Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Yeomanry Regiments of the British Army circa 1900 by Richard Simkin

It would appear that Yeomanry and Yeomanry Regiments, as part of a Territorial Army, is a concept unique to the United Kingdom. Today’s remaining regiments evolved from the original volunteer cavalry regiments raised in the 1790’s as an augmentation to the regular standing army, in order to provide an additional homeland defense against the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte in France, and the threat of invasion. Yeoman officers were drawn from both the nobility and the landed gentry. The definition of the word “yeoman" at that time being a small farmer who owned his own land. There was one unique proviso that existed in their regulations. No one could be sent abroad on foreign service duty without individually volunteering. However, officers and personnel of these regiments took their obligation as "nobles oblige" very seriously, and served with distinction throughout British military history, and even up to the present day.

As they continued to develop, and particularly during the Victorian era, it seems to this colonial that they became either a substitute or supplementary to membership in men’s private clubs. In any event their full dress uniforms became resplendent, rivaling those of the regular British Army’s hussar and lancer regiments of the times.  Naturally this provided rich (quite literally) natural material for the famous military artist Richard Simkin.

Again we are indebted to the pages of 'Tradition’ for the reprint of Simkin’s portrayal of their magnificent uniforms. Am not certain how many watercolors were included in the artist’s total effort, nor how many were included in the magazine’s reprint series. But I do know that the yeomanry regiments shown in these prints represent only a small fraction of the total number. The order of precedence from the Army List of 1914 shows 55 yeomanry regiments. 44 'regiments' still exist, albeit at reduced strength, i.e. squadron, detachment. What follows are the contents from those editions of the magazine in my collection.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Regimental Bands of the British Army c.1900 by Richard Simkin

In the late 1960's 'Tradition', The Journal of the International Society of Military Collectors, reproduced a series of prints of the Regimental Bands of the British Army c.1900 executed by the famous military artist Richard Simkin. Hopefully nearing fifty years on, and with proper acknowledgement, the former publishers will not take excessive umbrage with their resurrected appearance in this blog page. For those who may be interested in obtaining original copies of 'Tradition', they may be obtained from;

Richard Simkin, earned respect and renown for his accuracy in both the research and execution of his watercolor prints. The prints can still be so considered by painters and collectors of military miniatures. It is hoped that readers will be able to both enjoy and use them as a standard reference source. The watercolors shown here represent only a small fraction of his lifetime efforts. All things considered, and in light of some of the more recent awards, it is truly unfortunate that he could not have been at least awarded the Order of the British Empire.

One interesting historical note can be observed in Plate IV. The kettle-drummer of the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) is wearing a black bearskin. The painting apparently having been done prior to the presentation, and/or authorization for wear, of the white bearskin to the regiment by its then Colonel-in-Chief, Czar Nicolas II of Russia (1894-1916). As is normally the case, double click on any of the plates to enlarge.

Major Frederick Joseph Ricketts
Bandmaster, Plymouth Division,
Royal Marines 1930 - 1944
(pen name Kenneth J. Alford)

The following is a video of the renowned march music of Kenneth J. Alford. Composing marches under that pen name, Maj Frederick Joseph Ricketts, RM, ranks in Great Britain and the Commonwealth, as well as the rest of the world, as certainly equal to John Phillip Sousa. His most famous march is "Colonel Bogey". Born in 1881, and joining the British Army as a Band Boy in 1895, he rose through the ranks to eventually serve as the Bandmaster of the 2nd Bn Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. After a long and complicated process, in 1930 he was appointed Bandmaster of the Band of the Plymouth Division, Royal Marines (Principal Band of the Royal Marines). There he rose to the rank of Major, before his retirement in 1944, a span of time encompassing five monarchs and three major wars. Like Richard Simkin, given his life long service and truly remarkable musical contribution, he was not even awarded the Order of the British Empire. This is particularly galling in light of the OBE having been awarded in more recent times to certainly much less talented or deserving "musicians". Those who might be interested in more details, as well as a list of his most famous marches, are referred to the following;

