Canadian Lancaster pilot dies trying to save crew

Vertical aerial photograph taken during a daylight attack on an oil storage depot at Bec d'Ambes situated in the Garonne estuary at the confluence of the Rivers Garonne and Dordogne, France. An Avro Lancaster of No. 514 Squadron RAF flies over the target area while dense clouds of smoke rise as bombs burst among the oil storage tanks. Label An Avro Lancaster of No. 514 Squadron RAF over the target during a Bomber Command attack on oil storage tanks at Bec d'Ambes in the Garonne estuary, 4 August 1944.
Vertical aerial photograph taken during a daylight attack on an oil storage depot at Bec d’Ambes situated in the Garonne estuary at the confluence of the Rivers Garonne and Dordogne, France. An Avro Lancaster of No. 514 Squadron RAF flies over the target area while dense clouds of smoke rise as bombs burst among the oil storage tanks, 4 August 1944.
Avro Lancasters of RAF Bomber Command on a daylight raid over the Normandy battlefront, August 1944.
Avro Lancasters of RAF Bomber Command on a daylight raid over the Normandy battlefront, August 1944.

The heavy bombers were still very busy over the Normandy battlefield. As well as direct support for the Army they had been making sustained attempts to neutralise the V1 launch sites. Now more operations were introduced to bomb bridges over the Seine and other rivers, in an attempt to isolate the German forces still further.

Less than a year after he began flying operations in September 1942, Ian Bazalgette had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross

This officer has at all times displayed the greatest keenness for operational flying. He has taken part in many sorties and attacked heavily defended targets such as Duisburg, Berlin, Essen and Turin. His gallantry and devotion to duty have at all times been exceptional and his record commands the respect of all of his squadron for his actions of late 1942, having flown many missions and survived significant enemy fire as well as a crash landing.

Citation for D.F.C. awarded 1 July 1943

Squadron Leader Ian W. Bazalgette VC
Squadron Leader Ian W. Bazalgette VC

It was such qualities that led him to be selected for the Pathfinders, flying Lancasters with No. 635 Squadron, RAF from May 1944. By August he and his crew had already flown 25 operations. Once again they were attacking targets in Normandy.

On 4th August 1944, Squadron-Leader Bazalgette was master bomber of a Pathfinder squadron detailed to mark an important target at Trossy St. Maximin for the main bomber force.

When nearing the target his Lancaster came under heavy anti-aircraft fire. Both starboard engines were put out of action and serious fires broke out in the fuselage and the starboard main-plane. The bomb aimer was badly wounded.

As the deputy master bomber had already been shot down, the success of the attack depended on Squadron-Leader Bazalgette and this he knew. Despite the appalling conditions in his burning aircraft, he pressed on gallantly to the target, marking and bombing it accurately. That the attack was successful was due to his magnificent effort.

After the bombs had been dropped the Lancaster dived, practically out of control. By expert airmanship and great exertion Squadron-Leader Bazalgette regained control. But the port inner engine then failed and the whole of the starboard main-plane became a mass of flames.

Squadron-Leader Bazalgette fought bravely to bring his aircraft and crew to safety. The mid-upper gunner was overcome by fumes. Squadron-Leader Bazalgette then ordered those of his crew who were able to leave by parachute to do so. He remained at the controls and attempted the almost hopeless task of landing the crippled and blazing aircraft in a last effort to save the wounded bomb aimer and helpless air gunner. With superb skill, and taking great care to avoid a small French village nearby, he brought the aircraft down safely. Unfortunately it then exploded and this gallant officer and his two comrades perished.

His heroic sacrifice marked the climax of a long career of operations against the enemy. He always chose the more dangerous and exacting roles. His courage and devotion to duty were beyond praise.

The London Gazette, 17th August 1945

For more on Squadron-Leader Bazalgette see the Canadian site For Valour.

Four 1,000-lb bombs from a US Ninth Air Force B-26 Marauder bomber fall towards their target, the railway bridge over the Loire at Les Ponts-de-Ce, Angers, France, 1 August 1944. The attack was part of the Allied plan to disrupt the Germans' ability to reinforce their forces in Normandy.
Four 1,000-lb bombs from a US Ninth Air Force B-26 Marauder bomber fall towards their target, the railway bridge over the Loire at Les Ponts-de-Ce, Angers, France, 1 August 1944. The attack was part of the Allied plan to disrupt the Germans’ ability to reinforce their forces in Normandy.

Two VCs in one day for ‘British’ soldiers

The Arakan Campaign January 1943 - May 1945: A Gurkha soldier at a camouflaged position in the Arakan jungle.
A Gurkha soldier at a camouflaged position in the Arakan jungle.

The British Empire still encompassed many nations during the war, representatives of which found themselves fighting under the title of ‘British forces’ around the world. Many had never seen Britain. There was no discrimination when it came to awards for valour – all men were treated equally when it came to recognising the most courageous acts, even though only a minority would live to receive their award.

The 23rd June saw actions by ‘British’ troops in two very different jungle theatres. For the Chindits marching north in the most arduous conditions, there was another VC award for the 6th Gurkhas:

Tul Bahadur Pun VC
Tul Bahadur Pun VC

Rifleman Tul Bahadu Pun, 6th Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army.

In Burma on 23 June 1944, a Battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles was ordered to attack the Railway Bridge at Mogaung. Immediately the attack developed the enemy opened concentrated and sustained cross fire at close range from a position known as the Red House and from a strong bunker position two hundred yards to the left of it.

The cross fire was so intense that both the leading platoons of ‘B’ Company, one of which was Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun’s, were pinned to the ground and the whole of his Section was wiped out with the exception of himself, the Section commander and one other man. The Section commander immediately led the remaining two men in a charge on the Red House but was at once badly wounded. Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun and his remaining companion continued the charge, but the latter too was immediately wounded.

Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun then seized the Bren Gun, and firing from the hip as he went, continued the charge on this heavily bunkered position alone, in the face of the most shattering concentration of automatic fire, directed straight at him. With the dawn coming up behind him, he presented a perfect target to the Japanese. He had to move for thirty yards over open ground, ankle deep in mud, through shell holes and over fallen trees.

Despite these overwhelming odds, he reached the Red House and closed with the Japanese occupants. He killed three and put five more to flight and captured two light machine guns and much ammunition. He then gave accurate supporting fire from the bunker to the remainder of his platoon which enabled them to reach their objective.

His outstanding courage and superb gallantry in the face of odds which meant almost certain death were most inspiring to all ranks and beyond praise.

London Gazette, 7 November 1944

Sefanaia Sukanaivalu was a Fijian, fighting in the jungles of Bougainville, which, earlier, Navajo Indian Chester Nez had discovered was no paradise island:

Sefanaia Sukanaivalu VC
Sefanaia Sukanaivalu VC

On June 23rd, 1944 at Mawaraka, Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands, Cpl. Sefanaia Sukanaivalu crawled forward to rescue some men wounded when their platoon was ambushed.

After recovering two men this N.C.O. volunteered to go alone through heavy fire to try and rescue another – but on the way back was seriously wounded and fell to the ground unable to move further. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to rescue him; and realising that his men would not withdraw while he was still alive Cpl. Sukanaivalu raised himself up in front of the Japanese machine gun and was riddled with bullets.

This brave Fiji soldier, after rescuing two wounded men with the greatest heroism and being gravely wounded himself, deliberately sacrificed his own life knowing that in no other way could his men be induced to retire from a situation in which they must have been annihilated.

The London Gazette, 2 November 1944

A Fijian medical orderly administers an emergency plasma transfusion during heavy fighting on Bougainville.
A Fijian medical orderly administers an emergency plasma transfusion during heavy fighting on Bougainville.

1000: Stanley Hollis wins only D-Day VC

Overhead aerial of the gun battery at Mont Fleury,
Overhead aerial of the gun battery at Mont Fleury, behind ‘King Red’ Beach GOLD Area, after air bombardment, showing four medium casemates under construction. Note also the anti-tank ditch, (right), and minefields, (centre top). The battery consisted of four 12.2 cm Polish guns (one in a completed casemate) manned by elements of the German 1260th GHQ Coastal Artillery Battalion, and was captured on 6 June 1944 by 6th Battalion, The Green Howards.
Royal Engineers serving with a 50th Division Beach Group share cocoa with a French boy in the village of Ver-sur-Mer, Gold area, 6 June 1944.
Royal Engineers serving with a 50th Division Beach Group share cocoa with a French boy in the village of Ver-sur-Mer, Gold area, 6 June 1944.
Stanley Hollis VC
Stanley Hollis VC

It was some time after the Green Howards had landed that Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis was involved in the actions that were recognised with the award of the Victoria Cross. As the citation makes clear, this was really recognition for his actions throughout the day:

Company Sergeant Major 4390973 (Warrant Officer Class II) Stanley Hollis

In Normandy, France, on 6th June 1944, during the assault on the beaches and the Mont Fleury battery, C.S.M. Hollis’s Company Commander noticed that two of the pillboxes had been by-passed and went with CSM Hollis to see that they were clear.

When they were 20 yards from the pillbox, a machine-gun opened fire from the slit and CSM Hollis instantly rushed straight at the pillbox, firing his Sten gun. He jumped on top of the pillbox, recharged his magazine, threw a grenade in through the door and fired his Sten gun into it killing two Germans and making the remainder prisoner.

He then cleared several Germans from a neighbouring trench. By his action he undoubtedly saved his Company from being fired on heavily from the rear and enabled them to open the main beach exit.

Later the same day in the village of Crepon, the Company encountered a field gun and crew armed with Spandaus at 100 yards range. CSM Hollis was put in command of a party to cover an attack on the gun, but the movement was held up.

Seeing this, CSM Hollis pushed right forward to engage the gun with a PIAT from a house at 50 yards range. He was observed by a sniper who fired and grazed his right cheek and at the same moment the gun swung round and fired at point blank range into the house. To avoid the falling masonry CSM Hollis moved his party to an alternative position. Two of the enemy gun crew had by this time been killed and the gun was destroyed shortly afterwards.

He later found that two of his men had stayed behind in the house and immediately volunteered to get them out. In full view of the enemy who were continually firing at him, he went forward alone using a Bren gun to distract their attention from the other men. Under cover of his diversion, the two men were able to get back.

Wherever the fighting was heaviest CSM Hollis appeared and, in the course of a magnificent day’s work, he displayed the utmost gallantry and on two separate occasions his courage and initiative prevented the enemy from holdng up the advance at critical stages.

It was largely through his heroism and resource that the Company’s objectives were gained and casualties were not heavier and by his own bravery he saved the lives of many of his men.

London Gazette, 17 August 1944

For a full illustrated story of D-Day and the Normandy campaign explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.

Sherman tanks of 'A' Squadron, Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), 8th Armoured Brigade, come ashore from a landing craft (LCT 1076) on Jig beach, Gold area, 6 June 1944. On the right, a bulldozer helps clear a path off the beach.
Sherman tanks of ‘A’ Squadron, Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), 8th Armoured Brigade, come ashore from a landing craft (LCT 1076) on Jig beach, Gold area, 6 June 1944. On the right, a bulldozer helps clear a path off the beach.
German POWs disembarking from LCI(L)-500 on one of the Gold area beaches, 6 June 1944.
German POWs disembarking from LCI(L)-500 on one of the Gold area beaches, 6 June 1944.

