Raiding Support Regiment: The Diary of a Special Forces Soldier 1943-45

Raiding Support Regiment: The Diary of a Special Forces Soldier 1943-45

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Overview

The Second World War in Yugoslavia is an area neglected by historians and other commentators. This is perhaps surprising as Yugoslavia was the only country in Europe to be conquered by the Germans and then, later, to free itself solely as a result of guerrilla activity. Other countries had to be liberated by Allied armies. The British played an important role in supporting the activities of Tito’s guerrilla army. This is the story of Walter Jones’s service and the operations of the Raiding Support Regiment. A precursor to the modern SAS the Raiding Support Regiment fought alongside the commandos and Tito’s partisan in Yugoslavia. Based on the Island of Vis in the Adriatic they provided heavy weapons support to British and partisan forces trying to drive the Germans out of Yugoslavia. Later they served in Albania and Italy. This is a brutally honest account of one man’s service with the Regiment and a neglected period of European history. It documents the transformation of a young man into a combat veteran as he witnesses the effects of bombing, the deliberate killing of POWs and partisan savagery against those who transgress the partisan code.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781841023366
Publisher: University of Plymouth Press
Publication date: 05/15/2013
Series: Diplomatic and Military History
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Writer and an academic (University of Plymouth 1992 to present) and World War II is my area of speciality. It comes from having a father who served in the British Merchant Navy during the latter parts of the Second World War. From the War at Sea, to the War in the Air and on Land I have been fascinated with this period of history since my earliest days. It has been a great honour over the decades to meet veterans whose stories have only increased my interest in the field. Appearing in documentaries I have had the chance to see many of the battlefields, and to handle World War II equipment. There is nothing like being able to feel, touch and smell history. If you want to know why Omaha Beach was such a killing field in 1944 you need to swim the waters (to appreciate the currents and the nature of the beach) and to look up at the "cliffs" which American soldiers were asked to assault. The enthusiasm for my subject is tempered by the realities of much of what took place during the War. You cannot stand beside a mass grave site in the Ukraine, or read the names on the headstones in the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach, and not experience profound emotions. World War II history, military history generally, may seem a rather dry and dusty subject frequented by armchair generals, but in reality war has been one of the constants of human history since it began. Military societies (a regiment, a ship, a squadron) represent society in microcosm. Its members are our brothers, fathers, sisters, mothers and ancestors in the making. Military history, like social history, is "our" history. Through military history we can also build bridges between former enemies. Being caught in an artillery barrage has the same results, physically and mentally, whether you are a German soldier in the trenches, a British soldier in Normandy, an American rifleman in Korea or a member of the North Vietnamese Army in 1968.
Later in life Walter Jones, at 66 years of age, would rediscover his wartime diaries. Urged on by his three daughters, and by a desire to show his younger brothers Harry and Bert the kind of war he had had, Walter Jones began to write. He was also impelled to write because so little attention had been given to the activities of the Raiding Support Regiment. His memoirs were written with the benefit of his diary, on which he would draw heavily, records from the National Archives in London, and on various secondary accounts. At his death on 8 August 2001 the memoirs remained unpublished and in various stages of drafting. The task of editing has involved considerable reworking of the paragraphing to get the memoirs into book form. Beyond this, the words are those of Walter Jones, unless explicitly identified otherwise.
What is lovstromping, you ask? To be honest, I don’t know. It’s just my flickr account name [lovstromp], which is my surname Løvstrøm ending with p for Peter. I’ve loved photography ever since my dad got a Nikon slr in the 80′s. Found it in some boxes 7-8 years ago and tried to see if it still worked. The photos I’d taken were barely visible and got told – by a salesman, that it would be cheaper if I went digital. Got myself a Nikon D40, although not from that salesman. Loved it instantly and having bought a 50mm f/1,4G only made matters much more enjoyable. Switched to a Canon 50D two years ago. As much I love the output I get from it, I still miss Nikon and the shooting experience you get from their gear. These days I’m considering going full frame, which of course is a great opportunity to go back to Nikon. – Until then, I’ll have to keep on taking photos and posting. In case you didn’t notice, I live in Greenland.

Read an Excerpt

Raiding Support Regiment

The Diary of a Special Forces Soldier 1943-1945


By Walter Jones, GH Bennett

Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 University of Plymouth Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84102-336-6



CHAPTER 1

Joining The Raiding Support Regiment


The fateful notice had appeared on the order board. Volunteers were required from Middle East army personnel for special service operations 'behind enemy lines', an essential condition being an undertaking to submit to training as parachutists. Recruits were sought from all ranks and from across the whole spectrum of skills and trades, although a preference was stated for those experienced in handling small boats and horses or mules. Heroics didn't enter into it. Futility, boredom, purposelessness and a simple, understandable desire for change eventually prompted my application, and I was not untypical.

