Purpose of this blog

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

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.

Image credits:

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.

Image credits:

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.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Locust Swarm

Operation Plunder started on the 23rd of March 1945. It was the British 2nd Army's attempt at crossing the Rhine around Wessel. Facing them were some 70,000 Germans dug in and ready. One of the strong points was around the Diersfordter Wald, where the Germans were heavily dug in with large numbers of artillery pieces. To tackle this position, it was decided to mount a large-scale air assault similar to Operation Market Garden some seen months before. This new plan was Operation Varsity. At first glance the idea of dropping a mass of infantry directly onto a dug in enemy seems like an even worse plan than that used at Arnhem. However, Arnhem came within a whisker of succeeding (if Gavin had done his job, and grabbed the Bridge it's highly likely it would have worked). One of the main complaints at Arnhem was the need to secure the drop zones, which saddled the incoming paratroopers with a logistical burden. In Op Varsity the plan was to drop everyone in one go. Original plans had called for a third division, which was available to be used, however the Allied forces lacked the air lift capacity to bring that unit along.
Equally they were expected to hold out for an extended time period. However, Operation Varsity was launched after the river crossing had been achieved, meaning the paratroopers would be relieved relatively quickly. Furthermore, the Allies had much larger resources to use than the Germans. Indeed, the relentless drops at Arnhem had proved a morale sapping experience for the Germans, as day after day a new division was dumped on their heads.
Op Varsity in action. C-47's pull out and turn for home after dropping their cargo's, in the Background more C-47's unload.

As well as a manpower advantage the Allies also had an equipment advantage. The German paratrooper jumped with a pistol and collected his weapons and ammunition from supply packages dropped with him. This meant that drops were limited to light weapons only. At Arnhem the Germans thought the paratroopers would be as lightly armed as they would be, only to their horror to find themselves facing a fully equipped infantry division with motor transport and anti-tank guns. Op Varsity would be one step further, as the parachutists would also benefit from Airborne tanks.
Operation Varsity was the one and only combat use of the M22 Locust. Eight of them were prepared from the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment. After being dropped in Overlord with Tetrarchs they had re-equipped quickly with Cromwells and been acting as a reconnaissance formation. Men were detached from the regiment on the 9th of March to form crews for eight Locusts. These were loaded into Hamilcar gliders.
Gliders being towed over the Rhine during Op Varsity
The eight gliders were towed off the ground at 0730 from RAF Woodbridge on the morning of the 24th. Over Holland there was a tragedy as one of the gliders suffered structural failure. The Locust, with its crew resting on top, was seen to fall backwards out of the plane through the tail, and was seen to hit the ground bouncing as it disintegrated, the wreck coming to land on the banks of the Rhine. The glider continued to tear itself apart, then the tug released the tow and the wreckage fell away.
Unloading a Locust from a Hamilcar. You can see the ramps needed to enable a smooth decent.
There was also heavy flack, but it failed to shoot down any of the Locust carrying gliders. One may have been damaged by flack, as it was coming in it was shedding parts, one unlucky paratrooper was killed by its falling wheel while another was knocked unconscious from the same object. On landing one Hamilcar slammed into a farm building, catapulting the Locust through the nose of the glider. The tank rolled several times demolishing the farm building. Remarkably the crew of the tank survived. They were strapped into their seats inside the tank, and the harnesses saved their lives. However, both glider pilots were killed.
After the crew of the tank crawled from the wreckage one went looking for his personal weapon, a Sten gun. Due to lack of space it was strapped to the outside of the vehicle and was unsurprisingly a write off.

Another Locust broke down when attempting to tow a jeep free of trouble. Its gun was still working, and it sat as a pillbox in the middle of the landing zone providing fire support to US paratroopers who were attacking the German positions. Its accurate fire is said to have caused significant casualties to the defenders.

