Operation Aquatint

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Operation Aquatint
Part of North West Europe Campaign
Omaha beach
Date12–13 September 1942
Location Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes, Normandy, France
Result British defeat
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom Flag of German Reich (1935-1945).svg Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Gus March-Phillipps Flag of German Reich (1935-1945).svg Karl Maderholz
10 British Commandos
1 Free Frenchman
1 Motor Torpedo Boat
320th Infantry Division
Casualties and losses
3 killed in action
1 killed in captivity
2 fate unknown
5 captured and survived

Operation Aquatint was the codename for a failed raid by British Commandos on the coast of occupied France during the Second World War. The raid was undertaken in September 1942 on part of what later became Omaha Beach by No. 62 Commando, also known as the Small Scale Raiding Force.

Omaha Beach one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France

Omaha, commonly known as Omaha Beach, was the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, during World War II. 'Omaha' refers to a section of the coast of Normandy, France, facing the English Channel 8 kilometers (5 mi) long, from east of Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to west of Vierville-sur-Mer on the right bank of the Douve River estuary and an estimated 150-foot (45 m) tall cliffs. Landings here were necessary to link the British landings to the east at Gold with the American landing to the west at Utah, thus providing a continuous lodgement on the Normandy coast of the Bay of the Seine. Taking Omaha was to be the responsibility of United States Army troops, with sea transport, mine sweeping, and a naval bombardment force provided predominantly by the United States Navy and Coast Guard, with contributions from the British, Canadian, and Free French navies.

No. 62 Commando

No. 62 Commando or the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) was a British Commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War. The unit was formed around a small group of commandos under the command of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). They carried out a number of raids before being disbanded in 1943.


Prior to the operation, a raid on the French coastal town of Dieppe had placed the German occupying forces on a high state of alert, and this ultimately contributed to Aquatint's failure. The commandos were also unable to identify their correct landing place due to the darkness. Within minutes of landing, the raiding party was ambushed by a German patrol and forced to try to reach their Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) transport. The MTB was located and engaged by the German shore batteries, which damaged one of its engines. It was forced to withdraw, leaving the commandos behind. At the end of the raid those commandos who had not been killed all became prisoners of war. Only five of the raiding force would survive the war; one was killed in captivity and the fate of the other two is uncertain.

Dieppe Raid World War II battle on north coast of France

Operation Jubilee, more commonly referred to as the Dieppe Raid, was an Allied assault on the German-occupied port of Dieppe, France on 19 August 1942, during the Second World War. The main assault lasted less than six hours until strong German defences and mounting Allied losses forced its commanders to call a retreat.

Motor Torpedo Boat type of fast torpedo boat

Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) was the name given to fast torpedo boats by the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy. The 'motor' in the formal designation, referring to the use of petrol engines, was to distinguish them from the majority of other naval craft that used steam turbines or reciprocating steam engines.


Following a request from the Chief of Combined Operations Admiral Louis Mountbatten for probes of German coastal defences, No. 62 Commando, also known as the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF), [nb 1] mounted a number of operations in 1942. [2] The first three missions were complete successes: Operation Barricade (14/15 August 1942), Operation Dryad, (2/3 September 1942), and Operation Pound (7/8 September 1942). [3] Aquatint was planned for a night in mid September 1942 as a reconnaissance mission near Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes, a small coastal town near Port en Bessin in Normandy. The mission was to collect information about the surrounding area, and take a German guard prisoner. Aerial reconnaissance had identified a small group of houses on the seafront thought to be occupied by Germans. [4] [nb 2]

Combined Operations Headquarters department of the British War Office set up during World War II

Combined Operations Headquarters was a department of the British War Office set up during Second World War to harass the Germans on the European continent by means of raids carried out by use of combined naval and army forces.

Admiral is one of the highest ranks in some navies, and in many navies is the highest rank. It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM". The rank is generally thought to have originated in Sicily from a conflation of Arabic: أمير البحر‎, amīr al-baḥr, "commander of the sea", with Latin admirabilis ("admirable") or admiratus ("admired"), although alternative etymologies derive the word directly from Latin, or from the Turkish military and naval rank miralay. The French version – amiral without the additional d – tends to add evidence for the Arab origin.

