DOUGLAS MACARTHUR – A Man Deeply Flawed: How Did He Do It? Part II

Am I thoroughly familiar with the technique, necessities, objectives, and administration of my job?

That there were no major foul-ups or charges of corruption during his reign is a tribute to his superb ability as an administrator. He may have been remote as a person, but as an administrator he was thoroughly involved and hands-on. None of his SCAPINS were half-baked or had to be recalled because they were poorly conceived.

Like a president of the United States, he knew the most important person in his administration was the chief of staff. In Courtney Whitney, he had a superb one. He divided his organization into sections, appointed top-class officers, and let them run the show. SCAP was a remarkably lean organization. Personal initiative and responsibility took precedence over procedure. “Rules,” said MacArthur, “are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.”

More important than his performance as a manager was his performance as a leader. The two roles are different. The Harvard Business School professor John Kotter defines the difference in succinct fashion: One copes with complexity, and the other—leadership—copes with change. “Most organizations are overmanaged and underled,” he says.

Nobody would say this about MacArthur’s SCAP. It was an organization determined to shake up the status quo, rid Japan of feudalism and militarism, and protect the country from its major external threat, the Russians. These were extremely ambitious goals, the kind of goals that call for leadership rather than management.

Do I lose my temper at individuals?

MacArthur was a master of self-control. The same fearlessness he displayed in battle he carried over into his office. When he got word he had been fired by President Truman, he evinced no anger or outrage. No matter how upset he must have been at the callous way it was handled, he did not lash out. Minutes after he had left Tokyo for good, John Foster Dulles’ plane passed by, coming from the opposite direction. By telephone in midair, they had a lengthy talk about what needed to be done in Japan. Dulles noted: “I never had greater admiration for a man. Under such provocation, he still uttered not a word of personal bitterness; he considered only the cause of his country. . . . As long as America can produce men of that stature and caliber it will be safe.”

Have I the calmness of voice and manner to inspire confidence, or am I inclined to irascibility and excitability?

In keeping with the above tenet about self-control, MacArthur was a master of serenity—a quality rarely mentioned in books on leadership. MacArthur possessed what Voltaire praised in Marlborough: “that calm courage in the midst of tumult, that serenity of soul in danger, which is the greatest gift of nature for command.”

He never lost his temper. He radiated calm and self-assurance throughout his tenure. According to John J. McCloy: “He was most impressive as he talked about the future and the forces that were playing around the Orient with which he was quite familiar. He was a man of tremendous discernment. . . . He was a thoughtful man, he was not a poseur.”

Am I inclined to be nice to my superiors and mean to my subordinates?

Here the evidence is mixed. MacArthur was not a butt-kisser who toadied to the powers that be in Washington. He followed his own drummer, and got away it by being extremely charming with visitors from Washington. He was a master at seeming to agree with people when in fact he didn’t. People could get frustrated with MacArthur, but it was hard to get angry at him.

Asked by his military secretary Faubion Bowers how he managed to make such a powerful impression on people who came to see him, he said: “I just give ’em a shot of truth. They’re so unused to it, it knocks ’em for a loop.”

There’s a wonderful story about MacArthur in World War I that showed his compassion toward subordinates. Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was in the trenches just before dawn; he took the Distinguished Service Cross ribbon from his own tunic and pinned it to the chest of a young major about to lead his battalion into battle, explaining that he knew the major would do heroic deeds that day.

Such displays of personal concern can spur followers to excel. MacArthur treated his subordinates decently; he never bullied or browbeat them. He had his personality differences with Eisenhower, his long-standing aide in the Philippines, but never let that interfere with his professional judgment. In a fitness report on Eisenhower, he wrote: “This is the best officer in the Army. When the next war comes, he should go right to the top.”

With men his equal, however, MacArthur could be tough, even mean. He went after generals who beat him and demanded revenge. Instead of treating Yamashita and Homma like honorable warriors, he made sure the U.S. Military Tribunal sent them to the gallows. One of his closest colleagues was Robert Eichelberger, who had won the pivotal battle at Buna and who he insisted be the first to greet him at Atsugi. The two men had known each other since 1911. When Eichelberger emerged from the jungle after winning Buna, MacArthur was there to greet him—with a chocolate milk shake. Their relationship cooled in 1946, when Eichelberger expressed his wish to leave and go work in Washington for Eisenhower and hopefully succeed him as army chief of staff. MacArthur blocked the move, and when Eichelberger left Japan two years later, MacArthur gave him only a perfunctory send-off.

Do I think more of POSITION than JOB?

Twice he turned down invitations from Truman to appear in Washington as a hero, with all the publicity and visibility it would have generated. He was absolutely right: The situation in Tokyo was critical; this was not a time to run off and play crowd-pleaser. He couldn’t even be bothered to pick up a Harvard honorary degree.

Other than president, there was no job big enough for a man of his ambition and talents. He knew his post in Japan was a last stop in his career, with no opportunity for promotion. Yet he took the job seriously, and put in hours that would have exhausted younger men.

MACARTHUR MADE EIGHT bold moves when he went against or vastly exceeded Washington’s wishes, any one of which could have seriously jeopardized his tenure. They were:

  • recommending an immediate, major reduction of troops
  • initiating a massive food relief program
  • rejecting repatriation demands
  • pushing for Article 9
  • blackballing the Japanese version of the new constitution
  • giving free license to Communist agitators in labor unions
  • vetoing Dulles’s proposal for a 300,000-man police force
  • launching the surprise amphibious attack at Inchon

In every single one of them MacArthur was right, and Washington was wrong.

He had “the gift of command,” said William Randolph Hearst. The components of this gift were mastery of sound policy, sensitivity to the local culture, and personal traits of flexibility, persuasiveness, and idealism.

Sound Policy

AS EVERY CEO will agree, more important than “strategy” (goals and means) is “policy” (purpose and rationale). MacArthur’s job was to develop permanent peace and democracy in Japan. Everything he did was directed toward this mission. When superiors in Washington wanted him to pursue specific Cold War objectives (preserve the zaibatsu, build up the Japanese military), he did so only with the greatest reluctance. Such objectives were not consistent with his mission.

He undertook bold new measures—labor unions and women’s rights—that were disruptive but consistent with his mission. In promoting prodemocracy measures even more liberal than current practices in the United States, he was a man ahead of his time. He was a master of “soft power” in communicating America’s culture, political ideals, and aspirations.

Walter Lippmann once said that effective leadership consists not of giving people what they want, but of giving them what they will learn to want. MacArthur was very much an agent of change, attempting to push Japan toward a new future. He ran a highly disciplined, well-behaved organization. His troops, on the whole, behaved superbly and became popular ambassadors for America and its values.

He was not reckless or impulsive. He took a tremendous risk at Atsugi, but it was a gamble based on a careful reading of the Japanese mood and situation. It was a risk worth taking because the rewards would be so extraordinarily high. Almost everything he did was according to plan. He announced eleven specific objectives to his fellow generals on the Okinawa-to-Atsugi flight—and he accomplished them all.

Sensitivity to the Local Culture

FROM THE MOMENT he landed at Atsugi not wearing a firearm, he let the Japanese people know he trusted them. They were a beaten people; he would not humiliate them by showing up with a lot of guns. He never strutted around in public wearing all his medals, reminding them he was a victorious general. He always dressed informally, like he did in his first meeting with Hirohito.

He jumped immediately to meet their desperate need for food. He preserved the emperor, even if he had to perform considerable gymnastics to do so. He let almost all Japanese government employees keep their jobs, and motivated them by giving them important tasks to do, under American guidance and supervision. He reduced American troop levels (making Japan happy, Washington unhappy). He read every single letter sent to him by the Japanese people, and went so far as to meet with a man who tried to assassinate him, so as to glean deeper insight into Japanese sensibilities, even perverted ones. He quashed public exposure of the atrocities of Unit 731, not only to keep the biological research away from the Russians but also to avoid damaging Japan’s international image.

Seeing how the Japanese were having trouble developing a new constitution, he ordered his staff to jump in and do it in one week—no messing around. He never insulted the Japanese or put them down. He did not blow up and insist it was his way or no way. He entertained modifications, and when the final version finally came out he gave the Japanese full credit. According to Shigeru Yoshida:

General MacArthur’s headquarters did insist, with considerable vigor, on the speedy completion of the task and made certain demands in regard to the contents of the draft. But during our subsequent negotiations with GHQ there was nothing that could properly be termed coercive or overbearing in the attitude of the Occupation authorities towards us. They listened carefully . . . in many cases accepted our proposals.


WARNED THAT GEORGE Atcheson might be a State Department “pink,” MacArthur kept an open mind and gave the man a chance. On another occasion when he issued three directives and Mamoru Shigemitsu came to him and said it wouldn’t work, MacArthur revoked them immediately and set about revising them. When George Kennan came to see him with new demands from Washington, MacArthur cooperated. On the other hand, when the Communists stepped over the line and went too far in taking advantage of his labor union reforms, he went after them vigorously. He did not bluff.

The son of a general, and a military man all his life, he was unlike most generals who “think of the last war.” He was always thinking ahead. Of all the World War II generals, he was the most aggressive in advocating new technologies in motorized transport, fast boats, and aircraft. He recognized the obsolescence of Clausewitz’s “war is policy by other means” in a world of atom bombs, and became a fierce opponent of attempts to build up “offensive” military operations intended solely to intimidate.

