Saturday, 22 April 2017

Wellington's Eastern Front - Colonel Nick Lipscombe

My recent reading over the last six weeks or so has been a gradual thumbing my way through a recent publication from Pen & Sword books which suddenly moved from a slow jog to a full on sprint with a business trip to London this week and the prospect of a two and half hour train journey there and back to fill.

The reason for my choice of Nick Lipscombe's book is that I am off to this part of Spain soon where I have a holiday home of my own and knowing the expertise the author brings to the Peninsular War I was keen to do a bit of pre-reading in preparation for some exploring I plan to do going forward over the next few years using my home as a base.

I, probably like many enthusiasts for this particular part of the Napoleonic Wars, had a passing knowledge of the events and key battles on the east coast of Spain, with a much better understanding of Wellington's main theatre covering Portugal, Central and Northern Spain and the French and Allied operations there and down into Andalusia and Granada.

The East Coast Theatre of Operations, 1810 - 1813 (Based on Lipscombe's map)
As you can see from the map above, based on Nick Lipscombe's map in the book, his writing focuses specifically on the operations of the French and Allied forces within the provinces of Catalonia and Valencia. 

As the title of the book implies, the theme of the narrative recounts the action very much from the perspective of the Duke of Wellington as his mission to initially set up and defend his base of operations in Portugal shifted focus, on achievement of that first objective, to his next objective to support the Spanish forces in the wider war with the aim of driving the Imperial French Army out of Spain.

The book could be seen to follow the Duke's shift in emphasis as the text follows the drive along the eastern coast by General, later Marshall Suchet in the first part of the struggle 1810 - 1812 as the French siege craft and the crushing victory at Saguntum with the destruction of General Blake and his army outside Valencia leading to the eventual capture of that city would mark the high-water mark of French fortunes as the tide of war would turn irrevocably in 1812 with Wellington's crushing victory at Salamanca.

Battle of Castalla 21st July 1812 - Jean-Charles Langlois

With Spanish forces very much on the defensive following Suchet's brilliant campaigns through Catalonia and Valencia, Wellington was very conscious of the need to prevent the stamping out of Spanish resistance; and to have an Allied force in being, to tie down French garrisons in this area of Spain, just as along the sensitive north east coast route guarding the French line of communication from Bayonne. Thus we see entering from stage right the British and Sicilian forces under Lord William Bentinck.

One interesting aspect for me that I had never fully understood before, was the virtual or total independence that both the French and British commands operated under in this theatre; although with the appointment of Wellington, post Salamanca, as Generalissimo of Spanish forces, Bentinck, pushing for clarity as to his position in relation to the Duke in the command chain, soon had his position clarified by the British Government that he should report to and cooperate with Wellington and his overall strategy with the orders that followed from that.

However Suchet reported directly to Napoleon in Paris and later in Russia and Eastern Prussia, and could resist pressure from King Joseph and the other Marshals for him to release his forces for use elsewhere. Likewise Wellington recognised Bentink's wider responsibility to hold Sicily as a British base of operations and to support the allied supporting faction within its Kingdom which required the ability to take British and Allied troops from Eastern Spain to the island as required on occasion and thus he retained that discretion throughout the period of his forces deployment to Spain. 

Battle of Castalla 13th April 1813

The real stand-out for me whilst reading this account were three key aspects of this theatre. The two giants of the war in Spain whose reputations grew from their abilities to master the art of the possible within the confines of the unique difficulties presented to the armies operating in the Peninsular War, namely Marshal Suchet and General Wellington who both shine through as great commanders, both having to manage similar and very different issues superbly well.

The other remarkable highlight for me was the chance to see how the British operations in the Peninsular War might have been managed if it had not been for the presence of the Duke. The contrast between his forces and the commanders he had working under him to those that led the British Sicilian Army on the east coast are noteworthy. The lack of vision and leadership from the top down seemed to permeate throughout that army with a few exceptions at lower command and of course the exceptional valour and ability of the common British redcoat that formed the backbone of the force as a whole.

