Tuesday, 28 January 2020

The Kingdom of Kent throws off Mercian overlordship AD775

In 764 King Eanmund of Kent died and was replaced by two joint kings: Heabert and Egbert II.
Offa himself travelled down to Canterbury in 764 to attend the coronations. The method by which the people of Kent chose a new king is not entirely clear, but it seems to have been the nobles who had the right to appoint a new ruler, though they had to choose an adult man from among the ranks of the ruling dynasty, the Eskings. Kent had seen joint kings before, there being a long standing division between east Kent and west Kent, with the River Medway marking the boundary. Usually one of the joint kings was the acknowledged senior with the junior ruler concentrating on his own lands and steering clear of international or church matters.
A coin of Offa showing him in armour, but bareheaded. The inscription describes him as "Rex Mercior" or King of Mercia.

There is some evidence that it was Offa who had chosen the new joint kings. It may be that he came to Kent not to attend the celebrations but to ensure that his placemen got chosen.
While he was there, Offa chose to demonstrate his overlordship of Kent in a very solid fashion. King Heabert granted some land to the Bishop of Rochester. It was usual when this happened for the title deeds, or charter, to be signed by the ruling King and witnessed by whichever nobles and clerics were around at the time and had learned to read and write well enough to sign their names and, hopefully, have read the charter. This particular charter, however, was signed not by Heabert, but by Offa. Heabert signed as a mere witness among others though he did describe himself as King of Kent when he did so. One name noticeably absent was that of the new King Egbert II.
When Egbert did choose to act he did so on his own account. Some months after Offa had gone back to Mercia, Egbert chose to have a charter confirmed by King Heabert, implying that it was Heabert who was the senior ruler. Offa's name is nowhere to be seen. One name that does appear as a witness is that of Jaenbert, Abbot of St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury. The following year Bregowine, Archbishop of Canterbury, died and Jaenbert was elected to succeed him. A few months later Heabert died and Egbert II became sole King of Kent.
All appeared calm, with Offa clearly having the upper hand over Kent. But ten years later he overstepped the mark. In 774 Offa called a meeting of Mercian churchmen and Archbishop Jaenbert went along to officiate as was his right. Travelling with Jaenbert was a nobleman named Baban, who may have been acting as observer for Egbert II or who may have been there on his own business.
At the meeting Offa decided to give some land he owned to the Archbishopric of Canterbury. Jaenbert was, naturally, pleased but Baban was not. Although the land belonged to Offa the taxes on it were owed to Egbert II and so Offa should have asked Egbert for permission to transfer the land. He did not, he simply signed the charter and when Baban objected told him that Egbert would have to accept the situation.
When the news reached Egbert he was predictably furious. Offa had acted as if he, not Egbert, were King of Kent. Having an overlord living miles away in Mercia was one thing. Having an overlord who issued orders to you, expected to have them obeyed and then insulted your dignity was something quite different.
It was not only Egbert who was enraged, the Kentish nobles were incensed as well. Egbert was from their own royal family, was related to many of them and had been chosen by them. Offa was a foreigner with no links to Kent at all. While they could expect to have some influence over a local king, they could have none over Offa. Jaenbert was also unimpressed. It suited the Archbishops of Canterbury to be ruled by a local king who could be influenced by them rather than to have a powerful but remote monarch.
In 775 Egbert threw off Offa's overlordship. He began ruling in his own right, making no reference to Offa and not seeking to have new laws or taxes approved by his supposed overlord. In his turn Offa could not afford to let this rebellion, as he saw it, go unpunished. He gathered an army and in 776 sent it south to invade Kent.

The Exploits of Flight Sergeat Sam Allen of No.50 Squadron, RAF

Also in November 1942 No.50 Squadron was joined by Wireless Operator Flight Sergeant Sam Allen. Allen’s services were much in demand for his skills were undeniable. On a mission in a previous squadron his aircraft’s electrics had failed and the bomber had become lost. Not wishing to risk running out of fuel over the North Sea by heading in the wrong direction, the captain of the aircraft had decided to get his crew to bale out, even though they would most likely be captured. Allen had asked for one last chance to find out where they were. Abandoning all hope of recognising ground features, he had managed to get a number of star fixes and by means of rapid calculations had found they were over Holland, not far from Rotterdam. The pilot had then set off over the North Sea and returned safely to base. But they had only just made it. There was less than 10 gallons of fuel in the tanks.

Amazingly, Allen was to repeat the feat almost exactly with No.50 Squadron. On 17 December 1942 his aircraft, piloted by Sergeant Geoffrey Harrison, joined a small raid of 18 aircraft on Soltau, a mining town in northern Saxony. The raid went well, but on the return journey Allen’s Lancaster was hit by flak. One engine was knocked out, the elevators torn off, the hydraulics destroyed and much other damage done. As the aircraft gradually lost height over the North Sea, the pilot asked Allen to plot the quickest route to land. No bomber crew ever wanted to bale out over the sea as their chances of being rescued were slim. Once again getting out his star navigation equipment, Allen calmly took a series of fixes and then worked out a route that would get the crippled Lancaster to an emergency landing ground in the shortest time possible. Again, he got his crew home safely. Meanwhile, the bomber began to yaw to the left and it was only with the combined strength of pilot and flight engineer hanging on to the control stick that the aircraft was kept flying straight and level long enough to get back to Britain.

