“BBC Who Do You Think You Are”

I was flattered to be asked to provide expertise for the episode of Who Do You Think You Are for Richard Osman. This is an example of the kind of work I do for personalised pilgrimages. Its about interpreting the documentary evidence to uncover something about an individual. You can see the episode here

More about personalised Pilgrimages here

Frank D Baldwin

Battles and Stories from the American Civil WarPOSTED ON

Frank D Baldwin

Frank D Baldwin is not related to me. But, I am rather proud of my namesake. He is one of only 19 US soldiers to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice.

His first award was for gallantry at the battle of Peachtree Creek near Atlanta Georgia. He was a Captain and commanded Company D of the 19th Michigan Regiment.  The citation reads that he  “Led his company in a counter-charge at Peach Tree Creek, Ga., 12 July 1864, under a galling fire ahead of his own men, and singly entered the enemy’s line, capturing and bringing back 2 commissioned officers, fully armed, besides a guidon of a Georgia regiment.”  

If you would like to find out more about theBattle of Peach Tree Creek there is a good article here.

This battlefield is now almost entirely obliterated by the suburb of Buckhead. However there are memorials and a trail in Tanyard Park. If you would like to visit the battlefield, there is a guide here.  

As a First Lieutenant, 5th U.S. Infantry. At McClellan’s Creek, Texas on 8th , November 1874. Frank D Baldwin  “Rescued, with 2 companies, 2 white girls by a voluntary attack upon Indians whose superior numbers and strong position would have warranted delay for reinforcements, but which delay would have permitted the Indians to escape and kill their captives. There is more on this action here.

McClellan’s Creek, is in Grey County, Texas. The battlefield is near McClellan Creek National Grassland.

What is New on the Old Front Line?



Just back from a well organised familiarisation tour to Flanders and the Somme organised and hosted by Tourism Ieper.  You might think that a year after the end of the centenary of the First World War that no one would be investing in developing First World War heritage.  But that is far from the case.  We saw a slew of new projects that enhance the experience for visitors.

View over the Passchendaele Battlefield
There is a panorama in each direction to aid orientation

It isn’t often that you see something on a tour around a familiar area that makes you change the way you plan a visit.  The high point (literally) of my trip was the visit to the Church Tower at Zonnebeke, which is open to the public. The website says it is free of charge, but you need a ticket from the Passchendaele Museum to operate the turnstile.  This offers an outstanding view of the Ypres Salient and is a good option to start a tour of the area.  Only worth doing if visibility is over two miles/ three km as there are 200 stairs to climb.

A fine collection of exhibits that would be improved with some explanation in the new app.

The Museé Somme Albert has a very fine and large collection of exhibits. A little unfashionably for modern museums these are mostly on display. An app is being written to allow visitors to find out more about the objects.  It is planned that visitors can download the app on smartphones.

Reconstructed trenches and panorama board on the site of Idiot Trench, illustrating why Hooge means “Heights”

I hadn’t visited the Hooge Crater Museum  for several years.  The owners have developed the museum to make it a one stop shop for visiting schools.  There are trenches demonstrating British and German trench designs on the site of the German 1916 front line and a good view over Ieper.  There is a gallery focused on medical services and a private room for a group. We were well looked after with a specimen student lunch (plus beer!)

There is a new museum dedicated to aerial warfare over Flanders and the great French air ace George Guynemer.  This is the Guynemer Pavillion Polecapelle

Yper Museum – model of the historic city

Yper Museum. The Yper Museum is situated at the other end of the Cloth Hall from the In Flanders Fields Museum. In Flanders Fields tells the story of Ieper in four years of war.  The Yper Museum tells the story of Ieper for the other 2,000 years of its history.  How the city grew and shrank with the wool trade, the sieges by the English and French.  Well supported by interactive exhibits, it is a reminder that the area is more than just a battlefield.

