Pictures

Brigadier Hicks at the Hartenstein Hotel on Monday 18th

Brigadier Hicks on the day of the Arnhem investiture at Buckingham Palace

Brigadier Philip Hugh Whitley Hicks

 

Unit : Headquarters, 1st Airlanding Brigade

Army No. : 15075

Awards : Commander of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order and Bar, Military Cross

 

Philip "Pip" Hicks celebrated his 49th birthday during the Battle of Arnhem, making him the eldest man in the 1st Airborne Division. He was also the only senior officer to have fought during the First World War, serving with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and he was still with them in France, 1940. Hicks had commanded the 1st Airlanding Brigade since early 1942, and had led them in Sicily and Italy. In the former of those places, he was one of the many unfortunate men whose gliders were released too early and came down in the sea. His pilot, Colonel Chatterton (Commander of the Glider Pilot Regiment), realised that they had been released too early and steered the glider towards a dark patch on the sea, which he hoped was a small island. This turned out to be correct, however before they reached it, tracer fire poured in their direction, and a searchlight was switched on which revealed that the glider was fast approaching a cliff face. Chatterton banked hard right and stalled the glider, which crashed into the sea moments later. They were a mile away from the Sicilian coast, and the searchlight was still fixed on them, which brought infrequent but dangerous machinegun fire their way. Hicks hauled himself onto the wing and said to his Brigade Major "All is not well, Bill". The crew of the glider, one of whom was injured, sat on the wings and watched the poor results of the other gliders coming in. The sounds of a battle could be heard in the distance, and so Hicks and his men decided to swim ashore, where they stumbled across another group. Together they decided to attack a coastal battery, but before they reached it, they managed to locate Brigade HQ. For his actions here he was awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order; his citation reads:

 

Brigadier Hicks commanded and led the 1st Airlanding Brigade in its moonlight attack at Syracuse on the night 9th/10th July 1943. His own glider landed in the sea. He and his party swam ashore and took part in the fighting against enemy coast defences. Throughout the entire operation Brigadier Hicks showed the highest qualities of leadership, courage and devotion to duty.

 

Hicks has been described as an excellent trainer of men, though was certainly a little old to be involved in the arduous Airborne lifestyle. Montgomery, who knew Hicks well, suggested to Urquhart in the summer of 1944, that he ought to be transferred to another command in view of this. However Urquhart persisted with him.

 

Shortly after landing on LZ-S, Brigadier Hicks moved towards the little railway station at Wolfheze, on the edge of the landing zone, and he established Brigade HQ in a house on a lane know as the Duitsekampweg. Houses on the same lane were also turned into dressing stations for the 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance, who began to treat casualties immediately. As the 2nd South Staffords began to weed any opposition out of Wolfheze, Hicks ordered a section of the 9th Field Company's No.2 Platoon to block a road running south-east out of the village, to "catch any birds flushed out". However the men encountered a large enemy force in the form of Company of SS Grenadiers, almost as many men as intelligence believed to be guarding the entire area, and several men were killed or fatally wounded.

 

Moving to secure the drop zone for the 4th Para Brigade, B Company of the 7th KOSB encountered a member of the Luftwaffe called Irene Reimann, and her German boyfriend. She was sent back to Wolfheze where her behaviour intrigued the Airborne troops. Various accounts described her as "a buxom blonde dressed in a smart flannel suit", "quite pretty, but sulky", and "no great beauty, pug-nosed and surly". Brigadier Hicks offered her a cup of tea, but she was adamant that it contained poison and refused to drink it until he tasted it first.

 

Before leaving England, Major-General Urquhart informed his Chief of Staff, Lt-Colonel Charles Mackenzie, that if anything should happen to him then the chain of command was first to pass to Brigadier Lathbury, then Hicks, and finally Hackett. With both Urquhart and Lathbury declared missing on Monday 18th, Mackenzie sent for Hicks at 07:00 and gave him command of the Division. Mackenzie knew that troops had reached the Bridge, but the 1st and 3rd Battalions were having difficulty in fighting their way through heavy opposition. Details were scant, but he knew they needed reinforcements, and so advised Hicks to detach one of his Airlanding battalions and send it to Arnhem. He chose to dispatch the 2nd South Staffords, of whom only half their number had travelled with the First Lift. The removal of this battalion left a large hole in the defences around the drop zones, with Wolfheze open to attack if the enemy chose to move in that direction. It was a risk that had to be taken, and the gap was loosely filled with a Reconnaissance Squadron troop, and 50 glider pilots. Furthermore, at 14:00, Hicks was concerned enough to send further reinforcements after the South Staffords. The drop of the 4th Para Brigade was overdue, but he decided that when it came he would remove the 11th Battalion from the command of Brigadier Hackett, and immediately send them into Arnhem. With Urquhart missing, the presence of two Panzer Divisions in the area and reinforcements sure to follow, the Second Lift being four hours late, and being unable to warn either them or contact the 1st Para Brigade to verify what was happening, Hicks late reflected that "the situation was more than just confusing, it was a bloody mess." 

 

The Second Lift began to arrive at 15:09, and upon being informed of the decision to remove a battalion from his Brigade without his consent, Hackett was not in the least bit pleased. He was quite appalled that a battalion had been seemingly plucked out the air without regard to any casualties incurred during the fly in. However time was crucial and the 11th Battalion were dropped closest to Arnhem, therefore it seemed to be a reasonable, albeit cheeky decision. How crucial this time was though is questionable, because the Battalion reported to Divisional HQ and were stationary for five hours before they received orders to move.

 

Hicks left orders for Hackett to come and see him as soon as possible, but he was not able to oblige until around midnight. By this time he was quite furious with Hicks for what he saw as "a grossly untidy situation", with no coordination within the Division and scattered pockets of men fighting their own private battles at a most desperate time. He also felt that he should be in command of the Division as he was the senior officer of the two, though Hicks had more experience with infantry and had been on the ground longer, and therefore was much more in touch with the situation. Hackett travelled to the Hartenstein Hotel, where Divisional HQ was now placed, to put these points quite plainly to Hicks. The two men were good friends, but a heated exchange instantly developed and lasted for several minutes. Hicks declared that due to the poor performance of the radios and units being constantly harassed by German attacks, it was very difficult for them to organise themselves into a coordinated action and make it work. Hackett was not convinced and requested a sensible plan with definite objectives to the point where he hinted at mounting a challenge to the authority of Hicks to command. They debated further on the plan of attack for Tuesday morning, but eventually the mood softened and Hackett left; quite happy for Hicks to continue in command and give him orders, but his views were unaltered and he privately decided to only accept these orders if they made sense to him. This chaotic prospect of a division within the Division was resolved when Major-General Urquhart returned on Tuesday morning and resumed command.

 

It has been suggested that Monday 18th called for a bold and definite change in strategy, and that Brigadier Hicks completely failed to deliver on it. While elements of this hold some truth in that his command did appear to dither in terms of a definite attack plan at a time when one was certainly needed, it seems unfair to be overly critical of him as the situation on that day was still far from clear and there was no obvious need for a radical alteration in tactics; such as forming the Oosterbeek Perimeter two days early. It has also been said that if Urquhart had been present then he may have adopted such a policy, but this is clearly nonsense as when he returned the following morning, to the universally delight of all senior officers in the Division, he still believed that Arnhem could be taken, and persisted with the policy until that afternoon.

 

On Wednesday 20th, the 1st Airlanding Brigade HQ was repeatedly mortared. Hicks was not hurt as a result of this, but it provided him with great administrative difficulties as four of his officers were killed in the explosions, and several others were badly wounded.

 

The Oosterbeek Perimeter was formed on the same day. Major-General Urquhart gave Hicks command of all the units on the eastern and northern sides of the defence, as they mostly fell into the category of Airlanding troops. As with his fellow senior officers, he continuously visited his tired men and encouraged them. Hicks always wore his red beret in place of his helmet, and so was instantly recognisible amongst crowds of other men who wisely wore their helmets to offer some protection from the incessant artillery bombardment. A member of the Reconnaissance Squadron shouted to him "Hey, Brigadier, put your bloody helmet on." Hicks smiled and waved back at the man, and later revealed that he wasn't trying to appear carefree by wearing his beret, it was just that he had to run around a lot and he was highly irritated at how the helmet bounced around on his head.

 

While waiting for the evacuation, Hicks was heard to mutter that it would be another Dunkirk. And similarly, while waiting to be ferried across, officers queued up in line and waited for their turn just like a common soldier. Brigadier Hicks was reluctant to depart for the other side until he had seen that all the men of his Brigade were on the southern bank, however he was dissuaded from doing so and went across.

 

See also: Maj Linton.

 

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