On 2nd December 1942 a team of scientists working on the Manhattan Engineering District Project achieved the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
Atrocities against Jews continued in countries under German occupation. By the end of December 1942 approximately four million Jews had been killed, as well as 40,000 Roma (on 16th December 1942 Himmler had ordered that all Roma or gypsies were to be sent to the concentration camps). News of the death camps had begun to reach the Allies command and on 17th December Britain and the US vowed to avenge Nazi war crimes against the Jewish people.
Fighting continued in terrible conditions on the Russian front. On 12th December the German’s Operation Winter Storm attempted to reach and re-inforce their starving Sixth Army at Stalingrad but the Soviets attacked in Operation Little Saturn, forcing withdrawal with the loss of 10% of the Luftwaffe’s transport planes.
In Africa Rommel (unlike the obedient Paulus, commander of the Sixth Army) had defied Hitler’s orders to ‘stand to the last’ and was withdrawing his remaining forces west. Montgomery’s Eighth Army attacked on 11th December, in the Battle of El Agheila, but failed to stop the Panzerarmee Africa’s retreat towards Tripoli. Although Operation Torch in West North Africa was diverting much needed men and supplies from the Axis in Russia, it was not going to plan. The Germans rapid occupation of Tunisia included the critical north coast port of Bizerte. However, US planes were now able to attack Italy from airfields in Algeria and Naples was heavily bombed on 4th December killing 900 people.
In the Far East Australian forces at last took the Gona bridgehead from the Japanese on Papua New Guinea and on 21st December Britain launched a doomed offensive to recapture the Mayu Peninsula in Burma’s Arakan (they were forced to retreat to India after three months and 3,000 casualties).
Nearer to home the new navigational radar system, known as Oboe (and developed by the Telecommunications Research Establishment in Dorset and Malvern) began to be used on 21st December, greatly increasing the accuracy of RAF bombing. Six ships were destroyed in Bordeaux Harbour on 11th/12th December – not by bombs but with limpet mines attached by Royal Marine commandos who paddled up the Gironde in ‘cockleshell’ collapsible canoes in the heroic Operation Frankton.
Despite the cold-blooded murders under Hitler’s Commando Order the role of commandos was developing. In the Bournemouth area the newly the 3rd Special Services Brigade (which was to see service in Burma) trained under the eye of the novelist Evelyn Waugh, a Staff Officer in Dorset’s Combined Operations command based at Anderson Manor. Dorset was also hosting the first tests for Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bombs on the Fleet Lagoon. The county continued to suffer from German bombers, with civilians killed in Poole and Bridport in December 1942 and an attack on the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School at Lulworth Camp. However, church bells were heard for the first Christmas since the beginning of the war - they had been silenced for use only to warn of invasion but once again rang out in celebration.
In late November the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment was subject to inspections by General Sir Bernard Paget, the Commander in Chief of Home Forces and Lt-General Stopford, the XII Corps Commander. The Corps, then based in Kent, included Major General Ivor Thomas’s 43rd (Wessex) Division). Dick wrote to Chotie on 26th November 26th November only of his forthcoming leave and being ‘wet through’ all day. Individual training continued in December although Dick had a ‘very happy’ week on leave with Chotie from 2nd December. Chotie returned to Dorset for her sister Margaret’s wedding to a guardsman, Ted Lewis.
On 13th December 43rd Recce were issued with light khaki berets, to replace their ‘field caps’. There were Divisional and Regimental Skeleton exercises before Section Training started on 21st December when Dick’s HQ Squadron Company went on a route march:
Letter Tuesday 22nd December 1942
PPS. Good book “Tambour Terrace” Eleanor Dunbar Hall
Sorry I haven’t been able to reply to your last before now, but I’ve been away on a scheme for the last few days. This culminated in a route march which finished me off – I was wearing new boots, so today finds me on the sick list. There’s a run on this afternoon and being excused running for five days I’m able to write to my Chotie.
Thanks for the letter and cake. You must thank Margaret for me – when next you see her.
I had a letter or rather a note from our mutual friend Lightfoot*, last week. Apparently he’s in Colchester (Essex).
Brinner has also moved to Essex – rather in the wilds, I gather. I’ve despatched a letter to Diller – shake her I expect – as I’m not sending any cards.
Let me know as soon as you see anything in the cheese-dish line – I hardly remember what they look like.
Hope your medical** went off all right. Let me have the dope as soon as possible. Also the Dance.
Went to a whist drive last week. No luck of course. I should have been well in, but went down 12-1 which finished everything. Really stupid girl for a partner…Ginger.
Look like the Fighting French in our berets. Remember that photo you had of cadets?
No news of course. Devilish dull here – though we don’t get much time anyhow.
(With Doug’s letter came a Pkstone Cong***. Magazine. Know who sent it? Sure I don’t)
Roll on Christmas … (Incidentally which Christmas is the war going to end by now?)
Must close here.
All my love Darling
- Will send you something if I should ever see anything.
**On 17th December 1942 Chotie was enrolled into the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) at Southampton.
*** Parkstone Congregational Church (now Parkstone United Reformed Church), opposite Chotie’s home on the corner of Chapel Road and Commercial Road, Parkstone, Poole Dorset. Chotie met Dick at the church Youth Club when she was fourteen. Her family left the house in the 1960s and it was knocked down and replaced with a tyre shop.
© Chotie Darling
Chotie was about to start a very different life in the ATS so posts particularly concerning Dorset end here.