Thursday, 18 October 2018

I have been to ... the La Spezia Naval Museum: The early ship models

In the centre of the main hall of the museum is a long case containing a large number of models that show the development of early ships.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

I have been to ... the La Spezia Naval Museum: The Figurehead Room

One of the upper rooms in the newly-revamped museum is given over to the display of ships' figureheads.

Fairy Queen
The Fairy Queen was a paddle-powered despatch boat that was launched in Millwall in 1860 and bought by Garibaldi's Navy in 1861. She was subsequently incorporated into the Italian Navy and renamed Baleno. Her figurehead represents Queen Victoria.

The Cambria was an early steam-powered vessel that was built in London in 1844. She was bought for Garibaldi's Navy in 1860 by Agostino Bertani and subsequently incorporated into the Italian Navy. Her figurehead represents a Celtic bard playing a Gaelic harp or clàrsach.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Decima MAS

The Decima Flottiglia MAS (Decima Flottiglia Motoscafi Armati Siluranti/10th Anti-submarine Motorboat Flotilla, which was also known as Decima MAS, La Decima, or Xª MAS) was the Royal Italian Navy's special forces unit. It undertook a number of different tasks including
  • The use of frogmen to attach limpet mines to sink ships that were in harbour
  • The use of crewed self-propelled torpedoes (SLC (Siluri a Lenta Corsa) or Miaile (Pig)) to deliver frogmen to targets inside harbours
  • The use of explosive motorboats (MTM (Motoscafo da Tourism Modificato)) to sink enemy shipping
The Decima MAS mounted some remarkable operations including:
  • 25th March 1941: The wrecking of the British heavy cruiser HMS York in Suda Bay, Crete, when she was hit by an MTM
HMS York in 1938.
  • 18th December 1941: The sinking of the Royal Navy battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant by limpet mines placed on the ships' bottoms in Alexandria by frogmen using Miaile crewed, self-propelled torpedoes. Both ships were put out of commission for several months whilst repairs were undertaken.
HMS Queen Elizabeth at anchor, surrounded by anti-torpedo nets.
HMS Valiant.
  • 13th July 1942: The sinking of four merchant ships (SS Meta, SS Empire Snipe, SS Shuma, and SS Baron Douglas) in Gibraltar Harbour by limpet mines laid by twelve frogmen who swum across from the interned tanker Olterra which moored in Algeciras, Spain.
The Italian tanker Olterra. The frogmen who carried out the attack on 13th July – and later nine Miaile crewed, self-propelled torpedoes operated by Decima MAS and used in subsequent attacks on ships in Gibraltar Harbour – were able to enter and leave the ship undetected via a special hatch that had been cut into her side below the waterline.

Monday, 15 October 2018

I have been to ... the La Spezia Naval Museum: Small and Underwater Assault Craft

Almost the first exhibits that you see when you enter museum are examples of small and underwater assault craft.

A glass cabinet contains an SLC (Siluri a Lenta Corsa) or crewed, self-propelled torpedo, a concept that was originally developed by the Italian Navy during the First World War.

The early versions were called Mignatta (Leech), but the ones used during the Second World War were known as Miaile (Pig). They were operated by the elite Decima MAS unit of the Italian Navy, and were so successful that the design was copied by the Royal Navy, who called them Chariots.

The Miaile were usually 'delivered' to their targets inside watertight tubes fixed to the deck of larger submarines ...

... but several were based in an Italian tanker that was anchored in Spanish waters just across the bay from Gibraltar.

Also on show are is example of an MTM (Motoscafo da Tourism Modificato or modified tourist motorboat) which was a manned motorboat that was packed with explosives.

These MTMs were aimed at their target, and just before they hit, the driver would bail out of the motorboat ... and hopefully survive!

A small MAS (Motoscafo Anti Sommergibili or anti-submarine motorboat) is also on display.

Although originally designed to be used as an anti-submarine vessel, most MAS boats evolved into motor torpedo boats, and this example is armed with a single torpedo.

As was the case with the early British Coastal Motor Boats, this model of MAS was aimed at the target, the torpedo was released from a trough in the stern of the boat, and the MAS turned away so that the torpedo could continue to move along the MAS's original course.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

I have been to ... the La Spezia Naval Museum

Back in March (Was it really that long ago? It doesn't feel like it!), Sue and I visited La Spezia in Italy, and I managed to persuade her that a second visit to the Naval Museum was a good idea. (It cost me a nice lunch in a local restaurant, but it was well worth it!)

During our previous visit the museum had been undergoing a renovation, and this was now over and a whole extra building full of exhibits was open to the public.

The entrance to the Naval Museum is located next to the main gates into the naval base.

The plan inside the entrance shows just how much larger the revamped museum is compared to how big it was during our last visit.

