Staff-Sergeant Samuel Gregory Isaacs
Unit : No.11 Flight, "E" Squadron, No.2 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment
Army No. : 6149848
Awards : Distinguished Flying Medal
Sam was 20 on 20th April 1940 and had his army medical on 7th July, being declared A1. His first regiment, the 10th Battalion East Surrey
Regiment, spent most of the years 1940 to 1942 in the West Country, based in or near various towns, on permanent training exercises. By 27th July
Sam had had the first of many jabs - this one for Tetanus - and had joined up with his regiment at Ilfracombe in north Devon.
Other bases over the next 2 years included: Fremlington, near Bideford, August 1940; Elburton and the Plymouth area, October 1940 for 9 months -
where Sam was promoted to Corporal on 7th October 1940 and in early Spring 1941 the 10th helped clear up Plymouth after a particularly heavy
bombing raid; Helston, Cornwall, June 1941; Tiverton, Devon, July 1941 - where the battalion commenced intensive training; Crown Hill, Devonport,
autumn 1941 to summer of 1942.
In January of 1942 Sam was marked down as being AWOL twice. The first time on the 4th was actually deleted two months later, but on the 8th he was marked as AWOL from 23.59hrs to 15.45hrs on the following Friday afternoon. What was he up to? Where was he? As the East Surreys were still in the Plymouth area one can only hazard a guess, but that guess might include drink, a woman, the Japanese advance in the far east and boredom - he always cited his hatred for marching round in circles for his ultimate decision to volunteer for the GPR, that, actually doing something positive and learning how to fly.
Sam applied to the GPR and, before being accepted, had to sit his Maths Matriculation, as he had not been able to take it on leaving school. He was posted on 27th June and finally arrived with the Glider Pilot Regiment on 29th July 1942. Sam moved to Denham in Buckinghamshire on 13th August 1942 and from there he travelled every day to the Elementary Flying Training School at Booker. He learned how to fly on Miles Magisters and his beloved Tiger Moths. Mervyn Seabrook, a colleague on the course, attests to Sam's incredible prowess at aircraft recce - Mervyn says Sam was always willing to help out in recce tests. Over the three-month course Sam flew some 18 hours 45 minutes and qualified with above average marks.
In the following November, on the 19th, Sam was presented with his wings. The day before he had been on a solo flight in a Tiger Moth and got lost. He finally landed in a field and, after being thought of by the locals as one of the few, he decided that asking the way may not be very impressive. He accepted the hospitality of the locals and eventually called a comrade the following morning - the morning of his wings ceremony - to ask him to come and pick him up! His training moved on to Glider Training School at the Oxfordshire airfield at Weston-on-the-Green, in early 1943 - it's not possible to be more accurate at the moment, as Sam's original logbook was destroyed in a fire in North Africa in July 1943. He trained on Hotspurs and gained average marks at the end of this particular course, which was completed on 28th February 1943.
North Africa, Sicily, and Italy
All glider pilots were to be Sergeants and Sam was promoted from corporal on 9th March 1943 on the same day he got his Glider Pilot Regiment flying badge. By the time he left for North Africa on 30th May of that same year, he had flown well over 80 hours and piloted all the gliders available to the regiment, Hotspurs, Horsas and Hamilcars. The Hamilcar was a massive aircraft that could carry a small tank into battle and Sam flew them on a Heavy Glider Conversion Unit course in April 1943 - he had 7 hours flying time and again gained average marks.
In the next five weeks he had ten jabs of one description or another and on 29th May 1943, preparation was fully in place for embarkation to North Africa - at last something violent to worry about other than the bloody needles! The following day, as Churchill and De Gaulle arrived in Algiers, Sam embarked to arrive in Froha, Algiers on 10th June - the two allied leaders didn't wait! On the same day that the 1st Battalion the Glider Pilot Regiment is confirmed, 15th June, Sam flies an American Waco - soon to be re-named the Hadrian by the British - in Exercise Eve, with first pilot Staff Sergeant Wood. The following day Operation Turkey Buzzard commenced. This was the main delivery of Wacos to five airstrips near Sousse and Kairouan in Tunisia. Initially all the gliders that are delivered are grounded for repairs - they have been largely put together by American maintenance crews. However, there are over 1800 training tugs completed in a relatively short phase - Sam completes nearly six hours flying during this time.
The glider borne aspect of Operation Husky was launched from six airstrips near Sousse. Sam took off from F Strip with H Company 1st Borderers and a 6-pounder anti-tank gun, led by Lt E S (Ted) Newport. He was 2nd pilot to S/Sgt Wood in Waco/Hadrian No: 403, chalk number 109.
The pilot report reads:
A good tow, but intercom u/s (unstable?). Port light on Albermarle was u/s from start. Released at 23.45hrs at 1400 feet, approximately 500 yards off shore. Glider made perfect landing on LZ.
