Problems in Palestine – Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper

Extract from – The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Problems in Palestine.

We were now fighting terrorists and it was difficult to weed them out as they were aided and encouraged by the civilian population. The British policy was not to provoke the Jewish people. Only a minimum of searching was allowed and, as soon as they complained about any restrictions imposed, such as identity checks and road blocks, they were lifted as fast as they had been put in place. This suited the terrorists and we spent a lot of our time behind barbed wire defences or inside the tall police forts just trying to maintain cordons and curfews.

The 6th Airborne went to Palestine as an integral part of a strategic reserve. It was a well located country with good airfields and a wonderful climate. We were expecting to enjoy some excellent training conditions but we soon realised we were becoming involved in an internal security problem instead. We spent a lot of time explaining the situation to the men so they would have at least some understanding of a complicated historical problem. The British government had imposed a limit for Jewish immigration into the newly formed State of Israel of seventy-five thousand people over five years.

However, after the hell of Nazi Germany many Jewish people across Europe sought refuge, a homeland, and that limit was reached before the first year was out. They had their own underground army, the Haganah and although they avoided conflict with us, because they knew they didn’t stand a chance against us at that time, they were always causing problems for the Palestinian people. But there were more extremist organisations such as the Stern Gang and Irgun Zvai Leumi who did attack us on a regular basis. They thought they could achieve more through violence than by any other means and they specialised in armed attacks against the security forces.

In between cordons, searches and curfews we were all to carry out some training but on the whole our true military life was fruitless for the best part of two-years. At the start there were many of the division who had served throughout the war. Some, and I was one of them, had spent long periods of time in ‘Hitler’s Hotels,’ which was our name for wherever we had to sleep because of him. And we had arrived in the Holy Land looking forward to enjoying a peaceful time in the sunshine. Instead we found ourselves embroiled in a campaign of sheer hatred and revenge. Sometimes for things that had happened centuries earlier. Imagine if the English and the Scots, or the French still behaved like that towards each other.

It was understandable that all of us officers and soldiers soon built up a distaste for the Jewish people. Not only the active terrorists but for the population as a whole. Because they were all in it together and their intention was to force the British government to allow the State of Israel to expand into Palestine or to give up and go home. In which case they would do it anyway. In the event that is exactly what happened. The trouble they caused us, their hatred of us, (even though we saved their lives in Europe) the bombs at the hotels, the shootings, the hiding behind their women and the way we were prevented from fighting back by our politicians all go to prove that the Israelis were the first people, post war, to demonstrate that terrorism does work.

Now, it must be admitted that the airborne division did react more aggressively to certain situations than other security forces did, but this was only because of our experiences. Where we had been before and what we had done. We were trained for more violent reactions and I assume that’s what we were there for. It was nothing to do with religion as far as we were concerned. We were soldiers not crusaders but, predictably, we were labelled anti-sematic and condemned. But none of us were anti-sematic. We were anti being shot at and bombed. The local population called us Kalanits, which is a Hebrew word for a poppy. In other words we were red on the outside and with a black heart. And yet I have never met a blacker hearted race of people.

Our relations with the Jewish communities just deteriorated and our battalion became more committed to internal security. Or, protecting ourselves and the Palestinians. It was very frustrating and difficult to understand why we had fought a long war, lost a great deal of very good men and provided these people with peace and freedom and yet then, only a year later, we were having to protect ourselves, and others, from them. And that is probably why I never became a politician because I will never understand things like that. None of the lads could understand it. We expected them to be grateful to us, like the Norwegians. However, our moral and discipline remained steady.

There were times when we were confined to our tented camps for long periods, only leaving to set up road blocks or protect the railways and airfields if some intelligence came in that they were at risk. Meanwhile our supply lines on the main roads became more and more vulnerable and we were always the target of snipers. It was thoroughly unsatisfying for soldiers who had taken an active part in the liberation of both Europe and of the Jewish people. And the venom directed towards us was shocking. One American newspaper writer said that ‘for every British soldier killed in Palestine he took a little holiday in his heart.’ Well, fuck him. We were never violent towards them, only defensive.

