Monday, July 18, 2016

A Hibernian Fan's Footsteps to Easter Road...

Hibernian's Famous Five, champions of the world in the 1950's

The Fan's Footsteps...

(This is a section of my new book, Avenging Steel 3: The Final Solution, Alternative WW2 History, so some references may seem odd... read on regardless!)
The fan’s journey to the ground begins with him decking himself in his team’s colors.
I had a Hibernian scarf of my own, but I dug in the walk-in closet for grandad’s old green and white woolen one; grandma had knitted it herself. It was the first game for a while, and I wanted to wallow in my own memories. Wrapping it round my neck over my jacket, I could swear I smelled his old tobacco oozing from the worn green wool.
I almost cried.
I opened the door onto the street, the noonday sun hitting me, and making me shield my eyes and squint. Turning left, I soon got onto Bruntsfield Place and took off down the hill. I remembered grandad’s words as I walked, my scarf the only green I could see on the street. “You’re the rain on the moor, the first water that oozes out of the ground, looking for a stream to take you down to the sea. You’re alone, but you know there’s more. The ground is oozing green, son; Hibernian green.”
He was a wordsmith, my Grandad Baird. Maybe that’s where I take it from. We’d played the game many times, walking to the ground, looking around for the next drop of water.
NAKED TRUTH; Andy Murray with Hibs' Scottish Cup

At Tollcross, I spied my first green scarf. At the same time, he spied me, and we shared a common wave across the street; two water droplets heading in tandem for the sea. On Lauriston Place I found myself catching up with two more, a father and son. The father carried his scarf in his hand, the boy, no older than ten, wore a green and white woolen hat, green pom-pom bouncing as he walked. I slowed my pace to walk behind them, wallowing in my secret companionship.
At Forest Road, two men stumbled out of the Doctor’s Bar, both proudly twirling their own scarfs round their necks. Seeing us they waved at their new companions, and set off, leading us past Sandy Bell’s, where we’d abducted poor Leutnant Derwall, just months ago.
As the two men turned down into Chamber’s Street, I realized the ‘burn’ had begun, the old Scot’s word for a small stream. On the Bridges, we picked up a few more ribbons of green, and a few disappeared into the open arms of the many pubs lining the route. Regardless of the charms of the eager ‘boozers’, by Leith Street, the stream had grown.
I caught my breath; it was time for my first stop.
The Black Bull was the pub that grandad met up with his friend; one-o’clock, every Saturday. I checked the time as I walked down the small steps to the door. Always crowded on Hibs home game day, the small ‘snug’ was a magical childhood reminiscence of smells and sounds. I fought my way to the bar and ordered a pint of mild. Turning, I lifted the glass to my lips. “Here’s to you, old man,” I said fondly before downing the beer as only a thirsty man can; three large tasty deluges into a parched throat.
The Proclaimers hit "Sunshine on Leith" is sung every game
Back out onto Leith Street, I walked down the hill, rounded the corner, and ploughed straight into the second stop; The Conan Doyle. This was a bar of large open rooms, lots of men, drinking, looking at Saturday newspapers, checking horse results, looking at the greyhound races planned for that night at Powderhall. With a tear in my eye, I toasted a different Baird. “Here’s to you, Dad. Wherever the heck you are. Scots Greys!” A couple nearby caught the end of my toast. “Seaforths!” they cheered proudly. “K.O.S.B.’s shouted an old-timer, white haired enough to have fought in the last war. He grinned toothlessly and waved his pint glass at me. Many more took up the proud call. I took a drink at the mention of every regiment, and there were many. My glass was empty in no time, and still the toasts rang round the room. I bought a second and wallowed with my new temporary comrades.
Once done, I crossed the busy intersection and walked along Picardy Place, passed the statue to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, green and oxidized from the winter’s attentions. I almost laughed at the warm beautiful sunshine hitting the back of my neck.
Fish, solo and lead singer for Marillion is a huge Hibs fan

With The Playhouse on the opposite side, I got onto Leith Walk proper. Hibs green was now on every fifth person, all walking in the same direction, flowing downhill. “It’s the river, son. Feel it around you.” The old man’s words made me cry openly, enjoying every second of the experience. I was a raindrop, now mingling with many others, heading downstream in a youthful torrent. I wished my grandad were here to share the memory, or even dad. I crossed the road at the top of Elm Row, just up from the German radio station, and onto London Road. Now the river of green was there for all to see. Bobbing heads on the arrow-straight street as far as your eyes could see.
“It’s the river son,” I remember his pipe clenched tightly in his false teeth as he spoke. “As wide as the Amazon, son, as straight as a die.”
I never ever found out what a ‘die’ was.

And the river had slowed. With so many people, there was neither the room nor the need to pass. I slowed to the pace of the masses, and let myself flow to the top of Easter Road, savouring every minute of being part of the swell.
Hibs fans, maybe famous now because of their message...
The last stop. The Claymore.
Grandad’s last stop. A wee dram ‘for the road’. I copied his actions to the last, sipping the expensive draft, loving every minute of it. If I’d thought London Road was slow, the narrow street of Easter Road was worse. Almost every head faced north, we were in a queue for the turnstiles hundreds of yards away. The sluggish river had reached the sea.
Considering the Germans had organized the competition, the gates were incredibly busy, the terraces packed. Inside the stadium, I didn’t see one single German uniform, and for a whole ninety minutes I completely forgot the war. For a few seconds in the second half, it began to drizzle, but I don’t think anyone cared much.
When the referee blew the final whistle, the cheer and release of tension was palpable. I jumped up and down on my spot for many minutes, cheering the teams for their efforts in such times.
In my mind I could see the headlines on Monday’s back page; Hibernian Two, Brave Alloa Nil.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

U-234, Hitler's Last U-Boat... The Hail-Mary Pass to Japan

Crew from the USS Sutton board the U-234 in May, 1945

On April 30th, 1945, the bodies of Adolf Hitler and his new wife, Eva Braun, were placed in a bomb crater and doused with petrol. Trusted guards were stationed to ensure their bodies were burned beyond all recognition.
In the wake of Hitler’s suicide, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz assumed the position of head of state. Among his first orders was a radio broadcast for all submarines to surface and surrender.

“My U-boat men, six years of war lie behind us… you have fought like lions… U-boat men, unbroken and immaculate, lay down your arms after a heroic fight…”

Few knew the impact his simple statement made in the war against Japan.
U-234 being 'tugged' into Portsmouth, USA

In the middle of the Atlantic, on May 4th, German submarine U-234 first received a garbled version of Dönitz’s message. After much deliberation, six days later, they surfaced to affirm the news. Captain Johann-Heinrich Fehler assembled his crew and passengers, telling them of his intention to surrender to the Americans in Portsmouth.
The only objection to their surrender came from two Japanese Naval officers, Lieutenant Commanders Hideo Tomonaga and Shoji Genzo, who re-stated the U-boats mission; to sail to Japan and deliver essential cargo and weapons. To the Japanese officers, surrender was not an option. Once the decision was made to surrender the submarine, German guards found the two officers on their bunks in full uniform; they had taken poison.
A Henschel HS 262, 'cruise' missile

U-Boat U-234 was a modified mine layer, and the largest German submarine still in service, but for her last mission she had been turned into a cargo vessel. Packed into every section of the hull were goods destined for the defense of Japan…

  • A fully functional ME 262; the world’s first jet fighter.
  • A Henschel HS 293 guided missile; the world’s first cruise missile.
  • Parts for building a V-2; the world’s first intercontinental missile.
  • Several tons of blueprints for every weapon built, designed and considered by Germany.
  • 1200lbs of Uranium 235 (about 20% of the amount required for an atomic bomb).
(Sailors laughed when the Uranium was taken aboard, labeled U-235, they thought they had got the number of the submarine wrong)
ME-262, the fastest plane in the world

Unknown to most of the world, the war had taken a sharp and decisive turn.

As far back as July 1943, the Japanese had one stumbling block to their own Nuclear-bomb project; they could not get enough U-235 to provide them with ‘critical mass’ (the phrase used to denote the amount of Uranium needed to create the chain reaction powering the explosion). Three Japanese submarines had almost got back to Japan with their crucial U-235 cargo, but all were sunk in the attempt.
After the surrender of the U-234, and hearing of its strangely-labeled cargo, Robert Oppenheimer himself searched the Submarine.
The US Uranium enriching plant was situated at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Here, the German uranium was processed, and included in the Manhattan Project’s critical mass.
Three months later, in August 1945, the Americans bombed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In a material so rare on the earth, it is inconceivable that German Uranium, once destined for Japan's own nuclear program, was not used in the American bombs.
History…. You just can’t make this stuff up.

A couple of my related books... browse or buy at your leisure.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Dunkirk 2: The Untold Story. Operation Cycle & Operation Ariel

British and French troops, rescued, on their way to Blighty... 13th June, 1940
How many of you readers have heard of the Dunkirk evacuation (Operation Dynamo)?
The black-and-white movies, Churchill’s plea to the nation, the flotilla of little boats, the miracle of rescuing a third of a million men from certain Nazi capture.
The fact remains that from May 28th to June 4th, 338,000 helpless British and French troops were rescued from appalling conditions as the Dunkirk beaches and port were strafed by Messerschmitt’s and dive-bombed by Stukas. It truly was a terrible experience, and the ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ will continue to be one of the reasons that Britain could continue fighting the war.
But its miraculous tale does overshadow the second stage of the troop embarkation.
From the silence which usually follows the word, Dunkirk, many assume the Battle of France was over, the guns silent, Hitler’s triumphant march into Paris heralded by the noise of crickets in the cool summer morning.
But this image is far from the truth.
Millions of men were still fighting.
When the Germans renewed the fighting on the 5th June, they met staunch resistance from French and British troops, including General De Gaule’s Tank Division. The RAF flew from bases south of Paris, the French Air Force, also rejuvenated, took to the air against the Luftwaffe.
But it was a rearguard action. Soon British, French, Polish and Czech forces retreated to the Normandy ports.
SS Guinean. conditions aboard were extremely cramped

Operation Cycle (10th – 13th June, 1940) was immediately put into action.
British forces cut off from escape at Dunkirk, terribly disorganized and ill equipped, fled westwards along the coast, making for Le Havre. The 51st Highland Division, assisted by General De Gaule’s tanks fought a bloody rearguard against Rommel's 7th Panzer Division. With the port of Le Havre suddenly cut off, the allies fled to St Valery-En-Caux where Operation Cycle was ready to embark them.
There would be no flotilla of little boats this time. Under air cover from the RAF, the troops were transferred at the port onto destroyers, and civilian ships, commandeered for the purpose, and ferried off the beaches. From 10th-11th June, 2137 British, and 1184 French were rescued from St Valery before the 51st Highland Division finally surrendered.
The men who had managed to reach Le Havre fared better. From the 10th – 13th June, over 11,000 British troops were rescued.
And the relentless Germans pushed onward, rolling British and French troops further westward.

Operation Ariel (15th – 25th June, 1940) commenced.
Despite the lessons learned at Dunkirk, Operation Cycle had shown that large-scale troop embarkation onto large ships could be accomplished. On June 15th, a flotilla of Royal Navy and Merchant Marine ships converged on the ports of Western France. The ships were supported from southern French bases by five Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter squadrons which were further assisted by squadrons from England. The task was to enter the major sea-ports of St Nazaire, and Nantes and rescue British, Polish and Czech troops who had been directed there.
Under Luftwaffe attack, the ships loaded troops and equipment, but disorganization made figures inaccurate.
On June 17th the Luftwaffe sank the Cunard liner HMT Lancastria in the Loire estuary. The troopship had just embarked thousands of troops, RAF personnel and civilians. It is estimated that at least 3500 died in the sinking.
To conform to the terms of the Armistice on June 22nd, the evacuation of Operation Ariel officially ended on June 25th.
Over 191,000 troops were rescued in Operation Ariel, mainly British, Polish and Czech personnel, although accurate figures of nationalities are not known.
In all, Operations Ariel and Cycle rescued over 200,000 troops, including RAF ground crew, ancillary staff, and tons of equipment. Not quite the dramatic rescue of Dinkirk’s flotilla of little boats, but not a drop in a bucket either.
Considering the amount of men deployed, and the amount of men rescued, British deaths in the battle France were only 10,000, and that figure includes the 3500 from the HMT Lancastria.
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