Essai en Guerre: an FFO-inspired TL

Part 12.1
  • Part 12. Seule Paris est digne de Rome

    Extract from Marianne and John, by Charles Montague, ch.15

    As 1943 dawned, the Allied statesmen assembled in Martinique. Their prospects were clearly improving. Oddly, however, this improvement brought on a distinct crisis within the Union. ‘Pressure of adversity kept us together,’ wrote Mandel, ‘the new prosperity of our fortunes drives us apart.’ Churchill shared the sentiment even as he found himself seriously disagreeing with Mandel for the first time. ‘The French have been magnificent,’ he said, ‘but their proposals for this year are simply unworkable.’

    The underlying tensions with the Anglo-French Union were returning, and the American factor did not help with these political developments. Both London and Algiers developed the habit, almost unconsciously, of appealing to Washington as arbiter of intra-Union disputes. Mr. Bevin noted this tendency during the Martinique Conference. ‘Every time we fall out with the Frogs, we run to Roosevelt,’ he grumbled privately. De Gaulle disliked this tendency also, a fact exacerbated by his own difficult relationship with the President. ‘We disliked each other on sight,’ he said. ‘The fact is, France cannot allow itself to depend on American goodwill in order to obtain its points.’ This issue contributed to the worsening rifts within the Algiers government, though these were not to come into the open for some time.

    The issue in question at Martinique was the overall direction of the war. Each of the three had their own priorities and limitations.

    The British were broadly satisfied with the direction of events, recognising that 1942 could have gone much worse. ‘Singapore held, Sicily taken - a year ago, we would have jumped at such an offer,’ said Churchill. But they had one overriding objective for Martinique, which was to resist renewed pressure for a cross-Channel invasion in 1943. The demands of the Far East and the Mediterranean had seen this idea shelved during the summer, but the successes of the autumn and winter had seen the idea briefly picked up again.

    The Americans saw this as the only way to win quickly and decisively, the French felt desperate to liberate their homeland. ‘But we have not enough landing craft, not enough aircraft, and not enough Americans,’ as Brooke summarised it. ‘We have not yet won the Battle of the Atlantic, so the build-up progresses slowly - the risks are too great.’ For the entire week of the Conference the arguments constantly returned to this theme. The British were prepared to concede almost any point but this. ‘They have become quite impossible, they find new ways to say “no” each day,’ de Gaulle complained. Relations became embittered, a development that lit a long fuse.

    The result was to confirm the decision to launch the invasion of France in spring 1944. This left a long period, more than a year, in which offensives of a secondary and preparatory nature were to be pursued… The first of these plans was TIRADE, the intended recapture of Thessaly, scheduled for February 1943. Much greater events elsewhere soon overshadowed this.
    Part 12.2
  • Girolamo Leoni, La Follia, ch. 13

    News of the complete rout of our 8th Army at Stalingrad decided the last waverers. One cannot exaggerate the effect this had on us. ‘Saints preserve us,’ said Pastorelli, ‘this must end it.’ Two of his cousins had gone missing - we never found out what became of them, but they never came home. ‘One can only blame one man for this,’ he said…

    I feel sure, with the advantage of hindsight, our sounding-out of support for our coup came to the ears of the Germans. In late January they insisted on deploying forces into Provence, displacing our troops in several key places. We could not oppose this, since we still had to evince a desire to fight the Allies, and they posed an obvious threat with their new position in Corsica. We did all we could, however, to delay the deployment of German forces into Italy, over and above those troops evacuated from Sicily. Those German troops, two or three divisions’ worth, were recuperating in the South, and preparing to resist the English invasion of the toe which we could all see must soon come. These developments distracted us, and discouraged some, but also stiffened the determination of some weak brothers to go through with our plans as soon as possible, before the Germans thought of occupying the entire peninsula.

    On February 1st the Grand Council met, and the Duce left under guard. The new government proclaimed its intention to fight the war more effectively, but took no steps to do so. The Germans were furious. They believed we had made a secret deal with the Allies. If only we had! But such furbizia was beyond us. Instead, we frittered away the next three precious weeks, and allowed German forces to occupy the north of the country…

    I spent much of this period on leave, my first leave in many months, owing to the illness of a close family member. When I returned to Rome all the Fascist Party badges and emblems had vanished like mist… I was with the General when news came of the Armistice terms. We were both shocked, because it was clear to us that our Government had promised too much.


    Extract from letter from William Dempster Jr. to his father, February 20th 1943

    Dad, I can only write a very short note this time. The news from Italy shook everything up. Couple of weeks ago, we had a spell off duty, and John, Salvatore and I had gone to visit the Napoleon museum - he was born here, as you may know - when a runner came from company HQ telling us to get back to base PDQ... It seems plans have changed, or maybe somebody suddenly got a burr under his saddle… we’ve worked graveyard shifts for a week to get ready. Now we’re at an hour’s notice to board our ship for our next adventure. Who knows, maybe my next letter will be from DELETED BY CENSOR.


    Girolamo Leoni, La Follia, ch. 13 (continued)

    The English had crossed the Strait of Messina, and their ships had appeared off Naples and Taranto. The Americans headed for Anzio, and landed two divisions there. The French for their part had planned a coup de main against Rome, the so-called operation LYNX. They had an armoured regiment aboard ships heading for Ostia, and airborne battalions headed for the Rome airports.

    Apparently they had heard that our forces around the capital only needed a little stiffening in order to resist the Germans effectively. The story goes that when Marshal Balbo, in captivity in Algiers, heard of this, he immediately tried to warn the French, telling them to cancel the operation, but could not convince them in time to prevent the first planes taking off. This brought a succession of disasters. A hail of German gunfire greeted the ships heading into Ostia, and they diverted to Anzio. But the first phase of the French airborne landing went ahead…
    Part 12.3
  • Extract from A Song at the Sacrifice, ch.15, by Theo Barker

    We had heard our planes fly over with increasing regularity since Mussolini’s removal, and we always cheered at the sight. The Italians, to begin with, tried to stop us, but soon it became clear that they felt just as keen as us for the farce to end. At morning roll-call on the 19th we turned out as usual to find the guards all gone. I say all: we found one, apparently drunk, occupying an easy chair in the Commandant’s office. ‘Tutti andati,’ he mumbled, unhelpfully: we could see that everyone had gone. We sobered him up a bit and he explained that there was an armistice. ‘Attendiamo gli americani. Oppure i tedeschi.’ We had no intention of waiting for either the Americans or the Germans, and headed out of the camp as soon as possible. As we did so, we saw dozens of aircraft flying in formation, away to the west, then hundreds of tiny specks falling: paratroopers.

    Our party divided between those who wanted to head south as quickly as they could, to try to link up with 8th Army, and those who wanted to link up with the airborne troops, who must surely herald the arrival of larger forces. ‘We want to get to Gott,’ said one faction. ‘Birds in hand,’ said the other faction. My head was with the first, but my heart was with the second. Possibly a slight touch of rheumatism swayed my judgement; it had been very cold for several days, the prospect of a long hike didn’t appeal. So off I went with Harry, Con and Mac towards the airborne landing. ‘They’ll be dropping onto Ciampino,’ said Harry, ‘mark my words, our boys will come in by teatime. Fancy a ride out on a plane? First class?’

    On the way we saw plenty of Italian soldiers wandering around seemingly without orders. We tried to ask them for news, but most of them were just singing or said ‘me ne vado’, so it was no use. Finally we stole some bicycles and followed the old Via Appia towards the airfield. When we got there, we heard shooting, and rather alarmingly, the rumble of tank engines. We doubted that these last could be friendly, and we were right. We took cover behind a low wall and assessed the situation.

    A German tank approached slowly along a side road, stopping occasionally to shell the airfield. Grey-clad infantry exchanged fire with the defenders. ‘The rest of our lads had better turn up soon,’ said Con, but I think we all had a bad feeling. We had seen ourselves how paratroops fare against armour. We slunk off down a lane between some trees to find a better way in. As we did so, a party of paratroops, as grim-looking a bunch as you could ever wish to see, came up the lane the other way. We put our hands up, not knowing any better way to identify ourselves. ‘Qui va la?’ they asked.

    ‘Amis,’ we all replied hastily. ‘Anglais.’ Of course, Mac quickly added, ‘Well I’m not a -ing Anglais,’ but we all knew what he meant and didn’t mind.

    The French officer introduced himself. ‘Lieutenant De Roche, at your service,’ he said in passable English. ‘Any more of you?’

    ‘About five hundred in a camp up the road,’ we said. An explosion nearby compelled us to take cover.

    ‘We are hunting that tank,’ de Roche explained, ‘but the enemy are everywhere. It’s a fiasco.’

    He explained that they were just the first wave, there should have been more coming, but they’d just heard that the second wave had been cancelled - perhaps due to bad weather. ‘We were supposed to link up with the Italians and fight the Germans together. But there’s nothing to link up with. At the airfield we found a roomful of colonels with no troops, they’ve all gone home.’

    The prospects looked decidedly sticky. We cheered up a little when we got our hands on some abandoned Italian weapons, and we followed de Roche’s platoon into a sharp little firefight which netted us a couple of German prisoners. ‘Lovely weather for the time of year,’ said one of them, a captain, in perfect English, somewhat sarcastically I assume.

    ‘Hard luck for you, though,’ I said.

    ‘I think we’ll be free soon enough,’ he replied, and lit a cigarette apparently without a care in the world.

    ...we heard the tank - or maybe it was a different tank - rumbling towards us. ‘Got anything?’ I asked.

    ‘Of course,’ de Roche said, I saw he was holding a Gammon bomb, or something like it. ‘Stay down, and wish me luck.’ We began to pull back, but as we moved behind some houses we saw another bunch of Germans sweeping through the farmland to the rear; some of them set up a small cannon.

    Almost at the same moment, I saw half a dozen Italians - soldiers and civilians together - enter a house and open fire on the Germans, they had some kind of machine gun. In moments there was firing from all sides, and I have to admit I got my head down, not that I could see anything to shoot at. Con landed next to me, bleeding from a leg wound, and I applied pressure and tied on a bandage. Harry and Mac joined us too. The firing died down for a while, the tank seemed to move off. The sun came out briefly.

    I can’t recall exactly how soon after that we heard yet more vehicles approaching - cars and lorries by the sound. I risked a glance, and saw several vehicles come to a halt. Then a shell came out of nowhere and hit the lead vehicle, and in another instant there were people running everywhere, including a lot of civilians. Some of them didn’t make it to cover, several bodies lay in the road. One of the civilians, a driver, took refuge with us. He was gibbering.

    Tedeschi dappertutto,’ he said. Apparently they had been trying to flee to the south, but had kept running into Germans and ended up taking this route - ‘e adesso piu’ maledetti tedeschi,’ he whimpered.

    I agreed it was hard luck, but perhaps fortune had favoured us, if they distracted the Germans long enough for us to get away. De Roche and his men seemed to be giving as good as they got, so I wanted to take Con and head southwards, which we should have done all along. Then the Italian said something that stopped me in my tracks.

    Non capisce? Hanno ucciso il Re!
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    Part 12.4
  • Extract from War in the Middle Sea, ch.19

    Mercifully, as it proved, only two German divisions were available to contain the Anzio landings, which allowed II Corps, once reinforced, to maintain its foothold. However, they were unable to break through to relieve the French paratroopers in Rome, who were forced to surrender. Their sacrifice, however, was not quite vain: General von Vietinghoff wrote later, ‘the French airborne troops imposed great delays on us. They resisted longer than we would have thought possible, and so 15th Panzer’s movement to Anzio was at least a day late. We would have driven them into the sea otherwise.’ When he learned of this opinion, General Patton expressed himself bluntly to the contrary. In all likelihood Allied naval gunfire would have prevented a complete collapse of the beach-head at that point, as on so many other occasions. The Germans realised this, and now made strenuous efforts to attack the Allied fleet.

    Air attacks on the fleet off the coast inflicted serious damage on Wasp and Ramillies, which were out of action for many months, but fighter cover from Sardinia disrupted most attacks. Submarines and mines proved the bigger threat. February 24th saw the Allied anti-submarine arrangements break down catastrophically. U-boats torpedoed and sank the small carrier Chaser, the cruisers Montcalm, Primauguet and Brooklyn, and also crippled the Tuscaloosa. ‘Incredible that she survived,’ wrote one British observer who saw her in Cagliari later, she had her bows blown right off. Never seen a square-ended cruiser before.’ For some hours the battered old Bretagne was the only gunfire support available. General Patton admitted no anxiety, but his superiors were less coy. ‘For several hours, we lacked naval gunfire support, and a heavy German attack might have broken through,’ wrote General Eisenhower, ‘but the moment passed. Evidently the German Navy and Army were not co-ordinating their operations as tightly as they would have wished.’

