Tony Deane-Drummond in North Africa, September 1943

No.1 Company, 1st Airborne Divisional Signals, September 1944

Tony Deane-Drummond

Tony Deane-Drummond in the 1960's

Major Anthony J. Deane-Drummond


Unit : 1st Airborne Divisional Signals

Army No. : 71076

Awards : Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross and Bar, Twice Mentioned in Despatches


Tony Deane-Drummond was commissioned into the Royal Corps of Signals, and in 1940 was one of the first men to join the 11th Special Air Service Battalion. In December 1940, he was chosen to participate in Operation Colossus, Britain's first airborne action, to destroy the Tragino aqueduct in Italy. On the 24th January, Deane-Drummond left "X" Troop to fly to Malta ahead of them to secure accommodation and draw rations for them, ensure that all the explosives and equipment they had requested was available, and to distribute letters to the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean Forces, the Governor of Malta, and the commanders of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. After waiting a week for favourable weather conditions, he left aboard a Sunderland flying boat which also carried mechanical parts and a six-man team of RAF mechanics, who were to service the Whitley aircraft that would be used on the operation. He slept for most of the journey and was awakened to receive what he recalled to be the finest breakfast he had ever tasted. They landed in Gibraltar and continued to Malta on the following morning, and on landing was immediately driven around the island to distribute the numerous letters he carried, and was then taken to meet the Governor, General Dobbie, with whom he stayed until "X" Troop arrived two days later.


At 21:42 on the 10th February 1941, Deane-Drummond's were dropped alongside the aqueduct, and noted with a little concern that they were alone, unaware that the remaining aircraft had delayed their drop for half an hour; a message not received by his aircrew. In the meantime, Deane-Drummond moved on to the aqueduct alone whilst he directed his men to search the nearby farm buildings and bring back any civilians they found, and by 22:00 they had returned with two dozen men, women and children, as well as an Italian soldier who had been staying at the farm. When the remainder of "X" Troop arrived, Deane-Drummond's men formed one of the three covering parties for the demolition team, and took up position near the farm buildings to the west of the Ginestra stream. Over the stream was a small concrete bridge, and realising that it could be used by the Italian to assist in the repair of the aqueduct, he acquired some spare explosives and received permission to destroy it from Major Pritchard, the commander of "X" Troop. Deane-Drummond later admitted that his primary motivation for doing this was just to have some fun. Lance-Corporal Watson laid the explosives, and when the signal was given for the demolition of the aqueduct, he and Deane-Drummond lit the fuse and took shelter nearby, though they underestimated how far they needed to retreat and had to endure a few uncomfortable moments as pieces of concrete and iron rails fell around them. Immediately after this, an Italian woman ran screaming from the farm buildings where the civilians had been place; Deane-Drummond realised that he had forgotten about them, and returned her to the house and gradually calmed down the inhabitants, who thought they were about to be blown up.


After the raid, "X" Troop were divided into three parties to make their way independently to the coast where a submarine would be waiting to collect them. Deane-Drummond went with Major Pritchard, and they quickly discovered that the already ambitious plan of marching 50 miles in five days, across difficult, mountainous terrain in wintry conditions, had been made infinitely worse as their route took them through fields and up a hill side covered with thick, sticky mud, which took many exhausting hours to negotiate. On reaching the snowline they encountered several ravines and had to make wide detours which they could ill afford, and so by dawn the two officers were discouraged to discover that despite a march of many miles they had only advanced three miles as the crow flies. As the party rested during the day, the pair tried to encourage the others by making a bold attempt tuck into their pemmican ration and pretend that they were enjoying it; Deane-Drummond later recalled, "Pemmican, which is the old polar explorers' standby, is made of meat extract, with added fat, and tastes like concentrated greasy Bovril. Personally I found it quite nauseating although it may be ideal for Arctic expeditions."


