Oct 29, 2018 09:14 am
Major-General 'Titch' Houghton, who died January 1911 aged 98, was second-in-command of Royal Marine 40 Commando during the Second World War; captured in the Dieppe raid, he returned after three years as a PoW to take key roles with the commandos in peacetime.
'Titch' Houghton in 1947
Houghton's baptism of fire came on August 19 1942 during Operation Jubilee, when, in support of the main assault by Canadian troops, 40 Commando was to destroy port facilities at Dieppe and form a reserve. They crossed the Channel in the river gunboat Locust and arrived off Dieppe at about 0530, before disembarking into several LCAs (Landing Craft Assault).
As Locust attempted to force the harbour entrance, she came under heavy fire from German batteries which the preliminary bombardment had failed to silence. She was repeatedly hit and her captain withdrew: meanwhile, the Canadians were pinned down on the beaches by heavy fire and barbed wire entanglements.
40 Commando was now ordered to land at the eastern end of the beach, but as the LCAs approached the shore they came under intense machine-gun and mortar fire. The commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel JP Phillips, ordered them to retreat back out to sea.
In his landing craft, however, Houghton continued towards the shore, moving to the centre of the beach where he stormed the sands, his LCA blowing up behind him.
"Ironically the doctor was our first casualty," Houghton noted. "But further casualties quickly followed. We advanced as far as the promenade wall, where progress was barred by thick wire entanglements swept by enemy fire. Pinned in this position with practically no cover, unable to move forward and without any means of returning by sea, we concentrated our efforts on inflicting as much damage as possible on the enemy positions.
"Lacking any form of communication with our own forces, we continued until the official time of withdrawal had passed. The beach was strafed by our own aircraft at 1400 hours as part of the withdrawal programme, and it was just the luck of the draw that we found ourselves on the receiving end."
Of 370 officers and men in 40 Commando, 76, including Phillips, were killed. Houghton, after fighting against overwhelming odds, was taken prisoner, though for many months he was reported dead.
Later that year, in an act of vengeance, Hitler ordered commando prisoners to be shackled, and Houghton was handcuffed for 411 days. Afterwards he was awarded an MC for his bravery at Dieppe and for his endurance as a prisoner of war.
Robert Dyer Houghton was born on March 7 1912 and educated at Haileybury. He joined the Royal Marines in 1930 and served in the battleship Malaya before qualifying as a small arms instructor. In 1935 he commanded an anti-aircraft battery of the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation (MNBDO) which, following the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, was deployed to Egypt to protect the Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria.
The MNBDO had been thrown together hurriedly and, while at Alexandria, trained together for the first time while on short notice to move to an advanced base in Crete. This situation was an excellent opportunity for a young officer, and Houghton, now 23, entered into his work with great enthusiasm, soon earning the respect of his men. By the time he returned to Chatham it was beginning to be recognised that he had considerable leadership potential.
Soon after the outbreak of war Houghton was promoted captain and appointed adjutant of the 1st Battalion, Royal Marines. He joined the RM Commando in early 1942.
Liberated from his prison camp in Germany in 1945, Houghton was briefly commanding officer of 45 Commando until selected for the Army staff course. On completion he was delighted to be given command of 40 Commando.
His leadership was tested when, in 1948, his Commando was sent to Haifa to cover the end of the Palestine Mandate and the withdrawal of British troops. Animosity towards the British from both Arabs and Jews was high, and there was looting and violence by extremists. Houghton's task was to keep the port open, and to mount searches to prevent arms being smuggled in from visiting ships.
In April a series of vicious skirmishes took place between Jewish paramilitaries of the Haganah and Arab forces, and Houghton had to keep the peace while some 37,000 Arabs were evacuated from Haifa. He also had to house and feed large numbers of refugees who sought sanctuary in the dockyard.
The final evacuation took place on June 30, smoothly and without incident, 40 Commando being the last to leave. For his outstanding leadership and distinguished service Houghton was appointed OBE.
He was subsequently appointed to the Joint Services Staff College; as staff officer (Intelligence) to the Commander in Chief South Atlantic; commandant of the Commando School; and as director of the Royal Marines Reserve.
In August 1957 Houghton was appointed Commander 3rd Commando Brigade, then based in Malta, where he devoted himself to bringing the brigade to a peak of efficiency and readiness for any emergency. He took his commandos to Libya, Turkey, Greece, Sardinia and Cyprus on a series of well-run exercises, and he oversaw pioneering trials of helicopters in commando assaults.
There were numerous trouble spots in the Mediterranean and, when Malta itself suffered politically-inspired unrest, Houghton's brigade assisted the police in quelling riots and restoring calm.
Houghton was insistent that the "fire brigade of the Mediterranean", as he called it, should be able to move anywhere at 12 hours' notice, and his orders were written for no fewer than 17 different scenarios. He was tested when, in anticipation of a political crisis threatening British nationals, the brigade's advance party flew to Libya, and the main body followed by sea. Before the main body landed, however, a greater problem arose in Cyprus, whereupon the rear party altered course and became the advance party to Cyprus, to be replaced in Malta by the advance party which returned from Libya. Houghton thrived on such situations.
