The Last Days of Thunder Child

The Last Days of Thunder Child
War of the Worlds - spin off adaptation novel.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Bringing You Why Lord Thomson Championed Airship R101 - A Race to Disaster.

The R101 airship was a grand and exciting project that ended in complete disaster for the British airship industry. It was championed by Lord Thomson, who was the Secretary of State for Air. The year was 1929 and the British Empire was still flourishing, though no one could for see that the huge Empire had only 15 to 20 years left – the forth coming World War II would see an end to such an age as the country would go bankrupt bravely surviving the ordeal along with many other great nations. Afterwards, the world would never be the same for Britain as she would be knocked off her high perch - the USA and USSR would become the new kids on the block for the coming age.

The R101 project was one of the last times when the Empire engaged on one of its grand adventures of improvement. The people of this time thought in a perspective of the Victorians – many of them had grown up during the reign – all they had known was Empire and their outlook was to build and be progressive on a grand scale. Among some of the Vickers engineers were Barnes Wallis of bouncing bomb fame and Nevil Shute, the famous novelist.

I feel the Labour MP and Peer, Lord Thomson (Champion of the R101 project) is not looked on in a good way, which I believe is wrong, because we all like to be wise after an event. The man tried to build a revolutionary travel route, which fell on the first hurdle and perhaps we feel smug looking back through history with the benefit of hindsight. I believe men of Lord Thomson's calibre deserve some credit, despite the failure of this grand endeavour. Men like him bring about great change, sometimes for good - sadly on this occasion it would not be. He was serving under Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald's government from 1924 to his death in 1930.
The R101 airship was completed at Cardington, Bedfordshire and she was the largest airship in the world. She made her first test flight in October 1929. The tests were unsatisfactory. The aircrew found the ship difficult to manoeuvre and she did not lift well. They tried to fix the problems and took her on more test flights. In 1930 she fell into an involuntary dive returning from an air show. The crew battled frantically to correct the colossal airship as she plunged nose first towards the ground for about 500 feet. The desperate crew managed to bring the airship under control, but only for a short duration because the ship fell into mini dives on two further occasions during the journey home.

Lord Thomson, the Air Secretary, had ambitions to use R101 as an air liner that would take people to and from India, the jewel of the Empire. He was determined that the giant airship be ready for the first flight to Karachi, then part of India. On route, there would be a stop in Egypt to gather fuel and further supplies for the rest of the journey. Lord Thomson was a very driven man and in many circumstances this is good when things need to be done. He had ambitions of starting an airship flight route to India on a regular basis. From there, maybe other air route services. The man might have had the makings of a pioneer, but the complex engineering that he was trying to rush through was very delicate indeed. He put a great deal of pressure on the engineers and because of this, there were not many test flights after the innovations and too much was left to chance. The first flight to India would commence on October 4th 1930.

The giant airship had a crew of 42 people to carry just 6 passengers and 6 officials. There were around 3,000 spectators watching the launch – the big adventure that would open a gateway to India, bringing the further parts of the British Empire closer to home. Again problems arose due to weight and ballast had to be dumped because of over loading. Also the aft engine broke down. Not a good start, but Lord Thomson, who was on board, was a man in a hurry. He needed to get the first foundation down in the achievement of a successful Britain to India flight.

They reached France and were just west of Paris when R101 fell into another dive. She was already flying low and the crew could not correct the airship’s decline on this dreadful occasion. The huge airship crashed and was engulfed in a fireball that took the lives of 48 people aboard R101, among them, Lord Thompson. Only 6 crew members survived the terrible crash. This was a national tragedy and brought an end to British Airship ventures.


