Special Forces are famous today as the worlds elite soldiers, SAS, Delta Force, Green Berets, Spetnaz. The newspapers often have stories about their exploits in some troubled hot spot of the world.
Sixty years ago it was a much different story, Britain disbanded the SAS at the end of the World War 2.
Most military thinkers of the time could not see the value of special forces.
Throughout the history of warfare there have always been elite forces, from the Spartans of ancient times, the English Archers of the 15th Century through to the parachute units of many countries. While being very highly trained and motivated these are not special forces.
The first signs of special forces as we know them today, was during the last year of World War 1 when the Germans started training units of storm troops to spearhead attacks on the Allied trench system. These units were specifically trained to find and exploit weak spots, break through the Allied lines and carry on the attack, while regular army units cleaned up behind them.
The first real special forces unit in history where the German paratroops trained while Germany rearmed during the 1930's. Their role to take out specific objectives at the start of the German offensive in May 1940, was critical in the Nazi battle plan. Unlike modern special forces the German paratroops operated in large units not the modern 4 man patrol unit. Having caught the world by surprise the German paratroopers were massacred in the invasion of the Crete and Hitler would never again risk using them in that role. They were effectively relegated to special jobs and became by default special forces. The Germans had a commander of Special Forces Otto Skorzney, who rescued Mussolini from a remote hotel in the Italian Alps where he was being held prisoner by the Italians.
The Allied Commandos, Rangers, Airborne were not special forces in the same way as the German paratroopers though the US Rangers are probably the closest.
Special Forces were formed to do specific jobs: The Chindits and Merills Marauders in Burma, Popski's Private Army in the Balkans; but once the job was done the unit was disbanded.
Special Forces have always faced opposition from the military establishment. Not long after disbanding the SAS the UK found itself fighting a protracted war in the Malayan jungle against Communist Guerillas. The fighting dragged on for 10 years, when the Communists were finally beaten. During the Malaya Emergency as it was known, the SAS was reformed and sent into the jungle to hunt Communists.
The SAS proved its worth time and time again, living in the jungle and beating the Communists with a combination of superior tactics and winning the hearts and minds of the Malays.
Meanwhile the USA was getting involved in Vietnam and training Green Beret Units to operate in the same way as the SAS. Despite training from the SAS with their experience Malaya, the US special forces never quite managed to grasp the concept of hearts and minds. To date the only successful outcome of a jungle guerilla war has been the SAS in Malaya.
Special Forces really sprang into the Public eye after the SAS freed the Hostages from the Iranian Embassy in London.
During the First Gulf War Special Forces were instrumental in the victory and were personally thanked by Allied Command General Norman Schwarzkopf at the end of the war.
Today the SAS, SBS, Green Berets, Delta Force and Israeli Special forces are in action all over the world. No modern army is complete with out Special Forces.
Please remember what our service people do is not without cost to them in their lives and health so when some old soldier tries to sell you a poppy in November dig deep into your pockets. After all its only money.