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Operation Devon - Raid on Termoli

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

Operation Devon - Raid on Termoli

Unit/ Formation: 40 Cdo RM

Location: Italy

Period/ Conflict: World War II

Year: 1943

Date/s: 3 October 1943

In the early hours of 3 October 1943, Nos. 3 and 40 (RM) Commandos elements of the Special Raiding Squadron landed behind the German lines under cover of darkness at Termoli, a seaport town on the Adriatic coast, north of the Bifurno River.

Led by Lt Col J C Manners 40 Commando penetrated well into the town before the Germans were alerted, and brisk close-quarter fighting with German paratroopers from 1 Fallschirmjäger Division ensued.

By 08:00 hours, the commandos had captured the town and controlled the approaches. So complete was the surprise that German vehicles and motorcyclists still drove into a commando ambush position until noon.

So complete was the surprise that the kampfgruppe commander - Major Rau - was captured in his pyjamas and German vehicles and motorcyclists still drove into a commando ambush position until noon.

German infantry counter-attacked in strength, later supported by tanks and panzergrenadiers from 16 Panzer Division, but the commandos, together with reinforcements from the 78 Division, held off repeated infantry and armoured counter-attacks until 6 October. By noon on the 6th they had linked up with the British Eighth Army, and by noon on the 6th the enemy was in full retreat.

Colonel Durnford-Slater, Commanding 3 Commando, arrived at 2am in the morning by landing craft:

Thus far, No. 3 Commando had landed and secured our bridgehead without the knowledge of the enemy. The large landing craft in which 40 Commando and the Special Raiding Squadron were to come ashore had struck on a sandbank which, again, had not been marked on our chart. I turned to a naval lieutenant who had come ashore with us, and pointed out the grounded craft. “ Can you get your small craft going to give them a reasonably dry landing?” “Yes, Colonel: I’ll get cracking.” Soon these troops were passing through us on their way to work, and then the peace became an uproar. Spandaus, Brens, rifles chattered and cracked. Very soon our headquarters, on a sand dune half a mile from the town, was remote from the shifting battle. There was fighting in the streets now, a lot of shooting, plenty of small stuff sounding crisp and harsh and deadly. “Let’s get on the move,” I said to Brian. In a few minutes we heard an engine making starting noises and, hurrying, found it facing in our direction. Brian and I performed an encircling movement. He jumped into the cab, pistol in hand. “Hands up!” he said in German to the driver. The Jerry did as he was requested. His train never did make its scheduled trip northward. The coaches behind the engine were loaded with German troops, fast asleep. We woke them up and made prisoners of them. They took a lot of rousing and could scarcely believe what was happening. They thought they were thirty safe miles behind the front lines. I had my headquarters set up in the back yard of a house near the station. The radio was just then on the move so we released a couple of pigeons with news of our progress. They merely circled and landed again. “Those damn Itie birds,” said Brian Franks in a tone of complete disgust, “they’re no better than their troops!” There was a certain amount of desultory firing from the Germans in the area of the station now but nothing concerted. No. 40 Commando had cleared up most of the opposition here in the first rush. It was six in the morning. Meanwhile, 40 Commando and the Special Raiding Squadron had moved on. Our opponents were the German parachutists we had encountered before, in the Battle of the Commando Bridge. Some of them seemed eager to fight until they died. I observed one lying in an olive grove partly behind a tree, about eight hundred yards in front of our position. Although obviously wounded – his actions were stiff and unnatural — he continued to fire at us regularly and accurately. We were unable to move anyone forward to take him prisoner. Instead, we returned his fire. He died where he fought, in the olive grove. During the fighting General Heydrich, the German Parachute Divisional Commander, slipped out of the town on foot. He kindly left his car behind, a I939 Horsch, long, low, black and very fast. No. 3 Commando found it, cleaned it up, and presented it to me. It has always struck me as extraordinary how the news of a battle sometimes fails to spread. Throughout the morning, German supply lorries kept coming in from the north. No. 40 Commando ambushed twelve of these at a northern cross-road, greeting each vehicle with long Bren bursts until it ran off the road and overturned, often in flames.

The Raid on Termoli is a 40 Commando Unit Memorable Date

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