OPERATION BASALT – 80th ANNIVERSARY AND COMMEMORATION


On the 3rd October 2022 I was lucky enough to attend the unveiling of the new plaques on the monument and walk some of the route that they took as well as listen to various speeches at a lunch held afterwards. The purpose of this blog post is to share some videos of events at the commemoration, some photos and discussion around some aspects of the raid that came up during the day. Also included are some other things that I have found over the years in respect of the raid.

The order of the day – just to give you some idea of what to expect in this blog.

I had the great pleasure of talking at some length to Eric Lee, who wrote the definitive book on the operation Operation Basalt: The British Raid on Sark and Hitler’s Commando Order. It also proved a good chance to catch up with an old school friend Simon Elmont who lives in Sark and spoke at the point where we reached the “Cassino Tree” and explained the significance to us of the tree. There is a video later down the blog post of the story of the tree and it’s importance. Russ Guille whom I have been in contact with on twitter also provided insight into the raid and it was great to meet him and his dad Reg.

THE STORY OF THE RAID

Operation Basalt was a commando raid on the Channel Island of Sark originally planned for 18/19th of September 1942 that attempt had to be abandoned. The raid then took place on 3rd/4th October 1942. The raid would have a much wider impact on operations in the European theatre of operations as it led to Hitler issuing the “Kommandobefehl (Commando Order)”. You can view a translation of the Commando Order here.

The sign explaining the raid and showing what is on the memorial stone. The text is reproduced below. The signs were wet due to a shower earlier in the morning. Photo © Nick Le Huray
The landing point and route that they took. Photos further down the blog of the sites as they are today. Photo © Nick Le Huray
Details of the Germans that died during the raid. Photo © Nick Le Huray

Operation Basalt (Op Basalt) was a raid by Commandos of the Small-Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) on the Island of Sark.

The object of the raid was to gather information on conditions in Sark and to capture one or more German soldiers to take back to England for interrogation. The objectives were achieved.

The raid was led by Major John Geoffrey Appleyard and he, with his Commandos, including the Danish Second Lieutenant Anders Lassen, made their way across the English Channel, to make landfall on the end of this headland known as the Hog’s Back which they scaled.

The raiders were transported on MTB 344 (Nicknamed “The Little Pisser”), which had the ability to run very fast (33 Knots / 40MPH / 64KPH) but with quiet auxiliary engines for close to shore work. The MTB Skipper was directed to wait until 3 am, then leave. This gave the shore party some two hours to conduct the mission.

Having scaled the cliff of the Hog’s Back, the party made their way inland, coming across the house Le Petit Dixcart which was unoccupied. The next building they came to also seemed deserted, but on breaking into La Jaspellerie, they discovered a Mrs. Pittard, who was most helpful in providing them with information on where some German soldiers could be found, a few hundred yards away in Dixcart Hotel. She also provided information on the deportations that had happened in September.

The Commandos made their way silently to Dixcart Hotel; discovering a sentry, Lassen was sent to deal with him, which he did quietly by knife. Entering the Annex of the Hotel, the Commandos captured five German soldiers and restrained them, by tying up their hands and then moving them outside to take back to the MTB. However, the German soldiers realising how few men had them captured, started to resist and cry out. In the ensuing melee two of the prisoners were shot dead, two escaped and the Commandos beat a hasty retreat with their one remaining prisoner to the Hog’s Back.

Fortunately for the Commandos, the MTB skipper had waited beyond his ordered time to leave and was still waiting for them when they arrived alongside, in their canoes at about 3.30am. Mission accomplished, the MTB went to full speed and headed north to arrive in Portland at about 6.30am.

Text from the memorial.

An initial German report notes that Oblt Herdt, the former Company Commander of the 6./IR 583 was relieved of his command and was to face a court martial. Senior Gefreiter (Orderly Corporal) Schubert was also to be court-martialled.

The Germans put their own spin on the raid on 9 October 1942 in an article on the front page of the Guernsey Evening Press.

The English & Irish newspapers also contained articles very shortly after the raid. A selection of them are below.

The Sphere 24 October 1942
Irish Independent 8 October 1943
Irish Independent 8 October 1943
Yorkshire Post 8 October 1942

For a quick overview of the raid there is a copy of Eric Lee’s speech from the 75th Anniversary here.

If you want a comprehensive read on the raid I recommend the book by Eric Lee. You can also watch Eric speak from Sark on WW2 TV at the link below.

THE COMMEMORATION

The commemoration took place on the 3rd October 2022, the 80th Anniversary.

The photograph below gives you an idea of the scale of the cliffs on the coastline of Sark. This one is taken looking out from the path on the Hog’s Back where they landed across Derrible Bay.

Photo © Nick Le Huray
The path out to the Hog’s Back. Photo © Nick Le Huray

Whilst waiting for the proceedings to start two members of the British Legion from Sark stood ceremonial guard at the monument. As you can see it is on an exposed point near the top of the cliff.

Photo © Nick Le Huray

Lt Col Reg Guille MBE briefed the crowd at what was about to happen. Proceedings were to commence with a recreation of the cliff climb by The Guernsey Military History Company. They were wearing the correct period kit, which it had taken a long period of time to assemble, and were all former or serving members of the forces. Russell Doherty who heads up the Guernsey Military History Company told me that it had taken eighteen months to assemble the kit and out of all of the re-enactments he had been involved in this one had made him the most nervous. The commandos were instructed to ignore those assembled and move as they would have at the time.

