Battle plans for Staffords glider troops in Operation Ladbroke in Sicily

The 2nd battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment was chosen as the leading glider assault troops for Operation Ladbroke, the opening move of Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. These are the orders they were given just days before the battle.

Operation Ladbroke - 2 South Staffords Waco glider 29 in Sicily in tomato field

Waco glider 29 made a decent enough landing in a field full of tomato canes, after descending through power cables, losing its wheels and breaking its wing. Its position was exactly between LZs 1 and 2, one of the few almost accurate landings. It carried half of 6 Platoon of B Company of the 2 South Staffords in Operation Ladbroke. B Company’s task was to take the strongpoint codenamed Bilston.

Operation Order No. 1 for the 2 South Staffords was signed off on the afternoon of 4 July 1943, only five days before the Allied air armada took off for Sicily. It was at about this time that the airborne troops waiting in camps in Tunisia began to be briefed on their mission. The inside walls of tents were lined with giant blow-ups of aerial photographs, while tables were strewn with maps. Although the hammering heat of the North African sun outside was oppressive, it was preferable to those stifling briefing sessions, which had to be held inside for reasons of secrecy, as the camps were not behind the tall walls of a regular barracks, but in open olive groves.

The men of the Staffords learned that they were to be part of Operation Ladbroke. It was their job was to act as the proverbial tip of the spear for the entire invasion of Sicily, landing before any other forces on the night before D Day (10 July 1943). ‘C’ Company was to land by glider and seize the Ponte Grande bridge (codename Waterloo) in a coup-de-main attack that would prevent the bridge from being destroyed.  ‘A’ Company was also to land by glider in another coup-de-main attack, to seize the nearby railway bridges (codename Putney). Other Staffords companies were to seize strongpoints on the roads leading to the bridges, or neutralise gun batteries.

All of this was designed to facilitate the capture of Syracuse (codename Ladbroke, hence Operation Ladbroke). Syracuse was Eighth Army’s primary objective for D Day. The rapid capture of the port was considered vital to the success of the invasion, as its harbour was needed for unloading supplies and reinforcements. But the main seaborne forces of the Eighth Army were not due to land until nearly dawn, and their closest landing beach was many miles south of Syracuse. So 1 Border Regiment, the Staffords’ sister battalion in the gliderborne 1 Air Landing Brigade, was to land at the same time as the Staffords, and then pass through their positions and seize the outskirts of Syracuse.

As described elsewhere here, the plans went wildly awry. None of the identified strongpoints were captured by the glider troops. Nor were the gun batteries. Nor were the railway bridges. No airborne troops attacked Syracuse that night. Nearly half the gliders landed in the sea, and many others either never reached Sicily or landed too far away. The one bright spot, and it was a bright spot, was the initiative of Lt Lennard Withers, in command of a single platoon of ‘C’ Company, whose Horsa glider was the only one of the four destined for the Ponte Grande that actually made it. Withers’ platoon took the bridge alone and, with some reinforcement during the night, held it long enough for it to be saved from demolition.

The transcription of Operation Order No. 1 that follows is only a selection of sections from a much longer document that came complete with appendixes and diagrams that are also not reproduced here. The formatting has been kept as it was in the original, as have spelling and other mistakes, to give the full flavour of the original. Text in italics between square brackets is editorial.

2 South Staffords Operation Order No. 1

Partially transcribed.



Original copies of this document can be seen in the archives of the Staffordshire Regiment  at Whittington Barracks, and in the National Archives at Kew.

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21 Responses to Battle plans for Staffords glider troops in Operation Ladbroke in Sicily

  1. S Bluff says:

    my father Frank Bluff landed in Waco Glider 29 B Coy S Stafford’s

    • Ian Murray says:

      Thanks very much for leaving a reply. Your father was in fact in Waco glider Z, which also carried Lt Col Walch, a senior airborne staff officer, as an observer. As the most senior officer present on the Ponte Grande, Walch accidentally ended up in charge of the troops defending the bridge. The confusion over glider numbers arises because glider Z was 29th in the take-off sequence.

  2. Robert Monk says:

    My Uncle, (whom I’m named after) WO II Robert Woollhouse (glider pilot) was killed in this operation. He is buried in Cassino.

    • Ian Murray says:

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Robert. Your uncle was not in fact a glider pilot, but Company Sergeant Major of ‘A’ Company of the 2 South Staffords. He was in Horsa glider 128, which went down into the sea off the invasion beaches, apparently because of a cable break.

  3. Karen Dwyer (formerly Woollhouse) says:

    Robert Woollhouse was my grand father,my brother and I have been trying to find more information about him, we know when and where he died but have been trying to find photo.

    • Ian Murray says:

      Thanks for getting in touch, Karen. He appears in a unit photo on page 24 of the book “By Land, Sea and Air”. In exchange for a donation, the research team at the Staffordshire Regiment Museum may be able to get you a copy or a blow-up. Or you could try an appeal on Facebook for other pictures – search for “Staffordshire Regiment” to find a suitable group. Somebody may have a group photo in an old album. You never know.

  4. Carly Withers says:

    My husband’s grandfather was Lennard Withers. You will know that he survived this operation and received the M.C. for his efforts.

    • Ian Murray says:

      Good to hear from you, Carly. Yes, Lt Withers was one of the key figures of the operation. The colour banner image at the top of this page shows his glider, Horsa 133, coming in to land (see here for the image in full). Have you seen the detailed story of Horsa 133 here?

  5. Hannah says:

    Does anybody know anything about Robert Williams. I believe he died during this mission and that his body was never found. His name is on panel 8 of the Cassino war memorial. Any more info would be greatly appreciated.

    • Ian Murray says:

      Thanks for asking, Hannah. According to the Cassino Memorial, Private Robert Williams 68594 from West Bromwich was 22 when he died on 9 July 1943. From records in the National Archives we know that he was in 9 Platoon of A Company of the 2 South Staffords, under Lt R G Williams (presumably no relation). The platoon’s target was the Putney railway bridge, and it was carried in Horsa 130 headed towards LZ 3 N [info]. The Horsa never reached the LZ, as it landed in Syracuse harbour, possibly shot down by the surrounding AA batteries (for an artist’s impression of the scene, see the background of this illustration). Some men swam for shore, others were picked up by an Italian launch, and the rest apparently drowned. About 15 men, including Robert Williams, were not seen to escape from the glider. See page 40 of “By Land, Sea and Air” for a few more details.

  6. Ian Davis says:

    Can you perhaps find out any information about Sidney Arthur Craig (army number 4928295). He was my grandmother’s brother. He died on the 9th July and was part of the glider landings. He has no grave. I’m interested to know which glider he was in, how he may have died and whether there are any pictures of him.
    Many thanks

    • Ian Murray says:

      Thanks for asking, Ian. I’m afraid I can find no mention of Private Craig in Operation Ladbroke, beyond the listing for the Cassino Memorial. The records are patchy. One source will have a lot of detail about some gliders, and nothing about others. Meanwhile another source will have a lot of detail about other gliders, but not all gliders. Sometimes the sources overlap. Sadly, there are some gliders we have no names for. Craig’s name should have turned up in the very comprehensive investigations carried out in 1943 and 1944 in the attempt to find what happened to missing men, but even these are not 100%. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. If you find out anything, do please let me know.

  7. Derek kenward says:

    Basil Cornell took a bullet in the sea, my father Robert Kenward private 7369120 RAMC swam to him and helped get him to the beach, they were captured for awhile, does anyone know what glider they were in? Or this story.

    • Ian Murray says:

      Thanks Derek. Your father was in Waco glider 62, which was carrying men of 181 Field Ambulance and a stretcher trailer for use with a jeep. It was one of 3 medical gliders attached to 1 Border Regt (more info about these here). Waco 62 landed in the sea 200 – 400 yards off Capo Ognina. They came under fire from the Italian positions on the shore, possibly here. Cornell was shot in the back. One of the men, presumably a non-swimmer, panicked and drowned, despite the attempts of the 1st Glider Pilot, Sgt Lee, to save him. He and his copilot, US GP F/O Johnson, managed to get ashore and avoid capture. The rest of the men also swam for land, helping Cornell. They were presumably watched all the way, and were captured once ashore.

  8. Vincent Grice says:

    My father Sidney Grice served in the 2nd Battalion South Staffs ( Army no. 4918655).
    His glider landed successfully in Sicily and he was involved in actions against the Italians. He was captured when they ran out of ammunition but was freed by the arrival of the 8th army. I have no information of which glider was involved but dad was later told it was one of the first to land. If you could provide any further information it would be much appreciated.

    • Ian Murray says:

      Thanks Vincent. I’m afraid Sidney Grice is one of the men we know nothing about. See my reply to Ian Davis above. Perhaps purely coincidentally, we do however have records of two other Grices in the Staffords in Operation Ladbroke – Sgt W N Grice in Horsa 130 and Pvt W H Grice in Waco 48. Any relation?

    • Vincent Grice says:

      Hello Ian,
      Thanks for your effort.
      Just wish I had asked more question when he was alive.
      The two other Grice are not related.
      I live close to the Staffs Regiment Museum, do you think they would have more information ?

      • Ian Murray says:

        The archives at Whittington may have other information about Sidney, or perhaps group photos, but it’s unlikely they will have more information about him in Sicily. It’s worth asking, although I believe a donation will be expected regardless. Do let me know if you learn anything more.

  9. Simon Fielding says:

    I’m researching the WW2 war memorial of my home town Bewdley in Worcestershire: one of the casualties is Wiiliam Blackford – I wonder if you can think of any leads? Many thanks

    William Blackford
    Nationality: United Kingdom
    Rank: Private
    Regiment/Service: South Staffordshire Regiment
    Unit Text: 2nd (Airborne) Bn.
    Age: 24
    Date of Death: 09/07/1943
    Service No: 4919332
    Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
    Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 7.

    • Ian Murray says:

      Thanks Simon. Waco glider 20 carried half of 20 Platoon of D Company of the Staffords. Their target was the gun battery codenamed Mosquito, but many gliders landed in the sea [story], including glider 20, and the Staffords did not take the guns. Pvt Blackford was the only man who failed to emerge from the glider after splash-down. He was never seen again. Many of those who did escape the glider, including both glider pilots, were subsequently washed away in the heavy swell and drowned. Only two men survived to be picked up by Allied shipping in the morning. The battalion war diary says glider 20 landed in the Gulf of Gela, but this was in the American sector some 50 miles away. It is possible but seems very unlikely, and there is no other evidence for it. However, we have no direct evidence at all as to where glider 20 did in fact land.

      • Simon Fielding says:

        I’m sorry I missed your response. Thank you so much – this is really precise and evocative detail…what a harrowing story. If I find any more personal information on Black ford I will of course let you have a copy.

        Best, Simon

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