Tag Archives: Royal Marines

Remember the Falklands @ Portsmouth Dockyard

Myself and the HSO (History Support Officer) have just got back from the ‘Remember the Falklands‘ event at the Dockyard in Pompey today. HMS Dragon and HMS York were open to visitors, providing a contrast between the 1982 vintage of Royal Navy ship, and the modern escort fleet.

HMS Dragon

HMS Dragon

HMS Dragon

Dragon is the newest of the Type 45 Destroyers to join the fleet, having only arrived in Portsmouth a matter of months previously. As I have previously commented after visiting Daring and Dauntless, the space on these ships is incredible compared to their earlier counterparts. It’s such a privilege to look round such a clean, tidy new-smelling ship. You know when you buy a new car, and for a few months it has that new smell? Well, Dragon still has that.

OK, who let a ginger in the ops room?

The ops room in particular is incredible, the sheer amount of desks and monitors is a sight to behold. You get the impression that the skill in commanding a modern warship is how the officers – and warrants and CPO’s for that matter – learn to control and process what goes in and out of that inner sanctum. One thing that occurs to me… I’ve been on three Type 45 Destroyers now, and never been allowed onto the bridge – what is on the bridge of a T45 that we aren’t allowed to see?

HMS York

HMS York

HMS York

HMS York is a batch 3 Type 42 Destroyer, one of the ships that was hastily redesigned after the lessons of the Falklands were digested. Longer than her earlier counterparts, she has a more pronounced bow for improved seakeeping, and distinctive strengthening beams down the side. I believe that she’s up for decomissioning in the next year or so. The difference between her and Dragon is striking – so much less room, so much more cramped, and overall looking very tired. The funny thing is, that we were allowed to see a lot more on York – including the 1970′s looking Ops Room (half the size of Dragon’s), the bridge, and also ratings and officers quarters. The crew were also remarkably informative and chatty. It’s always a phenomenon looking round warships – some ratings look bored out of their minds, whilst others seem to love spinning a yarn.

Sea Dart - never to be fired again?

Sea Dart – never to be fired again?

Other Sights

As per usual at these kind of events the band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines played.

I also managed to get some good pictures of the new Up Harbour Ammunitioning Facility currently being constructed. The New UHAF is much closer to the Dockyard than before, not too far off the corner of Middle Slip and North Corner Jetties.

the new UHAF

the new UHAF

My conclusions about the day? I can’t stress enough how important these days are. The Royal Navy is notoriously bad at blowing its own trumpet and doing the PR thing. Everyone knows about the Eurofighter Typhoon thanks to the RAF’s PR department, but how many people are as aware of Type 45 Destroyers? The Royal Navy, if it want’s to be at the forefront of defence, needs to win hearts and minds at home as much as battles at sea.

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Filed under Dockyard, event, Falklands War, Navy, out and about, Royal Marines

Falklands Anniversary events in Portsmouth

  

  

  

  

  

  

HMS York-Portsmouth-02

HMS York (Image via Wikipedia)

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard will host a special ‘mini-Navy Days‘ over the weekend of 5 and 6 May to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War.

HMS Dragon, the fourth brand-new Type 45 Destroyer, and HMS York a Batch 3 Type 42 Destroyer will both be open to visitors from 10am until 3.30pm. Living history group Forces 80 will be wearing naval and Argentinian uniforms and display kit and deactivated weapons from the war, and the Band of HM Royal Marines from HMS Collingwood in Fareham are due to perform in Victory Arena near HMS Victory at 11am and 3pm both days.

Click here for the Portsmouth News report about the event.

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Operation Suicide: The Remarkable Story of the Cockleshell Raid by Robert Lyman

The ‘Cockleshell Heroes‘ raid is one of those operations that we all like to think we know everything about. Royal Marines, canoes, mines, Bordeaux, escaping. On the face of it, its a very daring escapade. But dig beyond the veneer of Hollywood history, and the story is even more fascinating and inspiring than it first appears.

Of course, being a Portsmouth bloke I’ve always been well aware of the Cockleshell Heroes. In fact, an ex-Bootneck down my mum and dads road was actually an extra in the film. Ah yes, the film. If you mention the Cockleshell Heroes, people think of a swarthy Mediterranean looking commander, an elderly second in command, and of brawling in Portsmouth pubs. Whilst the broad premise of the film was reasonably accurate, some of the names, personalities and suchlike were badly altered for whatever reason, and the background to the raid was not dealt with virtually at all.