Recreation by the The Guernsey Military History Company Photo © Nick Le Huray
Recreation by the The Guernsey Military History Company Photo © Nick Le Huray
Recreation by the The Guernsey Military History Company Photo © Nick Le Huray

Below is a short video of them coming up the cliff.

Video © Nick Le Huray

Lt Col Reg Guille said: “We have added two new names to the 10 that we listed five years ago, a corporal Jimmy Flint and Bombardier Eric Forster.”

“Additionally we have corrected a spelling error in the rank of one of the German soldiers on their plaque.” The reasons for the new names are explained later on in the blog.

Many thanks to Russ Guille for this photo Photo © Russ Guille. This was taken immediately after the ceremony.

The plaques were unveiled by Simon Wood – a nephew of the commando leader Major Geoffrey Appleyard – and Captain Karsten Adrian of the Bundeswehr, a German Officer serving in the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC).

As we moved off to follow the route they took we passed the memorial further along the Hog’s Back to Hardtack 7. Operation Basalt meant that the Germans laid 13,000 mines in Sark some on this route which proved disastrous for this later mission. I wrote about Operation Hardtack 7 here.

Photo © Nick Le Huray

We then reached the point where they turned down the track to the Petit Dixcart house. They heard a German patrol so had to take cover and wait for them to pass before moving off down the track.

The route they would have taken to Petit Dixcart. Photo © Nick Le Huray
Moving down the track to Petit Dixcart Photo © Nick Le Huray

Once we reached the Petit Dixcart the current resident explained what had happened there. He was standing roughly where the commandos left the Bren gunner to cover them in case the patrol they saw earlier returned. The Bren gunner was facing back up the track in the above photo.

Petit Dixcart. Photo © Nick Le Huray

They broke into the house by breaking the glass on the door to turn the handle only to find that the door was unlocked. Finding the house empty they found some newspapers which gave details of deportations which they took with them. Although the Germans did not refer to these as deportations instead they used the term “evacuation”. This was obviously an attempt to justify the deportations.

It didn’t take long for news of the deportations from these papers and the additional papers they were given later in the raid to make it into the the Channel Islands Monthly Review just one month later. The Channel Islands Monthly Review was produced monthly in England to keep all of those that had been evacuated before the occupation up to date with news of their friends and relatives and conditions in the Channel Islands.

Extract from the Channel Islands Monthly Review November 1942 which was published in Stockport. Picture is of one of the original reviews in my collection.
Extract from the Channel Islands Monthly Review November 1942 which was published in Stockport. Picture is of one of the original reviews in my collection.

Next we moved on to the site of “The Cassino Oak” which was planted on their route to the next property that they went to.

Photo © Nick Le Huray

At this site we paused again where my friend, and Sark resident, Simon Elmont gave an explanation of the significance of the Oak and how it came about.

Thanks to my friend Simon Elmont for permission to share this video I took of him explaining the story of the Cassino Oak in Sark. Video © Nick Le Huray
The Cassino Oak – Photo © Nick Le Huray
The path they would have taken up to La Jaspellerie which is the white house in the photo. Photo © Nick Le Huray

Due to time constraints on the day we didn’t go all the way to La Jaspellerie. On the night of the raid they did where they encountered Mrs Pittard who is described as an elderly lady when in fact she was only in her early 40s. I guess if you were as young as the Commandos then you would have thought that she was elderly in comparison!

Frances Pittard’s ID Card Photo from The History Press.

Mrs Pittard was rightly recalled at Eric Lee’s lunchtime talk as being the heroine of the raid. Once she realised that they were British Commandos she invited them in to her house and gave them information about the troops on the island and more copies of the local papers.

She offered to accompany them to show them to where the Germans were nearby. They declined this offer and instead offered her a trip on their MTB to return to England because of the danger she would be in from assisting them. She declined this offer and was to pay the price later when the Germans discovered her broken window and then shipped her to prison in Guernsey for three months. Fortunately she was not deported.

They left the house with the newspapers and proceeded towards Dixcart Hotel where Mrs Pittard had indicated the nearest Germans were to be found.

Path heading up through the woodland heading up to Dixcart Hotel. Photo © Nick Le Huray
Woodland heading up to Dixcart Hotel. Photo © Nick Le Huray

We arrived at the Dixcart Hotel, the site of the altercation with the Germans.

Dixcart Hotel Photo © Nick Le Huray

We then moved on the nearby Stocks Hotel for a lunch and speeches.

Stocks Hotel Photo © Nick Le Huray

Lt Col Reg Guille MBE said a few words of introduction and Captain Karsten Adrian of the Bundeswehr, a German Officer serving in the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) said a few words.

Captain Karsten Adrian of the Bundeswehr, a German Officer serving in the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) Photo © Nick Le Huray
Eric Lee. Photo © Nick Le Huray

Eric Lee explained at his lunchtime talk why it had been difficult to identify exactly who had taken part in the raids. Whilst it was easy to identify the officers through official records it was often difficult to find the lists of other ranks. This was doubly difficult because of the raiding party not knowing each other and being made up of different nationalities.

