The Deadly Stroke
Edition: 2007 Pen & Sword PB
Author: Warren Tute
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: Oct 2007
Publisher & Date: Collins, London, 1973
ISBN: 0002111713 HB
On July 3 1940 the Royal Navy attacked and largely destroyed the French Fleet as it lay at its moorings in the harbour of Mers el Kebir. Only two weeks before, French and British had been allies in the war against Germany. To the French the action was murderous aggression; to the sailors who carried it out it seemed incomprehensible folly; to the British Government in London it was grim but unavoidable necessity. A 'Greek Tragedy' Churchill called it, and in the misunderstandings and misjudgments, the increasingly frenzied efforts of the protagonists to avoid disaster and the dreadful inevitability of the end, all the elements of tragedy were indeed present.
Lucidly and skilfully Warren Tute traces the events of those unhappy days: the Royal Navy steaming reluctantly towards its target; the long-drawn out negotiations under the broiling sun; the ten minutes of bombardment which shattered the French Fleet and killed some 1300 sailors. He has studied the action in all its aspects, interviewed many survivors and garnered a rich crop of new and significant information. This research joins with his thrilling powers of story-telling to provide a book of tremendous power, at once as exciting as any of his novels and a genuine contribution to history. To read 'The Deadly Stroke'is to live again one of the most dramatic moments of the Second World War.
Warren Tute was born in 1914 and entered the Royal Navy as a Cadet in 1932. His wartime service included a period on Earl Mountbatten's staff at Combined Operations, and he took part in the Normandy, Sicilian and North African landings. His last naval appointment was that of Deputy Secretary, Combined Operations Headquarters. He retired in 1946 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Subsequently he has worked in radio, television and the theatre, and has written highly successful books. His three novels with a naval background, The Cruiser and The Rock, & Leviathan have been particularly successful.
Royal Navy Versus the Slave Traders - Enforcing Abolition at Sea 1808 - 1898
Author: Bernard Edwards
Publishers: Pen & Sword Maritime
Publication Date: 2007
You could read the Epilogue first to understand the full meaning of the title, which you could be forgiven for thinking is wrong! 1808-1898, 1808, yes, but 1898? But it is true, it really did go on that long after the British Parliament passed the abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807. To say that itself, is an indictment on any nation that called itself civilised, but as the author points out "Today, two hundred years after the abolition, the memories of so many officers and men of the Royal Navy are drowned by the loud clamour of that same sovereign parliament’s political correctness for Britons to go down on their knees for their country’s role in the slave trade".
This is that same parliament that two centuries ago defied the rest of the world and committed, certainly at first, its depleted Navy to fight this foul trade. It cost the British Exchequer 36 million pounds in today’s money and more importantly the lives and health of thousands of officers and men of the Royal Navy.
In some respects it is ironic that the descendents of those that were not made slaves or saved from captivity now live in some of the poorest or most corrupt countries in the world, whilst the descendents of those transported mostly enjoy a comfortable life. This does of course not make it right, it just happens to be a fact.
I have visited every part of Africa whilst serving in the Royal Navy and this book rekindled many memories. I can still feel the heat of Sierra Leone and also recall that in Mombassa in about 1964, we employed African workers to paint the ship at the rate of two shillings a day plus bread and soup at lunchtime. This is probably not as bad as it sounds, bearing in mind what local wages may have been.
Page 1 brought to mind another book, because it reminds us of Captain Edward Fogarty Fegan of Jervis Bay fame who’s story is told in full in ‘If the Gods are Good’. The Captain of the Jervis Bay was only four years old when in May 1887 his father was involved in one of the last actions of the Royal Navy African Squadron, which so far has received scant recognition.
All over these British Islands our churches bear witness to some of those who are remembered in memorials on the walls, which record, ‘scared to the memory’ of these particular officers, seamen and marines. Whilst working in the City of London I visited many of the numerous churches, however I cannot recall visiting St Mary Woolnoth on the Corner of Lombard Street and King William Street, London EC3, which has a connection with the abolition of the slave trade.
Amazing grace! (how sweet
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see
We all know the words, but who wrote them and why? The answer is, John Newton who was at one time Captain of his own ship, one which plied the slave trade.
In 1780 John Newton become rector of St Mary Woolnoth, in London. There he drew large congregations and influenced many, among them William Wilberforce, who would one day become a leader in the campaign for the abolition of slavery. Newton continued to preach until the last year of life, although he was blind by that time. He died in London December 21, 1807 and was buried by the side of his wife in St. Mary Woolnoth.
His Epitaph reads "John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had laboured long to destroy."
