Maj Gen Tony Deane-Drummond: Soldier decorated after Operation Market Garden
Tuesday 05 March 2013
Tony Deane-Drummond was one of the architects of the modern SAS, which received the acclaim he desired for it in January 1959 after it won the battle of the Green Mountain in Oman. The A and D squadrons of his command, 22 SAS Regiment seized the 7,000ft Jebel Akhdar, stronghold of the rebels Suleiman bin Hamyar and his brother Talib, who with their wives, slaves, carpets, and other possessions operated from caves and tunnels in the craggy heights to oppose Britain's ally, the Sultan. Around 120 men surprised rebel forces of about 500 by climbing a pathless, sheer face, unnoticed. The SAS lost three men, the rebels more than 50. The mountain's capture prompted politicians to see the SAS's value as a tool of post-imperial policy, and military chiefs to appreciate its adaptability.
Deane-Drummond received the DSO and the personal congratulations of Minister of Defence Duncan Sandys. The regiment was told by Air Vice-Marshal Maurice Heath: "You have taken part in what is really an epic battle... your action has done a great deal to restore British prestige in the Persian Gulf, which has been slipping rapidly since the last war and was accelerated by Suez... Now all the sheikhs around the Gulf can breathe more freely."
Deane-Drummond's preoccupation was "to show that the regular Army needed a Regular SAS Regiment... we had to make a case for what was a genuine corps d'élite – without ever mentioning this phrase".
The Oman assignment was a stroke of luck, coming immediately after 22 Regiment had drawn plaudits as "the most successful unit in the army" in Malaya. There its men had parachuted into a jungle-covered swamp in February 1958 and hunted down "Baby-Killer" Ah-Hoi, a particularly ruthless Communist insurgent.
Had his men been left idle, Deane-Drummond would have been obliged to drastically reduce their numbers. The idea of small parties operating behind enemy lines had originated in operations in the Western Desert in 1941-42. In Malaya, by 1950 and later, Deane-Drummond explained, "A regiment of soldiers was gradually built up in which the old Second World War techniques in the resistance movement were used in reverse... it was a desperate job in which a page was taken out of the communists' own tactics and adopted for use by the SAS."
Deane-Drummond, who had first enlisted with the Royal Signals in 1937, had had three astonishing escapes during a Second World War career in which he won the Military Cross twice. He was with the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1939, and after Dunkirk was chosen as one of six officers leading 28 men to be dropped by parachute to carry out Operation Colossus in February 1941. This was the breach of a 993-mile Italian aqueduct diverting river water to supply the ports of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto, after which the saboteurs would be picked up by submarine at the coast 70 miles away. The salute from Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes to the men as they left RAF Mildenhall gave the clue that they were not seriously expected to return. "Damned pity," he was heard to mutter.
Although the mission succeeded, all the men were captured. Deane-Drummond was awarded the MC and became one of only two Allied POWs known to have escaped from Italy before the 1943 Armistice with the Allies. On his first break-out he got to Milan and Como before being caught because of his dirty boots. On his second, having feigned illness to get out of high-security detention, he crept along a 70ft-high crumbling ledge in pitch darkness to reach neutral Switzerland.
The Bar to Deane-Drummond's MC came for the part he played in September 1944 after Operation Market Garden, the battle over the bridge at Arnhem, which the Allies failed to hold against unexpectedly fierce German opposition. Deane-Drummond took command of 20 survivors, and after keeping up sniper action until ammunition ran out and night fell, spread the men to separate houses.
The house he found himself in was, alas, being turned into a German strong-point. Before escaping this time he endured 13 days and nights standing in a 12-inch deep cupboard, with his mouth eventually so parched as his water-bottle ran out that he could no longer eat the bread and lard he had with him. He had to urinate down a hole in the floor. At last the room, all that time full of Germans, was left empty, and he fled.
Dutch families assisted him, including a Baroness Heemstra, who brought him Krug champagne and whose teenage daughter's beauty he noticed: this was the future film star Audrey Hepburn.
Deane-Drummond was appointed to Staff College in 1945, but the following year went to Palestine as Brigade Major, 3rd Parachute Brigade. He was in temporary command on the night of 22 July 1946 when the King David Hotel was bombed. His troops searched Jerusalem, and arrested two men after a toe was noticed to twitch in a mortuary. A staff job at the War Office followed, then spells in the US, and as an instructor at Sandhurst.
He received a two-inch fracture to the skull from a stone thrown through a windscreen during disturbances in Cyprus in 1956. While recuperating he won the Royal Aero Club's Silver Medal for glider-flying, and was the 1957 British Gliding Champion, before taking command of 22 SAS in November.
After the SAS, he took command of 44 Parachute Brigade Group (TA), and learned to fly a helicopter.
He was Major-General, GOC 3rd Division from 1966-68, and Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations) from 1968-70, before being made CB and retiring from the Army in 1971, when he became director of the Paper and Paper Products Industry Training Board. His books include an autobiography, Arrows of Fortune (1993).
Deane-Drummond was brought up by his mother, who divorced his philandering father when the boy was nine, with two sisters, one older and one younger, at Little Barrington Oxfordshire. He attended Marlborough College, and then the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.
Anthony John Deane-Drummond, soldier: born Oxfordshire, 23 June 1917, married 1944, Mary Evangeline Boyd (died 2002; four daughters); CB 1970; DSO 1960; MC 1942, and Bar, 1945; died Warwickshire 4 December 2012.
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