Saturday, June 15

"Firing into the Brown" #51 - "Fabius", Mosquito's and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another update..

Another local picture - following - prompted an enjoyable rabbit hole of an investigation into a WW2 operation I had never even heard of, but very apt given the recent Anniversary..

Picture courtesy Imperial War Museum (IWM H38270)

Those are Sherman's of the 50th (Northumberland) Infantry Division driving ashore from landing craft on my local beach at Hayling Island (!) in May 1944 as part of an exercise called 'Operation Fabius'...  

Fabius occurred a week after the probably better known "Exercise Tiger", which was the one in Devon at Slapton Sands that tragically resulted in a number of deaths from both friendly fire, and the interception of the Allied ships by German E-Boats. Like Tiger, Fabius was an attempt to simulate as closely as possible the physical conditions the troops would likely meet on D-Day. 

Hayling was chosen for the 50th because the sand on the beach was considered to be of a very similar type to that on 'Gold' beach where the 50th would be landing.

The division had embarked on landing craft at Southampton, then sailed out to sea, went anti-clockwise around the Isle of White, before then simulating a full-scale amphibious landing on the beach at Hayling. The men encountered beach obstacles, smoke, pyrotechnics, and a mock enemy but the objective was to land, clear the beaches, and then push beyond Hayling Island towards Havant and Rowlands Castle.

Click to embigen - "Easy Red" marks the landing zone - map showing the southern part of Hayling Island, scale 1:12,500, defence overprint, produced by 30th Corps, British Army. 'Enemy defences' are printed in red along the seafront. This map belonged to Mr Oliver H. Perks, who was a Forward Observation Officer with 90th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, part of 231 Brigade, 50th Division.

The exercise was planned to start on 2 May 1944, but bad weather delayed it to the next day (which in itself was a portent of what was to come), and it consisted of six separate exercises:

  • Fabius 1: elements of the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division (United States) practised amphibious landing at Slapton Sands. This was the rehearsal of the landing on Omaha Beach.
  • Fabius 2: this one - where elements of the 50th Infantry Division practised landings at Hayling Island. This was the rehearsal for the landing on Gold Beach.

  • Fabius 3: elements of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division practised landings at Bracklesham Bay. This was the rehearsal of the landing on Juno Beach.
  • Fabius 4: elements of the 3rd Infantry Division and associated units practised landing at Littlehampton. This was the repetition of the landing on Sword Beach.
  • Fabius 5 and 6: practice for American and British forces working on build up of forces and supplies on Allied beaches.

Together they formed the largest amphibious training exercise of the war but given the closeness of the date to the actual landings, it really was a familiarisation exercise rather than any attempt to improve or change what had already been planned.


I'll be honest and say I only bought this to take advantage of a "two'fer" deal (in which I also bought Holland's "The Savage Storm" see a later post for a review of that). There wasn't anything else I wanted, and one of my mates had said he was reading it so I thought I'd take the punt.. glad I did on the whole..  funny old book, though!

If you are expecting a concise history of the development and operational use of the de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito during WW2 you'll only be partially happy. There is some stuff about the development of the plane, it's unique design, the friction and opposition Havilland faced both from RAF procurement and the War Office, and their decision to go ahead and develop the plane anyway, but not an enormous amount.  

Thank goodness they did go ahead though! 

All in all, almost 8000 of them were built, and they served in all theatres of the war (though the Far East did give early issues with the construction type until more effective glues were developed) and served in an amazing variety of roles (Light bomber, Fighter-bomber, Night fighter, Maritime strike aircraft and Photo-reconnaissance aircraft) - as White says - strap two Rolls Royce Merlin engines to a ply wood airframe, and the plane was an absolute rocket. 

Most of the book though is about how the plane was used in the Nordic theatre, in particular Denmark, in support of underground and resistance activity. The book becomes more about how the SOE developed it's organisation there, in what was an unusual situation in Denmark as officially it was not at war with Germany. Undoubtedly the best parts are the descriptions of the raids by Mosquito's of  No. 140 Wing RAF into Denmark - Operation Carthage [clicky] was the raid on Gestapo HQ in Copenhagen also the earlier raid on  Gestapo HQ in Aarhus [clicky]

His writing style is a little "dramatic" at times (examples being 'hit the tit' when describing releasing the bombs, 'opening the gate' when talking about throttle, etc.) and also, the timeline is jumbled, and he's all over the place geographically - there's an even better story waiting to be told if he could just organise it - he also needed to decide what his book was going to be - either about the plane, or a history of the Danish underground, either of which would have been excellent in their own right..  Steve the Wargamer rates this one as an 8/10..

 Laters, as the young people are want to say...


  1. Very interesting regarding the training exercises Steve. Ready made scenario maybe?

    1. Cheers Ben - not sure about a scenario, but it might make an interesting little chance driven game.. objective to get as many points worth of force to Havant, player has to overcome roadblocks, opened pubs, roadworks, sewer/gas/water pipe replacements blocking access, etc. :o))