Thursday, 28 June 2012

Could Starkey be right about Britishness?

David Starkey
I did it again, I saw Laurie Penny glaring out of the cover of Monday's Independent and found myself flicking to the page and reading her comment about historian and right wing enthusiast David Starkey and their spat that occurred this weekend. I gather from a source that it turned quite ugly and almost turned to blows! Obviously I don't (and am sure most people won't) condone this at all.

But what was it all about?

According to the Comment piece that appeared in Monday's Independent David Starkey apparently said;

real British values [are not] entrenched in the foothills of the Punjab.

Well... that's true despite Ms Penny's retort of Xenophobia.

I don't know if there is any more to this statement so I'm writing from what I do know was said.

Briticism is defined in Linda Colley's "Britons; The forging the nation 1707-1837", was forged by many external factors. After all "Britain" was forged by military conquest, aggressive foreign policy by England and royal marriages. In fact many would argue the "Act of Union" with Scotland was heavily forced upon the Scots and stacked well with in England's benefits.
This polyglot of nations with separate cultures were thrown together and had to face a common foe in the form of Catholic Europe and then against Napoleonic aggression.

During this tumulus time the middle mercantile class began to bloom and so capitalism flourished and the enterprising nature that encouraged greater cooperation and global ambition kicked off and combined with Military adventure led to the creation of the Empire and a state of identity for Britons.

Briticism grew from this period and adapted to an Imperial way of life but with it came a certain amount of racial superiority over the peoples of the colonies, the "cowardly" French and the "War mongering" Hun.

In post war Britain this state of identity was lost along with the Empire, greater trade and Industrialism from America and all the nations started to drift apart within the union.

As Europe grew closer together, Britain became suspicious but had no Empire to fall back on. Britain had undeniably lost its place in the world and politically, economically and socially it is still lost, it came from Britain and was moulded by events that happened to Great Britain both internal and external.

In this respect he was right.

There are those who still cling to the old deals of Britishness, some are labelled, as Ms Penny has rightly or Wrongly in this case, as Dinosaurs and in some cases bigots - often deservedly so. The old Imperial British is gone and a new Britishness needs to be forged taking in the multi-cultural society that we find our country in today.

It may seem difficult as Language, culture and religion, once a common factor amongst Britons is now varied wildly and there is a lack of understanding amongst groups. There is also the self divisive nature of some groups who form enclaves within sections of major cities or only settle within certain locales.

However we have been here before, when the Union was first formed Scotland, Ireland and Wales were very different to England and yet in time they moulded and worked together towards a common gain and interest and I am sure that they can do so again it’s just early days.

We White Caucasians need to get over ourselves though and embrace the grand project of redefinition in the same way as others need to.

So where as Britishness was not entrenched in the Punjab it should now start to absorb these new identities and influences. Be it Indian, Jamaican or Polish this ethnicities and ways of life can and should be part of the New Britishness.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Captured U-boat sails up the Medway?

U-570 as HMS Graph undergoing sea trials
I was reading on the Medway Memories website the other day about the possibility of a German U-boat being captured in August 1941 and being escorted by a Short Sunderland up the Medway to Chatham dockyard. This immediatly caught my attention and I went beavering away to Wikipedia and to look into the possibility and to follow up on the lead that the site gave me U-570.

Eureka, I have an answer.

The short answer to whether a captured German U-boat came up the Medway (namely U-570) is no.... The long answer is Yes she did....

Now bear with me on this one as I prepare to weave you a narrative about the ill fated U-570.

On April 15th 1941 the type VIIC U-boat U 570 was launched and commissioned at the Blohm and Voss ship yards in Hamburg where she immediatly began her shake down cruises and tests before reassignment to Norway where she took on her new crew and began training excercises with her inexperienced crew. She was then assigned to Trondheimsfjord and the Lofjord Naval base where she was part of the 3rd Flotilla.

Her Commanding officer Kapitanleutnant Hans-Jurgen Rahmlow was a seasoned naval officer with a history of commanding Coastal batteries and had only recently transferred to U-boats (although having briefly commanded the training vessel U-58), her First officer Bernhard Brandt had only been serving on U-boats for a few months, the Second watch officer had only just been commissioned and most of the crew were new recruits. The only man onboard who really had any experience was the Chief Engineer and three of the Petty officers!

German Naval intelligence picked up a sypher that there was a large convoy of Allied vessels passing to the South of Iceland and the Third Flotilla were assigned to attack them. U-570 slipped out of base on 24th August with orders to patrol the area South of Iceland before turning towards La Pallice base in France with provision for four weeks.

By the 27th August, her Captain ordered her to surface to give the crew some restbite as many were suffering from accute seasickness and a couple had become incapacitated. They were immediatly picked up on radar by an RAF Hudson of 269 sqdn flown by Sqdn ldr Thompson. Rahmlow heard the approaching bomber from the observation deck and immediatly orderred a crash dive. It was too late as four depth charges were quickly dropped and one exploded a mere ten yards from the U-boat.
The resulting explosion nearly rolled the vessel, shattered her instruments, she lost all power and sprang several leaks. The smell that was generated made the inexperienced crew think that water was getting on the batteries and filling the hull with noxious Chlorine gas. The order was given to surface and ten crew raced onto the deck, under machine gun fire, unable to man the Flak guns because of the rough seas they quickly hoisted the white flag of surrender.

The officers quickly reported what had happened to Navy command and calmly destroyed their radio equipment and code books. Donitz orderred U-82 to the area to assist but was kept at bay by Allied air patrols.

The crew were kept onboard, save for the wounded (from the first attack and the subsequent attacks mistakenly made by the Royal Navy warning shots and an aircraft of 330 sqdn) so that the Germans wouldn't sink her on purpose. She was taken to Iceland and beached.

By the 31st August Lieutenant Colvin RN and his team of engineers had restored power and bouyancy and the boat was sailed to Hvalfjorour where she spent three weeks under repair. It was discovered that the damage was not critical and that a more experienced crew would have been able to repair the damage and evade the attack - further compounded by the fact that the Hudson bomber had used all its depth charges in the attack and so would have lost the U-boat had she stayed submerged.

Along with her escorts HMS Saladin and HMS Kingston Agate sailed for Barrow-Foreness and arrived on the 3rd October 1941. There she was renamed and ceased to be U-570. She was rechristened HMS Graph.

HMS Graph went under extensive tests in Scotland to test her capabilities and also for training for boarding crews so that they could become acclimatised to finding their way around U-boats looking for enigma machines and reversing any scuttling damage.

On 25th April 1942 she sailed South to Portsmouth before departing for Sheerness. Then from there she sailed up the River Medway. Whether she sailed under the escort of a Sunderland or other aircraft for her own protection in case any errant gunner feared a U-boat was repeating Prien's attack on Scappa flow, is open to conjecture.

She finished her refit in Chatham on 14th August 1942 and is taken over by Lieutenant Marriot RN before sailing for Sheerness, Portsmouth (under escort of HMS Vesper) and on to Holy loch for training.

On 8th October 1942 she left Holy loch for her first war patrol to the bay of Biscay and on 21st she sighted the German U-boat U-333 and fired four torpedoes. Four explosions were heard and "breaking up noises"
According to the U-333's log she didn't even see Graph only a torpedo track go past her and she dived to avoid any further attack but remained unscathed.

Graph's other two patrols were fairly uneventful, though she was ordered on 29th November to intercept the Italian blockade runner Cortellazzo along with HMS Sealion and HMS Clyde and all three failed to sight her. On her final patrol she fired at a German destroyer and explosions were heard. This destroyer was part of the escort of the Cruisers Hipper and Lutzow however none of the vessels were sunk by Graph, and I've not so far been able to see if they were damaged.

After her final patrol she returned to Scotland. She sailed south once more to Chatham and arrived on 13th June 1943 before finally being handed over to Dockyard control on 21st June and used for training duties.

Sadly, with a lack of parts available (seeing as they were produced in Germany), the short life of the engines and the need to replace the batteries annually the Graph was no longer sustainable and in 1944 she was used for target practise and for tests to see what damage depth charges do, having survived all of this she was assigned for breaking up, towed by HMS Allegiance to Clyde for breaking up. The tow rope broke and the vessel beached near Coul Point. She has been partially scrapped in 1947 but parts were still visible in 1977 at low tide.

