Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Catapult Condor

Update: Good news everybody! Blogger have updated their software for creating posts... and they've competently banjaxed it, made it vastly more complicated, with no benefit. The new software is also not working properly. Hence why you will see some oddities in layout. This is now a hell of a lot more difficult and time consuming to get an article up.

Yay for progress! 


On the 23rd of July 1943 convoy MKS 18G left Gibraltar and sailed out into the Atlantic. Three days later it met up with convoy SL 133, which it merged into. This convoy now consisted of forty ships in eight rows of five. The convoy was bound for the UK, and had to cross Germany's back yard, the Bay of Biscay. To cover this force there were just eight escorts, including the Dido AA cruiser HMS Scylla. The presence of an AA cruiser might seem curious at first glance, but the Germans flew FW200 Condors out of France to attack convoys, and marauding Condors could, and would sink shipping.

FW200 attacking an allied convoy

The convoy had one other defence against Condors. The freighters SS Empire Tide and SS Empire Darwin. These were two CAM ships, in fact the last two CAM ships on their final voyage, as the CAM ship program had been ended. For those unaware CAM stood for Catapult Aircraft Merchant. An old Mk.IA Sea Hurricane was strapped to a sled on ramp. The sled had thirteen rockets on it, which when fired, and with the Hurricane's engine at full boost would accelerate the fighter to flying speed in just 75ft! There was no way to land the fighter, so the pilot would bail out, and hope to be picked up. In all other respects the merchant ship was entirely normal, and usually carrying a full cargo. 

 SS Empire Darwin as a CAM ship

On the 28th of July, warnings were issued that a south bound convoy was under attack from Condors, and at this time some eight ships were reported as sunk. HMS Scylla took up position in the centre of the convoy to provide as much of a flak umbrella as she could, and SS Empire Tide prepared to launch her plane. The first of many radar contacts, at a range of 35 miles, and closing, was picked up heading towards the convoy. The Condor was attacking a ship that had fallen behind. However, the catapult on SS Empire Tide then broke down, so SS Empire Darwin took over as first to launch while the fault was fixed. A FW200 was soon seen closing from the starboard rear side of the convoy, and SS Empire Darwin prepared to launch. 

However, as luck would have it a USAAF B-24 Liberator, flown by Lieutenant Elbert Hyde, on anti-submarine patrol was spotted to the north of the convoy. The convoy commander requested the Liberator tackle the closing Condor. The B-24 swooped in, and chased down the Condor, with a blistering low speed dogfight erupting as both planes hammered each other, getting lower and lower, until they were only about 150ft in altitude. Without warning one of the engines on the Condor burst into flame, the German plane dumped its bombs to try and maintain altitude, however, it was to no avail and it slammed into the ocean. The last that was heard from the Liberator was an SOS, however, as the American plane was now some twenty miles away no help could be given. Luckily, the crew of the Liberator were able to make landfall in Algiers before they had to crash land. The German crew lost one person killed, but five others, and the pilot Rudolf Waschek, were rescued and became POW's. 

Eight minutes later two more Condors were detected closing on the convoy at altitude. Flying Officer Jimmy Stewart, the pilot in the SS Empire Darwin's Hurricane, was scrambled. After the colossal acceleration had thrown the Hurricane into the sky, F/O Stewart had steadied his craft. Back on the merchant his Fighter Direction Officer radioed through directing him to a Condor on his 9 o'clock, which F/O Stewart immediately spotted. The Condor was heading north but turned to head south as the Hurricane approached. When the pilot of the Condor spotted the closing fighter he turned east and put his plane into a dive. It was still easy for the Hurricane to catch up. F/O Stewart dived out of the sun, and opened fire, aiming at the cockpit. He started firing at 300 yards, with a five second burst. He could see hits on the sea around the nose of the craft. Suddenly there was a vivid white flash from near one of the turrets, to no effect. He closed in, firing away, the defensive fire was described as heavy, but scored no hits on the Hurricane. F/O Stewart broke off and lined up for a second pass.

About half a second after opening fire all of the Hurricane’s guns jammed. F/O Stewart continued making dummy attack runs to keep the pressure up, however, he soon realised he was leaving the convoy behind. He returned to the convoy and began orbiting it at about 1,000ft trying to make contact with the convoy on radio. Then suddenly he saw a second Condor attacking the convoy from 800ft, and in a storm of flak from HMS Scylla. Two near misses rocked the cruiser, as F/O Stewart dived on the Condor. F/O Stewart braved the defensive fire making repeated dummy attacks until the Condor entered a cloud bank, when he returned to the convoy. He made contact, confirmed he was bailing out, and climbed to 4,500 feet, where he and his Hurricane went their separate ways. After fifteen minutes afloat he was rescued by HMS Leith, who confirmed they too had seen the bright flash from the FW200.

