Daily Archives: 15 January, 2010

Dan Snow’s Empire of the Seas: Heart of Oak

In this series Dan Snow charts the role that the Royal Navy played in shaping modern Britain. As someone with a keen interest in naval and maritime history, and a confessed non-admirer of Mr Snow, I have been keenly awaiting the first programme.

The Royal Navy’s dominance of later years grew out of its defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and a need to protect the seas around the British Isles. It was but a small step from passive defence, to an aggressive form of defence, taking the fight to enemies such as the Dutch, the Spanish and the French.

Out of this dominance of the seas came an ability to trade. Trading networks grew around the globe branching back to Britain: from the Baltic, the Americas, the Baltic, the Mediterranean, Africa and the Far East. These were the beginnings of the British Empire. And Empire that was built wholly on the Oceans.

Many other aspects of the modern British state also grew out of the Royal Navy: administration, central organisation and a place in British national heritage. A huge supportive infrastructure also grew up out of the maintenance of the Royal Navy and commercial shipping. Patriotism, trade, Protestantism and national identity welded together to provide a crucible for the Royal Navy that would develop over the next few hundred years.

This programme also introduces some interesting aspects that are little-known to a modern audience, in particular the threat of the Barbary Corsairs, Pirates who operated out of the North African coast and preyed on fishing vessels at sea, and even the Southern Irish and South West British coastline. The Royal Navy patrolled the coastlines in defence. Lessons could be learnt here for the current scourge of Piracy off the Somalian Coast.

I do feel however that some earlier developments have been ignored. The Royal Navy was really founded initially by King Alfred, long before Snow’s series starts. And how could England launch succesive invasions of France during the Hundred Years War, other than with sea power? Henry VII and Henry VIII did much to develop maritime trade, and the Mary Rose in 1545 saw the Navy defending the realm against a foreign agressor 33 years before the Armada, yet somehow this is omitted.

This is a most interesting programme, and should hopefully inform a wider public about the long tradition of British naval power. What is most disappointing, however, is the discovery that the ‘historical consultant’ for the series is Brian Lavery – a well known Naval writer and academic. Seems that Dan ‘son of John’ is none other than a presenter. I could take him a lot more seriously if he actually did some work for the programme.

If you missed it, Episode 1 can be watched here on BBC iplayer

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Filed under maritime history, Navy, On TV

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight under threat?

The RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is reportedly under threat as the Ministry of Defence seeks to claw back a £6billion hole in its finances, reports the Daily Mail.

2010 is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, so any attempts to axe the flight of historic aircraft is bound to come up against serious public opposition. Every year hundreds of thousands of people watch the historic aircraft performing at over 600 airshows and public events up and down the country. It costs the RAF £3million a year to run. By contrast, 232 Eurofighters are estimated to end up costing the UK £20billion.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight operates one of only two airworthy Lancaster Bombers in the world, a number of the famous Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, and a Douglas Dakota, the aircraft that dropped Paratroopers on D-Day and at Arnhem.

An RAF Wing Commander said: ‘Under the defence review now being conducted, the display teams could be cut. This is part of a cost benefit analysis going on in all MoD departments. If the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was to continue to operate as it currently does, it is feared it would need to attract private finance.’

Last night Douglas Radcliffe, the secretary of the Bomber Command Association and a former Lancaster Bomber pilot, said: ‘It would be disastrous if funding was cut from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. It is something special which captures the imagination of the British public. They also do fantastic fund-raising work.’

I has been suggested that there will be no ‘sacred cows’ in the upcoming Defence Review, meaning that many world-famous and prestigious units such as the Red Arrows could also face the axe.

An MOD spokesman said: ‘We routinely review all spending to balance our resources and focus on the highest priority – operations in Afghanistan.’

To use Afghanistan as cover for making cuts is insulting to the British public. Of course Afghanistan is crucial, but to imply that units such as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight prevent operations being funded properly is ludicrous. The reason that the Defence Budget is under such strain is because the Government has continually committed the Armed Forces to operations while cutting their funding. And despite the MOD spokesman’s denials, it is clear that nothing can be ruled out where cuts are concerned.

Historic and Nationally important units such as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and HMS Victory should be protected and receive funding that is ringfenced away from operational budgets. It is disgusting to consider how relatively cheap such important assets are to run, especially when compared to the amounts of money that are lavished on bailing out the Banks, the expenses and salaries that MP’s are trousering and the Billions being poured into the black hole of the Social Security Budget. Why should there be no sacred cows, but plenty in the Banks, the Commons and in the benefits offices?

Lets hope that public opinion mobilises against these ridiculous cost-cutting ideas.

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Filed under airshow, debate, defence, News, Royal Air Force

Sergeant Frederick Seiler

Frederick Seiler, 30 and From North End, was a Sergeant (Flight Engineer) and a crew member of Lancaster LM650, KM-T of 44 Squadron.

On 1 November 1944 Seiler was onboard KM-T for a raid against a synthetic oil plant at Meerbeck, near Homberg in the Ruhr. Taking off from RAF Spilsby at 1.42pm, this was to be a daylight raid – a most unusual occurence indeed. Flak over the target seriously damaged the aircraft, and the Pilot, Flying Officer Haworth, was killed. The Wireless Operator, Flight Sergeant Walters took over the controls and managed to fly the damaged aircraft back across the Channel.

Once over Southern England Walters ordered the crew to bale out. All manged to exit the aircraft, including Walters. However, Sergeant Seilers parachute failed to deploy properly and he was killed on impact. The aircraft crashed at 5.45pm near Battle in East Sussex.

Sergeant Seiler is buried in Eastbourne (Langney) Cemetery, East Sussex.

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Filed under portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, World War Two