BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

Operation Loyton

by langleybury

You are browsing in:

Archive List > World > France

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Anthony "Andy" Whately-Smith
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 December 2005


His younger brother thinks the main reason he joined the SAS was that he didn't want to be stuck behind a desk.

At 3am on the morning of September 1, 1944 he parachuted from 1100 feet with the main party of 2nd SAS into the Vosges Mountains near Baccarat in eastern France as part of Operation Loyton. They had flown from Fairford aerodrome, Gloucestershire and were received at the drop zone by Capt Druce plus a large number of Frenchmen making an unbelievable noise. After about 90 minutes there was considerable shouting and shooting. It transpired that it was caused by Russian members of the Maquis who spoke only German and were mistaken for enemy. An escaping French prisoner snatching a stengun had sparked the problem. On capture, he was shot. Additionally, one Russian had eaten a stick of plastic explosive and died noisily, another was wounded in the mêlée and a Frenchman died from over eating.

At daybreak Capt Druce led a party including Andy which crossed the Veney to Bertrichamps road. Most of the packs were too heavy so they shed surplus material. By nightfall they were above Celles, crossed the valley and slept in the wood. It was becoming hard to sleep without a sleeping bag. Henry Druce and party met up with Colonel Franks on the 3rd. On September 4 Henry met Myrhiam Le Rolland in Pierre-Percée (See Mme Le Rolland diary). Franks’ and Druce’s parties arrived at the new base camp near Pierre-Percée on September 5 after marching all night. That night they received an arms drop. On September 6, Franks had sent Henry and Andy to the drop zone near Neufmaisons to receive Major Denis Reynolds and party before dawn on September 7. Fog came down after the first plane had dropped its troops, including Reynolds. Three members in the second plane failed to rendezvous and were subsequently taken prisoner in a farmhouse on September 16 as one broke his thigh on landing and the others remained with him. They were shot three days later by the Gestapo.

On September 8 a party of 150 Germans found some of the parachutes from Major Reynolds’ party. The next day, Col Franks sent Andy, his adjutant, on reconnaissance with Denis Reynolds for a new base area. At 11am about four lorry loads of Germans, about 120, arrived, firing on the quartermaster who was just leaving the secondary supply dump. Franks’ party withdrew. While separated from the main party, Andy and Denis were attacked by a German patrol. During the engagement, Denis was wounded in the left forearm and for this reason they were unable to rendezvous as planned. On September 10 a broadcast was sent to Andy and Denis to rendezvous at a map reference and on September 11 Franks sent Sgt Major White to the rendezvous.

Andy and Denis sought sanctuary and from the afternoon of September 10 until October 30 were looked after by a Parisian couple, Freddy and Myrhiam Le Rolland, who had retired to Pierre-Percée. Myrhiam had been a head nurse for 25 years in Paris hospitals. They kept a diary which they rewrote in 1947. She managed to arrest the gangrene and would have performed an amputation if necessary. The Le Rollands hid them in a secluded cavern, within walking distance and provided for them. They loved them as two sons. When Denis Reynolds was better, on one occasion, the two successfully attacked German transport between Raon L'Etape and Celles sur Plaine.

The main SAS party made several attempts to reach them. On September 28 Franks and Capt Sykes set off for Pierre-Percée about midday to try and contact Denis whom he had heard was at a farm in that area but they were ambushed and had to turn back but not before killing at least one German. On October 8 Franks went with his party to the Celles valley and tried unsuccessfully to contact Denis as they had both managed to exchange messages earlier. On October 11 Franks’ party left for the American lines.

Andy and Denis tried to cross at Bertrichamps. Soon afterwards Freddy put them in touch with a guide but when money was mentioned, Andy and Denis hesitated. This guide knew the region well and crossed the lines. Freddy got word to Franks via a forest warden, M Cherrier (see page 194 of Four Studies in Loyalty by Christopher Sykes), as to their whereabouts. It was by this means that Franks told them to lie low and await arrival of the Americans. In their haste to fight they wanted to make a new attempt.

They set off at 5pm on October 30. A Mme Le Blanc of Raon L’Etape elected to take them a safe way, avoiding the German posts, to reach Raon L’Etape which was then almost the front line. She had helped Cpl Kubiski, Pvts Perrin and Daines, who were members of Loyton, about two weeks earlier. They took the main road and were captured outside the Wehrmacht unit HQ at La Trouche the same day. She feigned hysterics to draw attention from them to her but they refused to escape leaving her to her fate.

At dawn next day the Germans banged on the Le Rolland's door with a rifle demanding the whereabouts of the English. Freddy was arrested and taken to Celles for questioning. Later that morning, Andy and Denis were brought in and saw Freddy. Meantime Myrhiam was thrown out of her house and her home was looted by the Germans.

