The French SAS in Tunisia January 1943

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by davidbfpo, Nov 5, 2022.

  1. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I have a passing interest in the SAS and knew of the existence of the French SAS (part of a parachute regiment) in the North African campaign in Tunisia. There appears to be no thread on their action in Tunisia, including in the Special Forces area.

    There is a long, recent thread, led by Stolpi on the French SAS Operation Amherst in 1945 in Holland: OPERATION AMHERST: French SAS in Holland, April 1945

    Their role is skimmed over, e.g.:
    From: Welcome

    And this:
    From: Victor Iturria

    There is a well-known photo of six of them; the caption states:
    From: A WWII L Detachment S.A.S. Military Cross group awarded for Operation BIGAMY, the 1942 raid on Benghazi

    The photo is described as:
    From: a helper (explained below)

    The photo shows:
    From (possibly a colourised photo): https://www.pinterest.com/pin/485403666079372749/

    The raid, with no readily identifiable operational name, into Tunisia was led by Colonel David Stirling, who appears in several threads here; who was captured by a special German anti-SAS unit, 24/1/1943 and his expert navigator, Willis Michael Sadler eluded capture; this thread is how I came across this subject: 282465 (1095726) Willis Michael SADLER, MC, MM, Royal Artillery, Long Range Desert Group & 1 SAS

    The 'helper' whose father was Michel Legrand has kindly provided a detailed, long (pgs. 31) report on the operation led by Captain Jordan, the French Commander, who made a detailed, day by day report of the French Squadron’s activities, with precise indications on their movements & stopovers etc. Plus a "lessons learnt" or reflections document. It is a translation from a French book 'Remember: Les parachutistes de la France libre en Afrique du Nord (1940-1943)'. See: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Remember-parachutistes-France-Afrique-1940-1943/dp/2863230646

    There is a B&W map of the operational area and the report itself.
     

    Attached Files:

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  2. Takrouna

    Takrouna Member

    Excellent, thank you
     
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  3. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Hi,

    The entire series of 14 photos (17+ mbs) by Sgt. Currey, dated 16th January to 6th February, 1943 can be downloaded as a Zip container from link below. Not sure of their relevancy at the moment so won't post here and will leave that up to David.

    Sgt Currey Series.zip - Icedrive

    Regards ...
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2022
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  4. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Cee,

    Noted, I will respond later. Thanks and the 'helper' has been made aware.
     
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  5. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Nice set of photos there, which I assume are from the NAM given their stamp. Helpful that each photo has the description too. I was puzzled that there was a French garrison at Tozeur, in the desert in the south-west of Tunisia; which presumably changed sides after the invasion - so a little research was done.

    There is only one photo of the French team, the remainder being the vehicles, meetings and the RV with e advancing 8th Army (Derbyshire Yeomanry).
     
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  6. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Ho,

    The pics were all found online at the IWM as watermarked in many cases. The "NA" used here are just catalog letters. Four photos are said to be of "Fighting Free French ..." - NA674, NA680, NA683 and NA685.

    No clue what patrol(s) Sgt.Currey may have travelled with if any, nor am I the least bit familiar at the moment with the Tunisian territory they traversed.

    Regards ...
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2022
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  7. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Hi,

    Noticed some of the French SAS men in NA674 also show up in NA685.

    Compare.jpg NA 685-2.jpg

    Regards ...
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2022
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  8. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target All life is precious

    Cee,
    Interesting comment on #6 re Fighting Free French.
    This is not SAS but from the letters of Lt Bill Beadle at the time a GPO C Troop 266 Bty in 67th Field Regiment after winning a Divisional Exercise competition set on and around Djebel Rassas and the French Artillery Ranges at Bou Ficha Tunisia. Dated November 1943.

    Last night I went out to a local hotel for dinner and fell in with a gang of Fighting French Officers.
    We drank Cognac and sang songs of the French Army (which they enthusiastically taught us) until we were turned out.
    It was a grand evening, though today my innards have let me know sympathetically, what is their private opinion of Tunisian Brandy!
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Nov 14, 2022
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  9. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    I think it safe to say NA674 and NA685 are French SAS as named in David's first post with a strong possibility for NA683 and NA682. The man in NA681 is wearing SAS wings and is probably the same as seen in NA680. Some in the series are also British SAS or unidentified.

    Regards ...
     
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  10. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target All life is precious

    NA 685 the big Scottish looking man with the eyepatch looks somewhat distinctive is that Scots Guards hat with the badge Censored.
    In the TV series wasn't Paddy Mayne left in charge of training the French.
    Where were the French SAS in November 1943.
     