What I found refreshing about this book is that Lyman has focussed more attention on the build up to the raid – its inspiration and genesis, and Hasler’s driving force behind it – than the actual raid itself. I think this is a smart move. To be honest – and as Lyman himself admits, C.E. Lucas-Phillips book of the 1950′s, written with the collaboration of Major Hasler, pretty much covered the raid itself very well.

The Cockleshell raid was not merely a case of sinking a few ships in occupied Europe. German ships had been attempting to break the Royal Navy’s blockade of Nazi-dominated Europe in an attempt to transport scarce raw materials between Germany and Japan and vice versa. Obviously, cutting off these blockade runners would seriously damage the Axis war effort. The Ministry of Economic Warfare targeted Bordeaux, and Combined Operations – led by Lord Louis Mountbatten – planned a daring raid.

One aspect that is often overlooked is how Hasler and Bill Sparks – the two sole survivors of the raid – made their escape from Bordeaux back to Britain. In terms of escape and evasion, the men were badly let down – they were not given the names of any French Resistance contacts, and only told, in the broadest terms, to head for a certain village. As Airey Neave of MI9 conceded after the raid, it was a terrific achievement for the men to make it home at all – via Ruffec, Lyon, Marseille, Barcelona, Madrid and Gibraltar.

Another mistake was the lack of co-ordination between Government and armed forces departments over raids. On the very morning that the limpet mines exploded, SOE operatives were on their way to the docks to plant bombs onboard the very same ships – both organisations were completely unaware of the others plans. If they had been able to work together, the damage might have been even more crippling on Germany.

I also like the manner in which Lyman has dealt with the very sensitive manner in which the remainder of the raiding party were executed by the Germans. In my experience, there is a wealth of documentation in official archives about war crimes, thanks to post-war investigations, and tragically it means that we can tell a lot about men who were killed in cold blood. Whilst writing about them might not be able to change history, at least their experiences might serve to remind us of why exactly they were fighting.

I enjoyed reading this book very much – it helped me through some very long train delays. And far more importantly, it achives the very difficult objective of shedding new light on a very-well known and intensely studied event in history.

Operation Suicide is published by Quercus Books.

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Filed under Book of the Week, Royal Marines, Uncategorized, World War Two

Musician Ernest and Petty Officer Edward Gallagher

HMS Indefatigable one of the wrecks from the B...

HMS Indefatigable sinking (Image via Wikipedia)

Jutland is well-reputed to have touched virtually every family in Portsmouth. But for the Gallagher family, it had a particularly heavy toll.

Petty Officer Stoker Edward Gallagher was 50 in 1916. He had been born in Crawley in Sussex on 4 August 1865. His son Musician Ernest John Gallagher was born in Portsmouth on 8 September 1896. He joined the Royal Marines Band Service on 19 September 1910, when he was just 14 years old. By May 1916, he was 19.

In 1916 Edward Gallagher was serving onboard the Battlecruiser HMS Invincible, whilst Ernest was part of the Royal Marines Band onboard another Battlecruiser, HMS Indefatigable. Both ships were sunk at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May to 1 June 1916. HMS Indefatigable was ripped apart by a huge explosion, with only two men out of a crew of 1,017. Invincible was also destroyed by a explosion, and out of her crew of 1,026 officers and men, only six survived.

Both father and son have no known grave other than the sea, and are remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common. Mary Gallagher would have received not one but two terse telegrams from the Admiralty in the days after Jutland. She survived them for almost 30 years, dying in Portsmouth in 1946. She was 76.

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Portsmouth’s WW1 sailors – some initial observations

The British Grand Fleet steaming in parallel c...

The Grand Fleet of WW1 (Image via Wikipedia)

Having completed the entry of Portsmouth Soldiers who were killed between 1914 and 1921, for the past few months I have begun entering the names of sailors from Portsmouth who were killed in the Great War. Having processed some 414 sailors and 82 Royal Marines, I have a pretty decent sample to make some interesting observations.

Thanks to the way that WW1 Naval service records are available online, we can see the exact date of birth and place of birth for virtually ever 1914-18 sailor. And the findings are striking. A very large percentage of Portsmouth sailors who were killed in the Great War were actually born here. I would have presumed that many more would have been born elsewhere but moved to Portsmouth in service. I wonder how many of them were second or even third generation sailors? It seems that the Navy did not actually expand significantly, in terms of manpower, between when most of these men were born in the late Victorian period and 1914. Certainly not as much as the Army expanded, in any case.

