4 September 2016
Amarpal S. Sidhu

Interview with Amarpal Singh, author and historian of military history

Recently I spoke with fellow author and historian Amarpal Singh. This is what he had to say about his fascinating work:

Amarpal S. Sidhu

Amarpal Singh

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

Hi Mark, I’m 53 years old and live in London with Mandeep, my partner and two sons. I came to the UK when I was 6 years old so I’ve spent most of life in this country. We lived in Gravesend, Kent for quite a while but I have lived in the London area ever since my college days. By trade I’m a Computer Software Engineer although I started getting a little bored with writing software about a decade ago. I’m pretty much into writing now although I have a few software projects that I am working on as well.

How did you become interested in military history, and are there any aspects or periods that interest you most?

When I was a kid we had the local library quite nearby and I remember going there to pick up some new books every couple of weeks. I’m pretty sure my interest in History developed at that point and its stayed with me ever since. I really think we need to keep our libraries going for precisely that reason – as that’s the first contact many children have with a vast amount of books of all types and genres, fiction and non-fiction. You simply can’t get that with Amazon or other online book sites. I have quite an eclectic taste myself. I enjoy late Roman period, Byzantine, Ottoman, 18th and 19th Century wars with a bit of WW1 and WW2 thrown in for good measure. I have Hugh Bicheno’s book ‘Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs’ sitting beside me at the moment which I’m relishing starting this weekend. It looks pretty good!

Tell us a little about your Sikh Military History Forum and why you created it?

Since I was researching the Anglo-Sikh Wars I thought it might be a bit of fun to have a Facebook group on that subject as well. There wasn’t another one that tackled this issue in a serious way so its become a big success with nearly thirty thousand members. You get all sorts. Some members are very knowledgeable and others less so – I guess that’s part of the fun of being in a group, everyone learning a little from each other.

Although Britannia Magazine has a number of contributors, the idea to set it up was yours. Please tell us how you came up with the idea and how it has grown since you founded it?

It was really a ‘self-improvement’ idea Mark. I found I was reading and researching less as the years went by due to work and family pressures and of course there was time spent researching and writing my books. I’d love to get back to reading about all sorts of history topics – and also writing about them. I thought about starting my own blog initially but I realized I probably wouldn’t have the discipline to write something on a regular basis as there would be nothing to push me along. However with similar minded people (like yourself) it’s more interesting and fun as you get to plan and write on a shared platform. So I suppose there’s a social angle to it. I do find I’m reading and thinking on varied subjects more now so I think its working on me! The Britannia Magazine page was started seven months ago and is ticking along nicely with over a thousand followers and steadily going up. As ever these things are long term propositions but its looking good.

Your first book was published in 2010. How did you decide on the subject of the First Anglo-Sikh War?

Well it was really a subject that I thought hadn’t been addressed properly by Military Historians in recent times. The last good book was Donald Featherstone’s work ‘At them with the bayonet’ which was released in the late sixties. That was also dealing solely with the first war. So I thought it was high time another work came out. Of course being a Sikh and a Punjabi helped decide the topic as well 😉

Tell us more about your new book, recently published in June this year?

It’s a sequel to the first book really. I covered the first Anglo-Sikh War in the first book and I though I may as well cover the second while I was at it. I thought I might get bored doing both wars back to back but it was actually quite interesting. There are different characters involved and the second war has quite a different nature to the first being more of a rebellion than a war between two states. My only regret is not being able to take some interesting images of the major battlefields and other landmarks for the book. These places lie in Pakistan now. I’ve been allowed into the country before but was refused twice for a visa this year to go back which was very disappointing. But overall I’m very happy with the book.

Apart from your books, have you done any other military history related work, such as magazine articles or TV interviews etc?

I’ve been on BBC programs several times talking about Sikh history but regrettably haven’t been very active writing articles for History Magazines. That’s something I need to rectify. I suppose this is where Britannia Magazine comes in really useful as I find I’m now writing on issues and subjects that I have had an interest in but haven’t written anything on previously. But I will be targeting conventional printed magazines and newspapers/news sites for future articles as well and am also planning write-ups and commentaries on current affairs.