    ...The German command had not quite decided where to draw their main defensive line. Some wanted it well to the south of Rome, in the Liri valley, but von Vietinghoff felt that the German forces in the south lacked the strength for this, and after US II Corps held on at Anzio, decided that he lacked the strength to simultaneously disarm the Italians, contain Anzio, and resist 8th Army’s advance. He wrote later, ‘my men and I have faced much criticism for the events of February-March 1943. We allowed the enemy to get too close to Rome, they say. I reject all such criticisms. We had had barely three weeks between the fall of Mussolini and the Allied landings. We needed twice as long. Against the English in the south I had three weak divisions against eight or more, the enemy also enjoying air superiority. Against the Americans at Anzio I could only initially employ two divisions, and that by taking great risks in and around Rome, where we had to fight the French paratroopers and Italian turncoats. We had several more divisions coming, but they came in more slowly than I wished. Winter weather in the Alps and enemy bombers operating from Sardinia impeded their movements. Under these circumstances, we could not hope to hold the line far enough south to prevent the link-up of the English and Americans. I believe we worked wonders doing as well as we did.’

    He concentrated his main forces just south of Rome, and successfully contained the Anzio beach-head. Hitler criticised this caution, but left him in command. Berlin was still banking on a major offensive on the Eastern Front transforming the situation.

    Other minor landings helped secure the rest of southern Italy, and in March the front line stabilised not far south of Rome, roughly on the line Pomezia - Avezzano - Ortona. The tragedy of the French 1st Airborne Regiment led to a renewal of the acrimonious debates in the US, French and British armies about the proper size, structure and use of airborne forces. At the time the Allies did not know just how badly the French paras had disrupted the German response. Instead, the French abandoned their plan to create an airborne division. ‘We do not have so many men we can throw them out of airplanes,’ commented de Gaulle. Activation of the US 13th and 17th Airborne Divisions was put on hold, and the British War Office likewise refused to authorise a second British airborne division…

    The death of the King did not seriously impact events in Italy, as the Crown Prince managed to reach Allied lines successfully, and the new Italian government now changed sides to join the Allies. Part of the deal at the time was that the precise circumstances of the King’s death should not be divulged; rather than recognising that he had been fleeing from Rome, the Allies announced that he had fallen in the defence of the city. The true story did not emerge until 1950, when it caused a major political crisis in Italy.

    The three modern battleships of the Italian fleet had escaped, not without some dangerous moments, including German air attacks in the Tyrrhenian Sea that were driven off by the arrival of French and US fighters. In the event, this escape was of morale importance only, as the ships played no further part in the war. However, the elimination of the Italian fleet as a threat meant that there was no further need to keep any Allied fleet carriers or modern capital ships in the Mediterranean. This freed up Indomitable and Wasp for service in the Far East, once repaired; the old French battleships in the event were kept at Oran, anticipating further action. Algiers gave some thought to acquiring the surrendered Italian battleships, but their inspection by naval officers soon put paid to this notion...

    The spring of 1943 saw both sides build up their forces in Italy. The Allies had no difficulties keeping up in this race, as several ports had fallen into their hands intact. By the end of April General Alexander had activated 10th Army Group. Gott’s 8th Army had built up to ten divisions, while US II Corps formed the nucleus of 5th Army, with eight, now under General Patton’s command. He chafed at being under Alexander, and now had his sights on Rome. ‘This Alexander the Great wants to take Rome,’ mused Patton, ‘but it is the legitimate prize of my Army.’ His superiors agreed on the substance though not the sentiment. ‘It is a prize worth having,’ said the President, ‘it will be something to keep the Press amused this year.’ General Marshall insisted, however, on taking operations no further. ‘Rome has some propaganda value,’ he wrote, ‘but beyond that, there is nothing in Italy that should cause any delay to OCEAN or PRECIPICE.’

    Marshall also took a dim view of the British and French desire to exploit developments in the Aegean, where the few remaining North Aegean islands, other than Lemnos, had fallen into Allied hands swiftly after the Italian armistice. British and Italian forces acting together under an air umbrella from Attica and Rhodes had beaten off German attempts at retaking them. On the mainland, the armistice had seen the elimination of the Italian forces in the western part of the front, and the Germans had withdrawn in good order back to the Olympus line while also taking over Italian positions on the Albanian frontier. The Allied forces in Greece lacked the strength to interfere with these movements, though the liberation of Larissa and Ioannina came as a welcome relief to the Greek government. The theatre would, therefore, remain a backwater, as there were no obvious further gains to be made.
    Part 12.5
  • Extract from A Pilgrim to Mount Lebanon, by Marc Malik

    ...during 1941 the French Army’s policy in this respect had vacillated, both over time and even between units, and many of us felt frustrated by this inconsistency at a time when, as we felt, all civilisation hung in the balance. Finally in January 1942 the Governor overrode the remaining obstacles and announced that we could indeed apply for commissioned rank. (Not only Maronites were included in this dispensation, but I believe we provided more officer candidates than any other community.) My father had made this a condition of my becoming a soldier. My mother, by contrast, had insisted that I get married and provide her with grandchildren, which I had done: therefore all my filial duties had been performed...

    All that remained was for me to pay a final call on Father Owlthwaite, who gave me many wise words of encouragement. On my way to the harbour I saw the latest batch of propaganda posters, in French, Greek and Arabic, posters which gave great prominence to the American flag along all the others: the words ran, ‘the victory of the United Nations is now assured’. I prayed that in this case the propaganda should prove true. Thus, along with my old school friends (and now comrades-in-arms) Charles and Bachir, I boarded the transport taking the latest batch of replacements to the theatre of war...

    Upon arrival in Piraeus, it seemed that the army, with its usual wisdom, had forgotten we were coming, and we spent some nights in great discomfort. At length they shunted us onto a train, with a new American locomotive, which took us to Megara, where we bought some (expensive, but passable) cheese and figs, before bringing us back to Athens. Our picnic-day-trip, we called it, and it seemed to have served no purpose whatsoever. A few days later, when we boarded the train again, this time ending up at Thebes, or Thiva as they call it now. ‘They must have heard we have studied the classics,’ said Charles, ‘they are truly giving us the tour.’ This time it was for real, and we began a long march into the hills.

    We had all heard of the exploits of the 192nd, the “Mountain Goats”. To young men who knew Mount Lebanon, the hill-country of Greece held few terrors. We knew, of course, that the enemy posed a terrible danger, as they had shown only a few months earlier. But the progress of Allied arms in Sicily and elsewhere encouraged us. I would not say that we had received the best possible training; nonetheless we felt confidence as we climbed into the hills, a curious caravan of men, mules and a handful of tractors carrying artillery ammunition. We all noted how much better the shells, and even the animals, were treated than the men. I pointed this out to a French colonel, returning to his command after taking a wound during the retreat - I think his name was Beaufre - and he replied, ‘well, we humans have a good deal less value, it would seem.’ He chided some of the men for urging the mules on with more alacrity than caution.

    My friends joined rifle companies of the Regiment du Liban. Divisional staff, however, picked me, as a fluent English-speaker, to liaise with the English division on our right flank. This seemed like a plum post, and I said so. ‘Oh certainly,’ said the chief of staff, with a somewhat sly look, ‘our previous two liaison officers both got killed by artillery. Only one road connects our positions with the English, the Boche have their guns trained on it.’ Therefore, at first, I had some doubts whether I had been wise to pay so much attention to Father Owlthwaite’s lessons, and become his star pupil...

    As Christmas 1942 approached, it became clear that neither side intended to make any move that year. All our plans were to build up our strength, above all in artillery, for an advance in February or March, this was the plan known as TIRADE. An endless stream of mules and vehicles - particularly the new American light trucks - bringing artillery and ammunition up from the plains. The Germans, doubtless, could see this, but could do little to interfere, since by now we had command of the air. On one of the rare days when the weather permitted flying, I saw three German bombers try to strike the road, but Greek fighters - Type 81s, said Bachir, who had actually paid attention during our aircraft-recognition classes - intercepted them. One bomber crashed behind our lines, and we all took the opportunity to take souvenirs: I still possess the scrap of metal, printed with a Gothic writing, that I took from the wreck.

    Meanwhile I spent the winter making trips - usually by night - down the mountain to talk to my opposite number, the English liaison officer at the HQ of the 2nd Armoured, the “Hoplites”, whose tanks would surely play a large part in the offensive. This officer, a cultured gentleman named Captain Willbond, liked the jesting nickname ‘Parmenion’, and spoke Greek and French fluently. He took much delight in showing off the British tanks and guns, and I often lingered beyond the time required to perform my duties, out of my pleasure in his company.

    On New Year’s Eve Charles and Bachir accompanied me on one of my visits to the Captain, as we planned to toast the New Year in the hope it would bring good fortune. We fell to talking about the prospects, and I recall this somewhat tipsy conversation for the way it illustrated the differences in perspective that may occur even between friends and allies.

    ‘I’ll wager we’ll turn the Hun out of Greece before next Christmas,’ said Parmenion.

    ‘A noble aim,’ I said. ‘I won’t take that wager.’ Bachir and I laughed.

    ‘It’ll take time to reach Berlin, though,’ he went on. ‘Still with splendid chaps like yourselves, no doubt of the result. Then your country will get its independence, no doubt, too. Empires have had their day.’

    ‘Now that I do believe,’ I said. ‘But I hope we will stay friends with France after the war.’

    The Captain swirled his tumbler. ‘I expect afterwards I’ll turn into some old duffer always yarning on about the war. Tell me, Marc, what do you expect to do in peacetime? It will seem quite dull after all this.’

    Charles, who had gone rather red, interjected. ‘Peacetime? What a word. Captain, we come from different worlds.’ He paused, the Englishman looked puzzled, his brow furrowed. ‘This war is your real war, Captain. For us, not so much.’

    ‘I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you, old chap.’

    ‘You will go home to England and tell - yarns - in your club. Good, you deserve no less. We will go home - God willing - and prepare for the next war.’ He paused again. ‘This war is a pastime to us. Do you not understand? For us, the real war is more likely to come to us, at home, on Mount Lebanon itself.’ His voice trembled.

    ‘Well, it’s a rough part of the world, I know…’ said the Captain.

    Charles collected himself, and spoke in some evident bitterness of heart. ‘You have heard, maybe, about the Armenians, the Assyrians. How did your grandparents perish, Captain? All mine died in the famine of 1917.’

    I felt he had gone far enough, and I could see Bachir agreed. ‘I fear that perhaps we do not endear ourselves to our neighbours, though,’ he put in. ‘The Syrians never wanted French rule - they got it anyway, by force, and no little bloodshed. We have perhaps not done well by tying our fortunes so closely to the French.’ Bachir, I knew, had begun to toy with nationalism, precisely as a way to diffuse, so he hoped, the sectarian enmities that have always plagued us.

    Parmenion gave him a quizzical look. ‘But here you are, old chap, in a French uniform,’ he pointed out.

    Bachir smiled. ‘I never pretended to be consistent.’

    Charles looked like he wanted to say more, but he had drunk more than was good for him, and I doubted such talk would do much good. Yet clearly he had many fears for the future. Looking back, I can understand his anxiety, who would not, but thankfully his worst fears have not come to pass. At the time, Bachir and I said our farewells and half carried Charles back up the mountain. Halfway up, he seemed to become lucid for a moment. ‘Is this Mount Lebanon?’ he asked. No, we told him. ‘A pity,’ he said, ‘I would have liked to see home again. I never will.’
    Most of our conversations were less emotional. It was with some relief that I resumed my visits in the New Year of 1943, and watched the Hoplites re-equip with new heavy tanks, specially designed, they said, to cope with hills. Yet more guns and shells arrived in the hills, and German planes became a rare sight.

    All this gave us heart. Still, the prospect of having to drive a determined enemy, well-supplied with machine guns and mortars, out of prepared hilltop positions, did not appeal. Throughout the winter, we lost men in many little skirmishes. Poor Charles led a platoon on one patrol and suffered a dozen casualties, some of whom he had to leave behind, which pained him much. I fear my letters home to my wife and parents must have made poor reading for them during this period. I was too preoccupied to write much, or well. We felt a little like condemned men waiting for the guillotine; the veterans among us talked darkly of the hard fights they had been in against the Boche. And then, like sunrise, came the news of the fall of Mussolini.

    This transformed the situation. The Italian armies which faced the Greeks (to our west) more or less disintegrated, the Greeks took tens of thousands of prisoners, and we also picked up many. Even though they had been enemies, our hearts were moved to see them, many of them wearing rags, many had not eaten for days, and they fell on our American rations eagerly. We found common ground with them when they came to our church services, and this helped us to trust them. A few even begged to remain with us. For instance there was one signals officer, whose name was Ruggieri, who said to me, ‘the Germans have occupied Lombardy, I cannot go home. I want to stay with you, and obtain satisfaction for all the injuries and insults the Germans have done to us.’ Usually we had to turn down such requests, but the Colonel turned a blind eye in some cases - particularly men like Tenente Ruggieri, with skills in short supply.

    On 19th February we moved cautiously forward and found the German positions abandoned. With picked our way through with a mixture of caution (the Germans loved to booby-trap everything they could), curiosity (they left behind some strange tin tubes, which we initially though might be glue, but turned out to be food) and disgust (especially for the trashy Nazi propaganda leaflets, adorned as they were with unflattering pictures of Englishmen, Africans and Jews). We found a good use for these last. Sometimes, though, we found more humane detritus, such as thin volumes of Goethe and even, on one memorable occasion, a record of Beethoven’s 7th. This we took to HQ, as we knew that Captain Bouchard, the intelligence officer, had a portable record-player. In the following days, the sound of Beethoven often soared over the high valleys in the evenings, and took us for a time away from thoughts of war.

    The Germans, preoccupied with the need to occupy Albania and disarm their erstwhile Italian allies, could not resist for some time, and we advanced all along the lines. The days passed, and our excitement grew, as the Hoplites freed Larissa and the Greeks retook Ioannina, then pushed further north quickly and entered Albania. The English followed up with a heavy blow against the Bulgarians, who retreated past Olympus, enabling them to resume their old Haliakmon line, though the Germans and Bulgarians just managed to hold Salonika. In effect the enemy traded space for time, giving up Thessaly to secure Albania. The Greeks, exhausted by their great efforts, had to stop short of Vlore, as the collapse of Italian resistance to the Germans enabled the latter to form a defensive line in the hills north of Gjirokaster, where Greek I Corps made a brave, but unsupported attack that the Germans repulsed.

    Meanwhile we pushed north in the centre, reaching the narrow, rushing Venetikos river (which I fell into, and had some alarming moments before my comrades pulled me out), and so took Grevena in March. We all felt great pride that, despite facing the hard terrain of the mountains, we had kept pace with the English as they advanced on our right, and the Greek Army on our left. The Colonel assembled his staff. ‘Two years ago,’ he said, ‘we stood here. What an effort, how many sacrifices it has taken to stand here again! But from now on, we shall only go forward.’

    He spoke truly. The Germans had not quite finished retreating, and we kept the pressure on. A few days later we gazed down upon lake Orestiada. Bachir, Charles and I dared each other to swim in its chilly waters, a baptism that left us frozen yet joyous. It was a blessed moment, which I hope I shall always recall clearly.

    The next day, Charles was leading his men forward when he entered an abandoned farmhouse. He disturbed a booby-trap, which detonated and killed him instantly.
    Part 12.6
  • Extract from A History of Modern India by Warren Semyonoff

    After the outbreak of the war in Asia, all the major players in Indian politics faced new challenges and opportunities. Each had to carry out a balancing act of sorts. Congress had to preserve its own unity, somewhat tested by the demands of war and the need to maintain political momentum in the face of opposition from both the Viceroy and London. With hindsight, it has become clear that the Congress lacked a policy to deal with the demands of the League that might have prevented Partition. But the League had ‘already let that genie out of the bottle in 1940,’ as the Viceroy commented, ‘there is no way they could entice him back in, even if they wanted to.’ In all likelihood there was nothing that Congress could do at this point to achieve the kind of relationship with the League that might have maintained national unity.

    The League, for its part, played its hand shrewdly, remaining more co-operative than the Congress and therefore ‘playing the blue-eyed boy of London,’ as Nehru accused in late 1942. Mr. Jinnah’s concern as 1942 progressed was to prevent Washington’s influence from leading to any sudden demarche on London’s part. He need not have worried - once it became clear that Singapore would be held, the Churchill government felt it could resist the pressure, both from Washington and its own Labour Party supporters, for any new initiatives. Politically, then, the year passed in a state of outward tranquility, disguising frantic activity...

    Therefore, London got what it wanted. Without any major political developments, India mobilised for war on a grand scale, and several Indian Army divisions would become available for the planned offensive of 1943. Under the surface, though, something decisive did occur in 1942. General Wavell meditated on the experience some years later, in conversation with General Chaudhuri. ‘Nothing appeared to have changed. At year’s end, all the same men were in the same places. There were no mass movements, remarkably few protests even, considering the weight of taxes. Yet it was in 1942 that the mind of the nation was made up, and almost without argument, both Indians and British administrators began to openly talk about the inevitability of Dominion status, or even independence - not as a distant prospect, but as a fruit of war. The great mobilisation of the Indian people made all of this seem quite natural.’

    Algiers was also able to extract a modest benefit from all this. By taking London’s side in all discussions on colonial questions, they compelled London to return the favour. Schemes to support the burgeoning resistance to the Japanese in Indochina therefore fell squarely into the purview of the French administration. Their efforts mostly proved unavailing, chiefly due to the differences in political outlook between the French liaison officers and the Vietnamese activists who dominated the movement. This too frustrated the Americans somewhat, but not to the point of risking any real damage to the core relationships between Washington, London and Algiers. On one occasion, after a spate of aggrieved memoranda on the subject, Cordell Hull said privately, ‘Indochina does not have importance enough to warrant so much as harsh words to anyone. Once the war is over I hope never to hear about it again.’
    Part 12.7
  • Extract from ch.11, The Gray Waves: a history of the Battle of the Atlantic, Walter Schluter

    The heavy demands on Allied escorts, especially destroyers, for Mediterranean operations in June 1942 - February 1943 had given the U-boats a last hurrah in the Atlantic. But March 1943 brought them frustration, and April brought disaster...

    Convoys SC122 and HX229 both came under attack during their crossing. In total, they had 14 escorts of which half were destroyers (five more escorts joined later), against 34 U-boats. The battle saw sixteen ships sunk, an extremely painful loss, but Doenitz had hoped for more - indeed for annihilation. Two U-boats were lost. ‘This was a maximum effort by the enemy, and it was not enough for their purposes,’ wrote Churchill later. ‘The fact is that thanks to the splendid efforts of our Navy, Coastal Command and our Allies, the U-boat peril never frightened me in this war as much as in the first.’ Admiral Godfroy agreed, commenting: 'having to attack convoys more frequently was, in a sense, a reverse for the U-boats, since for most of the war, most merchant ship losses were independent sailing vessels. But now the U-boats had fewer easy targets, so had to attack convoys more often. Mass attacks on convoys could attain results under favourable circumstances, but the downside risk for them was mass casualties to the U-boats themselves. We first saw this with the action on the Dakar convoy at the end of March, when our escorts sank four U-boats without loss.'

    Then in April, the release of warships from the Mediterranean saw losses of U-boats increase sharply while their kills fell. ‘They smothered us in destroyers,’ complained one U-boat captain. That month, only 30 ships were sunk in the Atlantic, and 19 U-boats were destroyed. ‘If we had known in January that we would have such an April, we might have found it harder to argue against a cross-Channel invasion this year,’ noted General Brooke. ‘Though I still believe we made the right choice.’

    Early May saw the odds tilt even more heavily against the Germans, with U-boat losses exceeding merchant ship losses. In the second week of May Doenitz recalled the U-boats from the North Atlantic. He suffered some criticism for this, with talk at OKW insinuating that he wanted to save his son, whose U-boat had been about to go on patrol. The matter damaged him politically, though cool military assessments - on both sides - agreed that the decision was correct. The U-boats had lost the battle of the Atlantic.
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    Part 12.8
  • Article by Colonel Basil Ioannou in Athinaika Nea newspaper, 4th May 1953

    So much nonsense has been talked about the American raid on Ploesti ten years ago, in April 1943, that I feel the time has come for me to correct some of the misconceptions around my part in it, and the part played by the men under my command. The occasion for this is the display in Athens of the painting The Interception by Mr. Barclay, together with some of the commentary that has accompanied it. Particularly egregious in this respect was the exalted nonsense written by Mr. Hines, of New York, which has been translated and reprinted in several Athens journals, whose editors should know better...

    …the painting certainly was created with the noblest of intentions, and executed with consummate skills. But it does not present an accurate picture of the air battle in which I and my comrades fought, and the commentary around the battle not only confuses the issue but misses its significance. Perhaps some background is in order, since contradictory accounts of the events have appeared in print.

    Most of the readers of this newspaper will recall how, in early 1943, “the day of the Americans” transformed Attica, already a vast armed camp, into a vast airfield also. Three wings of USAAF heavy bombers came in during January. They sought to achieve an annihilating blow against the vital Axis fuel supplies from Ploesti, in Romania. Earlier efforts by the British and French in this direction had proved unavailing. Now it was the Americans’ turn.

    My squadron had recently been withdrawn from frontline service, after much action in the skies above Thessaly, during the glorious liberation of that beautiful region. In passing, I should note that the story of our air-fight with the Germans above Mount Olympus, in February, has also received much ornamentation. We were not in fact outnumbered twenty to three on that occasion, nor did we destroy more than (at most) four of the enemy ourselves; British fighters shot down several more. But all allowances must be made for the difficulties of accurate reporting and the stories inspired by wartime propaganda.

    We handed over our beloved but hard-worn Type 81s to a training unit, and received instead new P-38s, the great gift of the USA to the freedom-loving nations, the same type that the French “Storks” had made famous. With some emotion we beheld them painted in our national colours. Here, we all felt, was a machine indeed, with which we could write a glorious page in our history. We spent some weeks getting to know our new machines, which took much getting used to after the nimble Type 81. We found that new machines needed new tactics. In between times I and my pilots took the opportunity to visit loved ones. At the end of March we received our orders: we were to return to the fight. We guessed we would soon have occasion to fight alongside the Americans, as their planes were flying into Attica continually.

    We deployed to a fresh base near Olympus, according to our unit diary, on the 5th April. We shared with a British unit, 92 Squadron, with whom our Air Force maintains fraternal connections to this day. During the second week of the month we carried out several aggressive patrols over Bulgarian airspace, without any serious encounters until the 14th, when we engaged the enemy - Me109s - in the vicinity of Plovdiv, shooting down two without loss, though we suffered a sad loss on our return to base when Lieutenant Mikellides crashed on landing. He had been a friend of mine since our days in training, and we had often walked together with our wives along the coast near Megara, his home town. Even now I write this with emotion.

    On the morning of the 18th, we received orders to fly to a point thirty kilometres due east of Sofia, and rendezvous there with friendly aircraft returning from a raid on Ploesti. Only when we arrived did we realise the full scale of the raid: we saw dozens and dozens of American aircraft shining in the bright sun. Some, though, were glowing with an altogether more sinister light, the light of burning engines, and others trailed behind. Attacking them were enemy fighters, some single-engined types and some twin-engined, with yet others approaching the scene. Among these latter we recognised some as Me210s. Our intelligence had warned us of their likely presence, but this was our first encounter with them. They bore Bulgarian markings.

    As I said to begin with, several misconceptions have accreted around these events, and Mr. Barclay’s fine painting does not appear to dispel them. The painting depicts only four of my squadron engaging the enemy, though in fact there were ten of us present. The particular Me210s we engaged were not in fact blazing away with all their guns at the B-24s, but were some way distant. The battle emphatically did not take place in the sky above Sofia, as repeated ad nauseam in all the Athens newspapers, but, as I said above, some thirty kilometres to the east. Although I am certain that we made several kills - I was credited with two, and my comrades claimed four more between them - we did not ‘wipe out’ the enemy, as Mr. Hines states. In fact most of the enemy disengaged quickly. Post-war analysis has shown that the Bulgarian Me210s lost only three machines that day, though several suffered heavy damage. This phenomenon of over-claims affected all sides.

    I cannot escape the feeling that in both Greece and the United States this event received more attention than it deserved, I believe for propaganda reasons. The fact is that the raid on Ploesti, despite the large preparations, achieved less success than hoped, albeit more than earlier efforts. The bombers found the target intermittently obscured by low clouds and smokescreens, and the enemy had prepared formidable defences. The German formation with responsibility for the Balkan theatre was Luftflotte 4 (4th Air Fleet), which also covered the southern portion of the Eastern Front. At this point (that is, in April - May 1943) the Germans had stationed an actual majority of the fighters in Luftflotte 4 near Ploesti, along with many Romanian machines. Therefore, for all their courage and skill, few of the bombers managed to bomb accurately, and many suffered damage. Historians differ on this point, but I side with those who believe that enemy spies in Athens had given detailed early warnings of the operation. In any event, the operation disappointed expectations. Not long after the B-24s were all sent to Italy, where they found other employment, due to the heavy German counter-attack against the Americans, the notorious battle of Valmontone. Thus, for more than one reason, the need for a positive story to emerge from the raid of the 18th.