Considerable credit for his success belongs to the Joint Chiefs in Washington, who gave him good plans to work with. But planning can only do so much. The idea of exhibition baseball games didn’t come from Washington, or even from MacArthur, it came from a lowly lieutenant. Knowing a good idea when he saw one, MacArthur pounced on it—on the spot.


HE WAS AN extremely hard worker. Officials who conferred with him were astounded how well prepared he was and how much he knew about their particular areas of expertise. He outdueled Nimitz in persuading the president how to wage the Pacific war. One on one with important visitors like Hirohito, Shigemitsu, Yoshida, McCloy, Kennan, Dodge, and Dulles, even lesser visitors like Choate and Griffin, he dazzled them all. At the Wake Island meeting, where neither protagonist was at his best, he still managed to astound his audience with his mastery of distances, temperatures, artillery, aircraft, and number and configuration of troops. Army Secretary Frank Pace, who had never met him before, concluded MacArthur “was indeed a military genius . . . the most impressive fellow I ever heard.” Added Truman’s special counsel Charles Murphy: “I believed every word of it.”

His speeches to the Japanese public, beginning with the surrender signing, were inspirational and uplifting. He expressed big ideas—nothing pedantic or parochial. He was a serious man: He never started a speech with a silly joke or how honored he was to be there. He was a superb communicator, with a rich vocabulary and a mastery of cadence. He could be mesmerizing. Who else could write like he could? “He died unquestioning and uncomplaining, with faith in his heart and victory his end.”

As manager of a large enterprise, he communicated his wishes to his thousands of employees fully. Everybody knew what the boss wanted done, and they did it. He assembled a staff that covered all the political bases. He had liberals and New Dealers under Whitney, counterbalanced by conservatives under Willoughby. Somehow they all managed to work under one roof. There was remarkably little backstabbing. Why? Because everyone feared him, they knew they must act professionally.

A number of visitors, observing how loyal MacArthur’s staff members were to him, accused him of surrounding himself with yes-men. This was a simplistic observation. MacArthur was so smart he usually was right. People who rebutted him were welcome so long as they knew their facts. Eisenhower stated that he argued with his commander for the nine years they were together and they had no problem.


“WARRIOR RAGE” WAS never part of his temperament. He was no William Tecumseh Sherman whose scorched-earth policies created Southern hatred that lasted for decades (as a Southerner, MacArthur was very much aware of this). He had none of the attitude of Admiral Halsey, who had posted signs in a Pacific seaport on the way to Japan: “Kill Japs. Kill Japs. Kill All the Lousy Bastards.” Like Ulysses Grant, he fought relentlessly like a warrior, but had no admiration for generals who incurred massive casualties and needless deaths in pursuit of victory. He set a standard for moral conduct toward an enemy who in war had shown hardly any honor at all. He was betting—correctly, it turned out—that in peace the enemy would respond positively to his overtures and cooperate.

But it wasn’t easy. The Japanese military and zaibatsu—with the government looking the other way—were having a field day stealing wartime supplies for their personal aggrandizement and benefit, while the masses were starving. Corruption was rampant. Ishii was playing games. The Communists were making trouble at every opportunity. The economy was a shambles. No country in Southeast Asia wanted to trade, they all wanted revenge.

Yet throughout it all, MacArthur never wavered. He was imbued with a strong sense of idealism and purpose. It may be fashionable in certain political circles today to knock idealism as causing America to get into foreign policy excesses, but properly applied in places like Japan after World War II, idealism brought out the best in American influence. For the final word on MacArthur as a transformational leader, a comment by the historian Kazuo Kawai:

One reason for his influence on the Japanese was his dedicated sense of mission. The egoism fringed with mysticism, with which he regarded himself as the chosen instrument for the reformation and redemption of the Japanese people, might sometimes be ludicrous and sometimes irritating. But there was no mistaking the sincerity and intensity of his idealism. . . . He lifted the tone of the Occupation from a military operation, to a moral crusade.


Immediate Post-WWII Soviet Experimental Heavy AFVs

Soviet IS-4 Heavy Tank

Soviet IS-6 Heavy Tank

Two versions of a prototype WWII Russian tank destroyer based on the ISU-152 assault gun. The goal was to field an anti-tank gun heavy enough to deal with the heavier German tanks like the Tiger II, JagdTiger and any potentially larger tanks the Russian thought might be in the works with the Germans. The first prototype ISU-152-1 (Object 246) was developed in April 1944 and mounted the BL-8 long barrel gun. Performance did not meet expectations so the gun was reworked. In August 1944 a second prototype ISU-152-2 (Object 247) replaced the BL-8 with the improved and slightly shortened BL-10. It was not accepted into service because the barrel’s service life was still not what designers wanted it to be. The penetrating power and accuracy still did not meet expectations so the gun was again sent back for improvements but the war ended before this was ever completed.

The Object 704 self propelled gun was a prototype tank utilising elements both the IS-2 and IS-3 tanks. It was designed to carry the 152.4 mm ML-20SM model 1944 gun-howitzer, with a barrel length of over 4.5 metres (29.6 calibers) and no muzzle brake. It had a maximum range of 13,000 metres. The self-propelled gun carried 20 rounds of two piece (shell and charge) armour-piercing and high explosive ammunition. The armour-piercing round, weighing 48.78 kg, had a muzzle velocity of 655 m/s. The rate of fire was 1-2 round/min. The secondary armament of the fighting vehicle consisted of two 12.7 x 108 mm DShK machine guns, one anti-aircraft and one co-axial.

In many ways it was superior to the ISU-152 with thicker and more well angled armour, without sacrificing much in terms of mobility which was comparable to the ISU-152. In some places, especially the mantlet, the armour thickness could reach 320mm making it the best protected Soviet Assault gun of WW2. Built in1945 at the Chelyabinsk Kirovsk Plant. One prototype was developed of Object 704, which is housed today at the Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia.

However, there were numerous issues that came with the tank. Notice in the picture that the gun lacked a muzzle brake. This noticeably increased the recoil of the gun. Combined with the sloped armour which reduced space in the fighting compartment, it significantly complicated the work for the crew.

This was the primary reason the tank wasn’t used. Although on paper, the tank looked superior to the ISU-152, it gained those advantages at the cost of ergonomics.

The Soviet Army continued to develop heavy tanks with even thicker armour. The most significant of them was the IS-3, which stemmed from the experience of the 1943 Battle of Kursk. This battle emphasized the importance of frontal armour and led to the design of the IS-3, which was in effect an IS-2 but with a ballistically much better-shaped turret and hull front. The armour of IS-3 was actually 120mm thick at the front of the hull, but because of the way it was angled it was equivalent to about 330mm against conventional armour-piercing projectiles, which was more than the armour of any tank produced before its appearance.

The development of the IS-3 started in 1944 and it was put into production with remarkable speed at the beginning of 1945. But only a few were completed by the time the war ended and so none saw any action in it. Production of it continued until 1959 and totalled 2,311 tanks.

The existence of the IS-3 was revealed to the outside world when 52 took part in the Allied Victory Parade in Berlin in September 1945. After the parade Marshal Zhukov, the Soviet commander in Germany, is reported to have told Stalin that IS-3 made a great impression on Western observers. In fact, the IS-3 came to be considered the principal threat to Western armies during the early days of the Cold War, and as `Stalin tanks’ they became something of a bogey. However, they suffered from various shortcomings including cracking of the welded joints between their armour plates, some of which was due to them being rushed into production, and they had to undergo a number of modifications that went on until the late 1950s. When they were eventually used in combat, they also proved less formidable than was expected. This was the case in 1956, when some were destroyed in the streets of Budapest during the Hungarian uprising, and when the Israeli forces destroyed or captured 73 of the 100 IS-3s the Egyptian Army employed during the Six Day War of 1967.

The IS-3 was followed after the Second World War by the development of other heavy tanks. First came the IS-4, which was also armed with a 122mm gun but had thicker frontal armour, as a result of which it weighed 60 tonnes compared with the 46.5 tonnes of the IS-3. It was produced from 1947 to 1949 but only about 200 are believed to have been built. Next came the IS-6, which was essentially an IS-4 but with an electric instead of a mechanical transmission. It proved a failure. The third tank to be built was the IS-7, which was armed with a more powerful 130mm gun based on a naval gun. It weighed 68 tonnes, which made it the heaviest tank built in the Soviet Union. Design of the IS-7 was begun in 1945 and a series of four was completed in 1948, but after accidents during trials further development of it was abandoned.


Galland and the Squadron of Experts I


25 FEBRUARY 1945

JV 44 is established at Brandenburg-Briest with immediate effect. Ground personnel are to be drawn from 16./JG-54, Factory Protection Unit 1 and III./Erg JG-2. The commander of this unit receives the disciplinary powers of a Divisional Commander as laid down in Luftwaffe Order 3/9.17. It is subordinated to Luftflotte Reich and comes under Luftgaukommando III (Berlin). Verband ‘Galland’ is to have a provisional strength of sixteen operational Me 262s and fifteen pilots.

