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David Dobie

Lieutenant-Colonel David Theodore Dobie

 

Unit : Headquarters, 1st Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 67437

Awards : Distinguished Service Order, Militaire Willemsorde

 

David Dobie had previously served with the 3rd Parachute Battalion, and as a Major led their "B" Company in Tunisia in 1942. In April 1944, Lieutenant-Colonel Darling took command of the 1st Battalion, but his style of leadership did not endear him to the men and a mutiny ensued when they refused to draw parachutes for an exercise. Brigadier Lathbury intervened and gave command to Dobie, who was well known and respected by the men of the 1st Battalion.

 

At Arnhem, the 1st Battalion's objective was to capture the high ground to the North of the town. Dobie disliked the task as he felt that the first counter-attacks would likely be felt by his men, but as they were also loosely acting as the 1st Parachute Brigade's reserve they had to remain stationary on the drop zone for half an hour, giving their potential opponents valuable time to organise themselves.

 

When the advance began they had not gone far before they encountered the Reconnaissance Squadron, who reported that there was a heavy enemy presence along their route. Rather than be delayed in fighting these, Dobie decided to outflank them to the north by trying to move onto the Amsterdamseweg, only to become embroiled in a series of skirmishes with German patrols. He has been criticised for not proceeding along his original route, but this does not seem fair as any airborne unit strives to reach its objective with the utmost speed and avoid becoming delayed in unnecessary fighting, and given the level of resistance the Division had been briefed to expect it was not unreasonable to expect the flanks to be clear.

 

When the first attempt to get onto the Amsterdamseweg was checked, Dobie led his men through the woodland for a mile in the hope of rejoining the road further to the east, but this again came to nothing as it was clear that German armour held the road in strength. While the 1st Battalion was making slow progress through the woods, a radio message was received from Lieutenant-Colonel Frost, who had reached Arnhem Bridge and requested urgent reinforcements. With their chances of securing the high ground becoming increasingly unrealistic, Dobie ordered the 1st Battalion to head for the Bridge.

 

After a series of difficult actions during the following day, the much-depleted Battalion managed to force its way into the suburbs of Arnhem and by nightfall on Monday 18th September was close to the St Elizabeth Hospital. They were unaware that the 3rd Battalion was nearby, but reinforcements had arrived in the form of the 2nd South Staffordshires and the 11th Battalion, and together they began to work out a plan of attack for the following morning. Due to his experience and being more in touch with the situation than the newly arrived commanders of these battalions, Dobie was acknowledged as the leader, and his plan was for the 1st Battalion to advance toward the Bridge close to the riverbank, while the South Staffords protected their left flank and the 11th Battalion followed on behind in reserve.

 

When the advance began, the 1st Battalion ran into the remnants of the 3rd Battalion falling back from the area they were heading for. One of the first officers Dobie met was Captain Richard Dorrien-Smith, who had served with him in North Africa. Their conversation proceeded as follows:

 

Dobie: Good morning!

Dorrien-Smith: Where the hell do you think you're going?

Dobie: I'm going up here.

Dorrien-Smith: I wouldn't do that if I were you. It's full of mortars and machineguns.

Dobie: How do you know?

Dorrien-Smith: Because I've bloody well been there.

Dobie: Well come and show us.

Dorrien-Smith: Not bloody likely.

 

The 1st Battalion began to make its way forward with the support of the 3rd Battalion, and made good progress until first light when they came under heavy fire from three directions and were completely pinned down. The 1st Battalion attacked what positions they could with bayonets and grenades, but it was clear that they could not break through, and Dobie, who was at the front with the six men who remained of "R" Company, was looking around for an area where his men could find some cover when a grenade exploded close to him and he was slightly wounded in the eye and arm. Dobie ordered his men to run for some houses to their left, but only he and fifteen others made it, and most, including Dobie, were captured shortly after.

 

His time as a prisoner of war was brief, as is related in his M.I.9 report:

 

Captured : Pontoon Bridge, Arnhem, 19 Sep 44.

Escaped : Arnhem, 19 Sep 44.

