Roman Basic Training v Modern British Army Basic training

A common phrase used during my days as a crow at Depot Para in Aldershot was “Train Hard, Fight easy” and from research, the Romans were no different.

From studying the Roman Army you can see where the British Army adopted its training and doctrine.

The first training objective for all new recruits is how to march as a body of men. The historian Vegetius tells us that it was seen as of greatest importance to the Roman army that its soldiers could march at speed in formation.

Any army which would be split up by stragglers at the back or soldiers trundling along at differing speeds would be vulnerable to attack.

Those who have attended one of my bootcamps will understand why you were required to pass a selection process before being considered.

Fom day one of recruit training the Roman soldier was trained to march in line at the same pace and to keep the army a compact fighting unit on the move.

One of the Romans most famous formations was the Tortoise (testudo). Testudo is the Latin word for “tortoise”.

The soldiers in front and sides interlocked their shields. The soldiers in the back lines placed their shields over their heads to form a protective “shell” over top of the men.

For this, we are told by Vegetius, during the summer months the soldiers were to be marched twenty Roman miles (18.4 miles/29.6 km), which had to be completed in five hours.

In the British Army we call this a TAB Tactical Advance to Battle.

Vegetius mentions running, long and high jump and carrying heavy packs.

During the summer swimming was also a part of training. If their camp was near the sea, a lake or river, every recruit was made to swim.

Next in line, after the training for marching and fitness, came the training of handling weapons. The correc use of the gladius and scutum.

For this they primarily used wickerwork shields and wooden swords. Both the shields and the swords were made to standards which made them twice as heavy as the original weapons. Evidently it was thought, that if a soldier could fight with these heavy dummy weapons, he would be twice as effective with the proper ones.

Train hard, fight easy

Dummy weapons were at first employed against heavy wooden stakes, about six foot high, rather than against fellow soldiers. Against these wooden stakes the soldier trained the various moves, strikes and counter-strikes with the sword.

Only once the recruits was deemed able enough in fighting against the stakes, were they assigned in pairs to train in individual combat.

This more advanced stage of combat training was called armatura, an expression which first was used in the gladiatorial schools, which proves that some of the methods used in training soldiers was indeed borrowed from the training techniques of gladiators.

The weapons used in the armatura were, though still of wood, of the same, or similar weight as the original service weapons.

Weapons training was deemed of such importance that weapons instructors generally received double rations, whereas soldiers who didn’t achieve adequate standards received inferior rations until they had proven in the presence of a high-ranking officer that they had attained the demanded standard. (inferior rations: Vegetius states that their wheat rations were substituted with barley)

After completing the initial training with the sword, the recruit was to master the use of the spear, the pilum. For this the wooden stakes were put to use again as targets. The pilum used for practice was, once again, twice the weight of the regular weapon.

The Modern day army being live firing tests.

Vegetius notes that weapons training was given such importance that in some places roofed riding schools and drill halls were built to allow for training to continue throughout the winter.

Like my time at Depot Para, Physical conditioning and skill at arms was the bread and butter of soldiering. Without getying to grips with them you would not last long or be able to progress forward.

The Roman Army recruits were progressively trained to a high standard as you can see from the following. The British Army are no different.

Roman army training objectives.

Swimming

Jumping

Cutting down trees

Carrying heavy packs

Vaulting onto horses–mounting and dismounting from both the right and the left with their weapons drawn or holding their pila. Wooden horses were used until the recruits became proficient. Then real horses were used

Running in full armor

Digging defensive ditches

Erecting ramparts and palisades

Other camp construction activities

Taking care of equipment

Erecting tents

Giving first aid

British Army training objectives

Attestation (a formal ceremony to join the British Army), kit issue, administration, Drill calling out the time until you pass off the parade square at week 4. weapons training and Exercise Icebreaker (teaching Exercise) – your first night in the field. Exercise first fence.

Military skils aptitude tests.

Drill

Weapons

Tactics

Military Swim Test.

Nuclear and biological warfare

Progressive physical development. Running, upper body conditioning and Tabbing. ( running and fast walking with equipment.

Basic wales

Introduction to blank Firing at section, Platoon and company level.

Training cast how to TAB in South Africa.

Advanced Wales

Bringing it all together with Live Firing at section, Platoon and company level.

My final training test on Salisbury plan 1989 not knowing back then I would be back 30 years later advising on 1917.

Physical tests P company

The Author during his early Basic training day in Depot Para Aldershot.

How realistic is Trigger Point? Bomb disposal experts weigh in

Vicky McClure
Vicky McClure plays explosives officer Lana Washington CREDIT: ITV

On Triggerpoint We had a current EOD adviser and police adviser on set but its always going to be dramatic licence and the need to tell a story in 60 minutes which will override any realism on these shows.

