Archive for the ‘war’ Category

BRITAIN AT WAR 1939 to 1945 What was life like during the war?

January 26, 2014

BRITAIN AT WAR 1939 to 1945 What was life like during the war?

A history of the home front in Britain and of the salient campaigns in World War 2 which received excellent reviews from The Historical Association and from UCL People (University College London).

In Defiance of Danger

January 23, 2014

In Defiance of Danger.

The Italian Campaign

September 13, 2013

This is Chapter 13 of BRITAIN AT WAR 1939 to 1945 What was life like during the war? by James Lingard which is available in paperback (ISBN 9781434359339) through local bookshops or on-line; or from AuthorHouse or Kindle as an e-book (ISBN 9781434359346).
The Heritage Officer of the Watford Museum has referred to the book as ‘a fascinating read and a very important document’; the education and outreach department of the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum have found it ‘a useful reference for teachers preparing for WW2 Home Front studies and wanting a personal rather than political focus’
The book has received excellent reviews including:-
The Historical Association – a charity which supports teachers in primary and secondary education but also academics at all levels – ‘Members will be interested in BRITAIN AT WAR 1939 to 1945 What was life like during the war? which brings alive the harsh realities of life in Britain during the war – life full of uncertainty and the danger of impending death. It also provides ‘a concise history of the salient campaigns in World War 2 ideal for anyone who lacks the time or inclination to study the larger works.’
UCL People (University College London) (March 2009) ‘A memoir of boyhood in Britain during World War II, this short but powerful book brings together personal reflections with the historical and political context. The author’s memories are interwoven with quotations from Churchill’s speeches and overviews of the major campaigns. ‘Britain at War’ is written from the standpoint of people directly involved, and all personal experiences are based on actual events.’

CHAPTER 13
ITALY
‘The time has come for you to decide whether Italians shall die for Mussolini and Hitler – or live for Italy, and for civilisation.’ (Allied leaflet dropped on Rome 17th July 1943)

