Pat Porteous VC (Final Part)

They pushed on under intense fire from the flak tower and from snipers who were targeting them from the windows of the battery office and the surrounding buildings. Some of the German snipers had been shocked from their beds and with pillow-ruffled hair they were still dressed in pyjamas.

Crouching down behind a four-foot-high bank, Pat contacted HQ to report they were in position and ready to assault. Moments later, in a perfectly choreographed move, a squadron of spitfires strafed Hess with cannon fire and then Lovat fired off three white Very flares which was the signal for B and F Troops to fix bayonets and charge the gun positions.

“Right, let’s go in.” Pat led the rush forward, leaping over the embankment and into open ground towards the gun sites. He felt a punch in his thigh and a boiling hot pain spreading inside his flesh and realised he had been shot again They darted between buildings, in and out of buildings, tossing grenades, thrusting with bayonets and firing off rounds until the site was a maelstrom of smoke and explosions and screams.

The first gun pit Pat came to had been hit by a mortar and was full of German corpses so he lurched in the direction of the next. He refused to surrender to the pain in his leg. He tried to imagine he was in a rugger scrum; he had to keep going until they were over the line. His rifle had been smashed and he couldn’t reload his pistol with only one hand. He staggered on, tumbled into a gun pit and was dragged out by two of his men. The demolition team jumped into the pit and went to work: open the breech, ram in the charge, close the breech, set the delay mechanism, take cover. The gun barrels split open like peeled bananas. The job was done. Pat finally yielded and collapsed from pain and loss of blood.

Pinned to the ravaged remains of the battery commander’s wall was the duty roster for 19 August 1942:
06:45 – 07:00 Frühsport (early morning exercise)

The Germans had certainly had their early morning exercise but not of the type they were expecting; scorched and mangled bodies littered the ground.

There weren’t enough stretchers to go round so the medical orderlies improvised. Anything suitable was stripped from the battery office and surrounding buildings. Mademoiselle Bertin’s lavatory door was about to go on an excursion to England. Pat was lifted onto one of the doors with two German prisoners acting as his stretcher-bearers. The terrified prisoners had to wade out into the sea almost up to their shoulders to load Pat onto Peter Scott’s gunboat. He had his leg and hand patched up before being transferred onto a destroyer for his journey back to England.

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A German prisoner, Unteroffizier Leo Marsiniak, being escorted at Newhaven. He was captured at the gun battery at Varengeville by No. 4 Commando © IWM (H 22597)

Once back on British soil, Pat was sent to the Canadian General Hospital at Bramshott and during his six-week stay there he realised he had suffered the family wound: his father and his brother Lawrie had received thigh injuries in exactly the same spot during their wars.

His hospital reverie and recuperation was interrupted one day by a telephone call from his mother. He had been awarded the Victoria Cross. He was astonished. “Brave?” he exclaimed, “Good Heavens, I was terrified!”

In 1962, Pat returned to the beaches of Dieppe as a Lieutenant Colonel to participate in a ceremony to remember those who had lost their lives twenty years earlier. Operation Cauldron had been a success, Operation Jubilee of which it was a small part was not so: around 4,100 men – many of them Canadian – had been slaughtered, injured or taken prisoner.


At two minutes to two on the afternoon of 19 August 1962, marking the time when the last shot had been fired in 1942, a wreath was lowered into the sea, ships in the port sounded their horns and three French jet fighters swooped low over the square where the veterans stood, silently remembering. Pat’s thoughts were with his 4 Commando comrades, with Captain Pettiward, Lieutenant Macdonald and the other brave commandos who never really had a chance to experience life. The following day Pat journeyed along the coast to meet the inhabitants of Berneval who wanted to name a street in his honour.

Patrick Anthony Porteous VC died on the 9th of October 2000 at the age of 82. Remnants of the blockhouse and site of the Hess battery are still visible today and a monument was erected on the beach at Sainte-Marguerite-sur-Mer in August 2002 to the memory of the soldiers of No. 4 Commando. And it is still possible to take a stroll along Avenue du Captain Portheous in Berneval-le-Grand.

