Tag Archives: Air raids

80th Anniversary of the first flight of the Spitfire

The first flight of the prototype Spitfire took place on 5 March 1936 from Southampton Airport. It was designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works in Woolston, as a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft and was to become the most iconic aircraft of the Second World War.

Spitfires lined up on the fields at Tully Hall in Imphal, 15 December 1944 [MB2/N12]

Spitfires lined up on the fields at Tully Hall in Imphal, 15 December 1944 [MB2/N12]

R.J. Mitchell was born on 20 May 1895 in Butt Lane, near Stoke-on-Trent. He attended Hanley High School where he first became interested in aviation and spent much of his free time designing and building model aeroplanes. He left school at the age of 16 and began an apprenticeship with Kerr Stuart & Co., a locomotive engineering works at Stoke, where he trained in the engine workshop. Following his apprenticeship he progressed to the drawing office at the firm, during which time he attended evening classes in engineering and mathematics.

In 1917, at the age of 22, he joined the Supermarine Aviation Works where he acted as personal assistant to Hubert Scott Paine, the owner of the company. He advanced quickly and within three years of joining the company was made chief designer and engineer. During his time at Supermarine he designed and developed a range of aircraft. As the company specialised in flying-boat manufacture, these included racing seaplanes such as the record-breaking Supermarine S.6. However, his greatest legacy was to be the legendary Supermarine Spitfire.

The aircraft’s ground-breaking design and superior specifications gave the British a distinct advantage against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. The design also meant that the plane could be upgraded with new engines and armaments as the war progressed. As a result, the Spitfire came to hold a special place in the hearts of a generation living through uncertain times and became synonymous with British determination and resistance during the war. However, Mitchell did not live to see the success of the Spitfire. He died from rectal cancer in 1937, at the age of 42, and was buried four days later at South Stoneham Cemetery.

Spitfire fighter escort photographed from “Sister Ann” flying through Monsoon weather to Imphal, 9/10 September 1944 [MB2/N12]

Spitfire fighter escort photographed from “Sister Ann” flying through Monsoon weather to Imphal, 9/10 September 1944 [MB2/N12]

During the Blitz, the Southampton docks and the Supermarine works were key targets for air raids and the main reason why the city became such a major focus of attack. The Supermarine works at Woolston and Itchen were bombed in raids on 24 and 26 September 1940. Following the bombing, manufacturing was dispersed to sites across the South of England, while management operated out of the Polygon Hotel in Southampton and the design department occupied huts at the University. Soon after, the headquarters was moved to Hursley Park, near Winchester, where it remained into the post-war period.

While the Spitfire remains the iconic British fighter of the Second World War, it has taken a long time for its inventor to be properly honoured. Memorials commemorating Southampton’s links with Mitchell can be found both across the city and at the University. Examples of the University’s commemoration of Mitchell include the Spitfire Mitchell Memorial Scholarship [MS 1/3/476/213], awarded for research in the field of aeronautics, and the R.J.Mitchell Wind Tunnel.

UAV in the R.J. Mitchell wind tunnel

UAV in the R.J. Mitchell wind tunnel

The R.J. Mitchell Wind Tunnel, originally the Farnborough No. 2 tunnel, was built and used at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in the 1920s and donated to the University in the 1980s. Over the years the wind tunnel has been used extensively by industries including motorsport, automotive, aerospace, marine, maritime and performance sport. Today the tunnel serves many purposes including commercial testing, research and teaching.

The Annual R.J. Mitchell Memorial Lecture Series was established by the Southampton Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1954. A special extension of the series came in the form of the 40th Anniversary Mitchell Memorial Symposium which was held at the University on Saturday 6 March 1976. Along with papers delivered by speakers who actually participated in the Spitfire story, the event included a Spitfire flying display at the College of Air Training, Hamble.

For those in the Southampton and Solent area for the 80th anniversary, the Solent Sky Museum showcases the international importance of aviation history in the region. It houses over 20 airframes on display from the golden age of aviation, including the Spitfire and the Supermarine S.6. The museum will be open on 5 March for special anniversary celebrations. Subject to weather and air traffic, the museum has also arranged for two Spitfires to perform a flypast over Mayflower Park in Southampton to mark the occasion. For more information see: http://www.solentskymuseum.org/blog/read_144342/special-event-at-solent-sky.html

Further information on R.J. Mitchell can be found at: http://www.rjmitchell-spitfire.co.uk/

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 40 (1 – 7 December 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home. The quotes tie in with the exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’, currently on display at the Special Collections Gallery.

