Pictures

Frost talking to Lt-Colonel Johnny Goschen on the way home from the Bruneval Raid

Frost, in his Cameronians uniform, accepting a Military Cross after the Bruneval Raid

Poor quality photograph of John Frost, in 1944

Addressing the residents of Arnhem at the unveiling of a monument to commemorate the Bridge battle

Frost with Mountbatten at the unveiling of a monument to commemorate the Bruneval Raid, shortly after the war

John Frost shaking hands with Private Bill Gibbard at a 2nd Battalion reunion

Lieutenant-Colonel John Dutton Frost

 

Unit : Headquarters, 2nd Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 53721

Awards : Companion of the Bath, Distinguished Service Order and Bar, Military Cross, Grand Officer of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

 

John Frost was born in Poona, India, on the 31st December 1912, the son of General F. D. Frost of the Indian Army. The family returned to England before the start of the First World War in 1914, in which his father participated, earning the Military Cross and being Mentioned in Despatches on no fewer than five occasions. After the War, his father was posted to Mesopotamia, now Iraq, but John and the remainder of the family returned to India until it was practical for them to join him, eventually taking up residence just outside of Baghdad. During his stay here, the young John Frost began to learn Arabic. The family returned to England in 1921, and John attended school at Wellington. His progress here was, however, in decline, and so he was moved to the more compatible Monkton Combe, thence to Sandhurst, and, in 1932, he took up a commission with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), with whom he served in England and Palestine.

 

Holding the rank of Captain, Frost was transferred to the Iraq Levies in 1938, and he was still with them when the Second World War was declared. He was eager to return home, and as his contract with the Levies expired in June 1940, he asked to be returned to the Cameronians, but his request was refused as his knowledge of Iraq and Arabic was deemed more useful. Frost was not at all satisfied with this assessment and was determined to look for any excuse to get into the War. One morning Mr Sethi, his Company Clerk, obligingly handed him a sheet of paper concerning the establishment of a parachute battalion. Frost said, "What on Earth made you think that I would be interested in this? You don't suppose I would ever want to get involved in that sort of thing, do you?". Sethi replied, "You might be surprised... You never know all that is to come." These words of wisdom were lost on Frost for the moment, but in time he was granted his wish, perhaps as a direct consequence of his worsening mood and feelings of abandonment, and received orders for his return to Britain and the 10th Battalion The Cameronians. As a parting gift, the Hunt Committee presented him with an inscribed copper hunting horn, which he would later use in battle as a rallying call to his men.

 

Active service in Britain, however, came as something of a disappointment. The 10th Cameronians, a part of the 15th (Scottish) Division, were deployed in Sussex on tedious coastal defence duties, and despite initial optimism of a posting overseas, it soon became clear that such an adventure would not be forthcoming. Feeling dejected once again, Frost had made up his mind to put his name forward for Staff College, but as he was about to make the request he received a note from the War Office asking for Captains willing to become company commanders in the newly formed Special Air Service. Frost had little idea what the Special Air Service was, but, imagining it to be some variant of the Commandos, he immediately applied. Paying a little too much attention to derogatory and quite inaccurate remarks in the British press about the quality of German paratroopers, their effectiveness on the battlefield and the quality of their morale, not to mention the enormous casualty rate suffered on the jump alone, Frost had formed a low opinion of airborne warfare, and so he was somewhat shocked when he was informed that he had applied to join the British equivalent. His Commanding Officer agreed to let him go, but added "I can't imagine any sensible person choosing you to be a parachutist, you ought to keep your feet firmly on the ground." Nevertheless, Frost passed the interview and, after an intense course of training, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.

 

Promoted to Major and given command of "C" Company, then an all-Scottish unit, Frost was chosen to carry out the famous Bruneval Raid on the French coast, the second airborne operation of the War. The operation, to attack a radar installation and bring back components of the new German narrow-beam radar system, was carried out with great success on the 27th February 1942. On his return, Frost was called to personally brief Winston Churchill on the raid, and in due course he was awarded the Military Cross for his handling of the operation. 

 

Shortly after, Frost temporarily become Second-in-Command of the 3rd Battalion, but he soon rejoined the 2nd Battalion in the same post. On the 29th October 1942, the Battalion was about to depart for North Africa when its commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Gofton-Salmond fell in, and, despite his determination to continue, was put ashore by Brigadier Eric Down, who passed command of the 2nd Battalion to Frost. He commanded the Battalion throughout the North African campaign, and after a series of difficult, occasionally disastrous operations, established a reputation within the division as a most able commander. Brigadier Lathbury said of Frost: "He had a very relaxed style of leadership when out of action, letting the very good company commanders get on with it. But, in action, he was absolutely on the ball and suddenly became five years younger."

 

On the 13th July 1943, the 1st Parachute Brigade flew from its airstrips in North Africa to seize Primosole Bridge near Catania, in Sicily. With the 1st Battalion charged with the capture of the bridge itself and the 3rd with establishing a defensive line to the North of it, the 2nd Battalion was ordered to capture three hills to the South, codenamed Johnny I, II, and III, and so screen the bridge from attack from this direction. Immediate opposition on the hills was believed to consist of Italian soldiers, and although it was possible that they would be present in no inconsiderable strength, it was not felt that the 2nd Battalion would have any difficulty brushing them aside. Frost was very happy with the plan, "[Brigadier] Lathbury's orders had been crystal-clear and I felt therefore that there was no doubt in anyone's mind as to what had to be done. Our dropping-zone was clear of and beyond those allotted to the rest of the brigade and our pilots should have no difficulty in finding the right run-in and the landmarks in the shape of the river, the road and the main bridge itself... However, just in case the Italians, whom we knew to be holding the 'Johnny' features, panicked when they saw our aircraft arriving, I detailed one platoon under Tony Franks to make straight for one of the features and to seize and hold it if they could. This particular one was called 'Johnny II' and from it a determined enemy could cause quite a lot of trouble to our assembly and subsequent movement. 'Johnny II' was the nearest feature to our dropping-zone. 'Johnny I' was the central and most important of the three and possession of it gave absolute control of the main road leading to the bridge. This was the key-point on which I planned to put most of the battalion. 'Johnny III' was away to the east towards the coast and not as important as the other two features."