After the conquest of North Africa, the Allies decided to strive for Sicily and if this proved feasible, the Italian mainland. This required 3,000 ships / landing craft to transport 100,000 men with tanks, guns and equipment – no mean undertaking. The British Eighth Army under General Montgomery comprising seven divisions, two armoured brigades and commandos was to sieze the east of the island; whilst the U.S. Seventh Army under General Patton comprising six divisions took the west.
Against them stood two German divisions – one of which was armoured – and four Italian divisions supported by local troops. Similarly, the Allies could muster 4,000 operational aircraft, whilst the Axis powers had less than half that number in the region.
The well prepared offensive was launched on the 3rd July 1943 with an intensive air strike which quickly established air superiority and kept the Italian navy away from the invasion fleet. Four transports were sunk by German U-boats but the landings were successfully accomplished on the 10th July. The only disaster befell the Air Landing Brigades whose gliders were cast off too early and became scattered with many casualties.
The German Panzers launched a heavy counterattack against the Americans; German paratroops brought in from the mainland slowed the British advance. However, the Allies brought up further divisions held in reserve and by the 17th August, Sicily had fallen. Many of the German troops succeeded in withdrawing during the night across the Messina Straits to the mainland, but there were 37,000 German casualties and over 130,000 Italian. It became clear that the Nazis were not popular with the Italian population.
* * *
The landings in Sicily had serious political repercussions in Rome. Italy itself now faced the threat of invasion. Mussolini fell. He was arrested on the 25th July 1943 on the orders of the Italian King following a vote of the Grand Council, and interned on the island of Ponza. A substantial majority of the population of Italy had turned Communist virtually overnight. Communist demonstrations were put down by armed force.
The Germans poured men into Rome, backed by an armoured division on the outskirts. The Italian troops in the vicinity had practically no weapons. The King and Italian Government were forced to pretend support for Hitler but requested the Allies to land in Italy at the earliest opportunity. The Allies requested that the Italians order their airforce and fleet to leave the country and surrender, release all prisoners of war and destroy communications in the north to disrupt any German invasion.
Hitler, however, ordered reinforcements into Italy and the country rapidly came under German occupation. The Italian Government signed an armistice surrendering to the Allies on the 3rd September 1943. Before dawn that same day, the British Eighth Army had crossed the Straits of Messina and landed on the toe of Italy.
During the night of September 7th, the Germans encircled and subsequently siezed Rome but the King and senior ministers escaped to allied occupied Brindisi. That same day, the Italian fleet escaped from its bases to Malta and surrendered with the loss of the flagship Roma sunk by German aircraft. Hitler responded by sending in paratroops to rescue Mussolini and set him up as a rival Government on the shores of Lake Garda in North Italy. There, he remained cut off from the outside world by carefully chosen German guards.
The Italian surrender and the relative speed with which Sicily had been liberated encouraged the Allies to proceed with the invasion of Italy. However, there were sixteen German divisions stationed in Italy; eight in the north under Rommel, two in and around Rome and six in the south under Kesselring. Moreover, twenty German divisions had been withdrawn from the Russian front and were refitting in France. The Allies had control of the sea and air, but not enough troops on the ground to ensure success and not enough landing craft to bring in massive reinforcements.
* * *
On September 8th, the Allies landed at Salerno, south of Naples, under cover from a strong British fleet but without much air support as the fighters were at the limit of their range. The Germans had disarmed the Italians in the vicinity and put up a strenuous resistance. Salerno itself fell, but the Herman Goering Armoured Division based in Naples, the 16th Armoured Division and a regiment of the 1st parachute division backed by support from the Luftwaffe contained the landing within a ten mile perimeter. For six days of bitter fighting the issue remained in doubt. Naval bombardment saved the Allies from being pushed back into the sea, but at the cost of the battleship Warspite being disabled by a glider bomb – one of the new German secret weapons.
However, the landing did disrupt the German defence of Italy and on the 9th September the Royal Navy steamed unopposed into the naval base at Taranto in the heel of Italy and landed six thousand men of the British 1st Airborne Division who siezed the port. This enabled much needed allied reinforcements to be landed.
By September 16th, the danger of defeat at Salerno had passed. Elements of the British Eighth Army fighting its way up from the toe of Italy began to arrive and the Germans had to withdraw to meet this new threat. Naples itself fell a few days later and within two weeks its harbour had reopened and its airfields became bases for Allied fighters.
Once Naples had been taken, the Allies advance met increasing resistance and of necessity paused. The Germans now had nineteen divisions ranged against no more than thirteen. Reinforcements had become a necessity. They were available but landing craft had other priorities as well. The shortage of transports prevented the relief of Rhodes and other Greek islands which remained under Nazi occupation.
* * *
On the 12th October, the Allies resumed their advance, but early in November they came upon the forward defences of Hitler’s main strategic position south of Rome which had been strongly reinforced. The opposing armies were of equal strength and the Germans had orders not to withdraw from the mountainous defences which they held. They had been told that if they held out, the new secret weapons now developed would destroy London and force the British to seek an armistice.
Moreover, the Allies began withdrawing troops and landing craft back to England to prepare for the invasion of France. That invasion had absolute priority – indeed the existence of the secret weapons made any delay risky. The result in Italy was a deadlock for a period of severe fighting. This suited the Germans well enough – the divisions they held in reserve could be made available at short notice where needed, be it Russia or to repel an invasion of Northern France.
The stalemate was no use to the Allies. They needed Rome to convince neutrals such as Turkey that they were now winning the war. They needed the airfields north of Rome to bomb industry in Southern Germany, and Stalin needed to prevent reinforcement of the Nazi armies in Russia. But how to break the stalemate? Frontal assaults proved costly and were only partially successful.
Allied landing craft were about to be withdrawn from the Mediterranean but Churchill saw the opportunity to land two divisions at Anzio, just south of Rome, behind the German lines. Would two divisions be enough? There were not enough transports to land more.
The landings on 22nd January 1944 achieved almost complete surprise, but the advantage failed to be pressed home. The road to Rome was open but the troops were held back to Churchill’s fury. Worse, German reserves quickly came up and sealed off the bridgehead. Then, they launched a heavy counterattack on 16th February narrowly failing to drive the Allies back into the sea – repulsed by bombardment from every aircraft the Allies could fly.
The Allies resumed frontal attacks on Monte Cassino, but during winter and early spring this resulted in heavy casualties and precious little progress. It did, however, cause the Germans to commit reserves and pinned down nearly twenty good divisions weakening their efforts against Russia.
* * *
Once the snow on the mountains had melted and the ground hardened, the Allies were able to attack on a much broader front in support of the D-Day landings in Northern France. In great secrecy, they had used the Spring to regroup and reinforce their forces in Italy. They now mustered twenty eight divisions against the Germans twenty three and had succeeded in concealing the point of attack.
The fresh onslaught started at 11pm on the 11th May 1944 when 2,000 allied guns opened up a barrage followed up at dawn with heavy bombing. The Polish Corps once again tried to take Monte Cassino but yet again were repulsed. The French Corps made some progress into the mountains and after thirty six hours of murderous fighting the Germans began to fall back. The Americans attacked in strength up the coast road, but it took a week before Cassino town finally fell.
German reinforcements now began to arrive. Would they make a stand in the Alban Hills / Valmontone just south of Rome? They tried to hold a line along the river Liri some miles to the south but the Canadians broke through on the 24th May and that triggered the six allied divisions now in the Anzio bridgehead to break out. German losses were heavy, but the crack Hermann Goering Panzer Division was on its way south to stop the rot. It arrived at Valmontone before the Americans and held the main road open to allow the retreating German units through.
The Alban Hills held out for a few days but Rome fell on the 4th June – two days before D-Day and the Normandy landings. The Germans fell back to the mountains north of the city where the terrain made things difficult for the allied armoured divisions. The retreat, harassed by air attacks, was disorganised and closely pursued by the Allies.
Kesselring reorganised his forces to hold a strong prepared position named the Gothic Line which ran across Italy along the Apennine range north of Florence. There his retreating army would be reinforced by eight new divisions. He skilfully fought rearguard actions to slow down the advance.
General Alexander, on the other hand, had to release seven divisions – almost 40% of his troops – to take part in the landings in the south of France. The strategy agreed by the Allies was to tie up Nazi strength in Italy rather than conquer territory in the mountains. Churchill tried his hardest to keep the troops in Italy to continue their advance, notwithstanding the Gothic Line. Fortunately, the Americans and the Russians forced him to stand by the agreed strategy. The advance through France proved far easier and less costly in casualties.
The attacks on the Gothic Line continued at the cost of heavy casualties, but the German strength was reinforced to twenty eight divisions and held with the aid of the weather into the winter. Churchill asked the Americans to send reinforcements to Italy, but they declined – sending them instead to strengthen the armies on the Rhine. The mountains of Italy led back to the Alps – territory far too easy to defend and costly to attack as had been proved at Monte Cassino.
* * *

