Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Stilton Soda Bread

Stilton Soda Bread

Serves 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 minutes

Soda bread is a traditional way of making a tasty bread without all the messing about with bread yeast that some cooks think to be a bit too much trouble. Adding a little Stilton makes the soda bread even more irresistible! Delicious served warm from the oven, torn into hunks.

11oz wholemeal flour
11oz plain white flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
5oz Blue Stilton, cubed
1oz Blue Stilton, crumbled finely
1pt skimmed milk

Sift the flours into a mixing bowl with the bicarbonate of soda.
Stir in the cubed Stilton and enough milk to make the dough soft.
Turn out the dough on to a floured board and knead lightly.
Shape into a round loaf and score a cross into the top.
Place the loaf on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Cook in a preheated fairly hot oven (220°C Gas mk 7) for 35 minutes until just brown.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle over the crumbled Stilton and return to the oven for 1 minute to melt the cheese.

This is an extract from Leicestershire Food and Drink by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 25 June 2010

Hitler and Mussolini get off to a bad start

Hitler knew he would need friends abroad, and that he would also need to woo potential enemies into neutrality or browbeat them into submission. In his search for friends, Hitler felt himself constrained. The Nazi movement was entirely homegrown within Germany so, unlike the Communists, there was no pre-existing international network of which to take advantage. There were, however, plenty of regimes which had reason to fear the Communists, as did Hitler. And there was already one nationalist, right wing dictatorship in existence in Europe. It was only natural that Hitler would turn to Benito Mussolini, Fascist dictator of Italy, in his search for a foreign friend.

Unfortunately, the campaign to woo Mussolini got off to a bad start. In April 1933 Hitler announced a boycott of Jewish businesses. Mussolini sent the Italian ambassador in Berlin to Hitler with a message urging him to soften the anti-Semitic policies of Nazism. Eager as he was to make friends with Mussolini, Hitler was not to be put off. He told the Italian ambassador that there were very few Jews in Italy, so Mussolini did not understand the problem.

In October, Hitler upset Mussolini again when he took Germany out of the League of Nations. The Italian dictator had long viewed the League of Nations as a useful talking forum and shop window through which to present a reasonable face to the world. For a fellow right wing dictator to treat the world’s largest international organisation with contempt was, Mussolini felt, not merely a mistake but a blow to his own prestige.

This is an extract from Hitler Military Commander by Rupert Matthews.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Wild Bill Hicock

Wild Bill Hickock (1837-1876) was born James Butler Hickock in Illinois and fought in the Civil War when he became so famous for his courage and marksmanship that he was hired by the army to act as a scout in the Indian wars that followed. In 1869, Wild Bill, as he was by this date known, was hired as a sheriff in Kansas. He solved a local crime wave by the simple expedient of shooting dead the gang leader. He then moved on to the cattle town of Abilene, the mining town of Deadwood and other troublespots. How many men he killed is unknown, but he curbed crime and disorder wherever he went. On 2 August 1876 he was playing poker in Deadwood when a cowboy named Jack McCall got up form his chair and shot Hickock in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Hickock was holding a pair of eights and a pair of aces, ever afterwards called the “dead man’s hand” in poker circles.

This is an extract from Heroes, Rascals and Rogues by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Typhoon Fighter arrives in Sussex

The spring and summer of 1944 would prove to be the busiest period of the war for Fighter Command in Sussex, outstripping the hectic days of the Battle of Britain. The reason was, of course, the D-Day invasions of Europe. Located directly north of the Normandy beaches, Sussex was the ideal launchpad for air missions and offered the closest airfields – always a consideration for short-range aircraft such as fighters.

Among those fighters was now a new addition to Fighter Command’s arsenal: the Hawker Typhoon. With a choice of either 12 machine guns or four cannon, the Typhoon was designed to be a hard-hitting bomber destroyer able to top 400mph. However, problems with the Sabre engine delayed production so long that by the time it was ready for operations the worst of the Luftwaffe bombing raids were over. Experience soon showed that at anything over 18,000 feet it was too heavy to match either the Messerschmitt Bf109 or Focke Wulf Fw190 for agility. Since achieving air control now rested on defeating those fighters at high altitude, the Typhoon seemed redundant.