The bodies of both were removed to Olney in 1893, when St. Mary's Church was cleared of all human remains when the Underground was built. Between 1897 - 1900, when Bank underground station was constructed, the church was undermined. After the bodies were removed from the vaults, lift shafts were sunk directly beneath St Mary Woolnoth. St. Mary, Woolchurch, which stood where the Mansion House now is, was not rebuilt after the Fire, and the parishes were united.
Naval Warfare in the English Channel 1939-1945
Edition: 1st HB
Author: Peter C Smith
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2007
From the year 1066 the English Channel has provided Great Britain with a natural defensive barrier, but never more than in the early days of World War Two. This book relates how the Royal Navy defended that vital seaway throughout the war. From the early days of the Dover Patrols, through the traumas of the Dunkirk evacuation, the battles of the Channel convoys; the war against the E-boats and U-boats; the tragic raids at Dieppe and St Nazaire; the escape of the German battle-fleet; coastal convoys; the Normandy landings and the final liberation of the Channel Islands. Many wartime photographs, charts and tables add to this superb account of this bitterly contested narrow sea
The English Channel - how is it defined? In his Introduction the author makes it clear.
‘Perhaps it is best to start by identifying the area which I have called 'The Narrow Sea', in order to avoid confusion or indignation over any omission. The western boundary can be defined by drawing a line from north to south, from the Scilly Isles past Land's End to the Isle of Ushant and the great French naval base of Brest. To the east of this line, the bulk of the English Channel can be found, narrowing to the funnel of the Straits of Dover and then abruptly opening out into the wide Thames Estuary and the southern North Sea. North of this, beyond the shifting Goodwin Sands and the maze of tiny creeks and mudflats that is the Essex coastline, is Harwich, the famous British naval base at the juncture of the Rivers Stour and Orwell. A second line, drawn almost due east of this port across to the Dutch coast at Rotterdam, marks the other boundary of the 'Narrow Sea'.’
What this book does not cover are battles fought by small craft. Coastal forces, that is MTBs, MGBs, MLs and Motor Minesweepers, because as the author points out these are covered in such volumes as Peter Scott’s 'Battle of the Narrow Seas' and Gordon Holman’s 'The Little Ships', to which one could add 'We Fought them in Gunboat' by Robert Hichens and 'Gunboat Command' by Antony Hichens, Pen & Sword Books 2007.
This book is a history of surface ships of the Royal Navy and the heroines of the book are the Destroyers about their many and varied duties. Of course other stars appear, however, as the author makes clear the book is about surface ships of the Royal Navy, when it was a Navy and when our moat was under siege.
The author does not disclose how much time he spent collating all these facts to cover so much, but he does acknowledge his gratitude to many for allowing him to quote from their books. One book not mentioned is 'The Epic of Dunkirk' by E Keble Chatterton, Hurst & Blackett Limited 1940. In that particular book none of the illustrations are identified, understandable in 1940. In the Bibliography of this book the author acknowledges the best book on Naval activity at Dunkirk to be 'Dunkirk' by AD Divine, Faber & Faber 1945. I agree that this author is particularly good and I have a copy of his book 'Destroyer War - A Million Miles by the 8th Flotilla' published in 1942. Perhaps the Destroyers’ finest moment was Dunkirk.
This a long and detailed story which I cannot hope to cover in a short Review, but I will end where the author ends, the Liberation of the Channel Islands, 8 May 1944.
'And so, finally, the fighting came to an end in the Channel and once again it became a free highway, the busiest traffic route in the world. Fittingly, one of the most symbolic events of those times, the surrender of the German garrisons in the Channel Islands, was received by two of the veterans of the old Dover Patrol, the destroyers Beagle and Bulldog. No more apt vessels could have been chosen to represent the scores of small craft which had contested that narrow stretch of waterway for so long. The next day another famous Flotilla Leader, HMS Faulknor, (See Destroyer Leader, HMS Faulknor 1935-1946, Peter C Smith, Pen & Sword 2004) embarked the German senior officers who had defied us for a whole year and took them to Plymouth. Thus ended the battle for control of the English Channel. One of the survivors of those epic days, who served aboard both regular destroyers and the little Hunts of the 1st Flotilla during the grimmest period of the war, later wrote to me of the memories that stretch of water holds for him now:
Hold the Narrow Sea? Yes we did hold, but at what cost... .'
March to the South Atlantic
42 Commando Royal Marines in The Falklands War
Edition: 2007 paperback (1st Published 1986)
Author: Nick Vaux
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher's Title Information
This splendid and inspiring book is a first hand account of a Royal Marine Commando at war written by the man who led them.