The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Albert Jack books available for download here

What did I Become? Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1945)

I felt very relaxed in Oslo. For the first time in years the tension in my body was slowly disappearing. I began to feel like a human being again and not an animal. I was never a church goer but I did wonder what had taken me through all those torrid years without so much as a scratch. There was no doubt I had become a callous man and had done some very callous and violent things. I suppose I could argue that it was mainly for self-preservation, because it was. Does that make me a survivor? Well, I did survive. When I think back to all of the death and destruction I had seen, been involved with and in many cases actually caused myself, I had to wonder what I had become. I was a street fighter like my dad, only the street fighting we did made him look like Mary Poppins.

So could I be a normal man again? It took me many years before I could even think about some of those experiences again. And many more years before it stopped hurting. And now, fifty-years later, is the first time I have even really been able to talk about any of it. And that might be because Kate has passed away now. She knew I was a policeman and a paratrooper and that’s all. I never told anybody anything else in detail. Especially the children, Sheila & George who were joined by Stella just after the war.

Mainly because I suppose I thought that nobody would understand what I had done. What I had to do. What we all had to do. How could anybody understand what sort of men we became? And also that nobody really wanted to know anyway because we were at the dark and dirty end of things. And no-one wants to hear about that. Of course, there were the odd well-known moments such as the Pegasus Bridge drop and perhaps the jump over the Rhine but there was no glamour in either of them, despite how the films make them look. They were horrible, frightening and brutal. They say that there is no room for faint-hearts in the 6th Airborne Division but I don’t think that goes nearly far enough. Because I am not sure there is room for any heart at all. Not in 1945 anyway.

I hoped that in Norway I could become a normal man again and whilst I did feel relaxed I also knew that it could be temporary. The war with Japan continued and there was always a chance that would be our next objective. Still, the following few months were a very pleasant experience. As Douty and I were in charge of our respective units we made sure we avoided the patrols and instead kept to escort duties and dealing with the women collaborators, which had its advantages. We both made sure we enjoyed the present instead of worrying about the future. The only other thing Douty and myself did was to arrest senior German officers and deliver them for interrogation by the intelligence staff. But I cannot remember who any of them were or what happened to them.

However, there was one occasion when Douty and I were called to a disturbance down at the docks that our lads could not contain. There were several destroyers moored there, including a German one, so I suppose that was asking for trouble sooner or later. We arrived there to find a mass brawl going on between British, American and German sailors. We jumped out of the jeep and as we waded into the fray one of the German sailors kicked me with a real crack on my left shin. I hit him so hard with my baton that he dropped to the ground like a sack of spuds, unconscious. I limped back to the jeep and could see blood pouring from my leg so I strapped it up and went back into the fighting. The German was still lying unconscious so I dragged him clear and handcuffed him. I had fought the whole war without a scratch and now, at the end of it all, one of the bastards had finally got me. He wasn’t going back to his ship that night, he was going to our lock-up.

Eventually, with the help of the shore patrols, we managed to break up the fighting and sent everybody back to their ships. Everybody except one. Back at our headquarters I had four stitches put into my shin and Douty told me that if I had been American that would have gone down as a war wound and earned me a purple heart. So I shot him in the head. No I didn’t. Although I was angry at the time we did have a good laugh about it later. We had been through hell and high water with the Germans for over six years and they had finally drawn my blood on the dock in Oslo. The following morning I reported in sick and spent the day in bed, calling for a nurse from time to time to re-dress my wound. A few weeks later the Norwegian girls were released from their duties and, although some of them went home, many stayed on as paid employees at the college.

The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Albert Jack books available for download here

 

Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

‘The loss of a single life at war is a frightening and horrible thing. But to believe that nothing at all is worth fighting for is even more horrible.’ –  Bert Childs – 1993

Introduction

Operation Overlord, otherwise known as the D-Day Landings, was huge scale invasion of Northern France in 1944 by Allied Forces in order to rid that country, followed by the rest of Nazi occupied Europe, of totalitarian domination. Having taken the decision to counter invade, and to confront Hitler’s army on the ground, it was agreed that a combined force of parachute & glider troopers from the British 6th Airborne Division would lead the invasion of Normandy by landing at key inland locations, well behind the Nazi frontline. Their initial objective had two important elements.

