During December the reconnaissance operations for Operation Overlord were stepped up. Although an enormous amount of intelligence had been gathered from aerial photographs and from the French Resistance, it was often necessary to put men ashore to discover the physical characteristics of the intended landing beaches. Sometimes the operations were conducted covertly, in complete secrecy, with the aim of avoiding detection. On other occasions the Commandos were employed in small raiding parties with the aim of taking one or two prisoners as well as discovering the lie of the land.
During December 1943 a series of these raids were conducted as part of Operation Hard Tack. The operation could not be confined to the intended landing beaches alone – that would have been too obvious – but extended along the French coast and included the Channel Islands. On the 26t/27th December Lt. McGonigal, from No 10 Inter-Alled Commando led a raiding part to the island of Sark. This was his report on the patrol:
The force landed at point 599021 and, after climbing a 200-foot sheer rock face met a further very steep slope about 100 feet in height with a shingle, slate, and stone surface. The force followed the eastern edge of this slope and encountered a wire fence consisting of three strands of very thick copper wire and two thinner strands or ordinary wire. This wire was cut and the force proceeded along the top of the Hogs Back, continually searching for mines as it progressed. Plentiful cover was afforded by rock and gorse.
At point 599024, a path approximately six feet wide was encountered, on either side of which the ground, which was thickly covered with gorse, fell away very steeply. We found that it was impossible to walk through this gorse without making considerable noise and we therefore continued along the path.
I was leading the patrol and had gone forward some fifteen yards, feeling for mines as I did so, when two mines went off behind the patrol, wounding Corporal Bellamy and Private Dignac. Corporal Bellamy died about two minutes later and Private Dignac received very severe wounds in the body.
The first mine had exploded about two feet behind Corporal Bellamy, the last member of the patrol, and the second mine about five feet to the left of it. (The empty container was taken from the first hole and brought back with the force.)
The force then started to carry Corporal Bellamy and Private Dignac out of the minefield. I took the lead, still feeling for fresh mines, and had taken only a few steps when two more mines went up in quick succession in front and to the side of me. (Lieutenant McGonigal himself was injured as a result.) After these explosions. Sergeant Boccador was the only member of the force who remained unwounded. Private Dignat was wounded still further by these explosions and Sergeant Boccador told me that he was dead.
In view of the fact that my force had sustained such casualties. I decided to leave the two bodies, retrace my steps and return to the boat. No sooner had we started to move, however than more mines went up all around us. I cannot say how many there were but at the time we had the impression of being under fire from a heavy calibre machine gun. We continued our withdrawal to the dory.
On our way up we had hidden a wireless set No. 536 under a rock but we were unable to find it on our return journey and so were obliged to abandon it. It was also impossible for us to get down the last sheer twenty feet of rock and to bring the rope with us. Repeated attempts were made to pull it down after we had got to the bottom but it had stuck firmly, and so, cutting it as high as we could, we left it and returned to the MGB
Sergeant Boccador and myself were feeling our way very carefully, we felt no contact points nor other signs of mines.
All the injuries caused by the exploding mines were sustained by those members of the force who were either standing or kneeling. A person lying flat seemed to be immune from them.
Despite these explosions, no signs of Germans were seen or heard.
For more on Operation Hard Tack see Commando Veterans. Shortly after this the Commando operations were discontinued in order avoid alerting the Germans to the Allied interest in the area.