Tuesday 27 September 2022

Dragon Rapide (movie review)

 Dragon Rapide

Is a 1986 Spanish movie directed by Jaime camino.

Basically it is a docu-drama about the events leading up to the July 1936 coup d`etat focusing of General Franco.

Franco is in the Canary Islands, but with the imminent military coup he needs to get to Spanish North Africa to take command of troops there who`s officers are almost entirely behind the coup. In order to achieve this a Spaniard supporter of the proposed coup living in London hires a plane (a DH89 Dragon Rapide) in England with the plan to secretly fly it out  to the waiting General so he can then be transported to Africa for the start of the uprising! The film focuses on just the last two weeks leading up to Franco`s flight. 

The film flits back and fore between Brigadier Emilio Mola trying to organise the uprising from his HQ, we see his attempts to gain agreement from the various anti-Republican factions - Carlists, Monarchists and his own people in the armed forces. 

In London Juan de la Cierva (inventor of the autogyro - see my earlier piece on the Dedalo) is asked to obtain a suitable aircraft to ferry an important passenger from the Canaries to North Africa. 

In Madrid a young newspaper man overhears men talking about the upcoming revolt, tells his editor, but without proof the editor refuses to publish anything! The Government is more worried about strikes and the Anarchists than they are about the possibility of a military coup, "the Army are loyal to Spain" says the editor! 

In Morocco  Lt. Colonel Juan Yague observes  military manoeuvres, a fanatical mmeber of the rightwing Flange party, Yague later meets with officers committed to the revolt. 

In the Canary Islands Franco, his wife and daughter swelter in the July heat, the disorganised nature of the plotters is getting on his nerves! Plans are made, then changed, even codes are being changed and messages sent to him cannot be deciphered, he is NOT a happy General!

Juan Diego as Franco

While all this is going on de la Cierva has hired the plane and flown it via France and Portugal to Casablanca in French Morocco under the guise of a hunting trip for a rich Englishman.

Back in Madrid key supporter of the revolt Jose Calvo Sotelo leader of the far right CEDA party is assassinated! This actually gives the rebellion a boost as they now have a martyr to rally the various factions under one banner! 

Finally with just days to spare the plane touches down in Las Palmas, messages are sent and the Army of Africa revolts followed quickly by the garrisons on the various Canary Islands under Franco`s command. 

Franco wearing civilian clothes carrying a fake diplomatic passport flys to Casablanca and the next day onto Tetouan.

At this point the film ends at the very begining of the Civil War.   

On the whole an interesting historic docu-drama, well acted and nicely filmed. Whilst not a war movie there were plenty of soldiers and sailors with some excellent period uniforms, for those of us who like that sort of thing.   

The DVD goes for silly money on Ebay (£9.99 + postage) I was lucky enough to pick up a copy here in Spain for a Euro (bargain)

The actual DH 89 Dragon Rapide used by Franco on that flight now in the Madrid Air Museum

Tuesday 6 September 2022

The U-boat Comes of Age

Live Bait Squadron Vs U-9

22 September 1914 by Richard Baber

A version of this article originally appeared within the The Journal of the SOTCW (Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers)

Period artwork celebrating U-9s achievement by Hans Bohrdt

When World War One started, on July 28, 1914, the world's two most powerful navies, the British Royal Navy and the German Imperial Navy, were built around dreadnought and super-dreadnought battleships. The competition to build dreadnoughts had in fact contributed to the start of the war. The Royal Navy also had 74 submarines and the Imperial Navy had 20 U-Boats available. Neither navy took the enemy's submarines seriously, or their own, for that matter. Submarines had not yet proved their worth. For the first six weeks of the war, German U-Boats were ineffective, causing little damage, while suffering two losses. The Admiralty was unconcerned by this potential threat, all this was about to change.

The Broad Fourteens–Off close to the "Hook of Holland" off the Dutch coast, the British 7th Cruiser Squadron patrolled the southern exit of the North Sea, “to keep the area…clear of enemy torpedo craft and minelayers.”  Consisting of five "Cressy Class" cruisers, all quite outdated by 1914, the patrol soon became known in the fleet as the “live-bait squadron.” Senior Naval Officers were opposed to this patrol on the grounds that these ships were very vulnerable to any attack from Germany's more modern surface ships, and advised the Admiralty accordingly. Nonetheless, my Lords of the Admiralty ignored this advice, and persisted with this operation, insisting that Destroyers could not be involved because of the frequent bad weather that prevailed in the area, and also, because modern light cruisers were just unavailable. On September 17, Churchill, Lord of the Admiralty, decided these elderly vessels were not up to the task, so the next day ordered one of the cruisers (the Bacchantes) taking with it the regular senior officer - Rear Admiral Campbel   to detach from the squadron, to be replaced by “two or three battle cruisers” as soon as possible, so that the force could “be capable of minor action without the need of bringing down the Grand Fleet.”

So Without the Bacchantes, the other four cruisers: HMS Euryalus, HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy with Rear Admiral Christian in command aboard HMS Euryalus set out as usual on the 19th without reinforcements and without even their regular destroyer escort due to bad weather.  The main worries of Churchill and most of the Navy brass were German mines or solitary surface ships, not submarines, though the poor weather should serve to deter enemy submarines as much as it did their own destroyers.  To add to their issues, due to the ships age, the crews were mostly reservists supplemented by a large number of cadets.

On the 20th, the flagship Euryalus had to drop out due to lack of coal (you have to wonder why Euryalus put to sea so short of coal?) and weather damage to her wireless, Rear Admiral Christian had to remain with his ship rather than transfer to another ship as the weather was too bad to transfer. He delegated command to Captain Drummond in Aboukir although he did not make it clear that Drummond had the authority to order the destroyers to sea if the weather improved, which it did towards the end of September 21st.

The action

Early on the 22nd, the squadron was proceeding NNE at a  leisurely 10 knots without zigzaging (Although the patrols were supposed to maintain 12-13 knots and zigzag the old cruisers were unable to maintain that speed and the zigzagging order was widely ignored as there had been no submarines sighted in the area during the war).

U-9 was patrolling about 20 miles off the Dutch coast looking for enemy targets. It was a sunny, calm morning, perfect for a hunting submarine. Along the Western Front, the massed armies, unable to break through each others' lines were attempting to outflank each other in the race for the sea. Soon their trenches would stretch unbroken from the Swiss Alps to the English Channel. 

In the weeks prior to the war, U-9 managed to reload her torpedo tubes while submerged, becoming the first submarine to ever perform this difficult task. This would become critical during her engagement with the cruisers.

The U-9 spotted the cruisers moving in a rough triangle and her commander decided to attack, he submerged and moved his vessel towards the centre ship, popping up to re-check their position by periscope every so often.  Although they weren't zigzagging, the cruisers had lookouts posted searching for periscopes and at least one gun on each side was manned.

At 6.20, U-9 fired its first torpedo at the centre ship - HMS Aboukir. The torpedo struck her right under one of her magazines and the explosion broke her back, she capsized and sank within 20 minutes!  

The other two cruisers, not knowing what had happened and believing Aboukir had struck a mine moved back to pick up survivors. Weddigen manoeuvred his vessel into a new firing position and launched two torpedoes at HMS Hogue, both of which hit and she quickly flooded losing her engines and settling in the water. Firing the two torpedoes did effect the trim of U-9 and she bobbed to the surface! Sailors on the Hogue spotted her and fired several shots before U-9s crew managed to re-submerge, none of the shots caused any damage to the U-boat. Whilst submerged U-9 proceeded to reload her tubes.

Aboard the HMS Cressy, Captain Johnson now knew he was facing a submarine, had also stopped to lower boats but got underway on sighting a periscope. There is some discussion as what happened next, but it is generally agreed that the Cressy manoeuvred slowly to avoid sailors in the water before proceeding to attack the U-boat. This (whilst humane) action proved foolish and fatal! The Cressy did at least try and put up a fight, she fired a number of shots towards the periscope (no hits) and was (according to reports) trying to ram the U-boat; when U-9 fired two torpedoes at the now bow-on Cressy, one missed, but the other struck home stopping her dead in the water. Weddigen calmly turned his boat around and fired his last torpedo from the stern tube and finished her off.

In less than an hour U-9 had sunk three British cruisers, in all, 1459 men were lost on the three ships. The Dutch Merchant ships Flora and Titan, plus British Trawlers JGC, and Corainder combed the devastated area looking for survivors to pick up, a total of 837 men were saved. Flora arrived in Holland with 286 rescued British sailors, who were returned to England. Strictly speaking, Holland being neutral should have interned them for the duration of the war, but the Dutch authorities saw fit to flout that convention. 

Luckiest Man in the Royal Navy?

One sailor, Wenman "Kit" Wykeham-Musgrave (1899–1989), was on board HMS Aboukir when he was thrown overboard. He was then picked up by HMS Hogue, but soon found himself back in the sea. He was then picked up by HMS Cressy, only to end up in the sea one more time. A Dutch trawler finally picked him up (obviously without knowing about his “luck”). He lived until he was 90. And in case you didn't do the math (1914 – 1899), Wykeham-Musgrave was only fifteen years old at the time. He later rejoined the Royal Navy in 1939 and rose to the rank of Commander.

Now out of torpedoes, U-9 headed off back towards Germany pursued by British destroyers, Weddigen claims he tried to lure the British towards waiting German surface vessels, but they never pushed their pursuit. The British press claimed a whole U-boat flotilla ambushed Cruiser Force "C", other wild accusations include the German submarine approaching the cruisers under the flag of Holland before attacking!

Weddigen and his U-9 returned to Germany to a heroes welcome, the ship and crew were awarded the Iron Cross (second class), whilst Weddigen was given both first and second class awards.

Period German propaganda postcard commemorating U-9s success.

U-9s crew


In the aftermath of the attack the patrol by armoured cruisers was abandoned, the stopping of major ships in dangerous waters banned and the order to steam at 13 knots and zigzag re-emphasised.

A Court of Inquiry sought someone to blame, and most of the Senior Officers involved were castigated, Captain Drummond for not zig zagging, and for not ordering out the Destroyers after the weather had moderated. Rear Admiral Christian for not issuing clear orders to Captain Drummond, Rear Admiral Campbell for not being available and missing the action in his ship, and for his poor showing at the Inquiry, he had come up with the lame excuse: "He did not know what the purpose of his command was"!

Most of the blame fell upon the Lords of the Admiralty for persisting in ordering this patrol, that was dangerous with the old cruisers sent out, was of limited value anyway, and against all the advice of the sea going Senior Officers.

Kapitanleutnant Otto Weddigen

Only three weeks later, on October 15, 1914, the U-9, under Weddigen, sank a fourth cruiser, HMS Hawker. After that action, Captain Weddigen received the military's highest award, the Pour le Merite (The Blue Max). He was later given command of U-29 and died, with the rest of his crew on March 18, 1915, when the battleship HMSDreadnought rammed U-29 and broke it in two in Pentland Firth.

 U-9 survived the war surrendering on the 26th November 1918, and was broken up at Morecombe in 1919.


 Cressy Class armoured cruiser

HMS Cressy was the Royal Navy's first armoured cruiser, commissioned in 1899.  Unlike previous protected cruisers she had an armoured belt, made possible by the introduction of face hardened Krupp armour which allowed worth- while protection for an acceptable weight of armour.  They were also the first British warships to serve overseas that were not copper sheathed but instead painted with anti-fouling paints, this saving £40,000 and over 500 tons in displacement. Even though the design was only 15yrs old by 1914, these vessels were already obsolete by September 1915.

The ships displaced 12,000 tons, were 472 feet long, Speed: up to 25 km/h (13.5 knots) and had a main armament of two 230mm and twelve 150mm guns. 


Commissioned in 1910, 500 tons; surface speed: 25.9 kmh (14 knots), Submerged speed: 14.8kmh (8 knots); range: 80 miles, torpedoes: 6 (2 forward and two stern tubes); dive depth: 50m (estimated max 125m). Lt. Commander Weddigen, 4 officers and 25 crew.


Article in "Battles that Changed Warfare 1457 - 1991" by Martin J. Dougherty

U-Boat War by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim

Several articles and pages off the internet including excerpts from Commander Weddigen's own account of the action.  

Authors notes

Now I freely admit to knowing little about naval wargaming, I have only played the occasional plotted board type games using counters.

I first read about this incident when I was sent "Battles that Changed Warfare" for review; it is one of those war through history volumes which I would never buy as they usually cover the same old actions or if something new  the coverage is so thin as to make it virtually useless. To be fair the book was OK and nicely illustrated and it did include this one interesting action. 

It seems to me with a little planning this would make an excellent one-off game, maybe using an umpire to control the U-boat.