SMHS Study Day 2015

23 May 2015

Our 5th Annual Study Day entitled Courageous in Conflict was held at Newhaven Fort on 23rd May 2015. All the speakers were raised from our own ranks and gave their time free of charge to maximise the profits for this year's chosen charity, Combat Stress.

Our first speaker, Dave Dimer explored guerrilla warfare and how it has developed over the years. He started in South Africa where raiding parties, with the support of the local population, were highly effective against far greater British numbers. Guerrilla operations were again successful in the First World War. Dave gave the example of T.E. Lawrence's attacks on enemy supply lines. In World War Two the Special Operations Executive placed agents oversees to gather intelligence and carry out disruptive raids.

Dave's key observation was that you have to win the hearts and minds of the local population if guerrilla warfare is to succeed, evoking images of soldiers playing football with children in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our second speaker was Geoff Bridger, whose talk entitled The Lost Sons of Lewes - The Battle of Aubers Ridge 9th May 1915 explained how 19 young men from Lewes died as a result of the battle. Whilst the French and German armies were composed of conscripted, trained soldiers, the 5th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment was a territorial battalion made up of raw recruits who had signed up together with their comrades. On the 9th May they were to back up the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, a battalion of regulars, entrenched behind them. That morning, when battle commenced, the 2nd Battalion were slaughtered. An advance bombardment had failed to clear barbed wire or any German emplacements; subsequently the German machine-guns were able to mow down the 2nd Battalion, the 5th Battalion moved bravely forward to suffer the same fate.

Ed Tyhurst then took us on a tour of Newhaven Fort. The Fort was built in the 1860s and is the largest defence work in Sussex, it was re-armed for both World Wars.

Our third speaker was Peter Hibbs, who initially described his research, The Defence of East Sussex Project. His talk entitled The Battlefield Beneath Your Feet explored how visits to County and National Archives have assisted him in locating evidence of World War Two in the East Sussex landscape. Pete's unique digital reconstruction of anti-invasion features entranced us all.

Our final speaker was Simon Bellamy, a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve whose talk North Cape 1943- Final Clash of the Battleships described the sinking of the last German battleship, Scharnhorst, in the last battleship versus battleship action of the Royal Navy.

The Allies were bringing vital supplies into Russia by Arctic Convoys, groups of merchant ships with Destroyer escorts travelling around the top of Norway in freezing conditions and short daylight hours. These runs were punishing and vulnerable to attack by German submarines or aircraft. The presence of German battleships in the Norwegian fjords meant the convoys needed heavy escorts which tied up Allied warships, desperately needed elsewhere. If the battleships could be destroyed in harbour (as was Tirpitz) or lured out and drawn into battle, the threat to the convoys could be extinguished once and for all.

Simon described an audacious plan using a convoy as bait to draw Scharnhorst out of her safe harbour and use two Forces in a pincer movement to trap her. Simon talked us through the initial engagement which saw Scharnhorst turn away, the dilemma of Vice Admiral Robert Burnett, in command of Force one, who had to decide whether to pursue Scharnhorst or use his Force to protect the convoy, and the concerns of Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser who, despite Scharnhorst making off, thought she would turn back and have another go - he would be ready for her.

The ensuing battle saw extraordinary courage from all concerned, with Scharnhorst's commander declaring he would fight to the last shell and the commanders of the Allied destroyers moving within a one mile range of Scharnhorst, almost suicide, to deliver the fatal blows.

There is no doubt that wars reveal men of great courage, heroes - but many of our heroes have, and still do, return home with injuries both physical and psychological, from which some may never recover.

Sussex Military History Society is delighted to announce that a total of £525.00 was raised for Combat Stress, who are today supporting over 5900 serving soldiers, reservists and veterans aged between 18 and 97 who have suffered as a result of their service, which was surely our greatest achievement in a busy but rewarding day.

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7.30pm for 8.00pm start
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Royal Oak Public House,
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