Background to the Combined Operations Series

Readers of my books know that I incorporate material from the earlier books.  Some of my readers have joined the series half way through and I think it is important that they know the background to my books. If you have the first books in this series, then you can skip down to the section marked Battle of the Bulge. It is 20 pages down.

The first person I would like to thank for this particular book and series is my Dad. He was in the Royal Navy but served in Combined Operations. He was at Dieppe, D-Day and Walcheren. His boat: LCA(I) 523 was the one which took in the French Commandos on D-Day. He was proud that his flotilla had taken in Bill Millens and Lord Lovat. I wish that, before he died, I had learned more in detail about life in Combined Operations but like many heroes he was reluctant to speak of the war. He is the character in the book called Bill Leslie. Dad ended the war as Leading Seaman- I promoted him! I reckon he deserved it.

‘Bill Leslie’ 1941

Author’s collection

I went to Normandy in 1994, with my Dad, to Sword Beach and he took me through that day on June 6th 1944. He pointed out the position which took the head from the Oerlikon gunner who stood next to him. He also told me about the raid on Dieppe as well as Westkapelle.  He had taken the Canadians in. We even found the grave of his cousin George Hogan who died on D-Day. As far as I know we were the only members of the family ever to do so. Sadly that was Dad’s only visit but we planted forget-me-nots on the grave of George. Wally Friedmann is a real Canadian who served in WW2 with my Uncle Ted. The description of Wally is perfect- I lived with Wally and his family for three months in 1972.  He was a real gentleman.  As far as I now he did not serve with the Saskatchewan regiment, he came from Ontario but he did serve in the war.  As I keep saying, it is my story and my imagination.  God bless, Wally.

I would also like to thank Roger who is my railway expert. The train Tom and the Major catch from Paddington to Oswestry ran until 1961. The details of the livery, the compartments and the engine are all, hopefully accurate. I would certainly not argue with Roger! Thanks also to John Dinsdale, another railway buff and a scientist.  It was he who advised on the use of explosives.  Not the sort of thing to Google these days!

I used a number of books in the research. The list is at the end of this historical section. However the best book, by far, was the actual Commando handbook which was reprinted in 2012. All of the details about hand to hand, explosives, esprit de corps etc. were taken directly from it. The advice about salt, oatmeal and water is taken from the book. It even says that taking too much salt is not a bad thing! I shall use the book as a Bible for the rest of the series. The Commandos were expected to find their own accommodation. Some even saved the money for lodgings and slept rough. That did not mean that standards of discipline and presentation were neglected; they were not.

The 1st Loyal Lancashire existed as a regiment. They were in the BEF and they were the rear guard. All the rest is the work of the author’s imagination. The use of booby traps using grenades was common. The details of the German potato masher grenade are also accurate. The Germans used the grenade as an early warning system by hanging them from fences so that an intruder would move the grenade and it would explode. The Mills bomb had first been used in the Great War.  It threw shrapnel for up to one hundred yards.  When thrown, the thrower had to take cover too. However, my Uncle Norman, who survived Dunkirk was demonstrating a grenade with an instructor kneeling next to him.  It was a faulty grenade and exploded in my uncle’s hand.  Both he and the Sergeant survived.  My uncle just lost his hand. I am guessing that my uncle’s hand prevented the grenade fragmenting as much as it was intended. Rifle grenades were used from 1915 onwards and enabled a grenade to be thrown much further than by hand

During the retreat the British tank to Dunkirk in 1940, the Matilda proved superior to the German Panzers. It was slow but it was so heavily armoured that it could only be stopped by using the 88 anti-aircraft guns. Had there been more of them and had they been used in greater numbers then who knows what the outcome might have been. What they did succeed in doing, however, was making the German High Command believe that we had more tanks than they actually encountered. The Germans thought that the 17 Matildas they fought were many times that number. They halted at Arras for reinforcements. That enabled the Navy to take off over 300,000 men from the beaches.

Although we view Dunkirk as a disaster now, at the time it was seen as a setback. An invasion force set off to reinforce the French a week after Dunkirk. It was recalled. Equally there were many units cut off behind enemy lines. The Highland Division was one such force. 10000 men were captured. The fate of many of those captured in the early days of the war was to be sent to work in factories making weapons which would be used against England.

Freya, the German Radar.