Sunday, 23 May 2010

Bucking Bronco Christmas 1966

As a boy, I had a variety of different toys. Many of them were enjoyed, but recently I recalled a special one after my aunt Iris passed away. It was one of those little things that jog a memory. It must have been about two or three days after Christmas of 1966. At least I'm almost certain it was that year. It was evening and I can remember my Mum and Dad being happily surprised when my Uncle Fred (Mum's elder brother) knocked on the door with aunt Iris. All were happy and I can remember my aunt Iris giving to my sister and me each, a splendidly wrapped box with a bow. This was a delightful bonus a few days after Christmas. I can't remember what my sister got, but clearly remember genuine joy and astonishment when I opened my Christmas present. It was a key clockwork wined-up bucking bronco (horse) with a colourful cowboy in a yellow tartan like shirt and a dark plain scarf, a hat that came off, side guns and spurs - the whole cowboy package as far as a little boy was concerned. When one turned the key, the bronco bucked and the cowboy would be thrown off. I thought it was marvelous and I remember thinking the cowboy was smashing, because he had side guns and I could pretend that he was able to get off his horse and walk about with bow legs.(In my kiddie imagination) Plus if you never turned the key, you could pretend the horse was well behaved and carried his cowboy from place to place in the normal well behaved manner. Well, you know what its like at that age, you love cowboy and Indian flicks - John Wayne and Co. I thought this toy was the full shilling with a bit of mustard to boot. I never remembered what happened to it, but I do believe my old aunt Iris and Uncle Fred must have put a lot of thought into that one. When I heard aunt Iris had passed away, that 1966 Christmas time visit and the little box of delight sprang to mind - a little moment in eternity for aunt Iris. x


Saturday, 22 May 2010

Dario Argento's Suspiria

Without any doubt what-so-ever Suspiria was one of the most frightening films I ever saw. I was 16 and I managed to get in to see this old x film with my then girlfriend also 16. We thought we were so clever getting into an x film. Once it started, I remember thinking that I wished I had not put myself out so much. I think the girl with me did too. She buried her head into my chest but had to take it away because she could hear my heart pounding with fear. Everything about this movie worked for me. It was complete suspense - on the edge of your seat stuff and although I was terrified; I was glad of the experience afterwards, when we were both laughing at how scared we had been as we travelled home in the night.

Everything about this movie works for me as a horror film and I think Dario Argento got all things right. Even the music by the Goblins built up the tension. At first as haunting little chimes, then gradually growing to a terrifying pitch with banshee screaming in the background. It fills you with fear and had me chewing my nails down to the elbows. If you like a good horror, then you must see this one.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Do You Like These Great Sci-Fi Book Covers

A montage of Sci-Fi book covers.

Don’t judge a book by its cover is what everyone has been taught from school. Kids who disliked reading were told to go beyond the cover page and at least try to read. Very often great joy was found in reading and many young readers found science fiction books intriguing or enjoyable, sometimes just because of the cover. But why do readers enjoy science fiction books & sci-fi book cover design?

Science fiction more so than fantasy stretches the imagination to the point of believable with technology that could become real one day rather than magic that could never be. There is something seemingly geek about Science Fiction, not only does it set the mind racing but in a number of readers is sparks the fire of invention.  For some unknown reason the cover design, that masterpiece of art that adorns the front and even the back of the book is the trigger.

The cover design is very often how the author sees or imagines his or her story, landscape and surroundings. There is an immediate ‘this could be real” that entices a science fiction reader, in the same way those who don’t enjoy Science Fiction are turned away. There is something unique about a science fiction cover, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke are among the masters of Science fiction bordering science fact whose book covers and writing are still believable today.

With Asimov and Clarke, some of what they wrote or had drawn as science fiction has become science fact today and this is what drives and inspires readers of Science Fiction. Turning the ordinary into the extra-ordinary, making the unbelievable strangely believable is what science fiction readers enjoy. Keeping the facts of science just out of reach and enabling it to be touched through the imagination. Cover design and illustrations add Technicolor or full HD to the pictures in the mind and there is actually nothing geek about it.  Just as those wanting something steamy see images in 50 Shades of Grey so a science fiction reader will get the same thrill from planets, galaxies and battles in far away, non-existent (maybe) places.

There is a degree of ‘what if” with science fiction, a deeper form of escapism that few genres can deliver. Yes, it comes close to fantasy but fantasy can never really be, but science fiction is never really very far away from science itself. There are no schools like Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the real world but there are universities that study and experiment with the stuff of science fiction. For science fiction there a true and very real space station a real Hogwarts if you like. With science fiction, because science exists the reader is able to believe and the “what if” is being challenged in the real world.

