Monthly Archives: December 2009

Happy New Year!

I would like to wish you all a happy new year, wherever you are in the world. Lets hope for a good 12 months ahead.

Review of the year

6 months ago my brother suggested to me that it might be an idea for me to start writing a blog about my interest in history. It took me a while to get started, but I’m glad that I did. Now, 6 months later, I have made almost 250 posts, and had over 5,800 hits – I could never have imagined that so many people would be interested in what I have to say! To be honest, I wasn’t sure that it would work – people aren’t interested in history, surely?! But it looks like the concept of relating the past to the present and the future, in an accesible way, does interest people.

I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has visited, and all of my friends and colleagues who have encouraged me, and especially everyone who has commented and made contributions here. I would like to thank Mike Burleson of New Wars for not only helping shape my opinions on naval policy, but also citing my writing and pointing people in my direction. I would also like to thank all of the publishers who have kindly allowed me to review their books, and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard for asking me to be a guest columnist on their blog. I have also greatly enjoyed taking part in discussions on the ww2talk forum.

I’ve also had some interesting experiences this year. I got to look round the Royal Navy’s brand new Destroyer HMS Daring. In July I spent a pretty interesting few days walking from Swanage to Weymouth on the Jurrasic Coast in Dorset. The Shoreham airshow was spectacular this year with the Vulcan making an appearance. And I managed to fit in a day trip to Bruges as well!

Whats happening in 2010

You can expect more of the same here on Daly History! However, I promise to not write just about military history, and you can expect some wider subjects to appear very soon. Expect the first guest blogger to make an appearance very soon, somebody who an interest in ancient and medieval history and also fiction… lets just say I will be keeping it in the family!

The Portsmouth War Dead project will continue, so expect plenty more stories of Portsmouth men and women who died between 1939 and 1947. I am also looking at a similar project for the First World War. I have a busy programme of talks booked, with more in the pipeline. Also, reviews of Museums and other interesting sites will hopefully start soon. And who knows what else will transpire during 2010?!

Lastly, feel free to let me know if there is anything else you would like to see, let me know – I’m all ears!

Once again, thank you for your interest and support

Happy New Year!

James Daly

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Falklands then and now: Merchant Navy

As an island nation Britain has since time immaterial depended on its fleet of merchant vessels for trade. Perhaps the most stark example of this was the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War, when German U-boats threatened to cut Britain’s lifeline.

It was but a small step to push trading networks out around the world, and the Royal Navy expanded to protect maritime trade and empire. Hence the British Empire was built on seapower, and the Royal and Merchant Navies have had a closely interwoven history. The Falklands War proved no different.

The picture in 1982

The Atlantic Conveyor after being hit by Exocet

The Atlantic Conveyor after being hit by Exocet

Merchant Navy involvement in the Falklands fell into three categories: chartered, requisitioned or taken up from trade. The Government is empowered to requisition British flagged ships for Defence use, and maintains a list of vessels suitable for use in various roles. Most of these ships had to undergo some modifications, such as naval communications and navigation equipment, equipment to allow them to be replenished at sea, and in some cases helipads and anti-aircraft weapons. This substantial work was undertaken at commercial shipyards and the naval dockyards. Most also sailed with a party of Naval officers and ratings onboard.

The task force that retook the Falklands in 1982 made use of a sizeable portion of the British Merchant Navy, consisting of no less than 40 merchantmen. These came from a wide range of roles, from Ocean Liners, ferries, container vessels, Oil tankers, Ocean tugs, mooring vessels, repair ships, water tankers, hospital ships, even trawler-minesweepers. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary simply lacked the ships to maintain such a vast task force 8,000 miles from home.

Troop transports such as Canberra, QE2 and Norland were required to transport the military forces to the Falklands, as there was not nearly enough space in the Amphibious ships to take them all south. Stores ships were also required to transport the wide range of equipment and supplies needed. A large fleet of Oil Tankers was used to transport fuel to the South Atlantic, where it was transferred to the RFA tankers who could then replenish the warships at sea. Given the lack of Sea Harriers and Helicopters in the South Atlantic, the container ship Atlantic Conveyor sailed carrying extra Harriers and Chinooks. All but one of the Chinooks were lost when she was sunk by an exocet missile strike.

The picture in 2009

Cross-Channel Ferries - unsuitable for the South Atlantic

Cross-Channel Ferries - unsuitable for the South Atlantic

Given the already highlighted shortcomings in the RFA flotilla, any task force to the South Atlantic would be even more reliant on support from Merchant vessels than it was in 1982. This is unfortunate, as the British Merchant Navy has dwindled considerable since 1982. Many commercial vessels now carry the flags of countries such as Panama or Liberia.

In 2008, the British Merchant Navy consisted of the following vessels:

  • 55 General Cargo ships
  • 134 Container ships
  • 12 Passenger ships
  • 40 Oil tankers
  • 19 Refrigerated Cargo ships
  • 25 roll-on/roll-off ferries

In addition UK interests own 446 ships registered in other countries. This gives a much smaller range of choice than in 1982. Of these, only a fraction would really by suitable for use in a military campaign in the South Atlantic. For example, of the 25 ro-ro ferries, the majority of them are designed for crossing the English Channel or the Irish Sea and would be wholly unsuited to service in the South Atlantic. And how many of them would be suitable for modification for helipads, for instance?