Germany had radar stations and they were accurate. They also had large naval guns at Cape Gris Nez as well as railway guns. They made the Channel dangerous although they only actually sank a handful of ships during the whole of the war. They did however make Southend and Kent dangerous places to live.

Commando dagger

The first Commando raids were a shambles. Churchill himself took action and appointed Sir Roger Keyes to bring some order to what the Germans called thugs and killers. Major Foster and his troop reflect that change.

The parachute training for Commandos was taken from this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/72/a3530972.shtml. Thank you to Thomas Davies whose first-hand account of the training was most illuminating and useful. The Number 2 Commandos were trained as a battalion and became the Airborne Division eventually. The SOE also trained at Ringway but they were secreted away at an Edwardian House, Bowden.  As a vaguely related fact 43 out of 57 SOE agents sent to France between June 1942 and Autumn 1943 were captured, 36 were executed!

The details about the Commando equipment are also accurate. They were issued with American weapons although some did use the Lee Enfield. When large numbers attacked the Lofoten Islands they used regular army issue. The Commandos appeared in dribs and drabs but 1940 was the year when they began their training. It was Lord Lovat who gave them a home in Scotland but that was not until 1941. I wanted my hero, Tom, to begin to fight early. His adventures will continue throughout the war.

The raid on German Headquarters is based on an attempt by Number 3 Commando to kill General Erwin Rommel.  In a real life version of ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ they almost succeeded. They went in by lorry. They failed in their mission. Commandos were used extensively in the early desert war but, sadly, many of them perished in Greece and Cyprus and Crete. Of 800 sent to Crete only two hundred returned to Egypt. Churchill also compounded his mistake of supporting Greece by sending all three hundred British tanks to the Western Desert and the Balkans. The map shows the area where Tom and the others fled. The Green Howards were not in that part of the desert at that time. The Germans did begin to reinforce their allies at the start of 1941.

 

Motor launch Courtesy of Wikipedia

Motor Gun Boat Courtesy of Wikipedia

E-boat

Short Sunderland

Messerschmitt 1tens over France

Aeroplane photographs courtesy of Wikipedia

Fieseler Fi 156 Storch

Photographs courtesy of Wikipedia

The Dieppe raid was deemed, at the time, to be a fiasco. Many of the new Churchill tanks were lost and out of the six hundred men who were used on the raid only 278 returned to England. 3,367 Canadians were killed. wounded or captured. On the face of it the words disaster and fiasco were rightly used.  However, the losses at Dieppe meant that the planners for D-Day changed their approach.  Instead of capturing a port, which would be too costly they would build their own port.  Mulberry was born out of the blood of the Canadians.  In the long run, it saved thousands of lives. Three of the beaches on D-Day were assaulted with a fraction of the casualties from Dieppe.  The Canadians made a sacrifice but it was not in vain.

S-160 Courtesy of Wikipedia

The E-boats were far superior to the early MTBs and Motor Launches. It was not until the Fairmile boats were developed that the tide swung in the favour of the Royal Navy. Some MTBs were fitted with depth charges. Bill’s improvisation is the sort of thing Combined Operations did. It could have ended in disaster but in this case, it did not. There were stories of captured E-boats being used by covert forces in World War II.  I took the inspiration from S-160 which was used to land agents in the Low Countries and, after the war, was used against the Soviet Bloc. They were very fast, powerful and sturdy ships.

Sherman Tank- courtesy of Wikipedia

The first Sherman Tanks to be used in combat were in North Africa.  Three hundred M4A1 and M4A2 tanks arrived in Egypt in September 1942. The war was not going well in the desert at that point and Rommel was on the point of breaking through to Suez. The battle of El Alamein did not take place until the end of October.

 

