This was a British special forces raid by 25 men of No. 1 Commando’s No. 5 Troop on two beaches near St Vaast on the north coast of German-occupied France to take German prisoners for interrogation (27/28 September 1941).
The target beaches were on the Pointe de Saire near St Vaast to the east of Cherbourg and Courseulles to the north-west of Caen. The commando party departed Spithead for the operation across the English Channel in the infantry landing ship/raiding craft carrier Prince Leopold and, in mid-channel the men transferred to their LCAs (Landing Craft, Assault) to be towed by motor gun boats to their destination beaches.
Lieutenant Scaramanga’s party landed as planned in St Vaast bay and, when challenged by a German bicycle patrol, killed three of them before the survivors scattered. The commandos made their way back to their LCA with one corpse but, being late for the planned rendezvous with their MGB and Prince Leopold, had to make their own way back to Portsmouth, which they reached at 16.00.
The other party, under Captain Davies, had a very different experience. As they approached what they thought was their designated landing area, the commandos realised they were heading for the wrong beach. Time was short so they carried on in the hope of seizing a prisoner. On landing they were immediately challenged, and there followed a burst of German machine gun fire. Davies ordered an attack on the machine gun’s position, and this required that the commandos scale a sea wall 10 ft (3.1 m) high and break through two coils of barbed wire. As the commandos were negotiating these obstacles, two more machine gun positions opened fire, and the commandos had no option but pull back.
By the time the commandos boarded their LCA, one of their number had been wounded and two were missing. Under the circumstances nothing further could be done, and the survivors returned to their waiting MGB.
This and other early commando raids were not notably successful, but did serve to provide a welcome boost to the British special forces, whose morale had flagged during the relative inactivity which had followed the ‘Claymore’ first raid on the Lofoten islands in March 1941.