The History of the British Free Corps Part I

The German Waffen-SS “British Free Corps” (hereafter shortened to BFC), was the brainchild of John Amery. Amery, whose father was a Conservative MP in the English Parliament, found himself living within the shadow of his successful political parent and as such, he strove to excess to prove himself capable of making it on his own. With failures in these endeavors, it only drove him to more and he joined Franco’s Nationalists in Spain in 1936, being awarded a medal of honor while serving as a combat officer with Italian “volunteer” forces. Amery was a staunch anti-Communist and with all of his failings and money problems, he accepted the fascist doctrines of Germany. Following his tour in Spain, he resided in France, under Vichy rule. He ran afoul of the Vichy government (Amery was displeased with their mind set anyhow) and made several attempts to leave the area but was rebuffed. It was German armistice commissioner Graf Ceschi who offered Amery the chance to leave France and come to Germany to work in the political arena. Ceschi wasn’t able to get Amery out of France but later, in September of 1942, Hauptmann Werner Plack got Amery what he wanted and in October, Plack and Amery went to Berlin to speak to the German English Committee. It was at this time that Amery made the suggestion that the Germans consider forming a British anti-Bolshevik legion. So much so was Amery’s suggestions (in addition to the unit ) taken that Adolf Hitler himself made the motions for Amery to remain in Germany as a guest of the Reich and that Hitler thought highly of the idea of a British force to fight the Communists. The idea languished until Amery met up with two Frenchmen, friends of his, who were part of the LVF (Legion des Volontaires Francais ) in January of 1943. The two LVF men lamented about the poor situation on the Eastern Front but that they saw that only Germany was battling the Russians and thus, despite all, they should still lend support with their LVF service. Amery rekindled his British unit concept, wanting to form a 50 to 100 man unit for propaganda uses and also to seek out a core base of men with which to gain additional members from British POW camps. He also suggested that such a unit would also provide more recruits for the other military units made up of other nationals. It seemed that the Germans were already ahead of Amery and had already undertaken some consideration, a military order saying “The Fuhrer is in agreement with the establishment of an English legion…The only personnel who should come into the framework should be former members of the English fascist party or those with similar ideology – also quality, not quantity.” As it is to be seen, this last bit would prove to be very difficult to obtain.

With the go-ahead, Amery set down write two works which covered his German radio talks (which were allowed to be broadcast but with a disclaimer which stated his comments were not those of the German government) and that he suggested the unit be called “The British Legion of St. George”. Amery’s first recruiting drive took him to the St. Denis POW camp outside Paris. 40 to 50 inmates from various British Commonwealth countries were assembled. Amery addressed them, handing out recruiting material. The end result was failure. Still, efforts continued at St. Denis and finally bore some fruit. Professor Logio (an old academic man), Maurice Tanner, Oswald Job, and Kenneth Berry (a 17 year old deck boy on the SS Cymbeline which was sunk at sea ) came forward. Logio was released while Job was recruited away by the German intelligence, trained as a spy, and ended up being caught while trying to get into England and hung in March of 1944. Thus, Amery ended up with two men, of which only Berry would actually join what was later called the BFC. Amery’s link to what would become the BFC ended in October of 1943 when the Waffen-SS decided Amery’s services were no longer needed and it was officially renamed the British Free Corps.

With Amery’s initial recruiting methods being seen as a failure, another idea was to be tried in an attempt to woo POWs to join the BFC. Given the harsh conditions of POW camps in Germany and the occupied areas, it was decided to form a “holiday camp” for likely recruits from POW camps. Two holiday camps were set up, Special Detachment 999 and Special Detachment 517, both under the umbrella of Stalag IIId in the Berlin locale. These camps were overseen by Arnold Hillen-Ziegfeld of the English Committee. English speaking guards were used, overseen by a German intelligence officer, who would use the guards as information gatherers. But a Englishman was needed as possible conduit for volunteers and in this, Battery Quartermaster Sergeant John Henry Owen Brown of the Royal Artillery was selected. Brown was a interesting character. He was a member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) but also a devout Christian. His ability to play both sides would serve him well. Captured on the beaches of Dunkirk in May of 1940, Brown eventually ended up in a camp at Blechhammer. Given his rank, he was made a foreman of a work detail and he also began to work into the confidence of the Germans. What Brown was doing, in reality, was setting up a black-market scheme, smuggling in contraband and using it to give to his men and also to buy off the guards. Later, Brown was taught POW message codes created by MI9 of the British intelligence service and he began to operate as a “self-made spy” as he called himself. With his status, he was called to be the camp leader of Special Detachment 517. At this time, another Englishmen, Thomas Cooper (who used the German version of Cooper, Bottcher, as his last name), arrived at the camp. Cooper, unable to obtain public service employ in England due to his mother being German, joined the British Union (the shortened name of the BUF) and eventually left England on the promise that he could get work in German with the Reichs Arbeits Dienst (RAD). As it turned out, this was not to be in the end and finally, he joined the Waffen-SS (who, unlike the Army, would take British nationalities). He was posted to the famous SS “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler” (LAH), underwent basic training, then was placed into artillery training. This did not last for long and he was transferred to the infamous SS “Totenkopf” infantry training battalion. Trained all over again in infantry tactics, he was moved to the position of machinegun trainer with the 5th. Totenkopf Regiment and made an NCO, staying there until February of 1941 until moved to the Wachbattaillon Oranienburg unit outside Krakow, Poland. During this time, Cooper was reported (by post-war BFC men) to have participated in atrocities against Russian and Polish POWs and civilians, including the Jewish. In January of 1943, Cooper was transferred to the SS-Polizei-Division as a transport driver. The unit was posted to the Leningrad front and once in a Russian town called Schablinov, they were told they’d be put into the line to replace the mangled forces of the Spanish Blue Division. By February 13, 1943, the Russians went on the attack again and broke through the SS-Polizei lines. Cooper was wounded in the legs by shell splinters, evacuated out, and was awarded the Wound Badge in Silver, the only Englishman to obtain a combat decoration. During his recovery, Cooper came into contact with the camp and upon learning about the purpose, was given orders to join the project.

Brown, being a crafty and streetwise person, saw the real deal behind the camp and he correctly came to the conclusion that he was in a very unique position to both hinder the formation of the unit as well as obtain intelligence (and he also would make sure the men who came to the camp actually got a holiday). Brown set about winning the confidence of his German handlers and surrounds himself with trustworthy POWs and when the first batch of 200 POWs rolled into the camp, things did not turn out for the better. Brown and his men were doing their best to entertain the prisoners while Cooper and other pro-Nazi men worked the crowd, seeking ex-BUF members or other ex-Fascist group members as well as finding out attitudes about the Communists. However, this resulted in displeasure and many of the POWs wanted to be sent back to their camps. To try and qualm this, it was asked of the most senior British POW, one Major-General Fortune, to send a representative to the camp to inspect it and assure the men it was on the up-and-up. Brigadier Leonard Parrington was selected and was sent to the camp. He gave a speech, had a look at the facilities, and said it was indeed a holiday camp and not to worry. He did not know the real truth and took it for what it looked like. Brown did not feel safe in informing Parrington of the purpose of the camp. This visit was successful in calming the situation but when the POWs were sent back to their respective camps, only one confirmed recruit was gained, Alfred Vivian Minchin, a merchant seaman whose ship, the SS Empire Ranger, was sunk off Norway by German bombers. Others kept the BFC in mind as they were sent off. Brown, following the first batch, learned of the full scope of the project from Carl Britten. Britten said he’d been forced into the BFC by Cooper and Leonard Courlander. Brown was unable to persuade Britten to quit the BFC, but MI9 got a very revealing transmission from Brown.

A bombing raid against Berlin damaged a good portion of the camp prior to a second batch of POWs being brought in. It was decided to move the campmen to a requisitioned cafe in the Pankow district of Berlin, overseen by Wilhelm “Bob” Rossler, a Germany Army interpreter. Prior to the move, the BFC gained two members, Francis George MacLardy of the Royal Army Medical Corps ( he was captured in Belgium ) and Edwin Barnard Martin of the Canadian Essex Scottish Regiment ( Martin was captured at Dieppe in 1942 ). At this time, the BFC numbered seven. POWs continued to roll into the camp once repaired until December of 1944, when it was called to a halt. The reasoning was that the handling of the camp, as stated by Brown, was counter-productive to getting recruits for the BFC since the way the camp was run, fostered distrust. The reality was they had Brown as their front man, who was out for himself but also loyal to the Crown to continue his dangerous game of intelligence gathering and also deterring recruits from joining, which gained him, post-war, the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Oskar Lange, who was overseeing the camps, hit upon another idea to gain recruits, and, it was hoped give him more stature. The earlier holiday camps only entertained long term POWs. Lange’s idea, however, was to take newly captured prisoners, who were still in a state of confusion, and work on them while they were vulnerable. This new camp was in Luckenwalde. The camp was headed up by Hauptmann Hellmerich of the German intelligence and his chief interrogator was Feldwebel Scharper. Scharper was not above using blackmail to get what he wanted and his tactics included fear, intimidation, and threats to coerce prisoners into joining.

The first group of POWs to be taken to Luckenwalde were mainly from the Italian theater. One such case of Trooper John Eric Wilson of No.3 Commando illustrated the techniques used by the camp. Upon arrival, he was stripped, made to watch his uniform get ripped to bits, then was given a blanket to cover up with. Placed in a cell with only the blanket and fed 250 grams of bread and a pint of cabbage soup, he was only allowed out to empty the waste bucket. After two days like this, he was taken before a “American”, who was in fact Scharper. Wilson was asked his rank, name, number, and date of birth (to which Wilson lied about his rank, saying he was a staff sergeant) then returned to his cell. Left alone, a “British POW” would come in from time to time, offer smokes and conduct idle chit-chat. The end result was that the isolation and the mistreatment led to him holding on to the “POW” who showed kindness to him and when dragged before Scharper some days later and offered the choice of joining the BFC or staying in solitary, it can be understood that Wilson chose the BFC. With this initial success, it was deemed this method would be the gateway to expanding the BFC and in turn, 14 men were made to join, including men from such esteemed units as the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Long Range Desert Group.

However, things fell apart when these men, told they would be joining a unit of thousands, ended up in the billets of the cafe and the unit amounted to a handful of men who were more out for the opportunity of freedom or Fascist in leaning. At this time, Edwin Martin attempted to take advantage of the discord (perhaps to atone for his role in the camp) to disrupt the BFC but it did not have the desired effect. Two of the men broke away from the cafe and get into the holiday camp 517 to report to Brown who then complained to Cooper. Cooper then addressed the men at the cafe billet and in turn, those who did not want to remain could leave (though, to prevent the truth about the BFC reaching the general POW population, these men were isolated in a special camp) and by December of 1943, the BFC had only 8 men.

In spite of the tiny size of the unit, the Waffen-SS continued to work on the BFC. The first step was to appoint an officer. Because of the nature of the BFC, the candidate had to be trustworthy, have a good understanding of English, and also be a skilled leader and have excellent administrative. This job fell to SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Hans Werner Roepke. A very educated man, Roepke’s grasp of English came from his time as an exchange student prior to the war. His military service included being a private in the Reichswehr, then as a law man with the Allgemeine-SS, before being called up to duty as a flak officer with the SS-Wiking division. He was made the commander of the BFC in November of 1943. Roepke’s first order of business was to determine just what goal of the BFC was and its principles. The first order of business was the name. “The Legion of St. George” was tossed out as being too religious and the “British Legion” was rejected as well since it was in use by a UK World War 1 veterans group. It was Alfred Minchin who suggested “British Free Corps” after reading about the “Freikorps Danmark” in the English version of Signal magazine. Thus, it was accepted (though, in correspondence, the unit was sometimes called the “Britisches Freikorps”) officially as the “British Free Corps”. That settled, Roepke moved on the purpose of the unit. All the current members told Roepke they wanted to fight the Russians (as you will see, this was more of telling the Germans what they wanted to hear) and so, with that settled, it was ordered that the BFC must swell to create at least a single infantry platoon, or 30 men. It was also decreed that no BFC member could be part of any action against British and British Commonwealth forces nor could any BFC member be used to intelligence-gathering. The BFC would be, until a suitable British officer joined the unit, under German command. Other things worked out included the fact that the BFC members would not have to get the German blood tattoo, they did not have to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, nor were they subject to German military law. They would receive the pay equal of the German soldiers for their rank. Finally, it was decided to equip the unit with standard SS uniforms with appropriate insignia.

Roepke put in the order for the BFC to be moved to the St. Michaeli Kloster in Hildesheim and he also put in the order for 800 sets of the special BFC insignia to the SS clothing department. Officially, the BFC came into existence on January 1, 1944. By February of 1944, the BFC made the move to Hildesheim and the Kloster, which was a converted monastery, now the SS Nordic Study Center and also the barracks for foreign workers laboring for the SS. Prior to the move, things for the BFC men were pretty idle but after the move, recruiting was to be stepped up. Of the group who left the BFC in December, the rumor that they would be sent to a SS run stalag, caused some of them to rethink their decision and three of them returned. Two new recruits were gained, including Private Thomas Freeman of the 7 Commando of Layforce. Freeman was to be the only BFC man who did not receive any punishment post-war for his membership, as MI5 stated his only purpose for joining the BFC was to escape and also to sabotage the unit. At this time, Roepke ordered all of the BFC men to assume false names for official documents but some did not do so. The BFC were also issued their first SS field uniforms, but without any insignia. Tasks were now assigned to the BFC members as well, which lead to some factionalism. Despite having duties, the majority of the time was spent being idle once simple chores such as cleaning the billets and such were done.

This idleness was to Freeman a chance to ruin the BFC by going after those who weren’t Fascist or strong anti-Communist. By gaining them to his side, especially since the main pro-Nazi BFC men were often away from the barracks, Freeman sought to form a rift in the unit. He was able to go on one of the recruiting drives (which were still being carried out) and even get ahead of the line to being made the senior NCO of the BFC. Freeman’s purpose for going on the recruiting drive was to gain men for his own ends. It netted three men, though one left soon after, being returned to his camp.

In April of 1944, the BFC was issued its distinctive insignia, the three-lion passant collar tab, the Union Jack arm shield, and the cuff title bearing “British Free Corps” in Gothic-script. Britten, who had been tasked as the unit tailor, spent most of a day sewing all the items onto the BFC member’s tunics. On the morning of April 20, 1944 (which was Hitler’s birthday), the BFC was paraded in full uniform and addressed by Roepke who said that now that the BFC was full-fledged ( by being issued uniforms, weapons, and pay books ), recruiting can begin in earnest. Promotions were also handed out at this time, with Freeman getting his NCO slot. Following the parade, the BFC members went off to various camps throughout Germany and Austria. The idea was to send the men to camps which they had been formally interned in. The idea, however, was very flawed and did not help recruiting in the slightest. All told, this recruiting drive netted six new members. During one such drive, Berry confided in a camp leader about his predicament, the leader saying he should seek out the Swiss embassy in Berlin, which Berry did not follow up on. Two of these recruits, John Leister and Eric Pleasants, both not wanting to get involved with the war, got caught up in it when the Germans took over the Channel Islands and put them both the camps since they were of military age. While not initially taking up the BFC offer, they talked it out and if the BFC should return, they’d join up. Why? Because the both of them were tired of slim food rations, did not like being away from the company of women, disliked the camp life, and also because the both of them hated being deprived of their freedom for a war they wanted no part in. In fact, Pleasants even admitted to Minchin and Berry that he “was in it to have a good time.”

All of the drives found the BFC numbering 23 men. This worried Freeman because if the unit reached 30, then the BFC would be incorporated into the SS-“Wiking” division and sent into action. To prevent this, Freeman took it upon himself to stop it. He drafted a letter, signed by him and 14 other BFC men (mostly the newcomers), requesting they be returned to their camps. This threw the BFC into chaos and it took pressure from Cooper and Roepke to just have Freeman and one other instigator tossed out and into a penal stalag, both being charged with mutiny on June 20, 1944. Freeman escaped the stalag in November of 1944, making it to Russian lines where he was repatriated in March of 1945. Still, the BFC was rattled and tensions between members were evident, made worse by Cooper seeking to instill SS-style discipline and methods, which was alien to the Englishmen whose experience with the British army was more lenient. With Freeman gone, Wilson was made senior NCO, which was a mistake given Wilson had lied upon his capture about his rank, and thus had little experience leading men and had a large appetite for women, which only being with the BFC could provide him with the freedom to partake of the female virtues.


The History of the British Free Corps Part II

In August of 1944, four more recruits joined on with the BFC. However, three of the four had done so not because they wanted to, but because they were blackmailed into doing it. Two of them were made to join as they had relationships with local area women. One of them was pregnant by one of the men and this was an offense punishable by death while the other man’s liaison with a woman was discovered by the Gestapo. The results of men forced to join the BFC did nothing for morale, in fact, it made it worse. This touched off lack-luster recruiting drives and a flap over the wearing of the Union Jack arm shield flared up. The flap concerned the wearing of the shield below the German eagle. By this time, many other units wore their national flag on the right sleeve and some of the BFC men thought the original position of the shield took a shot at England. It took a direct order from Heinrich Himmler to quell it by allowing the shield to be worn on the right sleeve if desired. Another downturn was Lieutenant William Shearer, who joined the BFC, and was their first, and only British officer to accept a position in the unit. Hoping that, at the least, Shearer would provide a token officer presence, but Shearer was a schizophrenic and wouldn’t put on his BFC uniform or even leave his room to which end he was removed and sent to the mental asylum from whence he came, to be sent back to England on medical grounds. Another sour on the BFC camp was the successful invasion of France by the allies.

With the success of the D-Day landings, some of the BFC men saw the writing on the wall and began to look for ways out. A flash in the pan involving the arrest of BFC man Tom Perkins for theft of a pistol caused a full blown fire within the BFC which culminated in eight men, including Pleasants, refusing to work to set up a football field and all of them were dismissed and sent to SS punishment camps. This incident led to an investigation as to why the BFC was floundering and the upshot was that recruiting had to be stepped up, assemble as many volunteers as possible, and get them trained for combat and sent off to the front lines, whether as a unit or just as replacements for other units. It was here that Vivian Stranders, a SS-Sturmbannfuhrer, sought to make his bid for power by making a move against Cooper and Roepke, so as to position himself for possible monopolization of the British recruiting and perhaps assuming command of the BFC. Stranders, originally a English citizen, joined the Nazi party in 1932 and became naturalized and later, after the war began, was posted in the Waffen-SS as an expert in British affairs. Stranders, however, may not have had a unit to go to as two new problems rocked the boat.

MacLardy abandoned the BFC, volunteering to join a Waffen-SS medical service unit. Two other men, one of them Courlander, could read the tea leaves and sought out of the BFC. They, however, took another tact and volunteered for service with the war correspondent unit “Kurt Eggers”, which was operating on the Western Front. The ultimate goal for these men was to run for the lines when the first chance arose. Britten removed all of the BFC insignia from their uniforms, replacing them with the standard SS patches and rank then the the two men hopped a train for Brussels in the company of a Flemish Waffen-SS unit. Once there, they ultimately turned themselves over to the British, being the first two BFC men to return to England. Still, problems reigned. Two more recruits were gained, again by being forced into it as they had sexual contact with German women and the new quartermaster found a ready source of things to sell to those barracked at the monastery. With all these problems, the barrack commander went to Roepke to request the BFC be sent elsewhere. As it turned out, the BFC were indeed going to be moved.

On October 11, 1944, the BFC arrived at Dresden, to begin training as assault pioneers at the Waffen-SS Pioneer School at the Wildermann Kaserne. Here, they would receive instruction in clearing obstacles, removing minefields, usage of heavy weapons, demolition, and other tasks required of such combat engineers. SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Hugo Eichhorn reviewed the now 13 man BFC unit (not counting the support staff of four ) and despite what, to him, might have been a pretty unfearsome lot, greeted them and introduced their two training officers. The BFC was now working up into shape. They were issued with rifles, steel helmets, camouflage uniforms, and gas masks then set about getting back into physical shape and taking courses in the use of machineguns, flamethrowers, and explosives. Picket and guard duty were assigned to the BFC as well. All this came crashing down when news of Roepke’s dismissal came through.

Stranders had been successful in outing Roepke, replacing him with SS-Obersturmfuhrer Dr. Walther Kuhlich, who was wounded so bad during his stint with SS-“Das Reich”, that he was unfit for active frontline duty. This only added another nail to the BFC coffin. Freeman, following the war, said he had seen a list of over 1,100 British who applied to fight against the Soviets. Why did the BFC remain rife with problems and could never get any recruits? Freeman summed it up that the core base of the BFC were “poor types” and that this contributed to lack of any respect for the BFC from the get-go. And by this time, POWs were hip to the propaganda, especially the BFC.

