Lieutenant-Colonel Edmund Charles Wolf Myers
Unit : Headquarters Royal Engineers, 1st Airborne Division
Army No. : 36717
Awards : Commander of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order, Bronzen Leeuw.
Lieutenant-Colonel Myers was the Commander Royal Engineers of the 1st Airborne Division. He had two nicknames, "Eddie" Myers after the famous footballer of the same name, and, somewhat bizarrely, "Tito" Myers, due to his involvement with the partisans in Greece, although the name clearly implies Yugoslavia. As a member of the Special Operations Executive, he had been stationed in Cairo, Egypt, "...one day, a friend of mine, who had been at the Middle East staff college with me a few months previously, came into my office and asked how he could get hold of a few parachute-trained sappers to be dropped into Europe somewhere to blow up a bridge. He didn't specify where. I told him that I happened to know - it was part of my job to know - that there were no parachute-trained sappers in the Middle East at that time. And he looked at me and said, "Well, what's that badge you're wearing?" It was a parachute-trained badge, a parachute on one's arm. I said I'd learnt at the combined training centre at Kabrit. Well, one thing led to another and a week later I was in Greece."
"Our first attempt, this small party of volunteers, nine officers and three wireless operators divided amongst three aeroplanes, Liberators, was abortive. These were the only three Liberators which SOE had in Egypt flying for them at that time and they had to be serviced and got ready for another flight and it was two nights later before they were ready to go again. On that second attempt I was determined that we didn't come back otherwise we were going to miss the moon - the moon would be too late in getting up - and there'd be a month's delay. The whole idea was to cut the railway line to Piraeus before the battle of El Alamein, the breakout by Montgomery, so I was determined that we should drop that night at the second attempt, signals or no signals. We dropped on the lower slopes of Mount Giona, very knobbly surroundings, rock and all the rest of it, and I landed in the middle of a fir tree."
Eventually, Myers and his party gathered together men from two guerilla bands, one commanded by a Greek colonel named Zervas, which would later become EDES, and the other under a civilian lawyer called Sephariadis, who became communist ELAS, who the 2nd Parachute Brigade would fight in 1944 for control of Athens. Myers personally made a reconnaissance of three target bridges and formed a plan of attack for Operation Harling.
"I decided that we should send a small force of our amply strong number of guerillas, the andartes, about a thousand yards north and a thousand yards south of the bridge itself, in order to stop enemy reinforcements coming up by rail. This was a force of about a dozen andartes, each with an officer or a Greek engineer who knew how to lay explosives and cut the railway line before they withdrew or, if reinforcements came up by rail, to stop the train coming right on to the viaduct."
"The next party of chaps to be organised was the actual attacking force. It was a fast-running torrent, melted snow coming down from the mountains, which divided the garrison on the north side of the viaduct from the south, so we had to have two attacking forces, each about forty-strong, one on the north side and one on the south side. That left us with about thirty or forty chaps as a reserve in case anything went wrong. Then our explosives, which we'd prepared, were strapped on to the backs of mules to carry them down from the mountain to as near as we could get them to the bridge. By eleven o'clock at night, which was our zero hour for the attack, we were all in our positions."
"At about a quarter past eleven all hell was let loose at both ends of the viaduct and after half an hour or a little more a message came back from the north end of the viaduct that they weren't doing too well. They'd been beaten back by the Italians. They had rather too many automatics and our chaps were unable to get through the barbed wire to overpower them. From the shouting going on at the far end, the south end of the viaduct, it was quite apparent that they were doing all right, so we decided to put in the whole of the reserve, on the north end of the viaduct."
"After the battle had been going on for well over an hour, Zervas began to get anxious that we would soon be running out of ammunition and I decided that we must take a risk. So I went forward by myself, with a bodyguard, an andarte, and signalled across the river to the chap in charge of the demolition band, a New Zealander, Tom Barnes, to take the demolition party in and start fixing their explosives."
"About one or two o'clock in the morning, Tom Barnes whistled on his whistle that he was ready to blow the bridge. The whistle was for everybody to take cover. Almost simultaneously, the Very signal, which we'd prearranged to send up when the north end of the bridge was captured, went up in the air, so the viaduct was entirely in our hands. A few seconds later the demolition of the viaduct took place and I was able to see, from a few yards from one end of the viaduct, two spans lift up into the air and come down in entangled pieces."