One nice feature of familiarisation tours is that they provide an opportunity for cafes and restaurants to show what they can do. The Depot did a great three course supper and Poppies Hostel at Albert and roof top terrace bar at the St. Bernardus Brewery Watou did a great buffet.  I hadn’t been to the brewery before. The view from the rooftop was also very worthwhile offering a panorama of the area west of Poperinge.

Another recent development is the local wine industry. Heuvelland is one of five Belgian regions recognised by a AOP Quality label.  The region claims to be the most northern wine growing region in mainland Europe.

Stefaan Vanderstreate on stage at the Clothe Hall gala singing and playing the guitar

This is the latest of a series of tours for representatives of the British travel trade.  The driving force has been the hotel businesses led by Stefaan Vanderstreate, the Ieper based entrepreneur who runs The Menin Gate accommodation business in Ieper and set up the Poppies hostel in Albert.  These are particularly well-run familiarisation tours.

Why did France collapse so quickly in 1940

Hitler and entourage  in Paris June 1940 

The collapse of France and the Low Countries in 1940 was one of the most dramatic and unexpected events in the Second World War. France was the world’s leading military power. Its ally Britain was the world’s leading naval power. Both had stronger economies than Germany, and could draw the resources of the world’s largest empires.  Yet, in a short campaign the Germans defeated France, Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands. There have been arguments about why ever since. Here are some of the arguments and where to go to gain insights into the campaign. https://www.youtube.com/embed/djCaIuSyNSo?enablejsapi=1&autoplay=0&cc_load_policy=0&cc_lang_pref=&iv_load_policy=1&loop=0&modestbranding=1&rel=1&fs=1&playsinline=0&autohide=2&theme=dark&color=red&controls=1&

1.   Blitzkrieg

Had the Germans invented a new form of warfare?  Tanks supported by dive bombers cutting a path through defences weakened by fifth columnists and parachutists. This term was coined by the media, not the Germans. It was more a description of the results of the battle rather than a deliberate tactic. However, the German invasion of the Netherlands was preceded by an advance guard dressed as Dutch policemen and audacious airborne landings seizing the ground for the panzers. The end of hostilities was marked by the bombing of Rotterdam.

The Belgian fortress at Eban Emael near Maastricht was captured by glider borne German troops

The bombing of Rotterdam was reported by the world media as “Nazi frightfulness”, the airborne landings cost the Germans aircraft and men in what was really just a feint.  There is still much that can be seen in the Rotterdam area.  

2.   Poor French Generalship

One of the briefing maps in the Fort Des Dunes,

The first historian to write objectively about the Fall of France was a medieval historian called Marc Bloch, who served as a staff officer in the French First Army 1940 and was evacuated through Dunkirk.  He wrote his book “Strange Victory” in September 1940 while in hiding. It would only be published in 1947, two years after his execution in June 1944 as a member of the resistance. His thesis was that the French generals had not noticed that the rhythm of modern warfare had changed its tempo and were incapable of thinking in terms of a new war. The  German triumph was a triumph of intellect.  There were many shortcomings in French generalship.   The French Army was poorly prepared and under trained for modern war.  The French “Methodical  Battle” assumed that warfare had not changed significantly since 1918 and operated at a pedestrian pace.  The Plan D strategy  was predictable and left the allied armies unbalanced and without a reserve. Bloch’s own observations left him very critical of the General he served under, and of the French state.  There is no French national museum of the Second World War. However, the Fort des Dunes near Dunkerque has a good audio visual display about the course of the 1940 campaign, in a location that is also a reminder of the gallant defence by the many French soldiers who fought bravely despite the disadvantages.     

3.   Rotten Fabric of the Third Republic

. “Better Hitler than Blum”  
The Jewish socialist Léon Blum, three times prime minister of France was a hate figure for the right. 

Bloch was not alone in thinking that France as a country was ill prepared for a second war against German.  British generals such as Brooke and Spears commented at the time about the mood in France.  American Journalist William L Shirer reported from the German side.  His book on the Collapse of the Third Republic  is a very readable account from 1870.  Alister Horne’s To Lose a Battle describes France’s unstable democracy. 