Cooper, seeing that he needed to bow out of the BFC, asked Wilson, who said he was of a similar frame of mind, to meet in Berlin to request a return to the stalags. The gig was up when Wilson, whose sole reason for going to Berlin was to go womanizing, left Cooper high and dry and under arrest, the charge being sabotage of the BFC. Brought before Stranders and Kuhlich, Cooper was shown signed statements by several BFC men accusing him of anti-Nazi acts. A day later, he was formally charged by a SS prosecutor and sent to the LAH, working as a military policeman. Wilson, now in charge of recruiting, had no real intention of working hard to get new blood. Instead, he set about getting ex-BFC men who’d been kicked out, back into the fold, notably Pleasants. In this, Wilson was successful. In the winter of 1944 and 1945, several new BFC recruits arrived, and the BFC returned to its training, all the while trying to put up a front to the other soldiers who felt the BFC led a soft life. Pleasants even managed to woo the secretary who worked for Kuhlich, marrying her in February of 1945.

Plans were afoot, however, to use the BFC in a last-ditch propaganda ploy. An attempt was made to form a rift between Josef Stalin and the allied leadership, namely Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt. The main effort, called “Operation Koniggratz”, attempted to sway British POWs being evacuated from the Polish stalags as the Soviets advanced. The plan was an abject failure and it was pondered how the BFC might be used to play a role in the effort, especially as they were training for combat on the Eastern Front. Again, this came to naught and the whole idea, which even included faking Communist acts within Germany, crumbled.

The BFC, meanwhile, found its morale taking a nose dive once more, thanks in part to Wilson’s lack of leadership and with Kuhlich almost always in Berlin. Still, recruits for the BFC arrived, near the close of 1944, including two South Africans. Of these five, three turned out to be genuinely anti-Communist, one of them being swayed by BFC literature, the other two having wanted to initially join the SS-“Totenkopf” division until they were talked into joining the BFC by Kuhlich. By January of 1945, the BFC was up to 27 men, three shy of the magic 30. But by this time, it was seen the whole BFC idea was a total and complete failure and many began to concoct ways to get out. Hugh Cowie, a Gordon Highlander from Scotland, was in the middle of several scandals, including the refusal to accept six Maoris into the BFC on the grounds it was a “white only” unit and having to deal with drunkards and AWOL BFC men, notably one man who kept sneaking away to be with his girl. With Wilson away, Cowie hatched a plan to use his temporary position to get access to travel documentation for him and five others, hop a train to the Eastern Front, and lay low somewhere and let the Soviets overtake them, using the pretext of going on a recruiting drive. Once on the train, all the men (save one who didn’t show) removed their BFC insignia and it went downhill from there, the end result being all of them were picked up by the Gestapo. After harsh tongue lashings by their armed escort and Kuhlich, half of the escapees were sent off to isolation camps while the other three agreed to remain with the BFC. The major hammer fell when the allies bombed Dresden on February 12, 1945, killing some 40,000 people and some took advantage of it all to make an escape but one man, who thought he could confide in his Norwegian nurse girlfriend, found out otherwise and she informed the Gestapo of his plans and the entire BFC was arrested but not before two BFC men managed to sift into the POWs being sent west and were never to return to the BFC.

This was the straw which broke the camel’s back. After the BFC men were sprung from jail, it was time to make some use out of the unit. The BFC was taken to Berlin and barracked in a school on the Schonhauser Allee, to wait there until the required steps were taken to put them into the line. It was here that the last “volunteer” came forward, Frank Axon who was captured in Greece in 1941. Accused of hitting a cow which caused it to give birth to its calf too early, he could either join the BFC or be severely punished and so, he chose the BFC. With the prospects of combat looming for a lost cause, the BFC men sought ways out once more. Three men were provided British army uniforms by a sympathetic officer who sent them off to escape. Another man, who had a girlfriend with connections to the “Kurt Eggers” Regiment, managed to get transferred there while Pleasants went to the “Peace Camp”, doing exhibition boxing bouts with Max Schmeling for the delight of German officers. On March 8, 1945, the remaining BFC men were brought before Kuhlich who gave each of them a choice: fight on the front or be sent to an isolation camp. All of them chose to fight. Wilson, in no hurry to go to battle, managed to get himself a slot as liaison between the BFC and the Berlin office of Kuhlich. This put Douglas Mardon in charge of the unit and in shaping up what he had, he was left with eight men in all (two men he refused to take and Minchin had scabies ). Mardon had to move the unit to a training camp in Niemeck, to get a crash course in anti-tank, close-combat tactics. Here, the BFC men were given training in the use of the Panzerfaust and other tank killing methods. They were also issued the StG44 (MP44) assault rifle and given training in its use. The unit strength was cut down to seven when one member smoked aspirin until he became ill, being able to get transferred out. With the hurried training done, the BFC was given two days leave before moving out to the front lines.

On March 15, 1945, a truck was loaded up with the tiny BFC and it moved out to meet up with the headquarters of III. (Germanisches ) SS-Panzer-Korps. During the ride, most members removed their BFC insignia. Upon arrival, the HQ staff was rather shocked at getting a British unit and so they put the BFC up in billets on the western edge of Stettin pending orders on what to do with them. While waiting, the BFC came under some brief Soviet mortar and artillery fire but no injuries were reported. However, the manpower was again reduced by one when one man came down with a severe case of gonorrhea and was sent away to a military hospital.

On March 22, 1945, orders came in from the HQ that the BFC should move to the headquarters portion of the SS-“Nordland” division, located at Angermunde. From there, they would be placed with the divisional armored reconnaissance battalion (11.SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung) which was stationed in Grussow. The commander there was Sturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Saalbach and when the BFC arrived, he gave them a quick welcome and assigned them to the 3rd. Company, commanded by the Swede Obersturmfuhrer Hano-Goesta Perrson. Perrson issued the BFC with a single Sd.Kfz.251 half-track and a “Schwimmwagen”, giving them orders to prepare trench lines within the company’s perimeter. The “Nordland” division was currently being held in reserve but the BFC, from their positions, could clearly see the Soviets. The BFC remained in the line for a month but the notion that they could be attacked by the Russians, failed to unify them and discord was rampant, so much so that Mardon was pressured into seeing if the BFC could be pulled out. During this time, Cooper was to return to the fold. After being told he was being transferred to the Germanic Panzer Corps, Cooper burned his SS papers and packed a suitcase with civilian clothing and went to the Corps HQ located in Steinhoffl on the Oder. He learned, to his surprise, that “ten [Englishmen were] somewhere near the front.” He was then informed his presence was requested by Obergruppenfuhrer Felix Steiner and during this time, Steiner ordered Cooper to accompany him to the front to inspect the BFC troops. Cooper, on the ride there, informed Steiner about the BFC and that it was unwise to have them at the front, to which Steiner agreed, but more because Steiner was concerned about post-war legalities of his usage of such men on the front. After inspecting the BFC, Steiner gave a short speech and ordered that the BFC be used as medical orderlies. Cooper, after catching up on the news, spoke with Mardon and then the two of them approached Brigadefuhrer Ziegler at his Nordland headquarters. They gave Ziegler a rundown on the unit, pointing out that many were forced into joining the BFC and thus, were of dubious combat value, to which Ziegler agreed. Ziegler set in motion the process by sending Cooper and Mardon to Steiner and upon meeting with him, discussed the points they made to Ziegler. The upshot was that Steiner issued the orders to pull the BFC out of the line and utilize them as truck drivers in the rear lines.

The next day, the BFC left the front lines and reported to the Corps headquarters and from there, they were issued with travel orders, rations, and were to go to Templin, to join the transport company of Steiner’s headquarter staff. They arrived there on April 16, 1945. In the meantime, Wilson, who was supposed to be sending the BFC men their Red Cross parcels (for all intents and purposes, the BFC were still classified as POWs and thus still got the parcels), chose to horde them and ultimately, he deserted into Berlin on April 9, 1945. To calm the rumblings, Cooper and four BFC men rode into Berlin to try and locate the parcels on the 17th. and upon returning on the 19th., they found a Hauptsturmfuhrer, in full SS panzer uniform, sporting BFC insignia, waiting to take them back to the front.

The tanker was Douglas Berneville-Claye who had a pension for embellishment, fraud and theft, and the ability to pass himself off as something he wasn’t. Having been booted out of the RAF, he ended up as a commander with the SAS in the Middle East where he was branded as “useless” and “dangerous” by his comrades, to the point they’d refuse to conduct operations with him. He was captured in 1942 by DAK units and taken to an Italian POW camp, to which he claimed to have broken out of four times. He was then sent to Oflag 79 in Brunswick until removed from there for his own safety since the POWs saw him as, and correctly so, as a German informer. From the time of his removal to his appearance in Templin in March of 1945, no record is known. As he stood with the BFC, he launched into a speech saying he was a earl’s son, a captain in the Coldstream Guards, and would collect two armored cars to take the BFC into battle with, even making the claim that the BFC would have no problems with the British authorities and that England was going to declare war on Russian in a few days. Cooper called Berneville-Claye’s bluff and Berneville-Claye turned away, taking one of the BFC men with him as a driver, and drove away ( Berneville-Claye eventually changed into a full SAS uniform while the driver took up farmers clothing and they turned themselves in ). “Bob” Rossler remained with the Nordland division when it went into battle in Berlin, fighting alongside the Volkssturm, Hitlerjugend, and all the other mixed bag units which remained to fight it out.

The BFC, however, remained true to their orders, following Steiner’s headquarter unit to Neustrelitz. They drove trucks, directed traffic, and assisted the evacuations of civilians from the Neustrelitz and Reinershagen area until, on April 29, 1945, Steiner ordered his forces to break contact with the Russians and make for the western combat lines to surrender to the US and British. From this point on, the BFC men sought ways to get to the western lines and avoid capture by the Soviets. Those who fell into or were turned over to the British, among other British traitors, stood trial. Amery was hung, Cooper went to jail (being released in 1953), Britten got ten years (reduced to two months when he was released for medical reasons), Wilson got ten years, Freeman got ten years, and other members got from 15 years to even no punishment at all.

And so ended the British Free Corps service to Germany

The Turncoat Claye

Douglas Webster St. Aubyn Berneville-Claye called himself Lord Charlesworth (no claim to any title) 1 SAS (B + A Squadrons) October 1942-December 1942 (2Lt) born 1917 Plumstead, London (Douglas Berneville Webster Claye) son of Frederick Wainwright Claye, MBE, Little Ouseburn, Yorkshire.

Every army has its bad hats, those men who prove to be inherently unworthy of comrades, a disruptive influence in any unit. In World War II such men did not appear only among the `other ranks’: there were occasions when the Army selection boards erred in promoting candidates to hold officer rank in His Majesty’s forces.

