Operation Bulbasket

06/06/1944 - 24/07/1944

Operation Bulbasket was carried out by B Squadron, 1st Special Air Service Regiment in occupied France from June to late July 1944. Allegedly, the name for the Operation was taken from Captain John Tonkin's nickname. Known for ambitious missions behind enemy lines, Tonkin's colleagues had teased him with the title of "Bullshitting Basket". Prior to the Operation, B Squadron was moved to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire; Paddy Mayne told the men that no one was leaving the camp except by plane to France. 

Operating in the Vienne Department in the southwest region of France, the Squadron was deployed to harass and prevent German reinforcements from reaching the allied landing zones in Normandy. Its principal task was to destroy road and rail links and perform hit and run operations against German troops, preventing the 2nd SS Panzer Division ('Das Reich') from reinforcing the Germans in Normandy. SHAEF predicted that the division could reach the beaches of Normany within 3 days and thus they had to be slowed down. The SAS targets were the railway Limoges-Vierzon and the railway Poitiers-Tours, although in the end the Maquis of the French Resistance took greater responsibility for the former. The Maquis were rural guerrillas who had taken to the countryside to avoid conscription by the Germans. Whilst they initially consisted of large numbers of French Communists, by D-Day it was estimated that only 5 percent of them were believers in the ideology. Tonkin's opinion of them was described by the historian Paul McCue:

"The British viewed the Maquis as rather disorganized, exotic and somewhat bloodthirsty, impatient to get to grips with the enemy. But Tonkin, in unfamiliar country and with no knowledge of the language, quickly decided that the only sensible approach was to trust the Maquis in almost everything". 

Captain John Tonkin and 2nd Lt Richard Crisp were given the chance to choose from special SOE equipment - including edible paper and pens with 'invisible' ink. Tonkin also had large buttons on his battledress which each contained a tiny compass. They were to be the first two men to drop in, 250 miles into occupied France. They were taken to a mansion called Hassells Hall near RAF Tempsford, subsequently flying aboard a Halifax of 'B' Flight, 161 Special Duties Squadron, a few hours before the main D-Day invasion in Overlord on the morning of June 6. On the night of June 6/7, the Maquis cut the Limoges-Vierzon line in 57 places. On June 7, Tonkin and Crisp were reinforced by 9 men. Crucially, however, the Eureka ground based transponder had been lost, which meant from then on the supply dropping aircraft could not find their way unless they had the moon to guide them. 

On the morning of 10 June, as Tonkin recalled: "a small, very frightened and therefore highly courageous French civilian (I think he was a railway employee) arrived...he told us that there were eleven petrol trains on a well camouflaged and heavily guarded series of sidings about a kilometre south-west of Chatellerault". Lieutenant Tomos Stephens - known as "Twm" by his initials" - was sent by Tonkin on a heroic bike ride over 100 kilometres to ascertain the truth behind this sighting. Tonkin described his reaction: "Twm looked the part of a young French farmer, but was more than a bit caustic about riding the bike". 

The operation included 55 men at its greatest extent, including SAS, SOE and French resistance.It initially had a devastating impact, including the destruction of several petrol tankers at Chatellerault which delayed the advance of the 2nd SS Panzer division to Normandy. 

Eventually, however, the Germans discovered the operating base from which the SAS conducted their missions near Verrieres. During the resulting battle 34 SAS soldiers were captured and later executed along with seven members of the French Resistance (known as Maquisards) and a USAF pilot. Captain John Tonkin, CO of B Squadron, only survived because he was away from Verrieres searching for a new camp at the time of the German attack. He continued with the mission along with 8 survivors of the attack and 3 others until July 24, when they were ordered to stand down. The survivors were extracted on 6 and 7 August. 

Those killed on this operation included:

Private Michael Joseph Brophy

Private Ronald Guard 

Private Harry Hill

Private George Oliver Cogger 

Corporal William Allan

Private Leslie Ronald Eades

Corporal John Kinnivane

Private James Aspin

Lance Corporal James Henry Malcolm Baker

Corporal Reginald Chick 

Lieutenant Richard Crisp

Corporal James Chisholm Wilson Govan

Sergeant Robert Eric Heavens 

Corporal Leslie Charles Long

Private Donald Phillips

Private William E L Richardson

Private Eric George Simmons

Private Anthony John Spooner

Private Edward Young Adamson

Private Alan George Ashley

Corporal Kenneth Bateman

Sergeant Douglas Eccles

Private David Gray

Private Donald Macphail Livingstone

Private Henry Mullen

Private Sidney Jack Ryland

Private Victor Owen White

Lance Sergeant John Russell Jessiman

Private Alexander McLeod

Private Gordon H F Budden

Trooper Jospeh Ogg

John RB Williams

Henry J Pascoe

A USAF 2nd Lieutenant was also killed after being captured with the men from Bulbasket:

Lincoln D Bundy 

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