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Operation Hardtack 28

On Christmas Day in 1943 Captain P. Ayton, Lieutenant L. Hulot, Sergeant D. Roberts, Corporal J. Hourcourighary, Corporal M. Roux, and Corporal Allain undertook the only Allied raid on Jersey “Operation Hardtack 28”. The plan was simple, land, gather intelligence and capture and bring home a German soldier for interrogation. Captain Ayton had not been detailed to lead this raid, the officer who had been was married with a family and as Captain Ayton had just returned from leave he volunteered so that the officer detailed could spend Christmas with his family.

"Hardtack" was the name of a series of Allied Commando raids during the Second World War. The operations were mostly conducted by No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando, No. 12 Commando and the Special Boat Service. They all took place on German-occupied territory in the Channel Islands and the French coast. Most of the raids consisted of ten men teams of various ranks, carried by Motor Gun Boats and dories, except for one operation, which was an airborne landing. The debrief documentation from Hardtack 28 states six men, one British officer (Ayton) One French Officer (Hulot) and four other ranks made up the raiding party. 

The Commando team planned to land at Giffard Bay on Jersey's North coast. This landing location was changed days before the operation to Petit Port. This may have been to do with RAF reconnaissance flights spotting a heavy German defence above Giffard Bay. The below German 1943 maps show the resistance nest above named Jasmin. If the commandos were spotted by the enemy at Jasmin or Bonne Nuit Fort the enemy machine guns positions and mortars would have been devastating.

The Naval boats assigned to this mission were code-named “Force 113”, and the Commando Team were assigned to MGB 329 (Motor Gun Boat photo below). Leaving Dartmouth, Force 113 moved to a holding position just half of a mile from Petit Port. The team disembarked MGB 329 and used a dory (small rowboat) to reach the Jersey shore. Communications to Force 113 could only be made by Torchlight.  At 20:45 on 25th of December 1943 the team landed at Petit Port. The enemy forces did not pick up this incursion. 

At  Petit Port one of the team hid the Dory and remained close to it under cover, the rest of the team made there way up from the beach to the hillside. The first stop for the team was at a small stone building, known now as the “Wolfs Lair”, which had a joined corrugated iron shack for storage. A search of both areas was done, and both sites were empty and had no signs of any recent enemy activity. 

They continued up the into the valley until they reached a wire obstacle about 3 feet high running parallel to the beech for about 200 yards. Here they discovered the first evidence of the German occupation, using their torches they light up a notice facing inland, in red text on white, “Achtung Minen”. The photo's below are of some of the signs from the occupation. The Germans had close to 100 minefields laid on Jersey and had deployed just under 70,000 mines.  

The team proceeded toward the hamlet of Egypt and visited the first house they came to. The windows of this property were broken and there were no signs of recent use. Captain Ayton decided to make a detour avoiding the village and found another notice, which stated in red on white, “MILITARY ZONE - ENTRY TO CIVILIANS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN” both in English and German. 

The team then moved across the countryside towards the observation post (documented on the map as 773819) but known as the M5 Army Observation Bunker. They moved very quietly, keeping a sharp lookout for wire obstacles and mines. As the team arrived at the M5 bunker they noted that it was heavily camouflaged and consisted of a mound with two entrances on the landward side. With no enemy, presence observed they entered the bunker to find it was locked and abandoned. On the seaward side, there was what appeared to be a pillbox under the netting with a loophole facing North. They found there were several slit trenches by the observation post which were in poor condition with no active tracks.

With intelligence indicating an occupation force of 10,000 Germans on Jersey, an island 9miles by 5 miles, there must have been a fair bit of confusion between the commandos on why the team had not met any enemy resistance yet. The Commandos decided to leave the bunkers and go inland via the road. In the hope that they would meet an enemy patrol. As they neared the closest farm "La Geonnière" (pictured below) it looked to be lived in so they advanced and knocked loudly on the door. After about 20 minutes a frightened woman opened the window on the first floor and in English they asked her if she could tell them the whereabouts of the Germans, her response was shouted back in German! She believed the team to be Germans trying to trick her. The team had not realised that the area they were in was actually a German training area and as such was not actively manned. Responding to the Commandos using her best German swear words she indicated to them that she was not going to help them this evening. To be clear she had no idea these were British and French troops and the unfriendly welcome was because she believed them to be Germans trying to trick her.  

After this welcome, the team moved to the east towards the farm Les Champs du Chemin (773812 on the map). They knocked loudly at the door, and after a few minutes Hedley Le Breton came to open the door, but he was so frightened that he could not speak, the sight of these Commandos with submachine guns, blackened faces was just too much for him.  His brother John soon came to the door, and he was also very frightened. Captain Ayton and Lt Hulot managed to calm them down and found that they could speak both French and English. The brothers soon relaxed when they were certain this was not a German trap. They agree to give an interview and prepared glasses of milk for all of the Commandos.

 

Below are the Le Breton Brothers and a write up of the Interview they gave. 