"I was able myself with my bodyguard then to run along the top of the viaduct to the jagged end and shout to Tom Barnes. He had some explosives still left and one pier of the two steel piers was still standing, although one at least of its four legs was cut. He had enough explosives hopefully to bring down that pier and to put some more explosives on the fallen spans. I told him to carry on with it, to get on with it as quickly as possible. There'd been a loud explosion from the north end indicating that our small party of chaps a thousand yards north of the viaduct had stopped a train coming from the north with enemy reinforcements, as I'd had every reason to predict would happen. The train had stopped without being derailed and there was quite a bit of a battle going on."
"I shouted to Tom Barnes to be as quick as he jolly well could because I could only give him about another twenty or thirty minutes. He prepared for the second demolition, for which, at the end of about half an hour, he was ready and he blew his whistle again. Everybody took cover and a bit more of the bridge came down. The general withdrawal signal was sounded and we all made our way up the side of the mountain down which we had come the previous night."
"The Heavens were on our side. It started to snow, obliterating our tracks. We got to our forward rendezvous, just about daylight, in dribs and drabs, climbing up the mountainside, and we got to our final rendezvous deep in the fir forest some time that afternoon. We'd been on the go for the best part of forty-eight hours without any sleep, we'd come down from a mountainside of about 4,500 feet to a few hundred feet above sea level, fought a battle and gone back again, and I for one was very nearly exhausted. And that was the end of the battle for the Gorgopotamos."
"The effect of Gorgopotamos, being one month late, didn't have any direct effect on the outcome of the Battle of El Alamein at all but it had a great effect on Rommel's supplies later because it cut for six valuable weeks all supplies going that way. They had to go other ways, down Italy and so on. From the Greeks' point of view, to hear that Greek andartes, aided possibly by British soldiers, had blown up an important viaduct on the railway right under the noses of the Axis, even though they were only Italians, was a tremendous morale booster and also to the resistance forces themselves and in their future recruiting. From the point of view of SOE it was the first major success in the field literally anywhere. It was a tremendous publicity event for SOE and resulted in it being recognised by people from Churchill downwards as something worth backing. Although we were a month late so fas as the tactics and planning of the operation were concerned, we had achieved something that was tangible and obviously of great tactical help to the Allies, to British forces, in the Middle East. As a result, SOE got its status raised to enable people like Churchill to prise, without undue difficulty, a few more aeroplanes for supplying SOE operations, not only in south-east Europe, out of the grasp of Bomber Command, who thought that they could practically win the war unaided."
"Arriving back at Zervas' headquarters in early January , I found a long message from Cairo, congratulating everybody on the success of the Gorgopotamos and inviting us to stay on and organise the whole of Greece, helped by a large number of additional officers who would be sent from the Middle East by parachute with wireless operators."
Eddie Myers oversaw numerous operations in Greece, including the planning behind a very difficult operation to destroy the Asopos viaduct, extremely hard to access in a thousand yard deep gorge of vertical cliff faces, and well protected by German soldiers who had taken over garrison duties on all such important targets in the aftermath of Gorgopotamos. The demolition party under Major Ken Scott approached the bridge from the river below, and he and another man scaled the structure for three hundred feet and fixed three hundred pounds of explosive, hauled up piece by piece on the end of a string, to the bridge. The demolition was a great success and the bridge was out of service for three months, just before the Allies invaded Sicily. This and other actions across Greece played a most important role in convincing the Germans that the Allies would instead advance into Greece and the Balkans after their success in North Africa.
Political tensions, however, were now coming to the fore. It was British policy to restore the King to the throne, but EDES and ELAS, suspicious of the British presence in Greece, favoured a plebiscite. Dropped into this atmosphere, without having been briefed on it at all, Myers and other officers were forced to make it up as they went along and, understanding that this was the outcome that the Greek people preferred, they took it for granted, in their communications with Cairo, that there would be a plebiscite after the war. The Foreign Office was furious.
