Townsend Griffiss, forgotten hero of World War II






It's 70 years this week since the first US air force officer was killed in Europe, following America's entry into World War II. By heading the list of 30,000 USAAF men to lose their lives in the European theatre, Lt Col Townsend Griffiss became a footnote in the history of the war. But who was he and how did he die?

There is no memorial to Townsend Griffiss in the UK, but a corner of Bushy Park in west London offers the faintest of reminders.

Here, half covered by grass, are a handful of tablets in the earth, marking the various blocks of Camp Griffiss, the British headquarters of the US Army Air Force, set up in the summer of 1942. It's a royal park, and the royal deer help prevent the plaques disappearing into the grass entirely....

At the time of his death on 15 February 1942, he was 41 years old, a high-flying officer, returning from the Soviet Union, where he had been sent on a diplomatic mission by US Army Chief of Staff Gen George Marshall....

American aircraft were being sent to the USSR on Arctic convoys from the UK. They could also be flown to the USSR via the Middle East, but a route from Alaska to Siberia made more sense. Soviet diplomats in Washington gave assurances that Moscow was ready to help set up the delivery route, but embassy staff in Moscow were stonewalled whenever they raised the subject.

Gen George Marshall sent Griffiss to sort it out. He spent about two months in the Soviet Union trying to get straight answers, first in Moscow, then, when German forces reached the outskirts of the city, in Kuibyshev, the temporary wartime capital....




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