From the moment the author, then the Commanding Officer of 42 Commando Royal Marines gave his famous order 'To the South Atlantic - Quick March' to the final return home he describes what going to war with 42 Commando was like. Here are the authentic details of danger, frustration, fatigue, courage and endurance - just some of the emotions experienced during those fateful weeks and months of 1982. We learn too of the Argentine enemy whose leaders put them in such danger only to abandon them. It was the men of 'Four-Two' that took part in the re-capture of South Georgia and, later, South Thule. They also had to hold Challenger Ridge in atrocious conditions and went on to seize Mount Harriet in a daring night assault. All this is superbly described in this delightful book along with the fascinating array of characters, be the military, civilian, journalist etc all thrown together to achieve a common cause - namely the restitution of British rule over a remote corner of the globe.
Nick Vaux served in the Royal Marines for over thirty years all around the world. In 1956, as a Second Lieutenant in 45 Commando, Royal Marines he took part in the first opposed heliborne assault at Suez. Twenty five years later, in the Falklands War he commanded 42 Commando and was awarded the DSO. During the intervening years he served in various units in the Mediterranean and Far East before commanding an RM detachment aboard a frigate in the West Indies. Subsequently he attended the Army Staff College at Camberley and later served as a Special Advisor to the USMC at Quantico, Virginia. As the NATO role for 3 Commando Brigade changed in the 1970s he spent a number of winters in North Norway specialising in arctic warfare. 42 Commando had just returned from a three month training period there before deploying on Operation Corporate. After the war he was promoted and subsequently attended the Royal College of Defence Studies, before eventually commanding Commando Forces Royal Marines until his retirement as a Major General in 1990.
In his second career Nick Vaux set up and managed a number of security companies in Russia and the Gulf and was for a time an advisor to the House of Commons Defence Committee. He retained his Service links initially as President of the Royal Marines Association and subsequently as President of the Royal British Legion in Devon. He has been Chairman of Exeter Racecourse for the past five years and is a Deputy Lieutenant of Devon. His interests are his family, racing, travel, and training gun dogs. He lives in the countryside on the edge of Dartmoor.
Admiralty Salvage In Peace & War 1906-2006
Published 22 August 2007
Pen & Sword
The complete story of Admiralty Salvage over its first 80 years.
As a shipwreck historian, I encounter many tales of lost vessels and attempts to recover all or part after they have either run aground or been sunk. Not least amongst these stories are tales of war and the recovery of ships (and aircraft) with which the Admiralty has an interest.
In this book, author Tony Booth gives the most complete account of salvage as directed by the Admiralty since it’s very inception in 1906 right up to the present day. It is a fine work and one which will be of great interest to any person engaged in diving on shipwrecks and the history of British official naval salvage.
To cite just two examples; The full story of HMS Montagu (a 14,000 ton state-of-the-art Duncan class battleship which ran aground on Lundy Island in 1906) reveals how this ship was needlessly lost despite the best efforts of the man placed in charge of her recovery. Elsewhere, a complete account of the loss of RMS Laurentic and her cargo of gold is relived in vivid fashion. Like so many other stories in this excellent work, they are both quite incredible.
Although I would have preferred to find more than the thirty black and white photographs which are found together in the middle of the book, it did not spoil my enjoyment of this, altogether first class account of a specific area of salvage - through times of peace and war which included two world wars and two Gulf Wars to name but four.
Arctic Convoys 1941-1945
Author: Richard Woodman
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2007
During the last four years of the Second World War, the Western Allies secured Russian defences against Germany by supplying vital food and arms. The plight of those in Murmansk and Archangel who benefited is now well known, but few are aware of the courage, determination and sacrifice of Allied merchant ships, which withstood unremitting U-boat attacks and aerial bombardment to maintain the lifeline to Russia. In the storms, fog and numbing cold of the Arctic, where the sinking of a 10, 000 ton freighter was equal to a land battle in terms of destruction, the losses sustained were huge. Told from the perspective of their crews, this is the inspiring story of the long-suffering merchant ships without which Russia would almost certainly have fallen to Nazi Germany.
Reviews to Date
‘An admirable work of scholarship ... It is also a gripping narrative, filled with stories of bravery, self-sacrifice and sheer doggedness which at times defy credibility’ John Keegan, Daily' Telegraph
‘For sheer heroism and brazen drama the icy saga Woodman tells is hard to beat’ Frank McLynn - Literary Review
I recall an author who my mother was rather fond of in the 1960s - Godfrey Winn. At that time all of his books I had seen appeared to be on gardening. I did not at that time associate his name with PQ17 until I read his war books, which include 'PQ17' and 'Home from the Sea'. PQ17 was an Arctic Convoy.
