The Headlines on this Day…

Monday 7th of December 1914

King George Meets King Albert and Reviews Belgium Soldiers

King George Visits the Troops

King George’s historic visit to his soldiers is at an end, and his majesty is back in London. Regardless of all personal danger, he visited trenches while shells were bursting but a little distance away. “That is all the more reason I should go among my soldiers. There is no reason why I should not take risks, they take them” he said when told it might not be safe.  

He paid special honour to the brave Belgians by reviewing a number of King Alberts Soldiers.

Tuesday 7th of December 1915

Russia to Attack Bulgaria? Our Allies Marching to the Danube Across the Snows

Russian Troops

A telegram received yesterday states that the Tsar has telegraphed to M Pasitch, the Serbian Premier, saying that he will not tolerate the disappearance of Serbia, or the loss of her independence. “Russia” added his majesty, “has already made her plans to save Serbia.”

Russian troops are marching to the Danube, where large forces are now being concentrated, and Cossacks are operating in the Caucasus, where the snow in places is 10ft deep!

Thursday 7th of December 1916

Mr Lloyd George to be Premier: War Secretary Accepts Office After Mr Bonar Law Had Declined

David Lloyd George

Mr Lloyd George is to be Premier, and the nation has got the man it wanted. Rumours, statements, official and otherwise, were afloat yesterday, and the news changed every hour. But later came really definite news from the Press Bureau that Mr Lloyd George had consented to form a cabinet in co-operation with Mr Bonar Law. Thus ends the great political crisis. What the nation owes to him for organising our factories at the time of the shell shortage is now history. As Minister of Munitions he has organised our vast resources for what has proved a war of machinery. The employment of women labour has been an unqualified success.

Friday 7th of December 1917

Two Gothas Downed and the Six Occupants Captured

German Gotha Heavy Bomber

Two of the Gothas that raided England are not returning to Germany, and neither are the crews, who will sojourn in England pro tem. One of the captured pilots, who is 6ft. 4in. in height, is said to be only sixteen years of age. Never have the raiders arrived at such an awkward hour, but Londoners who were aroused from their slumbers at a time when the lark is alleged to be astir, were uniformly cheerful and cracked jokes, invariably uncomplimentary to Fritz and his habits.

Saturday 7th of December 1940

Nazi Pirate Chased

HMS Carnarvon Castle

A fast, heavily armed German raider, disguised as a merchantman, has been located, fought, and chased in the South Atlantic Ocean by a British armed merchant cruiser. The news was revealed yesterday in an admiralty communique, which said that the British ship, HMS Carnarvon Castle, was in action Thursday with the German in the South Atlantic.

It is understood in London that the scene of the action was about 700 miles north-east of Montevideo, the South-American port outside which the Graf Spee was scuttled.

The Carnarvon Castle is expected to reach Montevideo on Monday, apparently seeking repairs. The Uruguayan Government have granted permission for her to enter.

Sunday 7th of December 1941

Germans in Retreat

Cossacks Smash von Kleist

Russian Cossack Cavalry

Von Kleist’s attempt to make a stand outside Taganrog was smashed yesterday by the army of General Remizov.

Russian troops swept down the plain of Taganrog as the Germans again fled along the road towards Mariupol.

While German tanks are bogged up in mud and slush, Cossack cavalry waiting for just this moment have flung themselves upon the retreating Nazis with all their fury. One section of them is riding hard along the coast, cutting off small bodies of Germans and wiping them out.

Other sections of Cossacks are sweeping down from the north-east. They have crossed the river Miuss, where the Germans were preparing a new defence line, and are rushing down to coast behind to off the main line of retreat.

Monday 7th of December 1942

RAF Beat Weather, Bomb Rhine Centres

Nine of Strong Force Missing

South-west Germany was the target last night for a strong force of Royal Air Force Bombers. Karlsruhe, important traffic, and industrial centre, was the RAF’s main target, states the German News Agency. The adjoining town of Iffezheim, 20 miles to the south-east, was also raided.

Bad weather made observation of the results impossible. It is officially stated that nine of our bombers are missing, but two enemy fighters were destroyed.

