Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wallace and Hardy

Last week I wrote about the battle of Galatas, and the actions of a MKVIB tank commander called Lieutenant Roy Farran, when we left him Lt Farran was in a hospital in Crete which had just been over run by the Germans and Lt Farran made a prisoner of war. He was moved from the makeshift field hospital to a dedicated POW hospital at Athens, which he promptly started trying to escape from. After several failures Lt Farran successfully made it out by crawling under the wire. He linked up with a group of other British and Commonwealth soldiers and after taking a loan of money from the Greeks, hired a small open topped boat and set out to cross the Mediterranean. Blown off course by storms, running out of water, and a soldier going mad with thirst were some of the issues that Lt Farran had to face. However after nine days the boat was rescued by a British destroyer. Lt Farran had a bar awarded to the Military Cross he won during the fighting at Crete.
Lt Farran is the one sitting in the Jeep.
The next few years saw Lt Farran in several roles and eventually he was wounded and returned to the UK. However he was back in the desert in February 1943, where he met an officer by the name of Lieutenant Colonel Bill Stirling.
Lt Col Stirling was the brother of the founder of the SAS, and after training Farran joined 2 SAS, and was in action getting a second bar to his Military Cross.

By now the second front was well under way, and the Germans were being pushed back across France. The SAS saw an opportunity for raiding and mayhem on a grand scale and hampering the German war efforts. Farran, by now a Major, was landed at Rennes with sixty men and twenty Jeeps. These formed the core of Operation Wallace. They set off overland to link up with Operation Hardy, which had been dropped into the Chatillon forest area to set up a supply base to operate the Jeeps out of. 
The long overland trek had several hair raising moments including a German ambush which led to a fierce firefight lasting about an hour. At one point the Germans rushed the Jeep column, despite taking heavy casualties they made it into the British positions. Eventually the Jeeps withdrew. They had to drive very slowly along dry dirt roads lest the columns of dust kicked up alerted the Germans to their location. Days later as they approached the forest the column halted near a railway line. Suddenly a train heaved into sight. Major Farran ordered the train to be taken under fire. The engine was shredded by the columns Vickers K guns. These were lightweight guns used on aircraft, and so had a ferocious rate of fire. The train leaking steam shuddered to a halt. The SAS men engaged the German troops in the rear of the train while the French driver and stoker bailed out the front. After the Germans had been dealt with the French civilians stood talking to the SAS men as they watched the train burn.
After several raids including hitting a column of fuel trucks that burnt with some vigour Maj Farran and several of his offers were invited to a meal with the local Maquis Commander. Intelligence had been received by the French that the local German forces were changing units, and as such the local garrison was reduced to only 150 men. The Maquis promised 500 men to help with an attack. The attack was to be launched the next day, August the 30th 1944.

The plan was simple, place patrols at the two main crossroads in the area, then capture every crossroad heading to the market square. Then a group would form a blocking force to stop Germans attacking from the Château which was the garrison HQ. While all this was going on the forces single 3" mortar would bombard the château, then when the 500 Maquis would move in and help secure the town.
At about 0700 the mortar started firing the first of the 48 shells it would fire that day. The blocking force began to rake the Château's north side with Bren Gun fire. About fifteen minutes later a large column of German trucks approached the Montbard-Dijon Cross roads, which were in British hands. Sitting in the middle of the crossroads was a single SAS Jeep. The Germans obviously didn't recognise it as hostile, thinking that the local Maquis didn't have transport and so approached. When the column was within 20 yards the gunners on the Jeep opened fire. The hail of .303 set the first two trucks on fire, which as it happens were carrying ammunition. The detonation was such that a motorcycle with sidecar still on the bridge crashed through the barrier into the stream below. The SAS men, including Major Farran who was armed with a Bren Gun now opened up on the rest of the column causing heavy casualties. The battle raged for the rest of the morning with firing coming from all three sides of the town. Major Farran describes one memory he had of the fight:
"A pretty girl with long black hair wearing a bright red frock put her head out of a top window to give me a "V" Sign. Her smile ridiculed the bullets."
Other French civilians were doing what they could for the very few SAS causalities. However by mid morning the Germans began a serious push towards the town centre from the Château. The column that had been ambushed towards Montbard was also becoming more organised and bringing up reinforcements. The Maquis hadn't shown up, so Major Farran decided it was time to leave. He walked into the middle of the road, paused to wave to the French lady, and fired off two Very flares, the signal to withdraw.
There were further firefights throughout the rest of the day, across the surrounding countryside, including a second assault on the town itself, when a party of seven SAS men led 60 Maquis, who had been found waiting near by. However they came under an attack from a large force of Germans. Despite destroying the Germans armoured car they had to withdraw. Equally the war was not over for Major Farran, he fought back in Italy, including one operation where he'd been ordered to command his troops from the rear areas. He convinced the aircrew of the plane he was in to say he'd fallen out, then jumped with the rest of his men. He then raised a mixed force of British Italian partisans and freed Russian prisoners of war and led them in action in Italy.

After the war he was stationed at Palestine, where Jewish terrorists tried to frame him for the murder of a youth, by claiming the hat found at the scene of the crime had Farran's name tag on it. He was placed under arrest, despite an alibi, so he escaped to argue his cause to his superiors, then returned and was arrested again. Once again he escaped, but returned for his trial. At his trial a combination of lack of a body, Major Farran's alibi, and the fact all the eyewitnesses couldn't identify Major Farran in an ID parade meant he was acquitted.
The Jewish terrorists didn't take kindly to this, and Major Farran's younger brother was killed by a letter bomb sent to his home address.

After this Roy Farran led a full life living in Rhodesia and the UK before settling in Alberta Canada, where he became involved in politics. In 1996, aged 75 Roy Farran travelled to Zambia to follow the path of a cattle drive by one of his brothers just after the end of the war. During this he was held up by some rebels, and had a fight with a lion. As Roy Farran lived to the age of 85, I think we can assume he won both times.

Image credits:
www.m201.com, www.nevingtonwarmuseum.com, www.defensemedianetwork.com and www.my-crete-site.co.uk