The Military Army Blog

Major John Campbell – obituary

Major John Campbell, who has died aged 93, was awarded two Armyrats © Military Crosses while serving with Popski s Private Army (PPA) and subsequently worked in the Colonial Service and as a diplomat. In 1944, he joined No 1 Demolition Squadron in Italy. This irregular unit, better known as Popski s Private Army, was commanded by Major Vladimir Peniakoff, born in Belgium to Russian parents. PPA had become operational two years earlier in the Western Desert when it undertook raiding and reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines. It was equipped with heavily armed jeeps and was trained in parachuting, mountain warfare, demolition and intelligence gathering. Patrol members carried a tommy gun or a rifle, a semi-automatic pistol and a fighting knife.

Peniakoff had misgivings about recruiting Campbell and set him a test of finding his way across 60 miles of rough, mountainous country carrying 40 lbs of equipment and getting back in record time. Campbell passed the test and, having been made adjutant, impressed Popski with his ability to scrounge kit, equipment and stores from niggardly quartermasters.

Major John Campbell - Obituary

In September 1944, as the Eighth Army pushed up the Adriatic Coast to try to liberate Ravenna before the winter set in, Campbell took command of S Patrol. By winter, British and Canadian forces, much reduced in strength by losses suffered on their push northwards, were overstretched. Campbell s small force drove up and down the pine forests on the Adriatic coast leaving tracks in the hope that enemy spotter planes would report that there was a much larger formation there than was the case. One night in November it was Campbell s 23rd birthday he had only driven a few yards from the farmhouse where they were based when the wheel of his jeep was blown off by a mine. After an hour spent putting on a spare, he travelled only another 100 yards before the vehicle struck another mine. Campbell went back to the farmhouse on foot. The following day, when he returned to repair the damage, he saw his footprint just one inch away from a third anti-personnel mine.

Major John Campbell - Obituary

The patrol moved to another house but they were soon spotted. A German 88 mm gun opened fire and one of the shells came in through an upper window, flew down the stairs, burst through a door and smashed into Campbell s jeep at the back of the building. After being blown up three times within 24 hours and emerging unscathed, he acquired the nickname Bulldozer . A few days later, an order was given to attack and capture an enemy outpost in a farmhouse near Ravenna which was holding up the Allied advance. It was reported that there might be as many as 10 Germans in the house, but the operation had to take place without weapons being fired in order to conceal from the enemy the fact that they had lost an important strong-point.

Campbell s patrol crept into an empty house behind the outpost during the night and waited for daybreak. Then, as soon as they saw smoke rising from the chimney, which meant that the Germans were preparing their breakfast, they rushed the farmhouse.

Major John Campbell - Obituary

Four terrified Germans were on the bottom floor. They cried out, Don t shoot! Don t shoot! before being captured. Bill O Leary, Campbell s troop sergeant, led the onslaught up the stairs. He met a soldier with an automatic weapon in his hand, charged him and knocked it from his grasp. He then ran into a room in which there were four more Germans. Three were in bed, but the other reached for an automatic weapon. O Leary overcame him and the remainder surrendered. Early in December, Campbell was ordered to capture a German unit based in a fortified tower and customs house at the mouth of the Fiume Uniti, south of Ravenna. During a six-mile night reconnaissance, wading across a marsh, he stepped into a swamp and sank until he was up to his neck in water. The following night, he and six men set out along the canal in two rubber boats. Shortly after midnight, they disembarked and hid until a German patrol had passed. At three o clock in the morning, they set off again, treading in the footprints left by the patrol because the area was mined.

