Sunday, 3 June 2012
A Very British Civil War - the War Comes to Durham - The Great Battle at High Hold
NOTE: This battle took us three weeks to get through and after the first week i finally managed to resolve the camera issues, so finally managed to sort out some decent pictures.
BBC Outside Broadcast - 29th August 1938, 4pm News bullet
Eustace Berkley reporting
Berkley: ‘I’m here in the small Durham village of Pelton Fell and it is abuzz with a build up of splendid looking troops loyal to His Majesty. Over the past four months those loyal to the Crown have been fighting a successful campaign against the so-called ‘Little Moscow’ authority in the old mining village of Chopwell. With me here is Captain Henry Walton of the 133rd BUF Legion. So, Captain, what’s going on here?’
Walton: ‘Good afternoon Eustace, yes well as you can see we’re bringing in a fair bit of support ready for an attack on the Russian sympathisers and traitors over in Chopwell. We’ve the 133rd Legion transported down from the Gateshead garrison’.
Berkley: ‘Yes I see some of the brave fellows over there in their splendid black uniforms’.
Walton: ‘Aye, and we also have substantial forces from the loyal Durham nobleman, Lord Lambton’.
Berkley: ‘Yes, for the listeners, I can see large areas of tents spread out under Lord Lambton’s resplendent banners. His chaps are well supplied and liveried in the pleasing blue and gold of his heraldry. They really are a wonderful sight I can tell you and his men, affectionately termed ‘the Lambton Hounds’ after his loyal hunting pack, are in great spirits for the coming action’.
Walton: ‘Yes, they’ve had a series of exceptional successes, forcing the Reds out of Chester-le-Street so we’re glad to have them along with us in this action’.
Berkley: ‘On the way in from Newcastle I was some chaps that looked like regular army. I presume they’re helping to stamp out the Communist threat too?’
Walton: ‘Ah, those chaps are part of Lord Percy’s Tennantry, Eustace. He’s mainly been concerned with preventing the Reds from smuggling supplies from Moscow along the Tyne but in the last week he’s sent his forces south of the river and as I understand it, captured Wylam Bridge. While things are quiet in the north I understand he’s diverted some of his forces away from the border defences against the Scots to help finish off these miserable Socialists.’
Berkley: ‘So it’s a real alliance of subjects loyal to the King? How inspiring! So why have you all gathered in the area?’
Walton: ‘Well Eustace, I can’t give too much away but once we’re ready, we’ll be attacking to the west into the Communist held territory.’
Berkley: ‘Stanley is only a few miles away; is this the target of your attack?’
Walton: ‘As I said I can’t say too much about the operation but our motorised patrols have determined that the Reds are very weak in the area. We expect to make good progress in the coming assault. Hopefully, if all goes well we should be putting down this Moscow-backed rebellion within the week.’
Berkley: ‘So what have your scouts discovered about the forces over in the rebel-held territory?’
Walton: ‘As I said they are very weak, mostly militia and poorly armed civilians misguided by the Red propaganda. We’ll do what we can to minimise their casualties and of course we call on them to surrender and avoid the need for any bloodshed. There are a few chaps in shoddy uniforms we’ve seen in the area, but we suspect these are just as poorly trained’.
Berkley: ‘These would be the so called ‘red hat comrades’ we hear about in Chopwell?’
Walton: ‘That’s right Eustace. It’s a grand term for basically poor troops. Lord Percy’s intelligence chaps also mentioned that they spotted some Socialist strangers entering the area over the last few days. We think these may be troops from the ‘Boiler Maker’s Union’, but again they are no concern for our highly trained troops’.
Berkley: ‘Thank you Captain Walton. Obviously we can’t reveal too much about the operation, but I suspect from the look of the troops around me that an attack to the west is imminent. It sounds like the overwhelming force being mustered around Pelton will shortly give the Communist rebels their just desserts. I think we will all be able to sleep a little safer knowing that the King is successfully restoring order in the northern coalfields’.
After four months of escalating violence things finally come to a head between the disparate Royalist forces in the north east and the burgeoning rebel Communist enclave of Chopwell. With both Chopwell and Lord Lambton probing each other’s borders, a major conflict became inevitable and the blow is struck into Chopwell’s territory at the village of High Hold.
A Royalist alliance gathers at Ousten, Urpeth, Pelton, and Pelton Fell and moves west into the outer Communist defences at High Hold on the morning of 30th August 1938. Their initial scouting, especially by motorised BUF patrols, has shown the Red militia in the area to be very poor quality. The Royalist commanders are also astonished at the apparent lack of fortifications or even basic defences in or around High Hold, which in part is the reason for the attack in that area.
Chopwell is safe in the somewhat erroneous knowledge that High Hold is a fortified and well defended outpost beyond their main garrison at Stanley. Their forces are supported by an allied Socialist force recently arrived in the area from Newcastle to establish links with the Communists, the Boiler Maker Union Federation of the Working Man. Chopwell high command sees the coming battle as a foregone conclusion for their valiant Comrade defenders.
It promises to be a brutal day in the history of the north east and for both sides. Shortly after dawn on an overcast day, the Royalists rumble towards the small village of High Hold. The Communists and Socialists, camped to the west react hastily to the signals from the ill-prepared militia in High Hold.
Ugh, terrible photos...
In the village itself the High Hold home defence militia company, having evacuated all the civilians, spread out on the edge of the settlement.
Heading directly towards them are the troops of the British Union of Fascists, resplendent in their natty black uniforms.
Despite being armed with inferior weapons, the Red militia do a sterling job of holding off the hated Black shorts and the Fascist advance is stalled in the eastern High hold fields. The BUF leader Captain Henry Walton is badly injured in the action, as Communist snipers and mortars try to finish him off. Despite this he valiantly continues to lead his men forwards, inspiring them with his bloodied passion.
To the north of High Hold the Coomunist 2nd Company Stanley Comrades mass in force in the wooded lanes. They're ready to meet whatever the Royalists decide to throw at them and are keen to 'get stuck in'.
Opposite them, coming in from the direction of Urpeth are the Tennantry of Lord Percy, advancing behind a formidable wall of chugging, clattering, motorised steel. They're supported by the brightly liveried, embittered veterans of Lambton's Estates, eager to exact a bit of revenge against the traitorous Reds.
Unfortunately the advance here is marred by the presence among Lambton's troops of a freebooter unit of army deserters. All morning these chaps had been exchanging insults with Percy's Tennantry troops and as they headed forwards side by side, the animosity boiled over. The freebooters opened fire on a Lord Percy's men, wiping out a Vickers MG team! Rifle fire crackled between them bogging the advance down as the officers and NCOs desperately tried to restore order. The hostilites only ceased once the Reds started shooting at them both and after this the Royalist forces began to make good progress again.
Their armoured fist punched right into the Communist lines across the industrial rail track, although the infantry failed to support this advance, instead choosing to hunker down at the rail track which offered good cover from the Communist rifle fire.
Meanwhile, south of High Hold, the Communist allied Boiler Makers and the Naval freebooters from HMS Caliope pushed forwards towards the road to Pelton Fell, past Kempthorne's 'Pals' Free Socialist Platoon, dug in around their fearsome field gun.
Facing them are an ultra-fascist faction allied to the BUF; the Gateshead German League.
These chaps take the view that the BUF are slightly too soft on the Socialists, Asian and Jewish communities in Gateshead. It is constituted of German expatriates, and British sympathisers who favour closer links with Hitler's Germany. They are well supplied by imported German equipment, and take a rather hard line view to pretty much everything, especially giving 'six of the best' to anyone they take a dislike to.
Vicious fire is exchanged between these chaps and the Socialists. the Gateshead little tank, deliveres a punishing hail of 20mm cannon fire, brewing up the Communist Putilov armoured car.
So to week 2 of the mammoth battle at High Hold and i manage to get the dashed camera sorted out!
The Socialist Boiler Makers and naval allies drive east into the positions held by the advancing Gateshead German League. The fighting here is bitter and no quarter is given by either side.
The valiant Boiler Makers cavalry lead the charge...
....and drive off the 'German' infantry into the outskirts of Pelton Fell.
At this point the rather unfortunate PC McGarrick trundles along the road into a whole mess of trouble!! The PC is transporting a delivery of deisel to the police depot in Chester-le-Street, but pitching up into the middle of a fierce fight he immediately surrenders to the Gateshead Germans. However as they retreat, his fuel truck is captured by the Boiler Makers who immediately 'requisition' it for their motorised columns.
Over around High Hold itself the Gateshead armoured car settles into an extended duel with the Communist 25pdr field gun. The little tank get shte better of the engagement as the Reds are forced to dive for cover amid trying to load and fire their charge.
To the east of High Hold, the BUF advance stalls after some serious pounding by the Chopwell 'Pals' heavy machinegun and heavy mortars. The defending militia and their supports decide to take the fight out to the attacking Fascists.
It was about this time that a large, deep, rumbling boom made the ground shake, the windows in High Hold rattle and the fighting ceased for a moment as everyone gazed north in shock. In the middle distance, about half a mile away a large plume of dirt and smoke drifted into the air.
The Red Militia commander in High Hold hastily telephoned the brass back in Stanley to find out what is going on. The War Council there were baffled and suggested that the BUF were using some sort of railway gun. Scouts had been despatched to find out what was going on.
Similarly, the BUF commander radioed to the Legion command to the rear. They were frantic with concern that the reports from Percy's men up at Wylam Bridge that the Communists had brought in some very heavy artillery seemed to be true.
Despite the pause, the battle raged on however, and to the north of High Hold, things fared a little better for the Royalists as the armoured spearhead of Lord Percy's Tennantry punched their way west to the road out of High Hold.
With the Royalist infantry holding back, the Communist comrades counter attack towards the railway line held by Lambton's men, in the hope of cutting off the armoured spearhead.
The advance was supported by the Comrade's field mortars, stonking the Royalist infantry positions for all they were worth. Ammunition was running low though...
Some vicious close quarter armoured fighting sees Lord Percy's tanks decimate the Communist defenders and seriously threaten to open a route into the Chopwell territory, if only they can bring forwards their infantry to support the breach.
The Royalist armoured breakthrough is supported by various contraptions including the 'Chopwell Crusher'...
...and one of Lord Lambton's prized Rolls Royce armoured cars, which proceeds to run down a good few of the Communists advancing across the open fields!
Typically caddish behaviour from the upper crust of course!
Percy's mounted troops exploit the breakthrough and flood into the Red's rear echelon area in a dastardly attempt to run down their supply teams and support units.
'Kill the boys in the luggage? 'Tis expressly against the law of arms! 'Tis as arrant a piece of knavery as can be offered! In your conscience is it not?!'
To relieve the pressure and try to counter the unsupported break through the High Hold militia follow their earlier sallies and push out into the Royalist positions in force. The Communists could feel the tide turning...
The Chopwell Cossacks charge the infantry of Percy and Lambton encamped along the railway tracks, although they are forced back by volleys of rifle fire.
To the east of High Hold the BUF are halted and the Communist regulars sally out to see them off for good.
Under that watchful eye of their commanders who are confident enough to release the pigeons to take the message back to Chopwell that High Hold has been held (as expected).
To the south, the Boiler Makers and their Naval allies get stuck into the Gateshead German League and drive them off the field with some frankly astoundingly competent close quarter fighting.
With no support for the breakthrough to the north and with the forces east and south of High Hold beginning to break and flee, the Royalist commanders issue a general order to call off the attack.
Dozens of good men and women on both sides lay dead and dying, more still wounded in the casualty clearing stations, but the Red flag remains flying over their border village of High Hold as the sun sets on a brutal day.
The Royalists had failed, and the Communists had held their ground in the east.