Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Arras and After

Over the last two weeks I've been telling the story of the Arras counter attack. They can be found here:
Part one and Part two.

Now one of the more interesting things during writing the article was the difference in sources. Not the facts, but the styles and information given. So I figured I'd post the main sources I used here for you lot to read.

First we have the official report:
Page One
Page Two
Page Three
Page Four
Page Five

And now a News paper article on the battle, remember this was written during the war, and so had to be somewhat careful:

There was another news paper article, but well it was from a tabloid and about as much use a bicycle for a fish, the headline is pure tabloid though:

I also used an audio recording from the Imperial War Museum interviews. If you don't know, some time ago the IWM went around and got hold of every veteran they could find and interviewed them about their experiences in the Second World War. Over the last few years they've been digitising the archive and putting them up on the web.

Here's the interviews for the fight around Warlus, which wasn't very accurately described, and when writing I found it lacked the fine details the other parts of the battle had.

Finally an interesting thought. While looking for pictures I noticed something interesting. These two Matildas were pictured after being knocked out at Arras:

Now that lead Matilda looks pretty unburnt, and no signs of damage. Well, there's another picture:

I've seen quite a lot of pictures of tanks that have been hit, and looking closely at the second picture it looks very odd. It looks to me like someone has doused it in flammable liquid and lobbed a match on it. For example on the gun mantle, you'll spot a line of flames on a part that normally has nothing there to burn. So I'm suspecting the German propaganda machine in full flow there.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Part one

The right hand column was not doing as well. Initially its battle had gone much the same as the other column. Although it was late to the start line, it had rolled directly into the attack, starting at the correct time. It had just skipped brief liaison meetings with the infantry. Nevertheless the column destroyed a number of transports, captured about 100 Germans and the village of Duisans. The next village was Warlus, which is where things began to go wrong. The enemy was reported in strength with some tanks.
About 1600 as the column attempted to get around Warlus tanks were spotted to the east. The anti-tank battery was in position and watching them. The tanks carried no markings. These mystery tanks then turned in towards the anti-tank guns obviously having spotted them. The anti-tank guns held their fire, after all there were French tanks in the area. Then the mystery tanks opened fire destroying one of the guns and killing two men. The remaining two pounder replied firing five shots in rapid succession and destroyed four of the tanks. It was at this point the tanks had closed and spotted that they were British, the hatches flew open and French crews emerged. The commander later apologised for his mistake.
Its interesting to note the lack of markings was a common problem with French tanks. In an earlier situation a battery of French 75mm guns had taken a French tank under fire, but luckily realised its mistake before it was too late. Despite all this Warlus was cleared.
By now the advance had penetrated fifteen miles but was running out of steam. So all the columns were ordered to retreat to two locations and dig in, Beaurains for the left hand column, and Warlus for the right hand column. Overhead a German plane droned in the sky.
This German spotter noted the gathering of the forces moving into the strong points, and with that information the Germans began to plan their next move. They gathered over 100 planes and with total air superiority launched a twenty minute dive bombing attack on the two strong-points starting about 1815.

At Beaurains the infantry were forced to abandon their position and at about 2100 the infantry were holding a line with the tanks behind them. The officers of both forces were having an orders meeting to decide what to do next when tanks were heard approaching. The Adjutant of the tank forces declared they were British, perhaps the missing A12 Matilda Seniors? So he walked about 300 yards out to guide them in. In the failing darkness he saw five of the missing twenty ton tanks, and began to flag them down. Shocked by his sudden appearance the lead tank skidded to a halt, just short of the Adjutant. He confidently strode over to the tank and banged on the driver's vision port with his map case, which he just happened to be holding. The driver's head popped out of the hatch, and it was at that moment the British officer realised the uniform was German. The German yelled in surprise and closed up and the Adjutant ran for it with the Germans firing enthusiastically down the road behind him from their Panzer IV's.
When the Adjutant reached friendly lines he found his tanks alerted by the German firing and they had moved up to cover the infantry. A blistering fire-fight developed between the A11's and the Panzer IV's, however neither side was able to hurt the other. This exchange of fire lasted for about ten minutes, which was ended by one of the A11's firing its smoke grenades. The smoke obscured both sides from the other for a short while then the fighting began anew. By now the Matilda's were running low on ammunition and it was getting dark. Luckily about this point the German tanks broke contact and left. Knowing more tanks would be coming, and without a defensible position the left hand column began its retreat. When the tanks returned to their starting point one tank commander was startled to find his tank had taken 26 direct hits from German guns with no penetrations.

On the right flank after the air attacks the enemy armour advanced. At Warlus there were a few French tanks stationed, the crews had bailed out and were hiding under their tanks after the Stuka attack. With the appearance of the German armour a British officer went around and shook the French crews from their cover and back into their tanks. They immediately took the German armour under fire knocking out one enemy tank. The rest of the Germans fled. Then the French tank commander informed the British he had to leave, and led his handful of tanks away, claiming he would return.
The Germans then found several 2 pounder guns waiting for them. In short order they had lost well over twenty tanks. Elsewhere the German armour was stopped by British anti-tank guns, which reaped a considerable toll in destroyed German vehicles.
However pressure further along the line of advance had cut off Warlus, after many hours the order to withdraw came down, as the British forces were outnumbered and being attacked from the flank. At Warlus the British infantry managed to load their entire force on vehicles, and were preparing for a dash down the road to friendly lines when they heard tanks approaching. Luckily it was the French officer and three S-35's. Placing one of his tanks in the lead and one in the rear the motorised column managed to breakout of the German counter attack, and back to friendly lines.