This total lack of command ability was not lost on the Duke following the first appearance of the East Coast expeditionary force in 1812 during Wellington's Salamanca campaign. I found myself thinking how much better things could have been managed had Wellington been able to send General Sir Rowland Hill to take command, a proven independent commander who could be relied on to work within the constraints of the bigger picture.

However Wellington had to work with the commanders he was given, this was not the French army under Napoleon, and thus we see recounted in full the twenty-nine point "Memorandum on the Operations to be carried out on the Eastern Coast of the Peninsula" written by the Duke, dated 14th April 1813 and addressed to the then commander Lieutenant General Sir John Murray.

This point by point directive lays out how Sir John should look to conduct his campaign within a range of possibilities to cause as much discomfiture to French occupation forces within the area with the principle aim of detaining Suchet's forces and destroying parts of them in detail should the opportunity arise, but without risking the position of an Allied force being present to fulfil its main task. All this whilst Wellington would look to unhinge the French position in Eastern Spain by bringing on a battle of decision with the stretched forces under King Joseph and Marshal Jourdan in the north which would eventually lead to the decisive Battle of Vitoria in June of that year.

Whilst reading the memorandum and the vision for the campaign year ahead I found myself reminded of the series of notes written by Napoleon to his stepson Prince Eugene commanding the French forces in Northern Italy.  Eugene, a relatively inexperienced general in 1808 was tasked with the defence of Northern Italy against the threatened Austrian War that broke out the following year. As with the Wellington's memorandum the clarity and direction of a senior commander looking to delegate responsibility to his subordinate but in a way that sought to support and guide the choices they should make by reference to the 'end in mind' are classic instruction manuals that give a revealing insight into the way these great captains thought about war and its management.

Sadly for Wellington Sir John Murray was not in the same class of commander as Prince Eugene and Marshal Suchet was certainly a more formidable opponent than Archduke John.

In terms of the General Officers who populate the story of the campaigning in this part of Spain, Lipscombe does a very good analysis of the abilities of the various commanders involved and I think brings not only his own military experience to bear but also offers a very fair and balanced assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, taking into account the constraints that each had to operate under.

The Good, the Not So Good, the Bad and the Ugly as covered in the book.

Marshal Louis-Gabriel Suchet - Duc de Albufera
To quote Lipscombe "The Soldier who emerges from the war on the east coast with the most credit and greatest list of accomplishments is without doubt, Louis-Gabriel Suchet. He was the only one of Napoleon's generals to earn his marshal's baton and the only subordinate who performed consistently and effectively. Suchet always conducted his campaigns with great skill and was always able to balance his tasks and capabilities with a level of professionalism  which prompted Napoleon to state that 'If I had had two Suchet's, I could have held Spain.'"

General Francisco Copons y Navia
The Spanish general that gains the most credit from a very lack lustre performance overall by Spanish commanders on the east coast is General Copons for his spirited defence of Tarrifa during the siege (December 1811 - January 1812) where, resisting the advice of the attached British brigade commander, Colonel John Skerrett, to evacuate, he and the allied forces held out against Marshal Victor who was forced to break off and retire to Cadiz.

He later took command of Spanish forces in Catalonia in 1812-13, being the eleventh Spanish commander in that theatre and conducted himself well without achieving anything of notable significance.

Lord William Bentinck

The British General Officer commanding on the eastern coast was Lord William Bentinck appointed to command the Anglo Sicilian forces tasked initially to develop the Bourbon monarchy and the country into a reliable ally and supporter of the patriots within French controlled Italy.

Lipscombe describes Bentinck as an interesting if complicated individual, who I was vaguely familiar with for his previous command under Sir John Moore during the Corunna campaign of 1809.

From the description of the way he conducted himself throughout this critical stage of the Peninsular War as Wellington's victories and Napoleon's dramatic defeat in Russia reversed the balance of the initiative in favour of Britain and her allies, he seems to have totally failed to grasp the role of his forces within this bigger picture, with his continual focus on events in what could only have been considered at this stage of the war as a minor theatre in comparison.

This lack of direction from the top was only compounded by the ineffectual leadership from characters like Sir John Murray who were left in command with directions from Wellington but it seems very little from Bentinck. Murray, in his communications with Wellington clearly showed that he was out of his depth when it came to acting independently and this came to the fore at the disastrous siege of Tarragona in 1813 which was followed by Bentinck's appearance only in time to relieve Murray of command before leading the withdrawal of his forces.

Throughout the account we constantly see Bentinck appearing in theatre only to depart yet again because of some perceived trouble brewing in Sicily leaving a subordinate to take the reins.

This total lack of focus by Bentinck is captured succinctly for me when in September 1813 and with Wellington fully occupied with the siege of San Sebastian and the need to protect his front and flanks from a threatened counter-offensive from Marshals Soult and Suchet, Bentick's vanguard division pursuing the latter Marshal in an attempt to prevent any French coordination managed to get itself badly beaten in the Combat at Ordal

Again, soon after, Bentinck departs for Sicily despite the critical situation developing as Anglo-Portuguese forces are fighting to prepare the ground for the invasion of France. Not only that but he decides to hand over command to his senior divisional general, Lieutenant General William Clinton who he reports in his letter to Wellington,

"......begs me to request your Lordship to send a senior officer to him to command the army. This so unusual request proceeds from a diffidence of his own abilities. He thinks that this complicated machine would be better kept in order by an officer having more reputation and weight in Spain than himself." 

As Lipscombe goes on to say, "If Bentinck's decision to return at this critical moment was not enough, what on earth Wellington was to make of Clinton's request, is anyone's guess."

If any situation clearly illustrates the weakness of the British system of purchasing senior commissions and the inability to sack useless and ineffective commanders then this must be one of the most classic examples.

If Lord Bentinck exemplifies everything that was wrong about the command of the Allied east coast forces, then his counterpoint must be Lieutenant Colonel 'Samford' Whittingham a British officer seconded into the Spanish service and who commanded the Majorcan Division, training and bankrolling his soldiers when the Spanish authorities failed to do so.

Majorcan Division
5th Cuesta Grenaderos
2nd Burgos
2nd Cordoba
2nd Murcia
2nd Guadalajara
Cazadores de Mallorca
Olivenza and Almanza Cavalry (4 Squadrons)

I was aware of Whittingham when he and the troops under his command supported General Graham's successful counter-attack against Marshal Victor's troops at the Battle of Barossa in 1811.

Lipscombe points out that based on Spanish and other British primary sources referring to this officer it is clear that he was highly proficient and a thoroughly nice chap.

So looking at the book as a whole we see its structure built around three parts containing fifteen chapters over 187 pages.

Part 1 - The French Invasion
Chapter 1:    Introduction
Chapter 2:    Napoleon's Objectives
Chapter 3:    Suchet's Baton
Chapter 4:    Blake's Collapse
Chapter 5:    O'Donnell's Miscalculation

Part 2 - British Intervention
Chapter 6:   Bentincks Vacillation
Chapter 7:   Murray's Arrival
Chapter 8:   Murray's Victory
Chapter 9:   Wellington's Memorandum
Chapter 10: Murray's Expedition
Chapter 11: Bentinck's Arrival
Chapter 12: Suchet's Dilemma

Part 3 - Observations and Finale
Chapter 13: Murray's Tribunal
Chapter 14: Naval Influence
Chapter 15: Conclusion

Appendix I: Commanders, Troop Organisations and Strengths
Appendix II: Notes on Foreign Units in British Service on the East Coast of Spain


As well as providing an easy to read narrative of the events the book is made even better with seventeen excellent maps, six of which are in glorious colour and something you might expect from the author of the also excellent Peninsular War Atlas. It is so nice to to have to revue a book and not complain about the lack of maps or the lack of good maps.

In addition three colour and twenty three black and white plates accompany the text illustrating the characters discussed together with modern day pictures of battle sites in the area.

There are sixteen orders of battle, six descriptions of the foreign troops in British service that characterised the army on the east coast and an invaluable description of the Spanish troops serving under Whittingham in the Majorcan Division.

As if that wasn't enough there are copious notes and references that accompany each chapter together with an extensive glossary of terms used throughout the text and five pages of references and sources, published and unpublished that are listed in the bibliography section, this completed with a handy four page index at the back.

