During the Normandy Landings, there were some people who stood out from the waves of troops that rushed onto the beaches to take down the Germans, like Lovat and Piper Bill. Unbeknownst to many, these remarkable people were also accompanied that day by bicycle troops who took the lead and scouted ahead. These were the highly trained, multilingual Jews known as the X Troop. Some of them went ahead to gather intelligence that greatly helped in the success of the operation. Even so, there’s a reason why not a lot knew about them.
X Troop: Unknown Warriors
During World War II, Winston Churchill requested the establishment of the No. 10 Commando: a multinational unit made of volunteers from different parts of German-occupied Europe. No. 10 Commando was trained to assist in leading the amphibious landings of the D-Day Invasion. This request stemmed from the seemingly unstoppable German forces, and Churchill was becoming desperate to change the course of the war.
Now, No. 10 Commando was divided into sub-units of recruits coming from different places. One of them was the No. 3 Troop, dubbed as “X Troop.” This unit was composed of 130 men. What was special about the unit was that they were composed of Jewish refugees from concentration camps before they escaped to the UK, and most of them had lost their families. When the war broke out, these refugees were tagged as “enemy aliens” and locked away in Australia and Canada. These men had their personal reasons and grudge to be a part of the advanced counterintelligence and fighting troop.
These men were brought to London, where they were informed that their job would be to directly fight the Nazis, which was extremely dangerous. As Peter Terry, one of the commandos, said, “We were all looking forward to the killing.”
According to Churchill, who gave the name X Troop, they were called such “because they will be unknown warriors… they must perforce be considered an unknown quantity. Since the algebraic symbol for the unknown is X, let us call them X Troop.”
Not only did these troopers undergo brutal training in Wales and Scotland that involved hiking from one mountain to another day and night while carrying packs and weapons, live ammo training, cliff scaling, parachuting, and demolition works, but they also had to throw away their past lives and identity. They had to change their names into British-sounding ones and pretend that they’ve always been British. This was to ensure that they would not be instantly killed if they were caught by the Nazis.
The X Troopers also had to cut off all sorts of connections to their loved ones, from letters to all the documents with their names on them. They were also provided with dog tags that had their fake British names. Considering all these, they were willing to sign up even after they were considered “enemy aliens” prior, and their contributions played a crucial role in the success of Operation Overlord.
Some X Troop Stories
Lanyi Gyorgi was renamed, George Lane. He earned the nickname “Hungarian Hunk” and was an alternate for the Hungarian Olympic water polo team. He was one of the X Troopers sent to France a few weeks before the invasion to gather intelligence. His top-secret mission enabled the Allies to determine whether they should or should not push through with the landings. When he was captured and interrogated by Rommel himself, he never figured that the British soldier in front of him was actually a Hungarian Jew.
There was also Peter Masters, born Peter Arany in Vienna. He was chosen as part of the Bicycle Troop and successfully drew out a German machine gun nest which was one of those defending the Pegasus Bridge, inspired by the piping of Bill “Mad Piper” Millin and Lovat.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating members of the X Troop was Manfred Gans, an orthodox Jew who carried the name, Fred Gray. He was at the forefront during the landings and one of the troops who killed, captured, and interrogated countless Germans. He almost died multiple times but managed to escape death every time. When the war was almost over, he commandeered a jeep, drove his way to the hell on earth concentration camp of Theresienstadt, and rescued his own parents.
When the war was over, most of the X Troopers who survived kept their British name and identity, many of whom did not tell their children that they were of Jewish origins for varied reasons. One of which was that they felt pressured to be more British, or they feared the still existing antisemitism in Britain.
Nonetheless, X troop was one of the Allied forces’ secret weapons that greatly affected the result of the Normandy Landings.