posted by author Charles McCain

Battleship HMS Prince of Wales



HMS Prince of Wales 

Donation of Vice Admiral Harry Sanders, USN(Retired), 1969.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.


HMS Prince of Wales on sea trials shortly before her engagement with the Bismarck.

(Official US Navy photo)

Before going into action against the Bismarck, the officers and crew ofHMS Prince of Wales were as emotionally wound up tight as cat gut on a tennis racket. Most of the crew were young, “Hostilities Only” ratings as opposed to regular, long service Royal Navy sailors. This would be their first time in action.

Realizing this several minutes before the Prince of Wales engaged the Bismarck in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, Captain John Leach, RN, sent for the ship’s chaplain. Upon his breathless arrival on the open bridge, the Captain told the Padre that they were going into action and he wanted him to read a specific prayer over the public address system or tannoy. And the prayer the Captain wanted  was “Sir Jacob Astley’s Prayer Before (the battle of) Edgehill.

The chaplain dashed to his cabin where he had the exact words of this prayer which would have been familiar to most of the crew. Upon returning to the bridge, the Padre took up the microphone and prayed:

“O Lord, Thou knowest how busy we must be today, if we forget Thee, do not Thou forget us; for Christ’s sake. Amen.”

Seconds later the main batteries fired. Amen.



One of the most iconic photographs of World War Two shows American and British officers and men at a church service on the quarterdeck of HMS Prince of Wales.


Atlantic Charter Conference, 10-12 August 1941

Church service on the after deck of HMS Prince of Wales, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, during the conference. Seated in the center are President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Standing behind them are Admiral Ernest J. King, USN (between Roosevelt and Churchill); General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army; General Sir John Dill, British Army; Admiral Harold R. Stark, USN; and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, RN.
USS Arkansas (BB-33) is in the center distance.

Donation of Vice Admiral Harry Sanders, USN(Retired), 1969.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Sources: US National Archives, US Navy History and Heritage Command and an outstanding biography of John Leach, Captain of the Prince of Wales: “In the Highest Traditions of the Royal Navy–the Life of Captain John Leach, MVO, DSO by Matthew B. Wills. If you have an interest in the brief life of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales then you will enjoy this book. Captain Leach commanded the POW for the entire time the ship was in commission. He perished when HMS Prince of Wales was sunk off Singapore on 10 December 1941 by Japanese aircraft.

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Posted by on April 20, 2015 in Atlantic Theater

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posted by author and historian Charles McCain


passenger ship SS City of Cairo owned by Ellerman Line circa 1939

(Photo from

Sunk on 6 Nov 1942 by U-68 under the command of Korvettenkapitän Karl-Friedrich Merten.



“A British-led team has recovered a $50m (£34m; €47m) trove of silver coins that has lain on the seabed since the steamship carrying it from Bombay to England was sunk in 1942.

The SS City of Cairo was torpedoed 772km (480 miles) south of St Helena by a German U-boat and sank to 5,150m.

The 100 tonnes of coins, recovered in the deepest salvage operation in history, belonged to HM Treasury.

The silver rupees had been called in by London to help fund the war effort.

But they never made it. The steamship’s tall plume of smoke was spotted by a U-boat on 6 November 1942 and it was torpedoed.

The remainder of the article is here:


Info on SS City of Cairo and her sinking from

Type: Steam passenger ship
Tonnage 8,034 tons
Completed 1915 – Earle’s Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Hull
Owner Ellerman Lines Ltd, London
Homeport: Liverpool
Date of attack 6 Nov 1942 Nationality: British

Fate Sunk by U-68 (Karl-Friedrich Merten)
Position 23° 30’S, 5° 30’W – Grid GF 3811
Complement 311 (104 dead and 207 survivors).
Convoy Route Bombay (1 Oct) – Durban – Capetown (1 Nov) – Pernambuco, Brazil – UK
Cargo 7422 tons of general cargo, including pig iron, timber, wool, cotton, manganese ore and 2000 boxes silver coins
History: Completed in January 1915.
On 1 Nov 1942 the City of Cairo (Master William A. Rogerson) left Capetown with 150 passengers, of whom nearly a third were women and children and followed the African coast until she reached a longitude of 23°30S, where she turned westward across the South Atlantic. She was unescorted, only capable of 12 knots and her engines burned smokily. On 6 November, the smoke trail was sighted by U-68 and at 21.36 hours one torpedo struck the City of Cairo. The master gave order to abandon ship and all the women and children left the ship safely, only six people were lost in the evacuation. Merten fired a second torpedo after 20 minutes, which caused the ship to sink by the stern about 450 miles south of St. Helena. Then U-68 questioned the survivors in the six overcrowded lifeboats and left the area.