"When 'Animals' was over and resistance was at its peak, I signalled to Cairo, 'And when is Greece's turn coming for liberation?' I was horrified to receive a signal, 'Not until early 1944 and possibly later.' How was I going to keep ELAS and EDES from each other's throats when they had nothing to do but prepare for further sabotage operations at some indefinite future date? I signalled that this, combined with the political question of the future of the King, must be tackled and I must be given a more definite policy, otherwise we were bound to have civil war in the mountains even before the end of the war, and that I wished to come out and was prepared to bring a delegation of EAM-ELAS with me and I'd be glad to take this opportunity of bringing representatives of the other organisations also. And this I did. We built our airfield, we organised representatives of the three parties to come out to Cairo and we duly arrived in early August."
"Then all hell was let loose because my delegation of andartes started asking for seats in the government and a public declaration by the King that he wouldn't return to Greece until, and as a result of, a plebiscite in his favour. When Churchill and Roosevelt heard of this they were extremely worried, and I think it was Eden himself, the British Foreign Secretary, who said that if we acquiesced to these sort of demands by the resistance movement it would be tantamount to inviting the King of Greece to sign his abdication. This was in short the beginnings of my troubles with the Foreign Office and I was summoned home with the head of SOE in Cairo, Lord Glenconner, to explain why we had allowed this sort of situation to develop. It was most unfortunate. We merely stated the facts but the facts ran absolutely contrary to what HMG's long-term policy was. Although the military, from the CIGS [Chief of the Imperial General Staff] personally downwards, fully supported all that I'd done, the Foreign Office disliked it all so much that it led to my never being allowed to return to Greece."
Consequently, Lieutenant-Colonel Myers left SOE and found his way into the British Airborne Forces, as Commander Royal Engineers in the 1st Airborne Division. He flew to Arnhem with the First Lift on Sunday 17th September. Shortly after landing, he, together with Colonel Graeme Warrack, the senior medical officer, came to the aid of a glider pilot who was trapped in the wreckage of a Hamilcar glider which had overturned on landing. The cockpit of the Hamilcar protrudes above the fuselage, and so such an event is usually fatal for both pilots, and indeed one of them had been crushed to death, but the other was still alive but trapped by the weight of the vehicle carried within the glider. Myers reflected that a block and tackle would have been ideal in this situation, and he cursed himself for not having brought one with him. It was several hours before the pilot was released, but despite their best efforts he later died.
On the evening of Friday 22nd September, Major-General Urquhart was increasingly concerned that the 2nd British Army did not appreciate how desperate the position of the 1st Airborne Division was, and so he ordered his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-Colonel Mackenzie, to cross the Rhine in an attempt to locate either Lieutenant-Generals Browning or Horrocks, to impress upon them the need for their immediate relief. Myers was also ordered to accompany him and to assist with the attempts to ferry the Polish Brigade across the River. Urquhart also asked them to make a quick survey of the riverbank so that they could advise the Army of probable locations for a crossing.
The Division had gone to Arnhem with a small number of inflatable dinghies, many of which had since been punctured by shelling, but Myers had concealed one of those still serviceable on the riverbank. Escorted by a rather large and possibly uninvited Sergeant Major with a Bren gun, the two men carefully made their way to the river, and, floating the dinghy in a ditch running parallel to it, they strode along the bank in search of a suitable crossing place. Having settled on a 200 yard wide stretch of the Rhine, they promptly got into the boat, with Mackenzie at the oars, and made their way across. It was broad daylight at the time, and so they were perilous exposed while they crossed, and indeed a few shots passed over their heads on the way. Having reached the southern bank safely, they looked for the Polish escort that had been arranged to meet them. They glimpsed two steel helmets a short distance away, but could not be sure whether Polish or German heads lay beneath them. Mackenzie threw caution to the wind and stood up, waving a white handkerchief, while Myers remained hidden in case the worst should happen. Fortunately the two men were soon revealed as a Polish soldier with a British liaison officer, and, using bicycles as transport, the four men made their way to Major-General Sosabowski's headquarters.
