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One SAS soldier took down more planes than several aces combined

Prior to the outbreak of WWII, on the date of March 1939, Paddy Mayne had decided to join the Supplementary Reserve that was located in Newtonards.

He received a commission from the Royal Artillery and posted to the 5th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery in the 8th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, and was later transferred to the 8th Belfast Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment.

When his battery transferred overseas to an Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Mayne was transferred to Northern Ireland and was quickly moved over to the Royal Ulster Rifles.

After Churchill called for the founding of a “butcher and bolt” force, Mayne happily volunteered for the brand new No. 11 Commando, the predecessor of the legendary Special Air Service.

The Special Air Service during the Second World War Portrait of Lt Col Robert Blair 'Paddy' Mayne, SAS, in the desert near Kabrit, 1942.
The Special Air Service during the Second World War Portrait of Lt Col Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne, SAS, in the desert near Kabrit, 1942.

His first action took place during June 1941. Mayne was a lieutenant during the Syria-Lebanon Campaign, where he successfully led his men through Lebanon against the forces of Vichy France.

His leadership during the raid had caught the attention of Captain David Stirling, who chose to recruit him as one of the earliest members of the Special Air Service (SAS). Mayne had been under arrest for assaulting his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Charles Tasker Keyes.

He was released so that he could join the newly formed SAS. From November 1941 to the end of 1942, Mayne was a part of several night raids that went deep behind the enemy lines inside the deserts of Libya and Egypt.

The SAS caused havoc among the enemy, as they destroyed several enemy aircraft that were on the ground.

Mayne was the first to pioneer the method of using military Jeeps to perform surprise hit and run raids, usually on the Axis airfields. It has been claimed that he personally destroyed around 100 aircraft.

One of his first successful raids was at Wadi Tamet on December 14, 1941.

This is where petrol dumps and aircraft were destroyed. There were failures before this raid; this helped in keeping the existence of the SAS a secret.

The Army wanted to disband the SAS, but its success had kept the critics at bay. The part he played in Tamet granted him the award of the DSO. He had also received a Mention in Despatches on the date of February 1942.

The official report by Mayne on the Tamet raid records:

The following damage had been done in the surrounding area of the aerodrome:

14 planes had been armed with bombs.

Ten planes had their instrument panels damaged.

Bomb and petrol dumps were destroyed.

Scouting was done throughout the coast, but only huts were discovered, and they were empty.

A large amount of telephone poles were destroyed.

Some of the Italian soldiers were stalked. But the hut they left was ambushed by automatic and pistol fire. Bombs were strategically placed around the area.

There were approximately 30 residents and the damage done is unknown.

After Stirling’s capture that occurred in January of 1943, the 1st SAS Regiment was split into two groups. The first was the Special Raiding Squadron (also known as the SRS) and the second was a Special Boat Section (which was a precursor to the Special Boat Service.)  Mayne was now a major and was given command of the SRS. He led the squadron into Sicily and across Italy until the end of the year.  Mayne was awarded a bar to his DSO.

The official citation declared the reasons for his award:

On the 10th of July in 1943, Major Mayne successfully completed 2 operations including the first capture of a CD battery. This resulted in an easy landing for the 13 Corps. By nightfall, the Special Raiding Squadron had forced the surrender of 3 more batteries, which led to acquiring 450 prisoners as well as the death of 200 to 300 Italian soldiers. The next operation in consideration was the capturing of Augusta as well as the hold of the city. While the landing was dangerous due to it occurring in daylight, the SRS quickly forced the Italians from their strong positions. As a result, a huge amount of equipment as well as stores were saved from destruction before the stronghold was abandoned. Throughout these missions, it was Major Mayne’s courage, impeccable leadership skills and his determination to help his country win the war that resulted in success. Major Mayne faced heavy machine gun fire while he personally led his men off of the landing craft. Through his courage, his squadron quickly formed and summed up the enemy’s defenses.

 Special Air Service
Special Air Service

At the turn of the year, Major Mayne was promoted to a lieutenant colonel and was given command of the newly recreated SAS Regiment. As a result, Mayne led his squadron with conviction throughout the final operations through France, through Belgium and into Germany, Norway as well as the Netherlands. Mayne often had the help of local fighters, which included the valiant French Resistance.

As a reward for his courage and leadership throughout the dangers that occurred in France, where he worked hard to train the French Resistance, Mayne was awarded another bar on to his DSO.

The citation proved the award:

Lt-Col. R.B.Mayne was in charge of the 1st SAS Regiment throughout his time spent in helping the liberation of the French from the Fall of France.  On the 8th of August in the year of 1944, his squadron was dropped off into Operation Houndsworth base which is located a little west of the city Dijon. In order to take command of the available detachments of his Regiment while he coordinated activities with a massive Airborne landing envisioned close to Paris, he then moved forward in a Jeep in broad daylight to get to the GAIN base accomplishing the journey in a single day. As the movement of Allied Forces progressed, he moved through the lines in his Jeep so he could get a hold of American forces.  He then led back through the lines a group of 20 jeeps that were landed for the operation named WALLACE. Over the next couple weeks, he successfully broke through German and American lines 4 times so he could lead reinforcements.  It is because of this courage that his unit was able to create success inside of the operation.

Over the war, Mayne rightfully transformed into one of the British Army’s most highly decorated troops. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order with three bars, making him one of seven British men to be gifted the award four times throughout the war. The French also gave him the Legion d’honneur as well as the Croix de Guerre for his courage in helping free their country from tyranny.

