Operation Sunstar (i)

'Sunstar' (i) was a British special forces attack by Lieutenant Colonel J. M. Sagaert’s No. 9 Commando against Houlgate, to the south of Le Havre, on the north coast of German-occupied France (22/23 November 1941).

On this night 90 men of No. 9 Commando, on this unit’s first operational mission, were despatched to attack the four-gun coastal artillery emplacement of the Batterie de Tournebride to the east of Houlgate, and to take prisoners for subsequent interrogation. Transported from Portsmouth in the small infantry landing ship Prince Leopold, which was escorted by MGB-312, MGB-314, MGB-316 and MGB-317, the men landed at Vaches Noires, a short distance from their intended landing beach, and could not press home their attack because of an intervening clay cliff. As the party approached the beach one of the four LCA assault landing craft broached and was towed off only with difficulty, and it seemed likely that the returning raiding party would have to swim out to the craft.

At first there was no sign of any Germans, but soon the area was illuminated by flares and searchlights. Trucks were seen approaching, so the raiders still on the beach swam out after exchanging torch signals with the cover party. The LCA gunners withheld their fire in order not to reveal their position. During this time another raider party called at a farmhouse, and was informed that the arrival of a two-man German bicycle patrol was imminent. The raiders set a rope across the road to dismount the Germans, but no sooner had they dome this than a Junkers Ju 87 dive-bomber attacked the waiting LCAs.

Private J. Davidson, a Bren gunner on one of the LCAs, now discovered that his LCA was half full of water and had only one engine operative. Even so, as the dive-bomber made a second strafing attack, Davidson managed to put two bursts into the aeroplane.

The official report of the operation suggests a successful landing but that the raiders lacked the time to complete their intended tasks. The commandos had difficulty contacting the LCAs which were, in any event, too far off the beach to come in and lift them off, so the men had to swim out to the craft. The commandos suffered no casualties, but managed to seize a number of German documents, and in overall terms the operation clearly revealed the need for better planning and execution.