Daily Archives: 11 December, 2009

Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth GC

The George Cross

The George Cross

The George Cross is the highest award that can be given for bravery that is not in the face of the enemy. In all likelihood, acts that are rewarded with a George Cross would probably be given a Victoria Cross if they were in battle.

One of the first Portsmouth men to be awarded the George Cross during the Second World War was Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth. Aged 42, he was serving at HMS Vernon, the Royal Navy’s torpedo school, which also trained officers and men in mine warfare, bomb disposal and diving. At the height of the Blitz in 1940 bomb disposal teams were obviously in demmand to deal with unexploded bombs.

CPO Ellingworth, together with Lt. Cdr. Richard Ryan, R.N., went to a warehouse in Dagenham, Essex on 21 September 1940, where an unexploded bomb was hanging from a parachute. The pair, who had faced many dangers together, were both killed by it’s explosion and both were awarded the George Cross posthumously. In a previous incident at Hornchurch, Essex Ellingworth and Ryan disabled a device threatening an aerodrome and explosives factory.Their George Crosses were announced in the London Gazette on 17 December 1940.

CPO Ellingworth is buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth.

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Hitler’s Gulf War: The Fight for Iraq 1941

Hitler's Gulf War

Hitler's Gulf War

Contrary to popular opinion, Iraq did not suddenly appear in 1991. Nor during the Iran-Iraq War. The country played a not insignificant part in the Second World War, as this new book by Barrie G James argues.

Britain had received a League of Nations mandate to administer Iraq after the First World War. Severely cash-strapped after 4 years of war, the new RAF proposed to control and police the new territory by air. This left the legacy of an RAF Base at Habbaniya, and Army bases in the south in Basra.

In 1941 an alliance between pan-Arab leader the Mufti of Jerusalem and Iraqi nationalist Army officers, with tacit promises of support from Germany and Italy, launched an uprising to push the British out of Iraq. The British in the country were heavily outnumbered, and reinforcements were a long way off – the British were hard pressed in the North African desert, where the Germans had just pushed them out of Greece and were about to assault Crete.

But somehow, a tiny force of RAF pilots in obsolete aircraft, supported by a few companies of infantry and some local volunteers, held off the Iraqi Army at Habbaniya. The British Embassy in Baghdad was beseiged. A scratch force of reinforcements was sent from Palestine, and an Indian Army Division landed in Basra.

Against all the odds, the RAF and the Army managed to put down the coup and secure Iraq. The loss of Iraq might have been catastrophic. It would have exposed the rear of the British Forces in Egypt, and lost vital oilfields. It might also have led to threats to India.

Why the coup did not succeed is a mystery. Or, rather, why the Axis powers did not give the coup more support. The Germand and Italians had offered support, but in the event only a handful of aircraft arrived, as well as several advisors who seem to have spent more time fighting each other than advising. The Germans were certainly pre-occupied with launching their assault on Crete, which although dominating a part of the Mediterranean, had nowhere near the strategic importance of Iraq. If even a fraction of the airborne forces that were employed in Crete had been used instead in Iraq, the course of the war may have been different. In the event, Germany had to secure the Balkans after Mussolini’s disastrous invasion of Greece. This in turn delayed the attack on Russia. All evidence, if any is needed, that the Axis powers’ strategy seriously let them down at this point in the war.

I have something of a personal interest in this story, as my great-uncle, Thomas Daly, was onboard HMS Enterprise when she was giving Naval gunfire support off Basra during the attempt to put down the coup. Later in 1942 my Grandad, Henry Miller, landed in Basra with the 10th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and spent some months in Kirkuk guarding against the threat of a German thrust down the Caucasus.

This is a very important book, as is any that fills a gap and flags up an overlooked subject. Some maps might be useful, as plenty of places are referred to, and it would be easier to picture the lie of the land and the situation on the ground. Some illustrations might also add to the overall feel of the book too. But in its favour, Barrie James has used a readable, Cornelius Ryan style of writing, which might lack references but is more approachable to the non-academic.

Hitlers Gulf War: The Fight for Iraq 1941 is published by Pen & Sword Aviation

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, middle east, Royal Air Force, World War Two

Question Time

I’ve just finished watching Question Time, this week a special edition from Wooton Bassett. The guests were General Sir Richard Dannatt, Bill Rammell, William Hague, Paddy Ashdown, Piers Morgan and Salma Yaqoob.

Firstly, I would never want anyone to think that I glorify war, or even like war. Its horrible, its a failure that we ever need to resort to war. It would be great if we never had to go to war again, but sadly there will always be rogue elements in the world who only understand their own language and can only be dealt with by force. And when we do have to do so, it should be done by international agreement and done professionally and properly.

I’m convinced, having studied a multitude of conflicts, recent and not so recent, and especially wars in Afghanistan since the 1830′s, that this is a war where we must not fail. It is not a war that we can win, but that we must not lose. We have to make sure that the Afghan Government and people are helped to stand on their own two feet as soon as possible, and then we leave as soon as we possibly can. To try and put an end date on this would simply not work. Furthermore, some of the things people vaguely quote about previous wars in Afghanistan are simply not true. This is a very different war to any other ever fought in the country.

To simply cut and run would be a disaster and we would end up paying the consequences in kind in years to come. The Taliban would almost certainly re-emerge as the dominant force, which would give free rein to Al Qaeda. This in turn would destabilise Pakistan, a nuclear armed country that has enough problems as it is.

I feel that to argue that we are making the problems worse by being there, and that we should just get out and mind our own business, is nonsensical. We don’t live in a world any longer were we can pull up the drawbridge and ignore events overseas. The world is interconnected, by technology, ideas, culture, money, drugs, anything and everything. Whilst it is sad that we have to do so, I think it is necessary for the international community to intervene if it is in the wider world’s interests. And a lawless and dangerous Afghanistan is in no-ones interest.

I must confess to not agreeing with any of Salma Yaqoob’s arguments, and I suspect her statistics were wrong. They seemed to come more from a standard script of anti-war protest than any realism (yes, we know Tony Blair lied) and showed no understanding of any history, research or regional affairs. The war should have been better managed from the start, Iraq did make us take our eyes off the ball, yes the mishandling of Iraq has tained peoples views on Afghanistan. But those are lessons we must learn and hold to, they are not reasons to give up now. But there is a sort of champagne-socialist trendiness about opposing war, without really understanding the background to it. Its almost a rite of passage for middle class students. The Government has to do better to explain what we are aiming to do there, to disprove such ill-informed views.

But I do think we are watching the death throes of this Government, with lightweights like Bill Rammell being thrown to the slaughter on Question Time. The Labour Government have never taken Defence seriously. At the same time, it has by its Foreign policy committed the forces to do more and more. Only yesterday we heard that Health and Education would be protected from massive cuts, while Defence can expect falling budgets. I am not for one moment advocating cutting money for Schools or Hospitals, but I think there is an awful lot of money in Education and Health that never reaches the front line, and pays for LEA’s, managers, quangos, all kinds of things that add no value or have no effect on ill people or on children. Being an important service should not give anyone carte blanche to waste money while other Departments are being strangled for cash.

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