Category Archives: South Coast

14 May 1264 Battle of Lewes

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Interpretation of the Battlefield of Lewes by Sir Charles Oman

14th May 2014 is the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes, a key event in the Barons wars, which resulted, in the cocmmitment of the Kings of England to abide by the Magna Carta signed just under fifty years earlier.

The Battle of Lewes was one of two main battles of the conflict known as the Second Barons’ War. It took place at Lewes in Sussex, on 14 May 1264. It marked the high point of the career of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, and made him the “uncrowned King of England”. Henry III left the safety of Lewes Castle and St. Pancras Priory to engage the Barons in battle and was initially successful, his son Prince Edward routing part of the Baronial army with a cavalry charge. However Edward pursued his quarry off the battlefield and left Henry’s men exposed. Henry was forced to launch an infantry attack up Offham Hill where he was defeated by the Barons’ men, defending the hilltop. The royalists fled back to the castle and priory and the King was forced to sign the Mise of Lewes, ceding many of his powers to Montfort.

King Henry III, in his efforts to subdue the reforms springing from the Provisions of Oxford of 1258, provoked a baronial faction led by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, to the extent that civil war as only a matter of time.

Simon de Montfort and the baronial army marched on the King at Lewes and positioned themselves on the crest of the Downs to the north-west of the town. The King’s foot soldiers followed the cavalry under Prince Edward up the long hill, but were pushed right back against the Castle and Priory in the town. The royal army suffered significant casualties, several leading supporters of the King had fled, and much of the town was ablaze.

10 Battle of LewesThe only near contemporary account is from one William of Rishanger. Chronicle of William de Rishanger of the Barons’ Wars ed. J.O.Halliwell (Camden Society 1840).  Here in the English Heritage Battlefield report.

Earl Simon passed that night without sleep, giving time, as was his habit, to divine offices and prayers and exhorting his men to make sincere confessions. Walter de Cantilupe, Bishop of Worcester, absolved them all, and commanded that for the remission of their sins they should manfully strive for justice on that day, promising to all who should die thus the entry into the heavenly kingdom.

Battle being therefore certain, at daybreak before the rising of the sun, they went out from the village of  Fletching, where a great part of them had spent the night, and which was about ten miles from Lewes. Before the start earl Simon de Montfort girt Gilbert de Clare with a knight’s sword.

When they had marched near the town of Lewes and were hardly two miles distant from it, Simon with his men ascended a hill and placed his chariot there in the middle of his baggage, and having purposely placed and firmly erected his standard upon it, he encircled it with many armed men.

Then with his own forces he held the ground on either side and awaited the issue of events. In the chariot he set four London citizens, who a little before, when he passed the night in Southwark, had conspired to betray him. This he did as a warning.

LPT_battle_of_lewes_crop.jpg670x498When he had thus prudently arrayed his forces, he ordered white crosses to be sewn on their backs and breasts over their armour, so that they should be distinguished from their enemies, and to indicate that they were fighting for justice. At dawn the baronial army suddenly attacked the  king’s guards who had gone out to seek for food or fodder and killed many of them.

When the king therefore was sure of the coming of the barons, he soon advanced with his men, with his  standards unfurled and preceded by the royal banner, portending the judgment of death, which  they call the ‘Dragon’. His army was divided into three parts: the first line was commanded by Edward, the king’s eldest son, together with William de Valance, earl of Pembroke, and John de Warenne, earl of Surrey and Sussex; the second by the king of Germany with his son Henry; and the third by king Henry himself. The baronial forces were divided into four, of which the first line was given to Henry de Montfort, the second to Gilbert de Clare together with John FitzJohn, and William of Montchensy; in the third were the Londoners under Nicholas Segrave; while the  earl himself with Thomas of Pelveston led the fourth.

Then Edward with his line rushed on his enemies with such violence that he compelled them to retreat, and many of them, to the number of sixty knights, it is said, were overwhelmed. Soon the Londoners were routed, for Edward thirsted for their blood because they had insulted his mother, and he chased them for four miles, slaughtering them most grievously. But through his absence the strength of the royalists was considerably diminished.

Meanwhile many of the might men of the royal army, seeing the earl’s standard on the hill and thinking he was there, made their way thither and unexpectedly slew those London citizens, for they did not know that they were on their own side. In the meantime the earl and Gilbert de Clare were by no means inactive, for they smote, threw down and killed those who opposed them, endeavouring with the utmost eagerness to take the king alive. Therefore many of the king’s supporters rushed together – John earl of Warenne, William de Valance, Guy de Lusignan, all the king’s half brothers, Hugh Bigod and about three hundred warriors – and seeing the fierceness of the barons, fled. There were captured Richard, the king of Germany, Robert Bruce and John Comyn, who had led the Scots thither. Also King Henry had his horse wounded under him, and giving himself up to earl Simon was soon brought under guard to the priory.

There were killed on that day many Scottish barons, and a great number of the foot soldiers who came with them had their throats cut. Meanwhile Humphrey de Bohun earl of Hereford, John FitzAlan earl of Arundel, William Bardolf, Robert de Tateshale, Roger de Somery, Henry Percy and Philip Basset were taken prisoner. But on the king’s side there fell the justiciar, William of Wilton and Fulk FitzWarin, the one slain by a sword, the other drowned in the river. On the barons’ side fell Ralph Haringod, baron, and William Blund the earl’s standard bearer. On both sides five thousand are said to have fallen.

When Edward and those fighting with him returned from the slaughter of the Londoners, not knowing what had happened to his father, he went round the town and came to Lewes castle. When he did not find his father there, he went to Lewes priory, where he found his father and learned what had happened. Meanwhile the barons made an assault on the castle, but as those shut up in it defended themselves manfully, the barons withdrew. When Edward saw their boldness within the castle, he was greatly inspirited, and collecting his men again, he wished to continue the battle afresh. Discovering this the barons sent arbitrators of peace, promising that they wished to treat for an effectual peace the next day.

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If you would like to visit the Battlefield of Lewes contact British Battlefields. info@britishbattlefields.com 

Battlefields Trust Resource Centre here 

The 75th anniversary website is here website http://simon2014.com/

Festival programme here

More about the battles and sieges associated with Magna Carta and the Barons Wars here

5 May 1943 – A Turning Point in the Battle of the Atlantic

SS Harperely, sunk by U 264 on the night 4-5 May 1943
SS Harperely, sunk by U 264 on the night 4-5 May 1943, her master was Captain J E Turgoose

“Both torpedoes struck almost simultaneously on the port side, the first one in the vicinity of the engine-room, whilst the 2nd torpedo struck in the way of the fore-mast. The explosion was not very violent, and appeared to be more of a dull thud. I did not notice a flash, neither was there a column of water thrown up, although I later learned from survivors of another vessel that they saw a big flash. Neither the submarine, nor the track of the torpedoes was observed.  I was in the wheel-house at the time, and was surprised to find that apparently there was practically no visible damage. Even the glass windows of the wheel-house were unbroken, the only visible damage being that one of the port boats was destroyed and No. 4 raft had carried away. The ship listed very heavily to port, submerging the holes in ship’s side, thus making it impossible to see the extent of the damage.    Owing to the heavy list I ordered “abandon ship”. A W/T message was sent out, and the rockets fired, one of which failed to function. I endeavoured to ring the engine-room telegraph but found that it was jammed, although the engines must have stopped when the first torpedo struck as it was the first”  Extract from the Master’s Report on the loss of SS Harperley 4-5 May 1943

On the 5th May 1943  Slow Outbound Convoy Convoy ONS 5, outbound from Liverpool to Halifax lost eleven merchant ships to U Boat attack in a force 6 seas in the mid Atlantic.  The Battle of the Atlantic was the most important naval campaign waged by Britain in WW2 and the only matter which Winston Churchill said kept him awake at night

By the time the week long voyage n the course of a week, ONS 5 had been the subject of attacks by a force of over 40 U-boats. With the loss of 13 ships totalling 63,000 tons, the escorts had inflicted the loss of 6 U-boats, and serious damage on 7 more.