2 December 1851 The cavalry arrive in South Africa
The regiment that was to become the 12th Lancers was originally raised in 1715. It served with distinguish in various conflicts. Yet while the appearance of cavalry made an impression in South Africa in the 1850s, the Lancers weaponry did not prove the most suitable for the warfare being undertaken.

“The 12th Lancers who have lately arrived create a great impression amongst the natives who never saw a Lance before in their lives, it is however a weapon perfectly useless against the Kafirs in this warfare…”

MS 63 A904/3/10 Captain Edward Wellesley to his brother Richard, 2 December 1851

2 December 1939 Blackout blinds and Russian aggression

“Willie came to do the kitchen blackout, the W.C. ditto, & the bedroom ditto – all very neat and expert. Lal & he to lunch, & we left Willie at it when I went off to service. S.I.H. read, I preached on, “Oh, that I knew” – there were 31 there, including the Levers – Jack & Ray, back from a weekend from Guildford where they are evacuated. Erna at the service. Lal came back with us for a cosy evening. Our supper in the kitchen, the first fully illuminated since the war began. The whole world aghast at the Russian aggression on the Finns,–: even the Germans (when there’s a different aggressor) are uncomfortable about it.”

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 2 December 1939

3 December 1940 Evacuating students from the University College of Southampton

A special meeting of the Senate held on 3 December 1940:

“Senate considered the situation which had been created by the intensive raids on Southampton over the weekend, particularly in relation to the halls of residence. Although none of the halls had been damaged, apart from the loss of windows at South Stoneham House, Senate were of the opinion that they were not justified in keeping the students in residence at this time in view of the following considerations:

1. The inadequacy of the air raid shelters

2. Possible difficulties in obtaining food

3. The interference with the public service, e.g. electric light, gas and water

4. The impossibility of doing useful study in these conditions

It was agreed that it was impossible to obtain alternative accommodation at short notice and that the Chairman of Council stressed the point that the College would be rendering signal services to the community by placing the facilities of the Halls at the disposal of the local authorities in the vacation for housing evacuees or for some other useful purpose […]

Senate discussed the question as to what action should be taken in the event of the intensive raids on Southampton continuing and conditions becoming worse. The general opinion was that the previous decision of the Emergency Committee to evacuate to Nottingham was not so desirable in the light of recent events and it was agreed that a recommendation be sent to the Emergency Committee to consider the possibility of securing several large houses in the country within easy distance of Southampton, and that these houses be used in the first instance as temporary halls of residence. If the College was damaged and it became impossible to carry on instruction in the existing buildings it would then be feasible to adapt the houses acquired for residential purposes as places of instruction also.”

MS 1 MBK2/1/6 Senate minutes 1937-45, pp. 90-1

4 December 1917 Cease fire agreements made in the run up to Soviet Russia and Central Powers armistice
As a result of the Russian economy being on the brink of collapsing and Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication, Russia was forced to withdraw itself from the war. Following the Bolsheviks accession to power in Russia in November 1917, Vladimir Lenin approached the Central Powers to arrange an armistice. The first cease fire agreement in the run up to the armistice was made on 4 December 1917 between the Russians and the Germans on the Eastern Front. The second cease fire agreement included all Central Powers and was signed on 5 December 1917. The final armistice was signed on 15 December 1917, which signified Russia’s intention to leave the war permanently and begin peace negotiations.

“I so wonder if you have been in all this fearful fighting when the Germans are trying to regain the ground they have lost. One feels if it weren’t for Russia having given in, that they could never have done this vast counter attacking.”

MS 132 AJ 322 2/3 Letter from Sybil Henriques to Basil Henriques, 4 December 1917

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 38 (17 – 23 November 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home. The quotes tie in with the exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’, currently on display at the Special Collections Gallery.

