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World War Two: Britain's Rogue Warrior

Updated on September 12, 2011

Paddy Mayne was a hell-raising hero of World War 2. He blew up thousands of German aircraft and convoys, and in true SAS style, killed hundreds of Germans with just his bare hands.

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'Colonel Paddy'

In December 1941 at an airfield deep in the North African desert, German pilots are relaxing after a day of bombing the British Army. They had little concern for their own safety as they were 200 miles behind their own lines. Unbeknown to them however, they were about to encounter one of the most feared killers in the British Army.

Robert Blair Mayne, rebel, hell-raiser and all action hero of the wartime SAS was about to set upon them. Known as 'Colonel Paddy' to his friends and peers, he was the epitome of certain death to his enemies. On countless suicidal missions behind enemy lines, he left a trail of death and destruction in his wake.

He blew up thousands of German planes, convoys and arms dumps and killed hundreds of men with just his bare hands. His outstanding bravery would earn him the fame of being the most highly decorated soldier in the British Army during World War 2.

He was born and raised in the Newtonards area of Northern Ireland and as a child was known for his tremendous strength and domination over his elder brothers. He grew into a fierce rugby player and in 1937 was picked to play for Ireland where he became notorious for on-field violence. These qualities that made him a danger in peacetime, were soon to find a perfect outlet.

When World War 2 broke out, Paddy joined the toughest regiment he could find - the Scottish Commandos. During his training on the Isle of Arran, he began to developed a unique style of leadership. He would line up his men on the quay and order them to perform a strict march straight into the freezing sea, which he duelly carried out himself thereafter. Paddy's men would follow him anywhere, but his fellow officers grew wary of the giant Ulsterman.

On the 10th of June 1940, Paddy and his men set sail for the Middle East, they were to be used as shock troops on heavily armoured enemy positions in Syria. However, a navigational error landed the men directly in front of the enemy guns. From a high ridge, the germans opened fire and the majority of the regiment were killed instantly. Half the officers and 120 men were lost, but Paddy's leadership skills were soon brought to the fore. He burst through the enemy positions and advanced on the enemy HQ. He immediately ordered around 30 Germans to surrender, when they did not, they were made to rue their decision.

Paddy's notoriously bad behaviour towards his fellow officers however, would soon land him in serious trouble. He was arrested and faced a court-marshall, a promising military career looked to be in ruins. But Paddy's reputation as a daredevil earned him a reprieve. The army desperately needed men who stood out, men tough enough to withstand any challenege. The British Military wanted these men to form a new top secret fighting unit, the SAS.

Their mission was simple, but extremely dangerous, parachute behind enemy lines in North Africa and wreak as much havoc as they possibly could. Paddy Mayne was to be second in command and his first task was to ensure that only the toughest and most fierce troops would make it through the rigorous training in the Egyptian Desert. Part of this training was to jump out of the back of a speeding jeep at 65mph and land perfectly on both feet, this would not cease until it was perfected.

In November 1941, Paddy led the SAS on their first parachute drop behind enemy lines, it was attempted in high winds and was to prove a complete disaster. Of the 64 men who set out on the mission, only 22 returned. Paddy himself only just survived the landing, after falling heavily. He was badly shaken and bruised and probably only survived due to his sheer physical strength. Freak winds in the desert made parachuting almost impossible. This meant that many of the men who died, dropped to the ground like stones, because their parachutes virtually folded.

So the SAS needed to find a new way of fighting in the desert, and so they made it their home. They would use temporary bases deep behind enemy lines, to launch stealth attacks, bringing their survival techniques to the fore. Their prime targets were the airfields that were supporting the German Panzer Divisions, but to get at them meant dirty work had to be done. On one particular night raid, Paddy single-handedly knifed 17 sentries to death. It was kill or be killed, especially when so far behind the lines. No one at home could quite believe this one man could get beyond the dog patrols, take out 17 sentries and successfully blow up scores of planes.

On another raid in December 1941, Paddy personally destroyed 24 enemy aircraft, he was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Order and his courageous exploits turned him into a totally idolised cult figure within the regiment. To be one of 'Paddys Boys' was an honour, but one which came at a price. On one hand he could be as genial as the next man, but on the other, he would lash out at the slightest of misdemeanours within his men.

Although the men looked up to Paddy with unquestionable loyalty, the same could not be said for Paddy's obedience towards his own superiors. The 'Top Brass' as he called them, were merely people who had to be tolerated, in his eyes. He would certainly listen to what they had to say, but wether he carried out their orders or just did what he felt best, he decided.

In the western desert, the SAS destroyed a staggering 400 of the Germans best bombers and fighters, on the ground. They diverted thousands of German troops from the front lines to search for them, which surely had a detremental effect on the desert war.

