Daily Archives: 10 January, 2010

69 years ago: the Portsmouth Blitz (pt 1)

69 years ago tonight saw the largest air raid launched on Portsmouth by the Luftwaffe, during the Blitz.

The Luftwaffe had for a long time identified a number of key targets in Portsmouth: the Naval Dockyard, the Airport and Airspeed Works, Fratton Goods Yard, Vospers Shipbuilders, Naval and Army Barracks throughout the city and across the harbour in Gosport. There are numerous German target maps and aerial photographs in the Local Studies Collection at Portsmouth Central Library.

Until January 1941 Portsmouth has escaped relatively lightly and only received several railds from the Luftwaffe (although my Granddad can remember seeing a Heinkel Bomber flying so low that he could see the Pilot’s blonde hair). Whereas cities such as London and Coventry were bombed frequently in the autumn and winter of 1940 and 1941.

Portsmouth was prepared for the raid, however. Prior to war Air Raid Precuations had been established, and a range of shelters, from Morrison shelters in living rooms, Anderson shelters in back gardens, communal conrete shelters, to the large civic shelters carved out of Portsdown Hill. The Police and Fire Services were also well prepared, and blackout restrictions were in place as in the rest of Britain. There were a number of Anti-Aircrcraft positions, including on Southsea Common and on Portsdown Hill.

The Luftwaffe Bombers were flying from bases in Northern France, and were guided by the Knickebein Naviation system. They followed radio beams emitted from two points on mainland europe, set to intersect over the target. In this care, it was set over Southsea Common. Reportedly they also used the white chalkpits of Portsdown Hill as a Navigation aid. Portsmouth was a much easier target to find, given its location right on the coast, and required no inland navigation.

The Germans were aware of specific targets of value, but did not possess the accuracy to bomb pinpoint targets. By bombing a broader area they not only had a chance of damaging targets, but also causing civilian casualties and damage. This, it was hoped, would crack morale, as it had in bombing raids on Warsaw and Rotterdam earlier in the war.

Tomorrow: counting the cost of the 10-11 January 1941 air raid

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Filed under Local History, social history, World War Two

Tory financial policy disappoints

The Indian Navy - prospering while the Royal Navy flounders

The Indian Navy - prospering while the Royal Navy flounders

We might have expected that with General Sir Richard Dannatt on the Tories Defence team, they might start espousing some sensible Defence policies. They couldn’t be any worse than Labour, surely?

It hasn’t taken long, however, for the electioneering to begin. Last night the Tories announced that they would provide free University education for the children of Soldiers killed in action since 1990. Whilst it is great that they are proposing to do things to benefit the children of the fallen, dig a bit deeper and you can see what a cheap gesture it is. For a start, what if they don’t want to go to University? Do they get funding to help train as a plumber? What if they don’t get the A-level grades to go to Uni, do they get a wildcard entry to Uni? Its poorly thought out to say the least, and seems like a throwaway votegrabber.

Whats more worrying, is that reportedly David Cameron has promised to ringfence only the NHS and International Development budgets in any future spending cuts, which are bound to be savage. It also seems very unlikely that the Social Security budget will be cut.

So…. While the our armed forces struggle – not to mention all of the other parts of the public sector such as local Government – the Government is happy to send £5.5bn overseas. And whilst I am sure there are some extremely worthwhile projects going on in the world, what I do question is why the UK should be sending hundreds of millions of pounds to a country like India. Whilst there are some extremely poor people in India, as a country India is not poor. With one of the fastest rates of growth in the world, India is bound to at some point in the near future become a superpower. A nuclear armed state, India has the third largest military in the world. The Indian Navy has 155 vessels, with three Ballistic Missile Submarines due to enter service soon. The Indian Air Force has over 2,800 aircraft. A country that still operates the Sea Harrier, while the Royal Navy’s has long been retired. Compare these statistics to the tales of woe emanating from the state of the UK’s armed forces in recent years.

Whilst the concept of aiding overseas countries is a very noble one, it should only ever be when a country cannot help itself. Giving money to a country that could look after itself, with no strings attached, is irresponsible on the UK taxpayer. Why should International aid be ringfenced, while other areas of spending come under massive pressure? Countries like Afghanistan really deserve our full attention, our aid can make a big difference there. But it shouldn’t be all about money – perhaps we can offer more effective aid in terms of expertise and resources, rather than throwing money at problems? How many African states receive aid, while their President sits in nice leather office chairs, and driven around in Limos?