In Defiance of Danger

May 30, 2013

In Defiance of Danger

In Defiance of Danger is a miscellany of fact based short stories. The first four chapters describe incidents which occurred in the Second World War and are a tribute to the brave. The following remarkable stories are about how real people behaved in dangerous or difficult peacetime situations and compare with any thriller.

Extract: “On D-day, Maurice’s landing craft had on board one tank and three guns – all modified with their barrels in fixed positions to fire straight ahead at a target one thousand yards away. He had orders to search out a shore battery; aim the guns by steering his boat straight at it, then fire at 1,000 yards. Training had shown that this was the best way to ensure accuracy by the army gunners, but approaching the alerted German guns in a straight line had to be insane.

Maurice and his sister craft approached the landing beaches at full speed ahead – not that their cumbersome craft wallowing in the swell had much of a racing capability. Their progress seemed leaden. What kind of reception could they expect? Would the Germans bother to use their heavy guns against such tiny targets? The whole area had been heavily bombed, but it felt as though they were alone against the might of an invisible German army.

A mile out and no target identified. Suddenly, a loud explosion to port. A quick glance – the sister ship had received a direct hit and exploded into pieces. Zigzag. Just in time. Another battery closer to Maurice fired at him. This is it. He headed directly for it. Hold on – 1100 yards. Wait for it – fire.

Maurice and the battery fired more or less simultaneously. They missed; he did not. The shell from the tank hit the concrete bunker housing the guns, but made precious little impression on it. The shells from the three guns exploded – – and produced red smoke. Red smoke, Maurice swore as he turned away from the beach to try another attack.

Suddenly, a tremendous explosion occurred. The battery had gone – not only the battery but the low cliff on which it stood had collapsed into the sea.

Now the time had come to take on the second battery which had sunk his sister craft. Maurice had to cover half a mile before he was in range. He did not hesitate, random zigzags and a lot of prayer.

The Dead Man Strikes Back

May 29, 2013

The Dead Man Strikes Back

This contemporary fiction is full of danger and suspense, blending recent history with the adventures of a British spy sent to rescue a missing colleague. The result is a fast moving action packed thriller, set against the background of Russia’s problems with Chechnya and Georgia. Much of the drama takes place against a background of the magnificent Caucasus Mountains. But can our hero trust the Russian FSB (formerly KGB) officer who befriends him and how will she react to Anna, a Separatist?

Extract: “A pistol shot echoed around the snow-capped peaks. Startled jackdaws rose from their nests. Night had begun to fall, and with it came the all-pervading cold made all the more merciless by a gusting north wind.

Down amongst the twenty or so dwellings huddled together on a narrow ledge high in the Caucasus Mountains, a group of women redoubled their ululating as they prepared a funereal supper. The men began to chant salaams, which carried to the tiny group of mourners clustered around the freshly dug graves.

Sergei, in his long grey overcoat and wide-topped sheepskin hat, gazed down at the two bodies lying at his feet in open rough pine coffins. Each had a bullet hole in the centre of its forehead, and another through the heart; both men would have been dead before they hit the ground.

He bowed his head in respectful silence. ‘So young, so very young,’ he sighed, staring thoughtfully at the lights of two distant villages, the one where he was born perched high above the other, under a massive rock peak which protected it from the worst rigors of the winter blizzards. These were his people, his mountains – range after range stretching into the mists.

