Tag Archives: World War Two

D-Day on your Doorstep

The D-Day landings and the campaign in North West Europe in 1944 and 1945 are normally thought of as beginning in Normandy on 6 June and ending in Berlin on 8 May 1945. As usual with anything military history related, the real story behind the scenes is much different. The whole campaign from D-Day onwards depended on much preparation in Britain for months, if not years afterwards. In fact, virtually every corner of Britain will have some kind of connection with D-Day.

Millions of troops in Britain – British, American, Canadian and from many other allied nations – had to be accommodated somewhere. They all had to train somewhere. Equipment had to be manufactured and stored; supplies had to be delivered. There were marshalling camps, embarkation points; places where Mulberry Harbours were constructed. Dockyards, airfields, factories. The many units and organisations required numerous different headquarters. It is pretty obvious that in early 1944 Britain was one large armed camp geared up towards becoming a launchpad for the second front.

We’re currently working on a new page on the D-Day Museum website called ‘D-Day on your Doorstep’. Over the coming months we will be adding D-Day related locations to the map, and building a picture of Britain’s role in launching D-Day. We would love to hear from you if your area has any D-Day links, or if you would like to add any detail to the locations that we have already uploaded.

To see the ‘D-Day on your Doorstep’ page visit the D-Day Museum website here.

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Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters honours the father he never knew

I just caught this story at the end of tonight’s ITV News, and I’m glad that I did.

Earlier today Roger Waters, ex of Pink Floyd, unveiled a memorial to his father, near where he was killed at Anzio, during the Italian Campaign in the Second World War – 70 years to the day after the death of the father that he never knew. Waters had had no idea about when and how his father had been killed, but thanks to research by another veteran, Waters now knows the exact location and manner in which his father, Lieutenant Eric Waters, died.

Waters wrote frequently about his fathers death with Pink Floyd. I’m mindful of one particular set of lyrics, from ‘Another Brick in the Wall part 2′:

‘Daddy’s gone across the ocean, leaving just a memory’

Read the Telegraph story here

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‘the tail': US Army logistics in Britain, 1944

It’s the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings coming up soon, and aside from the blanket coverage of the First World War, expect various documentaries about the subject.

One of the things that has always interested me about D-Day and Operations Neptune and Overlord, is the sheer amount of administration, planning and ‘behind the scenes’ work needed to keep an army in action. I can’t remember the exact figure, but I think during the Second World War less than 20% of all servicemen in allied armies fought in the ‘teeth’ arms. War had become so technologically advanced that it took far more resources to keep vehicles, weapons and the men that operated them in action.

One case in point is the huge number of US units based in England from 1942 onwards. American units began to arrive from early 1942 as part of Operation Bolero – the American build up in Europe – but the numbers of troops and units reached a high water mark just before 6 June 1944.

Very few parts of the British Isles did not have US troops stationed near them. There were particularly large concentrations of US troops in places such as Northern Ireland, the West Country in Devon, Cornwall and Wiltshire, and Eight Air Force airfields in East Anglia.

Hilsea in Portsmouth was home to a significant US Army supply depot. Under General Depot G-65 came 1 Special Services Company, 51 Ordnance Group, 53 Army Postal Unit, 91 Finance Distribution Section, 120 Chemical Procurement Company, 193 Chemical Depot Company, 196 Quartermaster Battalion, 208 Army Postal Unit, 245 Quartermaster Battalion, 284 Quartermaster Refrigeration Company, 298 Ordnance Company, 321 Ordnance Battalion, 346 Quartermaster Depot Company, 350 Ordnance Battalion, 532 Quartermaster Salvage Repair Company, 555 Army Postal Unit, 604 Ordnance Base Armament Maintenance Battalion, 784 Base Depot Company, 864 Ordnance Heavy Auto Maintenance Company, 1212 Engineer Firefighting Platoon, 3040 Quartermaster Bakery, 3267 and 3269 Quartermaster Service Companies and 4232 Quartermaster Sterilization Company. Clearly, Hilsea was a significant Ordnance and Quartermaster Depot, which supported US units in the Portsmouth area. It must have consisted of thousands of men, none of whom were infantrymen, artillerymen or tank men.