Captain Henry Woolett RFC takes on 13 German aircraft

Throughout these months, No.43 Squadron was home to one of the more colourful characters ever to fly with the RFC. Captain Henry Woollett was aged 23 when he joined the squadron in March 1918. He had already acquired an impressive reputation as a fighting pilot, having shot down the required five enemy aircraft to gain the informal designation of “ace”. He was a distinctive figure in his leopard skin flying helmet and gauntlets, and his aircraft was equally noticeable having a dragon painted down the side of its fuselage. He began his career in No.43 Squadron with a bang, shooting down 10 aircraft before the end of March.
On 12 April he took to the skies in his distinctive Camel and before the sun set that day he had shot down six German aircraft. A contemporary pilot wrote “Captain H. W. Woollett of No. 43 Squadron...whilst leading a patrol, he saw a German machine, out-manoeuvred it, fired about thirty rounds and saw it spin down and crash. During this fight he had been attacked by several other machines. Without delay he climbed rapidly above his attackers and dived on to a two-seater, firing as he went, causing this machine also to crash. Once again he out-climbed his opponents, looped away from two attacking Fokkers, made a vertical bank, and again dived on the tail of an Albatross. After he had fired about 40 rounds, this machine burst into flames and fell to pieces. He then went home. At 5 p.m. the same evening he attacked thirteen enemy aircraft.... He first fired 30 rounds into one of the enemy aeroplanes, which turned over on its back and fell to pieces. He then climbed again, manoeuvred rapidly among the remaining twelve machines, avoiding the fire of his opponents until he could fire a burst into an Albatros, which spun down and crashed. He then made for home. On crossing the lines he saw another enemy machine above him. Once more the climb of his 'bus enabled him to get over his enemy, and he crashed his sixth machine for the day.”

Woollett went on to shoot down four more aircraft and three observation balloons with No.43 Squadron before he crashed his Camel and was sent home to Britain. There he took up a position with a training squadron, where he ended the war. His total score was 36, made up of 25 aircraft and 11 balloons. He had been awarded the DSO, the Military Cross and Bar and the French Legion D’Honneur.

HMS Courageous 1939 - the Royal Navy's oldest aircraft carrier

HMS Courageous was the oldest aircraft carrier in the Royal Navy when the war began. She had been built in 1916 as a fast cruiser, armed with four 15 inch guns and eighteen 4 inch guns as well as anti-aircraft weapons. She was designed to be fast enough to catch the smaller surface raiders being used by the Germans, but with guns big enough to outmatch them conclusively. To make high speeds possible she and her fellow fast cruisers were given only light armour, which made them unsuitable for facing up to larger German ships. She fought in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight in 1917.

HMS Courageous in dock in 1939.

After the end of World War I, Courageous was at first destined to be scrapped as the combination of big guns and light armour was deemed to have been something of a failure. She was saved when in 1924 it was decided to convert her large, fast hull to become an aircraft carrier. The guns and turrets were taken out to be reused in the battelship HMS Vanguard. The hull was equipped with hangars and maintenance facilities for 48 aircraft. The funnel and other superstructure were pushed to one side to form an "island" while the hull was covered by a vast, flat flight deck.
The Courageous was refitted in the 1930s. She entered World War II with two squadrons of Fairey Swordfish torpedo and reconnaissance aircraft. Her defensive armament consisted of several anti-aircraft guns and she had no offensive armament at all except her aircraft. She had, in 1938, been taken out of frontline service and used as a training ship but the outbreak of war brought her back into action.
 A party held on board HMS Courageous in Gibraltar in 1937 when she met the German battleship Deutschland. The German officers were entertained on board, including the man playing the piano.

German Anti-Aircraft Guns 1939

German anti aircraft guns
An 8.8cm flak gun in a museum (Photo: Rickard Angman)
German anti aircraft guns in the first half of the war were primarily the 8.8cm Flak 18 gun - better known to the British in its anti-tank version the 88mm KwK. This gun could fire 15 rounds per minute up to a height of 25,000 feet when aimed or 39,000 feet if unaimed. The shell exploded at a predetermined height, throwing shrapnel around to damage aircraft close to the blast point. The 8.8cm gun was most effective against high-flying aircraft.
For dealing with low-flying bombers the Germans had the 2cm Flak 30 gun. This could fire 120 rounds per minute to a height of 6,000 feet. It could fire two types of ammunition. The first was an explosive round that would detonate if it hit anything, or after a set time of flight. The second was an incendiary shell that burned continuously as it flew through the air and could set fire to anything it struck. Because the path of these incendiaries could be seen in flight they were dubbed "tracer" by the British. Usually the 2cm Flak fired a mix of ammunition. The gunners used the tracer to see where their shots were going while the exploding shells caused most damage to targets. In 1939 an improved 2cm Flak gun the Flakvierling was introduced with a rate of fire of 220 rounds per minute. By 1942 this was the standard German light anti-aircraft gun in all but the most secondary uses.
The improved Flakvierling.

The Athenia was the first British ship to be sunk during the Second World War.

The Athenia was the first British ship to be sunk during the Second World War. The fact that she was an unarmed passenger ship that had left port before war broke out caused an international outcry. The Germans denied sinking her, refusing to admit the truth until after the war when the official files of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) were seized by the Allies.
On 1 September, before Britain and Germany went to war, the British passenger liner SS Athenia left Glasgow, calling at Liverpool and Belfast before heading across the Atlantic toward Montreal. On board were 1,103 passengers and 315 crew. On 3 September as the ship powered west past Rockall a radio message arrived giving the news that war had broken out. That message was followed by official orders from the British Admiralty to all British ships at sea.
Those orders said that all ships should proceed to their destinations at full speed, but that the ships should put out their lights so as not to be visible at night and should zig-zag in order to spoil the aim of any German warships, submarines or aircraft that might attack. Captain Cook of the Athenia knew the drill, having served in the First World War. He warned his passengers of the precautions to be taken, and in addition made sure that the lifeboats were ready for use, stocked with food and water and had emergency flares on board.
The Athenia as shown in her official portrait commissioned by the shipping line that owned her.

Meanwhile, the Athenia had at 4.30pm been sighted by Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp in command of U-30. He followed the ship as darkness fell. He later claimed that he thought the ship was a troopship, or perhaps an armed merchant ship. The fact that when night came Athenia did not show any lights convinced Lemp that she was a naval ship. At 7.40pm he fired two torpedoes, one of which hit the Athenia and exploded in the engine room.
The ship at once began to go down by the stern. Cook sent out a distress signal stating that his ship had been torpedoed. Three British destroyers arrived within a couple of hours. While one set about rescuing the survivors, the other two began a U-boat sweep to find the attacker. Lemp, however, had long since left the area.
Once all survivors were on board the rescue ships it was found that 98 passengers and 19 crew had died. The fact that 28 of the dead were American citizens caused the Germans to fear that the sinking might cause the USA to declare war. It was for this reason that the Germans denied the sinking and claimed that the ship must have hit a mine. Lemp changed the log of his U-boat to cover up the sinking.