Somehow, they seemed to give him the courage to glance across at Alexei, the local partisan leader, a giant of a man with an ugly scar on his right cheek which his black beard could not conceal. Their eyes did not meet and neither spoke.

‘They died for the cause. They are heroes of the Confederation of Mountain Peoples and must be honoured as such,’ a voice growled. ‘Good men, comrades. This is Captain Yusuf’s work – not many can shoot like that.’

Sergei nodded. One of the bodies could so easily have been his own. Rumour had it that both he and Alexei were on the Captain’s death list.

The partisan’s grip tightened on the strap of the Kalashnikov slung across his back, his face ravaged by exhaustion and sorrow; but he looked away, as if seeking comfort from the old sepulchres in the small cemetery and from the square stone towers of the mountain village – a relic of the past.

Crack. Two bodies; two shots – the proprieties had been observed. Sergei mouthed a silent prayer

Then the fire seemed to come into Alexei’s eyes as he pledged a blood feud with the Georgians – a feud to end all feuds. Sergei walked over and stood beside him – a gesture of solidarity.

The partisan responded with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks and turned to the villagers: ‘Now is the time for leadership; the time for vengeance. Follow me. These grenades clipped to the metal loops in my ammunition belt, this Kalashnikov, and the armed men around me, all have urgent work to do.’

He took a pace backwards, stood smartly to attention, then slowly raised his right arm above his head and clenched his fist. The whole village fell silent. With quiet dignity, he ordered: ‘Bury them. They will be avenged.’

Sergei bared his head and watched as the coffins were solemnly nailed down and lowered into the ground. Tears welled up in his eyes as they were covered with earth – out of sight for ever. As if to enhance the melancholy, a younger element began to dance to the haunting accompaniment of a balalaika – a dance which grew faster and wilder as it progressed.”

The Battle for Europe

November 7, 2012

This is an extract from Chapters 15 and 16 of Britain at War 1939 to 1945 by James Lingard available on Kindle or from AuthorHouse. The writer questions why the Allies put so much effort and resources into attacking mountainous terrain in Italy when the south of France gave much easier access to Europe.

THE BATTLE FOR EUROPE

  ‘You may rest assured that we shall do everything possible to render assistance to the glorious forces of our Allies.’ (Marshal Stalin to Churchill)

                   Heavy German reinforcements were hastening to the front (where the D Day landings had taken place), but equally the Allies planned to have twenty five divisions deployed within a month. The sixty German divisions – of which ten were Panzers – available to defend France against the invasion were widely spread around the coast; only nine infantry and one Panzer being on hand in Normandy. Such had been the success of the allied deception that they planned to attack Calais.

          By 12th June, the Germans had brought four Panzer divisions into the battle – less than General Eisenhower expected. The air offensive had succeeded in disrupting communications. Cherbourg held out until the 26th June and the port suffered heavy demolition which put it out of action for a further ten weeks. The weather also deteriorated and storms destroyed one of the two floating harbours which had been towed across the Channel. Even so, good progress was made in supplying and building up the bridgeheads.

          As in Russia, Hitler made the mistake of ordering his troops to stand and fight where they were, rather than making strategic withdrawals. In the last week of June, the British front was attacked by strong Panzer forces, but they were beaten off with heavy losses by air attack and accurate artillery fire. On 8th to 10th July, a British counterattack at last succeeded in taking Caen which had suffered heavy bombing.

          By mid-July the Allies had thirty divisions ashore opposed by twenty seven German divisions weakened by heavy allied bombing whenever the weather permitted. Rommel himself suffered severe wounds from a low flying fighter. The Nazis could only respond at night with attacks by single aircraft. Then, on 20th July 1944, desperate anti-nazis attempted to assassinate Hitler, but failed – leading to a massive purge which included Rommel himself.

          Hitler now released his Fifteenth Army to oppose the landings, but their intervention came too late to make much impact. The American break out under General Bradley began on the 25th July and cut the German escape route down the Normandy coast. Four Panzer divisions checked the Canadian advance on Falaise. Brest on the tip of the Cherbourg peninsular held out until the 19th September.

          Hitler insisted on a major counterattack by five Panzer divisions on Mortain but this was beaten back. Much of the surviving armour succeeded in withdrawing before the gap in the allied advance at Falaise closed, but eight German divisions were effectively annihilated.

          The allied advance continued and on 24th August entered Paris. The Germans are estimated at this stage to have lost 400,000 men – half prisoners – and 1,300 tanks.

*   *   *         

On 14th August 1944, allied forces landed in the South of France in a number of places along a stretch of coast between Toulon and Cannes. The landing craft hit the beaches under cover of a substantial naval bombardment provided by six battleships and twenty one cruisers with supporting destroyers. The Allies also had total air supremacy and had bombed the fortifications in the area for the previous fortnight.

