First British Airborne Raid

Early British parachute training from a converted Whitley bomber.

The 11th Special Air Service Battalion made history on the 10th February with the first British parachute raid on enemy territory, Operation Colossus. Thirty five men were dropped in southern Italy and blew up the Tragino Aqueduct which supplied water to Naples and the surrounding area. The raiders successfully blew up the aqueduct but it was repaired within a matter of days.

Plans for the men to be evacuated by submarine had to be abandoned when the rendezvous site was compromised, and the plan had made no provision for an alternative rendezvous point. In any event the the escaping men, who travelled in four groups, found it extremely difficult to travel covertly across country in a landscape packed with small farms. They were all soon captured. The Italian interpreter, Fortunato Picchi, who accompanied the group posing as a member of Free French forces, was shot as a spy. One officer, Lieutenant Deane-Drummond, managed to make his escape the following year. His account and many more documents can be found at Paradata.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith Beynon November 21, 2017 at 4:21 am

Hi Marc. Just came across this article. My father George (Sonny) Beynon was on the 11th SAS with your uncle.They were very good friends. He didn’t go on that particular raid, but my father loaned me a copy of the book and the bookmark he was using happened to be a letter from John Tristan (your uncle) while he was a p o w. My father ended up as a p o w after Arnhem. He passed away in 1993. So this side of the story finished there really.

Alistair Cox February 12, 2016 at 11:11 am

Hi Marc – you have some fascinating family history! A bit of digging around unearthed the following web page about the ill-fated operation – the book you mentioned is in the Suggested Further Reading Section at the bottom

marc nastri April 7, 2014 at 8:48 pm

my uncle took part in this historic raid his name was nichol nastri but because he was born of italian parents the regiment called him johnny tristan for fear of being caught by the germans or indeed the italians themselves there is a book called the guinea pigs which is all about this raid in italy but i just cant seem to get it anywhere. please could you help with any info i would be very grateful thankyou

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