Wednesday, 26 February 2014

"Ask Diego Flores" - The Spanish Armada

"Ask Diego Flores" - The Spanish Armada

Howard began to manoeuvre his fleet as if he meant to attack, though in truth he was bluffing and hoping to hustle the Spanish fleet toward the shoals. The threat was taken seriously by Medina Sidonia who signalled for any ships still able to fight to come to join him. Pataches and boats were sent out to go around the rest of the Armada with the advice that they were “to keep their heads close to the wind as they were almost on the Zeeland shoals”. The advice must have been superfluous for every captain could see the surf for himself. More than one captain must have cursed the duke for his pointless advice and for getting them into this deathtrap in the first place.

Meanwhile the warships still able to get into the wind were closing on the flagship. Recalde was there, as ever, and so was de Leyva. The three surviving galleasses came up with their oars thrashing the water. A few other warships bore up, though they were all desperately short of ammunition. It seems that Medina Sidonia asked hoped to delay the coming English attack on his more vulnerable ships.

Then up came the great Santa Ana, flagship of the Squadron of Guipuzcoa, with the admiral Miguel de Oquendo on board. This ship came with hailing distance of the San Martin and the figure of Oquendo was clearly visible on the sterncastle. Medina grabbed a speaking trumpet and bellowed across the waves to his subordinate admiral.

“Senor Oquendo, what shall we do?” demanded the hapless commander.

“Ask Diego Flores,” snarled back Oquendo his anger boiling over. “As for me, I am going to fight the English and die like a man. Give me your shot.”

It was an extraordinary and calculated insult. That a man, even a fighting admiral as experienced as Oquendo, could feel able to talk to his commanding officer and a premier grandee of Spain in such a fashion was astonishing and showed the feelings in the Armada. That he should blame Diego Flores, Medina Sidonia’s naval adviser, for the mess was natural enough. Few of the naval commanders had forgiven Diego Flores for persuading Medina Sidonia to abandon the crippled ships  - the Rosario and San Salvador - earlier in the campaign. But his furious insult to Medina Sidonia himself was unparalleled. By asking for the flagship’s cannonballs, Oquendo was openly implying that Medina Sidonia would not need them himself as he was too cowardly to fight the English.

Of all the events in the Armada campaign this brief exchange was surely the most amazing.

Medina Sidonia was speechless. He put down the speaking trumpet and turned away to return to his cabin. There was not much else he could do.

from THE SPANISH ARMADA by Rupert Matthews

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Friday, 21 February 2014

Alexander the Great at the Granicus - the First Night

Alexander the Great at the Granicus - the First Night

The soft twilight of an early summer evening saw the two armies camped on opposite sides of the Granicus River. None of the surviving sources give a very clear account of what happened during those hours of darkness. However, it is fairly easy to reconstruct what passed by looking at what happened the following morning and working back, using comparisons with what happened in similar circumstances on other occasions, to reconstruct the missing events.

The Persian satraps would have been pleased with the events of the first day on the Granicus. The Macedonians had advanced along the road to Cyzicus, as Memnon had correctly predicted they would do. Arriving at the Granicus, they had launched a probing attack with cavalry to test the strength of the Persian defences. That had been thrown back with what seemed to be relatively heavy losses. Now the Macedonians had withdrawn to camp.

So far as the Satraps were concerned, their plan was going exactly to expectations. Alexander had been drawn forward to find his way blocked at a defensive position of the Persians’ choosing. The strength of that position had been shown by the repulse of the cavalry attack that had taken place in late afternoon. The satraps must have been certain that things were going their way. They will have looked forward confidently to the following day when Alexander might renew his assault. No doubt, the satraps thought, any new attack would be driven back decisively.

When dusk fell, the Persian troops would have trailed back to their camp, which seems to have been located fairly close to the river. Persian camps were famously comfortable affairs - it was bad enough being on campaign without being forced to rough it. Certainly the satraps and officers would have had comfortable tents and pavilions with servants, fine foods and entertainments. With a battle due on the morrow, it is unlikely that any of the satraps or senior officers indulged themselves too much. For the soldiers of the royal army there would have been food, tents and servants as well, though not of such high quality.

The bulk of the local militia would not have been so well served. They had to make do with whatever they had brought with them. This might have amounted to not much more than a sack of bread and hard cheese, with a thick blanket for cover. But the night seems to have been a dry and warm one - none of the sources speak of any inclement weather. Diodorus, with his interest in the conditions for the ordinary soldier, would have been bound to mention any rain or cold. No doubt the men were comfortable enough, though they had no luxuries.

from  Alexander the Great at the Battle of Granicus: A Campaign in Context [Illustrated] [Hardcover]  by Rupert Matthews

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Monday, 17 February 2014

The Battle of Crecy - some of those involved

The Battle of Crecy - some of those involved

Agace, Gobin                          French peasant from Oiseville who gave the English information regarding the ford at Blanchtaque.

