Friday, 21 November 2014

French Maginot Line

 After World War 1, the French decided that something was needed to repel any future invasion by the Germans. To this end, the French Minister of War André Maginot sanctioned a huge concrete fortification alone the eastern side of France bordering France, this fortification was named after the French Minister and called the Maginot Line.

Maginot Line

The Maginot Line was built in the 1930’s due to the history of World War One and with good reason given the build up to World War 2 that was occurring.

The Maginot Line was not created to stop a German force, in fact it was solely created to hamper any progress should they decide to try and invade France allowing time to prepare and attack should an invasion occur.

In World War 1 the French pioneered defensive combat and idea of the Maginot Line was just that, the issue was that World War 2 was not going to be like the previous war due to advances in technology and thinking. The French thought that strategically, the Maginot Line would stop any force invading, what they didn’t realise was that this new line of defensive would end up being obsolete in repelling the Germans as they simply went round the Maginot Line by invading through Belgium.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

DLRG Plakette für Rettung aus Lebensgefahr 1921

The DLRG Plakette für Rettung aus Lebensgefahr translates as the Plaque for rescue from danger to life from the year 1921. This is the earliest badge given by the DLRG

In 1913 the German Life Saving Association was born, in German this is Deutschen Lebensrettungsgesellschaft or abbreviated to DLRG. The DLRG was created to train water safety to people and is a non-profit organization still active today - Link to DLRG website.

At its inception, the DLRG created three different levels of proficiency, these being Grundschein, Leistungschein and Lehrschein.

The Grundschein level was a certificate and bronze lapel showcasing the words Grundschein.

The Leistungschein level of proficiency was an intermediate level qualification that resulted in a silver badge showing the words Leistungschein at the top the badge with a man holding a rescued person on the badge itself. This level also gave a certificate.

The top level was the Lehrschein and this was again awarded a certificate and a silver badge with the word Lehrschein at the top, also depicting a man holding a rescued person. Those of Lehrschein level were classed as instructors of others.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Altengrabow prisoner-of-war camp Stalag XI-A

Stalag XI-A, also known as the Altengrabow prisoner-of-war camp or Stalag 341, was a prisoner of war camp in World War Two. The camp was based in Dörnitz, Saxony-Anhalt.

Previous to World War Two, the camp was actually a military training area and had been so since 1893. In World War One the camp was converted into a prisoner of war camp known as Dörnitz Altengrabow holding some twelve thousand prisoners, after the end of the First World War it was back to normality as a training camp.

Right at the outset of World War Two the area became a prisoner of war camp again, initially called Stalag XI but quickly renamed to Stalag XI-A.

The camp was solely used as a place for prisoners taken from Allied forces and at the start of 1945 there were sixty thousand prisoners registered there.

Operation Violet was undertaken by the Allies on the 25th April 1945. Operation Violet was an airborne operation where men were dropped to free the camp into Allied hands, unfortunately the outcome was that the soldiers were captured themselves and interned in the camp.

Commandant, Col. Ochernal, the German in charge of the Stalag XI-A camp was urged by the prisoners of war to open up a radio link with the Allies. Stalag Commandant, Col. Ochernal did open up dialogue and allowed Allied forces to come and take the prisoners. Evacuation started with many prisoners being moved out, however the Russians were not happy with Polish prisoners being extradited to the West and gave the Allied forces two hours to collect belongings and be moved to the American area.

After this the Russians took control of the camp and after the war used the camp for the headquarters of a tank regiment up until 1990.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Vickers Machine Gun

The Vickers machine gun came into service in 1912, before the break out of World War 1 and stayed in service until 1968. As the name suggests, the Vickers machine gun was manufactured by Vickers Limited in the UK. The original gun was a water cooled machine gun that fired a .303 round.

Many will remember the Lewis Gun from the First World War, which was a light machine gun; the Vickers Machine Gun was also ever present as a medium machine gun.

The gun took a team of around 6 to carry it from place to place, but only two were used during firing. This included one soldier firing the gun and the other feeding the ammunition for continuous fire.

The Vickers machine gun wasn’t just used by the army. The gun was also mounted onto a Vickers biplane in 1913 as an experiment for air warfare. The outcome was that the Vickers machine gun became the standard choice for a machine gun on both British and French war planes in the First World War.

After World War 1 the British military looked at phasing out the Vickers and using alternative options for the Army, however the decision was to keep with the Vickers when competition was reviewed. The only outcome was that an alternative was used for mounting on tanks.

Part of the Vickers gun success is the fact that it was so reliable. The gun was renowned for failing rarely which gave soldiers confidence in the weapon in the face of opposing forces.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk III

The Lee-Enfield rifle joined the British Army as standard issue in 1895 and at the outbreak of World War I the British Army was using the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk III (SMLE Mk III for short). The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk III also had a Sword bayonet (Pattern 1907 - P'07). The rear sight and charger guide were made simple compared to earlier models. The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk III fired Mk VII High Velocity spitzer .303 ammunition.

By 1915 the British government found that the speed of manufacturing the Mk III SMLE and the high cost associated meant there was a need to review the Lee-Enfield to find a quicker and more cost effective way of manufacture. The result was the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk III* that was the original Mk III without the magazine cut-off, rear sight adjustment and long range sight. The gun also saw the cocking bolt changed to a slab, rather than the round ball top.

Due to the nature of World War I and the need for constant replenishment of guns, the Lee-Enfield manufacturers had to contract out production to support military needs.

