Daily Archives: 16 January, 2012

Surgeon at Arms by Lipmann Kessel

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I tend to devour anything written that pertains to Operation Market Garden. It’s what got me into military history, and even when I’m in a nursing home myself I’ll probably still be reading my Op MG library. The funny thing is, I don’t actually enjoy the general histories – there are so many of them, and to be honest, since Martin Middlebrook none of them have really offered anything new. But there are a wealth of personal and micro histories out there, many of them under-published and little-known.

Captain Alexander Lipmann-Kessel was serving with 16th Parachute Field Ambulance during the Battle, parachuting in on the first day and leading a surgical team at St Elisabeths Hospital in the town until after the surrender. Not only was he a very brave man and a distinguished surgeon, but he was, miraculously, a South African Jew. As such, he had more to lose than most. And as he himself states in the text, he did look stereotypically Jewish. Heaven knows how the germans did not cotton on.

Having previously read Stuart Mawson’s Arnhem Doctor, I was very interested to read another account of battlefield medicine. The privations of running an operating theatre in action, under enemy occupation, using very basic equipment and a minimum of supplies, is very inspiring indeed. For much of the battle Kessel was working alongside Dutch civilian doctors and nurses, and under pressure from the Germans all of the time. Kessel has some interesting observations about the German doctors approach to battlefield medicine. The SS doctors refused to operate on any head or stomach wounds, preferring to administer a lethal injection. Lipmann-Kessel, on the other hand, decided to operate on Brigadier Shan Hackett’s severe stomach wound, with a casual, ‘oh I don’t know, I think I might have a go at this one’.

After the withdrawl across the Rhine, the Germans gradually evacuated the hospital – not before Kessel could have Brigadier Hackett spirited away into hiding, and assist the Dutch underground in giving a ‘funeral’ to a consignment of arms. Transported to a barracks in Apeldoorn, Lipmann-Kessel eventually escaped. Coming into contact with the Dutch underground, he took part in the abortive Pegasus II attempt to get airborne fugivites back across the Rhine. Lipmann-Kessel finally made it to allied lines by canoeing down a Dutch river, evading German patrols along the way. It’s stirring stuff indeed, the stuff of a boys own novel.

Although it doesn’t state so in the book, when Lipmann-Kessel died in the 1980’s, he requested to be buried in Arnhem civilian cemetery, close by to his comrades who were killed in September 1944. Having read his account of those dramatic days, such a gesture seems completely in character with the man.

Surgeon at Arms is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Army, Arnhem, Book of the Week, Uncategorized, World War Two

Scotland, Subs and Royal Yachts

The Royal Yacht Britannia

A couple of interesting stories emerged today in naval circles.

Firstly, the Mail in Scotland yesterday reported that the Ministry of Defence was considering contingency plans to re-locate submarines and ships based at Faslane in Scotland, in the event of an independence referendum voting in favour of severing ties with the rest of Britain. Currently, Faslane hosts the four Vanguard Class Ballistic Missile Submarines, HMS Astute, and eight Sandown Class MCMV’s of the 1st MCM Squadron. Faslane is also due to be the base port for the rest of the Astute Class as they come in to service.

Devonport has the sole nuclear refuelling and repair facility for submarines in Britain, including a dock specially built to fit the Vanguard Class, so it would make sense to base at least some of the submarines there. Given that Plymouth is more remote than Portsmouth, it might make sense to base the Vanguards there, and the Astutes at Portsmouth. The Sandown Class Minehunters would fit in well at Portsmouth, given that the Hunt Class are already based there. Or, perhaps, Plymouth could become more of a Submarine base, taking Vanguards and Astutes and transferring surface ships to Portsmouth in their stead. The fly in the ointment would be the Trident missile facility at Coulport on the Clyde – not something you could move in a hurry.

Secondly, Education Secretary Michael Gove has egg on his face after suggesting that perhaps the Government could purchase a new Royal Yacht for the Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee this year. The last Royal Yacht, HMY Britannia, was retired in 1997 as a cost-cutting measure. As wonderful as she was, the concept of a Royal Yacht belongs in the twentieth century. The figure being quoted for building a replacement is £60m, which seems conservative for me – that was the figure quoted in 1997, and with inflation, it must be well over twice that now. At a time when the Royal Navy is losing ships hand over fist, is it a great idea to commit it to running a Royal Yacht? Not only do we need to consider the build costs, but the fitting out, the manning, the basing, the maintenance, the running costs… can we really afford it? I doubt it. I’m a keen supporter of traditions and heritage, but only where it makes sense on an operational and economic level.

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Filed under Navy, politics, Uncategorized