Posts Tagged ‘being’

Incredible World War Two colour footage shows wounded marines being evacuated from the beaches of Iwo Jima

January 23rd, 2016

The vast, silent collection was shot with hand-held cameras, giving the images an eerie and life-like feel, providing a fascinating insight into army life during some of the bloodiest periods in American military history.

American marines overcame more than 20,000 Japanese Imperial Army troops in heavily fortified positions on the island of Iwo Jima in five weeks of bloody fighting in February 1945.

Only a handful of defenders survived the American capture of the island, which was a major US objective in the Pacific war given its proximity to the Japanese mainland.

But American forces suffered heavy losses at the hands of the desperate Japanese soldiers.

A tank drives onto the beach (University of South Carolina)

The video shows in fascinating detail military vehicles transporting badly injured Marines on stretchers to waiting vessels on a beach.

Jeeps carrying dozens of troops and amphibious vehicles are also shown driving through the dark sand of the volcanic island.

The never-before-seen images also show Marines at the 1968 siege of Khe Sanh in Vietnam, at Guadalcanal – the scene of another bloody Second World War battle – and in 1950 at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.


World War Two

Celebrated British warships being stripped bare for scrap metal

October 25th, 2014

But having stripped the wrecks of those components, the scavengers have now started to take other ferrous metals, primarily brass and copper, as well as large chunks of steel, such as the propellor shafts, and high-grade aluminium.

“There are no longer any propellors or shafts left on either of the wrecks and there are now a number of locations on both ships that have been extensively damaged by the use of explosives,” Mr Shaw said.

In a video taken as recently as May of this year, a propellor shaft is clearly visible on HMS Repulse, with the White Ensign of the Royal Navy – placed by divers as a mark of respect to the dead – floating in the current in the background. Both have since been removed.

Video footage of the wrecks shows some of the damage – including thick steel plating peeled outwards under the force of detonations within the hull. Coffee tins are packed with explosives by scavengers and forced into cavities in the vessels’ hulls.

“Up until this salvage work began, the wrecks were in fairly good condition,” Mr Shaw said. “But now there is a lot of loose plating and many areas where all the rivets have been blown out.”

While Mr Shaw and the recreational divers who have visited both ships do not enter the wrecks, it is likely that blasting the bottoms out of the vessels will expose the remains of their crews. Some 508 officers and men went down with HMS Repulse, while a further 327 were killed aboard HMS Prince of Wales, which sank just a few miles away.

The destruction of the vessels – just days after the Japanese attack on the US base at Pearl Harbor – came as a major blow to the British in the Far East as they attempted to resist the invasion of Malaya and, ultimately, the occupation of Singapore and Indonesia.

Identified as Force Z and comprising the modern battleship Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser Repulse, which had been launched in 1916, and four destroyers, the flotilla had been dispatched to intercept Japanese invasion convoys in the South China Sea.

Critically, they put to sea without air cover and the fleet was attacked by waves of land-based aircraft on December 10, with eight torpedoes striking their targets.

The Prince of Wales and Repulse became the first capital ships to be sunk solely by air power on the open sea, rewriting the military tactics of the day.

HMS Prince of Wales

Both ships turned over as they sank, with Repulse now at a depth of 183 feet and the Prince of Wales in 223 feet of water. The wrecks are still Crown property and designated as a Protected Place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

The bell of the Prince of Wales was removed in 2002 by a team of Royal Navy divers because there were fears that it would be stolen. It is now on display in the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool.

“We have twice turned up at the Repulse at around 7:30 in the morning to find what looks like a fishing boat moored up, but they don’t have fishing nets on board,” Mr Shaw said.

It appears that the crews of the smaller boats are placing charges on vulnerable parts of the wrecks and, once a sufficient amount of salvageable metal has been broken off, a larger vessel with a crane arrives to collect the debris.

“They have always seen us coming and managed to cast off and make a run for it before we get close enough,” he said, adding that he has to bear in mind the safety of his customers and crew – “And I’m pretty sure these guys will be armed.”

