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.

2-SS-OO-1-sects-5-to-26-copyright-Aurora-Publishing-v2

 

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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8 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 banner image at the top of this page shows his glider, Horsa 133, coming in to land. Have you seen the detailed story of Horsa 133 here?

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