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Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling DSO OBE (15 November, 1915 - 4 November, 1990) was a Scottish laird, mountaineer, World War II British Army officer, and the founder of the Special Air Servicemarker.

Life before the war

Stirling was born at his family's ancestral home, Keir House in the parish of Lecropt in Perthshiremarker (near Stirlingmarker). He was the son of Brigadier General Archibald Stirling of Keir and Margaret Fraser, daughter of Simon Fraser, the Lord Lovat (a descendant from King Charles II of Great Britain). His cousin was Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat. He was educated at Ampleforth Collegemarker and Trinity College, Cambridgemarker. A tall and athletic figure (he was ] tall), he was training to climb Mount Everestmarker when World War II broke out.

World War II and the founding of the SAS

Stirling was commissioned into the Scots Guards from Ampleforth Collegemarker Contingent Officer Training Corps on 24 July 1937. In June 1940 he volunteered for the new No. 8 Commando under Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Laycock which became part of Force Z (later named "Layforce"). After Layforce (and No.8 Commando) were disbanded on 1 August 1941, Stirling remained convinced that due to the mechanised nature of war a small team of highly trained soldiers with the advantage of surprise could exact greater damage to the enemy's ability to fight than an entire platoon.

Aware that taking his idea up through the chain of command was unlikely to work, Stirling decided to go straight to the top. On crutches following a parachuting accident he sneaked into Middle East headquarters in Cairo in an effort to see Commander-in-Chief General Claude Auchinleck. Taking cover in an office, Stirling came face to face with Deputy Commander Middle East General Ritchie. Stirling explained his plan to Ritchie and Ritchie convinced Auchinleck to allow Stirling to form a new Special Forces unit. The unit was given the deliberately misleadingly name "L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade" to reinforce an existing deception of a parachute brigade existing in North Africa.

His initial attempts at attacking by parachute landing were disastrous and resulted in a high percentage of his men being killed or wounded. Escaping only with the help of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) he decided that approaching by desert under the cover of night would not only be the safest but also the most effective means of approach. As quickly as possible he organised raids on ports using this simple method, often driving through checkposts at night using the language skills of some of his soldiers to bluff the guards. Stirling was captured by the Germans in January 1943. He escaped on four occasions, before being sent to Colditz Castlemarker, where he remained for the rest of the war. After his capture his brother Bill Stirling and Blair 'Paddy' Mayne took command of the SAS.

In the fifteen months before Stirling's capture, the SAS had destroyed over 250 aircraft on the ground, dozens of supply dumps, roads, wrecked railway communications, and had put hundreds of enemy vehicles out of action.

Mercenary work

Worried that Britain was losing its power after the War, Stirling organised deals to sell British weapons and military personnel to other countries, like Saudi Arabiamarker, for various privatised foreign policy operations.Stirling along with other associates formed Watchguard International Ltd, formally with offices in Sloane Street (where the Chelsea Hotel now stands) before moving to South Audley Street in Mayfair. Business was chiefly with the Gulf States. He was also linked along with an associate Denys Rowley in a failed attempt to overthrow Gaddafi of Libya in 1970/71. Stirling was the founder of private military company KAS International (aka KAS Enterprises).


Stirling also ran another of his companies, Television International Enterprises, from the same offices as Watchguard International. T.I.E was responsible for bringing the children's program Sesame Street to Britain. Peter Orton, working at T.I.E., developed the Muppet Show and a couple of decades later Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder.

Later life

Stirling was the founder of the Capricorn Africa Society - a society for promoting an Africa free from racial discrimination. Founded in 1949, while Africa was still under colonial rule, it had its high point at the 1956 Salima Conference. However, because of his emphasis on a qualified and highly elitist voting franchise, Africans opposed it. Conversely Caucasian settlers believed it to be too liberal. Consequently the society was ineffective, although surprisingly the South African Communist Party used Stirling's multi-racial elitist model for its 1955 "Congress Alliance" when taking over the African National Congress of South Africa.
 Stirling resigned as Chairman of the Society in 1959.

Stirling was concerned about the political power of trade unions in Britain, establishing in 1975 the organisation GB75, which he described as "an organisation of apprehensive patriots" which would help the country in the event of strikes.

He was knighted in 1990, and died later that year aged 74.

In 2002 the SAS memorial, a statue of Stirling standing on a rock, was opened on the Hill of Row near his family's estate at Park of Keir.

The current Laird of the Keir estate is his nephew Archie Stirling, a millionaire businessman and former Scots Guards officer.


Stirling House at Welbeck collegemarker is named after him, as well as the former headquarters at Herefordmarker.



  • Significant Scots biography of David Stirling
  • Gavin Mortimer, Stirling's Men: the inside history of the SAS in World War Two (Cassell, 2004)

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