The Parachute Regiment’s first Battle Honour

Low level oblique of the WURZBURG radar near Bruneval, taken by Sqn Ldr A E Hill from the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, on 5 December 1941.

A small model of Bruneval, the German radio-location station in Northern France, built from the reconnaissance photographs and used for briefing members of the Parachute Regiment who went on Operation Biting.

On the night of the 27th February 1942 the Parachute Regiment earned their first Battle Honour with the Bruneval raid. A raiding party led by Major John Frost parachuted into the vicinity of the German radar station on the French coast, after a brief battle overcame the German guards, dismantled the secret radar apparatus and then successfully extricated themselves and returned to Britain by sea. They made it look easy.

Valuable information was obtained about the capabilities of German radar, enabling counter measures to be developed for Bomber Command aircraft.

A Royal Navy MTB brings men of 'C' Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion, into Portsmouth harbour on the morning after the Bruneval raid, 28 February 1942. The CO of the assault force, Major J D Frost, is on the bridge, second from left.

The audacity of the raid was a great morale booster in Britain, as may be imagined from this subsequent Reuters report:

The commanding officer, Major J. D. Frost, told me that his men “did excellently”. He went on: “On the way across in the planes, you would never have thought it was an operational flight. It was more like a joy ride. Every machine, I think, had its own concert party. It was by no means so frightening as everybody had expected. You sat at the hole, looked down and saw a few tracer bullets go past below – and jumped.”

The Germans, while still holding the beach fort, called out in excellent English “The boats are here”, in the hope of misleading the paratroops into believing a Naval officer had shouted and getting them to chance a run for the beach under machine-gun fire.

Both Major Frost and Captain Ross had nothing but praise for the R.A.F. “They put us down ten yards from where we wanted to be”, said Ross, “and within two minutes of leaving the plane the troops were armed, organized and ready to fight”.

“The real hero”, said the Major, “was the officer commanding the section which was dropped away from the bulk of the troops”. Only 20, the youngest officer of the part, and therefore known as “Junior”, he had to find his way, frequently under fire, in an area quite unknown to him. When “Junior” took his first look around and failed to recognize any familiar landmark he knew he was lost.

“I don’t think there’s any feeling quite so unpleasant as suddenly finding yourself in enemy territory and not knowing where you are”, he said. “Then I saw another plane going along low down and I knew in which direction to go, and after a while I saw the lighthouse. Then everything was all right.”

“For the whole two hours or more of the operation there was never a moment when some firing was not going on. Yet nowhere did I see any sign of life in the houses. Two of my men went through a village, but there were no lights, no furtive peering by the edges of curtains.”

It was a former Fleet Street man, 22-year-old Lieutenant Peter Young, who was assigned the task of dealing with the radio-location post, and so complete was the surprise of the attack that he had almost reached his objective before encountering any opposition. The German sentry challenged the approaching troops twice and then fired. The paratroops, who had held their fire as long as possible, “rubbed hum out”, said Lieutenant Young. “After that we hunted them out of cellars, trenches and rooms with hand grenades, automatic weapons, revolvers and knives.”

“Most were killed, but some ran away, and one tried to hide over the edge of the cliff. Having got there, he wanted to surrender, and I looked over to see him with his hands up. At the time I thought I had seen nothing funnier than a German trying to scramble up the lip of a cliff with his hands up.”

The post being captured, it was the turn of the sappers. Their task was to destroy the apparatus; and destruction could scarcely have been more complete. To the sappers also fell the duty of searching the beach for mines and laying anti-tank mines.

One of the parachutists told me they got away just in time. “The Germans had an armoured division about 50 miles away, and as we left the beach I saw a column of headlights coming towards us, though still some distance off”, he said.

When the Verey signal flashed, the Naval craft came in “like a swarm”, took the men on board and were steaming back to England in a surprisingly short time.

Squadron Leader Percy Pickard, Commanding Officer of No. 51 Squadron RAF, inspects a captured German helmet with parachute troops after the Bruneval raid, 28 February 1942. On the night of 27/28 February Pickard's squadron of Whitleys dropped 'C' Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion (commanded by Major J D Frost) near a German Wurzburg radar site at Bruneval near Le Havre in northern France - its objective to seize components of the radar and then evacuate them by sea.

Squadron Leader Percy Pickard, Commanding Officer of No. 51 Squadron RAF, inspects a captured German helmet with parachute troops after the Bruneval raid, 28 February 1942. On the night of 27/28 February Pickard’s squadron of Whitleys dropped ‘C’ Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion (commanded by Major J D Frost) near a German Wurzburg radar site at Bruneval near Le Havre in northern France – its objective to seize components of the radar and then evacuate them by sea.

Also see ParaData, which has a copy of Major Frost’s original briefing document for the raid.

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Anthony Godly October 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm

My Father was on the Bruneval raid, 28th February 1942. He had been evacuated from Dunkirk having served in The B.E.Fand volunteered for The Paratroops later during 1940. My Father also served in Sicily, Italy and later took part in the D-Day airborne landings of June 1944, serving once more under John Frost, by then a Lt Colonel.

My Father was badly wounded at the Merville Battery Action and was hospitalised until mid-October 1944. He therefore missed Market Garden but was eventually able to take part in the Airborne landings on the East bank of The Rhine in early 1945. My Father had a lot of friends at the Arnhem Landings, some of whom were killed too. He had never had much of an opinion of Montgomery anyway, especially during the Normandy campaign because of all those men being lost around the Caen area that time. I think that the further loss of all those Paratroops killed and wounded at Arnhem in such a poorly-planned, needless and reckless operation finally sealed it for Him.

Every body that mattered knew that Montgomery’s job had been on the line even before Arnhem, and so after that a lot more people wanted Him out. The whole show should had been stopped the minute those S.S Units’ tanks had been seen, the Intelligence people and others above knew about them as it was too. But no, ”pompous little man” that Monty was just went ahead with it, despite the doubts others had stressed about such an operation. You cannot imagine the things I have heard said about and the Names I have heard Montgomery called. All those men lost for nothing just for Montgomery to get a name for himself and he did, (not that I could print it though!) I hope that my letter will prove to those who thought Montgomery some kind of a hero and master tactician will now show him to be what he actually was, an arrogant little prat, to be polite/

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