The survivors were over 1000 miles from the African coast, and twice as far from South America. Because of their limited supplies, they set sail for St. Helena. The survivors calculated that they should reach St. Helena in two to three weeks and rationed the drinking water accordingly. Everyone was limited to 110 milliliters a day, even though they were exposed to tropical heat. Over the course of the next three weeks, some of the boats were found by other ships, but others disappeared. 79 crew members, three gunners and 22 passengers were lost. The master and 154 survivors were picked up by the Clan Alpine and landed on St. Helena. 47 survivors were picked up by the British steam merchant Bendoran and landed at Capetown.

One boat with 17 people on board had calculated that they reach St. Helena on 20 November, but by the 23, several were already dead and the island was still not in sight. They were certain that they must have missed St. Helena and, rather than circle around in a vain attempt to discover it, they decided to head west to the coast of South America, which they knew to be a further 1500 miles distant.

On 27 December, after a voyage of 51 days, two exhausted survivors (third officer J. Whyte and passenger Margaret Gordon) were picked up by Caravelas (C 5), only 80 miles off the coast and landed at Recife. The third officer was awarded the MBE and was repatriated on City of Pretoria, but died when this ship was sunk by U-172 (Emmermann) on 4 March 1943. The woman was awarded the BEM and refused to cross the Atlantic until the war was over.

Three survivors were picked up by the German blockade runner Rhakotis (Kapitän z.S. Jacobs) on a voyage from Japan to Bordeaux. On 1 Jan 1943 the ship was torpedoed and sunk by HMS Scylla (98) (Capt I.A.P. Macintyre, CBE, DSO, RN) about 200 miles northwest of Cape Finisterre. One of the survivors from City of Cairo died. The remaining two men were picked up by U-410 (Sturm) and landed as prisoners at St. Nazaire three days later.

These two men must have had one hell of a story to tell.

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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Europe Theater

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posted by author and historian Charles McCain



A World War Two RAF Avro Lancaster bomber aircraft, complete with Guy Gibson’s serial number of AJG from 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron, flies past Teesside Airport  (photo Imperial War Museum)



Breathless, Inaccurate but Interesting Piece from the London Daily Mail


Inventor Barnes Wallis ran tests in his garden, using his daughter’s marbles and a tin bath filled with water before he came up with the daring plan.

Four marbles used to help develop the bouncing bombs dropped by the Dambusters are up for auction. Inventor Barnes Wallis ran tests in his garden, using his daughter’s marbles and a tin bath filled with water.

The 1943 raid on Germ­any’s Ruhr valley helped change the course of the Second World War. (THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE Says Charles McCain)

The remainder of the story is here:

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Posted by on April 15, 2015 in Europe Theater

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posted by author and historian Charles McCain


The famous German 88, the best and most versatile artillery piece of World War Two. While originally developed in World War One and made in many versions, 88’s were devastating as regular artillery pieces, as anti-aircraft guns and as tank killers. On the Eastern Front against the Soviets, one German 88 artillery piece could hold off an attack by dozens of Russian tanks because the 88 far out ranged the Soviet tanks.

Hence the 88 could take them under fire long before the tanks could fire at the 88. It remains a mystery why the Allies didn’t make copies of this artillery piece and use it for themselves.

One disadvantageous feature the 88s was this: the guns were originally designed to be emplaced on the ground. According to US Army records from WW Two, while it only took a well trained crew 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes to emplace an 88, this assumes the 88 was being towed by a heavy truck or prime mover.



A German 88mm artillery piece is towed by a SdKfz 6 half-track in North Africa, April, 1941. The 88mm was typically towed by a half-track that carried the gun crew and ammunition. (Bundesarchive photo via



88 being deployed in the Soviet Union circa 1943/44.

However, if one studies photographs of an 88 being removed from its wheeled transport carriage, as in the photograph above,  it appears that it would have taken longer than than a few minutes to emplace this heavy artillery piece.

The men had to removed the wheeled transport carriage before firing although in an emergency it could be fired from its wheeled carriage but without the outriggers emplaced into the ground, stability was negatively affected which made accurate fire difficult.

If the 88 had to unloaded from a flatbed rail-car, which was often the case, then it took much longer. Except in a dire emergency, they could not be fired from rail cars because the base of the 88 required four long stability outriggers to be deployed and secured to the ground.

