MHM Letters – April/May

Your thoughts on issues raised by the magazine.

More mutinies

Regarding Kate Werran’s article ‘Mutiny in the Duchy’ (MHM October/November 2020), a similar incident occurred in Townsville in Australia in May 1942, when two companies of African-American troops of the 96th Battalion, US Army Corps of Engineers, mutinied because of bad treatment by their white officers and by other white American troops in the city.

The 96th Battalion was not a fighting unit but a labour battalion brought out to Australia to build roads, bridges, barracks, and airfields. This was very hard, hot, and thankless work.

Image: George Ellis Collection, courtesy of Kresen Kernow.

The discovery of material about the mutiny in early 2012 in the archives of the Queensland Police and in military records in Townsville by Ray Holyoak, a researcher at James Cook University in Townsville, shed light on a cover-up that had lasted for more than 70 years.

A report found by Holyoak in Lyndon Johnson’s Presidential Library confirmed the mutiny. Apparently, Johnson, then a US Congressman, had been sent to Townsville in June 1942 by President Roosevelt to investigate the incident and report his findings.

Interestingly, on a trip to Australia in 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt visited Townsville and dropped in on the newly established North American Services Club in the town’s main street – an ‘African-American only’ establishment.

Wal Costanzo
Canberra, Australia

A fascinating story

My interest in military airpower has been exclusively associated with World War II and the Cold War, and I have taken only a passing interest in the aviation scene in the Great War. I must therefore let you know just how very interesting and informative I found the article ‘Airpower comes of age’ (MHM April/May 2021).

It was a truly fascinating story and one which has broadened my knowledge of early aviation enormously. Thank you very much indeed!

Colin Pomeroy, Squadron Leader RAF (ret’d)
Woolsery, Devon

Rotting luck

As an avid Nelson fan and a periodic visitor to HMS Victory, I very much enjoyed your recent article on restoring the ship (MHM February/March 2021).

When I was speaking to one of the restorers some years ago, he suggested that the Luftwaffe bombing raid in 1941 inadvertently had the effect of saving the ship or at least preventing further deterioration. He said that the bomb landed in the dry dock and blew a hole in the hull below the waterline, which allowed fresh air to circulate within the lower decks.

As a result, the damp and rotting timbers were allowed to dry out, thereby preventing terminal damage to the structure. What a delightful irony!

Lt Col Roger Laing (ret’d)
Iver, Buckinghamshire

Real motivation?

The article about Admirals Rodney and Howe (MHM February/March 2021) and how the Royal Navy had a very beneficial revolution in naval tactics in the second half of the 18th century was very interesting.

Having said that, surely the real motivation which informed that revolution was the execution of the unfortunate Admiral John Byng in 1757. He was executed for failing to do his utmost to relieve the naval base at Minorca. That was the ultimate salutary lesson for all admirals and really put the skids under the Royal Navy from then on.

Ted O’Keeffe
Dublin

Trading torpedoes?

Your article on the history of the torpedo (MHM August/September 2020) was an interesting read. I have one small correction, however. There were actually two successful spar torpedo attacks in the American Civil War, one by each side: first the one you mentioned, Lieutenant Cushing’s surface vessel attack, sinking the ironclad Albemarle while she was tied up in a Confederate base on the Roanoke River.

But there was also the subsurface sinking of a blockader, the armoured steam sloop Housatonic off Charleston by the Confederate manpowered submersible Hunley. The submersible was lost with her whole crew after her successful attack, due to unknown causes.

As for the Great Lakes, those are located on the boundary with Canada, far north of the frontlines of the American Civil War, and there was no Confederate naval activity that distance from their borders and coastline at all, including spar torpedo attacks.

But there might have been had the British government decided to ally with the Confederates against the United States and send soldiers into Canada. Britain almost did in 1863, but that was before the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg foretold doom for the Confederate cause.

Col Wayne Long (ret’d)
Haverford, Philadelphia

Correction: In our article on Prokhorovka (MHM December 2020/January 2021), we stated that ‘more than 250,000 German troops were taken captive at Tunis in May 1943’. As David Jensen kindly pointed out, many of these POWs were in fact Italian.
Please note: letters may be edited for length; views expressed here are those of our readers, and do not necessarily reflect those of the magazine.
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