National Archives catalogue number WO 193/798.
J / Junct
Central Landing Establishment
Central Landing Establishment,
Royal Air Force,
14th. March. 1941.
REPORT ON COLOSSUS OPERATION.
I have the honour to submit the following report in connection with the above operation, which is additional to that submitted by the Operation Controller immediately upon his return to U.K. (See Appendix "A").
1. This report is the considered opinion of the combined staff of the Central Landing Establishment who were made responsible for all the preparations. As the task was the first of its kind, it will be appreciated that a large number of problems would arise, many of which may be obviated in the planning of future operations of a similar character.
2. The time factor was of vital importance owing to:
(i) The need for taking advantage of moonlight conditions.
(ii) The need for the aircraft to be returned to normal operations with a minimum of delay.
3. So much work covering a wide variety of subjects had to be carried out in a comparatively brief space of time that, with no precedent for guidance, a great deal of improvisation had to be effected. In this connection the Contractors and Station Engineering Staff, by close co-operation made it possible to complete the work in the limited time available.
4. Severe criticism might be made of numerous matters in connection with this operation, but the valuable lessons to be learnt for future guidance offer more profitable food for thought. In an endeavour to present these lessons in a lucid form the various matters have been dealt with under the following headings:-
(a) The Object of the Operation.
(b) Policy Decision and Availability of Forces.
(c) Selection of Target.
(d) Responsibility for Execution.
(e) Organization and Administration.
(f) Technical Requirements.
(g) Training of Personnel.
(h) Narrative of Events.
(j) Conclusions and Recommendations.
THE OBJECT OF THE OPERATION.
5. To land a party of specially trained parachutists in the South of Italy for the purpose of blowing up an important bridge.
POLICY DECISIONS AND AVAILABILITY OF FORCES.
6. The policy decisions in regard to operations of this kind are doubtless taken at a high level and based upon specially important political or tactical conditions existing at the time. In such circumstances it is respectfully submitted that suitable aircraft and crews should be made available immediately. On this occasion delay was caused and the operation made more complicated by the selection of Bombay and Whitley aircraft. The use of such a mixed flight would have made modification, provision of special gear and equipment, and the training of pilots and paratroops impossible in the time allowed. This was subsequently altered as a result of representations made by the C.L.E., and 8 Whitley Mark V aircraft were then allocated. It is absolutely essential that sufficient time should be allowed for modifications and other preparatory work on an operation of this nature.
7. If practicable, it is strongly recommended that one type of aircraft should be selected and decided upon as being the most suitable for the purpose, so that necessary modifications and equipment can be established on a standardised scale, as otherwise a great amount of disorganisation and disruption of war effort will result.
SELECTION OF TARGET.
8. Taking into consideration the influencing factor referred to in the opening sentence of paragraph 6, it is considered that the target selected for this first operation presented exceptional difficulties in view of the limited time available for training. The aircraft crews were insufficiently trained in the particular kind of work required of them, and the task of dropping men at a pin point in a valley from which the hills on either side rose above the altitude at which it was necessary for the aircraft to fly, demanded a high degree of skill and concentration. Undoubtedly much more time and attention needs to paid to the selection and training of pilots for this type of work on future operations.
The lack of up-to-date air photographs of the objective was a definite handicap and the information regarding the bridge itself appears to have been indefinite. In future, full up-to-date technical information concerning the type of construction of an objective should be an essential preliminary, and scientific methods applied in considering the procedure to be followed to bring about its destruction.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR EXECUTION.
9. COMMAND. It is considered to be of the utmost importance that a combined operation of this kind should be made the direct and personal responsibility of a senior R.A.F., officer who need not necessarily take part in the actual attack. This would be comparable with the function of a Group Captain holding the position of a Station Commander within a Bomber Group, who is responsible for the work of Squadrons operating from his Station. Sheer enthusiasm and bravery are not sufficient without a leavening influence of experience and administrative ability, and many of the mistake which occurred in connection with the Colossus Operation during training and afterwards, were precisely due to the lack of these qualities.
Wing Commander Sir Nigel Norman, Bt., who performed particularly valuable work, was appointed Operation Controller only a few days before the party was due to leave the U.K., and his authority to command only applied during the few hours that the Force was grounded at Malta. It is strongly recommended that on future occasions the Operation Controller should be vested with full powers of the office from the moment the operation is ordered. Such an arrangement would not be incompatible with the function to be performed by the C.L.E. in preparation of the aircraft and training of the personnel. In fact, it is suggested that a convenient and satisfactory way to introduce the necessary control and direction would be by the formation of an Operational Department of the C.L.E.
One of the details upon which greater time and attention should have been devoted was the training of the aircrews to a full realisation of the complex nature of the task they were called upon to undertake. There was a too ready acceptance of the belief that the dropping of 36 soldiers and 30 containers from six aircraft at a given spot in unknown foreign terrain was more or less identical with the bombing operations upon which they had previously been engaged and no doubt achieved some proficiency. Furthermore, the hurried preparations and the fact that the aircrews had not previously undertaken tasks in co-operation with another Service did not result in the very close liaison between the R.A.F., and Army personnel that is desirable upon an operation of this kind. Evidence of this occurred at Malta, where the paratroops engaging in the operation worked extremely hard preparing equipment and loading containers without receiving any assistance from men of the aircrews who, knowing the difficult task upon which the soldiers were engaged, might have volunteered some assistance. Doubtless their failure to do so was due to thoughtlessness more than from any other cause, and closer co-operation during the training stages would have obviated this. [Handwritten note alongside this paragraph: "Aircrews have their own aircraft & gear to look after, & have to fly & work their aircraft on long flights while passengers rest."]
ORGANIZATION AND ADMINISTRATION.
10. Minute 10, of the meeting held at Air Ministry on 11th. January 1941, under the chairmanship of Air Commodore W.A. Coryton, MVO, DFC., refers to "this extemporised unit", and it is well to bear that description in mind considering the organization and administration arrangements which had to be made for the fitting out and training of the Force which was required to leave the U.K., barely three weeks later, this too during a period of bad wintry weather conditions. The assembly of 8 Whitley V aircraft and crews at Ringway, the modification of these to make them suitable for the dropping of paratroops, the fitting of special long distance tanks and arms and stores containers, the training of pilots in the art of dropping parachutists near a given spot, the sending of a maintenance party in advance to Malta with selected lists of spare parts, the calculating of distribution schedules for the long flight of the heavily laden aircraft to Malta, and innumerable other details of preparation required unorthodox methods in many instances to enable the work to be done. No special staff experienced in previous operations of a similar kind were available, and in the circumstances it was natural that certain overlapping and underlapping took place through the eagerness of people on the fringe to contribute assistance, but which unfortunately in some cases was more of a hindrance than a help.
At Mildenhall, before the departure and in the absence of the superior command recommended in paragraph 9, the organisation was haphazard and the Army troops carried out fruitless work on the containers in the dark.
As a result, the work in connection with the operation proved that the existing type of container was of poor design, due to insufficient co-operation between the Army and the R.A.F. Instructions in the handling and fixing of containers in the bomb racks had not been included in the Syllabus of Training, and the C.L.E. had not developed the container release gear to a sufficiently high standard of accuracy.
Nevertheless, it is considered that the R.A.F. discharged its responsibility of transporting the entire Force by night to Malta by a route covering nearly 1,600 miles and for subsequently transporting the attacking party in 6 aircraft and dropping them near the objective in accordance with the plan of attack, and finally returning 7 of the aircraft and the remaining members of the expedition by a night flight to the United Kingdom. This performance reflects great credit on the Attack Commander Air, Wing Commander J.B. Tait, D.F.C., and the other pilots and aircrews, and demonstrates a high degree of skill in navigation and other flying duties.
