Wednesday, February 4, 2015

First RAF Plane shot down in World War Two

One thing about doing research for a historical novel, you stumble onto a lot of unusual trivia and little known facts along the way. I was recently taken aback to discover that the first plane shot down by an RAF Spitfire…. was an RAF hurricane! You can’t make this stuff up!

The Battle of Barking Creek was technically the first air battle of World War II. It all happened on 6 September 1939, just three days into the war. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had not even taken their positions in France and Belgium. They would not be engaged by the German Wehrmacht until 10th may, 1940. Dunkirk was almost a year away.

A report came through to RAF Fighter Command that unidentified aircraft had been seen flying over the Essex coast, just north of London. Six Hurricanes were scrambled from 56 Squadron nearby. Two Pilot Officers, eager to be in the fray, jumped into two reserve aircraft and also joined the Hurricanes. Hurricanes from 151 Squadron, and three Squadrons of Spitfires were also scrambled.

Now, let’s take a moment here and look at the larger picture. This happened three days after declaring war on Germany. It was the first ‘action’ that anyone had seen. We had eager pilots, little training, no dog-fighting experience, and very primitive communications. We also had a bunch of pilots who wouldn't recognize a German aircraft if there had been pictures of Hitler on the wings! Everyone expected to see enemy aircraft, but had little training in recognition.

Enter the two Pilot Officers and their ‘reserve’ aircraft with no comms, flying around, looking for the rest of 151 Squadron.

Spitfires from 74 Squadron saw the hurricanes, and dived to intercept. One Hurricane (Pilot Officer Frank Rose) was hit, but the pilot survived. The second was not so lucky; Pilot Officer Montague Hulton-Harrop was shot down and killed  near Ipswich. Hulton-Harrop was the first Pilot to be killed in the three day old war, a casualty of so-called "friendly fire". His Hurricane was also the first plane to be shot down by a Spitfire.

Oh, and the original report of aircraft over Essex? It turned out to be a false alarm.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Inchkeith Island; Edinburgh's Historical Thorn (Part 2)

The invasion of the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and four smaller islands) by the Nazis in 1940 caused consternation in Churchill’s war cabinet. But these English Islands, sited just twenty miles from the French coast just could not be defended. Over one hundred miles from English soil, they had to be forgotten; one of the unspoken military surrenders.
But four hundred years earlier, the Island of Inchkeith, situated just five miles offshore from Edinburgh, became a huge military thorn in Edinburgh’s side, and remained so for many generations.
In the 16th century, at the time of the ‘Rough Wooing’ (King Henry the Eighth’s Guerilla war against the Scots) Inchkeith was garrisoned by the English Edward Seymour, the Earl of Somerset. He invaded the island in 1547 after the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. But don’t think they just visited, and stayed for a few days to wave some nice-looking flags at the sight-seers in Leith.... His marines reinforced the island, living there for many years, building a large square fort with corner towers, finished in 1564, on the site of the present day lighthouse. “The wall and rampart was 30 feet thick, being 14 feet of stone behind 16 feet of earth.” (A French soldier, Jean de Beaugué, described how the building works were visible from Leith in June 1548. De Beaugué wrote that four companies of English soldiers and a company of Italians were ordered to help the English workmen, who were seen as pioneers not soldiers.)
Can you imagine the people of Edinburgh, watching the erection of an enemy fort, just five miles from their capital city, and witnessing their government doing nothing to oppose it? But it only gets worse. English admiral, Edward Fiennes de Clinton, anchored his fleet at Inchkeith in August 1548. His task was to prevent sea traffic in the Forth and the security of the English at the siege of Haddington.
Questions abound.
The sleepy Toon of Haddington, held by the English was besieged? Yup it was.
The English blockaded the Forth Estuary? Really?
Yes, it all happened; Admiral Clinton reported destroying 38 ships on 9 August 1548. French galleys lay off Burntisland, filled with French troops ready for insertion into the fray. The sleepy dales of East Lothian had suddenly become the epicenter of the battlefield of Europe. Quiet towns like Dunbar, Aberlady, and Pinkie were bloody encounters in the confused times.
Ultimately, as winter approached, the English garrison in Haddington had to withdraw, but at one point over fifteen nationalities had fought around Haddington; Germans, Italians, Spanish, Hessians, Frenchmen, and… yes, even an Albanian division. Mary of Guise, the Regent of her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, ultimately chased the English back over the border, but of course, nothing could be attempted against Inchkeith until spring/summer.
In June, 1549, the English garrison was ejected by a combined Franco-Scottish force under General D’Essé; Scots, French and Germans charged a group of English and Italians, who’d made a stand on the summit of the island. On the following day, Mary of Guise, visited the island, to see the "three and four hundred of her dead foes still unburied". Seven English banners captured on the island were sent to Henri II of France. On 17 July 1549, he gave the soldiers who brought the banners lifetime pensions.
A Scots/French garrison would occupy the island for many years. In 1560, during the Siege of Leith, there were “140 French soldiers with 70 women, boys and laborers” on the island. In the 1560’s as Mary Queen of Scots came to power, she maintained a presence on the island and it is reported that a cannonade from the island bombarded the English vessel The Aide in September 1565, as it tried to blockade Leith. But in 1567, after Mary’s execution by her cousin Queen Elizabeth of England, the fort on the island was demolished. Stone removed from stone; the last time the island would be used in war.
As a ten-year-old boy I visited the island in 1969, and walked the grassy surfaces unaware of such a turbulent history. I took photographs of my mother and father, reclining on the bloodied grass. Today, it is owned by ‘Kwik Fit’ millionaire Tom farmer. With the lighthouse totally automated, permission is required to land on the island.

