The Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) was set up during the early 1940s to undertake "pinprick" raids on the coast of Northern France and the Channel Islands. The raids were designed to gather information and to take prisoners for interrogation while locally having a demoralising effect on the German troops. More generally the unpredictability of the SSRF activities were designed to tie up enemy resources that would otherwise be used on other fronts.
Following the evacuation of the Allied Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in late May early June 1940 there was a need to create a new battleground until Britain and her allies could return to the shores of mainland Europe in great numbers. It would take years to equip and train such a force for a major amphibious landing.
Churchill believed that in the interim "pinprick" raids against German coastal defences and installations along the Channel coast of German occupied France would have a demoralising effect on the enemy forces. The raids would also keep the Germans in a state of nervous vigilance requiring the deployment of purely defensive resources. One initiative to meet this requirement was the establishment of the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF). Operationally it came under Mountbatten, the Chief of Combined Operations (CCO), but control was shared with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). [Photo; the famous MTB 344 of Beachy Head .]
The SOE was created earlier in 1940 when the tide of war was very much flowing against the British. Popular belief has it that the SOE was set up following Churchill's famous comment, 'set Europe ablaze,' but it was Chamberlain who, on the 19th July 1940, put his name to the paper which effectively created the organisation. The paper declared 'A new organization shall be formed forthwith to co-ordinate all action, by way of subversion and sabotage, against the enemy overseas.'
SOE itself regarded this paper as its founding charter and it gradually established agents in Europe and around the world. They undertook sabotage and gathered intelligence in liaison with sympathetic foreign nationals while helping arm and co-ordinate local resistance groups. It was seriously hazardous work requiring a special breed of men and women. For example ‘F’ section (France) of SOE is estimated to have lost about 25% of the some 480 agents parachuted into France in the latter part of WWII.
There were many other raiding forces involving Commandos with naval and air support in many cases. See the Raids and Landings link on our Index page. The SSRF was, therefore, a small part of something much more complex and grand in scale.
In early 1942 the force was founded by Major Gus March-Phillips, DSO, OBE; Major J Geoffrey Appleyard, DSO, MC, and Captain Graham Hayes, MC.1 They engaged in training the newly formed force at Wareham (Dorset) and later teamed up with Coastal Command's motor torpedo boats (MTBs). MTBs were used because they were very fast and relatively quiet when running on auxiliary engine power only... a combination which minimised detection at sea and when close to shore.
Success depended on competence in the use of small boats inshore, particularly the dory - often the boat of preference. A typical raiding party was around 8 to 10 in strength, sometimes fewer. The size of the total force is now uncertain but probably never more than 60 about half of them officers, taken from groups like the Special Boat Service (SBS) and the SOE itself. The nationals of many countries were recruited... French, Poles, Dutch and Czechs. Some with German sounding names were given new identities or 'war names.' Many came from the Pioneer Corps.
In 1941 the SSRF was called ‘Maid Honour Force,’ after a Brixham trawler requisitioned by Major Gus March-Phillips. It was converted for the clandestine transportation of weaponry. Maid Honour took 30 men to West Africa in August 1941 in an operation, codenamed ‘Postmaster’. They planned to capture a German tanker in harbour on the island of Fernando Po. The date was January 1942 and although the island was Spanish territory, therefore officially neutral, the mission went ahead and was accomplished taking the German tanker and an Italian freighter! The success of ‘Postmaster’ triggered the expansion of the force and its re-designation as the Small Scale Raiding Force.
Those selected for SSRF operations were usually trained in Commando style combat together with aspects of seamanship in the use of small craft such as Dory's. Some training was undertaken in the English Lake District but the photo gallery below shows one group on training exercises on the south coast of England.
Anderson Manor in Dorset was taken over by the War Dept. during the Second World War as the headquarters for the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) of 62 Commando. After the SSRF disbanded in 1943 its wartime role as Station 62 under the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) came to an end. Forty-six years later in 1989 a service of remembrance was held in the St Michael's Chapel, Anderson attended by surviving members of the SSRF and family representatives of those who were killed in action or who had subsequently died. Included in the images above are details of the ceremony and the Prayer to Combined Operations.
No 12 Commando had contributed to a number of SSRF raiding parties. For Operation Fahrenheit it was the turn of Captain O B 'Micky' Rooney and 6 of his NCOs. The photo shows Captain Rooney (seated 2nd row from the front and 4th from the right) with No 4 Troop at Littlehampton, Sussex.
[Front row seated; L/Cpl Rudd, McCreevy, Sime, Collins Tojo (Gamble), Cpl Crowly (SAS), Cpl Jones (W) and Hay. 2nd Row seated; Cpl Evans, Sgt McGinty, Lt Peter Cruden (W), Lt Littlejohn (W) MC, Capt Rooney (broke back), Lt Clapton MC, Lt Lodwick and Wilson (K) in Normandy. 3rd Row Standing; Sgt Page (W) L/Cpl Wilmerst, Self (W) ??, Walsh, Byjorklund, Skidmore, Lamb, L/Cpl McClelland, L/Cpl Connor, Ames, Cpl Burns, Heraty (W), Leach and Boddy. Back Row elevated; Lynch, Eager, Towse (W), Sgt Boldon and Bolton (W). Key; W = wounded; K = Killed and in the case of Capt Rooney he broke his back in August 1944 when his parachute became entangled with electricity power lines near Metz in northern France. A jeep also hit the lines and blew up so, with the Germans alerted to their presence, he had little choice but to release himself from his parachute and drop to the ground.]
