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Tag Archives: Military History

  • Norfolk's Military Heritage by Neil R. Storey

    September 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War and after  five years of special events, exhibitions and projects to commemorate the First World War this book looks at the long military history of the county of Norfolk from its early fortifications and conflicts between the Iceni and the Roman occupiers right up to the end of the Second World War, hopefully there will be many stories and images that will be new to the reader, even if they have enjoyed studying local military history for many years. That's the enduring grip such a subject has on a historian, there is always something new to discover, even if you think you know a subject well.

    Iron Age fort at Warham, near Wells. (C. John Fielding, Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Norfolk is one of England's largest counties, it still has thousands of acres of rich, fertile agricultural land and has had human settlements since the earliest times, along with their resulting conflicts. Add to this a coastline stretching nearly 100 miles from The Wash to Hopton-on-Sea with a number of natural harbours and navigable waterways and dear old Norfolk has been a target for raids and invasions down the centuries too. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why Norfolk people have a natural propensity for standing up for themselves and what they believe is right. Famously, in ancient history the Iceni were led in battle by Queen Boudica in a campaign that almost drove the Roman occupiers out of the British Isles and that fighting spirit remains in the blood, mingled with that of the Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

     

     

    Castle Rising, built more as a symbol of power and status than a fortification, is surrounded by some of the most impressive earthworks in Britain. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    I wanted to show a variety of perspectives of the earliest fortifications, not just those visible at ground level and John Stevens kindly allowed me to use some of his brilliant aerial photographs of Norfolk's remarkable early fortifications such as the Warham 'Ring,' Burgh Castle and Castle Acre, and even took a few more especially for the book. Notably, during our exceptionally dry summer of 2018 the marks of the ancient roads buildings and walls of Venta Icenorum the Roman administrative centre that was established over the old Iceni settlement at Caister St Edmunds, had not been quite so clearly seen for years and having seen many of the old images of the site in black and white from when it was first discovered it was great to see them in colour at last.

    Norfolk people have risen in rebellion on numerous occasions against oppression and to defend their way of life, notably during the Peasant's Revolt in 1381 and Kett's Rebellion of 1549. Ultimately they faced forces that were larger and far better armed than them but rise they did and made their point.

     

    Members of the Norfolk Riflr Volunteers striking camp 1872. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    During the English Civil War despite being predominantly in favour of the Parliamentary cause both Royalists and Parliamentarians made their stands in the county and many Norfolk men joined Regiments that fought in some of the notable actions of the war around the country. Captain Robert Swallow raised the 'Maiden Troop'of Cromwell's Ironside cavalry in Norwich and ultimately Norfolk formed part of the Eastern Association which proved to be the backbone of the Parliamentarian forces by late 1644.

    Norfolk fighting men have demonstrated their steadfastness and courage in battle again and again, notably through two World Wars. Lieut-General Sir Brian Horrocks summed this up in his special introduction to the volume on The Royal Norfolk Regiment in the Famous Regiments series in which he said:

    'The Royal Norfolk Regiment has always been renowned for its steadfastness and reliability in difficult situations. In fact it is the sort of Regiment which all commanders like to have available in order to plug a difficult gap. This staunchness has been developed over the years, for wherever the fighting was fiercest, climatic conditions most vile and the odds against victory most daunting, the 9th Foot was sure to be there.'

    The unveiling of the Thetford War Memorial by Major General Sir Charles Townshend on 4 December 1921. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    This spirit is also reflected through the service of Norfolk personnel in the Royal Navy, in the Royal Air Force and even among those on the home front through dark times, danger and disaster.  The veterans many of us knew from the First World War are now all gone and sadly those who answered the call on both the home front and on active service during the Second World War are fading away too. I hope, in some small way, this book will encourage new generations to appreciate their experiences and sacrifices and will provide inspiration and a good starting point for future research.

    Norfolk has been the scene of riots, rebellions, sieges and military actions over past centuries and the landscape is dotted with earthworks, defences, moats, fortified manor houses and latterly pillboxes and other fixed defences from the First and the Second World Wars. Some of these are now long gone, others are ruins and some remain remarkable bastions to this day. This book does not attempt to be encyclopaedic but I hope it will highlight some of the most interesting places and inspire a visit to those open to the public. Above all I hope it will introduce the story of our local regiments and our military past to anyone with a budding interest in the subject be they Norfolk born and bred, resident or visitor and deepen their appreciation of Norfolk's rich military heritage.

    Neil R. Storey's new book Norfolk's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • D-Day: The British Beach Landings by John Sadler

    Stan Hollis wins the VC

    Stanley Elton Hollis was born on Teesside in 1912, so he was in his thirties when he landed on Gold Beach with 6th Battalion Green Howards. His battalion had trained hard up by Inverary on Scotland’s hard north-west coast. Reveille on 6th June for the Green Howards was around 02.30 with a decent breakfast for those who had the stomach. Getting down via the nets into the landing craft wasn’t easy; the violent pitching of both vessels and the ungainly weight of kit wasn’t conducive to smoothness. If the motion of the ship was bad, this was much worse and the laden bobbing craft had to cruise around in circles, till like a line of ducks they set off in line abreast, ‘A’ Company on the left and ‘B’ on the right.

    View from the sea; British landing craft comes in. (D-Day: The British Beach Landings, Amberley Publishing)

    Stan identified a German strongpoint dead ahead as they cruised in to land, (in fact it was a railway shelter), and grabbing a Lewis gun he rattled off a full pan of ammo. The gun was stripped of its water cooling jacket and, as he hefted it clear of the bracket, forgetting it would be red hot by now, he badly blistered his hand!

