Major John Popplewell Royle
Unit : Headquarters, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment
Army No. : 66172
John Royle was born in Sussex on the 25th February 1915, the son of Major John Bedward Royle of the South Wales Borderers. He was educated at Junior King's and at the King's School Canterbury from 1922 to 1932. In 1932 he was a member of the Rugby XV, Hockey XI and Captain of fives, he was also a Sergeant in the Officer Training Corps. He attended Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Highland Light Infantry on the 29th August 1935. Stationed in Cairo in 1936, he became a close friend of David Niven, the future actor and fellow officer in the regiment. In 1939, Royle was dismissed from the British Army following a court martial. In December of that year he married Christian Dorothy (nee Forbes-Gordon) and they lived in Wiltshire. Royle re-enlisted in the Army as a Guardsman in the Scots Guards, eventually becoming a Regimental Sergeant Major. On the 20th March 1941, he was commissioned into the Royal Scots as a 2nd Lieutenant, transferring to the Reconnaissance Corps on the following day. On the 17th August 1942 he joined the Glider Pilot Regiment. By 1944, he had attained the rank of Major and was Second-in-Command of the Regiment's No.1 Wing.
Major Royle was Second-in-Command of No.1 Wing, the Glider Pilot Regiment. After landing in Normandy, his task was to command "Force John", which consisted of some fifty glider pilots acting as infantry until such a time as they could be relieved and returned to England in preparation for further airborne operations. The following is Major Royle's report of his experiences in Normandy commanding "Force John".
Report on Operation "Overlord"
by Major J.P. Royle, 1 Wing, Glider Pilot Regiment
Commanding "Force John"
The leading elements of "Force John" were due to land on L.Z. [Landing Zone] "N", 1 mile EAST of the Bridges over the R. ORNE, at 0320 hours on 6th. June 1944.
Due to cloud (700 ft. to 2000 ft. approx) and flak, my tow rope broke over the coast at 0323 hours at LES PANORAMAS 1979 [Map Reference], and Glider No. 71 forced landed in a minefield 4 miles EAST of L.Z. "N" 165746. Both crew and passengers were unhurt, except for Lieut-Colonel Bray who suffered slight concussion, but the Glider was badly damaged, with the nose-wheel broken, perspex and underneath of fuselage smashed, and back broken at tail unload joint. It was decided to leave the jeep, trailer and motor-cycle, owing to the difficulties involving the unloading, and close proximity of enemy troops (there was a flak battery ¼ mile away, and small arms fire and shelling close at hand). Succeeded in cutting German telephone wires with port wing before landing!
The party, consisting of Lieut-Colonel Bray, Lieut. Smith, a colour-sergeant, five other ranks of Div. [Divisional] HQ and myself, then proceeded to move across country towards L.Z. "N". There were several "brushes" with enemy troops and snipers, but no casualties were caused. Lieut-Colonel Bray was injured falling off a wall! Several parties of 9 Para Bn. [Battalion], Canadian Para Bn., and 224 Para Fd. Amb [Field Ambulance] were met on the way.
I found Lieut. Dodwell and 4 Glider Pilots near le MESNIL 1372 and I took them on to RV [Rendezvous] "JOHN", arriving at approximately 0930 hours.
There were 53 men in RV "JOHN" under command Major S.C. Griffith, and the Remainder of the first take-off were missing. I assumed command of "Force John".
Casualties reported were three killed on landing.
Events after I assumed command were as follows (some times approximate):-
0945 hrs. - Contacted 13 Para Bn., who requested "Force John" to defend WEST and SOUTH-WEST area of X Roads [Crossroads]. Intermittent sniping.
1000 hrs. - Reported 6 Airborne Div. HQ - ordered to contact 12 Para Bn., Platoon in Area 107730 SOUTH of RANVILLE, and report all information to Div HQ.
1015 hrs. - Breakfast for all.
1025 hrs. - Three men wounded, one fatally, by burst of fire from SOUTH - cause unknown, but suspected snipers with 9mm sub-machine gun.
1040 hrs. - Took Patrol of 5 men Area RANVILLE - SOUTH to 107730 and searched Houses 113732 and 112734 for snipers with negative results. Embarrassing but hearty reception from French females! Contacted 12 Para Bn., and informed them of defensive positions, fire plan, etc. They were somewhat relieved that we were there, as they were then expecting counter attack.