Posthumous VC following single handed attack

 Going home. The battle over, this refugee family is heading toward their home in the Cori area, after hiding out in the hills for safety. All the family joins in pulling the two-wheeled cart heaped with household effects.” Near Cori, Italy. 1 June 1944
Going home. The battle over, this refugee family is heading toward their home in the Cori area, after hiding out in the hills for safety. All the family joins in pulling the two-wheeled cart heaped with household effects. Near Cori, Italy. 1 June 1944
Aftermath. Refugees of battered Littoria are shown surveying the ruins of their former dwellings after returning from shelters in the hills where they fled during the fierce battle for the town. Latina, Italy. 1 June 1944
Aftermath. Refugees of battered Littoria are shown surveying the ruins of their former dwellings after returning from shelters in the hills where they fled during the fierce battle for the town. Latina, Italy. 1 June 1944

The Victoria Cross recognises examples of outstanding valour. The actions of the recipients so often demonstrate not only that they were extraordinarily courageous but that they were individuals who seized the initiative, single handedly transforming an individual situation on the battlefield through their actions.

Not only did they disregard all personal dangers but within the confusion and tension of the battle they were able to identify precisely what needed to be done and then carry it out. Sergeant Maurice Rogers was to set such an example on the 3rd June, as his citation explains:

Serjeant Maurice Albert Wyndham Rogers VC., MM .
Sergeant Maurice Albert Wyndham Rogers VC., MM .

No. 5568932 Sergeant Maurice Albert Wyndham Rogers, The Wiltshire Regiment
(Duke of Edinburgh’s) (Plaistow).

In Italy a Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment was ordered to attack high ground held by the enemy.

The leading Company had taken their first objective but were unable to reach their final objective, owing to heavy enemy fire and casualties. The Carrier Platoon, dismounted, were ordered to capture the final objective, supported iby fire from the Company and a troop of tanks.

The objective was wired and mined and strongly defended by the enemy. The Carrier Platoon advanced through machine-gun and mortar fire until they reached the enemy’s wire, which was 70 yards from their objective. At this point the Platoon was under the intense fire of seven machine-guns firing at ranges of from 50 to 100 yards, and sustained a number of casualties.

The Platoon, checked (by the enemy’s wire and the intensity of his machine-gun fire, took cover and returned the fire preparatory to gapping the wire. Sergeant Rogers, the Platoon Sergeant, without hesitation continued to advance alone, firing his Thompson
Sub-Machine Gun.

He got through the enemy’s wire, ran across the minefield and destroyed two of the enemy machine-gun posts with his Thompson Sub-Machine Gun and hand grenades. By now, Sergeant Rogers was 100 yards ahead of his Platoon and had penetrated 30 yards inside the enemy’s defences.

He had drawn on to himself the fire of nearly all the enemy’s machine-guns and had thrown their, defence into confusion.

Inspired by the example of Sergeant Rogers, the Platoon breached the enemy’s wire and began the assault. Still alone and penetrating deeper into the enemy position, Sergeant Rogers, whilst attempting to silence a third machine-gun post, was blown off his feet by a grenade which burst beside him and wounded him in the leg.

Nothing daunted he stood up and still firing his Thompson Sub-Machine Gun, ran on towards the enemy post. He was shot and killed at point blank range.

This N.C.O’s undaunted determination, fearless devotion to duty and superb courage carried his Platoon on to their objective in face of a determined enemy in a strongly defended position.

The great gallantry and heroic self-sacrifice of Sergeant Rogers were in the highest tradition of the British Army.

London Gazette, 10th August 1944

Sgt Rogers was not born a Wiltshireman. He was born in Bristol and enlisted in the Wiltshire Regiment in 1934 at the age of 14. He was a Drummer Boy. He was part of the Battalion team which won the Inter Unit Young Soldier’s Championship and in the years before the War he was a member of the Battalion athletic Team, as a sprinter. In France he was a Corporal in the drums. In 1941, he was promoted Sergeant and became Platton Sergeant of the Carrier Platoon, which appointment he held until his death. He was awarded the MM for gallantry in Sicily. Sgt Rogers was a tall, athletic, good looking young man with a great sense of fun. He was a loyal, keen and very smart soldier.

From the Wiltshire Regiment yearbook, see Victoria Cross Forum

 Canadian manned M-5 tank and other motorized units are shown moving through the main street of Frosinone, on Highway 6, shortly after this important German communications center fell to the Eighth Army. Frosinone, Italy. 3 June
Canadian manned M-5 tank and other motorized units are shown moving through the main street of Frosinone, on Highway 6, shortly after this important German communications center fell to the Eighth Army. Frosinone, Italy. 3 June

Canadian infantry hold bridgehead against Panzers

Six Martin Baltimores of the Desert Air Force, flying in formation on their way to attack German gun positions in the Liri Valley. The River Liri can be seen at left.
Six Martin Baltimores of the Desert Air Force, flying in formation on their way to attack German gun positions in the Liri Valley. The River Liri can be seen at left.
Infantry and vehicles from 78th Division cross a makeshift bridge during the attack on the Hitler Line to the south of Rome.
Infantry and vehicles from 78th Division cross a makeshift bridge during the attack on the Hitler Line to the south of Rome.

With the battle for the breakout from Anzio still under way it was vital that the Allies maintained the momentum off their attacks north following the fall of Cassino. Only if both pincer movements pushed the Germans off balance could they hope to make the decisive breakthrough that was sought.