For the first part of the History of Inchkeith, go here;
The staggering macabre beginnings of the island... Scotland's own Island of Doctor Moreaux.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

K (Kalamity) -class Submarines, and the Battle of May Island

(Submarines K12 and K14 in dock)

The K-class of submarine, designed in 1913, and ordered by the Royal Navy in 1915, has such a tragic history, that readers may wonder how the crews had the courage to go on board one, never mind go to sea. They soon had the nickname of Kalamity-class vessels.
The submarines were steam driven, and had two funnels to emit the smoke of their coal furnaces. When diving, the funnels were closed, a supposedly water-tight seal.
They were over 300 feet long (the length of a football field), but could only dive to a depth of 200 feet.
Plagued by problems from the outset, only one K-class actually engaged the enemy; ramming a U-boat when its torpedo tube jammed.
Here are some details of their chequered history (in number order);
HMS K1; In 1917 K1’s squadron was on patrol in the North Sea, led by the light cruiser Blonde, then submarines K1, K3, K4, and K7.
(The same formation, so tragic at the Isle of May incident)
HMS Blonde turned sharply to avoid three cruisers which crossed her bows, which caused confusion amongst the following submarines and while K1 was maneuvering, seawater poured into the boiler room through the open funnels and put the boiler fires out. The loss of steam pressure caused the submarine to slow down and although K3 just missed her, K4 struck a blow alongside K1’s conning tower which pierced the hull.
Seawater poured into the control room and reached the batteries under the floor causing a buildup of chlorine gas. The damaged submarine signaled to HMS Blonde that she was sinking and the 56 crew of the submarine were transferred to the cruiser using the cruiser's two rowboats. It was decided that K1 could not be saved and so she was sunk by gunfire from the cruiser.
HMS K2; had an inauspicious start. In January 1917, she was damaged by an explosion and fire during her first diving trials.
On 11 January 1924, K2 collided with K12 as they departed from Portland Harbour. K2 smashed a hole in the forward casing of K12 and buckled her bows for about 6 feet.
On 7 November 1924, K2 collided with H29 during exercises.

(Submarine K3, around 1919)

HMS K3; was the first to be built, and sailed 4th August, 1916. In December of that year, at sea with a young future King George VI (Queen Elizabeth II’s father) on board, it dived under the waves of its own accord, a dive so sharp, that its bow rammed the muddy sea floor at 150ft, and its stern raised out of the water, with its propellers above the waterline. It took the surrounding craft twenty minutes to get the craft off the sea floor, and back to the surface.
A month later, on 9th January, 1917, K3’s boiler room was flooded in the North Sea when sea water got inside the funnels (a common problem in K-class submarines).
In November 1917, K3 was involved with an incident with the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron that led to the sinking of the K1.
On 2 May 1918, K3 yet again uncontrollably dived to 266 feet which crushed part of the hull.
HMS K4; On 17 November 1917, K4 collided with sister ship K1 (story told above).
K4 ran aground on Walney Island, near Morcambe.

