Monthly Archives: June 2010

UK-US Spy agreement revealed

The National Archives have today released into the public domain the text of a landmark agreement between the British and American intelligence communities. Agreed shortly after the end of the Second World War, the pact led to the sharing of information during the Cold War, an arrangement that is still in place today.

During the Second World War ad-hoc arrangements were in place regarding the sharing of intelligence, such as ULTRA intercepts. In March 1946 the UKUSA Agreement was signed. In later years the Agreement was extended to include Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The agreement has long been known about, but this is the first time that its existence has been acknowleged by either Government, and the first time that its exact has been released. The release follows separate Freedom of Information requests on both sides of the Atlantic.

Alongside documents relating to the agreement itself, the National Archives have also released examples of the kind of information that was shared. The newly-available documents are likely to be a gold-mine for Historians of Stalinist Russia. Intercepts shed light on private conversations and correspondence between Soviet citizens, military personnel, Party officials and religious leaders between 1946 and 1949.

The bulk of the intercepts focus on military issues, and give an important sense of the Soviet build up during the early years of the Cold War. There are reports of a “stormy meeting” taking place and one person says, ominously: “of the Moscow representatives nothing remains but a wet spot”. A Soviet Major says he can be “patient no longer”, as his son, who had been “foully killed”, was yet to receive justice. The war-readiness of the population is illustrated by an intercept which picks up a mother saying: “I am afraid of leaving the kids here. What about a war, all of a sudden?”

Intercepts also gleaned information about Political repression behind the Iron Curtain. Folksongs were banned on the grounds that they were “inartistic and trivial”. Songs such as “Why do you destroy me, you foolish woman”, were popular with the peasantry but not the authorities and were forbidden. The Kazakh Communist Party reported its local crime statistics to Moscow, crimes which included ‘anti-party activities’, ‘concealment of social origin’ and ‘desertion from the Soviet army’.

Reports also gave information about ordinary everyday life in Soviet Russia. Measures were taken to prevent infected grain reaching the food chain, and there were also reports of food shortages, diseases and plagues. One file reports a “widespread sickness” among all kinds of animals and reports that “vets are unable to cope”.

Stalin himself also featured in reports. In 1948 Patriarch Alexis, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said that special prayers and singing will take place in all of Moscow’s churches for the “preservation and long-life of our state and its leader”. The files also contain personal messages addressed to Stalin.

During the immediate post-war period Russia was facing the dual challenges of reconstruction after the war and cementing her status as a world superpower. Reports described various problems in Agriculture, Industry and the Economy, for example. Agricultural workers in Kamchatka complain to Comrade Molotov that they have failed to receive living accommodation, cattle, seeds and fodder, four years after their resettlement in the region. The unsatisfactory progress being made at a gas construction site is blamed on “hooliganism” and low morale.

Given that these documents refer only to a three year period, hopefully in the future we can look forward to the release of a mass of material on Soviet Russia during the Cold War. This should shed a whole new light on our understanding of the Cold War.

To find out more about the Agreement and the Documents, click here

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When Generals fall foul of the Politicians

The recent sacking of General Stanley McChrystal has got me thinking about other Generals who have fallen foul of their political masters. Its by no means a new story – we only need to think back to the ‘frocks and hats’ arguments during the First World War.

During the Korean War President Harry Truman was forced to sack the Supreme Allied Commander in Korea, General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur was seemingly untouchable, having been a formed head of the US Army, Supreme Commander in the Pacific War and Commander of the occupation forces in Japan. MacArthur publicly criticised Truman’s policies, and wanted to extend the Korean War to mainland China. He also apparently wanted to use nuclear weapons. This was unacceptable to Truman, and he was advised by his cabinet colleagues and the Joint Chiefs of Staff that MacArthur should be relieved. Yet MacArthur remained a national hero, and Truman’s poll ratings nosedived.

During the Second World War Winston Churchill made a habit of sacking Commanders, particularly in the Middle East. Both Wavell and Auchinleck fell foul of Churchill’s lack of patience, even though both were probably doing as well as they could have done in the circumstances. The problems with Britain’s Army were not confined to its Generals, after all, and it would not be until later in the war that Britain’s Army would mature from its weak state of 1939. But this was not enough for Churchill.

Although Montgomery initially pleased Churchill with his victory at Alamein, he received criticism for his perceived slowness in Normandy. A powerful lobby at Supreme Headquarters actively sought for Monty’s sacking, and it was only through the ardent support of General Sir Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, that Monty was not dismissed. Even Churchill could be hostile to him, for example after Montgomery banned Churchill from visiting his HQ in Normandy. Brooke persuaded Montgomery to write and apologise, thus saving his job.