(signed) Generalleutnant Karl Koller

Chief of the General Staff of the Luftwaffe

Galland’s JV-44, the legendary “Squadron of Experts,” was established on February 5, 1945. The unit was commanded by its founder, the legendary Generalleutnant Adolf Galland. Hitler had himself given his permission for Galland to organize a small unit to demonstrate the superiority of the Me 262 as a fighter. Adolf Galland had long championed the jet fighter as being the only viable method of challenging the bomber streams pounding Germany and getting through the Allied fighter escorts that outnumbered sometimes fifty to one in the air. Ever since his test flight in 1943, he used every method and contact at his disposal to try to push his plan ahead, as he stated:

“In the previous August 1944 meeting, Speer and I had discussed the critical fuel shortages experienced by the military all over Europe. Speer had just met with Hitler and Göring the previous month, and he was also working on increasing fighter production, and I had previously given him the recommendation that the Me 109 be phased out, and only Fw 190D and the later models be produced as far as conventional aircraft. I also told him, following my first test flight in the Me 262 jet at Rechlin, that this was the fighter we needed to focus upon. This was also the subject of discussion in 1943.

“However, as the world knows, Hitler had other ideas. Göring knew the reality, and he was very excited by the 262, and told me personally that he would see to it we received the new fighter. He read the reports on how and why it was a better fighter. It was not just the faster speed and heavier armament, it was also able to operate on much cheaper and readily available fuel, and did not require the high-octane fuel that the conventional fighters did. Speer also mentioned that, in order to appease Hitler, he would increase construction on the Arado and Heinkel jet models as bombers, allowing us to have the 262 as a fighter.

“Speer and I again met with Hitler, and Speer tried to get him to rescind the order to have the two thousand new fighters just built sent to the Western Front. I agreed, and I explained to Hitler that, given the tactical situation, lack of fuel, few highly qualified and experienced pilots, that the best we could do would be to use these aircraft as a protective force at our critical industries, especially the petroleum and aircraft locations. Speer even gave him the data, which normally Hitler would examine in great detail.

“Speer and I did our best to persuade him. It was like talking to a deaf man. I explained the situation to Hitler, and also gave him proven statistics, but he went mad. He then stated that he would order the halt to all fighter aircraft production, the fighter arm was to be disbanded, and those industries were to be then focused upon building flak guns. He firmly believed that flak guns alone would keep Germany safe. I could not believe it.

“It was during this meeting that Göring brought up the possibility of strafing enemy pilots as they bailed out, and he asked me my thoughts on that subject. I told him in no uncertain terms that I would never issue that order, and I would court-martial any man who I could prove did such a thing. I also invoked the Geneva Convention, explaining that such a method was illegal.

“Göring seemed less interested in the laws of warfare, and as I learned much later after the war, I understood why. He was more concerned with the image of the chivalrous fighter pilot being tarnished, so he did not really push the issue further. He also told yet another story of his days in the Great War flying with Bölcke and Richthofen, and how chivalry was only seen in the air. Enemies respected each other. I agreed with him. The killing of parachuting airmen was then dropped.

“I knew from experience, after the Battle of Britain, and seeing the RAF ability, that if these fighter pilots had shorter distances to travel, they could concentrate on a smaller operational area, and focus upon attacking the enemy bombers over or near targets, that several things would happen. First, our men shot down would be able to be back in the air more quickly. Second, the larger numbers of German fighters in a more concentrated area would provide more opportunities to attack enemy bombers. Third, it would save on fuel. Hitler waved his hand and said he had heard enough. He had absolutely no interest in discussing anything that would have made him change his mind.

“Despite all of Göring’s faults, I must say that he did support me in the position that the 262 should be specifically built as a fighter. I had his support by the time of my meeting with him in May 1944, after he had come to his senses regarding just how deep American fighters were entering German airspace. [The actual date was May 29, 1944, and also present were Generals Korten and Bodenschanz and Oberst Petersen.]

“Speer reassured him that we had plenty of flak guns, but we did not have the munitions for them. He also told me that I should not worry about the fighter production, that he would work around Hitler. He actually managed to do this, as we still managed to get out jets, which allowed me to create my Jagdverband 44 in 1945.”

Galland already had the perfect man in mind when it came to staffing his new unit of elite pilots. Johannes Steinhoff, who wore the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords and scored 176 victories during the war (six in the jet), was recruited by Galland to be the unit’s training and recruitment officer, as Galland explained:

“I made Steinhoff my recruiting officer, and he traveled to all of the major bases, picking up pilots who wanted to once again feel a sense of adventure. Steinhoff managed to collect some of our best pilots, although not all of them. This was a direct result of my last meetings with Hitler in January 1945, and with Göring in December 1944, before the meeting that I was not invited to in January where I was fired by a telephone call; and those officers who supported me were likewise in a lot of trouble.

“We had most of the greats, like Gerd Barkhorn, Walter Krupinski, Johannes Steinhoff, Heinz Bär, Erich Hohagen, Günther Lützow, Wilhelm Herget, and others. I tried to get Erich Hartmann, but he wanted to stay with JG-52. That decision would prove very costly for him at the end of the war. We were finally stationed at Munich-Riem, and on March 31 flew the first of several missions, and later we were very successful using the R4M rockets, which we fired at bomber formations. The first confirmed victory over a fighter for JV-44 was on April 4, 1945, when Eduard Schallmoser miscalculated an attack, and crashed into the tail of a P-38. This was perhaps not the best of beginnings, but it at least showed we had determination.

“I was happy again, although I knew the war was lost. I was then able to choose all the pilots I could find who would join me, with Steinhoff’s assistance, and almost all had the Knight’s Cross or higher decorations. It was our badge. This was the beginning of March 1945, when I created Jagdverband 44.”

When Steinhoff soon found himself in the unique position of recruiting officer for Jagdverband (JV) 44, he was in his element. Steinhoff wrote many books about the war, and from his position as a fighter pilot and leader, his comments ring of experience. In his book The Final Hours, he mentioned the training program he conducted:

“I adopted a fairly informal approach to conversion training on the Me 262, feeling that time was running short and wanting to make it easy for the veterans. We had no instruction manuals or visual aids and the lessons were held in the open air with all of us squatting on the earthworks that had been thrown up around the jets. Or we sat on plain wooden benches near the telephone, on the alert, and I explained how one flew the Me 262.

“I told them what to do in order to fly it correctly, and what they absolutely must not do. I spoke of the aircraft’s weaknesses, how it was very slow to gain momentum, jolting along the grass for an apparently endless length of time before one could risk pulling the stick back, and then only very, very carefully because an angle of incidence of one or two degrees sufficed to provide enough lift and because too steep an angle, caused by pulling too sharply on the stick, could kill one’s speed, and with it oneself.

“I spoke of the phenomena of flight at speeds that none of them had flown before. How at high altitudes one should avoid touching the throttle at all if possible. How abrupt movements could cause explosions in the powerplant, heralded by a sudden increase in engine noise. And I warned against over-steep gliding or diving at high altitudes since this could cause the ailerons to lose their effect without warning or even to have the reverse effect.”

The early missions for JV-44 were fraught with teething problems, as may have been expected, but problems or not, the war came to the unit. JV-44 was also suffering from the same malady of lack of supplies in all forms from the day it was created, which was not unusual for all fighter units in the Luftwaffe. For the jet units in the west, these problems were compounded by the fact that Allied tactical fighter-bombers destroyed anything moving in daylight, and roads, railways, and bridges had to be repaired around the clock to keep supplies moving. Also, Galland still had the problem of his superior, Hermann Göring, who had wanted his head for insubordination, if not treason. Galland related the issue:

“By the middle of April we were very hard pressed to receive fuel, and even ammunition was hard to come by. Our supplies were not coming, and there was a great bureaucracy strangling our operations. On April 10, I was again summoned to see Göring, this time at the Obersalzberg, and to my astonishment, he greeted me as if we were old friends. There was none of the arrogance and pompous, critical attitude I had known for almost five years.”

JV-44’s missions and table of organization were rather unusual when compared with the conventional fighter units. Rarely did a unit at squadron strength operate under the command of lieutenant general, with the majority of the pilots holding the rank of lieutenant or higher, flying wingmen to lieutenant colonels. Also, there was no other unit in the Luftwaffe that had most of its members wearing the Knight’s Cross—and half of those being the Oak Leaves or even higher.

One of the problems regarding their readiness for missions was explained by Erich Hohagen: “There was no local radar station, or even a main detection system that we had access to. There was a large station near Munich, which we used since we did not have one. We were like a gypsy band, moving here and there. We had a short-wave radio, which was mostly used for air to ground communications with our fighters, and a telephone, and when it rang, that was to usually inform us of an inbound enemy bomber formation. We rotated our pilots in and out of the cockpits, starting sun up and ending at sundown. During April through May, we kept the engines warmed up every two or three hours, making sure that the fuel lines were completely filled, no airlock, which would force a jet to be grounded until it could be cleared.