The Headlines on this Day on…

Friday 27th November 1914

Loss of HMS Bulwark: British Battleship Blown up in Sheerness Harbour While Band Played: “Tragic Accident”

HMS Bulwark

The battleship Bulwark was blown up at Sheerness Harbour early yesterday morning. At the time of the Explosion the band of the battleship was playing. Only twelve men were saved out of a crew which numbered between 700 and 800. All the officers perished. The vice and rear Admirals who were at Sheerness have reported their conviction that it was an internal magazine explosion which sent the ship asunder.

The ship had entirely disappeared when the smoke cleared away. An inquiry will be held today, which may possibly throw more light on the occurrence. The Bulwark, it should be noted, is a Battleship of an old but useful type, and had it not been for the tragic death toll her loss would not have been very considerable to the British Navy.

Monday 27th November 1916

Led the Line When Officers Fell

Irish Sergeant Saves Critical Situation and Wins V.C.

Sergeant Robert Downie

When most of the officers had been wounded this non-commissioned officer re-organised the attack, which had been temporarily checked. At the critical moment he rushed forward alone shouting “come on the Dubs”. This stirring appeal met with an immediate response and the line rushed forward at his call.

That was how Sergeant Robert Downie, of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers won his V.C. His magnificent gallantry, like that of the six other officers and men who are also awarded the V.C. is recorded in a supplement to the London Gazette.

Wednesday 27th November 1940

Christmas Truce ‘NO’ by Premier

Winston Churchill

Mr Churchill will have nothing to do with any proposal for a Christmas armistice. He said so in Parliament yesterday. A labour M.P. asked him if he would approach the Vatican or some other neutral state to arrange a 48 hour armistice at Christmas.

“No,” he replied. He will not even consider a proposal from someone else for a Christmas armistice. Asked if such a proposal from a neutral state would be considered, Mr Churchill answered “It would be rejected.”

Friday 27th November 1942

First Army 24 Miles from Tunis

British forces are now 24 miles from Tunis, according to the unofficial Morocco Radio last night. Vichy radio said the allies were just 22 miles from the Capital. Further South the radio added, fighting has been going on for possession of two mountain ranges on the Algerian-Tunisian front. One of them is now in Allied hands it was claimed.

25th of October – On this Day Special

World War 1

25th of October 1917

VC Hero at Passchendaele


The third battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) is now into a third month. The British currently hold Hill 60, a spoil heap on the Ypres-Comines railway. It was during this battle that 2nd Lieutenant Hugh Colvin from Burnley Earned his Victoria Cross. Colvin started his military career as a Private in the 8th (Royal Irish) Hussars serving in India and retired from the Army as a Major having earned his commission on the battlefield in 1917. He was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion the Cheshire Regiment, and attached to the 9th Battalion in which he won his V.C. for taking command of two companies when their commanding officers were killed and leading them in an assault against German machine gun posts under heavy fire.

World War 2

25th of October 1940

RAF Coastal Blitz

AVRO Manchester

RAF bombers swept the coast of occupied France in the biggest blitz to date. Aircraft were over occupied France for more than an hour protecting a convoy from German long range guns. At the same time, German Aircraft attacked the convoy, and the escorting ships opened up with everything at their disposal including anti-aircraft guns and Lewis Guns. None of the ships suffered a direct hit.

25th of October 1941

Naples Ablaze for Fourth Successive Night

RAF Wellington Bomber

Fires burning in the Italian city of Naples are still burning for a fourth successive night, as RAF bombers continue their campaign. For more than six hours the RAF kept up the attack dropping thousands of pounds of High Explosives. The port and railway were the main targets, the reason for which is though to be to prevent the city from being used as a supply depot for German and Italian forces in Libya.

25th of October 1942

Allies Smash Rommel’s Lines

British Tanks in Egypt

After the biggest artillery barrage of the war so far, British, Dominion and Allied infantry have smashed through Rommel’s outer defences in Egypt. Tanks have been brought up and fierce fighting is now under way inside the German lines. The artillery barrage was described by an eye witness as the biggest since the Battle of the Somme.

26th of October 1943

Red Army on the Hunt

Red Army Armour

The Germans are in full retreat in the East as an avalanche of Russians tanks pursue them. Reports say that the German soldiers are ditching weapons and even loot on the roadside as they flee the Red Army’s armour.