11. ADVANCE PARTY. Owing to unforeseen difficulties in connection with the despatch of the Sunderland Flying Boat, the advance party arrived in Malta only a short time before the main force. This resulted in the preliminary arrangements being incomplete by the time the main party arrived. Owing to enemy action the conditions in Malta were also rather difficult and the accommodation was inconvenient in as much that sleeping accommodation was about 5 miles from the Aerodrome, which caused a considerable waste of time in making the journeys to and fro. Having regard to the conditions in Malta, however, all possible arrangements were made for the comfort of soldiers and airmen, but it is mentioned as being important that on an operation of this nature personnel should be as near the aircraft as possible, and the conditions for rest should be made as comfortable as possible, in addition, a large ground handling party, over and above the aircraft maintenance personnel, should be available for container loading. [Handwritten note alongside this paragraph: "Malta is & was in a state of siege acutely short of maintenance personnel for its own urgent purpose.]
12. It had been anticipated that of the work to be carried out by the C.L.E., the major problem would be the modifications to the Whitley aircraft, followed as less difficult factors by pilot training and container development. In actual practice, this order was reversed as the chief problem turned out to be the containers, followed by pilot training, whilst the modifications to the aircraft were completed well within time. The need for ample warning of an operation of this nature cannot be stressed too strongly, as development work on containers cannot be hastened, and furthermore, cannot be started until it has been finally decided the equipment to be carried.
It was unfortunate that the arms and equipment containers gave more trouble during the preparation stages, as this factor reduced the time available for full scale rehearsals. The release gear on the actual operation was unreliable, with the result that although the whole of 'X' Troop, together with sufficient arms and equipment for the attack were landed within an average distance of 500 yards from the objective, this was only achieved after the aircraft had made some 20 runs over the objective instead of 6. Had there been any opposition from the ground, this additional time would have ruined the whole operation.
The responsibility for the design and manipulation of the containers which has previously been a joint Army/R.A.F. responsibility, has now been accepted by the R.A.F., and the matter is at present the subject of close investigation by the C.L.E., and new designs of containers and equipment are being tested.
Practically the whole of the equipment for 'X' Troop, including the design and manufacture, was undertaken by the C.L.E., and the work proceeded concurrently with the final training period of the paratroops themselves.
It is strongly recommended that if further operations of this kind are contemplated, immediate action should be taken through N.A.P. for the necessary modifications to be embodied in all future production Whitleys, and also in all Whitley aircraft of suitable type undergoing overhaul, in order to shorten the time necessary for withdrawing this type of aircraft from normal bombing operations. Furthermore, a store of arms and equipment of the type required for equipping similar operations should be held by C.L.E. at Ringway, in order to obviate the time lag in obtaining this equipment from the Army and R.A.F. Maintenance Units.
TRAINING OF PERSONNEL.
13. As already indicated in paragraph 8, it is considered to be absolutely essential that more time and attention should in future be devoted to the selection and training of pilots for paratroop dropping operations.
With regard to 'X' Troop, while it is impossible to judge the result of their action until the full history is known, it is certain that up to the time of their leaving the aircraft near the objective that their enthusiasm and warlike spirit was admirable. There were no refusals at the attack stage, which reflects the greatest credit upon the Attack Commander Ground, Major Pritchard, whose exceptional qualities of courage and leadership have been a constant inspiration to all who have come in contact with him. The long flight to Malta demonstrated that a party of men such as composed 'X' Troop are not particularly susceptible to air sickness and in fact, out of the 39 soldiers and 30 airmen members of the crews, only 3 cases of sickness were reported.
NARRATIVE OF EVENTS.
14. PERIOD AT RINGWAY. On the 11th. January, 1941, at a meeting held at the Air Ministry under the Chairmanship of Air Commodore W.A. Coryton, M.V.O. D.F.C., it was stated that the operation "Colossus" had been sanctioned by the Chiefs of Staff and approved by the Defence Committee. The provisional date for the flight to Malta was to be the first week in February. The aircraft would need to be fitted with additional fuel tanks and would require modification for parachute dropping. Priority on this work was to take precedence over the construction of new Whitleys for other operational requirements. From then onwards the aircraft, crews and necessary equipment began to assemble at Ringway in preparation for a scheduled move to the home base at Mildenhall on 2nd. February, thus allowing 21 days in which the modifications and training, a great deal of which had to run concurrently, took place. It will be realised that the time was very short, especially when it is considered that all the portable equipment to be used for the demolition of the bridge had to be designed and manufactured specially. Weather conditions were bad, which seriously interfered with the training which included practice in night dropping by the paratroops. The work of the Parachute Training Squadron during this period was highly commendable, and it would be difficult to visualise how the training of both aircrews and paratroops could have been much improved upon, having regard to the general conditions, although, as previously stated, a definite command working from the inception of the scheme and thus ensuring continuity of purpose would, it is considered, have greatly contributed to an improved standard of efficiency.
15. PERIOD AT MILDENHALL. At Mildenhall it became obvious that an extra day over that scheduled was necessary in order to complete preparations for the flight to Malta, and here again the absence of an Operation Controller with complete authority resulted in rather haphazard organisation and unpunctuality. The loading of spares which had been most carefully worked out and scheduled at Ringway was finally done without reference to the schedule in a hurried and muddled way, and no complete record was taken of what each aircraft carried. It was fortunate that all arrived safely at Malta.
16. PERIOD AT MALTA. The Force left Mildenhall at approximately 2200 hours on Friday 7th February, and arrived at Malta at approximately 0900 hours on Saturday 8th February. On Sunday 9th, servicing of the aircraft took place and repairs were effected to slight damage caused to the fabric of two aircraft caused by flying rock from enemy bombs dropping during the night. The containers were repacked and parachutes inspected. Major Pritchard conferred with the Submarine Commander and in the evening a conference was held to discuss the operational plan and consider photographs of the objective. On Monday 10th February, the final preparations were made for the actual operation which took place that night.
17. PERIOD OF ATTACK. The first aircraft took off for the operation at 1740 hours on Monday 10th February. The rendezvous was over Mount Vulture at 2130 hours. Five aircraft completed their tasks by 2245 hours, but the sixth aircraft, in spite of excellent weather conditions, made an error in navigation, did not drop the parachutists until 2330 hours, and failed to drop any containers. The two remaining Whitleys were detailed to carry out diversion action but one unfortunately developed engine trouble and the crew signalled that they intended to force land or abandon aircraft. The other Whitley proceeded to Foggia and successfully bombed the railway station and yard setting fire to a fuel train, the trucks of which exploded and caused large fires.
18. RETURN FLIGHT. The return flight from Malta to U.K., which was made on the night of February 16th to 17th, was uneventful except that weather conditions were poor, and W/T. guidance was required before a landfall was made.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS.
19. A complete record of all work carried out in connection with the Colossus operation, together with maps, photographs, schedules, etc., is being made for record purposes. Meanwhile it is considered that the following conclusions may be drawn as a result of the Colossus operation:-
(i) It has been established that it is possible to land a party of paratroopers fully armed and with a considerable quantity of equipment and explosives close to a given point providing that no obvious ground opposition is encountered. To ensure a reasonable chance of success, intensive training must be given to air crews as well as to the paratroops and full scale rehearsals must be practised over country, if possible, similar to the actual target.
(ii) Suitable aircraft must be made available in ample time to allow preparatory work to be carried out properly, and if practicable one type of aircraft should be decided upon so that modifications and equipment can be standardised. In this connection it is recommended that M.A.F. arrange for necessary modifications to be embodied in all future production Whitleys and those of a suitable type undergoing overhaul.
(iii) That operations of this nature, before receiving final sanction by the Chief of Staff should be passed to the C.L.E., in order that detailed planning can commence and necessary work on mock-ups started. From the security point of view this work could be introduced as training exercises for paratroops in the advanced training stage, and would serve a useful purpose even if the actual operation did not materialise.
(iv) Targets must be selected with great care and the fullest possible information obtained regarding their construction and other points affecting the attack. Up to date aerial photographs are essential in the earlier stages of planning.