    The plan called for Stan to lead mortar-men and Bren gunners from each platoon to charge ahead and set up at the high water mark, providing smoke and covering fire to get the rest through the belt of mines ahead. On their right a tank brewed up, one of ours obviously and the turret hatch bowled along the sand, a lethal projectile but no-one was hurt.

    Up the beach and onto a low ridge of dunes festooned with thick wire entanglements. Birds were sitting apparently unconcerned on the coils. One wag suggested they had no choice as there wasn’t any room left in the sky. Ahead now was a dense belt of mines. ‘D’ company were first through after their assault engineers had gapped, Stan and the others followed the reassuring lines of white tape. Beyond the minefield lay Meuvaines ridge and Mont Fleury Batteries.

    Troops move up off the beaches. (D-Day: The British Beach Landings, Amberley Publishing)

    Once through the hedge beyond the belt of mines, the Green Howards were fully exposed to the attention of the German defenders dug in on the higher ground. Inch by fire swept inch they crawled forward, Major Lofthouse had spotted the pillbox that was doing most of the damage. Hollis saw it too and stormed forward his Sten chattering, he made it and lobbed a grenade in, killing two defenders and persuading the rest to give.

    He barged ahead, up a shallow communications trench aiming for a larger bunker whose inhabitants went into the bag ‘about eighteen or twenty’. A pretty decent haul and it turned out these were the fire control team for the battery up ahead. It was only 09.30 and they could see enemy bolting from their positions but not that far, falling back behind a sheltering wall and firing. Hollis saw one German crazily loping along the top of the wall. Swapping his Sten for an Enfield rifle, he brought the fellow down first shot but was lightly wounded in the face just after.

    On they went into the village of Crepon. With Lieutenant Patrick now dead, Stan was commanding 16 Platoon and the Major ordered the company to check/clear the several farmhouses lining the approach road. Stan broke and entered one of the silent steadings; it seemed deserted except for one terrified boy, perhaps ten or eleven, the effect of seeing this ferocious, blood garnished veteran bursting in must have been utterly terrifying. As he came out to check the rear an enemy round smacked off the back yard wall, fragments whizzing. Aside from a pair of excited local canines, he could just about make out an enemy gun. His day was far from over.

    Stan Hollis won the VC for his actions, the only one to be awarded on D-day.

    John Sadler's new book D-Day: The British Beach Landings is available for purchase now.

  • Royal Dragoon Guards by Anthony Dawson

    The Royal Dragoon Guards are one of the oldest, and most prestigious, regiments in the British Army. Although the modern-day regiment was formed in 1992, its antecedents can trace their history back to the 1660s, representing over 350 years of continuous service.

    The charge of the Inniskillings at Le Cateau. (Royal Dragoon Guards, Amberley Publishing)

    Those regiments which make up the regiment were the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards; 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales’s) Dragoon Guards; 7th (The Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards and the Inniskilling Dragoons. They have a proud lineage – battle honours including Blenheim; Dettingen; Peninsular; Waterloo (where Corporal Penfold of the Inniskillings claimed to have captured a French Eagle); Balaklava (the more successful Charge of the Heavy Brigade) and Mons.

    Amongst those who have served are Robert Baden Powell, the ‘father’ of the Boy Scouts who was the youngest colonel in the British Army when he assumed command of the 5th Dragoon Guards, and Captain Lawrence Oates of the Inniskilling Dragoons who took part in Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic Expedition in 1912.

    But, after 250 years of independent service, reductions following the Great War in 1922 saw the 4th and 7th Dragoon Guards amalgamated to create a new regiment with its own traditions the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards. The Inniskillings and 5th Dragoon Guards were also amalgamated to become the 5th/6th Dragoons in the same year, and in 1935 gained the accolade 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards.

    With such a long history, The Royal Dragoon Guards have amassed one of the finest regimental collections in the country, housed in York Army Museum, in the shadow of the Clifford’s Tower in the centre of York. The museum curates collections not only from the Royal Dragoon Guards but also The Yorkshire Regiment, caring for and celebrating the history and special connection between the people of Yorkshire and the army, serving on every continent on the globe. The service of the Inniskilling Dragoons, together with that of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, is remembered in Ireland at Enniskillen Castle. Both museums are well worth a visit, with knowledgeable and helpful staff, and interesting temporary exhibitions.

    Anthony Dawson's new book Royal Dragoon Guards is available for purchase now.

  • Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945 by Patrick G. Eriksson

    The German surprise attack on the Soviet Union began before dawn on 22 July 1941. Oberleutnant Gűnther Scholz, Staffelkapitän 7/JG 54 recalled this historical day: ‘On 22 June 1941 in the early morning at 03h00 the first intrusion over the Soviet border took place; our target was the airbases near Kowno. I will never forget flying over the border. As far as one could see from our height of approximately 2,000 m in the emerging dawn, to the north and to the south, white and red Very lights were ascending high into the sky and army units on the ground and fliers in the air crossed the border punctually at 03h00.’ Tactical surprise was achieved in massed attacks on Soviet air bases, the exultant pilots claiming 1,489 aircraft destroyed on the ground, 322 in the air as the Russians responded. As always in aerial combat, actual losses (864 ground, 336 air) didn’t match claims made.