The perfect landing was between a wall and a telegraph wire and into a tomato field. When the glider pilots arrived back in North Africa there were confrontations with the American pilots in local bars. The tug pilots were looked upon as a shambles and cowards for over reacting to the flak that was actually fairly minimal in places. When back in Tunisia, Sam flew a series of eight exercises totalling nearly five hours during mid-August. On 14th September 1943 Sam landed in Italy as part of the infantry landings at Taranto aboard the Princess Beatrix. The mayor of Taranto welcomed the allies with open arms. Villa Monte, Putignano, was the eventual HQ, with the men billeted in a nearby school designed by Mussolini as a showcase for the Italian people.
The sojourn in Italy drifts on until late November when the GPs are recalled to the UK to make ready for the invasion of Europe. They embarked on two ships. The ship Sam was on was a banana boat and it developed engine trouble and had to call in to Sicily. They eventually made it back to Bizerta in Tunisia and had to then board a train for Blida in Algeria - a trip of nearly 500 miles. The other glider pilot ship arrived in Liverpool on 10th December; the second batch hadn't even reached Blida at this point. Christmas Day 1943 was spent readying themselves for the voyage back home. As the ship set sail for the UK, Sam's mother Rose died in hospital. She had developed a brain tumour brought on by a fall after a man had pushed her over in East Street market, just off the Walworth Road in South East London. She had hit her head on a kerb stone. The family claim that the tumour was finally brought on by hitting a top C while singing. 5th January 1944 the second glider pilot contingent finally arrived home. Sam, on his arrival back in Rodney Road, looked for the man who pushed his mother over, found him in a local pub and battered him.
After 2 weeks compassionate leave Sam settled into training for the invasion of Europe, plans for which were finalised on 8th February under the name of Operation Overlord. On 20th February he flew to Loughingham in Leicestershire for Hamilcar training. In fact he trained on the giant glider until 26th March. He moves to North Luffenham where he is shown the delights of many Leicestershire hostelries by Bert Harget. In a chat in November 2001, some 57 years after their time together, Bert Harget told me about his fondness for Sam and the strong friendship Sam had with Alan Jock Lindsay. While based near to Bert's home in the Olney district of Leicester, their training intensified and included the new instrument designed to show the position of the tug plane during poor flying conditions. This instrument was euphemistically called the angle of dangle.
By late April 1944, Sam was back in the West Country at the final base he would fly from for D Day and Arnhem, Down Ampney in the Cotswolds. He qualified as a first pilot on 20th April, the day after he arrived at his new base. Just prior to his 24th birthday on 30th April, Sam undertook three days of intensive flying with Dougie Douglas, alternating as 1st/2nd pilot with his future fellow recipient of the Distinguished Flying Medal. Sam and Jock Lindsay flew together for the only time on 12th May. They took up two Tiger Moths - numbers 733 twice and 4749 once for 3 hours 55 minutes. The first flight was for Pin pointing - steep turns; the second, Formation cross country and the final flight of one hour 45 minutes notes, Base - Milverton - Base. This latter flight saw Sam fly upside down along side of a train, while he and Jock waved to the somewhat startled passengers! Later on in May, Sam flew with Bert Harget, again in a Tiger Moth - number 323 for over five hours. And then on 29th May Sam teamed up with Bill Perry, his second pilot until Arnhem. They are finally officially posted to No. 2 Wing Glider Pilot Regiment E Squadron, 12 Flight on 2nd June 1944 and Sam was promoted to Staff Sergeant.
Operation Mallard (D-Day), 6th June 1944
Sam and Bill pilot a Horsa (931 crew) chalk number 55. Their flight was from Down Ampney to Littlehampton, across the channel to Ranville and they landed perfectly on LZ N. The flight took 2 hours 20 minutes and they are released from 800 feet. After a brief stay in which they contributed to the fighting at Ouistreaham, they arrived back in the UK on 8th June and appeared on the front page of the Daily Express on the 9th.
After two weeks leave Sam returned to Down Ampney and commenced mass landing training throughout most of June and July, totalling almost
seven hours flying time. And then in late July/early August, 12 glider pilots were selected for a secret SAS mission to disrupt
German communications to the south of Paris. Called off twice due to poor weather and, ironically, a
communication breakdown, on the original designated date Sam stood up in the back of their three-tonner truck on the way to Brize Norton and
recited Rupert Brookes The Soldier. Bert Harget was one of the other selected 11 and he asked the very relevant question of the commanding officer,
"How would we get back sir?"
