77 years after Allied forces successfully staged the biggest amphibious landing ever attempted, there will be dozens of retrospectives about the vast numbers of men and women that made the invasion of Hitler’s Europe possible.
But one ultra-secret force is rarely mentioned, and their true amazing story is only now coming to light.
A commando unit sometimes referred to as “Churchill’s Suicide Squad” gave up their names, and their whole identities, to become the tip of the spear for the British Army’s fight to recapture Occupied France.
The story of these real-life “Inglourious Basterds” is told in a new book, X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II by Leah Garrett.
Nicknamed “X Troop” by wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the elite force was made up of refugees from Germany and Austria, most of whom had been sent by their parents as part of the Kindertransport in the final months before World War Two.
Arriving alone in the UK as teenagers, they had seen first hand how Hitler’s brutal thugs had no respect for life.
These young men who would later become X Troop were determined to fight Hitler, but as “enemy aliens” they were interned by a British government seemingly unable to distinguish between young Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler, and loyal Nazi soldiers.
The brutal treatment they received after arriving in the UK wasn’t driven by the same antisemitic hatred that created the Nazis.
“It was likely because they were German speakers and there hadn’t been enough thought that the majority of them were Jews,” Leah Garrett told the Daily Star.
Petar Arany was one of those elite warriors who acted as pathfinders for the Allied troops on D-Day.
Within minutes of being selected for X-Troop, the sensitive young artist was told he had to change his name to protect himself, his comrades, and his family.
If the Germans had learned he was an Austrian Jew, and therefore technically a traitor, he would have been shot, and his family would have been tortured. Worse, the German High Command would have learned of the ultra-secret German-speaking commandos trained to interrogate captives in the field and act immediately on the information they gained.
Renamed Peter Masters, he was assigned to No 1 Troop of No 6 Commando. The X Troopers were too valuable to be deployed in a single unit.
Leah said: “All of them were seeded in groups generally from three to seven or so, they never fought as a unit.”
Masters was issued with the standard Commando kit and, in common with the rest of No 1 Troop, a folding bicycle to help him race through the French countryside.
Their mission was to reinforce Major John Howard’s 181 glider troops who had captured Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal near Benouville in the early hours of D-Day.
Leah tells how Peter realised as his landing-craft drew towards Sword beach: “This may be the last thing I ever do.”
Attended as always by his personal piper, Bill Millin, who was wearing his kilt and playing the bagpipes.
It was enough to remind Peter of his mission. Together with the remaining Bicycle Troops who had survived the carnage of Sword Beach and headed inland toward their rendezvous with the glider troops besieged at Pegasus Bridge.
At one point, Peter was sent alone into a village teeming with German snipers to draw their fire.
While he knew the mission was dangerous, he didn’t hesitate. Where other British soldiers would draw straws for who had to do the most dangerous missions, he later wrote, the X troopers drew straws for who had to stay behind.
Unable to defeat the dug-in Germans with guru along, he tried a bluff.
Peter shouted in German to the vastly superior force: “All right! Surrender, all of you! Come out! You are completely surrounded and don’t have a chance! Throw away your weapons and come out with your hands up if you want to go on living. The war is over for all of you.”
The gambit didn’t quite work – at least one German fired at Peter but then the rest of No 1 Troop charged forward with fixed bayonets, scattering the German forces into the fields beyond.
Peter was part of the force that relieved the defenders of Pegasus Bridge, securing secured vital intelligence that enabled the British to cross the Rhine at Wesel and drive deep into the heart of Hitler’s Reich.
Landing alongside Peter was his comrade Ian Harris – born Hans Hajos in Vienna. Fighting alongside the 1st Special Service Brigade his mission was to reinforce the paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division at Over Orne.
Like Peter Masters, he survived the war, although Ian did lose an eye in a bloody hand-to-hand conflict with SS troops.
He also nurtured a lifelong hatred for the Nazis.
Ian survived well into his nineties and, at his funeral his son carried out the old X-Trooper’s final wish – standing up at the end of the funeral he raised his fist and shouted: “Up yours, Adolf!”
X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos Who Helped Defeat The Nazis by Leah Garret was published by Chatto & Windus on May 27