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 06:13 AM | TrackBack

June 06, 2007

Remember the D-Day fallen

On this day sixty-three years ago, thousands of allied soldiers stormed ashore in Normandy. Thousands never made it off the beaches and many died before even reaching them. On the German side as well, the casualty rate was high and we should remember them too, not least because they were the victims of a form of Political Correctness introduced into their media and schools in the late 1920's and used to promote one of the worst social engineering experiments ever devised.

We should remember the cost of overthrowing the perpetrators of that as we contemplate the current drive by a similarly dogmatic and ideologically driven group who seek to promote an equally intolerant and dangerous form of ideology in our age.

The men who stormed ashore on the 6th June 1944 on those beaches in Normandy, did not do so in order to replace one form of totallitarian thinking with another. We should remember that. And we should remember their sacrifice for our freedom. That was their memorial, one which those who dogmatically promote the Political Correct tyranny on the rest of us and who seek to take ever more control of the minutiae of our lives into their own hands are no better than the dictator these men gave their lives to overthrow. We must not allow that memorial to be destroyed.

Ecclesiasticus 44. 9 - "And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:57 AM | TrackBack

March 10, 2006

Farewell to a father

Mausi and her family today said a final farewell to her father. His ashes have now been interred and the family must now adjust to a gap in it's ranks. This will not be easy to do, since the "missing man" will always be present in little reminders, little momentos and the occassional sense of presence.

Many people who have not gone through this experience think that a funeral provides closure, an end and a closing of doors. It doesn't. The gap is always present in the hearts and minds of those who continue in this life, and, while it becomes less painful with time, one is always conscious of the absence of someone you could share something with, have a joke with or simply be with. For a husband or wife it is even more pointed at the moment when, some weeks after a funeral, everyone assumes that you are coping and can now "get on" without their help. That is often when the real pain hits for the first time.

I believe that one important reason why we miss the absent member so much is that we are very much creatures created by those we interact with, relate too or have grown up with. Our parents in particular are instrumental in bringing us into this world, but in a veryt real sense they are also the instruments by which we are formed in the formation of our characters and personality. It is their rebuffs which harden us, their open love that warms us and their laughter that inspires us. As John Donne wrote, "if a promotory were to fall into the sea and be washed away, Europe is the less"; just so with us, if a friend depart from this life we are ourselves reduced by that departure, since we no longer have that interaction, and inspiration to enlarge our own horizons.

Consider the epitaph to Sir Christopher Wren in St Paul's Cathedral in London: it translates as "If you seek his monument, look about you." That is also true of every individual who has played a role in our own growth and development. If you seek their monument - look in a mirror. You are as much a reflection of all who have played a part in your life as you are in theirs.

Reinhard has left this life for another, but a part of him remains in his daughters and in his wife. He will walk among them as long as they live.

Pray my brothers and sisters, that this family will know and feel the comfort of God's loving presence through the days ahead, that everytime they feel the absence of their father, they will know he is still there with them awaiting them in due time.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:07 PM | TrackBack

February 27, 2006

A rare man passes

Mausi's father, a man I met only once, and count myself privileged to have done so, died tonight. He underwent major surgery a few weeks ago to remove and contain a tumour in his lungs - a major strain for a man of his age - and then contracted a bug. The indications were that the cancer was already spreading when this happened, but, not being someone able to admit defeat easily, he fought it.

His age, the trauma of the surgery, the infection and quite probably the cancer finally overcame him and he passed from this life to the next this evening.

I ask your prayers for his family and for all who will mourn his passing. Those of us who met him were privileged to have known him, even casually. His was not the easiest passage through life for a variety of reasons, not least being that he was a teenager in the period 1939 - 1945, then had to try and settle in a new area and complete a disrupted education in a destroyed nation. That he succeeded tells you a great deal about the man, his determination and his singleminded approach to any goal worth achieving.

May he rest in peace with the saints and rise in glory.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:31 PM | TrackBack

October 21, 2005

Confusion to Bonaparte ......

Exactly 200 years ago today the British fleet took on the combined fleets of France and Spain in an epic battle off Cape Trafalgar, South of Cadiz. As almost every school child in Britain now knows, the result was the near annihilation of the Combined Fleet and the death of Britains arguably most famous Admiral. Even so, many do not know the names of the ships involved, the other Captains and Admirals or that it brought the deaths of over 8,000 French and Spanish seamen and almost 500 British - althought there were many more injured.

Even fewer could probably tell you that the battle ended with 18 of the Combined fleet's ships under British Prize crews - or that most of these were lost in the "hurricane" that struck the fleets that night. In fact it was the storm that killed most of the casualties as the crippled and seriously damaged ships were driven ashore or simply sank, unable to keep the pumps going at a rate sufficient to keep the ship afloat. That was the fate of the ship from which a sharpshooter shot Nelson, the French "Redoubtable" under the command of probably the only man on the French side who had thought through how he could best use his ship against the superior British gunnery.

It is said, by some sources, that the French Commander in Chief, Admiral Villeneuve, lost the battle in HMS Victory's first shot from her massive 68 pdr Carronades mounted on her forecastle. It is reported that a shot from one of these, a hollow caste iron ball filled with steel balls or "grape" shot, struck the French flagship, the Bucentaure's mizzen mast directly above Villeneuve's staff, killing most of them and leaving the Admiral unable to communicate in the first vital minutes of the battle. It is ironic that Nelson had ordered his Flag Captain to pass ahead of the Bucentaure, between that ship and the huge Santissima Trinidade - at 130 guns the largest warship then afloat - but Victory had been unable to make sufficient speed to do this and so passed between Bucentaure and the next ship astern to collide with Redoubtable which had been deliberately positioned by her Captain to bring this about. Had she passed ahead of Bucentaure, Nelson may well have survived and Villeneuve may well have succeeded in bringing about a slightly different outcome.

Once the two fleets had become fully engaged in what was more of a melee than a battle - the wind fell away to a mere breeze and most ship's crawled into position, some not reaching the engagement until almost nightfall - each ship basically fought whoever was nearest and in range of their guns. Victory was grappled by Redoubtable and their yards were lashed together by Captain Lucas' crew, who also slammed shut their gun ports and concentrated on musketry against Victory's upper deck guncrews and officers. Victory's gunners however, continued to fire their massive cannon into Redoubtable, the muzzles of the massive 32 pdrs on her lower gun deck actually resting against the Redoubtable as they fired! A further British ship found herself enmeshed in the Redoubtable's disengaged side and then had to row a boat around to ask Victory to depress her guns as they were damaging the newcomer. This in turn meant that these heavy guns were now blasting their shot through the bilges of the Redoubtable whose pumps had also been shot away and so she was basically being held afloat by the two British ships.

Captain Lucas actually sent word aboard both ships demanding assistance to keep his ship afloat as, if she sank, there was the potential for her to take both Victory and the second ship (possibly, if memory serves me, the Temeraire, a former French ship captured and taken into British service) with her to the bottom. As it was, shortly thereafter, Redoubtable was forced to surrender but the ship was beyond saving, and sank in the subsequent storm.

Much has been written about the battle and it's aftermath, and many have doubted the willingness to fight of the Spanish and French ships which failed to engage during the action. What tends to get overlooked is that Nelson had taken a very bold step, one which Admiral Scheer refused at Jutland (Skagerak to the German side), of sailing his ships into the "crossed T" where they would be subjected to a punishing fire from the massed ships ahead while being unable to reply effectively themselves. In so doing he split the opposing fleet and the ships ahead and astern of the engagement found themselves with the almost impossible task of trying to beat to windward in the dying breeze to join the engagement.

The second matter which tends to get overlooked is that the British seamen could fire three to four times for each shot fired by their opponents. It was this massive rate of fire which carried the day for them, once they got into a firing position, their sheer volume of fire meant that their opponents soon found themselves suffering enormous damage. Secondly, as each ship sailed through a gap in the line of French and Spanish ships, she was able to pour all her fire power into the vulnerable bow or stern of the ships either side of her. Given an estimated time of four minutes to sail through the gap, this meant that each of Victory's 52 guns on each side would have fired at least seven shots as they passed between the Bucentaure and the ship astern of her! What this did to the Bucentaure can best be judged by "the butcher's bill" as it resulted in over 400 of her crew becoming casualties very early in the battle, with her wheel shot away and her stern in ruins. This left them unable to service the remaining guns (raking fire of this kind usually dismounted guns and left the gundeck a shambles of overturned guns and carriages, dead, dying and injured) and even fewer "Topmen" to work the ship and keep her under command. It frequently also severed the tiller lines and destroyed the head of the rudder, thereby destroying the ship's ability to steer as well.

