Pointe Du Hoc: the Unlikely British Heroes

The attack on Pointe du Hoc by the US Rangers on D Day is a famous episode in the history of the cross channel invasion. On 6th June 1944 the US 2nd Ranger Battalion stormed 30m (100 ft) high cliffs to capture a German artillery battery which had to be neutralised. The action featured in the 1961 film “The Longest Day” and in many TV documentaries. The mission epitomised the Rangers ‘s ethos, inspired by the British Commandos. Few people are aware that along with the US Rangers some British logistics soldiers played an important and heroic part in the operation and were awarded medals for gallantry.

Pointe_du_Hoc_mapOn Pointe du Hoc, the Germans had built, as part of the Atlantic Wall, six reinforced concrete case-mates to house a battery of captured French 155mm guns. Pointe Du Hoc was on a headland situated between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. These coastal defence guns threatened Allied landings on both beaches, risking heavy casualties in the landing forces. Although there were several bombardments from the air and by naval guns, intelligence reports assumed that the fortifications were too strong, and would also require attack by ground forces. The US 2nd Ranger Battalion was therefore given the task of destroying the strong point early on D-Day.

Isigny mapsheet showing Pointe Du Hoc
Prior to the attack, the guns were moved approximately one mile away; however, the concrete fortifications were intact, and would still present a major threat to the landings if they were occupied by artillery forward observers, which could still direct the fire of the guns.

US Rangers demonstrating the rope ladders used to storm the Cliffs at Pointe du Hoc.
US Rangers demonstrating the rope ladders used to storm the Cliffs at Pointe du Hoc.

Assaulting the 100 ft rocky cliffs was expected to be a tough challenge. This was rather similar to the problem facing armies scaling city or castle walls. If the Germans were at all alert they could rain fire down on men climbing rope ladders. The operation was planned to take place shortly before dawn in order to achieve surprise.

The Rangers planned to use a secret weapon to help them climb the 100 ft cliffs quickly; the modern equivalent of a siege tower. DUKW amphibious 2 ½ ton trucks were fitted with the turntables from London Fire engines and machine guns fitted to the top of the ladder. The idea was that the DUKW would land on the small beach below the cliffs, extend the ladders and the Rangers would rush up the ladders, which were easier to climb than ropes or rope ladders. This was tried and practiced on training exercises on the South Coast.

The DUKW and ladder in Training for D day. (Tank Museum photo No. 0999E4)
The DUKW and ladder in Training for D day. (Tank Museum photo No. 0999E4)

On D Day itself the plan didn’t work out as well. Firstly due to a navigation error, the assault took place later than scheduled. Instead of landing in the dark the convoy travelled for some way along the cliff in full view of the now very alert German defenders.

The landing took place at a higher tide than planned. Secondly, the allied naval and air bombardment had brought down some of the cliff and created a heap of rubble in front of the cliff. It proved impossible to get the extendable ladders in place or a firm footing for the DKUW. One account describes a Ranger manning the machine guns on an oscillating ladder firing at the Germans when the ladder passed through the highest point of each roll.

View from Pointe Du Hoc Battery where the Rangers -and the DUKW Drivers scaled the cliffs
View from Pointe Du Hoc Battery where the Rangers -and the DUKW Drivers scaled the cliffs

The Rangers assaulted the cliffs using rope ladders launched up the cliff with rockets. Despite the Germans throwing hand grenades and shooting at them from the cliff edge, the Rangers were successful. They cleared the battery, found and destroyed the guns themselves, which were about a mile inland and started what proved to be a 48 hour battle to fight off German troops counter attacking.

The same view 65 years later
The same view 65 years later

The DUKW drivers were RASC drivers. The fire engine ladders mounted on the cargo bay of the DUKW made them top heavy and harder to control, especially in the heavy seas on D Day. Navigating and operating these amphibious vehicles was a difficult and arduous duty performed with skill. But this isn’t the end of their story.

At least two of the DUKW drivers, Corporal Good and Private Blackmore, scaled the cliffs using the rope ladders and joined the Rangers in the fight as riflemen.  When ammunition was running low they went back down the cliffs and recovered machine guns from the DUKWs, which were under fire.  They then returned up the cliff and brought the machine guns into action.

Pte Blackmore was wounded in the foot. After receiving first aid, he then returned to the front line and rescued a badly wounded Ranger under machine gun and mortar fire. He then volunteered to carry ammunition to the front line, salvage ammunition from the beach and repair weapons until he was evacuated on 7th June.

Pte Blackmore MM (1) IMG_20121102_131748_LR

Pte Blackmore MM (2) IMG_20121102_131824_LR

Cpl Good remained with the 2nd Rangers  until Pointe Du Hoc was relieved by a force arriving by land from Omaha Beach to the East on 8th June.  As you can see Pte Blackmore was originally recommended for a DCM, the second highest British Medal for Gallantry,  but it was downgraded to an MM.

Cpl Good (1) IMG_20121102_131557_LRCpl Good MM (2) IMG_20121102_131635_LR

Colonel Rudder, the Commanding Officer fo the 2nd battalion US Rangers recommended that the actions of these two soldiers should be recognised.  Corporal Good was awarded the Military Medal Private Blackmore was recommended the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but was awarded the Military Medal.

US President Ronald Reagan at the Pointe du Hoc Rangers memorial 1984
US President Ronald Reagan at the Pointe du Hoc Rangers memorial 1984

For most of the British assault troops on D Day, the fighting on the beach was over within a few hours. These two RASC  soldiers fought one of the longest infantry actions undertaken by the RASC in North West Europe. They fought alongside specially selected, commando trained US Rangers in one of the actions which defined the US Ranger ethos.  They are the exemplar of soldier first tradesman second and deserve to be role models.

When I first heard about this story I tried to find out what training these men would have received.  The US Rangers and the British Army Commandos on which they were based were specially selected raiders expected to undertake physical feats not normally expected of ordinary soldiers, such as for example, such as scaling 100′ cliffs under fire. However, according to Andy Robertshaw, the Curator of the Royal  Logistics Corps Museum it is very unlikely that these men would have been given any Commando training. Their bit of the operation was to drive these amphibious trucks, top heavy with the extension ladders through heavy seas.

It is remarkable that these men, specially selected for their qualities as helmsmen and DUKW drivers, after what must have been an arduous and difficult voyage, then chose to join the Rangers in their fight.  I cannot find any pictures of these every-man heroes and been unable to trace any relatives or old comrades. The Sustainer magazine, the Journal of the Royal Logistics Corps published this article in their Winter issue  Their story deserves to be more widely known.

There are a lot more men like Corporal Good and Blackmore, who served in many different roles, doing their bit.  If you are interested in finding out more about other forgotten heroes please contact me and I can help you to find out more and where to visit the places where their did their bit..

Lt Harry Goslin RA: a fallen Wanderer at the Moro River

The 18th December 2013 is the 70th anniversary of the death of Lt Harry Goslin RA of 53 Field Regiment.   He is buried in the River Sangro Commonwealth War Cemetery, in Cheti Province, Italy.  His story and that of the battle in which he died deserve to be remembered as they show a different aspect of the Second World War.  

THE WARTIME WANDERERS

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Bolton Artillery – 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment football team – The Wartime Wanderers Standing: Danny Winter, Harry Goslin, Stan Hanson, George Catterall, (Lt Col G Bennet), Jimmy Ithell, Jack Hurst, (Capt J J Clavell QM) Front row: Albert Geldard, Donny Howe, Ray Westwood, Jack Roberts, Tommy Sinclair http://www.boltonswar.org.uk/i-ra-09.htm (1)

 

Before the Second World War Henry “Harry” Goslin had been the captain of Bolton Wanderers Football Club.  On 1st March 1939 Hitler broke the terms of the Munich Agreement by invading the rest of Czechoslovakia.  On 14th March 1939, before the next home match Harry addressed the crowd with a megaphone urging them to join the Territorial Army. After the match, 32 out of 37 men on the playing staff joined the armed forces, 17 joining their local TA unit, the Bolton Artillery.   The idea of “pals” battalions of chums joining the same unit and serving together is much more associated with the First rather than the Second World War.  However the Wartime Wanderers joined together and served together in what was mobilised as 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment RA.  They served in France and Belgium in 1940, were evacuated at Dunkirk, then sent overseas serving in Iraq and at the second battle of El Alamein as part of the 8th Indian Division.  The Regimental football team was much in demand as an expert position matches. While the Regiment was based in the Uk, players continued to play for their own side and as guests for football clubs close to where the Regiment was stationed.  Harry Goslin played for Bolton in  4 out of 22 matches played in the 1939-40 season as well as appearing as a  guest for Chelsea and Norwich City.

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Wartime Wanderers – Ray Westwood (foot on trail), Jack Hurst (tall figure at back) Ernie Forrest, Tommy Sinclair and Harry Goslin (just behind instructor) http://www.boltonswar.org.uk/i-ra-10.htm (1)

THE EIGHTH INDIAN DIVISION

The 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment RA was in direct support of the 21st Indian Brigade, comprising the 5th Battalion the Royal West Kent Regiment, the 3/15th Punjabi battalion and the 1/5th Mahratta.  Harry Goslin was a Forward Observation Officer attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 15th Punjabi Regiment. (3/15th Punjabi)  Divisions of the Indian Army were comprised of a mixture of British and Indian troops.  Two thirds of the infantry would be Indian, with the remainder from the British army, all the artillery would be British while the sappers and services would be Indian. The “Indian” units were still mainly commanded  by British officers but the proportion of Indians holding a Kings Commission rose during the war.  The divisional machine battalion of the 8th Indian Division was commanded by Lt Col D S Brar, one of the Indian officers to command a combatant unit in the field. (2)

8th Indian Division
8th Indian Divisional Badge worn on the upper sleeve and painted on vehicles (2)

The 3/15th Punjabi Regiment had originally been raised as the Rawlpindi Regiment in 1857, and served in the Second Opium War alongside some of the Dragon batteries, and then in Afghanistan and Somaliland. As the 27th Punjabi Regiment it served in France and Mesopotamia in the First World War, and was renumbered 3/14th when the Indian army was reorganised in the 1920s. After partition it was transferred to the Pakistan army where it still exists as the 11th Punjabi Regiment.  The Punjab countryside was fertile recruiting ground for the British Indian Army, with military service an attractive alternative to life on the land. In return the British values its soldiers for loyalty and hardiness.  These were some of the conditions which led British post war industry to attract workers from the Punjab to serve in the textile industry of the North of England.

The policy not to raise artillery units from the Indian population dated from the aftermath of the Indian mutiny, as a measure to prevent any future rebellion from having access to the firepower of the artillery.  The story of the Royal Artillery in the World Wars is that of the Indian as well as the British Army and its formations.  Three Indian Army Divisions served in Italy, the 4th, 8th and 10th and with them nine field regiments and three LAA regiments.  In September 1943 the 8th Indian Division and with it the Wartime Wanderers sailed to Italy to reinforce the 8th Army.

MONTGOMERY ON THE SANGRO NOV-DEC 1943

Sangromap
River Sangro Battlefield

The battlefields of the Sangro and Moro rivers do not attract as many visitors as those on the Garigliano and Rapido, conveniently between Rome and Naples with the focus of the historic cultural icon of the Abbey of Monte Cassino.  The Sangro battlefields took place in the Adriatic region of Chieti, which isn’t as accessible and further from the major cultural tourist sites.  The battle has also been overshadowed by the historic drama of the battles of Cassino and the Anzio landing.