Having reported to Sosabowski, Mackenzie turned his attention to making contact with the 2nd Army, whilst Myers busied himself with preparations to cross the Poles into the Oosterbeek Perimeter. Working alongside the Polish Engineer Company, he spent the remainder of the day trying to acquire boats and improvise rafts, though these latter proved barely adequate to cope with the power of the Rhine.
During the day three British armoured cars had reached Driel, and, on Saturday 23rd September, Myers and Mackenzie set out in these in an attempt to locate Lieutenant-General Browning in Nijmegen. They had not gone far before they encountered an enemy armoured vehicle. The car in which Mackenzie travelled fired upon it, but thereafter immobilised itself by backing into a ditch and overturning. The other two cars, with Myers in one of them, pushed on to Nijmegen. Mackenzie successfully evaded capture and later rejoined Myers in Browning's Headquarters. The state of their appearance, after several days of battle and crawling across riverbanks, was somewhat shabby, and the always impeccable Browning regarded them as "putty coloured like men who had come through a Somme winter". Despite the best efforts of these two officers to give Browning a clear understanding of the plight of the 1st Airborne Division, they left his presence with the feeling that they had not been able to convince him of the severity of the situation.
They returned to Driel, where Myers again oversaw preparations to ferry more Poles across the river, this time using the assault boats of the 130th Infantry Brigade. Despite this improvement, the Poles had been given no crews to man the craft, and so had to make the best of the situation themselves, resulting in slow crossings and an inadequate number of men across the river by morning. Myers wrote, "I can find no fault with their attempts; they did as much as they could. They had not been trained in river crossings, and the Arnhem plan had not envisaged one, and no one had any proper boats. But the less said about their watermanship the better."
On the following evening, Sunday 24th September, Myers was involved in similar preparations for the crossing of the 4th Dorsets, whom he was to accompany. Two companies were ferried across during the night, but the landing, directly amongst the German positions on the far bank, was a complete disaster and very Dorsets reached the 1st Airborne. Several DUKWS, which had been loaded with supplies under Myers' supervision, went across with them but similarly failed to get through. Myers, however, found his way back to Divisional Headquarters, where he first informed Major-General Urquhart of the failure of the crossing, and then handed him a now quite out-of-date letter from Lieutenant-General Browning, and another much more recent one that he had memorised from Major-General Thomas of the 43rd (Wessex) Division, declaring that the attempt to reinforce him had failed and he was therefore to withdraw at a time of his choosing.
Urquhart decided that the Division would pull out that night, Monday 25th September, and much of the responsibility for organising this fell upon the shoulders of Lieutenant-Colonel Myers. Urquhart wrote: "On Myers fell the dual responsibility of selecting the routes and fixing the ferry service. He had hardly recovered from his ordeal of crossing the river in both directions only a little time before. Yet he managed to look extremely alert and he was, as usual, full of ideas. There was no need to underline just how vital were his technical experience and his qualities of character to the division's survival." During the night, Myers personally organised inevitable chaos that was the loading of men into the dwindling number of boats that were to take them across to the southern bank.
For his part in the Battle, Myers was awarded the Dutch Bronze Lion:
This officer is Commander Royal Engineers of the Division and took part in the battle of Arnhem 17th - 25th September.
On the 22nd September in company with another officer he crossed the river in order to make contact with the formations of the 2nd Army. This crossing was carried out in daylight in view of the enemy and the rubber boat in which he was travelling was at times subject to heavy enemy fire.
As the result of the arrangements he made, parties of Polish Brigade were ferried across the river that night and the one following. During the night 24th/25th September this officer took a very active part in assisting a Battalion of the 43rd Division to be ferried across in order to come to the assistance of the Division on the North bank. He personally took charge of several dukws containing medical stores and other supplies and supervised their crossing of the river. Unfortunately none of the stores were able to reach the Division owing to strong forces of the enemy being in between. Colonel Myers however, with great determination passed through the enemy lines and reached the Divisional HQ with valuable information and instructions for the future withdrawal to the South bank of the river.
The leadership shown by this officer and his imperturbable conduct in face of fire and under difficult conditions was a magnificent example to all those with whom he came in contact.
Eddie Myers later retired from the military at the rank of Brigadier.
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