Classic paperbacks#6: Luciano’s Luck

Luciano's Luck
             Luciano’s Luck

Read this one when it first came out in 1981. Classic Jack Higgins’ use of a half-truth from history to build a solid thriller.

The book is based on the US government’s use of a Mafia hood, Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, during WW2.

What Luciano did in real life is debated; Higgins turned it into a great book.

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.”


For St David’s Day: the Welsh National War Memorial

Welsh National War Memorial
Welsh National War Memorial

The sun shines on the Welsh National War Memorial in Cardiff.

It commemorates the servicemen who died during the First World War. A plaque to those who died during the Second World War was added in 1949.

The memorial takes the form of a circular colonnade surrounding a sunken court and was unveiled in June 1928 by the then Prince of Wales.

It features inscriptions in Welsh and in English, and was designed by Sir Ninian Comper, the Scottish architect who mostly worked on designs for churches.

At the centre of the court is a group of bronze sculptures by Alfred Bertram Pegram, arranged around a stone pylon.

Around the base stand three figures, a soldier, sailor and airman, holding wreaths aloft.


It is situated in Alexandra Gardens, Cathays Park, and is made from the same stone as the civic buildings which surround the gardens.

A hero of the Royal Charter

'A hero of the Royal Charter'
‘A hero of the Royal Charter’

This wonderful bronze statue honours a seaman of great courage who saved many lives during one of the major sea-faring tragedies of the Victorian age.

His name was Ġużeppi Ruggier but he was more often known as Joe Rodgers, and he sailed on a clipper called the Royal Charter.

The Royal Charter
The Royal Charter

On the night of the October 25/26 1859 the ship was on the last leg of a trip from Melbourne to Liverpool when it was caught in a terrible storm.

In winds in excess of 100 mph the Royal Charter was blown towards Anglesey’s rocky coast.


The ship sent out distress signals but the conditions were so atrocious that the Moelfre lifeboat could not be launched.

Ruggier volunteered to swim ashore with a rope.

'Joe Rodgers'
‘Joe Rodgers’

Amazingly, the Malta-born sailor reached the rocks to be hauled out of the sea by men from Moelfre.

His rope was used to rig a bosun’s chair and slowly the rescuers began to bring passengers and crew to safety.

They had saved thirty-nine people when the storm broke the ship apart. It is believed that more than four hundred perished.

The Royal Charter was carrying large quantities of gold bullion from the Australian gold rush and its loss became a huge news story at the time.

Ruggier was honoured by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (the RNLI). He went back to sailing and died in Liverpool in 1897, aged 68.

Bronze memorial
Bronze memorial

The bronze memorial was unveiled at Moelfre in 2009 on the 150th anniversary of the tragedy. It was created by Sam Holland.

The inscription on it reads, ‘Joe Rodgers, A hero of the Royal Charter.’

Underneath is a Maltese Cross.

Moelfre today
Moelfre today

When I visited Moelfre, the weather was very different. A great place; a coastline of beauty where nature can be most cruel.



In the Cause of Science (Captain Scott)

Amazing Scott illustration Feb 1913

This graphic cartoon image was published in British newspapers 102 years ago this week.

The news of the deaths of Captain Scott and his four companions had finally reached home.

They had been dead since the previous March.

Today, their bodies remain encased in ice, an estimated thirty miles from where they died. Their ice tomb is slowly moving away from the South Pole which had held their dream of glory.

June 1942 (2)

Pacific Paratrooper

VP-41 enroute to Kiska to support a fleet bombardment


The Japanese Second Mobile Force retired to cruise a support area about 400 miles south of Kiska.  On the second day of attack on Dutch Harbor, two occupation forces moved up to positions from which they could run their objectives.  The first was the Adak-Attu Occupation Force and the second, the Kiska Occupation Force.  As a result of the defeat at Midway [to be dealt with after this preliminary Alaska situation], the Adak occupation was canceled and the Adak-Attu Force was directed to only seize Attu, where a battalion of Army troops went ashore about 0300 hours, 7 June.  The Kiska Force landed a battalion from their Navy at Reynard Cove at 1500 hours, 6 June.


Due to the weather and the attention given to the attacks on Dutch Harbor, US air reconnaissance did not discover that the occupation of Kiska and Attu was taking place until 4 days…

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