The Belgian SAS in WWII – A Very Short History
The First Belgian Independent Parachute Company was founded in Great Britain on 8 May 1942, under the command of Senior Captain Thise. The roster was comprised of volunteers from all over the world, but primarily free Belgians in the UK and Canada. In 1942 the unit obtained its paratrooper qualification at the Ringway Parachute Training School and continued training at the Airborne Centre at Hardwick, then the glider base at Brize Norton. In 1943, the Company completed their training at Inverlochy Castle in Scotland before fetching up in Fritzhill. After two years of intensive training, in January 1944 the 1st Belgian Independent Parachute Company became the 1st Belgian SAS Squadron was finally declared operational, became part of the famous SAS Brigade and came under the command of Captain (later Major) Eddy Blondeel, who would command 5 SAS through the rest of the war and after.
Belgian SAS men came from all walks of life, just like every other military unit in World War II. There were lawyers, lumberjacks, aristocracy (three honest-to-God barons!), a bicycling champion, a professional wrestler, a circus acrobat, engineers – the OC, Blondeel, was a dentist. Regardless of these disparate backgrounds and linguistic difficulties – some men spoke French, others Quebecois, others Dutch/Flemish, others English only – they soon gelled into a cohesive, highly-trained and motivated fighting machine.
In July 1944 the first Belgian SAS missions into Occupied Europe were executed. Squads were parachuted into France, east of Falaise to execute reconaissance and interference missions. More drops were executed in the region of Beauvais (FR), the French Ardennes, Gedinne (BE), Hoge Venen (BE), Limburg (BE) and in Holland as far as Friesland (NL). These actions were in order to support the march of the Allied forces towards the North. On 15 August 1944, several teams were dropped near the Belgian border to make contact with Belgian Resistance cells and organize sabotage missions, with the objective of harassing the enemy’s retreat – these Belgian SAS men were the first Allies to enter Occupied Belgium.
In November 1944, the unit was regrouped and equipped with armoured jeeps. During von Rundstedt’s offensive in the Belgian Ardennes – the Battle of the Bulge – the Belgian SAS acted as a reconnaissance squadron, in which they executed security and reconnaissance missions in support of the 6th British Airborne Division.
On February 4 1945 the squadron was reorganized and became the 1st Belgian SAS Parachute Regiment. In the beginning of April 1945 the Belgian SAS Regiment consisted of three reconnaissance squadrons attached to the Canadian II Corps. The Regiment was deployed in the north of Holland and in Germany.
After the capitulation on 8 May 1945 they participated in counterintelligence missions in Germany and Denmark. They arrested von Ribbentrop and participated in the apprehension of the Dönitz government in Flensburg.
The Belgian SAS Regiment was the only Belgian unit permanently in combat between July 1944 and May 1945. General Eisenhower sent the following letter to Brigadier MacLeod, OC of the SAS Brigade:
The 'ruthlessness' to which Eisenhower alludes to is a reference to Hitler’s infamous Commando Order, which stated that Allied special-operations troops should be immediately shot upon capture. Although a savage reflection on the German leader and his military it also bears testament to the effectiveness of these special troops against the enemy. The above letter underscores the high esteem in which special-operations troops like SAS were held by SHAEF.
Operations Undertaken by the 5th (Belgian) SAS During World War II
Benson – (28 Aug - 01 Sept. 1944) Six members of 5 SAS, commanded by Lt Gilbert Kirschen, jumped into northeastern France to collect intelligence concerning German troop strength and movements. They discovered a document detailing the disposition of all German divisions behind the Somme, which they immediately transmitted to UK.
Bergbang - (02-12 Sept. 1944) 41 members of Belgian SAS dropped into the Liege-Aachen-Maastricht region to aid the local resistance and sever German communications east of the Meuse River. Operation Bergbang was to aid the local resistance, but the sticks were dropped too far from the operational area with one group actually being dropped into Germany. These men were actually the first Allied troops to enter Germany; never mind they had to evade back across the border.
Brutus - (02 Sept. 1944) 19 members of 5 SAS dropped east of the Meuse River south-east of Namur, Belgium to contact the Belgian Secret Army and another party of 5 SAS. Operation Brutus was to link with Operation Noah and pass on orders to that operational group.