Talking about the sources can be found here.

Image credits:

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Tank Terror

Tank terror is that moment when the infantryman realises he can't do anything to hurt the steel monster clanking towards him filled with malice and doom, and it's heading right towards him. At that point he gets up and runs. The term was coined during the Blitzkrieg in 1940 that conquered France. But on one occasion the markings on the tanks weren't German crosses, but the white squares of the BEF.
The Arras counter attack is one of the interesting battles from the summer of 1940, it points out the lesson that most commanders need to learn: the enemy can always surprise you. Rommel is reported to have suffered an attack of tank terror, and panicked reporting hundreds of tanks crushing his lines. It caused the Germans to halt their dash for the Channel, giving the Allies two days extra. This was time that would be very beneficial at Dunkirk.

As the Germans pushed their armoured spearhead into France the Allies laid plans for a large counter attack on the southern shoulder of the penetration. It was decided to try to support that attack with a push from the north with whatever forces could be spared. To this end the 5th Infantry and 50th Northumbrian Division along with the 1st Army Tank Brigade were dispatched to the Arras sector. When the units began to trickle into their staging area near Vimy Ridge, they found the area thinly held, with a French armoured unit to the east of Arras. Much of the infantry force were diverted to hold the line, this did however free up sixty S-35 tanks to take part in the attack. With these forces in place an attempt was made to plan the attack on the 20th of May, however things were hampered simply by not knowing what forces would be available.
Overnight the infantry and the 1st Army Tank Brigade began to arrive. They were quickly told to obtain as much rest as possible while the battle was planned. These units had been marching, moving and fighting for several days previously and were utterly exhausted. At 0600 the final planning session was carried out. The plan was simple, the forces available would form two flying columns of equal size. The tanks would lead a short distance in front of the infantry, so if they ran into enemy armour they could screen the infantry. If they ran into a strongly defended position they could wait until the supporting arms caught up and mount a combined attack.
Those of you who are paying attention will realise that this is Blitzkrieg, which according to many writers and commentators the British didn't know how to do or had ignored the development of. So I think we can safely put that popular myth to bed.
Each column would consist of a regiment of tanks, rebalanced so both regiments had equal numbers of Matilda Seniors (seven each), a battalion of infantry and a single battery each of two pounder anti-tank guns and 18 pounder artillery. The remainder of the infantry forces were to be held in reserve. Meanwhile the French tanks would push up on the flank of the right hand column.

The defensive mindset of the French up until that part of the war was shown when moving up to the start line. It was found that the Germans actually held positions on the British side of the start line which had needed to be cleared out first. However despite this the tanks still rolled across the start line at 1400 as planned.
The left hand column started heading towards Dainville as fast as its tracks could carry it. Almost immediately they ran into the enemy. A railway line in a cutting ran across the line of advance, leaving only limited number of crossing points which the Germans held. The seven Matilda Seniors were sent forward to clear the Germans out, however they were never seen again. It’s likely that in the confusion which also extended to communications they either got lost or were disabled in some other fashion. Once past this obstacle the infantry tanks ploughed into the enemy columns and ripped through an artillery park, easily smashing the enemy. They quickly mopped up the area. Seeing the devastation caused on the all mighty Germans buoyed up the spirits of the men and kept them moving despite being exhausted. The attack continued, enemy AT guns tried ambushing the on rushing Matildas but were utterly ineffective. Enemy transport was shot up and even enemy tanks retreated when the column approached. Casualties were light, although they did include the Battalion Commander who was injured when his light tank, which he was using to lead the attack was hit by a German field gun. Germans began to surrender, one A11 Matilda investigating a gravel pit found a large number of Germans lying low hoping not to be spotted. Others reported that the Germans were walking towards them unbuckling their equipment belts and handing them in to Matilda crews through the hatches.
With this wild success the left hand column was advancing further and faster than the left hand column, so it was ordered to capture the town of Beaurains and dig in. Overall the left hand column had captured about 400 Germans.

Part Two can be found here.

Talking about the sources can be found here.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Pride of the Royal Navy