The current plan of the museum.
The areas outlined in RED were not open during our last visit..
Over the next few days I hope to be able to write a number of blog entries that cover some of the newer exhibits that we saw as well as some of the older ones.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Dice holders

I have finished gluing my dice holder together, and they look like this:

I will try them out before I paint them, but to get some idea what they would look like I have placed some alongside some of the figures from my collection.

They don't look too bad, even in their unpainted state, and when put alongside the large figures, they seem far less intrusive.

Friday, 12 October 2018

My latest book sales figures

Slightly later than usual, have compiled my latest book sales figures.

There are no drastic changes, just nice steady sales. Hopefully there might be an upturn in my book sales when I publish my next book, and I hope to do that by Christmas.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Spanish Civil War: Day-by-Day: 11th October – 1st November 1938

The leaders of the POUM were put on trial in Barcelona. Two were acquitted but four were imprisoned.

Two of the defendants - Julián Gorkin (left) and Pedro Bonet (right) - during the trial of the POUM’s leadership. Andres Nin (the POUM’s leading theoretician) had already been executed after prolonged torture.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Heritage: What is it good for? Not very much, apparently when it comes to Woolwich

Prepare for a rant!

Whilst on a cruise some years ago, I struck up a conversation with a chap from the Newcastle area. He was bemoaning the fact that the lifeblood of that city – heavy industry – had almost completely disappeared and the local economy had suffered grievously. When I commiserated with him, he said something along the lines that as a Londoner I had no idea about what he was talking about as London had never suffered that way.

I soon put him right ... but then realised that the history of the Industrial Revolution is not well known to many people, nor that until relatively recently London was a major industrial city. I don't have to look far from where I live to prove that. At one point, the Woolwich Arsenal was the largest manufacturing plant in the world, covered 1,285 acres of land (520ha) and employed close to 80,000 people. There was barely a family in the area where at least one member didn't work in the Arsenal. It finally closed as a factory in 1967, with devastating effects on the local economy from which it is still recovering.

The gates of the Woolwich Arsenal.
A map of the Woolwich Arsenal in 1867. By the 1930s the site had expanded to the east for several miles.
Woolwich also had a Royal Naval Dockyard, which had built a large number of ships from the early sixteenth century until the late nineteenth century. King Henry VIII's flagship Henri Grâce à Dieu (Great Harry) was built in Woolwich in 1512, as was HMS Sovereign of the Seas in 1637. HMS Royal George, a first-rate ship of the line whose sinking in 1782 was one of the worst disasters in the history of the Royal Navy, was built in the dockyard and launched in 1756. HMS Beagle the ship that carried the expedition that naturalist Charles Darwin took part in was launched there in 1820, as was HMS Repulse, the last wooden battleship to be constructed for the Royal Navy.

The Woolwich Dockyard when it was one of the main building yards for Royal Navy ships.
The Woolwich Dockyard was at the forefront of the introduction of steam power into the Royal Navy and was the first of its steam engineering factories. It began manufacturing boilers and assembling the steam engines in 1831, and remained an important manufacturing facility until 1865, when it closed (mainly due to lack of space and the growing size of the new ironclad warships) and most of its plant was moved to Chatham.
A map of the Woolwich Dockyard in the 1860s.
Close to both the Arsenal and the Dockyard there were private foundries, one of which – the Blakely Ordnance Company of London – manufactured artillery for the Confederate Army. Just across the river in Blackwall was the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company Limited, which built the world's first all-iron warship, HMS Warrior, in 1860 as well as numerous warships for the navies of the world. The last large warship built by the yard was HMS Thunderer, a battleship that took part in the Battle of Jutland. She was launched in 1911.

So, what is the rant about?

Quite simply this ... the Royal Borough of Greenwich has shut the Local Heritage Centre and Archives (which are based in Woolwich) and moved their contents into storage, making them the only London borough not to have such a facility. This comes after the demise of Firepower! the Royal Artillery Museum, in 2016 and a planning battle to stop the developers of the Woolwich Arsenal site from demolishing one of the historic buildings in the Arsenal to make way for a taxi rank and open space next to the entrance to the as-yet-to-be-opened Woolwich Crossrail/Elizabeth Line railway station! I understand that there has been a suggestion that some of the old buildings in the Woolwich Dockyard area - most of which has already been redeveloped for housing - should be demolished to make way for more housing. There are also suggestions that the land fronting the famous Woolwich Barracks should be sold by the Ministry of Defence for housing development when the Army moves out of Woolwich in eight years’ time.

Would this happen in the centre of Greenwich? Would they allow houses to be built on land between the Royal Naval College (now the site of Greenwich University) and the National Maritime Museum? Would anyone suggest that Greenwich Park and/or Blackheath should be redeveloped? I very strongly doubt it ... and yet the same people who would not allow that to happen to Greenwich and Blackheath are perfectly happy to allow Woolwich's heritage to be despoiled, demolished, and forgotten.

Heritage: What is it good for? Not very much, apparently when it comes to Woolwich!