RIR’s Iraq commander looks again to Middle East…

COLONEL Tim Collins is presenting a show on BBC1 tonight (10.35pm) looking at the role of Ulster Generals in World War 2, as they defended Britain’s Middle Eastern front line in 1941. The BBC’s blurb is below the fold.Ulster Generals

By the summer of 1942, the Middle East was Britain’s front line. During the Second World War, the British Army was being punched back towards Egypt at such speed that Rommel would take Cairo within a week.

The Allies would lose the Mediterranean, the Far East, the Iraq oilfields and possibly its US ally.

The defeat of Rommel under Ulster Generals Alexander and Montgomery at Alamein was considered by Churchill the hinge moment of the War, yet the Battle for Egypt 12 weeks earlier under another Ulsterman, General Claude Auchinleck, was the real turning point, and this “first” battle of Alamein has been forgotten.

Colonel Tim Collins was keen to get an inside picture of the forgotten battle for Egypt while reassessing Montgomery’s tactics.

These Generals turned the tide of the war, and did so when the Allied war effort faced catastrophe.

Six Ulstermen would become Field Marshals – Auchinleck, Montgomery, Alexander and Alan Brooke among them.

Using CGI and dramatic re-enactment, the Ulster Generals, presented by Colonel Tim Collins, is a two-part series which tells the story of these extraordinary men and conveys the desert battle tactics that defeated the Panzer Army.

Tim Collins’ command of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment during the 2003 invasion of Iraq placed him in an alliance of Northern Irish, Irish, British and Commonwealth troops.

It was a similar coalition that made up the 8th Army in 1942, but facing a terrible task where the consequence of failure was almost beyond contemplation.

Fortunately for Europe, in this context at least, Ulstermen don’t like going backwards in a fight.

For the first time, this series shows what really happened in the scorching North Africa sands during 1941 and 1942.

Ulster Generals is an About Face Media production for BBC Northern Ireland.

  • eranu

    sounds like one not to miss.

  • George

    The cynic in me says this programme is on now because the British Army is having trouble recruiting, it was 1,000 people short of target last year.

    Nothing better than whipping up a spot of Ulster army patriotism from Britain’s most loyal tribe to make up the numbers.

  • Ziznivy

    “The cynic in me says this programme is on now because the British Army is having trouble recruiting, it was 1,000 people short of target last year.

    Nothing better than whipping up a spot of Ulster army patriotism from Britain’s most loyal tribe to make up the numbers.”

    What a crock!

  • lib2016

    “Britain’s most loyal tribe” were never too keen on conscription – it was alright for the peasants and the Anglo-Irish to volunteer but the unionist middleclass stayed at home where the war-profiteering was a lot safer.

  • George

    Ziznivy,

    It was this that got my cynicism about this programme going:

    “These Generals turned the tide of the war, and did so when the Allied war effort faced catastrophe….

    “Fortunately for Europe, in this context at least, Ulstermen don’t like going backwards in a fight.”

    Over 20 million Russians perished in the fight against the Nazis.

    3,000 dead in the North Africa campaign is a lot for New Zealand, for example, and I don’t doubt this British, Irish, Commonwealth alliance played its part in winning the Second World War but let’s get things in perspective here.

    El Alemain was won because Montgomery had way more men and a lot equipment, aircraft, ships, tanks, artillery etc. than Rommel. If he had lost, he would have been a chump.

    Credit to him for the success in diverting resources away from Europe and the Russian Front.

    But let’s not forget that Rommel was in command of five divisions in Africa while the Wehrmacht had 160 divisions engaging the Red Army.

  • Ziznivy

    Maybe it’s an attempt by the BBC to promote a television programme they commissioned?

  • George

    Zizivny,

    “Maybe it’s an attempt by the BBC to promote a television programme they commissioned?”

    My mistake, I didn’t know it was Colonel Tim Collins giving a fictional account of this military campaign for the BBC.

  • willis

    Let’s face it.

    There are very few LE shows you could ask Tim Collins to front.

    He is best known for an “Agincourt” speech in a desert war. Simon Sharma he aint.

    However.

    If a local indie can produce a half decent historical doc with CGI. Result!

    BTW Anyone else enjoying the Claymation Anderson?

  • Reader

    lib2106: <i>”Britain’s most loyal tribe” were never too keen on conscription
    Go on – support that claim.

  • Reader

    George: Credit to him for the success in diverting resources away from Europe and the Russian Front.
    Eh? You would have preferred another Dieppe raid instead? More area bombing, instead? Let the Suez canal be closed, and the Mediterranean be turned into an Axis lake, with one tiny entrance?

  • Alan

    This WWII issue really does raise hares doesn’t it.

    I saw about ten minutes of this last night – and I’ll be back for more next week. The theme reaches back to family get-togethers in the sixties when those who had fought, or survived, would find their tongues loosened by drink, and all the old stories would come out. They were the generation in their prime at the time, the men and women to look up to.

    Some of them would remember men killed on Russian convoys. Others would talk about losing fingers in Japanese POW camps, or sitting bored out of their skulls in RAF bases.

    It was an experience that united both communities. It was also a matter of pride that “Ulster” men had turned the war in Africa. It is a pity that such folk memory can’t be recognised for what it is without being derided. Surely sacrifice is an experience that all sides learn from?

  • eranu

    much enjoyed the prog. its great to see fellow ulstermen that have had such an important effect on world events, fascinating stuff. the dire situation of WW2 at the time really sinks in during the programme. role on next week.

  • George

    Reader,
    maybe it’s because I visited the graves of the Soviet dead from the Great Patriotic War and it gave me a real sense of the enormous loss that country suffered.

    What these soldiers did in North Africa stands on its own merits, it didn’t need a blurb about the fate of Europe being at stake.

    Very important yes, crucial yes, but the war was not won or lost in North Africa as the BBC marketing implies. The tide was not turned here, it was turned at Moscow and Stalingrad.

  • DK

    Left out the best Allied general of that time O’Connor, he who routed an Italian invasion of quarter of a million with 30,000 troops. Just his bad luck to get captured before he could properly face Rommel.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_O'Connor

    Conscription wasn’t introduced to Northern Ireland in WW2, probably because of the large nationalist population that wouldn’t have taken too well to it, as in WW1.

  • DK

    “Very important yes, crucial yes, but the war was not won or lost in North Africa as the BBC marketing implies. The tide was not turned here, it was turned at Moscow and Stalingrad.”

    But of course the USSR was supplied through the middle east as well as the North Atlantic. See the bigger picture – loss of North Africa and the USSR loses allied aid from there – that could be the tipping point between victory and defeat. The German attacks in the caucuses faced lend-lease tanks, for example.

    There are so many other factors as well, like the Soviet spy network that flagged up the initial German attack & was ignored, but was believed when they flagged that the Japanese in China were not going to attack, allowing the Soviets to send crucial reinforcements to the battle of Moscow.