Friday, 28 December 2012

The Battle of the Barents Sea, a V.C. and the end of the Kriegsmarine

Capt R St V Sherbrooke VC (IWM)
The end of 1942 saw the British public enjoying a respite from the bombing that had scarred London and many other of their major towns and cities during the First Blitz of 1940/41 and the Baedecker Raids of 1942. The fourth Christmas of the war for the British was more austere even than the previous three, with rationing and shortages beginning to bite but most people stoically got on with their war work after an all too brief break, which in most cases lasted just for one day. The news from overseas, certainly in the European theatre, continued to be encouraging. In the east, the Germans were surrounded at Stalingrad and disaster was imminently looming for them. In North Africa, the victory won at El Alamein in November 1942 was being consolidated as the Eighth Army swept towards Tripoli and the Afrika Korps found itself being squeezed into an ever diminishing space as the American and British armies advanced from the west following the successful 'Torch' landings the previous November. The Battle of the Atlantic continued with convoy after convoy battling their way through the U-Boats bringing their much needed supplies through to Britain. The attrition rate on both sides was frightening; the phenomenal output of the American shipyards would ensure that the Allies would win the 'tonnage war' although no shipyard on Earth could ever replace the brave seaman who would perish, many of them lost forever in the Atlantic. The casualties amongst the U-Boats were horrendous, once depth charged or sunk on the surface, hopes of escaping from the steel coffins were slim and once in the sea, chances of rescue were even slimmer. Reviled at the time, there can be no doubt that the U-Boat men were brave indeed.

Onboard HMS Sheffield during an Arctic convoy (IWM)

Staying with the war at sea, Christmas 1942 saw the resumption of the supply convoys to Northern Russia, which had earlier been suspended following earlier heavy losses, most notably amongst Convoy PQ17, which as a result of faulty intelligence and Admiralty meddling from afar had been ordered to scatter, leaving the merchant ships easy prey for the waiting U-Boats and Luftwaffe. After one more convoy, the route was suspended pending the return of the almost perpetual darkness of the Arctic winter and Christmas Eve 1942, saw the fourteen merchant ships of Convoy JW51B sailing from Loch Ewe together with their close escort of destroyers, corvettes and one minesweeper commanded by Captain Robert St. V. Sherbrooke in the destroyer Onslow. There was also a more distant escort of two cruisers, HM Ships Sheffield and Jamaica commanded by Admiral Robert 'Bob' Burnett. More distant cover still was provided by the heavy units of the Home Fleet.

Convoy JW51B was being viewed by the Kriegsmarine as an opportunity to justify the existence of it's heavy ships. Earlier losses amongst these units, most notably the battleships Graf Spee and the Bismarck as well as heavy losses in the Norwegian campaign had left Hitler with a feeling of deep skepticism about the usefulness of these ships as well as underlining the inherent inferiority complex that the Kriegsmarine felt towards the Royal Navy. Led by Admiral Kummetz, the plan was for the Pocket Battleship Lutzow, suupported by the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, supported by six destroyers to sail from the base at Altenfjord, Norway and to force their way through what the Germans saw as a puny escort and having disposed of these, to wreak havoc amongst the merchant ships. 

The convoy had successfully met up with Sherbrooke's destroyers off Iceland on Christmas Day but heavy weather on the 28th/29th December had caused many of the merchant ships to lose station and when the weather eventually moderated, five merchant ships and two escorts had become detached from the main body of the convoy. Three of these merchant vessels eventually rejoined the convoy, with the remaining vessels heading independently towards Kola Inlet, which they reached safely. 

HMS Sheffield early in the war (IWM)

The German forces made contact with the convoy on New Year's Eve but despite their overwhelming superiority in numbers, were driven off time after time by the escorting destroyers. Sherbrooke fought his ships magnificently and using the threat of torpedo attack and the skilled use of smoke, the German ships were unable to break through. The defence was not without cost; the minesweeper Bramble, which was to the north of the convoy searching for the merchant ships detached by the bad weather stumbled across the Admiral Hipper, and true to the spirit of the Royal Navy, opened fire on her vastly more powerful enemy, which together with her escorting destroyer Friedrich Eckholdt, made short work of the little minesweeper, which sank with all hands. The German vessels then shifted their attention back to the convoy, attacking the destroyers, severely damaging the Onslow and grievously wounding Sherbrooke, who was hit in the face by a shell splinter. Despite his wounds, which saw Sherbrooke's left cheekbone shattered and his left eye dangling down the wound, the Captain refused to leave his bridge and continued in command until this latest attack had been beaten off. Only then did he allow himself to be taken below and relinquished command to the next most senior officer, Lt Cdr David Kinloch, in the destroyer Obedient. During this clash, the destroyer Achates, which had been laying smoke across the stern of the convoy, was also seriously hit, and was also to sink with heavy loss of life, although the escort trawler Northern Gem, commanded by Lt Horace Aisthorpe managed to pick up eighty one survivors from the freezing seas.

