LCT 614 on Dog Red – Omaha Part II

An LCVP coming in between the 614 and the 612 took a mortar or antitank round directly on its ramp. As the craft sank, the survivors jumped overboard and screamed toward the 614 for help. Machine guns opened up on the men in the water, and Carter and Carlson saw several of them roll over slowly. Other men scrambled for what safety they could find. Carlson saw several men gather behind a floating post that had broken off an obstacle. A shell hit the post, and when the spray and smoke cleared Carlson saw nothing there. Other men found cover behind the intact obstacles, many of them mined. Some of them were so close that Carlson could see the details of the large Teller mines with their pins slanted seaward, waiting for a bump.

Irwin’s ability to maneuver to avoid the obstacles and get around the sandbar was severely restricted by the anchor cable payed out behind them. All four craft had landed just to the east of their assigned positions, with the 613 and 536 landing in front or just to the east of the draw and the 612 and 614 coming ashore at its western edge. Because the Germans had positioned their guns to fire along the beach rather than out to sea, the 612 and 614 were in a more direct line of fire than the other two craft. The 612, in fact, was between the guns and the 614. When the 612 slowed to thread through the obstacles and sandbars, it caught at least three shells. One exploded in the galley, but the others knocked out all three engines and the two generators. The 612 was totally dead in the water, but fortunately only one man was wounded. They hoisted the breakdown flag, began fighting their fires, and waited, under fire, for help. Carter watched the smoke rising from the 612 and began to wonder whether the fire from the gun that got them would shift to the 614. He hoped the 612 and the smoke rising from her would shield them.

Apparently the sandbar was not as much of a problem farther to the left. Irwin noticed, with a mixture of envy and frustration, that the two craft on the far left of their section were having an apparently easier time than the 614 and 612 were. The wave leader, LCT 536, was able to land its load and retract after only a few minutes. Once that craft regained the rendezvous area, Leide assigned it to take the place of LCT 590, one of Rockwell’s LCTs carrying DD tanks that had taken a hit and was not available for a second load as planned. LCT 613, on the far left of the wave, retracted a short time later and came over to tow the 612 to safety. This left the 614 temporarily the only LCT on the Dog Red sector. Irwin knew his only two choices were either to retract and beach again farther to the left or to wait for the rising tide to lift him over the sandbar. He could see that the tide now was coming in fast, and knowing that the troops had been told to come in on a particular beach for a reason, he decided to wait for the tide.

Soon, though, the H+70 and H+90 waves began coming in on top of them. The craft in these waves had not been dispatched in an orderly fashion, and several craft from the H+60 wave, such as the 614, had not been able to retract. As a result, the craft began to crowd along the beach, making navigation inshore almost impossible. The larger LCTs and LCMs could only slowly work through the obstacles, and many waited just off the obstacles looking for a way in. By the time these craft began picking their way through the obstacles, the next wave of landing craft came in. Only the little LCVPs had the maneuverability to wend through the obstacles, but many of these plywood craft suffered damage from rifle and machine-gun fire and sank or broached, adding to the congestion.

Into all this came the first wave of four of the even larger LCI(L)s, two off to port and two immediately to starboard. The big guns shifted their fire to them, but machine guns kept up a steady fire at the 614, keeping the men pinned down wherever they could find cover. Mortar rounds continued to land all around them. The lead LCI(L) off to starboard, the 91, slowed at the line of obstacles and began taking hits. It backed off a bit and began nosing through again, only to begin burning and then to explode so violently that Carter and the others felt the blast. “My God,” Carter said. “They took it in the magazine.” The second craft, LCI(L) 92, rammed through the obstacles farther to the right, struck mines, broached, and began burning.

After several minutes, Irwin knew he wasn’t going to get closer to the beach anytime soon, and the fate of the two LCIs made him realize staying on the beach was suicidal. He could see men wading ashore from the craft around them, and even some craft behind them were letting their men out. He decided to risk it. Irwin ordered the ramp dropped, and Cromer whapped the last dog with his hammer. The ramp splashed down, and Cromer lost no time rolling off the locker and ducking into the winch compartment with Clark. Yelling, “Let’s go!” the lieutenant in charge of the men ran off the ramp and dropped into water up to his armpits. His second in command and several of the men followed. Carlson saw the soldier he had befriended looking up at him, crying, and repeating, “Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.”

The appearance of infantry drew the attention of at least one machine gun. A few quick bursts zeroed in on the ramp and hit several of the soldiers, two of whom fell on the ramp. The other troops stopped their advance and pulled the wounded men back on deck. One of them had been shot squarely in the stomach, the round just missing a rifle grenade. The other apparently suffered a painful but shallow wound to the back. With both of their officers now off the ship, the men showed no particular desire to move out. Irwin signaled to Pillmore to get the vehicles moving. The soldiers pressed themselves against the steel bulwarks to get out of their way.

The bulldozers rumbled off first, and some of the infantry followed behind them for protection. Other soldiers already in the water also bunched up behind the vehicles, not realizing that they were not only putting the steel of the dozers between them and the guns but also the dozers’ load of TNT. The dozers made it almost to the water’s edge before a large shell exploded between them and set them both ablaze. Fortunately the near miss did not provide the shock necessary to set off the TNT.

Next, two of the jeeps tried to land, but the driver of one was hit and the other jeep apparently swamped in a shell hole and drowned out quickly. The second jeep’s driver struggled through the water for cover behind an obstacle. Irwin realized he would need to get the LCT even closer to the beach if the remaining jeeps were to get ashore successfully, so he sent Pillmore down to tell the remaining drivers and soldiers to wait a bit before heading to the beach. That was one order they had no trouble obeying.

The men on deck could see dead soldiers everywhere. A row of them lay in the surf, washing ashore with the rising tide. Others lay scattered on the beach, especially along the line of shingle. Still others floated in the water around them, some with only their legs in the air. When these men hit the water, they had inflated their life belts, but their heavy packs had flipped them over, drowning them. Carter stared, fixated on a dead soldier rolling with the waves just in front of the open ramp. They could see very little activity on the beach besides burning vehicles. One man caught their eye, who was walking calmly along the beach as if on a holiday stroll. They all thought he was shell-shocked. This could have been Col. Charles Canham, commander of the 116th RCT. He and others of the headquarters staff landed in an LCVP on Dog White about the same time as the 614. He and Brig. Gen. Norman Cota, the deputy commander of the Twenty-ninth Infantry Division, walked along the beach in opposite directions—Cota westward and Canham east—urging the men to move inland and looking for opportune spots to scale the bluffs. Cota’s efforts at the D-1 exit are now legendary in Twenty-ninth Division histories.

Again Irwin started shouting a flurry of engine orders and heading changes, trying to work the little craft through the obstacles and sandbars to the beach itself. If anything, the mortar and machine-gun fire grew even more intense. To Carlson, the shrapnel and bullet splashes looked as thick as raindrops on the water; instead of keeping tension on the anchor cable as the craft backed and twisted, he stayed in the gun tub. The starboard gun tub, perhaps because of its closeness to the pilothouse and conn, took more than its share of fire. Jarvis had already narrowly dodged one bullet, so he and Johnson pulled back to the cover of the pilothouse. Even Irwin, up on the conn, realized that his position was untenable, with the bullets zipping past and shrapnel buzzing around his head like angry bees. He and Kleen climbed down from the conn, and Irwin latched open the door to shout orders into the wheelhouse.

By this time, Carter realized he wasn’t going to get an order to shoot. He wiggled out of the gun’s straps in a Houdini-like accomplishment, considering that earlier both Carlson and Sparky had to strap him in around his life jacket.

“Sorry you couldn’t shoot,” Carlson said.

“That’s OK,” Carter replied. “I’m kinda glad to sit down a bit.” The short conversation drew Sparky’s attention to Carlson.

“Are you pulling in that anchor yet?”

Carlson thought the answer was obvious, but he managed a simple no.

Carter wasn’t the only one who was frustrated at not fighting back. Gudger, who had no traffic to direct off the ramp, picked up a Garand rifle from one of the wounded soldiers and walked aft. “Skipper, I can see Germans up on the bluff. I can get them with this rifle. Let me shoot.”

“Hell, no,” Irwin said. “You start shooting that thing and you’ll just draw more fire down on us.”

Wajda, who had been on deck with Gudger directing traffic, climbed into the gun tub with Carter, Sparky, and Carlson. “Hell, I’m not staying up there. I’m staying here.” Just as he climbed in, a shell exploded nearby and shrapnel from it clinked against their helmets. Carlson thought that for the second time that morning, his face had been saved by someone else’s helmet. The four of them, basically a third of the ship’s crew, lay as flat on the deck as they could manage inside the gun tub that was only seven feet in diameter. They stared at each other wordlessly, their eyes round and bloodshot, their lips white and tense. Carter thought of those carefree days with the Boy Scouts on the bank of the Hiawassie River in Etowah. Another third of the crew—Irwin, Pillmore, Kleen, Jarvis, and Johnson—clustered in the scant cover behind the pilothouse.

Another shell exploded off the starboard quarter. Jarvis, who was standing next to Irwin, suddenly spun around and began to crumple onto the deck. Irwin caught him and lowered him. Jarvis’s face was already covered in blood, and Irwin was sure that he was killed. But as soon as he and Johnson got Jarvis straightened out, he regained consciousness. A piece of shrapnel had caught him just below the eye and cut him as cleanly as a knife. Johnson took him below to bandage the wound. Soon the word spread around the little ship: Jarvis got it. No one knew how bad the wound was, and all wondered who would be next.

The LCTs of this wave, going in after the German defenses were fully active but before naval gunfire had begun to take effect, suffered the highest number of casualties among the LCT sailors. In the 614’s group, only the 612 suffered disabling damage, although all the craft had taken hits of various calibers. Three LCTs had gone off to the Dog Green sector, immediately in front of the D-1 draw at Vierville (the beach sector where Company A of the 116th—the Bedford Boys—suffered so badly when they landed at H-Hour). Two of those three LCTs took severe hits. LCT 703 struck mines that knocked out her engines, and before other LCTs could pull her off, several shells struck her, setting her afire and swamping her. She lay off the beach burning for the rest of the morning. LCT 622 also took several hits and casualties, but she was able to remain in operation. The 622’s skipper suffered shock as a result of the hits, and Leide later sent him back to England. The second officer, Ensign W. H. Nordstrom, took command. Like the 614’s Ensign Pillmore, Nordstrom had been aboard less than two weeks.

