Monthly Archives: February 2010

‘The Sinking of the Laconia’ to hit our screens soon

The Laconia

The Laconia

I’ve just been watching BBC1, and seen a trailer for their upcoming Dramas. Among them is the two-part story of The Sinking of the Laconia. It stars Brian Cox as Captain Rudolph Sharp.

The Laconia was a Cunard Liner, pressed into service as a troop ship in the Seond World War. She was torpedoed in 1942, in what became one of the most moving stories of the war.

I have a keen interest in this programme, as my great-uncle Leading Stoker Thomas Daly was onboard when she went down. He survived and was rescued by the Vichy French. He was interned in Morrocco, and contracted Dysentry. He was liberated, only to die after returning to England in 1943.

Leading Stoker Thomas Daly

Leading Stoker Thomas Daly

Here’s the blurb from the BBC website:

Andrew Buchan and rising German star Ken Duken are joined by Brian Cox and Lindsay Duncan in The Sinking Of The Laconia, a powerful new two-part drama for BBC Two from acclaimed writer Alan Bleasdale. The drama tells the true story of the amazing heroism shown by ordinary people in the face of extraordinary adversity during the Second World War. Brian Cox plays Captain Sharp, whose armed British vessel, the RMS Laconia, was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat 156 on 12 September 1942. Also on board was 3rd officer Thomas Mortimer (Buchan), who heroically risked his life to help the passengers reach the lifeboats.
Six hundred miles from the coast of Africa, the mixture of English civilians, Allied soldiers and Italian Prisoners of War faced certain death until U-Boat Commander Werner Hartenstein (Duken) made a decision that went against the orders of Nazi High Command. The U-boat surfaced and Hartenstein instructed his men to save as many of the shipwrecked survivors as they could. Over the next few days the U-156 saved 400 people, with 200 people crammed on board the surface-level submarine and another 200 in lifeboats. Hartenstein gave orders for messages to be sent out to the Allies to organise a rescue of the survivors but, in an unbelievable twist, they were spotted by an American B-24 bomber who moved in to attack. The Sinking Of The Laconia takes a look at the human side of the remarkable events that took place: the friendships that developed, the small acts of heroism,and the triumph of the human spirit in the most incredible of situations. The cast also includes some of Germany’s biggest names, including Matthias Koeberlin, Frederick Lau and Thomas Kretschmann.

No idea of when it will be on yet, but you can be sure as soon as I know you will read it here!

154 Comments

Filed under Family History, maritime history, Navy, On TV, Uncategorized, World War Two

The Battle of Hastings and Beevor

Two British military history heavyweights are to go head-to-head with epic new publications on the Second World War, reports The Times.

Anthony Beevor and Max Hastings have both been contracted by their publishers to publish 800+ page books in 2012. Beevor’s advance from his publishers is believed to be in the region of £1m. “Max and I are both great friends and great rivals,” said Beevor, whose book will be published in Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. “It’s the whole war and yes, it’s a terrifying prospect.”

Hastings is amazed that narrative military history can command such figures: “I would never have guessed when I started writing about this period more than 30 years ago that this market would still be there,” said Hastings, whose book will be published by HarperCollins.

Colin Smith, an author on Vichy France, thinks that military history has followed phases: “After the war itself, we had the heroic books, usually written by those actually in the war such as Churchill and Monty. Then we had a revisionist period, then a lack of interest with some boring military tactician books, and now a revived interest because of good writing and human stories.”

It is very encouraging to see that military history is becoming so popular once again, both to publishers and readers alike. It is very nice to see, especially as we are so far away from the war now that it is in the living memory of fewer and fewer people. And as we are living in a post-military society, where few people have served in uniform, clearly people with no experience of military service are becoming interested in what happened to their forefathers.

I must profess to being no great fan of Beevor or Hastings. Beevor’s books have sold by the truckload. I have read his books on Stalingrad, Berlin and D-Day. Whilst I enjoy his writing style, I cannot help but feel that the lack of substantial new material or hystoriography does not warrant the hype. They are clearly aimed at a general readership. Hastings’s usually offers more research-based writing, but his pugnacious style – as we might expect from a journalist – can be off-putting.

Writing a complete history of the Second World War is a tall order. These are obviously publisher-led books, as no military historian would conceive of covering 6 years worth of battles, on 3 continents and many oceans, and killed millions of people in 800 pages. Modern military historiography as gone beyond the ‘complete history of’ approach. It is far better, surely, to not even attempt it, because the result will almost always be a disappointment. But these names, after all, are names that sell books.

However Beevor’s and Hastings’s books turn out, they will have to go a very long way to eclipse luminaries such as Basil Liddell Hart, John Terraine, Martin Middlebrook, John Keegan or Michael Howard. Or my wildcard entries, Robin Neillands and William Buckingham. I look forward to reading them, but I plan on reading beyond the hype and the name on the spine.

