Essai en Guerre: an FFO-inspired TL

Intro
  • Readers will note that I’ve been reading bits of FFO (AKA Fantasque Time Line), some interesting threads here and at Axis History Forum and Sea Lion Press, and related works including @Dunois ’ Sword of Freedom TL. I assume the same PoD (more or less) as FFO, but I differ with them about what comes next.
    Many smart and well-informed people, at the time and since, believed an FFO-style scenario was possible. Many other smart and well-informed people disagree. I think France choosing to Fight On, though improbable, is less improbable than any Axis Victory timeline. Furthermore, I think it is less improbable than most Axis Do Significantly Better timeline.
    Here’s my take on the might-have-beens.
     
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    Part 1.1
  • Part 1. Mon mieux est, je croy, de partir


    Extract from Marianne and John: A history of the Anglo-French Union by Charles Montague, ch.3

    ...the reasons behind the French Cabinet’s acceptance of a proposal that would have seemed ridiculous even a few weeks earlier have been long debated. Undoubtedly everything that had to happen did happen, up to and including the fortuitous road accidents of June 8th… The Cabinet, we should note, accepted the plan only two votes, and did so knowing that the sense of the Assembly opposed it. One minister said later, ‘of course we knew the Assembly opposed us in that moment. We believed they had fallen into a state of panic because of the military debacle, and the horrors unfolding amongst the refugees. We also knew that in a few weeks they would come round. London’s Union proposal showed they were serious, and that an armistice between France and Germany would not end the war. In such a context, France would become a mere sufferer of whatever the Germans chose to impose on us, with the war continuing.’ M. Mandel added, ‘We knew we might end up shot. But we convinced ourselves to make a trial of the war - of fighting it out to the end.’ A handful of Assembly members returned to Paris, and gave a meaningless approval to the Quisling government there. Others again tried to form a new government that would negotiate peace, but could not agree on either its composition or its policy. In the event the Assembly did not meet again, in Algiers, for three months. By that time enough had happened to give the Government a shaky legitimacy...
    Most members of the Government reached Algiers in late June. By that time the evacuation of French assets had reached full swing, permitted by the sacrificial defence of those French units that could not escape. After the fall of Paris and the retreat south of the Loire, there was a further operational pause before the final German offensive, in July, ended all resistance on the Continent.
    Resistance elsewhere was only just beginning. The Supreme War Council of the Union met in person and in full for the first time on August 10th - the British members could not reach Algiers before that date and it was considered a political imperative that the inaugural meeting should be on French territory. The Algiers Manifesto was a bald restatement of the war aims set out by the Allies nearly a year earlier. ‘We have seen nothing,’ it concluded, ‘to change our policy.’
    ...Almost immediately the Council turned its thoughts to the possibility of offensive operations against Libya. The argument swayed to and fro for several days, but in the end several factors prompted a decision to delay the offensive.
    Firstly, the Germans did not show any immediate inclination to carry the war into Africa, and although this was not known for sure at the time, Rome did not (at that time) want them to. Therefore the Council believed they had some time to play with. Mussolini regarded Africa, and the entire Mediterranean, as his sphere of interest, and Hitler basically agreed. He was disappointed that the Allies had not sued for peace - in August he reportedly commented to Goebbels, ‘back in June it looked as though the French would do the sensible thing. But now the Jews are back in control, they have the Jew Mandel in Algiers, running things. Still they can do nothing to us from there.’ His thoughts had already begun to turn to his long-nurtured dreams of conquest in the East.
    The second factor was uncertainty about the attitude of Spain. We now know that Franco never joined the Axis: but at the time the War Council did not feel so sure. ‘We need to know the attitude of Madrid,’ said Reynaud, ‘we must be ready to take Tangier if need be.’ French troops and aircraft deployed in Morocco, British warships lurked off Tangier and the Canaries, while the US made its position clear: ‘we expect immediate catastrophe for Spain if she enters the war,’ said the President. This was a threat in the form of a prediction. Also, London secretly drew up plans to invoke the Treaty of Windsor if Spain entered the war. ‘Having the Azores would vastly simplify our shipping problems,’ noted Mr. Churchill.
    In the end, Hitler was not willing to pay the price Franco demanded. Goering commented, ‘Franco demands the moon, astronomical quantities of materials we cannot spare. He ought to show more gratitude, we helped him in his scuffle with the Reds, and this thanks we get?’ Goering went on: ‘The French have him scared. After all Franco knows the moment one Landser crosses the Pyrenees, he loses Tangier.’ But the Council knew little of all this, and until the winter had no confidence in Franco’s continuing neutrality.
    Thirdly, the British were not ready for their own offensive, and the Council considered it highly desirable - both militarily and politically - for the offensive against Libya to be a giant pincer movement. General Wavell did not think his forces would be ready for some months, as reinforcements had only just been sent.
    Finally, the French army itself did not feel ready. De Gaulle noted, ‘Mechanised warfare in Africa makes extravagant demands of supply.’ Fuel, water and artillery ammunition would be needed in great quantities, but the French railhead stood some way short of the Mareth Line, let alone the border. The army felt it did not possess enough motor transport. The Council discussed requisitioning every civilian vehicle in French North Africa, but decided against this. As M. Mandel said, ‘we cannot derange the economy so badly. After all, we have just seen an influx on a par with the Exodus - we face enough of a challenge just keeping everyone alive.’ Members of the Allied Purchasing Commission, now renamed the Union Purchasing Commission, soon made several visits to Detroit.
     
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    Part 1.2
  • Extract from A Life for the Sky, by Werner Molders, ch.5


    ...the truck took us to an airfield, I think somewhere near Montpellier, and offloaded us into a hangar just as the sun rose. A young-looking French officer addressed us in perfect German, with a trace of an accent. ‘Gentlemen, it seems you are a priority for transport to Algeria, along with senior officers and of course politicians,’ he said.
    ‘Not sure we like the company,’ one of us replied.
    The Frenchman smiled thinly. ‘I have my orders, and will carry them out. Please embark, and I hope you enjoy your stay with us.’
    They packed several of us onto a twin-engined aircraft, an American type. I saw the crew of three come over the field; they all looked exhausted, evidently they had been flying several times a day. With that I could certainly sympathise.
    We sat for a while, and finally the runway cleared. We took off and climbed to altitude. ‘Hope none of our boys are about,’ said Horst, ‘funny way to get finished off.’ Fortunately for us we were not intercepted, though one of us said he saw smoke rising in the distance, perhaps from one of our raids…
    Long flights over water made us uneasy, and this one was about to get worse. There was a commotion in the cockpit, and the plane began to go into a shallow dive. The gunner squeezed through as and dragged me into the cockpit, as I was closest. There the navigator sat, and beside him the pilot, collapsed. Words were unnecessary. We dragged the pilot from the seat and the gunner attended to him. I sat down - the type was unfamiliar, but the basic controls are similar enough on any fixed-wing aircraft. The instruments were labelled in French, sometimes with English alongside, but it was not too difficult to decipher them.
    ‘Where are we?’ I shouted, somewhat excited. The navigator showed me a map, indicating that we were just north of Algiers. Indeed I could soon confirm that for myself, a white city spread before us through thin cloud. Briefly I thought of trying to take control and head for friendly territory - perhaps the other lads could overpower the crew? But I noted that the fuel gauge was quite low, and concluded it would be suicidal; quite wrong and a wicked sin.
    I also saw several other planes in the distance on a similar course, and reasoned they would lead us to an airfield, so I followed. Ten minutes later we were on a landing trajectory, and I recalled just in time that these American bombers had tricycle undercarriages. I do not claim it was a good landing, but the saying is, any that you walk away from…


    *​

    Extract from Memoires by Guy Lemoine. ch.6

    In those days Armand and I often went to the low brick wall behind the hospital to sit in the sunshine and smoke in between our rounds. Despite the many refugees pouring into the city, many of whom ended up in the hospital, the news of the war still seemed abstract to us, we had not seen any enemy aircraft.
    ‘But that will very soon change,’ said Armand. ‘My friend, the time to think about getting out is now, not when the enemy get here.’
    ‘Getting out?’ I said. I had little wish to. ‘I don’t want to abandon my patients. Monsieur Carona, for instance, he has every chance of pulling through.’
    ‘You wrote those articles,’ he said. ‘I’ll bet the Gestapo has a file on you.’
    Of course he was talking about my poor journalistic efforts of the year before. ‘On me? I wrote a handful of pieces for a provincial newspaper. What chance anyone in Germany read them?’
    He shook his head. ‘But you had such a turn of phrase. “Murderous ignorant demagogue”, I remember, that’s what you wrote, and a few others. The Germans seem very attached to their dear Leader, they won’t treat you well.’
    I remained stubborn. ‘But this is my home, my friend.’
    He sighed. ‘Guy, it’s like this. I can’t go anywhere, my little ones are here, my mother is here. But your parents are gone, your wife is gone, and Emilie is safe in Geneva. The rest of us can see to your patients, I promise you.’ He gave me a direct look. ‘We must all go where we can serve best.’
    To be honest, I had had similar thoughts myself, of course I had. But to leave Marseilles, a thing I had rarely done in my life, a thing I had rarely wished to do… Armand saw my struggles, and did the wisest deed he ever did, out of many such. He gave me his Christopher, and said, ‘think of it as a pilgrimage.’
    ...I had vaguely entertained a hope that I might get to fly out, I have always been an aviation enthusiast, but that didn’t occur. I made my way to the port, which of course, was ten times more chaotic than usual. After much asking and being sent to and fro I presented myself before a Navy officer who looked half dead from exhaustion. ‘So what’s your excuse?’ he said without introduction.
    ‘I’m a doctor,’ I said, showing my diploma. ‘I have a letter.’
    I showed him that too; without looking at it he passed it to his colleague, a short, balding petty officer, who glanced at it and said ‘yes’.
    ‘Did your service?’ he asked.
    ‘Many years ago,’ I said, ‘in the Army.’
    ‘Ha! And you want more of it, with all this going on? Takes all sorts.’
    That was all the challenge I received. Later I learned that I counted as a ‘medical expert’ and as such ranked alongside aircraft mechanics, signallers and railwaymen in the priority list. Plenty of less fortunate souls, many of them looking half-starved, watched me dully as I went along the dockside and aboard the ship, which was crowded with soldiers and a variety of professional men like myself.
    Of course, before long I might have doubted whether I was one of the fortunate. The day I left the Luftwaffe made some of their first serious attacks on the port. My ship dodged several bombs as we left. It was not the first time someone had tried to kill me, there had been that business before my wedding, but the first time some had tried to kill me impersonally, and I had no means of defending myself. I realised that all my anti-Nazi talk had been purely intellectual, an intellectual dislike for cruelty and stupidity. That was the first time my emotions became truly engaged. We are not just animals, I think, but we are animals, and the true power of ideas does not reveal itself to us until we feel them in our skin. I vowed to myself that I would do all in my power to end this thing, and prayed for the strength.
     