It was during this German attempt to reach the convoy that the British cruisers arrived on the scene. The time was 11:30 and adhering to the old adage, "When in doubt, steer for the sound of the guns", Burnett's cruisers achieved complete surprise; Admiral Hipper's guns were trained in the opposite direction to the Sheffield and Jamaica and it was not until twenty four six inch shells burst around her, that those on Hipper were aware that British reinforcements had arrived. The British gunfire, aided by radar, was extremely accurate; Sheffield's fifth salvo struck the target, as did Jamaica's fourth, fifth and sixth. Both ships were firing at intervals of less than twenty seconds and the hits by the British ships achieved much psychological as well as material damage to the Hipper and those in command of the German force, which retired in some disarray but not before the destroyer Eckholdt, which had earlier finished off Achates, now fatally mistook Sheffield for the Admiral Hipper and was literally blown out of the water by the British cruiser, sinking with all hands. Her last plaintiff signal to her flagship had been "You are firing on me." It is doubtful if those on board ever actually knew what had hit them.

The second heavy German ship, the Lutzow made a belated appearance on the scene but was again unable to force the issue and after some desultory exchanges, both sides retired due to the threat of torpedo attacks in the darkness by the escorting destroyers. The convoy had been saved and all fourteen merchant ships were able to reach their Russian destinations to discharge their precious cargoes. Sherbrooke, though dangerously wounded was later repatriated where he would eventually recover and return to duty. Whilst he was in Russia awaiting his return home, Sherbrooke would learn of the award of the Victoria Cross, the highest British award for gallantry for his superb defence of the convoy, which brought valuable time for the British cruisers to appear on the scene. It was also awarded, as Sherbrooke was modestly to admit later, for the actions of the whole of his escorting force.

Grossadmiral Erich Raeder (Bundesarchiv)
For the Kriegsmarine however, the repercussions of this defeat were to be enormous. Hitler, when informed of the debacle, flew into a rage and decreed that the remaining surface ships were "so much old iron", were a waste of valuable resources and were therefore were to be paid off with immediate effect. The guns could be used for coastal defence, the scrap metal used for building tanks and other materials for the army and the manpower transferred to U-Boats or to the infantry. This decision Hitler said, was "irrevocable."

For the head of the Kriegsmarine, Admiral Raeder, it was too much and he immediately announced his retirement. His replacement was to be Admiral Donitz, head of the U-Boat arm and who managed to get  the decision to scrap the surface ships to be later partially reversed. Almost exactly one year later, the battleship Scharnhorst made a final foray against the Russian convoys only to be sunk off North Cape on Boxing Day 1943 by the British battleship Duke of York and her escorting cruisers and destroyers, one of which was the cruiser Sheffield, grizzled veteran of the Barents Sea, the Bismarck action and many battles in the Mediterranean.

Apart from the ships sunk and damaged in this and the other victories achieved by the Royal Navy, the Battle of the Barents Sea represented a greater, bloodless victory which resulted in many of the German surface ships being laid up in port, never again to venture to sea, many of which were to fall victim to the Allied air attacks.

Published Sources:

73 North - Dudley Pope, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1958
The Battle of The Atlantic - John Costello & Terry Hughes, Collins 1977
Engage the Enemy More Closely - Correlli Barnett, Hodder & Stoughton 1991
The Fighting Admirals - Martin Stephen, Leo Cooper 1991

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Charlton SE7: A London suburb at war

The piece below was written by me in 2009 for inclusion in my friend and guiding colleague Clive Harris's erstwhile 'Front Line London' website. Clive kindly mentioned this article recently on the Charlton Life forum and so suitably updated and with some additions, the article is reproduced below.
Spotter on duty at The Valley (Greenwich Heritage Centre)

With a father who served in HM Forces, most of the time overseas and a mother who worked at Woolwich Arsenal throughout the Second World War, it was probably inevitable that I would have more than a passing interest in the history of those times, although admittedly for some reason that I’ve never quite been able to work out, my interest has always been slanted towards the war at sea. Notwithstanding this, possibly because of hearing my Mother and her friends talking about those days, interest in the home front, especially in my own corner of south east London has never been too far from the surface. 