Another Locust was commanded by Lieutenant Kenwood and driven by Sergent Colin Peckham. The latter had spent most of the approach flight lying in the nose of the Hamilcar observing through the perspex nose. As release approached, he clambered back into his seat and strapped in. The Hamilcar made a very heavy landing, which jammed the nose. Lt Kenwood simply ordered Sgt Peckham to drive forward and crash his way through the fuselage. In doing so the Locust sustained damage to its rear mudguard, likely when it dropped to the ground while the rear of the tank was still inside the glider.
Lt Kenwood's Locust moments after freeing itself and moving towards the fighting. You can see the damage on the rear mudguard.
Lt Kenwood immediately moved off, heading towards a nearby farm to help some US paratroopers capture the location. Much to his horror they found themselves facing a Panther tank. The Locust opened fire, quickly firing six times but all the shells had no effect. The Panther had swung its gun around and fired once, destroying the Locust. Both Lt Kenwood and Sgt Peckham were able to escape, although injured, and survived the war.
Lt Kenwood's Locust after being hit by the Panther's shell.
The remaining four Locusts were all damaged in the landing, with some malfunction in their machine gun, main weapon or radios. However, all remained in action, helping infantry cross a railway line and to attack a wooded area. Later they acted to provide fire support to dug in infantry on a hill. All were pulled back as their presence was attracting German artillery fire. Soon they were relieved by the forces involved in Operation Plunder, and the Locust's brief combat was over, or so it seems!

There is an audio account in the IWM archives from the commanding officer of the 9th Battalion Parachute Regiment, stating that they found a Locust abandoned in a wood. As some of his men were ex-Royal Tank Corps they took command of the vehicle and kept her running and fighting for some weeks afterwards. Those of you experienced in dealing with eyewitnesses will know how often hardware is misidentified, and the interview was carried out in 1996. In his favour he does correctly state that the crew was just three, and it was only armed with a small cannon.


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.6thaarr.com, www.paradata.org.uk and www.royal-irish.com

Sunday, May 24, 2020

No Dissasemble KV-2!

There are a few topics that I come back to every few years to see if more information has turned up on the subject. Today we look at the story of a KV-2. However before we do go on, I'd like to draw your attention to first Francis Pulham, author of the big book on T-35's. I spent a couple of hours chatting to him about this subject, and his rather encyclopaedic knowledge allowed me to stick a lot of details together. In addition, I should give an honourable mention to the guys over on the Army Rumour Service forum, who threw their tuppence in and gave me some pointers, which got us on the right track.

