Operation Cold Comfort/ Zombie, 17 February-March 1945

Operation Cold Comfort/ Zombie (17 February-March 1945) was an unsuccessful SAS attempt to block the railway through the Brenner Pass, to prevent German troops moving in or out of Italy during the upcoming Allied spring offensive. The operation was launched as Cold Comfort, but the name was changed to Zombie while it was still under way.

The aim of the operation was to cause landslides that would block the railway in the Brenner Pass in the south Tyrol. This would be a difficult area for the SAS to operate in, as the population were largely German speaking and hostile to the raiders (unlike in most of northern Italy, where the SAS now had the support of large parts of the population). However the drop zones selected for the operation were around Monte Pasubio, to the south of Trento and east of Lake Garda, in an Italian speaking area, where the survivors of the drop were able to take refuge with a group of partisans.

The precise target of the mission was a large pinnacle of rock that overlooked the Adige valley, next to the main road and railway leading north to the Brenner Pass. The idea was to fill the crevice between the pinnacle and the main mountain with explosives and blow the pinnacle down into the valley, where it would dam the river and block the road and railway. 

The first stage of the mission was to drop a party of four, including the operation’s commander Captain Littlejohn, into the drop zone, so that he could prepare for the main landing. This drop took place on 14 February, but Littlejohn and his party were dropped too far to the east, at Monte Pau on the Asiago Plateau. He waited there until D-Day for the main drop, 24 February, and then set out to move west to Monte Pasubio. However his party ran into a large group of Italian fascists. Littlejohn and Sergeant Crowley were wounded and captured and then handed over the SS in Bolzano. They were interrogated by the Germans, before on 19 March 1945 they were executed, but apparently without giving away anything about the main party.

On 24 February the main party was also dropped, once again in the wrong place, this time at Monte Moscaigh, to the north of Monte Pau. The SAS party was badly scattered, but they were soon found by Italian partisans and taken to their refuge. The survivors of the drop slowly came together in their refuge on the hills above the village of Camporovere, close to Asiago. Very few of their supplies, which had been dropped separately, were retrieved. Eventually ten SAS troopers and a Special Forces signaler joined the group. They were able to get into contact with their HQ, but were never able to arrange a supply drop. Between then and the end of the war in Italy they lived and operated with the partisans, taking part in a number of clashes with the Germans and their allies, but an attempt to try and attack the Brenner route ended in failure.

The operation was declared to be a failure in late March and some of the survivors were evacuated. Others remained in the mountains until the advancing Allied armies reached their positions, and were present when Asiago was liberated by the partisans. The operation had failed to achieve any of its objectives, but most of the SAS troops involved had survived, and some had played a part with the partisans.

SAS Trooper - Charlie Radford's Operations in Enemy Occupied France and Italy, Charlie Radford, ed. Francis Mackay. Follows the military career of a pre-war army apprentice through his time as a sapper and in the SAS, where he fought behind German lines in France and took part in Operation Cold Comfort, one of the less successful SAS missions in Italy. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 February 2019), Operation Cold Comfort/ Zombie, 17 February-March 1945 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/operation_cold_comfort_zombie.html

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