This battle demonstrated that the convoy escorts had mastered the art of convoy protection; the weapons and expertise at their disposal meant that henceforth they would be able not only to protect their charges and repel attack, but also to inflict significant losses on the attacker.

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U264, a type VII C U Boat. The SS Harperley was one of three ships sunk by this U Boat. over two years. She was sunk by depth charges dropped by the British sloops HMS Woodpecker and HMS Starling on 19 February 1944. There were no deaths, fifty-two men survived.

ONS 5 marked the turning point in the battle of the Atlantic. Following this action, the Allies inflicted a series of defeats and heavy losses on the U-boat Arm, a period known as Black May. This culminated in Dönitz withdrawing his forces from the North Atlantic arena.

The official historian, Stephen Roskill commented: “This seven day battle, fought against thirty U-boats, is marked only by latitude and longitude, and has no name by which it will be remembered; but it was, in its own way, as decisive as Quiberon Bay or the Nile”(1)

More on the battle here 

The ships lost on 5th May are shown in the following table from the U Boat Net. 

5 May 1943 U-264  Hartwig Looks Harperley 4.586  br
5 May 1943 U-264  Hartwig Looks West Maximus 5.561  am
5 May 1943 U-266  Ralf von Jessen Bonde 1.570  nw
5 May 1943 U-266  Ralf von Jessen Gharinda 5.306  br
5 May 1943 U-266  Ralf von Jessen Selvistan 5.136  br
5 May 1943 U-358  Rolf Manke Bristol City 2.864  br
5 May 1943 U-358  Rolf Manke Wentworth 5.212  br
5 May 1943 U-584  Joachim Deecke West Madaket S 5.565  am
5 May 1943 U-628  Heinrich Hasenschar Harbury 5.081  br
5 May 1943 U-638  Oskar Staudinger Dolius 5.507  br
5 May 1943 U-707  Günter Gretschel North Britain S 4.635  br

Although the battle has no name or location other than a track over points of latitude  and longitude, there are places to see the U Boat war in Britain.

It is possible to see a U Boat in Birkenhead on Merseyside. This is a type XI larger than the type VII Uboats used by the German wolf packs against ONS 5.

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U 534 preserved in Birkinhead

The Western Approaches control room in Liverpool is where the Atlantic war was fought.

The  Commonwealth War Grave Commission lists 736 fatalities on 4-5 May 1943, a time when there were operations on  land in Burma and Tunisia  and in the air over Germany. Of these 114 were lost at sea, most oif them in the battle for ONS-5

The merchant marine sailors who lost their lives on ONS 5  are recorded on the Tower Hill memorial to the missing.    The Royal Artillery and Royal Navy Gunners are listed on the Chatham , Portsmouth and Plymouth Memorials.

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Tower Hill Merchant Marine Memorial

If you would like to visit any of the places associated with this battle contact British Battlefields

2 May – 70th Anniversary of the Largest Exercise ever staged in the UK

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Troops coming ashore landing from Landing ships during an invasion exercise in Britain 5 May 1944

Exercise Fabius 2-7 May 1944  was, arguably, the largest training exercise to take place in the UK.  It would be the final rehearsal for Operation Overlord .  It was a rehearsal of the landings on the four invasion beaches in the Normandy coast between the rivers Orne and Dives; ( Sword, Juno, Gold and Omaha beaches) .

Utah beach,  geographically separated from the other four beaches was considered a separate assault from  naval point of view. The rehearsal for the landing on Utah Beach was Exercise Tiger and took place on  26-30 April on Slapton Sands in Devon.

Ex Fabius  allowed participants the chance to rehearse under conditions as close as possible to those they would face.  It also allowed the ports to practice supporting a large scale landing.   This was a dress rehearsal with the landing forces approaching the beaches behind mine sweepers and landing craft lowered ten miles off shore.  The landings were accompanied by live firing from ships.

