Filming of a new TV mini-series has begun and is set to finally show the exploits of one of the SAS’s most notable members, Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne. The series, named SAS: Rogue Heroes, has been created by Steven Knight, who also created Peaky Blinders, and will be directed by Tom Shankland, who recently directed The Serpent.
The series will focus on the founding of the notorious and secretive SAS and is based on the book of the same name from historian Ben McIntrye. McIntrye was given access to the SAS archives in 2016 while writing his book.
One of the series’ main characters is the battle-hardened Mayne, who is to be portrayed by Jack O’Connell, known for his role in Skins. Mayne fought throughout WWII, helping to turn the SAS into the world-leading special forces it is known as today, and he finished the war as one of the British Army’s most decorated soldiers.
A Gloucestershire quarry has been used for some of the filming, where O’Connell, wearing a green flight suit, helmet, and boots, was seen crash-landing with a parachute. This is believed to be the series’ recreation of the newly formed regiment’s first action in November 1941, which involved a parachute drop. Due to unexpected weather and resistance, the mission was a complete failure, ending in the deaths of 22 men.
Their second mission was the total opposite, however. Using Jeeps for speed, the regiment used hit-and-run raids on three airfields and destroyed 60 aircraft for the loss of two men. This established the SAS as a serious force to be reckoned with.
Alongside ‘Paddy’ Mayne on these missions was David Stirling, the founder of the SAS. Connor Swindells is to play Stirling in the series. He was another larger-than-life officer who created the concept of the SAS as a covert small-sized group operating behind enemy lines. Mayne was one of Stirling’s first recruits into the new regiment, and they fought together on their daring missions.
In 1943, these daring missions would lead to Stirling’s capture by German troops. He escaped shortly thereafter but was again captured, this time by Italians. The Germans sent him to Colditz Castle after he attempted to escape a further four times. He would remain there until the end of the war. Before his capture, Stirling and his men managed to destroy huge amounts of enemy equipment, including 250 aircraft.
With Stirling gone, Mayne became the new leader of the SAS. Under his command, the SAS perfected their tactics and continued successful operations throughout Europe all the way until the end of the war.
For his actions in the war, Mayne was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) a remarkable four times. Like Mayne did to his enemies, a full-fledged film about his experiences has eluded viewers. SAS: Rogue Heroes will probably be the best chance to see a portrayal of Mayne in his glory.
The TV series is expected to do just that too, showing him as a soldier who never backed down from a fight, and led his men with the utmost bravery. The author of the book the series is based on said Mayne had “an unparalleled standard of courage and leadership in the SAS.”
Throughout the war, Mayne earned an incredible list of accolades. In one operation, he destroyed 47 grounded aircraft, which may be more than the RAF’s highest-scoring ace. Despite his courage and daring, Mayne was controversially refused the Victoria Cross.
In April 1945, he led his men in their Jeeps in Oldenburg, Germany, to assist the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, who had been ambushed and pinned down by German forces. Using his Jeep, Mayne drove up and down a length of road while his gunner fired a .50 caliber machine gun into the German positions, killing some and driving the rest off.
For his gallantry in Oldenburg saving the pinned down men, multiple officers recommended for him to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Even Field Marshal Montgomery approved of this recommendation, but it was not to be. It was later downgraded to a fourth DSO.
After the war, Mayne struggled to return to civilian life and would frequent local bars in Belfast and Newtownards (his hometown), challenging men to fights after a night of drinking. On 13 December, 1955, after a night of drinking, he drove home and fatally crashed into a farm vehicle. Hundreds attended his funeral.
In 2005, a request to posthumously award Mayne the VC was presented to the House of Commons, which was supported by 100 MPs. Let’s hope that this mini-series does one of the SAS’s most significant members justice.