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NAVY NEWS, JANUARY 2011


45


Hun and hysteria


WITH the nation still rejoicing over trouncing the troublesome squadron of Admiral von Spee, Britain’s hubris was rudely shattered at dawn on December 16 1914. For the first time in a century, civilians on British soil were killed by an enemy power; the Empire’s mother country had been violated.


● A Royal Marine from 11 Troop, M Company, 42 Commando responds to Taleban fi re with 51mm light mortars in the Afghan village of Chinah du


Ruin came from the air – but not from Zeppelins. No, it came from the guns of the High Seas Fleet, which closed to within a few hundred yards of the East Coast. Bombarded were the towns


of Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough. Of these, only Hartlepool was


a ‘legitimate target’ – there were warships in port and the town was defended by coastal batteries. Hartlepool suffered the most damage – and the most dead, 86 of the 137 people killed that Wednesday – but history has come to know it as the ‘Scarborough raid’. Using contemporary newspaper reports, extracts from official documents and Hansard, Bob Clarke looks to set the ‘tip and run’ raid against the backdrop of a decade of growing hostility between London and Berlin in Remember Scarborough (Amberley, £12.99 ISBN 978-1-84868-111-8). It also provides a good insight into the psychological mood of the British public in the first months of the Great War. Indeed, while Britons were confident in the supremacy of their Navy, they were worried by the prospect of an invasion. What you have in the autumn of 1914 is a threat akin to the summer of 1940: beaches were strewn with barbed wire, roads leading inland were blocked (chiefly with sandbags) and troops – mainly territorials – were peppered along the coast to safeguard it, such as the ‘formidable’ 7th (Cyclists) Battalion holding 70 miles of shore from Whitley Bay to Scarborough. And there was ‘spy’ hysteria akin to McCarthyism in 1950s USA: German spies or sympathisers roamed up and down the East Coast signalling ‘their’ ships at sea, ‘guiding’ enemy vessels through minefields and so on. So it’s not entirely surprising


that reaction to the ‘Scarborough raid’ wasn’t especially measured. The RN got it in the neck for allowing an inferior Navy to penetrate home waters, but not as much as the beastly Hun for another act of frightfulness (they’d already bayoneted babies, chopped off children’s hands and gouged civilians’ eyes out in Belgium...). There was another round of anti-German hysteria (Scarborough’s mayor likened the Kaiser to King Herod, while ‘Germans’ furtively left Hartlepool and Scarborough just hours after the bombardment), a flurry of commemorative postcards were produced, while recruiting posters urged Britons to sign on to avenge the atrocity: ‘Men of Britain, will you stand for this?’


But not everyone in Scarborough was whipped into a frenzy by the German raid. In the middle of the hour-long bombardment, one Scarborian popped into his butcher’s for 1lb of bacon. “I have never cut bacon under such irritating circumstances,” the shopkeeper fumed. “Business as usual is all very well, but there are limits...”


Corps values ring O olcano peration V IMAGINE Globe and Laurel


in book form. Ok, that’s a pretty simplistic


way of looking at the officially- endorsed Nothing Impossible: A Portrait of the Royal Marines (Third Millennium, £45 ISBN 978-1-906507237), but it gives you an idea of the concept. Nothing Impossible casts its panoramic net over all aspects of life in the Royal Marines from smashing Taleban compounds in Helmand or assaulting the Al Faw peninsula to the ceremonial duties of the Band Service, cadets and the Royal Marine Association – once a marine, always a marine. In casting that net, it uses a


full array of ‘fishermen’ from the man at the top (Commandant General Maj Gen Buster Howes) to corporals on the front line in


Helmand and marines


safeguarding Britain’s nuclear deterrent. So in that respect it’s like Globe and Laurel, the Corps’


long-


standing journal. Royals writing about Royal-y things for fellow Royals (minus the in-jokes which are both a source of wonderment and bafflement in G&L).


The result is as good a ‘guidebook’ to the Royal Marines as they are today as you’ll find. It’s not in depth, of course, but as the overview of the Corps is presented in bite-sized chunks, it also means you’ll never linger ect:


too long on one subject: youct: you ou


can ‘dip in’ and ‘dip out’ you please.


into some areas than a


others;


chapter on the SBS, the RM counterpart to the (more famous)


SAS,


but other than an acknowledgment


that (a) it exists and and


(b) comprises about a third cial F


ut a third uta third


of the nation’s Special Forces, don’t expect any revelations; the account of the Special Boat Service presented here ends in the 1950s.