    When all is said and done, I do not really begrudge the celebration of this event. All concerned did their duty nobly, and that deserves celebration. What I will say is this: my unit achieved a success in immediate tactical terms, both in damaging the enemy and preventing further losses to our allies, but we achieved greater tactical successes on many other occasions, which have received little or no attention. Most of all I regard as foolish the nickname ‘Boulgaroktonos’ which I received, since this was almost the only occasion when we engaged Bulgarian aircraft. After all, by war’s end I had received credit for seventeen kills, all the rest of them German.
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    Part 13.1
  • Part 13. Nullum magnum ingenium

    Extract from ch.10, The Fall of the Rising Sun, Brendan Green

    During late 1942 the south-east Asian theatre had temporarily become a backwater. During the summer the Japanese had turned their attention to the Pacific, with disastrous results at Midway Island. After a destructive sea battle, the Japanese attempted an amphibious landing, which the US Marine garrison bloodily repulsed. The loss of men and ships gave such a blow to Japanese amphibious capabilities as to deter any further seaborne assaults. A proposed thrust into the Solomon Islands was cancelled, with efforts going instead into the unavailing campaign in New Guinea and the small-scale but savage fighting in the Indies theatre. ‘Borneo remains the pivotal theatre of the war,’ wrote General Imamura, ‘how much we need our sole source of oil! We must hold it at all costs, and make renewed efforts to take Sumatra.’

    However, the Japanese never managed to assemble the necessary assets for a second attempt on Sumatra. The growing strength of China, nourished by American supplies via the Burma Road, consumed Japanese attention from the summer onwards. ‘We cannot contemplate any further transfers of air units from China,’ noted Tojo in August, ‘the enemy’s strength grows there.’ By the end of the year the American 'Flying Tigers' had been joined in China by a British fighter wing, nicknamed 'the Red Dragons'. Some Chinese and American officers opposed this, but London insisted, for propaganda and morale reasons. Meanwhile the Allies continued to build up their land-based air power in the Malaya-Sumatra region, so that by the time of the East Indies monsoon, in the autumn, the Allies had gained air superiority over the waters within two hundred miles of Singapore, and the Eastern Fleet could return there.

    By the winter Allied decision-makers knew that the phase of Japanese strategic offensives had concluded. General Wavell, having returned to the theatre after extended leave, wrote to the War Council at Christmas 1942: ‘We have stopped the enemy, but no offensive possible by us for some months. Weather alone prevents it currently. If successes in Mediterranean permit transfer of aircraft and landing craft, we envisage taking offensive in April or more probably May.’

    Allied commanders had difficult decisions to make this winter, and the challenges of alliance warfare raised their heads. Each of the three theatre commanders for the war against Japan, Nimitz, Macarthur and Wavell, had strong views, and moreover had political masters with strong views of their own. The French, Australian and Dutch had placed their forces under command of the theatre commanders, but retained their own views about their best employments, and retained the right to veto participation in operations in extremis. Finally, Wavell in particular suffered from a complex command structure beneath him. Admiral Cunningham gave steady cooperation, but the same could not be said for his Army and RAF subordinates. General Montgomery in particular made no secret of his belief that he ought to have the supreme command...

    All could agree that the liberation of Timor would make a useful first step, relieving Canberra of any anxiety in that quarter, distracting and attriting the Japanese, and giving a base for further operations. US Marines and Australian troops made their landings in March and by the end of April secured most of the key points on the island, including its airfields, though Japanese resistance continued for months in the mountains. Small sea actions were numerous, in which the Allied forces gradually gained the upper hand, especially once USMC aircraft began operating from the island itself, and the Japanese suffered further heavy attrition in the air. ‘They are down to their second squad,’ said one USMC pilot, ‘we shoot them down six or seven to one.’

    The main campaign though had to occur further west, making use of the facilities available at Singapore. ‘Borneo or Java - really that is the only question,’ said Admiral Esteva at the Darwin Conference. Many voices, not least the Dutch, argued for an invasion of Java, in order to restore easy sea and air communications with Australia, liberate the capital of the DEI, and free the population from a harsh military rule. ‘We understand Java,’ said Admiral Doorman, ‘we understand the fragility of its economy. We think our Allies under-rate the risk of famine there.’ Fears of famine were a constant undercurrent in Allied debates at this time. Timely shipments of food from Burma averted mass hunger in Bengal, while the Allies struggled to feed Sumatra…

    With regard to Java, most Allied governments took the legalistic view that the feeding of the Javanese civil population was, under international law, the responsibility of the occupying power. ‘We can accept no responsibility for the Javanese civil population while Japan occupies the island,’ wrote Churchill, and the French and Americans concurred. Several decision-makers expressed the view that the Javanese had broadly welcomed the Japanese, and should now face the consequences. ‘They did everything they could to hinder our troops last year,’ noted one Australian general. ‘They made their bed…’

    Taking the military view, most commanders preferred Borneo. ‘Java is just a political target,’ commented Wavell. ‘Borneo is the key.’ The Japanese, as noted, certainly regarded Borneo as more essential, as it contained the all-important oil. General Macarthur also preferred Borneo as a possible stepping stone to the Philippines, and the French saw it as heading in at least roughly the right direction towards Indochina. Against this, Dutch concerns over Java had little weight. This might have been the right military judgement, but was to have terrible consequences, and led to lasting post-war controversy.
    Part 13.2
  • Extract from A Song at the Sacrifice, ch.18, by Theo Barker

    Footsore and exhausted, Mac and I finally reached Allied lines in the neighbourhood of Benevento, a name familiar to me as the place where king Manfred met his end. A South African patrol picked us up and whisked us off to the rear where we fell in with the Americans, who I have to say treated us excellently. We ate our fill for the first time in months...

    Despite all the kindness shown us by the poor Italian country folk who had sheltered us on our trek, we had lost a lot of weight, and it was a few weeks before we felt fit for any more exertion. Eventually I cadged a ride on a transport heading for Tripoli, then after a few more adventures on the road, got to Alex and my family in late March, where I spent a happy month’s leave. Eleni and I went to church on my first Sunday back. This was of course just after the collapse of the Italians had freed Thessaly again, and Father Demetrios preached on the text, ‘when the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion’. I have rarely felt such happiness…

    ... of course the war called me back. No-one, it seems, quite knew what to do with me, but I made myself known in every office that would see me as an old Greece hand, and I very much wanted to get back into the show, once my strength returned. I emphasised how valuable I might be on Lemnos, or on the mainland, or really anywhere where the locals spoke Greek. There was talk of making an assault on Thasos, or perhaps Samothrace, which the Germans held, at that point, rather tentatively; that sounded like the best place for me. And all this was carefully noted down, and filed, and no doubt discussed somewhere, and the upshot of it all was that I was posted to Singapore.

    I protested, pointing out that while I could chatter away in Greek until the war ended, my knowledge of Malay ran out with the word ‘amok’. But it was no use…

    If ill-luck had brought me to Singapore, good luck attended me once I got there. The day after arriving I bumped into none other than old Bingo, who had built quite a fine little Intelligence empire for himself. He asked me to come and chat with a friend of his, as things were readying for a big show…

    The friend turned out to be Wingate, who had refused quarters in the city and was camping near the Johore strait. He greeted us in his tent completely naked, and offered us an onion. We declined, and he began munching one apparently with great contentment. ‘I’m putting a force together for some special duties. Are you game?’ he asked. Put like that, I could hardly refuse…
    Part 13.3
  • Extract from letter from William Dempster Jr. to his father, June 7th 1943

    Dad, I’m sorry it’s been so long and I hope you weren’t worrying. Our feet have hardly touched the ground in three months or more. You wouldn’t believe how much we were DELETED BY CENSOR about. But you will surely know by now what the Germans surely know, that we are here in DELETED BY CENSOR, eating lots of spaghetti. The locals are doing well out of us - one can see they haven’t eaten well for a long time - it feels strange that we should import pasta here from New York!

    Without giving away any secrets, you can probably tell just how big a thing this has become. I realise I am just a cog in a machine bigger than anyone could imagine. My French friend - I’ll call him Louis, of course - keep telling me they can’t quite believe the scale we do things. “You have machines to do the jobs we would get men to do,” he says, “then machines to do things we would never do in the first place, then more machines to look after the other machines.” I took him for a ride in my jeep (oh yes, I’ve got my own jeep now, going up in the world) the other day. He said it reminded him of his first ride in a Yankee vehicle, when he was in the capture of Tripoli in ‘41. ‘As much fun as I ever had sitting down,’ he said.

    Well, here we sit outside Rome, and the Germans are doing everything to keep us out, but they won’t be able to keep us out forever. You probably know more than I do about the strategy of the thing. The papers like to talk about Blitzkriegs and tank warfare. But it strikes me just how much this war - probably like you remember from ‘18, only more so - is still mainly a matter of piling up shells.

    The Germans tried their big Valmontone counter-attack not long ago, I guess I can talk about that since I saw it all printed in the papers. They made a big drama out of the way we lost some ground, but no-one in my regiment turned a hair - I guess the infantry had it tougher. The fact is losing a mile or two doesn’t mean much if they have to pay for it, and we sure made them pay for it, more than they could afford. No-one can move, even in tanks, if the enemy has fire superiority, so we waited until they came in range. We had a mountain of shells for the 105s, the 155s, and all the other calibers - then we fired them off double-quick, a million dollars’ worth, or more, gone in a morning. We had a Limey officer with us, Major Updike, because their heavy guns joined in the shoot. Our observers said the Germans were scurrying back a lot quicker than they came on. ‘Collapse of stout party,’ says the Major, a phrase that stuck…

    The Germans have hit us pretty hard a few times, but our Intelligence boys say it’s nothing to what we’re doing to them. Having been under shellfire a few times, you know what it’s like, but I can honestly say I never thought anything could be quite so bad. So what we’re doing to them must be worse - I wonder that they are still alive, and apparently sane - though what passes for sane among Nazis seems different to back in civilization.

    I’ll make you a bet that we get to Rome before Thanksgiving. Send my best regards to the widow McFee…
    Part 13.4
  • Extract from ch.11, The Fall of the Rising Sun, Brendan Green

    As in other theatres, 1943 saw the Allies undertake preliminary offensives with the aim of laying the groundwork for the decisive strategic offensives that were to come. Having blunted the Japanese drive in New Guinea, the Allies eliminated or neutralised Japanese positions in the Solomon Islands. The US Navy’s vision for a grand drive through the central Pacific was by now taking form, and also diverging from General Macarthur’s ambition for a drive towards the Philippines.

    However the central Pacific drive represented an opportunity for General Wavell’s command. ‘Simultaneous assaults at widely spaced points of the enemy perimeter offer good prospects to divide his forces, especially his air forces,’ wrote Wavell to the Council. During the spring the staffs of FABDA and US Pacific Fleet worked out the details, with a view to an overlapping sequence of offensives during the summer...

    The US Navy would mount its operation first. They targeted the Gilbert Islands, a stepping stone towards the Marshalls and ultimately the Marianas, which the admirals clearly understood to have great strategic potential. The fleet employed five aircraft carriers to provide air cover, so enjoyed naval and air supremacy; the Japanese made little effort to interfere by air or sea, as their objective in the Gilberts was merely to lose as slowly as possible, to buy time to build up defences in the Marshalls and Marianas. The operation therefore did not have quite the effect that General Wavell had hoped in drawing off Japanese air power. The only real attempt to counteract American air superiority came from Japanese submarines, one of which managed to put a torpedo into the Yorktown. She returned to Pearl, and the remaining carriers proved quite capable of providing adequate air cover.

    The Marines landed on Tarawa and Makin on successive days. ‘A strong spring tide took us ashore,’ wrote one Marine officer on Tarawa, ‘and we swept over and overcame the enemy in three days.’ Losses were high, especially among the Stuart tanks and their crews, which the Japanese made priority targets. ‘We will need heavier tanks in future, despite the difficulties of landing them', commented General Smith, ‘clearly Stuarts lack the necessary armour.’ The landings also showed several other weaknesses in amphibious technique. Hitherto American amphibious operations had been in the Mediterranean, where the tide was a negligible factor. ‘In the Gilberts we experienced unfavourable tides on several occasions,’ noted Admiral Spruance, ‘notably in the assault on Makin. Many of our landing craft were sitting ducks for hours on end. Fortunately the weak garrison there could not exploit their opportunities fully.’ These lessons were taken to heart for the planning of subsequent operations in the Pacific, not to mention OCEAN.