17 November 1941 Air raids in Southampton

“A meeting of the Council was held on 17 November 1941 […] Halls and Refectory Committee […] That a vote of deep appreciation and gratitude be sent to the Warden and Vice-Warden of Highfield Hall for their splendid example and conduct in the face of great difficulties and dangers in the air raids which had taken place in the immediate vicinity.”

MS 1/MBK1/8 Council minute book: University College of Southampton 1938-51, p.54

18 November 1939 Germany’s “war aim”

“There’s great unrest in Bohemia and Moravia – martial law in Prague etc. Dr. Ley, the German Labour Leader says Germany’s war aim is the destruction of Britain! Oh yeah!”

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 18 November 1939

19 November 1809 Battle of Ocaña

The Battle of Ocaña was fought on 19 November 1809 between French forces under Marshal Soult and King Joseph Bonaparte and Spanish forces under General Juan Carlos de Aréizaga. Tensions with the British meant that no assistance was given by Wellington’s forces. As a result, the Spanish army suffering its greatest defeat of the Peninsular War, leaving southern Spain free to further French incursion.

“I acknowledge that I have never expected any other result from the march of General Areyzaga and I am not at all surprised at what has happened. The folly will appear in a still stronger light if after all that has occurred the French should be unable to penetrate into Andalusia, which I really believe will be the case, if General Areyzaga should be able to collect any proportion of his scattered forces.”

MS 61 WP1/286/43 Copy of a letter from Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley, first Viscount Wellington, to Lieutenant Colonel Roche, 26 November 1809

21 November 1917 Battle of Cambrai

Taking place from 20 November to 7 December 1917, the Battle of Cambrai reflected what could be achieved with new artillery and infantry methods. As a result of Cambrai, France being a vital location for breaking through the German Hindenburg Line, Brigadier Hugh Elles of the Tank Corps suggested using a large number of tanks for the British campaign. In addition, a secret transfer of artillery reinforcements was suggested by Henry Hugh Tudor, Commander of the 9th (Scottish) infantry division artillery, in order to achieve a surprise offensive upon the Germans. Unfortunately the Germans received adequate intelligence to be on moderate alert, and were aware of the use of tanks. Despite the success of the Mark IV at the start of the Cambrai campaign, they became mostly ineffective after the first day, with up to 179 tanks being lost at the end of the battle. However, the use of strategic artillery and infantry techniques such as new sound ranging and silent registration of guns led to victory for Britain.

“There is such thrilling news in tonight’s paper about us pushing through the Hindenburg line that I just feel I must if down straight away write to you – praying so now that if you have been in it, that you are safe.”

MS 132 AJ 322 2/1 Letter from Sybil Henriques to Basil Henriques, 21 November 1917

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 34 (20 – 26 October 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home. The quotes tie in with the exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’, currently on display at the Special Collections Gallery.

21 October 1812 End of the Siege of Burgos
After the victory at Salamanca on 22 July 1812, and the liberation of Madrid on 12 August, Wellington made the decision to move against French forces in Northern Spain, leading to an attempted to capture the castle of Burgos. However, the French garrison managed to repulse every attempt by the Allies to seize the fortress. In the meantime, large French relief armies were moving from both the northeast and southeast. On 21 October, Wellington was forced to raise the siege and retreat to Cuidad Rodrigo, losing 5,000 men to hunger or exposure in the severe winter conditions.

“I am sorry to say that I am afraid that I shall be obliged to give up our position here, in consequence of the intelligence which I have received from General Hill of the movements of the enemy in the south ; and unless I should receive a contradiction of the intelligence, I propose to march this night.”

MS 61 WP1/351 Copy of a letter from General Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, Riobena, to Brigadier General Denis Pack, 21 October 1812

21 October 1851 The difficulties of operations in the Kroome valley

“Major General Somerset has had some hard fighting in the Kroome range where Macomo a cunning and influential Chief of the Gaikas is located. There had been hard fighting for two days and Somerset would go on until he effectively clears this difficult country from all the enemy who infests it…. If Somerset completely effects this duty it may have more influence on the termination of the war…”

MS 63 A904/3 Letter from Captain Edward Wellesley to his brother, Richard, 21 October 1851

21 October 1917 The October Revolution
As a result of military defeat and starvation, as well as internal disagreements within the provisional government, the public of Russia were unhappy with the state of their country. Citizens of Russia became irritated by Russia’s continued involvement in World War One, which led to the rise of the national debt and living costs. Consequently, strikes by Moscow and Petrograd workers occurred and the provisional government was overthrown. Power was handed to the local Soviets dominated by the majority faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.

