Feb 07, 2018 08:13 am
During the Battle of the River Plate 15 Marines lost their lives mostly manning turrets, HMS Exeter 10 Marines killed, HMS Ajax 5 Marines killed.
Since the war started, a German battleship, the Graf Spee, had been roaming the South Atlantic sinking unarmed British merchant ships. She was being hunted by several British hunting groups, and was found by the three British cruisers, Exeter, Ajax, and Achilles on 13th December 1939, and then began the Battle of the River Plate. The main armament of the Exeter was six 8inch guns, and that of the Ajax and Achilles was eight 6inch guns. The Graf Spee had six 11inch guns and eight 6inch guns.
On the morning of 13 Dec 1939 I was keeping the morning watch in the after control position. My particular job was to keep the lookouts awake and doing their job. It is all too easy to go to sleep sitting on a comfortable seat and leaning against a bracket holding a powerful set of Admiralty binoculars. I was a junior lieutenant in the Royal Marines and was second in command of the Royal Marine Detachment. Humphrey Woods was the Captain of Marines and at action stations he was in charge of B turret manned by the R.M. Detachment. Most cruisers had four turrets A,B,X and Y and the Marines manned X turret.
However as Exeter only had three turrets A,B and Y, The Marines manned B turret. I had tried to get charge of the turret myself a few weeks earlier as it would be more interesting than chasing lookouts. But Captain Woods was not having any of it and I had to remain with my lookouts.
At about 0600 the Graf Spee was sighted well down on the horizon and the bugler sounded Action Stations over the tannoy. I well remember my heart went well down into my boots as everyone was hurrying to his position. Very soon two great clouds of fire and smoke burst from the enemy as he fired his first broadside and about a minute later a line of shells landed in the sea about 300 yards short. Our course was set to get within range of the enemy and return fire. The next enemy broadside was correct for range but fell about 300 yards astern. Thereafter we were receiving our punishment but managed to get within gun range of the Graf Spee and scored several hits.
A and B turrets, HMS Exeter
B turret was hit by an 11 inch shell between the guns after firing about 5 broadsides and everyone in front of the breeches were killed including Capt Woods. Splinters from this shell killed several people on the bridge and cut all communications so Captain Bell (The ship's Captain) came aft to fight the ship from the after control Position. Very soon both A and Y turrets were put out of action because their electrical supplies were cut off, so Captain Bell said within my hearing " I'm going to ram the --------. It will be the end of us but it will sink him too". So off we set. Fortunately the electricians managed to get Y turret working again so we turned away and carried on firing with Y turret. Normal steering of the ship was not possible due to damage so we organised a chain of seamen to pass steering orders down to the after steering position. Lookouts were no longer required so I went to look at B turret. There was some burning debris on top of one gun loading tray and immediately under it a naked charge ready for loading into the gun. Looked a nasty situation so I removed the charge by chucking it overboard and put out the fire.
I remember Marine Russel with his forearm shot away. He was walking around rallying some leaderless seamen and putting them to useful work. When we got back to Stanley in the Falkland Islands Mne Russel was taken into the hospital and appeared to be making a good recovery. However he needed a minor operation to improve his forearm stump and he died under the anaesthetic. He was buried with full military honours in Stanley on the very day the ship left for UK. While we were getting our punishment Commodore Harwood in the Ajax and the Achilles were scoring hits on the Graf Spee from the disengaged side. It was clear that the Graf Spee was trying to get into Montevideo so Commodore Harwood signalled us to report the state of the ship and then ordered us to go back to Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Ajax and Achilles followed the Graf Spee until she was interned in Montevideo and waited outside for reinforcements in case she tried to get away. That evening we buried about 50 of the ships company at sea. On 17th December, the Graf Spee sailed out of Montevideo and scuttled herself, thus saving many lives.
Admiral Graf Spee scuttled and ablaze off Montevideo
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Feb 05, 2018 08:52 am
The U boat war was now entering a critical phase. Just as more and more men and munitions were leaving America and Canada to join the fight in Britain and North Africa, the U-boat packs were intensifying their efforts to sink them. Whilst a wide range of new technical measures and tactics were transforming the anti U-boat campaign, and having increasing success, the Battle of the Atlantic was far from won.
The United States Army Transport (USAT) Dorchester was passing through the freezing seas off Newfoundland when her captain learnt of a U-boat nearby, located by land based radio direction finding. There was little they could do about it, apart from keeping especially alert and staying close to the convoy. None of the escorts possessed radar so U-223 was able to surface in the darkness and fire one torpedo at 0055 on the 3rd.
Four men on board so distinguished themselves by their conduct in the following half-hour that there were calls for them to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The rules state that it can only be awarded for acts performed ‘under fire’. So in 1960 by special Act of Congress they were awarded a unique medal in recognition of their sacrifice:
Painting of the rescue of USAT Dorchester survivors by USCGC Escanaba (WPG-77) on 3 February 1943 in the North Atlantic Ocean. Unattributed United States Coast Guard image.