The geek in science fiction comes from believing in what others struggle to believe in. It is a different kind of belief to fantasy such as David Eddings and J.K. Rowling and vastly different still to the Bible or Koran. However, there is a belief, one that inches ever closer to reality as each page is turned. The cover design merely plants the seed; if the cover design is striking yet believable, it sets the tone for the book. Once the tone is set the reader can believe, ask “what if this could be?” and know full well that it is closer than they realise.

So, why do readers enjoy science fiction books & sci-fi book cover design?  The answer is clear; it is a glimpse into the future using storylines that are no different to those we have been told since childhood. The good versus evil and happy ever after are simply jazzed up, but unlike the fairy tales of bears, bowls of porridge and little girls sleeping on “just perfect” beds, with science fiction things could be and quite possibly are real.

Based in Cape Town, South Africa Matt Newnham is a writer who has a cup that is always a little more than half full. Matt is passionate about life and success and his writing has earned him the title “The Master of Emotional Appeal” as he manages to find the true heart and human feeling of almost any subject.  Matt is the Author of the children’s book Series “Space Ranger Fred”   Follow Matt on Twitter @MattNewnhamZA  , on Facebook and on his website

Saturday, 8 May 2010

German Aircraft Carrier WWII: DKM Graf Zeppelin

In 1936 Nazi Germany laid down plans to develop an aircraft carrier, which was actually launched in 1938. Progress on catapults and landing gear was far too slow, however, and as the war started and progressed other areas of Germany’s war effort took president over the completion of the Graf Zeppelin Aircraft Carrier.

The flat top was only ever 80% complete and because of bickering within the German high command, the Graf Zeppelin project ground to a halt during the important time of the war when she would have been needed. The ship did move from one Baltic port to another but was used mainly as a floating warehouse. The sole German aircraft carrier was seriously neglected when other nation’s aircraft carriers had displayed very good abilities. The British had remarkable success against the Italian Fleet in Taranto, sinking the Palo cruiser off of Crete and of course, crippling the Bismark and allowing the Royal Navy to close in and sink the battleship. Then the Japanese success at Perl Harbour displayed what results could be achieved with such fleets. The American success followed at Midway. It was an area where Germany dropped the ball during the Second World War.

As the war came to an end, Graf Zeppelin fell into the hands of the Soviets. She was used as target practice and sunk in 1947.

Hiroshima Atom Bomb Impact

Terrifying consequences of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima 1945

First Submarine Attack by Americans against British 1776

When it comes to being creative or getting an idea off the drawing board, and putting it to practical use; I think the Americans are a nation that can motivate and plug dreams to become reality. If they don’t succeed the first time, they try again – a trait that served them well over the years.

I was astonished to learn that they invented and used a submarine against us in 1776. One of their first attempts at chasing, what was then, a fantasy notion. I was taken aback when I watched the small YouTube documentary below, about an attempted innovation by the fledgeling nation, when they were at war with us Brits. It was during the Independence conflict and was the first recorded submarine attack ever. The target was H.M.S. Eagle - a Royal Navy vessel that was moored off of Liberty Island.

The Turtle was like a giant distorted beer barrel in a strawberry shape and was waterproof. It had room for one person who worked the submersible device from within.

The underwater weapon was cast from a nearby bank during the night. It bobbed about in the waves as it neared the anchored ship. Then when the Turtle got close it submerged successfully. The underwater contraption then proceeded towards H.M.S. Eagle's hull underwater and out of sight of the lookouts on board the ship.

The daring expedition was controlled by Sergeant Ezra Lee (1749 - 1821.) He managed to manoeuvre the quaint submarine under the hull of H.M.S. Eagle as she lay in anchor. Once underneath, he tried to bore a hole into the ship’s hull with the use of a drill. In this final part of his mission, he was unsuccessful because he could not settle the drill properly upon the wood. He had air enough for thirty minutes and as he began to tire, he had to abandon the mission. The Turtle backed away to safety.

The American Militia would try two further attempts, during the Independence war, but these were unsuccessful too. However, this primitive underwater vehicle, known as the Turtle, did come close to success. It was the first submarine in use during a military conflict.