Alencon, Count d’                  Charles Valois. Younger brother of King Philip VI and commander of the French rear guard at Crecy.

Amadeus VI                            Count of Savoy and ally of France. He sent a force of his men to serve with Philip in the Crecy campaign.

Annequin, Godfrey d’            French nobleman. During the Crecy campaign he held the city of B├ęthune for King Philip.

Artois, Robert d’                    1) Exiled French nobleman serving King Edward III from 1336.
2) His father, commander of the French army at the Battle of Courtrai in 1302.

Attewoode, Sir Edward          English knight from Staffordshire. During the Crecy campaign he served in the king’s division.

Arundel, Earl of                      Richard Fitzalan. English nobleman and administrator. He served in the rear guard during the Crecy campaign.

Aubert,  Etienne                      Cardinal Bishop of Ostia. Sent by the Pope to try to broker a peace between Edward and Philip during the Crecy campaign.

Aubigny, Olivier d’                 French nobleman. He served on King Philip’s staff during the Crecy campaign.

Aubyn, Robert                        English gunner. Edward’s royal artillator who both produced gunpowder and handled guns on campaign.

Aufremont Lord d’                 French nobleman from near Amiens.

from THE BATTLE OF CRECY by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Aexander The Great Timeline

Aexander The Great Timeline

356bc         Birth of Alexander
336bc        Alexander becomes King of Macedon
335bc        Alexander destroys Thebes
334bc        Battle of the Granicus
333bc        Battle of the Issus
332bc        Siege of Tyre
331bc        Foundation of Alexandria
330bc        Battle of Gaugemela
326bc        Battle of the Hydaspes
323bc        Death of Alexander

from CONQUERORS by Rupert Matthews

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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Joe the Navigator

Joe the Navigator

I am glad to say that the RAF never forgot the men of Bomber Command. Many of those who flew the bombers were killed - including one of my mother’s cousins - but others survived. Among those was Joe Wesley, the man who had flown on the Thousand Bomber Raid to Cologne and who I quoted earlier in this book. He was one of the very few men to survive two full tours of duty. I recall meeting him just once when I was a small boy. He was a decorated war hero - having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944 - and a great man in my boyish eyes.

Joe had been a draughtsman in civilian life which gave him some of the skills necessary to be a navigator. My family knew him because he was a school friend of another of my mother’s cousins, Stanley. The pre-war Joe that they had all known was quiet, shy and unpushy in any way. Rather the type who was always passed over for promotion because he was too nice to be the boss. Stanley, himself in the army, once asked an RAF fellow crew member of Joe’s what transformation into a hero came over our family’s shy little chum when he put on his uniform and climbed into a bomber plane. Nobody who knew Joe  could picture it at all.

“Well” - came the reply - “everyone wants to fly with Joe as navigator. There can be all hell let loose outside with shells exploding, a sky full of other aircraft or night fighters after you - but Joe sits there with his slide rule and his maps working out where we are and which way we should be going as if he were in an office in the Home Counties. His hands never shake, he never gets panicky. He sits there as cool as a cucumber getting us out there and getting us home.”

So there you are - Joe was one of those people who stay cool in a crisis. What a wonderful gift.

After the war he went back to the draughtsman’s job he had left and sat working quietly away without being ambitious or reaching any great heights of promotion. He had come from obscurity to be a hero and gone back to obscurity when it was done.

He died quite young, as I have noticed in the research for this book did so many who had endured a stressful war. At his funeral I was pleased to see that two young officers were sent to attend on behalf of the RAF. They were only youngsters a little older than me, not even born till after the war, but they turned up impeccably uniformed and circulated amongst everyone at the post funeral reception making polite and suitable conversation. They were a credit to the service.

Joe had not been forgotten.

from RAF BOMBER COMMAND AT WAR by Rupert Matthews

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Visiting the Battlefield of Heavenfield, Northumbria

Visiting the Battlefield of Heavenfield, Northumbria

Distance:        0.5 miles
Terrain:        This is a fairly gentle walk over exposed hillsides where the surfaces can be uneven. It is a rewarding walk that explores one of the most important battlefields of Dark Age Britain.
Public Transport:    Tyne Valley Coaches route 888 runs from Hexham to Humshaugh, stopping at the crossroads of the A6079 and B6318. From this stop walk half a mile east along the B6318 to join the walk at point 1.
Parking:        There is a small layby on the B6318 beside the Battle Monument, where the walk starts and finishes.
Refreshments:    There are no shops or pubs along the route of the walk.


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