Some men survived the sinking. James Wren, a former Royal Marine, clung to a piece of flotsam until an escort ship picked him up. He said that protecting the wrecks was a “a vast job”.

“It’s very distressing to everyone but there’s very little we can do about it,” said Mr Wren, who was 21 when the ship sank in 1941 and is now one of only a few remaining survivors.

“We could do with more protection out there but you just can’t have someone sitting there 24 hours a day.”

Maurice Pink, another Repulse survivor, was just 19 when he was plucked out of the water by a British destroyer. He is now chairman of the Force Z Surivivors Association.

“You just can’t stop it unless you patrol all the time,” said Mr Pink.

“You can turn round and say it’s a grave for the people that gave their lives for the country. It’s alright saying that but people aren’t interested in words.

“If they want to dive down and pinch something they are going to. You can’t prevent robbers robbing a bank if there’s no one there to stop them.”

Given the large number of military maritime gravesaround the world, the Ministry of Defence does indeed have a vast job on its hands. There are 60 wrecks designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act, 12 of which are ‘controlled’ – meaning that diving them is strictly prohibited – and 58 which have the lesser designation of “protected”, including the Repulse. These sites can be dived under a “look but don’t touch” policy.

Short of actively patrolling the wrecks the MoD, which owns them, can only attempt to prevent the sale of salvaged items.

In May this year, it confiscated a number of parts stolen from the wreck of the Repulse – including the ship’s Morse telephone – from an Auction in Australia and returned them to the British High Commission.

A spokesman for the MoD said it works closely with foreign governments and others “with the aim of preventing inappropriate activity on the wreck of HMS Repulse”.

The Malaysian authorities have intervened in the past to stop wrecks being pillaged, but with hundreds of sunken vessels in thousands of square miles of the Pacific to monitor, it faces the same problem.

“We are very concerned to hear that the wrecks are being plundered by scrap metal merchants and I have asked for a plan to be drawn up for a survey of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales,” Rossid bin Musa, director of the Marine Department of Malaysia, said.

“Our department cannot carry out patrols as we do not have the vessels, but I have asked the Coast Guard and the Maritime Enforcement Agency to provide assistance and to patrol the area,” he said.

But any scavengers who are caught are likely to get off with minimal fines. A charge of violating Malaysian maritime laws and operating without a permit usually incurs a fine of around GBP19,100, according to the Malaysian newspaper The Star, while the cost of stealing from a wreck is just £191.


World War Two

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‘We felt as if we were being let into the future’

September 6th, 2014

The restoration at Langham comes at a time when the British public are being treated to a host of activities to commemorate the country’s time at war. Last month, the UK joined the rest of the world in marking the outbreak of the First World War; and thousands are expected to turn out on Sunday in Preston, Windermere, Morecambe and Holmfirth in Yorkshire to watch a fly-past of the last two Lancaster bomber planes in existence. The bombers were the legendary stars of the Dambusters raids, in which 19 Lancasters attacked German dams with Sir Barnes Wallis’s “bouncing bombs” during the Second World War in 1943.

“We came up by train to Holt,” Martin remembers of his first journey to Langham seven decades ago. “I was in ground-to-air command on the signals side at RAF Debden in Essex. There must have been 20 or 30 of us brought in. We stayed in a Nissen Hut. I can still taste how terrible the food was. We spent some time in a classroom, learning how to assemble and disassemble a Browning, and some time on the beach at Weybourne [just along the coast from Langham], firing at a flag of material towed behind a radio-controlled plane. From memory, there were only three bullet holes in it when we’d finished, and probably more than that in the plane itself. Then we came in here to the dome. We were very excited. We felt as if we were being let into the future. It was a wonderful thing.”

In 1939 Henry Stephens of the Royal Navy’s School of Gunnery in Portsmouth had first come up with the new fangled concept of the “dome-trainer”. A film projector stood in the centre of a rounded concrete structure and, by ingenious use of moveable mirrors, beamed up an image of an attacking aircraft onto the curves of the ceiling. The trainee stood behind the projector, as Martin is now, with a dummy Browning, and fired at the target, all accompanied by realistic sound effects. An instructor would mark each effort hit or miss, and give advice on how to improve your aim.

