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Small Scale Rading Force

Page Created
October 9th, 2022
Last Updated
October 9th, 2022
Great Britain
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Additional Information
Order of Battle
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March 21st, 1942
Theater of Operations
Organisational History

The Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF), No. 62 Commando is the brainchild of Major Gustavus (Gus) Henry March-Phillipps. It is the logical follow up of the Maid Honor Force, used in Operation Postmaster. He intends to use the Small Scale Raiding Force to perform raids across the English Channel at selected enemy positions, with the aim of gathering intelligence and capturing German prisoners for interrogation.

At the same time there is Lord Louis Mountbatten’s desire to increase the number of commando raids across the Channel. As the commander of Combined Operations, he intends to bring together Commandos and the Royal Navy in joint attacks. In March 1942, it is agreed that Special Operations Executive would provide administerial and financial support for the unit, while it would operate under a joint command between Combined Operations and the Special Operations Executive. This would most likely solve the Special Operations Executive’s problems of getting naval permission for their operations.

On March 10th, 1942, March-Phillipps and Major John Gwynne meet Mountbatten. Gwynne is appointed as the unit’s Planning Officer for Operations.

On March 17th, 1942, during a meeting at the Combined Operations Headquarters, the principles for the Small Scale Raiding Force are discussed and agreed. Gus March-Phillipps is appointed the Force commander. It is decided that Special Operations Executive would be responsible for selecting the necessary men and provide the base to operate from. The Special Operations Executive is also responsible for training and equipping the unit. The Royal Navy and Combined Operations provide two motor launches, their crews, and armaments. Both would be responsible for fuelling and repairing them. Each motor launch would have its own naval commander, but under the overall command of March-Phillipps. Mountbatten wants a force of about fifty men. Between 15 and 20 are to be foreign nationals, to be used as guides, and interpreters with local people during operations. Mountbatten aims for Dutch, French, Belgians and Poles of suitable quality and experience to be recruited.

On March 21st, 1942, the Chiefs of Staff gives permission for the raising of the Small Scale Raiding Force.

On March 27th, 1942, March-Phillipps receives the final plan under which he was to operate his force. The unit would consist of 30 British, divided equally between officers and other ranks. The foreign contingent would consist of three officers and seventeen other ranks.

One day later, on March 28th the Special Operations Executive’s foreign sections arrange for the relevant foreign governments to give their permission for the release of their personnel to the Small Scale Raiding Force. March-Phillipps is now allowed to approach the foreign sections for suitable candidates. The men from the Maid Honor Force will form the nucleus of the Small Scale Raiding Force. Since they number only thirteen in total, March-Phillipps must start recruiting for British members too.

March-Phillips code name is W.01, or with the initials MH, after the Maid Honor Force of Operation Postmaster. The activities and personnel of the Small Scale Raiding Force are covered with the code name Fyfield. Each member of the unit is given a cover story. The objectives of the unit are labelled top secret.

The Small Scale Raiding Force base is situated in Poole area in Dorset. An easy choice since the Maid Honor Force was also based and trained there in the spring and summer of 1941. Headquarters is set at Anderson Manor at Anderson Village. This old Country House is situated about ten kilometres from Wareham and fifteen kilometres from Poole. Remote enough to provide the secrecy the unit needed. The unit moves to the country house in April 1942.

Anderson Manor receives the codenamed Station 62 and is profiled as a commando training centre. The Small Scale Raiding Force is codenamed No. 62 Commando. At the same time, the Special Operations Executive officially raise an unrelated unit also named No. 62 Commando to cover them up.

Among the new recruits are men like the Leslie Prout, Thomas Winter and Anders Larssen. Once the men start arriving, the house is equipped and as being a Commando Training Centre. An Assault Course and close quarters training building are built, and training commences in the widest range possible. Training included survival training, marches, climbing, explosives training, swimming, signals and boat training. Within the unit, rank and dress code are considered unimportant as well formal addressing of higher ranks. However, discipline is never a discussion.

In that same period of time the two Motor Torpedo Boats, among them the brand-new Motor Torpedo Boat 344, commanded by Lieutenant Freddie Bourne. The ship is nicknamed by the men of the Small Scale Raiding Force, The Little Pisser.

Disbandment and reorganisation into 2 Special Air Service

From late 1942, it becomes clear that Lieutenant Colonel Bill Stirling, Comanding Officer of the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) and others are considering moving part or all of the Small Scale Raiding Force to North Africa.

Stirling’s younger brother David Striling is achieving success with 1 Special Air Service in the North African region. With the prospect of the upcoming invasion in Northern Europe raiding becomes less and less attractive in the area, the Mediterranean’s relative calm offers better prospects for sea raiding than the British Channel. The frustrations of operating the Small Scale Raiding Force in domestic waters around Britain are well documented in previous chapters. With the United States involved in the war, the North African campaign is under joint Allied command. The idea of invading Vichy French North Africa has been discussed throughout 1942, and in July 1942, a decision is made for an autumn invasion, led by American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, named Operation Torch.