In other News

25th of October 1950

Atomic Scientists Show of Loyalty

Many foreign born scientists now working in Britain on Atom splitting and Atomic weapons projects have handed in their passports confining themselves to Britain in a show of loyalty to their adopted nation. Following the disappearance of one scientist, and the discovery that another was betraying secrets, a group of scientist met and decided on the gesture in order to prove their loyalty and dedication to the work.

25th of October 1960

Queen in near miss with Luftwaffe

Luftwaffe Sabre Fighter Aircraft

Three dramatic moves have been made following the news that two German Sabre jet fighters narrowly missed a 1000 m.p.h. collision with an aircraft carrying the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. The West German Government issued a formal apology through its embassy in London to the Queen on behalf of the Luftwaffe; a joint investigation was set up involving the RAF and the Luftwaffe to investigate the incident, and finally the Luftwaffe have opened an internal inquiry to identify the pilots, telling all officers to stand by, all night if necessary.

25th of October 1970

Freed Briton in “Spy” Riddle

Ship’s Officer Peter Crouch , held by the Chinese for two-and-a-half years, flew back to Britain and freedom and immediately became the centre of a “spy” mystery. The riddle that he posed on his homecoming; was he or was he not spying for the Navy?

At first he said that he was and that he had made notes on Chinese warships and that the Navy had asked him to, but he later changed his mind and said that the Navy hadn’t asked him to spy, and that his actions were all carried out on his own initiative.

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.

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 12th – On this Day in…

RAF Strike by Day and Night

October 12th 1941

Blenheim Bombers

After daylight sweeps over the channel in which RAF fighters shot down seven enemy fighter aircraft for the loss of two aircraft, the RAF carried out another fierce bombing raid on the French side of the channel the same night.

Large fires were set on the docks at Boulogne, after a daylight sweep as the night bombers concentrated on targets further inland. Another formation of Blenheims, escorted by fighters attacked an enemy convoy of the coast of Holland.

Nazis Admit ‘Were on the Defensive’

October 12th 1942

Germans on the Defensive

A sensational statement on German radio by a military spokesman admitted that Hitler was turning from the offensive to the defensive. That is the position on the eve of the fourth winter of the war declared the spokesman in a broadcast to millions of German listeners. The German listeners were also to that “The end of the war cannot be foreseen.”

“The speeches we heard from the Fuhrer and Marshall Goering express a transition in the military situation” the spokesman said.

Fifth Push 15 miles

Clark says ‘Hit ‘em hard’

October 12th 1943

American Soldiers of the Fifth Advance

The right wing of General Clark’s Fifth Army has advanced fifteen miles in twenty-four hours and has begun to turn the Volturno Line. The British and American troops are advancing through pelting rain, often knee deep in mud. They have penetrated deep into mountainous terrain, although German resistance is now said to be stiffening.

According to Berlin the allies have opened up a fierce artillery barrage, and the battle for the Volturno crossing is fast approaching.

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.

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.

Operation Market Garden: The Battle of Arnhem

Operation Market Garden was an ambitious plan to punch a hole right through German lines and secure the key bridges that would allow a thrust into Germany itself. British and American airborne forces would be dropped at strategic locations close to the bridges in order to secure them and 30 Corps under the command of Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks would punch through enemy lines moving up from their base near the Belgian border crossing the bridges secured by the airborne elements and liberating the cities of Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, securing the final river crossing before Germany. Eindhoven and Nijmegen were liberated quickly, but 30 Corps became bogged down on the narrow road, and the battle for Arnhem became a brutal battle for survival for Lieutenant Colonel John Frost’s airborne forces.

Right to Left – Lieutenent General Brian Horrocks; Lieutenant Colonel John Frost; Major General Roy Urquhart

The task of securing the bridge at Arnhem fell to the British 1st Airborne Division, under Major General Roy Urquhart. Urquhart’s problems began before they had even left British soil. The drop zone proposed by the RAF was some distance to the west of Arnhem and far from ideal, and there were insufficient aircraft to drop the whole division at once. There was also intelligence suggesting that the German forces at Arnhem may be far stronger than anticipated and may in fact include two German Panzer Divisions. This intelligence was seemingly ignored and written off as unreliable, despite the fact that the RAF had carried out reconnaissance flights in the area and had managed to photograph elements of one of the Panzer Divisions.  