    Part 1.3
  • Extract from War in the Middle Sea by James Gleeson, ch.2

    ...the French navy had concentrated in the Mediterranean and undertook much activity throughout the summer. The overall picture was one of successive evacuation convoys from southern France, patchily interfered with by Italian surface forces and German aircraft, and rather more successful if costly operations by Italian submarines.
    A key event occurred on 28th June. Three days earlier the cruiser San Giorgio had left Tobruk to take part in operations against the French; now in the waters off Tripoli, the submarine Atalante hit her with two torpedoes, though one did not detonate. Badly damaged, the cruiser limped into Tripoli.

    The most significant surface action of the summer came on July 4th as the evacuation reached its crescendo. Twenty ships carrying the bulk of the men of XV Corps left Marseilles and Toulon under sporadic but unpleasant German air attack, which sank the Justine transport with the loss of some 1400 lives. However, the rest got away under the escort of 3rd Cruiser Squadron with three light cruisers and five destroyers.
    That evening a strong Italian force including the old battleship Giulio Cesare attacked the convoy. However, the actions of the French ships, notably the Montcalm, in counter-attacking with torpedoes and laying smoke screens, convinced the Italians that heavier French forces were in the vicinity, and they withdrew. In fact the French covering squadron, with Provence and Strasbourg, was still some 50 miles away. Casualties were negligible on both sides, but this was a true operational success for the French navy, and gave them a great degree of confidence. The War Council, which had been toying with the idea of ending the evacuation owing to the Italian naval threat, now ordered that it should go on until the Germans ‘reached the very quays of Toulon’.
    The British too took confidence from these developments. Admiral Cunningham noted ‘the French appeared to have gained the moral ascendancy’. Having been joined at Alexandria by Illustrious and Barham, he reassured the Admiralty that he did not need further surface ship reinforcements at that time, though more submarines and aircraft would be very useful. (He also pointed to the urgent need to reinforce Malta, a conclusion the Council agreed with - a steady stream of Hurricanes began to flow into the island via Tunisia.) Accordingly, the Ark Royal and Renown, which had been held at Gibraltar, returned to the Home Fleet. Also the Admiralty retained the Resolution, which had been lurking off Tangier, in the Atlantic to escort convoys against the German raider threat.
    ...what to do about Corsica became subject of impassioned argument in the War Council during August. ‘One small island seemed to loom as large as the rest of the world put together,’ as M. Mandel said. The British favoured its immediate abandonment, but this proved impossible for political reasons. French ministers felt they had to put up a fight, even though their own admirals believed the island untenable, and there were no units there larger than a battalion.
    The sequel saw enough tragedy for all sides. German and Italian air attacks became constant throughout September, even though the Germans needed aircraft against Britain. But taking Corsica became as much an obsession to them as holding it was to the French. By October the island’s air and artillery had been eliminated, and a last desperate relief convoy was savaged by submarines and bombers, losing four out of five merchantmen, plus three destroyers. The Axis considered the island ripe for taking.
    The plan required a German airborne regiment to land on October 8th, together with an Italian airborne battalion, and seize positions to enable a somewhat improvised seaborne landing by German and Italian troops.
    Despite the extreme weakness of the defence, the attack became a shambles. A strong mistral wind blew, and consequently the transport aircraft, who had not had time to rehearse properly, dropped the Sturmregiment inaccurately. Many fell into the sea and drowned, many others were scattered and quickly wiped out. The Italian air-drop had to be cancelled owing to shortages of aircraft. Enough German parachutists managed to get into position to enable the seaborne landing to proceed, but the German and Italian seaborne elements could not communicate while at sea, and their landings were uncoordinated, to the point where Axis forces fired on each other by mistake. One Italian battalion landed in Sardinia by accident. Only the inability of the garrison to move, owing to Axis air superiority, prevented complete failure. Gradually the Axis ironed out their problems, landed reinforcements and moved forward, forcing a surrender on the 19th. The cost was high - ‘I had a regiment a week ago, now I have a company,’ complained Colonel Meindl, the Sturmregiment’s commander. Perhaps as bad was the legacy of bad blood between the Germans and Italians, who blamed each other for the near-fiasco.
     
    Part 2.1
  • Part 2. Adieu, je m’en vois a Algiers


    Extract from Le sable et la poudre: histoire militaire de la campagne en Afrique, by Herbert Molins, ch.3

    ...the Italian declaration of war, it seemed, had taken the Italian command in Libya by surprise, and they soon concluded that they could attempt nothing against Tunisia until the end of the summer. This despite the fact that the acquisition of Tunisia was a long-standing Italian ambition. Marshal Balbo in particular grew excited by the possibility of such a great acquisition; apart from the prospect of glory for Italy, its conquest under his auspices would be a huge political advantage to him. But the military realities on the ground were correspondingly depressing. He wrote, ‘5th Army, the field formation in Tripolitania, proved incapable of immediate action, until reinforced from 10th Army in Cyrenaica. Even then shortages of fuel and water slowed its movements to a crawl once it got beyond its railhead. Throughout the summer I had to stay in Tripoli without a break, working twelve hour days, dealing with innumerable supply problems, while explaining to the Duce why we were not already in Bizerta.’
    The French valued the breathing space thus provided higher than rubies. They knew they would have the advantage in the long run, but needed time to organise. Fortunately, by the time 5th Army began to cross the border into Tunisia too much time had already passed.
    The ground forces available to the French to resist comprised, in the main:
    • XIX Corps, the formation already present in North Africa before May, which consisted of three divisions of mostly Algerian and Moroccan troops.
    • XV Corps, the formation which had defended the Alps successfully before its evacuation from Marseilles and Toulon. Though it had lost heavily, it was the only substantial formation to escape in some semblance of order. Its commander, General Olry, having gained a modicum of credit amidst the military disaster, had now been promoted to command the French ground forces, designated the Army of Africa.
    • III Corps, a formation still in the making as of August, but destined for a great role. A vast number of men had escaped from the fall of metropolitan France, either directly to Algeria or to England in the first instance. General Bethouart took on the task of reforming them into three new divisions, while retaining a pool of men (designated as XXVIII Corps) to act as replacements. He commented, ‘Given the likely attrition, and the lack of a recruitment pool besides North Africa, the Armee d’Afrique could not consist of more units than they could sustain.’
    These forces received some reinforcement during September from units based in Syria; particularly welcome from this source were several pieces of larger artillery.
    A large number of aircraft had also escaped the wreck, including many of the most modern French and American types, though spare parts for all these were in short supply. ‘Our air force must become American,’ commented General de Gaulle, ‘but first we will use up what we have.’
    Material deficiencies abounded. There were debates in the War Council about the British armour sent from the UK in August - some voices, British as well as French, asking if these vehicles should not go to Tunisia instead of Egypt. But other voices - again from both nations - successfully insisted they go to Egypt as planned, pointing out that the French had numerous tanks in Tunisia, enough for present purposes, and there was no particular need for the diversion (nor adequate fuel or motor transport in Tunisia to sustain the British armour in the field). In fact, it took some time for the French armour to become effective - many of these vehicles required reconditioning to deal with African conditions, and forming armoured units large enough to be effective took time. The greater shortage was actually in motor transport and signals equipment.
    However, at least in basic weapons and ammunition, the men had enough, aided by shipments from America that came in during the summer. Due to the urgency some ships came all the way to Bizerta despite the danger of air or submarine attack, bringing old rifles, machine guns, ammunition, and soixante-quinze cannon - tales, perhaps apocryphal, spread of gunners who found themselves once more using the very same guns they (or their fathers) had used in 1918.
    None of this would have served very well against the German tide. Against Italian 5th Army, which had equipment that was often just as old, they served well enough. In September Graziani moved up to the Mareth Line and probed it, but found it too tough to crack. He sat down to a siege and demanded more artillery. The successes of French and British submarines against Italian shipping provided another disincentive to activity - for instance much of the artillery ammunition 5th Army needed went down on the freighter Scarpanto sunk by the Argonaute on 2nd September.
    Berlin offered Rome its assistance, but Mussolini refused it, determined to have a triumph of his own. The Germans turned their air force - Luftflotten 2 and 3 - against Britain during this period, beginning intensive air operations on 3rd September, the so-called ‘Eagle Day’. Goering had promised to defeat the RAF in less than a week, and thus encourage the British to negotiate. However his forces had suffered much attrition in their conquest of France. General Sperrle, the brutal-looking but able old war-horse who commanded Luftflotte 3, commented: ‘These schemes for bringing the English round by air attacks will not work. They would not work even if both I and Kesselring could bring our full strength into action. We will do no more than lose a lot of men and machines. Meanwhile I waste half my strength with Corsica.’ Half was an exaggeration, but it was true that both air fleets needed more recuperation than they had received. The RAF by contrast had largely recovered its strength, and during September managed to inflict a true defeat on the Luftwaffe. Washington concluded from this that the Allies, despite their disasters, retained enough strength to prosecute the war effectively, and continued to increase its support. Mussolini, too, looked on the German failure with some complacency.
     
