Essai en Guerre: an FFO-inspired TL

Part 8.5
  • Extract from Marianne and John by Charles Montague, ch.13

    With the Japanese now enjoying air and naval superiority, the course of events in Indochina could hardly now alter. Having consolidated the north, the IJA pushed south along the coast, their 5th Division leading, repeatedly outflanking French positions either by inland movements or by small-scale amphibious operations. General Georges fought a skilful delaying action, avoiding encirclements, but lacked the strength to hold any line. Admiral Esteva begged the British to interfere with the Japanese amphibious attacks, but Cunningham refused to bring his main forces within range of Japanese land-based air, not to mention potential intervention by the heavy carriers of the Combined Fleet. Instead he sent his T-class submarines and a destroyer flotilla, and together with the remaining French ships they imposed some attrition and delay; but they too suffered painful losses, with three RN destroyers lost in January and three more in early February, all to air attack. ‘The Jap dive-bombers sank the poor Defender in five minutes,’ commented Cunningham. ‘Most of our other ships wouldn’t last much longer. I constantly make the point that we are weaker, so must maintain a fleet in being strategy.’
    General Wavell protected his naval chief from incessant demands from London for more decisive action. ‘The enemy retains the initiative in the Indochina area,’ noted Wavell, ‘we cannot keep our ships on station constantly, and as soon as they withdraw they mount another of these amphibious operations. Besides they are just as adept at flanking through the hills and jungle.’
    Once Vinh fell (mid-January), the Japanese sent one division across the mountains into Laos and this too pushed south, though more slowly, and French forces stood firm at Pakse and inflicted a small but severe reverse on them in February. However, by this time the Imperial Guards under the formidable General Yamashita had pushed south past Da Nang and gained airbases within range of Cam Ranh, forcing its abandonment by the remaining French naval forces. These now all withdrew to Singapore.
    At this point XL Corps under General Slim entered the fray with British 18th and Indian 4th Divisions. ‘It may already be too late,’ wrote Wavell, ‘but at least we are getting into action now.’ Slim tried to hold a line at Pleiku, but faced the same problems as the French, chiefly the enemy’s air superiority and the flanking movements enabled by this. The RAF squadrons which entered the battle quickly suffered terrible attrition.
    In late February Saigon itself came within range of enemy aircraft. The British had now sent 32nd Army Tank Brigade and these proved invaluable in extricating troops from Japanese encirclements, but could not stop the rot. The Japanese now also resumed their offensive in the Mekong valley and pushed into Cambodia…
    The Council ordered the Governor to leave on February 28th. The few surviving serviceable RAF aircraft - less than twenty out of ten squadrons sent - flew out the same day, soon followed by the handful of remaining French aircraft. General Slim’s chief concern now lay in extricating what forces he could. Japanese forces were now racing for both Saigon and Phnom Penh. ‘Evacuation by sea not contemplated,’ wrote Wavell to the Council, ‘as this crisis coincides with the crisis in Borneo and Java Sea region. All fleet units committed there - cannot cover evacuation in face of superior enemy air power and strong naval presence.’ Slim therefore agreed with Georges that he should abandon Saigon and concentrate his forces in Cambodia. Saigon accordingly fell on March 3rd…
    Slim and Georges still had some 80,000 British, Indian and French troops under command, though the Indochinese element among the French forces was dissolving. After heavy air raids against Phnom Penh on 4th and 5th they ordered these forces to retreat into Thailand and accept internment. They considered whether to share their fate, but the Council ordered them to fly out, which they did on March 6th in a hair-raising flight across the Gulf of Thailand. ‘Lots of Jap planes about, but luckily none of them caught us,’ Slim noted. Not all Allied aircraft were so lucky: one squadron of Blenheims, reduced to five machines by constant action, was caught by fighters just as it left Saigon and all the remaining planes shot down. On 10th March all organised resistance came to an end, and some 50,000 Allied troops went into internment in Thailand. ‘A bitter pill,’ said M. Mandel, ‘after so many other losses.’ Mr. Churchill replied, ‘this too shall be redeemed.’
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    Part 9.1
  • Part 9. Mitzvah goreret mitzvah

    Extract from ch.6, The Fall of the Rising Sun, Brendan Green

    Even before the completion of the conquest of Indochina, the Japanese began increasing the pressure on Bangkok to enter the war. ‘This is a rare opportunity,’ said the Japanese ambassador, ‘to humiliate the arrogance of the enemy, and gain a respected place in the New Order.’ They backed up this talk with numerous armed incursions by land and air.

    Phibun’s own preference was to accept this, but almost all Thai opinion was against him. ‘I don’t see this New Order lasting all that long,’ said one diplomat in Washington. His compatriots at home agreed. ‘Phibun proposes to be the Mussolini of Asia,’ said the Regent to one government minister. ‘And look what’s happened to him.’ General Wavell backed this up by commenting on the necessity of Bangkok maintaining a friendly attitude. He was too much the gentleman to note - though he did not need to - that the British now had four divisions and an armoured brigade assembled on Thailand’s borders to south and west, backed by over 300 modern aircraft. The same minister went on to say, ‘The Japanese offers amount to this: that our country become a battlefield, in return for vague promises.’

    Phibun’s response to the Japanese overtures was therefore a list of impossible demands, to be fulfilled before a declaration of war. ‘He talks nonsense,’ wrote the Emperor, ‘even though he is the friendliest man we have in Bangkok.’ Tokyo asked General Yamashita if an invasion of Thailand was feasible, but the general disliked the idea. ‘Our formations in Indochina need strong reinforcement to make an invasion worthwhile or even possible,’ he replied in mid-March. ‘All units badly understrength due to casualties and sickness. Very large areas of Indochina, including many major towns, we have not conquered - only bypassed. Many enemy units not destroyed, only dispersed, with their weapons. Experience shows that this paves way for guerilla action on large scale. The job in Indochina is only half done.’ Tokyo was sceptical. ‘Surely we don’t expect much guerilla resistance from Vietnamese?’ asked one Staff officer. But Yamashita was right in this, as events were to prove.

    In the same memorandum he noted the effects of attrition on the IJA air power in the theatre. ‘Air units in Indochina report less than 50% serviceable rate. Fuel and spares very short. Now is not the time to take on another large campaign. Value of Thailand to us doubtful.’ There was still a further consideration: ‘some 50,000 enemy troops now in Thai internment for the duration,’ noted Yamashita. ‘If we attack they will immediately become available to strengthen Thai resistance, better for us to keep Thailand neutral under present circumstances.’ This memorandum effectively killed the idea of involving Thailand in the war - as it proved, permanently. However, the fear of the contingencies kept two excellent Allied formations, Indian 5th and British 6th, pinned down in their intimidatory role during March, at a time when they could have been very useful elsewhere…

    We must now turn our attention to the central and eastern prongs. With hindsight we can separate them, but decision-makers at the time had to hold several major developments in mind simultaneously.

    ...‘We have scotched the snake, not killed it,’ said Admiral Cunningham, when asked in early February about likely Japanese intentions around Borneo. Indeed the very next day came news of further Japanese landings in Dutch Borneo and Celebes. ‘Renewed attack on North Borneo only a matter of time,’ Wavell wrote to the Council. ‘We are making all efforts, but our land-based air there only capable of self-defense missions. Enemy have many aircraft based in eastern Borneo - therefore we are already outmatched. Indications are that IJN sending very heavy forces.’

    This proved true. The covering force for the second invasion of North Borneo comprised four fleet carriers and four battleships, with three light carriers assigned to a close support of the invasion force itself. By this time, the Allies had fewer search assets available in the South China Sea; most of the US, French and Dutch submarines and aircraft had withdrawn or been destroyed, and the RN’s submarines desperately needed rest. The RAAF Catalina squadron in North Borneo was down to only two serviceable machines. ‘We can feel it coming, but we can’t see it,’ complained one Australian officer. Eastern Fleet would not repeat its exploit of the month before.

    On February 7th the blow fell. Two regiments landed in Sabah, and the following day a third reinforced them. The RAF and RAAF Hurricanes in the north fought against heavy odds, but by the end of the second day none were left flying. After that, the Indochina and Philippines story repeated itself, as it was also doing on the eastern side of Borneo. The two brigades of Australian 8th Division that comprised the main defence fought successive defensive actions down the coast, giving time for engineers to demolish the oil wells, though in some cases the demolitions were incomplete. On 24th February the Australians successfully broke contact and retreated south to Kuching, whence the Navy evacuated them over three nights, 28th February to 2nd March. The FAA suffered heavy losses in this operation - out of 120 aircraft aboard the three carriers, over half were lost, along with twenty RAF and RAAF aircraft. ‘One Fulmar squadron wiped out completely,’ noted Cunningham, reporting to the Council. ‘We ask too much of our men. Fulmars cannot serve in front line any longer. We cannot risk carrier operations outside of land-based fighter cover until FAA has better fighter aircraft.’ His precious carriers had escaped serious damage, though a bomb hit on Victorious put her out of action for several weeks. The first Martlet (Grumman F4F) fighters had arrived, but re-equipping the carriers would take time.

    ‘It came to a choice between getting our men out of Indochina or Borneo,’ wrote Wavell to Curtin. ‘Borneo was much the easier operation, but it still required the full strength of the Fleet. We were very conscious of Australian political sensitivities. Also, with regard to Indochina, there was a humane alternative of internment in Thailand. Nonetheless it was a very painful decision to accept the loss of Indian 4th and British 18th for the duration, together with many splendid French troops.’ Prime Minister Curtin replied, ‘the great efforts of the Navy noted here. We appreciate the enormous difficulties you face and the painful decisions you must take. We have full confidence in your employment of Australian forces.’ The two Australian brigades from Borneo now recuperated in Malaya, while Australian 9th Division went to Java...

