Operation Balkis I

'Balkis' (i) was an Allied special forces raid by Lieutenant Colonel Georges Régis Bouvet’s French commando unit, with support from the Office of Strategic Services, on the small Italian island of Pianosa in the Tuscan islands archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea to the south-west of Elba (28 February 1944).

An Italian operational group of the OSS, totalling two officers and nine enlisted men, was selected to join and serve as an integral part of the 100-man French unit. The French navy was to provide two Diesel-engined torpedo boats and six large rubber landing boats for the operation, whose planning was aided by Italian operational group intelligence on the island, rations, 100 lb (45 kg) of plastic explosives with detonating equipment, and radio equipment for communication with the headquarters located at Bastia on the island of Corsica.

The raid’s primary objective was the capture of prisoners for interrogation but, should conditions prove suitable, a team was then to remain on the island to round up any remaining German troops, collect intelligence regarding neighbouring German-occupied islands, and to establish an observation post to support naval and air operations. The French plan had selected a landing beach in a cove on the southern side of the island, where the torpedo boats would deploy a landing party to establish a small beach-head. The troops were then to land in the rubber boats, with mission assignments to include the establishment of an on-shore command post with two main sections. One section was to attack the German barracks and try to capture the German commanding officer and destroy the German communications with Elba and/or the mainland of Italy. The other section was to protect the rear of the first section and to seize strong points on Punta Pulpito and Toretta San Marco.

In preparation for the mission joint landing exercises were held on two consecutive nights in the vicinity of St Florent on Corsica. It was at 22.00 that the Allied force reached Pianosa, but the operation was aborted about two hours later, the Italian operational group’s later report suggesting that the reasons for the mission’s failure were insufficient awareness of adverse sea conditions, a 90-minute delay in reaching the designated landing point, an initial landing at wrong place, sea sickness of the troops as they had been transported below deck, and errors in launching the rubber boats too far out from the landing beach, with the result that the embarked troops were tired and suffering still further from sea sickness before they reached the beach.