Even if the high ground had been finally gained by the Allies there were still many natural defensive lines that the Germans could take advantage of. The crossing of the Melfa River and the consolidation of a bridgehead was the key component to the Liri Valley offensive that opened the way for the march to Rome. The officer in charge of the attack was well aware of its importance.

Major John Keefer Mahony VC
Major John Keefer Mahony VC

The citation for the award of VC to Major John Keefer Mahony is unusually descriptive of the events:

On the 24th May, 1944, ‘A’ Company of the Westminster Regiment (Motor), under the command of Major Mahony, was ordered to establish the initial bridgehead across the river Melfa.

The enemy still had strong forces of tanks, self-propelled guns and infantry holding defensive positions on the East side of the river. Despite this, Major Mahony personally led his Company down to and across the river, being with the leading section. Although the crossing was made in full view of and under heavy fire from enemy machine-gun posts on the right rear and left front, he personally directed each section into its proper position on the West bank with the greatest coolness and confidence. The crossing was made and a small bridgehead was established on ground where it was only possible to dig shallow weapon pits. From 1530 hours the Company maintained itself in the face of enemy fire and attack until 2030 hours, when the remaining Companies and supporting weapons were able to cross the river and reinforce them.

The bridgehead was enclosed on three sides by an 88 mm. self-propelled gun 450 yards to the right, a battery of four 2 cm. A.A. guns 100 yards to the left, a Spandau 100 yards to the left of it, to the left of the Spandau a second 88 mm. self-propelled gun, and approximately a Company of infantry with mortars and machine-guns on the left of the 88 mm. gun. From all these weapons, Major Mahony’s Company was constantly under fire until it eventually succeeded in knocking out the self-propelled equipment and the infantry on the left flank.

Shortly after the bridgehead had been established, the enemy counter-attacked with infantry supported by tanks and self-propelled guns. The counter-attack was beaten off by the Company with its P.I.A.T.’s, 2” Mortars and Grenades, due to the skill with which Major Mahony had organised his defences. With absolute fearlessness and disregard for his own safety, Major Mahony personally directed the fire of his P.I.A.T.’s throughout this action, encouraging and exhorting his men.

By this time, the Company strength had been reduced to 60 men, and all but one of the Platoon Officers had been wounded. Scarcely an hour later, enemy tanks formed up about 500 yards in front of the bridgehead and in company with about a Company of infantry, launched a second counter-attack. Major Mahony, determined to hold the position at all costs, went from section to section with words of encouragement, personally directing fire of Mortars and other weapons.

At one stage, a section was pinned down in the open by accurate and intense machine-gun fire. Major Mahony crawled forward to their position, and by throwing Smoke Grenades, succeeded in extricating the section from its position with the loss of only one man. This counter-attack was finally beaten off with the destruction of three enemy self-propelled guns and one Panther tank.

Early in the action, Major Mahony was wounded in the head and twice in the leg, but he refused medical aid and continued to direct the defence of the bridgehead, despite the fact that movement of any kind caused him extreme pain. It was only when the remaining Companies of the Regiment had crossed the river to support him that he allowed his wounds to be dressed and even then refused to be evacuated, staying instead with his Company.

The forming and holding of a bridgehead across the river was vital to the whole Canadian Corps action, and failure would have meant delay, a repetition of the attack, probably involving heavy losses in men, material and time, and would have given the enemy a breathing space which might have broken the impetus of the Corps advance.

Major Mahony, knowing this, never allowed the thought of failure or withdrawal to enter his mind, and infused his spirit and determination into all his men. At the first sign of hesitation or faltering, Major Mahony was there to encourage, by his own example, those who were feeling the strain of battle. The enemy perceived that this officer was the soul of the defence and consequently fired at him constantly with all weapons, from rifles to 88 mm. guns. Major Mahony completely ignored the enemy fire and with great courage and absolute disregard for personal danger, commander his Company with such great confidence, energy and skill that the enemy’s efforts to destroy the bridgehead were all defeated.

The great courage shown by Major Mahony in this action will forever be an inspiration to his Regiment and to the Canadian Army.

London Gazette, no.36605, 13 July 1944

Crew safe! Their tank knocked out near Cisterna in the opening phase of the beachhead battle, this American tank crew returned to safety after a hazardous trip through no man’s land. Relaxing after their tight squeeze are Pvt. Floyd W. Shelton, Wichita, Kansas, lighting cigarette of Pvt. Vassar Nance, Leahville, Ark. [Arkansas], and (standing left) Pvt. Donald Jones, Dexter, NY [New York], and Cpl. Earl L. Larson, Minneapolis, Minn. [Minnesota].” Cisterna, Italy. 24 May 1944
Crew safe! Their tank knocked out near Cisterna in the opening phase of the beachhead battle, this American tank crew returned to safety after a hazardous trip through no man’s land. Relaxing after their tight squeeze are Pvt. Floyd W. Shelton, Wichita, Kansas, lighting cigarette of Pvt. Vassar Nance, Leahville, Ark. [Arkansas], and (standing left) Pvt. Donald Jones, Dexter, NY [New York], and Cpl. Earl L. Larson, Minneapolis, Minn. [Minnesota].” Cisterna, Italy. 24 May 1944
Italy! American 75mm self propelled gun and crew pass a knocked out German reconnaissance car near Itri, Italy.” Itri, Italy. 20 May 1944
Italy! American 75mm self propelled gun and crew pass a knocked out German reconnaissance car near Itri, Italy.” Itri, Italy. 20 May 1944

Single handed attack overcomes German position

Picture shows:- The fighting Indian soldier. A fine study of Naik Gulab Nhan, in full cry, charging towards the camera, with fixed bayonets. He comes from the village of Amer Jaipur State.
The fame of the old Indian Cavalry Regiments is known throughout the world. They have always been splendid horsemen, and fine fighting soldiers. These regiments still exist bearing their famous names and traditions, but newly equipped for modern warfare they have become the Indian Armoured Corps. Formations of this Corps have fought with distinction in the campaigns in the Middle East, and the Far East, and are now engaged in fighting in Italy. An Indian Armoured Formation somewhere in the Middle East. Picture shows:- The fighting Indian soldier. A fine study of Naik Gulab Nhan, in full cry, charging towards the camera, with fixed bayonets. He comes from the village of Amer Jaipur State.