Thus ends the tale of HMS Graph/ U-570 and here brief tour up the Medway.

There is, however one last footnote that, personally I find interesting so will bore you all with now. After her capture Officers was taken to Grizedale Hall, a POW camp for German U-boat officers, where they were put on trial in an Honour court by the senior Germans present, including Otto Kretschnerr the U-boat ace. They were charged with cowardice in the face of the enemy and Rahmlow (en absentia) and Berndt were found guilty of cowardice. On the 18th October 1941 Berndt escaped the camp and was supposedly making his way towards Barrow (22 miles away) to destroy U-570 to redeem himself. He was caught by the Homeguard but refused to be taken, even ignoring warning shots and was unfortunately shot dead.
The British then put Rahmlow into a camp with Airmen and Soldiers for his own protection.

Blue Sharks in Captivity and Shark fin soup

As a youth I desperately wanted to be a Marine Biologist and dedicate my adult life to working in the Caribbean documenting the life cycles and behaviours of Lemon Sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) in the mangrove lagoons. Instead, a couple of failed A'level chemistry modules and the adoption of Plan B I'm now as far away from that dream as I could be and now lead an existence writing about Politics and annoying people.

Still, I like to keep touch with my previous Par armore and this is how I stumbled onto a startling fact:

Blue Sharks (Prionace glauca) will not survive in captivity for more than Seven months.

As an oceanic pack hunter, the blue shark cruises literally around the world in temperate areas it is used to wide open spaces and hunting for its prey which are likewise oceanic swimmers. They are quite prevalent during the Squid breading seasons and through large schools of Tuna as well as torpedoed vessels which many a sailor will attest to during the Battle of the Atlantic. Unfortunately they are not so good in tanks.

Blue Sharks seem to struggle with having their movement restricted and often swim into the glass and other obstacles before eventually giving up the ghost and dying after a short time, the record being 7 months.

This is truly awful. Though I have been unable to find any aquariums in the UK that house there does appear to be some kept in Europe (notably Spain). I cannot believe that we can allow this sort of cruelty to go on, capturing these beautiful creatures in the open sea and caging them knowing full well that they will not survive long term. After all the capture of Great White Sharks ( Carcharodon carcharias) which is only one notch up the Environmental protection list, is prohibited because they do not take well to being fed food and prefer to hunt and thus pine and die sometimes in a matter of days! So why is acceptable to do this to the Blue?

A greater awareness of this needs to be raised with Government and the EU as this is an awful practice and moral standpoint that needs to be challenged. Indeed, I'm even tempted to write to my MEP on this. (My word I have got middle aged!!!)

Another awful practice that I've been aware of for many years and which has received a lot of publicity but yet still goes on, is the harvesting of the Dorsal and pectoral fins for Soup and medicines by China.

I'm not a vegetarian and I also believe that the sea has a good stock of food for mankind to life off (responsibly fished naturally!) but the Chinese and other Asiatic nations waste many Shark's carcasses. After catching the sharks, usually whole sale on a large industrial vessel, they have their Dorsal, tail and Pectoral fins cut off and then they are thrown back into the sea.

It was truly the most heart breaking thing I have ever seen on television, the sight of an oceanic Blue without its fins sinking towards the depths, still alive and attempting to swim.

Had the fishermen taken the Shark and processed the whole thing for meat, oils and fins, then that's fine but the whole thing is wasted and left to sink to the abyss. It is wasteful and inhumane and action must be taken against these countries to curb this barbarism.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Snoop laws invading privacy

Chequered internet history?
With the Home office proposals to keep tabs on the emails we send and receive as well as our Internet providers keeping a record of what websites we visit one is forced to ask;


Also more pointedly; To what end?

I know that the Police etc could keep an eye out for would be terrorists, paedophiles and hackers but lets be honest how many actually indulge in this? I know the tired old argument that if I'm not up to mischief then what am I afraid of but...

What I do in my free time is up to me. It is my Private life.

If I want to sit at home on my laptop reading articles about Medway's past or what Mr Clegg is up to now, or stare longingly at Games-Workshop's latest model is up to me and my personal business and the state have no right to take an interest in it until it can effect the state. It would be the same if I was using the Internet to watch an absolute boatload of pornography or conduct an extra marital affair, why should the state know before my wife? Also my emails correspondence are my own just the same as the post. I don't expect MI5 to monitor my post or MI7 to police what has been said.

Not that I am having an affair nor watching porn - if I was that would be up to me.

What I do look at on the Internet, and could raise suspicion, is my well known interest in the Luftwaffe and the campaigns of the German military throughout World War II. Now all the sites I visit are Military based and have nothing to do with the bloated tumour that is Nazism however to the casual observer who just glances at the pictures on the site and not really read the content, I may appear to be a goose-stepping Nazi.

Which- again, I'm really not but there lies the danger.

I know this will all sound rich coming from me after the long protracted debate with Andrew Emmerson about Civil Liberties and CCTV but this is how I've separated it in my mind and feel free to disagree...

CCTV watches public areas and according to the strict guidelines laid down in the SIA licence individuals cannot be targeted without due suspicion. For example you're walking down the Rochester High street and you spot a CCTV camera, you are but one face in the crowd and no interest will be paid to you.
You draw a handgun and start aiming it at people - the operators may spot you, zoom in and call the police because you are breaking the law and it will no doubt be the first time you've been seen.
Alternately you hang around a post office paying particular attention to OAPs coming out with their pension money, the chances are an operator may zoom in on you to see if you are up to no good and if they're satisfied you're just loitering they must zoom back out.
You also have the right to contact any Public authority and demand a copy of ALL footage they may have of you.

With my emails and web usage it is my Private life not what I get up to in Public.

The basis of law, according to the statute books, is that you are free to do what ever you want so long as your actions do not interfere with anyone else's freedoms or do anything that someone else would consider objectionable. This was one of the legal loop holes that was used to argue for the decriminalisation of Homosexuality - what goes on between consenting people behind closed doors is their own affair.

CCTV is not allowed to look into Private residences or places and neither should the Government.

The hope that I hold, and many Libdems should feel the same, is that the Coalition has assigned Dr Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, to the review process. I have a lot of respect for Dr Huppert and he has a proven track record of standing up for Libdem values and beliefs, including voting against the rise in Tuition fees.

So let us hope that Dr Huppert will act as a voice of reason in this affair and the Government will not adopt these invasive measures.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Laurie Penny wrong about Game of Thrones and Kingship

It is true that Laurie Penny annoys me and I thought I had done well not to read anything she had written since her awful article about Remembrance day glorifying war which I wrote about in November. Yet as I read Richard Morris' article on Jimmy Carr's tax avoidance I found myself opening up this article on Game of Thrones and Good Kingship (for want of a better word.)
It has already raised my wrath for two reasons.

1./ I burnt the bacon for my breakfast which I had so been looking forward to.

2./ She is writing a populist pseudo Marxist piece about Medieval Kingship and fantasy fiction and applying modern liberal/socialist beliefs on a period where they aren't applicable.

Day two of my under graduate History we were told:

Do not judge historical events or people by your modern standards

Remember this as it is a reoccurring theme throughout this essay.

Firstly, let’s look at Game of Thrones.

Now the hole in my argument is that I've not seen the series as I am not able to afford sky and I fear if I bought the DVD I'd be watching it after my daughter went to bed and my wife out which doesn't happen often. However a few of my friends who have read the books and watched the Series have told me that there is a lot more graphic sex in the series and even a reoccurring Prostitute character has been developed just for the show. Now I'm not going to comment on the greater rise of graphic sex and violence in TV as I only watch documentaries, Comedies and Kids TV with Sophie.

I will however dispute the accusation of Literary simplicity that has been levelled. Pasternak and Goethe it is not but neither is the "Song of Ice and fire" a trashy popularist paperback with no depth or discernible plot laden with gratuitous sex and violence. If it was they wouldn't be on book Six (book 3 and 5 coming in two parts) each of around 800 pages!

The setting of Westeros does absorb locations and characteristics of real historical groups and peoples. The example she uses of the selling of a thirteen year old Daenerys to the Dothkari horse lord (clearly based on marauding Mongolian or Hun tribes) for the support of his army and the subsequent rape basis of their marriage's early days. This is not a racial stereotype, merely a look at what nomadic eastern tribes at the time of Attila were like.
Well I hate to break it to you but the Middle ages were full of this sort of thing however abhorrent we find this now it is a fact that women were objects to be traded as property for strategic marriages and hostages (in the case of Daenerys) and trained to be courtly good wives for marriages to strengthen alliances (in the case of Sansa). Now I don't like it anymore than you do but that's our modern morals, Edward I would have no qualms with it.
Though to be fair to the series there are some strong female characters. *Spoiler Alert* Danerys becomes queen of the Dothkari and leads her Khal across a continent and conquers the Slave cities, Catelyn struggles with looking after her family through the ravages of the war, Arya fights to survive, Brienne fighting to be seen as an equal in a Man's world as a chivalric Knight. These women are not token characters nor marginalised and despite the Medieval style Social rules these characters rise above.
Ms Penny's article is somewhat generalises the characters and their characteristics. Yes it is true that the Stark's are heavily steeped in the Chivalric ideals and that they don't seem to have any discernible flaws but for that you need to look at the patriarch of the house and the isolation of Winterfell in the North from the Capitol at King's Landing. It is also true that the Lannister's are unscrupulous cunning game players however as you read the books you come across villains and heroes on both sides - *Spoiler Alert!!!* The Bolton's of the Dreadfort have a symbol of the Flayed man as their sigil for a reason. Where as in the South you have Brienne of Tarth, Lord Beric Dondarrion, Renly Baratheon...

The fact is that the Medieval world was full of this sort of brutal politics and vying for power. Look at the War of the Roses with family's like the Percy's backing each side and being courted by different contenders for the throne with land and marriages and people like Earl Warwick the Kingmaker. it was a period of horrific regicide and murder of the populous.
We like that Knights were all chivalric in the same way as the Starks of Winterfell but in reality they were more often the ones you took to war were like Gregor Clegane or Amory Lorch. Brutal murderers who held no respect for another's rank or whether there were civilians or not. There is a scene in "Clash of Kings" where Ser Gregor's men torture and murder an entire village looking for riches and information on the rebel Lord Dondarrion. This is not uncommon - the Black Prince had to intervene whilst on campaign in Spain when the King at the time, Pedro the Cruel, was going to butcher an entire village for having fed and watered the enemy forces as well as all his prisoners. Indeed in the book there is also the observation that when the Lords play their Game of thrones it is the small folk that suffer and this is shown in great detail within the series. For many in the books, as well as in the Medieval period, it didn't matter who was on the throne as the daily life of the "agrarian workers" as she puts it didn't change and was aimed at merely surviving. There is no point in putting on the Marxist structure of the Oppressed and the Oppressor this era. I know that Marx has his theory of the five states of society but it is not much more than a theory. Also the people did not necessarily think of themselves as oppressed, except those from Kent who followed Watt Tyler or Jack Cade and basically tried to survive and the Liege Lords and Monarchs cared naught for them as long as they paid their taxes and tithes as well as answering the call to arms when they were summoned and why should they?
The Warfare is brutal and described as such with loss of limbs, eye gouging, lance shattering, murder of prisoners... All far too common. At the battle of Towton more of the Lancastrian army were slain in the rout and cut down where they fled than during the actual battle! Being Chivalric wasn't always the best way to be.

To quote the Song of Ice and Fire on the highly chivalric Prince Rhaegar;

Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honourably and Rhaegar died

If anything the series is a grittier (and I want to say more realistic) look at the Medieval world and fantasy rather than the more sterile but equally entertaining "Lord of the Rings" and the old style of Fantasy that romanticised. The "Racist-Rape culture" that she talks about is unfortunately where we, the human race (especially in Europe) have come from and people find that interesting. You cannot judge the past on today's morals, for them that was the norm and behaviour we think is awful was ok.

Medieval Kingship could be a swift and brutal period of one's life. To be a King you had to navigate the tides and eddies and keep your lords under close supervision knowing who was on your side and who was plotting against you. Good kings like Edward I and III had mastered it and were good to the common man through their Lords and knights. Other kings like Richard II, Edward II and Henry VI never coped or ruled with an autocratic belief that "I am King, you will obey my will." All these kings didn't last long and they ended up dead and in the case of Edward (hot poker up him) and Henry (beaten and stabbed before taking a dive down the stairs in the Tower of London) in a very nasty way. To be a successful Monarch was indeed an art form and Machiavelli was very accurate in his writings on the subject.

I'm also a Republican and don't see the need for a constitutional Monarch as ultimately they don't serve a purpose and yes they are descended from those brutal enough or clever enough to navigate the tempest that was Monarchy over the last two millennia but times have changed and now the Monarch is almost like tradition rather than a ruler. Lets not generalise though, had a Monarch survived sixty years on the throne in the Middle Ages and not been killed by disease or more pointedly by his Lords and knights then there really is cause to celebrate.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Carr tax dodge Morally wrong - but Legal

I had the pleasure of meeting Jimmy Carr once, about four years ago now in Kennsington where we had seen his stand up. My wife and I queued up with many others post gig to get our programs signed and where the man himself waited for an hour after the show in casual clothes with a marker pen and traded niceties with fans and the odd joke.

It is fair to say that, although his brand of comedy is not shared by everyone, he is indeed a large figure on the comedy circuit and television and he has indeed made a fair amount of money.

I'm not surprised by the story that was broken by The Times. After all many who have large sums of money and either a canny business sense or the number of a good accountant will often strive to keep their money their money. Jimmy Carr wasn't a name that I would have pulled forth but why not?

It has been suggested that Mr Carr shelters £3.3 million in a completely legal scheme which protects a thousand peoples money, totalling £168m from all but 1% of tax in Jersey. The K2 scheme is completely legal and had been fully exposed to the HMRC.

Jimmy Carr has apologised for the involvement and has now put his money where the HMRC can get a bigger slice.

David Cameron said that:

I think some of these schemes - and I think particularly of the Jimmy Carr scheme - I have had time to read about and I just think this is completely wrong.
People work hard, they pay their taxes, they save up to go to one of his shows. They buy the tickets. He is taking the money from those tickets and he, as far as I can see, is putting all of that into some very dodgy tax avoiding schemes.

This is true. After all taxes hit all of us and we, the majority, pay our fair share - why shouldn't the rich?

Well yes that's true but the whole scheme is legal and above board. I find myself agreeing with Ed Miliband *shudder* for the first time...

I'm not in favour of tax avoidance obviously, but I don't think it is for politicians to lecture people about morality. I think what the politicians need to do is - if the wrong thing is happening - change the law to prevent that tax avoidance happening.

After all we can all tut and shake our heads about how wrong and unfair it may be but at the end of the day it is legal. It is down to Parliament to legislate and for the Police to investigate. The Coalition needs to take steps in this direction and soon. However there will always be a clever accountant who knows where to move money around to protect it - that's how they earn their keep.

So while I think that Jimmy Carr's actions are unfair compared to the rest of us they are legal and thus beyond official rebuke.

Though as a passing shot from the Libdem cannon... How above board are the taxes of News corp the owners of The Times?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Xenophobic against Germans? Me?

Yesterday i saw a Tweet that caused a mixture of offence and general humour and I thought I would share it with you and present the defence.

Firstly I should outline the cause.

In yesterday's blog post I wrote the following :-

i) The need of the Nation outweighs the need of the Locality but would be open to a case by case basis and discussion at an arranged forum with the electorate.
ii) In Wartime - I don't mean like Iraq or Afghanistan I mean if the German army are holidaying in Calais preparing to paddle over the channel sort of wartime.

iii) Serious "National Emergency"

The text in point ii) is referring to the last serious war the UK was involved in that threatened the Islands with invasion. It could indeed be read as a xenophobic comment against the Germans (as an all conquering war like nation) and the French (as the eternal victims of the German aggression) but only if you ignored what the rest of the sentence was saying and just as importantly the person saying it.

However, lets put it into some sort of context, apart from the fact I was writing about World War Two.

According to my Grandfather's research; during the Crusades a young "hedge" knight pulled a spear from himself and defended a wounded man in battle. The German warrior was knighted as Sir Samz and granted lands in Rainham, Essex, his coat of arms depicted his bravery in the form of a Black Lion pulling a blooded spear from his chest on a field of yellow.
Over the centuries the Z became an S and the family fell from glory but remained in Essex and it wasn't until the late 70's my branch left London and moved to Gillingham.