Simultaneously, Special Operations Executive begins negotiations in August to establish an advanced, self-supporting base in North Africa to support both Operation Torch and the planned Allied invasion of Europe. By November, arrangements are in place for Special Operations Executiveo open its North African base under the codename Massingham Mission.

Operation Torch commences in early November 1942, with seaborne landings at Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers. The Allied forces fight eastward into Tunisia. On November 17th, 1942, the advance party for Brandon Mission arrives and sets up a base at Cap Matifou, near Algiers. Brandon Mission, under Lieutenant Colonel Young, assists Operation Torch with special detachments behind enemy lines in Tunisia, employing many Free French agents. Major Gwynne joins Brandon Mission in February 1943.

In December 1942, US Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson, commanding the British and American forces in Algiers, is disappointed with Brandon Mission’s work. On December 18th, 1942, Anderson requests Colonel Bill Stirling of the Small Scale Raiding Force and some of his detachment be sent to him. The British High Command consents and indicates that the Small Scale Raiding Force should receive reinforcement from the commandos. The Operations and Training Director of the Special Operations Executive is Brigadier Colin McVean Gubbins, code name M. M visits Massingham Mission in early 1943, staying for nearly six weeks in preparation for the expected European invasion. He initially agrees to the American request.

SOE’s Lieutenant Colonel Young, commanding Brandon Mission, is displeased with Anderson’s criticisms and the request for a fresh unit. It is unclear how Anderson learns of and requests the men from Anderson Manor. Bill Stirling and Geoffrey Appleyard’s enthusiasm to go to North Africa likely contributes to Anderson’s request. By January, the impending loss of MTB 344 and difficulties in finding suitable targets in the Channel fuel Stirling’s wish for a more profitable war zone.

Bill Stirling spreads the word that the Small Scale Raiding Force might be more productive in North Africa, which reaches Lieutenant General Anderson, possibly through Stirling’s brother, David. The Operations and Training Director of the Special Operations Executive is Brigadier Colin McVean Gubbins, code name M. M had previously shared control of the Small Scale Raiding Force with Mountbatten’s Combined Operations and is reluctant to loan Small Scale Raiding Force men to Anderson, not wanting to lose experienced agents like Appleyard and Lassen. However, since Massingham and Brandon are Special Operations Executive missions, attaching the Small Scale Raiding Force to them allows M to retain overall control.

On January 16th, 1942, British General Alexander meets Eisenhower and Lord Mountbatten to agree on creating a new force similar to David Stirling’s 1SAS. Initially, this force is to consist of 200 commandos under Eisenhower’s command. The Small Scale Raiding Force men, with their special skills, are an obvious choice. Mountbatten announces the agreement on January 20, 1943, to Major General Haydon in London. Concerns arise about Bill Stirling leading the new force due to potential conflicts with David Stirling and Lord Lovatt.

Generals Alexander and Eisenhower, eager to increase long-range sabotage raids and amphibious operations, seek a detachment of the Small Scale Raiding Force. The Small Scale Raiding Force is asked on January 20th, 1943, to provide two officers to train and participate in operations with David Stirling’s men. Despite Major General Haydon’s firm opposition, the decision is made to send 50 British commandos, including half of the Small Scale Raiding Forcemen at Anderson Manor, to North Africa. Bill Stirling is determined to command the force, and David Stirling’s capture in January 1943 removes objections about potential personality clashes.

Two Small Scale Raiding Force officers, Philip Pinckney and Anders Lassen, are sent as the advance guard to Cairo in early February 1943, formally attaching to 1 SAS under Major V. W. Street. Bill Stirling travels by air shortly afterward, along with either his Administrative Officer, Captain Barkworth, or Patrick Dudgeon. Geoffrey Appleyard, the Operational Commander of the Small Scale Raiding Force, brings the main body of men and equipment by sea, divided into two parties. Peter Kemp assumes operational command of the remaining Small Scale Raiding Force men at Anderson Manor.

The Massingham Mission war diary for February 1943 shows SOE’s misgivings about the Small Scale Raiding Force’s impending arrival. Initially, London understands that the Small Scale Raiding Force will be under Eisenhower’s orders, but this position changes. M, present at Massingham in February, learns that Allied Force Headquarters (AFH) in North Africa is less anxious to have the SSRF, foreseeing limited scope due to a shortage of sea transport. Allied Force Headquarters suggests using the Small Scale Raiding Force as commando reinforcements, which M opposes.

Despite orders to reconsider, Appleyard departs England before any counter-orders arrive. By February 17th, 1943, Massingham Mission is informed that Appleyard’s party has left the Great Britain by sea, followed by the rest of the Small Scale Raiding Force detachment on February 19th, 1943. M’s control over his agents’ movements is less effective with his absence from England, and both Stirling and Appleyard are keen to join the “real war” in North Africa.

On February 19th, 1943, M receives a message indicating Appleyard’s departure may impact the Small Scale Raiding Force’s leadership in England. Horning, suggested as the new planning role at Anderson Manor, lacks navigational experience. M decides to instruct Stirling to send Appleyard back to England after handing over his party, replacing him with Horning. Appleyard’s return to Anderson Manor will ensure the Small Scale Raiding Force’s future as a unit there.

