Comics about Popski's Private Army


Over the years we have found three old comics with PPA stories in and have negotiated with their publishers to bring them here. We're somewhat envious of our Libyan Desert Expeditions pal Kuno Gross though, who has amassed arguably the largest collection of Desert-War-Special-Forces Commando and War Picture Library comics [foPPA Secretary grew up on these]. Here's just a few from Kuno's collection: click the image to see the whole lot on his Desert Stories website...

Part of Kuno Gross's Comic Collection
Part of Kuno Gross's Comic Collection

2 Mar 2014 [Secretary]: I was recently contacted by Kuno, on behalf of Italian aerospace expert and Professor of History Gregory Alegi, with a query about an eminent Italian cartoonist called Hugo Pratt (English grandfather). Pratt claimed to have entered Venice with Popski in 1945, and also claimed that a Polish-Jewish Officer called Vladimir Koinsky was also in PPA, having served with British forces during the East African Campaign, and Gregory wanted to know if these claims stood up. As I'd never heard of either of them I had to say sorry, no[1]. However, further research has suggested (there are several different version of this story) that Hugo did enter Venice with a column of Canadian Armoured Cars, apparently taken on by Eighth Army as an interpreter, so could have been in Venice around the same time as Popski's one-day visit.

After the war Hugo went on to international success as a leading creator of adventure comic books and to be posthumously inducted (he died in 1995) into the Comic Book Hall of Fame at the 17th Annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards in 2005. Hugo Pratt drew extensively on carefully researched historical material, and his most famous creations were "The Desert Scorpion" and Corto Maltese, but it seems he always had a soft spot for Popski. Intrigued by all this I asked Kuno and Gregory if they had any examples of his comic book depictions of Popski and his fictional pal Koinsky. Indeed they did (of course), and here are just a few of them...

The Desert Scorpion © Cong S.A.
The Desert Scorpion © Cong S.A.
Major Peniakoff, Libyan Arab Force © Cong S.A.
Major Peniakoff, Libyan Arab Force © Cong S.A.
Vladimir Koinsky © Cong S.A.
Vladimir Koinsky © Cong S.A.

Gregory Alegi then kindly sent us a couple of Hugo's images from the Italian Campaign, specifically related to the 28th Garibaldi Brigade who fought alongside PPA and the 27th Lancers for the liberation of Ravenna in 1944, and then in the subsequent fighting around Lake Comacchio, on the way to Chioggia and Venice in 1945.

The dapper looking chap, Benito "Marx" Ravaglia, was indeed a member of the Garibaldis, whilst the "Bulo" referred to in the cartoon strip is Signor Arrigo Boldrini, who took as his nom-de-guerre ("Bulow") the name of the eminent Prussian General Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow whose troops triumphed against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In 2008 we wrote to Arrigo to invite him to the unveiling of the PPA Memorial, and he replied with a very charming letter of regret that he couldn't attend, sadly dying shortly after. Signor Taschiero Casadio of the Garibaldis did attend though, and a speech was made on behalf of the National Association of Italian Partisans.

Benito "Marx" Ravaglia © Cong S.A.
Commandante Bulow © Cong S.A.
Commandante Bulow © Cong S.A.

Valiant, 1963, and Smash, 1970

Here's the font pages of two comics from the foPPA Archives, and the helpful people in the copyright department at IPC Media have very kindly given us permission to reproduce them here, in support of our fundraising for the PPA Memorial.

The Valiant story was only a front-page feature in 1963 but the 1970 Smash edition tells a longer tale of derring-do (we're working on getting hold of page 2 and any more of the story from inside the comic). In the 1970's Valiant and Smash were amalgamated.

So, knowledgable fans of the Popski story: are there any more comics out there that we don't know about?

Valiant © IPC Media Ltd

5 PPA jeeps in the desert? Not until they got to Tunisia and were generously refitted by US II Corps Quartermaster Colonel Myers. The chap climbing up behind Popski on the left there is Corporal Alain Locke, ex LRDG, sporting his characteristic eye-patch and goggles, later a Major in the Intelligence Corps. The picture bottom right depicts the Italian action in which Popski lost his left hand.

Smash © IPC Media Ltd

PPA jeeps with windscreens? Those were the first bits of unnecessary weight to be stripped off. Along with the canvas "tilt" roof, these only belonged to what PPA scathingly referred to as "sissy jeeps". And where's the jerry cans and extra ammo boxes? We think the chap with the natty hat may be Kiwi Gunner Edgar Sanders MM, ex-LRDG, "the scruffiest man in the British Army". The chap behind him is wearing arab headdress, but we've seen no pictures of PPA using these: only the LRDG and SAS.

Magazines for Real Men, 1955 - 1994

Ah, comics for grown-ups too. Here's some more goodies from the foPPA Archives. True magazine has a feature-length abbreviation of Popski's book, from a simpler, pastel time when men were real men, and women didn't believe them even then.

The "World War Two" partwork, Volume 7, Part 92 (1979), has articles about various Commando operations, Otto Skorzeny, and PPA, while "Troupes D'Elite" fom 1986 has some great graphics in its story about Popski. We've no idea what it says though as our Fronch is not very good at all.

"Behind the Lines" (Jan/Feb 1994) is all about Special Ops, including Part II of the story of Popski's Private Army by Michael F. Dilley. Can anyone get us a copy of the Mar/Apr 1993 Part I issue?

© 1955 Fawcett Publications USA

© 1979 Orbis Publishing Ltd, London

© 1986 Editions Atlas, Paris


Commando War Stories In Pictures #50: "Clash of Steel"

Another of the comics we discovered was "Clash of Steel", D.C. Thomson's Commando issue number 50. This is the only issue to feature PPA but we have so far been unable to locate an original copy for the archives. However, Commando Editor Calum Laird very kindly agreed to let us reproduce it here below. Meanwhile, D.C. Thompson are working to make the whole Commando back-catalogue generally available. What's most amusing about the artwork is the tiny size of the jeeps! They almost look like dodgems.

Clash of Steel © The Commando D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd

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Clash of Steel © The Commando D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd

Copyright © 2014 foPPA
Copyright © IPC Media, by kind permission
Copyright © D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd, by kind permission
13 Aug 2014

Further information
  1. ^ No members of PPA were Polish (see Count of personnel by Country of Origin), nor was there any connection between Popski and Orde Wingate, nor between PPA and the East African Campaign.