“We also had a ground crewman standing by, in case we had to take off. His job would be to remove the wheel chocks and intake covers, which we left on to keep debris from entering the engine. Since we usually operated from grass or dirt airfields, there was always the possibility of stones and large pieces of sod being thrown up into the engines, not good. Once I was taking off and I hit something on the runway, it threw my takeoff attitude out of line, and I momentarily lost control, but regained it and took off. The gear lifted fine, no problems. I had no idea what the hell had happened. When I landed later, my crew chief said that I had hit a large rabbit that ran across the field. Think of that, I almost lost an expensive jet, and maybe my life because of something that became that man’s dinner that evening.”

However, JV-44 was also quite similar to most other units, in that the attrition rate among its pilots was high. Even the most experienced fighter pilots still felt themselves in a learning curve. The first missions were light duty compared to what most of the pilots had experienced during the war, especially the men who had flown on the Eastern Front, or in the West against the ever-growing American air armadas that never seemed to stop coming.

Klaus Neumann described what it was like flying in JV-44 after his experience of flying in Russia with JG-51 and later in the west against the bomber formations with JG-3: “The jet was a remarkable departure from flying the Me 109 or even the Fw 190. Do not get me wrong, as both of those were fine fighters. The 190 was a much better aircraft when it came to attacking bombers, and I did do rather well with that business. It could also take a lot more damage than a 109, especially since it had a more rugged airframe and air cooled engine in the A series of the fighter. It was fast and maneuverable.

“But the 262! It was like being a god in a way: fast, great firepower, and you had a lot of confidence in the plane. As long as you were not tangled up with enemy fighters or too heavily damaged after attacking the bombers to have reduced speed or maneuverability, then you always had a great chance of getting home. Once we had the R4M rockets, it gave us that extra punch; fire the rockets, do the damage, weaken the tight formation integrity of the bombers, then pick off the crippled stragglers.

“I scored five confirmed kills in the jet, although I know I must have damaged around twenty, many probably never made it back home, but who will ever know? I was at first assigned to JG-7, not long after it was created from the Nowotny Kommando, when Steinhoff was in command. Then he left and Weissenberger took command, and we just really did not hit it off that well. I know that he was a great fighter ace, and an excellent handler of the jet. I saw him in action, but I just do not think that he had the right temperament to be a good leader. He had a hot temper, and he became enraged when something did not go well. I asked for a transfer, and Steinhoff always liked me, and he convinced Galland to bring me over to JV-44. That was where I found happiness.” Neumann joined right as JV-44 was about to enter hard combat. Johannes Steinhoff commented on the strain that Weissenberger placed upon JG-7, which is an interesting sidebar:

“Once Weissenberger took command, we received a flurry of transfer requests, so many pilots just wanted to get away from him. I knew Theo, he was a great pilot and had fought a hard war in the Arctic, and he was also one of the bravest men in the Luftwaffe. But, he had his issues, alcohol being one of them, and his attitude was more like that of an overlord, very strict, and many of the men had grown comfortable under Nowotny’s relaxed method of command, from what I was told—and Galland even told me that. I was also a professional, but a relaxed sort. I never had to raise my voice to get the job done. It was just done, but that was because I placed a lot of trust and responsibility in my subordinates, allowing them to show me what they could do.

“Weissenberger was a different animal. He was what you could call a micromanager. He had to oversee every small detail, and when you do that it erodes the confidence of your men. I will say this about Theo: he was a very intelligent man, but he was not of the caliber of Adolf Galland or Günther Lützow, but then again, neither was I.”

Operation Thesis

134 squadron operated a mix of Hurricane IIBs and IICs at the time of Thesis. Here ground staff pose on a Mk. IIC piloted by Fg Off W. Wright, seen at bottom right. Note the belt of 20mm ammunition on the shoulder of the standing airman.

Group Captain Max Aitken who masterminded Operation Thesis, the July 1943 air attack on Crete.

The loss of Crete in 1941 meant that the Axis forces had a base threatening the main convoy route between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, thus forcing supplies of men and materiel into the long supply line around the Cape of Good Hope and the Suez Canal.

During June 1942, though, British commandos carried out raids on Cretan airfields, destroying Luftwaffe aircraft and petrol stores. In retaliation, however, the Germans murdered fifty Cretans. A year later, another raid was mounted and resulted in the destruction of yet more enemy aeroplanes but triggered a revenge killing of fifty-two more citizens. It was a murderous act, and one of the `triggers’ for Operation Thesis.


Following the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 the focus of operations shifted away from the Eastern Mediterranean although much thought was given to thwarting German air units based in Greece, Crete and the Dodecanese Islands. Crete was a major problem, especially with strong fighter and bomber forces based there and, importantly, the island’s airfields were being utilised by aircraft transiting from the Greek mainland to Sicily. Operation Thesis was the brainchild of Group Captain Max Aitken. A successful fighter pilot, Aitken had some dozen enemy aircraft to his credit, being posted to HQ Eastern Mediterranean in 1943 to serve in the Fighter Tactics Branch. At his disposal he had a hundred or so Hurricanes with very little to do after the spotlight of war had shifted westwards. Aitken would later write that lack of action ‘resulted in a dangerous psychological situation, which might have a disastrous effect on the morale of the squadrons’.

It was therefore decided by the Air Defence Commander that a large-scale offensive operation employing most of the squadrons in the Command would produce `the required tonic effect’ – and authority for a daylight attack on Crete by all available single-engine aircraft in 219 and 212 Groups, and certain aircraft in 212 (Naval Co-operation) Group, was given by the AOC-in-C. Taking part in such an operation was rendered highly dangerous by the longest sea crossing such a formation had ever undertaken.


Aitken’s plan was approved, and authority granted for a daylight attack on Crete by all available single-engine aircraft in 212 and 219 Groups and, additionally, certain aircraft in 212 (Naval Co-operation) Group. It was a risky operation, and one that involved the longest sea crossing such a large formation had ever undertaken. The intention was to mount a massed attack aimed at destroying Crete’s wireless transmitter stations and other communications and military establishments. This would be achieved by using eight Martin Baltimore medium bombers from 454 (RAAF) Sqn as the main strike force, plus some ninety Hurricanes from Air Defence Eastern Mediterranean (ADEM) who would hit communications facilities and other targets of opportunity with the operation set for Friday 23 July 1943. On that date, the massed formations left their North African bases comprising thirty six Hurricanes that set off from LG08 at Sidi Barrani, six from 74 Sqn (led by Sqn Ldr J `Spud’ Hayter DFC), six from 451 (RAAF) Sqn (Flt Lt E K Kirkman), six from 238 Squadron (Sqn Ldr H. Cochrane DFC), nine from 335 (Greek) Squadron (Flt Lt G. Pangalos and FLt Lt N Volonakis), and nine from 336 (Greek) Sqn (Flt Lt S. Diamantopoulos). This wave was led to their targets by two Bristol Beaufighters from 227 Sqn as navigator-leaders.

A further fifty four Hurricanes took off from Bu Amud and el-Gamil airstrips, including nine from 123 Sqn (led by Sqn Ldr Ken `Hawkeye’ Lee DFC) nine from 134 Sqn (Sqn Ldr `Stratters’ Stratton DFC), nine from 41 (SAAF) Sqn (Major W. J. B Chapman), nine from 237 Sqn (Sqn Ldr John Walmisley), nine from 94 Sqn (Sqn Ldr A. V. `Darky’ Clowes DFC, DFM) and nine from 7 (SAAF) Sqn, (Major C. Van Vliet DFC). The formation was also guided by 227 Squadron Beaufighters.

Meanwhile, the Baltimores were scheduled to carry out land and shipping strikes against Suda Bay, Heraklion, and other targets of opportunity. Eight bombers, in two box formations of four each, and led by S/Ldr Lionel Folkard in Baltimore AG995, set out on the 230 mile flight. However, as they approached Suda Bay they were greeted by intense flak which disabled the port motor of AG995. Despite serious wounds and damage to the aircraft that had been caused by his own bombs, Folkard managed to force-land on a beach near Heraklion. The crew survived, despite the fact that the Baltimore had skated over mines which were set off with explosions erupting behind the crashing bomber. The badly wounded airmen managed to vacate the smashed-up Baltimore before its bomb load exploded, blowing the aircraft to bits.


Of the second wave of Baltimores, all four were shot down (FA409, AG869, FA247 and FA224) with only three survivors out of the sixteen crewmen. Three of the Baltimores disappeared without trace, although the crew of the remaining aircraft, FA390/A, had a close call. Flying as No. 2 to Folkard, F/Sgt Ray Akhurst ventured over Maleme airfield at a mere fifty feet and heavy AA fire knocked out the starboard engine and damaged the airframe. The Baltimore struggled back to base at 140mph, despite severe vibration, and with the crew throwing out all they could to lighten the machine. Akhurst had planned to crash-land on a beach near his airfield at Gambut, but found the foreshore littered with debris from a sunken freighter. As he turned back over the sea, so his remaining motor stopped when the aircraft ran out of fuel. With considerable measures of both skill and luck, he managed to ditch in the surf with the aeroplane floating ashore the next day. Empty fuel tanks had provided the necessary buoyancy and allowed for two lucky homing pigeons to be rescued from the wreck. Akhurst received an immediate DFM for his `skilful and determined flying’ but it was little compensation for the unit’s `darkest day’ and one which had decimated the squadron’s flying establishment.