The big push by the Allies at Cassino was now fully underway and there was fierce fighting as the infantry got to grips with the Germans defences.

Sepoy Kamal Ram, VC
Sepoy Kamal Ram, VC

In Italy, on 12th May, 1944, after crossing the River Gari overnight, the Company advance was held up by heavy machine-gun fire from four posts on the front and flanks. As the capture of the position was essential to secure the bridgehead, the Company Commander called for a volunteer to get round the rear of the right post and silence it.

Volunteering at once and crawling forward through the wire to a flank, Sepoy Kamal Ram attacked the post single handed and shot the first machine-gunner; a second German tried to seize his weapon but Sepoy Kamal Ram killed him with the bayonet, and then shot a German officer who, appearing from the trench with his pistol, was about to fire.

Sepoy Kamal Ram, still alone, at once went on to attack the second machine-gun post which was continuing to hold up the advance, and after shooting one machine-gunner, he threw a grenade and the remaining enemy surrendered.

Seeing a Havildar making a reconnaissance for an attack on the third post, Sepoy Kamal Ram joined him, and, having first covered his companion, went in and completed the destruction of this post. By his courage, initiative and disregard for personal risk, Sepoy Kamal Ram enabled his Company to charge and secure the ground vital to the establishment of the bridgehead and the completion of work on two bridges.

When a platoon, pushed further forward to widen the position, was fired on from a house, Sepoy Kamal Ram, dashing towards the house, shot one German in a slit trench and captured two more. His sustained and outstanding bravery unquestionably saved a difficult situation at a critical period of the battle and enabled his Battalion to attain the essential part of their objective.

The London Gazette: 27 July 1944

Contemporary footage of the King presenting the VC medal.



The Indians had been at Cassino throughout. Attempts by New Zealand and Indian troops in the aftermath of the first air raids failed and the battle was broken off on 18 February 1944. Indian stretcher bearers bringing a casualty down a mountain track on the following day.
The Indians had been at Cassino throughout. Attempts by New Zealand and Indian troops in the aftermath of the first air raids failed and the battle was broken off on 18 February 1944. Indian stretcher bearers bringing a casualty down a mountain track on the following day.

Frontal assault on Japanese bunkers at Kohima

View of the Garrison Hill battlefield with the British and Japanese positions shown. Garrison Hill was the key to the British defences at Kohima.
View of the Garrison Hill battlefield with the British and Japanese positions shown. Garrison Hill was the key to the British defences at Kohima.

In Burma the battle at Kohima continued in the area around the District administrators base. The balance was slowly shifting in favour of the British who were now trying to take up the offensive. Both sides were locked into an intense struggle with no quarter given.

In attempting to move against the Japanese the British were forced to attack strongly held positions on higher ground. The Japanese were well dug in into covered bunkers with only a narrow opening for their weapons.

Sometimes a gun or a tank could be brought to bear on such positions. On the morning of the 6th May the Norfolk Regiment had to attack a series of bunkers on a steep slope. The only option appeared to be a frontal assault.

Sergeant Bert Fitt took part in the two platoon assault led by Captain Randle:

We got about half way to the base of the [slope up to the bunkers]. The japanese had two light machine-gun posts which were carving us up terribly. Captain Randle had already been hit at least twice fairly heavily in the upper part of his body before we even got to the bottom [of the slope]. I shouted to him to go down and leave it to me, because I could see that he’d lost blood. He said,‘No! You take that left hand bunker; I’m going to take this right hand one’.

The japanese didn’t realise that I was coming up the slope ‘underneath’ them, as I had moved so quickly. I managed to push a grenade in through the slit and after four seconds it went off. I knew that anybody inside that bunker was either dead or knocked out. I immediately spun right because I thought I could get to where Captain Randle was before anything happened.

As I turned, I saw Captain Randle at the other bunker’s entrance. He had a grenade he was going to release into the bunker. I just stood there. I couldn’t do a thing to save him. If he could have held out for about three minutes I would have got on top of the bunker and knocked it out without getting hurt. But unfortunately he had been hit again at point—blank range.

As he was going down he threw his grenade into the bunker and he sealed the bunker entrance with his own body so that nobody could shoot out from it. But he had got the occupants, killed them. It was the main gun position and I am certain that’s why he went for it. He knew that if he didn’t knock it out it would be lights out for the rest of us. It was a quite deliberate act to block the opening of the bunker to save the remainder of the men. In doing so he was unfortunately killed.

I threw my grenade and I shot [a japanese] at the same time. That was where I used my last round of ammunition.

[Fitt went on to attack another bunker when a Japanese soldier emerged]

He had come out of the back door of the bunker behind me and I didn’t see him shoot. He got me through the side of the face underneath my jaw, took my top teeth out, fractured my maxilla and the bullet burnt along the side of my nose. It felt like just as if somebody with a clenched fist had just hit me. I spat out a handful of teeth and I spun round.