These days, there aren’t too many visible signs of the war in SE7, although with a bit of local knowledge and with a little research, it is quite easy to get a good idea of what was bombed and what evidence remains. 

The first place to start when researching an area is the local authority’s archive to study the Civil Defence Incident Logs. Scandalously, in the sixties and seventies, perhaps before the social history value of such information was fully appreciated, some boroughs destroyed their records. Fortunately the Royal Borough of Greenwich, as we should now call it, has an excellent Heritage Centre in which is held the records of the old Metropolitan Boroughs of Greenwich and Woolwich. 

From a study of these logs, it can been seen that much of the heaviest damage was done to what is now known as North Charlton - that is the area at the bottom of Charlton Church Lane and bordering the Woolwich Road. There were many factories in this area, especially between Woolwich Road and the River and it was these that suffered repeatedly. Johnson & Phillips, British Ropes, Harvey’s, Stone Manganese, Siemens, the Central Tram Repair Depot at Rainton Road and many other local industries were all heavily bombed in 1940-41, as was the Woolwich Arsenal, where my late Mother had been working since joining as a 16 year old in 1937. Despite working in what was arguably the most dangerous place in London, she always felt safer once at work, rather than chancing the public shelters that were the only option if the warning went whilst travelling to work on the bus. She maintained until the end of her life that if the siren went as she was crossing Beresford Square, as it did on more than one occasion, she would always hurry up and get through the Arsenal Gates. This probably false feeling of safety was shared by many of the workers that I have spoken to subsequently.

The story as far as Charlton was concerned actually began before what is now viewed as the official start of the Blitz. On the 4th September 1940, St. Paul’s Church, which was located at the junction of Charlton Lane and Fairfield Grove, received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb which entered through the roof of the main building, completely destroying it. This was something of a landmark, as it was the first church in London to be destroyed in the War and the day following the incident, many thousands of people came to view the ruins. Sadly, the novelty value of this occasion was to wear off very quickly indeed. The gutted shell of the building remained until after the war, but was then demolished and the land sold to the local council for housing purposes. Today, the only clue to the existence of this landmark is an unremarkable block of local authority flats, which bears the name of the church which once stood on the site. This incident was covered more fully in this blog in April 2010

Mum did have one lucky escape, which was on ‘Black Saturday’ 7th September 1940, the first day of the Blitz. For reasons that she could not later recall, her boss had given the Pay Office (where my Mother worked) a Saturday off. This was a real bonus, because Saturdays were a normal working day at that time. My Mother remembered spending much of her day off – from the late afternoon onwards – in the Anderson Shelter of her parents’ home in Montcalm Road, Charlton. When she reported for work on the following Monday, the whole area where she worked, including her own office building as well as many of the air raid shelters, had been destroyed. 

The destroyed Charlton Station (Greenwich Heritage Centre)
In Charlton, ‘Black Saturday’ also saw the railway line between Charlton Junction Station (as it was then called) and Woolwich Dockyard completely closed due to unexploded bombs. This pattern was followed many times during the following two months, with the line being closed again on the 12th September and again on the 20h, 24th and 25th September, when Angerstein’s Wharf was struck, with four railway personnel being killed. In October, the lines were again blocked due to bomb damage and once again, Angerstein’s Wharf was struck by incendiary bombs. No evidence of this damage is really apparent today, as most of the buildings were demolished post-war. Jumping ahead in time, the Booking Office and ancillary buildings of Charlton Station were completely destroyed on 23rd June 1944, when it received a direct hit from a V-1 flying bomb, killing four civilians, including Mrs. Newick, the wife of the signalman, who lived in the Stationhouse. As a result, the whole station was demolished and remained as a collection of temporary buildings until 1967, when the station was rebuilt into the style we see today. 

The railway received one further blow, on 8th February 1945, when the signal box at the opposite end of the platform to the booking hall, received extensive blast damage from a V-2 that exploded 400 yards away from the building, although happily causing no casualties. 