Regardless of the honors he was given, people intensely questioned why Mr. Mayne wasn’t given a Victoria Cross for his incredible work throughout the war.

The issue came to light after a campaign was created to re-open the award.

It was presented to the British Parliament in 2006, but the government declined to do so.

However, the Blair Mayne Association swore to keep the hopes of the Victoria Cross alive for the proud WWII soldier.

Victoria Cross Photo credit
Victoria Cross Photo credit

It’s believed that the courage and actions of Mayne couldn’t be contested and that his citation was approved by the commander of the Allied 21st Army Group.

It was noted that he led the charge of two squadrons of armored jeeps through the front line of Oldenburg.
The success of this mission gave the 4th Canadian Division the opportunity to spark chaos throughout the enemy lines. Mr. Mayne was known to be a bright leader with a calm and calculated courage, which helped to ensure a mission’s success.

His act of bravery was the pivotal foundation that drove the enemy from a well-held village.

This act of strength in courage, Mayne single-handedly led the charge that broke the front of the enemy’s hold through the entire sector.

Sadly, the award was downgraded to a lesser award due to the standard practice of the time.

He received his third bar instead, which was his fourth DSO award.

The devout and calculated confidence that Mayne displayed to boost the morale of his squadron and the country of France stands the test of time.

There is a pile of accounts that proved the respect he held from his troops on the battlefield.

He had an unbelievable style to influence and an unrivaled ability to transform his men when they were experiencing intense battles.

All of the troops had quickly recounted the same type of words when they retold their stories.

It was said that no matter how gloomy the situation was, once Paddy stepped in, it was like a stroke of magic.

It was believed by others that he was, in fact, a genius of war.

Major General Sir Robert Laycock recounted Mayne’s brilliance. He said that he must state how much he appreciated having the honor of being able to address the officer who had been gifted with the unprecedented number of four DSOs.

He was told that there was only one such “superman” in the Royal Air Force. He believed that the authorities do not understand their job due to the fact that Mr. Mayne deserved much more recognition.

They had no right to declare Mr. Mayne unfit for a VC. Major General Laycock then went on to say that he had the deepest honor to have even been associated with Mr. Mayne.

 Major General Sir Robert Laycock
Major General Sir Robert Laycock

An Early Day Motion found its way over to the House of Commons in June 2005.  It was endorsed by over 100 MPs, who also declared a terrible injustice had been done to Lt Col Paddy Mayne. He was awarded the Victoria Cross at Oldenburg in Germany on April, 9, 1945.

He was however downgraded only half a year later to a 3rd DSO bar. It is clear that the citation had been altered and there was deemed a clear prejudice towards Mr. Mayne and that even King George VI was contemplating why the Victoria Cross had slipped from the hero’s grasp.

On December 14 of that year, Col Mayne suffered an early death due to a tragic automobile accident.  January 29 2006 marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Royal Warrant to institute the Victoria Cross.

Therefore the letter called for the appropriate authorities to quickly reinstate Mayne’s Victoria Cross, an award given due to exceptional courage as well as the highest levels of leadership.

Mayne’s actions proved to spare the lives of many and single-handedly sparked the allied advance to Berlin.

After the war

After the war, it was almost impossible to catch Paddy talking about his time at war.He first started his life after the war by working with the British Antarctic Survey that was operating throughout the Falkland Islands.

Mayne’s time was upended due to the chronic back pain that he encountered because of his days serving at war. Mayne then returned to Newtownards where he began to work as a solicitor and then became a proud Secretary for Law Society of Northern Ireland.The results of the war were brutal for Mayne.

His back pain stopped him from even participating in the stands as a spectator during rugby matches.During a routine meeting of the Friendship Lodge two weeks before Christmas in 1955, Mayne grabbed a couple of drinks with a friend in from Bangor.He then made his way home during the early hours of the day but was tragically found dead inside his Riley Roadster.The reports declared that he had a collision with a farming vehicle.

His funeral attracted hundreds of loved ones who felt they needed to pay their respects to the fallen hero.He was laid to rest in his family plot in his hometown’s Movilla Abbey graveyard.His Masonic jewel was saved for many years by one of his friends before he proudly gave it to the Newtownard Borough Council.It was then put on display in the Mayoral Chamber of the Council Offices.

His Reputation

In 1938, it’s said that Mayne spent his recreation time demolishing hotels and fighting dockers.During the battle, Mayne was admired and respected, but during hours of rest and recovery, his troops were very careful of him after he had a couple of drinks in his system.

After the war, quite a few urban legends spread about the area of Newtownards and even in Belfast.These stories typically consisted of Mr. Mayne drinking for several hours before he challenged every man in the bar to a duel and he would invariably win.There are other accounts of his leadership and how ferocious of an opponent he was.

Mayne's grave Movilla Abbey graveyard in Newtownards
Mayne’s grave Movilla Abbey graveyard in Newtownards

Over the course of the war, it was said that Mayne became more and more withdrawn.It was most notable after his father’s death occurred during the war.

Mayne refused to leave his lines to attend the funeral, but a story surfaced that he went on a drinking binge which led to a rampage throughout central Cairo.His goal was to discover the location of Richard Dimbleby and to beat him up, but Richard was currently in London during Mayne’s drunken rampage.

Here is another WWII story from us:Russian Body Hunters – search for the lost Soviet soldiers of WW2

While these rumors don’t have a much factual basis, it’s been proven that Mayne was born to help lead the Allies to defeat Hitler.Mayne was an incredible war hero who shocked the world due to his lack of injury from his incredible acts of courage and leadership on the battlefield.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News