They were taken to Allarmont where Freddy was separated from Andy and Denis so that they could not communicate. He was treated brutally but Andy intervened and was thereafter treated better. Freddy was moved to Cirey, via Badonviller. On arrival he found Mme Le Blanc already there. Andy and Denis were detained with him at Cirey where the security police of Einsatz Kommando (Task Force) Pullmer was based. The task forces were death squads. Andy's impression was that Mme Le Blanc had given them up intentionally by throwing them into the arms of the enemy as she well knew that the roads were guarded. They were often interrogated about a notebook found on them. Denis had suffered as they stood on his stomach to make him speak. Andy said he got word from the Cirey commandant that Freddy should not be shot. He told Freddy he thought he and Denis would be sent to an English POW camp until the end of the war. They were often interrogated about a notebook found on them. On November 4 they arrived at Schirmeck Gestapo prison camp and placed in the cells. Freddy had not accompanied them.

A phone call was received that day that Andy and Denis were to be shot immediately and that interrogation had to be carried out that day or not at all. This order was not carried out. Denis remained until the camp’s evacuation but Andy was collected for interrogation on November 5 by SS Sturmscharführer Schossig, on behalf of Dr Ernst, and taken to his HQ at Maison Barthlemy, Saales (see page 87 on Missing Parachutists). A piece of paper to this effect was later recovered (see page 44 of Missing Parachutists). Independent witnesses Armand Souchals and Mme Claudel confirmed that he was severely beaten there (see page 19 of Interim Report). He was detained in the Gestapo building until returned to Schirmeck. Dr Ernst, ambitious and of considerable ability, had succeeded in establishing a unique position for himself as the authority on the SAS. Dr Isselhorst, commander of the Security Police in the Alsace, acted on the interrogation reports of Kommandoführer Dr Ernst (see pages 3 and 4 of Karl Buck’s war crimes trial). There was a secret order from the R.S.H.A., the authority to which the BDS (the Security Police) reported, that parachute troops captured outside the actual zone of ground operations should be shot.

Abbé Hett, a prisoner at Schirmeck and Rotenfels, said that Denis was so severely beaten that bones became visible. Denis told him he would not have thought it possible for the body to withstand such pain without death occurring. Neuschwanger and Weber were the principal camp beaters.

It is ironic that had Andy and Denis waited a few days they would have met up with the advancing Americans, Baccarat and Bertrichamps having been liberated on October 31.

Freddy, was transferred to Schirmeck camp on the evening of November 13 as Cirey was under intense bombardment. An American Red Cross official saw Andy and Denis on November 13. Some days later, Freddy got word that Andy and Denis were in Schirmeck Gestapo prison camp too. He managed to see them together with another SAS officer, probably Lt David Dill. They planned to return to Pierre-Percée to celebrate liberation. The sentries had withdrawn from the watchtowers as the Germans were in retreat. At 11pm all prisoners were gathered in the entertainment hall to be counted. It was then that they could have made an escape had they realised how few Germans were guarding them. They were piled into lorries. After a frightful journey, Freddy ended up in Niederbühl camp but noticed that neither Andy nor Denis were there.

He remained until December 8 when he was transferred to Gaggenau, presumably Rotenfels camp, where metalworkers were needed. The final evacuation of Schirmeck camp was decided before the middle of November. According to Karl Buck, its camp commandant, Dr Isselhorst (commander of BDS Alsace, meaning the Security Police and Security Service in Alsace) visited him, giving verbal orders. These orders included the instruction to shoot the 10 English and American prisoners still confined in the cells. Either through fear of leaving fresh traces of a crime, or because in the confusion of organising the move across the Rhine there was no opportunity, the order was not carried out at Schirmeck.

Buck meanwhile had left for his temporary HQ at Oberweier. On the night of November 22/23, the last convoy left under Oberwachtmeister Muth. The remaining male prisoners and all 10 British and American were included in the party. A few hours afterwards, the first American troops entered the town. Freddy had been told that several men escaped by cutting the canvas and jumping out but Andy remained with Denis who was helpless because of his wound.

At 6 o’clock in the morning the convoy passed through Strasbourg, which town was occupied by the Americans before noon that day, and arrived at Rotenfels security camp three hours later. Some of the guards from Schirmeck had transferred there also. Gaggenau and Rotenfels were almost contiguous villages. David Dill’s mother found Gaggenau to be an unattractive industrial town, very much bombed when she went to visit her son’s grave, then in the town’s cemetery. The camp was situated close to the Mercedes Benz factory as a source of cheap labour when taken over in July 1944. The factory produced lorries for the German army. As there were no cells at Rotenfels, 9 of the Allied prisoners of war were confined in hut three, where they were seen by a number of witnesses. Lt Dill was in hut one.