Early in February 1910 a telegram landed on the desk of the commander of HMS Dreadnought and in it was electrifying news. Prince Musaka Ali from Abyssinia and three of his fellow princes wished to conduct a state visit of his ship, it was signed by Sir Charles Hardinge the Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office. The captain of HMS Dreadnought immediately set to work preparing his ship for the visit. On February the 7th the party of four Abyssinian princes, escorted by Herbert Cholmondeley and another civil servant from the Foreign Office arrived at Paddington station. Mr Cholmondeley demanded a special train to Weymouth, but had to settle for a VIP carriage on a regular train.
As the carriage arrived at Weymouth it was met by a naval officer, and he escorted the party aboard HMS Dreadnought. As the princes arrived the band started to play as the national flags were raised. However the Dreadnought had committed a massive faux pas. Unable to find a copy of the Abyssinian flag or national anthem they had to settle with that of Zanzibar. Luckily the visitors didn't seem to take offence or even notice the insult.
The Royal party, plus escort.
 For the rest of the day the group toured the pride of the Royal Navy, with translations being given by Mr Cholmondeley. The princes were often impressed by the descriptions of the modern marvels of naval warfare, each time exclaiming "Bunga! Bunga!"
Towards lunchtime a large banquet was laid on by the crew of HMS Dreadnought. However again cultural sensibilities came into play with the princes unable to eat anything due to restrictions on how the food should be prepared. Later in the day as the princes toured the upper decks a sharp wind had picked up and it began to drizzle. Mr Cholmondeley remarked to the captain about the disparity between the heat of Abyssinia and the British climate. The captain of HMS Dreadnought caught the hint and whisked his cold visitors below decks.
Towards the end of the day the captain of HMS Dreadnought insisted on a salute for his royal guests. This included a full ceremonial broadside. The princes turned down the salute, saying that it was a benevolent gift from their emperor to the crew of the Dreadnought for their hospitality. And with that the princes and their escort left.
HMS Dreadnoughts ships cat, Togo, is not keen on a Royal salute!
Now you might be wondering why I've just spent the last several paragraphs waffling on about what is pretty much HMS Dreadnought's stock-in-trade in showing the flag. Although I suspect some of you already know and are waiting for the punchline.
Simply put, there were no Abyssinian princes visiting. It was a group of academics conducting a massive practical joke. Virginia Stephen, Adrian Stephen, Guy Ridley, Anthony Buxton and Duncan Grant had dressed up as the princes, and despite being known to several officers of the ship managed to trick them into thinking it was legitimate visit. That was why the use of the Zanzibar flag and national anthem was not remarked upon. They refused the food because their disguises were not up to the task of eating and were already failing, one of the fake moustaches was peeling off by lunch time. The drizzle and wind blown spray ran the risk of causing the make up to run. The refusal of the salute however was down entirely to the group not wanting to put the crew of the ship through the hard work of cleaning the guns after firing.
The translations were a mixture of Greek and Latin words mispronounced and said in a sightly off manner to throw any educated men.
The hoax was exposed in very short order by the UK's newspapers, and it led to Parliamentary questions and a review of the Royal Navy's security.

There is of course a word of warning. The only eye witness account of the incident and its aftermath, or even the events surrounding it has been written by the pranksters themselves, so how much can be taken with a grain of salt will likely never be known.
However there is one final note to the story. During the First World War, on 18th March 1915, HMS Dreadnought was sailing close to her sister ship HMS Neptune when a spread of torpedoes was spotted in the water aimed at HMS Neptune. All missed. Then for some inexplicable reason the U-boat that had fired them surfaced directly in front of HMS Dreadnought. Its likely that the captain of SM U-29, Captain Otto Weddigen, didn't know that HMS Dreadnought was there. Upon seeing the submarine on the surface HMS Dreadnought went all ahead flank, and rammed the submarine shearing her in half. SM U-29 was lost with all hands. HMS Dreadnought then had to dodge another battleship, HMS Temeraire, who was also trying to ram the submarine.
One of the telegrams HMS Dreadnought received after her one and only victory over an enemy simply read "Bunga! Bunga!".

Image credits:

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A strange Bird

This article has been written when I asked for ideas earlier in the week on Facebook. James Panganiban suggested this topic and as I have an excellent book which touches on the subject, it sounded like a plan. The reason why I'm asking for ideas is because after doing this for about three years I've covered most of the ideas that come easily to mind. So now it's more a case of looking for something interesting to write about with sufficient sources. So please, if you have any ideas, or requests send them in!