Pat Porteous VC (Part 3)

The cliffs at Vasterival loomed over them and the Phare d’Ailly lighthouse winked rhythmically out over the calm waters. As the lighthouse beam brushed over, someone on the cliffs must have spotted them, as a series of white star shells burst overhead and turned the brightness up from dawn to daylight. Shortly afterwards three RAF fighter bombers streaked overhead and headed inland along the line of the River Saâne, drawing enemy fire away from the commando convoy on its final approach into Orange 2. A volley of flak and the dashed line of tracer bullets punctuated the sky.

Pat sprang out of the landing craft and scrambled up the steep, pebbled beach until he reached a barrier of barbed wire just above the high tide mark. The commandos had come prepared for this. They began to make bridges of chicken wire to clamber across but the enemy opened up with mortar fire and wiped out eight members of B Troop with their first shell. Fortunately, the Germans then decided to increase their mortar range and began to focus their attention on the retreating craft but without scoring any further hits.

Once across the wire, Pat joined the remainder of B Troop, Force HQ and F Troop in running towards the east bank of the River Saâne, their attention momentarily diverted by a nightdress-clad old lady who had emerged from one of the nearby cottages to yell, “VIVE LES ANGLAIS!” and proffer swigs from the bottle of wine she was clutching.

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The Dieppe shoreline viewed from a landing craft as it approached; fires are burning in the background as a result of naval and aerial bombardment © IWM (H 22612)

The grass alongside the swollen, overflowing river was long and made the going difficult but they were encouraged by the crump of mortar bombs and crack of small arms fire indicating things were progressing well over at Orange 1. After they had waded as fast as they could for about half a mile they came to a bend in the river which was their pointer to turn east across open ground until they reached a small wood at Blanc-Mesnil. An almighty boom and a wall of flame visible above the trees swelled their confidence that the Orange 1 party were achieving what they had set out to do. From the wood, B and F Troops split up and headed in different directions towards their forming up points.

Pat accompanied F Troop as they made their way through the woods until they reached the rear of the battery compound which was surrounded by an embankment and topped with barbed wire. They found an area of the perimeter fence that had been trampled down by German soldiers sneaking back late from leave and so were able to get over fairly easily. Once inside the complex, they came upon a group of enemy soldiers in a farm courtyard, preparing a counter-attack against the Orange 1 group. The startled Germans were cornered and cut down in a barrage of Tommy gun fire.

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A Douglas Boston Mark III of No. 88 Squadron RAF, flying from Ford, Sussex, heads inland over France after bombing the German gun batteries defending Dieppe (seen at upper left). © IWM (CH 6541)

Pat and F Troop continued to move forward through a patchwork of cottages and hedges all the while coming under heavy fire. As they were moving along a lane towards the battery, a German materialised in front of Pat and threw a stick grenade at him; Pat instantly retaliated by hurling a grenade back. Both men flung themselves to the ground until they heard the double thunderclap of the explosions and then, while the dust was still flying, they leapt back up to resume battle. The German was up a fraction quicker and fired a shot that passed through Pat’s left palm and lodged in his wrist. The enemy soldier then swung his aim towards one of F Troop’s Sergeants so Pat grappled the weapon from the German’s hands and killed him with his own bayonet. It was only then that Pat became aware of the pain in his hand so he stuck a field dressing on it, gritted his teeth and carried on.

Elsewhere in F troop other personal battles were raging; a sniper had killed the troop commander Captain Roger Pettiward as he led the charge. His subaltern, Lieutenant John Macdonald was mortally wounded by a stick grenade. Troop Sergeant Major Stockdale had his foot blown off but continued to fire and pick off the enemy from a sitting position. Sergeant Horne took over command but then he was also killed. F Troop was now without officers, warrant officers or NCOs so ignoring the machine gunfire that was peppering the area, Pat dashed out into the open and joined F Troop to assume command.

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Pat Porteous VC

 

 

Pat Porteous VC (Part 2)

When Pat saw an Army Council Instruction calling for volunteers to undertake duties of a special nature, he knew it was exactly the sort of excitement he was looking for. He put his name forward, passed the interview and was told to catch the ferry to Arran and report to Colonel Lister of No. 4 Commando.

He spent the next two and a half years undergoing tough training in Troon. He watched his 4 Commando comrades disappear from time to time to take part in operations that included raids on the Lofoten Islands and at Saint-Nazaire. Each time Pat was left behind wondering when his turn would come.

