Mike Sadler, Intrepid Desert Navigator in World War II, Dies at 103

Maj. Mike Sadler, a World War II navigator on the trackless Sahara of North Africa, who guided Britain’s first special forces across sand seas on daring behind-the-lines night raids that blew up enemy aircraft on the ground and troops in their billets, died on Thursday in Cambridge, England. He was 103.

The death, in a nursing home, was confirmed by John Allcock, the secretary of the Special Air Service Regimental Association, a welfare organization for veterans of the elite task force of the British Army that Mr. Sadler had belonged to.

Mr. Sadler was one of the first recruits and believed to be the last surviving original member of the S.A.S., a prototype for hit-and-run warfare and for the U.S. Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEALs. As part of the unit he used stars, sun and instruments like a navigator at sea to cross expanses of the Libyan Desert, a wasteland almost the size of India, whose shifting, windblown dunes can be as changing and featureless as an ocean.

Compared with the commandos he guided on truck and jeep convoys — volunteer daredevils who crept onto Nazi airfields; attached time bombs to Messerschmitt fighters, Stuka dive bombers, fuel dumps and pilot quarters; then sped away as explosions roared behind — Mr. Sadler was no hero in the usual sense. Comrades said he might not have fired a single shot at the enemy in North Africa.

But he got his men to the targets — and out again. Without him, they said, the commandos could not have crossed hundreds of miles of desert, found enemy bases on the Mediterranean Coast, destroyed more than 325 aircraft, blown up ammunition and supply dumps, killed hundreds of German and Italian soldiers and pilots, or found their way back to hidden bases.

“His navigating skills were legendary,” wrote Sean Rayment, the author of the book “Tales From the Special Forces Club: Mike Sadler’s Story” (2013). He said Mr. Sadler’s skills had “helped to ensure the success of some of the S.A.S.’s most spectacular missions during the North African campaign.”

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