    By late February the whole of Dutch Borneo and Makassar had also fallen. Wavell was concerned about a possible direct Japanese assault on Malaya from Indochina and Borneo, but the Japanese now considered Malaya too strongly held, and had already decided against this. ‘The enemy now have four divisions there and a large air force,’ noted Admiral Yamamoto. Instead, they opted for an indirect approach. ‘Once Sumatra falls, Malaya must follow, a glance at a map shows this,’ he went on. ‘Therefore our obvious next target is Bali, it has only a weak Dutch garrison.’ Bali was small and had an airfield that, in accordance with the usual Japanese strategy, would provide air cover for their further operations. ‘Once we hold Bali, we can move via Java on Sumatra.’
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    Part 9.2
  • Report by Admiral Cunningham on operations in the Java Sea, February 24th - 28th 1942

    2. In this period the naval challenge was exceptionally complex. My appreciation as of mid-February was that we faced likely need or desire to evacuate Borneo while Japanese forces in the eastern region continued their southward push. I made my dispositions accordingly…

    4. ...Two RN fleet oilers arrived at rendezvous point SE of Java early morning of 24th, and Admiral Burrough reported refuelling operations going on satisfactorily. Our submarines saw much activity this day - Talisman sank enemy sub N of Bali, and Triumph detected the Japanese leaving the Makassar Strait. The invasion convoy escorted by four destroyers, covered by strong cruiser and destroyer force. We suspected two capital ships and two light carriers acting as distant cover (exact composition unconfirmed), and enemy submarines known to be present. We therefore concluded this was a major effort, probably against Bali, and coordinated our plans with Admiral Doorman who would command Force J…

    6. Force J comprised two Dutch and two US cruisers plus HMAS Perth and HMS Exeter, with six destroyers. This force left Surabaya late on 24th. Enemy detected it by air recon early on 25th. Air cover from Surabaya was intermittent - no cover present during Japanese air attacks in the late morning, and two of our ships damaged.

    7. Enemy covering force steamed at high speed to engage Force J. Fierce running fight followed during afternoon & early evening, in which enemy superiority in gunnery and torpedo attacks demonstrated. Force J could not coordinate effectively owing to differences of language, equipment and doctrine. Inherent problem in alliance warfare.

    8. HNLMS De Ruyter and HMS Exeter both lost to torpedo attack and all other ships damaged by gunfire. During withdrawal, USS Marblehead had to be abandoned, later being sunk by aircraft, and HMAS Perth damaged. Three destroyers also lost. No damage known to enemy.

    9. However by drawing enemy cruisers out of position Force J enabled Force K to make its attack, having passed through the Lombok Strait apparently undetected. Destroyers searched for submarines but found none. Gloucester suffered mechanical trouble and detached, but Birmingham, Newcastle and Southampton, with accompanying destroyers, located the invasion convoy just after nightfall. Previous experience has shown the range and power of Japanese torpedoes, so commander opted to close range rapidly.

    10. Engagement lasted some 2 hours, with all enemy transports sunk or left in sinking condition & on fire. Two enemy destroyers also sunk or sinking, for loss of Fearless. Southampton damaged by torpedo. At 0100 on 26th Force K withdrew via the Lombok Strait, reuniting with Gloucester on the way.

    11. At 0330 Southampton hit by two torpedoes, presumably from submarine, in the Lombok Strait, and sank quickly. Our total loss in these operations thus came to four cruisers and four destroyers, a heavy loss, though we believe justified by the strategic effect …
    Part 9.3
  • Extract from ch.7, The Fall of the Rising Sun, Brendan Green

    The Battle of the Bali Sea was a tactical victory for the Japanese in terms of warships sunk, but a serious strategic reverse. The Special Naval Landing Force was virtually annihilated, along with several priceless assault transports and landing craft. Bali would only fall to 48th Division in a renewed assault the following month. This required the transfer to Balikpapan of numerous landing craft from other sectors, and once again the use of the fleet carriers of Mobile Force. ‘The delay to our operations is most unfortunate,’ noted Yamamoto. ‘The enemy showed a ruthlessness we did not expect in allowing one force to go to destruction purely as a distraction. They again showed their liking for night actions.’ He had grown concerned about the demands on Mobile Force in the DEI region. ‘It seems any time we encounter difficulty the cry goes out for the carriers,’ he went on. ‘But Kido Butai cannot play fire-brigade in the south all the time. The American raids in the central Pacific are becoming increasingly impudent and damaging. The time comes to seek a decisive battle with them.’

    For their part, Wavell and Cunningham did not seek to hold Bali in March. ‘Not the right place for a decisive trial of strength,’ explained Wavell to the Council, responding to pressure from London and the Dutch government-in-exile. ‘Bali is a thousand miles from Singapore. ABC could only position Force K for its brilliant action because of his astute reading of circumstances, and its attack only successful because of lacklustre Japanese use of their search abilities. We cannot expect repetition of this failing.’ Bali’s airfield they also considered untenable - ‘raided repeatedly by enemy aircraft from Makassar and Borneo. We do not have so many aircraft that we can afford to fritter them away. Enemy air attacks in Sumatra - Singapore region becoming serious.’

    This reflected the major air battles taking place during March all along the front. Bombers from Indochina were now operating against Malaya, raiding the towns of the east coast. The Japanese had by now built up to a strength of some 300 aircraft in Borneo, despite the austere conditions of the bases there. Their targets during March and April were Singapore and Palembang, and they had many successes. Bomb damage to the Illustrious and Prince of Wales in March forced the heavy units of Eastern Fleet to withdraw from Singapore - a move Cunningham had expected as soon as Borneo fell. The outdated Hurricane fighters used by the RAF and RAAF took heavy losses in the air fighting. One unlucky squadron became operational on March 3rd, and by March 7th had no aircraft serviceable.

    Tokyo now considered mounting an amphibious assault on Sumatra from Borneo. Sumatra in mid-March was defended by the two weary Brigades of Australian 8th Division just evacuated from Borneo, plus Dutch troops. The RAAF had only a few squadrons, mostly based at Palembang, their real striking power was at that point lacking. The opportunity seemed highly favourable. However, the local commanders, General Imamura and Admiral Kondo, explained on March 16th that they could not exploit the moment. ‘Transports and landing craft not available, have suffered many losses recently. Concentration against Bali means no landing in Sumatra possible until end of month, probably not before first week of April. Only landing force immediately available is 2nd Division, which is under-strength following Borneo campaign. Unwilling to risk using Kido Butai in Java Sea until Java is taken. Great danger from enemy submarines and aircraft. Enemy air force at Palembang not sufficiently weakened.’

    The moment of danger, recognised as such by Wavell at the time, passed. In the third week of March he concluded, with the support of the Council, that the Thai attitude was likely to remain favourable, provided Malaya and Sumatra could be held. He therefore moved British 6th Division to Sumatra - ‘a little boat trip across the Malacca Strait,’ noted its commander, General Scobie. Indian 10th Division, just arrived from Iran, replaced them in Malaya. That week welcome air reinforcements arrived also, and a fresh wing of RAF Hurricanes went to Palembang. ‘We have a bit more of a roof over our heads,’ noted Wavell, ‘Peirse thinks we now have just enough to hold them off.’

    One administrative casualty occurred by the way. General Percival’s pessimism had finally exhausted the patience of Wavell, and still more Brooke and Churchill. After reading yet another pessimistic report in mid-March, the Prime Minister sent a stern memo to General Brooke. ‘Percival is such a Dismal Jimmy,’ Churchill wrote, ‘and he lowers Wavell’s spirits. Do we not have someone better to command the troops?’
    ‘I have just the man,’ replied Brooke.
    Part 9.4
  • Extract from ch.9 of To the stars the hard way: a history of 50 Wing RAF by Bertram Owen

    After their withdrawal from Indochina the Wing had only a brief period of rest before taking part in operations against the Japanese air bases now being set up in Borneo. By late March the Wing was not much stronger than a squadron, and morale was low. Wing Commander Darke now demanded, and received, an assurance that they would not be employed in any more daylight operations. Instead, in late March a handful of planes took part in the first Australian intruder operation in the theatre.
    The RAAF now had a Beaufighter squadron operating from Singapore, and they had evolved a new idea. Attacking Japanese air bases in Borneo had proven unprofitable - the enemy were experts in dispersing and camouflaging their machines. Fighting the enemy in the air was also a poor option - none of the Allied planes had the performance to engage IJA and IJN fighters on equal terms, and the Japanese reliably handed out more damage than they took. ‘The time to get them,’ wrote the Australian CO, ‘is when they are landing, or on the ground just after landing, before they can disperse and camouflage their planes.’ His Beaufighters were radar-equipped, and he meant to exploit this capability…
    On 25th March the Japanese raided Singapore heavily in the late afternoon, on a day of patchy cloud. By this time the Eastern Fleet had retreated to Penang, but some ships were still in harbour, and this raid sank the Australian destroyer Waterhen. News of the raid was passed to Tebrau and the Australians took off. Six planes from 50 Wing joined them in the air.
    The Beaufighters followed the Japanese bombers at a distance, keeping to cloud as far as possible, keeping in touch by radar in the gathering darkness. The Japanese reached their base at Singkawang, the escorting fighters landing first.
    Two Beaufighters roared past and dropped flares, while the rest now increased power and made high-speed attacks runs against the bombers, who had slowed to land or were orbiting slowly prior to landing. Unprepared and unprotected, the bombers were easy targets for the heavy armament of the RAAF machines. The Australians claimed ten destroyed, and this seems to have been exactly correct, as confirmed by post-war Japanese records. They then broke off and returned to base without loss, guided in by radio beacons and flares dropped by 50 Wing.
    This success made the Japanese much more cautious in their attacks on Singapore - ‘they don’t bomb after lunch any more,’ noted Air Marshal Peirse. The relief was considerable - and timely, as the lull in the East Indies was coming to an end. The same day as this raid, Bali fell, and the campaign in Java was about to commence.
    Part 9.5
  • Extract from The Footsteps of History: the war diary of Eustace Marcel

