November 1942 was the month that the tide of the war turned for the Allies.
In Africa the legendary success of Montgomery and the British Eighth Army at El Alamein pushed Rommel’s German and Italian forces into a retreat from Egypt to Libya. On 3rd November General Dwight D Eisenhower was flown from Hurn Aerodrome in Dorset to the Rock of Gibraltar, his base for command of Operation Torch in West North Africa and on 8th November the American landings began in Algeria and Morocco. Although initially US troops found themselves fighting the Vichy French, Hitler’s aggressive response to this new threat - sending German troops into the south of France in breach of the 1940 Armistice Agreement - led the French leaders in Africa to declare a ceasefire. Germans also landed in Tunisia and very soon American forces were engaged in fierce fighting with the Germans for the first time since World War I. Eisenhower accepted the Vichy French Admiral Darlan as head of French North Africa to the disgust of General de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French. Admiral Laborde, having been reluctant to hand the French Fleet to the Allies, scuttled the Fleet in Toulon Harbour rather than let it fall into German hands.
The US Air Force bombed the ‘U’- boat docks at St Nazaire in western France (which was already under German occupation) but their daylight ‘precision bombing’ was proving less than accurate and their airmen paid a high price for flying with visibility. In Norway British and Norwegian commandos were attempting to destroy the German heavy water plant (critical for the development of German atomic weapons) at Telemark without success. Denmark had resisted adopting anti-Jewish legislation so Hitler installed a Nazi, Erik Scavenius, as Prime minister.
Hitler (increasingly crazed by amphetamines?) doomed his Sixth Army to annihilation at Stalingrad by commanding the beleaguered forces to again attack this ferociously defended city. They made their final push on 11th November - just as the cruel Russian winter took hold - leaving a weakness in their flanks, held by the Romanians. Operation Uranus, the Soviet encirclement of the Sixth Army, had been planned since September. Advancing on 19th November the arms of the circle met by the 22nd. Although a diversionary attack at Rhez, Operation Mars, was a disaster, the Red Army could now draw the net around nearly 300,000 men. The Führer forbade his army to attempt a retreat.
In the Pacific the Second Battle of Guadalcanal left the US Navy finally in command of the waters around this critical stepping stone to victory. By the end of the month the Japanese had also abandoned their attempt to take the capital of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, and had retreated to their original bridgeheads.
As Churchill appositely said in his speech of 10th November:
“Now this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”
Dick was still kicking his heels in the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment at Dover. On 29th October Corps he sent Chotie a Recce broach and wrote of the “rain, rain, rain for days on end” but with “glorious sunsets”, books and cinema to pass the time.
At the beginning of November 43rd Recce commenced the “Winter Routine” and a 6 week period of intense individual training. Dick was on exercises, cross-country runs and route marches with lectures on guerrilla warfare from China. His letter of 6th November sadly mentions friends dead or missing in action: “I’m afraid we’ll all miss someone before this wretched show is over”. Chotie was still thinking of joining up – she wanted the WRNS initially (a smarter uniform) but was persuaded to join the ATS to work on something new and “top-secret” (radar location of planes for the anti-aircraft guns).
In Dick’s letter of the 10th he’d visited Canterbury, where he was at school before moving to Poole. He’s also called in on his former girlfriend, Monica – now married and pregnant – and had a frosty reception. The news was “brightening up” (see above)and Dick writes with some foresight “the importance of command in Libya cannot be over-emphasised as it means command in the Mediterranean, which we hope will lead to the elimination of Italy as an Axis Power”.
On 17th November he writes:
Address as usual
Once again I find I’m able to reply to yours just received instanta, but I’d better not make a habit of it ...
Well, my Dear, you seem to have some news this time – whether good, bad or indifferent I leave you to judge, though from your letters I see a sort of aloof indifference. As my literary hero said “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”*
I was pleased to see that you’re sticking out for a specialised job – for which I think you are very wise. The main criticism offered against this procedure is that you tend to get into a rut; but a comfortable rut is preferable to wandering de place en place as most of us appear to do.
I was, needless to say, even more pleased to hear that you will not be going before Xmas. By all laws and statutes I should get my leave a fortnight today, ie the 2nd of December – but you know what leave can be, or you soon will...
En passant, I think you are in error as regards the leave; most blokes find that the feminine services are able to get leave when their ‘soldier hero’ gets his. Naturally this is not always the case but I think you’ll find that in general practice it can be wangled.
Sorry to hear that Diller’s given me the bird. Maybe I’ll write her one of these fine days. You might tell her that I’m giving the matter considerable thought.
Well, there’s no news from this end. I managed to get Saturday and Sunday – quite a change, and saw “The Saint’s Vacation”** and, at last – “Reap the Wild Wind”***. Neither was particularly outstanding. Always grumble, don’t I?
Well, I suppose I must close here, not having anything else to hold your attention.
Hope to see you soon, Darling
all my love
*Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ – Act 5, Scene 2.
**a film based on one of the Simon Templar a.k.a. “The Saint” novels by Leslie Charteris. The film was reset in the Second World War with Nazis as the villains.
***a swashbuckling adventure film set in the 1840s along the Florida coast.
© Chotie Darling