If German units were being overrun by Soviet or Allied troops, they often had to leave their 88s to be captured although they destroyed the breech blocks and dropped grenades down the barrels before retreating.

While the Germans did begin to manufacture self propelled, mobile 88s, their industrial base was too small to turn out adequate numbers of the self propelled guns.


Nordfrankreich, Panzer VI (Tiger I).2

(photo courtesy of the Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-299-1805-16)

A variation of the 88 was mounted on the famous Tiger tank (which took 300,000 man hours to manufacture just one of these tanks) and the even bigger Royal Tiger, made these tanks formidable opponents. No Allied tank could stand alone against a Tiger.

The Royal Tiger was at a certain disadvantage because the gun would not traverse and instead the crew had to move the tank so the barrel pointed in the direction they wanted to fire.

The 88 was a fearsome artillery piece especially as against tanks but also as a general artillery piece and as flak artillery. When using the correct ammunition, the 88 could fire as high as 22,000 feet which was about the altitude of Allied bombers.


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Admiral Dudley Pound Wouldn’t Take His Own Advice

posted by author Charles McCain


iwn pound and SC

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound and the Prime Minister on the deck of the SS Queen Mary. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Early in his tenure as First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Dudley Pound wrote to a close friend in the navy and said, “why have Commanders-in-Chiefs and do their work for them? If they are not capable of doing it they must make way for someone who can.” 1

Unique amongst the respective British service commands, the Admiralty had command, organizational and administrative responsibilities of a standard service ministry but also had operational control over the fleets.

Unfortunately, Dudley Pound didn’t take his own advice during the war since he often went over the heads of his C-in-Cs and gave orders to formations under their command.

During the disastrous campaign in Norway beginning in early April 1940, Pound went over the head of both the senior Royal Navy officer on the scene (Admiral Jock Whitworth) as well over the head Whitworth’s C.O., the Commander in Chief, Home Fleet. Pound even sent orders to individual ships. This caused immense confusion as you might imagine.

While many of the orders sent to RN ships fighting in the Norwegian campaign by Dudley Pound were thought to have originated with then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, many other times during the war Pound needed no prodding from Churchill to interfere in fleet dispositions during action with the enemy.

This could cause serious problems and occasionally disaster such as the infamous scattering order issue to convoy PQ17.

As an aside, the Chief of Naval Operations in the US, has no operational authority over US naval ships. He, or she, is responsible for everything concerning the navy but he doesn’t exercise command over fleets or ships. This has always been the case in the modern history of the US Navy with one exception.

In World War Two, Franklin Roosevelt picked Admiral Ernest King out of  a dead-end post which Admirals took a few years before retirement and made him Chief of Naval Operations. However, this gave King little power over the dispositions of the actual naval ships themselves since those were in fleets or other units under the authority of Commander in Chief US Fleet. This title had the unfortunate acronym of CINCUS.

After a spell, this did not suit Roosevelt who wanted one person in charge so he elevated King to the position of Commander in Chief US Fleet while allowing him to also keep the office of Chief of Naval Operations. This gave King immense authority over the entire US Navy. (And he sometimes went over the heads of his commanders such as Nimitz, not to change any of their fleet dispositions but to fire some of their subordinates).

Upon assuming the position of Commander in Chief, US Fleet, Admiral King immediately changed the acronym to COMINCH. King is the only man ever to have held the position of Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief US Fleet simultaneously.

1 Roskill, Stephen “The War at Sea”

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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Europe Theater

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posted by author Charles McCain


HMS Victory at Portsmouth naval base, 2008


The location of any Royal Navy warship in World War Two was a great secret, as it should have been. All ships had the same address. For example, if you wrote to a sailor on HMS Victory you addressed you letter as follows:

HMS Victory

c/o GPO


(that is: care of the General Post Office, London)

Since all Royal Navy logistic and administrative systems were set up to support individual ships, all bases on land were named for ships as well. One was always assigned to a ship. This simple expedient prevented disruptive changes in the system of administration which worked well.

Officers and ratings assigned to the Admiralty or various government officers in London were, and still are, carried on the books of HMS Victory; Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

She was built in the Royal Navy’s Chatham Dockyard and officially commissioned in 1778 as a first-rate ship of the line carrying 104 guns.HMS Victory was placed in dry-dock at Portsmouth naval base in 1922 where she remains, the oldest warship in the world still in commission. (The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat)

She serves as the flagship of the First Sea Lord or professional head of the Royal Navy.