TV drama are not documentary’s. They need to have dramatic tension and none of the idle moments that form a large part of real working lives. If you want that watch 24 Hours in Police Custody. 🙂 Here are the views from former EOD experts on the show. (Not facebook or twitter experts) 😃

ITV’s bomb disposal drama Trigger Point looks to blow Line of Duty away. Not to mention – as seen in the literally explosive first episode – plenty of supporting characters and civilians.Written by Daniel Brierley and executive produced by LoD’s Jed Mercurio, Trigger Point is the latest pulse-pounding procedural that boasts plenty of grit and ultra-realism. But how real is it?In the story, Vicky McClure plays Lana Washington, a London Met explosives officer – or “Expo” – who’s called to makeshift bomb factory at a block of flats, where she discovers the first of several bombs.True to life, Washington and her Expo partner, Joel Nutkins – played by Adrian Lester – both served in Afghanistan. 

The Met’s real bomb squad is made up of ex-Army ATOs (Ammunition Technical Officers) who have typically 20 years’ experience and various technical qualifications. “It’s an extremely meticulous trade,” says Dr Kristian Gustafson, former War Studies lecturer at Sandhurst, ex-Canadian Army officer, and now deputy director of the Brunel Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies.Devices like those seen in the show are difficult to make, with materials for “high explosives” hard to come by in the UK. “Tell me, where in this country do you order 20kg sacks of shaved aluminium?” says Dr Gustafson. But they are plausible.

Adrian Lester
Adrian Lester stars as Joel Nutkins in the first episode CREDIT: ITV

The first bomb, rigged to the flat’s toilet, has two triggers: a landmine-style pressure plate and the hallway light switch – cue McClure’s character almost detonating the device when she goes to turn the lights on.“It’s pretty Hollywood,” says Gustafson. “But not impossible. The knowledge to do that wouldn’t come from the kind of information you’d find online.

That’s coming from experience in Afghanistan, or someone trained by the Iranians in Yemen or something like that.”Lucy Lewis is former EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) and was Britain’s first female bomb disposal officer. She explains that bombs using two triggers are actually “basic”, and praises the show for eschewing fanciful tropes. “I was delighted that they didn’t do the digital-clock-counting-down-to-detonation business,” she says. “And no discussion about cutting the red wire and the blue wire!”But Lewis says that a rookie mistake like flipping the light switch was a “spitting out tea moment”. Panicked, McClure’s character has to hold her finger steady on the switch while her partner deactivates the trigger.“Every soldier across the land will spit their tea out at that,” says Lewis, who now works as Cambridge University’s marshal – the head of the university’s private police force. “On day one you’re told to never touch anything. If she’s done even a week at bomb school, she’d know never to do that.”A real Expo would be less panicked, too. “You take a deep breath, compose yourself, and carry on,” says Lewis. “If you’ve served in Afghanistan, this is everyday bread-and-butter stuff. If you tread on a landmine you freeze.

We practice it so many times.”While the show’s two Expos tackle the device together, real bomb disposal officers go in solo. They take what’s called “the long walk” – a lonely journey to the live bomb. “Whatever needs to be done, they do it alone,” says Lewis. “Because it’s only one life at risk. They’d have a camera and people back in the van would be watching.”Lewis appreciates the show’s small, personal touches, such as Lester’s character having marriage problems. “They all say EOD stands for ‘everyone divorced,’” laughs Lewis. “We said it would be a gross representation of the trade if they didn’t have marital difficulties in there. It’s a tight pressure thing. You have to focus, you can become very detached, and you try not to look at a photo of your wife and kids before you go on that long walk. That doesn’t help your mental state.”

Eric Shango
Eric Shango co-stars as rookie Danny CREDIT: ITV

Other small details include Washington having her blood type displayed on her arm, and both the Expos having Felix the Cat tattoos. “Felix means lucky,” says Lewis. “He has nine lives. Felix is the symbol of counter-terrorism bomb disposal.”Both Lewis and Dr Gustafson credit the show’s use of real-life technology, including a small tripod-like a disruptor device, which uses sand to disable the toilet bomb. Later – at the site of a suspected car bomb – they send in a Short Circuit-like robot, known as a Wheelbarrow. “If there’s a device that they’re not convinced they can diffuse,” says Gustafson, “they’ll try and disrupt one component within the battery, initiator, explosive, trigger circuit.

They do that with a little cannon that blasts a bullet of water.”As Gustafson says, Trigger Point also shows the search-and-diffuse process as being a “multi-hour event” – lots of hanging around and waiting. “It’s also good at showing the layers of police control,” says Gustafson. “Gold Commander, outer cordon, inner cordon.”There’s some dramatic licence as the Expos, SO15 (counter terrorism), and CTSFO (counter-terrorism specialist firearms officers) jostle for jurisdiction and superiority.Simon Harding is a former DCI in SO15 and now the director of Specialist Crime Consulting Group. He recalls working with bomb squad to deal with suspicious packages – even an unexploded Second World War bomb that once dredged up from the Thames close to Parliament.“There is a relationship,” Harding says about the Expos and SO15. “Bomb disposal is almost part of SO15, but sits as a silo outside of it.

Everyone has a job to do. There’s no room for egos with that kind of stuff. It’s a world-renowned slick operation.”The first episode’s big set-piece comes when they discover an innocent man strapped with a suicide vest. The explosive is rigged with mobile phones, which allows it to be set off remotely. It seems the stuff of Hollywood fantasy – one tick away from Speed’s gold watch-powered bomb on the bus – but it’s real. Dr Gustafson recalls that in Afghanistan, Casio watches were commonly used as timers, and mobile phones were indeed used for initiation.

The officers are accompanied by a Short Circuit-like robot, known as a Wheelbarrow
The officers are accompanied by a Short Circuit-like robot, known as a Wheelbarrow CREDIT: ITV

Lucy Lewis, however, doubts the professional credentials of the show’s bomb makers. “It’s very amateurish to use a whole phone,” Lewis says. “You only need a sim card.”Trigger Point uses another piece of real-life tech to suppress the phone signals – an ECM (electronic countermeasures). In the show, it looks like a wireless router.

 In real life they’re much bigger – backpack-like devices with large antennae – but also highly classified.“If you see images of patrols in Afghanistan, you’ll see someone carrying a big backpack with an antenna on it,” says Gustafson. “Those are electronic countermeasures. Pretty much anywhere a British patrol went in Iraq or Afghanistan, it had a big mobile phone suppressing bubble around it.

Anywhere an ATO would go now, they would probably have those countermeasure bubbles.”Unlike real life, however, Trigger Point’s terrorists are able to bypass the ECM. A call comes through to the mobile phone anyway.The experts agree that the terrorists’ methodology is scarily true to life. The toilet bomb and suicide vest are just a distraction – a much bigger bomb is hidden in a van nearby. “The idea of having a small charge to draw you in, then killing everyone with the big one… that is very realistic,” says Lewis.

Cal Machaninch
Cal Machaninch as Lee Robbins SCO-19 CREDIT: ITV

The IRA used such tactics – planting a bomb, alerting the authorities, then waiting to see how they reacted. “The IRA gave you one bomb then put another one where they thought we’d put the cordons and RVPs [rendevouz positions],” says Simon Harding.Adrian Lester’s character suspects as much, wondering if the first bomb was a “come on” to lure them in. (Even the term “come on,” says Gustafson, is legitimate army talk. “The writers have spoken to ATOs,” he says. “Clearly, they’ve done their research.”)Lucky for us, the show’s yet-to-be-identified bombers are a very rare breed. “The kind of people that get radicalised to blow stuff up tend to not be the brightest,” says Gustafson. “But to build a bomb properly you need to be pretty clever! Those two factors tend to keep anything other than rudimentary devices from being built.”The kind of domestic bomb factories seen in the show are also rare. “The last time I remember the term ‘bomb factory’ being used was in the Nineties with the IRA,” says Harding.Overall, Dr Gustafson rates Trigger Point for being well researched and notes that it jettisons the less pulse-pounding aspects of the job – reports, weapons intelligence, and science lab work.“If you went into the nitty gritty of the devices we faced in Afghanistan, it gets quite technical and boring,” he says. “Making a device safe is not great action – it’s the stuff of puckered sphincters and sweat

Who Was the Military Advisor on that?

A Blog about all things Military advising for the Film and TV industry.

Roman Basic Training v Modern British Army Basic training

A common phrase used during my days as a crow at Depot Para in Aldershot was “Train Hard, Fight easy” and from research, the Romans were no different. From studying the Roman Army you can see where the British Army adopted its training and doctrine. The first training objective for all new recruits is how … Continue reading Roman Basic Training v Modern British Army Basic training

Letters from the front. Napoleonic war research.

Credit to the Facebook page Napoleonic wars research forum and poster Jonas De Neef a great page to join if your interested in more research material. Here we have three letters from the French officer Faré, captain adjutant-major in the grenadiers of the Imperial Guard. In the first letter, the author confides to his parents … Continue reading Letters from the front. Napoleonic war research.

