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April 25, 2008

Auspicious dates?

Just noticed that yesterday's post was Number 1916 and todays is Number 1917. Both are auspicious dates in European history, 1916 saw the start of the Somme offensive, intended to relieve pressure on the French front further East. It saw some of the bloodiest fighting, fighting which saw the destruction of the Irish 36th Division alongside the Welsh and Scottish Divisions and failed to gain the ground it had been intended to take. Interestingly one Bernard Law Montgomery fought here and his troops having been trained rigorously to advance over the ground by his insistence on practicing by making them "advance" over the ground behind their own lines again and again against their own reserves paid off handsomely - but failed to be followed up by his fellow commanders. A failure he did not permit twenty five years later.

It also saw the Battle of Jutland, the first and only clash of two huge fleets in the entire conflict. Technically, the British lost in terms of material and men, but strategically they won as the High Seas Fleet withdrew to its ports and never again confronted the Grand Fleet in battle. From here on the German Fleet focussed its attention on the U-boat campaign, a bloody and sometimes bitter battle with no quarter asked or given by either side. Earlier this week another date slipped by unnoticed I suspect by the likes of Gordon Brown and the rest of his anti-military shower of muppets - St Georges Day marks the anniversary of the Zeebrugge Raid. Led by Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, three elderly and redundant light cruisers were sunk in the entrance to the canal giving access to Bruge from the sea in an attempt to deny the U-boat flotilla based there escape to the sea. Though it was only partly successful it did reduce the ports usefulness. The Raid is of note for the simple reason that in all of the bloody conflict of WW1 Zeebrugge was the single event which saw the greatest number of Victoria Crosses ever awarded in a single day.

As Sir Roger famously signalled to start the Raid "St George for England" and his final signal was "Congratulations to all - the dragon's tail has been well and truly tweaked." It should be noted that he was himself present on the raid, leading from the front.

1917, for its part, saw the arrival of the American forces in France, their logistical support and their fresh troops enabling the Allies to take advantage of the arrival of the British invention of the 'tank' - so named because they were moved on railway trucks and covered by tarpaulins marked "Water Tank". From here onwards the tide turned steadily against the Central Powers, culminating in the surrender, not without several desperate and bloody attempts to reverse the position by the Central Powers, in November 1918. Which, co-incidently, is the number of this post.

What is perhaps more surprising is just how many of the present divisions and conflicts in our era are directly related to the dispositions and settlements made at Versailles in 1918/19. Yes, even the dramas in the Middle East, Persia, Iraq and Afghanistan are linked to it ......

Posted by The Gray Monk at April 25, 2008 06:13 AM

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