The first airborne troops were dropped in the early afternoon of the 17th of September and met unexpected German resistance forcing them to fight to secure the landing zones. This meant that only a small force under Lieutenant Colonel Frost was able to reach and secure the road bridge at Arnhem. Communications between Urquhart’s headquarters and the unit holding the bridge were never established due to an issue with the radio sets that had been brought on the operation, effectively cutting off Frost’s men from the rest of the operation.

Arnhem Bridge

Meanwhile 30 Corps were making slow progress; the Germans had demolished a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal, and although British Sappers built a Bailey Bridge over which 30 Corps could cross, they had been delayed by a further 12 hours. Another issue faced by 30 Corps and its armoured vehicles was the road itself; narrow and surrounded by ground unsuitable for heavy vehicles they were held up every time a vehicle was hit by enemy fire, broke down, or came off the road.

Back in Arnhem Frost’s paratroopers were meeting heavy resistance from German armour, but despite their lack of heavy weapons and mounting injuries they were fighting valiantly, refusing to surrender in the hope that Horrocks and 30 Corps would relieve them. Without communications they had no Idea of the delays and continued to fight despite being out gunned by the Germans and their heavy armour. The Germans had by now regrouped after the initial shock of the allied landings and General Wilhelm Bittrich ordered his Panzer Corps to destroy Arnhem and the allied forces occupying it.

1st Airborne Division

With casualties mounting, Frost refused to surrender, possibly encouraged to continue the fight by the courage and steely determination of his men. There were several attempts to relieve the men at the bridge, including an attempted river crossing by the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade under General Stanislaw Sosabowski, who after being delayed constantly on the ground in Britain had finally landed near Arnhem. Finally, after 8 days of fierce resistance from the British, the order was given to withdraw. Alan Wood, a war correspondent with the combined press was part of that withdrawal as he had been with the 1st Airborne Division throughout. “It was half-light, with the glow of fires from burning houses around when we set out. We were lucky, we went through a reputed enemy pocket without hearing a shot except for a stray sniper’s bullet. Another group met a machine gun with a fixed line of fire across their path; another had top silence a bunch of Germans with a burst of Sten (Sten Machine Gun) fire and hand grenades; another had to pause while a German finished his evening stroll across their pathway. But we all got through without the enemy realising we were doing anything more than normal night patrolling” he continued “The worst part was waiting by the riverside until our turn came for assault boats to ferry us across. The Germans, if not yet definitely suspicious, were inquisitive. They kept sending up flares and it was vital to lie flat and motionless. In our boat queue we lay flat and shivering on a soaking field, with cold rain drizzling down.”

Shortly after Alan and the men with him had crossed the Germans figured out what was going on and opened up on the river bank with mortars, injuring some of the men waiting to cross. In all just 1,892 men of the 1st Airborne were evacuated safely with 1,174 killed in action or died from their wounds, and 5,903 captures or missing. The Germans lost an estimated 1,300 men killed, and 2,000 wounded. Although the battle will be recorded as a German victory, it will forever be remembered for the courage, skill and determination of the British 1st Airborne division. In Arnhem British airborne forces proved why they are a force to be feared, a reputation which lives on today as they continue to spearhead British action around the globe.

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.

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.

Sergeant Louis Massey: The Great Escape

There are many stories of daring escapes from Nazi prisoner of war camps during World War Two, but the story of Sergeant Louis Massey, 35, of the Royal Army Service Corps and is particularly impressive. Captured during the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, Sergeant Massey was sent to a German prisoner of war camp in France. In December Massey managed to give his guards the slip and escape from the camp. Trapped in occupied France with only the clothes on his back, Massey set off in Bitter December weather on an epic 1,600 mile journey.

Sgt Massey (R) with a Russian Soldier in Moscow

Hiding where he could during the day Massey only travelled at night in an attempt to avoid German patrols. He was almost constantly starving an ate what berries and mushrooms he could find in fields and woods, plus the occasional bit of food that sympathetic locals could spare from their own meagre rations he managed somehow to make his way through Belgium, Holland and Germany, eventually reaching Poland were he managed to befriend some locals who helped him to cross the Russian border.

