James Porter

Location: Sturminster Newton, Dorset
About The Speaker...

I am a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, originally from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. I retired in 2011 after 41 years service which took me to Northern Ireland, West Germany, Berlin, Norway, Cyprus, Falkland Islands, Belize and sub-Saharan Africa. After 2 years at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst I have commanded an infantry platoon, company and battalion, attended the Army Staff College, been an instructor at Sandhurst, and spent 3 years testing and selecting potential army officers, plus 2 tours of duty in the Ministry of Defence. I now divide my time between working as a freelance yacht skipper/instructor and membership of village committees, as well as being Chairman of my local Royal British Legion branch. I also created and run a Military History Group that meets monthly in Dorchester. Coming from a military family, I have been interested in military history all my life and have led, organised or participated in various battlefield tours and am an associate member of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides.

About my Talks...

All my talks are profusely illustrated by colour and b/w slides on PowerPoint, sometimes with film. Talks are normally between 30 minutes and 60 minutes duration (but may be adjusted up or down to suit), and I welcome questions from the audience.

I can supply laptop and projector, but will need a projection screen (or wall) and a table on which to place a projector – if you have your own equipment: so much the better! For large venues a microphone would be appreciated.

My talks can be presented virtually (zoom).


My fee is £50. If venue is more than 20 miles from Sturminster Newton, Dorset (DT10 2DF) I charge an additional £ 0.35 per mile.

I will normally travel within 50 miles – Dorset, East Devon, South Somerset, West/South Wiltshire, West Hampshire, though would be prepared to consider greater distances.

My Contact Details:

01258 817216


First Clash of the Ironclads – MONITOR and MERRIMACK

Public Speaker in Dorset James Porter presents his talk First Clash of the Ironclads – MONITOR and MERRIMACK

On the 9th March 1862 the world’s first battle between two ironclad warships took place in Hampton Roads, Virginia, during the American Civil War. Although both sides claimed victory, the battle was essentially inconclusive. What was not in doubt, however, was that the days of wooden warships were now over, and the future lay with iron and then steel. This talk covers the development by the Confederacy of an ironclad ship by transforming the MERRIMACK, a burnt-out wooden ship hulk with which it was hoped to break the Union navy’s blockade. On 8th March that ship destroyed two Union wooden warships and damaged others. The talk also describes the rushed development by the Union of their own ironclad – MONITOR – and its hurried voyage south to Virginia in which it nearly sank in a storm. The historic battle between the two ships is described in detail, as well as their subsequent fates. The talk lasts an hour, but length may be adjusted if wished.

Attacks on the Vichy French Fleet in North Africa

Public Speaker in Dorset James Porter presents his talk Attacks on the Vichy French Fleet in North Africa

The talk deals with the momentous events surrounding the unexpected collapse of France and the negotiation of an Armistice between Germany and France in which the French Navy was an important bargaining chip. Some French officers wanted to fight on and move their ships to Britain joining de Gaulle’s Free French forces, but the French Government needed the ships as valuable negotiating assets. They wished to gain the best possible terms from Germany. Meanwhile Britain was alarmed at the possibility of such powerful naval forces falling into the hands of the Nazis, and felt compelled to take all necessary steps to prevent this. And so, an ultimatum was issued to the French ships lying in North African ports to sail to Britain, sail to the West Indies or USA, or to sink themselves. When the ultimatum was ignored, the Royal Navy opened fire on ships that had been their allies only days earlier. Churchill described the action as “the most hateful decision, the most unnatural and painful in which I have ever been concerned.”