          American and British paratroops dropped around Le Muy to cut German communications and sieze the pass through to St Tropez. They were quickly joined by the seaborne forces. Shortage of landing craft restricted the initial attack to commandos and three American divisions, but they were quickly followed by seven French divisions.

          The Germans had withdrawn four of their divisions to support the defence of Normandy. Ten divisions remained but only three were in the vicinity of the landings and they had also to deal with 25,000 men of the French Resistance who had been resupplied by the Allies.

          Marseilles and Toulon were left to the French divisions and held out to the end of the month. Meanwhile, the Americans drove north reaching Grenoble on August 24th and Lyons on September 3rd. The only serious opposition came from a Panzer division at Montelimar north of Avignon, but they were driven back by heavy air attacks. The French Resistance liberated Dijon on September 11th and on that same day, the allied forces which had landed in the south met those from Normandy. Less than a month after  the landings, the Germans were in full retreat leaving behind over 50,000 prisoners.

*   *   *

          Meanwhile, General Eisenhower took command of the allied forces in France on 1st September 1944 – thirty seven divisions comprising over half a million troops. The Germans opposed them with about seventeen divisions, harassed continuously by overwhelming air power. The Allies urgently needed a port to ease their stretched supply lines and advanced as fast as possible. The Guards Armoured Division covered 200 miles in four days – Antwerp was taken on the 4th September before the Germans had carried out demolition of the harbour facilities.

          However, resistance stiffened as the Allies neared the German border. There, they came upon the Siegfried Line – a long prepared defensive position. Any further advance only came after much hard fighting. Unfortunately, the Nazi strength was seriously underestimated in intelligence reports. The parachute drop to sieze the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem launched on 17th September ran into a Panzer division and failed with the loss of 7,500 experienced troops. The bridge over the Waal at Nijmegen was, however, taken and held despite German attempts to destroy it.

          During October, the Allied advance paused whilst strenuous efforts were made to capture the strongly held Scheldt estuary, which barred the access of shipping to Antwerp. After heavy bombing and bombardment, the Germans eventually succumbed to courageous Commando attacks in the first week in November. The first convoy began to unload supplies on the 28th November amist a deluge of flying bombs and rockets which caused many casualties.

          Early December 1944 found the Allies stuck on the German frontier, still well short of the Rhine. Equally, they remained stuck in Italy where the Germans still retained twenty six divisions, and the weather negatived allied superiority in armour and in the air. The situation in Burma, where weakness forced Chinese forces to withdraw, was no better. The Americans, however, were making progress in the Pacific; as were the Russians on their front.

          But Hitler had been regrouping his forces for a counterattack. No fewer than seventy divisions – fifteen of them armoured – faced the Allies on the Western front. A seventy five mile sector in the Ardennes, from Bastogne in the south to Malmedy in the north, was relatively weakly held by four US divisions. On 16th December, under cover of a heavy artillery barrage, the Germans launched ten Panzer divisions supported by fourteen infantry divisions against them, and inevitably broke through the allied lines. Could they swing north and recapture Antwerp thereby depriving the Allies of much needed supplies?

          In the north of the salient, the Sixth Panzer Army met advancing detachments of the First US Army and were held for some days in fierce fighting around St Vith by the Seventh US Armoured Division. However, the Fifth Panzer Army brushed aside the forces opposing it and headed for the river Meuse.

          General Eisenhower stopped all allied attacks and committed all his reserves – some sixteen divisions – to defend the northern flank of the salient and prevent the Germans reaching the coast. Hitler’s forces penetrated some sixty miles towards the Meuse, but on 23rd December, the weather improved and the Allies launched heavy air strikes with considerable effect. The attack faltered and switched to Bastogne where the US 101st Airborne Division had held out. They continued to hold against all the odds.

          On 1st January 1945, the Luftwaffe launched a heavy surprise attack on all allied forward air bases and did substantial damage. But then, General Montgomery in the north and General Patton in the south attacked the salient simultaneously, whilst the Russians brought forward an offensive they were planning on the eastern front.

          The forces north and south of the salient struggled through snow storms until they met at Houffalize on 16th January. The Germans were squeezed back to their frontier with casualties of 120,000 men – losses they were unable to replace.

The book has received excellent reviews including:-

History Direct and History Times (May 2009)

‘James Lingard’s Britain at War 1939-1945 presents the reader with an excellent easy to digest overview of the key events that affected Britain during World War two. He has skilfully weaved personal accounts and his own experiences into the book to deliver a fascinating insight into the trials of civilian life in Britain at this key juncture in our nation’s history.’

