Scottish Soldier Single-Handedly Defeated 23,000 German Soldiers

Tommy Macpherson was one of the most feared soldiers in the British army to the point that the Germans put a 300,000 Franc bounty on his head. No one was able to ever collect it though.

His military career got off to an ignominious start. After being commissioned in 1939, he was assigned to the newly-formed No. 11 (Scottish) Commando unit.

In 1941, he was sent on a reconnaissance mission in North Africa. When the submarine that was supposed to pick him up at the end of the mission never showed, he made his way through the desert for days to get back to the British side of the front lines. He never made it as he was caught by the Italians and placed in a prisoner of war camp.

North Africa saw the use of many early British special forces, including the SAS.
North Africa saw the use of many early British special forces, including the SAS.

He almost immediately escaped, but was captured again. This began a chain of events for the next two years where Macpherson would escape, get recaptured and then repeat the process. Finally, he was able to escape and make his way to Sweden which was neutral in the war. From there he returned to Britain.

He made it home in November 1943. In June 1944, he parachuted into south-central France to begin one of the most successful stretches by a single man in the entire war.

Commandos preparing to deploy for Europe as part of Operation Jedburgh.
Commandos preparing to deploy for Europe as part of Operation Jedburgh.

His mission was to rally and organize the French Resistance after D-Day. He knew that personality was going to be important to win over the French so he arrived in full Highlander battle dress, including his kilt. He almost seemed to be saying that there was no chance the Allies would lose at this point so there was no need for him to hide. His confidence, along with his success, won the French over and he soon had streams of volunteers offering to help push the Germans out of France.

The first objective he had upon arriving was stopping a German tank column of 15,000 men and 200 tanks showed up. He knew that he needed to stop or at least slow the tanks to keep them from regaining what the Allies had managed to take control of during D-Day and the days that followed.

Tommy Macpherson
Tommy Macpherson

The problem that Macpherson had was that he only had eight volunteers at that time. Four of the volunteers were just boys. But the group was determined and Macpherson soon had a plan to frustrate the tanks and keep the Germans from reaching their destination for as long as possible. During the night, the group chopped down large trees to block the road. They buried the one anti-tank mine they had in the road and hung grenades from tree branches so that the passing column would set them off when they bumped into them.

Surprisingly, the tactics worked. The Germans had to bring in heavy equipment to move the trees which caused delays. Then a tank hit the mine and was incapacitated in the middle of the road, leading to more delays while the German s repaired it enough to move it out of the way.

In the end, the Germans took two weeks to cover a distance they expected to cover in three days.

His greatest exploit, though, may be the time he single-handedly took on a German tank column consisting of 23,000 men and 1,000 vehicles. Macpherson managed to arrange a parley with the German commander. His goal was to prevent the Germans from fighting a group of Resistance fighters who held the bridge the Germans needed to cross in order to retreat from the advancing Allies.

He convinced the commander that the Allies had a brigade with tanks and artillery on the otherside of the bridge. He further bluffed that he had a direct radio link to the RAF and a single command would send a squadron of bombers to the German’s position.

2nd SS Panzer Division near Kirovograd, Soviet Union, December 1943 Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 3.0 de
2nd SS Panzer Division near Kirovograd, Soviet Union, December 1943 Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 3.0 de

In truth, he had none of those things, but he bluffed so convincingly that the Germans surrendered. France was closer to freedom without any further loss of life.

Macpherson would survive the war and would be honored with the Military Cross and two bars, the Legion d’Honneur, and the Croix de Guerre.

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He died in 2014 at the age of 94.