The story starts in 1941 and is likely caused by nothing more than bad reconnaissance. As Operation Barbarossa crashed over the Ukrainian countryside the Soviets threw their tank formations against the Germans. The operational plan was for the 6th and 11th Mechanised Corps, along with the 6th Cavalry Corps to ram into the German penetration and wipe them out. These were seriously big formations of mostly tanks of all types, including KV-2's. Each corps seemed to have around 200 tanks apiece. The initial intention was for the 6th and 11th to attack on the 24th of June. However, there were no radios to enable coordination between the two forces, and very little reconnaissance. This led to the 6th Mechanised Corps, which was the owner of our KV-2, to launch an attack towards the Germans. However, the Germans were not where they were expected to be, and the 6th Mechanized Corps was deployed badly. In fact, the Germans were some 30km further back. This led to a long approach march, where many vehicles broke down and most of the corps supply of fuel was used up. Equally the Germans were able to spot the attack developing by air reconnaissance, and first bomb the attack, and then dig in a blocking force. With the heavier KV tanks out of fuel, it was decided to send the BT's and T-26's forward alone. They fared badly, so the KV's were launched. Air attack and Stugs were brought up to help the infantry which this force crashed into. Ultimately the attack would fail from lack of coordination, air attack and disrepair of the Soviet forces. Near Grodno there stood a lone KV-2, chassis number Б-9648, either out of fuel or broken down. It would be captured intact by the Germans.
Б-9648 as the Germans found her
There were orders from the German High Command that at least two samples of any captured tanks should be sent back to Germany. One each of these would be sent to the German army museum and evaluation centres located at Stettin and Kummersdorf. As it turns out about four or five KV-2's would be recovered, Б-9648 amongst them. With one each heading to the respective establishments, what of the others? Well one was badly damaged with most of its running gear destroyed. This had some road wheels left on it, to which some BT tracks were fitted to allow it to be moved. Б-9648 still had a full set of running gear. She was dissembled for transport back to the Reich, where she would form the gate guardian for a new propaganda exhibition "The Soviet Paradise" (this link is to the program for the exhibition) in Berlin. This was held at the Lustgarten. Before taking up her place she was driven in a parade through Berlin. Б-9648 is identifiable as she lacks some features of a KV-2, the most obvious is the mud guards and boxes on the side of the tank. It seems these were removed during the disassembly, and never reattached. There are other missing parts, such as the plugs for the pistol ports on the side of the turret.
Б-9648 stripped for transport.
"The Soviet Paradise” opened in 1942. During her time in Berlin she was attacked by German resistance members. They planted incendiary devices at the location, although no lasting damage was done. The resistance members were all rounded up and executed. For the next few months, and possibly years the exhibition toured the greater German Reich (Germany and Czechoslovakia were definitely visited), although it does not have seem to have gone to conquered territories. At some point the show arrived in Essen.
Б-9648 during the Berlin parade.
Б-9648 in Prague.
At current I've been unable to find out if the show ended at Essen, or when it arrived there. Equally what happened to Б-9648 after the show is unknown. However, she next surfaces in 1945 in the Essen area. There is a suggestion that she had been sent to Krupp for metallurgical analysis, although the source for this rumour is hard to pin down. Equally, this is where the biggest mystery begins.
The photo above is of Б-9648. You can see she has taken a large number of hits to her flank, and one glancing hit from a steep angle from the rear quarter. This latter hit has knocked a chunk out of the gun mantle and gone on to dent the gun barrel.
The photograph was taken by the US Army Signals Corps on the 11th of April 1945. The caption on it states the tank was knocked out in Essen by US forces of the 79th [infantry] Division.
Previous renditions of this story state the tank was used to defend the Krupp works. However, this doesn't appear to be the case, as the paratroopers of the 507th battalion drove into the Krupp works in jeeps capturing it without a shot being fired. So, what is Б-9648 story?

Comparing the holes on the side of the turret to the pistol port the penetrations appear to be around 37-40mm thick, although there is the chance of a large degree of error here. One option could be "The Soviet Paradise" was in town as the US forces approached, then the tank was used as a target hulk to train people to fire Panzerfausts. Then the US forces took the area and the Signals Corp photographers decided it had to have been used in combat and claimed the use in their caption.

However, the shot from the extreme rearwards angle would suggest something else. A Panzerfaust would not achieve such an impact, being more likely to break up on impact, or if it functioned its damage would be different, and certainly more severe to the gun barrel. Equally HEAT warheads leave a scorch mark around the impact point, which is missing. There is also the suggestion the impacts are from a rearwards angle, although this could just be down to the low quality of the image. Maybe the tank was used in combat, one final time, and was knocked out by US forces, who later used it as a target hulk? Maybe some US vehicle with a 37mm crept up behind her and opened fire, but as a 37mm M3 isn't going to stand much chance against a KV and had to fire a large number of shots before the crew bailed?

Until more information comes to light, I suspect it’s one of those things we'll never know.... unless you have the missing piece of the puzzle, or know someone who does? I seem to recall Germany had a tradition of a "local historian" role for each settlement, that records events locally. The answer may be there, but I have no idea on how to access such a valuable collection of data.


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.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

First Shots

There is an implied myth of German efficiency in the Second World War, and that the German war machine effortlessly carved up its opponents parrying every attack the blunt Allies directed at them. It will come as no surprise to you that this is far from the case, as the first shots of the Second World War would prove.