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    Part 2.2
  • Extract from La Follia by Girolamo Leoni, ch.4

    …it seems now, and seemed at the time, that the Duce’s decision to invade Greece showed strategic madness. Many of us in Rome argued, along with Italo Balbo, that first the stalemate in Tunisia must be broken, if necessary by massive reinforcement, before the winter. We pointed to the poor long-term prospects in Africa in the face of Allied sea-power, and demanded everything for the battle. Others argued for a defensive strategy, aimed at tying down the Allies by sea and air action, together with fresh diplomatic initiatives.
    However, the Duce, at this time as at others, derived his conclusions from political not military criteria. He believed the situation in Africa to be stable for the time being, which created a window of opportunity for decisive action elsewhere in Italy’s sphere of influence. He saw a need to gain a quick victory which did not depend on German support - and which might offset the political consequences if Africa did go badly. And there were several voices within his inner circle, such as Count Ciano, who advocated the Greek adventure strongly. Finally, he wished to demonstrate his freedom of action to Berlin, which had offended him by its oil agreement with Romania. Once the Duce’s decision became clear, every yes-man in Rome hastened to agree with it...
    The Greek fiasco which ensued had several consequences, all negative for us. The Allied guarantee of Greek security took effect. The French appeared the more circumspect of the partners - they wished to give priority to resolving the North African campaign. However, in order to show willing, a regiment of the Foreign Legion moved from Syria to Crete, and later to the mainland. The French also sent a Groupe of fighter aircraft. The British also began a deployment of air and ground forces to Crete, which extended in February to mainland Greece.
    Even while news of defeats arrived from Greece, further bad news came from Africa. An assault on the Mareth Line in October failed to make any headway and cost the 5th Army many casualties. Among them were several of my old comrades from the Academy, such as my friend Benedetto, wounded and captured in an action on the 12th. ‘We lacked everything except courage,’ he wrote to me later, from captivity, a letter which took a remarkable route from Martinique via Geneva to Rome. ‘It was futile, and the French fought fiercely. After half of my men were fallen or wounded, they counter-attacked us with light tanks. They were old, but we had nothing more than rifles. What could we do against them?’
    Then, in November, the British launched an offensive against Cyrenaica - an offensive accelerated by the decision of the War Council in response to French concerns. We now know that General Wavell did not believe his forces to be ready, but the event proved that 10th Army, having been stripped of its (already somewhat limited) transport and artillery to reinforce 5th Army, was even less ready for action.
    At this point Marshal Balbo made his celebrated flight to Rome, landing at Centocelle and driving directly to the Palazzo Venezia where he surprised a Cabinet meeting still in his flying gear. ‘I have come from the battle itself,’ he said, ‘to tell you that if Africa is not reinforced, it will be lost to Italy - a loss that can be due only to folly or treason!’ He narrowly avoided arrest, and returned to Tripoli the following day. I drove him to Centocelle myself, and listened to his woes at some length. He wanted to know if the General Staff agreed with him. I sympathised and made it clear to him that the Staff shared many of his views, but we had to comply with the directives of the Duce. He maintained an eloquent silence at that point.
    The immediate effect of this intervention was perverse, as Mussolini concluded - in a way quite contrary to Balbo’s known wishes - that German aid in Africa must now be accepted.
    By this time, however, OKW, never very keen, had gotten cold feet. A deployment to Africa was very far out of the normal sphere of German operations, and the sea line of communication to Tripoli appeared tenuous. They did not fully explain their views to us, but we realised clearly that they lacked enthusiasm. Privately they expressed themselves more strongly. ‘We must reckon any forces we send to Libya, under present circumstances, to be lost irrecoverably,’ noted General Halder on the 13th. ‘It appears we are to conquer Mussolini an empire, and take our payment in pretty words.’ The British reinforced this judgement with their damaging raid on Taranto a week later. It took a personal plea from Mussolini to Hitler, and a ‘Fuhrer-order’ to OKW, to make the German commitment actually commence. Preparations began to regain a measure of control over the sea passage by German aircraft, and to send a mobile division, but these troops could not arrive until the New Year. But by then fresh developments forced a revision of intentions.
     
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    Part 2.3
  • Memorandum to the Government of the Army Commission of Enquiry regarding the military setbacks of May-June 1940

    HAUT SECRET/ TOP SECRET
    November 4th 1940

    3. ...We must commence by refuting the accusation that the setback of May-June derived from the failure or betrayal of France by our British allies, with whom we have now formed an indissoluble and sacred union. This theme of course constantly recurs in the propaganda of the Quisling regime in Paris that abuses the patience of the nation. We reject it utterly. If we must seek to place blame elsewhere, why do we not place it with the Belgians? Not so much, perhaps, for their precipitate capitulation; nor even for their failure to conduct systematic and timely demolitions in the face of the German assault; but above all by their pathetic belief that neutrality might preserve them from aggression.
    4. Of course to blame Belgium would serve no purpose, and could only spread recrimination and despondency. We hope that the Government do not treat this argument with more seriousness than it deserves. The point of this argument is merely to show how ridiculous it is to engage in such national finger-pointing. We must place the focus of our efforts on those factors which we can control.
    5. Many of those who have chosen the shameful course of seeking accommodation with the invader argue that the setback resulted from a spiritual failing among the people at large, a weakness arising from over-indulgence in democracy, a malaise of the Republic itself. We reject this theme also. The overriding cause of the setback was a simple strategic error.
    6. The story is told of Napoleon setting his subordinates, as an exercise, the task of devising a plan for the defence of France against invasion. One of his generals proposed to distribute the army evenly around the frontiers of the hexagon. ‘Do you intend to stop smuggling?’ the Emperor asked.
    7. We trust the point needs no great elaboration. The extension of our line northwards as far as Breda represents a strategic error of the high command, as this forced the use of 1st Army, 7th Army and the BEF in the main line. At least one of these formations should have constituted our strategic reserve. The lack of this proved fatal...
    11. Notwithstanding the points above regarding strategy and doctrine, the campaign did reveal serious technical limitations in our forces. The lack of radios in our fighting vehicles proved the most serious deficiency. Even on those occasions when we obtained a local superiority we could not coordinate our forces effectively…
    14. Our air force suffered heavy losses on the ground due to a lack of adequate early warning. We have inspected the radio detection system employed by the British for home defence, and found it most impressive. It represents a tremendous elaboration and expansion on the principles identified by MM. David, Ponte, Gutton and others. Tragically our equivalent SADIR system did not come into operation in time; a few months later and the enemy could not have gained air superiority so rapidly. We note furthermore the excellent radio equipment fitted to British combat aircraft, which enables their efficient direction.
    15. This point along with point 11 above indicates the path we must take. Victory must come through a tremendous expansion of our technical means in all areas; however it is clear that the exploitation of the electro-magnetic spectrum for military purposes presents the most exciting possibilities, possibilities that the Union is well-placed to pursue. We hope the Government notes this, and that this finding informs the directives it gives to the Joint Purchasing Commission. We propose the setting up of a specialised centre in North Africa to concentrate French technical expertise, while learning all we can from British efforts.