18 Comments

Filed under World War Two

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard




Victory

Originally uploaded by dalyhistory2010

For the first time in years I went and had a proper look round Portsmouth Historic Dockyard yesterday. Heres a picture of the bows of HMS Victory, Nelson’s Flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

I’d been on most of the attractions at the Dockyard several times quite a few years ago now, but I really enjoyed Action Stations. One thing I have about Museums or other attractions is when they have these wonderful activities for children – but what about Adults? What I really like about Action Stations is that its for everyone. Kids will enjoy it, but theres no need for adults to stand around like a lemon watching!

1 Comment

Filed under Dockyard, Museums, out and about, Uncategorized

Museum Fatigue

You look at the display panels and the glass cases. You can see the words, but your brain cannot take it all in. You see the pictures, and somehow you no longer feel so interested. Nothing jumps out at you. You’re irritated by the kids running around. The glass of coke and slice of cake are giving you a sugar rush. You’ve been there a couple of hours, and you’re thinking its time to call it a day. But the person with you insists on reading EVER word – argh! You can’t even be bothered to look through the shop on the way out.

Congratulations, you’ve got Museum Fatigue!

There is no shame in suffering from this totally random, unforgiving, but entirely curable ailment. It happens to the best of us. I love Museums – hell, I’ve worked in them since I was 16 – but sometimes its all too much. Think about it – why do lectures at University last for an hour? Because thats all the human brain can take in terms of learning at any one time. Even if you can keep looking at 17th Century Dutch Art after that, your brain won’t be taking it in quite as well. I’m sure that the human brain learns better in smaller, focussed sessions. And you enjoy visiting Museums more like this too – if you get bored or irritable, then you wont enjoy yourself.

So all day at a Museum or any kind of similar venue really is pushing it. It helps if somewhere has fresh air, a decent cafe, lots of different displays, audio-visuals, maybe even some physical activities. But I do know that maybe Museums need to look beyond having row upon row of medals, or paintings, or fine china saucers – sometimes I think less is more, and reduces the overload on the human brain. Most people visit Museums in their spare time, after all, and people want to enjoy their spare time. And whats enjoyable about going home with a headache?

2 Comments

Filed under Museums

Where Pompey went wrong

With todays news that Portsmouth Football Club has entered into administration, I’ve been thinking back over the past few years to how Pompey have ended up in this sorry state.

The irony is that the club has now gone full circle since it went into administration in the late 90’s, under the reign of the Gregory family. Then Milan Mandaric saved the club from administration. Although Mandaric may have been seen at the time as tight with funds, looking back, he did not spend money that we did not have. Mandaric always promised that he would not leave Portsmouth without building a new ground, and until Pompey were in the Premier League.

Pompey eventually managed to get promoted in 2003, after Harry Redknapp managed to put together a first class team with loan signings, free transfers and free agents. After managing to remain in the Premier League for 2 successive seasons, it should have been the time to consolidate and develop sound foundations at the club. Pompey have a huge catchment area and the potential to fill a 30,000+ stadium. But Portsmouth is a small city, and Mandaric encountered problems finding both the finance anda suitable site for a stadium.

In 2006, however, Mandaric agreed to sell Pompey to Sacha Gaydamak. This is where things get seriously murky. Although Gaydamak was at the time painted as a wealthy Russian in the same vein as Roman Abramovich, in fact it seems that much of his fortune came via his arms-dealer father. Gaydamak junior has a string of failed business ventures behind him.

To begin with Gaydamak bankrolled a returned Harry Redknapp’s spending spree. Clearly with a 20,000 stadium, these infated wages and transfer fees were not sustainable on the clubs income alone. This is surely the problem with football clubs being owned by rich owners – all the time they are there, all well and good, but without sound business practice once they are go serious problems come home to roost.

Supposedly Sacha Gaydamak decided to stop funding the club in 2008, only months after the club won the FA Cup and qualified for Europe for the first time. Ostensibly this was due to the credit-crunch, but as Gaydamak’s funds were not really his own anyway, it seems that his father had decided to claw back his money. In hindsight, it seems that Gaydamak wasnt even investing his own money, but was taking out massive loans. When he left, he left his debts behind. We might have won the FA Cup, but it was like buying something on a credit card but not paying it off.

Gaydamak sold the club to Sulaiman Al Fahim, who then sold it to Ali Al Faraj. Both owners who clearly had no idea about running a football club and who had no money to invest. In the end Al Faraj defaulted on loan repayments, and the club (and ground) were taken over by Balraim Chainrai. And today, Pompey are in administration.