(Submarine K-14, aground near Morcambe)

K4 sank on 31 January 1918 during the night time fleet exercises later known as the Battle of May Island (Operation E.C.1) when she was attached to the 13th Submarine Flotilla. While attempting to avoid a collision with K3, she became the victim of collisions with K6 and K7. She sunk with all hands.
HMS K5; surviving the war, K5 was lost with all hands when she sank en route to a mock battle in the Bay of Biscay.
K5 left Torbay on 19 January 1921 with the K8, K10, K15 and K22 for a mock battle in the Bay of Biscay. All 57 men aboard were lost on 20 January about 120 mi (190 km) south-west of the Scilly Isles . She had signaled that she was diving but she did not surface at the end of the exercise. After a battery cover and a sailor's "ditty box" were recovered, it was presumed that she had somehow gone past her maximum depth.
HMS K6; was the first of the K class to have its bows raised by converting it into a bulbous swan shape. In 1917, K6 refused to surface during a submerged trial in North Dockyard, Devonport.
At the Battle of May Island, she was responsible for ramming K4 and slicing her in half.
HMS K7; was involved in the accident when the K1 sank. She was also involved in the battle of May Island exercise. K7 was damaged in the exercise by running over the sinking K4.
HMS K8, K9, and K10; Amazingly they had no blemishes in their Royal Navy Career.
HMS K11; In 1917, K11 was damaged by fire during a North Sea patrol. She was forced to surface and was towed by a destroyer. K11 was part of the disastrous Battle of May Island exercise. She was forced to take avoiding action to avoid K14, but survived the exercise.

(Submarine K-12, with the new bow shape)

HMS K12; took part in the Battle of May island, surviving the disastrous exercise. Then in 1924, K12 collided with the aforementioned K2. K2 smashed a hole in the forward casing of K12 while K2 buckled her bows for about six feet.
HMS K13; In 1917, during sea trials in Gairloch, heavy seas damaged one of the funnels and water had nearly flooded her engine room. The damage was repaired but the next day she sank. She had 80 people on board - 53 crew, 14 employees of the shipbuilders, five sub-contractors, five Admiralty officials, a River Clyde pilot, and the captain and engineering officer from the still-completing K14. 32 crew died in the accident and 48 were rescued.
After getting the submarine to the surface, at 6 p.m. the following day, K13 tore the bollards out of the barges and sank again, flooding through the hole. The submarine was finally salvaged on 15 March, repaired and recommissioned as HMS K22.
HMS K14; was part of the Battle of May Island exercise on 31 January 1918, in which her steering jammed while avoiding a collision. She was rammed by K22 behind the forward torpedo compartment, but did not sink, and was repaired. Two men were lost.
HMS K15; sank due to an accident, when moored alongside the light cruiser Canterbury at Portsmouth Harbour on 25 June 1921.

(Submarine K-15)

HMS K16; The only incident that occurred with K16 was a sudden dive in Gairloch after her hydroplanes failed. She surfaced successfully.
HMS K17; sank on 31 January 1918 during the night time fleet exercises later known as the Battle of May Island (Operation E.C.1) HMS Fearless ploughed into K17 at the head of a line of submarines. She sank in about 8 minutes with the loss of all hands.

In hindsight, the K-class (Kalamity) submarines were a terrible waste of both money and men. These seventeen ships cost around six million pounds (in 1915) and claimed the lives of hundreds of brave submariners.

For a more in-depth blog of the actual Battle of May island, go to...

Thank you for your interest.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Darien Venture: Today in Scottish History

Ships in the Port of Leith near Edinburgh, 1698

Today marks the 315th anniversary of the launch of the Darien Venture (aka the Darien Scheme), Scotland's monumental disaster born out of a last ditch attempt to save a dying nation . In 1698 England was at war with all of the countries Scotland traded with- blockading the harbors and drying up the much needed supply and demand for Scottish goods. Two bad summers had ruined crops, beggars ate grass, the people were starving. The nation was at its lowest ebb. With a quarter of Scotland’s money circulation invested in the venture, the mission to Darien wasn’t just a get rich quick scheme, not only a last chance for the struggling nation- it was the ultimate ‘Hail Mary’ pass in Scottish history.

Three ships sat in Leith harbour near Edinburgh, and two more anchored off Kirkcaldy-The Unicorn, St Andrew, Caledonia, Endeavour and The Dolphin were the hope of the nation to carve a new trade route to China. 2500 passengers, soldiers and crew awaited the lifting of the anchors...but where were they headed?