It would be a tough job indeed putting together a fleet of support vessels from the Merchant Navy. What is not immediately clear, either, is how many of them would be immediately available in any case. Of the ships listed above not all of them will be in UK waters, apart from any in refit. The time taken in modifying and storing them also needs to be accounted for.

The process of requisitioning, making ready and manning the number of commercial vessels necessary would be a mammoth task. Not only would there be problems in terms of numbers. Requisitioning or chartering a sizeable proportion of the Merchant Navy would have significant economic and political consequences, not to mention the widespread disruption. And with the rundown of the Naval Dockyards, it would be much more difficult and take much longer to carry out the modification work as in 1982. Almost as difficult would be finding enough naval manpower to make up naval parties: if the navy has trouble crewing its own ships, how could it put together parties to serve on requisitioned Merchant vessels?

In Conclusion

Clearly, the Navy and the RFA could not expect support from the Merchant Navy on the level that it received in 1982. Using Merchant vessels is far from an ideal solution in any case: they are largely built to different safety standards than Naval ships, with less substantial firefighting and damage control systems. As shown by the loss of the Atlantic Conveyor, Merchant vessels cannot afford to sustain damage, and if they do critical cargoes might be lost. The loss of a couple of Chinooks on a container ship, or a Battalion on a cruise liner does not bear thinking about.

Along with the perilous state of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the state of the Merchant Navy makes talk of aircraft carriers, missiles and escort vessels largely redundant: without the logistical support to get them there and keep them there, any kind of task force operation would be impossible.

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Football in decline?

Recent events surrounding Portsmouth Football Club have reminded me of a unit I studied while at University – Football and Society.

I think it would take a brave person indeed to argue that Football has not declined in recent years. In the 1950′s Football was a boom sport – enjoyed by thousands, affordable, the players were ordinary people like the fans themselves. Clubs were run as a club. Yet now we have the spectre of bloated, commercialised clubs paying players millions, and fans paying through the nose to sit and watch matches. Rich owners treat clubs like toys, often leading to misery for fans.

But when did this decline start? and why?

For me, the crisis in Football was brought about by the Hooliganism problem, particularly in the 1980′s. Although crowd disorder has a longer history than we would believe – the word Hooligan has Victorian origins, after all – it came to a head in the mid 1980′s, with incidents such as the Millwall-Luton pitch invasion and the Heysel distaster. This was the prism through which wider society viewed football. And it led to some heavy-handed, skewed and apocalyptic developments.

The Government of the time, the Thatcher-led Conservative administration, took a dim view on Football. Despite the fact that Hooliganism was largely caused by disaffected young working class people – the kind of people alienated by the Thatcher Government – the authorities developed the blinkered view that the fans were to blame for all of Football’s problems.

Events such as the Bradford Fire in 1985, and the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, were NOT caused by Hooliganism. The Popplewell report into the Bradford fire at least makes this clear. They were caused by poor facilities, poor crowd management and a lack of investment by clubs. But somehow the Government managed to take the view that Hooliganism was to blame, and that Football had to be ‘cleaned up’. It did, but not in the way that transpired.

Introducing seating in Football Stadia did not clean up Football itself. Standing, if managed properly, is safe – as seen in Germany. But all seater-stadia led to a gentrified sport – more comfortable, more commercial, and more lucrative. The advent of Sky TV, and the huge profits that came with it, acted with a multiplying effect.

This sat very well with Thatcherism. A disregard for normal, working people was shown by the handling of the Miners strike and the Poll Tax. Privatisation and the sale of council housing gave numerous opportunities for a few people to become rich while everyone else struggled. The Yuppy culture was alive and well, and it had sunk its teeth into Football.

This has filtered through to supporters. Now, sat in nice cosy stands, with plenty of leg room, it more akin to going to the theatre. People find nothing wrong with supporting whatever team they like, rather than their local team. Like the yuppy culture, football is about money and success. A true supporter does not care about winning or losing. I maintain that for anyone to be able to afford a season ticket and all the associated costs, they must either be wealthy, or foolish. You’re a customer like any other – but you don’t realise it.

There is something rather sad about thousands of people paying millions of pounds to sit and watch 22 bloated, overpaid players. Intelligent and humble individuals like Linvoy Primus are by far the exception. Instead of watching, why not do something active yourself? That footballers are held up as heros and role models beggars belief.

Like any commercialised situation, the bubble has to burst. There have been numerous tiny pin pricks – the ITV digital collapse, for example – but the future may well see more clubs in dire straits like Pompey are currently. Football is in the process of eating itself.

Football is not the sport I recall, even from when I first went to Fratton Park in the late 1980′s. Not only have the grounds and the players changed, the whole culture has changed too. And sadly, I feel, not for the better.

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Sergeant Louis Hogg

I’ve found an intriguing case in my research into Portsmouth’s 1939-1945 war dead.

Sergeant Louis Hogg, 24 and from Stamshaw, was serving with 59 Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery when he was killed in France on 10 July 1944. This was just after Operation Charnwood, the capture of Caen. He is buried in Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery, Normandy.

59 Anti-Tank Regiment, a Hampshire based Territorial Army unit, was attached to 43rd (Wessex) Division during the battle of Normandy in 1944. Its four batteries would have been dispersed throughout the Brigade to provide Anti-Tank defence against the German Tiger and Panther Tanks, which were proving so deadly to the Allies.

What intrigues me most of all are the details for Sergeant Hogg on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website. His parents are described as Mr and Mrs LOADER.

How come a Sergeant Hogg’s parents were a Mr and Mrs Loader? It might not be militarily important, but as a historian with an interest in both family history and military history, and the social side of war, it would be interesting to know his story.

Anyone out there got any ideas?

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Tansport Secretary hails 2010 ‘year of high-speed rail in the UK’

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has said that 2010 will be the year of “year of high-speed rail in the UK”, according to BBC News.

Lord Adonis’s words come as plans are announced for a new 250mph line linking London and the West Midlands, and proposals for routes further north.

Lord Adonis said: “I want Britain to be a pioneer in low-cost, mass-market high-speed rail. I want to see not just ‘Easyjet’ but ‘Easytrain’ – high-speed trains with airline-style pricing and mass market appeal so that HSR is for all and not just the wealthy.”

I wonder when Lord Adonis last got on a train. I wonder if 2010 will be a year of high speed rail for commuters stood like sardines on Clapham station on a dark January evening. And Lord Adonis will more than likely retire to the Lords opposition benches after the next General Election in any case.

As I have often written before, Britain has been left far behind in rail transport, indeed in other types of public transport too. For Lord Adonis to want Britain to become a pioneer is admirable but rather late. Practically every country in Europe runs cheaper, more frequent and faster trains than Britain.

To hope that it might be affordable for all is pie in the sky. The project will be handed over to a private company, who will be answerable to shareholders and will have dividends to protect. Has nothing been learnt of the folly of privatising rail and bus transport? Companies that have no accountability always revert to type and put profit before people. The reason they are so behind is because they have been neglected, once our rail network was the envy of the world. But we have lost that ‘can-do’ spirit of British engineering. Now in its place the Governments new policy is to throw money at problems, appoint a new manager or form a new quango.

New lines, trains and schemes are positive, but glossy new flagship projects do not make up for the dire inadequacies elsewhere. A shiny new proposals for a line from London to Birmingham does not benefit be in Portsmouth. Why not sort out the problems with the networks that we already have?

(Just a final though…. if Lord Adonis goes on holiday and comes back tanned, does that make him a bronzed Adonis?)

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Falklands then and now: Auxiliaries

One of the biggest, but most overlooked, lessons of the Falklands War was the immense contribution of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Yet, over 25 years later, not only has the RFA been decimated by succesive defence cuts, its very existence is currently under question.

There are wider lessons from military history here. Both Marlborough and Wellington have become known as logistics Generals. In the modern era, Montgomery was known for his penchant for fighting ‘tidy’ battles, and keeping his line of communications in good order. Famously, an inability to supply both Montgomery and Patton led to the allied advance in the late summer of 1944 grinding to a halt. For all the modern technology on offer, we ignore logistics at our peril.

How has it transpired that economic factors have brought about the very real spectre of the Royal Navy’s support and logistics arm being privatised? And what impact does this have on the Royal Navy’s warfighting capability?

The picture in 1982

RFA Olmeda replenishing HMS Invincible in 1985

RFA Olmeda replenishing HMS Invincible in 1985

In 1982 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary consited of 27 ships (6 of them were Round Table Class Landing Ships, which have been included under Amphibious Warfare). A total of 22 of these were deployed to the Falklands, demonstrating the immense effort required to keep the Task Force fighting 8,000 miles from the UK.

Five stores ships were deployed: two of the Fort Austin Class, two of the Regent Class, and Stromness. In addition there were also Five Fleet Tankers deployed – these were especially critical, due to their ability and experience in Replenishing up to 3 ships at once while underway. Also crucial were the Five Leaf Class support tankers, which although designed for transporting fuel between terminals, but could pass fuel to the fleet tankers and other ships at sea if needed. A Helicopter Support Ship, Engadine, was also despatched to the South Atlantic.

These ships were heavily supplemented by a large number of Merchant ships, either Requisitioned or Chartered by the Ministry of Defence. Among them were Oil Tankers, supply ships, and repair ships. Other Merchant ships supported the Amphibious Group as troop ships and transports. I will consider the potential for the use of Merchant vessels in my next instalment.

The picture in 2009

A RAS (replenishment at sea) underway

A RAS (replenishment at sea) underway

The RFA is a much smaller flotilla than in 1982. Although its contribution to the Falklands War was duly noted, in the following years its vessels have been succesively cut or simply not replaced.

The RFA in 2009 consists of 17 vessels, 4 of these being the Bay Class Landing Ships. In essence, there are 13 supply ships available to support the Royal Navy’s operations worldwide. The two Wave Class fast fleet tankers entered service in 2003. There are also two ageing ships of the Rover Class remaining, and 3 equally old ships of the Leaf Class of Support tankers. In terms of supply ships the two Fort Grange class ships are still in service, and the two ships of the Fort Victoria class entered service in 1993. RFA Argus, the former Contender Bezant, was acquired by the RFA after the Falklands to provide aviation training, and can also operate as an aircraft transport. MV Stena Inspector, which saw action in the Falklands, was purchased in 1983 as a Forward Repair ship and renamed RFA Diligence. She has also operated as a mothership for minesweepers.

