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Paddy Mayne: The Irish Lion And The Great Destroyer

Lt Col Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne, SAS, in the desert near Kabrit, 1942.

“Wild maybe, but he was definitely someone you would want on your side.” Colonel Robert Blair Mayne also known as ‘Paddy’ and as a prolific destroyer of Nazis troops and machinery

Robert Blair Mayne, known by the nickname “Paddy,” was one of the most effective Allied soldiers during World War II. In addition to many awards, he was distinguished by phenomenal physical power, mastery of the knife, his exceptional skills as a shooter, and his ability to move silently.

Mayne was merciless to his opponents, using any means he could to emerge victorious from the most difficult situations. In addition, Mayne had the unique ability to assess the situation on the battlefield instantly and assess his own capabilities so as not to put his soldiers at risk. Getting into critical and often hopeless situations, Mayne performed unimaginable and courageous actions that influenced the outcome of battles.

He was also one of the founders of the Special Air Service (SAS)

In order to understand how Paddy Mayne managed to achieve such results, it is necessary to pay attention to his origins and the circumstances by which his character was formed.

He was born on January 11, 1915, in the city of Newtownards, Northern Ireland to a Protestant family who owned several retail businesses in the city.

Paddy was named in honour of his mother’s cousin, Captain Robert Mayne, an officer in the British army who died in battle during the First World War.

While attending junior school, Mayne became interested in playing rugby and played for the school’s 1st XV and the local Ards RFC team. In addition, he played golf and cricket as well as showing some skill as a shooter at a local club.

After graduation, Mayne decided to become a lawyer and studied law at Queen’s University Belfast. In August 1936, he became a heavyweight-boxing champion among the Irish universities and became a finalist in the British universities’ championship.

Mayne was also the second-line striker of the Ireland rugby team. His team went on to win six games, and in 1938, he joined the British Lions during their tour of South Africa.

However, his legal and sports careers were soon prematurely interrupted by the approaching war.

On the playing field, Mayne was a goal-oriented player. Tough sports and the ability to compete with outstanding athletes had given him confidence, endurance, and perseverance. He had the ability to work in a team but also displayed leadership skills.

All these qualities were indispensable and came in useful to Paddy while serving in the SAS.

Before the beginning of the Second World War, Mayne had joined the Supplementary Reserve in Newtownards. He moved through several regiments and after the evacuation of Dunkirk, Mayne volunteered for the newly formed No. 11 (Scottish) Commando.

In June 1941, acting as a junior lieutenant with No. 11 Commando, Mayne took part in a Syria–Lebanon Campaign.

He was involved with an operation on the Litani River in Lebanon against the French troops of Vichy. Mayne played a distinct role in the raid. For this, his name was mentioned in dispatches and his friend, Lt. Eoin McGonigal, recommended him to Captain David Stirling.

Mayne’s unit arrived in Cyprus in April. Here, Mayne started drinking heavily and was arrested for emptying his revolver at the feet of a nightclub manager he considered had overcharged for drinks. He was detained for 48 hours.

From November 1941 to the end of 1942, Mayne took part in many night raids in the deserts of Libya and Egypt as part of the SAS. There is a claim that he was a pioneer in the use of military jeeps for night raids and single-handedly managed to destroy up to 100 enemy aircraft.

During Mayne’s first successful raid at Wadi Tamet on December 14, 1941, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and on February 24, 1942, was mentioned in dispatches.

On the night of July 26, 1942, Mayne took part in one of the most successful SAS raids in the desert along with Captain Stirling. Eighteen armed jeeps raided the Airfield of Sidi Haneish. Managing to avoid detection, they destroyed up to 40 German aircraft. They managed to escape, losing two men and three jeeps.

The success of this operation saved the SAS from the dissolution that the regular army had planned.

Mayne developed a bit of a reputation for drinking. Alcohol released all his ferocity and recklessness.

When Stirling was captured in January 1943, the 1st SAS regiment was reorganized into two separate parts: the Special Boat Section and the Special Raiding Squadron (SRS).

Mayne became commander of the Special Raiding Squadron and led a unit in Italy and Sicily until the end of 1943. On July 10, 1943, in Sicily, he performed two successful operations: the first to seize batteries during which he killed 200-300 Italians and the second to secure the town of Augusta. For this, Mayne was awarded a bar to his DSO.

In January 1944, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was appointed commander of the re-formed 1st SAS regiment. Mayne led the SAS during the war campaigns in Belgium, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, and France. In operations, he often attracted resistance fighters including French Maquis.

A heavily armed patrol of ‘L’ Detachment SAS in their Jeeps, just back from a three-month patrol. The crews of the jeeps are all wearing ‘Arab-style’ headdress, copied from the Long Range Desert Group.

For his leadership, heroism, and close cooperation with the French Resistance, Mayne was honoured to receive a second bar for his DSO. The post-war French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’honneur.

Mayne received a citation for the Victoria Cross but was turned down. The question of why this happened not only arose in the minds of his contemporaries at the time, but was also raised in Parliament in January 2006. In spite of a public campaign to reopen the case, the British government refused to award him the Victoria Cross retroactively. This is possibly due to the fact he was a man who would refuse to obey the orders of his superiors and who violated many articles of the military charter.

Stirling and Mayne

In October 1945, 1 SAS was disbanded and the following month Mayne left the Army. After the war, further decorations followed, notably the Legion d’Honneur and Croix de Guerre from France.

However, some senior Army officers felt that Mayne had sometimes been too brutal and callous. David Stirling had rebuked him in 1941 for gunning down an estimated 30 unarmed enemy soldiers who were in their canteen during an operation in the Libyan desert. Mayne had, Stirling felt, ‘overstepped the mark’.

After a post-war spell with the British Antarctic Survey on the Falkland Islands, which was cut short by his recurring back injury, Mayne returned to Newtownards working first as a solicitor and, later, as secretary to the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

For the rest of his life he seemed troubled by physical and mental pain. His back injury prevented him from doing heavy work and it is highly likely that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. His fondness for alcohol continued, and he was still prone to binge-drinking.

On 14 December 1955, he attended a meeting of the Friendship Lodge and afterwards continued drinking with some fellow Freemasons in Bangor. He then headed home and drove at speed in his red open-top Riley sports car, swerved to miss an unlit coal lorry and crashed into a telegraph pole. He was found dead in his car at 4am, having fractured his skull, less than a mile from home. He was just 40.


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