Category Archives: Royal Marines

‘More than a Name’ at the Royal Marines Museum

English: The Yomper Statue at the Royal Marine...

Image via Wikipedia

The famous ‘Yomper’ statue on Southsea Seafront is a memorial to the average, un-named Royal Marine. As iconic a monument as it is, it is perhaps symbolic of our understanding of military history – we worship the Regiment, and medal winners and famous battles, but do we actually know anything much about the men themselves? Now, thanks to a new exhibition at the Royal Marines Museum, members of the public can find out about the stories behind these remarkable men.

Yesterday I went and had a look round ‘more than a name’, the new exhibition at the Royal Marines Museum in Portsmouth. I think its a very snappy name, and it describes the concept very well. As the Museum’s Archivist and Librarian Matthew Little explained, the idea is to try and dig beyond the names of former Royal Marines, and look at their stories. And their are some fascinating stories too. A Royal Marine aviator, A WW2 DCM and MM, and stories of commandos and ship service. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a display of kitbags, uniforms and other Royal Marine memorabilia. What I really like is that it is completely open – not behind glass – and you can actually smell them. I’m sure that displays such as this look so much better than behind glass, and not only that, but the openness is a metaphor for better public access. Obviously given my background in researching ordinary servicemen, I found the exhibition very interesting and right up my street.

The Heritage Lottery Fund are notoriously cagey about funding capital projects that do not have any visible impact for the taxpaying visitor.The aims of this project are very much about access – both by showing the history of individuals who have served as Royal Marines, and improving the Museum’s archives to aid access. Encouragingly, the Exhbition has promoted many visitors to donate items to the Museum’s collection. As Matt explained, many visitors tend to assume that their ancestor’s documents are not of any interest, as they ‘didn’t do much’. But that’s exactly the point, we want to know exactly what the average bootneck was up to. If you put together the experiences of hundreds of these men, you can paint a pretty interesting picture. And who knows what objects unsuspecting people have got lurking in their attics?

Matt also showed me around the Museum’s archives, which is not something that many military museums are as open about! The Museum holds a wealth of documents – mainly consisting of official documents that are not held at the National Archives, such as course records and maps. The museum also have a large number of large scale technical drawings of Landing Craft, which although might be pretty mundane to many of us, to modelmakers they are gold dust. Matt also explained that the Archives are very organic, as current serving Marines are encouraged to donate items, and to record their experiences for posterity. An example which might seem pretty run of the mill is that of combat boots. In the Falklands British boots were so bad that men went down with Trench Foot. This led to an improvement in boots soon after, but then when British forces deployed to Oman for exercises in 2001 Desert boots melted. Those are the official versions, but what do the men on the ground, the men who wore them, have to say about it?

Projects such as this do represent a seismic shift for military museums. Traditionally regimental shrines, they are having to change their approaches, in a climate of budget cuts to the military. Not only that, but museums have changed in recent years, and visitors are more demanding about what they seek to do in their spare time. Putting a bunch of objects in a display case with some rudimentary labels might have been sufficient twenty years ago, but in 2012 we have to do more. And I applaud the Royal Marines Museum for their work. I can remember visiting years ago when the museum as focussed very much on the generals, the great and the good, battles, ships and drawers full of medals, but not much in terms of everyday service, and ‘real’ people. Whereas now, I think the museum incorporates the best of both worlds.

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Filed under Museums, out and about, Royal Marines

Refighting the Falklands War (2012): The Reckoning

So, we’ve looked at the various elements that might constitute a re-run of the 1982 Falklands War – the political dimension; the naval war (Aircraft carriers, naval aviation, amphibious warfare, escorts, logistics, submarines); the air war; and the land battle.