However, the Typhoon was a clear match for the German fighters under 14,000 feet, so it could cope well with the task of flying close escort for Allied bombers in daylight. However it was the perfection of air to ground rockets late in 1943 that turned the Typhoon into a truly awesome weapon of war. The big, powerful fighter could carry eight rockets as well as its more conventional armament, so it could act as a ground-attack and fighter aircraft at the same time. The rockets could be fired in pairs or all at once, concentrating as much explosive fire power as the broadside of a naval cruiser. Firing rockets proved to be even more accurate than divebombing. The Typhoon would go on to become a much feared sight for the German army, able to blow apart even the largest tanks with ease.

This is an extract from Heroes of Fighter Command Sussex by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 17 June 2010

War Approaches for the RAF in Kent, 1939

In April 1939, just as the squadrons based in Kent were getting themselves sorted out and fitted in to Dowding’s plan for Fighter Command, politics intruded in an unwelcome way. As war with Germany loomed closer, the French and British governments began detailed discussions on joint strategy. The French had to make the deeply embarrassing admission that their air force was simply not up the task of facing the Luftwaffe.

The main French weakness was fighters. The magnificent Dewoitine 520 was behind schedule, with only 30 of a planned 400 having been delivered, while the Potez 63 and Breguet 690 were outclassed by the German aircraft. The British government agreed to send four RAF squadrons equipped with Hurricanes to France if war broke out. Dowding was horrified as this represented some 20% of his squadrons with modern fighters. He was even less impressed when he got reports on the dire condition of the French airfields from which the squadrons were supposed to operate. Dowding earmarked some squadrons – none of them from Kent – for service in France but made clear that he would not send them unless the airfields were improved.

Fighter Command in Kent suffered its first casualties even before war began. In early August 1939 a practice black-out was held across London. Two Hurricane pilots of No.60 Squadron, FO Olding and FO Wollaston, were sent up to observe the results from the air. A gale blew up, and both men crashed into Tatsfield Hill when trying to land back at Biggin Hill. A few days later Winston Churchill dropped by to the Officers’ Mess from his nearby home at Chartwell.

This is an extract from Heroes of Fighter Command Kent by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Everyday Dangers in RAF Bomber Command

A raid on Cologne on 31 October 1944 showed up two of the routine hazards encountered by the crews of Bomber Command, and both happened to aircraft of 153 Squadron.

Just after take off, Squadron Leader Gee found his airspeed indicator was not working. The navigator was able to guide the aircraft to Cologne and back more or less on schedule, but the real danger came on landing. Gee tried to gauge his speed, but darkness covered the landscape and it was not until he touched down that he realised he was going far too quickly. The brakes were jammed on full, but even so the heavy bomber missed a building only narrowly and shuddered to a halt just feet from the perimeter fence.

Meanwhile, over Cologne the Lancaster A Apple piloted by Flying Officer Wheeler. suddenly veered savagely to starboard. Thinking a flak shell might have burst under the port wing, Wheeler peered out, but could see no obvious damage. He continued to bomb on target, then turned for home. At this point a palefaced wireless operator came into the cockpit in a clear state of distress. “Skipper,” he said, “The starboard wing’s damaged”.

Wheeler now looked out the other side of the cockpit to see a gaping hole over a yard across in the centre of the starboard wing. The wireless operator then reported that he had taken up his usual position in the small perspex dome in the top of the fuselage, the astrodome, to keep an eye out for the risk of collision with other bombers in the closely packed stream. He had glanced up to see an entire stick of 1,000lb bombs hurtling down seemingly straight at him. “I was too paralysed to speak” he confessed. Most of the bombs missed A Apple, but one had hit the wing. Wheeler got his aircraft back safely.

