Commander Loftus William Jones: Fighting to the Very End!

Loftus William Jones was born in 1879 in Petersfield, Hampshire, a small town 17 miles to the north of the Naval Base at Portsmouth. His Father was Admiral Loftus Francis Jones, who retired from the Navy twenty years after his son was born in 1899. Given his Father’s position in the Royal Navy and the traditions of the day, a career in the Navy was the obvious choice for Loftus, and he attended the Royal Navy Academy in Fareham before going on to HMS Britannia in 1894, a shore-based training establishment.

Commander Loftus William Jones V.C.

On completion of his training he was posted to HMS Royal Sovereign, a pre-dreadnought battleship, as a midshipman. From this point, until he took command of HMS Shark in 1914, he became something of a nomad, moving from ship to ship, and holding more than 25 separate appointments. This gave Loftus a rounded education in the ways of the Senior Service. In 1901 he served aboard HMS Spiteful, a torpedo boat destroyer which at the time was only two years old. This suited Loftus more than the big ships, as he discovered that he preferred serving aboard the smaller vessels.

His first destroyer command was HMS Success, a four-year-old B-Class torpedo boat destroyer. He married in 1910 and would spend the rest of his time up until his promotion to commander serving in destroyers. In 1914, in what would become his final appointment, he was given command of HMS Shark. Shark was an Acasta class destroyer built in Wallsend by Swan Hunter. She was launched in 1912 and had a top speed of 29 knots, relatively fast for the time. Her armament consisted of 3 four-inch Mark IV guns, 1 QF 2 pounder pom-pom gun, and 2 single torpedo tubes.

HMS Shark

Shark was part of the 4th Flotilla, which at the outbreak of war became part of the Grand Fleet based out of Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. In 1916 the Grand Fleet took part in a huge naval battle with the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet off Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula.

On the afternoon of the 31st of May 1916 Commander Jones in HMS Shark led a division of destroyers to attack a German battlecruiser squadron. The fighting was intense, and HMS Shark’s bridge was hit by a German shell, disabling the steering gear, and killing or wounding many of the bridge crew. The commanding officer of another destroyer selflessly placed his ship between Shark and the enemy, in an attempt to protect her, but Jones, realising that this would almost certainly see the other vessel destroyed, ordered her to remain clear.

Jones had been wounded himself but made his way to the aft steering position to help to connect and man the aft steering gear. In the meantime the Germans had shelled and destroyed both the forward and aft gun positions. Jones now made his way to the midships gun, and personally took command of it, ensuring that it continued firing. Shark was being pummeled from close range by the German light cruisers and destroyers, and a few minutes after arriving at the position Commander jones was hit by a shell which tore off his leg above the knee.

Battle of Jutland WW1

Despite the severity of his wounds, Jones to everybody’s amazement, remained in position giving orders to the gun crew while a chief stoker improvised a tourniquet in an attempt to stem the bleeding. In the greatest traditions of the Royal Navy, Jones noticed that the Navy Ensign was not properly hoisted and ordered that another be raised in its place. Moments later Shark was dealt the fatal blow by the enemy.

HMS Shark was struck by a torpedo, fired from one of the German destroyers. She sank quickly, leaving only a few survivors in the water. These survivors were later picked up by a neutral ship, sadly Commander Jones was not amongst them. He had gone down with his vessel, fighting to the very end despite suffering wounds that would have incapacitated most men immediately.

Kviberg Cemetery War Memorial CWGC

This courageous and selfless commander refused to give in, and even when he was certain the ship would soon sink, he ordered his crew to prepare by donning lifejackets, while he himself remained at his station and continued fighting to the very end. For his immense bravery, and selfless actions he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross by the King in 1917 and is remembered on the war memorial Kviberg Cemetery in Sweden.  

The Boy Hero: John Travers Cornwell V.C.

John Travers Cornwell V.C.

The 16 year old Boy Sailor stood by his shattered gun, his crew mates around him dead and dying. Despite continuing enemy fire and the exposed position he was in he stood quietly, awaiting further orders. His devotion to his duty compelled him to remain at his position “just in case he was called upon for further action.” Many would have sought shelter from the onslaught, but John Travers Cornwell stood firm in the face of the enemy.