Friday, 7 May 2010

01 President HU Jintao Reviews Chinese Troops [China's National Day, Chi...

Vast Armed Forces of People's Republic of China. What ever political divide a person is from, there is something about any nations military parade. Many nations all over the world do such things and it can look very resplendent when a vast body of people act in unison.


The Top 10 Best Tanks in the World

A look at the worlds top ten tanks - real Goliaths of the armoured vehicle world.

Goliath Tarantula vs TV Guy

Crazy guy with a Goliath Tarantula spider. The poison fangs can cause irritation, but the multitude of tiny hairs they can cast from the abdomen are worse. Something the average person does not know about.

WWII in Motion - Rare Colour Filmed Reports - German Wehrmacht , Luftwaf...

Rare and interesting colour film of German Forces during WWII.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Ironclad battle of Angamos 1879 (Naval Battle between Chilean Navy and Peruvian Navy.)

There was a historical ironclad sea battle in October 1879 during the Pacific war. This was between Chile and the Peru/Bolivia alliance. The Peruvian ironclad Huscar had been roaming into Chile's waters hampering the nations war effort at sea by attacking ports and capturing transporters. The Peruvian ironclad Huscar, had won a major sea battle against a Chilean corvette called Esmeralda the previous May and had become bold with her success. This conflict is known as the Battle of Iquique and the duel lasted four hours before the Chilean vessel was sank.

The Chilean Navy had to deal with the Peruvian Huscar before she could progress with her war against the Peru/Bolivia alliance. A serious of events brought the problem to a very dramatic conclusion on 8th October 1879. The Chilean Navy sighted the Peruvian ironclad Huscar a short distance from the Port of Angamos, then in Bolivia, and moved into position to engage the ship.

Chile had 2 ironclads, 3 corvettes and 1 transport ship. A firce naval battle ensued and eventually the crippled Huscar was boarded by Chilean sailors. The ironclad was repaired and put into service for the Chilean cause. It still exists today and is a floating musuem in Talchuano, Chile.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Giving You A Lone Fairy Swordfish attack on the Pola - Cape Matapan WWII

Watch a reconstruction of the attack on Italian cruiser Pola in 1941. The first attack is by a lone Swordfish piloted by Lieutenant 'Tiffy' Torren-Spence. Afterwards, the Royal Navy closed in for the kill. This Italian vessel was a very fine looking ship and in some ways, it is sad that such a ship should go down, but unfortunately enemy must be stopped.

In March 1941, when ships of the Mediterranean Fleet watched over troop movements to Greece, Allied intelligence received news that the Italian battle fleet consisting of a battleship, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and destroyers were intent on attacking the Allied convoys. The news was intercepted by Ultra decryption of Italian signals. This discovery had to be concealed from the enemy so another more plausible reason for discovery was offered by the Allies, allowing the Axis powers to think the Italian fleet was discovered by other means. Therefore, a reconnaissance plane flew over the fleet allowing the Italians to think this was the reason for their fleet’s discovery

The Italians also believed the Royal Navy’s Merchant fleet had only one battleship protecting it. There were actually three. Also, the Italians were ignorant of the fact that a recently lost British aircraft carrier had been replaced too. The Italian fleet was approaching a much more formidable force than expected.

The Royal Navy dispatched cruisers Ajax, Gloucester, Orion and the Perth and several destroyers from Greek waters to a position south of Crete. Another Royal Navy force consisting of Formidable, Warspite, Barham and Valiant left Eygpt on the same day to add to the force off of south Crete.

The Italians discovered on the route about the new aircraft carrier Formidable thanks to the decryption team aboard the Vittorio Veneto. After discussions, the Italians decided to continue with the mission, in order to show their German allies their will to fight.

In the morning of March 28, the Trento group encountered Admiral Pridham-Wippell's cruiser group off of the island of Gavdos. The British squadron was moving in a south-east direction and the Italians believed the British and Australian vessels were trying to escape Italy’s larger ships. The Italians gave chase, opening fire from 22,000 metres. The Italian guns had trouble grouping their rounds, which had little effect. The shooting was ineffective and after an hour of pursuit, the Italians cruisers broke off the chase and turned north-west, under orders to rejoin the Vittorio Veneto. The Allied ships also changed course and followed the Italians at extreme range.

