Peter de la Billière

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Sir Peter de la Billière
Born (1934-04-29) 29 April 1934 (age 83)
Plymouth, Devon, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1952–92
Rank General
Service number 424859
Commands held British Forces Middle East (1990–91)
South East District (1988–90)
General Officer Commanding Wales (1985–87)
Director SAS (1979–83)
22 SAS Regiment (1972–74)
Battles/wars Korean War
Malayan Emergency
Jebel Akhdar War
Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation
Dhofar Rebellion
Falklands War
Gulf War
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross & Bar
Mentioned in Despatches
Legion of Merit (United States)

General Sir Peter Edgar de la Cour de la Billière,[1] KCB, KBE, DSO, MC & Bar (born 29 April 1934) is a former British Army officer who was Director SAS during the Iranian Embassy siege and Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in the Gulf War. He is often known by the initialism DLB.

Early years[edit]

Peter de la Billière was born in Plymouth, Devon, the son of Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Denis de la Billière and his wife Kitty Lawley.[2] On 22 May 1941 his father was killed when his ship, HMS Fiji, was sunk by German bombers in an attack south-west of Crete.[3] His father was of Huguenot descent.

He was educated at Wellesley House School, in the coastal town of Broadstairs in Kent,[4] and Harrow School at Harrow-on-the-Hill in North West London.[3] A “Peter de la Billière” is mentioned as pupil evacuee of St. Peter’s, Broadstairs, Kent sent to Crediton, Devon in Our Land at War by Duff Hart-Davis.[5] The book (p48) states “during the night of 23 January 1945 the building caught fire, and pupils and staff alike, trapped on balconies, were forced to abseil down makeshift ropes …"

Military career[edit]

He originally enlisted as a private in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry in 1952.[3] He was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the Durham Light Infantry.[3] During his early career as an officer he served in Japan, Korea and Egypt with the first battalion (1 DLI).[3]

Special Air Service[edit]

In 1956, he attended and passed Selection for the Special Air Service. During his first SAS tour, he served in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency and Oman, where he was mentioned in despatches and won the Military Cross in 1959 for leading a troop in the assault on Jebel Akdar.[6][7] After his initial tour with 22 SAS, he returned to the Durham Light Infantry to run recruit training, before taking up the post of Adjutant of 21 SAS – the London-based Territorial Army (reserve) SAS regiment.[3] In 1962, he was attached to the Federal Army in Aden.[3] In 1964, he failed Staff College but was appointed Officer Commanding A Squadron 22 SAS.[3] From 1964 to 1966, A Squadron 22 SAS was deployed to Borneo where he was second-in-command of the regiment for the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation.[3] For his actions during this period he was awarded a bar to the Military Cross.[8]

After this tour, he re-attended Staff College, and, this time, passed. After Staff College he was posted as G2 (intelligence) Special Forces at Strategic Command. He then served a tour as second-in-command of 22 SAS, of which he was Commanding Officer from 1972 to 1974.[3] For service in Oman, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1976 for his actions in the battles at Musandam and Dhofar.[9]

He then served from 1977 in a number of administrative posts assuming command of the British Army Training Team in Sudan before returning to the regiment as Director SAS in 1979.[10] For the next four years he commanded SAS Group with overall responsibility for military command. It was during this period that the SAS shot to public fame as a consequence of their storming of the Iranian Embassy in 1980. He was also responsible during the Falklands War for planning Operation Mikado.[11] In 1982, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[12]

Regular service commands[edit]

After the SAS he was appointed Military Commissioner and Commander of British Forces in the Falkland Islands from 1984 and General Officer Commanding Wales District from 1985.[10] He was succeeded by Brigadier Morgan Llewellyn on 1 December 1987.[13] In 1987 he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB).[14] He was General Officer Commanding South East District from 1988.[10]

Despite being due for retirement he was appointed on 6 October 1990 as Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in the Gulf War – in effect the second-in-command of the multinational military coalition headed by US General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. His past experience of fighting in the area, knowledge of the people and possession of some fluency in Arabic overrode concerns about his age. In this role he was largely responsible for persuading Schwarzkopf (who was initially sceptical) to allow the use of SAS and other special forces in significant roles in that conflict. The British army contingent expanded 14,000 from early in November 1990 to more than 45,000 through to completion of the engagement and cessation of hostilities in February 1991.[3] In 1991, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE).[15]

By the end of his career he had risen to the rank of a general, and became a special adviser to the Ministry of the Defence on Middle East military matters. In order to allow him to receive the pension benefits of full general he was given the newly created sinecurist (honorarium) post of Middle East Advisor to the Secretary of State for Defence.[3] He retired in June 1992.[3]

Later life[edit]

In August 1991, he received Canada's Meritorious Service Cross.[16] In 1993, he received Saudi Arabia's Order of King Abdul Aziz, 2nd Class[17] and was made a Commander of the United States' Legion of Merit.[17]

He has written or co-authored 18 books, including an autobiography, a personal account of the Gulf War and a number of works about the SAS.[18]

He is currently a patron of the UK based international development charity, FARM-Africa, having served on the board since 1992 and as chairman from 1998 to 2001.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Although the name is often seen without the accent, it is spelt with the accent in Who's Who and in de la Billière's own books.
  2. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 24 April 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "General Sir Peter de la Billière". Retrieved 4 May 2007. 
  4. ^ Wellesley House: Alumni
  5. ^ William Collins 2015 ISBN 978-0-00-751653-7
  6. ^ "No. 41692". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 April 1959. p. 2764. 
  7. ^ "No. 41798". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 August 1959. p. 5353. 
  8. ^ "No. 43990". The London Gazette (Supplement). 24 May 1966. p. 6106. 
  9. ^ "No. 46808". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 January 1976. p. 1295. 
  10. ^ a b c "Army Commands" (PDF). 26 July 2016. 
  11. ^ "SAS 'suicide mission' to wipe out Exocets". The Telegraph. 8 March 2002. Retrieved 16 December 2011. 
  12. ^ "No. 49212". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1982. p. 5. 
  13. ^ "No. 51136". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 November 1987. p. 14774. 
  14. ^ "No. 51171". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1987. p. 2. 
  15. ^ "No. 52588". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 June 1991. p. 24. 
  16. ^ Governor General's Office, Canada
  17. ^ a b "No. 53326". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 June 1993. p. 9831. 
  18. ^ " Peter De La Billière: Books". Retrieved 4 May 2007. 
Secondary sources
  • de la Billière, General Sir Peter (1992). Storm Command: A Personal Account of the Gulf War. London. 
Military offices
Preceded by
John Watts
Director SAS
Succeeded by
John Foley
Preceded by
Sir Michael Gray
GOC South East District
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Swinburn
Preceded by
Andrew Wilson
Commander British Forces Middle East
In-theatre commander for Operation Granby

October 1990 – March 1991
Succeeded by
Ian Macfadyen