Monthly Archives: October 2011

Final design of Type 26 Frigate unveiled

Today’s Portsmouth News carries an article showing what is believed to be a posssible final design for the Royal Navy’s new Type 26 Frigates.

Apparently the ships are to displace 5,000 tons, will have a top speed of 28 knots, and will have a rear cargo door for launching small boats. They will be crewed by 140 sailors, compared to 180 for the current Type 23 Frigates. The cost is understood to be £400m per vessel – at the moment, the cost will probably skyrocket once BAE systems get to work. BAE hope to start work in 2016, and launch the first ship in 2018. They are needed urgently, as the Royal Navy has prematurely decomissioned its four Type 22 Frigates, and the Type 23′s are ageing rapidly.

The News ‘understands’ that 13 of them are to be built, with eight being based in Portsmouth and five in Plymouth. Expect bleatings from Plymouth based media and politicians forthwith. Of the current 13 Type 23 Frigates, seven are based in Plymouth and six in Portsmouth. Of course, one wonders exactly how many we will get – with almost a decades worth of recession defence budgets to go through, and potentially one or more defence reviews, we will be very lucky to get ten or more.

Notice also that talk of C1, C2 and C3 versions has fallen by the wayside – it seems that we will be getting thirteen identical ships, for cost reasons no doubt. Let’s hope that the Type 26 is more succesful in the export market than some of our more recent shipbuilding efforts. Partnerships have been rumoured with Australia, Brazil and Turkey.

I’m struggling to find much more information, apart from the News article and the relevant page on the Royal Navy website. If anyone finds anything else, I would be very grateful for some links. In particular, I’m sure we would all like to know about weapons systems and electronics. According to the RN web page, they look like carrying a 4.5inch main gun, some kind of vertical launch missile system, a couple of Goalkeeper-looking CIWS, and a very large helicopter pad and hangar. Apart from that, a very clean looking superstructure, for stealth purposes, no doubt.

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but they look very much like other contemporary European Frigates with the bow and superstructure looks, such as the Dutch Zeven Provincien and the Norwegian Otto Sverdrup classes, but with aspects of the Danish Absalon corvettes too.

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Filed under Navy, News, Uncategorized

Update from James

Hi all, I just thought I would let you know what’s happening here at Daly HQ.

Still haven’t replaced my laptop, and I’m waiting for the insurance company to pick it up prior to a replacement. It’s pretty frustrating having to beg steal and borrow Internet access, especially when you have books to write and talks to produce! Not to mention corrections to my book to reply to my publisher!

On a more positive note, I have nine – yes, nine! – book reviews backed up ready to go. Subjects include WW2 propaganda posters, British Army junior officers of WW1, Fromelles, Salonika, wargaming Arnhem, and battlefield guides of the merville battery, the dives bridges, and Pegasus and horsa bridges.

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ANZAC #4 – Lieutenant Harry Gearing

The fourth Australian soldier to be buried in Milton Cemetery presents us with a pretty interesting story indeed. Harry Alan Cheshire Gearing was born in India, on 16 August 1884. Hence he was very much a son of the British Empire. He was the son of Henry George and Mary Gearing. In civilian life prior to joining the Army he was Secretary and Accountant, and his wife was Bertha Gearing.

Sadly, as he was an officer Harry Gearing did not go through quite the same recruitment process as the rank and file. Harry Gearing was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Australian Army Service Corps on 22 April 1915. Prior to embarking for the Middle East, Gearing was in charge of rations at the Brisbane Army base, issuing rations daily for 4,000 men and 1,000 horses.

2nd Lieutenant Gearing embarked from Australia onboard the HMAT Ascanuis (A11), from Brisbane on 24 May 1915. He reached Egypt sometime later, but had been taken ill on the voyage. On 21 July 1915 he was examined by a Medical Board at the Australian Hospital in Heliopolis, outside Cairo, and found to be suffering from Diabetes, his symptoms including glycosuria, unquenchable thirst and asthemia.

On 28 July he left Egypt, onboard the HMAT Ceramic bound for England. By 7 August he was in Britain, and was again examined at the 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth. Again, a Medical Board found that he was suffering from Diabetes, caused by service, and that he was unlikely to be fit for any future active service away from home. He was immediately given 3 months sick leave, leaving London on 31 August 1915.