The Hitler order

Top Secret

Fuhrer H.Q. 18.  10 1942

  1. For a long time now our opponents have been employing in their conduct of the war, methods which contravene the International Convention of Geneva. The members of the so-called Commandos behave in a particularly brutal and underhanded manner; and it has been established that those units recruit criminals not only from their own country but even former convicts set free in enemy territories. From captured orders it emerges that they are instructed not only to tie up prisoners, but also to kill out-of-hand unarmed captives who they think might prove an encumbrance to them, or hinder them in successfully carrying out their aims. Orders have indeed been found in which the killing of prisoners has positively been demanded of them.
  2. In this connection it has already been notified in an Appendix to Army Orders of 7.10.1942. that in future, Germany will adopt the same methods against these Sabotage units of the British and their Allies; i.e. that, whenever they appear, they shall be ruthlessly destroyed by the German troops.
  3. I order, therefore:— From now on all men operating against German troops in so-called Commando raids in Europe or in Africa, are to be annihilated to the last man. This is to be carried out whether they be soldiers in uniform, or saboteurs, with or without arms; and whether fighting or seeking to escape; and it is equally immaterial whether they come into action from Ships and Aircraft, or whether they land by parachute. Even if these individuals on discovery make obvious their intention of giving themselves up as prisoners, no pardon is on any account to be given. On this matter a report is to be made on each case to Headquarters for the information of Higher Command.
  4. Should individual members of these Commandos, such as agents, saboteurs etc., fall into the hands of the Armed Forces through any means – as, for example, through the Police in one of the Occupied Territories – they are to be instantly handed over to theSD

To hold them in military custody – for example in P.O.W. Camps, etc., – even if only as a temporary measure, is strictly forbidden.

  1. This order does not apply to the treatment of those enemy soldiers who are taken prisoner or give themselves up in open battle, in the course of normal operations, large scale attacks; or in major assault landings or airborne operations. Neither does it apply to those who fall into our hands after a sea fight, nor to those enemy soldiers who, after air battle, seek to save their lives by parachute.
  2. I will hold all Commanders and Officers responsible under Military Law for any omission to carry out this order, whether by failure in their duty to instruct their units accordingly, or if they themselves act contrary to it.

The order was accompanied by this letter from Field Marshal Jodl

The enclosed Order from the Fuhrer is forwarded in connection with destruction of enemy Terror and Sabotage-troops.

This order is intended for Commanders only and is in no circumstances to fall into Enemy hands.

Further distribution by receiving Headquarters is to be most strictly limited.

The Headquarters mentioned in the Distribution list are responsible that all parts of the Order, or extracts taken from it, which are issued are again withdrawn and, together with this copy, destroyed.

Chief of Staff of the Army

Jodl

FW 190 Courtesy of Wikipedia

The FW 190 had two 13mm machine guns with 475 rounds per gun. It also had two twenty mm cannon with 250 rounds per gun.  It could carry up to five hundred kg bombs.  It usually had just one bomb in the centre of the aeroplane

 

Ju 88 courtesy of Wikipedia

Faith, Hope and Charity were the nicknames given to the three Gloster Sea Gladiators which, for a time, were Malta’s only air defence.  These ancient biplanes did sterling work in actual fact there were more than three but it suited the propaganda of the time. To ascribe the success against the Italian bombers to just three aeroplanes. They were based at the Sea Air Arm base, H.M.S. Falcon.

The Royal Navy rum ration was 54.6% proof.  It was an eighth of a pint. Senior ratings (Petty Officers and above) received their rum neat while junior ratings had it diluted two to one. ‘Up Spirits’ was normally between 11 and 12 each day.

 

Douglas C-47 Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Rangers under Colonel Darby were at Amalfi.   The rocket launcher known as the bazooka was first used in North Africa.  Italy was the first time it had a widespread use. It was limited to the Americans only at first but later was used by the Russians and the British.  The Germans captured some and used them to make their own version, the Panzershreck.

M1A1 Rocket Launcher Courtesy of Wikipedia and the Smithsonian

PIAT courtesy of Wikipedia and Canadian War Museum

The Commando attack at Vietri Sul Mare went according to plan and the only losses they suffered were when they attacked Salerno itself.  Nine Commandos were killed and thirty seven wounded. The Commandos were opposed by the 16th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion which they defeated before capturing Salerno.  It was an impressive feat for a brigade of Commandos.  Following this and Lord Mountbatten’s departure for the Far East Major General ‘Lucky’ Laycock was appointed commander of Combined Operations.  It was a position he occupied until the end of the war.

The Noel Coward play of 1936 was eventually made into the wartime film of 1945- Brief Encounter. ‘Beau Geste’ was a popular film made in 1939.  Brian Donleavy plays a particularly sadistic sergeant in the French Foreign legion.  The film was very popular amongst servicemen.

Operation Bodyguard and Operation Neptune were the code names used in 1943 and 1944 although Operation Overlord was the umbrella name for the planned invasion of Europe.