But this battlefield does not deserve to be neglected.  These battles were the last battle fought by Montgomery as commander of the Eighth Army, and the largest set piece battle commanded by him on the mainland of Italy.  In late 1943 the allies stiller had hopes of capturing Rome. In October the Germans made the decision to try to stop the allies south of Rome and constructed the Gustav or Winter Line based on the Garigliano River flowing west and the Sangro River flowing east across the “calf” of the Italian boot. The Fifth Army under Mark Clark was to advance from Salerno and Naples via the West coast.  Montgomery with 8th army was to push along the Eastern Adriatic coast, break through the Gustav line on the coastal plan, press on the Pescara and then attack Rome from the east, across the ApennineMountains.   While the coastal strip south East of Pescara is much gentler country than the mountainous terrain around Cassino, the landscape played an important part in shaping the battle and is reasonably well preserved. 

The battle of the Sangro was a set piece battle mounted by the four infantry divisions of the Vth Corps, and started on the 20th November 1943.  Supported by 652 guns and the Desert Air Force the Eighth Army blasted its way across the Sangro River and almost obliterated the 65th German infantry division defending the sector and capturing its divisional commander. 

The operation took place under appalling weather conditions. “The winter rains had set in, and no reprieve from bitter cold, swollen streams, and sodden earth could be expected. The Sangro in spate averaged five feet in depth, and was of such turbulence that patrols on more than one occasion had been drowned. The infantry bivouacked miserably in boggy fields under pelting showers. Transport speedily churned the water-logged earth into mud soup; vehicles slithered and skidded uncontrollably on the greasy tracks. Heavy transport and guns were winched and manhandled into position by their shivering, mud-soaked crews. Sappers and transport services toiled unceasingly to keep the roads open, and to get supplies through to the advanced positions.”(3)   The 100ft wide Sangro River became a 1000ft wide torrent which washed away the initial bridges constructed by the Engineers.

After a week of fighting, which drew in the German reserves from across Italy, the German commander decided to fall back from the Line of the Sangro and the Gustav line defences and defend the next river line back, that of the River Moro. In itself this was an achievement as it took the 5th Army many more months to break through the Gustav line on the admittedly more difficult sector they faced.

THE BATTLE OF THE MORO RIVER

(1) 8th Indian Divian build “Impossible bridge “ across Moro River. (2) From 9th Dec 1943 The 21st  Indian Brigade secures the ridge above the River Moro Crossing by 13th Dec 1943.  This is where the 1/15th Punjabis and Harry Goslin would have been likely to have been. (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack Caldari and seicze pt198 on the lateral road. (4) Attack by 1st Canadian Division on 14th Dec 1943 towards Casa Beradi. (5) The guns of the 53rd Fd Regt RA deployed Wesr of the village of Tregelia.
(1) 8th Indian Division build the “Impossible bridge “ across Moro River. (2) From 9th Dec 1943 The 21st Indian Brigade secures the ridge above the River Moro Crossing by 13th Dec 1943. This is where the 1/15th Punjabis and Harry Goslin would have been likely to have been. (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack Caldari and seize pt198 on the lateral road. (4) Attack by 1st Canadian Division on 14th Dec 1943 towards Casa Beradi. (5) The guns of the 53rd Fd Regt RA deployed West of the village of Tregelia.

Technically, Harry Goslin fell at the battle of the Moro River rather than the Sangro.  The title of the History of the 8th Indian Division is “One more River”. (1) The geography of the Italian peninsular meant that the campaign was the story of an assault on the inevitable hill between one river valley and the next. The Germans did not defend the river banks themselves. Instead they held the high ground dominating the exits from the river valleys and reverse slope positions beyond the ridgelines, while deploying snipers and patrols on the forward slopes.  Towns and villages on the ridges such as Orsogna and Ortona were often built on tactically important positions, which had withstood the ancient endemic risk of attack by pirates. The German defenders were drawn from the 26 Panzer Division, 90th Panzer Grenadier Division and the 1st Fallschirmjaeger Division.

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25 Pdr Guns firing from a muddy emplacement on the Sangro Battlefield

In early December 1943, the 8th Indian division was deployed between the 2nd New Zealand Division and 1st Canadian Division which were intended to make the main attacks on the towns of Orsogna and Ortona respectively on the ridges.  Initially the 8th Indian division was tasked with making a diversion to distract attention from the attacks on their flanks. To this end very obvious preparations were made to build a bridge across the Moro.  The configuration of the approaches made it impossible to build from the home bank, so the sappers manhandled materials across the river and built the “Impossible Bridge” from the enemy bank.   On 8/9th December, as the flanking Canadian and New Zealand attacks faltered and the Indians were ordered to secure the village and the ridge line north west of the MoroRiver.  On the night  9/10th December the 3/15th Pubjabis with one company of 5th Royal Mahratta Machine-Gunners, and other supporting arms the Forward Observation Officer (FOO) parties from 53 Field Regiment Royal Artillery crossed the Moro to secure the bridgeheads.  FOO parties consisted of an officer, such as Harry Goslin, trained to control artillery fire, and soldiers providing technical and communications support.  It was on his judgment, and the competence of his signallers in maintaining communications to the guns 7km in the rear, that the survival of the infantry might depend. He and his men would move and live with the infantry sharing the dangers of the front line.  The presence of  FOO parties was sufficiently important that Montgomery himself took a personal interest that they were correctly allocated.  A few weeks earlier, at the Sangro crossing, one infantry company of another division crossed the river without an FOO party and found themselves unable to call for artillery fire and forced to retreat. This made Montgomery very angry and spoke severely to the Corps commander on the subject and obtained an assurance that it would not happen again. ()

“The Germans reacted violently to this incursion. From patrol clashes the fighting mounted into a tense struggle. The Punjabis went forward to clear a strong-point with the bayonet. That night, “Impossible Bridge” was strengthened, and next morning British tanks crossed to come up in close support of the Punjabis and Mahrattas. Mopping up continued, but the area remained unhealthy with enemy snipers and mortar teams infiltrating audaciously. In destroying these pests a number of cat-eyed, soft-footed Indians compiled remarkable individual bags. Havildar Badlu Ram of the Punjabis slew sixteen Germans, and others were not far behind his total. The ground was cleansed and a firm bridgehead established.“ (3)tiger06

On the 13th and 14th other troops from the Indian Division attacked towards Villa Caldieri and the lateral road on the ridgeline parallel to the Moro.  The Germans shelled the area heavily and counterattacked with infantry and tanks.  The war diary of the 53 Field Regiment made at 0250hours on the 14th  records that the Regiment had fired 170 rounds per gun ona  timed programme to support the advance of 17 Brigade through the Punjabis positions and then a series of defensive fires against counter attacks made at dawn by German tanks and infantry. (4)    

Later that day the diary noted “heavy enemy shelling of the Observation Post (OP) positions – an increase” and two serious casualties. One was Gunner Plummer an OP signaller killed by a sniper’s bullet.  The second was Harry Goslin, wounded by a shell or mortar round bursting in a tree above his slit trench.  The slit trenches customary in the Second World War provided protection against splinters from shells or bombs bursting on the ground.  However, without overhead cover they were vulnerable to splinters from exploding shells overhead. Prior to the invention of radar “proximity” fuses, it was difficult to achieve accurate air bursts.  However, if a shell struck a tree it would burst at the optimum height to inflict casualties.  Harry Goslin was caught like this and paralysed by a shell splinter in the back.  He was evacuated but died four days later and is buried 20 km south at the Sangro War cemetery in plot XV. Row C. grave 29.  He was the only member of the Wartime Wanderers to be killed in the Second World War, but two other members of the seventeen who served in 53rd Field Regiment were wounded during the war. 

tiger05The conditions under which the troops fought were atrocious, and closer to the popular imagination of the First World War than the Second.  The weather was vile.  According to the New Zealand histories, it took six men to carry a laden stretcher.  One Canadian soldier described the land beyond the Moro river as “ a landscape that seemed almost lunar in its desolation where men lived and died in unremembered ways.”  Brigadier Kippenberger, a New Zealander veteran of the First World War, wrote that  “I had not seen men so exhausted since Flanders.  Their faces were grey”

 The Battle of the MoroRiver was a significant battle, the last attempt by the 8th Army to break through on the Adriatic coast.  To the right of the 8th Indian Division the 1st Canadian Division attacked towards Casa Beradi and the crossroads leading towards the town of Ortona. The bitter house to house fighting in Ortona between the Canadians and the German paratroops which lasted until the New Year is the main episode remembered from the battle of the Moro River. The story of the Indians who fought alongside them and endured the mud and slit trenches in awful conditions, deserves to be remembered, as does that of the gunners who supported them.

BRITAIN’S BAND OF BROTHERS

A film is being made.It is great to see that it is about a bunch of gunners.

Wartime Wanderers teaser

More details here.

 VISITING THE MORO BATTLEFIELD

The View looking across the R Morro  from the track leading North from Frisa Cjhieti
The View looking across the River Morro from the track leading North from Frisa, (Gr 308081) on the 1:100,000 map

 Pescara is a good base for exploring the battlefields of the Sangro and the Moro. There are cheap direct flights from the UK to Pescara.  As a holiday resort it has ample accommodation and, out of Italian peak season it is easy to find accommodation.    It is possible to fly to Rome and travel over the Apennines by road or rail. The countryside is quite spectacular and illustrates why the Allied plan to take Rome via Pescara was doomed from the moment the Germans decided to stand South of Rome.  Ortona has a fine little military museum and the Commonwealth War Cemeteries, as everywhere, are well maintained and their staff helpful.

The battlefield is one of the battlefields that need to be visited to appreciate the micro-terrain, the tactically important minor features of what Montgomery described as “ridge and furrow” countryside.  Although Ortona has sprawled along the lateral road the battlefield is much less overgrown than the  Monte Cassino massif or litter laden and developed than Anzio. There are plenty of view points beloved for military studies and TEWTs.

 The area is less geared to battlefield tourism than around Cassino, but when aware of the purpose of a visit the local response can be humbling.  An explanation to the hotel owner of the purpose of the visit resulted in the owner telling the story of her father, taken prisoner in Sicily and her uncle who fought with the partisans alongside the British Major Lionel Wigram.  As soon as the occupants of the “manor House” in Casa Beradi had worked out that the group of people in German registered minibuses were British soldiers the hospitality was overwhelming.

 For more information about visiting the battlefield contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com +44 207 387 6620

References

1.  Bolton Remembers the War 

2. One More River the story of the 8th Indian Division.

3. The Tiger Triumphs: The Story of Three Great Divisions In Italy; His Majesty’s Stationery Office For The Government Of India 1946

4.  War Diary 53 Field Regiment RA WO /170

Bosworth and Naseby – A Case Study for a Business in Transition

Opposed take over of the Family Business - Henry Tudor lands
Opposed take over of the Family Business – Henry Tudor lands

One of the most difficult transitions for a business is to move from being a family business controlled by its owner manager, to one capable of expanding to a size where a more corporate structure is needed. Guardian Water Treatment Limited is an ambitious building services business at this stage in its development.

Guardian Water Treatment LtdGuardian Water Treatment

Founded in 2001 by Mark Hobson, Guardian Water Treatment Ltd (GWT) is bringing science to the business of managing water and air purity in buildings in the face of regulation and the real risks of Legionnaires Disease. The business currently has a turnover in the £millions and has ambitions to grow to much more. GWT has a mixture of head office and home based sales and engineering teams. The management wanted to hold a management study day to get people together out of the office and to discuss some of the issues facing the business as it grows.

