7 of the most Audacious SAS Operations during World War 2
7 of the most Audacious SAS Operations during World War 2

7 of the most Audacious SAS Operations during World War 2

Patrick Lynch - September 15, 2016

7 of the most Audacious SAS Operations during World War 2

5 – Operation Wallace: 19 August – 19 September 1944

This was a mission led by the incomparable Major Roy Farran and involved aiding the French Resistance as they looked to push the occupying Germans back. At this point, the Germans had lost their position in Normandy and indeed, they had retreated from Southern France. The majority of German troops in the Falaise Pocket (an area around the eastern town of Falaise) were being killed or captured and more troops in the west were trapped.

On 19 August, Farran arrived at Rennes airfield as part of a 60 man and 20 jeep squad from the 2nd SAS. Within four days, the team had navigated 200 miles through enemy lines and joined the Allied-held base near Chatillon which had been set up by Operation Hardy. It could be said that this mission was one of the final nails in the coffin of German occupation in France.

The retreating Germans were no match for the fierce SAS team and by the end of the operation on 19 September, the Germans had sustained 500 casualties. In addition, a German train was destroyed along with 95 vehicles and 100,000 gallons of petrol. For a Nazi force that was rapidly running low on supplies and in full retreat, this was yet another blow. Once the hard work was done, the SAS squad took ‘illicit’ leave in Paris!

It is said that Farran was amazed by the fighting spirit of the French Resistance members who had accompanied the SAS on their mission. He used this beautiful phrase to describe a Frenchwoman’s desire for freedom: “Her smile ridiculed the bullets.” As it happened, Farran and his men were not quite done and they prepared for Operation Tombola.

7 of the most Audacious SAS Operations during World War 2

6 – Operation Tombola: 4 March – 23 April 1944

At this stage, Italy was occupied by the Nazis but many of the occupants refused to passively accept their fate. British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, launched Operation Tombola in early March 1944 as a means of helping the residents of towns such as Albinea in the Reggio Emilia area. Approximately 50 men, led once again by the legendary Major Roy Farran, parachuted into the region between 4-24 March.

They were assisted by members of an SOE mission, 70 escaped Russians and local resistance fighters and received supplies from numerous airdrops. The group’s first major attack occurred on 7 April when they killed and wounded up to 60 Germans while the raiders sustained 10 casualties in total. Tombola became famous for the exploits of the ‘Mad Piper’ David Kirkpatrick who played the bagpipes as a signal for the SAS to attack.

The purpose of the music was to convince the Germans that the attack was solely a British military effort and not conducted by local ‘partisans’ (who were in fact helping the SAS). The rule was that 10 civilians were to be killed for every German killed by a partisan. The Mad Piper’s music saved the lives of 600 civilians that night. Kirkpatrick recently received the award of an honorary citizenship of Albinea as a reward for his bravery and he was also honored by the town of Villa Minozzo which is where he first landed.

After the successful sortie, the squad rendezvoused in the hills and prepared to attack further German positions. They continued their raids which included shelling various enemy installations and blocking roads. Over 300 Germans were killed and another 200 wounded during Operation Tombola. The Germans were also forced to send more defenders to secure the area. In addition, a number of Allied airmen, who had successfully disguised themselves as locals, were finally able to escape.

7 of the most Audacious SAS Operations during World War 2

7 – Operation Houndsworth: 6 June – 6 September 1944

This mission was carried out by the 1st Special Air Service and saw the team focus their energies in the Dijon region. The purpose of Operation Houndsworth was to impede the movements of German troops, disrupt communications and prevent them from reaching Normandy as the Nazis desperately needed reinforcements to fight back against the Allied invasion.

The squadron wore no insignia although they did wear battledress and red berets. After some of the team were dropped in the Morvan mountains (located between Dijon and Nevers), they encountered some initial difficulties due to low cloud which obscured their drop zone. They finally managed to establish a base and the rest of the squadron joined them.

It was a tough mission as they were constantly hunted but thanks to intelligence gathered by the French, the SAS were able to stay ahead of the Axis soldiers. During the following 3 months, the 144 man group managed to blow up the main railway line 22 times! In addition, they battled the Germans and inflicted severe casualties while also picking out 30 prime bombing targets for the RAF. A number of other small targets were sabotaged and an enemy oil refinery was destroyed.

Eventually, the Germans discovered the location of the SAS but once again, French intelligence came to the rescue and the raiders were prepared for an attack on 20 August where they fought off the Germans. By September, the Germans were forced to move eastwards and Operation Houndsworth was complete. The SAS team only sustained 18 casualties in total compared to over 350 German casualties.