Brigadier Maurice Sutcliffe OBE, 1922-2019

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by bexley84, Apr 14, 2019.

  1. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    We've just been notified of the death last week of Maurice Sutcliffe, who served with the Faughs in Tunisia and later again with SoE in Italy/Yugoslavia.

    While with 1 RIrF, Lt Sutcliffe was wounded on 18th Feb '43 near Bou Arada - his brother, Charles, had been killed the previous month.

    I'm currently re-listening to Maurice's very evocative oral testimony for IWM here:

    Sutcliffe, Maurice William (Oral history)

    Faugh a Ballagh !

    REEL 1 Background in Birmingham, GB, 1922-1939: family; education; reaction to declaration of Second World War, 3/9/1939. Period with East Surrey Regt in GB, 1940-1942: memories of German Air Force bombing in Gravesend, 1940; public morale; attitude towards German aircrew; story of failure to join Fleet Air Arm; period with OCTU at Dunbar, 1941-1942; memories of 'Murder' Murdoch; social background of OCTU cadets. Recollections of operations as officer with 1st Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers in North Africa, 11/1942-2/1943: background to joining unit, 4/1942; role during Operation Torch landings in Algiers; move to front-line at Medjis el Bab; conditions at Medjis el Bab; reconnaissance patrols on Goubillet Plain; patrol in which he was wounded, 18/2/1943.

    REEL 2 Continues: opinion of German troops; contact with US troops in Tunisia; origins of unit personnel and their southern Irishmen's motivation for fighting for British Army. Hospitalisation in North Africa and GB, 1943-1944: question of pain of wounding. Recollections of operations with air liaison officer with 98 Sqdn, 2nd Group, RAF, spring 1944: basing at RAF Dunsfold; operations with North American Mitchells over V weapon sites over Pas de Calais; Dutch squadron's raid on U- boat pens in Netherlands. Recollections of operations with Force 266, Special Operations Executive in Yugoslavia, 1944-1945: background to joining Special Operations Executive.

    REEL 3 Continues: training in Bari, Italy spring 1944; work with Partisans at Slavonski Brod in northern Croatia, 1944-1945; Cossack presence in his area; disruption to communications; members of his team; arranging escape of Allied POWs; attitude of Partisans towards British/US team; dependence of Partisans on SOE; problems of evacuation of Partisan wounded.

    REEL 4 Continues: retrieving shot down Allied aircrews; occasion when he was nearly captured at Verafititsa, 2/1945; no prisoner policy employed by both Partisans and Axis; personal living conditions; question of national tensions in Partisan movement; Partisan discipline especially sexual relations; leaving Yugoslavia, 1945; contact with Russian Army at Novi Sad; attitude of Croats to Russian Army; behaviour of Russian Army.
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019
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  2. Nick Sutcliffe

    Nick Sutcliffe New Member

    I’m glad to know these recordings are in circulation. Maurice was my father and I learned more about his life during WW2 from these recordings than I did from conversation with him. I’m so grateful to the IWM for interviewing him at such length.
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  3. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    Thank you.

    Your father led a most remarkable life indeed...I would like to send my best wishes to you and your family.

    There are a number of audio recordings on the IWM site of men who served with the Irish Brigade in Tunisia/Italy. The details included within these first hand accounts are extremely informative...

    The summary of the events on the night of 18th/19th February '43 are noted in the war diaries:

    18th February – GRANDSTAND HILL.

    As a result of the non achievement of their object by the patrols of the preceding three nights, it was decided to select 10-15 of the best night patrollers of each rifle Coy and from them into a specialised body trained and used exclusively for night patrolling. The “force” to be under command of Capt PR Black, with as 2.i.c. Lieut MW Sutcliffe, the force to be named the ‘Nighthawks’ and the first enterprise of the force, a recce for a battle the following night, to be carried out that night by the commander and 2.i.c. All plans were settled and the force was to be officially formed on 19 February. Capt WJ Saul, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles posted to A Coy as 2.i.c

    18th /19th February – GRANDSTAND HILL

    The events and activities of the night are recorded in detail in the Appendix.

    Capt PG Black reported as killed by only un-hit member of his patrol. Lieut MW Sutcliffe wounded.

    19th February – GRANDSTAND HILL.

    It was decided that owing to the loss on the same night of the two leaders selected for the ‘Nighthawks’, that the moonlight made patrolling inappropriate, and that as long at any rate that the moon continued in its current phase, patrolling should be confined to deep ‘Standing’ patrols; a moving patrol in the open stood little chance against enemy in dug in positions with heavy automatics on fixed lines, so that the best chance of success was to lie up and catch some of them moving and unprotected.

    Service Number 162687

    Died 18/02/1943

    Royal Ulster Rifles
    seconded to 1st Bn.

    Royal Irish Fusiliers

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  4. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    An obituary of Maurice Sutcliffe in the Times today:

    Brigadier Maurice Sutcliffe obituary

    When Maurice Sutcliffe found a passion for flying after being wounded while serving as an infantryman in 1943, the discovery had a profound impact on his own career and on the British Army. He thereafter became a relentless advocate for the development of army aviation and later for the aggressive use of helicopters.

    Severely wounded in the legs while on patrol with the Royal Irish Fusiliers in north Africa, Sutcliffe was evacuated to Britain to receive treatment. Within six months he had recovered sufficiently to start serving as a liaison officer with RAF Bomber Command, but took his “duties” with 98 Squadron, which was flying B-25 Mitchell bombers, a step farther than might have been expected. He flew as an extra crewman on 12 daylight raids over Nazi-occupied France and Holland.

    In an interview recorded for the Imperial War Museum in 1994, Sutcliffe recalled: “I managed to get on a number of trips with them, mostly over the Pas-de-Calais, where there were flying bombs being erected and we were bombing the launch sites. I was accepted by the crews and they were happy to take me along. This was fascinating. It was my first insight into aviation.”

    He was then posted to another RAF liaison assignment in Italy, which led to a chance meeting with Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean, who recruited him for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) mission to Marshal Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia.

    After a parachute course in Italy, he was dropped into central Croatia to join a resistance group in urgent need of arms and supplies. His primary task was the selection of suitable drop zones, to inform the RAF of their location by radio and to guide the aircraft making the drops. He was also involved in the repatriation of some 200 Allied airmen who had been shot down in the region.

    Sutcliffe’s partisan group was forced to move camps repeatedly in the face of attacks by the Luftwaffe and he narrowly escaped a murder attempt when a German intelligence unit, probably aided by a Croat collaborator, sent him a parcel bomb. It was opened by an inquisitive partisan suspicious of the British mission’s motives. Sutcliffe survived, however, and flying continued to preoccupy him.

    After a brief period as adjutant of his regiment after the war, he seized an opportunity to volunteer as a liaison officer with the Royal Naval helicopter squadron in support of ground operations against communist terrorists in Malaya. On being met by a young infantry officer at an operational airstrip throbbing with naval helicopters about to lift soldiers into the Malayan jungle, he roared: “Look at that lot — naval aircraft. It is high time we got some of our own.” He was later mentioned in dispatches.


    Based in Kuala Lumpur, he used his free time to qualify for his private pilot’s licence at the local flying club. As a consequence he had a significant number of private flying hours in his logbook when he reported to Middle Wallop in Hampshire for military pilot training in 1954.

    He qualified on fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, and was appointed to command No 6 Flight of the recently formed Army Air Corps in 1957, which was then the army’s only helicopter flight. After a course at the RAF Staff College at Bracknell, Berkshire, in 1959, he was selected for an exchange post on the staff of the United States Army Aviation Centre at Fort Rucker, Alabama, where the Americans were rapidly expanding their helicopter capabilities.

    By now Sutcliffe was taking every opportunity to persuade visiting senior British army officers of the advantages of helicopter-borne firepower in support of ground operations. One group were surprised to find themselves being flown by the British liaison officer to see a demonstration of American missile-firing helicopters after being briefed by him en route.

    When he returned to Britain in 1963, Sutcliffe’s name had become synonymous with arguments for an expansion of the army’s helicopter force. He was later promoted to lieutenant-colonel to command the Army Air Corps’ No 1 Wing in Germany and, with it, frequent opportunities to further his cause. Even though he was then in control of the service’s largest single fleet of small aircraft, he ran into strong resistance from officers who were concerned that a large, expensive helicopter force might draw men and funding away from established arms, and perhaps even replace some of their existing capabilities. While such attitudes may appear parochial, even Luddite, today, they were strong enough to impose a serious delay in the development of attack helicopters.

    Although Sutcliffe was proud to command the flypast for the visit of the Queen to the Army of the Rhine in 1964, he was “embarrassed” to lead a motley assortment of flying machines rather than an array of modern, combat-orientated helicopters. He was appointed OBE in 1966.