Small wonder then, that this battle has left the indelible mark that it has, for, until Jutland, nothing like it would be seen at sea again. It ended the French intention of invasion of England, turning the Grand Armee' East to Austria, Prussia and its abortive assault on Moscow. So, in one sense, it was the beginning of the road which led ultimately to Waterloo and the destruction of the Napoleonic tradition of victory for French arms.

Ironically, the Royal Navy of today can muster fewer ships in total than formed the fleet Nelson commanded. While it may be argued that today's ships are far more powerful and far more deadly, they do not provide the same degree of cover that the RN provided in 1805 - or, to quote the fatuous argument of the Civil Service of today - that of the Grand Fleet of 1916. One ship may have more firepower than any of these fleets, but it is still a single ship and cannot be in twenty seven places as the individual ships of Nelson's fleet could. In 1805 the RN had a Channel Fleet, a Mediteranean Fleet (Nelson's fleet would assume this title later) a "Squadron" in the North Sea which could also be strengthened to Fleet proportions very quickly, another fleet in the West Indies, a squadron at the Cape and another "fleet" scattered between India, Australia and the South China sea. A total of over a thousand ships.

Our strength has always lain in our ability to command the seas around these islands. Governments that neglect that fact have learned to their cost that, without our sea defences, we are hostages to fortune. As the American Admiral Mahan wrote, a navy is the one instrument which can carry a nations defences beyond it's own shores and influence it's foreign relations significantly. We, it seems, have still not learned that lesson, or the one of the second Dutch War, when, after winning what politicians thought was the final battle at sea, they started negotiations and decommissioned the entire fleet, laying it up in the Medway. Then they found themselves trying to salvage their "victory" after the Dutch Admiral van Tromp destroyed the entire fleet and towed away the flagship as a trophy!

All that Nelson achieved has now been thrown away by ignorant politicians and civil servants interested only in their "rules" and self aggrandisement. I wonder how many of those thinking of Nelson's victory today will realise that, had he not won the battle, he could have been courtmartialled for disobeying the "Fighting Instructions" a rigid set of "rules" for commanders that required them to engage an enemy fleet in single line ahead, broadside to broadside. Nelson flouted them blatantly and flagrantly to achieve a smashing victory that changed history. That is the stuff of which leaders are made.

My title for this post? It comes from the toast drunk by Naval Officers during the Napoleonic wars "Confusion to Bonaparte, and death to the French!" Perhaps time to lay the sentiments expressed in it to rest, but not, perhaps, the time to forget this great victory in what was then seen as a fight against the tyranny of revolution a French victory was thought to bring, and a reminder that freedom comes at a very high price - one that gets higher whenever preparedness and vigilance fails!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 03, 2005

An infamous anniversary

Today is the 66th anniversary of the invasion of Poland which sparked the second world war. That invasion saw the collapse of all the false hopes of the appeasers represented by Neville Chamberlain's infamous "piece of paper" and "Peace in our time!"

Once again, we live in a world in which great strife is the norm and unresolved conflicts and clashes of culture are threatening peace, yet we are also seeing the "democratic" nations cutting back on defence as never before - because the "appeasers" are once again in power and working their weazel philosophy.

On this day of all days we should remember that had the world stood firm against Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese leadership from the end of the first great conflict, had they remained strong and maintained effective and powerful armed forces, Hitler and his chums could not have caused the havoc they did.

As the great Roman general Tacitus said; "Si vis pacem; para bellum!"

If you seek peace, prepare for war.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:49 PM | TrackBack

August 14, 2005

Why VJ Day must be marked

"Victory in Japan" Day marks the real end of the hostilities in the Second World War. It is a source of some hurt to those who fought in that theatre - many who were there from the start and saw it all the way through - that the "folks at home" almost forgot that the war continued in the Far East for a further four months after victory was achieved in Europe. It has been a source of huge anger among ex-servicemen and women, and this government, with its "internationalist" and "anti-military" attitudes (except when it suits them to make use of the military!) have succeeded in causing even more hurt and anger this year by combining the two events into one day - which annoyed both sets of participants!

