AT Commander's

SAS Jeep

The SAS (Special Air Service) was the brainchild of David Sterling, a british officer with an affinity for nontraditional warfare. He envisioned small, highly trained groups of specialized troops in small groups infiltrating enemy lines and wreaking havoc before returning to their own lines again. He devised this plan while laying in a hospital bed, and also came up with the SAS logo and motto (at right). The winged dagger is recognizable even at a glance. "Who Dares Wins" typified the personality of every SAS member in those early days. Initial attempts to create this airborne force met with misfortune; their first exercises and operations were nothing less than disasters. Things changed when they came upon the idea of using the Long Range Desert Group (a desert recon organization) to give them taxi service to and from the enemy areas. Things began looking up. Things took a quantum leap forward when they were able to secure some Willys jeeps. Now they could transport themselves to their targets and home again! They seriously lacked firepower, however, and had trouble securing any kind of heavy machine guns. They came across some Vickers K-Guns (of WW1 fame) that seemed to fit the bill. They mounted these, usually in pairs, on their Willys jeeps, giving each 2 or 3 man team awesome firepower! They carried full loads of survival equipment, fuel, ammunition, explosives, and grenades on each mission. In addition, they often pre-staged caches of supplies along their route for future use. They stripped all excess metal off the jeeps to reduce their weight - making room for more cargo. You can see in these pics that they removed not only windshields and mirrors, but even sheet metal like the radiator grille elements! Thus armed, their first mission was an astonishing success as they drove down an enemy airfield at night, strafing and destroying many enemy aircraft on the ground. If parked aircraft counted toward an "ace" rating, these guys would've made it several times over in a matter of minutes as they tore up the enemy airfield and left little behind save burning buildings and smoking aircraft fuselages. The SAS had arrived! Note in the pic above left, the single rear-facing AA Vickers on the passenger side. Note also in the second vehicle the forward-facing low-mounted .50 and the twin rear-facing Vickers K-guns. As near as I can tell, the typical(?) SAS jeep had a twin Vickers for the gunner, a single Vickers for the driver, and rear-facing twin Vickers for AA use. Near as I can tell, only one of the SAS jeeps in the desert was lucky enough to score a Ma Duce (.50). Each jeep seemed to have its own configuration and personality, depending on the crew and the availability of weaponry. At the right is a reenactor's vehicle that seems to be a model of the rear vehicle in the photo above - it's got a low-mount .50, a rear twin Vickers and a single Vickers for the driver. This sure appears to be either a nicely restored vehicle or a super re-creation!

Here's the Vickers K-Gun. These were .303 aircraft machine guns that had an incredible rate of fire - usually a disadvantage for ground troops. When an aircraft is dodging, yawing, diving, climbing, and turning, the gunner only has a few split seconds to fill the target full of lead. This is why these K-guns were designed. The original SAS troopers found some of these weapons, unused and unloved, and put them to good use. After all, they were planning raids on enemy airfields in fast-moving jeeps and were shooting at enemy planes - it was (almost) a natural fit! The biggest advantage of these weapons was their availability. In a renegade unit that had to rely on scrounging equipment, availability often meant more than suitability. The SAS troopers were mission oriented and flexible enough to "make it work" and had enough creativity to find suitable workarounds.

After the SAS moved to Europe, they were reportedly misused, and their capable commando jeeps were relegated to duties more fitting for regular combat troops or armored cars (the SAS jeeps were decidedly NOT armored, although they made a very limited move in that direction before the war ended). In the pic at left, you can see how the jeep evolved. No longer were they as worried about weight - they weren't going a thousand miles behind enemy lines through the desert any more. Although the grille is still showing prior desert duty, you can see the addition of weight in the form of armor in front of the driver and gunner. Note that the driver has a single Vickers so he can get in on the action, too! The multiple gas cans have been replaced by large, permanent fuel tanks behind the driver and gunner. In the pic at right, you can see the ETO version of these jeeps without the armor. Again, note the driver's single Vickers K-gun. Too bad the Hasbro jeep didn't come with another Vickers! In the pic at left, you can see a relatively uncommon 3-man team; usually the rear-facing guns were for AA use - the gunner would use those if being tailed across the desert by enemy aircraft. In this pic, it seems apparent that they intend to use all 5 K-guns simultaneously, giving this little jeep incredible firepower! I'd hate to be in the front seat when the rear gunner swivels those twin Vickers K-guns around to face forward... it looks like they'd be about ear-height to the driver and front gunner, not giving the rear gunner much room to swing; Maybe they intended these to be rear-firing only or for anti-aircraft use.

On to our SAS Jeep...

Loading supplies, ammo cans, tarps, and spare equipment to our Hasbro jeep wasn't a big deal (and certainly not worth web space), but the "quick and easy" details and customizations are worth mentioning. Most notable is the twin Bren guns added in the rear, the ammo can mounts, and the external gas can mount.