What are your future plans, and have you decided on a subject for your next book?

I’d love to cover early British expansion in India between Plassey and the Battle of Buxar (1757 to 1764) in a comprehensive way. Its an interesting period of North Indian history, what with the Afghan invasions of North India by Ahmed Shah Abdali and the battle of Panipat in 1761.  There was certainly plenty of turmoil and game changing battles in that time! I’m currently mulling over doing a book on Aurangzeb and the English at the moment. Aurungzeb was Mughal Emperor of India between 1659 and 1707 and there was quite a bit going on at the time. The Mughal Empire was at its height but the reign of Aurangzeb introduced weaknesses which led to its decline and fall during the first half of the eighteenth century. He had somewhat mixed feelings about the English and other Europeans and I think this would make a fine book.

Thank you Amarpal for kindly taking the time to tell us about yourself and your interesting work!

You can follow him on Twitter @amarpalsidhu

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21 July 2016
(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Major-General Nevill Smyth VC

On 2 September 1898, Captain Nevill Maskelyne Smyth of the 2nd Dragoon Guards would perform an act of valour that would result in the award of a Victoria Cross. His citation, published in the London Gazette of 15 November 1898, read:

‘At the Battle of Khartum [Omdurman] on the 2nd September, 1898, Captain Smyth galloped forward and attacked an Arab who had run amok among some Camp Followers. Captain Smyth received the Arab’s charge, and killed him, being wounded with a spear in the arm in so doing. He thus saved the life of one at least of the Camp Followers.’

His award would be one of four VCs for the battle, the other three being bestowed upon members of the 21st Lancers for their legendary charge against the Mahdists in Khor Abu Sunt.

Smyth was 30 years old at the time of the battle, having been born in 1868, the son of Sir Warrington Wilkinson Smyth who was a well-known geologist of the time. He also had a first-cousin of some note, in the form of Robert Baden-Powell of Siege of Mafeking fame and founder of the Boy Scout movement.

Following his formal education at Westminster School in London, Smyth joined the British Army and was commissioned as a second-lieutenant in 1888 after completion of his training at Sandhurst. He would be posted to the 2nd Dragoon Guards, joining them in India later that year.

Although he took part in the Zhob Valley Expedition of 1890, his first real taste of active service came in 1896 during the early stages of Major-General Kitchener’s re-conquest of Sudan from the Mahdists. For the Dongola campaign of 1896, Smyth would be mentioned in despatches for his services on ‘intelligence’ duties.

Although the Mahdists were effectively destroyed as a fighting force at Omdurman, their leader, the Khalifa, remained at large for some time, thwarting a number of attempts to capture him. However, he would finally be killed at the Battle of Umm Diwaykarat on 25 November 1899. Smyth would again be mentioned in despatches for services during this action, this time by Colonel Reginald Wingate, again for his intelligence work.

With the Mahdiyya (the Mahdist state in Sudan) dealt with, Smyth joined his regiment in South Africa for service during the Anglo-Boer War, following which he would be promoted to brevet-major in October 1902. A year later, he would be made a substantive major and transferred to the 6th Dragoon Guards in India.

In 1909, Smyth was promoted to lieutenant-colonel, taking command of the 6th Dragoon Guards. Later, he would return to Egypt and take up the post of commandant of the district of Khartoum in Sudan. For several years, from 1913 onwards, he would be heavily engaged in operations aimed at abolishing the slave trade that still persisted in the region.

More active service followed during the First World War, when Smyth was instructed by Kitchener to assume command of the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade in Gallipoli. As brigade commander, he would take part in the Battle of Lone Pine, fought between 6 and 10 August 1915. The action ended in victory for the Australians.

In early 1916, Smyth was again mentioned in despatches and remained in command of his brigade when it was sent to France, where it saw action at Pozières. He was made a temporary major-general in December and given command of the 2nd Australian Infantry Division, being yet again mentioned in despatches twice during 1917.

Towards the end of the First World War, Smyth would be made a substantive major-general and spent time commanding the 58th (2/1st London) Division and, later, the 59th (2nd North Midland) Division.

With the war over, Smyth was made Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1919, and given command of the 47th (1/2nd London) Division, a Territorial Force formation. In 1920, he became honorary-colonel of the 3rd Dragoon Guards. Smyth finally retired from the Army on 5 July 1925.

Smyth would live out his retirement in Australia, on a farm in Balmoral, Victoria with his family. He later became engaged in politics, joining the National Party of Australia, with which he was elected to a seat in the Australian Senate.

On 21 July 1941, Smyth passed away at the age 72. He is buried in Balmoral Cemetery.

Nevill Smyth VC

Nevill Smyth VC

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1 July 2016
Battle of the Somme Featured Image

For Valour: A First-Day Battle of the Somme VC

Temporary-Major Stewart Walter Loudoun-Shand of the Yorkshire Regiment was one of nine men to receive the Victoria Cross – Britain’s highest award for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’ – on the first-day of the Battle of the Somme, fought from 1 July to 18 November 1916. Of those nine, only three would survive that fateful day; Loudoun-Shand, however, was not to be one of the lucky ones.

Born in Ceylon on 8 October 1879, Loudoun-Shand was the son of a plantation owner and one of ten children. When old enough to attend school, he travelled back to England where he received an education in South London before continuing his studies at Dulwich College, graduating in 1897.

When the Anglo-Boer broke out in 1899, Loudoun-Shand volunteered for the Pembroke Yeomanry, rising to the rank of lance-corporal. Later, he would be granted a commission and joined the Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment), serving with the 10th (Service) Battalion of the regiment during the First World War.

The battalion was one of Kitchener’s New Armies formations, having been raised on 30 September 1914 in Richmond as part of K3. It was attached to 62nd Brigade of the 21st Division, and landed in Boulogne, France on 10 September 1915. It would serve on the Western Front throughout the remainder of the war.

It would be with the 10th Battalion that Major Loudoun-Shand ‘went over the top’ on the first-day of the Battle of the Somme. The following citation for his Victoria Cross was published in the London Gazette of 9 September 1916, and explains the circumstances of the award and his subsequent death:

‘For most conspicuous bravery. When his company attempted to climb over the parapet to attack the enemy’s trenches, they were met by very fierce machine gun fire, which temporarily stopped their progress. Maj. Loudoun-Shand immediately leapt on the parapet, helped the men over it and encouraged them in every way until he fell mortally wounded. Even then he insisted on being propped up in the trench, and went on encouraging the non-commissioned officers and men until he died.’

He was thirty-six years of age when he was killed-in-action, and today his name can be found commemorated at the West Norwood Cemetery, although he is buried at the Norfolk Cemetery in Becordel-Becourt near the Somme. His Victoria Cross is part of the Lord Ashcroft Collection, currently on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Major Stewart Loudoun-Shand VC

Major Stewart Loudoun-Shand VC

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1 June 2016
HMS Shark

A Jutland Victoria Cross: Commander Loftus Jones R.N.

A total of four Victoria Crosses were awarded for the Battle of Jutland, fought near Denmark on 31 May-1 June 1916. Several of them are well-known, including those to Jack Cornwell of HMS Chester and Francis Harvey of the Royal Marine Light Infantry. However, few today are aware of Commander Loftus Jones and his actions that led to the posthumous award of Britain’s highest award for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’.

Commander Loftus William Jones VC

Commander Loftus William Jones VC

Born on 13 November 1879, Loftus Jones was the second son of Admiral Loftus Jones of Petersfield in Hampshire. He would be educated at Eastman’s Naval Academy in Fareham, after which he joined the training ship HMS Britannia in 1894.

Following completion of his training, he was appointed midshipman aboard the cruiser HMS Flora in 1897. As a sub-lieutenant, he would serve aboard HMS Spiteful in 1901, later being promoted to lieutenant and command of the torpedo boat HMS Sparrowhawk in 1903. Although he had experience of serving in bigger ships, he spent much of his service aboard a succession of torpedo boats, including: HMS Success (1905-08), HMS Chelmer (1908-10) and HMS Ghurka (1910-13). However, in 1913 he was to take command of the larger HMS Linnet, a Laforey-class (or L-class) destroyer.