His chance finally came in August 1942 when the Commando was sent to Weymouth to begin training for another operation. They lived on board a former Belgian cross-channel ferry, HMS Prins Albert, which was anchored off Portland and they began assaulting the cliffs along the Dorset coast. They practised landing from Assault Landing Craft at Redcliffe Bay at Arish Mell and at Worbarrow Tout. They practised at dawn and they practised at dusk. They rehearsed a daylight attack on the anti-aircraft battery at Osmington. They constructed paths of chicken wire across barbed wire on the beach and scrambled across them.

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East Lulworth: Arish Mell © Copyright Chris Downer http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/14700 and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

On the 11th of August, they were moved into billets in Weymouth town and the Prins Albert sailed away from Portland. Pat’s life back on land became a Groundhog Day of mile-long runs first thing every morning; French and German lessons; marching at the double with a full load and marching at the double in wet clothes.

On the 17th of August, Pat and the other officers were briefed about their forthcoming operation which would be codenamed ‘Cauldron’. Their goal was to destroy ‘Hess’, the German six-gun battery on the cliffs near Varengeville, west of Dieppe. Each of the guns was sunk into a six-foot deep pit of around twenty-five feet in diameter and had a range of more than ten miles. Major Derek Mills Roberts would lead a party assaulting the battery from Vasterival on ‘Orange Beach 1’ and the commanding officer, Lord Lovat, would land with B and F Troops further west along the coast near Quiberville on ‘Orange Beach 2’, to execute a wide flanking movement and attack the gun emplacements from the rear. Pat was told that he would be with Lovat’s party and would act as the liaison officer between the two groups.

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Lord Lovat giving orders to his men © IWM (H 18953)

The following day, the Commando left Weymouth and travelled by road in convoy to Southampton Docks where the Prins Albert was waiting for them again. After they had boarded, the ship was immediately secured and all ranks were briefed about their role in Cauldron and its wider impact as a part of ‘Operation Jubilee’.

At quarter past seven that evening, the Prins Albert, disguised as a merchant vessel, set sail. A few hours earlier Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten had boarded the ship and told 4 Commando that their task was of the utmost importance and they must see it through whatever the cost. Lovat had added that it would be the most difficult task they had ever faced but they must keep in their minds that they represented the cream of the British Army.

Pat tried to get a few hours sleep but the nerves scrabbled away at the inside of his belly and thoughts looped round and round behind his closed eyes. A breakfast of stew was served at half past one in the morning and then Pat smeared his face with black camouflage paint, checked and double-checked his weapons and equipment.

By half past four he was crammed into one of four Assault Landing Craft snaking towards the shore…

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Section of ‘Dieppe: The Area of Battle’ from ‘Combined Operations 1940-1942’ first published by HMSO in 1943.

 

 

Pat Porteous VC (Part 1)

There weren’t enough stretchers so Pat was being carried by two German soldiers on a door that someone had wrenched from the battery office. The Germans’ eyes darted nervously as they descended through the narrow gully towards the beach as they knew that mines had been laid somewhere nearby; a wooden board with the words ‘Achtung Minen’ painted onto it was a constant reminder. Mortar bombs exploded around them and the air on the beach was choked with smoke. Every time one of the Germans’ hesitant steps caused a stumble or slide on the shingle, the jolt sent pain zigzagging through Pat’s body from the wounds on his hand and his thigh. He tensed and tried not to let the agony show on his face.

9Achtung
Flickr: Leo Reynolds https://flickr.com/photos/lwr/

He remembered when he was a boy – he must have been about four years old – and he had run from the garden to join his parents and their important guests for tea but he’d gone slap-bang straight down onto the veranda and the pain had started pricking behind his eyes. He hadn’t wanted the agony to show on his face then either. “I’m awfully sorry, Mother but I think I’m going to cry,” he had whispered and his mother had lifted the table cloth and gently shooed him underneath so that he could regain his composure before joining their polite society. That must have been when they were in India.

Pat had been born in Abbottabad on New Year’s Day 1918 and had spent his early years in the East and in Canada but then his father, Brigadier General Charles McLeod Porteous of the 9th Gurkhas, had moved them to England so that he could seek specialist medical treatment for the mysterious ailment he had picked up.

