Saturday, 29 December 2012

Foo Fighters 1945

In December 1944 weeks of dreadful weather closed in over Europe. Major raids were few and far between. The Germans took advantage of the bad weather to launch their offensive through the Ardennes that came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Although the initial breakthrough was impressive, the attack foundered due to a combination of determined American resistance at key points, and a lack of fuel for German motorised columns. It was a quiet end to the year for the men flying from Lincolnshire.

In January 1945 the skies over Europe cleared for the first time in weeks. Bomber Command was ready to return to the offensive. The Luftwaffe was also ready for the renewed struggle. As well as the uprated Messerschimitt 110 models, they could also deploy the jet fighter Messerschmitt Me262, codenamed “Schwalbe” or “Swallow”. the new fighter was horribly effective in shooting down bombers and became a dreaded nightmare for the crews of Bomber Command. Fortunately few of these magnificent aircraft were completed before the war ended.

The cause of another worrying feature of night flying over the Reich at this time has remained a mystery. Bomber crews were reporting that their larger formations were being accompanied by small glowing balls of light. These seemed to be circular aircraft that kept pace with the bombers, occasionally diving, climbing or changing direction. At first they were thought to be German weapons or remotely controlled monitoring equipment of some kind. The crews dubbed them “foo-fighters” and tried to shoot them down. None seem to have been damaged by gunfire and soon the crews gave up trying to damage this strange craft. After the war, studies of the German files showed that they were just as mystified by the “foo-fighters” as were the British and thought they must be some kind of navigational aid flown by the British. What they really were has never been discovered.

from "Heroes of RAF Bomber Command - Lincolnshrie" by Rupert Matthews.
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Book Description

3 Nov 2005 1853069442 978-1853069444 1st Edition
At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, such was the build-up of men and materials in the R A F that Lincolnshire was already known as 'Bomber Country'. Its four main airfields - Hemswell, Scampton, Waddington and Cottesmore - were home to eight squadrons of Bomber Command under the legendary Arthur 'Bomber' Harris. Night after night the skies of Lincolnshire reverberated with the sound of aircraft taking off and landing. For the aircrews the missions were very dangerous and physically exhausting. The chances of surviving a full tour of 30 operations were only 50/50, less in the first five sorties while aircrews gained valuable experience. Their targets were roads, railways, bridges, harbours, dams, factories and oil installations. Many medals were won - some of them posthumously. On the Dambusters Raid alone, 36 were awarded; a VC for the leader Guy Gibson, five DSOs, 14 DFCs, 12 DFMs and three Conspicuous Gallantry Medals. In this well researched and excellently written book, Rupert Matthews - himself the son of a Bomber Command sergeant who fought in the Second World War - describes many of the operations in detail and tells the story of courageous individuals who, despite the odds, flew mission after mission - heroes every one of them.

Friday, 28 December 2012

RAF Bomber Command and D-Day 1944

By May 1944 the planning for D-Day, the Allied invasion of occupied France, was complete. All that was needed was a spell of suitable weather and the great enterprise could be launched. The 2 Tactical Air Force, formerly 2 Group of Bomber Command, had been pounding targets in France for months. But with the invasion imminent, the main bomber force was required.

At first transport links right across northern France were the target. As many places outside the invasion area of Normandy were hit as in it so as to confuse the Germans as to where the invasion would take place. The plan was to disrupt the flow of reinforcements and supplies to the invasion area. As the invasion date grew nearer the bombing raids shifted to airfields, coastal batteries and other, smaller targets. Harris was not happy with this as his men were not trained to hit such small targets – and the results often bore out his views.

Meanwhile 100 Group was getting ready for some very specialist work. The Stirlings of 214 and 199 Squadrons were converted from bombers to become mobile radar jamming units using the Mandrel device. Other squadrons were put to work practising precision manoeuvres or getting accustomed to new and often bizarre equipment.

On 5 June the final orders were given that the invasion would take place next day. The regular bombing squadrons of 3 Group in Norfolk took off to attack targets in and around Normandy, while 100 Group began its specialist work. First into the air, around dusk, were 199 and 214 Squadrons. The aircraft of 199 took up station at 15,000 feet at intervals along the south coast of England, from Dorset to Dover. Flying at precisely determined intervals, heights and bearings the aircraft jammed German radar across the entire central and eastern English Channel, masking the invasion fleet.

