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Operation Pistol (1944)


Operation
Pistol
was the codename for a
Special Air Service mission during the Second World War,
with the objective to parachute four teams from ‘A’ Squadron 2nd Special Air
Service behind the German lines around the Alsace-Lorraine region of France.
Once on the ground they would attempt to disrupt the road and rail networks
between Metz and Nancy and the approach to the Rhine plain. One team, because
of weather conditions over the drop zone, returned to England, another team
landed in the middle of a German unit and the other two teams achieved some
success before returning to Allied lines in
early October.


Plan


The 51
men from ‘A’ Squadron 2nd Special Air Service (SAS) were to leave RAF Keevil,
Wiltshire by Shorts Stirling aircraft on the 15
September. They were divided into four groups, to be parachuted onto four
different drop zones. Once on the ground the plan called for each of the groups
to be divided into two smaller groups to cover a larger area. The ‘A1’ group
were given the area south west of Saint-Avold to work in and the ‘A2’ group the
Benestroff area. The ‘B1’ group would be west of
Ingwiller and the ‘B2’ group the Saargemuend
area. The ‘C1’ group were given the area around the Zabern
gap to work in and the ‘C2’ group the area south west of Sarrebourg. The ‘D1’
group the roads between Gerardmer and Colmar and
the ‘D2’ group the roads between Bussang and Thann.


Mission


The
2nd Special Air Service groups all left from RAF Keevil on the 15 September
1944. The SAS were divided into four groups ‘A’–’D’, to be parachuted onto four
different drop zones.


A
Group


‘A’
group landed 1 mile (1.6 km) from their proposed drop zone, on top of a German
position. Because of this and attempts to evade capture the group was divided
into three. ‘A1’ now consistd of Lieutenant Darwall and three men. Sergeant
Williams the commander of the original ‘A2’ group had two men. A third group of
men who were the last to leave the aircraft became was formed unfortunately
they lost all their equipment hiding from the German search parties. Both
radios carried by Group A were damaged on landing leaving them out of contact
with their headquarters and the resupply planes that were later sent out.


The
‘A2’ group on the 18 September destroyed some telegraph poles and on the 19
September were forced to take cover after hearing small arms fire near by. Over
the night of the 21/21 September the destroyed an electricity high tension
pylon and then found an observation point overlooking their target railway
line. They planted explosive on the rail line on the 23 September which they
heard successfully going off, but having left the area were unaware of what
damage had been caused. They later found out it had been a cattle train on
route to Germany and it took two days for the line to be repaired. Then it was
patrolled by two German sentries every 50 yards (46 m). Heading south and west
they came upon there next two targets. On the 26 they observed their target
rail line but discovered it was unused and headed for the next target another
rail line. Reaching this line on the 27 September they discovered that this line
was also unused. On the 28 September they took shelter at a farm, the farmer
and his three sons (deserters from the German Army) informed them about the
train they had destroyed. They also discovered the area was defended by a
panzer division and that about 1,000 troops and a General were stationed in the
nearby village of Vergaville. On 30 September Sergeant Williams group left the
farm and headed west, they planted tyre burster’s on a road which were set off
by a passing tanks instead. On 2 October they found some boot tracks which they
identified being made by SAS boots. They followed the tracks hoping they
belonged to their missing men. The tracks led them to a farm where they stopped
for a meal and discovered that the tracks had been left by Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant (SQMS) Alcock and his
‘C2’ group who had been there two days previously. The ‘A2’ three man group
eventually passed over into the American lines on the 3 October.


The
‘A3’ group was formed from the last four men to leave the plane all Privates. They luckily managed to evade capture and
headed for a nearby wood, one of the men had landed badly and injured his leg
so the group remained in the wood overnight to allow him to recover. On the
afternoon of the 16 September they heard the Germans searching the woods.
Leaving their rucksacks behind they made it to the edge of the wood and hid in
a water filled overgrown drainage ditch, which ran alongside the adjacent
fields. They hid in the ditch for six hours while the search went on around them,
several times Germans crossed their ditch without seeing them. They stayed
until they believed the Germans had left the area coming out at dusk. They were
forced to leave their equipment behind as one of the men had overheard the
Germans saying they had found them and had set up ambush for when they returned
to collect them. The group then set off towards the American lines having lost
their explosives they were unable to carry out any attacks on the rail lines
they had been given. They crossed over into the American lines on the 20
September.


B
Group


The
‘B’ group landed 7 miles (11 km) from their drop zone. Not much is known about
their activities. The ‘B1’ group commander Lieutenant Birnie was captured on
the 17 September and died in a prisoner of war camp after an air raid by the
Allies. Also part of the ‘B1’ group were Corporal Gilbert Voisin who was
captured on the 1 October near Phalsbourg, and Private Gerhard Wertheim, who
was captured in September 1944. Wertheim was executed by the Germans between Niederbuhl and Rotenfels in Germany,
the date of his execution is not known.


The
‘B2’ group was commanded by Lieutenant Castellain who died of his wounds on the
12 October, shortly after having made contact with the Operation Loyton SAS
mission. Private Ashe was captured on the 23 September and executed at Gaggenau
in Germany.


C
Group


‘C’
group were the furthest from their proposed drop zone, landing 15 miles (24 km)
away and because of communication problems their equipment panniers were not
dropped. The ‘C1’ group radio had also been damaged during the parachute
landing. The group was dispersed on landing only two men from the ‘C2’ group
had gathered on the drop zone. The commander of the ‘C1’ group Captain Scott
had badly sprained his ankle on landing and was finding it difficult to move
about. Lying up overnight three more members of the ‘C2’ were found. The group
laid up for another day sending out reconnaissance parties to try and pinpoint
their exact location. On the 19 September Captain Scott divided his enlarged
group into two one of four men and the other of five men. The four man group
under the command of Corporal Hill moved off towards the south. On the 20
September they observed a rail line but it appeared to be rusty and unused. The
same happened on the 21 September at a different rail line. On the 22 September
they saw a 20 vehicle road convoy passing, but were not able to intervene. That
evening they took shelter in an abandoned farm, by now the effects of the lost
equipment panniers were taking there toll and the men were feeling weak from
the loss of their food. Leaving the farm on the 25 September they set off for
their last objective some gun positions near the front line. By the 28
September they were forced into hiding by the German patrol activity in the
area. Moving into a disused farm they stayed in the area, cutting telephone
wires and carrying out a reconnaissance of the gun positions. They finally made
contact with the American lines just before 23:00 hours 3 October.


SQMS
Alcock and his group three other men kept observations on a rail line all day
of the 19 September mo trains were seen but they decided to lay an explosive
charge anyway. The charge was laid at 21;00 hours and was detonated by a
passing train at 23:00 hours. Leaving the area south south west they came
across evidence of defensive trenches being dug. On the 24 September they
observed a tank battle and 20 tanks withdrawing into a wood beside Blanche Eglise. One member of the group Corporal
Holden now came down with malaria so they decided to hole up a farm. Leaving
the farm on the 26 September they headed west and come across another farm,
while inside talking to the occupants a German patrol appeared. Eventually the
SAS group managed to get out the rear of the farm and opened fore on the
Germans who followed them out. They then made their way through the woods
locating a number ot tank workshops, harbour positions and a brigade
headquarters. They returned to a farm they had stayed at earlier and discovered
the A3 group had been there. Remaining at the farm until the 1 October they set
out for the American lines cutting telephone lines on the way. They crossed
over into the 4th Armored Division lines.


D
Group


‘D’
group were unable to parachute on the night, being unable to identify their
drop zone in the foggy conditions. They made a further five attempts on the
following nights but all were unsuccessful.


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