On the morning of November 25, Karl Buck visited the camp and ordered the Lagerkommandant Wünsch to arrange for the execution of the English and American prisoners. Wünsch passed this order to the Police Lieutenant of the camp, Nussberger. According to Maurice Lesoil, a fellow prisoner with Andy and Denis in Rotenfels, Andy was the one who had courage and faith in the final victory despite the human wrecks around him.

On the afternoon of November 25, Andy and Denis together with 12 others were taken by truck to the wood behind the Mercedes Benz factory, shot and buried in a bomb crater. Details of what happened are on page 15 of the Interim Report attached. Four of those shot were French civilians of which three were priests, six were members of 2nd SAS and four were American airmen. They were not properly buried until May 13, 1945 when interred in the Gaggenau town cemetery under the auspices of the French. The war had ended about two weeks earlier. Andy was finally buried at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Durnbach. Karl Buck and ten of the staff at Rotenfels camp were charged with killing all 14 by the British Military Court, Wuppertal, Germany on May 6-10, 1946. 5 were sentenced to death by shooting, 5 were sentenced to periods of imprisonment from 2-10 years and one was found not guilty. Of those convicted, Wachtmeister Ostertag, Zugwachtmeister Ulrich and Oberwachtmeister Neuschwanger confessed to participating in the shooting.

The aim of Operation Loyton had been to attack enemy road and rail communications in the eastern frontier area of France. In addition it was to harass soft transport on the road network complementary to the railways. It had been hoped to mount this operation shortly before or immediately after D-Day when the area was relatively lightly held by enemy forces. In France were many areas of partisan activity which would distract enemy attention from the presence of SAS troops in so sensitive a position astride their main communications with the Germany.

By the time Capt Druce’s recce party dropped on the night of August 12/13, the Normandy beachhead had expanded to the Loire and the Germans were having the conviction forced upon them that a far reaching retreat was inevitable. The difficulties encountered by Capt Druce, whose chief preoccupation soon after dropping was to avoid enemy patrols searching the district and the further hindrance of the loss of his wireless sets, delayed reinforcements a further nineteen vital days. By the time Andy landed on September 1, the Germans had abandoned all hope of a stand on the Marne and it seemed extremely likely that the difficulties of the Vosges terrain, coupled with the sentimental consideration of the incorporation of Alsace and Lorraine in Germany, indicated that a considerable stiffening of resistance would occur on the western slopes of the Vosges.

It was difficult to maintain a base on the back stage of a battle in an area where ordinary security forces were augmented by B echelon and reserve troops of the enemy’s battle line. Two days after Denis Reynolds’ party arrived, the story became one of constant moves, of German search parties, food shortages and German reprisals. Nevertheless, the parties sent out were able to do considerable damage and kept a large number of troops occupied. On October 9, with winter approaching in that inhospitable area being prepared by the Germans as an alternative front line, Col Franks decided to order his parties to cross to the American lines independently. Of about 92 participating in the operation, 2 were killed in action, 29 were captured of whom 28 were shot. Only Sgt Seymour, the first member of Loyton captured, returned alive.

Capt Christopher Sykes wrote about Operation Loyton from the interplay of character and situation in the town of Moussey in his book entitled ‘Four Studies in Loyalty.’ Once they received their jeeps, with their heavy machine-guns and most of their reinforcements, the SAS could go on to an attacking rôle. The purpose was to make widely dispersed attacks on German convoys, to pose as a forward thrust of the main army, to cause panic and disorganisation among the Germans, and thus ease the task of the American Army in their advance to the Rhine. This plan was doomed to failure on two counts: a) because of the small number of roads in the Vosgian glens and b) a major supply problem had arisen for the Allied Armies, following on their rapid advance to the Moselle which delayed their attack till winter. Of this the members of Loyton knew nothing.

Brian Franks, his commanding officer, said that Andy was not only one of the ablest but also one of the most popular officers. The Chairman of the Vacuum Oil Company, his employer, said he was a young man of outstanding character and ability. He said Andy volunteered for the task through which he met his death. After a parachute drop behind enemy lines, he was eventually captured. On at least two occasions he scorned opportunities to escape because to do so would have meant leaving his wounded brother officer and a French woman who had befriended them.
He added that a young life of great promise was now closed.

Karl Buck and 10 others were tried at the British Military Court, Wuppertal, Germany on May 6-10, 1946. In the early 1960s, Andy's surviving 2 brothers shared £1000 given by the West German government (Germany was still divided as West and East) to the next of kin of victims of Nazi persecution. Peter bought a small fibreglass yacht with his share. He sold this when aged about 80 with great reluctance when no longer able to sail.

Major Anthony Whately-Smith 113612
d 25th. November 1944 Age 29
2nd. Special Air Service Regiment

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

France Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy