Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming “Jack” Churchill, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar (16 September 1906 – 8 March 1996), nicknamed Fighting Jack Churchill and Mad Jack, was a British soldier who fought throughout the Second World War armed with a longbow, and a Scottish broadsword. He was known for the motto “any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly armed.”
In May 1940 Churchill and his unit, the Manchester Regiment, ambushed a German patrol near L’Epinette, France. Churchill gave the signal to attack by cutting down the enemy Feldwebel (sergeant) with a barbed arrow, becoming the only British soldier known to have felled an enemy with a longbow in WWII. After fighting at Dunkirk, he volunteered for the Commandos.
Churchill was second in command of No. 3 Commando in Operation Archery, a raid on the German garrison at Vågsøy, Norway on 27 December 1941. As the ramps fell on the first landing craft, Churchill leapt forward from his position and played a tune on his bagpipes, before throwing a grenade and running into battle in the bay. For his actions at Dunkirk and Vågsøy, Churchill received the Military Cross and Bar.
In July 1943, as commanding officer, he led 2 Commando from their landing site at Catania in Sicily with his trademark Scottish broadsword slung around his waist, a longbow and arrows around his neck and his bagpipes under his arm, which he also did in the landings at Salerno. Leading 2 Commando, Churchill was ordered to capture a German observation post outside of the town of La Molina, controlling a pass leading down to the Salerno beach-head. He led the attack by 2 and 41 Commandos, infiltrated the town and captured the post, taking 42 prisoners including a mortar squad. Churchill led the men and prisoners back down the pass, with the wounded being carried on carts pushed by German prisoners. He commented that it was “an image from the Napoleonic Wars.” He received the Distinguished Service Order for leading this action at Salerno.
In 1944 he led the Commandos in Yugoslavia, where they supported Josip Broz Tito’s Partisans from the Adriatic island of Vis. In May he was ordered to raid the German held island of Brač. He organized a “motley army” of 1,500 Partisans, 43 Commando and one troop from 40 Commando for the raid. The landing was unopposed but on seeing the eyries from which they later encountered German fire, the Partisans decided to defer the attack until the following day. Churchill’s bagpipes signalled the remaining Commandos to battle. After being strafed by an RAF Spitfire, Churchill decided to withdraw for the night and to re-launch the attack the following morning. The following morning, one flanking attack was launched by 43 Commando with Churchill leading the elements from 40 Commando. The Partisans remained at the landing area; only Churchill and six others managed to reach the objective. A mortar shell killed or wounded everyone but Churchill, who was playing “Will Ye No Come Back Again?” on his pipes as the Germans advanced. He was knocked unconscious by grenades and captured. He was later flown to Berlin for interrogation and then transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
In September 1944 Churchill and a Royal Air Force officer crawled under the wire, through an abandoned drain and attempted to walk to the Baltic coast. They were captured near the coastal city of Rostock, a few kilometres from the sea. In late April 1945 Churchill and about 140 other prominent concentration camp inmates were transferred to Tyrol, guarded by SS troops. A delegation of prisoners told senior German army officers they feared they would be executed. An army unit commanded by Captain Wichard von Alvensleben moved in to protect the prisoners. Outnumbered, the SS guards moved out, leaving the prisoners behind. The prisoners were released and after the departure of the Germans, Churchill walked 150 kilometres (93 mi) to Verona, Italy where he met an American armoured force.
As the Pacific War was still on, Churchill was sent to Burma, where the largest land battles against Japan were being fought. By the time Churchill reached India, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been bombed and the war ended. Churchill was said to be unhappy with the sudden end of the war, saying: “If it wasn’t for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years.
Pistols used in the Warsaw Uprising, 1 August—2 October 1944, Muzeum Powstani Warszawskiego.
The Polish resistance inflicted more than 27,000 German casualties and destroyed 650 vehicles (including 310 armored), 22 artillery guns, and one aircraft.
The most common handgun, naturally enough, seems to have been the Russian Nagant Model 1895 revolver, but at least one lucky Polish fighter evidently had a US Model 1911 .45 (lower left) and there are two Smith & Wesson Model 10 “Victory” Models on the right.
My Polish correspondents have been remembering the anniversary (two days ago) of the death of Krzystof Kamil Baczynski, one of the greatest Polish poets of the last century, on the 4th day of the Warsaw Uprising at the mere age of 23.
Baczynski served in the Polish Resistance (Armia Krajowa) in which he fought with Battalion Zoska, a reconnaissance/ranger battalion largely recruited from former Polish Boy Scouts. He served during the Warsaw Uprising in Battalion Parasol, an elite unit (also largely made up of former Boy Scouts), intended eventually to become part of a parachute brigade, which specialized in attacks on the Gestapo.
Zbigniew Czajkowski-Dabczynski, in his book Dziennik Powstanca (Diary of an Insurgent), gives a detailed report of his death:
It was then that I saw Krzysztof for the last time, because they left for a new position at Palac Blanka [in the Warsaw Old Town area] without me. That day I heard from a buddy that he was hunting Germans with great success from the ruins of the Opera House. The next day a call came for a first-aid patrol to come help a wounded in the Palac Blanka. Not having much to do I joined them. At his post, in a corner room, we found Krzysztof lying on a Persian rug with a huge wound in his head. [He had been shot by a German sniper.] He was dead. Nurses carried the body over to the City Hall (next door). That same evening the funeral was held. It was rather solemn. The grave was dug in the City Hall courtyard. Some sixty people, soldiers, officers, civilians, were present. Someone said a few words. The body was lowered to the grave. We all sang the National Anthem, then the grave was filled.”
The Polish writer and critic, Stanislaw Pigon, had this to say at the news of Baczynski’s death: “What can we do? We belong to a nation whose lot it is to shoot at the enemy with diamonds.”
His pregnant wife Barbara, the subject of the famous erotic poems, was killed September 1st.
———————————————————— Biała magia
Stojąc przed lustrem ciszy
Barbara z rękami u włosów
nalewa w szklane ciało
srebrne kropelki głosu.
I wtedy jak dzban – światłem
zapełnia się i szkląca
przejmuje w siebie gwiazdy
i biały pył miesiąca.
Przez ciała drżący pryzmat
w muzyce białych iskier
łasice się prześlizną
jak snu puszyste listki.
Oszronią się w nim niedźwiedzie,
jasne od gwiazd polarnych,
i myszy się strumień przewiedzie
płynąc lawiną gwarną.
Aż napełniona mlecznie,
w sen się powoli zapadnie,
a czas melodyjnie osiądzie
kaskadą blasku na dnie.
Więc ma Barbara srebrne
ciało. W nim pręży się miękko
biała łasica milczenia
pod niewidzialną ręką.
Yesterday, one of the correspondents on a Japanese sword email list shared this current commercial offering.
The sword was once carried by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, one of the most successful Japanese commanders of WWII, who captured Malaya and Singapore and who received the largest surrender of British forces on history. General Yamashita was hanged in 1946 for war crimes committed under his command for which many thought he bore no real personal responsibility.
The sword was made in 1929 by Ikkansai Kasama Shigetsugu, arguably the most important and influential swordsmith of the Showa period.
Kurihara Hikosaburo (Akihide) [charged with reviving the craft of swordmaking by the Japanese Prime Minister] invited one of the most famous smiths of the period, Ikkansai Kasama Shigetsugu, to become the chief instructor of Nipponto Tanren Denshu Jo (Japanese Sword Forging Institute) on the grounds of his estate in Akasaka, Tokyo. Shigetsugubecame perhaps the most influential smith to teach there in its entire history, and had the greatest impact on students and teachers alike.
Shigetsugu, born Kasama Yoshikazu on April 1, 1886 in Shizuoka, started his apprenticeship under his uncle Miyaguchi Shigetoshi in 1899. In 1903 he entered the Tokiwamatsu Token Kenkyujo, on the estate of Toyama Mitsuru, to study under Morioka Masayosh. Later he went on to study metallurgy whilst collaborating with Dr. Tawara Kuniichi in formal research on the composition of
Japanese swords. Tazawa built a special laboratory in Tokyo University for the project. The results were published in a book called Nihonto no Kagakuteki Kenkyu (Scientific Research of the Japanese Sword), which remains to this day a definitive scientific work on the subject.
Shigetsugu worked mainly in the Bizen and Soshu traditions of swordmaking, which influenced many of the Denshujo’s students’ later work.
The sword has an origami (authentication paper) from the NBTHK (Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kai), the premier Japanese sword preservation and study society, testifying to its correct attribution and awarding it a rank of HOZON - “Worthy of Preservation.”
Origami ranks are commonly awarded in a step-by-step process, and it seems likely to me that this sword could very possibly receive higher rankings if re-submitted.
The asking price is 2,800,000 JPY, roughly equal to $28,000.
Clare Mulley’s The Spy Who Loved, previously published in Britain, has just been released in the US. It is the biography of Christine Granville, née Maria Krzystina Skarbek, a Polish aristocrat who became one of the most daring and successful British secret agents of WWII. According to Wikipedia, Christine Granville may have been the model for Ian Fleming’s Vesper Lynd.
Emma Garman reviews it with appropriate admiration in the Book Beast:
[While] traveling in South Africa [and she] heard the news that Germany had invaded Poland, Christine harbored not the tiniest qualm about leaving… in a rush to defend her beloved homeland. Presenting herself to British Intelligence in London—“a flaming Polish patriot … expert skier and great adventuress,” according to their records—Christine volunteered to ski into Nazi-occupied Poland armed with British propaganda. Her fervent aim, writes Mulley, was “to bolster the Polish spirit of resistance at a time when many Poles believed they had been abandoned to their fate.”
That mission, carried out with a Polish Olympic skier turned mountain courier, set the tone for Christine’s career in its sheer wildness. Heading out from Czechoslovakia during the coldest winter in living memory, with snow four meters deep, the pair traversed the 2,000-meter-high Tatra Mountains, seeing two dead bodies on their way and later hearing that, on the night they reached the border, more than 30 people had died in the mountains trying to escape Poland. Then, once on a Warsaw-bound train, Christine’s nerve did not desert her: realizing that armed guards were doing spot checks of passengers’ possessions, she directed the beam of her preternaturally bewitching allure onto a uniformed Gestapo officer. Would he mind, she wondered, carrying the package of black-market tea that she was bringing her mother? He happily obliged, and so her sheaf of illicit documents—which, if discovered, would have led to merciless interrogation followed by the firing squad—reached their destination.
Such boldfaced aplomb would be deployed time and time again in dealing with the Nazis. When working for SOE (Special Operations Executive, the secret wartime sabotage unit) in the Alps, where she trekked between the French and Italian sides and transmitted vital information about enemy activity, Christine was stopped by the German frontier patrol. In her hand she held a silk map of the region, given to agents to avoid the giveaway rustle of paper in pockets. With no hope of concealing it, she casually shook the fabric out and used it to replace the headscarf she was wearing, greeting the soldiers in French as if she were simply a local on an errand. Another time she and Andrzej Kowerski, her on-off lover and frequent partner in crime, were arrested and interrogated by Gestapo officers in Budapest. Christine had been suffering from flu, so she exaggerated her hacking cough and bit her tongue so hard that she appeared to be bringing up blood. Presumed to be infected with tuberculosis—potentially fatal and frighteningly infectious—she and Kowerski were released.
Christine’s most jaw-dropping act of heroism would occur in August 1944: with a bounty on her head and her face having graced “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters, she strolled into a Gestapo-controlled French prison and, posing as another woman entirely, secured an interview with a corruptible gendarme. Every iota of her charm and resourcefulness coming into play, Christine successfully arranged to break out three colleagues—including her lover du jour, the 29-year-old Belgian-British agent Francis Cammaerts—who were about to be executed. “Good reading,” an SOE officer wrote on the cover note of Cammaerts’ subsequent report, “I am going to make sure that I keep on Christine’s side in future.” “So am I,” another scribbled in reply. “She frightens me to death.”
Of all the women agents who risked their lives in Nazi-occupied Europe in the second world war, Polish-born Krystyna must surely rate as one of the bravest of the brave. As they used to say in army vernacular, the George Medal (which was about as close to a VC as a foreign national could get), the OBE and the Croix de Guerre did not exactly ‘come up with the rations’.
Churchill is alleged to have rated Skarbek his ‘favourite spy’. The reason? In spring 1941 she passed minute details to London of Hitler’s plans for Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia. Churchill forwarded them on to Stalin, who promptly binned them.
Krystyna’s father was from the lesser Polish aristocracy, but her mother was Jewish (she was eventually swallowed up by the Holocaust) — a fact that would have made Krystyna’s repeated journeys under the noses of the Gestapo infinitely more dangerous.
Six times she trekked and skied across the Tatras, ‘exfiltrating’ high-risk Polish refugees into neutral Hungary, accompanied by her one-legged, long-term lover, Andrzej Kowerski (aka Andrew Kennedy). Seldom conducting an operation without a lover (proof of the 007 notion that sex and extreme peril often make for inseparable bed-mates), Krystyna’s reckless exploits smacked more of the age of Baroness d’Orczy than of the vile century of Heinrich Himmler.
Several of the witnesses in Clare Mulley’s scintillating and moving book, such as the late Paddy Leigh Fermor, testify to the fact that Krystyna did indeed thrive, quite irrationally, on danger. With her ‘fierce, almost blind pride,’ she reminded one British officer of the Polish cavalry that had charged Nazi Panzers in 1939. Arrested in Hungary, on one occasion she bit her tongue so hard as to draw blood, persuading the interrogators that she had TB. They released her.
Krystyna’s most legendary exploit came in summer 1944, in southern France, pending the Allied invasion. Her British boss (and also, naturally, lover), Francis Cammaerts (DSO, Croix de Guerre, Légion d’Honneur), one of SOE’s top operatives, had fallen into a trap and was awaiting imminent execution. She located his cell by humming ‘Frankie and Johnny’. Cammaerts responded by singing the refrain. Then Krystyna presented herself boldly to the milice officer holding Cammaerts, as a British agent—and a niece of General Montgomery, no less — sent to obtain the release of the prisoners. The invasion, she persuaded Cammaert’s captors, was but hours away and terrible reprisals would be exacted if the prisoners were killed. Coupled with Krystyna’s devastating charm, the ruse worked. All three agents walked free.
Thousands of Dutch were awaiting the arrival of the liberators in Dam Square in Amsterdam on May 7, 1945, two days after the capitulation of Germany. Officers of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) watched from the balconies of the Grote Club how the crowd grew and grew, dancing and cheering. Finally, the Germans placed a machine gun on the balcony and began to shoot people in the square. The picture shows how members of the outdoor crowd sought protection aligning themselves with the “shadow” of the lamp posts, the only obstacle between them and German fire. 22 people died and 120 were seriously injured.
The shooting finally ceased when a member of the resistance climbed the tower of the royal palace and opened fire on the Germans. It was then that a German officer together with a Resistance commander, managed to make their way into the club and convinced the Germans to surrender.
William G. Zincavage, Fall 1942, after graduating Marine Corps Boot Camp
Military Police, North Carolina, Fall 1942
First Amphibious Corps, Third Marine Division, Special Troops:
Solomon Islands Consolidation (Guadalcanal), Winter-Spring 1943
New Georgia Group Operation (Vella LaVella, Rendova), Summer 1943
Third Amphibious Corps, Third Marine Division, Special Troops:
Marianas Operation (Guam), Summer 1944
Fifth Amphibious Corps, Third Marine Division, Special Troops:
Iwo Jima Operation, February-March 1945 (Navy Unit Commendation)
North American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Four Bronze Stars
Good Conduct Medal
———————————————————————————— This is a photo of the accommodations marines from the Third Division received on board the ships carrying them from California to the South Pacific theater of war.
This photo was taken shortly before he received his discharge in December of 1945.
As Andrew Roberts, at the Daily Beast, explains, the remarkable following events provide the perfect plot for a Hollywood war epic.
