SAS South Georgia Boating Club, by Tony Shaw

Rupert Hague-Holmes

A veteran of the SAS has written an entertaining memoir.
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This book is the latest in a line of books  published this year by SAS personnel as part of the fortieth anniversary of the Falklands Conflict, recounting their experiences down south it covers his early years as a difficult childhood with no money, growing up in post war Birkenhead, academically bright, yet not really fulfilling his potential at school. It has many familiar SAS personnel themes, one in particular as being admonished by his French teacher as incapable of learning a foreign language, which Shaw points out amusingly was a poor judge of character, as he ended up speaking five languages (Arabic, Italian, German, Greek and Spanish) by the time he left the SAS!

Inspired by his experiences in the Army Cadet Force, Shaw joined the Royal Signals at the age of 15 at the Army Apprentices College, Harrogate. His career in the Army took him through the Royal Signals into 264 (SAS) Signals Squadron, the SAS specialist support unit, and after four years being attached to D Squadron 22 SAS, he volunteered for, and passed, Selection in 1980. Shaw served for 16 years in the SAS, four as a signaller in 17 (Boat) Troop, D Squadron including deployment to the Falklands and time spent in Northern Ireland, undertaking covert surveillance work. After leaving the SAS, Shaw returned to the Royal Signals, being commissioned as a Late Entry Officer, retiring as a Major in 1999.

This book is an easy read, and will no doubt go some way to quench the unending thirst of the British public for anything to do with the SAS. The book flows well, and Shaw’s account of his time in the Falklands is strengthened by a frequent use of his contemporaneous diary. At various points there are explicit references to the redaction of paragraphs about his time serving in Northern Ireland. It does show that, perhaps unlike others, Shaw followed the correct processes on disclosure. D Squadron 22 SAS’ operational impact during the Conflict was not outstanding. The sad loss of 18 experienced soldiers of the Squadron when a cross decking operation went wrong, due to a bird strike, the combination of those two factors (Shaw’s signaller role and D Squadrons activities) means that the Falklands aspects of the book have a rather tangential feel to it.

Shaw recounts an patrol insertion onto West Falkland late in the conflict where his patrol nearly ambushed a herd of cows, believing them, mistakenly in the early morning mist, to be Argentinian jeeps protecting a potential drop zone. Shaw over the fiasco of  Mountain Troop’s insertion onto Fortuna Glacier on South Georgia early on in the conflict, at the insistence of OC D Squadron, ignoring the experienced opinion of the senior Royal Marines officer present, a Mountain & Arctic Warfare specialist. The result was a near catastrophic loss of life of the Troop during the ensuring snow storm and the unnecessary loss of two Wessex helicopters sent in to recover the SAS soldiers.

Notwithstanding these calamities, the raid on Pebble island in a style similar to the early SAS exploits in North Africa in WW2, and D Squadron’s actions on Mount Kent when pitted against Argentinian Special Forces balance the score more evenly. Inserted onto Mount Kent ahead of the advancing Paras and Marines, D Squadron was engaged in a number of firefights with professional and committed Argentinian Special Forces, taking casualties on both sides and is the most interesting aspect of the book.

This will appeal to those obsessed with reading another Trooper’s account of what it takes to join the SAS, what its like to be in the SAS and to have served with them in the Falklands.

SAS: South Georgia Boating Club by Tony Shaw is out now and published by Pen & Sword.