Promotion to commander came on 30 June 1914, when he was next given command of HMS Shark, a Acasta-class destroyer that had been launched in 1912. While in command of this vessel, Jones would lead a small flotilla of four ships against a larger force of German cruisers – who were conducting a raid on Scarborough – off the east coast of England in December 1914. He would receive much praise from Admiral David Beatty for his efforts and courage.

HMS Shark

HMS Shark

During the Battle of Jutland, Jones was again in command of HMS Shark and the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, when he confronted a number of German destroyers en route to engaging a squadron of Royal Navy battlecruisers. In the ensuing action, the Shark would be badly damaged and Jones wounded. However, the commander and his crew fought on until he was eventually forced to issue orders to his men to abandon ship. At 19:00 hours on the first day of the battle, a German submarine finally sank the battered destroyer with a torpedo. A total of eighty-five crew of the Shark perished, with a further three being wounded.

Jones was last seen attempting to hold on to a life-raft, but it is believed he finally died due to loss of blood. His body was eventually washed-up on the Swedish coast, where he was buried in the churchyard at Fiskebaksil on 24 June.

The citation for Jones’ Victoria Cross, which was published in the London Gazette of 6 March 1917, offers more details of his actions during the battle:

On the afternoon of the 31st May, 1916, during the action, Commander Jones in H.M.S. “Shark”, Torpedo Boat Destroyer, led a division of Destroyers to attack the enemy Battle Cruiser Squadron. In the course of this attack a shell hit the “Shark’s” bridge, putting the steering gear out of order, and very shortly afterwards another shell disabled the main engines, leaving the vessel helpless. The Commanding Officer of another Destroyer, seeing the “Shark’s” plight, came between her and the enemy and offered assistance, but was warned by Commander Jones not to run the risk of being almost certainly sunk in trying to help him. Commander Jones, though wounded in the leg, went aft to help connect and man the after wheel. Meanwhile the forecastle gun with its crew had been blown away, and the same fate soon afterwards befell the after gun and crew. Commander Jones then went to the midship and the only remaining gun, and personally assisted in keeping it in action. All this time the “Shark” was subjected to very heavy fire from enemy light cruisers and destroyers at short range. The gun’s crew of the midship gun was reduced to three, of whom an Able Seaman was soon badly wounded in the leg. A few minutes later Commander Jones was hit by a shell, which took off his leg above the knee, but he continued to give orders to his gun’s crew, while a Chief Stoker improvised a tourniquet round his thigh. Noticing that the Ensign was not properly hoisted, he gave orders for another to be hoisted. Soon afterwards, seeing that the ship could not survive much longer, and as a German Destroyer was closing, he gave orders for the surviving members of the crew to put on lifebelts. Almost immediately after this order had been given, the “Shark” was struck by a torpedo and sank. Commander Jones was unfortunately not amongst the few survivors from the “Shark” who were picked up by a neutral vessel in the night.

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31 May 2016
HMS Caroline

Battle of Jutland: The Commanders

The Battle of Jutland, fought 100 years ago between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet, was the largest and most important naval engagement of the First World War. Although it ended somewhat indecisively, it was perhaps a victory for Britain, since Germany had failed in its objective of breaking the dominance of the Royal Navy and its persistent blockade of German ports. Much has been written about the action, but who were the principal commanders that held the fate of the war in their hands in mid-1916?

John Rushworth Jellicoe, Royal Navy

John Jellicoe

John Jellicoe

Admiral John Jellicoe commanded the British Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May / 1 June 1916. He had joined the navy as a cadet in 1872, aged 13, later becoming a midshipman on the frigate HMS Newcastle two years later. Several promotions followed over the next few years, including sub-lieutenant in 1878 and lieutenant in 1880. He would find himself in action on land in 1882, when he commanded a company of the Naval Brigade during the British invasion of Egypt.

Following the Egyptian campaign, Jellicoe would become a gunnery officer, joining the staff of the gunnery school at HMS Exeter in 1884. In 1885, he would help in the rescuing of the crew of a steamer that had capsized near Gibraltar, an act for which he was awarded the Board of Trade Silver Medal. By 1891, he had been promoted to commander and was serving aboard the battleship HMS Sans Pareil, after which he also served aboard the battleships HMS Victoria and HMS Ramillies.

