Commando Attack!

One for a quiet afternoon. Commando Attack. A Spaghetti war film from 1970, which is sometimes called Churchill’s Leopards.

Crazy plot but fun and entertaining in its way. Certainly better than most of the films in its genre made in Italy at that time.

Classic paperbacks #4: Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare
        Where Eagles Dare

The novel version of Alistair MacLean’s Where Eagles Dare is not all that it seems.

It’s a classic thriller made into an explosion-filled, action-packed film.

Well, not quite.

In fact, the book started out as the film.

Producer Elliott Kastner approached MacLean directly and asked him for an original script.

MacLean wrote the script and then the book to coincide with the movie’s release.

Years later, Kastner remember the moment he first approached the author.

“I rang Alistair MacLean at his home in Surrey, and told him that I would really like to meet with him.  He refused; he didn’t wanna meet without my telling him more details.  So I told him:  I wanted him to consider writing an original story, directly for the screen.  There was a moment of silence, followed by ‘Hmm, nobody ever asked me that before…’

“ ‘So’, he said, ‘What is it you want?’  ‘I want a team of five or six guys on a mission in the Second World War, facing enormous obstacles.  I want a mystery.  I want a sweaty, exciting adventure movie.’  That’s all I told him, just that.”

And in the book and film that is exactly what we got!

The heroes of the raid on St Nazaire

Raid on St Nazaire
Raid on St Nazaire

A ceremony has been held to remember the heroes of the raid on St Nazaire.

In March 1942, more than 600 men left Falmouth in Cornwall in a flotilla of three destroyers and 16 smaller boats.

The special fleet included HMS Campbeltown, which was packed with explosives and was used to to ram into the gates of the docks in the French port.

HMS Campbeltown being converted for the raid
HMS Campbeltown being converted for the raid

St Nazaire was targeted because the loss of its dry dock would force any large German warship in need of repairs, such as the Tirpitz, to return to home waters rather than having a safe haven available on the Atlantic coast.

HMS Campbeltown wedged in the dock gates
HMS Campbeltown wedged in the dock gates

The raid put the dry dock out of commission until the end of the war – but success came at a cost. Of the 622 men of the Royal Navy and Commandos who took part in the raid, only 228 men returned to England.

Heroes as prisoners
Heroes as prisoners

One hundred and sixty-nine men were killed and another 215 became prisoners of war. The fallen British raiders were buried at the Escoublac-la-Baule cemetery, near St Nazaire, with military honors.

Commandos under prison escort
Commandos under prison escort

Five of the raiders escaped overland via Spain.

Eighty-nine awards and medals were bestowed for the raid, including five Victoria Crosses.

The organiser of this weekend’s event in Falmouth, Eric Dawkins, stated:  “The destruction of the dock meant those facilities were no longer able to be used. Falmouth played a major part.

“I’ve known these veterans [who took part], including those few who are still remaining, for 30-odd years and know their tales.”

 

Lord Lovat

Lord Lovat Memorial
Lord Lovat Memorial

This is the statue of Lord Lovat at Sword Beach, Normandy.

Lovat was seriously wounded at the Battle of Breville (see previous post) on June 12, 1944.

He recovered and has gone down in legend as leader of D-Day’s 1st Special Service Brigade.

 

A D-Day Veteran’s Return to Normandy

Bayeux War Cemetery
Bayeux War Cemetery

A year ago today I was fortunate to be in France with Ted Owens, a veteran of 41 Commando who landed on Sword Beach on D-Day.

Ted, aged 88 and from Pembroke Dock, Wales, returned to the spot at which he had been wounded during the landings.

Ted was badly injured on the beach within a few minutes of the landing and was sent back home. He returned to his unit in August and later fought in Belgium and the Netherlands.

On June 6, we headed to Bayeux War Cemetery. Ted was keen to find the grave of a fallen comrade from 41 Commando.

Ted Owens at Bayeux War Cemetery
Ted Owens at Bayeux War Cemetery

He found the grave of Marine Ernest Spence, from Royton, Lancashire, and laid a small wooden cross.

Ernest Spence, killed on D-Day.
Ernest Spence, killed on D-Day.

Ted’s trip was filmed for a television programme called ‘Welsh Heroes of World War 2: D-Day Commando’, which is available to watch online here.