SAS: Rogue Heroes is a British television historical war drama series created in 2022 by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, See), which depicts the origins of the British Army Special Air Service (SAS) during World War II.
In 1941 the war in North Africa is at an impasse. Erwin Rommel's German forces and their Italian allies cannot advance toward Egypt without first capturing the Libyan city of Tobruk which is a vital supply port. At the same time the British repeatedly fail to relieve the siege of Tobruk.
Lieutenant David Stirling comes up with the idea of forming a small commando unit which will infiltrate behind enemy lines and destroy airbases and supply depots. The new unit is given the name L Detachment Special Air Service Brigade to make the Germans think that it is part of a much bigger operation.
The cast includes Connor Swindells as David Stirling, Jack O'Connell as Paddy Mayne, Alfie Allen as Jock Lewes, Sofia Boutella as Eve Mansour, Dominic West as Dudley Clarke, Tom Glynn-Carney as Sergeant Mike Sadler, Amir El-Masry as Dr. Gamal and Theo Barklem-Biggs as Sergeant Reg Seekings.
SAS: Rogue Heroes contains examples of:
- Artistic License – History:
- The show tries to stay true to the real events but it still embellishes a few of them for drama.
- Paddy Mayne is portrayed as a working class Irish bruiser with a hatred of authority. Mayne came from a family of landowners, was well educated and worked as a lawyer before the war. He did assault a superior officer while in Cairo but he never spent any time in a military prison.
- The capture of David Stirling by the Germans is shown to occur after a firefight with a German tank. In reality, the men fell asleep without posting a guard and the Germans just walked into their camp.
- Awesome by Analysis: Mike Sadler has a natural knack for observing and understanding the desert and uses this to navigate through the Impassable Desert. In his introduction, he tracks down the missing SAS men because he knows how the local terrain and weather will funnel movement in a specific direction. If the men are alive they will sooner or later arrive at a specific point where the rescue group can wait for them.
- Badass Bookworm:
- Paddy Mayne reads a lot and likes to quote poetry.
- The second-in-command of the Free French commando unit wears glasses and was a philosophy professor at the Sorbonne before the war. He is also the only one willing to take Paddy Mayne to task for his bullying.
- Beware the Silly Ones: Guardsman Johnny Cooper, 19 years old, childish, looks like a scarecrow, marches up to Stirling like a stereotypical Stiff Upper Lip soldier. Proceeds to tell him he's killed 21 men since he got into the army, wants to increase that number and heard the SAS might be able to help, to cap it off the reason he wants to fight in the desert is because the enemy will have a harder time hiding from HIM
- Cassandra Truth: During a raid Lewes runs into an Italian sentry. The Italian soldier assumes that Lewes is a German. Lewes tells him that he is actually English but the guard thinks that it is a joke. The guard realizes that Lewes is telling the truth when Lewes stabs him to death.
- Dr. Feelgood: Dr. Gamal forms a bond with Stirling for their shared enjoyment of getting high on medical anesthetic gas. This doesn't affect his competence as a doctor however, as he manages save Stirling from being paralized from quite literally breaking his spine.
- Everyone Has Standards: Johnny Cooper likes to keep count of the enemy soldiers he killed and treats the whole process of killing fascists as a game of sorts. During a raid, his team machine guns dozens of Germans while they are sleeping in their tents. Cooper refuses to include those deaths in his count since while it might have been necessary in war, it is not something one should brag about.
- Experienced Protagonist:
- Stirling and Mayne start the series with limited combat experience but are trained commandos.
- Lewes is a veteran of the Siege of Tobruk and an experienced commando raid leader.
- Most of the enlisted men are transferred from existing commando units. Mike Sadler is a transfer from the Long Range Desert Group and is an expert on desert navigation and warfare.
- Genius Bruiser: Lewes, Stirling and Mayne all fit into it.
- Lewes fits the Officer and a Gentleman archetype to a tee, along with being a Reasonable Authority Figure and knows enough about chemistry to cook up extremely effective incendiary bombs.
- Stirling might be a bit of a Manchild, but he is shown to have a great understanding of leadership and understand how to play the psychology of his men in order to get them to be at their most effective
- Mayne, despite being somewhat unhinged, is still shown to have a very good knowledge of literature, poetry and speaks fluent french.