He was only a few paces away, facing me. He had a rifle and bayonet and I had a light machine-gun. I pressed the trigger but found I’d got no ammunition left. As he came towards me, I realised that it was either me or him. I was an unarmed combat instructor and knew I could go hand-to—hand against anybody with a rifle and bayonet. I therefore let him come and I crashed the gun straight into his face. Before he hit the ground I had my hand on his wind-pipe and I literally tried to tear it out. We were tossing over on the ground. I then managed to get the bayonet from his rifle and I finished him with that.

As I stood up, I heard a shout from 12 Platoon telling me that they were pinned down by another bunker I couldn’t see.They told me where it was as best they could. I threw a grenade over the top of the bunker and a chap who could see it yelled back a correction. I threw a second one. That was short, but it hit the ground before it got to the open bunker and it bounced straight into it, killing the occupants. There was still more bunkers over the other side.

One of my men, Corporal Sculforte, spotted one which was slightly over the crest to the left. He started going towards it. I yelled at him to stop but he didn’t. He continued for about a further four or five paces and was shot.

For this and many more personal accounts of the battle see Leslie Edwards: Kohima: The Furthest Battle.

Fitt was to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Randle the Victoria Cross:

On the 4th May, 1944, at Kohima in Assam, a Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment attacked the Japanese positions on a nearby ridge. Captain Randle took over command of the Company which was leading the attack when the Company Commander was severely wounded. His handling of a difficult situation in the face of heavy fire was masterly and although wounded himself in the knee by grenade splinters he continued to inspire his men by his initiative, courage and outstanding leadership until the Company had captured its objective and consolidated its position.

He then went forward and brought in all the wounded men who were lying outside the perimeter. In spite of his painful wound Captain Randle refused to be evacuated and insisted on carrying out a personal reconnaissance with great daring in bright moonlight prior to a further attack by his Company on the position to which the enemy had withdrawn.

At dawn on 6th May the attack opened, led by Captain Randle, and one of the platoons succeeded in reaching the crest of the hill held by the Japanese. Another platoon, however, ran into heavy medium machine gun fire from a bunker on the reverse slope of the feature. Captain Randle immediately appreciated that this particular bunker covered not only the rear of his new position but also the line of communication of the battalion and therefore the destruction of the enemy post was imperative if the operation was to succeed.

With utter disregard of the obvious danger to himself Captain Randle charged the Japanese machine gun post single-handed with rifle and bayonet. Although bleeding in the face and mortally wounded by numerous bursts of machine gun fire he reached the bunker and silenced the gun with a grenade thrown through the bunker slit. He then flung his body across the slit so that the aperture should be completely sealed.

The bravery shown by this officer could not have been surpassed and by his self-sacrifice he saved the lives of many of his men and enabled not only his own Company but the whole Battalion to gain its objective and win a decisive victory over the enemy.

Scene of devastation at Naga village near Kohima taken after fierce resistance from the Japanese, by the 7th Indian Division.
Scene of devastation at Naga village near Kohima taken after fierce resistance from the Japanese, by the 7th Indian Division.

Victoria Cross as the Siege of Kohima begins

The Battle of Imphal-Kohima March - July 1944: General view of the terrain at Kohima.
The Battle of Imphal-Kohima March – July 1944: General view of the terrain at Kohima.

The Japanese 31st Division had now pushed aside the minor diversionary outposts that held them up as they invaded India from Burma. They now confronted the British administrative outpost at Kohima, where a hastily organised system of defensive trenches had been dug. Kohima Ridge was to see a desperate battle unfold as the British troops, heavily outnumbered by the Japanese, clung on.

The terrain did not lend itself to defence because there were not enough men to hold onto all the high ground along the ridge. Many of the positions were overlooked by Japanese, who brought down fire as soon as the British moved out of their trenches. All the time the Japanese were trying to move closer, either with attacks in the open or sneaking in between the British positions overnight:

Major Donald Easten of the Royal West Kents describes the situation on the 8th April:

The Japanese had infiltrated between my ‘D’ Company and ‘C’ Company [now under Captain Tom Coath] which was next to us. When we woke up the next morning they had a machine-gun post [in a bunker] between the two companies, making movement extremely difficult, if not impossible, during daylight. I was discussing how we were going to tackle this with the Sergeant-Major when Lance-Corporal Harman, without saying anything to either of us, ran forward.

He got under the line of fire of the Japanese machine-gun. We saw him take a grenade out of his belt, most probably a three or four second one, pull the pin out, count ‘One, two’, and put it through the slit of the bunker. He dived into the bunker after the grenade had gone off, then came out with ajapanese machine-gun and said ‘There are two dead japanese in there.’ It was amazingly brave.

The following day, Easer Sunday, 9th April there was no respite for the Royal West Kents. Once again Harman seized the initiative, as described by Major Easten:

I was close to Harman when I heard him say to his section ‘Right. Give me covering fire.’ He fixed his bayonet and charged the short distance down the hill, firing as he went. He shot two or three Japanese, bayoneted another and the rest ran away. As he came back up the hill he was shot, probably in the back, as Japanese opened up from the other side of a gulley he was in.

However for the men stuck, pinned under fire in the forward trenches, there was no respite that day. Corporal Norman describes the scene:

Corporal Taffy Rees, who was sitting next to me in the pit when Lance-Corporal Harman ran past, wouldn’t stay in the pit but stood on the top of it [to watch]. I tried to pull him back into the pit because the Japanese had fixed lines [of fire] on our pit. But he wouldn’t let me and whilst Harman was engaged in his action,Taffy was hit twice in the side.

Sergeant Tacon shouted out ‘Hang on,Taffy, I’m coming’, but as he crawled towards him he [Tacon] was hit in the arm and leg, fracturing it. He just managed to roll out of the danger area.Although we cou1dn’t help Taffy we did start talking to him because he was only about 2 yards from us down in a dip. He told us that he was paralysed. He was soon delirious and for eight hours he was screaming, shouting and calling for his Mum and Dad and praying, until he died.

