Operation Wallace

This was a British special forces operation by the 2nd Special Air Service to bolster existing SAS bases in the northern part of German-occupied France as a means of harassing and therefore slowing the reinforcement of the German forces facing the Allies’ lodgement in Normandy (19 August/19 September 1944).

Under the command of Major Roy Farran, the 60 men of the SAS party were landed outside the Breton capital of Rennes together with their 23 vehicles. Farran immediately led his party to the northern bank of the Loire river, avoiding all contact with the Germans until he had been able to link with the men of the ‘Hardy’ (i) base. On 22 August Farran divided his party into three groups, in the form of five Jeeps under Captain Lee, eight under Farran himself and the rest under Lieutenant Leigh. Over the next few days there were several brief engagements with the Germans, one of them resulting in the death of Leigh.

Eventually the party linked with the rest of the 2nd SAS under Major Grant Hibbert at the ‘Hardy’ base in the Forêt de Chatillon. On 27 August the combined forces started a programme of aggressive Jeep patrols.

The most famous exploit of ‘Wallace’, of which ‘Hardy’ (i) was now considered a part, was an attack on the German headquarters in the Forêt de Chatillon itself on 30 August. An earlier meeting with the commander of the local resistance forces apparently secured an agreement that the resistance forces would aid the men of the SAS. On the morning of the attack, however, there was no sign of any resistance support and Farran’s force then became engaged in a fierce battle with the garrison and a German column which was approaching the town, but without support had no option but to call off the action after the Germans had lost 100 men killed as well as nine lorries, four cars and one motorcycle destroyed.

That night the SAS received several Jeeps by parachute, bringing their total to 18 such vehicles. Farran then split his force into two columns of nine vehicles, one of these columns being led by Hibbert and the other by Farran himself, and headed for the Belfort gap, an area between the Vosges mountains and the Swiss border. German forces were retreating to the area to try to prevent the Allies from reaching the Rhine river. The two columns set off on 2 September, heading for the gap between Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s US 3rd Army in the north and Lieutenant General Alexander McC. Patch’s US 7th Army in the south. The SAS columns shot up several targets as they pressed ahead into German-held territory, but the presence of substantial German forces in the region made sustained operations difficult.

As a result ‘Wallace’ was officially terminated on 19 September as the SAS columns linked with US forces. ‘Wallace’ had been a great success: for 16 casualties (seven killed, seven wounded and two captured) and 16 Jeeps destroyed, the SAS had killed or wounded 500 Germans, destroyed 59 vehicles and derailed one train.