Sestral hand-held compass

Catalogue number
  • MAR 723
Display status
IWM London
  • whole: wood
  • whole: metal
  • whole: plastic
  • whole: glass
  • whole: textile
  • whole: foam
  • whole: liquid
  • Box: Height 301 mm
  • Prism: Height 47 mm
  • Compass: Width 144 mm
  • whole: Depth 106 mm, Depth 170 mm, Depth 46 mm, Height 205 mm, Width 155 mm, Width 67 mm
Alternative names
  • full name: Sestral hand-held compass
  • simple name: compass : British

Physical description

Hand-held compass, consisting of compass bowl on top of wooden handle, the latter containing a battery for night-time illumination. Contained in original transit box, which has a hole cut in the "door", presumably so that it could be viewed discretely at night. It also has a prism viewer, that is not part of the original compass.

History note

This compass was used by Major L E Prout during his service with Special Operations Executive (SOE), on board the 'Maid Honor', a Brixham trawler, employed by SOE's Small-Scale Raiding Force. She was engaged in the cutting-out raid on Fernando Po (Operation 'Postmaster') in the Gulf of Guineau (West Africa), 14 January 1942. A note on the Small Scale Raiding Force This unit was formed in 1941 at Poole, Dorset, the home of the modern-day SBS, and was originally known as Maid Honor Force after the small sailing boat which was its first home. It was to conduct small raids on behalf of SOE, Britain's wartime sabotage service in charge of aiding resistance organisations in enemy-held territory. The thirty volunteers went out to West Africa in August, and it was from Lagos in Nigeria that their first operation, code-named Postmaster, was launched in January 1942. The plan was to steal a German tanker and an Italian freighter in harbour at the Spanish-owned island of Fernando Po, and therefore in neutral territory. While the ships' officers were distracted by a party thrown by an SOE agent, the raiders entered the port aboard two tugs, overpowered the crews and made off with the ships. Back in Britain the SSRF's founders, Commando officers Gus March-Phillips and Geoffrey Appleyard, received permission to expand if. There were never more than sixty men, about half of them officers, and most came from the Commandos or SOE. One of them was Anders Lassen, a Danish seaman who joined as a private but was commissioned after Postmaster, and soon gained a fearsome reputation with pistol and knife. There were also French and Dutch members, and several Poles, Czechs and Germans, who served under British names. The alternate names of 62 Commando and 62 Special Training School reflected the SSRF's joint responsibilities to Combined Operations Headquarters and SOE. Training was done mostly around Anderson Manor near Poole, the units new home, but also in the Lake District and at sea. Small raids were launched on the French coast, mostly from a souped-up Motor Torpedo Boat known as the " Little Pisser". The approach to the shore was done on Goatley boats, ten-man collapsible craft, and dories, 18/22 foot (5.5/6.6m) wooden powerboats, both of which soon became popular with other small boat units. Canoes, now named Cockles, were also used. Targets included lighthouses, observation posts and beach defences, with a general objective of taking prisoners and unsettling the Germans. Agents were also landed for SOE. All the members were parachute trained but no airborne operations were undertaken. A raid in September 1942 resulted in the death of March-Phillips and several others, but ops continued under the command of Major Appleyard. At the end of the year most of the SSRF was transferred to Algeria, where they formed the nucleus of Bill Stirling's new 2nd SAS Regiment. Appleyard was made Second In Command of 2SAS but was killed in the invasion of Sicily. Anders Lassen achieved fame at the other end of the Mediterranean.


"Sestral" Capt. OM Watts Ltd, London

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