I think the key points to emerge are as follows:

  • Lack of carrier-borne air cover MIGHT not preclude a succesful task force, but it would be useful
  • We have JUST enough amphibious capability to effect a landing if need be
  • We have some very high quality Destroyers and Frigates, but nowhere near enough of them
  • We are perilously short of auxiliaries, and would need much assistance from the Merchant Navy
  • Our submarines are very capable, but far too few
  • The four Typhoons at Mount Pleasant would be crucial
  • Any landing force would be battle-hardened, thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan
  • The Argentines forces, although more professional, are outclassed equipment wise

As we can see, there are a lot of ‘might’, ‘just’. Which is hardly ideal when planning to embark on a military operation. The theme that seems to emerge is that the British Armed Forces – in terms of inventory and personnel – are very high quality, but few in number. This situation is not likely to change any time soon, given the economic situation – in fact, it is likely to get worse before it gets better. And if future defence cuts prune back – salami slice – ship numbers, for example, then we would go beyond the point where an operation ‘might’ be possible, to a point where one would be foolhardy.

Politically, the Falklands/Malvinas issue is unlikely to disappear any time soon, and certainly not after the discovery of natural resouces in the seabed of the South Atlantic. The current Argentine President is continually spouting ‘route-one’ politics, ie fooling the population away from domestic problems by targetting an external bogeyman. The current period of South American love-in has also emboldened Kirchner, it seems. How long this might last is anyones guess, given the fickle nature of Latin American politics.

1982 taught us that signs of weakness, such as cutting vital and sometimes symbolic assets, can be the first domino in causing unsavoury types to play their hand. Any possible savings that might have been gained from retiring HMS Endurance in 1982 were completely dwarfed by the costs – human, financial and materiel – that were incurred after Argentina took it to be a launchpad for war. As such, cost-cutting can be short-sighted – cutting a ship might save a few million, but will it cost us much more in the long run? Defence does give traction on the world stage. It was this lack of co-ordination between defence and diplomacy that caused such problems in 1982.

Is it narrow-minded to think solely about the Falkland Islands? After all, history is full of examples of forces and leaders who prepared to fight the last war, only to find that they were hopelessly stuck in the past. Aside from extremist terrorism, and perhaps Iran in the straights of Hormuz, Argentine threats to the Falklands are the most serious threat to British interests today. And we would be sensible to plan accordingly. All the time the Falkland Islanders wish to remain British, we have a duty to defend them.

Also, we should be aware that any ignominious outcome in the Falklands would have big domestic and international repurcussions. If the Argentines were to reclaim the Falklands, what is to stop the Spanish applying pressure over Gibraltar? We might find that we also put other nations in sticky positions over their far-flung possessions. And for Britain to be defeated by a second-world state would be embarassing to say the least – losing wars and surrendering territories does nothing for your international standing. In 1982 the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact cannot have failed to note that the British Armed Forces punched very hard. Showing that you will not be pushed about will surely make other enemies think twice about having a pop.

In 2012 the Falklands could be defended, and retaken if necessary. Just.

 

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Filed under Army, Falklands War, Navy, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines

The Falklands Then and Now… AND Now: initial thoughts

Soon after starting my blog, I ran a series looking at the 1982 Falklands War. As a long-term resident of Portsmouth I have always had a very strong interest in the conflict, and wanted to do something of an annual ‘Open University Lectures’ style series over Christmas to give us all something to do. I didn’t really expect anyone to read it, but thanks to a plug from Mike Burleson (proprietor of the now-ceased New Wars blog) things snowballed and my hit ratings have never quite been the same since!

Much has changed in two years In the winter of 2009 we were looking ahead to a closely fought general election, under the spectre of a massive economic crisis. In the years since we have seen a new Government, a swingeing Defence Review which has radically altered the picture of British defence planning and capability. No strike Carrier, No Harriers, half the amphibious ships, less escorts, less everything really. Since 2009 tensions have also arisen with Argentina pulling various diplomatic strings to unsettle the British presence in the South Atlantic. Coincidentally, since the discovery of oil reserves in the South Atlantic.

With much change since then, and also with the 30th Anniversary of the war coming up next year, I think it is the ideal time to revisit the ‘Falklands: Then and Now’ series. Over christmas and the new year period I will be re-examining my original conclusions, and trying to find some sort of assesment as to how the Falklands War might feasibly be re-fought in 2012.

