Daily Archives: 1 July, 2010

Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – The Army (part 2)

The proportions of Portsmouth men who served in particular arms of service in the Second World War tells us much about the structure and state of the British Army at the time:

Infantry – 252 (37.39%)
Artillery – 138 (20.47%)
Supporting Corps – 119 (17.66%)
Engineers – 64 (9.5%)
Armour – 35 (5.19%)
Imperial Forces – 30 (4.45%)
Special Forces – 25 (3.71%)
Miscellaneous – 12 (1.78%)

Churchill might have castigated Brooke for the amount of ‘cooks and bottle washers’ in the Army, but compared to their forefathers in the First World War the soldiers at the sharp end were a smaller, but better honed spear backed up by a stronger support network. Particularly with the advent of armoured warfare and other technological advances, support services acted as force multipliers.

Infantry

Despite the development of armoured warfare, coupled with a growth in supporting services and a desire to avoid large, pitched land battles, the majority of Portsmouth Soldiers killed between 1939 and 1947 were killed whilst serving with the PBI – the Poor Bloody Infantry:

114 – Hampshire Regiment
12 – Queens Regiment
6 – Wiltshire Regiment
5 – Royal Berkshire Regiment
5 – Royal West Kent Regiment
5 – Grenadier Guards
4 – Dorsetshire Regiment
4 – East Surrey Regiment
4 – Royal Fusiliers
4 – Somerset Light Infantry
4 – Royal Sussex Regiment
3 – The Cameronians
3 – Coldstream Guards
3 – Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
3 – East Yorkshire Regiment
3 – Kings Regiment
3 – Kings Shropshire Light Infantry
3 – Lancashire Fusiliers
3 – Rifle Brigade
3 – Royal Scots
3 – Middlesex Regiment
3 – York and Lacaster Regiment
2 – Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
2 – Cheshire Regiment
2 – Devonshire Regiment
2 – Essex Regiment
2 – Green Howards
2 – Kings Own Royal Regiment
2 – Kings Own Scottish Borderers
2 – Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
2 – Kings Royal Rifle Corps
2 – Lincolnshire Regiment
2 – Northamptonshire Regiment
2 – Ox and Bucks Light Infantry
2 – Royal Welsh Fusiliers
2 – Seaforth Highlanders
2 – Suffolk Regiment
2 – Royal Warwickshire Regiment
2 – Worcestershire Regiment
1 -Beds and Herts Regiment
1 – The Black Watch
1 – The Buffs
1 – Durham Light Infantry
1 – Duke of Wellington’s Regiment
1 – Royal East Kent Regiment
1 – East Lancashire Regiment
1 – Gloucestershire Regiment
1 – Gordon Highlanders
1 – Highland Light Infantry
1 – Loyal Regiment
1 – Royal Ulster Rifles
1 – Sherwood Foresters
1 – South Staffordshire Regiment
1 – Welsh Guards

Despite a slight weakening in local regimental affiliations, the vast majority – 45.24% – of Portsmouth infantrymen served in the Hampshire Regiment. Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment were engaged principally in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, and in North West Europe from D-Day onwards. Its noticeable also that the next largest contingents of Portsmouth infantrymen served in county regiments close to Hampshire – Surrey, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Dorset, for example. Even though men were no longer necessarily joining their county regiment, there was still clearly a policy of assigning men regionally. The wide range of other units that Portsmouth men served with can be accounted for by transfers between Regiments and as the war went on a policy of recruiting men into any Regiment that needed them, regardless of geography.

Artillery

138 men from Portsmouth died whilst serving with the Royal Artillery or the Royal Horse Artillery during the Second World War:

136 – Royal Artillery
2 – Royal Horse Artillery

The 136 men killed whilst in the Royal Artillery is the largest number of fatalities for any Army Regiment -evidence, if any is needed, of both how large the Royal Artillery was, and how involved it was in the fighting in every theatre of war. Gunners served in Field Artillery, Medium and Heavy Regiments, Coast Regiments, Anti-Aircraft Regiments, Searchlight Regiments and Anti-Tank Regiments. Men seem to have been pretty broadly dispersed around Artillery units, although a sizeable amount of men were killed serving with 57 Heavy AA Regiment and and 59 Anti-Tank Regiment.

Other Supporting Corps

As the British Army became more diverse, more technical and more mechanised, more supporting arms were needed to keep the ‘teeth’ arms fighting effectively.

64 – Royal Engineers
25 – Royal Army Ordnance Corps
25 – Royal Signals
23 – Royal Army Service Corps
15 – Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
12 – Royal Army Medical Corps
10 – Pioneer Corps
4 – Military Police
2 – Army Catering Corps
1 – Army Dental Corps
1 – Army PT Corps
1 – Royal Army Chaplain’s Department

The Royal Engineers performed a vital role in every theatre -bridging, mine clearance, bomb disposal, demolition, and all manner of tasks. The RAOC and RASC also performed vital roles in keeping the Army supplied. Royal Signals were also present in every theatre, and serving with every unit. In modern warfare communications were all-important. The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers were formed during the war, to reflect the important of mechanical maintenance of vehicles and equipment. Other units were responsible for looking after the wide range of soldiers physical, nutritional and spiritual welfare.