    March 27th 1942

    There are days when one grows truly sick and tired of Algiers. The petty-mindedness of the men who strut on the stage, the men who would occupy the high places - well, I recall we had such days in Paris also. I was summoned at 8am to M. Mandel’s office, and he asked me to join him for his meeting - ‘M. Marcel, we need your knowledge of the situation in the Levant,’ he said, and of course I could not refuse, though I felt ill-prepared.
    But the men who had come to see him, in fact, had no interest in the facts in the Levant, nor anywhere else, so I and the other Normaliens had little cause to speak.
    The first of the visitors was the Lizard - so we all called him afterward - and he barely gave M. Mandel time to say a word. (Ed. in order to give a sense of the times, we have retained the names M. Marcel gave to these interlocutors, though their real names are now of course well known.) He was full of the sufferings of our people in the Hexagone, which we all know about as well as he does. The purpose was clear enough to me. He sought an admission of helplessness on M. Mandel’s part to achieve any immediate relief of the situation. At which point, of course, the Lizard would have made an impassioned speech, with many a dramatic gesture, as though he had made some kind of point. Rightly, M. Mandel simply repeated that we intended to make war by all means in our power until victory, and that our people understood this.
    The Lizard being finally silenced, the Dormouse spoke up. For once, he was out of bed before noon. He complained at great length in his droning speech about the fall of Indochina, and the dissatisfaction of our people at our efforts to protect the place, and the failure of the English to do so. ‘We have seen no real advantage from this war,’ he concluded softly. ‘The Government cannot continue to give us platitudes while our Empire falls apart, picked apart by our supposed Allies as much as our enemies.’
    Frankly I wished M. Mandel had opened the door, called the guards and had him arrested. But he maintained his countenance and pointed out that we had the assurance of London that Indochina would be restored, and with America now in the war, Japan could not hope to hold the place for long. The Dormouse, apparently exhausted by his efforts, relapsed into somnolence.
    So this only left Green Waistcoat. He affected the pose of the candid friend, the one who recognised all the Government was doing, and its achievements, but favoured some lightening of the load. ‘Surely it is time for a broader base of support,’ he said. ‘There are many here who have the same ultimate goals, but who would pursue them more by diplomatic means, making use of our advantages.’
    Of course M. Mandel had no illusions about the intent behind these words. Only last year Green Waistcoat was trying to pursue an independent policy of his own - talking loosely to Spanish diplomats about a deal whereby we would make peace in return for Germany ending its occupation and releasing our POWs. A nonsense, of course, but such manoeuvres have the function of appearing to be real initiatives, and acting as a disguise for the real agenda - surrender and betrayal. For the purpose of today’s conversation, Green Waistcoat was at the disadvantage of believing that we did not know about his half-treasonable activities. M. Mandel gave him a long speech, full of technical details, ignoring his arguments, then ended the meeting abruptly.
    Afterwards he spoke to me and the others. ‘I have such meetings the more frequently since the war began in the East,’ he said. ‘Those three are fools, but there are many others, including some good men, who have become disheartened. They do not see, or truly appreciate, the fundamental strength of our position, and they confuse themselves with fantasies about brilliant diplomatic manoeuvres that would end the war immediately.’
    ‘But how to silence such talk?’ I asked. ‘Wishful thinking always appeals to the ignorant.’
    He sighed softly. ‘I intend to make a public commitment to begin reclaiming the Fatherland this year. We think we can liberate Corsica. We need something solid to set against the fairy-story proposals of the factions. London has agreed to it, we hope Washington will soon agree also.’ At this news we were all silent. It is clear then that our great counter-offensive must commence soon, presumably this summer, even though the Americans have not arrived in force, and there may yet be more forfeits to pay in the East. I left the meeting, and the building, with a renewed sense of the tremendous weight of responsibilities our great men carry.
    Part 9.6
  • Extract from ch.8, The Gray Waves: a history of the Battle of the Atlantic, Walter Schluter

    Several factors combined in the genesis of operation SPORTPALAST. The successes of the U-boats in operation PAUKENSCHLAG had prompted unfavourable comparisons in Berlin between the subs and the surface fleet. Admiral Raeder was keen to counteract such talk. The Army had also criticised the Navy for the amount of aid flowing to the USSR via the Arctic route, apparently without hindrance. In February Kriegsmarine intelligence had broken the British naval code, which gave increased confidence that the major surface units could be employed without excessive risk. The war in the Far East had drawn Allied reinforcements, and the balance of forces was as favourable as it was ever likely to be.

    The chosen target was convoy PQ13. Bismarck and Tirpitz had moved to northern Norway a few weeks earlier, and had intended to attack PQ12, but Bismarck suffered a minor collision in February. Damage was minor and swiftly repaired, so PQ13 became the target. The Allies had an inkling of this, though no positive proof, and so PQ13 had a strong covering force comprising the most modern capital ships of the Home Fleet, King George V and Duke of York together with the Ark Royal. Admiral Ciliax became aware of this not long after leaving port, and his operations over the next few days were circumspect. In the event neither force encountered the other, though aircraft from the Ark Royal found and attacked the pair as they returned to base, though in weather conditions that made their attacks ineffective. PQ13 suffered some losses to U-boats, but reached Russia without further molestation.

    This had however been at least in part a distraction. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau set out for another Atlantic sortie on March 24th. They went undetected until spotted fortuitously by an American aircraft heading for Iceland. The following day they fell in with an independently sailing merchantman and sank her. Admiral Somerville now took the Home Fleet’s fast hunters, Force Y, comprising Richelieu, Renown and Indomitable, to sea, and began a long pursuit.

    The North Atlantic had become a riskier place for German ships in the year since the Twins’ last sortie. However, German code-breaking achievements seemed to offer the prospect of a successful raid. Reading the British naval codes had revealed the presence of a fast HX convoy, escorted by the small carrier Hermes, and signal traffic also indicated that the Hood was expected to return from its refit in the USA, but would be too far from the scene to affect events. The Force du Raid was known to be at Dakar. The Revenge was also escorting a convoy, well away to the south. Admiral Lutjens believed that, equipped with this knowledge, he could evade danger, attack the HX convoy and escape either back to Norway or to Brest. But his intelligence picture, though accurate, was incomplete. Lutjens did not know that Hood was crossing the Atlantic in company with USS Washington and Wasp, while a Morocco convoy was also at sea with the small carrier Bearn in company.

    The British were the first to discover the dangers of limited intelligence information. On March 26th the German ships sank two more independent merchantmen, the latter of which sent a sighting report. However, owing to an error in transmission, the sighting report placed the German ships more than 100 miles north of their actual position. The HX convoy continued on its route, unaware that its course would enable the Germans to intercept the next morning.
    As the sun rose between patchy cloud on the 27th the Hermes launched two Swordfish on anti-submarine patrol, who were first astonished then horrified to see, a few miles north-east, the German battlecruisers. The wind was from the north, so to launch more aircraft Hermes had to steer almost directly towards them. Without hesitation she did so, and launched as many Swordfish as she could before the Germans brought her under fire.

    The planes could do little harm to the battlecruisers, as they were armed only with depth-charges - accounts differ as to whether there were even any torpedoes on board, but in any case, there would have been no time to arm the planes. The Scharnhorst however could harm the carrier easily, and left her stopped and burning with several salvoes of accurate gunfire. The Gneisenau meanwhile sank two of the escorts that attempted to screen the carrier with smoke. The handful of Swordfish that had got away had to seek friendly vessels to ditch next to.

    This sacrificial action saved all but five of the convoy’s merchant ships. The sighting report - this time accurate - also gave vital information to the Admiralty. The Wasp launched scouting missions with her Vindicator scout-bombers throughout that day and the next, which were finally rewarded with a sighting. Washington and Hood now put on all speed to make an interception - which if the Germans maintained course would be during the small hours of the 29th.

    However the Wasp’s aircraft had been spotted, and apparently interpreted as being British aircraft from the Indomitable. The battlecruisers turned sharply to the south-east, and the 29th did not bring the intended encounter. Instead it brought yet more Vindicator search aircraft, this time from Bearn, ironically enough on its last war voyage - her machinery was so worn that it was intended to mothball her once she completed this trip. First she performed a critical service to the Allied cause. ‘The whole ocean seemed crawling with the enemy,’ complained the Gneisenau’s captain, ‘it became clear that surface operations by major units had become excessively dangerous.’

    The Bearn had a handful of bombs aboard, and six of her Vindicators found and attacked the battlecruisers in the late afternoon. No hits were scored, and four aircraft were lost - a sign of the danger of employing these old bombers against modern AA. However, once again, the German ships changed course away from the perceived threat, despite the risk of proximity to Force Y; by this time Admiral Lutjens had little faith in the intelligence reports.

    In fact they were still accurate. Guided by the Bearn’s reports, Force Y closed in to strike range during the night, and on 30th Indomitable’s Albacores made a co-ordinated torpedo attack, hitting Scharnhorst twice. One hit caused little damage, but the other damaged her bow and slowed her to fifteen knots. It was immediately apparent that this would be fatal: Lutjens ordered Gneisenau to escape at her best speed, and awaited the inevitable interception by Force Y. Richelieu caught up and opened fire at midnight, closely followed by the Renown, for whom this was third time lucky. By dawn it was all over, and the Allied ships picked up 130 survivors before leaving the scene, for fear of U-boats.

    ‘More evidence that the U-boat war is the right one,’ noted Admiral Doenitz, barely concealing his satisfaction. Prime Minister Churchill messaged to President Roosevelt, ‘A signal success for Allied co-operation. Many thanks for the splendid efforts of your Navy fliers.’ Admiral Godfroy commented, ‘A glorious last hurrah for the Bearn. This is more evidence, were it needed, that we made the right choice about the Jean Bart.’ Hitler’s reaction was one of exasperation. ‘The big ships just make bigger targets. We should scrap them, or turn them into museums.’ Admiral Raeder had to argue for the rest of the year to prevent the scrapping of the remaining capital ships. As it was, the Allies now felt confident about their superiority in the North Atlantic and Arctic. Therefore the Hood and Washington would not remain with the Home Fleet for long.
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    Part 10.1
  • Part 10. Des reflets changeants sous la pluie

    Extract from ch.7, A Life for the Sky, by Werner Molders

    By the beginning of ‘42, many of our people had grown quite comfortable in Martinique, and I could see the symptoms in myself also. The climate agreed with us, we found the landscape beautiful, as also many of the women - though these last, like the mountains, we could only admire from a distance. Some of the old-timers used to joke that maybe it was just as well - maybe the women were volcanic too. At any rate, our captors permitted the most well-behaved of us, if Catholic, to go to Mass in the Cathedral occasionally - I think they had some idea of civilising us.

    Our route into town took us close enough to the airfield that we sometimes saw planes taking off or landing. We saw mostly twin-engined types, used, I imagine, for hunting U-boats, or maybe they were being ferried to Africa. ‘Good-looking machines the Frogs have,’ said Karl one day as we marched. ‘American, no?’
    ‘All their planes are American now,’ I said. ‘Good machines, it’s true - fast and well-made.’
    ‘I had a shot at one once,’ said Reinhard. ‘I know I hit it, enough to knock it down I thought, but it sort of shrugged and dived away like a fighter.’
    We marched along quietly for a while, occasionally glancing at the girls, though the guards discouraged this with prods from their rifles. ‘Supposed to be going to get holy, Fritz,’ said Gabriel, the old one-eyed guard. ‘No time for impure thoughts.’
    ‘You’re hardly a one to talk about impure thoughts,’ replied Karl. All of us were pretty fluent in French by this time. ‘I’ve seen you eyeing them up.’
    ‘Who’s in charge, though?’ he replied, and gave him a shove. It never paid to needle them.

    On our way back I took good note of where the planes were parked. Near the perimeter, I saw prime-movers towing a couple of machines into place, they seemed to bring them there to warm up the engines. When we got back to the camp, I took Karl and Reinhard into confidence and talked about my ideas.
    ‘Crazy Werner,’ said Karl, ‘not a chance. Even if we could get out of this cage, even if we could sneak in to the airfield and steal a plane, where could we go?’
    ‘We need to be good boys even if it hurts,’ I said. ‘First thing, we should get permission to start a library.’
    Reinhard grinned. ‘Crazy maybe,’ he said, ‘but still better than going crazy sitting doing nothing. I’m in.’
    Part 10.2
  • Extract from ch.8, The Fall of the Rising Sun, Brendan Green

    The battle for Java saw the qualities of the Australians on display. ‘The good spirit of the Australian fighting man,’ said Wavell, ‘was shown many times in this war, and they gained many famous victories. But to my mind they never did better than in this defeat. They knew as well as I that we could not hold the island, and they fought with very little air cover, with little artillery or armour. They knew, moreover, that even once their ordeal in Java concluded, there would be more fighting to come. Despite all this, they maintained their discipline, and never failed to hold their positions for as long as ordered. This 9th Division ranks with Napoleon’s Old Guard and Caesar’s Thirteenth Legion.’
    Throughout late March and most of April, the 9th fought successive delaying actions and rearguard actions, before falling back into Sumatra. The Javanese mostly welcomed the invaders - the true nature of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere had not yet become apparent to them. Batavia fell on April 22nd, held to the last by a handful of devoted Dutch KNIL troops, whose sacrifice in protecting the escape of 9th Division should be remembered.

    Despite this latest victory, General Imamura had become extremely anxious about the pace of operations. The audacious US raid on Tokyo a few days earlier had shocked everyone in the High Command. ‘Our air power in the Southern Resource Area approaches breaking point,’ he noted. ‘In order to achieve air superiority over Sumatra, we need the Navy. But they are now impatient to fight the Americans.’
    The general sense of the Navy high command was that by allowing the Americans to raid Tokyo, and for their ships then to get away, they had failed the Emperor. The need for a decisive battle against the Americans in the central Pacific was now their top priority. First, though, the Navy was willing to commit a carrier division to the Sumatra operation. The Army believed that they had rough parity in the air with the British and Australians; they needed carrier-based planes to give them the edge. Accordingly, Carrier Division 5 went to the Java Sea accompanied by two Kongo-class fast battleships for support.

    ‘I had many anxieties as April drew to a close,’ wrote Wavell later. ‘My staff believed that the enemy might land on the west coast of Sumatra. Fortunately, they did not risk sending their transports past Krakatoa.’ In fact, Cunningham had stationed several Dutch, French and US submarines to intercept any such move. ‘We also feared landings on the small islands to the east of Sumatra,’ Wavell went on, ‘where for the most part we had few troops. They might have given the Japanese bases much closer to Palembang. We had one Australian brigade on Bangka, and that was it.’

    By contrast, the new man in command of the ground forces exuded confidence. ‘Brother Jap has got this far by bluff and air power,’ said General Montgomery. ‘We will not be bluffed and we now fear nothing in the air.’ His manner had offended many officers, who felt their efforts over the previous four desperate months were being disparaged; but the troops in the main liked him better than Percival. He had Australian 9th Division, just escaped from Java and now reunited with its artillery, and eager for a chance to avenge itself on the Japanese. He also had the fresh British 6th Division, and 1st Army Tank Brigade. He also had the remnants of Australian 8th Division; one of its brigades, the worst hit, he broke up to provide replacements for the 9th, retaining one battalion to defend Palembang. The other brigade was the one positioned on Bangka island. These actions caused him some difficulty with the Australian government, which wished to withdraw 8th Division and bring it up to strength; but the operational imperative in the end won out. the end the Japanese assault, commencing on 29th April, was fairly orthodox, with two divisions, 48th and 38th, landing on the east coast of Sumatra. Not all could be landed at once, as landing craft were by now running short. ‘We had hoped to also use 2nd Division from Borneo to land near Parit, on the east coast,’ commented Imamura later. ‘But we could not, as that would be within range of enemy aircraft from Singapore as well as Palembang, and by now we also faced a great shortage of landing craft.’

    The Japanese also employed an airborne battalion. The plan was for them to follow up a heavy air raid on Palembang with a direct assault. ‘Even if not fully successful,’ said Imamura, ‘we hoped this would disrupt enemy air operations on the crucial first day.’ The result was memorably recorded by Alan Moorehead, who was at the airfield on the day. ‘It reminded one unavoidably of the stories of the Germans on Corsica, and the Italian parachutists falling to their doom in Thessaly,’ he wrote. ‘Enemy bombers appeared early that day, but we had enough early warning to get fighters into the air, and the base was ringed with flak. I saw two or three bombers going down in flames, and the fighter pilots later told me they had shot down several more over the jungle. It therefore astonished us when, an hour or so later, enemy transport planes flew slowly towards us and paratroopers started to emerge.’ The result was a one-sided battle that was over by lunchtime, with the entire paratroop battalion wiped out. ‘The Japanese also lost more than thirty aircraft in this attack, which they could certainly have better used elsewhere,’ wrote Air Marshal Peirse. ‘After this, and the examples of Corsica and Thessaly, I hope we learn appropriate lessons about the ineffectiveness of paratroop attacks.’

    The IJN carriers in the Java Sea launched two heavy raids on 29th, and two more on the 30th. These did great damage to the RAF and RAAF airstrips in the south-east, which were much less well protected than Palembang. At least twenty aircraft were destroyed on the ground, for little loss among the IJN air groups. The IJN dive-bombers also sank a group of destroyers that were passing between Sumatra and Bangka in the hope of attacking the transports; there would be no repeat of the Bali Sea battle.

    However, the IJN could not develop the use of its air power to its fullest extent, as Admiral Hara insisted on withdrawing well to the east by night, fearing night torpedo attack. The location of the Eastern Fleet concerned him greatly, though in fact it was well to the north, ‘loitering with intent in the Malacca Straits’, in Cunningham’s words. This proved costly - the submarine I-19 torpedoed and sank the Repulse on the night of the 29th after she had straggled owing to mechanical problems. However, I-19 never had chance to send a report of its success, being sunk almost immediately by British and American destroyers. Hara therefore remained in ignorance of Eastern Fleet’s strength, location and intentions, and this evidently weighed on his decision-making.

    Cunningham did not plan to risk his main force, however, unless the situation became desperate. At this point he had only Formidable and the hastily patched-up Victorious available, with barely fifty serviceable aircraft. Instead, he had sent his T-class submarines into the Java Sea, and six of them were waiting for an opportunity to strike. The pattern of IJN operations - approaching Sumatra for air raids in the morning, then retreating eastwards before dusk - became apparent rapidly, enabling the T-boats to assume an ambush position. In the event, just before midnight on the 30th, Trusty had the opportunity of seeing the enemy pass before its bows, and hit the Hiei with three torpedoes. The Japanese counter-attack missed the Trusty but caught and sank the Thunderbolt. Initially the Hiei appeared to have avoided fatal damage. However, in the small hours she suffered an internal explosion and sank not long afterwards.
    As far as Hara was concerned, this was enough. ‘The Army had reported that its landings were successful,’ he reported later, ‘and in view of the ongoing threat from enemy submarines and aircraft, I believed the Navy had played its part.’ He therefore withdrew to Surabaya. Hara’s comments were typical of the buck-passing and sniping that characterised relations between the IJN and IJA, a tendency that the pressure of war had only intensified. In fact the Army’s operations on Sumatra were not going well, though they did not wish to confide this fact to the IJN.