    The day after the completion of the Gilberts assaults, operation FORUM commenced, and brought its own lessons regarding the hazards of amphibious assaults…


    Report of General Wavell to the Council concerning initial phase of operation FORUM
    21st July 1943

    ...over several months FABDA planning staff studied numerous options for the strategic offensive in the Indies. The Council will recall the debates on this question. The only option that took full account of strategic and logistic constraints was the assault on Borneo in the Pontianak - Singkawang region, despite the relative lack of suitable beaches. The enemy were well aware of the importance of the theatre and had fortified the obvious landing places.

    4. We believed that very heavy naval and air support would be essential to the success of the landings. Accordingly the Navy employed the full strength of the Eastern Fleet, reinforced to a strength of five capital ships and four aircraft carriers. However, the enemy appeared not yet to have learned from previous experience elsewhere that defending the shoreline means exposing their forces to our naval artillery. The landings of the British 6th and Australian 9th Divisions therefore met heavy resistance.

    5. We took considerable precautions against enemy naval intervention. Two flotillas of submarines, and three squadrons of coastal aircraft, patrolled the seas to the north and east of the landing area. Little naval activity occurred, however. Enemy submarines mainly confined themselves to mine-laying, which proved unpleasantly effective. However, our forces report having sunk five enemy submarines during the first week, the team of Legion and Lance accounting for three of these.

    6. Air attacks against the fleet posed a more serious problem. Air cover to the fleet came chiefly from the FAA’s seven fighter squadrons (Martlets and Seafires), together with some sorties by RAF and RAAF Beaufighters from Singapore. USMC Corsairs from Sumatra also participated in some patrols prior to their transfer to shore bases. Although the FAA performed very effectively in disrupting the enemy attacks, within a week the FAA had suffered such attrition that the Fleet had to withdraw. However, by this time the USMC and RAAF had fighters operating from airstrips ashore. The enemy initially made a priority of attacking our carriers but had only modest success, causing damage to Formidable which did not impede her operations. They then switched to attacking transports and landing craft with little more success.

    7. Much credit belongs to the RAF, RAAF and RNZAF Beaufighter and Wellington squadrons and their incessant attacks on enemy airfields. Our Intelligence has noted from radio intercepts the extent to which this disrupted enemy preparations and prevented large-scale, coordinated attacks. Admiral Cunningham has asked me to add that the quality and quantity of Intelligence information has improved enormously since last year, thanks primarily to the US Navy’s superb work in this field. I would like to add my own appreciation for this.

    8. Australian 9th Division encountered strong resistance on its beaches, consisting of very numerous machine-gun nests supported by light artillery and mortars. However, apparently owing to transport and labour difficulties on their side, the Japanese had not mined or wired the beaches to any great extent. The early landing of armour on the beach gave the assault battalions the support they needed to establish a viable beach-head, and naval gunfire support proved excellent. Of particular note was the shooting of the cruisers Sydney and Canberra which apparently destroyed the enemy’s main ammunition dumps. By nightfall on the first day the entire division had landed with fewer than 700 casualties.

    9. The Council will already have heard of the tragic events which befell 6th Division, and will rightly wish to understand the causes. The main factor was the delay in landing armour. Despite extensive reconnaissance and rehearsal, the tank landing craft were delayed by several factors including unexpectedly shallow water in the offing. Only one troop of light tanks therefore reached shore in the first four hours. On this beach the enemy had placed a substantial amount of barbed wire, apparently in the twenty-four hours before the landing, which had not been detected by our reconnaissance. The leading battalions, 2nd Black Watch and 1st Essex, therefore lost very heavily to well-placed enemy gun positions.

    10. By the time the armour reached the beach, the first wave infantry were no longer able to operate effectively, exposing the armour to destruction in detail. Subsequent infantry waves then found their approach to the beach impeded by the empty tank landing craft, and found themselves several hours behind schedule. The timetable had suffered such disruption that it became clear to General Montgomery that success could not be achieved. By this time, it had become clear that the Australian 9th's assault had succeeded, and he made the difficult but necessary decision to halt landings in the British sector. All available empty landing craft bravely made the journey into the shore to evacuate as many men as possible under cover of smoke, suffering many losses in doing so. Our total losses on this beach were more than 1,000 men, including those wounded men evacuated. The remainder of the division was then landed in the Australian sector.

    11. Due to the restricted area of our beach-head, the buildup of our forces has not gone as quickly as planned. This in turn has meant that the enemy have moved forces into the battle area to block rapid expansion. Our forces have spent several weeks fighting off counter-attacks and making local attacks of their own to expand the beach-head little by little, to the point where the beach-front airstrips are no longer within artillery range. Clearly the break-out from the beach-head must await the arrival of Indian 10th Division, currently underway, and the remainder of 32nd Tank Brigade.
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    Part 13.5
  • Extract from ‘Revised strategic appreciation of the Southern question’, German General Staff briefing paper OKW ZB4/20/5/43/1, June 1943

    …5. The unfavourable turn of political events in the south, notably the Italian betrayal, has in part blinded us to the heavy odds we would in any case be facing in that theatre, above all arising from the yielding of air superiority to masses of American aircraft… taking all these factors into account we can look for no useful offensive action anywhere in the Mediterranean theatre. We must therefore turn our attention to anticipating enemy initiatives.

    6. We have noted a tendency to downplay the significance of the Southern theatre on the part of officers who have mainly taken the East as their field of activity. They emphasise the need to concentrate all forces for CITADEL in order to achieve decisive effects. Clearly CITADEL represents our main offensive effort for 1943, but an over-emphasis on it betrays a misapprehension of the stakes in the South. Although Anglo-Saxon, French and Greek formations muster fewer men than Soviet, they now generally employ greater firepower. Their Air is a factor counting against us to an extent not true on the Eastern front.

    7. It is worth dwelling on this point. The re-equipment of French and Greek forces with American materiel, now largely complete, means that these forces cannot be estimated at the same value as in 1940-1. Hitherto the successes of French and Greek forces have chiefly been against Italian opposition; in the future we must treat them as threats almost on a par with Anglo-Saxon formations. This despite the fact that French forces in particular include large numbers of inferior racial elements. Party circles lay heavy emphasis on this point in order to downplay the threat, but this under-estimates the degree to which materiel can compensate.

    8. The enemy threat in the south resembles a trident, with prongs pointing towards Salonika, Rome and the south of France, and the enemy can choose at will which prong they will push with greatest force.

    9. The recent build up of French forces in Corsica and Sardinia is of very great concern. Several factors indicate a Franco-American invasion through the Riviera this year.

    10. Firstly, the large build-up of French and American air forces in Corsica and Sardinia (see annex B). This is on a scale quite exceeding the requirements of defence, or of providing flanking support to operations in Italy.

    11. Secondly, the extraordinary growth of radio traffic in the region, which our analysts have demonstrated has always signalled large-scale operations in the near future. Much of the content of this traffic has been decrypted, thanks partly to poor enemy cyphers, and it indicates a large build up of forces and stores in Corsica.

    12. Thirdly, the likely attitude of the Algiers regime, which came close to collapse last year and therefore urgently needs to re-establish itself in metropolitan France. Recently many Algiers parliamentarians and newspapers have assailed the government for its tardiness in recovering French territory and its subservience to Anglo-Saxon strategy. We should note the political opportunities that might arise if a French-led effort against the Riviera were to be defeated, which we detail further in annex F.

    13. Fourthly, the withdrawal of French forces from other fronts. We note that the enemy have reduced V Corps in Greece to two divisions, and only XIX Corps remains in Italy. By our calculations they could by late summer have an army of 10 divisions available, supplemented by American forces which continue to flow into the theatre.

    14. Given that the Riviera and Rome constitute the points in the South which we must hold in 1943, we propose a thorough review of the forces allocated to the Greek front, with a view to handing over greater responsibility there to the Bulgarians. This review must of course take into account the need to maintain forces in the Balkans sufficient to maintain Sofia’s loyalty…

    Leoni, La Follia, ch. 15

    During the summer we slowly reorganised. We all hated Caserta, but found we could not get anywhere better. We went hungry often - the food situation had begun to improve, and the Americans were generous with their rations, but I could not bring myself to eat much more than the locals, who showed the effects of war in their gaunt faces. More than ever we cursed the madness that drove our rulers into this war.

    Yet the war continued to rage, and honour demanded that we participate in driving the Nazi scourge out. Our Army had largely disintegrated, but we still had a few brave men with the right spirit. By June we had a weak division at the front, under American command, with which I had the honour to serve for a time…

    One day in July the General called me to his office. With some trepidation, I went, concerned that he might wish to upbraid me concerning the Termoli affair. Instead, he welcomed me graciously and invited me to join our mission in the Aegean, where my friend Fabio was already present.

    Matters had become difficult there. The Greeks, of course, wanted to annex the Dodecanese islands, and we could put up only a rearguard action - in a diplomatic sense, of course. London, Washington and Algiers were united on this question. Much as it pained us, we understood that the folly of our rulers meant the loss of these islands by our country. But also, we must shed blood to redeem Greece from the enemy. We hoped this would help to restore our standing with the new masters of the world.

    The British and Greeks had taken the other islands, and now showed interest in Samothrace. They and the Americans had begun to mount escorted bombing raids against Ploesti, which evidently the islands in the north would assist with. But it seemed academic, by all accounts the Germans had by now put a garrison there, which by all accounts would need at least a brigade to handle. We had learnt that there were not enough troops or landing craft for the operation. Not long after we heard of the Borneo invasion, and we understood. Still, we felt there might still be possibilities. We had retaken Thessaly - I now found myself thinking “we” in a quite opposite sense to before - but the generals disliked going any further north on the mainland without first securing the remaining islands. Besides in those days all available supplies and reinforcements had to go to support the operations south of Rome. So during August I joined British and Greek officers looking at our options.

    The food situation in the north Aegean was bad, perhaps even worse than the Greek mainland, with hunger common. The poor folk lived largely by fishing, and this had stopped due to the constant clashes between Germans and Allies by air and sea. Even without the fighting, we and the Germans had scooped up most of the boats for various purposes the previous year, and they were never replaced or compensated. I felt a certain culpability in this.

    Furthermore, we had reports that some of our countrymen remained there. Many of our men had been barbarously murdered by the Germans after surrendering, but reports said a handful were under guard on Samothrace, either as hostages or for intelligence reasons, it was not quite clear. Rumour had it the Germans kept only a weak garrison there, and we enjoyed air superiority. So General Alexander (a good name for this theatre!) gave permission for a raid, with the goal of rescuing as many people as possible from the place, and “to keep Jerry on his toes” as my friend Major Easonsmith put it...

    We presented an exotic mixture. The British provided a company of Royal Marines under Major Easonsmith. Then we had a reinforced battalion of Greek troops from the Crete garrison, the Sacred Band, a name to conjure with: I saw them drill, and thought of how wonderfully they carried on the great martial tradition of Epaminondas and Philopoemen. They had trained specially for this operation. At my insistence, we added a battalion of our men. I addressed the men of our Regina division. Many of them were very war-weary and wanted nothing more than to go home, but I reminded them that we had a score to settle; so as it turned out we did not lack for volunteers. We did lack landing craft, though. I asked around and called in some favours, and we obtained the use of the old landing ship Garigliano. By good fortune she was in those waters, and had just come out of repair.

    There was also a party of volunteers from the Jews of Rhodes, naturally thirsting for the chance to hurt the Germans, and a company of South Africans, who had turned up from somewhere, apparently just looking for some fun. As an aside, I should say I saw much of the South Africans in those days. I remember saying to Fabio that they seemed to me the most imposing and manly of all the troops of the British Empire. Fabio thought them great fighters, but also added: ‘but you haven’t seen the Anzacs.’

    This whole assemblage, violating every principle of national cohesiveness, went aboard the Garigliano plus some old Greek and French corvettes and destroyers, and some British light craft. Since we had arranged our participation, Fabio and I insisted on joining the force. We set sail on the eve of the solemnity of the Assumption, and I prayed long for courage, that I should make a fine figure, and for the success of our mission…

    We landed on the east coast, as I recall. Fabio was with a party that set off to find the Italian prisoners, while I stayed with the main body of our troops, who pushed inland to attack a German strongpoint that had been shown by air reconnaissance. With my heart in my mouth, I fired the red flare to signal the start of the assault, and our men surged forward. Within minutes they fired a green flare to show the capture of the objective. The rest of the men and I went forward, and found the place empty. ‘No-one at home,’ said the captain in command…

    Fabio came on the radio, and said he had found the same. None of our men - no Germans either. ‘What do we do?’ he asked.

    Perhaps it was a rush of blood to the head, but I heard myself saying, ‘let’s push on, this raid might become a liberation.’ And so it was… The Greeks had pushed north as well and found only a handful of Germans, most of whom they captured. Some time after midnight the Rhodians turned up with a captured MG42 and a couple of helmets as souvenirs: no need to ask what had happened. The South African commander, a bearded rascal who was called just ‘Olly’, came with me to the beach just before dawn, where we met the British naval officer, a very young lieutenant, who was supposed to take us off. ‘We’re staying’, said Olly, ‘we like it here.’ He turned to his signaller. ‘Tell the flyboys we’re here, or the dumb beggars will bomb us by mistake. Again.’