Nick Lipscombe is to be congratulated on producing a thoroughly well researched and entertaining read that had me engrossed for the best part of my five hour train journey, that ended up with me devouring this book with my attention totally grabbed.

If you are a student of the Peninsular War this is a must read, must have reference, that covers this rather secondary but pivotal theatre of the war that that had such a deciding impact on the overall Napoleonic struggle,


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Avgvstvs to Avrelian Unit Cards

This Easter Bank-holiday weekend was spent putting the finishing touches to my Avgvstvs to Avrelian (AtoA) play kit following on from the third play-test I and Mr Steve conducted at the Devon Wargames Group this month.

Tapae 87AD - Augustus to Aurelian/Devon Wargames Group

As you will know I have put together all the relevant markers and initiative chits needed for play but one last modification was needed based on the feedback from this month's game.

The unit cards containing all the relevant information for each troop type worked really well. I had intended them to be small and inconspicuous around the table, but the older players in our group found them rather too small for easily and quickly identifying a particular factor required with the small text.

The Unit Card production line, with the old mark one cards visible on the right below my note pad
So the answer was back to 'PowerPoint' to put together a larger final set to cover the troop types I intend to model in my forthcoming games, namely the Early Imperial Romans of course, Dacians, Sarmatians, Early Germans and Batavians, thus apart from the Britons, who will join this motley crowd in time, all the European barbarian tribes of the early Principate.

Once the basic layout and artwork was completed I printed the cards to PDF format and then printed them to light card together with the AtoA logo that went onto sticky-back paper for brightening up the reverse side of each card.

Once done each card was laminated for protection and stowed away in old business card boxes for when required.

I have proof read these several times so I am hoping the odd error will be that 'odd', but I cannot guarantee that they are perfect, but I am pretty sure that the vast majority are fit for service.

I mention this as I have put the PDFs up on my downloads list, also with a link below for fellow adventurers into the world of AtoA to use should you wish.

JJ's AtoA Cards

My complete collection of Unit Cards already for the next game
Fun and games here at Chez JJ with the builders in to re-plaster the old place and my painting desk stored away for safe keeping, I am thus reduced to getting in a bit of painting elsewhere which is not ideal and with a trip to Spain coming up, is holding up the Talavera project. As I say so much to do so little time.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Portsmouth 2017 The Historic Dockyard

The White Ensign flies high and proud from the stern of HMS Victory
This series of posts from our trip to Portsmouth this year follows on from last year's visit and includes the post about the Mary Rose.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard 2016
Portsmouth 2017 - Mary Rose

It really isn't an understatement to say that there is an incredible amount to see when visiting Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and I would defy anybody to do it justice within one day, that's how much stuff there is to see.

The fact that there is so much history on display truly reflects the long history of the Royal Navy and Britain's heritage as a major sea power throughout the centuries.

When sitting down to think about how to theme my various posts about our visit I ended up with a collection of pictures that not only reflected my trigger happy finger as I flitted from one eye-catching exhibit to another, but the extraordinary range of exhibits across the historical record of naval warfare.

So this post will attempt to give you an impression of all the other stuff that I couldn't include in a theme of their own.

HMS Victory's carronades - now that's what you call a 'big gun'
On stepping out from the Mary Rose exhibition we headed for HMS Victory still in a state of major repair work following the discovery of a major warping and bulging of her very old timbers that has required work to brace the old girl and relieve her of as much top heavy structures as possible.

Thus many of the guns on board are now light weight replicas, together with new light weight masts still awaiting new rigging to complete her look. This explains why I have not shown any external shots of this proud old lady as I think they do not do her justice in her present state of repair work.

I took some time presenting Victory in my post from last year, but Tom was away on his travels at the time and so we paid a second visit for his benefit and I decided to take some close ups of those parts of the ship that as a modeller and naval history fan am inclined to pay special attention to.

Thus the layout and rigging of the forecastle 68lbr carronades or 'ship smashers' drew my attention when touring the upper deck. True size replicas, they really capture the awesome power that these stubby short barrelled mega-guns could deliver especially when turned on enemy decks to clear them of potential boarding parties and sniping marines.


