Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A strange Bird

This article has been written when I asked for ideas earlier in the week on Facebook. James Panganiban suggested this topic and as I have an excellent book which touches on the subject, it sounded like a plan. The reason why I'm asking for ideas is because after doing this for about three years I've covered most of the ideas that come easily to mind. So now it's more a case of looking for something interesting to write about with sufficient sources. So please, if you have any ideas, or requests send them in!

The 6th Guards Tank Brigade, which included the 4th Coldstream Guards, landed in France on the 20th of July 1944, and rolled immediately into action. Three weeks later the Brigade was no longer green, they had ripened, and they certainly smelled it! After three weeks the Germans had started the great retreat across France. For the 6th Guards it was time to rest and refit.. and to wash. During this two weeks of resting they even had a visit from George Formby as part of an ENSA show.
 Meanwhile two officers got a bit lost while touring the countryside and ended up in Paris, a few hours before it officially surrendered.
The "refit" part of rest and refit however was where the interesting stuff happened. The brigade intelligence officer collected a number of fitters and disappeared. They moved to an area of the Falaise Gap, in between Chambois and Trun. The group was split up into smaller groups and given an area to work where they catalogued all the enemy equipment in the area. A significant portion of it had just been abandoned, not destroyed. The aim was to create a Panther platoon for the brigade. One Panther was found, and the intelligence officer even drove it, heading back to the brigade. He got as far as Flers, but for some undisclosed reason the project was dropped. However the brigade did end up with two wireless command cars, a welding plant and several German telephones and typewriters.
On the 12th of October 1944 a division of artillery launched a massive, but short bombardment aimed at German positions in the area around Overloon. The Coldstreams launched their attack at about midday, through countryside that had been waterlogged, but prepared (at least initially) by the Royal Engineers. Initially everything went well, however on the outskirts of Overloon things began to go wrong. The Coldstreams had two squadrons forward, each accompanying a battalion of infantry. The issue was the infantry, neither of the battalions wanted to plough into Overloon, as fighting in cities, even with tank support is a bloody and unpleasant business. So the two infantry units went around both sides of the town which meant they dragged their supporting tank squadrons with them. The HQ troop following behind trying to keep in contact with both of its forward squadrons now found itself drawn forward and in the front line facing Overloon. To make matters worse they ran into newly designed German anti-tank mines, which were more than capable of penetrating a Churchill's armour. The first two tanks to be hit were the rear link, and spare rear link, then the battalion commander's tank. In the latter case he was unwounded and continued on foot with the infantry, only to be cut off shortly afterwards by the fighting.
Then a pair of Churchill's were knocked out by a Panther tank. On the other flank there were mines and these were covered by anti-tank guns which started knocking out tanks. However during a fierce afternoon of fighting one flank managed to push into the outskirts of the town, and a gap was cleared in the mines in front of Overloon allowing the HQ tanks to move into the town and link up with the battalion commander and the infantry he was with.
The next morning, Friday the 13th, a new plan was formed. The Coldstreams with support of two squadrons of Grenadier Guards would mount a large push to the south of Overloon. Bitter fighting followed including on one occasion a British tank commander dismounting and fighting off German infantry with his service revolver. Throughout the day, and the next day the Churchill's carried on running into Panthers and losing men and machines. However the Germans were always forced back from their positions. In Overloon, in a barn, the Coldstreams found an abandoned but fully working Panther tank. Remembering the earlier idea of a Panther troop they took this lost tank under their wing.
She was named Cuckoo. All the vehicles of the command group in the Coldstreams were named after birds, for example the battalion commander's tank was called "Eagle", a  armoured command vehicle was "Vulture", and they had scout cars named "Pigeon", "Wren" and "Owlet", to name but a few. Keeping with this ornithological theme "Cuckoo" seemed to fit a German tank in a British unit.
Look at the rear most tank
Cuckoo's wartime exploits are difficult to find, she first gets a mention in the reduction of the Geijsteren, a castle in Holland which was surrounded by a moat, flood water and mud, with its bridge blown and the causeway leading to it covered by German guns. The British after seeing the results of a similar attack decided it would be easier to just reduce it with fire-power, and set about this on the 27th of November. Here Cuckoo's long gun is singled out for praise as it was able to smash shells with unerring accuracy through windows and loopholes. Despite the Coldstreams shooting at it nothing much was achieved, so on the 28th the Allies prepared for a shooting party.
At 0900 the festivities got under way with the entirety of two squadrons firing for the first two hours. Then the Royal Artillery took over until a break for lunch. During lunch several visitors showed up, including a group of Typhoon pilots who came to see the action.
The afternoon was kicked off again with the artillery. This time a 5.5" gun was used in direct contact with quite some impressive effects. The Germans then got into to the swing of things by firing some high velocity HE shells over the head of the observing VIP's.
Then a flight Of Typhoons attack with bombs and cannon, however the second pilot mistimed his drop and landed his bombs closer to the visitors than the castle. The Typhoon pilots after enjoying this pleasant day out were rather sceptical of how hard life in the field was. So the Germans, once again obligingly landed a very heavy mortar barrage on the VIP's. It took some time to persuade them to climb out of the muddy holes they'd  found after the barrage was over.
The final picture of Cuckoo
Cuckoo next appears during the attack on Putt where her ability to handle the ice even better than the Churchill's was noted. Here the Germans didn't put up much resistance after the Scots guards set up on a hill overlooking Putt and bombarded it with such ferocity they removed all the snow. The Coldstreams pushed into the town and the Germans instantly surrendered. Cuckoo's demise was somewhere near Cleve on the 21st of February 1945. Her fuel pump broke down irreparably. With no replacement she had to be abandoned.