The first would be for the parachute soldiers to set up a defensive perimeter, or bridge-head, which would prevent the enemy, waiting in reserve a little deeper into the French countryside, from reinforcing their own fortification at the Normandy beaches and subsequently mounting a counter attack on the exposed allied landing forces. In effect, the parachute regiment would be dropping behind the first line of German defence in order to isolate them. And this was critical. If the 6th Airborne soldiers failed to stop German Colonel Hans A. Von Luck and his 125th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, who were in a position just a few miles east of where the paras would be landing, from counter attacking then the entire operation would probably fail.

The second main objective was to secure vital river crossing points that would enable the much larger seaborne invasion force to push past the paratroopers and establish stronger, safer defensive positions away from the exposed beaches. The Allied plan was to enable a massive seaborne invasion force to attack the isolated German defences on the beaches and quickly push past to link up with the established British Airborne Division further inland. Other objectives for the airborne units were to attack and destroy the heavy German gun batteries that also threatened to inflict massive damage to the troops landing on the beaches. One of these was the feared Merville Battery. This central part of the invasion plan was code-named ‘Operation Deadstick.’

Prior to Overlord, preparation and repeated rehearsal had been going on all over Britain with men and women rehearsing and revising their roles. As new ideas were developed new units were created to carry out specific operations and one of these had been the 6th Airborne Division, formed on May 18th 1943 and under the command of General Richard Gale, otherwise known as ‘Windy.’ In a basic but effective piece subterfuge, the division was called the 6th Airborne simply to confuse enemy intelligence officers into believing Britain already had five others, when in fact there was only one other, the 1st Airborne, commanded by Major General F.A.M Browning. Within a year the new 6th Airborne would become one of the most acclaimed British infantry divisions of all time.

Operation Overlord was initially scheduled to commence on the 4th June 1944 but bad weather delayed the campaign by a single day. German commanders however, expecting the imminent allied attack, calculated the weather forecast for some days ahead to be too poor for the British and Americans to attempt any assault. Some of them even gave themselves a few days off and returned to their families. Their assumptions would be wrong because late in the evening of the 5th June 1944 a squadron of Dakota aircraft, filled with paratroopers and with six Horsa gliders on tow behind them, took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton in the south of England. Ahead of them were the pathfinders of 22nd Independent Parachute Company who had been detailed to mark the drop zones with beacons for the pilots to locate.

Once on the ground individual units set about their prearranged tasks, some of which had very tight time limits with grave consequences should the para’s fail to achieve their own given objectives. For example the Merville Gun Battery, which had an awesome capacity and protected the beaches code-named Gold, Juno & Sword, was to be silenced by the men of the 9th Parachute Battalion. So critical was this part of the operation that if they failed to do so the British Navy cruiser HMS Arethusa would open fire on the position at 05:00 wiping out any paratroopers in the area. And they were all aware of that.

The four 75mm guns themselves were protected by a 10ft concrete shield and were thought to be capable of sinking any ship or landing-craft heading for the beaches they overlooked. The RAF had tried and failed several times to knock out the guns and so the job was now given to the men on the ground. Other elements of the eight-thousand strong 6th Airborne were to link up with Major John Howard of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry whose men of D-Company, on board the gliders, were expected to attack and seize three important bridges across the River Orne and the Caen Canal. They were to defend them until the more heavily armed paras arrived.

Whilst the men of 9 Para were tackling the Merville guns and 3 Para were destroying four vital bridges on the Dives, 5 Para were busy attacking, mine-clearing and preparing a landing zone for the glider-borne troops who were following. Later in the night over two-hundred more gliders arrived in the area in what was a vital part of the overall operation. They all landed in zones secured by the men of the 6th Airborne Division. Simply put, without the British 6th Airborne, and the men and women of its rank and file, the D-Day landings could not have been attempted, let alone successful, and Britain today would be a very different place to live in.