Later on that same day, SS Empire Tide's Hurricane was launched and shot down a Condor. However, we do not have an accurate account of the flight. Due to the strange flash that F/O Stewart encountered, he filled out an intelligence report which detailed the entire incident, this report survives. 

 F/O James Stewart

F/O Stewart went on to serve in Typhoons. He was shot down near Roen in France while attacking a German tank convoy, he survived, and bailed out. He met up with a group of resistance fighters, whom he worked with for some months. The resistance group was then betrayed by a Gestapo agent and the cell, along with F/O Stewart were captured. F/O Stewart ended up at Fresnes Prison, as he was claimed to be a spy supporting the resistance. Here he was placed with several other RAF officers whom had displeased the Gestapo. Later this party would be moved to Buchenwald Concentration Camp to await execution. Shortly before the act was to be carried out a Luftwaffe officer learnt of the situation and forced the Gestapo to hand over the condemned. These were then transferred to Stalag Luft III, where F/O Stewart remained until the end of the war. Jimmy Stewart died last year on 17th of April. 


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

Image credits:

www.asisbiz.com and obituaries.tj.news

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Putting the Oxcart Before the Bird

In 1959 the CIA decided that it needed a new means of spying on its opponents. The only practical answer at the time was a plane. Thus, the CIA approached Lockheed and asked them to produce something a bit special. The result of this was the A-12 Oxcart.
A Line of CIA Oxcart's. Note the paint scheme.
 At first glance one would think it looks like the SR-71 Blackbird, and you're right. The Blackbird was a follow on to the A-12, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Oxcart was developed by Lockheed and became operational in November 1965. Oxcart's first deployment came some two years later in support of the Vietnam War. From May 1967 a fleet of three Oxcarts flew from Japan as part of the Black Shield missions. Over the next year they would fly twenty-nine sorties off south east Asia. The first such mission took off at 1100 on May the 31st. The Oxcart then climbed to meet a refuelling tanker, he climbed to 80,000ft, and set course for his planned route, at a speed of Mach 3.1. At the end of each run he would descend, meet another airborne tanker, refuel then climb back up to altitude. While cruising on operational sorties at high speed the plane would usually have its nose up at eight degrees and be rolled nine degrees to the left. This first Oxcart mission carried out four passes over Vietnam, which took it about three hours thirty-nine minutes. In total the onboard cameras, located in four bays on the underside of the plane, had used enough film, that if laid out end to end would be over a mile in length.
Oxcart and Blackbird parked together. Now the Oxcart is sporting the same black paint that gave the Blackbird its name.
Oddly, even before the Oxcart entered service, the USAF was showing an interest in a variant of the plane. In 1962 they approached Lockheed asking for a modified version, which had room for two people in it. This would become the RS-71 Blackbird, which was about 6ft longer than Oxcart.
Those of you who were paying attention will have noticed the designation above is given as RS instead of SR, which is the modern way of naming the Blackbird. There are two stories about how its name changed. The first is that when the US President Johnson announced the project, he juxtaposed the letters, and not wanting to correct the President, and embarrass him it was quickly changed. The other version is that the script of the speech has RS, however, the head of the USAF preferred the SR designation. The RS stood for Reconnaissance/Strike, but SR was Strategic Reconnaissance. Johnson changed his speech to match the new designation, however, the script of the speech issued to the press retained the RS version.
The initial order in December of 1962 was for just six SR-71's. A further order for twenty-five arrived in August 1963. The first flight was in December 1964 and the plane became operational in March 1968.
Another shot of both planes, here you can, just about, make out the differences between the two cockpits.
A final sub-type of the family was the YF-12. Which was a fighter version. Like the Blackbird it was a twin seat modification of the Oxcart. Three of the four bays usually used for reconnaissance gear became weapon bays, while the fourth held the fire control gear. Targeting and fire control radars were fitted. The weapon chosen was the AIM-47 Falcon, with one in each bay. This very short lived missile only had handful of firings, one of which failed due to a faulty giro. However, in one case the the YF-12 was flying at 74,000ft, and doing Mach 3.2 when it launched agaisnt its target.
YF-12 in flight.
The target was a drone, flying at just 500ft. The missile was fitted with an inert warhead, and struck the drone's tail tipping a big hole in it. The Falcon would be developed further before entering service as the AIM-54 Phoenix.
Close up of the YF-12's radar instillations, that is likely one of the easiest identifying features.
There were only three YF-12's built, and the project was cancelled fairly early on. However, the planes were publicly announced, so that any pictures or sightings of the Blackbird or Oxcart could be explained away as the YF-12 series. Two of the prototypes were lost in accidents involving fires, one while on the ground, the other while flying, but both crew members ejected. The last YF-12 was used by NASA, before being given to a museum.
The YF-12 in NASA service. It was used for experiments in high speed flight. Notice how the leading edges where the radar was installed has been flattened, and new surfaces isntalled.


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

Image credits (This should wind up the conspiracy theorists):
www.cia.gov, www.nasa.gov and migflug.com

Sunday, July 26, 2020

On a Venturer

On the 2nd of March 1944, late in the evening, about 2200 in a snowstorm, a small German convoy consisting of the merchants Thor, Hermann Fritzen and Tugela was steaming along at 7 knots off Stadlandet, Norway. Leading the convoy were two German small craft, the V5101 a Vorpostenboot (roughly equivalent to a RNPS trawler in function) and an unknown type of small vessel the M252. Suddenly one of the ratings of V5101 spotted a torpedo track. The Thor took a hit. Another torpedo exploded in the water shaking the V5101. A few minutes later two more torpedoes hit the shore, detonating. By now both V5101 and M252 were hunting for their attackers. For the next hour or so the escorts crisscrossed the area, flinging around eighteen depth charges at the submarine. 
The British submarine, resting at 305ft below the surface was HMS Venturer. Lead craft in the brand-new V-class, and soon to be the first and only submarine with another record.
HMS Venturer
HMS Venturer, and her captain Lieutenant James Stuart Launders, would conduct a total of thirteen war patrols, all off the coast of Norway, sinking several of Germany's dwindling merchant fleet. The closeness to the coast can be realised that generally, HMS Venturer's torpedoes would hit the shoreline and explode if they missed. On one occasion, on the 13th of September 1944 when attacking the merchant ship Force one of her torpedoes detonated prematurely, after it had been running for only about 320 yards. The spread had been launched at 1,200 yards. This warning gave the Force plenty of warning, and she turned and the spread missed. However, the crew abandoned ship. HMS Venturer watched for signs of any enemy action for about twenty minutes, then surfaced to use her deck gun. After firing five rounds to range in, and just two minutes after surfacing a German coastal battery at Horr opened fire on her, so she dived to safety again.
Lt Launders
Another rare incident occurred on the 11th of November 1944. At 0839 while submerged Lt Launders spotted the conning tower of a German submarine moving at about fifteen knots. This was U-771, and it seemed to be totally unaware of the presence of HMS Venturer. At 0845, at a range of 2,000 yards a full spread of torpedoes were fired. About 90 seconds later one of the torpedoes was heard to hit. U-771 sank immediately with all hands lost.
Type IXD2 U-boat, the same class as U-864
It may have been this success, or just random luck of HMS Venturer's position, but in February 1945 she was tasked with a special mission. She was tasked to intercept U-864. The U-boat had been loaded with technology and supplies, such as 65 tons of mercury, and was to try and reach Japan. Her journey had not gone well, suffering engine damage while passing through the Kiel Canal the previous December. U-864 had then sheltered at the U-boat pens at Bergan to repair the damage but been delayed further by British air raids in January. However, in February she set sail. Unfortunately for the crew of U-864 the British had decoded the messages about her, and thus the order had been given to HMS Venturer to find and sink the U-boat.

Bergan U-boat base under attack
The British submarine was lurking near Fedje. However, unknown to Lt Launders the U-864 had already passed by. HMS Venturer was sailing with ASDIC switched off and relying only on hydrophones. Then, in one of those odd quirks of fate, the damage sustained to U-864 started to re-occur. One of U-864's engines began to create a knocking sound. The Captain of U-864 turned back to Bergan to get the fault fixed, which brought him back to the area around Fedje.
The Crew of U-864
On the 9th of February 1945 at 0932 faint engine sounds were heard on board HMS Venturer, and she turned to intercept. From then until 1050 there were engine noises, and the contact was plotted. At 1050 the Officer of the Watch spotted a thin mast, although that was soon lost from view. HMS Venturer proceeded to that position. At 1115 Lt Launders spotted U-864's periscope. Until 1151 occasional sightings of U-864's periscope, and the use of hydrophone contacts allowed HMS Venturer to plot the course of the U-boat. She was zig-zagging at a speed of just 3.5 knots.

Making adjustments to a MkVIII** torpedo inside a British Submarine, the same type of Torpedo that HMS Venturer would be firing.
Using this information Lt Launders, and his crew calculated the firing solution. They had to set the depth on the torpedoes as well (on one previous attack against a ship a torpedo which they fired had left the water as the depth was not set correctly). They also had to calculate the time to target, and all the usual problems of a torpedo attack, with the added difficulties of not having a precise fix on the target or knowing what its depth was. At 1212 Lt Launder thought all was ready and they fired a spread of four torpedoes, with an interval of 17.5 seconds between each launch. Two minutes later one of the torpedoes found its mark, and U-864 was sunk with all hands. 

This battle is the only time in history that a submarine has sunk another submerged submarine. Although this is more to do with the lack of submarine on submarine warfare, but it does stand out because of the calculations that Lt Launder and his crew needed to make to achieve the shot.


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

Image credits:
www.battlefieldsww2.com, dubm.de, www.warhistoryonline.com

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Grand Theft Focke Wulf?

On the afternoon of the 9th February 1944 a flight of US Spitfires from 4th Fighter Squadron were performing a sweep off the coast of southern France, south east of Cannes. Carrying bombs their targets were enemy ships. The first hint of trouble came when a pack of FW-190A's dived on the formation, and a swirling dogfight erupted. At 2,500 meters Flying Officer James H Montgomery was shot down. The dogfight continued, and gradually lost altitude. In just four minutes the fight was down to 1,500m. One pilot, Flying Officer Bob Hoover, was turning in his Spitfire, he thought he'd hit one of the FW190's a few moments earlier, when the slipper tank below his aircraft was hit, and caught fire. The slipper tank was a tank that was fitted bellow the cockpit and was a streamlined bulge that extended the Spitfire's range. FO Hoover immediately bailed out and was soon captured by the Germans.
US Spitfires in the UK. For fairly obvious reasons the 4th Fighter Squadron would likely have been flying out of somewhere in the Med.
FO Hoover was sent to Stalagluft I, near Barth in Western Pomerania. There he spent sixteen months. Eventually as the war was winding down, he decided to take advantage of the confusion of the collapse of Germany and escape. A mock fight was staged by the prisoners, and FO Hoover and a couple of Canadians slipped over the wire while the German guards were preoccupied. They arrived at a farmhouse where a kindly German lady gave them a meal, and a pistol with three rounds in it, and they set off for safety. After a short while the group stole some bikes.
Bob Hoover, after the war.
After a while travelling through Germany they arrived at an airfield. On it were a number of damaged FW190's. Sneaking onto the field they found a flyable FW190, fully fuelled. They also managed to locate a sole mechanic, who spoke French, and thus the Canadians were able to talk to him. Using the pistol, they encouraged him to help the start up the selected FW190, and FO Hoover flew away in the captured FW190. He would later crash in a field in the Netherlands.

Or at least that is the story told by most other websites. The Canadians are often unmentioned, and FO Hoover is shot down after suffering engine trouble, and crash lands. These websites often include epitaphs of "World’s greatest pilot!" or similar.

Now, who can spot the flaws?

By my count sixteen months on from 9th February 1944 is 9th of June 1945, which we can use as the approximate date that FO Hoover escaped. Or to put it another way, some 33 days after VE day. What makes it all the more bizarre is that the Soviet Army liberated Stalagluft I on the 30th of April, so 41 days before hand. Then let's talk about traipsing across Soviet occupied Germany to an airfield, and finding a lone German mechanic at an airfield, and no Soviet guards? This to me tells me either I'm missing an important piece of information, or someone's gotten something wrong, such as dates.
Soviet troops with a liberated US POW. For more photographs, and a much more detailed story on Stalagluft I please see this site.
I should be clear, Bob Hoover is a great pilot, and has a list as long as your arm of feats, and outstanding manoeuvres such as showing off the aerobatic capabilities of a light civilian aircraft, by completing a barrel roll with no engines, followed by several other acrobatic twists and turns followed by a landing. Although to spice things up, he'd land only on one wheel for the first part of the touchdown, all unpowered. He also flew several combat missions in Korea, and was Chuck Yeager's back up for the Bell X-1, and was nearly the pilot for the Mach 1 flight, as Yeager had injured himself, although Yeager being himself he'd flown the flight with the injury.
Bob Hoover performing the touch down part of his routine.
But that escape story has a few too many holes for me to be comfortable with.


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

Image credits:

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Boarding Party

A few weeks ago, my friend Adam Pawley told me a story about a German First World War raider, that upon closer inspection showed promise as an article, so here we are.
The RMS Victorian, before she was taken into service.
On June 23, 1915, the armed cruise liner HMS Victorian was part of the blockading forces off the north of the UK. Their task was to stop any shipping that might be bound for Germany. On that fateful day she was closing on a sailing ship, flying an American flag. This ship was the Pass of Balmaha, onboard was a cargo of cotton bound for Arkhangelsk, and her crew of twenty which consisted of nineteen ratings and her captain, John Lenard. HMS Victorian put a boarding party of one Royal Navy Reserve officer, a petty officer and four men onto the Pass of Balmaha for inspection, all were armed. Cargoes such as the cotton bales could not be easily inspected at sea. In such cases the merchants were to be sent to port for closer inspection. In this case the officer was ordered to take the ship to either Lerwick or Kirkwall. The choice was left to him, as the Pass of Balmaha had no engines and was entirely reliant on the wind. With this, the two ships went their separate ways.
The sailing ship Pass of Balmaha
On the evening of 23rd of July the twenty-eight souls aboard the Pass of Balmaha saw a ship torpedoed by a German submarine. The following morning a similar fate befell another ship within their sight. Obviously, the Pass of Balmaha was right in the middle of a U-boat's hunting area. The Royal Navy men disguised themselves with borrowed clothing and concealed themselves in a hold. This way they hoped that the ship could pass itself off as a neutral merchant. Then, at 0700 on the 24th of July, the U-boat surfaced, and pulled alongside. It sent over a boarding party to take the ship into Cuxhaven. The Royal Navy men were not unduly worried, as there was another patrol line similar to the one HMS Victorian was operating in or failing that random patrols from around the coast of the UK. One of these was almost certainly bound to spot the Pass of Balmaha and intercept her, at which point the tables would be turned. Remarkably none of these events occurred and the sailing ship was able to make it to German held territory, and the ship was captured, the Royal Navy men ended up as POW's and the American crew were repatriated to a neutral country.
U-36, the U-boat that captured the Pass of Balmaha
An interesting aside is that the U-boat that captured the Pass of Balmaha, would twelve hours later attempt to sink a collier. This turned out to be an armed decoy ship, which was basically a prototype idea to the Q-ship and was armed with 6-pounder and 3-pounder guns. It quickly sunk the U-boat in a brief exchange of gunfire.

By this stage in the war at sea the Germans were defiantly losing. Their main problem was the usual one for Germany. Blockaded in central Europe she lacked the international trade empire to provide refuelling sites. Docking at a neutral country would mean impounding until the war was over, and so her surface units had no way of resupplying, and would very quickly become dead in the water, adrift and of no use to anyone. But a sailing ship, like the Pass of Balmaha did not need refuelling. Thus, the plan was hatched to refit her as a commerce raider. Hidden rooms for boarding parties would be installed along with a pair of 105mm guns. In addition, a couple of machine guns and even torpedo tubes were fitted.
One of the 105mm guns fitted during the upgrade.
To defeat the blockade the ship was disguised as the Norwegian vessel Irma. Norwegian style furnishings were fitted, along with photographs of the Norwegian monarchs as well as the British King. Uniforms were Norwegian, and as many Norwegian speakers as could be found were employed. The remainder of the crew were taught what certain commands in Norwegian meant, so even if they didn't speak the language, they could react when commanded. With all this in place, they departed in December 1916.

Inevitably she ran into a blockade ship and was boarded. Here the crew put the second stage into operation. In the main mess, where, for reasons of camouflage the crew did not want too detailed an inspection a young 17 year old sailor, who looked distinctly feminine was wearing a dress. He was introduced as the Captains wife, who had been taken ill and was resting. In the background the song It’s a Long Way to Tipperary was playing. Not wishing to disturb the lady the British boarding party kept their inspection to a brief glance. This pantomime was entirely successful, and the Irma was sent on her way. Once in the Atlantic, she began her raiding activities under the new name, the SMS Seeadler.

For the next eight months the SMS Seeadler worked her way south, heading for the pacific. She sunk fifteen ships on her way. As she reached the Society Islands, she heaved to on Mopelia, an uninhabited island. The reason for this rest stop was to provide some relaxation for the crew and enable some heavy-duty repairs. At 0930 the wind changed direction and drove her onto the reef around the island. Holed badly she began to take on water, and the pumps failed to make a dent. Indeed, nothing the crew could do would save her, and the crew were stranded.
Two pictures of the wreck of the Seeadler, visited some years later.
The captain of the SMS Seeadler and five others sailed for help in a 32ft launch from the ship, eventually arriving on the Fiji Islands. Upon arrival they were detained as prisoners of war. Before help could be sent, a French sailing ship called the Lutece arrived at Mopelia and was captured by the Germans. They then sailed on, arriving at Easter Island in October, where the ship was once again wrecked. Easter Island then belonged to Chile, and the Germans were interned by the neutral nation.


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

Image credits:

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Werden the Article go?

I write the article a week in advance, and last week it all went wrong. At some point previously I'd found a link to a website that gave some details of the last days of  the War in a small village in Germany called Werden. Which was located on the edge of Essen.
A pair of semi-complete Maus at the Krupp works in Essen, one is wearing a Tiger turret as a hat.
 From the information available it seemed like an interesting story. I spent some six hours trying to find out more, even then I had to admit defeat. It was not helped that Werden is apparently also the German word for "Will" and a few Wehrmacht units have that in their motto.
I could not even confirm which US unit captured Werden as two sources give differing units, which leads us to the unpleasant idea that there's actually two Werden's in Germany.

The original website can be found here, but google translate makes a hash of it.

Thus with no article, and no time I was left with a bit of a problem for this week. Luckily, I have in my links folder an interesting PDF book on the introduction of the helicopter into the US Navy in the middle of World War Two. Which is a rather interesting read, so I'll have to leave you with that. I was rather surprised to find out that both the US and Royal Navy operated helicopter carriers during the war. with he idea of carrying a single depth charge which they could punt in the direct of any spotted U-boats.

Next week we've got a proper story of tall sailing ships, boarding parties and sailors wearing women's dresses!

Image credits:
tanks-encyclopedia.com, cgaviationhistory.org and vertipedia-legacy.vtol.org

Sunday, June 28, 2020

JC was a Para

Born on the 26th of April 1908 John Clifford Lord was one of larger than life types that populated the armed forces during, and after the Second World War. His hometown was Southport in Lancashire. He went to boarding school, then returned home to help his father, and brother, in their family business. However, this business ran into trouble in the Great Depression, and John Lord had no other choice but to leave and find alternative work. He decided upon the Police Force, however, to improve his chances of selection he decided upon a short service period with the Army, specifically the Grenadier Guards. At the time it was quite common for people to take this route into civil service. Thus, at the age of twenty-four, in March 1933, Lord signed up for a four year tour of service, with eight years on the reserve list. In 1937 Lord had reached the rank of lance sergeant, something quite unusual for those on short service contracts. When his tour of duty was finished, he joined the Brighton Police Force. 
RSM Lord. When I first saw his picture I thought of BSM Williams, played by Windsor Davies in "it aint half hot mum".

Unsurprisingly, as a reservist, when war broke out Lord was recalled to the colours, which occurred in December 1939. He was sent for refresher training and given his old rank back. From there he was instantly promoted to Sandhurst as one of the instructors, rising to Company Sergeant Major. He remained there until October 1941, when the brand-new British Paratrooper Regiment were being formed. He became the Regimental Sergeant Major for 3rd Parachute Battalion on its formation. As the men were volunteers from different regiments, they each had their own different way of doing things. This became startlingly clear on the first parade. The men had been grouped depending on their backgrounds. All the men formerly of light infantry regiments were in A Company, fusiliers in B and guardsmen in C Company, plus handful of others that were scattered about. On that first parade it was quickly found that the pace and tempo of movements during drill were vastly different with the light infantry doing things much faster than the slower more measured guardsmen, resulting in A Company completing the order, way ahead of C Company. As well as drill these traditional differences applied to other matters. RSM Lord tackled this by stating 'We are all parachutists and will do the same drill'. Drill from then on was conducted accompanied by a metronome. RSM Lord was credited with being instrumental in merging all the men into one coherent unit and founding the esprit de corps that would be present in the paratroopers. 
PAra's approaching Taranto
RSM Lord would stay with 3 Para for the entirety of the war, serving in Tunisia, Sicily and even landing at Taranto Harbour. He was then returned to the UK and would be part of the Arnhem operation. On the 18th, during one of the attacks to try and reach the bridge the Para's ran into heavy defensive fire, including a medium machine gun, which forced them back. During this battle RSM Lord was hit in the shoulder and evacuated to hospital. Where, in due course, he would be captured. 
Captured Para's at Arnhem.
RSM Lord knew that his primary role was to install discipline in the men and keep them focused and their spirits up. One of the ways he did this was by applying basic hygiene standards. One member of a group of freshly captured officers remembers they'd been fighting all week, and were dishevelled and varying levels of battered and in shock, when in walked RSM Lord, clean as he could be, and freshly shaved, and said to them 'Gentlemen, I think you should all shave!', then walked out. This action snapped the officers out of their shock and stirred them all to action to clean themselves up as best they could, following the RSM's example. 
Stalag XIB
RSM Lord was sent, along with other enlisted personnel to Stalag XIB. Here he found some POW's that had been in captivity since Dunkirk. The enlisted men were described as living in squalid misery, and defaulting to the lethargy that long periods of captivity usually result in. RSM Lord did what he could to tighten everything up, improve morale and give everything a soldierly bearing, and it worked. RSM Lord set up a command structure, with each hut becoming the equivalent of a company, and those in charge of each hut reporting to him as a sort of command group. 

