Belgian armed forces in Great Britain

The SAS-troops

On November 8th, 1940, the first Belgian Battalion was established in Great Britain. By end December it reached its full strength with 825 officers, warrant officers and men. Charles Cumont the 37 year-old Captain was in charge of the supreme command. Gradually the Belgians got more and more equipped with the establishment of an artillery battery and a squadron of armored cars. On 20 February 1941 the battalion left Tenby in order to be transferred to Carmarthen. Only the staff of Lieutenant-General Van Strydonck, some services and the instructors remained at Tenby.

On February 23rd, 1941, a second battalion was established, commanded by Reserve Captain William Grisar. The new battalion was based in Malvern. On 10 July 1941 the military staff and the remaining men from Terby were transferred to Malvern. This was from now on the headquarters of the ‘Belgian Independent Infantry Brigade’.

During a number of months maneuvers alternated with the classical ‘military training’. Because the allied forces recognized that paratroops were a new weapon in warfare they started to train parachutists. Early 1942 a number of soldiers of the 1st Fusiliers battalion started a training as parachutist at Ringway. Soon eight men were admitted to be called the first Belgian licensed paratroopers. From then onwards each month some twenty volunteers were trained. On 8 May 1942 the Belgian Independent Parachute Company was established officially by Henri Rolin, Undersecretary of State for Defense. When the first commander, Jules Thise, became seriously wounded on his spine during a jump, the command was transferred to Captain Edouard Blondeel.

In August 1943 the parachutist company was doing practice with the 6th Airborne Division and on 2 December 1943 the Belgian paratroopers moved to Scotland to the ‘Special training Center’ in Inverlochy Castle. There they were trained to become SAS-paratroops. The number of trainees at that moment amounted to 210 men. On 24 February 1944, the Parachutist Company was incorporated in the ‘Special Air Service Brigade’ together with two British and two French units and were named the ‘Belgian SAS Squadron’. Even when Captain Blondeel was in charge of the unit since a year and a half, he only took officially command of the squadron on 8 February 1944. At that time they left their encampment at Friz Hill-Kineton in order to be installed in Camp Loudon Castle near Galton (Ayrshire) in Scotland.

The task of the SAS units involved the sabotage of (communication) connections, to gain intelligence and to collaborate with resistance groups. Originally it was the intention that the Belgian SAS-unit had to be dropped in the Ardennes, just before the landing in Normandy but this plan was canceled at the last moment. Finally the Belgians were only deployed in July and August in the hills of Perche (Operations Chaucer, Bunyan and Shakespeare). The first teams consisted of six men. They had to collect as much information as possible about the German movements and positions. Next to that they also participated in attacks on the German columns and rear guards.

When the allied advanced forces had reached them they were carried back to their starting point. On 17 August 1944 eighty Belgian SAS men left in order to participate in Operation Trueforum. They were dropped in the Falaise pocket and had to prevent as much as possible the German withdrawing troops from crossing the Seine river. In the same period a reconnaissance group under the command of Lieutenant Etienne Kirschen was dropped east of Beauvais with the orders to send messages about the volume of the German transports along the axes Paris – Compiegne and Paris – Soissons (Operation Benson). They were dropped in the wrong place but they succeeded to obtain a document with the total German battle order along the river Somme. Next to that they liberated some two hundred allied aircrew that had been shot down and brought them back to their own lines.

During the same period a team of eight SAS paratroopers jumped under the command of Lieutenant Renkin as a spearhead of Operation Noah (reconnaissance patrols and attacking of German withdrawing troops) in the French Ardennes. They were the first Belgian soldiers that penetrated into Belgian territory where they had to prepare the arrival of the advancing allied forces. In cooperation with the so-called Secret Army (Geheim Leger) they succeeded in generating big losses with the Germans in manpower, vehicles and ammunition dumps.

Thereafter the Belgian SAS-troops were parachuted into an action theatre which reached from Gedinne in the Ardennes till Peer in (Belgian) Limburg, where they stayed on until the allied ground forces arrived. During one of these operations (Bergbang) the team of Lieutenant Vanderheyden was dropped in the wrong dropping zone and landed as the first allied military in Germany (West of the Siegfried Line) . After this bad drop they immediately returned to Belgium in order to as yet carry out their orders. In Sart they attacked a German headquarters. One high ranking officer was killed. Some groups in the Ardennes operated in their parachuted jeeps equipped with Vickers machine guns. This happened amongst others in Bois-Saint-Jean (Luxemburg) where, after heavy fighting, they repelled an enemy attack with armored vehicles.

On 13 September 1944 the various Belgian SAS groups gathered in liberated Brussels from where they were carried back to England. They were soon deployed again amongst others during Operation Market-Garden and during the Battle of the Bulge. Their many actions earned the Belgian SAS the notices “Normandy-Belgium-Ardennes-Emden-Oldenburg”, which became marked on their ensign and on the emblem of their unit as well as the achievement of the “Shoulder-knot of the Order of Leopold” (Third class). This decoration was submitted to units that have at least four citations on their emblem. In total sixteen men lost their lives and fifty eight were wounded

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Patch of the Belgian S.A.S.

Who dares wins; the motto of the Belgian S.A.S. units.

Edouard ‘Eddy’ Blondeel, commander of the Belgian S.A.S. unit.


Translated by:
Fred Bolle
Article by:
Gerd Van der Auwera
Published on:
Last edit on:
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