October 19th – On This Day in…

October 19th, 1940


Car production replaced with military vehicle production

The manufacturing of new cars for civilian use has been suspended in Britain. There are now only around 400 new cars for sale in the country. The following announcement came from the Ministry of Transport:

“a recent inquiry into the numbers of new cars in the hands of dealers and manufacturers had shown that after eliminating cars which must in the national interest be exported, 400 were left for civilian use.”

Before the war, the number of new registrations in a year was around 275,000.

October 19th, 1940


Public Air Raid Shelters

The Minister of Home Security, Mr Herbert Morrison has today announced sweeping measures to speed up the construction of public air raid shelters in every town. The Government will bear the cost of the building and equipping of all approved types of shelters. The financial obstacles which have delayed the construction have now been swept aside by the introduction of this new scheme.

Local authorities had been worried about covering the costs of shelters that may be used by people coming from other areas, but that has now been eliminated Mr Morrison declared.

October 19th, 1940

Nazi Air Officer Escapes, Is Caught

Grizedale Hall POW Camp

A German Air Force officer who escaped from a prisoner of war camp in the Lake District was recaptured after a few hours on the run. Police and the Home Guard quickly threw up a cordon around the area. The German officer was soon caught in the remote countryside.

October 19th, 1941

Radio Doses of Blitz Noise to Cure Nerves

The BBC could broadcast five minute concerts of air raid noises weekly; a suggestion which Doctor A. E. Carver, a specialist in nervous and mental afflictions has suggested could defeat the terror of the noise experienced during a raid.   

The noise is a medicine which could defeat the terror experienced during an air raid and could form part of the training for civil defence volunteers, to immunise them from the noises and allow them to carry out their jobs more effectively.

October 19th, 1942

Patrolling again on Desert Front

Desert artillery bombardment resumes

Following a great sand storm in the Egyptian desert, patrolling and artillery bombardment have now resumed. Our long range fighters have successfully attacked enemy transport on the coastal road.

In other action, British planes armed with torpedoes has successfully attacked a German supply vessel which was seen to be listing heavily to port, and was beached near the coast of Tripolitania.

On this Day in…

St. Pauls Bombed

10th October 1940

In a show of defiance, Evensong was sung in the crypt of bombed St Pauls Cathedral. The choir assembled in the shadows of the crypt beneath the ruined high altar which was hit during a night time Nazi bombing raid. Canon Alexander who was sleeping in the crypt when the bomb hit and had miraculously escaped injury.

St Pauls Cathedral

Canon Alexander told reporters “After the crash I hurried up the stairs, but the place was so thick with dust that for a while I couldn’t see anything.” “I suppose the damage could have been worse, but it was quite bad enough.”

Air Arm Hit Nazi Sea Lane

10th October 1941

Halifax Bomber of Coastal Command

Naval aircraft attacked German shipping and communications along the Soviet battlefront. The attack took place over the Vestfjord area of Norway leaving a 1,000 ton supply ship burning, a 1,500 ton ship abandoned, and two escort vessels were also hit. The attack also targeted pylons supplying the Germans on Grond Island.

The mission was deemed a success, no British aircraft were damaged, and all returned home safely.

Great Air Blitz Opens on Rommel

10th October 1942

Allied air forces carried out one of the heaviest concentrated blitzes ever known in the Western desert. During the day/night offensive they destroyed two advanced enemy aerodromes plus a German supply train carrying guns and ammunition. The attack was carried out by light bombers escorted by hundreds of fighters flown by British, Canadian, American, Australian, and South African pilots.

Kittyhawk (L) and Spitfires on the Ground in the Desert (R)

Hundreds of tons of high explosive ordnance was dropped without the loss of a single bomber. The bombers were protected by formations of Kittyhawk fighters, and Spitfires which successfully fought off repeated attempts to intercept the allied formations.

On this Day in…

R.A.F. Harassing Italians

Mussolini’s Desert Problems

8th of October 1940

British in Egypt

The RAF has pursued its harassing of the Italians in Egypt with a bomber attack on a motor transport concentration and army tents near Sidi Barrani. Sidi Barrani is the farthest point attained by the Italians in last months advance into Egypt, and it is from their that they will probably launch the expected desert blitzkrieg.

Extensive reconnaissance flights are also being carried out over enemy territory by the British Air Force. Careful watch is being kept on Italian preparations which are though to require a least another couple of weeks.

Tank Chief is Crash Victim

8th of October 1941

Major General Pope

Major General V. V. Pope, Brigadier H. E. Russell, and Colonel E. S. Unwin have been killed in a flying accident in the Middle East it was reported in London.