(v) It is considered essential that a senior R.A.F., officer possessed of experience and sound judgment with the assistance of an operations room staff should be placed in executive command from the very inception of an operation on the scale of Colossus. These arrangements might be made as a department of the Central Landing Establishment.
(vi) It is considered that the appointment of a unified command would obviate many of the difficulties in organisation and administration which occurred in connection with Colossus.
(vii) The store of knowledge and experience which has been accumulated by the C.L.E., on the subject of parachute dropping during recent months, and particularly in connection with the Colossus operation, together with the need for security, makes it desirable that the preparation of aircraft for future attacks of this kind should be carried out under its supervision.
(viii) The Attack Commander Air, and pilots, should be carefully selected and regard paid to their powers of organization, adaptability and tolerance, in addition to the qualities of enthusiasm and courage.
(ix) When working from an advanced base it is necessary for the advance party to precede the main party by sufficient time to enable arrangements to be made, also that a R.A.F., senior officer should accompany the advance party in view of the complex nature of the work entailed.
(x) A long flight does not necessarily have a bad effect on soldiers.
(xi) If paratroop operations are to include demolition work as a general policy a high proportion of R.E., officers and men should be trained.
(xii) The landing of paratroops in bright moonlight is practically as easy as in daylight, and trained men can be dropped in close country even with moderate winds without suffering casualties.
(xiii) The morale and enthusiasm of the paratroops was very high and experience so far indicates that drugs are unnecessary.
(xiv) The model provided by the D.C.O's department, representing the terrain in the vicinity of the target, was of great assistance and enabled the aircrews and the paratroops to form a good idea of the country in which they were to operate. It is considered essential that similar models should be made available for all future operations of a like nature.
20. A very great deal of detailed information has been gathered which requires careful sifting, but it is felt that the foregoing observations may be of assistance to higher authority in considering the results of the Colossus operation and in shaping policy for the future.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant,
[Signed L.G. Harvey]
Group Captain, Commanding
Central Landing Establishment,
Royal Air Force, Ringway.
The Director of Combined Operations,
Whitchall, LONDON S.W.
REPORT COVERING PERIOD AT MALTA.
1. Schedule of Aircraft Loading.
2. Summary of Crews' Reports.
3. Diagram of Drops.
4. Signals sent by W/Cdr Norman.
The report that follows gives a brief Diary of Activities at Malta, a Summary of the results of Air Reconnaissance, a Narrative of the air phase of the actual operation, and a Conclusion in which points are noted affecting the success of the operation and future policy. Loadings, times and results of dropping are given in Appendices. It is particularly desired to express the gratitude of all members of the expedition for their reception at Malta, and for the help enthusiastically given by all with whom they came in contact. H.E. the Governor, took a personal interest in their needs and twice visited the party during preparations. The A.O.C. placed every resource at this disposal. The Station Commander, Luqa, satisfied every requirement for accommodation and facilities, although the Station was suffering considerable difficulties as the result of hostile action. The O.C., 148 Squadron provided all possible assistance in handling and maintenance of the aircraft. Thanks are especially due to the Vice-Admiral, Malta, and to Commander Simpson of the Submarine Depot for the excellent arrangements made available for accommodation of officers and men, and to the Officer i/c Land & Water Transport. The work of 69 G.R. Squadron (Glenn Martins), and the Photographic Section, Luqa, cannot be too highly praised.
In connection with the preparations for the operation, one point must be made. It was considered essential to carry out the attack on the first possible day, since the likelihood of more than one fine night was small, and the risk of damage to Whitley aircraft by hostile action was considerable. The take-off was, in fact, made at the earliest possible moment after completion of packing and loading of containers and servicing of aircraft. Time did not permit a test drop of containers, nor the detailed testing of all fittings and last moment drilling of the combined teams in the action necessary over the dropping ground. This involved some risk of failure, but in the circumstances it was decided, with the concurrence of the A.O.C., Malta, that the risk was less than would have resulted from delaying the operation.
2. TIME TABLE.
Friday 7th. Take-off 2200 hours.
Saturday 8th. Arrived Malta 0900 hours. Received by Stn. Commander (W/Cdr. Jones) and O i/c Wellingtons (S/Ldr. Foss). General discussion on accommodation and transport requirements. Crews and troops by bus to Lazaretto. W/Cdr. N. and Major P. called on A.O.C. and reported on requirements. Called on H.E. the Governor and reported. In the afternoon accommodation was allotted. Troops began off-loading and unpacking. Local purchases were made. In the evening, after conference with W/Cdr. Tait and Major P., W/Cdr. N. reported to A.O.C. that operation could not be carried out on the 9th.
Sunday 9th. Crews had morning off. Servicing of aircraft and repair of slight damage to fabric of two by flying rock from bombs. Re-packing of containers and parachutes for containers. Splitting up of rations. H.E. visited the troops at work and inspected the arms and demolition stores. Photographic reconnaissance made during the day - prints available at 1930 hours. W/Cdr. N. and Major P. called on V.A.M. at 1245 hours. All containers packed except ration container and loaded in aircraft, except ladders. Major P. conferred with Submarine Commander. Conference in the evening on operational plan and photographs of objective.
Monday 10th. W/Cdr. N. addressed all crews. Removal of spares from aircraft. Final servicing and preparation for dropping. All containers loaded and finally inspected by 1430 hours. A.O.C's conference on operational plan and intelligence. Briefing on signals. Loading with bombs and final flight tests. Troops dressed and had meat tea by 1630 hours. Crews briefed 1600 hours. First aircraft took off for operation 1740 hours; diversion flight 1800 hours; demolition flight 1805 hours; last aircraft took off 1817 hours. Rendezvous on Mount Vulture 2130 hours; first dropping 2145 hours; five aircraft completed dropping by 2245 hours; last aircraft dropped 2330 hours. Aircraft returned to Malta, arriving between 2359 and 0200 hours, except 'S' which signalled an engine failed. W/Cdr. N. reported on operation at War H.Q. 0230 hours and despatched signal to D.C.O.
Tuesday 11th. Crews had morning off. Aircraft were examined and details of containers not dropped were noted. Remaining containers and stores moved to Lazaretto. Aircraft serviced.
Wednesday 12th. Conference with crews, and operation reports obtained. Containers and stores for return flight packed. Reconnaissance flight made during the morning, and photographs available 1700 hours. Conference with A.O.C., and signals despatched to Air Ministry. Containers for return journey loaded on aircraft. After waiting for favourable weather, the return flight was made on the night February 16/17th to Mildenhall.
3. AIR RECONNAISSANCE.
(A) BEFORE THE OPERATION. It was visualised during the preparations for the operation that the absence of any up to date photographic record of the objective might prejudice success, but in spite of many attempts no photographs could be taken until Feb. 9th. On this day, photographs of the target area and also a complete strip for it to the coast was taken by F/O Warburton, D.F.C., flying in a Glenn Martin at 24,000' and using an 8" lens. Prints were available at 1930 hours. These were studied and a scale constructed. The following new facts were discovered:-
(i) There are two bridges about 230 yards apart at the objective, of which the eastern one was apparently the objective.
(ii) The buildings near the bridge have disappeared.
(iii) There is a farm about 300 yards from the objective by the road leading to the main road. This side road has degenerate to little more than a track.
(iv) The area gives no indication of any defensive measures; the surroundings are sparsely inhabited, and the likelihood of interruption by local inhabitants seems more remote than was at first thought.
(v) The area selected for dropping appeared level and smooth cultivated land without walls or many obstructions.
(vi) The snow level was approximately 3,000'. The snow areas could therefore be sketched in on a 1/250,000 map for study by the party.
(vii) The nature of the country along the main road to the coast was clearly shown. It is extremely wild except in the valleys where it is cultivated. Some sparse woods exist in the hill area. The higher ground is precipitous.
(viii) The Sele River has numerous woods near its banks along the lower reaches. There is indication of reasonable cover by the shore north of the mouth. The Torre de Sele is visible.
