Operation Chestnut (12-19 July 1943) was an unsuccessful attempt by the SAS to disrupt Axis communications in northern Sicily, to support the Allied invasion of Sicily.
The operation involved two ten-man teams. Team ‘Pink’, under Captain Pinckney, was to cut roads and telephone lines in the north-east of Sicily, and cut the Catania-Messina railway line, which ran along the mountainous east coast. Team ‘Brig’, under Captain Bridgeman-Evans, was to attack enemy convoys and HQs near Enna, almost in the centre of the island.
The plans for the operation underwent a series of changes, which disrupted the planning. The first plan was to land both parties by submarine on the north coast of Sicily some time before the invasion. On 17 June the 15th Army Group postponed the mission to D-1, and on 20 June it was cancelled altogether. The plan was then revived on 6 July, this time as the SAS’s first parachute mission.
The SAS parties were carried on two Albermarles provided by the 51st Troop Carrier Wing. Neither drop went well. Team ‘Pink’ was scattered across a wide area around Randazzo, and their radios and much of their equipment was damaged in the drop. Team ‘Brig’ dropped too close to urban areas and were detected. Bridgeman-Evans was captured, although managed to escape. One of the two aircraft was lost after the drop, with the loss of Major Geoffrey Appleyard, the former commander of the ‘Small Scale Raiding Force’.
With their radios lost, neither party was able to get in touch with their base, or with aircraft sent to resupply them. Two Albermarles were sent out on 13 July (Operation Chestnut No.2), but without success. Chestnut No.2 of 14 July was more successful, but a final effort, on 19 July (Chestnut No.4) also ended in failure.
The scattered SAS parties were unable to achieve much on the ground. Most of the SAS troopers managed to escape back to Allied lines, allowing the unit to carry out a detailed post-mortem of the operation. The official report judged that the operation had not been worth the ‘number of men, amount of equipment and planes used’, but that lessons had been learnt.