    It was a young man’s war. Leutnant Erich Sommavilla, Stab I/JG 53, returns from a mission over Hungary, early 1945. (Erich Sommavilla, Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945, Amberley Publishing)

    These were catastrophic losses, and the Russians would continue to suffer grievous losses for a long time, but they never stopped fighting. Often their stubborn resistance, their continued advance towards targets as their bomber formations were shot to ribbons, were seen as stur (pig-headed) and stupid, characteristics typical of Untermenschen as many of the Germans saw them. Many German Jagdflieger were highly experienced, with campaigns from Poland to the Balkans behind them, as well as the sobering defeat of the Battle of Britain. Fighter pilots are aggressive and often ambitious, and the lure of success, high decorations and joining the panoply of propaganda heroes of the Third Reich kept many of them focussed. Their victory claims soon mushroomed and as the Russian campaign went on, the envelope of the top scorers exceeded first 100, then successively 150, 200, 250 and even 300, Hartmann their top ace achieving an incredible 352 claimed successes. The German fighter pilots in the East were thus the top scorers not only of the war, but of all time. This image of Luftwaffe Experten has remained largely entrenched, and their claiming system, with rigid administrative steps leading up to confirmation is seen as being reliable. Somehow, the German aces appear as having been better than anyone else a viewpoint still enjoying credence even today; however, it needs to be seen as the propaganda of a race-obsessed Nazi regime, of great benefit when your air forces are suffering strategic defeat, over an ever-retreating Eastern Front.

    In order to get closer to the truth, this book relies on a core of testimony from 70-odd Luftwaffe fighter pilot veterans who flew Me 109s or Fw 190s, and crewmen of the Me 110 two seater Zerstörer. Recollections of their training period show that it was thorough, unusually included exposure to a wide range of different aircraft types, and was surprisingly accommodating of pilots needing more time for any part of their training. The veterans gave freely of their time, and supplied copies of original documents: flying logbooks, diaries, combat reports, and claims paperwork. Fellow aviation historians were also most generous, one providing the Startkladde 7/JG 51 for September 1943 – April 1944, giving a record of each flight made by all pilots, operational mission or not.

    Tired pilots of III/JG 52 back from a mission, field base Gonstakowka, Terek bridgehead, Caucasus, October 1942. Oberleutnant Rall (Staffelkapitän 8/JG 52; third ranking Luftwaffe ace) second from left, witness Gerd Schindler at right. (Gerd Schindler, Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945, Amberley Publishing)

    This enabled some statistical evaluation of the combat record of a single Staffel over several months. One of the pilots figuring prominently in this record was Hauptmann Gűnther Schack, whose diary excerpts provide fascinating reading of the daily life of a top ace (174 victory claims); he was a very modest man who decried all hero worship of Luftwaffe aces. However, his success and high decorations saved his father (a senior cleric opposed to Nazism and resisted joining the Nazi-sponsored Protestant church) from imprisonment or worse. Oberst Hanns Trűbenbach, commanding JG 52, describes his shock upon landing at a frontline airfield, where an NCO proudly showed him a fresh, only partly covered mass grave of Jewish men, woman and children. Later on he tells of intercepting a brand new Russian fighter over the Black Sea, whose test pilot was concentrating on writing up his technical notes, and did not see Trűbenbach until he got really close; however, he had nothing to fear, the German pilot had no intention of shooting such an innocent down. Peter Dűttmann, posted into II/JG 52 in the Kuban in May 1943 gives a detailed account of his first few days at the front, during which several of his Staffel comrades were lost, including his C/O; what an introduction for a greenhorn. Hans Grűnberg, one of the few surviving members of Platzschutzstaffel Pitomnik, the few fighter pilots of JG 3 flying from within the Stalingrad pocket, recalls sitting in his Me 109 and seeing Russian troops overrun his field base as ground crew struggled to warm up the engine enough for take-off; alas he had to flee on foot in the chaos, eventually getting out the pocket on one of the last Ju 52 transporters to leave Gumrak, a small field several miles away. Other Stalingrad veterans remember not being able to fly tight manoeuvres in combat due to a starvation diet. Diary extracts of Hans Strelow, a very young Leutnant in JG 51 were rescued from amongst his effects after his death by Luftwaffe psychologist, Professor Paul Skawran; forced to crash-land after his final combat, Strelow shot himself in the head rather than become a prisoner.

    The thorny issue of the Luftwaffe’s multi-step victory claims procedure, often seen as exemplary due to its extensive paperwork, is in fact rather more complex, having also been subject to human influence as in a simpler system. It changed during the war, for most in approximately August 1942, when claims which equate essentially to probables became the norm. A group of Geschwader Kommodoren give detailed testimony about the system. One emphasised the critical distinction between the terms Luftsieg (cf. complete, witnessed destruction) and Abschuss (enemy aircraft leaves formation, descends obviously damaged). In autumn 1942, the Abschuss concept became basically standard; high claims in the east were acknowledged within a changing and even manipulated system. High eastern scores, can be related to careful use of the Luftwaffe’s favourite bounce tactic, skewed towards enemy fighters; tactical expedience and scoring thus largely replaced strategic application of limited and shrinking aerial assets.

    Patrick G. Eriksson's new book Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945 is available for purchase now.

  • Memorials of the Western Front by Marcus van der Meulen

    Le Touret Military Cemetery and Memorial, on the D171 between Béthune and Armentières. (Author's collection)

    Places of Remembrance

    This year marks the centenary of the Armistice, which ended the First World War. In the past four years commemorations of all sorts have taken place. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended the observation of the Battle of the Somme centennial at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, France, in 2016. And many smaller tributes have taken place across the Western Front. Modest crosses of remembrance have been placed in cemeteries and chapels by relatives coming on a pilgrimage considering those who suffered the horrors of the Great War 1914-1918.

    These commemorations have been an opportunity to revive the awareness, not only to recall the tragedies, but also to maintain the memorials, monuments and cemeteries raised in honour of those who lost their lives. One of these memorials that is currently undergoing renovation work is the Le Touret Memorial, designed by J.R. Truelove, a fine building in the British classical tradition. The entrance gives way to a peristyle and portico’s, providing a dramatic view of over the many tombstones. There are 13,400 British soldiers, their names engraved on the white walls commemorated here, who fell during the early months of the Great War. Driving back home from a short break in Northern France, we passed the site only a few weeks ago.