While the Brigadier General consulted experts about his deteriorating health, Pat was despatched to Wellington College. His boyhood dream had been to write books about serious subjects such as the Bible and Tutankhamun but shortly before leaving Wellington he made up his mind to follow his father into the Gurkhas. His father advised joining the British Army instead though so Pat applied to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, was accepted and joined at the beginning of 1936. During his 18 months there he excelled at rugby union and swimming; proved himself a formidable opponent in the boxing ring and suffered a broken jaw at the hooves of a horse before being commissioned into the Royal Artillery.

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Wellington College (Flickr: RTPeat https://flickr.com/photos/rtpeat/)

By the outbreak of war he was with the 6th Anti-Aircraft Regiment in France and was billeted on a farm in Arras. Looking for somewhere to hang his clothes, he opened a wardrobe and a pile of human bones and skulls came clattering out. Was he living with a mass murderer? Thankfully not. The farmer’s explanation for the skeleton in his cupboard was that the farm had been the site of a leper colony in medieval times though why he felt the need to keep the macabre relics in his wardrobe, Pat never did discover.

He came out of France through Dunkirk and was posted to Glasgow. His plans to marry his sweetheart were postponed as she had joined the WAAF and they had no hope of a decent life together until the war was over. He began to grow bored of sitting on an anti-aircraft site, of humdrum duties and of life back in Britain.

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Troops arrive back in Dover following the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk © IWM (H 1647)

He wasn’t alone in this feeling of ennui; Britain’s esprit de corps had been punctured by the disaster of Dunkirk and the nation’s morale was rapidly deflating. Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew that Britain needed to regain the upper hand and so he proposed the raising of an elite, ‘butcher and bolt’ raiding force; a force that would become known as the Commandos.

Your country needs you! Y – O – U

Series eight of the Goon Show was put together with contributions from at least five different writers and three different producers – Roy Speer, Tom Ronald and Charles Chilton. According to Roger Wilmut writing in The Goon Show Companion, “Tom Ronald frankly did not like the Goon Show” and it seems the writers weren’t too keen on him either. A letter held at the BBC Written Archives Centre from Larry Stephens to the Assistant Head of Light Entertainment reads, “I heard last Monday’s Goon Show – the first one of mine which had been done by Tom Arnold (sic) – and frankly I was horrified.” Spike also wrote a letter of complaint about Ronald’s censorship of his script for The String Robberies and consequently Charles Chilton was brought back for episodes 17-26.

Pic1
The Goon Show Companion cover illustration by Larry Stephens

The episode commonly referred to as World War One was the 22nd programme of the series but was actually entitled ‘……!’, pronounced like the last breaths of a dying pair of rare female striped pyjamas. The story is washed up on a Brighton beach near Croydon in 1917 and a short snatch of Keep the Home Fires Burning and a series of bugle calls eventually lead us into a meeting of the British Chiefs of Staff with a background of rattling teacups and saloon-type piano music. Peter breaks the news to the gathered Heads of Service that apparently we’ve been at war for the last three years. That’s W-A-R, pronounced Bang! Boom! Bratatat! etc. (Not the OLD battle record please, Spike requested on the script.) The Chiefs all agree that this sounds jolly dangerous and it is therefore imperative to find out who we’re at war with. They eventually agree that the best course of action is to try and capture one of the naughty enemies so they can find out the nationality of his body. Harry heads off to the East Acton Labour Exchange to recruit a body-tester.

Pic2
© Tim Leatherbarrow

With the sound of more rattling teacups, we are transported to the lounge of the labour exchange. Harry arrives and explains that he’s looking for a chap to fly to Germany and capture an enemy. On being told that there’ll be a nice little nest-egg waiting for whichever chap is successful, Moriarty suggests a chicken would be perfect for the job since they risk their lives for an egg in a nest all the time.

Harry departs with a troop of chickens while Moriarty and Grytpype head off to seek their fortunes. They knock at a luxury villa owned by Lord Delpus and the door is answered by Neddie Seagoon.

Grytpype sells Seagoon some duff German Army shares after convincing him they’ll be worth a fortune as Germany will win every war it enters and after he’s handed over his money, Grytpype and Moriarty throw Seagoon into the river. A river policeman is waiting to hand him his call-up papers (“Some mistake. I ordered the Times.”) and then he’s despatched by cannon to Aldershot.

