Thursday, March 05, 2009

Flying with the wings of Pegasus

Symbol of the British Airborne troops:
Bellepheron astride the winged horse Pegasus
(A romantic symbol from Classical literature)

During 1941 / 1942 Britain made the decision to create an airborne army. The designated Commanding Officer of the 1st Airborne Division was the disciplinarian General Frederick "Boy" Browning, whose wife was the romantic novelist Daphne du Maurier. It was Daphne du Maurier who has been attributed with the suggestion that airborne troops wear the distinguishing red beret and have Bellepheron astride Pegasus the winged horse as their shoulder patch.

General “Boy” Browning was in command of the Airborne Forces during Operation ‘Market Garden’ in September 1944. ‘Market’ was the airborne part of the operation and ‘Garden’ was the ground-based part. In the film about this campaign, “A Bridge Too Far” (based on the book by Cornelius Ryan), General “Boy” Browning was portrayed by the British actor Dirk Bogarde . His wife, Lady Browning (Daphne du Maurier), wrote several books that were later made into films, such as ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘Rebecca’.

For additional information click on 'Comments' below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(1) Creating Airborne Divisions in WW2

Two British Airborne Divisions were created - the 1st and the 6th. There were no 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th Airborne Divisions. The curious numbering was a ploy to confuse the enemy! Some of the airborne troops were paratroopers and some of them were glider-borne troops.

Because it was such a risky business all Airborne troops were deemed to be volunteers. Those who have served in the Forces have often told me that the army is good at getting you to volunteer. However, you did not necessarily end up doing what you thought you had 'volunteered' for!

(2) The major airborne operations involving British troops during the Second World War were as follows:

1st Airborne Division:

(a) 9 / 10 July 1943 - Operation Ladbroke / Husky
[Airborne assault to the Syracuse area, Sicily, Italy]
Gliders etc took off from Tunisia, North Africa.

(b) 17 / 26 September 1944 - Operation Market
[Airborne assault to the Oosterbeek / Arnhem area, Netherlands]
Gliders etc took off from the UK over a number of days.
This was the airborne element of Operation Market Garden

6th Airborne Division:

(a) 5 / 6 June 1944 - Operation Overlord
[Airborne assault on the eastern flank of the Allied D-Day Landing Beaches]
Gliders etc took off from the UK, landing in Calvados, France.

(b) 23 / 24 March 1945 - Crossing the Rhine into industrial Germany
[One of two Allied Airborne Divisions supporting ground based troops and armoury]
This assault took the Allies across the Rhine River into industrial Germany. It was witnessed by the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

(3) Two Border Regiment soldiers who died in July 1943:

In November 1940 the 1st Battalion The Border Regiment joined the 31st Independent Infantry Brigade, together with the 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles, 2nd Battalion Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment plus the necessary support units (Field Ambulance, RASC, Ordnance Corps etc). Initially the Brigade trained with mules for transport, possibly suggesting a mountain role in the Middle or Far East was envisaged. However, in September 1941 it was announced the Brigade would become the 1st Air Landing Brigade of the 1st Airborne Division being formed at that time.

Those who served in the 1st Battalion The Border Regiment at this stage in the war ranged from many 'career soldiers', with many years of military service behind them, to recently trained recruits having done less than a year's military service. Hence, when the Regiment went into battle some casualties had been soldiers for many years and others had been soldiers for less than three years.

(i) Company Sergeant Major George Walter Gardner, 1st Bn Border Regt, died 10 July 1943

One of the Border Regiment casualties during Operation Ladbroke / Husky was Company Sergeant Major George Walter Gardner who was killed in action on 10 July 1943. CSM Gardner was the son of Thomas and Mary Eleanor Gardner of Bowness-on-Windermere, Westmorland (now Cumbria) and he was 37 years old. According to the Border Regiment Enlistment Roll George Gardner enlisted at Carlisle, Cumberland on 28 August 1926 when he was 20 1/2 years old. He had been working as a labourer immediately before signing up.

According to the Regimental records, George W. Gardner was born at Lancaster. He is buried in Syracuse War Cemetery, Sicily (Grave Ref: II.C.6). I have previously written an article about George W. Gardner and his younger brother Driver John Edward ('Ted') Gardner who also died in WW2. Ted Gardner is buried in Winster (Holy Trinity) Churchyard near Windermere, Cumbria.

(ii) Private Rupert Kervin, 1st Bn Border Regt, died 9 July 1943

Another Border Regiment casualty during the airborne assault of Sicily was Private Rupert Kervin, Service Number 3604122 who enlisted on 26 June 1940 and was presumed killed in action (lost at sea) on 9 July 1943. Rupert Kervin was the son of Peter and Bridget Kervin of Frizington, Cumberland (now Cumbria) and the husband of Marjorie Kervin of Cleator Moor, Cumberland. However, Rupert Kervin like CSM George Gardner had been born in Lancashire. In Rupert Kervin's case he was born at Preston. His name appears on both the Frizington Village War Memorial and the Cleator Moor Roll of Honour. Rupert Kervin has no known grave and therefore is also commemorated by the CWGC on the Cassino Memorial, Italy (Panel 7).

