Operation Basalt

This was a British special forces raid on the island of Sark in the German-occupied Channel Islands (3/4 October 1942).

Led by Major Geoffrey Appleyard, the operation was entrusted to a 10-man party of the Small Scale Raiding Force and No. 12 Commando, and had as its objectives had offensive reconnaissance and the capture of prisoners for subsequent interrogation.

Nine of the attacking force broke into the house of a local resident while the tenth went to a secret meeting with an agent of the Special Operations Executive. The occupant of the house, Frances Pittard, proved very informative and advised there were about 20 Germans in the nearby Dixcart Hotel. She refused the party’s offer to take her back to England. In front of the hotel was a hut-type building, which appeared to be unguarded. This annex comprised a corridor and five rooms occupied by five Germans, none of them an officer. The men were roused and taken outside, and the raiders then decided to enter the hotel and seize more Germans.

In an effort to reduce the number of their men who would have to be left to guard the Germans already taken prisoner, the raiders tied the prisoners’ hands with rope, and removed their belts and braces. As this was happening, one of the prisoners started to shout a warning to those in the hotel, and was instantly shot dead. The Germans in the hotel, now thoroughly alerted, started to fire on the raiders, who decided to return to the beach with their four remaining prisoners. Three of the prisoners tried to escape en route, and it is believed that two of them were shot and the other stabbed. The fourth prisoner was brought back to England for interrogation. The raiders also evacuated an SOE agent who had been posing as a Polish worker doing forced labour on the island.

A few days later the Germans issued a communiqué implying that at least one prisoner had escaped and two others had been shot while resisting having their hands tied. It is believed this instance of tying a prisoner’s hands contributed to the issue of Adolf Hitler’s Kommandobefehl (commando order) instructing that all captured commandos or commando-type personnel should be executed.

The Small Scale Raiding Force had been brought into existence at the behest of Commodore the Lord Louis Mountbatten during February and March 1942 as the Combined Operations Headquarters’s 50-man ‘amphibious sabotage force’, and in reality was the ‘Maid Honor’ Force already established by the Special Operations Executive out of B Troop of No. 7 Commando and controlled by Brigadier Colin Gubbins, military head of SOE) and so named as its means of transport was the requisitioned, converted and heavily armed Brixham trawler Maid Honor.

Mountbatten successfully negotiated for control of the SSRF, which remained for administrative purposes within SOE, based on Station 62 Anderson Manor, but came under the operational control of Combined Operations and became known as No. 62 Commando. Major Gus March-Phillipps continued to lead the force, with Appleyard as his second in command. Using MTB-344, SSRF undertook a number of seaborne raids from the UK, these including ‘Aquatint’ of 12/13 September 1942 on Ste Honorine and in which most of the raid’s 11 men (including March-Phillipps) were killed or captured. The force was restored to full strength with men from No. 12 Commando, and Appleyard now became its commander.

The SSRF was disbanded after ‘Pussyfoot’ on 3/4 April 1943, though the force had already begun to dissolve after a January decision of the Chiefs-of-Staff Committee which curtailed its raiding operations after ‘clashes of interests’ and objections from the SOE and Special Intelligence Service (MI6).