The Book – Feat of Arms

Galpin's Horsa glider over the Ponte Grande bridge near Syracuse in Sicily in Operation Ladbroke - book cover of Feat of ArmsFEAT OF ARMS – SAS, Airborne & Commandos – D-Day Sicily & the Battle for Syracuse – Operation Ladbroke and its role in Operation Husky.

Landing from the sea, 280 men of Britain’s SAS take gun battery after gun battery by storm. Beside them fight the elite airborne troops of the 1st Airborne Division, christened ‘Red Devils’ by their enemies. Of more than a thousand men sent by glider to Sicily, many of them to capture the Ponte Grande, a crucial bridge near Syracuse, only a handful reach the objective. They seize it and hold it for the seaborne troops of General Montgomery’s Eighth Army,  the famous “Desert Rats’. Supported by Commandos, the leading units of Eighth Army advance to the rescue – but too late. The airborne defenders at the bridge, outgunned and outnumbered, fight to the last round before being overwhelmed. Have they failed?

This is the dramatic story that will be told by the book “Feat of Arms” when it is published. A film documentary of the same story, with the same title, is also in production. The journalism and historical analyses in this blog are based on the field trips and archive visits that have been undertaken to research and produce the book and film. Extensively using primary sources found in archives all over the UK, in Italy and in America, the book will unravel mysteries and dispel myths about one of the most extraordinary, and most neglected, stories of World War II.


For the story of the book’s cover illustration, click here.

8 Responses to The Book – Feat of Arms

  1. Jeremy Langlands says:

    Do you have an aerial photo showing the ground S of the Ponte Grande as far S [4 miles or so] as the Sta Teresa railway station please?

    • Ian Murray says:

      Sorry, Jeremy, I can’t help with aerial photos, but I’ve posted an article here which I hope will be the next best thing. It links to satellite maps of Operation Ladbroke coup-de-main objectives.

  2. Steve Bluff says:

    I have a written account given me many years ago by Reg Brown of A Coy of the Staffords. He told me a copy was deposited with the IWM along with other accounts. The account basics were written on a Woodbine packet as he sat on the Horsa floating off Sicily (Reg couldn’t swim). I actually saw the Woodbine packet which he had in a small case along with other mementos. I have two photos of Reg. Is this of any use to you?

    • Ian Murray says:

      Thanks very much Steve. I’m always pleased, and always feel privileged, to receive photos of the men who took part in Operation Ladbroke and the battle for Syracuse. I have seen a long account by Reg Brown – I assume it is the same one. The story of the Woodbine packet is a fascinating detail.

  3. Calum Stirling says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading all the articles here on the website, and know most of the places that you describe. I live not far from Santa Teresa Longarini (in fact, the farm next to Ristorante Mottava). Perhaps you know it ? Pop in next time you’re in the area.

    • Ian Murray says:

      Calum – thanks for the kind comments. Yes, I’ve eaten a few times in the Agriturismo Fattoria Mottava. And thanks for the invitation – I’d love to drop by the next time I get the chance.

  4. Christopher Hollis says:

    The man in de Grineau’s drawing removing the charges was Pvte I Curnock of 181 A/L Fd Amb RAMC. (please see page 47, Red Berrets and Red Crosses, Niall Cherry). This man’s actions stopped the bridge from being blown when it was retaken and he should be credited with saving the bridge I believe.

    • Ian Murray says:

      Thanks Chris. Niall got the story from ‘On Wings of Healing’ p41. For more about the medics, see [here]. You make a very good point about Curnock. However, as so often, the story is a little murky. The charges were disabled in two stages, some hours apart. It seems first the wires were cut, and then later the charges were removed (although accounts differ). The men who are chiefly mentioned as dealing with the explosives are Lt Withers, who led the platoon which stormed the bridge, and Maj Beasley RE and his engineers. This doesn’t mean Curnock did not help, just that he needs to share the credit a bit!

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