In 1959 he was appointed commanding officer of the Royal Marines in Deal and commandant of the Royal Marines School of Music. His last two appointments were as Director Joint Warfare Staff, and Major-General Royal Marines in Portsmouth. He was appointed CB and retired in 1964.
In retirement he was president of 40 Commando Association and regularly attended reunions. In 1973 he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex, and from 1968 to 1978 was general secretary of the Royal United Kingdom Beneficent Association.
Though naturally impetuous and forceful, Houghton was a more sensitive man than many appreciated. Like many short people, he unconsciously compensated by speaking louder than necessary, and if possible would seek a stair to stand on when communicating with others.
Though he always maintained that the interests of the service came first, he was a devoted family man. With his sons, he built a model railway in his garden at Lewes which still runs today. He was president of the Gauge One Model Railway Association for more than 40 years during which time he increased its membership 10-fold.
"Titch" Houghton (one of the few people in the Services given this nickname because he really was short) died on January 17.
He married Dorothy Lyons in 1940. She died in 1995, and he is survived by their two sons and a daughter.
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Oct 21, 2018 06:55 am
Lord Nelson's victory over the combined fleets at Trafalgar, the most decisive sea battle in British history.
Ninety-three officers and 2610 other ranks of the Royal Marines were at their traditional stations on the upper decks of the British ships, Nelsons Flagship HMS Victory carried 165 Marines, and it was a Marine who carried Nelson below after being shot.
At 11:45, Nelson sent the famous flag signal, "England expects that every man will do his duty".
His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, "Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY" and he added "You must be quick, for I have one more to make which is for close action." I replied, "If your Lordship will permit me to substitute 'expects' for 'confides' the signal will soon be completed, because the word 'expects' is in the vocabulary, and 'confides' must be spelt," His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, "That will do, Pasco, make it directly."
At noon, Villeneuve sent the signal "engage the enemy", and Fougueux fired her first trial shot at Royal Sovereign. Royal Sovereign had all sails out and, having recently had her bottom cleaned, outran the rest of the British fleet and broke into the Franco-Spanish line so beginning the battle.
The Victor yengaged the 74-gun Redoutable, general mêlée ensued and, during that fight, Victory locked masts with the French Redoutable. The crew of Redoutable, which included a strong infantry corps (with three captains and four lieutenants), gathered for an attempt to board and seize Victory.
Shortly after 1:00, Hardy realised that Nelson was not by his side. He turned to see Nelson kneeling on the deck, supporting himself with his hand, before falling onto his side. Hardy rushed to him, at which point Nelson smiled Hardy, I do believe they have done it at last ... my backbone is shot through.
He had been hit by a marksman from the Redoutable, firing at a range of 50 feet (15 m) from the MizzenTop. The bullet had entered his left shoulder, passed through his spine at the sixth and seventh thoracic vertebrae, and lodged two inches (5 cm) below his right shoulder blade in the muscles of his back.
Nelson was carried below by Sergeant-Major of Marines Robert Adair and two seamen. As he was being carried down, he asked them to pause while he gave some advice to a midshipman on the handling of the tiller.
He then draped a handkerchief over his face to avoid causing alarm amongst the crew. He was taken to the surgeon William Beatty, telling him
You can do nothing for me. I have but a short time to live. My back is shot through.
Nelson was made comfortable, fanned and brought lemonade and watered wine to drink after he complained of feeling hot and thirsty. He asked several times to see Hardy, who was on deck supervising the battle, and asked Beatty to remember him to Emma, his daughter and his friends.
Hardy came below decks to see Nelson just after half-past two, and informed him that a number of enemy ships had surrendered. Nelson told him that he was sure to die, and begged him to pass his possessions to Emma.
With Nelson at this point were the chaplain Alexander Scott, the purser Walter Burke, Nelson's steward, Chevalier, and Beatty. Nelson, fearing that a gale was blowing up, instructed Hardy to be sure to anchor. After reminding him to "take care of poor Lady Hamilton", Nelson said "Kiss me, Hardy". Beatty recorded that Hardy knelt and kissed Nelson on the cheek. He then stood for a minute or two before kissing him on the forehead. Nelson asked, "Who is that?", and on hearing that it was Hardy, he replied "God bless you, Hardy."
By now very weak, Nelson continued to murmur instructions to Burke and Scott, "fan, fan ... rub, rub ... drink, drink." Beatty heard Nelson murmur, "Thank God I have done my duty", and when he returned, Nelson's voice had faded and his pulse was very weak.
He looked up as Beatty took his pulse, then closed his eyes. Scott, who remained by Nelson as he died, recorded his last words as "God and my country". Nelson died at half-past four, three hours after he had been shot.
By the end of the battle the Marines had 17 officers and 332 men killed or wounded.
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Oct 01, 2018 10:45 am
Lieutenant-Colonel "Pug" Davis (1923 - 2011 aged 87), was the founding father of the Special Boat Service, and won a DSC for a daring wartime rescue.