Of those who did come from elsewhere, most of them came from nearby maritime counties, such as Sussex or Dorset. A sizeable amount came from London, which also had a seafaring tradition. Others came from virtually every county in Britain, including some from Ireland, Scotland, and even two from Malta. One great surprise is the sizeable amount who came from the Channel Island – a place with a very small population, but obviously a great many young men familiar with the sea.

As with my similar research into WW2, it seems that most Pompey sailors were pre-war regulars, and often Leading Rates, Petty Officers or Warrant Officers. Long-serving sailors were clearly more likely to settle here, and most of them seem to have lived in areas close to the naval base, such as Landport, Buckland and Portsea. About 90% of CWGC entries for WW1 sailors include house numbers and street names, which gives great potential for some geo-mapping exercises. Oddly enough very few naval officers seem to have settled in Portsmouth – perhaps it was not quite fashionable.

Relatively few sailors in WW1 seem to have won medals compared to their counterparts in WW2. One exception seems to have been the submarine service, in which a number of Pompey sailors were involved. Several were awarded Distinguished Service Medals, at a time when submarines were very much in their infancy, and a very hazardous way of going to war.

The Navy did not actually expand that much during WW1. Obviously the only way you would really need to expand naval manpower massively is if you had new ships to crew, but in 1914 the Royal Navy was already easiest the largest in the world. The only ‘expansion’ involved the re-activation of some Reserve Fleet ships. One of these was HMS Good Hope, which was crewed almost exclusively by re-called reservists. In fact, when war was declared the Royal Navy received too many volunteers, and formed a Royal Naval Division for service on land. Several Portsmouth men were killed with the RN Division, at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

Most sailors were killed in the large set piece battles, such as at Jutland or the Coronel. At Jutland HMS Invincible, Princess Royal and Black Prince were lost, and HMS Good Hope at the Coronel. A number of other ships were sunk by accidental explosions, such as HMS Bulwark and HMS Natal.

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Thinking about Portsmouth’s WW1 Army Heroes

Join the brave throng that goes marching along...

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

I’ve started thinking about how I’m going to write up the stories of Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes. So far I have analysed something like 2,672 soldiers, and almost 300 sailors and Royal Marines, out of a total of more than 5,000 servicemen and 3 women.

There are so many names and stories, its really difficult having any idea knowing where to start. In an ideal world, I would write a full chapter on all of them. But with space constraints, I’m really interested in hearing what people would like to read about, or which stories you think are really important to ‘get out there’. Particularly with the 100th anniversary of the start of the war coming up in 2014.

  • The Portsmouth Pals – the 14th and 15th Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment, recruited solely from Portsmouth men who volunteered after the start of the war to join Kitcheners Army. Their story has never really been told before, but by my reckoning over 300 men were killed serving with both Battalions
  • Portsmouth’s Commonwealth Soldiers – how did young men from Portsmouth end up serving with the Imperial Armies? According to my research 43 men died serving with the Australian, African, New Zealand, Canadian and Indian Forces.
  • Lt-Col Dick Worrall – a Portsmouth man who had served in the ranks of the British Army, emigrated to America and joined the pre-war US Army, then once war was declared went to Canada and volunteered. He was quickly commissioned, and ended the war as a Lieutenant Colonel, and the holder of a DSO and Bar and MC and Bar – a remarkable story.
  • The Old Contemptibles. 156 men from Portsmouth were killed in 1914, before Britain had fully mobilised. Hence many of them were probably regular servicemen.
  • The Royal Flying Corps. Four young men from Portsmouth were killed serving with the Royal Flying Corps, at least two of them either in flying accidents or in action.
  • The Tank Corps. The First World War saw the advent of the tank as a major force in warfare. 10 Portsmouth men died serving with thee Tank Corps.
  • Brothers in Arms. Many families lost more than one son in the war – many lost two, some three, and one poor family lost four sons in action. I would like to take a look at this element of the human cost.
  • Gallipoli. At least 91 men from Portsmouth were killed in Gallipoli, a campaign beset by disaster which has perhaps not had as much attention through history as it should have.
  • Mesopotamia. 94 men from Portsmouth were killed in Iraq, many at the disastrous siege of Kut in 1916. Many more were captured, and suffered terribly in captivity. Again, I feel that its a campaign that has been much ignored in history, particularly given how the British Army has found itself fighting in Iraq at least three times since!
  • Oddities. I would like to be able to write about the interesting little stories that perhaps don’t fit in anywhere else, or don’t quite warrant a chapter on their own. Like the elderly Royal Engineer who was sent on grave registration duties after the armistice, and died after drowning in a Canal in Belgium.
  • Prisoners of War. We don’t ever hear much about WW1 Prisoners of War, yet at least 12 servicemen from Portsmouth died in Germany whilst being held as prisoners.

