A night-time view of an SAS man on a weapons-mounted vehicle, c2005

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What are the Special Forces?

The Special Forces are made up of several elite military units with distinct areas of expertise. Personnel are drawn from all three branches of the armed forces.

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Airborne forces training exercise, 2016

Top parachute facts

Military parachuting was pioneered by the Special Forces, among others, and makes up a vital part of their work. Check out these fun facts and put your parachute knowledge to the test.

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Special Forces: Could you make the cut?

Special Forces: Could you make the cut?

Listen to the stories of Special Forces veterans as they reveal some of the hard, sometimes gruesome, truths about the challenges of their training.

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Major Herbert 'Blondie' Hasler and a colleague paddling a canoe, c1942

Herbert 'Blondie' Hasler: A Cockleshell Hero

Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler was an inventor, pioneering yachtsman and special forces canoeist. In December 1942, he led the daring ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ raid on Bordeaux harbour.

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Captain Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott, c1944

Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott: Covert beach surveyor

During the Second World War, Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott founded the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties to undertake covert beach reconnaissance. This proved vital for the success of Allied seaborne invasions.

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A British officer with the Armenians, Baku, August 1918

Dunsterforce in the Caucasus

In 1918, the British assembled a handpicked unit to carry out a daring secret mission to the Caucasus. Their aim was to unify into an effective force the various anti-Bolshevik and anti-Turkish groups fighting there.

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Captain Roger Courtney, 1943

Roger Courtney: SBS pioneer

Major Roger ‘Jumbo’ Courtney founded the Special Boat Section during the Second World War. This became one of Britain’s most important Special Forces and was a parent unit of the modern Special Boat Service.

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Lieutenant Colonel Robert 'Paddy' Mayne near Kabrit, Egypt, 1942

'Paddy' Mayne: An Irish Lion

Lieutenant-Colonel 'Paddy' Mayne is a legendary figure in the history of the Special Forces. A celebrated sportsman with a turbulent character, he played a vital role in the early successes of the Special Air Service (SAS), becoming one of its most important commanders.

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Andy McNab’s survival kit, c1990

The art of staying alive: McNab's survival kit

An SAS soldier's personal survival kit contains many everyday objects. These can be used in ingenious ways, demonstrating both the adaptability and the resourcefulness of the Special Forces.

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Lieutenant Jock Lewes, 1940

'Jock' Lewes: SAS mastermind

As the co-founder of the Special Air Service (SAS), Lewes played a vital role in establishing the unit’s ethos and high standards of training and discipline.

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Major David Stirling, c1942

David Stirling: The Phantom Major

Colonel David Stirling was a pioneer of British Special Forces. In 1941, he founded the Special Air Service (SAS) in Egypt to undertake small-scale raids behind enemy lines.

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An SAS soldier aims a light machine-gun, c2005

What are the Special Forces?

The Special Forces are made up of several elite military units with distinct areas of expertise. Personnel are drawn from all three branches of the armed forces.

explore this story
Special Boat Service badge

Special Boat Service

This is Britain’s maritime special forces unit. Since the Second World War, its highly trained men have served around the world, on land and at sea, often carrying out daring undercover raids and engaging in marine counter-terrorism.

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Gravity and parachutes
Primary workshop

3 September 2018 - 23 July 2019

FREE

Gravity and parachutes

Explore the history of parachutes and how the Army uses them. Design, make and test your own inspired by the historic designs in our collections.

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Explore Special Forces learning resources

'Pack Your Bag' family trail
Trail

KS1-KS2 (Ages 5 to 11)

Pack your bag

Become a paratrooper and prepare for your next mission in this trail across our galleries.

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"First time @NAM_London today. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Thought the presentation & interpretation made the subject accessible..."