Operation Titanic

The SAS men of Operation Titanic were the very first unit to land on D Day itself, parachuting in at ten minutes after midnight on June 6th, about ten minutes before Major Howard's glider force seized Pegasus Bridge. His stick consisted of Lieutenant Frederick "Chick" Fowles, Lieutenant Norman "Puddle" Poole with Troopers Dawson and "Chippy" Saunders from A Squadron along with Troopers W Hurst and Anthony Merryweather from B Sqn. All were apparently volunteers, as the CO considered the mission a futile waste of highly trained soldiers, given that a key component was to activate gramophone players within a number of dummies parachuted with the men. Operation Titanic was part of the D Day deception plan, consisting of burlap dummy parachutists to be dropped in large numbers to create confusion. The dummies were much smaller than life size, as were the parachutes, since on a dark night, at a distance the visual impact was the same. Although there were four drop zones for dummies, the SAS men would only accompany two of them. As well as switching on the soundtracks of men firing, they would also ambush any German patrol coming to investigate, with the aim of convincing them of a much larger force. The men were expected to then lie low for the estimated seven to ten days it would take for friendly forces to overrun their location.

In practice the action was less straightforward. The two officers were separated from the men during the drop. Lieutenant Fowles was only in the next field but unable to find his men in the dark. Lieutenant Poole reportedly tripped trying to reach the hatch in the bottom of the Halifax transporting them, tumbling head first through the hatch, catching his head a glancing blow and landing unconscious. It was an hour or so before he woke up. Fortunately the local French resistance brought the men together the next day, though the original operation was largely a failure. The containers had dropped some distance away and could not be located and the special gramophones had all smashed on landing, with the Germans having largely ignored or even failed to notice the dummies dropping.

The SAS men remained behind German lines for over 40 days, moving at times to avoid German troops, including a German parachute battalion which moved into the area, aided throughout by the French resistance. One night they were told that in a barn ten miles away were three American paratroopers, who had been prisoners of the Germans. They had escaped from a lorry while being transferred to a Prisoner of War camp which had been strafed by Allied planes. The Americans had make a break for it in the confusion. Three of the SAS men walked through the night to reach them and brought them back. One of the US paratroopers was wounded badly and was unable to walk, so was carried the whole way by Trooper Merryweather. The men were from the 508th Parachute Regiment and included a medical officer, Captain Berry. They decided to make for allied lines so the wounded man could receive treatment.

Remarkably a photo exists of the men whilst behind enemy lines on www.paradata.org.uk.

On the way, they walked into two German paratroopers who quickly threw grenades, injuring Lieutenant Fowles in the back, Trooper Hurst in the legs and Trooper Merryweather in the back. Two of the US paras were also wounded. The uninjured men helped their comrades to a small farmhouse nearby. Lieutenant Fowles set off to try and intercept the two Germans before they could report. However, within a short time the house was surrounded by around 40 heavily armed German paras, leaving the SAS me no option but surrender. Lieutenant Fowles was brought in a short while later and given medical attention. Perhaps because they were captured close to front line and perhaps because of the presence of the Americans, they were not treated as commandos and executed as so many of their SAS comrades were. Perhaps it was because their captors were fellow paratroopers or were convinced by the German speaking Lieutenant Poole that they were not Special Forces. Whatever the reason, Hurst and Merryweather were taken to Rennes Hospital for treatment where they were liberated 3 months later. Dawson became a Prisoner of War until his camp was overrun later in the war.

Trooper Merryweather received a Military Medal for his part in the operation. A Frenchman who helped them, Andre Le Duc, was killed by the Germans, though it is not clear if he was betrayed for his part or just an unfortunate victim of the occupation. See http://www.normandythenandnow.com/bravery-betrayal-sas-chateau-de-montf…

Participants connected to Auxiliary Units
Robert Dennis Saunders