaps would walk down every night to the roadside and lie behind a suitable bush until the following day, recording what went to and fro on the roads.
The first SAS mission had been a disaster, due to the hazards of parachuting in a high wind in the dark, all with very little experience. The LRDG picked up a few survivors, and David Stirling was very keen to do another operation as soon as possible after his initial failure, so his unit wouldn’t be dismissed as a disaster and wiped out.
He managed to arrange for the LRDG to take them to their targets for their first successful operation, and I happened to navigate Paddy Mayne, who was the star operator, to the furthest west airfield in Libya, Wadi Tamet.