Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne was one of the most outstanding soldiers and leaders of the Second World War. A qualified solicitor and Irish Universities heavyweight boxing champion, the Ulsterman had played international rugby for both Ireland and the British Lions before the war.
From the Royal Ulster Rifles, he volunteered for the Commandos. Where, as a Troop Leader with No.11 (Scottish) Commando, he saw action in Syria, before joining David Stirling’s fledgling unit – ‘L’ Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade. A title purposely designed to deceive the Germans, as the unit’s initial strength was set at six officers and sixty men.
Paddy Mayne’s achievements from Troop Commander to Commanding Officer of 1 SAS Regiment reads like something from a Boy’s Own comic. In North Africa the raids he led on Axis airfields destroyed over one hundred aircraft on the ground. In Sicily and Italy, he and his men were first into the fray destroying coastal defences and artillery positions, in advance of the main assaults. In France, they operated ruthlessly behind enemy lines, and in Germany they were at the tip of the spear that led the armoured charge into the Nazi heartland.
For his leadership, courage and complete disregard for danger Paddy Mayne was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) four times during the war.
The first for the raid on the Tamet airfield in Libya. The second for operations in Sicily for which the citation read:
‘In both operations it was Mayor Mayne’s courage, determination and superb leadership which proved the key to the success. He personally led the men from the landing-craft, in the face of heavy machine-gun fire, and in the case of the Augusta raid – mortar fire. By this action he succeeded in forcing his way to ground, where it was possible to form up and sum up enemy defences.’
His third DSO came for operations in France and the fourth, which was downgraded from the initial recommendation for the Victoria Cross, in Germany.
After the war he was recognised by the French by being awarded the Légion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre with palm, of which they said he was:
‘An officer of great worth, whose courage and daring demand the respect of all. He has greatly deserved the recognition of France.’
Paddy Mayne was not without his flaws, who isn’t. But what he was – without any question – was an exceptional leader of men, a courageously brilliant soldier and an outstanding legend of the SAS.