As a modeller of wargame ships I am always interested in seeing how standing rigging is positioned and anchored on these big old ships and I took these pictures of Victory's standing rigging for her main mast as much as for reference as for the appeal of the neat lines they create.

The nets for stowing hammocks when the ship was cleared for action shows how well they would have added to the protection to those on deck and should anyone make it beyond the anti-boarding nets, those belaying pins come in very handy as ready made truncheons.

At some stage I rather fancy a 'Brown Bess' to grace the wall of the game room and it was a good job these crates of muskets and bayonets were securely fixed, although I am not sure if you could easily get one under your jacket.

Not all the guns on Victory are replicas and it is easy to spot the real thing, confirmed with an unforgiving solid feel when gently tapped. One or two of them are Trafalgar veterans although the decks they rest on were replaced in 1812.

The footing for the bowsprit and the curve of the timbers of the bow are captured in the pictures below, with ports close by to accommodate bow chasing guns should the need occur.

And finally an area of the ship that always reminds me of my early school days when studying the Trafalgar battle for the first time and getting over the shock of hearing that the hero of the hour fell in the moment of his and the nations greatest victory at sea.

The plaque in the cockpit of HMS Victory marks where Lord Nelson was laid and subsequently died and is recognisable to most Brits over the age of forty, but I wonder whether foreign tourists and younger generations not benefiting from a traditional education are aware of its significance given there were no signs around to alert the uninitiated visitor.

My favourite quote relating the long period of Nelson's dying moments and Captain Hardy's reports to his Admiral on the progress of the battle describes one of the last exchanges between the two men:

" Almost an hour after his previous visit Captain Hardy was again able to come down to the now crowded cockpit for a second time. Clasping Nelson's hand, he congratulated him 'even in the arms of death on his brilliant victory which was complete, though he did not know how many of the enemy were captured, as it was impossible to see every ship distinctly'. 'However,' he added, 'I am certain of fourteen or fifteen surrendered'.
'That is well,' answered Nelson, 'but I had bargained for twenty.'

HMS M33 - M29 Class Monitor


Right next door to HMS Victory lies an example of the kind of ships needed to help project a naval power's influence on to the shore or as what is known as 'gun-boat diplomacy'

From the age of sail period the Royal Navy in support of land forces developed specialised ships with shallow draughts and large mortars, known as 'bomb ships'. Usually small vessels mounting a large mortar centrally amid ships with spaced masts to allow the gun to be swivelled in a 360' arc these ships could get in close to shore and lob large explosive shells into defended built up areas.

Nicholas Pococks fine picture of the British bombardment of Copenhagen in 1801 illustrates the bomb ships close to the front of the picture at anchor with smoke rising from amidships as their mortars fire over the ships of the line into the city beyond.

Battle of Copenhagen 1801 - Nicholas Pocock
HMS M33 was built in 1915 to meet the demands for close in shore bombardment vessels in WWI and was the 20th century evolution of the old bomb ship.

HMS M33 pictured in 1916 during the Dardanelles Campaign - IWM
Like her predecessors this ship was built around a flat bottom shallow draught hull which meant her sea keeping abilities were not what any self respecting land-lubber like me would want to set out across the briny on.

So in a large swell this thing would tend to bob about and indeed when on passage to where ever her peculiar skills were required she was usually towed into theatre.

Also like the old bomb ships, monitors like M33 were designed to facilitate the firing of a big gun, which in 1915 meant a 6 inch (152mm) Mk XII main gun mounted forward.

HMS Roberts

A 6 inch doesn't sound like much of a shore bombardment gun when you consider the capabilities of monitors like HMS Roberts with her twin 15 inch guns used in WWII, but a 6 inch gun used close in for pin-point accuracy could really mess up your day.

I remember touring the German D-Day gun battery at Longues sur Mer battery where the emplaced guns got into a duel with the cruisers Ajax and Argonaut who, close in, managed to place their 6 inch shells straight through the gun armour and front embrasures.

