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Operation Aquatint: 75th anniversary tribute

Seventy-five years ago this week three men from SOE’s Small Scale Raiding Force (No. 62 Commando) were killed during a night time operation on the stretch of Normandy coastline at Saint Laurent-sur-mer that would eventually be known as Omaha Beach.

You can read an account of this operation and its outcomes here: ... and it's also worth reading the online summaries of Brian Lett's two books on the Small Scale Raiding Force in which Brian explains that the SSRF had been "... set up by Colin Gubbins, code name M, as his Secret Navy, and was initially staffed exclusively by men of the Special Operations Executive, M’s “licensed to kill” secret agents. They were led by Gus March-Phillipps, Geoffrey Appleyard, Graham Hayes and Anders Lassen, the “James Bonds” recently returned from the triumph of Operation Postmaster in West Africa."

The three men who perished that night were -

  • Major “Gus” March-Phillipps DSO MBE - Royal Artillery, attd Small Scale Raiding Force

  • Sergeant Allen Williams - The Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey), attd Small Scale Raiding Force

  • Private Richard Leonard - Pioneer Corps, attd Small Scale Raiding Force

NB: Private Leonard’s original surname was Lehniger. His mother had been from a German-Jewish family, and he was a dedicated communist born in what would eventually become the Czech Republic.

The commune of Saint Laurent-sur-mer held its official ceremonies on Wednesday this week at the seafront plaque dedicated to Operation Aquatint and then at the cemetery itself. It wasn't until seventy-five years ago today that the three were actually buried in the cemetery of Saint Laurent-sur-mer, and so the Charity was pleased and proud to pay tribute to them on this very day by having arranged for Royal British Legion wreaths to be laid especially on this annivesary.

The gallery below includes photographs of the wreaths taken by Nigel Stewart and also some taken at the cemetery last year by Charity co-founder Martyn Cox. These include a marble panel containing the poem "If I must die" - in French and English - which had been written by Gus March-Phillipps in 1941. Please note that below this next image gallery are clickable web links to a number of sources for futher information about Operation Aquatint and the Small Scale Raiding Force, including videos, books and online articles - with some in French. It's well worth reading about the experiences and fates of the other members of the SSRF team, and particularly the poignant stories of Geoffrey Appleyard and Graham Hayes.

Our wreath laying would not have been possible without the stirling efforts of Nigel Stewart, the Caen-based D-Day guide and artist. We also have to thank Audrey Kercher of the Portsmouth branch of the Royal British Legion who supplied the wreaths (thanks to a kind donation by Clare Mulley) and the PR team at Brittany Ferries who arranged for the wreaths to reach Normandy via its Ouistreham-Caen ferry crossing.

After that it was all down to Nigel who collected, transported, laid and and then photographed the wreaths at the Saint Laurent-sur-mer cemetery. So very special thanks once again to him ... without whom etc etc. You can see Nigel's art and photography here:

And here's information about Nigel's D-Day lectures:

Clickable web links for additional formation about Operation Aquatint and SOE's Small Scale Raiding Force (aka No. 62 Commando) ...

In English: ONLINE -

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Author Brian Lett's web site


Combined Operations web site

Commando veterans web site

Was the gunner buried on Omaha Beach the original 007? He who dared ... (Yorkshire Post article) Two Childhood Friends Helped Found an Elite WW2 Unit Then Died on the Same Day, Hundreds of Miles Apart


If I must die… From "Postmaster" to "Aquatint": the audacious raids of a British commando 1941-1943 by Gérard Fournier

Small Scale Raiding Force by Brian Lett

Ian Fleming and SOE's Operation POSTMASTER: The Top Secret Story Behind 007 by Brian Lett

Secret War Heroes: The Men of Special Operations Executive by Marcus Binney

Geoffrey, Being the Story of Apple of the Commandos and Special Air Service Regiment

- a limited edition recently republished by the Bramley War Memorial

Wartime Courage: Stories of Extraordinary Courage by Exceptional Men and Women in World War Two by Gordon Brown

Fighting Back: British Jewry's Military Contribution in the Second World War: Anglo-Jewry's Contribution in the Second World War by Martin Sugarman

We Will Remember Them: A Record of the Jews Who Died in the Armed Forces of the Crown from 1939: A Record of the Jews Who Died in the Armed Forces of the Crown 1939-1945 by Henry Morris and Martin Sugarman

En Français:

LIVRES - Opération Aquatint: 12-13 Septembre 1942 - Gérard Fournier et André Heintz

Les raids des commandos alliés en Normandie avant le débarquement (1940-1944) - Stéphane Simonnet


Des hommes de défis, l'échec de l'opération Aquatint


Des hommes de défis (Il existe plusieurs vidéos sur cette page web. L'épisode 3 comprend Nigel Stewart décrivant l'Opération Aquatint) -

Les raids des commandos alliés en Normandie - avec Stéphane Simonnet

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