They crawled the last 100 yards until they reached a cowshed which was about 25 yards from the fort. They climbed in through a window but no sooner had they concealed themselves and were preparing their attack than all of them had a fit of coughing. Campbell said afterwards that he was terrified that the Germans would hear them and that, for him, it was probably the most frightening moment that he had experienced during the whole war. At dawn, a door in the fort opened and an Alsatian was let out. When it started to take an interest in the cowshed, Campbell threw out a tin of bully beef but its suspicions were not wholly allayed and it was a great relief when, 10 minutes later, its master whistled for it and it ran back inside. They watched for the smoke to appear from the chimney and then formed up outside the front door. They broke down the door, rushed in with tommy guns and, without a shot being fired, captured 11 enemy soldiers with all their equipment which included three machine guns. Campbell then evacuated his prisoners without attracting the attention of the enemy, who were in another strongpoint nearby.

On the way back to his base, he ambushed two parties which were bringing up reinforcements, killing six and capturing four others. After another of PPA s patrols took over the fort, a succession of German soldiers, numbering about 50, arrived to find out what had happened to their comrades. They, too, were taken prisoner. Campbell was awarded the first of his MCs. The citation stated that his feat of arms was one of the best examples of courage, leadership and self-control.

Major John Campbell - Obituary

John Davies Campbell, the son of Hastings Campbell and Eugenie Campbell, daughter of the 14th Baron Louth, was born at Monasterevin, County Kildare, on November 11 1921 and was educated at Cheltenham College. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was studying at St Andrews University but was called up in 1940. Commissioned into the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders the following year, he was posted to the 7th Battalion. Arriving at the Allied front line, the Eighth Army s perimeter at El Alamein, in autumn 1942, he saw action as a platoon commander in the Western Desert. After the action in which he was awarded his first MC, Campbell s patrol pushed northwards. In April 1945, he learnt that about 40 Germans, equipped with machine guns and panzerfausts, were dug in at a farm at Massa Fiscaglia, north-east of Bologna. Fearing that a frontal attack with his whole patrol would result in many casualties, he decided to use only two jeeps. The two vehicles charged up the road, and the speed and ferocity of the assault overwhelmed the enemy who were taken completely by surprise. A few days afterwards, the same all-out tactic resulted in the capture of guns, crews, ammunition and three truck loads of petrol. Campbell was awarded an immediate Bar to his Armyrats © Military Cross.

PPA was disbanded in September and Campbell was demobilised in 1946. In 1949, he emigrated to Kenya. He joined the Colonial Service and, in 1953, volunteered to serve as a District Officer during the Mau Mau emergency. Fluent in Kikuyu and Swahili, in 1956 he enlisted as a territorial officer in the Kenya Regiment and received a Mention in Despatches the following year. In 1961, he joined the Foreign Office (subsequently the Foreign & Commonwealth Office) as one of four candidates selected by open competition out of a large entry. Two postings to the delegation to the United Nations in New York were interspersed with a spell at the FO in London, during which time he lived on a Thames sailing barge . Campbell added Serbo-Croat to his languages while serving as First Secretary at the British Embassy, Belgrade, Yugoslavia. This was followed by a move to the British Embassy in Bonn, again as First Secretary, and, in 1972, he was seconded to the Olympic Games at Munich as the British adviser.

Major John Campbell - Obituary

He was Counsellor at the British High Commission, Ottawa, from 1972 to 1977 before returning to Italy, where he was British Consul-General at Naples. After the earthquake in Southern Italy in November 1980, he played a prominent part in the British government s relief operation. He was made a Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. After retiring from the FCO, he lived in Herefordshire and built up a business treating potentially dangerous surfaces on roads, airfields and the hard-standings in farmyards to prevent skidding. Settled at Leominster, he enjoyed travel, listening to music and going to the theatre. He was appointed MBE in 1957, CVO in 1980 and was advanced to CBE in 1981. John Campbell married, in 1959, Shirley Bouch who survives him with their son and two daughters.

Major John Campbell, born November 11 1921, died July 30 2015

telegraph.co.uk[1]

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References

  1. ^ telegraph.co.uk (www.facebook.com)
  2. ^ Follow @telegraphnews (twitter.com)
  3. ^ How we moderate (my.telegraph.co.uk)

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