The Sylt Raid of 19 March 1940 - a contemporary newspaper report

April 5th 1940    
From Scapa to Sylt: The R.A.F. Hits Back
A few days before Easter there was a raid by the Nazis on Scapa, followed swiftly by a return visit to Sylt by bombers of the R.A.F. Here is the story of the two raids.
On the evening of Saturday, March 16, fourteen Nazi bombers, including the new Junkers J.U. 88, flew 550 miles over the North Sea to the British naval base at Scapa Flow – where twenty-one years ago the German Grand Fleet came to such an ignominious end – and attempted to bomb units of the Royal Navy which happened to be there.
A map showing Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, just off northern Scotland.

The Nazi bombers arrived just at sunset, and in the words of a German pilot who took part in the raid, “the jaws of Hell opened” the moment they were sighted. Searchlights pierced the gathering gloom and battery after battery of anti-aircraft guns opened fire, belching tons of high-explosive shells into the air. For an hour the Nazi pilots held to their objective; altogether they dropped nearly a hundred bombs, but the only damage they were able to do was to damage slightly one warship, killing seven of the personnel. As soon as British fighter planes arrived on the scene, the raiders turned tail. In their hurry to get away from the withering fire of their pursuers the Germans jettisoned their remaining bombs. Nine-teen of these bombs fell on targets which had no military significance whatsoever, damaging cottages and roads and killing a 27-year-old County Council employee, James Isbister - the first civilian to be killed in a raid  on Britain in the present war.
The Nazis gloated over the raid. They claimed to have hit the “Hood,” the “Repulse” and the “Renown”; they talked of “intensified air attacks” on England, of "German military superiority.” Because they did not wait to obtain the true facts, or because they did not wish to give them, the German propaganda department was able to broadcast a fantastic account of the raid hours before the British version was released. For some inexplicable reason even the most staid and trustworthy of the American newspapers believed the German story – for a few hours, until the British Admiralty announcement was forthcoming.
For three days Germany was allowed to boast of her successes, of her air might and what she would do to Britain. Then the R.A.F. stole the limelight.
Above and below: The cottages hit during the German raid on Scapa Flow were at Bridge of Waith. One man was killed, with five men and two women needing hospital treatment for wounds.

Wave after Wave on Sylt        
At 8p.m., on March 19, the first wave of R.A.F. bombers dived out of the clouds over the island of Sylt, the German base off the coast of Denmark from which came the seaplane minelayers. For seven hours the attack lasted, our bombers attacking singly in relays, so that by the time some of the ‘planes had just reached their objective’ others had already arrived back home.
The first British bombers arrived over Sylt in brilliant moonlight, swooped down on their objective at a terrifying speed, and dropped their bombs with machine-like accuracy. Then, as the first bombers flew away, their work done, and the second wave approached, guided by the fires that had been started, warning sirens wailed over the island and a wall of anti-aircraft fire was pumped into the air. But nothing would deter these grim-faced men of the R.A.F. The only German fighter ‘plane that attempted to battle with the raiders was driven away by one of the bombers’ rear gunners.
A map of Sylt showing the location of the aerodrome that was bombed.

The attack had been planned by Air Chief Marshal Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt, the Commander-in-Chief of the R.A.F. Bomber Command – the man who had planned the raid on Kiel and Wilhelmshaven at the beginning of the war- and the R.A.F. intended to carry out his plan to the letter.
Among the crews of the ‘planes engaged were 14 Canadians, 7 New Zealanders, 7 Australians, a South African, and several Irishmen – a truly Imperial partnership.
Determined that this time there should be no delay in giving the news to the world, the Air Ministry arranged with the bomber squadrons that the progress of the raid should be radioed home in code as it was happening. So as the bombs were dropping, blowing to pieces aeroplane hangars, seaplane slipways, roads, and railway sheds, and as terrific explosions following a hit on an ammunition dump rocked the island, a matter-of-fact account of the havoc being wrought was flashed back to England, and Mr Chamberlain was able to say that the attack was at its height even as he spoke in the House of Commons.
An RAF reconnaissance photo taken in 1938 with annotations added.

Watchers from the nearby Danish island of Roemo described the scene as “like a firework display.” A Danish innkeeper who watched the attack for hours said that shortly after 8.40 all the anti-aircraft guns on the island seemed to go into action at once. They started firing frenziedly and were using tracer projectiles of all colours. He watched until 11 o’clock, by which time he had counted eighty-five bombs dropped.
But the raid went on for hours after the Danish innkeeper had grown tired of watching, and gone home to bed. Not until 6.30 on the morning of March 20 did the last ‘plane in the raid land in England, and only one of our machines failed to return safely.
One observer counted 200 bombs dropped; and of these very few failed to reach their objective. Railway lines and a barrack block were hit; the seaplane base of Hornum – the principle objective – at the southernmost extremity of Sylt, was plastered with tons of bombs; the crew of one bomber saw five of their bombs fall near a jetty; fires were started all over the island, and another bomber reported a direct hit on a sea-plane slipway.
Of course the Nazis maintained that the attack on Sylt had been an utter failure. They asserted at first that only one house had been hit, and a little later they substituted “military hospital” for “house.”
All the German newspapers published a balance sheet of the Scapa and Sylt raids, according to which the damage done by the Nazi bombers to Scapa Flow – one British battleship “as good as destroyed,” two battleships and one cruiser seriously damaged, two more big ships seriously damaged, damage to three aerodromes and anti-aircraft batteries – amounted to £34,230,550! On the debit side of the account the raid on Sylt represented a German loss of £97 only, made up of one damaged house roof £60, one rifle range to be repaired £9, and window panes broken to the extent of £28!
Here we see some of the British airmen who took part in the raid on Sylt.

A lone RAF aircraft flies into the German Blitzkrieg, 10 May 1940

As dawn broke on 10 May the roar of German aero engines throbbed through the skies over eastern France. All of the French air force’s bases and a number of civilian airfields were pounded by bombs and strafed with machine guns as the Luftwaffe roared in at low level out of the rising sun. Surprise was total and within the hour much of the French air force had been reduced to smoking wreckage. Based on temporary airfields, the AASF largely escaped this onslaught.