In terms of numbers the RFA has dwindled since 1982. When we consider that many of the ships quoted above will be in refit, or on operations around the world, the picture is even more stark. Frequently RFA vessels are called upon to perform patrol tasks that would normally be allocated to Frigates or Destroyers, such is the shortage of escort vessels in the Royal Navy. Recently one of the Wave Class tankers was roundly criticised for not taking on pirates in the Gulf of Aden: yet it seems to have occured to no-one that she shouldnt be expected to fight pirates in the first place.

Currently, HMS Gold Rover is in the South Atlantic, and RFA Wave Knight and RFA Bayleaf in the Red Sea. Between 2001 and 2006 RFA Diligence spent almost 5 years away from the UK. RFA Fort George has just returned from the North Atlantic patrol, and RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Fort Austin are undergoing refit. As with any ships, once operations, refits and training are taken into account, the ‘bottom line’ number of hulls is much less.

In Conclusion:

Clearly, putting together a fleet of RFA vessels to support any task force to the South Atlantic, as in 1982, would be a thankless task. This is perhaps the one critical element of the British armed forces that would make an such an operation impossible. Put simply, the Royal Navy could not supply and maintain a large task force far from home, without friendly support.

Worryingly, the forecast is not any better. Reportedly the MOD is reviewing the RFA, supposedly under the banner of ‘cost-effectiveness’. However, it is strongly rumoured that the Commercial shipping industry has been lobbying for the task of supplying the Royal Navy. This might save costs and give trade to the private sector, but can the Royal Navy be effectively supported by what would be foreign flagged, non-military standard vessels? I strongly suspect not.

With a lack of dedicated military support vessels, what support could be expected from the Merchant Navy? I plan to examine this in the next instalment. But after even some cursory research, I feel that the picture will not be any brighter.

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RAF Bomb Disposal – Corporal Roy Henley

The vast majority of Portsmouth men who served in the RAF in the Second World War died serving in Bomber Command. A few more died while flying Spitfires or Hurricanes, or Lockheed Hudsons in the Coastal role.

But Corporal Roy Henley, 23 and from Fratton, was serving with 6225 Bomb Disposal Flight. 3 Special RAF Bomb Disposal Squadrons were formed, consisting of 8 flights, to provide bomb disposal support during Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe.

Corporal Henley’s unit was sent to Normandy on 7 June 1944, D+1. At 0400 the Landing Craft that they were in was engaged by German shore batteries and an E-Boat. The Landing Craft sank within 2 minutes, and Seven men were killed. 90% of their equipment was lost.

Corporal Henley was presumably lost at sea, as he is listed on the Runnymede Memorial, where all RAF personnel who have no known grave are remembered.

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Lieutenant Commander William Hussey DSO DSC

HMS Lively in Malta

HMS Lively in Malta

So far, Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey DSO DSC is the most highly decorated person from Portsmouth to have died during the Second World War.

In command of the Destroyer HMS Vesper, Hussey was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for succesful action against enemy Submarines while deployed on ant-Submarine patrols in the English Channel and the South West Approaches. His DSC was gazetted on 23 December 1939. Hussey also commanded the Vesper when she took part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.

In 1942, Hussey was in command of HMS Lively, another destroyer. He was awarded the Distinguished Service order for action against an enemy Convoy near Malta, as part of Force K. His DSO was Gazetted on 24 February 1942.

In addition, Lt-Cdr. Hussey was Mentioned in Despatches three times during the Second World War.

After prolonged service in the Mediterranean during 1942, escorting Allied Convoys, attacking Axis Convoys and even taking on Italian Battleships, HMS Lively was sunk on 11 May 1942, after heavy dive bombing attacks. She sank quickly in a position 100 miles North East of Tobruk on the North African Coast.

77 of her crew were killed, including Lieutenant-Commander Hussey. He and many of his crew are remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

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Falklands then and now: Frigates and Destroyers

So far we’ve looked at the Aircraft Carriers and the Amphibious Assault ships. Prestigious and important as they are, the Frigates and Destroyers of the fleet represent the workhorses of any naval operation. If we were to look for a military metaphor, they are the ‘Poor Bloody Infantry’ of the sea, the boots on the ground.

Yet, as we will see, the contrast between the escort fleet in 1982 and in 2009 is remarkable, and represents perhaps the starkest reason why any operation similar to the Falklands War may be impossible given the Navy’s current state.

The picture in 1982

HMS Sheffield, one of the Type 42 Destroyers sunk in 1982

HMS Sheffield, one of the Type 42 Destroyers sunk in 1982

In 1982 The Royal Navy deployed a total of 23 Destroyers and Frigates to the South Atlantic. These were not all serving concurrently, as several were sunk or so severely damaged that they had to return to the UK for repairs, ans some arrived late as reinforcements. It should be noted, however, that this number represented around a third of the Navy’s total strength of escort vessels, and that many other ships were either under refit in the UK or on patrol around the world. The 23 ships mentioned above came from 7 classes, all designed to perform various roles and offering a range of capabilities.