In wartime the Army boards were passing out as fit many young subalterns to lead men in battle or staff work, whether on dangerous missions or among the `we also serve’ ranks of the humble Pay Corps or other noncombat units. Such a candidate for advancement was Douglas Berneville-Claye, who was granted his commission as a second lieutenant in October 1941, and presently posted to the West Yorkshire Regiment in the Middle East. That the selecting officers in England had erred in permitting Claye to bear an officer’s pips did not then seem obvious. But a year after first donning his officer’s cap Claye volunteered for the Special Air Service. At this point his true merit began to emerge. As a leader of special service troops he proved quite undistinguished, so untrustworthy that veterans of hazardous SAS operations refused to accompany him on new ventures.

Nevertheless, despite misgivings, Lieutenant Claye’s commanders allowed him to embark on ops, this resulting in his capture behind enemy lines. Hitler had ordered the execution of all captured commandos, but Claye was lucky and was sent first to an Italian POW camp, then to the German Oflag (Offizierlager) 79. And here Claye’s true personality emerged: he went over to the enemy, becoming an informer to the German camp security staff. ByJanuary 1945 he had fully weakened to German propaganda, inviting Allied prisoners to join them in the great `anti-Bolshevik crusade’. Claye entered the Waffen SS, specifically the socalled `British Free Corps’, a handful of turncoats let out of POW cages, men who succumbed to German promises of a better, more adventurous life – in reality to be used as more cannon fodder on the Russian front. Even here Claye proved a misfit, unable to agree with his fellow traitors or lead them in combat. He used his SAS training to desert his German masters, re-outfitting himself in British battledress before returning to Allied positions in the West.

Claye’s past eventually became known and various charges were put to him, all of which he denied. Owing to lack of evidence he was released from custody and permitted to resume Army service, but one year later he was caught out on a comparatively small offence, that of stealing a typewriter, and was dismissed from the Army.


The renegade SAS officer who eventually arrived on the Oder Front in March-April 1945. He had actually joined the Waffen-SS after being released from a POW camp where his fellows, probably correctly, suspected him of being an informant for the Germans; but his excuse, post-war, was that he had been given an SS uniform after escaping from a camp and had eventually, after various highly unlikely adventures, bluffed his way back to the British lines. Not surprisingly, MI5 and other investigating authorities didn’t believe him, but after two years intensive effort they could not gather enough hard evidence to make a conviction likely and dropped the matter (though Berneville-Claye himself was already in prison for various other offences). Berneville-Claye strikes me as the most likely inspiration for the story: he was an inveterate liar, con man and BS artiste and told everyone he met a range of grandiosely inflated accounts of his wartime experiences (there is now, at an Australian school where he ended up teaching in the 1970s, a ‘Douglas Berneville-Claye Memorial Prize’ for the most distinguished pupil of the year, named after ‘Major the Honourable Douglas Berneville-Claye, DSO, MC’. He died in 1975.

Avro Vulcan (1952)

Vulcan B.Mk 2 XM597, stationed at Wideawake Airfield, Ascension Island, during the Falklands campaign of 1982. This aircraft was used on both Black Buck anti-radar attacks and made an emergency landing in Brazil after a raid on the night of 2/3 June.

Vulcan B.Mk 2 XM607 was one of the aircraft involved in the first of the Black Buck raids against Port Stanley airfield, flown on 1 May 1982, and armed with 21 1000lb (454kg) bombs.

Most successful of Britain’s three V-bombers, the Vulcan enjoyed an impressively long service career, starting out as a high-level strategic nuclear bomber and later going into combat as a conventional bomber during the Falklands campaign.

The Vulcan was one of the results of the United Kingdom’s Specification B.14/46, which called for a bomber capable of striking a target at a range of 2735km (1700 miles) carrying a nuclear weapon weighing 4536kg (10,000lb), and offering a cruising altitude of 12,190m (40,000ft) and a full-load range of 6437km (4000 miles). This specification was later revised to become B.35/46, which led to the development of the three V-bombers: the Avro Vulcan, the Handley Page Victor and the Vickers Valiant.

In its initial prototype guise, the Vulcan employed a wing planform that was an almost perfect triangle. In this distinctive form, the aircraft completed its maiden flight in August 1952, and was flown with Rolls-Royce Avon, Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire and finally Rolls-Royce Conway engines. Since the delta wing marked a new departure, a series of Type 707 one-third scale research aircraft had been completed beforehand to test the concept. It would be another 30 years after its first flight before the delta-winged bomber first saw combat over the South Atlantic, in what were then the longest bombing raids ever staged.

After completion of two prototypes, the Vulcan B.M 1 entered RAF service in February 1957. This version had a modified wing of 330m2 (3554 sq ft) area with the inboard sections accommodating the four Bristol Olympus 101 engines, each developing 48.93kN (11,000lb) of thrust. Compared to the prototypes, the overall planform of the definitive production aircraft was modified with reduced wing sweep from the root to the mid-point, the result being a kinked leading edge. As production progressed, more powerful Olympus Mk 102 or Mk 104 engines were installed. In 1961, aircraft were modified with electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment in a modified tailcone, becoming the B.Mk 1A aircraft.

Deliveries of the B.Mk 1 amounted to 45 before production switched to 89 of the much-improved B.Mk 2 variant. The Mk 2 was entirely re-engineered and its most prominent feature was a much larger but thinner wing, with cranked and cambered leading edge, housing more powerful Olympus engines. Other changes included elevons replacing the B.Mk 1’s ailerons and elevators, and an inflight refuelling probe. The Vulcan B.Mk 2 entered service in July 1960 and was initially employed in a high-altitude role. The definitive Vulcan B.Mk 2A added the capability to carry a single Blue Steel standoff missile. As the final B.Mk 2 was delivered, almost all the remaining B.Mk 1s had been withdrawn from use.

In 1966 the Blue Steel was also withdrawn from service as the appearance of new surface-to-air missiles prompted a switch to low-level operations, for which a terrain-following radar was added in a nose fairing. At the same time, the ECM fit was appropriately upgraded. In 1962 the B.Mk 2 was re-engined with 88.96kN (20,000lb) Olympus 301 engines. Total production of the B.Mk 2 amounted to 89 aircraft, for a grand total of 134 Vulcans of both marks.

In the early 1980s it became apparent that the Vulcan’s fatigue life was running low, as a result of the low-level focus. However, it was decided that the cost of extending the service life of the remaining aircraft was too great. It was decided to withdraw the Vulcan force between June 1981 and June 1982.

Falkland Islands Swansong

The Vulcan force was mid-way through being wound down when, in April 1982, Argentine forces invaded the Falklands in the South Atlantic. By now the Vulcan had lost its inflight refuelling capability, and a search was begun for refuelling probes with which to equip the remaining bombers, in order to stage an attack on the Falklands from Ascension Island. Six aircraft were converted as Vulcan K.Mk 2 tankers, with a hose and drogue unit in the rear ECM bay and extra fuel in the bomb bay, while others were equipped for the carriage of conventional bombs, new navigation systems, refuelling probes and underwing pylons for AN/ALQ-101 electronic countermeasures pods and AGM-45 Shrike anti-radar missiles.

In the course of round trips exceeding 12,870km (8000 miles), and under the codename Black Buck, the Vulcans bombed the occupied Port Stanley airfield and related radar installations in the Falklands, putting the runway out of action. The last Vulcans to bow out of service were the K.Mk 2 tankers, finally retired in March 1984.

Maritime Operations

Towards the end of the type’s career, nine aircraft were modified for the Strategic Maritime Radar Reconnaissance (MRR role) as Vulcan B.Mk 2MRR aircraft. Conversions were made in 1973 and the aircraft were outfitted with an array of classified electronic, optical and other sensors, as well as additional fuel in the bomb bay. The aircraft were operated by RAF Scampton-based No.27 Squadron from November 1973 to May 1982, assuming the role from Victor B.Mk 2(SR) aircraft of No.543 Squadron that were in turn converted as inflight refuelling tankers. Compared to the standard Vulcan bomber, the B.Mk 2MRR received LORAN-C navigation equipment and the terrain-following radar thimble was removed from the nose. Air-sampling pods could be fitted below the wings for testing the air for contamination, such as dust from nuclear tests.





Arnhem: The Battle at the Bridge

All this time John Frost’s men had been defending their positions at the Arnhem road bridge, waiting in vain for relief, either from their own division or from ground forces coming up from the south.

The composition of the force at the bridge did not change at all after most of the 2nd Battalion’s B Company and the other men who had been trying to make a crossing at the pontoon area came into the bridge perimeter, so the men who found themselves there on that Monday afternoon would be the ones who fought that gallant action which has passed so powerfully into airborne history. The exact number of men who formed the bridge garrison will never be known; what follows is the best available estimate:1

2nd Parachute Battalion: Battalion HQj HQ, Support and A Companies; B Company (less most of No. 4 Platoon) – 340 men.

1st Parachute Brigade HQ including Defence Platoon and Signals Section – 110 men.

1st Parachute Squadron, RE: HQ; A Troop; most of B Troop – 75 men.

3rd Parachute Battalion: C Company HQ; most of No. 9 Platoon; part of No. 8 Platoon – 45 men.

1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, RA: HQ; B Troop; one gun team of C Troop – 40 men.

250 Light Composite Company, RASC: No. 3 Platoon – 40 men, plus Major David Clark from Divisional HQ, RASC.

9th Field Company, RE* part of No. 2 Platoon – 30 men.

In addition there were an estimated 59 men from various units: 17 glider pilots, all or nearly all from B Squadron arriving with antitank guns; 8 men of the Reconnaissance Squadron under Major Gough; 12 men from Royal Artillery forward observation officer parties; 6 men of the RAOC; 5 men each from the REME and Intelligence Corps; 2 or 3 Military Police; 2 men from the ‘Jedburgh’ team; and one war correspondent.

The total force at the bridge thus numbered an estimated 740 men, equivalent to less than one and a half parachute battalions. Although many of those men were not trained to the standards of a parachute battalion, nearly all had valuable combat potential. Less than half of the force was from the 2nd Battalion. There was only one lieutenant-colonel – John Frost – but there were no less than thirteen majors among the sixty or so officers present. There was a good cross-section of units available, but one element not present would be sadly missed: there was no part of 16 Parachute Field Ambulance there. It had been anticipated that there would be easy evacuation of seriously wounded cases to that unit’s location at St Elizabeth Hospital, but that did not happen. Captains J. W. Logan and D. Wright, the medical officers of the 2nd Battalion and Brigade HQ, and their orderlies would have to treat all the wounded without any assistance from surgical teams.