Unfortunately, the Hurricanes fared little better. Ken `Hawkeye’ Lee, of 123 Sqn, a veteran of the Battles of France and Britain, recalled a visit by Aitken to El Adem ahead of the Thesis operation. He addressed the assembled pilots, saying: `Right chaps, tomorrow morning two Beaufighters are going to come over and navigate for you. You are going to fly to Crete at sea level and knock hell out of the place.’ Aitken nominated Lee as Wing Leader, but Lee’s cryptic comment reflected his scepticism as to the wisdom of the operation: `No maps. No photographs. No specific targets. Just go and give them hell.’ It wasn’t an auspicious start.


Lee’s air armada approached the island at low level, releasing their long-range tanks as they reached the coast from where they roared inland and up a picturesque valley. Here, they saw nothing, but as they returned anti- aircraft fire opened up on them. Lee, piloting KZ141, suddenly realised that his trousers were covered in oil and immediately noticed that his oil and engine temperatures were rapidly climbing into the red. As he returned, the Hurricane’s engine cut and he was forced to belly-land in the narrowest of gaps and between two olive trees, a feat the Germans couldn’t believe was deliberate. Lee managed to set off the thermite demolition bomb which destroyed his fighter, but as he scampered away he was knocked flat by a severe blow to his midriff. A German soldier, taking a pot-shot at him, had hit Lee’s webbing belt with the bullet passing through the buckle and out through the ammunition pouch. By rights, he should have died.

Lee was promptly marched off to the nearby village and taken to a group of German army officers who smartly saluted and offered him a late breakfast consisting of omelette and brandy! A squadron commander was a rare catch indeed, and he was duly taken off by staff car to the German HQ at Heraklion and from there to Athens by Junkers 52 where he met other POW survivors of the raid. Two other 123 Sqn Hurricanes had failed to return with Fg Off John Le Mare (RCAF) killed, although West Indian Flt Sgt `Fanny’ Farfan was spirited away by locals, evaded capture and returned to Egypt in September.

238 Sqn, meanwhile, lost two pilots through anti-aircraft fire although both Flt Sgt P. A. George (RAAF) who had been flying KZ130/J and F/Sgt H. Raiment (RNZAF) in HW483/P were made prisoners of war. George survived an offshore ditching but was machine- gunned, fortunately inaccurately, as he swam ashore. The Squadron CO, Sqn Ldr H P Cochrane DFC, piloting HL657/D, was fortunate to get back to base with his badly damaged Hurricane. No 134 Sqn, led by Sqn Ldr W H Stratton DFC, a Battle of France veteran, lost Fg Off `Bill’ Manser (HW299) who apparently made a successful forced-landing but was later reported killed, and Sgt D Horsley (HW372) who also died. Two other flyers from the squadron returned wounded; Fg Off L Lowen in HV905 with a leg wound and Fg Off W H Wright in HW605 who was seriously wounded in the chest.


The two Greek units, both operating from Sidi Barrani, lost four aircraft with only one pilot surviving from these losses. W/O Athanasakis of 336 Squadron, flying BP232, lost a drop tank on take-off, but gallantly if not ill-advisedly chose to continue despite the fact that he must have known he lacked sufficient petrol to return home. His companions alerted him to his predicament, but he pressed on with the mission all the same. Both Greek squadrons attacked the radar station at Ierapetra, in the south- east of Crete and also hit military installations in the face of heavy anti- aircraft fire. Athanasakis reported that his fuel was low and was going to have to land. Wt Off Konstantinos Kokkas, also a Cretan, recalled:

`We hit camps, cars, cannon stations and every military target that was in front of us. Everywhere, though, the anti-aircraft guns responded. We passed through the Agios Nikolaos plain and this is where I heard Athanasakis yelling that he was force-landing.’

Apparently, the Greek flyer crashed near a German patrol that immediately pursued him, although the gallant pilot shot it out with the enemy using his pistol but eventually ran out of ammunition and was subsequently killed. The remaining Hurricanes flew on to Heraklion where they strafed a German camp but lost Wt Off Skantzikas, shot down in KW250 by anti- aircraft fire. Kokkas reported that `the flak was ferocious’ and `I saw a German flag fluttering in a building on my right and sent a burst into it. We were almost touching the windmills and milk-white houses while the Cretans below were throwing their hats into the air, dancing with joy and waving their hands.’ He saw Skantzikas, a former classmate, his aircraft covered in oil, heading for a crash-landing which he survived.

Sadly, two pilots from 335 Squadron were also lost. Flt Sgt Doukas was shot down near the south shore of Mirabello Bay. Although initially reported as a POW he was, in fact, killed. Flt Sgt Laitmer crashed into the sea near Tymbaki, his fate witnessed by a pilot of 238 Sqn. Wt Off Kountouvas reported being attacked by a Junkers 88 south of the island, but escaped unharmed. Interestingly, and despite the mayhem, other pilots reported a `relatively uneventful’ operation! Fg Off Reg Sutton of 451 (RAAF) Squadron, for example, reported that the Sidi Barrani Hurricanes were led in by the two Beaufighters at wave-top height and said of Operation Thesis: `There were no targets where they were supposed to be and where there was not to be any flak, there was bags of it. For the rest, nothing! I fired my guns on the way out for the sake of firing them.’ On their return the squadron found the North African coast hidden by a violent dust storm. Although scheduled to land at Tobruk several Hurricanes had to put down on a road, short of fuel. There was absolutely no visibility over the airfield, but despite two landing accidents in the atrocious conditions nobody was injured.


The two Beaufighters leading the el-Gamil Hurricanes were flown by Wg Cdr Russell Mackenzie in EL516/Y and Fg Off `Wally’ McGregor (RNZAF) in JL619/X. The pair intercepted an Arado 196 floatplane at sea level as they neared the coast, with Mackenzie scoring hits although without apparent result and the Arado fleeing at wave height. A short time later another Arado, or perhaps the same one, was attacked but again without result. The slippery customer also appears to have survived a burst from a Hurricane from 94 Sqn.

The twenty-seven Hurricanes from el-Gamil were led by Sqn Ldr `Darky’ Clowes, veteran of the Battles of France and Britain, and his unit, 94 Sqn, approached the island at nought feet at 08.20 hrs, making landfall on the south coast twenty miles from the western tip. The pilots of two aircraft, Sgt W Imrie (KW935/A), and Flt Lt S Whiting (HW738/G), were unable to jettison their long-range tanks but the formation followed the coast until landfall between Maleme and Canea, just east of the islet of Dio and strafed barracks and buildings in the town of Alikianos, a generator and a dam on the River Peatanias and a well- camouflaged camp outside the town. Unfortunately, Sgt Imrie reported he had been hit and crashed among trees on a mountainside to the south-west of Alikianos, his end marked by a mushroom cloud of black smoke.

The squadron flew on, strafing Kastella Selinos on the south coast hitting a wireless transmitter hut before shooting- up a lighthouse on Gavdhos Island and a wireless unit with its accompanying masts. On return it was found that Fg Off Howley’s machine (HL886/R) had slight damage to its airscrew and Fg Off Henderson’s HM118/L had bullet holes in its fuselage. Captain Kirby of 7 (SAAF) Sqn had a close shave when his fighter, KX961, clipped a high-tension cable, damaging the propeller tips and radiator. He returned with a length of cable wrapped round his airscrew but reported: `very little was seen.’


No 41 (SAAF) Squadron had Lt. W J K Bliss failing to return, whilst their CO, Major Chapman, was hit on a strafing run over Moires near the south coast by a shell that penetrated the port wing root damaging his glycol and oil systems. He nursed the faltering Hurricane back to Bu Amid and although the engine seized up over the airfield he glided in to a safe landing. Lt. Cyril George, from the same squadron, also forced-landed when his engine seized-up due to flak damage. Meanwhile, five other 41 (SAAF) Sqn Hurricanes suffered minor damage. Of the fifty-four fighters which set off from Bu Amid and el-Gamil, eight were lost, with four pilots killed, three POW, one escapee and another two wounded. Three Hurricanes were very badly damaged.

In total, thirteen Hurricanes were lost on the operation with eight pilots killed, four taken prisoner of war and one who evaded capture. To add to this sorry tale, six Baltimores were lost with fourteen crewmen killed and six taken prisoner. Overall, the operation’s losses had minimal return but during the withdrawal cover by Spitfire Vc aircraft of 80 Sqn, Fg Off J C R Waterhouse, piloting JK142, engaged a Junkers 88-D (4U+6K) of 2.(F)/123, shooting it down in flames resulting in the death of Uffz F. Dieroft and his crew.


Intelligence operatives on the island radioed information back to Cairo on the effectiveness of the operation, including information that three Hurricanes flew low over the village of Souyia, where they encountered machine-gun fire.

They returned and engaged the suspected gun-site, fortuitously killing a Cretan traitor, Tzimanokes, who had betrayed seven British soldiers hiding from the Germans.

At Hag Nikolaos, bombs from the Baltimores fell on an Italian army camp, killing four soldiers, whilst at Ierapetra bombs killed twenty-one military personnel, three civilians and wounded thirty more soldiers. At Pakhiano a motor vessel was unsuccessfully bombed but a strafing attack killed one sailor and wounded two others, including the captain.


