Daily Archives: 30 January, 2010

Major Frank Baxter MC

Major Frank Baxter, 39 and from Southsea, was serving as a Staff Officer with the Headquarters of First Army during Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa. As General Staff Officer Grade 2 (GSO2) for Camouflage and Deception Baxter was responsible for ensurin that units in the First Army camouflaged their activities properly, and also for any bigger deception operations. Deception was an option that was open to commanders to disguise their intentions from the enemy.

Although his role might suggest that he spent a lot of time behind a desk or in Headquarters, but it seems that Baxter was extremely busy. As a Royal Engineer Officer he was ideally qualified to oversee Camoflauge operations.

For continual bravery and devotion to duty throughout the period under review. During the early stages of the campaign he worked continually in the forward areas in the face of enemy artillery and air fire. He had no less than three motorcycles shot under him. His work as G.S.O.2. Camouflage and Deception, First Army, has been untiring and highly successful.

Major Baxter was awarded the Military Cross on 23 September 1943. Sadly he didnt not survive to receive it. He was killed on 11 July 1943, and is buried in Medjez-el-Bab War Cemetery, Tunisia.

What were the highly successful work that Major Baxter was overseeing? Maybe the First Army’s war diary in the National Archives will shed more light…

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Operation Bluecoat: Over the Battlefield by Ian Daglish

Operation Bluecoat is perhaps one of the least well known offensives of the Battle for Normandy, and has often been overshadowed by its earlier cousins Epsom and Goodwood. This is largely due to the myth that Monty failed in Normandy, and that the US Army had to bail out the British (an argument made principally by Carlo D’Este). This argument takes no account of the fact that Goodwood and Epsom, whilst not making a decisive breakout, ground down the German forces to such an extent that a breakout further west was made possible. The myth that British forces in Normandy became bogged down and had to be rescued by th American breakout that still pervades in many quarters. It is an argument that promises to rumble on for years to come.

Whatever the argument, it is clear that Bluecoat has been somewhat overlooked. The British advance to seize Mont Pincon and the key road junction at Vire led to the ecirclement of German forces in the Falaise Pocket. If the northern boundary of the Falaise pocket had not been formed, then more Geman forces would have escaped to fight another day. Hopefully this book by Ian Daglish wil play a part in helping redress the balance. I have found it very enjoyable, readable and most informative.

This book is most timely, as a number of Portsmouth men died in the battle for Mont Pincon. The 7th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment was a part of the 43rd (Wessex Division) that was at the forefront of Bluecoat. Private William White, 30 and from Eastney, was killed on 2 August 1944, the first day of Bluecoat. He is buried in Hottot-les-Bagues War Cemetery. Private Stanley Anslow, 27, was killed on 6 August 1944 – the day that Mont Pincon was captured – and is buried in Hottot-le-Bagues War Cemetery. Private Percy Hayter, 30 and from Southsea, was also on 7 August. He is buried n Bannevile-le-Campage War Cemetery. Books such as this make it so much easier for these men’s stories to be told.

The Over the Battlefield series is an innovative concept, drawing on aerial recconaisance photographs taken during the battle complemented with contemporary photographs. Given the popularity of GoogleEarth the use of overhead views is most welcome. Especially with a complex battlefield such as that found in Normandy, Over the Battlefield helps the reader to ‘smell the battlefield’. I for one hope that there are plenty more books to come in this vein – an edition on the Battle of Arnhem would be fascinating.

Operation Bluecoat: Over the Battlefied is published by Pen and Sword

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Empire of the Seas: High Tide

This is the third and penultimate episode in this BBC series, presented by Dan Snow. And having watched it last night, and again this morning on catch-up, I think its the best of the bunch. I’m still fed up with seeing shot after shot of Dan Snow climbing rigging, rowing in boats or sailing yachts – after 3 episodes its getting a bit boring now, and precisely how much did it all cost?

