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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Below is a short video of them coming up the cliff.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
We arrived at the Dixcart Hotel, the site of the altercation with the Germans.
We then moved on the nearby Stocks Hotel for a lunch and speeches.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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© Nick Le Huray