    Le Touret Military Cemetery and Memorial, on the D171 between Béthune and Armentières. (Author's collection)

    I first visited memorials in the region on a family holiday in the 1980s. My parents took my brother and me abroad, crossing the channel by ferry like so many Britons do every year. First stop in France was Arras. This ancient capital of Artois is a lovely historic town with a beautiful square where I as a young boy took one of my first photographs (my brother insisted I would take a picture of him holding something he found lying on the cobblestones). In the background of the image was the top of the Belfry. Like so many buildings it was completely destroyed during the war. My parents preferred to avoid the motorways, moving from town to village taking country roads and encountering that sense of being in a different country. Northern France is different from the North of England, from the Greater Manchester area, and one thing that struck me back then were the Crosses of Remembrance and the Memorials that seemed to be hiding behind every hill and between trees in every field. Cemeteries in the most odd locations, and beautiful classical buildings that inspired a young boy back home to draw architecture.

    Le Touret Military Cemetery and Memorial, on the D171 between Béthune and Armentières. (Author's collection)

    The decision made by the British government at the time to build cemeteries and memorials on site, in France and Flanders, and not to repatriate the bodies and remains to the UK, has had far on going implications. Relatives had to cross the channel to visit the graves of their beloved sons, cousins, brothers. The bodies of many thousands and thousands were never found, their names are engraved on the walls of structures that were erected as memorials. People from all over the world, from the UK and Ireland, from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, come here on a pilgrimage, honouring those who suffered and died during the First World War. Some of them leave letters or a tiny cross with a poppy, as personal tokens. The decision to build the memorials here, in France and Flanders, to erect the crosses of remembrance on the place where the officers and men gave their lives, often after a horrible time in the trenches, has forever changed the landscape into a field of remembrance.

    At Le Touret Memorial we stopped the car and went out. There is a strange attraction coming from these memorials and cemeteries. Looking not only as an architect at these beautiful buildings, monuments and sites, but at what they represent. The past years have seen renewed interest in memorials and cemeteries of the Western Front, and many have been renovated. French statues were restored, some repainted, by the local municipalities. The CWGC has done an incredible job renovating and upkeeping of all those Commonwealth memorials and cemeteries. Some of the work still going on, as at Le Touret. the maintenance, of course, of these memorials and cemeteries is not over after we commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War on 11 November this year. As we walked along the walls of the memorial, my eyes were strangely attracted by all these names written on it and started looking for that accustomed name. Surely there are others like me. And when that familiar name is found, that person suddenly becomes your A. Butler, your own relative. The memorial becomes what is represents, a shared heritage of a common past. Lest we forget.

    Marcus van der Meulen's new book Memorials of the Western Front: Places of Remembrance is available for purchase now.

  • The Bravest Little Street in England by Karen Cliff, Trafford Local Studies and The First World War Volunteers

    The view of a volunteer by Richard Nelson

    The original telegram from George V, 1919. (c. George Cogswell, The Bravest Little Street in England, Amberley Publishing)

    Chapel Street has long signified the fighting spirit of the ordinary residents of Altrincham. It is regarded locally as a shining example of what can be achieved by such people in times of the nation's greatest need. Many families in the area have strong memories passed on by word of mouth about the individuals who lived in the street and they share pride in its achievement in sending so many men to fight in the First World War. After the conclusion of the fighting a group of residents formed a committee to commemorate those who had served in the conflict, many of whom were of Irish descent. In 1919 this committee succeeded in erecting a street shrine, the Chapel Street Memorial, at the end of the street.

    In 2014 a decision was made by Trafford Local Studies to research for a book that would chronicle the lives of as many of the individuals on the memorial as could be located and document them in the social context and history of the street. The big question was how to go about producing a book which would do the subject justice.

    Celebrations on Chapel Street on 5 April 1919. The Chapel Street Roll of Honour is visible on the right of the image. (c. Trafford Council, The Bravest Little Street in England, Amberley Publishing)

    The work force was already in place. An advertisement in July 2013 for volunteers to work on a First World War research project produced a small team with wide and varied experience and expertise. Local Studies staff set us to work on extracting information about the war from resources in the collection, primarily newspapers and local council minute books. Each item was recorded on record cards and transferred to a database.

    It soon became obvious that there was a vast amount of material to consider. Labouring through the newspapers produced hundreds of references to Chapel Street from the war years and more from the pre-war and post war years. This research had to be done in short bursts as each edition contained so much information and the small print was hard to read. It took over four years to extract the data and additional material was still emerging up to the final stages of producing the book.

    The reward was that the names on the memorial became real people as so many interesting stories about the residents were discovered, especially from the reports of the Petty Sessions. The street contained large families and several lodging houses and were full of colourful characters. Cases of drunkenness, fighting, domestic violence, poaching, and theft, highlighted the extreme poverty in which many residents lived. Some were sad stories, others were amusing, as the case of two of the soldiers who, when they were boys, stole a horse, cart and harness, intending to go to Macclesfield to look for rags and bones.

    Private Harry Johnson. (c. Harry Johnson, The Bravest Little Street in England, Amberley Publishing)

    One volunteer used his expertise to record the history and the development of Chapel Street from the earliest evidence to its demolition. Reports and minutes for the local Board of Health provided much detail about housing conditions. Other volunteers used family history programmes and other search engines to research individual lives. The records of birth, marriage and death, parish records, the censuses, the 1939 Register, street directories, army service records, electoral rolls and absent voters' lists were our main sources. Contact with surviving family members produced more information.

    Voluntary work already undertaken to locate and document the lives of Trafford men who had been awarded medals for gallantry had given me experience of interpreting First World War military records. I used this to develop a spreadsheet to record key facts on each soldier so that some statistical analysis could be undertaken once the research had been completed. This work formed the basis of one of the chapters of the book.