Opposed take over of the Family Business – Henry Tudor lands

GWT was interested in looking at the following:-

  • The step changes required as a business grows.
  • The need to change business process in order to fully benefit from the potential of technology.
  • The challenges of retaining human capital.
  • Developing culture and processes that retain flexibility and responsiveness
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A skilled craftsman explaining the tools of his trade

A management study day could be held, in theory, anywhere. One could hire a conference room in any of a number of hotels. But there are good reasons for looking beyond a purely formal meeting. Teams can only bond when their members have an opportunity to meet each other outside  the day to day working environment. Excursions of all sorts provide a framework for building relationships with colleagues one might have only dealt with via the telephone or email. Historically, businesses have used sporting and cultural events for management level team building, but a round of golf or a day’s shooting is not for everyone.

Business Battlefields

Business Battlefields is a business service which provides corporate business events on historic battlefields. It was founded by Frank Baldwin in 2005 and its customers include Merrill Lynch, Marks and Spencer and Boeing. Business Battlefields was engaged to find historic locations which would provide a setting for GWT’s management study day.

A visit to the battlefields is a chance to compare current organisational issues in a way which enables participants to make connections and draw lessons from history which they may not otherwise see. It provides scope to tell stories that make it easy to understand and share messages which can be applied in a business situation.

New recruits
New recruits to an industrial revolution in warfare

The battlefields of Britain offer a great background for the study of business problems. The battles of Bosworth (1485) and Naseby (1645) are a source of lessons for a business growing from being family run to building the framework to become a global player. In the case of our battlefields, the business is protection and the family is, of course, Britain’s own Royal family.

Both battlefields are situated in the East Midlands and well served by business hotels, restaurants and pubs. The Bosworth Battlefield Centre provides an excellent interpretation of the battle supported by a collection of weapons demonstrated by a medieval martial arms expert. Naseby has no interpretation centre but has viewing points, which can be supported by living history

The battles of Bosworth and Naseby represent different eras in the development of armed forces. The Battle of Bosworth 1485 is one of the last battles of the medieval age. Richard III and Henry Tudor were feudal warriors leading factions fighting for control of the family business. Their rule was personal and their armies were comprised of bands of warriors owing loyalty in a way which stretched back to 1066 and earlier. The Battle of Naseby 1645 is the start of the modern world. The British Army is descended from the New Model Army with governance and organisational structures familiar to the modern world. Today’s soldiers could understand the organisation and rank structure of the New Model Army. Between Bosworth and Naseby there had been a military revolution, based on gunpowder technology, but requiring far reaching organisational and cultural changes. These made the European model of warfare a world beating model and enabled the European countries to colonise the world between 1600-1900.

Richard III and Bosworth: A Hostile Take-over of a Family Business

Living Historians on the Battlefield of Naseby
Living Historians on the Battlefield of Naseby

The story of Richard III is one reason why the Bosworth battlefield is fascinating. There are many lessons to be drawn from his short reign. The problem with family businesses is that genetics is not the best recruitment mechanism. Richard found himself as the man with the skills and experience for the top job while knowing that it would go to his juvenile nephew. He chose to mount a coup and wrest control, but ultimately failed because he could not win over all the stakeholders. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone. Do you settle for second best or risk all to win everything? Our client hasn’t relied on recruiting family members but there are lessons to be learned by privately owned businesses of all sizes.

These battles offer examples of the significance of the organisational and cultural impact of changing technology. The big difference between Bosworth and Naseby, less than 200 years apart, is the nature of the armies. Bosworth was fought by craftsmen; Naseby by mechanics. The warriors who fought at Bosworth, from King Richard downwards were trained to varying degrees from their youth in the martial arts they practiced. It took ten years to train an archer to use a war bow, and knights, squires and men at arms took a comparable time to master the variety of edged and blunt weapons used by a late C15th army. By the C17th soldiers were drilled and trained to use simple weapons such as the musket and the pike which could be taught in hours and days rather than years. And, with drill books sent across the world, could be taught to anyone. It’s a brutal lesson in the value of scale-able, low cost and repeatable solutions.

Gunpowder – the catalyst which replaced Craftsmanship with Process

"Downsizing" meant something slightly different in the past....
In the past,  “Downsizing” could be taken literally…

Other lessons from the New Model Army are the lessons for re-structuring. In 1644 Parliament had a problem with its military forces. The armies were created by local associations and commanded by the local Lords and MPs. Its success rate had been, at best, patchy and forces were tied to local regions. Parliament took the decision to form a homogeneous national army. One of their key decisions was to remove the owners of the individual armies via what is known as a the “self denying ordnance” by which Members of Parliament, (with a few exceptions) were to resign from their command positions in the army. The New Model Army, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax demonstrated its quality in its first battle at Naseby. This has an obvious lesson for any business seeking to assimilate an amalgam of acquisitions – remove the previous management.

GWT wanted the following from the day:

  • An opportunity for the management team to get to know one another outside of the working environment.
  • A chance to discuss the challenges of embracing new technologies, growing the business and managing change.
  • To use lessons learned from history to bring to life the challenges being faced while also explaining that they are not new challenges and there are opportunities to learn from history.
  • To enjoy a new and interesting experience.

Dan Doherty, the client contact, said: ‘Frank’s encyclopedic knowledge, connections and passion for what he does makes for a unique, interesting and beneficial experience. Most importantly, Frank is no everyday military historian; he has both military experience and a successful career in business and management. This is a heady cocktail of original and high value experiences that will benefit any organisation that wants to think outside the box for team building exercises.

logo brownMore information about Business Battlefields here

The Rocket Brigade at Leipzig 1813 – The Decisive Psychological Weapon?

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The Rocket Brigade at Leipzig – David Rowlands

The Battle of Leipzig 16-19 October 1813, was the largest battle of the nineteenth century, and fought between the Prussians, Russians, Austrians and Swedes and French under Napoleon.  The only mention of that the Emperor Napoleon makes about the course of the battle Leipzig, is that his forces were heavily outnumbered, but the allied victory would not have been as decisive if the Saxon Army had not defected to the Allies in the middle of the battle.

The Rocket Brigade RHA (now O Battery (the Rocket Troop) RHA,) was the only British unit to take part in the battle of Leipzig.  This experimental unit played a part out of all proportion to its size and numbers.  It may have played a key role in the surrender of the Saxon troops that gave rise of Napoleon’s bitter comments.

The Rocket Brigade RHA were at the Battle of Leipzig almost by historic accident. They were an experimental unit tasked with conducting what might be regarded as an operational test of the Congreve rockets on land.

Asian armies were using rockets for military purpose since the thirteenth century. By the time the British East India Company was fighting wars against the Indian states in the late C18th,  rocket technology had developed. By using metal, rather than paper, cases the range of military rockets was extended from c.500m to c. 2,500m.

Stores “For the Annoyance of the Enemy”

Rocket_warfare
Troops of the East India Company under attack by Mysore rocket artillery

The Armies of Mysore equipped with these caused problems for the British, including inflicting a defeat at Battle of Pollilur (1780). At the invitation of the Admiralty, “to develop stores for the annoyance of the enemy”  Colonel Congreve at the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich developed a range of rockets, which are known by his name.

These included rocket projectiles in different sizes from 6 pdr to 48 pdr and a sophisticated range of natures including solid shot,. Shell, incendiary carcass, case shot (shrapnel) and even illuminating parachute flare. The advantage of a rocket is that it does not need a heavy ordnance to launch it, allowing for a much larger weight of projectile. Rockets had a psychological effect, particularly on animals or those unfamiliar with the weapon. The disadvantages were the inherent inaccuracy of the rockets. This could be overcome by launching them en masse, the solution adopted even in WW2. After the fall of Seringapatam, the British found 600 launchers, 700 serviceable rockets and 9,000 empty rockets.

“Handsomest Men of His Day”

The Royal Navy made use of rockets to bombard ships in harbour, at Boulogne and Copenhagen. The inherent inaccuracy of rockets resulted in the town set ablaze along with docks and ships, and scepticism about rockets within the army, including by Arthur Wellesley, in command of the army in the Peninsular. None the less, in September 1811 an experimental unit was established at Woolwich to test rockets for land use, formed of 30 gunners under the command of Captain Bogue RHA. Described as “one of the handsomest man of his day and a friend of the Prince Regent” (1) Bogue had served in the Corunna campaign with B battery RHA.

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Captain Richard Bogue RHA – “One of the handsomest men of the day”

 By May 1813 the Ordnance board had decided that everything that could be discovered from exercises had been extracted and that a trial would be needed on active service. The experimental unit would be brought up to strength for service in the field as the Rocket Brigade RHA. The opportunity arose in the spring of 1813 after Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. By the time the Rocket Brigade had landed in Stalsund on the Baltic coast of Germany the sixth coalition against Napoleon included Britain, Austria, Russia, Prussia and Sweden. The Rocket Brigade would join the Army of the North under the Crown Prince of Sweden.

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Rocket Brigade RHA Movements before Leipzig 1813

The Battle of Görde 18 September 1813

The Rocket Brigade’s first action was on the 18th September 1813 at the battle of Görde North West of Danenberg in what is now Lower Saxony. Half of the brigade took part in the battle in which an allied force of Hannoverian, Prussian and Russian troops destroyed a French division advancing South from Hamburg. After the battle they rejoined the other half of the Brigade with the Army of the North at the siege of Wittenberg. Their guide across Germany was an officer of the 5th Battalion the Kings German Legion, who became the only member of the KGL to be present at the Battle of Leipzig.

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The battle of Görde 18th September 1813

The Battle of Leipzig 1813

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The Rocket Brigade was attached to the Swedish Guard. It had a privileged position as a unit of the Swedish Army’s British paymasters. On the 18th October 1813, the third day of the battle of Leipzig, the army of the North approached the Battlefield from the North East. A British senior officer, General Sir Charles Stewart, was present at the battle. In a letter to Captain Bogue’s Father in law, Stewart’s ADC, Lieutenant John James wrote:-

 “at the commencement of the action on the morning of the 18th, Captain Bogue addressed himself to General Winzingtrode, commanding the advance of the Crown Prince, expressing his desire to see the enemy and requesting permission to engage. The General much taken with the gallantry and spirit of the address, granted as a guard a squadron of dragoons and requested Captain Bogue to follow his own plans and judgement.

Captain Bogue lost no time in advancing to the village of Paunsdorf, then in possession of five of the enemy’s battalion, upon whom he opened, in advance of the whole army, a most destructive fire. This was returned by musketry and for a time a very hot combat ensued, which the enemy , unable to withstand the very well directed fire of Captain Bogue’s brigade fell into confusion and began to retreat. Captain Bogue, seizing the moment, charged at the head of the squadron of cavalry, and the enemy terrified of his approach, turned around and taking off their caps gave three huzzas and , every man to the number of between two and three thousand, surrendered to the Rocket Brigade, which I believe did not exceed 200 men.

