Operation Barricade was the codename for a raid to be carried out approximately 1 mile to the East of Reville on the coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula in Normandy.
Originally the objectives of the operation were to raid a German Direction Finding Station located 600 meters from the shoreline. Removing all papers and documents found inside before destroying it along with some anti-aircraft gun sites located in the fields immediately bordering the shore and to Kill Germans and if possible bring back prisoners. The original plan would have been carried out with 120 men of the East Yorkshire Regiment and a naval force of HMS Prince Albert carrying 8 landing craft with motor gunboat MGB 312 and SGBs 5, 8, 6 and 3 as close support. With air cover being provided by No 11 Group.
“To carry out a minor raid on French Coast between BARFLEUR/ST VAAST to kill Germans, if possible bring back prisoners, and to destroy D.F. Station and A.A. Gun Sites.”
Combined Operation decided against the larger assault force and instead opted to use eleven officers and men of the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF). The revised operation was reduced to attacking the anti-aircraft gun sites North West of Pointe de Saire and to capture and kill the enemy.
“To carry out a reconnaissance raid on the French coast N.W. of Pointe de Saire and to capture and kill enemy in A.A. gun-site.”
The raiding force would be commanded by Major Gustavus Henry March-Phillipps who would be killed the following month during Operation Aquatint, another raid on the Normandy coast.
The raid was held on the night of the 14/15 August 1942 by eleven officers and men of the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF). Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) 344, the Little Pisser under command of Lieutenant Freddie Borne would be used to transport the raiding party across the channel to within a mile of the French Coast.
The force sailed from Coastal Force Base HMS Hornet in Gosport at 8:45 pm passing the most easterly bouy of the Nan channel at 9:45 pm with a course set for POINT de BARFLEUR. Shortly after departure, the port engine of the M.T.B. began to give trouble requiring them to stop 3 times while they attempted to repair it before the engine finally cut out altogether. The approach was then made using only the starboard engine while work continued on the port engine. During the crossing, a message was received from the C-in-C in Portsmouth to correct their course as they were heading too far east of the objective. The lighthouse at Cape Barfleur was then sighted at 11pm which aided greatly in the final approach.
When the Little Pisser was 3 miles off the coast of Barfluer they cut the starboard engine and switched to the silent engine travelling at a reduced speed of 7 knots (approximately 8 mph) dropping anchor three-quarters of a mile due east of Point de Fouli. Due to the failure of the port engine and trouble navigating it was now 1:30 am an hour and a half behind schedule.
A Goatly collapsible boat was then used with four men paddling a side, traversing the final three-quarters of a mile in 20 minutes in absolute silence. A strong current running northward up the coast meant they landed three-quarters of a mile north of their intended landing site but due to the lack of coastline features and the similarity of rocky outcrops, this mistake was not discovered until the studying of air photographs on the return.
One man with a Tommy gun was left to guard the boat while the rest moved in single file through the fields immediately bordering the shore. The ground was rough but a steady speed of two and a half miles an hour was kept until they encountered a wire apron fence immediately beyond a low stone wall. The fence was 8ft wide and 4ft high made of galvanized wire although it could be crawled through a wide path was cut through it with their hand cutters to allow for a quick retreat back to the boat.
They then continued the advance until they hit a second barbed-wire fence 15ft wide and 3.5ft high. From this fence a big instrument or a wagon covered in camouflage netting was visible and that the fence enclosed a large encampment. The head of a sentry near what appeared to be a guard hut could be seen so the raiding party immediately started to try and cut their way through the second fence to launch an attack on the encampment with the intention to destroy as much of it as possible. The fence proved to be a formidable obstacle and at least 15 minutes was spent cutting through the first half with great difficulty with their small pocket-sized wire cutters. During this time half the party split off and moved along the fence to attack what looked to be a small hut, they returned a few minutes later with a report that the hut was actually the size of a hanger and at this point, they realised the true size of the encampment and continued to cut their way through the fence. The noise of this was attracting the attention of the sentry who went into the guard hut and returned with other men. Four men of the raiding party made a detour around the guard hut and approached the attacking party down the inside of the fence.
Due to the previous delays in reaching the shore they were running dangerously late by this time so the decision was made to deal with the guards and return the boat as quickly as possible. The party crawled towards the guards who were advancing with their rifles at the ready. While the guards were approaching one of the Germans called out a challenge in a very low voice and repeated it twice. When the challenge remained unanswered rifle bolts could be heard being pulled back and at this point Major March-Phillipps gave the order to open fire. Three plastic bombs were thrown and landed amongst the enemy along with a volley from the Tommy guns and automatic fire. The results were devastating with five pounds of explosives detonating within a few feet of the enemy. The explosion from the plastic bombs was so great that Lieutenant Freddie Borne reported seeing distinct bits of debris flying up in flames and smoke from the MTB located one mile away.
The raiding party opened fire on other parts of the encampment which showed signs of activity as they retreated back to the boat. They estimated that 3 Germans had certainly been killed and that another 3 three were probably killed. Some three of four would certainly have been wounded as the range was almost point-blank.
Verey lights were fired during the retreat to the boats and for at least an hour after the attack rifle fire could be heard appearing the enemy had no idea where the attackers were and that they thought they were still under attack.
The Goatly boat was found without difficulty but at least half an hour was spent searching for the MTB which was not found until 3:45 am.
On the return journey ten miles from the French coast a twin-engined aircraft flew very low over the MTB but could not be identified. Later when mid-channel a long thin plane thought to be a Dornier D.0.17 flew along the portside and fire was opened with every available weapon. Tracers from the Vickers machine gun appeared to hit the plane and it flew off without attacking.
Landfall was made at St Catherines Head and at 7 am and the Little Pisser entered the harbour with no casualties to the SSRF apart from an officer who bruised himself badly by falling on an iron stake.
Although the operation was considered to be only partially successful due to no Germans being taken prisoner it proved that a small scale raiding force with one MTB could successfully land on occupied coastline inflicting casualties on the enemy. Which if carried out frequently over a wide area would have a most demoralizing effect.
In conclusion of his report Major March-Phillips wrote:
“Small parties of men are better than large parties. It is not easy to keep touch in the dark and a large party of men cannot move quickly for this reason. It is too busy keeping contact between it's own units. The ideal size for such a party is 10 or a dozen men and such a party can produce an effect out of all proportion to its size.
No indication was received that the M.T.B. had been picked up by the R.D.F. at BARFLEUR. It seems probable that 1 small vessel can escape detection.
The effect of such raids, though small in itself, can be cumulative if they are continuous. If carried out frequently and over a wide area they would have a most demoralizing effect on the enemy and corresponding heartening effect on our own troops. They present the best form of training both for commandos and home forces.”