Carton de Wiart – A Man For All Seasons – WW2 Biography Special

Carton de Wiart – A Man For All Seasons – WW2 Biography Special

Ever been shot in the face or torn off your
mangled fingers, and still wanted to get back in the fight? Yeah, me neither. But Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart – the Belgian-born
British officer with a reputation as a fire-eater – he did those things! With all his stories, he’s likely a great
guy to have at dinner parties, provided the frequent swearing, and gruesome injuries doesn’t
put everyone off their food. Welcome to a World War Two in realtime
Bio-Special where I look at key figures from the conflict and find out what makes them
tick. I’m Indy Neidell. Adrian Carton de Wiart is born in 1880 in
Belgium to an aristocratic family. At the age of 10, he goes to English boarding
school, and from there he enters Oxford University. However, with the outbreak of the Second Boer
War in South Africa in 1899, he gives up on his education and joins the army. It is here that he receives the first wounds
of his career, one in the stomach and one in the groin. But the injuries don’t dissuade him, and
he is convinced he has found his calling as a soldier. When the Great War breaks out in 1914, he
is already on a boat to British Somaliland to put down anti-colonial resistance there. In November he leads an attack on an enemy
fort deep in the mountains. According to an eye-witness account, despite
being shot in the face once already, he charges forward, not even breaking his stride after
being shot again in the ear and arm. The injuries mean he loses his left eye and
part of his left ear. But this does little to dampen his enthusiasm. In February 1915 he goes to the Western Front
in Ypres, Belgium. Three months later he is wounded in his left
hand. I’ll let de Wiart explain what happened:
“My hand was a ghastly sight; two of the fingers were hanging by a bit of skin, all
the palm was shot away and most of the wrist. For the first time, and certainly the last,
I had been wearing a wrist-watch, and it had been blown into the remains of my wrist. I asked the doctor to take my fingers off;
he refused, so I pulled them off myself and felt absolutely no pain in doing it.” Despite now missing a working hand, he sees
the Great War through. You can trace his career by following his
injuries: shot through the skull at the Somme, the hip at Passchendaele, the leg at Cambrai,
the ear at Arras. He receives several decorations for his ordeals,
the Belgian “Cross of War”, the “Order of St Michael and St George”, and, most notably,
the Victoria Cross. This is all, by the way, before he has reached
the age of 40. And his career will only get more colourful. His exploits have caught the attention of
British Minister for Defence, Winston Churchill. Churchill is keen to counter the spread of
communism and hopes to send military aid to Poland in its war against Soviet Russia. But British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George,
will only allow a small advisory mission. De Wiart is sent as second-in-command in February
1919, but he won’t really achieve much. The Poles win anyway in 1920, and De Wiart
decides to retire in 1923. He begins a new life as Polish gentlemen on
the Pripet Marshes, spending virtually every day hunting. But when war looms again, he is recalled to
service. In July 1939 he is put in charge of another
military mission. He begins to advise Marshal of Poland, Edward
Smigly-Rydz, but his guidance often goes unheeded. He believes that the Poles should be prepared
to order a general retreat behind the Vistula river and settle in for a protracted guerrilla
war against Germany. But Smigly-Rydz is adamant that such a move
would be cowardice and refuses to budge on the matter. De Wiart is successful in another area though,
convincing the Marshall to move his best ships to Britain at the end of August to avoid capture. It means that Polish sailors can carry on
fighting throughout the war. But considering Poland’s utter defeat this
is a small victory, and De Wiart is forced to flee to Britain. But he will soon be transferred to Norway,
where he finds himself frustrated again. He is put in charge securing Trondheim in
April 1940. Deep snow and German aerial reconnaissance
makes it difficult to move large bodies of troops, but he begins gathering his forces
at Nasmos. To his fury however, one French unit landing
there opens fire on enemy aircraft, alerting the Luftwaffe to the Allied presence. Bombs rain down, but if De Wiart is scared,
he does not show it. He coolly lights a cigarette and remarks “Damned
frogs – they’re all the same. One bang and they’re off!” His Norwegian frustrations only continue. He is often let down by officers and troops
are poorly trained for winter warfare and with inadequate supplies. His calls for more artillery and anti-aircraft
guns go unheard. In fact, his plans are pretty much ignored
by his superiors and the whole operation is a disaster. Of course, de Wiart doesn’t exactly ingratiate
himself to his fellow English gentlemen. Though an aristocrat himself and liked by
the people who get to know him, his demeanour is thoroughly rough, direct, and rude. Profoundly frustrated and seeing the British
fail at every turn, the usually recklessly aggressive de Wiart requests an evacuation
at the end of April, which is approved in early May. He is transferred to Northern Ireland, but
relieved of his position after only a month. Disheartened, De Wiart believes his beloved
military career to be practically over. But it is just getting exciting again. Now in his early 60’s he is sent on a mission
to Yugoslavia in April 1941. Hitler is preparing to invade, and the Yugoslavs
need his help. He flies to Belgrade via Cairo, but the engines
in his plane fail, and it crash lands off the coast of Italian-controlled Libya on the
5th. The plane’s emergency dinghy is shot to
pieces, and there are no flares on board, so the British sending a rescue mission have
no hope of finding him or his crew. They are forced to swim to shore, where they
are soon captured by the Italians. He will spend the next few years in captivity,
attempting to escape five times and actually succeeding once, remaining at large for 8
days before being recaptured. He will then be used as a bargaining chip
in Italian negotiations for peace. His last big assignment will be an advisor
to Chinese generalissimo, Chiang Kai-Shek, after which he will retire at the ripe age
of 66 in 1947 In his long career, he has sustained literal
lifetimes of injuries and demonstrated exceptional bravery. He always gives an impression that none of
it has phased him. How much it is retrospective bluster we will
never know. Still, the attitude of the old warrior can
be captured in the simple summation he gave in his autobiography of his Great War experience:
“Frankly, I enjoyed the war”. If you’d like to learn about a large number
of people who came home from war without the cavalier attitude of De Wiart, then check
out our old B2W’s video on Disease, War and The Lost Generation. You can click on it right here. You can also click on subscribe to never miss
an exciting episode of World War Two in Realtime or exciting specials like this bio special. I will see you next time!