Similarly I toured a German gun bunker complex near to Utah beach where the USS Texas performed a similar feat and you could see the passage of the 14 inch shell as it ripped up the gun mount and passed through hitting the rear reinforced concrete wall before exploding among the gun crew - nasty.

Longues sur Mer battery

The magazine for the 6 inch up top
M33 didn't have to wait long before her first taste of action as she was ordered to join the naval task force sent to force the passage of the Dardanelles and later to support the allied troops ashore as Turkish resistance proved more capable than anticipated.

The one thing that strikes the modern observer of this ship is that for a vessel designed to get 'up close and personal' with the enemy she has very little in the way of armour protection. In fact I have seen cross-channel car ferries with more armour than this little ship. The passage ports through the hull and upper works reveal paper thin steel sides and upper works which must have given her crew a few sleepless nights.

The upper-works, deck and hull are not heavily armoured
Fortunately for the crew of the M33 it turned out that this little ship was a lucky one and none of her human cargo suffered any mishap during her tour of action in 1916.

The 'business end' of HMS M33 with her single 6 inch gun and a modicum of protection for her crew with an open backed armoured shield

A range of 6 inch ordnance on display behind the gun

Tom and Will check out the firing mechanism - 'what do you think happens if I pull this?'

You wake up, peer out the port hole and see a Turkish gun emplacement pointing straight at your bunk!

The bridge on a modern warship in 1915 was full of the gadgets any 20th century man of war would need, nothing like HMS Victory!

Like I said a bridge full of high tech. gadgets - Pass me the sexton

Ah a slight concession to modern naval warfare, a wireless.
This site gave me a warm feeling as my old Grandpa used to work for Marconi
It was great to see another old lady from WWI has been preserved for the nation. My only wish would be to see her in the colour scheme she wore in 1916 rather than the dazzle look.

On our visit last year I pictured the fast boats tied up close to the big boat house where restoration work on some of the smaller historical vessels is carried out. We were busy last year checking out HMS Warrior seen in the background of Motor Gunboat 81 pictured below.

A beautifully restored MGB 81 with HMS Warrior in the background
MGB 81 was commissioned and accepted into service in 1942 with her primary task to intercept and attack enemy torpedo craft in the English Channel.

She was based down in Devon at Dartmouth, attacking five German E-boats on the 21st/22nd April 1944 in Lyme Bay, engaging two at close range and suffering damage herself.

She took part in the D-Day operations between the 6th to the 30th of June 1944, later transferring to Gosport with her flotilla.

Overnight on the 23rd/24th June 1944 she attacked a German convoy leaving Cherbourg.

Known as the 'Spitfires of the Sea', these small fast vessels were originally equipped with three Hewlett-Packard built Rolls Royce Merlin engines giving a maximum speed of 45 knots, but with just a mahogany hull and 3,000 gallons of aviation fuel aboard had to rely on that speed and the cover of darkness for protection.

Saved from scrapping in late 1945 and later taking part in an illegal smuggling operation in the 1950's, MGB 81 was restored and saved for the nation in 1988 and thanks to funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to Portsmouth Naval Base Property is on permanent display and available for charter.

World War One has been very much in the nations consciousness over the last three years with the centenary commemorations happening since 1914 through to the present.

The British tend to remember WWI for the carnage experienced in the trenches in Flanders with every village, town and city having a memorial recording the names of local people who served and didn't come home.

Curiously, for a great naval power it is not the fact that WWI was effectively won on the 31st May/1st June 1916 at Jutland where, in spite of a tactical defeat, at best draw, the nation won a strategic victory that condemned the German nation to starvation through blockade and revolution from within, that destroyed their will to wage war.

No we, the nation, prefer to focus on our greatest tragedy and the fact that over 57,000 men were made casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916.

So it was great to see the Naval aspect of WWI commemorated at the spiritual home of the Royal Navy with some great exhibits capturing the events of 1916 and the climax of Jutland.

The display is dominated by an imposing portrait of Admiral Reinhard Scheer commander of the German High Seas Fleet, the man who managed to salvage his ships from disaster when he got his 'T' crossed at Jutland by Admiral John Jellicoe leading the Home Fleet.