The sole Type 82 Destroyer, HMS Bristol, was designed as an escort to a cancelled class of aircraft carriers. She fielded the Sea Dart missile system, designed for combating highflying aircraft. She carried no helicopter, but also had a 4.5-inch gun and an Ikara anti-submarine missile system. The Type 42 Destroyers also carried the Sea Dart system, and a 4.5inch gun. They were used in the Falklands to provide forward air defence, and to act as radar pickets. The County Class Destoyers carried the obsolete Sea Slug missile system, but the useful Seacat SAM system for self-defence and two 4.5-inch guns. As such they were useful for providing shore bombardments. Their Exocet missiles also provided anti-ship capability.

The brand-new Type 22 Class Frigates had the then-new Sea Wolf missile system, designed for providing close in, medium level air defence. They were frequently used as ‘Goalkeepers’ for the aircraft carriers. Although they also carried Exocet missiles, there was practically no chance of them using these in their role as escorts. The Type 21 Frigates were designed as a class of cheap general escort ships. They had a 4.5 inch gun, Seacat SAM missiles and Exocet missiles, and were very much all-round vessels. The Leander Class Frigates was a large class, comprising a number of batches. 3 Leander ships that sailed to the Falklands carried Exocet and Seacat Missiles. One ship of the class carried the Sea Wolf missile system in place of Seacat. There were also two obsolete Rothesay Class Frigates.

In summary the escorts that sailed to the Falklands comprised a balanced and flexible fleet. 14 ships had 4.5inch guns, and experience in the Falklands, where Naval gunfire support was crucial, showed that this was perhaps too few. Six had Sea Dart, and three had Sea Wolf. Given that the Type 22 Frigates were usually used as goalkeepers for the carriers, perhaps one or two more would have been invaluable. The fleet was also short or ships carrying Sea Dart, once losses took effect. 13 ships carried Exocet, which would not be used in the Falklands campaign.

The picture in 2009

HMS Somerset, a Type 23 Frigate

HMS Somerset, a Type 23 Frigate

The Royal Navy has a total of 24 Destroyers and Frigates, numbers having been succesively cut since the end of the Cold War (many have been sold to Brazil, Chile or Romania at a knock down price). Five of these are ageing Type 42 Destroyers, and two are Type 45 Destoyers that have still not had their Sea Viper SAM missiles tested. In addition, usually there are a large number of escort vessels on patrol duty around the globe, in the South Atlantic, the Carribean, the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and off the coast of East Africa. At the time of writing seven escort vessels were at sea on operations. This means that a nominal 17 Frigates and Destoyers would be available for any task force. However, a large proportion of these at any time might be in refit, working up or sailing to relieve other ships.

The Type 42 Destoyers carry the largely obsolete Sea Dart anti-aircraft and anti-missile system. They also have a 4.5 inch gun for providing gunfire support. They are designed for providing advanced air defence and radar pickets in advance of the main fleet. The new Type 45 Destroyers carry the new and as yet untested Sea Viper anti-air system. They are designed as replacements for the Type 42 Destroyers, and perform a very similar role.

The Type 23 Frigates have the capable Sea Wolf vertical missle system, as well as Harpoon anti-ship missiles. They also carry a 4.5 inch gun. They can provide close anti-air defence, and also anti-ship and gunfire support capabilities. The Type 22 Frigates carry the Sea Wolf anti-air and anti-missile system, as well as a 4.5 inch gun. In 1982 Type 22 Frigates were used as ‘Goalkeepers’ for the aircraft carriers, and during the landings for the amphibious group. This later batch of Type 22’s had their Exocet missiles replaced with 4.5 inch guns, in order to give more gunfire support.

All Destroyers and Frigates carry an anti-submarine and anti-ship equipped Lynx or Merlin Helicopter. The helicopters can use a range of missiles and depth charges, and also have dipping sonar. Not all ships, however, carry anti-submarine towed array sonar.

Until the Type 45’s can use their Sea Viper system in action, the Royal Navy could perhaps expect to put together a force of escorts consisting of two or three Type 42 Destroyers, perhaps seven Type 23 Frigates and one or two Type 22 Frigates. This would represent a small force indeed, with a limited range of capabilities, in particular poor anti-aircraft and missile defence against high-flying targets. There is also a lack of anti-surface capability, and of a cheap general purpose Frigate.

In Conclusion

The Argentine Navy can field 13 vessels carrying Exocet missiles, much more than in 1982, and these would be a threat. Only the Type 23 Frigates carry anti-surface missiles. The Argentine Air Force and Fleet Air Arm have exactly the same aircraft as in 1982, and less of them, whereas the majority of British escorts now carry Sea Wolf. There are only three Exocet carrying Super Etendards left in service. The Argentine Navy only has 3 Submarines, therefore anti-submarine warfare would not be of prime importance.

The Royal Navy would do very well indeed to put together a fleet of 10 ships for escort duties. Several of these would be required to escort the Aircraft carriers, and several more for escorting the amphibious group. With several providing advanced air defence or acting as radar pickets, this would leave few for providing Naval gunfire support. There would be very few replacements available, and losses would be felt very seriously indeed.

Reportedly the Royal Navy agreed to losing a number of Destroyers and Frigates in order to ensure the delivery of its two planned supercarriers. The Royal Navy might be planning for super-carriers and already has impressive assault ships, but has neglected to build a fleet of escorts to support them or to perform the less glamorous ‘workhorse’ tasks. After learning the importance of being able to act independently in 1982, British Defence policy has once again made it virtually impossible for the armed forces to operate without the assistance of allies.

