An Unlikely Friendship: A Longstop Hill Story

Between the 21st – 23rd April 1943, the Battle of Longstop Hill, better known as the Capture of Longstop Hill took place. The 8th (Argyllshire) Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders would play a significant role over these days. The battle would see lives changed. There were fatalities, soldiers were taken Prisoners of War, and Major ‘Jack’ Anderson of the regiment would later go on to be awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions – he too, like many others was injured during this advance. But it was also the scene for the start of one of the most unlikely friendships.

Longstop Hill © Peter Archer
Oil painting depicting the battle of Longstop Hill, Tunisia, North Africa 23rd April 1943. It shows Major John Thompson McKellar Anderson VC leading his men (8th Battalion A and SH) to the top of the hill attacking each individual enemy position. This painting is part of the collection at The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum.

Today, the geographic area of Longstop Hill is a tourist destination, popular with those who enjoy hiking. In 1943, the hill, with the German forces commanding it, was blocking the Allied advance on Tunis. There was no use going around it, the Germans would have the advantage of the height the hill gave and would be able to destroy any path the allies would try to take. It was inevitable, Allied forces would need to take the hill. One of the many men waiting for the command was Adam McLachlan, serving with The Argylls. From the central belt, Adam landed in from the troopship S.S. Cathay, at Bougie – this is on the North African coast about halfway between Algiers and Tunis. Adam had no sooner stepped off the ship before it was bombed and destroyed.

Adam McLachlan, Stirling 1948
Photo Credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

Moving forward almost a year Adam, part of the 8th (Argyllshire) Battalion, would find himself on Longstop Hill. As the attack commenced, the last few German battalions tried to hold the hill. The last German troops trying to cover the retreat had a slim chance of making it out. Herbert Fritzsch was one of these troops.

Part of the German Afrika Korps, Herbert was a young, and recently married solider. He recalls later in life about the attack that he, “took cover behind part of a dyke” but as he went to move, a machine gun opened fire and he was hit. He was shot in the right thigh, calf and pelvis.

A copy of the photo of Herbert Fritzsch and his wife which Adam found.
 Photo Credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

As he tried to crawl to better cover, he would find a young man staring over him – Adam McLachlan. Without even thinking about it, Adam helped the injured Herbert. He cut away the heavy laced boot and trouser leg and dressed the wounds, gave him some water and a cigarette and carried him out of the sun. Adam put Herbert’s gas mask under his head as a pillow and put a jacket over the top of him to keep the flies away from his wounds. Adam tried to communicate with Herbert, but the language barrier made it almost impossible – until he saw the locket under Herbert’s shirt. When he opened it, there was a photograph of Herbert’s wife. With ‘madam’ being a well understood word, they were able to both establish who the photo was of.

Stretcher Bearers on Longstop Hill c.1940s
Photo Credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

In August that year, Adam fought in Italy, where he too was injured, he spent his 21st birthday in a convalescent hospital.  Eventually in 1947, he was able to go home and returned to Stirling Castle in the February – it had been nearly five years since he had seen Scotland.

Adam would go on to meet Bessie, they would marry and settle in Airth and had two sons and five daughters.  In 1949, he was discharged from the army and eventually took a job in Falkirk. It wasn’t until 1973 that his thoughts turned to the young injured German solider he had helped that day, and with the personal belongings he picked up on that hill, he decided to try and find out Herbert’s fate.

Adam wrote a later to the last known address on the pay book – never expecting an answer. But the letter did find its way to Herbert Fritzsch, Bank Manager, Kondradsreuth, Bavaria. After that day on Longstop Hill, Herbert was handed over to a British hospital in Africa, then later became a Prisoner of War in the USA. But he was able to return home to Bavaria in 1946. In his shocked response, Herbert invited Adam to visit him and his family, to which Adam agreed. The McLachlan and Fritzsch families became firm friends, taking turns to visit one another in their respective countries.

Adam and Herbert on one of their visits to one another
Photo Credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

The heartfelt story of Adam and Herbert reminds us that amidst the turmoil of battle, acts of compassion and friendship can still prevail.

Written by Caitlin Meldrum, Audience and Communications Officer