Lt Col Reg Guille MBE then showed everyone a Fairbairn Sykes fighting knife often called a “Commando Knife” and invited Patricia Falle to tell the story of this particular knife.

Lt Col Reg Guille MBE With the knife. Photo © Nick Le Huray

Mrs Falle then explained that she had lived at Petit Dixcart in the 1960s when the house was in disrepair and had renovated it with her husband. During the course of this they found this knife. It is possible that it could have been dropped by one of the commandos on the raid.

The knife had been used as a poker for a fire by Pat Falle until someone told her what it was.

As you can see the knife guard has deliberately partially bent. Photo © Nick Le Huray
Simon Elmont & Eric Lee examining the knife Photo © Nick Le Huray
Russ Guille, Nick Le Huray, Eric Lee with the knife, and Simon Elmont. Photo © Nick Le Huray

You can watch the news report from ITV Channel Islands and some drone footage here.

It was a pleasure to take part in the day and the opportunities to talk to so many different people during the course of the day as well as pay my respects.

If you enjoyed reading about this raid you can read about other raids on the Channel Islands here. Other planned Allied Operations can also be found here.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

A SECRET MISSION 3/4 SEPTEMBER 1940 – NICOLLE RETURNS WITH SYMES

Despite Churchill being reputed to have said ‘Let there be no more silly fiascos like those perpetrated at Guernsey’ after the Ambassador operation it was only a matter of a few weeks before another raid was under way.

Following Nicolle’s earlier mission and the subsequent disastrous Operation Ambassador it was decided to send him again. This time it was planned that he and fellow Guernseyman and school friend James Symes would stay for three days and gather intelligence. They had known each other since they both attended Elizabeth College and played in the football team together.

James Symes – Photograph of a photograph on display at the German Occupation Museum
Photograph of Hubert Nicolle on display at the German Occupation Museum which I took a photograph of recently.

Much has been written about this operation mostly from the perspective of Hubert Nicolle, however, I recently came across an interview in the IWM archives with James Symes where he recounts his memories. I thought that it would be interesting to use this and some other resources to recount his side of the operation. I will also pick out some of the key aspects of the operation.

We pick up the story where Symes recalls how he came to be involved.

I think if I remember rightly, anyway, Hubert Nicolle had already been to and come out from Guernsey. He was summoned to the Admiralty again, because he went in by submarine and came out by submarine and he was asked if he would go again.

He said he would go on condition that I went with him. I used to play inside left in the football team and he played inside right between us we had enough. There was something between us like that on the football pitch, which made us friends for life really.

So this was what all that was about and I said yes I would go. So I went up to London, Nicolle   at that time was in Parkhurst, in this other holding unit.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

Both men knew that they were taking a massive risk as they were landing wearing civilian clothing. They also had family in the island so they were putting them at risk as well. More of that later.

They were landed at 3am on the 4th September 1940 at Petit Port from an MTB.

I went to see him and he had a lot of photographs of German planes which we had to look at and memorise and then we set off London, where we were both asked if we would go and said yes. Did we realise that If we were caught, nobody could help us? Like idiots we both said yes, we were only 20 at the time, both of us and we went.

We went over by MTB, Motor Torpedo Boat. I took five and fourpence ha’penny and a flask of brandy. I was dressed in civvies, I was dressed in a Guernsey so was he and that was all we had because we were going to be there for three days and then they would come and pick us up. We could do what we’d like to on the island as long as we got information on the civilian aspects of the island. Not the German military side so much but they wanted to know in London how people were being treated those were our tasks.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

Symes recalls that it was either MTB 69 or MTB 70 that dropped them ashore in Guernsey. Photographs of these two vessels are below. Sadly he never solved the mystery of which of these vessels it was as their records were lost.

MTB 70 MTB 70 © IWM (FL 25709) LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. © IWM (A 12914) LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. © IWM (A 12915)

It was decided to use an MTB because of the issues that had previously been encountered using a submarine on the first visit and the difficulties encountered using other types of launch during Operation Ambassador.

Surprisingly they were landed at one of the beaches, Petit Port, that was used during Operation Ambassador in July 1940. Although they were cautioned not to use the same route up the steps and instead used a path that they were familiar with. Given that there are approximately 350 steps this was no mean feat! Instead of the steps they used a steep track to the left of the beach if you stand facing the cliffs.

Map showing Le Jaonnet Bay on the left and Petit Port on the Jerbourg peninsula
Photograph taken part of the way down to the beach at Petit Port © Nick Le Huray

After a few days they successfully gathered the information required by London and were ready to return.

At the end of the period, we went back to where we had landed earlier. We did take one thing we took a torch quite a large torch, which had been had a metal funnel put on it so when it shone out to sea the beam was restricted by this funnel. All we had to do was once every half hour we had to signal the letter, dot dash dot, dot, dot dash dot, dot and a long one and a little shorter one went straight out to sea.

We were on a bay where they would pick us up at approximately 3am They never came. So we went back to our respective homes and the following night we went back to this beach they never came so we went along the third night was a hell of a storm.

Anyway we instead of concentrating on one beam down the middle every hour or whatever the timing was we’ve decided to do one left one centre one right like that in case the ship, the torpedo boat was out there somewhere and one couldn’t see the beam or a direct line. It never came so we both went back to our respective homes.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

They had been told that if nobody came they were to wait until the next period with no moon and somebody would come and look for them. This did happen but didn’t go to plan.