In 2009 I looked at the following:

  • Aircraft Carriers
  • Amphibious
  • Escorts (Destroyers and Frigates)
  • Submarines
  • Auxiliaries
  • Merchant Navy
  • Land Forces
  • The Air War
  • Command and Control
  • The Reckoning

If there is anything that I should add, or if anyone would like to make suggestions, please feel free to comment or email me via the ‘Contact Me’ bar above. If anybody would like to guest on any of the sections, please feel free to get in touch.

As I’m sure you can see, it is very sea-orientated, but then again as the Falklands are Islands 8,000 miles way then that is always bound to be the case. I remember also getting some pretty snobby comments in the past, about it being ‘hardly rocket science’. Well, that’s exactly the point – we need ordinary people to support our military, and we won’t do that by getting excited about the screws securing the sprockets in a Sea Wolf missile’s motor.

Suffice to say, only the most deluded of commentators will find this a positive exercise, but it is an opportune time to assess the declining state of Britain’s defence capabilities, and to use a historical yardstick to illustrate how we are incapable of defending those who wish to live under British citizenship.

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Filed under Army, debate, defence, Falklands War, Navy, politics, Royal Marines

Sergeant Jonathan Heaton MM, Royal Marine Artillery Howitzer Brigade

Royal Marine Artillery crew loading a 15-inch ...

Unsurprisingly, I’ve come across quite a few Royal Marines from Portsmouth who were killed in the Great War – 113 so far, in fact. And I’m only up to the letter H. Of those I have information for 101 of them. And the statistics are striking – only 13 joined up after the war had started. And incredible 37 had actually enlisted in the Nineteenth Century! All this adds up to suggest that many Royal Marines were long serving, experienced men. There was also a strong likelihood that if a man was serving for a long time in the Royal Marines, sooner or later he might settle near the Barracks in Portsmouth.

Jonathan Heaton was born on 6 March 1876. He enlisted in the Royal Marine Artillery on 15 September 1896, when he was 20. In 1901 he married his wife Jane in Portsmouth. In 1914 they were living at 83 Adair Road in Eastney, very close to the Royal Marine Barracks in Portsmouth.

The Royal Marines in 1914 were formed of a number of distinct corps. Of the combatant arms, the Royal Marine Light Infantry and the Royal Marine Artillery were most prominent in the Great War. The Royal Marine Artillery actually formed two Artillery Brigades to serve on the Western Front in October 1914. These Brigades actually supported the Army, and not just the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division as I first suspected. One was an anti-aircraft unit, whilst the other manned heavy howitzer guns.

The RMA Howitzer Brigade was only really an administrative headquarters, as each of the guns were so large, they were deployed individually along the front. The RMA actually operated a unique weapon – the 15 inch breech loading Siege Howitzer. It had a maximum range of over 10,000 yards, and fired a 1,400lb shell. The Brigade operated 12 of the Howitzers in total.

Sergeant Heaton was killed on 24 September 1917, and is buried in Gwalia Cemetery in Belgium. Late September 1917 saw the closing stages of the battle of the Menin Road, during the third battle of Ypres – better known to history as Passchendaele. Gwalia is actually back from the front line, near Poperinghe, which suggests that Heaton was probably wounded and taken to the rear before he died.

On 11 December 1917 Jonathan Heaton was awarded a posthumous Military Medal. The London Gazette has no information about how his MM was won, but as it was posthumous we can reasonably assume that it was won in the action in which he was killed.

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Filed under portsmouth heroes, Royal Marines, western front, World War One

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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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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Filed under Navy, Royal Marines, Uncategorized, World War One

Portsmouth Air Festival 2012

Remember in my review of Shoreham Airshow this year, I hinted at rumours about an air-based event much closer to Portsmouth next year?

Portsmouth Air Festival 2012

I gather the event hasn’t been properly ‘launched’ yet, that’s going to happen later in October, but looking good!

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