This is a little told story of the first British airborne forces that were to prove so useful that they rapidly grew in size and viable roles. The impact of Churchill was immediately felt when he became Prime Minister, a whirlwind of activity and aggression, he encouraged the development of new forms of warfare – Very Highly Recommended.
NAME: Operation Colossus, The First British Airborne Raid Of World War II FILE: R3208 AUTHOR: Lawrence Paterson PUBLISHER: Greenhill Books BINDING: hard back PRICE: £19.99 GENRE: Non Fiction SUBJECT: World War II, World War 2, World War Two, WWII, Second World War, European Theatre, Southern Italy, SAS, Special Air Service, airborne forces, light infantry, transport planes, converted bombers, POW ISBN: 1-78438-258-2 PAGES: 320 IMAGE: B3209.jpg BUYNOW: tinyurl.com/y5nnpsjl LINKS: DESCRIPTION: This is a little told story of the first British airborne forces that were to prove so useful that they rapidly grew in size and viable roles. The impact of Churchill was immediately felt when he became Prime Minister, a whirlwind of activity and aggression, he encouraged the development of new forms of warfare – Very Highly Recommended.
In 1940, Britain was facing probable defeat. The politicians, who had eagerly spent the peace dividend after WWI and been forced to appease an ever more greedy Hitler, had decimated British fighting capacity. The BEF sent to France in 1939 was well-trained and highly motivated but too few in numbers for the task. Their apparently inevitable defeat was turned around in a magnificent extraction of a large part of the BEF at Dunkirk. The Battle of France may have been a defeat for the Allies, and humiliating defeat for the French, but Dunkirk was a triumph in the use of sea power and sheer courage in the face of an enemy preparing to celebrate total victory.
Having pulled the BEF back to Britain, along with a useful number of French soldiers who reached Dunkirk, Britain had to face the reality that the enemy was at the gates and although the RAF was in good shape, with fighters at least as good as the best of the enemy and a unique tracking feeding an advanced command and control system, it lacked numbers and, particularly, trained pilots. The land forces were in poor shape. Most of the available heavy equipment had been sent to France and could not be evacuated with the troops. Even rifles and squad support weapons had to be left behind by many of the escaping soldiers. In this desperate situation most Governments would have concentrated entirely on defence and hoped for the best. Fortunately for the Free World, Britain had a new Prime Minister who was energetic and pugnacious. He attended to the immediate needs of defence, and rebuilding the Army with new heavy equipment, but he also encouraged innovative thought and the formation of forces that could start by poking the Germans and then growing in strength until they were the vanguard of a credible invasion force to liberate Europe.
The author ably tells the story of the first airborne raid by the British and stirring tale it is. The text is supported by a photo-plate section with a unique selection of images and there are maps in the body of the book.
The British had been very slow to experiment with airborne troops. The USSR was the pioneer, building a large airborne force capability, although many of its troopers had to jump without parachutes, hoping that the snow would break their fall. The Soviet German military co-operation that began shortly after the end of WWI was intended to enable covert military training, manufacture of prohibited weapons and the preparation to break free of the Treaty that concluded WWI. However, the Germans learned from the Soviets and began building an airborne force within the Luftwaffe. This developed rapidly and although smaller, was soon much more capable than the Soviet pioneering force. When Germany swept into France through neutral Belgium, the success depended very heavily on a some glider and parachute forces making surprise landings on the potent Belgian frontier forts that the French has assumed would hold any Germany attempt to replicate their advance through Belgium in 1914. As history records the German airborne assault was brilliantly successful and they controlled the forts that could have held up the German Panzers and infantry.
Churchill was determined to establish a similar force and it began as the Special Air Service.
The Special Air Service was used in North Africa, along with the LRDG and other ‘private’ armies, operating far behind enemy lines. The early parachute troops were soon joined with glide troops to become the Airborne Forces. Sicily and Italy presented the first opportunity to use this new capability in 1941. A special troop was formed and trained to attack Tragino Aqueduct in the heart of the enemy. The distance from possible friendly airfields made this realistically a one way trip and a huge Italian manhunt eventually captured all of the force. To reach and destroy the designated target was a major achievement and help encourage the rapid development and expansion of Airborne Forces, turning them from raiders into the elite advanced force in Normandy, the Low Countries and the Rhine Crossing.
This book provides a unique and engrossing story but it also provides important missing elements from the story of the formation of Airborne Forces and they battle to overcome the limitations of available technology.
The first challenge was in finding suitable aircraft as transports. This was never fully resolved and proved a major impediment to full victory in Op Market Garden where there were insufficient numbers to deliver all of the British force in one wave, or to resupply them after the landings. The Commando and Dakota transports went a long way to addressing the requirements, but the British were still filling numbers by using older bombers as transports. The assault gliders made a significant contribution and even began carrying small armoured vehicles and field/anti-tank artillery, but that was all a long way on from Op Colossus and might not have taken place without this courageous attack on the aqueduct.