6/24/2009 9:39am, #1
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne - Badass Of The Month June 2009
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne
Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne was a Northern Irish soldier, amateur boxer, Rugby Union international, explorer, ass-kicker, all-around bad ass… the list goes on.
He is perhaps best remembered for being an original member of the S.A.S. and was one of the most highly decorated soldiers during WWII.
Born in sleepy Newtownards in 1915, Mayne excelled academically and at sports throughout his school and university years. He took up boxing while at Queen’s University in Belfast, where he was studying to become a solicitor and won the Irish Universities Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1936. He represented his country at Rugby Union in 1937, and was also chosen for the prestigious British Lions in 1938, touring South Africa. During this tour he was said to have relaxed by “wrecking hotels and fighting dockers”.
War was imminent, and Mayne put his sporting endeavours aside. He joined the Territorial Army and in February ’39 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant with the 5th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. He transferred to the Royal Ulster Rifles in April 1940, hoping his unit would see combat. Wanting action, and hearing Churchill’s call for an irregular raiding force to carry out tasks in enemy territory, he volunteered for the newly formed 11th
His first taste of real battle was at Litani River, Lebanon, in June 1941 The Commandos were originally to go ahead of the Australian forces and secure a bridge before the Vichy French defenders could blow it up. There was much debate over using the Commandos for such a task, and they were hastily re-deployed.
The Commandos ended up raiding French defensive positions, disabling phone lines, taking out artillery until they were faced with French armoured vehicles. Given the flat, open terrain and the lack of firepower, the Commandos were forced to withdraw. A third of their number were killed or wounded during the raid – some 130 men. Mayne himself led his force well, and was mentioned in dispatches for his conduct. The operation was still counted as a success.
History is a little unclear on what happened next, or rather why it happened. What happened is quite well documented.
Mayne reputedly struck his Commanding Officer, a Lt. Col. Geoff Keyes (Keyes would later be killed in action while attacking Rommel’s base and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the raid against Hitler’s Panzer-loving Desert Fox).
Whether it was frustration at being sitting idle at the Cyprus base, or his anger at the large number of casualties sustained because of the perceived tactical mistakes made at the Litani River is open to supposition. Most accounts mention Mayne’s quick anger and hard drinking and being a contributing factor. Explorer and writer Michael Asher later described Mayne as “complex, empathetic, and intelligent, though with a terrible, frightening temper that came out when he drank.”
Whatever the reason, Mayne’s military career was over almost before it began. A court-martial and dishonourable discharge awaited him.
While under close guard, he was visited by Captain David Stirling. Stirling had heard of Mayne’s leadership exploits at the
Litani River. Stirling offered Mayne a way out of his predicament: join him.
The only caveat was “You don’t hit this Commanding Officer”. Mayne agreed and became one of the founder members of the now-famous Special Air Service.
Stirling perhaps had an insight into Mayne’s character, having himself been thrown out of Cambridge University for drinking and gambling. Stirling had unconventional methods, too, having broken into the Army’s Middle East HQ in Cairo to persuade the Commanding Officer (Middle East) of his idea for a small, highly –trained special force to operate deep inside enemy territory.
Stirling did this while recovering from partial paralysis in his legs after damaging his back during a parachute jump. He scaled a fence using a crutch as a ladder, chanced upon General Ritchie (Deputy Commander Middle East), and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the next couple of years, The S.A.S. operated throughout North Africa, often attacking enemy airfields and destroying aircraft on the ground. In December 1941, Mayne and 7 soldiers attacked a German base at Tamit.
They destroyed 24 Axis aircraft, fuel supplies and ammo. They also attacked a mess hut and killed or wounded around fifty enemy soldiers.
Mayne received the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership of the raid.
He returned to Tamit later that month with five men and destroyed a further 27 aircraft. Mayne, having run out of explosive charges, was seen to enter the cockpit of at least one plane, rummage around briefly and emerge with handfuls of essential wiring and instrumentation panels. Yes, he’d disabled a plane with his bare hands.
Mayne was reputed to have personally destroyed around 130 aircraft by the end of the war.
The S.A.S. were given Jeeps in July 1942. The Jeeps were equipped with Vickers ‘K’ machine guns. This gave the S.A.S. new capabilities and firepower. Mayne was frequently seen hopping off moving Jeeps and planting bombs on the aircraft.