The Vittorio Veneto met the Italian cruisers and immediately opened fire on the shadowing Allied cruisers. She fired several rounds inflicting just slight damage from shell splinters but the allied ships were able to fall back.

Then the Royal Navy ships from Egypt arrived close to hand and launched a sortie of Fairey Albacore torpedo planes from HMS Formidable. They attacked the Vittorio Veneto which caused no damage, but it did make the Italian pursuit of the allied cruisers difficult. The Italian fleet broke off the pursuit turned route towards Taranto, where they could expect their own air cover.

Later in the day, the British launched a second sortie, which surprised the Italians. Lieutenant-Commander Dalyell-Stead flew his Albacore at Vittorio Veneto and hit the vessel at her outer port propeller which caused 4,000 tonnes of water to be taken on. The ship was forced to stop while the damage was repaired. The British pilot (Dalyell-Stead) and his crew were killed when their craft was shot down.

A further strike was made by six Albacores and two Swordfish from HMS Formidable plus two more Swordfish from the island of Crete was made.

A lone attacker on one plane (Lieutenant F.M.A. Torrens-Spenc) dropped a torpedo and crippled the cruiser Pola, forcing her to stop. A squadron of Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers closed in for the kill. Other Italian ships, ordered to return and help Pola.

The Allies detected the Italians on radar and were able to close without detection. Italian ships were not supposed to meet enemy ships by night and had their main gun batteries disarmed; they also had no radar and could not detect British ships by means other than direct sight, so the British battleships Barham, Valiant and Warspite were able to get very close and unnoticed by the Italian ships. The Allies opened fire. The Allied searchlights illuminated their enemy making the Italians easy targets. Almost straight away, two Italian heavy cruisers, the Fiume and the Zara, were destroyed.

Then two Italian destroyers (Vittorio Alfieri and Giosue Carducci) were sunk. The other two destroyers managed to escape, one with heavily damaged.

The British boarding parties went aboard the Pola and seized a number of the much needed anti-aircraft machine guns.

Eventually, the Pola was sunk with torpedoes by the destroyers Jervis and Nubian after her crew had been taken off.

Allied casualties during the battle were a single torpedo bomber shot down by Vittorio Veneto's 90 mm anti-aircraft batteries, with the loss of the three-man crew. Italian losses were up to 2,303 sailors, most of them from Zara and Fiume.

After the defeat at Cape Matapan, the Italian fleet never again ventured into the Eastern Mediterranean until the Fall of Crete.

The Italian Fleet consisted of:

• Ammiraglio di Squadra Angelo Iachino

o 1 battleship: Vittorio Veneto (damaged)

o 4 destroyers (10a Squadriglia Cacciatorpediniere): Grecale, Libeccio, Maestrale, Scirocco

o 4 destroyers (13a Squadriglia Cacciatorpediniere): Alpino, Bersagliere, Fuciliere, Granatiere

• Commodore Antonio Legnani

o 2 light cruisers (8a Divisione Incrociatori): Luigi di Savoia Duca degli Abruzzi, Giuseppe Garibaldi

o 2 destroyers (6a Squadriglia Cacciatorpediniere): Emanuele Pessagno, Nicoloso da Recco

• Admiral of Division Sansonetti

o 3 heavy cruisers (3a Divisione Incrociatori): Bolzano, Trento, Trieste

o 3 destroyers (12a Squadriglia Cacciatorpediniere): Ascari, Carabiniere, Corazziere

• Admiral of Division Carlo Cattaneo

o 3 heavy cruisers (1a Divisione Incrociatori): Fiume (sunk), Pola (sunk), Zara (sunk)

o 4 destroyers (9a Squadriglia Cacciatorpediniere): Vittorio Alfieri (sunk), Giosué Carducci (sunk), Vincenzo Gioberti, Alfredo Orian

Force A, 14th Destroyer Flotilla, 10th Destroyer Flotilla (of Force C), Force B, 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, Force D

The Allied Fleet consisted of:

• Admiral Andrew Cunningham

o 3 battleships: HM Ships Barham, Valiant & Warspite

o 1 aircraft carrier: HMS Formidable

o 9 destroyers: HM Ships Greyhound, Griffin, Jervis, Janus, Mohawk, Nubian, Hotspur & Havoc and HMAS Stuart

• Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell

o 4 light cruisers: HM Ships Ajax, Gloucester & Orion and HMAS Perth

o 3 destroyers: HM Ships Hasty, Hereward & Ilex

• AG 9 convoy (from Alexandria to Greece)

o 2 light cruisers: HM Ships Calcutta & Carlisle

o 3 destroyers: HM Ships Defender & Jaguar and HMAS Vampire

• GA 8 convoy (from Greece to Alexandria)

o 1 anti aircraft cruiser: HMS Bonaventure

o 2 destroyers: HM Ships Decoy & Juno

o 1 merchant ship: Thermopylæ (Norwegian)

Royal Navy Fairy Swordfish Plane (String Bag)

The Fairy Swordfish (nicknamed: the string bag) was an outdated biplane that performed amazingly well during the early stages of the World War II. She was used on board British aircraft carriers and to good effect. I think much of her success was because the plane could function in areas where she had no competition from much faster fighter aircraft. At sea, land-based fighter aircraft, that the enemy might try to send out, where out of range. She could attack enemy fleets at sea. Italy and Germany never used aircraft carriers. Germany had one but it was never modified to go into action.

On one occasion the British used the string bag to attack the Italian fleet when docked at Taranto. It was a night attack and it took the Italians by surprise. It caused tremendous damage to the Italian Navy and the string bag would be responsible for other major hits upon the Italian fleet at sea.

The string bags were also responsible for crippling the German Battleship Bismark by dropping torpedoes. One of these damaged and jammed the great ship's rudder. It allowed the Royal Navy to close in on the stricken ship from all directions and sink the German ship. This caused tremendous damage to Germany's surface fleet in WWII. It elevated the slumbering Swordfish to hero status among the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. So much damage by an almost obsolete biplane.

Perhaps the string bags became over confident with such an affectionate and overinflated reputation. It had performed and punched above its expected weight. After these early successes, the Fleet Air Arm of the \Royal Navy, became overbold because they attempted to use the string bag in an attack upon German ships in the Channel close to northern France. This operation went preposterously wrong. Close to land, the Germans sent up intercepting fighter planes and every string bag was lost as the mission failed in diabolical shambles. 

As the string bags attempted to abort and return to base they were so slow that the German fighters pursuing overshot the lumbering British planes before a concentrated fire could be focused on the fleeing Swordfish. The German fighters realised they had to lower their landing wheels to slow down enough as they fell behind the lumbering string bags. This allowed them to remain in range long enough to let off a substantial burst of machine gun fire. 

This incident brought home the reality of the Fairy Swordfish's limitations. She remained a much-loved plane because of early exploits in the war and her allure is affectionate because of some amazing feats performed by such a modest craft. There are still some left today, and I have seen them at air shows. The Fairy Swordfish (string bag) is still a great favourite of mine.

Fairy Swordfish - Stringbag

30 Strinbags (Fairy Swordfish) launched an attack on Italian fleet at Taranto Italy. They performed some amazing and daring attacks at sea where there was not too much opposition. They are wonderful panes but were limited and outmatched against most other type of aircraft in WWII.

However, at sea where the German and Italian fleets had no decent air defence, the stringbag was able to take great advantage with attacks on shipping.

Fairy Swordfish pilot John "Jock" Moffat and his attack on Bismark.

Pilot of Fairy Swordfish John 'Jock' Moffat was among the squadron of stringbags (Fairy Swordfish) that attacked Bismark with torpedos. His plane and crew dropped the infamous torpedo that jamed the battleship's rudder twelve degrees to port. The Royal Navy then closed in for the final kill.

HL Hunley, Submarine mini-documentry

A brief mini documentry about the HL Hunley - the first ever submarine attack.

Confederate Commerce raider - (Captain Semmes of the CSS Alabama.)