At the end of the interview, the brothers offered to assist the team and take them to the nearest enemy strongpoint. Being farmers in this area they knew where the Germans had minefields. The brothers guided the team across fields to the eastern edge of the German resistance nest Jasmin. They were within sight of the barbed wire at 772815 and Captain Ayton and Holt then went on alone and arrived at what was thought to be a minefield. Captain Ayton investigated further and single wire antennae about 10’’ high sticking out of the ground at intervals of about a yard in staggered rows were found. They tried to wriggle one of the antennae very gently without effect. The team then looked around and saw no sign of a sentry and could not find an easy entry into the resistance nest. As they only had 45 minutes left to make their way back to the beach, it was decided to return by the way they had come - avoiding the actual path for fear of mines and abandoning the search for a prisoner.

 

At 0445 hours, they reached Petit Port but the dory was not there so the team moved northward along the cliff to look for it, flashing a torch for 15 minutes to attract the attention of the dory. At about 778820 (on the map) they came to a three-strand cattle fence which extended down the cliff. Captain Ayton crawled under the fence. Suddenly, there was a vivid red flash which lit up the whole area and a loud explosion. Lt Hulot first thought that a German Patrol had found them and proceeded cautiously forward but saw no one and soon realised that Captain Ayton had trodden on a mine. At first the Commandos could not find him and searched the cliff side. Then they heard a faint cry for help and found him lying badly wounded on the cliff side with his foot entangled in some brambles, which probably prevented him from falling down the cliff.

The team had no time to examine the improvised minefield as the chances that an enemy patrol would come along to investigate the explosion was very high. One very small fragment from the mine was recovered and brought back. At this point, the faint sound of the MGB alerted the team to its position, which was now just 400 yards from the shore. The team started to flash the torch again and the MGB answered the signal sending the dory back to collect the team. After much difficulty, they managed to get Captain Ayton down the cliff and finally re-embarked in the dory at about 0520 hours.

 

Although they had waited for the dory for about half an hour after the explosion, there was no enemy reaction whatever. Captain Ayton died later that day.

 

Despite the tragic loss of Captain Ayton, the operation was a success, they had gathered valuable samples of barbed wire, gathered important intelligence on the strength of the enemy forces and thanks to the brave Le Breton brothers a detailed interview was brought home.  

 

Soon after Hardtack 28, the raids were ended by order of Major General Robert Laycock, because they caused the enemy to bring reinforcements, which would have been detrimental to the invasion of German-occupied France.

 

Below are the official plans of the raid.

 

As we were finishing writing up this story we received an amazing email from Julian. An extract below.“My interest in Operation Hardtack 28 dates to a year and a half ago, when my Uncle Alan (visiting Canada from Portsmouth) gave me a Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife. As the story goes, my dad Bernard, who grew up under German occupation along with his four siblings, found this knife in some bushes off the shore in Trinity while exploring with some friends when he was 12 years old, in February 1945, a few months prior to liberation. He held onto it for 10 years, never telling his parents. Upon leaving for Canada in 1955 at 22 years old, he presented it to his younger brother Alan to take care of. Alan held onto it for another 60 years and then brought it over to me in late 2015. As this knife, did not go into production until seven months after the occupation of Jersey, the assumption has been made that it could only be there as a remnant of Operation Hardtack. The knife in my possession has been verified as an early model (1941-1942) and my suspicion is that it belonged to Captain Ayton and was lost after his fatal step on the mine.”

This indeed appears to be a knife from the raid and potentially could have been dropped by any of the commandos during the rescue of Captain Ayton or even Ayton’s Knife. The pictures of the knife are courtesy of. Julian and we would like to thank him for sharing his family story. ​

Captain Philip Ayton

 

Philip Ayton was born in the Edmonton area in 1921 to Sydney Harry Ayton and Elsie Alice (nee Foster). He had 3 brothers, Sydney, Clive and Peter. He was a Captain (Service No 184637) in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Special Boat Service. Captain Ayton is buried in Dartmouth (Longcross) Cemetery, Devon Sec.G Grave 136

 

Lieutenant Léopold-Hyacinte Hulot

 

Léopold Hulot was born in 1923 in Vannes, France. At the age of 18 he decided to leave his profession as a teacher and join the French Free Forces (FFL) in England. It took more than a year to arrive in London with his journey taking him through Spain where he is detained at the Franco-Miranda concentration camp. This is where the Republican prisoners were incarcerated, but also the foreigners who crossed the border. Léopold pretends to be a Canadian, which means that he is deported to Gibraltar, from where he leaves for London. He then joins Number 10 Commando. On D-Day he lands at Sword Beach, after three days of fighting he is evacuated to England for treatment of 7 bullets wounds to his legs. After recovery, he fights in Holland then Germany.  After the war, he spent a few months in Germany, while the country was occupied by the Allied forces. He was promoted Knight of the Legion of Honor on August 6, 1946. He joined a unit of the Army and volunteered for the Indo-China War, where he died in action on September 27, 1948, at the age of 25 years. He is buried in the military cemetery of Sainte-Anne-d’Auray. 

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Special thanks go out to the following groups for their sources of information and help with this educational remembrance page.

 

 

Jersey Heritage 

Channel Islands Occupation Society (C.I.O.S)

Memorial National Des Marins

Biographies et Histoire de la Marine française

National Archive at Kew 

Das Bundesarchiv

Russian Federal Archive

Washington Archives

Commando Veterans Archive

Commonwealth War Graves Commission 

 

This page is dedicated to the Commandos of WW2