Saturday, December 17, 2016

Gordon Highlanders Regimental Cutlery to properly “Address the Haggis”

As fellow Scots know far better than I, one of the signal events of Roberts Burn’s Night is the "Address to the Haggis", a poem authored by Burns in 1786, and recited at every Burn’s Night ever since. It is celebrated on January 25 in commemoration of his birth on that day in 1759.

The decade of 2000 to 2010 in my personal opinion were truly the halcyon years of e-Bay. During that period I was able to find and successfully bid on some unique pieces of Scottish military history.

One of the items was a set of regimental cutlery (stainless steel flatware) most probably from the officer’s mess of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders. An alternate theory would be that it came from either the Warrant Officer’s or Sergeant’s Mess. The rationale for this being that it was placed on e-Bay by a former serving bagpiper (precise rank unknown) of the regiment, who resided in Northern Ireland at the time of the auction. It consists of 6 place settings (9 pieces each), less a missing sweet spoon (replaced in correct pattern, but without regimental marking), with a mustard (covered) and salt/condiment dish which each contain indigo blue glass inserts and small serving spoons, and 2 condiment spoons of different size. The two condiment dishes are engraved with the cipher ERII. Manufactured and marked by Oneida Stainless in believed to be the Ardmore pattern (now retired "beaded pattern"), each of the pieces is die stamped with an insigne identical to the regiment’s contemporary service dress sporran badge with king’s crown (George VI - pre1953). The condiment spoons are each marked 75 S.M, with Mappin & Webb Princesplate and hallmarked on the backs. All are contained in a dark blue velvet lined mahogany canteen (silverware chest), which can accommodate 12 place settings.

With most profuse apologies to the "President of the Mess", and the rationalization that it provides an exercise for eagle-eyed observers, what is incorrect in the following place setting? In due course the error will be corrected with a new image.

Each complete place setting is allegedly comprised of the following, per the original auction description; a fish fork, fork, knife, fish knife, side knife, soup spoon, sweet spoon, sweet fork and a teaspoon. Personally could not initially discern any difference between a fish fork and a sweet fork. They both looked like salad forks to me. However, on very close examination the one set of forks has a small but distinct notch on either side between the handle and tines of the fork. I believe these to be fish forks (but not certain).

As promised, to the best of my knowledge, the following would be a correct setting of the nine pieces at each place at the table. From left to right; fish fork, fork, sweet fork, teaspoon (at top of plate), side knife, knife, fish knife, sweet spoon, and soup spoon. The fish knife was incorrectly placed in the previous setting.

After 200 year’s service to the Crown, like all British Army regiments, there was a significant acquisition of regimental silver. A major amount of this now being on display in the Silver Room at the Gordons' Regimental Museum in Aberdeen, Scotland. Having had the opportunity of a personal visit to the museum in the late summer of 2006, I’m certain that a sufficient quantity of sterling silver flatware exists to fully set the table(s) for a regimental dining in, or other special occasions. The dining ins included "Inspection Nights", "Band Night", "Regimental Guest Nights" and "Guest Nights". Special occasions would have included; Dragai Day, Waterloo Dinner, Raising of the Regiment, Robert Burns Night, and visits from the regiment's Cornel-in-Chief (Charles, Prince of Wales). Dining in Mess "is a Parade" with compulsory attendance. 

 Given these facts this flatware, although in “very good used condition”, was in all likelihood used on a semi-formal basis for meals in the Officer’s Mess. Rationale being that a 9-piece place setting would be a “bit over the top” for normal meals. As such it was probably auctioned off in lots on the introduction of comparable cutlery bearing Queen Elizabeth II’s cipher/insigne (Queen’s Crown), in the 1953-54 time frame, or subsequently on the disbanding of the regiment in 1994. It further stands to reason that the mahogany canteen, though totally appropriate and most attractive, is not original to the cutlery.

As an adjunct and admittedly an anachronism, the following article published in March 1919, offers an insight as to the origins and evolution of the Mess-Rooms of all the Regiments of the British Army. It is provided for possible reader interest, based upon the established popularity of the recent award-winning British television series Downton Abbey.

It’s also insightful that most of these customs and traditions remain in use with not only the armed forces of the former British Commonwealth, but the armed forces of the United States of America, particularly the United States Marine Corps.

Finally for the enjoyment of fellow Scots, throughout the world, and the edification, and more than probable boredom of everyone else, what follows is the original and translation in English of  "Address to a Haggis".

