Operation Aquatint

Preliminary missions for the Operation Overlord

Operation Aquatint in 1942: British command operation carried out in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, to obtain intelligence. Photo: D-Day Overlord

The commemorative plaque commemorating Operation Aquatint, located on the seafront in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.
Photo: D-Day Overlord

Origins and development of Operation Aquatint

20 months before the first waves of American assaults on Omaha Beach in Calvados, a detachment of the 112nd British 62nd Commando, led by Major March Philipps, set foot on the shore of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, On the night of September 12 to 13, 1942. Code name of the operation: Aquatint. The goals are to test enemy defenses, make prisoners and disrupt the opponent. This type of mission is a classic for the small commando units that carry out these intelligence actions, fast and discreet, on the beaches of Holland, Belgium or France.

British soldiers, over-trained and members of the SSRF (Small Scale Raiding Forces), landed not in front of the village of Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes but in front of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. The current deported MTB 44 (having flown across the Channel) and then the small Goatley transport boat four kilometers to the west. Immediately after disembarkation, a German patrol surprised the British commandos trying to make a prisoner before retreating and re-embarking on the Goatley. A sharp exchange of shots begins, the shots coming mainly from the German Wn 69 strongpoint.

The Goatley canoe is hit by shots and sinks. The British then attempted to swim to MTB 44. Targeted by the opposing artillery, the star is forced to turn back. Some members of the commandos manage to get on board.


Three members of the commando were killed during the brief but intense battle: Major March Phillipps, 32, Sergeant Alan Williams, 22, and Private Richard Lehniger, 42. Two were seriously wounded: Lieutenant Hall, left for dead on the beach (he had in fact received a violent grenade-thrust, handled at the back by a German patrol soldier) and Howard. Four commandos managed to escape through the Normandy countryside before being captured, except Captain Graham Hayes (who escaped German patrols), Captain John Burton, Private Adam Orr (Polish) and Private Jan Helling (Dutch).

Today, a simple commemorative plaque on the dyke of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer recalls the sacrifice of these courageous men.


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