Decided Area Bridge 111732 and adjacent buildings, and Road junction 112733 were dangerous unwatched, as possible lines of infiltration particularly by night. Ordered Major Griffith to establish standing patrols each of 10 men, at each of these points, to remain until further orders.
1330 hrs. - Mortar sniping on L.Z., but no further activity. Proceeded to RV "PETER" 123745, via L.Z. to recce. There contacted 2/Lt. Taylorson (2 Wing) and 2 S/Sgts, and gave them orders as to action after 2100 hrs landing [Second Lift]. Left 2 S/Sgts to assist, and to bring 20 pilots to RV [Rendezvous] "JOHN" as reinforcement after 2100 hours landing.
1530 hrs. - 2 snipers captured on L.Z. "N" 116737 by patrol of 13 Para Bn. These snipers had been troublesome and it was a relief when they were captured.
2100 hrs. - Glider landing commenced. Fairly heavy shelling of L.Z. "N", but most shells dropping short into RANVILLE. Possible that enemy had not direct observation L.Z. as there were few casualties visible, and shells continued to drop short.
2240 hrs. - Reported Div. HQ that "Force John" in position and dug-in. Ordered to contact Brig. Lord Lovat HQ at la POSTE 1175.
0015 hrs. - Reports to S.S. [Special Service] Commando H.Q., informed Brig. Lord Lovat that would not withdraw from RV "PETER" until 0900 hrs. 7 June, 1 Platoon, 6 Commando to take over.
0105 hrs. - Contacted Major Jackson, RV "PETER" - all quiet, except for intermittent fire and sniping - Area AMFREVILLE. Inspected defences.
0205 hrs. - Returned RV "JOHN" - all quiet.
0545 hrs. - Reported to Div. HQ. Informed unlikely to move out until Beaches clear.
0615 hrs. - Lieut. Corrie reported from Lieut-Colonel Murray, ordered to proceed to RV COLLEVILLE SUR ORNE 0878, as LCI's [Landing Craft Infantry] ready 1000 hrs.
0625 hrs. - Informed 6 Airborne Div. - given permission to proceed with "Force John" to Beaches. Informed Brig. Lord Lovat that we wished to withdraw from RV "PETER"; permission given and asked to hand over two Brens and 20 mags and ammunition to 6 Commando.
0650 hrs. - Ordered "Force Peter" to move immediately to clear Start line and Control Point by 0815 hrs established Rd. junc [Road junction] 107744. Route: Bridge - BENOUVILLE - ST. AUBIN D'ARQUENAY. Returned RV "JOHN".
0715 hrs. - Ordered Force under command Major S.C. Griffith to move, crossing bridge 0855 hrs. Informed 12 Devons and 13 Para.
0903 hrs. - Reported 6 Airborne Div. all "Force John" clear of Bridges, proceeding to Beachhead.
The morale and conduct of the men was excellent at all times. Movement and battle drill was fast and efficient. Digging-in was completed well on time.
It is suggested that one of the best roles for Glider Pilots on the ground is neutralizing or destroying snipers, who, in this operation, were a constant source of irritation. The best method of dealing with snipers is by means of snipers. It is therefore suggested that each section has two trained snipers with sniper's rifles and telescopic sights, and two extra men with Mk. V. Stens instead of rifles. I have already spoken to Major Harding about this.
TIME OF SIGNATURE 1020 hrs
10 Jun 44.
J.P Royle, Major, No.1 Wing Glider Pilot Regiment.
Major Royle was killed in action at Arnhem on the 20th September 1944. His Commanding Officer wrote: "The announcement that John Royle had been killed in action at Arnhem was a bitter blow to his many friends; few of his age could have had so many and such a variety. He had that enviable quality of making friends wherever he went, both young and old, in every walk of life. His impressive appearance, charm of manner, and great sense of humour made a lasting and delightful imprint on the memory of all those who had the luck to know him. On the outbreak of war he enlisted at once and had the distinction of filling every rank up to that of Major (at one time acting as regimental-sergeant-major at the training establishment at Loch Ailort). A born soldier, he had the experience and enthusiasm which were so essential for the training of men in a new arm of the service. The success of the regiment in ultimate operations was largely due to his untiring efforts. In everything that he undertook he displayed great dash and energy, which was an inspiration to all concerned. It was in this manner, in the face of the enemy, that he met his untimely end. A true sportsman in every sense of the word, he lived to the full every moment of his 29 years; and died, as he would have wished, leading his men in a bold and gallant attack on the enemy."
My thanks to John Hamblin for his contributions to this biography.
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