    DE GAULLE
    OLRY
    BETHOUART
    MAGRIN-VERNEREY
    And 17 others
     
    Part 2.4
  • Extract from Marianne and John, Montague, ch.4

    Japanese pressure on the French in Indo-China began as soon as it became clear that the fall of France was inevitable. It began with pseudo-accidental overflights and border incursions, soon graduating to bombing raids and maritime provocations including the sinking of coastal craft. By the end of August it became clear that the Japanese wanted the closure of the overland supply route from Indochina into China. This being conceded, they escalated to demanding transit and basing rights. This received a firm no, to which the Japanese responded with an open attack on northern Indochina by ships and aircraft and the seizing of some offshore islands. Japanese army units closed up to the border. The War Council, however, was not intimidated, despite the desperate position. As a sop to the Japanese, the British did temporarily close the Burma Road, but the Council held firm against the demand for transit and basing. ‘If we give way on this point it is all over,’ said Lord Halifax. ‘We must keep something back to show we will not be bullied.’
    The Japanese had to consider, at the close of September, whether or not to escalate further. Certainly, they did already have the capability to invade and conquer Indochina. However, that would mean open war with France and Britain, and as yet Tokyo had not committed itself to the so-called Southern Operation. The Army on balance still liked the ‘Northern Operation’ against the USSR, and the Emperor’s assent, though a formality, had not been attained, and could not be attained quickly. Also the Americans made it clear they would instantly impose an embargo in this case. Tokyo therefore pulled back most of its forces, and began to explore other options...
    The obvious solution was to use a deniable agent. Thailand had grievances against the French, and the Thai dictator Phibun was open to Tokyo’s approaches. However, although Phibun’s authority was dictatorial, he still had to consider the preferences of his key supporters, who did not all share his views. The Regent in particular became a focus for opposition. Moreover Thailand had a poor strategic situation, surrounded by Anglo-French territories. The Thai ambassador in Washington argued weakly that the USA ought to restrain Britain in the event of conflict, but the Administration was having none of it. ‘If Thailand commits aggression against Indochina, the British will not hesitate to threaten invasion,’ commented the President, ‘and they would have every right to do so.’ The British ambassador in Bangkok passed on a clear threat, reported to the War Council in November: ‘We have reminded the Siamese dictator,’ said Mr. Churchill, ‘that we have six divisions forming in India, one of them armoured, and they will be ready next year. Where they go depends on his attitude.’
    Phibun therefore restricted the Thai armed forces to the same kind of limited provocations and attacks employed by the Japanese in August-September. ‘These pinpricks do not scare us,’ said Churchill. They did, however, create a strong desire in the Council to reinforce the Far East. In this the French showed greater enthusiasm, and sometimes had to chivvy the British along, but they found unexpected allies in the shape of the Australian and (to a lesser extent) Indian governments, which also took the Indochina issue seriously…
    By the end of the year the composition of the Council had seen several changes. Mr. Chamberlain’s fatal illness saw him replaced firstly by Lord Halifax and then, upon his departure for Washington, by Mr. Eden. M. Reynaud departed the scene in October, citing ill health, and it is true that he had missed several Council meetings, and contributed little when he attended. ‘In fact, he has served as a mere figurehead for some months,’ noted Eden. Furthermore the common opinion in Algiers was that he had become sickened by constant intriguing against his position. M. Daladier replaced him. Later the same month, after long campaigning, Admiral Darlan joined the Council, thereby adding a fourth French member. In order to maintain equal numbers, Mr. Bevin joined from the British side (thereby adding a second Labour voice to Mr. Attlee, a necessary consideration). Darlan, however, offended not only the British but also his own colleagues by his attitude - especially de Gaulle and Mandel, who both eventually refused to talk to him. He therefore found himself isolated, and resigned before the end of the year, being replaced by Nogues. Gossip had it that Darlan wished to gain political advantage from playing the martyr, but if so his move proved ill-timed, as his departure came just before important successes, for which he later tried in vain to take the credit…
     
    Part 2.5
  • Memorandum of the Joint Economic Planning Office to the Supreme War Council
    30/10/40
    HAUT SECRET/ TOP SECRET

    Sirs, some weeks ago you requested our comment regarding the inter-connected questions of strategic transport, shipping, iron & steel production, and shipbuilding...
    2. The chief source of iron ore now available to the Union is North Africa. To illustrate the point, we note that in the last full year of peace, British iron ore imports were just over 5 million tons, half of this from continental Europe, the other half from North Africa, with some other minor supplies.
    3. British iron and steel production therefore must make do with half its pre-war level of ore. Scrap can compensate for this only in part. However, this illustrates the importance of the Union - without North Africa, British primary iron & steel production (i.e. from ore) would eventually almost cease.
    4. We can also partly address the gap through the import of finished iron & steel goods, chiefly from the USA. We have placed very large orders and will continue to do so. However, both for wartime and peacetime purposes, we consider it desirable to avoid as far as possible excessive dependency on US supply.
    5. Evidently, iron ore is a bulk product and shipping space is our most critical scarce resource, even more so than manpower. We have therefore explored the possibilities of expanding refinery capacity in North Africa itself, clearly there would be great advantages to exporting bar iron rather than iron ore. However, for the technical reasons outlined in annex B, we do not believe this can make a significant contribution to the easing of shipping requirements in the next two years…
    8. You asked specifically about the problems of reinforcing the Far East. A great easing of strategic transport requirements will arise from our possession of the entire North African coastline, once attained. From an economic point of view this is much the most valuable effort that the Union can make in the next 6 months, and no other considerations should be permitted to reduce its likelihood. The transport of goods to the Middle and Far East will become easy via the Mediterranean, though heavy sea and air escort will be necessary in the Sicilian Narrows.
    9. We understand that the military advice is that the Narrows will be too risky for troop transports as long as the enemy holds Sicily and Sardinia. This implies some such approach as follows: disembark troops at Algiers, travel overland to the Gulf of Gabes or Tripoli, then re-embark for Egypt & points east. This in turn implies the need to upgrade the North African railways and connect the Tunisian line to the Libyan, once captured. This will require large investments, but can probably be made effective during the present war, if sufficient American help is forthcoming. The advantages of this over using the Cape route will be obvious…
    11. Shipyard capacity remains another limiting factor. The demands of convoy escort manufacture, the repair of merchantmen, the construction of landing craft, and the completion of the new major fleet units, mean that British yards cannot themselves perform all the works needed on French units. The technical problems of completing the Jean Bart seem insuperable, and we recommend exploring her conversion to an aircraft carrier in the USA, if this can be made to fit in with military requirements...

    We are, sirs, yours etc.
    BEVERIDGE
    MONNET
    PLEVEN
    ZUCKERMAN
     
    Part 3.1
  • Part 3. Renard tué en plein air


    Extract from Le sable et la poudre by Herbert Molins, ch.4

    ...General Olry felt unable to launch any offensive against 5th Army until late November, owing to his shortage of transport. XIX Corps then made a limited attack, codenamed GARCON, to gain better jumping-off positions, but a full counter-offensive must wait until more motor vehicles, signals equipment, aviation fuel and aircraft spares arrived from the United States. Convoys with this essential materiel had already arrived, but it took some time to distribute the materiel and ensure the men were adequately prepared. Many of the radios had arrived with all the instructions in English - these needed translation. Six hundred lorries were immobilised for a month by shortages of a particular kind of spring. Olry commented to de Gaulle that 'It was some comfort to know that the Italians suffered just as badly from these afflictions, and had less hope of relief.'
    ‘The predominant question,’ said M. Mandel, ‘is the air.’ During the autumn and winter the French air force gained air superiority over Tunisia and made increasingly powerful attacks on Tripoli. The D.520 and LeO 451 types saw much use, but the main cutting edge of the Armee de l’Air d’Afrique (AAA) now came from American types. The aviators loved the H.75 and found it ‘definitely superior to anything the Italians have, and in the right hands, equal to any German type except the latest Me 109 variant’, in the words of one report. The AAA used the Glenn Martin 167 extensively for tactical bombing, and the Douglas DB-7 for raids against Tripoli and Italian shipping. Much of the ordnance used was also coming from the US - the AAA cautioned against going ahead as they felt stockpiles were inadequate, but the Council determined to accept the risk.
    By Christmas, all was as ready as one could hope. The Council had heard disquieting indications that German forces were coming, and they wished to forestall the possibility of a possibly prolonged campaign in Libya. XIX Corps repeated its role of GARCON with a limited frontal assault on 25th December; the troops, mostly Muslims, had no objection to fighting at Christmas, and it was hoped to catch the Italians off-guard. ‘Such an underhand trick,’ complained one Italian officer as he went into captivity.
    However this was really just a demonstration. The starring role went to III Corps, with all the available tanks, and now provided with sufficient American motor transport. They outflanked 5th Army and raced for the border, encircling and capturing most of the Italian forces in Tunisia. During this phase the British forces in Cyrenaica completed the destruction of 10th Army, capturing Bardia, Tobruk and Derna, in the latter place also capturing General Bergonzoli. ‘We had no transport, no air, no artillery,’ he complained, ‘we could neither fight nor flee.’
     
    Part 3.2
  • Extract from War in the Middle Sea, by James Gleeson, ch.3

    ...the arrival of Fliegerkorps X in Sicily improved the situation in the central Mediterranean. Malta suffered a series of heavy raids, to the point where only a handful of fighters remained operational. Given these circumstances, the Italian navy decided, under intense pressure from both Rome and Berlin, that it could run a convoy to Tripoli in January carrying the first small instalment of German troops and equipment, as well as Italian reinforcements. ‘The situation had become desperate,’ commented Marshal Balbo later, ‘we had little left to defend Tripoli, the French had reached the border and the English had destroyed 10th Army’s power to resist. The risk was great, but necessary at the time.’
    The Supermarina debated the route for the convoy at length. ‘We knew,’ said Admiral Iachino later, ‘that the destiny of Libya, the course of the war, and Italy’s national destiny, were all bound together in this weighty decision.’ Fliegerkorps X could protect it whether it went west or east of Sicily and Malta, but not all the way to Tripoli. The Italians had become painfully aware of the numerous French submarines active to the west. They also had to take into account the certainty of heavy air attack from Tunisia. All this meant that the Supermarina decided on the eastern route, where they hoped to escape detection, but did so with great trepidation. Of course, Admirals Cunningham and Godfroy understood the situation, and had made arrangements.
    The convoy left Naples on the 5th. In the small hours of the 6th the convoy passed Messina and during the day proceeded south under air cover. All this activity could not go altogether unnoticed, however. Signals intercepts revealed the existence of the convoy, and at midday a DB-7 from Sfax gave the convoy’s position.
    As night fell on the 6th, the cruisers of Force K, Southampton, Newcastle and Birmingham, together with five destroyers, caught up with the convoy. All three cruisers had radar which gave them a large advantage, and had practised their tactics.
    The battle became known as the Strage d’Epifania. Only one of the merchant ships, the Annibale, escaped by fleeing westwards, only to be sunk before dawn by a French submarine; three of the escorts also sank. Several British ships took damage, but none of it serious enough to slow them down, and the force broke off the action at 1 am and headed east at top speed, coming under the cover of aircraft from the Illustrious at dawn. The entire fleet then returned to Alexandria. German aircraft sent to search for the ships in the morning found nothing. Admiral Cunningham had taken a calculated risk, which paid off spectacularly. ‘It was the biggest lump of coal we could imagine,’ said Balbo later. ‘After that I knew all was lost.’
    The OKH now revolted against the idea of trying to save Tripoli. General Halder noted, ‘Although most of the German troops were rescued, all their equipment was lost, including more than fifty vehicles. We cannot afford such waste in such a peripheral theatre.’ To his relief, Hitler agreed. ‘We have other plans for 1941,’ he said, ‘all we need is for Mussolini to hold them off for a year. After that we can mop up.’
     