Peter Kemp, Brian Reynolds and Sergeant Nicholson trained them for the raid. Kemp found Rooney to be "a powerfully built, self confident officer" and that apart from pistol shooting and movement at night "he and his men knew more about the business than I.
The objective of the raid was to capture German servicemen for interrogation by attacking a signals station at Pointe de Plouezec on the north Brittany coast. On the night of the 11/12 November 1942 they departed Dartmouth in MTB 344 under the command of Kemp and correctly identified their target. On reaching the cliff tops they found the area heavily mined. Rooney and one of his men checked out the station and a nearby pillbox. The former was protected by wire and sentries and the latter was unoccupied. The cable from the pillbox was cut.
Only a frontal assault was possible so, split into 3, they made their way to within 10 paces of the wire. The sentries could be heard in conversation. Rooney unscrewed the top of his No 6 grenade which was heard by the sentries. One gave out a sharp exclamation and drew back the bolt of his rifle. A blinding flash and tremendous explosion followed immediately. Both sentries were finished off with Tommy gun fire and Rooney's party moved forward past an empty guard house to await the emergence of the station's occupants. The first two were shot but when the others returned fire it was decided to withdraw before reinforcements arrived. In a larger fire fight it would be difficult to evacuate any casualties back down the cliff to the beach. The party successfully re-embarked and returned to Dartmouth.
Chris Rooney, Captain Rooney's son states "I understand this group, called "Rooney Force" for the task ahead, were to raid the U boat pens at Brest but it was called off. I can't put a name to the raid and there seems to be no official record. I also understand that if a group were trained for a job of this type they were permitted to design their own badge. The example opposite was sent to my father in the 1980s by Peter Cruden (third from the left, 2nd row, seated in the photo). There may also have been a badge for Fynn Force." The status of these badges is unknown. If anyone can shed any light on the subject please let us know using the Contact Us link in the page banner above.
Freddie Bourne (Courtesy Clay Maxwell of the LST Club's "Bow Doors" Magazine).
Freddie Bourne served in Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs) with Britain's Coastal Command Forces during WW2 attacking German convoys and warships and ferrying commandos to occupied France and the Channel Islands. It is the latter role that is of special interest to Combined Operations.
Bourne was based at HMS Gosport when he became involved in Coastal Forces. A chance meeting with Lt Roger Thornycroft, of the well known shipbuilding family, resulted in his association with their small high speed vessels. Experimental types were built in 1942 and numbered 344, 345 and 346. No. 344 was 60 ft long and the other two 45 ft long. All were twin-screwed and powered by Thornycroft petrol engines of 1200 BHP giving a speed of up to 40 knots. For action against shipping they were armed with two 18" torpedoes.
At this time Bourne was a lieutenant waiting for his first command which came in the form of MTB 344. The Navy made her available to the SSRF and this began Bourne's involvement with the organisation. They christened her "The Little Pisser" because of her high power compared with the motor launches the Navy had offered earlier. For the clandestine missions the MTBs engaged in they normally sailed at dusk. When they were close to their objective the main engines were cut and the approach made on the auxiliary engine.
Because of her relatively small size MTB 344 was difficult to detect by radar. Her armaments comprised two Vickers machine guns either side of the bridge and Lewis guns aft of the crew's quarters. Apart from Bourne she had a crew of seven. On the night of September 2/3 1942 MTB 344 was anchored off the Casquets lighthouse, seven miles west of Alderney, which was being used by the Germans as a radio listening post. Bourne lowered an 18 ft dory from the boat which then carried 8 raiders to the rocks beneath the lighthouse. When they returned later they had the enemy's code books and seven prisoners - the lighthouse keepers, radio operators and guards.
Later that month MTB 344 took part in Operation Aquatint when raiders landed on a beach in the Baie de la Seine near Cherbourg. On this occasion the raiding party was ambushed by a German patrol and all the Commandos were killed. Some were shot in the water as they attempted to swim back to the boat and one of the MTB's engines was put out of action by a German bullet. Bourne had to flee on half power.
His next operation was to occupied Sark in the Channel Islands. This raid was to have very serious, unforeseen consequences for all future 'special forces' operations in enemy held territory. The raiding party landed successfully, evaded a German patrol and broke into a house belonging to a Mrs Pittard. She provided invaluable intelligence including the whereabouts of the enemy garrison - an annex of the Dixcart Hotel. The Commandos killed the guard posted outside the building and stormed in. The five soldiers billeted there were taken prisoner but, as they were being escorted to the beach, they began to struggle and scream for help. Unable to quickly pacify them, and fearful of being discovered, the prisoners were shot regrettably still with their hands tied. As a result Hitler ordered that any British Commandos captured armed or unarmed, in or out of uniform, should be executed with no exceptions. (See Glomfjord for information on the first use of Hitler's Commando Order).