Any thoughts at all would be very welcome!

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Tattoos – a quick social history

I went with someone to go and get a tattoo done the other day. And no, before you ask, it wasn’t on me! I actually found the process quite interesting, much nicer than having a blood test or an injection, no doubt because the environment is much nicer…

Anyway, while there I got talking to the tattooist. Much like taxi drivers and barmen, they see all sorts and hear all sorts. And we got onto the subject of how tattoos are perceived by society. We came to the conclusion that although tattoos have gone a lot more mainstream nowadays – thanks to people like David Beckham, Robbie Williams et al – there is still a stigma attached to them. People still assume that if you have a tattoo, then you must be either a criminal, a sailor, a biker or a prostitute.

Maybe it’s because I come from Portsmouth – the home of the Royal Navy – or that I’ve got a lot of friends into heavy metal, but I’ve never understood the fuss about tattoos. Someone once described it to me thus… some people go out and buy a painting and hang it on the wall. Some people, however, like to wear the ‘painting’ on them. It’s a form of expression, albeit a very commited and lasting one. And gone are the days when the black ink turned manky and green – you can see some really impressive tattoos now, it really is an artform.

It’s not surprising that Royal Navy sailors picked up the art of tattoing. It has been going on in some parts of the world for thousands of years, in particular some of the Pacific Islands. And on their travels, sailors picked up these kind of customs and made them their own. How else do we think that curry was eaten in Portsmouth, well before Indian restaurants? I would argue that in actual fact, tattoos have been part of the mainstream in Portsmouth society for hundreds of years. Many young men in Portsmouth would have had tattoos, in fact it was probably the norm, especially for sailors. And what Portsmouth’s families don’t have a sailor or two down the line somewhere? Ironically my great-grandfather, Thomas Daly, had more tattoos than any of his descendants, to my knowledge. According to his service record he sported a cross on his right forearm and dots on his left. George Cross winner Reg Ellingworth had tattoos on both arms. Colour Sergeant Frederick Bird of the Royal Marines had two dots on his left forearm. Chief Yeoman of Signals George Pankhurst had an interesting tattoo on his right arm – a bird on a branch. Apparently there were complex conventions about what tattoos represented what in the Navy – often where a person had served or what they had done.

A few years ago the Royal Naval Museum held an exhibition on the naval history of tattoos. Sadly I did not get to see it, but I’m sure it must have been pretty interesting. I’ve read plenty of stories about how young sailors would get taken to a tattooist by their ‘sea-daddy’ whilst on a run ashore, not having any choice in the matter. No less a person than King George V was tattooed in this manner – although these were never seen in public, the Steven Poliakoff drama the Lost Prince alludes to them.

So in conclusion, I think the stigma about tattoos is completely unwarranted. They have been a part of life on earth for thousands of years. Having a tattoo does not make anyone less of a person. If anything, I think that judging someone for something so trivial is, subconciously, a way of putting yourself on a pedestal by putting them down. Very sad, and very 19th Century.

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Breaking – Royal Navy Task Group to Libya

Royal Marines Board Sea King Helicopter on HMS...

Image by Defence Images via Flickr

The Navy News website reports that the bulk of the Royal Navy Task Group that had been exercising off Cyprus has now sailed for operations off Libya.

The Landing Ship HMS Albion, Type 23 Frigate HMS Sutherland, Tanker RFA Wave Knight and support ship RFA Fort Rosalie have broken away from long-planned training exercises to join the international effort against Colonel Gadaffi‘s regime. The Helicopter Carrier HMS Ocean had sailed some days before, carrying Army Air Corps Apaches. Britain already has the Destroyer HMS Liverpool, Minesweeper HMS Brocklesby and the Submarine HMS Turbulent on station.

Albion will serve as the command ship, carring Commodore John Kingwell. She is also carrying Royal Marine Commandos. Sutherland will undertake very similar duties to Liverpool in blockading the Libyan coast, while the auxiliaries will be available to both British and international vessels. There has been no word as yet on the movements of the two other ships in the Task Force - the RFA Landing Ships Cardigan Bay and Mounts Bay.

We were told less than a year ago by ‘call me Dave’ that such a deployment would not be necesary for the next ten years. Thankfully we are operating with allies, as the Task Group has no air cover of its own, no any ability to project any. True, jets may be flying ‘epic’ missions (copyright RAF PR Department) from Britain and Italy, but even the French have sent their carrier close in. Shorter range, more economic, more time on station, more flexible.