By now, LCT 614 had been on the beach not the three minutes as expected but almost an hour. The mortar and small arms fire had not let up in the least, and the water around them was filled with landing craft and men. Irwin knew that the tide was coming in because he had been watching the progress of two men holding on to the wooden post of an obstacle. One man had his arms around the post, the other held onto the first, and all the while bullets splashed around them and splintered the wood. Between the bullets chewing up the post and the tide pushing them toward the top, they would soon run out of cover. All this time, Irwin was ordering the craft backward and forward, letting the tide wash them to the left and testing whether the tide had come in enough so they could get over the sandbar.

At that point help arrived in the guise of a destroyer that ran in just a few hundred yards offshore and began an old-fashioned shoot-out with the guns on the beach. With the destroyer drawing the fire of the guns, the smoke from the burning LCIs and LCTs to starboard masking the fire of the mortars and small arms, and the fact that no men or vehicles were leaving the 614, the fire directed at the ship slackened slightly. The men could do a bit more than simply press themselves against the deck.

The screams of the men in the water had become intolerable. Pequigney could hear them clearly through the open door, and through the slit windows in the wheelhouse he could see how crowded the water was off to starboard. With the ship maneuvering back and forth and edging its way to port, Pequigney knew its propellers had to be chopping up many men in the water.

What he could not see was that Kleen, who had a good vantage point from behind the wheelhouse and who had little to do since Irwin was handling most of the radio traffic, had also spotted many men in the water around them and had called out to Carlson, Carter, Sparky, and other men topside. They clambered out of the gun tubs and threw lines to the men to bring them alongside the ship. There, Gudger, Cromer, Andin, and others on deck pulled them aboard. Soon they had rescued quite a number of men, some wounded and others simply stranded when their craft sank out from under them. Two of the men were the crew of an LCVP from the transport Charles Carroll. When they were dragged aboard, Irwin could see they were absolutely blue from their exposure to the cold channel waters. These men were so grateful for being rescued that they started emptying their pockets and giving everything they had, including their .45s, to their rescuers.

As proud as Irwin was that his men were risking themselves to save others, he also knew that they were exacerbating a problem he was growing more worried about. They had been on the beach for well over an hour now and landed essentially nothing. He knew he was doing his best to work in so that he could get the rest of the jeeps and the infantrymen ashore safely, but he also knew that he was disobeying orders by risking his ship and by not forcing the men off. Now he had even more men aboard that he was not forcing off. As an officer, he knew he was to display initiative, but what did that mean? Was he to force the army men off the ship to keep up the pressure of the attack even for the few minutes it would take to get them killed? Or did it mean he was to think of the men’s safety, so that when they landed they could do some good? Of course, the longer he kept the soldiers in safety meant the longer he kept his own men and his craft in danger. But officer or not, he knew he couldn’t force the men off the ship into the face of that withering fire.

The situation had grown frustrating to everyone. They couldn’t land their troops and vehicles, they couldn’t shoot back, and now they had rescued everyone within a line’s throw of the ship. There was nothing left to do but provide target practice for the German gunners. Finally Sparky yelled, “Skipper, let’s get the hell out of here!” Others took up the shout, and now Irwin wondered if, on top of his other worries, he was going to have to quell a mutiny or join it for he was as ready to leave as they were.

Finally, Pequigney yelled out of the wheelhouse door, “Skipper, listen to this.” Over the radio, Leide and Captain Wright were ordering all landing craft to stop beaching operations and to return to the transport area to await further orders.

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The Battle of Sibuyan Sea: The Sinking of Musashi

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Before the battle, Vice-Admiral Kurita, fully aware of the likelihood that his fleet would be annihilated, addressed his less than enthusiastic commanders:

I know that many of you are strongly opposed to this assignment. But the war situation is far more critical than any of you can possibly know. Would it not be shameful to have the fleet remain intact while our nation perishes? I believe that the Imperial General Headquarters is giving us a glorious opportunity. Because I realize how very serious the war situation actually is, I am willing to accept even this ultimate assignment to storm into Leyte Gulf. You must all remember that there are such things as miracles.

Admiral Kurita’s battle started badly. In the first of a litany of mistakes Kurita failed to take anti-submarine precautions after a radio operator on board the Yamato picked up signals from American submarines. On the morning of 23 October, Kurita’s flagship Atago was sunk by torpedoes fired from the submarines USS Darter and USS Dace. So rapidly did his ship go down that Kurita was forced to take an early morning salt-water bath in which he was forced to swim for his life. Less fortunate were 359 of his crew who died. Of Atago’s sister ships, the heavy cruiser Maya was sunk, while the Takao was heavily damaged. The Takao was escorted out of the battle taking with it two Japanese destroyers from the battles ahead. In reply, at the so-called Battle of Palawan Passage, the Japanese won a fortuitous, albeit token, prize when Darter ran aground and her entire crew had to be rescued by the USS Dace.

Pressing onward, Kurita’s surface force now faced the onslaught of Halsey’s carrier attacks. Deprived of McCain’s stronger airpower, Bogan’s group’s carriers concentrated their attacks on the battleships Nagato, Yamato and Musashi. Musashi became their principal target. The first torpedoes to strike Musashi barely registered on its heavily armored hull and it maintained its speed at over twenty knots. This was followed up just after midday by a second wave of VB-15 Helldivers and VF-15 Hellcats from the USS Essex (CV-9), USS Intrepid (CV-11) and USS Lexington (CV-16), the Essex Class replacement for the Lexington, (CV-2), that was sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea. Over the next hour and a half Musashi was slowed to ten knots and listed five degrees to port and thirteen feet down at the bow; she began to drop off the back of the fleet.

Commissioned in the summer of 1942, Musashi, sister ship to Yamato, was the last of the behemoth Japanese battleships. They had been built as a result of the Japanese Navy’s strategy to build a navy that was qualitatively better than the US Navy—an outcome of the Washington Naval Limitation Treaty [1922]. Japan went to extraordinary lengths to conceal the building of the vast new battleships. The chief engineer, Kumao Baba and the director of the steel mill were notified accordingly in 1937. “This project has been classified top secret, and we have been ordered to assign only absolutely trustworthy employees to it. Each of you has been checked out by the secret police. Your political and religious beliefs, family backgrounds, and contacts with foreigners have proven to be acceptable for the project. However, in order to further assure absolute confidentiality from all of you, we would like you to swear an oath of secrecy.” When a blueprint plan of a section of turret was lost, six engineers and two blueprint makers were imprisoned and tortured. Compared to US battleships with their 16-inch guns, the Yamato and Musashi, each sporting nine 18.1-inch guns, twelve 6.1-inch guns and batteries of smaller caliber armaments, were fearsome weapon systems. Each 18.1-inch gun weighed 162 tons and their turrets, with 26-inch armor weighed 2,774 tons, more than many destroyers. Shells weighing 1.5 tons could be fired every forty seconds to a distance of twenty-six miles. The force of fire of one of these guns was enough to severely injure or kill a man standing nearby. In experiments, guinea pigs were blown apart.

At 72,000 tons displacement, Yamato Class battleships were double the displacement of any warships previously built in Japan. In spite of this weight the Yamato Class battleships could travel at twenty-seven knots and had a cruising range of 7,200 nautical miles at sixteen knots. In addition to their fearsome weaponry they sported heavily armored hulls to protect them from torpedo strikes. At least, that was the theory. Designed with a broad beam (a design feature not available to US warships because of the width of the Panama Canal), the battleships could box their enormous engine rooms with relatively short sides that could be heavily protected by 18-inch steel, enough to resist torpedoes. The deck was also heavily defended with 7.8-inch steel that could withstand 1,000-kilogram (2,204 lbs) armor-piercing bombs. These were formidable defenses but the allocation of armor to these critical areas meant that other areas had to be compromised, notably the under bow and stern sections. To compensate, a watertight compartment system was designed along with flooding and pumping systems. Events would show that the damage control calculations were over-optimistic. Nevertheless engineer Shigeichi Koga proudly reflected, “Looking at it taking shape on the slipway, it seems like this battleship could never be sunk.”

In truth Pearl Harbor had demonstrated that the battleship, the weapon of choice during the interwar arms race, the subject of thousands of hours of negotiation at naval disarmament conferences in Washington and London, as well as miles of newspaper column inches, was now a dinosaur. For the Americans, battleships had proved mainly useful in the unglamorous role of offshore batteries to wear down defenders prior to beach landings in the Central Pacific and New Guinea campaigns. Japanese battleships had played a similar role at Guadalcanal. The aircraft carrier now represented a navy’s main strike capability—it lay at the heart of new Japanese naval tactical thinking.

In a shoot-out between battleships and aircraft carriers there could only be one winner. When at 3.30 p.m. a third wave of bombers from the USS Enterprise (CV-6), USS Franklin (CV-13), USS Intrepid (CV-11) and USS Cabot (CVL-28, a light carrier) hit the struggling Musashi with eleven bombs and eight further torpedoes, making a total of nineteen torpedo hits and seventeen bomb hits, her fate was sealed. A Helldiver rear gunner, Russ Dustan, serving on the Franklin recalled, “Musashi was huge! I had never seen anything as big in my entire life. It was a magnificent sight.” A ten degree list was corrected by pumping and counter-flooding to six degrees but the bow sagged down by 8 yards and sea water began to sweep over the main deck which was littered with dismembered bodies. Kurita ordered the struggling Musashi to be beached and used as a stationary battery. When her engines failed, the great battleship listed twelve degrees to port and an evacuation was ordered. At 7.36 p.m. Musashi capsized and sank by the bow taking 1,023 men to their deaths. Many of the young seamen could not swim and refused to jump into the sea. Others went down clinging to the propellers. Destroyers subsequently picked up 1,326 survivors. A further fifty of these died when 420 of their number were being shipped aboard the Santosu-Maru. To hide the shame of the sinking, survivors were relocated to a remote island in the Seto Inland Sea. Captain Kenkichi Kato, who was prevailed upon not to go down with his ship, wrote in his notebook, “… I am pleased that almost no damage was sustained by other vessels in the fleet in this battle. I somehow feel that, as the main target, the Musashi managed to save the fleet.” A Japanese seaman recalled that at 7.35 p.m. on 24 October, Musashi’s stern rose out of the water:

Crewmen started to jump off … the stern, which was sticking up like a tower from the ocean surface. Before they reached the ocean surface below, they were screaming with horror. Most of them hit the battleship’s huge screws before they reached the water. Crewmen were running along the battleship, and several men who jumped off the sides were sucked into the huge holes made by the torpedoes.