Matters with Montgomery came to a head after Arnhem. There was deep mistrust between Montgomery and his American counterparts. For his part, Montgomery did not help matters with an outrageous press conference he gave shortly after the Battle of the Bulge, belittling the Americans. Eisenhower was very close to asking for his sacking, before Brooke managed to smooth things over. It seems that the large part of Brooke’s job was to act as a buffer between Churchill and his Generals.

In more modern times, General Sir Richard Dannatt was effectively blocked from being promoted to Chief of Defence Staff by Gordon Brown, due to a number of statements critical of the Government. Although Dannatt was right in his comments, it could be argued that he should not have made them. Given his post-retirement support for the Conservative Party, the line he took while still in command of the Army does seem un-constitutional. There is a long held convention that Generals do not get involved in politics, they are civil servants as much as any other Government employee.

While Generals are often held up as national heroes, and to themselves and their men they are the closest thing to god, McChrystal’s sacking is a reminder that there is a bigger picture – just as in any line of work, it doesnt pay to criticise your boss in public!

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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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Kept in the Dark by John Stubbington

This forensic and incisive book by Wing Commander John Stubbington takes a comprehensive view of the intellingence – or lack of it – provided to Bomber Command during the Second World War.

It’s pretty much common knowledge nowadays that for the last few years of the war the allies were able to intercept the Germans Enigma Signals, and the decryptions of these signals were known as ULTRA. Of course, some sterling work went on at Bletchley Park by men such as Alan Turing and by British submariners in capturing Enigma codebooks. Perhaps the most well-known use of ULTRA intelligence was defeating the U-Boat menace during the Battle of the Atlantic, something that has been well described by John Terraine in The U-Boat Wars.

But having such a rich seem of intelligence is one thing, making good use of it is quite another. And we don’t ever hear much about the misuse of ULTRA intelligence – one of the most prominent in my mind if the debacle of Arnhem, where intercepts clearly placed the Panzer Divisions around Arnhem, but it seems that this fact was not passed down to the commanders who really needed to know the fact. And as Stubbington shows here, a similar situation existed in the RAF, where the Air Ministry, incredibly, did not pass on ULTRA intelligence to Bomber Command and its Chief, Sir Arthur Harris. Its even more incredible when we consider that his American counterparts at the US Eight Air Force had full access to ULTRA.

Why were Harris and Bomber Command kept out of the loop? It seems to have been down to a complex set of parochial and political issues pervading within the RAF. The existence of a Director of Bombing Operations at the Air Ministry, who was openly hostile to Harris, created tension that possibly led to a holding back of intelligence. A plethora of committees, departments and commanders in Whitehall and beyond were continually bickering about targets – Oil, transportation, U-Boat pens, dehousing etc – led to a lack of common purpose within the RAF. This lack of purpose made it all the more easy for Harris’s enemies to ensure that he did not receive ULTRA intelligence, that may well have informed and shaped his operational planning. To not pass ULTRA intelligence on to a commander of Harris’s level was most unusual, and must beg the question why.

Another argument that Stubbington advances is that perhaps Harris was seen as too unreliable to be trusted with ULTRA. There is no evidence to suggest that Harris was a security risk, and in any case if any officer cannot be trusted, should they really be in command anyway? There is no evidence to suggest that ULTRA was witheld for this reason, but my hunch is that it is a reason that could well have been quietly expounded by Harris’s enemies. Time and time again we read that the allies were paranoid about the ULTRA secret leaking out, to the extent of witholding its benefits from key officers.

Would ULTRA intelligence have made much of a difference to Bombing Operations, had Harris been in receipt of it? Stubbington suggests here that ULTRA decrypts would have shown just how pivotal the destruction of Germany’s transportation system was. ULTRA might have made Harris better armed when it came to arguing over target policy. And by denying the commander most responsible for directing the Bomber offensive the most valuable source of intelligence available, the whitehall warriors were commiting a shameful act.

This is a most insightful book by Wing Commander Stubbington. It draws on a wealth of original research and uses a wide range of sources, and it will infom the historiography of ULTRA and wartime intelligence, and also the controversial history of the Bomber Offensive.

Kept in the Dark is published by Pen and Sword

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

HMS Hood

Given that for hundreds of years Portsmouth has been the historic home of the Royal Navy, and the largest Naval Base in Britain, its not surprising that by far the most men from Portsmouth who died in the Second World War were serving with the Royal Navy.

1,291 naval officers and ratings from Portsmouth were killed between September 1939 and December 1947. This represents just over 50% of all Portsmouth servicemen who were killed during the war.