The Lancaster “Q Queenie” piloted by Flying Officer Williams completed the Cologne mission without incident, but on coming in to land before dawn the aircraft suddenly lurched upward and sideways. Only with great skill did Williams regain control of the bomber in time to put it down on the runway. Having parked the bomber, the crew climbed out to find leaves and twigs jammed in the undercarriage. Clearly Williams had clipped the top of a tree unseen in the darkness.

Such were the dangers faced by the crews of Bomber Command, even when the Germans were not trying to kill them.

This is an extract from Heroes of Bomber Command Lincolnshire by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Coming of the RAF Pathfinders

In August 1942 there took place a reorganisation in Bomber Command which was to have a profound effect on the future of the war, though it did not seem like that at the time and certainly was only marginal to the fighting experiences of the men serving in Norfolk.

For some months it had been becoming increasingly clear to the higher command that only some crews could be relied upon to find targets consistently and bomb them accurately, even with the new navigational equipment entering service. It had therefore become usual to assign these crews to the task of flying slightly ahead of the main bomber stream on a raid. They would bomb the target with flares or incendiaries to mark it clearly for the following bombaimers. Harris, as head of Bomber Command, left the choice of which crews from which squadrons should do the marking to his Group staff, or even to individual squadron commanders, on the grounds that they knew the crews and conditions over the targets best.

However, the staff at the Air Ministry disagreed. Group Captain Bufton, Director of Bomber Operations, was increasingly of the view that marking a target was such a specialised skill that it demanded a type of individual training that was not available to crews on bomber squadrons. He wanted to form a Target Marking Force of four squadrons which would be specially trained for the sole task of target marking.

The row between Harris and Bufton rumbled on for weeks. Finally Sir Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, backed Bufton. The new force was, however, given the name suggested by Harris: The Pathfinders.

The Pathfinders were based at Wyton, outside Norfolk, but their work was to have a huge impact on the men from Norfolk bombing Germany. And the establishment of the force would pave the way for the later formation of the specialised 100 Group, which would be based in the county.

This is an extract from Heroes of Bomber Command Norfolk by Rupert Matthews

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Armies gather for the Battle of the Solway Moss 1542

The fight on Solway Moss was really little more than a skirmish, but its consequences were immense. Some have argued that this little fight was more important in the long run than the great battle at Flodden.

The conflict grew out of the continental ambitions of England’s King Henry VIII. Keen to play a part in European affairs, Henry did not want a hostile neighbour in his rear. He therefore set out to settle the outstanding differences between himself and his nephew Scotland’s James V. Henry decided on a policy of bullying mixed with charm and tempting offers. He thus encouraged his northern barons to launch a series of raids over the border while at the same time sending James gifts and inviting him to a meeting in York in September 1541. Henry, of course, denied he had anything to do with the raids and claimed the meeting was a chance to sort out the mutual differences.

James agreed to travel to York, not least because he was in a difficult position at home and was desperate to stop the border raids. The Scottish nobles had never taken to King James V, still less to his domineering queen, and truculently refused to pay taxes or obey laws that they did not like. At the last moment James refused to go to York after being told by a Scottish bishop that Henry planned to kidnap him.

Henry was furious. He ordered the English ambassador to Scotland both to ask James awkward questions and to stir up the nobles as much as possible. He also told his own border nobles to increase their raids and in February gave secret instructions to the commanders of his border fortresses to help the raiders in any way possible.

Sir Thomas Wharton, Governor of Carlisle, responded by sending a galloper to Henry informing him that James was at Dumfries with only a small guard. Wharton asked permission to take his troops over the border to kill or kidnap James – rather ironic in light of James’s concerns over the meeting at York. Henry asked his council of nobles for advice. They were shocked and advised the king to avoid a scheme which would not only inevitably lead to war but would also put England in a very bad light on the European diplomatic scene. Wharton, they said, should concentrate on Carlisle, not Dumfries.

