SAS Weapons (1984)

In this video/article we’ll examine an internal British Army film about the Special Air Service Regiment or SAS. Produced in 1984 by the SSVC, the Services Sound & Vision Corporation, the 35 minute film provides an introduction to the SAS. It gives some insight into how the regiment’s members are selected, trained and goes into the roles of the four troops: Air, Boat, Mobility and Mountain, which make up the regiment’s four squadrons. The film also outlines the SAS’ role in close protection training and perhaps their best know role as an elite counter terrorism unit. 

It’s definitely worth watching the whole thing, its available up on the Imperial War Museum’s online archive. In this video we’ll take a look at some of the weapons featured in the film. We’ll split these up into a number of categories: foreign weapons, personal weapons and support weapons.

Foreign Weapons

Most of these clips relate to familiarisation with non-service weapons. These are weapons that might be encountered in the field either with allies or enemies. Several Combloc weapons a briefly seen including an RPD and a Chinese Type 56 rifle.

Some of the western small arms featured include brief clips of the FN Minimi and the HK21 – both weapons used by NATO allies – and also neutral Austria’s Steyr AUG bullpup – which SAS operators might encounter on operations. All three of these weapons were relatively new, the Minimi especially.

Personal Weapons

In terms of personal weapons we get a good look at a number of the in-service weapons which the SAS were issued at the time. The film opens with some footage of members of the SAS doing a static snap shooting drip, the troopers in the line are armed with a mix of weapons including an AR-15, a couple of L2A3 Sterling submachine guns and an Browning Auto-5 shotgun, which had found favour with British troops during operations in Malaya and Kenya. The SAS at the time also used the Remington 870. In another clip we see a trooper doing a contact drill with an L1A1 SLR.

Later in the film we see men from one of the mountain troops on operations. Much like the Royal Marines’ Mountain & Artic Warfare Cadre the SAS favoured the AR-15, like Colt 602 or 604s as well as another AR-pattern rifle, possibly a Model 603, fitted with an M203 under barrel grenade launcher. Worth noting that these guys also have 30 round magazines which had begun to be used in the early 80s.

In another short clip of some soldiers disembarking a helicopter during a section of the film about operations in Oman we see another AR pattern rifle and a metric FN FAL with a combo flash hider.

Close Protection & Counter Revolutionary Warfare Wing 

The film then goes on to explain the role the SAS take in training personal protection details and mounting personal protection for important figures. It briefly shows an MP5K and possible an appearance of an HK Operational Briefcase.

Possibly the SAS’ most famous element, the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Wing, is also featured, first showing with an operator in what’s known as ‘black kit’ with a respirator firing an MP5SD. Then a short sequence showing hostage rescue techniques, with a nod to the famous Iranian Embassy Siege operation. The operators are seen with MP5A3s, one of which has been adapted with a front grip and mounted with a Maglite-type weapon light. A room clearance drill is shown with a mix of MP5A3s and one operator has a MAC 10. The MAC 10 was one of the weapons which was surpassed by the MP5 and had been in use with UK special forces (including the SBS) throughout the 1970s.

Support Weapons

Finally, the film also features a variety of support weapons including L7 GPMGs mounted on Pink Panther Land Rovers of the Mobility Troops. Earlier in the film there are brief clips of what appears to be an M1919 Browning being cocked and a 66mm M72 LAW being readied to fire.

There’s also an interesting sequence explaining designating targets for aircraft featuring a Ferranti Laser targeting Module. Finally, we also get a very brief mention of the Operations Research team (responsible for equipment testing and experimentation) and a glimpse of an early machine gun reflex optic mounted on a GPMG. The film offers an interesting insight into the weapons, equipment, tactics and organisation of the SAS during a period where their notoriety grew exponentially. I highly recommend watching the full film over on the IWM’s archive.


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Bibliography:

‘The Special Air Service’, British Army/SSVC, (source)

Thanks to MajorSamm for pointing me in the direction of the video and to Vic for his help with this one.

Malta’s Service Rifle: The AK

A comment in my recent video about the Royal Bermuda Regiment’s use of the Mini-14 sparked my interest. It noted that Malta, another small island military, uses the AK. I wasn’t aware of this so I decided to do some research.  

Malta’s military, known as the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) is roughly the size of a brigade. In recent years the Armed Forces of Malta have had a strength of between 1,600 and 1,800 personnel. It has three battalions a maritime squadron and an air wing. Malta is a neutral nation and as such the AFM’s role is territorial defence, internal security and border control.

