SECRET records from the SAS's earliest days carrying out daring attacks behind Nazi lines in North Africa and France have been published in a new book marking the regiment's 70th anniversary.

The Special Air Service was the brainchild of a young Scottish officer, David Stirling, who realised small, highly skilled raiding parties sent deep into enemy territory could help break the impasse in North Africa.

The new tome includes first-hand reports of the first mission he led – the disastrous “Operation Number One” in November 1941, from which only 22 of the 65 soldiers who took part returned.

Stirling’s men parachuted behind the lines on the night of November 16, 1941, with the aim of destroying as many German and Italian aircraft as possible at two airfields in Libya.

The historic operational order noted: “It is most important that the enemy should be unaware of your having landed or of your presence.”

However, strong winds and heavy rain caused havoc. One of the planes was shot down with the loss of 15 parachutists and crew, several other men were injured in the drop, the teams became separated on the ground and the explosives were soaked.

One SAS soldier, named as Parachutist Bennett, gave a grimly dry account of the failed operation. Before setting off, his team was given a meal “fit for a king” that was “just like having whatever you wished before going to the gallows”.

Bennett recalled that the soldiers were “not at all thrilled” when the pilot informed them that the wind was getting up, and described his desperate struggle to release the harness of his parachute after landing as “a job for Houdini”.

The soldiers only located two of the 11 containers of supplies, and weapons that were dropped, and much of the kit they did salvage was swept away in a further downpour.

Realising they could not carry out the attack, they marched 36 hours to their rendezvous point, where they were picked up by the British Army’s specialist Long Range Desert Group, which became nicknamed the “Libyan desert taxi service” for its role in transporting the SAS to and from targets.

A later one-page order, dated July 1944, sets out a request for the SAS to kill or kidnap Rommel and senior members of his staff in France.

It notes that capturing and transporting the famous German commander to Britain would have “immense” propaganda value, but adds that it would be easier to kill him.

“Kidnapping would require successful two-way W/T (walkie-talkie) communication and therefore a larger party, while killing could be reported by pigeon,” the order states.

Rommel committed suicide in October 1944 after being implicated in a failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler.

The book, entitled The SAS War Diary 1941-45, collects rare and previously undisclosed documents detailing the origins of the regiment.

It goes on to describe its role in the invasions of Sicily and Italy, and the D-Day landings.

A former SAS soldier began the diary to preserve records and photographs of the regiment’s exploits in 1945 at the end of hostilities.

Its existence remained a secret even within the SAS for 50 years but it has now been expanded and is being made public for the first time.

The diary also features scores of never-before-seen photographs, including one of SAS soldiers practising parachute jump landings by leaping out of moving trucks.

The lavishly-produced book is published in a series of limited editions, including one of 100 copies signed by Sergeant Jimmy Storie, the last surviving veteran of Operation Number One. The SAS Regimental Association’s welfare fund will benefit from sales, and the work will go on display around the country.

Viscount Slim, a former SAS officer and president of the SAS Regimental Association, said: “The SAS War Diary is an icon. The fact that its existence has been a secret for over 50 years … is incredible. I can think of no better way of marking the 70th anniversary of the SAS than allowing it to break cover.”

l The SAS War Diary 1941-45 is published by Extraordinary Editions, priced from £975, and can be bought at