One can always find a spark of rebellion in Steven Knight’s characters, whether it is Thomas Shelby in “Peaky Blinders,” James Keziah Delaney in “Taboo,” or the character of Diana as portrayed in “Spencer.” They were all rogues who defied authority not only because they wanted to liberate themselves but also because they felt that hierarchy was limiting their burning passion. In “SAS: Rogue Heroes,” Season 1, we came across three odd men who believed that they could put an end to Hitler’s war, however, not by following the etiquettes of war, but by being who they were. And who were they? They were a band of oddities who never dared to salute their superior. They were men who didn’t think twice before throwing a punch at their own generals. They were soldiers who stole from the camps of their own and of their enemies to fulfill their agenda. And their agenda was simple, to stop the German and Italian forces at all costs.
Created by Steven Knight, “SAS: Rogue Heroes” Season 1 includes 6 episodes of one hour each. The story has been adapted from Ben Macintyre’s book of the same name, which revolves around the events of World War 2. But what makes “SAS: Rogue Heroes” different from other war series is that its narrative is not about good men fighting against evil. It’s about bad men fighting against it. There is no moral line here. The SAS were not following the etiquette of war or the Geneva Conventions. They aced guerrilla warfare and shot men, armed or unarmed. However, here one could easily ask a question, what was the difference between them and the German forces, who killed people in cold blood? The word here is “remorse.” But that’s too much towards the end of Season 1, so before going in there, let’s first explore how SAS came into being.
‘SAS: Rogue Heroes’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
In the war genre, the opening scene is extremely crucial for setting the tone of the entire narrative. Here we came across a convoy of the British Army traveling from Cairo to Tobruk in May 1941. In the middle of a long stretch of desert, Lieutenant Archibald David Stirling noticed a drop in the fuel and requested his senior to bring up the petrol trucks to refuel the convoy vehicles. However, reality hit, and Stirling was told that there were no such trucks. His senior stammered as he told him that he had miscalculated the distance between Cairo and Tobruk and got confused between miles and kilometers. One can see the look on Stirling’s face, which evidently tells us how much he hates his superiors, who are not bothered about the siege and bombings in Tobruk. These extremely cautious men in high positions came from privileged families and gained their seats through connections and family names. As a matter of fact, Stirling was the same. He came from a royal family too, but he had the desire to prove his worth. Everyone told Stirling that he would never be able to achieve the greatness of his father, Brigadier-General Archibald Stirling, and thus wouldn’t have his name in history. But Stirling was determined to prove them wrong.
The second rogue is Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne, who belonged to a family of Irish farmers and thus had made a name for himself all by himself. Paddy was hot-headed. He fought for the right thing quite brutally and violently. He had his own ways and listened to no one, not even his superiors. Paddy was homosexual (in the series) in an extremely homophobic society at that time, and thus, one can understand the crisis he had been going through. However, none of these things gives a person a reason to kill people in cold blood (not even unarmed enemies), and thus, even if the title of the series calls them “heroes,” we will try not to glorify them much. The reason is, if you justify their actions in a “normal society,” then indeed, we are going to lose our humanity.
The third rogue is a lover, and believer stuck amidst the siege of Tobruk. Lieutenant John Steel “Jock” Lewes always read his prayers before killing his enemies. He would always remember his lover, Mirren Barford, whom he wanted to marry. Jock was the only sensible man among these rogue men who showed SAS a clear path to follow. He was waiting for Stirling’s convoy to arrive at Tobruk to resist the German and Italian forces, but when they didn’t arrive, Jock decided to take matters into his own hands. He arranged some parachutes (I will not use the word “stolen”) to form his own parachute regiment because he was done following the orders of the generals, who would debate everything while Germans were killing them without a second thought. It was Jock who laid the foundation for SAS, though he didn’t know the name at the moment. However, there was one thing that he was most certain of, and that was that his new regiment would only include the insane (Stirling), the ones in jail (Paddy), and the ones in despair (Jock).
Jock didn’t waste a moment and invited his friends, Stirling and Paddy, for a private meeting at the Empire Club in Cairo. As usual, Paddy didn’t want to be a part of whatever Jock was planning to do and thus left the club even before Stirling arrived. Before leaving, he met an Algerian intelligence officer named Eve Mansour, who used to work for Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Government. Paddy asked Eve to tell Stirling about his decision, and it was at this moment that Stirling met the love of his life, Eve, an association that was going to play an important role in the SAS journey. Jock met Stirling alone and told him that German General Erwin Rommel, on his conquest of Africa, had made one huge mistake. His supply line was around 300 miles long and vulnerable from the side of the land, as they didn’t expect an attack from the desert. The British navy had been attacking the German convoys from the sea, and thus all their attacks were expected beforehand and minimized. Jock proposed the idea of a surprise attack from the land, i.e., the Sea of Sand. However, that meant that they needed to parachute into the desert, in the middle of nowhere, and plan an attack from there. It sounded impossible, which made Stirling wonder what Jock had taken before coining this plan. But even though Jock was determined to go forward, they had to first assure their superiors that parachuting in the desert was possible and to prove it, the two men took matters into their own hands. Jock arranged the parachutes, and Stirling brought an airplane. These two men were going to do something insane, but their crazy experiment brought about a revolution in warfare techniques. “SAS: Rogue Heroes” Season 1 further explores the challenges they faced on the battlefield.