How realistic is Trigger Point? Bomb disposal experts weigh in

On Triggerpoint We had a current EOD adviser and police adviser on set but its always going to be dramatic licence and the need to tell a story in 60 minutes which will override any realism on these shows. TV drama are not documentary’s. They need to have dramatic tension and none of the idle … Continue reading How realistic is Trigger Point? Bomb disposal experts weigh in

Theatrical Firearms Explained.

In the wake of the tragic events on the set of Rust, team PB thought it best write a short blog to highlight the difference between theatrical firearms, live rounds, blank rounds and SBR UTM (silent blank rounds ultimate training munitions)

Theatrical firearms (prop gun)


The term “prop gun” or Theatrical firearm includes a variety of weapons, including nonfunctioning or nonpractical weapons, like cap guns, BB guns, top venting blanks and fake guns constructed of wood, plastic or rubber. Soft and hard rubber are primarily used by stunt performer’s when carrying out hard demanding falls.

The term also can mean real weapons modified to fire only blank cartridges, in the UK we call them section 5 firearms or practical weapons and if fired at close range they can cause serious injuries and potentially kill if not closely monitored by proficient firearms professionals. 

How theatrical weapons work

When filming with semi- and fully automatic weapons like the AK47 or M4 that are gas-operated, which means the combustion gas from firing a round is what reloads the weapon, the barrel typically has a mechanism called a “restrictor.”

Restrictors function similarly to the blank-firing adapters (BFAs) used in the military which are deliberately coloured Yellow or Red for identification, except for the film world where the device is internal, rather than attached to the exterior of the muzzle.

Theatrical weapons have the restrictor down the barrel to conceal the fact that it is a blank firing weapon.

Devices like BFAs or restrictors do two things: they help prevent debris from escaping from the barrel through the muzzle when a blank round is fired and they help the weapon chamber another round by preventing the combustion gases from fully escaping the barrel.

But weapons that are not gas-operated, like revolvers, bolt operated rifles and muskets don’t require a restrictor to help chamber another round. Which means there is no physical barrier between the blank round fired and whatever the weapon is pointed at.

The image below demonstrates the amount of flash from a futuristic weapon which was actually a Colt revolver with plastic mouldings built around. Note the amount of flash.


Live rounds

A live round or cartridge is ammunition fed into the barrel of a fully functioning weapon that comprises of several parts: 

  • The casing (sometimes called a shell)
  • Propellant material (gunpowder) inside the shell
  • The percussion cap or percussion primer on the bottom of the cartridge. (Where the firing pin strikes)
  • The actual projectile (bullet) itself

The bullet is the part of the cartridge that flies out of the gun towards the target.

Blank rounds

Blanks are shell casings loaded with gunpowder. They lack the deadly bullet point, which is usually replaced with cotton or paper wadding.

When blanks are discharged, they create the sound of gunfire, and the gunpowder combusts, causing a muzzle flash. The force of firing a section 5 firearms provides the actor with real recoil and case ejection.

SBR UTM (silent blank rounds ultimate training munitions)


UTM’s Silent Blank Rounds (SBR) cycles the firearm, which provides realistic recoil and weapon function, including bolt or slide lock-back, yet with no noise or projectile.


With the silent blank rounds the piston is solid, when it’s driven forward the gas can’t escape, so the cartridge is silent with no flash. This action allows the cycling of the firearm in an enclosed space without concerns around noise or injury.


UTM’s pistol conversions prevent a live round from fully seating inside the barrel so incapable of firing a live round


Their blank weapon conversions for rifles feature an off-set firing pin, enabling the weapon to only shoot UTM’s rim-fire blank training ammunition.


Silent Blank rounds are ideal for close-up shots to the body or camera and can be fired directly at the head without any danger to the actor.


Live rounds are to never be on set at any stage.

Set protocols 

The use of firearms on set is subject to stringent safety standards. Specialists such as BAPTY.co.uk who provide weapons for use on film sets and advise on their safe use. 

Before weapons leave the armoury they’re test fired, cleaned and inspected. The weapon serial numbers are sent to the police authority who over sees all theatrical weapons used in the UK film and TV indindustry.

Every weapon on set must be accounted for and it is the armourers responsibility to know every weapon be it non practical or practical while on set. 

When on set and not required the practical weapons are concealed and constantly manned by the armourer until required.

Before being issued weapons a safety brief and training is provided highlighting important features of the weapon and the importance of trigger and muzzle discipline. 

Strikeback 2019

A demonstration of the danger a blank round can do is provided by firing a blank round into an orange or apple to provide a visual demonstration on the effects to skin. 

Before shooting a scene,  rehearsals are mostly carried  out ‘dry’ which means no blanks are loaded in the weapon.

Dry rehearsals Strikeback 2018

Ear and eye protection will be offered to crew within the set area and the armourers will ensure saftey distances for firing in close proximity are observed along with limiting the chances of hot ejected cases bouncing back to hit the actors. 

Strikeback 2018

Once ready to shoot the armourer will show weapons are clear to the actor and show him the blank rounds before being loaded.

Once the working parts are released forward and a round is chambered the safety catch is applied and the armourer will announce ‘Weapons Hot’ to everyone on set. 

If at any time the armourer observes something they feel is not safe before and during the shoot they will step in and stop everything until any safety issue is resolved. 

If a weapon misfires during the shoot the actor is instructed to simply play out the action until the director shouts cut then simply raise their hand and with the weapons barrel pointing towards the floor and the armourers will clear and inspect the weapon. 

If the weapon needs to be fired off for safety reasons, such as a black powder musket or test fired,  the armourer will notify all cast and crew by shouting ‘ fire in the hole’ before firing in a safe direction. 

Cast, stunts and extras are all instructed on the importance of not playing with weapons during breaks, leaving a weapon unattended or walking off set without handing it back to the armourer. 

Once filming has finished all weapons are accounted for and serials checked against their lists before being packed up and taken back to a secure location, cleaned ready for the next day.



Training Bootcamps

Most productions will invest and provide weapons and tactics training to everyone participating in the action scenes involving weapons.

1917 bootcamp 2019


Military Technical Advisers along with armourers will assess and train for what is required in the script to a high standard and preferably two to three days before the action is to take place.

Cast training for strikeback and Wrath of Man

Anyone deemed unsafe or not confident around weapons will be issued a non firing weapon. 

Bootcamps ensures everyone is fully briefed and confident in weapon handling and safety protocols beforehand which then only requires a ‘remind and revise’ before going on set. 


Theatrical firearms courses 

I have touched on such courses in the past and frequently asked if I run my own course. 

I run production financed training for the specific roles required for the production who hire my services to train cast, stunts and supporting artists who are paid to learn for the required role.

Room clearance drills.

There are numerous courses out there some good some over hyped and some very bad. Some lay claim being on their course will ensure you are picked for action roles over those who have not.

Some issue certificates as proof of attendance which are waved under an armourer and advisers nose to demand or stake claim to forgoing any training and being picked first to fire weapons.

Such claims are solely a sales pitch and untrue.


The following hurdles only apply.


1. The Director choses the look he requires. 


2.  The Armourer and the military advisor will assess and decide who is safe and able to fire a blank weapon on set.


3. Armourers weapons and procedures may be different to what your course provider taught you.

Allways remember. The armourers weapons so its their rules.


Such courses are a ‘nice to have’ and will help you better understand weapon safety but they will not turn you into an overnight expert nor will they bag you your big break. Skill fade will factor in once you leave a course no matter how long it lasts. 


No firearms courses are recognised by any governing body or production. No armourer or military advisor will accept firearms certificates or even previous military qualifications as an insurance of safety on set.

Finger on the trigger punishment during a bootcamp.



To end this blog,  armorers and military advisors teach and allways remind you the “three golden rules” of weapon handling, and it’s the same on a range as it is on a film or set. 

1. You always treat a weapon be it real or plastic as if it’s loaded.


2.  You never point a gun at another person.


3.  You always keep your finger off the trigger until you’re absolutely ready to fire. 

PB Military Technical Adviser for film and tv Ltd

The British opera singer and the Tiger Tank.

Smiling enigmatically, this is the British opera singer-turned-spy who captivated Adolf Hitler.

Margery Booth led a double life inside Nazi Germany, where she performed for Hitler and his henchmen while smuggling the Third Reich’s secrets to British intelligence.

The only known picture of opera star Margery Booth
A picture of opera star Margery Booth which was taken at Freigegeben Stalag IIID and which she gave to British spy John Brown, signed with a Good Luck message. A British Army officer shoved the secret papers down her dress at the Berlin State Opera, just moments before she went onstage to sing for Hitler and his cohorts

Margery had, been recruited by MI6 whilst MI9 had recruited John Brown, a former but now disillusioned member of Mosley’s infamous Fascist Blackshirts. Through the SOE it was designed for him to be captured on the Normandy beaches in order that that he could work as a spy behind the lines in a PoW camp.

Margery helped British prisoners of war to send coded messages back to spy chiefs in London, and even performed for the Führer with cyphers hidden inside her costume.

Discovery would have meant almost certain death for the mezzo-soprano, who endured regular questioning by the Gestapo.  But Hitler was so taken by her performances that he once visited her dressing room, and later sent her 200 red roses, wrapped in a sash with a swastika on it.  

The Army officer who used the singer to send his coded messages, John Brown, was hailed as a hero after the war, when his evidence was used in the treason trial of William Joyce, the traitor Lord Haw Haw.