 

Following an uneventful and quite satisfactory flight, "I landed in a shallow, empty ditch. The sides were sunbaked hard and my left leg took most of my weight at an awkward angle. My knee ligament scrunched and the pain came later. My stick and I were quite close to our pre-arranged rendezvous... Most of the fires we had seen from the air were stooks of corn burning and not crashed aircraft, as we had feared. However the streams of tracer were there and weapons of various calibres were being fired at all approaching aircraft. Enemy artillery were firing air bursts in our general direction. The effect of this was alarming and annoying rather than dangerous, for whenever I tried to say something important to my entourage, my words were blotted out by a peremptory 'crack' from above."

 

"Meanwhile, although the entourage was growing, it soon became obvious that all was far from well. Long after the time had passed when we should have assembled, only a handful of my headquarters had arrived. Most of Dickie Lonsdale's 'A' Company were present, but otherwise just odd bits and pieces of the battalion... It was bitterly disappointing. There was no sign of Victor Dover, my Adjutant, or of Johnnie Lane, my Second-in-Command, the two officers with whom I had made detailed plans for the operation. Dicky Lonsdale was confident that we could take and hold 'Johnny I' with just his own company and so, having waited until there were no more aircraft about and therefore little possibility of any more of the battalion arriving, I moved off with few more than a hundred men towards the objective. By this time my knee was really painful, but I was able to prod myself along quite well. We passed Brigade Headquarters on the way. I remembered that it was [Brigadier] Lathbury's birthday and wished him many happy returns... On the way I met Mervyn Dennison, with a small party of the 3rd Battalion, who was vigorously destroying all the telephone lines he could find near the main road. Small parties of Italians were moving about in the dark looking for someone to surrender to, and the difficult was to know which parties wanted to surrender and which might want to fight on."

 

"At the bottom of the hill [Johnny I] we met Tony Franks who had come across country with as many stragglers as he had been able to find. He had gone over the top of 'Johnny II' and found it virtually unoccupied. From there he had gone straight to the main objective on 'Johnny I', capturing one hundred and thirty Italians en route, and was firmly in position. Dickie Lonsdale moved up with 'A' Company and deployed his force without further ado. By this time my knee had seized up and so I left Dickie in command of 'Johnny I'. I remained with a small party in a dug-out where we had originally planned that the Battalion Headquarters would be. By 5.30 a.m. one hundred and forty men of the 2nd Battalion were in position on 'Johnny I' with no supporting weapons or communications, but poised for all-round offence."

 

"At six the enemy opened the proceedings. The noise emanating from 'Johnny II' was unmistakably that of German machine-guns... By 6.30 a mortar bombardment was added to the machine-gun fire. The battalion had nothing with which to reply effectively and the enemy fire became more and more accurate. Their mortar fire was all the more deadly on the rocky ground and the number of our casualties began to grow. Nevertheless it was the German machine-gun fire from 'Johnny II' which seemed the more dangerous, so at 7.30 a.m. a fighting patrol moved off to try to put them out of action. Unfortunately this patrol was spotted by enemy armoured cars which caught our patrol in the open and drove it back with further casualties. Meanwhile the long dry grass to the south of the positions caught fire. Soon the smoke from this became an effective screen behind which the Germans were able to improve their positions and the intense heat from the flames forced our own forward elements back to a smaller and dangerous constricted perimeter."

 

"There was still no support of any kind available, but we did have a gunner officer, Captain Vere Hodge, who was acting as Forward Observation Officer for the 6-inch guns of a cruiser lying out to sea. Ever since the enemy had been located on 'Johnny II' Vere Hodge had been trying to get in touch with his naval counterparts... about nine o'clock Vere Hodge was tuned in and almost immediately the high-velocity medicine began to arrive with a suddenness and efficiency that completely turned the scales. The principles of surprise, economy of effort, concentration of force and flexibility were amply demonstrated by one young officer, a signaller and a wireless set. What seemed like imminent defeat was staved off and from then on the danger receded. By ten o'clock enemy infantry had ceased to move forward, though he maintained spasmodic strafing of the positions until well into the afternoon... During the morning two officers and forty other ranks had been killed and roughly the same number wounded. All through the day small numbers of stragglers continued to arrive in dribs and drabs, but the effective fighting strength remained at about sixty men."

 

"As the evening approached, that old parachutist's bug-bear, acute shortage of ammunition, began to make itself felt. Full use had been made of all the captured Italian weapons, but there was still insufficient fire-power to prevent the steady pressure from the Germans having effect on the 1st and 3rd Battalions behind the bridge. Before long there was an acute danger of enemy infiltrating behind the forward positions and this caused the bridgehead to be given up... While this was happening reports reached me to the effect that a fresh attack against our positions on 'Johnny I' was imminent. On hearing this I moved up to join Dickie Lonsdale, but although we could see considerable enemy movement in the distance and hear the sound of enemy vehicles, no active measures were resumed against us."

 

"We did all we could to collect as many of these small parties [from 1st and 3rd Battalions] as possible by waving and shouting and sending out patrols. It wasn't altogether easy to persuade some of them that we were still firmly established, but by the time it got dark we had been considerably reinforced and were in a much stronger position than before. So much so that we no longer had room for the five hundred Italian prisoners within our perimeter and they were ordered to fall out for the night, but to make quite sure they reported again at first light in the morning."

 

"At 7.30 p.m., rather to my amazement, a troop of Sherman tanks, the leading element of the 8th Army, rumbled down the road followed by a company of the 6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry on foot... There was still no sign of Gerald Lathbury or Brigade Headquarters, but Alastair Pearson, the redoubtable 1st Battalion C.O., joined me before midnight. Early the next morning Alastair and I watched the preparations and execution of a full-scale daylight infantry assault supported by tanks and artillery. We had never taken part in such an operation, and having seen this were determined never to do so... The Germans held their fire until the Durhams were within some fifty yards, more or less point-blank range, the mowed the leading platoons down."

 

The attack a failure, a second, under Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson's direction, crossed the river during the night and successfully assaulted the German defences in the flank at first light. The 1st Parachute Brigade moved off "Johnny I" and made ready to return to North Africa. "It was yet another humiliating disaster for airborne forces and almost enough to destroy even the most ardent believer's faith."

 

Frost was given temporary command of the 1st Parachute Brigade for six weeks until Brigadier Lathbury recovered from wounds he had received in Sicily. The 2nd Battalion took part in the invasion of Italy in September 1943, but the whole 1st Airborne Division was withdrawn to Britain at the end of the year to refit.

 

A year later, in September 1944, the Division received orders to capture the bridges at Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden. Frost, now the most experienced battalion commander in the Division, was ordered to capture and hold the main bridge until reinforcements could arrive. Major-General Urquhart wrote: "I knew that Frost of all people would press on rapidly if it were humanly possible: a six-footer with an anxious moon face and permanent worry lines across his forehead, he relished a fight and had become one of the most capable battalion commanders in airborne forces. Despite a deceptively slow-motion air, Frost had developed a very fine tactical sense."

 

Major Victor Dover of C Company wrote in his book, The Silken Canopy, "Johnny was tall and inclined to be heavily built (not an advantage for parachuting); he had eyes that twinkled behind heavy lids, but they could, at times, flash with impatience if not anger. He grew a rather untidy moustache which he had a habit of pulling and twisting - a habit which helped to keep it rather untidy. He was a dreamer of battles to be fought and to be won; there was no such thing as defeat in his dreams, dreams which became reality. Johnny Frost had a mystical magic - no need for him to write high-sounding messages to his junior commanders or to address the men whom he led with words of inspiration - such was the aura which surrounded him. He was sentimental, sometimes ruthless when he had to be, sometimes aloof, but always calm. I shall never know if he knew fear, but if he did, I never saw it. He chuckled rather than laughed and he chuckled easily and frequently. Johnny was a modest man, almost shy in matters which concerned him personally. On the other hand he was frequently outspoken to officers senior to himself when he disagreed with a proposed plan of action - and he did so with authority and a conviction that was almost divine! {Regarding a portrait that Dover painted of Frost in 1978} His shooting-stick symbolizes his nonchalance and his belief that a commander should never become involved with a personal weapon - his task was to command and win the battle, and not get himself into a position of personal combat."

 

Frost said of Market Garden: "We were highly delighted to be given a really worthwhile task at last. This was the genuine airborne thrust that we had been awaiting and we felt that if things were according to plan, we should be truly instrumental in bringing the war to an end in 1944. There were, however, some glaring snags. First the D.Z.s selected by the air forces were several miles from the objectives and on the north side of the great main river obstacle only. This entailed a long approach on foot, through enclosed country and built-up areas, which meant that if there was anything in the way of opposition, surprise would be lost and the enemy would have plenty of time and opportunity to destroy the bridges. Furthermore, capturing bridges, which are in fact narrow defiles, is extremely difficult and hazardous if you are on one side of the obstacle only, because the defender can concentrate his fire on all the approaches to and on the defile itself from the comparative security of the other side. Therefore you require to be on both sides of the obstacle if you hope to capture the defile without heavy casualties."

 

"The reason for this seemingly unreasonable attitude [the refusal of the air forces to land troops on both sides of the River] was that there were A.A. guns specially sited to protect the bridges and also an airfield at Deelen. However, at this stage, our air forces could achieve complete ascendancy over the Luftwaffe and there were hundreds of fighter-bomber aircraft available to act as an advance guard or escort. Given the A.A. guns as their priority targets one would have thought that they could have destroyed or neutralized them to such an extent that the transport fleets would have little to fear. Certainly it would have been immeasurably better for the airborne troops to have been exposed to a slightly more hazardous airborne access to their objectives than the long and doubtful approach on foot that they had to accept. The Air Force planners contended that the farmland to the south of the river was unusable for gliders and not really suitable for paratroops. The last was not said with much conviction for it was planned to drop the Polish Brigade south of the main bridge on D-Day plus 2. It was almost impossible for our superior commanders to query these decisions for they were made at Army and Airborne Corps H.Q.s several hours distant and it was not the sort of thing that could be discussed on the telephone. This unsatisfactory selection of D.Z.s might not have mattered so much if the Air Forces had been willing to fly two sorties on D-Day. It was a comparatively short haul from the U.K. airfields we were using and with good staff-work aircraft would have needed no more than five hours from take-off to landing. Thus if the first sortie had left at dawn on D-Day, their initial missions could have been completed by noon, leaving the rest of the day to take the second lift which could have been ready and waiting. As it was, the great air armada stayed put for nearly twenty-four hours, for the two-sortie day was thought to be too much to ask of the crews."

 

"Shortly before giving out my final orders I was told that a pontoon bridge which had been functioning west of, and close to, the main bridge had now been dismantled. However I supposed that it might still be possible to make some use of it. There was also a railway bridge about two miles west of the town. I was ordered to seize this as well as taking the main bridge at Arnhem... I had every confidence in being able to take and hold the north end, but realized that we were on the wrong side of the river for taking the south end. My plan was for 'A' Company under Digby Tatham Warter to move off from the D.Z. first and make straight for the main bridge. Having consolidated on this end he was to pass one platoon across to the south side. I and my headquarters would follow immediately behind him with Victor Dover's 'C' Company, which was to capture the railway bridge near Oosterbeek, and then pass across it so as to reach the south end of the main bridge. This action would be supported by the battalion's mortars and machine-guns. Last in the column was Douglas Crawley's 'B' Company, which was my reserve for any eventuality... I don't think any of us had any doubts as to the ability of any part of the forces engaged to fulfil their role. I certainly did not anticipate much difficulty as far as our task was concerned..."

 

"Owing to the reasonable hour fixed for our take-off there was no need to hurry over breakfast and I read the papers as usual while eating the last plate of eggs and bacon I was to have for some time to come. My equipment, weapons, food and parachute were all ready, so having fed, I wandered along to the mess to find everyone else reading and smoking, all in the best of spirits and no worries anywhere. Quite a contrast to some of the operations we had done before! I don't think any of us had any doubts as to the ability of any part of the forces engaged to fulfil their role. I certainly did not anticipate much difficulty as far as our task was concerned and was thinking ahead to the time when we would fight as infantry again, well supported by adequate artillery, with our own tanks never far away and the comforts that are always at hand when the heavy transport is available." Frost had ordered his batman, Private Wicks, to load his shotgun, dinner jacket and golf clubs into the staff car, which, with his heavier baggage following behind, would eventually reach him in the 'Sea Tail'.

 

"The huge airfield swarmed with Dakotas, and convoys of lorries were moving slowly round the perimeter track... I went to the Air Liaison Officer's place. "Nothing to worry about, sir," he said. "Met report couldn't be better, and everyone seems to have arrived on time. Your plane is No.16. You'll find a mark on the tarmac beside it. Times for emplanement and take-off unchanged. Tea and sandwiches will be round shortly... My pilot was a reassuring type of man who exuded confidence, and his crew were feeling fine... The time of waiting for the aircraft to take off is, for the parachutist, the transition from peace to war. For him there is no gradual, growing consciousness of battle that other Arms must feel. There are no enemy positions to study with binoculars. No preliminary bombardment to wait for, no careful moving up in dark or wet with fingers crossed against the enemy's defensive fire... This time, in the light of our past experiences, I felt that we had trained, prepared and planned well, and was sure that the battalion had reached its highest peak of readiness. We had been chosen for the most important task, but I was sure we should succeed. In fact, I found that I was happier at this stage of going into action than I had ever been before."

 

"At ten minutes to H-Hour I stood in the doorway and tried to compare the country with my memory of the map. I was surprised to see no sign of any activity on the ground and thankful for the lack of opposition of any kind. The stick had travelled well, but as usual one could feel the tension among them all. The transparent insincerity of their smiles and the furious last-minute puffing at their cigarettes reminded me that the flight and prospect of jumping far behind the enemy lines was no small test for anyone's nervous system and I remembered that this was my first jump since Sicily some fourteen months ago. We passed the Waal, and finally the Lek, for whose bridges we were to do battle, while the red light glowed. I peered anxiously ahead at the D.Z. for any signs of trouble. In front and below parachutes were falling and then I was out. Once again the thrill of falling, the great relief of feeling the harness pulling and that highly satisfactory bounce as the canopy filled with air. The rigging lines were slightly twisted, needing a vigorous pull on the lift webs to bring me round and leave me free to enjoy the feeling of floating down. Following this came the fear of injury on hitting the ground; a last feverish pull as I touched down and then a resounding bang on the back of my helmet told me that all was well. There was no sound of enemy action, just the steady continual drone of aircraft approaching, leaving rows and clusters of parachutes in the air, followed by the fiercer note of their engines as they wheeled for home at increased speed. I felt grateful for the way they had done their task. A few kitbags broke away from the men as they were released, making it wise to keep a good look-out."

 

"The battalion landed with practically no other trouble, however, and there was no difficulty in finding the way to the rendezvous. En route some Dutch people greeted us... Just as I was beginning to feel that on the whole things could not be going better, the sound of firing broke out in the woods not more than three hundred yards from where I was standing and I moved to a track junction in the middle of the wood, which was where we had planned to set up Battalion Headquarters. A battle at our rendezvous in the woods was one of the things to be feared most of all. It was vital that we should be able to move off without delay and equally vital that our ammunition should not be expended unduly early when we had so much to do."

 

"Soon after three o'clock a message came from Brigade Headquarters telling us to move on with all possible speed, without waiting for stragglers, and just as the message went to 'A' Company, who were the vanguard, firing broke out afresh from their area. However, there was no delay, and as we passed their old positions we found two lorries and three motor-cars in various stages of destruction, also an untidy little bunch of dead and wounded Germans..."

 

"We marched towards Arnhem. The road led through dense undergrowth of gorse and birch, ideal cover for an enemy to lay an ambush. We had no time to spare for flank guards, so trusting everyone to do the right thing if attacked, we pressed on ventre terre, merely leaving very small parties to cover the more important roads leading into our own. I went forward in a jeep to see Digby {Tatham-Warter} in order to arrange a lift for his leading platoon in the available transport. He was fairly enthusiastic about this plan, but as I was waiting for Battalion Headquarters to catch me up, the noise of firing broke out again from in front and the column ceased to move. There was no mistaking the rattle of German machine-guns. A few bursts passing harmlessly well above our heads had the much-desired effect of making everyone realize that they might expect the enemy's attention from then onwards."

