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Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Bradley

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Edward Moore Bradley

 

Unit : 6th Airborne Divisional Signals

Army No. : 63546

Awards : Companion of the Bath, Commander of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Bradley commanded Divisional Signals during the Rhine Crossing. The following is his account of events immediately after landing on the 24th March 1945.

 

"The 'A' Command Set was brought in and opened at 11.00 hours. Immediate contact was made with 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades who reported all well. The Commander [Major-General Bols] was there at the time and I do not know which of us was the more excited and pleased when I reported the news to him. He had already seen the Commander [Brigadier Bellamy] of 6th Airlanding Brigade who had landed nearby and was in touch with his own brigade. The Commander Royal Artillery and Forward Observation Officer's were through to our guns. And so within half an hour of the landing of the first divisional headquarters glider, the communications situation was highly satisfactory: the only communication not yet available was direct to XVIII U.S. Airborne Corps, although that too was possible through Royal Artillery channels."

 

"At that time, apart from Headquarters Royal Artillery, the only wireless set available at divisional headquarters was the vital 'A' Command Set that had come with the General Staff Officer One [Lieutenant-Colonel Roberts] and myself. The Officer Commanding 'A' Section and the Signal Security Officer were the only signals officers that had arrived besides myself. There was a handful of men. The 'A' Command Set was through to 6th Air Landing Brigade Headquarters at 11.28 hours. One of the Forward Vehicle Command Post's with its R.A.F. crew was next to arrive and was through to the Forward Command Post on the VHF [Very High Frequency] soon after arrival, so air support was now available to the division - but to land fighter pilots by glider into the middle of an airborne operation is still unkind, to say the least of it!"

 

"By 12.00 hours the Commander's Rover Set was unloaded from its glider and, as he had no immediate requirement for it, it was put onto a lateral link to 17th U.S. Airborne Division, though no communication was established until 16.00 hours. As it transpired, the set and British crew with 17th U.S. Airborne Division had met with a series of mishaps. The operators on either end of this link were brothers, so you can imagine the anxiety to establish communications."

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Bradley was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his efforts in the Ardennes and the Rhine Crossing. His citation reads:

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Bradley has been Commander Royal Signals 6th Airborne Division for 9 months. Before this he was with 59th Infantry Division in British Liberation Army.

 

He has proven a most courageous and successful officer. His first operation with the division in the Ardennes proved a most searching test. Orders to proceed to Belgium were received at very short notice. Conditions on arrival were deplorable, the roads being in a vile condition. A large part of the divisional signals and equipment was fogbound in transit camp in the Thames. The division on arrival found itself commanding six brigades.

 

Colonel Bradley rose to this occasion splendidly. Information about the enemy west of the River Maas was hazy, and considerable risk attached to those travelling alone that side of the river. This officer, however, showed the utmost determination to establish communications in spite of all the difficulties. He travelled long distances alone in areas which might well have contained enemy. Going for days and nights without sleep, he succeeded in maintaining communications, although a high proportion of his equipment had not arrived and the force to be served was nearly double a division in size, and spread over a wide area.

 

Again, in the Airborne operation across the Rhine, Lieutenant-Colonel Bradley showed great courage and leadership. The rapid linking up by wireless of the various groups which had landed by air was vital. The area was full of enemy pockets, and movement was most hazardous. Lieutenant-Colonel Bradley was quite undeterred. He went from one small signal detachment to another, helping and encouraging his men. Here again, communications successfully withstood a most testing period.

 

This officer's gallantry, initiative and devotion to duty have been outstanding. He has gained and held the confidence of his men, and inspired them to great efforts.

 

Later promoted to Major-General, Peter Bradley died on the 2nd June 2010. The following is his obituary as recorded in The Times on the 11th June.

 

A Royal Signals officer who showed courage and a flair for improvisation in resisting the surprise German offensive in the Ardennes in December 1944.

 

Young officers gazetted to the Royal Corps of Signals are unlikely to have winning the DSO or commanding an infantry brigade high on their list of professional priorities. Peter Bradley achieved both, and, in a career spanning almost five decades, he was a quintessential communicator, in both the technical and human sense.

 

Only ten Royal Signals officers received the DSO during the Second World War. Bradley won his as Commander Royal Signals of 6th Airborne Division at the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945. Before then he had served a courageous and successful apprenticeship with the same division during the German offensive in the Ardennes three months earlier.