This current book covers all Arctic convoys. In his book 'Convoy the Defence of the Sea Trade 1890-1990' published by Michael Joseph in 1983, John Winton describes the Arctic convoys as "always basically unsound". He continues
'Yet, in spite of their grim reputation, the Arctic convoys were in fact some of the safest of all. Convoy in the Arctic saved a great many ships which would have been sunk. From the first trial DERVISH convoy which sailed from Hvalfjord to Archangel in August 1941 until the last RA67 arrived in the Clyde on 31 May 1945, forty-two convoys sailed eastward to Russia, and thirty-six returned. Outward-bound, 813 ships sailed, of which thirty-three returned prematurely because of the weather, ice, or some other reason, and fifty eight were sunk by u-boats, aircraft or surface-ship action. Homeward bound, 717 ships sailed, eight returned prematurely, and twenty-six were lost to enemy action.
Of the fifty-eight outward ships lost, forty-three were from three convoys, PQ16, PQ17 and PQ18, which sailed in the perpetual daylight of the summer of 1942. Twenty-three were from PQ17, which actually lost only two ships whilst it was still a convoy before it was ordered to scatter. After the convoy had dispersed, the remnants formed small ‘rump’ convoys with whatever trawlers and corvettes of the escort were nearest. All but two of the thirteen ships in these ‘rump’ convoys reached harbour safely. The twenty-one remaining ships which proceeded independently had a melancholy fate: of these, nineteen were lost. Thus, the great majority of PQ17's casualties were not in convoy at all when they were lost.
Of the homeward-bound convoys, the greatest loss was suffered by QP13 (the convoys were lettered PQ out, after Cmdr P Q Roberts RN in the Admiralty Trade Section, and QP homeward) in July 1942, when a navigational error led the convoy over a British minefield. Five ships and the minesweeper Niger were sunk'.
The full story of PQ17 as far as we will ever know has been recorded elsewhere. Godfrey Winns’s book is worth reading as is 'The Convoy is to Scatter' Broome, William Kimber 1972 and 'PQ17 - Convoy to Hell' Lund P & Ludlam H, New English Library 1969. There are other individual books such as 'Arctic Victory The story of convoy PQ18' Smith PC, Kimber 1975. These and many others are listed in the Bibliography.
As the author pointed out in 1994 "To a generation of Britons now in middle age, the Soviet Union was the Bogeyman of the Cold War in whose shadow they grew up and raised their children". Your Reviewer was one of that generation, whose entire Royal Naval service was spent preparing to face that threat. It is good that we should be aware of these things and remember them now that times have changed and Russia is once again the friend!
This book is a very full account of all the Arctic convoys an as such a major contribution to the field. It is told from the perspective of the crews and is filled with stories of bravery right up to the Spring of 1945 when the last convoy sailed for Russia. JW65 left the Clyde on 11 March and RA67 was the last, albeit because of the knowledge that numerous Nazis were still out there in U-Boats the system continued for several weeks. Writing of them in 1952 Nicholas Monsarrat said of them, "For Nazi Germany was not a nation of honest dupes and simple soldiers: they knew, all of them, exactly what they wanted, and they were prepared to go to any lengths to get it. They sing sweetly enough now (and others sing for them): everything now is love, and hands-across-the-trenches. It was, in fact, all a frightful mistake. But twice in this century it has been a mistake: twice these people, and no other, have engulfed the world in misery and bloodshed, in pursuit of their dream of power. The mistake, of course, then as now, was in losing. We forget this at our peril. Among the worst of these willing servants of world enslavement were the men serving in German U-boats."
It must have been a wonderful relief when the British Admiralty transmitted the message that by order of the German High Command all U-Boats were to surface at once, report to their positions and proceed to specified ports. A lot of people must have said to themselves that day 'Lets go home', or perhaps as Lieutenant-Commander George Eastwood Ericson RNR (The Cruel Sea) said, "I must say I’m damned tired".
The Battle of Jutland
Author: Jon Sutherland & Diane Canwell
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher’s Title Information
The Battle of Jutland was the greatest naval engagement of the First World War, if not any war. The events leading up to the battle gave the indication that it would be a major British naval victory. But as it would transpire the results were a lot less clear-cut.
It had been the German vessels that had soured relations between Britain and Germany, but in the end the fleet had proved inadequate. Whilst the Germans claimed a victory, in Britain, Jutland was celebrated as another Trafalgar.
In this brand new account of this colossal sea battle, the authors draw on official reports and despatches, as well as notable accounts by those such as Rudyard Kipling. The battle is placed in its context in the war and the opposing fleets and commanders are examined. The initial German plan and the British response provided the catalyst for the engagement and the battle cruiser and fleet action is examined in detail, drawing on eyewitness accounts.
The five distinct phases of the battle began with the first encounter between the opposing battle cruisers. The second phase saw the Germans pursuing what they believed to be the British fleet. Then suddenly they came under heavy bombardment from the British main fleet under Jellicoe. After Admiral Scheer failed to escape into the Baltic, the final phase was fought with the Germans in full retreat.
The book analyses the damage assessment on both sides and their true losses. A full order of battle is provided, with many illustrations of the key commanders. An extensive bibliography and reference section supports the work.
Amphibious Assault Falklands
Authors: Michael Clapp & Ewen Southby-Tailyour
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher’s title Information
Since he was in charge of the amphibious operations in the Falklands War, it goes without saying that there is no one better qualified to tell the story of that aspect of the campaign than Commodore Michael Clapp. Here he describes, with considerable candour, some of the problems met in a Navy racing to war and finding it necessary to recreate a largely abandoned operational technique in a somewhat ad hoc fashion. During the time it took to ‘go south’ some sense of order was imposed and a not very well defined command structure evolved, this was not done without generating a certain amount of friction. He tells of why San Carlos Water was chosen for the assault and the subsequent inshore operations. Michael Clapp and his small staff made their stand an can claim a major role in the defeat of the Argentine Air and Land Forces.
Although two names are given on the cover, this book is Michael Clapp's narrative account of his time as Commander Amphibious Task Group during the Falklands War. Ewen Southby-Tailyour, as a source of advice and information on the Falkland Islands at the time of the conflict undoubtedly provided the same at the time of writing.
Michael Clapp delivers a very straight account of the events in which he was involved. He gives the facts only of any actions that he did not observe first hand or was not directly involved in, such as the land battles away from landing areas. In this, he is very professional as he gives the reader information, which may be shocking but does not comment or condemn. On the other hand, we are left in no doubt as to his thoughts and feelings regarding those actions over which he had command or was directly involved in.
The political climate of 1982 was still 'Cold War' and as such, the UK military capacity and objective had been tailored to suit defence of the Eastern flank of Europe with military supremacy through nuclear submarine operations. The amphibious role was viewed as obsolete by many and the assets, skills and support necessary for this type of warfare had been decommissioned (Bulwark and Albion), neglected (reduction to a minimum of amphibious units) and reassigned (Command structure lacked experienced personnel).
The aspirations of the Argentinians toward the 'Malvinas' was known and only the year before a report had stated that the invasion was likely and had raised concerns over the UKs capability to defend and retake the Islands.
Against this background and amidst the confusion and disbelief that UK territory firstly had been invaded and secondly was to be retaken by military action, COMAW as he now became was tasked with preparing an amphibious force. The general opinion, of those in authority, throughout the coming conflict was that the affair would be settled by diplomatic and political means and that any military action was purely to bolster this. He admits himself that, although he held the rank of Commodore, he was viewed as a relatively junior officer in the Command structure of the Royal Navy, with a role regarded as obsolete and as such found few truly committed or understanding allies.
One very valuable exception was Brigadier Julian Thompson of the Royal Marines, Commander Landing Force (CLF) with whom the author would live and work closely throughout the conflict. Along with their staff, constantly battling the apathy and reluctance of those above them and also those with political influence, they managed to put together an amphibious force, arm and supply them, transport them 8000 miles (training en-route), put them ashore, defend and support them and, with the belated assistance of another infantry brigade and a carrier group whose primary concern was self- preservation, establish the foundations for the eventual retaking of the Falkland Islands.
This was no mean feat when you consider that the amphibious group comprised many individual units drawn from the British Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force, Royal Fleet Auxilliary and Merchant Navy. Many of these had never worked together and had no experience of amphibious warfare or the needs and expectations of the others. Much credit is given to the Special Forces and 3rd Commando Brigade for the establishment of secure landing zones, whilst the tenacity and dedication of the Ships crews (service and civilian), Soldiers not normally amphibious (primarily the Paras) and Aircrews (where tasked and authorised) led to the overall success of the operation.
Throughout his account, the author uses extracts from his personal diaries and writings as well as official signals to give the reader an insight into the thoughts and feelings of those involved. His experience of the highs and lows of warfare, the frustration and anxiety of command, decision making based on intelligence, experience and political pressure along with the calculated risks involved are all conveyed to the reader. Overall, the book delivers an excellent account of the Falklands War and a graphic insight into modern British warfare.
Photographs, Glossary, appendices and index complement the main book.
A singularly credible account.
2007 sees the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War of 1982. In the UK at least, it seems as though everyone and each of our television channels is reliving that war in one way or another. Some authors and commentators are simply climbing onto the bandwagon with material which, to put it simply, is suspect. NOT SO!, with this book.
Michael Clapp was "Commodore Amphibious Warfare" during the Falklands War and co-author Ewen Southby-Tailyour was a serving Royal Marine Officer during that same conflict and whose knowledge of the waters of the Falklands was so invaluable before, during and even after the landings. It was Southby-Tailyour who warned the officer in charge (Not!, the Commanding Officer I hasten to add) of the party of Welsh Guardsmen on board the "Sir Galahad" to get ashore before they were attacked and offered assistance to this end. That officer, incidentally, refused the request and the Sir Galahad was later attacked with great loss of life.
Those then are the credentials of the two men who have collaborated in the writing of this book. It is an important historic document.
The Captain of any ship is “Master” of that ship. He also commands all the ship’s boats and is ultimately responsible for ensuring the safe embarkation and disembarkation of all on board. From ship’s lifeboats (even life-rafts) to assault craft, considerable training and expertise is required in getting passengers safely away and safely ashore. Never more so than when under fire from a belligerent enemy.
In early 1982, a hastily assembled Royal Navy Task Force was steaming towards the Falkland Islands, which had been invaded by a foreign force. The British troops on board the various ships were tried and tested veterans of Northern Ireland but had no experience of what was to come. Worse still, apart from the Commandos, most had little or no experience in going to war by sea.
The responsibility for putting them safely ashore, rested with their Royal Navy ‘chauffeurs’ and that responsibility came down to Michael Clapp. In this book he reveals with considerable honesty, the full story of the events that led to the resultant victory on land. In so doing he had to adopt old forgotten methods in a bid to find common ground for all concerned. It upset some, but then nobody likes change foisted upon them, especially senior officers. Point is, it worked!
The reasons why San Carlos Water was chosen is fully explained and, with hindsight, is probably the one single factor more than any other, that led to the eventual victory.
I can identify with a no-nonsense, straight-talking officer, who cares not what feathers he may ruffle when given an important task. It says much for his style and the decisions he took, that nobody senior officer or below, has ever challenged his honesty or the importance of this book.
For those with an interest in the Falklands war of 1982, this is essential reading.
(Retired British army major)
Sink the French - At War with our Ally - 1940
Author: David Wragg
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher's Title Information
The victorious German Blitzkrieg assault on Holland, Belgium and Northern France inevitably placed Anglo-French relations under huge strain.
Against the background of the fall of France, Sink The French examines the events of that fateful May and June, most particularly the highly controversial hostilities that ensued. It studies the confused situation amid the chaos of devastating defeat compounded by the real British fears of complicity with the victorious Nazis by the Vichy French government under Petain. It studies the sudden appearance on the scene of a relatively junior general, the then virtually unknown Charles de Gaulle, who was smuggled out of France by the RAF on the night of 16/17 June to keep the torch of resistance and freedom alive in exile.
Of particular importance was the threat posed by the French Navy, the fourth largest in the world, should it fall into German hands and the drastic measures that were deemed necessary to neutralise it. French ships were boarded and seized by the British and, most controversially, their Fleet at anchor in Oran was comprehensively bombarded by the Royal Navy with tragic loss of life. This episode was to have long-lasting repercussions on Anglo-French relations. As this superbly researched book reveals, there were numerous other incidents, such as the bombing of Gibraltar by French aircraft, a number of which have received scant attention from historians.
For a well-written account of this low point in the Entente Cordiale, this book is unlikely to be bettered.
The most difficult political decision laid bare.
The dark years of World War Two were difficult years for France. On the one hand they were an occupied nation required to comply with the wishes of their dominant German overlords who had installed a puppet government at Vichy. On the other side of this country’s commitment to it’s own freedom was the rallying call of resistance from a very junior - and relatively unknown, Brigadier-General Charles De Gaulle, who had fled to England in fear of his life. In a curious collaboration between the elected and the military favoured by France, De Gaulle had been appointed to a junior government ministerial post as a serving brigadier in the French Army. After German occupation, when the entire country was in a state of complete chaos, De Gaulle had suggested a plan of action which, although finding favour with his own Prime Minister, was not well-received by the remainder of the cabinet at all. Consequently, De Gaulle fled for his life and Marshall Petain, then Deputy Prime Minister, took over the reins of government.
