Combined Operations Pilotage Parties

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When interviewed in 2009, Major General Scott-Bowden of COPP 1 said: “Our mission was to reconnoitre the Gold Beach area around Ver-sur-Mer. Aerial photographs, and some knowledge of local conditions, indicated that just below the sandy top layer were extensive pockets of soft peat which possibly covered clay, and could spell real trouble for tanks and other heavy armoured vehicles. These were possibly the remains of ancient forests, submerged thousands of years ago, and were the focus for our mission”.

One dark winter night, the 24-yearold Royal Engineers major boarded a motor gunboat at Gosport, with his companion-in-arms Bruce Ogden-Smith. It was vital that all COPP missions were undertaken during the dark phases of the moon, and Winston Churchill apparently suggested the date of December 31, because he believed the German forces would be far too busy celebrating the New Year to notice any activity on the beaches. And he proved to be correct.

A few miles from their target, the two men changed into their bulky rubber swimsuits, and strapped on heavy bandoliers, backpacks, measuring equipment and weapons. They then transferred to a small inshore craft which took them to within a quarter-mile of the beach. After initial problems when they were swept too far east by the currents, they quartered the target beach, taking measurements and core samples with metal augers, storing them in special containers for analysis back in the UK.

Scott-Bowden recalled: “As we swam back through heavy surf towards our rendezvous point, I thought my companion was in trouble, when I heard him shouting. But when I turned to help, he only wished me ‘A Happy New Year’. I told him to, ‘swim you b*****, or we'll land back on the beach’. However I wished him ‘A Happy New Year’ in return, and we used our infra-red torches to signal to our support boat, then rendezvoused with the MGB. Weather conditions were against us on our return trip, and we had to head for Newhaven, because we needed to make landfall before dawn and the possibility of our discovery by the enemy.”

A short time later, when the Americans heard of their audacious mission, they asked them to survey their own landing sites during the next dark period, a few weeks later. “This time we boarded an X-craft midget submarine at Gosport, and were towed by Royal Navy trawler to within a few miles of the French coast.

We then spent four days on the seabed, and three nights surveying the beaches to the west of Port-en-Bessin and the Omaha Beach area. When we first approached the target area, we discovered our way was partially blocked by a French fishing fleet, complete with enemy guards. Our Australian skipper, Ken Hudspeth said we could work our way in under the nets, and as we threaded our way through, we raised the periscope.

I was a little surprised to find myself staring into the face of a German soldier, perched close by up on the stern of the last fishing boat, thoughtfully puffing away on a pipe! We downed periscope pretty smartly I can tell you!” By day they surveyed the defences through the periscope, and each night Scott-Bowden and Ogden- Smith donned their cumbersome rubber swimming suits and kit, then swam 400 yards to the shore, all the while dodging the searchlights of the occupying forces.

Copyright © COPP Heroes -


Scott Bowden
Major General
Scott Bowden
Bruce Ogden