Although military history has a wealth of stories of bravery and ingenuity, few can match the adventure and thrills of the early SAS. Created in late 1941 in the North African desert, the Special Air Service was set up to conduct raids deep into enemy territory and destroy assets, particularly aircraft, far from the battle zone. There were spectacular successes and disastrous failures, but the achievements were impressive from such a few men, and their exploits caused the Axis forces to lose valuable equipment and forced them to provide security behind their own lines, distracting them from the main battle.
While they were occasionally (and reluctantly) used as elite assault infantry, the role of the SAS was to raid. The ideal operation was to be delivered to an enemy installation, particularly an airfield, enter the grounds without being detected, place charges on planes and other valuable targets, then leave, so the first the defenders knew of them was when the charges exploded. Sometimes this strategy was replaced with a rather less subtle approach as they simply drove around a base in jeeps and machine-gunned aircraft and anything else they could find, before leaving the chaos behind them. After that it was what many considered the most dangerous part of the mission – getting back to base without being found by the angry and now well-alerted enemy. So in many ways you could say the typical fighting pose for the SAS would be sitting or standing in a vehicle, using the heavy machine guns mounted on it either to attack targets or defend themselves against air attack. Of course surprise was not always achieved, or was short-lived, and there were fire-fights with a base’s defenders, but the title of the set tells us the designer was thinking of something else - an ambush, either by the SAS or laid for them. This is undoubtedly a more dramatic option, although even here the use of heavy machine guns mounted on the vehicles would have been normal.
The major weapons of the SAS were the charges and the vehicle-mounted machine guns, but of course small arms were also carried, and in this set are being widely used. A couple of men carry the standard .303 Short Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle, good for distance shooting and well-able to stand the difficult desert conditions. One of these is standing and firing – something that would be suicidal in most WWII battles and particularly so in the desert, where cover was often minimal or lacking completely. A popular weapon in this set is the Thompson submachine gun, a splendid weapon that was well liked but needed care as it easily jammed if sand got inside. No less than five are to be found on these figures, including a couple of the older M1928A1 model with the forward pistol grip and the drum magazine, which was itself prone to jamming, so something of a surprise in this set. Two poses are armed with the Sten gun, a basic but rugged submachine gun made in large numbers. However the effective range of this weapon was very short, so while it works well in urban fighting, for example, in the wide-open expanses of the desert such a weapon is less useful, and we were surprised to see them here. The men of the SAS were largely free to carry whatever weapons they chose, so we cannot rule out the Sten, but it seems like an odd choice to us. A better choice, and easy to accept, would be the heavier Bren, which one pose is firing here. Before this excellent weapon became widely available however the British forces made use of old Lewis guns, and one pose here is firing this venerable weapon from the hip. This is possible, but not easy to do, and he is using a stirrup handle mounted on the barrel to facilitate this, causing the very awkward and ungainly pose we see in the bottom row. Again we might wonder if this ancient weapon was much taken on raids, but its use is recorded on at least one occasion, though whether held in the hand like this is uncertain.
Standards of uniforms soon deteriorated in the hostile desert environment for anybody, but when you were living for days behind enemy lines, comfort and utility were by far the most important elements of any clothing, so the men were given more or less free rein in their choice of costume. There was no special SAS uniform, and they largely wore whatever they preferred from the available wardrobe, including any items of issued clothing and also local supplies like the practical and very popular shemagh, which is seen in many photographs. Another major factor was the extremes of temperature, which could be unbearably hot during the day and freezing at night, so appearance could change dramatically during the course of a single day. The poses here have a decent assortment, including shirts and jumpers, shorts and trousers. As well as the shemagh, some men were a beret or a cap comforter, which are fine. Other items could also have been part of these figures, including improvised items, and if engaged in action during a raid then we would have expected more warm clothing as raids were carried out at night. However if these men are caught in an ambush, as implied by the title, then suitable hot weather clothing like this would seem appropriate. In any case, nothing here is necessarily wrong, and also correct is the standard 37-pattern webbing most wear, including just the belt, braces, front pouches and the water bottle. The three Germans in the bottom row are all also correctly attired, with minimal kit as you might expect if they are well behind the lines.
The sculpting is very nice. It is not the sharpest you will ever see, and occasionally things go wrong (perhaps down to the mould-making rather than the sculpting) as with the left side of the face of the man with the grenade in the top row, but for the most part the detail is there and well done. One feature of the SAS generally, and particularly when on a raid, was the beard each man sported. Several of these poses have such a thing fairly clearly visible, and we must presume the rest have rather less bushy examples that only need to be painted. Generally the anatomy is good too, although we thought the first figure in the top row was a rather awkward pose and not a success. There is some flash, which is variable but nowhere particularly bad, and there is no extra ‘hidden’ plastic anywhere.
As we have said, the typical SAS figure would be in a vehicle, or perhaps keeping hidden while they wait for night and the start of the raid, or perhaps quietly laying charges on a silent airfield, but there is none of this here. For the sake of action and drama this set portrays a fire-fight, an ambush, but even then we worried that too many of the poses are standing upright – not a great choice in a landscape with often little or no cover and facing men with weapons that have a much better effective range than your light submachine guns. So it is a compromise, and from an action/adventure point of view it is probably the right decision, though it does little to portray this famous unit in its most iconic role. However the sculpting is good and while we were not quite sure about the choice of some small arms, nothing here can definitely be said to be wrong. The stand-out figure for us is the man attacking a sentry, even if this was a rare event (particularly in an ambush!), though ideally his right arm should be much lower, so he can stab the man in the lower abdomen (and thus avoid his ribcage). Still this is a very appealing collection of figures that could form the basis for some unusual and dramatic dioramas.