There isn’t a museum of 1930s France and the debacle of 1940 is not a matter for celebration.  However there are sections in several museums about the events of the eras.  The Memorial at Caen played a rather haunting recording , made by the Germans in secret, of the French delegation discussing the 1940 armistice terms with their government in Bordeaux.   

4.   The Germans had better tanks?

France 1940 room Le Musée des Blindés de Saumur

One of the early myths of the 1940 campaign was that the Germans had more and better tanks.  In fact the allies had more tanks, which were generally more heavily armed and armoured than  German tanks.  However, German tanks had much better radios and were better supported by other troops and maintenance services.  One French tank may have been a match for a single German tank, but the Germans hunted in packs.  The best place to see 1940 French  armour is the French Musee des Blindees Army Tank museum at Saumur. The nearby battlefield site of the doomed defence of the Loire bridges is a reminder of the gallantry shown by many French troops, often overlooked in accounts of the campaign.      The largest tank battle was between  Gembloux and Hannut in Begium where the tanks of the French Cavalry corps took on two panzer divisions.  

5.   Fifth Columns and Frightfulness?

Although the SS perpetrated most of the war crimes in 1940, the German Army was also capable of barbarity. Between 25 and 28th May soldiers from the German 225th Division executed between 85 and 170 Belgian civilians in the village  of Vinkt after using them as human shields. 

The invasion was accompanied by a mass flight of Belgian and French civilians who clogged the roads.  There were instances where German troops executed prisoners of war and civilians. The extreme right and left factions in Europe in the 1930s led to suspicion of Nazi sympathisers and fears of fifth columnists and spies.  Apart from a handful of troops that crossed the border in Dutch police uniforms there were no fifth columnists. However,  fears of fifth columnists and spies hampered the allies armies and fleeing refugees clogged the roads. British and French authorities treated civilians with suspicion and there are well documented cases of summary execution of Belgian and French civilians.   There are no memorials to the dozens, if not hundreds, who perished at the hands of nervous soldiers.  

6.  The British were to Blame? 

Winston Churchill, General Gamelin and General Lord Gort in France during the Second World War. Date: 1940

The British often see the Fall of France as merely as the overture to the national myth of Battle of Britain.  But would there have been any need for the Battle of Britain if the British had done more to win the battle for France?  The British took the lead in both appeasement at Munich and in declaring war in 1939.  Britain had the stronger economy and should have been an equal partner. Yet much of British re-armament was directed to defending Britain from air attack and the supposed deterrent of its strategic bomber force.  The excellent British integrated air defence system did not extend to its French Ally.  The British neglected their land forces and had no provision for expeditionary force until February 1939. The French had hoped that the country which claimed to invent the tank and pioneered mechanised forces would provide a professional mobile corps. Instead it produced a partially trained and ill-equipped conscript force. The British government were keen to deny Dutch airfields to the Germans and enthusiastic supporters of the  “Breda Extension” to the deployment plan  which committed the French strategic reserves to an ill-fated dash to the Netherlands.  Despite Gort’s status as the commander of an allied contingent he seems to have made little effort to influence overall strategy. Nor did British commanders, with some notable exceptions make any better use of the Phoney war than the French to prepare their soldiers for the type of war the Germans would wage. There is no single place to explore British culpability, except perhaps, the Arras area.  Heavily fought over in the First war, the city was the site of GHQ in 1939-40.  The Press were established in the Hôtel de l’Univers where General Mason-Macfarland, the head of the intelligence branch  on 13th May gave the extraordinary  briefing that he doubted that “Ever the British Army been placed in a graver position that that which the governments of the last twenty years placed it”   Perhaps the visitor should follow with a critical eye the famous Arras counter attack from Vimy ridge and compare  British capability and conduct at Arras and Cambrai in two world wars.

7.  Command of the Air?

The idea of stuka dive bombers as flying artillery to support Panzers is an iconic image of the 1940 campaign. It is true that German air superiority played a big part in demoralising the allies, but the German air force wasn’t really dedicated to supporting the ground armies. The Luftwaffe  made some important interventions at key moments, but German success was as much a consequence of allied inefficiency and poor long term planning. The Armee d’lAir and RAF fought hard and with stunning bravery – and the campaign cost the Luftwaffe dearly. 

The Dewoitine D.520 was one of the latest French fighters.  This aircraft can be seen at the  Musée de l’air et de l’espace at Le Borget, Paris

Unlike many British or American warbirds, few French aircraft from 1940 survived the war.   The Musée de l’Air et de l’EspaceLe Bourget Airport, near Paris, has examples of two of the more advanced French fighters the Ms406 and Dewotine 520.  The aerial battlefields over Sedan and the doomed RAF mission to the Bridge at Maastricht are possibly the best places to contemplate the air battles. 

8.   Intelligence failure?

The silhouette of an Me108  aircraft is the monument at the crash site of the courier aircraft at Maasmechelen, near Vucht, Limberg Belgium 

The failure of the Allied intelligence services to identify the timing and direction of the German attack is on a par with Pearl Harbour.  Despite indications of troop movements and bridging,  the Germans achieved surprise, and allied reconnaissance aircraft failed to notice columns of German armour heading into the Ardennes.  As all too often in history those in charge tended to ignore information that contradicted expectations and plans.  Nor did the allies understand and react to the evidence of German capabilities despite the evidence from the Polish campaign. 

The  intelligence picture was complicated by attempts by the German resistance to Hitler warning the allies of planned dates for the invasion  which were then postponed, and the accidental release of an early draft of the German plans when a courier landed by accident in Belgium. 

9.    Then Failed Alliance?

The 1940 campaign pitted the Germans against a coalition of Britain, France and the neutral counties invaded by the Germans. Despite the successful coalition of 1914-18 the Allied coalition of 1939-40 failed spectacularly.

Hotel Le Sauvage Cassel  

Although appeasement may have given time to re-arm, it sacrificed credibility among potential allies.  1940 might have turned out differently if Belgium had remained in alliance with France and Britain. Nor did the British and French invest in the liaison organisation that evolved between 1914 and 1918.   The story of 1940 is of a coalition unravelling with each party distrusting the other.  One place to explore this is in the historic Hotel du Sauvage in Cassel where some of the more contentious inter allied discussions took place concerning the evacuations at Dunkirk.    

10. Operational Genius, a Cunning plan and Luck?

In  his semi official history of the 1940 campaign The Blitzkrieg Legend 
the German military historian Karl Heinz Frieser,  debunked many of the myths about the campaign.   The campaign succeeded well beyond German expectations. That it did was a result of some original thinking by progressive German officers in the face of deep scepticism by others, rank disobedience by relatively junior panzer commanders such as Guderian, effective doctrine that enabled the Germans to operate much more quickly than the French and a slice of luck.   There is a lot to see in the land campaign, from the moves through the Ardennes, the assault crossings of the River Meuse on a fifty mile front and the advance across northern France.   

Marfee heights overlooking Sedan, the vital ground for the Meuse crossing

How to Find out More

Contact us for a discussion about the battles and battlefields of the 1940 campaign. 

The Lessons from the Dieppe Raid- and where to see these in on the D Day Beaches

TAG: 1942


The raid on Dieppe on August 19th, 1942 is a controversial episode in World War 2. An Anglo Canadian force with some 50 Americans landed around dawn in an attempt to seize and temporarily hold, the port of Dieppe. A few hours later the force withdrew, losing 5,000 casualties, of which around 3,600 were Canadians. The operation was closely studied by American as well as British commanders and played an important part in shaping how the Allied lands on D Day.

In May 1943 Headquarters European Theatre of Operations US Army held a conference on Assault Landings in London. Before the US Army started to train troops to cross channel, the commanders wanted to ensure that doctrine and procedures would reflect the latest evidence from assault landings and the special circumstances of the English Channel. The conference started with presentations on the Dieppe Raid.   The papers from this conference are available online (Assault Landings conference US Assault Training Centre ETO, 1943)

Commodore Hughes-Hallett, one of the naval commanders said that the Dieppe raid was intended as a small-scale rehearsal for a major cross channel operation, which would eventually have to be undertaken. He went on to say that the “lessons learnt caused a drastic re-casting of our ideas concerning amphibious operations in face of a heavy scale of resistance… A major disaster would have occurred had we proceeded to attack in North West Europe on the lines hitherto visualised.” Major General C J Haydon from Combined Operations spelled out the implications. Any assault would need the same level of fire support as an assault on a fortified position on land and mentioned El Alamein as a bench mark – one 25 Pounder per 17 yards. This could be provided by field artillery firing from their landing craft and specialist fire support craft mounting field guns and lighter cannon. The navy had been asked to build fire support craft, but the numbers required would mean revising naval constructions schedules and fighting for priority against demands for more landing craft or light craft as escorts or minesweepers.

Dieppe at dawn from the Western cliffs 2012
Dieppe from the western Cliff 1942

Until Dieppe the British had relied on surprise and aggressive commando tactics to carry out raids on occupied Europe. This was to a large extent out of necessity. There weren’t enough landing craft, nor small warships. Using these swashbuckling tactics British Combined Operations carried out a spectacular raid on the German held port of Saint Nazaire, sailing up the river Loire, seizing the docks and destroying the facilities. The same techniques of night approach and landings worked well in the Mediterranean. If half of the small craft needed to be fire support craft fewer soldiers could be landed.

 There were lots more “Lessons learned” in the report made in Autumn 1942. Extract from Combined Report on the Dieppe Raid, Combined Operations HQ , Whitehall , October 1942. -paragraphs 324-376 “Lessons Learned.

The conference also heard presentations by British Major General Hobart on specialized armour, on drills developed by combined arms teams of infantry, specialized tanks and engineers tackling a typical German defence position. It wasn’t just British talking. Colonel O’Bare USMC added the US Pacific experience, in particular deploying Army Divisions to the Aleutian Islands.

Dieppe was also a stimulus to an important armoured vehicle used on D Day. Shortly after the raid a Canadian Engineer was looking at the problem of protecting engineers working to clear routes for tanks. The Churchill tank was adapted as an engineer vehicle, capable of carrying engineer stores and mounting a 165mm petard mortar for demolition work. Although the British had developed a family of specialist armour – flails and bridge laying tanks, The Churchill AVRE was a more versatile platform. An entire assault brigade of three battalions would be used by the British and Canadians on D Day.

The Germans also learned lessons. It confirmed OKW’s optimistic view that an attempt at invasion could be destroyed on the beaches and reinforced the view that the Allies would attack a port and encouraged the Germans to waste resources in the wrong places.

The lessons from Dieppe are controversial.  Many people argue that these lessons were obvious or could have been learned from other operations such as the Allied landings in the Mediterranean or Pacific.  However, these arguments are  counter factual. We can never know whether the D Day planners would have learned from other peoples experience, or whether they would have deduced the level of fire power for what Combined Operations argued were the unique circumstances of the Ciorss Channel Assault. 


1.   Unfinished Bunkers on Gold Juno and Omaha Beaches 

This German gun was captured outside theincomplete concrete emplacement
Incomplete concrete gun emplacement Mont Fleury Gold Beach

The Germans drew some important lessons from Dieppe: the wrong lessons. The incomplete bunkers on Gold and Omaha beach are reminders that the invasion coast was fourth out of fifth in the German defensive priorities for the Calvados coast.  The Germans poured ten times as much concrete protecting ports that would not be attacked. 

2.   Juno Beach 

The Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer tells the story of the Canadian experience in the Second World War and of the preparations for D Day. The terrain on Juno beach was similar to Dieppe. As at Dieppe the assaulting soldiers were faced with fighting though a series of seaside towns.  Despite the extensive fire support and technology deployed, the fight on Juno beach was tough,

3.    Armoured Engineer Vehicles

The AVRE engineer tank at Greye-sur-Mer, on the western end of Juno Beach  was one of the many from the Assault Engineer Brigade that supported the British and Canadian landings. This particular tank was buried for half a century. 