 

"Soon we passed through the small village of Heveadorp. The Dutch gave us a great welcome; apples, pears and jugs of milk appeared, orange flowers were pressed upon us to wear and one old gentleman asked me if I would like to use his car. Knowing well what its fate would be I declined. The country was rather like that round Aldershot, and the people seemed familiar rather than foreign. Certainly they impressed us very favourably by their bearing and generosity. As we moved on through Oosterbeek, Victor Dover took 'C' Company down towards the river in order to capture the railway bridge over the Lek. Most of the battalion were in a position to watch 'C' Company at work. As their forward elements came near the bridge, enemy opened fire from the southern bank, but there was hardly a pause while our own men laid a smoke-screen and in next to no time little figures appeared on the bridge. Our impression that the bridge had been captured intact was a little premature, however, for just as I received the message to this effect there was a mighty explosion, and when the smoke from this had cleared away, we could see the southern-most span lying half in and half out of the water. This meant that we would now have to cross either using part of the pontoon bridge or the main bridge, but I did not underestimate the difficulty of taking the big main bridge intact from one side only, if the other side was firmly defended... It was no fault of Victor and his Company that the railway bridge went up. No body of men could have been more skilful and vigorous in action than they."

 

"Meanwhile 'A' Company were temporarily stuck. There was a prominent feature behind the railway line from the railway bridge, called Den Brink... All attempts to move forward along the roads were met by fire from patrolling armoured cars, while anyone appearing on the railway line was hailed by machine-gun fire and sniping. Digby called for an anti-tank gun to keep the armoured cars in order while he tried his luck through the back gardens of the houses. I told Douglas Crawley to see what he could do with his company by trying to the left under cover of the railway embankment... Suddenly I realized that the hindermost parts of 'A' Company had disappeared... I surmised that Digby's back-garden manoeuvre had been completely successful and that he had rushed on again as the way was open, leaving the information to reach me by wireless..."

 

"It was now getting dark and though at times bursts of fire swept across the road, we could afford to ignore them. Up to this time we had had very few casualties and our progress had been highly satisfactory. "The night is a friend of no man," say the Germans, but often we had welcomed darkness in our previous battles. Twice in Africa we had been surrounded... yet when all seemed lost, as darkness fell, the German fire had faltered, paused, then broke out again in one last clattering hate, before ceasing altogether, leaving us to seize our chance of breaking out and moving on. So now I knew that we were not to be prevented from reaching our objectives. At increased speed we swept on through the streets of Arnhem to reach the pontoon bridge. We found the centre portion dismantled and useless to us for the time. We marched on for the main Rhine crossing. When I arrived 'A' Company were already taking up positions on the embankment leading up to it from the town. Meanwhile David {Wallis, the Battalion Second-in-Command} and I looked for a suitable building in the area for Battalion Headquarters. We found a house on the corner overlooking the bridge and we roused the owner. He was not at all happy at the prospect of billeting soldiers of any sort. The Germans, he said, had gone and he would much prefer us to chase on after them. When I convinced him that the Germans were still very much there and furthermore that we didn't merely want billets, but proposed to fortify the house in readiness for a battle, he retired to the cellar quite horrified, leaving us to our own devices."

 

"A" Company were ordered to make an attempt to capture the southern end of the bridge. "As they started to move across they were met by withering fire from a pillbox and an armoured fighting vehicle sited on the bridge. It was obvious that there was no future in the direct approach, so one platoon with a detachment of sappers carrying a flame-thrower moved through the houses to deal with the enemy from the side. While this manoeuvre was taking place the enemy counter-attacked the embankment positions. After putting up illuminating flares of various colours, then lobbing over a few mortar bombs, they attempted to rush straight in, but this cost them dearly and that particular lot retired into the darkness to lick their wounds. Robin Vlasto's platoon succeeded in getting into position by mouseholing through the buildings. We heard the crash of his P.I.A.T. bombs smashing into the side of the pillbox, then the sky was lit as the flame-thrower came into action. All hell seemed to be let loose after that." The flame-thrower had set light to an ammunition dump, the resulting explosions engulfed much of the bridge in flame. "The fires on the bridge lit up the whole area like daylight and the heat from them made the bridge impassable for that night at any rate. Anyone attempting to move to the other side now would be silhouetted against the flames in a way that would turn such a gamble into suicide. Now it was impossible even to try. Our only hope of getting across, therefore, was to find and use some boats farther up the river... I planned to get 'B' and the brigade defence platoon across. 'B' Company would then move down and attack the south end of the main bridge... But this plan was of no avail. No usable boat or barge could be found."

 

"There was nothing more to be done for the present but snatch what rest we could before the battle, which I knew would start in the morning. At least we had the important end of the Rhine bridge from the point of view of the ground forces, who were due to reach us at lunch-time the next day. The possibility of the bridge being blown was a continual worry. It was, however, the opinion of the sappers that the heat of the fires would destroy any fuses already laid from the bridge to the town, and we cut all the cables we could find. I visited various people, including 'A' Company, who were in great heart, as indeed they had every reason to be. It was pleasant to settle down for an hour or so when all was done. The R.S.M. made sure that a mug of tea was available when wanted, but it was hard to sleep. There were many things to think about and many details that one thought should perhaps be altered."

 

"At dawn we stood to our arms and we didn't have long to wait. During the night we had heard a certain amount of enemy movement and we suspected that they would have a fairly good picture of the situation at the bridge. However our first visitors were some truckloads of Germans, who drove slowly into the area dominated by the buildings in which we lay. One could see by the hesitant look on the faces of our foes that they sensed some unknown danger. As at a signal, a stream of bullets tore into their crowded ranks. Too late, their drives tried to accelerate away or reverse back the way they had come. By the time they thought to surrender, few were left alive."

