Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (4)

Last time I was explaining the connection between the Short Sunderland flying boat and “Das Fliegende Schtachelschwein”, “The Flying Porcupine”:

I promised that I would show you the connection between this spiny porcine killer and Leslie Howard, a suave, sophisticated English actor, who used to boast that he “didn’t ever chase women but couldn’t always be bothered to run away from them”. Here he is in “Journey’s End”:

I recently watched an excellent documentary film about Howard. It was called “The Man who gave a Damn”:

The film was about the life, and particularly the death, of the famous film star, the actor who had played Ashley Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind” only two years before his death. Cue film extract:

Leslie Howard was English and he did not hesitate to stand up for the values of our country and those of our friends and allies. He did not hesitate to name and shame.

In one of his films made after “Gone with the Wind”, he speaks of the Germans’ aims:

“Every day reveals the utter and desperate determination to smash us to bits, root and branch, to wipe out every trace of democracy.”

But we English and Americans are better than the Germans, as he says in “From the Four Corners” (1941) as he addresses troops from the USA who have just arrived in England:

“And so our fathers’ minds crept along and their ideas of justice and tolerance and the rights of man took shape in the sunlight and the smoke, sometimes standing still, sometimes even slipping back, but slowly broadening with the centuries. Some of those ideas are written down in the constitutions of our commonwealth and some are unwritten. We just try and carry them in our hearts and in our minds. Perhaps the men who came nearest to putting them into words were those Americans, many of them the sons of British pioneers, who, founding an independent nation, proclaimed:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Those words and that spirit were born and nourished here, and your fathers carried them to the ends of the earth. They are our inheritance from the past, our legacy to the future. That’s why you came here – to defend them.”

The documentary film was made by Derek Partridge, now an old man, whose young life was inadvertently saved by Leslie Howard. Here’s Derek:

On June 1st 1943 Derek and his brother were asked to give up their seats on an airliner travelling on the Lisbon-Bristol route, to allow Leslie Howard to get to a London film premiere on time. The two boys survived because they were not on the aircraft, a Dutch owned BOAC Douglas DC-3 Dakota, when it was shot down into the Atlantic Ocean. This war crime was carried out by eight Junkers Ju88C-6 fighters of Gruppe V / Kampfgeschwader 40. V/KG 40 was a heavy fighter unit which dated from 1942, when it was set up to intercept the bombers of RAF Coastal Command. It was the only long range maritime fighter unit the Luftwaffe ever had. The RAF answered them with firstly the Bristol Beaufighter and then the Mosquito. Here is a lovely shot of the aircraft of V/KG 40 in flight:

And here is a Bristol Beaufighter, a very powerful and well armed fighter:

In the immediate aftermath of these events, the British responded to the DC-3’s failure to arrive in Bristol by sending out a Short Sunderland GR3 flying boat to look for it on the following day. Here we go. Ein fliegende Schtachelschwein:

Don’t worry. He’ll sort ’em out.



Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, Film & TV, History, Personal, Politics

29 responses to “Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (4)

  1. The shooting down of the Dakota is a fascinating story!

    • It certainly is, and an even more fascinating court case. At first glance it seems to be a war crime. An aeroplane owned by Holland, shot down as it flew from neutral Portugal to England. But, was it full of spies? Does that excuse shooting it down?
      I have even wondered on occasion what was the legal position of “The Heroes of Telemark”? which was on TV recently. Did the saboteurs have the right to kill Norwegian citizens to carry out the mission? Still, I suppose having Rumpole of the Bailey pop up half way through the film with a loud cry of “Oi, you can’t do that!!” might have looked a bit daft.

  2. Great post, John, as always!!
    I remember Leslie Howard. I saw Gone With the Wind when it finally re-ran in the theaters in the 1960’s and couldn’t believe he had already passed on. But he has far more of a legacy than acting.

  3. Chris Waller

    A fascinating story. I had no idea that Howard died in this way. What a tragedy. Wasn’t it Howard who played the part of R J Mitchell in a film about the Spitfire? Going off at a tangent it occurred to me that we could get round the problem of the third runway at Heathrow by resurrecting the Sunderland and flying services directly to London, putting down on the Thames somewhere near Woolwich. Just a thought.

    • Hi Chris! Yes, it was Leslie Howard who played RJ Mitchell. Apparently, the master race even thought the two of them were the same person! As I mentioned above in the reply to GP Cox, my very favourite film of Howard’s is “49th Parallel” directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
      Howard was just starting to direct when he was killed, which made it an even greater tragedy.
      The documentary, “The Man who gave a Damn” is excellent, especially as it was made by the little boy who was given the best present Howard could ever have given him…his life!
      I think your idea of flying boats onto the Thames is an excellent one. We don’t look backwards in time enough when we are trying to improve things. Nottingham has now built tramlines at a cost of several gazillion pounds, most of which was in the legal fees for the compulsory purchase of the land to be dug up for the new track, new drains, new sewers and so on. I bet they wish they had taken up my suggestion of all electric trolley buses which would make use of the very cheapest element of the tram track….the overhead power supply.