The strip mosaic was pinned up and this and the target area were studied by the party at a late conference which lasted till midnight.
On the 10th, enlargements of the target area on a scale of 5" to the mile were made. These were studied at a joint conference, and copies were later handed to Section Commanders and to all Captains of aircraft.
It was clear that had these photographs been available earlier, immense value would have been gained from study of them by all members of the expedition. As it was, there was not time for full advantage to be taken of the information provided. It might have been possible to confirm from Intelligence sources or further photographs the precise nature of the objective about which there naturally arose some doubt owing to the presence of the second bridge. The photographs did, however, give encouraging indication of the suitability of the dropping area and the general accuracy of the model of the surrounding country used at Ringway.
(B) AFTER THE OPERATION. On the day following the operation no air reconnaissance was possible, owing to damage to all the Glenn Martin aircraft by enemy action. One aircraft was available on February 12th, and took off at 0900 hours. For this flight a 20" lens was requested. The resulting photographs, giving greater magnification, and so more detail, showed both bridges apparently intact. From close study of these photographs under the stereoscope it appeared that the western bridge might be the objective, although it spanned a tributary and not the main Tragino stream. Some lorries or cars appeared to be drawn up near the farm and at the roadside near the bridges, but otherwise no indication of any activity near the area was seen.
4. NARRATIVE OF THE AIR PHASE.
(A) LOADING OF AIRCRAFT. 8 aircraft were available for the operation. These were allotted as follows:-
Covering Party ............. 3. K, W, N.
Demolition Party ........... 3. J, E, D.
Diversion Attack ........... 2. S, R.
Details of crews and loads are given in Aircraft Loading Schedules at Appendix 1. These are in accordance with the plans made in England, with the exception of the 2 Diversion aircraft, S and R. The containers were better packed than in previous trials, and nearly all bomb doors were completely shut.
(B) TAKE-OFF. The take-off was timed to allow assembly of the 3 sub-flights in daylight, and climbing over the sea to the south of Malta, no aircraft being permitted to cross the coast northwards until after dark. The take-off times ordered were:-
Covering Party ............. 17.40 hours.
Diversion Attack ........... 17.50 hours.
Demolition Party ........... 18.00 hours.
At the time of take-off a defect developed in "J" aircraft. The Demolition Party therefore took off 2 strong. Assembly of each sub-flight was successfully carried out, and aircraft flew to the target area in formation, maintaining touch by R/T. Aircraft "J" took off about 18.17 hours and followed the others but did not join formation.
(C) FLIGHT TO OBJECTIVE. The course selected was from Malta to the Sicilian coast near Agrigento, to near Palermo and thence direct to the mouth of the Sele River. There was some cloud over the sea, and fog over parts of Sicily. Flak was seen over Palermo. The landfalls made on the Italian coast were not all accurate but the River Sele was easily identifiable. All aircraft with the exception of "J" arrived in the target area at approximately 21.30 hours. "J" made a bad landfall on the Italian coast, and followed a river partially obscured by mist inland until the Adriatic coast was reached. It then returned to the west coast at Scalea, flew up the Sele and reached the objective area at 23.15.
(D) CONTROL SYSTEM. It was important that the dropping should be synchronised, that all or none of the aircraft should drop in the event of doubtful weather, and that the risk of collision between aircraft operating in the small space of the target area should be slight. The following system of W/T control by the Air Attack Commander was instituted. The Air Attack Commander in the first aircraft arrived at the target leading the first sub-flight, broke formation and did a preliminary reconnaissance. A Zero hour was then selected and transmitted to all aircraft. Each aircraft had allotted a period of five minutes for dropping, the first run being at Z plus 0, to Z plus 5, the second being Z plus 5 to Z plus 10, and so on. After completing the dropping each aircraft was to transmit "operations completed" to the Air Attack Commander, who was then able to delay, if necessary, the dropping of the second sub-flight until the first had completed.
The first sub-flight arrived at the target at 2125 B.S.T. and the Air Attack Commander broadcast Zero hour to be 2135. At 2135 however, wishing to confirm that other aircraft had located the target, he called for 'W' and 'N' to give this information, and broadcast a new Zero of 2200. This was received by the second sub-flight, and the dropping was carried out in the order 'N', 'W', 'K', 'E', 'D', 'J'; 'N' and 'W' dropping at their first allotted time and reporting "operations completed" to the Air Attack Commander.
After dropping at 2200, the Air Attack Commander waited at Vulture for visual report of operations completed by any aircraft which had W/T failure. In fact no aircraft had W/T failure, and with the exception of 'J' all aircraft had left the area by 22.45.
(E) RENDEZVOUS. The rendezvous was Mount Vulture, and aircraft assembled there or in the vicinity, stepped off in height, awaiting final Zero. This was given at 2125 as Zero 2135. It was then found that some aircraft could not work to this Zero and the time was changed to 2200. Two aircraft failed to receive the new Zero and dropped on the first one.
(F) WEATHER CONDITIONS. Cloud which had been seen over Sicily was entirely dispersed before the Italian coast, but some banks of ground fog lay in valleys. A thick bank filled the pass between the Sele and Alfonto valleys. Apart from this the weather was absolutely perfect and visibility was comparable with early dusk on a fine day. Detail on the ground stood out, and the snow covered peaks, rocky valleys and clustered mountain towns and villages made a beautiful scene. No difficulty was experienced in identifying the objective and surrounding landmarks.
(G) THE ATTACK. Although five of the six aircraft were in the area they only occasionally saw each other after stepping off preparatory to the attack. There was very little wind in the valleys and no difficulty was experienced in making steep turns low down well below the level of the hills on each side of the valley. Dropping was carried out approximately according to plan. The dropping ground appeared smooth, cultivated, mostly newly sown fields with some bushes. A schedule setting out the times and results of dropping is attached at Appendix II, and a diagram illustrating the estimated position of parachutes dropped is at Appendix III. In four cases the containers did not go with the troops. The explanation appears to be that the five pin plug was not correctly fitted, although great care was taken by the Captains to see that selection and setting of bomb release gear was correct, and to remind Section Commanders regarding action in the fuselage. Several aircraft had to make three or four runs up and down the valley to get their containers off. One full load (ladders and 5 charges), and two other single containers (Arms T.G.) were not dropped but were carried back to Malta. It appeared that the troops would have little difficulty in finding the containers in the brilliant moonlight. Five aircraft completed dropping between 2145 and 2230 hours. The sixth dropped troops but no containers at 2300 hours. It was unfortunate that this machine carried Captain Daly, R.E.
(H) LOCAL ACTIVITY. Very little sign of local activity in the vicinity of the objective was seen. A light was observed in one Signal Box north of the dropping area. The lights of a car were seen approaching the bridge opposite Calitri from the south. At that point the car apparently stopped, for the lights went out. No other vehicles were observed on any roads and, apart from occasional lights from Calitri and other towns and villages, no other lights. Our own troops were seen moving on the ground. Several times they flashed up their torches to aircraft as they passed over - probably to show that they had landed successfully.
(I) DIVERSION ATTACK. One aircraft of the Diversion sub-flight - 'S' - apparently had failure of port engine and the crew signalled in Syko that they would land or abandon aircraft in the vicinity of the mouth of the Sele River. The other aircraft proceeded to Foggia and successfully bombed the railway station and yard, setting fire to a petrol train, the trucks of which exploded successfully and started large fires. Two other trains standing in the Station were probably damaged. One which attempted to leave the station was machine gunned, and M.G. fire was also directed on to the area amid the burning train to prevent it being put out. Two craters were observed in the station buildings and one bomb was seen to fall on the junction of lines and points leading into the Station and Goods yard. One bomb was dropped on the buildings of Foggia aerodrome.
Smoke from the Station was very black and reached over 2,000 ft. indicated height, and the fires were observed by another aircraft thirty miles away. No Flak or defence was observed. Two aircraft of the other two sub-flights dropped their bombs on the railway yard at Rochetta Scalo. One bomb was dropped on the village of Montiverdi, one on a railway junction near the mouth of the River Sele and one, on the return journey, in Sicily.
