Operation Houndsworth

'Houndsworth' was a British special forces operation by A Squadron, 1st Special Air Service, to establish a base in the Forêt 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).

It was in 1944 that the Special Air Service Brigade was formed with the British 1st and 2nd Special Air Service, the French 3rd and 4th Special Air Service and the Belgian 5th Special Air Service. The brigade were designed to undertake parachute operations behind the German lines in France, and then to carry out operations supporting the Allied advance through Belgium, the Netherlands, and eventually into Germany.

In May 1944 General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force had issued an order for the Special Air Service Brigade to carry out two operations in France. These were 'Houndsworth' in the area of Dijon by A Squadron 1st Special Air Service and 'Bulbasket' in the area of Poitiers by B Squadron 1st Special Air Service.

The object of both operations was the disruption of the movement of German reinforcements from the south of France to the Normandy lodgement created in 'Overlord'. To carry out the operation the SAS parties were to destroy supply dumps, block two railway lines (that linking Paris and Chalon sur Saône via Lyon and that linking Paris abd Nevers via Le Creusot). One unit the Allied high command especially wanted to delay was SS-Standartenführer Christian Tychsen’s (from 28 July SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Otto Baum’s) 2nd SS Panzerdivision 'Das Reich' currently based in the area around Toulouse in the south of France. The intelligence experts at SHAEF responsible for planning the Normandy landings, had estimated it would take three days for this Panzer division to reach Normandy.

The force allocated to 'Houndsworth' comprised 18 officers and 126 troopers of A Squadron, 1st Special Air Service. The SAS reconnaissance party landed by parachute in the area on 6 June, and was followed by the rest of the squadron during the night of 10/11 June. Nine Jeep vehicles armed with Vickers K machine guns and two 5-podr anti-tank guns were also delivered by parachute, as well as weapons and supplies for disbursement to the local French resistance forces. The squadron established itself in a patrol base in the mountainous and wooded country to the south-west of Dijon in the Monts du Morvan in the Nièvre region.

The SAS later expanded the scale of its operations farther to the south near Dijon with 'Wallace', which took the pressure off Houndsworth.

The squadron proceeded with operations during which the railway lines lining Lyon and Paris were blown up 22 times. After one occasion a member of the French resistance approached the workmen repairing the lines and asked how long the repairs would take. Becoming aware of his loyalties they suggested that if the line had been cut further up more damage could have been caused. They then proceeded to draw him a diagram suggesting exactly where to do it next time.

The squadron also killed or wounded 220 Germans, took prisoner 132 men, and identified 30 targets for attack by aircraft of the Royal Air Force. The operation was not without SAS losses: during 'Houndsworth' the SAS lost 10 men killed and eight men wounded. However, the operation’s overall success led to German reprisals against local villages such as Dun les Places, Montsauche les Settons and Planchez. 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.

The German forces eventually became aware of the location of the SAS base camp and started what they thought would be a surprise attack on 20 August. Unknown to the attackers, however, members of the French resistance had learned of the imminent attack, and Corporal David Danger of the SAS got through the cordon the Germans had put around the camp and was able to warn the squadron. Thus alerted, the SAS men fought off the German attack, making effective use of their 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, and about 3,000 members of the French resistance provided with arms.