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Business in Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars 1916-1945 by John Terraine

John Terraine has long been one of Britain’s heavyweight Military Historians. With extensive writings on the First World War under his belt, and an authoritive volume on the RAF in the Second World, in this book he turns his attention to one of the new aspects of twentieth century naval warfare: the submarine, or in German parlance, the U-Boat.

The conventional wisdom of the Battle of the Atlantic perceives the Germans as starting the war with a huge fleet of advanced submarines, crewed by salty sea dogs, and the big-gun Royal Navy being crewed by amateurs who struggled to counter this new sinister threat, but eventually prevailed.

That the Battle of the Atlantic threatened to strangle Britain – during the Second World War in particular – few would dispute. What does come as a surprise is how threadbare the German U-boat arm was. Often Donitz was down to a handful of vessels, and had to contend with Hitlers constant meddling, based on nothing other than misguided intuition. IF Donitz had been able to deploy more U-Boats, and allowed to focus on the Schwerpunkt of cutting Britain’s lifeline, the second world war may have ran very differently.

Although Britain led in developing anti-submarine technology and weapons: sonar, the hedgehog, as well as the codebreaking work going on at Bletchley Park. The real problem, according to Terraine, seems to have been the attitudes high-up in the Royal Navy, where senior officers – fixated on Battleships – struggled to come to terms with the Submarine as a weapon. Odd, given that the Royal Navy had largely developed it.

This book sees Terraine at his best. Well researched, he pulls out trends, makes convincing conclusions and overturns some lingering myths. This is perhaps not a leisurely read, but it sure is an authoritative one. A lesson of how perilous the risks can be if senior officers struggle to come to terms with new forms of warfare.

Business in Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars 1916-1945 by John Terraine is published by Pen and Sword

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A German frogmen raid on Portsmouth?!

North Portsmouth, showing Ports Creek

North Portsmouth, showing Ports Creek

I have been having a very interesting discussion on ww2talk with member Steve G and several other interested parties about the possibility that the Germans may have either conducted, or have been planning to conduct, a commando raid against the Railway and or Road Bridges across Ports Creek. The subject arose when Steve was investigating a bomb or aerial mine that is believed to have hit nearby in 1940.

For those of you not in the know, Portsmouth is an island, divided from the mainland by a narrow strip of tidal sea water called Ports Creek. On the very north end of the island, butting up against the Hilsea Lines fortifications, was a Royal Army Ordnance Corps depot. Also nearby was Portsmouth Airport, where Airspeed – builders of the Oxford trainer and the Horsa Glider – had their main factory. In addition, the possibility of cripping Portsmouth Dockyard by cutting it off from the mainland must surely have tempted the German planners – particulary ahead of the possible German invasion in the summer of 1940.

Not only that, but it would have been possible to enter Ports Creek via Langstone Harbour. While Portsmouth Harbour was very heavily defended by an anti-submarine barrier and boat patrols, Langstone Harbour was much more vulnerable. It might have been possible to canoe up the Harbour in a similar manner to the Cockleshell Heroes raid on Bordeaux later in the war. Under cover of darkness and high tide frogmen could have swam to the piers of the road and rail bridges and set explosive charges on them.

According to something of a local legend, explosive charges were found nearby when work was begun on building the A27, which runs to the north of Ports Creek and has completely changed the area from its wartime appearance and geography. There remains a Second World War Pill Box near the Railway Bridge, facing south over the Creek, although when it was built we are not sure.

This is certainly the kind of operation that Major ‘Blondie’ Hasler would have approved of, and the Italians definitely had some capable frogmen as shown by their cripping of HMS Queen Elizabeth in 1942. But did the Germans possess the special forces to take on such a task? As far as I can tell, German Marines were an almost non-existent entity in 1940. Even so, it would have taken a considerable raid by the Luftwaffe to destroy the Bridges – and even then success could not be assured – whereas a couple of frogmen would have had a reasonable chance of crippling Portsmouth.

Did it happen? If not, could it have happened? Hopefully I can find out… unless anyone else out there can shed any light on this story?

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Falklands then and now: Amphibious Warfare

Britain, and particularly the Royal Navy, were among the pioneers of amphibious warfare – that is, moving your troops from the sea to land, and keeping them there. After Galipoli, and a ‘reverse invasion’ at Dunkirk, lessons were put to effect in Sicily, and later on in Normandy.

So how was it that Amphibious Warfare was in such a perilous state in 1982? Although the capability had been proven time and time again in action and in exercise, and the Royal Marines Commando Brigade had a role as reinforcements for NATO’s northern flank, amphibious warfare was seen as a low priority. The Royal Navy’s emphasis was still mainly on anti-submarine warfare against the Soviet Union in the North Sea and North Atlantic.

The picture in 1982

HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid

HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid

The Royal Navy had post-war trialled the concept of the Commando Carrier: an Aircraft Carrier operating Helicopters to land a Royal Marines force. These were used effectively in Suez in 1956. However, given the shortage of Carriers in 1982, and that the task force needed both available flat tops for providing air defence, the Commando Brigade – the spearhead of the land forces – would have to rely on the Royal Navy’s Amphibious Assault ships.