To which the officer replied, with an almost dismissive wave of the arm, "Oh, well think of that
Throughout August and into September, the training became more and more intense. As an aside, on 29th August the Indian expedition, expected for the early part of 1945, was first talked of. Sam was due to be one of 1,000 Army glider pilots in a force of 1,220 that would eventually spend nearly 18 months in the sub-continent. Sam had two days leave on Tuesday 13th and Wednesday 14th September. Briefings were on the Friday and Saturday - just as the U S 1st Army penetrated the Siegfried Line.
Saturday afternoon and early evening was spent loading and checking Horsa 448 - chalk number 289. Sam and Bill Perry were responsible for some of 181 Field Ambulance that totalled 21 men, two handcarts and two lightweight motorcycles. They would also have checked the tug plane towline with the pilot, Warrant Officer Felton - Dakota KG 411. The load was of key importance as it included Major Simon Fraser, second in command of the 181; the dental officer, Captain P Griffin, who acted as anaesthetist; half a section and several members of the surgical team.
The weather on Sunday 17th September 1944 was a bit misty, but nothing was going to stop the operation that could well bring a swift end to World War II. Final checks were made, hands were shook and the greatest airborne armada in history took to the air. Chalk number 289 took off at 10.12hrs. The only surviving member of the glider is George Aldred, who was a Corporal and Operating Room Assistant in the 181. The following are extracts from a letter George sent to me on 14th February 2002.
I am most likely the soul survivor of chalk number 289...You will know all about the many previous operation cancellations (there were 16) and it was forecast that we were being saved for Operation Bloodbath. We were briefed 2 or 3 days before the op I think, all I remember is us all walking out and we were all of the same opinion; no confidence in the Americans getting the previous three bridges (Eindhoven, Grave and Nijmegen) as we had been let down badly by them in North Africa and Sicily. The day before take off we were getting kit ready; afterwards writing family, etc, letters - missed tea, got to bed about midnight (in tents) ravenously hungry. I remembered I had a Mars bar in my pack - took it out in the dark and bit it. Ants had eaten the soft interior. I struck my lighter. I had spit out a mouthful of ants and hundreds more (were) everywhere.
We went to Down Ampney next morning and saw many fellows from other units that we had not seen from (North) Africa and Sicily - all saying the same thing. Hi Tom or Jack or whatever, we're in the shit! and we knew it! I don't remember anything about your dad or Sgt Perry. I remember all the way across the North Sea we kept getting messages from the glider crew, "We might have to go back". Apparently the Dakota kept having engine trouble.
We hit the coast of Holland, flooded. I was surprised to see some lights spiralling up to us. When one flashed by about 20-30 yards from the wing, I realised it was anti-aircraft fire - with a rifled barrel I thought just the bullet or shell twisted - but these spiralled up. I don't remember any of the passengers on the flight, but of course I knew them all. I do remember us all loading our revolvers when we were getting near. Wally Hadfield sat next to me, he died last year (2001).
We landed on the Landing Ground S (LZ S). Reijers Camp, far corner, the glider was tipped on its left side, tail in the air and we had trouble getting the tail off and the motor cycles and hand carts out. I went to the place a few years ago and picked up a stone as a souvenir. I remember pulling a handcart with our surgical kit in down the long lane to Dautsekampweg (the site of a 1st World War POW - German - camp) and some Dutch people with apples. We opened an operating theatre in an outhouse of one of the houses
Chalk number 289 would have landed on LZ S at approximately 14.00hrs. Sam and Bill dug in on the south east corner of the zone as part of the defence for the landings on Day 2. E Squadron were involved in a fairly heavy confrontation with the enemy at about 18.00hrs, but fought them off - this was against the NCO Training School Battalion.
On waking on the morning of Day 2, Sam suggested a cup of tea to his fellow slit trench occupants. He left the trench, stretched and noticed a German walking along the perimeter of the field. The German lobbed a stick grenade at the trench. Sam shouted for his comrades to move, ran to the grenade, threw it back in the direction of the German and ran for the nearest cover, the woods at the south east of the field. As Sam ran, the grenade exploded, and very quickly a tracer of bullets from a machine gun followed him the 50 yards or so to the woods. He zigzagged to safety, but the trace of bullets followed him so close as to give him minor shrapnel wounds up his back and removes a slice off his right index finger. Sam always referred to his adversary as cockeyed. Sam spent some time wondering around weaponless but found a sten gun and joined up with a group of E Squadron comrades and, under the direction of Lt Col John Place, they headed off toward Oosterbeek.
From Day 3 to 6 (19th to 23rd September) Sam was positioned on the northeast edge of the Oosterbeek Perimeter or Hexenkessel (the Witches Cauldron) as the Germans christened it. He was under the command of his own E Squadron commander, Major B H P Jackson and was dug in near to the house called Ommershof. Prior to this Sam had seen a German in a window of the Wolfheze Hotel, as they marched towards Oosterbeek, and he actually saw the German fall after a burst of fire from his sten gun - something he always found difficult to talk about as this was the first man he had ever seen die from his own hand.
