The planned positions of the 2nd Parachute Brigade

The Fayence Parties, 15/16th August 1944


While the 1st Airborne Task Force had been securing its objectives around Le Muy, the one-third of the 2nd Parachute Brigade which had been dropped in the Fayence area, 10 miles to the North-East, assembled and began to make their way across the difficult, wooded hilly terrain which lay between them and DZ-O. Six main groups emerged; two from the 4th Parachute Battalion and four from the 5th.


The 4th Parachute Battalion


The largest of the 4th Battalion groups consisted of 80 men under Lieutenant-Colonel Coxen, the Battalion Commander, and included half of his Headquarters, half of Support Company, and all of "A" Company except for two sticks which had dropped near Cannes. They made their way South and, after several brushes with enemy patrols, reached Brigade Headquarters at 22:00 that evening, moving on to rejoin the rest of Battalion in the morning.


Of the two "A" Company sticks which had landed near Cannes, 17 men rallied together and headed towards Frejus. On approaching Agay they found that their path was blocked by a strong enemy force, and so had to spend the night on some high ground overlooking two bridges which they prepared for demolition. They made contact with a partisan group on the following day, and two of the paratroopers, dressed in civilian clothes, made their way to Camel Beach where the 36th Infantry Division had come ashore. Here they found Colonel Pearson, the Deputy Commander of the 2nd Parachute Brigade who had accompanied the seaborne troops, and he ordered the remaining men to filter through to the beach in small groups. This they did and, having killed 5 Germans and taking 8 prisoners since landing, the group rejoined the 4th Battalion on the 17th August. By the 20th, all but 9 of the scattered elements of the Battalion had reported in.


The 5th Parachute Battalion


Of the 5th Battalion, only "B" Company had landed on DZ-O, all of the remainder were dropped in the general area of Fayence. These assembled into four groups; "C" Company commanded by Major Hart, "D" Company and a few Americans under Major Blackwood, and two parties from Battalion Headquarters, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Hunter and Lieutenant Holden, the Intelligence Officer.


Hunter decided that he must reach the drop zone as soon as possible, so he and a two-man escort pushed on at what must have been a remarkable pace, reaching Brigade Headquarters by 15:30. Captain Shepherd, the Adjutant, followed in their wake with the rest and arrived shortly before midnight, a few hours behind "C" Company, neither party having met any opposition.


"D" Company


"D" Company had a much more eventful experience, and as they had come down almost 20 miles to the North-East of DZ-O, had considerably further to travel. They set out for Fayence at 08:45, and on reaching the neighbouring village of Tourettes found that it could not be bypassed without exposing themselves to the fire of any enemy who might be there. A patrol found the village to be unoccupied but reported that there were Germans in Fayence, so Major Blackwood ordered his men to enter Tourettes and prepare it for a defence. Some time later, a group of French partisans informed them that there were some wounded paratroopers a mile to the North, one of whom turned out to be Major Dudgeon, the Battalion Second-in-Command. A stretcher party was sent out to collect them and they were left in the care of a Resistance-held hospital.


During the course of the afternoon, "D" Company handed over the village to the partisans and continued South. Shortly after, 15 enemy vehicles were spotted two miles to the West heading in their direction. Major Blackwood ordered an ambush to be laid, but before the convoy could reach them they ran into another ambush further up the road. A patrol went forward to investigate, and returned with the news that a group of 25 Anglo-American paratroopers had ambushed the convoy but were now being hard-pressed by some 70 enemy. While the patrol had been away, Captain Joe McGeever arrived on the scene with 60 men of Headquarters Company of the 3rd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Together they advanced down the road and engaged the Germans with light machine-guns and the two mortars which the Americans had with them. The latter finally forced the enemy to scatter into the surrounding woodland, leaving 10 dead and 4 wounded plus 3 others who had been taken prisoner during the initial ambush.


As the British and Americans cleared the surrounding area, they found a farmhouse containing a separate party of five Americans who had also joined in the fight, amongst whom was Lieutenant-Colonel De Grave, Brigadier-General Frederick's Chief of Staff. Larger groups of the 3rd Battalion arrived over the following hours, and the whole force, now consisting of some 400 men and three of the ambushed trucks which were still serviceable, headed South towards the main Frejus - Le Muy road. Having rested overnight to the North of Bagnols, Major Blackwood's party of 4 officers and 110 men finally rejoined the 5th Battalion during the morning of the 16th August, remarkably without having suffered a single casualty on the way.


Lieutenant Holden's Group


The final group of 20 men of Battalion Headquarters assembled two miles to the North-East of Fayence under the command of Lieutenant Holden, the Intelligence Officer. Progress was slow as several of them had suffered minor injuries on the drop. At 11:00 they met Lieutenant Miller with 10 men of his No.13 Platoon; Miller was also injured and could not walk, so he was left in the care of the French Resistance while Holden led the 30-strong party around the western outskirts of Fayence before halting overnight.


During the following morning, the group were about 5 miles to the North-East of Le Muy when they spotted a convoy of 15 enemy vehicles moving along a track road. They did not know it, but the remainder of the 5th Battalion were already aware of this threat and had despatched Major Hart with 20 men of "C" Company to intercept them. Holden sprang an ambush, wrecking the first four vehicles and killing their drivers. A large body of enemy troops then dismounted and began to work their way towards the British, but were broken up by their fire. Realising that he was heavily outnumbered, Holden withdrew his men to a better position further up the hill, from where they continued to fire on the convoy which by now was attempting to move around the wrecked vehicles. After a particularly heavy exchange of fire, the remaining Germans fled into the surrounding woodland, leaving 7 dead, 7 prisoners and 11 vehicles. Holden's men put a truck and two staff cars into a serviceable state and drove them to Bagnols with their prisoners, thereafter rejoining the Battalion.


Major Hart's party arrived shortly after, but found only the German dead and abandoned vehicles. They carried out a search of the surrounding area and found 12 survivors of the ambush in a nearby farm. Hart's men attacked them and took two prisoners, but the remainder scattered into the woods.