In September 1939 Albert Childs was a twenty-one year-old engineer working for the British Rail in London. He had recently married Kate Cooling and was settling into a happy family life, with their one-year-old daughter. At the same time events across Europe were taking a sinister turn, which led to a declaration of war, by Britain, on the German nation. Warned by the tales of world-war-one, relayed to him by his father and uncles, Albert decided the thought of being drafted into the armed forces and then ‘stuck in a trench somewhere in Europe,’ didn’t appeal to him at all. So, after thinking long and hard about his options, he took the brave step of volunteering for the British Army in the hope of securing a better deal for himself than the conscripted soldier would later on.

In the October of that year he packed his bags and, with a heavy heart, said his goodbyes, reported for duty at Plymouth’s Millbay Barracks and began his military training. Shortly afterwards Albert was posted to the Royal Military Police and was received training in all aspects of military law. Being awarded the coveted red-cap would mean a better war than that of the regular foot soldiers and volunteering had already proven to be a wise decision. He saw his first action after a posting to North Africa, where Italian & German forces had been building up and Albert became involved in the activities of the Long Range Desert Group, who used parachute soldiers for the first time.

Until 1940 Britain had adopted a defensive policy but in June of that year Winston Churchill announced a new approach that included striking directly at the enemy. On 22 June 1940, in a memo to the war office, Churchill wrote, ‘We ought to have a Corps of at least 5000 parachute troopers. I hear something is being done already to form such a Corps but only, I believe, on a very small scale. Advantage must be taken of the summer to train these forces who none-the-less can play their part meanwhile as shock troops in home defence. Pray let me have a note from the War Office on this subject.’

It had been the early successes of the Long Range Desert Group, and a five-hundred man Commando Battalion who also had a parachute wing, that persuaded Churchill to instruct Major General Browning to form the 1st Airborne Parachute Brigade Division. Once again Albert was towards the front of the volunteers and found himself selected for the brand new airborne division, which was to later become part of the 6th Airborne Division.

The 1st Airborne’s Provost Company (Military Police) was to be located at Bulford Army Camp on the edge of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, southern England. It is a bleak and wind-swept place that served as home to the Royal Artillery during the First World War and where Lord Kitchener himself had visited his troops. By the 1940’s it had hardly changed at all and became the location for all the early parachute regiment recruitment and instruction. Training at Bulford was designed to be a very tough test of strength and character and recruits were required to fight opponents, in a no rules and no holds barred contest, for a period of at least two minutes. These contests resembled nothing more than a pub brawl or a street fight, only without anyone stepping in to break them up. However, Albert had grown up in a rough London area as the son of a semi-professional bare knuckle boxer who wasn’t averse to plying his craft at home. This was an environment Albert was quite used to and he found it a lot easier to deal with than some of the other recruits.

Casualties were common, but never too serious. There was the odd broken nose or busted rib here and there and of course plenty of cuts and bruises, but there was a war going on and it was likely to be a fight to the death once these soldiers met the enemy proper. These men were not being trained to shoot from trenches, tanks or from the big guns the Royal Artillery had from miles behind the lines. These were front line soldiers who would be dropping from the sky in amongst the enemy and hand to hand combat was highly likely.

The overall view of this form of training was that a couple of hundred recruits out of action for a few weeks at a time with the odd broken bone was a small price to pay and most of the men readily agreed with that. Albert was one of the few there who had already seen action, with the LRDG, and had a good idea of what to expect. He knew that if these soldiers couldn’t handle the odd broken bone or a few field stitches without anaesthetic then the parachute regiment wasn’t the place for them to be. And it was better that was found out in training at Bulford and not in action in France when lives were at stake.

Some people have since claimed that the only thing achieved in Bulford was the creation of a ‘thuggish and bloody minded elite’ and there was some truth in that as fewer than half of the intake would meet the standards set during the recruitment process. At Bulford Camp the motto became ‘work hard, play hard’ and anybody who dropped below the required level of performance was immediately returned to his parent unit, regardless of his rank. It was the toughest basic course in the entire army and in the end the medical tests and reports for every soldier had to read A1 plus. Even as late as the final medical there were many who had made it through the initial basic training, who were returned as unfit.

The army would make use of this training on a regular basis by giving airborne soldiers security details at various sensitive locations around the country. Frequently members of the parachute regiment, particularly those with red-cap training, would be detailed to provide base security or become personal bodyguards. Shortly after being promoted to staff sergeant, Albert was assigned to divisional headquarters where he became a member of General Gale’s personal bodyguard detail for a six-week period.