The familiar sights of London at war were already apparent in SE7 by the time the Blitz started in September 1940. Although there was no heavy anti-aircraft battery in Charlton itself, my mother recalled a mobile gun that used to drive along Canberra Road firing sporadically, which presumably did little good, other than to give the impression to the general public that we were fighting back, albeit in a small way. There was also a battery of 3.7” guns on Blackheath, which again, at that stage of the war, would have been more of a morale-boosting exercise than anything else. Charlton Park was the home of one, possibly, two barrage balloons, which of course, were dotted liberally all across London. In Canberra Road, number 106 received a near miss and severe blast damage, which caused the building to be demolished and which now gives one of the few clues to the Blitz still visible in SE7. The house was rebuilt to a slightly different layout to the other undamaged houses, which still stands out today. It was this blast that did the only lasting damage to the family home in nearby Montcalm Road. Roof tiles were blown off, windows blown out and the upstairs ceilings were all brought down. The evidence of post-war rebuilding is still evident today, with the ceilings being reconstructed in a different style to the originals. 

Invicta Road School (Greenwich Heritage Centre)
On November 14th 1940, the same night as the great raid on Coventry, southeast London also suffered. In Charlton Park Lane, near the junction with Shooters Hill Road, near to where Charlton Lido now stands, a parachute mine fell and became entangled in trees. Fortunately, there was sufficient time to evacuate the residents of the adjacent houses, before it exploded some hours later, destroying several houses and causing severe blast damage to many other properties. By far the worst incident in London on this night was in nearby Blackheath, when Invicta Road School, then in use as a fire station for the Auxiliary Fire Service received a direct hit from a Parachute Mine, killing twelve firemen and three civilians. These two incidents were separated by a matter of minutes and presumably the same aircraft dropped both of these mines. 

Back in Charlton proper, The Village also attracted the attention of the Luftwaffe, when the Bugle Horn public house and St. Luke’s Church also received severe blast damage. The stained glass windows of the church were almost completely destroyed and what is now the Lounge Bar of the pub was severely damaged. This was not rebuilt until after the war, and whilst today the building looks much as it ever did from the outside, a closer inspection of the interior of this bar reveals it to be a pastiche of the original. 

Once the First Blitz of September 1940 to May 1941 was over, Charlton in common with the rest of London enjoyed something of a respite with only sporadic raids until the ‘Little Blitz’ of late 1943 to the spring of 1944. Then in June 1944 came the Allied invasion of Europe and the war-weary citizens of Charlton perhaps thought that the end was in sight. It was at this relatively late stage of the war that Londoners were subjected to their final and arguably worst ordeal in the form of the terror weapons – the V-1 Flying Bombs and later the V-2 Rockets. 

The first V-1 in London fell in Bow on 13th June 1944 but the boroughs of Greenwich and Woolwich were spared until three days later, when the first of many of these weapons fell in both boroughs. Greenwich’s first fell harmlessly on allotments in Tunnel Avenue, Greenwich, whilst the first ‘buzz bomb’ in Woolwich fell in Heavitree Road, Plumstead causing seven fatalities. The V-1’s fell regularly thereafter in both boroughs, with the casualties mounting steadily. The V-1 assault fell away and then stopped altogether by early September 1944 when the Allied armies overran the launching sites in the Pas de Calais. Another brief respite followed but then on 8th September 1944, a house in Staveley Road, Chiswick was obliterated without warning. At first, the authorities tried to calm the populace by informing them that the explosion was caused by an exploding gas main but when the explosions continued, they finally had to come clean and tell Londoners that yet another new weapon was being used against them. Thereafter, some of the more cynical Londoners christened the rockets ‘flying gas mains!'

Like everywhere in London, as well as many other places in England and indeed liberated Europe, the V-2s caused havoc in Greenwich. The first one to fall in the borough also proved to be the worst. This was on 11th November 1944 when the Brook Hotel in Shooters Hill Road was completely destroyed by a direct hit. There were twenty nine fatalities, many of whom were passengers on a number 89 bus which happened to be passing when the missile fell. The pub was rebuilt after the war but subsequently closed; the building however is still extant as a small supermarket. Most buildings that suffered from the attentions of these rockets were completely destroyed but there is one building in Charlton, which although rebuilt after the war, still shows the extent of the damage caused. The building is Charlton House, the splendid Jacobean manor house that greets visitors to Charlton arriving from the direction of Blackheath, which suffered a near miss from a V-2 on the evening of 25th January 1945. The entire north eastern wing of the building was destroyed, and although the post-war rebuilding work was painstakingly done, unfortunately shortages of materials and perhaps a low budget caused the wrong colour brickwork and stone to be used and the rebuilt area can still be clearly seen, giving the present day viewer some idea of the extent of the damage caused. 