Photo of HMS Victory courtesy of


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Almost Neutral: Sweden in World War Two

posted by author Charles McCain

swedish bunker ww2

Abandoned World War Two bunker in Sweden. This one and many similar bunkers were built both for troop protection and as bomb proof electric substations.


According to the website below, on which I found the picture and the caption: “this is one of more than than fifty underground bunker substations built in Sweden during World War II. Concealing powerful generators, bomb-proof, cooled by underground rivers…”


A week ago I finished a second reading of Neither Friend Nor Foe: the European Neutrals in World War Two by J.M. Packard. I’m not certain this is the best book on the subject since there are some mistakes of fact about World War Two. However, what he mentioned about Sweden and its violation of neutrality laws was correct.

Sweden’s most significant violation of international law applicable to neutral countries in wartime was allowing German troops to transit Swedish territory. As time went on, the Germans ran regular troops trains with military supplies to occupied Norway overland on Swedish territory utilizing the Swedish state rail system.

Many of what we call “Laws of War” along with numerous regulations governing relations between neutrals and belligerent powers in wartime are spelled out in the Hague Convention of 1907 which has been amended many times.

You can find detail at the link below on the Convention Respecting the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in Case of War on Land (Hague V); October 18, 1907

You can find detail at the link below on: Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); October 18, 1907

The Swedes were in a rough neighborhood and in my view didn’t have a lot of choice but to accede to certain German demands. (The Swedish government did refuse some German demands. However, before officially refusing, they usually mobilized their entire military including reserves and put them on war footing).

German demands which the Swedes acceded to included huge exports of Swedish ball bearings and their famous iron ore which contains more iron per ton than any other iron ore in the world or any other iron ore in Europe. Other demands included Swedish manufactured weapons one being the outstanding medium range Bofors anti-aircraft gun.


The famous Swedish Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun used by all sides in World War Two. (Once war came countries which could not get them directly from Sweden manufactured them under license. The gun above is being manned by British troops).


When you look at the map below you will see the only way Sweden could import food and other vital supplies was through the Swedish port of Goteborg.

If you look at the arrow, you will note that neutral ships carrying freight to Sweden had to go through the Skagerrak, a body of water completely controlled by the Germans. And if the Swedes want to import food and other supplies into Stockholm then you can see the very narrow bodies of German waters ships had to steam through. (Prior to sailing, all neutral ships carrying cargo to neutral countries had to be inspected by Allied contraband control officers and receive a “navicert” showing they were not carrying military cargo. There were other detailed regulations which had to be adhered to before one could receive a “navicert”).




On many occasions after the Germans had demanded something from the Swedes which violated international law, the Swedes would hesitate.  The Germans would then graphically remind the Swedish government of the delicate geography of the Kingdom of Sweden by torpedoing Swedish freighters “by accident.” Since these ships were lighted up and steaming with running lights in specified sea lanes and broadcasting their position on a regular basis, sinking one “by accident” would be hard to do.

According to Neither Friend Nor Foe, forty Swedish freighters were sunk by German U-boats. Switzerland, by contrast, which had had purchased a fleet of merchant ships before the war to ship food to the Italian port of Genoa where it could be offloaded and trans-shipped on railways, didn’t lose one of its freighters.

The Swedes had to think about this interesting philosophical question: in his Second Treatise on Government, English philosopher John Locke wrote that the first duty of a state was to protect its citizens and their property most especially in time of war. Hence, wasn’t this the first duty of the Kingdom of Sweden?

So when the British and Americans complained to the Swedes for violating neutrality laws, the Swedes replied that they were surrounded by Germany and German dominated states and the British and Americans were a long way away. Swedish intelligence did favor the Allies, however, and provided useful information.

While Sweden had levied heavy taxes and spent most of its budget on its military during the war years, the Swedish forces would not have been able to stave off a German attack which we now know the Germans had planned to do.So what choice did they have but to give the bare minimum of cooperation they could to the Nazis? Not sure if they had much of a choice. It speaks well for Sweden that if you were an enemy of the Reich and could make to Sweden, they didn’t hand you over to the Germans. This included RAF and USAAF bombers which were damaged in raids over Germany and landed in Sweden. The Jews smuggled out of Denmark went to Sweden where they were protected and cared for although this annoyed the Nazis.

The Swedish military was strong enough to have caused the Germans a lot of trouble and a lot of casualties before succumbing and this persuaded the Germans that there wasn’t a lot of point in attacking Sweden since they could bet what they wanted without warring with the Swedes.


