Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Future

We need a bit of a chat I'm afraid.

Earlier in the week I posted a thread on my Facebook page. Simply put, I have running out of time to do everything in a week. At current, as well as all the normal stuff people have to do, eg: Job, family etc, I have to also shoe horn in work on books and work on articles for here. In addition I have started studying for my degree.

For the last few years I've had a job which was fairly relaxed, and could do some of my work there. However, I have changed jobs at the start of last year, but furlough meant I had some spare time while working from home. This allowed me to keep the work rate up. However, for the last couple of months I've been back at work full time. Equally, the work load on my degree is going to increase massively over the next years.

I've recently realised that I've not touched the work on my next book for a couple of months. Simply because I don't have the time. That means I have to free up time somewhere. Short of abandoning my books and research, or my degree, the only wiggle room is the weekly article. This is not something I take lightly, as since 2013 I've only missed two weeks. There was even an article on the week I got married and was on my honeymoon.

What I am trying to say is that articles will now be rarer. I will aim for two per month, but I can't promise even that. I will try to provide some form of content though. Over on Facebook or Twitter (@History_Listy) I normally post pictures or stuff I've encountered and use them for a basis of discussion. I am contemplating an Instagram account to post some of my own collection of historical pictures up as well. Each week I will try to find something for here.

Next week we have an article on the German struggle for the Channel in the First World War, and how they felt that technology could solve their problems.

However, this week, It will have to be a short piece.


In the Second World War the Allies needed to clear lots of German minefields. Somewhere along the way someone suggested they use jet engines fixed to tanks.

Valentine chassis with a nice big blower.



 

Which also came in dual-engine versions

 

And on other chassis (I think this is a Canadian experiment, separate to the English ones above).

The problem with the design was it blasted the mines out of the soil and flung them everywhere. In essence hurling exploding frisbees all over the place, which was seen as a huge negative, and very dangerous.

Of course during the harsh winter of 1946-1947 the tanks found a new and much safer usage, as snow blowers.



On a related note, while looking for info on the above I found this interesting newsreel film about clearing mines laid during the war with water jets.


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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, April 4, 2021

Firefighter

 Between 2130 and 2145 the airfield at RAF Metheringham reverberated to the sound of hundreds of Merlin engines. One by one the Lancaster's of Bomber Command lifted into the dark sky. Their target for tonight was Schweinfurt, the location of the infamous ball bearing plants that the Americans had so disastrously failed to smash the previous October. Now on the night of 26th April 1944, the RAF were to have another crack at the target. Previous attacks by the RAF had met with little success, and Harris had avoided the target until he was forced to do so. Now there was a stream of bombers in the air heading to the German city again. 

A Lancaster getting Bombed up at RAF Metheringham
 

One of the Lancaster's in that stream was registration ZN-O of 196 Squadron, flown by the Canadian Flying Officer Frederick Manuel Mifflin. This was his 30th mission, and thus the completion of his tour of duty. The same applied to the rest of his crew, who had been together since training, with one exception. Sergeant Norman Cyril Jackson had been part of the crew from the start, however, this was his 31st mission, as he had acted as a replacement flight engineer on a different aircraft two days earlier. Despite receiving a telegram that morning saying he had become a father, he decided to remain with his crew and fly an extra mission.

F/O Mifflin
 

The mission was a disaster. There was a strong wind that scattered the Pathfinder’s markers. Equally, there was a fault in the master bomber’s radio, so that he could not control, or guide in the bombing. It was also a full moon, without any real cloud, so the bombers were sitting ducks. After ZN-O released its bombs, she made a climbing turn from 21,500ft heading to 22,000ft, and headed for her base. It was at this point disaster struck. A FW-190 night fighter came hurtling in and strafed the aircraft. Sgt Jackson was knocked over by a blow, as he was wounded by shrapnel in the shoulder and leg. Worse still the attack had started a fire in the starboard wing between the inner engine and the fuselage, right above a fuel tank. If it reached the fuel tank the Lancaster would become a fireball. 

Z-NO in flight on an earlier mission.
 

Sgt Jackson volunteered to exit the plane by the escape hatch and tackle the fire with a handheld fire extinguisher. Wounded, and in the 200mph slipstream it was almost certain that he would be unable to regain the inside of the aircraft. Even so, he tucked a fire extinguisher into his life jacket and began to clamber out of the escape hatch. As he was exiting his parachute rip cord caught and the parachute deployed inside the cockpit. This would mean that if he fell off the plane the parachute may not deploy properly, or it may become tangled on the aircraft, either outcome would likely lead to his death. Keep in mind that he knew he was unlikely to be able to re-enter the aircraft. Several of the crew attempted to control the parachute inside the cabin, and even use it as a sort of safety line as Sgt Jackson edged to safety.

Suddenly the plane gave a lurch and Sgt Jackson slipped, he fell down the side of the plane, hitting the wing. He managed to grasp onto an opening in the leading edge of the wing, however, the impact caused the fire extinguisher bottle to fall out and disappear into Germany. He was lying in the fire, so he beat at it with his gloved hands futilely.

On fire and getting badly burnt with no means of tackling the blaze, Sgt Jackson lost his grip and was swept through the fire. However, the crew inside did not realise what had happened for a few critical moments. Thus, Sgt Jackson was dragged behind the aircraft in its slipstream, while the parachute was in the fire. Realising the danger, the crew had no choice but to let the parachute out as well they could. Sgt Jackson was seen to tumble away from the Lancaster, his parachute partially inflated, and on fire.

Sgt Jackson
 

On board the plane, F/O Mifflin realised their plane was doomed and ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. Both F/O Millfin and the rear gunner (Flight-Sergeant Norman Johnson) died in the attempt to bail out, although the rest of the crew made a safe landing.

Sgt Jackson smashed into the ground heavily, there was just enough of his parachute left to keep him alive, although two thirds of it was burnt. He did break his ankle in the impact. The next morning, he crawled some distance and found a German house, whereupon the man who answered the door started yelling about a ‘Churchill Gangster!’. Despite this Sgt Johnson was taken prisoner and spent 10 months in hospital before being sent to Stalag IXC at Mühlhausen. Sgt Jackson attempted to escape at least once, before being recaptured. Some sources talk about a successful second attempt, others that he was still at the camp when it was liberated by the Americans. For his actions Jackson was awarded the VC. After the war he became a travelling salesman of Haig Whiskey, although his hands were permanently and badly scared from the burns received. He would eventually die in 1994. 

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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.

 

Credits & Sources:

www.backtonormandy.org, www.abct.org.uk and www.findagrave.com

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Second Blitz

Overnight on the 16th/17th of January 1943 there was a RAF bombing raid on Berlin. There is always a ‘however’ though. In this case other sources suggest such a raid never took place. But it does seem likely that it happened as, by all accounts, it made Hitler very very angry. 