In August 1542 a force of English raiders pillaged deep into Teviotdale and acquired a large quantity of plunder. On the way back the English were ambushed by the Earl of Huntly at Haddon Rig. The English fled, but the less nimble horsemen among them were captured and one of these was Robert Bowes, Governor Berwick. No longer could Henry claim the border raids were nothing to do with him. In October another English raid burnt Kelso and Roxburgh, this time the regular English army was involved.

By the start of November James had managed to calm his nobles to the extent that he could raise an army of 18,000 men and march south towards England. He declared that he was to invade down the east coast past Berwick, but then set out on a forced march to the west coast to take the English by surprise.

Unfortunately, James fell sick on the march and took to his bed at Lochmaben. He handed command of the expedition over to Lord Maxwell, Warden of the Western Marches, but kept half the army at Lochmaben to guard against any kidnap plots by the English. Maxwell marched into England, but as soon as he was over the border Lord Oliver Sinclair announced that the Warden’s jurisdiction did not extend beyond Scotland and that he, Sinclair, was now the army’s commander.

The Scottish army came to a halt while the nobles tried to sort out who was in command. Sinclair was the King’s favourite courtier, so some nobles sided with him in the hope of gaining royal favour. Others recognised that Maxwell was the better soldier and backed him as they wanted an experienced commander when invading England.

At this point a force of English horsemen appeared on the scene commanded by none other than Wharton, Governor of Carlisle. Wharton’s plan was to shadow the Scots army, taking every opportunity to ambush patrols or steal supplies. Meanwhile he gave orders for the northern garrisons and nobles to muster their forces at Carlisle ready for a battle. By the 24th November he had followed the Scots to Solway Moss.

This is an extract from England vs Scotland by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 7 June 2010

War Navies of Ancient Greece

The ability of a state to put a war fleet to sea depended, at this date, on two key elements: men and money. Each trireme, as we shall see the dominant type of warship, required a crew of around 200 men. A force of a thousand men, therefore, would crew only five ships. Many would argue that such manpower would be better used in land warfare, but that is to miss an important economic element.

The men who marched to war were expected to supply their own weapons and equipment. As we have seen the full panoply of a hoplite did not come cheap and only a minority of citizens in any Greek state could afford the price. Most men, therefore, marched as light infantry or served as garrison troops. Useful as such men were, they were not the decisive factor in a pitched battle.

Sailors, however, needed nothing except their musclepower to be useful at sea. Nor did they need to be rich enough to provide for their families while they were away fighting for it was normal to pay naval seamen. At the time of the Thermopylae campaign the going rate was three bronze coins, known as obols, per day. This was not far off the wage a skilled labourer could expect. With six obols to the silver drachma that put the cost of a crew at around 3,000 drachma per month. In addition to this, it was generally thought that during a season’s fighting a trireme would need to have around 3,000 drachma spent on repairs, refitting and new equipment. It was, for instance, assumed that at least half the oars would be broken even if no combat took place. Thus the running cost of a trireme for six months of fighting was around 21,000 drachma.

Compared to the running costs, the initial construction of a trireme was a surprisingly modest 6,000 drachma. The process of construction took about two months, but all states had only limited numbers of skilled workmen. Even at full stretch the Athenian shipyards could produce only 50 triremes per year, and this led to many complaints that merchant shipping was suffering by the diversion of labour.

Given the costs of building, maintaining and crewing a warship, the Greek states had every incentive to keep their ships out of action for as long as possible. To this end every port had a number of ship sheds built along the shore into which the warships could be dragged for storage. Here they were protected from the sun, rain and wind. Just as important they were out of the water, ensuring that no weeds grew on the hull and no boring animals drilled into the timbers to weaken them. Only when they were needed, were the poorer citizens hired as oarsmen, the ships launched and sent off to war.

Not only did this provide a useful summer income for thousands of men, but some states also earned a tidy sum by renting out ships, complete with crew, to other states. A fee of around 5,000 drachma per month was considered reasonable, which gave a mark up of about a third. Not a bad profit.

This is an extract from The Battle of Thermopylae by Rupert Matthews.