    Some information was located by pure serendipity. It was proving difficult to identify Harry Johnson. Elimination of Cheshire Regiment soldiers of that name had narrowed the field down to one, but there was no conclusive proof. A chance discovery on Facebook of a slide-show of images of the street, with a comment by a friend that her grandfather, Harry Johnson, had lived in Chapel Street, provided the evidence. Her relatives provided a picture of Harry, an honourable discharge certificate, medals and family stories. The medals and certificate confirmed him as the soldier suspected, his obituary was located and it was now possible to write a much less speculative piece about him.

    The Altrincham Boer War Memorial. (c. Trafford Council, The Bravest Little Street in England, Amberley Publishing)

    During the course of the research there were discoveries which surprised all who worked on the project. These included evidence that the street had a lengthy history of being an important source of recruits to the British armed services which predated the Boer War. Strong proof was located that the memorial did not include the names of all the men from the street who had taken part in the conflict. More will be revealed by reading the book.

    The project was expertly managed to ensure consistency. Regular monthly meetings determined the direction of the project and kept us all on track. Folders were created for storing the evidence for each soldier on the memorial. Standardised templates were completed by the team to ensure that all available evidence was collated. These were scrutinised two or three times by different researchers to check the evidence and fill in any gaps. Guidance on style and use of terms, accompanied by model examples, was produced to assist volunteers in writing up the soldiers in a standard format. The resulting biographies were checked to ensure that there was evidence for each conclusion drawn and checked again for consistency in language and format. As each soldier was completed his details were transferred to the fledgling book which rapidly started to grow. Photographs were chosen from the fine Local Studies collection, captions produced and additional chapters written and inserted and, hey presto, the book was completed!

    The writing of “The Bravest Little Street in England” has been a most rewarding experience and a fine example of how, with expert direction, volunteers can work together effectively to meet the rigours of publication.

    Karen Cliff, Trafford Local Studies and The First World War Volunteers new book The Bravest Little Street in England is available for purchase now.

  • Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose by Markus F. Robinson

    Kapitan Leutnant Hans Rose Propaganda postcard annotated 'Commander of the German Undersea-boat U 53 from Wilhelmshaven to New York'. (c. Author's Archive, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    History and “Fake” History - Beware of Secondary Sources

    Winston Churchill wrote ‘history is written by the victors.’ His statement succinctly captures the reality that all history is reported from a given perspective. As readers of history it is important we acknowledge this truism. As writers of history it is even more important we understand and acknowledge our own biases, and we critically assess the work of our colleagues, particularly when we rely on them.

    The other day a German historian I’ve been collaborating with showed me a new book written about shipwrecked seamen. It’s a gorgeous book, beautifully produced, that enumerates vessels attacked and sunk off Ireland. So naturally it includes materials about all the vessels that Hans Rose, at the helm of the U 53, attacked around the Emerald Isle. I checked the index, found the page references for U 53, and proceeded to review them.

    The author performed a huge amount of work to track down each boat sunk off Ireland and then meticulously compile data about the wrecks and their seamen. Mostly it’s pretty raw stuff: dates, boat specifics, number of crewmen rescued and lost, and the occasional exciting account of a rough seas rescue. Not really a page turner, it is more like a scholarly data compendium. Perhaps to make it more readable the author provides “context”, placing each wreck in its historical waters.

    U 53's morning Watch 1917 by Claus Bergen. (c. Rose Family Archives, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    That’s when my blood began to boil. Because at least for Hans Rose, the author appears to be uncritically relying on secondary sources for his filler. So when those secondary sources get it wrong, he unwittingly plays the role of loudspeaker, amplifying the effect of their erroneous description of history.

    It didn’t take long to spot his first error; an account of Hans Rose tracking the British Grand fleet on August 19, 1916. According to the Irish shipwrecks author Hans Rose provided critical intelligence that allowed German Admiral Scheer to determine that the Grand Fleet bearing down upon him was numerically superior, allowing him to break off the encounter and so save the fleet. The facts are exactly the opposite of those regurgitated by that author. In fact, Rose sent Scheer precise Intel about the Grand Fleet’s strength, but the admiral, relying upon a seriously exaggerated portrayal of Grand Fleet strength provided by a Zeppelin chose to withdraw from an encounter where Germany had substantial naval superiority. Rose recalled:

    “The most exciting day was August 19th, 1916. From dawn to late afternoon the boat had made contact with part of the Grand Fleet and continuously sent messages to the German head of the navy. It was one of those rare occasions in which the entire German High Seas fleet, because it was on a Western course near Dogger Bank, could have caught a small segment of the Grand Fleet. Could have - yes - had not the German Airfleet sent erroneous reports about the movements of the enemy.” Continuing, Rose recalled Admiral Scheertold him after the war “Well, Rose, had I only put more trust in your reports than those of the Airfleet!”

    Historians all rely upon secondary sources to provide us with the larger picture. How do we determine which secondary sources and opinion deserve our respect? Obviously a key way is to validate them against primary sources. Another method is to assess the reputation of the reporting historian. Cross-referencing interpretations is a third.

    U 53 Trails a Sailing Ship by Claus Bergen. (c. Author's Archive, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    The biography, Der Kapitän - U-boat Ace Hans Rose, (Robinson & Robinson, Amberley Press) chronicles how Rose served Germany with distinction in both World Wars. As captain of the U 53, he became internationally renowned for his unprecedented 1916 round-trip to the United States, more than doubling the longest solo submarine voyage hitherto accomplished. Later his extraordinary choice to send his enemies the coordinates of American sailors adrift at sea demonstrated that Rose would become Germany's fifth most successful U-boat Ace, and her most successful Ace during the convoy period, without sacrificing his sense of chivalry.