The Mission.

Margery usually attends Hitler on his birthday every April and it was at one of these that Jodl presents him with the Tiger tank.  As data is provided, Margery overhears most of this and, like the good singer she is, memorises these numbers as a tune.  

John Brown, a spy in Stalag IIID but also working undercover for the Nazis, is passed details of the Tiger’s existence whilst Margery is singing to the PoWs there and radios this to London.

Back at the Opera House these numbers are encoded and soon at Bletchley Park, delivered to a delighted Hardy Amies, confirming John Brown’s earlier message.   Churchill thus warned, gives instructions for a Tiger to be captured and delivered to No 10 Downing Street.  This eventually happens in North Africa

I fell into Allied hands. It was Tiger 131. It was 21 April 1943 when 48th Royal Tank Regiment, newly arrived in Tunisia from Britain, went into action against the Germans for the first time.

But Miss Booth’s bravery has gone largely unrecognised, and calls for her to receive a posthumous honour have gone unheeded.  So little was known about her war-time efforts that this photograph of her has only just come to light, almost 60 years after her death.

She was sent to sing at Stalag IIID, known as the ‘Holiday Camp’ to British PoWs. The Germans hoped this would encourage some of the British held there to change sides

It was at the camp that Booth met John Brown, a spy who was collecting information on traitors such as William Joyce, known as Lord Haw Haw.

These photographs are of a woman whose quiet bravery – like that of so many unsung heroes – helped Britain to victory in World War Two. Margery Booth was born in Wigan in 1905, and joined the town’s operatic society as a teenager.  

By 1936 she had sung at Covent Garden and even briefly travelled to Hollywood to appear in a film version of Aida.  Later that year she met and quietly married Dr Egon Ströhm, the son of a wealthy German brewery family, and moved to Germany.

Her first meeting with Hitler is thought to have been in 1933, when she was chosen to carry the Holy Grail in the spectacular finale to the Wagner opera Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival.

 He burst into her dressing room and told her how elegant and lovely he thought her, and sent her the basket of 200 red roses the next day, with a card signed ‘Adolf’.  When the war began, she was singing with the Berlin State Opera, and she was later allowed to perform for British prisoners of war at a camp in Genshagen, near Berlin.

Adolf Hitler and Nazi Party leaders at the Berlin Opera House where Margery Booth performed in 1936.

Adolf Hitler and Nazi leaders at the Berlin Opera House where Margery Booth performed in 1936. She mixed with the German top brass while passing secrets to British Intelligence.She would announce to her audience ‘I’m Margery Booth from Wigan’, and this photograph of her is believed to have been taken at Genshagen.  It was found among photographs of inmates at the camp, Stalag IIID, known as a propaganda ‘holiday camp’ for British officers who the Nazis hoped to use as double agents.  John Brown was transferred there in 1943 and convinced his captors he was willing to work for Germany.

He used their trust to send coded messages home in his letters, and also to pass secret documents to Miss Booth to send back to MI9, the intelligence branch tasked with unmasking traitors.  Ironically, the opera singer’s links to the Nazi regime were so well-known that she was accused of collaborating against Britain, and turning traitor against her country.

In his book, In Durance Vile, Mr Brown wrote that she was initially given personal assurances from Hitler and Goebbels that they would ‘deal with the matter personally’ if she was insulted because of her British birth.  But when Mr Brown’s secret work for Britain was discovered by the Nazis, Miss Booth was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo.  

She kept silent and was eventually released, and she later escaped Berlin during an air raid and fled to Bavaria, where she was picked up by the Americans.  After the war she divorced her German husband and moved to America, where she died from cancer in 1952.

The photograph of Miss Booth is part of a collection from Genshagen, stamped Freigegeben Stalag IIID, a special PoW camp where the Nazis held Britons who they thought they might be able to persuade to change sides.

She signed it, writing ‘With kindest remembrances, Good luck, Margery Booth’.  She also signed the first page of John’s War Diary:

From John's War Diary

From John’s War Diary

Press cutting about John

Links

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11258623

Operation Dingo

Operation Dingo was not only the Fireforce concept writ large but the prototype for all the major Rhodesian airborne attacks on the external bases of Rhodesian African nationalist insurgents in the neighbouring territories of Mozambique and Zambia until such operations ceased in late 1979.

Fireforce as a military concept is a “vertical envelopment” of the enemy, with the 20mm cannon being the principle weapon of attack, mounted in an Alouette III K-Car, flown by the air force commander, with the army commander on board directing his ground troops deployed from G-Cars (Alouette III troop-carrying gunships and latterly Bell “Hueys” in 1979) and parachuted from DC-3 Dakotas. In support would be propeller-driven ground-attack aircraft and on call would be Canberra bombers, Hawker Hunter and Vampire jets.