    ‘I never worried about anything in the war more than the fighting on 29th and 30th April,’ wrote Wavell later. ‘With hindsight, I can see my fears were overblown and General Montgomery’s appreciation was correct. The enemy had no overall superiority in numbers, and a distinct inferiority in armour. Where our armour was able to get into action they proved very effective.’ The biggest of the very few tank battles of the DEI campaign occurred on the 30th, when a troop of Matildas engaged eight Japanese light tanks near Ketapang, knocking out six of them without loss.
    ‘The enemy also lacked the other crucial ingredients for effective amphibious landings,’ Wavell went on, ‘since naval gunfire support was mostly lacking, and above all the enemy had only local and temporary air superiority. Indeed by night we had the advantage.’ Radar-equipped Beaufighters, Swordfish and Wellingtons raided the Japanese invasion fleet’s anchorages on the first two nights, disrupting their operations and damaging several vessels. ‘By sundown on May 3rd,’ he concluded, ‘I no longer had doubts of the outcome.’ Fighting would continue on and near the coast for another week, the Japanese proving very tenacious. ‘They just won’t surrender,’ commented one Australian officer. ‘Mind you, in any case, we might not be all that interested in capturing any of those 38th Division bludgers. We know what they did in Hong Kong.’

    By the end of the first week of May, a lull of exhaustion settled over the entire south-east Asian theatre. The Allies licked their many wounds and continued to strengthen their defences. The Japanese for their part turned their attention to the Pacific, where the vast naval battles of the summer were about to unfold. As it proved, the IJN would never return in force to the DEI region.
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    Part 10.3
  • Extract from ch.10 of To the stars the hard way: a history of 50 Wing RAF by Bertram Owen

    The very last operation of the Wing in the East came on May 6th - an abortive dusk mission against reported Japanese ships near Bangka, which turned out to be a wild goose chase. Tragedy struck on the return to Palembang in the darkness in which two Blenheims collided, killing all aboard both aircraft, including Squadron Leader Finch. The next day news came of his DSO.

    The Wing withdrew to Burma and handed over its remaining aircraft to the RIAF; the personnel would receive extended leave. When 50 Wing re-formed in the Med many months later, it would be unrecognisable. ‘All the old faces are gone,’ wrote Squadron Leader Maxwell. ‘Not only the old faces, but most of the new ones too.’ The Wing left Sumatra with less than twenty aircraft operational; they had possessed fifty at the outbreak of the war in the East, and had received as many again as replacements. It is therefore reasonable to say that they had suffered over 80% casualties.

    The Wing was perhaps the greatest sufferer out of all the RAF and RAAF units employed in this campaign. Historians have struggled to compute overall air casualties, as many records are fragmentary, especially for the French and Japanese. Furthermore there are many different methods of counting which have produced varying estimates. We can say with some certainty that the French lost almost all of the 300 planes which they had in Indochina at the outset. The RAF lost nearly a hundred there, as many more in Borneo, and at least as many in the fighting over Singapore, Java and Sumatra. All told RAF losses cannot have been less than 400, though probably not as high as the 600 given by some historians. The Dutch air force in the DEI was wiped out, as were most of the US aircraft which escaped the Philippines. The RAAF and RNZAF suffered about a hundred losses, and the FAA nearly as many. All told, therefore, an estimate of some 900-1000 Allied aircraft written off in Indochina and the DEI seems reasonable. Many of these - at least one-third - were lost on the ground, either destroyed outright, or damaged and abandoned.

    Japanese losses were certainly lighter, partly because, being on the offensive, they did not lose damaged aircraft when airfields were abandoned. Accidents, often arising from bad weather, contributed much to the casualties - though probably not as major as in Imamura’s estimation that they made up a majority of IJAAF losses. Japanese aircraft often found themselves damaged and returning to austere airbases in poor weather; it’s not clear how many of the resulting crashes are counted as accidents, as opposed to enemy action. The figures are complicated by other uncertainties, for example about whether aircraft damaged and left behind in Borneo, Bali and elsewhere were ever repaired. Most writers agree on a figure between 600 and 700 losses for IJA and IJN combined.

    In any case, there was no doubt of the result; vast conquests by the Japanese, though falling short of their most ambitious goals, and a lull of exhaustion in the region, broken only by air raids and the small-scale but vicious fighting of coastal forces among the waters and islands between Singapore and Sumatra on the one side, and Borneo and Java on the other. The situation persisted for many months, as did the apparent stalemate in the South Pacific theatre. At the time the Allied governments expressed some dissatisfaction with the absence of movement. In retrospect it is clear that the air battles of these months, and the large attrition suffered simply in transferring aircraft from Japan to the fronts, saw the decisive attrition of Japan’s most experienced air units.
    Part 10.4
  • Memorandum from Prime Minister to General Alexander, 21st May 1942

    ...4. You cannot expect any large transfer of forces from the East in the near future, other than possibly the Illustrious. The next two months will see large reinforcements reach you from Britain. Therefore before the launch of CHARLEMAGNE you will have two further infantry divisions and one armoured brigade, with the 51st and the Canadians to follow. This brings your forces for CHARLEMAGNE up to six divisions, increasing to eight over time, besides armoured brigades and paratroops. The French forces should be similar in size. Given the known enemy strength, we cannot understand why your staff should believe this insufficient.

    5. We expect to enjoy air superiority, as the French have overcome their serviceability problems, and will have six hundred modern combat types in the zone of operations. All of these are American types including the latest P-38s and B-24s, which the French demonstrated to us recently. We understand that this means the French will take the lead in the air operations, and you have some nervous officers who do not trust the French. This is not in the spirit of the Union, and we should show more faith in their fighting abilities.

    6. In any case British Air will not be lacking. We have now sent Spitfires to your theatre for the first time, they will pose a serious threat to the Italians. The favourable turn of events in the Atlantic means we will also send Indomitable to you, so you will have three carriers in your support. These are being or already have been re-equipped with new American types, which the Admiralty believe will greatly enhance their power. You will also have four battleships to give super-heavy naval gunfire support.

    7. M. Mandel believes it a political necessity to strike a heavy blow by land before US forces arrive in large numbers. Also essential to him to begin redeeming French territory in Europe by the end of the year. Loss of FIC has hurt him, the bad old French political habits of intrigue have resumed. Therefore we cannot wait beyond July to commence CHARLEMAGNE.

    8. We realise here what a trial the past several months have been to you, having had to put your offensive plans on hold, seeing the loss of Thessaly and the stripping of your theatre for the defence of the East. However, day now dawns.
    Part 10.5
  • Extract from ch.9, The Fall of the Rising Sun, Brendan Green

    The deficiencies of the Japanese plan for the attack on Midway have received endless discussion. Those deficiencies, however, dovetailed with the tactical limitations of the IJN in such a way as an earlier age might have called providential. When one also considers that the Doolittle raid, the precipitating factor for operation MI, caused trifling damage, one can only conclude that the entire story would be considered unacceptably improbable in a work of fiction...

    The Japanese fleet arrived in its strike position on schedule on 3rd June, and Midway Island would have to endure a sore ordeal over the next twenty-four hours. By the end of the day, three successive Japanese air strikes had left it apparently in ruins. Admiral Nagumo felt deep concern over the casualties to his air groups - the American defences, mainly AA fire, had hurt them badly, with over fifty aircraft shot down or damaged so badly as to be beyond immediate repair. Hiryu had only two of her dive-bombers still operating. This would seriously impair his striking power if the US fleet appeared. However, since the first stage of the operation had gone roughly according to plan, he felt he had no choice but to allow the landing attempt to go ahead the next day.

    A catastrophe resulted. Although the aircraft, airfield buildings and AA gun positions had been destroyed or suppressed, American casualties had been light. The Midway garrison worked through the night to make good such damage as they had suffered, and as day broke all but a handful of the island’s guns and machine guns were in working order. Naval gunfire support from the Japanese cruisers offshore was curiously ineffectual - in some cases even counter-productive, as at least one landing craft was destroyed by it. The Japanese attackers found themselves trying to wade ashore under a hail of fire. A troop of light tanks made short work of the few invaders who reached the Marine defensive positions. Few even of the Japanese landing craft managed to escape the fiasco. This, combined with the failure on Sumatra, marked the effective end of Imperial Japan’s amphibious capability.

    By midday all was over on the atoll, and a bizarre conference ensued aboard the Akagi, in which Admiral Nagumo and his staff tried to make reality conform to the plan. However, at this point the US Pacific Fleet made its presence felt. The Japanese reconnaissance first report of Admiral Fletcher’s forces came in at almost the same time as the first American air attacks.

    Fletcher had suffered some delays owing to uncertain intelligence, the need to provision four carriers and to change its command arrangements at the last minute. But as matters developed his timing proved perfect. The Japanese strike forces had suffered severe losses attacking Midway; the Japanese fighters had been distracted by the need to give air cover to the landings; and the American strike, though ill coordinated, came in such strength as to overwhelm the IJN’s early warning and fighter direction capabilities, not to mention its AA defences. The FAA had shown the limitations of these in its night attack on 2nd Carrier Division in January. They were now shown to be inadequate by day as well as night.

    Lexington’s strike drew first blood, with incapacitating hits on the Soryu. In the opinion other commander, her repairs had not brought her back to full efficiency. ‘She was never as sharp as before after Borneo,’ Captain Yanagimoto had complained, and now the Blue Dragon was left burning from multiple hits. Her half-sister Hiryu had hastily launched all the Zeroes on her deck and these pursued the retreating bombers, but failed to intercept a further wave of bombers, hidden by cloud, which struck their mothership. Meanwhile bombers from Yorktown and Enterprise crippled the Akagi and Kaga

    The disaster was complete. With all four carriers out of action - two of them to sink before midnight - there was nothing to protect Admiral Tanaka’s Occupation Force, detected by PBYs from Midway. A further strike from TF17 savaged Tanaka’s ships as they retreated, with six transports and a destroyer being sunk by the victorious American flyers. Only navigational errors by TF16’s aircraft saved Tanaka from total annihilation… With Midway evidently secure, and the Japanese fleet having suffered catastrophic losses, Fletcher took his fleet back to Pearl Harbor. The only slight damage suffered by his ships in the whole operation came when Lexington collided with one of her escorts on the return home. Henceforth the Allies would enjoy the initiative in the Pacific - and beyond.
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    Part 11.1
  • Part 11. Ou est le preux Charlemaigne?

