January 18th 1813 – First Battle of Frenchtown

With Great Britain embroiled in war with Napoleon’s France, the Royal Navy enforced a blockade aimed at choking France’s economy and neutral ships were not exempt from interception. This especially angered the United States who declared the blockade illegal and were increasingly concerned with American citizens finding themselves press-ganged into manning the blockade. Both American and British forces in Canada found themselves engaged in brief skirmishes such as one between between HMS Leopard and the USS Chesapeake in 1807 after the Leopard tried to board the American ship to search for British deserters.

On June 18th 1812, the 4th President of the United States, James Madison Jr, bowed to pressure from those in Congress who wanted war with Britain and signed the declaration. While it would last until February 18th 1815, the war is still remembered as the War of 1812. With the majority of British forces committed to fighting Napoleon in mainland Europe, the British had little choice but to initially adopt a defensive strategy against the Americans until they could bolster their numbers with troops from Europe and the enlistment of local native American tribes to carry out a guerrilla-style campaign against American troops.

On August 16th 1812, British Major General Henry Proctor succeeded in forcing the American contingent at Fort Detroit to surrender. This was a major concern for the Americans and so President Madison assigned General William Henry Harrison the task of retaking Fort Detroit during a winter offensive. Harrison split his army into two contingents. The first he commanded personally and marched his men to Upper Sandusky in modern-day Ohio.

The second contingent was led by Brigadier General James Winchester and consisted of 2,000 untrained regulars and volunteers mostly from Kentucky. As his men marched they were met by citizens of nearby Frenchtown which at that time was under occupation by a small British force from the Essex Militia and a native force from the Potawatomi tribe. Disobeying his orders to wait for Harrison and his men, Winchester ordered Lieutenant Colonel William Lewis to lead over 600 American troops to attack the British and their allies at their base across the frozen River Raisin.

Lewis attacked on January 18th and a brisk battle took place before the Americans forced the British and the Potawatomi to retreat. A Canadian militia group counterattacked later in the day but were unable to force Winchester back across the frozen river. During their retreat, the Potawatomi troops fell upon the settlement at Sandy Creek and destroyed it killing two of its inhabitants in the process.

Winchester was pleased with his victory although Harrison was concerned that his force was still outnumbered by British forces in the region. Upon hearing that Frenchtown had been taken, British Brigadier General Henry Procter marched 597 men from the 41st Regiment of Foot and Royal Newfoundland Fencibles along with around 800 native troops from the occupied Fort Detroit. Supported by Canadian artillery, Proctor’s men recaptured Frenchtown after a pitched battle on January 22nd.

The next day, a number of the captured American soldiers were massacred by native troops including a number of wounded soldiers who were burned to death inside the buildings where they were being kept. The native Americans then marched the survivors to Fort Malden in Ontario. Any American who couldn’t keep up was killed at the side of the road. The exact number of prisoners killed is not known but it is believed to be up to 100.

 

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December 10th 1899 – “Black Week” in South Africa

The Second Anglo-Boer War (sometimes referenced simply as the Boer War in the UK although there was an earlier conflict fought between 1880 and 1881) was fought between the British Empire in Africa and the Boers, a combined force from the South African Republic and the Republic of the Orange Free State. The Boer Republics declared war on Britain on October 11th 1899 after years of escalation and fears of Britain attempting to annex their territories for their gold and diamond deposits. The war would last until May 31st 1902 with a British victory and the absorption of their defeated foe’s lands in to the British Empire.

In 1899, Britain was overconfident regarding the state of her imperial security in the south African region and as such was woefully under-prepared for when the Boers struck. The Boer forces moved through much of the sparsely defended countryside while laying siege to the fortified British positions in towns like Kimberley and Ladysmith.

Then in one disastrous week beginning on December 10th 1899, the British Army suffered three devastating defeats by the forces of the Boer Republics. This week would become known as “Black Week”. The first came at Stormberg where Sir William Gatacre’s exhausted forces were beaten after undertaking a night march through heavy rain.

Second 2nd Anglo Boer War South Africa Black Week 1899 1902The next day on December 11th, an expedition under Lord Methuen that had been attempting to relieve the besieged town of Kimberley was also defeated by Boer forces at Magersfontein. Among the 1,000 British casualties at Magersfontein was Major-General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope CB CMG whose loss exacerbated the sense of disaster regarding the battle in Africa and back home.

On the following Friday, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in South Africa General Sir Redvers Henry Buller VC GCB GCMG was defeated attempting to relieve the town of Ladysmith. The battle at Colenso cost over 1,000 British casualties and forced Redvers in to retreat. This defeat brought an end to the “Black Week” and proved a wake-up call to the British who began a massive build-up of reinforcements.