Many of the gliders carrying the airborne troops into Sicily never actually made it to land. Thus, many lives were lost without even going into battle. Of the 72 Waco gliders carrying men of 1st Border into battle on 9 July 1943, 44 landed in the sea, 1 landed in Malta, 7 in North Africa from where they had embarked and only 20 landed in Sicily. Going into battle, 1st Border had 43 officers and 753 other ranks. Of these, the killed, wounded or missing numbered 9 officers and 108 ORs (89 lost at sea). Despite these losses, the official report records that the glider-borne troops played a valuable role in the operation, including capturing a battery and assisting in the defence of the Ponte Grande bridge from a counter-attack by Italian forces.


(4) Two 'Ox and Bucks' Regiment soldiers who died in March 1945

As mentioned earlier, the 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry had been part of the 31st Independent Infantry Brigade between November 1940 and September 1941 when it became the 1st Air Landing Brigade. After October 1942 this Brigade was divided in two. The 1st Border and 2nd South Staffs Regiments remained with the 1st Air Landing Brigade, while 2nd Ox and Bucks L.I. and 1st Royal Ulster Rifles became the 6th Air Landing Brigade, part of the 6th Airborne Division. While the 1st Airborne Brigade went to North Africa in 1943 in preparation for the invasion of Sicily, the 6th Airborne Brigade trained at home, initially preparing for the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

After suffering many casualties during the Normandy campaign, the 6th Airborne Brigade (including 2 Ox and Bucks L.I.) were reinforced in readiness for the airborne assault part of crossing the Rhine. As mentioned above, this action took place on 24 March 1945. While researching the 'Roll of Honour' for the West Cumbrian town of Cleator Moor I found that two of those listed - Private Walter Casson Chadwick and Private Edward Joseph Burns - had died on the same day while serving with the 2 Ox and Bucks L.I.

These two casualties of the Rhine crossing were the same age when they died (25). Although their nearest relatives were listed as living away from Cleator Moor at the time (according to their CWGC citations) where their families lived when they were younger was only a short distance apart. While I do not have any direct evidence for this, it is quite likely that Walter Chadwick and Edward Burns, who served together and died together, had known each other since childhood.

(i) Private Walter Casson Chadwick, 2 Ox and Bucks L.I., died 24 March 1945

One of the 2nd Ox and Bucks casualties from the Airborne element of crossing the Rhine on 24 March 1945 was Private Walter Casson ('Cass') Chadwick, son of Walter and Lilian Chadwick, Squires Gate, St Anne's Lancashire and husband of Daisy Winifred Chadwick (nee Freeman) of St Leonard's-on-Sea, Sussex. His Service Number was 6460279. According to a report in 'The Whitehaven News' on 10 May 1945, 'Cass' Chadwick and his family originally lived at Trumpet Terrace, Cleator Moor.

So far as I can trace, 'Cass' attended Montreal School, Cleator Moor. At the time of his death he was married with one child, and as already mentioned, he was 25 years old. He is buried in Reichswald Forest Cemetery, which is in Germany west of the Rhine. The notice that appeared in 'The Whitehaven News' on 10 May 1945 read as follows:


Chadwick - Killed in action in Germany, March 24th, Walter Casson (Cass) Chadwick, beloved husband of Daisy (nee Freeman).

Only those who have loved and lost
Can know the heartache of war's bitter cost.

Dearly loved by his Wife and little daughter, Madeline, and all at 7 Oban Road, Hastings, Sussex.

(ii) Private Edward Joseph Burns, 2 Ox and Bucks L.I., died 24 March 1945

Private Edward Joseph Burns was the son of James and Elizabeth Burns (nee Bryan). The family originally lived at Jacktrees Road, Cleator Moor. His Service Number was 5886391 and he is also buried in Reichswald Forest Cemetery. According to the CWGC citation the parents of Private Burns were then living at Pendleton, Salford, Lancashire (near Manchester).

Edward Joseph Burns was born in August 1919 and was therefore 25 years old when he died. He was baptised into the Roman Catholic Church at St Mary's R.C. Church, Cleator in August 1919 by Father F.C. Clayton O.S.B. (Godparents Edward Flynn and Louise Burns). The same Father Clayton was still Parish Priest at Cleator in 1945 when Edward Burns died. The date of death was written in the Baptism Register by Father Clayton. This confirmed it was the same Edward Joseph Burns.


(5) Some personal comments

Belonging to one of the Airborne troops, with the right to wear the red beret and the Pegasus shoulder badge symbol was highly prized in WW2. Inevitably, going into action as part of an airborne assault force tended to have a higher than average risk of being killed or wounded. Both the Battalions referred to in this article (1st Bn Border Regt and 2nd Ox and Bucks L.I. suffered severe losses during the airborne actions of WW2.

The Parachute Regiment continued to wear the much sought after red beret. On the other hand the use gliders to carry troops and equipment have been replaced by helicopters. Bellepheron astride Pegasus is still one of the most recognisable symbols of WW2.