It should never be forgotten that it was the Labour Party who refused to wait until the war was won and finished before forcing an election. It was the same Labour Party who promptly diverted funds from the war effort that saw the British Pacific Fleet short of fuel and ammunition at a crucial moment. It was the same Labour Party who promptly, having gerrymandered their election win, set about appeasing and doing deals with Stalin - one of which saw 20,000 Georgian Cossacks returned to Stalin to be executed, something Attlee knew was going to happen! This is the same Party who now rule and who are still unable to acknowledge that they owe the men who fought in Burma and the Far East a huge debt of gratitude!

To compound the hurt on the part of the Burma Star and Pacific Star veterans, there is the little matter of record that the US military commanders had to be ordered to allow the British Forces Chief's to be at the signing of the surrender. In fact, Sir Bruce Fraser's flagship, HMS King George V, was the only British ship in Tokyo Bay for the signing, and she was only there as a direct result of an order to the US C-in-C to await her arrival.

While there is a general acknowledgement that the British fought a "holding" action against the Japanese in Burma and along the Indian and Chinese borders, and that the US Forces bore the brunt of the pursuit through the island chains, they were there, and they made a huge contribution to the ultimate victory. Thier restricted role was purely a matter of priorities and resources, as the British Fleets were first and foremost required in the Mediterranean and Atlantic battles, since, a victory for the Axis powers in Europe or Africa and the Middle East, would have meant that the Far East situation would have been infinitely worse. It must also be said that the deployment of the ANZAC forces in Africa and Southern Europe while the Japanese were threatening invasion of Northern Australia from New Guinea was certainly not a popular decision by the War Cabinet in Britain with the Australians!

That said, the British Forces who did bear the brunt of the fighting from 1941 to 1945 in Burma, the Indian Ocean, and the Java Sea area were always short of equipment, manpower, and, for the Naval forces, ships and air cover. Even so, they tied down a very large number of Japanese forces and fire power which, if released to fight and defend the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, or the rest of the islands the US Forces were liberating one by one, would have made that job ten times harder. Even so, the British and Empire forces deployed whatever they could in support - and lost heavily, frequently being committed to battles to defend landing beaches and troop support convoys against vastly superior forces. This resulted in the loss of many fine ships and men in the Pacific battles - but which also provided pivotal support for the US Forces at key stages of the island liberation. It was sad therefore that the then C-in-C Pacific of the US Navy did not like the British. He did his best, when Britain was finally able to send a proper fleet of modern battleships, aircraft carriers, and all the support train, to keep them on the sidelines and as far as possible from the action. Fortunately he was overruled by Presidential order, but it still does not sit well with the men of the Burma and Pacific Star associations. Nor does the annual reminder that theirs was a "forgotten" theatre as far as the British public and politicians are concerned.

Earlier this month we marked the dropping of the first atomic bomb - "Little Boy" - on Hiroshima. A few days later a second, "Fat Man" was dropped on Nagasaki, and within a few days of that event, Japan surrendered unconditionally. The 15th of August 1945 saw the assembly in Tokyo Bay of the might of the US Navy - and one British Battleship - and the signing aboard the USS Missouri, of the instrument of surrender. It is only right, indeed it is important, that we mark this date as the ending of the second World War.

It was not the end of a "War to end all war", nor did it herald an era of peace - the terrorist war is proof of that - but it did mark the end of organised global conflict and the standing down of armies all around the world. All too soon the Communist Regimes of the newly "liberated" States would impose a new form of conflict, when they discovered that a determined "free" world would fight to remain free of their ideological poison. It is a sad reflection that the "War on Terror" is almost entirely a result of the "Cold War" which resulted from that stand off.

If nothing else, the marking of VJ Day should remind us that we can never relax our vigilance in our defence. There are still a large number of extremely evil and dangerous regimes who would like nothing more than to overthrow the free world and impose their evil on the world. We owe it to our veterans to resist that to the very last breath. This is something the Labour Party's ideologues still have trouble understanding.

"Si vis pacem; para bellum."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:23 AM | Comments (1)