Tag Archives: Portsdown Hill

Portsmouth as an Army Garrison 1914

Something that has always intrigued me is the manner in which Portsmouth’s military heritage is often overlooked, compared to its naval past. Sure, we all know that Portsmouth is the historic home of the Royal Navy, but few people know about the long and enduring presence of the British Army in Portsmouth. It stands to reason that such a critical naval base and embarkation point will be a natural place for a significant Army garrison.

The regular Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment were both based outside of Hampshire. The 1st Battalion were at the Essex garrison town of Colchester, while the 2nd Battalion were overseas at Mhow in India. The convention in the British Army for many years had been for one of a Regiment’s Battalions to be based at home in Britain, whilst the other would be based overseas in one of Britain’s colonies.

In 1914 Portsmouth came under Southern Command, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien. Smith-Dorrien later commanded a Corps in the BEF in 1914 and 1915. Southern Command was Headquartered at Salisbury, but the Portsmouth Garrison in particular was commanded by Major General W.E. Blewett CB CMG, the General Officer Commanding the Portsmouth Garrison.

9 Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General F.C. Shaw, comprised the bulk of Portsmouth’s infantry.  9 Infantry Brigade had four Infantry Battalions under its command, and was designated as a part of the BEF to go overseas in the event of war breaking out. 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and 1st Bn Lincolnshire Regiment were barracked in Portsmouth, while the 4th Bn Royal Fusiliers were at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight and the 1st Bn Royal Scots Fusiliers were based across the Harbour in Gosport. The Brigade was one of the first units to go to France in August 1914, fighting with the 3rd Division.

Surrounded by fortifications, Portsmouth was also home to several Artillery units. 1 Heavy Brigade of Royal Garrison Artillery was based in Palmerston Forts nearby at Fareham, with 26 Battery at Fort Wallington, 35 Battery at Fort Fareham and 108 Battery at Fort Nelson.

The Army Service Corps also had a strong presence in Portsmouth, with 12 and 29 Companies being based in the town, along with 62 Mechanical Transport Company. A section of 2 Coy of the Army Ordnance Corps was also based in Portsmouth. No 6 Company of the Royal Army Medical Corps was based at Cosham, I suspect at the new Queen Alexandra Hospital on Portsdown Hill.

Portsmouth was also home to significant Territorial Force units. The 6th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment had its Headquarters at the Connaught Drill Hall in Portsmouth. Much of Portsmouth’s defence, in the event of war, comprised Territorial Forces. The General Officer Commanding South Coast Defences, under Southern Command, was based in Portsmouth. 37 and 42 Companies of the Royal Garrison Artillery formed part of the inner defences of the Portsmouth area, while 29 and 67 Companies comprised the outer defences.

III Reserve Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery was Headquartered at Hilsea, comprising 140 and 141 Batteries. The Artillery Barracks at Hilsea were located near Gatcombe Park, and several of the Barrack buildings still exist, including the Riding School. The Brigade’s 3 Depot was based nearby, close to Cosham Railway Station. 1 Wessex Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery had its Headquarters at St Pauls Road in Portsmouth, consisting of 1, 2 and 3 Hampshire Battalions RFA, and 1 Wessex Ammunition Column.

Territorial units of the Royal Engineers were based in Portsmouth. Hampshire Fortress RE had its Headquarters in Commercial Road, with No 1 and No 2 Work Companies being based in Hampshire Terrace, along with No 4 Electric Lights Company. 3rd Wessex Coy of the Royal Army Medical Corps was also based in Portsmouth.

In all, Portsmouth was home to several thousand Regular troops of Infantry, Artillery, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Royal Army Medical Corps. There was also a Brigade Headquarters and no doubt the usual support services that come with any substantial garrison. Soldiers would have been a frequent and daily sight to the townspeople.

Interestingly, it seems that quite a few servicemen who went to France in 1914 with 9 Infantry Brigade had put down roots in Portsmouth. In particular, a not insignificant number of men who were killed serving with the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers and the 1st Lincolnshire Regiment seem to have been living in private residences in Portsmouth. Of course, neither Regiment could lay claim to southern Hampshire as a recruiting area, so it would seem that men from Northumberland and Lincoln who found themselves stationed in Portsmouth ended up marrying local girls and living out of Barracks in the town.