Only one corner of the perimeter had been attacked during the night. This was a library or small school on the eastern side of the lower ramp held by Captain Eric Mackay and some men of A Troop, 1st Parachute Squadron. There were several covered approaches to what was really an exposed outpost, and the Royal Engineers found it difficult to hold. Sapper George Needham says:

We had started to prepare it for defence – smashing the windows and pulling down the curtains – but we had only been there about ten minutes when the Germans attacked, throwing grenades into the rooms. The building was too vulnerable, so Captain Mackay ordered us out, into the larger school building next door, where we joined B Troop. They objected and said, ‘Bugger off; go find your own place’, but Captain Mackay, being the man he was, persuaded them in no uncertain terms to let us in, and we started fortifying some of the empty rooms.

(The Royal Engineers were later joined in the school by Major ‘Pongo’ Lewis, the 3rd Battalion’s company commander, and twelve of his men. There was some argument after the war between the sappers and the infantry over who was in command in this building, the Van Limburg Stirum School, during the subsequent three days of its defence. Captain Mackay, in an article in Blackwood’s Magazine, claimed to have been in command and never mentioned the presence of the 3rd Battalion men. Major Lewis, in his short official report, did not mention the larger RE party. Both officers had been allocated this position separately, in the dark of that first night, and Major Lewis, though clearly the senior officer, probably did not interfere with Captain Mackay’s handling of the larger sapper party.)

Dawn found the airborne men prepared for a day that would be full of incident. They had completed the preparations for the defence of the buildings they had occupied by breaking all the windows to avoid injury from flying glass, moving furniture to make barricades at the windows, filling baths and other receptacles with water for as long as the supply remained functioning; these were all basic lessons learned in their house-fighting training. As soon as it started to get light, Major Munford wanted to begin registering the guns of No. 3 Battery of the Light Regiment on to likely targets:

There was some reluctance to allow me to do this. Some people were still harking back to the time the paras had suffered from the results of ‘drop-shorts’ in North Africa – not by the Light Regiment. But I persisted and was allowed to register on the approach road at the south end of the bridge – only about six rounds – but we got both troops ranged on to it and recorded it. ‘Sheriff’ Thompson, back at Oosterbeek, said it should be recorded as ‘Mike One’; ‘Mike’ was ‘M’ for Munford. Our signals back to the battery were working well.

The first intruder into the area was a lorry ‘full of dustbins clattering in the back’ which drove in between the buildings overlooking the ramp and the offices which Brigade HQ was occupying. Trigger-happy airborne men shot it up from both sides; the driver, presumably a Dutchman on a routine refuse-collection round, was probably killed. A similar fate befell three German lorries which appeared, probably also on a routine errand and not knowing of the British presence.

But attacks soon started, mainly from the east. The Germans did not know the precise strength or location of the British force, and the first attacks were only tentative probes by some old Mark III and IV tanks supported by infantry which were easily beaten off. One tank reached the road under the bridge ramp and was fired upon by an anti-tank gun. Lieutenant Arvian Llewellyn-Jones, watching from a nearby building, describes how an early lesson about the recoil of a gun in a street was learned:

The gun spades were not into the pavement edge, nor firm against any strong barrier. The gun was laid, the order to fire given, and when fired ran back about fifty yards, injuring two of the crew. There was no visible damage to the tank. It remained hidden in part of the gloom of the underpass of the bridge. The gun was recovered with some difficulty. This time it was firmly wedged. The Battery Office clerk, who had never fired a gun in his life, was sent out to help man the gun. This time the tank under the bridge advanced into full view and looked to be deploying its gun straight at the 6-pounder. We fired first. The aim was true; the tank was hit and it slewed and blocked the road.

These early actions were followed by a period of relative calm, described by John Frost as ‘a time when I felt everything was going according to plan, with no serious opposition yet and everything under control’.

Hauptsturmfiihrer Viktor Graebner was the commander of the 9th SS Panzer Division’s Reconnaissance Battalion, a unit of first-class troops well equipped with twenty-two armoured cars and halftracked armoured personnel carriers. Only the previous day his divisional commander had presented him with the ribbon and emblem of the Knight’s Cross, awarded to him for bravery in Normandy. He had then led his unit over the bridge, before the British arrived there, on a sweep down the main road to Nijmegen. Finding that area all clear, he turned back and was now preparing to return over the bridge to reach his divisional command post in Arnhem. He knew the British were at the north end of the bridge now; whether he actually intended to mount an attack or just dash through the British positions is not known.

Look-outs in the top rooms of the houses occupied by the airborne men drew to the attention of their officers the column of vehicles assembling on the bridge approach. The identification of the vehicles as German swiftly put paid to the initial hope that this might be the head of the ground-force column making excellent time and arriving to relieve the airborne force. Major Munford saw that the German vehicles would have to pass through the area he had registered as a target, and his signaller immediately made contact with the battery at Oosterbeek. Dennis Munford says:

I received permission to open fire and, when the German column moved off, all I had to do was call, ‘Target – Mike One’, and the boys at the battery did the rest. There was no need for further correction. The Germans had to drive through it. I ordered a cease-fire when they left the Mike One area and came on to the bridge; I didn’t want to damage the bridge.

The artillery fire was accurate. Some German motorcyclists were seen to be hit, but the shells were too light to inflict much damage on the armoured vehicles.

The first part of Graebner’s force set off over the bridge at top speed. These leading vehicles were armoured cars which threaded their way round the still burning lorries from the previous night’s action and over the string of mines laid on the roadway during the night, but these failed to stop the vehicles. The airborne men held their fire until the last moment, and some of those first armoured cars drove straight on through to the town without being stopped, but then the order to open fire was given and none of the other armoured cars survived the resulting hail of fire. More and more of the German unit were committed to reinforce the attack, including half-tracks packed with soldiers, some protected by armoured coverings but others with open tops. Nearly all the German vehicles were hit and stopped in a great tangle on the ramp between the houses on both sides occupied by the 2nd Battalion’s A Company and also overlooked by the Brigade HQ and other buildings. Piats accounted for some of these vehicles, but much of the damage was caused by two anti-tank guns. One of these, Sergeant O’Neill’s gun of B Troop, was at a corner of the Brigade HQbuilding. The other 6-pounder was that of Sergeant Cyril Robson of C Troop, which was in a street closer to the river on the west side of the bridge and considerably below the level of the ramp. Directed by Lieutenant Tony Cox in the window of the house above him, Robson fired solid-shot shells at the parapet at the side of the bridge until he cut a V-shaped section away and was then able to fire into the sides of the German vehicles passing the gap. It is believed that Robson’s gun destroyed more of the attacking vehicles than any other weapon. The Germans in the half-track personnel carriers which were hit or found their way blocked were exposed to a hail of small-arms fire, trapped in their vehicles or spilling out on to the open stretch of the ramp, unable to deploy into shelter. They were slaughtered. One of the early victims was seen to be flung out on to the roadway and literally cut to pieces by a hail of fire. Some of the vehicles toppled over or slewed off the embankment of the lower ramp, allowing the airborne men in the buildings there to join in the execution.

Nearly everyone in the British garrison joined in the firing. Major Freddie Gough was seen enthusiastically firing one of the machine-guns on his Reconnaissance Squadron jeep. It would be ironic if it was one of his shots that killed his opposite number, because Hauptsturmfuhrer Graebner was among the German dead. Lieutenant-Colonel Frost was not firing: ‘I was watching other people and picking up information. A commander ought not to be firing a weapon in the middle of an action. His best weapon is a pair of binoculars.’

Here are two typical descriptions of the action. Corporal Geoff Cockayne was in the Brigade HQ building:

I had a German Schmeisser and had a lot of fun with that. I shot at any Gerry that moved. Several of their vehicles – six or seven – started burning. We didn’t stay in the room we were in but came out to fire, keeping moving, taking cover and firing from different positions. The Germans had got out of their troop carriers – what was left of them – and it became a proper infantry action. I shot off nearly all my ammunition. To start with, I had been letting rip, but then I became more careful; I knew there would be no more. I wasn’t firing at any German in particular, just firing at where I knew they were.

Signalman Bill Jukes was in the 2nd Battalion HQ building:

The first vehicle which drew level with the house was hit, and the second rammed into it, blocking the roadway. The rest didn’t stand a chance. The crews and passengers, those still able to, began to pile out, and those of us armed with Stens joined in the general fusillade. One of the radio operators grabbed my Sten gun, which was leaning against the wall, but I snatched it away from him, telling him to go and get his own. I hadn’t waited five years to get a shot at the enemy like this only to be denied by some Johnny-come-lately to the section. It was impossible to say what effect my shooting had. There was such a volley coming from the windows along the street that nobody could have said who shot who. At least one German lived a charmed life that day. He slipped out of one of the half- tracks on the far side from us and ran for dear life between the houses on the other side of the ramp and disappeared from view. Anybody with that kind of luck should live for ever.

This action lasted for about two hours. Various reports put the numbers of vehicles hit and stopped, or jammed in the wreckage of other vehicles, at ten, eleven or twelve, mostly half-tracks. The number of Germans killed is estimated at seventy. The electrical system of one of the knocked-out vehicles on the ramp short-circuited, and the horn of the vehicle emitted ‘a banshee wailing’ after the battle from among the shattered and burning vehicles and the sprawled dead of the attack. The morale of the airborne men was sky high; their own casualties had been light.

That attack by the Germans over the bridge proved to be the high point of that first full day. After the attack was over, John Frost reviewed the situation of his force. He had left B Company at the pontoon area, 1,100 yards away, in the hope that it might assist the remainder of the brigade into the bridge area. His last wireless contact with the other battalions showed that the 1st Battalion was still at least two miles away on the outskirts of Arnhem and making only slow progress; there was no contact with the 3rd Battalion and no sign that it was any closer. Frost had earlier decided that B Company was in danger of being surrounded at the pontoon while performing no useful function there and had ordered it to come in. It has already been told how Major Crawley extricated most of his company but lost one platoon cut off. Frost met Crawley and directed him to occupy some of the houses in a triangular block of buildings on the western part of the perimeter to provide an outer defence there. After B Company’s casualties the previous day and the loss of No. 4 Platoon, there were only about seventy men in the company. Captain Francis Hoyer-Millar describes how Company HQ was greeted when it occupied its house:

The lady – elderly, but not old – didn’t seem to mind us fighting from her house, smashing windows and moving the furniture about, but she took me into one room and said, ‘Please don’t fire from here; it’s my husband’s favourite room’; he was away somewhere. We couldn’t agree with her of course, and anyway, the house burned down in the end.

Later in the day Sergeant-Major Scott came in and reported that our last platoon commander had been killed – ‘Mr Stanford’s had his chips.’ Doug Crawley and I were both distressed, not at the seeming callous manner of the report, but that we had no more platoon commanders.