Meanwhile, 214 Squadron was heading east to fly over Calais and along the Somme Valley depositing specially designed Window. This set up a false echo on the German radar sets that simulated a mass of bomber aircraft heading for precisely those targets that would be chosen if the invasion were about to take place near Calais. To further this illusion the Serrate anti-nightfighter Mosquitoes of 141, 160 and 239 Squadrons were present over the Somme, attacking any nightfighters they could locate. Simultaneously 85, 157 and 515 Squadrons attacked Luftwaffe bases as far east as Holland, again to give the impression that Calais, not Normandy was the invasion target.

This was so successful at diverting German defences that in July 192 and 199 Squadrons were converted into the so-called Special Window Force (SWF) within 100 Group. Their mission was to divert attention away from the main bomber force by pretending to be a second major force raiding a quite different target. The crews referred to the task as “spoofing”.

Going into action around midnight, 149 Squadron had the task of dropping “Ruperts”. These half sized dummy parachutists were armed with fireworks which went off when the dummy landed to simulate machinegun fire. They were dropped at various locations to confuse the German defenders as to where the real parachute troops were landing and proved to be most successful.

The dangerous, yet secretive nature of much of what 100 Group was doing at this time is reflected in the award of medals. On 27 June Sergeant Harvey Allin of 192 Squadron was awarded a DFM for unspecified acts of “cool courage and ardour whilst engaged on special duties”.

from "Heroes of RAF Bomber Command, Norfolk" by Rupert Matthews
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Book Description

29 Sep 2006 1846740002 978-1846740008
This illustrated book pays tribute to the pilots and crews who flew from Norfolk airfields during the last war and whose actions displayed some of the finest examples of courage, professionalism and devotion to duty.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Battle (almost) of Newburn Ford

Rarely can a single idea have had such a startling effect on the outcome of a battle as did Alexander Leslie’s bright idea at Newburn Ford in 1640. So simple and devastating was Leslie’s manoeuvre that Newburn Ford is rarely cited as a battle, for the enemy fled before any real fighting took place. Well, almost.

After 1603 England and Scotland shared the same monarch, but they kept their respective armies, parliaments, legal systems and churches. It was the latter that was to cause the outbreak of war in 1639 and again in 1640. King Charles I was more inclined to Catholic doctrine in Church matters than were his Scottish subjects. When he attempted to impose his ideas, the Scottish Kirk refused to accept them and the mass of the Scottish people, being staunch Protestants, rallied to its defence. In 1639 some early skirmishes led to deadlock and war resumed in 1640.

Scotland managed to muster an army of 25,000 men who had signed the Covenant supporting the Kirk and were known as Covenanters. Led by Sir Alexander Leslie, an experienced mercenary who had risen to be a general in the Swedish army, the Scots headed for Newcastle upon Tyne. Knowing that the northern defences of the city were more formidable than those to the south, Leslie decided to cross the Tyne upstream of Newcastle and attack from the south.

The first crossing point practicable for an army upstream of Newcastle was the ford at the village of Newburn. Leslie reached Newburn late on the 27th August. He saw, on the other side of the ford, a series of earthwork entrenchments and an English army well dug in and supported by artillery. The English army appeared to be small, but its defensive works were formidable and Leslie could not be certain how many English troops lurked in the wooded ridge beyond the defences. He decided to wait until his scouts had spied out the land. One of these scouts was dramatically shot dead in front of the Scots army at dusk.

The English, meanwhile, eyed the Scots with apprehension. The English were led by Lord Conway, a cavalry officer with more experience of the parade ground than the battlefield. And though the Scots were uncertain how strong the English army was, the English were painfully aware that they numbered just 6,000 men and were outnumbered 4 to 1 one by the Scots.

from England vs Scotland by Rupert Matthews
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Book Description

6 Jun 2002 Great British Battles
Today the rivalry between St Andrew and St George may be fierce but at least it is limited to the sporting field. This was by no means the case before the Act of Settlement in the eighteenth century. Rupert Matthews has researched more than twenty major battles between these two countries, over a period of 1,000 years. Each battle forms a chapter, explaining the causes of the conflict, the forces involved, the battle itself and a brief guide to the battlefield as it is today. The outcome of each was as unpredictable and hotly contested as the clashes at Murrayfield, Wembley and Cardiff are.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Bribery in Ancient Greece

In 480bc the combined fleets of the Greek city states were at Artemisium when a vast Persian war fleet was spotted by scouts. A council of war was held to decide what to do.

