Daily Archives: 22 November, 2009

VC’s of the St Nazaire raid

HMS Campbeltown at St Nazaire

HMS Campbeltown at St Nazaire

Jeremy Clarkson called it ‘the Greatest Raid of all’. Out of a total of several hundred men, 5 Victoria Crosses were won. This makes the St Nazaire raid possibly the most decorated operation for its size since Rorkes drift.

In 1942, the Bismarck had been sunk. Only the Tirpitz remained of the German Battleship fleet. Whats more, there was only one dry dock in Nazi-occupied Europe that was big enough to repair her, at St Nazaire in Brittany, France. Destroy that, the British realised, and the Tirpitz was hamstrung.

A daring plan was devised for 28 March 1942, codenamed Operation Chariot. A redundant Royal Navy Destroyer, HMS Campbeltown, would be rammed into the dock wall. Loaded with explosives, she was set to explode some time later. A flotilla of coastal forces boats would also bring in Commandos and Engineers. Once the operation was completed, it was planned to withdraw by sea. In the event, there was such heavy fighting in St Nazaire and so many of the flotilla’s ships were destroyed that only a fraction of the men escaped. Many were killed or taken prisoner.

But the dock was destroyed, and the Tirpitz was left stranded in Norwegian fjords until she was finally destroyed by the RAF in 1945. The allied shipping that was saved by the St Nazaire raid is impossible to quantify.

Captain Robert Ryder, the senior Naval Officer, won a VC for his leadership, and for exposing himself to fire whilst evacuating the Campbeltown.

Lieutenant-Commander Stephen Beattie, in command of HMS Campbeltown, was awarded a VC for gallantry shown in steering his ship into the dock walls in the face of blinding searchlights and under intense fire.

Able Seaman William Savage also received a VC for great skill and gallantry shown in manning a pom-pom gun on a Motor Gun Boat. Savage remained at his post, resolutely firing away until he was killed.

Sergeant Thomas Durrant, a Royal Engineer, was attached to the Commando forces. He was in charge of a Lewis Gun on a Motor Launch, and although wounded and with no cover, he carried on firing until taken prisoner. He died of his wounds the next day. He was awarded a Posthumous VC.

Lieutenant Colonel Augustus Newman commanded the commando troops, and received a VC for leading his men and directing operations with no concern for his own safety. He only surrendered once ammunition had run out.

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The Six Day War 1967: Jordan and Syria

The Six Day War: Jordan and Syria

The Six Day War: Jordan and Syria

Nowhere in the world are historical rights and wrongs held onto so bitterly and for so long as in the Middle East. And all too frequently, the subsequent divisions end up in violence and armed conflict.

This volume in Osprey’s Campaign series is a companion to Simon Dunstan’s earlier book on the Six Day War in the Sinai. Following the swift and pre-emptive strike on Egyptian Forces, Israel turned its attention towards Jordan and Syria further north. Having signed a mutual defence pact with Egypt, both of these countries were obliged to attack Israel. With varying levels of morale.

By the end of the war, the Israelis had launched a daring and succesful invasion of the daunting Golan heights. Whilst victory against Jordan was not in the Israeli Generals plans, they could not resist a symbolic assault on the Holy City. Whilst they may have won plaudits for recapturing Jerusalem, this highly volatile act sowed the seeds of resentment and division in the Middle East for a generation, and arguably beyond. What the Israelis hold up as one of their greatest victories has also proven to be the cause of many of their problems.

Simon Dunstan gives us a comprehensive look at a very complex conflict. The incredibly bitter international politics of the middle east and the historic background to the state of Israel are key factors that underpin this war. Israel, for most of its existence, has lived under the threat of annihilation, and this has left its armed forces with no choice but to train to a high state. People fighting to defend their homeland more often than not fight the hardest, and this is a thread that Dunstan stresses. To view anything that happens in the Middle East without looking at this background is to lose all context. Crucially, the whole conflict in the Middle East was also broadly part of the range of proxy wars that took place during the Cold War. This was a very important war – the outcome was always likely to shape the future of the Middle East, evidenced by how the US and the USSR forced a ceasefire when it looked like the outcome might be too emphatic.

With Osprey’s trademark map graphics, and some pretty smart illustrations, Dunstan goes effortlessly from grand strategy and international diplomacy to low level unit actions, and the stories of inidividual soldiers.

The Six Day War 1967: Jordan and Syria is Published by Osprey

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Updated: Sapper Ernest Bailey

Reading about people from your home city who died in the second world war can be quite a sobering experience. But what about someone who came from your very own neighbourhood, at a time when it consisted of a few streets and pig farms? And who, sadly, died in the most tragic circumstances.

By 1942, using heavy water obtained from Norway, the German atomic weapons programme had come close to developing a nuclear reactor. This, obviously, was not something that the Allies could allow to happen, and British forces devised a plan to cut off the supply of heavy water from Norway, and so bring the Nazi atom bomb programme to a halt. Bombing raids were not possible due to the difficulty of locating the plant, and the level of accuracy required.

The heavy water was obtained from the Norsk hydro chemical plant, near the village of Vermork. 2 Airspeed Horsa gliders, carrying 34 British Airborne Engineers, would land near the plant, destroy it, and make their way on foot to neutral Sweden. It was to be the first use of Gliders in action by British forces.

On 19 November 1942 the Gliders took off from northern Scotland. The Operation was doomed from the start. The first Glider crash landed. Of the seventeen men onboard, eight were killed, four were injured and five were unhurt. The second Glider also crashed, with seven men being killed on impact. Although brave Norwegians managed to shelter some of the wounded, they were eventually rounded up. The four injured surviviors from the first glider were poisoned by a German doctor, and the rest shot along with the survivors from the second glider.

These killings were in accordance with Hitlers Commando order, which ordered that all Commando troops were to be killed immediately on capture, as enemy spies. Several German personnel implicated in the killings were tried and executed after the war.

Among these brave but tragic events, was a Paulsgrove man. Sapper Ernest William Bailey, 31, of Paulsgrove, was a member of 9 Airborne Field Company, Royal Engineers. He is buried in Stavanger Cemetery in Norway. I am not sure exactly how he died – his date of death is given as 19th November, so it seems that he probably died in one of the crashed gliders. However there are quite a few files at the National Archives from the post-war investigation of war crimes, so hopefully there will be something at Kew that will tell the story of Sapper Bailey.

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I have manaed to find the following fascinating information from Stephen Stratford’s website on British Military Law. Stephen has pieced together what happened to the men of Operation Freshman from official documents at the National Archives. There is also some information on ParaData regarding operation Freshman.

Sapper Bailey was in the second Glider (Horsa HS114), which was being towed by a Halifax Bomber W7801 B for Baker. The glider crashed approximately 2.5 kilometres North East of Lensmanngard. Both glider pilots were killed in the crash, along with one of the passengers. The remaining soldiers, including Sapper Bailey, were captured and shot near Egersund on the same day.

After the war Stabsarzt Werner Fritz Seeling, Hauptscarfueher Erich Hoffman and Unterscharfuehrer Fritz Feuerlein were tried for war crimes by a British Military Court. Their specific crime was the murder of the poinsoned prisoners, who were also found to have been strangled. All three were found guilty. Seeling was executed by Firing Squad, Hoffman was hanged. Feuerlein was handed over to the Russians to answer charges regarding atrocities against Russian Prisoners of War. His fate is unknown.

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Filed under crime, Local History, portsmouth heroes, Remembrance, World War Two