    Extract from Memoires by Guy Lemoine, ch.8

    The American invasion, we called it. Even before December 1941, they had become a common sight all over North Africa. The old-stagers said that in the old days, the only Americans one saw were tourists and low-life chancers fleeing justice, who came to Africa to smuggle or run night-clubs. Now we saw a better class of “Yank”. There were railway engineers, who became very welcome when people noticed how much smoother the trains had become. Not only that, one could now board a train in Tunis and go right through to Tripoli, at a good speed and even in some comfort. Then there were many airmen and aero-engineers - whenever planes flew overhead we could not help feel impressed by their speed and the deep note of their engines. Even we groundlings could see we were getting the best. Many experts also came to the building across the road from our hospital, which was supposedly top secret, though all of us knew it was EMME, the Ecole Militaire des Moyens Électromagnétiques, better known as ‘La Boulangerie,’ since that was its former function. To that building, and to others, in the spring of 1942 we saw military officers arriving, to observe and plan.
    ‘In 1917,’ said Didier to me one day, ‘I lived in Paris, just a kid. I saw the same thing then - you see a few, then a few months later they are everywhere. Buy an interest in a night-club now, is my advice.’
    ‘I tried,’ I replied, ‘I talked to Berthier, but the price is already through the roof.’
    He laughed. ‘Then we should set one up ourselves. Maybe in that old shack round the back.’ He referred to the oldest building in the hospital, which had fallen into disuse long ago, and really the authorities ought to have demolished it.
    ‘Not if we value our lives,’ I said. ‘The La Goulette boys would soon take an unhealthy interest.’
    ‘Then we cannot take up an honourable trade, and are condemned to medicine,’ he said, and stubbed out his cigarette. ‘I’ve got a good case I’d like to show you, want to see?’
    ‘Who is it?’
    ‘You’re an aviation enthusiast, you’ll be pleased.’ He grinned. ‘Not every day we have a Stork on the ward.’
    My ears tingled. I had heard, of course, that they had re-created the old GC12, and by all accounts they flew as bravely as the first edition. ‘Special treatment for this one,’ I said.
    We went back inside. In his office he introduced me to a pilot. ‘Clostermann, this is my friend Lemoine,’ he said, ‘stay out of his clutches if you value your life, given your condition.’ He grinned.
    We shook hands. ‘Touch of fever, that’s all it is,’ Clostermann protested.
    ‘Pierre, you can’t go back on operations for at least a fortnight, that’s just how it is,’ said Didier. ‘Guy, tell him.’
    I did a quick inspection. ‘His symptoms remind me of that case a few months back,’ I said. ‘What did he call himself? That strange youth?’
    Didier looked puzzled a moment, then comprehension dawned. ‘Oh, him. Meursault, wasn’t it?’
    ‘Something like that,’ I said. ‘What became of him? Did he recover?’
    ‘Last I heard, he’d been locked up for killing an Arab.’
    ‘Just the sort of thing that idiot would do.’
    Our patient coughed, and brought my attention back to him.
    ‘My apologies, sir. I have to agree with my colleague, you must be grounded.’ He began to protest, but I cut him short. ‘Fly in your state and you’ll not last long,’ I said.
    ‘I see how it is,’ Pierre replied. ‘Well, far be it from me to risk a valuable military asset.’
    Didier laughed. ‘You mean yourself?’
    ‘My Type 81 I mean,’ he said, laughing also.
    ‘I thought we had lots of those now,’ I said, my interest sparked.
    He shook his head. ‘Not so many of the new variant,’ he said. ‘Six guns, and the range to reach the mainland. We’ll show them soon enough.’
    After he had left I started thinking. ‘Something big is brewing,’ I said.
    ‘High time,’ said Didier. ‘I think we should start thinking about moving one of these days. We won’t be in Tunis for ever.’
    Part 11.2
  • Report of General Olry to the Council concerning initial phase of operation CHARLEMAGNE
    August 1942

    I have the honour to report to you the success of our arms in the endeavour of achieving a foothold on the native soil of the Axis. I have discussed the prospects with my staff and my British comrades, and we agree that we have every chance of completing this campaign according to the schedule we laid out at the Algiers conferences in May.

    2. Complete naval superiority was the first requirement of this operation. Between April and July admirals Gensoul and Somerville co-operated effectively in creating a favourable situation for us, clearing enemy minefields, laying minefields of our own, and progressively isolating Sicily by submarine action. In this they received the effective co-operation of bomber and coastal squadrons of the AdA and RAF.

    3. The efforts of our airmen, ably assisted by the Americans, had by June created an air power such as has never before been seen under the flag of France. As of June 30th, the AAA had concentrated some 500 modern combat types in northern Tunisia, with more based on Pantelleria. The RAF had over 400 aircraft operating from Malta and various bases in the Sfax - Tripoli region, with further aircraft operating from carriers. The gaining of air superiority received the highest priority and unfolded at high intensity from June 30th onwards. On that day, eight AdA bomber groups (four with DB-7s, four with GM 167s) each performed two or three sorties against enemy airfields, these raids being supplemented by low-level fighter attacks. Our new heavy bombers also went into action against the Italian mainland. That night RAF Wellingtons continued the raids so that the enemy could enjoy no respite. By July 18th, the Axis air force in Sicily no longer posed a serious threat. They were still flying, but by this point no longer had the strength to prevent our landings. Our dive bombers, at great cost nobly borne, also disabled most of the known enemy coastal batteries.

    4. These preparations therefore created a permissive environment for our invasion forces. The months of training and drilling in the use of landing craft showed their worth. However inevitably these landings, on a much larger scale than any we have hitherto undertaken, proved frustrating in places. We enjoyed fine weather and no tides to complicate matters; these factors will not be present in any operations outside the Mediterranean. The initial phase of the landing therefore went better than expected. By the end of the first day we had penetrated several kilometres inland. French forces took the small ports of Gela and Licata, the New Zealanders took Augusta on the 19th and Syracuse shortly thereafter. However we found that we needed to retain the landing craft for longer than hoped in order to maintain the flow of supplies over the beaches.

    5. The airborne operations cannot receive so much praise. On this matter I must speak from the heart, as I had the pleasure of inspecting the British Parachute Brigade in June. Although they showed uncommon courage, I must conclude that the results were too meagre to justify the effective annihilation of two very fine battalions, and heavy losses to a third. I consider it fortunate that shortage of transport aircraft forced the cancellation of the proposed drop by the French airborne regiment.

    6. The British aircraft carriers played a very valuable role in providing air cover to the invasion fleet. The most serious setback of the operation, in naval terms, occurred when the Eagle was torpedoed and sunk on the 24th. This in turn reduced the air cover available, so that the enemy mounted a successful attack on the Provence resulting in her sinking the following day. Fortunately by the time of these melancholy events our foothold was well established.

    7. By nightfall on the 19th, elements of the following forces had landed, commenced landing or were en route:

    French 1st Army - XIX Corps (3 divisions); III Corps (3 divisions)
    British 8th Army - XIII Corps (2 divisions plus armoured brigade); XXX Corps (3 divisions)

    8. Naval gunfire support played a very large part in our success. Indeed the importance of this factor cannot be overstated. The Bretagne-class ships with Nelson and Rodney represented a force of 30-40 very heavy guns that the ground troops could call on for support. With these ships present, no large-scale enemy counter-attack was possible while our troops remained within 10-15 kilometres of the coast.

    9. This proved of the first importance when the enemy mounted its major counter-attack on the 25th. The counter-attacking force comprised the Italian mechanised corps, notably the Ariete and Littorio divisions. These struck the seam between the French and British forces, and drove us back some kilometres in places. The enemy employed a new type of armoured vehicle, the Semovente assault-gun, which proved mostly impervious to our tank guns and anti-tank artillery. Casualties were particularly heavy among the 2nd Algerian Division. Some enemy units came within five kilometres of the coast, but here came under the fire of the battleships and cruisers. The British 57mm/ 6-pounder anti-tank guns proved their worth, including those fitted to our S41 tanks. I have separately requested that our forces expedite the wider adoption of these weapons, which the Americans have now begun to supply.

    10. During the second week a lull followed on land as we built up our strength. The Italians dug in deeply and by now had received German reinforcements. I felt a renewed attack was very likely, and therefore requested that the Navy keep the battleships on station until we could land more artillery, especially the medium howitzers and anti-tank guns. We recognise that this brought serious consequences.

    11. The co-ordinated enemy air and submarine attacks on the night of 30th-31st July saw serious damage to Indomitable, Bretagne and Nelson leaving only the Rodney on station. The next few days were most anxious. As expected the Axis forces resumed their counter-attacks on the 2nd, this time with German forces in the van. Only the heavy employment of our artillery managed to slow and eventually stop the advance, and at one point our medium guns ran out of ammunition entirely. Fortunately a battery of British 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns stood in the way of the enemy spearhead and imposed enough delay that our reserve, 5th Division, could counter-attack successfully, though at great cost. The arrival on the 4th of the Ramillies and Washington also assisted greatly. The Navy’s foresight in having these ships in readiness at Gibraltar is to be commended.

    12. By the end of the week the situation stabilised. General Alexander has therefore taken over command, and he believes that he can undertake successful offensive operations during late August, with the goal of clearing the island by the end of the month. However, should this objective not be attained, we must in my view commence operation RAVELIN on schedule, regardless.
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    Part 11.3
  • Extract from War in the Middle Sea, ch.17

    Supply problems dominated the progress of the campaign. German air attacks sank two ammunition ships on 3rd August while unloading, devastating the port of Licata. Consequently the accumulation of artillery ammunition went slowly, and August was well advanced before General Alexander felt able to break out of the beach-head in strength.