At a cost of just eighteen planes, Halsey’s Third Fleet had sunk the pride of the fleet, Admiral Yamamoto’s former flagship, and a ship that its designers and builders had believed unsinkable.

The carrier attacks, which had also inflicted damage on the battleships Yamato, Nagato and the heavy cruiser Myoko, forced Kurita to turn away and retreat, but in the late afternoon he turned his ships again toward the San Bernadino Straits. The 259 sorties flown by Halsey’s Third Fleet, denuded of McCain’s stronger Task Group 38.1, had not been enough to turn back the Japanese attack. In diverting American carrier aircraft from attacks on the rest of Kurita’s Center Force, the sacrifice of the Musashi may not have been entirely in vain.

Wireless Ridge (1982) Part I

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Battle for Wireless Ridge – from the Art of Daniel Bechennec

The British Army’s Second Battalion of the Parachute Regiment fought in all the major battles of the 1982 land war between Britain and Argentina for the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). After spearheading the landings at San Carlos on 21 May, the battalion fought its way to Port Stanley against determined Argentinian resistance, via Bluff Cove, Goose Green and Wireless Ridge. The most famous of these battles is undoubtedly Goose Green (where 2 Para commander, Lieutenant-Colonel “H” Jones, won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his charge against an enemy position), but the engagement at Wireless Ridge on 13–14 June was no less dramatic and arguably more decisive. The Ridge, a spur on the north side of Port Stanley, was heavily defended by troops from the Argentine 7th Infantry Regiment and the Argentine 1st Parachute Regiment.

The origins of the Parachute Regiment lie with an initiative of Winston Churchill who, after noting the success of German paratroop operations during Germany’s invasion of Holland and Belgium, suggested the formation of a British airborne elite force. The first units began training in June 1940, with volunteers from the units forming the Parachute Regiment in August 1942.

2 Para’s task was to capture the Wireless Ridge features, keeping west of the telegraph wires, and Colonel Chaundler’s plan called for a two-phase noisy night attack. In Phase 1, A Company would take the northern spur where the ponds were, C Company having secured the start-line. Once this was secure Phase 2 would come into operation, and B and D Companies would pass through from the north to attack the main Wireless Ridge feature itself. B Company would go to the right (the western end of the ridge), while D Company attacked the rocky ridge-line east of the track.

The mortars would move forward from Mount Kent to a position in the lee of the hillside south of Drunken Rock Pass, and this would also be the site for a static Battalion Headquarters during the attack. H-hour was to be at about 0030. The importance of digging in on the objectives was emphasized once more, since Wireless Ridge was dominated by both Tumbledown and Sapper Hill, and if enemy troops should still be there at dawn they could make 2 Para’s positions untenable.

The orders were straightforward, and the plan simple, involving the maximum use of darkness. As the “O” Group ended the company commanders were told that they would now fly up to Mount Longdon to look at the ground over which they would operate.

The CO went on ahead with the Battery Commander to meet Lieutenant-Colonel Hew Pike, CO of 3 Para, and Major William McCracken, RA, who controlled the artillery “anchor” OP on Mount Longdon. They discussed and arranged for co-ordinated fire support, with 3 Para’s mortars, Milan teams and machine-guns all ready to fire from the flank, and Major Martin Osborne’s C Company, 3 Para, in reserve.

Back at the gully all was peaceful in the bright sunshine. Suddenly this was shattered as nine Skyhawks appeared further to the north, flying very low in formation and heading due west towards Mount Kent. The effect was electric, for no one expected that the Argentines could still flaunt their air power in this way.

At “A” Echelon, behind Mount Kent, there was no doubt as to who the jets were aiming for. As they came screaming up over the col and rose to attacking height, the formation split: three went for the area where the artillery gun-line had recently been, three went for 3 Commando Brigade HQ, and three attacked “A” Echelon. All the machine-guns opened up, claiming one possible hit as the bombs rained down. Amazingly, there were no casualties from this minor blitzkrieg. But the accuracy of the attack, and its obvious definiteness of purpose, left people wondering if the enemy had left concealed OPs behind, watching Mount Kent, or if satellite photography had shown up the various targets or, possibly, if Argentine electronic-warfare equipment had picked up radio signals from Brigade HQ.

The air raid created delays to all helicopter movement, but eventually the CO was able to fly on to Brigade HQ, while the company commanders were dropped on to Mount Longdon for their own recces. Colonel Chaundler had already been updated on the actual strength of the enemy, which was greater than had been thought, and a new Argentine position had been detected to the east of the pond-covered spur, on a knoll overlooking Hearnden Water and the mouth of the Murrell River.

While the CO was at Brigade HQ, the company commanders were able to study Wireless Ridge in detail from the commanding position on Longdon. It at once became obvious that much of the information so far given to them was inaccurate. What was thought to be C Company of 3 Para proved to be nothing of the sort: Major Dair Farrar-Hockley noticed that it was an enemy position of about company strength, situated dangerously on the flank of the 2 Para axis of attack, west of the northern spur. It was also clear that Wireless Ridge proper was heavily defended, with positions which stretched a long way to the east beyond the line of telegraph poles that marked the 2 Para boundary. Strangely, no harassing fire was being brought to bear during the day on any of the Argentine positions, and their soldiers were free to stand about in the open.

The company commanders flew back to Furze Bush Pass, but clearly a major change in plan was necessary. The CO returned from Brigade HQ as evening approached and was told of the situation. “Go away and have your supper. Come back in 45 minutes and you will have a new set of orders,” he said. Meanwhile the move-up of mortars and the adjustment of artillery had been delayed, and as a result the changes to the fire-plan had to continue into the night, directed by the OP on Longdon and using illuminating rounds.

Unfortunately for the company commanders, normal battle procedure had already ensured that relevant details of the first plan had permeated to the lowest level. Platoon and section commanders had had time to issue clear and well-constructed orders to their subordinates, but now their efforts were all useless, for by the time the company commanders returned with the CO’s revised plan, it was too late to go into new details. Such a sudden last-minute change did little for the men’s faith in the system, but it was unavoidable and, in any case, the soldiers had by now become stoical, while the cynics among them were not disappointed by this evidence of fallibility at higher levels. Nevertheless, the battalion was able to adapt and change its plans and moved off on time. But Phil Neame had his misgivings about what the SAS to the east of his line of advance was meant to be doing, and there was no knowledge of what the SAS was actually going to do. Furthermore, no one really knew what was beyond Wireless Ridge to the south, in the Moody Brook area, and everyone would have liked to have known exactly when the 5 Brigade attack on Tumbledown was timed to begin.

The battalion’s new plan was for a four-phase noisy night attack. In Phase 1 D Company would capture the newly discovered enemy position west of the northern spur; A and B Companies would then assault the pond-covered hilltop; Phase 3 called for C Company to take the knoll to the east; and finally D Company would roll up the enemy on Wireless Ridge itself, with fire support from A and B Companies, starting in the west and finishing at the telegraph poles.

Fire support was to be lavish in comparison to Goose Green: two batteries of 105 mm guns, HMS Ambuscade with her one 4.5-inch gun offshore, and the mortars of both 2 and 3 Para, totalling 16 tubes. Ammunition was plentiful, and the battalion’s mortars had been moved complete from Mount Kent by helicopter, and were thus fresh for action. The Machine-Gun Platoon had also been flown forward. Between the six guns they had enough ammunition to provide a massive weight of fire, and the men were fresh and rather proud of their earlier achievement behind Mount Kent against the Skyhawks. The Milan Platoon was already forward with the battalion – the experience of Goose Green had demonstrated the capability of this precision guided missile against static defences. Finally the light tanks of the Blues and Royals would be there, Scimitars with their 30 mm automatic cannon and Scorpions with 76 mm guns, and both equipped with very high quality night-vision equipment and having superb cross-country performance. All available support was allotted first to D Company, then to A and B in their assault, and finally to D Company again as it traversed the ridge.

As night closed in the tanks, the mortars and the Recce Platoon, which was to secure the start-line, moved up. By now the promise of the day had vanished and snow and sleet were falling, considerably limiting the effectiveness of all the gun-sighting equipment, and reducing visibility.

At about 0015 a storm of fire from the supporting artillery and mortars was unleashed upon the Argentine positions. A and B Companies passed by, led by C Company patrols to the new start-line secured by Corporal Bishop’s patrol in the relatively safe ground overlooking Lower Pass. At 0045 hours on Monday 14 June, D Company moved over its own start-line further to the west, and headed towards the identified enemy position.

As the company moved forward, the tanks of the Blues and Royals and the machine-guns provided fire support while the artillery increased its rate of fire. Enemy mortar fire in retaliation became heavy. In the rear of the company, Private Godfrey of 12 Platoon had a near miss as a piece of shrapnel cut through his windproof and dug into his boot. He dived for cover – straight into an Argentine latrine!

The weight of supporting artillery and mortar fire was singularly effective, for the enemy on the D Company objective could be seen running away as the company pushed forward, although 155 mm air-burst shelling increased as the Paras began to clear the Argentine trenches, now abandoned except for a few enemy killed by the barrage. The darkness of the night and the extent of the enemy position caused the company to spread out, creating problems of control. Lieutenant Webster of 10 Platoon counted up to 20 trenches on his right, with more over to the left, where 2nd Lieutenant Waddington’s 11 Platoon found the other half of the assault formation.

Occasionally as they moved forward, men would suddenly disappear into the freezing water of an ice-covered pond. Privates Dean and Creasey of 11 Platoon went in up to their necks, and had to tread water to stay afloat until their platoon sergeant, Sergeant Light, dragged them out.

