As defence cuts threaten the future of special forces, exclusive images reveal how the Iranian embassy siege, which brought the SAS worldwide fame, could have gone badly wrongby Jay Elwes / November 14, 2012 / Leave a comment
Last month’s article on the future of special forces by Robert Fry, former Deputy Commanding General in Iraq, led to an approach from two former members of the Special Air Service (SAS). Their recollections of storming the Iranian embassy in London on 5th May, 1980, the event that brought fame to the British army’s most secretive unit, show that the assault did not go as smoothly as politicians later claimed. So do their photographs, published here for the first time in the media. But they echo one of Fry’s points—that forces’ awareness of their political value is a weapon in their fight for survival.
Bob Podesta, 25 years in the SAS, trained the team that broke the siege. Pete Winner, 18 years in the SAS, was one of its members. Both names are pseudonyms.
Bob Podesta: During [General Peter] de la Billière’s time [director, SAS 1979-1983], there was a lot of talk about what the task of the regiment was. They decided to build the anti-terrorism team.[On the 5th May raid] There was no build-up towards it. This was something that happened suddenly and the regiment was ready to go. We were lucky to have an ex-regiment guy stationed in the police in London and he gave us the nod that something was happening at the embassy. Suddenly the team was stood to.
We were all taken aback by the public reaction. The regiment operated in great secrecy and it was after the embassy siege that it really came into the public eye.
Pete Winner: It was the massacre at the Munich Olympics of the early 1970s that was the main trigger to get the hijack team going [seen in planning room]. That is just prior to getting the codeword “ROADACCIDENT” [see photo]. Success is maximum entry points attacked simultaneously. Everyone else was moving into final assault positions, ready to abseil down the back of the building. At the same time, the guys at the front were getting ready to blow the windows out and another team was moving in to take out their entry point.
That is just prior to the diversionary charge going off when we blew in the glass dome in the light well. Then these guys were abseiling down the back of the building. You can see the red team guys coming down the back of the building [see photo]. Their objective was to enter…