    He began with an assault towards Catania with XIII Corps. This was evidently the most critical sector, and the best Axis forces concentrated there. XIII Corps therefore made little progress. ‘They sat on Etna and shelled us whenever we moved on the plain,’ wrote Gott later. ‘We suffered serious casualties for little result.’ One Yeomanry regiment took thirty tanks into battle on 14th August, and had two left by the evening. ‘Too many fox-hunting types in that regiment,’ noted one British general. Outbreaks of disease also impeded operations: General Olry commented, ‘The Russians say they had two generals on whom they could always rely - Generals January and February. The best Italian generals in Sicily were Generals Malaria and Typhus. In August the sick constituted the most numerous formation we had.’

    However, on the 15th, French III Corps broke out in the west, taking Agrigento, after a hard fight against elements of the Littorio Division and some German units. One interesting prisoner taken in this fighting was the athlete Luz Long, the 1936 Olympic silver medalist. After a pause for consolidation, especially bringing forward a mass of artillery and its ammunitions, and the deepening of the beach-head into the mountains by XIX Corps, Bethouart’s men lunged forward again, taking Trapani by the end of the month, with heavy naval gunfire support. The Navy lost two more cruisers to mines off Trapani, but the High Command considered this a price worth paying. ‘We used an entire squadron of cruisers to support the troops, we could have lost all of them and still counted it a win,’ noted Admiral Godfroy. ‘Such is war.’ Bethouart’s men then took Palermo on 3rd September - ‘the first major Axis city to fall, on the third anniversary of the war,’ as Alexander noted. ‘The first of many.’

    The fall of Palermo seems to have created a sense of urgency in Berlin that replaced the previous complacency about the theatre. Two fresh German divisions, one of them armoured, were sent into the fray, and used on the Catania plain in operation HERBST. They had no better luck than the British. The 15th Panzer Division overran a brigade of 44th Division and took two thousand prisoners, but then ran into minefields and lost heavily to artillery. After three days the offensive was called off.

    Although a tactical reverse for the British, who had to give up several miles of territory, the failure of HERBST to drive them into the sea was a grave disappointment in Berlin. Together with the failure of a smaller Axis counter-attack near Palermo, it made up the minds of the Germans that Sicily was lost. ‘We’re losing too many planes down there,’ complained Goering, ‘Stukas that we need urgently at Stalingrad.’ Like most of the German high command, he blamed the Italians. ‘Their Navy did nothing useful. Their fighters can’t take on the Spitfires, and now the French have these new American planes, these B-24s and P-38s. The fact is, the island was lost as soon as the enemy got their fighters operating from Sicilian airstrips.’ Though unfair to the Italians, this view probably contains much truth; General Alexander concluded, ‘the enemy’s air activity against our fleet mostly ceased once the French 12th Fighter Group began operating from Gela, on July 28th. Only one major attack occurred after that point, and though it proved very damaging, enemy losses were also high. In future amphibious operations, we should seek to get the Air established ashore as quickly as possible - this would have spared the Navy painful losses.’ The lesson was taken to heart.
    Part 11.4
  • Extract from letter from William Dempster Jr. to his father, August 2nd 1942

    ...of course I can’t tell you exactly where I am, but if you think of that place where we went the summer before old man Thurgood sued the Methodists, you’ll have an idea. Also quite obviously, I can’t mention what we’re doing next, but I think I can say that DELETED BY CENSOR sometime this year. We’ve got nearly two hundred DELETED BY CENSOR until the artillery arrives.

    The boys have plenty of spirit, anyway. When we’re not working we spend our time making up a progressively-longer song, now up to thirty verses, about what Adolf and Benito get up to in private, and what we’re going to do to them once we get hold of them. The view here is that we can wipe the floor with the Italians, we get news from Sicily and we see prisoners sometimes, poor half-starved fellows most of them. We see fewer German prisoners, and though we feel sorry for some of them, like the wounded, we don’t like them much in the main. John and Salvatore like to tease them in bad German - “Hitler kaputt, ja?” and stuff like that. I don’t think they like us much either.

    The news from the Pacific has been better lately. What I wouldn’t have given to be with the Marines on Midway! It sounds like they showed the Japs a thing or two. We’ve got a book going on what happens next, I have a dollar on Bougainville. Old Lemonface keeps fretting that the Japs might still take Singapore, or New Guinea, but I think they’re all tuckered out now. You know, we would all have liked to go and show Tojo what we think of him, but you’ve got to go where the Brass want you.

    Dad, you mentioned seeing Mrs. McFee. You know, I always wanted you to marry her, it seemed like the best thing all round. You’ve both been alone long enough. I know she’s got some funny ideas, but if you married her, she’d listen to you.


    Extract from Marianne and John, by Charles Montague, ch.14

    During the late summer of 1942, Allied statesmen such as Churchill and Hopkins became increasingly concerned over the survival of the Algiers government. ‘For Daladier and Mandel, the clock was ticking, and they must have some real success,’ noted Hopkins to Roosevelt. ‘The French feel very war-weary, after three years and only losses of territory.’ This dovetailed well with Roosevelt’s priority of getting US troops engaged against the Germans before the end of the year. In August, the the Allied leaders flew to Washington to meet the President. ‘The British would prefer to finish off Sicily before doing anything else,’ Roosevelt said to Daladier. ‘But we are with you.’ In fact the British had already accepted that RAVELIN must take priority, for political reasons, over breaking through the Etna line.

    Immediate results followed for the Sicilian campaign. After the fall of Palermo, French III Corps and most of XIX Corps pulled out of the front line to rest and recuperate near Trapani. The British had agreed to this, with some grumbling, as it meant they now took on the main weight of the Sicily campaign. 8th Army had received further reinforcements. General Gott, its new commander, now created X Corps, comprising 1st Canadian, 1st Armoured and 5th British divisions, to operate on the north coast. In the centre, XIII Corps now contained 2nd New Zealand, 51st Highland and 3rd Algerian divisions, and in late September they finally drove the Italians out of Nicosia and Troina after massive artillery bombardments and bitter fighting. This unhinged the Axis position, and enabled XXX Corps (7th Armoured, 44th and 50th divisions) to advance on the east coast, under the shadow of Mount Etna. The German forces in that sector began to withdraw, in good order, to Messina, and began to evacuate their equipment.

    By this time a kind of race had developed. On September 18th operation RAVELIN commenced: French XV Corps landed in southern Sardinia, with XIX Corps following up over the next fortnight. This landing had the battleships Lorraine and Bretagne (hastily patched up) in support along with HMS Ramillies and USS Washington, in her final operation before moving to the Far East. Air cover came from land based air in North Africa, plus the USS Wasp. ‘The strain fell heavily on the French air, but they came through triumphant,’ noted Churchill. Again, however, a lack of transport aircraft forced the cancellation of the intended parachute landings by the 1st Airborne Regiment. ‘Armee de l’Air let us down, again we are thwarted,’ wrote its commander. ‘The truth is that Olry, Bethouart and the rest are prejudiced against us. But we will have our day.’
    By this time the USAAF had also begun operations from Africa, and by the end of September the Regia Aeronautica no longer contested the sky over Sardinia.
    Part 11.5
  • Extract from Girolamo Leoni, La Follia, ch. 11

    The summer and autumn of 1942 tipped the balance of opinion amongst most of us. For instance, my friend Pastorelli had been steadily optimistic throughout the war, he had even seen silver linings in the loss of Africa, and after we took Thessaly he had become very bullish - ‘Athens next, and Crete,’ he had said. But Sicily and then Sardinia, and our inability to drive the invaders out, seemed to break him. ‘We should never have thrown in our fortunes with Berlin,’ he complained. ‘They expect us to carry all the struggle against the French and English, while they chase their dreams in Russia. But beating the Russians brings no help to us.’ If anything, German support to us had declined during the summer and autumn. Although Berlin suddenly seemed to realise the danger in August, and sent in two more divisions to Sicily, their air reinforcements went East. I should repeat this: the air forces they had in Italy received no reinforcement to speak of. And in this war command of the air dictated all. As a consequence, by late September the Germans had no thought but extracting themselves from Sicily as soon as they could. ‘It’ll be a different story if we have to fight them on the continent,’ they said, seemingly oblivious to our feelings on the matter.

    French XV Corps took Cagliari on 27th September, and we felt almost relief at the ending of the torment of that unfortunate city. ‘My old neighbourhood is gone,’ Giulio said to me. ‘The French hit it with a hundred bombers.’ Poor Giulio: his brothers had both been killed, one on Rhodes and one in a bomber shot down over Tunis. Now he had terrible fears for the rest of his family. ‘Why can’t our Navy stop these invasions?’ he cried.

    A good question, but our Naval colleagues could only wring their hands. On the 29th the Admiral came to talk to us, and he spoke bitterly. ‘Do you know how many vessels we have lost in the last three months? At times we have been losing a submarine every day. My nephew was on one of them. We scraped together enough fuel to send out a force of cruisers to bombard the British positions near Cefalu. We had to beg the Germans to get even that much. It did no good, we lost four ships. Mines, submarines, bombers, it’s no good.’ He had charts to show the decline of our sea power and the growth of the enemy’s air attacks. ‘The Gorizia took damage and had to retreat to Naples. But the American heavy bombers have made even Naples unsafe. She was hit twice more, she’ll be out of action for months, at least.’

