Tag Archives: second world war

Donald Dean VC edited by Terry Crowdy

Donald Dean‘s story is a quite remarkable one. Spanning two world wars, and the small matter of Britain’s highest honour for bravery, there can’t be many tales out there quite like this.

What I really like as well, is that Dean’s memoirs have such an easily-readable manner, which is no doubt down to his affable yet modest nature. Joining the Artists Rifles on the outbreak of war (he was underage), Dean was soon identified as an officer candidate and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Queens Royal West Kent Regiment. Promoted to Captain by 1917, he was severely wounded in an action at Passchendaele, where he led a Platoon in defending an outpost for days against a vastly superior enemy. Modestly, he makes virtually no mention in his memoirs of his VC.

Dean was recalled to service immediately prior to the start of the Second World War, when the British Army was expanding after the Munich Crisis. Dean was originally given command of a Battalion of the Buffs, in the process raising several more Battalions. Upon the outbreak of war, however, his divisional commander removed him from command, with the explanation that he did not want his division to be commanded by territorials. Even First World War veterans with the VC. Unfortunately I have not been able to trace the Major-General in question.

Passed over for command in his Regiment, Dean was transferred to take command units in the Pioneer Corps. Historically the Army’s Navvies, and possibly the least glamorous unit in the army, the Pioneers performed valuable yet unsung physical labour. Taking part in the withdrawal to Dunkirk, Dean’s units of Pioneers held together firm on the perimeter of Boulogne while unmentioned units of the Guards fell back, commandeering their own ships in the process. Dean was strongly warned never to mention the fiasco. That a man who had been adjudged as an ‘amateur’ when it came to commanding an infantry unit led a Pioneer unit in a rearguard action should not be lost on the reader. The Pioneer Corps was traditionally a dumping ground for men who were deemed not clever enough or fit enough for the rest of the Army, and unwanted officers such as Dean, but as so often in British military history the Pioneers punched well above their expectations.

After returning from Dunkirk Dean and his Pioneers defended a section of the British coastline, before he left to take command of the Pioneer element of one of the least known operations in the Second World War – the invasion of Madagascar. Held by the Vichy French, a British task force secured the island as a safety measure against capture by the Japanese. Once ashore on Madagascar, Dean had an extremely complicated task in leading a rag-tag labour force, including natives and other various contingents. Commanding such diverse units must have called upon leadership and people skills in spades. Dean was not averse to taking matters into his own hands, and at one point was censured by a senior commander for ‘wanton destruction of civilian property’ for using metal railings to form an improvised roadway!

After Madagascar Dean was transferred to command Pioneer forces in Italy. There once again Dean was in command of a polyglot collection of men, including British, Canadian, South African, Polish, native Africans and Italians to name but a few. By the end of the war he had acquired the monicker ‘Dogsbody Dean’ for his ability to deal with any awkward situation, and for handling any task given to him. Not a bad record at all for someone deemed not good enough to command an infantry Battalion in 1939. We can only wonder what the Army missed out on thanks to that ridiculous decision.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dean’s remarkable story – there cannot be many others like it. He gives some valuable insights into leadership in war, and some very useful anecdotes about the human experience of war.

Donald Dean VC is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, victoria cross, western front, World War One, World War Two

The History of the British Army Film and Photographic Unit in the Second World War by Dr. Fred McGlade

The Imperial War Museum holds millions of photographs and films created during the Second World War, many of them by the British Army‘s Film and Photographic Unit. They are a treasured resource for military historians. Yet the story of the men who collected this iconic images has never adequately been told.

The beginning of the Second World War found the British Government ill at ease with propgadanda and information. The armed forces in particular seemed to be overly security conscious, and unwilling to inform the general public about their work. Yet total war involved every section of society, and hence it was vital to inform morale on the home front by letting the people know what their menfolk were up to overseas and at home. There were also considerable turf wars, first in Whitehall and then with allies once the US joined the war.

The British Army led the way in producing photographs and films, after forming the Army Film and Photographic Unit. Many of the films and photographs were collected by Sergeant cameramen, who were recruited from existing soldiers who had photographic experience. Hence an ideal combination was found – men who knew how to work a camera, but had also spent some time in the Army. Several of the AFPU men were killed in action, and several more were decorated for bravery. Photographing during wartime was particularly testing, especially in extreme climates such as the desert in North Africa and the jungle in Burma. And like many ‘non-combatants’, the cameramen must have been extremely brave to be in the thick of battle, without being able to take an active part in it.

Personally, for me the most fascinating images produced by the AFPU came from Operation Market Garden. Along with Alan Wood of the Express and Stanley Maxted of the BBC – who also produced some vital reports – three AFPU Sergeants parachuted into Arnhem, and took some iconic images of the battle. Perhaps the most memorable is that of a mortar team of the Border Regiment, their mortar barrell almost vertical in the short range, fighting hard in the cauldron of Oosterbeek. AFPU cameramen also recorded the aftermath of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, essential for ensuring that the holocaust was not to be forgotten.

There were considerable tensions with the US authorities, however. The US Government was keen to ensure that the US public saw their armed forces taking as active a part as possible in the war. Even though the US was providing by far the bulk of the men and equipment fighting in Europe, to believe some US produced films the americans won the war single-handedly. Sound familiar? Saving Private Ryan, U-571…. obviously Hollywood taking historical licence is not a new phenomenon. But the wartime film showing a band of americans liberating Burma really has to take the biscuit. Just why US public opinion justified lies has never really occured to me.

Fred McGlade has produced an important and interesting record of the work of the AFPU. There are some fascinating images in the Imperial War Museum’s collection, and this book gives them added meaning. I’ve always thought that it was a bit strange to use photographs to illustrate a war, but not to ‘illustrate’ the photographs and how they were obtained.

The History of the British Army Film and Photographic Unit in the Second World War is published by Helion

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

Wavell: Soldier and Statesman

 

I must confess I had probably conformed to the wider orthodoxy on British military history when it came to Wavell – everything before Monty was hopeless, surely? This perceived wisdom is partly due to efforts of both Montgomery the self-publicist and Churchill, whose history of the Second World War set the tone for the historiography of the conflict. Victoria Schofield is an authority on the Indian sub-continent, and has also written an official history of Wavell’s Regiment, the Black Watch. Therefore, she is ideally placed to try and redress Wavell’s poor treatment through history.

But reading this book has made me think differently. Prior to El Alamein the British Army and its commanders were swimming against the tide – poorly equipped, poorly prepared, and with far too much being expected of them in the circumstances. Wavell was by no means the only British General whom Churchill castigated for not moving heaven and earth in the way that he demanded, and because he did not fit Churchill’s ridiculous stereotype of what a General should ‘be’. This gives us an insight into Churchill’s failings in terms of working with his commanders – men such as Auchinleck, Dill, and even Montgomery also suffered from Churchill’s outbursts.