The free city of Danzig was taken from Germany, and given to Poland at the Treaty of Versailles. Although a Polish city it was administrated by the League of Nations and was over 90% German inhabitants. The Poles were allowed to have a military base on the Westerplatte. In addition, the Post Office and several other formations of state, such as railway depots were Polish. Although, oddly, the police remained a German concession.
On the 25th of August the Schleswig-Holstein arrived in Danzig free port, and berthed opposite Westerplatte. The German plan for war was that the battleship would obliterate the Polish garrison with a short bombardment, and then the German marines would land and size the depot. Meanwhile in the city of Danzig the police, reinforced by local SS forces, would size other key locations including the post office. Meanwhile an armoured train would arrive and size the railway depot. It seems curious to see a SS force being allowed in Danzig by the League of Nations, however it was likely more along the lines of a paramilitary group, which were much more accepted at the time, such as the Freikorps of the 1920's. Equally, as the police are German, who are the League going to get to shut the organisation down? The SS unit was the SS-Heimwehr Danzig, and it was well armed even having a number of infantry guns. These were a heady mix of modern IlG18's with pneumatic tyres for towing with motor transport, some with iron spoked wheels for horse towing and even a couple of First World War vintage pieces. The guns with the iron wheels had to be man handled as they lacked horses. In the end the troops obtained a truck from a margarine factory and loaded one of the guns up onto the bed of that.

In the early hours, around 0450, of the 1st of September the Schleswig-Holstein's gun turrets began to swing ponderously round so they could broadside Westerplatte. The range was literally point blank, under 500m. This meant that the fuses did not have time to arm, and the rounds smashed into the ground, or ended up skipping across the sea beyond Westerplatte. Add to that the antique nature of the German vessel meant it had a slow rate of fire. The German marines stormed forward, only to find the Polish defenders alert, exceptionally well-armed, in well-built bunkers and ready for the attack.
Schleswig-Holstein firing on Westerplatte
Since the summer of 1939 the Poles had been aware of the impending war, and had been making preparations. At Westerplatte this had taken the form of several support weapons being brought in, and the construction of solid bunkers. Elsewhere in the city arms and grenades had been delivered. At the Polish Post Office an army engineer had been assigned to help prepare the defences. Additional staff had been brought in, most were either reservists or had had combat experience in uprisings and civil unrest beforehand. Weapon caches had been secreted around the city, for example the railway workers had access to some seventy odd pistols, two light machine guns, a handful of rifles and two boxes of grenades. Other Polish locations had weapons stashed at them, such as the scout hall having an LMG, or the grammar school a collection of rifles. The Post Office had three boxes of hand-grenades, three LMG's and around forty rifles and pistols.
The Germans raising the flag on Westerplatte on the 8th of September
At Westerplatte the fierce fighting continued with the German fire support being largely ineffective, and the marines lacking the firepower to advance. Eventually the Poles brought one of their anti-tank guns into action against the Schleswig-Holstein forcing it to move, however, German reinforcements were en route and the fighting would continue for a week as more and more German forces were sucked into the battle, including the Luftwaffe. Elsewhere some eleven railway workers prevented the armoured train from achieving its goal.
SS troops closing with the Post Office.
At the Post Office, on the sound of the battleship’s opening barrage, a twenty strong team breached some passage ways that had been bricked off and charged into the Post Office, while another group carried out the assault from the other side of the building. Both groups were met with a storm of gunfire and grenades thrown out of the building. Lacking sufficient strength to carry out the assault they requested aid from SS-Heimwehr Danzig, which arrived around 1000. As well as extra men there were two ADGZ armoured cars (some accounts say three, and one was knocked out, but I've yet to see any mention of this), and a margarine truck with the IlG18, as well as a film crew. The leader of the SS unit, Albert Maria Forster, decided to lead an assault himself. He commandeered one of the armoured cars for himself to ride in, in safety, and drove past the building while soldiers accompanying him threw grenades. The film crew captured this event. Once this valiant feat had been achieved, he ordered a frontal assault (led, obviously by someone else), which ended in a bloody mess. Then realising there would be no quick victory Forster took his film crew and left the scene.
Forster's "assault".