However there was always a strange attachment to the ancestral home. Going back generations, anyone who turned their hand to learning the mother tongue found they had an unnerving disposition to pick it up as if they had always spoken it. Even now I can speak and read German (though my understanding is a little shaky) with an inexplicable Bavarian/Austrian accent.

There has always been a love for Germany, her music and culture within the last few generations. My Grandfather went to Germany Pre War and fell in love with the people and Country. Then in '45 he went into Austria where he acted as a translator for interrogations, even interrogating a man with the same name as his father, Walther Sams. My father similarly went to Germany and loved it but it was my Grandfather whose stories caught my attention and wonder.

At the age of ten I began to support the German Football team and even cheered with genuine joy when Germany won the penalty shoot out over England in Euro '96 in the same way as I wept under my flag as we crashed to a 5-1 loss in qualification for Japan/South Korea in 2001 to England. I proudly wear my DFB shirt and as you can see by the picture a German flag adorns my Avatar on Twitter.

But its not all football.

I'm steeped in German Literature, Von Goethe's "Sorrows of young Werther" is my favourite novel and I also enjoy the poetry of Schiller and Goethe. I also enjoy Austro-German composers, my first love being Mozart but also martial music like Preussen Gloria and Koniggratzer and am even partial to a bit of Rammstein especially the ballad Ohne Dich. I won't bore you with my love for wurst and other foodstuffs and beer or German history, only to say that if you read my posts on the Luftwaffe in Africa you can see that they are written with genuine love for the subject and a removal of the usual "Anti Nazi/German" slant you often read in amateur history. I've borne much abuse for studying the German military and Luftwaffe in particular and branded unfairly a Nazi but I can assure you that I am no National socialist just someone with a great interest in the German Airforce and its equipment. I could not work where I work if I was a Nazi!!!

What I can say is that when I stood in the Rhineland looking up at the Statue of Germania and when I hear Deutschland Uber Alles my chest and heart swells with a national pride in the same way that I'm sure most normal Englishmen feel when they hear God Save the Queen. My love for Germany is unquestioning and xenophobic comments about the nation and people is so far from my mind that I couldn't possibly make a genuine one.

Anyone who has known me for more than a day will know this, as will readers of this blog who can see it in articles like:
German Solution to English Football or Is this form of racism allowed in National Newspapers or Over using the N word, will know that anyway.

So, I'm not quite sure which tree Councillor Osborne was barking up with that comment but... well if you've read this Tris just follow the other links and read the admiration for Germany and the scorn I pour on those who have attacked her with real Xenophobic comments and come back to me....

Apologies are welcome in the comment section lol ;-)

Defiance teaser

The sky was clear, too clear for Jonathon's liking. With the N'kell's aerial supremacy the small flight of bombers were a sitting target. To make matters worse the army had sent in commandos to set up a dampening field to nullify all scopes along the flight path so they would know that they were coming and which way.
So far he'd been surprised the enemy hadn't flooded the gap.
"It's too quiet." He muttered across Channel 7 to Doolan.
"I hear that."
He could hear the tension in her voice, the concentration as she checked instruments and visual scanning. The flight of Nautilus hung five thousand feet above and set behind the bomber formation and throttled right back to keep pace. He glanced up and saw the two fighters that were their over in case of a high altitude attack.
This was not what they had trained for.
"Sir, where are the Salamanders?" Grant asked in hushed tones through the intercom.
"Not sure. Knowing those guys they've gone swanning off looking for the enemy."
"Bet its us that finds them." Grant chuckled but Jonathan could see him nervously moving the tail gun as he looked for the silhouettes of N'kell fighters. He knew that his gunner was more than likely right.

His mind turned to the mission and he double checked the map in his lap, looked at the land marks below and marked his estimated position next to the course drawn on in thick red ink. They were pretty much on course and well with in the corridor.
"Its too quiet." he muttered again.
His mind turned back to Doolan and the moment they'd almost shared, the light in her eyes, the way her lips had parted, the feel of her body pressed against his.
Something caught his eye. Three dark shapes moving at speed coming up behind the bombers and there, yes there! Laser fire.
"Red Three to lead, enemy marks low forty five degrees!"
"Copy Three." Jenkins voice was icy cold and measured. "Red section, break and dive."
"Roger that." Claire's voice sounded almost relieved. "Ellert follow me down then you Freya and O'Keefe."
Jonathan watched the two port fighters role away and dive and began counting to ten.
"Red Four, follow me down and stay close." Quickly he brought the stick over in a controlled roll and pulled it into a power dive.

Like what you've read... the rest of what I've written is here so far.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

My one and only pledge to voters

I've never seen the point in making Political pledges, they ultimately come back to bite you on the arse.

No matter your intentions, the reality of politics and economic frailty means your pledges may have to be abandoned. Take Tuition fees (yeah I know, I know...) the party were caught up by circumstances to a degree and were forced to choose between an economic reality and responsibility to the rest of the country's economy.

I've been playing a lot of Fable III recently and as you progress through the game you have to make political pledges to would be supporters to over throw your tyrant brother King Logan. They're things like "end child poverty" "Give the mountains back to the natives and not industrialise them" "Protect the City of Aurora"...
On your ascension to the throne you are introduced to the dire state of the treasury and with a year to gather £6.3 million to pay for an army to defend Albion from certain doom. (for every £ short a civilian will die in said invasion). Suddenly you have the choice of carrying through with these costly pledges or saving your people's lives. I led a Libdem style Monarchy where we gave free education to the poor, set up green policies in the Mountain regions, cut back on policing and then had to pump £5m of my own money into the treasury to raise the army! Still I kept my pledges but gained an understanding of why pledges should not be made lightly.

Which is why this following pledge should be taken seriously as it should be the only one I ever make. I'm so serious it'll be in Italics and in parts... Yeah! It's like that readers.

I Promise that should by the grace of an unspecified deity or electoral miscount, actually get elected to any governing body be it local, national, senatorial or European I will do the following:

a.) Represent the needs of the constituency (over the will of the party if necessary). Exceptions can be made in the following cases;

i) The need of the Nation outweighs the need of the Locality but would be open to a case by case basis and discussion at an arranged forum with the electorate.
ii) In Wartime - I don't mean like Iraq or Afghanistan I mean if the German army are holidaying in Calais preparing to paddle over the channel sort of wartime.
iii) Serious "National Emergency"

b.) Carry out a grown up approach to Politics and the office of MP or Councillor. No shouting, braying, pointing or laughing at PMQs or engaging in slanging matches with opposition members of Local/national government, however tempting it may be.

c.) To maintain no vested interests. The voters before companies and doners.

d.) To be out and about in my constituency and keep my appointments where possible.

There... that was painless. The thrust is that I would be there for the people who elected me above and beyond everything even party loyalty. After all representatives are there to represent, not tow the line or hold out hope for ministerial positions (though as a Libdem I doubt I'll ever have that worry!) or self aggrandisement. If at the end of my term I could look back on it and say hand on heart that I had fulfilled my pledge and served the people, not got involved in political point scoring or football then I can be proud of myself and maybe my family can be proud of me too.

Friday, 15 June 2012

My letter to KM- "Them and Us" politics in Medway

Chris Sams
Sturdee Avenue
12th June 2012

I must say I am a little confused by Councillor Jarrett’s piece in Party People (8th June) about justifying the Mayoral dinner as a worthy expenditure.

Firstly he seems to be comparing the celebrations to that of the Jubilee. It seems a bit of a dud comparison to me as the entire nation joined in with the celebrations with street parties, boats down the Thames and an overall outpouring of National pride and jubilation. For the Mayoral dinner it seems that only the elite of Medway’s Councillors are going to celebrate Councillor Hewitt’s election and can show civic pride.

I agree that Medway Council does have a large budget and that ultimately the amount of money, under normal circumstances, would be a trifling affair. However these are not normal circumstances. The Council have already made cuts to services, lest we forget Nelson Court dementia home, and had some really amazing over spends such as Stoke Crossing and the Bus station to name just a few. If Councillor Jarrett’s slogan “Better for less” is indeed what the Council is striving for how can they now justify another, albeit small, splash from the public purse for no one else’s benefit but their own?