    ‘Just as well we’re staying,’ said the lieutenant, ‘you do realise Garigliano has broken down?’ The poor old thing was still stuck on the beach. Evidently my guardian angel, or someone’s, had been working hard. As the sun rose a flight of fighters - the curious twin-fuselage American type that the French and Greeks loved - appeared overhead, to our great comfort.

    To this day it’s not very clear exactly what had happened. General Muller likes to say that he had temporarily withdrawn the German garrison to strengthen the garrison in Thasos, or Chalkidike, where they feared a landing, and that it was all planned. Also there has been a suggestion that the Army troops were to have been replaced by a Luftwaffe unit, and that poor inter-service communication caused the fiasco. But that is not the story we heard from the German prisoners, none of them more senior than a lieutenant. ‘They said it was just a rotation,’ they said. ‘We were just keeping things quiet here until fresh troops arrived. They were supposed to come tomorrow.’ Having had much experience of disasters, I must say that the whole affair appears like one of those “God-awful cock-ups” (Translator’s note: English in original) that all too often occurs when a military machine, in this case the German one, is under great stress. Whatever the truth of it, I must say that this affair was in many ways the high point of my war…
    Part 13.6
  • Extract from War in the Middle Sea, ch.20

    The drive on Rome could only occur once the Allies had built up their strength considerably. General Olry noted, ‘The terrain just south of Rome appears flat, but much of it is reclaimed marshland heavily cross-cut by wide, water-filled ditches, which admirably suits the defensive.’ The Allies had a big advantage in armour, but this proved of limited use in the circumstances. Further east the ground rises to rugged hills, where the Germans had dug in strongly. The Allies had no great numerical advantage. The Germans had some twenty divisions nominally, though most were under-strength, and had plenty of artillery, though General von Rintelen complained frequently of ammunition shortages.

    The Allies had also gained air superiority, not only over the battle front but to the north as far as Tuscany. In the summer this was not yet crushing, but would only grow. The Bomber Offensive against Germany had started to make Berlin nervous, so by contrast, its air power in Italy steadily declined. An OKL report complained ‘The Allies have now started to employ improved fighter types in large numbers in the Italian theatre, the British have the new Spitfire IX while the Americans and French have introduced the P-47D. These types outclass the Me109G by a dangerous margin.’ Nothing could be done, however, as all the best German machines had gone to protect the Fatherland.

    The Germans had freed Mussolini from captivity and so could employ a handful of Italian units who had stayed loyal to him. However von Vietinghoff and von Rintelen had little confidence in their abilities, fearing for their loyalty - 'Marshal Balbo has now joined the Royal Government, and appealed to the loyalists as one Fascist to another,’ noted von Rintelen. ‘Hard to say what effect this might have, but we do not intend to take the chance.’ The Italian units therefore were mostly used on anti-partisan duties. During the summer a grim guerilla war smouldered in central and northern Italy...

    The Germans made a priority of keeping the Allies at the greatest possible distance from Germany. An OKW staff report summarised Hitler’s concern: ‘Our effort must be to keep the enemy south of Rome until the winter, when the weather will impede his operations.’

    No-one in Berlin doubted, though, that they faced a tall order. ‘They stand 50km from Rome, with at least six months of fair weather in prospect, perhaps seven,’ noted the OKW. ‘The summer weather will give their air power ample scope for operation, and we must expect the weight of air attacks to only increase.’ This point was borne out by the failure of the Valmontone counter-attack in early June, which the Germans attributed to the weight of Allied air power and artillery.

    The long exposed coastline of southern France and northern Italy gave the Germans additional worries. ‘The enemy have performed many amphibious landings, they have mastered the technique,’ noted von Rintelen. ‘We need to retain a strong reserve to counteract this. But enemy sea and air power has hitherto meant that once a beach-head establishes itself, we cannot drive them back into the sea.’ The Germans particularly feared a descent upon the south of France, an anxiety which the French sought to aggravate. In part they made overt efforts by expanding airfields in Corsica and mounting numerous air raids on the Riviera coast; in part their effort was invisible, with elaborate deception efforts, such as deceptive radio traffic, made by EMME, the ‘Bakers’, who had by this time relocated to Bastia…

    The Allies, however, had no intention of mounting any large amphibious operations, whether in Italy or France. In part this was due to a lack of landing sites in the area west and north of Rome. ‘We looked at Santa Severa, but the enemy have planted it thick with wire, mines and machine-gun nests. We also looked at sites between Livorno and Civitavecchia, but landings so far north would depend on base facilities in Corsica, which are not yet adequate. Besides, as usual, the same old problem,’ wrote General Olry in May. ‘Not enough landing craft. Attrition has been bad, and now the British have taken all their LSTs back, to train for OCEAN. I would like to take Rome this year, it would comfort us for the prolongation of our country’s suffering. London too would like Rome this year, but still more they want to please Washington. As for Washington, they have high hopes for Borneo, and their main interest in the Mediterranean is in the preparations for PRECIPICE.’

    The Algiers government disliked its weak bargaining position, but could do little about it. ‘We depend so much on the Americans, we must defer on this grand strategic question,’ noted Mandel to de Gaulle. ‘But we do not have to like it.’ The Americans did agree to support one amphibious operation off the Italian coast, namely operation BRASSARD, the capture of Elba, which French troops carried out in June. ‘This gives the enemy artillery positions within range of the coast at Piombino,’ noted OKW nervously, ‘thus further complicating our supply problems.’

    The offensive on Rome would take the form of a conventional land battle. Preliminary operations in the hills, the accumulation of stores, and the improving of the air position, occupied the late spring and early summer. June also saw a brief diplomatic incident when General Gott’s staff used the great abbey at Monte Cassino as a headquarters, leading to a German air raid that damaged the building, and strong protests from the Vatican. Gott, who Brooke considered exhausted, now went back to London, General McCreery replacing him in command of 8th Army...

    Operation MASQUE commenced in late July and two months of bitter fighting followed, which cost the Allies over 50,000 casualties, mostly American, by far the most costly campaign of the war so far for them. ‘We thought Corsica had been tough, but we hadn’t seen the elephant yet,’ wrote one US infantryman of the 34th Division. ‘Heat, dust, mosquitoes and death, every day for weeks on end.’ The Allies had placed great hopes in the massed use of armour, especially the Sherman tank, which had now for the first time fully replaced older models among the US and French forces. It generally performed well, but most of the hard yards had to be gained by infantry, usually after heavy bombardments. After one costly failed attack in August, General Patton suffered a breakdown and was relieved of command. ‘We need him, so send him on leave - we can’t have George go crazy,’ noted the President, ‘or at least, not any crazier.’

    ...US air power repeatedly proved the factor that gave the Allies the edge, but this came at great cost. On September 5th US bombers attacked railway targets in and around Rome, but suffered heavy losses after missing the rendezvous with their fighter escorts. ‘Fifty planes gone, destroyed and damaged, in one go,’ noted General Clark, the new commander of 5th Army, ‘that hurts.’ The losses however spared the little town of Castelgandolfo, with its Papal palace, from destruction, as they forced cancellation of a planned air raid against the place. ‘Just as well in my opinion,’ noted Clark. ‘Attacking under the Alban hills was a mistake. We need to rest II Corps. The Germans need flanking out of Rome, and Bethouart thinks he has the men to do it.’

    General Bethouart’s XIX Corps, mainly Moroccans and Algerians, had trained intensively for this operation, and in less than a week they pushed through the hills between Avezzano and L’Aquila that had hitherto resisted repeated Allied efforts. The French thus struck the decisive blow that drove the Germans out of Rome, though they did not reap the reward themselves of capturing the place: that honour went to US II Corps on 2nd October, with French units following. General Clark had hoped to take the surrender, but he suffered a car accident outside Frosinone that kept him in hospital for a week. ‘Still he deserves as much as anyone to be called the liberator of Rome,’ noted Marshal Balbo. Instead on the 3rd General Bethouart rode into the Piazza Venezia aboard a Sherman tank, to the acclamations of the people.

    Hitler then replaced General von Rintelen with von Vietinghoff as supreme commander in Italy, but he could do no more than extract most of his forces from the trap that began to close with the simultaneous breakthrough of 8th Army further east. ‘The Allies did nothing especially smart, except for the French breakthrough in the hills,’ von Vietinghoff wrote. ‘But then, with their air power, they had small need for cleverness.’ The Allies continued the pursuit as far as the Civitavecchia - Pescara line, where the front stabilised in October, then became static for the winter.
    Part 13.7
  • Extract from The Footsteps of History: the war diary of Eustace Marcel

    September 3rd 1943

    So now it has been four years of war; time enough for Frederic to start high school and Margot to go from crawling to running. The progress of the war enables one to say for certain that they will see Paris before Frederic qualifies for the call-up; how long, I wonder? Perhaps the times demand that I set down a few thoughts regarding how the war goes.

    Rome will surely fall soon. The boss does not want to spend much effort in Italy beyond that, and the Americans agree. The year becomes late for a descent upon the Riviera, and besides such an attempt clearly works best in concert with the invasion from England. So it must wait. The enemy must see that it will fall on him next year; the great mystery remains - what means does he yet possess to resist us? Yves works with the Bakers, and they surely know much of what goes on, their electrical ears hearing the story of the enemy’s transmissions, of men and machines going to and fro. But Yves clams up whenever I raise the subject. All I have gleaned is that there is a kind of intelligence that is even more than Top Secret, they call it Ultra.

    The question of the enemy’s true strength one could only answer if we truly knew what goes on in the East. Things look bad for the Germans there. The Red Army has re-crossed the Dnieper, and the Germans shot their bolt in the summer. But a force that seems small in the East might fill the map better in the West. At all events, our men will play their part nobly. We have a great army forming in Corsica. We have American equipment now, tanks with radios, aircraft with engines that roar less sweetly but much louder than a Hispano-Suiza. From the little I have heard from our military men, they talk much more confidently now. Yet a debacle such as May 1940 leaves a long shadow, and I confess I will believe only when I have seen, like doubting Thomas.

    At any rate the Air is all right. We must never again allow ourselves to fall behind in air-power. The Army brass in Algiers seeks always to deflect criticism for the debacle by blaming Vuillemin and the Air, evidently self-serving, but true enough. At least that is mended, but the whole aviation sector will need shaking up after the war. We have indulged that sector - management and workers both - more than enough. Paul is with GB6 now, they have the newest B-24s, he says; a far cry from the little Breguet 19 that he took me up in, that time in ‘34. He defies the odds with every mission. He told me recently of an ordeal he went through over Genoa, when they came back riddled with holes. The English have punished the German cities severely of late; our policy has been to stick with precise bombing, but it is costly for us, and I think the AdA would like nothing better than to join in a few of those thousand-bomber raids.

    Algerian politics keeps demanding my attention. The great question of the day is the treatment of those Arabs who have joined our forces. A blind man could see that this is no mere military question. The boss wants to go far in conciliating the Arabs, since he places all other things behind the military need for manpower. He has certainly felt the influence of M. Churchill in this regard. But De Gaulle is against almost all the Arab demands. Now I hear that Abbas fellow and some others are putting together a Manifesto. Perhaps we could nip this in the bud, but that will lead to trouble. Could we not co-opt those people? But then our problem with the pied-noirs becomes acute. We need them too. Such thoughts lead only to gloomy places, I will trust to Providence.

    In Greece, we will surely push further north this year. Our V Corps has written another page in the story of our love for the home of civilisation. (Some trouble, I hear, with some of the colonials wanting home leave; but it would be bad for the morale of the 'metro' troops, since after all they cannot go home yet.) After we take Salonika, what then? I see political complications innumerable in the Balkans. So many of our meetings revolve around these questions. Shall Sofia, Bucharest and the rest fall into the orbit of Moscow, or ours, or London’s? The boss said to me last week, ‘I know M. Churchill thinks much of this. He would have us take the leading role with Bucharest and Belgrade, while he thinks most of Athens and Sofia. But I think a big moustache might block the view for both of us.’ Perhaps we shall not be able to go back to the way things were. We are so much tied to the Anglo-Saxons now, the Little Entente is a memory, a footnote. Didier said to me, ‘To think how much of my life I spent on it, and where are those years now?’ One thing is sure: the time is past when Turkey could hope to play much part. If they had come in when we needed them they would have reaped rewards; now we need them no more, and indeed if they were to join they might create greater impediments than they removed. The Aegean is our lake now - look at what happened on Lemnos and Samothrace.

