Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Coral Sea 1942

The Coral Sea 1942

The Coral Sea 1942

One of the most striking effects of the second world war was the supplanting of the Battleship by the Aircraft Carrier as the most important Naval vessel. By 1945 the era of the big gun Dreadnought Battleships was long gone.

Nowhere saw more Aircraft Carrier battles than the Pacific. Former US Navy Commander Mark Stille takes a look at one of the earliest battles in the South Pacific, the 1942 battle of The Coral Sea. The US Navy’s carrier succesfully thwarted a Japanese attempt to invade New Guinea. It was pivotal in that it represented the first reverse for the Japanese since Pearl Harbour, and set the US on the long road of ‘island-hopping’. It was not perhaps as decisive a battle as Midway, fought less than a month later. But the lessons learnt by the Americans and the losses suffered by the Japanese at the Coral Sea had a profound effect on the outcome of Midway.

Mark Stille takes a very detailed look at the opposing plans, from the Japanese intent to invade New Guinea and the tactics that the US Navy deployed to frustrate them. We are given very informative biographies of the senior Naval Commanders in question, and also a glimpse into the respective Naval ethos of each country. As a former Naval Officer, Stille is well placed to write about Naval tactics and strategy. And of course, this book contains Osprey’s trademark maps and illustrations. One thing that really impresses me is the ‘3D’ maps, showing the height of waves of aircraft as the attacked.

This is a rather narrow account, however, as it focusses almost exclusively on one specific battle. Although it has clearly been written for the American market, there are very broad contexts to the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Royal Navy had been using its Carriers to great effect in the Mediterranean and in the sinking of the Bismarck. Furthermore, it could be argued that the point at which Aircraft Carriers truly gained the ascendancy was the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse when sent to Singapore without adequate air cover. Yet this episode only receives the briefest of mention. Stille does focus almost exclusively on the US Navy, and what is an interesting and thorough account does miss out on some comparative and contextual depth in this respect.

The Coral Sea 1942 is published by Osprey


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

BAE systems to create plans for new Frigates

An artists impression of the Future Surface Combatant

An artists impression of the Future Surface Combatant

BAE Systems have signed a £3.4m contract to create designs for the Royal Navy’s next generation of Frigates, the Portsmouth News reports. Staff at BAE are working on two designs under the Future Surface Combatant Programme, called the C1 and C2.

C1 is larger than the current Type 23 Frigates, and provides air defence for Carrier groups, but also has a small ‘mission dock’ – not unlike the dock on assault ships – for the rapid launching of small, fast boats. The second design, C2, would be more of a general purpose vessel, designed for patrolling and other duties. Plans are said to be taking shape for ten C1’s and eight C2’s.

Project Director Brian Johnson said: ‘Subject to MoD approval at later stages, we’ve got an outline plan that would see the first ship launched in 2016, and then one ship a year enter service from 2020 or 2021. They would be expected to have a 25-year lifespan, so would be in service until 2050.’

It is a much needed boost to the Royal Navy to have this project advancing. It is arguably more important than the planned new Aircraft Carriers, as 95% of the time it is the Destroyers and Frigates that are out around the globe patrolling the seas. While designs are not the same as signed contracts, at least something is happening.

There are a few areas for concern, however. Why is an air-defence Frigate being planned, when we have the Type 45 Destroyers that are supposedly designed for protecting the new Carriers? And why are we only having six of them, wouldn’t it be better to have say 8 or 10, and just have one class of General Purpose Frigate? Or are the C1 Air Defence Frigates a cheaper alternative for the cancelled Type 45’s?

The C2 design sounds encouraging. A smaller, more general purpose Frigate would be far more ideally suited to tackling small and fast suicide boats and Somali Pirates. The mission dock sounds especially capable.


Filed under Navy, News

Captain Bernard Brown MC

Royal Army Medical Corps

Royal Army Medical Corps

Some roles give soldiers the potential to do very brave things. Its perhaps no coincidence that Medical Officers, more often than not, seem to win awards for courage under fire. One Army Medical Officer, from Portsmouth, won a Military Cross in North Africa, and eventually lost his life in North Italy only months before the end of the war.

Captain Bernard Brown was born in Southsea in 1912. Qualifying as a Bachelor of Medicine from Oxford University, in the Second World War he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Each Battalion sized unit in the Army has a Medical Officer, usually a qualified Doctor given the rank of Captain. Their role is to look after the mens health and provide first aid in action, often right up in the front line, before wounded can be passed back down the line to dressing stations and field hospitals.

Captain Brown was the Medical Officer of 6th Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa in 1942, in a period that included the Battle of Gazala and the first Battle ofr El Alamein, where Rommel’s last-ditch attack towards the Suez Canal was finally blunted. The citation for his Military Cross can be downloaded online from the National Archives website.

The Regiment was virtually in constant action. Shortly after they began fighting Brown’s armoured Scout Car broke down, so he simply used an unarmoured truck instead. He was never back at Headquarters, always close up behind the Tanks where he could watch the battle and go up to any needing medical assistance. At one point the unit was fighting next to a Royal Horse Artilley unit that was under heavy fire, and Brown went right up to the guns seven or eight times to bring out 20 wounded gunners. During the first Battle of El Alamein the Regiment took heavy casualties from anti-tank guns, and twice Brown went up through gaps in minefields, under enemy fire, to give first aid. His coolness and courage under fire, especially as a non-combatant, must have set an amazing example to the men in the Regiment.

Bernard Brown was awarded the Military Cross on 18 March 1943. Sadly, he did not survive the war. Whilst serving as Medical Officer with the 1st Battalion of the Welch Regiment in North Italy he was killed, on 25 February 1945. He is buried in Forli Military Cemetery.


Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, Remembrance, World War Two

Scott Church Creations

C-47 Dakota by Scott Church

C-47 Dakota by Scott Church

I thought it might be interesting to show you all this amazing image that I’ve received recently, of a Douglas C-47 Dakota. This is the plane that my Grandad and thousands of his comrades jumped out of at Arnhem in September 1944. Although I might be biased, I think its also one of the most stunning aircraft in history.

Scott Church graduated from the University of Portsmouth, and is an environmental and visualisation artist. He’s also got a keen interest in history, as you can see from his work.

Have a look at his website for more fascinating arwork:

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Filed under Arnhem, art, Royal Air Force, World War Two

War Graves Commission unveils new climate policy

A traditional war cemetery at Arnhem

A traditional war cemetery at Arnhem

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who look after thousands of Commonwealth War Graves around the globe, have unveiled a new climate change policy.

The Commission have selected four cemeteries in France and Belgium to trial new environmentally friendly methods of gardening. One cemetery in each country has had the turf removed and gravel laid. The other two have had a more drought tolerant grass laid to adapt to drier conditions. Borders in all four cemeteries will be planted in the traditional way with plants selected for their ability to withstand periods of drought.

War cemeteries in hot, arid countries have often used pebbles or gravel. But in Northern Europe the Commissions Cemeteries have forever been hallmarked as ‘a small part of the world that is forever England’. The pristine grass lawns and traditionally English planting makes these places not only very fitting locations for soldiers to lie, but almost nice places to visit in their own right.

Railway Chateau cemetery

Railway Chateau cemetery

Pebbles and gravel, however, are really not suitable and look terrible as can be seen above. The dignity and integrity of such important places should not be compromised for political brownie points. Its sad that the Commission are being forced to make these changes, but I suspect they come from on high. Increasingly Government departments are being forced into making changes based on a climate change agenda.

I’m not saying that the environment is not important, but the Commission’s Cemeteries represent a tiny pinprick of the worlds surface. Meanwhile, countries like India and China belch out tons and tons of Carbon Dioxide.

Using new forms of grass and plants is no doubt a good idea. But to suggest that they might have to change the whole outlook of hundreds of cemeteries, on the basis of a theory for which the scientific basis is not fully proven, smacks of scaremongering. I cannot help but wonder if someone is looking to gain some kudos from this project. I know of no municipal cemeteries who are looking at changing their landscaping like this.

To give your views on the War Graves Commissions plans, fill out their survey here.

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Filed under debate, News, politics, Remembrance, World War One, World War Two

Army may build Bailey Bridges in flood-hit Cumbria

troops crossing a Bailey Bridge

troops crossing a Bailey Bridge

The Army may be called in to build second world war style Bailey Bridges to replace Bridges washed away by flooding, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Personally, I feel that the civil authorities will probably not let the military show their skills. By calling in the Army Government and the local councils would be admitting that they cannot handle the situation. Which is a shame, because the Royal Engineers have always had first class bridging skills, and I doubt very much whether that has changed.

The only problem would be getting hold of enough Bailey bridge sections. Times gone by there were probably plenty stored around the country, however I would not be surprised if they have all been sold off to third world countries or for scrap metal.

Sir Donald Bailey’s invention was one of the technical marvels of the Second World War. Easy to produce, transport and erect, it was built out of a minimum of components but with maximum strength and flexibility. Hundreds were built during the war, many surviving for years afterwards. They were immortalised in Bridge too far as ‘that british precision built bridge, which is the envy of the civilized world?’

If they are good enough for the Army when under fire, in a hurry, with few tools or specialist equipment, and can carry tanks, I’m sure they would help out in Cumbria right now.

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Filed under Army, News, World War Two

Centurion vs. T55: Yom Kippur War 1973

Centurion vs. T-55: Yom Kippur War 1973

Centurion vs. T-55: Yom Kippur War 1973

Both the British Centurion and Soviet T55 tanks trace their roots back to the second world war. With the Centurion, the woeful British tanks of the second world war inspired designers to make sure that the Army never went to war with such sub-standard armoured vehicles again. Not only that, but it proved very succesful as an export. Meanwhile the T55 owed much of its design to the legendary T34.

Although both were designed to combat the German Panthers and Tigers, increasingly as the Cold War developed they faced each other in North Europe, on either side of the Iron Curtain. They never faced each other in action, but they did however equip many of the second and third world states, particularly in the middle east. This book by Simon Dunstan compares the performance of the machines and the men who operated them, using the Yom Kippur War of 1973, between Israel and Syria and Egypt, as a case study.

Comnparison in history is crucial. Particularly in military history. It is one thing to say that a tank is impressive, but how does it fare against its contemporaries? That is the real acid test of any military hardware. Can it defeat its opponent? If not, then its occupants are in trouble. Therefore, the duel series is onto a winner in my opinion.

But comparing the machines alone is not enough. Without the men to operate them they would stand idle. In the case of the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli Centurions and Arab T55’s were finely matched technologically, but the Israeli’s training, leadership and motivation proved decisive. After being caught off guard and then holding back a strong attack at the beginning of the war, the Israelis held their ground and launched a decisive counter-attack. And this very much mirrored the British and NATO policy. They could never hope to build more tanks than the Russians, so chose to concentrate on quality, and training. And when opposing forces are matched in terms of a balance between quanitity and quality in equipment, training usually proves decisive, backed up by morale and leadership.

Simon Dunstan has written widely on both the Middle East and Armour, and this breadth of knowledge pays dividends in this book. Different factors are considered, without being disparate, and the broader context of the Cold War and the Second World War provide a sound basis. This book informs greatly our knowledge of armoured warfare. Not only that, but it makes me want to go to Bovington to look at some tanks!

Centurion vs. T55 is published by Osprey


Filed under Book of the Week, middle east