These appeals for volunteers had appeared before but were usually so specific in their requirements as to seriously limit the number of qualifying applicants, whose rare and valuable skills self-snookered their requests behind the ball of a Commanding Officer's regimental possessiveness. The difference this time was that only obvious rejection by a selection board could baulk the application. So other dissuasive measures at retention were tried. I was offered Sergeant status. But the appeal of action at last – and cloak and dagger, adventurous action at that – appeared to offer greater fulfilment than promotion and I have never regretted my decision. Well, perhaps never is untrue.

Three weeks later, on 13 November 1943, I was back again in Beirut's transit camp for the momentous interview which would decide my future Army activities. After years of trying to become involved in the action, selection for the avenue most likely to lead to it was positively anticlimactic. It seemed that only hints at lies were necessary to secure my acceptance. What did I know about small boats? Well I had been born and bred in the port of Liverpool hadn't I? Had I any experience of handling horses or mules? Hadn't Aintree racecourse been on my very doorstep? And didn't my mother actually work for its owner, Mrs Topham?

Lord Haw Haw, that traitorous perpetrator of propaganda for Hitler, is reported to have said on the radio that the newly formed regiment I was about to join, the Raiding Support Regiment (RSR) was made up of alcoholics, criminals and misfits, whom other units in the Middle East were glad to be rid of. As usual there was a modicum of substance in the information Germany had scooped up in espionage's most fertile territory, the Middle East. Certainly, recruitment was hardly discerning. The Beirut interviews were a classic example of going through the motions. I cannot recall anyone being rejected: perhaps it was thought that parachute training itself would be the ultimate eliminating criterion.

In fact the Beirut interviews were not the casual affairs they had appeared to be ... At the time I was quite unaware that recruitment was taking place almost simultaneously for the Long Range Desert Group (in its new, airborne special operations role) and for the Special Boat Squadron. I have no information to support my theory but I feel sure that these two units had the pick of the specialists in their particular talents and aptitudes, leaving the RSR, like the German propaganda broadcasts stated, with what was left of the pickings – the misfits. Adding weight to this presumption was the earlier call for interview of two of my friends: they had both previously been on a signaller's course and had duly returned qualified as wireless operators. As it turned out, five other members of my regiment were also selected for RSR. So it was that the trundling train, transporting the successful volunteers from Aleppo in Syria to a transit camp at Haifa in Palestine on 25 November 1943, carried more hope and expectancy than remorse or resignation.

A vehicle arrived the next day and took us a few miles north along the coast to an obviously freshly created tented-camp near the German-Jewish seaside village of Nahariya, the first headquarters of the brand new Raiding Support Regiment. It was the first time we had heard the name of the newly formed unit, the novelty of which was – almost literally – sickeningly imposed on six tentative young men in search of unifying stability, by the dismaying chaos and indifference of our reception. We could hardly be expected to make allowances for the uniqueness of the situation. But we should have. What other regiment had been formed without even the nucleus of an existing administration? The 'suspicious stranger' syndrome was instantly evident among us in a way that one might expect ... only in a transit camp full of alien (to each other) servicemen. Each of us later confessed to a deepening unease during that first day in the RSR. Similarly though, we each found little difficulty in rejecting any notion of backing out, although we knew that we were permitted 'second thoughts' at any time up to the successful completion of seven training parachute descents from a plane. Two shillings, a day's extra pay for a trained parachutist, was the ostensible incentive given for wishing to 'sweat it out'.

Day two at the camp was even more demoralising than the first. Having learnt that the new Regiment's establishment comprised five "Batteries" – an Artillery term – I imagined wrongly that as a gunner my niche would be found in either the Anti-Tank Battery or the Mountain Battery of 75mm gun-howitzers. Neither Battery wanted me. I found myself allocated to the Anti-Aircraft Battery, whose mightiest weapon was the 0.5 inch Browning machine gun – an infantry weapon which could be utilised for air defence by the provision of a mounting pedestal. That 'could be' is significant: the pedestals were still being pleaded for (to British Military Headquarters in Cairo) in mid-January 1944, and did not arrive until a few days before 'C' Battery left Palestine for an unknown destination on 27 January. But then, what good were mountings without Brownings? They had not arrived until Christmas Day! Such was the start of the RSR. Muddle, uncertainty, recrimination and secrecy. No weapons, no equipment, no premises – not even for trench latrines.

Adjacent acreage was occupied by the newly mustering Special Boat Squadron, formed from volunteers and remnants of the Special Air Service, which, having been formed in the Middle East, had mostly been sent home to start training and recruiting for the bigger things to come across the English Channel. The SBS camp confirmed my notion of its elitist status over the RSR: their communal premises were hutted structures. Cookhouse, mess rooms, canteens, latrines and medical room; all were solid brick constructions.

