Special forces’ stories almost never told

They’re stories normally kept under lock and key.


The accounts of Australia’s elite special forces almost remained that way after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, threatened to derail a video series documenting their missions.

Launched by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove on Thursday, The Australian SAS: The Untold History, is an 11-part DVD series that details the formation of the Special Air Service regiment and the unit’s major campaigns, from Borneo to Iraq.

The idea was born two decades ago, but creator Professor Bruce Horsfield, a former SAS soldier, couldn’t get it off the ground and the project was nearly shot down completely following the World Trade Centre attacks.

“After 9/11, going to the SAS was like going to a war zone – they were so careful, they were so alert,” Prof Horsfield told reporters after the launch at Government House in Canberra.

“This is the last thing they wanted.”

He hails former governor-general and SAS commander Michael Jeffery as the series’ saviour and credits him with securing “help in high places”.

“It was out of action for years before Mike Jeffery put it back on the tracks,” he said.

Mr Jeffery, a former major general, said the series was about showing the Australian public what the SAS did and the characters behind the missions.

“It’s suited for all men for all seasons,” he said.

The series documents the regiment’s role in the Tampa affair, when the Howard government refused to let Norwegian freighter MV Tampa enter Australian waters with more than 400 rescued refugees.

It also details the 1997 Black Hawk tragedy, when 18 defence personnel, including 15 SAS officers, died during a training exercise in Queensland.

Sir Peter said the series was a “considered and insightful” account of a special forces unit he believed was the best in the world.

“I have always felt able to say as a quite a critical observer … our SAS are the best special forces on the planet,” he said at the launch.

The series takes a look at the family members left behind and the pressures faced by wives and partners, who sometimes saw their men for two months in two years.

Some relationships had fallen to pieces, Prof Horsfield said.

“The guys say, `You’ve got two wives – you’re married to your regiment and you’re married to your wife’,” he said.

“There have been casualties, that’s for sure.”