What Hitler wanted to see...
 

Like the last time popular myth has Hitler getting all shouty over an air raid on Berlin, his immediate reaction was to order the Luftwaffe to raze London to the ground. Now, the Luftwaffe was faced with a bit of a problem. Since the end of the Blitz, they had been conducting raids on the UK but had largely avoided the London area. A squadron about to be transferred to the Eastern Front was given a stay of execution and kept in the west to take part in the attacks against London. More planes were sourced from training units. Even when they had arranged every airframe they could, the Germans still found themselves with under 100 bombers, so each bomber would attack, return to base, re-arm and fly a second sortie. As this was to be the first major air raid on London since 1941 the Germans wanted it to be impressive, a second Blitz.

The Germans even got lucky with the British defences. After a year of no attacks they were not entirely ready. For example, the barrage balloons of the RAF were winched close in and not fully deployed. That night as the bombing commenced two WRAF’s at a balloon site were horrified to realise that a stick of bombs was heading straight towards them. 

Cpl Dyson and ACW Beeson crewing their winch.
 

Corporal May Dyson and Aircraftwomen Peggy Muncy Beeson were manning their winch trailer during the bombing. As the bombs rained down about them, they calmly continued to winch out their balloon to the designated height. Even when a large bomb hit just to the left, followed by one to the right they stayed at their posts ensuring their balloon was fully deployed. 

...and pictured standing in one of the two craters that bracketed their winch trailer.
 

Some sixty fires were lit, but all were small and easily contained. To further the Germans embarrassment, most of their pilots got lost and missed London. It is reported that just 40% of the bombs dropped by the Germans even landed within the London Civil Defence area, which is a rather impressive feat in of itself! The only success was at Greenwich when one bomber got lucky and caused heavy damage to a power station there. It cost the Germans six planes shot down, four of which were by the same pilot. Acting Wing Commander Cathcart Michael Wight-Boycott, flying in a Beaufighter, won a DSO for his actions. A newspaper, the Daily Herald, made the following report of the events:

‘I stood yesterday on the edge of the biggest bomb crater that I have ever seen.  It measured sixty feet across and the whole roadway was gone.  This Street of Devastation (Lytcott Grove) echoed to the picks of the rescue squad still feverishly digging for a seventy year old woman known to have been in the back kitchen of one of the houses.  The most memorable escape of the night was of a nineteen year old, Mr P. Garrett.  He was in a first-floor room when the bomb fell.  When the dust cleared, he found himself in a ground floor kitchen at the back of the house with a kitchen cooker on his chest.  He was unharmed!  One of the crew of a German bomber shot down parachuted to safety, stole a car, and was stopped by the police and arrested near Maidstone.’


That night the RAF visited Berlin once again, 8,000lbs of bombs and hundreds of incendiaries fell on the German Capital. 

The German attack resumed on the 20th, this time in daylight and at low level. Around noon thirty-two BF110’s took off and conducted distraction sweeps along the south coast. At the same time mixed in with the confusion twenty-eight FW190A’s armed with a single bomb roamed about the south of England giving the impression of air strikes directed towards somewhere in Kent or Sussex. The British air raid warning system alert was only given when authorities could tell where the raid was heading, with all these aircraft giving the impression of a flight to Kent, it came as a surprise when twelve FW190’s detached from the main group and headed for London. Once again, the balloon barrage was winched in close for essential maintenance. As the fighter bombers crossed Beachy Head the order to get the balloons to 6,500ft was given. By this time, it was too late, as the German craft were over London less than a minute after the order was given. The warnings failed to filter down to the light flak crews or the air raid sirens.

The twelve FW190’s were ordered to strike targets of opportunity, each carried a 500kg bomb. One pilot, Hauptmann Heinz Schumann, spotted a large three story building as he hurtled along above the rooftops. He extended away, turned and made an attack run scoring a perfect hit. It was a school. As there had been no warning given, none of the children had been sheltering, and were instead at lunch. Thirty-eight were killed, along with six adults. Another sixty were injured. Rapid response from the Civil Defence was supplemented by Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, as well as Canadian Engineers from nearby bases. 

The bomb site at Sandhurst Road School

 

 
Interviews with pilots involved in combating the air raids. Keep in mind this is a period newsreel so will have a bit of a bias.

Overall, this attack was much more successful, starting a fire at a gas holder, hitting a large warehouse and getting three bombs into another power station. However, the attack had been costly. Fourteen aircraft of the total of sixty were destroyed, with another three probables and eight damaged claimed by the British. 


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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.

 

Credits & Sources:

www.history.com

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Chaos of Retirement

 As some of you know, I do my articles a week in advance of when they're needed.Well last weekend I inadvertently became a bit busy, and so am relying on random documents for this weeks content. The problems last week do give an amusing story though, which will start after the documents.

This week I think I'll post the sales brochure for the BAC Swingfire missile. This was pretty early in development when they were still expecting there to be both an heavy and light version of the missile, alternatively named RACswing and INswing (Long and Medium Range respectively), denoting which branch of the British Army was to use it. This was dated 4th June 1964.

(Yes, that's a Swingfire mounted to a Saracen)




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Now onto last weeks fun and games! It all started a few months ago. I noticed that my old trusty PC has started to slow down, lag and the occasional crash. Some of the USB ports have stopped working and she's been through two house moves. She was also becoming incapable of running some programs. This PC has been with me for nearly a decade, all three of my books, and most of my articles and research have been done on her. So I decided it was time to retire her. I ordered a new PC, even managed to get a 3060 put in it (which is a hell of an upgrade from the GTX 660 in my old PC!). It arrives, and I figured Saturday morning that I could do a quick swap of the tower unit, spend a couple of hours battering all the useless crap that Windows includes out of it, and installing programs Etc. My Old PC would get moved to my Wife's desk, and likely only get turned on twice a month for a bit of gentle web surfing, a fitting retirement for the old girl.

First surprise, It's a lot bigger than I was expecting, I seem to have brought the equivalent of the black monolith from 2001. Then the issues started. My monitor is even older than my PC, dating from about 2009. The 3060 only has HDMI ports, my monitor had no idea what one of them was. 

I then head out to PC World to buy a new one, it's at this point things started to really go wonky. First the Highways Agency had decided to close the dual carriage way that was my best route. With the Diversion routed down a narrow city centre street. The traffic jam was rather impressive.

When I get to PC World, I find out it is click and collect only due to the pandemic. It'd be really embarrassing if part of my day job included checking shops to make sure they're obeying the CV19 regulations, such as click & collect wouldn't it? Things would be made even more embarrassing by my wife asking as I went out 'Are you sure they're open?'...

Anyway, I start browsing on the phone and every monitor is out of stock, eventually the lady on the door takes pity on my dumb ass and goes to see what they have in stock. So I order it, and head home, avoiding the closed road. Get home, get the monitor in place aaaaaand, no HDMI cable. So back to PC world I go. But it's all sorted now.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

On Revolutions

This week I'm going to cheat a bit, or rather, be efficient in my working. I've recently been studying for my history degree, and last week my real life job's shift patten stuffed me up a bit. So, I'm going to repurpose an essay I wrote for the degree, for this weeks article. An added bonus here is that the basic question is a bloody interesting one, and one I'd invite you to consider and stick your comments on.

The Question concerned the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the German Revolution of 1918.On the surface of it, both revolutions are identical, so why did one succeed, and the other fail? Well here's my take, feel free to stick your views in!

Note: The pictures are an addition for this article, just to give some imagery.

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Question: Why did the Bolsheviks succeed in Russia but far-left groups fail in Germany in 1917–20?

The assorted socialist revolutions occurring just after, indeed in the dying days and years of, the First World War had very different outcomes. The variance in the end state of the revolutions is at first glance quite curious due to the similarities involved. To determine why this occurred we should consider the differences and similarities to see if we can determine the factors that caused the success or failure. On this spectrum, we have the German revolution for an example of a failure, and the Bolshevik October Revolution as the diametrically opposed example, a successful revolution. We could also include the 1916 Easter Uprising as an example of a revolution that found the middle way between success and failure.

Both the German and the Russian Revolutions can be broken down into three distinct parts. The first is a failure of morale and resulting rebellion within the military forces due to setbacks during the Europe spanning conflict that was the First World War. In the case of the Soviets, it was brought about due to the high casualties experienced during the trench warfare, and the general disenfranchisement of the soldiers (Trott, and Mackie, 2020a, p.71). In the case of the German forces, the malaise started in the German fleet (Trott, and Mackie, 2020a, p.84). Germany was under naval blockade by the vastly bigger Royal Navy. The German fleet had largely avoided a fleet action apart from the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The exact outcome of this battle was unclear at the time, and all the German sailors would have known is they had taken heavy losses. In October 1918 the German high command was preparing for another go at a decisive battle to bring the British to the negotiating table and thus lift the blockade that was strangling Germany. This led to a mutiny amongst the sailors (Trott, and Mackie, 2020a, p.84-85). This generalized disorder and military collapse led to both Germany and Russia adopting a more democratic ruling system and deposing the old ruling kings. At the time both countries were suffering food shortages due in part to the war situation and were having to make do with food substitutes (Trott, and Mackie, 2020a, p.82). The quality of these substitutes can be seen by the fact the Imperial War Museum has in its collection an original hunk of German bread issued at this time. Despite the passage of over 100 years and no attempts being made to preserve it the bread still appears the same as the day it was cut from the loaf (Imperial War Museum, 2011). It is likely, as William Cobbett (1763-1835) pointed out with his famous quote ‘I defy you to agitate any fellow with a full stomach’ that this lack of basic food provided a boost to the revolutionary spirit.

Revolutionary spirit in the flesh.
 

A short period after the change in power there followed a second socialist uprising, 8 months for Russia, and just 2 months for Germany (Trott, and Mackie, 2020b). These sub-revolutions were known as the Bolshevik (or October) Revolution and the Spartacist uprising. This secondary uprising is where we see another divergence between the two main revolutionary examples.
This difference comes from different views of the two revolutions’ leadership, on the writing of Karl Marx (1818-1883). In his writings, Marx suggested the only way forward for society was to hold a revolution, which would lead to the utopian Communist world which Marx prophesied would follow on from the capitalist system (Pike and Barber, 2020a, p.137). The leader of the Bolshevik revolution was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1870–1924), he interpreted the writings of Marx to mean that the revolution would be created by a group of 'Trained Marxists' (Pike and Barber, 2020b). These would be indoctrinated into the theory of Marxism and lead the charge, dragging the population with them.
The Spartacist uprising was led by Rosa Luxemburg (1871–1919). Her views on Marx’s writing was that the people would lead the revolution, and it would be a much more spontaneous groundswell of opinion (Pike and Barber, 2020a, p.156-157).

Germans manning a barricade.
 

Revolutions of this nature require force to be employed to overthrow the existing political system. Thus under these circumstances the trained, and more importantly, the motivated forces will nearly always provide better results. The lack of indoctrination and motivation can clearly be seen in the writings of Toni Sender (1888-1964) Autobiography of a German Rebel.

‘In the first hours of the revolution, we encountered what was to prove our main handicap, the Soldiers councils. The soldiers to a large extent were completely untrained politically. What they demanded was the end of the war with as little disturbance as possible. They wanted to be able to go home and to work. They were not concerned with the need to uproot the forces which had led the people into war.’ (Sender, 1940, pp.92-93)


This lack of fervour would not allow the mass of the population to carry on in the face of adversity, such as a strongly defended counter-revolutionary position. A reason for the failure is if one is to take the Marxist doctrine as quasi-religious, then everything that Marx utters will come to pass. In his 1848 work The Communist Manifesto Marx (assisted by Friedrich Engels (1820-1895)) states the following:

‘The Communists turn their attention chiefly to Germany because that country is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution that is bound to be carried out under more advanced conditions of European civilisation[...]’ (Marx and Engels, 1848, pp.74)


As The Communist Manifesto heavily references previous revolutions, and why they failed, it would seem that in this passage they are implying that Germany is further advanced along the path of Capitalism, and thus, logically, closer to its end. The end is of course the inevitable communist revolution. As it seems inconceivable that Luxemburg had not read all of Marx’s other works, she may have been expecting a population that was primed for revolution and uprising, rather than one that was largely apathetic to the cause. Thus it could have seemed to her that she did not require the same level of preparation as Lenin applied to his endeavour.

Bolshevik's ready to storm the winter palace. Contrary to popular imagery that action was no where near as epic as is often portrayed.
 

In the October Revolution the outcome was a complete success with the overthrow of the fledgling parliament. This seizure of power allowed the revolutionaries to set up councils in each town to govern the area, these were called Soviets (Trott, and Mackie, 2020a, p.74). The larger state would become a union of Soviets or the Soviet Union. These Soviets allowed the mass of the population to actually see a tangible benefit, that of self-rule. Equally, the Bolsheviks would employ a large amount of political indoctrination (Pike and Barber, 2020a, p.160-161). These moves gave the Bolsheviks significant popular support. This support was critical during the counter-revolutionary period after the end of the First World War, where allied forces moved to support the counter-revolutionary forces known as White Russians. The popular support was able to be maintained and enabled the Bolsheviks from collapsing during the reverses suffered during the early part of the Russian Civil War, such as the Battle of Tsaritsyn when British tank formations led the White forces in a stunning attack that utterly crushed the Bolshevik defenders, coming very close to killing one of the senior Bolshevik Leaders, one Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (1878-1953). However, Bolshevik morale held, and they were able to launch a counter attack (Overlords Blog, 2014). 