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.
Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

Fair and full is your honest, jolly face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.
The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!
Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old head of the table, most like to burst,
'The grace!' hums.
Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?
Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He'll make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off
Like the heads of thistles.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The 6 pounder Anti-Tank Guns at Operation 'Market Garden' - Arnhem 1944

In the document AIRBORNE OPERATIONS, Pamphlet No. 1 GENERAL, 1943 (Provisional), May 1943, under General Considerations for Airborne Operations, one of the highest ranking concerns was the vulnerability to tank attack. Inherent by their very nature airborne troops are limited in their T.O. and E. to the antitank artillery organic at each organizational level. See; 

The 1st Airborne Division as it jumped and glided in at Operation Market Garden had the following anti-tank artillery assets, which were limited to the two Airlanding Anti-tank Batteries RA contained within the 4th Airlanding Brigade.

The basic antitank gun team was embarked in two Airspeed AS.51 Horsa gliders. The first glider carried a jeep, 2 ammunition trailers, a 6 pdr Anti-Tank gun, a sergeant as gun commander, and three members of the gun detachment. A second glider also carried a jeep, two ammunition trailers, and an NCO and remaining member of the gun crew. The ammunition allowance carried in the three trailers was comprised of 15 armor piercing, and 27 Sabot, totaling 42 rounds per gun. This was less than half the normal Royal Artillery ammunition allowance of 96 rounds, due to airborne logistics limitations.

In addition 30 panniers of 6 pdr Anti-Tank APCBC (Mk 9T) rounds were included in the bulk cargo loads planned for delivery in three Hamilcar gliders in the second lift. Based on the size of a pannier which contained two metal cases of 6 pdr ammunition (4 rounds/case), this would be 240 rounds. See: There were 500 rounds of 6 pdr Anti-Tank ammunition which were air dispatched by pannier, and recovered by the British during the course of the battle.

Each gun was an Ordnance, Quick Firing, 6 pdr, Anti-Tank Gun Mk IV (L/50 barrel with muzzle brake) on a Mk III (Airborne) Carriage. Significant major modifications were required to reduce weight and requisite to fit the gun into the 4 ft. 6 in. confines of a Horsa glider. These included:

            • Incorporation of L/50 barrel with muzzle brake
            • Reduction of the wheel track, restricting traverse to 37 deg. left or right
            • Reducing the size and shape of the Main Shield
            • Reducing the sides of the Lower Shield
            • Reducing the width of the lower Splinter Shield
            • Providing hinges in the middle of each trail leg
            • Reduction of the weight of the trails
            • Relocation of the Elevation Wheel
            • Modification of the Transport Lock and Towing Eye

The effective range of the 6 pdr was 1650 yds, with the maximum firing range at 5500 yds. It is interesting to note that while elevation/depression of the gun was effected by the elevation wheel geared to the body of the breech, the weapon used "free traverse" (not geared) by the crew pushing and nudging the back of the breech block. Apparently this design reduced both complexity and weight.

The following drawing, with acknowledgement and gratitude to the Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) Club, summarizes the modified and unmodified configurations of the gun.

Assembled the AFV Club 1:35 scale model provides an excellent replication of the real gun, as can be seen in the following photographs.

The completed model in full "battledress" to be compared with the real thing.

Photographs of the standard 6 pdr Anti-Tank Gun followed by the Airborne configuration.

Further, with acknowledgement and gratitude to NET-MAQUETTES, the following video series shows first the basic Ordnance, Q.F., 6 pdr (7 cwt), Ant-Tank Gun Mk II on a standard Mk I Carriage, and the second video the Airborne configuration, showing detailed photographs of those modifications.

Prior to the Arnhem operation the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery RA, was reformed into six troops. Four troops were each equipped with four 6 pdr AT guns each (16 guns total), and two troops each with four of the heavier 17 pdr AT guns. These weapons were assigned in direct support of the three Para Bns (1st Para, 2nd Para and 3rd Para Bns) comprising the 1st Parachute Brigade.

A second battery, the 2nd (Oban) Airlanding Ant-Tank Artillery Battery, was comprised of three troops of four 6 pdr AT guns (12 guns), and two troops each equipped with four 17 pdr AT guns. These weapons were assigned in direct support of the three Para Bns (10th Para, 11th Para and 156th Para Bns) comprising the 4th Parachute Brigade.

In addition to these two anti-tank batteries, each of the respective Support Companies, of the 2nd Bn South Staffordshire Regiment (Airlanding), 1st Battalion The Border Regiment (Airlanding), and 7th Battalion King's Own Scottish Borderers (Airlanding) had two Anti-Tank Platoons. Each of these platoons was comprised of four 6 pdr AT guns with associated crews, supporting jeeps, and ammunition trailers. This provided an additional 24 anti-tank guns.

