Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Now That's Riot Control

 Recently I've been volunteering with a local Police museum. This has gotten me interested in some of the early policing stuff, so today I'm going to have a look at something that is always a controversial subject, arming the Police. Of course, we'll be doing it in a historical style, and there's some interesting turns, like the attempt to make the existing technology less lethal and improve safety.

The first UK Police forces were formed in the final years of the 18th century, their jurisdiction was the Thames River, and were in part privately funded. From the start, these forces were armed with swords to help protect the shipping trade.

In the 1820s when the land-based Police were formed swords were provided. These were similar to the later swords but had a squared-off hilt. You will see these swords termed either ‘cutlasses’ or ‘hangers’, both names mean the same thing, but cutlass is used for this type of sword in a maritime sense and hanger on land. 

Police in Bristol in 1877 practising their sword drill. Note the several individuals out of uniform? I suspect these may be Special Constables, who were members of the local population recruited as needed, a bit like the sheriff deputising people in the Wild West.

 The hangers were only to be issued when two Justices agreed they should be, mainly for the protection of the constable. The Cutlass could only be worn at night, or when serious civil unrest was expected, although Specials were not allowed to be armed with them.

One such example is the story of Parish Constable James Beech in Staffordshire. On the evening of Thursday, the 4th of August 1843, Constable Beech arrived at the house of John Vaughan, the gamekeeper for Apedale Hall. About 2230 Vaughan and Beech left to patrol the grounds looking for Poachers. About 0200 the next morning a pair of servants at the hall were woken by a voice yelling ‘Murder!’. Upon investigation, they found Vaughan, collapsed in a road and covered with blood. Loading him into a chair they carried him to his house and a surgeon was summoned. Others were woken and a search was carried out for Constable Beech. His was found at the site of the attack, along with the stock of a firearm and its gun-lock. Although the best efforts of the surgeon were applied, Constable Beech was dead, he had been stabbed with his own cutlass. Three men were arrested, including one who had offered threats of violence to Vaughan previously. Two of these men, Benjamin Spilsbury and James Oakes, would be convicted of Wilful Murder, and thus were either hanged, or more likely transported to Australia.

 

Close up of the safety, on a partially drawn hanger.the button on the hilt is pushed by your thumb. It is attached to the bar of metal that turns into a hook. When the sword is fully in the scabbard, the hook (or maybe latch?) is tucked under the brass end piece of the scabbard, and held there by the spring. To draw the sword you use your right hand to grab the handle, then use your right thumb to press the button which withdraws the latch allowing you to draw freely.
  

Because of similar incidents happening to constables, and prison wardens who were also equipped with the same style of hanger, a new pattern was brought out around the 1860s. This had a safety catch that locked the hanger into the scabbard and could be released by pressing a spring-loaded button with the thumb on your right hand. The sword was worn on the left-hand side, which meant that the button faced into the constable’s body giving it an increased layer of protection against being drawn by an assailant.

 

Some of the museums swords. The top one is the standard Police hanger, with the blade similar to the one dating back to the 1820's. You can clearly see how they reduce in length but increase in curve. Equally, I think the latest one has a steel, not brass, hand guard, which would presumably be to make it cheaper.


The interesting thing about the Police hangers is that they are said to be unsharpened. Most swords are mechanically sharpened after manufacture. However, the Police hangers are said to have not been. This, in turn, means they would be less lethal than a normal sword. As you can see from the examples on display there are several different patterns, that become shorter and more curved. This may be down to the increasing curve being better for slashing. Slashing wounds could be considered to be less lethal than stabbing ones. Thus, by increasing the curve of the sword you obtain more effective slashing attacks, but do not increase the lethality of stabbing ones, which are consequently harder to do.

 

The last recorded use of a Police hanger was during the Tottenham Outrage of 1909, when during the hue and cry against the two armed robbers and the running gunfight and tram/car/foot/cart chase between the Police and offenders. Police hangers were issued, although not used due to the presence of the large number of firearms.

 

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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 & Sources:

For a bit more on Police hangers see this website.

 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Intelegence Files

 We're going to have a quick one today, straight from the archives.

A few years ago I got hold of an intelligence assessment on captured Soviet and Chinese equipment from the National Archives. This written after a team from the UK toured South Vietnam looking at all the shiny kit that had been captured from the NVA and Chinese. This team evaluated every aspect of the captured equipment, even measuring armour hardness.

They studied a T-54, Type 59 and T-54(M), as well as a light tanks, M1967 APC's and several other guns. In interests of keeping this manageable, I've uploaded only the tanks segment, which covers the three MBT's. Even this 'brief' segment is about 65 pages long, and includes plenty of pictures of the crew positions and the like. So I have put it into a zip file, which can be downloaded here.

As well as the above picture that came from the file (there are others), here's some samples:


Anyway, I hope that's of interest/use to someone. Next week I have something a little different planned, I just need to get down to a museum to get some pictures, which I'll do on Tuesday hopefully.

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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, July 18, 2021

Historical Duxford

Waaay back in 2014 I visited Duxford and took some pictures, I figured that those would make a nice quick article. 

Note: This was back before IWM Lambeth got trashed in its 'reimagining', and a lot of the cool exhibits got moved to Duxford. I mean what do I know about museums, silly me I'd have loads of exhibits that you can get up close too, but apparently I'm wrong and what the public want is for you to remove a floor, and replace it with five exhibits. A V-2, a press 4x4, the remains of an IED, the Nery Gun and tucked away at the back a T-34, hidden behind the stairs almost like its an embarrassment. Espcially when you compare the current IWM to what it used to be like.

Here's the old one:

To the right of the camera are loads of tanks and the guns etc. and here's the modern one:

The good news is that with all the exhibits being shuffled off to Duxford the modern Duxford is vastly more exciting and excellent. Anyway, enough of my ramblings...


One of the better parts was the land warfare hall. They've got a nice battle scene, with some good little twists.

The T-34 is depicted as part of a convoy driving along a road. The road heads between several ruined houses, and disappears down the street, depicted by a giant Street fighting picture on the far wall. The T-34 commander is pointing to a wrecked house off to the side, when you get round to the other side of the house you see that there's a German soldier pressed up against the wall getting ready to ambush the convoy. Another little one which very few people notice is the building behind the T-34 in that picture, if you look at the upstairs window there's a German with a Panzerfaust.

Elsewhere in the museum, and utterly unacknowledged by most is Coastal Motor Boat 4:

I try to point this out to everyone who visits simply because of this story. It's a VC winner like the Nery gun, but its hardly ever mentioned.

Elsewhere we also have this interesting vehicle:

Again, it's often overlooked. most people just assume it's some kind of command vehicle and ignore it, but it's much more interesting than that. It's a SPR-1, which is a GT-MU carrier adapted to carry jamming equipment. Once while watching it drive around the arena at Duxford the commentator suggested it could be used to trigger fuses in some artillery rounds as they were fired overhead.

Some of the other exhibits on display back then:














This Sherman is also something we've visited before.

Anyway, next week we have something a bit different.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Liberating a U-boat

 On the 7th of July, 1943, U-468 slipped out of the U-boat pens at La Pallice, and departed on her third patrol. Morale amongst the crew was particularly low. Over recent weeks the crew had heard of repeated losses and very few boats returning from patrol. To the extent the crews were beginning to call the submarine arm ‘Totenkommando’ or ‘Hundsmord’, which translates to ‘suicide squadron’ and ‘dog's death’. In addition, the crew of U-468 had been experiencing bad luck on their previous patrols.

U-468 at sea.
 

Her first patrol had seemed to start off well, until she was subjected to a heavy depth charge attack that kept her submerged for a prolonged time, and her stern became too heavy taking on a downwards angle while at a depth of about 190m. She eventually resurfaced and found a British tanker called SS Empire Light that had been previously damaged by another U-boat’s torpedo. The SS Empire Light had become separated and would seem to have been easy prey for the U-468, however, it still took some five torpedoes to score a hit on the tanker. The Empire Light’s crew then abandoned ship. After a while as the ship had not sunk the crew prepared to re-board, resulting in the U-468 firing a sixth and final torpedo, which sent the Empire Light to the bottom. After the U-468 returned to base the crew were not given a full leave period, with just thirteen days between arrival and departure. The next patrol was even worse. Spotted early on by Allied aircraft the U-468 was subjected to a severe hunt by surface and air units that forced her to spend about a day and a half submerged whilst the aircraft and later a destroyer prosecuted the hunt for her. She finally managed to escape but had suffered some damage and thus returned to base for repairs.

Now, U-468 was departing on her third patrol. The captain had been drilling her crew extensively in AA work, however, to avoid having to test out his crew’s skills the captain took the boat down the coast of France and Spain to avoid crossing the Bay of Biscay, which was rapidly becoming a killing zone for the Allied anti-submarine efforts.

By the 11th of August U-468 was off the coast of Dakar, so far, the patrol had been quiet, only one small steamer had been found. As it was brightly lit, the crew had exchanged challenges with her, only to find that she was a Swiss ship and thus neutral. 

B-24 from 220 Squadron
 

At about 0945 U-468 was travelling on the surface when a B-24 Liberator was sighted at 6,000 yards. This was from No. 200 Squadron from the RAF and was flown by the New Zealand pilot Flying Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg. The Liberator was manoeuvring to set up its attack run. By this stage in the war the U-boat crews knew that it was better to try and fight the enemy aircraft, than to dive and try to hide. So, the two single barrelled 20mm’s on the U-boat began to fire. Astoundingly the accurate 20mm fire scored a hit, and the rear of the plane became a fireball enveloping the tail entirely. Instead of breaking off F/O Trigg continued to press home his attack. With no deflection the German gunners could hardly miss. Battered by 20mm, soon the Liberator entered range of the two MG81 machine guns also mounted on the conning tower, and these joined in the hammering of the Liberator. Tracer from the gunfire was seen to punch through the Liberator and carry on, all the while the fire continued to rage and spread. 

F/O Trigg
 

F/O Trigg’s attack run was from the port side of U-468, and it was perfectly flown, with the Liberator crossing just aft of the conning tower, at a height of 50ft. The German gunners could see their rounds bursting in the Liberators gaping bomb bay, in which several depth charges hung. As the Liberator soared over, she released a string of six depth charges. Two of these charges landed within 6ft of the U-boat, bracketing her. In the spray of water exploding the Captain of the U-boat lost sight of the Liberator, spinning around he saw the fireball slam into the water a short distance away, at which point a loud explosion occurred. There were no survivors from the Liberators crew.

Onboard U-468 the shockwaves had caused devastation. Most of the machinery was ripped from its mountings. There were several serious water leaks and U-468 was settling in the water. The radio was utterly destroyed, and one of the fuel tanks had split flooding some 65 gallons of diesel into the submarine. The rear torpedo tube had fractured and a 2in wide stream of water was flooding in, but worse was to come. Water was entering the battery compartment, which caused a cloud of chlorine to fill the submarine. Choking men tried to evacuate but the damage and the gas meant it was difficult, if not impossible. U-468 sunk in about ten minutes.

Just under half the crew, some 20 men, managed to jump overboard, many were likely gun crews, but some were suffering chlorine poisoning as they had tried and failed to get their lifebelts. As the men thrashed in the sea most were taken by drowning, sharks and barracuda. After half-an-hour one of the few survivors found a dinghy that had been thrown clear of the F/O Trigg’s aircraft when it exploded. Remarkably this was unpunctured, and still had its inflation bottle attached. After triggering the bottle some seven survivors were able to clamber onto the life raft.

Later in the day a Sunderland appeared in the skies above the life raft and dropped a supply canister to the survivors. The next day HMS Clarkia arrived at the location after being directed to them by Allied air and rescued the Germans. 

U-boat POW's being landed, including the crew of U-468.
 

The U-boat captain recommended that F/O Trigg be decorated. Based solely on the testimony of the seven German survivors F/O Trigg was awarded the Victoria Cross. This is the only time in the history of the VC that it was awarded based only on the account of the enemies. Some of you might be thinking what about Lt-Cmdr Roope (HMS Glowworm) or Sgt Durrant (St Nazaire raid). Both of those actions were recommended by German personnel, but there were surviving Allied witnesses to support the German recommendation. In F/O Trigg's case there were no Allied witness.

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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 & Sources:

Full transcript of U-468's crew interrogation can be found here.

www.ussflierproject.com

Sunday, July 4, 2021

International Relations

 Slowly, HMS Hood’s turrets swung to the broadside of the ship. The huge gun barrels elevated, and shortly afterwards massive belches of fire and smoke erupted from the guns. Its target, many miles distant was an enemy battleship. But it is not the Bismarck. Yesterday was the eighty-first anniversary of the attack on Mers-el-Kébir.

HMS Hood's forward gun turrets.
Now, as you all know, I am British, and thus it is from a British viewpoint I look back on this. However, the French view on this is very different. Thus, to make sure we have at least some balance, I asked Marisa Belhote, a writer I know from Tanks-Encyclopaedia, to give us a few paragraphs on the subject. They are suited to this as they’re French. 

‘The British attempt to push the French fleet out of the war or out of Axis hands at Mers-el Kébir ended tragically due to the refusal of the French to comply with the British demands in any way, resulting in tragic losses of ships and most significantly lives for the French navy.


It cannot be argued that safeguarding the French fleet from becoming a threat was vital for the Royal Navy to keep control of the seas, particularly in the already hotly contested Mediterranean sea. What this resulted in at Mers-El Kébir ended up being the deadliest and costliest day for the French navy ever since the Napoleonic war though, a blow caused by a country that merely days prior was still considered France’s ally. As such, and even though the incident could likely have been prevented with better decisions from the French high-command, it isn’t surprising to see the attack was, and often still is, viewed as treason pretty universally in France. The effects at the time were fairly considerable; a British attack on the French fleet days after the armistice resulted in likely far lower opposition to the installation of Vichy’s authoritarian regime which was in full swing during July of 1940, as well as future collaboration policies with Germany. At the same time, for the Free French, while officially De Gaulle moderately defended the British action to avoid dissent that would have been hard to manage that early into the Free French movement, behind curtains, the action was deeply unpopular within the Free French leadership and the few troop and sailors the movement could count on by that time. Not only did it have a significant demoralizing effect on the Free French, but De Gaulle feared the attack would likely have a significant effect on the number of Frenchmen willing to clandestinely join the UK to continue the fight against Germany.


Nowadays, Mers-El Kébir is still remembered tragically in French memory - as is most of the French Navy’s Second World War career, as many of the modern, 1930s-built ships of the fleet would end up scuttled, ironically to avoid German capture, in November of 1942. Mers-El Kébir remains the deadliest day of the French navy likely since Trafalgar. No matter how much the British position and will to neutralize the potential threat of the French navy, Mers-El Kébir and as such entered the French psyche as treason - not helped by the eventual fate of much of the rest of the French Navy which ended up fulfilling its commitment not to surrender itself to the Germans, even though this is hindsight the British obviously couldn’t have in 1940. Many in France notably tend to gloss over some terms of the ultimatum, such as the variety of proposals offered by the British to the French fleet outside of outright joining the allies or scuttling itself.’


Now, like a lot of French defence of events at Mers-el-Kébir it relies on the hindsight clause (as Marisa points out). Yes, we know now that the French would eventually scuttle their own ships. But equally, there’s significant history of French Forces fighting the Allies, Operations Exporter, Ironclad and Torch to name but a few. Many of those include the use of tanks and armour. Which is not an insignificant use of force. Or there is the re-use of French arms and factories to supply and equip Axis forces. To flatly argue from that stance, that any attempt to size the ships would result in their scuttling is rather flawed in logic. Equally, and more importantly, it is an unknowable fact at the time. The French were also given the opportunity to scuttle their fleet at that point, but instead the French commander, Admiral Marcel-Bruno Gensoul, refused.

French Naval power at Mers-el-Kébir
 

It seems very likely that Gensoul’s views essentially framed the outcome. Described as pig-headed and with significant hatred of the British. During the 3rd of July he repeatedly refused to meet with the British representative to discuss matters and threatened to pitch the entire French fleet into an attack on British assets. Precisely the thing that the British were concerned about.


As it was, the French were given the option to put their ships beyond German use, and any option to achieve that was acceptable. Even sailing them to the French West Indies, where they would still be under command was acceptable. The first attempt at negotiation started at 0630 when the British delegation was dispatched aboard a British destroyer. Gensoul refused to meet them. Even ordering them to leave at 0847. The British ship left, but the delegation boarded a small fast launch and headed towards Gensoul’s flagship, only to be intercepted. The ultimatum was handed over in desperation to prevent the opening of fire. Then the British delegation waited outside the harbour. It was not until 0415 that Gensoul relented and agreed to negotiate, despite several hours of attempts, and many postponements of the commencement of hostilities. Indeed, the French appear to have been stalling for time, summoning reinforcements from elsewhere I the Mediterranean. The British intercepted this communication, and so now knew there was hard deadline in place. Thus, with the French stalling for time, the British knew they had no choice but to open fire, which they did at 1730.

Strasbourg bracketed by gunfire.

 

The destroyer Mogador after suffering a 15in hit.

 

After a short exchange of shells, most fired by the British a cease fire was requested. This was granted to give the French sailors time to abandon ship. The French did no such thing and made a break for open waters with a battleship, a seaplane carrier and five destroyers. The Destroyers exchanged gunfire with British ships and launched attacks on a British submarine. At least one of the escaped Destroyers and the Seaplane carrier would later enter axis service, which sort of vindicated the British concerns.

 

Mers-el-Kébir from the air during the attack.

 So over to you. Mers-el-Kébir, vicious war crime by Perfidious Albion, or necessary evil?

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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 & Sources:

www.portsmouth.co.uk

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Inevitable Mistake

 A few weeks ago I held the presentation on the Bombard in support of my new book. During the Q&A afterwards I got talking to Chris Gibson about a weapon he'd found in the National Archives, tucked away in a batch of documents from the Explosive Research and Development Establishment under the name of 'L U S Blacker'. Mr Gibson has given me permission to share it with you. 

It's also important I mention it now, as I had speculated about this weapon in my book, as I had seen the plans for it from another archive. But I lacked context of any supporting documents. Thus my speculation was rather badly wrong. Luckily I do say the thoughts were entirely speculative comments.

The weapon in question was Blacker updating the idea of the PIAT to make the mother of all PIATs.

The Novel Platoon Projector, read to fire. The plans interestingly show a bi-pod which seems to be missing here.

The weapon itself is known by two names depending on the document involved. The plans are listed as the 'Stewblac platoon Projector', while the Kew document is known as the 'Novel Platoon Projector'. It was a quite advanced design, with the case being made from glass fibre to keep the weight down. The projectile seems to have used a rocket booster after launch made in accordance with Blackers Patent, which can be found here (If you want a complicated legalese description on how to improve rockets). Interestingly the Patent for the projectile was dated to 1953, while the Kew document was dated to 1960. Blacker lists possible warheads such as HESH (for anti-structure work), HEAT (for anti tank) and a HE anti-personnel round, which has a feature of a time fuse that can be adjusted up until the last moment, and thus can be used to create an airburst. This weapon would provide the infantry platoon the ability to kill targets out to 400 yards.

However, Blacker went one step further. He suggested that in a prepared position, the platoon might need accurate anti-tank fire out to 1,400 yards (which I'll bet is the maximum range of his weapon). To achieve this the Platoon Projector could be fitted with a tripod, and a wire guided missile.

The tripod and wire guided missile fitted.

The missile is launched much the same way as the dumb projectile, which is exactly the same a PIAT, through a retaining clip and a spigot. However, weapon guidance is done a bit differently to what you might expect. In most systems some form of sight is used, which somehow translates movements to the missile. In Blackers weapon you had a battery box with a switch. The switch was how the weapon was guided. If you flicked the switch to the left, the missile would turn left, and the same applies travelling the other direction. There was no pitch up/down control, so the missile could only be moved in one plane.

I'd just like to thank Mr Gibson for letting me share this with you, and for giving me an excellent piece of info about the final form of the PIAT, which as you know was the best Platoon level Infantry anti-tank weapon of the war.




Sunday, June 20, 2021

Operation Cygnet

Last few weeks have been a bit unpleasant for me, due to repeated bouts of illness, the last one, putting my back out, has prevented me from sitting at my desk, and so I was unable to write. Hence why I've been cheating with documentation. This week is no different, although in this case, we do get a story. Usually I'd use the following report as a basis for an article, with other research mixed in. However, that's not been an option. So you'll just have to put up with the raw Op Cygnet Report. 

Kangaroo's of hte 4th Hussars, depicting their use at the River Senio.
 

Op Cygnet was the crossing of the River Senio in Italy. This report follows the exploits of the armoured component, focusing on the use of Kangaroo APC's.






Sunday, June 13, 2021

360 or 20?

Here's another file from the archives. As you can see, from the introduction page, its a comparison between the differences of putting a turret on a tank, and having a casemate mounted weapon.



There's an interesting entry there, the SU-249, which I think is the ISU-122? Any Russian tank experts want to confirm or deny?


Also for something a bit longer, here's the link to the Bombard live stream I did last week:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRTMa-nj6Ww&t=1s

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Centuion!

Yesterday we had our first live stream, with several questions asked. It went better than I had anticipated, and I didn't run too much over the time limit. However, with that, combined to a short spell in hospital at the end of the week it's not left any time to get anything ready for you lot. So all I can offer are these very detailed plans of the Centurion Mk.I tank.

 

Hull


Engine deck Louvres

Turret


Cross sections of the turret

Shell ejection port

Access door at rear of the turret