Portsmouth was by no means a prominent Garrison in the manner of towns such as Aldershot and Colchester, or Salisbury Plain, but never the less the town did play host to a much more significant military force than most people are aware of. It is perhaps hard for modern Portsmuthians to imagine, considering that the Army garrison began to shrink after 1918 and nowadays consists solely of the Army contingent at the Defence Diving School on Horsea Island. 

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USS Bush arrives in the Solent tomorrow

Stokes Bay, England (Apr. 6, 2005) - The Nimit...

A Nimitz Class Carrier in the Solent (Image via Wikipedia)

After a long wait, the USS George HW Bush arrives in the Solent early tomorrow morning.

At 7am she will begin moving from the Nab Tower area towards Spithead. She will arrive at Charlie Anchorage off Stokes Bay at 0830.

Her escorts meanwhile – the US Destroyer USS Truxtun and the Spanish Frigate SPS Almirante don Juan de Borbon – begin sailing from the Nab to Outer Spit Boy at 0745. They should pass the Round Tower at around 0845 and 0900 respectively. The Truxtun will be mooring at Middle Slip Jetty and will be visible from the Gosport Waterfront, while the Borbon will be on North Corner Jetty – visible from up the Harbour, including on top of Portsdown Hill for those with decent lenses.

Meanwhile HMS Westminster and HMS Dauntless, who have been on exercise with the US and Spanish ships, will be arriving at about 0915 and 1015 respectively.

Later in the day the supply ship RFA Fort Austin will be leaving for a refit on Birkenhead. She will be leaving under tow, and should pass the Round Tower at about 1345.

Wondering where all these places are? Click here.

All in all a very busy day in Pompey, and an excellent time to go on a harbour tour, as we have all three Type 45’s in, a US Arleigh Burke, and a Spanish Alvaro de Bazan.

If anyone stateside is worried about security of the US ships, I’ll quote this from the Queens Harbour Master of Portsmouth:

  1. NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN by the Queen’s Harbour Master Portsmouth that between 27 and 31 May 2011 a nuclear powered military warship will conduct a formal visit to Portsmouth. During this period, the nuclear vessel will be anchored at “C Anchorage” in the Central Solent.
  2. Mariners are advised that the nuclear vessel is deemed to be “a vessel constrained by her draught” as defined under the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS Rule 3(f) and 18) and is to be considered a vessel which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway (COLREGS Rule 9) at all times when underway within the Dockyard Port of Portsmouth.
  3. Mariners are further advised that LNTM 07/11 (Dormant Exclusion Zone for Underway Warships) will be activated for the entry and departure of the nuclear vessel. In summary all vessels except those involved in the escort are to remain 250 metres clear of the nuclear vessel whilst it is underway. VTS Southampton, acting with QHM’s authority, will direct commercial traffic to keep outside this zone. Warning broadcasts will be made on VHF Channels 11, 12 and 16 as appropriate and the escort vessels will show blue flashing lights.
  4. Whilst at anchor there will be a 250 metre Exclusion Zone in place around the nuclear vessel, which will be enforced by Ministry of Defence Police. Only vessels authorised by QHM will be allowed to enter this zone.
  5. For the duration of the visit, miscellaneous service craft will be berthed alongside the nuclear vessel and mariners passing C Anchorage should amend their passage plans to ensure they avoid the restricted area. Vessels navigating in the vicinity are to maintain a listening watch on VHF and are to be aware of the effects of their wake and are to reduce speed accordingly.

And here’s some coverage in the local press:

The Yank’s are coming!

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The Portsmouth Blitz: 70 years on

70 years ago today the people of Portsmouth were coming to terms with the aftermath of the most devastating bombing raid on the city during the Second World War. The anniversary was marked yesterday by a service at the city’s Anglican Cathederal, a ceremony in the Guildhall Square, and the unveiling of a placque to victims in Old Portsmouth.

Even before the Second World War the Luftwaffe had identified Portsmouth as an important target. Luftwaffe target maps in Portsmouth Central Library show that aircrew were shown the location of the dockyard (including the various buildings and docks), the railway stations, the power station, Gosport, local barracks, Vospers Shipbuilders in the Camber, and also the Airspeed Factory at the Airport.

171 people were killed on the night of 10 and 11 January 1941. Portsmouth was chosen as a target that night as the rest of Britain was covered by thick cloud, and Portsmouth – on the coast – was the only readily identifiable target. German records show that 153 Bombers targeted Portsmouth. This compares drastically with the ‘1,000 Bomber’ raids launched by Bomber Command on Germany later in the war.

Many victims were unidentified due to their terrible injuries, and im some cases virtually nothing remained of their bodies. Hundreds of victims were buried in a mass funeral in Kingston Cemetery in the city. A memorial stands near to the site of their mass grave. Over 1,000 people died in Portsmouth as a result of Bombing during the Second World War. Many records state that 930 civilians were killed, but a number of servicemen were also killed whilst on leave or while on duty in the city. Just under 10% of the cities 63,000 houses were destroyed, and a similar number seriously damaged.

German records state that 40,000 4lb incendiary bombs were dropped on the city on that one night alone, as well as 140 tons of High Explosive. Many bombs did land in the sea – the Solent, and Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours. In 1940 Bombing from the air was not an exact science. The Bombers followed radio beams that interescted over Southsea Common. The incendicaries caused over 2,314 fires – far too many for beleagured emergency services to deal with at any one time, especially given that 60 water mains had been destroyed. The tide was also low, which prevented the Fire Brigade from pumping water from the sea.

47 people were died when an air raid shelter at Arundel Street School suffered a direct hit. The power station was hit, and the main shopping centres at Commercial Road, Palmerston Road and Kings Road were all decimated. Also damaged were the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital, the Hippodrome, Clarence Pier, three cinemas, the dockyard school, the Royal Sailors Rest Home, the Salvation Army Citadel, the Central Hotel and the Connaught Drill Hall. The FA Cup – won by Pompey in 1939 – was dug out of a Bank in Commercial Road, where it had been placed for safekeeping.

The most visible and symbolic material loss was the destruction of the Guildhall. ARP and emergency services battled fires in the building all night, but one 4lb incendiary bomb fell down a ventilation shaft and lodged itself in an inacessible place, proving impossible to extinguish. The Guildhall burnt all night and into the next day, the melting copper from the ornate dome dripping down to the ground. When the fires finally subsided only the outer walls remained. When the basement was dug out however the Lord Mayor’s chain and civic plate were found to be intact.

I’ve always found it a mystery why the Luftwaffe didn’t target Portsmouth more during the War. Situated on the coast and with the Isle of Wight to the south harbours to either side it should have been relatively easy to locate from the air, certainly easier than many of the inland cities that were targeted. Granted, most of the large naval ships didn’t use Portsmouth during the war for fear of air attack, but there was still a sizeable dockyard and a plethora of naval training establishments. Portsmouth was strongly defended by Anti-Aircraft Guns however – on Hayling Island, along the crest of Portsdown Hill, and on Southsea Common, where there were also rocket batteries. There were also many barrage balloons. Naval ships in harbour would also open up their AA guns. ARP precautions in Portsmouth were also advanced, as the authorities expected the city to be heavily targeted.

The ‘myth of the blitz’ that I have written about previously has also pervaded over Portsmouth’s experience. There were incidents of looting, recorded in the local court records. Many people also left the city each night and ‘trekked’ out of the city, over Portsdown Hill. They were criticised for leaving their homes vulnerable to incendiary bombs. But on the whole morale held surprisingly well. The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Denis Daley (no relation) wrote:

“We are bruised but we are not daunted, and we are still as determined as ever to stand side by side with other cities who have felt the blast of the enemy, and we shall, with them, persevere with an unflagging spirit towards a conclusive and decisive victory”

Whilst Portsmouth and many other cities in Britain were hit extremely hard during the war, it is important that we keep the impact of strategic bombing in context. More people were killed in one night in Dresden in 1945 than were killed in the whole of Britain during the war years. Cities such as Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin were also devastated. Further afield Tokyo was virtually obliterated. This is not to belittle the suffering of people in Portsmouth, but only to say that other cities in the world suffered even more. Colleagues of mine have in the past come in for a lot of criticism for stating that Portsmouth got off quite lightly compared to Hamburg and Dresden.

