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~ ASPIRANT US RANGER TO BRITISH COMMANDO! ~

How ones man's war was changed by a late night in a Belfast city pub! The personal reminiscences of an aspirant US Ranger who became a British Commando.

Background

The US Rangers

The Commandos

North Africa

Back to the USA

2nd Tour of Duty

Post War

Further Reading

Acknowledgments

 

 

Background

I was 20 years old when I sailed from New York to Belfast, Northern Ireland on HMS Duchess of Athol in Feb '42. Our base with L Company, 133rd Battalion, 34th Division lay between Belfast and Londonderry. The daily  routine soon had me looking for more adventure and I volunteered for Darby's 1st Rangers who were based near Carrickfergus.

The US Rangers

Two weeks into our training my buddy and I were delighted to receive passes to Belfast and we were determined to make the most of them! Looking back it's clear that our enthusiasm for sampling the local brew in as many pubs as possible caused us to miss the last train out of Belfast...  but in mitigation we did catch the first one out in the morning! We arrived back at base out of breath but unfortunately in the middle of morning roll call. An unsympathetic 1st Sgt. told us in no uncertain terms "you're too late, go pack your bags boys, you are gone." We had to return to our unit and face the taunts from some of the guys we left behind - "ha, too tough for you guys huh?" "couldn't take it huh?" When we were later offered the chance to volunteer for the British Commandos we resolved not to mess up a second time! 

The Commandos

So it was that we found ourselves attached to the British No 6 Commando. We moved from Northern Ireland to the River Clyde area in Scotland. We wore British uniforms but had a US flag patch on one shoulder and a Combined Operations patch on the other. I suppose there were 50 to 100 of us who were accepted to go in with the Commandos, all of us under British officers who were super people.

The picture opposite was taken at 90, West Princess St in Helensburgh, Scotland where we were "billeted" while training with No 6 commando. I'm the guy in the middle. Us yanks made extra money for our service and we found board and room in private homes from June through August '42 at least. Three of us stayed with Mrs Donaghy who treated us like her own sons. There was a lovely young daughter named Peggy with whom we were forbidden to "fraternize" on pain of being sent back to our outfits. I often wondered about her life. We had many an enjoyable night in the Red Lion pub in Glasgow.

We did our training around Helensburgh on the Clyde and Inveraray on Loch Fyne. In the early stages there was a physical fitness test in the form of a 5 mile trek which I completed in 37 minutes. The incentive to succeed was great since stragglers suffered the ignominy of being returned to their units, or RTU'd as it was known. I was 7th and made it. Over the succeeding months we were trained in hand to hand combat, night manoeuvres using compass bearings, Thompson machine gun practice, use of plastic explosives, amphibious landings and so on.

North Africa

Before we sailed for our first tour of duty in late October 1942 on HMS Awatea, Isenhower and Mountbatten came aboard and Ike said "I can't tell you men where you're going nor what you're about to do, but the world will hear and read about you and you can be proud."  Wow! I think I grew an inch taller! The voyage itself took 28 days because we joined a convoy out of Newfoundland. There was safety in numbers since U-boats were active in the north Atlantic and the Mediterranean at the time. On the evening of Nov 6th I was on guard duty on the officers' deck when Col McAlpine, in his kilt, approached. After a salute he asked me how I was and "is your heart up to it son?" I replied emphatically "YES SIR, thank you". Many years later I read a story in Readers Digest about him and wish I'd saved it. We must have been at sea about two weeks before we were told that we were part of the invasion force of North Africa which we now know started on  Nov 8, 1942. 

We disembarked into LCAs (landing craft assault) in the dark and set down on a beach outside Algiers. We were the first to arrive on our beach and after overcoming minor resistance we took Fort Du Pere (?). Us Yanks were left behind as the British Commandos marched away playing their bagpipes. It was a highly emotional occasion and most of us were very young. Many of us wept tears. The next day we went down to the docks and boarded two British destroyers and we were soon reunited with our respected Commando colleagues. We sailed to Bone where we secured an airfield for the use of Spitfires operating in the area. We were strafed almost every day by either Necci 202s (?) and/or ME 109s. They didn't have it all their own way, however, since one was shot down with a 40 mm Bofors gun. It was hit as it strafed our positions, looped and then came straight down to earth. The pilot ejected way too late and his parachute failed to open. [Photo courtesy of 'Mac' McCurdy shows a group of Americans attached to No 6 Commando. It was taken in North Africa probably in November or December of ’42.  Four of them were volunteers from L Co of the 133rd regiment of the 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division. Additional information below the photo provided by David Kohnen. Click photo to enlarge].

Back to the USA

On Nov 22 we boarded some flatcars of a train. Somewhere along the line we were strafed by an ME109 and I was wounded by 20 mm shrapnel. That was the end of my service with the Commandos as I wound up in a British manned hospital overlooking Algiers. I was then, and still am, very proud to have been associated with such an elite, respected group of men. 

I spent about six weeks in hospital and in March 1943 returned to the USA on the US Ship Grothaus with a load of German prisoners. My guard post was to the rear of the officer's mess, in the gangway on the deck just above the prisoners. On one occasion they watched, in some envy I have to say, as I finished off a turkey carcass and tucked in to some fresh ice-cream! What a treat!