I decided to add optional twin bren guns just for kicks. Although I did quite a bit of research, I couldn't find ANY historical precedent for mounting Brens this way - but did it anyhow. The original SAS guys used whatever equipment they could scrounge, and I had two unused SOTW Bren guns in the junkbox. I had a .50 as well, but thought it just didn't look British enough with a .50 on the dash (even though the restoration/repro pictured above sports a .50 on the dash).

Here's a pic showing the mounting arrangement. Fortunately for customizers, Hasbro left the .50 pedestal mount socket on the floor of this jeep version. I simply added a dowel the right diameter (I had to add a single layer of masking tape to make it a tight fit), and cut it to the height I wanted. This is really open to preference, because there is no windshield to worry about clearing. Mounting the twin Brens promised to be tricky at best... however, upon closer examination it became apparent the folks at SOTW designed their Brens with this project in mind! The Brens had two tabs beneath the MGs to mount them with! The purpose of these mysterious tabs is unknown to me, and I confess I've spent more time typing this sentence than trying to figure it out. (I don't really care, I guess.) I had some brass rod (of unknown diameter) in my junk box and thought it'd do the job. I drilled a hole in each of the tabs under the Bren to accept the brass rod (pressure fit). I lined up a Joe and decided how far apart I wanted the Brens, then simply cut the brass rod the appropriate length.

Mounting the Brens on the pedestal was no trick at all. After cutting the pedestal the right length, I drilled a vertical hole in the very top of the pedestal. (This hole will accept a 21C .50 if I ever decide to put one there.) I used a smaller diameter dowel and turned it against a belt sander to reduce the diameter to fit the pedestal's vertical hole. Then I drilled a horizontal hole in the small dowel to slide on the brass rod. When the Brens sat in their mount, they simply spun down into a vertical position and didn't angle skyward like real ones would. I found a piece of piano wire (visible in the photo at right) that was bent in the shape of a wide "Y" that rests under the Bren receivers and keeps them from elevating too far.

Here's a pic of the Prototype SAS Crew fending off an attack from and enemy fighter that spotted their dust while fleeing across the desert. Notice the vertical dowel? It's blue! Yep, last weekend was the Pinewood Derby race in scouts and this dowel was used to hold a car while a kid spray-painted it. That happened to be the one I used for this project. In case you're wondering, that's GI Bob in the pith helmet, the Brit Marine Commando in the Aussie hat, and an unknown Joe in the raghat. The raghat was made from a piece of cloth draped over a Joe's noggin - the extra was cut off and I put a few stitches in it to make it hold the head shape. I added a white cloth elastic to keep it on his head.

Here's a pic of the AA sights I added. They're a prototype and I haven't decided whether I like the idea of twin brens or not. For now, they're a spare armament that we'll use for Backyard Patrols when enemy air power is a threat, otherwise we'll just leave 'em stowed or on the shelf. I think the AA sights "dress up" the mount a bit and make the twin bren a tad classier. Maybe I'll do a finished version when I get the time.

I've seen pics of SAS jeeps with ammo cans, 1st aid kits, and tarps mounted on the fenders. I thought the addition of ammo cans to the fenders of this jeep would look groovy and would at least have a hint of realism. The challenge was adding the ammo cans without altering the vehicle more than absolutely necessary. I was also worried about this goofy soft plastic Hasbro made the jeep out of - I didn't think regular model glue would work and didn't feel like experimenting; so I wanted to do it all without glue. Another catch was that I needed a removable mount. In the end, I was able to add removable cans and only made one small hole in each fender. I used thin cloth elastic, like rifle slings are made of. I made a small rectangular hole in each fender large enough to accommodate the elastic and stuck it through, then knotted it underneath the fender. To make the hole, I heated a pin up over a candle so it was red hot, then just poked it through the hole I'd pre-marked. I dragged the pin in the shape of the hole, then used a sharp, think X-acto to clean up the hole. To affix the top of the strap, I just lifted the hood-mount gas can rack at the point it attaches to the jeep and stuck the elastic in the hole... and reinserted the rack mounting tab back in the hole. Easy! Removing the ammo can is quick and easy, too; just unplug the hood gas can rack mount from the hole. Adding these cans was about the easiest mod on a vehicle I've ever done!

The jeep came with an extra gas can. That was nice of Hasbro to include. It belonged in a rack somewhere, though. At first, I wasn't sure how to mount it with minimal modification... th en the obvious hit me! The front vehicle halves left a crack at exactly the right height, and the plastic was very pliable. The plan came together. I made a small hole underneath the vehicle (like I did for the ammo can) and stuck the elastic through. I put a knot in it and - Voila! - the bottom of the strap was attached. I threaded it through the gas can handles and stuck it in the crack where the top and bottom halves of the vehicle came together and put a knot in it - now the top of the strap was affixed. Another easy solution!

As a side note, the handles/grips on the Vickers wasn't particularly accurate, nor is it useful for Joe's grip. The CC hands are too big, the GHG hands won't work well, the Cots hands aren't suitable... AARGH! I found that the bendy hands are fine, though. When I picked up a LIFE figure on clearance for $4.98, I was interested in checking out the bendy hands. I absolutely despised them! I couldn't imagine what possessed Hasbro to come up with this silly idea! Putting them on a non-SA body was an even worse idea! When the bad design of the Vickers grips met the silly design of the bendy hands, they kind of matched - and it works & looks great. Has could've done something to make that opposable thumb more useful, though.