The History Magazine (Spring Issue 2009)

For many older people the Second World War was the major event in their lives, but for the rest of us it is just history and it is hard to imagine what life was really like for them. In his book James Lingard tries to give us a picture of how a small boy saw life in the war interspersed with a potted history of the war to put things in context. This book gives historically accurate facts and figures and cuts through the propaganda which was fed to the wartime public. I enjoyed this book giving as it does an insight into one person’s war.’

UCL People (University College London) (March 2009)

‘A memoir of boyhood in Britain during World War II, this short but powerful book brings together personal reflections with the historical and political context. The author’s memories are interwoven with quotations from Churchill’s speeches and overviews of the major campaigns. ‘Britain at War’ is written from the standpoint of people directly involved, and all personal experiences are based on actual events.’

The Sunday Times of Canada

‘A great book by James Lingard introduces the reader to the harsh realities of war.’

Personal comments from Amazon include:

Mr. M. W. Wabe (UK)

‘This is a factual but interesting book of the lives of people who lived through WWII. It gives the stories of peoples’ lives, interspersed with the great speeches of such great men as Winston Churchill. It is enjoyable as a read in itself, but even more so for the memories it evokes for those who lived in those times. It provides a valuable insight into those times for us who were born in the 1950s, and onwards and without such a book, it is impossible for us to understand what life was like then. Death was almost always imminent from the bombing, food was short, hunger was not unusual, but a sort of national spirit emerged that is no longer present today.’

WORLD WAR 2 Favourite read

December 13, 2011

WORLD WAR 2 – Victory or Death

The Chapter on D-Day, recording two out of many heroic exploits on that day, has now been selected as a favourite read. BRITAIN AT WAR 1939 to 1945 What was life like during the war? by James Lingard (paperback ISBN 9781434359339) (Kindle ASIN: B005QNPQLE) (ebook 9781434359346) gives ‘an excellent easy to digest overview of the key events that affected Britain during World War two’ and presents a fascinating insight into the trials of civilian life in Britain during the war; ideal for those who seek balanced background information about the war and the reality of life then. The book has received a number of excellent reviews and is now available on Kindle.

D-Day

November 19, 2010

The Chapter on D-Day in BRITAIN AT WAR 1939 to 1945 What was life like during the war? by James Lingard (ISBN 9781434359339) is set out below. The book is recommended to members by the Historical Association.and provides an ‘excellent easy to digest overview of – – Britain during World War 2’ (History Times (May 2009). It is now also available from the Authorhouse bookstore as an ebook under ISBN 9781434359346 http://www.authorhouse.com/Bookstore/BookSearchResults.aspx?Search=9781434359346 or as a paperback

 http://www.authorhouse.co.uk/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000242715.

D-DAY

‘In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’

The Allies had long agreed that the invasion of Northern France must have priority over all else – other operations in the Mediterranean were all secondary. The Russians, of course, regarded the defence of their country as paramount, but Stalin offered to time his next offensive to assist the invasion – in fact attacking in strength on the 23rd June 1944. The Americans also gave priority to the landing over their operations against the Japanese in the Pacific. By D-Day, 1.5 million US troops were stationed in Britain; troops who ridiculed British deference to concepts of class and the old school tie.

As a preliminary to D-Day, 6th June 1944, the French railway system suffered heavy bombing to disrupt German communications and reinforcements. Meanwhile, elaborate planning struggled to work out how best to transport 150,000 men and 20,000 vehicles to France in the first two days and how to convince the enemy that the attack would be directly across the Straits of Dover. This subterfuge, involving erecting dummy tanks guns and vehicles in the Kent countryside, was brilliantly successful and resulted in Panzer divisions being held back from the actual landings.

The invasion force comprised thirty five divisions carried in 4,000 ships supported by 11,000 aircraft of which 8,000 would go into action. In the early hours of D-Day, three airborne divisions landed behind the invasion beaches. They had mixed success: some of the gliders being blown off course; some landing too close to enemy strong points.

As dawn broke, the huge invasion fleet began its attack. German torpedo boats sank a Norwegian destroyer. An expected attack by U-boats was beaten off by aircraft which sank six of them.

 The day yielded thousands of heroic actions. As an illustration, I tell that of Maurice Bennet, a civilian who had joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on the outbreak of war, and three times set out in capital ships to escort convoys to Malta. All three times, his ships had been disabled by torpedoes or bombs and with difficulty limped back to Gibraltar. When the North Africa campaign drew to a close, he had volunteered to command a tank landing craft, and successfully participated in the landings at Salerno before being ordered back to the UK in order to participate in the D-Day landings.

He and another officer volunteered for special duties. Could any such duty be more dangerous than driving a cumbersome landing craft on to a heavily defended beach? Well – yes.