The 6th Guards Tank Brigade, which included the 4th Coldstream Guards, landed in France on the 20th of July 1944, and rolled immediately into action. Three weeks later the Brigade was no longer green, they had ripened, and they certainly smelled it! After three weeks the Germans had started the great retreat across France. For the 6th Guards it was time to rest and refit.. and to wash. During this two weeks of resting they even had a visit from George Formby as part of an ENSA show.
 Meanwhile two officers got a bit lost while touring the countryside and ended up in Paris, a few hours before it officially surrendered.
The "refit" part of rest and refit however was where the interesting stuff happened. The brigade intelligence officer collected a number of fitters and disappeared. They moved to an area of the Falaise Gap, in between Chambois and Trun. The group was split up into smaller groups and given an area to work where they catalogued all the enemy equipment in the area. A significant portion of it had just been abandoned, not destroyed. The aim was to create a Panther platoon for the brigade. One Panther was found, and the intelligence officer even drove it, heading back to the brigade. He got as far as Flers, but for some undisclosed reason the project was dropped. However the brigade did end up with two wireless command cars, a welding plant and several German telephones and typewriters.
On the 12th of October 1944 a division of artillery launched a massive, but short bombardment aimed at German positions in the area around Overloon. The Coldstreams launched their attack at about midday, through countryside that had been waterlogged, but prepared (at least initially) by the Royal Engineers. Initially everything went well, however on the outskirts of Overloon things began to go wrong. The Coldstreams had two squadrons forward, each accompanying a battalion of infantry. The issue was the infantry, neither of the battalions wanted to plough into Overloon, as fighting in cities, even with tank support is a bloody and unpleasant business. So the two infantry units went around both sides of the town which meant they dragged their supporting tank squadrons with them. The HQ troop following behind trying to keep in contact with both of its forward squadrons now found itself drawn forward and in the front line facing Overloon. To make matters worse they ran into newly designed German anti-tank mines, which were more than capable of penetrating a Churchill's armour. The first two tanks to be hit were the rear link, and spare rear link, then the battalion commander's tank. In the latter case he was unwounded and continued on foot with the infantry, only to be cut off shortly afterwards by the fighting.
Then a pair of Churchill's were knocked out by a Panther tank. On the other flank there were mines and these were covered by anti-tank guns which started knocking out tanks. However during a fierce afternoon of fighting one flank managed to push into the outskirts of the town, and a gap was cleared in the mines in front of Overloon allowing the HQ tanks to move into the town and link up with the battalion commander and the infantry he was with.
The next morning, Friday the 13th, a new plan was formed. The Coldstreams with support of two squadrons of Grenadier Guards would mount a large push to the south of Overloon. Bitter fighting followed including on one occasion a British tank commander dismounting and fighting off German infantry with his service revolver. Throughout the day, and the next day the Churchill's carried on running into Panthers and losing men and machines. However the Germans were always forced back from their positions. In Overloon, in a barn, the Coldstreams found an abandoned but fully working Panther tank. Remembering the earlier idea of a Panther troop they took this lost tank under their wing.
She was named Cuckoo. All the vehicles of the command group in the Coldstreams were named after birds, for example the battalion commander's tank was called "Eagle", a  armoured command vehicle was "Vulture", and they had scout cars named "Pigeon", "Wren" and "Owlet", to name but a few. Keeping with this ornithological theme "Cuckoo" seemed to fit a German tank in a British unit.
Look at the rear most tank
Cuckoo's wartime exploits are difficult to find, she first gets a mention in the reduction of the Geijsteren, a castle in Holland which was surrounded by a moat, flood water and mud, with its bridge blown and the causeway leading to it covered by German guns. The British after seeing the results of a similar attack decided it would be easier to just reduce it with fire-power, and set about this on the 27th of November. Here Cuckoo's long gun is singled out for praise as it was able to smash shells with unerring accuracy through windows and loopholes. Despite the Coldstreams shooting at it nothing much was achieved, so on the 28th the Allies prepared for a shooting party.
At 0900 the festivities got under way with the entirety of two squadrons firing for the first two hours. Then the Royal Artillery took over until a break for lunch. During lunch several visitors showed up, including a group of Typhoon pilots who came to see the action.
The afternoon was kicked off again with the artillery. This time a 5.5" gun was used in direct contact with quite some impressive effects. The Germans then got into to the swing of things by firing some high velocity HE shells over the head of the observing VIP's.
Then a flight Of Typhoons attack with bombs and cannon, however the second pilot mistimed his drop and landed his bombs closer to the visitors than the castle. The Typhoon pilots after enjoying this pleasant day out were rather sceptical of how hard life in the field was. So the Germans, once again obligingly landed a very heavy mortar barrage on the VIP's. It took some time to persuade them to climb out of the muddy holes they'd  found after the barrage was over.
The final picture of Cuckoo
Cuckoo next appears during the attack on Putt where her ability to handle the ice even better than the Churchill's was noted. Here the Germans didn't put up much resistance after the Scots guards set up on a hill overlooking Putt and bombarded it with such ferocity they removed all the snow. The Coldstreams pushed into the town and the Germans instantly surrendered. Cuckoo's demise was somewhere near Cleve on the 21st of February 1945. Her fuel pump broke down irreparably. With no replacement she had to be abandoned.

Image Credits:
 odkrywca.pl, www.strijdbewijs.nl, www.warrelics.eu and www.ww2incolor.com.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Jay Thing

In June 1966 the USMC were conducting Operation Jay, a sweep and clear operation hunting for VC forces in Quang Dien District. This is about 13 miles north of the famous city of Hue, that would reach the headlines during the Tet Offensive. The forces deployed included two battalions of marines and an artillery battalion. Towards the end of June the operation was being wound up with only a single battalion staying in the area, while the other forces were withdrawn.
However South Vietnam was also deploying a force of its marines (Vietnamese Marine Corp or VMC) to the area. This battalion was being moved up to the area on a convoy of twenty eight trucks. Route 1, which the VMC were taking, hadn't had any enemy activity on it for nearly a year. Despite this in anticipation of an attack the VMC were riding armed and ready for an ambush. The force had planned artillery fire along its route, and the command staff of the battalion brought along an observer. There was also a Vietnamese observer plane overhead. They left Hue city at 0730.
It took them an hour to reach the 0 Lau River, passing a column of USMC heading to Hue about five km from the city. Shortly afterwards the VMC convoy entered a series of rolling hills that was open to the west. To the east was a railway that ran parallel to the road, and was cut into the hillside. As the column reached the middle of the 3km stretch of open ground the enemy struck.
The enemy in this case was a VC battalion which had moved out the night previously. It seems to have had intelligence of the marines deployment as the VC moved out on the night of the 28th of June to be in position for the 29th, when the VMC column was due to pass. The USMC forces also had decent intelligence, as they received a warning of an impending attack on the night of the 28th. The USMC intelligence indicated the attack would be an assault against their units, not an ambush two and a half kilometres away against the VMC.
The VC battalion had set its heavy weapons up in the hills to the west of the road. As the VMC column entered the killing zone they opened fire, hitting the centre of the column with recoilless rifle and light mortar fire. Then machine guns and small arms opened fire raking the length of the column at a range of about 200m. Ten trucks were hit. Three were utterly smashed, two of which caught fire sending plumes of smoke into the sky. These smoke stacks were seen by the artillery battalion, who immediately leapt into action and swung their pieces through 180 degrees to be ready for any fire missions that came in. The sound of the gunfire was heard by the USMC convoy that had passed the VMC convoy. The USMC force was halted at a checkpoint, and upon hearing the racket they prepared for action, rolling up the canvas of their trucks, so they could fire out into the bush. They were thankful that they had driven through the VC killing zone and not been attacked.