Malta gained independence from the UK in 1964 and became a republic in 1974, this is when the AFM was founded. With the former link to the UK much of the AFM’s initial equipment was of British origin and the 7.62×51mm L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle was used as the AFM’s service rifle for many years this appears to have changed in the late 1970s early 1980s. The FN FAL-derrived L1A1 is still used as the AFM’s standard drill and parade rifle.

AFM personnel with Type 56/II AK-pattern rifles (AFM)

The AFM celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020 and shared this time line of their uniform and equipment in their service magazine On Parade which gives us some idea of how their small arms changed over time. We can see that the AK-pattern rifles have been in service since at least the 1980s. 

The AFM’s website lists their small arms with personnel being armed with Beretta 92s, a variety of HK MP5s, and what they describe as the ‘AK 47 Variant’. The site lists the rifles as being manufactured by Russia, Romania, China and East Germany. These rifles are all chambered in the 7.62×39mm cartridge.

Where the first AK-pattern rifles came from is unclear, although one source suggests the German and Romanian rifles were bought second hand in the 1990s. From a survey of images and video shared by the AFM in recent years it appears that East German MPiKMS, Romanian PM md.63 and Chinese Type 56/II are in service.

AFM recruits training with Chinese Type 56/II AKs (AFM)

The origins of the Chinese rifles is easy to trace back to a 2003 donation of small arms and light weapons made by the People’s Republic of China. An agreement was signed with China in June 2001 and as part of this a donation of 150,000 Maltese lira-worth of weapons. By 2003, however, it was reported by the Time of Malta that this had increased to 500,000 Maltese lira-worth of weapons. This included Type 56/II rifles, Type 80 general purpose machine guns and RPG-7 clones. The AFM’s acting commander Colonel Carmel Vassallo described the donation as a “dream come true” at the time. It reportedly allowed the entire AFM to be armed with a single type of service rifle.

The reasoning behind the adoption no doubt comes down to financing, Malta being a small island nation does not have an extensive defence budget, reported at 54 million Euros in 2020, and perhaps have chosen to prioritise personnel and procurement of naval and aviation assets over small arms. It is easy to see how the donation of service rifles and other small arms would be welcomed when balancing a modest budget.

AFM personnel with modified AKs (AFM)

Over the last 10 years there have been a number of photos and videos released showing AKs which have been upgraded with some aftermarket modifications. The mods appear to predominantly be sourced from FAB Defense – with their CAA Polymer buttstock and VFR-AK railed forend with a top rail which extends over the top of the receiver cover. This provides the bare bones AKs with some modularity. It’s unclear how widely issued the modified AKs are but from officially release imagery it seems that the basic AK-pattern rifles are more prevalent. In recent years Malta has stood up quick reaction forces and it appears from videos and images shared of the company that they have been equipped with SIG Sauer MCX rifles. 


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Bibliography:

‘AK Variant’, Armed Forces of Malta, (source)

‘AFM sees its dream come true’, Times of Malta, (source)

‘The Historical Timeline of Our Uniform’, On Parade 2020, (source)

“The Budget Speech 2020”, Malta Government, (source)

‘Personnel reveal shortcomings inside Maltese armed forces’, Malta Today, (source)

‘China donates 50 sub-machine guns to Malta, including 10 low-light scopes’, Malta Independent, (source)

Footage:

Various released videos, Armed Forces of Malta, (source)

‘Armed Forces of Malta: Recruit Intakes Nos. 131’, Michael Formosa, (source)

Shoot To Live

‘Shoot to Live’ is a British Army marksmanship training pamphlet published in the late 1970s and early 1980s

Shoot To Live cover (Matthew Moss)

‘Shoot to kill’ had long been a British Army slogan, appearing in numerous training films and pamphlets. One training film from the 1970s, which features in our video, can be watched here.

A 1944 British Army manual – ‘Shoot to Kill’ (source)

But in the late 70s and early 80s a new introductory pamphlet on marksmanship filed the old slogan on its head. In the video above we take a look inside an original copy of ‘Shoot To Live’.

Below are some pages from the booklet:

Shoot To Live section on compensating for wind (Matthew Moss)
One of the more humorous illustrations from Shoot To Live, showing the loading of a magazine (Matthew Moss)
Shoot To Live’s section on proper sight alignment (Matthew Moss)

The ‘Shoot To Live’ manual is now part of our reference collection and we were able to bring this video/article thanks to the support of our Patrons. We have many more videos on important and interesting primary source materials in the works. If you enjoy our work please consider supporting us via Patreon for just a $1. Find out more here.