 

""Armoured car coming across the bridge!" came the cry from the signaller at the top of the house. For one moment I and many others wondered if this was the vanguard of XXX Corps. We were not left long in doubt. These vehicles were obviously German and malignant. I had thought that the burning lorries would prove an obstacle to anything except a tank, but by now their fires were almost out and the leading armoured car was able to nose its way successfully through a gap between them and accelerate away, undamaged, even by the necklace of mines we had laid during the night. The explosion of one mine seriously disturbed the crew, but three more managed to pass our ambush and move away at speed into the town. By the time the fourth one appeared, our anti-tank weapon crews had found the range and seven were soon disabled and burning before our eyes. Meanwhile German infantry were on us from the landward side. All round the battle raged. Mortar bombs and shells were landing. Behind each window and on every rooftop snipers and machine-gunners lay. To show ourselves for more than a second or two brought immediate attention and we were by no means untouched in this respect, as the calls for stretcher-bearers showed. There were no exceptions from the fighting line, all ranks and trades were in it. Staff officers, signallers, batmen, drivers and clerks all lent a hand. We were content. After what seemed like several hours, but was in reality no more than two, the battle died away and gave us some breathing space. We were feeling very pleased with ourselves and were rather hoping that we would have the honour of welcoming the army into Arnhem all to ourselves."

 

"At last wireless communication was established with 'B' Company and Doug Crawley was asking if he should remain where he was by the now useless pontoon bridge or join us at the main bridge. I decided to strengthen our position at the important place, where we were always liable to be attacked again, so told him to disengage and move towards us. Throughout the rest of the day small bodies of enemy continued to attack the edge of our positions and shortage of ammunition began to tell. This close-quarter fighting had made a heavy call on what we carried with us and we had become badly in need of resupply. The enemy shelling was taking a steady toll of our numbers. I gave orders that to save ammunition our men would cease sniping, keeping what they had for beating off assaults at close quarters. This was an advantage to the enemy, in that he could risk a certain amount of movement, and it enabled him to improve his positions in some respects. It also misled him into thinking we had lost heart, which supposition cost him dearly before the battle was over."

 

"Movement from one building to another was strictly limited, for to cross a street in daylight was to draw fire from the Germans and, at night, the indiscriminate attention of both friend and foe. The fires from burning buildings lit up the whole area so that there was no real darkness. I managed to visit all our positions to the west of the bridge and the ramp leading up to it, but to move under the bridge to see people on the eastern side was suicidal. There was no way we could support our people east of the bridge except that the gunner O.P. on the roof of the H.Q. building could bring some defensive fire to bear."

 

"There were still a few Dutch civilians in our area, but most had been wise enough to leave for safer places during the night. It was distressing to see the chaos and destruction in the houses we were occupying. All the windows had been shattered, furniture had been hastily built into barricades and all inflammable material got rid of as far as possible. One could imagine the despair of the owners, returning to enjoy the fruits of liberation and finding their much-prized possessions lying pathetically scattered, broken and spoiled. The total destruction of their homes which followed was perhaps a mercy."

 

"At the request of Tony Hibbert, the Brigade Major, I left David {Wallis} in command of the battalion and moved across to Brigade Headquarters, so as to be able to direct relieving troops to their positions when they arrived."

 

"The next rude shock in store was the arrival of a 150 mm. gun firing a shell weighing nearly 100 lb. from point-blank range at our building. Each hit seemed to pulverize the masonry and the appalling crash of these missiles against our walls scared the daylights out of Headquarters. Just as I made up my mind that something drastic would have to be done, our mortars got the range, one direct hit killing the entire crew and apparently disabling the gun. We saw it being towed away round a corner and it troubled us no more."

 

""Bucky" Buchanan brought disturbing news during the afternoon. He had been interrogating prisoners in our cellars and found that among them were several from the 9th S.S. Panzer Division. It had been thought that the well known 9th and 10th S.S. Panzer Division had been written off in the Falaise battle on the far bank of the Seine in France. I told Bucky to find me one of them who spoke English. He produced a captain. "What are you doing in these parts?" I asked. "We have been resting, re-equipping and getting reinforcements between here and Apeldoorn for several days." Well, there it was. We had been given absolutely no inkling of this possibility. The odds against an outcome in our favour were heavy indeed."

 

"As night fell there was still no sign of relief or ammunition arriving. I visited as many of our garrison as I could, telling them all that I confidently expected reinforcements during the night and that we could count on XXX Corps arriving the next day. They were all in high spirits. There was barely one who could not claim to have killed an opponent. "Our most enjoyable battle," they said, and, "Let us always fight from houses," or "The more they come the merrier," and so on. Not that there was anything extraordinary in this; all the way through, however hard or dangerous the going, they were always cheerful and always ready to give more than one thought it possible to ask."

 

Major Wallis, Frost's friend and Second in Command, whom he had put in charge of the 2nd Battalion whilst he himself commanded the Brigade in Brigadier Lathbury's absence, was killed by friendly fire during Monday night. Frost passed command to Major Tatham-Warter. Major Crawley, the commander of B Company, was senior to Tatham-Warter and Frost was aware of a mild degree of resentment of this decision on his part, however Tatham-Warter was a very capable officer who had been at the Bridge from the beginning, whereas Crawley had only recently arrived and was not as familiar with the positions around the bridge, so it was a sensible choice.

 

"We fed from the small ration packs that we had brought with us as and when we could. My faithful batman Wicks was never far away and at suitable moments would brew up something from our combined resources and we would hope for a few moments of respite while we gobbled it down. The batman plays an essential part in keeping his officer going in battle. Like any good groom who regards his horse as his own property, the good batman reckons that he owns his officer - something to be watched over, guarded, fed, kept clean, tidy and free from all minor personal worries."

 

"The water supply suddenly failed and our doctors had cause to worry about the wounded. The medical supplies they had brought with them were obviously limited and some of the earlier wounded should have been operated on before this. I knew that something would have to be done about them soon and I feared that that something would mean a temporary truce with the enemy while we evacuated them to our own M.D.S. outside the town. It was unlikely that they would lend us transport for this purpose and most probable that they would capture ours if we used it."