It's difficult to believe, but at the time, no one knew the actual destination of the venture; the money had essentially been invested blindly. Because of the fear of English interference the entire plan had been orchestrated with the utmost secrecy concerning the details and actual destination.The Scots who invested in the venture were throwing their passionate support behind the country they loved with no knowledge of the most important details.  Only when Captain Pennecuick reached Madeira and ensured that he was free of English contact was he to formally open the orders to learn the fleet's ultimate destination. They were headed to the Isthmus of  Darien, Panama to establish an overland trade "short cut" with the Eastern world that would replace the hazardous journey around the tip of Cape Horn. 

When I began writing Opportunities: Jamie Leith in Darién I lived in a small cramped space near what was once the bustling Port of Leith.  I walked daily by the Water of Leith, and I imagined it as it must have been in 1698 with the ships of the Darien Venture at anchor in the harbor preparing for the journey. It wasnt long before I was also imagining it through the eyes of an adventurous street urchin and Jamie Leith was born:

In contrast to the quiet streets of the town, the dock was even more crowded than usual. Dockers and ship’s crew milled around on the quayside like partners in some unorganized dance. The difference today was the crowd of passengers, mostly men, who were standing in orderly queues, waiting to be boarded. In comparison to the dock officials, the passengers were a pathetic sight, soaked to the skin from the recent rain. The men who had donned hats for the heavy shower, had removed them, but the women’s bonnets drooped dejectedly. Their baggage lay waterlogged in puddles at their feet. 

“Looks like the Expedition ships are finally getting ready tae sail.” Jamie ambled closer. 

“It’s about time.” Gordon nibbled at the hard apple core. “They’ve been loading them for weeks!” 

Activity increased as they neared the quayside; harbour officials strutted and postured. Orders from both the docks and aboard ship were barked across the morning. “They’ll leave on tonight’s tide, maybe tomorrow’s.” Jamie threw his apple core high into the air, landing in the brown chocolate suspension that was Leith harbour. Twice a day the tide flushed away the stinking mess, but the Water of Leith, while rising clear and clean in the Pentland hills, also passed through Edinburgh. The capital’s sewer then ran down to Leith. 

“Almost like an adventure,” Gordon said. “Not knowing where they’re going.” 

“Best kept secret in town.”
                                                      ~from Opportunities: Jamie Leith in Darién chapter 1 by Ian Hall

The ships separated in bad fog, just days after sailing from Leith. To avoid contact with the English spy ships in the Channel, they had sailed north from Leith, round the northerly tip of Scotland, and round Ireland. Miraculously, they re-united again in Madeira, over five weeks later.

The volunteer colonists, some of whom had paid for their inclusion in the venture, had no idea what they’d signed up for. A seven month monsoon season, food rationing, bad leadership, Spanish attacks, and diseases that would ultimately wipe them out at the rate of ten per day.

Of the almost 4000 who embarked on the three missions to Panama, only 100 returned to Scotland. But on this day in July 315 years ago, their hopes were high, their resolve untested and unbroken, their casualties none.  The Darien Venture was the hope of Scotland. It’s a shame that the reality would prove so severe.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Who IS This Ian Hall Character Anyway?

Don't Panic! If you have landed here from a bookmark and thought you were headed somewhere else, your post isn't gone forever its just been moved... click here: Ian Hall Author Blog to get to the proper blog.

Greetings from the busy desk of the Blog Elves, we're here to inform you of a few more housekeeping changes in the neighborhood.  As mentioned yesterday, the author of the Jamie Leith Chronicles started this blog in support of his sweeping historical adventure series. Things got a bit confusing around here when he began posting updates about all the new genres he was exploring and other bits and bobs of his general Scottish eccentricities. Zombies and Vampires had nothing to do with Scotland's attempt to colonize Panama (as far as we know) but they invaded this blog with a vengeance.  We also discovered that people were beginning to get confused as to who was doing the talking on the blog-who is this Ian character and what is he doing in Jamie Leith's books? 

So, to clarify:Ian Hall is the author, Jamie Leith is the character and we have decided they each need their own blogs.  This blog will continue to thrive with stories and news about the chronicles, general Scottish history and a few discussions about writing process, etc. Jamie Leith is already off on his second adventure away with the Jacobites back home in Scotland and we will be doing some updates on the progress of that second book- tentatively called Rebellion- very soon.   Ian Hall Author now has his very own blog where he can rant about ANYTHING and the vampires have their own space where they can be as bloodthirsty as they like.

