Operation Speedwell

This was a British special forces operation by Lieutenant Colonel W. Stirling’s 2nd Special Air Service to disrupt German rear-area communications in the region of La Spezia and Genoa in the north-western part of Italy (7 September 1943 onward).

Under the command of Captains Philip Pinckney and Patrick Dudgeon, two seven-man parties were parachuted into the operational area to sever the railway lines being used by the Germans to move reinforcements from France toward the front line farther to the south in Italy. The two parties divided into a number of sub-parties after landing, and over the following weeks these derailed a number of trains and used explosives to destroy railway lines despite the fact that many of the men were suffering from illnesses resulting from poor diet and bad weather.

There were losses too, most notably Dudgeon, who was captured by the Germans and shot. Some of the men regained the Allied lines after remaining in the field for 54 days and others after 73 days, but Sergeant ‘Tanky’ Challenor returned after seven months behind the German lines, a period which included a spell in an Axis hospital.