 

"During the day the Germans had sent back to us one of our sappers whom they had captured earlier. The German commander wished me to meet him, unarmed, under the bridge at midday to discuss terms for our surrender. It was quite pointless that we should continue to fight, he had said, but the sapper reported the enemy to be most disheartened at their heavy losses and I felt that if only more ammunition would arrive, we would soon have our S.S. opponent in the bag. New weapons came to harry us and all the buildings by the bridge were set on fire. It became increasingly difficult to find new positions while keeping the bridge under our control. Towards evening heavy tanks appeared, incredibly menacing and sinister in the half-light, as their guns swung from target to target. Shells burst through our walls. The dust and settling debris following their explosions filled the passages and rooms. All the way through the gunners of the 1st Air Landing Anti-Tank Battery excited our admiration and respect. No one was exposed to greater danger than they. They never hesitated for a moment to engage enemy armour whenever it approached without thought for themselves."

 

"As we prepared for yet another night Arnhem was burning. The patrols we sent to probe the ring about us made no progress. It was like daylight in the streets. This night was fairly peaceful. I prowled about occasionally, sleeping in between whiles amongst the litter in one of the rooms. Sometimes a light rain fell. I saw two hatless figures down the road and took a shot at them with a borrowed rifle, but neither moved. During the day we had taken it in turns to wait with a sniper's rifle for a German officer to show himself in a window of the house which we presumed was their headquarters, some four hundred yards away. I had spent an hour watching in vain, but others had been more successful and our guns had strafed it from time to time. When I looked up after reloading, the figures I had fired at were gone."

 

"Soon after first light on Wednesday morning the shelling began again. Now that the buildings on either side of the bridge had been destroyed and their rubble was still smouldering, the bulk of what remained of the force were concentrated round the headquarters buildings. From here we could still control the bridge. We had found a limited water supply in one of the houses, sufficient for one more day at any rate. At last divisional headquarters came on the air and I was able to speak to the General. It was very cheering to hear him, but he could tell me nothing more than I knew already about XXX Corps, and not anything really encouraging about the ability of the Division to get through to us. They were obviously having great difficulties themselves."

 

"As I was talking to Doug Crawley outside his headquarters about arranging a fighting patrol to give us more elbow-room to the north, there was a sudden savage crash beside us. I was thrown several feet and I found myself lying face downwards on the ground with pain in both legs. Doug was lying on his back not far away and he started to drag himself into the house. Stunned and bemused I did likewise and Wicks my batman came to drag me in under cover. After we were hit with the same bomb, he {Crawley} alleges that I said, "There you go again. Always getting wounded. What a silly ass I was to come and talk to you in the middle of a battle." Before long stretcher-bearers carried me to the R.A.P. where Jimmy Logon made light of my wounds and I felt that after I rest I should be able to carry on. I sat on a box in the doorway of headquarters and vainly tried to pull myself together. I tried to swallow the whiskey that remained in my flask, but this made me feel like vomiting. After a bit I got some men to carry me on to a litter in one of the cellars and tried to rest. By now the pain had localized itself to my left ankle and right shinbone. I lay there rather dazed, hoping that the worst of the pain would lessen. Now I was given morphia and most of the pain went, enabling me to sleep."

 

"When I woke some bomb-happy cases were gibbering in the room. In the evening the Germans began to pound the building again. The doctors came to see me about the evacuation of the building in case of fire. The doctors said it would take an hour to get everybody out from the cellars and so I told him to be prepared to move with all those still able to fight from new positions. The building took fire several times, and they fought the flames as best they could, but gradually the fire began to spread. One of the doctors came again to say that we would have to do something fairly quickly. I sent for Freddie {Gough} once more and told him to move. I gave him my own belt with revolver and compass and we wished each other luck."

 

"Later I heard shouts from above of: "Don't shoot! Only wounded are here." George Murray suddenly appeared, wanting to know what on earth was happening. Scarcely had he gone when I heard German voices in the passage outside and the sounds of the stretcher cases being moved out. Then Wicks came in. He said he was going to stay with me till they took me out and I was very glad to see him. He went away to get a stretcher, but while he was gone a German N.C.O. rushed in intimating that we must get out as soon as possible. With the help of one of the bomb-happy cases he dragged me up the stairs to the door. I sat down among the stretcher-cases on the embankment leading to the bridge. Both sides laboured together to bring the wounded out and I saw that the Germans were driving off in our jeeps full of bandaged men. The prisoners we had taken were standing in a group nearby, not seemingly overjoyed at their liberation. Wicks found me again and put me on a stretcher, at the same time moving me alongside Doug Crawley. As one of the orderlies was giving me an injection of morphia for the journey, I said good-bye to Wicks and thanked him for all he had done for me. He was going to get back to our people as soon as the opportunity arose. The S.S. men were very polite and complimentary about the battle we had fought, but the bitterness I felt was unassuaged. No living enemy had beaten us. The battalion was unbeaten yet, but they could not have much chance with no ammunition, no rest and with no positions from which to fight. No body of men could have fought more courageously and tenaciously than the officers and men of the 1st Parachute Brigade at Arnhem Bridge."

 

"I remember saying to Douglas: "Well, Doug, I'm afraid we haven't got away with it this time." "No, sir," he replied, "But we gave them a damn good run for their money." We still could not believe that XXX Corps would fail to come to our rescue. It was difficult to feel that there was enough genuine opposition to stop them. It was desperately disappointing that having done everything we had been asked to do we were now prisoners. It was shaming, like being a malefactor, no longer free. For the moment all this was alleviated by the sympathy and even admiration of our captors. I could remember saying to someone when it did seem inevitable that we would fall into the hands of Hitler's S.S., "I don't think that this is going to be much of a pleasure." We had all heard stories of them shooting their prisoners or herding them into burning buildings, but these men were kind, chivalrous and even comforting."