Whilst on sick leave Gearing seems to have been perpetually on the move, taking in vast swathes of England and Scotland in something of a grand tour. His letters to the Australian Headquarters in London passed on his forwarding address, even if he was only staying for one or two days! In September he stayed with a Mrs Stewart at Culgruft, in Cross Michael in Scotland. From there he went to Dollar in Clarkmananshire, and from there on to Lauriestone Hall in Mossdale. In October he took in Corsock, Dalbeatie, Kircudbrightshire; and Balmaghie House, Castle Douglas.

In late October 1915 he was informed that he had to come back to London to sit before another Medical Board, in order to assess his fitness for further service. An argument then ensued, about whether he was entitled to a Railway Warrant for his journey! Gearing also stated that he would be willing to foregoe the rest of his sick leave if he could be garuanteed a post with the ANZAC base depot at Weymouth, but AIF Headquarters would not promise this.

Gearing was finally examined by yet another Medical Board at the AIF Headquarters at 130 Horseferry Road on 26 November 1915 The board found that his weight was still fluctuating, and that he had Polyuric and pains in the limbs, much sugar in the urine. He was found permanently unfit for active service. For some reason he does not appear to have been discharged there and then, but sent on more sick leave.

Between November 1915 and April 1916 his movements are somewhat vague, but we do know that Lieutenant Gearing was finally discharged from the Australian Imperial Forces in April 1916, in London. Although his letters suggest that he wished to return to Australia, for whatever reason he did not do so immediately. Upon arrival in London in April he was staying at Messrs Wallace and Co,Russell Court, ClevelandRow, in West London. In early May 1916 he sent a number of telegrams that suggest that he had been to Marseille in the South of France before returning to London. At some time in early April we know that he was in Gibraltar, making that a likely possibility. Later in May he stayed at Faulkners Hotel, Villiers Street, Strand, before travelling to stay at The Bungalow, Praa Sands, Vis Ashton, Cornwall.

Intriguingly, Lieutenant Gearing does appear to have had a sister in England – Hope G. Gearing, who lived in Culver Lodge, at Sandown on the Isle of Wight – by no means a million miles from Portsmouth. Ironically given his extensive travelling, there is no indication that he visited her during his time in Britain.

It seems that Gearing did not return to Australia. He died of Diabetes on 16 March 1917, almost a year after he had left the Australian Army. He was 31. Death records suggest that he did die in Portsmouth. Perhaps he was in the Military HospitalHe was buried in Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth, alongside other Australian Great War soldiers. Why he was buried in Milton is something of a mystery, but in 1919 his widow, who had been in Australia during the war, was living at Red Lodge, Craneswater Park in Southsea. She was still in Britain during 1920 and 1921, and according to her brother, was ‘always on the move’ – much like her husband, it appears.

Although he did not see active service, Harry Gearing’s experience is another example of the way in which servicemen could become ill during their service, and many sadly died. Although Gearing seems to have been of a slightly different class to most Diggers – an accountant, who seemingly had contacts throughout Britain - like his comrades, he died and was buried thousands of miles from home.

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Filed under Pompey ANZAC's, Uncategorized, World War One

Message from James

Hi folks.!

Just a quick message to let you know what has been going on, and in some cases not going in, in the Daly History HQ recently.

Firstly, I’ve been getting over a nasty cold man-flu that laid me low for most of last week. Then when I thought I’d recovered from that, my eye swelled up like I’d taken a nasty right hook. You know the episode of the Para’s where they do the milling? It looked like I’d done a few rounds of that. Turns out I had the worst case of conjunctivitis the doctor had ever seen!

Now I’ve recovered from that, but sadly my trusty laptop is no more, and has a nasty crack in the LCD screen, from causes unknown. So whilst I investigate the feasibility of battle damagee repairs or procuring a replacement, posts may be intermittent and I may be slower at responding to emails that I would normally like. It’s a shame, as I’ve got a few interesting books to review for you, and some interesting events coming up.

Oh well, as they say, no plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy. Do not be surprised if chaos reigns – it undoubtedly will!

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British Army programmes on BBC iplayer

I’ve stumbled upon a fantastic collection of programmes on the British Army on bbciplayer, some modern, and some archive. Apparently, unbeknown to me, BBC4 have launched an ‘Army Collection‘, many of which are available to view online. Only, I’m afraid to say, to those of you watching in the UK. But to those of us sitting up in bed suffering from a hideous case of man-flu, its a goldmine!