The intelligence of this success being communicated to the Crown Prince, he sent his thanks to Captain Bogue for such eminent services, requesting at the same time that he would continue his exertions: and the brigade proceeded in consequence to the attack of (I believe) the village of Sommerfeld (2) , still further in advance. Sir C Stewart accompanied the brigade and I was of the party. The situation taken up on the flank of the village was exposed to a most heavy fire , both of cannon balls and grapeshot from the enemy’s line, and from the riflemen in the village. A ball from the latter soon deprived us of the exertions of poor Bogue;it entered below the eye and passing through the head caused instantaneous death.” (3)

Karl_XIV_Johan,_king_of_Sweden_and_Norway,_painted_by_Fredric_Westin
Carl Jean Crown Prince of Sweden – sometime Jean Baptiste Bernadotte Marchal of France Prince of Ponte-Corvo

“Some Prussian battalions of General Biilow’s corps were warmly engaged at Paunsdorf, and the enemy were retiring from it, when the Prince Royal directed the rocket brigade, under Captain Bogue, to form on the left of a Russian battery, and open upon the retiring columns. Congreve’s formidable weapon had scarcely accomplished the object of paralysing a solid square of infantry, which, after our tire, delivered themselves up, as if panic struck, when that estimable man and gallant officer, Captain Bogue, of the British royal artillery, received a mortal wound in the head, which at once deprived society of a noble character, and this country of his valuable services. Lieutenant Strangways who succeeded in the command of the brigade, received the Prince Royal’s thanks, conveyed through me, for the important assistance they had rendered. I felt great satisfaction at witnessing, during this day, a species of improved warfare, the effects of which were truly astonishing; and produced an impression upon the enemy of something supernatural.(4)

Diabolical Things

Not everyone saw Congreve’s formidable weapon as an unmitigated improvement in warfare. Dr Wenzel Krimer, was a surgeon in a Prussian Reserve Infantry Regiment, commented.

“It was at this juncture that I realised the terrible effects of the Congreve rockets. I was not alone in asking myself in horror and disgust: Haven’t we enough instruments of death without needing to resort to these diabolical things, worthy of the inventiveness of an Adramelach (5) We were standing on a flat plateau and could overlook a large part of the enemy forces. In front of us was just such a devilish rocket battery. Each time a rocket was fired and went hissing and shooting forth fire into an enemy column and exploded, one saw whole files hurled down. The scorched and battered bodies lay in great piles where they fell. At first the French did not seem familiar with this new weapon of death and stood up against it; but when they saw what fearful destruction it wrought and in what a ghastly manner the victims died, even if only a drop of the fuel came too near, there was no holding them. Whenever they saw a rocket coming, whole columns ran away and abandoned everything. (6)

The Terrible Effects of the Congreve Rockets.

Colonel Hermann von Boyen was Chief of Staff for General von Bulow’s III Corps, the lead troops of the Army of the North. He described how, as soon as the Army of the North came into the battle line, a heavy artillery-duel began.  

“About an hour later the French advanced from the so—called peasants’ houses with a column made up of two or three battalions and appeared to be heading for the Swedish corps which stood some distance back. In support was the English rocket battery under Captain Bogue. This gallant soldier immediately went forward undaunted with his battery against the enemy column and came so close that before he could open fire an enemy sharpshooter shot him dead. However, his subordinates were not dismayed by this loss, and the rockets produced a most unusual effect near where they were ignited. The French column, which hitherto had been advancing in very good order, even if latterly with a shorter step, was utterly dispersed just as occurs when one breaks up an ant heap with a blow, and it ran in total disorder back towards the peasants’ houses, amid our almost universal laughter.

When we marched next day across the scene of the French advance, we convinced ourselves of the important effects of the rockets. A considerable number of corpses lay there, but in addition several of them were completely burnt on their faces and uniforms in a most uncommon way, so that one could readily understand how the enemy’s morale had been shaken by this extraordinary operation.” (7)

What happened at Paunsdorf on 18th October 1813?

The action around Paunsdorf was one of the climactic episodes of the battle of Leipzig. The village was defended by the French VIIth Corps under the command of General Reynier of on the junction of the attacks by the Army of Poland by General Bennigsen and the Army of the North.  It is also notable for the defection of the Saxon Army, which in his memoirs Napoleon claims that the allied success “would have been less decisive had it not been for the defection of the Saxons. In the midst of the battle, these troops having moved towards the enemy, as if intending to make an attack, turned suddenly around, and opened a heavy fire of artillery and musketry on the columns by the aids of which they had a few moments before been fighting.”(8)

The French troops opposing the Rocket Brigade in the afternoon of 18th October were from General Reynier’s VIIth Army Corps. These comprised two divisions, and C 30 cannons. The 24th (Saxon) Division commanded by General zon Zeschau, comprised of two brigades. One under Colonel v Brause, of five Battalions and a second under General von Ryssel, of three battalions, and the 32nd (French) Division under General Durutte, of six battalions organised into two brigades. The Saxon division has been estimated at a maximum of 4,200 men with no more in Durutte’s division.

Pausendorf Tactical Map
Sketch of the Fighting around Paunsdorf 18th Oct 1813.  . The Brigade of von Brause was deployed on the Taucha Road West of the village. The two battalion brigade of von Ryssel was deployed near Stuntz while the artillery was between Stuntz and Paunsdorf. The bulk of the 32nd French Diviison under Durutte was in the Chonefield- Sellershausen area. During the morning Paunsdorf was attacked by the 2nd Austrian Advance Guard Division from the East.(1) Any Austrian gains were repulsed with a counter-attack. Sometime early afternoon 14.00(?) Prussian Troops of the III Corps under von Bulow attacked Paunsdorf, from the North.(2) This attack too was initally unsuccessful. Captain Bouge deployed the Rocket Brigade, with its escort of Russian Cavalry in advance of other allied troops aginst Paunsdorf. (3) The defenders of Paunsdorf with draw, and after a pursuit by Bogue and his escort,2,000-3,000 surrender. Bogue is ordered to repeat his actions against Sellerhausen, and is killed by a ball fired from the village. The Rocker Brigade continuies to engage the French and may break up a cpounter attack. (5) v Ryssel’s Brigade and the Saxon Artillery defect to the advancing Russians of Bennigsen’s Army (6)

The Royal Saxon Army, were from the part of Germany where much of the 1813 campaign had been fought, and now overrun by Napoleon’s enemies. The Saxon officers had formed the opinion that the campaign was lost and the best course of action would be to defect to the allies. The French had already become distrustful of their Saxon allies.  The 24th (Saxon) Division under General Von Zeschau had been ordered to march to Torgau, NE of Leipzig.  The arrival of Austrian and Russian troops of the Army of Silesia and the Army of the North had blocked that move. As a consequence the Saxons deployed around Paunsdorf, which had been garrisoned by a battalion of French soldiers  from Durutte;s 32nd French Division and two companies of Saxons on the Morning of 18th .  Von Brause’ Brigade of five battalions was deployed across the road to Taucha West of Paunsdorf, and von Ryssel’s Brigade of two battalions and a jaeger company near the Windmill at Stuntz.  Three batteries of artillery were deployed between Stuntz and Paunsdorf. Five out of six of the six battalions forming Durutte’s French 32nd Division were deployed  formed in the area around Sellerhausen.

During the morning the Austrian Army 2nd Advance Guard Division made repeated attacks on Paunsdorf. With support troops from Durutte’s division the  French hung on to a position in the village or close to it until around 2 pm. The fire from the French Saxon artillery seems to have been effective in suppressing the Austrian artillery, killing or wounding artillery detachments and horses. This changes with the arrival of the Prussian troops from the army of the North attacking from the NE and the Rocker Brigade.

There seem to have been three stages in the Rocket Brigade’s actions.

First, acting on his own initiative Bogue deployed rockets against the “five Battalions of the enemy defending Paunsdorf”. This, in conjunction with an attack by infantry resulted in the defenders fleeing.

Second. Bogue followed up the withdrawal with a charge at the head of the (Russian?) cavalry squadron detailed to escort him by General Wintzingtrode. After this charge, according to Jones the enemy “ turned around and taking off their caps gave three huzzas and , every man to the number of between two and three thousand, surrendered to the Rocket Brigade.”

Third, on the orders of the Crown Prince of Sweden, the Rocket Brigade engaged troops near Sellerhausen. Here the battery comes under fire, Bogue killed, and the battery continues to engage the French under the command of Lt Strangeways.

What part did the Rocket Brigade play in the defection of the Saxon Army? At some point in this area, during the Rocket Brigade action the majority of the Saxon Army defected to the allies. Digby Smith includes a lengthy account sympathetic to the Saxons, apparently based on accounts by someone with von Ryssel. The Saxons were keen to avoid abandoning their artillery and artillerymen to French retribution. They also preferred  to surrender to the Austrians, Russians or Swedes than to the Prussian who they saw as keen rivals. This account describes the defecting Saxons marching East from Stultz, out of contact.

That might explain the defection of von Ryssel’s Brigade. But how did von Brause’s Brigade, committed to the defence of Paunsdorf disengage and defect? Were these the troops that James wrote of as greeting their mounted pursuers with three Huzzas? Perhaps this was an announcement of a defection rather than the surrender of a mob. Otherwise why would an infantry unit organised enough to organise three cheers find more security in a square bristling with bayonets? The five battalions of this formation might add up to the 2,000-3,000 prisoners mentioned by James.

Did the presence of the Rockets give the Saxons an opportunity to defect? The British Joint Operational Research from WW2 found that German prisoners of War reported that rocket projectiles fired from aircraft was one of the more terrifying experiences. Despite Saxon disillusionment with Napoleon’s cause, Von Brause’s men seem to have fought determinedly at Paunsdorf – until under fire from the Rocket Brigade.

Aftermath of the Battle

Monument to Bogue In Taucha Cemetery
Monument to Captain Bogue In Taucha

The Rocket Brigade started with a  strength of 142 officers and men, over 100 horses horses, four women and two children. During the battle of  Leipzig the Brigade’s casualties were one officer and one man killed, six wounded and 26 horses killed and wounded. The Rocket Brigade was not involved in the Battle on the 19th of October, but spend the day buring their dead. Richard Bogue was buried in Taucha churchyard, four miles away from where he fell, and a stone monument was erected over his grave in 1815 by national subscription. As the nineteenth century drew to a close the grave was found to have fallen into a state of neglect, but on this fact being made known members of the Bogue family and officers of the Royal Regiment of Artillery contributed money for its restoration.

First medals for Gallantry Issued to British Soldiers

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Leipzig and Waterloo medals awarded to Sgt Dannatt of the Rocket Brigade who served in both battles.

In January 1814 the Crown Prince of Sweden sent the Swedish Military Order of the Sword, 4th Class (Knight) to Captain Bogue’s widow, and also a gift of 10,000 dollars. Six years later, he, as the King of Sweden awarded silver medals of the same Order to Sergeants Michael Taylor and Robert Chalkley, Corporals Edward Marks and William Wareham, and Bombardier John Guy. The reverse of each medal bore the inscription ‘FÖR TAPPERHET I FÄLT (‘For bravery in the field’).  These medals were the first medals for bravery issued to British Soldiers.

The Rocket brigade was also given the battle Honour “Liepzig” and adopted as a battery Honour Title after the Royal Artillery adopted “Ubique” (Everywhere)  in place of individual Battle Honours.

descendant of Captain Bogue, happened to read the piece in the Daily Telegraph about the talk on Leipzig for the Battlefields Trust. Bogue’s descendant  also called Richard, has in his possession Captain Bogue’s papers, including his Journal, and the letters sent to Bogue’s widow by the Prussian General Prince Blucher, and The Swedish Crown Prince Carl Jean. He also inherited Bogue’s nine volume travelling works of Shakespeare that accompanied him on campaign.

This and Bogue’s journal gives an insight into the character of a highly professional officer, whose decisions made a difference.  He was also a cultured man, commenting in his journal on the tomb of Thomas a Becket and Saxon church architecture. 170 years after Liepzig an Ex Battery Commander of the Rocket Troop exorted the officers of his regiment to have professionalism, polish and panache. Richard Bogue RHA epitomised these qualities.  

(This is the first of two posts based on the research for the talk given on behalf of the Battlefields Trust at the Fusiliers Museum  at HM Tower of London on 15th October 2013.  The Second part will cover the story of the Rocket Troop that fought at Waterloo, and ask why it is missing from many accounts of the battle) .

Notes

  1. R
  2. In fact the village was Sellerhausen
  3. Letter from Lieutenant John James held by Mr R Drake copies in Firepower and O Battery.
  4. Londonderry, Lieutenent-General Charles William Vane Marquess (Sir Charles Stewart) Narrative of the war in Germany and France in 1813 and 1814 (London 1830)
  5. Boyen, Generalfeldmarschall, Herman von Denkwürdigkeiten und Erinnerungen, 1771-1813, 2 vols (Stuttgart 1899)
  6. Adramelach was an Assyrian god to whom children were sacrificed on a fire.
  7. Krimer, Wenzel Erinnerunger eines altern Lützower Jägers, 1795-1819, 2 vols stuttgart 1913 (in Brett James, Anthiony Europe against Napoleon
  8. Bourrienne, Louis Antoine Fauvelet de, “Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte” 

 

Can History and Historic Fantasy co-exist? A new Magazine and Event are trying to bridge the Genres

To what extent does history and historic fantasy mix? How close to historic fact do we need to be to celebrate history and heritage? The launch of Seaxe magazine and the Fayre Times Festival are a bold attempt to reach people interested in both historic fact and the fantasy.

King Arthur - Cultural icon or medieval fantasy?
King Arthur – Cultural icon or medieval fantasy?

There is an obvious relationship between fiction and fact. Horatio Hornblower, Richard Sharp and Commando magazine are fiction and their activities, however accurately set contain fantastic elements of some kind The history of the Wars of the Roses offers an ill defined historic basis for historic fiction, such as the White Queen, but is also the basis for Hollywood films such as the Prisoner of Zenda and Game of thrones. The historic dark ages provides the culture and mythology that sustains middle earth as the best loved fantasy of modern times.

There are far more people who read Tolkein than Beowulf, and more viewers of the White Queen and Game of Thrones than visitors to Barnet Towton and Bosworth. So what attitude should those of us interested in military heritage take to people more interested in the culture and ethos inspired by history than in history itself? We have become used to re-enactors who portray people with an anonymous historic background. But there are also people who dress up as members of mythical societies based on medieval societies,mainly as a spin off from role playing games. Where do they fit into the heritage world?

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The fictional Battle of Dorking can make for an entertaining battlefield walk

There is a difference between history and heritage. The archaeological remains of Stonehenge is a fact. The ley lines of druid mythology may or may not have any historic basis, but do exist as part of our cultural heritage. This does not mean, and should not mean that a spot of mythical significance should have the same protection as, say, a battlefield. The Battlefields Trust is only concerned with the heritage of battlefields and not fictional battlefields such as the George Chesney’s Battle of Dorking or HG Wells fight against the martians on Horsfell common in Woking. However, it is right to encourage those fascinated by the myth to understand and support the protection of the historic heritage on which their myth is based.

Monument to a Fantasy Battle. The Martian Tripod in Woking. The role HG Wells' story in inspiring the invention of the Tank was recognized after WW1.
Monument to a Fantasy Battle.that influenced a real World War.  The Martian Tripod in Woking. The role HG Wells’ story in inspiring the invention of the Tank was recognized after WW1.

Lots of subjects we now regard as mainstream and acceptable were once seen as deemed nerdish and derisory. In the 1960s and 70s military history was seen as an academic irrelevance. It took people such as Richard Holmes to make military history a respectable subject worthy of media interest. The late Don Featherstone and Paddy Griffith showed that it was possible to be a wargamer and have something serious to say about military history.

The Battlefields Trust is providing Seaxe with articles from back issues of Battlefield and will be represented at the Fayre Times Festival. The individuals behind the projects deserve support in helping to ensure that the message about the value of preserving interpreting and understanding battlefield heritage is not forgotten by those who draw on it for inspiration.  

70th Anniversary of the Second Front – Italy 3rd September 1943

Canadian Troops about to open the Second Front in Calabria
Canadian Troops about to open the Second Front in Calabria

The 3rd September was the 70th Anniversary of Operation Baytown, the landings by the 8th Army on the toe of Italy.  It was largely unremarked in the press, even in Britain.

Operation Baytown was the first landing in force by the western allies on the mainland of Europe.  The landing was largely unopposed and the Germans withdrew leaving blown bridges and felled trees. It has been overshadowed by the Anglo American landings at Salerno on the 9th September which faced  a week long battle before the Germans withdrew – as the 8th army drew close.

The Italian campaign lasted for twice as long as operation Overlord, the allied invasion of North West Europe, which overshadowed it.  The campaign cost the Allies around one third of a million casualties and the Germans over half a million, as well as an estimated 150,000 Italian lives.     The campaign included several controversial episodes, with the battles to prise the Germans out of their positions in the winter of 1943-44  giving rise to the battles for Monte Cassino and the destruction of the abbey and to the landing at Anzio.  The conditions around Monte Cassino were compared by several participants as reminiscent of the Western Front battlefields of the First World War.  Many commentators have been critical of Allied generalship in the campaign,  with US General Mark Clark and British General Harold Alexander singled out.

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The value or otherwise of the actions and sacrifices of those who fought in the Italian campaign has been coloured by the counter factual debate about whether Italy should have been invaded at all.  From their entry  into the war in December 1941, the US Army Chief of Staff Marshal had been pressing for an allied  cross channel assault at the earliest possible opportunity and resisted British calls for activity in the Mediterranean.

This determination of the US Army to try to open a second front in Europe ASAP may have been influenced by several factors. 1) Europe was the only place that the huge 100 division US Army could be deployed. 2) If the Army did not put up a convincing argument that it would use the resources in a sensible time frame, the priorities would be switched to the US Navy or USAAF. It was politically unacceptable to argue “Germany first” while doing nothing for two to three years. 3) This was a coalition and the Red army, in 1941-43 looked as if it needed urgent help to defeat the Germans. The US army expected setbacks and to take losses and were prepared for initial failures. Their historic tradition and models were based on the US Civil War and “Bull Run” “Fredericksburg ” and Chancellorsville were part of a learning experience that led to Appomattox via Gettysburg and the Wilderness. The US had not been a major participant in WW1 and military planning could be quite callous by Western European standards.

Monte Cassino from Cassino War Cemetery
Monte Cassino from Cassino War Cemetery

Lets return to the C word. The US were part of a coalition, with the British as partners. The British were horrified at the risks the Americans proposed to run in 1942 and 43. (Brooke, who liked and admired Marshall, wrote of interrogating Marshal about what he wanted to do with a ten division landing in Northern France in 1942. What direction did he want to exploit? etc.) Brooke did not appear to grasp the scale and simplicity of the US plan: Mobilise and deploy 100 divisions to France where they can fight the Germans – France because that’s the only space big enough in Western Europe. If the first ten divisions were defeated there was another 90 and the resources of America mobilised for a crusade. This wasn’t an approach the British could afford to take. The British had already been kicked out of Europe on three occasions (France Norway and Greece), and were at the limits of their resources. To the British; the American plans all seemed to ask the British to deploy their last army in Europe on a series of risky ventures where the initial casualties would be disproportionately British.

Coalitions need to find plans which satisfy their partners or they fall apart. The compromise achieved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of two democratic governments was remarkably effective. The solution adopted was very successful, and worked out far better than the US planners might have expected. There was simply no prospect of a successful D day until the U Boats had been driven from the Channel, which was not until May 1943. It is hard to see a 1942 D Day as anything other than a bigger version of Dieppe, which is also the likely fate of a 1943 battle for Normandy mounted with the troops available in Europe in July 1943 and Italy still in the war.

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Canadian Armour Ortona

The historic development of the war worked out far better. The North African campaign allowed the US Army to be blooded where the geography and resourced favoured the allies. The setback at Kasserine pass was not fatal. The US could deploy and test a First IX (Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Truscott, etc) with manageable numbers of troops. The rest of the Tunisian campaign allowed the US Army the time to learn and apply lessons. A similar set back on the French coastline might have ended up with the entire army in the bag. The invasion of Sicily allowed the allies to try out the techniques they would need for Overlord, against a modest outnumbered enemy. Op Husky was a huge strategic success. It was cited by Hitler as his reason for abandoning his 1943 offensive in Russia (Op Ziterdelle) at a point where some commentators have argued that his forces were on the brink of victory.

The Italian campaign was a second front on the mainland of Europe. The invasion of Italy took Italy out of the War and opened a second front which absorbed a German Army Group of 20+ divisions and forced the Germans to deploy a further 20+ divisions in SE Europe to to take on the occupation activities undertaken by the Italian army. The Italian campaign was fought in a geographically remote peninsular, which enabled the allies to deploy a single Army Group of 20 Divisions into Europe without the Germans being able to mass the resources to throw the allies into the sea.

British troops approach Austria May 1945
British troops approach Austria May 1945

The troops involved in the Italian “side show” disproportionately damaged the Germans more than the Allies. The key battle for Op Overlord was to secure a lodgment area where the remainder of the US Army could be deployed direct from the USA – the Normandy campaign. The balance of forces available in the Normandy campaign was the result of a race to build up forces between the Allies using sea and air and the Germans, by road and rail. The Allies had a lot more troops , but could only limited shipping. The Germans had fewer troops in total, but it was easier for them to be concentrated. The allies won the battle for the build up and after an attritional battle lasting seven weeks the Germans ran out of troops to plug gaps and the Allies broke out. The 20+ divisions German troops in Italy and the casualties incurred throughout the campaign were not available on D Day in France to fight the crucial battle. Even if the troops of the 15 AG not been deployed in Italy, they could not have been used at the lodgement phase of Op overlord, because the number of troops was limited by shipping capacity. Even at the end of the Normandy campaign there were many US Divisions forces still waiting to be deployed. (E.g. (99th 100th & 106th ID 9th, 10th & 11th AD). If there had been no Italian campaign there would just be more US troops waiting to be shipped.

There is a parallel with the US Civil War. Arguably the war was won in the West, with the Confederate states split and dismembered by larger Union forces. The Eastern campaign, (and various incursions along the coast) however inconclusive, tied down CSA troops that might otherwise have made a difference on the West. Given that the Union had the preponderance of forces, it made sense to deploy on as many fronts as the CSA could be forced to deploy their smaller resources.

PANO_20120808_151340Instead of looking at the Italian campaign as a side show, it might be more constructive to consider it as a successful diversion, which succeeded in tying down Germans which might have made a difference elsewhere. it did not matter to the allies for this purpose exactly where they were fighting the Germans in Italy. Sure the air force wanted bases near Foggia, but whether the battle was North or South of Rome only really mattered to Mark Clark – and the Italians themselves. Whatever faults there might have been in the execution of allied operations around Monte Cassino, the overall aim was achieved. On D Day there were hundreds of thousands of German combat troops in Italy and even some en route from France. The battles around Monte Cassino played their part in defeating the Nazis and liberate Europe.

I think this might be a better way to remember the remember the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought and died in the Italian Campaign.

Hitler’s Image on the Cathedral and Other Military Heritage in Barcelona

 

"HItlers Face" on Barcelona Cathedral
“HItlers Face” on Barcelona Cathedral.

People do not normally visit Barcelona for its military history. It’s more associated with Catalan culture, football, art, architecture, tapas bars, beaches and clubs. But it also has some interesting military history, starting with the legend of its foundation by Hamlicar Barca, the Carthaginian General who fathered Hannibal, and the archaeological evidence of the Roman Colonia founded for ex-Legionaries. There are at least three episodes from its past which are well worth exploring.

George_Orwell_press_photo
Eric Blair AKA George Orwell: Volunteered to fight for Republican Spain but lucky to esacape from the conflict between Satlinist, Troskyist and Anarchist factions

The most visible is the legacy of the city’s role in the Spanish Civil War when it was a staunch supporter of the Republican side. The army’s coup attempt in the city in 1936 was defeated by the armed trade union militia, paradoxically mainly by well organised anarchists. The city became the capital for the Republic after Madrid came under ground attack. One of its most popular streets, the Ramblas, became the front line in the civil war within the civil war between the Stalinist, Trotskyist and anarchist militias. The British Volunteer, Eric Blair was stationed on the rooftops on the Ramblas. His experiences and disillusionment became the inspiration for the works he published as Animal Farm and 1984 under the name George Orwell.

Ramblas
The Ramblas: the front line between the Anarchists and Communists in the “civil war within the civil war” in May 1938. The building on the extreme right is the Intercontinental Hotel, where Eric Blair (the novelist George Orwell) was staying with his wife Ellen while commuting to his place in action further down the street..
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The bombers view of Barcelona: March 1938. The Ramblas is the street in the centre of the picture aligned at 11 O’Clock with a stick of bombs below and above it.
Sant Felip Neri
Bomb damage to the facade of the Church of Sant Felip Neri. 42 civilians died in this square, mainly children.when bombs struck the square in March 1938

The bitter and sad story of the Spanish Civil War deserves to be better known. It is much more complicated than a simple story of good versus evil or communists against fascists. The evidence of the savagery and cost of the war is visible across the city. The bomb splintered façade of the church of Sant Felip Neri is witness to the deaths of 42 civilians, mainly children, when Italian aircraft bombed the city in March 1938. The damage to the Gaudi Church of the Sagrada Família and the barren church interiors are a reminder of the bitter anti clerical passions among the Republicans. The names in Fort Montjuïc mark the cells where Republican political leaders were held, tortured and executed, in Franco’s post war campaign to exterminate political opposition. It is still a sensitive topic across Spain, and avoided in the aftermath of Franco’s death, while the country made a transition to Democracy and EU membership.

The Spanish Civil War is a case study with lessons for the modern world. The debate about whether, when and how the world should intervene in a civil war is a live and current concern with images from Egypt and Syria in the media.

 

Montjuïc from the North of the city.
Montjuïc from the North of the city.

Fort Montjuïc on the hill south of the city and port was key to the defence of the city. It was the site of the oppida, the pre Roman site. In the Catalan wars of the 1640s the hill was fortified by the inhabitants and key to protecting the city from attack. In the war of Spanish

Lord Peterbporough supervises the siege of Barcelona . Note the bombardment from Montjuïc on the left.
“Over the hills and far away, to Flanders Portugal and Spain, Queen Anne commands and we’ll obey” .    Lord Peterborough supervises the siege and capture of Barcelona 1705. Note the bombardment from Montjuïc on the left.

Succession 1705 Barcelona surrendered after the Anglo imperial forces assaulted the fort and it played a key part in the recapture of the city by the Bourbons in the siege of 1713-14. The fort is in an excellent position and well preserved, with coastal artillery batteries with C19th and C20th guns. The fort held a military museum assembled in the Franco era until 2009, when the collection was disbursed, which may itself indicate the sensitivity of the Civil War. The fort can be reached by a combination of cable car and funicular railway from Parallel metro, or via the cross harbour cable car from Barceloneta, by bus or walking.

Real replica
The Real: A full scale replical of Don John’s flagship at Lepanto. One of the largest war galleys built in the C16th

The city’s maritime museum is a gem with links to one of the most important naval battles in history. The museum is in the old Royal Catalan and Spanish naval ship yard where merchant and war ships were built in a Gothic stone building. The museum contains a replica of the 235 tonnes, 60m “Real,” the galley which served as the flagship of Don John of Austria, at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. The original Real had a crew of 400 sailors and soldiers in addition to 290 oarsmen and was armed with three heavy and six light cannons.

The battle of Lepanto was one of the largest and most significant naval battles in history and took place in the Ionian sea off Greece on 7th October 1571. 212 ships of the Holy League (Spain, Venice and the Papal states) under Don John, manned by 28,500 soldiers and C 25,000 sailors and oarsmen faced 250 Turkish ships manned by 31,400 soldiers and 50,000 sailors and oarsman under Ali Pacha. This is more ships and men than took part in the largest naval battles of Jutland (1916) and Leyte Gulf in the C20th World Wars and approximately eight times as many ships and men as took part in the famous battle of Trafalgar (1805)

At Lepanto the Real engaged the Turkish galley Sultana, flagship of Ali Pacha in deck to deck combat. The Spanish troops boarded the Sultana and after about an hour of bloody fighting captured her. Ali Pacha was severely wounded by musket fire, fell to the deck, and was beheaded by a Spanish soldier. His head was displayed on a pike, severely affecting the morale of his troops. The Real captured the “Great Flag of the Caliphs” and became a symbol of the victory at Lepanto.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Holy League. The Turks lost 80 ships sunk and 130

The Battle of Lepanto Paulo Veronese Academy of Venice (1572)
The Battle of Lepanto Paulo Veronese Academy of Venice (1572)

captured, with the loss of 20,000 Turks killed, captured or wounded and the release of 12,000 Christian galley slaves. One of the c.7,500 Holy League casualties was Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. The battle ended Turkish naval supremacy in the Mediterranean and inspired paintings and poetry. Barcelona Cathedral contains a further artefact from the battle of Lepanto, the Christ of Lepanto, carried in on a Spanish Galley. The body of Christ is supposed to have moved to avoid cannon shot during the battle!

Galley warfare of slaves at the oars, and hand to hand combat may seem archaic to Britons whose image of naval warfare is based on the kinds of sailing ships used by sea dogs from Drake to Nelson. But the battle of Lepanto took place 26 years after the English carrick, the Mary Rose was lost while engaging French galleys in the Solent and only seventeen years before the Spanish Armada.

The nearest Metro is Drassanes close to the Colon which commemorates the return of Christopher Columbus to Spain after his first voyage and reception by Ferdinand and Isabella. The Museum café is in a quiet garden with a fish-pond and is a good place to contemplate the war galleys which dominated naval warfare in the Mediterranean for over two millennia – or to take a break from sight seeing.

If you are interested in travelling to battlefield heritage in Barcelona or elsewhere in Span contact me via Baldwin Battlefield Tours

PS Hitler fought in Ypres in 1914.  The Battlefield Trust is organising a fund raising event at lunchtime on 10th September 2013 with a lunch and a talk given by Col (retd) Christopher Newbould on the British Army at Wipers.  Details here.

 

 

Forgotten battlefields of the Aisne

aisne departmental map
Great War Aisne Battlefields

The Aisne battlefields are in some ways a forgotten corner of the Western Front. Most British visitors to the Western Front tend to focus on the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme, or hurtle across it en route to Verdun, the iconic French battle. Yet the battlefields in the Aisne, the bordering department south of the Somme Region, play a significant part in the development of the Western Front, have a special place in the story of the British Expeditionary force and are the resting place of several thousand British soldiers.

The Department of the Aisne forms an inverted triangle with St Quentin near the top left corner and the town of Château Thierry near the base. The northern half of the department is part of the Picardy plains. The southern half is much hillier and cut by the Oise, Aisne and Marne rivers flowing East to West. Battlefields tend to be determined by physical geography rather than administrative regions. Thus the department plays an significant role in several battlefields, only one of which takes its name from the department.

THE OTHER SOMME BATTLEFIELD

There are geographic and commercial reasons why British battlefield tourists tend to miss out the Aisne. The Somme is that bit closer, and even then most British visitors focus on the battlefields around Albert, the site of the dramatic and costly first day of the Somme, and popularised in literature from Siegfried Sassoon to Sebastian Faulks. There has also been a major investment in the Somme in heritage tourism, from the development of the Thiepval interpretation centre, to the establishment of the Museum of the Great War in Peronne, and there is the well organised support for British tourists and the tourist trade. There is a risk though, that the focus on that which is easiest to visit distorts our understanding of the history and what it means.

The Manchester Regiment captures a German Battery on Manchester Hill.
The Manchester Regiment captures a German Battery on Manchester Hill.

The Northern part of the Aisne department centres on the town of St Quentin. This area tells a different story of the battles we know as the Somme. The most obvious features are the remains of the Hindenburg line, the fortified line created due to the high cost to the Germans of the battle of the Somme. We don’t often see the 1916 Somme battle as a “victory”. The huge investment in developing the Hindenburg line and the spiteful destruction of everything of possible value in the land they evacuated indicates that the Germans saw the Somme as a defeat. This area included the sites of actions in the advance to the Hindenburg line in March 1917. The village of Francilly-Selency includes reminders of this in the monument to the 2nd Battalion the Manchester Regiment which liberated the village in March 1917, in the action during which one of their officers, the poet Wilfred Owen, was wounded.

 

Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob VC
Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob VC

If we relied purely on popular culture, the Great war was not won but fizzled out in an Armistice, whether in a hail of bullets in no man’s land in Blackadder or with the tunnellers still under the static trenches in Bird Song. However, a visit to the Battlefields around St Quentin bears witness to the violent climax to the First World War on the Western Front. In March 1918, Manchester Hill, captured by Wilfred Owen’s battalion the previous spring, was occupied by the 16th Battalion the Manchester Regiment, understrength and exhausted from the Passchendaele campaign. This was one of the British redoubts isolated by German storm troops on the first day of the Kaiserschlacht and where its commanding Officer fought to the death, and was subsequently

Men of the 137th Brigade, 46th Division, being addressed by Brigadier General J C Campbell VC CMG DSO on the Riqueval Bridge over the St Quentin Canal, which formed part of the German's Hindenburg Line, broken on 29 September 1918.
Men of the 137th Brigade, 46th Division, being addressed by Brigadier General J C Campbell VC CMG DSO on the Riqueval Bridge over the St Quentin Canal, which formed part of the German’s Hindenburg Line, broken on 29 September 1918.

awarded the Victoria Cross. The Hindenburg Line positions north of St Quentin stormed by the British, Australian and American troops 28 September-3 October 1918, are still very visible and provide evidence of the story of the allied determination, skill and courage that overwhelmed the Germans in 1918. At this point the German defences were based on the Canal du Nord, a major obstacle protected by barbed wire and concrete bunkers. The tactical problem can be compared with the D Day landings. The bridge at Riqueval, seized by Captain Charlton and nine men can be compared to the capture of Pegasus Bridge on D Day. It is one of the most evocative places, and captured on a camera.

The fighting did not end at the canal. The concrete bunkers of the Hindenberg line are much better preserved than the earthworks of the Somme. The BBC TV Programme ”Who Do You Think You Are?” featured Matthew Davis the descendent of William Henry Johnson VC winner seeking the story of his ancestor. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23109590

 

Lance Corporal William Coltman VC
Lance Corporal William Coltman VC

Close to here, at Mannequin Hill, N.E. of Sequehart, Lance Corporal William Harold Coltman, of 1/6th Bn, North Staffordshire Regiment, carried out the actions for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. William Coltman, whose Christian beliefs would not allow him to kill another man was Britain’s most highly decorated serviceman of the First World War ( 1914-1918 ). In the last two years of the war he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal twice, and Military Medal twice, acting as a stretcher-bearer.

THE AISNE – THE BIRTH OF TRENCH WARFARE

Aisne Valley
Aisne Valley
Sgt Ernest Horlock RFA VC "For conspicuous gallantry on 15th September, near Vendresse, when his Battery was in action under a heavy shell fire, in that, although twice wounded, he persisted on each occasion in returning to lay his gun after his wound had been dressed.—London Gazette 1915
Sgt Ernest Horlock RFA VC “For conspicuous gallantry on 15th September, near Vendresse, when his Battery was in action under a heavy shell fire, in that, although twice wounded, he persisted on each occasion in returning to lay his gun after his wound had been dressed.—London Gazette 1915

South of Laon is the area of the Aisne battlefields.  The department included the battlefield is bordered by the city of Soissons in the West and Berry au Bac in the East, and stretches as far south as the River Marne and the city of Laon in the North. The countryside is a little more alien for the British visitor. The Somme Battlefields are geologically similar to Southern England and the rolling countryside and large fields are similar to the landscape of Hampshire. Much of the fighting centred on the high ground North of the river Aisne. The heights are often referred to by the name of the road along the heights, the Chemin des Dames.

The War first came to the area in September 1914 as the French and British armies fell back south pursued by the Germans. The German Schlieffen plan finally unravelled in the battle of the Marne between 5-12th September 1914 and the Germans pulled back. When the allies advanced north many could be forgiven for thinking that this war was nearly over. There had been an advance, a big battle and now the invaders were in full retreat. But, when the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) crossed the river Aisne, they found the Germans dug in on the spurs on the high ground overlooking the rive Aisne and supported by plentiful artillery. Despite heroic efforts in over a week of fighting, the BEF were unable to dislodge the Germans and both sides had started to dig trenches. Field Marshal Sir John French, the commander of the BEF wrote to the king “I think the battle of the Aisne is very typical of what battles in the future are most likely to resemble. Siege operations will enter largely into the tactical problems – the spade will be as great a necessity as a rifle

There is a lot to see in the area from the BEF experience on the Aisne. The ground itself is evocative, and much as it was in 1914. You can still see the bridging site where the Royal Engineers bridged the river next to the damaged bridge. The story of the BEF can be traced on the landscape and past the cemeteries with the reminders of the costs.

2013-08-04 10.34

THE CHEMIN DES DAMES –1917 THE CALVARY OF THE FRENCH ARMY

The Chemin des Dames area was the site of the disastrous Neville Offensive in May 1917. The newly appointed commander of the French Army, General Robert Neville, thought that he had discovered the secret of the offensive based on the experience of successful limited attacks on the Somme and Verdun. He massed hundreds of guns and the cream of the French army, including tens of thousands of African soldiers. Unfortunately for Neville and the French army, the Germans had tunnelled deep into the ground, developed defences in depth and found out when and where the attack would take place. After several days bombardment the attack started under atrocious weather conditions, for May. After 135,000 casualties the French troops had had enough. There were mutinies in several regiments. They were strikes really, with soldiers protesting about ill planned attacks, poor food and no leave.

The saviour of Verdun, General Petain was appointed as Commander in chief of the army. He is credited with restoring discipline and confidence to the French Army. He did so with a mixture of carrot and stick. He instigated improvements in pay and leave arrangement, and perhaps most significantly, he cancelled further major offensives. This allowed the French army to recover its confidence in its commanders through a series of carefully planned and executed limited offensives. One of these, in November 1917 took place in the area around Fort Malmaison on the Aisne and resulted in the Germans withdrawing from the Chemin des Dames, the objective on the first day of the Neville offensive. The other implication of the French Army mutinies was that the burden of warfare on the West would have to be borne by the British until the American army could be mobilised and brought to Europe.

1814 and 1914 memorial
1814 and 1914 memorial

Arguably the 1917 mutinies had another legacy, in the French army of the Second World War. There is a comparison with Verdun. Verdun is a story of determination and sacrifice characterised by “They shall not pass”. The Chemin des Dames is where the French army reached the limits of endurance. It can be characterised by the bitter words of the Chanson de Craonne. ” It’s in Craonne up on the plateau That we’re leaving our hides ‘ Cause we’ve all been sentenced to die. We’re the ones that they’re sacrificing.”

There is a lot to see on the Aisne battlefield from the 1917 battles. The battlefield itself, like much of the

The Battle of the Aisne May 1918: 8th Infantry Division dispositions
The Battle of the Aisne May 1918: 8th Infantry Division dispositions

area around Verdun was deemed to be too devastated to be restored for agricultural use and designated a “Red Zone.” Although subsequently much agricultural land has been recovered, there are still tracts of the battlefield preserved as it was at the end of the First War, with the ruins of abandoned villages such as Craonne. There are also plentiful interpretive panels and panoramas relating the landscape of the battlefield. One focus for interpretation is the Cavern de Dragons, a quarry that became the scene of underground fighting. This contains an imaginative museum and guided tour.

There are also some evocative memorials each of which tells something of the French army. One memorial has a statue of a French soldier of 1814 alongside one of 1914; a reminder that this was also the site of one of Napoleon;’s last victories.

A group of elegant dark statues represents the spirits of the African soldiers who suffered so heavily in 1917. There is also a memorial to the first use of tanks by the French Army at Berry au Bac.

THE BRITISH ON THE AISNE IN 1918

Last Stand of the 2nd Battalion the Devon Regiment at the Bois de Buttes May 1918: Willaims Barnes Wollen
Last Stand of the 2nd Battalion the Devon Regiment at the Bois de Buttes May 1918: Willaims Barnes Wollen
Gibraltar_battery_Beret
5 Gibraltar Battery still wear the ribbon of the Croix de Guerre on their berets.

The troops that made up the Ninth British Corps were singularly unlucky during 1918. As mentioned earlier, the Germans launched a series of offensives to try to win the war before the American Army appeared in numbers. The first offensive was between St Quentin and Arras on 21st March and took the Germans to within a few miles of Amiens. The second, the battle of the Lys, in April took the Germans close to undermining the Britsh in Flanders. In these five weeks the British Army had taken over 230,000 casualties, about the same as in the four month Passchendaele campaign. Five of the most battered British formations were transferred to the Aisne front, which had been a quiet sector since 1917. And so when the Aisne became the target of the German “operation Blucher.”, the plateau of California and Craonne was defended by the 4th Battalion the East Yorkshire Regiment of the 50th Northumberland Division. The resulting battle saw the British and French pushed back 25 miles to the river Marne. The 2nd Battalion the Devonshire Regiment and 5 Battery RFA distinguished themselves by the heroic defence of the Bois de Buttes despite being attacked by storm-troopers supported by tanks. Both units were awarded the Croix de Guerre which now is worn by all soldiers in 5 Gibraltar Battery RA and the Rifles. One of the best accounts of the fighting on the Aisne is published as “The Last of the Ebb:The Battle of the Aisne, 1918” by Sidney Rogerson Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal

BIG CASTLES AND BIG GUNS

Concerete gun pits of 13" German heavy artillery
Concerete gun pits of 13″ German heavy artillery

The hilltop village of Coucey has a particularly fine ruined château and the remains of town walls. But it’s ruin is a story of the First World War. Before 1914 the château of Coucey was the largest in France and a major tourist destination. But in 1917 it lay in the zone that the Germans were planning to abandon and was destroyed in what in retrospect seems spiteful vandalism. On the outskirts of Coucey is a different sort of structure. In the forest is a concrete emplacement for a giant gun used by the Germans for shelling Compiegne 20 km away.

Batlefields_Abroad1

THE 1918 BATTLEFIELDS OF THE MARNE – WHEN THE AMERICANS SAVED PARIS FRANCE AND WON THE WAR

On two occasions in the First World War the Germans nearly reached Paris. It was the high point of the German advances in 1914 and in 1918. The battles which saw the repulse of these attacks are both known as the Battle of the Marne. The turning point was the deployment of American troops on the Marne in June and July 1918. The Americans played a big part in halting the Germans on the Marne at Château Thierry, which is home to the impressive US Châteaux Thierry monument. Not far away is Belleu wood, which is where the US marines attacked in 1918. This battlefield has been preserved and it and the neighbouring US American Battle Monuments Commission Cemetery and the German cemetery are reminders of the part America played in the First World War.

2013-08-02 17.50

Roy Suzuki and the British Nisei

The story of the Nisei Japanese Americans in the Second World War is quite well known. The USA had a sizeable Japanese minority, whose treatment after Pearl Harbour remains controversial. This community produced a Japanese American units which served with distinction in Italy and France. While Britain had a less diverse population in the 1940s than in the C21st, Britain was home to people from around the world, including immigrants from the Axis powers and their descendants.

My interest in LCpl Suzuki started when a fellow member of the Kentish Town Sports Centre, asked me why someone with a Japanese name might be in the British War Cemetery in Normandy. He wasn’t sure whether this was a British, Canadian or even American cemetery

But he was right. There are two men named Suziki on www.cwgc.org The first is Donkeyman K Suzuki, born in Japan, who died on 1st March 1917, aged 34, when the SS Munificant was sunk without warning 3 miles NNW of Cap Gris Nez, and commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial London.

The second was Lance Corporal Roy Suzuki, of the 3rd/4th County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) Royal Armoured Corps, (3rd/4th CLY) buried in Bannerville-la-Campagne War Cemetery, sited close to a road that a lorry driver might use en route for the ferry at Ouistreham. Roy was the son of Jukichi and Mable Ruth Suzuki of Islington London. He died, aged 23 on 18th August 1944. Checking the cemetery records, Roy Suzuki, is one of ten members of 3rd/4th CLY who all died on that day buried in row B of Plot IV in the cemetery along with a Rifleman from 2nd Bn KRRC. The ten include two lieutenants and a sergeant. It seems quite likely that LCpl Suziki buried in grave B17 was killed in the same actions as LCpl Cornish in B16, Trooper Bishop in B18, and 2Lt Pritchard B15, possibly even the same tank.

The 3rd/4th CLY had only been formed a month earlier, on 20th July 1944 from the merger of the 3rd and 4th CLY, a reflection of the heavy casualties of suffered in the Normandy campaign. The 4th CLY had take particularly heavy casualties in June when it was on the receiving end of an attack by Tiger tanks led by Michael Wittman at Villers Bocage.

C Sqn 3 CLY Firefly tank Normandy 1944

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE 3RD/4TH CLY ON 18TH AUGUST 1944?

18th August is close to the climax of the battle of Falaise Gap. At this time, the 3rd/4th CLY were part of the 4th Armoured Brigade, commanded by the 28 old Brigadier Michael Carver. 4th Armoured Brigade were attached to 53rd Infantry Division, part of XII Corps. XII Corps had been ordered to advance South from Falaise, protecting the right flank of the IInd Canadian Corps which was attacking South to close the Falaise pocket. (1) Michael Carver had persuaded the GOC 53 Division, who wanted to advance with a series of staged infantry brigade advances that at this stage of the battle it would be better for the armour to lead. (2) 4th Armoured Brigade would lead, supported by 71st Infantry Brigade, with their objective to press on down the Falaise- Argentan road to cut off the 19 German divisions in the Falaise pocket. Despite the Brigadier’s enthusiasm for armour to take the lead, the ground was described by one of the officers from 2nd KRRC as “damnably thick and close and anything but suitable for tanks. The German infantry are well armed with bazookas and enjoy knocking out tanks from ten yards range from thick hedgerows, orchards, lanes etc.”