How Did SAS Come Into Being?
Jock and Stirling’s experiment was not a success entirely. Stirling broke his spine and had to be put under critical medical attention. But the rumors of their crazy deeds reached the sophisticated chambers, where the laidback mocked their efforts. However, in the process, they made themselves known to everyone. They had played their parts, and now it was time for Eve Mansour to play hers.
In June 1941, Eve met Colonel Dudley Wrangel Clarke, the head of British intelligence in Cairo. Dudley had single-handedly created a stir among the enemies by plotting a rumor about a fictional parachute regiment that was going to attack the enemies from the desert. He knew that the enemy forces would retaliate and make an error that would give the British forces an opportunity to take them by surprise. However, Eve proposed the idea that Dudley should fill this fictional regiment with real soldiers. Later, she also brought up a list of French paratroopers who wanted to join up with a British unit, but the problem was that there was no unit crazy enough to parachute in the middle of a desert. There was a necessity for it, and the one seeking an opportunity arrived at the GHQ, Cairo, to meet General Auchinleck.
Stirling proposed the idea of a unit of 60 rogue men who would parachute into the desert and attack the enemy supply lines from the land to slow down German and Italian advancement in Africa. He demanded no weapons nor any vehicles and made it clear that his unit would steal from the allied camps and from the enemies to fight their war. However, as he demanded nothing, he clearly told General Auchinleck that he wouldn’t report to anyone nor follow any order. They would fight on their own terms. At this point, Auchinleck probably had talked to Dudley about the ghost parachute regiment, and thus he bought Stirling’s idea without any fuss. Soon later, Stirling met Dudley, who baptized him with a new SAS uniform and finally his ghost regiment got its own flesh and blood.
Both Auchinleck and Dudley never had any faith that Stirling and his men would be able to achieve anything in the desert. They threw them to the hounds only to make the Germans and Italians believe that a ghost regiment as such exists, and a few bodies have helped in their deception. But Stirling and his men were not puppets to be used for a clown show. They were not men who would allow anyone to pull their strings. The SAS were made up of men with valor, those who had a burning desire to put themselves in the books of history. Their existence was purely fictional to begin with, but ironically, that’s how all history begins. Dudley believed that it was he who created SAS, but he just gave a name to a group of rogue men whose actions spoke louder than words. Men like Dudley wanted to take all the credit, but he didn’t know that men like Stirling, Paddy, and Jock were not after such a petty thing. They were men passionate enough to fill the pages with their own blood.
How Did the Desert Change the Three Musketeers?
The first landing of the SAS in the desert was rough. They lost men—friends and lovers. But the tragedy didn’t stop them because they were there for a much greater purpose. During the landing, Paddy lost his lover, Eoin McGonigal, and from hereon, Paddy lost his way too. He blamed the Germans for the death of McGonigal, and thus we came across the most brutal side of Paddy Mayne’s character. There was a very thin thread that was holding Paddy from becoming a madman, and that thread was broken forever. Because of Stirling’s order and the nature of the desert, he wasn’t able to give a proper burial to McGonigal, which he regretted forever. Additionally, he was never able to bury McGonigal in his mind, which was the reason why he violently attacked the French soldiers who joined the unit later, as these men were inappropriately playing the piano, an instrument that McGonigal loved the most. It was McGonigal’s death that influenced Paddy to kill unarmed German and Italian pilots in Tamet without any remorse. At this point, Paddy had become a killing machine, and Jock or Stirling didn’t dare put a limit on him as his brutal killings served their purpose. Stirling had found a way to tame Paddy by counting the number of airplanes blown as a part of a competitive game between them. Jock could see what Stirling was trying to do, but he didn’t interrupt much, as after McGonigal’s death, Paddy had lost his purpose, and probably this little killing game kept him focused. And in the end, it became his only existence.
For Stirling, much of the struggle was to establish his identity beyond his father’s name. Everyone knew Stirling as the son of a celebrated war hero, but no one knew who this actual lad named David was. He was a failed artist who was trying to prove his worth to the world, and SAS was his only chance. In the series, Stirling was not what you would call an excellent soldier, but he was a promising leader. He certainly knew his men and what rebellion ran through their veins. Being brought up in a royal and privileged environment, Stirling wanted to do something of his own. He failed, but the rebellion stayed. In the army, he worked harder than everyone else. He did more than just follow orders because he was yearning to put his name in the books of history, and when his superiors failed to give him a chance, he paved his own path. But he lost his way too.