Royal Swedish Air Force Italian made Fiat CR 42 over Sweden circa 1942.

According t0 the website:

“The CR 42 came into Swedish service via Finland. During the winter war the Finish Air Force ordered a few CR 42 aircraft. They arrived too late to see service in the winter war and for some reason Finns sold them to the Swedish Air Force that was desperately short of modern materiel. The first 12 Finish CR 42s were complemented with more aircraft bought later, in total 72 aircraft did good service at F9 wing at Säve near Gothenburg and proved to be a popular and dependable aircraft even if it wasn’t exactly modern!”

Sweden had a difficult time securing modern weaponry they did not manufacture themselves such as aircraft. Ironically, because they did not want cash from the Germans since Reichsmarks were not convertible into other currencies, Swedes conducted most of their trade with the Third Reich through barter. One of the items they would receive from the Germans in return for their iron ore and other exports were German fighter planes.

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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Europe Theater, Images

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British Imperturbability: Grenadiers Guards Under Fire At Dunkirk

posted by author Charles McCain


The Grenadier Guards rehearse for Trooping the Colour to celebrate the Queen’s birthday on June 12. Captain Alex Rawlins inspecting the men of *Nijmegen Company, 1 Grenadier Guards at Wellington Barracks before moving onto Horseguards for the Trooping the Colour rehearsals.

caption from London Daily Telegraph with photo by Heathcliff O’Malley 


At Dunkirk  end May 1940

“…We went straight into the Mole (a long wooden pier) at Dunkirk, which was under shell fire from the Germans. We took off what was left of the Guards. They marched down the Mole in threes and in step. The NCO said, ‘Guards, halt,  Guards, left turn, Guards will embark.’ I think there were about 1000 of them and they embarked under fire in about 20 minutes…when the ship began to leave the Guards began to clean their weapons and get ready for action…The Guards paraded on the quay side at Dover and marched to the trains. Unshaven, tired out, very strained indeed with rifles spotless. In my opinion the finest soldiers in the world….”

from the diary of Lt-Col. P.B. Longdon, MD. RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corp). as cited in Dunkirk: the Great Escape by A.J. Barker


* “Nijmegen Company… is an independent company which was created when the 2nd Battalion was placed into suspended animation as a result of the 1993 round of defence cuts. Nijmegen Company carries the Colours of the 2nd Battalion and maintains its customs and traditions.”

from the website of the Grenadier Guards.




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Posted by on March 31, 2015 in Europe Theater, Ground, Images

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USCG Patrolling Coast on Horseback World War Two

posted by author Charles McCain


USCG patrol WW Two Official

US Coast Guard had among its duties in World War Two patrolling all beaches in the US. Dogs and their beach patrol handlers leap into action from a surfboat during a landing exercise along the coast of South Carolina, circa 1943. 


“In September 1942, horses were authorized for use by the beach patrol. The mounted portion soon became the largest segment of the patrol. For example, one year after orders were given to use horses, there were 3,222 of the animals assigned to the Coast Guard. All came from the Army. The Army Remount Service provided all the riding gear required, while the Coast Guard provided the uniforms for the riders. A call went out for personnel and a mixed bag of people responded. Polo players, cowboys, former sheriffs, horse trainers, Army Reserve cavalrymen, jockeys, farm boys, rodeo riders and stunt men applied. Much of the mounted training took place at Elkins Park Training Station and Hilton Head, the sites of the dog training schools.”

Photos and captions from USCG.

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Spanish Diplomats Use Diplomatic Pouch To Make Money


posted by author Charles McCain



Spanish Fascist dictator France exchanging a warm handshake with the Fuhrer circa 1942.

9 Diplomats Remit Entire Salaries To Their Bank Accounts In Spain

Spanish diplomats in Nazi Germany were keen participants in the black market in Berlin. As World War Two continued year after bloody year, three items, easily and cheaply purchased in Spain, commanded huge sums in the Third Reich: coffee, cigarettes, and cognac.

While on leave in Spain, the diplomats loaded up with these commodities or simply imported them through the diplomatic pouch. A “pouch” can actually be as big as a shipping container. If marked as diplomatic mail, it cannot be opened for inspection.

So Spanish diplomats made quite a lot of ready cash by legally importing very scarce and desirable items to Berlin and selling them on the black market–which was illegal. However, diplomats have diplomatic immunity and can’t be arrested except under certain circumstances.

Source: Spaniards and Nazi Germany: Collaboration in the New Order by Wayne H. Bowen, University of Missouri Press, 2000.

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