The two ships of the Fearless Class of Landing Platform Dock were available. HMS Fearless was available to sail straight away; HMS Intrepid was destored and run-down, and only after a mammoth effort by Portsmouth Dockyard was she able to sail south. In fact, the whole operation hinged on when she was available. The two Fearless class Landing Platform Docks, almost 20 years old, could carry a maximum of 700 troops each, with 8 Landing Craft. They carried no helicopters themselves, but had space to operate 4 or 5 medium helicopters, usually ‘Jungly’ Sea Kings of the Fleet Air Arm’s Commando Support Group. Both ships were also equipped to act as Flagships to an amphibious group.

The six Round table class of Landing Ships were normally tasked by the Army, supporting the British Army of the Rhine in Germany. They could carry up to 500 troops each, but were primarily designed for transporting vehicles and stores. They were not designed for long-range amphibious operations, and were not even considered part of the Royal Navy’s active fleet. They carried no landing craft or aircraft, with the Fearless Class Landing Craft being used instead to ferry troops ashore.

The Royal Navy’s amphibious group in 1982 could deploy a Commando Brigade and Headquarters, albeit in cramped and far from ideal conditions. It also relied predominantly on landing craft rather than helicopters. It required the use of Merchant ships to carry stores, ammunition and extra troops. Losses, particularly either of the Fearless Class or of any Landing Craft, might have proved critical.

The picture in 2009

HMS Bulwark (foreground) and HMS Ocean

HMS Bulwark (foreground) and HMS Ocean

The Royal Navy now has an expanded and capable amphibious fleet, having learnt the lessons of the Falklands War and committed itself to ‘out of area’ expeditionary warfare. This cultural aspect is important – in 1982 the Amphibious Commanders and the Battle Group Commander were by their own admission not singing from the same hymn sheet.

The Helicopter Carrier HMS Ocean can use her 18 Helicopters and 4 Landing Craft to deploy almost 800 troops, the equivalent of more than an army Battalion or RM Commando. She can also operate British Army Apache Helicopters, and might also be a useful platform for launching an air assault by airborne units in conjunction with any seaborne operation. She was however designed to commerical rather than military standards, and will require replacement in the non too distant future.

The Assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark are an improvement on the Fearless Class and can deploy up to 700 troops each, with eight Landing Craft each. One of these ships is usually at high readiness, and the other in refit or training. However, often these are deployed on tasks that would normally be performed by destroyers or frigates. As with the Carriers, much would depend on the ability to get the second ship ready for action. As in 1982, one of these ships would likely provide the Flagship for the Amphibious group.

The four Bay Class Landing ships, a significant improvement on the Round table class, can deploy 350 troops each, by 2 Landing Craft and Mexefloat rafts. Of the four, two are normally available for immediate use, and the other two either on operations or in refit or training. As with the Albion Class, these are often deployed on escort duties in place of Frigates or Destroyers. I will examine the potential for calling up Merchant vessels in a future instalment, but the RFA does also contain the Point Class vessels for performing sealift duties, which would be invaluable for performing a task that required the use of requisitioned Commercial vessels in 1982.

In Conclusion

In total, an amphibious group consisting of HMS Ocean, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and perhaps three of the Bay Class ships would be able to carry and deploy a reinforced Commando Brigade along with its Headquarters and supporting troops, but would also be well placed to launch further units and equipment arriving in theatre as well, without such a reliance on Merchant vessels. It also possesses more strength, capability and flexibility in terms of landing craft and helicopter assets than it did in 1982. This was shown by the succesful assault on the Al Faw peninsula by 3 Commando Brigade in 2003, and the operations in Sierra Leone several years before.

The Royal Navy may be able to deploy a much stronger Amphbious Task Group than it did in 1982, and is much more focussed on amphibious warfare than it was in 1982. In all likelihood the real difficulties would be in providing air cover for such an operation and finding enough escort ships to provide close defence. To launch an amphibious assault requires air superiority and command of the seas: is it worth having such a capability if you cannot create the conditions to deploy it, nor defend it?

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They died on Christmas Day

Sadly, aside from the unique example of the 1914 Christmas truce on the Western front, war usually has no regard for Christmas. Of the 1,000 Portsmouth soldiers, sailors and airmen who I have so far researched, these three men died on Christmas Day.

Corporal Robert Davison, from Milton, was a Royal Marine onboard HMS Berwick when he was killed 25 December 1940. At the time HMS Berwick was serving in North West Approaches. Davison must have died and been buried at sea, as he has no grave and is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

Private George Griffin, 21 and from Milton, was serving in the 1st Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment in Burma when he was killed on 25 December 1941, fighting the Japanese. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Rangoon Memorial.

Petty Officer Frederick Bulbeck, 35 and from Drayton, died on 25 December 1945. He was serving onboard HMS Zodiac, a Zambesi class Destroyer. He died after the war had ended, and is buried in Hamburg War Cemetery, Germany.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

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The Christmas Day truce

A scene from the 1914 Christmas truce

A scene from the 1914 Christmas truce

On 24 December 1914, German troops on the Western front near Ypres began dressing their trenches with decorations. They then began singing carols, and the English troops opposite replied. After shouting christmas greetings, visits were made across no mans land, where small gifts were exchanged. Artillery was silent for the night, and an unofficial truce fell into place. In some places football matches were even played out in between the barbed wire.