On 23 November 1977, the Rhodesian Air Force and 184 SAS and Rhodesian Light Infantry paratroopers attacked 10,000 Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army cadres based at ‘New Farm’, Chimoio, 90 kilometres inside Mozambique. Two days later, the same force attacked 4,000 guerrillas at Tembué, another ZANLA base, over 200 kilometres inside Mozambique, north of Tete on the Zambezi River.

Estimates of ZANLA losses vary wildly; however, a figure exceeding 6,000 casualties is realistic. The Rhodesians suffered two dead, eight wounded and lost one aircraft. It would produce the biggest SAS-led external battle of the Rhodesian bush war.

The Battle of Kursk

The Battle of Kursk was fought by about 4 million men, 13,000 armored vehicles and nearly as much aircrafts. As such, it was one of the largest battles of World War II and the largest tank battle in military history. But it was also a decisive battle in the Eastern front.

The war in Russia was far from over but any hopes for the German success against the Soviet Union came to an end with the defeat at Kursk.

After the defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad, the German position in Russia was very difficult.

The mighty Wehrmacht that overrun the Red Army in the early stages of the Operation Barbarossa and reached the outskirts of Moscow in a few weeks was in retreat from the winter of 1943 and Hitler desperately needed a victory against Stalin’s forces to boost the German morale, regain initiative in the Eastern front as well as to demonstrate the Allies the might of his forces.

At the same time, a victory could win him a major political advantage over the Allies whose relations were not the best at the time.

Stalin was angered with his Western Allies for postponing the planned opening of the front in Western Europe. Hitler hoped that a decisive victory over Russia would ruin the relationship between the Allies and gave him both political and military advantage.

He also believed that the Allies are unlikely to launch an offensive in Western Europe, enabling him to focus on the Eastern front. Hitler decided to stop the Russian advance and try to turn the tide of the war into his favor.

Destruction of the 6th Army in the Battle of Stalingrad was a irreplaceable loss for the German Army but due to the seemingly stable situation in the Western front, Hitler decided to transfer huge force from the West to the Soviet Union.

At the same time, the Wehrmacht received new and more powerful equipment, in the first place the Panther and Tiger tanks and new aircraft.

In mid-April, Hitler approved the Operation Citadel which foresaw a major offensive at Kursk that was in the center of the bulge that occurred during the Russian advance to the west. If this bulge would not be eliminated, the German forces south of Orel and north of Kharkov were at risk of being encircled by the Red Army. However, Hitler postponed the offensive until July 5 by which he gave the Russians plenty of time to prepare for the German assault.

In addition, the longer he postponed with the Operation Citadel the more information the Russian Intelligence received. By the time Hitler finally approved the offensive, the Russian military commanders knew exactly where the attack is about to happen, when and with what force. Before the offensive, the Russians thus started a massive artillery bombardment to confuse the Germans. And they succeeded as the Wehrmacht needed two hours to reorganize and finally launch the assault.

The command of the Soviet forces at Kursk was entrusted to generals Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin and Konstantin Rokossovsky who were closely supervised by Georgi Zhukov.

Since the Russian generals knew about the planned German offensive, they were well prepared to defend their positions. The Soviet strategy was to let the Germans wear themselves out and then launch a counter-offensive. Thus the huge German force consisting of about 900,000 soldiers, 2,900 tanks and 2,100 aircraft was awaited by even a larger Soviet force which numbered 1,9 million men, 5,100 tanks and 2,800 aircraft.

The German offensive at Kursk started on July 5, 1943, with a simultaneous attack on the north and south of the bulge. However, the attacks were anticipated and the Red Army relatively easily repulsed the attack in the north, while the German troops in the south advanced quite well despite the fact that the new tanks proved unreliable.

Nearly one quarter of the Panther tanks experienced mechanical problems and required repair. But the German advance in the south forced the Soviet generals to mobilize their reserves. Both the northern and southern armies failed to achieve their objective but the Soviet generals were not ready yet to launch a counter-offensive.

Instead, generals Vatutin and Rokossovsky decided to dig in the tanks and wait for the Germans to wear themselves out. And their tactic worked as the German tanks were falling victim to the Soviet anti-tank guns.

The largest tank battle in history started on July 12 with the German attack at Prokhorovka which is about 50 miles from the city of Kursk. By nightfall, Germans lost about 350 tanks which is about one half of all German tanks that participated in the battle.

The German attempt to break though the bulge failed, while the Russian generals launched a counter-offensive. The German forces were unable to withstand the Soviet assault and by July 19, the Germans were retreating.