One series I know will be very popular is The Paras, a famous 1982 documentary. There is also a set of 30-minute regimental histories, covering amongst other the Grenadiers and Coldstreamers, the Paras and the Gurkhas. Some of it is a little basic, and as usual with anything Regimental in the British Army, everyone’s own Regiment is of course the best ever bar none. But when you watch the ‘In the Highest Tradition’ programmes, you realise that all Regiments have their own, equally barmy, traditions and claims to fame. I also realise I could never have made an officer – silver service is not my style, give me take-away any time.

The BBC have also made available a great set of programmes from the Silver Jubilee in 1977, including the Scots Guards Trooping the Colour on Horse Guards. My personal favourite is the Queen reviewing the 4th Division of the British Army of the Rhine on the Sennelager training area in Germany. It involved 578 tracked vehicles, over 3,000 troops, and 27 Regiments. Incredible stuff, and something we will probably never see the like of ever again – it would be unthinkable to bring together a division for just a review! 3 Regiments of Chieftan  Main Battle tanks, 1 Recce Regiment, and 4 armoured infantry Battalions in 432 AFV’s, as well as supporting arms, including Gazelle and Scout Helicopters. Abbott 105mm guns, M109 155mm guns, 175mm guns, Lance nuclear missiles, Engineer AFVs including bridge laying equipment, RAMC Field Ambulances, REME in Armoured Recovery Vehicles, Stalwarts, you name it.

Other treats include ‘how to make a Royal Marine officer’, the life of a Household Cavalry Corporal of Horse, the Pathfinder Platoon in training, training in the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre, Panorama behind the scenes at Sandhurst, and the Army in Belize and Borneo.

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Musician Ernest and Petty Officer Edward Gallagher

HMS Indefatigable one of the wrecks from the B...

HMS Indefatigable sinking (Image via Wikipedia)

Jutland is well-reputed to have touched virtually every family in Portsmouth. But for the Gallagher family, it had a particularly heavy toll.

Petty Officer Stoker Edward Gallagher was 50 in 1916. He had been born in Crawley in Sussex on 4 August 1865. His son Musician Ernest John Gallagher was born in Portsmouth on 8 September 1896. He joined the Royal Marines Band Service on 19 September 1910, when he was just 14 years old. By May 1916, he was 19.

In 1916 Edward Gallagher was serving onboard the Battlecruiser HMS Invincible, whilst Ernest was part of the Royal Marines Band onboard another Battlecruiser, HMS Indefatigable. Both ships were sunk at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May to 1 June 1916. HMS Indefatigable was ripped apart by a huge explosion, with only two men out of a crew of 1,017. Invincible was also destroyed by a explosion, and out of her crew of 1,026 officers and men, only six survived.

Both father and son have no known grave other than the sea, and are remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common. Mary Gallagher would have received not one but two terse telegrams from the Admiralty in the days after Jutland. She survived them for almost 30 years, dying in Portsmouth in 1946. She was 76.

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Filed under Navy, portsmouth heroes, Royal Marines, World War One

A Message from your AWARD WINNING blogger!

I’m rather overwhelmed to announce that I found out this evening that I have been given an award for my blog!

The team at the Veterans Benefits GI Bill website have decided that Daly History is one of the top 50 military history blogs on the whole of the internet, and hence you can see a nice shiny award picture just to the right ——>>>>

Have a look at the award announcement here, to see the team’s very flattering words, and also to see a list of other winners. Other names you might recognise are Ross Mahoney’s Thoughts on Military History, Birmingham War Studies, Airminded and the Australian War Memorial. It’s quite a suprise to be counted amongst such leading lights!

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HMS Albion mothballed for five years

The HMS Bulwark, a Albion class landing platfo...

HMS Bulwark, now the Royal Navy's sole Landing Ship (Image via Wikipedia)

We’ve seen in the news today how HMS Albion, the Royal Navy’s flagship and one of two main landing ships, is to be put in mothballs in Devonport Dockyard for five years. She’s a little over ten years old, which ranks as not even mid-life for a major warship.

Make no mistake about it, after five years in mothballs she will require a LOT of work to get her operational again – that will take time, and cost money. I would also imagine that if HMS Bulwark needs spare parts during the next few years, the temptation to ‘borrow’ them from Albion would be all too tempting. Meanwhile, for five years the Navy will only have one crew practising amphibious warfare. If Albion is needed to be brought back into service in a hurry, where will another crew come from?