He was promoted to captain, in 1897, and assumed command of HMS Centurion, and acted as chief-of-staff to Admiral Edward Seymour during the Boxer Rebellion in China. It would be during this conflict that he was wounded at the Battle of Beicang, later defying the doctor’s prognosis of having fatal injuries. By 1905, he was director of naval ordnance, and promoted to rear-admiral two years later. He worked hard to modernise the Royal Navy, greatly supporting the introduction of the Dreadnought battleships and Invincible class battlecruisers.

Promotion to full admiral came in August 1914, when he was given command of the Grand Fleet. As such, he would go on to command the British fleet during the Battle of Jutland, the only full-scale clash of battleships during the war. His handling of the action has resulted in a degree of controversy, mostly due to claims he acted too cautiously and failed to pursue the German Highs Seas Fleet after it disengaged from the battle. However, he knew losing the Grand Fleet would probably lead to Britain losing the war, a gamble he simply could not take.

David Richard Beatty, Royal Navy

David Beatty

David Beatty

Admiral David Beatty commanded the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland. He was younger than Jellicoe, having been born in 1871, and had joined the navy in 1884, serving on HMS Alexandra as a midshipman in the Mediterranean two years later. In 1890, while serving aboard HMS Ruby, he was promoted to sub-lieutenant, after which he attended the gunnery school at HMS Excellent before being posted to the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert in 1892.

Beatty would be present during Kitchener’s campaign to re-conquer Sudan from the Mahdists between 1896 and 1898, where he acted as second-in-command to Stanley Colville, who commanded a small flotilla of gunboats and other steamers on the Nile river. Colville, however, would be wounded early in the campaign, and so command passed to Beatty for the assault on Dongola, for which he would later be awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Later, when Kitchener was granted permission to advance further into Sudan, Beatty again commanded a number of gunboats and was present at the decisive Battle of Omdurman in 1898.

More active service soon followed, this time during the Boxer Rebellion in China, where Beatty served aboard the battleship HMS Barfleur in 1899. The following year, he would land with 150 men in order to help defend Tientsin from the Boxers; he would later be wounded during the subsequent fighting. However, he would recover and be promoted to captain in November.

By 1910, Beatty had been promoted to rear-admiral, and was appointed to command the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet in 1913. By the time the First World War had begun, he had again been promoted, this time to vice-admiral, and during the war he led his squadron at the actions at Heligoland Bight in 1914, Dogger Bank in 1915 and the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Unlike Jellicoe, Beatty is remembered for being a more aggressive leader, although he has received some criticism for making tactical errors at Jutland and for his lack of effective communication with the commander of the Grand Fleet.

Reinhard Scheer, Kaiserliche Marine

Reinhard Scheer

Reinhard Scheer

Admiral Reinhard Scheer commanded the German Highs Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, and was, therefore, Jellicoe’s principal opponent. Scheer had joined the German navy at the age of 15, in 1879, joining the East Africa Squadron following completion of his training in 1884. During this time, he was posted to the frigate SMS Bismarck, aboard which he would be promoted to Leutnant. He would return to Germany to conduct training in torpedoes before returning to the East Africa Squadron aboard the corvette SMS Sophie.

In 1890, he again returned to Germany and took up a post as an instructor at the Torpedo Research Command in Kiel, becoming a noted specialist in torpedo weapon technology. More promotions followed, including Korvettenkapitän of the SMS Gazelle, Kapitän zur See in 1905 and command of the battleship SMS Elsass in 1907. Several years later, he was aboard the SMS Prinzess Wilhelm as chief-of-staff to Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff, the then commander of the High Seas Fleet. By January 1913, he was commander of II Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet.

Promotion to Vizeadmiral came in December of the same year, and in early 1915 he was placed in command of III Battle Squadron. However, command of the High Seas Fleet finally arrived in January 1916, when Admiral Hugo von Pohl, its previous commander, became too ill to remain in his post. Scheer, therefore, was to command the German fleet during the Battle of Jutland, following which he published his assessment of the engagement, in which he strongly urged the use of unrestricted submarine warfare as the only realistic means of defeating Britain.