Now, I’m not going to “bah-humbug” the whole idea, I agree with Cllr Hewitt that sometimes celebration is needed to lift spirits but why can only Councillors get to celebrate and we, the ones who are paying for it, get to sit outside and read about it in the press? (edited out) It merely perpetuates a “Them and Us” attitude that is unhealthy for politics and a seeming insult to voters at a time of austerity for what the average citizen will feel is a frivolous event.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Yet some Tories are being Childish about abstention

As an unexpected Take II from yesterday's post. According to the I report (Lib Dems 'traitors' for not backing Hunt 14-6 p.7) there has been a bit of a furious outburst from the Conservative benches regarding the Liberal Democrat abstention yesterday.

Although the Government "won" by 290 votes to 252 last night there was a slash of majority from 80 to 38 and with some MPs being called back from honeymoon, from a funeral and even Conor Burns MP being pulled in from hospital (he stated that so our Coalition partners can polish their consciences)to make sure the Government would win.

This has, understandably, ruffled some feathers and there have been some minor ruptions within the Coalition but such was likely to happen when two parties come together, there will be things, like Europe, that we are diametrically opposed on. It is the nature of working together.

However some Conservatives have taken it more seriously than others.

It is hard to say how badly the Clegg-Cameron relationship has been damaged due to their heated and lengthy debates on the subject, only the two of them would be able to say that for certain. Lets be honest if there was a strain between them, they wouldn't show it as critics of the Coalition would flood the gap and tear it asunder.

However according to Andrew Grice's report "Rebel" Tory MPs will be voting against the Libdem's Lords reform proposals.
The Lords vote will be payback time apparently.

Nadine Dorries also commented that the Libdems were indeed Traitors and not proper members of the Government.

She also tweeted:
Lib Dems future involves falling off the edge of a political cliff. Today's cowardly behaviour will equate to a 'shove' by their own hands

It is hard to say how many disaffected Conservative members will attack the reform but senior Libdems aren't worried (though I am) and think that those that are sounding off are ones who would have voted against it anyway.

It is fair to say that Ms Dorries has been a strong critic of the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition and for her to state that the party aren't proper members of Government is just farcical considering the work that Libdem ministers have put in and the amount of times they have kept quiet over certain issues in the same way that the Tories have on others. It is, after all a marriage of ideas and how many marriages run with both parties agreeing on everything?

This was something we could not agree to nor could we agree with Labour on this issue. If anything, though, I'm sure others would want to vote with Labour on this, it was for the Coalition that we stayed silent and abstained. Sacrificing our beliefs but maintaining conscience. This is what Grown up politics is about.

Now, there is the threat of voting against greater democracy and legislation out of spite? I'm forced to ask, is this the sort of grown up behaviour and politics that adults indulge in or is this the playground?

There will be times where the parties don't agree and just because we have different opinions on things there and don't agree you shouldn't just throw your toys out the pram.

I would urge any Conservative MPs reading this to please look at the merits of the proposals and reform itself, what it will mean and then make your decision on this factors. Please do not turn this into a tit-for-tat party politics as its the electorate that will suffer for the game playing.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Libdems being grown up over Hunt abstention

Abstaining from a vote in Politics is usually a wasted vote and something I do not usually support as you should vote one way or the other on issues or you might as well have not shown up.

The only time it is acceptable is when it is a matter of conscience.

However I do support the Libdem abstention today on the issue of Jeremy Hunt, although it took a quiet afternoon and the distraction of playing with my daughter in the park to allow me to come to terms with the issue.

Originally I couldn't believe it, after all there are serious questions to be asked about the conduct of Jeremy Hunt before and during the BSkyB bid and the vested interests of the Murdoch Empire and their infiltration into politics was something that I and the rest of the party feel very strongly about. The Murdoch Empire is a tumour on British parliamentarian procedure and it needs to be lanced and removed. Letting Jeremy Hunt pass without a proper investigation into what had happened by our abstention was tantamount to letting it go on. How could we be so bloody useless and pull our punches now?

There has been much fury (according to the Guardian reports) between Nick and Dave since Jeremy Hunt's appearance at the Leveson inquiry. Although it was clear that Leveson found that there was no wrong doing during the take over Nick felt that Dave was too quick to clear him of any breach of the ministerial code or by misrepresenting the truth before Parliament - the whole case should be referred to Sir Alex Allan the adviser on the Ministerial code.

As the Labour party pushed a motion to force the Prime Minister's hand a large question mark fell over the party. Would we break ranks with our Coalition partners and agree with the opposition and stand up for our beliefs or would we silently just nod again dumbly.

I was mortified to see we would abstain.

We were seemingly sacrificing our beliefs for Coalition harmony - but on reflection we're doing more than that, we're being grown up.

Despite many in the Labour party saying they are doing the right thing including the odious Harriet Harman who stated:

This is an important opportunity for the House of Commons to make clear the importance it places on secretaries of state being transparent and truthful to parliament.

I think members from all sides of the house will want to be sure that this issue is not simply swept under the carpet. Misleading parliament is not just some outdated constitutional issue – it matters

There is also the fact that they are simply trying to score party political points.

After all the Murdoch Empire was also exceptionally cosy with the last Government and there are accusations as to the Pyjama parties, Christenings, social occasions and law changes that show that the tumorous relationship between Government and Murdoch Media runs deep. Their move, though seemingly righteous does also reek of people in glass houses manning trebuchets!

There is also the question of Labour's Special advisers from the last Government, such as Damian McBride, and their advice all of which was never dealt with. More fittingly is the fact that Prime Minister Tony Blair allegedly misled the entire House over WMDs in Iraq taking the nation to war.

The point is, though their motion is valid, they are as guilty of collusion with the Murdoch's as the Culture Secretary and are now out of the firing line. We as a party would be damned for voting with the Government and voting with Labour - We're the only party to be clean of this taint and abstention is the only way to keep that clean record.

On top of that is the letter from Sir Allan that David Cameron read out in Parliament today at PMQs:

I note your decision in relation to Jeremy Hunt's adherence to the ministerial code which is of course a matter for you. The fact that there is an ongoing judicial inquiry probing and taking evidence under oath means that I do not believe I could usefully add to the facts in this case, though I remain available should circumstances change or new evidence emerge.
Basically the Leveson inquiry has laid all of the facts bear and the Prime Minister, as the leader of the Government and the Party has enough evidence before him to make the decision on whether or not to Jeremy Hunt has done wrong. The ball is in the Prime Minister's court.

Politics shouldn't be about one Party's superiority over another and we, as a party are refusing to get involved in the "point scoring" exercise. Abstaining was the hard path but in this occasion

Nick has made our position clear over what we think but ultimately it is up to David Cameron to make the right decision.

Play area neglected by Council's cleaners?

Today, as the sun had finally come out, I took my daughter Sophie to the park after nursery. As she ran around and I took photos of her gleefully putting "dogdog" into the seesaw or swings when to my horror and concern she came back clutching a WKD blue glass bottle.

I hurriedly removed it from her and put it in the bin. Then I took a serious look around the play area at Rookery fields Gillingham.

I know that play areas tend to attract a crowd of disaffected teens with "Nothing to do" and with this crowd comes a trail of devastation and litter. As I looked around I saw two crushed Coke cans, an empty can of Fosters, general litter and fag ends (despite the sign asking people to refrain from smoking). This was further compounded by the two teens sat on the larger swings trying to twist the chains up to the top and the other two hogging the seesaw. I know that this wave of litter can be unpredictable too so I'm not too concerned about that. Any large litter can be picked up and binned as I did with the WKD bottle.

What did get my attention was the broken glass beneath the Waste bin in the centre of the park.

Underneath it are shards of Green glass from a broken bottle - and they've been there for months. I first spotted them whilst putting something in the bin back on 6th May. I thought nothing of it and presumed that someone would sweep them up when the park was next cleaned.

I was wrong.

Two weeks ago I sent a fresh picture of the shards to the Medway Council Twitter feed as I didn't know quite what else to do about it as my out of date phone does not allow me to download the "LveMedway" app. (when I get my new Iphone however!!!) I also tweeted a picture of the melted bin in Livingston road at the same time. The bin was replaced in a week the glass still remains.