The following months included a return to the parachute brigade’s headquarters in Chesterfield where the soldiers underwent special assault course training with the rest of the company. By the time they returned to Bulford Camp a high degree of confidence had spread amongst the rank and file. Each man, although many were still only youngsters, had developed into a highly professional soldier and everybody was completely confident in the abilities of each other, regardless of what they faced together in the months to follow. To the men of the regiment there didn’t appear to be a weakness anywhere and when Albert himself was asked the age-old question of ‘who would you want in the trenches next to you?’  he replied, ‘each and any one of them. Anybody you like, I trusted them all.’

And so began the final preparations for the D-Day Landings and this is the inside story of that famous assault on the now named Pegasus Bridge exactly as Albert Childs, my grandfather, told it to me. There are also tales of early 1st Airborne Division raids in North Africa, the Battle of the Bulge, the jump over the Rhine, peacekeeping in Norway and trouble in Palestine. All of the following events actually happened and these first hand recollections provide a fascinating insight into the situation at hand and of the mind of a man directly in the middle of it all. These notes were originally written during the early 1990’s and directly from the memory of an old soldier who was, by then, in his eighth decade and who had never spoken about any of it before then. Whilst great care has been taken in terms of accuracy there could, of course, be some events that are out of sequence. Memories do eventually fade.

Albert Jack
Bangkok, June 5th 2015

The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Albert Jack books available for download here

Peacekeeping in Norway with the 1st Airborne Division

Extract from – The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

The War is Over? Not for the paratroopers.

I remember looking around the aircraft at the faces of the young men who now made up my platoon. There were only two left out of the forty we started with, Ball and Ferguson. The rest were replacements. I thought about the night before D-Day and of all the men with me on that jump. I had learned by then that only nine of the original one-hundred and twenty men of my company had survived. On that flight to Norway I began to reflect upon what we had done and the price we had to pay doing it. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Either from relief or sadness, I don’t know. But they were streaming down my face when I noticed Sergeant Ball staring at me. I had to look away but I heard him say quietly, ‘we have come a long way sir.’ Yes we had. We had all come a long, long way. And it wasn’t over yet.

As we approached Norway I think all of us felt a little strange to be sitting there without a parachute. Instead we wore our red caps and carried only side-arms. The silence was broken when one of the pilots came over the intercom to tell us we would be landing in five minutes. That made a nice change from the despatcher screaming at us to ‘go, go, go.’ Back in Wismar Field Marshall Montgomery had addressed the 6th Airborne at the end of our campaign and the pilot told us he would like to repeat the Field Marshall’s words. He told us we were all heroes and emperors, thanked us personally and wished us all good luck for the future. I thought, ‘just land the plane safely mate. We have come this far, let’s not fuck it up now.’ I honestly wasn’t in the mood for all of that. None of us were. He didn’t know what we had all been through. Nor did Montgomery. Nobody did. We didn’t feel like heroes. By then we felt like savages and we didn’t want to.

When the door swung open I could see the airport buildings with flags flying and no bomb damage anywhere. It all looked so peaceful, clean and normal and none of us were used to that at all. Three smart, uniformed men stood at the bottom of the stairs, one of them being a British officer of the 1st Airborne, judging by his red beret. And there was an American who was wearing a U.S Military police helmet. I lined up my platoon and the officer introduced himself as what we used to call the ‘Town Major.’ He was the man responsible for returning the town to some sort of normality after the liberation. Every town and province had a Town Major. The officer was about to introduce the American when I noticed him studying me closely. We stared at each other and then I just said, ‘Ardennes.’ He flung his arms around me and said, ‘god damn, you son of a bitch.’ The others had no idea what was going on so I explained that I had met Douty before when we had tried to kill each other whilst out on patrol in the Ardennes.