In comparison during the Spartacist uprising, they lacked the prepared forces and relied on waiting for the population to support them. In contrast, the counter-revolutionary forces ensured food security and managed to unite the population to gain support (Duffy, 2009). While some Revolutionaries were highly motivated and indoctrinated, these were in the minority. Equally, on the counter-revolution side, they had similar forces from the right-wing of politics. These were formed into the Freikorps (Trott, and Mackie, 2020a, p.88). These were armed, motivated bands who would help the forces of the German Republic to fight off the German Marxists. It is at the hands of a pair of Freikorps men that Luxemburg was shot.

Freikorps, with what looks like a VP-21 armoured car and a flamethrower. Compare to the pictures earlier of Communist revolutionaries and you can quickly see the disparity between the two. Freikorps vehicles, and helmets also seemed to feature skulls as a motif, so it was likely they were playing on the fear as well.

 


Earlier I mentioned the Easter Uprising. This too seems to fit the pattern close to that of the two revolutions detailed so far, drawing elements from both. The Easter Uprising was driven by a mix of sectarian, nationalist and Marxist ideas. Like the Bolshevik revolution, it was launched due to the situation caused by the First World War, in this case, the revolutionaries saw an opportunity with the British distracted. Drawing from the Spartacist uprising we can take the general lack of preparedness on a military front, which meant the uprising was soon crushed by the counter-revolutionaries. However, the level of contemporary support for the revolutionaries is difficult to gauge as it is said that widespread popular support did not occur until the leaders of the revolution were executed. This shifting of support led to the outbreak of the Irish war for independence, and the subsequent split of Ireland (Wolffe, 2020a and 2020b).


While the Bolshevik and Spartacist revolutions seem to be identical at first glance, it is the underlying structure of the forces involved that altered the outcome. The Bolsheviks planned for a fight and ensured they had the motivated manpower to win it, then grabbed the popular support of the peasants. Even so, it was still a close-run thing. The Marxists in Germany during the Spartacist uprising, however, just sat there and waited for things to turn out as they thought they should. They also failed to grasp the means of popular support to ensure they survived the counter-revolution.
It seems that the key element in determining the success of a revolution is the scale of popular support. However, it should be noted that by preparing properly in a military sense, you can then obtain popular support.

Bibliography 

  • Duffy, M. (2009) Primary Documents: Friedrich Ebert on the first Post-imperial German government, 10-17 November 1918. Available at https://www.firstworldwar.com/source/abdication_ebert.htm ( accessed 22/9/2020) [quoted in Trott and Mackie, 2020a] 
  • Imperial War Museum (2011) bread, piece of. Available at: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30085605 (Accessed: 29/03/2020).
  • Marx, K. and Engels, F. (1848) The Communist Manifesto. Moscow: Progress Publishers. [Available at: https://archive.org/details/communistmanifestomarxengels/page/n3/mode/2up accessed on 24/1/21]
  • Overlords Blog (2014) The British battle of Stalingrad. Available at: http://overlord-wot.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-british-battle-of-stalingrad.html (Accessed: 30/11/2014).
  • Pike, J. and Barber, A. (2020a) ‘Marx, Luxemburg and Lenin’, in The Open University (ed.) Revolutions, Book 2. Milton Keynes: The Open University, (ed.) Revolutions. Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 113–168.
  • Pike, J. and Barber, A. (2020b) ‘Marx, Luxemburg and Lenin’, A113: Revolutions. Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id (Accessed: 24/1/2021).
  • Sender, T. (1940) Autobiography of a German Rebel. London: Labour book service. [quoted in Trott and Mackie, 2020a]
  • Trott, V. and Mackie, R. (2020a) ‘Revolution and counter-revolution, 1917–23’, in The Open University, Revolutions, Book 2. Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 57–111.
  • Trott, V. and Mackie, R. (2020b) ‘Revolution and counter-revolution, 1917–23’, A113: Revolutions. Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1725857 (Accessed: 24/1/2021).
  • Wolffe, J. (2020a) ‘Religious division and political polarisation in Ireland’, in The Open University (ed.) Revolutions, Book 2. Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 221–273.
  • Wolffe, J. (2020b) ‘Religious division and political polarisation in Ireland’, A113: Revolutions. Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1746218 (Accessed: 24/1/2021).


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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.

 

Credits & Sources:

www.peoplesworld.org

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Adventures of WIlliam Becke

 In September 1916 Brigadier John Becke was commanding the 1st Wing of the Royal Flying Corp. Brig Becke was a rare pilot, he had been one of the pre-war aviators in a squadron since 1912, and so could be one of the pioneers of the RFC. That September as the Somme Battles ground on Brig Becke got news that his wife had delivered a healthy baby boy, who was named William Hugh Adamson Becke. William would go on to have a very interesting life full of adventure. 

Lieutenant Colonel Becke
 

William had a very unremarkable childhood; the only point of note was when riding a motorcycle, he had a bad crash that cost him the ring and small finger on his right hand. Despite this injury he would join the Sherwood Foresters in January 1937 as a young officer.  He was part of the Regiment’s deployment to Palestine until 1939, when the world changed with the outbreak of the Second World War. He added Cyprus, Egypt and Tobruk to the theatres he fought in. Then he took command of a battalion for the battles to secure the rear of the 8th Army in Iraq and Syria. He fought in North Africa and then all the way up Italy. 

Panzer IV knocked out at San Savino
 

At San Savino he received a DSO. During the bitter night attack to clear the village he was leading from the front armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun. As Major Becke approached the church from the direction of the cemetery his force came under heavy fire. Dashing from tombstone to tombstone and using what cover they could, they approached the building. Maj Becke ordered a section to flank the church, and then led some men in an attempt to storm the front door. As they neared the door a grenade was thrown and injured Maj Becke in the head. The infantry carried on the assault through the doors and found the enemy numbering about platoon size inside. After a short firefight Maj Becke then had to fall back out of the church to reload. With a new magazine fitted he stormed back inside and, in an instant, had killed four enemy, but had been hit himself twice in the shoulder and arm. As the British fell back Maj Becke saw a section pinned in a house nearby. There was a machine gun hammering away at their location. He dashed to the rear of the church, stuck his gun into the window and hosed down the machine gunner pinning the section. With the enemy fire gone the section stormed the front door again, loosing several men to the defenders, however, it appears they carried the position. In the meantime, Maj Becke had been hit again, this time in the leg. After being shot three times, and taking a shrapnel wound to the head, Maj Becke collapsed briefly. He was soon awake, and although he did not fire another shot that night, he still coordinated the capture of the Germans inside the church, and their evacuation.  