Under the pounding the VMC deployed in an orderly fashion from their trucks and took up what little cover there was and began to return fire. Looking west there was a thin stand of trees which could be seen through, beyond this they could make out the black blasts and muzzle flashes of enemy weapons. Then they could see the VC starting to prepare an assault. The VMC commander immediately realised that the roadway had almost no cover and ordered his men to fall-back to the railway.
Two companies of the VMC started the fall back manoeuvre and crossed the 75m of ground without issues. Then when the lead elements reached the railway cut the VC sprung their second ambush. Hidden in concealed positions the VC Infantry had waited until the Vietnamese marines were at point blank range before opening fire. The first volleys killed the majority of the officers. The few marines that made it into the cut, and the dead ground from the line of VC infantry were taken under enfilading fire from the north by heavy machine guns sighted to fire along the line of the railway and cover the dead ground. The battalion commander (by now seriously wounded) had two companies on the road and two separated by 75m of fire swept open ground and he had lost control of the battalion.

USMC advisor's with the VMC battalion luckily had their own radios, and managed to contact a US Army observer plane nearby. The USMC artillery which had been listening in to the same net as the US army plane immediately offered fire support, which was gratefully accepted. The first salvo of shells impacted at 0846. Then the thunder began. Another observer plane arrived overhead, this one belonged to the USMC and on-board was a specialist Forward Air Controller. The FAC was in contact with F-4 Phantoms that were arriving in the area and he began to direct these strikes on the enemy.
At 0915 the increasingly crowded airspace was joined by the commanders of the USMC battalions that were conducting Operation Jay. They were carrying out reconnaissance of the ambush site prior to advancing. Both ARVN forces with tanks and the US Marines were closing on the ambush site. However the ARVN tanks couldn't reach the site due to a river being in the way. Not so the diminutive and much lighter M50 Ontos.
The Ontos was built to be bullet proof, with a great mobility. Armed with six M40 106mm recoilless rifles it had potent firepower. Originally 300 odd had been built, by the start of the US involvement in the Vietnam war the number in service was down to about half that number. With no logistical support they had to cannibalize older machines to make others work. Equally they had no spare tracks and so all the Ontos’s were dangerously worn. Despite this the Ontos’s had vastly superior mobility than most tanks. On this occasion the Ontos’s were able to cross a small rickety bridge and advance on the VC positions.
The Ontos had a reputation amongst the VC. It's bullet proof nature with horrific fire-power and unsurpassed mobility meant that it was rather feared. For example the 106mm recoilless rifle had a beehive round, each of these had 10000 metal flechettes inside it. So an Ontos could blanket an area with such fire-power that an reporter writing about the Battle Khe San said  of the Ontos "[...] enough flechette ammunition to pin the entire North Vietnamese Army to the face of Co Roc Mountain".
Bundle of Beehive flechettes. Multiple of these would have been stacked inside the cone of the round.
In this particular case the Ontos platoon managed to get into position flanking the ambush. With airstrikes and artillery raining down, reinforcements arriving from both south and north, including a platoon of the feared Ontos, the VC broke and ran. The ones at the railway cutting had plenty of cover. However the force on the open ground to the west of the road lacked any such cover for their flight. One platoon waiting until it thought it was all clear left their position at speed hoping to get to more cover before another air strike or artillery could be directed at them. They'd forgotten about the Ontos’s. The Ontos platoon fired one round from each gun, and swept the VC platoon from existence.

The fight was all but over, with the forces west of the road being cut off by air mobile troops and surrounded. It cost the VC battalion 185 killed and most of its crew served weapons. The VMC had lost 42 dead.

Image credits:
www.defensemedianetwork.com, www.kingsacademy.com, f.tqn.com and www.vspa.com

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Steam and Armour

When you mention the German invasion of Holland in May 1940, most people can't name any of the battles there. The best that anyone can remember is the bombing of Rotterdam, or occasionally, for the geographically confused, Eben Emael. However during the first day of the German invasion the Dutch put up a fight giving the Germans a bloody nose. All of this despite the poor state of the Dutch defenders.
The Dutch forces were underfunded and largely ill equipped, with many weapons being obsolete. Plus I think their uniforms looked silly and were a horrific colour. Equally the Dutch defences had some serious problems. Constructed during peacetime they often had to take into consideration civilian property, so you might get a nicely sited bunker, with a house or a farm creating dead ground right in front of it. On the plus side the Dutch had a large number of north/south waterways and boggy ground. Equally the Germans didn't have as many tanks facing Holland, due to most being concentrated further south against the French. To make up for this deficiency the Germans planned to deploy a number of armoured trains against Holland.
Dutch Soldiers standing guard, literally, at the border with Germany.
At the Dutch town of Mill, the soldiers with their antique 84mm field guns were just receiving word that war had broken out. War had been declared only half an hour earlier when two trains chugged into view. The Dutch forces thought they were Dutch trains and let them pass unmolested, in reality the lead train was the small German armoured train, Panzerzug 1. It carried a small detachment of manpower. Behind it was a fully loaded troop train carrying an entire German infantry battalion.

