Operation Dryad

'Dryad' was a British special forces raid by 12 men of the Small Scale Raiding Force (No. 62 Commando) on the lighthouse at Les Casquets, 7 miles (11.25 km) to the west of the island of Alderney in the German-occupied Channel Islands, with the object of capturing German soldiers for interrogation (2/3 September 1942).

The Casquets lighthouse had been built in 1724, and is located some 6 miles (9.7 km) to the west of the island of Alderney in the Channel Islands, and is located among some of the fastest currents in the English Channel. The lighthouse comprises a rower 88 ft (27 m) tall and two shorter towers on a barren rock. After their occupation of the Channel Islands in 1940, the Germans decided to man the lighthouse and set up an observation post with a naval radio intercept station so that anything seen could be reported, and when it was necessary to turn on the light as an aid to any passing German convoy. The lighthouse’s crew was rotated every three months.

Its isolated location made the lighthouse a perfect objective for a commando raid: there had been seven previous attempts to undertake this raid, all of them abandoned as a result of weather conditions. The commandos selected to carry out the raid were men of No. 62 Commando, which was also known as the Small Scale Raiding Force, and the planned date was the night of 2/3 September 1942 with the objective of capturing prisoners.

Because of its relatively small size, which made detection by radar difficult, the SSRF used MTB-344, which had a crew of eight and was armed with two machine guns on each side of the bridge and single guns abaft the crew’s quarters. The raiding party comprised 12 men from No. 62 Commando under the command of Major Gus March-Phillipps with Captain Geoffrey Appleyard as his second in command. Some of the other men involved were Captain Graham Hayes, Sergeant Winter, the Danish Private Anders Lassen, the Dutch Lieutenant Henk Brinkgreve, and Sergeant Geoffrey Spencer.

Departing Portland on the south-west coast of England at 21.00, the motor torpedo boat, nicknamed 'The Little Pisser' because of its very high speed, and arrived at a point close to Les Casquets at 22.45. An Alderney man and Special Operations Executive operative, 'Bonnie' Newton acted as pilot. After the boat had anchored, its crew lowered an 18-ft (5.5-m) boat that then carried the raiding party to the rocks beneath the lighthouse, which the Germans were using as a radio intercept station.the landing party rowed ashore, arriving just after 00.00. Appleyard was the first to leap ashore and tied their boat forward, with Hayes in control of the stern line, which had been attached to the kedge anchor that had been dropped on approach to prevent the boat from being smashed against the rocks. The entire landing party made it ashore safely, and the boat suffered no damage. Appleyard handed the bow line to another man, and Hayes remained in control of the stern-line as the raiding party departed.

The commandos made their way through barbed wire up the steep rocky surface to the lighthouse’s courtyard without being challenged. Once in the courtyard, the group dispersed to their prearranged objectives. Appleyard and Winter rushed up the spiral staircase to the tower light, but found this unoccupied. The small garrison had been taken by total surprise. Appleyard later said that 'I have never seen men so amazed and terrified at the same time.' Three of the Germans were asleep, two were just preparing for bed, and two others were on duty. The seven Germans were taken prisoner without a shot fired. The German in charge of the lighthouse operation fainted at the sight of the commandos. Another was initially thought to be a woman because he was wearing a hairnet.

Weapons found included an Oerlikon 20-mm cannon, rifles and stick grenades, and all of these were dumped in the sea. The radio was smashed with an axe. The motor torpedo boat was now carrying 27 men. Appleyard suffered an accident and fractured his tibia as he re-embarked, and another man was also injured in an accident.

The motor torpedo boat left at 01.35, and the seven prisoners, some still in their pyjamas, were taken to England, arriving at Portland at 04.00. A number of codebooks, logs, diaries and letters were found and taken back for analysis.

It was only a few days later that the Germans became aware of a problem. On arriving by boat to investigate, the German party found the lighthouse deserted. A subsequent order to remove all lighthouse crews did not last long after it had become clear that the benefits offered by manned lighthouses outweighed the risks. The Casquets lighthouse was re-armed with a 25-mm anti-tank gun and five machine guns, and was thereafter manned by a crew of 24 men.