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Out of the Armchair

June 7, 2010


I screamed the words at the top of my voice, searing my throat. I don’t normally shout like that. Never thought I would. Ahead of me, as I took aim with my Lee-Enfield, one of the members of a 53rd Welsh infantry patrol had gone down, hit by a sniper. He’d slumped backward and now lay motionless, weapon by his side, as we scrambled for cover and returned fire. We’d hardly gone a few yards from a former German trench when the sniper fired. Our Bren gunner lay in the trench and popped off a few rounds while I stared down my sights, vainly looking for a sign of anything. The man next to me, Rick, ran forward to the still figure and crouched beside him, shell dressing ready. Taking one look at the wounded man, he shook his head and hefted him over his shoulder.

“F***ing cover me!” he yelled.

We fell back slowly, firing indiscriminately while the Bren banged away. I staggered into the trench beside the gunner and clacked off a few rounds before Rick and the wounded man leapt into the trench with a roar. They landed with a thunk, and then, suddenly, the corpse moved.

“Good job chaps, now I want to practise running to contact.”

This was another training day for the 53rd Welsh. No rounds had really been fired, and there was no sniper, save another re-enacting hiding behind an old railway sleeper. It was designed to train us for private battles, but it had an equally important purpose. While it was never going to be the same as being really under fire, it served as a reminder that wearing uniforms was not all fun and games. Already I was steaming, my knee aching from where I’d banged it jumping into the trench. Now, with muscles aching I was put on point as the patrol moved forward from the trench again along the road. This time, the section leader, now back in the land of the living, yelled at me to “RUN!” to cover. This I struggled to do. While I’m certainly not military fit, I thought I was in pretty good shape, but this proved otherwise. Trying to run on a gravel road in hobnailed boots trying not to fall over, while simultaneously hoping your tin hat doesn’t fall off and looking for a spot to leap into, never mind carrying the weight of a full pack and rifle, was more than my muscles could take. I failed hopelessly. My section leader ran straight past me and was shot again by the sniper, crumpling dramatically while I ducked onto some gravel, the others behind me.

“Is he actually dead this time?” one of them asked, half-jokingly

“Piss off” responded the ‘corpse’

As punishment for my failure I was delegated to haul the Bren gun, which is quite possibly the heaviest gun in existence. Okay, I’m sure a thousand squaddies past and present will roll their eyes at that statement and mutter “Walt!”, but it is damned heavy in comparison to a Lee-Enfield. I set it up behind the sleeper and watched down the road as the rest of the chaps carried on patrolling to a disused railway building in the distance, practising spacing and proper posture. There I lay, alone in the searing sun, sweating conkers in my itchy, thick, woolen battledress and squinting down the sights so hard my face began to twitch uncontrollably.

The view from the back of a Bren Gun

As I lay there sweltering I counted my blessings that I was a military historian and didn’t have to do this for real. That didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying the day of course, and simply reinforced the fact that no matter how much you read, nothing compares to doing what you write about. Of course, if you’re writing about a war in the past, you won’t be able to experience it (thankfully) with the exception of re-enacting. Only then to realise the sheer weight of the equipment and weapons, the difficulty of movement, the heat of the clothing and the din. And that’s before anyone tries to shoot you and without any real explosions. Those who so readily criticise troops of the past for not moving quickly enough, or not fighting hard enough, should try a bit of re-enacting. It might get rid of the outline in their armchair.

My "war-face". Dear oh-dear, oh-dear...


Remembering D-Day

June 6, 2010

To commemorate the 66th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, a group of re-enactors met at 1940’s Swansea Bay and held a small service before they trained in memory of  the men who perished on 6th June 1944.

The service involved all the re-enactors forming up on parade for a minute’s silence, and then a poetry reading. It was very moving and the silence focussed everyone’s attention on the men who wore the uniforms for real and slogged up beaches or leapt out of aircraft on D-Day.