Franz Ritter von Hipper, Kaiserliche Marine

Franz von Hipper

Franz von Hipper

Admiral Franz von Hipper joined the Kaiserliche Marine in 1881 as a cadet, spending time aboard the SMS Niobe and the training ships Mars and Friedrich Carl. Following completion of his naval education, he was appointed drill instructor to new recruits at the First Naval Battalion in Kiel in 1885. However, within only a few months he left to attend the Executive Officer’s school, after which he was posted to the Coastal Defence Artillery in 1886.

In March 1887, he was again posted to the Friedrich Carl as a watch officer, before serving aboard a number of other vessels, including the frigate Friedrich der Grosse. Between 1894 and 1895, he found himself serving on the battleship SMS Wörth during which time he was promoted to Leutnant, following which he commanded the Second Torpedo-Boat Reserve Division then the Second Torpedo-Boat Reserve Flotilla in 1897. Promotion to Kapitän zur See came in 1907, taking command of the cruiser SMS Gneisenau the following year. Later, in 1911, he commanded the cruiser SMS Yorck, as well as acting as chief-of-staff to Gustav von Bachmann, who Hipper would succeed as Deputy Flag Officer of Reconnaissance Forces.

During the First World War, Hipper would command a number of battlecruisers and conduct raids on British coastal towns, including Great Yarmouth, Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. He would also be present at the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915 and commanded the I Scouting Group at the Battle of Jutland the following year – known as Skagerrakschlacht, or the Battle of Skagerrak in Germany.

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29 May 2016
HMS Caroline

She Fought at Jutland: HMS Caroline

As the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland – fought on 31 May-1 June 1916 – approaches, Britain has begun to remember those sailors who were present at the action, and in particular those who perished during the fighting. The battle – referred to by the Germans as Skagerrakschlacht, or Battle of Skagerrak – was the largest naval engagement of the war, fought between the Grand Fleet of the British Royal Navy and High Seas Fleet of the Imperial German Navy. There are, of course, no human veterans of Jutland who are still alive today, but there is one survivor which remains as a poignant reminder of this mighty clash of warships, HMS Caroline.

The first of eight of her class, HMS Caroline was launched on 29 September 1914, following her construction at the Cammell Laird shipyards at Birkenhead. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 4 December of the same year, joining the 4th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow almost immediately afterwards. She began her wartime service by patrolling the North Sea searching for enemy vessels.

With a length of 446 feet, she was 41.5 feet in the beam and had a draught of 16 feet. She displaced 3,750 tons unloaded and about 4,219 tons when fully loaded. Propulsion was provided by several turbines built by the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company, allowing Caroline to reach a top speed of around 28 to 29 knots.

Initially, her armament included: two BL 6-inch MK XII naval guns, eight QF 4-inch MK V guns, two 6-pounder guns, and four 3-pounders used for protection against aircraft. Later during the war, the 4-inch guns would be removed in order to fit an additional two 6-inch guns. Caroline’s steel armour consisted of a belt of 1 to 3 inches in thickness – 2.25 inch around the magazines – while her deck was 1 inch thick.

In February 1915, Caroline was attached to the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet, but in early 1916 she was transferred to the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron. It would be with this latter formation that she would take part in the Battle of Jutland under the command of Captain Henry Crooke. The ship would escape the worst of the battle, with only two of her 338 crew being killed during the action. In 1917, she was fitted with a platform for the launching of aircraft, being employed in the North Sea to intercept German airships en route to Britain.

Following the end of the First World War, Caroline remained attached to the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron when it was given orders to head for the East Indies. However, her life as an active warship came to an end in 1922, when she was ordered into the reserve. Fortunately, she would escape being scrapped after she was quickly put back into service in 1924, this time as a training ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at Belfast in Ireland. As part of this, she would have all her armaments removed, which were then employed elsewhere.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Caroline was used a depot ship for an anti-submarine striking force. Later, she was made the headquarters for the Royal Navy in Belfast, helping to support destroyers and corvettes that were employed in escorting Atlantic and Arctic convoys. She would remain in this role until the war ended in 1945, although the headquarters staff increased so much in size that many had to be accommodated off ship.

