Early British parachute training from a converted Whitley bomber.

The 11th Special Air Service Battalion made history on the 10th February with the first British parachute raid on enemy territory, Operation Colossus. Thirty five men were dropped in southern Italy and blew up the Tragino Aqueduct which supplied water to Naples and the surrounding area. The raiders successfully blew up the aqueduct but it was repaired within a matter of days.

Plans for the men to be evacuated by submarine had to be abandoned when the rendezvous site was compromised, and the plan had made no provision for an alternative rendezvous point. In any event the the escaping men, who travelled in four groups, found it extremely difficult to travel covertly across country in a landscape packed with small farms. They were all soon captured. The Italian interpreter, Fortunato Picchi, who accompanied the group posing as a member of Free French forces, was shot as a spy. One officer, Lieutenant Deane-Drummond, managed to make his escape the following year. His account and many more documents can be found at Paradata.

{ 1 comment }

Feb

9

1941

‘Give us the tools to finish the job’

Winston Churchill raises his hat in salute during an inspection of the 1st American Squadron of the Home Guard at Horse Guards Parade in London, 9 January 1941. Behind, Mrs Churchill chats to a Guards officer. Lieutenant General Sir Bertram N Sergison-Brooke (GOC London Area) is standing on the right.

With every month that passes the many proud and once happy countries he is now holding down by brute force and vile intrigue are learning to hate the Prussian yoke and the Nazi name, as nothing has ever been hated so fiercely and so widely among men before. And all the time, masters of the sea and air, the British Empire – nay, in a certain sense, the whole English-speaking world will be on his track bearing with them the swords of Justice.

Feb

8

1941

Bergonzoli gives his excuses

The crew of a British Matilda tank celebrate by flying a captured Italian flag.

Your forward units found us on the coast on Wednesday morning when we were in an exposed and dangerous position. But we gave battle at once. Our tanks and artillery and men were tired and at a considerable disadvantage on the coast, but they came quickly into position and gave battle magnificently. We launched two counterattacks that were very nearly successful.

Feb

7

1941

The Italians surrender at Beda Fomm

Italian M13 Tanks in the Libyan Desert, pictured later in 1941

For all the efforts of the previous day, the Italian column still looked huge and threatening. I watched with apprehension the movements of the mass of vehicles before me. On either side of me, hidden behind the crests of other dunes and ridges, I knew that there were other eyes just as anxious as mine, surveying the scene before them. In the mind of each one of us was the sure knowledge that we were well outnumbered.

Feb

6

1941

Wellington bomber captured on Boulogne raid

Wellington bomber captured by Germans

The enemy attempted to break out and made a persistent attack with over 100 tanks, but these were repulsed with heavy losses, including 60 of the latter. The full number of prisoners has not yet been ascertained, but it is understood that they have surrendered in large numbers, and include an Army Commander, a Corps Commander and many other senior officers.

Feb

5

1941

Goebbels on Churchill

German Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels in late January 1941, during a course on propaganda for military leaders.

England will one day pay a heavy price for this man. When the great catastrophe breaks over the island kingdom, the British people will have him to thank. He has long been the spokesman for the plutocratic caste that wanted war to destroy Germany. He distinguishes himself from the men behind the scenes only through his obvious cynicism and his unscrupulous contempt for humankind.

Feb

4

1941

The cold wet misery of the Greek front line

"The proper way to carry a stretcher"

I was never trained to do trauma surgery under such great pressure and in such primitive conditions. I have no time to think of alternatives; sometimes I barely have time to disinfect one trauma before I must deal with another more severe one. In the background as I hear the explosions of the guns and the mines, I think of the parents, wives and children of our men, who are agonizing about them without really knowing how great the dangers are — even the natural dangers of this wild and rugged terrain — and tears come to my eyes.

Feb

3

1941

‘Q-ship’ torpedoed in the Atlantic

HMS Crispin, seen before she was converted into a British Ocean Boarding vessel and later equipped with Anti-Aircraft guns to protect convoys.

It was 2200 hours. We had been hit by a torpedo which had struck the bulkhead separating the engine room and the for’ard hold beneath the bridge. One “greaser” (stoker) was killed by the explosion and the NAAFI canteen manager had a lucky escape. He was blown out of his bunk and his cabin was wrecked. His young assistant was not so lucky and died as a result of his wounds.

Feb

2

1941

Swordfish from Ark Royal attack Sardinia

HMS Ark Royal and one of her Swordfish aircraft, operating in the Mediterranean during 1941.

H.M. Ships Renown, Malaya, Ark Royal and light forces operated off Sardinia on the 2nd February. Owing to unfavourable weather the original plans had to be modified, but at dawn 8 Swordfish made an attack on the Tirso Dam which holds the water for the hydro-electric station. Observation of results was impossible; but it is thought that 3 torpedoes hit the dam.

Feb

1

1941

Harassing the Italians with gunfire

A 40mm Bofors Gun being used against the defences of Derna, 1 February 1941.

The squadron leader took off his headphones and crawled out on to the back of his turret. Bright blue eyes and white teeth showed through the mask of dust and dusty stubble, topped by a very aged beret, sometime black; equally aged corduroys and jersey; pair of binoculars and a sweat rag round his neck; hands covered in dusty bandages concealing the inevitable desert sores; the complete Seventh Armoured commander.