The Blitz also hardened the attitudes of many. Later in the war hundreds of young men from Portsmouth were killed bombing cities in the Third Reich and occupied Europe. A number of them died on missions to bomb Duisburg in the Ruhr, which would later become Portsmouth’s twin city. In the famous words of ‘Bomber’ Harris ‘The Germans entered this war with the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and that nobody was going to bomb them. They sowed the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind’. Such an attitude is probably indicative of public opinion on the home front during the war. People who had endured the blitz were unlikely to be too concerned about the fate of German cities when their turn came.

My Grandad can remember a lot from the time of the Blitz. One night he saw a Heinkel fly over so low he could see the pilots blonde hair. On another occasion, he and his sister decided to go the Park instead of the cinema. The cinema was destroyed by a bomb that afternoon. He can also remember having to cut short his paper round as the cemetery had been bombed, and also collecting shrapnel from ack-ack guns. And my favourite memory of his, has to be when a barrage balloon got tangled round the school’s belltower, pulling it down!

It was only really in the 1970’s that Portsmouth was fully reconstructed after the war. It was not even until the 1950’s that the Guildhall was rebuilt. During the war grand plans were made to redesign Portsmouth – in terms of urban planning, roads and whole neighbourhoods – but these had to be curtailed in the Austerity that marked post-war Britain. Never the less, many people were re-homed from the shattered inner-city areas to new estates at Paulsgrove and Leigh Park, or new high rise blocks in Somers Town, Buckland, Portsea and Landport.

I have been disappointed with the media coverage of the anniversary. BBC1’s Inside Out gave a measly 10 minutes to the subject (mind you if it had been about Southampton we could have expected an hour long special). Inside Out even featured a local ‘historian’ I’ve never heard of – Portsmouth isn’t a massive place, and there arent too many historians here!

For more information about the Portsmouth Blitz, have a look at John Stedman’s excellent Portsmouth Paper ‘Portsmouth Reborn: Destruction and Reconstruction 1941-1974′, Andrew Whitmarsh’s ‘Portsmouth at War’, and also ‘City at War’ by Nigel Peake. ‘Smitten City’ by the Portsmouth News is also a fantastic publication full of images of Portsmouth during the war.

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Russian Cold War Maps of the UK

I’ve just discovered a site that shows old Russian military maps of Britain during the Cold War. Its a commercial site, but you can still look at sections for free.

Its amazing just how detailed they are. My street is all there, and you can make out my streets name in the cyrillic script. My old school is there too, complete with running track. Where I work is even labelled as what clearly translates to ‘Museum’. As far as I can see they didn’t get anything wrong at all. If only I could read Russian I could see just how accurately they managed to identify the buildings in the Dockyard and on Portsdown Hill.

Of course, its not surprising that the Russians had such detailed maps – this was the space age after all, and there were plenty of satellites in the sky. But even with detailed photographs, how did they get to know what every building was? Every wharf and dry-dock in the Dockyard is correctly named and numbered. It was either from material that leaked out, such as Navy Days guides, or from ‘other sources’…..

Its incredible to think of just how much information each side knew about the other. Relatives in the armed forces at the time tell me that they were told exactly how many nuclear ballistic missiles the Soviet Union had readily aimed at their home towns. Perhaps it was this mutually assured destruction and familiarity that prevented it ever becoming hot? Maybe if there had been more unknowns, things might have been more dicey?

But back to the maps… a lot of this run-of-the-mill information would have been in the standard Ordnance Survey map, available in all good bookshops!

Take a look at Russian Maps here

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RAF Benevolent Fund Day of Action

British propaganda poster during the Battle of...