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    Part 3.3
  • Extract from The Gray Waves: a history of the Battle of the Atlantic by Walter Schluter, ch.4

    The Kriegsmarine’s surface raiding operations of the autumn and winter had exacted a heavy toll on Allied shipping, but the time now came to pay the bill. The Hipper, making a second sortie into the Atlantic, after sinking some unescorted ships, fell in with convoy SLS64 on 11th February. This appeared a perfect target, but turned out to be escorted by the old battleship Resolution. After a brief exchange of fire the Hipper retreated north, easily outpacing the old battlewagon.
    However, the Resolution engagement report reached the Coquelicot convoy, bringing aircraft, railway material and fuel from the US, plus numerous American engineers, to Casablanca. This convoy, like several before it, was considered of very high importance, and accordingly Admiral Godfroy, now commanding the fleet, had assigned the Force du Raid to its distant protection. It also had a strong close escort, including the cruisers Duquesne, Montcalm and Gloire. These ships now detached and intercepted the Hipper east of the Azores. A furious fight followed, Duquesne taking much of the fire (rather as Exeter had done in the River Plate battle) and suffering heavy damage. However, the light cruisers managed to manoeuvre into a favourable position and hit the Hipper with two torpedoes, slowing her significantly. They then drew off to screen the stricken Duquesne with smoke and enable her disengagement, then began to shadow their adversary.
    The Hipper now had no chance to escape. Dunkerque caught up the following evening, and after an hour’s fight it was all over. The French took on board some 400 survivors, but then left the scene fearing U-boats. Many more survivors were picked up over the next two days by U-boats and neutral ships. The Duquesne limped into Casablanca, so badly damaged that no-one could quite believe she had not sunk, and indeed repairs were so extensive and prolonged as to be virtually a new ship. But Admiral Godfroy considered this a price well worth paying, commenting: ‘The Hipper was a powerful ship, and a great threat to us. I would have been content to lose all three of our cruisers to sink her. Now the moral effect of this will be even greater than the material.’
    He proved correct. At the same time as these events, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were in the North Atlantic as part of operation Berlin. When news of the Hipper’s loss came through, Kriegsmarine HQ ordered their immediate withdrawal. However, Admiral Tovey anticipated the German reaction and ordered units of the Home Fleet to cover the likely routes. The Richelieu and Renown came close to an interception, but only managed to fire a few salvoes in fading light as the German ships headed east at high speed. Owing to a signals error, the position and bearing were misreported, so that an attempted air strike by torpedo aircraft from the Ark Royal failed to find the targets, instead attacking the Richelieu and Renown in error, fortunately without hitting. Once the mistake was realised, a second strike was sent which caught the twins just before they reached land-based air cover. For the loss of two aircraft, two hits were scored, one on each ship, though the damage did not prove fatal. Within a few hours both ships came safely under an air umbrella and were escorted into port.
    The fallout from these events was considerable. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau would need prolonged repair, and no-one of the Kriegsmarine high command was eager to repeat the experience of their narrow escape. More importantly, Hitler became very agitated at the risk of further losses, as the sinking of the Hipper received considerable favourable coverage in the US, and was a staple of Allied propaganda for months. He directed the suspension of all further Atlantic sorties by major surface units. Although the new battleship Bismarck joined the fleet later that spring, for the time being it was confined to port, acquiring the nickname ‘Graf von Heimat-hafen’.
     
    Part 3.4
  • Extract from La Follia, Girolamo Leoni, ch.5

    We knew by late January that we could send no succour to Tripoli. The Germans were no longer even responding to our questions on the matter. The only project they wanted to even discuss was an attack on Malta, but the Navy would not hear of it...
    On the last day of the month the Duce called the General to see him. I went along, of course, along with the rest of his staff. ‘What is this I hear from Balbo,’ he complained, ‘that he can no longer resist the French? He still has 50,000 men, by his own admission. He has hundreds of aircraft.’ I felt embarrassed that my country’s leader could show such ignorance of such vital matters. The General allowed me to answer.
    ‘He has 50,000 men, but not a single formed combat unit bigger than a company,’ I said. ‘The men you speak of are fugitives and rear-echelon troops. They have no cohesion, no transport except mules, no weapons but rifles.’ I felt myself reddening, but plunged on, knowing that I owed this to the poor soldiers in Libya. ‘I have read the serviceability reports from the air force.’ I just restrained myself from asking, have you? ‘Less than fifty planes are serviceable, they can make only one sortie per day because of the fuel shortage. Soon they will not be able to fly at all. The enemy have three times as many in the air every day. The bravest of men cannot fight with such poor means.’
    The General made a gesture, as if seeing my agitation and fearing what I might say, and interrupted. ‘Duce, we foresaw all this, we have often spoken of it. In my opinion the Marshal has done well to last even this long.’ The meeting broke up soon after, and we left in low spirits...
    The war in Libya had become a race between the English and French, which French III Corps won. On February 10th Marshal Balbo put on his best uniform and drove a few kilometres west along the coast road under a flag of truce. The meeting should have taken place sooner; initially the French had proposed that General Bethouart accept the surrender. However, Balbo believed that a mere corps commander was beneath his dignity, or at any rate beneath the dignity of the Governor-General of Libya, and had insisted on meeting General Olry himself.
    It is possible that the Marshal could have escaped. However, he stated a wish to share the fate of his men. It is also possible that he did not rely on the safety of flight, as the French had by now begun aggressive patrols over Tripoli and its airfields, and he had no wish to perish in a plane crash. Many also felt that he had become sick of the war, and had come to believe that, even if it were true that neutrality was impossible in such a struggle, Italy was on the wrong side. Later events, of course, tend to confirm this. After a brief conversation, the Marshal, the city of Tripoli and all that was left of the Italian forces in Libya passed into Allied hands. Our empire in Africa now comprised only Ethiopia, which, isolated as it was, could not hold out for long. The Duce said nothing useful, and on that day all our hearts broke. With hindsight, I see that for the next two years we merely drifted along, like ghosts.
     
    Part 4.1
  • Part 4. Quem deus vult perdere

    Memorandum from Prime Minister to Admiralty, 31st March 1941

    2. Despite previous instructions the Navy is still using code-names that the French cannot possibly use. Latest proposed operation was called LATCHSPRING. What Frenchman wants to pronounce that? Pray rename any proposed operations in accordance with the Council's decision, all codenames must be words that have the same meaning and spelling (if not pronunciation) in both languages. The French are doing the same, there will be no more Garcons and Coquelicots.
    3. The recent events in the Mediterranean and Atlantic are most gratifying and bring naval proportions to a highly favourable scale of values. I am concerned therefore by the comments of several officers that no major offensive can be contemplated this year…
    4. The air factor has shown itself to be of the first importance in all operations of this war so far. Naturally we are building up a vast air power in the Mediterranean. Nonetheless we should not go to excessive lengths. We cannot allow naval operations to be checkmated by the mere presence of enemy Air, especially when we have naval air power on the other side.
    5. Of still greater concern are the comments regarding the provision of landing-craft. Upon what basis was it decided to have such anaemic production of these vessels this year? The explanation given is the need to strengthen our escorting flotillas. This was needful, but we have every reason to hope the worst of the U-boat menace will be over this year as our strength builds. Pray have this looked into and revision made. The Council believe we must take offensive action in the Mediterranean during 1941, over and above the efforts we are making to aid Greece.
    6. The latest Japanese provocations distress us in themselves and complicate our thinking. However they also influence the American attitude which continues to improve. The Lend-Lease Bill, once passed, will greatly ease our supply concerns. We have discussed the allocation of the new American aircraft for this year, which must mostly go to the French.
    7. The Council have agreed to make an exception where naval and coastal aircraft are concerned. Therefore, the French will have first call on land-based types, but we will have first choice of naval and coastal types. The French have spoken well of the Grumman naval fighters and we have added to our own order for these. You asked regarding the de-navalised Brewster fighters; the French will take these. We shall have priority for the big American flying-boats, though the French must also have some for their areas of anti-U-boat patrols. They have done well with their airships, but they are too prone to accidents, the recent crashes show the need for modern aircraft.
    8. Pray let me have a revised view of what naval force can be sent to Singapore and when. The French have proposed a substantial reinforcement to be based at Cam Ranh. Our present intentions I consider inadequate. The enemy have suffered serious reverses, and we can spare capital ships for the East, even with the Hood to undergo her major refit. We know the rate of the enemy's building. At no point will we have less than a two for one advantage in both the Mediterranean and Atlantic. This is surely sufficient margin especially given the supplementary power of naval Air. Our Eastern force, as and when we send one, must have at least one modern aircraft-carrier of its own, I strongly prefer two.
    9. The French Admirals have expressed dismay over the rate at which we are supplying their ships with RDF equipment. The Provence and Bretagne will not be equipped until October on the present schedule. The Council cannot accept this. British cruisers and destroyers cannot have superior detection equipment to French capital ships. As always, bras dessus, bras dessous.
     