(J) RETURN FLIGHT. This was uneventful except that low cloud obscured and hid Malta, and W/T guidance was required by all aircraft before a landfall was made. One aircraft, 'J' arrived about one hour later than the others at 0200 hours.
The failure of the operation cannot yet be explained. Although the order and times of dropping were not exactly as planned, the whole of the 'X' Troop force was dropped, apparently under good conditions, in the vicinity of the objective. The charges, ladders and equipment dropped were the full amount required for execution of the complete demolition plan. The arms containers dropped contained 2 Bren guns and 7 Tommy guns and ammunition. While the lack of 7 further Tommy guns may have been serious, nevertheless the Force could probably give a good account of itself with the arms available and their personal weapons - and in any case, no sign of opposition was observed from the air. The late arrival of Captain Daly was no doubt a serious handicap, but every member of the demolition party was familiar with the objective as it was thought to exist. If it was in fact the western bridge and not that on the main stream, the party could not have failed to recognise it, since in attacking the adjacent farm, many must have passed close to it, and their rendezvous was in fact within 100 yards of it. It seems impossible that some vital piece of equipment necessary for the demolition was lost or not taken on the operation. The only possibilities which seem to remain are that:-
(i) the details of the operation were known to the enemy, and the party was captured immediately on making the ground,
or (ii) that the objective was entirely different in construction from anticipated design, and the equipment available was insufficient for its destruction.
It is a significant fact that up to 1930 hours on the night prior to the operation no-one concerned had any knowledge of a second bridge within about 230 yards of that over the Tragino.
A number of points have emerged having a bearing upon any future operations of a similar nature:-
1. It is clear that up to date intelligence supported by air photographs is absolutely essential at the time of planning the operation, and that the parachute party and the Captains and crews of aircraft must have ample time to study and memorise the details of the terrain.
2. The time required for dropping at night on an objective not previously known, even in ideal conditions, is much longer than was thought necessary. After arrival at the rendezvous the Air Attack Commander requires 10 minutes for reconnaissance and to confirm the arrival of other aircraft. Each aircraft should be allowed at least 10 minutes for general reconnaissance of the area before dropping. Approximately 10 minutes is required from giving Zero until dropping begins. 5 minutes must be allowed to each aircraft for making runs over the target. In these circumstances considerable disturbance in the target area seems unfavourable when parachute troops are employed at night.
3. For the actual dropping all available eyes must be employed. In a Whitley, it is desirable that the navigator, in the front turret, should direct the run up. The second pilot, looking downwards, should work the red and green signal lights, the Captain should concern himself primarily with the flying of the aircraft, and the rear gunner must observe the dropping and report to the Captain immediately the last man has gone, so that he can put on engine and get clear, and if necessary, make a second run to release containers that have not fallen. Moreover, up to the time of the first drop, it is essential that the Attack Commander Ground and the Attack Commander Air, be in personal contact, so that decisions regarding the sufficiency of the available force, the timing of the operation and details of the attack can be taken together. It is thought that the Attack Commander Ground should not be a Section Commander, but should drop separately on a second run.
4. The present arrangement for container release is not satisfactory. The five pin plug should be put in and fixed before the flight begins. The container cells should be selected, the Distributor timing set and the Distributor then set to "safe". When "prepare for action" is given the navigator will then turn the Distributor to "Distributor" and confirm that the Section Commander that the tell-tale light in the fuselage is on. Alternatively, it is thought that when containers are dropped last, the navigator could very well release them on a signal from the rear gunner that the last man has gone.
5. The present design of container must be entirely revised and the bomb release gear studied to ascertain that it will function properly with large containers. The new design should incorporate a rigid harness that can be fixed to the bomb rack and firmly stabilised before the container is raised into position. A mechanical means of raising the container to the harness should be provided so that one or two men can fix or lower containers. The dimensions of the container must be such that there is no possibility of jamming in the bomb cell.
6. Army personnel should be given opportunities to become completely familiar with the aircraft used and their bomb release equipment, and should have more air experience under operational conditions than was possible in the case of the present operation.
[Signed N. Norman]
13th February 1941.
SCHEDULE OF AIRCRAFT LOADING.
W/Cdr Tait, Capt.
P/O Purlew, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Sharp, 2nd Pilot
P/O Alabaster, Navr.
Sgt Patterson, W/T.
P/O Careless, A/G
F/L Williams, Capt.
Sgt Hornsey, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Walker, Navr.
Sgt Kershaw, W/T
P/O McLead A.G.
Sgt Lashbrook, Capt.
P/O Howley, 2nd Pilot
P/O Way, Navr.
Sgt Greene, W/T
F/L Williams, A.G.
S/Lt Hoad, Capt.
Sgt Smith, 2nd Pilot
P/O Houghton, Navr.
Sgt Markland, W/T
P/O Webb, A.G.
P/O Robinson, Capt.
Sgt Hatcher, 2nd Pilot
W/C Norman, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Nolan, Navr.
Sgt Diamond, W/T
Sgt Gurmon, A.G.
Sgt Holden, Capt.
Sgt Williams, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Stevens, Navr.
Sgt Barton, W/T
Sgt Balcome, A.G.
P/O Wotherspoon, Capt.
Sgt Southern, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Meddings, Navr.
Sgt Albon, W/T
Sgt Hodges, A.G.
Sgt Ennis, Capt.
P/O Stobbs, 2nd Pilot
Sgt Edgar, Navr.
Sgt Graham, W/T
Sgt Billing, A.G.
L/Cl Jones D.E.
Arms 3 T.G. *
Arms 3 T.G.
Arms 4 T.G. *
Arms T.G. 4
1 250 lbs.
1 250 lbs.
1 250 lbs.
1 250 lbs.
1 250 lbs.
2 500 lbs.
6 250 lbs.
2 500 lbs.
6 250 lbs.
* Containers not dropped but carried back to base.
SUMMARY OF CREWS' REPORTS. (Co-ordinates refer to Appendix III)
Captain and Section Command
Time at R.V.
Time of dropping
Posn of men & runs made
Posn of containers & runs
W/Cdr Tait. Major Pritchard
NW - SE. 3855 to 3139
On 4th run prob 4533. 1 arms not off.
Bomb on railway Stn of Rochetta Scale
Men & torches seen 3535. P-chutes at 1540. Men seen at 2225. No other activity.
F/Lt William. 2/Lt Jowett
NW - SE. 2 runs 350 to 2938
On 4th run prob 1842. 1 arms not off.
Bomb on village Montiverdi
Car seen at bridge south of Calitri.
Sgt Lashbrook. Lt Deane-Drummond
N - S. 2636 to 1842
Bomb on railway junct at Rochetta Scale
No lights seen. No activity observed.
S/Ldr Hoad. Capt Daly
NW - SE. 3342 to 2546
Containers not dropped.
On Rly bridge 4 miles East of Mouth of Sele
Nothing on roads. No P'chutes seen. Troops dropped collected theirs very quickly. Bridge was O.K.
P/O Robinson. 2/Lt Patterson
W - E. 2 runs 4230 to 3230
E - W on 5th run at 3035.
Near Sciaro, Sicily
No cars seen. Light in Sig Box 4825. P'chutes 3530 & 1540. Torches 3535.
Sgt Holden. Sgt Durie
NW - SE. 3 runs. 3539 to 2942
With men. Containers caught up No.5 man.
Bomb on Rly J at Rochetta Scale
Light in Sig Box 1306 also on road or in Sig Box 4825.
Engine failed before arrival at objective.
7 bombs Foggia Sta. 1 bomb on aerodrome
No aircraft at Foggia. 3 trains, 1 with petrol on fire. Hits on Sta & track junction.
TO: AIR MINISTRY (R) H.Q. R.A.F. M.E.