Against this turbulent background, the French possessed what was then the fourth largest navy in the world and had that navy fallen into German hands, it would have done much to make Germany fairly invincible on the high seas.
This book examines in great detail the confused political situation and the very real British fears that, in conjunction with the Vichy government, French warships were in serious danger of being handed over to Nazi Germany as an act of appeasement.
The French sailors who manned those ships were given every opportunity to sail out of harbour and join the British Fleet whilst still remaining a "Free French Navy." Sadly, those many entreaties were all turned down. As a consequence, the order was given to "Sink the French" and there was not one British sailor amongst those who took part who rejoiced.
Thoroughly researched, well put together and written in a readable style, this author turns an important historic act into an account which brings a great deal of understanding to both French and British readers, of why and how this tragic event became necessary.
War of the U-Boats, British Merchantmen under Fire
Author: Bernard Edwards
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher’s Title Information
From the earliest days of the Second World War, Hitler’s U-Boats were unleashed with the mission of sinking as much Allied merchant tonnage as possible. From the sinking of the Glasgow-based ship Olivegrove by U-23, to the end of hostilities six years later officers and seamen of the Merchant Marine played a key role in winning the war by their blatant disregard of the risks from Axis forces. The most dangerous were the U-Boats working unseen but there were also surface raiders and aircraft. All too often the result was the loss of ship, cargo and, tragically, crew. But as described in this excellent book great gallantry against overwhelming odds brought rewards and surprising results. We learn of acts of both chivalry and brutal activity by the enemy. The actions described in this book are varied but always make for excellent reading.
This is an excellent book for disobeying the King (Alice in Wonderland).
'The White Rabbit put on his spectacles.'Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?' he asked.
'Begin at the beginning', the King said gravely,'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'
It isn't necessary to do this with this book although it would be perfectly natural, each chapter is a separate story and in a sense it makes it more interesting and easy to read.
As an ex-Royal Navy man I welcomed the Glossary which is at the front of the book because I have to admit there are words familiar to Merchant Seamen which have no use throughout the Royal Navy, eg I did not know that,'Black Gang' meant 'Firemen and Trimmers'! Also the middle watch in the RN means midnight until 4am - noon to 4pm is the afternoon watch and not another middle watch, which this Glossary states.
I think I will push my luck with the King who said 'give your evidence and don't be nervous, or I'll have you executed on the spot' (Alice again) and quote from the end of the book at Chapter 17, 'When Will We Learn'.
"We had experienced a full gale, and run the gauntlet of an attack by U-boats. And now we were homeward bound. It may have been a lack of visibility in the increasing darkness; it may have been merely foolish imagination. But as I walked along the deck towards the door of the engine-room I could have sworn I saw the shape of a ship. A British tramp she was, and her torn hull lay very low in the cross-seas. Her broken masts, her emptied lifeboat davits were ghostly mockeries of what they had been. And then a group of misted figures gathered from nowhere about her mainmast and hauled aloft a shadowy rag. I fancied I could hear that infinitely brave little group shout: 'The enemy had none of that colour!' And the tattered remnants of a Red Ensign fluttered in the night wind ...
As quick as it had come, the vision was gone. I had a feeling, out there in mid-ocean, that it was tragic the British Houses of Parliament could not send all those politicians, and the British industry all its experts and planners concerned with post-war policies, on one voyage in a salt-water tramp. Just one voyage, preferably between Britain and America, where they would see the real effects of an enemy torpedo on a ship carrying food and supplies; where they would see the shattered seamen and shattered ships. Some of those ships should never have been afloat. But they were. And they went bravely on, voyage after eight-knot voyage, showing the Flag to an ever-decreasing number of astonished and awe-stricken crews of Hitler's U-Boats."
"Journalist and ship's engineer Warren Armstrong wrote these poignant words over sixty years ago. World War II was then drawing to a close, a war which Great Britain had embarked on with a fleet of over 4,000 merchant ships. When that bitter conflict ended and the final reckoning was made, 2,246 of those ships and 28,180 men had fallen to the enemy - twenty ships a week going down at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic. Britain had survived, but only through the supreme efforts of her merchant seamen, who had kept the sea lanes open at such great cost. Yet no one heeded the advice given by Warren Armstrong and so many others who had been in the thick of it. As the first peal of the Victory bells rang out, politicians, planners and industrialists - not one having tasted life in a salt-water tramp - smartly turned their backs on Britain's Merchant Navy. All the sacrifices of those six punishing years, when Britain had been kept fed and armed for war, had been in vain. Those gallant, unsophisticated men, one in every three who had set sail from these shores, had died for nothing.