It was a similar situation at airfields. Stoney Cross airfield, in the New Forest in Hampshire, hosted the 367 Fighter Bomber Group Headquarters and 392, 393 and 394 Fighter Bomber Squadrons of the US Army Air Forces.These Squadrons operated P-38 Lightnings and during D-Day and the three days after flew nine missions. But aside from these rather more glamorous units, the station was also home to 17 Station Complement Squadron, 32 Mobile Reclamation and Repair Squadron, 217 Medical Dispensary, 327 Service Group, 807 Chemical Company, 1113 Signal Company, 1180 Quartermaster Company, 1292 Military Police Company 1830 Ordnance Company and 2200 Quartermaster Truck Company. To keep aircraft in the air, the men operating them needed engineering, signal, logistics, transport and ordnance support. And once you have that many men on an air base, you are bound to need medical and provost services to keep them healthy and well-behaved! And Stoney Cross was a particularly small and remote place – check it out here.

Some of the units that we see here are not the kinds that we think of. I love Band of Brothers, but how many men behind the scenes worked to get Easy Company into action? Sometimes it is all too easy to overlook the many unglamorous units and roles in an army, but they are all part of the same spear, with the infantry, armour and artillery being the sharp tip.

For more information about US Army units in GreatBritain in 1944, have a look at these invaluable documents prepared by Phil Grinton.

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Don’t Panic: Britain Prepares for Invasion, 1940 by Mark Rowe

Writing about the summer of 1940 in British History is, in many ways, attempting to write about something that did not, in the event, happen. It is hard for us, 70 years later, to fathom what it must have felt like to live under the threat of invasion. But this new book by Mark Rowe suggests that some of our ancestors might have been just as ambivelent at the time.

This is a very well researched book, based on primary and published sources, including some very useful personal diaries. Rowe also uses some great illustrations, many from publications such as Home Guard handbooks, and many of which are previously unpublished. It’s written from a clear perspective, without letting hindsight get in the way – Dunkirk spirit, the blitz, spitfires and ‘all that… Evidence does suggest that there WERE parts of the population who would have collaborated, and there WERE parts of the population who would have panicked in the event of invasion. False alarms such as the ‘Battle of Bewdley’ suggest that quaint views of British calm might be inaccurate.

With a clever use of case studies, the author makes some very pertinent points. Although the Home Guard attracts a fair degree of nostalgia value, in the summer of 1940 ‘Dads Army’ was ill-equipped, untrained, disorganised and ridden with a multitude of problems. The examples of local worthys assuming command simply based on being, say, the master of the local foxhunt, would be hilarious if they were not so shocking. Could a country resist invasion when class consciousness was so inhibiting?

There were also puzzling issues for many in those uncertain days. Should civil authorities, such as local councils, remain in place if occupied by the enemy, or evacuate to elsewhere? Should the Police force be armed? To what extent should the Police co-operate with the enemy in the event of occupation? Should civilians flee or stay put? As none of these dilemmas were ever put to the test it is hard to be certain. But what is certain, is that we should not allow hindsight and floklore to cloud or judgement.

Another point well made is how Churchill insisted on meddling on military affairs – his attempts to take charge of the local defences of Whitehall are a fine example of the interference, completely outside the chain of command, that bedevilled so many of his commanders. Many of whom were facing the prospect of fighting an invasion with an army bereft of much of its equipment, having to fend off numerous notes from the Prime Minister.

I found this a fun book to read. Which, to be fair, is unusual with history books. Think about it, why just because a book is about the past, does it have to be dry? As this book shows, plenty of amusing anecdotes take place even in the most tumultuous of times, so why not portray this in how they are written about?

What-if’s are a very dangerous territory to stray into where history is concerned. But reading this book, it is only natural to ponder how Britain would have fared had the German Army crossed the channel. And not just the Army, but also the Home Guard, the politicians, the civil authorities, and the population and society as a whole.

Don’t Panic: Britain Prepares for Invasion, 1940 is published by The History Press

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – The Army (part 2)

The proportions of Portsmouth men who served in particular arms of service in the Second World War tells us much about the structure and state of the British Army at the time:

Infantry – 252 (37.39%)
Artillery – 138 (20.47%)
Supporting Corps – 119 (17.66%)
Engineers – 64 (9.5%)
Armour – 35 (5.19%)
Imperial Forces – 30 (4.45%)
Special Forces – 25 (3.71%)
Miscellaneous – 12 (1.78%)

Churchill might have castigated Brooke for the amount of ‘cooks and bottle washers’ in the Army, but compared to their forefathers in the First World War the soldiers at the sharp end were a smaller, but better honed spear backed up by a stronger support network. Particularly with the advent of armoured warfare and other technological advances, support services acted as force multipliers.

Infantry

Despite the development of armoured warfare, coupled with a growth in supporting services and a desire to avoid large, pitched land battles, the majority of Portsmouth Soldiers killed between 1939 and 1947 were killed whilst serving with the PBI – the Poor Bloody Infantry:

114 – Hampshire Regiment
12 – Queens Regiment
6 – Wiltshire Regiment
5 – Royal Berkshire Regiment
5 – Royal West Kent Regiment
5 – Grenadier Guards
4 – Dorsetshire Regiment
4 – East Surrey Regiment
4 – Royal Fusiliers
4 – Somerset Light Infantry
4 – Royal Sussex Regiment
3 – The Cameronians
3 – Coldstream Guards
3 – Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
3 – East Yorkshire Regiment
3 – Kings Regiment
3 – Kings Shropshire Light Infantry
3 – Lancashire Fusiliers
3 – Rifle Brigade
3 – Royal Scots
3 – Middlesex Regiment
3 – York and Lacaster Regiment
2 – Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
2 – Cheshire Regiment
2 – Devonshire Regiment
2 – Essex Regiment
2 – Green Howards
2 – Kings Own Royal Regiment
2 – Kings Own Scottish Borderers
2 – Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
2 – Kings Royal Rifle Corps
2 – Lincolnshire Regiment
2 – Northamptonshire Regiment
2 – Ox and Bucks Light Infantry
2 – Royal Welsh Fusiliers
2 – Seaforth Highlanders
2 – Suffolk Regiment
2 – Royal Warwickshire Regiment
2 – Worcestershire Regiment
1 -Beds and Herts Regiment
1 – The Black Watch
1 – The Buffs
1 – Durham Light Infantry
1 – Duke of Wellington’s Regiment
1 – Royal East Kent Regiment
1 – East Lancashire Regiment
1 – Gloucestershire Regiment
1 – Gordon Highlanders
1 – Highland Light Infantry
1 – Loyal Regiment
1 – Royal Ulster Rifles
1 – Sherwood Foresters
1 – South Staffordshire Regiment
1 – Welsh Guards

Despite a slight weakening in local regimental affiliations, the vast majority – 45.24% – of Portsmouth infantrymen served in the Hampshire Regiment. Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment were engaged principally in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, and in North West Europe from D-Day onwards. Its noticeable also that the next largest contingents of Portsmouth infantrymen served in county regiments close to Hampshire – Surrey, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Dorset, for example. Even though men were no longer necessarily joining their county regiment, there was still clearly a policy of assigning men regionally. The wide range of other units that Portsmouth men served with can be accounted for by transfers between Regiments and as the war went on a policy of recruiting men into any Regiment that needed them, regardless of geography.

Artillery

138 men from Portsmouth died whilst serving with the Royal Artillery or the Royal Horse Artillery during the Second World War:

136 – Royal Artillery
2 – Royal Horse Artillery

The 136 men killed whilst in the Royal Artillery is the largest number of fatalities for any Army Regiment -evidence, if any is needed, of both how large the Royal Artillery was, and how involved it was in the fighting in every theatre of war. Gunners served in Field Artillery, Medium and Heavy Regiments, Coast Regiments, Anti-Aircraft Regiments, Searchlight Regiments and Anti-Tank Regiments. Men seem to have been pretty broadly dispersed around Artillery units, although a sizeable amount of men were killed serving with 57 Heavy AA Regiment and and 59 Anti-Tank Regiment.

Other Supporting Corps

As the British Army became more diverse, more technical and more mechanised, more supporting arms were needed to keep the ‘teeth’ arms fighting effectively.