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Brief Note of Appreciation and Gratitude to the Readers of the Arnhem Jim Blog

Since its 1st Anniversary in March of this year, I have been trying to determine how I might express my appreciation and gratitude to both the regular readers, as well as newcomers, to this blog. The best thing I could think of was to try and continue publishing articles that explore esoteric and obscure subjects related to the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces in World War II, and the hobbies of collecting militaria, toy soldiers and military miniatures. I would also like to express my thanks to those individuals who have contributed to the blog, either directly or in-directly, and to Google for facilitating the overall effort. 

The apparent popularity of the blog is inexplicable to me. Beyond curiosity with the subject matter, the only thing I can come up with is that the content is “relatively” non-controversial, and like the hobbies themselves provides a momentary escape from the day’s necessary labors and problems. I am truly amazed and most appreciative.  Now, in about 18 months, there have been readers from all 50 states of the United States of America, and 132 other nations world-wide. Those readers have seen fit to show their interest with over 54,500 hits in that period of time. My most sincere thanks for your continued support and readership. I have tried to discern any consistency of interest in given subjects by careful review of the search terms/words people have used in discovering the blog, and will continue to monitor that parameter. As indicated at the initiation of the blog, readers are strongly encouraged to express their own specific interests in the ‘Comments’ section. Once more thank you all very much.

Drum-Major J. Harper and Pipe Major
S. D. Samson - The Last of the 92nd Gordon
Highlanders 1994

Slàinte Mhòr! Slàinte! (Great good health! Health!)
In commemoration of the service and sacrifice rendered by the Scottish Regiments of the British Army and Commonwealth throughout modern history, and their ongoing service today. 
Arnhem Jim

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Polsten 20mm AA Guns at Operation 'Market Garden' - 1944

A relatively unique, and as a result obscure, weapon existed within the TO&E of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron at Arnhem. The weapon was the Polsten 20mm Anti-Aircraft Gun, No.2 Mk II. There were two guns forming a Section, each being towed behind one of the squadron’s jeeps. Primarily designed for limited air defense, their high rate of fire proved them to be a very effective ground weapon. Both the gun and jeep could be carried by a single Horsa glider.

The Polsten 20mm Anti-Aircraft Gun stowed inside an
Airspeed AS 51 Horsa Assault Glider; would probably
have jeep stowed with it in an operational flight

Although not the best of images the following is the official loading diagram for a Polsten 20mm AA Gun, along with a jeep, trailer and motorcycle, in a Airspeed AS51 Horsa Assault Glider Mk I.

Although taken later during Operation 'Varsity' in March1945
 this shows a Jeep and Polsten 20mm AA gun off-loading from
 a Horsa glider

Their presence is corroborated in the Air Load Manifest Operation MARKET - First Lift. See; Copies of the manifest are listed towards the end of the page.

The airborne configuration of the gun was magazine fed, primarily using a 60 round drum magazine (an alternate 30 round box magazine was also available). The 20mm round is believed to be the Oerlikon designed 1SS. Practical sustained rate of fire was between 250 and 320 rpm. This gun used a 400-grain (26-gram) charge of  smokeless powder to propel a 2,000-grain (130-gram) projectile at 2,800 feet (850 meters) per second. Maximum range being 4,800 yds.

Given their rate of fire, combined with that of the .303 cal. Vickers 'K' guns on each of the squadron's 39 jeeps, it would be curious to know what the ammunition allowance was for the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron going into the operation. 

As can be seen from the photographs and drawings, manning the gun without the protection of any kind of shield could be hazardous. In the combat environment that existed at Arnhem and in the Oosterbeek perimeter it proved deadly.