They set off again at dusk but found the going no easier. Realising that they were never going to reach the submarine at this rate, Pritchard ordered the men on to the seemingly deserted road below. Their progress and their spirits improved immeasurably, and thanks to Nicola Nastri, the Italian speaker in the party, they managed to bluff their way through a few encounters with civilians. At dawn they decided to shelter in some woodland, but discovered that a farmhouse was dangerously close to it, and so pushed on in the growing light to another tree-lined hill near the town of Teora. On arrival, however, they discovered that the trees had been felled, and so they had no option but to use the minimal cover and hope that they remained undetected. A civilian spotted them during the morning and alerted the authorities in the town, and before long a substantial force of carabinieri and mountain troops approached their position. Even though they were only armed with pistols, one Bren gun and a Thompson sub-machine gun, the British prepared themselves for a defence, but ahead of the advancing Italians came crowds of curious civilians, and it was clear that any exchange of fire would result in the deaths of innocents. Pritchard agonised over the situation until they were effectively surrounded, but eventually ordered his men to lay down their arms. Deane-Drummond was not impressed with this decision, and so was put on the spot by Pritchard who proposed that they each throw a grenade into the crowd, and this made him realise that there was no alternative. Even so he later wrote, "I have never felt so ashamed before or since, that we should have surrendered to a lot of practically unarmed Italian peasants.


Shackled together via a long chain, the party was made to march to Teora, accompanied by the shouts of angry civilians, threatening execution. On arrival in the town, a prominent individual attempted to incite a lynching, but the carabinieri would have none of it and formed a protective cordon around the British before locking them in a building. They were later taken to Calitri railway station, and then to the prison at Naples where they were interrogated and kept in appalling conditions before the officers were transferred to an Italian air base, where life was made immeasurably more pleasant. They had been brought here at the suggestion of Flight Lieutenant Lucky, who, as an air force officer, was separated from his army comrades and had been held here alone, but by building up a friendly relationship with his captors had managed to secure better conditions for them. Deane-Drummond did not always appreciate his endeavours, however, "Lucky rather annoyed us at times. We had a greasy, half-shaved carabinieri officer who was in charge of our guard, and who occasionally visited us. Lucky used to kow-tow to this creature in order to get more privileges, and it sent cold shivers down our spines whenever we saw this going on. However it did have the great advantage that we obtained a lot of concessions and generally more considerate treatment through it." The officers and the rest of "X" Troop were later sent to P.G. 78 at Sulmona. Deane-Drummond made several attempts to escape, and eventually made his way to Switzerland. The following is his M.I.9 escape report:


Captured: Calabria, S. Italy, 12 Feb 41.

Escaped: Florence Hospital, 15 Jun 42.

Left: Gibraltar, 20 Jul 42.

Arrived: Glasgow, 30 Jul 42.

Army Service:  5½ years (Regular)

Private Address: Little Barrington, Burford, Oxford.


I was one of a party of Paratroops who landed near Calabria, in S. Italy, on 10 Feb 41. We were to make our rendezvous over difficulty country; half under snow, and very populated. We hid up for the following day on the top of a hill about 3500 ft high. The next morning (12 Feb) we discovered that our footsteps had been followed, and the hill was surrounded. Major Pritchard, who was in charge, decided that it was hopeless to carry on, and to avoid loss of life ordered our party to lay down its arms.


We were taken to quarters in the aerodrome at Naples, where we stayed for two weeks. Here I was interrogated, first by the Italians and later by the Germans. The only information I gave them was my name and rank.


On 28 Feb we were transferred to the camp at Sulmona. For the first two months all the parachutists were kept separate in a very small compound (30 yds by 3 yds) in which a sentry was posted the whole time. As a result of representations to the American Attache, we were moved to the main officers' compound on 1 May. Conditions here were reasonably good. Food was sufficient during the above dates.


On 15 Jul I attempted to get out of the camp in the garbage wheel-barrows. A very large (12) escape committee existed at the time, and the morning before I was due to make the attempt, the Italians started to search all rubbish. They had been warned.


In Jul about 20 of us under Commander Brown, R.N., were digging a tunnel. We reached the wire and had about another month's work to do when it was discovered. Informers were again suspected, but in this case it would have been easy, as it was impossible to keep the secret from the other officers.


I made another attempt to escape in Dec 41. I had noticed a very small ledge passing across the three rows of wire where the ground changed levels. Searchlights, however, shone on it and a sentry was posted 20 yds away. With the help of a friend (Capt. C.G. Lea) I decided to make use of the ledge. We made a ladder, and decided to leave as Italian electricians. We took the ladder down over the inside walls of the camp to the sergeants' compound from which we were due to start.


