Special Allied Airborne Reconnaissance Force

In February 1945, when the defeat of Germany appeared imminent, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was provided with a mandate for dispatching troops whose mission would be to secure the safety of Allied Prisoners Of War and to provide for their early evacuation. As a result of its mandate, SHAEF created, in March 1945, The Special Allied Airborne Reconnaissance Force, a designation mercifully shortened to simply SAARF by most of its personnel and by those who had cause to refer to it.

Headquarters

A golf course and its facilities at Wentworth, which formerly served as the Headquarters of the 21st Army Group, was allocated as the Special Allied Airborne Reconnaissance Force (SAARF's) Headquarters and training camp. Both the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) (USA) and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) (England), provided training and support personnel and, along with the 1st Allied Airborne Army, operational personnel. SAARF remained, however, under the control of the SHAEF.

Personnel

Command

Brigadier J. S. Nichols, a British officer, was selected to command, and Col. J. E. Raymond, an American, was appointed Deputy Commander.

Operational Staff

The operational side was made up of an international group of people: 120 French, 96 British, 96 American, 30 Belgian, and 18 Polish personnel, totaling 360 people. Many of the British and French personnel were drawn from special operations units, while the Polish people came from the Polish Independent Grenadier Company. The majority of the 96 Americans were drawn from the OSS and from elements of the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions. (A small group, fewer than a half-dozen men, came from the 13th Airborne Division. And one radio operator came to SAARF from the U.S. Navy) Not all operational personnel were men; there were several women who had served with distinction as SOE agents in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Teams

The basic operational unit of SAARF was a 3-man/woman team that, with few exceptions, comprised two officers and an enlisted radio operator. All personnel had to be airborne qualified; those who were not were sent to the No. 1 Parachute Training School at Ringway, and refresher training was conducted by RAF 38 Group. Because the time available for training was limited, the personnel in each team were usually of the same nationality. Although the female personnel had established enviable records of bravery and daring in their previous assignments, it was decided early-on they would not be used in an airborne role.

POW Camps

In March 1945, the Allies crossed the Rhine and the collapse of Germany proceeded more rapidly than anticipated. On 21 April, in response to a request from the Belgian government, eight of the ten Belgian teams were dispatched to Brussels to be employed, in a ground role, by the various Army Groups to obtain early information regarding conditions in some POW camps. A few days thereafter, SAARF was restructured: the 60 teams that had completed their training were retained in an airborne role while the remaining teams were re-designated air-transportable and were to use ground transportation, usually jeeps, in conducting their missions.

Conditions in the POW camps were believed to be poor and there was great uncertainty regarding Hitler's plan for a final stand. There were many scenarios for what the Germans might do with the POWs, and none was pleasant to contemplate. If the Germans abandoned the camps before the arrival of the Allied armies, the POWs would be threatened by starvation and disease and, perhaps, by random violence at the hands of the populace or the military. Any effort to force march the POW population deeper into Germany and use them as hostages would result in the deaths of many. And the willingness of the Germans to ignore the provisions of the Geneva Convention suggested even worse scenarios.

It was envisioned that the SAARF teams would drop near the POW camps, reconnoitre the situation, and report the conditions they found. Although it was thought unlikely that the teams could directly influence the movement of POW's, they could direct drops of food and medical supplies into the camps if conditions warranted.

Altengrabow (Operation:VIOLET)

VIOLET proved to be the SAARF's only airborne operation: the balance of the units were air-transported to their assignments. SAARF teams were spread across northern Europe to assist local military governments in establishing radio links, in translation and interrogation, in monitoring the movement of German forces back to Germany, in screening the inmate populations of German prisons to determine who were political prisoners and who were criminals, and in searching for Nazis who had been identified as possible war criminals.

Insignia

Wing

The wing is silver-blue Schiffli embroidery on royal blue wool, it was sometimes put on a black background; it terminates in a red arrow symbolically breaking the chains of oppression, which are also embroidered in red. SAARF's non-American personnel usually wore the wing on the right shoulder, as a true SSI, while the Americans generally preferred to wear it near the right cuff in a fashion reminiscent of the pathfinder wing.

Rarity

Because of its obscurity, SAARF for many years escaped the attention of most collectors and few reproductions of the unit's insignia were to be found. This, however, is changing, as the unit and its insignia are exposed to more of the collecting public. Illustrated here is a reproduction of the wing that collectors may encounter. A few variations of the SAARF wing can be found in collections. All personnel were issued the unit's insignia. SAARF insignia are one of the rarest Allied airborne insignia of the Second World War that were approved and issued. Only about 100 Americans received the insignia.

Disbanding

SAARF was disbanded on 1 July 1945. A short-lived and secretive unit, most of the hardened veterans came from the airborne and special operations units.

Footnotes

External links

* [http://www.insigne.org/SAARF-I.htm All of the information]


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