The ordeal did not end there though. With no papers to identify him and corroborate his story he was arrested as a spy and sent to a Russian Jail until June 1941 when the Germans crossed the Soviet border and the British Embassy in Moscow stepped in to get Massey released. On his release he linked up with the British Military Mission as he felt his experience in the RASC would be useful. He spent his time organising the transport of supplies and equipment until it was time for him to return home, a journey that took him through Persia, India, Africa eventually taking him home to Hampstead.

Evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk

For his efforts in escaping captivity and trekking 1,600 miles to safety, Sergeant Massey was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal which he received from the King in an investiture at Buckingham Palace. Following the ceremony Sergeant Massey told the press that “The King, who seemed very familiar with my adventures, congratulated me on my safe return”  

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.

Jock Lewes: The Forgotten Founder of the SAS

David Stirling and Paddy Mayne are well known for their exploits as founder members of the SAS, the UK’s elite special forces, but less well known is the contribution of Lieutenant Jock Lewes, the original co-founder, who along with David Stirling helped to recruit and train the original members of the unit. Without Jock Lewes the regiment may never have existed, or at least not how we know it today. Sadly for Lewes he was killed in action by an enemy aircraft that strafed the truck he was sitting in as he and his men escaped across the desert following a raid on Axis airfields in Libya; he was bravely returning fire to cover his men as they sought refuge where they could.

Jock Lewes (Right)

John Steel ‘Jock’ Lewis was born in Calcutta on the 21st of December 1913 to an English Father and Australian mother. For the first eight years of his life his father was remote; as a senior partner in an accountancy firm in Calcutta, Jocks father had little time to spend with his children. Eventually the family reunited in Jock’s mother’s native Australia, in a house in the outback just outside Sydney.

Jock loved the outdoor life and proved to be an intelligent, caring and athletic boy. His father instilled the virtues of high integrity, high ideals, and generosity in Jock during his childhood, virtues which stayed with him for life. Jock was later educated at Oxford, where he began to show his belief in the importance of service to king and country. Despite the students of Oxford voting strongly against serving their country in the military, Jock campaigned for service to Britain, and openly wore a badge emblazoned with ‘For King and Country’.

‘Gentleman’ Jim Almonds

In late 1938 Jock joined the First Battalion of the Tower Hamlets Rifles, a territorial unit, as an Ensign. His stint in the rifles was brief, and he was commissioned into the Welsh Guards in October 1939. He excelled as a soldier, showing particular ability on a small arms course run by Bill Stirling, the brother of David who would later work with Lewes to form the SAS. Jock was so successful on the course that despite his relatively lowly rank and lack of experience, he stayed on, eventually writing the training manual.

Jock eventually volunteered for Commando service, in order to satisfy his lust for action. He was posted to 8 Commando and sent to Scotland for mountain, and landing craft training. On the 31st of January he sailed from the Isle of Arran of the West Coast of Scotland bound for the Middle East as part of Force ‘Z’ under Lieutenant Colonel Robert Laycock. David Stirling, Pat Riley, and Jim Almonds, all future founding members of the SAS were also on board.

Siege of Tobruk

Due to aborted missions and broken promises of action Jock began to become frustrated with what he saw as ineffective training and a lack of organisation of the Commando force. He thought that smaller parties of well trained men could surprise the enemy by parachuting in behind the lines and carry out raids on enemy airfields. He managed to borrow a Mail plane from the RAF, which was somewhat unsuitable for parachuting, as well as some parachutes. He set a date for a practice jump and invited along a certain David Sterling. Stirling badly hurt his back in the Jump, although the others were more successful, the idea was never really taken up.

While recovering in hospital David Stirling gave great thought to Lewes idea of a parachute raiding force, and drew up a proposal based on the Idea. After visiting Lewes several times he convinced him that if they worked together they could get the idea heard and approved. With Stirling’s contacts and disregard for the chain of command, and Lewes attention to detail and rigorous training methods the SAS was born.

Despite their obvious differences the two men became firm friends, and recruited a group of men who became one of the most fearsome fighting forces in the world. Sadly Jock never got see the success of the unit which arguably would never have existed without him. We rightly remember David Stirling and Paddy Mayne, but without Jock Lewes we may never have seen the potential of a rapid raiding force in North Africa, and possibly the outcome of the war could have been very different.