Admiral Reinhard Scheer commander of the German High Seas Fleet in WWI
I am always wary of adopting the position of an armchair admiral/general when it is so easy to judge the efforts of men placed in supreme command, with the fates of nations and history hanging on judgements often having to be made in seconds and at best minutes, not to mention the thousands of lives placed in their hands.

That said I can't help thinking that it was German ship-building, training and tremendous courage displayed by the common sailor that salvaged the German navy in 1916 rather than any inspired leadership from the top. In fact for me WWI is the classic period of uninspired leadership from the top across all nations and it was in general the poor bloody infantry or in this case sailors who had to make up, often at the cost of their lives, for their commanders inadequacies.

This feeling about the period in general probably explains why I have only wargamed it slightly, having had collections of WWI naval ships and aircraft, but only played land scenarios with other peoples collections and rule sets.

The ensign from the British battleship - HMS Bellerophon
There are very few warships that survive from the Jutland period, with HMS Caroline, a British light cruiser that fought in the battle, thankfully now under full restoration.

British naval power reached its zenith at this time and I, as someone who will never see the splendour of a British battleship, can only get an impression of these great ships from pictures and items such as the ensign from HMS Bellerophon

HMS Bellerophon, with her huge ensign displayed astern
HMS Bellerophon (1907)

Likewise the many smaller ships in the destroyer flotillas that escorted the great battleships are captured with the ensign of HMS Obedient an M Class destroyer which was with the 12th Destroyer Flotilla at Jutland

HMCS Patriot was an M Class Destroyer similar to HMS Obedient

The ensign of another Jutland veteran - HMS Obedient
HMS Queen Mary was one of three British battlecruisers lost at Jutland, the others being HMS Invincible and HMS Indefatigable, prompting the commander of the Battlecruiser squadron, Vice Admiral David Beatty aboard his flagship HMS Lion to remark to his Flag Captain,
"there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today".

The superb model below shows a Lion Class Battlecruiser, nicknamed "the splendid cats", to describe the marked improvement in speed and armour over the previous Indefatigable class; the three 'cats' being HMS Lion, HMS Queen Mary and HMS Princess Royal.

A model of  one of the  'Splendid Cats' or Lion Class Battlecruisers
Both Lion and Queen Mary were at Jutland and the Lion herself narrowly missed sharing the fate of her sister ship when the roof of Q Turret, positioned amidships between the funnels, was blown off by a 12"shell from SMS Lutzow, killing or wounding the entire gun crew and causing a huge turret fire that buckled the doors to the magazine. The ship was saved by the prompt action of Royal Marine Major Francis Harvey who ordered the turret magazine flooded, an act that prevented a catastrophic explosion and saw Major Harvey awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Damage to HMS Lion's 'Q' Turret with its armoured roof blown off after the Battle of Jutland
HMS Queen Mary was less fortunate when, later, the Lutzow adjusted her fire on to the British ship, having lost sight of the Lion in the smoke and haze and, hitting her several times at a range of about 14,400 yards, caused the forward magazine to explode. The ship broke in two taking 1,266 crew with her, leaving just eighteen survivors to be picked up by British destroyers and German warships.

British battleships used letters to identify the turrets, with A and B forward and X and Y to the rear and Q in the centre

HMS Lion left surrounded by shell splashes as her sister ship HMS Queen Mary explodes
Below is a fine model of HMS Queen Mary's nemesis at Jutland, SMS Lutzow, the flagship of Beatty's German opposite, Vice Admiral Franz von Hipper.


The Lutzow would herself pay a heavy price for her gun duel with the British battlecruisers suffering eight hits forward from HMS Invincible causing the German battlecruiser to flood forward from two hits below the waterline.

Battlecruiser SMS Lutzow, Vice Admiral Hipper's flagship at the Battle of Jutland 
The German ship was subsequently hit twice by HMS Lion causing a serious fire. The damage was serious enough to cause Hipper to abandon his flagship as it attempted to disengage not before suffering yet more large calibre hits from British gunfire.