“All the same, one gets most awfully fed up – my dear, two bombs have just stopped 50 yards away or less! Yes very fed up, (more so than when I started this sentence) with the war. The Russian news is disgusting, and most serious. However, perhaps by the time this reaches you there may be something better to read in the papers.”

MS 132 AJ 322 2/3 Letter from Basil Henriques to Sybil Henriques, 21 October 1917

21 October 1940 Life in the East End during the Blitz

“Let me try and describe an incident on the night of 21 October 1940, at Tonybee Hall. I lived in the immediate vicinity of Tonybee Hall and thanks to Dr. Jimmy Mallon, the work done there during the Blitz was incalculable. A number of people who had special responsibilities there, slept in a room, all on mattresses on the floor, except for one lady over 80, who had a camp bed. On this night, Winston Churchill was due to speak, and so we assembled to hear him. […] The final words were completely drowned by the noise of a nearby plane and in seconds a bomb had exploded. The ceiling of our room partly collapsed, all the glass was broken; mortar and shrapnel hit us all and there was no electricity. Covered with debris, cut by glass, bruised by falling masonry, our hair matted with dirt, we stood silent for a minute. The somebody called: “I’m alright; who is hurt?” The silence was broken and nobody in that room was seriously hurt. But curiously, as we waited, we all kissed each other – a strange occurrence for a group of highly undemonstrative people, and, as always, we thanked God and prayed to Him.”

MS 116/82 AJ 221 Typescript of “Life in Stepney during World War II, 1939-45” by Edith Ramsey

A news release for the current exhibition can be viewed at:

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 31 (29 September – 5 October 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

29 September 1918 British and Arab troops conquer Damascus
Commanded by Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, the British-led Egyptian expeditionary force broke through the Ottoman line at the Battle of Megiddo. This led to them being able to block the Turkish retreat. Damascus was occupied on 1 October, was followed by Homs on 16 October and Aleppo on 25 October. This eventually led to the surrender of Turkey on 30 October 1918.

The reference to Turkey in the quote below as “Johnny Turk” is an example of Digger slang, first used by the Australian armed forces during the First World War.

“The past week has passed away very quietly with nothing important happening except the great offensive, which has begun on our front. We have given Johnny Turk a wonderful surprise and it is really marvellous how we have taken such big hills with such a small amount of casualties.”

MS 124 AJ 15/3 Letter from Private Paul Epstein to parents, Aby and Frieda, 29 September 1918

3 October 1940 Evacuated students from University College London come to Southampton
The Principal reported that he has been asked by the provost of University College, London, to accommodate a number of his students who had been compelled to evacuate from London, and that he had once agreed to offer them hospitality. There were approximately thirty-four of these students, mostly in the Faculty of Arts, who had accepted the offer and had now joined the College.

Resolved: “That the action of the Principal be confirmed, and that a cordial welcome be extended to these London students”

MS 1/MBK/2/1/6 University College Southampton Senate minute book 1937-45, p.87

5 October 1813 The Siege of Pamplona continues
Following Wellington’s decisive victory at the Battle of Vitoria, on 21 June 1813, the French army in northern Spain withdrew over the Pyrenees. As Wellington’s forces laid siege to the city of San Sebastián, a Spanish army, under Captain General Enrique O’Donnell, laid siege to a French garrison at the fortified city of Pamplona. While the Siege of San Sebastián reached a successful conclusion in early September the garrison at Pamplona held out. However, having eaten all the dogs and rats they could find in the city the French troops were eventually reduced to starvation and surrendered to the Spanish on 31 October.

“From what we can make out of an intercepted letter in cipher from the Governor of Pamplona I judge that he can hold out till the 20th or the 25th and till that time we certainly cannot move our right. But the heights on the right of the Bidasoa command such a view of us that we must have them and the sooner we get them the better.”