FROM: HQ. R.A.F. MED.
I. 100. 11/2.
MOST SECRET. FOR D.C.O. AND H.Q. C.L.E. FROM W/CDR. NORMAN. OPERATION COLOSSUS NIGHT 11/12 FEB. SIX AIRCRAFT DROPPED X TROOP AND STORES IN VICINITY OF OBJECTIVE IN IDEAL CONDITIONS BETWEEN 2150 AND 2220 HOURS G.M.T. AND RETURNED TO BASE. TWO ADDITIONAL WHITLEYS CREATED DIVERSION. PETROL TRAIN SET ON FIRE FOGGIA STATION. ONE RETURNED TO BASE. SECOND AIRCRAFT MISSING. CREW THOUGHT TO HAVE ABANDONED AIRCRAFT AFTER ENGINE TROUBLE. NO A.A. OR S/L OPPOSITION. NO E.A. ENCOUNTERED.
By scrambler. IMMEDIATE. T.O.O. 0245.
TO: AIR MIN FOR D.C.O. H.Q. C.L.E. (R) H.Q. R.A.F. M.E.
FROM: H.Q. MED.
A. 219 12/2.
MOST SECRET. FOLLOWING FROM W/CDR NORMAN BEGINS. AIR PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN FEB. 9 SHOWED TWO BRIDGES 300 YARDS APART. SOME DIFFICULTY IN IDENTIFYING OBJECTIVE BUT EASTERN BRIDGE OVER TRACING THOUGHT TO BE IT. BETTER PHOTOGRAPH AFTER OPERATION SUGGESTS WESTERN BRIDGE OVER TRIBUTARY MIGHT BE OBJECTIVE. BOTH BRIDGES ARE INTACT. MISTAKE BY GROUND PARTY UNLIKELY SINCE BOTH BRIDGES WOULD BE CLEARLY VISIBLE DURING APPROACH FROM DROPPING GROUND. CANNOT THEREFORE EXPLAIN FAILURE OF OPERATION.
By scrambler. IMMEDIATE. T.O.O. 1810 G.M.T.
1. At their Meeting on 8.1.41, the Chiefs of Staff gave provisional approval, pending Cabinet sanction, to a special operation to be known as "Operation Colossus" - formerly known as "Project 'T'". Knowledge of the details of the operation is to be confined to the minimum number of responsible officers compatible with effective preparation for the operation. I attach for your personal information, and for that of such officers as you consider essential, an outline of the operation.
2. Details of the aircraft and personnel required and of the organisation for training for, directing and controlling the operation are included.
3. Executive action from the operational standpoint is to be undertaken by D.O.O. who will be responsible for coordinating requirements by the Air Ministry with the Directorate of Combined Operations, in consultation with the Plans, Organisation and Personnel branches concerned.
4. Immediate steps are required to be taken for the following preliminary action:-
(i) Four Whitley Vs to be modified to take a total of 969 gallons, i.e. fitting two auxiliary tanks in bomb cells and two in fuselage. These aircraft also to be modified as necessary for dropping parachute troops.
(ii) The first four Bombays to become available to be earmarked for this operation and to be examined by C.L.E. regarding their suitability for dropping parachute troops.
(iii) The Bombay now in 271 Squadron to be modified by the addition of three auxiliary tanks so as to give it a range of 1,800 miles with a payload of 1,000 lbs.
The above aircraft should be ready by 31.1.41. in order to allow time for training before departure, assuming the operation is approved.
5. I attach a list of those officers who have already been made aware of this operation.
1. To destroy the bridge carrying an important aqueduct at a point some 40 miles from the coast in Southern Italy.
2. To drop a demolition party of S.S. Troops by parachute by aircraft operating from MALTA. The party to endeavour to make their way to the coast after the operation where it is hoped to withdraw them by submarine.
3. (a) Training to start now at C.L.E. Ringway.
(b) Party to be flown to MALTA early February.
(c) Operation to take place in mid-February to coincide with full moon phase.
(a) Advance Party 2 Italian-speaking men (these are available).
(b) Demolition Party 2 officers, 16 sappers.
(c) Covering Party 1 officer, 15 men
Total Operational Party 3 officers, 33 men
(d) Maintenance Party 3 Whitley fitters (inc. 1 N.C.O.), 3 Whitley riggers, 2 parachute packers (inc. 1 N.C.O.)
Total Maintenance Party 8.
GRAND TOTAL. 44 officers and men. This does not include aircraft crews.
(a) For journey to MALTA
5 Bombays @ 4 men = 20
2 Whitleys @ 5 men = 10
2 Whitleys spare aircraft -
2 Sunderland @ 7 men + equipment = 14
(b) For Operation
D minus 1 day - 1 Whitley @ 2 Adv Party = 2
D.1 day - 5 Bombays @ 6 men = 30
1 Whitley @ 4 men = 4
Explosives, etc. - 2,100 lbs divided into 3 loads of 700 lbs.
Arms & Wood packing - as necessary.
These will be dropped in Supply Dropping Apparatus Mk VI and in the special arms containers.
7. Training. This will be carried out at C.L.E. Ringway and R.E. School, Christchurch.
8. Command. The system of joint command to be adopted.
Persons already fully or partly informed of Operation Colossus.
Chiefs of Staff.
Director of Plans.
D.O.R. Air Cdr. Mansell
O.R.1. Group Capt. Breakey
B.M.C. Air Cdr. Goddard
D.O.O. Air Cdr. Coryton
Plans Group Capt. Baker, Wing Cdr. Bennett, Sqn. Ldr. Morley, Sqn. Ldr. Knowles
War Office Major Kenyon, M.I.10
Mr. Ardley, c/o George Kent & Sons, 199, High Holborn.
Minutes of Meeting held at Air Ministry on 11th January, 1941, to discuss preliminary arrangements for Operation "Colossus"
Air Commodore Coryton
Air Commodore Breen
Group Captain Knocker
Group Captain Breakey representing
Group Captain Stevens representing
Group Captain Russell
Wing Commander Sir N. Norman representing
Squadron Leader Colebrook representing
Squadron Leader Fraser
Squadron Leader Morley representing
D. of P.
1. The Meeting was informed that "Operation Colossus" had now been sanctioned by the Chiefs of Staff and approved by the Defence Committee.
2. Wing Commander Norman, C.L.E. pointed out that a considerable amount of training would have to be given at the C.L.E. to the aircraft crews selected for this Operation and that it was proposed that the Operation should be carried out in mid-February, aircraft and crews selected should be sent to the C.L.E., Ringway, as soon as possible. Provisional date for the flight to Malta in the case of land aircraft was given as early in the first week of February.
3. Provision of Aircraft. The aircraft required for the Operation was provisionally given as 4 Whitleys and 5 Bombays and 2 Sunderlands for transport duties as far as Malta, but that detailed loading tables had not yet been worked out. It was pointed out that the fifth Bombay could not be prepared in time and that in consequence, a fifth Whitley would be necessary, making a total of five Whitleys, four Bombays and two Sunderlands.
4. Whitleys. Action by D.D.W.O. and D.O.R. The Whitleys would be required with two fuselage tanks as well as two bomb cell tanks, and would require modification for parachute dropping. It was considered that in view of the time available, the Whitleys would have to be taken from operational units in Bomber Command and not from A.S.U's. It was agreed that 5 Whitleys should be sent to the C.L.E., Ringway, forthwith and that a maker's party should be sent to Ringway to carry out the necessary modifications. In view of the time factor this modification would have to take priority over the preparation of Whitleys for Coastal Command.
5. Bombays. Action by [unreadable]. The 4 Bombays now at Ternhill for delivery to the Middle East should be sent to the C.L.E. forthwith, who would carry out the small modifications for parachute dropping and arrange for the necessary fuel consumption tests for the flight to Malta to be carried out.