Mt Tony Goddard, The Border Regiment & KORBR Museum, Carlisle

The Whitehaven News

Cumbria County Archives (Whitehaven Records Office)

Thursday, 05 March, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joseph -
It should also be noted that 1st Airborne were involved in the operation Torch which was the invasion of the joint Anglo- American forces at Casablanca - oran and Algiers( Nov '42) in which they were tasked to capture the Airfield at Blida, Algiers - they also fought as Infantry during the remainder of that campaign.

Another point in the operation Market - Garden while it is true that Lt.Gen "Boy" Browning was the Corps Commander - the overall Flight Element Commander was the US Lt Gen Brereton

Friday, 06 March, 2009  
Blogger Cathie said...

I have a question: Didn't a parachute regiment or company take part in the landing in Provence in August 44?
If not, can you or anyone tell me which British divisions took part in that operation, to save me the time it would take to do the research?

Saturday, 07 March, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

katherine L
Tomcan says

That would be the landings of Anvil/Dragoon which was made by the 2nd Brigade of 1st Airborne which had stayed in Italy when the 1st Division went back to the UK for the D Day landings in Normandy, which were finally taken over by the 6th Airborne.
This was - what we in Italy called the unecessary landings as it depleted the Italian forces of -initially seven Divisions including the four North African French under Gen Juin, plus around 70% of our Air Forces.

Sunday, 08 March, 2009  
Blogger Cathie said...

Exactly what I was referring to: Anvil. Thank you Tomcan; I was wondering, were there other divisions among those 3 British divisions, that were not airborne?
I remember that you were deprived of some divisions in Italy then, but believe me, the landings on the Southern coast of France were far from being considered unnecessary by the locals!

Sunday, 08 March, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Katern ine L
Tomcan ....

There were NO British Divisions involved in Anvil - there were two companies of Commando's and one brigade of Airborne - th seven Divisions from Italy were Juin's four North Africans and the three American's.

WE in 8th Army felt it was unecessary as it deprived us of the opportunity to head for Vienna and th plains of Hungary in order to halt the Russinas from entering the rest of Europe - this failure led to the Russians coming beyond Berlin and operating the 40 years of Cold War.
There are many who did not agree - namely Americans - but it was possible - but th opportunity was lost - in the same way as Monty - being within three fighting weeks to Berlin - was sent North in order that the Russian could enter Berlin first - they were five weeks away at the time - thus History is bent out of shape !

Sunday, 08 March, 2009  
Blogger Cathie said...

Sorry for my mistake I used the term division wrongly, but I know from witnesses that there were British 'soldiers' present in Cannes in particular, in August 1944. Where do you think they might have come, and where did they belong?
I now understand your development on 'unnecessary'- what I was relaying is the feeling of the French FFI and resistance movements when the landings took place. You should see the names given to the streets in the area, that celebrate the event. Like the 'Rue du 24 août' in Cannes, and so many 'Place de la Libération'.... Though I wonder how many know what it implied, these days!

Monday, 09 March, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

As you say, Catherine, there were some Allied Airborne troops that took part in ‘Operation Dragoon’ on the French Mediterranean coast of southern France (mid-August 1944). Checking one of my text books, the airborne element were designated the “1st Airborne Task Force” composed of mixed American & British Brigades.

French Army Group B was among the land-based troops who took part in ‘Dragoon’. As Tom mentions, they were diverted from Italy. My understanding is that Winston Churchill tried to get this invasion postponed, feeling they could be better employed in Italy, but the Americans and the French wanted it to go ahead. The codename was originally to have been ‘Anvil’ but changed to ‘Dragoon’. Further north in the Battle of Normandy the German Army was encircled at Falaise about the same time.

After the Allied southern landings the Forces moved along the coast (either side of Fréjus) and then linked up with the Forces in the north. Part of the idea behind was was going on (from the French or at least De Gaulle’s viewpoint) was to get the 2nd French Armoured Division into Paris.

Tuesday, 10 March, 2009  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Katherine -
The reason that British Soldiers were in Cannes in August '44 was the fact that they belonged to the two Commando companies who held the west and east flanks of that invasion plus the brigade of 2nd British Airborne- they all came back to Italy shortly afterwards.

Not only was Churchill against this invasion but Alanbrooke - Alexander and even the US gen Mark Clark as it was his 5th Army which suffered the loss of the seven divisions - he was then given a Brazilian Div and Mountain Div and a nother staffed with negroes who had - like the Brazilians - hadn't fired a shot until then !

The French 2nd armoured was under Gen. le Clerc and landed in Normandy at the back end of July
and had nothing to do with the four North ASfrican divisions of Juin coming up from the South

Friday, 13 March, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Churchill wanted the troops to go into the Balkins and Romania to cutoff the Germans oil and other resourses. But since Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin had already agreed to divide up Germany (and others) anyway so why should the US, Brithian, and France lose more soldiers battling into Berlin (or farther)? Also Operation Overlord was originally called Operation Sledgehammer with Operation Anvil to occour at the same time. With not enough resourses to do both operations at the same time and Churchill felling 'dragooned' into Operation Anvil even at a later date, the name was changed to Operation Dragoon!

Monday, 28 May, 2012  

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