In our article on the disastrous Dodecanese Campaign of 1943, Nick Hewitt explores how Britain managed, somehow, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Here, we study two opposing fighting units of that campaign.
The Junkers Ju-87 Stuka
The Luftwaffe’s infamous Junkers 87 Stuka (from Sturzkampfflugzeug, or ‘dive-bomber’) entered service in 1936. It was a tactical aircraft, intended to operate ahead of advancing troops as ‘flying artillery’, destroying enemy positions with pinpoint accuracy.
Stukas were the spear tip of the German blitzkrieg as it swept across Poland, France, and the Low Countries, their screaming sirens bringing fear to soldiers and civilians alike, though during the Battle of Britain their slow speed and inadequate armament made them easy prey for modern fighters.
By late 1943, the Stukas had almost been driven from the skies in the West, although they remained active in Russia, where the Red Air Force did not win total command of the air until the last months of the war. The German ability to deploy the venerable Stukas in November 1943, just eight months before D-Day, provides a graphic illustration of just how poorly planned, resourced, and executed Accolade was.
The Long Range Desert Group
The LRDG was formed in 1940 by Major Ralph Bagnold. It was a deep-penetration reconnaissance unit, famed for travelling hundreds of miles behind Axis lines in the Western Desert and North Africa, gathering intelligence and sometimes raiding enemy rear-echelon units.
The LRDG never numbered more than 350 men, and many of its early volunteers were New Zealanders, although they were later joined by men from Britain and Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe).
It operated almost continuously between December 1940 and the end of the campaign in April 1943, after which its personnel left their famous modified Chevrolet trucks and were redeployed on covert reconnaissance missions amongst the Greek islands. The LRDG was disbanded at the end of the Second World War in August 1945.
Why was a small unit of highly trained covert reconnaissance specialists sent to fight a conventional battle? Because the British did not have enough troops to carry out Accolade, the operation was not expected to take long, and they were available.