One of the major races of World War Two was the race to develop a reliable radar system to detect enemy aircraft early enough to send up the fighter intercept groups to shoot them down. Of course, both sides were determined to conceal their progress from the other, and the development of these systems was a closely guarded secret. By late 1941 the British had begun to suspect that the Germans had got their noses in front, and aerial photographs seemed to confirm this. There was only one course of action; send a raiding party across the channel and steal it!
The plan would involve parachuting into enemy held Northern France, attacking the German radar station, stealing the apparatus and then smuggling it back across the channel in Royal Navy gunboats; on top of all that they would have to create enough of a mess to convince the Germans that they had destroyed the radar and not stolen it.
The man chosen to lead the raid was Major John Frost, the man who would go on to distinguish himself in the assault on Arnhem Bridge during operation Market Garden in 1944.
The attack would take place on the night of the 27th of February 1942, when the 2nd Parachute Battalion under Major Frost would parachute in along with a number of engineers and radar specialists who had volunteered to go along on the raid in order to examine and dismantle the apparatus. The Royal Navy would send a number of Motor Gunboats and landing craft across the channel to transport the raiders along with the radar apparatus back to the south coast of England.
The weather on the night of the 27th was perfect with clear skies and good visibility. The parachutists were transported in Whitley transport aircraft from RAF Thruxton, near Andover in Hampshire. The Royal Navy flotilla left the South Coast of England in the Afternoon. Despite coming under heavy anti-aircraft fire as they crossed the French coast the drop was almost a complete success, and all of C Company were inserted right on target. The only mishap was when half of Nelson company were dropped 2 miles short of the drop zone.
The whole process of examining and dismantling the apparatus was carried out under heavy enemy fire, but with Major Frost leading from the front the paratroops fought tirelessly to hold off any German counter attacks. When the order was given to withdraw to the beach it quickly became apparent that the beach had not yet been cleared, and the men had to withdraw back to the Villa, which by now had been retaken by the Germans. Yet again the paratroopers took control. On returning to the beach Frost discovered that the soldiers of Nelson Company who had missed their drop zone had finally arrived and taken out the German machine gun nest that was holding the beach for the Germans.
Signal flares were put up, and out of the darkness the naval party arrived to evacuate the beach and take the men and radar apparatus out to the motor gun boats and back across the channel. Losses were limited to 2 killed, 6 wounded and 6 captured when they were left behind on the beach as the naval party left. The raid was a huge success, and gave the allies a significant advantage over the Germans when it came to radar countermeasures, which would eventually be used before the D-Day landings as part of a diversionary raid.
The Parachute Regiment displayed the same courage and skill that they would later show at Arnhem in 1944 when faced with overwhelming odds. They continue to be an elite part of the British Army today, and are often at the forefront of British operations all over the world.