John Travers Cornwell was born on the 8th of January 1900 in West Ham, London. He was the second child of Eli, a tram driver originally from Cambridgeshire, and Lily, a native of London. The family lived on Clyde Place, Low Leyton in West Ham. Eli’s Job as a tram driver was the family’s sole source of income, and the family just had enough to make ends meet.

HMS Chester

John joined the Navy aged 15 on the 31 July 1915; less than a year later in May 1916 he found himself in action aboard HMS Chester at the Battle of Jutland aged just 16. HMS Chester was a Town Class Light Cruiser, originally ordered by the Greek Navy but pressed into service by the Royal Navy at the outbreak of hostilities. John was part of the gun crew on one of the ship’s 5.5 inch guns.

During the battle John’s position took heavy fire, and the ship sustained significant damage. John’s gun was put out of action as the men around him were killed or seriously injured. Despite the exposed position, and the carnage all around him John felt that he may be called upon for other duties, and that he should remain at his post.

Quietly standing by, despite suffering shrapnel wounds to the abdomen, John remained at his position until the ship withdrew from the battle. He was landed in Grimsby with the rest of the wounded but sadly died of his wounds just 24 hours later in Grimsby Hospital.

John Cornwell’s Grave in London

Following his Fathers death on military service in Essex, the family had fallen on hard times, and his mother’s poverty meant that John was buried in a common grave. Upon discovering his fate, and with the permission of his mother, John’s body was exhumed at the cost of the Admiralty and buried with full military honours. The tributes included a wreath from Admiral Sir David Beatty, and a floral anchor from his ship mates.

The Fighting Bradfords: A Most Remarkable Family

In 1885 George Bradford, a mining engineer from Chirnside, a small village just North of the border, married Amy Marian Nicholson from Brabourne in Kent. Nobody could have predicted at the time that this marriage would produce one of the most remarkable fighting families Britain had ever seen. Their four sons, Thomas; George; Roland and James would go on to win two Military Crosses, two Victoria Crosses, countless mentions in despatches, a Distinguished Service Order, and even a knighthood.

George Nicholson Bradford V.C.

Tragically, of the four brothers who went to war, only Thomas would survive. George; James and Roland were killed in action, George and Roland became the only two Brothers in the Great War to be awarded the Victoria Cross, James won the Military Cross for his actions in the field, and Roland became the youngest Brigadier General in the British army; a reward for his remarkable courage and leadership ability.

Roland Boys Bradford M.C. V.C.

George Nicholson Bradford was educated at the Royal Naval School in Mottingham, Kent. In 1904 he was commissioned into the Royal Navy as a Midshipman. During his time in the Navy he developed a talent for Boxing, going on to become the Navy Welterweight Champion. In 1909 he was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant following his daring rescue of a boy from below decks on a sinking trawler. By 1914 he had been promoted to Lieutenant and was serving aboard the Dreadnought Battleship, HMS Orion.

Iris II on the Mersey

On the 22nd of April 1918, George, now a Lieutenant Commander, was appointed to lead a seaman storming party during the Zeebrugge Raid, a British attempt to block the port of Zeebrugge, denying the Germans the use of the port as a strategic base for its U-Boats. George and the storming party sailed aboard HMS Iris II, a requisitioned Mersey Ferry.

HMS Iris II came alongside the mole in order to put ashore the storming parties that would neutralise the German Guns protecting the port. The crew, however, were finding it almost impossible to secure the parapet anchors and secure the vessel. The storming party could not be put ashore until the vessel was secured. George saw the danger and sprang into action. He spotted a derrick projecting out from the ship and over the mole. Despite the heavy seas he managed to climb it and make his way out over the mole. The heavy seas were crashing the derrick into the mole, but George clung on. Spotting his chance between waves, George leapt ashore. He managed to successfully secure the anchor but was tragically killed by German fire seconds later.  

James Barker Bradford M.C.