    On taking over the small Army Air Corps branch of the defence ministry in 1967, he championed the development of the Anglo-French Lynx and Gazelle, and early trials of armed helicopters. Even so, he still faced opposition from the sceptics who could not visualise these aircraft successfully attacking tanks with guided missiles, and traditionalists who feared that Royal Armoured Corps reconnaissance regiments might be transformed into “air cavalry” on the American model.

    Before leaving London in 1970 to become commander of aviation at Army Strategic Command, with responsibility for flying at home and overseas (other than Germany), he managed to retrieve army helicopters from under the command of armoured, artillery and infantry units and, in the teeth of regimental commanders who enjoyed having their own little private air forces, concentrate them under his control. The battle had been hard won.

    It is probable that Sutcliffe’s forthright and uncompromising manner stood in the way of his appointment as director of army aviation when the post was established in 1974. Instead, an armoured corps officer with no flying experience and a more emollient personality was chosen. If Sutcliffe felt any resentment, he never spoke of it.

    Maurice William Sutcliffe was born in Warwickshire in 1922, the second son of William Sutcliffe, a doctor from Dublin, and his wife, Charlotte, who had moved to England before the establishment of the Irish Free State.

    He left St Paul’s School in London in 1940 and attempted to join the Fleet Air Arm, but was turned away for being too young. Joining the army instead, he was commissioned into the Irish Fusiliers in 1942 to serve in Operation Torch, the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa. His elder brother, Chug, serving with the same battalion, was killed days before his own arrival in north Africa.

    He had married Susan Leonard in 1952, and the couple had four sons and a daughter: Michael, who is now a retired banker; David, who died aged 27 from a brain tumour; Sean, who founded and runs the furniture company Benchmark; Vanessa, a registered nurse; and Nicholas, who is communications director for the Atlas Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder. The marriage was dissolved in 1977 and in 1997 he married Pamela Smith (née Threlfall), who survives him, along with his three sons and daughter from his first marriage, and a stepson, James Smith.

    He retired from the army in 1977 when he was quickly snapped up by British Aerospace as its representative at the King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He spent ten years in Saudi Arabia, where he was popular with the local and expatriate communities. On leaving the country, a Bedouin family gave him a camel, which was a sign of admiration and friendship.

    A lifelong sailing enthusiast, he cruised extensively in the Mediterranean, off the Brittany coast and in home waters, often living for months with Pamela on his Nicholson 35, accompanied by a steady rotation of family and friends. He also crewed in a boat for the disabled whenever the opportunity arose.

    In later life his own disabilities, caused by the wounds he had suffered in north Africa, forced him to abandon the sea, and he and his wife eventually moved from their home in Southampton to east Devon.

    He was president of the Glider Pilot Regiment Society for many years and vice-president of the British-Yugoslav Society. When the Yugoslav crisis had arisen in 1992 with the Serbian onslaught against the Croats, he drove a truckload of medical supplies to the area of Papuk, a mountain in eastern Croatia, where he had spent the last year of the war with Tito’s partisans and nurtured his passion for flying.

    Brigadier Maurice Sutcliffe, OBE, soldier and army aviation pioneer, was born on October 10, 1922. He died on April 8, 2019, aged 96
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  5. Nick Sutcliffe

    Nick Sutcliffe New Member

    Maurice Sutcliffe.png
    This image accompanied Maurice's obituary in The Times today. Thanks for posting, Bexley84.
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  6. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    A very nice photo of your father.

    These are a couple of views from Grandstand Hill, west towards Djebel Rihane and eastwards towards Two Tree Hill and the salt flats from which the wild geese would fly, views similar to ones that your father and his mates/comrades would have had during January/February 1943.. my own father, Edmund, was close nearby Grandstand with 2 LIR in January '43 but across the Goubellat to Bou Arada road on Stuka Ridge during February '43..
    these photos were taken last year on the 75th anniversary of the events in question...sans the heavy rain/cloying mud and low flying Stukas.

    QS FAB.

    best wishes

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    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019
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  7. Nick Sutcliffe

    Nick Sutcliffe New Member

    Fascinating. Thank you!

    Question: “The events and activities of the night are recorded in detail in the Appendix.” I’d love to read this account. How can I access it?
    bexley84 likes this.
  8. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    At TNA Kew.. I should have photographed it when I did my mass copying but didn't.. overdue a visit.. but maybe not for a while still.

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