On the night chosen we dropped over the inside wall of the camp, and, carrying the ladder, a spare bulb and a coil of wire we went straight through a corridor in a building in which the Italian guard room and canteen were situated. This let us out into the space between the walls and the wire. We marched straight up to the light which shone on the ledge and propping the ladder against the pole, unscrewed the bulb. The sentry called out to us, and we shouted back in Italian, "Electricians". We then sidestepped along the ledge. While we were doing this the sentry became suspicious and fired, hitting Capt. Lea in the leg. He had to give himself up while I continued. During the next three nights I walked to Pescara along the main road, as I noticed it did not pass through villages. During the day time I hid in culverts which ran under the road.


At Pescara I bought a ticket to Milan. I had with me German passes and badges, forged in the camp and only guessed at. On arrival at Milan I found that there was no train to Como till the next morning, so I stayed in the waiting room there all night. This was very convenient, as it was full and badly lit. The next morning I took the train to Como, and decided to get out of the town and lie up for the day. After having gone about a mile, two soldiers stopped me and asked for my pass. Since I could not speak Italian, they took me to the frontier post at Ponte Chiasso and searched me. The soldiers said that they had only stopped me because of my dirty shoes and general tired appearance.


I was taken to Montalbo Camp and given 35 days' confinement. The room used as the officers' prison was very cold. I was allowed one hour's exercise a day, but no books or writing material. On the 20 Jan 42 I was transferred back to Sulmona. After a month here I was moved to the camp at San Romano. Here, under Major Pritchard, we decided to make a hole through the walls of one of the end rooms and get out through the monastery. While we were making the hole, a monk passed the other side (which was a very rare thing indeed) and heard us. The Italians carried out an immediate search and discovered a fair quantity of escape material. They were convinced that outside help was going to be looked for.


The Italians decided to move all the English officers to a special camp south of Naples. I managed to wangle my way to the hospital a few days before the party left. I was sent to Careggi Hospital at Florence. I was kept locked in a room of the fourth floor with a carabinieri permanently outside the door. There was, a small ledge, about 6 inches wide, just below my window. Early on the morning of 15 Jun I sidestepped along this ledge round the corner of the building and in through another window. I then went downstairs and out through a window on the ground floor. I bought a ticket in Florence Station for Milan, and took the Rome-Milan express at 0600 hrs. I remained in the waiting room at Milan that day, and bought a ticket that night for Varese. From here I walked about 10 km towards Porto Cerisio and struck up towards the frontier.


On top of the hill I suddenly saw what I thought was the frontier with sentry boxes about 15 yards apart. (I have since seen on a large scale map that this was not the frontier.) I decided, however, to try the Ponte Chiasso portion of the frontier. I walked back to Varese on towards Como. While passing through a village at 0100 hrs a Mareschalle (R.S.M.) stopped me and asked for my pass. I had none, but told him I had one waiting for me in Como and that I was a shipwrecked German sailor and had lost everything. After telling him that if he put me "inside" I would not be able to go on leave to-morrow to my poor mother waiting for me in Germany, I produced some German money, and after a lot of hesitation he allowed me to proceed. I hid up the next day and continued on to Ponte Chiasso at night. During the next day I moved up close to the frontier under cover, and observed where the sentry boxes were. They were spaced about 150 - 200 yards apart with a 12 foot diamond mesh wire on the far side of the boxes. I did not see any guards, but heard them talking. At 2300 hrs (19 Jun) I closed up to the wire, and in 20 minutes had scooped out enough earth to allow me to get under the wire.


The following morning I came down the hill to Chiasso. I decided to try to get to Berne direct without giving myself up. I succeeded in changing my Italian money and buying a ticket at the station. Five minutes later a Swiss policeman on the platform asked me for my pass. I told him who I was, and was taken to Berne the same day.


For this escape I was dressed in battle-dress trousers and a navy blue roll-neck pullover. In Berne I was questioned by the Swiss police, and informed them I was an escaped P/W from Italy.



For his efforts to escape, Deane-Drummond was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:


This officer was one of a party of paratroops who landed near Calabria in Southern Italy on 10th February, 41. Two days later he was captured and taken to Naples aerodrome from where after interrogation he was later removed to the camp at Sulmona.