The term tobruk was the name given by the allies to the concrete emplacements. They were first encountered in North Africa, hence the name.  Frequently the Germans would use the turrets from captured tanks.

Operation Tiger was the name given to the practice attacks on the south coast.  German E-boats did attack the convoy and almost a thousand Americans lost their lives.  There were problems with signals as well as with training on life vests.  Many Americans died because of incorrectly fitted jackets.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Panzer Mark IV as used by the 21st Panzer Division

Mark 1 Tiger

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Battle of Bréville was called one of the major battles of World War II.  The Commandos and the Airborne Division had to fight off two infantry divisions and the 21st Panzer Division.  The 21st had been part of the Afrika Korps.  As such they were veterans. Until the 6 pounder anti-tank guns were dropped by parachute on the 90th of June they had to fight them off with PIATs and grenades. The counter attack of Bréville did take place.  It was stormed and then the Commandos were withdrawn back to the ridge.  Theirs was a holding action until the main attack could break out of Caen. The battle was won on June 12th. Had they not held then I wonder of the main attack might have been halted.

The slang was taken from an Imperial War Museum publication called service slang and http://www.oocities.org/faskew/WW2/Glossary/WW2-SoldierSlang.htm

6 Rad Sd.Kfz. 231 

German Half Track Sd.Kfz. 251/1 Ausf. A

Courtesy of Wikipedia and German Federal Archive

American M2 Half-track for comparison

Courtesy of Wikipedia

 

For me, the finest aeroplane of WW2.

De haviland Mosquito

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Hawker Typhoon- this has the D-Day markings

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Paris

Operation Bulbasket was an SAS operation in France in 1944.  Thirty SAS were sent into France to help the resistance.  They were highly successful blowing up fuel dumps and destroying railway lines.  The Germans found them and shot them as spies.  34 men, in total, were executed. I have used those as the inspiration, in this book, for Tom and his men. There was no fuel dump at Trun but the town was heavily damaged in the fighting and its capture was crucial to the closing of the Falaise Gap.

This is the full transcript of the Charles de Gaulle speech after the liberation of Paris. Apparently, the Americans and British had little to do with it!

“Why do you wish us to hide the emotion which seizes us all, men and women, who are here, at home, in Paris that stood up to liberate itself and that succeeded in doing this with its own hands?

No! We will not hide this deep and sacred emotion. These are minutes which go beyond each of our poor lives. Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of all France, of the France that fights, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France!

Well! Since the enemy which held Paris has capitulated into our hands, France returns to Paris, to her home. She returns bloody, but quite resolute. She returns there enlightened by the immense lesson, but more certain than ever of her duties and of her rights.

I speak of her duties first, and I will sum them all up by saying that for now, it is a matter of the duties of war. The enemy is staggering, but he is not beaten yet. He remains on our soil.

It will not even be enough that we have, with the help of our dear and admirable Allies, chased him from our home for us to consider ourselves satisfied after what has happened. We want to enter his territory as is fitting, as victors.

This is why the French vanguard has entered Paris with guns blazing. This is why the great French army from Italy has landed in the south and is advancing rapidly up the Rhône valley. This is why our brave and dear Forces of the interior will arm themselves with modern weapons. It is for this revenge, this vengeance and justice, that we will keep fighting until the final day, until the day of total and complete victory.

This duty of war, all the men who are here and all those who hear us in France know that it demands national unity. We, who have lived the greatest hours of our History, we have nothing else to wish than to show ourselves, up to the end, worthy of France. Long live France!”

Charles de Gaulle

Ernest Hemingway and Colonel ‘Buck’ Lanham were good friends and Hemingway did disappear to the forest of Rambouillet where he became a guerrilla leader for the local resistance.

During Operation Cobra over 50% of all German casualties came from the attacks by the 2nd Tactical Air force. Eisenhower said, “The chief credit in smashing the enemy’s spearhead, however, must go to the rocket-firing Typhoon planes of the Second Tactical Air Force. They dived upon the armoured columns, and, with their rocket projectiles, on the first day of the battle destroyed 83 tanks, probably destroyed 29 tanks and damaged 24 tanks in addition to quantities of ‘soft-skinned’ Motorized Transport. The result of this strafing was that the enemy attack was effectively brought to a halt, and a threat was turned into a great victory.”