Image via Wikipedia

Today marks the RAF Benevolent Fund’s ‘Day of Action’, and also seventy years since the height of the Battle of Britain over the skies of Southern England. To mark the day, I thought I would share a couple more stories about young fliers over Portsmouth in 1940. I’ve already written about Flight Lieutenant John ‘Nine Gun’ Coghlan DFC, a Hurricane Pilot who was killed in a secret mission over France in August 1940. The next two men might not have come from Portsmouth, but they died bravely in the skies over the city in 1940, and both were part of ‘the few’ of the Battle of Britain.

Sergeant Hubert Hastings Adair, 23 and from Norwich, was flying a Hurricane of 213 Squadron when he was shot down in the skies over North Portsmouth on 6 November 1940. He has no official grave, and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey.

Adair had joined the RAF in 1936, and flew Fairey Battles over France in 1940. In August he transferred to the Hurricane-equipped 213 Squadron, based at Tangmere in West Sussex. Adair was last seen in Combat over Southampton Water, and when he failed to return it was assumed that he had crashed into the English Channel. After the war, however, it was discovered that his Hurricane had crashed in farmland a mile north of Portsdown Hill, near Pigeonhouse Lane. Locals were aware of the crash, but the RAF neither investigated the site nor recovered Adair’s remains.

In 1979 the Wealden Aviation Archaeological Group excavated the site. They recovered much of the aircraft, including the Browning Machine Guns and the Merlin Engine. Adair’s remains were also recovered. The coroner, however, stated that an inquest would not be held, and that the remains were to be disposed of. Because of this H.H. Adair is still officially Missing in Action.

A memorial plaque has been erected near the Churchillian Pub on Portsdown Hill, which overlooks the crash site roughly a mile to the north.

Flying Officer James Tillett, 22 and from Northamptonshire, was flying a Hurricane of 238 Squadron from Chilbolton, North Hampshire when he was also shot down north of Portsdown Hill later on the same day. He is buried in Ann’s Hill Cemetery, Gosport. Tillett joined the RAF as an officer cadet in 1937. Graduating from Cranwell in 1939 as a Pilot Officer, he was promoted to Flying Officer in 1940.

On 6 November 1940 Tillett’s Squadron was scrambled to intercept a Bomber formation heading for Portsmouth. Tillett was shot down over Fareham by a Messerschmitt 109 fighter. The crash site was recorded as ‘near Whitedell, Fareham’. His Hurricane was seen to crash land with its wheels in the air near White Dell Farm, North Wallington, Portsmouth. According to eyewitness accounts the plane was in flames; two brothers attempted to rescue Tillett who was slumped over the controls, but the fire engulfed their aircraft. A memorial plaque has also been placed near the site where Tillet’s Hurricane crashed, near the junction of Pook Lane and Spurlings Lane.

In a day of high drama over the skies of Portsmouth, it is believed that both men were shot down by Hauptmann (Major) Helmut Wick, the Commander of 2 Jagedschewader of the Luftwaffe. After claiming 56 kills Wick was himself shot down on 28 November 1940. Wick’s logbook for the day states that he had shot down two Hurricanes over the Portsmouth area on 6 November 1940.

What must it have been like to be a young person in Portsmouth on that day in 1940? Its hard to believe, but my Granddad can remember watching dogfights over the channel and over Portsmouth in 1940. One time, he saw a Heinkel flying so over Portsmouth that he could see the pilot’s blonde hair.

We think of war as something that happens to other people, in far-off places, in a bygone age. Yet Adair and Tillett were killed just a couple of miles away from my house, and were younger than me. Adair and Tillett, and indeed John Coghlan, and all of the other young men who fought and died with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War should never be forgotten. Of course today we remember the few of Fighter Command, but as well we must remember those who died in Bombers, in Transport Aircraft, Ground Crew, the WAAF’s, men and women, young and old, who served and died overseas or at home.

To find out more about what happened in 1940, to find out about the RAF Benevolent Fund’s 1940 Chronicle Campaign, or to donate to the RAFBF, click here

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Portsmouth’s Anti-Aircraft Gunners

QF 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns in Hyde Park, L...

