Operation Archway

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Operation Archway
Part of invasion of Germany in World War II
SAS jeep 18 November 1944.jpg
Armed SAS Jeep of the type used in Operation Archway
DateMarch–May 1945
Western Germany
Result British victory
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Brian Franks Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Gustav-Adolf von Zangen
Units involved

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Special Air Service

  • 1 SAS
  • 2 SAS
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg 15th Army (elements)
300 men

Operation Archway was the codename for one of the largest and most diverse operations carried out by the Special Air Service during the Second World War. [1]

Special Air Service regiment of the British Army

The Special Air Service (SAS) is a special forces unit of the British Army. The SAS was founded in 1941 as a regiment, and later reconstituted as a corps in 1950. The unit undertakes a number of roles including covert reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, direct action and hostage rescue. Much of the information and actions regarding the SAS is highly classified, and is not commented on by the British government or the Ministry of Defence due to the sensitivity of their operations.


Archway was initially intended to support Operation Plunder and Operation Varsity, the crossings of the River Rhine at Rees, Wesel, and south of the Lippe River by the British Second Army, under Lieutenant-General Sir Miles Dempsey. It went on to support the three British Armoured Divisions in their advance into Germany until the end of the war.

Operation Plunder part of a coordinated set of Rhine crossings during WWII

Operation Plunder was a military operation to cross the Rhine on the night of 23 March 1945, launched by the 21st Army Group under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The crossing of the river was at Rees, Wesel, and south of the river Lippe by the British Second Army under Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey, and the United States Ninth Army under Lieutenant General William H. Simpson.

Operation Varsity airborne forces operation launched by Allied troops toward the end of World War II

Operation Varsity was a successful airborne forces operation launched by Allied troops that took place toward the end of World War II. Involving more than 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft, it was the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day and in one location.

Rees, Germany Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Rees is a town in the district of Cleves in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is located on the right bank of the Rhine, approximately 20 km east of Cleves. The population in 2005 was 22,559. Founded in 1228, Rees is the oldest town in the lower Rhine area.

The Archway force was under command of Lieutenant Colonel Brian Franks and comprised two squadrons, one each from the 1st and 2nd Special Air Service.

Squadron (army) military unit of ground troops, typically of the cavalry of armored services, roughly equivalent to a company in other ground services

A squadron was historically a cavalry subunit, a company-sized military formation. The term is still used to refer to modern cavalry units but can also be used as a designation for other arms and services. In some countries, like Italy, the battalion-level cavalry unit is called "Squadron Group".


After the Normandy Landings the 1st and 2nd Special Air Service or SAS were involved in a number of operations in France, to support the Allied advance, notably Operation Bulbasket, Operation Houndsworth, Operation Loyton and Operation Wallace. Following these operations both of the Special Air Service regiments were recalled to the United Kingdom to regroup, both having suffered casualties in the French operations. [2]

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the "United Nations" from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Operation Bulbasket was an operation by 'B' Squadron, 1st Special Air Service (SAS), behind the German lines in German occupied France, between June and August 1944. The operation was located to the east of Poitiers in the Vienne department of south west France; its objective was to block the Paris to Bordeaux railway line near Poitiers and to hamper German reinforcements heading towards the Normandy beachheads, especially the 2nd SS Panzer Division – Das Reich.

Operation Houndsworth

Operation Houndsworth was the codename for a British Special Air Service operation during the Second World War. The operation carried out by 'A' Squadron, 1st Special Air Service between 6 June and 6 September 1944, was centred on Dijon in the Burgundy region of France. Their objective was to disrupt German lines of communication, coordinate the activities of the French Resistance and prevent German reinforcements moving to the Normandy beachheads especially the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich.