100 Comments on “Carton de Wiart – A Man For All Seasons – WW2 Biography Special”

  1. This episode was made thanks to our research volunteer Keith Kevelson. It is also the first of its kind, being the first proper Biography Special of our World War Two series. We will do one of these every other week, so be prepared to get to know the main protagonists of the Second World War up close and personal. Please support us on Patreon so we can continue making these. Sign up at or


    STAY CIVIL AND POLITE we will delete any comments with personal insults, or attacks.
    AVOID PARTISAN POLITICS AS FAR AS YOU CAN we reserve the right to cut off vitriolic debates.
    HATE SPEECH IN ANY DIRECTION will lead to a ban.
    RACISM, XENOPHOBIA, OR SLAMMING OF MINORITIES will lead to an immediate ban.

  2. a demeanour that is often thought to be rough, direct and rude….. I can relate to this man's approach at life

  3. Team, do you plan to do biography of Maximilian Kolbe? In ~4 months he will volunteer to die in place of stranger in Auschwitz. There is an interview with the witness (Michał Micherdziński) who stood in the same row during this "famous" roll call when 10 people were chosen to be starved to death. It's in Polish. I'm not proffesional, but I can try to translate it for you.

  4. His autobiography is a great read. It is inaccurate in one way, though – he never mentions winning the VC.

    Evelyn Waugh based the character of Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook on him.

  5. Shitty intro for a great show is still rolling. Who's agree it's finally time to scrap it? I find it irritating from the day one!

  6. Serendipitously, I have just finished his fun book, which was written in a very lighthearted manner.

  7. Some people sign up prepared to bleed for their country's victory.
    Other, when bled, stand and scream for the enemy to bleed them some more, because they can almost see the victory.
    Yet others are Carton de Wiart.

  8. First learned about Carton de Wiart in "Castle of Eagles", a book by Mark Felton. I will plug that book every chance I get. It is a 10/10 exciting read.

  9. WW1 did produce many crazy characters (Cadorna, Hotzendorf, Carton de Wiart, Lettow-Vorbeck, The Red Baron…)

  10. This guy is so bad ass I can't believe they haven't made a movie about him. Well… actually given the nature of Hollywood today, I can.

  11. Peter Cook: I want you to lay down your life, Perkins. We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war. Get up in a crate, Perkins, pop over to Bremen, take a shufti, don't come back. Goodbye, Perkins. God, I wish I was going too.
    Jonathan Miller: Goodbye, sir — or is it — au revoir?
    Peter Cook: No, Perkins.

    "Aftermyth of War"

  12. De Wiart was one of a kind.

    Even Indy's video doesn't give him justice, a full length feature film could not do him justice.

    Like the time he attacked a fort with a polo stick, or the time he was shot down with a plane full of whiskey.

    If you want the definition of "warrior" just say "De Wiart"

  13. British envoy for Poland, Norway, Yugoslavia. Sounds like someone in the British Command wanted him out of their hair.