In England during the year of 1862 in the day and month of 29th July, a ship was launched with no pomp or ceremony from the shipyards of Birkenhead, Merseyside. The ship was called Enrica and she had been built by shipbuilders called John Laird Sons And Company. The vessel slipped discreetly out of Liverpool into the Irish Sea.

A Confederate Agent called James Dunwoody Bulloch had procured the ship for the new Confederate Navy – a collection of states that had decided on secession from the United States of America. The contract had been arranged through Fraser, Trenholm Company – a cotton broker in Liverpool with interests in the Confederate States.

Bulloch went with the ship and had carefully arranged for a civilian crew to take Enrica to Terceira Island in the Azores.

A few days later on August 5th another ship left Liverpool bound for the same destination in the Azores. This vessel was a steamer called Bahama and one of its passengers was to become a figure that would burn his name in history. He was a thin faced man with a small beard and moustache who came from Maryland, in today’s USA. However, in 1862 the state of Maryland had joined the Confederate cause and this particular man had left the US Navy and joined the Confederate Navy. His name was Captain Raphael Semmes.

When he reached Terceira Island in the Azores he was greeted by Agent Bulloch and both began to oversee Enrica’s refitting. Another ship called Agrippina docked bringing special supplies for the newly constructed ship. This included ship’s cannon, coal, food and other necessities for a long voyage. When all of the loading had been completed, there was a small ceremony which took place about a mile off of the island in international waters. The men of all three ships Enrica, Bahama and Agripinna stood on Enrica’s quarter deck with 24 officers of the Rebel Southern States – all of them in full dress uniforms.

Captain Raphael Semmes read out his commission from President Jefferson Davis, which gave him the authority to take over the newly built ship. When he had finished his speech, musicians began to play “Dixie”. The British colours were lowered and the Confederate battle ensign was raised. As the new flag fluttered in the sea wind Captain Semmes proclaimed the vessel by a new name. Alabama – CSS Alabama.

The renamed C.S.S. Alabama and was converted into a Navy cruiser. The newly armed vessel would become a commerce raider and the world’s sea would have an abundance of Union shipping to attack in the name of the Confederacy.

There was one small dilemma that needed to be overcome. Captain Semmes had 24 officers but no crew. Confederate sailors were hard to come by in the Azores as none could be got out of the blockade. He looked to the mainly British crew that had bought the ship to the Azores as the civilian Enrica. He made a bold speech about the Southern cause and invited the Brits to sign up for an unspecified time. Unfortunately, the mainly British listeners were not too enthusiastic about a foreign civil war, so then he changed his tact, realising that Southern morality would not win Brit minds as opposed to the bulging wage packet. He therefore offered double wages, to be paid in gold, and additional prize money to be paid by Confederate congress for every destroyed Union ship. This induced a bold response as 83 excited Brits felt a sudden flurry of Rebel patriotism – in short Captain Semmes had acquired a crew of mercenaries that would prove to be well and truly up to the task at hand. He was still 20 men short but knew he could find more sailors in other ports. Many of the British mercenaries completed the full voyage – an extraordinary two year high sea adventure with Captain Semmes who they came to admire greatly.

Captain Semmes began his rampage instantly in the Eastern Atlantic capturing and destroying all northern merchant ships that the Alabama came upon. These vessels were mostly whalers and the Confederate raider accounted for ten of them. Captain Semmes then ranged north and back to Bermuda, attacking 13 more Union ships and destroying ten of these vessels.

He then took his ship to new hunting grounds in the West Indies and attacked more enemy commerce, making Union shipping dread the sight or name of C.S.S. Alabama. Then in January of 1863, when sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama came up against her first military vessel – a Union side wheeler called USS Hatteras. The Confederate ship quickly attacked and sank the ship, capturing the crew.

Next she went south off of the coast of Brazil and took 29 prizes, reeking havoc before venturing back across the Atlantic to South West Africa where she worked with another Confederate vessel called C.S.S. Tuscaloosa. Next she went into the Indian Ocean for six months and attacked and destroyed seven more Union vessels.