There is an excellent web site with more information than I could put here. http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/AAF-H-DDay/

General Montgomery is often lauded as a great general but Normandy was not his finest hour.  He sent back Americans who had closed the Falaise gap because it was in the British zone of control. He could be petty and small minded.  He did not like Patton.  Had he behaved more reasonably then the gap would have been closed a day earlier.

I have simplified the liberation of Paris.  Captain Dronne was sent by General Leclerc to liberate Paris.  His regiment was from North Africa, the Regiment of Chad and they did name their vehicles.  Many of them had fought in the Spanish Civil War. Major general Gerow forbade the French from going into Paris.  General Leclerc flew back to speak with Omar Bradley in an attempt to get the order rescinded. When the columns did head for Paris it became a race to see who could get there first. Captain Dronne reached the Paris Hotel de Ville just before midnight.  The Germans had wired all the bridges over the Seine but the majority were not destroyed.

There were no British involved in the liberation of Paris itself.  This is a story after all!

Antwerp

I have used real events from the campaign and ascribed them to Tom and his men.  They are an amalgamation of many people. The attack at Boom did happen but the part played by my heroes was actually a Belgian engineer who directed Major Dunlop and his tanks.  Robert Vekemans was the real hero. I changed the bridges a little but the two tanks and the armoured car did race across the mined bridge before it could be exploded.  Had they not done so then the Germans would have had time to bring forces down to the Rupel to hold up the advance.

Major Dunlop, Major Bell and Lieutenant Colonel Silvertop were at Boom and Antwerp.

‘We never closed the lids of our turrets, because we then became so blind and so deaf that we felt too vulnerable. We felt a lot safer with them open . . . But that afternoon I remember seriously considering closing down. However, this sporadic firing from above was confined to the out-
skirts of the town and later, rather more intensively, to some parts of the centre. Our biggest problem was with the crowds of excited civilians who thronged the streets and climbed on our tanks. We had no objection to kisses from charming girls, cigars or bottles of champagne. But we kept meeting bursts of small arms fire and an occasional grenade, and there were civilian casualties
!’  (Major Dunlop)

As we dealt swiftly with the scattered and disorganised opposition, we could see ahead of us the main streets of the city densely packed with crowds awaiting us, and this spurred our efforts. Then came the great moment, as we entered the heart of the city to receive a welcome none of us had ever dreamt was possible. Our vehicles were unable to move and were smothered with people; we were overwhelmed with flowers, bottles and kisses. Everyone had gone mad and we allowed ourselves a few moments to take stock of the situation. (Major Noel Bell)

‘The difficulties … amongst this mass of populace crowding round still cheering, still flag wagging, still thrusting plums at you, still kissing you, asking you to post a letter to America, to give them some petrol, some more arms for the White Brigade, holding baby under your nose to be kissed, trying to give you a drink, inviting you to their house, trying to carry you away, offering information about the enemy etc., had to be seen to be understood. (Colonel Reeves)

I have taken real events described by these brave soldiers and ascribed them to my Commandos.

German Defences at Walcheren

202nd Naval Artillery Battalion

(Batteries are given the target numbers allotted by 84 Group RAF and subsequently used by all three British Services: German numbers in brackets.)

  • W7 (91202) four 15-cm guns (S.9-inch) immediately west of Flushing
  • WI 1 (81202) four 15-cm guns in the dunes between Flushing and Zoutelande near Dishoek; close defence and flak not known.
  • WI3 (71202) four 15-cm guns with two 7.5-cm for close defence and three 20-mm flak in the dunes between Zoutelande and Westkapelle.
  • WI5 (61202) four ex-British 3.7-inch (9.4-cm) anti-aircraft guns captured at Dunkirk and now mounted against shipping with two ex-British 3-inch for close defence, mounted on the sea wall immediately north of Westkapelle.
  • W17 (51202) four 22-cm guns (8.7-inch) with one 5-cm gun for close defence, immediately west of Domburg.
  • WI9 (41202) five ex-British 3.7-inch guns in the dunes at the northern tip of the island near Ostberg.

 

Major types of Landing Craft used in the attacks on Walcheren

Landing Craft Tank – LCT Marks 3 and 4

A ramped beaching landing craft capable of carrying six Churchill tanks or nine Shermans and also used extensively for soft-skinned vehicles and stores. Marks 3 and 4 were both within a few feet of 190 feet in length, the latter having increased beam and shallower draft to give better beaching characteristics on the flat Normandy beaches. Speeds: Mark 3, 9 knots; Mark 4, 8 knots. Seaworthy in seas up to Force 4. Originally unarmed, later 20-mm Oerlikons were added for AA defence. Very limited armour for wheelhouse, etc. The specification called for utmost simplicity to facilitate industrial production. Crew – 12.