MS 61 WP1/377 Copy of a letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, to Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Graham, 5 October 1813

3 October 1851 Post from home
For many of those serving on military campaigns communication with their loved ones and family back home was something they clung to and which sustained them, as the following extract from Captain Wellesley indicates.

“I received your letter of the 25th and all the newspapers and the mail from the Retribution… The people from the Retribution have not yet arrived as the bar at the Buffalo mouth has been impracticable for landing so Reeve with your parcel has not yet made an appearance. How lazy they are in England not to write even one line….”

MS 63 A904/3 Letter from Captain Edward Wellesley, King William’s Town, to his wife Annot, 3 October 1851

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 26 (25 – 31 August 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

25 August 1854 Fever devastates allied army
The loss of life during the Crimean war was considerable, but many of those who died did so as a result of disease. Even before the first significant battle of the war, in September 1854, the allied forces found their numbers depleted by a wave of fever and cholera.

“The troops have suffered much from fever and cholera and the French army most dreadfully, we have lost many officers and soldiers and the fleet has also suffered materially… There is no doubt this is the most unhealthy place at this season of the year, in fact the Russians lost half their army when they besieged the town in 1828 and we are fortunate in escaping as we have…”

MS 63 A904/4/34 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his sister-in-law Mary, 25 August 1854

26 August 1915 An act of outstanding bravery
During the second Battle of Ypres, 25 year old Acting Corporal Issy Smith of the First Battalion of the Manchester Regiment rescued injured soldiers in the face of unrelenting fire. As a result of putting the safety and welfare of his fellow comrades before his own, Issy Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour a soldier can receive.

“My dear Sir, I am very gratified to learn that you have so bravely distinguished yourself on the field of battle, as to gain the VC the highest honour a soldier can hope for. Such a distinction must be a source of lasting pride to you, your family circle and your friends. Permit me, as the Spiritual Head of the Jewish Communities in the British Empire, to congratulate you most heartily on the success which has attended the noble services you have rendered to your King and Country.”

MS 175 141/2 Letter from Chief Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz to Acting Corporal, Issy Smith, 26 August 1915

31 August 1813 Storming of San Sebastián
After the decisive victory at the Battle of Vitoria on 21 June 1813, Wellington’s forces moved towards the western Pyrenees and lay siege to the fortress of San Sebastián. A full scale assault was attempted under Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Graham on 25 July, but the fortress proved a difficult target and the assault was beaten off.

After heavy bombardment created two breaches in the walls, a second assault was attempted on the 31 August. However, the main breach, located near the southeast corner of the fortress, was defended by heavy fire. Waves of British soldiers were cut down until Graham ordered the artillery to fire over the heads of the assailants, clearing the ramparts. After a shell hit a quantity of powder, the storming party took advantage of the devastation and confusion to force its way into the town.

“…the whole of the numerous fire barrels, live shells, hand grenades, and other combustibles, which the garrison had arranged along the ramparts for the close defence of their traverses and interior works, caught fire, and igniting in succession caused a number of explosions along the whole extent of the high curtain, killing and wounding many of the defenders, and throwing the others into the greatest confusion.

The assailants took immediate advantage of this explosion to renew their efforts, and a vigorous rush rendered them masters of the first traverse. The garrison, however, returned to the charges, when a fierce conflict ensued; but the assailants increasing in numbers on the high curtain soon drove them back. The garrison then abandoned the ravelin and left branch of the hornwork and withdrew […] the remainder of the assaulting force entered in rapid succession at one or other point, and vigorously followed up their success, under a most awful storm of thunder, lightning, and rain.”

Journals of sieges carried on by the army under the Duke of Wellington, in Spain, between the years 1811 and 1814 : with notes – Colonel John Thomas Jones (Ward Coll. 126 vol.2)

31 August 1939 The evacuation of children from London
In the first few days of September 1939 over three million people were evacuated from Britain’s cities and towns. The majority of them were schoolchildren. The relocation order was given at 11.07am on 31 August 1939, but in the days prior to its issue schools had been rehearsing the evacuation procedures.

“The news today is ominous – ½ million children to be evacuated from London tomorrow.’’