I am loathed to ask if anyone does actually clean the park? I've seen the street cleaners in there and I know large waste is picked up as I notice the day to day changes on my way to drop Sophie at Nursery but the play area is often missed. I must admit I saw the WKD bottle on the floor in there this morning as I walked past and in retrospect should have done something about it.

I don't want anyone to lose their job over this, nor do I want to go hunting for blame. What I'm asking is that our children's play areas are swept and have rubbish removed once a day. As you can see from the picture some of these shards are pretty nasty and it only takes a toddler to fall on them and be scarred for life.

The other option is to get all "Big Society" on their backsides and go around and do it myself and it came close but I find myself lacking time. I'm also loathed to say anything to teenagers loitering and littering as they usually outnumber me and since bad experiences at school I've been wary of large groups of teens.

Local Libdem Councillors Geoff Juby, Shelia Kearney (and Stephen Kearney before 2011) have worked hard to improve the playground facilities and park so we have a nice area to play and sit in the sun. I implore local residents to please pick up your litter afterwards and also to the Council to please get someone to regularly go in and sweep.


Monday, 11 June 2012

Arms Protestors wasting their time?

The other day whilst cruising around Youtube I stumbled upon this video of "Die-in" protestors who tried to interupt a Ministry of Defence dinner for Arms dealers at the Imperial War Museum.

Although War is brutal and a world without it would be a much better place I do question the tactic of striking an Arms industry dinner.Lets be honest, the delegates in the footage are either Military (where it is their job to have good munitions and weaponary) or the suppliers.

How many are likely to turn around and rethink their lives?
Look at the way the delegates are responding to the protestors as well, they are barely even acknowledging them and have just stepped over them. They do not care a single iota.
Many modern Arms dealers as well as Soldiers would argue that they need better weapons to keep this nation safe and Her Majesty's Soldiers alive in Afghanistan. Britain's Foreign and Military Policy is to fight International terrorism not, as it was a Century ago, to fight an Imperialist agenda against other European nations to capture trade etc. As much as people detest it, the arms business does deal a lot of trade and money for the treasury as well as jobs for British Industry so they feel its the Country's interest - not just economically but also militarially. For them the cause is just and noble or lucrative, they won't change their course because six of you "die" at their feet.

I've worked within the service industry for far too long and have worked functions in a catering and a security capacity and there is a singular constent. Delegates don't see anyone that isn't important enough, caterers and security are mere fixtures until they want something, events officers are barely noticable As rightious as the cause may be or you believe in, I'm afraid that you will not change it demonstrating at the source in these small numbers.

War is one of the most horrific things to happen to any people or Country. I've read history, especially military history, since I was small (about 6 or 7) and I have seen the depths of human misery and suffering as well as the things one human being will do to another. I've read about Genocide, slaughter of men, women and children, oppression, rape, torture, tragedy and murder. Of gas that burns you inside out, flame throwers that torch lines of trenches bathing you in burning petrol, men trapped and burned alive within their tanks or spiralling in their aircraft from 10,000 ft with no escape or worse bailing out with a broken parachute. It is truly horrific and must always be the last resort.

If anything you need to change your taget, its the general public and politicians that make the legislation though I fear that it is a lost cause. Count von Moltke once described War as Part of God's creation. It is inescapbaly part of Human society, the strong will always seek to dominate the weak and there are natural resources that some nations/groups will fight for. There is a certain type of enlightenment that unfortunately doesn't exist in mankind yet, but do keep up the good fight!

So to answer the question; On this occasion Yes they were but in the bigger picture, No.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Medway's mayoral farce

Mayor Hewett
This may seem like I'm jumping on the band wagon but reading Councillor Jarrett's piece in the Medway messenger infuriated me somewhat. I would also like to echo my agreement with Cllr Osborne's article.

I'm not going to comment on the selection process for the Mayor as. basically I don't know enough about it to make an informed comment and I fear that I would be lining myself up for a battle I couldn't win.

I will, however, add my voice to that of Medway Labour on disputing the celebratory Mayoral dinner which will be held in at a traditional venue with at least a three course meal with wine and will cost the Medway tax payer God knows how much. There has been a concession from the new Mayor, Cllr Vaughan Hewett (Con), that instead of wine the venue will serve Ginger beer which will be a lot cheaper.

Despite this concession Medway Labour has boycotted the Council shindig which has attracted scorn from Councillor Jarrett's article.

Here follows an abridged copy of it.

No matter how difficult times are, one of the enduring traits of this nation is our determination to maintain a strong sense of national pride.


In Medway we have celebrated the Diamond Jubilee in a number of ways. The council has held civic events, whilst beacons and street parties have been ways of recognising a remarkable royal reign. Medway Council remains determined to celebrate our heritage and tradition, which is why we host appropriate rather than extravagant events. Even before the nation fell on hard financial times Medway Council has always been mindful of how it spends public money.

We in the Conservative group have always supported the Mayroalty in Medway - even when the chosen mayor was not of our political persuasion. We have respected the office as well as the person.

Sadly this is not always the case with Medway's Labour group. They regularly snub mayoral events and pour unjustified criticism on the excellent fundraising and representational work done by or
[sic] mayor and deputy mayor every year. Of course the mayoralty costs money but such spending is sensible and proportionate.

It is important to put such modest spending into context. Medway council has a huge budget of over £650 million, and to begrudge modest spending on special occasions really does reveal a bah-humbug mentality by some. It would be sad, dull place if we never celebrated anything.

In Medway we are proud to support our monarch, our mayoralty and our Armed forces. Some things are beyond price, although try telling that to those who seem to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

I would agree that the position of the Mayor is important and that lots of good work is carried out by their offices for Charity and for the Medway towns in general and it is not the position that I am criticising.

It seems from the article that Cllr Jarrett is comparing the celebrating of the Queen's Jubilee as a tradition that has been upheld by the Council to the Mayoralty and its celebration.

That is pure balderdash and this is why.

Last week I went to my daughter's school's Jubilee party, watched the boats going down the Thames in celebration of the Queen and roads closed of for Street parties. This was an out pouring of public joy and thanks to the Monarch that EVERYBODY could get involved in where as this Mayoral dinner is something only Councillors can enjoy - at our expense!

Councillor Jarrett is right to state that it is a mere trifling amount spent from a massive budget but at the time when you and I are suffering from cuts from National as well as Local government - including outsourcing two care homes, getting rid of the dementia specialising Nelson's Court, rising bus fares, "More for less" spending policy and yet they get to have a grand meal based on our money to celebrate as a group. I am forced to ask - Where's my invite? If this celebratory meal is like the Jubilee and a celebration of the appointment of a Mayor then what is the rest of the Medway towns doing to celebrate it? What events are the council laying on for us the people paying for it?

It seems to me, and others, that this is merely a celebration for the elite rather than a massive out pouring of joy by and for the populous.

I also echo the words of Mr Richard Ford who wrote into the Medway messenger's letter page:

Apparently the new mayor is getting his inspiration and political direction from another source and he guided us to read Luke chapter 15 and the need to 'celebrate even i there had been a lot of problems before'!

Just remember that folks when you hear about the next round of cuts to services.

The easy criticism that I'm sure Cllr Jarrett would throw at me is that I am knocking Medway or have a "Bah-humbug" approach which is again nonsense. I recently wrote about whether the Jubilee celebrations were a good thing and concluded that at this time of need and cuts we as a Nation needed:

A party is just what the Doctor ordered to lift the spirits and to forget all the crap that flies at us on a daily basis. Is it wrong to take a day - or two - and celebrate something? There are so many dark clouds out there at the moment that a day of silver linings helps buck up morale.

I'm all for a celebration to lift spirits, to celebrate the Medway WE ALL can enjoy (especially when its our money) not just the elite.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Bombing the Wrong targets Part IV: The Luftwaffe in Africa

One of Rommel's complaints was that the Luftwaffe weren't doing enough and historians are keen to point out the lack of German aircraft over the advance towards El Alamien and even over the fortified front.
So what were the Luftwaffe doing in North Africa?