In terms of getting involved in the land side of things, its hard to see how that could happen. The embarked military force consists of 40 Commando RM, along with ‘elements’ of 3 Commando Brigade Headquarters. These must be very small elements, as the HQ was in Afghanistan when the Task Force sailed some time ago. Apparently there are also a small number of Netherlands Marines onboard, along with other Brigade troops. A reinforced Commando Group with some support elements does not constitute much of a ground force. On the plus side, the force has just trained in amphibious landings.

The lack of ground forces is in some respects fortunate, as the Task Group has scant ability to land much more than that anyway. Ocean’s tailored air group is more aimed at attack aircraft than transporting men ashore. Albion’s sister Bulwark is currently working up, and could join the Task Group if need be. But apart from that, the Royal Navy is creaking – there are no more ships that could be called upon – they are all either at sea or deep in refit.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Heroes – progress report

I’m off most of this week to work on my forthcoming book ‘Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes’, and I thought you might all like a progress report.

I’ve almost finished the research needed for the Royal Navy-based chapters, which make up almost a third of the book. This week I have been mainly looking at the three Portsmouth Battleships – Royal Oak, Hood and Barham; Pompey-based submariners, Boy Seamen, and Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey.

In Portsmouth we’re blessed with a fantastic Naval History Collection in the Central Library. This includes a huge range of published books, including many you would be hard pressed to find in any other public library. There are also extensive runs of Navy Lists, the Mariners Mirror, the Naval Chronicle, and all manner of other specialist journals. The Naval Collection is based in the brand new Portsmouth History Centre on the second floor of the library. There you can also find the Local Studies collection, which contains things such as street directories, electoral registers and local books. And something I’ve found particularly useful is the Portsmouth Evening News on microfilm.

I’ve found some stuff I didn’t already know – a good account of the loss of Able Seaman James Miller GC on HMS Unity, accounts of what happened to many Pompey men sunk on the Royal Oak in particular, including some stories from the Evening News from those who were bereaved. There is a poignant photograph in the Evening News a couple of days after the Royal Oak was sunk showing navy womenfolk queuing up outside the Naval Barracks for news of their loved ones. And finally, I’ve discovered a first-hand account of how Lieutenant-Commander Bill Hussey DSO DSC and Bar died.

Research done, now to write it up… Next – the Army!

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The vagaries of warship naming

HMS Ark Royal (R07)

Image via Wikipedia

I didn’t think it would take long. There have already been calls for one of the Royal Navy’s new supercarriers to be renamed HMS Ark Royal. Even though a poll in today’s Portsmouth News showed that 94% of people asked did NOT want a new Ark Royal right away.

Personally, I just cannot agree. The names selected for the two ships – Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales – are fine, historic names. Classes of ships should all have logical names that follow a pattern. To have one ship names Ark Royal and another named something completely random would make no sense at all.

The problem is, there is a precedent. The current Ark Royal (RO7) was due to be named HMS Indomintable, alongside her elder sisters Invincible and Illustrious (both, incidentally, names as famous as Ark Royal, if not more so). But the popularity of the old Ark Royal, helped by the TV documentary Sailor, led to an outcry demanding that one of the new Invincible class carriers should be named Ark Royal in her honour. Sadly, in this case their Lordships made a rod for their successors backs.

A quick glance at Colledge and Wardlow’s Ships of the Royal Navy shows that the Royal Navy has literally hundreds of famous and proud names that it could call upon. The Navy had so many ships in years gone by, that it pretty much had to scrape the barrell for names – how else could you explain the fearsome sounding HMS Beaver? I remember a few years ago the letters that flew back and forth in the Navy News and Portsmouth News, complaining that sailors were expected to go to war in ships named after furry little animals or plucked from the road atlas of Great Britain.

If we really want to talk names for Aircraft Carriers, then we have plenty to choose from – Courageous, Glorious, Eagle, Hermes, Furious, Victorious, Formidable, Implacable, Indefatigable… I might have been tempted to go for Glorious and Courageous, both ships sunk in the Second World War, or Perhaps Invincible and Hermes in tribute to the Falklands War.

Reportedly the naming of the new Type 45 Destroyers aroused controversy. The previous class of Destroyers, the Type 42′s, were named after British cities. This was great for building up links with the respective city. Wisely, the Royal Navy decided to carry on with the ‘alphabet’ system of ship naming for Destoyers and Frigates. As the last sub-batch of the Type 22 Frigates were given ‘C’ names, the Type 45 became the ‘D’ class – Daring, Dauntless, Diamond, Defender, Dragon, Duncan. All historic, brave sounding names. Yet some of the cities who had been twinned with the old Type 42′s threw their toys out of the pram, refusing to take up links with the new ships and insisting that there should be an HMS ‘insert name of city here’.

