Discussion in 'SOE & OSS' started by Danny Mustacchi, Feb 9, 2022.

  1. Does anyone know of independent forward fighting units associated with SOE?

    My Grandfather was interviewed at SOE (he obviously didn’t know that at the time and never used that name) in Baker Street, declined to be parachuted in Germany, and was sent to do commando training and then joined, what he called, a Tank Assault Regiment. This is what he wrote:

    “From the Aliens’ Pioneer Corps the major picked out three of us – myself and two brothers that I knew from Berlin…

    "A few days later we travelled up to London and went to a big red-brick building in Baker Street that had been the pre-war headquarters of British Rail. The person in overall charge was a Scottish man, Col. Buckmaster. Not long after I arrived I was shown into a large office and was introduced to a colonel and a major who had my army file in front of them…

    "But even if we can’t send you to Berlin, I don’t want to let you go, as you’re just the kind of man we’re looking for. I’m planning on sending you to join the 21st independent assault unit. Everyone in this group, about 3,000 men, will have been specially selected and trained…

    "I left Baker Street and was taken to an isolated place on the south coast where we were given further training on assault boat landings. We were shown the contours of the French coastline in detail and on a few occasions we actually landed there. One of the jobs we were being trained for was to be able to land secretly, capture German soldiers and bring them back to England for interrogation. However, in the future, our main task would be going into battle and helping other units who were in danger of losing ground or having to withdraw. It meant that we were always in the fiercest battles, in the worst conditions and taking part in the toughest fighting throughout the rest of the war…

    "There were about 20 of us on the course and part of our training was practical and included being taken out in an assault boat with all the equipment that was needed for our mission. We were shown how to jump quickly and safely from the craft as soon as the gate was lowered."

    My Grandfather served from 1/5/40 until 26/1/46.
    The only thing I can probably say for certain, is that his last unit according to his service record, was the 52nd Anti Tank Regiment.
    Thanks to anyone taking the time to read this.
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  2. Little Friend

    Little Friend Senior Member

    I took these in Baker Street, January 2019.
    .jpeg .jpeg 53f0f89088329a3027b41efd5c7566ad.jpeg 221f5612721a61e9b37eff16fcb87b51.jpeg
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 9, 2022
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  3. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

  4. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member


    SOE (Force 133) were operating in Greece until October 1944 when the Germans withdrew.

    Their mission was to give the local insurgents/militias the equipment and training to fight the Germans.

    They also destroyed key infrastructures, eg Bridges.

    They had artillery support from a detachment of the Raiding Support Regiment (RSR).

    Other detachments of SBS and LRDG were in Greece too at same time.

    A detachment of SBS were in Crete too.

    Hope this helps

    Last edited: Feb 9, 2022
    Danny Mustacchi likes this.
  5. Thanks very much, I shall have a look at this.
  6. Hi Gus,
    Thank you for taking the time.
    Greece and Crete were some of the few places my Grandfather didn't fight in. This is his route:
    After a period of cross-channel raids, he joined a convoy to North Africa and landed with operation TORCH in Casablanca, fighting in a tank unit from west to east. Then the invasion of Sicily, then the SALERNO landings (I believe a week after the initial landings), withdrawn for ANZIO; after, the breakout up to the liberation of Rome, where he collapsed and woke up in a hospital in Gaza. Sometime in the beginning of 1945 he (his unit?) joined the 52nd Anti Tank Regiment, where (sailing from Palestine) they landed in Toulouse, and straight up very fast north to take part in the invasion of Germany.
    Any ideas?
    gmyles likes this.
  7. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

    Have you obtained a copy of his army service records from U.K. MOD?

    There may be some “hidden” clues in that from which things can be confirmed and or inferred.

    Danny Mustacchi likes this.
  8. Hi Steve,
    I do have the service record from the MOD. Most of it seems to be "hidden". For example, at some point it says "Not to be transferred or crossposted within the Corps without W/O [I assume, War Office] authty". That is then crossed out but readable (it appears in two different places in the record). Then there is a redacted part which has something to do with a disciplinary action and being confined to barracks a few days -- I asked the MOD and they redacted it in 2019, when I requested the record). About four months later it says: "Restricted posting withdrawn..." I enclose some screen shots of these passages. There are other strange or anomalous parts, but since I'm a newbie in the Forum, I'm not sure what the protocol is.

    Not to be transferred or crossposted2.jpg Not to be transferred or crossposted.jpg

  9. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    Thanks for posting the extract from his papers.

    I stand to be corrected but I don’t think you can definitely infer a secret hidden meaning into the transfer restriction.