With that we headed off for the transport where he pulled out a bottle of scotch which we shared around and demolished whilst chatting about our adventures. On the way to Oslo University College, which was to provide our accommodation, we passed through the beautiful city and it really was a big relief to be out of the combat zone. There was no feeling in the world quite like the one we had when we arrived in Oslo. It was just fantastic. I was allocated a single room, thanks to my rank, and the others had to share but nobody minded that. It still felt like a hotel. And a holiday. We collected our gear, shaved, bathed, changed our clothes and then all had something to eat. Everything was very relaxed and it was only afterwards that we would meet the officer in charge, Lt Col J.P. Powers, who then outlined our duties.

Oslo had been split into four quarters, for patrolling purposes and each section would be continuously patrolled by one jeep. Each jeep would have an American driver, a Norwegian translator and an English military policeman. We were to police the city in respect of the allied personnel there, which were mainly sailors and to oversee the disarming of any German units. We weren’t expecting any trouble but it wasn’t without risk. The Germans were still fighting in Germany. Hitler had not yet surrendered and it would be a few more days until they did. Even then, there may have still been committed Nazis in Norway prepared to bring the fight to us again. We had to remain alert.

In addition to regular patrol duties I was also made available to carry out an armed escort role for Crown Prince Olaf of Norway, his family and any visiting VIPs. The Prince had returned from exile in England and was then the Norwegian Chief of Defence. I was also responsible for collecting the Norwegian collaborators from their prison camp and take them to work at the college where they had been ‘sentenced’ cook, clean and serve the dining hall. After the briefing Douty took us down to the U.S stores where we drew hand-guns, riot batons and various other equipment. After that we could settle down for a nice drink and an early night in comfortable rooms. But none of us slept very well. During this time Douty and myself often escorted the Prince and shared many other duties. We actually became quite good friends, which is ironic as the first time we met we were shooting at each other. We used to joke that if either one of us could shoot straight then the other one wouldn’t be there.

The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Beast of Belsen #GreatestGeneration – Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Extract from – The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

The Beast of Belsen

A week or so later my company had been pulled out of the advancing line to perform the military policing duties we had been originally trained for. On around 17 April I received orders to go to a place called Belsen to collect some prisoners of war and so I gathered a section of my platoon and picked up a three-ton personnel carrier. Sergeant Ball was the section leader and I was commander of 3rd Platoon. It was rumoured that I was to be given the Regimental Sergeant Major’s rank and Ball was hoping to take over my rank and platoon in the near future.

Between us we drew rations and set out for Bergen Belsen in fairly good moods. The fighting was virtually over for us by then and policing duties were light work compared to what we had been doing over the previous few years. But that mood soon changed when we reached the concentration camp. I don’t know what I was expecting but I didn’t imagine anything like that. I was sick to my stomach with what I saw there, including pits full of dead bodies that looked like skeletons. Those who were still alive looked just the same. It was hard to tell the living from the dead.

There were a number of British paratroopers already there, with some Canadian soldiers, who were all giving the prison guards a pretty hard time. They got beaten up very badly. Every one of us was disgusted and very upset with what we found. We were also very angry and that showed. I made myself known to the officer in charge but my only real thought was to get out of there as quickly as possible and away from that stench. I was given a list of prisoners and at the top was the name Joseph Kramer, the camp commandant who was later known as the Beast of Belsen.

And a beast he was too, although by the time I locked him up he was a broken one. The liberating troops had given him and his assistant Irma Grese (one time mistress of Josef Mengele) a particularly hard time. But I didn’t care. I handcuffed them, along with another six of their guards and took them with an armed escort to a place called Celle, where they were handed over to the Military Provost Staff Corp and locked up. Kramer and Grese were hanged for war crimes in the December of that year. They were lucky not to have been beaten to death by the paratroopers.

The following week our division had passed through Luneburg, Hamburg and was approaching Lubeck, up on the Baltic Sea and it was there that I caught up with my company again. However, a few days later I was sent back to Hamburg to transport another high profile Nazi to the jail. This time it was the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop who had been arrested by a Belgian citizen near the city as he was trying to flee. He was carrying a letter addressed to Prime Minister ‘Vincent’ Churchill which blamed Britain for the war and for the rise of Bolshevism in Europe. Von Ribbentrop was later a defendant at the famous Nuremburg Trials following which he was sentenced to death. Such was his seniority within the Nazi Party he was the first of them to actually be executed.