There are some even more random naming controversies. HMS London, a Type 22 Frigate launched in 1984, was originally due to be called HMS Bloodhound, but was ‘renamed at the request of the Lord Mayor of London’. Aww, diddums. Her sister ship HMS Sheffield was originally to be called HMS Bruiser, and another sister HMS Coventry was supposed to be Boadicea. Bloodhound, Bruiser and Boadicea are all fine names. Perhaps we can understand the sentiment of naming ships after vessels that were sunk in war, but is rushing to rename ships of another class really a dignified way to do it?

I’m surprised that we haven’t had calls to name the new Antarctic icebreaker HMS Endurance. The Navy has been brave in announcing that she will be called HMS Protector, an old South Atlantic ship name with heritage and also sounds formidable. Who says that it absolutely has to be called Endurance anyway? A change of name makes a welcome change from the not so great publicity regarding the ship in recent years.

But please, let the name Ark Royal rest in dignity for a while, ready to sail again in years to come. Ship names should be a case of ‘the king is dead, long live the king’. The Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence should issue a statement as soon as possible to shoot down all the spurious brownie point chasing. It’s quite distasteful.

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Ark Royal to open to the public one final time

The Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Ark Royal will be open to the public one final time over the weekend of 22 and 23 January. Her decomissioning will also be marked by a parade and ceremony in Portsmouth Guildhall Square on the Saturday.

About 250 sailors from the Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier – which is being decommissioned in March – will parade through the city on January 22 to celebrate the close affiliation between the warship and its home port. A Royal Marines band will lead the parade which starts at Paradise Street (near the city centre Tesco) at 11.20am. The crew will march to Guildhall Square via Commercial Road, past Portsmouth and Southsea train station and under the civic buildings.

A special service will then take place including speeches from Ark Royal’s Commanding Officer Captain Jerry Kyd, Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Paula Riches and Leader of the council, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson. Ark Royal’s padre, the Rev Martin Evans, will close the service with prayers. The event will conclude with Captain Kyd presenting the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Paula Riches, with a ship’s white ensign. The service is expected to finish around midday when the city council will host a reception for the ship’s company and their families in the Guildhall. The parade leaves Commercial Road at 11.15am, and the ceremony in Guildhall Square lasts until 12 noon.

Ark will be open to visitors at Victory Jetty in Portsmouth Naval Base between midday and 4pm on Saturday 22 January and 10am and 3pm the following day. Areas open on board will include the hangar, flight deck and operations room. I’m not sure what kind of state the ship will be in, as when I went past the Hard the other day I could see Containers on deck – I wonder if they’ve started stripping her out already? Entry to the jetty will be through Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s main entrance at Victory Gate.

Also on Saturday members of the ships crew will parade on the pitch at Fratton Park before the Portsmouth-Leeds United game. Leeds is the Ark’s adoptive city, and the ship also has an affiliation link with Leeds United Football Club.

As much as it is welcome to see the efforts being made to recognise Ark Royal, I hope the same efforts are made to honour HMS Illustrious when she is decomissioned in several years time. For some reason the name ‘Ark Royal’ has a cache of brownie points. As loved as she is, there are plenty of other fantastic ships that have gone off to the breakers yard without a murmur – Fearless and Intrepid, for example, and then we have some of the Falklands veteran Type 42 Destroyers.

It’s a welcome chance to take a last look at a famous ship, however. I’ve never actually been onboard Ark Royal. Whenever theres a Navy Days that I can get to it always seems to be HMS Illustrious on show!

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Commando Tactics of the Second World War by Stephen Bull

As Stephen Bull quite rightly states in this book, the word ‘Commando‘ has become common currency for all kinds of special forces operations.

The ‘commando’ concept originated from the Boer War, when Dutch-descended ‘Kommando‘ units caused havoc for much larger British units in the South African veldt. Winston Churchill, who was a war correspondent at the time, recalled the idea in 1940. At the outset of the Second World War, Britain didn’t really ‘do’ special forces. The Commando’s were formed in 1940, partly by initiative amongst the armed forces, but also spurred on by characteristic notes that flourished from Winston Churchill demmanding instant action. The idea was that while Britain was unable to stike back at the enemy in a conventional manner, small groups of nimble special forces could inflict an impact on occupied Europe out of all proportion to their size.