6. Sunderlands. Action by D.O.N.C. Provisionally two Sunderlands should be held available for transport duty to Malta as from the 25th February. It was agreed that the Sunderland commitment would be cut down if at all possible and that A.O.C.-in-C. Coastal Command should be informed of the requirement.
7. Personnel. In view of the nature of the country and the type of operation, the highest standard of skill on the part of the pilots and navigators would be essential. It was agreed that this could only be obtained in the case of Whitleys by employing selected crews, preferably from one operational Whitley Squadron. In the case of the Bombays, the crews now being trained for the flight to Egypt must be chosen as alternative crews are not available. To meet the requirement 5 Whitley crews with their maintenance personnel should be selected and sent to the C.L.E. forthwith for training, together with the 4 Bombay air crews now under training.
8. Provision of Maintenance Personnel. Action by D. of P. Provision of maintenance crews for Bombays at C.L.E. would have to be made.
9. The maintenance crews would not proceed to Malta with the aircraft except 3 Whitley Fitters and 3 Whitley Riggers including an N.C.O.
10. Command. It was essential to have a most experienced Officer in command of this extemporised unit and C.-in-C. Bomber Command should be asked to select a Whitley Squadron Leader or Wing Commander.
11. Ranges of Aircraft. The range and load of aircraft were discussed and the following points were agreed:-
(a) Whitley. A fully tanked up Whitley with full petrol can carry a payload of 2,500 lbs. to Malta. C.L.E. will have to work out the number of men and equipment which can be carried in the space available.
(b) Bombays. A tanked up Bombay for the flight to Malta can carry 50 lbs. payload only. The C.L.E. will work out as soon as possible the disposal of loads in aircraft.
(c) Sunderlands. The ease the Sunderland requirement it may be possible to make use of reinforcing Wellingtons proceeding to the Middle East via Malta.
12. D.O.O. undertook to prepare for Bomber Command a letter setting out the whole requirement, both in aircraft and personnel.
D. of O.
A demolition operating by Air Landing Troops is to be carried out from Malta.
2. The code name for the operation is 'COLOSSUS'.
3. The forces for this operation will leave the U.K. early in February.
4. As the preservation of secrecy is of the utmost importance, knowledge of the operation is to be confined to the minimum number of responsible officers compatible with effective preparation and execution.
Forces to be Employed.
5. The forces are to consist of the following:
(i) Aircraft. (a) 5 Whitley V's with flying crews including a Commanding Officer, to be found from Bomber Command. These will return to the U.K. on completion of the operation. (b) 4 Bombays with flying crews. These are the 4 Bombays now being prepared for delivery to the Middle East. These will go on to the Middle East on completion of the operation.
(ii) Maintenance Personnel. A very limited number of supervising personnel with the requisite tools and spares for servicing the aircraft and special parachute equipment at Malta. If the party can be restricted to less than 6 these personnel will return to the U.K. in Whitleys.
(iii) Special Service Air Battalion troops to be drawn from Army Sources.
Movement to Malta.
6. All personnel and equipment will be moved to Malta by air early in February.
7. The actual move to Malta is to be controlled by the O.A.M.C.
8. The whole party and their equipment cannot be carried in the actual operational aircraft. It will therefore be necessary to employ up to two Sunderlands from Coastal Command and/or some of the disposable load of Wellington and Sunderland aircraft on passage to M.E. Details of this requirement will be notified later when the total load to be carried is known.
9. The preliminary phase which is to begin immediately, is to consist of:-
(i) Concentration of the unit and aircraft at C.L.E. (Ringway).
(ii) Preparation of the aircraft, including incorporation of special modifications.
(iii) Operational training including fuel consumption tests.
Action Required Immediately.
10. The following action is to be put in hand forthwith:- [handwritten note: Speed is essential for items (i) to (vi)]
(i) By Headquarters, Bomber Command. (V.C.A.S. is issuing instructions) Detail a Commanding Officer, 5 flying crews, 5 Whitley V aircraft each with 4 auxiliary tanks; the detachment is to assemble at C.L.E. as soon as possible.
(ii) By D. of O. Move the 4 Bombays to C.L.E. as soon as possible.
(iii) By D. of O. Completion of the training of the Bombay crews for their attachment to C.L.E. when this is done.
(iv) By D.G.E. Modification of the 5 Whitley V aircraft for air landing operations. The modification is to be carried out at C.L.E. by a contractors working party if this is practicable. The work is to take priority over the preparation of Whitleys for Coastal Command (authority V.C.A.S.).
(v) By D.O.R. To give D.G.E. details of the Whitley modifications required.
(vi) By D.G.E. in conjunction with C.L.E. Modification of the 4 Bombay aircraft for landing operations. Details of the modifications will not be known until the C.L.E. have examined a Bombay at Ringway.
(vii) By D.D.R.S.1. Examination of the problem of maintenance at Malta on the basis of servicing for a total of approximately 35-40 hours flying before the aircraft will arrive in the U.K. or Middle East on completion of the operation. Will D.D.S.R.1. consider sending a representative to discuss this with C.L.E. as soon as practicable after the unit has concentrated.
(viii) By D.D.S.R.1. Notify D.D.W.O. of the actual number of maintenance personnel to be sent from U.K. to Malta and the total weight of tools and spares.
(ix) By D.D.S.R.1. In conjunction with D.G.E. to collect at C.L.E. and pack the necessary tools and spares for maintenance at Malta.
(x) By D.D.S.R.1. In conjunction with D. of M. (not yet informed) and D.D.W.O. to select maintenance personnel for servicing at Malta.
[Signed Russell G/Capt]
D. of O.
With reference to my loose minute CS.7951 dated 12th January 1941, the aircraft to be employed on this operation will be 8 Whitleys and not 5 Whitleys and 4 Bombays as stated in para.5(i)(a) and (b).
2. Will you please amend your copy of the minute accordingly.
[Signed G/Capt Russell]
MOST SECRET 5A
Herewith a summary of all reports received on the results of operation "Colossus".
I have signalled A.A.s. Berne and Washington asking if the American M.A. may again visit the prisoners and submit a detailed report.
The following reports have been received in connection with the parachute raid on Southern Italy on 10th February, 1941.
1. Suspension of Goods traffic:
It was announced officially, in Rome, that goods traffic had been suspended on lines connecting Brindisi, Bari, Taranto, Foggia and Lecce, as well as all stations in the province of Naples. The reason given was "the present transport situation and forwarding difficulties". Sources British Press 16.2.41.
Many broadcasts from Italy and Germany denied any connection between the landing of parachute troops and the suspension of goods traffic. Sources Italian German Radio 17.2.41.
It must be remembered that German Air Force units and material were, at this time, being brought into Southern Italy; this would, at least in part, account for the suspension of normal goods traffic. Sources Comment.
2. Bridge Damaged
A recent report from Rome stated that the Italians were much disturbed by the landing of parachutists in Southern Italy. These were believed to be Italian anti-Fascist refugees; the Italian authorities were much concerned by the possibility that not all had been rounded up. At least one bridge had been put out of commission by parachutists. See also paragraph 6(i). Sources H.M.A. Washington No.871 24.2.41.
3. Damage to water supply at Brindisi
C.2 source was told, in Brindisi, that the town had recently been without water for ten days, as the main water-pipe had been damaged in an air raid. There has only been one air raid on Brindisi this year, when 4 Wellingtons attacked the aerodrome on the night of the 15/16th February. Sources A.I.12620 27.2.41.
4. Damage to water supply at Bari.
(i) The Yugoslav consul at Bari, on leave, reported that a raid on the town, towards the end of February, seriously damaged the water supply, which was cut off the 9 days. Sources [unreadable] 10.3.41. There has been no air raid on Bari this year. Sources Comment.
(ii) Gives information from "reliable sources" that Bari was without water for 2 days because of damage to the aqueduct. Sources Air Attaché Washington 25.2.41.
5. Damage at Salerno also.
A group of parachutists also caused damage of unknown extent at Salerno. The Italians claim to have captured 41 parachutists but others may be at large. Sources Air Attaché Washington 25.2.41.