I became an instructor but found it boring so once more I volunteered for active service. After several months my request seemed to have disappeared into the military bureaucracy so I planned a different future. I cancelled my request and married my high school sweetheart. About a month later I received orders to ship out and in September 1944 reported to Fort Meade, Maryland my port of embarkation.

2nd Tour of Duty

With my second tour of duty I sailed to England on the Mauritania and later to France on HMS Cutlass. I suffered a lot from seasickness and being an enlisted infantryman was always in the lower decks. The steam from boiled potatoes made the smell of mutton linger and it was too much to handle and I would lose it pretty quick! We kept ourselves amused as best we could and one yarn concerned the naming of ships in the various navies - in Britain Royal Navy ships are called 'His Majesty's Ship,' in our navy they are 'US Ship' and in the Italian Navy they are 'Thatsa My Boat!'

This time I was sent as a replacement to an Infantry Company of the 104th Timberwolfe Division in Germany. We passed through many towns including Duren and the bombed out streets of Cologne. We crossed the Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine at Remagen in Mar 1945 and dug in on a high ridge overlooking the river. After a few days avoiding German artillery shells we climbed aboard tanks for the final push into the German heartland. A major event was meeting up with the Russians. I was wounded again on April 1 this time by shrapnel from a Panzerfaust (a hand held anti-tank weapon) fired by an SS trooper. The tank about 15 meters behind me was hit killing my sergeant. I spent a month in hospital and returned to the USA in September 1945 and the end of my military service.

There was no way of knowing in advance how my war would turn out but in many cases survival was a matter of luck, good fortune or the passage of a split second. In hindsight being kicked out of the Rangers probably saved my life because they later suffered casualties at Dieppe, Tunisia and particularly Anzio, in Italy, where virtually all of the 660 men were captured, killed or injured.

Post War

After the war I had a varied career including: 3 years electronic engineering in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during which time we also raised chinchillas; photographer; pool hall and tavern owner in Iowa; fishing resort owner in northern Minnesota; electronic technician in an iron ore plant; instrumentation job at a ramjet missile testing facility in Utah; followed by a similar job at the Titan missile site at Moses Lake Washington; then to Toronto, Canada as a instrumentation design engineer (mining equipment) and finally, for 18 years, until my retirement in 1985, an instrumentation and controls design supervisor in Golden, Colorado.

In between times my wife and I raised two daughters and enjoyed a good outdoor life. I continue a lifetime's devotion to a little Scotch Whisky but these days its for medicinal purposes only!!

Further Reading

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.

Operation Torch

Acknowledgments

Written by G W McCurdy, Golden, Colorado, USA.

 

News & Information

 

Memorial Maintenance

We have a small band of volunteers who take turns to visit the memorial each month, particularly during the growing season, to undertake routine maintenance such as weeding keeping the stones and slabs clear of bird dropping, lichen etc. and reporting on any issues. If you live near the National Memorial Arboretum and would like to find out more, please contact us.

Remember a Veteran

You can pay a personal tribute to veterans who served in, or alongside, the Combined Operations Command in WW2 by adding their details and optional photo to our Roll of Honour and They Also Served pages on this website.

Read the Combined Operations prayer.

Forthcoming Events

To organisers: Reach the people who will be interested to know about your Combined Operations or war related event by adding it to our forthcoming events page free of charge.

To everyone else; Visit our forthcoming events page for things to see and places to visit. If you know of an event of possible interest, that is not listed, please let us know.

To notify an event click here.

To visit the webpage click here.

Facebook

Why not join the thousands who visit our Facebook page about the Combined Operations Command in appreciation of our WW2 veterans.

See the 'slide shows' of the dedication ceremony and the construction of the memorial plus the 'On this day in 194?' feature where major Combined Ops events are highlighted on their anniversary dates with links to additional information.

You are welcome to add information, photos and comment or reply to messages posted by others.

Find Books of Interest 

Search for Books direct from our Books page. Don't have the name of a book in mind? Just type in a keyword to get a list of possibilities... and if you want to purchase you can do so on line through the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). 5% commission goes into the memorial fund.

WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

This handbook was prepared for Combined Operations in the Far East. It illustrates the depth and complexity of the planning process necessary to ensure that the 3 services worked together as a unified force.

Restoration of Geoffrey Appleyard's  Memorial 

Click on the image if you'd like to contribute to the improvement of the memorial to Geoffrey Appleyard, DSO, MC and Bar, through the purchase of a limited edition print of a book about him. Geoffrey achieved so much in service with No 7 Commando, No 62 Commando, the Small Scale Raiding Force and the Second SAS Regiment. He was posted Missing in Action in July 1943, aged 26.

www.bramleywarmemorial.com/major-geoffrey-appleyard-book-now-available-for-purchase/

The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team

The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.

Legasee Film Archive

As part of an exciting social history project, the film company Legasee is looking for veterans from any conflict who would like to have their stories filmed for posterity. Films are now available on line. www.legasee.org.uk

New to Combined Ops?

Visit Combined Operations Explained for an easy introduction to the subject.

About Us?

Background to the website and memorial project, and a look to the future; plus other small print stuff and website accounts etc. Click here for information.

 

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