Fire support for the company was immaculate. The tanks used their powerful image-intensifier night-sights to pinpoint targets. Once enemy positions were identified, they fired. As soon as the battalion’s machine-gunners saw the strike they, too, opened up. Occasionally the machine-gun fire was too close for comfort, even for D Company, and in the end 10 Platoon Commander called for it to stop.

The opposition had fled, and D Company took its first objective in record time, remaining in situ while A and B Companies began their part of the battle. Enemy artillery fire was increasing, however, and Neame therefore decided to push forward for another 300 m into relative safety, to avoid the worst of the barrage.

Several of those waiting to move on the A and B Company start-lines were reminded of scenes they had seen from films of the First and Second World Wars. As shells landed all around, men lay huddled against the peat, with bayonets fixed. There could be no denying that, for the soldiers, fear of the known was in this case worse than blissful ignorance of the unknown. In the shelter of the peat bogs some smoked, watching the display of illuminants above.

Just as the time came to move, the shelling claimed its first victim, for Colour Sergeant “Doc” Findlay was killed in the rear of A Company, and soldiers from Support and HQ Companies were also wounded. The advance began, the two companies moving southwards parallel to each other, on either side of the track. The men crossed the stream in the valley north of their objective with the tanks firing over their heads. The effect upon the enemy was devastating. In their night-sights the tank crews could see Argentine soldiers running or falling as the accurate fire took effect. The boost to morale that this form of suppressive fire gave was considerable; fundamentally, the battle was being won by supporting arms, the infantry being free to do their own job, which is actually clearing and securing the ground.

On the left, all was going well with A Company. Command and control had been well practised back at Goose Green and now the junior officers and section commanders were quite expert in maintaining direction. Silence was unnecessary and orders were shouted backwards and forwards. The enemy were still shelling as the companies advanced, but now counter-battery fire was being provided by our own artillery. From his own position the CO could see the two companies in extended formation, moving quickly up the hill, the whole battlefield brightly lit by starshell.

Co-ordinating the two assaulting companies’ advances was difficult, however. The track provided a boundary of sorts, but controlling upwards of 200 men during a noisy battle over difficult terrain is not easy. Colonel Chaundler had another worry. Earlier, before the battalion had moved up, he had been shown a captured Argentine map which indicated a minefield directly in the path of the assaulting companies. There was only 15 minutes to go before 2 Para set off – far too late for a change of plan. The CO only had time to brief OC B Company, while John Crosland had none in which to warn his men, and in any case was told to push on regardless, since there would be no time to clear the mines. Only afterwards did Major Crosland tell his men that they had actually moved directly through the minefield without knowing it. Miraculously, no one was blown up on the way.

The ponds on the spur claimed a victim, however, when Private Philpott of 5 Platoon suddenly plunged into over 6 ft of water. He was dragged out and his section commander, Corporal Curtis, immediately organized a complete change of clothing from the other men in the section, which probably saved Philpott’s life.

The two companies consolidated on the objective. There was some firing from the trenches, swiftly silenced as the men of both companies ran in to clear them. Once more the enemy had fled, leaving only 20 or so of their number behind, quickly taken prisoner as they were winkled out of their holes. Radios were still switched on, and several dead lay around the positions. As the men dug in, the enemy shelling increased and it was to continue for the rest of the night at the same level of intensity. Most thought it was worse than Goose Green, but fortunately the abandoned enemy bunkers provided reasonable shelter, although a number of casualties occurred in A Company.

It was now C Company’s turn. Already they had had a minor scare on the A and B Company start-line when a Scorpion tank had careered towards Company Headquarters in the darkness. It was hopelessly lost and its commander had to be evacuated after a dose of “hatch rash” – the effect of placing the head in the path of a rapidly closing hatch. The confused vehicle was soon heading in the right direction, but now under the command of Captain Roger Field, who had seized this opportunity to revert to a more honourable role than foot-slogging.

With A and B Companies now firm, C Company was ordered to check out the Argentine position further to the east that had been spotted from Mount Longdon on the previous day. Major Roger Jenner was glad to be moving again, for it seemed that the supporting artillery battery had developed a “rogue gun” and every sixth round meant for the enemy was coming in uncomfortably close to his company. He and his men set off, taking cover occasionally on the way as shells fell close by. There had been no firing from the company objective during the battle, and soon the platoons were pushing round the side of a minefield on to the knoll.

As the Recce Platoon advanced, they could hear noises of weapons being cocked. The bright moonlight left them uncomfortably exposed on the hillside. On the forward edge of the slope were two parallel lines of rock, and on the second line the platoon found a series of shell scrapes, suggesting recent occupation by a body of troops. Once again it seemed that the enemy had left hurriedly, leaving tents and bits of equipment behind in the process. Away over to the east Jenner’s men could see the bright lights of Stanley airfield, and could hear a C-130 landing. The company was ordered to dig in, but since an enemy attack on this feature was extremely unlikely the CO changed the orders, and C Company moved up to the pond-covered hill.

If any particular group deserves special praise for what was done that night, then it must be the tanks of the Blues and Royals. Their mere presence had been a remarkable boost to morale during all the attacks that had taken place, and the speed and accuracy of their fire, matched by their ability to keep up with the advancing Paras, had been a severe shock to the enemy. Lance-Corporal Dunkeley’s tank, which Captain Field had taken over following the injury to its commander, had alone fired 40 rounds from its 76 mm gun.

2 Para was performing superbly, its three first objectives taken with great speed and a minimum of casualties, despite heavy and accurate enemy artillery fire. Whenever the enemy in trenches had sought to return fire they had been met by a withering concentration of fire from the rifle companies’ weapons which, coupled with very heavy support, had proved devastating. It is not known whether the Argentines had gathered that they were facing the men from Goose Green, but there can be no question that 2 Para knew.

D Company was now ready to go into the final phase of the attack and began moving forward again to the west end of Wireless Ridge. The tanks and support weapons moved up to join A and B Companies on the hilltop overlooking the D Company objective, and endured the artillery fire as well as anti-tank fire from Wireless Ridge to the south.

12 Platoon was now in the lead. Lieutenant John Page, who had taken over from the tragically killed Jim Barry, looked for the fence, running at right-angles to the ridge, that would guide him to the correct start-line for the assault. Unfortunately there was little left of the fence marked on the maps, and Corporal Barton’s section, at the point of the platoon, could only find a few strands of wire to follow. The number of ice-covered ponds added to the difficulty and the intense cold was beginning to affect men’s reactions, as they worked their way south to the western end of Wireless Ridge.

Once more, massive fire-power began to soften up the enemy, who apparently still had no intimation that they were about to be rolled up from a flank. The initial idea had been for D Company simply to sweep eastwards along the ridge without stopping, with 11 Platoon on the left, 12 Platoon on the right and 10 Platoon in reserve. There was still uncertainty as to whether Tumbledown to the south had been taken or not, and clearly a battle was still in progress on that mountain as the Scots Guards fought to drive out the Argentines on its summit. But Neame and his D Company had no intention other than to push on regardless, although they knew that if Tumbledown was still in enemy hands by daylight then 2 Para would be extremely vulnerable.

The bombardment of the western end of the Wireless Ridge continued as the platoons advanced. It seemed to have been effective, since no enemy were encountered at all, although, to be certain, 11 Platoon cleared any bunkers they came across on the reverse slope with grenades.

Wireless Ridge (1982) Part II

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The first part of Wireless Ridge was now clear and across the dip, where the track came up, lay the narrower rocky outcrops of the remainder of the objective. Fire was concentrated on these areas from A and B Companies as tanks, Milans and machine-guns provided an intense concentration on to three enemy machine-gun posts that remained.

Efforts to switch artillery support further forward and on to the area of Moody Brook had unfortunate results. Five rounds of high explosive crashed on to the ridge around and very near the leading D Company platoons. 3 Section of 11 Platoon was caught in the open and, despite screams to stop the firing, it was too late. Private Parr was killed instantly, and Corporal McAuley was somersaulted into some rocks, completely dazed, and had to be picked up by a stretcher party.

There was a considerable delay while a livid Major Neame tried to get the gunners to sort themselves out. It seemed that one gun was off target, as C Company had noted, but at the gun-lines they did not know which, since in the dark it was impossible to note the fall of shot, even if there had been time, and the other battery was not available owing to shortage of ammunition. In the meantime the CO was growing increasingly impatient, urging the D Company commander to press on.

As soon as the gunners could guarantee reasonable support, and with increased efforts from the Blues and Royals, Neame was off again. All through the wait constant harassing fire from the enemy had been landing around the company, so none were sorry to move. Despite the fire pouring on to the ridge-line ahead, enemy machine-gunners continued firing from well-sited bunkers, and were still staunchly in action as the platoons advanced.

They moved with 11 Platoon on the left, 12 Platoon ahead on the ridge itself, with the company commander immediately behind and, in the rear, 10 Platoon. 12 Platoon came across an abandoned Argentine recoilless rifle, an anti-tank weapon, as they crossed the start-line, which may well have been the weapon that had earlier been engaging the tanks on the A and B Company positions. The platoon moved down into the gap between the two parts of the ridge line, but as the soldiers passed by some ponds, very heavy machine-gun fire began from their front and illumination was called for as the platoon answered the firing. Corporal Barton came across some orange string, possibly indicating a minefield, but his platoon commander urged him on regardless.

The enemy appeared to be surprised by the direction of the assault, and as the Paras advanced, they could hear an Argentine voice calling out, possibly to give warning of this sudden attack from the west. 10 Platoon came across a lone enemy machine-gunner who lay wounded in both legs, his weapon lying abandoned beside him.

Corporal Harley of 11 Platoon caught his foot in a wire, which may have been part of a minefield, and, fearing that it might be an Argentine jumping mine, unravelled himself with some care. The platoon pushed on, skirmishing by sections until they met a concertina of wire. Fearing mines, Sappers were called for from Company Headquarters, but these could do little in the darkness except tape off the suspect area. In fact channels could be discerned between the concertinas, and these were assumed, correctly, as it turned out, to be safe lanes.

While 11 Platoon was extricating itself from the minefield, Neame pushed 12 Platoon on and brought 10 Platoon out to the left to maintain the momentum. Suddenly an intense burst of firing brought the company to a halt. It was a critical moment. For a short time, all commanders had to do everything in their power to get things going again, with platoon commanders and sergeants and section commanders all urging their men on. It was a real test of leadership as several soldiers understandably went to ground.