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  11. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Uncle Target,

    From some quick research the French Air Force SAS could be the candidates:
    From: French Air Force - Free French SAS Paratrooper

    It appears the French Army SAS migrated to the UK for training before Normandy: 2nd Parachute Chasseur Regiment - Wikipedia

    Curiously the two French Army SAS units remained under UK command till 2/10/1945. From: THE SPECIAL AIR SERVICE (SAS) DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR

    November 1943 was significant in North Africa as:
    From: Military history of France during World War II

    Perhaps the name SAS is a mistake, as the French had commando units:
    From: above source
     
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  12. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target All life is precious

    Thank you David,
    I'm not sure if its a "Brownie Point" for the Forum or a "silver star" for Bill Beadle but inheriting his letters has led to far more than my father-in-law or Bills relatives could ever have imagined.
    His meeting with a friend, a glider pilot at Catania. Another who was awarded the MC at the Garigliano toether with his stories of Banana Ridge and Anzio are seemingly heading to a new book based on his adventures. Now we have raised the possibility of identifying the unit that he partied with one night in Tunisia is quite incredible.
     
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  13. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Uncle Target,

    I am not an expert on the French Army in North Africa, that aside there were other issues involved. The Vichy French Army was not highly regarded by many Free French, either for their conservative political vies and professionalism. I expect that reduced the number of volunteers from the ex-Vichy army, so the Free French would rely on volunteers from Vichy prisons and their own forces - which were quite small from memory.

    A conventional army was being formed in North Africa, the largest contingents were from the "natives", so the bulk of the French Army that fought in Italy were North Africans (Stolpi covers this in his thread(s) on the French in Italy). I expect this army was THE priority, not special forces - which in the British experience took away "the best and the brightest" especially NCOs and junior officers.

    Bill Deadle's artillery unit, 67th Field Regiment, was doing pre-deployment training in November 1943 and went in early December to Italy - which I am sure you know.
     
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  14. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target All life is precious

    I' not sure how deep you want to go into the French participation in Tunisia but I have in my notes from a colleague regarding Operation Fliederblüte (Lilac) 20/21st April 1943.that the Herman Goering Division had a Company of Vichy French Volunteers in their ranks.
     
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  15. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Tunisia memorial pages with French SAS participant photos:

    TUNISIE – Mémorial des Parachutistes FFL et SAS

    Translation

    "TUNISIA

    SAS operation in Tunisia from December 27th 1942 to February 7th 1943.

    The Tunisian campaign started in November 1942 and ended on May 13th 1943. It was a turning point in the world conflict: after the Allied landing in North Africa, the German-Italian troops sent reinforcements (70,000 men) to occupy Tunisia and face a probable Allied advance towards Europe. After their defeat at El Alamein, General Rommel's troops withdrew to Tunisia.

    The participation of the FFL in the Tunisian campaign, coming from the West of Algeria (1st DFL of General Larminat) or from the South of Libya (Force L of General Leclerc), was of military but also political importance.

    The bulk of the Free French Squadron, many of whom were in training at the Kabret camp, went to Great Britain. Only Captain Jordan and an experienced group, not weakened by the fighting in Libya, were allowed to remain under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Stirling (Legrand, Klein and Harent platoons).

    The SAS entered Tunisia from the south in front of the British 8th Army. Stirling and Captain Jordan's group were ordered to provide information on the German defenses of the Mareth Line, but also to disorganize the communication routes and block the supply lines by commando actions behind the enemy lines".
     
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  16. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Uncle Target,

    That snippet illustrates well how France was divided during most of WW2, especially after May 1940 and one chat room refers to a few hundred French landed on D-Day, whereas 12k were in a Waffen-SS Division. One wonders how the Free French dealt with them then? Perhaps others know more? I am not inclined to proceed further, it could be "rabbit hole".

    There is this intriguing sentence in a recent South African book, Sights, Sounds, Memories: South African Soldier Experiences of the Second World War by Chris Saunders (behind a registration wall):
    From: Sights, Sounds, Memories: South African Soldier Experiences of the Second World War
     
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  17. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

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  18. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target All life is precious

    A History of the 67th Field Regt by Peter Mennell
    March 1943
    The Medjez salient seemed very fragile with troops spread very thinly on the ground.
    Medjez was vital to the Bosche, they seemed determined to take it on the left flank where there was nothing between them and Beja.
    On the right the 2nd North Staffs merged with the Goums but no one ever saw them, they were reputed to get 1000 francs for a head,
    the origin of which was unknown, with it being speechless and unable to proclaim its identity as friend or foe.
     
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  19. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Hi,

    Very interesting. A possibility I guess, but know little about them other than links pointed to. Another pic from the series of Tunisian Army men in long robe-like coats.

    NA 683.jpg NA 683-2.jpg

    Regards ...
     
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  20. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    On the possibility that the French SAS men are mixing with Moroccan Goumiers in attached photo here is an unmarked version of NA685. Unfortunately not the same high quality as the opening group shot in series but still a very interesting photo.

    NA 685.jpg NA 685-2.jpg

    Regards ...
     
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