WORLD WAR II TO THE PRESENT
Note: Special thanks to Ryan Wulfsohn for this article.
The US Colt
.45in automatic was the standard sidearm of the Commando
units from which the SAS " Originals " were
recruited and continued to be used by these men. Some
preferred .38 revolvers, mainly those manufactured
for the British army by Enfield and Smith & Wesson.
Later in the war the 9mm FN Browning Hi-Power came
into service; those used by the British in the war
were actually made by the John Inglis company in Canada.
The Colt .45 was the most popular pistol, but this
was an area where SAS men could really express their
individuality. Older types like the Webley .455 revolver
were sometimes used, as well as captured German Luger
P08s and Walther P38s, both 9mm automatics.
The .45 Thompson
submachine gun (TSMG), M1928A1, was the only one available
in 1941 and was usually used with the 30-round box
magazine rather than the unwieldy 50-round drum. Later
the M1 and M1A1 versions of the Thompson were also
used. The SAS avoided the British 9mm Sten gun ( officially
a " machine carbine " ) as much as possible,
though the Mk.II and Mk.V versions were used to an
extent. More popular than either the Thompson or Sten
was the German MP38 or MP40 " Schmeisser ",
a 9mm weapon highly prized by those who could get
hold of one.
British infantry rifle of the war was the No.4 Mk.I
Lee-Enfield, a .303 weapon like the No.1 Mk.III it
replaced. It was used by the SAS, especially in the
desert, but its bolt-action was unsuitable for the
close quarter fighting often necessary. The No.4(T)
was the standard sniper rifle, being equipped with
a telescopic sight and cheek rest. From 1943 the US
.30 M1 carbine entered service with the SAS and proved
very popular, mainly because of its light weight and
high rate of fire. It is the most commonly seen weapon
in photos of the SAS in 1944/45.
The .303 Bren
light machine gun, unlike other standard-issue weapons,
was widely used by the SAS. The Vickers K, in the
same calibre, was originally an aircraft-mounted gun,
fed from a 100-round drum. With twice the rate of
fire of the Bren, over 1000 rounds per minute, it
was the standard armament for SAS jeeps, usually on
twin mountings fore and aft. Also mounted on jeeps
was the American .50 Browning M2, to begin with the
aircraft version with fully-perforated barrel jacket.
The standard infantry water-cooled .303 Vickers gun,
mounted on a tripod, was occasionally used in positional
fighting. German MG34s and MG42s were also sometimes
used. These were both 7.92mm general purpose machine
guns, the MG42 being by far the superior weapon.
the SAS used the normal 2-inch and 3-inch mortars.
The Projector Infantry Anti Tank or PIAT was a crude
and unpopular weapon but nevertheless was better than
no anti-armour capability. The standard fragmentation
hand grenade was the No.36 " Mills bomb ".
Other grenades were the No.69 Bakelite offensive grenade
and the "Gammon" bomb, an anti-tank device.
Hi-Power finally became the standard British pistol
in 1957, after serving alongside various .38 revolvers
for many years. The SAS had already adopted it as
their sidearm, as had most elite units.
Owen gun was used by 22SAS in Malaya in the 1950s,
in preference to the much-hated Sten. The Sten's replacement,
the Sterling, was officially adopted in 1954, although
early versions had entered service as early as 1944.
It took a while to reach the troops but was by the
late '50s in full service. Particularly useful for
the SAS was the silenced version, known as the L34A1.
When the regiment started training counter-terrorist
teams in the early 1970s the Ingram Model 11 in 9mm
was the first SMG adopted, but was soon replaced by
the Heckler & Koch MP5.
The main weapons
used in the early stages of the Malayan campaign were
the M1 carbine and the No.5 Lee-Enfield rifle, a shortened
" jungle" version of the No.4. The SAS were
among the first troops to receive experimental examples
of the Belgian 7.62mm FN FAL in 1954. A semi-auto
only version of this rifle was adopted as British
army standard in 1956, as the Self Loading Rifle(SLR).
This became the most widely-used SAS weapon for over
twenty years. In 1963 Britain bought a large amount
of 5.56mm AR-15s from the US, specifically for use
in Borneo. Adopted by the US the following year as
the M16, the " Armalite " supplemented the
SLR and replaced SMGs under most circumstances, for
it was little heavier than the Sterling. It went on
to be used by the SAS in all its campaigns up to and
including the Falklands War of 1982, by which time
it was generally preferred to the SLR. The M16 was
also used to an extent by the Gurkhas and Royal Marines.