As I’ve mentioned before, hull numbers matter – a ship can only be in one place at any given time, and if you want it to get to somewhere else then it is going to take time. If Bulwark is on a flying the flag exercise in the Far East, for example, and something kicks off in the South Atlantic, we can pretty much count out any kind of rapid response. The Government has also descreased the Navy’s second line Amphibious vessels, the Bay Class Landing ships. We now only have three of them, and they are often off around the world filling in for non-existant frigates and destroyers.

The parallels with 1982 are quite a coincidence. Back then, only HMS Fearless was ready for action. Intrepid was destored and effectively mothballed in Portsmouth Dockyard, and took weeks to be made ready, even with round the clock effort from the Dockyard – many of whom were working under redundancy notices, and in any case, such a workforce no longer exists. In 1982, the date for the landings at San Carlos was dictated by when exactly Intrepid could be made ready and reach the South Atlantic. The inference is that without her, it could not have happened. The situation now is identical. These are very useful vessels, absolutely central to commanding and controlling the projection of force worldwide.

The most fundamental function of Government is to defend the realm, and keep British territories and citizens safe from aggressors. Secondly, the armed forces exist to maintain Britain’s interests around the world. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that decimating armed forces does not defend the realm, in a very uncertain world. Compared to money ringfenced for overseas aid, or even more so the bailing out of the banks, the money saved by hatcheting defence is minimal. Is this the ‘good job’ that Liam Fox was doing? If Adam Werritty was his advisor, then he clearly wasn’t a very good one.

With just one landing ship operational, no strike aircraft carrier, minimal escorts and sparse auxiliaries, our ability to mount another Falklands operation is non-existant. Should I revisit my 2009 series of posts ‘The Falklands: Then and Now’, or would it simply be too painful?

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Filed under defence, Navy, News, politics, Uncategorized

WW1 Dead research – some stats on the Army

A ration party of the Royal Irish Rifles in a ...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been busy beavering away with my research into Portsmouth’s Great War Dead. It’s a mammoth task, and one that will probably never be completed in the true sense of the word. There are just so many names to contend with, and the sources are that much more fragmentary than for the Second World War. But having said that, I thought it might be interesting to share some statistics so far.

So far, I have established that 2,574 men were killed serving with British and Empire Forces between 1914 and 1921. That compares to 2,549 men and women from Portsmouth killed in ALL services between 1939 and 1945. Out of those 2,574, some 890 have eluded identification so far, with around 1,600 odd having been traced on the CWGC. The Army casualties are a lot more difficult to research. This is probably down to the fact that most sailors were serving pre-war, so there is a significant paper trail on their existence. Whereas most soldiers volunteered or were conscripted, hence there is minimal documentation compared to sailors.

The vast majority of those men were killed serving with the Infantry. Most fell fighting with the Hampshire Regiment – 747 to be exact. Out of those, 133 with the 1st Battalion, 148 with the 2nd Battalion, 150 with the 14th Battalion (1st Portsmouth), 154 with the 15th Battalion (2nd Portsmouth), and 46 with the 1/4th Battalion (Territorials). These massive losses led to the War Office spreading men around regiments far more in the Second World War to dilute the effect of heavy casualties.

It is interesting that out of 1,600 men I have managed to identify, almost half of them were serving with the local Regiment. This is a much higher proportion than in 1939-1945. Out of the other Infantry Regiments, the next highest membership was of the Rifle Brigade (28 men) and the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (32 men). Both Regiments had no geographical recruiting area, taking men from all over Britain, and of course had their depots nearby in Winchester. Small numbers of men served in virtually every Regiment of the British Army. This attests not only to the mobility of Portsmouth people, but also that Portsmouth was a Garrison town – Battalions were based here as part of the city defences, and some men may have put down roots here, in the same manner as Portsmouth based sailors tended to.

90 men were Royal Engineers, 100 Field Artillery, 86 Garrison Artillery, 36 Machine Gun Corps, 9 RE Signals, 9 Tank Corps, 19 Guardsmen, 19 in Irish Regiments, 36 serving with Commonwealth Forces (5 African, 8 Australia, 19 Canada, 3 India and 1 New Zealand), 18 Cavalrymen, and 35 Army Service Corps. The tiny number of Cavalrymen killed does suggest that they were not particularly active during what was primarily a siege warfare scenario.