Operation Barricade was a British Commando raid during the Second World War. It was carried out by 11 men of No. 62 Commando over the night of 14/15 August 1942, and had as its objective an anti-aircraft gun and radar site north-west of Pointe de Saire south of Barfleur. The raiders crossed the English Channel by Motor Torpedo Boat.

The size of the SSRF landing party was limited to how many could be carried aboard a Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB), [nb 3] and comprised five officers, one warrant officer, one senior non-commissioned officer, three other ranks, and a member of the Free French forces. The commander of the SSRF, Major 'Gus' March-Phillipps, would lead the raid. [8] His second in command, Captain Geoffrey Appleyard, would remain on board the MTB due to an injury acquired on a previous mission. The other men on the raid were Captain Graham Hayes, Captain John Burton, Captain Lord Francis Howard, Lieutenant Anthony Hall, Company Sergeant Major Thomas Winter, Sergeant Allen Michael Williams, Private Jan Hollings (Jan Helling) from the Netherlands, Private Adam Orr (Abraham Opoczynski) from Poland, Private Richard Leonard (Richard Lehniger) a Jewish Sudeten German from Czechoslovakia, and Maître Andre Desgranges of the Free French Forces. [3]

Warrant officer Military rank

A warrant officer (WO) is an officer in a military organisation who is designated an officer by a warrant, as distinguished from a commissioned officer who is designated an officer by a commission, and a non-commissioned officer who is designated an officer, often by virtue of seniority.

Non-commissioned officer Military officer without a commission

A non-commissioned officer (NCO) is a military officer who has not earned a commission. Non-commissioned officers usually obtain their position of authority by promotion through the enlisted ranks. In contrast, commissioned officers hold higher ranks than NCOs, have more legal responsibilities, are paid more, and often have more non-military training such as a university diploma. Commissioned officers usually earn their commissions without having risen through the enlisted ranks.

Other ranks (ORs) in the Royal Marines, British Army, Royal Air Force and in the armies and air forces of many other Commonwealth countries are those personnel who are not commissioned officers, usually including non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Colloquially, members of the other ranks are known as "rankers".

The Dieppe raid in August 1942 had changed the German fortification plans; the success of the German defences in repelling the raid reinforced the importance of the Atlantic wall. The Organization Todt had now started to reinforce gun emplacements with infantry strong points along the French coastline. The older gun emplacements based on First World War designs were being replaced by stronger designs with overhead cover to offer protection from air attack. The area of Normandy targeted by Operation Aquatint had yet to receive any concrete gun emplacements but there was a network of coastal artillery batteries able to provide interlocking arcs of fire. German infantry carried out foot patrols in the areas between the batteries. [9]


British Commandos marching past a collapsed Goatley boat of the type used in Operation Aquatint Commando goatley boat.jpg
British Commandos marching past a collapsed Goatley boat of the type used in Operation Aquatint

The mission had previously been attempted over the night of 11/12 September 1942, but had to be cancelled after the MTB arrived off the coast of France. The raiding party had been unable to locate their target because of the dark and foggy conditions. [4] On 12 September 1942, their MTB left Portsmouth at 20:12 and reached the coast off Barfleur at about 22:00. Moving at a reduced speed to avoid detection and avoid the offshore mine fields, they reached their intended position offshore just after midnight on 13 September 1942. Observing the coastline, in the dark they incorrectly identified a valley which they believed was St Honorine, but was actually Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, about one mile to the right of their intended target. [10] At around 00:20 hours the landing party headed toward the beach in a small collapsible flat bottomed boat known as a Goatley boat. After reaching the shore they realised they were too close to some houses to leave their boat where it was. They dragged the boat 200 yards (180 m) east away from the houses and above the high water mark. Captain Lord Howard guarded the boat while the rest of the SSRF checked to area to ensure it was safe and they had not been observed landing. [11]

Portsmouth City & unitary authority area in England

Portsmouth is a port city in Hampshire, England, with a total population of 205,400 residents. The city of Portsmouth is nicknamed Pompey and is mainly built on Portsea Island, a flat, low-lying island measuring 24 square kilometres in area, just off the south-east coast of Hampshire. Uniquely, Portsmouth is the only island city in the United Kingdom, and is the only city whose population density exceeds that of London.