    Part 4.2
  • Extract from War in the Middle Sea by James Gleeson, ch.4

    A steady stream of RAF aircraft, particularly Hurricanes, flowed into Malta via Tunisia in late 1940 and the early months of 1941, keeping the three fighter squadrons on the island up to strength despite heavy losses in combat. The RAF brass initially resisted French offers to assist with the air defence of the island, citing concerns over the logistical arrangements needed to keep multiple types of aircraft flying from austere bases. However, after further heavy losses in early March the RAF felt forced to accept the assistance, at least as a temporary measure. Initially a single escadrille of H-75s were employed, but by late March a full Groupe de Chasse had begun to operate. The AdA took the decision to revive GC12, Les Cicognes, the ‘Storks’, who had earned such a reputation in WW1, as the name of this unit. Facilities were poor - ‘we thought Tunisia was bad,’ commented their commander, Constantin Rozanoff. ‘Malta meant dust, air raids, constant combat against the odds, and worst of all, British food. Our nerves were much tested.’
    The Storks entered combat in March and achieved a notable success on April 1st, when they intercepted a raid by German bombers of KG30 and mauled it, shooting down five bombers for the loss of two. ‘I had to use all my skill in bringing down one particularly dashing target,’ wrote Rozanoff. ‘When we landed, some British soldiers brought us the men we had shot down for our inspection. “Fancy meeting Hermann the German?” they asked. It was indeed a Boche called Hermann, which gave us much merriment. A weak joke, but it was a time when opportunities for amusement were rare.’ GC12 indeed took heavy losses itself, losing twelve pilots and over twenty aircraft in a few weeks, mostly to the German veterans of JG26. ‘The H75 won a place in our hearts, but all of us felt the H81 could not come soon enough,’ commented Rozanoff. ‘We knew they were coming, the Lend-Lease Act gave us confidence of that. We only hoped we would live long enough to see them.’
     
    Part 4.3
  • Extract from ch.4 of To the stars the hard way: a history of 50 Wing RAF by Bertram Owen

    ...following the route that was already becoming familiar to the RAF, the two squadrons flew from Exeter to Gibraltar on the 25th March, then along the North African coast, making several refuelling stops, to Libya. The war diary of Squadron Leader Fife records:

    “30th. From El Adem airfield to Maleme, in Crete, with 10 Blenheims. Others to follow once serviceable. Many rumours regarding intentions. Talk of raiding Ploesti - not currently possible. Difficult to sleep - v.poor living arrangements.
    31st. Rest of squadron joined us at Maleme. Moore’s boys due to arrive tomorrow. Concerned at shortage of spares and bombs here.
    April 1st. Dicky and Roy up to their usual jokes. Orders came through at 1400 - prepare for shipping strike off Albania. Orders cancelled at 1600 just as we were warming up. Sure to be a show tomorrow?
    2nd. Our first mission in the theatre. Flew fifty miles NW of Corfu looking for Italian ships - none found. Sighted unknown aircraft in distance - ours? Theirs?
    3rd. Orders to transfer to mainland. Accompanied by some 30 French fighters, both our squadrons landed at airfield near Athens. Billeted in usual type of hole, vermin everywhere. Met French Captain called Montgolfier, like the balloonist; seems keen.
    5th. Finally some action. Raided Italian position at Vlore in Albania. Return fire uncomfortably heavy - three planes damaged. Udall’s gunner, Harry B, took a fragment in the leg - big legs we always said.
    6th. Big news today - Germans are in for keeps. They raided Piraeus - our lads got stuck in to them. We need more planes.
    7th. Belgrade took a pasting. Len says we are to help the Yugos. Don’t see much future in that.
    8th. Flew over Mount Olympus today. No sign of Huns yet. Three Italian biplanes sighted in distance - they came closer, gunners drove them off.
    9th. Terrible news - Germans have Salonika. Worse, the kitchens have run out of spuds.
    12th. Two ops yesterday. First was a wash-out, couldn't find target. Three crates u/s because of lack of spares. Took 9 Blenheims to raid German supply lines near Salonika. Attacked 10-15 M.T. and some hits scored, but bounced by 110s on withdrawal. Freeman and Pascoe shot down, two others damaged. Roy badly hurt, will need new gunner - hope to get him evac’d.
    13th. Unlucky for some. Escorted by French fighters, to Salonika again, saw 20-30 M.T. on the move and attacked, think we scored some hits. Big dog-fight between French and 110s. Montgolfier says he lost 2 and shot down 4. He certainly kept them off us, only 2 damaged. Word is the Army is falling back to Olympus.
    15th. Pretty bad day. Poor Farrell crashed on take-off, no survivors. All our crates are showing the strain - three more u/s this morning, mechanical or electrical faults. Took the Sqn to attack German tanks near Mt. Olympus, our arty. was to lay down smoke, but couldn’t see it. Saw M.T. convoy moving south and bombed it instead, but enemy flak heavy, Yellow section caught a packet - 1 shot down, other 2 u/s on return to base.
    17th. Len says the game is up, says some Army units already pulling back. Not sure if that’s right, he’s inclined to see a glass half empty. But it is true that about Greeks falling back from Albania. German planes overhead in afternoon - French got one or two. We saw big explosions N of Olympus - looks like the Sappers carrying out demolitions.
    20th. Not had much time to write last few days. Constant flying. Only 3 Blenheims serviceable in our sqn - Moore’s boys no better. Ten crates sat like pork for lack of spares. Also only enough bombs for 2-3 more ops.
    23rd. Anzacs making a stand on the coast, sounds hot down there. Hot for us too. (afternoon) 20-30 German bombers raided us, 6 of our planes wrecked - mostly the lame ducks. Poor Benji killed. We put up a show in the evening, had a go at Sedes airfield. V. bad flak, lost Brodie, but think we got some hits.
    24th. Ordered back to Crete for the time being. Between us Moore & I have only 7 serviceable. Montgolfier now commanding French fighter group, his C.O. gone - he has less than 10. Saw another German raid on our base as we left it behind - hope the new boys have an easier time of it, but somehow I doubt it.”

    50 Wing had taken a hammering, but their efforts undoubtedly contributed to the standstill on the Olympus line as April closed. By early May the Allied air forces had built up to several hundred machines in the theatre. They had mostly Hurricanes and Curtiss 81s operating from the mainland, the robustness of these types being severely tested. The main challenge they faced was defending their own airfields from incessant hit-and-run raids by Me110s and Ju88s now operating from airfields in Bulgaria and inside Greece. As for the Blenheims of 63 Wing who now arrived to replace 50 Wing outside Athens, Squadron Leader Fife guessed correctly, and they lost half their number in a few weeks.

    *​

    Extract from ch.8, A Song at the Sacrifice by Theogenes Barker

    ...of course no-one wished to hear my opinion. Having realised that my advice had fallen on deaf ears, I made what arrangements I could for the safety of Eleni and the children, and sent them to her relatives in Alexandria. My colleagues at the Embassy had begun to follow this example.
    We had several meetings with General Wilson, who put a brave face on things. ‘We’ll have a full division of armour,’ he said in confidence, ‘and the French have a corps on our flank.’ Still, somewhat pessimistically, I felt the situation looked decidedly sticky even before the Germans invaded. The Yugoslav revolution briefly gave us hope, but Bulgaria’s attitude and the swift collapse of Yugoslav resistance made me fear the worst. The Greeks had made me proud of them, and I longed to have their mighty struggle better rewarded. However they were running low on supplies even before the Germans attacked. I had my hands full negotiating over the scale of support, since we could not provide as much assistance as they needed. One ray of hope came on the 5th, when we heard that the first big shipment of food from the US would arrive later in the month, aboard the freighter Murchison.
    ...Many have complained since regarding the French attitude, claiming it doomed the hopes of holding the Germans further north, and that had they sent their corps immediately after the fall of Tripoli, the situation could have been saved. I disagree, and did so at the time. There was no hope of holding Salonika once Bulgaria was in, and Winston’s notion of forming a front with the Yugoslavs was a pipe dream. Anyway, in the event the French divisions, not to forget the Poles, did sterling service, often overlooked in English-language accounts of the campaign, I have to say.
    ‘The overriding factor is the air,’ Wilson said to us in early April, ‘It might be the Germans could maintain and reinforce their squadrons more quickly than we could.’ All the events of that momentous spring were under this shadow. My heart moved to see the gallantry of the Allied fliers, always outnumbered, operating from rough airstrips with little protection. In my diary I recorded one air-fight:
    “7th April. To Piraeus on business; as I arrived there was a tremendous hubbub and a wave of aircraft approached, I think from the north, large planes with a different engine note to the Italian machines we have heard before. German, I guessed, they were attacking the port. As I watched I saw three French fighters zoom overhead and attack the enemy, scattering them, so that the bombs missed the port but landed close to where I stood. I retreated quickly. One of the fighters got too close to one of the bombers, they collided and both went down.”
    Despite such courage, the Allied planes could not be everywhere. On another day, I think the 16th though my diary is unclear, I was caught in an air raid with some bombs landing not far away, though the actual target, we realised later, was one of our airfields.
    The hardest fighting started on the 21st, and in one or two places it looked like the Germans might break through - I think Jumbo came close to ordering a fall back to Thermopylae. The rumour mill said the French were cracking, and we set to work burning sensitive papers. All the hundreds of hours we had slaved over our exquisitely crafted memos, now up in smoke! It helped restore some perspective.
    Luckily we had the Anzacs and 2nd Armoured in place to counter-attack, but it was a close-run thing. Later I heard that some of our batteries had run out of ammunition entirely by the 26th, and if the enemy could have made one more push, they’d have broken through. I suppose they had exhausted themselves too. Some of us saw significance in the Germans halting at the feet of Olympus, as though the Gods themselves had intervened: I felt that nothing less would have stopped them at that point.
    On the 27th the higher-ups ordered an evacuation of non-essential personnel. I and many others, including Bingo and Carton de Wiart, left from Piraeus on the 27th aboard the Clan Fraser. We suffered two or three air attacks, one of which hit the ship but mercifully did not explode. Another ship near to us, heading into the port, was less lucky. As bad luck would have it, it was the Murchison. I saw it sink, but we could not stop to rescue the survivors - a horrid mess. A synecdoche, one might say, for the whole Greek campaign.
    Amid my feelings of distress there was an incident that gave me much cause for reflection later. Carton de Wiart could not be persuaded to take cover. He stood by the rail, cursing the enemy. ‘Aren’t there any guns on this tub?’ he shouted. ‘Show me a Lewis, I want a pop at those villains.’ Eventually we reached Crete and got ashore…
    We civilians felt rather surplus to requirements, and somewhat ashamed of ourselves. The Army seemed to feel the same way, and we had rather Spartan living arrangements. We saw tremendous activity everywhere, French troops digging in, our engineers preparing defences and improving the airfields, RA gunners setting up their batteries. One night, sitting by a camp-fire outside our tent, Bingo and I discussed the prospects. He was evidently feeling mellow with the warm evening and the retsina.
    ‘Theo, I don’t fancy their chances now,’ he said, ‘blitzkrieg in open country is one thing, but this is another. They missed the bus.’
    I was still pretty shaky after our experiences. ‘What if they come by air?’ I asked. ‘They have paratroopers, and they conquered Holland and Corsica quickly enough.’
    ‘They got cut up badly though,’ he said. ‘Paratroopers can’t do it all by themselves. I doubt they’ll use them at all.’
    ‘The poor Greeks are exhausted,’ I said, ‘they’ve still got to hold their line.’
    He sought to calm my fears. ‘‘The Italians would have to break through, which I doubt. No, I don’t think they’ll take Athens any time soon.’
    ‘They have to try,’ I replied. ‘The bad man can read a map. You know as well as I do where he gets his oil. Our planes can reach Roumania from Attica, and if bombs hit those wells it’s goodnight Mr. Chips.’ He looked sceptical. ‘I think they have to try. They’ll throw the kitchen sink at us, and they’ll have enough planes to win.’
    As it turned out, we were both wrong, so you could say that there was no change there…
     