The action of the 17 pdr Ant-Tank Guns (all  delivered by Hamilcar gliders) has already been discussed in detail in: 

The only guns to fight all the way from the landing zones to the division’s primary objective were five 6 pdrs of the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery which successfully joined LtCol John Frost’s 2nd Bn Para at the north side of the main Arnhem road bridge.They would provide what was to prove critical support in the ensuing battle at the bridge. These guns were principally credited with the complete destruction of  Waffen-SS HauptstrumfΓΌhrer Viktor Graebner's reconnaissance battalion at the north side of the main road bridge on 18 September. Amongst the 21 vehicles of Graebner's SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 9 shown destroyed, are 8 Sd.Kfz.250/1 ‘alt’ half-tracks.

Based on War Diary entries, altogether four 6 pdrs and two 17 pdrs of the Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery supporting the 4th Parachute Brigade, and three 6 pdrs from "E" Troop, successfully reached the Divisional Troops Area, i.e. the Hartenstein Hotel/Oosterbeek Perimeter.

This iconic photograph is of the gun crew of a 6 pdr ironically named Gallipoli II, within the Oosterbeek Perimeter, engaging a German tank at a range of 80 yards. The only man with his face toward the AFPU camera is unidentified. The rest of the gun crew (L-R) are LCpl R. Eccles, Pvt G. 'Taffy' Barr and Pvt Joe Cunnington (No. 25 Anti-Tank Platoon, 1st Bn, Borders Regt (Airlanding)). The target, a PzKpfw B2 (f), was knocked out of action.

 In a significant action a Section (two) of 6 pdr Anti-Tank Guns were brought into position and sited on either side of a critical road junction at Bendendorpsweg and Acacialaan in Oosterbeek. On 20 September 1944 a coordinated major German attack was mounted on Bendendorpsweg towards the positions of the 2nd Bn South Staffordshire Regiment (Airlanding). This gun position commanded by LSgt John Daniel Baskeyfield of the South Staffords, was reported to have engaged and destroyed two Tiger I tanks and  a Sturmgeschutz III self-propelled gun. Subsequent extended in-depth research has concluded that it was probably three Sturmgeschutz IIIs, hardly a small feat. Although badly wounded in the leg, and with his entire gun crew killed or badly wounded, and his 6 pounder put out of action, he crawled across the road to the other still operable gun, whose crew had been killed, and single-handedly engaged and destroyed another Sturmgeschutz III. While reloading, his position sustained a direct hit from another German armored vehicle, and he was killed. LSgt John Daniel Baskeyfield was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

A 1:35 scale model 6 pdr in the author's collection. It is observed from a similar orientation as the weapon LSgt Baskeyfield was serving when he engaged the last Sturmgeschutz destroyed before his position sustained a direct hit, and he was killed. Particularly sharp-eyed individuals and ex-artillerymen will notice that the lever to disengage the gun from the hydro-pneumatic recoil/counter-recoil cylinder is incorrect in the model. This detail has since been rectified.

The following photograph is a destroyed Sd.Kfz. 142/1 Sturmgeschutz III Ausf. G 'late version' of Sturmgeschutz-Brigade 280 Kgr. 'Harder'. Due to its location on Bendendorpsweg, it is probably one of the Sturmgeschutz destroyed by LSgt Baskeyfield's gun. Given the effective range of a 6 pdr, and an estimate of distances from the previous painting and Google earth, the engagement range appears within 100 hundred yards or so. This range is corroborated by the modern nominal standard distance between light posts (about 23 m or 75 feet) in the Netherlands. 

LSgt Baskeyfield's gun position on the horizon, as seen from behind the Sturmgeschutz III shown above.

The following two photographs are from Google Earth. The first is a bit out of focus in order that I could exploit the existing legends for the intersection of Benedendorpsweg and Acacialaan. The roadway is now obscured by trees, however the curvature which would have partially screened the gun positions is discernable. The second image is much clearer and shows the area on either side of Benedendorpsweg where the gun positions were sited. The location in Oosterbeek is just north of the northern bank of the Nijer Rhine.

Terence Tenison Cuneo CVO, OBE, RGI, FGRA, was a preeminent British artist. One of his specialties was depicting historical military actions. Given his impeccable credentials, his painting of LSgt John Daniel Baskeyfield VC, shown above, is deemed likely to be historically basically accurate. Having said that, this author would question whether the 6 pdr depicted by Cuneo is the correct airborne configuration. The reader should note the space between the right wheel and the trail, the size of the splinter shield, and the absence of the hinge assembly on the trail. Aside from those significant details, apparently all the buildings in vicinity which existed contemporary with the action were badly damaged, if not destroyed. In any event they were totally razed and replaced after the war, with the exception of the buildings on the south side of Benedendorpsweg which were never rebuilt, judging from recent Google Earth imagery.