A chap came and he got caught. Fortunately for him, he was in uniform and he couldn’t be treated like we could have been if we’d been caught because we were in civilian clothes.  He, John Parker, Captain John Parker, he told the Germans he was on a recce. I don’t know whether they believed it or not, anyway, he became a prisoner of war. So we have to sit at home and wait for the next new moon.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum
Apologies for the quality but this is a photograph of photograph on display at the German Occupation Museum

Parker was later repatriated in 1944 as detailed below.

Guernsey Evening Press 28 April 1944

Now at various times during the time from the landing up until their surrender they stayed with family or friends and even hid in the cricket pavilion at their former school. The problem they had was that they could not move about easily as the Germans were convinced that there were British troops on the island. They could only move around under cover of darkness and after the curfew.

Between the time of the September new moon and the late September and October the Germans issued an order that anybody, after Parker, issued an order in Guernsey that if there were any British soldiers in hiding in the island, they’d already done this once before when they first got there, and they got a few who were on leave. If these people gave themselves up they would be treated as prisoners of war and those who helped them would not be punished.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

Below is the notice issued by the Germans. As you will see later on the offer of no punishment was an empty promise as Nicolle and Symes were initially treated as spies.

Notice issued by the German Authorities October 1940

In the interview Symes recalls how Ambrose Sherwill, later Sir Ambrose Sherwill and Baliff of the island post war assisted them greatly. At the time Sherwill was President of the Controlling Committee for the island. Effectively the most senior person in the government during the war. He negotiated with the German Commandant, Major Fritz Bandelow, for any members of the British armed forces still in the island who gave themselves up to be treated as POWs.

A clever man he saved our lives he persuaded the Germans he put up a draft for the letter that sort of go out into the press the notice he knowing full well that we were there. He got the thing worded in such a way that we could go and give ourselves up as if we were as if we’ve stayed behind when the Germans arrived as if we were on leave when the Germans arrived.

Under the terms of that letter, which became a German proclamation, we eventually gave ourselves up with five minutes to go to the time when we should have done it. On October the 21st Trafalgar day 1940 we ourselves up to the local police, who then told the Germans and we were then spies captured spies. Terrible now thinking of it, anyway we were court martialled by the Germans. We were sentenced to death.

We were then relieved because of this letter. We were taken to France we went to the prison Cherche-Midi in Paris, Dreyfus was one time so we were in good company.

We spent two and a half months in solitary confinement there and then just before Christmas my father died in the prison. My mother was in the prison, a lot of our friends were in this prison. Terrible place. It no longer exists. We were told on the 21st of December or there about that the Germans had decided we should be treated as prisoners of war.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum
Cherche-Midi Prison in 1938. (public domain)

You can read about the prison on the Frank Falla Archive website here including the experiences of those that assisted Symes and Nicolle.

If you click on the links in the quote below you can access the individual stories.

Uniforms were found for Symes and Nicolle and they handed themselves in. However, the Germans reneged on the agreement and the friends and family of the two men were picked up and put in prison. When Sherwill went to complain, he realised that he, too, was a suspect. With days, all involved were deported to France.

Those deported were Ambrose Sherwill; Jimmy Symes’ parents Louis Symes and Rachel SymesAlbert Marriette and Linda Marriette and their daughter Jessie Marriette (Hubert Nicolle’s girlfriend); Wilfred Bird and his adult children Mary Bird (Jimmy’s Symes’ girlfriend) and Walter ‘Dick’ Bird; Emile Nicolle and Elsie Nicolle (the parents of Hubert Nicolle); Hilda Nicolle and Frank Nicolle (Hubert Nicolle’s aunt and uncle); Henry E. Marquand (a family friend); Bill Allen (the groundsman at the Elizabeth College sports field, who helped shelter the commandos when they were hiding in the pavilion), and farmer Tom Mansell (who was covering for his married brother, Dick Mansell, at whose farm Hubert Nicolle arrived as part of his gathering of intelligence as the Mansell’s farm bordered the airport). 16 people in total were deported.

Frank Falla Archive

It transpired that the reason that they were treated as spies was that It was later established that Bandelow, who had been on leave at the time of their surrender, moved heaven and earth in his endeavour to keep his word. He called for a Court of Honour and General Feldmarschall Von Reichenau was consulted. He declared, “When one gives one’s word, one gives one’s word.” Sherwill later said that he regarded Bandelow’s action in time of war as in the very highest traditions of chivalry.

Below is the notice that was published in the Guernsey Evening Press of 24th December 1940 announcing the change in the decision and the exemption from punishment. Sadly this was too late for Louis Symes, James’s father, as he had died a few days before.

From the 24 December 1940 Guernsey Press

As you will see from the above the it ultimately cost Sherwill his position although this was reversed during the winter of 1942/43 when he was to return as Attorney General.

Both Symes and Nicolle remained prisoners of war until their camp was liberated. Both men were awarded the Military Cross for their trip to Guernsey for “displayed the highest qualities of fortitude and bravery throughout”.

