1942: The Bruneval Raid
The First successful action by British paratroopers
Operation BITING, the Bruneval raid on 27/28 February 1942 was the first successful action by British paratroopers, and provided British scientific intelligence with valuable information about German radar.
In 1941, RAF bombers attacking targets in Germany and occupied Europe were suffering heavy losses from Luftwaffe night-fighters. British scientists, including Dr R V Jones, head of the scientific section of M.I.6, needed to obtain intelligence on the WURZBURG radar that guided the fighters to interception.
The presence of a WURZBURG radar near Bruneval, north of Le Havre, was detected by means of aerial photography, and it was decided to mount a raid to capture parts of the equipment for examination. To achieve surprise, the plan was to drop raiders by parachute and withdraw them by sea. Vital intelligence on the guards and defences of the site was provided by the French Resistance; crucially, they were able to confirm that the nearby beach had not been mined.
The unit selected for the raid was C Company (formed from Scottish infantry regiments) of the newly-formed 2nd Parachute Battalion, commanded by Major John Frost. The raiding force of about 120 men also included 10 Royal Engineers to help dismantle the equipment, and an RAF radar technician Flight Sergeant Cox.
After a postponement due to bad weather, the raid was cried out on the night of 27/28 February 1942. The parachute drop from Whitley bombers was successful, apart from half of the party assigned to take and hold the beach being dropped a mile and a half away from its intended dropping point. The paratroops captured the site in a short firefight and took two prisoners, one of whom was a WURZBURG operator. Flt Sgt Cox and the sappers removed parts of the equipment. The raiders then withdrew to the beach, where they were held up by a German machine-gun position until the missing party arrived and helped suppress it. The landing craft arrived to take them off. The operation took about five hours from take-off to completion of the evacuation. The raiders lost two men killed and six captured. German losses were five killed and several wounded.
by Jon Casey