Training had to be concentrated wholly on the physical aspect of preparing for parachute jumping courses, and to that totally absorbing objective our energies were enthusiastically directed. It was one compelling feature of those first two weeks of December 1943 and the only one, it seemed, that the Regiment was adequately equipped for at that time. Rightly or wrongly, we regarded the hardship as an essential, perhaps deliberate, part of that training. The roughest country was found for a progression of forced marches with loaded packs and small arms over 9, 12 and 15 miles on alternate days, always finishing with a swim in the still Mediterranean from the excellent, sandy beach at Nahariya. Non-marching days were crammed with strengthening and agility exercises. Assessing things after a week, preoccupation with physical fitness obscured almost everything else from my mind. Camp discomfort, equipment scarcity, the random dispersal of even the few friends I had arrived with, and the dearth of any mail or of any amenity (other than the evening portwine imbibing sessions or the uncertain possibility of some ancient movies in Naharyia village itself) assumed insignificance when related to the coveted goal of that eagerly awaited summons to the airfield at Ramat David, for the parachutist qualifying course. The completion of the 25 mile route march in easy style must have convinced me that I was ready, lulling me into a mood of premature self-congratulation and resulting in a shameful over-consumption of port wine that evening. Maudlin self-pity – caused by an accumulation of factors though mainly the certainty of another Christmas away from home, among virtual strangers at that – seemed temporarily to have relaxed the stiff upper lip. It's the only excuse I can think of. I deservedly suffered next day.

Hurling myself into the training over the following few days conspicuously promoted a cheerier mood, with smug pride exuding from diary entries about success at cross-country runs, swimming and football ... Worse was to come. On 16 December the weather changed dramatically and dominated everything. The rain that gives Palestine its greenness, and had given rise to stories of monsoon-like storms which we had begun to consider mythical, started that day and heavily influenced everything from that day on. Training came to a halt, tempers frayed and discipline all but collapsed, as survival in already chaotic conditions became almost a personal matter. The camp was on a sloping hillside. Consequently, the rain, of torrential proportions, flowed through the camp as if the hilltop was an overflowing reservoir. We resited tents until the utter futility of the exercise became disconcertingly apparent. Flowing water spilled over the hastily deepened trenches around our tents, necessittating the digging of a canal through the tent also. Trying to find a dry area for our ground sheet and blankets became impossible. Perpetually wet, and surrounded by ankle-deep mud, we were virtual prisoners in our tents. After four continuous days of such conditions, the cheering news was broken to me that I was on the next course for Ramat David on the morrow, 20 December 1943. I think I could have uncomplainingly tolerated anything that nature was prepared to throw at me in those 24 hours, but escape was blissful.


Parachute Training

Although the weather had changed but little, my arrival at Ramat David, less than 20 miles away, represented a transformation equal to another world. For a start, we were accommodated in hutted billets where soaking wet clothes had a reasonable chance of drying before being worn again. But above all, there existed an undoubted uplifting of morale at the sight and sound of planes; at the presence of huge hangers (where training could cock-a-snook at the elements) and of Royal Air Force expert personnel. There was the excitement of reunion conversation with men from our unit who were already at variously advanced stages of their courses and who, without exception, effused with stories of the jumps they had already executed and thrilled us with their anticipation of those to come. The weather had held up their jumping too. Although they warned that the week or so of physical training ahead of us made Nahariya's PT seem like maypole dancing, the prospect became hourly more exhilarating. The real truth of its value lay mainly in its difference: it gave added zest to our exertions, particularly when the urgency became more apparent. To condense the normal six weeks parachuting course which prevailed at home to a mere 10-14 days, implicitly to have us operational for the harassment of the enemy in the Balkans as soon as possible, provided the rare incentive of purposefulness to add to unbounded enthusiasm.

A group of 10 men constituted a 'stick' in parachuting parlance, and I found myself in Flight Sergeant Kent's stick – a training group which was to remain together for the whole course. Not unexpectedly, a spirit of competition was fostered, both between and within sticks, which instilled pride at being one of Kent's Angels rather than a Dixon's Demon.

Many of the men had arrived at RSR woefully unfit, and there had not been time for Nahariya's training to remedy much before they met Ramat David's onslaught. They suffered. For me it was the exercises that hurt – the jumping from various heights and moving trolleys and the imperative forward rolling which had to follow. We rolled the day-long. The ideal descent, we learned, called for a forward-facing landing which required a roll from the left or right side on contact with the earth – to minimise injury from jolt – by the instant wheeling effect of rounding the body through using, in turn, the outside of slightly bent knees, thighs, hips, back and shoulders in as gradual a flow of contact as possible. Hence the accent on collapsed rolling.

