John Frost (British Army officer)

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John Frost
John Frost.jpg
John Frost, after having received his MC in 1942, wearing the uniform of his parent regiment, the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles).
Nickname(s) "Johnny"
Born (1912-12-31)31 December 1912
Pune, British India
Died 21 May 1993(1993-05-21) (aged 80)
West Sussex, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1932–1968
Rank Major General
Service number 53721
Unit Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
Parachute Regiment
Commands held 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment
44th Parachute Brigade
52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division
Battles/wars Second World War
Arab revolt in Palestine
Palestine Emergency
Malayan Emergency
Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Military Cross

Major General John Dutton (Johnny) Frost CB, DSO & Bar, MC, DL (31 December 1912 – 21 May 1993) was an airborne officer of the British Army best known for being the leader of the small group of British airborne troops that actually arrived at Arnhem bridge during the Battle of Arnhem in Operation Market Garden, in World War II. He was one of the first to join the newly formed Parachute Regiment and served with distinction in many wartime airborne operations, such as in North Africa and Sicily and Italy, until his injury and subsequent capture at Arnhem. His military career continued until his retirement from the army in 1968.

Early life and military career[edit]

John Dutton Frost was born in Poona, British India, on 31 December 1912. He was the son of Frank Dutton Frost, a British Army officer, and his wife, Elsie Dora (née Bright). He was educated, initially, at Wellington College, Berkshire, before transferring to Monkton Combe School, Somerset, due to lack of progress at the former, and followed in his father's footsteps and joined the British Army on 1 September 1932, when on graduation from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles).[1] He was promoted on 1 September 1935 to lieutenant.[2] Frost served with his regiment's 2nd Battalion, then commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Riddell-Webster, in the United Kingdom before the battalion, now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Graham, was sent to Palestine during the early stages of the Arab revolt. From 1938 to 1941 Frost worked with the Iraq Levies, receiving a promotion to captain on 1 September 1940,[3]

Second World War[edit]

Return to the United Kingdom[edit]

Returning to the United Kingdom in September 1941, Frost initially served with the 10th Battalion, Cameronians, a Territorial Army (TA) unit which formed part of the 45th Brigade of Major General Philip Christison's 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division, before later volunteering the Parachute Regiment in the same year. He was posted to the 2nd Parachute Battalion, part of Brigadier Richard Gale's 1st Parachute Brigade, itself forming part of the 1st Airborne Division, whose General Officer Commanding (GOC) was Major General Frederick Browning.[4]

Operation Biting[edit]

Frost distinguished himself in Operation Biting, a raid to dismantle and steal the radar dish or components of the German Würzburg radar at Bruneval. The raid was the second time the fledgling British parachute regiment was called on. C Company under the then Major Frost was given the task and on 27 February 1942 120 men landed, meeting stiff opposition but succeeded in stealing the component as well as capturing a German expert on the radar. The operation lost three men killed and seven badly wounded. Prime Minister Winston Churchill applauded the raid and guaranteed further wartime operations for the paratroopers.[5] Frost was awarded the Military Cross.[6]

North Africa[edit]

During the Allied landings in North Africa British airborne units landed in Tunisia, which included the 1st Para Brigade, which was detached from the rest of the division and now commanded by Brigadier Edwin Flavell. At this time Frost, who was now an acting lieutenant colonel and in command of his battalion, was tasked to attack enemy airfields near Depienne 30 miles south of Tunis. The airfields were found to be abandoned and the armour column they were supposed to meet up with at Oudna never arrived, leaving Frost's battalion 50 miles behind enemy lines. Heavily outnumbered and continuously attacked on their route out, they managed to fight their way back to Allied lines but lost 16 officers and 250 men. The battalion carried on fighting with the British First Army through to Tunis. For this action he was awarded his first Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 11 February 1943.[7]

Sicily and Italy[edit]

In 1943 Frost's battalion, with the rest of the 1st Parachute Brigade, now under Brigadier Gerald Lathbury, was landed in Sicily during Operation Husky with orders to capture a road bridge called Ponte di Primosole. The brigade was hopelessly scattered and the 295 officers and men who reached the bridge found themselves facing the German 4th Parachute Regiment and lost the bridge until the arrival of other Eighth Army units.[8]

Frost's last action in this theatre was in Italy when the entire 1st Airborne Division, now commanded by Major General Ernest Down (but replaced in January 1944 by Major General Roy Urquhart) after Major General George F. Hopkinson was killed in September 1943, landed at Taranto by sea.

