Hut 28 – 1944
The key to the defence of Rome was the little town of Cassino lying on the River Rapido, dominated by the historic Benedictine monastery atop the 1,693-foot massif of Monte Cassino itself. Known as Monastery Hill to the Allies, this was the main obstacle that lay in the path of the British Eighth and US Fifth Armies during the winter of 1943-4.
The Great Escape
After a number of dramas, in over a year of toil, it evolved that the longest tunnel, known as Harry was to be used. Two hundred men would crawl over 300ft through the two foot square shaft giving the Nazis an almighty shock, considerably disrupting their war effort.
The Advance on Rome
The advance from the toe of Italy after the landings at Salerno had been slow. By the end of 1943, it had practically ground to a halt, with particularly horrific problems at Cassino. The stalemate, and the underlying Allied conviction that Rome was a psychologically important target in Italy for both sides, brought forward a number of Allied proposals, with Churchill’s idea for ‘Operation Shingle’ eventually emerging as the accepted plan. This was to be a swift strike for Rome, following a beach landing at Anzio. The success of this plan would also ensure that German supply lines to Cassino would be severed.
Overlord – A Day at the Beach
Just after midnight on 5/6th June 1944 one of the most complex and intricate operations in the history of warfare went ahead on the orders of the Allied Supreme Commander General Eisenhower. Over a quarter of a million men were taking part in the operation. Nearly 5,000 ships were afloat, each with a specific task to perform. In the air, squadrons of fighter aircraft kept the skies clear of enemy aircraft. 1200 transport aircraft were carrying 20,000 paratroopers, while gliders were carrying more men and materials to their destinations. Overlord had begun. As well as glider and parachute landings there were assaults on five separate beaches.
During the week following the D-Day landings, Rommel and his depleted 7th Army had failed to contain the Allied beach-head and drive the invasion back to the sea. Rommel knew he was beaten and that Germany had little chance of anything but defeat.
Liberation of Paris
On 7th August, General von Choltiz was made Military Governor of Paris, and on 21st August, had received instructions from Hitler, stating that, “Paris must only fall into enemy hands as a heap of rubble”. Von Choltitz had a reputation for unquestioning obedience to orders but he recognised the faults in Hitler’s flawed strategy. On 19th August Von Choltitz, encouraged by the Swedish Consul General Raoul Nording, agreed to a cease-fire between the garrison and the Resistance.
Russia’s Indomitable Advance
June 1944, saw the resumption of the war between Finland and Russia. Following the breakdown of negotiations to settle the position resulting from the Winter War of 1940, twenty divisions of Russian troops attacked the Finns and made rapid progress, taking Viipuri on 20th June. By mid-July, the Soviet Army had retaken the Karelian Isthmus and its advance had slowed to a stop. The Finns had little option but to accept the situation imposed on them, although their counter-attacks went on for months.
The land campaign in the Philippines 1944-45 entailed some of the worst fighting, in some of the worst conditions, experienced by U.S. Army and Army Air Force units in World War II. It was a hard won victory against a fanatical Japanese resistance. General Douglas MacArthur had been chased from the Philippine islands by the Japanese in 1942. His famous quote “I shall return” was finally born out in October 1944. It took a hard campaign, including more than 60 amphibious landings, and the world’s greatest sea battle before the islands were secured.
The End of Japanese Domination
1944 was to mark a major turning point for the Allied armies in Burma after the disasters of 1942-43. Significant changes in the Allied Command structure in South East Asia brought about a totally new military organisation.
D-Day 6th June 1944
A crucial part of the D-Day preparations was to find out exactly where the enemy was, in what strength, and what defences had been constructed. Intelligence operations were carried out at every level, by land, sea and air, and the French Resistance had been working on such information for years. The overall result was an astonishingly accurate picture of the German installations.
In 1944, the Red Army burst into the Balkans causing Axis allies to begin switching sides whilst Guerilla leaders jockeyed for position in preparation for the end of the war and the positions of power. These groups were used as pawns by the powers in a greater political game.
Arnhem – Operation Market Garden
‘A Bridge Too Far’ – By the Autumn of 1944, all the Allied Commanders were frustrated by the lack of progress into Germany, following the initial successes of the landings in Normandy. On 10th September 1944, the operation was revealed and approved: the Anglo – US First Airborne Army was to be dropped at points along the road from Eindhoven to Arnhem. Major General Robert Urquhart was put in command of the British 1st Airborne Division, whose task it was to capture the three most northerly bridges at Arnhem.
The Battle of the Bulge
On 16th September 1944, Hitler held a meeting with Germany’s generals in his underground headquarters in East Prussia, the ‘Wolf’s Lair’. General Jodl expressed concern that the advancing Americans might break through into Germany via the woods and hills of the Ardennes. Hitler’s response was that he had already decided that an offensive should be made from the Ardennes with the object of taking Antwerp.
HM Rescue Tug Service
The Rescue Tug Section of the Royal Navy first came into being in 1917, and was disbanded in 1919. At the outbreak of war in 1939, the Admiralty’s compliment of tugs consisted of 4 Brigand Class ocean going salvage/target towing vessels with smaller M.O.D. ships for coastal and harbour work. Deep sea rescue and salvage was, in Great Britain, the business of civilian companies. In the first few months of the war the Allies had ruled supreme in the Mediterranean. Oil supplies passed undisturbed through the Suez canal from the Middle East and British communications with India remained secure.