Their employment in the battle is established in the following war diary entry;
"1000 - Reports that the enemy have crossed the river LEK in force at RENKUM 6276 and is pressing east. Capt. Costeloe and Lieut. Christie site Polsten section to cover the road west.
1645 - Polsten sections leave to support A and D Troops who are under strong pressure from the enemy. Section fire on their objective. Lieut Christie killed whilst attempting to save Jeep and Polsten."

In addition, a Dr. Clous, a dentist living in Oosterbeek at the time of the battle, was able to take limited movies during the early stages of the battle. In this particular single frame taken from that film, the reader can see one of the two 20mm Polsten guns comprising the section in the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, in tow behind a jeep of the squadron. Given Dr. Clous' records we even know the location and date; Lebretweg 1, Oosterbeek, 18 September 1944. Because it is movie film, and old, the resolution leaves something to be desired.

It's not often that an author has the opportunity to cite information directly from original source documentation. The following is a copy of the actual page of the War Diary of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, Royal Armoured Corps, which specifically cited the above entries:

In the movie "A Bridge Too Far" there is a poignant scene where a British paratrooper loses his life trying to recover one of the few parachuted CLE resupply containers which landed within the shrinking perimeter of the airborne forces at Oosterbeek. When the container is finally opened, it contains nothing but a supply of new red berets. A lot of viewers would immediately interpret this as mere Hollywood injection of theatrical dramatics. In real life who would be so stupid. Read it for yourself on another page of the Squadron's War Diary:

If the viewer can't quite make out the entry, it says "... One contains berets the other an assortment of crowns, pips chevrons, & cap badges ...". Manna from heaven, perhaps for an insignia collector, absolutely not for beleaguered paratroops.

I was not aware at the initiation of this page, and it is with both acknowledgment and apologies, that I can relate to you that Philip Reinders (already 'mentioned in dispatches' elsewhere in this blog) has previously written a booklet on the very same subject. I'm not certain whether he has any copies left, but if anyone is interested he can be contacted at his new blog page; Subsequently Philip has graciously contributed the following additions from his personal research and collection. The first being a photograph of Lieut Christie's grave stone, and the second an empty 20mm cartridge casing recovered from the battlefield.

In addition Colin MacGregor Stevens CD, retired Manager of the New Westminster Museum and Archives in British Columbia, Canada (also Captain (Rtd), Canadian Army), is an advanced airborne collector, and maintains a web page where he discusses in detail the 20mm Polsten as well as other 20mm weapon systems. In this discussion he details a special gun carriage called the “Mounting, Airborne, 20-mm Gun No.2 Mark 2 Land Service.” Colin further states;  “I also have four 20mm shell casings dug up on the battlefield at Arnhem by Hans van der Velden near the Hartenstein Hotel where the British 1st Airborne Division made its heroic stand. These came from the Recce Squadron's second gun which survived to the end of the battle.” With acknowledgment the following is a complete 20mm round from his collection. For those familiar with the design and configuration of machine cannon cartridges, note that the diameter of the base of the cartridge is smaller than the cartridge wall.

As a brief aside I had the opportunity to meet Colin decades ago (1977) while vacationing in Vancouver, British Columbia, and subsequently trading him original shoulder titles of the Commando SBS and Commando 'D' (Depot) for original formation badges of the 153rd and 154th Gurkha Parachute Battalions. Both of us were very pleased then, and certainly even more so today.

The following photograph of a very rare fully restored 20mm Polsten was taken at one of the recent Anniversary Commemorations of the battle.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Universal Carriers of the British 1st Airborne Division at Operation ‘Market Garden’ - 1944

As already  briefly addressed in the page on the 17 Pdr Anti-Tank Guns at Operation ‘Market Garden -1944 and the pages on the Hamilcar glider, the British 1st Airborne Division also used the Hamilcar gliders to deliver a modified version of Universal Carrier to the battlefield at Arnhem and Oosterbeek. It was the Universal Carrier No. 1 Mk III (Airborne Modification).