In a prophetic message to the advancing British soldiers in 1941 a fighter pilot of Jagdgeschwader 53 wrote on the blackboard of their airbase:

"We Come back... Happy Christmas!"
Two months later they had riding forward with the Panzer armies. As the successes of Rommel's push became apparent aircraft were taken from Kesselring's Malta operations and his refusal to accept Herkules and his own thirst for glory meant that the Luftwaffe were dragged along with him on his ill advised thrust into Egypt.
Von Waldau FlFu Afrika
Rommel was notoriously difficult to work with and Frohlich, the Fifu Afrika took to avoiding meetings and was eventually relieved of command and Von Waldau was placed in charge. Waldau had much more of a backbone, he wasn't willing to take Rommel's outbursts and spoke plainly. Of course Rommel's style of leadership left a bewildered Waldau guessing what was going on. During Operation Crusader Waldau held his craft back unknowing what the over all situation was and where Rommel and his tanks were. The same happened as Rommel pushed forward in Operation Thesius and for the first two days the Luftwaffe was absent from the skies. On the third day, in desperation Waldau sent his Stukas up and when they found a group of tanks heading West towards the German lines they attacked. Unfortunately they were Rommel's tanks that had got turned around in the swirling desert combat - luckily no one was killed. Better communication from the field would have averted this and given Waldau's forces more potency.

There were sevre logistical demands on the small air force in North Africa as they were caught in the same supply problems that held Rommel's forces in a vice. At any one time he had no more than a months supply of petrol until November 42 when it dropped by 90%!!! On top of that the desert proved problematic to the running of aircraft with sand clogging aircraft and engines becoming warn out from over use in operations like the air bombardment on Bin Harcheim, but I will come to that in Part V.

Larger parts like wings and undercarriages could not be brought in by airlift or shipping so a lot of damaged aircraft had to be cannibalised just to keep the few in the air and without a recovery service the number of aircraft just dwindled. This was not helped further by Rommel's rapid retreat from the line at Alamien and Luftwaffe crews were forced to abandon the lame ducks and get out with what they could.
Permanent air superiority could never be obtained in the true style of Blitzkrieg. Waldau had too few aircraft. The North African Luftwaffe never really surpassed 300 machines as the Ostfront in Russia had priority for new machines especially with the massing of aircraft for the push towards the Caucuses in mid 1942. Von Waldau also had the problem that he had no medium bomber force. The Luftwaffe needed two engine-bombers for longer term aims such as knocking out enemy airfields behind the lines, harassing communications and roads to help cause confusion and chaos. The desert was not suitable for such aircraft and none could be spared from the operations over Malta or the Mediterranean so Von Waldau had to had to work with Stukas and Jabo (Fighter bombers) which suited Rommel's needs as he really only wanted a flying artillery to give his tanks more mobility and speed.
Geisler sent raids from Crete to strike the Allies behind the lines and hit the RAF depot at Alexandra but they began to suffer from enemy fighters pushing them to night attacks. They were further hampered by the Allies stripping down Spitfires to be able to reach high altitude and intercept the Junkers 86 recon aircraft thus leaving them blind of potential targets and assess damage. Frohlich had also sent a solitary bomber to strike the French held fort Lamy on Lake Chad on a round trip of 2500km but that was about it for the Medium bombers role. The consideration that a medium bomber raid on British targets in Egypt would have led to their destruction at the hands of the larger RAF force in Egypt and the greater discipline of the RAF pilots to target bombers over fighters, unlike the Jagdflieger. 

 The Fighter pilots were a breed unto themselves. Hans-Joachim Marseille, the star of Africa shot down 17 fighters on the same day and had a top score of 158 and rivalled a fellow pilot Horst Reuter's feat of shooting down 6 Hurricanes in a single day TWICE. The famous Bomber pilot Werner Baumbach claimed that fighter pilots lacked the discipline and stoic attitude of the Kampfflieger and in Africa he is proven correct as the fighter pilots became caught up in scoring as many kills as possible to try and get bigger and bigger scores but they saw more challenge in taking down fighters which although important was not what was needed as many Afrikakorps soldiers found to their discomfort as the defence lines and Rommel's devil's gardens were bombed to oblivion. These aces began to suffer losses as the RAF improved the quality of its fighters and the 109 Fs were suddenly facing Spitfire Mark Vs and P-40s instead of the rugged and dependable Hurricanes. Though despite their losses Unteroffizier Bernd Schneider shot down a Bristol Bombay transport carrying the 8th Armies new C-in-C Lt Gen W. H. E. Gott and he was killed on impact meaning that another C-in-C a little known General called Montgomery was called up.

The third limb was the Stukageschwadern who worked so hard to help Rommel advance. They were expertly handled by Waldau who, with Kesselring's intervention, managed to tame Rommel into letting him know what was going on in advance rather which paid massive dividends in the taking of Torbruk which earned Waldau the Knights Cross and Rommel his baton. However the bombs were near useless in the desert. Unless there was a direct hit on a tank or building they were next to useless. Half of all bomb damage and casualties are caused by flying shrapnel and glass but in the desert the explosions only throw up sand which doesn't do any damage when it hits other vehicles or even soldiers.

Waldau's 300 aircraft were beset by enemy bombing attacks, SAS strikes, bad weather that turned the dust strips into swamps, supply issues that plagued the whole African adventure, huge lines of communication and with the massive advances by Rommel a head on the lines that would outrace all the important logistical sections like Fuel, signals, repair miles in the rear with no time to catch up. The situation was so dire that a glider formation was brought in to fly these necessary logistical organisations up to the front without wasting fuel.

Kesselring promised Rommel an airlift of supplies and the Feldmarschall provided. It took a bit of time as the Luftwaffe didn't have the number of transports available in the Mediterranean theatre and they had to be disengaged from the Eastern front which obviously takes time. Oberst Robert Starke with some six Gruppen of aircraft and gliders from LLG 1 were the first to arrive and begin operations. The airlift flew a total of 4425 sorties across Mittlemeer from Greece and Crete to Bengazhi flying in pulks of 25. There were extreme shortages of crews due to sickness and aircraft even though Starke took ambulances and signal aircraft and even a modified refrigeration plane to plug the gaps. These shortages meant that crews would often have to fly the trip twice a day!

The trip was perilous for the formations of Junkers 52 transports and their Messerschmitt 110 escorts. Not only were their take off times similarly heralded with an Ultra message, which of course were duly read by the RAF, they also could only fly on good weather. On the 12th May 1942 15 Ju52s were intercepted by Kittyhawks and Beaufighters, by the end of the battle 8 transports were lost and a further one damaged - 175 soldiers went down with them but only 39 were rescued.
That day one of those true acts of heroism that War brings out occurred when father of six Hauptman Kroseberg of the Search and rescue flew over the survivors and dropped his own life jacket to the men in the sea - only to go MIA before he could return.

However the crews managed to deliver 28,200 men and 4400 tonnes of supplies as well as taking back the wounded, which numbered over 10,000 for June 42, mail, Von Waldau's burnt out aero engines so that they could be repaired and retuned later. In the early stages of Thesius they carried 1000 men, 25 tonnes of material and 300 tonnes of aviation fuel- Daily!
The air fleet transferred to Brindisi in Italy at the end of a railway hub operating to Torbruk but the number of aircraft dropped to 161 aircraft by August, 50% were operational. Allied fighters were increasing in number and pressurising the transports and their escorting ME 110s from 7 and 9/ ZG 26 and 70 52s were lost in a six week period! These craft would be vitally missed that winter with the airlift to Stalingrad! Further aircraft were drafted in including Wiking flying boats and Messerschmitt gigant 323 and 321 transports and even the transport schools were mobilised to assist coming up to half the Luftwaffe's transport fleet even Bomber groups were conscripted. The sad fact was as Rommel fell back the Crete based aircaft under Wild's Lufttransportfuhrer I could no longer reach the German front lines and after Torbruk fell only the line from Italy to Bengazi remained and that was under constant pressure from a resurgent Malta. Even sadder still, and infuriating for Kesselring, Rommel blew up all the ammunition and fuel he had demanded that Kesselring's men had fought so hard to get to him as he withdrew from El Alamein.

By November '42 they had flown the Herculean feat of flying 42,000 men, 15,000 tonnes of supplies pulled 9000 wounded and sick out of the front.