As a young Black Watch officer Wavell was seriously wounded on the Western Front (in common with Montgomery), losing an eye in the process. After recovering he was drafted to the Middle East, serving under Allenby during his famous campaign against the Turks in Palestine, culminating in the capture of Jerusalem. Wavell learnt much during this period, and some years later went on to author a Biography of Allenby. During the inter-war years Wavell had a much more active service than many of his contemporaries, with a number of staff and regimental postings, as well as writing on military history and theory. Prior to the Second World War he also developed a correspondence with the military theorist Basil Liddell Hart.

There were in fact some extremely bright moments in the early years of the war in the Desert – not least Operation Compass, where led by Richard O’Connor the Western Desert Force completely routed the Italians on the Egyptian-Lybian border. If it hadn’t been for a London-based directive to intervene in Greece, Wavell and O’Connor might well have been able to rout the Italians from North Africa entirely. The Italians were also completely routed in East Africa too. Yet Churchill’s constant meddling and barracking – added to the wide expanse of Wavell’s command – made his task nigh on impossible.

After leaving the Middle East, Wavell was appointed the Commander-in-Chief in India, at an important time when the Japanese were threatening the Far East. After the outbreak of war with Japan Wavell was made supreme commander of the short-lived American, British Dutch and Australian Command, co-ordinating the war in South East Asia. This task proved a thankless one, with the woeful lack of preparation and resources, combined with the relentless onslaught of the Japanese, culminating in the fall of Singapore. It is hard to apportion any blame on Wavell for these early reverses in the east, given the impossible situation in which he was placed.

After returning to India from his Far East appointment, Wavell was then appointed as Viceroy – the King’s representative in India. Although having little experience of politics, Wavell’s calm, studious personality enabled him to perform reasonably well in dealing with the extreme demands of the post – seeing India through the final stages of the war, and not least handling the growing move towards Indian independence. Wavell’s approach in this respect seems to have been for negotiation between all of the parties, over any and every potential problem. This contrasts with events that transpired after Wavell’s replacement by Mountbatten in 1947 – a pell-mell descent into independence, followed by chaos and anarchy in which thousands died.

The impression I have of Field Marshal Wavell is of a very quiet, private but very intelligent man who did the best that could be expected of him at the time. It should be no reflection on him at all that the Prime Minister of the day found it difficult to trust his subordinates, and at times showed very poor judgement of character. A much-maligned figure in British military history, Wavell seems to have suffered not only from being in the wrong commands at the wrong time, but also from his modest nature, not unlike other commanders such as Alan Brooke and Bill Slim, who have been overshadowed by publicists such as Montgomery, or dashing warriors such as Alexander. How might Wavell and Auchinleck have fared later in the war when resources were behind the allies? By the same token, how might Montgomery have fared commanding earlier in the war when the cards were heavily stacked against Britain?

Hopefully Victoria Schofield’s masterly biography will go some way to redressing the harsh treatment that Wavell has been afforded by history. Schofield makes the case for Wavell very well, which is just as well given that all the evidence suggests that he was, unjustly, one of the most maligned figures of the Second World War. I’m by no means a fan of the official military biography, but this example is very well done indeed.

Wavell: Soldier and Statesmen is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Empire History, Uncategorized, western front, World War One, World War Two

Researching First World War Soldiers

Vis en Artois British Cemetery and Memorial, F...

Vis en Artois Cemetery and Memorial (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve now entered over 2,000 names into my database of Portsmouth men killed serving in the Second World War. So far this covers 4 panels of the War Memorial in Guildhall Square, and these are only the men who fought with the Army. I have one more panel of Army names to enter and analyse. And then its on to the Navy, who have about the same number of names again!

The process goes like this – look up the names on the War Memorial (handily transcribed  by Tim Backhouse on Memorials in Portsmouth), enter the names onto my Access Database, then search for them on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Of course, when you start with just initials for forenames, its quite difficult – especially if all you have is ‘A. Smith’, which there are hundreds of – it would take days searching through that to find the right person. Fortunately, quite a few of the names on the CGWG have their house number, road name and area listed – which makes it much easier to find the right person – if you’re looking through a list of 20 or so names, its heartening to find one listed as ‘…Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw’, cos odds are you’ve found your man. But when there are 4 or 5 names, and none of them have any details, its so frustrating – its got to be one of them, surely? But sometimes the sheer number of names can be daunting.

Its going to take some serious research to track down the several hundred men who are remaining elusive – but by using Street Directories, Register Office Records, the 1901 and 1911 Census, and electoral registers, it should be possible to slowly but surely fill out the gaps.

Another problem can be when you enter the name into the CWGC and NOTHING comes up – they must have been a real person, surely? Otherwise why would their names have been put forward for the memorial? The only thing I can suggest is that mistakes were made in compiling the names for the memorial, or perhaps people had different given names – someone registed officially as Harry James, for example, might have been known as Jim, and thus entered on the Memorial as J., and not H.J… it takes a bit of imagination to ferret these things out.

Another difference with researching First World War soldiers, is that it is much harder to trace details of any medals that they won. With the Second World War, more often and not you can find their award listed in the London Gazette. But for the First World War there are just so many, its like trawling through a haystack. You have to use some cunning, such as typing in a mans service number in the search, rather than their name. The problem there, of course, is that prior to 1920ish the Army didnt have an Army-wide numbering system, so if you’re looking for a Military Medal awarded to Private Jones 14532, there might be scores of 14532’s in the Army. Also, whereas many Second World War medal citations have been made available online on the National Archives website, the only information we have for First World War soldiers are their medal cards – relatively spartan in detail.

But on the flipside, one other source we have readily available for the Western Front are the War Diaries. Select War Diaries have been made available on The National Archives, such as the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, which I have been serialising on Daly History for the past few months. Although these rarely mention individual soldiers – especially not other ranks – they do give you the wider picture of what was hapenning day to day. If you know that someone died on a particular day, you can look up what was happening – if they were in the front line undergoing heavy shelling, maybe the man was killed that way. Or if there was a raid and he is listed on a memorial to the missing, he might have been killed in no mans land. Alternatively, if he died somewhere away from where the Battalion was, or on a day when they were not in action, he probably died of wounds or illness in a hospital behind the lines.

Another useful source is the National Roll, a publication produced after the war, the lists not only men who died, but other men who survived. Its not comprehensive – men or their families put their details forward, meaning that only a percentage of men are listed – but none the less, for the men who are included, it is a gold mine of information. Most entries tell you when a man joined the Army, and whether he was a regular, mobilised with the territorial force, volunteered in 1914, attested under the Derby Scheme, or was conscripted. This fact on its own builds up a veritable social history of the manpower situation. Some men have more information than others – most entries tell us where a man fought, if he was wounded, or if he won medals. Some tell very interesting stories – such as the Hampshire Regiment soldier who was captured at Kut, fell ill with Dysentry and fell out of the march to captivity and was left to die on the side of the road; the Sergeant killed in a Grenade accident at a training school in the New Forest; or the Sapper serving with Grave Registration unit after the war who drowned in a Canal. Without these details, they would just be names. But with their stories, we are so much closer to knowing who they were and what they went through.

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

Heaven and Hell: The War Diary of a German Paratrooper by Martin Poppel

Airborne Warfare has always been one of my favourite subjects in military history. Its probably got something to do with the fact that my Granddad was a paratrooper and an Arnhem veteran, and – not surprisingly – I have read pretty much every book I can get my hands on about the great airborne battles of the Second World War. Or at least I thought I had. I’ve read about Bruneval, Sicily, Normandy and Arnhem, but only from the British and American (and Polish!) perspectives. But considering that the allies were relative latecomes to airborne warfare, its surprising to think that I have read virtually nothing about German paratroopers. Until now, that is.

Martin Poppel joined the German Fallschirmjaeger shortly before the start of the Second World War, and went on to see action in Poland, Holland, Crete, several stints on the Russian front, in Sicily and Italy, in Normandy and finally in Holland and north west Germany during early 1945. He was wounded three times (in Russia, Italy and Normandy). Initally serving as a junior soldier, he was eventually commissioned as an Officer, and ended the war as a Company Commander. He was captured when the allies crossed the Rhine in March 1945. Whatever the political direction of their masters, there can be no doubt that many Germans – especially the paratroopers – fought tenaciously throughout the war. After capture Poppel was taken to England and held in a Prisoner of War Camp in North East England, an experience he does not seem to have minded too much. He was finally released a year later in 1946. Fortunately, his family were in the US zone in Munich – many of his comrades families were in the Russian sphere.

Poppel’s war diary is a fascinating read. We gain a unique insight into the daily life of the German soldier. Poppel gives us plenty of interesting snippets, about comradely relations, equipment, rations, attitudes to the Nazis and the war in general. Its interesting to note that the elite status felt by parachute troops was not limited to the allies – the fallschirmjaeger were very proud of their status. They seem to have preferred to jump into action (Poppel performed two combat jumps) towards the end of the war the paratroopers were used increasingly as a ‘fire brigade’ in order to reinforce weak points. Another interesting point to note is that Germany’s airborne troops came under the command of the Luftwaffe rather than the Army, unlike the allies.

Its also interesting to note how Poppel refers to British soldiers almost completely as ‘Tommy’ or ‘the Tommies’. Also, how dismissive the German troops were of British and American equipment, and their fighting prowess. However, for me the most interesting point was how Poppel – by his own admission a supporter of the Nazi party earlier in the war – began to see the Nazi ideology in different eyes as the war went against Germany. When returning to his unit after being wounded, his commander warned him that his negative attitude had been noted. But, interestingly, when in a Prisoner of War Camp Poppel remarked that, even though he was by no means an ardent Nazi, he still could not believe what had happened to Germany, and it took some time for the last vestiges of years of Nazi indoctrination to disappear. Evidence of just how politicised the youth of Germany were. No wonder they fought so doggedly.

I found this a fascinating and enlightening read. It has reinforced, above all, my feeling that very often fighting men on either side have more in common with each other than they do with their own generals, and definitely more in common than they do with their own politicians. And, no matter how unpleasant some ideologies might be, in many cases men simply did not have any choice but to fight. And if we are to curb extremism, we need to understand how it takes hold.

Heaven and Hell: The War Diary of a German Paratrooper is published by The History Press

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Filed under Airborne Warfare, Army, Book of the Week, d-day, World War Two

Who Do You Think You Are? – Rupert Penry-Jones

Its not really a secret that I am not the biggest fan of WDYTYA. All too often it makes it look too easy, when in reality genealogy can be – for us mere mortals, anyway – bloody hard work. And after five series, they’re starting to run out of decent celebrities to research. But tonight’s episode was pretty damm interesting. And funnily enough, I hadn’t even heard of Rupert Penry-Jones before watching it! (he’s an actor, apparently…)

His Grandfather was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Indian Army Medical Service, and commanded a Field Ambulance in the Eighth Army from 1943 until the end of the war, including at Monte Cassino. Penry-Jones travelled to Italy and met with a veteran of Monte Cassino to talk about the battle.

As we might expext from someone called Rupert who has a double-barrelled-shotgun surname, his family were very much ‘of the Raj’. One ancestor was responsible for the ceremonial events in Dehli in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, including the incredible 1911 Dehli Coronation Durbar.

Going back even further, another ancestor was serving as an officer in the British Army in India during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Penry-Jones managed to track down letters that his ancestor sent his wife while taking part in the crushing of the rebellion, before he died of Cholera whilst marching to Lucknow.

Incredibly, Penry-Jones was also able to confirm a family rumour that they had Indian blood, by going back a full eight generations, to 1817. All those generations back one of his ancestor’s married a woman who was described as an ‘Indo-Britain’. Further research established that she was the product of an Anglo-Indian marriage.

Perhaps not the kind of story that most normal people will find themselves researching in their family history (and even if we did find it, who could afford to fly to India for a spot of genealogy?), but very interesting none the less. It would be even more watchable if Rupert didn’t insist on wearing an ethnic-style scarf whilst walking rould Allahabad!

WDYTYA with Rupert Penry-Jones can be watched on BBC iplayer until Monday 20 September 2010.

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Filed under Army, Empire History, Family History, On TV, World War Two

Portsmouth heroes update

Work has been progressing steadily on my Portsmouth Heroes project. At the moment I am researching a handful of some of the most interesting stories in detail, right down to when they were born, what kind of a background they came from, absolutely everything I can find out about them in order to try and understand what makes them tick.

I can remember reading Supreme Courage by Sir Peter de la Billiere, which is a fascinating profile of a number of Victoria Cross winners. DLB doesn’t just state the bare facts, he tries to get into the minds of the men in question, and explains how the came to show such inspiring bravery. That’s what I’m hoping to achieve here, only looking at Portsmouth men. Who stories, I hope, will be more accessible to local people.