    I spend little time thinking of the Far East, though I think the Boss worries about it a great deal. The Indochina question could give us difficulties. Beyond a doubt the Anglo-Saxons would rather avoid the place entirely. They think of great movements by sea, as is their wont, through the Pacific and Philippines, into Japan itself. We can do nothing to determine the course of events there - we count for little more than the Dutch - with Washington, we count for less even than Chungking. At any rate once Borneo falls the Japanese will surely have to give in? They have no oil. We would feel content with a return to the status quo ante - provided Tokyo gave assurances, withdrawal from the mainland would suffice. The papers talk always of Japanese fanaticism, but their diplomats back home always struck me as reasonable men.

    So much for the war, after forty-eight months… Forty-eight months into the last one would have brought us to August 1918 and the beginnings of the collapse of the German army. Perhaps it will come sooner than we think. I wonder what the German army thinks of their dear Leader now?
    Part 14.1
  • Part 14. Arma virumque

    Extract from A History of Modern India, ch.11, by Warren Semyonoff

    Until 1943 London had paid only lip-service to Indian political developments. Mr. Churchill saw everything through the prism of military needs, and concerned himself above all with how India could contribute to the ongoing campaign in southeast Asia. However, as 1943 progressed several factors brought a reconsideration in London.

    Washington had increasingly brought pressure to bear for some political initiative, seeing this as a necessary adjunct to India’s military mobilisation. ‘London expects our aid in the Indies, and we have given it. We need their cooperation sending aid to China, and they are doing that. The missing piece, as we see it, is unlocking India’s potential to support both efforts on a grander scale.’ Thus wrote Mr. Hull in early 1943, and in doing so he expressed the President’s own views.

    Meanwhile the British Government went through a private dispute during 1942-3. Following the loss of Mr. Eden, Mr. Amery had become the new Foreign Secretary, and in this powerful position inside the War Cabinet, he supported Mr. Lyttelton, the new Secretary of State for India, when he became convinced of the need to push ahead with Dominion status for India ‘no later than 1944’ - even if the war remained unfinished. In this they received the support of Labour members of the Government. Records of this debate indicate that all concerned - on every side - assumed that Dominion status would mean independence not long after…

    In the summer of 1943 Mr. Churchill bowed to the pressure and accepted Mr. Lyttelton’s offer to travel to India in person. For a time Churchill pressed for the inclusion of Sir Stafford Cripps in the mission, but he preferred to remain in Greece ‘since negotiations between the KKE and the Government have reached a critical and delicate state,’ as he put it. (Historians have long speculated on Mr. Churchill's motives for backing Cripps so strongly: an intention to derail the process has been alleged, but never proven.) Also as part of the deal, Mr. Lyttelton insisted on the recall of the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, who he felt had been in office too long. With hindsight Mr. Churchill’s agreement to this, in ‘a moment of weakness’ as he later described it, proved crucial. The Viceroy had become highly unpopular and distrusted in India, and his removal was an essential step in creating the conditions for political progress. Only one man could replace him, and so General Wavell became the new Viceroy in late August, with his prestige high, fresh from the success of the invasion of Borneo.

    With the arrival of the Lyttelton and Wavell team, the riots, strikes and demonstrations that had roiled the much of country for much of 1943 eased off. Both Congress and the League realised that this would be a decisive moment. The compromise that resulted was the only one that stood any chance of agreement by all parties concerned. Certainly every factor had to fall into place just so to reach agreement, and to the last moment the possibility of failure remained…

    Under the Delhi Accord, Dominion status, in a modified form, would take effect in January 1944, with all-India parliamentary elections to occur that year. The Accord included enhanced autonomy provisions for Muslim-majority regions and provinces; Mr. Jinnah declared himself satisfied that these met the requirements of the Lahore Declaration, and though he faced substantial opposition within the League on this question, his authority survived. Lord Wavell would be the last Viceroy, his title reverting to Governor-General.

    Though the Accords did not spell it out, the negotiators on both sides understood that the chief tasks of the Dominion government would be to fight the war more effectively, and to prepare for independence. Some difference of opinion remained between British and Indian views about whether these tasks should occur in parallel or in series. The strongest proponent of the latter view was Mr. Churchill, who preferred to see independence as a theoretical eventuality, whereas Congress politicians saw their tasks as being very much parallel. Mr. Amery wrote later, ‘I had to suffer through numerous difficult late-night ‘Winston-specials’, and I hesitate to say I would have given the Accords my support if I had known what I would face as a result.’ However, the deed was done. ‘They will call this the Miracle of Delhi,’ said Wavell to Lyttelton. ‘I would not have believed it possible.’
    Part 14.2
  • A Song at the Sacrifice, ch.19, by Theo Barker

    Wingate set out his views to me and several others one day in late July, or it might have been early August. I have lost the diary I kept at the time, but I do remember that it was a remarkable day of classic ‘Sumatra squalls’. We took shelter in the bar at Raffles and chewed things over.

    The higher-ups had fixated on getting 10th Indian into the fight on Borneo, believing that would solve the problem, he said. In his opinion, Monty in particular had no thought for anything but getting more men and more guns and throwing them against the Japs in their mountains. I felt he spoke a trifle unfairly, but let it pass since I knew that they did not really get on. Of course we now know that Monty was moving heaven and earth to get Wingate out of ‘his’ theatre, but in the end it was Wavell’s theatre, at least for a little while, and keeping Wingate around had become something of a test of who was really in charge.

    Anyway, we had taken Pontianak and Singkawang, and now 10th Indian had landed and given a ‘colossal crack’ at the Japs in the hills, but had not gotten far. ‘The Japs can hold us off until the wet season,’ concluded Wingate. ‘We are still six hundred miles from the oil wells.’ The airmen, he said, claimed they could knock out the oil targets themselves, once they were close enough.

    ‘But we aren’t close enough yet, though,’ I commented. ‘Six hundred miles, give or take - the same as Attica to Ploesti. Wellingtons won’t do it, and we don’t have any heavies.’

    Wingate nodded. ‘We need to get closer, and we won’t do it butting heads at Mount Rumput.’ He had evolved a plan…

    Among the higher-ups in London and Algiers, paratroop ops had fallen out of fashion, but gliders had recently become flavour of the month. They had wanted to make glider assaults in the Med, but had not found a good opportunity. Now it looked like there was a good chance in our theatre. Air recon said that the Japs had recently cleared a huge area of ground near Kuching, possibly to make a new airfield, possibly for some other purpose - it wasn’t altogether clear, we had agents in Kuching who fed us various stories, some of them highly implausible. But in any case, it looked like a suitable spot for a glider landing, and the Staff had told him we had enough air assets to make it possible. ‘We can fly in an entire brigade,’ said Wingate, his eyes lighting up. ‘We can sustain it by air.’

    ‘One brigade won’t achieve much by itself,’ I said.

    ‘It won’t be. We’ve got other schemes too.’ He quickly ran through the various ideas, and explained that the Government very much wanted to get a morale-boosting victory soon, in case Rome did not fall this year. ‘The PM is behind us,’ he said. ‘This is right up his street.’ Wingate had apparently met the PM at the Martinique Conference and impressed him, so that he had a direct line to No.10. With this as support, and with almost his last act as C-in-C of FABDA, Wavell approved Wingate’s plan, got the Americans and French invested in it, and so Monty was stuck with it…

    Some of us were sceptical at the complexity of the operation. Vincent had been grappling with supply problems in the East for over a year, and had become a bit obsessive about always having a margin to spare - probably rightly. ‘It’s a lot of Dakotas, and these new LVTs too. They’re fantastic, but we’ll need the Yanks too, if we want to put it all together,’ said Vincent.

    ‘Are they in, 100%?’

    Wingate nodded. ‘General Macarthur gets behind anything that brings him closer to Manila. We’ll have the landing craft and aircraft. Theo, I want you to visit 6th Division and sound them out.’

    Once 10th Indian landed, we had pulled the 6th off the line, they had had a fairly horrid time of it. They had taken part in the advances that won us Pontianak and Singkawang, and in so doing had come across the beaches where the Black Watch and Essex had suffered their Calvary. There they found evidence of what the Japanese did to prisoners, and they wanted their own back. I explained to them what we wanted, and they showed willing, provided they had time to train. I said they had a month or so…

    I reckoned we had a good chance, provided all the different parts of the plan went off together. The Australians kicked things off with another attack near Rumput on September 20th. They’d got a whole tank brigade with them, though in that terrain they could only use a few at a time, and progress was slow. 10th Indian joined in to keep up the pressure on the 25th. Then it was our turn.

    Wingate insisted on accompanying the glider borne brigade, but I’m ashamed to say the idea of gliders gave me the willies. The French had three old destroyers that they didn’t mind risking; they had worked hard to make them resemble Japanese ships. So I went with the Yorks and Lancs instead. My old chum Arthur (he of blancmange fame) was CO, and he invited me to join him. The destroyer I was on was the Lynx, along with HQ company and a rifle company. Our spies in Kuching - mostly very brave local Chinese - had obtained the local Japanese signals. The hope was that we could sow confusion in the enemy’s rear, then link up with Wingate and his boys...
    Part 14.3
  • A Song at the Sacrifice, ch.19, by Theo Barker (continued)

    ...We approached the mouth of the Sarawak River not long after midnight on the 30th September, according to my diary, though some of the other chaps swear blind it was earlier. We had not seen any Japanese aircraft during the journey, by this point, if anything, we were more worried about getting attacked by our own side, since we had the look of Japanese ships. The RAF put in a heavy air raid on Kuching just after nightfall, and we could see the flashes of the bombs from out at sea…

    The Japs challenged us by blinker light, but our answers seemed to satisfy them until we got a mile or two upriver, when someone fired a machine gun at us. We didn’t reply, but the Captain ordered us to increase speed. We were ok but the last destroyer in line, the Panthere, ran aground, and we soon left her behind, along with the troops aboard her, including as luck would have it our Support Company with the 3-inch mortars. Later I heard she had managed to reverse off, but by this time the enemy fire was so heavy she had to pull out to sea, and only just made it, with over a hundred casualties…

    The Lynx, plus the other destroyer, which I believe was the Leopard, landed us at some rather shabby-looking docks, not really much more than a few wooden jetties and sheds. We quickly took these over, killing a few Japs in the process, and capturing several locals. We couldn’t make out what they were trying to tell us: our interpreters only spoke Cantonese and Malay, and these fellows spoke something else again. But as soon as we let them go they scarpered lightning-quick. The destroyers cast off, and ran the gauntlet back to sea, all pretence over, trading gunfire with the Japs on shore. We later heard that the Leopard took a hit in the engine room and had to be abandoned in the estuary, the Lynx limped out to sea full of holes and over-crowded with survivors. I have to say those French sailors were magnificent.

    Intelligence had said all the Japanese combat troops had been drawn to the front. Maybe that was true; if so, the clerks, laundrymen and cooks fought like demons. We could certainly have put up a better show if we’d had the mortars; as it was the Brens fired until the barrels smoked... Our aircraft, Hurribombers, came over as dawn broke. They hit some of the Jap positions with bombs and cannons, which lifted our spirits, but didn’t seem to intimidate them one bit, and the attacks and sniping resumed as soon as the planes left.

    By midday we found ourselves facing a decidedly sticky situation. Our radios were working only patchily, ammo was getting short. We could see or hear the Japs bringing up artillery, their wicked little 70mm cannons. We heard that Wingate and his brigade had got in at Batu Lintang, but they were hard pressed, so no help from that direction. Arthur, to his credit, took the difficult decision to cut our way out. At first we hoped to link up with Wingate, but enemy resistance seemed heaviest that way. So we gathered up everyone and everything - including several wounded on stretchers - and pushed roughly southwards towards the jungle. The FOO called in an air strike to clear the way, then we were off, with A Company as rear-guard, HQ Company in the middle with the wounded, B and C companies up front.

    It was devilish hot and before long the stretcher bearers were fagged out. We all took a turn but soon we could tell that we couldn’t go on as we were. Arthur had a quick word with old Stumpy and the M.O. and came back looking exceedingly grim. I wouldn’t write this except that all concerned are now past caring about what happened next… All I can say is that we had fewer stretchers to manage after that. Let me say I believe it was completely the right decision.

    Before long we came to a narrow path through a thicket that looked-tailor made for an ambush. B Company shook out a skirmish line and flushed out a whole pack of Japs, a right ding-dong followed. We cracked on as fast as possible, and despite some nasty moments - screams and shouts that I still hear sometimes in my sleep - somehow we got through. As evening came on we set up a position on a wooded hill, feeling very lonely - three hundred Englishmen in the middle of Borneo, with little or no indication of how things were going elsewhere. ‘All round defence,’ I heard Arthur say, and I believe he was still on his feet well after midnight checking the perimeter.

