Operation Albumen

This was a British special forces raid by elements of the Special Boat Squadron against airfields on German-occupied Crete (22 June/11 July 1943).

In January 1943, after Lieutenant Colonel David Stirling, the creator of the Special Air Service, had been captured in North Africa, the British Special Forces in the Middle East underwent a major reorganisation. The Special Boat Squadron was enlarged and reorganised with three detachments to undertake raids into the Aegean Sea from a base at Athlit in Palestine where, under the leadership of Major the Earl Jellicoe, the SBS conducted vigorous training and incorporated the lessons learned in earlier operations against targets in Crete and Rhodes.

The first SBS operation under Jellicoe’s command was again in Crete and, undertaken by Lieutenant David Sutherland’s Detachment ‘S’ (elements of the Black Watch, Forces Françaises Libres and Greek resistance), this ‘Albumen’ was to destroy Axis aircraft on the three airfields which had been raided the year before, namely Heráklion, Kastelli and Timbaki. These were all important targets as they were airfields from which air attacks could be launched against the ships supporting the ‘Husky’ (i) Allied invasion of Sicily.

This was the first SBS operation to be assigned a codename and executed on the basis of written orders and and with the aid of radio communications. The operation’s orders stated that the primary task was the destruction of Axis aircraft, and also that Sutherland’s task was to remain near the landing place and organise a base from which patrols would be despatched to the three targets.

On 22 June Sutherland landed near Cape Kokinoxos in the southern part of the island, where the Tymbaki patrol landed four days later. Having made the decision for D-day to be 4 July, the patrols for Heráklion and Kastelli started their march the next night over rugged terrain. The Heráklion airfield had become less important to the Germans during the last year, and had had been run down as a result of Jellicoe’s earlier attack. Very few aircraft used the airfield, and none ever stayed the night. Disappointed, the men of the patrol decided to use their bombs to destroy a large petrol dump in the same basic area. They put a number of bombs among the petrol trucks, which destroyed them and set light to the whole dump, which contained between 150 and 200 tons of aviation fuel.

The Kastelli patrol was more fortunate. The patrol leader split his force, as Sutherland had in Rhodes during ‘Anglo’, with one half creating a spectacular diversion. The plan worked well and about 10 aircraft were destroyed.

In attacking Timbaki, the third party found, as had that of the previous year, neither aircraft nor anything else to attack.

All three patrols then returned to base, and on 11 July the force embarked a motor boat and sailed to Matruh. ‘Albumen’ was a success, and lost only one British officer killed.