The council of war, says Herodotus, decided to abandon the position at Artemisium before the Persian fleet destroyed them all. The Greek fleet was to put to sea that night and row away as quietly as possible in the hope that the Persians would not realise they were gone until dawn, by which time pursuit would be impossible.

The Euboeans who were bringing supplies down to the League fleet heard what was afoot. Realising that this would leave them at the mercy of the Persians, they hurriedly found Eurybiades and begged him to stay at least long enough for the Euboeans to get their women, children and livestock to safety. Eurybiades refused, insisting the fleet would leave that night.

The Euboeans then went to Themistocles who, as leader of by far the largest part of the allied fleet could be relied upon to have some influence. Moreover, he was known to be in favour of staying at Artemisium. The Euboeans handed over 30 talents of silver to Themistocles on the understanding that he would keep the fleet where it was.

Themistocles then went to see Eurybiades and slipped him five talents. This, Herodotus says, was enough for the Spartan admiral to announce a change of heart. The other commanders were surprised, none more so than Ocytus, commander of the Corinthian ships. Themistocles then confronted Ocytus openly in front of the other commanders and shouted “Never shall you betray us by leaving. I will give you more for staying with us than the Great King of Persia would pay you to desert us”. Themistocles then privately handed over three talents of silver to the abashed Corinthian. The wily Athenian then pocketed the rest of the 30 talents for himself.

The story may be suspect as it deals with events supposed to have happened in private and portrays the Corinthians and Spartans in a poor light. By the time Herodotus was collecting information, the Athenians would have wanted to hog all the glory for themselves and had fallen out badly with both Corinth and Sparta. It is suspicious that the only states named as wanting to flee were the two which Athens would have wanted to denounce by the time Herodotus was writing.

from "The Battle of Thermopylae" by Rupert Matthews.

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Book Description

30 Sep 2008 Campaign in Context
Tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie. One of the most remarkable actions in ancient or modern military history took place at Thermopylae in 480BC. Rupert Matthews has personally examined the battlefield in order to try to explain how 300 Spartans could hold at bay the hordes of the Persian Emperor Xerxes. This was no vain sacrifice; the delay gave breathing space for the Greek states to organise their defence, and ultimately defend successfully their homelands. Among other intriguing revelations the author explains the importance of the half-ruined wall that sheltered the Spartans against the onslaught. With concise diagrams and maps of the entire campaign, the reader can begin to understand the extraordinary, apparently impossible outcome of the war.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Armada of 1588 - Lord Howard makes a mistake

However, Howard had a problem, which was to affect his judgement for the worse that day. His constant requests for more gunpowder and cannonballs had been met with some resistance from the officials at court whose duty it was to arrange payment for such munitions. They had sent Howard everything he had asked for, but had been demanding to  know why he was not capturing more Spanish ships. In vain did Howard point out that they were engaged in a new form of naval warfare: one that involved battering the enemy with guns not boarding his ships. The courtiers did not understand. They still envisaged battles fought in the old style and thought that a lack of captured ships meant a lack of victory.

Howard was under pressure. So when he saw the San Lorenzo, flagship of the galleass squadron, crippled and alone it proved to be too much for him. As a squadron flagship the San Lorenzo could be counted upon to have noblemen on board who would make important prisoners, a pay chest that would make good booty and her capture would bring prestige enough to silence those courtiers who had never fought at sea.

No doubt the galleass had to be taken, but in her crippled condition - her rudder was gone and she had sustained some damage to her hull in a collision during the night - she could not have put up much of a fight. Howard should have left her to others, but he did not. Desperate to capture a rich prize, he went for her himself. It was one of the few mistakes that Howard was to make in his long and successful career, but it turned out to be a serious one.

By turning the Ark Royal away from the general chase, Howard took his entire squadron out of the battle. Not only that, but the San Lorenzo soon headed for the shallows where she could slip over the sands, but Howard’s warships could not. The English guns could not be brought to bear and fell silent just at the moment when they would have been most use among the scattered ships of the Armada.

from "The Spanish Armada - a Campaign in Context" by Rupert Matthews.

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Book Description

1 Sep 2009
In this, the fourth book of Spellmount's "Campaign in Context" series, Rupert Matthews looks to the ill-fated invasion of England by King Philip II of Spain. The Armada of 22 warships and 108 converted merchant vessels sailed under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1588, but found itself harried by storms, fireships, and the redoubtable English fleet. In "The Spanish Armada", Rupert Matthews considers the characters of the commanders such as Francis Drake, Medina, and the opposing monarchs, and as with his previous titles in the series he carefully balances the evidence from textual sources with knowledge of the theatre and reconstructed weaponry in order to explain the events of the battle to the general reader, and the context in which it took place.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Sources for Alexander the Great

It is usual for an historian to explain something of the way in which he has treated his sources. Footnotes are the usual academic way of doing this, but I find that the constant flicking and back and forth can spoil the flow of a work for a reader. Instead, I have mentioned my sources in the body of the work and how I have interpreted them. But I have done so only when dealing with a contentious issue or when I felt it necessary for one reason or another. I shall make some more general points here.

The career of Alexander was dramatic not only in itself but because of the effects that it had on the political world of the time. The Persian Empire had been the world superpower for centuries, but suddenly it was gone. In its place were created a number of states, each led by one of Alexander’s Macedonian officers leading an army equipped and trained in the Macedonian fashion. The Greek city states had likewise been swept away. They were no longer independent, but were subject to one or other of Alexander’s successors.

At the time most people recognised the profound change that had come over the world because of Alexander. There was a huge appetite for books about him and his career. Several of the men who had served Alexander wrote their memoirs. Among the most important of these was Ptolemy, son of Lagos, who later became Pharaoh of Egypt. He wrote a long, detailed account of his experiences with Alexander. Nearchus, another senior officer, also wrote up his memoirs Oneiscritus was a third.

Nor was Alexander himself retiring about his exploits. He employed the historian Callisthenes to travel with the Macedonian army and write up its exploits in suitably heroic style. The resulting book was entitled “The Deeds of Alexander”. Alexander also employed a geographer named Aristobulous to accompany the army, and he too later wrote a book based on his experiences. Eumenes, the head of the army staff, kept a daily diary. This was not intended for publication and only parts of it ever became public.

All these men were either employed by Alexander or were friends with him. Undoubtedly this coloured their work. They are all complimentary about Alexander. Good deeds are emphasised and treated at length. Events that do not reflect so well on Alexander are either skated over or blamed on somebody else.

Another contemporary book was published by a Greek historian named Cleitarchus. He was from Colophon, but lived most of his life in Egypt. He had travelled to Babylon during Alexander’s lifetime, but seems to have begun his work only after Alexander’s death. He spoke to many men who had served with Alexander, but also to men who had been involved in politics, some of them opponents of Alexander. Crucially for this book he spoke to at least one of the Greek mercenaries who had fought on the Persian side during the Granicus Campaign. All these accounts were included in the biography of Alexander written by Cleitarchus.

But the real problem when it comes to writing about Alexander is that none of these books has survived to the present day. All these books were lost when the Roman Empire collapsed. Instead we have to rely on the works of men who lived later, but who quoted from the contemporary sources or relied on them.

from "Alexander the Great at the Granicus" by Rupert Matthews

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Book Description

8 Aug 2008 Campaign in Context
In this, the third book of Spellmounts Campaign in Context series, Rupert Matthews looks to the first major campaign of Alexander the Great. One of the most famous generals all time, Alexander was just 20 when he led his army into battle at Granicus. Despite his youth and his army being heavily outnumbered, he was victorious, and it was this victory that allowed him to conquer Asia Minor. The course of this key battle remains controversial, owing to conflicting accounts in contemporary sources. As with his previous titles in the series, Rupert Matthews carefully balances the evidence from textual sources with knowledge of the battlefield and reconstructed weaponry in order to explain the events of the battle to the general reader, and the context in which it took place.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Battle of Crecy - about me

Rupert Matthews is a professional historian with over 150 books, articles and other publications to his name.