Symes went on to win a second MC in Malaya in 1955 for anti terrorist work. He finally retired from the army in 1971. You can read his obituary here

Hubert Nicolle returned to Guernsey and was very active in the community as well as being an insurance salesman. I was privileged to have known Hubert or Mr Nicolle as we called him. He was a past pupil of the school that I attended, Elizabeth College, and was actively involved in college activities when I was a pupil in the 1980s. Little did I know that the gentleman that often started swimming races with a starting pistol was used to more deadly weapons!

A plaque was erected at the College Field Pavilion commemorating the actions of Nicolle and Symes.

Plaque in the Cricket Pavilion at the College Field where they hid

I have only been able to touch on a fraction of the story here so if you would like to read more about the operation I recommend you track down a copy of William Bell’s “The Commando Who Came Home To Spy” which is out of print but you can pick up for a few pounds second hand on Amazon, eBay or from a second hand book shop.

If you would like to listen to the whole interview with James Symes you can find it here .

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

OPERATION ATTABOY – THE FIRST PLAN TO RETAKE ONE OF THE CHANNEL ISLANDS – 1941

A while ago I wrote about Operation Blazing which was a planned operation for a large scale attack on Alderney in 1942. You can read it here .

A forerunner to Blazing was Operation Attaboy in 1941. Despite Attaboy ultimately being cancelled they still went on to plan Blazing and Constellation at later stages in the war. This was partly due to Lord Mountbatten and the fact that he had the ear of Churchill and an apparent obsession with retaking one or all of the islands at various stages of the war. Some of the reasons are in earlier blog posts and some are for future blog posts.

Given this first assessment for Attaboy concluded that “The strategic value of the Channel Islands either to ourselves or the enemy is negligible.” it is somewhat surprising that they persisted.

If Attaboy had gone ahead it would have been Alderney that was the most likely target.

The paper below sets out the original proposal.

The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg

The minutes and papers below show the consideration of this proposal and subsequent .

The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-37_
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-37_02.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_5.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_6.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-44_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-44_3.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-48_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-48_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-55_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-55_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-54_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-54_4.jpg

As you can see from the minute above they decided not to proceed and instead to proceed with Operation Barbaric.

‘Barbaric’ was a British unrealised intelligence-gathering operation involving the landing of special forces parties of No. 12 Commando, totalling some 220 men, along the north coast of France between Dunkirk and Calais, and between Boulogne and the Somme Bay for the purposes of capturing German troops for interrogation (20/21 March 1941).

The operation was cancelled just before its commitment.

https://codenames.info/operation/barbaric/

If you want to read about other raids that happened or were planned take a look at my other posts that are listed here.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

OPERATION ANGER BECOMES AMBASSADOR- A BIT OF A DISASTER BUT AN IMPORTANT LESSON

On my blog post about stage one of Operation Anger we left the story at the point where Hubert Nicolle had been picked up by submarine H43 after two other Guernseymen 2nd Lieutenants Martel and Mulholland had been landed and briefed by Nicolle before he left. If you haven’t read that you might want to start there and come back to this after. You can find it here

2nd Lieutenant Mulholland
Martel taken post war.

This is probably as near to plan a things went! The rest most definitely didn’t go to plan.

The second phase of Anger was to prepare for the arrival of the raiding force of Operation Ambassador. Ambassador was originally planned for a landing in the early hours of 13 July 1940. The idea being that Martel and Mulholland would meet them on the beach and act as guides. The plan being that they would take the first of the raiding party to the airport where they could destroy aircraft and fuel supplies. They would then leave on the boats that had brought the raiding party to the island. The raiding party was to consist of No. 3 Commando and No. 11 Independent Company. Some 140 men were to take part in all.

The commander of the raid was Lieutenant Colonel Durnford-Slater. Upon arriving at Combined Operations Headquarters in Whitehall he was briefed by the actor David Niven, who was one of the staff officers. Niven having been an officer in the army in the 1930s before resigning his commission to embark on his Hollywood career. He returned from Hollywood and re-enlisted following the outbreak of war. Incidentally he recounts in his autobiography “The Moon’s a Balloon” a raid on Sark which he took part in. His other connection was starring in “Appointment with Venus”in 1951 which was filmed in Sark.

The first landing was to take place at Pointe de la Moye immediately south of the airport. The intention being this would be a distraction to the Germans. This aspect of the raid was to be carried out by H troop of 3 Commando.

Map showing Pointe de la Moye at the bottom, the airport at the top left and Le Jaonnet Bay on the right.

There were to be two other landings other than the party landing at Point de la Moye to attack the airport. The second landing was to be further east at Petit Port to attack a German machine gun post and a billet that had been identified at Telegraph Bay.

The third landing was to take place at Le Jaonnet Bay where the others had been previously been dropped. The idea being that they would be able to deal with any reinforcements sent from St Peter Port as a result of the landings. They were also tasked with taking prisoners in order to bring them back to England.

Map showing Le Jaonnet Bay on the left and Petit Port on the Jerbourg peninsula

At this point the wheels really started to come off the operation.

Mulholland and Martel made for the rendezvous at the appointed time on the night of 12th/13th July but unknown to them bad weather had delayed the mission. It wasn’t possible to contact them to tell them of the delay. They hid during the following two days coming out at night to return to the beach to give the signals again.

