Popski, PPA & PPN


Many are under the impression that Popski's book, "Private Army", is all there is to the story of PPA. In fact, not only are there several published books, but also many newspaper articles, written by or about Popski and his men, preserved as clippings in the foPPA Archives, and other documents that we have discovered. We plan to bring as many of these to light as we can, as soon as possible[1]. Although they all tell essentially the same tale, it's the differences here and there that help to illuminate specific events or characters (or raise questions that may or may not be answered).

PPA first came explicitly to the public's attention then in the Spring of 1945, when Popski was given permission to release the story of his secret unit to various War Correspondents in Italy, in the closing days of the Italian Campaign. The earliest version that we have discovered so far is from The Sunday Pictorial, dated 29 April 1945[2].


The first major account, though not made public at the time, is the PPA Historical Summary, written by command of HM King George VI, just after PPA had disbanded in September 1945. This is the skeleton of Popski's later book, written, we were told by Corporal Ben Owen, because Popski spotted Ben's own typescript one day in Vienna after the war.

In this section is a short biography of Popski and his family, and an examination of Popski's time at St John's College, Cambridge. FoPPA's very short abridgement of the PPA story is here, revised to become the two "Story of PPA" plaques now installed at the entrance to the PPA Memorial, as well as a more comprehensive summary, written by retired Michigan teacher Mr Allen Parfitt.

A short foPPA biography skimming across Popski's family background, his wartime activities and his post-war life.
Popski at St John's College, Cambridge
An article about Vladimir Peniakoff's time as a young student at St John's College, Cambridge, in the middle of WWI.
The Story of Popski's Private Army (abridged)
This is the very short foPPA version on the two plaques at the PPA Memorial.
The Story of Popski's Private Army (summary)
This is a comprehensive version written by a retired Michigan teacher.


Corporal Frank Dobinson, MiD, 1920 - 2014<br />Royal Engineers, Popski's Private Navy<br />Portrait by Anne MacGillivray
Corporal Frank Dobinson, MiD, 1920 - 2014
Royal Engineers, Popski's Private Navy
Portrait by Ann MacGillivray
In Memory Of
The Seven Members
945 Inland Water Transport Coy
Corps of Royal Engineers
Known As
"Popski's Private Navy"
foPPA Poppy Wreath Sapper A. Cawthorne MiD
Corporal J. Dobinson MiD
Sapper L. Foweraker MiD
Sapper J. Freeman MiD
Sergeant J. Kineally MiD
Sapper K. Parr MiD
Lieutenant B. Thomas MiD

What's much less well known about is "Popski's Private Navy". This was not a separate unit but a group attachment, like the Eighth Army signallers attached to PPA in the Summer of 1944 for Operation Astrolabe. Despite its name, these seven men were actually Royal Engineers of 945 Inland Water Transport Company, finally giving Popski the flexible amphibious landing capability that he needed, after experiments with conventional Landing Craft, DUKWS and Storm Boats. It was inevitable that they would be dubbed "Popski's Private Navy".

  FORLI 6 0630 'B' Patrol commanded by Capt. R P Yunnie MC and 'S' Patrol commanded by Capt. JD Campbell MC each consisting of 4 Jeeps, fully equipped to PPA Scale plus 2 Jeeps equipped withy WT Sets B Mk.II and A Mk.III in all a compliment of 2 Officers and 30 men, sailed from PESARO in RCLS to PORTO CORSINI, there to wait further movement orders.  

They brought with them a number[3] of Ramped Cargo Lighters (RCL's). These light wooden craft enabled Patrol Jeeps, Partisans and supplies to be brought up the Adriatic in the dead of night and then moved far inland, behind the German lines, up the shallow waters of the Po delta, past wrecked lock gates and into canals that had been heavily boobytrapped with mines. On their return journeys they brought out PoWs. For this they were (we think uniquely for an attachment) all awarded Mentions in Despatches.

Ramped Cargo Lighters
Ramped Cargo Lighters

The RCLs were used most famously to enable Popski's dream: to drive his Jeeps in triumph around St Mark's Square in Venice - the only wheeled vehicles to have ever been there.

PPA Jeeps in St Mark's Square, Venice, May 1945
PPA Jeeps in St Mark's Square, Venice, May 1945

Over the past few years one or two members of "PPN" represented PPA to HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH Prince Harry at our PPA Westminster and PPA Cenotaph Remembrance Events, until their deaths in June and December 2014.

So, take your pick of short, medium or long versions of the main PPA story, background stories, side stories and research analyses, or just read them all as a true Popski fan. Enjoy.

Copyright © 2015 foPPA
8 Feb 2015

Further information
  1. ^ Pending copyright clearance and typing speed.
  2. ^ This date is curious, as the date given in the PPA War Diary for the interview with War Correspondents is 4 May 1945. This was a particularly hectic time, so maybe that's just admin catching up with very fast-moving events.
  3. ^ The personal PPN stories mention five or six RCL's being used for the first operation, but then only two being subsequently deployed by PPA from March to May 1945 - RCL273 and RCL168.