Military History Matters Letters – September 2022

Your thoughts on issues raised by the magazine

As both of my grandfathers perished onboard Invincible at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916, I read your discussion of Admiral David Beatty (‘The worst commanders in history?’ MHM August/September 2022) with some interest. Invincible was based at Portsmouth, and the catastrophic loss of so many men left a deep scar within the community.

My mother was only seven years old at the time and had four siblings. My father was only four, with two sisters. I have read several accounts of the calamity and what struck me was how incoming fire got through to the magazines on the British boats when fire doors should have been in place. German boats took heavy incoming shells without such a disaster.

Your article makes the point that Beatty did not fully understand the then-modern technology. However, he did not have to instruct captains to leave the doors open – just order them to maximise the rate of fire. The obvious way to achieve that is to instruct the gunner teams to speed up the handling of charges by removing the vital safety barriers.

It is rather telling that after Beatty’s second boat exploded, he made the oft-quoted observation that ‘there seems to be something wrong with our boats today’, or words to that effect. I suspect that he knew quite well what he had set in train.

Geoff Carter via email


Your article on the BBC (MHM August/September 2022) mentions the broadcasts to occupied Europe. This reminded me of a German friend who informed me that the corporation’s output was also listened to by many of his fellow citizens. He lived in Hamburg during the Second World War, and he and his family, as well as many neighbours in their block of flats, regularly tuned in. They recognised it was more trustworthy than German news broadcasts.

My friend jokingly criticised the BBC for using the ‘V for Victory’ drumbeat as its call sign. He claimed he feared that so many people in his block were listening that the whole building might have resonated with the drumbeats and would be noticed by the passing authorities! Keep up the good work.

John O’Shea
Auchlochan, South Lanarkshire


Patrick Mercer’s investigation into the fate of the Irish rebels post-1798 (MHM June/July 2022) makes for interesting reading. The figures of Fr John Murphy and his able lieutenant, Myles Byrne, in the main rebellion in Wexford show a contrasting state of fortunes.

Murphy proved to be the ablest of commanders, with an ability to lead and read the land, as proven with the destruction of the North Cork Militia at Oulart Hill and in the late taking of Enniscorthy. Murphy, however, would be captured and ignominiously burned in a barrel of tar at Tullow, Co. Offaly, after a vain attempt to regroup following the defeat at Vinegar Hill in June that year.

Myles Byrne escaped to France and rose through the ranks of Napoleon’s Irish Legion, fighting in Spain and finally at Leipzig in 1813. He would die in Paris in 1862, and his memoir of the ’98 rebellion is reputed to be the most accurate portrayal of the events of that summer in Wexford from a rebel perspective.

Fr John McCallion
Coalisland, Co. Tyrone


I was most interested in the article (MHM June/July 2022) and the accompanying photograph of a British tank at Hamburg station in May 1945. As a Regular and TA soldier, I spent a great deal of time in Germany from the 1960s to the 1990s in the Royal Corps of Transport/Royal Logistic Corps. I recall the tension in 1983 as it was widely expected that the Russians would cross the Inner German Border in a last-ditch attempt to get to the Rhine before the ailing Russian leader Yuri Andropov knew what was happening.

As a UK-based Squadron Commander (Major), we were ordered to Germany to recce our actual war locations and to ensure that our wills were up to date. Then – as with now in Ukraine – we were informed that although the Russian army might be overwhelming, it suffered from poor leadership and inferior kit. Happily for us we were never put to the test, unlike with today’s unfortunate Ukrainians.

Roger Laing (Lt Col Retd)
Iver, Buckinghamshire