Johnson & Phillips in March 1945 (Greenwich Heritage Centre)
The final V-2 incident of the war as far as Charlton was concerned occurred on 9th March 1945, barely two months before the end of the war in Europe, when the Johnson & Phillips factory, which had suffered so much during the First Blitz received another direct hit, this time on the Cable Shop causing one fatal casualty. The last V-2 of the entire war fell in Orpington on 27th March 1945 causing one final fatality but with the Allied armies closing in on the shattered remains of the Third Reich, the final surrender of the Nazis on the 8th May 1945 meant that London and Londoners could at last begin to return to their peacetime routines. 

To end on a brighter note, the final word must go to an incident which my late Mother remembered until the end of her life. It was June 1944 and her husband to be, Ron was on leave, having just returned from nearly four years service overseas in North Africa. The air raid siren sounded and both Mum and Dad began to walk down the garden to the shelter. As they were doing this, a V-1 could be seen and heard overhead. The engine then stopped and instead of running, my Mum made some comment about the engine having stopped and just stood there watching. Ron told her in no uncertain terms to get down, whereupon he pushed her to the ground and she ended up face down in the dirt with a muddy face. 

Mum was uncertain where the V-1 fell, but given the chronology, it is just possible that it was the same weapon which fell on Charlton Station as described above. 

She still laughed about this incident some 60 years on, as apart from the muddy face, it was the first time that my Dad had ‘sworn’ at her, apparently having called her a “Silly Cow” when she was gawping at the Doodlebug!

Unpublished Sources:

Author's family recollections
Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich ARP Incident Log
Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich ARP Incident Log

Sunday, 2 December 2012

It's only a name!

The fifth HMS Duncan (HMSO)
Whilst recently reading a post on another blog (which shall remain nameless to prevent embarrassment to the writer), I took exception to what I felt was a facile comment regarding the naming of one of the Royal Navy's new Type 45 Destroyers. Without quoting him directly, the upshot of what was said was along the lines of "What sort of name is HMS Duncan? Sounds like it was named after an accountant!"

Although this comment was no doubt meant to leave his readers rolling in the aisles with laughter, I for one felt that it showed a staggering amount of ignorance not only towards the naming policy of the Royal Navy but showed a lack of knowledge of history in general, which sadly seems only too prevalent these days.

Whilst the arguments over the teaching of British history in schools belong to another place, this whole saga left me thinking about the whole business of how military hardware is named and how this reflects the characteristics of the various nations and services involved.

As we've started with the Royal Navy, let us continue with the story of HMS Duncan. Named after Admiral Adam Duncan, victor of the Battle of Camperdown against the Dutch in 1797. She is the seventh ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name and this I think, is the crux of the Royal Navy's naming policy; famous names are perpetuated, battle honours won by previous ships of the same name are proudly displayed on the current vessel and the ship's company are encouraged to learn and be aware of the history attached to the name. For interest, despite the first HMS Duncan appearing in 1804, the battle honours for this name were all earned by the fifth vessel to bear the name, a 'D' Class destroyer launched in 1932 that saw arduous service during the Second World War. She earned the following battle honours for the name - Spartivento 1940, Malta Convoys 1941, Mediterranean 1941, Atlantic 1941-45, Diego Suarez 1942.

A look at the Royal Navy's current fleet list, although sadly greatly reduced in recent years, reveals many famous names still in commission and whilst there are too many to mention them all here, names such as Illustrious and Ocean commemorate famous aircraft carriers from the past, whilst names such as Kent, Westminster, Montrose and Portland not only perpetuate famous old names but provide a connection from local communities to their Navy which makes for superb public relations. The US Navy, follows a similar tradition to their British counterparts, mixing the tradition of perpetuating old names such as Enterprise, commemorating famous naval heroes such as Halsey, Nimitz and Spruance and connecting with local through the vessels named after their respective States, towns and cities.

The German Navy of World War Two, the Kriegsmarine, as might be expected named it's vessels in a generally much more martial style, celebrating past Germanic heroes such as Bismarck, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Graf Spee, as well as perhaps surprisingly naming some cruisers after German cities like Nurnberg, Emden and Koln, although these style of names were in the minority. It was probably not surprising that the Nazi regime wanted to commemorate German heroes from the past rather than foster connections with local communities.

