Operation Hardtack 28

Operation Hardtack 28

Hardtack was the name of a series of Allied Commando raids during the Second World War. The operations were conducted by No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando, No. 12 Commando and the Special Boat Service. They all took place on enemy held territory from the Channel Islands to the northern coast of France. Most of the raids consisted of ten men of various ranks, carried by Motor Gun Boats and dories, except for one operation, which was an airborne landing. The raids were ended by order of Major General Robert Laycock because they caused the enemy to bring reinforcements, which could have been detrimental to the Allies’ Overlord planning.

On Christmas Day in 1943 Captain Philip Ayton, Sgt D Roberts, Lt Hulot , Cpl J Hourcourighary, Cpl M Roux & Cpl 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 have Christmas with his family.

The commandos planned to land at Giffard Bay but in the operational plans we found in the archive Giffard was crossed out and changed to Petit Port. This may have been to do with RAF reconnaissance flights spotting a heavy defence above the bay. The German 1943 maps show a resistance nest there named Jasmin.

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The Naval boat assigned to this mission was code named “Force 113” and the vessel used was a Motor Gun Boat (MGB 329). Leaving Dartmouth, Force 113 moved to a holding position just half of a mile from petit port. Leaving the relative safety of MGB 329 the commandos board and are taken to the shore by a small boat known as a dorey. Communications from this point was to be by torchlight.  At 20:45 they land without alerting any of the German forces. 

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The first stop for the commandos was a small stone building, known now as the “Wolfs Lair”, and a corrugated iron shack. Both were empty with no signs of any recent activity. 

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They continued past these buildings until the team 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” and in English below “Attention Mines”. 

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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. 

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The patrol then moved across country to make a reconnaissance of the observation post (documented on the map as 773819). They moved very quietly, keeping a sharp lookout for wire obstacles or minefields, but did not meet any. The team went right up to the observation post itself and it was well camouflaged. It consisted of a mound with two entrances on the landward side, each with 7 or 8 steps leading down to a steel door. The doors were locked and there was no means of forcing them. On the seaward side, there was what appeared to be a pillbox under the netting with a loophole facing North. They found there was several slit trenches by the observation post which were in poor condition but no active tracks.

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The Commandos decided to go inland along the road towards two farms hoping to meet a German patrol.  As they neared the closest farm (La Geonniere pictured below) it looked occupied and so 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 some Germans. She said that she could not help and directed them to a farm where she said they might get some information.

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Following her instructions, the patrol moved towards the farm (773812 on the map Les Champs du Chemin). 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 sub machine 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 and as they were interviewed they prepared glasses of milk for the Commandos.

At the end of the interview the brothers offered to assist the team in finding an enemy patrol. The brothers guided the team across country to the eastern edge of the Jasmin resistance nest. 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 was 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 entry into the 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 dorey 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 dorey. 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 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 dorey back to collect the team. After much difficulty, they managed to get Captain Ayton down the cliff and finally re-embarked in the dorey at about 0520 hours.
Although they had waited for the dorey for about half an hour after the explosion, there was no enemy reaction whatever. Captain Ayton died later that day in Devonport England.
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. 
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 cavorting 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. 

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Captain Philip Ayton

Captain 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

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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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Exploring bunkers:

• Always get permission from the owner
• Take a torch, a spare and one more for luck
• Don't go alone & tell someone where you will be and for how long
• You will get dirty as most are often full of rubbish and may have been used as a public toilet
• Anything you find still belongs to the person that owns the property
Unexploded ordnance is still found in Jersey if you see or find anything that looks like ordnance please call the bomb disposal officer on 01534 612 612.

Jargon Help

Widerstandsnest (WN) = Resistance Nest (RN)
Small pocket of resistance, these would be made up of small groups of up to 10 men with light weapons. They would man Anti-tank weapons, an observation post or a field gun.

Stützpunkt St.P = Strongpoint (STP)
Next level up from an RN and consisted of several RN's. STP areas would have a combination of weapons and different branches of the military used. Examples of this can be found with Strongpoint Greve de Lecq and Strongpoint Corbiere

Einsatzstellung = Operational Position or Action Post
Smaller MG type position generally it was only maned during an alert

Feldwache = Field Watch

Jäger Casemate was a special design and name for bunkers designed to hold a 10.5cm field gun

Sources of Information

German Documents are housed at The National Archived in Washington or Archive in Kew UK
T-78 Roll 318
T-78 Roll 317
T-315 Roll 1639
T-315 Roll 1643
T-311 Roll 27
T-312 Roll 1545

Operation Green Arrows - Occupation of the Channel Islands MOD 584
Allied Technical Intelligence Reports 1944-45
German Preparations for Invasion of the United Kingdom 1941-42
B-833, 319th Infantry Division (1941-45)
German Seacoast Defenses, European Theatre - prepared by the Seacoast Artillery Evaluation Board
Jersey Occupied by Michael Ginns - ISBN 978-1-905095-29-2

Operation Nestegg Plans
Operation Hardtack Plans
Operation Basalt Plans
RAF Photos care of The National Collection of Aerial Photography
Bundesarchiv - Multiple Photos - and Files
A Map of slave labour camps. Kindly Provided by Emilio Pérez
Photo's and information provided by fans
Onsite visits & internet research
After the Battle Multiple Magazines

If we have used any photos or information which you believe to posted without permission, please contact us at info@jerseywartours.com

Links of other excellent websites and people you must support.

The National Trust for Jersey are a fantastic group and we can not praise them enough for the work they do. Please go support them as their vision is to permanently protect Jersey's natural beauty, rich wildlife and historic places for everyone to enjoy and experience.

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Jersey Heritage look after multiple sites most with links to the Second World War and all worth a visit. The archive they have is amazing and one of the best sources of information. It can be used online or in person and we ask you to please support all they do.


The Channel Island Occupation Society are guardians of 5 sites which have all been restored or have been made to look like they did in the Second World War. Visits to these sites help fund the work they do and we encourage you to take a look at the opening times and visit them. They also have a wide range of books and reviews, all of which are an excellent resource for education.

Whether you are an established Battlefield Guide, retired from the craft, interested in how it is done or considering a future in guiding, the International Guild of Battlefield Guides is for you. Kimberley and Phil are both associate members and recommend you visit their website to show support.