Recently I have been researching:

  • Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth, a First World War veteran who served for years in submarines, transferred to B0mb Disposal and was killed defusing a Parachute Mine during the Blitz. He was awarded one of the first George Crosses posthumously.
  • Sergeant Sidney Cornell, a Paratrooper who won the Distinguished Conduct Medal in Normandy, fought in the Ardennes and the Rhine Crossing and was killed in the final battle for Germany in April 1945.
  • Lance Corporal Leslie Webb, a member of the 1st Hampshire Regiment who was mortally wounded landing in the first wave on D-Day, and was awarded a posthumous Military Medal.
  • Flight Lieutenant John Coghlan, a Battle of Britain pilot who fought in the Battle of France, over Dunkirk and over southern England, claiming at least 6 downed enemy aircraft and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In August a Westland Lysander he was flying over northern France on a secret operation vanished.
  • Major Robert Easton, a pre-war Lancashire Fusilier who transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps, and won a Distinguished Service Order in the battles around Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944. He was killed while second in command of his Regiment later that year.
  • Wing Commander John Buchanan, a Bomber pilot who flew early missions against Nazi Germany, then transferred to flying Beaufighters in North Africa and from Malta, where he commanded Squadrons. He was killed in the Mediterranean in 1944, after being awarded a Distinguished Service Order, a Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar and a Belgian Croix de Guerre.
  • Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey, a young Destroyer commander who saw action escorting convoys in the North Sea, Channel and Atlantic, took part in evacuating Dutch officials in 1940, and then saw service in the Mediterranean, escorting Convoys to Malta and attacking Axis shipping to North Africa. He was killed when his ship was sunk off Tobruk in May 1942. He was awarded the DSO, a DSC and was mentioned in despatches three times.

Its amazing how much you can find out. Navy, Army and Air Force lists are a godsend for tracing the careers of officers. Other ranks are slightly more tricky. Medal winners are easier too, as awards were announced in the London Gazette and you can obtain citations from the National Archives. The Portsmouth Evening News is very useful, but on microfilm it can take an age to trawl through! You can also get long-serving sailors and marines records from TNA too. A lengthy trip to the National Archives is in the offing, and probably the Imperial War Museum as well. And I can feel a few interlibrary loans in the offing too!

There are some other men I am keen to research too – such as Colour Sergeant Willie Bird of the Royal Marines,  Petty Officer Frank Collison and Electrical Artificer Arthur Biggleston of HM Submarine Triumph, Battery Quartermaster Sergeant Stanley Thayer and Major Maurice Budd. Then there are the interesting stories such as the Venables brothers who were killed in the same plane crash, Private Bobby Johns the underage Para, the massive losses on the Battleships Royal Oak, Hood and Barham, the POW’s in Europe and South East Asia, the brothers who died during the war, the Boy Seamen, the men who were killed on the SS Portsdown, the Merchant Seamen and NAAFI personnel, WAAFs, Wrens and ATS girls…

If there any stories that I have forgotten, or if anyone has any information about any of these men, or would like to chip in on anything about the whole project, I’m all ears. It’s hard knowing who to focus on, as with the best will in the world it would take me forever to research all 2,000+ men in such detail, and I’m hoping to take a representative sample of men and women who could have been anyone from Portsmouth.

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Filed under Army, Local History, Navy, portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, World War Two

Portsmouth WW2 dead research – the next step? Thoughts please!

So i’ve finished posting up my analysis of the men and women from Portsmouth who died during the Second World War. And over previous months I have posted up thousands of stories, of medal winners, brothers, special forces, senior officers, men involved in famous battles, and other historical points of interest.

But… what next?

Having spent about 9 months researching these 2,000+ names, I’m inspired even more by their stories, their experiences and their sacrifices. And there are so many stories to tell – even the ones that are, on the surface, unglamorous – they are still stories of a life lost, a family bereaved. I think they deserve to be told, and compiled properly so people can access them, and find out about their ancestors, or even add information where I may have dropped off! And not only that, but it gives a unique insight into life and society in wartime Portsmouth.

I’m thinking along a couple of lines…

1) Writing up a selection of interesting stories, based on the blog posts that I have made, about medal winners, commanders, interesting stories, and in broader terms about specific battles. The idea would be to pick a handful of men and women, whose stories would represent their peers.

2) A full reference book containing all of the names, along with their details from my database. I’m not sure if this has been done elsewhere, but its an interesting concept and would be like the National roll of WW1, but more detailed. Maybe its even something that could be rolled out to other cities too?

3) An online, searchable database, that could contain photographs, links, references, etc… almost like a wiki

All of these ideas are very much at the thinking stage, and all depend on time, funds, feasability, and not to mention whether any publishers would take on the book ideas, and if my technical skills can reach to web design!

But I would be very interested to know what you guys, my readers, think – especially those of you who know much more about writing, publishing, web design etc than I do!

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Filed under portsmouth heroes, site news, World War Two

Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – the Royal Marines (part 1)

Formed back in the eighteenth century, the Royal Marines have a long and illustrious history of service at sea. Much of the Corps served onboard Royal Naval ships, providing security, landing and boarding parties, bands and – on larger ships – crewing one of the main guns.

Yet the Second World War found the Royal Marines involved more than ever before in a new form of warfare – amphibious operations. In modern times the Marines are known primary for their green beret, command role. But in the Second World War the Royal Marine Commandos were a pretty new concept.

116 Royal Marines from Portsmouth died during the Second World War. As one of the main manning ports of the Corps, a large proportion of men came to settle in the area.

Areas

35 – Southsea (30.17%)
13 – Eastney (11.2%)
9 – Milton (7.76%)
8 – Fratton (6.9%)
7 – Copnor (6.03%)
5 – Cosham (4.31%)
3 – North End (2.59%)
2 – Mile End (1.72%)
1 – Buckland (0.86%)
1 – East Cosham (0.86%)
1 – Landport (0.86%)
1 – Paulsgrove (0.86%)
1 – Portsea (0.86%)

27 Royal Marines – 23.28% – are listed simpy as from Portsmouth. The remainder are unknown, or appear to come from somewhere else but perhaps have some Portsmouth connections.

The concentration of so many Royal Marines living in Southsea, Eastney, Milton and Fratton is not surprising, given the presence of the Marines Barracks at Eastney.

Years

11 – 1939 (9.48%)
6 – 1940 (5.17%)
45 – 1941 (38.79%)
20 – 1942 (17.24%)
13 – 1943 (11.2%)
9 – 1944 (7.76%)
7 – 1945 (6.03%)
5 – 1946 (4.31%)
1 – 1947 (0.86%)

All but one of the men killed in 1939 went down on HMS Royal Oak. The large number of men killed in 1941 is due to the large number of casualties suffered in the sinkings of HMS Hood and HMS Barham.

Ages

10 – teenagers (inc. 2 17 year olds) (8.62%)
39 – 20’s (33.62%)
28 – 30’s (24.14%)
15 – 40’s (12.93%)
5 – 50’s (4.31%)
2 – 60’s (1.72%)

The age of 18 Royal Marines – 15.52% – is unknown.

The majority of Royal Marines were in their 20’s or 30’s. Its noticeable, however, that the Royal Marines also contained a sizeable number of teenagers. A number of older former Marines were recalled to the sevice to act as instructors or in an administration role during the war, and these account for the men who were in their 50’s and 60’s.

Ranks

6 Portsmouth Marines – 5.17% – killed during the war were officers:

3 – Captain
3 – Lieutenant

The remaining 110 Marines – 94.83% – were NCO’s or junior ratings:

1 – Master at Arms
1 – Company Sergeant Major
2 – Quartermaster Sergeant
8 – Colour Sergeant
11 – Sergeant
4 – Bandmaster
5 – Corporal
2 – Lance Corporal
74 – Marine
2 – Boy Bugler

Units

The vast majority of Marines who were killed during the war became casualties while serving onboard ships:

57 – Ship duty (49.14%)
22 – RM Band Service (18.97%)
21 – unknown (18.1%)
6 – Mobile Naval Base Dockyard Organisation (5.17%)
4 – Commando (6.9%)
3 – Landing Craft (2.59%)
2 – RM Police (1.72%)
1 – RM Engineers (0.86%)

In particular, many Marines lost their lives onboard the Battleships HMS Royal Oak, HMS Hood and HMS Barham. In addition, most of the Royal Marine Bandsmen who were killed were onboard ships. Although sea service was the overwhelming tradition of the Corps, there is evidence that the Royal Marines were beginning to diversify – forming Commando units, crewing Landing Craft, and providing personnel for the Mobile Naval Base Dockyard Organisations.

Cemeteries and Memorials

As the vast majority of Marines – 70 men, 60.34% – were lost at sea, most have no known grave other than the sea and are remembered on the various naval memorials:

63 – Portsmouth Memorial
5 – Plymouth Memorial
2 – Chatham Memorial

46 men – 39.66% – were buried ashore:

30 – UK
3 – Egypt
3 – Italy
3 – Sri Lanka
2 – France
2 – Holland
1 – Australia
1 – India
1 – Malta
1 – New Zealand

Of the men buried in the UK, 9 were buried in Highland Road Cemetery (close to the Marine Barracks at Eastney), 6 in Milton Cemetery and 2 in Kingston Cemetery. Others were buried in other naval locations, such as Haslar, Lyness, Milford Haven, Portland.

Many of the overseas burials seem to have been men who were taken ill onboard ship and died in hospital in principal naval ports, such as Sri Lanka or Malta. One Marine who died in France was killed at Dieppe, another the day after D-Day. One man in Holland was killed in the Walcheren landings, another – a Marines Engineer – was killed in the Rhine Crossing.

Decorations

4 Portsmouth Marines who died during the war – 6.9% – were the holders of some kind of decoration:

Cross of St George 4th Class (Russia)
Colour Sergeant Frederick Bird (won in WW1 at Jutland)

Mentioned in Despatches
Sergeant Arthur Bradley (47 Commando, Malta Convoys)
Sergeant Christopher Blake (Northern Waters)

Kings Badge
Sergeant John Maker

The Kings Badge was awarded to the best all-round recruit in each intake of Marines.

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Danger UXB: The Heroic Story of the WWII Bomb Disposal Teams by James Owen

I’ve written in the past about my admiration for the Bomb Disposal men who work out in Helmand Province defusing IED’s. I also had the pleasure not long ago of reviewing the excellent book about UXB’s on Malta during the war. Its impossible not to be moved by the incredible bravery shown by these men. This book by James Owen is very much in the same vein.

The cover itself tells a story. A team of sappers are hauling on a huge bomb. One of the men, in apparent disdain for the danger that would never be allowed nowadays, is puffing nonchalantly on a cigarette while only inches away from a mass of high explosive. Somehow its a very British image – danger, hard work and a fag!

The story starts, though, with the German fuze expert at Rheinmetall before the war, working on developing new types of fuzes. This, the fuze, was essentially the major concern of the bomb disposal teams – to make the bomb safe by immobilising the one thing that coud cause the explosive to detonate. Given the multitude of conventional, delayed-action and anti-handling fuzes the Germans would use – some of which were directly calculated to kill the bomb disposal men themselves – they certainly had their work cut out. And they would be deployed in conventional bombs of all sizes, along with incendiaries, Parachute mines, butterfly bombs and the V1 and V2 flying bombs. Aside from being dangerous, unexploded bombs caused disruption do the the enforced closure of roads, railways lines, factories, and making thousands of people homeless, either temporarily or permanently.

The response of the British Government and Armed Forces to the multitude of new problems during wartime was twofold – Ministries and Departments would argue and squabble over whose responsibility it was, and then, at least one committee would be formed, possibly more. Somewhere along the lines several stereotypical English eccentrics would become involved. Bomb Disposal was no exception. The Ministries of Home Security and Supply both had a hand in the research and policy behind disposal of unexploded bombs, but eventually it fell to the armed forces to provide the men to deal with the problem. Particularly during the height of the blitz the men had to learn very quickly indeed.

The men on the ground may have been focussed on the task in hand, but mandarins and whitehall warriors were arguing over petty squabbles, as so often in British history. The RAF refused to give details to the other services of the workings of British bombs. Bomb Disposal duties were strictly parochial too – the RAF handled bombs on airfields, the Royal Navy took care of bombs in water and Dockyards, and the Army everywhere else. Yet the Navy were called in to deal with parachute mines that fell on land, due to their expertise with mines. Its not mentioned in this book, but Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth GC from Portsmouth was killed in 1940 defusing a parachute mine in Dagenham.

One important aspect that Owen does very well to stress is the relationship between the sharp end and the scientists working in the background. Each new fuse that the German’s deployed – of which there were many, in increasing complexity – required a solution to make it safe. The various contraptions and techniques that were developed are testament to the ingenuity of British science and technology at war. For me, the unsung hero in the book is John Hudson. Drafted into a Royal Engineer Bomb Disposal unit, he submitted a paper to his superiors pointing out his opinions. Having made an impression he was seconded to the UXB Headquarters in London to work as a link between the scientists and the bomb disposal sections. His own personal bravery is shown by how having devised a method of dealing with a new type of fuse, he insisted on being the first to trial it, so as not to endanger others if his method proved no to work.

Sadly not all involved in Bomb Disposal seem to have had the same professionalism. The Earl of Suffolk himself operated as a kind of bomb-disposer-at-large, complete with his own van. Despite his lack of experience in the field, and evidence of a cavalier attitude to safety, he was tasked with retrieving important parts from bombs for experts to study. Eventually the Earl was killed by an explosion, along with a number of Sappers who were assisting. It is hard to escape the conclusion that he should not have been allowed to work defusing bombs – surely its no field for a maverick amateur. Its possible, maybe, that in a Britain still very much deferential to class, no-one wanted or felt able to stop him?

For me, the most poignant episode in the book is the story surrounding the famous bomb that almost destroyed St Pauls Cathedral during the Blitz. The man concerned – Robert Davies – undoubtedly performed a brave deed, but it transpired afterwards that he had been accepting money from civilians and pocketing it for himself, stealing from dead men’s possessions and bouncing cheques. He was eventually awarded the first ever George Cross, but even then, according to James Owen, controversy reigns. It seems that members of his section had over-egged their accounts, which followed through into the press and Davies’ citation for the George Cross. A lesson, if any is needed, that brave men are not always completely scrupulous, and by the same token, crooks can be brave.

This is a compelling story, well told and immensely readable. And like all good books, its inspiring – its impossible not to feel the ice-cool bravery of the bomb disposal men. And on a personal level, it makes me feel inspired to take a closer look at what bomb disposal efforts must have taken place during the wartime bombing of Portsmouth.

Danger UXB: The Heroic Story of the WWII Bomb Disposal Teams is published by Little, Brown Book Group

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – the Royal Air Force (part 2)

We know the age of the majority of Portsmouth airmen who were killed during the Second World War. Most of them were incredibly young when they were killed, and also the vast majority of them were killed serving in Bombers.

Age

3 – 18 (0.73%)
14 – 19 (3.41%)
264 – 20’s (64.39%)
51 – 30’s (12.44%)
11 – 40’s (2.68%)
6 – 50’s (1.46%)
1 – 60’s (0.24%)

The age of 60 airmen – 14.63% – is unknown.

Airmen in their Twenties

That such a large percentage were in their 20’s warrants more detailed examination:

40 – 20
62 – 21
39 – 22
31 – 23
16 – 24
26 – 25
9 – 26
9 – 27
14 – 28
18 – 29

As we can see, the majority of Portsmouth airmen were in their early twenties. Overall, 46% of RAF servicemen from Portsmouth who were killed during the war were 23 or younger.

Another feature of RAF service is that men could reach quite senior rank whilst still relatively young. For example, Wing Commander Guy Gibson was 23 at the time of the Dambusters raid in 1943. By contrast, to command a Battalion an officer would have to be in their 30’s, and a major naval ship older still. But as the junior service, the RAF perhaps was less wedded to tradition and more open to promotion on merit rather than seniority.

It will be interesting to look at what parts of the RAF men came from, and whether, for example, Fighter Command or Bomber Command had younger aircrew.

Types of Aircraft

Of the 410 members of the RAF from Portsmouth who died during the Second World War we know what aircraft 267 of them were flying in at the time of their death.

Bombers – 208 (77.9%)

78 – Avro Lancaster (Bomber)
32 – Handley Page Halifax (Bomber)
29 – Vickers Wellington (Bomber)
19 – Bristol Blenheim (Light Bomber)
15 – Short Stirling (Bomber)
6 – Armstrong Whitworth Whitley (Bomber)
5 – Martin Baltimore (Bomber)
4 – Fairey Battle (Light Bomber)
4 – Consolidated Liberator (Bomber)
4 – De Havilland Mosquito (Light Bomber)
3 – Bristol Beaufort (Bomber)
2 – Douglas Boston (Light Bomber)
2 – Boeing Flying Fortress (Bomber)
2 – Vickers Vincent (Light Bomber)
1 – Avro Manchester (Bomber)
1 – Martin Marauder (Light Bomber)
1 – Lockheed Ventura (Bomber)

That such a large percentage of airmen died serving in Bombers is not surprising. Bomber Command was by far the largest part of the RAF, in terms of manpower and aircraft. Each aircraft had up to seven crew members, whereas most fighters had only one. And – particularly from 1943 onwards – Bomber Command launched hundreds of thousands of sorties over Germany and occupied Europe, leading to an incredibly high attrition rate. Research suggests that for every 100 airmen in Bomber Command 55 would be killed on operations, 3 would be injured, 12 would be taken Prisoner, 2 would evade capture, and 27 would survive the war unscathed. Sobering statistics indeed.

The statistics above also suggest the prime importance of the RAF’s big workhorse Bombers – the Lancaster, the Halifax and the Wellington.

Fighters – 22 (8.24%)

9 – Hawker Hurricane (Fighter)
8 – Supermarine Spitfire (Fighter)
3 – North American Mustang (Fighter)
1 – Boulton Paul Defiant (Fighter)
1 – Gloster Meteor (Jet fighter)

On first impressions, we might be suprised that such a small percentage of airmen were killed flying Fighters – after all, we all associate the Spirtfire with the RAF more than any other aircraft, do we not? Yet it is important to remember that Fighter Command was much smaller than Bomber Command. Also, while Bomber Command was in action virtually every night, Fighter Command experienced short periods of frenetic activity, intersersed with defensive patrolling. It would be accurate to think of Fighters as a smaller, more specialised force than Bombers, hence the lower losses – Fighter Pilots were indeed ‘the few’.

Between 1939 and 1945 Fighter Command lost 3,690 men killed. 4,790 aircraft were lost. During the same period Bomber Command lost 55,573 men killed.

Transport – 11 (4.12%)

6 – Douglas Dakota (Transport)
2 – Westland Lysander (Special Ops)
1 – De Havilland Albatross (Transport)
1 – Avro Anson (Transport/Trainer)
1 – Avro York (Transport)

Transport Command was one of the unsung parts of the RAF. Transport Command itself was formed in 1943 from Ferry Command, and other Transport aircraft also served with Army Co-operation Command. Although Transport Aircraft did not routinely go into action in the same manner as Fighters or Bombers, long-laul flying in various theatres meant that accidents were bound to occur.

Coastal/Maritime 11 (4.12%)

7 – Lockheed Hudson (Maritime Recce/Bomber)
2 – Consolidated Catalina (Flying Boat)
2 – Short Sunderland (Flying Boat)

Coastal Command played a crucial but little-known role in the Second World War, particularly in the defeat of the U-Boat menace. Coastal Aircraft flew over 240,000 sorties, sinking 212 U-Boats. 1,777 aircraft were lost, and 5,866 men were killed. Its interesting that these losses were higher than those of Fighter Command, yet perhaps Coastal Command’s less glamorous role has led to it being overlooked.

Ground Attack 7 (2.62%)

4 – Bristol Beaufighter (Ground Attack)
2 – Hawker Typhoon (Attack)
1 – Vultee Venegance (Dive Bomber)

The RAF also played a role in supporting Army operations – this can be seen to a lesser extent at Dunkirk, but the practise was pioneered by the Desert Air Force in North Africa and then the Second Tactical Air Force in North West Europe after D-Day.

Other units and roles

Of the 143 men and women of whom we have no aircraft details, we do have information about some of them. 1 was serving in an Airfield Construction Squadron, 3 with Barrage Balloons, 1 with Bomb Disposal, 3 with maintenance units, 1 was an Officer Cadet in training and 1 other man was serving with the RAF Regiment.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – the Royal Air Force (part 1)

410 Airmen and women from Portsmouth died between 1939 and 1947. Analysing when and how they died tells us much not only about the war that the RAF fought, but also about the population of Portsmouth in the mid-twentieth century.

