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Michael Sadler, the last wartime survivor of ‘L’Detachment, Special Air Service, died on January 4, 2024 – a month before his 104th birthday – reports Gavin Mortimer.
Contrary to popular reporting, Sadler wasn’t actually an SAS ‘Original’; that was the moniker bestowed on the six officers and 60 men recruited by SAS founder David Stirling for his small parachute unit. Instead he was persuaded to join the unit by Stirling, who formed it in summer 1941.
However, the Originals’ inaugural operation on the night of November 16/17, 1941 was a disaster. Of the 55 men who jumped into Axisheld Libya with the aim of raiding enemy airfields, only 21 returned. The SAS teetered on the edge of extinction, but then salvation: Stirling dispensed with parachuting and instead turned to the Long R ange Desert Group (LRDG) as the means of approaching enemy targets. Among their number was Sadler, a navigator in the Rhodesian patrol, who guided the SAS to Tamet airfield in December 1941 for a raid that destroyed 24 enemy aircraft. Sadler was actually an Englishman, raised in the west country, but in 1937 he decided to emigrate to Rhodesia in search of adventure. On the outbreak of war he enlisted in a Rhodesian Army artillery unit, but it lacked excitement and, while in Egypt, Sadler joined the LRDG.