Flying into this storm of Nazi destruction was a Battle of No.15 Squadron of the AASF on a routine dawn patrol toward the German border. With a degree of courage that was to win him a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Alan Oakeshott, ignored the chaos unfolding around him and continued with his mission. While Sergeant Albert Taylor shot off roll after roll of film to document the advancing German hordes, the gunner Sergeant Treherne kept a wary eye on the skies around them.

Eventually one of the many black dots moving about the sky veered off its course and came to investigate the lone Battle. As it grew closer the new arrival could be seen to be a Bf109. Treherne alerted Oakeshott and the pilot headed for cloud cover. The German was too quick, however, and made a diving attack. Accurate shooting by Treherne kept the Bf109 at bay until Oakeshott could get into the clouds. Back at base the photos were rushed off to Intelligence where they proved to be “most valuable”. All three men in the crew were decorated for their flight.

The troops photographed by Taylor turned out to be just one of several German columns of panzers and infantry on the move. Most marched over the border into Belgium, as expected, and also into the Netherlands. The British and French at once put into operation their plan for a joint defence with the Belgians. The Dutch were not part of the plan as it had been expected that, as in 1914, the Germans would not attack that country. The Dutch government surrendered on the sixth day of war, though not before sending their navy, merchant marine and every aircraft that could fly off to Britain.

A Bracing Walk around the Battlefield of Hexham

1) From the bridge over the Devil’s Water stream at Linnels, walk southeast along the B6306.

To your left on the south side of the stream spread flat meadows. It was here that Somerset, Roos and Hungerford were camped with their men. In 1464 there was a narrow bridge over the Devil’s Water where the modern bridge stands. About half a mile downstream was a ford, now hidden among the woods that blanket the slopes of Swallowship Hill. As the cold light of dawn started to spread over the hills to the east, the camp began to stir as the men raked out camp fires and prepared to eat breakfast.

The Lancastrian army consisted of about 2,500 men. Of these around 1500 were men of Hungerford and Roos who had fled from the Battle of Hedgeley Moor almost without striking a blow. It must be assumed that Somerset did not trust these men not to repeat their actions if a battle were to take place. In any case, Somerset had with him 500 of his own men, whom he did trust. There were also some 500 other Lancastrians brought from Bamburgh and commanded by Sir Humphrey Neville, another Lancastrian who had pledged loyalty to Edward of York only to return to his original allegiance.

2) Continue along the B6306 to the junction with the B6307. Turn left and after about 300 yards find a footpath on the right leading into the Dipton Woods.

It was about here that Montagu emerged from Dipton Woods to see the Lancastrian army camped below him in the valley. Montagu had with him about 4,000 men, though over a third of these were retainers of Willoughby and Greystoke. Like Somerset, he was going into battle unable completely to trust a sizeable proportion of his own army. Unlike Somerset, Montagu had an army that was fully armed and ready for action. He decided to take maximum advantage.

Montagu ordered the army to shake itself out of the column in which it had been marching and immediately form up a conventional battle line. He kept his own men with him here, but seems to have sent Greystoke off to the southwest. His job was to come down to the Devil’s Water to the south of Somerset’s camp and block his retreat in that direction. Greystoke and his men would have marched roughly along the route of the footpath, this section of the hill being rapidly taken up by Montagu’s men as they deployed into line. Willoughby’s men were probably on his right.

3) Take the footpath through the woods to emerge out of the trees beside a garden nursery on the B6306.

This point was where the left wing of Montagu’s men would have been positioned when fully deployed. They were formed up on the hill looking down toward Somerset’s camp. The blocking force of Greystoke would have continued west over what are now open fields to come down to the stream that lies about a mile distant.

At this date it was usual for English armies to fight almost exclusively on foot, a trend that had been gathering pace since the 1340s. Knights were encased in complete suits of plate armour that covered the entire body. Such armour was vulnerable only to crushing blows from heavy hand-held weapons or to extremely lucky arrowstrikes on visor or between joints. Most knights suffered more from exhaustion and heavy bruising than actual wounds. Men-at-arms wore less complete armour, but nevertheless fought alongside the knights. There were numbers of men called prickers or foreriders, cavalry wearing light armour who scouted on campaign and guarded flanks in battle. They often dismounted to fight on foot, as they seem to have done at Hexham. All armies had considerable numbers of archers. These men habitually wore metal helmets and some form of body armour.

Montagu would probably have followed conventional tactics by putting his archers on his flanks and his armoured infantry in the centre. Then he set off down the hill.

4) Walk down the B6306 toward Linnels Bridge.

This was the route taken by Montagu’s left wing. By this time Somerset had seen the advancing enemy and was getting his men in to position. It seems that there was not enough time for knights and men-at-arms to get fully armoured before they had to take up position. Almost certainly the Lancastrian army drew up in front of their camp in the order in which they had slept. The men of Roos and Hungerford were on the Lancastrian right, in front of the bridge. Somerset’s own men were in the centre. Those led by Neville were on the left, in front of the ford.

As they advanced, the Yorkist archers paused to shower the Lancastrians with arrows. The Yorkist knights and men-at-arms did not stop their advance, but continued down the hill at a steady walk, shouting their battle cries.

The casualties inflicted by the arrows shot by Montagu’s flanking archers fell most heavily on the Lancastrian flanks. As the Yorkist infantry got close to the enemy, both wings of the Lancastrian force fled. The men of Roos and Hungerford raced for the bridge, though it was so narrow that not all of them got across before Montagu’s men were among them with sword and axe. Neville’s men were luckier, splashing over the ford and getting away in large numbers.

With the enemy wings disposed of, Montagu could turn on Somerset himself and his 500 heavily armed infantry. With their backs to the river, there could be little real prospect of escape for the Lancastrians. They fought hard for some time, but when Somerset went down their morale collapsed and the survivors fled. Most did not make it, either being cut down by the Yorkists or drowning in the river.

5) Return to Linnels Bridge where the walk began. It was here that Montagu himself paused in his moment of victory.

Montagu ordering his foreriders to give chase over the river toward Hexham, when the wounded and dazed Somerset was thrown down before him. Montagu was in no mood to be merciful to the nobleman who had broken his sacred oath. He had Somerset roughly bundled aside to be held at swordpoint along with other prisoners. Montagu was desperate to find King Henry. He sent riders out in all directions to hunt down the fugitives, giving orders that every man killed or captured was to be studied closely. The bodies of the fallen on the field were likewise stripped of helmets and their faces inspected. it was not unknown for important personages such as Henry to be disguised if the prospect of capture seemed likely.

It was soon clear that Henry was not to be found. Montagu by this time was in Hexham itself. He had his prisoners dragged before him one by one. Any Lancastrian who had previously been captured only to return to the field after being let go was not even allowed to speak before being hustled in to the town square for instant execution. Somerset and some two dozen others died in less than an hour. Roos and Hungerford were captured next day and likewise beheaded. The remainder were marched off to Newcastle to await the decision of King Edward as to their fate.

Although the walk ends at Linnels Bridge, Hexham is only a short drive away. There is much to see in the town, including the Abbey and Moot Hall which stood here in 1464 – and the fatal Market Place, now a busy shopping area.

The Vikings march on Canterbury, 851

Canterbury was an important town in pre-Roman times and became a local capital under Roman rule. It was the first city to pass to the Saxons, who were to become the English, and the only one to do so by treaty rather than conquest. Its later importance was due to the fact that it was here that St Augustine established his mission to convert the pagan English in 598.

In the year 602 St Augustine converted an existing church into a cathedral, making it the mother church of the English christians. This original building was enlarged in the 750s but was still substantially standing in 851 when war came to the city. A short distance to the east, outside the city, St Augustine founded an abbey. In its early years the abbey rivalled the cathedral in importance. While the cathedral ministered to the spiritual needs of the lay community, the abbey held the theological library and acted as a centre for learning and erudition. Quite what form these buildings took in 851 we don’t know, but it most likely had a small stone church acting as the focus for a variety of wooden monastic buildings.

Also standing in 851 were the Roman walls that surrounded the city. These were built mostly of stone, but with brick coursing at intervals to help bind the stonework together. They stood around 20 feet tall and had bastions at intervals on which the Romans had mounted ballistae and other heavy machines able to throw stones or bolts considerable distances. Such sophisticated mechanical weapons had fallen out of use during the dark ages, and now the walls would be manned by local men armed with spears, backed up by a small professional core of soldiers with mail shirts, metal helmets and sidearms such as swords or knives as well as spears. English military equipment and tactics had not changed much since the battles at Lydd and Otford a generation or two earlier.

The men of Canterbury were going to need all the weapons they could muster, for marching against the city was a powerful force of Vikings, the largest yet known. The Viking raids had begun in 793 when the isolated island monastery of Lindisfarne in Northumberland was looted and destroyed, the monks being slain. As the years passed the Vikings came more and more often, and in greater numbers. In 840 a force of 37 ships, each carrying around 50 men, attacked Southampton. Three years later 2,000 Vikings attacked Carhampton, but were driven off.

In 850 a vast army of some 15,000 Vikings was seen cruising up the Channel. They pillaged much of Devon, then climbed back in their ships and headed east, coasting off Kent until they reached Thanet, then still an island. There they landed, built a fortified base and settled down for the winter. The Vikings were clearly intending to pillage their way through England the following spring, and as the nearest city to Thanet Canterbury would be a prime target.

The Vikings came from the same military culture as the English, favouring the combination of shield and spear used in the shield wall tactic. They did, however, introduce some innovations that did much to account for their success in battle. The first was the judicious use of their ships to flee from an unfavourable situation. At this period Viking armies tended to stay close to the beach or river where their ships were drawn up. If they found themselves facing a larger force, they would simply run off to get aboard their ships and go to search for easier victims.

Once battle was joined, the Vikings put into practice a variation on the shield wall. Instead of forming up in a straight line, the wall was pushed forward at one or more places to from a “hog’s snout”, or wedge shape. The best equipped and most experienced men were put into the “hog’s snout”, which penetrated and broke up the enemy shield wall as the two armies met.

One new weapon the Vikings brought with them was the ferocious Danish axe. This monstrous weapon was carried on a haft over five feet long and had a curved blade around 11 inches wide. In the hands of a skilled veteran, this axe could slice a man in half with ease. One record exists of such an axe cutting down through a man’s helmet and skull to penetrate to the heart. It was a savage weapon and greatly feared, though the fact that it had to be used two-handed meant that the wielder could not carry a shield into battle.

Since the Battle of Lydd, Kent had been part of Mercia so it fell to King Brihtwulf of Mercia to defend the city and surrounding country. The problem was that the Vikings might clamber into their ships to attack almost anywhere along the eastern coast of England. Rather than mass his men in Kent, Brihtwulf seems to have ordered his army to muster at London as the spring weather heralded the coming of the campaigning season. He would then have waited to see where the Vikings went before marching to meet them.

As things fell out, the Viking army took the obvious course and marched on Canterbury. The local men manned the walls, and sent hurried messages off to London to summon the royal army to their aid.

The Build-up to the Battle of Sourton Down, 1643

By the spring of 1643 the two sides in England’s Civil War had each secured for themselves a part of the kingdom, money and men. It was clearly going to be a bloody and protracted war. King Charles decided that his most immediate aim should be to establish secure links between those parts of the country that had declared themselves loyal to himself. To this end Sir Ralph Hopton in command of the Royalist forces in the southwest was ordered to march towards Bristol, then held by Parliament, to capture the city and so establish a link to the Royalist areas of Wales and the Marches.

Although Parliament had little support in the Southwest, they did hold the key towns and Royalist commander, Sir Ralph Hopton, was understandably reluctant to march out of his home area leaving active enemy forces in his rear. Having first made sure that all enemy strongholds were securely invested by local forces, Hopton moved against the main Parliamentarian army in the Southwest, 2,500 men under Colonel James Chudleigh. The two armies met outside Launceston and Hopton won a convincing victory that sent Chudleigh and his men retreating east to Okehampton.

Hopton was, for once, badly served by his scouts who assured him on the morning of 25 April 1643 that Chudleigh was continuing to retreat back towards Bristol. In fact he had halted in Okehampton having learned that the Earl of Stamford was coming to support him with an army of 3,000 men.

