China’s new aircraft carrier for the People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N), the Type 001A Shandong (CV-17) officially began sea trials on Sunday 13 April 2018.
The 65,ooo-ton carrier, launched in April 2017 left the Dalian shipyard in Liaoning Province earlier today, where she was built by China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC).
Like her predecessor the Liaoning, Shandong will operatea ski-jump assisted Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) launch system. The new carrier will be able to embark up to 24 Shenyang J-15 multirole fighters (a variant of the Sukhoi Su-33 shown below) and to up to ten helicopters (Changshe Z-18, Ka-31, or Harbin Z-9).
Once commissioned, the Shandong is expected to serve in either the North Sea Fleet or East Sea Fleet.
On this day 50 years ago the battle of Fire Support Base ‘Coral’ began, the largest land battle fought by Australian forces during the Vietnam War.
Australian soldiers were first deployed to South Vietnam in 1962 as a small training team (the AATTV). In 1965 a Battalion Group, based on the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) was attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade. In 1966 Australia’s commitment was increased to a Brigade, the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF), units of which fought their first major action at Long Tan in August that year.
During the ‘Mini-Tet’ offensive launched by the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in May 1968 1 ATF deployed two of its three battalions to an area 20 kilometres north of Bien Hoa to intercept and disrupt enemy forces withdrawing from Saigon and the Bien Hoa–Long Binh base complex.
A number of fire support bases (FSB) were established to provide temporary defensive positions with Artillery and Mortars in order to support infantry foot patrols from 1 RAR and 3 RAR. One of these FSBs was called ‘Coral’ located seven (7) kilometres north of the town of Tan Uyen.
The occupation of FSB Coral (shown above) began on 12 May 1968. Early the following morning at 3.30am the base was attacked by the NVA and VC with the Mortar Platoon of 1 RAR and Number 6 Gun (an M2A2 Howitzer shown below) of 102 Field Battery over-run. The attack was beaten off by 6.30am and the captured positions retaken. Eleven Australian soldiers were killed and 28 wounded with 52 NVA/VC bodies left behind on the battlefield. A further three Australians died in patrol clashes around FSB Coral on 14 May.
At 2.30 am on 16 May 1968 FSB Coral was attacked again by a much larger force of three (3) battalions of NVA. Coral was now defended by M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) of A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment (3 CAV) and 1 RAR’s rifle companies. All of these positions were heavily engaged with part of the A Coy 1 RAR position lost before the enemy was forced to withdraw. The attack was repelled after four hours of fighting, with the Australians losing five (5) men killed and 19 wounded. Two (2) members of an American artillery battery which had reinforced the base were also wounded. Only 34 enemy bodies were recovered, but blood trails and drag marks indicated that many more casualties had been removed.
On 22 May FSB Coral was subjected to yet another rocket and mortar barrage, but this time the NVA troops were dispersed by mortar fire from 1RAR mortars as they formed up to attack.
Although there were further bombardments on 26 and 28 May, with numerous patrols sent out coming into contact with the enemy, FSB Coral was not seriously threatened again.
During fighting on 26 May a Troop of Centurion tanks from C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment deployed outside the perimeter wire with infantry support and engaged and destroyed a significant portion of an NVA bunker system.
Enemy efforts shifted on 26 May to another FSB named ‘Balmoral’ 4.5 kilometres north of Coral occupied by 3 RAR and Centurion tanks. The defenders threw back assaults launched against FSB Balmoral on 26 and 28 May 1968.
On the forttieth anniversary of the Battle of Coral in 2008, the then Governor General of Australia His Excellency Major General Mike Jeffrey AC, CVO, MC presented 102 Battery Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) with the Honour Title ‘Coral’ (see below). 102 Battery is the first Australian Artillery unit to be awarded an Honour Title, which are common in the British Army and are the Artillery equivalent of Battle Honours.
Anzac Day is traditionally held on 25 April each year throughout Australia and New Zealand as a day to remember all those who have served and died in war, conflict or peacekeeping operations.
On that day in 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces (called the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps or ‘ANZAC’) landed with other British and French troops on the Gallipoli peninsula in an attempt to knock Turkey out of the war.
The 25th of April was officially named Anzac Day in 1916 and for the remaining years of the First World War was commemorated with parades and commemorative church services.
During the 1920s, Anzac Day became established as a National Day of Commemoration and in 1927 Australian states observed some form of public holiday together on Anzac Day for the first time that year. By the 1930s all the rituals now associated with Anzac Day including dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions, and games like two-up were firmly established.