Moving away from the navies of World War Two to the fighting aircraft, less of a pattern emerges. Rather than a general naming policy, many aircraft names were decided on the whim of the designers, or more usually the individual manufacturers. More often than not though, this loose policy produced some memorable names, many of which remain household names to this day. Arguably the best known aircraft of the last war, or possibly of all time is the Supermarine Spitfire. Today, the name is synonymous with speed, grace and deadly fighter aircraft but perhaps what is not so widely known is that the fighter was almost called the 'Shrew' instead of the name that subsequently passed into legend. The inspiration came from the chairman of Vickers Aviation Limited, the parent company behind Supermarine, who nicknamed his daughter 'a little spitfire' and who rightly felt that the name was more inspiring than that originally proposed. When the name was decided upon, the news was passed to the designer, RJ Mitchell, who famously remarked "Just the sort of bloody silly name they would give it!" Like many designers, Mitchell wasn't interested in names, just in getting the final product right.

Prior to the Spitfire, Supermarine were as their name implies, better known for their seaplanes rather than fighters, with the result that their seaplanes were given stolid, if uninspiring names such as Walrus, Seagull, Seamew and Sea Otter. The Spitfire seemed to revitalise their naming policy, for post-war they produced fighter planes with names like Scimitar, Spiteful and Attacker. 

The Spitfire's 'sister' fighter during the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane came from the Hawker Aircraft Company who unlike Supermarine, seemed to have a definite naming policy for their products, for as well as Hurricane, they were also responsible for the Fury, Typhoon and Tempest - all named after great disturbances of the air, although just to confuse everyone, they also came up with bird names such as Tomtitt, Sea Hawk, Kestrel and much later, their famous 'Jump Jet', the Harrier. The American manufacturers came up with a similar mixture of names for their products, giving us a diversity of names ranging from the Flying Fortress, Liberator, Thunderbolt, Lightning and Mustang, as well as many more, all of which have a distinct American feel to them. 

By contrast, the aircraft of the Luftwaffe mainly relied on their manufacturer's type name for indentification - the Bf109, the Focke Wulf 190, the Heinkel 111 and the Dornier Do17 all became famous - or infamous - just through these numbers alone. There were exceptions though - the Focke Wulf 200 maritime reconnaissance aircraft was christened the Condor and as such became etched in the mind of many a participant in the Battle of the Atlantic. Also permanently associated with the Nazis is the Junkers 87 Stuka, which was a corruption of the German word Sturzkampfflugzeug, meaning 'dive bomber', which is exactly what the Stuka was!

Military hardware, in contrast to ships and aircraft, does not generally seemed to have been named as such, Rifles, machine guns, artillery pieces and the like do not usually attract anything other than their type numbers but the exception to this rule is the tank. For some reason, the tank attracts names as diverse as anything seen with fighting ships and aeroplanes.

The Panzer Mk III Tank (author's collection)
British tanks during World War 2, it has to be said, were on the whole fairly uninspiring in terms of performance, the only truly class piece of equipment was the Comet, which only entered service in time for the last six months of the war in Europe. Before that, the British Army had to make do with some splendidly named tanks such as the Cromwell, Churchill and Crusader as well as the somewhat less inspirationally named Matilda! 

To most of us, the American tank of World War 2, which also provided much of the armour for the British Army, was the Sherman. Not the most powerful tank ever produced, the Sherman had the great advantage of being produced in vast numbers, so that losses could easily be replaced. It was also easy to maintain  and rugged, so combining all of these factors, the Allies were onto a winner. Wartime American tanks were named after famous generals, so in addition to the Sherman, names such as Lee, Grant and Pershing were all commemorated.

German tanks started the war as purely being named Panzer (or tank) Mk I, II, III etc. It was not until later in the war that they started being named after big cats, firstly the Panther and then possibly the most famous and feared tank of the war, the Tiger. Fortunately for the Allies, the Tiger appeared fairly late in the war and was not built in sufficient numbers to threaten the outcome of the war.

As always in a blog of this nature, we can only scratch the surface of the subject but as can be seen, the name attach a certain mystique to a weapon of war and sometimes give the weapon legendary status.

Published Sources:

Badges and Battle Honours of H.M. Ships - Lt. Cdr. K.V. Burns - Maritime Books 1986
Spitfire - Jeffrey Quill - Arrow Books 1985