German POW's at the rear of the knocked out Panzer IV.

 

Maj Becke would later fight at Anzio leading his men on a tank hunting expedition, where he was wounded twice again (arm and leg). I suspect from here he was evacuated back to the UK, as he would get married to an Australian nurse in 1945 and served in the War Office until 1949.

Becke stayed in the army after the Second World War, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In the early 1960’s he was sent to Jakarta as part of the British Military Attaché for the Embassy there. The other part of the mission was Major Roderick Muir Bamford Walker. If you want something further to read, there is a biography that might pass some time. Major Walker was part of the SAS deployment in the Oman campaign. 

Major Walker
 

On Sept 16th 1963 the country of Malaysia was formed from several colonies on the island of Indonesia. There were a large number of people unhappy with this, and so a large mob formed and attacked the British Embassy. Around 10,000 people formed a mob outside the building, overturned the Ambassador’s car and set it on fire. They began to pelt the building with stones, smashing all its windows. The only defence was Lt-Col Becke standing defiantly in the face of the barrage, occasionally side stepping the heftier rock. Meanwhile Maj Walker marched up and down defying the crowd with a constant deluge of music from his bagpipes, which drowned out the cries of ‘Crush Malaysia!’ and ‘Kill the British!’. 

The events of Becke and Walker's stand were shown in a cartoon in the UK newspapers.
 

The following day rioters and mobs targeted British households, looting and burning. On the 18th the baying mob returned to the embassy. First the fence was torn down, and the rioters entered the compound and stormed the building. Most of the British nationals found were herded into a corner of the courtyard where they were pelted by stones, bricks and bottles for two hours. Just twelve Indonesian soldiers bravely stood between the mob and the 23 women and men. Luckily the soldiers managed to keep the rioters back, until they were evacuated by the police. A pregnant woman and three others were injured by the hail of missiles. 

The mob at the Embassy. The Ambassador's burning car can be seen on the right.
 

The exceptions were the Ambassador, Mr. Andrew Gilchrist, who was standing guard at the Embassy’s strong room. On hearing of this, Lt-Col Becke and Maj Walker wrestled their way through the hostile crowd swamping the building. They reached Mr Gilchrist and together they fought off the attackers. Mr Gilchrist suffered a number of cuts from projectiles hurled at him in this last stand.  This was all for nought as the embassy was eventually burnt down by the mob. British nationals were evacuated to Singapore that day as well, and the country was well on its way to the Malaysian Emergency. For his actions Lt-Col Becke was awarded the Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George the following year.

In 1966 Becke retired from the army, moving to Australia. He then became the private secretary to the governor of Victoria, Australia. After that he became the personnel officer for the Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria. William Becke would die, aged 92, in Australia on 3rd April 2009. 


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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.

 

Credits & Sources:

Daily Telegraph, military obituaries.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Balloon Attack

From the title you may have guessed that we’ll be talking about the offensive use of balloons. Immediately you’re thinking of the Japanese balloon weapons, however, that’s rather unlike me. So here is the story of British attack balloons. 

RAF Balloon Command in operation
 

Around 1935 England started to slowly re-arm and prepare for war. One of these re-armaments was the Barrage Balloon. Balloons had the advantages that they were very very cheap, quick to spread about and were highly visible to the population. The latter enabled the civilians to feel that measures were being taken to protect them, and improved morale. Of course, there were down sides. If one got loose it could theoretically cause havoc, then someone thought of the newly installed power grid (the UK was electrified in the early 1920’s). Thus in 1937 a study was carried out into the effect of a balloon’s cables hitting a power line. The effects seemed justified, as balloons became more and more common, many slipped their moorings and floated into power lines. This prompted a barrage of complaints to the head of Balloon Command from power distributors.  

Then in overnight between the 17th-18th September 1940 there was a storm with gale force winds. As this occurred at the height of the Battle of Britain the RAF’s Balloon Command was fully deployed. Several of the balloons were carried away in the strong winds, luckily most were swept out over the North Sea never to be heard of again.

But then a few days later reports began to filter back to the UK. The balloons had landed in Scandinavia, with at least five reaching Finland. The trailing cables had wreaked havoc on Denmark and Sweden, knocking out power lines, disrupting railways and one balloon even collided with the antenna of the Swedish international radio station. It is no surprise that the UK Government’s eyes lit up with an idea. If they’d caused this much damage by accident, with a system that cost just 35 shillings, imagine what they could do if they went at the problem deliberately. This was an even starker comparison when you consider the cost and ineffectiveness of Bomber Command’s night-time offensive.

Now, this would not be a British wartime story if as usual modern commentators had not got their projects mixed and confused. In September 1940 the Department for Miscellaneous Weapon Development (DMWD) started proposing an idea for free barrage balloons. These would be aimed at oncoming streams of German bombers, by launching them down wind of a calculated intercept point. They would then drift into the German bomber stream causing havoc and hopefully knocking loads of bombers out of the sky. In December 1940 this defence scheme became operational under the codename Operation Albino. It continued until November 1941, but was discontinued due to a variety of reasons, not least lack of success and lack of German bombers. Modern websites often seem to conflate the DMWD scheme to the later offensive scheme as the same weapon, so if you’re reading up on this later, be cautious!

Image captioned to be of Operation Outward launching site.
 

Anyway, while the DMWD was lobbing balloons at German bombers there was a bit of a bun fight going on over the offensive side of things. The Air Ministry was dead set against the idea, claiming it was a waste of time, resources and manpower for no identifiable result. Against that the Admiralty thought it was a great idea. The Air Ministry also was concerned about German retaliation in kind. But a study proved that the most common weather patterns were in the UK’s favour. Eventually, the Admiralty won out, and repurposed balloons from Operation Albino, which was being wound up. This may have been the key to getting the Air Ministry to relent as it meant that resources already spent were being shifted from a defensive to an offensive role.

The offensive campaign was codenamed Operation Outward, with the first launches on the 20th March 1942. Upon release the balloons had a slow burning fuse to trigger them over Germany. The balloons used were of two types. The first unfurled a wire hoping to cause damage to electrical systems. The second was an incendiary device designed to cause forest fires. The incendiary devices came in three versions, codenamed Beer, Jelly and Sock. These were actually bad codenames as they related to the contents of the incendiary load. Beer was six self-igniting phosphorus bottles, identical in concept to the No74 SIP grenade. Jelly was a 1 gallon can of jellied incendiary compound which could produce a fireball 20ft across. Socks were, well, cloth ‘socks’ filled with treated wood wool which had a fuse at either end. These were designed to drape over the upper branches of a tree and then burn for fifteen minutes. 

A pair of 'socks' attached to a Outward Balloon
 

Soon after launches started happening news stories began to reach the British of fires in German forests and other encouraging reports, including that the Luftwaffe was attempting to shoot the balloons down, wasting resources that could be better used elsewhere. One incident happened near Leipzig, on the 12th July 1942, when a wire balloon hit a high voltage power line. The surge protector failed to trigger, and the short circuit caused a massive fire. This fire destroyed the Bohlen power station, which it was estimated cost of one million pounds.

Damage to Bohlen power station
 

However, there was a downside. In a weird parallel to today and the arguments about autonomous weapon systems, both Switzerland and Sweden took damage from these balloons. Possibly the most notable incident was on the night of 19th-20th February 1944 when a wire balloon scored a direct hit on the lighting system of a railway line, knocking it out completely. The only problem was this was in Sweden. Things went worse when two trains collided in the darkness.

From the start of the project until February 1944 some 96,625 balloons were launched. From Feb 1944 until the project was stopped in September 1944 only a further 6,517 were sent on their way. The reason for halting operations was the state of the war. Allied air superiority meant that the weapons were potentially causing trouble for Allied air crews. Equally, at this point the Allies were nearing the borders of the Reich and so were entering the target zone of the weapon. Of the weapons launched the split was nearly 50/50 between wire and incendiary with 54,599 wire weapons, and the rest of the 99,142 being incendiary types. This number also gives another reason to stop the bombardment. Only about 100,000 balloons had been manufactured for Operation Albino. The cost of Operation Outward was just £220,000. Compared to that was the total disruption of the German electrical grid. A 1946 report showed that electrical faults became so common after 1943 that the Germans stopped recording them. From the incomplete records it was estimated that the balloons had directly done about one and a half million pounds worth of damage. Thus, from a purely economical point of view it was a success. It is likely that constant power disruptions meant a far higher degree of problems for the Germans than the cost figure would show. Imagine what a power outage would do to German production, or to radar or AA gun laying during a Bomber Command attack. For such a simple idea, that had so much success it is odd almost no one knows about it today.


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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, February 21, 2021

Normandy Neger

 In 1943 as the war clearly turned against them the Germans started to look at new ways to attack the enemy. One such means was developed by the Kriegsmarine. One of their formations was the Kommando der Kleinkampfverbände, usually shortened to the K-verbände. This translates as ‘Small Combat Units Command’. The idea seemed to be that of the naval special forces, highly elite people conducting daring attack operations using specialist military craft. Similar to the Italian MAS or the British X-craft.

One other feature of this branch of the Navy was the use of small, and ultimately very cheap craft for its attacks. One such weapon was the Neger attack craft. This was literally a G7e 21in electric torpedo with the warhead replaced by a primitive cockpit, and the engine down rated to give a slower cruising speed of 3 knots. This meant that the total range was about 30 nautical miles. A second, fully functional G7e was then slung underneath the modified torpedo. The cockpit contained the controls and had a Perspex dome on top. The pilot would then sit inside the cockpit, and used a compass strapped to his wrist as his only means of navigation. The torpedo ran just under the surface, and an aiming stalk was added to the nose. The inside of the dome was marked with targeting marks to help judge speed of the target. When the pilot was lined up with his target, he yanked a handle that started the engine on the normal torpedo, and hopefully released it sending it on its way. Should the torpedo fail to release the modified torpedo would be carried along with the live torpedo’s much stronger engine output. If the pilot had aimed correctly and was unable to release the dome in time the entire mass would strike the target ship blowing him up. As the view from the cockpit was at sea level the pilot’s visual range was quite short, thus the distance from the target was correspondingly miniscule. This meant that he would only have a few seconds to react in a hang up. Other threats to the pilot’s life include toxic fumes from the batteries mixing with seawater, and suffocation from CO2 build up. Getting lost or having to abandon ship would also be highly likely to be terminal while at sea. The name Neger came from the colour of the craft, which was painted entirely black. 

Neger being winched into the sea.
 

Nevertheless about 200 Negers were built. Their first sortie was against the Anzio beachhead in April 1944. Things went very badly. Of the thirty to be used in the attack, thirteen capsized on being launched. The remaining seventeen all proceeded to attack the shipping. None made a successful attack, and only fourteen returned to base. To make matters even worse, a complete Neger with torpedo attached was washed up on the beach and found by the Americans, completely giving the game away. A detailed report was published, and distributed, in an intelligence report on the 9th of June. 

US discovery of the Neger at Anzio.
 

By this time the K-verbände was sending the Neger units to Normandy to face the Normandy landings. Around the 13th of June K-flotilla 361, with sixty Negers, was being driven by road from Germany to Paris. Here they split into two groups, one setting up at Favrol Woods the other at Pont l’Eveque. At the latter location, the troops commandeered a farm hiding the Negers in stables. At both sites German engineers cleared a path through the beach defences and installed wooden ramps to allow the launching and recovery of the craft by wheeled carriages. The ramps were camouflaged during the day. 

Neger on wheeled launch trolley.
 

Limited by the tides, as to improve their chances, the Negers needed to be launched in darkness on an ebb tide, the first date for an attack was the night of the 5th/6th of July. Twenty-six craft were launched from Favrol Woods. Two had engine malfunctions and had to abort, of the remaining number 24 managed to make attacks during the early hours of the 6th. It would take two to three hours to reach the fleet, wallowing in the waves, the pilots cockpit would often be submerged by the waves. Even if the pilot saw a target, even the slowest transport was faster than him, so he had a very limited attack envelope. The first torpedo was launched at 0307, it passed under a motor launch but missed the intended target of a Landing Craft Gun. The motor launch had seen the torpedo track and turned towards the Neger at speed, but before they could close up they had to break off as nearby vessels raked the craft with gunfire. Another Neger began to take on water in the rear of the craft, causing the manned torpedo to begin to stand upright in the water. To avoid the combined weight of the water and live torpedo dragging him down, the pilot fired. The live torpedo’s tail struck the Neger, ripping open the hull, causing the pilot to have to bail out. He managed to reach shore by swimming.  Other torpedoes were launched throughout the hours before dawn, and some found their targets. Two ships, HMS Magic and HMS Cato (both minesweepers) were sunk by Neger torpedoes that night. By 0600 the torpedo attacks were over. However, the Negers still had to return to base. One pilot was still afloat at 0930 heading for home when he was spotted by a fighter passing overhead. It appears the Negers were very easy to see from the air during daylight, due in part to the black paint. The fighter attacked, strafing the craft, and the pilot managed to bail and swim to shore, albeit he was exhausted by the time he reached land. Of the craft launched only ten returned. 

Neger under way. You can see the aiming rod on the nose here.
 

On the night of the 7th/8th another twenty-one Negers were launched at 2225. This time none would return, although a few were successful in launching their torpedoes. The big-name hit was the light cruiser ORP Dragon, which was hit towards the stern. The damage was so severe she was beached for repairs, but later towed and scuttled as a breakwater for the Mulberry harbours. 

ORP Dragon, stripped of her equipment, and serving out her final duty as a breakwater off the Normandy beaches.
 

During the second attack several Negers are thought to have carried out attacks against HMS Centurion, and old battleship being used as a breakwater. The HMS Centurion was first claimed by a German coastal artillery battery that stated they had sunk it with heavy loss of life. From the gunners position they had been firing at a ship, which had then begun to sink in shallow water. They had also seen only a few crew abandoning the craft, which led to the claim. Part of the problem of determining what the Negers sunk is down to the situation at sea. The Luftwaffe was dropping free floating mines in the area, E-boats would make high speed attack runs lobbing torpedoes into the shipping. Equally, the Negers had only one crewman with no means of recording his location or targets apart from his memory. What was clear was that the Negers were horribly vulnerable and the loss rate was staggering. After this second attack no further attacks were carried out. 

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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:

laststandonzombieisland.files.wordpress.com 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Aggie!

In 1943 the Allies were well advanced with their plans to return to the continent, however, one problem still remained: How to defeat the masses of concrete the Germans were frantically pouring into their defences. The way the British went about working out how to attack these obstacles was uncharacteristically slapdash. By 1943 there was a general understanding that an armoured engineering vehicle was needed, however, the official project was based around a pair of 4x4 lightly armoured trucks. It was left to unofficial sources to study the problem. One thing that quickly occurred to these pioneers was the need to project a large explosive charge some distance to blow up obstacles. Ultimately Lieutenant John James Denovan would win this race, with Stewart Blackers help, with the Petard spigot mortar. However, the task of creating an anti-obstacle gun was also tackled by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and the gun they created is often mentioned in passing, but no one has had a really good look at it. I am of course talking about the Ardeer Aggie.

ICI had actually done some work with a recoilless rifle beforehand. This 3.5in weapon had been developed to fill a similar role to that of a PIAT, namely infantry anti-tank. It is not recorded how the recoilless effect was achieved. The recoilless rifle known as Aggie worked on the Davis principle of ejecting a counterweight. The very first version of the weapon was a colossal 14in in calibre. It used a primitive black powder charge to propel the projectile. The choice of black powder did actually make sense as ICI felt the weapon needed certain characteristics in its internal ballistics. These were being easy to ignite, having a short all burnt time, but producing a low pressure. This monstrous cannon was actually built, but performance was terrible. The muzzle velocity was just 420fps and the shot tumbled in flight. To make matters worse the black powder charge caused the smoothbore barrel to become horribly fouled to such an extent it needed cleaning out after every shot. There were other problems too. The combined round of projectile, charge and counterweight came in at a hefty 224lbs.The massive weight, and that all three parts were loaded separately, meant that few rounds would be able to be carried, and rate of fire was slow. Finally, there were questions about the ease of manufacturing 14in barrels, or the highly complex fuse needed. The 14inch version was dropped, and design efforts focused on a 10.5in version. 

The 10.5in weapon on its 6-pounder chassis.
 

This smaller calibre had the advantage that tubes were of a standard size and easier to obtain. Equally, the complete round only weighed in at about 158lbs which was still rather heavy. Things went a little wrong when one considers these came pre-assembled inside a packing tube which was needed as part of the loading process. Equally, should the round misfire there was no means of extracting the round. The round consisted of a canister with a slightly modified No152 fuse, the same fuse as a 3-inch mortar. At the base of the canister was a tail unit which was streamlined down to a drum tail. The tail contained the 3lb cordite charge, of which about 8% of its weight was added potassium nitrate to create the needed characteristics. The charge was fired electrically, with a plug that needed wiring into the gun during loading.

The projectile weighed in at 65lbs, of which 33lbs was the explosive filler. As the projectile was acting as a HESH round it needed to be filled with a plastic explosive. In the first version of the shell Nobels 808 was used, this was found to be very shock sensitive and would prematurely explode on impact. So, the least sensitive plastic explosive that could be found was employed. This was Nobels 851, filling type E. This consisted of the explosive Pentolite melted in a steam-jacket heated pot. Into this was mixed Nitrocotton, Carbamite and Dibutyl Phthalate. The last substance name makes me wonder if scientists aren’t just trying to mess with English speakers as I just can’t get my mouth round the word!

This 10.5in weapon was mounted on a modified 6-pounder gun chassis. The first firing was on the 15th December 1943. In a series of trials, it proved perfectly accurate, able to land five shots into a 3ft circle at 300 yards, and 4ft at 400 yards. Later trials held in January 1944 were conducted in a snowstorm, even then the accuracy was maintained. However, the performance of the explosive filler was poor. The newly proposed explosive filler was the rear two thirds of the warhead filled with 23lbs of RDX/TNT mixture, while the front third was filled with PE No.2.

With this in hand development continued, the next idea was, frankly, utterly bonkers. ICI started to develop a multiple mount for the weapon. The first such design had a colossal eight barrels. These were designed to be fired in either a volley or in a ripple salvo. The first firing on 10th February 1944 was of just four barrels in a volley to see if the mount could withstand the forces involved. It seemed to perform perfectly, so a volley of all eight barrels was fired. Projectiles went everywhere, it was soon discovered that several of the barrels had become misaligned under the recoil stresses. The ICI team took their weapon away and redesigned it. It came back as a six barrelled mounting weighing in at 4.5 tons. The first rounds fired from it on 9th March 1944 scattered wildly, with some rounds landing up to 18ft away from the aim point. Inspection showed the barrels were still in alignment. It was suspected that the projectiles were causing mutual interference between each other. So, the trial was repeated with a ripple salvo, with half a second between each discharge. The Aggie performed perfectly. The mount was designed so that two such mounts could be fitted to the front of a Landing Craft, Tank (LCT). 

LCT's, usually the hold would carry five tanks, in two rows of two, and the last at the front. f you replace that fifth one with the Aggie mount you can see what the thinking was.
 

