commando

Oct

30

1943

Italian peasants shelter SAS raiding party

Staggering forward against the wind and the rain, we retraced our path to the village by following our own footsteps in the mud. I found a tiny one-roomed cottage and knocked on the door. An old peasant gave me a chair by the table while he went out into the rain to find the others. Pointing to the soaked rag of a map, I told him that we wanted a guide and he brought forward his son, who knew the countryside well. We brewed up some tea and dosed McPhail with quinine for he was now seriously ill.

Oct

5

1943

The Germans counter attack at Termoli

We had not yet been able to locate the German artillery observer who had crept into the town. Movement of troops and vehicles, even a party of two or three men, was always a challenge to him and a danger to us. We cursed him, but could not find him. I sent a party out to search for him at noon. Finally, at five, they pinpointed his location to a church tower. They crawled up the tower. “Come down — surrender!” my men called.

Oct

3

1943

SAS and Commandos surprise Germans at Termoli

Some of them seemed eager to fight until they died. I observed one lying in an olive grove partly behind a tree, about eight hundred yards in front of our position. Although obviously wounded – his actions were stiff and unnatural — he continued to fire at us regularly and accurately. We were unable to move anyone forward to take him prisoner. Instead, we returned his fire. He died where he fought, in the olive grove.

Sep

26

1943

Operation Jaywick attacks Japanese ships in Singapore

Then it was Davidson, playboy as he is, tried to sneak onboard undetected. He was a bit lucky he didn’t get a burst from a Bren gun. The blokes were pretty trigger-happy. Davo slipped over the stern and closely followed by Falls. Naturally we were more than delighted to see them. But boy, they were really beat cos they’d paddled 60 miles from Subar down to Pompong. It was pretty stressy stuff. They were pretty beat.

Jul

10

1943

The Commandos seaborne assault on Sicily

Something will happen at any moment now, I thought, and I strained to see land through the dimness, but there was only the rhythmical repetition of the retreating waves against the skyline. I was soon cold and stiff with standing in the bows and crept into the little space that had been saved for me under the gunwales; but the stench of vomit and the retching made it impossible to stay there for long and I preferred to shiver in the spray than to be sick.

Jul

4

1943

A great invasion armada prepares for battle

That evening, after two weeks at sea, we were told our destination was Sicily, and our landing beach in the south-east corner near Pachino. Soon after hearing this there was an almighty explosion close to hand and rushing on deck we saw the ‘Dervis’, the Commodore’s ship just ahead of us, had been torpedoed. Four more destroyers had joined our existing four the previous day, along with the old monitor ‘Roberts’ with its twin massive 16inch guns. After fourteen minutes the ‘Dervis’ sank.

Jun

27

1943

The Commandos receive their orders

The announcement gave a keener edge to our sensibility. We knew the worst at last. This expedition was not the gigantic hoax which we had been almost tempted to believe it; it was not a fantasy but a reality, that rose upright through the spume of fear and expectation like a gaunt rock from the ocean bed.

Feb

28

1943

Operation Gunnerside – the Telemark Raid

We said to the man, “You just run around the corner, up the staircase, lie down and keep your mouth open, until you hear the bang. There will be only one bang, so when it is over you can go down and watch the result”. I do not know ifhe did. But I know that he kept his mouth open, because he could hear when I met him two years later. Otherwise, if he had had his mouth closed he would have blown out his eardrums.

Dec

12

December 1942

Operation Frankton survivors reach their target

We were lucky. We could have arrived to discover that the harbour was empty; there had been no way to knowing how many ships we would find until this moment, and we were satisfied. We chose four targets. We turned back towards the cargo ship and pulled up alongside. Her hull shrouded us in darkness. We could hear the crew singing. I wondered what they’d be singing in a few hours’ time. It proved an easy target. I attached my magnet-holder to the hull to prevent the tide from carrying us away.