3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns in Hyde Park, London (Image via Wikipedia)

As Britain’s premier naval port, Portsmouth was naturally a prominent target for the Luftwaffe. Although major warships such as aircraft carriers and battleships rarely used the dockyard in wartime due to the fear of air attack, much work repairing smaller vessels still went on in the yard.

The Germans were well aware of the importance of Portsmouth. A folio of maps in Portsmouth Central Library’s Local History section shows that the Luftwaffe had identified targets all over Portsmouth – the Dockyard, the Power Station, Gunwharf, Vospers Shipyard in the Camber, Fratton Goods Yard, the Airport, the Airspeed Factory, the Gasometer, the military barracks at Hilsea, and Hilsea Railway Bridge. Across the water, HMS Dolphin at Gosport was also a target.

Clearly, such a large target needed considerable Anti-Aircraft Defences. The principal defence came in the form of the 57th (Wessex) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery. The 57th was a Territorial unit, made up mainly of men who had volunteered to be part-time soldiers before the war and had been mobilised upon the start of the war. 213 battery recruited from Portsmouth, 214 Battery from Southsea, 215 Battery from Gosport and Fareham, and 219 Battery from the Isle of Wight and Cosham.

There were a number of Anti-Aircraft Gun emplacements around Portsmouth. Recent features and letters in the news have pointed to both Gun and Rocket Batteries on Southsea Common. My Grandad can also remember the naval ships in harbour using their anti-aircraft guns too. Anti-Aircraft fire was not just about actually trying to attack aircraft, but also to try and put up such a volume of fire that the pilots were forced away from the target. It also boosted the morale of civilians, who were cheered to see that someone was attempting to hit back on their behalf.

But the most considerable defences seem to have been located around the outskirts of the ciy, in order to catch the attackers as they were either approaching or leaving the target area. As Bob Hunt’s Portsdown Tunnels shows, there were gun sites north of Fort Nelson at Monument Farm, south of Southwick, and near Crookhorn. It was felt at the time that the Luftwaffe was using the white chalkface of Portsdown Hill to guide its planes to the area, so basing flak guns over the reverse slopes would have given the gunners a fair chance of downing Dorniers and Heinkels.

There was also a considerable anti-aircraft emplacement at Sinah Warren on the very south-western tip of Hayling Island. The site at Sinah is particularly interesting. It was located on the edge of a decoy site. A number of sites were set up around the country, in order to lure the Luftwaffe away from bombing large urban centres such as Portsmouth. They achieved this by lighting dummy fires, and two bunkers for dummy fires can still be found on Farlington Marshes. The Langstone Harbour site was particularly succesful. After the massive bombing raid on Portsmouth on 10/11 January 1941, the next large raid on Portsmouth was largely foiled by the decoy site, and most of the German bombs fell harmlessly into Langstone Harbour.

Sadly, some of the anti-aircraft gunners at Sinah Warren paid the ultimate price for their closeness to the decoy site. Several bombs fell on the gun emplacement, killing five men. One man died of his wounds later. All were serving with 219 Battery, 57 Heavy AA Regiment:

Gunner James Bardoe, of Northfleet in Kent
Gunner James Collingbine, of Plaistow in London
Gunner Arthur Farmer, of Portsmouth
Gunner Reginald Knight, 21 and from Wymering
Gunner Leonard Ward, 22 and from Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight
Gunner James Powell, 28 and from Middlesex (died on the 19th of wounds)

After the threat of air attack receded when the Germans turned on Russia, 57 HAA Regiment was drafted to serve overseas. After going to North Africa in 1942, the Regiment finished the war in Italy. There is a plaque at the Sinah Warren site commemorating the 6 gunners killed in April 1941, and there is an example of the kind of gun the Regiment would have used outside the D-Day Museum, complete with the unit’s ‘flaming Dornier’ emblem.

A total of 48 men were killed serving with 57 HAA Regiment during the war. They are buried in Britain, South Africa, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Crete and Italy.

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