The author was one of many combatants who ignored the orders prohibiting diaries and we must be grateful that he did. From this illegal personal record, he has drawn a book which captures the highs and lows of a soldier taking part in the most momentous amphibious assault in history, and the long slog from the beaches to Berlin. This is a delightful account of life in battle and between battles. It is by turns gripping, exciting, colourful, authentic and human.
NAME: Commando Despatch Rider, from D-Day to Deutschland, 1944-1945
AUTHOR: Raymond Mitchell
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: World War Two, , Second World War, WWII communications, messengers, despatch riders, motorcycles. Royal Marines, Commando, 41 Royal Marine Commando
DESCRIPTION: The author was one of many combatants who ignored the orders prohibiting diaries and we must be grateful that he did. From this illegal personal record, he has drawn a book which captures the highs and lows of a soldier taking part in the most momentous amphibious assault in history, and the long slog from the beaches to Berlin. This is a delightful account of life in battle and between battles. It is by turns gripping, exciting, colourful, authentic and human.
The author served through the North-West Europe campaign, but he had already taken part in four amphibious assaults in the Mediterranean. As a seasoned Commando, he was prepared for D-Day but still awed by it. He explains his progress from rifleman to despatch rider and then provides a chronological account of life from the D-Day Beaches.
This is a valuable account, not because he achieved senior rank and directed battles, but because he was a lowly, but very important, part of the huge armed force that fought off the beaches, through France and on to Berlin. He provides a rare perspective and some readers may initially be mystified by the concept of the despatch rider. Today, wide band satellite communications can allow a commander to speak directly to the most junior soldier in combat on the other side of the world. That may not just be a conversation by radio link, but it may include video as the soldier sees the situation and can permit laptop computers and sensors to be fed into the link, providing the commander in his distant bunker virtually everything that he could obtain by parachuting into the battle line. This amazingly rich communications environment is not limited to a senior soldier communicating with a junior soldier, but can patch in a wide selection of other assets, including missile and gun bombardment of shore targets, ground support by jet aircraft and UAVs, and allies who can be asked to provide special support. In 1944 that was not yet even a distant dream.
Through WWII, despatches were the standard method of communications. Radio was available in limited numbers and with limited range. It was still developing and at Arnhem, the British paratroops were unable to communicate by radio over some three miles, much less with the aircraft that were braving the German flak but dropping the sorely needed supplies on ground held by the Germans. That was not an unusual situation. Not all vehicles carried radio and those that did frequently found their communications equipment was broken, the thermionic tubes, or valves, being relatively fragile glass encased electronic components. There was also only a poor knowledge of the performance of radio waves and how they could be effected by climatic conditions and weaknesses in components. Some of the frequencies in use were also affected by solar storms but these powerful natural forces were completely unknown at the time. It was often a mystery when a radio operator could suddenly receive very distant signals clearly but be unable to talk to someone just down the road.
In static positions, there was the field telephone system. Most systems used wire that included steel strands with copper to provide improved durability and the signallers who laid the cables left large loops of cable every so often to allow a signaller to rejoin cable hit by mortar or shell fire. The relative weakness was that the field telephone was most useful once the fighting had bogged down and soldiers fought from trenches. The other area of advantage was in linking positions behind the front to provide supply line communications.
Where units were engaged in fighting, runners could be used to send communication between the men and their officers. To be dependable, the distances had to be short and movement of the fighting had to be relatively slow. By 1939, the concept of fast moving mixed units of armour and mechanized infantry introduced a new challenge. Units could move rapidly and large distances could be covered. When the Marine Commando units were committed to the invasion of Europe, they became what they had originally been created for, Light Infantry. They were deployed with Army infantry and armour and became highly mobile. That required messengers who were equally mobile and, into this important niche, fitted the Despatch Rider.
The Despatch Rider had something of a roving brief and operated almost independently between the communications points. That could require him to cover an area searching for the advanced units. It offered independence and the despatch rider often used his freedom outside the official duties.
The author has provided a vivid picture of how his duties allowed him flexibility and relieved some of the inevitable periods of boredom, between the intense fighting periods. There is a well chosen photo plate section that contains rare images not previously published. An enjoyable book and very informative about an area of military life that has been very poorly covered before.