[O]n 5 May 1945—five days after Hitler’s suicide—three Sherman tanks from the 23rd Tank Battalion of the U.S. 12th Armored Division under the command of Capt. John C. ‘Jack’ Lee Jr., liberated an Austrian castle called Schloss Itter in the Tyrol, a special prison that housed various French VIPs, including the ex-prime ministers Paul Reynaud and Eduard Daladier and former commanders-in-chief Generals Maxime Weygand and Paul Gamelin, amongst several others. Yet when the units of the veteran 17th Waffen-SS Panzer Grenadier Division arrived to recapture the castle and execute the prisoners, Lee’s beleaguered and outnumbered men were joined by anti-Nazi German soldiers of the Wehrmacht, as well as some of the extremely feisty wives and girlfriends of the (needless-to-say hitherto bickering) French VIPs, and together they fought off some of the best crack troops of the Third Reich. Steven Spielberg, how did you miss this story?
The battle for the fairytale, 13th century Castle Itter was the only time in WWII that American and German troops joined forces in combat, and it was also the only time in American history that U.S. troops defended a medieval castle against sustained attack by enemy forces. To make it even more film worthy, two of the women imprisoned at Schloss Itter—Augusta Bruchlen, who was the mistress of the labour leader Leon Jouhaux, and Madame Weygand, the wife General Maxime Weygand—were there because they chose to stand by their men. They, along with Paul Reynaud’s mistress Christiane Mabire, were incredibly strong, capable, and determined women made for portrayal on the silver screen.
There are two primary heroes of this—as I must reiterate, entirely factual—story, both of them straight out of central casting. Jack Lee was the quintessential warrior: smart, aggressive, innovative—and, of course, a cigar-chewing, hard-drinking man who watched out for his troops and was willing to think way, way outside the box when the tactical situation demanded it, as it certainly did once the Waffen-SS started to assault the castle. The other was the much-decorated Wehrmacht officer Major Josef ‘Sepp’ Gangl, who died helping the Americans protect the VIPs. This is the first time that Gangl’s story has been told in English, though he is rightly honored in present-day Austria and Germany as a hero of the anti-Nazi resistance.
Boldini painting of grande horizontale subsequently sold at auction for £1.78 million
The Daily Mail describes a Belle Époque Parisian apartment, locked up at the time of the WWII German advance on the French capital which has remained unopened for over 70 years.
Inside the Paris apartment untouched for 70 years: Treasure trove finally revealed after owner locked up and fled at outbreak of WWII.
Caked in dust and full of turn-of-the century treasures, this Paris apartment is like going back in time.
Having lain untouched for seven decades the abandoned home was discovered three years ago after its owner died aged 91.
The woman who owned the flat, a Mrs De Florian, had fled for the south of France before the outbreak of the Second World War.
She never returned and in the 70 years since, it looks like no-one had set foot inside.
The property was found near a church in the French capital’s 9th arrondissement, between Pigalle red light district and Opera.
Experts were tasked with drawing up an inventory of her possessions which included a painting by the 19th century Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.
One expert said it was like stumbling into the castle of Sleeping Beauty, where time had stood still since 1900. ‘There was a smell of old dust,’ said Olivier Choppin-Janvry, who made the discovery.
But he said his heart missed a beat when he caught sight of a stunning tableau of a woman in a pink muslin evening dress.
The painting was by Boldini and the subject a beautiful Frenchwoman who turned out to be the artist’s former muse and Mrs de Florian’s grandmother, Marthe de Florian, a beautiful French actress and socialite of the Belle Époque.
RAF officer Francis R.L. Mellersh (1922-1996) reads John Buchan’s thriller Greenmantle and smokes his pipe, while getting in a haircut between fighter sorties to intercept the Luftwaffe.
Boots loosened, pipe in mouth, reading his book, being attended to by a servant, the pilot resembles a medieval knight resting between the lists at a tournament.
David Frum got hold of the photo from the pilot’s daughter, who tells us:
We have the original of the photo, and the book (he was crazy about John Buchan) and that bloody pipe killed him in the end at 72. I’m afraid those who have been to war and daily diced with death are rather cavalier with their health. I’ll tweet you a pic of him in his 60s…the red hair’s faded to strawberry blonde but still recognisably the chap getting his hair cut.