 

The defence of Arnhem Bridge continued in Frost's absence until it finally collapsed in the early hours of Thursday 21st September. It had been estimated that the entire 1st Airborne Division, dug in and at reasonably full strength, could not have been expected to hold the bridge for much longer than the three days and four nights that Frost's 740 men had held it. Although the bridge had been lost, the battle had not been in vain; most of the German armour available to resist the 2nd Army was based to the North of the Rhine before the airborne landings took place, and as Arnhem Bridge was the only realistic way for them to cross over to the South, they were largely prevented in doing so by the presence of the paratroopers around it. There is no doubt that if Frost's force had not held the bridge for as long as they did, the 82nd Airborne Division and 2nd British Army at Nijmegen would have had little or no chance of capturing the main road bridge there. If this had happened, the whole of the 1st Airborne Division would have been completely cut off and taken prisoner.

 

Frost spent the remainder of the war in captivity at Oflag IX-A/H at Spangenburg, near Kassel, but after his ankle wound had opened up again he was transferred to the POW hospital at Obermassfeldt. It was here in March, that the spearheads of General Patton's 3rd US Army arrived and Frost was freed and returned home. For his part in Arnhem he received a Bar to his DSO. His citation reads:

 

Lt Col Frost was in command of 2 Battalion The Parachute Regiment which dropped 6 miles west of Arnhem on Sunday 17th September 1944. The task of this battalion was to seize the main bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem and to hold this bridge until the arrival of 30 Corps. During the advance on the bridge Lt Col Frost commanded his battalion with great initiative and skill and by 2000 hours considerable enemy forces had been outflanked and the northern end of the bridge captured together with sixty prisoners. All attempts to capture the southern end of the bridge failed. The bridge itself was covered by fire from the south bank of the river while the railway bridge further downstream was blown before Lt Col Frost could get a company across. During the night a few other troops arrived and by the morning of Monday 18th September Lt Col Frost found himself in command of a force consisting of one Battalion The Parachute Regiment, Brigade Headquarters, one troop of Royal Engineers and a small party of Royal Army Service Corps. Meanwhile the remainder of the Brigade had met with intense resistance and, with the enemy constantly reinforcing with infantry and armour, all attempts to reinforce the defenders of the bridge proved hopeless. From now until the night of Friday 20th September, Lt Col Frost's forces numbering at the outside not more than 550 all ranks, were subjected to almost continuous attack by all arms. Despite no re-supply of ammunition and food, this force, under the commanding officer and inspiring leadership continued to fight magnificently; very heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy, and many tanks, S.P. guns and half track vehicles were destroyed.

 

It was only when the enemy, having burned the defenders out of each house in turn, set fire to Brigade Headquarters house, where there were nearly 300 wounded that had to be surrendered, that co-ordinated defence ceased. Lt Col Frost though wounded on Wednesday morning, showed the greatest courage and determination throughout the battle.

 

It was largely due to his fine leadership that the position was maintained intact for over three days.

 

Shortly after resuming command of the 2nd Battalion, before he led them to Palestine, Frost met his wife-to-be, Jean MacGregor Lyle, a widow and YMCA worker who had been driving tea vans for the 1st Airborne Division. They married on the 31st December 1947, Frost's 35th birthday, and later had a son and daughter. After the war, Frost attended the Staff College at Camberley and became GSO-2 of the 52nd Lowland Division. He spent two years in Malaya during the emergency, acting as GSO-1 of the 17th Gurkha Division. From 1955 to 1957, he commanded the Support Weapons Wing of the School of Infantry, at Netheravon, after which he commanded the 44th Parachute Brigade (TA), based in London. He then returned to the 52nd Lowland Division as their commander, before being appointed to the post of General Officer Commanding Troops in Malta and Libya, and later Commander Malta Land Forces. In 1968, Frost retired from the military, holding the rank of Major-General. Over his career he had acquired numerous honours, including the Military Cross for the Bruneval Raid in 1942, the Distinguished Service Order in North Africa, 1943, with a Bar to the DSO at Arnhem. He was made a Companion of the Bath in 1964, and a Grand Officer of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. He settled down to rear beef cattle at Northend Farm at Liphook, Hampshire. The farm was initially derelict, but John and Jean set about restoring it and were eventually able to preside over a good herd. Frost was steered towards a career in local politics by his old friend Freddie Gough, who had since become a Member of Parliament, and after becoming involved in the Church and the Conservative Party, Frost was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for West Sussex in 1982.

 

In 1976, Frost was invited onto the set of the Richard Attenborough film, "A Bridge Too Far", where he acted as a military consultant during the scenes concerning Arnhem Bridge. In 1977, despite an initial reluctance to accept but finally being persuaded to do so by Freddie Gough, the reconstructed Arnhem Road Bridge was christened the John Frost Brug in honour of those who had participated in its defence. In 1980, Frost published a well-received novel about his wartime military career, "A Drop Too Many". In 1983, he released another book, describing the experiences of 2 Para during the Falklands Campaign; "2 PARA Falklands: The Battalion At War", but this work was met more with controversy than praise. The military hierarchy was rattled by Frost's highly critical account of the way that the operation had been planned; there is much merit in his principal argument, that the operation relied upon an outstanding performance by the troops to make up for numerous gaping holes in the tactical and logistical elements, a fact somewhat reminiscent of Arnhem. Yet the Ministry of Defence claimed that his book divulged certain names that had been intended to remain secret, but largely they were angry because they had not been consulted. No real harm had done and the book sold well, but with the media seemingly after his blood, Frost deliberately kept a low profile. In 1991, he wrote his autobiography, "Nearly There". John Frost died in 1993.

 

See also: Polish Brigade, Reasons for the Failure, Lt-Gen Browning, Maj-Gen Urquhart, Maj Gough, Maj Hibbert, Maj Wallis, Maj Crawley, Maj Deane-Drummond, Maj Dover, Maj Pott, Maj Tatham-Warter, Capt Hoyer-Millar, Father Egan.

 

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