89 men are known to have been Regular Soldiers. 4 ex-Regulars re-enlisted. 60 men were Territorials or reservists mobilised on the outbreak of war. 211 men, by contrast, Volunteered between August 1914 and February 1916. 47 volunteered in August 1914 alone, followed by 27 in September. Once conscription was introduced in 1916 103 men were called-up. 2 men had attested under the Lord Derby scheme. So almost as many Portsmouth men were alreading in the Army system as volunteered for King and Country.

887 men were killed in France, 415 in Belgium, 12 in Germany, 22 in Greece (Salonika), 19 in India, 81 in Iraq (Mesopotamia), 27 in Israel (Palestine), 11 in Italy, 77 in Turkey (Gallipoli). Although we know much about France and Belgium, and to a lesser extent Gallipoli, campaigns such as Mesopotamia, Palestine and Salonika still need more research for us to understand their impact locally.

22 men are known to have been younger than 18. The youngest man was 16 year-old Private H Rampton, who died in April 1916. The oldest man was 72-year old Quartermaster Sergeant R.F. Robertson, of the Royal Field Artillerywho died in March 1916.

In terms of ranks, the vast majority – 1,242 – were privates. Only 92 were officers, the majority being 2nd Lieutenants. As my WW2 research suggested, historically Portsmouth does not contribute many Army officers. Is this because it was not such a fashionable place for the officer class to live, or that there were not many men in Portsmouth with officer-type qualities who volunteer?

Most men were killed in the bloody battles on the Western Front in 1916 and 1917, but a large number fell in 1918, which is often overlooked by history. 87 men were killed in 1914, 214 in 1915, 441 in 1916, 495 in 1917 and 495 in 1918 up to the Armistice. 112 men died post-Armistice – many, I suspect, from Influenza.

256 men were killed on the Somme, 148 at Passchendaele, 6 at Loos, 165 during the German offensive in Spring 1918, 189 in the Allied Offensive in 1918, 21 at Cambrai, 59 at Arras, 32 at 2nd Ypres in 1915, and 21 at 1st Ypres in 1914. These numbers would appear to suggest that as many men died in the meatgrinder of day-to-day Trench Warfare as died in set-piece attacks.

Where casualties came from tells us a lot about how the population of Portsmouth was made up in 1914, and how it changed by 1939. 76 men came from Buckland, 55 from Copnor, 30 from Cosham, 11 from East Southsea, 39 from Eastney, 69 from Fratton, 41 from Kingston, 216 from Landport, 38 from Mile End, 41 from Milton, 94 from North End, 6 from Old Portsmouth, 74 from Portsea, 119 from ‘Portsmouth’, 333 from Southsea and 61 from Stamshaw. In 1914 the vast majority of people in Portsmouth were concentrated in the city centre and Southsea, with fewer people in outlying areas such as Milton, Copnor, Cosham and Eastney. Paulsgrove did not even exist as we know it, and Cosham covered the whole area of the mainland part of the city.

This is all very interesting, but there are still 890 men I need to identify, which is going to take more work than researching the other 1,600!

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Filed under Army, Uncategorized, western front, World War One

Portsmouth’s WW1 sailors – some initial observations

The British Grand Fleet steaming in parallel c...

The Grand Fleet of WW1 (Image via Wikipedia)

Having completed the entry of Portsmouth Soldiers who were killed between 1914 and 1921, for the past few months I have begun entering the names of sailors from Portsmouth who were killed in the Great War. Having processed some 414 sailors and 82 Royal Marines, I have a pretty decent sample to make some interesting observations.

Thanks to the way that WW1 Naval service records are available online, we can see the exact date of birth and place of birth for virtually ever 1914-18 sailor. And the findings are striking. A very large percentage of Portsmouth sailors who were killed in the Great War were actually born here. I would have presumed that many more would have been born elsewhere but moved to Portsmouth in service. I wonder how many of them were second or even third generation sailors? It seems that the Navy did not actually expand significantly, in terms of manpower, between when most of these men were born in the late Victorian period and 1914. Certainly not as much as the Army expanded, in any case.

Of those who did come from elsewhere, most of them came from nearby maritime counties, such as Sussex or Dorset. A sizeable amount came from London, which also had a seafaring tradition. Others came from virtually every county in Britain, including some from Ireland, Scotland, and even two from Malta. One great surprise is the sizeable amount who came from the Channel Island – a place with a very small population, but obviously a great many young men familiar with the sea.