Napoleon: Soldier and Lover

Public Speaker in Dorset James Porter presents his talk Napoleon: Soldier and Lover

This talk combines the military and political life of Napoleon Bonaparte with his personal and love life. Churchill probably accurately described Napoleon as “the greatest man of action born in Europe since Julius Caesar”. Certainly, Napoleon was a man of quite extraordinary energy, dynamism, vision and ambition. He was a brilliant and inspirational military strategist and commander, as well as being a gifted and far-sighted politician and administrator. He was inspired by the French Revolution, and the Revolutionary Wars presented him with the opportunity to forge an Empire and reform much of Europe’s governmental systems. But Napoleon was also a human being and the talk examines his relationship with Josephine Beauharnais from its beginning, through her marriage and coronation as Empress, to divorce and to the string of other women in his life.

The Battle for Crete 1941

Public Speaker in Dorset James Porter presents his talk The Battle for Crete 1941

The battle for Crete in the early summer of 1941 is a remarkable story. The Germans did not need to invade Crete, and, coming just before their epic invasion of Russia a few weeks later, the invasion was not welcomed by the German High Command, nor was Hitler particularly interested. So, it may be said that the invasion should never have taken place. It can also be said that the Germans should not have succeeded because they were outnumbered and their parachute and glider-borne troops could not be reinforced or resupplied by sea. This talk describes the background to the invasion, and the determination and drive of one man – Kurt Student – to plan and carry out the assault. In describing the German landings, the ground battles, the lost British opportunities and the eventual retreat across the mountains and seaborn evacuation, the talk deals with a conflict in which the British Army and RAF performed poorly. Only the determination and sacrifice of the Royal Navy saved British pride, while the determination and sacrifice of the German Fallschirmjaeger parachute troops won victory but at a cost that meant they were never used again in the parachute role.

The Oradour Massacre 1944

In June 1944 the world’s attention was fixed on the beaches of Normandy as the Allies fought their way onto French soil. As part of the German response to the invasion, the 2 nd SS Division ‘Das Reich’ was ordered to move up from southern France to the Normandy theatre. On the way, in response to attacks by partisans, the SS carried out a number of violent reprisals. At Oradour-Sur-Glanes over 600 civilians were murdered and the burnt-out remains of the town have been left as a symbol of this barbarity. The talk covers the military situation in June 1944, the story of the Das Reich Division’s move, and the dreadful events that resulted.

The MULBERRY Harbours of D-Day

The Normandy beaches in June 1944 witnessed the greatest amphibious operation of all time – Operation OVERLORD. Dangerous and difficult though it was to successfully land and breach Hitler’s vaunted ‘Atlantic Wall’, reinforcement and re-supply of the landing forces posed as big a problem. Given that ports were vital to guarantee disembarking sufficient quantities of men, munitions, fuel and supplies, and given that capturing intact enemy-held ports was unlikely for weeks, the D-Day planners decided to build prefabricated breakwaters, harbours and floating roadways. These were built in secrecy around the UK and then towed across to Normandy to form two harbours the size of Dover. The component parts were ingenious, and the project represents one of the most remarkable engineering feats of all time. This talk lasts around 50 minutes and begins by outlining the political and military background to OVERLORD and the naval and military plans for D-Day. It then describes the concept of the MULBERRY artificial harbour before examining each part in some detail.

(Image courtesy of Naval History & Heritage Command: Photo Section, Photo # 80-G-251982)


The Battle of Regalbuto

Public Speaker in Dorset James Porter presents his talk The Battle of Regalbuto

This talk focuses on a daring battalion night attack carried out in Sicily near Mount Etna by the 2 nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment. The British advance had been held up by ferocious German resistance outside the town of Regalbuto which constituted a vital part of the German defence line in front of Mount Etna. The DEVONS’ attack took the German defence completely by surprise and although heavily counter-attacked the battalion succeeded in capturing the hill and the Germans abandoned Regalbuto next day. This is an important battle for me because my father was wounded during the battle, fighting alongside his Commanding Officer.

Before focusing on the battle at Regalbuto, the talk explores the planning behind the invasion of Sicily, the massive invasion operation (which paved the way for D-Day less than a year later), the disastrous airborne forces operations and the ground fighting which led to victory in Sicily – albeit allowing the Germans to carry out a highly successful evacuation across the Straits of Messina into Italy.