The nature of the Royal Navy in the Second World War warrants a mention. Particular naval ships were manned by men from one of the three manning ports – either Portsmouth, Plymouth or Chatham. Hence specific ships contained men mainly from one of these ports, although there were small exceptions. Terms of service were also relatively long, so men who joined the Navy who originally came from elsewhere in the country were likely to move to Portsmouth – particularly men who might rise up the ranks.

Due to the nature of naval warfare, many sailors who were killed in the war were lost at sea – almost 76% of them, in fact. 806 of the men are remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, 86 on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, and 65 on the Chatham Memorial. In addition 24 men of the Fleet Air Arm are remembered on the naval memorial at Lee-on-the-Solent.

The biggest single losses were sustained when the Battleships HMS Royal Oak, HMS Hood and HMS Barham were sunk. 66 Portsmouth sailors were killed when HMS Royal Oak was sunk on 14 October 1939. A total of 833 men were killed, and 386 survived. 98 men were lost when HMS Hood was sunk by the Bismarck on 24 May 1941. Out of a crew of 1,418 only three men survived. And 54 men were killed when HMS Barham was sunk in the Mediterranean on 25 November 1941. 861 men were lost on the Barham.

Other significant losses were suffered with the sinkings of HMS Acheron (Destroyer), HMS Cossack (Destroyer), HMS Culver (lend-lease coastguard cutter), HMS Daring (Destroyer), HMS Dunedin (Cruiser), HMS Eagle (Aircraft Carrier), HMS Fidelity (Special Service vessel), HMS Fiji (Cruiser), HMS Glorious (Aircraft Carrier), HMS Glowworm (Destroyer) and HMS Penelope (Cruiser).

112 men (8.68%) died whilst serving in Submarines, 28 (2.17%) in the Fleet Air Arm, 15 men (1.16%) were serving with the Royal Naval Patrol Service, 12 men (0.93%) in Coastal Forces, and 5 men died (0.39%) whilst crewing Landing Craft. 9 women also died during the war whilst serving with the Womens Royal Naval Service, 0.7% of all Portsmouth’s naval fatalities.

98 men (7.6%) died whilst serving at shore bases local to Portsmouth – HMS Victory, HMS Vernon and HMS Excellent. Many of these were older men serving in administration and support services, and seem to have died of natural causes -this suggests just how many men were required to keep the Royal Navy running. Although they did not die in action, their contribution to the war effort should be remembered.

The amount of men who died in each year reflect the wider activities and losses of the Royal Navy during the war:

74 men were killed in 1939 (5.73%)
319 in 1940 (24.71%)
329 in 1941 (25.48%)
205 in 1942 (15.88%)
149 in 1943 (11.54%)
112 in 1944 (8.68%)
65 in 1945 (5.03%)
45 in 1946 (3.49%)
35 in 1947 (2.71%)

The heavy losses in 1941 – and to a lesser extent 1942 – reflect the sinkings of not only HMS Hood and HMS Barham, but the Battle of the Atlantic. That 80 men (6.2%) died after the end of the war is significant, and suggests how many men were still in uniform for several years after the war ended.

The ages of Naval servicemen are also interesting to look at. 5 were Boy Seamen aged 16. 6 were aged 17,
23 aged 18, and 36 were 19. 422 men were in their 20’s, 407 in their 30’s, 211 in their 40’s, 72 in their 50’s and 17 were 60 or over. 83 men’s ages are as yet unknown. Their age groups are interesting. While most sailors were in their 20’s, a significant proportion of men were in their 30’s and 40’s. This shows how many Portsmouth sailors had served for a long-time, and also how long serving sailors very often ended up living in Portsmouth. Whilst we tend to think of men who died in the war as ‘young’, many of these older men would have left young families behind them.

In part 2 of my look at Royal Navy losses, I will examine ranks, areas of Portsmouth that they came from, and medals.

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The National Archives Labs

The National Archives have announced a new project, entitled National Archives Labs. The idea is to pilot new and innovative ways of accessing and sharing data. Visitors to the website are able to test prototypes of new projects and give feedback, which should help the future development of online resources.

The projects in Labs are not intended to be full, finished versions, but a means of showcasing and testing ideas. If, and when, they are given approval they will be refined and made accessible before they can be properly integrated into The National Archives’ main website.

Emma Bayne, programme manager, said: ‘Labs is the first step towards us opening up our records further, and providing new ways for you to access the vast collection of information we hold.’

UK History Photo Finder

This fascinating resource allows users to search and view digital images. The first series of photographs uploaded are the Dixon-Scott collection, a set of more than 14,000 images taken between the 1920’s and the 1940’s. You can search mainly by geographical location, and I managed to find some photographs of Portchester Castle and St Thomas Cathedral that I hadn’t seen before. Hopefully more images will be made available in time. Only one criticism of this section, I would like to see more information on how to obtain copies of the images, and the relevant copyright information.