A brief fire-fight ensued, with 12 Platoon engaging the enemy as they pushed forward on the right overlooking Moody Brook below, where lights could be seen. The moment of doubt had passed, however, and once more the men were clearing bunkers and mopping up with gusto. 10 and 12 Platoons now moved on either side of the company commander. Maximum speed was needed to keep the enemy off balance as they fell back, conducting a fighting withdrawal along the ridge. The tanks continued to fire, directed by the company commander. Unfortunately his signaller had fallen into a shell-hole and become separated, thus creating considerable frustration for the CO, who wanted to talk to Neame about the progress of his battle.

During 12 Platoon’s brief fight Private Slough had been hit and died later in hospital, and another soldier was wounded.

Enemy artillery fire continued to make life uncomfortable. Fortunately D Company’s task was no longer difficult, as most of the enemy bunkers had now been abandoned. 12 Platoon reached the telegraph wires and consolidated there, while the other platoons reorganized further back along the ridge. Shell-fire intensified and snipers began to engage from enemy positions further to the east along the ridge.

Neame went up to see the platoon commander, Lieutenant Page. Snipers in the rocks were still firing on the platoon and it seemed that the enemy might be about to counter-attack from the direction of Moody Brook, to the right.

On several occasions the company commander was nearly hit, and his perambulations began to be the cause of some comment. Sergeant Meredith shouted to him, “For God’s sake push off, Sir – you’re attracting bullets everywhere you go!”

A hundred metres or so to the east, Argentines could be heard shouting to each other, as though rallying for a counter-attack. John Page called for fire support, and then ordered his own men to stop firing, for by so doing they were merely identifying their positions. They felt very isolated and vulnerable.

For two very long and uncomfortable hours the company remained under pressure. Small-arms fire mingled with all types of HE fell in and around 12 Platoon’s position as the men crouched in the abandoned enemy sangars and in shell-holes. John Page continued to move around his platoon, organizing its defences, and suffering a near-miss in the process. He was hit by a bullet, which passed between two grenades hanging on his webbing and landed in a full magazine in his pouch. He was blown off his feet by the shock. “It was like being hit by a sledge-hammer and having an electric shock at the same time,” he later described the moment. As he lay there a round exploded in the magazine, but fortunately the grenades remained intact, and he was soon on his feet.

Meanwhile the CO was still trying to get in touch with Neame to know the form. Lieutenant Webster, OC 10 Platoon, was momentarily elevated to commanding the company since he was the only officer left near Company Headquarters. As he talked to the CO, voices could be heard below in the direction of Moody Brook. Corporal Elliot’s section opened up and automatic fire was returned by perhaps ten to fifteen men. 11 Platoon moved forward to join 10 Platoon in a long extended line along the ridge, the men firing downhill towards the enemy position. Eventually the CO got through to the company commander, who had had a hair-raising time walking along the ridge to discover what was happening. He now informed the CO of his fears of imminent attack.

Sporadic enemy fire from Tumbledown added to D Company’s danger, and all the earlier fears of the consequences of delay to the 5 Brigade attack came to the fore. The CO offered to send tanks up but Neame declined, since they would be very exposed on the forward slope fire positions they would be forced to adopt. He would have preferred another company to hold the first part of Wireless Ridge, which as yet remained undefended.

The company reorganized, leaving Corporal Owen’s section forward as a standing patrol while 10 and 11 Platoons found dug-outs on the reverse slope. 12 Platoon stayed in its positions near the telegraph poles.

There was little more that the Companies on the northern spur could now do to support D Company. Two of A Company’s trained medical orderlies had been wounded by the shelling that still continued, so the platoons had to look after their own casualties – once again the value of the medical training for all ranks was vindicated. Fortunately the helicopters in support that night were fully effective, evacuating casualties with minimum delay, and other casualties were taken back to the RAP on one of the tanks. The enemy artillery fire gave the remainder every incentive to dig, and the possibility of being overlooked by Mount Tumbledown in the morning was an additional spur.

For A and B Companies it was now a matter of lasting the cold night out, which was not without incident. Privates “Jud” Brookes and Gormley of A Company’s 1 Platoon had been hit by shrapnel. The rule was to switch on the injured man’s easco light, normally used for night parachute descents, to ensure that he would not be missed in the dark. Sergeant Barrett went back to look for Brookes, whose light was smashed.

“All right, Brookes – we and the Boss will be back to pick you up later.”

“Ee, Sarge,” he replied in a thick Northern accent, “Ah knows tha f—— will.”

Unknown to them, the men of 3 Platoon were actually sitting next door to 13 Argentine soldiers, who were taking cover from their own shellfire. Only later in the morning were they found and taken prisoner.

In B Company, the state of Privates Carroll and Philpott of 5 Platoon was a cause for concern, since both were now suffering from hypothermia after being immersed in one of the ponds. Their section commander, Corporal Steve Curtis, decided to tell the platoon commander. As he ran out into the shelling, a round exploded close by, shredding his clothes almost completely yet, amazingly, leaving him unharmed.

The mortar teams had been busy all night. By now they had moved on to the side of the A and B Company hill to avoid shelling, which had been uncomfortably close at their first position in the bottom of the valley to the north. Improvised bins had helped to reduce the tendency of the mortar tubes to bed into the soft peat, although not completely, and another problem was that tubes would at times actually slip out of their base-plates under recoil. To prevent this, mortarmen took turns to stand on the base-plates as the tubes were fired, and by the end of the night four men had suffered broken ankles for their efforts. The fire they had been able to provide was very effective, however, and all concerned had been determined that, this time, there would be no question of running short of ammunition or of being out of range. The 3 Para mortars on Longdon did sterling work providing illumination.

The Machine-Gun Platoons, too, had been hard at work, their six guns providing intense heavy fire throughout the night. Re-supplied by the tanks and by the splendid work of W02 Grace’s Pioneer Platoon, they had had no worries about ammunition. But gradually the guns broke down, and by dawn only two of the six were still in action.

In Battalion Headquarters the second-in-command, the Operations Officer and Captain David Constance had taken turns at duty officer. At one point the second-in-command, Major Keeble, had been able to see the flashes of the enemy 155 mm guns as they fired, but no amount of reporting back produced any counter-measures. Once the drone of a low-flying Argentine Canberra jet was heard, and amidst the din of artillery even larger thuds reverberated as the aircraft dropped its bombs. Private Steele of the Defence Platoon was unlucky: as he lay on the ground a piece of shrapnel caught him in the back. He hardly felt it, thinking that it was only a piece of turf from the explosion – only later did he discover a rather nasty wound where the metal had penetrated.

The CO’s party had not escaped either. A stray round hit Private McLoughlin, a member of the Battery Commander’s group, and actually penetrated his helmet at the front. The helmet deflected the round, however, and McLoughlin walked away unharmed.

The snipers were in great demand. Their night-sights enabled them to identify the enemy infra-red sights and to use the signature that then appeared in the image intensifier as an aiming-mark. The Commando Sappers had had a relatively minor role to play in the battle, since there were no mines that it was imperative to clear. But, as at Goose Green, they provided a very useful addition when acting as infantry.

On Wireless Ridge at first light, 12 Platoon was still being sniped at from behind and to the right. Further back along the ridge, Corporal Owen had searched a command post. While rummaging in the bunker, he found a map showing all the details of the Argentine positions, as well as some patrol reports. These were quickly dispatched to Company Headquarters and on to Brigade.

Private Ferguson, in Owen’s section, suddenly noticed four or five men below them. The corporal was uncertain as to who they could be – possibly 12 Platoon – and told Ferguson to challenge. The latter yelled “Who’s there!” and was instantly greeted with a burst of fire that left them in no doubt. Grenades started to explode around Owen and his men as the enemy counter-attacked. The section opened fire, and Corporal Owen shouted for the machine-guns to engage.

10 Platoon meanwhile were firing on either side of the section, and Owen himself blasted away with eight M-79 rounds. The section was soon short of ammunition, and the men began to ferret for abandoned Argentine supplies. Just then the remainder of the platoon moved up to join the section; though uncertain as to exactly where the enemy were, they were determined to prevent the Argentines from regaining the ridge.

Private Lambert heard an Argentine, close in, shouting, “Grenado, grenado!”

“What a good idea,” he thought, and lobbed one of his own in the direction of the voice. There were no more shouts.

11 Platoon also saw a group of four men to its front. 2nd Lieutenant Chris Waddington was unable to make out who they were and, thinking they might be 10 Platoon, shouted to them to stop. The four men took no notice, so he ordered a flare to be put up – the figures ran off as the platoon engaged with small arms and grenades. The orders not to exploit beyond the ridge-line meant that not all the enemy positions had been cleared during the night, and it seemed that some stay-behind snipers had been left there, and it was probably these that had given 12 Platoon so much trouble. But the counter-attack, such as it was, had fizzled out. Artillery fire was called down on Moody Brook to break up any further efforts at dislodging D Company. Down below the ridge a Landrover could be seen trying to get away. Lance-Corporal Walker fired at it and it crashed.

11 Platoon now came under extremely accurate enemy artillery fire, possibly registered on the flashes of their weapons. Major Neame therefore ordered them to cease firing with small arms, intending to continue the battle with artillery alone. Moody Brook was deserted, however. In the distance the men of D Company noticed two Argentine soldiers walking off down the track as if at the end of an exercise.

In the light of dawn it appeared to the Paras on the ridge that a large number of enemy troops were moving up to reinforce Sapper Hill to the south-east. Neame called for artillery with great urgency, but no guns were available. After a further 20 minutes or so, by which time the enemy had reached the top, the target was engaged. Meanwhile other Argentines could be seen streaming off Tumbledown and Harriet – 5 Brigade had won its battles.

As D Company began to engage this new target the CO arrived. He confirmed Neame’s orders to fire on the enemy retiring towards Stanley, and the company now joined in with machine-guns in a “turkey shoot”. John Greenhalgh’s helicopters swept in and fired SS-11 rockets and, together with two other Scouts, attacked an Argentine battery. The enemy AA was still active, however, and all the helicopters withdrew.