Operation Archway was planned to support the XVIII Airborne Corps Operation Varsity parachute landings across the Rhine river. The force from the Special Air Service would be known as Frankforce. Named after the officer selected to command it, the commanding officer of 2nd Special Air Service, Lieutenant Colonel Brian Franks. Frankforce was made up of two reinforced Special Air Force squadrons, one each from the 1st and 2nd Special Air Service regiments. The force would number about 300 all ranks, mounted in 75 armed Jeeps, some also equipped with 3-inch mortars. They were supported by a number of 15-cwt and 3-ton trucks. [3] The 1st Special Air Service squadron was led by Major Poat and consisted of three troops, each consisting of three sections with three Jeeps. They had a 3 in. mortar section at Squadron Headquarters which also kept a reserve of 12 Jeeps. The 2nd SAS squadron under command Major Power had a similar composition but only two troops. [1]

Commanding officer officer in command of a military unit

The commanding officer (CO) or sometimes, if the incumbent is a general officer, commanding general (CG), is the officer in command of a military unit. The commanding officer has ultimate authority over the unit, and is usually given wide latitude to run the unit as they see fit, within the bounds of military law. In this respect, commanding officers have significant responsibilities, duties, and powers.

Willys MB car model

The Willys MB and the Ford GPW, both formally called the U.S. Army Truck, ​14-ton, 4×4, Command Reconnaissance, commonly known as Jeep or jeep, and sometimes referred to as G503, were highly successful off-road capable, light, military utility vehicles, built in large numbers to a standardized design, from 1941 to 1945, for the Allied forces in World War II.

Mortar (weapon) Artillery weapon that launches explosive projectiles at high angles

A mortar is usually a simple, lightweight, man portable, muzzle-loaded weapon, consisting of a smooth-bore metal tube fixed to a base plate with a lightweight bipod mount and a sight. They launch explosive shells in high-arcing ballistic trajectories. Mortars are typically used as indirect fire weapons for close fire support with a variety of ammunition.

Their first mission in support of the XVIII Airborne Corps consisted of reconnaissance patrols in northern Germany. They crossed the Rhine in amphibious LVT Buffalos, on the 25 March at Bislich. [4]

Landing Vehicle Tracked class of amphibious warfare vehicle

The Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT) is an amphibious warfare vehicle and amphibious landing craft, introduced by the United States Navy. The United States Marine Corps, United States Army, and Canadian and British armies used several LVT models during World War II.

Frankforce was then assigned to support the British Guards Armoured Division in the area around the Dortmund–Ems Canal. After this, until the end of the war, Frankforce worked with the 2nd Welsh Guards, the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars and the 15th/19th The King's Royal Hussars, who were the armoured reconnaissance regiments of the Guards, 7th and 11th Armoured Divisions. The Special Air Service Jeeps being a faster and lighter alternative to the Cromwell tanks used by the armoured regiments. [2] It was the 1st SAS squadron working with the 11th Armoured Division, who were among the first British troops into Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. [5] They found between 50,000 and 60,000 inmates in the camp and for several days later SAS patrols assisted the Field Security Police in hunting down war criminals making several arrests. [3] By the end of April 1945, they had reached the Elbe river, where they were joined by the Operation Keystone team, which was a squadron from 2nd SAS, under command of Major Hibbert. [6]


At the end of the war in Europe, both the 1st and 2nd Special Air Service regiments had returned to the United Kingdom in preparation to be redeployed to the Far East in the fight against the Japanese Empire. Before any training could start, both regiments together with the 1st Airborne Division were sent to disarm the German garrison in Norway Operation Doomsday. [7] In August 1945 the Special Air Service regiments returned home from Norway, [8] and in October 1945 they were officially disbanded. [9] The British Authorities of the time could see no further use for such a force. [9]

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  1. 1 2 Seymour, p. 264
  2. 1 2 "SAS Founding Fathers, Part One". Special Operations. Archived from the original on 20 May 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2010.
  3. 1 2 Davies, p. 19
  4. Seymour, p. 265
  5. Shepard, p. 217
  6. Davies, p. 34
  7. Jones, p. 14
  8. Jones, p. 21
  9. 1 2 Jones, pp. 25–27