Operation Speedwell (1943)



Horace Stokes (left), age 18.




The
men were briefed two days before the operation on 5 September 1943 by Captain
Pinckney and endured a long flight, after taking off in two Albermarles, from
Kairouan airfield in North Africa.


Both
groups appear to have been dropped off target on the night of 7/8 September
1943 with Group 2 dropped near the village of Barbaresco Tresana, approximately
fifteen kilometers south of Pontremoli.


Group
1 was dropped in heavy winds from about 7,000 ft and widely dispersed on the
drop zone (DZ). As a result Captain Pinckney became separated from the main
group and Lt Greville-Bell was injured when he landed on the DZ. Group 1
subsequently split into two parties, rather than the three originally planned.


Unfortunately
five members of the Speedwell team (Pinckney, Dudgeon, Brunt, Foster and
Shortall) were captured in three separate incidents and subsequently executed,
in spite of being uniformed and disarmed.


The
remaining teams successfully engaged in sabotage activity of railway lines in
the area and survived the operation, with mixed fortunes:


Sgt
Robinson and Pct Curtis reached the safety of Allied lines on 30 October.

Lt Greville-Bell, Sgt Daniels and Cpl Tomasso also made it back to safety after
73 days and a march of 250 miles.

L/Sgt Stokes made his way to Rome by cycle, and worked with a British organized
underground movement before his capture by the Germans. He was sent to Germany
as a PoW and remained there until the end of the war.

Both Lt Wedderburn and ‘Tanky’ Challenor were captured after their sabotage
activity. Wedderburn escaped twice but was recaptured on both occasions.
Challenor later escaped from the PoW camp at Aquila, returning to Allied lines
seven months after being dropped into Italy.


Lt
Greville-Bell was awarded an immediate Distinguished Service Order on his
return and Sgt Daniels awarded an immediate Military Medal. ‘Tanky’ Challenor
was also awarded a Military Medal in 1944 following his seven months behind
enemy lines.


by
Harvey Grenville