However, a very different account was told to an American Newspaper in 1945 by Major O B Rooney. He said "We were raiding the Channel Islands. Our mission was to get prisoners for information. This time we couldn't find any prisoners . We decided to ask a friendly lady we knew where the nearest German garrison was. She told us. We found them in bed.
There were six of us and eight of them so we tied their hands with string and marched them out. One of them, becoming sufficiently awake to guess they were in the hands of the enemy, tried to escape. One of our men hit him with his revolver and it went off. He was killed."
In all Bourne and his crew in MTB 344 took part in 17 raids off the north coast of France and the Channel Islands. He left 344 in May 1943 on appointment to Flotilla 11 at Felixstowe. In January 1943 the SSRF raids were coordinated by an Auxiliary Operations Group and independent raids in the English Channel ceased. SSRF was later disbanded and for his part in their operations Bourne was awarded the DSC.
Graham Hayes MC
On the night of 12/13 September 1942, a Goatly, which was a canvas sided wooden bottomed collapsible boat, 17ft 6ins (5+m) long with a beam of 4ft 6ins, weighing 2 cwt that could be assembled by two men in 1.5 minutes, dropped Graham Hayes with 9 men at St Honorine des Pertes near the Cherbourg Peninsula.
Geoff Appleyard remained in the MTB having sustained a leg injury on an earlier raid. He heard the landing party ambush a German patrol only to hear them ambushed by a larger German force. Gus March-Phillips and three of his men were killed as they returned to their boat on the beach. The flimsy canvas sided boat sank leaving Hayes to swim along the shore.
He eventually reached neutral Spain with the help of several Frenchmen (French Resistance?) but was handed over to the Gestapo by the local Spanish police. (See Malcolm Hayes' e-mail for an alternative scenario and book recommendation.) In the summer of 1943 Graham Hayes was executed (shot) in a Paris prison proving the extreme danger to special forces personnel if caught even in a neutral country. (See Hitler's infamous Commando Order). (Photo; Circa 1938/39 courtesy of his nephew Malcolm Hayes.)
Malcolm Hayes continues "One bit of information about Capt Graham Hayes is that before the War he went to Mariehamn in Finland and signed onto the Windjamer 'Pommern'. On this, he sailed round the world via Cape Horn and Australia. This experience of the sea stood him in good stead for sailing the Brixham Trawler 'Maid Honore' to the island of Fernando Po, in the gulf of Guinea, West Africa. Codenamed Operation 'Postmaster', for which he was awarded the MC. I attach photos taken by Graham on the Windjamer 'Pommern'. The Pommern still exists and is a Museum Ship in Finland."
Other Actions (not a complete list).
On this website see Operation Aquatint
After reading the book ¨If I must Die¨, the fate of my Uncle, Graham Hayes,
as described on your website may not be correct in stating that he was handed to the Germans by the the Guardia Civil
in Spain after arriving there.
The proof that Graham was double crossed is contained in letters he wrote for Ortet to give to the French Resistance which he handed over to the Abwehr. Andre Heintz and Gerard Fournier, the authors of the book, must have the documents that tell the full story.
The double Agent was known as "Armand", but his full name was Jean-Louis Ortet. He was found dead in a pond on the 1st September 1943, by whose hand is not known. Another curious twist to the story.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.
I was directed to your excellent website by Bert Markham who served in the SSRF. He was a crew member on MTB 344 and later of MTB 494. During the night of the 6th of April 1945 he was onboard 494 during an engagement with German S-Boats. 494 was rammed and sunk by S-176. My cousin, Gus Holland, was also a member of the crew of 494 on that night and sadly perished after the engagement.
According to all the accounts of this engagement, including a report by the German Skipper of S-176, there were only two survivors from 494. However, it now transpires that Bert Markham was a third survivor! Bert and my cousin Gus survived the collision with S-176 and sat on the upturned keel of 494 along with the boat's radar rating. Nearby was 493 which was immobilized and with its forward section completely destroyed. The crew continued to fire their Lewis gun at the other attacking S-Boats.
The crew of 493 saw Bert, my cousin Gus and the radar rating clinging to the keel of 494. Since 493 was immobilised Bert swam to its stern and was pulled onboard while Gus swam to the badly damaged forward section. Bert saw Gus clinging to the shattered remains of the forecastle and urged him to swim to the stern but before he could do so he lost his grip and floated away. The radar rating never made it to 493. The next day Bert saw the bodies of Gus, the radar rating and the boat's Mid Shipman being brought ashore.
Lest we Forget.
Unless otherwise stated all photos and images courtesy of Capt O. B. "Mickey" Rooney's family.
1. All three were killed in action while serving with SSRF or other special forces units.
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