At noon the Royalists paused to eat lunch near Rexon, then pushed on. Hopton was hoping to reach Okehampton, which he fondly believed to be deserted by the enemy, by nightfall. He was, as a result, moving more quickly than was wise in the presence of the enemy. By early evening the Royalist vanguard, made up of a regiment of Cornish infantry, had marched over Prewley Moor and was approaching Sourton Down. The wind was getting up and storm clouds hung low over Dartmoor to the south.

Chudleigh, for his part, knew exactly where Hopton and his men were. He ordered his infantry to draw up just southwest of Okehampton, then led his cavalry and dragoons toward Hopton, looking for a site suitable to lay an ambush. He chose South Down, the highest hill of Sourton Down. He was unwilling to risk his entire force in combat so soon after his defeat at Launceston and so left his infantry where they were to await his orders to advance or retreat depending on what happened.

The Origins of Chariot Racing in Rome

Possibly the oldest and certainly the most popular sport in Rome was chariot racing. Fortunes were won and lost by betting on the races. Successful charioteers earned themselves vast wealth and huge estates by their victories, but losers were treated as worthless - or mangled to death by the speeding chariots of the victors. The Romans viewed the dramatic races of the Circus as a peculiarly Roman invention. And yet the first Romans knew nothing of the chariot, still less of racing.

All the earliest accounts of Rome agree that there were no chariots in the young kingdom. Men fought on foot or rode horses to battle, but of the chariot there is no mention in any of the early sources. The oldest chariot so far found in central Italy was in a tomb in Regolini dating to about 650BC. The vehicle seems to have come from Greece, where chariots had been abandoned as a weapon of war about three centuries earlier, but were retained for ceremonial purposes and to allow a commander to get about the battlefield at speed. It was in the ceremonial role that they came to Italy, the early Romans using them in their triumphal processions.

The idea of racing lightweight chariots against each other seems to have emerged across central Italy in the 6th century BC, though whether it originated in Rome itself or somewhere else we have no way of knowing. Throughout central Italy, chariot and horse racing were held to be sacred to agricultural deities. Romulus, the founder of Rome, held a horse race in honour of the god Consus, patron of the harvest. Other races were held to honour Segesta, goddess of growing crops, and Ceres, goddess of corn. The original religious significance of the races has been lost, but was probably linked to rejuvenating the fertility of these deities. Equally obscure is the date at which chariot racing replaced horse racing in the ceremonies.

At first the chariots, horses and drivers were provided by the Roman knights, the lesser nobility who were citizens of wealth but who lacked aristocratic ancestry. Participation in the race was a religious duty which helped to ensure the future prosperity of the city. Later men were more concerned with winning and began to hire professional charioteers, or buy them if they were slaves. By the time the chariot races were first recorded in any great detail the earlier freelance drivers and team owners had been replaced by two large and wealthy teams, known as factiones, which were known by their colours: White and Red. About 30BC the Green faction was established and soon afterwards the Blues made an appearance. In the 80s AD the Emperor Domitian oversaw the establishment of two more factiones, the Purples and the Golds, but these new teams failed to attract much support among Romans and soon vanished.

Gladiators in training

Training involved weapons practice and pretend fights. The armour used during training was real, but was often old and worn. The best armour was used in the arena. The lanista and trainers instructed the gladiators how best to use their weapons. The training lasted for hours every day.

Confusion of the Gods

Confusion of the Gods
The Egyptians never had a formal pantheon, a list of gods showing what powers they had and how they were related. Over time different things were believed about the deities, some of which changed names and powers. Some cities preferred their own gods that were unknown elsewhere.

Monday, 6 January 2020

The Brusilov Offensive 1916

Byy early 1916, Russian Tsar Nicholas II was permanently at army headquarters to act as Commander in Chief and boost his soldiers’ morale. This left the Russian government in the hands of Tsarina Alexandra.

The Tsarina was greatly influenced by a debauched Siberian mystic named Grigori Rasputin. They promoted their friends instead of efficient and capable men. The Russian government began to decline in effectiveness.

Tsar Nicholas ordered Marshal Alexei Brusilov to attack the Austrians to distract attention from a main attack on the Germans.

Brusilov developed new tactics and ideas for his attack. On 4 June Brusilov’s Offensive smashed through the Austrian lines at three places. On 8 June Austrian Archduke Josef Ferdinand had to abandon his birthday party when a Russian shell landed in the garden of the house where the party was being held.

The main Russian offensive started on 18 June, but almost at once halted when the men ran out of supplies and reserves were sent in the wrong direction.

For eight weeks Brusilov’s Russians advanced, but the attack came to a halt when Ludendorff moved German troops to support the Austrians.

The Duties of a Roman Governor

Much of the administration and government of a province was in the hands of local government, not of the governor. The main job of the governor was to ensure that the province provided to Rome what it was supposed to do.

The most important task of a governor was to raise the taxes due to the Roman empire and make sure that they reached Rome safely. The governor might also have to raise auxiliary troops and send them on campaign.

Taxes were usually collected by private men. These men agreed an annual contract with the governor. They might be paid a percentage of the taxes collected, or be allowed to keep anything over a set amount that was paid to the governor.

Iron in Greece

Iron was introduced to Greece during the Dark Age. At first the metal was very expensive, so it was used only by kings and nobles.

The Boston Tea Party

The British colonies in North America had grown up around commercial and religious colonies and had become accustomed to running their own affairs. When the British government attempted to impose stricter control from home it lead to trouble.

Over the years since they were founded, the British colonies of North America prospered and grew out of all expectation. Rivalry with France had been ended in 1756 when General Wolfe captured Quebec and conquered the French colonies. However, the increasingly large and prosperous colonies were proving expensive to protect and police.

In order to recoup the costs of running these territories, the British government imposed a number of taxes on the American colonies. Because most of these were imposed on trade, they directly affected the wealth of the residents and were deeply resented. After a number of protests and a few outbreaks of violence, the British lifted the new taxes.

However, one much hated measure remained. The East India Company was given a monopoly over trade in tea and the government took a cut of three pennies a pound. The American colonists were angry that they could not buy tea from whom they wished, and doubly annoyed that this was to enforce a tax  paid to London. Newspapers and politicians called for a boycott of tea which, although not terribly effective, did raise the issue.