While he was laying there Captain Coath tried to get a smoke screen laid down so that Taffy could be evacuated by stretcher bearers but that proved unsuccessful. lt was really nerve-racking for the 14 of us left because we couldn’t defend ourselves if we were attacked.

For these and many more personal accounts of the battle see Leslie Edwards: Kohima: The Furthest Battle.

John Pennington Harman VC
John Pennington Harman VC

Lance Corporal Harman was awarded the Victoria Cross:

At Kohima, Assam, on 8th April 1944, Lance Corporal Harman was commanding a section of a forward platoon. The enemy had established a machine-gun post within 50 yards of his position which became a serious menace to the remainder of his company. Unable to bring the fire of his section on to the post, Lance Corporal Harman went forward by himself and annihilated the post, returning with the enemy machine-gun.

The next morning, having first recovered a forward position, he again charged an enemy post alone, shooting four and bayonetting one, thereby wiping out the post. As he returned Lance Corporal Harman received an burst of machine-gun fire in his side and died shortly after reaching our lines. Lance Corporal Harman’s heroic action and supreme devotion to duty were largely responsible for the decisive way in which all attacks were driven off by his company.

British infantrymen use a dismounted tank machine gun at Kohima.
British infantrymen use a dismounted tank machine gun at Kohima.

Islamic warrior earns VC leading counter-attack

The Battle of Imphal-Kohima March - July 1944: Low aerial view of the Imphal area looking north.
The Battle of Imphal-Kohima March – July 1944: Low aerial view of the Imphal area looking north.

In Burma the infiltrating Japanese 31st Division were now closing in on the strategic British positions at Kohima and Imphal. A number of desperate battles had already broken out in outlying positions as the Japanese vanguard was encountered. Within the next 48 hours the main Japanese force would be upon the main British positions and battle would be joined.

The Indian Army was now drawn into the battle to defend the homeland. Amongst them was the 9th Jat Regiment, which had a long and distinguished history within the British regime and continues to this day as the Jat Regiment of the modern Indian Army. On the 6th April a young officer Jemadar, equivalent to Lieutenant, Abdul Hafiz was to add one more action to the martial reputation of the regiment:

Portrait of Abdul Hafiz, awarded the Victoria Cross: Burma, 6 April 1944.
Portrait of Abdul Hafiz, awarded the Victoria Cross: Burma, 6 April 1944.

In Burma, in the early hours of the 6th April 1944, in the hills 10 miles North of Imphal, the enemy had attacked a standing patrol of 4 men and occupied a prominent feature overlooking a Company position. At first light a patrol was sent out and contacted the enemy, reporting that they thought approximately 40 enemy were in position. It was not known if they had dug in during the hours of darkness.

The Company Commander ordered Jemadar Abdul Hafiz to attack the enemy, with two sections from his platoon, at 0930 hours. An artillery concentration was put down on the feature and Jemadar Abdul Hafiz led the attack. The attack was up a completely bare slope with no cover, and was very steep near the crest. Prior to the attack, Jemadar Abdul Hafiz assembled his sections and told them that they were invincible, and the entire enemy on the hill would be killed or put to flight. He so inspired his men that from the start the attack proceeded with great dash.

When a few yards below the crest the enemy opened fire with machine-guns and threw grenades. Jemadar Abdul Hafiz sustained several casualties, but immediately ordered an assault, which he personally led, at the same time shouting the Mohammedan battle cry.

The assault went in without hesitation and with great dash up the last few yards of the hill, which was very steep. On reaching the crest Jemadar Abdul Hafiz was wounded in the leg, but seeing a machine-gun firing from a flank, which had already caused several casualties, he immediately went towards it and seizing the barrel pushed it upwards, whilst another man killed the gunner.

Jemadar Abdul Hafiz then took a Bren gun from a wounded man and advanced against the enemy, firing as he advanced, and killing several of the enemy. So fierce was the attack, and all his men so inspired by the determination of Jemadar Abdul Hafiz to kill all enemy in sight at whatever cost, that the enemy, who were still in considerable numbers on the position, ran away down the opposite slope of the hill.

Regardless of machine-gun fire which was now being, fired at him from another feature a few hundred yards away, he pursued the enemy, firing at them as they retired. Jemadar Abdul Hafiz was badly wounded in the chest from this machine-gun fire and collapsed holding the Bren gun and attempting to fire at the retreating enemy, and shouting at the same time “Re-organise on the position and I will give covering fire.” He died shortly afterwards.

The inspiring leadership and great bravery displayed by Jemadar Abdul Hafiz in spite of having been twice wounded, once mortally, so encouraged his men that the position was captured, casualties inflicted on the enemy to an extent several times the size of his own party, and enemy arms recovered on the position which included 3 Lewis Machine-guns, 2 grenade dischargers and 2 officers’ swords. The complete disregard for his own safety and his determination to capture and hold the position at all costs was an example to all ranks, which it would be difficult to equal.

The Battle of Imphal-Kohima March - July 1944: An M3 Lee tank crosses a river north of Imphal to meet the Japanese advance.
The Battle of Imphal-Kohima March – July 1944: An M3 Lee tank crosses a river north of Imphal to meet the Japanese advance.