Air Commodore Mark Lax, historian of 454 Squadron (RAAF), was surely right when he described the concept of an attack on Crete as `fundamentally sound’. However, he pinpointed factors that led to failure, including the fact that the planners had forgotten the Allies were operating on double summer time but Axis forces were not. The plan assumed the enemy would be at breakfast and be caught unawares, but breakfast was over when the air armada appeared and the troops back on duty. Secondly, the fighters took some time to form-up and the unfortunate Baltimores arrived first, thus alerting the island’s defences.

Group Captain Aitken, drawing up a post-action report, concluded: `On the face of it, the material damage to the enemy was in no way commensurate with the loss of thirteen Hurricanes and five (sic) Baltimores, together with other aircraft casualties and damage. On the other hand, it is undeniable that the unpalatable medicine administered to the enemy, coupled with the fine tonic effect on 212 and 219 Group, made the operation a success on balance.’ Whether the surviving pilots and aircrew from Operation Thesis shared this rather optimistic assessment might be open to doubt.

Bocage Fighting – the British Experience Part II

British Sherman Bulldozer

On June 28, a sniper of the “Hitlerjugend” surrenders to British soldiers of the 49th I.D. Photo: IWM

Derrick Watson recorded that Nangle was awarded the MC for this patrol: ‘It raised the morale of A Company and the battalion. Of particular comfort was the discomfiture of Brigade Intelligence when they received the gruesome remains. They were not amused.’ Watson also recalls:

a daring visitor who made the hazardous trip behind a DR from the safety of Rear Echelon to Bn HQ. This was a Private Buggs whose official duties were to bring a load of bumf for the Adjustant to sign. He also brought the post up. He also milked the cows in the neighbourhood. This meant a plentiful supply of milky porridge for breakfast. The Adjutant believed Buggsy should be mentioned in despatches for these duties but the CO said there was no provision in King’s Regulations.

Two sad things happened on 26 June in the bocage campaign. 1st RB lost three officers killed that day from shelling – Major Dorrien Smith, Captain G.S.w. Talbot and Lieutenant James Caesar. And at 0500 it was learned that 4th County of London Yeomanry would soon fight their last battle and were to leave the division, take their tanks to Carpiquet aerodrome and amalgamate with their sister regiment 3rd CLY This would be the end of a long valiant run through the desert and Italy – loaded with battle honours. Their replacement would be the dashing, famous (but recently untried) 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards.

By 22 June 1st RB had lost fourteen officers and 163 other ranks in fifteen days of fighting in the bocage. At Le Pont Mulot they received a large draft of reinforcements from the 8th Battalion 60th Rifles.

The 1/5th Queens in late June were positioned on reverse slopes just north of the shattered village of Livry, in an area that was bocage at its worst. The infantry, no longer lorried, living in slit trenches in the rain, suffered a steady drain in casualties from shell and mortar fire and occasionally from snipers. All the time enclosed in the damp prison of the bocage, the lines of sight bounded by a hedge 200 yards away. At night there was the constant anxiety of patrolling through close hedges, which were often mined to pin down or identify an elusive enemy.

These were Derrick Watson’s memories of that time.

Later in the campaign Rex Wingfield wrote:

Waiting for action is frightening but once the battle or the patrol starts, fear vanishes. In battle so much is happening at once, you’re so busy that you haven’t time to be scared, you haven’t even time to think. You do things instinctively. But at night or in some pause in the battle you have got time to think. The mate you saw go down. The tank which ‘brewed up’. The shell which stuck in the ground two feet away and failed to go off. When Ted fell, did he try to break his fall? If he did, it probably meant that he was only wounded, but if he seemed to sag at the neck, knee or ankle you knew what that meant. You look into the dusk. A solitary man is digging a trench. You watch him carefully. If he digs slowly and apathetically you know his mate is dead.

On the last day of June the weary division was pulled out of the line as the American 2nd Armoured took over the sector. June ended with a lot of wet weather and Bill Bellamy recalled ‘always living in thick glutinous mud. This made the simple business of living so much more difficult. The mud got into the bedding because as we huddled together for shelter under the waterproof covers we couldn’t help treading on other people’s bedding in our efforts to reach our own. Cooking became a dreadful chore and nothing ever seemed free from wet and filth.’ Meanwhile Cherbourg had fallen to the Americans on the 24th and 50th Division was battling on the left (eastern) flank and took Tilly, but the enemy still held Hottot.

At Cully near Coulombs on 1 July W.E. Mason with 13th Medium Regiment RA, part of 8 AGRA, which often supported the Desert Rats, recalls:

While I was waiting for the main body of RHQ to arrive I had a chat with some men from the armoured division. They were able to give me some eyewitness accounts of actions against the Germans. The future looked very black after this discussion! We were in an orchard in a hollow and in front of the guns. Consequently found it very noisy especially when we fired a large barrage into Carpiquet aerodrome. [And later:] We had some bad luck at Le Mesnil Patry for Capt. Jones of B Troop and his signaller disappeared into the blue. Capt. Kerr had a nervous breakdown. Capt. Eve of C Troop was buried by a shell and had to be dug out. Capt. Williams the Adjutant had a nervous breakdown and was posted. In the section Dave Cutts injured his foot when riding his motorcycle, Signaller Key had trouble with his ears. Both went to hospital.

Mason and Co. went to a cinema in the village of Marcelet and saw a film with Lana Turner in it, and he and his mate played a game of ‘Spoof’ or ‘Sevens’. His friends Signaller Free and Corporal Shan were accused of looting in Fresnay, but ’Jumbo’ Free talked the Provost Marshal out of a charge! ‘Normandy Stomach’ was a violent form of diarrhoea from which many troops suffered, caused by food infected by flies that had fed on the corpses of the long-dead cows to be seen in every field.

Major B.E.L. Burton of the Queens described the next period, 1–18 July:

We always lived in the open. Houses and barns were used as recreation rooms but all troops slept out. For the most part we leaguered in fields and orchards tucking ourselves away in any available cover. Slit trenches were dug. When the weather was fine and warm it was lovely and very healthy. In wet weather bivouacs had to be improvised out of ground sheets and gas capes but it was not really possible to keep the bedding dry. Food in the early stages consisted of compo packs containing rations for 14 men for a day. Everything was tinned and ready cooked, only requiring heating – contents varied but one got very tired of ‘compo’ after a time. When the ‘build up’ allowed, field service rations including fresh meat, bread and tea were issued instead. There is no doubt that the rations were very good. The cigarette issue averaged fifteen a day. Mail from home came regularly and quickly. The homeward mail at first was slow. Companies went regularly by turns to Bayeux for baths and cinemas. But also we had training infantry with tanks – a careful slow system of co-operation in bocage country.

Scots Guards Fighting Through the Bocage by Terence Cuneo.

Action of the right flank, 3rd Battalion Scots Guards during the advance from Caumont to Les Loges, Normandy, 30th July 1944. Commanding the Churchill tank, Lochinvar is Lt Robert Runcie later to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

Rex Wingfield with 1/6th Queens later noted:

We had never seen inside of a tank before, so we climbed into the Cromwell. The turret was very small, packed with guns, amongst odd food and of course cigarettes. Only dwarfs could find room to move in there. The crew must be contortionists or deformed. On a Cromwell sit between the turret and the exhaust in the middle. Too near the turret, the wireless static, words of command and loading would drown out noise of incoming shell or mortar bomb. In that case lie flat in the middle as shells burst up and outwards.

He reckoned Sherman Fireflies were difficult to climb and lodge on.

Of that seventeen-day rest period Bill Bellamy, 8th Hussars, wrote later:

The weather started to improve and we spent our days training with 131st Queens Brigade in the art of infantry/tank co-operation. Most of them hated tanks, considering them to be noisy, smelly, absolute giveaways to their positions and a large target which drew enemy fire. Despite this we got on very well together and forged a degree of understanding which was to prove very valuable in the months ahead. During the period of our stay at Jerusalem we set up a Squadron Officers Mess and brought the mess three-tonner up from Echelon. It was a great benefit to us all, as we learned to talk about our ideas, experiences and problems under relaxed conditions.

Bellamy also met officers from 5th RHA and 1st RB with whom the 8th Hussars often found themselves in the same Battle Group.

On July 1st a sad and gory episode took place [recalled Leslie Gosling, 3rd RHA]. We were just about to hand over to 2nd US Armoured Division. ‘M’ Battery was firing intensive scale; we thought we were pretty slick and could have 3 or 4 rounds per gun in flight at the same time. The 25-pounder gun breech was knocked open before full recoil and the next round slammed in. Unfortunately the No. 4 was poised to reload, but holding a round with a defective 117 fuse, the breech struck the cap and a premature detonation resulted. One man only of the six-man detachment survived and he lost a leg at the thigh. The rest were splattered, and it was not until the next morning that the No. 1’s head was seen suspended in the trees above.