64 – Royal Engineers
25 – Royal Army Ordnance Corps
25 – Royal Signals
23 – Royal Army Service Corps
15 – Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
12 – Royal Army Medical Corps
10 – Pioneer Corps
4 – Military Police
2 – Army Catering Corps
1 – Army Dental Corps
1 – Army PT Corps
1 – Royal Army Chaplain’s Department

The Royal Engineers performed a vital role in every theatre -bridging, mine clearance, bomb disposal, demolition, and all manner of tasks. The RAOC and RASC also performed vital roles in keeping the Army supplied. Royal Signals were also present in every theatre, and serving with every unit. In modern warfare communications were all-important. The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers were formed during the war, to reflect the important of mechanical maintenance of vehicles and equipment. Other units were responsible for looking after the wide range of soldiers physical, nutritional and spiritual welfare.

Armour

Although the Second World War saw great advances in the use of tanks and other armoured vehicles, a relatively small amount of men from Portsmouth – 35 – were killed whilst serving with Armoured units:

28 – Royal Armoured Corps (inc Cavalry)
7 – Recce Corps

Imperial countries

30 men from Portsmouth died whilst serving with units from the British Empire:

9 – Indian Regiments
8 – Hong Kong Dockyard Defence Corps
5 – Malayan Regiments
4 – African Regiments
2 – Canadian Regiments
1 – Australian Regiments
1 – New Zealand Regiments

There are several reasons that may account for Portsmouth men serving with Imperial Forces. They may have originated from abroad, but gained a Portsmouth connection along the way. They may also have emigrated from Portsmouth and then joined their resident country’s forces. Others, particularly officers and NCO’s, served on attachment. The Hong Kong Dockyard Defence Corps was comprised of men working in Hong Kong Dockyard, and the various Malayan volunteer forces were made up of men working in the country.

Special Forces

15 – Parachute Regiment
7 – Army Commandos
3 – Glider Pilot Regiment

Various special forces were formed during the war. Men could volunteer for the Parachute Regiment from their parent unit, and 15 Portsmouth Paras died in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, France, Holland and Germany. The Army Commando’s were another unit formed along similar lines, as was the Glider Pilot Regiment – a force of qualified pilots, ranked as Sergeants and Staff Sergeants. That more men died serving in special forces than any infantry regiment apart from the Hampshire Regiment suggests how important they had become.

Miscellaneous units

5 – Auxilliary Territorial Service
2 – General Service Corps
2 – Home Guard
1 – Army Technical School
1 – General List
1 – Allied Control Commission

The ATS was an auxilliary service formed to allow women to support the Army – all died whilst in Britain, presumably from illness or accidents. The General Service Corps was a reception unit formed in 1943 to provide recruits with initial training – the two members who died whilst serving in it evidently died before they were assigned to a Regiment. The Army Technical School provided training to boys too young for active service. The General List was a ‘unit’ to which surplus officers were assigned when unattached to any other Regiment or Corps. The man who died while serving with the Allied Control Commission was in Germany after the end of the war.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead: the Royal Navy part 2

Medals

93 Royal Navy officers and ratings from Portsmouth were either decorated during the Second World War, or had won medals previously – 7.2% of all Portsmouth sailors who were killed. Its noticeable immediately that most of the men who were decorated were older servicemen, and were either leading rates, Petty Officers or Officers. This is not surprising, as their leadership role gave more potential for performing bravely. And, arguably, older more experienced men were likely to be calmer in action.

Two Portsmouth sailors were awarded Britain’s highest award for bravery not in the face of the enemy – the George Cross. Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth was killed while defusing a bomb in 1940, and Able Seaman Henry Miller was lost in the sinking of a Submarine in 1940.

The most highly decorated naval officer from Portsmouth to die during the Second World War was Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey. Hussey was awarded a Distinguished Service Order, a Distinguished Service Cross, and was twice mentioned in despatches. 4 officers were awarded the Distingished Service Cross, and one officer – Lieutenant Charles Lambert – was awarded a bar to his DSC.

39 Sailors were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. Three of these men were also awarded a mention in despatches, and one man – Able Seaman William Laing – was mentioned in despatches twice along with his DSM. Two men – Petty Officer Frank Collison and Electrical Artificer 1st Class Arthur Biggleston – were awarded a Bar to their DSM.