The IlG18's were having their own problems. Under fire from the post office their weapon kept leaping out of battery due to the cobble stones on the road which was hampering their shooting. Eventually, with the help of one of the armoured cars they managed to rip up the cobbles and give their gun a decent footing. They were then able to shoot holes in the stout iron fence at the front of the building, but the 75mm weapons lacked the punch to do any serious lasting damage to the front of the building. At 1500 the Germans held a cease fire calling for the defenders to surrender, which they refused. At 1700 the assault was renewed, this time with Wehrmacht support. Engineers detonated a breeching charge on the front wall, then a 105mm gun was fired through the hole to clear the room beyond allowing the Germans to achieve a bridgehead within the building.

The 105mm firing the fateful shot that allowed the Germans to breach the Post Office
Sensing they would not be able to hold the Polish defenders fell back into the basement. Again, they were called upon to surrender, which again was refused. The Germans brought in pumps and flooded the basement with flammable liquid and set fire to it. This caused the defenders to finally surrender.
Some of the surrendered Post Office workers.
The Polish defenders had held for some fifteen hours, rather more than the six hours they were expecting to have to held for. The Germans, rather unhappy about the incident declared they were non-uniformed and thus illegal combatants and executed all the defenders who survived. A fate that was visited on the eleven railway workers as well.


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Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Valley

On New Year’s Day 1951 the Chinese launched an offensive against the Allied forces defending the south, the main axis of their attack was Seoul. Thousands of Chinese soldiers surged through the snow, and US and Korean forces were unable to hold them. As the Chinese attack advanced, the British 29th Brigade was put into position to hold them. Part of that brigade was the Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR) who took up position around Chaegunghyon.

Men of the RUR Advancing to the front.
The RUR took up position with B and D companies on the ridgeline running roughly north/south, with the battalion’s 3in mortars behind them. The other side of the valley had A and C companies. The HQ, 4.2in mortars and the "Battle Patrol" were all in the valley spread out. The "Battle Patrol" seems to have been both a reconnaissance formation, and the battalion reserve. In addition, the RUR were supported by some ten Cromwell tanks, which had been cobbled together from the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussar's and some observer tanks from the 45th Field Artillery Regiment. In the latter case the tanks would have served as the forward observer vehicles, however, in this battle they would be pressed into use as gun tanks. These ten tanks formed Cooper Force. To the west of B and D companies was a US unit, holding the village of Koyang.

Just after 0300 on the 3rd of January, firing was heard from the US positions and very shortly afterwards the Americans informed the RUR that they had withdrawn from Koyang, this meant that the RUR's flank had been turned, or would have been if D company had not been deployed behind B company along the ridge line. At just after 0500 movement was seen in front of the British lines. Illumination flares were fired from the 2in mortars, and a number of males in civilian clothing were trying to pass through the barbed wire. Both B and D companies opened fire and drove the figures off. About ninety minutes later a patrol was sent out into the misty morning. Minutes later there was a commotion, a grenade explosion and a short burst of fire and the patrol never responded to calls on the radio.
Then the Chinese struck. By accident or design they managed to hit the join between D and B companies. The Chinese infantry had used the foggy morning and darkness to infiltrate right through the defender’s wire and close with their positions. Each of the two platoons that were attacked reported the first warning they had was soldiers approaching waving white flags and yelling out "South Koreans. We surrender!" This sowed some confusion at which point the main Chinese force launched itself into vicious hand to hand combat. Both platoons were forced backwards, the line had been breached, and a Chinese bugler was reported on the peak of the ridge line sounding out success. The Chinese started to move down the slope towards the rear areas. The 3in mortar position was in danger of being overrun, so much so that the crews had to fire the weapon at below the minimum recommended range, bringing their fire down dangerously close to their own positions.
This meant that the 3in mortar rounds were falling almost vertically. Which also meant that there was no cover, even the gullies the Chinese were using offered scant protection, indeed possibly increased the effect of the bombs when they hit. Then the 4.2in mortars joined in, then a field artillery regiment in support opened fire on the breech. Cooper Force moved forward and poured their fire into the Chinese salient. Finally, both of the infantry companies had reinforced their flanks as the position was breached and began to put enfilading fire onto the attack. By now it was daylight, at 0900 more support arrived in the form of four P-80 Shooting Stars. These fell upon the Chinese with napalm and rockets. A company had been withdrawn from the eastern position and were directed to attack up the hill and retake and restore the front line. By 1310 the front line was restored and the battle over. In total the RUR had suffered sixteen wounded and four killed, thirty Chinese dead were counted within the perimeter of the line. Even more were likely killed outside or during the afternoon, as when Chinese movement was spotted artillery fire was brought down on them. In the course of the afternoon an improvised South Korean force built from elements of other formations that had been torn apart in the previous days fighting was brought up to provide defence in depth behind the RUR. Meanwhile the Irishmen improved their positions.