 

Landing Craft Gun (Large) – LCG(L)

After the Dieppe raid of 1942 much greater emphasis was placed on the need for close support for troops landing on a defended beach. A total of 23 LCT 3 and 10 LCT 4 were in consequence decked over to take two 4.7-inch destroyer guns, mounted in gun-shields, and a number of lighter weapons. Their shallow draft enabled them to go close inshore, although they would not normally beach, and gave them a fair degree of immunity from contact mines. Crew, including RM gun crews, 3 officers and 44 men.

Landing Craft Flak – LCF

Another LCT conversion, intended as the name implies to give close AA cover to craft approaching a beach and landing troops and transport. Armament: eight 2-pdr Bofors and four 20-mm Oerlikons, or alternatively four Bofors and eight Oerlikons. Crew: 2 naval officers and 10 ratings, RM officers and 48 other ranks gun crews.

Landing Craft Tank (Rocket) – LCT(R)

Another LCT conversion intended to increase the weight of fire brought down on a beach immediately before assault. 800 to 1,000 5-inch rocket projectors were mounted on the decked over LCT to be fired electrically dead ahead in a ripple salvo on a radar range of 3,500 yards as the craft
closed the beach. A second outfit of rockets was carried, but reloading took a long time. Rockets were normally HE, but smoke rockets could be fired. The idea was viewed with suspicion by the Gunnery Division at the Admiralty, but the first LCT(R), used in the invasion of Sicily, were reported on highly favourably and in Normandy 6-10 LCT(R) were used on the front of each assaulting brigade group.

Landing Craft Gun (Medium) – LCG(M)

A later and experimental design of LCG built as such, not a conversion, and intended to deal with thick concrete or similar defences by firing into loopholes and similar weak points at close range. The craft were armed with two 17-pdr anti-tank guns firing solid shot and were intended to beach and flood ballast tanks to give a steady aiming platform. The only two ever used operationally were both lost at Walcheren. As J. D. Ladd remarks, they broke the golden rule of combined operations – get off the waterline as quickly as possible either ashore or back to sea.

Landing Craft Support (Large) – LCS(L)

Early LCS were modified versions of minor landing craft (see below). When the demand came for much increased fire power, however, ten LCI(S) (below) were converted to carry one 6-pdr anti-tank gun in a turret forward, a power-operated twin .S-inch Vickers aft and a 4-inch mortar firing smoke. Performance and vulnerability similar to LCI(S). Crew: 2 officers and 23 including RM gun crews.

Landing Craft Infantry (Small) – LCI(S)

Design adapted from coastal forces craft built by Fairmile with reduced scantlings to permit troop spaces between decks. Later some armour added, reducing speed. Landing by gangplanks launched by rollers over the deck. Originally intended for raids, the craft were much too vulnerable for beach assault. Speed: 12 knots (with armour) endurance 700 miles; load, 100 armed men. After their heavy losses in Normandy, which might have been still worse had the enemy used incendiary ammunition against their unarmoured tanks carrying high octane petrol, the wing tanks were filled with sea water for the Westkapelle assault.

Landing Craft Headquarters – LCH

A conversion of the Landing Craft Infantry (Large) to take headquarters at the level of naval assault group/brigade. American-built to an initial British specification, the LCI(L) was a steel craft with properly fitted landing gangways intended for the follow-up rather than the first waves of an assault. Speed 12 knots, load as LCI(L) 200 armed men.

Motor LaunchesML

These were not landing craft but a number of them acted as markers, guides etc. for the Westkapel1e assault. Nos. 100 to 919 were Fairmile Bs, length 112 feet, speed 18 knots at sea; armament, one 3-pdr or 40-mm AA and four 20-mm Oerlikons. Crew, 18.

Minor Landing Craft

Landing Craft Assault – LCA

Speed — 10 knots claimed, probably less in practice. Load 35 armed men and 5 crew. Endurance 90 miles. Designed by the Inter-Services Training and Development Centre in 1938-9 at 10 tons to be within the capacity of a liner’s lifeboat davits and to land infantry in beach assault, a small number of these craft had been built by the outbreak of war and were used at Dunkirk and in Norway. They are said to have been inferior to the comparable LCV(P) in speed, manoeuvrability, and seaworthiness but to have the advantage over them in bullet proof protection, troop carrying capacity, disembarkation on a beach, silence and low silhouette.