I knew the 3rd Parachute Brigade, along with the rest of the 6th Airborne, was heading for Wismar up on the Baltic Sea and that would be our final destination. Leaving Hamburg I headed north again to catch up with my company and by this time the roads were full of soldiers who had surrendered and been disarmed. They had also been joined by civilians, or refugees, who were heading west with whatever they could carry.

They knew, as we did, that the Soviets were heading in from the east and it seemed that everybody was trying to get as far to the western side of Germany as possible. They didn’t want to be around when the Red Army arrived in their town or village. And, as it turned out, for good reason too. We had no such worries. In fact, we were supposed to link up with them at Wismar but the sheer numbers of people on the narrow roads made it slow going for the brigade.

But our jeep was not held up behind the main column and that meant we arrived in Wismar around the end of April, ahead of the rest of my company, and immediately set up a control point at a crossroads about three miles out of town. This would be as far as the British army were going and would link up there with the forward elements of the Russians coming the other way. Soon afterwards I was approached by a leading paratrooper unit who told me about an old factory and warehouse in the town that had been used as a concentration camp, but the German guards had apparently deserted it. So I dispatched half of my men, led by Sergeant Ball, to start erecting British Zone signs in what was to be our part of the town and then asked the paratroopers to come and support us at the factory. On the way they told me they were given the information by a Russian prisoner who had been held there.

The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Jump over the Rhine River #GreatestGeneration – Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Extract from – The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

The Jump over the Rhine River (March 1945)

On Monday 19 March a convoy of trucks took us to transit camps in East Anglia. My group went to a farm somewhere in Essex. We spent most of the time there training and checking equipment, although did have some films and concerts in the evenings. On 24 March we enplaned and headed off for what would be our last combat adventure. This operation dwarfed both D-Day and Arnhem in terms of size and numbers. They told us afterwards that we flew in three columns of some two-hundred miles long, which took more than two hours and thirty minutes to pass overhead.

As the troop carriers conveying the paratroopers and the tugs with their gliders approached the River Rhine, fighters and bombers ahead of us struck at every enemy position they could find. I looked around at the other paratroopers and noticed that Ball, now a sergeant himself, was still with me. As our Dakota flew towards the Rhine I thought that we really did look a fierce lot. Battle hardened, unafraid and highly trained. I wouldn’t have wanted to be one of the Germans on that day. All of the veterans knew what to expect and knew that some of us would not be returning. But others were new recruits making their first drops.

Suddenly the time came and the dispatcher’s voice broke the silence when he called out for us to stand up and hook up. I stood waiting by the door. I was number one this time and I could feel the wind from the slipstream of the Dakota’s engines rushing by. I looked downwards and saw the billowing smoke below, the gunfire looked intense and the flak was heavy. But I was ready to go again. The plane next to us was hit and I could see flames coming from the engines. It seemed to be losing height as it swung away to the left and I saw paratroopers leaping from it. I looked back at the red light in my aircraft and suddenly the bottom light flashed green and out I went. Paratroopers were tumbling out all around me and the sky filled with billowing chutes.

Flak bursts were exploding amongst the paratroopers and aircraft. My chute opened and I felt several machine gun bullets and pieces of shrapnel pass through the material above my head. It was more frightening than the D-Day jump as nobody was expecting us that time. And so nobody was shooting at us either. But they were this time. I did not notice the ground coming up at all as I could only see yellow smoke bombs which were being laid as marks for the incoming pilots. Luckily it did not take long as we were dropped at a very low level. Some of the paratroopers had fallen into the trees and were shot as they hung there, defencelessly. Meanwhile others were already making for the rendezvous. The Germans seemed to be entrenched in strong positions and so much was happening.

The gunfire, smoke and the noise was intense. I hit the ground with a bang, got out of my harness quickly and ran towards a container. There were bullets ripping into the ground ahead of me from a German machine gun but the smoke was so thick I couldn’t see anything. Luckily some descending paratroopers from my section had spotted it and promptly put it out of action before they had even landed. On that jump most of us were shooting on the way down. I lay for a while behind the container wondering if my leg was ok. I eventually got to my feet and with two of my section we opened a crate and withdrew some automatic weapons and ammunition.