The S.A.S. attacked four airbases in a matter of days and inflicted great damage. The raids on enemy bases by the S.A.S. are estimated to have accounted for around 400 enemy aircraft during WWII, though other sources put the figure closer to 300.
When the S.A.S. was reorganised into two distinct sections - the Special Raiding Squadron and the Special Boat Section - Mayne was given command of the Special Raiding Squadron. He continued to lead his men with dramatic effect, his bravery often seen as almost reckless. In Sicily, July 1943, Mayne led the S.A.S. in a landing at Capo Murro Di Porcco.
They captured two gun positions and around 300 Italians. More exemplary work during the Italian campaign by the S.A.S. resulted in Mayne receiving a bar to his DSO for his leadership and personal bravery.
During 1944, Mayne was dropped behind enemy lines to in France to meet, train and co-ordinate resistance fighters. The S.A.S. ran diversionary raids ahead of D-Day. Mayne’s conduct resulted in a second bar to his DSO.
French Government awarded him the Legion d'honneur and the Croix de Guerre after the war. Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne was the first foreigner to receive such a dual honour.
The incident that epitomized Mayne’s bravery and ass-kickery occurred during Operation Howard in April 1945.
Paving the way for 4th Canadian Armoured Division, the S.A.S. were ambushed, and their commanding officer killed.
Mayne came up and assumed command. He recruited a driver, and mounted in a jeep, they took the fight to the Germans, repeatedly attacking their position.
Mayne fired a machine-gun from the hip, stopping only to rescue wounded soldiers, and to collect the bodies of the fallen.
He destroyed the enemy gun positions in a nearby farmhouse, leading the Germans to retreat.
It was this decisive action that lead to his commendation for the Victoria Cross. It was a feat worthy of the accolade, but Mayne’s abrasive nature seemed to count against him, as the citation was down-graded to a third bar on his DSO, despite Field Marshal Montgomery signing the citation. This was still a great honour, but many people agreed Blair Mayne should have be given the V.C., including King George VI who asked why the V.C. “had so strangely eluded him”.
After the war, Mayne had difficulty adjusting to civilian life. He was demobilized, special forces such as the S.A.S. seemingly having no place in post-war operations, and the S.A.S. was disbanded.
Mayne signed up for an expedition to the Falklands in 1945, but a crippling back injury prevented him from completing it.
Still only 30, Mayne became more introspective, spending a good portion of his time drinking. Legend has it that Mayne would drink and fight, but given that his back injury stopped him from even watching a game of Rugby, these stories of winning out against entire bars are considered to be mostly apocryphal.
On the 13th of December 1955, Paddy Mayne crashed his car while returning home to Newtownards from a night of poker and drinking and died of a broken neck. He was just 40 years old.
Lt. Col. Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne – Colonel Paddy to his men – was an unconventional leader, a daring warrior and instrumental in the success of the first true Special Forces unit, providing the blueprint for today’s elite forces.
He may have missed out on a Victoria Cross (although hope remains that this particular injustice will be remedied), but he was highly decorated by those above him and regarded as a legend by those with whom he served.
DSO (24 February 1942, Middle East)
1st bar (21 October 1943, Sicily)
2nd bar (29 March 1944, Normandy)
3rd bar (9 April 1945, Germany)
Africa Star (8th Army clasp)
France and Germany Star
War Medal 1939-1945 with Oak Leaf
French Legion d'honneur
French Croix de guerre & Palm
Last edited by sochin101; 6/24/2009 9:53am at .Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.
8/19/2009 10:34am, #2
Only just notice this. Thanks for posting.
"Rogue Warrior" by Roy Bradford and Martin Dillon (?) is the most recent bio.
Mayne was wild and according to his brother "a man made for War". He frightened those around him especially when he had been drinking.
He was apparently wont to enter bars and fight the dockers during the tour of South Africa when he was with the British Lions Rugby Team.
Fully 6ft 4ins, he could not be controlled when in full spate, except one occasion when one of his Irish comrades held a pistol on him and simply said, "I'll shoot you, Blair" throughout the evening. Mayne just continued drinking though controlled his Temper.
A Very Dangerous Man.