This is the type of boat my father was on. LCA(I) 523 was his boat on D-Day and at Westkapelle.

Amphibians

Except for the DUKW, amphibians arrived late in the European theatre

Those used in the Scheldt operations comprised:

Landing Vehicle Tracked – LVT

Buffalo

An American tracked amphibian which reached the -9th Armoured Division in August 1944. Water speed 5 knots, and speed11 mph. Shaped grousers on tracks provided water traction. Limited track mileage ashore; some light armour in front of driving cab. The Mark 2 had no ramp and could take 24 armed men; the Mark 4 had a stem ramp and could take a jeep, Bren carrier or 25-pounder field gun. The tracks gave the appearance and sound of a tank, but the LVT were much too vulnerable to be used as such. Maximum speeds: land, 25mph; sea, 51/2 knots.

Weasel

A light. unarmoured, tracked snow-mobile with very limited water performance. Its light track pressure gave a degree of immunity against land mines, but it was very slow and unseaworthy in water and should not have been classed as an amphibian. Issued to the 52nd (Lowland) Division for mountain training in Scotland, it was found to have reasonable cross-country ability in skilled hands, but the steep dunes south of Westkapelle were too much for it.

DUKW – initials from maker’s code pronounced ‘duck’

An American six-wheeled load carrying amphibian. Water speed 6 knots, land speed 50mph. Unarmoured but very handy and seaworthy afloat.

Terrapin

British-built eight-wheeled load carrying amphibian, which appeared in the latter part of 1944. Generally considered inferior to the DUKW.

 

Kangaroo

Source: File:IWM-BU-2956-Ram-Kangaroo-Ochtrup-19450403.jpg – https://en.wikipedia.org

It was a Captain Rewcastle and his men who captured the 26 Germans in their dugout.  It happened almost exactly as I described it. It was the first action of the attack on Flushing. Major Boucher-Myers did lead the advance party of Commandos.  I used Lieutenant Colonel Moulton’s book to help me.  He was in command of 48 Commando.  As he wrote his book shortly after the battle I have taken it as an accurate source of information.  The style of the book does not lend itself to reading but it is very factual.  You can tell it was written by someone used to writing reports and not a novelist. It is worth reading to get the minutiae of battle. In the actual battle the Commandos managed to turn a 75 mm around to attack the troublesome hotel.  The attacks on the W7 battery is fictitious as is the murder of the Commandos.  The 6th Parachute Regiment were present.  There is a good account of the battle at the Combined services website. https://www.combinedops.com/Walcheren.htm under the title of the actual operation: Operation Infatuate.

The street which leads along the breakwater in Flushing is now called Commandoweg.  It is good to know that they have not forgotten the sacrifices the Commandos made in 1944. There are many streets in Antwerp and Boom also named after the men who led the forces in 1944.  Colonel Silvertop has a street in Boom named after him.

Source: File: HMS Warspite, Indian Ocean 1942.jpg – https://en.wikipedia.org

Battle of the Bulge (UK -Battle of the Ardennes)

King Tiger

Weight           68.5 tonnes (67.4 long tons; 75.5 short tons) (early turret) 69.8 tonnes (68.7 long tons; 76.9 short tons) (production turret)

Length           7.38 metres (24 ft 3 in) (hull) 10.286 metres (33 ft 9 in) (with gun forward)

Width 3.755 metres (12 ft 4 in)

Height            3.09 metres (10 ft 2 in)

Crew  5 (commander, gunner, loader, radio operator, driver)

Armour         25–185 mm (1–7 in)

Main armament        1× 8.8 cm KwK 43 L/71 “Porsche” turret: 80 rounds

Secondary armament           2× 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 345,850 rounds

Engine           V-12 Maybach HL 230 P30gasoline 700 PS (690 hp, 515 kW)

Power/weight            10 PS (7.5 kW) /tonne (8.97 hp/tonne)

Transmission Maybach OLVAR EG 40 12 16 B (8 forward and 4 reverse)

Suspension    torsion-bar

Ground clearance     495 to 510 mm (1 ft 7.5 in to 1 ft 8.1 in)

Fuel capacity 860 litres (190 imp gal)

Operational range    Road: 170 km (110 mi) Cross country: 120 km (75 mi)

Speed Maximum, road: 41.5 km/h (25.8 mph) Sustained, road: 38 km/h (24 mph) Cross country: 15 to 20 km/h (9.3 to 12.4 mph)

Source: File:SdKfz182.jpg – https://en.wikipedia.org

Sherman as used by the 11th Armoured Division

Source: File:Shermantielt 28-10-2008 18-10-52.JPG – https://en.wikipedia.org

Cutaway of a Sherman tank.

