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Operations Special Boat Service

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October 3rd, 2022
Last Updated
March 28th, 2024
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Operations
Sergeant Herbert Chambers MM with fellow Special Boat Service soldiers in Athens, 1944.

North Africa
March 20th, 1942 – March 21st, 1942
Raid on Berca Aerodrome
L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade, Special Boat Section Long Range Desert Group
During the night two trucks from the Long Range Desert Group transport parties from the L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade and the Special Boat Section for a raid on Berca Aerodrome, with the main target being Berca Main. The team, led by Captain Allott and including Corporals Pomford and Sinclair, as well as Lieutenant Alston, plans to arrive 500 metres east of the railway running north to south through Berca at 23:30 on the March 20th, 1942. Due to challenging terrain and aerial activity that day, they don’t arrive until 01:10 on the March 21st, 1942. The navigator reports that they are actually 1,500 metres east of the railway, with the correct direction to the railway being 270°. Setting out at 01:15 on this bearing, the team marches for 6 kilometres but fails to locate the railway. Lieutenant Alston, acting as the guide, concludes that they are not only out of position but are actually eight kilometres south and at least eleven kilometres east of the railway. Given their orders to return to the truck by 03:30 on March 21st, 1942, the team makes their way back to the rendezvous point, arriving at 03:25. It is later discovered that the truck was eleven kilometres east of the railway and 4.5 kilometres south of the intended position. Consequently, reaching the aerodrome and completing the mission before daylight, given the lack of cover in the area, is impossible.

March 28th, 1942 – March 29th, 1942
Attack on the port of Benghazi
L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade, Special Boat Section
During the night, L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade and the Special Boat Section are heading towards Benghazi. At 23:00 on the March 28th, 1942, the team, of the L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade under Major Stirling, Lieutenant Alston (serving as the guide), and two corporals, alongside Special Boat Section members Captain Allott and Corporals Sinclair and Pomford. Captain Allott and Corporal Sinclair undertook to perform this operation at the last moment as Lieutenant Sutherland and Sergeant Moss are wounded on the way to Bengahzi by their car striking a mine. They take the south road to Benghazi via Regima Benina, starting 8 kilometres east of Regima. Upon entering Benghazi from the south, they arrive at the west side of the outer mole.

Captain Allott and Corporal Sinclair begin to assemble the boat but get detected by an Italian. They move 100 metres further west and try to assemble the boat again. They discover that the No. 1 rib is broken, which they manage to mend. Prior to this, they had already fixed the bow and stern posts with very limited supplies. Due to the boat’s damage and the distortion of its skin from heat and the rough journey across the desert, they find it impossible to assemble the boat. Around 02:15 on the March 29th, 1942, they decide to abandon the operation and proceed by the north road out of Benghazi, ensuring they leave nothing behind that could indicate their presence in the city.

May 22nd, 1942 – May 26th, 1942
Beach reconnaissance
Special Boat Section
Captain Allott and Lieutenant Duncan Ritchie are deployed with a folboat, supplies, and a radio to scout the beaches at Cape Ras el Tin. Believing they were on the brink of pushing Rommel back into Tripolitania, Eighth Army Headquarters requests reconnaissance on potential coastal landing sites for diversionary attacks.

By morning, they find themselves exposed on a sandhill, far from their intended position and without cover. The day passes with nothing but boredom and thirst until noon when three German officers arrive for a swim, soon followed by about two hundred German soldiers. Initially, the soldiers pose no threat, indulging in the sea and sunbathing. However, their leisure activities soon include a game of hide and seek, perilously close to Allott and Ritchie’s hiding spot. The pair manage to remain undetected.

It’s not until the German troops leave at six o’clock, singing as they go, that Allott and Ritchie can breathe a sigh of relief, though they are now dehydrated and exhausted. That night, Allott sends a brief tactical report on the beach, marking the first time in Special Boat Squadron’s history that a transmitter is used in the field. After a quick meal, they set out to sea again, facing challenging weather conditions that force them to jettison the radio. Over the next three days, they paddle along the coast, hiding from enemy ships and surveying beaches by day.

Their relief comes on the morning of 26th May, 1942 when they reach Gazala inlet, surprising the South African troops stationed there. They are swiftly sent to Tobruk and then back to Alexandria. Shortly after their departure, Rommel’s forces move in under a sandstorm, leading to a series of battles that push the Eighth Army back to a position between Alamein and the Qattara Depression, highlighting the perilous nature of their mission and the strategic challenges faced by the Allied forces.

August 31st, 1942 – September 18th, 1942
Operation Anglo
No. 1 Special Boat Section

June 6th, 1942 – June 23rd, 1942
Raid on Crete
L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade, No. 1 Special Boat Section

November 11th, 1942
Enemy aircraft and pilot recovery
No. 1 Special Boat Section
Following reports of a German plane crash on an island near Gazala Point, Captain Grant-Watson along with Sergeant J.B. Sherwood, Lieutenant T.R. Langton, and Sergeant C. Dunbar embark on a mission aboard a Motor Torpedo Boat, equipped with two canoes, aiming to capture the pilot.

