Daily Archives: 31 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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Filed under debate, Falklands War, maritime history, Uncategorized

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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Filed under debate, social history

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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Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, Uncategorized, World War Two