Re-enactors remember D-Day

It was just a small service attened by a few family members and visitors to the museum, but such pauses are important on days like 6/6/44. In an age where there is seemingly a silence for everything, we should all try and pause for just a moment in  our busy lives and think those who fell for our country in past and present wars, whether on the anniversary of a battle or merely when visiting a memorial wherever it may be. Lest we forget

Cambes-en-Plaine CWGC Cemetery, Normandy


Meeting Up With the Airborne

June 6, 2010

Today is the 66th Anniversary of the Normandy D-Day – I say that because every time I mention D-Day in my grandfather’s presence, he enquires, with a sarcastic tone, “which D-Day?”. He had seen two before June 6th 1944. Nevertheless, D-Day, 6/6/44 was a significant date regardless of how you look at it, and I envy those currently in Normandy for the anniversary celebrations – I hope to be there myself next year.

In the meantime, I leave you with a mocked-up copy of Life magazine, “Meeting Up With the Airborne” – the photo is a posed and edited shot from the Exercise Tiger March with yours truly in the role of a paratrooper. It represents the first contact between troops of the 101st Airborne and the 4th Infantry Division in the flooded countryside behind Utah Beach.

D-Day was also just the beginning of a brutal three-month campaign that saw hundreds of thousands of men fighting in often very close quarters. Let us not forget those who fell  after 6/6/44 on the long road to Victory in Europe.


Marching into the Past

June 5, 2010

It was a cold and grey morning on Slapton Sands. Across the beach, the rain and wind whipped against the shingle and an empty landscape. The occasional car hurried along the main road to Kingsbridge, but otherwise, all was quiet. It was a Bank Holiday weekend, but the holidaymakers had stayed in their hotels, the weather far too inclement for them.

But not for a group of six men who stood, huddled against the inclement weather, in the shelter of a public toilet on the beach at Torcross.

These were no ordinary men. They wore uniforms and carried rifles. A policeman laughed and joked with them as he waited to see them off. They had come to remember events from a war of long ago, and to help those wounded in a war being fought today. They were marching into the past to help the present.

What most holidaymakers fail to realise as they sit on the soft shingle of Slapton Sands is the history that is seeped into it. 66 years ago, where you might sit today and lick an ice cream, American GIs stumbled up the same shingle you sit on now, weighed down by woolen uniforms often soaked in seawater, carrying a heavy pack and fumbling to grip their weighty M1 Garand rifles. They practised for an invasion, an invasion of where they did not know exactly, but they knew it was coming. Until that day came, they prepared here, in this quiet, otherwise peaceful part of Devon.

This practise was far from harmless. The entire population of the vast exercise area, some 30,000 acres of the South Hams, had been forcibly evicted by the British government in 1943. Homes became artillery targets. Naval shells slammed into beachside hotels, reducing them to rubble. The small Devon lanes that linked each abandoned community became clogged with the traffic of war – trucks, tanks, jeeps. 

Men died during these exercises too. Live ammunition was used to simulate the effects of real warfare and to inure them to it. Some of them were killed by this ammunition, as shells fell short or men failed to aim off. Even more unfortunate, for some of the men waiting on landing ships further out to sea from the sands, some of this live ammunition was fired by German ships. In the early hours of 27th April 1944, a group of German E-Boats penetrated this line of transports waiting to come ashore and attacked them. Two of the ships sank, others were heavily damaged – the one pictured below somehow managed to limp into Dartmouth.

Nearly 1,000 soldiers and sailors were killed, during this Exercise “Tiger” – which continued in spite of the terrible losses at sea –  and a memorial stands to them today at the small village of Torcross. It is itself a part of that time, a Sherman Tank that went down with one of the ships but was recovered by a local hotelier, Ken Small, nearly 40 years later. From this tank, this small and slightly mad band of re-enactors were to march across the old exercise area. I was one of them.

The first few miles across the open beach were difficult. Wind and rain whipped at our cloth and wool uniforms, making us shiver and swear, our faces numbed by an unseasonal cold. Rifles became slick in our hands and their weight clawed at our fingers. We sweated buckets but still shivered in the wind. If we tried to walk on the shingle, our legs screamed after a few yards of struggling through the multitudinous pebbles. It was perhaps as close to the weather of D-Day, which took place on beaches across the Channel 66 years ago, as one would want to get. Rain dripped from the tips of helmets  to add to our discomfort. We were tired, wet and miserable. Much as the men who did it for real must have been.  At least we were not being fired at, or our ears assailed with the noise of war – the shriek of rockets, the scream of artillery and men, and the constant crackled of bullets. All we had was the whoosh of the wind and the occasional rush as a car went past.