The Battle of Agincourt

The Battle of Agincourt in 1415 was the third and last of the three great English victories in the Hundred Years War. It was a victory achieved against fearful odds by King Henry V and a small army, trapped, weakened by fatigue and hunger, and facing almost certain death in the face of overwhelming numbers.
By the end of the day, and owing much to English archery, the flower of the nobility of France together with thousands of common soldiery lay dead, while the English suffered very few casualties and made their escape to Calais. In this talk I describe the dynastic and geopolitical background of The Hundred Years War, the victories of Crecy and Poitiers, the nature of the two armies and their weaponry. I cover the 1415 campaign by King Henry, describing the Battle of Agincourt in detail together with the aftermath and the end of The Hundred Years War. The talk lasts an hour but may be shortened if required.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Battle of Sedan

Public Speaker in Dorset James Porter presents his talk The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Battle of Sedan

The war in 1870 between German forces led by the Kingdom of Prussia and Emperor Napoleon III’s France was a pivotal episode in the history of Europe. The war was the successful culmination of years of preparation by Bismarck and resulted in the unification of Germany and the creation of an Empire led by the King of Prussia who was acclaimed Kaiser. In only 5 months the European geopolitical landscape was changed and a new super-power had emerged. The humiliation of France caused the rise of revanchism which festered to such an extent that it was reflected in the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WW1, which caused the humiliation in Germany that led directly to the rise of the Nazis and the otbreak of WW2. This talk examines the background to and causes of the War of 1870, the nature of the opposing armies, follows the campaign, describing in detail the French disaster at Sedan where Napoleon was taken prisoner and the aftermath. The talk can be tailored to suit between 45 and 60 minutes.

Disaster at Isandlwana 1879

Disaster at Isandlwana 1879

On the same day as the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in January 1879, just a few miles away, a force of British regular redcoats plus native colonial troops was surrounded and destroyed by a massive Zulu army of 25,000 men. Some 1,500 or more British and colonial soldiers and ancillaries were killed, with few survivors. The disaster came as a complete shock to an Army and a Government that had fatally underestimated the military power and organisation of the Zulu. This talk covers the background to the Zulu War, the strengths and weaknesses of the two sides, and the events leading up to and including that fateful day. The talk lasts about an hour, but can easily be shortened or extended.

The German Occupation of the Channel Islands in WW2

In this talk I explore the events leading up to the occupation of the Channel Islands in 1940 after the fall of France, and the soul-searching around the evacuation of part of the populations. Then I describe the arrival of the German forces, their reception and their everyday life in the islands. I examine the changing relations between occupying forces and island authorities and the massive construction programme of fortifications whereby the islands were incorporated into Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’. I look at the British commando raids and the life and privations of the civilian population as the War progressed and food became increasingly scarce for both islanders and occupiers. The talk lasts about an hour.

The Battle of Crecy 1346

The Battle of Crecy in 1346 was one of the first battles of the Hundred Years War and a pivotal battle whose importance cannot be exaggerated. In one afternoon and evening well trained commoners with longbows showed an ability to defeat the greatest array of rich, heavily armoured, brave and skilled noblemen in Christendom. The battle demonstrated the courage and determination of King Edward III and was the fulfilment of years of English military development, and the domination of the longbow. In my talk I explore the political situation in Europe, the causes of the Hundred Years War, King Edward’s expeditions to regain ancestral lands lost mainly by King John, before describing the Crecy campaign and battle itself. The talk lasts about an hour.

The Barons War 1264 to 1265

In this talk I describe the problems besetting the young King Henry III and the rise of baronial opposition, culminating in a rebellion led by the King’s brother-in-law Simon de Montfort. I describe how Simon de Montfort led a successful military campaign that led to the King’s defeat and capture at the Battle of Lewes, and the summoning of what is recognised as being the first representative parliament. But now, faced with the administrative problems of ruling England, de Montfort was less successful: he was accused of corruption and his control of the country was challenged by Prince Edward, who led a superb military campaign, culminating in the defeat and death of de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham. The talk lasts about 45 minutes.

