It is often forgotten that the Home Guard had a front line role to play in the defence of Britain during the Second World War. As well as patrolling their local area, the Home Guard were increasingly used to man fixed anti-aircraft sites to free up fitter men for more mobile and front line roles. The weapons manned consisted of both traditional artillery pieces and rocket projectors known as Z Batteries. Like much of the Home Guard’s work, this job has gone largely un recognised and indeed at the time all the men got was a small card expressing the thanks of General Pile, head of Anti-Aircraft Command:This little card is a rare survivor and has printed at the top the black bow on red background of the command’s formation patch:For more information on the badge please look here. One Home guard member who served on Z-Batteries has left us this account:
I was working on electrical repairs in the many textile mills and engineering factories and foundries in the area when I was conscripted into the home guard.
Not the usual infantry but a newly formed Anti-aircraft battery firing rockets. These were new weapons in addition to the many conventional 3.75 AA guns in the area. These new rocket projectors were to be manned and operated by the Home Guard.
The individual rocket projectiles were made of strong sheet metal welded into the shape of a pipe about six feet long and four inches in diameter. In the last foot of length at the business end was a high explosive AA shell, with a fuse in the nose cone, operated by air pressure at any selected height. This was adjusted with a special spanner before the rocket was loaded onto the launcher (projector). There were four stabilising tail fins (quite sharp to the touch) at the rear end. There were eight rockets, each loaded by hand on to their own guide rails on the projector. It was like handling a heavy awkward length of household rainwater pipe, and you had to slide it up the guide rails, then pull it back on to the electrical firing contacts. There were eight projectors in a battery… For the first few times we trained on dummy machines with dummy rounds in the Huddersfield Territorials’ drill hall. We practised loading the rockets correctly and aiming the projectors by means of two-man teams operating large hand wheels whilst standing on either side of the roofed over platform. One man controlled the bearing read off on a dial marked in degrees, indicated by a pointer. The elevation was similarly controlled and set by the number two man on the other side of the platform. Communication was by earphone and microphone to each other and from the Control Centre… Then we went operational. Duty at a battery three nights a week. We carried on practising with the dummy rounds but the real ones were stored in a bunker near each projector, which were about 30 yards apart. We never fired in anger, though we stood by with enemy planes overhead several times. The reason was that the area for miles around was residential and to fire over the houses would have caused a lot of damage as the empty metal rocket fuel containers fell from the sky on to the rooftops…
We did practice live fire once. It was a glorious ‘summer’ day in November and we were taken by train and lorry to Hornsea on the North Yorkshire coast. Each platoon went in turn to the projectors lined up on the cliff top and loaded live rockets (I was worried about my fingers) and fired a salvo into the sky over the sea. I was never more scared in my life. Great 30 foot long sheets of flame past our heads and a roar like an express train in a tunnel, and the flimsy metal structure of the platform of the projector shaking and resonating; and us too shocked and deaf to hear the commands to check for misfires and turn to a neutral bearing.
The business of loading a troop ship to transport a regiment to a foreign theatre was always fraught with difficulties. Large numbers of men had to be brought aboard the ship, taken to the correct location and checked to ensure no one was missing or should not have been there. In order to sort this task, as ever, the army bureaucracy swung into action with a variety of forms and check lists. Tonight we are looking at an example of the embarkation tags issued to individual soldiers before they reached the ship:This two part tag was filled out by the individual soldier and as explained on the front of the tag, on boarding the ship the soldier gave the front half of the tag to those organising the embarkation:This ensured that the embarkation officer knew who was on board the ship and could check the names off against a list of who was supposed to be there to see if anyone was missing. These tags were issued to all ranks, and strict instructions warned troops not to board without handing over the front half of the tag:The second half of the tag was retained until the end of the journey, when the same process was repeated to ensure everyone who was expected to be disembarking had done so:The military forces were aware that circumstances could change, so the bottom half of this piece of the tag allowed troops to be disembarked early if there was an emergency or so forth:This particular tag was partially filled out, but never used. Although we don’t know when it was used, a printing date is marked on the front which shows it was produced in May 1944:The following description relates life on board one of these troop ships for the men being transported:
In mid March 1943, the troopship Windsor Castle”, once luxury liner of the Union Castle Line, slipped down the Clyde to join convoy KMF 11. Over 2,500 men were packed on board. When the ship began to heave, side-slip and wallow in the Bay of Biscay, we on “E” deck, the lowest habitable quarters for troops, dripping with sweat, some sea-sick, would compete for the small air vents fixed in the deck roof. Fortunately we were not confined below decks all the time, but would come up for PE and boat drill. Soon we could find our rafts stations with the minimum of disorder. None on E deck saw the Rock of Gibraltar because we had been ordered below. We then knew that our destination was North Africa and we spent the earlier part of the night packing our kit ready for disembarkation. After that we lay back in our hammocks, slung over the mess tables, some of us contravening orders to spend the whole voyage fully clothed. The atmosphere was sweltering. Some removed boots, others jackets and a few undressed completely. Towards midnight “E” deck grew quiet. I lay in my hammock trying to read Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” , until the heat made even reading an effort. My boots came off. I loosened my battledress jacket and dozed off
At the end of last year we looked at a 1960s parachute illuminating mortar bomb here. Tonight we are looking at a second example of the parachute flare mortar bomb, this time however it is a wartime example and is far more complete than the previous one:Unlike later bombs, this example is painted black, with yellow lettering stencilled on the outside:The thin metal cap that covers the end is still extant on this bomb, and is stamped with a date of 1940:The end cap is also wartime dated, here it is 1942:The FD stands for Fry’s Die Castings Ltd, of London, who manufactured the component. The distinctive holes for a parachute illuminating bomb can be seen directly above the tail of the mortar bomb:These had closing discs over them originally which burnt away when the bomb was fired. Inside the bomb originally would have been a parachute, flare canister and small bursting charge:Unusually this bomb still has the parachute:And the burnt out remains of the flare:The 1959 mortar manual describes its operation:
The flash from the cartridge, when fired, penetrates the closing discs and ignites a delay charge; this in turn ignites a bursting charge of gunpowder which ignites and ejects the flare; a small parachute, packed in the nose of the bomb, is attached to the flare and is ejected at the same time, opening at once and suspending the flare below it.