There is a paucity of accurate information on the subject. In several books considered to be definitive references on the Universal ('Bren') Carrier, the MK III is barely mentioned, and the Airborne Modification totally omitted. Contemporary photographic evidence of Universal Carrier employment during the battle is extremely limited. Philip Reinders, an acknowledged expert on the battle, has authored and published (among others) a well researched book on the subject in 2009, but unfortunately it was a limited edition only produced in small numbers, given its esoteric nature, and has sold out. See;

The primary missions of the carriers were to provide support to the Mortar Platoon and Medium Machine Gun Platoon of each battalion, and a means of rapid recovery of CLE containers and panniers (primarily ammunition) from aerial resupply drops, affording limited protection from small-arms fire and shrapnel in a battlefield environment. During the course of actual combat operations that ensued they were also used on a limited basis to reposition 6 Pdr Anti-Tank guns.  Due to the nature of the mission it was primarily assigned to parachute and/or aiirlanding qualified personnel of the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) assigned to each battalion. Each battalion’s 2 Universal Carriers, their crews, and basic combat load were carried in a single General Aircraft GAL-49 Hamilcar glider.

Only 18 Universal Carriers were contained in the TO&E of the 1st Airborne Division; 2 carriers were assigned to each of the battalions organic to the 2 Parachute Brigades (1st and 4th) and the 1st Airlanding Brigade. Of this number 16 carriers were successfully landed and off-loaded on Landing Zone ‘Z’ (Renkum Heath) near Wolfheze. One Hamilcar crash-landed throwing its 2 carriers through the nose door. One was found to be still operable (immediately deployed), however the second could not be immediately employed (was subsequently ‘salvaged’). These 2 carriers were those unfortunately assigned to LtCol John Frost’s 2nd Bn Parachute Regiment.

The majority, with one known exception (see photograph below), of the Universal Carriers were No. 1 Mk III (Airborne Configuration) per the Airborne Forces Development Centre’s (AFDC) specifications. All of the known carriers photographed during the battle were of this configuration. Modifications were primarily intended to reduce weight and overall size envelope, and included the following:

Removal of the lower rear armour plate
Removal of tool rack, camouflage net and locker
Removal of mud shields and mud scraper
Removal of lamps
Removal of spare wheel
Removal of front loop hole cover
Removal of Petrol Cans
Addition of mounting for 3” mortar on rear structure

As of early April 1944 vehicles were accepted in British factory finished SCC15 Khaki Green (Spec.No.15 BS 987C – 1942, now BS 381C 298), and either left solid color or modified with black ‘Mickey Mouse’ pattern camouflage. In the specific case of the carriers present at Arnhem and Oosterbeek none of the identified carriers had any discernible camouflage paint.

The following are nominal examples of tactical markings present on 1st Airborne Division vehicles. Disregard the specific numbers, but note the style and colors. The white numbers on the red square connote a senior Parachute Brigade Battalion. White numbers on brown square an Airlanding Brigade Battalion. The ‘Pegasus’ is the divisional formation badge. For further information on tactical markings see; on this same blog page.

Based upon a combination of established standard British Army vehicle markings, and contemporary British and German combat photography, the following markings can be verified for the Universal Carriers present in Arnhem and Oosterbeek during the battle.

            Left and right side of carrier: A white star and specific War Department production serial number consisting of the capital letter ‘T’ (either on top of or preceding) a six digit number (either stenciled or painted).

            Front left fender of carrier: The light blue ‘Pegasus’ (flying left to right) on a maroon square, denoting the Airborne Forces formation badge. Standard dimensions of the square being 8.5” wide and 9.5” high. See photograph of carrier T248395 below.

            Front right fender of carrier: The specific unit Arm of Service (AoS) tactical marking consisting of a white number (stenciled or painted) on top of a range of single or multi-colored squares. Again the standard dimensions being 8.5” wide and 9.5” high.

For the carriers present, and photographed during the battle, there were no rear markings and there were no yellow bridging ‘discs’.