To study the Crecy campaign, Rupert followed in the footsteps of the English army, from St Vaast le Hogue to Caen to Poissy to Crecy and on to Calais. He spent much time on the battlefields and key landscapes that had such an impact on events. Having walked over the ground and viewed it as the commanders of the time did, he has a unique insight into what those men could have seen and known, and what they could not. He has studied the weapons and tactics of the time, handling replica weapons and pondering at first hand the problems raised by using such implements in the tactical formations of the time. He has also made a study of the less glamourous, but no less essential, logistical side of medieval warfare.

Rupert is a member of the Battlefields Trust and other military history organisations.

Rupert Matthews has also written a companion volume to this book entitled “The Battle of Thermopylae – A Campaign in Context”. This book is available from Spellmount Publishing and all good book shops.

Rupert was born in 1961 and attended his local grammar school. He now lives in Surrey, England, with his wife and daughter.

from The Battle of Crecy - a Campaign in Context


Book Description

1 May 2007
Rupert Matthews tells the story of the most dramatic military campaign of the medieval world, a thrilling tale of action, adventure, mystery and much more. Before the Crecy campaign began, France was recognised to have the greatest, most powerful and most modern army in all Christendom. England was thought of as a prosperous but relatively backward kingdom lying somewhere in the sea off the European coast. But six hours of bloodshed, slaughter and heroism beyond imagining changed all that. The pride of France was humbled, her army destroyed and her king a wounded fugitive fleeing for his life through a foggy night. This book explains to the general reader the reality of warfare in the year 1346. It seeks to recreate in our minds the tactics used in the Crecy Campaign and to put them into the context of the time. It shows what the weapons were like and how they were used in action. It describes the tactics of the different military units involved and how these would have impacted on each other in battle. Crucially, it takes the reader inside the minds of the commanders to explain what they did, why they did it and what they hoped to achieve. This is the second in Spellmount's new series, "Campaign in Context".

Monday, 17 December 2012

The formation of RAF Bomber Command

RAF Bomber Command came into existence on 14 July 1935. When it was born it had a strange mixture of aircraft, organisation and objectives. Almost at once things got worse when five bomber squadrons were removed from Bomber Command and sent off to Egypt as a result of aggressive posturing by Italy’s dictator Benito Mussolini – Italy at that time owned Libya and areas of Somaliland.

The first head of Bomber Command was Sir John Miles Steel, a former naval officer who had learned to fly and joined the RAF on its formation in 1918. His duties in the World War I had included bombing raids and he was a keen advocate of air power. It was clear by this date that the most likely opponent in a major war would be Germany, and the RAF was planning to be ready to face Hitler’s rearmed Luftwaffe by 1942.

A key component of being ready was knowing what tasks the RAF should, and could, undertake. Until 1934 it had been generally assumed that bombers would be used primarily to attack strictly military targets fairly close to base. The idea was drawn from experience of World War I when bombers had attacked enemy artillery, troop concentrations and supply dumps no more than a few miles behind the static front lines of the Western Front. There was, however, added to this the need to have a credible long range bombing force that could hit Germany itself. This was intended merely as a deterrent to stop the Germans from bombing British cities, as they had done with limited success in the closing months of World War I.

One of Steel’s first priorities was to get it agreed what his command should do in the event of war with Germany. In 1937 a conference was held between the various armed forces and government. Interestingly Steel sent as his chief representative a staff officer named Arthur Harris, of whom much would be heard in future years. The conference covered many aspects of a prospective war against Germany, but its conclusions about Bomber Command was that the force should prepare itself to carry out three main tasks. How it would carry those out was another question entirely. 