As with my similar research into WW2, it seems that most Pompey sailors were pre-war regulars, and often Leading Rates, Petty Officers or Warrant Officers. Long-serving sailors were clearly more likely to settle here, and most of them seem to have lived in areas close to the naval base, such as Landport, Buckland and Portsea. About 90% of CWGC entries for WW1 sailors include house numbers and street names, which gives great potential for some geo-mapping exercises. Oddly enough very few naval officers seem to have settled in Portsmouth – perhaps it was not quite fashionable.

Relatively few sailors in WW1 seem to have won medals compared to their counterparts in WW2. One exception seems to have been the submarine service, in which a number of Pompey sailors were involved. Several were awarded Distinguished Service Medals, at a time when submarines were very much in their infancy, and a very hazardous way of going to war.

The Navy did not actually expand that much during WW1. Obviously the only way you would really need to expand naval manpower massively is if you had new ships to crew, but in 1914 the Royal Navy was already easiest the largest in the world. The only ‘expansion’ involved the re-activation of some Reserve Fleet ships. One of these was HMS Good Hope, which was crewed almost exclusively by re-called reservists. In fact, when war was declared the Royal Navy received too many volunteers, and formed a Royal Naval Division for service on land. Several Portsmouth men were killed with the RN Division, at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

Most sailors were killed in the large set piece battles, such as at Jutland or the Coronel. At Jutland HMS Invincible, Princess Royal and Black Prince were lost, and HMS Good Hope at the Coronel. A number of other ships were sunk by accidental explosions, such as HMS Bulwark and HMS Natal.

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Serious questions for Defence Secretary

Liam Fox, British Conservative politician.

Can he out-Fox this one? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m sure you’ve all seen the furore regarding the Defence Secretary‘s murky relationship with his former flatmate/best man/adviser (delete as appropriate). Apart from the point of view of the ministerial code and integrity in public life, there are very serious concerns for those of us interested in British Defence issues.

The Defence Secretary is supposed to be advised by the Chief of Defence Staff, the service chiefs (First Sea Lord, Chief of the General Staff and Chief of the Air Staff), and the relevant other senior personnel and civilians in the armed forces and the MOD. The MOD has plenty of departments, dealing with things such as policy, plans, procurement, anything and everything. There can hardly be a lack of capability there.

If the Defence Secretary really feels the need to be ‘advised’ by anyone who is outside the MOD chain, there are a number of learned, credible institutions such as the RUSI, which possess a wealth of knowledge and experience around Defence and Security issues. People who have actually paid their dues, either serving or studying military history.

All of which should suggest that at face value, the Defence Secretary shouldn’t really be in need of a special adviser. OK, in reality most Cabinet ministers have staff who advise on spin – how stories are presented, the politics of the issue, etc. But Mr Werrity has been described as a ‘Defence lobbyist’. Funnily enough, when Liam Fox was Shadow Health Secretary, Werrity was a ‘Health lobbyist’. Interesting, no? And surely if a Cabinet Minister cannot do his job without a poorly qualified siamese twin, doesn’t that cast judgement on his ability full stop?

Interestingly, Adam Werrity is, at 33, only five years older than myself. He gained a 2:2 degree in public policy – whatever that is – from the University of Edinburgh. Apparently he also stayed rent-free at Fox’s London apartment between 2003 and 2005, all of which hardly makes for a professional relationship.

It all makes you wonder what ‘advice’ exactly is being sought and offered. I’ve never liked the thought of special advisors who are outside the foodchain – it is completely unaccountable and open to all kind of abuse. What kind of influences are being brought to bear on these middle-men, say from commercial interests? There is absolutely no oversight, no accountability, and no control. Nobody elected him, based on a manifesto, and nobody selected him after an interview process.

This isn’t, for me, a red vs. blue/yellow political issue – all politicians have questions to answer about ‘lobbyists’, and who influences them and their decision making. The Defence of the Realm is far too important to be left to the Defence Secretary’s mini-me. But, as a high-profile Defence blog put it so succinctly, once again the British armed forces have become a political football, and the servicemen and women of the country are hardly likely to be winners.