Churchill’s son, Randolph, had joined Stirling on a covert mission in Benghazi, and impressed by his skills, he sang songs of Stirling’s courage to his father. The prime minister had already heard a lot about Phantom Major’s lack of propriety and was thus quite charmed when he met this odd man. More because Churchill himself believed that he needed savage men like Stirling to fight the Germans. Nevertheless, at this point, Tobruk had fallen, and the island of Malta was their only hope to save Africa from falling into Hitler’s regime. Here Stirling used his cunningness to arrange heavy weapons and vehicles from the British army, but what was more tragic was that Stirling had started to enjoy killing people. In Benina, Stirling didn’t bomb the planes but decided to try his new toys. In his amusement, he killed unarmed men quite brutally, and that was a turning point in his character. We saw a glimpse of Paddy’s madness in Stirling, but what was different was that Stirling was captured by his own remorse quite quickly. Paddy, on the other hand, never had any. Stirling knew that he had gone too far ahead of what was expected of him. He literally became as savage as the world thought of him. He could have just exploded the planes and left, but he didn’t. An action that weighed his heart down, and after that night, almost everything that happened in his life, he blamed his actions for the same.
Jock, the most sensible one among the lot, had a little part to play after their arrival in the desert. He was killed quite quickly in “SAS: Rogue Heroes,” Episode 4, but what was most heroic about his death was his act of saving his own men. As Jock and his team were returning to Jalo after a successful last night’s adventure, two enemy planes started firing on them. Jock ordered his men to hide behind the rocks while he struggled with a wound that wouldn’t allow him to reach his men. His men wanted to save him, but he ordered them not to, or else there would have been much more casualties that day. In his last moments, Jock saw his lover standing in front of him. Mirren refused to marry him, asking how she could marry a man who was already dead? It was Jock’s mind playing tricks on him because he didn’t want to die. He wanted to live and return to his country to marry his lover, but alas, no such dream came true. Jock died in the desert. His body was left behind in the open because that was Stirling’s order. And what was more tragic was that Mirren did write a letter to Jock after his death (unaware of the tragedy that had happened). She said she wanted to marry Jock, but Jock wasn’t alive to hear (read) those words. Stirling and Paddy carried on the legacy left by Jock as an ultimate tribute to their lost friend. The bomb that Jock had designed especially for these covert missions was named after him and came to be known as Lewes bombs.
‘SAS: Rogue Heroes’ Season 1: Ending Explained – Will Stirling Return In Season 2? What Can We Expect Next?
Stirling and his men suffered few casualties but were able to destroy German and Italian airplanes, because of which two convoy ships reached Malta, and the allied forces were able to save Malta from falling into enemy hands. As promised, Churchill officially announced L Detachment as an official regiment, which meant it wasn’t just a ghost parachute regiment anymore. It was the moment for celebration, except for Stirling, who had been recently informed by Dudley that his lover, Eve Mansour, died in a plane crash, though her body wasn’t recovered, so we can speculate her return in “SAS: Rogue Heroes” Season 2.
At the end of “SAS: Rogue Heroes,” Stirling informed his men that Americans had joined World War 2, which, as per the timeline, might have happened after Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, the Americans had sent their first elite troops to Casablanca, from where they would head east, and the British army would have to head west to join them. However, the distance was heavily guarded by Germans and Italians forces, which meant Stirling and his men had to find a way through the enemy lines to join the American forces. Stirling was instructed to find a potential supply line through Gabes Gap to help the two armies link up. But, after Eve’s death, Stirling became quite unmotivated and reckless. He went to Gabes Gap with just two men, where the enemy forces ambushed him and took him captive. Soon after Stirling’s capture, Paddy was made the commander of the SAS regiment, and he didn’t waste a moment to let his men know his true intentions. In Stirling’s absence, there was no one left to keep a check on Paddy or his violent actions. And as he had already declared that blood would flow from hereon, we could speculate what terror lay ahead in “SAS: Rogue Heroes” Season 2.
As per the historical records, Stirling was captured by the Germans. However, the smirk on his face at the end of the series indicated that he would be able to fool them easily. In real history, Stirling did manage to escape their captivity but was later re-captured by the Italians, from whom he tried to escape numerous times before finally ending up in a German prison, Colditz Castle, where he spent the rest of the war. After the war came to an end, he returned to his motherland. Paddy, on the other hand, became a celebrated war hero, and thus we would see more of his victories in seasons to come. It would be interesting to see how these two prominent characters would be portrayed on screen by Steven Knight in the upcoming season of “SAS: Rogue Heroes.”
As the commander of the SAS, Stirling still managed to take orders from his superiors, but Paddy is a different beast altogether who can never be tamed or ordered. There was only one man who could handle Paddy’s outbursts and impulsive decisions, but now he was no longer available to stop him. The character of Paddy is going to turn the deserts into flames, and we eagerly wish for a turning point in his character that will probably make him more human or stop his madness. Additionally, his equation and quirky exchange with the Americans will be worth watching.
“SAS: Rogue Heroes” is a 2022 War Drama series created by Steven Knight.