Valuation Office Surey

This tool enables users to look up Valuation Office Survey maps of England and Wales from 1910 to 1915. The Catalogue contains nearly 50,000 maps, and provides a way of searching for a geographical location. A search leads to a modern day map of your chosen area, with a link to the catalogue code of your chosen section of map. Sadly my search for Portsmouth came up with no results for the city itself, only the surrounding areas. The link enables you to purchase a hard copy of the map. This is very much a catalogue project, as it helps you find data and enables you to access it, rather than making it readily available. It should be useful none the less.

Person search

I’m a bit perplexed by this. Apparently the idea of the new Person Search facility is to bring together a wide range of sources – including First World War records, Royal Navy records, criminal registers, law suits, wills and pension records – and make it possible to search for one particular name. However there are several places where you can already do this on The National Archives website, and maybe it would be more sensible to streamline these rather than create another facility.

In general, I applaud the concept of making more records more accessible to more people. And especially using digital media. However, with the looming cuts in public spending, sadly I expect that these kind of projects may be few and far between for the forseeable future.

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Portsmouth WW2 Dead Project: completed!

This afternoon I finished inputting the last of the 2,548 names of Portsmouth men an women who died whilst serving in the Armed Forces, between 1939 and 1947. Of course, this kind of project is never truly ‘finished’, as you can be sure that new names will crop up from time to time. And now the work shift towards finding out as much about each of the names in my database, in order to be able to tell their stories.

The names primarily come from the Portsmouth City Council list, compiled for the planned Portsmouth WW2 memorial. I am very grateful to Tim Backhouse of memorials for providing me with a list of names that appear on local war memorials but not on te PCC list (126 names). I have also used Geoff’s WW2 search engine to find more names that do not appear on the PCC list (355 names). Some of the names on the PCC list also appear to have come from Portsmouth in Lancashire, and these names have been omitted frm my database.

In the coming weeks I will be looking in detail at the statistics that come from the list. But to begin with, here are a few facts:

  • 1291 Royal Navy (50.67%)
  • 674 Army (26.45%)
  • 410 Royal Air Force (16.09%)
  • 115 Royal Marines (4.51%)
  • 42 Merchant Navy (1.65%)
  • 13 NAAFI (0.51%)
  • 5 ATS (0.19%)
  • 1 Red Cross (0.04%)

They came from all over Portsmouth:

  • 588 from Southsea (23.08%)
  • 242 from North End (9.5%)
  • 231 from Copnor (9.07%)
  • 203 from Cosham (7.97%)
  • 113 from Fratton (4.43%)
  • 105 from Milton (4.12%)
  • 85 from Stamshaw (3.34%)
  • 71 from Buckland (2.79%)
  • 66 from Eastney (2.59%)
  • 44 from Hilsea (1.73%)
  • 36 from Landport (1.41%)
  • 33 from Drayton (1.3%)
  • 33 from Mile End (1.3%)
  • 24 from Farlington (0.94%)
  • 22 from Paulsgrove (0.86%)
  • 21 from Portsea (0.82%)
  • 17 from East Cosham (0.67%)
  • 11 from Wymering (0.43%)
  • 8 from Kingston (0.31%)
  • 2 from East Southsea (0.08%)

318 men – 12.48% – are listed as from simply ‘Portsmouth’, the rest are either unknown or appear to come from somewhere else in the country.  However, unless we know otherwise it is best to assume that they had some kind of Portsmouth connection for their names to be put forward to the memorial.

The first men from Portsmouth to die in the Second World War were killed on 10 September 1939 – Able Seaman John Banks and Leading Seaman Percy Farbrace of HM Submarine Oxley, and Able Seaman William Holt of HMS Hyperion.

Private George Rowntree, of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, died on 24 December 1947. Aged 43 and from Wymering, he was the last man from Portsmouth to die during the period regarded as the Second World War for war grave purposes.

The oldest Portsmouth serviceman to die between 1939 and 1947 was Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes GCB KCVO CMG DSO, who died of natural causes on 26 December 1945. He is buried in Dover. Keyes had been commander in chief at Portsmouth and also a local MP, as well as a former First Sea Lord and Chief of combined operations.

The youngest Portsmouth serviceman to die were Private Robert Johns of the Parachute Regiment, Boys 1st Class Gordon Ogden, Robert Spalding and Cecil Edwards of HMS Royal Oak, Ordinary Seaman Colin Duke of SS Irishman, Apprentice Tradesman L.H. Ward of the Army Technical School, Boy 1st Class Jack Lamb of HMS Dunedin, and Apprentice Electrical Artificer Raymond Whitehorn of HMS Raleigh. They were all 16.

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