The Wormhout Massacre 28 May 1940

In this talk I describe one of the earliest atrocities committed by German SS troops against British soldiers in WW2. I describe the German ‘blitzkrieg’ offensive of 1940 which swept aside the French Army and forced the British back towards Dunkirk. Among the units fighting a desperate rearguard battle in an attempt to buy more time for the Dunkirk evacuation was the 2nd Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment. I tell the story of their battle against overwhelming odds, surrendering only when their ammunition gave out. Then I describe the herding of around a hundred prisoners-of-war into a barn, following which SS soldiers massacre most of them by grenade and sub-machine gun fire. Only a handful of the victims survived, but several of them were able to provide witness statements to Allied War Crimes Courts after the end of the war. The talk lasts around 45 minutes.

D-Day 1944

In this talk I explore the build up to operation Overlord – the invasion of Normandy. I look at the Allied background planning and the preparation behind the greatest amphibious operation in history. I examine the wonderful technical inventions and innovations that supported the operation, the ships that were involved and the naval tactics. I describe the landings together with the immediate battles to gain a foothold, before covering the breakout from the beachheads and the liberation of Normandy. The talk lasts about an hour.

The Battle of Hastings 1066.

The talk covers the background to the great battle of 1066 which changed English – and world – history for all time. I explore the rival contenders for Edward The Confessor’s throne, the Norse invasion of Northumbria and Harold’s great victory at Stamford Bridge. Next the organisation and make up of the rival armies at Hastings, the strategies of Harold and Duke William and their preparation for battle. I cover the day-long battle in detail, together with its outcome and consequences. The length of this talk can be varied between 45 minutes and an hour. An alternative, shorter talk based on a key aspect of the battle lasts 30 minutes.

Life and Death of the German Battleship Bismarck.

This talk begins by discussing the inter-war period when most of the world’s Great War battleships had been scrapped, and the great powers sought to restrict future fleets by international treaties. Next I trace the design philosophy behind the Bismarck and its construction. I cover life on board the great ship, followed by her work up period before deploying into the Atlantic. The battle of the Denmark Strait in which HMS Hood was sunk was followed by the British hunt for the Bismarck and her eventual destruction. This talk is profusely illustrated with slides, film and a wealth of technical detail. The talk lasts for an hour, although a 45 minute version is possible.

The Battle of Cannae 216 BC.

Cannae is famous to this day as probably the world’s foremost example of the surrounding and annihilation of an army. In the talk I give the background to the struggle for supremacy in the Mediterranean between Rome and Carthage, before following Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in 218 BC and his subsequent campaigns prior to Cannae. I describe the two opposing armies: their numbers, organisation, equipment and training; comparing and contrasting the two. Next I look at the strategy of the 2 sides in the moves immediately prior to the battle. I go into great detail with the course of the battle itself, and its catastrophic outcome in which perhaps some 50,000 Romans died against ‘only’ 6-8,000 Carthaginians. As night fell on the battlefield Rome’s very existence was in doubt….. The talk lasts for 45 minutes.

The Final Flight of Lancaster Bomber PB 848.

This talk begins by examining the development of aerial bombing during WW2, why night bombing began and the technical difficulties associated with it. I then look at how bombing targets were marked, and the development of bombing strategies from the London blitz through to 1945. I then describe the state of German flak and night fighter defences in 1945 before examining the planning for and execution of one particular RAF operation against Karlsruhe in February 1945. I introduce the individual crew members of one particular Lancaster bomber, exploring their backgrounds and what life was like for them on a WW2 Bomber Command airbase. Then I trace what happened during the raid, using personal accounts of aircrew survivors, leading to the demise of one particular aircraft and all but one of its crew. The talk lasts 60 minutes.