Barfleur Commune in Normandy, France

Barfleur is a commune in the Manche department in the Normandy region in northwestern France. It is twinned with Lyme Regis in the United Kingdom.

Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer Commune in Normandy, France

Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer is a commune in the Calvados department in the Normandy region in northwestern France. The town is located not far from Omaha Beach, where, in World War II, Allied forces landed during D-Day.

On their way back to the beach they sighted a German patrol of about seven or eight men coming from the direction of the houses so they took cover. [11] They were discovered by the patrol's guard dog at about 00:50. The patrol opened fire on them with machine guns and hand grenades. The SSRF managed to disperse the German patrol with return fire and reach the Goatley boat. Captain Lord Howard, who had been left to guard the boat, was wounded trying to re-float the boat, and the others managed to get him aboard. [11] The fight lasted for about 30 minutes. When the German patrol moved forward onto the beach, Lieutenant Hall tried to capture one of the Germans but was himself hit over the head and captured. The SSRF left him behind, presuming he was dead. [11] The men in the Goatley boat had managed to get about 100 yards (91 m) out to sea when it was located and engaged by three machine gun posts above the beach. A gun emplacement to the west also starting firing towards them with heavier calibre guns. [12] The combined fire from four positions damaged the boat, which began to sink. [11] The commandos attempted to swim out to the MTB, which by now had also been discovered and was under fire. Unable to locate it in the darkness, they were forced to swim back to the beach. Winter was fired on again when he reached the beach and was captured. He was taken to the German headquarters where he was put into a room with Captain Lord Howard and Desgranges, who had also been captured. [13]

The MTB had withdrawn out of range at about 01:30, but not before it had suffered engine damage; a bullet had disabled the starboard engine. After 10 minutes it moved back inshore hoping to pick up any survivors. It was again located by the Germans at about 02:30. The MTB was forced to withdraw once again under increasingly heavy mortar and machine gun fire. Unable to locate any survivors, it recrossed the German minefield and arrived back in Portsmouth at 10:00. [14] [15]


Later on the morning of 13 September 1942 Winter and Desranges were ordered to collect the bodies of the men who had been killed on the beach. [13] Of the 11 men who went ashore, three were killed: Major March-Phillips, Sergeant Williams, and Private Leonard; [16] [17] [18] [19] four were captured (the seriously wounded pair Captain Lord Howard and Lieutenant Hall, with Winter and Desgranges); and four others had escaped. [20] [21]

Later on 13 September 1942 Captain Lord Howard and Lieutenant Hall were hospitalised because of their injuries, while Winter and Desgranges were taken to Caen for interrogation. [13] At the time, the Germans were unaware that four commandos—Captain Burton, Privates Hollings and Orr, and Captain Hayes—had managed to evade capture and made it off the beach.

On 14 September 1942, the Germans issued a communiqué:

During the night of 12/13 September 1942, British soldiers attempted to land on the channel coast, to the east of Cherbourg. Their presence was immediately detected by the German defences, opening fire and sinking a boat. [14]

A second communiqué on 15 September 1942 read:

During the night of 12/13 September, guards of the coast defences to the east of the Cotentin (Cherbourg peninsula), located an attempt by the enemy to land on a beach. Several men attempted to cross the beach while their disembarkation boat, attempting to return to sea, was hit and sunk. Those on the beach were killed or taken prisoner. All were members of the British army except one, a Frenchman officer of the Gaullist forces. [14]