Five men were awarded the British Empire Medal, One man was awarded a CBE, and two men OBE’s. One man was awarded a BEM and a mention in despatches. 33 Sailors were mentioned in despatches. One man was awarded a Reserve Decoration for long service with the Royal Naval Reserve, and another the Royal Vctorian Medal for long service on the Royal Yacht pre-war. Another sailor had been awarded the Royal Humane Society’s Bronze Medal during the First World War. Another man had been awarded a George Medal earlier in his career.

Areas of Portsmouth

Portsmouth sailors who were killed in the Second World War came from the following areas:

282 – Southsea (21.84%)
145 – Copnor (11.23%)
133 – North End (10.3%)
110 – Cosham (8.52%)
56 – Milton (4.34%)
50 – Fratton (3.87%)
43 – Stamshaw (3.33%)
33 – Buckland (2.56%)
26 – Eastney (2.01%)
26 – Mile End (2.01%)
23 – Hilsea (1.78%)
20 – Landport (1.55%)
14 – Drayton (1.08%)
13 – Farlington (1%)
13 – Portsea (1%)
11 – Kingston (0.85%)
7 – East Cosham (0.54%)
7 – Tipner (0.54%)
6 – Paulsgrove (0.46%)
2 – East Southsea (0.15%)
2 – Wymering (0.15%)

171 men – 13.25% – are listed as from ‘Portsmouth’.

What can we say about these figures? Southsea was at the time the largest and most populous part of Portsmouth, and although Southsea is best known as a seaside resort, ‘Southsea’ also describes the area as far north as Goldsmith Avenue, and what is now known as Somers Town. Hence it was the home not only to wealthy officers, but also many ordinary sailors, and working class men called up during the war. It seems that sailors came overwhelmingly from the southern Part of Portsea Island, near the Dockyard, and the laterr 19th Century suburbs such as Copnor and North End. Outlying, less populated areas such as Paulsgrove, Drayton and Wymering provided few sailors.

It will be interesting to compare these statistics with those for the other Armed Services, and also to take a closer look at each area itself to see if we can learn anything about their social composition.

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70 years ago: after Dunkirk and the Lancastria

The British Army continued fighting in France after the fall of Dunkirk. Records of Portsmouth men who were killed in the Second World War suggest that the British Army suffered very heavy losses on 17 June 1940.

After some quick research, it transpires that many of these men were killed in the sinking of the RMS Lancastria, a troopship evacuating British troops from Western France in the aftermath of Dunkirk. She was sunk of St Nazaire on 17 June 1940. 1,738 men are known to have died, with 2,777 survivors.

Sapper Reginald Cole, of 1 Supply Base Depot Royal Engineers, is buried at Rennes in France. Aged 20, his Army Service number suggests that he had originally joined the Hampshire Regiment.

Private Peter Hale, of 4 Base Ammunition Depot Royal Army Service Corps, has no known grave and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. He was 20 and from Hilsea.

Sapper William Shannon, of 663 Artisan Works Company Royal Engineers, is buried at La Berniere-en-Retz in France. He was 36 and from Gosport.

Private Joseph Diviani, of 1 Base Ordnance Depot Royal Army Ordnance Corps, has no known grave and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. He was 22 and from Copnor.

Private William Mcdonald, of 46 Company Auxilliary Military Pioneer Corps, has no known grave and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. He was 33 and from Copnor.

Air Force men were also onboard the Lancastria. Aircraftman 2nd Class John Peters, of 98 Squadron RAF, has no known grave and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. He was 20 and from Southsea.

Aside from the Lancastria, the losses in France continued. Gunner Robert Brown was killed on 18 June 1940. Serving with 3 Battery of 1 Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery, he is buried in a joint grave at Dunkirk War Cemetery. He was 34 and from Southsea. His Amy Service number suggests that he had originally joined the Cameronia Rifles.

Gunner Henry Male, of 490 Independent Searchlight Battery Royal Artillery, died on 21 June 1940. He is buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth. He was 23 and from Fratton.

The final British soldier from Portsmouth to die in the aftermath of Dunkirk was Sergeant Edgar Cocks, of the Royal Army Service Corps. He died on 16 July 1940, and is buried at La Berniere-en-Ritz, France. He was 49 and from Copnor.

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