Operation Market Garden[edit]

Frost is best known for his involvement in the Battle of Arnhem during Operation Market Garden. During this battle Frost was to spearhead the 1st Airborne Division's assault on the bridge at Arnhem and hold it while the rest of the division made its way there. If all had gone to plan there would have been almost 9,000 men[9] holding Arnhem bridge for the two days it was supposed to take Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks's XXX Corps to reach them.[10]

On 17 September 1944, as commander of the 2nd Parachute Battalion, Frost led a mixed group of about 745 lightly armed men who landed near Oosterbeek and marched into Arnhem.[11] The battalion reached the bridge capturing the northern end, but Frost then found that his force was surrounded by the II.SS-Panzerkorps and cut off from the rest of 1st Airborne. Frost was in command during the fierce four-day battle that followed, in which the Germans rained artillery fire onto the parachutists' positions, and sent tanks and infantry into some of the most intense fighting seen by either side, with very little mercy given. The Germans were greatly surprised by the airborne forces' refusal to surrender and their continuous counterattacks. After a short truce on the third day, when 250 wounded were removed, the battle continued until the remaining paratroopers had run out of ammunition. There were around one hundred paratroopers left.[12]

As a result of this action, during which he was wounded by shrapnel in his feet, Frost became a legendary figure in the Parachute Regiment and the British Army.[13]

In action, Frost was a tough leader whose clear head in battle won the respect of every Paratrooper in the battalion. "He didn't mix his words and seemed to inject confidence in everyone, even if you didn't like what he said. We would have followed him anywhere" said one Para.[5]

Following his capture, Frost was held as a prisoner of war at Spangenberg and later a hospital in Obermassfeldt. He was freed when the area was overrun by United States troops in March 1945. He was awarded a Bar to his DSO on 20 September 1945 for his leadership at Arnhem.[14]

Later life[edit]

Frost remained in the army after the war, during which time he commanded the 1st Airborne Division's Battle School and returned from Norway with the division, still under Major General Urquhart, back to the United Kingdom, where it was disbanded. He later returned to the 2nd Parachute Battalion, which still formed part of the 1st Parachute Brigade but was transferred to the 6th Airborne Division. Frost led his old battalion during the Palestine Emergency (see 6th Airborne Division in Palestine). While in Palestine he met his future wife, Jean McGregor Lyle, who was there as a welfare worker; they married on 31 December 1947 and had two children, a son a daughter. Returning to England in late 1946, he attended the Staff College, Camberley, and, after graduating, became a General Staff Officer Grade 2 (GSO2) with the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division, a TA formation, before serving as a GSO1 with the 17th Gurkha Division during the Malayan Emergency. Returning to the United Kingdom, he was, from 1955 to 1957, in command of the Support Weapons Wing of the School of Infantry. He then commanded the 44th Parachute Brigade, another TA formation, composed of part-time soldiers, before receiving promotion to temporary major general on 11 October 1961,[15] and returning to the 52nd Division, this time as its GOC, a post he would hold for nearly three years.[16]

By the time of his retirement from the army in 1968, Frost had attained the permanent rank of major general and in addition to his wartime decorations, had been appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the 1964 New Year Honours,[17] and was made a Grand Officer of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

In 1982, Frost was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant in the County of West Sussex.[18]

He was the subject of an episode of the television programme This Is Your Life on 6 April 1977. John Frost died on 21 May 1993, at the age of 80, and is buried at Milland Cemetery, West Sussex.[19]

Biographies, memorials & depiction in the media[edit]

The John Frost Bridge, as seen from the memorial.

In 1945, the British Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) and J. Arthur Rank Organisation initiated production on a documentary feature film about Operation Biting/the Battle of Arnhem, directed by Brian Desmond Hurst. The film included fictionalised recreations of events from the battle. John Frost was among 120 Arnhem veterans who played themselves in many scenes.[20] The film was released, under the title Theirs is the Glory, in 1946.

A character based on Frost ("Major John Snow") played by Leo Genn, featured in the 1953 film The Red Beret, in which top billing went to Alan Ladd (playing a fictional character).

In 1974, Frost's role at Arnhem featured prominently in Cornelius Ryan's best-selling non-fictional book A Bridge Too Far. In 1976, Frost acted as a military consultant to Richard Attenborough's film adaptation of Ryan's book. In the film Frost was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.

The bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem was renamed John Frostbrug ("John Frost Bridge") in his honour in 1978, despite Frost's reported reluctance.

An autobiography by Frost, A Drop Too Many, based on his wartime experiences was published in 1980. His second autobiography Nearly There was published in 1991.

Operation Biting also appears to be an inspiration for the 2011 film Age of Heroes. While the film's creators claimed that the British commandos of 30 Assault Unit were its primary inspiration (rather than paratroopers), the character of "Major Jack Jones", played by Sean Bean, appears to be based in part on Frost.

Other works[edit]

  • 1980: A Drop Too Many – autobiography (part 1)
  • 1983: 2 PARA Falklands: The Battalion At War
  • 1991: Nearly There – autobiography (part 2)

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
John Macdonald
GOC 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division
1961–1964
Succeeded by
Henry Leask

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