    Rose’s remarkable military career included duty at the court of the Ottoman Sultan at the turn of the 20th century, exploits as commander of a destroyer and then command of U 53until the end of WWI.

     

    Contextualizing Rose's WWI achievements, the biography includes a short primer about submarine technology, U-boat operational realities at the start of the Great War, and a discussion of how the introduction of convoys changed the naval battlefield on which Rose fought.

    U 52 in Drydock viewed from below the stern, her rudder, and dual sets of port and starboard diving fins, props, large rounded flutes and aft torpedo-tubes are visible. The port side of the boat's whaleback is prominently discernible. Above deck, her long-range wireless aerials are raised. (c. Author's Archive, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    Through the end of WWI, Rose's story is straight forward and gripping, as are his travails during the 1920s. On one occasion, following a confrontation during the occupation of the Ruhr, Rose’s stature as a national hero and his international reputation saved him from a long prison term at the hands of the occupiers.

    Rose’s role during the Nazi era is more complex. Thus, careful emphasis is placed upon a study of the interwar period that saw the occupation of his homeland, economic collapse, and the rise of the totalitarian Nazi regime. His renown made Rose a figure courted by the Nazi party, and caused him to cross paths with Adolf Hitler several times.

    Rose considered himself “a German knight.” After exploring the realities of resistance in a time of police state, the biography documents Rose's courage in facing down the Nazis during the 1930s when he felt he had to. Then, compared to the Gestapo and the SS operating in the same theatres of war, it chronicles his opinion of them and the stark difference in the way Rose conducted himself as a warrior during WWII.

    Between these two great conflagrations and in their aftermaths, Rose and his family shared the trials, tribulations, and very personal disasters faced by the German people as a whole.

    This well researched biography, over a decade in preparation, is designed to satisfy both the general reader and domain experts demanding a rigorous analysis of naval history and the political realities of the German interwar period.

    Markus F. Robinson and Gertrude J. Robinson's new book Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose is available for purchase now.

  • Evesham's Military Heritage by Stan Brotherton

    Miniature manuscript illumination of a battle believed to be the Battle of Evesham. (Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Evesham’s Military Heritage? An interesting title and a fascinating subject; but how to write such a book?

    The challenge wasn’t the lack of material. Indeed, the opposite is true: there’s far too much. After all, entire books have been dedicated just to Simon de Montfort (Earl of Leicester) and the Battle of Evesham (4th August 1265); its context, characters, impact and implications. Instead, the challenge was to make the book relevant to a modern reader. After all an account of old battles, however interesting in itself, can hardly be considered pertinent to the current day.

    For me, the key to unlocking this puzzle was the word “heritage” and the related idea of “inheritance” (that is, something valuable handed down through generations). This simple thought allowed me to connect old events with modern times. I found this such a valuable angle that early drafts included the subtitle: “A local history of war and remembrance”.

    What to include? A mass of notes was narrowed down to four main topics: the Battle of Evesham (1265), the English Civil Wars, WWI and WWII. The first two were obvious candidates as Evesham had been the scene of major conflicts and suffered significantly. The latter two made good sense as they were significant events, closely felt, which are still actively remembered. Scattered throughout were shorter chapters on the contemporary remembrance of past events.

    Map of the Battle of Evesham, 4 August 1265. Godescroft is believed to be where Simon de Montfort was slain. (c. David Cox, Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    But why should a reader care? I thought there were three reasons. First, in the history of Evesham there are some compelling personal stories; including the death of Earl Simon (1265) and the extraordinary public service of Mrs Haynes-Rudge (1914-18). Second, studying Evesham’s military heritage provides a richer understanding of the town (including, most obviously, its street names). Third, the book sets out some of the (local) present uses of the past: how history has been routinely reclaimed and recycled to suit contemporary needs.

    Stained-glass windows in the Lichfield Chapel, All Saints', made by Powell & Sons (1882-83). On the left, Prince Edward is shown wearing robes (not armour), no shield, hands crossed, and his right hand lightly touching the hilt of a (mostly) concealed sword. To the right, Earl Simon is shown as a belligerent figure in full armour with sword drawn. (Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Interestingly, Evesham’s remembrance of its own military past has changed dramatically over time. The clearest example is with the Battle of Evesham (1265). The battle itself was brutal and horrific. Indeed, Robert of Gloucester (fl 1260-1300) described it as “the murder of Evesham for battle it was none”. Soldiers fleeing the battlefield were pursued and slaughtered. Local tradition tells us that Welshmen (from Earl Simon’s army) who fled towards Twyford were cut down at a place known as “Dead Man’s Ait”. Those fleeing back into the town were pursued and killed. Those who sought sanctuary in the parish churches, and Evesham Abbey, were followed and slain. Blood from the slaughter stained the very centre of the abbey (between the transepts, under the tower).

    For some twenty years (or so) after his violent death, Earl Simon remained a popular even populist figure. Indeed, there was a vigorous local “cult” dedicated to Earl Simon with prayers invoking him as intercessor. Inevitably this was soon suppressed by the king (after all Earl Simon was a traitor and had been excommunicated) and Earl Simon’s fame afterwards faded.

    The Simon de Montfort Memorial, 2010, set by red and white blooms ( the colours of his blazon). The inscription states: 'Here were buried the remains of Simon de Montfort.' This is most unlikely, thought his grave is probably quite close by. (Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    In the early Victorian age Earl Simon’s reputation was, perhaps unexpectedly, powerfully revived. Wrapped up with a powerful move for parliamentary reform was a search for early champions of democracy. Earl Simon, who summoned a parliament in January 1265 to bolster his own power, was soon adopted and duly transformed into a heroic figure fighting for liberty. In Evesham in the 1840s, this new view was reflected in new local memorials; including an obelisk and church stained glass. At Evesham, in 1965, Earl Simon’s status as democratic hero received full official recognition. The Archbishop of Canterbury, supported by dignitaries including the Speaker of the House of Commons, dedicated the Simon de Montfort Memorial in Upper Abbey Park.