The two trains passed the Dutch line without any serious opposition, and proceeded to move east further into Dutch territory. Near the town of Zeeland the armoured train had its airline hit forcing the column to halt for repairs while the Germans fought off the Dutch defenders.
You might be confused about how an armoured train could be knocked out by small arms fire, well put out of your mind the armoured trains from later in the war. These early German trains were little more than wagons protected with steel plate and a much more ramshackle affair than you are expecting, many were only armed with loopholes for riflemen, or a Maxim gun or two.
While Panzerzug 1 was being repaired the troop train attempted to contact its headquarters by radio to report the success of their penetration. However the short range radios were unable to reach the much delayed HQ. After the repairs had been made to Panzerzug 1 it was decided that she would return to the headquarters carrying a message. The armoured train was moved to a siding at the station of Zeeland, and placed behind the Troop train for its run back to friendly lines.
As it rattled along and approached the bridge at Mill a warning was yelled. The Dutch, far from being idle in the last hours had barricaded the train tracks. Panzerzug 1 locked its wheels in an effort to avoid the obstruction. It was somewhat successful. The front carriage was derailed as it hit the obstructions, and slid down the bank into the canal below.
Replica of the barricades the Dutch erected.
 The few men on the train immediately dismounted and launched an assault against the two nearest Dutch bunkers, capturing both. Before they could push any further the Dutch soldiers began to fire and soon an intense firefight developed between the Dutch and German held bunkers.
Claimed to be Panzerzug 1, but when you compare to a latter picture which is also claimed to be Panzerzug 1 you'll notice some differences.
The battalion on the troop train dismounted and began a series of fights to try and break the line from the reverse. At one point they came across a battery of Dutch field guns, which were unmapped by the Germans. As they were attacking into the guns flank the gun crews had to be careful as they were firing over each others heads, this hardly improved the guns terrible rate of fire. The guns themselves dated from 1881. However with the shelling and the crew using their personal weapons they managed to drive off the attacking German company after an hour or so of fighting. They then shifted their fire to the disabled German train, forcing the Germans who had been using the armoured carriages as a base of fire against the the rest of the Dutch line to abandon their superior position. The battle finally ended the following day as German reinforcements swamped the area.
Dutch 84mm 8-Staal guns at Mill
Other German trains fared little better. For example Panzerzug 6 first came across a swing bridge. These are a form of bridge used to allow ships to pass, they rotate on a central pillar. The Dutch forces had opened the bridge forcing the Germans to dismount and recapture the control centre to close the bridge so that they could proceed. Further on they encountered another bridge that had been demolished. After constructing a replacement they met a third and final bridge. This too was swing bridge which the Dutch had opened. Then to prevent a repeat of what happened at the first swing bridge they borrowed some rolling stock from the Dutch railway and crashed that into the turning mechanism jamming the bridge in the open position. With this impassable barrier Panzerzug 6 retreated. Elsewhere it was largely the same story. Even when Brandenburgers tried to capture the bridges dressed in Dutch uniforms they failed.
Also claimed ot be Panzerzug 1, it at least gives you an idea of the nature of the Armoured trains in use.
After their disastrous showing in the Dutch campaign, the armoured trains were recalled to Germany. Slowly the concept changed to the heavily armoured and armed concept you're more familiar with, such as the BP-42 train which went on to see action in the invasion of Russia.

Image credits:
kennispuntmei1940.nl and www.worldwarphotos.info

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Armour quiz: the Answers

Last week I put up this "How well do you know your armour?" quiz, so here are the answers.

1) http://i.imgur.com/ZBmHSmg.jpg
100% success rate here, its Bovington's Medium Mk.A Whippet. Its named Caesar II, and was the tank in which Cecil Sewell won his VC.

2)  http://i.imgur.com/vR0rnAV.jpg
I know a couple of you will be kicking yourself at this one. As they spent msot of last Sunday trying to work out what it is. Its a Chieftain. You can see the Stillbrew armour, and the post war smoke discharger that gives it away.

3) http://i.imgur.com/t1PXfpu.jpg
Most of you got this one right, its the Covenanter. You can tell it from the armoured covers over the radiators. Their location caused bit of comment when it was first built amongst the British staff, especially the amount of protection around them.
You might ask how to spot it against another tank that has similar arrangements, well to the left of the picture you can see the drivers position, meaning that has to be the front hull.

4) http://i.imgur.com/94AYHy3.jpg
Ahh the first really nasty one! Most of you worked out it was an armoured car, just which particular one was up in the air. To set the matter to rest it was a Coventry armoured car. A pretty interesting vehicle that was designed to replace the excellent Daimler armoured car. However apart from a handful of production model it never went anywhere. This particular one is armed with the 75mm gun.

5) http://i.imgur.com/LPhHxMH.jpg
All of you got this right, it is in deed a Churchill Crocodile. With its distinctive armoured cover for the flame gun

6) http://i.imgur.com/ZHrd3vW.jpg
Again another one which will cause some self kicking, and I got told I was really mean by some of you. Its a Sherman Firefly. The Armoured cover over the machine gun port. At the bottom of the picture you can see the distinctive line of bolts where the armoured casing over the transmission is attached, and on top of the picture you can see the bottom of the bulge where the hull MG gunners hatch normally is.