- Glory Hound: Stirling is accused of being this and his family appears to have a reputation for this type of behaviour. He tones it down a lot after the disastrous first mission.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy
- Stirling tries to enter the Allied Army Headquarters without authorization to speak to the Commander-in-Chief Middle East, General Claude Auchinleck. The guard at the front gate correctly stops him and tells him to return with proper orders. However, the gate post is undermanned so Stirling sneaks in while the guard is distracted. The guards realizes what happened and raises the alarm but once inside the building Sterling easily bluffs his way past multiple guard posts and is allowed to enter the office of Major-General Neil Ritchie. Ritchie sees past the ruse and stops Stirling from seeing Auchinleck directly. If Stirling was a German agent, he could done some serious damage including killing the top British generals in the theatre.
- The German and Italian soldiers who defend the bases targeted by the SAS do not expect the enemy to walk in from the Impassable Desert so their security is very lax. On the other hand, once an enemy base has been put on alert, even Paddy Mayne is not crazy to attack it.
- Hero of Another Story: The Long Range Desert Group pioneered the type of desert warfare that the SAS employed in their missions. Their assistance was invaluable in the early days of the SAS. The LRDG performed many missions just as daring as the SAS. note
- Imperturbable Englishman: Jock Lewes, at one point is seen literally shrugging off his shell shock by taking a quick prayer in a somewhat isolated bunker, before merrily going about his day while artillery shells fall around him.
- It's Raining Men: The SAS originally was supposed to parachute behind enemy lines but the idea was abandoned after the disastrous first mission.
- Lethally Stupid: Stirling falls into this on occasion. While executing the unit's first mission, he ignores warnings by both pilots that are flying his men that parachuting into the desert at night with bad weather is way too dangerous. The resulting debacle gets more than half his unit killed. Refuge in Audacity just does not work on the desert.
- More Dakka: The SAS's MO in a nutshell, seeing as their operations regularly see them fighting numbers far larger than theirs, along with relying on causing panic and disorder, their weapons of choice tend to be machineguns of various makes and models, with the Thompson M1A1 submachine gun being their most common pick.
- Poor Communication Kills:
- A relief convoy bound for Tobruk must turn back because it runs low on fuel. The plans for the mission were prepared by a Free French officer who used metric units. The British failed to realize this and used the numbers as if they were imperial units. Too little fuel was allocated to the convoy.
- Paddy Mayne lampshades this while training the Free French commandos. Soldiers are taught to follow orders and not question them. That does not work in a small raiding unit like the SAS. Each member of the unit needs to know all aspects of the mission so they can continue even if the officers are dead or missing. If they do not understand something, they should ask for clarification because that missing bit of information could get them killed.
- Rank Up
- Stirling is promoted from lieutenant to captain and then major.
- Mayne is promoted from lieutenant to captain and then major. He assumes command of the SAS after Stirling is capured.
- Mike Sadler is promoted from corporal to sergeant.
- Refuge in Audacity: The whole plan for forming the unit comes from the fact that Lewes and Stirling correctly assume the Germans wont expect someone to be mad enough to attack from the deep desert.
- The motto of the SAS is "Who Dares Wins" and they more than live up to it.
- Stirling got the approval for the unit by sneaking into the British army headquarters and trying to find a way to speak to the new Commander-in-Chief Middle East, General Claude Auchinleck. He claimed to be on an assignment for Major-General Neil Ritchie which worked for a while but failed when he tried it on Ritchie himself. However, Ritchie liked the idea and took it to Auchinleck.
- The show also deconstructs the idea by showing the disastrous consequences when the unit's audacity went to far.
- Sacrificial Lion: Jock Lewes is killed as the unit is coming back from a successful mission and is attacked by German aircraft. This shows how easily things can turn in the desert and the predator become prey. The enemy has taken note of the SAS raids and is now actively fighting back. It also results in Paddy Mayne having to take a bigger leadership role in the unit.
- Shellshocked Veteran: Jock Lewes is introduced leading a raid behind enemy lines during the Siege of Tobruk. The fighting is extremely brutal. The next morning, Lewes goes to great lengths to hide that his hand is shaking uncontrollably. Another member of the raiding party is shown to be weeping uncontrollably.
- Shmuck Bait: When the SAS troopers are given leave in Cairo they are issued new white unit berets. The berets seem to be designed specifically to attract negative comments from other soldiers. The SAS men are not too fond of the berets themselves but that does not mean that they will allow people from other Army units to insult their headgear. Many street and bar brawls ensue.
- Too Dumb to Live: While testing out his idea of parachuting into the desert Stirling is repeatedly told by the pilot that he doesn't have the right gear to jump. He jumps out of the plane anyways. He survives the jump but suffers a spinal fracture and is nearly paralyzed for life.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Stirling's motivation to getting into the army, the commandos and then forming the SAS are portrayed as being motivated by his desire to win the war to one up his father.