We then made it across to the edge of the woods and my company commander was already there. He asked me if I was alright and I reported a pain in my leg but I didn’t think I had been shot. Instead it was just a bad landing. After a short while the pain slowly disappeared and so it was just a bad landing, not a bullet. In fact I think that was the worst landing I had ever made. Happily, it was to be my last anyway.

Later when I received some first aid I realised that I had pulled a calf and thigh muscle. That was all, nothing serious. The drop had been the most dangerous we had done and paratroopers were either lying injured or grabbing weapons from the containers. The Germans continued to pour fire into the drop-zone, but nobody seemed at that time to take any notice as we were all too busy getting ready to attack them.

The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Battle of the Bulge #GreatestGeneration – Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Extract from – The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Battle of the Bulge (January 2nd 1945)

We went up through La Vallee de La Meuse where the buildings looked very old and historic and I wondered how many of them would still be there when we left. Our particular orders were to take up defensive positions on the northern side of the bridge at Namur and we set up machine-gun posts as soon as we arrived. Almost immediately airborne troops began pouring into the town. The cooks got busy, men dug in, sand bags were placed all around and we were ready to play the part of an infantry division. And as soon as we were ready our orders changed and we were sent south to the town of Marche-en-Famenne to relieve the American 84th Division who had been badly mauled by the leading German troops. We later found out they were the Panzer Lehr, one of Hitler’s elite panzer divisions. Here we took up defensive positions again.

Each night we went out to try and identify the German locations, but nothing moved by day and the fields were covered in thick snow. The bad weather also meant we had no air support and our progress was very slow. On about 2 January I was instructed to take a section across to the 5th Parachute Brigade area where they were preparing to attack a small village called Bure. German units had been seen there and the 13th Paras were to lead the attack, supported by the 5th Paras. On the way I was to contact a tank unit belonging to the 23rd Hussars and direct them to the start line. I did this and continued to the outskirts of Bure and discovered it was being bitterly defended by none other than the Panzer Lehr themselves. We had found the bastards.

As I pulled up the 13th Parachute Battalion had already started the attack and we immediately came under heavy artillery and mortar fire. At this point I decided to stay with the tanks as the lead company of the 13th Battalion (A Company) were under heavy fire and their casualties were building up. I eventually attached myself and my section to their ‘C’ Company who were being held in reserve. We went around the village to the high ground where, after the squadron of tanks of the 23rd Hussars arrived, we went in through the back door. There was some heavy house to house fighting and I lost four of my section during this attack. ‘A’ Company, on the other side, was practically wiped out after they mistakenly called for artillery fire on their own position.

The losses were very heavy and at one point we were fighting with knives so as not to give our positions away. We were unable to evacuate our casualties and supplies could not be brought in. We were on our own in there and it was horrible. Although at one point a medic I knew, Sergeant Roberts, arrived in the middle of the battle in his ambulance. He pulled up right next to a panzer tank commander, who happened to speak English and who could not believe his eyes. But, seeing Roberts was not afraid he allowed him to collect some casualties and then told him to get out of town with a warning not to come back or he would be shot. However, in the end, we managed to clear the village and re-inforce. Unfortunately it had been reduced to a pile of rubble by the time we did.

The following day the Germans counter attacked but were beaten back each time by artillery and tank fire and with the help of a glider borne company who had arrived in support. During the battle I lost my truck and my driver, who was sitting in it at the time it was hit. The Hussars lost nine of their tanks and the 13th Battalion had sixty-eight men and seven of their officers killed. It was intense, but we consolidated our position and the German advance had been halted.

At one moment a three-ton truck from another division drove straight through our forward positions and down towards a railway crossing. The Germans were in the signal box and I watched through my binoculars as they dragged the driver down from his cab. Obviously somebody else was watching too as a single artillery shell smashed into the box and the Germans scattered up the far hillside followed by a hail of bullets. I laughed as the lone figure, the driver, ran back up the slope to our positions and collapsed into a trench. It was his lucky day.

The Greatest Generation: Diary of a 1st & 6th Airborne Paratrooper (1940-1950)

Albert Jack books available for download here