Pic3
© Tim Leatherbarrow

Over in Aldershot, Henry and Min tell him they don’t have a uniform large enough to fit him so he must travel to the Elephant Equipment Unit in Poona, staffed by Bloodnok and Eccles. After hearing from Bloodnok that Germany are losing the war, Seagoon is distraught at the effect it will have on the value of his shares. Bloodnok cheers him up with a special offer of 10,000 unused 1904 calendars, explaining that Mondays and Decembers come back regularly so 1904 will eventually come back too.

While being fitted for a civilian coward’s suit, Seagoon runs into Grytpype again who comes up with a plan to help Germany win the war. They will drop the 1904 calendars in England to make the British believe the war hasn’t started, thus giving Germany the advantage. Shortly afterwards, a radio news bulletin announces that British troops are returning home from France. In retaliation, the British have dropped 1918 calendars on Berlin and the Germans have surrendered!

And that, folks, is a nuff (nett weight 4oz).

 

A longer version of this appeared in the Goon Show Preservation Society newsletter no. 151. If you’d like a copy of the e-newsletter then send an email to administrator@thegoonshow.org.uk and you will receive one wrapped in brown paper and marked ‘Early Victorian Studies’, completely free, gratis and for nothing with no questions asked, Mate.

Lots and lots and lots of thanks (and custard) to Tim Leatherbarrow for permission to use his fantastic illustrations, more of which also appear in the aforementioned newsletter.

Destination Unknown – Part II

After a Luftwaffe attack on their convoy off the Algerian coast, No. 5 Commando’s journey towards active service overseas continued. Bren guns were mounted on the deck of the Reina Del Pacifico and manned during daylight hours and for the next couple of days everyone anxiously scanned the skies. Over on the Ranchi, Bill Stoneman of 42 Royal Marine Commando noticed that the sharks seemed to have singled out their ship and had been following them day and night – a portent of things to come.

Ranchi
Picture courtesy of http://www.photoship.co.uk/

A few days later, just after teatime on the 30th of November 1943, everyone was settling down to their books, letter-writing and card games, when an enemy aircraft warning was given and another formation of German bombers made their way towards the convoy. The decks were evacuated and the men gathered at their mess tables down in the Reina Del Pacifico’s hull, listening to a commentary of the unfolding events given over the ship’s loudspeakers.

Once again the Reina Del Pacifico made it through the experience unscathed but over on the Ranchi they were not quite so lucky. A bomb hit the ship’s forecastle, penetrated the deck and then exited through the vessel’s other side before exploding in the water. Amazingly only one man was killed as the flying debris caused by the bomb scattered inside the ship.

Once the Luftwaffe had been seen off again and the threat was over, all the ships in the convoy lowered their flags to half-mast and the Ranchi’s casualty was buried at sea, his white shrouded figure slipping beneath the waves. The sharks’ escort of the ship came to an end.

The Ranchi, carrying the 3rd Commando Brigade’s HQ together with No. 1 and 42 RM Commandos, was diverted towards Alexandria for repairs while the rest of the convoy continued on their way.

Featured
42 Commando at the United Services Club in Alexandria on Christmas Eve 1943

As the Reina Del Pacifico sailed into hotter climates, the men were ordered to wear their khaki drill uniforms in an effort to get them used to the high temperatures they would soon be facing. Some of them relished the heat though and soaked up the sun on the decks whenever possible, their skins turning pink then red and finally brown.

The convoy passed through the Suez Canal – one of the first to do so for more than two years – and then the Reina Del Pacifico dropped anchor at Aden where she remained for five days. A request by the Commanding Officer for the commandos to go ashore was rejected on security grounds and so they were confined to ship in furnace-like temperatures; only the sick were allowed onshore for medical treatment. An RAF band was, however, permitted to go on board to provide music for an all-ranks dance out on deck and the comparatively small numbers of Wrens and nurses on the Reina Del Pacifico were very much in demand.

Early in the morning of the 13th of December they were underway again, part of a new convoy sailing for India. The sea breezes were a welcome relief after the Aden heat.