One of the more poignant events held on every Anzac Day is the ‘Dawn Service’ with the first organised service held in 1928 at Martin Place in Sydney. The impetus for the event came the previous year when a group of returned servicemen returning at dawn from an Anzac Day function held the night before came upon an elderly woman laying flowers at the as yet unfinished Sydney Cenotaph. Joining her in this private remembrance, the men later resolved to institute a Dawn Service the following year. Some 150 people gathered at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1928 for a wreathlaying and two minutes’ silence and the modern tradition was born.
Another well known tradition held on Anzac Day is the game ‘two-up’. The origins of the game are obscure but it is thought to have evolved from ‘pitching pennies’, a gambling game where a single coin is tossed against a wall with the closest to the wall winning the bet and collecting all of the coins, which was popular with the British working class and had been played by British and Irish convicts since the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.
‘Two-up’ involves someone acting as the ‘Spinner’ using a ‘kip’ (a small piece of wood on which the coins are placed – see above) to toss two Australian penny coins in the air. Other players surround the ring and bet on the result – either heads or tails. ‘Odds’, where a head and tail results, means the ‘Spinner’ throws again.
One hundred years ago today, on St George’s Day 1918 the Royal Navy (RN) carried out an audacious raid on the German held port of Zeebrugge in occupied Belgium. It was the first Commando raid in history.
In February 1915 Germany declared the waters around the UK and Ireland to be a war zone with any British merchant vessels encountered at risk of being sunk. Germany realised that they could not compete with British naval strength and that the only possible way they could impose a blockade on Britain was using the U-boat. Germany’s U-boat force was primarily based in Ostend in Belgium giving them good access to the sea lanes around the UK.
Throughout the remainder of 1915 and 1916 German U-boats sank over 3.6 million tonnes of Allied and Neutral shipping and it was not until April 1917 that Britain introduced a convoy system to provide some element of protection.
Despite its introduction German U-Boats remained a serious threat to Allied shipping throughout the remainder of 1917 and into 1918. Many were based in occupied Belgium, particularly Bruges, from where U-Boats and Torpedo Boats could make their way through the canal system into the English Channel at the port of Zeebrugge.
In late December 1917 Rear Admiral Sir Roger Keyes (shown above) took over command of the Dover Patrol and soon set his sights on Bruges and began planning a raid on its ports, Zeebrugge and Ostend.
Zeebrugge harbour was an extremely difficult objective to attack. Keyes understood that it was too difficult to destroy the lock gates, as they were half a mile up the canal, and that the channel leading to the gates could be closed by sinking blockships in the entrance.The mouth of the canal was also protected by a Mole (see below), or breakwater, which created an artificial harbour surrounding the entrance. It was a mile and a half long and was linked to the shore by a 300 yard long causeway, half a mile west of the canal mouth.
All along the Mole were German machine gun nests and artillery pieces. With another Battery of 5.9 inch heavy guns behind the Mole itself covering the entrance to the channel. In total more than 1,000 German soldiers and sailors defended the harbour.
Keyes’s overall plan was simple. The Mole would be attacked first by Royal Navy and Royal Marines landing parties, whose objective was to silence the guns. Even if all of the guns were not destroyed the attack would divert their attention from the blockships until it was too late and they were in the canal entrance.
Keyes requisitioned six obsolete Light Cruisers and selected three HMS Thetis, HMS Iphigenia, and HMS Intrepid as the blockships. Another, HMS Vindictive was modified with 18 narrow ramps on her port side, to allow her to carry the majority of the raiding party. Weapons were added where they could be installed. These included two (2) 7.5 inch howitzers, an 11-inch howitzer, sixteen (16) Lewis light machine guns and three quick-firing cannon. Sandbagged huts were built fore and aft, each one enclosing a flamethrower and all of the Cruiser’s exposed positions were covered with sandbags and mattresses.
In addition to the Cruisers, Keyes added two shallow-draft Merseyside ferryboats Iris II and Daffodil, which had all of their internal fittings removed and replaced by armour, smoke-making equipment, grapnels and scaling ladders for the remainder of the storming party.
Rounding out the assault force was two old ‘C’-class submarines C1 and C3 (shown above). Each carried a small crew of six and five tons of explosive. Their mission was to work westward around the Mole to the open pier, wedge themselves beneath it, light the fuses and withdraw via small boat. The resulting explosions would destroy the pier and cutoff the Germans on the Mole.