On 15th June 1941, Lieutenant Deane-Drummond had made plans to get out of the camp in a garbage wheel-barrow, but had to abandon the idea, as the guards had been warned. In July he again attempted to escape, together with about 20 others, by digging a tunnel, but the scheme was discovered before the tunnel had been completed.


Lieutenant Deane-Drummond made a further attempt to escape in December 1941, accompanied by another officer who was, however, hit by the guard who fired when he saw them climbing over the wire which surrounded the camp. Lieutenant Deane-Drummond got away, and managed to travel as far as Ponte Chiasso before he was detained by soldiers who took him to the frontier post to be searched. Later he was again transferred back to Sulmona, but after a month was moved to the camp at San Romana. Here another plot to escape was discovered and all the English officers were moved to a special camp south of Naples. Lieutenant Deane-Drummond, however, had managed to be sent to hospital at Florence a few days before the party left. Here he was left locked in a room on the fourth floor with a guard outside the door. On 15th June 1942, he escaped from the room by sidestepping along the ledge outside his window, entering another room some distance away, and going downstairs and out through a window on the ground floor. Dressed in battle-dress, trousers and a navy blue sweater he travelled by train to Varese, changing at Milan, and walked towards the frontier. After seeing what he thought were sentry boxes, he decided to return to Varese and travel on towards Como. He was stopped by a Mareschallo (Regimental-Sergeant-Major) while passing through a village but was allowed to proceed. He reached Ponte Chiasso and at night on the 19th June he managed to scoop enough earth to allow him to get under the frontier wire.


He intended to try to get to Berne without giving himself up, but at Chiasso he was stopped by a Swiss policeman and after questioning, he admitted that he was an escaped British prisoner. He was taken to Berne on the same day and after further questioning was handed over to the British authorities for repatriation.


On his return to the UK, Deane-Drummond served as the Brigade Signals Officer in the 2nd Parachute Brigade when they were sent to North Africa in 1943. When the 1st Airborne Division returned to the UK at the end of the year, Deane-Drummond, aged 27, was promoted to Major and appointed Second-in-Command of the 1st Airborne Divisional Signals. In September 1944, the 1st Airborne Division prepared for Operation Market Garden, and when Deane-Drummond saw the plan he was immediately concerned about the eight mile distance from the drop zones to the Arnhem Bridge, as the range of their radio sets would inevitably result in a blackout between the two areas, until the second day of the operation, when the Second Lift arrived and the Division began to advance towards the town. To overcome this problem, he would have liked to have taken more of the powerful Jeep-mounted Type 19 sets used by the gunners of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, but to have taken these would have required more gliders and there were none spare, also the time allowed for planning was so short that there was no time to work around the problem, so Divisional Signals had to make do with what they had. Deane-Drummond later said that after so many cancelled operations, absolutely everyone was so keen to get into battle that many such risks were knowingly taken.


After landing, Deane-Drummond was pleased to find that the radios appeared to be working perfectly, but as the 1st Parachute Brigade moved closer towards Arnhem the strength of their signals began to deteriorate rapidly. Although the Brigade was only two or three miles away at this stage, the medium-range jeep-mounted Type 22 sets were not able to make contact with them at all. He ordered one of these sets to be driven to a point mid-way between Divisional Headquarters and the 1st Parachute Brigade in the hope that it could relay messages back and forth, but the signal from this Jeep quickly faded away to nothing.


On Monday 18th September, Deane-Drummond left Divisional HQ to find the 1st Parachute Brigade so that he could inform them of a new radio frequency for the day. When he reached Arnhem he encountered a small group of leaderless men from the 3rd Parachute Battalion who were in the process of pulling back from the fighting. He took them under his command and led them forward to within sight of Arnhem Bridge, however they soon came under fire and were forced to withdraw. They were probably unaware of it, but they had made the deepest advance into the town that any element of the Brigade managed during that day. In danger of being cut-off, Deane-Drummond split his remaining twenty men into three groups and ordered them to hide until nightfall, with the intention of swimming to the southern bank of the Rhine, where enemy activity seemed much less intense, and move westwards until he was opposite the Division's positions in Oosterbeek before attempting to recross. With two men and his batman, he sheltered in a small house just 800 yards from Arnhem Bridge. Whilst they were here, German soldiers entered the building and proceeded to fortify it for defence. Deane-Drummond's group quickly disappeared to the rear of the house and locked themselves inside a lavatory; the handle was tried several times but no attempt was made to force it.