There are known photographs of only 2 carriers where the ‘T’ number is discernible; T248395 and T248405. The keen eyed observer will note that  T248395 is the identical vehicle previously used as a photographic model by the Airborne Forces Development Centre shown above. A rather remarkable coincidence.

The sum total of confirmed photographic evidence on unit markings from both British (Army Film and Photographic Unit) and German Army combat photographic archives consists of:

• White ‘69’ on green square, carrier belonging to the 11th Parachute Battalion (part of 4th Parachute Brigade); photograph of carrier seen on cover of Philip Reinder's booklet; Note that in this case the unit marking is on the left fender vice its ‘normal’ place on the right fender. Given the presence of the civilian in the photograph, it may have been taken by a Dutch civilian.
• White ‘110’ on brown square, carrier belonging to the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment (Airlanding) on carrier T248395. (Number is barely discernible on damaged right fender). Carefully observe the size, shape and spacing of the number.
• White ‘113’ on brown square, carrier belonging to the 1st Battalion The Border Regiment (Airlanding) according to Philip Reinders. Barely discernible in photograph from German military archives. Have not seen this photograph (B2)

The following photograph was taken by LCpl Reg McFarlane of Divisional Signals in a position just to the rear of the Utrechtseweg/Onderlangs roadfork during the  fighting around the St Elisabeth Hospital. It shows the rear of a Universal Carrier No.1 Mk III (Airborne Modification). The fittings and straps intended for a 3” mortar are being used in an improvised means of stowing spare bogey wheels. This photograph also corroborates the absence of any markings on the rear of the carriers.

Photograph of ‘C’ Squadron of the Glider Pilot Regiment loading an unmodified Universal Carrier No. 1 Mk III into a Hamilcar glider bound for Arnhem (note minimal horizontal clearance). Usually censorship marks are white and irregular, so it may be that this specific carrier had no front fender tactical markings.

 According to Philip Reinders some crew members were RASC (airborne or airlanding qualified) or at least had RASC T/ or S/army numbers, other drivers were from the units themselves, i.e. Parachute or Airlanding Battalions.

The following series of photographs are of a recently introduced detailed ~1:30 scale model of one of the Universal Carriers No.1 Mk III (Airborne Configuration) depicted above, produced and available in the Operation Market-Garden Series from King & Country Toy Soldiers of Hong Kong. A sharp eye will pick up the fact that in the model the lower rear armoured plate was retained to facilitate providing a pintle which allows towing of a trailer or artillery piece, unlike the actual airborne carrier which used an improvised heavy chain fitting for this function. This was an exercise of artistic license.

Universal Carrier, No.1 MkIII (Airborne Configuration)
"T 248395" as present in the Battle of Arnhem 

Acknowledgement is given to the following sources of information:
Margry, K., OPERATION MARKET-GARDEN Then and Now (Vol 1 and 2), After the Battle, London, 2002, ISBN 1 870067 45 2
Peters, M. & Buist, L., Glider Pilots at Arnhem, Pen & Sword, Barnsley South Yorkshire, 2009 ISBN184415763-6
Middlebrook, M., ARNHEM 1944 The Airborne Battle, Viking, London, 1994 ISBN 0-670-83546-3
Piekalkiewicz, J., Arnhem 1944, Scribner’s, New York, 1976 ISBN 0-684-15479-X
Taylor, R., WARPAINT Volume II: Colours and Markings of British Army Vehicles 1903-2003, MMP Books, Poland ISBN 8389450925
Reinders, P., Universal Carriers during the Battle of Arnhem 17-26 September 1944, TMB Image Center, Netherlands, 2009 ISBN (None), (With additional e-mail correspondence directly with the author)
Bouchery, J., THE BRITISH SOLDIER FROM D-DAY TO VE-DAY (Vol 1 and 2), Histoire & Collections, Paris, 1999 ISBN 2 908 182 742
Hodges,P. and Taylor, M., British Military Markings 1939-1945, Cannon Publications, 1994, ISBN 1-899695-00-1