Operation Houndsworth

This was a British special forces operation by A Squadron, 1st Special Air Service, to establish a base in the Foręt de Morvan near Rouvray from which to harass the lines of communication to the German forces opposing ‘Overlord’ in the Normandy region of German-occupied northern France (5 June/6 September 1944).

During the period between 6 and 21 June 1944, A Squadron was parachuted into eastern France under the command of Major William Fraser. The task of party was to establish a base in the wooded hills west of Dijon and from this base disrupt German communications, cut railway lines and arm the local resistance forces. By the end of June the ‘Houndsworth’ party totalled 144 men, nine Jeeps and two 6-pdr anti-tank guns. In addition, a large quantity of arms had been given to the resistance.

Covering a wide area, the SAS troopers repeatedly cut the railway lines around Dijon. Such activity did not go unnoticed, however, and the Germans frequently carried out sweeps of the region. In one such operation, early in July, the Germans captured a number of resistance sympathisers in the village of Montsauche. Alerted to this, the Special Air Service troopers ambushed the convoy carrying the prisoners a short distance from the village. All the Germans were killed and the prisoners freed, but the Germans then burned Montsauche in reprisal.

As the operation continued, the SAS troopers often moved camp because of poor resistance security. On 3 August, a German attack on woods near Fraser’s headquarters was beaten off by 6-pdr guns and 3-in (76-mm) mortars.

By a time early in September, the men of A Squadron were exhausted, having operated non-stop for three months. It was therefore decided to replace A Squadron with C Squadron in an exchange effected during 6 September. ‘Houndsworth’ had been extremely successful: six trains had been derailed, 22 railway lines cut, 70 vehicles destroyed, 220 German personnel killed or wounded, and about 3,000 members of the French resistance provided with arms.