words | Mike Brufal
Dr Matthias Strohn is the author of the history of The Royal Gibraltar Regiment 1939-2014 which will be launched later this month at The Gibunco International Gibraltar Literary Festival.
Dr Strohn, 39, was educated at Friedensschule in Münster (Germany). At Münster University (1998-2001) he read Modern History, Political Science, English and Applied Cultural Studies. In 2001, he went to Hertford College, Oxford University, where he obtained a Master of Studies in Modern European History the following year. For the next five years he worked to be awarded a Doctorate in Philosophy in Modern European History. His thesis was on the German Army in the interwar period. Subsequently, in 2010, this was published by Cambridge University Press under the title ‘The German Army and the Defence of the Reich’. He speaks German, English, French, Latin and basic Spanish.
Today, he is a senior lecturer at the War Studies Department, the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He lectures military history to British officer cadets and officers and is responsible for the First World War commemorations. He is also a senior Research Fellow at the Humanities Research Institute at Buckingham University.
He has lectured at the Joint Forces Command and Staff College at Shrivenham, Oxford University and German staff college. As an expert on 20th Century European military history, he also supervises MA and PhD research on 20th and 21st centenary wars. In 2013, he was appointed adviser to various German and British Government bodies for the First World War Centenary Commemorations.
Dr Matthias is commissioned in the German Army and is now a Lt. Colonel. As a reserve officer, he was attached to the German Staff College for four years as the Military History Staff Officer. Since 2012, he has been a Military Attaché (reserve) and in this position has served on the defence attaché staffs in Madrid, Paris and London. He was also deployed to Iraq several times with the British Army and to Afghanistan with both British and German armies.
Dr Strohn has considerable experience in planning and conducting battlefield tours for civilian and military audiences. He has taken such groups to Berlin; the Isonzo; Kursk; Moscow; Normandy; Pas de Calais; the Somme, Verdun; Wolgograd and Ypres.
He has written and edited several books and contributed articles to many publications. His publications include editing three books on the First World War: The Great Adventure Ends; New Zealand and France on the Western Front; The World War One Companion and The Battle of the Somme.
His principal research interests are the German army in the First World War, the military history of the interwar period 1918 – 1939, and the German Army in the Third Reich and in the Second World War. He has a special interest in the conduct of war, the development of doctrine and military thought and how armies learn.
Matthias was a consultant advising on the History Channel’s ‘The Liberation of Paris’ and BBC2’s ‘37 Days (July Crisis 1914) and has appeared on radio, most recently in connection with the centenary commemorations of the battle of the Somme. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
Lt. Colonel Ivor Lopez decided that a history of The Royal Gibraltar Regiment must be written and contacted the War Studies department at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst which resulted in all members of staff being advised of this request and asking if any suitably qualified person was interested. At the time, Dr Matthias was researching for a book about the First World War and was reading about a distinguished officer whose Regiment originated in Hanover.
In 1775, George III, King of England, was also Elector of Hanover. He needed fresh troops to allow English soldiers to be repositioned to fight in the American Revolution. Five battalions of Hanoverian troops were raised of which three; Hardenberg’s, Reden’s and De La Motte’s, were sent to Gibraltar in 1775 under the command of Major General De La Motte. The Great Siege took place from 1779-83.
As a gesture of appreciation, King George III in 1784 announced that all members of the three Hanoverian battalions were to wear a blue cuff title embroidered GIBRALTAR on the power right sleeve of the waffenrock, and this honour was renewed by Emperor Wilhelm II in 1901.
This connection with Gibraltar whetted Dr Strohn’s appetite to learn more and so he took up the invitation to write the history. Research started in 2014 and the history was completed in July this year.
All three visits to Gibraltar were made and during the first visit, he searched the Government archive in case there was, first and foremost, material relevant to the history of the regiment, but also his book about the First World War.
By coincidence, long before this commission, he had a late entry Gibraltarian member in one of his Sandhurst groups and he had long conversations with him about the Regiment. He was curious to find out how the Gibraltarian soldiers integrated into the British army.
Dr Matthias’s search was greatly helped when Monica Ritchie gave him her late husband’s draft of the history of the Regiment which John Ritchie had started many years ago. This saved him a huge amount of time. Monica also gave him access to a large collection of military images which had been collected by John and Ivan Navas. The papers also included documentation from the National Archives in Kew. Subsequently, he carried out further research in the National Archives.
Lt. Colonel Ivor Lopez was the driving force behind the project which meant that no doors were closed and no one declined to be interviewed. The history is not just about the officer class but about the whole Regiment. Dr Matthias interviewed many members of the regiment from all private soldiers to the commanding officers, especially those who went on operational tours. His objective was to involve as many serving members as possible.
This included meetings with members of regimental council (consisting of the former commanding officer of the regiment), and talking with the present Band Master and his predecessor. Aside from the knowledge provided by members of The Royal Gibraltar Regiment, generous help was given by those in Fortress Head Quarters, the Gibraltar Chronicle, Government archives, the Garrison Library, the RMAS library and the British library. He found useful mention of the early years of the Regiment, especially in the latter.
The Regiment has been seen on parade, in particular the stunning one to mark the 75th anniversary. He also saw the Regiment on exercise in Thetford, Norfolk.
One of the history’s aims is to show how the Regiment, which is the only one in the British army which does not deploy as a unit because it is home based, has evolved and adapted to the ever-changing threats and challenges that Britain and Gibraltar have faced. Many of its soldiers are sent on operational tours by being seconded to British Regiments. Many have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and other theatres. This enables the soldiers to work with other units of the British Army and not feel they are merely a domestic force confined to Gibraltar.
Dr Strohn commented: “Writing the history of the regiment was an immense pleasure. It was a privilege to get to know the soldiers guarding the Rock. I hope that they will find that the book does them and their achievements justice.”
Dr Strohn is married and lives with his wife Rocio and two children in Camberley.