It took roughly an hour to get to the end of Slapton Sands. Our squad leader proudly announced that we had completed the easy bit. Easy? While it was hardly a struggle, we did expect that, as we advanced along country lanes, it would get easier, and at least we would get shelter from the weather.

Boy, were we wrong.

To climb up to the main road to Darmouth, the group would have to follow an old road, now footpath, to reach the village of Strete. At first, this footpath rose in a gentle climb that, ordinarily, offered impressive views on the beach, but today simply showed more rain and an unforgivingly grey sea. As we reached the half-way point, the gradient increased dramatically. Suddenly our feet were being pushed upwards with almost every step, pulling on our already shattered thigh muscles in almost impossible directions. Several of the team had to pause and admire the view”, a nice euphamism for catching one’s breath. Such a climb would be a reasonable challenge for an unencumbered walker – equipped with a soaking uniform, helmet and pack full of gear, as well as a rifle, it was a nightmare. Somehow, we did it, staggering into Strete along a winding country lane shrouded in fog. Several cars buzzed past us as we went, and their occupants gazed in bewildered awe at the line of tired GIs who emerged from the mist. They must have thought we were ghosts, risen from the sands to haunt the lanes of the South Hams for evermore. Perhaps we were…

As we moved through Strete our pointman began to yell “Squad! Go Left! Go Left! Go Left-Right-LEFT!” This brought out locals and holidaymakers who watched amazed as we passed. Our Sergeant popped into the local post office, rifle on his shoulder, and came out with a decent amount in sponsorship money, though he assured us that this was without recourse to the rifle! We left the village and began to follow more meandering roads through the countryside, until we reached what became known as the “Normandy farm”. This building bore a striking resemblance to the type of farmhouses one encounters in Normandy, and only served to reinforce the fact that the Americans had chosen this area well. Indeed, at frequent intervals those of us who had taken the pilgrimage to Normandy remarked upon the similarities in the countryside, whether it was the wide beaches, the “draws” in the cliffs or the often bocage-like nature of some of the country lanes.

The squad continued marching down to Blackpool Sands, which during the exercises had been used as a refuelling beach, where thousands of cans of fuel were piled up onshore to be taken to the “front” by waiting trucks. It was during this section of the march that we stood to one side on the road to let a bus pass, and then saluted the astounded passengers as it drove on. By now, the weather was clearing up, the rain had stopped, and we were in a fine mood, sharing jokes and whistling to ’40s tunes. The only issue was the increasing weight of our rifles. No matter how one carried them, they were the biggest burden. Your arms would ache after a long period of holding it in a ready position, and if left on the shoulder it merely dug into the skin with the rest of the web gear. In combat, of course, such pains would doubltess vanish within seconds, but it was a reminder of the sheer weight of the equipment that soldiers carried during the war. This is not something that one gets from books.

After some refreshments at Blackpool Sands we pressed on to the finish line. By now, our bodies, unaccustomed to the rigours of real soldiering, were really beginning to protest. Shoulders ached constantly from the chafing of straps. Boots jarred at blisters and sore heels. Leg muscles screamed with every hill, while, even though it was not a hot day, stops to take a sip from the canteen became frequent. We had not too much further to go to Dartmouth when, muscles still aching, we arrived in some real Bocage country. Here, there were no villages, and virtually no cars. Steep, almost slablike hedgerows rose either side of the lane. One of the team commented on the Normandy-type shivers these lanes produced. Imagine being on a road like this in 1944. German paratroopers could be lurking anywhere – in front, behind, on either flank, just waiting for the right moment to strike and mow down your entire squad. It is amazing that the Allies broke through at all in such countryside.

The final march into Dartmouth was perhaps the most emotional. Forming up just outside the centre of the town, we shouldered arms and marched down to the quayside, our pointman again yelling “GO LEFT! GO LEFT! GO LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT!” Dartmouth had been hit the previous day by a terrible fire that had destroyed some of the town’s priceless Tudor buildings, and combined with the bad weather the Bank Holiday crowds were nonexistent. Still, there were enough people to turn in their tracks and watch as a squad of GIs marched out of the past and down to the quay where we finished the march by the Fairmile Motor Launch.  The rest of the squad went for a cruise in the boat that ended in Brixham, where I, as a nominal member of the Airborne and thus no lover of boats, met them in Brixham for a few colas in the local American diner. We had done it!