Luckily, other elements of the


Corps are more forthcoming. For example there’s an insight into O Sqn FPGRM – people who don’t get a lot of publicity because, as Mne Mark Sharp points out, the duty is of a “repetitive nature”,


there is a ,


ut’ as


You can dip deeper han


eper


protecting the nuclear deterrent at Faslane. Luckily, there’s morning PT led by a different green beret every day to spice things up a bit...


Bill Gates. Not Mr Microsoft, but Rev Bill Gates who earned his green beret


his


G gr jo


before


joining 45 Cdo in


commandos. co


that the ‘bish’ knew many of the fallen very well – and he felt their loss as much as any comrade. “My thousand-yard stare was no different from those around me – I hardly noticed the rockets that were fired at us,” he writes. “The emptiness I felt took several days to subside.” Trying to ensure that


that of th and h


That closeness meant t the he f he


much asa Rev


Gates and his brethren wouldn’t have to officiate at funerals was Surg Lt Lara Herbert,


medic with Commando Logistic unit


that’s typical of living omm


alongside


source of “endless amusement”,


so am


in Helmand. His name was


a but


There’s also a contribution from Rev Bill


Regiment. She was inspired by a stint with the US Marine Corps to serve with its UK counterpart as a front-line surgeon. She passed the


All-Arms


Commando Course which permits her to wear the coveted green beret, presented in a rather understated ceremony. “I think, but cannot guarantee, that I was the only commando who celebrated in high heels that night,” she says. We think it’s a safe bet she wasn’t... CLR men died during Surg Lt


Herbert’s tour of duty. It fell to her not only to try to save them when they were brought into the field hospital, but also to convey news of their deaths to comrades. “Dealing with the aftermath


of a British death in Afghanistan was different from anything I had experienced in the NHS – I had a deeper connection with all the people involved,” she says. This is a very nicely-produced packed with images


volume,


from commando unit and RN photographers. The only downside is the price tag: £45 (discounted prices online aren’t much cheaper) may well deter many from investing in this excellent book.


O brave Benbow was his name


ADMIRAL Benbow is one of the legendary fi gures of


British Naval history. His death in controversial circumstances in 1702 has become a symbol of the clash between ‘gentleman’ and ‘tarpaulin’ offi cers after the Restoration of the Crown and the birth of the ‘Royal Navy’ in 1660, writes Prof Eric Grove of the University of Salford. His name was immortalised as the name for the tavern at which Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island begins. This was but one of a series of fi ctions associated with Benbow that have obscured the qualities of a truly great offi cer.


The record has been put straight by Sam Willis in the second of his ‘Hearts of Oak’ trilogy, The Admiral Benbow: The Life and Times of a Naval Legend (Quercus, £25 ISBN 978- 1-84916-036-0). John Benbow is more than a man and this is more than a biography. It sets Benbow against the background of his times and is a notable contribution to the history of the late 17th-Century Navy. The author has trawled the archives in a remarkable way and has produced as many questions as answers. Benbow’s background is obscure. He was probably born in 1652 in the chaotic and partially- recorded aftermath of the wars of the mid-17th Century. The story of the tanner’s son who ran away to sea is probably a legend; he was, in all probability, a member of a family of Shropshire landed gentry which had fallen on hard times for supporting the losing Royalists. It seems certain that he probably learned his ship-handling in the


The Grove Review


hard school of being a waterman’s apprentice in a Severn barge. It is not clear when Benbow the Royal Navy but he


joined


emerges into the written record in 1678 when he joined the Fourth Rate HMS Phoenix A l


oined the P


as master’s mate. A little y


later in the same year to


he was transferred to he


HMS


fl agship of Admiral Herbert (later Lord Torrington). Benbow impressed the admiral and became a member of Herbert’s circle of patronage, a vital factor in the progress of his career. Herbert was confronting Alge-


e e er or in the ih


rine pirates in the Mediterranean and supporting the short-lived English colony at Tangier. The fi rst controversy in


of Rupert, the water A ittle


oined the Phoenix


delivered the heads of dead Barbary Corsairs to Spanish magistrates. He then may well have joined Herbert in his defection to William of Orange and been in the successful invasion fl eet of 1688. Benbow certainly prospered from regime change. Serving in the fl eet fl agship, Royal Sovereign, Benbow was part of Torrington’s ‘fl eet in being’ in 1690 that was forced into an unnecessary df


defeat off Beachy Head. As M


defeat off Maste


in


Master of the fl agship (a


waters.