    Today, of course, things have changed again. The 750th anniversary of the Battle of Evesham (2015) was particularly marked by a large-scale re-enactment on the Crown Meadow. The original slaughter, transformed through time, has become the occasion for public entertainment and an excellent day out.

    The book Evesham’s Military Heritage embodies many levels of remembrance. Most obviously, the book considers how the military past has been remembered locally and, for the English Civil Wars, largely ignored. For WWI and WWII I made significant use of local memories, reports of local experiences, local poems, and most importantly excerpts from Eva Beck’s wonderful autobiographies. Additionally, the book is dedicated “in memoriam” to two local historians now sadly deceased (Mike Edwards and Gordon Alcock). I also included memories from my grandfather (who served in WWI) plus pictures from my father. In this way, the book not only discusses remembrance (and the way it has changed) but is also itself an act of remembrance.

    Stan Brotherton's new book Evesham's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • Zealots by Oliver Thomson

    How a Group of Scottish Conspirators unleashed half a Century of War in Britain

    The entrance to Dunfermline Palace in Fife where ironically Charles I was born within a few miles of the men who were to initiate his downfall. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    When I first thought of this book a couple of years ago I was going to call it Scottish Jihad, for Islamic Jihads were all in the news and I was curious to see how religious fanatics in 17th century Britain compared with those in Al Qaeda. The key difference was that AQ jihadists were mainly indoctrinated to accept the likelihood of a swift death, whereas the rebellious Scots in 1639 had to face the probability of torture and an unpleasant form of execution.

    Thus the Scottish Presbyterians who felt so strongly about getting rid of bishops were actually tasking a slightly bigger risk than the present day jihadists.

    Nor could we describe the Scots as radicalised or even indoctrinated for they were for the most part comfortably off ordinary men and women made angry by a dictatorial religious regime dictated from Canterbury. Both sides in the argument were of course Christian and Protestant, so the war they were starting was to be the most serious between two branches of Protestantism and to modern eyes the religious differences might seem quite petty.

    Charles I. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    What makes it all the more significant is that it was this grouping of Scots Presbyterians who fired the first shots in what became the English Civil War or the Wars of Three Kingdoms. While much is made of the grievances of the English Parliament against the stubborn Charles I, none of the so-called Roundheads took up arms against the king till well after the Scots had done so first. It was these piously angry Scots who, by sending an army over the Border into England, demonstrated that the king’s troops were far from invincible. A gap of more than three years during which the Scots had taken huge risks, humiliated the royal army and made it much easier for the parliamentarians to start recruiting an army of their own.

    Having spent some time researching the psychology of the horrendous religious wars after the Reformation, the Catholic against Protestant wars in France, Holland and Germany, I was still interested in how this compared with 21st century jihads and the tragic fact that religious differences should lead to so much violence.

    It was after this that I was on a short walking holiday on the magnificent Fife coastal path that I began to notice how many of the main conspirators who had organised the two Bishops Wars were actually based in Fife and lived so close to each other. So I researched this further. The small Fife ports, particularly Crail, had been heavily involved in transporting ambitious young Fifers across the North Sea to fight as mercenaries in Germany during the Thirty Years War. Many of these men had been remarkably successful, especially the Leslie family which had produced a field marshal, a general and half a dozen colonels, all of them now ready to return home since the Thirty Years War was drawing to a close.

    The Battle of Bothwell Bridge. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    Meanwhile the senior member of the Leslie clan, John Earl of Rothes, based in what is now Glenrothes, was taking the lead in a plot to start a rebellion against the religious policies of Charles I. He was thus perfectly placed for recruiting his own relations to form an army and bring in their other ex-colleagues, many of them Fifers, from Germany. The Earl also had a team of extremely able church ministers working with congregations along the Fife coast, all keen to start a rebellion and all well able to motivate the local population. Thus in 1639 Fife had a combination of military muscle, aristocratic support, fanatical churchmen and money that could not be matched anywhere else in Britain. It was thus the Fife Conspiracy that launched Scotland into a series of nine wars and England into three.

    Once the Scottish religious rebellion, the two Bishops Wars, had created the spark for the English Civil War, the affair south of the border became for a time more political than religious. But for the Scots it was still religious which accounts for the fact that in 1648 they changed sides from Roundhead to Royalist with disastrous results. The overall cost in lives for Scotland is reckoned as about 60,000, not counting plague deaths resulting from troop concentrations and harvest trashing. While I was looking at the casualties I accidentally found one that became quite personal. In 1679 Charles II sent an army to crush the Scottish Covenanters in the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on the Clyde. It was a rout and the survivors were marched to Edinburgh from which several hundred were to be transported to the colonies as indentured labour. Their prison ship the Crown of London was hit by a storm off the Orkneys and to avoid prisoners surviving the captain locked them in the hold. Only a few did survive and of those only four avoided recapture. One of those four seems almost certainly to have been an ancestor of my wife, hence the dedication of this book. It’s a small world.

    Oliver Thomson's new book Zealots: How a Group of Scottish Conspirators Unleashed Half a Century of War in Britain is available for purchase now.

  • Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions of World War II by Women of the OSS and SOE by Greg Lewis

    World War II was the war in which old gender rules changed, as intelligence agencies created specific training and roles for women. Women were trained to work as undercover combatants armed with Sten guns and grenades, cut telecommunication wires, lay mines in roadways, and organize bombing raids.

    Their work contributed greatly to the success of the D-Day invasion and the eventual Allied victory over Hitler.

    Below, Greg Lewis, co-author of Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions of World War II by Women of the OSS and SOE highlights the boldest female spies of the era.