WW2 Flying Accidents: The Enemy Within

During the war many pilots were lost to enemy action, but in the days before ground proximity radar, gps and electronic instruments, flying accidents were a real risk. The Forest of Bowland, an upland area consisting mainly of moorland in Lancashire gained a reputation as an area that caused pilots particular difficulties, mainly due to its high ground, changeable weather, and a lack of navigational features.

In 1943 Lockheed P38 Lightning fighters of the 82nd Fighter group (USAAF) were to be transferred to North Africa, a move which would require modifications to be made to the aircraft in order to operate in the dusty conditions found in the North African desert. The aircraft would need to be flown from their base at Goxhill in North East Lincolnshire to a depot at Langford Lodge on the shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland; a journey of some 251 miles taking them across Yorkshire and Lancashire before crossing the Irish Sea.

The 82nd fighter squadron had come into being in the US in February 1942, and was moved to Northern Ireland in October of the same year. It was part of the 78th fighter group based near the village of Goxhill in Lincolnshire, but later moved to Duxford in Cambridgeshire.

Goxhill Airbase WW2

The P38 Lightning was a piston engined aircraft developed by the Lockheed Corporation in the late 1930’s for the US Army Air Corps. It was brought into service in 1941 and was used in a number of roles including fighter; night fighter; fighter bomber, and aerial reconnaissance. The aircraft weighed in and just under 8 tonnes; it was just under 38ft long, with a wingspan of 52ft. The power came from 2 V12 liquid cooled engines producing 1,600 horsepower each, taking the aircraft to a maximum speed of 414 mph, and a cruising speed of 275 mph.

Early on the morning of the 26th there were 45 aircraft making the journey from Lincolnshire to Northern Ireland for the required modifications. En route the aircraft encountered heavy cloud over Northern England. With the visibility deteriorating, two of the aircraft collided over the Trough of Bowland, an area of moorland fells in Lancashire. One aircraft flown by 2nd Lieutenant Stephen L. White crashed on Braxton Fell, Due North of the Village of Dunsop Bridge, while the second aircraft came down to the south on Dunsop Fell. Neither pilot survived.

Lockheed P38 Lightning

Just one month before the crash, flight officer Wladyslaw Pucek of 317 squadron Polish Air Force crashed his Spitfire on nearby White Moss Fell. Remarkably, one month prior in November 1941 a Mustang A6208 on a photographic sortie being flown by Flying Officer S. P. Marlatt of No. 4 squadron Royal Canadian Airforce crashed into the ground at cruising speed on Holdron Moss, around 2 miles from the village of Dunsop Bridge.

Memorial at Holdron Moss

A memorial stands near to the site of the Holdron Moss crash, at the top of which is Pilot Officer Norman J. Sharpe of 256 squadron Royal Airforce. On the night of the 18th of August 1941, PO Sharpe was on a night training flight from RAF Squires Gate (now Blackpool Airport), in a Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.1 when he crashed on Hawthornthwaite Fell near Abbeystead. Reports say the aircraft was flying straight and level when it hit ground at around 1,300 feet. PO Sharpe was found alive the next day having crawled around a mile from his wrecked aircraft, but sadly died in hospital from his injuries.

Pilot Officer N. J. Sharpe

Anyone who has ever visited the area, particularly during the winter months will know just how remote and desolate it can seem, especially when the cloud comes in. It is also a place of great beauty, and well worth a visit in the summer months. If you decide to go and explore the area, take a moment to remember those brave pilots who died in the most unfortunate of circumstances upon those Lancashire moors.

Forest of Bowland AONB

Overcoming Adversity: Group Captain Douglas Bader

Douglas Bader

By the time of the Battle of Britain Douglas Bader had already fought a major battle, not with a foreign enemy, with adversity. At the age of just 21 Bader lost both his legs in a flying accident when his wing tip hit the ground during a display of aerobatics at the Reading Aerodrome; indeed he was lucky to survive. Despite his horrific injuries Douglas Bader only had one thing on his mind; flying.

Bader’s love for flying stemmed from his boyhood visits to the RAF College at Cranwell to stay with his Aunt Hazel and her husband Flight Lieutenant Cyril Burge who was adjutant at the college. He was fascinated by the cadets doing their takeoffs, circuits, and landings. Bader would join in with the Cadets’ morning runs and games such as Cricket. Douglas himself secured a prized cadetship at Cranwell thanks to the support and generosity of a school master who saw something in Bader and wanted him to reach his full potential.