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 31 August 1939

Reflections on war and warfare: week 18 (30 June – 6 July 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

1 July 1944 Dealing with the threat of bombing
The effects on the civilian population of the threat of bombing raids on London, bombs from June 1944 had taken the form of “Doodlebugs”, is recorded in the journal of Samuel Rich:

“The frequent procession to the shelter on the approach of each doodle bug – the suspense at the cutting out of the engine and the explosion – the relief on hearing what must mean death to somebody – the emergence – to be repeated n+1 times.”

MS 168 AJ217/40 Journal of Samuel Rich, 1 July 1944

2 July 1813 The “scum of the earth”
At the Battle of Vitoria, on 21 June 1813, Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, broke the French army of King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan near Vitoria in Spain. However, in the aftermath of the battle, his troops broke their ranks to loot the abandoned French wagons. While Wellington often praised the gallantry of his troops he was well aware that the pressures of warfare all too often lead to such bouts of pillaging. This particular incident led him to write his now famous dispatch to Earl Bathurst, referring to his men as the “scum of the earth”.

“It is quite impossible for me or any other man to command a British army under the existing system. We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers, and of late years we have been doing every thing in our power both by law and by publications to relax the discipline by which alone such men can be kept in order. The officers of the lower ranks will not perform the duty required from them in order to keep their soldiers in order and it is next to impossible to punish any officer for neglects of this description. As to the noncommissioned officers as I have repeatedly stated, they are as bad as the men; and too near them in point of pay and situation by the regulations of late years to expect them to do anything to keep the men in order.

It is really a disgrace to have any thing to say to such men as some of our soldiers are.”

WP1/373/6 Letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, Huarte, to Henry Bathurst, third Earl Bathurst, Secretary for War and the Colonies, 2 July 1813

1-4 July 1916 A chaplain in the war
As the Anglo-French operations in the Battle of the Somme commenced on 1 July, extracts from the diary of Revd Michael Adler, senior Jewish chaplain to the British Expeditionary Force, recorded some of the human cost of this military action.

Sat 1 July: “Battle begun.”
Mon 3 July: “ Corbie La Neuville to be near the Somme fighting.”
Tue 4 July: “Funeral of Pte L.Levi… 2nd Lieut Seline seriously wounded.”

MS 125 AJ 16/2 Diary of Revd Michael Adler, 1-4 July 1916

3-4 July 1916 Battle of Albert
Taking place in Somme (Picardy, France), the Battle of Albert encompassed the beginnings of the Anglo-French operations in the Battle of the Somme. Lasting from 1-13 July 1916, it began with an attack made by the Anglo-French Infantry on the south bank from Foucaucourt to the Somme, and from the Somme north to Gommecourt. Despite the Infantry achieving a significant victory on the German Second Army, the British attack from Albert-Bapaume road to Gommecourt resulted in approximately 60,000 British casualties.

“All last week there was a heavy bombardment of the German line, getting more and more violent. In fact it was terrible. But the weather was awful and the attack had to be put off for Thursday. The whole Battalion have been working like ants for days past, all night and every night.”

MS 336 A2097/7/1 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his fiancée and, subsequent wife Dorothy, 3-4 July 1916

Reflections on war and warfare: week 17 (23 – 29 June 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

24 June 1918 Austria suffer defeat in the Second Battle of the Piave River, Italy
The Battle of the Piave River was the last major attack by the Austro-Hungarian army in Italy in World War One. As a result of Russia withdrawing itself from the war, Germany turned to Austria-Hungry to contribute resources to defeating Italy. Despite German-aided operations being a success at Caporetto in 1917, the troops of Austria-Hungary were in a different condition in 1918. As well as supplies being low, so was morale. Nevertheless, commanders of the Austria-Hungary force favoured an attack. As General Diaz had learned of the exact timing of the Austrian attack, the Italians were well prepared: increasing their numbers along the Piave and receiving shipments of arms from Allied munitions factories. Italy achieved a great victory whilst Austria’s troops suffered 60,000 deaths and 90,000 wounded.

“The Austrian news is most thrilling, and may have tremendously far reaching effects.”