M4A4 Sherman Cutaway:

1 – Lifting ring, 2 – Ventilator, 3 – Turret hatch, 4 – Periscope, 5 – Turret hatch race, 6 – Turret seat, 7 – Gunner’s seat, 8 – Turret seat, 9 – Turret, 10 – Air cleaner, 11 – Radiator filler cover, 12 – Air cleaner manifold, 13 – Power unit, 14 – Exhaust pipe, 15 – Track idler, 16 – Single water pump, 17 – Radiator, 18 – Generator, 19 – Rear propeller shaft, 20 – Turret basket, 21 – Slip ring, 22 – Front propeller shaft, 23 – Suspension bogie, 24 – Transmission, 25 – Main drive sprocket, 26 – Driver’s seat, 27 – Machine gunner’s seat, 28 – 75 mm gun, 29 – Drivers hatch, 30 – M1919A4 machine gun.

 

Jagdpanther

 

Source: File:Jagdpanzer V Jagdpanther 1.jpg – https://en.wikipedia.org

Just to give an idea of size- top is a Sherman, then a Tiger and finally a Jagdpanther.  They are all the same scale and are my collection.  Sadly I do not have one of a King Tiger.  You will just have to use your imagination! It is bigger than the Tiger!

The incident with a Greyhound destroying a King Tiger with three shells is a fact.  It happened at St. Vith.  Colonel Devine and Colonel Cavender were real people. I have fictionalised some of their achievements but Colonel Devine did hold the German advance up for a day. The German paratroopers were not as effective as the High Command expected.  Like the British at Arnhem and the Americans in Normandy, they were spread over a wide area.  They still caused a large number of casualties and massive disruption. The massacres of the soldiers at Malmedy and Wereth happened as did the torture of the Afro American soldiers.  Many soldiers escaped the massacre at Malmedy and it was they who told their comrades.  It meant that the Germans were less likely to be taken prisoner and more likely to be shot in combat.

Kampfgruppe Peiper which was spearheaded by the 1st S.S. were the most successful.  It was they who captured the fuel dump.  It was they who almost made it to Dinant.  They might have succeeded had the supplies drop they requested been dropped in the right place but SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke decided that Peirper’s coordinates were wrong and the supplies were landed behind American lines! They were not as efficient as they thought they were. Eventually the Germans ran out of fuel and ammunition.  Kampfgruppe Peiper abandoned their vehicles and made their own way back to Germany.

The siege at Bastogne is famous and does not need me to tell my readers how brave and resilient the airborne defenders were. What is less well known is the fact that the defence of the Elsenborn ridge was the factor which saved Antwerp and therefore stopped the German Offensive.

The 106th Division suffered the greatest number of casualties in one unit. Between 7-8,000 men were either killed or captured.

The weather played into the German hands and it was only when the skies cleared the American Air Force and R.A.F could send in their aeroplanes. Even so it was still a close run thing.  The narrow roads and the extensive forests did not help the Allies.  It also hurt the Germans.  A single wrecked tank could block a road.  This happened on numerous occasions.

The German offensive did not end when their initial attack stalled.  On January 1st Hitler sent another Division to attack in the south and he almost succeeded.  General Bradley had to send the men who had just beaten off the first offensive to help them.  At the same time the Luft3waffe bombed and attacked allied airfields.  It was a Pyrrhic victory.  They stopped Allied Air cover but they were destroyed themselves in the process.  As the Allies could replace all of their losses in a couple of weeks it was one of the costliest mistakes Hitler ever made.

The Battle of the Bulge or Battle of the Ardennes as the British called it was the last serious offensive in the west. For the next few months, until their defeat in April, the Germans were just trying to stop the Allies. This was the beginning of the end