The much less physical skills of plane exits and descent control had to be learned too. Flight Sgt. Kent almost apologised for the use of Lockheed Hudsons at Ramat David; hardly the ideal plane to jump from, but seemingly the only aircraft available. The barely five-feet-high door, the width of one man on the side of the fuselage, presented all manner of exit problems, so our training simulated the real thing by repetitive jumping from the door of a grounded Hudson fuselage. Without the realisation of the all-important hazard of the rushing slipstream of air which emanated from the engines, it all seemed so simple.

Descent-control was much easier to rehearse with reasonable realism. Two actions towards landing survival (at worst) or perfection (at best) could be performed by a parachutist once his canopy had opened. He could make a turn and he could correct unreasonable backwards, forwards or sideways 'swing' or, to give it its technical term, 'oscillation'. Turning was effected by reaching above the head with both hands, grasping the binding of the parachute's rigging lines, pulling down, and at the same time crossing one hand over the other, as on a playground swing, to execute a full about-turn. Practice from a parachute harness suspended from the hangar roof made everyone quickly proficient in this particular skill.

All of this implied that there would be plenty of time available between leaving the Hudson and reaching the ground, but when we learned that most jumps were made from a height of 1000 feet and that the average time for such a descent was a mere 23 seconds, most of us guessed that we would need that long to decide whether we were approaching backwards, forwards or even upside down, let alone whether or not we were swinging! We recited, to boredom, the recommended rhyming mnemonic: "elbows in – shoulders round – feet together – watch the ground". We visited the parachute packing shed to see the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) girls carrying out that critically important task of correctly folding, stowing, tying and enclosing those vital nylon panels and rigging lines within the canvas pack upon which our lives would depend. The cheerful confidence that radiated from the girls and the stringent packing regulations which, among other surprising things, dictated the immediate halting of packing when the temperature was found to be outside certain specified limits, were very, very reassuring. Those regulations minimised the risk of a build up of static electricity in the nylon. Static was the parachutist's greatest enemy, being the main cause of the dreaded 'Roman Candle' – the instance in which the nylon stuck fast to itself and failed to separate, even in the rush of air, as it streamed behind the doomed wearer like an oversized scarf or the cascading firework it was so aptly named after. There was a Roman Candle fatality whilst we were at Ramat David, and one of our own officers was killed there in that way a few weeks later on 14 January 1944.

Monday 27 December was pencilled in as the date for our stick's first jump but on 23 December, a gale of terrifying proportions put the kybosh on that day's programmed jumping by the previous course, adding to the backlog caused by earlier bad weather. With Christmas intervening, I had my doubts about performing any jumps in 1943. Christmas Eve brought fulfilment expectantly nearer, however. Kent's Angels were suddenly summoned to a warmed-up Wellington bomber on the airfield for our 'air experience' – a first flight for each of us. In the modern world's universal, daily acceptance of jet travel as commonplace, it is difficult to explain the measure of thrill which that first take-off provided for the group of young men in 1943 who, only a month or so earlier, had no chance of ever taking to the air. That dilapidated, pensioned off Wellington, which gave every indication of falling to pieces as it taxied to take-off, was converted into a magic carpet to paradise in the minds of a dozen or so starry eyed innocents, by the confident, almost carefree, approach to the matter by the RAF crew.

We ought to have been frightened. I'm sure we were. There seemed hardly anywhere safely secure upon which to place one's feet: it seemed to have the scantiest of superstructure, a shortcoming made disconcertingly worse by the huge exit hole in the floor! I thanked God that we were to jump from a side door. I doubt if I could ever have gone out of a floor exit, though thousands of earlier-trained parachutists did. With barely anywhere else to look out of the plane, that seemingly magnetic hole attracted everyone's reluctant attention. "See that reservoir down there?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Raiding Support Regiment by Walter Jones, GH Bennett. Copyright © 2013 University of Plymouth Press. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Albert Jones,
G.H. Bennett,
Joining The Raiding Support Regiment,
Daily Life At Nahariya,
Deployment,
Europe Again,
Yugoslavia,
Vis,
The Murder Of German Prisoners,
Death On The Island,
Two Deserters,
The Run Up To D-Day,
The Raid On Brac,
Return to Vis,
The Aftermath of Brac,
Ravnik,
Wounded in Action,
The Raid on Korcula,
Return to Ravnik,
Return to Italy,
Albania,
The Ambush,
The Attack on Sarande,
Corfu,
A Small Italian Town,
Another Sort of Engagement,
Signals Over Salermo,
Hospital,
Lake Comacchio,
Operation Impact Royal,
Operation Roast,
Return Home,
Reference,

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