By mid-February 1943, Major Geoffrey Appleyard of the Small Scale Raiding Force travels by ship to North Africa with the first contingent of the unit from Anderson Manor in Great Britain. Captain Roy Bridgeman-Evans, whom Appleyard interviewed and recruited after Gus March-Phillipps’ death, serves as his second-in-command during the voyage.

The Small Scale Raiding Force arrives in North Africa to find confusion. 1 Special Air Service is in flux after David Stirling’s capture, and there is no immediate work for the Small Scale Raiding Force. M orders Bill Stirling to send Appleyard back to England, but a power struggle ensues. M departs for England on March 7th, 1943.

Massingham Mission becomes hostile to the Small Scale Raiding Force’s arrival. Bill Stirling is disillusioned by the situation, partly due to Combined Operations’ enthusiasm to deploy the Small Scale Raiding Force despite no appropriate work. Allied Force Headquarters threatens to send the Small Scale Raiding Force to Army Group Headquarters for general operational duty, exactly what M feared. Coordination issues arise with Brandon Mission over personnel and operations.

Eventually, it is decided that Stirling’s command will include the Small Scale Raiding Force men who traveled with him and a small detachment of 1 Special Air Service. For veterans like Appleyard and Lassen, the situation resembles their arrival in West Africa with the Maid Honor Force, initially kept idle by local commanders.

On March 16th, 1943, M asks if Appleyard has left for home. Despite direct orders, Appleyard remains in North Africa. A power struggle continues, with Appleyard caught between commanders. By April 23rd, 1943, Combined Operations asks for Appleyard’s immediate return, but this is deferred to mid-May. London loses the power struggle, and Appleyard remains in North Africa for Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily.

After David Stirling’s capture, 1 Special Air Service reorganises into the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) under Lord Jellicoe and the Special Raiding Squadron (SRS) under Paddy Mayne. Pinckney and Lassen join the SBS. Bill Stirling sets up 2 Special Air Service, taking Appleyard and Dudgeon, although Appleyard remains officially under SOE. Stirling aims to run 2 Special Air Service similarly to his brother’s 1 Special Air Service.

Major Appleyard does not appear troubled by the competition for his and the Small Scale Raiding Force’s services. He enjoys a peaceful voyage, undisturbed by enemy action, and arrives in North Africa by late February or early March. He describes the force as 1 Small Scale Raiding Force, the title given to the men of No. 62 Commando at Anderson Manor after its expansion following March-Phillipps’ death. Appleyard is keen to keep the force together, even if it means temporarily detaching from M’s command.

In North Africa, 1 Small Scale Raiding Force settles near Philippeville in Algeria, initially staying intact. By April 19th, 1943, Cochrane is still writing home using the 1 Small Scale Raiding Force address. Appleyard praises the camp in a letter home: “A delightful place, right on the sea amongst sand dunes about ten miles from the nearest town. A healthy spot with excellent training areas, wonderful surfing, and great fun with the boats.”

As weeks pass, special forces in North Africa reorganize. Under Bill Stirling’s plans, 1 Small Scale Raiding Force becomes part of the new 2 Special Air Service, with Philippeville remaining their base. Despite its beauty, Philippeville hides a deadly malarial swamp, which hampers 2 Special Air Service operations in 1943 and 1944. Appleyard’s earlier assessment of a “really healthy spot” proves wrong, as Major Roy Farran describes: “The undergrowth hid a dangerous malarial swamp.”

Initially, the dangers of malaria are not appreciated, and Appleyard and 1 Small Scale Raiding Force/2 Special Air Service experience a time of optimism. Appleyard writes home about their prospects and the potential for significant contributions: “Prospects are good, and we’ll be busy soon. We can do a useful job here, and there’s much cooperation and keenness.”

In March, Appleyard begins rigorous training for his men in local conditions, including marches across the African countryside with heavy packs. Bridgeman-Evans is impressed by Appleyard’s meticulous planning, recalling: “He taught me how to plan operations with detailed precision. Every exercise was planned and executed as an operation.”

Between March and July, Appleyard and the men of the 1 Small Scale Raiding Force gradually integrate into 2 Special Air Service. By June 25th, 1943, Appleyard commands A Squadron of 2 Special Air Service, with 12 officers and 156 men, under Bill Stirling. As Operations Officer, Appleyard oversees all regimental operations. All ranks are parachute trained, but I’m more interested in other entry methods where my experience lies. George Jellicoe is with us, and he’s one of the best.”

It is difficult to pinpoint the last operation by the 1 Small Scale Raiding Force and the first by 2 Special Air Service. However, Special Operations Executive records show Appleyard remains on their books until July 1st, 1943, with plans to return to Secret Service duties.

Appleyard remains busy with planning and executing operations from his arrival in North Africa. Whether under the 1 Small Scale Raiding Force or 2 Special Air Service, his operations continue the character developed during the Small Scale Raiding Force days at Anderson Manor.