LONDON -- Britain's elite Special Air Service on Friday disclosed rare details of its daring secret missions, including an ambitious 1944 plan to capture or the kill infamous Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
The army unit, which was formed during World War II, has allowed previously hidden accounts of the regiment's wartime efforts to be published in a book marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the SAS in 1941.
Files written by the regiment's founder David Stirling and other soldiers, which document attacks in North Africa and France, had previously been stored in secret archives. The existence of the files wasn't even acknowledged within Britain's special forces for at least 50 years.
In a striking one-page document, dated July 1944, the SAS are given an order to attempt to kill or kidnap Rommel and senior members of his staff while they were in France. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had sent Rommel into France to lead forces preparing for the Allied invasion.
The document, which is marked secret, notes that "if it should prove possible to kidnap Rommel and bring him to this country the propaganda value would be immense."
However, it also discloses that commanders believed it would be easier to simply assassinate the target.
"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.
It isn't known whether the SAS ever made attempts to carry out the mission before Rommel committed suicide in October 1944 following his implication in a failed plot to kill Hitler.
The new 600-page book, called "The SAS War Diary," also details the regiment's role in the invasions of Sicily and Italy and famed D-Day landings in France.
"The SAS War Diary is an icon. The fact that its existence has been a secret for over 50 years – even within the regiment – is incredible," said Viscount John Slim, a former SAS soldier and member of the House of Lords. "I can think of no better way of marking the 70th anniversary of the SAS than allowing it to break cover."
The SAS is best known for a daring 1980 raid to rescue hostages from a siege at the Iranian embassy in London, but the files show that not all its missions have been successful.
Its first operation in Nov. 1941 was planned to see troops parachute deep behind enemy lines and destroy German and Italian aircraft at two airfields in Libya. However, strong winds and driving rain caused chaotic conditions, with several soldiers becoming injured as they attempted to parachute and one plane shot down, killing 15 troops and the crew.
Those who did land found their explosives had been soaked, and that containers of weapons that had been air-dropped in advance were swept away in rushing waters.
Proceeds from the book are being donated to the SAS Regimental Association's welfare fund, which helps veterans – including those injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.