MS 132 AJ 322 1/4 Letter from Basil Henriques to his mother, 24 June 1918

25 June 1944 Doodlebugs
Towards the end of the Second World War in June 1944 the Germans started to send V1 Flying bombs, often referred to as ‘Doodlebugs’, to bomb London. These were essentially a bomb with wings, like an aeroplane without a pilot. They flew until they ran out of fuel and then either dropped instantly or glided towards the ground where they would explode upon impact. Thousands were launched against London and they generated huge levels of fear. If the engines could be heard, then most people stopped moving to allow some distance to develop, but if the engines cut out before they reached where an individual was standing, they could not be sure the doodlebug would not drop or glide towards to them.

“After lunch I was asleep in a deck chair in the garden, when I mistook the rumble of a train for a doodle bug in my sleep. For the first time in the war I was overtaken by stark terror; dodged behind the tree and made for the garden shelter – stumbling I grazed my knee. Amy, Connie and Bridget all ran to awaken me. A nasty experience. Like an insect dodging a giant foot!”

MS 168 AJ217/40 Journal of Samuel Rich, 25 June 1944

26 June 1815 Anticipating the cost of victory
Following the Battle of Waterloo, Wellington sent his official dispatch to England on 19 June 1815. It was published in the London Gazette on 22 June. A letter sent to Denis Pack from Brighton, on 26 June, expresses relief on hearing that he has not been killed. The correspondent also anticipates the official publication of the losses that have resulted from the campaign.

“I congratulate you most heartily upon what has passed; and upon the very distinguished share you have (as usual) had in the business. It has been a most glorious victory: indeed I think quite as much so as England has ever had to boast. Our loss seems to have been very severe; tho, even yet, we here do not know the exact extent of it. Of course we are most anxiously looking for returns, and are somewhat surprised they have not yet been published; and cannot help conjecturing their dismal length makes government tardy in their publication.

Whatever their extent may be, I should hope, and indeed I feel confident, that the results will be fully adequate, for I cannot help persuading myself that such a commencement of the campaign will occasion the speedy downfall of Napoleon. It is idle talk of how much I regret Picton, etc. These sort of great results can only be obtained at great expense.”

MS 296/1 Letter sent from Brighton to Major General Sir Denis Pack, congratulating him on the success of the Waterloo Campaign, 26 June 1815

Reflections on war and warfare: week 16 (16 – 22 June 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

18 June 1917 Attack of the Gothas leads to new preparations for air raids
On 13 June 1917, London received its first daylight raid by the German planes called Gothas, a biplane with a wingspan the length of two buses. Although the 18 Gothas were opposed by 90 British fighters, none were brought down, leading to the death of 162 people. This figure included 18 children killed as a result of a bomb landing directly on Upper North Street School in Chelsea. These devastation of the raids led to schools in the city tightening up their procedures during bombings, to strengthen the protection of their pupils.

“Talk at the Jewish Free School about new methods during air raids. They are now going to move some classes to the basement and others to unused rooms.”

MS 168 AJ 217/13 Journal of Samuel Rich, 18 June 1917

18 June 1854 Continued siege of Silistria
The Russian troops besieged the fortified town of Silistria from March1854. Despite various assaults, as Edward Wellesley notes below, the Turks managed to hold well into June. The Russian forces eventually withdrew on 24 June after orders for the attack were revoked.

“The Turks are holding out very well in Silistria and the Russians have not as yet made much impression.”

MS 63 A904/4/30 Letter from Edward Wellesley to his brother Richard, 18 June 1854

19 June 1815 Witnessing the cost of victory
The Battle of Waterloo resulted in a decisive allied victory. It not only ended the political and military career of Napoleon Bonaparte but also ended the series of wars which had raged across Europe, and other regions of the world, since the French Revolutionary wars of the 1790s. The decisive victory, however, came with a heavy loss of life on both sides. In the passage below, Wellington laments the cost of victory as he informs George Hamilton Gordon, fourth Earl of Aberdeen, of the death of his brother.

“I cannot express to you the regret and sorrow with which I look round me, and contemplate the loss which I have sustained, particularly in your brother. The glory resulting from such actions, so dearly bought, is no consolation to me; and I cannot suggest it as any to you and his friends; but I hope that it may be expected that this last one has been so decisive, as that no doubt remains, that our exertions and our individual losses will be rewarded by the early attainment of our just object. It is then that the glory of the actions in which our friends and relations have fallen will be some consolation for their loss.”