If anything, surely it is amazing that it has taken this long for a Premier League Football Club to go into Administration. Since the advent of Sky TV and the Premier League, English football has on the whole been operating on unworkable business models. Football Clubs used to be exactly that – Clubs. After the gradual transition into businesses, business principles should have come into play – outgoings should not be more than income, for example. Sound foundations are important, not short term success. But Football is still imbued with the Thatcherite principle that success is everything, and is worth abandoning your principles for.

There have been calls for a rich owner to come in and save Pompey. Surely that is short-sighted. After all, isnt it the rich owners who have caused this scenario in the first place. Being owned by foreign, disinterested businessmen is surely not good for the long-term of the football club and the city. In Germany many clubs are still clubs, where the fans are members and collectively control the club.

Football has changed. Supporters are more customers now than anything else. They may feel that the club belongs to them, but the cruel fact is that they have virtually no involvement in the club.

The Football world needs to sit up and take notice. Or Pompey will not be the last.

13 Comments

Filed under News

Latest Falklands News: naval encounter and sub deployment

Something new crops up regarding the latest Falklands crisis every day, so until the situation calms down I ‘m going to give a daily analysis of the news.

It has emerged that on 28 January HMS York, the Royal Navy’s South Atlantic guardship, intercepted an Argentinian Navy Corvette that was approaching the area where exploratory drilling has recently started. The Drummond, a veteran of the 1982 Falklands War, apparently made an ‘innocent navigation error’, 10 miles inside the oil exploration area. HMS York radioed across and ‘encouraged’ her to change course. This incident can be seen in two ways – either the Argentine Navy’s seamanship is very poor, or they are acting provocatively. Much as Soviet and now Russian jets test UK airspace, perhaps Argentin was hoping to provoke a flashpoint?

In other navalnews, the Royal Navy today confirmed that a submarine has been deployed to the South Atlantic. Normally Submarine deployments are kept secret, so this news will have been made public as a clear signal to Buenos Aires. In all likelihood it is a Nuclear Attack Submarine carrying torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles. In 1982 the Black Buck Vulcan raids demonstrated to Argentina that British forces had the ability to strike at any point in Argentina. Only with Tomahawk there is much less risk and more precision. And the Argentine Navy will remember very well how after HMS Conqueror sunk the Belgrano their ships were virtually bottled up in port.

In political news Argentina’s Foreign Minister met today with the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, to press for support over the Falklands issues. Although the Foreign Minister emerged from the meeting uttering the same soundbites as other Argentinian leaders have recently, there has been a telling silence from Ban and the UN. Hopefully he is far too clever and impartial to be drawn into what is essentially South American power-play politics.

6 Comments

Filed under Falklands War, Navy, News

Navy Days: then and now

After this week’s announcement about Navy Days 2010, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at Navy Days over the years. It’s very much a Portsmouth institution, theres nowhere else where you can see so much of the Royal Navy’s past and present in one place all together. Not only is it a great day out but it’s also a great chance for the Royal Navy to showcase what it does.

Not only does Navy Days tell us about the History of the Royal Navy, it is a part of Naval History itself. They have been taking place for many years – I’ve seen posters advertising Navy Days dating back to the early 20th Century, showing rows of battleships decked out in flags. My Granddad can remember going just after the war, and watching Fairey Swordfish Biplanes attacking ships with bags of flour. I can remember my Gran telling me about going on the US Warships, and the American sailors serving up hot dogs!

I first went to Navy Days in June 1994. It was the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, and there were plenty of interesting Royal Navy and foreign warships in the Harbour, to take part in the International Fleet Review later that week. I can remember going on HMS Ilustrious, and plenty of Destroyers and Minesweepers. I can also remember seeing the US Cruiser USS Normandy, and the wartime liberty ship Jeremiah O’Brien. But what I remember most of all is my dad showing me round the Dockyard that he worked in, explaining how the Docks and caissons worked, and pointing out the parts of the ships that he worked on – ‘oh look, there’s number two weapons shop!’ and ‘that’s number three basin!’ sounds quite impressive when you’re 11!

The last time I went to Navy Days was in 2008. What I remember most from then is the foreign warships – Japanese, Chilean, Danish and French. It was interesting to have a look at HMS Ilustrious again 14 years later, and the Landing Ship RFA Largs Bay was a rare visitor to Portsmouth. And of course theres nothing quite like watching the Royal Marines Band close the day.

I’m looking forward to Navy Days already. I had a sneak peak of HMS Daring last year at the Royal Navy past and present event, and she really is something else. It’s a long time since RFA Argus has been in Portsmouth too. A former merchant vessel that served in the Falklands War before becoming and RFA ship, it will be a rare opportunity to visit a Falklands veteran. Hopefully we can expect to see some foreign warships too.

To watch a British Pathe newsreel clip of Portsmouth Navy Days 1969, click here!

19 Comments

Filed under Dockyard, event, Navy, Uncategorized