Daily Archives: 9 December, 2009

A Portsmouth sailor on a French Ship?

The Portsmouth Naval Memorial

The Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Leading Seaman Martin Kelly, 35, was serving onboard the French Ship FS Branlebas when he died on 14 December 1940. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, on Southsea Common. But how did a sailor from Portsmouth come to be serving onboard a French ship?

The Branlebas was a French Frigate – the French Navy has never had Destroyers, only different categories of Frigates – although she has also been described as a Torpedo Boat. The Branlebas was a very new ship, having only been commissioned in March 1938. She managed to escape from the German invasion of France, and took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

After the fall of France, French Naval ships faced a stark choice – sail to Britain and join the Free French Forces, or remain in France under Vichy control. This was obviously a situation that was unthinkable for the British, as it ran the risk of the sizeable French Navy being taken over by the Germans. As the Vichy French Government was not willing to hand over the ships to British control, the Royal Navy was left with no alternative but to atttack and neutralise the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir in North Africa: a most unpleasant but necessary task.

Wisely, the Branlebas made her was to Britain. After escaping she was pressed into service with the Royal Navy. She was lost on 14 December 1940, 25 miles South West of the Eddystone Lighthouse during a heavy storm.

The Free French Navy was obviously heavily undermanned, as 101 British sailors died when the Branlebas went down.

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Filed under Navy, portsmouth heroes, World War Two

Poll for most iconic RAF figure of WW2

The RAF Benevolent Fund is hosting a poll to find the most iconic RAF Figure of World War Two. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding is leading the poll at present, with 28% of the votes.

The full list is as follows:

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding (28%)
Group Captain Douglas Bader (22%)
Marshal of the RAF Sir Arthur Harris (18%)
Wing Commander Guy Gibson (17%)
Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park (8%)
Winston Churchill (4%)
Group Captain Cunningham (3%)
Marshal of the RAF Sir Arthur Tedder (1%)

Regular readers of my blog will be able to guess who I voted for. For sheer impact on the war, leadership and contribution to victory Bomber Harris has no equal. He just edges it over Hugh Dowding, who also made a valuable contribution to the war, in that he didn’t lose the Battle of Britain. Sadly, Bombers have never quite had the same appeal as Fighters when it comes to history, and the Bomber Offensive has become controversial to some people.

A vote for the best RAF post-war Fighter Jet saw the Tornado come out on top, ahead of the Phantom by a mere 37 votes:

Tornado (28%)
Phantom (28%)
Hunter (25%)
Lightning (9%)
Harrier (8%)
Meteor (1%)
Vampire (1%)

In terms of performance it is probably fair that it is a close call between the Tornado and the Phantom. But what about the Harrier? It might not evoke quite the same ‘white cliffs of dover’ nostalgia as the out-and-out fighters, but its unique characteristics, versatility and ability to influence battles should surely earn it more than an honourable mention.

Another recent vote found that the Phantom was the most important US-built aircraft in RAF History:

Phantom (37%)
Hercules (29%)
Liberator (14%)
Dakota (9%)
Chinook (5%)
Catalina (3%)
Reaper (1%)

How the Dakota and the Chinook scored so low escapes me. Perhaps it shows the RAF’s fixation with fighters, but without the workhorses such as the Dakota and the Chinook Phantoms and Tornados would be irrelevant. For sheer contribution to conflicts from D-Day, Market Garden, Burma for the Dakota, and for Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan, surely their impact has been much more important than a Fighter which hardly saw action with the RAF?

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Filed under Royal Air Force, World War Two