December 14, 2000
RALPH MARX, who has died aged 78, was awarded an MC for his part in Operation Loyton, a hazardous SAS mission behind enemy lines in the eastern Vosges in 1944.
A lieutenant serving with 2 SAS, Marx was dropped by parachute on September 1 1944 and with a raiding party of 13 men proceeded successfully to ambush and destroy German vehicles and to inflict casualties. On September 8, in the Celles-Allamont area, with a potent mix of fog-signal detonators and plastic explosive mines, Marx and his party blew up two German trucks, killing the soldiers inside. They then entered the hamlet of La Chapellotte, where they found themselves face to face with a German patrol.
After a brisk gunfight at point blank range, Marx and his men obeyed the SAS dictum of "shoot and scoot" and, having shot it out long enough to send the Germans diving into ditches for shelter, they made off. Four hours later, they ambushed and shot up an enemy 5-ton truck, before heading off for 2 SAS's base in a nearby ridge of hills. They were then engaged by a strong enemy force who had taken exception to their day's activities. Marx extricated all but three of his team - and those three, though pursued by SS troops with dogs, also got away.
On September 25, Marx and a small patrol crossed the German frontier with orders to attack a railway line north of Saales. The line was being used by the Wehrmacht for the transport of supplies and troops, and was guarded by pairs of sentries at 100-yard intervals. Marx decided to attack and, unobserved, went forward and laid charges on the track. Two hours later a train was derailed, blocking the line for several days.
Eventually, on October 12 - having for days had nothing to eat but root vegetables and having lost a great deal of weight - Marx succeeded in leading his party through the German lines to join up with Allied troops. "Throughout this operation," his citation declared, "Lieutenant Marx showed himself to be imbued with a determination to cause damage to the enemy. His skill and personal courage during the whole period were an example to all ranks and deserving of high praise."
Frank Ralph Marx was born on March 9 1922 and went to St Paul's, where he was captain of boxing and tennis. Having completed his schooling by the time war broke out in 1939, Marx - instead of going up to Cambridge - enlisted. His leadership qualities were soon recognised and he was sent to Sandhurst, subsequently being commissioned into the 9/12th Lancers. Posted to North Africa, he was involved in the battles of El Alamein.
He joined 2 SAS in 1943 - and for the rest of the war was known to those with whom he served as "Karl" rather than Ralph. The serious effect on his health of his experiences in the Vosges in 1944 resulted in his being awarded a 100 per cent disability benefit.
At the end of the war Marx left the Army, in the rank of captain, and went up to Caius College, Cambridge, to read Engineering, completing his degree course in two years. He also won a Blue for boxing - and insisted on handing back his disability pension. He went on to qualify as a chartered engineer and in 1951 joined Fielding and Platt at Gloucester. He worked for Spirax-Sarco, Cheltenham, from 1955 to 1966, returned to Fielding and Platt for a year and then went back to Spirax-Sarco, finally retiring in 1982.
Ralph Marx was man of utter integrity and great strength of character. He had a keen sense of fair play and was scrupulously honest; if the Inland Revenue did not demand as much tax from him as he believed he owed, he would tell them so. He was an enthusiastic golfer, playing, at his best, off a handicap of five. He became the youngest captain - and later the president - of Lilleybrook Golf Club, Cheltenham.
He married, in 1946, Jane Bullock; they had a son and two daughters.
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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov