Thursday, 30 September 2010

On This Day in Scottish Military History #1: The German Spies of Port Gordon

Because of the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain being so widely publicised lately I have decided to start a regular post on the blog with the theme of on this day on Scottish military history. Sometimes the posts will coincide with well known dates of battles we’ll all recognise, sometimes like today the anniversary will be for a lesser known event. The anniversaries will not just be for the Second World War, some will be for the Great War and earlier but all will have a connection to Scotland’s military past.

By 30th September 1940 war had already come close to Port Gordon in Banffshire. The Luftwaffe had raided the nearby coast and the RAF had built an air base at Dallachy, but on this day seventy years ago three German agents actually arrived on the Moray Firth.

Operation Hummer Nord I was an Abwher operation to land spies into the UK. Robert Petter (aka Werner Walti), Karl Drucke and Vera Eriksen were landed off the Scottish coast by a seaplane flying from Stavanger in Norway. They paddled ashore to the mouth of the Burn of Gollachy by rubber dinghy from the plane but lost their bicycles in the process.

They still retained their radio transmitters which were crucial to their mission so instead of cycling inland as they had planned two of them chose to walk to Port Gordon to catch a train. The third started off to Buckie to try to make his own way to London where they were all to meet up again.

Drucke and Eriksen walked to Port Gordon railway station and arrived at seven thirty in the morning. Port Gordon had been used to strangers coming and going from the RAF camp but these two were quite obviously fish out of water.

They didn’t know where they were, they had funny accents, too much money and their feet were wet. Stationmaster John Donald and porter John Geddes knew something wasn’t right so while Geddes distracted them Donald contacted the local policeman

Vera Eriksen was of Russian descent and had a shady past in France and Belgium involving a White Russian spy and a German aristocrat. Karl Drucke was German and couldn’t even speak English. Locals described them afterwards as having guttural accents. They pretended to be refugees but when Constable Robert Grieve arrived he found their papers were wrong.

They were taken to Buckie police station and a search of their luggage was enough to incriminate them. Knives, pistols, wireless equipment, lists of RAF bases, hundreds of pounds in Bank of English notes, a torch saying ‘Made in Bohemia’, and worst of all, a half-eaten German sausage!

A search by the Buckie coastguard soon turned up their dinghy and their fate was sealed.

Robert Petter was slightly more successful. He had managed to get a train from Buckie to Aberdeen and then made it to Edinburgh. He had been noticed by Aberdeen Police boarding the train to Edinburgh and when they heard of the spies at Buckie the Special in Branch were notified and arrested him in Waverley Station.

All three were taken to London and after a trial at the Old Bailey in 1941 Robert Petter and Karl Drucke were hanged in Wandsworth prison. Amazingly Vera Erikson was never put on trial and even managed to escape after being deported back to Germany after the war. To this day no-one knows her fate.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

First World War officially ends on Sunday

Mark it in your calendar. The First World War will finally draw to a close on Sunday, nearly 92 years after the last shot was fired.

Of course, the war's been over for decades, but Sunday sees Germany make the final reparation payment and finally pays off the debts imposed on it by the allies at the Treaty of Versailles.

Of course, they would have paid it off a lot sooner, but a certain Mr Hitler refused to pay it when he took over...

More details at The Telegraph website.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Digitised Red Hackle - an update (and bad news for those who planned a purchase)

Further to a blog post from a while back about the Regimental Magazine of the Black Watch being digitised and made availbable on two DVDs - I recently posted the question of when and how much to the museums twitter feed, and received the answer that at the moment it has only been digitise for "in-house" research purposes.

At the moment, contrary to the previous report (which I think had been in the Red Hackle itself) there are no plans to release it for sale to the general public.

Personally, while I can sort of understand the reasons for this, I think it's shame as this could have been a positive boon for researchers, and also a potential source of further income for the museum.

They have stated that they will let me know if the situation changes, but I'm not overly confident.

I'm going for a visit to the museum in November - maybe I should ask for a copy when I'm there?

The Battle of Loos

I almost allowed the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Loos go unmentioned on the blog. This was one of the first major offensives for the British on the Western Front, and was an important battle for Scots soldiers.

My remembrance of the battle always centres on a member of my family, who is not closely related to me, and of course whom I never met.

John McNay was probably just like any other man who volunteered in 1914. He had worked in Motherwell, in the steel industry. Although he was from Lanarkshire, he did not end up in the Cameronians or the Highland Light Infantry, which would have been expected for that area. Like many Lanarkshire men, he ended up in the Gordon Highlanders. In his case the ninth battalion, although Lanarkshire men were also quite prevalent in the 10th.

He didn't serve in France for long - he "entered the field" at the beginning of July, and he was dead before October. Not a long or distinguished service, but like many others he played his part, and he deserves to be remembered for that.

Like many men killed at Loos, he has no known grave, and is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Loos memorial.

In his home of Motherwell, he is remembered on the main civic memorial.

He can also be found commemorated on the memorial at Dalziel Parish Church in the centre of Motherwell - both on the main memorial at the entrance and also on a framed Roll of Honour.

Sadly I don't know much more about John McNay - this is a distant part of my family and I have had no contact with this side. I would love to know more about him, and it would also be good to know if he is still remembered by closer relatives than I.

However you remember the fallen of this battle, it's important that we commemorate the sacrifices these men made.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

City-based war story goes Commando in comic

The following story appeared in the Scotsman newspaper last week. I loved reading Commando comics when I was younger, and this might make me start buying them all over again. It seems you only have to say "Gott im Himmel!" to men of a certain age to make them smile fondly as they remember reading these...

IT WAS the moment the war came to Edinburgh, and now a famous dog fight in the skies over the Capital has been used as the inspiration for the latest Commando comic.
The year was 1939 and RAF 603 Squadron was repelling 12 Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88s over the Firth of Forth. By the end of the engagement, one Junker had been shot down east of Dalkeith.

The historic encounter provided the basis for the latest graphic novel from Edinburgh writer Ferg Handley, a Second World War adventure called Divided Aces, released later this month by the famous Commando comics.

"A while back, I wrote a Commando book set during the Battle of Britain in southern England and it started to bug me that there was so little literature on the same battle in Scotland," said Handley.

"I was amazed to learn that the first German aircraft to be shot down by the RAF was in Scotland, a bomber which was involved in a failed attempt to bomb the Forth Bridge.

"Of course, there was a certain amount of research to do. The main problem was working out which type of airfield to use, as they varied in size and had different functions. RAF Kenmure, the one in the story, ended up loosely based on RAF Drem in East Lothian."

Divided Aces is also the story of a man coming to terms with his move to Scotland, where he learns to love Edinburgh. It's not just the Forth Bridge and Edinburgh Castle that feature either, with the Camera Obscura and Royal Mile also shown in the epic tale.

"I wanted to depict the beauty of Edinburgh, to suggest that it was so important to protect the city. We're lucky so many famous landmarks remain.

"Jose Maria Jorge, the artist, is Spanish, so kudos to him for doing such a good job. He got so many small details in."

First published in 1961, Commando comics have entertained generations. Divided Aces is one of four new adventures due for publication this month to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Handley also said that he hoped it wouldn't be the last time the Capital stars in one of his novels.

"I've already set a Spider-Man story in Edinburgh and a Commando book about the old Border Reivers, which had some Edinburgh scenes," he said. "Regular readers may also have come across a series called Ramsey's Raiders. One of the characters, Sergeant Derek Jarvis, was based on a close friend of mine, which led to a few more Edinburgh scenes. I reckon Edinburgh would be a good setting for more superhero battles. 'Hulk Smash Trams!' anyone?"