Instead of resuming his Oxford studies at the end of the war he remained in the RAF for another 30 plus years and flew right until the end (often with the Red Arrows – stress!). He reached Air Vice Marshal and was Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff. He was a very modest man, very laid-back (that photo says it all) and spoke little of the war.
You’ll like this bit. My grandfather, his father, was a WW1 ace and was on the sortie which downed the Red Baron. Forensic historians of course now say he was shot from the ground…my grandfather’s eye witness account is often quoted. We have a little box made from Richthofen’s propeller wood. He too made a career of the RAF, was in charge of operations in Burma etc in WW2 and, at one point, my father’s boss…somewhat disastrously! He died in a bizarre accident shortly after retiring…ironic given he survived the RB.
My grandfather was AVM Sir Francis (FJW) Mellersh, nickname “Tog” and my father AVM Francis (FRL) Mellersh, known always as Togs (nanny’s nickname ie. “of Tog”). Quite ridiculous. I have their obituaries and citations and some extracts from Aces High etc as well as my father’s log book filled in somewhat irreverently. He flew Beaufighters, Mosquitoes and Spitfires.
David Frum adds:
Francis Mellersh was twice awarded Britain’s Distinguished Flying Cross and was recommended for the Victoria Cross.
He was quite a successful night-fighter pilot, ending the war with a tally of eight destroyed and one probable, however, during 1944, he destroyed 39, possibly 42, V-1 flying bombs. ...
Citation for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
“Flying Officer Francis Richard Lee MELLERSH (105145), Royal Air Force Volunteer ‘Reserve, No.600 Squadron.
This officer is a tenacious and skilful fighter and has destroyed 5 enemy aircraft in combat. On 1 occasion in April,1943, during a patrol off Algiers at dusk, he encountered a large formation of enemy aircraft. In the ensuing engagement, Flying Officer Mellersh shot down 2 of them. Although his aircraft was badly damaged he flew it to base. More recently, in July, 1943, Flying Officer Mellersh destroyed 2 enemy aircraft during 1 sortie. This officer has set a praiseworthy example.”
(London Gazette – 20 August 1943)
Citation for the award of the Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross
“Flight Lieutenant Francis Richard Lee MELLERSH, D.F.C. (1105145), R.A.F.V.R., 96 Sqn.
This officer has proved himself, to be a night fighter pilot of outstanding ability and determination and his skill and keenness have set an excellent example. Flight Lieutenant Mellersh has completed many sorties and has destroyed eight enemy aircraft; he has also destroyed a large number of flying bombs.”
(London Gazette – 3 October 1944)
This is obviously the cover of the book he is reading.
A Canadian World War II enthusiast says that he has deciphered the message after realizing that a code book held the key to the encryption. Gord Young, editor for the history group Lakefield Heritage Research, says the 1944 note uses a simple World War I code to give information about German troop positions in the area around Normandy, France. ...
Young, however, said that the code is not complex, and that people who are trying to decrypt it are “over thinking.”
The code, according to Young’s account, belonged to 27-year-old Sgt William Scott, who was placed in Normandy to report on German positions. Scott was killed a few weeks later and buried in a Normandy war cemetery. ...
According to Young, the decrypted message reads:
“Artillery observer at ‘K’ Sector, Normandy. Requested headquarters supplement report. Panzer attack – blitz. West Artillery Observer Tracking Attack.
“Lt Knows extra guns are here. Know where local dispatch station is. Determined where Jerry’s headquarters front posts. Right battery headquarters right here.
“Found headquarters infantry right here. Final note, confirming, found Jerry’s whereabouts. Go over field notes. Counter measures against Panzers not working.
“Jerry’s right battery central headquarters here. Artillery observer at ‘K’ sector Normandy. Mortar, infantry attack panzers.
“Hit Jerry’s Right or Reserve Battery Here. Already know electrical engineers headquarters. Troops, panzers, batteries, engineers, here. Final note known to headquarters.”