RAF College Cranwell

Surgeon Mr Joyce was finished for the day at the Royal Berkshire Hospital when he was called for by one of the nurses. A young RAF pilot had been brought in with horrific leg injuries following a crash and didn’t look like he was going to survive. Leonard Joyce was regarded as one of the finest orthopaedic surgeons of his day; if anyone could save Bader’s life it was him. The dedicated surgeon cancelled his evening plans and Bader was taken straight into surgery. His right leg was damaged beyond repair and had to be amputated above the knee; there was some hope for the left leg though. Bader’s life hung in the balance; hours in surgery had left Bader weak, but because of his excellent physical fitness he clung to life. When Bader became aware that his legs had both been amputated he fell into a depression that was uncharacteristic of the man, but it wasn’t to last. Thanks to the encouragement and care of the nurses, in particular Dorothy Brace, Bader’s sense of purpose and determination returned.

Once his stumps were sufficiently healed, Bader was sent to see Robert Dessouter, a prosthetics specialist and was fitted with two prosthetic limbs. Despite being told he would never walk without a stick he never walked with one; hours and hours of painstaking practice on his new legs saw to that. Eventually he was sent to the central flying school to see if he could still fly. Bader passed his flying test with, if you will excuse the pun, flying colours as his natural ability as a pilot shone through. His excitement at returning to the cockpit was short lived however, as despite been passed as fit, there was nothing in the regulations that permitted an officer with two prosthetic limbs to fly an aircraft. Bader couldn’t face the prospect of a ground job and was pensioned out of the RAF. He took a job with the Asiatic Petroleum Company working in the Aviation department. The pay was sufficient but the boredom of office life soon got to Bader. He spirits lifted somewhat when he realised that despite his handicap he was quite a talented golfer, and could compete on an equal plane with his able bodied friends.

Supermarine Spitfire

The outbreak of war was the turning point; Britain was in desperate need of pilots; Bader sensed his chance and grabbed it with both hands. His old friend from Cranwell, now Squadron Leader, Geoffrey Stephenson recommended that he visited Air Vice Marshal Frederick Hallahan, their old training school commander from Cranwell to see if he could find him a job.

Bader, bitterly disappointed that Hallahan was only dealing with ground jobs made an impassioned plea, leading Hallahan to write him a note recommending him for flying duties. Bader subsequently passed both a medical and flying test and was restored to flying duties. Despite being older than his new RAF colleagues, Bader’s natural talent, and forceful personality meant that he was soon respected and began to work his way through the ranks, firstly as a flight commander, then a squadron leader and finally as a wing commander. Bader inspired confidence in those under his command, his relaxed manner in the air, and seeming invincibility made those around him feel invincible.

Bader’s seeming invincibility came to an end when he was finally shot down over enemy occupied France. While bailing out one of his legs became trapped in the cockpit, finally breaking free he was quickly captured by the enemy and taken to a hospital in St Omer. The Germans treated him well, asking the British to drop a new leg for him. He was invited to a nearby Luftwaffe airfield for afternoon tea, where he was treated with the same level of respect as the German pilots and even allowed to sit in the Cockpit of a Messerschmitt ME 109.

Colditz Castle

Not one to sit out the war, Bader promptly escaped from the hospital with the aid of a nurse and the local resistance, he walked for miles to reach the relative safety of a cottage owned by sympathetic locals were he was captured hiding in a cow shed under a pile of hay. Bader was moved from prison camp to prison camp; he made constant efforts to escape and generally be a thorn in the side of his captors. Eventually he wound up at Colditz Castle and was freed when the castle was liberated by the Americans. His first thoughts were to find a British fighter squadron in order to get back into the war, but he was forced to return home. He never got back into the conflict and his next flight was as a Group Captain in the lead aircraft in a victory parade.

Following the war, Bader did a lot of work with amputees, inspiring a generation of veterans, and ordinary people with amputated limbs to fulfil their ambitions and live full lives. So today we remember Group Captain Douglas Bader CBE, DSO and Bar, DL, FRAeS, the epitome of courage and determination against adversity.