The group remained in this small room for three days until, with their boots wrapped in their battle dress to dull any noise they might make, they crept down the stairs and left the house. The group split up with the intention of finding their own way across the Rhine and then meeting up on the opposite bank. Deane-Drummond stripped off his clothes, tied them up inside his Denison smock, and then successfully swam the River. He dressed himself on the other side and proceeded to head westwards, over several fields and through an orchard. Eventually he heard German voices and found himself passing a line of slit trenches that had been dug near the Railway Bridge. It was at this point that he fell into one of these trenches and landed right on top of a German soldier. Deane-Drummond immediately drew his pistol and shot the man in the head, but he was unable to escape because another German arrived on the scene immediately. Reasoning that he was fair game for a bullet at this point, Deane-Drummond was somewhat surprised to be taken prisoner and not killed, perhaps because the other man did not know that the German he was lying on top of was dead and so was fearful of harming him.


Major Deane-Drummond was escorted to a temporary POW shelter in Velp, some miles to the east of Arnhem. Whilst being marched away on Friday 22nd September, the column of some two-hundred prisoners that he was with were halted in the grounds of a house and counted. Not a man to lie back and accept his fate, Deane-Drummond spotted a large cupboard and immediately dived into it. For no less than thirteen days he stood inside this cupboard, rationing himself on a few biscuits and sips of water, until the 5th October, when he was able to make good his escape. Cautiously, he first hid in a garden outside this building, not feeling at all weary from his ordeal. Before long he made contact with the Dutch Resistance, who hid him until the 22nd October when, together with the one-hundred-and-thirty-seven other men of Operation Pegasus in hiding, he crossed the Rhine and rejoined the Allies. For his role in Market Garden, Deane-Drummond was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded a Bar to the Military Cross. The Mentioned in Despatches citation reads:


After swimming across the Rhine to avoid capture, Major Deane-Drummond walked into some German trenches and was taken prisoner on 22nd September 1944. He was marched to a Prisoner of War camp, which was a house at Velp. Here he discovered a cupboard concealed by wallpaper, and on 23rd September he locked himself in, remaining there for eleven days. During this time he existed on one-third of a loaf of bread, and a bottle of water. He emerged on 4th October, when all Prisoners of War had been evacuated, and left the house through a window. He was given hospitality in various houses until he joined a party which was evacuated on 22nd October.


In May 1990, Deane-Drummond wrote the following letter to the Journal of the Royal Signals Institution in response to what he regarded as a well-researched article which the journal had published about the communications problems at Arnhem.


Every single airborne operation undertaken before Operation Market Garden had emphasised that lightly equipped airborne troops must be landed either on or very close to the objective. This precept was not carried out at Arnhem and led directly to the fiasco. The reasons for this need to be examined.


Unfortunately there was a highly suitable 'Salisbury Plain' type DZ some eight miles to the west of the Arnhem Bridge with a dense forest and the large town of Arnhem to pass through before getting to the Bridge. The alternative area immediately to the south of the Bridge and on the line of advance of 30 Corps, was relatively flat with drainage ditches round the fields and a few scattered houses. It was ideal for parachute troops but there would have been more landing crashes for the gliders. The RAF was mesmerised by the Western DZ and put forward many reasons why it had to be chosen. In particular, air photographs showed numbers of AA positions round the Bridge. Many of these positions were dummies (as I saw for myself during the battle) and the official RAF report in January 1945 acknowledges that this was suspected at the time but not mentioned in their briefings. The RAF considered that at least 10 per cent of the aircraft and gliders would be shot down before dropping or landing - in spite of Allied air superiority at the time.


During the very short planning phase of some ten days, General Browning (commanding 1st Airborne Corps) was well aware that General Urquhart commanding 1st Airborne Division was not an experienced airborne commander, so he invited General Gale (who was very experienced and had also commanded 6 Airborne Division in its successful airborne assault into Normandy some three months before) to come to his HQ at Moor Park and comment on the alternative dropping zones. He told Browning, 'The whole Division would have to be landed on or close to the Bridge to be certain of success or at the very least a coup de main drop of a parachute brigade to hold the Bridge until the main force arrived.' 'Without such a drop, the chances of success were slim.' he thought. He was particularly critical of the drop over two days and this emphasised the need to use the area to the south of the Bridge. (Discussion and personal letter to me from Major Norton).