Heavy losses as RAF Bomber Command targets Nuremberg

Squadron Leader Peter Hill, briefs crews of No. 51 Squadron RAF
Squadron Leader Peter Hill, briefs crews of No. 51 Squadron RAF on the forthcoming raid to Nuremberg, Germany in the Operations Room at Snaith, Yorkshire. The Station Commander, Group Captain N H Fresson, sits third from the left in the front row. No. 51 Squadron lost six Handley Page Halifaxes that night (30/31 March 1944), suffering 35 men killed (including Sqn Ldr Hill) and seven made prisoners-of-war.
Three Lancaster B Mark IIIs of No. 619 Squadron RAF,
Three Lancaster B Mark IIIs of No. 619 Squadron RAF, airborne from Coningsby, Lincolnshire. The aircraft in the foreground, LM418 ‘PG-S’, was destroyed in a crash-landing at Woodbridge Emergency Landing Ground after returning from the ill-fated Nuremberg raid of 30/31 March 1944 on two engines. Its crew survived the crash, but were all killed in action later.

Bomber Command did not normally bomb during the full moon (but see comments below)- but the weather forecast for 30th/31st March suggested cloud cover over Germany to conceal the bombers. Unfortunately a late meteorological reconnaissance flight by a Mosquito which suggested otherwise was ignored.

A total of 795 aircraft were sent all the way to Nuremberg, and the bright moonlight without cloud cover proved ideal for the night fighters, which began their attacks almost as soon as the bomber stream crossed the coast over Belgium. Navigation was again badly affected by high winds and to make matters worse the target itself was covered with cloud. Little damage was caused to Nuremberg and some aircraft attacked Schweinfurt, 50 miles away when it was mistakenly target marked by two Mosquitos. Here, as at Nuremberg, most of they bombs fell outside the town.

A total of 95 aircraft were lost – at 11.9% the highest rate for Bomber Command for the whole war. Despite the obvious risks they had pressed on regardless. One man was to exemplify this attitude above all others during this night, and he paid the ultimate price:

Pilot Officer Cyril Barton VC
Pilot Officer Cyril Barton VC

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery :-

Pilot Officer Cyril Joe Barton (168669), RAFVR, 578 Squadron (Deceased)

On the night of 30th March, 1944, Pilot Officer Barton was captain and pilot of a Halifax aircraft detailed to attack Nurenberg. Whem some 70 miles short of the target, the aircraft was attacked by a Junkers 88. The burst of fire from the enemy made the intercommunication system useless. One engine was damaged when a Messerschmit 210 joined in the fight. The bombers machine guns were out of action and the gunners were unable to return the fire.

Fighters continued to attack the aircraft as it approached the target area and, in the confusion caused by the failure of the communications system at the height of the battle, a signal was misinterpreted and the navigator, air bomber and wireless operator left the aircraft by parachute.

Pilot Officer Barton faced a situation of dire peril. His aircraft was damaged, his navigational team had gone and he could not communicate with the remainder of the crew. If he continued his mission, he would be at the mercy of hostile fighters when silhouetted against the fires in the target area, and if he survived he would have to make a 4 1/2 hours journey home on three engines across heavily-defended territory. Determined to press home his attack at all costs, he flew on and, reaching the target, released the bombs himself.

As Pilot Officer Barton turned for home the propeller of the damaged engine, which was vibrating badly, flew off. It was also discovered that two of the petrol tanks had suffered damage and were leaking. Pilot Officer Barton held to his course and, without navigational aids and in spite of strong head winds, successfully avoided the most dangerous defence areas on his route. Eventually he crossed the English coast only 90 miles north of his base.

By this time the petrol supply was nearly exhausted. Before a suitable landing place could be found, the port engine stopped. The aircraft was now too low to be abandoned successfully. Pilot Officer Barton therefore ordered the three remaining members of his crew to take up their crash stations. Then, with only one engine working, he made a gallant attempt to land clear of the houses over which he was flying. The aircraft finally crashed and Pilot Officer Barton lost his life, but his three comrades survived.

Pilot Officer Barton had previously taken part in four attacks on Berlin and 14 other operational missions. On one of these two members of his crew were wounded during a determined effort to locate the target despite the appalling weather conditions.

In gallantly completing his last mission in the face of almost impossible odds, this officer displayed unsurpassed courage and devotion to duty.

Halifax B Mark III, LV857, in flight shortly after completion by the Handley Page Ltd works at Radlett, Hertfordshire. In its brief service life, this aircraft served with Nos. 35, 10 and 51 Squadrons RAF before crashing at Schwarzbad while returning from a raid on Nuremberg on 31 May 1944.
Halifax B Mark III, LV857, in flight shortly after completion by the Handley Page Ltd works at Radlett, Hertfordshire. In its brief service life, this aircraft served with Nos. 35, 10 and 51 Squadrons RAF before crashing at Schwarzbad while returning from a raid on Nuremberg on 31 May 1944.
Fire-damaged De Havilland
Fire-damaged De Havilland Mosquito NF Mark XVII, ‘O’, of No. 85 Squadron RAF, back at its base at West Malling, Kent, following the destruction of an enemy bomber on the night of 24/25 March 1944. Flying Officer E R Hedgecoe (pilot), and Flight Lieutenant N L Bamford (radar operator), flying ‘O for Orange’ intercepted the Junkers Ju 188 off Hastings, closing to 100 yards to deliver a burst of cannon fire upon which the enemy aircraft suddenly exploded, enveloping the Mosquito in burning oil and debris. The fabric covering of the aircraft caught fire and it was enveloped in flames. Hedgecoe ordered Bamford to bale out, but had second thoughts when the fire went out and he found the Mosquito to be stable in flight, despite the loss of rudder control due to the fabric being burned off. After wiping a clear patch in the soot-blackened cockpit canopy, Hedgecoe flew back to a safe landing at West Malling. Hedgecoe and Bamford were an experienced night-fighting crew, Hedgecoe having shot down eight enemy aircraft and Bamford taking part in the destruction of ten, before both were killed in a flying accident on 1 January 1945.