Maurice was to command a landing craft modified to contain one tank and three guns – all with their barrels in fixed positions to fire straight ahead at a target one thousand yards away. He had orders to search out a shore battery; aim the guns by stearing straight at it, then fire at 1,000 yards.

D-Day dawned and Maurice and his sister craft went in at full speed ahead – such as their craft could manage – well ahead of the invasion fleet. The beach had been heavily bombed, but it seemed as though they were alone against the might of an invisible German army.

A mile out and no target identified. Suddenly, a loud explosion to port. A quick glance – the sister ship had received a direct hit and exploded into pieces. Zigzag. Just in time. Another battery closer to Maurice fired at him. This is it. He headed directly for it. Hold on – 1100 yards. Wait for it – fire.

Maurice and the battery fired more or less simutaeously. They missed; he did not. The shell from the tank hit the concrete bunker, but made precious little impression on it. The shells from the three guns exploded – – and produced red smoke. Red smoke, Maurice swore as he turned away from the beach to try another attack.

Suddenly, a tremendous explosion. The battery had gone – not only the battery but the low cliff on which it stood had collapsed into the sea.

Time to take on the second battery which had sunk his sister craft. Maurice had to cover half a mile before he was in range. Random zigzags and a lot of prayer. They fired but he made it. Once again red smoke; once again a huge explosion and the battery had half gone.

He received a signal: ‘Leave immediate’. No need to be told twice. He turned back out to sea – a sea now covered with scores of ships. As he did so, he saw the flash of heavy guns – a Rodney class battleship firing another broadside at the remains of the battery.

Could there be any survivors from the sister craft? Another signal: ‘Get out of the *** way.’ Dozens of landing craft were powering directly at him on their way to the beach and glory. He made it back – many of the others did not.

 *   *   *

Generally, the Allies achieved complete tactical surprise, but on Omaha beach, the Americans ran into a full German division on the alert and had great difficulty in achieving a landing at all. Elsewhere, resistance proved to be lighter than expected – smashed into submission by the naval bombardment and the heavy bombing which effectively destroyed the German radar.

By nightfall on D-Day, 150,000 Allied troops had landed at a cost of approximately 10,000 killed. The Allies hoped to reach Caen, a few miles inland, but this was prevented by a force of fifty Panzers.

Inevitably, the early days after landing had times of chaos and improvisation. An infantry Colonel told me how his regiment rapidly fought their way out of the landing zone and into the Normandy countryside. Three days later, they had achieved their immediate objectives but had had no sleep and precious little food. No Germans in sight. He called a halt, requisitioned a convenient farm house as temporary headquarters, put his men into defensive positions and posted sentries.

He instructed his sergeant major that they were all exhausted and would fight better after a few hours rest, but he was to be called if any German troops were sighted. With which he threw himself on top of a bed. Too hot; he took his uniform off, but adhered to standing orders and left his loaded revolver, safety catch on, tied to his wrist with a lanyard.

The next thing he remembered was that the sergeant major burst into the room, shook him roughly by the shoulder, yelled: ‘Quick, sir. The Germans are surrounding the house.’ flung open the window and jumped out.

Had he dreamed it? He heard a voice shout in German. Hell. No time to get dressed. He flung himself through the open window and landed on his feet, just as two German soldiers came round the corner. They stared at the near naked man in astonishment. He fled for the further corner of the building, but as he ran jerked the revolver into his hand.

He heard a shouted challenge and in reply fired two rapid shots, hitting one of the soldiers in the arm. They returned fire but he was round the corner. A burst of fire from the sergeant major’s tommy gun and both Germans were dead. A quick dash to the nearest hedge, and there were a Company of his regiment lying in ambush. The Germans withdrew as rapidly as they had arrived.

In another sector of the battlefield, a bridge building unit had strict orders as to precisely where to bridge a canal which threatened to hold up the allied advance. They drove directly to the map reference – no sign of military activity in the vicinity.

Within a few hours the bridge was completed ready to be tested. The colonel always insisted on being the first to drive across and this he did. Still no sign of allied tanks – he reported the position and was ordered to sit and wait for them.

Suddenly the roar of engines and twenty Panzers quickly surrounded him and his men. They were disarmed and the German commander told him that they had been watching him for the past hour and his bridge would be most useful.

Three of the German tanks escorted the unit to a German base ten miles or so to the rear. There the British officers were entertained to dinner in the officers mess, while the men were marched off to another building.

Half way through the meal, a knock on the door and a British colour sergeant entered and saluted smartly. ‘A problem, sir,’ he said to the Panzer major. ‘May I have a word with my colonel?’Permission was readily given and the colonel walked over to the door. ‘The men are getting restless,’ he was told. ‘We have overpowered the handful of men guarding us and taken their weapons. There is a guard on the gate and four German officers with you, but that’s all. The tanks have gone. Permission to carry on, sir?’