With hostilities over in late 1945, Caroline was transferred back to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, who continued to use her as a training ship until 2009. The ship, however, was not finally decommissioned until March 2011. Since then, she has been on the list of the National Historic Fleet in the United Kingdom. There was much debate as to what role this historic vessel would now undertake, but, at the time of writing, it was decided that Caroline would remain at the Alexandra Dock in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast.

Restoration work was carried out in order to make her a visitor attraction for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland and beyond. In order to do this, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment worked with other partners to ensure her future. A grant of £11.5 million was also made by the Heritage Lottery Fund, greatly assisting the project.

She remains the second oldest surviving ship of the Royal Navy, HMS Victory having the distinction of being the oldest.

HMS Caroline

HMS Caroline

HMS Caroline in Recent Years

HMS Caroline in Recent Years

To learn more about HMS Caroline, please visit: http://www.nmrn.org.uk/exhibitions-projects/hms-caroline

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3 April 2016

Young Douglas Haig

Most people will have heard of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, who is often remembered as the ‘Butcher of the Somme’ due to the horrendously high casualty rate suffered by the British Army during the offensive in 1916. Indeed, Haig has been a controversial figure amongst historians ever since the end of the First World War, some seeing him as being out of his depth as a senior military commander, while others argue he was the man who won the war. The debate goes on to this day, with little sign of it ever coming to an end. All this, of course, is familiar to any First World War enthusiast, but few know of a young Douglas Haig’s early military career, which is the focus of the following article.

Haig was born on 19 January 1861 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the son of John and Rachel Haig, who ran a successful family whisky distillery business called Haig & Haig. He would be educated at Oxford University, where he was a member of Brasenose College and the Bullingdon Club, later playing polo for the university team. Following his education, he would join the British Army in January 1884, attending the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. On 7 February the following year, he was commissioned into the 7th Hussars as a lieutenant.

His first overseas posting came in late 1886, when he went to India with his regiment as adjutant. In this role he gained much respect from his senior officers, showing his considerable organisational skills, while also gaining a reputation for strict discipline. In January 1891, Haig was promoted to captain.

In 1892, Haig left India and returned to England with the intention of sitting his examinations for entry into the Staff College at Camberley. Unfortunately, the young captain failed the mathematics test and was refused a place. The fact that he was colour blind also contributed to his failure to gain a place, when Sir Redvers Buller refused to back him due to his eye sight.

Following this failure, Haig returned to India, but he would soon be back in England acting as aide-de-camp for Sir Keith Fraser, who, at the time, was inspector-general for the cavalry. Fraser, who liked Haig, managed to secure for him a place at the Staff College, and, in 1894, he finally achieved his allusive goal. It was shortly after this time that he became staff officer to Colonel John French, the future commander of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front in 1914.

It would be in Sudan, during Major-General Horatio Herbert Kitchener’s re-conquest of 1896-98, that Haig would experience active service for the first time. He would be appointed as an officer in the Egyptian Army – which was made up of Egyptian, and later Sudanese, troops but commanded largely by British officers – where he would act as staff officer to Lieutenant-Colonel Robert George Broadwood, who commanded a brigade of Egyptian cavalry.

During his time in Sudan, Haig would take part in several skirmishes with the Mahdists and be present at the battles of Atbara and Omdurman. He would later be critical of Kitchener’s tactics at both battles, even going as far as to state that his superior had ‘no plan, or tactical idea, for beating the enemy’. With the Mahdists crushed and the cities of Khartoum and Omdurman back under Anglo-Egyptian control, Haig was promoted to brevet major on 15 November 1898.

In May the following year, Haig returned to England, where he was appointed as brigade-major to the 1st Cavalry Brigade at Aldershot. A month later, his rank as major was made substantive, and in September he was made Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General (DAAG). His stay in England, however, would again be short, since he was ordered to go to South Africa as Assistant Adjutant-General to French, who was now in command of a brigade being sent to fight the Boers.