The Commander of the submarine that had dropped the three men in Guernsey had been quite robust in his report. He felt that the operation had been put together far too quickly and without time to practice. He felt that it was only because of the experience that the three Guernseymen had with boats that they had succeeded in getting ashore at all.

The submarine was commissioned in 1919 and was not ideal for an operation such as this. They had to stay submerged for most of the trip and this placed a strain on the batteries. Navigation to the Guernsey coast was also problematic for the submarine crew.

The landings for Ambassador were to take place from two destroyers HMS Scimitar and HMS Saladin with six RAF Launches to accompany them. Two RAF Ansons were to circle at low level over the Island to drown out the noise of the engines and provide a distraction.

HMS Scimitar © IWM FL 5410
HMS Saladin © IWM FL 12574
Thanks to Stephen Fisher (@SeaSpitfires) for sourcing the photo of the type of launch used. It was in fact a 37’6″ seaplane tender IWM CH1687.

Having arrived off of the coast of Guernsey they set about landing the men who would have just an hour and a half ashore before being picked up. Well that was the plan anyway!

One launch set off and for some reason immediately headed off in the wrong direction. There are a couple of theories as we know it was because the compass was incorrectly indicating direction. The first is that equipment on the destroyer interfered with the compass or that equipment for the raid stowed on the launch had interfered with it.

Here there are varying accounts as to what happened to the launch. It found its way to one of the islands off of the east coast of Guernsey. Some accounts indicate that they landed on Little Sark, other accounts say they went there but didn’t land. Further accounts appear to indicate it may have been Herm or Jethou. In any event they returned to HMS Saladin.

Sark in the left of the picture Jerbourg point © Nick Le Huray

The second party set off in launches heading for Pointe de la Moye. Here the waited for the signal from Martel & Mulholland who were in fact at Le Jaonnet bay as originally planned. As a result the launches at Pointe de la Moye didn’t receive a signal and failed to identify a beach to land on. Two launches returned to HMS Saladin the third was unable to find the ship so returned to Dartmouth.

If they had managed to make it to the airport they would likely have found rich pickings as the Germans based a variety of aircraft there including fighters. A report of activity at the airport around that time indicated that there were approximately 30 to 50 aircraft. Approximately two thirds were Bf109s the rest being Bf110s and JU52s.

Bf109 at Guernsey Airport

The third landing force successfully landed at Petit Port after a struggle to get ashore involving having to save ashore with all their kit in four feet of water. The delay in the operation had meant that the launches couldn’t get as close in due to the rocks and tides.

They created a road block out of rocks and cut a telephone cable at Telegraph Bay. They sent out patrols and quickly discovered that there no Germans in the area and the machine gun post was deserted. Durnford-Slater gives an account of this in his memoir.

Johnny Giles and I crawled up on either side of the little mound in which the machine-gun nest was dug. I carried grenades and a 45 Webley; Giles, a giant of well over six feet, had a tommy gun.

We jumped to our feet and into the nest, a sandbagged circle. We were both ready to shoot, but I found myself face to face with Johnny’s tommy gun; and he with my Webley. “Hell!” Johnny said bitterly, “there’s no one here!” We went down to where the others were cutting the cables leading from the hut. Knight asked me rather plaintively: “Please can I blow the place up, sir?” He had a pack of demolition stores on his back and was aching to use it.

“No. Apparently the Germans don’t know yet that we’ve come. There’s no point in announcing it. Just cut the cables.”

We went back to see if we could help de Crespigny’s party. It was pitch dark, and as I approached, Corporal “Curly” Gimbert burst through a hedge at me. The next thing I felt was a bayonet pushing insistently through my tunic. “Password!” Gimbert hissed.

He was a big, powerful man. It seemed a long time before I could say anything when I’ve been less scared. At last I remembered the word and let it out with a sigh. “Desmond!” I said. Gimbert, recognising my voice, removed the bayonet quickly. “All right, Colonel.” I thought he sounded disappointed.

Commando: Memoirs of a Fighting Commando in World War Two – John Durnford-Slater
Telegraph Bay a Photograph taken later in the war in February 1945. Higher resolution images are available from NCAP here
This is likely to be the spot where they set up the road block as there are still large granite boulders in the garden of the property on the left and this is the first point where they could block the road entirely for the Jerbourg Pennisula. © Nick Le Huray

They resigned themselves to returning empty handed although they were not happy about it as Durnford-Slater recounts.

We formed up on the road between the barracks and the Doyle Column, a monument we had used as a landmark. It was easy to guess from the muttered curses that the others shared my disgust at our negative performance and at the fact that we had met no Germans.

George Herbert was particularly upset and begged me to give them a few minutes more to visit some houses nearby which he thought might contain Germans. In this atmosphere of complete anticlimax, it was clear that none of us wanted to leave. But I called the officers together. “We’ve got to be back on the beach in ten minutes,” I said urgently.

Commando: Memoirs of a Fighting Commando in World War Two – John Durnford-Slater
Looking the other way from the road block towards the Doyle Monument. This is actually a replacement as the Germans demolished the original during the war. © Nick Le Huray
View from Jerbourg Point © Nick Le Huray

The only shot fired by the raiders was accidental when Durnford-Slater slipped and discharged his pistol. A searchlight briefly came on followed by a brief burst of machine gun fire. The Germans had only been in the island for two weeks so had not yet built the bunkers that you see on Jerbourg peninsula today.