British M16s were all of the original type without
the bolt-closure device of the later M16A1. A small
number of CAR-15s, known as " Colt Commandos
", were obtained for use by the SAS, and appeared
as late as the Gulf War in 1991. The No.4(T) remained
the principle sniper rifle until the 1960s, when it
was replaced by a new 7.62mm version of the Lee-Enfield,
The Bren gun
was retained after World War II, but with the adoption
of the SLR in 1956 the Brens were converted to 7.62mm,
these weapons being known under the designation L4A4.
From 1960 they were replaced by the British version
of the FN MAG, the 7.62mm General Purpose Machine
Gun or " jimpy " (L7 series). Vickers water-cooled
guns and Browning M2HBs saw service in South Arabia(
Aden and the Radfan ) and Oman, where long-range weapons
2-inch mortar remained in service until the 1980s,
the 3-inch was replaced in the late 1950s by the 81mm
mortar. Similiarly the much-hated PIAT gave way to
the American 3.5-inch rocket launcher a few years
before. This in its turn was succeeded by the Carl
Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle and the 66mm M72 light
anti-tank weapon( US-designed but made in Norway ).
The standard grenade was the old Mills bomb for many
years, until the introduction of the L2, basically
a copy of the US M26, in the 1970s. Smoke and stun
grenades were also used when appropriate. The British
army bought four hundred 40mm M79 grenade launchers
in 1969 and some were used by the SAS in Oman. Soon
the M203, mounted on the M16, was procured for the
SAS and first saw action in the Falklands. The L2
grenade and the No.94 Energa rifle grenade could be
fired from the SLR, though this was rarely done. The
American Remington pump-action shotgun was used in
Malaya and Borneo; FN semi-automatic types were also
remains in service, although the SIG-Sauer P226 is
preferred in the counter-terrorist role. The Walther
PPK has been used by those needing a more easily concealed
The SMG is
a far less important weapon than in the past, but
is still used by SAS troops on Counter Revolutionary
Warfare(CRW) duties. The weapon is the MP5, which
comes in several different versions, including a silenced
one and the MP5K, a smaller variant for concealed
known like its predecessors as the Armalite, is the
primary weapon of today's SAS. It first saw known
operational use in the Gulf War and more often than
not has the M203 grenade launcher attached. The Heckler
& Koch G3, a 7.62mm automatic rifle, was first
used by SAS teams in Northern Ireland, and would presumably
be used whenever its range and stopping power outweigh
the weight penalty. Its smaller stable-mate, the 5.56mm
HK53 carbine, is also in service, again originally
being used in Ulster. The Accuracy International PM,
designated L96A1 in British army service, replaced
the old Lee-Enfield in the late 1980s. Like its predecessor
it is 7.62mm bolt-action weapon, but of ultra-modern
type, being one of the few rifles specifically designed
for sniping. More recently the Barrett Model 82A1,
a .50 sniper rifle, has entered service. The standard
British rifle today, the SA80, is only used by 22SAS
men when they are disguised as regular troops, though
it is the main weapon of the Territorial Army SAS
The GPMG remains
in service, but is today more often vehicle-mounted.
Long-range foot patrols can use the FN Minimi, a 5.56mm
light machine gun known in the US as the M249 Squad
Automatic Weapon. The Minimi uses the same 5.56mm
round as the M16 and is usually fed from a 200-round
assault pack. The seemingly irreplaceable .50 Browning
( British designation L1A1) also remains, usually
vehicle-mounted, but it can be fired from a tripod
standard 51mm and 81mm mortars are used by the SAS.
The 94mm LAW80 anti-tank rocket has replaced both the
" Charlie G " and the " 66 " through
most of the British army but the SAS retain the latter
weapon. This is because though it is outperformed by
the LAW80, also a one-shot disposable weapon, the 66mm
rocket is less than one-third of the weight. For longer
range anti-armour duties there is the Milan missile
system, which also proved so effective at " bunker-busting
" in the Falklands War. Weapons peculiar to the
SAS, at least in British service, include the Stinger
man-portable surface-to-air missile and the 40mm Mk.19
automatic grenade launcher. The M202 incendiary rocket
launcher, a four-tube 66mm weapon, has also seen service.
Standard hand grenades today are the L2A2 high explosive
and the No.80 white phosphorous, as well as smoke, riot-control
and stun grenades. The US Claymore directional mine
and the Canadian C3A1 " Elsie " mine were
used in the Gulf War. The Remington 870 shotgun is most
commonly used in jungle and urban warfare; the Franchi
SPAS-12 is also in service.