7) http://i.imgur.com/L8nb1Ry.jpg
Yes Its Bovingtons Renault FT-17. Everyone got that right. However I have got one question about the tank, which I've never had answered, maybe you lot can help. Why is it painted black?

8) http://i.imgur.com/XeSeOEK.jpg
A really evil one, one that I'm kinda proud of thinking up. Due to the issue of scale. I'm glad to say most of you got right. Its a Goliath remote control mine. One Person did have this to say about the picture.
"For the longest time I thought it was a British tank with that suspension."
Hey! British suspension is a masterpiece of engineering... We didn't for the longest time only use a bit of steel cable attached directly to the wheel mounts.

9)  http://i.imgur.com/0iBiFII.jpg
Confusion time. Most correctly identified the suspension type, but some got the wrong tank. Its the suspension mounted on the Alecto, Tetrarch and Harry Hopkins light tank. The give away here is the track guard at the front of the picture. Only the Harry Hopkins had that, the Alecto had a different shape at both the front and back. Fun thing about this suspension Vickers got it going 65mph without any issue, and were confident of going even faster with it.

10) http://i.imgur.com/HWIbHKy.jpg
Nice and easy, and 100% correct from everybody, Its an M3 Grant. Everyone also knew to call it a grant not a Lee as well.

11) http://i.imgur.com/2cwUEmD.jpg
another one you all did pretty well on, I actually thought I might have been a bit mean putting it up. Its a Swedish Strv 103, S-tank. The Anti-HEAT cage armour and he machine gun mount give it away I guess. By the way if you want to wind up the WOT Swedish tank expert, call it a "tank destroyer". He gets really shouty about it being a medium tank. Which it is, to be fair.

12) http://i.imgur.com/etv7Xdr.jpg
Surprised this one stumped so many people, as its the only tank I know of that has this weird arrangement on the side of its turret. Its a Stuart light tank. To be honest I have no idea what this is for, I seem to recall someone mentioning it was part of the tracks, but they look different from the tracks on the Stuart.

13) http://i.imgur.com/3zSDH1r.jpg

Another one which everyone got right... its a Tiger I, most of you lot even gave me its name. Tiger 131.

14) http://i.imgur.com/ZjkFLC0.jpg
And this is where I fouled up. I figured it was obvious, and that it was a unique, if seemingly silly design. Its the brakes from a Valentine. However a couple of you reminded me that the A9 and A10 Cruisers shared the suspension and that funny bulge. So well done to those who named those cruiser tanks, you caught me out.

15) http://i.imgur.com/yzwNvv0.jpg
Another one that many got surprisingly wrong, then later changed their minds on. A number said A1E1 Independent. Which I did have some pictures of, but thought it'd be too harsh to use. The correct answer which most of you got, eventually, was a Vickers Medium. For added "oh!" moments... look in the background.

Well done to you all, it seemed like you had fun, and mostly got everything right.  Next time I do this I'll make it harder. For one I'll either not tell you where I took the photo's, or will use old black and white pictures

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Armour Spotter

I've had a bit of a busy week, so today's article is a bit of a quick one. A couple of weeks ago I was at a Armour collection and I took some photographs. I figured it'd be fun to see how well you know your armour, can you name all these armoured vehicles?

Answers on an Email to:

I can't promise any prizes, as WGEU are having trouble with their code generators, but I will see if I can arrange something.

 To prevent people having issues with bandwidth downloads, as there's quite a few of them I've placed them on imgur and have included the links.

  1. http://i.imgur.com/ZBmHSmg.jpg
  2. http://i.imgur.com/vR0rnAV.jpg
  3. http://i.imgur.com/t1PXfpu.jpg
  4. http://i.imgur.com/94AYHy3.jpg
  5. http://i.imgur.com/LPhHxMH.jpg
  6. http://i.imgur.com/ZHrd3vW.jpg
  7. http://i.imgur.com/L8nb1Ry.jpg
  8. http://i.imgur.com/XeSeOEK.jpg
  9. http://i.imgur.com/0iBiFII.jpg
  10. http://i.imgur.com/HWIbHKy.jpg
  11. http://i.imgur.com/2cwUEmD.jpg
  12. http://i.imgur.com/etv7Xdr.jpg
  13. http://i.imgur.com/3zSDH1r.jpg
  14. http://i.imgur.com/ZjkFLC0.jpg
  15. http://i.imgur.com/yzwNvv0.jpg
Yes, yes, I'm a bad man... What you thought these would be easy? Have fun, and lets see if we can work you can work these out.
Once again I cannot promise any prizes. 