This of course raises a question. If, as seems to be the case, the LCT would have its front position occupied by two of these massive weapons, what would happen to the tanks behind them when the counterweights are fired. A series of trials were carried out on the effect of the counterweight. The counterweight took the form of a waxed cardboard tube that was designed to disintegrate about 20-30 yards behind the rear barrel. This tube was filled with sand and weighed 58lbs. It was found this would dent metal plate, so a tank was parked behind the Aggie and was struck by the counterweight. Although the tank was not damaged, it was rendered unusable due to the massive amount of sand dumped on it. Further experiments showed that a wooden board surrounded by a pile of sandbags would stop the containers. Furthermore, they would slowly be demolished enough to allow the tanks to easily drive over them. The idea seems to be to erect this barrier behind each six-barrelled mount on the LCT, drive onto the beach, ripple fire the Aggie’s, which would destroy the sandbag barriers, allowing the tanks to land ashore. 

The Churchill Mk.III Aggie
 

By now it was April 1944, and the Petard was in service. However, the War Office was looking to the future and was interested in what would come after the Petard. ICI shrunk the Aggie down to 9.5in and managed to fit it to a Churchill Mk.III. This calibre was chosen as it was the largest possible that could be fitted to the tank. Even then the tank was horribly crowded with mechanicals to operate the gun. In addition, the large round would be difficult to load or store multiple rounds of. Finally, there were several complaints about the layout, not least of all the 9in hole in the back of the armour leading directly into the crew compartment. All these complaints were exposed over several months of evaluation at the Land Assault Wing. A provisional list of fixes was issued; however, these do not seem to have gone anywhere. By September it was decided that it would take six months to even begin fitting the weapon, never mind the time span afterwards until the weapon would become available for the service. It would therefore miss the fighting in Europe. Equally, the weapon was objectionable on so many levels no one wanted to put it into service. There was some merit seen in the projectile and a study was undertaken to see if a 9.5in smoothbore howitzer could be made to fire the shell. Fitting this to a Churchill proved very difficult and was abandoned. At the same meeting as the report on the 9.5in howitzer it was proposed to start anew from scratch. They also looked at a new weapon that had just been designed by Major Millis Jefferies of MD1. It was a 7.5in howitzer. In time the new project would become the 6.5-inch breech loading Mk.1 that was fitted to some Churchill AVRE’s after the war. If you want to know more about that weapon, or its contest with the 7.5in weapon, then you can always check out my last book

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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:

tanks-encyclopedia.com and Ed Francis

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Flag Bomber

In the distance was the sound of a band and the tramp of hundreds of feet marching in unison. The band and the soldiers turned the corner into the Avenue des Champs Elysee in Paris. The parade was German. The lines of Wehrmacht soldiers marched towards the Arc de Triomphe. The local Parisians knew the time without looking at a clock, as everyday this parade was carried out, it was exactly 1215. In early 1942 some of the French watching eventually got word to Britain and the Special Operations Executive (SOE). It was felt that if a mishap could be arranged for the parade then there would be a significant amount of propaganda to be achieved. 

The problem for the attack was of course, finesse. A bomb would cause too much collateral damage, equally you would need to get it into place. SOE passed the idea on. It was soon agreed that a strafing attack from an aircraft would offer the needed ability to limit the damage to the German parade. But what plane to use for the attack? At the time the single engine fighters used by Fighter Command were unable to reach Paris so a Beaufighter was proposed. This of course had the advantage that its mass of firepower was located in the nose, giving even more precision. It would also enable a co-pilot to assist with the delicate task of navigating. However, all of fighter command’s Beaufighters were fitted with air-intercept radar and being used as night fighters. As the attacking aircraft would be flying alone, over France and conducting a low-level strike it was thought that the chance of it being shot down was extremely high. The mission was then passed to Coastal Command, who had experience of long-range navigation, and low-level pinpoint strikes against shipping. 

The mission was codenamed Operation Squabble and given to a No. 236 Squadron pilot, Flight Lieutenant Alfred Kitchener “Ken” Gatward and his navigator Flight Sergeant Gilbert Fern. These two flying officers volunteered for a dangerous mission, although they were not told the exact plan until they had signed on, just that it was dangerous. They then spent some time practising their aim with the guns on the Beaufighter. As well as hitting the Parade they would have a slightly more militarily effective part of attacking the Ministère de la Marine building, which contained the German Command apparatus. In addition, a pair of Tricolour flags was obtained. It was weighted so that they could be dropped down the flare chute on the Beaufighter. These would then unfold during the drop, and hopefully drape themselves over the Arc de Triomphe and the Ministère de la Marine building. The mission was all set to go by June 1942. 


At 1129 on the 12th the Beaufighter took off for a long difficult flight. It had to arrive between 1215 and 1245 to catch the parade. That doesn’t sound like much to us today but remember that back in the war navigation was a much more difficult task, with no modern aids or basic measurement devices. Even the wind could significantly alter a planes flight time. On the flight in they hurtled along at very low level.  At one point they flew through a flock of birds, one alarmingly struck the engine, which started to overheat. A short while later the remains of the bird fell out and the engine began to cool. Their course took them very near the Luftwaffe airfield at Rouen, but even then no planes were sent after them. By 1227 they had reached Paris. They lined themselves up using the Eiffel Tower and barrelled into their attack run. 

Saint-Inglevert airfield at Rouen in 1944 after it had been bombed.
 

Passing over the Arc de Triomphe the first flag fluttered down the chute, reportedly draping itself over the monument to the unknown soldier. For the first time in many months the German parade had actually been cancelled, so there was no target to attack. There were several German vehicles, but these were too intermixed with the French civilians to fire at. Flt Lt Gatward then banked the plane around for a second circuit and lined up on the Ministère de la Marine. Tracer from German AA passed by the plane but missed. Then the quad cannons in the nose of the Beaufighter shuddered into life. Flt Lt Gatward raked the building from floor level to the roof with a long burst. Several cannon shells smashed through windows exploding inside. As glass and stone chips showered down the outside of the building the Beaufighter roared over the roof at a height of just 5ft. Behind it fluttered the second tricolour. 

F/s Fern had a camera with him, and took a number of pictures during their trip. This is one of them.
 

Having rather badly embarrassed the Germans the Beaufighter turned for home, Parisians waving to them as they went. Flt Lt Gatward kept the throttles open at full power as long as he dared. Within an hour they would land safely at RAF Northolt.
Gatward would receive a DFC and would survive the war finishing as a Wing Commander. He would stay in the RAF after the war retiring in 1964. He died in 1998. Flt Sgt Fern would be commissioned and be awarded a DFM. After the war he returned to his job as teacher and died in 2010. 


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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.rafa.org.uk, www.battlefieldsww2.com and www.surreymilitaria.com