Image Credits:
 odkrywca.pl, www.strijdbewijs.nl, www.warrelics.eu and www.ww2incolor.com.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Jay Thing

In June 1966 the USMC were conducting Operation Jay, a sweep and clear operation hunting for VC forces in Quang Dien District. This is about 13 miles north of the famous city of Hue, that would reach the headlines during the Tet Offensive. The forces deployed included two battalions of marines and an artillery battalion. Towards the end of June the operation was being wound up with only a single battalion staying in the area, while the other forces were withdrawn.
However South Vietnam was also deploying a force of its marines (Vietnamese Marine Corp or VMC) to the area. This battalion was being moved up to the area on a convoy of twenty eight trucks. Route 1, which the VMC were taking, hadn't had any enemy activity on it for nearly a year. Despite this in anticipation of an attack the VMC were riding armed and ready for an ambush. The force had planned artillery fire along its route, and the command staff of the battalion brought along an observer. There was also a Vietnamese observer plane overhead. They left Hue city at 0730.
It took them an hour to reach the 0 Lau River, passing a column of USMC heading to Hue about five km from the city. Shortly afterwards the VMC convoy entered a series of rolling hills that was open to the west. To the east was a railway that ran parallel to the road, and was cut into the hillside. As the column reached the middle of the 3km stretch of open ground the enemy struck.
The enemy in this case was a VC battalion which had moved out the night previously. It seems to have had intelligence of the marines deployment as the VC moved out on the night of the 28th of June to be in position for the 29th, when the VMC column was due to pass. The USMC forces also had decent intelligence, as they received a warning of an impending attack on the night of the 28th. The USMC intelligence indicated the attack would be an assault against their units, not an ambush two and a half kilometres away against the VMC.
The VC battalion had set its heavy weapons up in the hills to the west of the road. As the VMC column entered the killing zone they opened fire, hitting the centre of the column with recoilless rifle and light mortar fire. Then machine guns and small arms opened fire raking the length of the column at a range of about 200m. Ten trucks were hit. Three were utterly smashed, two of which caught fire sending plumes of smoke into the sky. These smoke stacks were seen by the artillery battalion, who immediately leapt into action and swung their pieces through 180 degrees to be ready for any fire missions that came in. The sound of the gunfire was heard by the USMC convoy that had passed the VMC convoy. The USMC force was halted at a checkpoint, and upon hearing the racket they prepared for action, rolling up the canvas of their trucks, so they could fire out into the bush. They were thankful that they had driven through the VC killing zone and not been attacked.

Under the pounding the VMC deployed in an orderly fashion from their trucks and took up what little cover there was and began to return fire. Looking west there was a thin stand of trees which could be seen through, beyond this they could make out the black blasts and muzzle flashes of enemy weapons. Then they could see the VC starting to prepare an assault. The VMC commander immediately realised that the roadway had almost no cover and ordered his men to fall-back to the railway.
Two companies of the VMC started the fall back manoeuvre and crossed the 75m of ground without issues. Then when the lead elements reached the railway cut the VC sprung their second ambush. Hidden in concealed positions the VC Infantry had waited until the Vietnamese marines were at point blank range before opening fire. The first volleys killed the majority of the officers. The few marines that made it into the cut, and the dead ground from the line of VC infantry were taken under enfilading fire from the north by heavy machine guns sighted to fire along the line of the railway and cover the dead ground. The battalion commander (by now seriously wounded) had two companies on the road and two separated by 75m of fire swept open ground and he had lost control of the battalion.