4.    Ranger Memorial Pointe-du-Hoc

Dieppe was the first action in which US troops participated against the Germans 50 Rangers were attached to No 3 and No 4 Commando. The US Army was impressed with the aggressive tough training of the Commandos to set up their own version.

5.   Le Grand Bunker – Observation Bunker   Riva Bella Battery

No 4 Commando which landed on the eastern side of Queen Beach had participated in the Dieppe raid where it achieved its objective of capturing the Hess battery. Captain Pat Porteous awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry at Dieppe was one of the commandos who attacked the observation tower at Riva Bella on D Day.  “The observers in the medieval tower were communicating with the gunners at the inland battery. There was a single staircase up the middle of the tower and these Germans were on top.  They were as safe as could be; the walls were ten feet thick.  One of my men tried to climb the staircase, but the Germans dropped a grenade on him.  Another fired the PIAT at the tower, but it failed to penetrate – it was useless.  We tried to give the Germans a squirt with the flame-thrower, but they were too high; we couldn’t get enough pressure from those little backpack flame-throwers that we had.  We couldn’t touch the observers and were starting to take casualties from rifle fire from the tower,so I decided to leave it for someone else and set off for Pegasus Bridge.”

6.   Mulberry Harbour

Remains of the Mulberry Harbour, Arromanches-les-Bains 

The idea of a floating prefabricated harbour was developed before the Dieppe Raid.  However, the realization that it would not be possible to capture a harbour intact led the Allies to develop techniques and technology to support landings over a beaches. 

7.   Centaur Royal Marine Armoured Support Group

Eighty obsolescent Centaur tanks were landed on the British and Canadian beaches to thicken up the fire on the defences particularly for the last ten minutes of the run in.  These were originally intended as the turrets for close support Armoured Landing Craft, part of the armada of fire support craft for D Day.  The variously gun and rocket armed support craft do not have the iconic status of the  LCVP or LCA.  There are models of the different types of modified landing craft in museums covering the landings at Arromanches and Utah Beach. “Seawolf” at Hermanville-sur-Mer bears battle damage. A second Centaur is in the Memorial-Pegasus museum.  

8.     Point 67 Memorial  

The 2nd Canadian Division provided the bulk of the troops for the Dieppe Raid.  It was spared D Day, but landed in Normandy in early July. They were one of the formations that captured Caen and heavily engaged in the fighting between Caen and Falaise. The Point 67  memorial on Verriers ridge overlooks the battlefield of Operation Spring 25-27th July 1944. The 2nd Division attacked over this open ground South of Caen to keep the SS Panzer Divisions pinned on the Caen front while the US 1st Army attacked west of St Lo.  This fighting cost the Canadian forces over 1,300 casualties, their worst loss since Dieppe. 

9 Omaha Beach

The coast along Omaha Beach is rather similar to the Dieppe beach front, Regardless of whether Dieppe could or should have been attacked from the front or the flanks, for large stretches of the French coastline there were only a few places where an army could land.  These were obvious to the defenders and heavily defended.  It was obvious that any attack on the Calvados coastline would  include landings on Omaha beach.  

10 Operation Aquatint Memorial 

About half way along Omaha beach there are two prominent memorials, the concrete Liberation memorial and the steel Les Braves sculpture.  About a hundred yards to the west, on the seawall is a bronze plaque to the memory of Major March Phillips and his men who fell in Operation Aquatint on 12th September 1942. After Dieppe Combined Operations was ordered to focus on preparations for the cross channel assault.   No 62 Commando was left to stage small scale raids, which they did off the Channel Islands.  On 12 September a navigation error resulted in the raiders landing in the middle of what would become known as Omaha Beach in the face of an alert defence.  Three commandos were killed and others captured.