During our long hike from the Sherman Tank to the Fairmile, we raised £140 alone for the British Limbless Ex-Serviceman’s Association. In total, the team of 6 re-enactors raised over £1200 pounds for the organisation, as well as exploring our military past. I cannot begin to describe the feeling of being in a part of the country steeped in WW2 history, alone with just a squad of GIs sharing banter. It was like going back in time. And I cannot wait to do it again.


Exercise Tiger – 66 Years On

June 2, 2010

As you may well have gathered from my previous posts, on the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend I joined a group of re-enactors on the Exercise Tiger Commemorative March at Slapton Sands in Devon. This was a 12-mile sponsored march from the Sherman Tank Memorial at Torcross to Dartmouth Harbour, walking across the old American training area.  The remainder of the group caught the Fairmile Motor Launch at Dartmouth and sailed out to the training area before returning to the Overlord Memorial and LCT ramps in Brixham, Torbay. I have to admit I wimped out from the boat trip as the weather was terrible, but then that’s why I do an Airborne impression – so I can stay away from bloody boats!

It was a fantastic weekend and I am really pleased to say that the group raised over £1000 for the British Limbless Ex-Serviceman’s Association (BLESMA), with more money still coming in. A huge thank you to all those who sponsored us and donated to the “jingly tin” on the day.

You can find out more about the walk in the local press and from The World at War.

In my next post I’ll write in more detail about the walking team’s experiences.


The M1 and M1A1 Carbines

May 27, 2010

Getting a Carbine

As a re-enactor of the Second World War it is integral to your impression, if it is of the combat soldier, to carry a weapon, since this was the most important item of a soldier’s equipment. In the UK, such weapons can either be deactiavted by a British Proof House – meaning that, while the action can often work and be “dry-fired”, it will no longer chamber or fire a round; or they can be replicas, which can only be procured by recognised re-enactors…another story in itself.

When I was first getting my bits and pieces of US gear at a local militaria dealer I spotted, amongst a  sea of deactivated Lee-Enfield No.4s (already got one!) and K98s (want one!) a rather lovely-looking M1 Carbine at quite  a decent price. Although it was a “new-spec”, which meant that because it was a semi-automatic weapon the bolt had been welded shut so that the action no longer functioned, it was in quite a good condition and had beautiful woodwork. I snapped it up and now owned a piece of history and my first American weapon.

My M1 Carbine with its original woodwork

The M1 and M1A1 Carbine: A Potted History

The Carbine, Cal.30 M1 is a gas-operated, self-loading, air-cooled, shoulder weapon, delivering semi-automatic fire controlled by the operator. It is fed by a box magazine containing 15 cartridges staggered in the magazine. The weapon has an overall length of approximately 36 inches and weighs approximately 5.80 pounds with sling and loaded magazine attached.

-Ordnance Field Service Technical Bulletin No.23-7-1, Carbine Cal.30 M1, [March 17, 1942]

The above is the basic description of the M1 Carbine. This weapon was first introduced into US service in late 1941 and was designed to be issued to officers and support troops, which included mortarmen, radio operators, drivers. These were soldiers who required a lighter weapon than the M1903 Springfield or M1 Garand. The Carbine fired a smaller .30 calibre cartridge than the M1 Garand’s 30.06 round, which is usually decried in most modern histories as lacking in stopping power. While there is an undeniable difference in the punch provided by the two rounds, one would certainly not want to be hit by a .30cal from an M1 either way!

The M1 became a popular weapon for troops other than those for whom it was originally designed. It was especially prevalent among US Marines in the Pacific who required a weapon that was better adapted to the conditions of close-quarter jungle fighting, something at which the M1 Carbine excelled. This weapon can be seen in many episodes of The Pacific.

A still from The Pacific showing Marines rushing ashore – the central figure carrying an M1 Carbine.