Victory in North Africa

By late 1942, the war in North Africa had been won and so destructive had the SAS men been that Hitler personally ordered that they be hunted down and destroyed without mercy. Paddy Mayne took over as commander of the SAS in January 1943, and embarked on what was widely considered, a suicide mission. He was to lead the Allied invasion of Sicily, by knocking out key gun emplacements. They successfully achieved this as well as killing 300 enemy troops and taking hundreds of prisoners, all for the loss of just one British life.

Within just two days, the island of Sicily had fallen to the British, and Paddy's technical brilliance made him the obvious choice to lead the attack on the formidable defences at Termoli on the Italian mainland. However, Paddy's reputation as a 'superman' was about to be tested to the very limit.

A whole division of Panzer troops were waiting for them and they threw everything at the SAS. Reinforcements were called for, but didn't venture forward. Effectively deserted with the regiment facing annihilation, Paddy summoned forward every last available man in order to mount one last ditch offensive. Outgunned and outnumbered, all hope seemed lost but Paddy refused to accept defeat.

Paddy rallied his men and launched an amazing flanking manouevre, fooling the Germans into believing they were being attacked by a much larger force. Termoli was liberated and the Allied advance on Rome could begin. Paddy returned to Britain in glory and was promoted to Colonel. He was personally visited by Field Marshall Montgomery, this was to be a thankyou, but also a good luck.

Free Stock Photos.
Free Stock Photos.

Dave Harris Art

  • World War 2 pictures
    Three new World War 2 pictures by Dave Harris available as limited edition giclee prints. El Alamein "Rats Against the Fox", RAF Dambusters mission in May 1943 and Band of Brothers night before D-Day.

Taking The Fight To Hitler

The SAS were now going to be dropped into occupied France on their most dangerous mission to date. Hiding out in the dense woods and forests in the Normandy Boccage, they were to carry out surprise attacks on the enemy and survive as best they could left to their own devices. For any SAS man who was captured, a gruesome fate lay in store.

There was a bonus for any SAS soldier captured and he would be tortured and killed without mercy as per the direct orders of Adolf Hitler. Paddy himself was considered too highly prized to be sent on the mission and was ordered to direct the operations from the safety of Britain. That was not a viable option as far as Paddy was concerned and he set off for France, parachuting in to his regiment's temporary camp behind the enemy lines, once again he had defied the 'Top Brass'.

He made it his speciality to ambush German patrols as they wound their way through the densely wooded lanes of the Normandy countryside. On one particular occasion, there were 70 German bodies at the scene of one of Paddy's attacks.

In recognition of his service in France, Paddy was awarded the French Legion of Honour, the highest possible decoration a foreigner could receive. But the rebelious Colonel would leave his most remarkable achievement until last. In April 1945, as the SAS led the final Allied push into Germany, they were ambushed. Cut off and pinned down by heavy enemy fire, Paddy learned that his best friend had been killed. In a fit of cold fury he galvanised himself to run to a nearby jeep, he then drove up and down the road they were on, sigle-handedly taking out each in dividual gun position that was pinning down his convoy. He then turned his attention to his wounded comrades trapped at the front of the column and ferried them to safety.

In October 1945, the wartime SAS disbanded, Paddy Mayne called his men together for the last time and quoted from his favourite Irish melody. "Some they went for glory, some they went for pillage, pillage was the motto for the boys of Killyran, we came for the pillage, but I reckon we got a wee bit of glory as well". At these words, many of the men were in tears, considering themselves to be a family.

Going Home

The adventure was over and Paddy returned to the family home in Northern Ireland and an office job with the Law Society. But the very qualities that had made him the ultimate soldier, led to frustration and boredom in peacetime. Bouts of violence and depression were never far from the surface.

On the 14th December 1955, Paddy was speeding home from a late night drinking session with friends, when his car slammed into a parked lorry, span out of control and crashed, he was killed instantly.

Paddy's hometown of Newtonards came to a standstill for his funeral, shops and businesses closed and thousands came out to pay their respects to the great SAS hero.

Paddy Mayne had struck fear into the very heart of the enemy and done more than any other soldier to cripple the German war machine, he was and remains to this day, a true war hero.


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    • Nils Visser profile image

      Nils Visser 

      7 years ago from Brighton UK

      These sort of individuals are always fascinating. You'll probably enjoy my hub called The Last Warbow Archer.

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      7 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Absolutely Five One Cows, he was a truly remarkable man and an all action hero. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • Five One Cows profile image

      Five One Cows 

      7 years ago from Moo Town

      This was truly a remarkable story !


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