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100678 Capt Pinckney P.H - Special Air Service (SAS)

Philip Hugh Pinckney was born 7th April 1915, the elder son of Hugh and Winifred Pinckney of Hidden Cottage. Philip's younger brother was Colin Pinckney. Both were to lose their lives in the 2nd World War.

Philip was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge as was his younger brother, Colin. However, he left Trinity after about a year and prior to joining the family tea business he visited India. At the outbreak of war he enlisted with the Berkshire Yeomanry, as did many young local men.

However, early in 1940 he had transferred to the newly-formed Commandos serving with 'E' Troop of 12 Commando, and was to encourage others from the Yeomanry to join him, one of these being Tim Robinson who became a Sergeant in Capt Pinckney's unit. There was much to learn in this new service and training took place in Scotland, Northern Ireland and various places in England.

As information was needed urgently about the enemy defences on the French coastline the plan was to sail to France and bring a prisoner back for interrogation. The operation did not go well with the raiding party getting no further than the shoreline as they came under enemy fire. All the Commandos got away safely but two of the Royal Naval party waiting offshore were killed, one officer and an engine-room rating.

A more successful raid was on the Channel Island of Sark. Again, a prisoner was required for interrogation. One of the party knew the Island quite well as he had lived there before the war. They were looking for a hotel and it is said they called on the Dame of Sark during the night, breaking into her bedroom to ask directions. It is recorded that she was delighted to see such good-looking Englishmen in her bedroom!

Having been pointed in the right direction, the party found the hotel which was home to about 200 Germans. Most were asleep and the Raiding Party captured 5 or 6, tied them up and made their way back to the boat. Unfortunately, the alarm was raised and some of the prisoners began to fight back. Some were killed in the ensuing fight but the Commandos got away with their one captive, who provided useful information before spending the rest of the war in a POW camp.

Another planned operation was to go to France again, this time to steal a FW.190 aircraft from one of the coastal airfields. The aircraft had just been introduced into service and far out-classed our own Spitfire Mk.5 so one was needed for evaluation. The plan was to take a test pilot with the party, who would then fly the aircraft back. This story was told by Jeffrey Quill, the pilot, who was not very keen on the idea and was delighted when, two days before the planned raid, a German pilot who thinking himself over France, landed his FW.190 at RAF Pembrey in Wales. The RAF boffins were delighted with their gift and the raid was called off, much to the disgust of Capt Pinckney. Jeffrey Quill's comments are not recorded. [Note: See below for a correction and update on several comments in this paragraph, by Sarah Quill]

Philip Pinckney then served in North Africa, with the new SAS under the command of Major David Stirling, who later became famous for his Long Range Desert Group. (Jake Orwellian emailed August 2019 to clarify: "The LRDG was in existence BEFORE the Special Air Service. Major David Stirling formed the SAS and developed the idea of being picked up by units of the LRDG after their missions which were reached by parachute. This became standard operating procedure for the SAS whenever feasible.")

With the campaign in North Africa over, Sicily was next on the list and dropping by parachute at night behind the enemy lines, Capt Pinckney and his men were able to disrupt the supply lines by blowing up railway lines and bridges before returning to their own lines. During the Sicily drop Philip Pinckney injured his back but kept quiet about it.

On 6th September 1943 Capt Philip Pinckney and two teams of six dropped behind the line near Bologna where they were required to attack the rail network.

Tim Robinson recalls following him out of the aircraft but on landing and re-grouping, Philip could not be found. It was agreed that the parties should split into two sections to carry out their tasks, Sgt Tim Robinson leading in place of Capt Pinckney.

This team was able to blow up the target bridges and railway lines, even catching one train in a tunnel. They returned to the allied lines after approximately 53 days, only one man short who was taken ill and had to be left behind to spend the rest of the war in a POW camp. Had he not lied about his identity he would have been shot as a Commando.

It was later discovered that Capt Philip Pinckney had himself been captured and shot. It is recorded that he died on 7 Sep 1943. There is also some evidence that all of the other section were caught and shot.

Capt Pinckney is buried in a British Military Cemetery, 5km east of Florence.

Sarah Quill kindly emailed the Virtual Museum (June 2012) with the following helpful additional notes:

The website states that Jeffrey Quill's comments are not recorded: in fact he devoted a whole chapter in his book, 'Spitfire: a Test Pilot's Story' to the plan for the raid (Chapter 18 entitled 'Pinckney's Plan' pp. 222­227), and describes the training that he and Philip Pinckney underwent in preparation for the proposed raid. (The book is still in print with Crecy Publishing, with another edition coming out shortly; page numbers are unchanged.)