 

Even Montgomery conceded that the last German offensive in the west achieved complete tactical surprise when it opened with a huge artillery barrage on the 16th December 1944. Hitler's aim was to strike the Allied armies such a stunning blow that they would be unable to carry their advance any farther during that winter. If that could be achieved, he would be able to switch his fast-dwindling resources to the east in a final effort to hold the Russians on the line of the Oder. It was a desperate throw, which failed with the collapse of both fronts.

 

The 6th Airborne Division was brought over to Belgium from England at almost no notice and ordered to join 30 Corps in attacking the southern flank of the German salient around Bure, only 60 miles southeast of Brussels. The roads in the area were in a vile condition, having been churned up by armour and then swamped by rain, and much of Bradley's divisional signals equipment was fogbound in England awaiting airlift.

 

Knowledge of the enemy's whereabouts was hazy and sparse, making travel behind the quickly changing front exceptionally dangerous. Determined to establish communications with the six brigades under the division's command, Bradley drove relentlessly, crossing and re-crossing the divisional sector, going for several days and nights without sleep and at great personal risk, until he had achieved that objective. Improvisation was essential at every point, as the bulk of his signals equipment was still waiting in England when he got back there to prepare for the parachute assault beyond the Rhine.

 

The airborne assault of the Rhine crossing was conducted by 6th British and 17th United States Airborne Divisions flown in from England and France respectively. The combined force took 3,500 German prisoners on the first day and captured all objectives, but many enemy pockets remained around the bridges over the Ijssel and beyond. Bradley again showed courage and leadership, travelling widely to ensure every signal detachment was functioning to capacity and urging the operators to ever greater efforts. His communications withstood the test of battle. The citation for his DSO concluded: "His gallantry and initiative have been outstanding. He has inspired his men to great efforts."

 

Peter Edward More Bradley could reasonably claim to have been born into an army signals family as his father, Colonel Edward de Winton Bradley - a founder member of the Corps - was serving with the Royal Engineers Signal Service in 1914. Peter was educated at Marlborough and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from where he was commissioned in 1934. He served with the 1st Division Signals Regiment in Palestine, 1936-38, during the second Arab Revolt in the British mandated territory, and also managed to squeeze in a couple of years on the North-West Frontier of India with the Peshawar District Signals before leaving for Persia and Iraq with 8th Indian Division in April 1941.

 

The collapse of the pro-Axis Rashid Ali regime in Iraq eventually released the division for more active service in the Italian campaign. Bradley left Italy and the 8th Indian Division in early 1944 to return to England to join the 59th Divisional Signals Regiment for the Normandy invasion. He left France to take over command of 6th Airborne Division Signals in England in September, just in time to return with then to help counter the Ardennes offensive.

 

Staff College and a variety of General Staff and other posts followed after the war, including that of Royal Signals representative at Sandhurst, Colonel General Staff at Headquarters 1st (British) Corps in the Army of the Rhine, and with the military Standing Group in Washington.

 

He was promoted brigadier in 1961 and seconded to the Singapore Government as commander Singapore Military Forces. When the island state joined the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, he took over command of the 4th Federal Infantry Brigade of the Malaysian Army, comprising units from Singapore. President Sukarno of Indonesia's "confrontation" with the federation, over its inclusion of the former British states of Sarawak and North Borneo, began soon afterwards. While military action was initially confined to the Borneo border areas, a campaign of terrorist bomb explosions in Singapore kept the British and Malaysian forces there on their toes. Bradley was appointed CBE in recognition of his service in the Far East in 1964.

 

He went to Ottawa in March 1964 as military adviser to the British High Commissioner but was recalled after only nine months to become Signal Officer-in-Chief (Army) and professional head of his corps in the Ministry of Defence. He was appointed CB in 1968 and subsequently he served as chief of staff to the Nato C-in-C Allied Forces Northern Europe in Oslo.

 

He retired from active duty in 1970 but was Master of Signals and President of the Royal Signals Institution 1970 to 1982. He was Colonel Gurkha Signals, 1967-74. His outgoing personality was ideally suited to these representative appointments, which brought him in touch with all ranks of the Royal Corps of Signals and with the technical and welfare institutions with which the Corps maintains close contact.

 

He lived in Northumberland after leaving the service and from 1975 to 1982 was secretary of the Vindolanda Trust for the preservation of part of the Hadrian's Wall World Heritage site.

 

He is survived by his second wife, Margaret, whom he married in 1956, and three sons, two from his first marriage and one from his second.

 

 

My thanks to Bob Hilton for this account.

 

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