On 16th December 1773 a group of young colonists in Boston dressed themselves as Mohawk Indians and stormed aboard the ships of the East India Company that were in harbour. The ‘Sons of Liberty’ as they called themselves, pushed aside the protesting sailors, smashed open 342 chests of tea and dumped the contents in the harbour.

When news of the raid reached London, the Prime Minister, Lord North, ordered that the entire port of Boston be closed to all ships. He then went on to revoke the power of Massachusetts to rule itself and imposed a governor from London. Not content with that, the British government also required government officials accused of serious crimes to be sent to London for trial, instead of trusting them to local juries, and gave the new governor the right to station his troops wherever he liked, even in people’s houses. The colonists dubbed these Acts of Parliament the ‘Intolerable Acts’ and were determined to overthrow them.

Is Whitehall full of civil servants?

To the British ‘Whitehall’ is not just an area of London, it is also synonymous with the bureaucracy of Government. Whether one wishes to describe the efficiency and unbiased nature of the government machine or its inefficiency and bias, one refers to ‘Whitehall’.

The reason why Whitehall has become so identified with civil servants and bureaucracy dates back to the reign of King Henry VIII in the 16th century. King Henry had tired of living in Westminster Palace as that building was increasingly being taken over for offices relating to Parliament and the Exchequer. He therefore acquired land on the banks of the river to the north of Westminster and from 1512 carried out extensive building works. Named Whitehall Palace because it was built of a stone lighter in colour than Westminster, the new edifice was designed for pleasure. In addition to comfortable living rooms and grand state rooms, the Whitehall Palace included gardens, orchards and a cockpit as well as a tiltyard.

The Whitehall Palace remained the principal residence of the Royal Family in London until 1688 when William III and Mary II came to the throne. William found the damp river air bad for his breathing so the Court moved to Kensington Palace. Ten years later a blundering Dutch washerwoman knocked over a lantern and set fire to Whitehall Palace. With all the men and equipment of the Court removed to Kensington, the fire raged unchecked through the 2,000 rooms of Whitehall and in a few hours the palace was a heap of smouldering ruins. Only the grand Banqueting House remained.

The destruction wrougt by the fire meant that there was suddenly a large amount of open ground belonging to the Crown available for redevelopment. At first a series of residential houses were erected and rented out, but before long the growing need for government offices near Westminster Palace began to be felt. Among those Whitehall houses was Wallingford House, owned by the Duke of Buckingham. This had been taken over by the navy as premises for central planning, the commissioning of ships and other necessary adminsitrative work. It was replaced in 1722  by the present Admiralty building, though there have been several alterations carried out since.

The next oldest of the government office buildings in Whitehall is the Paymaster General’s Office, built as a private house by John Lane in 1732, but much altered to accommodate offices. Dover House was built in 1754 and much altered in 1792. It was a private house until 1885 when the Government took it over and it is now the home of the Scottish Office. Built rather later, but entering government service earlier, was Gwydyr House which was erected in 1772. It was taken over by the government in 1842 and now houses the Welsh Office.

The first of the truly great purpose-built government offices in Whitehall is the Foreign Office, erected in 1868. Erected in grand Italian Renaissance style by the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, the Foreign Office is generally held to have one of the most imposing entrance halls and staircases in all London. It was not meant to be that way. Scott wanted to build a Gothic masterpiece to rival the new Palace of Westminster then being completed in that style, but parliament refused after an extremely acrimonious series of debates dubbed by the Press ‘The Battle of the Styles’. Scott’s second suggestion of a Byzantine edifice was also rejected and in the end he had to accept the views of Prime Minister Palmerston who wanted an Italian style.

Next to be erected was the Ministry of Housing which was erected in 1898 in conscious imitation of Scott’s edifice. This was followed in 1957 by the Ministry of Defence, a massive complex which has the unusual distinction among government offices of having a pair of gigantic nude statues flanking its official entrance. Finally, in the later 20th century the pseudo-Tudor building for the Department of the Environment was added beside the Ministry of Defence. Among the other government offices along Whitehall are the old War Office, Horse Guards, Admiralty House and Arch and other, smaller buildings.

Exactly how many civil servants work in these various buildings along Whitehall is shrouded in secrecy. However, the size of the buildings would indicate they have a capacity for something over 50,000 office staff.

The earliest cats had elongated bodies

The earliest cats had elongated bodies
The earliest known cat was Dinictis (dye-nik-tiss) which lived in North America about 30 million years ago. It had a long, muscular body with powerful legs. Dinictis would have hunted by creeping up close to prey, then leaping at them.

Murmillos and Retiarius - A Gladiator Game to play at home

Murmillos and Retiarius

A game for two players.
You will need:
A chess board
A set of chess pieces

1) Use only the pawns, each of which represents a murmillo gladiator, and one knight which represents a retiarius gladiator. Each player places his murmillos on the row of squares closest to him. The retiarius can be placed anywhere on the second row of squares.

2) Each murmillo can move two spaces forward, backward or sideways, but not diagonally. Each retiarius can move up to four spaces forward, backward or sideways, but not diagonally. No gladiator can jump over another.

3) Players take it in turns to move one gladiator each. If a gladiator lands on a space occupied by an opponent, the opponent’s gladiator is defeated and removed from the board.

4) The winner is the player who manages to defeat all the opposing gladiators.

5) If the players are left with one murmillo or one retiarius each, the game is a draw.

Samurai wore elaborate armour

Samurai wore elaborate armour. For many years the islands of Japan were ruled by a class of noble warriors known as the samurai. As a mark of their status, samurai wore suits of armour made from hundreds of small plates of metal laced together with brightly coloured silk. Each group of samurai had a badge, or sashimono, often a picture of a plant or animal.