The colonel consented and within moments the tables were turned and the bridge building unit drove out of the camp with four Panzer officers as their prisoners. They headed back towards their bridge. Two miles short of the bridge, they entered the square of a small town, and to their horror saw the Panzer tanks which had captured them. These were drawn up in a neat row with their crews sitting on or around them, relaxing and drinking beer.

They heard the tank engines starting up as they raced on. The colonel radioed his Head Quarters for help. They made the bridge in record time and raced across. The colonel jumped out to lay a charge and dynamite it. An American voice came over the radio: ‘Don’t do that. Let them come. We’re waiting for them. Just get lost will you.’

The unit sped on under no illusion that next time the Germans would not be so gentlemanly. Then, behind them gunfire erupted. A tank battle had begun; the Panzers had been ambushed. The colonel did not wait to see who won.

*   *   *

Heavy German reinforcements were hastening to the front, but equally the Allies planned to have twenty five divisions deployed within a month. The sixty German divisions – of which ten were Panzers – available to defend France against the invasion were widely spread around the coast; only nine infantry and one Panzer being on hand in Normandy. Such had been the success of the allied deception that they planned to attack Calais.

By 12th June, the Germans had brought four Panzer divisions into the battle – less than General Eisenhower expected. The air offensive had succeeded in disrupting communications. Cherbourg held out until the 26th June and the port suffered heavy demolition which put it out of action for a further ten weeks. The weather also deteriorated and storms destroyed one of the two floating harbours which had been towed across the Channel. Even so, good progress was made in supplying and building up the bridgeheads.

As in Russia, Hitler made the mistake of ordering his troops to stand and fight where they were, rather than making strategic withdrawals. In the last week of June, the British front was attacked by strong Panzer forces, but they were beaten off with heavy losses by air attack and accurate artillery fire. On 8th to 10th July, a British counterattack at last succeeded in taking Caen which had suffered heavy bombing.

By mid-July the Allies had thirty divisions ashore opposed by twenty seven German divisions weakened by heavy allied bombing whenever the weather permitted. Rommel himself suffered severe wounds from a low flying fighter. The Nazis could only respond at night with attacks by single aircraft. Then, on 20th July 1944, desperate anti-nazis attempted to assassinate Hitler, but failed – leading to a massive purge which included Rommel himself.

Hitler now released his Fifteenth Army to oppose the landings, but their intervention came too late to make much impact. The American break out under General Bradley began on the 25th July and cut the German escape route down the Normandy coast. Four Panzer divisions checked the Canadian advance on Falaise. Brest on the tip of the Cherbourg peninsular held out until the 19th September.

Hitler insisted on a major counterattack by five Panzer divisions on Mortain but this was beaten back. Much of the surviving armour succeeded in withdrawing before the gap in the allied advance at Falaise closed, but eight German divisions were effectively annihilated.

The allied advance continued and on 24th August entered Paris. The Germans are estimated at this stage to have lost 400,000 men – half prisoners – and 1,300 tanks.

Published reviews include:-

History Direct and History Times (May 2009)

‘James Lingard’s Britain at War 1939-1945 presents the reader with an excellent easy to digest overview of the key events that affected Britain during World War two. He has skillfully weaved personal accounts and his own experiences as a boy into the book to deliver a fascinating insight into the trials of civilian life in Britain at this key juncture in our nation’s history.’

Practical Family History (April 2009)

‘Written from the standpoint of the people who were involved, Britain at War brings the period alive with accurate facts and figures to illuminate the personal experiences described in their fascinating stories.’

The History Magazine (Spring Issue 2009)

For many older people the Second World War was the major event in their lives, but for the rest of us it is just history and it is hard to imagine what life was really like for them. In his book James Lingard tries to give us a picture of how a small boy saw life in the war interspersed with a potted history of the war to put things in context. He brings to life just how difficult it was to do even the most ordinary things in wartime such as travel from Bournemouth to Yorkshire. He also gives a graphic description of bombing raids and tells of how as a four year old boy he was nearly arrested as a spy just because he waved to a German plane. This book gives historically accurate facts and figures and cuts through the propaganda which was fed to the wartime public. I enjoyed this book giving as it does an insight into one person’s war. I would have liked to find out what happened to the young James and his parents after the war.’

UCL People (University College London) (March 2009)

‘A memoir of boyhood in Britain during World War II, this short but powerful book brings together personal reflections with the historical and political context. The author’s memories are interwoven with quotations from Churchill’s speeches and overviews of the major campaigns.’

Family Tree Magazine  

At the outbreak of war, the author was a young boy living in south London who later evacuated with his mother to her parents’ house in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, while his father joined the Army. The author’s personal recollections and stories are deftly interwoven with historical facts and figures to bring the period vividly to life.’


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