    Part 4.4
  • Extract from ch.5, War in the Middle Sea by James Gleeson

    Postwar discoveries indicate that OKH initially opposed MANFRED, the second assault on the Olympus line, but Hitler overrode their concerns, citing fears for the Ploesti oil-fields. General Halder confided his gloom to his diary on May 10th. ‘Only six divisions, plus one airborne division, against all those Anzacs and French, not to mention the Greeks, who we must expect to fight fanatically,’ he said, ‘it’s enough to make one weep. Even if we had the Sturmregiment available it would be a gambler’s throw. To do it now, with crucial operations impending elsewhere, makes me think the Greek gods have sent us an attack of madness.’
    ...and in the event Halder’s pessimism was borne out. The attack on the Olympus position hit in an area now fortified heavily by the Australian 7th and New Zealand 2nd Divisions, who held, as did the French V Corps further west, near Grevena. OKH minuted that ‘in future no attacks should be mounted on any position held by significant numbers of “Anzac” forces.’ A subsidiary Italian attack, mounted essentially as a diversion, achieved little.
    The German airborne assaults also failed, thanks to the presence of Allied reserves close to the front, notably British 2nd Armoured Division, 7th Foreign Legion Infantry Regiment (RI), and the Polish Carpathian Brigade. Despite some dangerous moments, the airborne forces lacked the strength to overcome the defenders unaided, and the disruption to Allied rear areas proved insufficient to permit the main attacks to break through. Perhaps the most critical point was the fighting near Kalabaka, where the 7th RI and 1st Assault Regiment fought a ferocious battle near a new airstrip. At one point the French were ordered to withdraw, but owing to signals difficulties and mutual incomprehension, the order never arrived, luckily as it turned out. The 7th RI took fifty percent casualties, but denied the airstrip to the enemy, who then ran out of ammunition. Most of the German regiment was thus forced to surrender on 22nd May.
    The other airborne attacks also ended in fiasco. An initial success by Student’s force near Mount Ossa on the 21st May could not be supported, after which the paratroopers were overrun by a counter-attack of British 2nd Armoured Division. ‘The Light 6B does not look like much,’ noted one British officer, ‘but it looms a veritable beast of doom against men with only small arms. They were like long-spear hoplites against the short-spear Persians.’ The phrase caught on, journalists began to call 2nd Armoured the 'Hoplites', and before long it became an official unit badge.
    The fighting of the 22nd-25th proved to be the last gasp of the attack… the Luftwaffe’s attempts to drop supplies to the paratroopers proved unavailing, with many supplies landing in the sea or falling into Allied hands. Short of ammunition, food and water, most of the German paras surrendered on the 25th, after which day German air activity suddenly reduced. ‘I think we’ve given them a bloody nose,’ commented Air Marshal Longmore, ‘it’s just as well, our piggy bank is empty.’ On that day the RAF squadrons in Greece managed less than twenty sorties in total, and the AdA even fewer.
    As for the German high command, OKH concluded, ‘With hindsight, we should have concentrated our forces (especially our airborne forces) better, instead of dispersing our effort… we will mask the Greek front with a few infantry divisions, they do not need to be the best. If the mountains aid the defender, then let us defend. We can mop up easily once we have settled matters in the East.’
    These developments proved a great relief to Admiral Cunningham. The enemy had been mounting air attacks on Allied shipping from the Dodecanese, including the island of Scarpanto, and consequently he had ordered the fleet to attack the airfield there, a risky operation that would bring them into the range of land-based bombers. In the small hours of the 27th he cancelled this, and the first phase of the campaign was over. On the night of 31st May, a flight of Blenheims operating from Athens flew over Salonika and dropped thousands of leaflets, headed: “o vasiliás paraménei sto édafos mas méchri ti níki”.
     
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    Part 4.5
  • Extract from ch.9, Marianne and John by Charles Montague

    Meetings of the Supreme War Council had fallen into a routine. Every two months, the meeting-place would shift, with Algiers and Casablanca being used by the French, Gibraltar and London by the British. This involved much travel, most of it necessarily by air, and inevitably there was eventually a calamity. On June 2nd the plane carrying Mr. Eden to Gibraltar went missing. No trace was ever found. Naturally there was speculation that the Germans had shot it down, but the Germans were just as mystified. ‘A great loss, but we must carry on,’ commented Mr. Churchill. ‘We must review our arrangements.’ To reduce the amount of travel required, the Council extended the interval between movements to six months, and made Algiers and London the default meeting-places. Mr. Churchill appointed Mr. Lyttleton as his deputy for the Algiers meetings.
    ...On 13th June came the unfolding of the bizarre plot known as the ‘Cagoulard Affair’. The Council were due to meet that afternoon. That morning the Algiers police arrested ten men, including several known close associates of Jacques Doriot and other members of the Paris Quisling regime. A large number of Italian bombers appeared over the city at 3 pm. This was a surprise, as there had been no attacks for several months. However, a radar station had recently been set up near the city, and this gave enough warning to allow interception by the Brewster fighters of GC13 (13th Fighter Group), who shot down several of the unescorted bombers. Little damage was done in the city. Damage, however, had not been the intention.
    The arrested men confessed the whole scheme. The idea had been to drive the members of the War Council to an air-raid shelter - a new and improved shelter had recently been constructed. There they were to be attacked by the plotters, who had disguised themselves as Arabs, and carried pistols and hand-grenades. Having assassinated the Council, they planned to hide out in the Casbah and then get picked up by an Italian submarine. However, almost inevitably, one of the plotters informed on the rest. ‘A mad, but dangerous scheme,’ noted de Gaulle, ‘we must count ourselves fortunate.’
    The meeting in the event went ahead more or less undisturbed. They took important decisions that day, including the scale of proposed reinforcement for the Far East, the line to take in response to the recent Japanese provocations, the expected tightening of the American embargoes on Japan, and the timing of operation ROBERT, which was driven by the availability of landing-craft. All these decisions, however, were overshadowed a week later by the news of the German invasion of Russia. ‘A whole new war impends,’ noted M. Mandel, ‘and we must consider the implications.’ ROBERT was put on hold, and the Council re-examined the plans for CONCAVE.
     