German Destroyer Actions of WW2.

When WW2 began, Germany possessed a number of powerful, modern destroyers and was building more. Their numbers – depleted by losses at Narvik  – never enabled German destroyers to challenge the Royal Navy to the extent that U-Boats did….and for that reason their actions and roles have been neglected. In my talk I use 3 specific actions to give an audience a flavour of the destroyer warfare in European and arctic waters. I begin by outlining the German build up of its fleet in the 1930s, examining the destroyers and ‘Torpedo Boats’ in detail. Then I look at 3 destroyer battles: the triumph and then disaster of the German destroyers at Narvik in Norway in Apr 1940: the sinking of the cruiser HMS Edinburgh in the arctic in May 1942; and finally a major battle with British cruisers in Biscay in Dec 1943. The talk lasts for 45 minutes.

The Battle of Poitiers 1356.

The second of three great victories of the English over the French in The Hundred Years War. In this talk I trace the background to the campaign – the trade disputes and the yearning of the King of France to take the many English possessions in what is today’s France. I describe the campaign by the Black Prince, rampaging through France and unable initially to bring the French to battle. I also cover the organisation of the armies, revealing the gulf between society in England where a national spirit and army organisation had developed, and society in a France still clinging to feudalism. I examine the weaponry of the time, particularly the use by the English of the longbow as a battle-winning weapon. The battle itself was long and on a knife-edge and victory by no means assured, but the prowess of the Black Prince together with the decisive contribution of the longbowmen at last gave a resounding victory at relatively little cost to the English. The talk lasts 45 minutes.

Batterie Mirus on Guernsey.

In July 1940 German forces occupied the Channel Islands, remaining there until surrendering on 9th May 1945. During the occupation, convinced that Britain would attempt to re-take the islands, Hitler ordered extensive fortifications to be constructed – many still there today. One of the fortifications was The Mirus Batterie of 4 massive 12 inch guns overlooking Guernsey’s west coast. I tell the extraordinary story of how these guns made their way from the Black Sea in 1917 where they equipped a new Tsarist battleship, via White Russian forces, French North Africa and Norway until they fell into German hands and were transported across Europe to Guernsey. There is much technical detail including many photographs of the guns being taken through Guernsey’s streets, and the gun turrets being camouflaged as houses! The talk lasts 45 minutes.

The Lochnagar Mine 1916.

Those who have visited the site of the Lochnagar Mine crater on the Western front cannot but have been awe-struck by its width and depth. The idea of 60,000 lbs of high explosive detonating to create the crater is almost impossible to comprehend. My talk outlines the history of tunnelling in WW1, together with tunnelling techniques and the nature of underground combat. Then I look at the role of mining in the strategy and planning of the Battle of the Somme where 7 large and 11 small mines were exploded in the early hours of 1st July 1916. I then examine the immediate effects of the blast of the Lochnagar Mine, together with the wider tactical and strategic results. The talk lasts for 30 minutes, but could be extended.


In this talk I explore how camouflage has been used in warfare generally. I cover the camouflage of individual soldiers, vehicles, tanks and combat aircraft before discussing the problems in camouflaging a ship. I look at how camouflage has developed during WW1 and WW2. Then I examine the various camouflage schemes that have been applied to naval vessels aimed at concealing the ship, confusing the enemy and disguising a ship to look like another. The talk lasts around 45 minutes.




The Battle of Sedgemoor 1685.

Sedgemoor in 1685 was the last battle fought on English soil and is a fine example of a daring surprise attack, a well-organised defence and a close-run battle. A different outcome might have led to a change of monarch and a different national path. In the talk I cover the political situation as Charles II’s reign draws to a close, and the personality of the Duke of Monmouth. I describe Monmouth’s initially successful march through the West Country following his landing at Lyme Regis, ending up with his army at Bridgwater. I look at the nature of the two opposing armies, together with their weaponry and training. Next, the daring night approach march by Monmouth which nearly succeeds in taking the Royal camp by surprise, the battle and the aftermath with Judge Jefrreys and his Bloody Assize. The talk lasts 45 minutes.