The pamphlet also gives some guidance on the use of these bombs:
- These bombs contain a flare attached to a parachute. When the bomb is fired at an angle of 80 degrees the parachute is ejected at a height of about 600 feet. At this height the flare gives its best performance. It will burn for about 30 seconds, descending slowly and drifting with the wind as it does so.
- In still air or light winds the mortar should be fired at an angle of 80 degrees. This will allow the flare to be ejected at a distance of about 100 to 150 yards from the mortar position. If light is required at a greater distance the angle must be lessened as when firing smoke bombs. At its reduced height the flare will not light up so big an area.
- Whenever possible place the flare behind the enemy, as this will silhouette him against the light. To avoid our own troops being silhouetted against the light, care must be taken, especially in head winds, to ensure that flares do not drift behind our forward positions. Do not, if it can be avoided, place the flare between the enemy and our own troops as its effect will be to dazzle the defenders thus placing them at a disadvantage.
- When the wind is strong the firer will have to judge its effect and alter the angle of the mortar according to where the light is required. The principle is to fire the bomb up wind, allowing the flare to drift over the area where light is required.
- Although the flare is efficient and will light up the battlefield a good distance in front of the platoon position, its uncontrolled use may also show up the activities of our own troops. Orders will be given when flares at platoon level are not to be fired.
We have looked at French ‘invasion currency’ notes on this blog before, but tonight we are turning to one of the notes issued by the occupying authorities in Germany following its invasion in 1945. This note is of a similar size and style to those issued in France, but in German and for Deutschmarks rather than Francs. Here we have a note for 1 Mark:Other notes covered denominations of ½, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 1000 Marks. The rear of the notes has a large ‘M’ in a complicated pattern to deter forgeries:These notes were printed in both the US from September 1944 to June 1948 and the USSR during approximately the same period. The US notes have a hidden ‘F’ mark to indicate the country of printing. 532,000,000 German notes were printed by The Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company in the US in the various denominations. The first digits of the notes serial numbers indicate which occupation zone they were intended for (‘1’ for the US, ‘0’ for British, ‘00’ for the French) although of course these notes got all muddled up with use, along with those manufactured in the Soviet Union. Whilst the Western Allies kept a tight lid on the number of notes they issued, the Soviets were more indiscriminate with the inevitable result that the influx of currency fuelled inflation.
A directive to allied troops in 1945 read “US forces and other Allied forces will use Allied Military marks and Reichsmark currency or coins in their possession. AM marks and Reichsmak currency and coin now in circulation will be legal tender without distinction and be interchangeable at the rate of one AM mark for one Reichsmark. German military currency and Reichkreditkassenscheine will not be legal tender in Germany.”
For a fascinating account of the difficulties faced in Germany in the immediate post war era due to currency please take a look at this article here.
In 1943 the British forces in the Mediterranean issued a set of bank notes for British troops to use, in anticipation of the upcoming invasion of Tripolitania. These notes were issued in 6d, 1/-, 2/6, 10/- and £1 denominations and were lithographed onto paper with a security thread included. Tonight we are taking a look at the one shilling note:As can be seen these notes lack any serial number, but the letter code does change so this presumably refers to a printing run. The Lion over a crown is a typical symbol for the British Army in this period. The design consists of a large number of intricate lines to help reduce fraud. Turning to the rear of the note, the design is again made up of different coloured lines and hatching, with the denomination of the note in the centre:ME Griffin was stationed in the Mediterranean and remembers the notes:
An Intelligence Officer took me to one of the ships moored in a bay off Athens. He said to me, “This ship has got Red Cross supplies on board — but there are also 85 sealed boxes of money for the Greek Government under cover.” This was to replace the money the Germans had printed which was useless now. In fact the Greek civilians were using gold sovereigns issued by the British Government, and we were paid with notes issued by the British military authority for 5 shillings, half crowns and 1 shilling. The civilians would also accept these notes but they would charge you 5 shillings for a tin of corned beef!