The retiring Argentines on Tumbledown had made no reply to the helicopters, and their artillery had stopped. It was obvious that a major change had occurred. The news was relayed to the Brigadier, who found it difficult to believe what was happening. But the CO realized how vital it was to get the battalion moving into Stanley before the enemy could rally, and A and B Companies, together with the Blues and Royals, were ordered to move as fast as possible up on to Wireless Ridge. The Brigadier arrived, still disbelieving until Colonel Chaundler said, “It’s OK, Brigadier, it’s all over.” Together they conferred as to what to do next. D Company ceased firing on the fleeing enemy on the far hillside, and the order was given that men were only to fire if fired upon first. Permission was then given for the battalion to move on.

B Company, by now on the ridge, was ordered down into Moody Brook. Corporal Connors’s section of 5 Platoon led the way, still expecting to come under fire from the “Triple As” on the race-course. The other two sections covered him forward. He cleared the flattened buildings of the old barracks and Curtis’s section took over, clearing the bridge over the Murrell River and the building on the other side, while all the time their platoon commander was exhorted, “Push on, push on!” They remained cautious, fearing booby traps or a sudden burst of fire.

A Company now took the lead as B Company, covering A’s advance, moved south on to the high ground on the far side of the valley, above the road, passing through three abandoned gun positions on the way. The tanks of the Blues and Royals moved east along Wireless Ridge to give support if it should be necessary. A Company was well on the way down the road into Stanley, with C and D Companies following, when Brigade announced a cease-fire. Cheers went up, and red berets quickly replaced steel helmets. Bottles of alcohol miraculously appeared to celebrate with. Relief, elation, disbelief- all in turn had their effect.

Major Dair Farrar-Hockley led his men towards the racecourse, past the abandoned guns that had been spotted so many hours earlier yet had remained operational in spite of requests for artillery fire. According to civilians afterwards, the Argentines still on the outskirts of Stanley simply broke and ran when they heard that “the Paras” were coming. The leading elements of the battalion arrived in Stanley at 1330 hours, on Monday, 14 June some five hours before the official cease-fire, with 2nd Lieutenant Mark Coe’s 2 Platoon the first into the town. They were the first British troops into the capital.

Eventually all the companies were brought into the western outskirts, finding shelter amongst the deserted houses, a few of which had suffered from stray shells. One or two dead Argentine soldiers still lay in the street where they had been caught by shellfire. On the race-course the Argentine flag was pulled down and Sergeant-Major Fenwick’s Union Jack once more served its purpose.

Rorke’s Drift: A Military Assessment

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Lieutenant Chard’s famous drawing of the Rorke’s Drift battle, showing the main thrusts of the Zulu attack.

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift fully deserves its elevated status in the annals of British military history, if only as one of the most heroically fought and efficiently conducted small-scale military actions of the last 100-odd years. The British were, from the outset vastly outnumbered by up to thirty to one by their Zulu protagonists. In the context of the relatively confined space of the garrison, and the considerable opportunities for enemy concealment in the shrubs, bushes and caves outside and overlooking the garrison, British technical superiority had been much more limited than some observers have suggested. After the initial, albeit destructive volleys fired against the first wave of Zulu attackers, much (if not the majority) of the fighting was at close quarters. The survival of the garrison depended at its most critical times as much on rifle butts and bayonets as it did on the efficacy of the Martini-Henry Box .45 cartridge. The successful withdrawal from the hospital, for instance, was conducted largely at bayonet and assegai point. Indeed, the incredible closeness and intensity of the fighting was graphically testified to by Lieutenant Chard himself during his post-war extended audience with Queen Victoria in October 1879: ‘the fight was at such close quarters that the Zulus actually took the bayonets out of the rifles.’ (RA QVJ, 12 Oct. 1879)

It is now possible to evaluate command and control, and the overall conduct of the battle, more precisely in terms of both modern British military doctrine and the views of contemporary experts, notably Major William Penn Symons. A broad comparison of the events of the Rorke’s Drift battle with current key principles of war, namely selection and maintenance of aim; maintenance of morale; offensive action; surprise and concentration of force; economy of effort and security; flexibility; cooperation; and overall sustainability, is instructive.

Selection and Maintenance of Aim

In terms of selection and maintenance of aim, after the initial debate of whether to evacuate the garrison to Helpmekaar, Chard, Bromhead and Dalton collectively clearly defined and selected their defensive aims with commendable speed, only minutes after hearing the news of the Isandlwana disaster and the approach of the Zulu Undi Corps. In such a short time, the arrangement of the defences was a masterpiece with full use made of artificial and natural features. The stone and mud walls of the kraal, hospital and storehouse were fully utilised with a formidable mealie bag barricade along the perimeter, and the front perimeter was also given excellent elevation by its construction along the 3–4ft rocky ledge. These defensive aims were thus attainable and precisely prepared with a number of subsidiary aims, notably a secondary line of defence or fall-back position constructed of biscuit boxes. The broad strategic aim was, moreover, sustained throughout the battle, its defensive principles widely disseminated throughout the garrison, and made the main focus of activity for all the able-bodied men who were fully briefed on their tasks at their designated posts along the barricades.

Maintenance of Morale

The principle of maintaining morale was also clearly fulfilled, bearing in mind the terrible and unique battle conditions, in which so few British soldiers faced a ferocious enemy who had not only just annihilated a force twelve times their size, but also who patently gave no quarter. In terms of morale, Acting Assistant Commissary Dalton, by his experience, exceptional energy and raw courage, proved to be perhaps the most inspiring figure for the rest of the garrison. Thus Hook admiringly wrote: ‘He had formally been a Sergeant-Major in a Line Regiment and was one of the bravest men who ever lived’, a man who was seen at the start of the battle literally taunting the Zulus and beckoning them to come on. (Holme, Silver Wreath, Hook Account, p.63)

Bromhead’s clear popularity and extremely close rapport with his own B Company soldiers also played a key role in the resilience and survivability of the garrison – he constantly patrolled the perimeter, reinforcing weak points and always giving stirring encouragement to his men. For instance, Bromhead had given sympathy and even loaned his revolver to the seriously wounded Private Hitch, their bond of comradeship continuing well after the battle, as Bromhead ‘brought his Lordship to see me and was my principal visitor and nurse while I was at the Drift’. (Holme, Silver Wreath, Hitch Account, p.62)

Lieutenant Chard also attracted universal admiration from officers and men for his coolness under fire and the competence of his defensive preparations. Of the officers, Dalton, however, clearly occupied a special place in the hearts of the men of B Company. Major General Molyneux, thus recorded a moving incident which occurred at the end of the war:

After the war, the company of the 24th that had defended Rorke’s Drift was marching into Maritzburg amidst a perfect ovation. Among those cheering them was Mr Dalton, who, as a conductor, had been severely wounded there; ‘Why, there’s Mr Dalton cheering us! We ought to be cheering him; he was the best man there’ said the men, who forthwith fetched him out of the crowd and made him march with them. No-one knew better the value of this spontaneous act than that old soldier. The men are not supposed to know anything strategy, and not much about tactics, except fire low, fire slow, and obey orders; but they do know when a man has got his heart in the right place, and, if they had a chance they will show him that they know it. Mr Dalton must have felt a proud man that day.

Molyneaux, Campaigning in South Africa, pp.206–7

The outstanding performance of the officers instilled a high degree of determination, confidence and defensive spirit, evident throughout the battle.

Offensive Action

In terms of the principle of offensive action, both Chard and Bromhead managed the battle exceptionally well and instinctively understood that ‘a sustained defence, unless followed by offensive action will only avert defeat temporarily’. Thus Bromhead organised mobile bayonet parties, a crude human form of ‘mobile weapons platforms’, which were constantly deployed to repel Zulu breakthroughs and thereby effectively depriving them of initiative. ‘Fire mobility’ was thus fully sustained throughout the siege.

Surprise and Concentration of Force

Surprise was also a principle which was well exploited by all the officers commanding the garrison of Rorke’s Drift. The frequent change of tactics, from sustained volley fire at the start of the siege and the potent use of enfilading fire from the storehouse throughout the siege, followed by the sudden retreat from the hospital perimeter to the well-prepared biscuit box barricades, continually wrong-footed the attacking Zulu force. Allied to this tactic was the extensive use of ‘concentration of force’ at decisive times and places which accompanied these deceptions. Hence Chard’s and Bromhead’s constant switching of their soldiers from the front and rear barricades in the first two hours of the siege confused and distracted the Zulu attackers in their constant search for weak points along the perimeter.

Economy of Effort and Security

Economy of effort – the efficient, at times frugal, use of resources – was also applied extremely well. Lieutenant Bromhead was the pivotal man in terms of the distribution of the ammunition supply. Constantly urging his men of the need to conserve rounds during the later stages of the siege, both he and Chard kept meticulous accounts of the allocation and quantity of ammunition. In this way ‘overall security’ was achieved, with Chard always guarding an adequate reserve. The judicious allocation of troops and resources was therefore at a premium in the Rorke’s Drift siege. In summary, in regard to the three interrelated principles of concentration of force, economy of effort and security, Lieutenants Chard, Bromhead and Acting Assistant Commissary Officer Dalton achieved a high level of excellence.

Flexibility

Flexibility was also ably demonstrated by the commander, Lieutenant Chard. Without undermining his overall defensive aim, Chard brilliantly modified his plan to rescue the much more dangerous and precarious situation occurring after the retreat from the hospital. In this new tactic, part of the garrison’s effort was redeployed, using the lulls in the fight after midnight to construct a last bastion of defence – the mealie bag redoubt. This manoeuvre demonstrated both elasticity of mind and resourcefulness at this critical last stage of the battle. It was a simple, but highly effective solution, designed to both protect the wounded and provide a final elevated concentration of fire for up to forty soldiers.

Cooperation

Cooperation or teamwork was also ably demonstrated by all members of the garrison. All four ‘services’ or units present at the siege, the Commissariat, the Army regulars, the Chaplain and even the Army Hospital Corps, each massively supported each other and adapted to each other’s requirements; key ‘players’ such as Byrne, Reynolds, Dalton, Dunne, Chaplain Smith, Bromhead and Chard all worked closely together to carry out essential duties ranging from close-quarter fighting at the barricades to the distribution of food and ammunition. Surgeon Reynolds was, perhaps, the most outstanding example, both attending to the wounded and supplying the hospital under fire with much-needed ammunition. His VC citation highlighted this achievement.