Bunyan – (3-15th August 1944) 20 members of 5 SAS inserted to Chartres area north of the River Loire, tasked with the harassment of retreating German forces. 30 enemy were killed and a number of vehicles destroyed for four members of the unit wounded.
Caliban – (06-11 September 1944) 26 members of 5 SAS dropped into Bourg Leopold, north-east Belgium, to sever German communications west of the Meuse River. The men however, were widely dispersed and the operation was ended prematurely when they were reached by advance British troops.
Chaucer - (28 July-15 August 1944) 22 members of 5 SAS jumped into Le Mans, France to conduct harassment operations against retreating German forces. Two patrols were drooped into the area north-west of Le Mans, France and harassed the Germans, but the drop was executed too late and the operation was forced to continue on foot, managing only to meet the rear of the retreating enemy.
Fabian - (September 1944 - March 1945) Six-month mission by five men from the 5 SAS deployed near Arnhem, Holland to collect intelligence and determine the locations of V2 rocket launch sites.
Friesland – (9 October 1944 – 25 April 1945) A team of weapons instructors consisting of an Adjutant and three Sergeants was dropped into Friesland to train the Dutch resistance on small arms.
Haggard – (10 August – 15 September 1944) Two 5 SAS signalers were temporarily assigned to B Sqrn 1 SAS for this mission regarding the Falaise Pocket, in which SAS caused heavy losses in enemy personnel and equipment, disorganized retreating enemy units, signaled to RAF the positions of many enemy targets which were then reduced by airstrike, and organized the rescue of more than 200 downed Allied airmen.
Larkswood - (April - May 1945) Two squadrons from 5 SAS operated as reconnaissance troops for Canadian II Corps and the Polish Armored Division as they advanced into Holland.
Market – (15 September 1944 – March 1945) Part of the ill-fated Operation Market Garden, nine 5 SAS men in two groups parachuted into Holland. The first, a team of four commanded by Lt Kirschen, dropped into Utrecht province. The second, a team of five commanded by Lt Debefve, dropped into Drenthe. After the failure of the Market phase – which began two days after the SAS insertion – these teams organized the escape of British Airborne troops scattered behind German lines. They also transmitted intelligence to UK on German dispositions and movement. The groups, REGAN and DOBBO, eventually exfiltrated back through the Belgian border in March 1945.
Noah - (16 August -13 September 1944) 41 men from 5 SAS parachuted into the French Ardennes to gather intelligence on the enemy presence in the area. Operation Noah forged a close relationship with the local resistance. They also caused a good deal of damage to the retreating Germans.
Portia - (September 1944 - March 1945) Seven men from 5 SAS parachuted into the area around Drente to gather intelligence on enemy troop movements and determine the feasibility of the establishment of a covert SAS base.
Regent - (27 December 1944 – 15 January 1945) Large operation involving the entire 5 SAS tasked with supporting British 6th Airborne in counterattacking the German breakthrough in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. 5 SAS were used purely as assault troops in the wooded areas. The 5 SAS mission was two-fold: First, conduct offensive patrols along the line of Halma-Chanly-Tellin-Bure-St-Hubert. Second, protect the right flank of the British and establish contact with the French S.A.S. protecting the left flank of the American army. Both of these missions were successfully completed.
Shakespeare - (31 July – 15 August 1944) Small detachment of the Belgian Independent Parachute Company dropped west of Paris north-west of Le Mans tasked with harassing the retreating German forces. They only managed to reach the tail of the retreating enemy but were able to assist in the rescue of 150 downed Allied airmen.
Trueform – (17 August 1944) 102 personnel from 1, 2 and 5 SAS jumped onto 12 separate landing zones northwest of Paris with orders to inflict maximum damage to the retreating German forces. The mission suffered from a late start and the Allied ground advance reached the Trueform elements only nine days after they dropped.
Losses suffered by the unit during all operations in WWII.
Severely Wounded: 19
Lightly Wounded: 39
Captured: 2 (One of whom was executed)