Lieutenant Colin Stanford was not dead. He had been shot in the head while standing on the top of his platoon building studying the surroundings through binoculars, but he survived.

The next serious event was a sharp German attack from the streets on the eastern side of the perimeter against the houses defended by Lieutenant Pat Barnett’s Brigade HQ Defence Platoon and various other troops. Preceded by an artillery and mortar bombardment, two tanks led infantry under the bridge ramp and into the British positions. In a fierce action, the two tanks were claimed as knocked out and the infantry driven back. One tank at least was destroyed by Sergeant Robson’s anti-tank gun and possibly one by a Piat. The 75-millimetre battery back at Oosterbeek was also brought into this action, its fire being directed on this occasion by Captain Henry Buchanan of the Forward Observation Unit, a good example of the way this unit’s officers operated with battalions as extra observation officers for the Light Regiment until the guns of the ground forces came into range, but Buchanan would be killed on the following day.

The remainder of the day saw further minor attacks. One of the buildings on the eastern side of the perimeter held by part of No. 8 Platoon, 3rd Battalion, was overrun, and another, held by part of the Brigade HQ Defence Platoon, had to be abandoned, but no further ground was given. There then commenced a general shelling and mortar fire which would harass the British force throughout the remaining days of the bridge action. Both sides were settling down to a long siege. The day had been a most successful one for the airborne men. Their positions were almost intact, and every attack had been beaten off with heavy loss of German life. Up to three tanks and a host of other armoured vehicles had been destroyed. British casualties had not been heavy. The best estimate is that only ten men had been killed and approximately thirty wounded before nightfall from all of the British units present. But the force was clearly isolated, unlikely to be reinforced in the near future and likely to be the subject of increased German pressure; the Germans badly needed the bridge to pass reinforcements down to the battle now raging in the Nijmegen area. These reinforcements were being laboriously ferried across the Rhine further upstream at present. Another danger was a looming shortage of ammunition; profligate quantities had been expended during the day, and the last issue from the supply brought in by the RASC would be made that night.

A change in the command structure took place that evening. All through the day, Lieutenant-Colonel Frost had been directing the actions only of the 2nd Battalion. Major Hibbert had been running Brigade HQ and the other units, carrying out as far as possible the plan brought from England and hoping that Brigadier Lathbury would soon arrive. But Hibbert now heard, from a wireless link with the 1st Battalion, that Lathbury was missing and he formally asked Lieutenant-Colonel Frost to take over the running of the entire force at the bridge. So John Frost moved over to the Brigade HQ building, leaving his second in command, Major David Wallis, in charge of the 2nd Battalion. At 6.30 p.m. Frost heard from the 1st Battalion that it was stuck near St Elizabeth Hospital and that the 3rd Battalion was nearby. Frost, acting now as brigade commander, ordered both battalions to form a ‘flying column’ of at least company strength to reach the bridge before midnight. But neither battalion had the strength or the means for such an operation, and this was the last attempt John Frost would make to exercise command over the other units of the brigade.

This may be a suitable place to mention Dutch dismay at the failure to use local means of communication and to utilize more fully the services of the Dutch Resistance. All through the day just passed, parts of the local telephone service had been functioning normally, but because of official British fear of German penetration of the Resistance, units had been ordered not to use the telephone. Another Dutch complaint is over the failure to trust more local men as guides; this would have been of particular help to the battalions trying to get through to the bridge. Albert Deuss, one of the local Resistance survivors, says:

If they had trusted us, we could have brought them through houses and got them through to the bridge, but they did not trust us and preferred to fight through the tanks. We knew our own town and where our friends were and all the short cuts. We even had a special password from ‘Frank’, our contact in Rotterdam, and we expected the British to know all about it – but they did not.

The only Dutch officer at the bridge, Captain Jacobus Groenewoud, had been using local telephones, but only to contact the loyal names on his ‘Jedburgh’ list to ascertain where the known German sympathizers in Arnhem were.

The airborne men prepared to face their first full night at the bridge. The houses on the western side of the perimeter had hardly been attacked, so part of B Company was redeployed to the eastern sector. A house near the bridge was deliberately set on fire to illuminate the bridge area, and B Company was ordered to send out a standing patrol to make sure no Germans came across the bridge during the night and also to protect a party of Royal Engineers which was sent to examine the underside of the bridge to ensure that the Germans could not demolish it. Captain Francis Hoyer-Millar was in command of the B Company patrol:

I was told to take twelve men out. We went past the wrecked vehicles on the ramp and on to the bridge itself. It was a large expanse of open area, quite dark. I didn’t know what was over the top of the slope so I threw a grenade. We were surprised when five Germans emerged with their hands up; three of them were wounded. I don’t know how long they had been hiding there, almost inside our perimeter.

I put half of my men on either side of the road. We had no trouble from the Germans but we were annoyingly fired on by a Bren from the houses held by our men. I yelled, ‘Stop firing that bloody Bren gun. It’s only me.’ It was one of those silly things one says on the spur of the moment. John Frost got to hear about it and he always teased me about it afterwards.

It was soon after dark that John Frost lost his long-standing friend and second in command, Major David Wallis, who only that afternoon had been made acting commander of the 2nd Battalion. Major Wallis was making his rounds in the darkness and came to the house defended by A Company HQ and some sappers of the 9th Field Company. As he was leaving the rear of the house there was a burst of fire from a Bren gun, and Major Wallis was hit in the chest and died at once. The shots were fired by one of the Royal Engineers. A brother officer of Major Wallis says that he was known to ‘have a habit of speaking rather quietly and indistinctly, and his answer to the sentry’s challenge may not have carried or not have been understood’. A comrade of the unfortunate sentry says: ‘It was at a time when the next shape in a doorway could be the enemy, such was the proximity of the fighting; response time was very short, and a German grenade had a short fuse.’ The death of this officer resulted in another command change. John Frost appointed Major Tatham-Warter to command the 2nd Battalion; this was over the head of the more senior Major Crawley. Frost was ‘aware of a slight resentment, but Tatham-Warter was well in touch with the battalion positions and I chose him’.

Soon after 3.0 a.m. (on Tuesday) there was a one-sided action at the school building jointly manned by sappers of the 1st Parachute Squadron and 3rd Battalion men. A German force which had probably misidentified the building in the darkness assembled alongside it, standing and talking unconcernedly, directly under the windows manned by the airborne men on the second and third floors. Typical of the disputed history of that building’s defence, Captain Mackay says that he organized what happened next while Lieutenant Len Wright of the 3rd Battalion claims that Major Lewis did so. This is Len Wright’s description of events:

We all stood by with grenades – we had plenty of those – and with all our weapons. Then Major Lewis shouted, ‘Fire!’, and the men in all the rooms facing that side threw grenades and opened fire down on the Germans. My clearest memory was of ‘Pongo’ Lewis running from one room to another, dropping grenades and saying to me that he hadn’t enjoyed himself so much since the last time he’d gone hunting. It lasted about a quarter of an hour. There was nothing the Germans could do except die or disappear. When it got light there were a lot of bodies down there – eighteen or twenty or perhaps more. Some were still moving; one was severely wounded, a bad stomach wound with his guts visible, probably by a grenade. Some of our men tried to get him in, showing a Red Cross symbol, but they were shot at and came back in, without being hit but unable to help the German.

The defenders suffered no casualties.


The Battle of Loudon Hill 1296 by Mike Shaw

In 1296 an English convoy escorting a shipment of looted gold was passing through the Irvine valley to the port of Ayr. It was led by an English Knight by the name of Fenwick, who in 1291 had killed the father of William Wallace, Sir Malcolm. Wallace, who was fighting a guerilla war on the English invaders, planned an attack at Loudon Hill where the road on which Fenwicks convoy was travelling had to pass through a steep gorge. Wallace had about fifty men and Fenwick close to one hundred and eighty. The Scots blocked the road with debris and attacked on foot. The English charged, but the Scots held firm. Fenwick armed with a spear, turned his horse in the direction of Wallace, who in turn felled Fenwicks horse with his claymore. The unhorsed Englishman was no match on the ground where he, along with one hundred of his convoy, met their deaths.

The status of the kingdom of Scotland constituted a key issue throughout the HUNDRED YEARS WAR. While seeking to overturn VALOIS overlordship in AQUITAINE, the PLANTAGENET kings of England sought also to secure their own overlordship in Scotland. The possibility that PHILIP VI would help the Scots resist English ambitions toward their kingdom was an important immediate cause of the war. The effective use that both France and Scotland made of one another in threatening England allowed the FRANCO-SCOTTISH ALLIANCE of the 1290s to persist throughout the war, and, on occasion, turned Scotland into a major theater of Anglo-French conflict.

Anglo-Scottish relations were largely peaceful until the 1290s, when a Scottish succession dispute allowed EDWARD I to pursue his ambition of ruling all Britain. Having recently brought Wales under his authority, he sought to do the same in Scotland. At the request of the Scots, Edward presided over the court that decided the succession question in favor of John Balliol. However, the new king’s authority was immediately undermined by Edward, who demanded that Balliol and his nobles perform military service in Aquitaine, and by the Bruces, Balliol’s chief rivals, who continued to contest the court’s decision. Balliol soon found himself at war with both Edward and the Bruces. In October 1295, a council of nobles acting in Balliol’s stead concluded an alliance with France, a compact that, through repeated renewals, lasted into the sixteenth century and became known in Scotland as the “Auld Alliance.” Unable to defeat his enemies, Balliol surrendered the kingdom to Edward in 1296, when many Scottish nobles renounced the French alliance and swore homage to the English king. However, a Scottish independence movement quickly emerged under William Wallace and others, who paved the way for Robert Bruce to be crowned king as Robert I in March 1306. The death of Edward I in 1307 and the military incompetence of EDWARD II allowed Robert to gradually expel the English from most of Scotland, especially following a decisive victory at Bannockburn in 1314. Although the pope placed Scotland under interdict at Edward’s request, the Scots in 1320 issued the Declaration of Arbroath, declaring their intention to continue resisting English domination.

