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LOOKING BACK: Operation Basalt

LOOKING BACK: Operation Basalt

Tuesday 04 October 2022

LOOKING BACK: Operation Basalt

Tuesday 04 October 2022

The 80th anniversary of Operation Basalt has been marked in Sark, recollecting the daring bravery of a small group of British commandos sent on a reconnaissance mission to the occupied Channel Island.

A lunch with historian Eric Lee as guest speaker was held at Stocks Hotel yesterday.

Mr Lee has written a book on Operation Basalt, among others.


Pictured: Eric Lee, author of historical books including one on Operation Basalt was in Sark for its 80th anniversary yesterday.

Yesterday evening Mr Lee also spoke on the online channel WW2TV, which can be watched back here:

Operation Basalt saw twelve men from the Special Operations Executive, sail from Portland to Sark on the night of 3 and 4 October, 1942.

It was the second time the raid was attempted, having been planned for the previous month which was postponed and then thwarted by the weather.

The commandos had to leave Sark by 03:30, to be clear before dawn, having collated information and captured any prisoners they could.

Arriving in Sark, the twelve men climbed the cliff at the Hog's back, between Dixcart Bay and Derrible Bay. They entered the house of Mrs Frances Noel Pittard who was described by Wikipedia as "very informative". She "advised there were about 20 Germans in the annex to the nearby Dixcart Hotel. She also declined an offer to take her to England," and "provided the commandos with documents, including local newspapers from Guernsey".


Pictured: Image from The History Press: The Heroine of Operation Basalt.

Among the 12 men was a Danish commando, identified by Wikipedia as Anders Lassen who killed a German guard so the group could gain entry to the annex where five German soldiers were asleep.

The soldiers were taken outside and tied up:

"The men were roused and taken outside whereafter the Commandos decided to go on to the hotel and capture more of the enemy. To minimise the guard left with the captives, the Commandos tied the prisoners' hands with the six-foot toggleropes each carried, and required them to hold up their trousers. The practice of removing belts and/or braces and tearing open the fly was quite a common technique the Commandos used to make it as difficult as possible for captives to run away. Most of the prisoners when captured were dressed for sleeping, one was naked and was not allowed to dress.


Pictured: Anders Lassen, image taken from Military History Now.

"While this was being undertaken, one prisoner, the naked man, escaped and ran off shouting, a general struggle started with the other prisoners. The prisoners were shouting and, fearing the arrival of enemy troops, the raiders elected to return to the beach with the remaining prisoners. Three prisoners made a break, one was instantly shot dead with a .38 revolver, another prisoner, wounded, managed to escape. Whether or not some had freed their hands during the firefight is not established nor if all three broke at the same time. Two were believed shot and one stabbed by Ogden-Brown. The sole remaining prisoner, Obergefreiter Hermann Weinreich, was conveyed safely to England and provided useful information."

While this was happening, the other Germans on the island were alerted. In the meantime, the commandos had left the island.

None of the commandos were injured but three German soldiers had died: the sentry and two prisoners.


Pictured: German soldiers in Sark, image taken from Military History Now.

Once the German Occupying forces in Sark learned of the raid, they communicated the information to Berlin and it was shared with Adolf Hitler which led to retaliations. 

"He ordered the shackling of Canadian prisoners, which led to a reciprocating order by British and Canadian authorities for German prisoners being held in Canada.

"It is also believed that this raid contributed to Hitler's decision to issue his CommandoOrder on 18 October 1942 instructing all captured Commandos or Commando-type personnel be executed as a matter of procedure. This order resulted in a number of war crimes being committed."

Dame Sybil Hathaway, who had stayed in Sark during the War, is said to have commented that the raid seemed "a heavy price to pay for the capture of one prisoner and a copy of the Guernsey Evening Press".

She remained in the island for the duration of the war years, while her husband, Robert Hathaway, was one of 48 Sarkees who were deported to Germany. Mrs Pittard was also among them. She had also just completed a three month jail term for her part in Operation Basalt.

The raid also resulted in increased security measures in Sark, including thousands more mines being laid across the island.


Pictured: Major Geoffrey Appleyard, image taken from Military History Now.

Wikipedia names the men on Operation Basalt as:

  • Major Geoffrey Appleyard
  • Captain Philip Pinckney 
  • Lieut. Anders Lassen 
  • Patrick Dudgeon
  • Colin Ogden Smith
  • Bruce Ogden Smith
  • Graham Young
  • James Edgar
  • Sergeant Horace 'Brummie' Stokes 
  • Corporal Flint
  • Bombardier Eric Forster
  • Sergeant Joseph "Tim" Robinson 

Sources: Wikipedia, Military History Now, The History Pressand Twitter, Eric Lee

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