The danger was not immediately apparent, for with a broken world to mend, the post-war years brought about a boom in shipping. Britain's merchant fleet prospered and grew fat again. By 1950, the Red Ensign flew over a quarter of the world's ships, and looked set to regain its former eminence. The lot of the merchant seaman improved dramatically. Most of the old ships had gone, sent to the bottom by the enemy's torpedoes. Their replacements would win no awards for excellence of build, but there was a new mood of generosity abroad. This change of attitude came not through any sudden surge of gratitude on the part of the nation or her shipowners, but as a direct result of the grievous losses suffered by the Merchant Navy during the war. The industry had lost a third of its trained workforce in the space of six years and was, in 1945, scraping the bottom of its manpower barrel. Accommodation, for officers and men, became more spacious, and amenities were improved; many of the new-age ships boasted the hitherto unheard of luxury of fresh water piped to all cabins. Food, always an important part of a seaman's life, took a turn for the better."
This book is a tribute to these men who have never been given sufficient praise for their deeds. Some individuals were given bravery awards, eg Neale Mitchell of the Inishtrahull, who was awarded the George Medal; the story is told in Chapter 7.
Decorations were only sparingly handed out to 'non-combatant' merchant seaman.
I am not sure how true the incident portrayed was in 'The Malta Story' when Ohio barely afloat, entered Grand Harbour Malta and the Admiral ordered 'The Still' in a Salute. The bugler said "But she isn't a warship Sir." He said, "Isn't she?" It may have been a bit of poetic licence but surely they were all Warships?
This is a revised and extended edition of a book first published in 1989 under the title: 'The Fighting Tramps', written by a former Merchant Naval Officer, Bernard Edwards, who trained towards the end of World War 11. An authoritative Naval historian, he uses his working knowledge of a mariner’s life to describe with great empathy the experiences of the seamen from 67 years ago.
The book captures the true experiences of the Merchant Navy at war and the gallantry of the 29,180 men of the British Service who lost their lives to the conflict of WW11. Many of these men had already lived through WW1 in which 2,479 ships and 14,789 men had perished.
The opening chapter begins with an almost nostalgic description of the 'Halcyon Years' of British Merchant shipping in the 1930’s; leading up to World War 11. The Tramp-Steamer men 'looked after their own' - bad diet, health and living quarters were reason enough alongside the demanding work environment.
The author gives the broader picture of the developing war and political situations, in which Western Europe has been invaded and is under the iron jackboot of Wermacht rule. Great Britain stands in peril of invasion with only the surrounding sea and Merchant Navy supplies from North America to keep the Germans at bay.
Unlike Royal Naval Servicemen, the men of the Merchant Navy had their pay stopped from the moment their ships sank. Knowing this, the Merchant Navy’s international crew took the view that any warlike action to their ship was personal, despite having no allegiance to the flag she flew.
Dark, deeply atmospheric, the menace of the U-boat is clearly portrayed. From the earliest stages of World War 11, Hitler’s unseen U-boats were mercilessly unleashed to destroy as much allied Merchant Navy shipping as they detected. Germans unknowingly sank merchant ships faster than the British and Americans could make them.
In September 1940, 60 ships alone were sunk, most armed only with a single WW1 vintage 4 inch gun mounted on the stern. The vital Royal Naval escort ships were desperately insufficient in number, for the immense task of protection placed on them.
Actions at sea are superbly described, with vivid accounts of the emotional and physical demands of individually named and well-researched participants, bringing a shocking reality to readers. Many selfless actions such as those taken by Radio Officers, transmitting ‘SOS’ messages as their ship sank are recorded.
Survivors in lifeboats, were subject to U-boat’s machine guns in a brazen attempt to ensure no witnesses were left to report the Germans for breach of International Maritime Law, the Geneva Convention and for flouting the lore of the ‘Brethren of the Sea’.
Post German invasion, Russia expected Great Britain to undertake 2,000 mile relief convoys from Britain, to Iceland then Murmansk - enduring twenty-four hour bombing in temperatures of -80 degrees.
Little known facts are imparted, such as the humiliation experienced by British Sailors on arrival in Russia. They were reviled as 'outcasts from a Capitalist system'. This included the exhausted crews of Convoy PQ17, who had experienced the loss of 24 ships of 35 and 130,000 tons of supplies to U-boat attack.
Survivors’ nerves were understandably raw after each convoy trip. Crews inevitably returned to sea, to be sunk several times and possibly interred in a German POW camp. Post-war health issues persisted, alongside the premature death of many.
With 'God’s Will and British Determination' - the British Merchant Navy kept the people of Britain fed, and our Services armed. This book describes the debt we owe. Not one word is wasted.