One of the best things about my job at the library in Portsmouth is how I find out things I never knew before. This week was by no means any different.
But not just that, I also read things that have since been proven to be untrue. Take the sinking of the Lusitania back in 1915. The book I’m currently reading (Lusitania: an epic tragedy by the excellent Diana Preston) has, along with other source material, taken witness statements in order to weave the story around the history. It brings it alive but it also proves the truth. There was only one torpedo and the U-boat commander knew it was a passenger vessel.
A couple of books I worked on today, dating from around 1949, were about early submarine use. Naturally there was a lot of stuff about the Germans and their U-boats and, of course, there were a few mentions of the Lusitania. Be it through deceit or lack of knowledge, the earlier books report the sinking in very different ways to how more contemporary writers state it happened. There were two torpedoes and the German U-boat thought she was a military vessel.
All very interesting and proves how more available information is with the distance of time. It makes me wonder what will turn up about Brexit in 100 years. Nothing nice I venture.
Anyway, another thing I discovered this week, hot on the heels of the Special Boat Squadron (SBS), was the COPP. This was the Combined Operations Assault Pilotage Parties.
There were a number of teams; COPP1, 2, 3, 4…all the way up to 10, each one having different coastal areas under their remit. These teams were made up of volunteer officers (mostly) from both the army and navy. Their job was to move into coastal areas in order to survey and prepare them for any planned missions that were due to occur.
They would clear mines, scout the areas for rocks and other hazards, they would find the best landing places, and all under the cover of darkness. It was very dangerous but also highly meticulous work. It was vitally important that these teams left no trace behind of themselves or their visit. If the enemy knew about them then the mission could be jeopardised.
It was basically all the idea of Lt. Commander Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott of the Royal Navy. He realised the value (and necessity) of advanced scouting information so he formed the COPPs and they were soon proving their worth. (And, coincidentally, Nigel worked alongside the commander of the SBS for a while as well.)
As the Second World War ended, so did the COPP teams as they were no longer required. The teams were disbanded and the people returned to their normal military duties.
In 2012, a memorial to the COPP teams was erected on Hayling Island.
What an amazing group of people.