Falaise Gap 16-21 Aug 1944 (Atkinson)
Falaise Gap 16-21 Aug 1944 (Atkinson)

Between the 15th and 17th the Brigade advanced about five miles and by the 17th had captured the high ground South of Falaise. On the 18th the Sharpshooters took over as the leading Regiment in the Brigade.

Fal
Fal

The excellent Sharpshooters website (3) gives the following extracts from the War Diary of the 3rd/4th County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) August 1944

18/8/1944 B Sqn led the advance and found enemy infantry mining the road – these were quickly dispersed. The leading troop was then fired on by A/Tk guns but no hits scored, and another troop was sent round to the East but was also held up by A/Tk guns. The country was too close for deployment so smoke was put down and the leading tanks moved forward and fired HE. This was successful – one gun knocked out and one abandoned – and the advance continued. A Mark IV special was seen and knocked out but shortly afterwards the two leading tanks were hit by A/Tk fire. The driver of one tank succeeded in driving his badly damaged tank back out of range and was able to rescue his wounded crew. Arty fire was brought down on the suspected gun positions and another attempt was made to go forward but the leading tank was immediately hit. Many attempts were made to find a way round and A Coy 2/60 KRR was sent into the village ahead to try and locate the A/Tk guns and clear the area of the enemy. At 1800 A Sqn succeeded in finding a way round and took up position South of the village of ROUFIGNY. B Sqn were then able to go forward and sent a troop into the village to assist 2/60th whilst the remainder of the Regiment were together further North. During the day C Sqn had taken up a commanding position on high ground and accounted for several enemy vehicles attempting to escape.

During the
Casualties:-
2 officers killed and 8 ORs killed.
4 ORs missing.7 ORs wounded.

And on the following day

19/8/44 C Sqn took the lead and continued to advance to the high ground South of ROUFIGNY and overlooking the escape road. A/Tk fire was soon encountered and 2 tanks knocked out. The fire came from the area of FRENAY LE BUFFARD 160624 and this was subjected to arty concentrations and was heavily smoked whilst the advance continued. In the afternoon the Regiment was withdrawn before the final objective was reached. Considerable quantities of enemy transport etc. were accounted for both by the tanks and B Bty 4th RHA and a number of guns were destroyed in the village of ROUFIGNY by the 2/60th KRR.
Claims for 18th & 19th Aug:-

2 Mark IV special tanks
1 Beetle Tank
2 Mark IV SP
5 75mm A/Tk guns
1 Mark III SP
1 50mm A/Tk gun
1 Tank (unidentified)
2 Half tracked vehs
1 88mm A/Tk gun
2 A/Tk guns (unidentified)
1 French SP
Sundry lorries and cars
Casualties:- 1 OR wounded.

1:50,000 map showing movement of B Sqn 3rd/4th CLY 18th Aug 1944
1:50,000 map showing movement of B Sqn 3rd/4th CLY 18th Aug 1944
Viewpoint  1 (Google Streetview)
Viewpoint 1 (Google Streetview)

 

Viewpoint  2 (Google Streetview)
Viewpoint 2 (Google Streetview)
Viewpoint 3 (Google Streetview)
Viewpoint 3 (Google Streetview)

The ten men in row B of plot IV in Banneville-la-Campagne were killed in the frontal attack on Roufigny. This village was in a hollow down the escarpment, quite a tough task for an armoured unit. B Squadron, seem to have been unlucky on the 18th, losing ten dead and ten wounded from the five tanks knocked out, while C Sqn suffered one wounded from the two tanks knocked out on the 19th.. The mortality rate of casualties was around 25% for the campaign as a whole, so ten dead from 20 casualties may reflect some catastrophic events such as two tanks brewing and incinerating their crew – a horrific prospect.

This operation was a success for 4th Armoured Brigade. Besides the CLY claims listed in the war diaries, the brigade captured 3,000 prisoners.

3rd/4th CLY tank with German Prisoners August 1944
3rd/4th CLY tank with German Prisoners August 1944

The War Diary of 4th Armoured Brigade’s gunners, 4 RHA is evidence of the artillery fire-power inflicted on the Germans. (4)

“Aug 18 The 2IC went at once to Bde and got the form that the Bde was to push down the road running SSE frm Falaise to join in a general beat up of enemy tpt retreating east. Canadians, Poles, French and Americans were also to take part. The Regiment came into action about two miles south of Falaise and immediately had some wonderful shooting. OP s were continually calling for regimental and higher targets. We also had an Air OP up who had very good observation indeed, and there was so much to shoot at that it was difficult for him to choose one target from another. The 2IC, who was at Tac 4 Armd Bde, also had two reps (one from a fd regiment and one from a medium regiment sitting with him and he managed to wear out two medium guns. At one time there were three shoots going over the regimental frequency at the same time.
Aug 19 Another good day with plenty of observed and predicted shooting
Regt fired 800 rpg during these two days.”

The role that the British Army played in the Falaise Pocket is often ignored as the battle tends to focus on the impact of the air forces and they the controversy about whether the British did enough to prevent more Germans escaping. Roy Suzuki and his comrades in row B Plot IV are a testimony to the keenness of Carver to push on, the willingness and competence of the Germans to defend the flanks of the pocket and the difficulties of removing determined well armed men in good defensive terrain. They are also a reminder that arrows on tactical maps translate into handfuls of weary men faced with moving forwards towards a series of ambushes.

I’d like to know more about Roy Suzuki. I don’t know when he joined the army and whether there were any obstacles placed on the children of Japanese as there were the Germans and Italians. Maybe he joined up before Pearl Harbour. When I mentioned the Japanese British to Gordon Corrigan yesterday at the Battlefields Trust lunchtime lecture yesterday he told me that he know of at least one other. This man served in the Dorset Regiment he was the son of a Japanese musician who was travelling and working in Britain at the outbreak of war. He joined up when everyone else did. How many other Japanese or Anglo Japanese served in the British forces in the Second World War?

References

1. 12 Corps G War Diary August 1944 Appendix B HS/WD/NWE/159/1/H quoted in: Cabinet Papers: Liberation Campaign In North West Europe Phase 4 The Break Out And The Advance To The Crossing Of The Seine 16 June -29 August 1944
2. Patrick Delaforce: Monty’s Marauders
3. http://www.sharpshooters.org.uk/news/item.aspx?id=27
4. 4 RHA War Diary August 1944
5. http://www.mapmanusa.com/images/book-maps/rick-atkinson-guns-at-last-light-falaise-pocket.jpg

More about battlefield tours to Normandy here

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Frank Baldwin holds Badge No 8 of the Guild of Battlefield Guides
Frank Baldwin holds Badge No 8 of the Guild of Battlefield Guides

In Praise of Panoramas

Just how well can you describe what you are looking at to someone else? Telling a story about the landscape is at the heart of battlefield guiding. But how sure can guides be that this audience has understood exactly what they are talking about? Just because the audience nods sagely when the guide asks if everyone understands doesn’t mean they all do. But, unless the members of the audience all know what the guide is talking about, they will go home with an inaccurate picture.

On a recent Introduction to Battlefield Guiding course we conducted an experiment to see how easy, or difficult it is for guides to identify exactly what points on the ground they are talking about.  A panorama of the battlefield of Flodden was projected onto a screen. Students were asked to point out some of the locations to an audience relevant to telling the story of the Battle of Flodden. Each student was given a sheet of paper with a copy of the panorama and asked to mark on the panorama where they thought the locations being described were.   The results are shown in the illustration 1.

Illustration 1- the results of the experiment. The markings in pink are the locations the guide was indicating and those in yellow or black are where the audience marked them.
Illustration 1- the results of the experiment. The markings in pink are the locations the guide was indicating and those in yellow or black are where the audience marked them.

The overall results are shown in Illustration 1. The students describing the locations lettered A-F were given a sheet with one of the pink lines. The yellow,and black letters A-F show where other students positioned these points. This is a bit crowded, but as you can see, there is quite a bit of variation in almost each location.  Some locations are easier to describe than others.  We should not be too critical of our experimental subjects.  The task might have been easier if the audience members had a map in front of them. However, not everyone can read a map and relate it to the ground.

Although the task of indicating positions on the ground is a common and obvious task for a guide, it asks a lot of the collective brains of the guide and audience. We are asking someone to look at a visual image and describe it in words which the audience then uses to construct their own image. (See Illustration 2.)  If we want to understand what some artist such as Constable saw it is far easier to look at the Hay Wain than to visualize the work from a description. Visual and verbal communication are processed in different ways, and even by different parts of the brain. Words may have a different meanings for audiences with a range of linguistic skills and vocabularies.

Explaining a visual image in words is a complex task for the speaker and the audience, however well chosen the words.
Illustration 2 Explaining a visual image in words is a complex task for the speaker and the audience, however well chosen the words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The answer may lie in making more use of panoramas, i.e. an annotated  sketch of the landscape from  the observer’s position.   A  couple of hundred years ago, when armies were starting to become professional, field sketching was a key skill for officers. The current issue of the Sandhurst Foundation’s “Wishstream “ magazine has an article about the staff of the Royal Military Academy in 1813. Until Ordnance survey maps became common, a sketch was the norm for pointing out the ground. The National Army Museum has a water-colour that is claimed to have been used on the battlefield of Waterloo.

Sketch map used on the field of Waterloo (National Army Museum)
Sketch map used on the field of Waterloo (National Army Museum)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Second world war it was not unknown for senior officers to practice the art.

Panorama drawn by Brigadier H J Parham  BRA 2nd Army from GR 013705 on the high ground North of Caen at 12.30 on 10th July 1944.
Panorama drawn by Brigadier H J Parham BRA 2nd Army from GR 013705 on the high ground North of Caen at 12.30 on 10th July 1944.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and even 1980s Cold War warriors were expected to draw an OP panorama.

 

Panorama's still expected of Gunner Forward Observers in the 1980s.   The OP's own less than artistic efforts on Munsterlager South Ranges from Wincklershohe scrapes (GR 7005 6535) on 2nd April 1984
Panorama’s still expected of Gunner Forward Observers in the 1980s. The OP’s own less than artistic efforts on Munsterlager South Ranges from Wincklershohe scrapes (GR 7005 6535) on 2nd April 1984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a secret behind Illustration 2 which means that the local guide, Clive Hallam Baker, shown addressing the Battlefields Trust Annual Conference  in April 2013, can be happy that his audience know the ground as he describes the ground.  The battlefield of Flodden has excellent interpretation boards showing panoramas illustrating the battle.

Panorama from the centre of the Scots position. These help excellent interpretation panels mean that visitors to the battlefield itself are rarely as confused as in our experiment.
Panorama from the centre of the Scots position. These help excellent interpretation panels mean that visitors to the battlefield itself are rarely as confused as in our experiment.

So perhaps battlefield guides should consider using panoramas as visual aids.   On most occasion guides know where they will wish to stop and talk. Modern cameras, mobile phones and tablets can capture panoramas; and Google street view allows for a “Virtual recce”.  The problem posed our experimental subjects would have disappeared if the audience had been given a panorama like this one, generated in 20 minutes.

Flodden panorama

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Frank Baldwin holds Badge No 8 of the Guild of Battlefield Guides
Frank Baldwin holds Badge No 8 of the Guild of Battlefield Guides

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