Armour

Although the Second World War saw great advances in the use of tanks and other armoured vehicles, a relatively small amount of men from Portsmouth – 35 – were killed whilst serving with Armoured units:

28 – Royal Armoured Corps (inc Cavalry)
7 – Recce Corps

Imperial countries

30 men from Portsmouth died whilst serving with units from the British Empire:

9 – Indian Regiments
8 – Hong Kong Dockyard Defence Corps
5 – Malayan Regiments
4 – African Regiments
2 – Canadian Regiments
1 – Australian Regiments
1 – New Zealand Regiments

There are several reasons that may account for Portsmouth men serving with Imperial Forces. They may have originated from abroad, but gained a Portsmouth connection along the way. They may also have emigrated from Portsmouth and then joined their resident country’s forces. Others, particularly officers and NCO’s, served on attachment. The Hong Kong Dockyard Defence Corps was comprised of men working in Hong Kong Dockyard, and the various Malayan volunteer forces were made up of men working in the country.

Special Forces

15 – Parachute Regiment
7 – Army Commandos
3 – Glider Pilot Regiment

Various special forces were formed during the war. Men could volunteer for the Parachute Regiment from their parent unit, and 15 Portsmouth Paras died in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, France, Holland and Germany. The Army Commando’s were another unit formed along similar lines, as was the Glider Pilot Regiment – a force of qualified pilots, ranked as Sergeants and Staff Sergeants. That more men died serving in special forces than any infantry regiment apart from the Hampshire Regiment suggests how important they had become.

Miscellaneous units

5 – Auxilliary Territorial Service
2 – General Service Corps
2 – Home Guard
1 – Army Technical School
1 – General List
1 – Allied Control Commission

The ATS was an auxilliary service formed to allow women to support the Army – all died whilst in Britain, presumably from illness or accidents. The General Service Corps was a reception unit formed in 1943 to provide recruits with initial training – the two members who died whilst serving in it evidently died before they were assigned to a Regiment. The Army Technical School provided training to boys too young for active service. The General List was a ‘unit’ to which surplus officers were assigned when unattached to any other Regiment or Corps. The man who died while serving with the Allied Control Commission was in Germany after the end of the war.

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

Summer of Blood by Dan Jones

(Review by Scott Daly)

A 3-word review on the front of this book reads like this: ‘Bold. Surprising. Unputdownable’. Within that trio the one I would most agree with is ‘Surprising’. You see, I was most motivated to buy and read this book by my lack of knowledge of this subject. Of course, I knew the famous names involved: Wat Tyler, John Ball, and the boy King Richard II, but as far as the actual events surrounding the Peasants Revolt of 1381, my expertise was decidedly limited.

I think one of the problems people have when revisiting the Peasants Revolt is the connotations that the term ‘Peasants Revolt’ incurs. It’s extremely easy to think of illiterate countryside yokels banding together in an ill-planned march on London equipped with burning pitchforks and agricultural instruments as weapons. However, upon reading Dan Jones’s Summer of Blood, I found that most of my pre-conceived notions of this historical incident were ultimately subverted. The ‘Peasants’ of 1381 from Kent and Essex were in Medieval terms fairly affluent. Although little is known of Wat Tyler now, he was clearly a talented general with a flair for focusing the anger of the mob. John Ball, his ‘partner in crime’ as it were, was an egalitarian preacher who was somewhat of a thorn in the side of the church establishment. Egalitarian?! Do the words ‘medieval’ and ‘egalitarian’ ever go together in the same sentence? It’s also extremely surprising to read about how the mob of 1381 went about targeting the perceived wrongdoers in the highest echelons of society. The real figure of hate was John of Gaunt, who was effectively the ruler of England during King Richard II’s minority. At all times during the revolt, the rebels were actually outwardly loyal to the young King. They were more concerned with removing men like Gaunt and the Archbishop of Canterbury Simon Sudbury from the positions of power they enjoyed during the Kings minority. Sudbury was beheaded in the Tower of London, and John of Gaunt’s great Savoy Palace was burned after the rebels entered London.

Where this book really succeeds is in the way it delivers the narrative of the events during the Summer of Blood. Unusually for a book in the popular history genre, Jones uses very short chapters, which serves to really drive the story along at a ferocious pace. This also really brought home to me just how quickly the crisis spiralled out of control for the Royal party, and just how close the rebels came to effecting a dramatic upheaval of English society. It’s also probably fair to say that the events of The Peasants Revolt do lend themselves rather well to this type of historical writing. The meeting between the King and the rebels at Smithfield is the stuff of legend, and its dramatic resolution almost unbelievable. However, whilst helping to quicken the pace of the narrative, the shortness of the chapters leaves the book as a whole feeling a little light. I personally felt it could have been at least 50 pages longer, which would have helped to embellish the causes and consequences of the revolt with more details and explanations.

In the end though, it’s appropriate to end this review in this way: The Peasants of 1381 were protesting against a poll tax levied by the rich who were in control of government and wanted the poor people of the country to bear the brunt of it. Are we basically living in the same type of society today as the peasants were 600 years ago?

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Filed under Book of the Week, Medieval history