A specialised version of the M1 was developed for the airborne forces, who also required a lighter weapon than the M1 Garand for certain personnel. Produced primarily by the Inland Division of General Motors, the M1A1 Carbine differed primarily from the M1 in having a pistol grip and a steel folding stock, rather than a rigid wooden one. This allowed the weapon to be effectively folded in half, so that it could then be stowed in a paratroopers rigging, web gear or worn in a leg scabbard. It was also much lighter again than the M1, which suited paratroopers who were invariably weighed down by all their gear. Around 140,000 had been produced by the end of the war and were primarily, though not exclusively, used by airborne and raiding forces.

In a scene from Episode 3 (“Carentan”) of Band of Brothers, a trooper of E/506th PIR, 101st Airborne, fires his M1A1 at attacking SS troops during the battle at Hill 30 on June 13th, which was the basis for the epic battle scene in that episode.

The M1 Carbine and its variants were one of the most widely produced American weapons of World War 2, with over six million M1s being issued during the war. It was manufactured by many different companies, including the Inland Division of General Motors and the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. My M1 Carbine is an Inland one, built  sometime between September 1943 and June 1944, making it quite possible that the weapon saw service overseas in some theatre. However, it was also used after the Second World War and so has had some postwar modifications fitted to it, for the M1 remained in both production and service into Korea, with some weapons even being used in Vietnam. The principal changes on my weapon are a more modern sight, a “flip” safety catch, as opposed to the WW2-standard “push button” safety, and a bayonet lug slung under the barrel.

Upgrading my M1 to an M1A1

Initially, I had intended to use my M1 Carbine as it was, with standard US GI gear. However, for various reasons, I ended up focussing on a US Airborne impression, and so debated for sometime whether to convert my Carbine to an M1A1 Paratrooper version. Original M1A1s, because they are comparatively rare, are often very expensive and in variable condition, so there was no way I could chance getting another weapon. Some militaria dealers, such as Soldier of Fortune, sell reproduction M1A1 stocks which can be fitted to an existing M1 Carbine. I was reluctant to convert the weapon, as it was a wartime-made gun and I did not want to tamper or risk destroying a piece of history. However, the more I learned about Carbines, the more I realised that the gun, having been modified after the war, had already been tampered with and changed from its initial state. Furthermore, as M1A1s were produced at at the Inland Division of General Motors along with M1s, as mine was, it was not completely incorrect to have it as an M1A1. I therefore decided to by a reproduction stock.

Changing the M1 to an M1A1 was a relatively easy process. It involved the most basic disassembly of the weapon and a simple transfer from one stock to the other. The Carbine is held together by a band at the base of the barrel, which is fixed by a screw. Loosening this screw loosens the band, which can then be slid towards the muzzle. The handguard can then be removed, and the internal parts of the carbine, which are all fitted together, can be easily lifted out by the barrel. This can then be transferred into the new M1A1 stock, the handguard replaced and the barrel band returned to position and tightened. Et voila! Within 20 minutes, an M1A1 is born.

My M1A1 conversion. More images available here

I will be carrying this weapon with me on the Excercise Tiger Commemorative March this weekend. It is quite a bit lighter than the M1, so it will be easier to haul over the 12-miles!


The War Memorial Project – Introduction and May

May 26, 2010

The War Memorial Project

At the beginning of the year I was asked by Llanishen Local History Society to work on a project designed to uncover the service histories of the men from the village who fell in the Two World Wars. This had come about because a member had found a war grave in St Isan’s church in the village of which they were unaware. Although this was a Second World War casualty, we’ve begun by focusing on the Great War casualties that are commemorated on the two memorial plaques within the church – the bronze one inside the church itself is shown in the photo below:

This plaque records the names of 20 men, the majority of them officers. Over the coming months, I will be posting details of these men on or around the time they were killed in action, as well as any further discoveries we make. Interestingly, the plaque in the church hall has another two names not recorded on this memorial. We also believe there are men who were killed in WW1 who were not recorded at all!