Custer’s Last Stand 1876.

Custer’s Last Stand 1876.

Americans were celebrating 100 years of independence when news broke that General George Armstrong Custer’s 5 full companies of the 7th Cavalry had been massacred at The Battle of The Little Big Horn. In this talk I cover the personality and background of Custer – an intriguing individual – and the background to the Indian Wars of the late 19th century. Next I cover the strategy of the US Army in using a 3-prong line of advance against the unprecedented Indian gathering at the little Big Horn where the Indians were refusing US Government instructions to disperse. I examine Custer’s approach march and dispositions for an attack in detail. I follow Major Reno’s failed attack and withdrawal to high ground where he fights a desperate battle against mighty odds, and then following Custer in his final battle and the annihilation of his group. I then look at the aftermath of this momentous battle, for never again would the Indians mass to oppose the US Government, while on the White side recriminations flew fast and furious between survivors. The talk lasts for 45 minutes.



The Invasion of Sicily 1943

The invasion of Sicily by the Allies in 1943 was the largest amphibious operation in a single day of all time. It is often neglected, taking place between the defeat of the Afrika Korps in North Africa and the great tank battle of Kursk in Russia. Yet it was a superb example of detailed planning, subterfuge, enormously complex convoy operations and bitter, protracted fighting. While the invasion resulted in victory for the Allies, it was one of the best examples of tenacity and defensive brilliance by the Werhmacht. It also, arguably, marked the ‘coming of age’ of US land forces in the European theatre, and their subsequent pre-eminence in all future operations.

This talk can be given live or via Zoom in one 60 minute version, or, alternatively, there are two separate 45 minute talks:
‘The Invasion of Sicily – Background, Preparation and Planning’.
‘The Invasion of Sicily – The Invasion and battle for Sicily’.

The Falklands War 1982

My talk covers the background and history leading up to the Falklands War of 1982. It covers the Argentinian invasion and the fighting in Port Stanley and South Georgia. I then cover the British reaction: the decision to send a Task Force and the incredible logistical challenge of assembling and loading the 72 merchant ships involved with 38,000 tons of stores. Next, I examine the Task Force itself and describe the roles and capabilities of the warships involved. Next comes the initial battles at sea with Argentine air attacks and the sinking of the cruiser Belgrano and the destroyer Sheffield. I examine the landings at San Carlos, the air raids on the ships there and the exhausting advance (‘yomp’) across East Falkland by Royal Marine and Army units. I describe the Battle of Goose Green in some detail (assisted by the fact that I was stationed there for 7 months in 1983), plus the final battles in the mountains around Stanley, after which the Argentines surrendered. The talk is heavily illustrated by photographs, some taken by me at the sites. I offer three versions of the talk: 75 minutes, 60 minutes and 45 minutes.



I attended a talk today on the subject of “The German Occupation of the Channel Islands in World War 2”. I found James to be a fascinating speaker and not least because his family originate from Guernsey going back generations. As a consequence James’ deep knowledge and passion for his subject were infectious and lead me to want to read up about this subject and perhaps visit the Channel Islands for a historical tour. James was able to bring some personal family touches to this subject and his talk was shot through with humour. Many thanks for a most informative and enjoyable afternoon.

Morag Coles


James gave a presentation to our village social group on the German occupation of the Channel Islands and for the entire talk engaged with the audience in a wam and pleasant way. The talk was illustrated by interesting photographs and some documents he talked about had a family connection which added to the enjoyment. James certainly knew his subject and I would highly recommend him for other groups.

Richard Benson



James Porter Contact Details:

01258 817216


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