Thank you for bearing with us while we sort through the transition- we appreciate your continued readership!

The Blog Elves

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Vampires Have Got To Go

Please note: If you have landed here from a bookmark and thought you were headed somewhere else,  your post isn't gone forever its just been moved... click here: Vampires Don't Cry to get to the proper blog;)

Its not that we don't love the Vampires, but frankly it has become very confusing around here!  Ten years ago when I started to write the first book in the Jamie Leith Chronicles, it seemed to become my life's ambition to get it completed. It was the only ship on the horizon as it were. 

Then I discovered the amazing world of self publishing, and saw the chance to introduce readers to all of the other genres I have floating around in my head.  I began to collect all the other writings I have stored up and suddenly I have collections!

  • Caledonii; The Roman invasion of Scotland, in fact and fiction.
  • My "How To" books; how to write a zombie novel, a vampire novel, publish on Kindle, etc
  • My recipe books like Soup Yourself Thinner.
  • And most recently, my collaboration with April L. Miller first in the Reset Sci-Fi series, and then in the Vampire High School series.
Suddenly this wee blog that I started to chart the progress of my Jamie novels became crowded with all manner of strange characters as I shared my excitement at each new became VERY confusing!  I have decided to claim it back!  The Jamie Leith Chronicles are still alive and well, I am more than halfway through book two and planning extends all the way to a book four (we have to get Jamie to Darien, Georgia so he can help the Scots invent the modern world;). I need to keep room here for all the updates to come.  SO- I have sorted out the beasties from the history and thrown in an all purpose author blog for good measure~

We've decided to call our "vampire realm" Vampires Don't Cry and have settled all our collaborative vampire works, updates, news and quirkery at the Vampires Don't Cry Blog and hope that you 'Vampire Fans' will follow us there as well.  Vampires Don't Cry will itself be a series- a continuation where Vampire High School leaves off- which we'll hopefully reveal in 2014.

There is also a new Ian Hall Author Blog where I wax lyrical about Scotland, writing, Zombies, Sci-Fi and everything else that doesn't fit one of the other two categories, I hope you will stop in there as well. 

And finally, stay tuned here for more of Jamie's adventures...he's a live one that lad, last I checked in on him he was back in Scotland getting to know a lost king...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Americans and the Family Castle in Scotland

Fast (Fause) Castle, Berwickshire, Scotland

I’m Scottish, and I’ve lived in the USA for twelve years. I know my place of birth (Edinburgh) and that of many of my past generations (Ayrshire). It was important to me to know my roots and Americans like to know their origins too. In fact most Americans Ive met are quite keen to know and share their heritage. That’s why when they hear my accent they introduce themselves with the full handshake; “Hi, Troy Haffenberger III, third generation Dutch/Swedish/Irish, from Leningrad!” although there’s not a trace of anything but cold midtown Kansas City in their own mid-western brogue.

As I’ve spoken to thousands of Americans, I'v found that one subject rises to the surface more than most- the Family Castle. I’ve run into it a hundred times. “Oh, we visited Scat-land, and been to Edin-borg, and we visited the Family Castle”, as if you’d just turn up at the front door and demand a cup of coffee and a bed for the week. I mean, come on, not everybody lived in a castle. Well, maybe all Americans did. I digress.

Fast Castle. The drawbridge area is still identifiable, and part of the north wall.

Even after discovering this amusing American quirk, I still considered myself fairly content with my status as a castle-less European. Until last week, when I got a taste of my own medicine. I was browsing Wikipedia, looking at pictures of castles, when I came across Fast Castle, (Fause castle) just north of Coldingham, near the Scottish/English border.

Owners: The Hall family.

Crap. My pet peeve had actually raced behind me and kicked my own butt; I’d actually found my own Family Castle. Now, okay, there’s just a couple of walls left now, but I’ve been to others and never felt the connection that I do to these two bare walls and a piece of rock pointing out into the North Sea. But stories point to the owners dark, nefarious deeds; back in the 1500’s leaving the light on, and encouraging ships to their doom on the rocky shores below, where the wrecking crews patiently gathered. Great information for a historical writer.

One day, I'll go back to those lonely Berwickshire cliffs, and like every true American; visit the family castle.
Beware, you have been warned; this castle will be in one of my books… one day. Watch out for it.

Ian Hall
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