The events had an incredible impact on British and German culture. Generals were horrified, and forbade any future unofficial truces. The fact remains, however, that the Christmas truce proved one thing – the private soldiers on each side had more in common with each other than they did with their own Generals. They were all far from home, stuck in the same squalid trenches, facing the same dangers.

In the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, the protagonists discuss events of the past that led them to their current situation, including the Christmas Truce. Captain Blackadder was apparently still sore over being ruled offside during a football game with the Germans. He also cynically muses that “Both sides advanced further during one Christmas piss-up than they did in the next two-and-a half years of war.”

On 11 November 2008, the first official Truce memorial was unveiled in Frelinghien, France, the site of a Christmas Truce football game in 1914. After the unveiling and a Service of Remembrance, men from 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (The Royal Welch Fusiliers) played a football match with the German Panzergrenadier Battalion 371. The Germans won, 2-1.

A very Happy Christmas to you all, wherever you are – especially all of the men and women who are far from home this Christmas, in harms way. Stay safe, and come home soon.

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Falklands then and now: Aircraft Carriers

One of the pre-requisites of any military operation is air cover. And when you are looking at an amphibious assault against a prepared enemy, thousands of miles from any friendly base, in the enemys back yard, that means aircraft carriers and as many of them as you can lay your hands on.

The picture in 1982

HMS Hermes and HMS Illustrious in 1982

HMS Hermes and HMS Illustrious in 1982

In 1982 the Royal Navy could call upon two Aircraft Carriers. HMS Hermes was a post-world war two Centaur class light fleet carrier. After serving in numerous guises in her career, in 1982 she was equipped to operate Sea Harriers. She could carry 12, in addition to 18 Sea King Anti-Submarine and Airborne Early Warning Helicopters.

HMS Invincible was virtually brand-new, and the lead ship of the new Invincible class. Although officially ordered as an anti-submarine carrier, she could operate 8 Sea Harriers and 15 Sea Kings. She was also fitted with the cutting edge Sea Dart Surface to Air Missile. HMS Illustrious, Invincibles sister ship, was also nearing completion.

Therefore, the British task force in 1982 could call on 20 Sea Harriers and 33 ASW and AEW Sea Kings, on two carriers. Wisdom at the time taught that this was the bare minimum needed, given the strength of the Argentine Air Force (something that we will look at later). Given that Combat Air Patrols usually consisted of 2 aircraft, the Sea Harriers would be very stretched indeed. There were also doubts about how the Sea Harrier would perform against the super-fast Mirages that the Argentines possessed. A few replacement Sea Harriers could be expected, and halfway through the war some RAF GR3 Harriers arrived.

That these aircraft were on two ships is also important. It meant that if one ship had to slip out of action temporarily, to clean a boiler, for example, then there was at least another ship to cover. More hulls give flexibility. But still, the loss of one carrier would probably have ended the war.

The picture in 2009

A very rare picture of all three Invincible Class Carriers at sea together

A very rare picture of all three Invincible Class Carriers at sea together

In 2009, the Royal Navy only possesses two active aircraft carriers, both of the Invincible Class: HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal. HMS Invincible is technically in ‘extended readiness’: however, with her propellers removed and sitting on her deck, and denuded of parts to keep her sister ships running, it would take at least a year to her running again.

Of the two ships, one is usually at high readiness, and the other is usually either undergoing trials or in refit. Much would depend on the status of the reserve carrier: if it was in deep refit, it would take a lot of time to make ready. Even if it were ready, the crew might not be completely up to speed with operating aircraft.

The Sea Harrier was retired in 2006 as a cost cutting measure, and in its place the Fleet Air Arm shares Harrier GR9′s with the RAF. These are far from ideal for providing air defence, and do not have the Sea Harrier’s Ferranti radar, for example. RAF Harriers are designed for providing close air support to troops, their electronics and weapons fit is completely different to the Sea Harrier. They might struggle against the Mirages in terms of performance, although Argentina only has around 15 of them currently.

In addition, there are only enough Harriers – eight – available to the Naval Strike Wing to equip one Aircraft Carrier at a time. Even if somehow more were made available, this would entail a maximum of 16 Harriers. The Carriers do not embark their Aircraft as often as they did back in 1982, so operational effectiveness is bound to be affected.

Conclusion

The Royal Navy has a much weaker Aircraft Carrier capability than in 1982. It can operate markedly fewer aircraft, which are not specialist maritime jets and are not designed for providing air defence.

Everything would pivot on whether the second Aircraft Carrier were available. In a very best case scenario, two Aircraft Carriers might be available, and operate 16 Harrier GR9′s. If only one Carrier were available, sailing to war with 8 aircraft would be unthinkable. And both of these Carriers are now over 25 years old. Interestingly, the elderly HMS Hermes is still serving in the Indian Navy, operating Sea Harriers. What a difference she would make to the Royal Navy….

Fortunately, the Argentine Air Force possesses far fewer Fighters than in 1982: 15 high-performance Mirages, although she does still have many Skyhawk multi-role attack jets.

Given that the performance of the Sea Harrier was one of the pivotal aspects of the Falklands War, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that even in a best case scenario, the air defence that any modern task force could offer might struggle in terms of effectiveness, even against a reduced Argentine Air Force.

We must await the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers and the Joint Strike Fighter with interest.

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