Benbow’s life arose when there was a dispute over who had captured a powerful Algerine ship. Benbow’s HMS Nonsuch had intervened late in the engagement but claimed the ship as prize. The controversy led to Benbow voicing open criticism of the other ship’s captain. Herbert protected his man, but Benbow was now marked as a member of Herbert’s faction in a deeply-split service. Unsurprisingly Benbow was not immediately re-employed and worked for a time as a merchant ship captain on the Mediterranean run, during which he may have


asked to be mo ed to the similar position at Deptford. He was clearly a success in this role ashore which he later combined with work at sea in a littoral bombardment offensive against the French coast. As well as operational command, Benbow played a key role as dockyard manager in the development of mortar vessels and fl oating bomb ‘machine vessels’. The viciousness


appointed Master Attendant at Chatham D asked to be mov


appointed Ch h


of some of


these operations, many of which were deliberately directed against civilian targets, is noteworthy – a refl ection of the often ignored ideological


dimension of the


nine-year War of the League of Augsburg.


In 1696 Benbow was promoted


Rear Admiral (he had been paid as such since 1694) and left Deptford to be involved in convoy


have played a signifi cant role in navigating the fl eet through dangerous


role


have p e i th


Benbow had already been d M


Benbow tham Dockyard and then


appointment for a captain skilled in seamanship) Benbow may well


ap a


Ben not unusual


work, often the preferred escort commander of the merchants, a sign of Benbow’s reputation. Then in 1702 came the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession. Benbow, as the expert on the theatre, had already been redeployed to the Caribbean. This led to the unfortunate last fi ght off Cape Santa Marta when his captains did not support him and he was wounded with eventually fatal results.


Willis demolishes the myth that master versus tarpaulin tensions were at work. The real problems were the basic ones of a chasing squadron of the time in forcing action with an enemy that did not want to be engaged and the mixed overall quality of offi cers at the start of a war. One suspects, too, that politics and faction had a role to play in that very factious age. The scandal resulted in two of the captains shot for cowardice, while Benbow became a heroic celebrity thanks to the newly liberated press. This celebrity,


which has


continued through the years, has perhaps tended to obscure Benbow’s nature as a highly- capable offi cer both afl oat and ashore. He clearly deserves his fame and is more than just a legend. Willis makes this clear and he also uses Benbow as a vehicle to shed a great deal of light on the wider context of what was still the formative stage in the history of the Royal Navy, an institution that was clearly far from mature. Willis’


book is a notable


piece of naval historical writing, handsomely published, with useful appendices,


copious endnotes,


excellent illustrations and is highly recommended.


Picture: PO(Phot) Sean Clee, RNPOTYx2


Novel move by ex-bubblehead


NOT many clearance divers turn their hand to writing, but fresh from his memoir Diver, Tony Groom has now turned to fiction. In2Deep (La Puce, £9.95 ISBN 978-09562-69119) is, says Tony – who spent ten years as a RN clearance diver – “an action- packed thriller with a nautical setting”. Tony explains that In2Deep


was written “even before I had finished Diver, or got a publisher for it, I had started my novel. My missus thought I was mad. But it’s a bug, and I’ve got it. “I started writing by accident


really. A friend of mine was doing safety diving in London for a film, and the producer was talking to him about doing something on the Falklands. “My friend said, ‘I know a lad


who was down there doing all the bomb and mine disposal. He kept a diary about it all.’ The producer argued with him, saying it was the Army that did all the UXBs. “A few weeks later the BBC


were on the phone. They wanted to come to my house and film me reading my diaries. “They were hidden away in


my loft and I had quite honestly never read them. I read them for the first time on breakfast TV. “The cameraman and producer said it was a fascinating story. Had I ever thought of joining up the gaps and writing it all down? I said ‘no’, but I started that night and couldn’t stop.” He added: “I wrote day and night for a year until Diver was done. It’s now sold over 30,000 copies, which is astonishing for an unknown, uneducated, ex-bubblehead.” We have four signed copies of


In2Deep to give away thanks to Tony. To win tell us the name of the Navy diver who vanished in mysterious circumstances in Portsmouth Harbour in 1956. Send your answers to in2deep@navynews.co.uk or In2Deep Competition, Navy News, Leviathan Block, HMS Nelson, Portsmouth, PO1 3HH. Entries must be received by noon on February 14 2011.


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