Within the church there are also memorials to individuals and groups of men who fell in both World Wars, and in the churchyard outside there are several war graves, some of them being CWGC headstones. The casualty shown in the photograph below, Pilot Officer Thomas Spencer Lewis of 79 Squadron Royal Air Force, was one of the village’s first casualties.  P/Off Lewis was killed in action while on patrol in his Hawker Hurricane over the South Coast of England on 2nd January 1940. When his coffin arrived at the village station, it was escorted down to the church for the funeral by RAF personnel and an RAF band.

We hope we can honour these men, and those who returned from the wars, by recording their stories for future generations of Llanishen residents.

May Casualties

On 8th May 1915, in the closing engagements of the Second Battle of Ypres, Rifleman Norman Joseph Ayliffe of 1st Battalion the Monmouthshire Regiment was fighting with the 28th Division at Frezenburg Ridge. He was likely killed during the intense artillery bombardment that hit the positions of the division’s 84th Brigade (of which 1st Mons were a part) on the morning of the 8th. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres. Rifleman Ayliffe had joined up at Llanishen in late 1914 and spent most of the winter training before going overseas with his regiment in February 1915. He was 21.

A little over a year later, on 17th May 1916, Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Hill Gaskell, commanding officer of the 16th (Cardiff City) Battalion, The Welsh Regiment, was inspecting his battalion’s lines near the village of Merville in France. Lt-Col Gaskell had helped to raise the battalion and had arrived in France with it in early 1916. As he inspected the lines, a German sniper fired at him. The bullet struck the pouch containing ammunition for his revolver, wounding him fatally. He was buried the following day in Merville churchyard, and among the attendees was Captain L.A.P. Harris who was to perish with many of the 16th Welsh at Mametz Wood about two months later. Lt-Col Gaskell was a well-known figure in local politics and within Cardiff, and had served in the Boer War and, prior to raising the 16th Welsh, had been in the 2nd Welsh for a brief period early in the war as a reserve Lieutenant. He was wounded during the retreat from Mons, being shot in the jaw, and was recuperating in Cardiff when he was asked to help raise the 16th Battalion of the Welsh Regiment. He was 37, and was the highest-ranking casualty from Llanishen.

The month of May 1943 was to claim two Air Force casualties from Llanishen. Firstly, on the 4th, Sergeant John Iorwerth Palmer Morgan of 77 Squadron, Royal Air Force, was killed when his Halifax was shot down over the Netherlands. He is buried in Sleen in Holland. He was 22.

On the 18th May 1943, Flying Officer Leonard George Gill of 3 Squadron, Royal Air Force, was also killed when his Hawker Hurricane was shot down over France. He is burried in Abbeville Communal Cemetery. He was 25.


Anti-Aircraft in WW2

May 25, 2010

I have recently been recording my grandfather’s war stories for posterity, some of which will hopefully appear on The World at War in due time. He served as a gunner and later radar operator in the Royal Artillery during the war, and has often mentioned to me how the role of anti-aircraft is little metioned in most histories.

Indeed, this certainly seems to be the case, and I myself am more than guilty of it. Most major histories of, say, the Normandy campaign, will barely mention the role of AA units in that theatre at all. Of course, the Luftwaffe was a much smaller presence by then, but that does not mean that the contribution of AA units should be ignored. Some basic research can show how, particularly the Light Ack-Ack regiments with their Bofors, could be used creatively to support ground troops. Some accounts even mention how the Germans used their light FlaK in such a role – indeed we see it represented in Saving Private Ryan when a 20mm FlaK “sweeps” the paratroopers from the stricken Tiger tank in the film’s final scene. Yet research into such units, particularly in Britain, is lacking in comparison to that of other arms. One often hears of how the German 88 was used in a ground role, yet not of the British 3.7-inch gun, which could outpeform the 88. Although it’s use in ground-fire was officially discouraged, particularly as it lacked a wheeled carriage comparable to that used by the 88, it could be highly effective. I have read accounts of 3.7s used in both field artillery and counter-battery/counter-mortar work in Normandy, and my grandfather’s unit operated as an additional field regiment, firing airburst shells, during the battles at Cassino.