     

    THE AGENT WITH THE FALSE LEG CALLED CUTHBERT

    Virginia Hall spied for both SOE and OSS in Occupied France, despite having only one leg. (Shadow Warriors, Amberley Publishing)

    Despite having only one leg, Baltimore-born Virginia Hall carried out missions for both the highly-secretive British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Hall had lost part of her left leg in a pre-war hunting accident. She was fitted with a false leg which she nicknamed “Cuthbert.”

    Hall worked for SOE in Occupied France early in the war, while posing as a journalist for the New York Post. After the US joined the war, she returned to France for the OSS. Disguising herself as an old lady, she gathered intelligence to aid the D-Day landings. The Gestapo became aware of her and put her on its most wanted list. They referred to her as the “limping lady.”

    She survived the war and later served in the CIA.

     

    THE AGENT WHO GOT HER SECRETS IN BED

    Betty Pack worked for Britain’s MI6 in Poland before the war, sleeping with a Polish diplomat in order to find out what the Poles knew about the German Enigma code-making machine.

    Moving to an MI6 department working in the United States, Betty was asked to plan a mission to copy vital naval codes kept inside the Vichy French embassy in Washington.

    She seduced a man who worked there, and brought him in on the operation. They broke into a safe and passed the codes out to another man to be copied overnight.

    When they were disturbed by a guard Betty jumped naked into her male accomplice’s arms and pretended to have sex with him. The embarrassed guard left them alone for the rest of the night.

    The codes she copied proved vital in the American and British invasion of French North Africa in November 1942.

     

    “A NICE GIRL WHO DARNED SOCKS”

    Yolande Beekman hid in a freezing cold attic to send wireless messages to London requesting arms and supplies for the Resistance. (Courtesy: specialforcesroh.com, Shadow Warriors, Amberley Publishing)

    Female agents often faced sexism and even derision from their SOE instructors. Yolande Beekman was dismissed by one SOE instructor as, “A nice girl, darned the men’s socks, would make an excellent wife for an unimaginative man, but not much more than that.”

    Beekman landed in France by Lysander in September 1943 and headed to the town of Saint-Quentin, where she became wireless operator for a resistance network dedicated to blowing up canal and railway infrastructure in the area. She was so successful that the Gestapo brought in teams of radio detector vans to track her down.

    She was arrested in a canal-side café and transported to Dachau concentration camp where she was executed.

     

    THE WOMAN WHO BLUFFED HER WAY OUT OF ARREST

    Irish-born Paddy O’Sullivan had been brought up by a Belgian aunt and began the war as a nurse. Her language skills attracted her to SOE.

    She parachuted into France in March 1944 and was almost killed straight away.

    In terrible weather, the cords of her parachute became entangled. By the time she had righted them she was very low and she hit the ground very hard.

    Severely concussed, her life had been saved by the two million francs in bank notes which were stuffed into her backpack. The money was for the French resistance.

    A woman of tremendous courage and gall, she would flirt with German soldiers if she found herself in a tight spot.

    Once, while carrying her wireless in a suitcase, she was challenged at a checkpoint.

    When a soldier asked her what was in the suitcase, she laughed and said “A wireless, of course!”

    The guard thought she was joking and he sent her on her way.

    O’Sullivan risked her life to send more than 300 messages by radio to London. Like the other women, she received a number of medals after the war.

     

    THE WHITE MOUSE WHO LED AN ATTACK ON A GESTAPO HQ

    Nancy Wakes was almost thrown out of SOE but returned to lead a deadly attack on a Gestapo headquarters. (Shadow Warriors, Amberley Publishing)

    Gun-toting Nancy Wake planned and led a raid on Gestapo headquarters which left almost 30 Germans dead or dying. The New Zealand-born journalist was living in France at the outbreak of war and quickly became involved in resistance activity. Dubbed the “White Mouse” by the Gestapo, she fled over the Pyrenees into Spain, and trained with SOE in Britain. Wild and gregarious, Wake parachuted into Occupied France in April 1944, while suffering a raging hangover from a party the night before.

    In late July 1944, while senior Gestapo officers in the old town hall in Montluçon were enjoying a glass of schnapps before lunch, Wake led a group of armed men into the building and started shooting. On reaching the local chief’s office, she opened the door and threw in two hand grenades.
    As she said later: “I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don’t see why we women should just wave a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.”

     

    THE WAR HERO WHO WAS MURDERED DURING PEACETIME

    Christine Granville planned and led a daring mission to rescue a fellow SOE agent. (Courtesy: SpyMuseum.com, Shadow Warriors, Amberley Publishing)

    Polish-born Christine Granville had already worked undercover for MI6 in Poland and Hungary when she was recruited by SOE.

    Described by the legendary SOE intelligence officer, Vera Atkins, as a “beautiful animal with a great appetite for love and laughter”, Granville spent months in Egypt and Palestine waiting for a mission and lost patience with SOE chiefs.

    One evening, having been introduced to a local general, she took him for a walk behind a desert sand dune. When he returned he was “knocking at the knees” and he instructed his officers to find Granville a mission immediately.

    In France, she masterminded the escape of senior SOE agent, Francis Cammaerts, by blackmailing and bribing an officer from the French Nazi police force, the Milice.

    She told the Nazi that unless he released her friend he would be handed over to the mob once the liberating forces arrived in the area.

    On delivering Cammaerts to Granville, the Nazi said: “What a wonderful woman you have.”

    Cammaerts had been due to be executed on the morning of his escape.

    Despite her wonderful war record, Granville struggled to find personal happiness after the war. She was murdered in London by a deranged man who had become obsessed with her.

    Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis new paperback edition of Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions of World War II by Women of the OSS and SOE is available for purchase now.

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