There is no doubt that General Gale's views were not passed on to General Urquhart who considered that the RAF's job was to get the Division safely to the DZ; his job would then start. (Personal letter to me from Major General Urquhart in 1988).


With regard to communications, some eight months before Arnhem and after our return from Italy, I proposed that the main Divisional Command nets would need the normal infantry Division issue of No 19 and 19 HP wireless sets, if we were to be used spread out as in Italy. This was turned down flat by the staff who stated that 'the Division would always operate within a three-mile perimeter.' If we had been re-equipped with more powerful radios, it would have added a minimum of an additional glider for each brigade and probably two for Divisional HQ. Spares might have doubled this allocation. A total of twelve extra gliders would be needed for Signals.


The use of the Division at short notice required all units to stick to a standard loading of gliders. It was not possible to switch loads around or change equipments. For security reasons, I heard of the plan only 36 hours before take off. I immediately contacted my Commanding Officer, Tom Stephenson. I told him we were unlikely to have proper communications until the whole Division was concentrated round the Bridge. I asked his permission to see the General or at least the GSO 1. I was told it was too late to worry them. He told me firmly to do no such thing. He was probably right.


Unfortunately General Browning had not commanded any formation during the war to date. He was determined to take his Corps HQ to battle at two weeks notice although it had only been designed to operate as a static HQ at Moor Park. (Personal letter to me from Major General Moberley). Tactically this was ridiculous and unnecessary. Links to the airborne divisions could have been better served direct from 30 Corps. Unfortunately the 38 gliders needed (of which 35 arrived), could have provided invaluable support to assist 1st Airborne Division on the first day. As a coup de Théâtre it might have been dramatic; as a means of waging war against a background of an acute shortage of aircraft, it was absurd.


The Arnhem debacle was caused by the complete failure of strategy and tactics at senior level. It was nothing to do with Signals. If we had landed adjacent to the Bridge and to the south of it, the Division might have had 10-20 per cent landing casualties. There would have been no problem with communications. The Division would have survived and would easily have held on to a bridgehead at Arnhem. The war might even have been shortened - but this correspondent might not be here to tell the tale.


Tony Deane-Drummond

c/o RHQ Royal Signals,

May 1990



Tony Deane-Drummond continued to serve in the Armed Forces after the War and, as a Lieutenant-Colonel, commanded the 22nd SAS in the later stages of the Malaya Emergency. Under his guidance, this unit became expert at living deep in the jungle, from where they were able to inflict terrible damage upon the communist guerillas. In future actions he commanded the Regiment in Oman, where their spectacular success resulted in him being awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His citation reads:


When, on the 1st January 1959, Lt-Colonel Deane-Drummond arrived in Oman to command two Squadrons of his regiment, rebels were holding the JEBEL AKHDAR : a formidable mountain range rising to 10,000 feet. All known tracks up the very steep slopes were dominated by rebel piquets, which had defied earlier attempts to dislodge them.


After successful patrol actions during the month Lt-Colonel Deane-Drummond on the night of 26th/27th January, took personal command of an assault of the JEBEL AKHDAR. By a forced night march up extremely difficult country, he surprised the enemy and gained complete success. At one stage the ascent was possible only by using ropes. Moving immediately behind the leading troops, Lt-Colonel Deane-Drummond by his courage and leadership throughout the assault, and on the following days, inspired men by his example. The remaining rebel opposition was quickly overcome and the whole operation was completed at small cost to the attacking troops.


Towards the end of the 1950's, he was promoted to Brigadier and took over command of 44th Parachute Brigade (TA) from John Frost, who was later destined to play the deceitful friend who brought Deane-Drummond to London under false pretences before handing him over to Eamonn Andrews, presenter of the This Is Your Life television programme; for his trouble, Frost received the customary bout of good humoured curses. A British gliding champion and author of the book, Return Ticket, Tony Deane-Drummond concluded his military career at the rank of Major-General.


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