In 1326, Robert renewed the French alliance. In 1328, the government of Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, earl of March, was forced to accept Scottish independence in the unpopular Treaty of Northampton. However, the death of Robert I in 1329 and EDWARD III’s overthrow of his mother’s regime in the following year revived the Anglo-Scottish wars. With his victory at HALIDON HILL in 1333, Edward forced DAVID II, Robert’s nine-year-old successor, to flee to France. The arrival of his Scottish ally persuaded Philip VI to demand that any Anglo-French settlement in Aquitaine also include the Scots. This requirement scuttled a proposed agreement and outraged Edward, who considered Scotland a purely English matter. When the Anglo-French conflict erupted in 1337, Edward declared French intervention in Scotland a major justification for his decision to go to war. Aided by the English preoccupation with France, the Scots, who proved themselves well able to maintain their independence without either a resident king or French troops, gradually drove out the English, allowing David to return in 1341. In 1346, David, upon hearing news of CRÉCY, invaded England in support of his ally. Defeated and captured at NEVILLE’S CROSS in October, David remained a prisoner until 1357, when he was released upon agreeing to a RANSOM of 100,000 marks. Having also agreed to cease fighting the English until the huge sum was paid in full, David in effect accepted an indefinite truce that limited active Scottish participation in the Anglo-French war for the rest of the century. Upon his accession in 1371, Robert II, first king of the House of Stewart, renewed the French alliance, as did his son, Robert III, shortly after his accession in 1390. Anglo- Scottish hostilities continued in the form of constant cross-border raids and contrary allegiances in the matter of the great papal schism, with Scotland recognizing Clement VII and England Urban VI. In 1406, internal disorder forced Robert III to send his young son and heir, James, to France, although the boy was captured by the English while crossing the Channel.

Upon Robert’s death shortly thereafter, his brother, Robert, duke of Albany, assumed the regency on behalf of his imprisoned nephew. After HENRY V invaded France in 1415, the Albany regime allowed more frequent border raiding to increase pressure on England in Henry’s absence. In 1419, the Scots responded to a plea from the dauphin for military assistance, and a large army was dispatched under John STEWART, earl of Buchan, who won a major victory at BAUGE’ in 1421. Rewarded with appointment as constable of France, Buchan persuaded other Scots to join French service, including Archibald DOUGLAS, earl of Douglas, who landed with an army of sixty-five hundred in 1424. Although Buchan, Douglas, and most of their men were slain at VERNEUIL in August 1424, many individual Scottish knights continued to serve CHARLES VII. Released in 1424 for a payment of 60,000 marks, James I renewed the French alliance in 1428 and agreed to dispatch a new army to the Continent in return for the county of Saintonge and the marriage of his daughter to Charles VII’s son. James’s murder in 1437 and internal disorder during the minority of his son, James II, prevented the Scots from playing a major role in the final campaigns of the Hundred Years War, although the Scots renewed the French alliance in 1448.

Further Reading: Curry, Anne. The Hundred Years War. 2nd ed. Houndmills, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003; Laidlaw, James, ed. The Auld Alliance: France and Scotland Over 700 Years. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, 1999; Nicholson, Ranald. Scotland: The Later Middle Ages. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1974; Wood, Stephen. The Auld Alliance, Scotland and France: The Military Connection. Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1989.

Operation Backfire

A list of desired German scientists—“List I”—accompanied the memo. It included 115 rocket specialists. When the British learned about the U.S. Army’s intentions to hire the German rocket scientists, they asked to first be allowed to conduct two rocket exploitation projects of their own. The Americans agreed and released into British custody a group of scientists, engineers, and technicians including Wernher von Braun, Walter Dornberger, and Arthur Rudolph.

The first British project was called Operation Backfire, a V-2 field test that took place on Germany’s north coast, at a former Krupp naval gun range in Cuxhaven. Operation Backfire was designed to analyze technical data about the V-2 by having the Nazi rocket engineers fire four rockets, also taken piecemeal from Nordhausen, at a target in the North Sea. This would allow the British to evaluate various technical elements, from how the rocket was launched to its flight controls and fuels.

Operation Backfire, succeeded in examining and experimentally test launching, with the assistance of German technicians, three V-2 rockets. The Backfire launches took place in the British zone of occupation, at a former Krupp armament proving ground at Altenwalde, near Cuxhaven, Germany, on the North Sea coast. The launches were made on 2, 3, and 15 October 1945. The last launch was known as Operation Clitterhouse and included foreign (U.S., French, and Soviet) observers. The data acquired from all the launches and contained in five illustrated manuals was shared with the U.S.

Arthur Rudolph, the former Mittelwerk operations director, was considered an expert in launch techniques, and to his biographer, he later recalled a scene from Operation Backfire: “The V-2 ran on alcohol of the same chemistry as that appearing in say, Jack Daniels and Old Grandad [sic]. The people at the test site apparently knew that.” One night, according to Rudolph, a group of British and German V-2 technicians got drunk together on the rocket fuel. A British officer came upon the group arm in arm, “apparently comrades now, and lustily singing, Wir Fahren gegen England, or ‘We Will March Against England.’ ” General Dornberger was not part of the drinking and singing. The British kept him on a short leash, away from the test firing and always under a watchful eye. The British had alternative plans for Walter Dornberger. They were not interested in the knowledge Dornberger possessed. They wanted to try him for war crimes. After the test, he would not be returned to the Americans as the British had originally promised.

“The British pulled a sneaky on us,” explained Major Staver, who attended Operation Backfire. The Americans were not permitted to take Dornberger back after the Operation; instead, Dornberger was declared “on loan” and was taken to England. There, he and von Braun were “interrogated for a week by the British and then kept behind barbed wire in Wimbledon for four and one-half weeks while waiting to be picked up by the Americans.” Eventually, von Braun was returned but General Dornberger was not. Instead, he was issued a brown jumpsuit with the letters “PW” for Prisoner of War stenciled on the back. Under armed guard, he was taken to the London District Cage near the Windermere Bridge for interrogation. From there, General Dornberger was transferred first to a castle in Wales and then to Special Camp XI in Island Farm, South Wales, where he was an extremely unpopular prisoner.

“Walter Dornberger was definitely the most hated man in the camp,” Sergeant Ron Williams, a prison guard, recalled. “Even his own people hated him. He never went out to the local farms to work like other prisoners.” Wherever General Dornberger went while he was at Special Camp XI, he required an escort. The British feared that other prisoners might kill him.

Report of Operation Backfire


The drawing from the “Backfire” report shows the positions and the movements of the Artillery Regiment z.b.V. 901 during their use of the V-2 rockets at Hachenburg in the Westerwald in the spring of 1945

Von Braun

At the end of July 1945 von Braun’s group finally got word that the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington had approved a plan to bring the Germans to the United States. Under the secret “Project Overcast,” 350 German specialists were to be sent, with the nominal rationale being assistance for the war against Japan, although its surrender four weeks later changed little. But with that news came a shock: this number did not encompass only Ordnance’s Peenemünders. In fact Colonel Toftoy, who had been called back to Washington in late June to take over the rocket branch, was given a quota of one hundred; the USAAF and the navy had their own long lists of desirable specialists. Toftoy returned to Paris for meetings in late July and then visited Witzenhausen. He heard firsthand about the urgency of finding long-term family accommodations, especially as contracts were to be for a year only and family members were to stay behind. Ultimately, after another round of consultations with Staver, Porter, von Braun, and the leading Germans, Toftoy decided to accept about twenty extra, his orders notwithstanding. The first version of “List I,” as the Germans called it because they believed more would come later, had 124 names and was completed on 2 August. One of those names was Magnus von Braun, by then living in Eschwege.

One of the complications in drawing up a list was that, after a behind-the-scenes tug-of-war, the British had succeeded in getting the U.S. Army to lend some of its rocketeers to “Operation Backfire.” Based at the North Sea port of Cuxhaven, Backfire aimed to give the British Army experience with V-2 handling and launching. Dornberger was sent to Cuxhaven in mid-July, but he was soon shipped off to a POW camp in England for high-ranking generals, where he was threatened with a war crimes trial for the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. Hans Kammler was nowhere to be found and likely died near Prague at the end of the war, so Dornberger was the chosen scapegoat, but the whole idea ultimately foundered on its hypocrisy in the face of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and so on. Neither the British nor the Americans connected Dornberger, von Braun, Rudolph, or any of the others to the horrors found at Dora and Nordhausen, however. Allied officers and specialists automatically assumed it was the sole responsibility of the SS and that there was a fundamental distinction between technical experts and Nazi war criminals. In his 17 June report to Ordnance in Washington, Staver described the rocketeers as “top-notch engineers” no different from Allied “scientists” in developing weapons of war.

Wernher von Braun was on British lists as a desirable technical expert too, whether for Operation Backfire, for interrogation in England, or even for long-term employment. On 18 July the Backfire group asked the U.S. Army for the “apprehension” of von Braun, Rees, Schilling, and Steinhoff, “last reported as free civilians in area WITZENHAUSEN-ESCHWEGE.” This request went nowhere. A month later Sir Alwyn Crow, who headed missile projects in the Ministry of Supply in London, asked more realistically for the loan of von Braun, Axster, Steinhoff, and Rees for one week. As of 23 August this request was still under discussion by U.S. representatives. On the twenty-eighth von Braun wrote from Witzenhausen advising Dieter Huzel to marry his fiancée so that she would qualify as a dependent when he went overseas, and Wernher and Magnus together wrote a letter in the blind to their parents, promising them full support if they came to the American zone. They spoke in code of going to the United States: “In the near future we will probably move to Ntino [Constantine Generales] and his people.” Thus it appears that Wernher von Braun’s pleasant interlude in London, his first since his Christmas 1934 trip, probably did not occur until the very end of August or the beginning of September 1945.

He and the three others were flown to England and were interned in a special camp for German experts in Wimbledon, very near the famous tennis grounds. There he ran into Heinrich Klein, a leading designer of artillery and solid-fuel rockets for Rheinmetall-Borsig: “v. Braun, a little superior, let it be known that now the real work in the rocketry field could begin, as the land of unlimited possibilities was contemplating it.” He went on about the A-9 as the “first intercontinental rocket,” but it was only the initial step to a satellite that would orbit at 300 km (186 mi) altitude and 30,000 km/h (18,600 mph) velocity. Apparently nothing of the difficulties of the preceding months had dislodged him from his enthusiasm for, and rather unrealistic expectations of, working in the United States.

He was a little more anxious about how the British would treat him, but he found that as soon as he met Sir Alwyn Crow, “I was hardly inside his office before we were engaged in friendly shop talk.” Crow tried to get a list of people not going to the States whom von Braun might recommend to the British, and he may even have invited him to work for Britain—in both cases without success. One of the most memorable incidents of his London stay occurred during his morning ride between Wimbledon and the city center. The RAF driver silently pulled over and stopped in front of a building demolished by a rocket. “I was unable to tell the precise way in which the V-2 had done its damage, because the rubble had been cleared away,” von Braun later said, never giving any indication that the sight affected him more deeply. Soon thereafter he and his compatriots were flown back to Germany, and he was told of his imminent departure for America. It was time for the great venture into the unknown to begin.