USMC advisor's with the VMC battalion luckily had their own radios, and managed to contact a US Army observer plane nearby. The USMC artillery which had been listening in to the same net as the US army plane immediately offered fire support, which was gratefully accepted. The first salvo of shells impacted at 0846. Then the thunder began. Another observer plane arrived overhead, this one belonged to the USMC and on-board was a specialist Forward Air Controller. The FAC was in contact with F-4 Phantoms that were arriving in the area and he began to direct these strikes on the enemy.
At 0915 the increasingly crowded airspace was joined by the commanders of the USMC battalions that were conducting Operation Jay. They were carrying out reconnaissance of the ambush site prior to advancing. Both ARVN forces with tanks and the US Marines were closing on the ambush site. However the ARVN tanks couldn't reach the site due to a river being in the way. Not so the diminutive and much lighter M50 Ontos.
The Ontos was built to be bullet proof, with a great mobility. Armed with six M40 106mm recoilless rifles it had potent firepower. Originally 300 odd had been built, by the start of the US involvement in the Vietnam war the number in service was down to about half that number. With no logistical support they had to cannibalize older machines to make others work. Equally they had no spare tracks and so all the Ontos’s were dangerously worn. Despite this the Ontos’s had vastly superior mobility than most tanks. On this occasion the Ontos’s were able to cross a small rickety bridge and advance on the VC positions.
The Ontos had a reputation amongst the VC. It's bullet proof nature with horrific fire-power and unsurpassed mobility meant that it was rather feared. For example the 106mm recoilless rifle had a beehive round, each of these had 10000 metal flechettes inside it. So an Ontos could blanket an area with such fire-power that an reporter writing about the Battle Khe San said  of the Ontos "[...] enough flechette ammunition to pin the entire North Vietnamese Army to the face of Co Roc Mountain".
Bundle of Beehive flechettes. Multiple of these would have been stacked inside the cone of the round.
In this particular case the Ontos platoon managed to get into position flanking the ambush. With airstrikes and artillery raining down, reinforcements arriving from both south and north, including a platoon of the feared Ontos, the VC broke and ran. The ones at the railway cutting had plenty of cover. However the force on the open ground to the west of the road lacked any such cover for their flight. One platoon waiting until it thought it was all clear left their position at speed hoping to get to more cover before another air strike or artillery could be directed at them. They'd forgotten about the Ontos’s. The Ontos platoon fired one round from each gun, and swept the VC platoon from existence.

The fight was all but over, with the forces west of the road being cut off by air mobile troops and surrounded. It cost the VC battalion 185 killed and most of its crew served weapons. The VMC had lost 42 dead.


Image credits:
www.defensemedianetwork.com, www.kingsacademy.com, f.tqn.com and www.vspa.com

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Steam and Armour

When you mention the German invasion of Holland in May 1940, most people can't name any of the battles there. The best that anyone can remember is the bombing of Rotterdam, or occasionally, for the geographically confused, Eben Emael. However during the first day of the German invasion the Dutch put up a fight giving the Germans a bloody nose. All of this despite the poor state of the Dutch defenders.
The Dutch forces were underfunded and largely ill equipped, with many weapons being obsolete. Plus I think their uniforms looked silly and were a horrific colour. Equally the Dutch defences had some serious problems. Constructed during peacetime they often had to take into consideration civilian property, so you might get a nicely sited bunker, with a house or a farm creating dead ground right in front of it. On the plus side the Dutch had a large number of north/south waterways and boggy ground. Equally the Germans didn't have as many tanks facing Holland, due to most being concentrated further south against the French. To make up for this deficiency the Germans planned to deploy a number of armoured trains against Holland.
Dutch Soldiers standing guard, literally, at the border with Germany.
At the Dutch town of Mill, the soldiers with their antique 84mm field guns were just receiving word that war had broken out. War had been declared only half an hour earlier when two trains chugged into view. The Dutch forces thought they were Dutch trains and let them pass unmolested, in reality the lead train was the small German armoured train, Panzerzug 1. It carried a small detachment of manpower. Behind it was a fully loaded troop train carrying an entire German infantry battalion.

The two trains passed the Dutch line without any serious opposition, and proceeded to move east further into Dutch territory. Near the town of Zeeland the armoured train had its airline hit forcing the column to halt for repairs while the Germans fought off the Dutch defenders.
You might be confused about how an armoured train could be knocked out by small arms fire, well put out of your mind the armoured trains from later in the war. These early German trains were little more than wagons protected with steel plate and a much more ramshackle affair than you are expecting, many were only armed with loopholes for riflemen, or a Maxim gun or two.
While Panzerzug 1 was being repaired the troop train attempted to contact its headquarters by radio to report the success of their penetration. However the short range radios were unable to reach the much delayed HQ. After the repairs had been made to Panzerzug 1 it was decided that she would return to the headquarters carrying a message. The armoured train was moved to a siding at the station of Zeeland, and placed behind the Troop train for its run back to friendly lines.
As it rattled along and approached the bridge at Mill a warning was yelled. The Dutch, far from being idle in the last hours had barricaded the train tracks. Panzerzug 1 locked its wheels in an effort to avoid the obstruction. It was somewhat successful. The front carriage was derailed as it hit the obstructions, and slid down the bank into the canal below.
Replica of the barricades the Dutch erected.
 The few men on the train immediately dismounted and launched an assault against the two nearest Dutch bunkers, capturing both. Before they could push any further the Dutch soldiers began to fire and soon an intense firefight developed between the Dutch and German held bunkers.
Claimed to be Panzerzug 1, but when you compare to a latter picture which is also claimed to be Panzerzug 1 you'll notice some differences.
The battalion on the troop train dismounted and began a series of fights to try and break the line from the reverse. At one point they came across a battery of Dutch field guns, which were unmapped by the Germans. As they were attacking into the guns flank the gun crews had to be careful as they were firing over each others heads, this hardly improved the guns terrible rate of fire. The guns themselves dated from 1881. However with the shelling and the crew using their personal weapons they managed to drive off the attacking German company after an hour or so of fighting. They then shifted their fire to the disabled German train, forcing the Germans who had been using the armoured carriages as a base of fire against the the rest of the Dutch line to abandon their superior position. The battle finally ended the following day as German reinforcements swamped the area.
Dutch 84mm 8-Staal guns at Mill
Other German trains fared little better. For example Panzerzug 6 first came across a swing bridge. These are a form of bridge used to allow ships to pass, they rotate on a central pillar. The Dutch forces had opened the bridge forcing the Germans to dismount and recapture the control centre to close the bridge so that they could proceed. Further on they encountered another bridge that had been demolished. After constructing a replacement they met a third and final bridge. This too was swing bridge which the Dutch had opened. Then to prevent a repeat of what happened at the first swing bridge they borrowed some rolling stock from the Dutch railway and crashed that into the turning mechanism jamming the bridge in the open position. With this impassable barrier Panzerzug 6 retreated. Elsewhere it was largely the same story. Even when Brandenburgers tried to capture the bridges dressed in Dutch uniforms they failed.
Also claimed ot be Panzerzug 1, it at least gives you an idea of the nature of the Armoured trains in use.
After their disastrous showing in the Dutch campaign, the armoured trains were recalled to Germany. Slowly the concept changed to the heavily armoured and armed concept you're more familiar with, such as the BP-42 train which went on to see action in the invasion of Russia.


Image credits:
kennispuntmei1940.nl and www.worldwarphotos.info

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Armour quiz: the Answers

Last week I put up this "How well do you know your armour?" quiz, so here are the answers.

1) http://i.imgur.com/ZBmHSmg.jpg
100% success rate here, its Bovington's Medium Mk.A Whippet. Its named Caesar II, and was the tank in which Cecil Sewell won his VC.

2)  http://i.imgur.com/vR0rnAV.jpg
I know a couple of you will be kicking yourself at this one. As they spent msot of last Sunday trying to work out what it is. Its a Chieftain. You can see the Stillbrew armour, and the post war smoke discharger that gives it away.

3) http://i.imgur.com/t1PXfpu.jpg
Most of you got this one right, its the Covenanter. You can tell it from the armoured covers over the radiators. Their location caused bit of comment when it was first built amongst the British staff, especially the amount of protection around them.
You might ask how to spot it against another tank that has similar arrangements, well to the left of the picture you can see the drivers position, meaning that has to be the front hull.

4) http://i.imgur.com/94AYHy3.jpg
Ahh the first really nasty one! Most of you worked out it was an armoured car, just which particular one was up in the air. To set the matter to rest it was a Coventry armoured car. A pretty interesting vehicle that was designed to replace the excellent Daimler armoured car. However apart from a handful of production model it never went anywhere. This particular one is armed with the 75mm gun.

5) http://i.imgur.com/LPhHxMH.jpg
All of you got this right, it is in deed a Churchill Crocodile. With its distinctive armoured cover for the flame gun

6) http://i.imgur.com/ZHrd3vW.jpg
Again another one which will cause some self kicking, and I got told I was really mean by some of you. Its a Sherman Firefly. The Armoured cover over the machine gun port. At the bottom of the picture you can see the distinctive line of bolts where the armoured casing over the transmission is attached, and on top of the picture you can see the bottom of the bulge where the hull MG gunners hatch normally is.

7) http://i.imgur.com/L8nb1Ry.jpg
Yes Its Bovingtons Renault FT-17. Everyone got that right. However I have got one question about the tank, which I've never had answered, maybe you lot can help. Why is it painted black?

8) http://i.imgur.com/XeSeOEK.jpg
A really evil one, one that I'm kinda proud of thinking up. Due to the issue of scale. I'm glad to say most of you got right. Its a Goliath remote control mine. One Person did have this to say about the picture.
"For the longest time I thought it was a British tank with that suspension."
Hey! British suspension is a masterpiece of engineering... We didn't for the longest time only use a bit of steel cable attached directly to the wheel mounts.

9)  http://i.imgur.com/0iBiFII.jpg
Confusion time. Most correctly identified the suspension type, but some got the wrong tank. Its the suspension mounted on the Alecto, Tetrarch and Harry Hopkins light tank. The give away here is the track guard at the front of the picture. Only the Harry Hopkins had that, the Alecto had a different shape at both the front and back. Fun thing about this suspension Vickers got it going 65mph without any issue, and were confident of going even faster with it.

10) http://i.imgur.com/HWIbHKy.jpg
Nice and easy, and 100% correct from everybody, Its an M3 Grant. Everyone also knew to call it a grant not a Lee as well.

11) http://i.imgur.com/2cwUEmD.jpg
another one you all did pretty well on, I actually thought I might have been a bit mean putting it up. Its a Swedish Strv 103, S-tank. The Anti-HEAT cage armour and he machine gun mount give it away I guess. By the way if you want to wind up the WOT Swedish tank expert, call it a "tank destroyer". He gets really shouty about it being a medium tank. Which it is, to be fair.

12) http://i.imgur.com/etv7Xdr.jpg
Surprised this one stumped so many people, as its the only tank I know of that has this weird arrangement on the side of its turret. Its a Stuart light tank. To be honest I have no idea what this is for, I seem to recall someone mentioning it was part of the tracks, but they look different from the tracks on the Stuart.

13) http://i.imgur.com/3zSDH1r.jpg

Another one which everyone got right... its a Tiger I, most of you lot even gave me its name. Tiger 131.

14) http://i.imgur.com/ZjkFLC0.jpg
And this is where I fouled up. I figured it was obvious, and that it was a unique, if seemingly silly design. Its the brakes from a Valentine. However a couple of you reminded me that the A9 and A10 Cruisers shared the suspension and that funny bulge. So well done to those who named those cruiser tanks, you caught me out.

15) http://i.imgur.com/yzwNvv0.jpg
Another one that many got surprisingly wrong, then later changed their minds on. A number said A1E1 Independent. Which I did have some pictures of, but thought it'd be too harsh to use. The correct answer which most of you got, eventually, was a Vickers Medium. For added "oh!" moments... look in the background.

Well done to you all, it seemed like you had fun, and mostly got everything right.  Next time I do this I'll make it harder. For one I'll either not tell you where I took the photo's, or will use old black and white pictures

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Armour Spotter

I've had a bit of a busy week, so today's article is a bit of a quick one. A couple of weeks ago I was at a Armour collection and I took some photographs. I figured it'd be fun to see how well you know your armour, can you name all these armoured vehicles?

Answers on an Email to:
historylisty-tankquiz@yahoo.co.uk

I can't promise any prizes, as WGEU are having trouble with their code generators, but I will see if I can arrange something.

 To prevent people having issues with bandwidth downloads, as there's quite a few of them I've placed them on imgur and have included the links.

  1. http://i.imgur.com/ZBmHSmg.jpg
  2. http://i.imgur.com/vR0rnAV.jpg
  3. http://i.imgur.com/t1PXfpu.jpg
  4. http://i.imgur.com/94AYHy3.jpg
  5. http://i.imgur.com/LPhHxMH.jpg
  6. http://i.imgur.com/ZHrd3vW.jpg
  7. http://i.imgur.com/L8nb1Ry.jpg
  8. http://i.imgur.com/XeSeOEK.jpg
  9. http://i.imgur.com/0iBiFII.jpg
  10. http://i.imgur.com/HWIbHKy.jpg
  11. http://i.imgur.com/2cwUEmD.jpg
  12. http://i.imgur.com/etv7Xdr.jpg
  13. http://i.imgur.com/3zSDH1r.jpg
  14. http://i.imgur.com/ZjkFLC0.jpg
  15. http://i.imgur.com/yzwNvv0.jpg
Yes, yes, I'm a bad man... What you thought these would be easy? Have fun, and lets see if we can work you can work these out.
Once again I cannot promise any prizes. 

Answers

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A boat of VC's

Just before 0700 on 22nd March 1916, Kapitan Ludwig Güntzel was staring through his periscope aboard the German submarine SM U-68. Less than a week into her first war patrol, she was laying off Dingle in Ireland. So far she'd scored no kills, but that was about to change. Through the murk and across the pitching ocean was the 3200 ton collier and tramp steamer Loderer. Kpt Güntzel lined up his submarine and fired a single torpedo. After a few seconds it narrowly missed the Loderer's bow. The tramp steamer continued thrashing her way through the sea unperturbed.
After about 20 minutes Kpt Güntzel ordered the U-boat to the surface. Instead of wasting another precious torpedo he'd sink this steamer with his 4.1" deck gun. Once on the surface the submarine was quickly able to catch the tramp steamer and Kpt Güntzel ordered a warning shot across the Loderer's bow. This brought an immediate response. The Loderer came to a halt in a cloud of blown off steam, and the Merchant Marine crew launched a boat in panic and haste. Wanting to be sure SM U-68 closed the range by about 200 yards. Any of the German Sailors looking at the stern of the deserted Loderer would have seen the Merchant Marine flag being hauled down, and a flash of white raised in its place. Was this a flag of Surrender? No, it was the Royal Navy Battle Ensign. At this moment the sides of the structures on deck dropped and SM U-68 found herself staring down the barrels of five 12 pounder guns, which immediately started to roar. The five guns quickly pumped out 21 shells, several of which struck the submarine. SM U-68 started to submerge, as HMS Farnborough as the Loderer was called after being taken into service, sped up and moved towards the submarine. As she passed she threw a barrel over the side of the ship, this was a brand new never used before weapon; the Depth Charge. The barrel full of explosives blew the bow of the submarine out of the water, as the submarine continued to sink the 12 pounder guns continued to fire scoring more hits on the submarine. Finally SM U-68 slipped under the waves with all hands on board. HMS Farnborough, a former tramp steamer and one of the Royal Navy's new Q-ships had scored her first kill.
SM U-68
For the next 13 months HMS Farnborough continued her patrols without further success. During this period of nothing the Captain, Gordon Campbell, hatched a new scheme. On February the 17th 1917, SM U-83 was to experience the full force of this plan.
Again off the Irish coast HMS Farnborough was sailing alone, when the lookouts spotted a torpedo in the water. Campbell deliberately didn't avoid the torpedo, but let it strike his ship. The explosion blew a large hole in the hold and she began to ship water and list. On board HMS Farnborough the panic party (a group of sailors detailed to abandon ship in order to represent a terrified merchant crew) immediately launch four lifeboats and abandoned ship.
This time the ruse worked, SM U-83 surfaced and approached to within almost touching distance. At which point the crew ran out the White Ensign and unmasked a 6 pounder gun, along with a number of small arms and blasted the submarine at point blank range. The sinking submarine left only eight men in the water, however due to being unpowered HMS Farnborough only managed to rescue two, one of whom later died.
Now faced with a sinking ship of his own Campbell sent a mayday which read "Q5 slowly sinking respectfully wishes you goodbye." Luckily two nearby destroyers picked up the message and came to HMS Farnborough’s rescue. They tried to take her under tow, after picking up most of the ship's company. However during the night several depth charges detonated on board the ship, nearly killing Campbell and the first officer Ronald Niel Stuart. However despite all this, and the explosions severing the tow, the ship was beached at Mill Cove too heavily damaged to return to service.

HMS Farnborough at rest
For this action Campbell won a Victoria Cross.

Most of the crew were then transferred to the collier Vittoria, whom was once again fitted out as a Q-ship named HMS Pargust. Patrolling from Ireland in the same area Stuart was as convinced as Campbell had been, the only way to successfully lure a submarine into the trap was to be hit by the torpedo, and hope that the hold full of wood would keep the ship afloat.
At 0800 on the 7th June 1917, a torpedo was spotted heading towards HMS Pargust, and like before Stuart deliberately let the torpedo hit. This time the ruse was almost blown when the force of the impact as well as causing massive damage to the ship blew one of the gun ports down, which would have revealed the 12 pounder deck gun. Luckily one sailor, William Williams, like Atlas, grabbed the weighty cover and took the considerable weight on his back holding it in place.
As rehearsed the panic party was ordered overboard. They watched as the periscope of the submarine circled the stricken ship at a range of 400 meters. The Germans were well aware of the Q-ships and so the captain of the U-boat was looking for signs of danger. After a while the U-boat surfaced and began to head towards the panic party in its lifeboats. Realising that the Germans wanted to interrogate them, Stuart ordered his lifeboat to head back towards the ship, and round behind the stern of HMS Pargust. Believing the crew were trying to regain their ship the U-boat began to follow them signalling at them to heave to. This brought the U-boat to within 46m of the ship, at which point the White Ensign was run out along with the guns.
Gun hidden on Q-ship
Same gun cleared for action
The U-boat despite several hits tried to flee on the surface and disappear into the mist, however further volleys caused the submarine to halt and the crew to seemingly raise their hand in surrender. Dutifully HMS Pargust halted firing, at which point the submarine started its engines in an attempt to escape. Further shell hits caused the submarine to explode and sink. Of the submarine’s crew two were rescued by the panic party. HMS Pargust was taken under tow back to Ireland.
HMS Pargust
The after action review faced a problem. The entire crew was deemed to have acted with valour in the face of the enemy, which made it impossible to decide on how to award the Victoria Crosses. However the Royal Warrant for the Victoria Cross under Article 13 contains a clause that enables a vote to be carried out amongst the men involved in the action. The crosses were awarded to William Williams and First Officer Stuart.

The ballot system had to be used for a further two Victoria crosses on the next Q-ship commanded by Campbell, HMS Dunraven. A much fiercer battle and one that the Q-ship lost when her identity was revealed. That action involved the crew holding position and waiting for the U-boat to close while the ship was on fire. However the U-boat failed to take the bait and left after causing enough damage to sink the Q-ship.

Image credits:
vrakdykking.com, nickoftimemktg.files.wordpress.com and www.wrecksite.eu

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Fido Tweet Meow

Part one

On the 22nd of December HMS Mimi and Toutou were launched, and on the 26th they saw their first action with the third German vessel the Kingani which was a 45 ton steamship armed with a six pounder gun. Like the two Royal Navy ships she could only fire forwards. She had been ordered to conduct a reconnaissance on the Belgian side of the lake, to see what the Belgian's were up too. HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou were launched to intercept her. By lucky chance the Kingani sailed past the Royal Navy boats, so they had cut her off from her base. At first Kingani mistook the two motorboats heading towards her as not Belgian, and thus not a threat. Then she spotted the White Ensigns. Turning as tightly as she could to bring her forward gun to bear, the British launches easily evaded the first German shots, and closed to firing distance opening fire about midday. A swirling dogfight on the surface of the lake then ensued, the British quickly realised that Kingani had no rear facing guns and tried to attack from that direction. Eventually a three pounder round hit the gun shield on Kingani and killed three crew including the captain. Several more shell strikes followed, and the German crew struck their colours. In their haste to capture the Kingani HMS Mimi accidentally rammed Kingani at full speed. The damage nearly sunk Mimi, but she managed to ground herself.  Kingani was then escorted to port.
Kingani
Kingani was repaired and renamed HMS Fifi (Tweet-Tweet in French...), and her six pounder was mounted in the stern while the shore battery loaned the navy a twelve pounder to go on the front of the boat. HMS Mimi was also salvaged and repaired.

On 9th of February 1916 the Hedwig von Wissmann was spotted making a reconnaissance run. HMS Fifi and Mimi were launched to intercept her. Spotting the oncoming boats the Hedwig von Wissmann turned to fight, then seemed to think better of it, and turned away, maybe to lure them towards the Goetzen. HMS Fifi and the Hedwig von Wissmann were evenly matched for speed (the Hedwig von Wissmann had a 1 knot advantage), however HMS Mimi was faster than both, she roared ahead and began to harry the Hedwig von Wissmann.

Whenever the German tried to turn to bring its main gun to bear HMS Mimi used her speed to keep in the Hedwig von Wissmann's rear arc and thus safety. But every time the German boat tried to turn to attack its harasser HMS Fifi gained some ground, until finally after three hours, the German was within range. The recoil from the first shot of the Fifi's gun brought her to  a standstill. The shell flew wide, the sunlight  reflecting on the lake caused an odd shimmer effect, which meant aiming was difficult. Every time the Fifi fired its shell went wide. Then the 12 pounder gun jammed. A frantic 20 minutes followed as the Hedwig von Wissmann began to pull away, the the gun was cleared. In the shell locker only two rounds remained.
HMS Fifi
The twelve pounder belched flame and the Hedwig von Wissmann shuddered as the round smashed the Germans hull and started her flooding. Then the final shell arrived, smashing the boiler and setting fire to the Hedwig von Wissmann. The German captain immediately ordered the setting of scuttling charges and ordered the ship to be abandoned. The survivors were picked up by the British boats.
Short 827, three of which were used by the Belgians
Although the Graf von Goetzen still remained at large, the situation had changed. Unbeknownst to the allies the Goetzen had most of its guns removed and replaced by wooden fakes, as the guns were needed by German land forces. For that reason the Goetzen didn't try any offensive actions, and the allies wary of the immense fire-power they thought the German carried were somewhat hesitant to be aggressive. The Belgian forces tried an air raid against the Goetzen, although results were inconclusive. However the land situation began to grow steadily worse for the Germans. Eventually the Goetzen's home port was abandoned, and the Goetzen was ordered to be scuttled. However the three shipwrights given the job had been the three men who had overseen her reconstruction in 1915, and they decided amongst themselves to try and enable her to be recovered. So with great care they prepared the ship, covering the engines in grease, before scuttling her. She was recovered in 1918, and has since then served as a passenger ship, often transporting refugees in that war torn part of the world. Today she still sails as the MV Liemba.

Image credits:
williamsburglegati.files.wordpress.com

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Germany rules the Waves

In the first year of World War One the German forces in the colony of East Africa quickly managed to achieve supremacy over the waters of Lake Tanganyika. They managed this simply by getting there first with the most amount of force. At the start of the war there were only five vessels on the lake capable of being armed. The Germans owned two, Belgium and Great Britain the other three. The German steamer Hedwig von Wissmann was armed with four (or three, sources differ) 37mm Hotchkiss Revolver Cannons. With this armament she damaged the Belgian steamer, and sunk the two British steamers. With this dominance of the lake the Germans were able to launch raids into allied controlled territories.
Hedwig von Wissmann

37mm Hotchkiss Revolver Cannon in Russian service.

With this situation a plan was hatched in April 1915. It was floated by an ex Boer scout, and big game poacher called John Lee. He approached the Admiralty suggesting that two motor launches be dispatched to the lake to beat the German vessels. At this point Admiral Sir Henry Jackson said "It is both the duty and the tradition of the Royal Navy to engage the enemy wherever there is water to float a ship.", and the plan was approved. Two 40ft launches, each armed with a 3 pounder gun and a machine gun were brought. The launches could reach a speed of 19 knots and were powered by a pair of 100 hp engines. The large gun on the foredeck had one slight flaw, the massive recoil meant that they could only be fired more or less directly ahead. If fired to the side the ship's frame wouldn't be able to take the strain and disastrous results would follow.
HMS Mimi or HMS Toutou
These two boats were named Dog and Cat, but the idea of using such names on a Royal Navy warship caused them to be rejected by the Admiralty. So the names HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou were submitted and passed.
In Parisian slang those words translated to "Meow" and "Fido", so the original character of the names was carried through.

The boats and men of the Naval Africa Expedition now had to get to Lake Tanganyika, a landlocked freshwater lake in deepest Africa. The first leg of the journey was on board the SS Llanstephen Castle from London to Cape Town. Then by train to the Belgian village of  Fungurume, where the line stopped. From there the two launches would be dragged by two steam tractors through 100 miles of the Mitumba mountains, and dense brush to the village of Sankisia and another rail head. A place you'd not take a tank, let alone a pair of boats! This line only lasted for 15 miles. The next 500 miles were done by floating the boats down narrow streams, in the middle of the dry season. This meant that the streams were almost gone, and the launches had too large a draught. They had to be lashed to barrels to give them enough buoyancy. After this another 175 miles by train followed with the exhausted expedition reaching Lake Tanganyika on October 26th, only to find the situation had changed.
The Germans had received reinforcements in the shape of the Graf von Goetzen, a 1200 ton steamer that had been built in 1913 in Germany, then had been disassembled, packed into 5000 crates and shipped to Da-es-salam. She had then been carried overland through the bush to the lake and had been rebuilt. Her armament consisted of a 105mm gun taken from the sunken Cruiser SMS Königsberg and a spare Hotchkiss Revolving Cannon taken from Hedwig von Wissmann, after she was re-armed with another of SMS Königsbergs gun. That's not all, the Goetzen also carried a 88mm gun as well.
Graf von Goetzen
This made her the best armed and largest ship on the lake. What could Fido and Meow do agaisnt such odds?

Part two

Image Credits:
www.lead-adventure.de, lzdream.net, www.ibiblio.org, peterbaxterafrica.com, www.africanbyways.co.za and themodelgallery.files.wordpress.com

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A busy Week

If you've been following my Facebook page you'll know I've had a bit of a busy week. What with a trip to Bovington Tank Museum, and last weeks book release. For that reason I'm having a bit of a quiet one for today's article.

First the history. We have here an assessment of of the technical aspects of Soviet tanks. As obtained by the British Military Mission I mentioned last week.


As a trip to Bovington wouldn't be complete without some pictures of tanks.

Why is it that this tank, used only by the British, built to a British design, and ordered for by the British is always featured in a US tree in any game its in?


Looks like someone has been attacking this poor Matilda with a paint brush, but the markings are all correct, can you work out what they all mean?

A Tiger's nightmare...
Next group is a series of shots showing the extensive modifications to the Stug IIIG the Finns made to make it into a Stu-40
Logs, drivers visor, enlarged MG opening to use a DT Machine gun, concrete to the super structure.
Extra armour added to the hull sides.

Finally another question for you, no this isn't a miss-click on my camera, but what is the significance of this patch of road?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

First Book

You know I said last week life was a bit busy, well here's reason #1 for it. My first book is out, and available to buy!

Before we carry on, I want to be clear: This product is not endorsed by Wargaming or by Overlord. It's entirely my doing.

Click here. 

Its a compilation of the articles I've posted up here. Many have been edited and tweaked, and a few have had new information that's come to light in the time between it first getting written for this blog and publishing.

However I have included a brand new piece that has never been seen anywhere. I interviewed a veteran of D-Day about his experiences as part of the first wave. He's never told his story before, and so its entirely brand new.

Why am I doing this? Well in the last few years I have been doing a lot of research in archives around the UK. I have made discoveries, including stuff from Germany and Japan. These discoveries have been forgotten for seventy years. However to publish these discoveries I need to purchase the copyrights from the archives. To do that I need capital, which is something I don't have.
So if you want to see a whole selection of Japanese tanks that even the Japanese forgot about, or Britain's idea of flying tanks, or the story of  the 250 ton tanks that were to land directly into Germany. Think of buying this book as an investment. You buy this book, it makes the above more likely to happen. You'll also advance the study of history.
This Japanese heavy appears to be actually real...
 Now because I've been waffling on for a bit too long, and you lot do like a bit of history on your Sundays.

In the early 1940's the British sent a military mission to Russia, and the following segment of the missions report, shows you how hard up the Russians were for equipment after Barbarossa. Its from about 1942, I think, maybe as late as 1943.

Its Interesting to note the massive numbers of heavy machine guns, which seems to be an attempt to supplant the deficiencies in other fire support equipment.