Haig would see much service during the Anglo-Boer War, being present at the Battle of Elandslaagte in October 1899, after which he and French just managed to escape being stuck in Ladysmith before the siege began. When Frederick Roberts arrived to take over as commander-in-chief of British forces in South Africa, he appointed Charles Hay (the Earl of Erroll) as Assistant Adjutant-General of the cavalry division. French had hoped to appoint Haig to this position, but his subsequent protests fell on deaf ears. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Haig later heavily criticised Roberts – in a similar fashion to way in which he derided Kitchener several years earlier – describing the commander-in-chief as a ‘silly old man’ and wasteful of horses.

When Kitchener was later appointed as commander of British forces in South Africa, both French and Haig found themselves commanding a force occupying the area in and around Johannesburg in late 1900. Later, in January 1901, Haig led a column of troops in the hope of catching the Boer commander Pieter Hendrik Kritzinger. It would also be around this time that he took part in the so-called ‘scorched earth’ policy of destroying Boer farms and homesteads, as well as escorting Boer civilians into the concentration camps, which remains an extremely controversial aspect of the war to this day.

Finally, in May 1901, Haig was given command of his own regiment of cavalry, the 17th Lancers. He would also be mentioned in dispatches on four separate occasions for his services in South Africa and promoted to lieutenant-colonel in July. The award of the Companion of the Order of the Bath had already been conferred on him in November the previous year.

In 1903, Haig relinquished his command of the 17th Lancers in order to travel to India to take up the position of inspector-general of cavalry. The following year, he was promoted to major-general, becoming the youngest officer in the British Army to hold the rank at that time, and in 1906 he was appointed director of military training on the General Staff at the War Office. Our story now takes us towards the First World War, and what is the far more familiar Haig remembered by most today.

Douglas Haig in 1885

Douglas Haig in 1885

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13 March 2016

Book Review | Wellington’s Redjackets: The 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot on Campaign in South America and the Peninsula, 1805-14 by Steve Brown (2015)

Title: Wellington’s Redjackets: The 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot on Campaign in South America and the Peninsula, 1805-14
Author: Steve Brown
Publication Date: 2015
Publisher: Frontline Books
ISBN: 978-1-47385-175-7

The Peninsular War of 1808 to 1814 was, perhaps, the principal theatre of war during the wider Napoleonic Wars where Britain was able to make a significant contribution to the fight against Napoleon on land. Anyone with an interest in British history will have heard of the Duke of Wellington and his campaigns against the French in Portugal and Spain. Many will also have heard of the exploits of the legendary 95th Rifles or the almost equally famous 52nd Regiment of Foot, another light infantry unit. Numerous other regiments, of course, fought under the duke’s command during the campaign, many of which also have a rich an interesting history; yet so little is heard about them outside of official regimental histories or brief mentions in other works. Thanks to author Steve Brown, we can now learn much about the 45th Regiment of Foot, which clearly rates amongst some of the best in the Peninsula.

Although this title largely concentrates on the 45th in Portugal and Spain, the book begins with the regiment in South America, a theatre of war that still remains under-studied in the history of the Napoleonic Wars, thus offering the reader something more than just details of the fighting on the Iberian Peninsula. However, the story really begins when the regiment landed in Portugal in late 1808, after which the author chronologically examines the activities of the battalion, which remained in the Peninsula until the end of the war in 1814. (The book itself is separated into parts, each examining a full year of the war while being further subdivided into three to five chapters.) The 45th would take part in – or at least be present at –  the battles or sieges of Rolica, Vimiera, Talavera, Busaco, Fuentes D’Onoro, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Orthes and Toulouse; making it one of the most experienced of Wellington’s infantry regiments by the time of Napoleon’s first defeat. One could even argue that the 45th should take pride of place alongside the legendary 95th Rifles and 52nd Foot.

Overall the book is extremely well written and enjoyable to read. It is packed full of detail and, although there are none of the usual illustrations or images, there are many useful maps. This book should appeal to anyone with an interest in the Napoleonic Wars, and especially those with a particular enthusiasm for the Peninsular War. It deserves five out of five stars!

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