Commando’s made their presence felt on the Lofoten Raids in Norway; at St Nazaire and Dieppe; on D-Day and in Siciliy and Italy. Strictly speaking the British Army C0mmandos were formed from volunteers from Army units, but the Royal Marines also formed their own Commando units later in the war. The Parachute Regiment was formed from No 2 Commando in 1940, and the SAS and SBS were formed by formed Commando officers. Thus it could be argued that the Commando’s formed their embryo for modern British special forces. Ironically, whilst the Royal Marine Commandos, Parachute Regiment, SAS and SBS still exist, the Army Commandos were disbanded soon after the war.

The title of this book focuses on tactics, but Bull goes much further by writing about the wider history of the Commandos, and the impact that the development of the Commando’s has had on British military ethos and development, the effects of which can still be seen today. But the real strength of this book is in the description of the making of a Commando – what went into selecting and training the men, the development of tactics and equipment, and how mistakes were made and lessons were learnt until a well-honed concept was arrived at. The ‘small, heavily armed but highly mobile’ approach has become widespread amongst all special forces to this day. There is also much in the selection and training that will be familiar to anyone who has read Bravo Two Zero or the million and one other SAS memoirs.

 This book adds considerably to the historiography of British special forces during the Second World War. It is an interesting read in its own right, but it also stands up extremely well as an in-depth military study. It contains some fascinating biographies of leading Commandos, and some useful eyewitness accounts. But the real piece de resitance is the inclusion of contemporary documents, such as details of Commando clothing and equipment, the establishment and armanent of Commando units, and a booklet describing Commando Battle Drill.

Commando Tactics of the Second World War is published by Pen and Sword

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Portsmouth Second World War Dead – An appeal!

British battleship HMS BARHAM explodes as her ...

HMS Barham exploding in 1941 (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m currently working on a book about people from Portsmouth who were killed during the Second World War.

I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has any information at all about any relatives from Portsmouth who were killed during the Second World War, seving with the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, British Army, Royal Air Force, Merchant Navy, ATS, NAAFI, British Red Cross and the Home Guard.

Any stories, documents, photographs, memories etc would be extremely useful, and I would be very grateful to hear from anyone who may be able to help.

In particular, I am looking for information and photographs about the following:

  • Chief Petty Officer Reg Ellingworth GC, a mine disposal rating from HMS Vernon
  • Seamen who were killed serving on the Portsmouth based battleships HMS Royal Oak, HMS Hood and HMS Barham. In particular Frederick Bealing (Royal Oak),
  • Portsmouth Submariners, particularly HMS Triumph (disappeared in the Med in 1942), and especially Electrical Artificer Arthur Biggleston DSM and Bar and Petty Officer Frank Collison DSM and Bar
  • Any Boy Seamen from Portsmouth who were killed (aged 18 or under)
  • Lieutenant Commander William Hussey DSO DSC, the Commander of HMS Lively when she was sunk off Tobruk in 1942
  • Royal Marines from Portsmouth, in particular Colour Sergeant Frederick Bird, a 62 year old WW1 veteran who died in 1943
  • Major Robert Easton DSO MBE, of the Royal Armoured Corps who was killed in Italy in 1944
  • Portsmouth men who died as Prisoners of War, particularly Private William Starling who died after VE Day in Czechoslovakia, and Sapper Ernest Bailey who was murdered by the Gestapo in Norway in 1942
  • Portsmouth men who were killed fighting with the Hampshire Regiment, particularly Lance Corporal Leslie Webb MM (D-Day) and Corporal Mark Pook MM (Italy)
  • Men killed on D-Day and in Normandy, especially Sergeant Sidney Cornell DCM and Private Bobby Johns (aged 16) 
  • Portsmouth men killed fighting in the Far East – including in Singapore, Burma, and as Prisoners of the Japanese building the Burma Railway
  • Bomber aircrew from Portsmouth, especially Flight Sergeant Patrick McCarthy DFC and Sergeant Francis Compton DFM
  • Flight Lieutenant John Coghlan DFC, a Battle of Britain and Special Operations pilot
  • Wing Commander John Buchanan DSO DFC, a Bomber Squadron commander who fought in the Mediterranean and North Africa
  • Flight Lieutenants Arthur and Ernest Venables, brothers killed when their Dakota crashed in Southern France after VE Day
  • The Merchant Navy – particularly the SS Portsdown, an Isle of Wight Ferry mined in 1941
  • The NAAFI
  • Women at War – the Wrens, ATS, WAAFS, British Red Cross

Or indeed any other stories that I may have missed.