Three A 4s started successfully during “Backfire”


The Russian R-1 rocket project

The Soviet option

It has been widely reported that the Germans unanimously decided to surrender to the Western Allies. This is not the case. Some of the scientists were more impressed by the Soviet system than they were by American capitalism, and Helmut Gröttrup was the most conspicuous of these. Gröttrup was an electronics engineer who no longer wished to ‘understudy’ Von Braun as he had done in the development of the V-2 rocket. Gröttrup decided to approach the Soviets and was offered a senior position in Russian rocket development. Between 9 September 1945 and 22 October 1946 Gröttrup with his loyal team of researchers worked for the USSR in the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany (later to become the German Democratic Republic). His director of research was Sergei Korolev, Russia’s leading rocket scientist. In the autumn of 1946, the entire team was moved to Russia. Gröttrup had cooperated with Russia in bringing 20 of the V-2 rockets to the newly established rocket research institute at Kapustin Yar, between Volgograd and the deserts of Astrakhan. The base is known today as Znamensk and it had opened on 13 May 1946 specifically to offer facilities to German experts. In charge was General Vasily Voznyuk and on 18 October 1947 they launched the first of the V-2 rockets brought in from Germany.

Gröttrup worked under Korolev to develop the Russian R-1 project; these were in reality V-2 rockets built using Russian manufacturing and materials with the German designs. The People’s Commissar of Armaments, Dmitry Ustinov, requested that Gröttrup and his team of technicians design new missile systems, culminating in the projected R-14 rocket which was similar to the design of long-range missiles that Von Braun was developing during the war. The site at Znamensk developed into a top-secret cosmodrome and the small town itself was expanded to provide a pleasurable and civilized lifestyle for the families of the research teams working on the rockets. It was no longer included on Russian maps, and there were strict rules against disclosure of what was going on.

The value of the German expertise to the Russians proved to be limited and, in due course, the authorities allowed the research workers to return to their homes in Germany. The design of rocket motors in Russia by Aleksei Mikhailovich Isaev was already superior to the German concepts used in the V-2 rockets, and their lightweight copper motors gave rise to the first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7. It was this design advantage that gave the Russians technical superiority in rocketry and led to their launching the world’s first satellite Sputnik 1, and subsequently to the launch of Yuri Gagarin as the first man into space.

The same technology gave the Russians the capacity to launch the first lunar probe, and later the spacecraft sent out towards the planets. Indeed, this design of rocket is still in use today. Once it was recognized that there was little point in keeping the German rocket specialists in Russia, on 22 November 1955 Gröttrup was given leave to return to his native Germany. In cooperation with Jürgen Dethloff he went on to design and patent the chip card which was to become so important in modern banking systems, and so his post-war genius is with us today.


18 August 1940 Part I

Perhaps because of the failure of the intended raid on RAF Kenley on 15 August 1940 another mission was ordered, this time to be carried out by a specialist low-level attack unit, the Dornier 17-Z-equipped 9./KG76. Nine of the unit’s aircraft streaked low across the English Channel at lunchtime on 18 August, just above the waves, crossing the Sussex coast at Cuckmere Haven. German war correspondent Rolf von Pebal flew with one of the Do 17 bombers during the operation against Kenley air base on 18 August 1940. Here, the aircraft are photographed passing Beachy Head and its famous lighthouse. An Observer Corps post on top of the cliffs spotted the raiders who were tracked all the way to their target. In total, four of the Dornier 17s were shot down over land or fell into the English Channel, and others made crash landings or emergency landings back in France with wounded, dead or dying crew members on board. Only one Dornier 17 returned to its home base at Cormeilles-en-Vexin. The cost to 9./KG76 had been high, and RAF Kenley remained operational.


The Dorniers turned at Burgess Hill onto a track heading the formation due north, and directly towards RAF Kenley. In this photograph, people in Cyprus Road run for cover as the war photographer on board one of the raiders records a brief moment in the history of the Battle of Britain. Simultaneously, the formation of nine aircraft was machine gunning streets, buildings and vehicles en route to their target.


Although the Junkers 86-P is not an aircraft generally associated with Luftwaffe air activity over Britain, they were used in limited numbers in the high-altitude reconnaissance role. Teenager Alexander McKee took a photograph of a single extremely high vapour trail over Portsmouth at around 1.30pm on 18 August 1940 and this was almost certainly the trail left by a Junkers 86-P as it went about its work.

Despite clear weather on 17 August, it was quiet in the air over the British Isles. Reichsmarschall Göring sent new attack orders to his commanders. He gave them 24 hours to prepare the next major operation against the British Isles, and in the meantime called two of his favourites, fighter aces majors Galland and Mölders, to his hunting lodge Karinhall in the forests east of Berlin. Göring got straight to the point and told them that the losses had so far been worse than expected, especially among Stuka units. He stated bluntly that in his opinion, the German fighters had not been used aggressively enough. However, this did not reflect on Galland and Mölders. He had not ordered them to Karinhall to criticize them – on the contrary, as the old fighter pilot that he was, he wanted to use their young belligerence to improve fighter operations over the Channel. His decision to make Major Mölders, who was only 27 years old, commander of the whole of JG 51 had proven very successful. Since Mölders took over JG 51 had developed into the most successful Bf 109 unit under Jafü 2’s command. Now Göring wanted to forge ahead and do the same with the other Bf 109 units, and he was going to start with Galland – who, besides Mölders, was also a favourite of Göring’s.

’Galland’, said Göring, ‘you shall take over JG 26!’ ‘I did not like the idea, because I wanted to lead my unit in combat’, said Adolf Galland. ‘Göring tried to reassure me that his idea was to have fighting Geschwaderkommodores.’ Mölders disagreed with Göring, but he did undoubtedly have unusual organisational and management skills. ‘I still could not reconcile myself to the idea of being a Geschwaderkommodore.’

Major Martin Mettig, who was replaced as Geschwaderkommodore JG 54 by 28-year-old Major Hannes Trautloft on 25 August considered that this reform was basically sensible: ‘the replacing of five Geschwaderkommodores in the fighter aviation came about because the heavy combat demanded a rejuvenation at senior command level. With my 37 years I was the fighter aviation’s second-youngest Geschwaderkommodore at that time. The new aim was that our Staffelkapitäns would be less than 27 years, our Gruppenkommandeurs under 30 years, and our Geschwaderkommodores under 32 years of age. I maintain that it was a correct measure.’

Göring also found cause for optimism in a new report which he received from the Luftwaffe’s Intelligence Chief, Oberst ‘Beppo’ Schmid, which again stated that all that remained of the RAF was ‘the last 300 Spitfires’. In reality, thanks to the 24-hour reprieve, the number of serviceable aircraft in Fighter Command increased from 631 at dawn on 17 August to 706 twenty-four hours later. This gain came in handy when Göring’s plan of attack came into force on 18 August. The first goal was to once and for all wipe out the 11 Group sector stations Kenley and Biggin Hill, and to do that the Germans had a sophisicated plan of attack.

Sunday 18 August dawned with beautiful weather. On the German airfields in France the unit commanders assembled their men for briefings. This time the RAF would be decisively defeated, the unit commanders explained.

On the other side of the Channel the British felt increasingly nervous. The sun shone from an almost cloudless sky and it was a warm and lovely summer day, but except for a few reconnaissance aircraft it was completely quiet in the air over England. Would there be a two day reprieve? What were the Germans up to?

Naturally, it was just the calm before the storm. Shortly before lunch Park was notified that the Dover radar station had picked up radar echoes suggesting the largest gathering of German aircraft ever. In the air above the Pas de Calais 110 He 111s from KG 1 formed up together with Do 17s and Ju 88s from KG 76. These were joined by nearly five hundred Messerschmitts from JG 3, JG 26, JG 51, JG 52, JG 54 and ZG 26. Major Martin Mettig, still the commander of JG 54, said: ‘of our five Jagdgeschwaders, two were tasked to fly close escort. We climbed to the flight altitude we had been ordered above Cap Gris Nez.’

When the first fifty or so German aircraft began to fly over the Strait of Dover, at high altitude, Park might have been able to guess but could not know that these were the Bf 109s going out first on a free hunting mission. In any event, the commander of 11 Group had no choice but to alert his fighter units. He decided to send up five squadrons to shield the southeast coast. Nos. 17, 54, 56, 65 and 501 squadrons were tasked with patroling the Canterbury area.

In this situation to send up twelve Hurricanes from the coastal Hawkinge airfield, outside Folkestone, was not very well-advised. They took off just as the Bf 109s left the French coast at Wissant, just five minutes flying time away. Oberleutnant Gerhard Schöpfel from III./JG 26 spotted them, dived immediately and shot down four of them in rapid succession.

The remaining pilots of No. 501 Squadron dived to escape. It was the signal for the entire III./JG 26 to go after them. The Germans did not catch up with 501 Squadron, but instead ran into another group of Hurricanes, No. 17 Squadron. When its pilots saw the whole gaggle of ‘109s coming down, they turned and tried to dive away from danger. The Germans shot down three Hurricanes before they broke off the pursuit in order to not lose too much height. One of the downed Hurricanes from 17 Squadron crashed near Dover, but the pilots of the other two managed to land their machines so that they could be repaired.

Dornier Do 17s played a significant role in the early phase of World War 11, used first on 1 September 1939 when the invasion of Poland began. They played only a small part in the Norwegian campaign, but were used extensively in the invasion of France and the Low Countries, against Allied convoys in the English Channel and targets in England during the Battle of Britain. Deployed in the invasion of Greece, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, most had been withdrawn from first-line service by late 1941.

Major production version was the Do 17Z, which appeared in several variants and was built to a total of some 1,700 between 1939-40. They included the Do 17Z-0 which, powered by two 900-hp (671-kW) Bramo 323A-1 engines and armed with three MG 15 machineguns, was otherwise similar to the Do 17S. The Do 17Z-1 had an additional nose-mounted MG 15 but was underpowered and restricted to a 1, 102-lb (500-kg) bombload; this situation was rectified in the Do 17Z-2 which with 1,000-hp (746-kW) Bramo 323P engines could carry a 2,205-lb (1000 kg) bombload and up to eight MG 15 machine guns. Some 22 examples of the Do 17Z-3 reconnaissance aircraft were built, each equipped with Rb50/30 or Rb20/30 cameras, and they were followed by the Do 17Z-4 dual-control conversion trainer. Final bomber variant was the Do 17Z-5 which, generally similar to the Do 17Z-2, differed by having flotation bags in the fuselage and in the rear of the engine nacelles.