Overall Sustainability

Overall sustainability was definitely achieved. Chard and Bromhead kept an exceptionally fine balance between ‘teeth and tail’, wholly maintaining both the physical and psychological condition of the soldiers in order to maintain morale. It was an important achievement, bearing in mind the inexperience and youth of a good many of the garrisons’ 2/24th regulars.

 

 

Commonwealth Division and the Hook

battle_of_the_hook_28-29_may_1953

Successive Chinese assaults on the Hook position defended by the 1st Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment on the night of 28 May 1953. The fourth Chinese assault on the right flank of 1 battalion, the Duke of Wellington’s was repulsed by the 1st Battalion, The King’s Regiment, with the aid of artillery support.

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Men of the 1st Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, have a smoke while waiting for dusk to fall before joining a patrol into no-man’s land at The Hook.

On 25 May 1953, the Chinese struck for the last time.

For years now there had been periods of alternative stalemate, interspersed by those of brief, bitter and very bloody fighting. Still the Chinese came in ‘waves’ or ‘human waves’, as the Tokyo feather merchants called what seemed the enemy’s inexhaustible supply of manpower. Indeed the outposts on the heights of Southern Korea from which the Allies fought stank, as one GI put it, of ‘flies, rats, garbage, fecal waste’…with the ‘worst job covering the Chinese bodies that lay everywhere on the side of the hills’.

The British of what was now the ‘Commonwealth Division’ played their role in those bloody skirmishes, which sometimes developed into outright battles. One after another the first battalions of these infantry regiments, which have now long disappeared, took their place in the line In Korea. They fought their private battle, tended their wounded, buried their death and vanished thereupon into the obscurity of that ‘forgotten war’. The Royal Warwicks, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Royal Sussex, the Cameron Highlanders, the Essex Regiment…they were all there, fighting to gain ‘honours’ the glory of which has faded over the years. In that last spring of the Korean War it was the turn of that regiment bearing the name of the most famous soldier the British Army has ever produced — the 1st Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

The position they would defend was the notorious ‘Hook’, part of that range ‘Old Baldy’, ‘Pork Chop Hill’ which would go down in the folklore of the US Army afterwards.

The battle for the ‘Hook’ had commenced back in October 1952 when the 7th US Marines had fought a successful defensive action on those grim, barren, shell-pitted heights. Thereafter, the position had fallen into the care of the British Commonwealth Division. Again it tempted the communists into attacking it, for as one of the officers of the Duke of Wellingtons said later: ‘It was a sore thumb, bang in the middle of Genghis Khan’s old route into Korea…it commanded an enormous amount of ground.’

On 18 November 1952, it was the turn of the 1st Black Watch. Again the Chinese attacked in their usual wasteful manner; but then, they had the men. Human life didn’t count for much in that huge country with its tremendous population. Nor were the Jocks inclined to take the Chinkies prisoner. Twice the Chinese attempted to swamp the Black Watch positions and twice they were forced back. At tremendous cost they failed to shift the men of Scotland’s elite regiment.

However, the British casualties as well were mounting in the defence of the ‘Hook’ — indeed the Army lost more on the height’s steep flanks than in any other battlefield in the three-year struggle for Korea. Now they were going to lose some more — but they would never lose the ‘Hook’.

On the night of 28 May, 1953, the ‘Dukes’ were warned by the urgent brassy blare of bugles that a Chinese attack on the ‘Hook’ was imminent. As the sound died away, there was the first obscene thump and whack of mortars being fired. To the defenders’ front, cherry-red flames erupted everywhere as the Chinese artillery joined in. The Chinese were coming!

‘Stand to,’ the NCOs and officers yelled urgently. Men grabbed their equipment and sprang to the fire-steps of their deep weapon pits. They slammed the brass-clad butts of their rifles and Brens into their shoulders. Others placed their grenades, already primed, in handy little holes in the sides of the slit trenches. The fire swept over them in fiery fury. Now they could hear the commands, the shouts, the angry orders coming from below. The Chinese were attacking in strength. As all around them their trenches started to crumple under a series of direct hits, the defenders began to fire furiously into the darkness.

Both dug-in Centurion tanks being used to support the Dukes with their 20-pounder cannon were hit. A half-blinded young officer just out of Sandhurst staggered bleeding into his company commander’s dug-out. He reported that his position was ‘untenable’. ‘Balls,’ his company commander snapped curtly, ‘get back!’ A Browning machine-gun was knocked out, with five killed and three wounded. Another machine-gun took up the challenge. The Chinese fell everywhere. The night was hideous with their screams and yells of pain. Still they kept on coming — and the Dukes kept on mercilessly mowing them down.

Now the Chinese had in places reached the summit. The Dukes went underground in their tunnels. By this time their wireless sets were smashed, so they were cut off from Brigade and had to rely on themselves. They did, fighting back with the desperate courage of men who knew instinctively that they either fought and won — or died. Underground the Chinks would show no mercy. It had become a close-combat battle in which no such mercy was shown or expected.

Commanding the Dukes’ Support Company, Maj Kershaw (who had missed out on most of the Second World War because he had been stationed in Iceland and other out-of-the-way places) was now getting his ‘bellyful’ of hand-to-hand combat. He had already fought his way into a tunnel until it too had been swamped by the enemy. A Chinese only feet away threw a stun grenade. He yelped with pain, as his legs and buttocks were peppered with fragments, the blast knocking his helmet off and his Sten gun out of his hands.

He staggered somehow into another trench. Four wounded Korean ‘Dukes’ lay in it. Half blinded and threatening to drift into unconsciousness at any moment, he tied a tourniquet with his bootlace. Still he fought back, until the Chinese blew in the entrance to the tunnel.

A Corporal Walker ran with his hard-pressed section into another tunnel. Again the enemy were everywhere. While his men frantically barricaded themselves in, the young corporal fired rapid bursts to keep the enemy at bay. The Chinese retaliated by tossing in satchel charges whose blast slapped the defenders around the faces, buffeting them time after time and almost deafening them. More critically, it blocked the entrance and thus it was that, when they had recovered from the explosion, they found themselves gasping for air like ancient asthmatics in the throes of an attack.

They lay ‘doggo’ and, as Walker related later, they heard the Chinese demand in English, ‘Where your friends?’ Private Smith, helpless after having been wounded in both legs, lied weakly, ‘They’re not in this tunnel,’ he gasped.

Walker pulled himself together. He advanced through the darkness further up the tunnel, heart beating furiously, weapon at the ready. He saw torches approaching. He knew instinctively they could belong only to the Chinks. He didn’t wait to find out whether his guess was right, but loosed off a burst. In the confines of the tunnel, the racket was ear-splitting, giving way to screams and yelps of pain. Then a loud echoing silence. Not for long. A rumble, a trembling, and the Chinese detonated a charge at the entrance. ‘They were scaled in the tunnel, as if in their own tomb. ‘We were in darkness,’ as Walker afterwards remembered that terribly long night, ‘and choking through dust and lack of air. One chap alone had half a bottle of water and he shared it all round, all getting a lick every hour.’

Maj Lewis Kershaw — trapped, bleeding badly and half-conscious in his tunnel — held the survivors entombed there together with his undaunted spirit. ‘The Dukes don’t die,’ he shouted defiantly; ‘Stick it!’ And stick it the survivors of the 1st Battalion the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment did. When on the next day the rescue parties broke through to the trapped men, Lewis Kershaw was still in command! Blinking in the grey light of the new day, he ordered them, ‘See that I am the last out!’ It was only then that he allowed himself to finally pass into the boon of unconsciousness.

All that long night and the following day, the Chinese attacked and attacked with savage fury. The British brought down artillery on their positions. Later it was discovered that a whole battalion of Chinese infantry had been wiped out in the course of that suicidal barrage. Their shattered bodies hung from the wire everywhere like bundles of blood-red rags.

But the Dukes didn’t only defend, they counter-attacked. Over the previous years the Dukes had always prided themselves on having the best rugby team in the whole of the British Army. Some of the players were indeed international stars. Now one of them, six foot four Campbell-Lamerton, led his company into the attack to regain ground lost by the Dukes. It was a matter of honour. It was tough going. The day-long artillery bombardments, British and Chinese, had ‘literally changed the shape’ of the top of the Hook. Rubble and tangled smashed wire — and the enemy — made progress damnably slow, but somehow they did it. At 3.30 on the morning of 29 May, the attackers reported that the Hook was again in the hands of the Dukes. Virtutis fortutia comes (motto of the Duke of Wellingtons) — Fortune had indeed favoured the Brave…

As the dawn light came slowly that morning over the shattered lunar landscape, as if some deity were reluctant to illuminate the ugliness below, the search parties started to stumble through the smoking wreckage of the Dukes’ positions to recover the casualties. They found 250 dead and 800 wounded Chinese. Of the Dukes some 149 had been killed, wounded and captured (many of the sixteen POWs wounded, too). In a matter of a day, the Duke of Wellingtons had lost one-fifth of its strength.

Brig Kendrew of the brigade to which the Dukes belonged came up to the Hook to see what had happened. Kendrew had seen much of war and had won three DSOs in the Second World War, but even so he was shocked. Grave-faced and shaken, he said, ‘My God, those Dukes! They were marvellous. In the whole of the last war I never knew anything like that bombardment. But they held the Hook…I knew they would…’

Despite the praise, the Brigadier could see they’d had enough. Besides, most of their positions and many of their weapons had been shattered. He ordered the Battalion relieved at once. If the Chinese attacked again, they would be in a damned difficult position, so he commanded the 1st Royal Fusiliers to take over. At noon, long lines of Fusiliers started to wind their way up the heights, including an obscure cockney one day to be known to the world as Michael Caine, actor. ‘What’s been going on?’ one of the Fusiliers asked as he came level with the Dukes and saw the carnage and wreckage. The unknown Duke had his answer ready. Calmly but proudly, he answered: ‘Just seeing off a few Chinks…’

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And so they had. The Dukes, three-quarters of them national servicemen who were paid £1.62 a week by a grateful country for risking their lives, had fought the British Army’s last real battle of the Korean War. It went on for several more weeks, but in the end the Chinese knew they’d never defeat the Allies now. They asked for a truce.