Major General Pope who was fifty years of age was one of Britain’s best-known tank officers and was the first military member of the tank board.

He served in France, Belgium, and Russia from September 1914 to the end of the Great War, winning the Military Cross and the DSO, was mentioned seven times in despatches and rose to command a battalion on the North Staffs Regiment.

They Dodged Hun for 1,600 Miles

8th of October 1942

Sgt Louis Massey

Escaping from a Nazi prison camp in France, two British soldiers reported missing after Dunkirk walked 1,600 miles in bitter weather through Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Poland to reach safety in Russia. Most of the time they were dodging Nazis, and for long spells they lived on berries, mushrooms and grass; anything they could find in the woods and fields.

It was only when a Russian recently arrived in this country, called at a London house that the parents of one of the men who made the trek knew that their son, Sergeant Louis Massey, 35, was alive and safe. He is now working at the British Embassy in Moscow and has recently been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

5th Mass for Volturno River Battle

8th of October 1943

Bernard Montgomery

The armies of Clark and Kesselring face each other this morning across the 150ft wide waters of the Volturno River, 100 miles from Rome. Along a seventeen mile stretch from Capua to the sea the 5th Army is massing on the southern bank of this distant moat before Rome. Kesselring is hastily manning his defences on the north bank.

On the Adriatic coast too the Germans have suffered another reverse. General Montgomery, after beating back many counter attacks by Tiger tanks and Infantry at Termoli, launched a brilliant assault which carried his troops to some high ground.

The Great Sand Sea Raiders

They came from the great sand sea, wreaked havoc amongst the enemy, and melted away into the shadows as quickly as they arrived. David Stirling’s band of piratical raiders struck fear into the hearts of the enemy. With their dusty mismatched uniforms and straggly beards they looked like a ragged collection of misfits and vagabonds; in truth they were an elite fighting force the likes of which the world had never seen before.

Sir David Stirling

David Stirling was not exactly the 1940’s British Army Officer type. Partial to a little too much socialising and probably a little work shy, he was malingering in a military hospital after injuring himself in a parachute jump, when he came up with the idea for a special raiding force that would carry out lightning raids on enemy installations in North Africa. Britain already had a Commando force that carried out raids from the Sea; but the Germans expected seaborne operations and coastlines tended to be well defended; what they never expected was that the enemy would attack from the vast expanse of the North African Desert; the great sand sea.

North African Desert

Stirling’s idea involved small groups of heavily armed and highly trained commandos, attacking the lightly defended axis airfields from the desert, and then melting away into the night. To Stirling the idea of lightning night time  raids promised adventure, and the opportunity to significantly disrupt the enemy’s operations. 

The Special Air Service

Jock Lewes was Stirling’s polar opposite. Disciplined, fit, and dedicated to soldiering Lewes was the archetypal British military officer. The differences between the two men were as day and night, yet between them they recruited and trained a group of men that would become regarded as the finest special forces unit in the world.

Getting the idea through the chain of command would not be easy however. The Army’s doctrine had changed little since the Great War; new and somewhat radical ideas were seen as a threat to the traditions of the Army. Sneaking around at night blowing up aircraft and then retreating into the darkness was simply not the done thing. Stirling knew that only a General would even give consideration to an idea like this, but getting an audience with the top brass in the middle of a war would be a near impossible task. Undeterred, Sterling, who was still in crutches following his accident, made his was to Middle East Headquarters, ditched his crutches and proceeded to climb a wall and break in. 

The guards were quickly alerted to Stirling’s break in by his abandoned crutches and promptly raised the alarm. Stirling made a dash for the nearest office marked ‘adjutant general’. The office was occupied by none other than one of Stirling’s former instructors, a red faced Major who thought little of Stirling as a student and promptly threw him out. Stirling had more luck in the next office, which was occupied by the Deputy Chief of Staff, General Sir Neil Ritchie. Stirling handed his proposal to Ritchie who was interested enough to order the Major in the next office, the very same former instructor who threw Stirling out of his office, to offer him every assistance in bringing his plan to fruition.

SAS Insignia

And so the Special Air Service was born. Over the next 12 months this band of highly armed desert raiders crept up to enemy bases in the dead of night, and destroyed everything they could lay explosives on, blowing up, and shooting up aircraft, petrol tankers and supply vehicles, then making good their escape across the desert, before their enemy knew what had hit them. 

After the war the SAS was disbanded, but later reformed in 1947. The regiment survives to this day, and from its humble beginnings in North Africa, remains one of, if not the finest fighting force on the planet.