It can not be said that the airmen and machines of FlFu Afrika and of Luftflotte 2 operating in the Mediterranean had not tried their utmost or not fought valiantly. Ultimately they were undone by overall strategy and logistics though.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Bombing the wrong targets Part III; Malta and Herkules

The crux of the whole campaign is Malta. All supplies from Italy to Tripoli or Benghazi have to pass within range of the island. Even the supplies from Crete that came by ship would encounter the Submarines and long range aircraft that would fly round trips between Alexandria and Malta.

Royal Opera House Valletta after an air raid 
Kesselring knew this on arrival, Admiral Raeder knew this post Sealion, the Italian high command were aware of it but were less than enthused by the prospect of a landing. However the Regio aeronautica did commence air raids on the small island catching the small British garrison and defence force off balance. Most of the defences had yet to be finished and the amount of aircraft available had been severely neglected, mainly because the RAF fighter production in 1940 had been purely for fighter command. Faith, Hope and Charity were considered to be the only three aircraft on the island, three Gloucester Sea Gladiators which were more than obsolete compared to the RAF and Luftwaffe standards but compared to the Fiat Falco bi-planes and the Italian twin bombers they were on a rough par. However in truth there were 56 aircraft (20 fighters) on the island at the beginning of 1941 which was when Geisler's units arrived in Sicilly with II/KG 26, 2./KG 4 with the escorting Me 110 fighter units 4 and III/ZG 26 and he also managed to borrow Von Richtohofen's Stabe StG 3 and Lehrgruppe 1 each with two Gruppen

Success was quick as Stuka dive bombers struck convoy MS.6 and between the Stukas and a He 111 pathfinder they sank HMS Southampton and severely damaged the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious who was pursued by Geisler's men who flew 200 sorties (losing 8) to try and sink her but she managed to get to Alexandria.
The first raids against Malta were carried out by Junker 88 bombers flying in small formations over the island with 110 escorts and then came Heinkel He 111 night bombers. The 110s were still inadequate as escorts and their charges were often damaged or shot down as their 110s ungainly struggled in the skies and the Italian fighters just didn't cope well at all. The situation was further exasperated when one of the Zestorergruppe was transferred to North Africa.

General der Flieger Geisler
Then Oberstleutnant Joachim Muncheberg arrived with 12 Messerschmitt 109 Es. They immediately began cutting through the Hurricanes and Muncheberg shot down two of four hurricanes in one go, on 26th February he shot down Flying officer Taylor Malta's resident ace. Aerial supremacy was gained and the surviving Wellington bombers were forced to withdraw and the fighter force was cut down to 24 fighters.
Stukas were used night and day, the 109s supplemented by a gruppe from JG 27 were used for free sweeps and Jabo raids but Geisler lacked the firepower to completely subjugate the whole island and after a total of 2741 sorties between January-May they only lost 44 aircraft, 62 enemy planes shot down (42 by Munchenberg's squadron and 19 by the Oberstleutnant). The threat to Greece and the Balkan situation led to the Luftwaffe force being withdrawn and the Italian airforce being put back in charge of subduing Malta and escorting convoys.

OKW agreed to Il Duce that Italy should rule their own airspace and Geisler was moved to Crete to carry out operations against the British fleet and bomb Alexandria from there. However without the quality German aircraft the RAF were quick to rearm their forces with 50 Hurricanes arriving in Mid May and a fleet of Swordfish.
Geisler's forces did not damage the royal navy but they did contain them to port and in a daring raid 100 RAF aircraft were destroyed in Abu Sueir depot on 10/11 July. However Geisler's forces were not really meant or trained for anti shipping attacks and it wasn't until  Kommando Petersen the anti shipping experts from the Atlantic and North sea were called in as were a small group of Focke Wulf Condors.

However it soon became apparent that the Italians had lost the initiative over Malta as RAF sorties grew more and more bold and voices in OKW and ObDl were vying to have Geisler and his forces returned but to do so would have been a blot on Italian honour so in the end Geisler was moved with a reduced force of 20 aircraft to police the Naples to Tripoli sea lanes. This was not ideal though and soon he was forced to use Stukas against Submarines - something they were truly unsuited for.

With the arrival of Kesselring and a lot of his Luftflotte 2 formations from Russia to set up C-in-C south at the end of 1942 a second phase in the attacks on Malta restarted. This time there was a plan for invasion. Whilst a sustained aerial bombardment by the larger formations Italian paratroop and Von Ramcke's German paratrooper force were training for an assualt codenamed Herkules. Student, the officer behind the victory on Crete had planned it with Ramcke. According to Kesselring's memoirs the draft plan was three fold.

1. Airbourne troops would take the southern heights before assualting and capturing the airfields south of Valetta after the Luftwaffe carried out a strike on the airfields.

2. Using sycronised bombing raids and in conjunction with the paratroops, Naval landings would take place south of Valetta and take the strong points and costal batteries before moving on to strike the harbour.

3. Diversionary attacks on the bay of Marsa Scirocco would draw the Allied garrison away from Valetta.

Kesselring's forces were to strike the airfields, AA batteries and naval yards in preparation for the invasion. For the second time his forces would be used in a strategic context but the difference in the attacks on Malta was that the island was a lot smaller than England and the 109s could operate with much more fuel.
German crews would often fly three sorties a day over the island (one of which against airfields). Fighters would precede the bombers with a strafing or jabo run then the bombs would fall decimating the airfields. Aerial superiority was quickly gained with Hurricane figures dropping to 20 serviceable out of 80 and 97% of all raids were taking part in daylight.
USS Wasp landed 46 Spitfires but they were quickly bounced and their airfields bombed leaving ony 27 by the next day.
The German forces were not immune however and Junker 88s suffered from heavy losses at first as they were diving individually on targets giving gunners time to take them one at a time. Soon formations would move to striking as a Squadron.

Despite these heavy raids and the reduction of Takali airfield to that of a World War One battlefield the battle was called off. Between March and April the Luftwaffe flew 11819 sorties and dropped 6557 tonnes of bombs (3150 on Valletta).

The Luftwaffe was called off. Malta was beaten and supplies were reaching Rommel in Africa in larger numbers. The Italian high command knew their troops would not be ready until August to take the island and OKW still smarting from the massacres on Crete were unwilling to throw their troops into another blood bath. The choice between Herkules and Thesius had to be made.
Rommel with his usual flair and promises of victory against the disorganised British army, who were in full retreat to their defencive line at an unknown railway halt called El Alamein. Rommel had taken vast swathes of supplies from the British at Torbruk and against all the advice from Kesselring and von Waldau he pressed for the attack. Believing that the British would soon be defeated, concern to avoid a similar blood bath on Malta as he had seen in Crete and believing fully in his Paladin Hitler shelved Herkules. Thesius went forward with results far from the German plan but I shall come to this shortly. 

As for Malta... With Herkules postponed indefinitely and Rommel charging deeper into Egypt the plan was forgotten. Loerzer, the fleigerkorps commander in Sicily had his forces scattered to the winds and reassigned. Some of them were reassigned to a blockade of Malta operating from Crete but it proved fruitless as Allied air power grew.

The Luftwaffe did manage to inflict damage upon the British ships. LG 1 interceted three convoys and sank four ships coming to 28970 GRT and three out of the four Destroyer escorts. The British response was to launch operations Harpoon and Vigorous to relieve the island and Commando raids on the bombers based at Heraklion. Though with Stuka assistance they managed to sink another two ships (12915 grt) and two more destroyers.
When the British decided to try another tacck by bringing a convoy (operation pedestal 11th August) from Gibraltar rather than Alexandria the Germans moved LG 1 to Sicily to engage it. Once a radar equipped Ju 88 found it 75 German aircraft attacked over 4 days costing the Luftwaffe 16 aircraft. They did however sink five ships totalling 52416 grt but laden with food and fuel the convoy still arrived.

One final throw of the dice was made in October 1942 and lasted all of three days. Kesselring could only manage 150 aircraft with a 50% serviceability rate and the RAF had grown in number and had a new commander, his old nemesis Keith Park formerly of 11 Group! The Germans suffered a 7.5% loss rate over the three days and even the much overrated 109Gs failed to help the situation and the RAF began using Operation Window to confuse the Freya radars on Sicily stopping the proper fighter response.
The Luftwaffe lost a total of 357 planes in two years, the Italians 175 and the island remained untaken, its operations unhindered much to the detriment of Rommel's campaign.