In 1916, Lieutenant Colonel Roland Boys Bradford was serving with the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry at Eaucourt L’Abbaye in France. His battalion was in support and the leading battalion had been cut down by German machine gun fire, and its commander severely wounded. Roland requested permission to take command of the exposed forward battalion and was granted permission. He dashed forward to take charge. Now leading two battalions he charged forward, somehow managing to rally the beleaguered men through his own energy and commitment. Against all odds they succeeded in capturing their objective. For his courage and outstanding leadership, Roland was awarded the Victoria Cross. Roland died on the 30th of November 1917, having just learned that he had been promoted to Brigadier General.

Sir Thomas Andrews Bradford D.S.O.

The full story of the Fighting Bradfords will be available in “Courage: Tales from the Great War”, RG Books, expected early 2021.

Norman Augustus Finch: Last Man Standing

As the prevailing wind changed dispersing the smoke screen, HMS Vindictive, the aging Arrogant Class Cruiser was hit by a torrent of fire from the German Guns on the shore. The upperworks bore the brunt of the barrage and many were injured by splinters from the battered vessel. Many of the Royal Marine Gunners in the foretop were killed, yet the guns continued to answer the German fire.

Norman Augustus Finch was born in Handsworth, Birmingham on Boxing Day in 1890. His Father Richard Finch was a Mail Porter for the Post Office, and the family had six other children, whom his Mother, Emma, stayed at home to care for. In 1983 the family had another child, George meaning there were now eight children living in the terraced property on Nineveh Road.

Norman Augustus Finch V.C.

In 1908 Norman Joined the Royal Navy as a Gunner in the Royal Marines Artillery, and was posted to China, serving on board HMS Minotaur, a first class armoured cruiser, and the flagship of the China Station. At the end of 1914, Minotaur was transferred to the Grand Fleet and participated in the Northern Patrol, a blockade of German ships preventing them from entering the Atlantic. This was a particularly tough posting, and Norman transferred to a shore based posting.

HMS Minotaur

On the 2nd of January 1915 he was promoted to Corporal, and two years later, promotion to Sergeant followed. In 1918 the admiralty planned a raid on the German occupied port of Zeebrugge in Belgium, which was being used as a strategic U-Boat station, from which the German Navy could terrorise allied shipping. The plan was to block the entrance to the port by sinking three obsolete cruisers filled with concrete, thus preventing German vessels from entering or leaving. Upon hearing about the raid, Sergeant Finch volunteered immediately, and was posted to HMS Vindictive.

For the raid, Sergeant Finch was assigned as second in command of the pompoms and Lewis guns situated in the foretop of the ship. As the Vindictive appeared from the dissipating smokescreen and the Germans let loose their maelstrom, the men around Sergeant Finch were cut down. Two shells hit the Foretop leaving all apart from Finch either dead or disabled. Despite being wounded himself, Finch continued to fire on the German defenders on the mole, scoring valuable hits before another direct hit finally put the guns out of action.

HMS Vindictive

Following the raid Norman was treated at the Naval hospital at Deal, in Kent for gunshot wounds to the right hand and leg, and on the 19th of July he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallant actions. He married in 1919 and moved to Portsmouth, where he was promoted again in 1920 to Quartermaster Sergeant, before leaving the Navy and taking a job as a Bank Messenger for Lloyds Bank. He died at St Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth in 1966 aged 74.

Surgery under Fire: The Falkland’s Combat Medics

Imagine a hospital and you probably picture a clean and clinical building with wards and surgical theatres, staffed by doctors and nurses in clean scrubs. What you probably wouldn’t picture is a freezing cold, abandoned refrigerated mutton plant in a wet, windswept and desolate bay. That is exactly what the British Field Hospital in Ajax Bay on the Falklands was.

Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly OBE

Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly, the commanding officer of 3 Commando, Royal Marines medical unit, had initially set up a field hospital aboard the Canberra, a cruise liner that was requisitioned as a troop carrier for the Task Force.

The first casualties treated on board the Canberra were Argentinians wounded in the assault on Fanning head at the entrance to San Carlos bay, where the Canberra now lay. This would not be the case for long as Argentinian spotters began to relay British ship positions to Air Bases on the Argentinian mainland.

As the air raids came in, along with reports of casualties, Surgeon Commander Jolly, as lead medic, went up in a helicopter to search for casualties. Two men from HMS Ardent were spotted in the water, and despite the fact he had no life jacket or immersion suit, Dr Jolly volunteered to be winched down into the freezing water to rescue them. Twice he entered the water and brought bothy men to safety.

P&O Liner Canberra

By the time he reached the Canberra the decision was made to withdraw the Canberra to a safe distance because of the risk posed to the unarmed vessel by the Argentinian air attacks. The medical team would be landed in Ajax Bay by landing craft without delay. It is reported that even as the medics were going over the side, the Canberra was taking in its anchors in readiness to move.

On reaching land they were faced with freezing temperatures, boggy ground, and a dusty abandoned mutton plant with few windows for natural light. This freezing, grey, and uninviting looking building was to become the British Field Hospital, including accommodation and surgical facilities. A far cry from the sterile and well lit surgical theatres back home.

Abandoned Meat Packing Plant at Ajax Bay

In no time the medics and their accompanying Royal Marines set to work setting up surgical theatres, accommodation, and digging their own air raid bunkers outside, in which they would spend most of their time when not treating patients. The patients began coming in both British and Argentinian, injured from both sides being treated equally by the medics.

Eventually the inevitable happened, and Ajax bay came under attack from Argentinian Jets. The British had been unable to paint red crosses on the roof as the hospital was in the middle of a logistics dump, which was a legitimate military target, and to do so would have contravened the Geneva Convention. During the attack several bombs hit the ammunition dumps surrounding the hospital, and two landed in the roof space of the hospital itself. Both failed to explode but sat in the roof space above both the surgical areas and accommodation block. Throughout the whole attack, surgery continued.

HMS Ardent

Despite doubts over whether the unexploded bombs had time delay fuses, medical operations continued; there was nowhere else to set up. After 33 hours it was determined that the bombs had simply failed to explode, but this didn’t mean they no longer posed a threat. Despite the air raids, and unexploded ordnance, the medics of the British Field Hospital saved hundreds of lives from both sides; a demonstration of humanity in the midst of the horrors of war.

For his efforts Surgeon Commander Jolly was awarded the OBE by the Queen. He dedicated the award to all those involved in treating the wounded at Ajax Bay labelling it “Other People’s Bloody Efforts!” Ten years later during a visit to Argentina he was awarded their equivalent of the OBE for the excellent treatment of Argentinian airmen and soldiers during the conflict. This made Dr Jolly the first serviceman in any conflict to be honoured by both sides.

October 16th, On this Day in…

Navy Wipes out a Convoy, Hits Port

October 16th, 1940

Big Guns of the Royal Navy

The Navy has shown it’s power again. It has wiped out an entire German convoy, including the escorting Kriegsmarine vessels. After blasting Cherbourg last week they have now turned their big guns on Dunkirk, blasting the port and starting fires.

The admiralty spokesman stated: “A German convoy of three supply ships and two escorting vessels accompanying them has been destroyed. One Merchant vessel was around 7,000 tons one of the others, which were smaller, exploded before sinking.” “In addition another vessel of around 7,000 tons has been successfully attacked and hit with three torpedoes.

Two Plotted to Aid Enemy

October 16th, 1941

Enemy Ears are Listening

After evidence by a witness had been heard, two men were sentenced at the Old Bailey yesterday on charges accusing them of “Intent to assist the enemy.”

Four men were on trial; Wilfred Gordon Snape, 41, grocer; James Chapman Winn, 46, engraver; Joseph Ashmore Thumwood, 50, fireman, and Ernest Wyatt, 34, decorator. It was alleged that they conspired to produce and distribute written and printed materials concerning enemy wireless communications with intent to assist the enemy.

Winn and Wyatt were found not guilty and discharged. Snape and Thunwood were found guilty and were each sentenced to three years penal servitude.

Midnight Bid to Sail Channel to Join Axis Army

October 16th, 1942

Folkestone Harbour

An attempt by two young men, British subjects of Italian parentage, to cross the Channel in a fishing boat with the object of reaching Italy to join the Italian Army, had a sequel a Folkestone.

Lorenzo Ogni, 20, and Nicodemo Vannucci, 18, were each sentenced to three months hard labour for the theft of a fishing boat; three months for going to a destination outside of the United Kingdom without leave, and three months for unlawfully attempting voluntarily to enter enemy territory.

October 15th – On this Day in…

Ajax Again – Sinks 3 Italians

October 15th, 1940

HMS Ajax

HMS Ajax, the famous cruiser which battered the Graf Spee in the River Plate battle , has sunk 2 Italian destroyers and, in the face of heavy odds, crippled another in two brilliant Mediterranean Actions.

HMS York finished off the damaged vessel and then the navy showed its complete contempt for Mussolini’s navy.

Despite the risk of giving away their position in clear weather they radioed the position of the sinking vessel and its survivors on Italian wavelengths. Italian aircraft picked up on the transmission but failed to score any hits on the British ships. A report on the incident stated:

 “HMS Ajax made contact with three Italian destroyers of the 679 ton Airone class, about eighty miles south-east of Sicily. HMS Ajax at once engaged and two of the destroyers were sunk outright.” “Shortly after this encounter Ajax sighted an enemy force composed of one heavy cruiser and four destroyers.” “Ajax again engaged and succeeded in crippling one of the enemy destroyers. The remainder of the force escaped into the darkness.”

“Dead” VC is Prisoner

October 15th, 1940

Captain Wilson

A British officer reported to have been killed defending a machine-gun post in Somaliland and awarded the VC is alive, and a prisoner of war in the hands of the Italians.

The officer is Lieutenant (acting Captain) Eric Charles Twelves Wilson of the East Surrey Regiment, attached to the Somaliland Camel Corps. When informed, Captain Wilson’s mother was said to be unable to believe the news. His VC citation read:

 “For four days the posts manned by Somali soldiers were blasted by short-range gunfire. Captain Wilson was wounded in one shoulder and one eye, and was suffering from malaria.”

Wins DSO for his 21st Birthday

October 15th, 1941

Paddy Finucane

Irish born RAF ace Paddy Finucane has been awarded the DSO on his 21st Birthday. Paddy, acting Squadron Leader has shot down twenty-three enemy planes and already holds the DFC with two bars.

Axis Lose 12 more over Malta: 94 Since Sunday

October 15th, 1942

Spitfire on Malta

The Spitfires of Malta shot down twelve more enemy aircraft; four bombers and eight fighters were downed while several more were damaged. The battle brings the number of enemy aircraft downed over or near Malta to ninety-four since Sunday. British losses were twelve Spitfires but five pilots are safe.  

October 11th – On this Day in…

October 11th, 1940

Navy Guns Nazi Port

Royal Navy in Action

Big guns of the Royal Navy carried out a terrific bombardment of the Nazi held port of Cherbourg. Helped by RAF spotting planes the Navy blazed away at the docks, and shipping, and the fires could be seen some forty miles away. An RAF Squadron Leader who was over the area at the same time described the scene as “hell let loose” he continued “as we went over the English coast the glare and explosions appeared to be so close that I imagined at first that we must be off course.”  

October 11th, 1941

Smash-Raid on Cologne

Halifax Bomber

After nine consecutive nights of poor weather grounding our bombers the RAF carried out a fierce attack involving more than 200 aircraft. The aircraft included four-engine Halifax bombers with their huge payloads. While they were smashing enemy industrial targets in Germany, other RAF planes were hitting the docks at Ostend, Dunkirk, and Bordeaux. Ten bombers failed to return.

While these attacks were ongoing British night fighter-bombers were pounding enemy aerodromes in Holland and France leaving a trail of destruction. At one aerodrome in Holland incendiary bombs started one large fire and two smaller ones. At another Dutch aerodrome, a large plane on the ground was seen to be well alight.

October 11th, 1943

He Hung from Burning Plane as Huns Attacked

RAF Marauder

With his shoes and flying boots ripped off by the wind and cannon shells from German fighters ripping into his plane, Staff-Sergeant Air Gunner, La Verne F. Stein hung unconscious half-way out of the escape window of a smoking Marauder bomber. High over France the Marauder had been set ablaze and a crash seemed inevitable.

Stein decided to bail out. Then halfway through the escape window the parachute flew open a moment before Stein was ready to jump. Floating out, the parachute jerked him against the side of the plane knocking him unconscious. The wind froze his feet. Stunned and bleeding Stein dangled there. Another gunner, Technical Sergeant Kovalchik saw his plight and crawled to his aid. With the cold air numbing his fingers Kovalchik fought to loosen the ‘chute. Once he almost succeeded, his numbed fingers failing at the last tug.

The ‘chute trailed out of the plane again; another German shell struck, Kovalchik, wounded, shook his head and went back to work. Stein, conscious again, gave a hand. The parachute was loosened, and Stein was pulled into the plane. Miraculously the Marauder was still flying, the enemy aircraft were seen off by Spitfires, and Kovalchik and Stein were brought home safely.

The Heroes of HMS Jervis Bay

HMS Jervis Bay, built by Vickers Limited in Barrow-in-Furness, and launched in 1922 started life as a Commonwealth Line steamer. In 1939 she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and converted into an armed merchant cruiser. She was fitted with seven outdated, late 19th century 6 inch guns and two, even older 3 inch guns for anti-aircraft defence. In May 1940 Jervis Bay was assigned to convoy protection duties and was handed the role of escort for a convoy of merchant ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Bermuda that were bound for Britain carrying vital supplies. Jervis Bay was the only escort for this convoy consisting of 37 vessels.

HMS Jervis Bay

The Admiral Scheer was a German Heavy Cruiser of the Kriegsmarine, often called a pocket battleship, she was fast and heavily armed. Launched in April 1933 the Admiral Scheer had a top speed of just over 28 knots and was armed with six 11 inch guns in triple turrets, and eight 5.9 inch guns in single turrets. She was tasked with hunting down and sinking allied merchant vessels, and was extremely successful, as she was easily able to outgun and outrun most vessels assigned to escort duty. The slow lumbering merchant vessels were easy pickings once the escort vessels were dispatched.

Admiral Scheer

In October 1940, the Admiral Scheer slipped through the Denmark Strait with orders to locate and destroy allied shipping. On the 5th of November, convoy HX 84, escorted by Jervis Bay was approaching the coast of Iceland, on route to Britain from Nova Scotia when lookouts sighted a ship on the horizon. The ship was eventually identified as a German pocket battleship. The Jervis Bay was no match for the Admiral Scheer; she had a top speed of just 15 knots compared with the Admiral Scheer’s 28, and her miniscule vintage 6 inch guns could have little impact on the German Heavy Cruiser’s thick armour plating. The Captain of Jervis Bay, Edward Fegen didn’t flinch. Ordering the convoy to turn away and scatter, he steered his ship straight at the heavily armed German vessel and steamed towards her, drawing her fire away from the convoy saving all but five of the vessels. Despite being no match for the Admiral Scheer, Jervis bay fought on valiantly until the very end.

Captain Edward Fegen VC

In a one sided battle Jervis Bay was eventually sunk, but the lightly armed vessel had bought enough time for the majority of the convoy to escape. Captain Fegen went down with his ship and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his selfless and courageous actions that saved 31 vessels carrying vital war materiel. Further posthumous awards were bestowed on Ordinary Seaman Bennett Southwell for “great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty.” The other was awarded to Temporary Sub-Lieutenant Jack Maynard Cholmondeley Easton for equal heroism; both men were awarded the George Cross. George Medals were awarded to a further 9 officers and seamen.

7th of October

One Fatality in Long Raid

7th of October 1940Liverpool Hit by Waves of Planes

German Bombers

Liverpool suffered a bombing raid for the first time in a week. Waves of enemy aircraft spent several hours over the city. Despite the extended raid there was only one reported fatality as well as slight damage to a hospital but no injuries.

Incendiary bombs failed to have a significant effect as they were quickly tackled by firefighters and others on the ground.

7th of October 1941RAF Rout Nazi Raiders in Russia

RAF in Russia

RAF Fighters in Russia hit nearly every bomber in a Nazi raid on their airfield. Three Junkers 88 aircraft were shot down and several more were damaged and unlikely to make it back to base. The German aircraft caused no damage to the aerodrome and their was only one slight injury on the ground.

7th of October 1943Large Scale Bombing Raids on Southern and North West Germany

Lancaster Bombers

Lancaster bombers of the RAF took part in large scale bombing raids over North West and Southern Germany. Berlin admitted that heavy damage was caused by the raid. Seven of the Lancasters failed to return.

7th of October 1944Royal Navy Seize Greek Island

Landing parties from the Arethusa Class Cruiser Aurora and the Destroyer Catterick have attacked and taken control of the small Greek island of Levitha. Following a bombardment by the two ships, armed raiding parties went ashore, and after a fierce fight, took control of the eastern half of the island from the German Garrison. Following a further bombardment from the 6 inch guns of Aurora the German garrison commander surrendered control of the island to the Royal Navy raiding party.

Operation Biting: Stealing the German’s top secret radar apparatus

One of the major races of World War Two was the race to develop a reliable radar system to detect enemy aircraft early enough to send up the fighter intercept groups to shoot them down. Of course, both sides were determined to conceal their progress from the other, and the development of these systems was a closely guarded secret. By late 1941 the British had begun to suspect that the Germans had got their noses in front, and aerial photographs seemed to confirm this. There was only one course of action; send a raiding party across the channel and steal it!

RAF Whitley Transport

The plan would involve parachuting into enemy held Northern France, attacking the German radar station, stealing the apparatus and then smuggling it back across the channel in Royal Navy gunboats; on top of all that they would have to create enough of a mess to convince the Germans that they had destroyed the radar and not stolen it.

The man chosen to lead the raid was Major John Frost, the man who would go on to distinguish himself in the assault on Arnhem Bridge during operation Market Garden in 1944.

John Frost

The attack would take place on the night of the 27th of February 1942, when the 2nd Parachute Battalion under Major Frost would parachute in along with a number of engineers and radar specialists who had volunteered to go along on the raid in order to examine and dismantle the apparatus. The Royal Navy would send a number of Motor Gunboats and landing craft across the channel to transport the raiders along with the radar apparatus back to the south coast of England.

The weather on the night of the 27th was perfect with clear skies and good visibility. The parachutists were transported in Whitley transport aircraft from RAF Thruxton, near Andover in Hampshire. The Royal Navy flotilla left the South Coast of England in the Afternoon. Despite coming under heavy anti-aircraft fire as they crossed the French coast the drop was almost a complete success, and all of C Company were inserted right on target. The only mishap was when half of Nelson company were dropped 2 miles short of the drop zone.

2nd Parachute Battalion

The whole process of examining and dismantling the apparatus was carried out under heavy enemy fire, but with Major Frost leading from the front the paratroops fought tirelessly to hold off any German counter attacks. When the order was given to withdraw to the beach it quickly became apparent that the beach had not yet been cleared, and the men had to withdraw back to the Villa, which by now had been retaken by the Germans. Yet again the paratroopers took control. On returning to the beach Frost discovered that the soldiers of Nelson Company who had missed their drop zone had finally arrived and taken out the German machine gun nest that was holding the beach for the Germans.

Motor Gun Boat

Signal flares were put up, and out of the darkness the naval party arrived to evacuate the beach and take the men and radar apparatus out to the motor gun boats and back across the channel. Losses were limited to 2 killed, 6 wounded and 6 captured when they were left behind on the beach as the naval party left. The raid was a huge success, and gave the allies a significant advantage over the Germans when it came to radar countermeasures, which would eventually be used before the D-Day landings as part of a diversionary raid.

The Parachute Regiment displayed the same courage and skill that they would later show at Arnhem in 1944 when faced with overwhelming odds. They continue to be an elite part of the British Army today, and are often at the forefront of British operations all over the world.