The rough sea complicates the Motor Torpedo Boat skipper’s efforts to locate the island. Upon launching the canoes near their intended destination, both vessels capsise in the surf during their landing attempt.

Langton is dispatched back to the Motor Torpedo Boat to retrieve a rubber dinghy but, upon his return, he is unable to locate Grant-Watson or Sherwood. Subsequently, Langton and his companion find themselves encircled by an armed patrol, communicating in what seemed to be a foreign language. The situation nearly escalates into violence until one of the patrol members unexpectedly cursed in perfect English, leading Langton to swiftly surrender to what are actually members of the 1st South African Division. In a twist of fate, Langton did not reach the intended island but had instead landed on the mainland.

Langton, hearing cries from the sea, ventures out in the dinghy and discovers Sergeant Sherwood holding onto the body of Grant-Watson. Unfortunately, Grant-Watson, not being a strong swimmer, has drowned in the tumultuous waters.
Northwest Europe

July 3rd, 1943 – September 4th,1944
Operation Starkey
Raiding parties of around ten men, drawn from No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando, No. 12 Commando and the Special Boat Squadron. Their mission is to simulate the preparations of an invasion in the Pas de Calais area in France by the end of September. Between thirteen and fourteen raiding operations are planned known as Operation Forfar but only six to eight raiding operations are confirmed to have taken place. The confirmed operations are, Operation Forfar Easy, Operation Forfar Dog, Operation Forfar How, Operation Forfar Beer and Operation Forfar Item. The raiding party’s objective within operation Starkey is reconnaissance for a simulated invasion and draw the attention of the Germans. To that end the raiders leave behind letters and clues for the enemy to pick up. The overall intention of Operation Starkey is drawing the Luftwaffe into an air battle with the simulated invasion threat.

The Germans fail to respond to the operation.

August 3rd, 1943 – August 4th, 1943
Operation Forfar (Love)
Special Boat Squadron
Four men of the Special Boat Section, two Cockle Mk.2 Canoes. Their mission is capture German prisoners for interrogation and to reconnoitre the Dunkirk Pier, France.
The two teams of canoes are revealed by searchlights while approaching their target. They decide to retreat.

Mediterranean

August 31st, 1942 – September 18th, 1942
 Operation Anglo
No. 1 Special Boat Section
Operation Anglo is a raid on the Italian-occupied island of Rhodes by eight men of No. 1 Special Boat Section, along with two Greek guides and two interpreters in September 1942. Their mission is to disrupt Italian airfields crucial for supporting Rommel’s advance to Cairo and supplying besieged Malta.

The team lands near Cape Feralco and splits into two parties. Despite facing challenges and being pursued, they successfully destroy aircraft and fuel storage tanks at the target airfields. Sutherland and Duggan evade capture and swim out to H.M. Submarine Traveller for rescue. Their courage and resourcefulness are recognised with military honours, while the rest of the Special Boat Section team are captured. Tragically, the Greek guides suffer severe consequences, with one executed and the other dying in prison.

April 19th, 1944 – April 25th, 1944
Raid on Santorini (Thera)
Special Boat Squadron, Sacred Company
Nineteen men from the British Special Boat Section and the Greek Sacred Company led by Major Anders Lassen. Their mission was to destroy Axis naval observation posts and radio stations on the Cycladic islands. At the same time similar raids were conducted on the islands Of Ios, Mykonos and Amorgos.

The Santorini team set out from Balisu bay, Turkey aboard two schooners. After landing near Cape Columbo on April 19th, 1944, they marched towards the village of Vourvoulos, hiding in a nearby cave. Greek Lieutenant Stefanos Kasoulis gathered intelligence in Fira, leading to a plan to attack the barracks, residence of the German commanding officer, and radio station in Imerovigli.

On April 24th, 1943, the team executed their plan, surprising the garrison at the barracks and destroying the radio station. During the raid, Greek Lieutenant Stefanos Kasoulis and Sergeant Frank Kingston were killed. In reprisal, on April 29th, 1944, German forces surrounded Vourvoulos, executing five civilians. Despite casualties, the operation tied down German forces in the Aegean for the remainder of the war.

March 9th, 1945
A raid on the Nazi garrison at Villa Punta on Lussino, Croatia.
Special Boat Squadron
During the operation, twenty-seven men from the Special Boat Squadron attack the villa, leading the charge. Tragically, Marine Tommy Kitchingman is killed while clearing enemy positions.

Captain Jimmy Lees also took part in the raid, fighting his way to the first floor of the villa where he is fatally shot.
Lieutenant Donald Thomason’s bravery during the raid earns him the Military Cross. His citation praises his repeated withdrawal to resupply and return to the attack until the enemy was subdued.

After the raid, the men from the Special Boat Squadron are collected by a motor launch and taken back to their base at Zadar. The villa is left destroyed, and numerous Germans are killed in the operation.