from "RAF Bomber Command at War"  by Rupert Matthews

Book Description

30 Nov 2010
Bomber Command of the RAF fought one of the longest, most gruelling and thankless campaigns of the Second World War. More than 55,000 men and women were killed serving with the Command and the bombers inflicted severe and ultimately crippling damage to the German war effort. In this powerful book Rupert Matthews, the son of a Bomber Command veteran, takes a new look at the exploits of the RAF's strike force during the Second World War. By looking at the conflict from the viewpoint of those serving in Bomber Command, he reveals the why and the how of the Bomber Command campaigns. The abilities of the aircraft and aircrew are outlined, and the limits this put on operations explained. This book will help the reader understand the conditions under which the men of Bomber Command fought, lived and - tragically - so often died.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The reason for rthe Siege of Bamburgh 1464

The crushing defeat at Hexham and ruthless executions that followed served to destroy the Lancastrian cause in northern England, the last bastion of their hopes. A few days after the battle the Lancastrian knight Sir William Tallboys was discovered hiding in a coal mine together with a vast quantity of gold and silver coin – the main treasure of the Lancastrians.

Edward IV, Yorkist King of England, came north to accept the surrenders of those now willing to come to terms, while his cousin and leading commander the Earl of Warwick took the Yorkist army to overcome those who were not. One by one the Lancastrian castles surrendered to Warwick who, on Edward’s insistence, was offering generous terms of surrender. Only Sir Ralph Grey, who had betrayed Edward more than once, was exempted from such offers of peace. And all across the north of England Yorkist scouts, soldiers and agents searched for the fugitive King Henry VI, who had not been seen or heard of since leaving Bywell Castle the day after the Battle at Hexham.

In June Warwick and his army appeared before Bamburgh Castle.


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Book Description

1 April 2008 Battlefield Walks
Northumberland is one of the most beautiful counties in England, but also one of the most fought over. It has seen countless skirmishes, some very bloody, between invading and looting Scots and the avenging English families of the Percies, Umfravilles and Nevilles.

Rupert Matthews, ‘the History Man’, presents fifteen guided walks around the battlefields of Northumberland. He provides an account of events as they unfolded on the ground along with full background and context. His expertise, descriptive powers and lively enthusiasm bring the drama of history vividly to life.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Infantry tactics at the Battle of Wrotham, Kent 1554

Warfare was changing rapidly in the mid 16th century when the Battle of Wrotham was fought. For the past two centuries firearms had been large, cumbersome, unreliable and inaccurate. From around 1510 improvements in gunpowder and gun barrel manufacture was changing all that. Wrotham was one of the first battles on English soil where the new guns and new tactics developed to support them were put into practice.

The key weapon was the harquebus, a firearm that shot a ball weighing around 2 ounces over a distance of about 100 yards, though it was accurate over only half that distance. The weapon was fired with a fuse that remained alight even in damp weather. A trigger plunged this into a firing hole, which was covered by a small lid that pulling the trigger moved aside. These two key technical innovations combined with more reliable powder meant that the weapon could be loaded aimed and fired with some expectation that it would actually go off. This may not sound much, but compared to earlier firearms it was a great improvement.

Reloading the harquebus was a lengthy affair, taking over a minute. Commanders therefore drew their men up five or more ranks deep and had the ranks fire in turn, timing the volleys so that the first had reloaded by the time the last had fired. Even so the harquebusiers were vulnerable to sudden charges by cavalry or infantry armed with edged weapons. To protect them numbers of men with halbards were mixed in with the harquebusiers. By 1550 it had become conventional for the men to drawn up in squares with the halbardiers grouped in the corners. This formation was called a hedgehog.

Marching over a battlefield in a tightly formed squared called for a high degree of training. Only professional, or at least semi-professional, regiments and militias could hope to carry out these new tactics successfully. Warfare was becoming more a task for full time soldiers than amateur warriors, though this was not always appreciated at the time.

from "Battlefield Walks of Kent and Sussex" by Rupert Matthews
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Book Description

1 April 2008 Battlefield Walks
As the closest areas of England to the continent, Kent and Sussex have been a route favoured by invaders. The Romans came this way, as did the English, the Normans and the French. But the area has also seen its share of civil strife, in medieval baronial conflicts, the Wars of the Roses and Tudor religious uprisings.

Rupert Matthews, ‘the History Man’, presents fifteen guided walks around the battlefields of Kent and Sussex. He provides an account of events as they unfolded on the ground along with full background and context. His expertise, descriptive powers and lively enthusiasm bring the drama of history vividly to life.