“We all lined up along there,” Martin recalls. He points to the partition wall – restored to its original form – that carves out a small entrance hall to the Dome. “We stepped forward one by one and were all told that the thing to do was to fire in front of the plane, so it flew on to the bullets.”

Can he remember how well he scored back then? He laughs. The passage of time has apparently wiped away the tally. “All I can say is that I hope we all did better than on the beach. What it is making me remember, though, is how you always felt like you were on the front line here on these East Anglian bases. There were always planes flying off on missions and enemy plans flying overhead.”

It is that wartime atmosphere that the gleaming white semi-circular displays in the Tardis-like interior of the restored Langham Dome seek to capture. It is helped by three specially-commissioned short films that are shown on the role the region played in the battle for air supremacy, narrated by local resident, the actor Stephen Fry.

The extent to which East Anglia became one enormous airbase in those years quickly becomes apparent from the maps on show. There was a proliferation of RAF runways in just this one small, flat corner of Norfolk, a stone’s throw across the North Sea to Germany: Little Snoring, Bircham Newton, Docking, North Creake and Sculthorpe, all cheek-by-jowl with Langham.

Only Sculthorpe remains operational today, albeit in mothballs. The concrete runway that replaced Langham’s original grass strip was sold off after the base closed in 1958 to Bernard Matthews and still accommodates his turkey sheds. All around, trees have been planted and fields farmed. The old control tower remains – used today by the Bernard Matthews’ caretakers – but the distinctive shape once made on the landscape by RAF Langham is slowly but surely being eroded. “In another 20 years,” says Patrick Allen, local farmer and chairman of the Friends of Langham Dome, “you won’t even know there was ever an airfield here. That’s why we have fought so hard to preserve the Dome and open it.” In the grassy area behind it stands a memorial to all those who served and lost their lives at the base.

Not all signs of the site’s airborne past have been quite obliterated, however. Tucked away behind the turkey sheds, and next stop for Douglas Martin once he’s finished in the Dome, is a hanger that still contains two Tiger Moths, lovingly preserved by local resident Henry Labouchere, who is also vice-chairman of the Friends of Langham Dome.

Langham’s RAF past still has a resonance locally, he says, and that was part of the push to save the Dome. It really started gathering speed, Labouchere explains, back in 1986 when it was declared a Scheduled Ancient Monument by English Heritage. “Until then the Dome had been more or less abandoned. A lot of people driving past had no idea at all what it was. And if you did ever get the chance to look inside, as local youths occasionally managed to do, all you would have seen was a block and an old car.”

“I think the first push,” Allen adds, “came from another local resident, Air Commodore Bertie Wootten, who flew his Spitfire in the Battle of Britain. His wife was a district councillor and, every time they drove past the Dome, he’d say, ‘what are you going to do about that building?’ Once it had been declared a Scheduled Ancient Monument – the youngest, we believe, in the whole county – the parish council took up the challenge.”

With the help of local conservation charities, the Friends of Langham Dome was established, Bernard Mathews signed the building over, plans were drawn up and funding secured, not just for the restoration and the high-tech refit, but also for three years of running it as a visitor attraction.

Plans are well underway to arrange school visits in the autumn, and holidaymakers on the way to the beaches dropped in during the summer. Once Douglas Martin relinquishes his seat at Browning gun, there are plenty of youngsters, and dads, only too eager to try their hand at the recreated simulator and shoot down the procession of aircraft that looms up on the roof.

His return has put Douglas Martin reflective mood. “You know, I never actually got to use whatever skills I leaned here, “ he says. “I don’t think I ever fired an anti-aircraft gun again.”

His wartime service was spent in signals, latterly in Burma with the 14th Army as it liberated the country in a radar unit. “I have always feel ashamed at my service. So many people had it so much worse. The bomber crews in those planes” – he gestures up towards the images flying across the ceiling – “they had the worst job in the war. Fifty per cent of them didn’t survive. We should remember them.”

For more information visit langhamdome.org or contact development manager Kate Faire ?at kate@friendsoflanghamdome.org


World War Two

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