No. 50 Squadron of the RAF over Cologne

A week later on 28 June the squadron went to Cologne as part of a force of 608 bombers that had railways works as the main target. Over the city one of the Lancasters had a flak shell burst immediately under its nose. The perspex cupola through which the bombaimer worked and the navigator peered was ripped off and the resulting rush of air into the nose of the bomber blew all but one of the navigation charts out. Navigator Sergeant John Heath was, moreover, hit in the shoulder by shrapnel. This was, however, Heath’s 23rd mission and he was unfazed by his sudden problems. Propping himself against the side of the damaged bomber he managed to navigate the bomber back over Germany, Holland and the North Sea to return to Lincolnshire. It was only after the bomber had landed that he informed the pilot that he had been wounded and would rather appreciate an ambulance.
Another Lancaster of the squadron had an equally adventurous time over Cologne that night. Flight Sergeant Morral Cole had just piloted his bomber over the aiming flares when the Lancaster gave a sudden lurch. Cole struggled to get control of his bomber, fearing it had been hit by flak. Calling up his crew over the intercom for reports, Cole learned from his tail gunner, Sergeant Frank Pointon, that the bomber had been hit by incendiary bombs dropped by another Lancaster higher up. Pointon reported that none of the incendiaries had ignited, and all had fallen off the bomber. However, said Pointon, his own turret was now non operational. Cole piloted the bomber away from Cologne, north to the North Sea and then headed for base. It was only once they were out over the sea that Pointon informed Cole that he had been wounded and was now feeling woozy, probably from loss of blood. The mid upper gunner was despatched to give first aid, and was astonished to find that Pointon had had the index finger sliced clean off his left hand.

The Advantages of the Spanish Army in the Peninsular War

Spanish soldiers from 1810. On the left are a grenadier and pioneer from a line infantry regiment. In the centre is a light cavalry officer while to the right are his men in campaign and stable uniforms.
Despite the various handicaps of the Spanish army, it did have some great strengths. The first of these was numbers. When the French invaded, the Spanish army numbered over 100,000 regulars - a substantial force by anyone's measure. Throughout the war, recruitment into the army never lacked men so despite repeated defeats and losses the Spanish army ended the war almost as large as it began it. Aiding this trend was the fact that Spanish soldiers had the habit of walking off home after a defeat to hide their weapons and uniforms from prying French eyes. When a new army was being raised, the former soldiers would put back on their uniforms, grab their weapons and go back to the army. The French found it bewildering how an area could be devoid of Spanish troops one day, but swarming with them the next. Once they realised what was happening, of course, it made them suspicious of Spanish civilians and prone to take reprisals.
The other advantage the Spanish army had was a great willingness among the men to fight the French. The behaviour of the French armies played a large part in this. At its best, the French army stole food wherever it went, more usually the men looted anything of value and in several notorious cases indulged in murder and rape on a large scale. When the French captured Oporto in March 1809 about 5,000 civilians died, much of the city went up in flames and few women escaped rape. Spanish resentment against the French quickly turned to a hatred that explains why Spanish armies were usually so keen to attack the French, and so reluctant to take prisoners.

Siege Trenches in the English Civil War

A cross section of a parallel trench as dug by an attacker. The spoil heap and gambion hid the men in the trench from view and protected them against incoming bullets.

Since it was clearly impossible to march across the cleared killing field, the first move of any attacking commander was to find another way. That meant digging trenches. The first trench to be dug was the First Parallel. This was dug parallel to the defensive wall to be assaulted, hence its name. It was positioned right at the maximum range of the cannon on the walls. The main purpose was to conceal the movements of the attacking troops from the watchers on the defences, though it was also proof against cannonballs and so provided real shelter for the men.
The digging of trenches was a skilled and arduous business. Generally a team of five skilled men was employed, with a dozen or more unskilled men attached to do the heavy lifting work. The first men crawled forwards on hands and knees protected behind a heavy wooden shield that was mounted on wheels. The shield was pushed forward a few inches, then wedged in position. Behind it the men dug a trench about a foot deep and two feet wide. The earth from this was piled into a large wickerwork basket called a gabion. When packed with earth a gabion was strong enough to withstand bullets or small cannonballs. Once the this was done, the shield was pushed forward a bit further and the process began again.
Meanwhile a second team moved in to do more digging, deepening the trench to around two feet and widening it to three feet. The earth was likewise piled up into the gabion. The third team enlarged the trench further and completed the filling of the gabion. A fourth team arrived to deepen the trench so much that a man could walk along it in safety without bending down. The spare earth was thrown over the top of the gabion to form a spoil heap to protect its front. The fifth team widened the trench to be about six feet wide so that men could pass each other without difficulty, the earth being also thrown over the gabions. The trench was often finished off by having fascines of twigs piled up on top of the gabions to make it difficult for men from the besieged fortress to launch surprise raids on the trenches.

Phillip II of Macedon changes the organisation of his army

Philip inherited a decimal organisation for his army, with men grouped in units of ten. He changed that to a system based on 16, though he kept the old name of dekas to describe each of these units - a fact that has caused great confusion. This dekas was the basis of pezhetairoi organisation both on the march and in battle. In camp, each dekas shared a camp fire, cooking utensils and rations. The tents of the dekas were pitched close to each other in two rows facing the fire.
Each dekas was led by a man called a dekadarch, who was paid twice as much as the others. He seems to have been responsible for ensuring that his men kept their equipment in good condition and for reporting any lapses of discipline to an officer. There was also a man called a dimoirites and two called dekastateros, whose duties seem to have been restricted to the battlefield.
Each dekas also had a slave and, at least some of the time, a mule or packhorse. This man and his animal were responsible for transporting the equipment needed by the 16 men. This included the tents, the cooking gear, a bowl and cloak for each man, an earthenware pot in which was carried smouldering embers to light the campfire and enough food for up to 10 days.
The pezhetairoi were organised into units, known as lochos, each of which was composed of 32 dekas, or 512 men plus a trumpeter, a signaller and four or more officers. The senior officer is thought to have been mounted so that he could see over the heads of his men.
This lochos was the smallest formation available to the pezhetairoi phalanx. On an administrative level it was the basis for the issuing of pay and supplies and was the smallest unit over which a nobleman had command.

Aknight in around 1250

Towards the end of this period knights were dressed as is this figure here. The mail is now a tight-fitting suit that includes boots and gauntlets. The helmet is smooth and rounded to deflect blows and has a visor over the face that can be lifted up to make breathing easier when not in actual combat. The oblong pennant on the lance shows that this man is a "knight-banneret", that is a knight who has been given permission by his lord to carry this sort of a decoration. Such permission was usually won by a feat of valour in battle and gave the knight prestige among his fellows.