Here's the driver's side Vickers mount. I thought about bunch of different approaches as well as some used in the past (like on the Gunship project, elsewhere on my site, I used the axle-mount from a worthless 5-Star trailer). This time, I thought I'd use a mix of wood, brass, and plastic. I mounted it low, so the driver can get at it easliy without leaving him in a goofy position to reach the wheel or shifter. This was a concession toward playability and a little of a departure from reality - mine's lower than they probably should've been. The SAS jeeps didn't seem to keep the mirrors (reflections were probably unwanted if you're trying to avoid being noticed), but I left the mirror on my jeep because it made a practical rest for the rear of the single Vickers MG.

Back to the mount. The sponson in the above pic was made of wood. The benefit is that you can easily shape and contour wood any way you want with little difficulty. Another benefit is that a piece of brass tubing inserted into a hole drilled in the hole makes a dandy mount that permits the brass rod to rotate freely. No, I have no idea what diameter the brass tubing is, nor do I know what diameter my hole is. When creating, I usually just do it without thinking about making a reproducible project... this is a relaxing hobby, after all, and I'm not OCD enough to keep track of the minutae. Keeping too close track of my steps cramps my creativity. ;-)

One problem was mounting the single MG on the brass rod. I used a butane torch with a cutting head to make a slot in the bottom of the Hasbro MG. I also heated up a brass tab and crammed it in the slot, making it even deeper. Then I slid in a piece of sheet plastic and glued it in place. In the pic at left you can see the plastic tab in teh slot, as well as the plastic that oozed out when I drove in the hot brass tab. Now I had a tab on the bottom of the MG to use as a mounting point - and this will also permit an excellent elevation capability. After taking this pic, I drilled a hole in the tab for mounting. It worked well.

Here's the rear-firing passenger's side AA gun. To mount this, I decided to try something different. I found a picture hook (the little hook you screw in the back of a picture frame to hold the cable) and re-bent it to make a smaller hole. Now I think it would've been easier to use a fishing-tackle type lure screw-in eye. Hindsight 20-20. This time I just used a dowel to mount the MG. The dowel is affixed to the side of the jeep with a couple of cable-mounting tabs from Radio Shack that I happened to have in my toolbox when the inspiration struck. I used my belt sander to reduce the diameter of the dowel so it'd fit in the black RG-58/9 cable holders. The change in diameter kept the dowel from slipping all the way down. You can see this in the pics. I attached the black cable holders to the jeep with small radio-project type screws (they were the smallest I had). BE CAREFUL drilling this jeep hull. This is about the softest plastic I've ever worked with! I hardly applied pressure to the drill and it slipped through the plastic like a hot knife through butter. Yikes! I think I prefer 5-Star plastic because I'm more used to it... although this one will probably hold up to Kid Play a lot better. A little paint on the mount did wonders. I mounted the MG high enough to clear the Jerry cans, although height on this one isn't critical.

Here's a slice of reality that was a bit of an afterthought. The SAS raiders couldn't use compasses because the potential error was too high. When navigating cross-country with landmarks, a compass is fine. Navigating across the vast North African desert is quite another thing! They needed to know with precision where they were, for a navigational error of only a couple of degrees could leave them a couple of hundred miles off during a 1,000 mile journey. This could mean the difference between life and death in the hot, dry desert. Water and fuel was rationed and monitored carefully, and a successful mission or foray into the desert demanded accurate navigation. I had a sextant from the 21C submariner in the junkbox, and it makes the perfect addition to the SAS jeep. The head that was on the bendy-hands guy was swapped onto a GHG body. The bendies might've been ok on the Vickers, but (as we found out this morning) they're crummy for general play.

As a final touch, I painted the radiator behind the grille. In order to mount the sponson on the jeep, I had to put a couple of little screws in the back, to affix it to the hull on the driver's side. To get 'em in, I had to unscrew the jeep parts and open it up (quick and easy, thanks to Hasbro's attention to the needs of customers like me). While I had it open, I threw a coat of paint on the radiator. It's pretty visible through the grille, and I thought this would give it more realism and contrast. I gave it a splotchy coat of German Grey (Tamiya acrylic) followed by a splotchy coat of Engine Black (model RR paint) and got the beat-up look I was after (the subtlety of which doesn't show up in the pic very well).

For additional info on mounting the MGs, I consulted the instructions for 1/35 scale models of this jeep by Tamiya and the European version by Italeri. I found the model instructions more helpful than the other web images I dug up, because the model instructions had some great images from WWII that I haven't seen anywhere else. (Nope, I haven't got a scanner.) This was a fun project that was educational for the kids and I, and gave us a cool project on a crummy, rainy, cold day.

LMK what you think of this project, or any other stuff you stumble across on my website!

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