There were several factors that led to these disasters. Firstly, the British forces in Africa were used to fighting rebel tribesmen armed with spears rather than a well disciplined force armed with equivalent weapons to themselves. The British also struggled to organise themselves effectively beyond the immediate battlefield which meant opportunities to take advantage of weaknesses in the Boer lines were missed. Finally, the Boers were fighting in territory they had grown up in whereas much of the British force consisted of troops brought in from across the Empire such as Australia and New Zealand as well as Britain itself.

All these lessons would be learned and through 1900 and 1901 the Boers would be beaten back until their final defeat in 1902.

Exercise Olive Grove – 3 Para training with Jordanian Army

Exercise Olive Grove has been undertaken by members of 3 Para who have been working with Jordan’s elite Quick Reaction Force on developing a range of infantry skills against the backdrop of the country’s harsh desert climate.

Major Rick Lewin, Officer Commanding of C Company, 3 Para told said:

What we’re trying to do is demonstrate the way we operate and give the Jordanians an opportunity to decide if they like that. Simultaneously, our soldiers are doing precisely the same thing, they’re watching the Jordanians whose shooting on the range is incredibly accurate, and also they were moving through the cover incredibly efficiently and quickly, so this is very much going both ways all the way through.

Soldier in Iraq killed by “accidental discharge”

The British soldier killed in a “shooting incident” in Iraq has been named as L/Cpl Scott Hetherington, 22 from 2nd Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. L/Cpl Hetherington was a vehicle commander in the Force Protection Platoon and is the first UK soldier to die in Iraq in nearly eight years.

It has been reported in The Guardian that his death was not the result of combat with Islamic State forces but was due to the accidental discharge of a colleague’s weapon. The incident occurred at the Iraqi training base at Taji, north of Baghdad where British forces are training Iraqi and Kurdish forces to combat Islamic State in Iraq.

L/Cpl Hetherington hailed from Middleton, Greater Manchester and last year became a father to a daughter. An inquest has been launched into his death.

British Army and Sierra Leone defence forces in joint jungle training

Among the British units involved will be members of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards who are scheduled to be stationed in Sierra Leone until December. The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is supporting the exercise with their own troops as well as providing logistical and security services. As part of the exercise, work will be carried out on refurbishing the RSLAF’s Jungle Warfare School.

British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Guy Warrington said;

I am delighted that the Government of Sierra Leone invited the UK Armed Forces to exercises in Sierra Leone. The United Kingdom is grateful for this opportunity and is looking forward to the experience of training and learning alongside Sierra Leone’s military. This elevates the well established cooperation between our military forces to a new level and embodies our confidence in the defence partnership.

Christened Exercise: Guma Sun after the Guma Valley in Western Sierra Leone where it will take place, the exercise is the first time that the two countries have trained so extensively in jungle warfare together. As well as historic military and cultural links to Sierra Leone, British forces have in recent years been increasing its presence in the country. In 2000, during the late stages of the civil war a group of soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment were ambushed by a militia group and held hostage resulting in a daring SAS operation to rescue them.

British forces and aid workers also assisted in combating the recent Ebola outbreak in the country and continues to provide assistance in helping with the recovery effort.

Soldier killed at RAF firing range in Scotland

A member of the armed forces that died at a military training range in Tain, Scotland is believed to have died actually on its rifle range. Civilian emergency and police units were dispatched to the range at about 5.55pm on Tuesday and a cordon was placed around the base located about 30 miles north of Inverness.

A spokesperson for the police said;

Police Scotland is leading the investigation to establish the full circumstances of this incident and is working closely with the armed forces. This was a contained incident and there was no threat to the public

The soldier’s name has yet to be revealed but the MoD have confirmed that their family has been informed. RAF Tain features a rifle and aerial bombing range and exercises are routinely conducted there by UK, NATO and US armed forces.

Reservists deployed to Falklands

Falklands sign

120 reserve paratroopers have been deployed to the Falkland Islands. It is the first time that a reserve force has been deployed to help garrison the islands since the British government was forced to fortify them in the wake of the 1982 Falklands War. The paratroopers are said to all hail from Lincoln in the East Midlands.

A source in the MoD told the Express;

This is a great opportunity to give them a focus. In the past we’ve pennypacketed reservists. You’d have a group of 20, including a sergeant, put in among regulars. It meant reservist officers never got to command. This allows them to experience duties which are difficult to do here.

The deployment reflects the British Army’s growing trend towards greater use of part-time forces to complement full-time personnel. Known as “Future Army 2020”, the aim is to integrate regular and reserve personnel in to a more harmonious force than has been the case in the past. This would consist of a planned 82,000 regular personnel supported by 30,000 trained reservists. A consequence of this will be that reserve troops will be deployed more frequently on operations in the future. The plan was conceived in 2012 as a response to the then coalition government’s sweeping reforms in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The MoD admits however that recruitment and retention of personnel is becoming an increasing problem. Recently, the Army introduced gift vouchers to soldiers who could convince friends to sign up indicating just how serious the problem is. Unfortunately, personnel shortages affect all branches of the armed forces and this will no doubt only further the use of reserve personnel in order to maintain the UK’s operational commitments.