Had Dick stayed in the 1st Airborne he could have been invading Sicily in July 1943 in Operation Husky. He was probably better off at Sandhurst since 1st Airlanding Brigade's casualties in Operation Husky amounted to one third of those taking part, with many drowned when inexperienced pilots released their gliders too far from land to avoid flak.
The Allies’ first front in Europe since Dunkirk, the French surrender in June 1940 and the fall of Crete a year later, started with the surprise landing of forces on the south of the island from the night of 9th July. 80,000 men were assembled before nightfall on the 10th. The British advanced from the south-east corner along the coast taking Syracuse thanks to remnants of 1st Airlanding who prevented the destruction of the critical Ponte Grande bridge. Patton’s US 7th Army landed on the south coast and by 22nd July had taken the Sicilian capital of Palermo.
Map of Operation Husky from 2015 event
Hitler held an emergency meeting with Mussolini on 19th July but the Italian dictator lost control of Italy on 25th July when, backed by the Fascist Grand Council, the King took over power and appointed Marshal Badoglio as head of government. Mussolini was arrested and Hitler sent German troops to seize key positions in the north of the country.
The bombing of the ancient Ruhr city of Cologne by the RAF at the beginning of the month had produced an explosive firestorm and killed thousands. At the end of July the RAF attacked the port of Hamburg creating a huge firestorm that, with the devastating bombing, killed 40-50,000.
Germany was also facing the possibility of defeat in Russia. Operation Citadel, their immense offensive to take back the area around Kursk, started on 5th July and on 12th July one of the largest tank battles in history was fought at Prokhorovka, south of Kursk. The invaders made no progress though, overcome by the Soviets’ determined, massive and rapidly prepared defence. On 22nd July Hitler even gave permission for the German Army to withdraw from the now vulnerable bulge in the line around Orel, north of Kursk.
Operation Cartwheel continued in the Pacific with fierce fighting on New Georgia as the US Army attempted to take the Japanese base of Munda.
The Allies were now on the offensive while Dick led a relatively safe existence back in Blighty. (He did end up lost over a precipice in Snowdonia on a training exercise in North Wales in June ).
On 13th June he sent Chotie a registered letter as he was preparing for the Wales trip. His ‘Industry Group and Occupational Classification record’ on 25th June confirms that he was a student before he joined up (he studied French, which was later to prove extremely useful). Better weather back at Camberly saw him swimming naked in the Sandhurst pool . After a week’s leave in mid-July he sent Chotie a hand-coloured postcard of Sandhurst and wrote a letter the next day describing a visit to his Italian friend Guido Benetti in Brighton and his time at Pagham.
Meanwhile Chotie’s anti-aircraft unit left Plymouth and returned to Bristol, this time to the north of the city at Cribbs Causeway.
Dick wrote to her there on 31st July:
My Darling Chotie,
Sorry, this will have to be in pencil but Chunky has pinched our only table and chair and is very inauspiciously writing to his wife.
Received your two letters, for which many thanks. I was surprised to see you are once again in the Bristol area. If you remember, Eric was convalescent at Westbury for some months. At any rate you’re a little nearer home, which I suppose is something, if not very much.
As regards next week-end I’m afraid I won’t be able to get down before Saturday Evening, as our leave doesn’t start until the afternoon, and it’s a fair journey.
I shall have to leave again on Monday afternoon as we change squadrons on that day and I’ll have about six months accumulation of kit to move to the New Buildings, which are some half mile or so.
Been swimming all the afternoon at the ‘Blue Pool’, the nearest baths (apart from the college baths) and am now beginning to get brown. I’m already pretty browned off as they’re chucking out Recce cadets right and left as the corps is already too full. The trouble is that in most cases they’re not even giving infantry commissions! So I’ll probably be RtU’d* in the near future.
These things run in cycles – one minute they’re clamouring for officers and the next they’re full up.
Read Linklater’s short stories entitled “God likes them Plain”, which are very good. Haven’t had time to read anything else. Heard from Diller (still browned off) but haven’t heard from Brinner, needless to say.
Swam in an inter-squadron competition and managed to win my event the net result being we won the whole show easily. Rather funny really, and that’s the first swimming event I’ve been in. On the 28th** too! Hell of a fluke – the other 3 were U.S.***
I’ll close here Darling, as I’ve exhausted my mediocre letter-writing talents.
All my love, Darling
*RTU – Returned to Unit
**Dick’s 22nd birthday on 28th July.
***Slang for useless?
© Chotie Darling