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Men of 6th Battalion the Green Howards receive 48-hour ration packs before embarking onto landing ships during Exercise Fabius 5 May 1944. IWM H38222 These men will land on Gold beach a month later.

The assault troops for each of the D Day beaches would practice landing on a stretch of coast with a similar configuration to that they would face on D Day.   The exercise was too close to D Day for any  further experimentation or changes to the plan.  Some units would not return to their previous accommodation, but instread to their assault assembly area.

3rd British Infantry Division was assigned to assault Sword beach with the town of Ouistrhem and the River Orne on their left flank and the city of Caen as its objective.  On Exercise Fabius it landed near Littlehampton with the  River Arun on its Left and Arundel its objective.

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On 5th May Hayling Island would substitute for Gold Beach.

Robin Dunn, who was Battery Commander  of 16 Battery of 7 Field Regiment claimed post war that there were problems which were identified and if put right would have  enabled the allies to do better on D Day.

” While at Bolney we had our final rehearsal of the invasion on the south coast near Arundel……..We had a new divisional commander, Tom Rennie, who had commanded  a brigade of 5lst Highland Division with distinction in 8th Army and had a high reputation. The commander of 185th Brigade was Brigadier K. R Smith, who had been with the brigade for some time and had so far in the war seen no action. He  was a good trainer of troops who had worked us hard during our training in Scotland. But he did not fully accept the role of the brigade in the divisional plan. We had  heard that 21st Panzer Division had been identified as having recently arrived about thirty miles inland of our landing beach. The presence of this division became a fixation in K.P.’s mind. He was haunted by the idea that, if 185th Brigade pushed too boldly inland, 2lst Panzer would come round our right flank, which was in open country and cut us off from the beaches. There was wooded country on the left and  KP. wished to infiltrate his infantry through the woods beside the river and approach the objective in that way along the divisional left flank. During our final rehearsal  he attempted this manoeuvre, which involved keeping one battalion on our original thrust line and passing the other two round their left flank in a wide turning movement. The result was chaos. The battalions became separated from one another  and the Brigadier lost communication with the flanking force which lost all momentum. I was at brigade HQ when Tom Rennie arrived and said wearily, ‘You won’t let this happen on the day will you KP?  It would have been better, even at that late stage, if he had sacked KP. on the spot.”  Robn Dunn   Sword and Wig.

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Littlehampton, the stand in for Ouestsrhem on the dress rehearsal for D Day

Although many fewer than on Ex Tiger, there were casualties on Exercise Fabius. On the Morning of 4 May twin engine fighter bomber aircraft of Coastal Command attached Allied motor boats inflicting many casualties.  Possibly the German attack on Ex Tiger had made the airmen a little trigger happy.

Places associated with the story of the training and rehearsals for D day can be found across Britain, from the sections of Atlantic Wall built in Scotland to the beaches which stood in for the Norman Coast.

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25 April 1643 – Surrender of Reading

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On 25th April 1643 the Royalist attempt to relieve their garrison besieged in Reading  failed with an element of farce.

n late October 1642, King Charles returned to Oxford from the indecisive Battle of Edgehill (23 October). On 4 November, he entered Reading from Oxford and later that month retired leaving a Royalist garrison, of 2,000 foot soldiers and a cavalry regiment, under Sir Arthur Aston.

The town and townspeople suffered many privations due to the demands of the garrison for money and lodging.

On 13 April 1643, the Earl of Essex at the head of a Parliamentary army of 16,000 men left Windsor and laid siege to Reading using cannon.  Despite attempts by the King and Prince Rupert to lift the siege, the Royalist garrison  surrendered on 26 and 27 April 1643.

The relief force arrived after the Royalist garrison had lost heart and agreed a truce.  Messengers sent to warn the defenders of the relief were captured.  Attempts by the relief force, unaware fo the truce, were to break through were met by apparent indifference by the besieged who made no attempt to break out . More here http://www.berkshirehistory.com/articles/reading_siege.html

http://sbcox.history-redlands.tripod.com/siege-of-reading.html

www.readingmuseum.org.uk/GetAsset.aspx?id.