Further details about the plan (which I have seen) are held at the Public Record Office in Kew.

PS. A further comment, just for general background information: your website states that the "Fw-190 ... far outclassed our own Spitfire Mk V " That might have been the general perception before the German aircraft landed at Pembrey. Soon afterwards, that Fw-190 was far outclassed by the Spitfire Mk XII (initially known as the Spitfire Mk IV DP845) at Farnborough - see texts below:

"At low altitude the Spitfire Mk XII was one of the fastest aircraft in the world: at a speed trial held at Farnborough on 20 July 1942, a prototype DP845, piloted by Jeffrey Quill, raced ahead of a Hawker Typhoon and a captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190, to the amazement of the dignitaries present."

Paul McCue emailed (October 2019) to add the following: "You may be interested in adding the following text from a project that I am presently assisting in Israel. It concerns Pinckney's service with the Special Boat Squadron of 1st SAS Regt at Athlit (now Atlit), Mandate Palestine (now Israel):

Lieutenant John Lodwick, who served at Atlit with the S.B.S., described Pinckney in his book ‘Raiders from the Sea’:

‘Pinckney…..was a food specialist and would spend hours in the fields collecting snails, slugs, grasshoppers and other apparently inedible faunae. These he would mix with dandelion salads, shallots and nettle leaves, and eat to the accompaniment of rose water. Sometimes he would oblige his patrol to share these delicacies, and in consequence, they lived in terror of hi, “You must learn to live off the land, Sergeant” boomed Pinckney, seizing the wretched man and forcing a slug down his throat.’

Pinckney went on to work out suitable ‘natural’ diets for various eventualities and is credited with laying the foundations for the ‘living off the land practices’ of today’s S.A.S. and other special forces – both in Britain and elsewhere. He subsequently transferred to 2nd SAS Regiment and was caught and executed in captivity after parachuting into northern Italy to sabotage rail lines and bridges in September 1943.

Captain John Verney of the SBS considered Pinkney:

‘...the least military-minded person imaginable. He never could see, for example, what it mattered whether a soldier had troubled to shave or not. But he had somehow transformed himself into a Commando officer of repute and had been posted out to train us in our role of small-boat raiders.’

In 1941 Lt-Colonel David Stirling had formed the Special Air Service (S.A.S.) for special forces operations in the Western Desert and North Africa. The new unit quickly proved itself in action and gained a powerful reputation as an elite formation – a reputation that holds good today.

When Stirling was captured and made prisoner-of-war in January 1943, 1st S.A.S. Regiment was re-organised into two components, both under the command of Lt-Colonel H.J. Cator (later succeeded by Brigadier D.J.T. Turnbull) whose Special Raiding Forces headquarters were at Achziv (then Azzib), on the coast of Mandate Palestine, north of Nahariyya. Also based at Achziv was one of the two fighting components of 1st S.A.S., the Special Raiding Squadron, commanded by Major Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne.

The other element of 1st S.A.S. Regiment was tasked with sea-borne operations in the eastern Mediterranean and was permitted a high degree of independence by being based at Atlit (then Athlit), some 55 kilometres from Special Raiding Forces headquarters at Achziv. This was the Special Boat Squadron, the S.B.S. In its earlier days, the S.B.S. had been a smaller unit, titled the Special Boat Section, but had been absorbed by David Stirling into his S.A.S.

In March 1943 the S.B.S. received orders to move from its existing base at Kabrit in Egypt to Atlit, arriving at the end of the month. Philip Pinckney joined the unit soon after."

Photo Gallery:

phillip pinckney-01
phillip pinckney-01

Philip Pinckney in his green Commando beret.

phillip pinckney-02
phillip pinckney-02

Philip Pinckney's grave near Florence, Italy.

- Philip Pinckney

- Philip Pinckney's grave near Florence, Italy

See also:

- Hidden Cottage

- Colin Pinckney

"DP845's day in the spotlight was 20th July 1942 at Farnborough, where a competitive trial with a Hawker Typhoon and a captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190 (for which its captors had considerable regard) was organised, and in the hands of Jeffrey Quill the Spitfire outperformed them both in the required race, somewhat to the surprise of the sponsors!"

(Jeffrey Quill gives a first-hand account of the events of 20 July 1942 at Farnborough in 'Spitfire: a Test Pilot's Story' pp. 217­218)

- "No Ordinary Life", by Peter Stokes. This is the story of another SAS soldier who fought alongside Tim Robinson and Capt Pinckney in WWII.