6. Damage to Aqueduct.
(1) The correspondent of the Chicago Daily News, recently expelled from Rome, stated that the Apulian aqueduct was blown up by our parachutists and repaired in 2½ days. The American Military Attaché visited the captured parachutists who morale was "terrific". They said they had blown up a railway bridge besides damaging the aqueduct. Local inhabitants carried their dynamite, under the impression that they were Germans. They intended to escape at the first opportunity. Sources H.M.M. Berne 14.3.41.
(2) Parachutists damaged an aqueduct. Sources CXG/781 5/3/41
(3) A Polish source states that British parachutists managed to damage "the aqueducts". Sources A.I.30227 13/3/41
MOST SECRET 6A
FROM ... D.C.O., War Cabinet Office Annexe, Richmond Terrace, London, S.W.1.
NO ........ 63
DATE .... 28th March, 1941.
TO ......... D.M.C., Air Ministry. D.M.O. & P., War Office.
Subject: REPORT ON OPERATION "COLOSSUS"
1. I have received a copy of a report on operation "COLOSSUS" from the Officer Commanding the Central Landing School, which raises a number of interesting points.
2. It must be remembered that the operation was inevitably restricted as to the period during which it was possible to carry it out. It could only take place during a full moon period and it could not well have taken place later than the February moon, i.e. 10th - 16th February, because the shorter nights would not have allowed the Whitleys to fly to MALTA and back under cover of darkness. Authority to proceed with preparations for the operation was not given until 9th January. This left all too short a time for the extremely complicated arrangements necessary to modify the Whitleys and containers and to train the pilots in duties which were quite new to them, and to prepare generally for an operation without precedent. This training period was still further reduced by the very bad weather conditions at RINGWAY, which made dropping practice impossible on many days. In fact, only one full-scale rehearsal was possible and that was carried out in a 30 m.p.h. wind and resulted in a number of injuries to the paratroops.
3. As regards intelligence, it is unlikely that more detailed technical and topographical information will be available for any similar project.
4. Detailed constructional diagrams as well as photographs and a very large-scale map (1:5,000) were procured before the planning stage and the best technical advice and local knowledge were consulted, having proper regard to the overriding importance of the security factor.
5. The grave risk of compromising secrecy was accepted in deciding that air photographs were essential, but, owing to the exceptional weather conditions required to obtain them, repeated attempts failed and the necessary reconnaissance was not achieved in time for these photographs to be examined in England before the departure of the expedition.
6. Local defence intelligence was necessarily largely a matter of surmise, but subsequent events have tended to prove its accuracy, notably that only local guards and no A.A. guns or other defences would be encountered until the inevitable arrival of reinforcements from the nearest likely military centre.
7. Despite the short time available for preparation, it was nevertheless decided to carry out this important operation and it is considered that the execution reflects great credit on all concerned.
8. There are, however, certain points which call for remedy in future operations of this kind. Much time could be saved if all Whitleys were modified for parachuting now and if the resources of other types of aircraft for parachuting were examined and exploited. Similarly, it is thought that Whitley and other bomber pilots, during their rest periods from operational flying should be attached for a period to the C.L.E. to receive instruction in dropping parachutists. Great care appears to be necessary in selecting the Attack Commander Air, who should possess not only courage and enthusiasm, but a measure of experience and administrative ability, and it may be that the pilots and air crews concerned in this operation did not fully realise the necessity for sympathetic understanding of the work required of the paratroops, before as well as during the actual operation. I am fully in agreement with the suggestion in the report that an experienced officer should be appointed as Operation Commander at the earliest possible moment so that he may assume responsibility for all aspects of training and execution from the start.
9. As regards control for future air-borne raids, I suggest that the responsibility for the air preparation and execution must be clearly defined. In this case it was not clear whether the operation was being undertaken under the control of the D.C.O. or the Air Ministry.
D.C.A.S. (through D. of Plans).
At enclosure 4B are reports on operation Colossus written by the Commandant, C.L.E., and the operation controller, Wing Commander Norman. In my comments which follow I have not referred to the latter report, as the points made are included in the former. D.C.O's comments on the reports are at enclosure 6A; to these I have also referred.
Intelligence. (C.L.E. paras.8 and 19(iv). D.C.O. paras.3-6)
2. D.C.O. states that he does not consider better information about the objective could have been obtained with prejudicing secrecy. To this I cannot agree. If any similar operation is to be undertaken, it will be essential to its success that up to date information, derived from all sources, including photographs of the objective, is available.
Training. (C.L.E. paras.8.9.13 and 19(i). D.C.O. paras.2 & 8)
3. It is admitted that this operation was hurried and that insufficient time was allowed for training. This had two main results:-
(i) The parachutists were unfamiliar with the aircraft.
(ii) The air crews did not appreciate the difficulties confronting the parachutist.
4. The conclusion is that, if a similar operation is to be undertaken in the future, the aircraft and crews must be selected at an early date and struck off other operations so that all preparations can be completed in good time.
Command. (C.L.E. paras.9 and 19 (v) & (vi). D.C.O. para.8).
5. The Operation Controller was appointed only a few days before the expedition left the U.K. He was not therefore in a position to fully carry out his functions. C.L.E. recommended that their staff should include an operations staff. They have recently had their establishment increased to include a Squadron Leader (Air). I do not think that any further increase is justified, as such operations will not take place frequently. All that is required is the appointment of an Operation Controller as soon as a project is decided upon.
Control. (D.C.O. para.9)
6. D.C.O. is not clear whether such operations should be controlled by him or the Air Ministry. In my opinion there can be no doubt. Once an operation has been agreed to, on a high level, control must be exercised by the Air Ministry, who alone are in a position to organise the party and issue the necessary orders.
7. There are various technical criticisms. These are all being investigated and the faults remedied.
8. In general, operation Colossus suffered from being staged in a hurry. The direct results were perhaps small, but the indirect results were far greater. This will be true of all similar operations, and I feel that their effect on the enemy's morale makes them well worth consideration.
1. I agree in general with minute 7, particularly in regard to control which is mentioned by D.C.O. in paragraph 9 of his enclosure 6A. It has been agreed with the War Office that the conduct of air-borne operations should be the responsibility of the Air Ministry until the troops have actually landed on the ground and the same rule ought to apply in expeditions of the nature of Colossus, undertaken by D.C.O.
2. As regards paragraph 8 of D.C.O.'s memorandum, all Whitleys coming off line and shortly to be fitted for parachute dropping. This will facilitate training before any operation is actually attempted.
3. In actual fact there was not such a violent rush as the report would appear to indicate. The project was under discussion for many weeks before permission to stage it was given and there is no reason why a good deal of preliminary training should not have been carried out during the period when the fate of the project was being decided. I admit, however, that as much time as possible should always be allowed before staging an operation of this nature.
D. of Plans
I concur with min 8. If the aircraft are required for a still larger period then these operations are not worth the cost in lost bomber effort. This one certainly was not. The aircrews were picked. No better exist.
26th April, 1941.
To:- A.D.C.O. (Air) War Cabinet Office Annexe.
From:- Air Ministry (D.M.C.)
D.C.O. memorandum P.63 dated 28th March, 1941, raises a number of points concerning operation "Colossus", the answers to which, as far as the Air Staff is concerned, are as follows:-
The provision of the best information about the objective for a similar operation is of course essential. If such an operation is again to be undertaken, for it to have the best chance of success, up to date information, derived from all sources, and to include photographs of the objective, must be available.
It is agreed that as much time as possible must be allowed for training, but the period must be measured against the necessity of striking off operational aircraft and crews, which would otherwise be engaged in their normal bombing role.
It has been agreed with the War Office that the conduct of airborne operations shall be the responsibility of the Air Ministry until the troops have actually landed on the ground. This rule must be applied to operations of the nature of Colossus, since the Air Ministry alone are in a position to organize air forces involved and issue the orders to them.