On April 30, 1980, at 11:25am, six Arab-Iranian terrorists broke into the Iranian Embassy at 16 Princes Gate in London and took 26 Iranian Embassy employees hostage. The terrorists demanded the release of 91 prisoners being held by Iran in their home region of Khuzestan. If their demands were not met by the afternoon of May 1st, they threatened to blow up the embassy and everyone inside it.
Not many governments at the time had a dedicated counter-terrorist force, but the British government was an exception, and they responded by sending in the venerable Special Air Service. The pride of the British Army, this black op unit specializes in covert reconnaissance, hostage rescue, and unconventional warfare.
SAS operators were divided into two teams: Red and Blue. While Blue Team breached the ground floor of the building, Red Team would abseil from the roof, and it was important that both teams would enter the building at the same time so the terrorists wouldn’t have time to respond. Speed and aggression were essential components of SAS doctrine. One of the unit’s founders, Lt. Col. Paddy Mayne, said “When you enter a room full of armed men, shoot the first person who makes a move, hostile or otherwise. He has started to think and is therefore dangerous.”
While this sort of “guns blazing” approach to room clearing is no longer considered popular (or sane) in modern tactical shooting, it might help explain SAS’s interesting choice of gear. In the 1980s, weapon modifications such as red dot optics and weapon mounted flashlights were barely considered by conventional armies. SAS was, for the most part, trained to fight in enclosed spaces in the dark, and their weapons highlighted their mission.
Unlike the rest of the British Army, which at the time was using the L1A1 SLR service rifle, SAS utilized the MP5 submachine gun for its size and accuracy. Specifically modified for low light operations, SAS modified its MP5s to include a top-mounted flashlight, which conveniently doubled as an aiming device.
Notice how the flashlight sits in place of an optic on the submachine gun’s mount. This might seem counterintuitive at first, but there is, in fact, a method behind the madness. SAS operators were mostly trained to shoot with gas masks, and utilizing the iron sights on any weapon while wearing a mask is far from optimal. Since there were no truly convenient red dots or reflex scopes at the time, SAS commandos would use the variable beam focus on their lights to double as both a light source as well as an aiming reference point. On these old “Laser Products” flashlights, the adjustable bezel could adjust the throw on the beam, making it suitable for either a wide area or a small, focused spot depending on the situation. This made it easier for SAS operators to shoot with reasonable accuracy from the hip while also maintaining spatial awareness, which was already difficult due to their gas masks.
The tactics and equipment used by the Special Air Service remain relevant in a modern home defense scenario. In a situation such as a home invasion, a homeowner will most likely be forced to engage threats in the dark and will have to maintain situational awareness while using his flashlight. With an Inforce WML and its 10,000 Candelas of beam intensity, a shooter is guaranteed to get a bright, solid illuminated area that can be used as a point of aim. In close quarters combat, pinpoint accuracy is not as important as it is when hunting or precision marksmanship, and if a shooter trains enough with his weapon and familiarizes himself with his shot placement when using the WML as an aiming point, shooting from the hip becomes a viable tactic for close quarters engagements.
For those who use night vision, the WML White/IR comes equipped with an invisible infrared beam perfect for illuminating pitch black areas while also providing the same targeting benefits as its white light brother. Aiming with a night vision device over one eye, especially in the dark, is difficult and awkward and the WML White/IR offers a solution.
The hostage crisis at the Iranian Embassy lasted for 6 days, but it took SAS just 17 minutes to take out the terrorists and secure the hostages. Suffering only one injury during the assault, the Iranian Embassy hostage crisis remains one of the most stellar examples for a well-conducted counterterrorist operation in the world today.