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Filed under Army, defence, Navy, News, politics, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized

Suvla – the August offensive by Stephen Chambers

One of the fundamental tenets of modern British military practice has been to never, ever reinforce defeat. In other words, to not keep on flogging a dead horse. The Gallipoli campaign is a sober example of this. Noble in its intentions, once the Anglo-French fleet failed to force the Dardanelles by sea (and they might have succeeded if only they had pressed on a bit further) ground forces were landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, in an attempt to dominate the straits from the land.

In an abject lesson for later amphibious operations, the British at Helles and the ANZAC‘s further north failed to gain sufficient lodgement areas to build up their forces. In addition, the front line was so close to the sea that the lines of communications were frequently under fire. This lack of a lodgement area prevented the Allied forces from building up enough momentum to push on and capture the rest of the Peninsula.

Rather than seriously evaluate the viability of the whole Campaign, General Sir Ian Hamilton chose to make another landing, in between ANZAC and Helles at Suvla Bay. Quite why he thought that another limited landing, lacking in expertise and resources, would work where two others had failed is beyond me, it does strike one as a lack of imagination. Things might not have been so bad, had Kitchener not sent out Sir Frederick Stopford to command the Corps at Suvla. Lacking in experience and elderly, Stopford was sent out for old-fashioned, Army seniority reasons. One of the Divisional Commanders was a Lieutenant-General, and Stopford was the only available General who was senior to him – sending out a junior would have been unthinkable to what was still a hierarchy conscious Army.

Predictably, the landings at Suvla  met with little success. They were hallmarked by a lack of urgency in the initial landings and poor leadership thereafter, but also some very brave service by the rank and file, and indeed the opposing Turkish soldiers. Incidentally, the Turks at Suvla were led by a certain Mustafa Kemal. Among the men who fought at Suvla were the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, containing more than a few Portsmouth men. The whole peninsula was evacuated in late 1916, a costly failure indeed.

This book by Stephen Chambers serves as a very good history not only of the Suvla Campaign, but also the Gallipoli Campaign in general. It is by no means light on the bigger picture, in particular the issues surrounding Stopford. It also serves as a very good battlefield guide. Of course visiting Gallipoli is a bit more tricky than just nipping over on the ferry to Normandy or Flanders. It’s a long trek from the nearest airport, is in a pretty remote region with few facilities and poor transport, and apparently is home to plenty of wild dogs!

Naturally the amount of people going to Gallipoli is never going to be huge, but when I come to think of it, I’ve read plenty of battlefield guides for places I’ve never been anywhere near. For me, its actually quite an interesting way of being a battlefield tourist without the bother! In  that sense, I enjoyed it very much and it certainly added a lot to my understanding of the Gallipoli Campaign.

Suvla – the August offensive is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Uncategorized, World War One

ANZAC #3 – Private Thomas Fulton

Thomas Fulton was born in Sydney in 1882. The son of John and Catherine Fulton, who lived at 640 Bourke Street, in Surrey Hills in Sydney. Thomas was actually born in the wonderfully Australian-named place of Woolloomoo.

Prior to enlisting in the Army he worked as a Bottle Blower, and had not served an apprenticeship, so was a relatively unskilled worker. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 22 November 1915, at Casula in New South Wales. He was 33 years old, and had not served in the military before. His home address was 26 Cleveland Avenue in Surry Hills. He was quite small at 5ft 4inches tall, weighed 97lbs, had a ruddy complexion, brown eyes with less than perfect vision, was Church of England by religious persuasion, and had a small scar on his left forearm.

Like most ANZAC recruits, Fulton was quickly sent to the Middle East to receive most of his training there. On 18 February 1916 Fulton left Australia, on board the HMAT Ballarat, from Sydney. On 23 March he disembarked at Suez, where he was allocated from the 4th Training Battalion to the 47th Battalion, who were at Serapeum in Egypt. On 2 June the Battalion embarked at Alexandria to join the BEF in France and Belgium, disembarking at Marseilles on 9 June. Thomas Fulton was not in France long before he was taken ill with Scabies. On 24 July he went from the 12th Field Ambulance to the 4th Casualty Clearing Station. After a week’s treatment he returned to his Battalion on 31 July 1916. Scabies was a condition not uncommon on the Western Front, caused by the conditions in which the Scabies mite thrived.

