February 28, This day during the World War ll

February 28, 1942 – Operation Biting, also known as the Bruneval Raid, was the codename given to a British Combined Operations raid on a German radar installation in Bruneval, France that occurred between 27–28 February 1942 during World War II. A number of these installations had been identified from Royal Air Force aerial reconnaissance during 1941, but their exact purpose and the nature of the equipment that they possessed was not known. However, a number of British scientists believed that these stations had something to do with the heavy losses being experienced by RAF bombers conducting bombing raids against targets in Occupied Europe. A request was therefore made by these scientists that one of these installations be raided and the technology it possessed be studied and, if possible, extracted and taken back to Britain for further study. Due to the extensive coastal defences erected by the Germans to protect the installation from a sea-borne raid, it was believed that a commando raid from the sea would only incur heavy losses on the part of the attackers, and give sufficient time for the garrison at the installation to destroy the Würzburg radar set. It was therefore decided that an airborne assault, followed by sea-borne evacuation would be the most practicable way to surprise the garrison of the installation and seize the technology intact, as well as minimise casualties inflicted on the raiding force. On the night of 27 February, after a period of intense training and several delays due to poor weather, a small detachment of airborne troops under the command of Major John Frost parachuted into France a few miles from the installation. The force then proceeded to assault the villa in which the radar equipment was kept, killing several members of the German garrison and capturing the installation after a brief fire-fight. A technician that had come with the force proceeded to dismantle the Würzburg radar array and remove several key pieces to take back to Britain, and the raiding force then retreated to the evacuation beach. The detachment assigned to clear the beach had failed to do so, however, and another brief fire-fight was required to eliminate the Germans guarding the beach. The raiding force was then picked up by a small number of landing craft and transferred to several Motor Gun Boats which took them back to Britain. The raid was entirely successful. The airborne troops suffered only a few casualties, and the pieces of the radar they brought back, along with a German radar technician, allowed British scientists to understand German advances in radar and to create counter-measures to neutralise those advances. The raid was postponed for several days after the end of the exercise on 23 February due to weather conditions, but on 27 February the weather proved to be ideal, with clear skies and good visibility for the aircraft of 51 Squadron, and a full moon scheduled which would provide illumination for the evacuation of the raiding force. The naval force under Commander Cook departed from Britain during the afternoon, and the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley transport aircraft carrying C company took off from RAF Thruxton in the evening. The transport aircraft crossed the English Channel in safety, but as they reached the French coast they came under heavy anti-aircraft fire; none were hit, however, and successfully delivered C company to the designated drop-zone near to the installation. The drop was almost a success, with all of the raiding force landing on the edge of the drop-zone with the exception of half of ‘Nelson’ detachment, which landed two miles short. Once the other detachments had gathered their equipment and orientated themselves, they moved off to undertake their arranged tasks. ‘Jellicoe’, ‘Hardy and ‘Drake’ encountered no enemy opposition as they moved towards the villa housing the radar installation, and after surrounding the villa Major Frost gave the order to open fire with grenades and automatic fire. One German guard was killed as he returned fire from an upstairs window, and two more were taken prisoner by the airborne troops; upon interrogation, the prisoners revealed that the majority of the garrison were stationed further inland. However, there still remained a substantial enemy force in the buildings in the small enclosure near to the villa, and this now opened fire on the raiding force after being alerted by the initial fire-fight, killing one of the airborne troops. The volume of fire rapidly began to increase, and enemy vehicles could be seen moving towards the villa from the nearby woods; this in particular worried Frost, as the radio sets the force had been issued failed to work, giving him no means of communication with his other detachments, including ‘Nelson’ who were tasked with clearing the evacuation beach. Fortunately Flight Sergeant Cox and several sappers arrived at this time and proceeded to dismantle the radar equipment, placing the pieces on specially designed trolleys. Having secured the radar equipment and under heavy enemy fire, Major Frost gave the order for the three detachments to withdraw to the evacuation beach; it quickly became apparent, however, that the beach had not been secured by ‘Nelson’ when a machine-gun opened fire on the airborne troops, severely wounding a Company Sergeant Major. Major Frost ordered ‘Rodney’ and the remains of ‘Nelson’ to clear the machine-gun nest, whilst he led the other three detachments back to the villa, which had been reoccupied by enemy troops. The villa was soon cleared of enemy troops again, and when Major Frost returned to the beach, he found that the machine-gun nest had been assaulted and cleared by the troops of ‘Nelson’ that had been mis-dropped; having skirted a number of enemy positions, they had reached the beach and attacked the machine-gun nest from the flank. By this time, it was 02:15 but there was no sign of the naval force that was to evacuate the airborne troops. Frost ordered ‘Nelson’ to guard the inland approaches to the beach and then fired off an emergency signal flare, and soon after the naval force was seen approaching. The original plan for the operation had called for two landing craft to land on the beach at a time, but this had never been satisfactorily achieved during the training manoeuvres; instead, all six landing craft landed at the same time, with the troops in the landing craft opening fire on German troops gathering by the top of the cliff. This deviation from the original plan, and the enemy fire caused considerable confusion on the beach; some of the landing craft left the beach over-crowded, whilst others left half-empty. However, the radar equipment and the German prisoners were evacuated safely, and the entire raiding force was taken off of the beach and soon transferred to motor gun boats for transport back to Britain. On the journey back, Frost learnt that the naval force had received no signals apart from the last signal flare fired, and had spent much of the time hiding from a German naval patrol that had nearly discovered them. The journey back to Britain was uneventful, with the force being escorted by four destroyers and a flight of Supermarine Spitfire fighters. 

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