All together the C.S.S. Alabama was accountable for the destruction of 65 Union ships – mostly merchant vessels. Prisoners were never harmed and were handed to the nearest neutral ports or passing vessels. While roaming the seas and boarding vessels the C.S.S. Alabama never visited a Confederate port – she would have been incapable of breaking the blockade. She took over 2,000 prisoners without a single loss of life of her captured or crew.

In June of 1864, the C.S.S. Alabama docked at the port of Cherbourg in France to have repairs done. She had been at sea for a long time and was in need of overhaul. A pursuing Union sloop-of-war U.S.S. Kearsarge arrived outside of Cherbourg three days later and waited for the Alabama to leave port and come out into international waters. Before he had arrived, the Union Captain John Ancrum Winslow had telegraphed for assistance from man-o-war U.S.S. St Louis with supplies for a long blockade of the Confederate ship if Semmes chose to stay in the French port.

Captain Semmes was a fighting man by nature and would not entertain the notion of being blockaded in the port of Cherbourg. He chose to sail out and engage the U.S.S. Kearsarge

On the 19th of June, the Alabama sailed out to confront the U.S.S. Kearsarge. Cannon fire was exchanged and soon the two ships were locked in a duel with Alabama outmatched against the Union sloop-of-war. The Confederate ships most poignant shot was fired from a seven inch Blakely pivot rifle, which hit close to the Union vessel’s vulnerable stern post. The shell failed to explode. If it had done it would have crippled the ship’s steering.

The Union ship was armour clad and was more durable to shell fire. Eventually the Alabama began to wane due to the pounding and after an hour she was badly broken up. One shell tore into her amidships below the water line allowing water to gush in and drown her boilers. The Confederate ship began to sink.

As Alabama went down many of the survivors clambered into life boats and ship’s Doctor David Herbert Llewellyn managed to get many of his wounded patience aboard boats before going down with the ship. He was a Briton from Wiltshire and was awarded the Southern Cross of Honour. There is a memorial tablet and window commemorated to him in a church in Wiltshire and another tablet in Charing Cross Hospital where he once worked.

U.S.S. Kearsage picked up most of the survivors, but a further 41 men were rescued by a British yacht called Deerhound. Captain Semmes was among these men and he escaped to Britain.

Captain Semmes held good on his promise to the crew who were all paid in full when they got back to Britain. He returned to the Southern American States and finished the Civil war fighting on land with his naval men as infantry in the dying months of the war. The Confederate cause was lost and he was interned for a few months after the South surrendered to the Union. After the war, he became a judge and a newspaper editor. He died in 1877 age 67.

In 1984, the French Navy found the sunken wreck of the C.S.S. Alabama and since then there have been joint French and US archaeological dives of the wreck.

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Amethyst returns to Hong Kong following the Yangtze Incident.flv

Real images of H.M.S. Amethyst entering Hong Kong after her epic guantlet run along the River Yangtze during the last days of China's long civil war. Red communist forces were on either side of her as she made her dash down river and out into the open sea. 

Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts - Skeletons Scene

As a kid I loved this movie. Anything with monsters or mythical creatures were my favorites. My four sons were all the same too. This is one of my most enjoyable moments from Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts.

YAMATO - World's Largest & Greatest Battleship Ever Built

BATTLESHIP YAMATO was the most awesome battleship that was ever built. She could fire a shell 25 miles. The pride of Imperial Japan's Navy. The colossus of all ships was built just before the harsh realisation that battleships were no longer viable. Aircraft carriers could launch air attacks from a range that Yamato could not compete with. Bismark of the German navy had suffered the same dreadful end. Yamato's end was to be all the more spectacular and deadly. 

In 1945 Squadrons of American aircraft attacked Yamato in a sustained attack lasting over two hours. Bombs, torpedo's - again and again -wave after wave of aircraft. Yamato - the giant edifice was turned into a floating inferno. Then she sank into the depths of the all consuming sea.

Battleship Bismarck's final moments.

The Stringbags (Fairy Swordfish aeroplanes) managed to cripple the Bismark's rudder, jamming it so the mighty battleship could only go round in circles. The Royal Navy realise and close in for the kill. What followed was a mighty sea battle and Bismark's last fight. Her first maiden voyage was to be her last.

Sunday, 2 May 2010