Operation Savannah

This was the British first special forces operation to insert Free French paratroops, trained by the Special Operations Executive, into German-occupied France for the assassination of German pilots (15 March/5 April 1941).

The undertaking was requested by the Air Ministry, and was designed to ambush and kill pilots of Hauptmann Kurt Aschenbrenner’s Kampfgruppe 100. Predecessor of the Kampfgeschwader 100 special-purpose group, this was the German specialised pathfinder wing, stationed at Meucon airfield in Brittany, and spearheaded German night raids on the UK.

Five men led by Capitaine Georges Bergé made a blind drop at 24.00 from an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley aeroplane of the RAF, landing some 8 miles (13 km) to the east of Vannes, the town in which the pathfinder crews were billeted, and 5 miles (8 km) off target. On the following day the Special Operations Executive party discovered that the pilots no longer commuted between Vannes and Meucon by bus, but had taken to travelling by car as and when it suited them, thereby making an ambush almost impossible to plan.

Seeking to gain some advantage from the mission, however, Bergé instructed his men to disperse, undertake general reconnaissance and meet at Sables d’Olonne at the end of the month for extraction by sea. One of the men was already missing, and another failed to make the rendezvous.

After several nights watching from the sand dunes, on 4/5 April Bergé saw a member of the Small Scale Raiding Force paddling ashore from the submarine Tigris. Unfortunately, two other kayaks were damaged while being launched, so only Bergé and Forman could be extracted. Joel Le Tac remained behind and made his way to a safe house in Paris and continued as a Special Operations Executive operative.

The Free French paratroops went on to form the French SAS.