Unsuitable weather conditions forced two earlier attempts to be aborted but by 22 April conditions had improved. That afternoon the raiding force (consisting of over 165 vessels including Cruisers, Destroyers, Monitors, Submarines and Motor Launches) weighed anchor.
By 10pm the force rendezvoused with patrolling Destroyers and were now only 15 miles from the Mole. At 11:10pm British monitors began bombarding the German coastal defences with fire opening on Zeebrugge twenty minutes later. At the same time coastal motor boats moved off at high speed and laid a preliminary smoke screen across the entire line of advance.
Two groups of coastal motor boats then attacked the western end of the Mole to distract the enemy’s attention while HMS Vindictive approached. Miraculously the entire expedition had reached its destination unreported and unobserved.
Just before midnight HMS Vindictive came through the last smoke screen, moving across the narrow strip of water that separated her from the Mole. She continued her approach under a hail of fire which inflicted heavy casualties on her crew and the landing parties. The tidal stream was also causing problems as she struggled to lay alongside the mole.
Fortunately the ferry Daffodil saw her predicament and was able to hold HMS Vindictive (see below) alongside the Mole. The first of the storming parties then made their way down the gangways to begin their assault. A few minutes later Iris II was brought alongside.
It was soon realised that there could be no thought of rushing the battery on the Mole head as had originally been intended as HMS Vindictive had gone past her assigned position leaving German machine-guns and barbed wire between the storming parties and the gun emplacements. Consequently the mission changed to one of holding ground, as a diversionary measure, despite the attackers being the focus of nearly every German gun.
By now HMS Vindictive‘s upper-works were being pounded by the gun battery on the Mole and many of her guns had been knocked out as two German Destroyers berthed alongside the inner Mole added their fire to the fight. Twenty minutes after HMS Vindictive had been put alongside the situation ashore was precarious. The Royal Marines had formed a bridgehead opposite the ship’s brows while the seamen had only partially secured HMS Vindictive to the Mole.
Meanwhile the obsolete British submarine HMS C3 under command of Lieutenant Sandford had penetrated the harbour, rammed the viaduct and wedged itself tightly between its steel girders before the crew made their escape in a small skiff under a hail of enemy fire. The resultant explosion blew away 100 feet of the viaduct and cut communications to the Mole as the three British blockships were steaming into the harbour.
The blockships passed through the fire and steamed on towards the channel and canal beyond it. HMS Thetis had by this time sustained heavy damage and was taking on tons of water causing her to list heavily. She was brought to a halt 500 metres from her objective clearing obstacles on her way that allowed HMS Intrepid and HMS Iphigenia to pass through unimpeded.
HMS Intrepid entered the channel first and once inside, was put hard over and scuttled with most of her crew withdrawing in two cutters and a skiff. HMS Iphigenia was not far behind and made for a gap on the eastern side of the channel where she too was successfully scuttled. Her crew escaped in boats which they rowed out of the harbour before being picked up by fast Motor Launches.
Back at the Mole HMS Vindictive continued to draw fire. The recall was sounded and the shore parties withdrew to their battered ships, carrying their wounded with them. Twenty five minutes later HMS Vindictive (see below) and Iris II withdrew and made for open water.
As they left the scene Iris II came under direct fire from the German batteries and was riddled with shells, mortally wounding her Commanding Officer. On fire and with half of her bridge blown away she eventually steamed out of range.
The attack on Zeebrugge proved only a partial success. Although the harbour and canal were blocked for several weeks the Germans soon dredged a channel around the sunken blockships allowing Destroyers and Submarines to pass with extreme difficulty. During the attack 214 British personnel were killed, 383 wounded and 16 taken prisoner.
The exceptional bravery shown by those who took part in the raid was recognised through the award of eight (8) Victoria Crosses (VC), four of which were decided by ballot which allowed for a recipient to be elected by those present at the action when it was considered that the corporate bravery of a unit warranted the award. They were:
Commander (Acting Captain) Alfred Carpenter, Commanding Officer HMS Vindictive
Lieutenant Richard Sandford, Commanding Officer HM Submarine C3
Sergeant Norman Finch, Royal Marine Artillery
Ordinary Seaman Albert McKenzie, HMS Neptune
Lieutenant Commander Arthur Harrison*, HMS Hindustan
617 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF) was reformed on Tuesday 17 April 2018 at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort in South Carolina as the first British frontline Squadron equiped with the F-35B Lightning II. It is the fourth occasion since the Squadron was formed that it has been re-raised.