Little more than a week later Fulton was wounded in action during the Battle of the Somme. On 9 August 1916 he received a Gunshot Wound to his leg, and was admitted to the 44th Casualty Clearing Station. The next day he was at the 2nd Australian General Hospital at Wimereux, and two days later he was taken to England onboard the Hospital ship St Denis. By now his wounds were described as a gunshot wound to his foot, and a fractured tibia, presumably caused by the gunshot wound.

On arrival in England he was admitted to the 5th Southern Genrral Hospital in Portsmouth, but his condition did not improve. On 23 August his condition was described as serious, and sadly he died on 24 August 1916, from Tetanus caused by his severe gunshot wound. Tetanus is a disease which is much rarer in the modern world, but could have been contracted through any deep puncture wound. The unsanitary conditions on the Western Front and basic medical care available cannot have helped to keep Fulton’s wound clean.He was buried in Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth. His personal possessions were sent home to Australia, consisting of -

small bag, balaclava, razor, brush and comb, metal mirror, knife, shaving brush, 2 badges, toothbrush, 12 coins, 2 Franc notes.

It seems that after Thomas’s death his father struggled to survive. In 1920 and now living at 721 Bourke Street, he wrote to the Defence Department, pleading for assistance, as Thomas was his only son, and he only had a small Railway Pension to live on. His query was refered to the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions for New South Wales. John Fulton had initially tried to claim a pension based on his sons service in 1917, but had been rejected as he was not seen as a dependant.

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Filed under Pompey ANZAC's, western front, World War One

Speaking at the D-Day Museum on Remembrance Sunday

Sherman

A Sherman tank outside the Museum (Image by Merlin_1 via Flickr)

I’m very pleased to announce that I will be speaking at the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth on Remembrance Sunday this year, 13 November.

I will be talking a look at the sacrifices made by 2,549 men and women from Portsmouth who died between 1939 and 1947, and telling some of their stories. It should be an interesting little taster of my forthcoming book, due out in February 2012.

The talks will begin at 12noon and 2pm (same talk each time), and the Museum will be free all day, opening at 10am and last admission at 4.30pm, closing at 5pm.

Look forward to seeing you there!

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The Hidden Threat: Mines and Minesweeping in WW1 by Jim Crossley

I mentioned in my last book review that the naval war between 1914 and 1918 witnessed the advent of some new aspects of warfare that had never been seen before. Alongside the submarine and the aeroplane, the naval mine made its debut in this conflict.

I must confess I had never really understood just how extensive mining was during the Great War. Large tranches of the North Sea, including the German and British coasts, were mined by the allies and the Germans. In particular,shipping routes were heavily targeted, such as the British North Sea coast and the areas around ports in the low countries.

The important thing to understand is that was not just the threat that a ship might strike a mine that made presented such a problem, it was the sheer inconvenience that there might be mines anywhere, and the limitations it put upon the enemy. Ships could only move freely in swept channels, which of course required much effort and danger to clear. Its the threat that mines MIGHT be there that really causes the damage – even if you know that there probably arent, you have to assume that there are until you know otherwise. Mines severely restricted and impeded the free maneouvring of naval forces. And compared to the vast cost involved in building a Super Dreadnought, they were also relatively cheap.

Much like the submarine, to begin with British naval circles scoffed at minewarfare, somehow thinking of it as ‘un-British’ – I suppose its similar to the popular clamourings for a Trafalgar-esque, Nelsonian pitched sea battle – all very nostalgic, but Trafalgar was over a hundred years ago. But by 1918 the Royal Navy had, slowly, and somewhat unconventionally, developed significant experience and expertise in both laying and dealing with mines. In anti-minewarfare in particular, much use was made of smaller ships, such as Trawlers. Paddlesteamers were also utilised for their maneouvreability.

I think its quite telling that whereas the Royal Navy has long led the field in mine counter measures warfare – perhaps motivated by her experiences in the Great War, and her geographical status as an island nation dependant on the free movement of shipping. By contrast, the US Navy never really mastered the concept of the mine, right up until the 1980′s when several of her ships were severely damaged by Iranian mines in the Gulf. Incredibly, the largest and most powerful navy on the seas did not possess its own MCMV force. Yet after the armistice, each  of the allied nations was alloted an area of the North Sea to clear of mines. One of them – the US Navy.

This is a very interesting book, and contains a number of salient points not just about mines, but about naval warfare in general. I enjoyed reading it very much. It is extremely well written, and complements the historiography of the Great War at Sea perfectly.

The Hidden Threat is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Book of the Week, Navy, World War One