And at the same time we are spending £169bn annually on social security. How much of this is being claimed fraudulently, or by people who could work, or helps people live the life of riley above and beyond a mere comfortable existence? Why shouldn’t Government’s take a sensible, root and branch look at such a massive area of public spending? For too long the solution to any problem has been to throw money at it – the amount of money being poured into the NHS has sky-rocket in recent years, but improvement in services has not matched the money going in. Just because a service is important, it does not mean that it should get carte blanche to waste money with no fear of accountability. I have seen it personally – services that have restricted budgets have to make every penny count and become efficient, whereas services with less pressure can splash the cash far more without the worry. Simply throwing money at a problem is not good enough – many of the problems, especially with the NHS and Education – are not financial, but structural and doctrinal.

It might sound at times like I’m suggesting that the Government should spend Billions on Defence at the expense of everything else. Far from it. Hospitals, Education, and other essential services should come first. But what I do strongly think is that in times of austerity Governments need to seriously get their priorities in order when it comes to spending policy, rather than blindly ringfencing some budgets and slashing others.

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Filed under debate, defence, News, politics

Portsmouth men building the Burma Railway

In 1942, after invading Burma through Thailand, Japananese forces needed to bring supplies to the front in Burma through the straits of Malacca, which was vulnerable to Allied submarines. The only feasible alternative was a railway.

Construction started in June 1942, at both ends. Part of the work included the famous Bridge over the River Kwai, made infamous by the film starring Alec Guinness. The work was completed by Allied Prisoners of War and local Slave Labourers. The Japanese Government had not signed up to the Geneva Convention on the treatment of Prisoners, and Japanese military culture looked down on surrender as a shameful act. As a result Prisoners were treated brutally. It is estimated that 160,000 Prisoners and locals died building the railway, due to overwork, malnutrition, and diseases such as cholera, malaria and dysentery. An estimated 6,318 of these were British, and the total death rate was a staggering 25%. Many war crimes were perpetrated by the Japanese military against prisoners during the building of the Railway.

On 17 October 1943 both ends of the line met, and most the surviving prisoners were transferred elsewhere. Some, however, remained in the area in order to maintain the line. They continued to live in appalling conditions. Using Prisoners for work was not illegal – my own Grandfather worked in a sugar beet factory in captivity in Germany – but mistreating them to such an extent consituted a serious war crime.

Many men from Portsmouth died working on the Burma Railway. We can only guess at the horrors, ill-treatment, illness and brutality that they must have endured.

In Burma, Aramament Staff Sergeant Edward Rex, 25 and from Southsea, was serving with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers when he was captured in Singapore. He died on 5 September 1943. Private Sidney Rich, 31 and from Southsea, was also captured at Singapore with the 5th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. He died on 27 Octmber 1943. Both are buried in Thanbuyayzat War Cemetery, Burma.

Many more worked on the Thailand end of the line, all of them having been captured in the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Most of them are buried at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Gunner Arthur Denmead, 22 and from Fratton, serving with 135 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery, some time in June 1943. Sergeant Frank Hudson, 28 and from Landport, was captured while serving with 125 Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 5 August 1943. Signalman John Morey, 36 and from Southsea, was a member of 9 Indian Division Royal Signals. He died on 17 September 1943. Gunner Walter Cottrell, from Southsea and at the young age of 19, was serving with 3 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 22 October 1943. Lance Corporal Derek Foster, from Southsea and serving with 18 Divisional Provost Company, was 29 when he died on 27 November 1943. Private John Moore was a qualified electrical engineer, who was evidently working in Malaya, and having joined the local volunteer defence force was captured in the fall of Singapore. He was 38 when he died on 19 December 1943. Gunner James Hammond, age 38 and from Fratton, had been captured with 11 Battery, 3 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 11 January 1944.

Several Portsmouth men are also buried at Chungkai War Cemetery in Thailand. Lance Sergeant Phillip Lansley, age 31 and from Paulsgrove, was serving with 1 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He died on 9 January 1944. But perhaps the saddest story, amongst a tragic situation, is that of Captain Cecil Lambert. He was aged 60 and from Cosham, and was serving with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He died on 24 June 1943. Clearly even the old were not excused from the brutality.

That they died, in such a terrible manner and so far away from home, should never be forgotten.

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Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, World War Two