4 – Operation Begonia/Jonquil: 2-6 October 1943
The purpose of this mission was to rescue POWs that found themselves free after the surrender of Italy in 1943. The troops were supposed to arrive and guide the prisoners to beaches on the Adriatic coast. Begonia was the airborne element of the mission while Jonquil was an amphibious landing. There were 61 soldiers involved in the operation from the SAS and Eighth Army Airborne.
Begonia took place on 2 October while the seaborne landings occurred between 4-6 October. Some of the team landed on the coast between Pescara and Ancona while others were parachuted inland. Unfortunately, there were faults in planning from the start. For instance, the Italian coast didn’t have any easily identifiable features so everything looked the same. As a result, finding a single landing point in the changing weather was a tough ask for navigators.
Ironically, the faulty planning probably saved the SAS from being killed by the Axis forces! It transpired that the Germans knew all about Operation Begonia/Jonquil; right down to the drop zones and rendezvous points. While hundreds of POWs were successfully located and forwarded to the beaches, the SAS only managed to rescue 50 of them as lack of radio communication caused havoc.
Historically, this audacious raid has been classified as a failure but this is extremely harsh. As well as saving some prisoners, the raiding party learned some excellent intelligence about the German Gustav Line and the territories it protected. They also discovered the identities of Italians who were guilty of collaborating with the Germans along with those who risked their lives to help the POWs. Finally, as the Germans had to send troops to stop the raiders, it took resources away from the German defense of the Russian front and France.