Few technologies played as vital a role in World War II as radar. From its famous early days as giant girdered masts dotting the eastern coastline of Great Britain, relaying information on inbound German aircraft, to tiny antennae on fighters seeking out bombers in the dead of night, it proved itself among the supreme innovations of the period. So much so that designers, friend and foe alike, spent endless hours trying to perfect and utilize this invention. All realized a sudden breakthrough carried with it hopes of altering the outcome of battles, and quite possibly the war itself. Therefore it wasn’t surprising that any hint of advancement always received careful attention from an opponent committed either to destroying it, or more likely, stealing it for himself.

Take the case of Germany and Great Britain. Both nations seemed to maintain parity in radar development during the early war years, until one day in late 1941, when a British reconnaissance aircraft flying over the coast of France returned with photographs showing a peculiar dish shaped installation adjacent to a Chateau overlooking the cliffs. It was similar to others seen in prior months, and situated itself near the town of Bruneval. To intelligence analysts there was little doubt that this was the new radar design known as ‘Wurzburg,’ a name decrypted from intercepts and possessing unknown capabilities.

However, scientists who examined the same information came to a different, more ominous conclusion. British bomber losses were increasing at an alarming rate due to night fighters finding their targets with uncanny accuracy. Perhaps the technology these ‘Wurzburg’ stations were giving the Germans pointed to something more than just the ability to detect aircraft or ships in a general area.

The only way to find out for certain was to do what most considered to be the costliest option: send a force in to take a site, dismantle the radar, and bring the most important parts back to Britain for analysis. Quite a tall order for a nation still fighting pretty much alone in the west and bereft of any sustainable ground forces to use in occupied Europe. Still, a proposal was sent to Lord Louis Mountbatten, commander of Combined Operations, who presented it to the Chief of Staff Committee which ran all British military operations. Receiving approval, it was sent back to refine specific wants and needs of the proposal. Obvious to all, the only option was to use a small raiding force to hit with lightning speed and get the results needed before the German war machine rousted and annihilated them.

John Frost

The natural choice for these types of endeavors remained the commando units. However, due to the formidable defenses around the site, landing men by boat could result in a bloodbath, and allow enough time for the Germans to destroy the radar. So it was determined another unit, the paratroopers, gave the best chance for success.

A plan was drawn up and finalized as Operation Biting – the seizure of the first ‘Wurzburg’ radar.

Bruneval was selected as it was the only unit known to be near a coast. Operation Biting consisted of dropping a small unit at night, behind the coast, and having it penetrate the sites perimeter. Then it would sweep and clear any defenses nearby while capturing the radar intact and, if possible, any technicians knowledgeable about its operation. Once done, the force would move out to the beach and board waiting landing craft for transfer back to Britain.