I have a database of 2,549 Portsmouth servicemen and women killed between September 1939 and December 1947; sadly it is impossible to write about all of them, but hopefully I can pay tribute to them all by telling some of their stories.

Any stories at all will be of interest, its these kind of personal stories that really bring home the impact of war on families and communities.

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Filed under Army, d-day, far east, merchant navy, Navy, portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines, Uncategorized, World War Two

The effects of LSD on British troops – 1964

This is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. In 1964 military authorities tested the effects of LSD on a section of Royal Marines. As you can see the results were startling or hilarious, depending on your point of view!

And not to be outdone, heres Uncle Sam‘s finest undergoing the same kind of test…

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Filed under Royal Marines, Uncategorized, videos

The Fighting Fourth: No.4 Commando at War 1940-45 by James Dunning

One of the lingering misconceptions of the Second World War is that ‘Commando’ = ‘Royal Marines‘. True, the Royals might sport the green berets nowadays, be called Commando’s, and even serve in a Commando Brigade. Over the past 60 or so years they have very much made the name their own.

But the birth of the Commando is slightly more complicated than that. The first Commandos were in fact formed in 1940, during the invasion scare. And whats more, the first units were formed from Army personnel – volunteers who were bored and looking for action. Realising that the country was going to be on the defensive for some time, and had a paucity in regular troops, Winston Churchill ordered the raising of Commando special forces, based on the Boer Kommando he had encountered in South Africa years before.

No 4 Commando had an impressive list of battle honours during its short life. Lofoten Islands, Dieppe, D-Day and Walcheren are impressive honours for any unit. But upon reading this history by a veteran of No. 4, its impossible not to admire these fine men. They were clearly trained to a high pitch – sniper training, amphibious training, mountain training, general physical fitness, field craft – these really were some of the best men Britain had to offer.

After opening their account in the daring Lofoten raid in 1941, destroying a fish oil processing port in Northern Norway, No 4 then guarded the left flank of the ill-fated Dieppe raid. Although the raid was nothing short of a disaster, No 4 did extremely well, putting a gun position out of action, and Captain Pat Porteous won a Victoria Cross for repeatedly leading attacks while seriously wounded. I certainly dont agree that Dieppe gave valuable lessons – it shouldn’t have taken such a disaster to learn such elementary lessons. Then on D-Day No.4 Landed at Ouisterham, and hot-footed it across the Orne at Pegasus Bridge. They spent much of the Normandy campaign in the line in the Orne Bridgehead with the 6th Airborne Division, including in the Mosquito-riddled Bois de Bavent. After being withdrawn from Normandy, No.4′s final operation was the little-known but bitter fight to clear the Scheldt, where they carried out an amphibious landing at Walcheren Island. In early 1946 they were disbanded, after ending the war in Germany.

Some very famous men came from No 4 – none other than Lord Lovat, who went on to Command the Special Service Brigade that landed on D-Day and marched to reinforce the Paras at Pegasus Bridge, complete with personal Bagpiper Bill Millin. The spectacle is immortalised in the Overlord Embroidery. The unconventional nature of the Commando’s clearly attracted a lot of ‘individual’ officers and men, who were no doubt misfits to conventional military thinking. But unconventional was the norm in units such as the Commandos – in fact, they had their own organisation, with HQ commanding a number of troops (roughly equivalent to infantry platoons), with no Company level command in between. This meant that the command structure was flexible, and junior officers and NCO’s had to show initiative. In Normandy and Walcheren French Troops were also attached.

I found this a really interesting book to read. A few things really jumped out at me – it was interesting to read that No 4 Commando trained for a long time in the Purbecks region of the Dorset coast – at Worbarrow tout, Arish Mell gap and Chapmans pool. I walked over them all last summer, and its very rugged terrain to say the least. Also, I could not help but be impressed by the rigorous training that the Commando’s went through. Sadly, I have to compare it to the impression I have of the 1st Airborne Division‘s training before Arnhem, and it strikes me that they weren’t as well prepared as the Commandos. A salutory lesson – even in modern warfare, with remote-control fighting, first class training and fitness – healthy mind, healthy body and all that.

I’ve often wondered which unit, if any, could be called the ‘British Band of Brothers’. C Company of John Frost’s 2 Para have always been foremost in my mind, but the story of No.4 Commando is also a very fine one indeed.

The Fighting Fourth: No.4 Commando at War 1940-45 is published by The History Press

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Filed under Book of the Week, special forces, Uncategorized, World War Two