Many from both sides died standing in the windows of the buildings that became the scene of vicious house to house, hand to hand fighting. SS Captain Hans Moeller describes one such incident.
There was fairness - but this could not conceal the fact that the battle continued with unabated ferocity. Men ventured too close to windows. An invisible enemy sniper (could) punish this carelessness with a well-aimed round. SS Corporal Tornow, a brave and circumspect leader of his men, died in this way, paying a dear price for one moments inattention.
On Day 7 (24th September) Bill Perry, who Sam had last seen in the field at LZ S and was listed as lightly walking wounded, was handed over to the Germans in the truce arranged between the medical officers of both sides. Later on this same day heavy mortar fire forced withdrawal from the White House to the Hotel Hartenstein - 1st Airborne HQ within the Oosterbeek Perimeter. The ninth and final day, Monday 25th September, arrived and positioned to the west of the Hartenstein, Sam was one of the glider pilots who helped with the guiding of troops down to the river. The command for the withdrawal was given by General Browning at 13.00hrs on that final Monday.
During the night of the withdrawal, a particularly abysmal, rainy night, Sam came across a group of lost men. With a flourish he produced his compass and declared he knew the way to the river. He ended up being dragged out of a dyke. This was very appropriate preparation for his subsequent swim across the Neder Rijn. Sam's DUKW amphibious craft developed engine trouble and he decided he had to swim from half way across the Neder Rijn rather than drift toward enemy lines on the far side. Once on the south bank, the men had to scramble up the steep muddy embankment. Bert Harget describes, "digging our finger nails into the mud so hard it hurt. We pulled as hard as we could to reach the top. It was truly frantic and we were a desperate bunch."
Of 184 in E Squadron, 46 were killed, 70 were POWs and 68 crossed the river. On Sam's arrival back at Down Ampney on 29th September, he was the only member of his hut of 18 men to return. From 2nd October he was given 2 weeks leave and 1st November saw his last flight in the UK, a cross country mass landing in Horsa 568 with a Sgt Trueman.
The inoculations started again in preparation for his impending placement in India. Later on 29th November 1944 Sam was posted to 343 Wing RAF 669 Sqn, D Flight, as part of a force being assembled to liberate the POWs on the Burma railway. 669 Squadron is formed in Bikram. Sam's trip to India lasted five days and took in Christmas 1944 in Cairo and a final arrival point of Karachi. He was eventually stationed in Poona. His first flight in the sub-continent was in a Tiger Moth and from then on there are very few opportunities to extend his experience as a flyer. In fact from 18th January to 23rd July 1945 he flew only seven hours. Another comrade, Bernard Reynard, a young addition to the Glider Pilot Regiment at this time, comments on what a very good man Sam was. So many of the more experienced glider pilots had a superior air, but Sam could not do enough for anyone in general, but the younger men in particular. Bernard had lied about his age and had been an under age recruit so was very grateful for Sam's kindness in such a far away land.
Bernard's main memory of Sam was the receipt of his Distinguished Flying Medal - announced on 15th February 1945 in the London Gazette. Sam was sent to Delhi to receive his DFM from Lt Col F A S Murray, but on his return to Poona his comrades held a small informal presentation with Captain Fowden re-presenting the medal on their parade ground. Bernard says Sam was very moved by his comrades actions and was rather humble at the attention given him.
His medal citation read as follows:
6149848 Staff Sergeant Samuel Gregory Isaacs - Arnhem 17th to 25th September 1944.
This NCO has taken part in three airborne operations, Sicily, D Day and Arnhem. On each occasion he has shown the most skilful ability as a pilot and has landed his load safely in the correct place. His determination and coolness under difficult conditions has at all times been most conspicuous.
On 30th April 1945, Sam's 25th birthday, there is an entry in his Log Book of nil returns, C Flight. In June he had his last glider flight in Hadrian 764 with Sgt Melvin as 2nd pilot, it is for 10 minutes and lists a 270 release. And 23rd July sees his last ever flight in a Tiger Moth (521) 2nd piloting to Flight Lieutenant Stansfield on stalls and spins at Basal or Chaklala. Sam had flown in total 320 hours 50 minutes in just over 3 years of service in the shortest lived regiment in British Army history. The Glider Pilot Regiment was finally disbanded in 1957 and always performed within their regimental motto: Nihil est Impossibilis, Nothing is Impossible.
Sam arrived home on 7th June 1946 after one year, 167 days in India. His final release date was 28th August and his release papers had this statement:
An excellent type of NCO with a distinguished operational record.
Military Character: Exemplary.
Sam Isaacs died on the 16th February 1986.
Thanks to Sam's son, Simon Murray, for contributing this biography of his father.
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