As with the Navy and Army we can analyse where in Portsmouth they came from, when they died, their ages, what ranks they held, and any decorations they were awarded. But RAF casualties also present us with some unique information – their roles, what aircraft they were flying, and even on what raids they were shot down.

Areas

96 – Southsea (23.41%)
47 – North End (11.46%)
40 – Cosham (9.76%)
25 – Copnor (6.1%)
15 – Fratton (3.66%)
11 – Stamshaw (2.68%)
10 – Drayton (2.44%)
9 – Milton (2.19%)
7 – Buckland (1.7%)
7 – Hilsea (1.7%)
6 – Paulsgrove (1.46%)
5 – East Cosham (1.22%)
5 – Farlington (1.22%)
4 – Eastney (0.98%)
3 – Mile End (0.73%)
2 – Portsea (0.49%)
1 – Wymering (0.24%)

49 men are listed as from ‘Portsmouth’ – 11.95%. The remainder of men are listed as coming from somewhere other than Portsmouth.

Firstly, most RAF men seem to have come from Southsea and outlying areas such as North End, Cosham and Copnor. Cosham in particular is an interesting case – with a relatively low population at the time, it contributed a much larger proportion of airmen than it did sailors and soldiers. Although it had a small population, Cosham woud have been home to more educated and middle class people. Given its more stringent entry requirements and need for specialist skills, its not surprising perhaps that many Cosham men joined the RAF – a case of round pegs in round holes. By comparison, much fewer airmen came from the inner-city areas such as Buckland and Fratton – and none at all from Landport.

When they died

When they died tell us an awful lot about the part that the RAF played in the war:

1 – 1939
36 – 1940
56 – 1941
48 – 1942
95 – 1943
110 – 1944
45 – 1945
14 – 1946
5 – 1947

The large numbers of men killed in 1943 and 1944 suggest that heavy casualties were suffered during Bomber Command’s Stategic Offensive over Germany. I will look more closely at these statistics in a future instalment.

Ranks

The RAF presents an interesting case where ranks are concerned, due to its unique structure.

100 of the Portsmouth Airmen who were killed during the war were commissioned officers – 24.39% of all airmen, a much higher proportion than either the Navy or Army:

2 – Group Captain
3 – Wing Commander
3 – Squadron Leader
20 – Flight Lieutenant
38 – Flying Officer
33 – Pilot Officer
1 – Officer Cadet

310 Portsmouth Airmen killed during the war were either NCO’s or other ranks:

12 – Warrant Officer
65 – Flight Sergeant
177 – Sergeant
16 – Corporal
22 – Leading Aircraftman
9 – Aircraftman 1st Class
7 – Aircraftman 2nd Class

Of these other ranks 270 – 87% – were NCO’s. This was due to the RAF’s unique rank structure. Virtually all air crew were promoted to NCO or officer rank, almost as a matter of course. Subsequently, few other ranks came into harms way during the war, and thus far fewer were killed. Whereas aircrew flying on Bombing missions night after night or were much more vulnerable. Obviously many thousands of ground crew – Aircraftsmen and Corporals, for example – would have been serving with the RAF during the war, but for the most part they would have been serving in relative safety compared to aircrew. The exceptions of course would have been theatres where ground crew were open to air attack or capture, such as at Singapore.

The RAF also had unique customs when it came to ranks. Whereas in the Navy and Army officers led and men followed, in the RAF ranks did not neccessarily correspond with roles. It was quite possible to have a crew made up completely of officers, and another crew made up completely of NCO’s. Therefore, in one aircraft a Flight Lieutenant might be an Air Gunner, whereas in the next plane the Pilot might be a Flight Sergeant.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – The Army (part 5)

Decorations

20 soldiers from Portsmouth who died during the Second World War were awarded a total of 23 decorations for bravery during the Second World War:

1 Distinguished Service Order
1 Distinguished Conduct Medal
4 Military Crosses
5 Military Medals
9 Mentions in Despatches
2 MBE’S
1 OBE

Three men received more than one decoration. 10 of the men who were decorated were officers, and the other 10 were NCO’s. Although there were obviously many more men than officers in the Army, being in position of responsibility clearly afforded many more opportunities for excelling in battle. Cynics might also suggest that officers and NCO’s were more likely to have their deeds noticed and reported favourably. Its noticeable that no medals were awarded to Privates who died during the war, only one Trooper in a Tank unit was mentioned in despatches.

2.97% of Portsmouth soldiers who died during the war won decorations. The split was equal between officers and men. This compares to 7.9% of Portsmouth sailors. Why the difference? Possibly because a higher proportion of sailors were Leading Rates and Petty Officers, who had more potential for leadership and decision-making in battle, whereas junior sailors were more often than not working as part of a finely-tuned machine. By comparison, the decorations awarded to soldiers were split 50/50. This is probably because the rank-and-file found themselves in at the sharp end, and often having to show initiative and bravery that would earn medals.

It could also be argued that in the Second World War – particularly towards 1944 and 1945 when manpower reserves were perilously low – the British Army sought to fight its battles in a way that did not cause excessive losses. It is possible that fighting in this manner gave less opportunities to win decorations.

Distinguished Service Order
Major Robert Easton MBE (Royal Armoured Corps, Italy)

Distinguished Conduct Medal
Sergeant Sidney Cornell (Parachute Regiment, Normandy)

Military Cross
Major Maurice Budd (Royal Sussex Regiment, Far East)
Major Frank Baxter (Royal Engineers, Tunisia)
Captain Bernard Brown (Royal Army Medical Corps, Egypt)
Lieutenant Colonel George Paxton (Essex Regiment, also MiD)

Military Medal
Captain Tom Bett (Pioneer Corps, promoted from ranks in 1941 after winning MM)
Lance Bombardier Edward Wait (Royal Artillery, Italy)
Lance Corporal Leslie Webb (Hampshire Regiment, D-Day)
Lance Bombardier Ernest Colbourne (Royal Artillery, MM possibly WW1)
Battery Quartermaster Sergeant Stanley Thayer (Royal Artillery, Dunkirk – also MiD)

Mentioned in Despatches
Sergeant Bertram Frampton (Royal Armoured Corps, NW Europe)
Corporal Norman Wescott (Military Police, Italy)
Trooper Edward Fidler (Royal Armoured Corps, Normandy)
Captain Sidney Fenn (REME)
Sergeant Frederick Harvey (Royal Artillery, Singapore)
Corporal Kerry Ryan (RAOC, Hong Kong)
Sergeant Ernest Oldrieve (Royal Tank Regiment, Greece)

Officer of the British Empire
Major Ernest Norris (RAOC)

Member of the British Empire
Major John Allen (RASC)

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – the Army (part 4)

Unlike Navy casualties, most soldiers killed in action where either buried or commemorated very close to where they fell. This allows us to analyse quite closely the battlefields on which young men from Portsmouth fought and died.