    Although the Duce did not want to admit it, we had given up on Sardinia by the end of September. We looked at how many men we could evacuate, but it proved precious few. Sicily, and of course the German assets there, took priority. In the end, our last forces on both islands surrendered on the same day, October 19th; my birthday, as it happened. On that day, several of us spoke openly for the first time about taking Italy out of the war, and of removing any obstacles to that objective. This, we concluded, had become our sacred duty to the fatherland.
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    Part 11.6
  • Extract from Memoires by Guy Lemoine, ch.10

    Thoughtless people have sometimes described the Sardinia fighting as a walk-over. “After all,” they say, “there were no Germans there, and we had air supremacy.” In the first place, that is not true: the Germans had Luftwaffe and Navy units there, I saw some of them myself as prisoners. My friends in GC12 could testify to the menace the German anti-aircraft posed. Not long after we moved to Cagliari, I had arranged to meet Clostermann and two others for drinks in one of the few bars open. When I got there I found only Pierre waiting for me. ‘Passy, d’Elbeuf - flak got them,’ he said, sadly. ‘Just this morning.’ They had been attacking a fuel dump near Olbia. I said how sorry I was. ‘Well, that’s how it is,’ he replied. ‘They’ve talked us up into this elite unit, and truly, but it means we get all the tough jobs.’

    In any case, even setting aside the Germans, it was no picnic. The Italians knew quite well how to turn a hill into a fortress, and there are plenty of hills in Sardinia. There was one day - my diary says it was the 30th, but I was getting so little sleep I think that must be wrong - when I was on my feet for twenty hours at a stretch, dealing with casualties as they came in - Moroccans mostly, they had been given a particularly hard job. We used an entire regiment to take one hill that had perhaps fifty Italians on it.

    So the Italians on Sardinia certainly gained our respect as fighting men. Of course I am no military expert, but in my opinion the main thing that hurt them was their shortage of artillery ammunition. We captured lots of guns - old but serviceable - some of which had not been fired. One day an Italian captain came to me to have his wounds dressed. ‘They rationed us to five rounds per gun per day,’ he said. ‘This was after telling us how this was the decisive battle, the fate of the fatherland depends on you, and so on.’

    ‘Why so few?’ I asked.

    ‘The big bosses like to hear how many guns we have, and how many planes, and how many divisions,’ he replied. ‘Actually making sure they have the means to fight, ammunition, fuel and so on - they think that’s beneath them. If it was a talking war we’d have won long ago!’ I wondered how many other Italians thought the same.
    Part 11.7
  • Extract from War in the Middle Sea, ch.18

    After the end of the campaigns in Sicily and Sardinia, the Allies focussed on Corsica. ‘The government promised the recovery of French territory by the end of the year, and the time has come to make good,’ wrote M. Mandel. ‘We must show we can deliver.’ Making a priority of Corsica had the support of President Roosevelt, even though some of his commanders regarded the Mediterranean as a distraction. ‘There is no military necessity to take Corsica yet, perhaps not at all,’ wrote General Marshall. ‘The French call it a stepping stone into southern France. Eventually we may want to mount an offensive there. But we see risks in becoming too heavily committed in that theatre.’ The President’s wishes, however, prevailed.

    The British government accepted the political necessity of retaking Corsica. General Alexander’s concerns were around landing craft - ‘serious attrition of these indispensable vessels in the last few months,’ he noted. ‘Enemy airfields on the continent allow them to contest the air over Corsica strongly. Italian and German tactics lately have focussed on attacking our landing craft. Against this, the sea crossing is short. But many of the likely beaches are overlooked by hills, enemy artillery will make landings hazardous.’

    Operation LAFAYETTE, the liberation of Corsica, began with the October full moon, on the 24th. There had been little time to prepare. ‘The Americans worked miracles in Sardinia,’ commented General Olry, ‘they could take a barren site full of trees, and a week later had a fighter group operating. They had two or three such near Alghero, which I inspected, besides several near Olbia.’ The USAAF initially took the lead in air operations over Corsica, employing B-25 and B-26 bombers and a mixture of P-40 and P-38 fighters. They suffered heavy initial losses, mainly as a result of inexperience, but Axis opposition was weak - it appears that the Italian air force was suffering from severe fuel shortages at the time. The US also provided all the transport aircraft that were intended for use by the French airborne troops, but these last once again had their drop cancelled, due to unfavourable weather. This bred frustrations that left the French paras determined not to be thus prevented again...

    The US air force impressed the French. ‘The American pilots had the true spirit of fighter combat from the first,’ said the commander of GC12. ‘They showed great willingness to learn new tactics. For instance they learned the trick of dive-bombing by their fighter aircraft - they learned the technique quickly.’ This was just as well. The French were still using their Vultee dive-bombers for precision attacks, and these had built up a reputation - ‘Frenchie Stukas,’ as the Germans called them. But over Corsica they suffered heavy losses as the Germans made them priority targets, and it was the last time the Vultee machines saw front-line service in the ETO. ‘The future is with fighter-bombers, even if they are not quite so accurate,’ noted Pierre Clostermann.

    The Americans had to learn the same hard lessons as the British and French about Air-Navy cooperation. On the morning of the 25th, a breakdown in communications allowed German bombers to attack the fleet unmolested. Two destroyers and two supply ships were sunk. The USS Augusta, the cruiser being used as a command ship, was hit, and suffered heavy damage. This attack mortally wounded General Fredendall, the commander of US II Corps. ‘A heavy blow to us so early in the operation,’ noted General Eisenhower, ‘he had the makings of a great leader.’

    However, the US and French forces succeeded in securing their beach-heads, and by the end of October had linked up and pushed inland. There were four Axis divisions in the island, two Italian and two German, and the Allied forces noticed that the Italians were losing heart. ‘No surprise,’ wrote one French officer, ‘they had nothing more than rifles, little artillery, many of the prisoners we took had not eaten in days.’ However, the German troops fought stubbornly. US II Corps took Porto Vecchio on the 30th after hard fighting that saw both 1st and 34th Divisions take heavy casualties. ‘Too many of our junior officers showed more courage than sense,’ wrote General Ryder, who had taken temporary command. ‘The terrain was very difficult. We had many vehicles in the beach-head, but too many were of little use, our tanks and tank-destroyers proved very vulnerable.’ General Ward, commanding 1st Armoured Division, also noted this. ‘We were taken by surprise too often,’ he wrote later, ‘the Germans were experts in feigned retreats, ambushes and the like. On one occasion an entire tank battalion was put out of action.’

    American commentators in general criticised their own performance quite harshly, but the French, who had a different perspective and expectations, were impressed. ‘Superb artillery, just like 1918 again,’ noted General Bethouart. ‘Repeatedly we saw how enemy defences could only last until they brought up their 105mm howitzers.’ The French and American artillerymen found themselves very much on the same wavelength, despite the language barrier...


    Extract from letter from William Dempster Jr. to his father, October 29th 1942

    Dad, you’ve probably guessed by now where I am. Colonel Davenport said it was ok to write that we are on DELETED BY CENSOR. You can imagine how much it meant to me, as it must to you, to know that we went into battle alongside the French in an operation to liberate a part of France, an operation called LAFAYETTE. I remember what you told me about the great advance of ‘18, and the flowers, and the songs. Here is a truth the newspaper-columnists tend to forget: for all the ugly, and I’ve already seen plenty, there is so much in war that attracts the mind and enchants it, that I understand why men still show willing to go to the wars...

    Our guns are doing great work, believe me. In the first few days we set up next to a French battery, they had some old 155s, and I got to know some of them, talking to them in my bad French. (If you see old Mr. Cox, tell him I’m sorry now I didn’t listen up better in class, he’ll like to hear that.) Now after our first few shoots in Corsica we started to say that there are two kinds of soldiers - gunners and targets. Then I talked to a French officer, I think a colonel, and found they have exactly the same saying. As you always say, ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments!’

    I’m sorry to hear about Mrs. McFee going away, but I’m sure she’ll be back from Philly soon enough. I wouldn’t hesitate too long if I were you.
    Part 11.8
  • 11.8
    Extract from War in the Middle Sea, ch.18 (continued)

    The liberation of the island took several weeks, mainly due to very tough resistance by the Germans in the mountains of the north, as the weather worsened. ‘Corsica was a very tough place to learn how to fight,’ commented General Allen. ‘By the end of the campaign some of my rifle companies had taken 100 percent casualties. We kept going thanks to replacements, wounded men returning to the front, and by combing out the rear echelons.’

    The French were also acutely conscious of attrition. Daladier noted that since the commencement of the central Mediterranean offensive in late June, they had lost a thousand aircraft, and suffered over 20,000 casualties in combat. ‘We must have a prolonged pause in offensive operations, to rebuild our strength,’ he wrote, ‘we cannot go on with such heavy losses.’ General Olry made similar comments to General Alexander when they met on New Year’s Eve. ‘My nine divisions each have 10-15,000 men, at full strength,’ he said, ‘but less than half of that is riflemen. So in all I have maybe 40,000 riflemen. They take most of the losses. In short, I have lost half my rifle strength in taking just three islands.’

    General Alexander agreed with the sentiment. ‘Commonwealth forces have suffered over 35,000 combat casualties since June, also many sick. The French face the same problem as we do, only more acutely,’ he wrote to the Prime Minister. ‘They do not have the manpower to accept very large losses. I do not downplay our victories. But we must realise these recent campaigns have been small compared to that which we must expect on the Continent.’

    Since the war it has become common to see the months that followed the fall of Sicily as a missed opportunity; it has been argued that the Allies should have pushed onto mainland Italy before the end of the year, or at the latest in the New Year. At the very least, it has been argued, the Allies should have seized Elba, which in December and January was virtually undefended.

    Several factors combined to prevent any further operations. The Sardinia and Corsica campaigns drew off numerous Allied assets, including all the French and American land, sea and air forces available. The British did not wish to launch themselves into mainland Italy alone, especially given the bruising campaign in Sicily and the ongoing demands of the Greek front. With hindsight we can see that if Allied forces had been present on the Italian mainland before February, they could have exploited political developments more effectively. However, this was not clear at the time. Most Allied planning focussed on the complex operations that would be needed, and it took time to thrash out different opinions on the right places to land - the British initially favoured Salerno, as being within Spitfire range of Sicily, but the Americans and French pressed for Anzio, as this was closer to Rome and within range of fighters operating from Sardinia. Several weeks passed in these discussions.

    Still, the victory in Corsica came before the end of the year, as promised, and the French government had its Christmas present.