Left : Holland, 23 Oct 44.

Arrived : U.K., 23 Oct 44.

 

Date of Birth : 21 Oct 12.

Army Service : Since 1936 (Territorial).

Peacetime Profession : Shipping Insurance.

Private Address : R.A.C., Pall Mall, London.

 

I was with my Battalion on the Arnhem operation and was wounded and captured by the German on 19 Sep 44 North of the pontoon bridge. The Germans took me to a regimental aid post to dress my wounds and then in an ambulance to a hospital in the Northern outskirts of Arnhem.

 

My arm was in a sling, and one of the Germans wrenched my wrist watch from me. While he was showing it to a nurse I simply walked out of the porch of the hospital where the incident had occurred.

 

I hid in the bushes of the grounds for the remainder of the day, and in the evening I approached a house opposite the hospital. The house was empty and I walked in and went to bed. [Note: On the way, Dobie was stopped by a German soldier but managed to allay his suspicions by saying "Guten Morgen".]

 

About 0500 hrs the following morning (20 Sep) a Dutch doctor emerged from the cellar and found me. He kept me there for two nights and gave me some civilian clothes. He then took me to an empty house nearby, where I stayed another night. Arnhem city centre was then evacuated, so I had to be moved. I was taken to a family (name not remembered) where I remained until 5 Oct. We then had to move, as the S.S. were taking over the house. I walked along the Arnhem - Ede (N.W. Europe, 1:250,000, Sheet 2a and 3a, E 58) road and hid in the woods till nightfall. I then moved towards Oosterbeek (E 67), but returned to the wood and was picked up by a girl who thought I was a Dutchman. When she discovered I was a parachutist she took me to her home in Ede.

 

On the following day (7 Oct) the Dutch underground took me to another house in Ede (address not known) where I was told that there were 82 other parachutists hiding in the town, including a General. I found this to be Brigadier Lathbury.

 

I remained in the house until 13 Oct, when I was provided with papers and plans and guided by the underground to the British lines via S.E. of Amersfoort (E 39) - Doorn (E 38) - Maurik (E 37) - Tiel (E 46) and Wamel (E46), where I made contact with British troops on 16 Oct.

 

I left Holland by air on 23 Oct, arriving in the U.K. on the same day.

 

END.

 

Whilst in Ede, Dobie played an important part in planning the Pegasus I crossing on the 22nd October 1944, which saw 138 mostly 1st Airborne men safely cross the Rhine to the Allied lines. His arduous journey a week earlier enabled him to make the final arrangements for the crossing with the 21st Army Group.

 

For Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie's conduct throughout the Battle of Arnhem and its aftermath, he was awarded the Militaire Willemsorde:

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie commanded 1st Parachute Battalion which dropped west of Arnhem on 17th September. During the advance on the town, the Battalion was ordered to move to the main Rhine Bridge where 2nd Parachute Battalion were hard pressed. From the evening of 17th September until early morning 19th September, Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie led his Battalion with the utmost dash and gallantry against intense opposition including Tanks. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy but, by 0600 hrs 19th September, after continuous and bitter fighting, only forty men remained under this officer's command. Regardless of the hopeless odds, Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie continued to press forward until he himself was wounded and the remnants of his force overrun. Throughout this action, this officer displayed magnificent leadership and complete disregard for his own safety. He was taken prisoner but escaped from hospital and made his way 8 miles, through the German lines, to where he hoped to rejoin the remainder of the Division. When he found our troops had been withdrawn south of the Rhine, Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie contacted the Dutch Resistance Organisation. Later, when it became necessary to withdraw over one hundred Airborne Troops who were in hiding behind the German lines, this officer volunteered to cross the Rhine and Waal in order to plan the escape from the British side. He made this hazardous journey successfully, and was largely responsible for the brilliantly successful escape which followed. Throughout two days intense fighting and four weeks behind the German lines, Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie displayed the highest standard of courage, skill and leadership.

 

See also: Operation Pegasus: Evasion Report, Maj Perrin-Brown, Maj Tatham-Warter, Lt Heaps, Lt Davies.

 

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