On July 23, Hitler approved his generals to withdraw and reorganize, however, the German military strength was broken and the Red Army launched a large scale counter-offensive on August 3. Within two days, the Russian troops liberated Belgorod and broke the defenses of the city of Kharkov on August 13. With the fall of Kharkov to the Red Army on August 23, the Battle of Kursk ended with a decisive Soviet victory.

The Battle of Kursk was the last German attempt to achieve a victory in the Eastern front. Afterwards, the Germans were retreating from the Soviet Union as fast as they advanced during the Operation Barbarossa in 1941. The defeat at Kursk finally ended all Hitler’s hopes for victory in the East, while the successful Allied invasion of Sicily on July 12 in the same year indicated that the tide of the war was turning against the Axis.

Estimations of casualties in the Battle of Kursk vary. The Germans are estimated to lose about 70,000 men (or according to the Soviet sources as many as 500,000 men), 1,500 tanks and most aircraft.

The Russian suffered heavy casualties as well, perhaps even heavier than the Germans. However, the Soviet military commanders still had reserves in manpower, while the victory in the battle dramatically lifted the morale of the Soviet soldiers.

Making a ghillie suit for a few seconds shot.

You see it for a few seconds on episode seven on Strike Back, but the hand made Ghillie suit took the Military Technical Adviser of the show two weeks to complete during filming the second block and while on recces for the third block of the series.

Was it worth it for just a few seconds in frame when production could have simply bought one off the shelf? A big fat yes!

Strike Back ep 7 season 8

https://youtu.be/DfMYHTKMFFA

https://youtu.be/q0vOuJ94quI

First some History

Gille is a Scots Gaelic word for a young man or older boy who works as an outdoor servant. “Ghillie” is a mis-spelling. The term “ghillie suit” may be a reference to Gille Dubh the “Dark Lad” or “Black Lad”, a Earth spirit who is clothed in leaves and moss in Scottish mythology.[1]

The Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Highland regiment formed by Simon Fraser, 14th Lord Lovat during the Second Boer War, is the first known military unit to use ghillie suits and in 1916 went on to become the British Army’s first sniper unit.[2][3] The Lovat Scouts were initially recruited from Scottish Highland estate workers, especially professional stalkers and gamekeepers.[4]

Similar sniper outfits in the Australian Army are nicknamed “yowie suit”, named for their resemblance to the Yowie, a mythical hominid similar to the Yeti and Bigfoot which is said to live in the Australian wilderness.[5]

  • Cut a large (~2’x5′) rectangle out of a burlap sack. Make a cut along the upper or lower seam so that the burlap material is ready to be loosened. Sit down, anchor the sides of the burlap with your two heels, and start pulling out the burlap fibers that are running horizontal to you.
  • Pull out enough horizontal fabric until the remaining vertical fabric is roughly the same length as the horizontal fabric you’ve already pulled out.
  • When it is, take a scissor and cut the fibers off from the sack.
  • Place these along with the rest of the fibers you’ve shorn from the sack.
  • Shoot to get your burlap strands about 7″ to 14″ in length.
  • This is tbe most time consuming part of the job.

Dye the burlap the color of your surroundings. Identify greens, browns, even greys in the environment in which you’ll be using the ghillie suit and match them with specific dye colors. Follow the instructions on the dye packets for staining the jute strands.

Once the jute strands are dyed, run them through cold water until the water starts coming out clear. Set the strands out to dry in the sun.

Grab about 10 or so strands of jute, clump them together, and then tie them to the mesh netting using a simple overhand knot. Remember to choose 3 or 4 colors that are prevalent in the environment you’ll be using your ghillie suit in.

Bald spots are where there’s insufficient coverage, making the suit look less realistic. Pick your ghillie suit up, lightly wave it in the air, and set it back down again. Add necessary clumps of jute to any bald spots. Particularly the arms

I then moved on to the rifle

End result.

The two weeks graft was worth it and i think Dan Macpherson thought so too. After wrap I asked costume if I could keep the suit and they kindly agreed.

You might just see it again very soon in a feature😉

PB, out.

WORLD WAR ONE ON SCREEN.

This Blog will be dedicated to all things World War One.

later In the year I will be highlighting  Weapons, Equipment and Tactics used during the great war.

Supporting Artists who wish to attend the boot camp for this production will find this blog handy when preparing for the boot camp assessment prior to the training.

Stay tuned and if you have not enlisted already, hit the link the below.

CASTING NOW – WORLD WAR I FILM
We are looking for men aged 16-35 for filming next year near Salisbury.
All roles are paid. Food and costumes will be provided.

We are looking for a ‘core’ group of young male supporting artists with great availability in Spring and Summer 2019.
Filming hours are often long so whilst experience is not essential, a positive ‘can do’ attitude is a must.

Apply here