Hardly surprising that running down here in the dark Durnford-Slater slipped and his cocked pistol went off. As at July 2022 you can’t get down to the beach due to a rockfall. © Nick Le Huray

Their troubles were not over. Due to the tide and the rocks the launches couldn’t get close in. They began ferrying the party out in a dinghy but on one of the trips it was caught in the waves and overturned. One of the commandos, Gunner J. McGoldrick, was lost overboard and feared drowned. He was later found alive and captured remaining a POW until 1945.

They were now left with no choice but to swim to the launches. This presented another problem as three of them couldn’t swim. The three men were Private F.T. Drain, Private A Ross and Corporal D. Dumper. They were left on the beach with instructions to hide and return the next night to be picked up. Unfortunately for them this was deemed too risky and the Navy refused to come and pick them up.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I was writing about Operation Ambassador @GuernseyLiz14 Liz Walton was kind enough to share the information that she had collated about her relatives who helped to hide the non swimmers. Her Aunt & Uncle stayed in contact with Fred Drain after the war with him visiting them. Thanks Liz for your kind permission to share these.

© Liz Walton
© Liz Walton
© Liz Walton

They were later apprehended walking down the road near the airport some days later. At least unlike Mulholland and Martel they were wearing uniform.

There is an account of the raid in an interview held by the Imperial War Museum given in 1988 by Sir Ronald Swayne MC who held the rank of Lieutenant at the time of the raid. In his interview he recalls that some of the boats were towed by the destroyers and that they had gone too fast for these boats which left them damaged and leaking.

But we weren’t remotely ready. We didn’t know what kind of boats we wanted, we didn’t know how to do it, there wasn’t a proper planning body to prepare for these raids. In any case there was a fearful shortage of weapons and everything… we had no Tommy guns and we didn’t have the Remington Colt which we were issued with later… we were armed with .38 revolvers which was, I always thought, a poor weapon. There was a shortage of ammunition for teaching the soldiers to shoot. Some of them had hardly done any practice on the range, it was all frightfully amateurish.

Sir Ronald Swayne MC, interview with the IWM which you can find it here.

Interestingly his account regarding the weapons situation seems to different from other accounts as they all refer to them being armed with Tommy guns and Bren guns. The pistol situation sounds about right given that Durnford-Slater’s pistol was cocked when he lost his footing and it discharged. This difference in accounts may be due to the passage of time between the events and the interview some forty eight years later. Many other accounts given more closely to the raid indicate that Tommy guns and Brens were used.

As the party due to meet Martel and Mulholland never made it to the bay instead heading on a trip to another island they weren’t picked up. As a result the two men, fearing for the impact that their capture may have on their relatives still in Guernsey decided they needed to hide then escape.

They left the beach and decided to hide in a barn and spent some time hiding with family. Martel with his sister and Mulholland with his mother then spending some time at a house in Vazon on the west coast of the island. Realising this was putting their family at great risk and after several attempts to escape from Guernsey, including one by stealing a boat from Perelle Bay which left them stranded on rocks, they decided they had no choice but to surrender themselves to the German authorities.

They contacted the Bailiff Ambrose Sherwill and he arranged for them to be supplied with some uniforms as they had come to the island in civilian clothes which would have resulted in them being treated as spies with the prospect of being shot. Luckily for both men the Germans treated them as prisoners of war rather than spies when they surrendered on 28th July.

They were taken to France and interrogated separately. Mulholland was sent to
Oflag VIIb Eichstätt, Bavaria and Martel to a camp at Tittmoning, Warburg and then Eichstätt.

As with many operations relatively early in the war these two were put together in a rush and a relatively amateur fashion.

The RAF Launches proved to be far from suitable for the job. They were designed for operating over much shorter distances and nearer the coast than travelling over 90 miles to the south west coast of Guernsey. Two of them became unserviceable before the raid even started. They had been supposed to carry twenty men each to the beach. As a results other boats from the destroyers had to be towed behind the launches.

Subsequent raids used larger MTBs, as shown above, which were much more suited to this type of operating environment. Durnford-Slater went on to requisition his own boats that his men were trained to operate and maintain for future raids on mainland Europe.

Ambassador may appear a bit of a disaster with four men captured, Mulholland and Martel subsequently captured and no military objective achieved other than cutting some telephone wires. It did however provide some valuable lessons which were to be implemented for future raids.

Whilst being able to swim was a requirement when signing up for the commandos nobody had actually checked that they could. The unit had only been formed in mid June 1940.

The Navy came in for some criticism from the Army for not being as professional and as experienced as expected. This would seem to me to be a little harsh given the efforts they made to recover the commandos. They stayed beyond the allotted time putting the ships at risk of air attack as dawn came. They had also been promised a pilot with local knowledge but he was not taken onboard before they left England.

The main thing that they learnt was those involved required adequate training and that proper planning was key to the success of future operations.


CAB 65/56/157 National Archives – Confidential Annexes and Notes to WM (40) 205

Churchill’s initial reaction is recorded in the image above. He was later reported to be furious at the amateurish nature of the operation but surely must be partly culpable in the lack of planning because of his wish for it to take place so quickly. After all Anger took place six days after Churchill had ordered the raid and Ambassador twelve days after his initial order.