    Part 5.1
  • Part 5. Man cannot tell, but Allah knows

    Extract from ch.6, Mit Rommel bis zum Ende, by Hans von Luck

    I still recall that long drive on June 15th that took us up to our forward HQ. Really it was the last time for several weeks, if not months, that the General and I could have a proper conversation about matters other than immediate operational ones. A young staff officer, I think called Hube, accompanied us. They had sent us a new driver, a sergeant called Beck, who cheerfully took us off at what felt like a hundred miles an hour.
    ‘Steady, driver,’ I said, though the General himself only smiled.
    ‘Sorry, sir,’ he replied, ‘my orders were to get you back as soon as possible.’
    ‘I can see you take orders literally. Who told you that?’
    ‘I did,’ said Hube apologetically. ‘I thought-’
    ‘It’s fine,’ said the General. ‘Beck, where did you learn to drive like that?’
    Beck chuckled. ‘On the road to Celle,’ he said.
    ‘And who taught you?’
    ‘Well, sir, I could tell you a tale, with your permission.’ The General indicated assent. ‘Well, sir, they got me out of the barracks in Hohne - remember like it was yesterday - very cold day it was, sir, beginning of February last. Thought I was in trouble, but no, this transport lieutenant tells me I’m a driver now. Funny way of going about it, but well, shouldn’t have joined the Army if I can’t take a joke, should I?’
    ‘Does this story finish before we get to HQ?’ I asked.
    ‘Don’t worry, sir, done in a jiffy. Anyway, this lieutenant puts me behind the wheel of a truck, a big one, and me never driven more than a farm-cart before. He shows me the pedals, and gauges and that, and I start it up. “Go forward, down the road,” he says, so off we go. I’m thinking we’re off to the training place, where I can learn about all this business properly. So we go down this road quiet like, and get to Celle. Maybe twenty kilometres. “So is it here, sir?” I says. “Is what here?” he says. “The training place,” I say. “No,” he says, “you’re trained now.” And he gives me the chit saying I can drive anything up to five tonnes.’
    We went quiet for a moment. ‘I hope you’ve done some more driving since,’ said the General.
    ‘Oh yes sir, lots.’
    ‘Well that’s all right then,’ said the General. ‘Anyway, I don’t think you’re alone.’
    Hube broke in. ‘You did better than some. I hear they’ve made fifteen kilometres the standard.’
    The General spoke again. ‘Last time I was in Berlin, von Schell was saying we need to de-motorize the Army. The Reds keep making trouble about oil deliveries. Not enough fuel, he said.’
    ‘He must be crazy,’ Hube burst out. ‘We can’t march all the way to-’ he stopped himself.
    ‘Permission to speak, sir?’ asked Beck. Again this was granted. ‘Every man jack in 7th Panzer knows we’re off to teach Stalin a lesson, sir, and get the oil. No need to worry about saying too much. Of course, my lips are sealed outside present company.’
    The General smiled again. ‘I hope comrade Stalin knows less than you do, sergeant.’
    ‘Stands to reason, sir. There’s too many of us just to go and sort the Greeks out, and why’d we go by way of Poland, anyway?’
    We all thought over this for a while. ‘Do you remember the day, Hans,’ said the General, ‘when we stood on the docks at Marseilles, and watched the smoke from the French ships on the horizon, and took bets how soon the war would be over?’
    ‘I think we both lost that bet, my General,’ I said.

    *​

    Memorandum of the Joint Economic Planning Office to the Supreme War Council

    15/6/41
    HAUT SECRET/ TOP SECRET

    ...The main constraints upon the further motorisation of the French Army therefore do not rest in the supply of the motor vehicles themselves. Sadly, owing to misunderstandings and clerical errors, the evacuation procedures following the Setback did not make drivers as high priority as necessary. We have made efforts to recruit drivers among the colonial troops, but have encountered many difficulties in this respect, though these are being overcome. Generally they require several hundred kilometres of road training...
    Our war effort requires abundant tanker space, much of which has been allocated to the needs of the Navy for bunker fuel and to the AdA for aviation spirit. Gasoline and diesel therefore compete for priority. However, the Americans have assured us that if necessary supplies can be increased.
    The options that present themselves to us, therefore, for the motorisation programme up to the end of 1941, are as follows.
    1. The maximum option of motorizing all the major field formations of the Army. We do not recommend this, as the shortage of drivers does not permit it. V Corps, in Greece, holds positions where animal transport is in some respects superior.
    2. Besides III Corps, already fully motorised, we have sufficient means to fully motorize one further corps, and to motorize the artillery, engineer and HQ elements of the remainder of the Army.
    3. To motorize one division in each Corps, rather than an entire corps…
     
    Part 5.2
  • Girolamo Leoni, La Follia, ch.6, extract

    By the late summer our position in the Dodecanese had become alarming. During June and July the Allies had demonstrated a serious intention to make Crete a significant base, building up its air strength greatly, but it proved difficult, after the failure of operation MANFRED, to engage German interest in the theatre. I was in Tirana at the time, attached to the General’s staff, and we repeatedly visited Salonika and tried to alert the Germans to the risks. But any requests for further support received only the reply that all this would have to wait until the defeat of Russia. We now know that in Berlin they were even more dismissive. ‘Yet more Italian whining about the Aegean,’ commented General Keitel on June 30th. ‘We have told them once Russia is smashed we shall have everything we need to deal with the Mediterranean. But patience does not come easily to them.’ All the Germans did was send a few more U-boats to the Mediterranean as a gesture of solidarity.
    The sole remaining German concern about Greece, following the frustration of MANFRED, was to ensure the security of the Ploesti oil-fields. Reassurance on this point soon came. On 15th July a squadron of Wellington bombers flew from Libya, refuelled in Athens, and attacked Ploesti that night. The results disappointed the British air marshals: only one aircraft dropped its bombs on the target, causing negligible damage. ‘We scattered the rest of our bombs halfway across Romania,’ wrote the British squadron-leader. ‘A complete fiasco, and we lost too many of our lads into the bargain.’ Six of the Wellingtons came down, four of them in the sea after getting lost and running out of fuel. ‘We must solve the night navigation problem - our present capabilities are quite inadequate,’ he went on. ‘Besides the Wimpy is not the plane for the job. Its bomb-load at that range cannot do much harm even if we hit the targets.’ Of course I only read this after the war, but similar thoughts occurred to us all.
    The Germans did not even feel certain that the raid had been British until they discovered the wreckage of one bomber near the Romanian-Bulgarian border. ‘If that’s their worst, our fears about Ploesti were overblown,’ wrote General Halder, ‘a few guns or fighters will ensure the safety of the oil fields.’ All this, however, meant that as far as Berlin was concerned, the Aegean went from being considered a minor theatre to being almost forgotten. During the summer most German units transferred to the Eastern Front, including my dear musical friend Martin Schneider, who I sadly missed: much later I heard he had been killed.
    Not even the enemy offensive in July stopped this transfer activity; the Germans felt confident they could hold it off easily, and in the event did so, as we did against the Greek offensive that occurred about the same time. But that was the mainland, where the Germans could fight best. In the islands it was different...
    Throughout the summer British ships made the run from Tobruk to Crete. We knew they were up to something. Again, with hindsight one can see that of especial importance was the arrival of radar equipment in July. This, together with two fresh anti-aircraft regiments, ensured that the airfields in Crete could no longer suffer from surprise attacks, and the RAF could now operate from them in force. Although low-level air attacks could get under the radar, these were costly for our comrades in the Regia Aeronautica. ‘Every raid we make I lose machines, and at such low level the loss of a machine meant the loss of its crew,’ the commander of Gruppo 20 said to us. ‘The airfields in the theatre define austerity, so repairs are slow. Serviceability rates have plummeted.’ Thus the Malta story was repeated. After an initial period of vulnerability, the enemy was secure on the mainland, while Crete could become the base for aggressive operations…
    The first Allied objective was Kasos, where we had a small garrison. During July air attacks became common, and on 4th August a British battalion landed there with a heavy naval bombardment and distant cover from the Mediterranean Fleet. This seemed excessive for the smallness of the target, but the Allies were determined to avoid any risks. ‘This is our first real counter-attack,’ commented Mr. Lyttleton, ‘there must be no mistakes.’ Our garrison, lacking supplies and hopelessly outgunned, surrendered. ‘The Italians fired a few shots for form’s sake,’ commented Colonel Keyes, the British commander. ‘They felt let down by their command, with reason. We captured fifty men and a dozen mules. The mules caused most of our casualties.’ The British now had an early-warning position east of Crete, inhibiting our air raids from Scarpanto. They were gaining air superiority - as we often warned Rome, but without success. Mussolini’s sole concern at this period was to try to recover his credit with Hitler by sending Italian forces to Russia.
    The taking of Kasos was only a preliminary to the operation known as CONCAVE, which showed how with remarkable speed the Allies had evolved a formidable amphibious capability, which we could only contemplate with awe and envy. What I found especially impressive was the smooth co-operation not only between various nations but also between the land, sea and air forces…

    *​

    Theo Barker, A Song at the Sacrifice, ch.9, extract

    Bingo and I had felt very much the need to do something more useful than hang around in Chania writing memos that no-one read. The struggles and sufferings of the Greeks had moved us all profoundly, we all wanted a crack at the blighters. So Bingo found a billet in Intelligence though in no exalted capacity. I heard that Bob Laycock’s happy little band of cut-throats needed Greek-speakers, so I pulled a few strings and went to a seedy office near the port and chatted to a young subaltern in Greek for half an hour, alternating between ancient and modern. Eventually he said, ‘you’ll do’, which was the first English I heard from him, and then an hour later I walked home as a newly-commissioned second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers - why the Engineers I have no idea. It was vouchsafed to me that my duties would not generally involve laying mines or building bridges…
    They sent me to Egypt, allowing me to see Eleni for a few blessed days. She was concerned about me joining the fighting services, but understood - news of the Salonika massacres had just come out and we all felt very fired up. Then I was sent to the main camp of 11 Commando in the desert.
    The papers made a big fuss about CONCAVE and how impressive it was, but for me and the rest of the chaps it started inauspiciously. We had gotten kitted up and drove out into the desert for an exercise, when word came that the exercise was postponed. So we returned to Alex, only to hear that we had all the wrong kit, and had to hand it in. Three days later they re-issued us with the same kit again! We finally got to the exercise area where we were to rehearse how we would cooperate with aircraft. As instructed, we lay down red smoke on the target, and a minute later three Blenheims roared overhead. They dropped their bombs - right on top of us! Fortunately they were only practice bombs, but this didn’t make us feel much confidence in the RAF. They promised us they would get it right on the night.
    The most serious thing was that although we knew we would be making a seaborne landing we had no chance to rehearse getting in and out of the assault craft. There should have been an exercise on the Glengyle, but that got cancelled because of an outbreak of illness among the crew. So when we boarded her, on August 24th, it was the first time many of us had even seen an assault ship. George tried to get someone to listen to our woes, but everything was in such a rush…
     
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