This programme does an excellent job of showing how Nelson’s Navy evolved into the magnificent machine that it became by the time of Trafalgar. The wooden walls and jack tars didn’t suddenly turn up off Cape Trafalgar in 1805. Their development was a long process. There does also seem to be an assumption that the loss of the American colonies was a grievous blow, but in truth the West Indies sugar islands and – increasingly – India were far more lucrative. Arguably, the loss of the 13 colonies freed up the Navy. And the combinaton of men, ships and gunnery almost always proved critical, wherever they were in the world.

Empire forced the Royal Navy into become a global force, with highly trained and ambitious men. The Navy was overwhelmingly a meritocracy, due to the constant pressure it commitments made on it. Men such as Nelson came to the fore. And the succesful protection of Imperial trade, combined with an exploring ethos, led to further imperial expansion.

Perhaps too often we think of the Navy as being a fighting force. But in peacetime brave officers spent years exploring, surveying and charting. These kinds of activities were very much in keeping with the Navy’s aggressive, global outlook.

That the Navy has such a central place in British culture and society is important to grasp. The need to fund the Navy led to the Income Tax. And technological innovations were driven by a need to make the fleet efective. Copper sheathing is a brilliant case in point. And tchnology in turn fuelled British industry.

Snow also makes the extremely relevant point that a Navy that isnt fighting, almost always becomes inefficient and loses its sharp edge. The Politicians and Admirals might like to bear this in mind when they give our ships off Somalia restrictive terms of engagement.

Catch Empire of the Seas: High Tide here on BBC iplayer

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Pompey’s WW2 Guardsmen

Guards

Seven men from Portsmouth died whilst serving with the Foot Guards Regiments between 1939 and 1947. They were all serving with the two English Guards Regiments – the Grenadier Guards or the Coldstream Guards.

Guardsmen have always have a vaunted place in British Army culture, regarded as steadfast and well known for their public duties in London as bodyguards to the Sovereign. Prior to the Second World War Guards recruits had to be at least 5 foot 10 inches tall, and initially enlisted for at least seven years.

Guardsman David Lyons, 32 and from North End, was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. He died on 13 October 1940 and is buried in Enghien, Belgium. That he is buried in Belgium and died later in 1940 would suggest that he was probably taken prisoner during the battles in Belgium and France in the summer of 1940. Perhaps he had been too seriously wounded to be moved to a camp in Germany.

Guardsman Gilbert Gregory, from North End, died on 2 April 1941 and is buried in Kingston Cemetery. He was serving with the Grenadier Guards. Lance Corporal George Hawkins, 30 and from Southsea, was serving with the 6th Battalion of the Coldstream Guards when he died on 2 November 1941. He is buried in Kingston Cemetery.

Guardsman Harry Davies, 32, was serving with the 5th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards when he was killed in Tunisia on 27 April 1943, during the closing stages of the war in North Africa. He is buried in Massicault War Cemetery, Tunisia.

A Guards Armoured Division took part in the libration of Europe from D-Day onwards, and saw heavy fighting in France, Belgium, Holland and finally Germany. Guardsman Clarence Bull, 24 and from Fratton, was serving with the 5th Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, a motorized infantry unit, when he was killed on 21 July 1944. This was the day after Operation Goodwood had been halted. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Bayeux Memorial. Guardsman Henry Davis, 20 and from Stamshaw, was killed on 11 August 1944. He is buried in St Charles de Percy War Cemetery, and had been serving with the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards – another motorized infantry unit.

A Sherman of the Grenadier Guards crossing Nijmegen Bridge

A Sherman of the Grenadier Guards crossing Nijmegen Bridge

The Guards Armoured Division provided the spearhead for Operation Market Garden. Sergeant Robert Wakeford, 31, was killed on 20 September 1944 and is buried in Jonkerbos War Cemetery, Holland. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, an armoured unit that was at that point fighting hard around Nijmegen.

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