The squadron was originally formed under great secrecy at RAF Scampton during the Second World War on 21 March 1943. Known initially as ‘Squadron X’ it also included personnel from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) brought together for the specific task of attacking three major dams that contributed water and power to the Ruhr industrial region in Germany: the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe.
The plan was given the codename Operation ‘Chastise’ and was carried out on 17 May 1943 using Barnes Wallis’s revolutionary ‘Bouncing bomb’. The Möhne and Edersee were breached, causing catastrophic flooding of the Ruhr valley but the Sorpe Dam sustained only minor damage. 53 of the 133 aircrew who participated in the attack were killed and over 1,600 civilians are estimated to have died in the flooding resulting from the attack.
Known since that time as the ‘Dambusters’ the Squadron is one of the most famous units in the RAF. 617 Squadron went on to participate with 9 Squadron RAF in Operation ‘Catechism’ in 1944 to successfully sink the German battleship the Tirpitz, as well as take part in the 1991 Gulf War and 2003 Iraq War.
Motto: ‘Apres moi le deluge’ (After me, the flood)
Battle Honours: 10
Fortress Europe 1943–1945*
France and Germany 1944–1945*
Channel & North Sea 1944–1945*
* Honours marked with an asterisk may be emblazoned on the Squadron Standard
The International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) in Lincoln, England will be officially opened today, as part of an ongoing series of RAF 100 commemorative events.
The IBCC is an interpretation centre and memorial to the service of RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War, located on Canwick Hill, overlooking Lincoln in England.
Lincoln was chosen as the site for the IBCC because over a third of all RAF Bomber Command stations (27) were based in the county during the Second World War earning Lincolnshire the nickname of the ‘Bomber County’. The IBCC consists of three major parts.
The Spire Memorial and Walls of Names, erected in 2015, reflects the connection to the Lincoln Cathedral, the first major landmark that many Bomber crews saw when returning from their nightime missions. The Spire is based on the dimensions of the wingspan of a Lancaster bomber, being 31 metres (102 ft) tall and 5 metres (16 ft) wide at its base, making it the tallest War Memorial in the United Kingdom. The Spire is encircled by walls carrying the names of 57,871 men and women who gave their lives whilst serving in or supporting RAF Bomber Command. It is the only place in the world where all these losses are memorialised.
The Chadwick Centre, named after Roy Chadwick who designed the Lancaster Bomber, includes an education suite, interactive exhibition , reference library and research room.
The Peace Gardens include a Memorial Avenue, with geo-located trees for each of the 27 Lincolnshire stations, an International Garden with planting beds representing the 5 continents and 62 nations involved with the Command, and an amphitheatre for outdoor education.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed on this day one hundred years ago.
The RAF was founded on 1 April 1918 by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) under the Air Ministry, which had been established three months earlier.
The RFC had been born out of the Air Battalion of the Corps of Royal Engineers (RE) and was part of the British Army. The RNAS was its Royal Navy equivalent controlled by the Admiralty.
In 1917 Germany deployed long range Gotha bomber aircraft (above) against Britain. In response to those raids General Jan Smuts was authorised by the Imperial War Cabinet to conduct a review, the outcome of which became known as the Smuts Report (see below).
Smuts recommended that the air service should be treated as a separate force from the Royal Navy and the British Army and be solely responsible for conducting warfare in the air.
Following the report, Parliament debated and passed the Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917 (see below), which was given Royal Assent by King George V on the 29 November 1917.
A few months later on the 1 April 1918, the RNAS and RFC were merged together to create the Royal Air Force (RAF), the world’s first independent air force.
The newly created RAF was the most powerful air force in the world on its creation, with more than 20,000 aircraft and over 300,000 personnel. The squadrons of the RFC kept their existing numerals, while those of the RNAS were renumbered from 201 onwards.
After World War 1, the RAF was greatly reduced in size and during the inter-war years was used to police the British Empire in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The RAF underwent rapid expansion during the Second World War, initially responsible for the air defence of Great Britain, playing the key role in the Battle of Britain, as well as the strategic nighttime bombing campaign against Germany and Italy, including targets like the Ruhr, Turin and Berlin, as well as the provision of tactical air support to British Army operations in North Africa, Italy, Burma, France and Germany.
During the Cold War, the main role of the RAF was the defence of the UK and continental Europe against attack by the Soviet Union, including responsibility for the UK’s nuclear deterrent up until 1969.
After the Cold War, the RAF was involved in several large scale operations, including the 1991 Gulf War, the 1999 Kosovo War, the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the 2011 military intervention in Libya and support for enduring operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.