Operations Archway & Howard

On 26 Mar 1945, a reorganised SAS crossed the Rhine into Germany. Their role had changed as they would no longer be behind enemy lines. Instead they were to accompany the leading reconnaissance forces, in fast moving jeep columns. They were to probe and breakthrough the forward German Units to enable a rapid advance for the main party of the Army.

Following the deaths in ambushes in France, the SAS jeeps had been upgraded. They now had armoured radiators and windscreens, with an armoured plate across the back as well. Each jeep had at least two rapid firing .303 Vickers K or a heavier .50 calibre Browning machine gun (often both). A column of jeeps could bring down a devastating field of fire that prompted many defenders to surrender. 

As they advanced they frequently came up against die hard SS troops and the tables were turned on the SAS. Now the Germans were the guerillas hiding in woodland and ambushing the advancing SAS. The men learned to stick to open countryside where their firepower gave them the advantage. Close in, snipers were an issue.

Operation Howard was notable for an action where many felt SAS Commanding Officer Paddy Mayne should have won the Victoria Cross. 

Former Auxiliary Units man, Jack Blandford’s personal written account of the action refers to ex Auxilier Major ‘Dickie’ Bond.

… On 6th April we were on the way back to Germany for the big push to Oldenburg.  Our jeeps had all been serviced and modified with extra fittings to carry our kit.

We were well back into Germany by the 10th April with ‘C’ Squadron and ‘B’ Troop of ‘B’ Squadron operating together, under the command of Major D. Bond.  We formed into column and set off.

Within the first hour, the leading 3 jeeps carrying Lt.xxx, Sgt.xxx, Cpl.xxx and 6 others were fired on by German snipers from the front windows of a detached house.  Sgt.xxx was badly wounded in the legs and all occupants of the 3 jeeps baled out into a dyke on the left hand side of the road. 

A message was passed down to the O.C. Major Bond, who walked up the road with his driver, a Czech-Jew who spoke 5 languages.  They crawled into the dyke and both lifted their heads to weigh up the situation.  Both were killed – shot in the forehead by a sniper.

I was in the 4th jeep, front gunner with Lt.xxx driving. …

Hearing the reports on the radio, Colonel Mayne arrived and took over a jeep, with another officer volunteering as rear gunner. He drove flat out down the road, the machine gun fire from his jeep suppressing the attackers. He turned around and repeated the attack on the way back, turning again to collect the wounded from the dyke and bring them to safety. Instead of the Victoria Cross, he received an exceptional third bar to his Distinguished Service Order.

The jeeps also carried technical specialists from T Force. Their role was to seize German technology before it was destroyed, and the German specialists who could explain it. A particular target was the team that created the V1 and V2 rockets. Naval technology was also of particular interest to Britain, so more armoured jeeps brought the men of 30 Assault Unit, conceived by Commander Ian Fleming, Naval Intelligence Officer and later Bond author, also brother of Kent Auxiliary Units Officer Peter. They specialised in naval technology and the final action of the SAS was to advance with them to Kiel, to beat the advancing Soviet forces to Germany's advanced U boat technology and capture it for Allied benefit. This involved them advancing beyond the official Halt position agreed in negotiations with the surrendering Germans, but in the confused situation and heavily armed, the task was achieved despite the large number of armed German naval personnel and ships.

After the surrender of German Forces, the SAS had a brief celebration at Poperinghe in Belgium before returning on 9 May to the UK by tank landing craft, and then were sent off again immediately to Norway, to ensure the German forces there surrendered and didn't fight on.

References

Jack Blandford

SAS War Diary

T Force, Sean Longdon

30 Assault Unit