In July 1953 they waited as the final hours ticked away, as had happened in Europe when the armies there had waited for the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 till that year’s Armistice was to come into force. Right up to the last moment on that Monday 27 July, the guns thundered. Half an hour after the last bomb had been dropped by the US Air Force, Gen Trudeau of the US 7th Infantry Division pulled the lanyard of one of the divisional artillery pieces and fired the last round. He kept the shell case and was quoted as saying later: ‘I was happy it was over.

It was apparent that all we were going to do was to sit there and hold positions. There wasn’t going to be any victory.’

The General was right: there wasn’t! What he apparently didn’t realize at the time was that it was not a question of a US victory, but rather of defeat or at the best stalemate. In essence the United States of America, one day to be seen as the world’s superpower, had lost its first war…

Not that the GIs cared. They ‘partied’. If they were lucky they got high on hooch and local rice wine. If they weren’t they let off rockets and signal flares. The US Marines who had suffered so much in Korea sang dirty songs and told tall tales. One GI seemed to sum up the prevailing mood among the men. Pte Bill Shirk maintained it had all been a ‘hell of a waste’. ‘Who gives a shit if they’re North Korean or South Korean? You can’t take a person living like an animal and expect him to act like a human being.’

Perhaps his view was typical. They were all gooks anyway. But whatever the men ‘at the sharp end’ thought it really didn’t matter on that wonderful July day. The war was over, so they celebrated.

As for the British, nothing much is recorded (as was customary in Korea) of their reaction. More than likely, being the British Army, they were given a couple of bottles of cheap Jap beer and then told to ‘bull up’. As they always maintained in the ‘Kate Ramey’ — ‘war is hell, but peacetime will kill you…’

Wars of the Roses – Pretenders – Simnel

A Pageant of Kings: Henry VII -- He hanged his dogs as traitors!

Henry pardoned young Simnel, acknowledging that he had been a mere puppet in the hands of adults, and gave him a job in the royal kitchen as a spit-turner. When he grew older, he became a falconer. He died around 1525.

The Wars of the Roses were fought sporadically between 1455 and 1486 between the two rival Plantagenet houses of Lancaster and York. Virtually all the leading participants were related and they are also known as the ‘cousins’ wars’ in which, over less than 25 years, the crown of England changed hands no less than five times. As in all civil wars, no quarter was given or expected, and the battle of Towtown on Palm Sunday in March 1461 has claim to be the bloodiest on English soil. Fought in a raging snowstorm it, and many other ferocious battles, wiped out entire dynasties. Unusually for the medieval era, the viciousness displayed swept away aristocrats as well as the common soldiery. After the battle of Mortimer’s Cross, Henry VI’s stepfather, Owen Tudor, was beheaded in Hereford and a mad woman combed his hair and placed his severed head at the market cross, surrounded by 100 candles. The final victory went to a relatively remote Lancastrian claimant, Henry Tudor, who defeated the last Yorkist king, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. He married Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York to unite the two houses.

Henry’s claim was to the throne was shaky: he was half Welsh and half French and was most closely related to the French royal family as great-grandson of Charles VI. In England he was merely the great-great-great grandson of Edward III. But he was backed by French and Breton silver, his army boosted by mercenaries – and most importantly – he had won a clear victory at Bosworth.

That bloodbath had ended the Wars of the Roses and put Henry VII on the throne, but his troubles were far from over. He was beset by enemies at home and at the court of Burgundy, and in the spring of 1487 a serious insurrection was launched from Ireland.

In the spring of the previous year a priest took to Ireland a 10- or 11-year-old boy, Lambert Simnel. The lad had been born around 1477 and his real name is not known – contemporary records call him John. According to subsequent legends he was the son of a baker, or an organ builder, or a tradesman. He was certainly of humble origin. He was taken as a pupil by an Oxford-trained priest, Richard Simon (or Symonds or Simons or Symonds) with ambitions to be a king-maker in such turbulent but opportunistic times. He tutored the handsome boy in courtly manners and gave him an excellent education. Simon noticed a striking resemblance between Lambert and the supposedly murdered sons of Edward IV, so he initially intended to present Simnel as Richard, Duke of York, son of Edward IV, the younger of the vanished princes in the Tower. However, when he heard rumours that the Earl of Warwick, a boy of the same age and of similar appearance to his pupil, had died during imprisonment, he changed his mind and put forward Simnel as the Earl. Warwick was the son of the Duke of Clarence, King Edward IV’s brother, and as such had been the nephew of two Yorkist kings. The real Edward had not died and was safely locked in the Tower, but Yorkist propaganda now claimed that the prisoner was an imposter. That claim was widely promoted by Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, who was sister of both Edward IV and Richard III. She was supported by several nobles, including John De la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who was himself the son of Elizabeth, another of the sisters of the two Yorkist kings. However, Lincoln’s claim was too tenuous and an attempt to raise a rebellion in north and west England in 1486 came to nothing. Lincoln had fled the English court in March and although he doubted Simnel’s claim, he saw in him an opportunity for revenge and personal advancement. Lincoln was joined by a number of rebel English Lords at Mechelen, including Richard III’s loyal supporter, Francis Lord Lovell, Sir Richard Harleston, the former governor of Jersey and Thomas David, a captain of the English garrison at Calais.

The indomitable Margaret provided between 1,500 and 2,000 German, Swiss and Flemish mercenaries under Captain Martin Swartz. They were mostly foot soldiers carrying bill and pike, with some crossbowmen and a few who carried the relatively new firearm, the arquibusier. The rebel army was put together in Ireland, where opposition to Henry Tudor was strong. Simon took the boy to Ireland, now claiming that Warwick had escaped the Tower and taken refuge under his care. He presented him to the Irish governmental head, the Earl of Kildare, who was willing to swallow the story as it gave him a pretext to invade England and overthrow Henry. The frightened and bemused Simnel was crowned King Edward VI of England in Dublin 24 May 1487. By then the Yorkist fleet had arrived in Dublin. Kildare and his brother Thomas Fitzgerald of Laccagh, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, recruited 4,500 Irish mercenaries, lightly armoured infantry, for the cause.

On 5 June, accompanied by Lincoln and Lovell, Simnel was landed on Piel Island near Furness, Lancashire, and were joined by some English supporters. Most local nobles, apart from Sir Thomas Broughton, stayed away. The pretender’s army advanced through Yorkshire, picking up recruits as they went, and swelled to between 7,000 and 8,000, including some English knights and their retinues. By forced marches they covered over 200 miles in five days. On the night of 10 June, at Bramham Moor outside Tadcaster, Lovell led 2,000 men on a night attack against 400 Lancastrians under Lord Clifford, and easily overwhelmed them. Lincoln then outmanoeuvred Henry’s northern army, under the Earl of Northumberland, by ordering a force under John, Lord Scrope, to mount a diversionary attack on Bootham Bar, York, on 12 June. Scrope then withdrew northwards, drawing Northumberland’s army after him.

From Doncaster a Royalist force of some 6,000 men under Sir Edward Woodville challenged the main rebel force but retreated when they saw they were outnumbered. For three days the rebels advanced through Sherwood, skirmishing all the way. Nottingham was evacuated as they approached. But the fighting had delayed the Yorkists, allowing time for reinforcements under Lord Strange to bolster the city’s defences and deter the rebel advance. Near Farnsfield the rebels turned off the Nottingham road and headed towards Newark into the security of the Earl of Lincoln’s lands.

Henry was at Kenilworth but swiftly set off for Nottingham. He arrived there on 14 June and found that the rebels were at Southwell, 12 miles to the north-east. Henry moved to Radcliffe, between Nottingham and Bingham, the following day, while the rebel army crossed the Trent by the ford below Fiskerton and took up a position on an open escarpment some 1,500yds south of East Stoke. Here the king met them on the morning of the 16th as he was marching towards Newark. The rebels had an advantage in numbers, perhaps 9,000 to 6,000, but apart from the German mercenaries their soldiers were not well armed or trained. The English army was split into three parts of fairly equal size. The van, with heavy cavalry, was under the Earl of Oxford. Their two great advantages were their better armour and their large number of longbowmen.

Battle of Stoke - 1487

Battle of Stoke – 1487

Lincoln and the rebels had camped overnight on the high ground south and west of the village of East Stoke above the Fosse Way. The two sides were facing each other by 9 a.m. and rather than wait for the rest of the royal army, Oxford began a withering bow fire upon the rebels on the higher ground in front of him. The unarmoured Irish suffered gravely under the hail of arrows and Lincoln was forced to charge down the hill rather than stand his ground.

For three hours the battle was fiercely contested. The rebels were well served by the German mercenaries and the English shuddered under the shock of the initial charge. But after a while their poor equipment and armour, and the lack of training amongst the Irish levies, saw the fight swing to the English. A counter-attack by Oxford was enough to break the resistance of much of the rebel army. Unable to retreat, the German and Swiss mercenaries fought on, mainly to the death. Their commander, Martin Swartz, and Lincoln were killed, as were Broughton and Fitzgerald. Of the Yorkist commanders, only Lord Lovell escaped, by swimming the Trent and, according to legend, died hidden in a secret room at his house. He was never seen publicly again. The terrified Simnel was captured.

The rebels were slaughtered in a gully at the foot of the ridge and in the marshy fields. Between 4,000 and 5,000 died either in the battle or in the aftermath as the fugitives were hunted down. All captured Irish or English rebel soldiers were immediately hanged. The Irish nobles who had supported Simnel were spared, as Henry needed their support to govern Ireland effectively. The German mercenaries who survived the grim slaughter were allowed to go free but without their pay. Most of those who died on the field were buried in mass graves on the same day.

Simon avoided execution due to his priestly status, but was imprisoned for life. Henry pardoned young Simnel, acknowledging that he had been a mere puppet in the hands of adults, and gave him a job in the royal kitchen as a spit-turner. When he grew older, he became a falconer. He died around 1525.

The rebels had inflicted heavy casualties on Henry’s army, possibly as many as 2,000 men. But his victory at Stoke secured the safety of the Tudor dynasty. The threat was not over, however. Another pretender emerged.