In the summer of 1944, Davis was off the Dalmatian coast in command of a flotilla of Landing Craft (Assault), or LCAs, based on the island of Vis. Several commando raids had been mounted on the coast of Yugoslavia in support of local partisans and, in early June, Davis landed a large raiding force on the mountainous and heavily defended island of Brac, which the Germans considered pivotal to their defence of the mainland.
In addition to a large number of Tito's partisans, the force included men from 43 Commando Royal Marines (RM) and 40 Commando RM. After four days of heavy fighting and numerous casualties, including the death of their commanding officer, the main body of commandos was forced to withdraw.
On June 5 Davis landed reinforcements, but the next day these were ambushed and only 12 men returned to the shore. Davis, waiting in his LCA, seized the initiative and organised the first five men to reach the beach into a search party, arming them with rifles.
He recovered the force's heavy weapons, which had run out of ammunition, and sent them back to Vis. Then, without waiting for any more commandos or their officers, he set off to the village where the ambush had been staged. After a two-hour climb he found a wounded officer, who had been left for dead, and evacuated him safely back to the beach. He was awarded a DSC for his initiative and courage far beyond the call of duty.
Peter George Davis was born in Paddington, west London, on December 9 1923, the son of Solly Davis, who had won an MC in the First World War. At Highgate School Peter was a member of the cadet force, and one of the masters, a retired Royal Marine, inspired him to enlist in the Corps in 1942.
After training at Chatham and in the use of landing craft, Davis was sent to command RM Flotilla 561 in the Adriatic. He soon acquired the nickname "Pug", though it was unclear whether this derived from his initials, his stocky build, his prowess at boxing or his tenacious leadership.
Postwar, several "private armies" of Royal Marines – including the innocuous-sounding Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachment (of which Davis was commanding officer) – were rationalised into the Combined Operations Beach and Boat Section, or COBBS.
COBBS inherited a hoard of weaponry from the war but, at least initially, consisted of only a handful of men commanded by Davis, and was restricted to giving demonstrations of its potential. Davis, however, had higher ambitions, and in 1951 (by which time COBBS had been renamed Small Raids Wing) he and six men successfully held up an Army "advance" through southern England, when they paddled undetected up the Thames and painted a sign on a bridge at Pangbourne: "Wot no bridge?" This showed, the umpires decreed, that for exercise purposes the bridge had been blown up and could not be used.
Davis was sent to Germany to set up the RM Demolition Unit of the Rhine Flotilla, intended to deny the Russians any means of crossing the Rhine, and to become a stay-behind force in the event of a Soviet invasion. On Davis's suggestion his team was renamed the 2nd Special Boat Section (2SBS), while 1SBS remained in England. Later several sections were formed – each comprising an officer and a dozen or so men, some of which operated behind enemy lines in Korea.
Davis was sent to Malta from 1952 to 1954 to create a Special Boat Section to support 42 Commando Royal Marines, and this became 6SBS, which operated in the eastern Mediterranean.
The headquarters of the SBS moved to Poole in late 1954, when it was retitled the SB Wing. Meanwhile Davis became, from 1957 to 1959, senior Royal Marines officer in the carrier Eagle. When he took command of the SB Wing (1959-61) it had expanded to the size of a rifle company and was called the Special Boat Company, under the operational command of the Joint Services Amphibious Warfare Centre (JSWAC).
In 1962-63, during the Confrontation (when Indonesia threatened the newly formed Federation of Malaysia), Davis was a company commander in 40 Commando RM. Deployed from the carrier Albion, he landed by helicopter deep in the jungle with "Pugforce", a amalgam of Royal Marines, Ghurkhas, Sarawak Rangers and Iban trackers. On his first operation, Davis set up an ambush near Miri in northern Sarawak, without result; the next day he captured a number of rebels.
Davis served at HQ Plymouth Group RM in 1964-65 and then returned to Albion as Amphibious Operations Officer (1965-67).
In 1968 he went back to Poole as the second-in-command of JSWAC, and on his rapid promotion he moved to the Joint Warfare Establishment at Old Sarum to teach amphibious warfare doctrine. He retired in 1971.
While with the US Navy Underwater Demolition Team in 1961, Davis was invited to parachute from a helicopter. Previously he had jumped from an aircraft only with a static line, but to show willing and to give his American hosts the impression that he was game for anything, Davis accepted. However, he misunderstood the pre-flight briefing that he should pull his ripcord before passing 3,000ft and, as he plunged towards earth, did not hear the frenzied cries of: "Pull the cord, you son of a bitch!"
At the last moment his parachute opened and he floated to the ground, unaware of the commotion he had caused. The jumpmaster rushed to greet Davis, asking: "Are you all right, sir? We all thought you'd bought it, as you hadn't pulled by a thousand." Unharmed, Davis answered serenely: "Oh no, that's perfectly all right, we Royal Marines never pull above a thousand feet."
In retirement Pug Davis was a vice-chairman of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen, an active supporter of the Bournemouth Reform Synagogue, and a chairman of the Royal Marines' Association.
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