Although the Chinese had been stopped here, elsewhere the battle was going badly. With Allied positions crumbling as per usual, it was decided that the 29th Brigade would have to retreat as well. The South Koreans were pulled out immediately, because it was felt their presence would only confuse matters in a night-time withdrawal. The RUR would move out at night. The Battle Patrol, with their Carriers and Cooper Force would be the last to pull out, as they were the most capable of moving and fighting while in contact. The rest would go by truck. Late that night the RUR managed to disengage from the Chinese and move down the floor of the valley on the single narrow icy road. If any part of the convoy stopped then there would be a massive traffic jam at the mercy of the Chinese. About 2130 the convoy had been in motion for about thirty minutes when the trucks were bathed in light. Overhead a US flare dropping plane had illuminated the company to see if it was friendly or could be attacked. The plane made several passes and the RUR were unable to make contact with it to tell it to stop.
Captioned as one of 8 Hussar's Cromwells.
Shortly afterwards the Chinese began mortaring the road. Then from the crest of the valley ridge came thousands of Chinese soldiers firing and grenading the convoy. Bitter fighting broke out as everyone fought to keep the convoy moving and to defend themselves. Cooper Force and the Battle Patrol moved down the column trying to keep the fighting under control. At one point the Chinese cut the road, it was only re-opened when a sharp and courageous assault was put in by two officers. The tanks of Cooper Force were assaulted with grenades and pole-charges, and all knocked out one by one. Eventually the RUR was scattered with several formations making their own way out to re-join the lead of the convoy that had managed to escape the attack. Seven soldiers were picked up the following day by a US helicopter pilot who landed in the middle of enemy territory to lift them to safety. In this battle around 157 Irishmen were killed. This battle became known as the Happy Valley.
One of the captured Cromwell's, Crewed by the North Koreans.
There is one final footnote. At least two, maybe more of the Cromwell's were recovered by the Chinese forces. As China's tank arm was very immature and took no part in the fighting the tanks were transferred to the North Korean Army. One was later recaptured at the Incheon landings, and subsequently put into service by the South Korean Marines. The other was destroyed in February, by a Centurion tank of the 8th Hussars. At a range of 3,000m the commander of the Centurion spotted an unknown tank on the other side of the River Han. The tank was sheltering under a bridge so as to avoid attracting the attention of US airstrikes. The Centurion dispatched it with a single shot, which hit the Cromwell in the side. It was only later it was determined what the tank was.

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Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Man with the Dragon Tatoo

In early 1914 at the German colony of Tsingtau in China two large objects were unloaded from their freighters. These were a pair of Taube monoplanes. Although both unarmed, they were there to assist the German forces in the colony. However, the weeks of storage in heat and humidity higher than would be expected in Europe had taken their toll. For example, five of the laminated wooden propellers supplied with the aircraft were warped and damaged. Along with this shipment came two pilots, Lieutenants Friedrich Müllerskowsky and Gunther Plüschow. Things started going badly for this fledgling German colonial air force, when on the 31st of July the first Taube was assembled and Lt Müllerskowsky took to the sky. Almost immediately the Taube crashed, although it is not clear if this was down to the poor maintenance or the winds on the day. Either way Lt Müllerskowsky was badly injured and hospitalised with multiple broken bones. This accident came at a critical time, as the following day Germany declared war on Russia, within weeks the Great War had burst into life, including on the 15th of August the declaration of War by Japan against Germany.

One of Japan's first targets was of course Tsingtau, and a blockade was set up, and an invasion planned. The invasion was to mirror the Port Arthur battle, with forces landed outside the city and siege guns brought in followed by assaults. One of the ships in the blockade was the Wakamiya, this was a seaplane tender, and was carrying four Farman M.7 float planes. On the 5th of September one of the Farman's flew a reconnaissance mission, with another mission flown the following morning. On this second mission the crew of the M.7 spotted an old protected cruiser, the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, and a gun boat firing onto the Japanese forces besieging Tsingtau. In the cockpit of the plane the observer had a few naval artillery shells that had been modified by attaching fins to them. The crew attempted to hit the two German ships with these primitive bombs, by simply dumping them over the side of the fuselage at what seemed to be the right moment. Although these all missed it became the first bombing run ever carried out.

The SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth
As the siege progressed the Germans also started dropping bombs. Lt Plüschow in the remaining Taube carried out multiple reconnaissance flights, and occasionally dropped improvised bombs on targets, occasionally scoring some successes against infantry columns. As he was the sole reconnaissance asset belonging to the Germans, Lt Plüschow was ordered to avoid the putting his craft in danger. This meant mostly avoiding the Japanese Farman's. However, in his diary Lt Plüschow did note one occasion when he shot down a Farman with his pistol, after firing some thirty rounds at the Japanese plane. This, if true would be the first ever recorded air to air victory. However, there is no official confirmation. One historian has found that only one Japanese airman was killed in 1914, Lt Midori Shigematsu, and has attempted to link that to Lt Plüschow's claim. The only record I can find for that officer gives the date of his demise as 26th of April when his engine failed, and he died in the subsequent crash.
A Farman being launched from the Wakamiya.

The Japanese forces, with some British support started their siege at the end of October and began to wear down the German defences. Eventually, by the 6th of November the Germans had run out of artillery ammunition. Thus, it was decided to surrender the following morning. Lt Plüschow was given the Governor’s final dispatches and told to fly to safety. Thus, on the morning of the 7th he took off never to return.

A picture of the underside of a Taube monoplane. The translation of Taube is Dove or Pigeon. One wonders if the name preceded the shape of the plane, or the other way round.
His plane crashed in a rice paddy, and Lt Plüschow set fire to it and walked to a nearby settlement. From here he travelled across China, until he finally reached Shanghai, where he was given papers for a Swiss businessman by the German diplomatic mission. From there he travelled across the pacific and through the US. Here he met a colleague who arranged for him to travel to Italy. On the crossing the ship was forced into harbour by bad weather, unfortunately the port chosen was Gibraltar, and Lt Plüschow was detained, and eventually identified. From there he was sent to the UK as a POW.

The POW camp he was sent too was Donington Hall. The story goes that one day while there he saw a deer inside the wire and realised if the deer could make it through then he could too. During a storm on the 4th of July 1915 Lt Plüschow escaped. He ended up in London, where he spent some three weeks living, even for some of the period using the British Museum as a hide out. His description was circulated in the papers, these included description of the oriental tattoo he had on his arm, showing a large dragon. After three weeks disguised as a dock worker Lt Plüschow managed to board a ferry heading to Holland, and from there return to Germany. He was kept away from the fighting for the rest of the war as too much of a celebrity to be risked in combat. After the war he began to travel exploring both Patagonia and the Tierra del Fuego by air. On a return trip in 1931 his plane crashed into a lake and he was killed.

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