  14. I enjoyed de Wiart autobiography a lot.
    It goes like :
    20 pages – youth,
    20 pages boer war,
    Not so much more about ww1
    200 pages – hunting in Polesie wilderness in interwar Poland, (basically staying in the middle of unhabited and unnaproachable marshes in the most backward part of Europe. As I recall he didnt regret losing hand or leg ad much as he missed his hunting guns lost when soviets invaded Poland.
    Ending with ww2 .

  15. We removed the bullet along with three others, two spear tips, an arrowhead, four sharks teeth, a meager handful of buckshot and a twisted paper clip….you might want to learn how to duck.

  16. if you guy go to germany,you should visit the speyer/sinsheim museum they are both great and why not reviewing memoir? (that would be interesting to see how wrong they are,although I already know for death trap who is a lot responsible for Sherman bad reputation I think the sherman is an underrated tank were german tank such as panther and tiger I are overrated and its weird for me that wehraboo will not wank good design such as the StuG III/IV or the panzer III/IV )

  17. Is it just me, or do you think he's the Angela Landsbury of his day? No matter where he goes, there's a death (or horrific injury) . Best stay away from him (and Angela too)

  18. Man who lived in Poland for almost 20 years. Not being a Pole by birth, kind of in metaphorical sense was like Poland – a survivor, battered, maimed, yet still going forward.

  19. He would have got right in.
    At the gatherings with my family and friends.
    At times the reminiscing can be sad(the lost of friends and family) the humor and love is never in short supply.

    SEMPER FI, Sir Carton de Wiart

  20. I have to admit, one of the most intriguing biographies on this up until now. It probably was not easy putting so many expeditions of his in just under 8 minutes. Not even one second was dull to watch.

  21. You should make an episod of this serie about Fabrice Eboue. I suppose you already now him, but this is the men who had create, sort of, Free France. He was the first french colonial governor to answer the De Gaulle's call to resist

  22. What is really impressive on his autobiography is the time he spends describing fellow officers or soldiers; often in a gentle manner, having a nice word or quality to pick about almost everybody (most notably talking about other POWs locked with him in Italy).
    I was surprised that someone known as incredibly tough and rude could write what sometimes looks more like an Almanach de Gotha than a war chronicle. 😅

  23. I have kind of a cool idea, I mean it's obvious though. There have been a lot of attempts to assassinate Hitler, I bet there's some of them that are worth talking about 😀

  24. What a crazy man. I'm kinda sad you didn't mention his fighting in 1920's Poland, his plane being shot down on route to Norway and his insulting of Mao. I'm curious if these didn't appear in enough of your sources, were exaggerated or if you ran out of time. Great work as always!

  25. “I asked the doctor to take my fingers off; he refused, so I pulled them off myself and felt absolutely no pain in doing it..”

    Me: METAL!!!!!!!!

  26. Something tells me that he would have been a Great friend with Blas de Lezo (Spanish officer in the XVIII century who lost both legs and and an arm in combats)

  27. 3:53 it was not a matter of cowardice. polish-british-french agreement said that Western Allies would aid Poland only if Poland actively fight back Greman agression. It's easy to make assumption that if Poland withdrew to Vistula river and Gremans would stop their advance there, France and UK could not obey the obligation. Knowing what happened to Czechoslovakia that would be pretty possible scenario that lead to another Munich conference. Thus that irrational deployment of Polish divisions in over 1600km of borders.

  28. That plane fell not because it's engines failed, but because they couldn't carry the weight of de Wiart's massive balls.

  29. A spezial Episode about Christopher Lee would be interesting, as He was member of the early british Special Forces.

    RIP Christopher Lee.

  30. So basically he was just really lucky that none of those bullets killed him. Of this badass career would've come nothing if the first one hit a couple of cm to the side.

    Definitely a war hero for the Allies though, he showed great insight and vision in his career in Poland and Norway. He was not afraid to make sacrifices for a greater cause.

  31. Please do cover the story of Richard Best, the man who played a momentous role in the Battle of Midway in its most crucial period and potentially scored hits on 3 Japanese carriers that day.

  32. It would be nice to have a Biography special on Léo Major. I'm still baffled he wasn't a VC recipient. I guess 2 DCM will have to suffice.

  33. I have once been shot in the face with a basketball used and kicked as a football , that was 25 years ago in school , my nose still hurts.

  34. Is there a list of upcoming biographies? can Patreons vote on biographies?

    I'd love to see, and would pay for, something in depth on Andrew Cunningham!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *