The Bruneval raid was a daring mission that took place in February 1942. The aim of the raid was to capture some new German radar technology from the French coastal village of Bruneval near Le Havre, in Northern France. Dr R.V Jones was a member of the Air Intelligence Staff so he spent the war in a continual game of cat and mouse with the Germans to see who could win the technology war. He was the brains behind the technology.
But he knew something. He knew that the Germans were increasing their technological advances at a fast rate. Jones needed to anticipate this and develop strategies and ideas to counter the enemies work.
Why Did the Bruneval Raid Occur?
In autumn 1941 the German radar technology network along the Northern coast was growing and improving. The allies had to do something. We needed to discover what they were doing. It was important.
General Wolfgang Martini had notched a point against us by slowly increasing the intensity of their radar jamming. Over time it was hardly noticeable. This resulted in our radars being essentially worthless.
RAF pilots took low level reconnaissance pictures from the Bruneval village near Le Havre throughout the autumn of 1941. Intelligence officers discovered a newly installed “Wurzburg” radar when analysing these pictures.
Jones took part in discussions to decide whether a raid would be possible and worthwhile. They decided it was. The British established the plans for the Bruneval raid, and called it Operation Biting. British forces would raid the radar installation and attempt to dismantle and remove as much of it as possible. This could then be studied back at home in an attempt to learn from the technology that the Germans possessed.
Planning the Raid
The Wurzburg was on the coast and Churchill, since Dunkirk, had a policy to occupy as many German forces as possible along the coast with isolated raids by small commando teams.
Not only was the Wuzburg on the coast, but it was at the top of a 400 foot cliff. A cliff assault would be ideal for the Royal Marines but it would be hard for them to make their getaway with the equipment in tow.
The Allies predicted German defences would be strong in this position and a full frontal assault faced a larger risk of failure. Jones noticed when studying photos that there was “a continuous slope down to a small beach a few hundred yards away.”
British officers decided that the newly formed “C” Company from 2 Para would make a parachute insertion to near the site, dismantle the radar and then make their escape via the beach where the Royal Navy could pick them up.
The airborne unit would also send a component to secure the beach. This would enable a safe landing for the Navy to extract them.
French Resistance Assistance
The British gained more intelligence on the area utilising members of the French Resistance. The enemy didn’t mine the small beach near the radar. This was good news.
The Brits needed someone with knowledge of radar technology to dismantle the Wurzburg. Jones knew too much, along with a few others. Bosses deemed it too risky that the Germans could obtain valuable information if they captured him.
The job fell to Flight Sergeant C.W.H. Cox. A cinema projectionist before the war, he had never been in a aeroplane and never been on a ship. What a choice to be the main man for their raid.
They got him straight to work. He was practising parachute jumps a few days later. This was his chance to be a hero.
All Areas Covered
Pilots dropped the Paratroopers in three components with Captain Ross and Lieutenant Charteris being the first. They had the job to secure the beach to enable the Royal Navy to arrive safely.
The second, led by Major Frost and Lieutenant’s Naumoff and Young had the objective to head towards the cliff killing or capturing any German forces on the way, dismantle the Wurzburg and head to the beach. German technology was going to take a hit tonight.
The final component led by Lieutenant Timothy were to be in reserve for the other components and to prevent any German forces from arriving to prevent a successful mission.
Bosses postponed the mission a few times due to bad weather because they wanted a full moon to take advantage of as much light as possible. It finally went ahead on 27th February.
The RAF dropped Lieutenant Chateris’ team a mile and a half from their landing zone. This was not ideal. Bosses wanted the raid teams split in two but both still made their way to the beach so they could secure it.
Major Frost’s troops were heading towards the radar. They had trolleys with them to remove the equipment except this didn’t work. They had to lift the trolleys over several barbed wire fences and through thick snow which slowed them down considerably.
Upon reaching the radar Cox went to work dismantling it but hey were coming under some heavy automatic German fire throughout. The parabolid of the radar offered them some protection from the fire. Frost led his team towards the beach. They had to get a shift on before they started losing men.
There were Germans on the other side of the cliff face. The beach assault component hadn’t fully arrived yet and the Germans handed out a hail of machine gun fire to keep them pinned back but it was only around 15 minutes before they got the all clear to head to the beach for extraction.
A nearby German Navy patrol delayed the arrival of the Royal Navy at first so the troops had to sit tight and hope more German reinforcements weren’t on their way.
Cox had said:
“After about half an hour the Navy came and we got the equipment aboard, with the wounded, and after the rearguard had time to make the beach and get into the boats, we pushed off. Slight enemy fire was directed against us from the cliff tops but was soon silenced by Bren guns on the boats.”
Minimal friendly losses occurred during the raid. Officials announced 2 Para losses as two killed and six missing (all six survived the war) and German reports recorded five killed, two wounded and five missing from their ranks.
The British captured two German prisoners during the raid including the operator of the radar. The British operation was a successful one and some detailed insights in to German radar technology were gained when the equipment was studied in the UK.