On February 2, 1943 the German submarine U-223 spotted the convoy on the move and closed with the ships, firing a torpedo which struck the Dorchester shortly after midnight. Hundreds of men packed the decks of the rapidly sinking ship and scrambled for the lifeboats. Several of the lifeboats had been damaged and the four chaplains began to organize frightened soldiers.
They distributed life jackets from a locker; when the supply of life jackets ran out, each of the chaplains gave theirs to other soldiers. When the last lifeboats were away, the chaplains prayed with those unable to escape the sinking ship. 27 minutes after the torpedo struck, the Dorchester disappeared below the waves with 672 men still aboard. The last anyone saw of the four chaplains, they were standing on the deck, arms linked and praying together.
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Feb 01, 2018 06:10 am
Burma Star Association
The Circumstances of the War in Burma
The war in the Far East started in December 1941, simultaneously with the bombing of Pearl Harbour. The Japanese captured Hong Kong on Christmas Day and moved into the Malaysian Peninsula, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. Malaya was overrun and Singapore fell on 15 February 1942. The Japanese army advanced into Burma, involving the defending British and Indian troops in a long and demoralising fighting retreat through thick jungle terrain over a distance equivalent to that from Istanbul to London. Rangoon fell on 8 March 1942 and by mid-June the Japanese advance had reached the hills on the North East frontier of India.
Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945
In December 1942, British and Indian troops mounted their first offensive in the malaria ridden coastal Arakan region. It was unsuccessful, although much was learned. During 1943, Chindit columns under Brigadier Orde Wingate, supported by the Royal Air Force, penetrated deep behind the Japanese lines in central Burma. In March 1943, a further determined attempt to invade India was repulsed after fierce fighting. In August 1943 the South East Asia Command was formed under Lord Louis Mountbatten and in October that year General William Slim was appointed as Commander of the Fourteenth Army.
Gurkhas advancing with Lee tanks to clear the Japanese from Imphal-Kohima road in North Eastern British India (Wikipedia)
In March 1944, the Japanese launched an offensive across the Chindwin River, cutting the Imphal-Kohima Road. There followed the ferocious battles of the ‘Admin Box’, Kohima (with its famous tennis court) and Imphal, at the end of which the defeated Japanese withdrew. Further Chindit columns operated deep behind enemy lines during 1944 and at the beginning of 1945 the Fourteenth Army launched a successful offensive down the Arakan Coast, followed by a major advance deep into central Burma. Mandalay was retaken on 20 March after a twelve day battle, and the Fourteenth Army continued on to Rangoon which was reoccupied in an amphibious operation on 3 May.
The Fourteenth Army, known to many as ‘The Forgotten Army’, numbered over one million men under arms, the largest Commonwealth army ever assembled. Air lines of communication were crucial: some 615,000 tons of supplies and 315,000 reinforcements were airlifted to and from the front line, frequently by parachuted air drops, and 210,000 casualties were evacuated. The Royal Air Force and the Indian Air Force, supported by carrier-borne Fleet Air Arm aircraft, provided constant offensive bombing sorties, together with fighter cover and essential photo-reconnaissance in support of the Army. Towards the end of the War, RAF Liberator aircraft carried out some of the longest operations ever flown to drop mines into the Pacific. At sea, the Royal Navy and the Royal Indian Navy provided the landing craft, the minesweeping operations and the combined operations necessary for the coastal offensive in the Arakan, as well as providing gunfire support from seaward.
44 Cdo RM, Returning from Alethangyaw, Burma, March 1944
(Commando Veterans Archive 2006 - 2016)
The Royal Marine Commando, as well as Royal Marines from the units of the Fleet, took part in the Arakan operations.
The Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945, now known as VJ Day.
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Jan 31, 2018 09:59 am
RM Barracks Forton and Eastney and the amalgamation of the Royal Marines Light Infantry and Royal Marines Artillery in 1923.
The Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) and Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI) were amalgamated on 22 June 1923. Post-war demobilisation had seen the Royal Marines reduced from 55,000 (1918) to 15,000 in 1922 and there was Treasury pressure for a further reduction to 6,000 or even the entire disbandment of the Corps.
As a compromise an establishment of 9,500 was settled upon but this meant that two separate branches could no longer be maintained.
The abandonment of the Marine's artillery role meant that the Corps would subsequently have to rely on Royal Artillery support when ashore, that the title of Royal Marines would apply to the entire Corps and that only a few specialists would now receive gunnery training.
As a form of consolation the dark blue and red uniform of the Royal Marine Artillery now became the full dress of the entire Corps.
Royal Marine officers and SNCO's however continue to wear the historic scarlet in mess dress to the present day.
The ranks of Private, used by the RMLI, and Gunner, used by the RMA, were abolished and replaced by the rank of Marine.
In the near future I hope to provide a form to allow people to plot their own Royal Marine history and build a unique data base.
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