    I had nodded off briefly, when in the small hours all hell broke loose all around us. I remember spending the next few hours rushing from place to place with Bren magazines, occasionally throwing hand grenades, and the sick feeling, at first light, as it became clear we were running out. We were also desperately thirsty - the water had run out hours before. One man, crazed beyond endurance, just ran out into the open screaming and flinging grenades in the enemy’s general direction, and they shot him down instantly.

    At dawn the next day I woke in the middle of a ten-minute rainstorm that cleared with startling suddenness to bright sunshine. The firing had died down, although the Japs were still screaming at us, ‘English, you die today,’ and suchlike pleasantries. Then Arthur, red-eyed from exhaustion, asked me to join him inspecting the perimeter again. ‘Poor old Adj took a nasty one,’ he explained, ‘and Stumpy’s lost an arm, now his nickname fits. There’s no-one else.’ I reflected on how desperate the situation must be if I were the most senior surviving subaltern in the battalion…
    Part 14.4
  • A Song at the Sacrifice, ch.19, by Theo Barker (continued)

    On our way from A to B company, we stumbled through a patch of woodland denser than most. The light was poor, but I had a nasty feeling we were being watched. Suddenly Arthur grabbed my arm and put his finger to his lips. He gestured with his stick, and I saw in silhouette the shape of a man, short and hunched over. ‘It’s a Jap,’ he hissed, ‘shoot him.’ I pulled out my Webley, then hesitated: shooting might bring a horde of the enemy out of nowhere, and besides I had an odd feeling. I crept closer, the figure turned and saw me, and said: ‘ook?’

    We had met the Man of the Forest. I could not help but laugh. The orang then looked at me for a moment, before seeming to hear something, and vanishing with surprising speed and lack of noise. I think he made it to safety, well away from his mad relatives: I hope he did.

    ‘I think there’s something over there,’ I said, gesturing vaguely eastwards, to where the sun was rising.

    ‘Think you’re right,’ said Arthur, and we hastened the other way, just in time, as a dozen or more Japs emerged out of hiding, one or two of them firing pot shots at us, though thanks to our friend’s warning, they were too far away to hit us.

    We cut short our inspection after that, and returned to company CP, which was also the aid station; a single exhausted M.O. was trying to treat about fifty badly wounded men, no cover, no supplies. The less-wounded men could not leave the firing line. ‘Not another step,’ Arthur said, ‘either something turns up or we make an end here.’ I wounded vaguely if this hill we were to die on even had a name, and if Eleni would ever visit…

    But our orang-utan proved the harbinger of good. About 9am a Lysander flew overhead, and we fired every flare we had. Shortly afterwards - it seemed like ages, but Arthur was keeping time and insisted it was less than ten minutes - a pair of Hurribombers came over and dropped their bombs. They released them right over us, and for a sickening moment I thought they would hit us, but they flew into the valley and landed among the Japs. I never heard such cheers, despite the exhaustion and thirst of the men, and I realised I was yelling as loud as anyone…

    About midday an American plane, one of the little ones that can land anywhere, came over and dropped a canister; it contained Bren magazines and a message from HQ, telling us to hold tight. Some of our radio messages evidently had got through. Then another plane came over, a Dakota, and flew dangerously low, braving some rather heavy ground fire, the crew throwing out containers on parachutes. Several missed, and some burst, but we at least got enough water to soothe the wounded and take a mouthful each for the men. ‘God bless the USA, so friendly and so rich,’ said Arthur, which I thought quite clever until I later learned it was a quotation…

    The Japs seemed to go quiet that afternoon, the Hurribombers - RAAF boys, as we later learned - kept their heads down. A few of our chaps did get wounded by shrapnel from their bombs, but afterwards, none of us would ever pass up the chance to buy an RAAF pilot a beer… though we had another hairy night the worst was past. One of Wingate’s battalions pushed out and linked up with us the next day. I led a patrol out on seeing a flare go up, and we found the Jap positions abandoned. Then we found ourselves amidst a platoon of Dogras. Their commander, a VCO and a tough-looking cove with a great scar, introduced himself. ‘Well you daft beggars got yourselves into a proper mess, didn’t you?’ he said, and we could only agree. We came off that hill (I never did find out if it had a name) with less than two hundred unwounded men.

    The Dogras had had a rough time too, but they, with the rest of Wingate's air-landing brigade, had received plenty of supplies and reinforcements by air. There was good news from elsewhere. The RAF had spotted an enemy convoy at sea off Miri; our subs and aircraft wiped it out, one particularly bold USMC Corsair pilot had sunk a destroyer single-handed. The Japs would get no reinforcement by sea any time soon. 5th Indian Division had landed successfully on the north coast, close enough to Kuching to take it in a few days, and although the enemy were still fighting like blazes up near Rumput, Monty was getting cocky enough to declare it all over bar the shouting. He had never liked Wingate’s schemes, but knew better than to spoil the party now. In the end, I couldn’t help feeling that what we’d done had been a bit of a sideshow to a sideshow, wrecking a fine battalion to little purpose; but one can’t always tell in war what will work and what won’t…

    Of course in the end it was touch and go, more so than it should have been, to complete the operations to clear south-western Borneo before the rains came. The pundits and historians have long complained about the way 9th Australian spent weeks toiling up Rumput bunker-by-bunker, losing thousands of men, more to heat and sickness than to the enemy. (They made that film about it, the one with Leslie Howard in it, which I think laid it on rather thick.) I suppose the pundits are right, but in the middle of a battle a kind of stubborn madness can take hold, as every man of the Yorks and Lancs could attest. In the end no-one would begrudge 5th Indian their victory; they took as many casualties as the Aussies, but it gets talked about less.

    I met Wingate by the prison compound in Batu Lintang about a week after our relief, he’d set up his tent next to a huge pile of wrecked gliders. Some have accused him of a Messiah complex, but I have to say after seeing the hundreds of prisoners he freed, and hearing them talk, it’s understandable. Most of them would not have lived another month, I have to say I was amazed that people could live through that kind of thing at all. I don’t underrate what we went through those days and nights on the hill, but Batu Lintang puts it into perspective…

    Despite the monsoon, the big wheels soon wanted to come and see the place for themselves, and most wanted to meet the man of the hour. Monty didn’t: he pointedly avoided Wingate when he came, and in his public pronouncements gave all the credit to the Aussies and 5th Indian. A lot of us felt sore about that. Wavell put things right, as usual he gave credit where it was due; Indians, British, French, Australians, New Zealanders, Dutch and Chinese, no-one was outside his vision or his sympathies; a great man.

    Macarthur came last, arriving on December 25th, and I realised that for some reason he hadn’t been warned about Wingate. He had his photographers with him, of course, and strode into the tent with them in tow. But none of them felt inclined to immortalise the moment when the victor of Kuching greeted the American generalissimo completely naked, and offered him a raw onion for Christmas lunch.
    Part 14.5
  • Extract from Memoires by Guy Lemoine, ch.13

    I had followed the army somewhat reluctantly to Italy; I had hoped to move to Corsica, where I would be so much closer to home. It was not to be. The cry for medics in Italy grew only louder, the campaigning had caused a dreadful number of casualties, we also had malaria to contend with, and the civil population had vast unmet needs. I worked sixteen-hour days many times. Still, there were compensations. Truly one says that only Rome deserves mention alongside Paris, and vice versa.

    We set up our base hospital in a palace, the vast marble pile of a great Roman family; wonderfully civilised and dignified people, though with ancestors whose shameless wickedness had stained many a page of history. In my diary I recorded an amusing international conversation that occurred in Rome on November 1st.

    ‘You have a bad case, sergeant,’ I said to an Englishman who had just come in.

    ‘I hear you can cure that. This new American wonder drug, penicillin, cures it, doesn’t it?’ he replied.

    ‘So it does, but generally we try to keep it for men who have taken honourable wounds in the field,’ I said. ‘Not rogues who caught a dose in a Roman knocking-shop.’ My English had improved a good deal in the past year, and I could speak to him in this colloquial way.

    He laughed, not at all ashamed. ‘Honourable wounds? That depends what you mean. I’ve dodged enough shells in my time. When you get one with your number on it…’

    A German officer in the next bed also laughed. ‘Never heard it called that before,’ he said. ‘You didn’t go to the Blue Fairy, did you? I could have warned you against that place.’

    The Englishman, who I shall call Stanley, turned to look at him. ‘Blooming heck,’ he said, ‘now there’s a turn-up for the books.’

    The German chuckled. ‘The disease rate in the Roman brothels is completely stable,’ he said, ‘at one hundred percent.’ I don’t know if this was true, though I had seen hordes of cases since Rome fell. I had heard the same saying about the brothels in Algiers.

    The conversation turned to other common experiences. ‘Sunny Italy, they call it?’ said the German, whose name was Hans, I think. ‘Goebbels himself could not come up with a more audacious lie.’

    ‘You’re right there,’ said the American airman who lay across the way, who I shall call Peter. ‘We’ve lost more planes to the weather than to flak. Why do you think I’m here?’ We encouraged him to go on. ‘We were bombing some railway sidings. My B-25 lost an engine. We were trying to limp back to Olbia, we hit a squall over the hills - crash-landed near Tivoli, I got this,’ he indicated his plastered leg, ‘and I got off lightly.’

    ‘Hard luck,’ sympathised the Englishman. ‘Still, you fly-boys can often stay indoors when it rains. We’re out in it all the time.’

    ‘True,’ said Hans, ‘and one can hardly put up an umbrella. But I can say that Italy is much better than Russia, for weather - quite different.’

    The mention of Russia intrigued all of us Westerners. So little information came out of Russia, and one never quite knew what to believe, though I made it my rule always to interpret any such news in a grimmest sense possible. This rule has rarely let me down. ‘Did you spend much time in Russia?’ I asked.

    ‘My division fought there since ‘41,’ he said, ‘and I joined it spring of ‘42. We fought for several months last year.’

    ‘At Stalingrad?’ asked Stanley.

    ‘Not at Stalingrad, or I wouldn't be here,’ said the German reasonably. ‘I’d be shivering in some Siberian cage. But we had it almost as bad. We gave Ivan a bloody nose, but he just kept coming and eventually we were down to a thousand men.’

    ‘In the whole division?’ asked Peter.

    ‘In the whole division, and other had it worse. If you hear me groaning in my sleep, gentlemen,’ he said, looking sombre, ‘I will be dreaming about the mortars. We retreated through the forest, fighting off one ambush after another, for days on end, it felt like, and always, always the mortars. We’d get through one fight and have a half an hour’s peace, then we’d hear that coughing noise again...’

    ‘Mortars are poor men’s artillery,’ I said. ‘What can you say about the place in general - how poor is it really?’

    He looked at me a bit pityingly. ‘Poorer than Poland, and that’s saying something, I can tell you,’ he said.

    ‘You had all the better kit, then,’ said Stanley.

    ‘Much good it did us.’

    ‘You’ve got better kit than we have,’ said Stanley, pursuing his point.

    ‘Have we? News to me,’ said Hans. This was an unfamiliar perspective; our troops took it for granted that the German equipment was better than ours, hence our defeat in 1940.

    ‘You’ve got the Tiger tank, and the 88,’ protested Peter. ‘I mean, in the air we have the edge. But on the ground you guys do. Don’t you?’

    ‘The 88’s a fine gun, but we don’t have many, and for that matter you have similar. What about your English field-gun? We hate it just as much.’

    Stanley looked unconvinced. ‘We’ve got nothing like the Tiger, though,’ he said. ‘Our lads wet themselves when one of them’s around.’ This I knew to be true: I had heard similar sentiments from our own men, stories about how an entire battalion in XIX Corps, an experienced unit and no mere green troops, had run from a single tank near L’Aquila.

    Hans smirked. ‘You know how much time they spend in the garage? My old friend Berndt, he’s a cheerful fellow. Never let anything get him down, not bad weather, not our idiot colonel, not the god-awful rations, not even that time we spent four days sitting in a railway siding getting occasionally bombed. Then they issued us with Tigers. A month later he was a nervous wreck. “Hans,” he said to me, “can’t we get proper tanks again?” He said that a couple of months ago. I hope he’s survived.’

    ‘But they can shoot up a Sherman, no problem,’ insisted Stanley.

    ‘Say they do, and you have five more to replace it,’ said Hans. ‘I understand how it goes, they wanted to make the Tiger scary, and they did. But I would prefer to have a tank that can actually move.’

    He lit a cigarette with great insouciance. I tapped the sign that said ‘VIETATO FUMARE/ DEFENSE DE FUMER/ NO SMOKING’. He shrugged. ‘I appear to have forgotten how to speak English,’ he said, in English. ‘What are you going to do to me - lock me up?