    From your earlier posting I presume your grandfather was not British born and may have been considered an “enemy alien”.

    I think it was the case that in the early years of the war restrictions were placed on the postings of such individuals but they were relaxed as the war progressed.

    Forum member Skip has some expertise in relation to “Special Forces” units so he may be able to assist further.

  10. Hi Steve,
    Yes, I'm also wary of secret meanings. I had at first thought that the redacted segment was something cloak and dagger, but holding the "original" photocopy of the service record I received from the MOD up to the light, I quite literally could read what was underneath, and it was nothing like that.
    You're quite right, my grandfather was a German born Jew, and as such an "Enemy Alien". I think that the 'not to be crossposted' could be innocuous, and that would probably be the case if it appeared in other 'Enemy Alien' records and/or other Pioneer Corps soldiers. The entries are dated 1942 and 1943, so I tend to think from my reading that by then the integration of 'Enemy Aliens' into combat units and Special Forces was in full swing. But, obviously, this is my Holy Grail, and I still don't know.
    Thank you so much for weighing in.
  11. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    Some German Jews did end up in sneaky-beaky units slitting throats, including No 62 Commando. One middle aged WW1 kuk veteran, a Czech German Jewish communist died with March Phillipps on Op Aquatint and is buried along side him in St Laufrent -Sur-Mer Churchyard.

    But it looks as if your grandfather fixed vehicles in the newly formed Royal Electircal and Mechanical Engineers. The extract you posted shows that he was transferred in Nov 1942 to the REME as a Craftsman (REME Private soldier). As many of the discussions on these forums point out vehicle servicability was key to winning campaigns.
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  12. Hi,
    First, again many thanks for earlier pointing in the direction of 62 Commando; I shall be looking at their files over the next few weeks. I know that in modern armies, a list of ‘raiders’ is compiled before the raid (for obvious reasons), and I wonder if such lists exist for the SSRF?

    I am sure that that my grandfather could fix vehicles, as he apprenticed as a motor mechanic from the age of 14, when he left school. More importantly, probably, he could drive anything.

    I’d like to return to my original query, if I may: after a period with a unit that carried out cross-channel raids, he was adamant that from the landings in North Africa onwards, he was a forward tank driver. He maintained that this was a special unit, and that he wasn’t alone (that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were many). It is well documented now that Jewish ‘Enemy Aliens’ were not permitted to fight as an organic unit and were ‘outsourced’, either individually or in small groups, to other forward units. However, I haven’t yet come across a similar route to a tank unit. In addition, this link to Special Unit and separation was maintained throughout the War – I, at least, haven’t come across this with regard to a tank unit, or an ‘Enemy Alien’ serving in a forward tank unit. This is the connection I am trying to flesh out.

    For example, when he was evacuated from Italy after the liberation of Rome, and hospitalized in the British hospital in Gaza in July 1944, he was separated from the other wounded. A Jewish doctor in the hospital recognized that my grandfather was also Jewish; this is what my grandfather described:

    “What are you doing serving in such a ‘mashiganah’ [Yiddish for ‘crazy’ – D.M.] regiment?” he [the doctor] asked. It was then that I saw we were in a separate ward to all the other soldiers and there was a notice on the door forbidding anyone, except the doctors and nurses, to enter our room.

    “You see they didn’t want anyone to have information about our unit. The British kept our presence in the army a secret and didn’t even publish our losses; in fact they used to say our regiment had no father or mother – we were just on our won. Everything about our regiment was different, including the relationship between the officers and the men, which was more equal. The hospital staff in Gaza knew that it was important that our unit be isolated from the other soldiers and patients so that no one could question us, and we couldn’t talk about our work.”
  13. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member

    Hello again

    My father was a Driver in the REME, having been transferred over from the RAOC on 1st October 1942.

    The lowest ranks in REME were either Craftsman or Driver.

    Generally speaking, Craftsmen were tradesmen who recovered repaired and maintained everything with wheels or tracks and even watches. Drivers were non-tradesmen who drove all the craftsmen to where they needed to be could do their stuff.

    My father was a Driver originally and was given Craftsman rank in 1944 on completion of a Driver/Radio Operators course.

    It was deemed that by having passed this course he was no long a non-tradesman, but a tradesman.