The bodies of the dead were buried in the St-Laurent-sur-Mer cemetery on 15 September 1942. The funeral was only attended by the local German and the French Gendarmarie commanders. To prevent anyone else from attending, the Germans had a machine gun set up covering the cemetery. [22]

After 10 days of questioning Winter was taken to Rennes, where he was joined three days later by Captain Burton, Hollings, and Orr. These three had managed to stay together when the boat was sunk, and were captured by a German parachute unit carrying out manoeuvres. [20] Burton was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Germany, [20] Winter, Hollings and Orr were taken to Frankfurt and handed over to the Gestapo for further questioning, after which Winter was sent to a prisoner of war camp at Memmingen. The fate of Hollings and Orr has never been established. [20] Winter and a Special Air Service officer escaped from the camp in April 1945, disguised as French soldiers. Desgranges was also able to escape from captivity, travelling via Spain to Britain, where he joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE). [19]

Marker on Omaha Beach Marker on Omaha Beach.jpg
Marker on Omaha Beach

Captain Hayes, unable to reach the MTB, had started swimming away from the shooting, and came ashore beside Asnieres-en-Bessin. He managed to evade capture and made contact with a local French family who provided him with civilian clothing and contacted the French resistance. [12] Hayes was taken by train to Lisieux and after several weeks reached Paris. Hayes was moved along an escape line to the Spanish border, arriving in October 1942. After crossing into Spain he was stopped by Spanish border guards who handed him over to the Germans. Hayes was returned to Paris and imprisoned in Fresnes prison. He was kept in solitary confinement for nine months before being executed by firing squad on 13 July 1943. [21] Hayes had landed in uniform and should have been considered a prisoner of war, but he was executed following the issue of the commando order which called for the execution of all commandos upon capture. [14] It was discovered after the war that Hayes had been betrayed to the Germans, who were aware of all his movements from Normandy to the Spanish border. [23] The persons believed responsible for Hayes' betrayal were never punished, as they convinced the authorities they were acting as double agents. [24]

Despite the results of the operation, the SOE and Combined Operations Headquarters believed that the SSRF could still be of use, and ensured that it was not dissolved. Command of the unit was given to the newly promoted Major Appleyard. [19] At the end of 1942, most of SSRF were moved to Algeria and absorbed into the 2nd Special Air Service Regiment. Appleyard did not survive the war. He was returning from a Special Air Service mission when his plane was reported missing. It was the same day that Captain Hayes was executed in Paris. [25]


  1. The Small Scale Raiding Force was normally under operational control of the Special Operations Executive. [1]
  2. This area later became known as Dog sector, Omaha beach. [5] [6]
  3. Nicknamed the Little Pisser, MTB 344 was built in 1942. She was capable of 40 knots and was 60 feet (18 m) in length. Armament consisted of two British 18 inch torpedoes, two Vickers machine guns, and Lewis guns. The normal crew complement was six or seven men. [7]
  1. Chappel, p.48
  2. Binney, p.151
  3. 1 2 Binney, p.152
  4. 1 2 Binney, p.153
  5. van der Vat, p.100
  6. Hart, p.29
  7. "Obituary;Freddie Bourne". London: Daily Telegraph . 5 March 2002. Retrieved 3 June 2010.
  8. Richards and Foot, p.142
  9. Zaloga and Johnson, p.7
  10. Binney, pp.153154
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Binney, p.157
  12. 1 2 Binney, p.161
  13. 1 2 3 Binney, p.158
  14. 1 2 3 4 Binney, p.156
  15. Messenger, p. 155
  16. "CWGC headstone March-Phillips". Commando Veterans Association. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  17. "CWGC headstone Williams". Commando Veterans Association. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  18. "CWGC headstone Leonard". Commando Veterans Association. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  19. 1 2 3 Messenger, p. 156
  20. 1 2 3 4 Binney, p.159
  21. 1 2 Brown, p.62
  22. Binney, p.160
  23. Binney, p.162
  24. Binney, pp.168170
  25. Binney, pp.167168

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