During this time out of the line Trooper W. Hewison, 1st RTR, one evening (3 July) ‘heard pipes playing tonight – went over dozens of fields to find them. At last saw a lone piper pacing back and forward – a captain of the CLYs. Whilst I was there he played a lament, a Strathspey and a march. I asked him to play “Mushlochy Bridge” and he did. I’m sure if I ever go to Hades I’ll find a Scotsman playing a reel round the Devil.’ Later, on the 13th, ‘New CO [Lt-Col E.H. Gibbon, as Col Carver had been promoted to command 4th Armoured Bd] had a shufti at the ranks and grinned inanely all the time but doesn’t seem a bad bloke. Came into Len Dauncey’s crew as a lap gunner.’ The regiment was in laager for a fortnight. On the 17th ‘Big push going in today or tomorrow. 8 Corps & 12 Corps in the line with 30 Corps in reserve. The Geordies say they will be in Paris in a week. I wonder.’

Until 17 July the division remained in the orchards around Jerusalem between Bayeux and Tilly. In this uneventful period many officer changes were made among the senior officers. Lieutenant-Colonel J.H. Mason took over command of 1/6th Queens and Lieutenant-Colonel M.F.P. Lloyd assumed command of 1/7th Queens. Brigadier E.C. Pepper from the Bedfordshire and Herts became OC 131st Queens Brigade, LieutenantColonel J.B. Ashworth OC 1/5th Queens. Many reinforcements – 2nd and 3rd ‘flights’ – arrived for the depleted Queens battalions, but they remained well under strength.

1 Assault Brigade, 79th Armoured Division, could not draw reinforcements for AVRE crews from the usual Royal Engineer channels, a specialized training and reinforcement unit was deemed necessary, especially in the light of the casualty rates amongst the AVRE crews. To meet this need, 557 Squadron was withdrawn from 42nd Assault Regiment and reformed as 557th Assault Training Regiment. However, it did not move to France with the regiment but remained in Britain and moved to Parham in Sussex, close to Arundel. Lieutenant Colonel R. P. G. Anderson, previously of 6th Assault Regiment, was appointed to command the new training regiment. At much the same time, assault squadrons were each reduced in strength by one troop to three troops while the number of AVREs dropped from twenty-six to twenty in each squadron.

However, there were some demands for assault engineer support and the brigade history notes that

During the mopping up operations in the area of Tully-sur-Seulles and Villers Bocage, ‘Dustbins’ were used for a new type of demolition – creating gaps in the ‘bocage banks’ which divided the small fields and which gave such excellent cover to the defending German guns and tanks. Except for the plain between Caen and Falaise, Normandy was difficult tank country, as the heavy bocage banks and numerous ditches provided good natural anti-tank obstacles, and the dense hedgerows on top of the banks gave good concealment for well placed anti-tank guns.

Scottish mercenaries in Russia

Scots in Swedish Thirty Years’ War service.

In October 1605, having embarked on his war with Poland in Livonia, Karl IX of Sweden sought Robert and James Spense assistance in the recruitment of soldiers. The use of merchants as middlemen or agents in recruitment was an established practice – they had contacts, access to transport and, most importantly, financial resources at their disposal. Recruitment also took place through the agency of military officers. Both merchants and officers were expected to carry out the task at their own expense against later reimbursement and employment. The king had already employed a Colonel Thomas Uggleby (Ogilvie) in 1602 to secure Scottish troops and in January 1607 Robert Kinnaird was sent from Sweden to the North-East, to the Gordon country, to raise 200 horsemen. Through Spens, Karl wanted 1,600 foot soldiers and 600 cavalry, a levy that had to be undertaken with the approval of the British monarch. James Spens’s reward would be the sum of 1,600 thaler for every 300 men and the rank of colonel in command of his recruits. It was an enticing prospect but the recruitment of such a large number of men presented Spens with considerable difficulties; after two years and no sign of them, Karl obviously began to wonder what was going on and, a few days after despatching Robert Kinnaird in 1607, wrote to Spens to express the hope that he would arrive in the spring with the troops. When May came and there was still no sign of soldiers, Karl had to send another letter, following it later in the year with similar ones to Thomas Karr and William Stewart. The latter styled himself ‘of Egilsay’ and was the brother of the Earl of Orkney. A 1609 commission from him to Captain John Urry appoints the latter to be in command of a company of 200 infantry in Karl’s service.

It is difficult to pin down how much a recruiter might hope to gain personally through his activities in raising men; some profit could be expected but this could be conceived as reward in the form of status or war plunder rather than in cash. The Swedish government between 1620 and 1630 laid down a rate for recruitment of 8 riksdaler per man, a sum that fell to 6 in 1631 and dropped to 4 in the following few years. As a riksdaler had an exchange value varying from 4 to 5 shillings sterling, the recruiter therefore could expect to have a sum of up to £2 per man to carry out what he had agreed to do. This sum included the provision of food and drink for recruits, probably some clothing too, and their transport costs across the North Sea, as well as a handout when a man signed on. In his study of recruitment for Sweden in the 1620s, J.A. Fallon calculated that it cost 6s 8d to ship a man from Scotland to the Elbe, and that two weeks’ food and drink for a recruit cost 9s 4d. Fallon suggested that 4s would have been handed to the newly signed-on recruit – hence the ‘dollar’ in the saying about the chief of Mackay. These expenses add up to £1. Fallon suggested that a recruiting captain might typically expect a payment of £1 per recruit. It is possible that the difference between the captain’s outlay and the overall sum afforded by the riksdaler–pound exchange rate went into the recruiting agent’s coffers, as we must accept that there would always have been the temptation among agents to minimise expenses and redirect a little cash into their own pockets. They also faced a fine if the numbers they attracted fell short of the total they had promised to bring in.

Spens was now running up against serious problems in fulfilling his side of the bargain with Karl IX, perhaps partly from difficulties with finance and shipping but also because James was loathe to allow so many men to go abroad to serve the Swedish flag, worried they might be deployed against his own brother-in-law, the King of Denmark. Karl IX sent a pair of falcons to James in August 1609 with a letter designed to allay the canny king’s suspicions, a gift the latter reciprocated with a book. To further Karl’s aims, Spens came over from Sweden in December 1609 with what amounted to a delegation of several Scottish officers that included Samuel Cockburn, who held the rank of colonel and had been in Swedish service since 1598.

The recruitment drive paid off at last but the numbers amounted to only a fraction of what Karl had first sought. Three hundred arrived in Sweden in January 1610, and further contingents were recruited in Ireland and England. In March 1610 the council noted a request from captains Johnne Borthuik and Andro Rentoun, who had received no reimbursement from Stockholm for the 4,000 merks and 300 riksdaler they had raised for the recruiting and shipping of men for Swedish service and who were now seeking the council to ask James to raise the matter with Karl on their behalf. The soldiers joined the Swedish forces in Russia, in time to be present at the defeat at Klushino on 4 July 1610 and were among the men who sat out the battle in response to the Polish commanders’ promises. James Spens, although nominally the senior officer, was not present in the field, and any blame, however slight, that may have come his way after the levies deserted to the Polish side did not prevent him from continuing a successful diplomatic career, not only as ambassador from the Stuart monarch to Sweden but also, at various times, to Denmark, the Dutch Republic, Danzig and Brandenburg.

Karl IX recaptured parts of Livonia during 1607 but in the spring of 1609 Chodkiwiecz began a campaign to strike at the enemy bridgeheads on the coast. An attempt to take Dynemunt at the mouth of the Dvina failed and he switched his attention to the port of Parnawa at the northern end of the Gulf of Riga, taking advantage of late-season frosts to ease movement through the swamps and forests. The defenders knew the enemy was at their door but remained unaware that the threat came from the main Polish–Lithuanian army and not bands of marauders. Chodkiwiecz ordered his men to the attack during the night of 16 March before Swedish reinforcements could arrive from Reval. In this battle Scots fought on both sides. On the Polish side were a company of Scottish mercenaries and 14 Scots sappers, while some 155 Scots under Captain John Clark were members of the Swedish garrison. Under fire the sappers, under the direction of two French engineers, managed to insert a bomb under the south gate of the town, which destroyed this section of the defences and allowed the Poles to burst in. The garrison retreated to the castle but after a short time surrendered. John Clark and his Scots then changed sides, a common practice during this period.

Chodkiwiecz’s and Karl’s armies marched and fought each other around the shores of the gulf during all 1609. Mansfeld, who had escaped from the catastrophe at Kircholm, returned to the fray at the head of an 8,000-strong army that included some Scots along with French, Swedish and Dutch. Riga and Parnawa endured sieges again as the combatants struggled for control of the lands around the gulf until, late in 1609, the Swedes were finally forced to surrender. By this time a former enemy of both sides had entered the contest: Russia.