Whilst iconic in the First World War, the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk III* was also heavily used in the Second World War also. In the 1920’s the gun was renamed to the Rifle No.1 Mk III* so many are not aware of this.

1918 dated Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk III*

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Siege of Kut

From the 7th December in 1915 through to the 29th April 1916 during the throws of the First World War a battle occurred between the British forces and the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey).

The Siege of Kut, also known as the Siege of Kut Al Amara or the First Battle of Kut involved a British garrison being besieged by the Ottoman Army. The British garrison of Kut was found some 100 miles south of Baghdad in the nook of the meandering Tigris River.

At the outset of the siege the British had an 8,000 strong number of troops, made up of the 6th (Poona) Division, part of the Indian Army. This army was led by the British Major-General Charles Townshend. The Ottoman Army had 11,000 men and was led by the German (Prussian) Field Marshal Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz (who was also a Baron) and the Ottoman Halil Bey.

The British had fallen back to the garrison of Kut on the 3rd December after the Battle of Ctesiphon against the Ottoman Army in November of 1915. This battle saw British lose a lot less men than the Ottoman Turks but also saw the British withdraw with the Ottoman Army in pursuit.

On the 3rd December the British settled into the garrison at Kut where they were dug in strong and well protected. When the Ottomans turned up on the 7th however the overwhelming number of Ottoman soldiers meant the British knew the Ottoman Army could lay siege to the garrison so they let the Cavalry escape south before the siege began.

In the month of December the Ottoman Army made three attacks on the garrison without any success, this led the German leader Field Marshal Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz to change tactics and build siege fortifications to stop the British receiving supplies or escaping.

Reports suggested that one month into the siege the British Major-General Charles Townshend wanted to escape south but was told to stand firm. Major-General Charles Townshend was then to report he only had rations for a month for his men, although there is reason to believe now he had enough for four months on reduced rations.

A relief expedition was sent by the British under General Aylmer in January 1916, this caused the Battle of Sheikh Sa'ad where General Aylmer’s forces were successful in pushing back the Ottoman Army by about ten miles. A few days later Aylmer sent his forces into battle again with the Ottoman Turks, this time called the Battle of Wadi pushing them a further 5 miles back.

General Aylmer decided to embark on a final push on the Ottoman Army but was unsuccessful as the British lost 2,700 men in the battle and this gave the Ottoman Army the strength to push back to earlier positions to keep up the siege. This was the Battle of Hanna.

The Ottoman Army was reinforced with a further 20,000 to 30,000 men to ensure they had enough men to repel any future British forces wishing to relieve the garrison at Kut.

In March further attempts were made by the British to relieve the Kut garrison and all these were unsuccessful. In April the Royal Flying Corps made supply drops to the garrison (believed to be the first supply drops by air in history). This was too little too late for the garrison however the British made a gesture of £2 million to let the British army leave the garrison which was declined and the British therefore surrendered on the 29th April 1916.

Major-General Charles Townshend went to Constantinople as a POW where he was treated well. The rest of the British troops, now numbering 13,000 from all the relief attempts, were forced to march across the desert to Allepo in present day Syria. This march caused many to die as they didn’t have the strength to complete the march.

The Siege of Kut was a decisive victory for the Ottoman Turks however Field Marshal Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz died 2 weeks before the British surrendered from Typhus, although rumours are rife that he may have been poisoned by the people in the Ottoman Army he led.

Reports suggest that in total the British lost 30,000 dead or wounded and 13,000 captured during the siege and the relief operations associated with it while the Ottoman Army lost around 10,000 dead or wounded.

Monday, 19 December 2011

8th Kings Royal Irish Hussars

The 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars were active between 1693–1716 and then 1719-1958. From the year 1800 they served in the UK while prior to this they were based in Ireland.

The 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars saw battle in both World War One and World War Two.

During World War One the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars were battling it out in the trenches of Northern France and Belgium. In fact along with many British forces the Hussars saw battles in some of the most pivotal and well known battles of the war.

The first battles that the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars saw in the First World War was at the Battle of Givenchy between December 18th and the 22nd December 1914. After this the Hussars were then sent into the Second Battle of Ypres. It was commonly known that the Hussars soldiers were frequently sent to the front to dig new trenches.

In the Second World War the Hussars continued there battle hardened ways by becoming a tank force (today the 7th Armoured Division, The Desert Rats based near the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany). The first battles of the Second World War came in the North Africa campaign where the Hussars in British Stuart tanks fighting in Operation Crusader in relieving the Siege of Tobruk.

Other battles ensued which the Hussars joined and suffered many losses before the final African campaign where the 8th Hussars were pivotal in attacking the minefields at Alamein.

After showing bravery in Africa the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars had some resbite in Cyprus before moving back to England. In England the Hussars were re-equipped with the stronger Cromwell tanks and stayed in England until duty called again and the Hussars were then to become a major part in the Normandy landings.

The Hussars were to land at Le Hamel on Gold Beach and were quickly to be brought into intense fighting around Villers-Bocage before then fighting against the 2nd Panzer Division. The Hussar forces saw many smaller battles as well as also being a major part of Operation Goodward in the march through France.

The 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars then battled hard through Belgium and Holland before finally getting over the Rhine into Germany in April 1945. It was in Germany that the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars liberated both the Fallingbostel POW camp and the well known Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp close by.

After working to support the liberated people of the concentration camp and also clear the camp of the thousands of dead bodies the Hussars were then to take part in the Berlin Victory celebrations on the 7th July 1945. Once their work was done the Hussars were based in Itzehoe within Germany until being demobbed in 1946.