At one point the Germans were withholding the Red Cross Parcels. RSM Lord approached the officer in charge and found out the reason why. The Germans were feeling unhappy that the appropriate respect was not being displayed to them from the enlisted personnel. RSM Lord then went back to his command group and instructed them to start saluting. The group to a man disagreed and were aghast at the situation. RSM Lord just told them to watch.

He approached the first German whom he would be able to salute. Ripped off a perfect parade ground salute, and yelled 'BOLLOCKS!'. The German, thinking this a word of greeting, or respect, tried to return the salute with the word. This of course amused the prisoners greatly and soon Stalag XIB was ringing to the enthusiastic cries of "Bollocks!" every time a German officer received a salute. The Germans were happy and so released the Red Cross parcels. 

As the war ground on the Germans began to suffer. RSM Lord convinced the Germans that some parts of the guard should be mounted by his own men. Eventually, the Germans withdrew in the face of approaching Allied armies, and the POW's took over the entire guard. When the first Allied forces arrived, they were met at the front gate by a paratrooper, immaculately turned out, with Red Beret, and thought that the Airborne forces had reached the camp ahead of them. 
RSM Lord outside Stalag XIB

After the war RSM Lord returned to Sandhurst as an instructor where he taught a great many people, including King Hussein of Jordan. He is rumoured to have once yelled on parade 'Mr King of Jordan Sir, you are without doubt the scruffiest Monarch I have ever seen on my parade ground!'. Lord retired in August 1963 and died some five years later.

Should you wish to read more on John Lord, there is a book on the subject, currently free online, which can be found here. It also includes a detailed description from Lord himself on the conditions in Stalag XIB which might be of interest.

Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

Image credits:
www.paradata.org.uk, theguardsmuseum.com

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Guarding Home

On the 14th of May 1940 Anthony Eden put-forth a call for volunteers to help defend the UK. These were called the LDV and would later be renamed to the Home Guard. In 1968 the BBC broadcast the series Dads Army, which has, unfortunately, skewed the modern view of the Home Guard. The Home Guard was, eventually, a well-equipped force with significant amounts of training, and were a vital part of the defence of the UK during the war. In 1943 the Home Guard entered into ground combat with Axis forces.

Home Guard advancing through a collection of ruins.
On the 9th of July 1943, Private Charles Hands, from Liverpool, of the Pioneer Corps was supervising a POW work party. It consisted of seven Italians. One of which was named Antonio Amedeo, who had been born on the 21st of January 1920 in Calabria, and had later been captured at Tobruk. There is an unconfirmed rumour that the Italians wished to have a talk to some Land Army ladies who were working nearby but were not allowed.
Whatever the reason, Amedeo attacked Pvt Hands with a hedging hook, brutally killing him. Amedeo then grabbed Pvt Hands rifle, which was fully loaded with ten rounds, and fled into the nearby Kimbolton park.
The local Home Guard battalions, and police, turned out to conduct a search for this individual, however, no sign of him was found on the 9th, or 10th. That evening with still no sign of the escapee two of the Home Guards, a father and son, returned home. Their house was at Grange farm, about halfway between Swineshead and Wood End, and almost directly south west of Kimbolton, and about two miles from where Amedeo was last seen. These two Home Guards were the father, Bernard Shelton, and his son, John Michael Shelton, who was aged just 18.

About 1800 John finished his evening meal and got up to go feed the chickens. As he stepped out into the passageway, he came face to face with Amedeo. The Italian raised his captured rifle and fired, narrowly missing John. Then he bolted, running up some nearby stairs.
Amedeo had entered the farm earlier in the day via the dairy. To enable himself to sneak about better he had removed his boots, before helping himself to food from the larder.
Men of the Bedfordshire Home Guard. The Shelton's were part of the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire Home Guard.

John grabbed his own rifle, turned and ran up a second staircase. Upon reaching the second floor he advanced down the hallway cautiously checking for Amedeo. In the end he found the Italian in his sisters’ bedroom. The Italian was covering the main staircase which he had fled up, not realising there was a second way onto the floor. John charged into the room, Amedeo must have been taken by surprise as John was able to get the first shot off, hitting Amedeo in the chest and killing him instantly.

For his initiative, quick reactions and bravery Pvt Shelton was awarded the British Empire Medal, and became the only Home Guardsmen to enter into ground combat in the Second World War.


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Ruso-Gaelic Speaker?

Today we have a story that is a bit obfuscated by time, and lots of populist re-telling of the story, so the exact details may not be right, but here's my best efforts.

In 1940 The 51st Highland Division was deployed forward to the Maginot Line, as the situation deteriorated, they were ordered to pull back. They moved in a north-west direction and regained the coast, however, they were already too late and cut off from Dunkirk. Along with French forces, and the remains of the 1st Army Tank Brigade they formed their own defensive perimeter, with one side placed along the Somme River.

Reportedly men of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders
The 7th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders were setup in the area around Franleu, with C Company occupying the village. On the 5th of June at 0300 a dispatch rider arrived at the battalion HQ reporting that two companies (C & D) were under attack. A section of carriers was dispatched to assist. At 0345 phone lines went dead to these two companies, and a two-man team was sent out to inspect the line. Almost immediately firing was heard and one of the inspection party arrived back at battalion HQ reporting Germans about 200 yards away, he had been shot in the hand, and the other was wounded and unable to move. A patrol was sent forward to determine what was going on, they soon confirmed that there were a large number of Germans already working their way into the town. The front line had already collapsed before the battle had begun. A dispatch rider driving a water truck then arrived asking for immediate help at Franleu. He had run into a German force at point blank, and his truck was riddled with holes to underline the seriousness of the situation.
The German forces were from the 12th infantry Division, with the 89th Grenadier-Regiment attacking Franleu itself, and the two isolated companies. The carriers reached a position overlooking the besieged Franleu. They reported that about 1,000 enemy had encircled the settlement and there was a 200 strong party moving in assault towards the village. From about 0400 D Company was being attacked by cavalry formations which it easily repulsed. However, light tanks were then brought up to support the cavalry, and D Company was forced to retire, leaving a platoon to conduct a delaying action at the crossroads they had been holding.
A Company had been pulled back to support the Battalion HQ, then push towards Franleu. However, increasing German resistance had prevented this move.
At Franleu the Germans had reached the outskirts of the village, however, accurate Bren gun fire was preventing them from closing up. As soon as they began a movement, a few quick well aimed bursts of Bren gun fire normally pinned the attackers and they broke off. However, they had other options to use. A battery of about four heavy mortars were brought up, towed by horses. These would fire a few rounds then move, and they spent the next few hours moving about the village firing quick bombardments. These bombardments began to take their toll, hitting ammo trucks and even the radio trucks. One carrier in the village was used to patrol the streets, collecting both the wounded, and preventing German snipers infiltrating deeper into the village.
What I love about this comic is that the equipment is correct, even the Bren Gun carrier is a Bren Gun carrier, no t the later Universal Carrier.

As the day wore on the situation became worse, even with reinforcements arriving. Eventually the 7th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders were largely over run with around 523 men killed or captured, and only a few stragglers reaching friendly lines.

In this area, there were two soldiers, Corporal Sandy MacDonald and Private William Kemp (some sources state there was a third man, Lance-Corporal James Wilson). As their unit collapsed about them, they managed to evade being captured. They quickly ditched their uniforms for civilian clothes they had obtained and set off across country looking to find a means to get away from the Germans.
Providence of this picture isn't quite known, however, it is captioned as Wilson (left), Kemp (centre) and MacDonald (right).
However, before too long they found themselves captured at a German checkpoint and were passed off for interrogation. They were sat down in a room, and a German officer marched in, he issued a warning by the simple expedient of pointing his pistol at each of their heads. Then an interpreter was brought in. This was a French officer, he asked them in English where they were from. The soldiers replied in Scots Gaelic that they did not know. This questioning continued, through a total of seven languages. Each time the soldiers replied in Gaelic. Eventually an atlas was produced. The German officer started leafing through the pages, showing the Scottish soldiers pictures of different countries. Eventually he reached the Ukraine, which the Scotsmen identified as their homeland.

As the Germans were allied with the Soviet Union, the Scotsmen were released. They managed to make their way through France to Spain, where they made contact with the British consulate, and thus returned to the UK.


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

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Sunday, June 7, 2020

Where's this Weeks Article?

I've posted this weeks article over on Facebook. The reason is we're discussing something that shouldn't really be posted on this blog.

Link to the post is here.

And here's a picture that started the conversation off:

Next week we're back to normal with a historical post on here.