Sunday, March 20, 2016

A boat of VC's

Just before 0700 on 22nd March 1916, Kapitan Ludwig Güntzel was staring through his periscope aboard the German submarine SM U-68. Less than a week into her first war patrol, she was laying off Dingle in Ireland. So far she'd scored no kills, but that was about to change. Through the murk and across the pitching ocean was the 3200 ton collier and tramp steamer Loderer. Kpt Güntzel lined up his submarine and fired a single torpedo. After a few seconds it narrowly missed the Loderer's bow. The tramp steamer continued thrashing her way through the sea unperturbed.
After about 20 minutes Kpt Güntzel ordered the U-boat to the surface. Instead of wasting another precious torpedo he'd sink this steamer with his 4.1" deck gun. Once on the surface the submarine was quickly able to catch the tramp steamer and Kpt Güntzel ordered a warning shot across the Loderer's bow. This brought an immediate response. The Loderer came to a halt in a cloud of blown off steam, and the Merchant Marine crew launched a boat in panic and haste. Wanting to be sure SM U-68 closed the range by about 200 yards. Any of the German Sailors looking at the stern of the deserted Loderer would have seen the Merchant Marine flag being hauled down, and a flash of white raised in its place. Was this a flag of Surrender? No, it was the Royal Navy Battle Ensign. At this moment the sides of the structures on deck dropped and SM U-68 found herself staring down the barrels of five 12 pounder guns, which immediately started to roar. The five guns quickly pumped out 21 shells, several of which struck the submarine. SM U-68 started to submerge, as HMS Farnborough as the Loderer was called after being taken into service, sped up and moved towards the submarine. As she passed she threw a barrel over the side of the ship, this was a brand new never used before weapon; the Depth Charge. The barrel full of explosives blew the bow of the submarine out of the water, as the submarine continued to sink the 12 pounder guns continued to fire scoring more hits on the submarine. Finally SM U-68 slipped under the waves with all hands on board. HMS Farnborough, a former tramp steamer and one of the Royal Navy's new Q-ships had scored her first kill.
SM U-68
For the next 13 months HMS Farnborough continued her patrols without further success. During this period of nothing the Captain, Gordon Campbell, hatched a new scheme. On February the 17th 1917, SM U-83 was to experience the full force of this plan.
Again off the Irish coast HMS Farnborough was sailing alone, when the lookouts spotted a torpedo in the water. Campbell deliberately didn't avoid the torpedo, but let it strike his ship. The explosion blew a large hole in the hold and she began to ship water and list. On board HMS Farnborough the panic party (a group of sailors detailed to abandon ship in order to represent a terrified merchant crew) immediately launch four lifeboats and abandoned ship.
This time the ruse worked, SM U-83 surfaced and approached to within almost touching distance. At which point the crew ran out the White Ensign and unmasked a 6 pounder gun, along with a number of small arms and blasted the submarine at point blank range. The sinking submarine left only eight men in the water, however due to being unpowered HMS Farnborough only managed to rescue two, one of whom later died.
Now faced with a sinking ship of his own Campbell sent a mayday which read "Q5 slowly sinking respectfully wishes you goodbye." Luckily two nearby destroyers picked up the message and came to HMS Farnborough’s rescue. They tried to take her under tow, after picking up most of the ship's company. However during the night several depth charges detonated on board the ship, nearly killing Campbell and the first officer Ronald Niel Stuart. However despite all this, and the explosions severing the tow, the ship was beached at Mill Cove too heavily damaged to return to service.

HMS Farnborough at rest
For this action Campbell won a Victoria Cross.

Most of the crew were then transferred to the collier Vittoria, whom was once again fitted out as a Q-ship named HMS Pargust. Patrolling from Ireland in the same area Stuart was as convinced as Campbell had been, the only way to successfully lure a submarine into the trap was to be hit by the torpedo, and hope that the hold full of wood would keep the ship afloat.
At 0800 on the 7th June 1917, a torpedo was spotted heading towards HMS Pargust, and like before Stuart deliberately let the torpedo hit. This time the ruse was almost blown when the force of the impact as well as causing massive damage to the ship blew one of the gun ports down, which would have revealed the 12 pounder deck gun. Luckily one sailor, William Williams, like Atlas, grabbed the weighty cover and took the considerable weight on his back holding it in place.
As rehearsed the panic party was ordered overboard. They watched as the periscope of the submarine circled the stricken ship at a range of 400 meters. The Germans were well aware of the Q-ships and so the captain of the U-boat was looking for signs of danger. After a while the U-boat surfaced and began to head towards the panic party in its lifeboats. Realising that the Germans wanted to interrogate them, Stuart ordered his lifeboat to head back towards the ship, and round behind the stern of HMS Pargust. Believing the crew were trying to regain their ship the U-boat began to follow them signalling at them to heave to. This brought the U-boat to within 46m of the ship, at which point the White Ensign was run out along with the guns.
Gun hidden on Q-ship
Same gun cleared for action
The U-boat despite several hits tried to flee on the surface and disappear into the mist, however further volleys caused the submarine to halt and the crew to seemingly raise their hand in surrender. Dutifully HMS Pargust halted firing, at which point the submarine started its engines in an attempt to escape. Further shell hits caused the submarine to explode and sink. Of the submarine’s crew two were rescued by the panic party. HMS Pargust was taken under tow back to Ireland.
HMS Pargust
The after action review faced a problem. The entire crew was deemed to have acted with valour in the face of the enemy, which made it impossible to decide on how to award the Victoria Crosses. However the Royal Warrant for the Victoria Cross under Article 13 contains a clause that enables a vote to be carried out amongst the men involved in the action. The crosses were awarded to William Williams and First Officer Stuart.

The ballot system had to be used for a further two Victoria crosses on the next Q-ship commanded by Campbell, HMS Dunraven. A much fiercer battle and one that the Q-ship lost when her identity was revealed. That action involved the crew holding position and waiting for the U-boat to close while the ship was on fire. However the U-boat failed to take the bait and left after causing enough damage to sink the Q-ship.

Image credits:
vrakdykking.com, nickoftimemktg.files.wordpress.com and www.wrecksite.eu