The run back to port proved unsuccessful as the ship's bow settled lower and lower in the water and the pumps failed to cope with the flooding causing the ship to be abandoned and later torpedoed by accompanying destroyers. Lutzow had been hit by 24 British heavy calibre shells and lost 115 men killed and 50 wounded from her compliment of 1100 men.

The bow of the German ship took the brunt of British hits leading to its eventual sinking
Next up is a 'builders model' of the only surviving ship from Jutland, the light cruiser HMS Caroline moored at Belfast and part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy since 2014. This ship is definitely on my 'must visit' list and I am really looking forward to seeing her some time.

Builders Model of the only surviving ship from Jutland - HMS Caroline
"Guns were hurling 15" shells into the opposing fleets with roars and flashes, as if scores of thunderstorms had met and got angry. The sea, which before had been calm, became churned into waves and foam, this being caused by the speed and movements of scores of ships of all sizes."
Officers' Steward 2nd Class Albion Smith, HMS Caroline

And finally, perhaps the most poignant display in the whole dockyard is the bell of the last great British Battlecruiser HMS Hood, lost on the 24th May 1941 at the Battle of the Denmark Strait when, in company with the newly commissioned battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the two ships met and engaged the German battleship KMS Bismarck and the cruiser Prinz Eugen as they attempted to break out into the Atlantic to attack allied shipping.

The last moments of HMS Hood photographed from the deck of the German Bismarck
The Hood achieved immortality through her dramatic loss and fired a Royal Navy at the time for a thirsting revenge that would see the Bismarck 'put down' three days later following a famous hunt and destroy mission.

Of her 1,418 man crew, there were only three survivors and my personal memories of this great ship were as a young boy in my home town having just bought an Airfix model of the Hood which I was clutching as I walked into a nearby sweet shop to buy something to accompany my new model. The lady who served me saw my prize, remarking to my parents that she had lost her son aboard the Hood some twenty five years previously, a memory I find quite moving today.

The Battlecruiser experiment proved a false one in imagining the combination of speed at the expense of armour, particularly on the upper decks to act as proof against plunging high explosive large calibre shells, would allow these ships to tackle bigger better protected battleships. The losses of HMS Indefatigable, Invincible, Queen Mary and the Hood were a terrible price in young mens lives to discover this truth.

The majestic HMS Hood seen in 1924 and described at the time as the most beautiful ship in the Royal Navy
That said I think the quote that accompanied the Hood's bell is a worthy testament to the bravery and sacrifice of the crews lost

"There is no headstone among the flowers for those who perish at sea. For the 1,415 officers and men who lost their lives in HMS Hood on 24 May 1941, the recovery of her bell and its subsequent place of honour in the National Museum of the Royal Navy will mean that future generations will be able to gaze upon her bell and remember with gratitude and thanks the heroism, courage and personal sacrifice of Hood's ships company who died in the service of their country.
Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, Former president of the HMS Hood Association, whose uncle died on the ship.

One of two ships bells, this one recovered from the wreck of HMS Hood
Finally we ended our first day at Portsmouth with a look around the the boat repair and restoration shed that had some remarkable small boats on display.

The first "wreck" that drew my eye was what looked like the remains of an LCM 3 landing craft in desperate need of some TLC.

Is that an LCM 3?

The next two small boats are what young boys brought up in the 1970's on a diet of 'Commando' paperback WWII story books will be very familiar with.

These Mark 7 and Mark 2 Canoes are the same type of boats used in the famous 'Cockleshell' raids against German merchant runners docked in Bordeaux, Operation Frankton, which saw Commandos using their boats to move among the enemy ships at night placing limpet mines against the ships hulls; and later Operation Jaywick an equally daring attack at Singapore performing a similar exercise against Japanese naval forces.

Operation Frankton

Operation Jaywick

So there we are a 'melange' of fascinating displays and exhibits that can be seen at Portsmouth that, when added to those covered in my two previous posts, shows what an extraordinary place to visit, the historic dockyard is and we thoroughly enjoyed our day, finished off by relaxing our tired feet with a well earned curry.

The next day we were off to explore a very famous castle and Roman fortress, before catching a boat from Portsmouth to Gosport, home of the Royal Navy's Submarine Museum, to be covered in a future post.