  4. What an absolutely fascinating story John. How intricate the links are and a real ‘sliding doors’ effect. Lots of ‘what ifs’ to consider too! Great reading!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. It is a rather intricate trail to follow but I think all of the links in the chain are there. One aspect which I deliberately left out was the fact that Leslie Howard’s business manager and accountant was an Old Boy of our school and as such, appears in the first volume of the book I recently self published, “In the Steps of the Valiant”. I was the person who found out about him as he does not figure in the school’s list of WW2 casualties and is not on the war memorial either.

      • That must have taken some digging! I wonder why he doesn’t appear on either, that’s rather odd I’d have thought.

      • I think that to get on the school war memorial you had to be killed in a combat situation. Being in the forces was an absolute minimum. Chenhalls, our Old Boy, was not in the forces (he was too old) but I suspect that he was a special agent. Roald Dahl’s family mention him as a great pal of Ian Fleming, Christopher Lee and other people in Naval Intelligence. I think the very fact that the government papers referring to the Dakota being shot down have now been closed yet again says it all. To quote my book: “Certain papers about the flight will be secret until 2025. Other papers which were due to be declassified in 1980 were not released and will now remain classified until January 2056.”

      • That’s all very suspect. To keep them secret for what will be over 100 years is saying something! Certainly if he was moving in the intelligence circles then he won’t be mentioned anywhere under military action for sure. A shame as all those people did incredible and extremely dangerous jobs.

  5. I was always sure that the fighter plane was more deadly than the bomber. I suppose because of the hero aspect of the lone pilot saving England. But the bomber and planes like the Sunderland were obviously formidable. Perhaps the pilot of the fighter had to concentrate on fly AND getting him his plane into the right spot to take a shot. The gunner in his turret was able to concentrate on his target. These last posts about the Sunderland have rekindled my admiration for the plane which began when, as a small boy, I would listen to the radio show “Simon Black of Coastal Command.
    Thank you John, it’s been marvelous.

  6. Jan

    Off thread I know, but I’d like to say that “In the Foosteps of the Valiant” is now on my reading pile.

    • Actually, it isn’t off thread, because the whole story is in Volume One, told in a much fuller way. Thanks very much for buying the book.
      I certainly put myself 100% into producing all five volumes. Up at six to get all of my chores done and then a minimum of four hours every single day except Sunday, until I began to feel that I was getting over tired and not producing my best work.
      I just hope that the School can buy themselves some copies as they come out. Four more to go and it’ll all be over by Christmas, as they used to say!

  7. Jan

    In the Footsteps of the Valiant has now been promoted to the downstairs loo’s “special library”.

  8. I loved Gone With the Wind, John. I did not know about Leslie Howard and how he died being shot down. What a fascinating post! I loved this man’s attitude towards the Germans. Yes for Britons and Americans! We’ve got grit, darn it!

    • Yes, we certainly have, and hopefully, we can take it forward into the new decade!

    • Interesting of course that the largest ancestry group in the USA is German at almost 15%

      • Hmmmm ….. VERY interesting! I happen to be half German on my Mother’s side. I never stopped to think how many Germanic people are here in the states. We hear so many horror stories from WWII that to even think of being connected somehow …. that’s a tough one. At least it is for me. Then I have to stop and relate to what is going on presently in the states. How a few have gotten the USA looking really bad with the rest of the world while the majority of us are nothing even close to what those few are like. Then I feel a whole lot better.

      • So that is why USA could not enter WW1 or WW2 so quickly. So many people of German heritage in the country.
        USA looks bad now because it elected a chump as a President. IMO.

      • I think you have made a point there which is far often forgotten. Add to that the Wikipedia report on Ford’s political leanings:
        “Ford was also widely known for his pacifism during the first years of World War I, and for promoting anti-semitic content, including “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, through his newspaper “The Dearborn Independent” and the book “The International Jew”, having an alleged influence on the development of Nazism and Adolf Hitler.”
        A satellite TV programme I saw recently said that a lot of Ford money went to the SS and that their snappy magazine “Der Stürmer” was largely paid for by Ford. The programme was a serious one, but, of course, “mistakes” do happen.
        “War Factories” certainly stated that in 1940, when England stood alone against Hitler, with very little war materiel,FDR asked Ford to set up production lines and to produce tanks, boats and planes for the English. Ford refused and the contract was taken over by William S. Knudsen of General Motors.

      • The State of Michigan has one of the highest percentages of German heritage in the USA. Maybe that too is relevant?

      • I think it probably is, although Wikipedia does not offer a German origin for Henry:
        “His father, William Ford (1826–1905), was born in County Cork, Ireland, to a family that was originally from Somerset, England. His mother, Mary Ford (née Litogot; 1839–1876), was born in Michigan as the youngest child of Belgian immigrants; her parents died when she was a child and she was adopted by neighbors, the O’Herns.” What surely would have affected Henry most would have been the people around him in society and the parents of the children who were in his class.
        Having said that, he did finish up holding some fairly repulsive views and giving a good fraction of his profits to some very nasty people.
        You could google Henry Ford and Hitler or, alternatively, just go to
        and listen to his rantings around the old campfire.

      • We English can be pretty stupid but, hopefully, we don’t usually go as far as judging a huge number of people by seeing the same individual on TV, time after time.
        If you are that stupid, you will very quickly become a racist and somebody whose views are slewed by stereotypes which you have found in cheap newspapers.

      • Bless you, John!! I actually know people who are embarrassed due to who is running our country. I had a long discussion with these people …. you are who you are. What those in office are doing does NOT reflect who you are.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.