On the 18th of December 1943, No. 5 and 44 RM Commandos began to make preparations for disembarkation and on the following day they docked in Bombay. Confined to ship once again, they were unimpressed with the view and decided that the ‘Gateway of India’ definitely looked better on a cinema screen.

gateway_india
Postcard bought by Allan Gent in Bombay. Picture courtesy of his son, Andrew.

At eight o’clock on the morning of the 20th, they finally disembarked and headed towards Bombay railway station to begin another journey to another unknown destination although this one would last for only 10 hours rather than the 38 days they had spent at sea.

Further information

From Mitcham Road to Mandalay: the memoirs of Bill Stoneman of 42 RM Commando Click here

Details and photographs from the WW2 RAF career of Allan Gent Click here

Pictures, photos, postcards, images and painting of old ships and harbours plus other historical maritime pictures http://www.photoship.co.uk/

Destination Unknown – Part I

On a damp and grey day in November 1943, No. 5 Army Commando and 44 Royal Marine Commando embarked on HMT Reina Del Pacifico at Liverpool Docks. Rumour was rife about their intended destination and even though they had been issued with tropical kit and bush hats (surely just a ploy to fool the enemy) they passed the time speculating on the different possibilities:

Italy for sure. Just look at Salerno. Bags of room for another Commando there – probably more than one.

Look at Burma. No commandos there yet. Just our bloody luck: leeches and cannibals.

Look at Australia. Sydney…

Coo, know a girl from there too. Real smasher.” *

Jungle
*Extract from issue 9 of The Third Jungle Book

After two days docked at Liverpool, the ship sailed north to Gourock on the Clyde. With a backdrop of the snow-capped Greenock hills they joined the other ships that were to form their convoy including the Ranchi, carrying No. 1 and 42 RM Commandos.

In the frosty dawn light of the 15th of November, the Reina Del Pacifico eased herself down the Forth until she reached open sea and then began the long journey to carry her charges to active service overseas.

Conditions on board the ship were fairly grim for the men; their quarters were cramped and claustrophobic and reeked of sweat and seasickness. In some areas the bunks were stacked eight high in the gangways. The officers had much more favourable sleeping arrangements and were allocated to one of the cabins sleeping a maximum of three. They also had access to what had been the First Class areas of the former passenger liner with its Moorish-influenced wood panelling, elaborately carved with cornucopias; schools of fantastical sea creatures; grape-laden vines; and frolicking plump cherubs.

 

Liverpool 036
The Reina Del Pacifico was scrapped in 1958 and some of the wood panelling from the ship’s interior ended up at the Cornmarket pub in Liverpool

During the evening of the 24th of November, the convoy passed within five miles of the Moroccan coast and everyone gazed in wonder at the lights of Tangier blazing in the distance. Britain had been subjected to night-time blackouts for the past four years but as a neutral country, Spanish Morocco could safely shine. Someone started singing Till the lights of London shine again and the sole voice was gradually joined by others. The men’s thoughts turned to home and whether they would ever see their loved ones again.

reina
Reina Del Pacifico, November 1942 © IWM (FL 18191)

Two days later, as the convoy cruised along the Algerian coast, the relative tranquillity and monotony was shattered. Just after four o’clock in the afternoon, the hum of approaching planes began to drown out the sound of a choir practising Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring ready for the Sunday service. Those who had been strolling on the decks paused and peered up at the sky; those who had been reading closed their books and joined them; a member of the ship’s crew who had been doing a roaring trade as a barber threw down his scissors and sprinted towards the nearest gun. As the hum grew louder, a formation of more than a dozen German Heinkel planes could be seen heading in the direction of the convoy. As the order was given for the top decks to be cleared, there was suddenly an explosion of noise as the booming anti-aircraft guns began to blast skywards. RAF and USAF aircraft streaked across the skies, hot on the trail of the Luftwaffe planes.

There were plenty of near misses with great plumes of water rising around the Reina Del Pacifico, as bombs and damaged aircraft plummeted exploding into the sea around them but eventually the ‘all clear’ sounded and with the Luftwaffe finally despatched, Reina Del Pacifico and the rest of the convoy limped on.

 

Further Information

Issue 9 of the Third Jungle Book is available to read in full on the Commando Veterans’ Association website

Liverpool’s Cornmarket pub website