WP1/471/4 Copy of a letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, to George Hamilton Gordon, fourth Earl of Aberdeen, informing him of the death of his brother at the Battle of Waterloo, 19 June 1815

22 June 1941 German invasion of Russia
On the 22 June 1941, operation Barbarossa was put into practice and German troops invaded Russia in three parallel offensives: nineteen panzer divisions, 3,000 tanks, 2,500 aircraft, and 7,000 artillery pieces poured across a thousand-mile front.

This invasion occurred despite the fact that Germany and Russia had signed a pact in 1939, each promising the other a specific region of influence without interference from the other. Hitler ignored the warnings from his advisors that Germany could not sustain a war on two fronts. He believed that England was holding out against German assaults, refusing to surrender, because it had struck a secret deal with Russia.

“5:30 a.m. Hitler attacked Russia from the white sea to the Black Sea. Momentous and I really believe a good omen. Of course I listened to every news bulletin throughout this flaming day – 9, 1, 6 and again at 9 to Churchill – giving the government’s decision to help Russia! – If Hitler reckoned on the democracies leaving Russia to its folk because of communism, he now knows he was wrong – Damascus too is taken by the free French.”

MS 168 AJ217/37 Journal of Samuel Rich, 22 June 1941

Reflections on war and warfare: week 13 (26 May – 1 June 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

28 May 1940 Belgian surrender to Germany
The attack on Belgium and Holland began on 10 May 1940, with German air raids. These raids were followed by parachute drops and attacks by ground forces. The Germans also brought tank formations forward in preparation for their planned attack on France. The speed of the German advance and the brutality of the air raids gave them a huge psychological advantage; on 14 May the Dutch surrendered and Belgium followed on 28 May.

“I little thought as I had a bath at 5:30 a.m. that an hour before the whole Belgian army had been ordered to surrender by King Leopold.”

MS 168/36 Journal of Samuel Rich, 28 May 1940

28 May 1854 Attack on Silistria
A siege of Silistria, on the Danube, began at the end of April 1854. The Russians made their first assault on the 21 May, but were repulsed. At daybreak of the 27 May the Russians attacked again making three assaults, all of which were repulsed by the Turkish forces. A further assault on the 28 May resulted in Russian losses possibly as high as 2,000 men.

“The Russians we hear have made two attacks on Silistira which have been repulsed and the Turks it is also said have made a sortie and defeated a body of Russians.”

MS 63 A904/4/27 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife, Annot, 28 May 1854

30 May 1915 The effects of the shell crisis
In May British troops had launched another attack against Germans at Festubert, north of Neueve Chapelle. This involved a 60-hour artillery bombardment, resulting in the troops only managing to advance 1000 yards and suffering 16,000 casualties. Such long hours of artillery bombardment led to a shell crisis, leading to regiments having to fight on the frontline for longer with little support. This was a result of Britain relying heavily on heavy guns to control the battlefield, rather than viewing artillery as just a useful support for infantry attacks.

“On the 30th May, when most of us had already summoned virtually all our personal reserves of courage and endurance, we were told that our relief had been postponed! It seemed incredible that we were to stay on Front Line duty for another 24 hours! But we did our duty and did not relax, even though I was carrying on with a bandaged wrist and my right hand out of use.”

MS 116/8 AJ 253 p.44 Typescript of ‘Soldering of sorts’ – recounting experiences with the Royal Fusiliers, 1913-19 by Major H.D. Myer, 30 May 1915

31 May 1811 Disposal of goods taken from the enemy
The Military Secretary was responsibility for administrating the military business of the Commander in Chief of the Forces, including dealing with nearly all communications between the Commander in Chief and the War Office. In the below passage the military secretary clearly states the position regarding the disposal of goods taken from the enemy.

“…the Commander of the Forces begs, that it may be understood in future, that every thing captured by the troops is His Majesty’s; and that any disposal of anything, such as horses, horse furniture, baggage, etc for the benefit of the troops, is a favour done to them, but not founded on any wright’s of theirs.”

WP 9/2/1/1 Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Lord Fitzroy Somerset, Military Secretary to Viscount Wellington, Commander in Chief of the allied army in the peninsula, to Lieutenant Colonel Rooke, regarding the disposal of horses taken from the enemy, 31 May 1811