A violent and confused struggle for power ensued in Russia after Ivan the Terrible’s death in 1584, a struggle out of which Boris Godunov emerged as victor and tsar in 1598. Among the Scots in his service were two captains, Robert Dunbar and David Gilbert, both of whom entered Russia in 1600 or 1601. Of Dunbar we know little beyond his name and rank. One historian described Gilbert as ‘an international scoundrel’, a judgement that could just as easily be ascribed to many mercenaries of his ilk. A challenge to Godunov’s regime emerged from Poland in 1601 in the person of a defrocked priest who claimed to be the grandson of Ivan. This man, who is known to history as the first False Dmitri, launched a campaign in the direction of Moscow with the support of some Poles and disaffected Russians. Gudonov’s army defeated Dmitri’s force but Gudonov himself died in April 1605, giving Dmitri and the rebellious boyars a second chance to seize power. At this time David Gilbert was serving as a member of Dmitri’s bodyguard, a unit made up entirely of foreign mercenaries, some three hundred English, French and Scots, deemed more trustworthy than native Russians. Moscow now entered a phase in its history remembered as the Time of Troubles. Dmitri himself was assassinated by boyars less than a year after his coronation, and the crown was awarded to Vasily Szujski. This new tsar was equally unable to bring order out of the Russian chaos and he too was challenged by rebels who gathered under the banner of another pretender, the second False Dmitri. Meanwhile Gilbert appears to have returned to Scotland, as in July 1607 the Privy Council granted a warrant to a man of his name as one ‘being laitlie imployit be the king of Swadene to levey and tak up ane company of gentilmen to pas to Swadane’. The company sailed from Leith that summer. Among them was a man called Robert Carr, a consummate horseman and possibly from the Borders. Back in Russia in 1608, possibly through a transfer of allegiance of the first Dmitri’s bodyguard when his Polish widow, Marina Mniszek, married the second Dmitri, David Gilbert found himself in the retinue of the latter and, before long, charged with treason. Perhaps this had something to do with the Swedish connection in the Privy Council minute. Only the intercession of the Polish wife saved Gilbert from a judicial drowning in the River Oka to the south-east of Moscow. After this narrow brush with Russian justice, Gilbert clearly thought it was time to make himself scarce and switched his allegiance to Poland.

The Time of Troubles tempted Russia’s neighbours to interfere in her affairs. Mercenaries also smelled an opportunity and several Scots officers in command of Germans passed east through Prussia, pillaging the country there. In February 1609 Vasily Szujski formed an alliance with Sweden, and in response the Polish king, Sigismund Vasa, sent his army into Russian territory to begin a siege of Smolensk in September. Surrounded by the pine forests from whose resin it takes its name, Smolensk marked the highest navigable point on the Dnieper River and the site of the portage to the Dvina and the Baltic. Strongly defended and well supplied, it held out over the winter, tying down the Commonwealth forces before its walls.

Vasily mobilised his army to relieve the city on the western fringes of his realm, and Karl IX lent him Swedish troops under the command of Jacob de la Gardie, the son of the commander with the first name of Pontus at Wesenberg. The combined Swedish–Russian army advanced towards Smolensk in the summer of 1610. Sigismund Vasa learned of the approaching enemy through a group of disaffected Russian boyars and, on 6 June, a section of the Commonwealth army was detached under the command of Hetman Stanislaw Zolkiewski to intercept them. Although Zolkiewski’s force was heavily outnumbered, he held the advantage of surprise and at dawn on 24 June his men swooped to entrap 8,000 Russians in the village of Carowa-Zajmiszcze. Leaving enough troops to convince the Russians they were still surrounded, he led most of his force on a two-day march through wet weather to meet the main body of Vasily’s army. Zolkiewski now learned that there was dissension in the Russian camp between the native troops and the mercenaries and cleverly exploited this by letting the latter know through his network of agents that he was offering the foreign soldiers a bounty and a safe passage home for not fighting. De la Gardie discovered the subterfuge and quelled any mutiny but the seeds of temptation had been sown among the discontented mercenaries.

The two armies almost blundered past each other. Zolkiewski’s troops moving through the forests in the night found themselves near the enemy but were not ready to give battle and were unable to take advantage of the surprise encounter. Vasily now deployed his army in entrenched positions on open ground near the village of Klushino, between the forest and a river. The Swedes and Russians, including the mercenaries under de la Gardie, numbered 35,000, the Commonwealth troops less than 7,000. Nevertheless, Zolkiewski attacked, sending in his waves of hussars with lances and flaming torches before dawn on 4 July. Time and again the Polish cavalry hurled themselves with pistol, carbine and lance against the Russians, who defended well until a Russian cavalry counterattack failed and melted into a confused retreat that spread panic among the other Russian ranks. Robert Carr was riding with the Swedish–Russian horse, but we do not know if he took part in this key moment in the struggle. A rout ensued, with the Polish cavalry chasing and cutting down the fleeing enemy. De la Gardie’s mercenaries, deployed on the left of the Russian front line in strong redoubts, conducted themselves well, but they were weakened by dissension. One report, by Zolkiewski himself, states that the Scots and English among them chose not to fight and remained in their camp in the forest until they could surrender to the Commonwealth troops. These men agreed either to join the enemy or go home after pledging not to take up arms against the Commonwealth again. Carr returned to England in 1619 but it has been suggested he went back to Russia and founded a family with the surname of Kar.

In the wake of his defeat in the field, Vasily was overthrown. The way was now open for the Poles to occupy Moscow and they stayed in the Kremlin for the next two years. Smolensk also fell after a long siege. The Polish occupation was brought to an end by the emergence of a strong leader among the Russians; Mikhail Romanov was only sixteen years old when he was elected tsar in 1613 but he proved himself capable of regaining the lost territories. Gilbert campaigned with the Polish army in Russian territory but unfortunately fell into enemy hands and was taken back to Moscow, where he languished in fetters for three years. Again he escaped capital punishment when Sir John Merrick, ambassador to Tsar Mikhail from James VI, successfully interceded for his life. One may have forgiven Gilbert for concluding he had seen enough of Russia but, in 1618, with one of his sons, he returned and probably died there. Tsar Mikhail proved to be as fond of employing mercenaries as his predecessors had been: during his rule the number of foreign officers in Russian service rose to over four hundred, presenting the Scots with more opportunities to find service on the distant fringes of Europe.


A German Fallschirmjäger Regiment in Sicily August 1943.

Oberstleutnant Heilmann in Sicily.

It was not until noon on 11 July that Student received orders to move the 1. Fallschirmjäger-Division to Italy that afternoon. Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich, the division commander, flew with his battle staff to the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief South at Frascati, near Rome.

A short while later, Oberstleutnant Heilmann’s FJR 3 started out from Avignon and Tarascon for Italy. The second lift consisted of the airborne machine-gun battalion and the division’s airborne engineers. The third lift was Oberst Walther’s FJR 4 and the division’s antitank battalion. The final lift was composed of FJR 1 and the airborne artillery battalion.

When FJR 3 approached the airfield at Rome to land, Generalleutnant Heidrich was already there. He greeted Oberst Heilmann with a powerful hand shake: “Good to see you, Heilmann. Despite the delay, I still think it’s possible to throw the enemy back into the sea.”

Heidrich then turned to the commander of the signals company, who had just landed with his men, and briefed him on the necessity of establishing a command and control apparatus on Sicily in the shortest time possible.

On the morning of 12 July, as the paratroopers of FJR 3 were in the process of loading their weapons and equipment on the He 111’s, an advance party was already flying to the island. It consisted of Hauptmann Stangenberg, an officer on the divisional staff, Oberst i.G. Beelitz, the operations officer at the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief South, and Hauptmann Specht, the division’s logistics officer.

While that He 111 flew directly to Sicily, the He 111’s of the paratroopers had to make an intermediate stop at Pompligiano near Naples for refueling. The refueling mission there was not without its problems. The day before, the airfield had been bombed and transformed into a wasteland. The refueling was delayed by hours and the regiment was unable to continue its flight to Sicily until the afternoon.

It was exactly 1815 hours, when the first jump horns sounded in the aircraft. Oberstleutnant Heilmann leapt out of the aircraft with determination and soon more than 1,400 parachutes could be seen deployed over the broad wheat fields at Catania. The regiment landed without enemy interference to the south of a line running from Stazione di Passo to Martino. Due to the heavy breeze that was blowing, there were some jump injuries. The regiment was able to jump so close together that Heilmann was able to assemble his regiment in the space of 45 minutes.

Heilmann ordered his men to head south to link up with the vehicles that were waiting for them.

They marched in the direction of Lentini and established contact there at 2000 hours with Kampfgruppe Schmalz of the “Hermann Göring” Division. Oberst Schmalz briefed the senior commanders of the paratroopers on the situation. That night, Heilmann had his men take up positions in a line running between Carlentini and the Mediterranean. The II./FJR 3 was sent by Heilmann to Francofonte, where it was to close the gap between Kampfgruppe Schmalz and its parent division.

While all that was happening, the situation on the island had reached crisis proportions.

While the defensive fighting was raging in the sector of the three paratrooper battalions that had been inserted and Kampfgruppe Schmalz, the airborne division’s machine-gun battalion had landed at Catania during the afternoon of 13 July. Major Schmid, the commander, immediately went to Schmalz’s command post. At the same time, Hauptmann Laun led the battalion towards Primasole, where it rested in an orange tree orchard, taking up concealed positions from the air.

Also landing at the airfield at Catania was the division’s antitank battalion. Two of the aircraft that had just landed fell victim to a bombing run by Flying Fortresses. The Gigant transporters were destroyed, along with all of the equipment and weapons they had on board, decisively weakening the division’s antitank forces.

The division’s signals company, under the command of Oberleutnant Fassel, was dispatched to safeguard Catania’s harbor as soon as it landed, since the Italian garrison had disappeared.