I suppose the lack of research into AA comes down to a continued fascination with and focus upon the “teeth” arms of warfare – infantry, air force, armour and field artillery. When one looks at the Blitz, for example, one will naturally focus on how the RAF fought the Luftwaffe. Similarly, campaigns overseas will concentrate on air-versus-air combat, or the results of bombing raids. Logisitics and “rear-line” combat units such as AA (who often were in the front line themselves!) rarely get mentioned because, to put it bluntly, they are less glamorous, less immediately attractive to a researcher. I am just as guility of this focus myself, looking at armour, although it doesn’t make me want to study it any less, only to add AA to my list of “things to do”!

There is also the issue of the effectiveness of anti-aircraft-artillery in its role throughout the war. How much was AA fire, as opposed to mechanical failures or air attack, responsible for aircraft losses during the war? Certainly my grandfather, during his time in an AA unit, recalls shooting down only one plane in the entire course of the war. That’s not to say that it’s universal, but certainly an issue worth exploring. As the operations of the front-line combat units during WW2 get “worn out” by constant research and reguritation, perhaps it is time to begin looking at units like AA in similar detail, both at home and abroad. They made a significant contribution to the war effort, too.

My grandfather and chums pose for a photo with their 3.7-inch AA gun at a site in Manchester in 1939.

 -JK (not that I’m biased or anything, 😉 ).

Top 10 WW2 Games

May 25, 2010

As a variation on last night’s post, here’s my last of my Top 10 WW2-related video games (multi-platform) in no particular order. There is a vast number of WW2 video games out there, indeed so much so that in the press there is a general tiredness of them, although that doesn’t stop the publishers releasing them! I personally am looking forward to the next Brothers in Arms, although I suspect it’s a fair way off, and if they could do a 20th-century Total War that would be perfect!

  1. Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 (PC)
  2. Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (X360)
  3. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (PC)
  4. Call of Duty 2 (X360/PC)
  5. Call of Duty (PC)
  6. Medal of Honor: Airborne (X360)
  7. Company of Heroes (PC)
  8. Soldiers: Heroes of WWII (PC)
  9. Hidden & Dangerous 2 (PC)
  10. Hidden & Dangerous (PC)

Exercise Tiger Commemorative March – 29th May 2010

May 24, 2010

On May 29th 2010, I will be joining a group of local historians and re-enactors on the Exercise Tiger Commemorative March, which will be taking place in Devon. This walk is raising money for BLESMA, the British Limbless Ex-Servicemans Association. I will be representing the 101st Airborne Division which was involved in Exercise Tiger when it took part in a “tailgate jump” to simulate its eventual role on D-Day.

The final press release from the organiser, Ade Pitman, can be found below. You can also find out more by clicking on the poster at the end of this post. If you would like to sponsor us you still can by visiting

WW2 GI reenactors march for Heroes 
Remembering the forties to help Britains wounded Heroes, the George Inn at Blackawton near Totnes will be hosting a 1940s fancy dress party this Friday 28th May, in aid of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association (BLESMA).

The following day a group of WW2 reenactors will be marching in 1940s US GI uniform along Devon’s D-Day coast to commemorate the loss of over 750 US servicemen in a pre-D-Day exercise at Slapton Sands.

Dressed in the uniforms worn by the troops who took part in the ill-fated Exercise Tiger operation, complete with packs and rifles, the group aims to both raise an awareness of the history of the South Hams and Dartmouth during WW2, and raise funds for BLESMA.

After a ‘patrol’ of Torcross village, the group will march from the Sherman Tank memorial at Torcross to Dartmouth, where they will board the WW2 Heritage Boat ‘Fairmile’ for a cruise along the ‘Exercise Tiger Coast’, staying on-board for this historic craft’s journey back to Brixham.

During the cruise Brixham born historian Ade Pitman will be on hand to answer questions about the Exercise Tiger and the area during WW2, while himself kitted out in the uniform and equipment worn by a WW2 GI.

Kicking off the commemorative weekend, the George Inn at Blackawton, itself deep in the heart of the WW2 UK Battle Training Area, will be holding a 1940s Fancy Dress Party to raise money for the charity.

Organiser Ade Pitman, said; “Following the success of last years commemorative march we decided to make it even bigger this year. I`d like to thank the George Inn, Greenway Ferry and Devon & Cornwall Police for their help with making this event possible; and of course everyone who has kindly sponsored members of the team”.