Theatres

Firstly lets take a look at the parts of the world in which Portsmouth soldiers died during the Second World War:

168 – N Europe (24.93%)
141 -UK (20.92%)
131 – Mediterranean (19.43%)
105 – Far East (15.58%)
94 – North Africa (13.94%)
17 – Indian Sub-Continent (2.52%)
10 – Rest of Africa (1.48%)
9- Middle East (1.33%)
1 – N America (0.15%)

My first impression is that Army casualties were spread far more evenly around the world than we might imagine. Also, that the second highest proportion of men died in the UK suggest just how many men were in uniform, and died of natural causes, illness or accidents while at home. An extremely large number of men died whilst serving in the Mediterranean (see below for more detail), and also in the Far East and in North Africa. The statistics for the ‘D-Day Dodgers’ and ‘Slim’s Forgotten Army’ in particular suggest both how many Portsmouth men served in both places, and how heavy their casualties were.

There are several other interesting statistics. The British Empire maintained a presence throughout much of Africa throughout the war – including a number of strategically important staging ports. Many army personnel served in India during the war, to guard against civil unrest and also to provide a base for the war in Burma. The campaigns in Syria and Iraq are frequently forgotten, and many British troops also served in Palestine.

Countries

141 – United Kingdom (20.92%)
110 – Italy (16.32%)
103 – France (15.28%)
46 – Tunisia (6.82%)
32 – Egypt (4.75%)
31 – Holland (4.6%)
30 – Singapore (4.45%)
23 – Burma (3.4%)
22 – Germany (3.26%)
17 – Thailand (2.52%)
17 – Hong Kong (2.52%)
16 – Greece (2.37%)
14 – India (2.07%)
9 – Algeria (1.34%)
9 – Japan (1.34%)
8 – Belgium (1.18%)
7 – Libya (1.04%)
6 – Malaysia (0.89%)
4 – Malta (0.59%)
4 – Syria (0.59%)
3 – Indonesia (0.44%)
3 – Israel (0.44%)
3 – Kenya (0.44%)
3 – South Africa (0.44%)
2 – Iraq (0.29%)
2 – Poland (0.29%)
2 – Sri Lanka (0.29%)
1 – Canada (0.15%)
1 – Czech Republic (0.15%)
1 – Ethiopia (0.15%)
1 – Gambia (0.15%)
1 – Nigeria (0.15%)
1 – Norway (0.15%)
1 – Pakistan (0.15%)
1 – Sudan (0.15%)

Again, its noticeable that more men at home in the UK than in any other country. Also, that more Portsmouth men died in Italy than in France is at first glance surprising. But once look at the reasons, it doe make more sense. Fighting took place in France for around a month leading up to Dunkirk, then from June until late August 1944. Whereas the war in Italy began with the invasion of Siciliy in 1942, and ended in May 1945 after a long fought slog up the spine of the country. Also, several Hampshire Regiment Battalions fought in Italy, whereas only one fought in North West Europe, and none in 1940.

Another surprise might be the number of men killed in Tunisia, but this was where the Hampshire’s who later fought in Italy got their first taste of action as part of Sir Kenneth Anderson’s First Army. Tunisia also saw heavy fighting, after Hitler ordered the Afrika Korps to fight to the the last man rather than evacuate.

High casualty rates are noticeable in the Far Eastern Countries. This was no doubt caused by the harsh treatment of Prisoners of War by the Japanese, and the resulting high mortality rates – particularly on the Burma Railway in Thailand, and after the surrenders at Singapore and Hong Kong. By comparison, very few men died whilst prisoners of the Germans – six, as far as I can tell, including one Engineer murdered by the Gestapo in Norway.

Another observation has to be the number of countries in which men were serving – this truly was a global war. This shows not only the several theatres that we often overlook, but also the wider importance of the British Empire and its lines of communications to the war effort.

My final observation, however, has to be the number of men who died not on the battlefield, but at home, or in far-flung outposts. They may not have died in battle, but they were serving their country at the time of their death. In many cases their deaths may have been caused, or at least not helped by war-time factors – malnutrition, accidents, industrial or tropical diseases, possibly? Therefore, they deserve to be remembered for their sacrifice.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead: the Army (part 3)

Officers

73 Portsmouth men died while serving as officers during the Second World War:

4 – Lieutenant-Colonel (5.48%)
12 – Major (16.44%)
31 – Captain (42.47%)
21 – Lieutenant (28.77%)
5 – 2nd Lieutenant (6.58%)

Overall, 10.83% of the Portsmouth soldiers who were killed in the Second World War were Officers.

A couple of points are interesting here. Notice also how relatively few Portsmouth officers were of a senior rank. Unlike the Navy, it seems that Army officers did not settle in Portsmouth, and also that joining the Army was not seen as a career path for young men who might choose to become officers. And out of the four Lieutenant-Colonels who came from Portsmouth, two were serving with Indian or Hong Kong based units, where commissions were not so popular.

Its intriguing how over 42% of Portsmouth officers who died were Captains. An average infantry Battalion would have had much less Captains than Lieutenants – routinely a Lieutenant would command a platoon, whereas a Captain might be the second-in-command of Company. So even though statistically there were fewer Captains than Lieutenants in the Army, is it that more Portsmouth men happened to be Captains, or that Captains were more at risk of becoming casualties?

Other Ranks

601 men from Portsmouth died serving as other ranks in the Army between 1939 and 1947:

3 – Warrant Officer I (0.5%)
5 – Warrant Officer II (0.83%)
11 – Staff Sergeant (1.83%)
51 – Sergeant (8.49%)
90 – Corporal (14.98%)
48 – Lance Corporal (7.98%)
393 – Private (65.39%)

(ranks also include their equiavalents, ie Private includes Gunners, Sappers etc.)

89.73% of Portsmouth soldiers in the Second World War were serving in the ranks – overwhelmingly more than the equivalent figure in the Royal Navy. It is also noticeable how few soldiers were of senior rank – only 1.3% were Warrant Officers, for example. Many more Portsmouth seamen rose to higher rank in their service. Would, perhaps, there be more senior NCO’s in a town such as Aldershot, where long-serving soldiers were bound to live?

That such a high proportion of soldiers who were killed were serving as Privates is interesting. Certainly, it seems that the majority of Portsmouth soldiers called up to the Army during the war were young men, recruited to add to the numbers of the vastly expanding Army. The pre-war regulars, on the other hand, formed a cadre for promotion to NCO rank.

Did a soldier’s rank affect the likelihood of him becoming a casualty? Unlike in the Navy, where if a ship was sunk all ranks were at equal risk, different ranks had different duties and positions on the battlefield. Inevitably Privates were more likely to be at the sharp end. But conversely, officers and NCO’s often became casualties when they went foward to try and drive attacks on. They were also conspicuous targets for snipers.

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