    Hope this helps

  14. Blutto

    Blutto Banned

    Might I suggest that Danny posts the records he has in full (bar anything personally sensitive of course). Seeing things in its entirety may help to put it all in context.
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  15. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    The REME did have special units operating in the front line. These were the recovery teams who recovered damaged tanks from the battlefield - including those in no mans land. This was hazardous work and involved small groups of mechanics operation independently.
    A few months after the formation of REME Army Training memoranda in early 1943 included articles about the heroics performed by recy mechs recovering tanks in the middle of battle from minefields. I interviewed a REME NCO who was awarded a Military Medal for shooting upm Germans who threatened the artillery battery he was supporting. He had mounted a .30 calibre machine gun on his jeep after prior experience in Sicily of swanning about trying to find broken down vehicles in close proximity to the enemy with a fluid front line.

    Within the British Army the REME are regarded support rather than fighting troops. In unkind terms a bunch of REMFs. This is an image sometimes cultivated by REMEs themselves, with a tendency of live a comfortable life enhanced by their mechanical and electrical skills and for charging a crate of beer for recovering people booged down through their own stupidity/.
    Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers - ARRSEpedia#
    Recovery Mechanic - ARRSEpedia

    One possibility is that your grandfather elaborated his war experiences a little. If so he would not have been the first or last. Memory is far from certain and it is not unusual to become convinced that a false memory is fact. I met a decorated veteran , capgtured at Anzio in Feb/March 1944 who was convinced he had witnessed the raising of the Polish flag over the abbey at Monte Cassino - two months later and 100km away. Maybe your grandfather found it necessary to spice up his story.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2022
  16. I understand the skepticism. My grandfather wasn't a spicer-upper. I am sure that he might have got the sequence of some events wrong, perhaps a slip of months and maybe even 100 Km here or there. The alternative would be that he was delusional for all of the 50 years I had the good fortune to have him by my side. He really wasn't. So I will accept that he had the big events right, which means that most of the service record I received from the MOD is fake -- purposely for 'enemy aliens'.
    According to the service record, my grandfather landed in North Africa in November 1943. My grandfather, on the other hand, gives a detailed account of the landing in Casablanca, fighting through the Atlas Mountains from West to East; in July 1943 he says he took part in the invasion of Sicily and then in September of that year, Salerno, Italy. According to the MOD, he lands in North Africa in November 1943, then a gap, and leaves Italy in July 1944, never actually arriving in Italy, again, according to the MOD record.
    So, I would be happy to share some of the service record documents if anyone might have experience recognizing tell-tale signs of false documentation. For example, SOE recruits to commando units often took on new names and were given new army numbers, while their original records were continually updated -- in parallel -- in order to maintain the façade. It would help to be able to compare some similar records. Excuse me for being very focused, but after a few years of this, I know where the red-herrings are.
    Thanks for all the help.
  17. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    I’m sure you appreciate the difficulties in reconciling an oral history with a service record 80 years after the events in question.

    In light of your most recent post could I ask if his service papers are endorsed with his medal entitlement?

    Alternatively have you any post war pre demob photos of him in uniform with medal ribbons?

    If his record shows him as being entitled to an Africa Star that will support the assertion that he landed in November 1942. The lack of an Africa Star entitlement will support the November 1943 arrival date as the cut off date for Africa Star entitlement is May 1943.

  18. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    I do find this passage in Post 16 odd:
    The Operation Torch landings at Casablanca were on 8/11/1942, the landing was 100% American (the British landed in eastern Algeria, at Algiers alongside the USA) and resistance ended on 10/11/1942 (Wiki refers to ending 16/11/1943). There was no fighting in the Atlas Mountains. There was fighting, bitter at times, along the border with Tunisia, in the mountains - though it was several weeks before large formations were able to get there.

    Then you have:
    That invasion took place on 9/7/1943 and lasted till 17/8/1943.

    Finally you have:
    The Salerno landing were on 3/9/1943.

    Even allowing for an error over the year date of the Casablanca landing, the absence of any fighting in the Atlas Mountains is difficult to reconcile with your grandfather's account. In my reading of Operation Torch the Vichy French forces were mainly deployed along the coast, the exception being the Foreign Legion base which a long way from the Algerian coastline.
  19. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member


    As you have probably noticed in his service records that entries do not always run sequentially.

    You may have to look at multiple pages to work just one thing out.

    So I would suggest you post his record in full along with what you are struggling to work out and a I am pretty sure one eagle eyed member will be able to help.

    If all you know for sure is the name of the last unit that needs to be addressed first. The units name helps identify where it fits in within the order of battle. It also helps you identify which war diaries you need to get your hands on.

    Hope this helps

    Last edited: Feb 11, 2022
  20. Thank you all for your insights. I have a lot to reply to and shall get on to it over the weekend.
    Again, many, many thanks

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