 CAB 65/56/156 – National Archives


Dunford-Slater recalls in his memoirs that those involved had all become caught up in the rush to stage the raid that the first proper briefing was on the eve of the operation after they had set sail.

In his interview Swayne puts the blame squarely on the Royal Navy.

It was beautifully planned from an army point of view but the naval preparation was very inefficient, partly due to inadequate equipment of course…. it was a wonderful idea and it could have been a very, very clever raid.

Sir Ronald Swayne MC, interview with the IWM which you can find it here.

One aspect of Ambassador that was a success was that it made the Germans nervous. They conducted a thorough investigation into the landing at Petit Port and the activity around Jerbourg. Having been unable to extract any information from the four commandos and with Martel and Mulholland still at large they were unaware of the other two attempts at landing.

They even staged a re-enactment to try and better understand what had happened. Their assessment was rather more generous in the capabilities of the landing party than if they had been aware of the other landing parties and issues.

As a result of this they spent time searching the island for any raiders that had been left behind and became nervous about the defence of the coastal areas. They also instructed the Guernsey Police force to assist with the search, although they didn’t look very hard.

They placed more restrictions on areas around the coast that civilians could visit and deployed more men to those areas. In addition they began laying minefields.

Evening Press 18 July 1940

The Bailiff (Leading Citizen see here for the role) Ambrose Sherwill (Later Sir Ambrose Sherwill) was troubled by the raid as the Germans had threatened to bomb the island if there was any trouble, presumably after withdrawing themselves. With the deaths of civilians in the raid before the Germans arrived only a few weeks earlier he was moved to write a letter to the British Government. In it he warned of the consequences of such raids. He asked the Germans to ensure this was passed on through diplomatic channels but they declined. You can read my blog about the air raid here

Durnford-Slater certainly learnt from the lessons of Ambassador and took this forward to lead No.3 Commando to many notable successes in future operations.

If you want to learn more about the raids and some of the individuals I recommend these books:

Commando – John Durnford-Slater at the time of writing free on Kindle.

No News From Guernsey – The Diary of Lieutenant Desmond Mulholland MC by Peter Jesson

If you are in Guernsey then you may wish to contact Keith from Guernsey Walking Tours as he does a tour that includes Mulholland. You can follow them on Twitter here @gsywtours.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

Operation Hardtack

Operation Hardtack was a series of raids on the German occupied Channel Islands, the French coast and southern Holland between 24 December and 28 December 1943. This article will deal with the raids on the Channel Islands.

The raids on the Channel Islands were all for Reconnaissance and
capture of prisoners.

Hard Tack 7 (Sark)

Whilst Operation Basalt, a raid on the island of Sark1 in October 1942, has been the subject of a book by Eric Lee2, not as much has been written about the raids that comprised Operation Hardtack. Although they do merit a chapter in Will Fowler’s book The Last Raid: The Commandos, Channel Islands and Final Nazi Raid3.

Thanks to @KevSouth1 on Twitter for reminding me that some of the population of Sark were moved inland after Basalt as well as deportations to camps on the Continent. More of that in another blog.

The first raid on the night of the 25/26 had to be abandoned as the climb was found to be impossible. As can be seen from the photographs that I took from the top of the cliff that they climbed on the second raid it isn’t easy to scale these cliffs.

Pictures ©Nick Le Huray

They returned the next night and successfully landed and climbed the cliff at the Hog’s Back where Operation Basalt had landed in the previous year.

Unfortunately the shore party found themselves in a minefield, laid in response to the previous raid. After several mines detonated, causing a number of casualties, they decided to return to the MGB that was waiting for them.

Photograph I took of the memorial in May 2019. ©Nick Le Huray

There is an excellent summary of Hardtack 7, including the report on the operation along with maps and photographs here

Aberdeen Evening Express – Wednesday 29 December 1943

Hardtack 22 (Herm)

The raid on the Island of Herm4 was cancelled at the planning stage. Originally planned by No. 10 Commando responsibility for the proposed raid was transferred to No. 2 US Ranger Battalion, but the operation was not proceeded with5.

Arguably there would have been little to have been gained from a raid as the Island is much smaller than the others and only had a small number of troops stationed there. Although it was visited by other troops for leisure purposes during daylight hours.

Hardtack 28 (Jersey)

The raid on Jersey6 took place on the night of 25/26 December and was time to be on the same night as the raid on Sark. There is an excellent article with maps and photographs here.

No Hardtack raid on Guernsey?

It is likely that there were no Hardtack raids in respect of Guernsey7 as there had been a number of other raids over the previous years. There was little to be gained from such a raid.

Conclusion

Whilst only the raid on Jersey provided any useful information news of the raids did at least boost the morale of Islanders with hope of the second front being imminent. Albeit this came a great cost in casualties.

Shortly after the raids it was decided that no more raids were to be made on the Channel Islands.

Footnotes

1 Sark – Information about the Island.
2 Operation Basalt – Eric Lee .
3 The Last Raid: The Commandos, Channel Islands and Final Nazi Raid – Will Fowler Chapter 22.
4 Herm Island
5 Cruickshank 1975 page 245.
6 Information on Jersey.
7 Information on Guernsey.


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