Monthly Archives: December 2020

Len Dorricott (1)

My wife’s hobby is photography and she specialises in a particular photographic printmaking process called “Bromoil”.

In the club she goes to, a few years ago, she met a gentleman who had stepped right out of the pages of history:

Here he is, busy Bromoiling:

This pleasant old gentleman was called Len Dorricott and he had been a navigator in Bomber Command during World War II:

He had flown with 576 Squadron, 61 Squadron, 81 Squadron and 460 Squadron who were members of the RAAF. The latter squadron’s losses were almost unbelievable. 1018 aircrew (589 of whom were Australian) were killed and 181 aircraft were destroyed. Here’s their badge:

With them, Len flew 29 missions, a substantial number of them in the famous G for George, the Lancaster which in 1945 was flown to Australia by an all-RAAF crew of Bomber Command veterans and is now preserved at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra:

Here are the three squadron letters, just in case you think that in the photograph above, it’s AB-C :

G-George flew 90 missions over hostile territory, but this famous aircraft did not ever lose a single member of its crew, even though thirty of them were eventually killed in other aircraft:

When he was with 576 Squadron, Len Dorricott also flew in Operation Manna in May 1945, He went from RAF Fiskerton to the Netherlands where he dropped bread and other food to the starving Dutch population:

Len said later:

“It began as just another mission but it turned into something very special. The fact that it was daylight and we were flying so low meant we literally had a bird’s-eye view. I saw a German soldier, walking in the street with his rifle over his shoulder, looking up at us. The best thing of all was seeing the people on rooftops waving at us with anything they could. It was a marvellous feeling, the best thing I did in the war. I will always feel proud of that.”

Len lived to be 91 years old.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History

Kamikaze (2)

Last time I was telling you how I had read a splendid book called “Fire from the Sky” by Robert C Stern. The book traces the history of the Japanese kamikaze attacks which began in the Philippines in 1944. It is an excellent and informative book which, clearly, has been extensively researched.

Experience quickly taught the Japanese that attaching two bombs of around 250-500 pounds, depending on the aircraft, could cause a lot more damage than the aircraft itself, particularly if it was only a small plane such as a Zero. The bombs were never released but they were always live. The best places to aim were directly down the funnel or at the base of the funnel. This ship off Okinawa has had damage done to the boilers, presumably via the vulnerable funnel:

Alternatively, the bridge was a good target because it was full of officers. The absolute best target, though, was to seek out an aircraft carrier and to aim the aircraft and bombs at the elevator because this gave access to the inside of the ship. And below decks there might well be an explosive mixture of “aviation fuel” and air. Certainly fire was the main weapon needed to cause large scale damage inside an aircraft carrier. And those two bombs, as well as blowing out partition walls, might also start the very fire needed to damage such a big ship.

The very, very best time to strike was when the US Navy fighters had just returned from combat and were being “safed” which I presume means pumping out the unused avgas and removing any hung-up bombs. Even better, perhaps, was that moment seconds before takeoff, when everybody was ready, propellers spinning, bombs armed, full fuel with perhaps drop tanks too, and all the aircraft, by necessity, extremely close to each other.

This attack was clearly aimed at both the flight deck and the elevator. The ship is the USS Bunker Hill:

Diving an aircraft down to hit a target on the sea is apparently not the most simple of manoeuvres, and the best kamikaze pilots were capable of flipping their aircraft over upside down so that they could see the target clearly as they dived down to hit it. You can see this manoeuvre on the old films of Stuka dive bombers. Here is the version produced for the Luftwaffe Ballroom Dancing Team:

Defenders soon realised what a kamikaze pilot was trying to do, and they soon realised too that machine gun fire and cannon fire was comforting for the people on the ship but of virtually no value whatsoever. Most effective were five inch guns or bigger because the plane would need to be disintegrated to stop it carrying out its mission. On occasion, aircraft still caused large amounts of damage after their wings had been shot off.

It was extremely rare for kamikazes to sink big ships or even to damage them greatly. Much more likely prey were landing craft or the radar pickets protecting the fleet. Smaller ships could not absorb the combination of speed and explosive power. They were either sunk completely or suffered huge casualties. On one occasion a kamikaze blew fifty men off the deck of a warship and none of them were ever seen again.

In one chapter, author Robert Stern lists the casualties for all of the ships attacked between November 27th-December 28th 1944. The first figure represents the men killed and the second figure the men wounded. Thus we have the St Lo with 16 killed and 21 wounded. Here it is:

The Colorado had 19 killed and 72 wounded, the Maryland 31 killed and 30 wounded, the Aulick 31 killed and 64 wounded, the Drayton 6 killed and 12 wounded, the Mugford 8 killed and 14 wounded, the Lamson 25 killed and 54 wounded, the Liddle 38 killed and 20 wounded.  The Hughes had none killed but 73 were wounded, the Caldwell had 33 killed and 40 wounded, the Nashville had 133 killed and 190 wounded, the Haraden had 14 killed and 24 wounded, the Orestes had 59 killed and 110 wounded, the Pringle had 11 killed and 20 wounded, LST 472 had 6 killed and 50 wounded and the two LSTs, Nos 460 and 749, had 107 killed.

And from the Japanese point of view, that is an excellent return for the lives of a relatively small number of men.

 

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Filed under Aviation, History, Pacific Theatre, the Japanese

Pictures from my past (1)

I don’t know how my memory works other than to say that, nowadays, for the most part, “It doesn’t”. That’s just a question of age, though, and the fault of some of my prescription medicines.

Some of my earliest memories are pictures. Pictures that somehow have remained in my mind for year after year, decade after decade. They come from many sources. Books and comics. Films and TV programmes and sport as well. And rather disconcertingly, as I have done the necessary research for these blog posts, many of my longstanding memories have actually proved to be rather false.

My earliest recollections come from the very few bubble gum cards that I had. In the late 1950s, a company called Chix did a very nice set of footballers, and I was captivated by the card depicting Jeff Whitefoot, whose name absolutely fascinated me. With all the cowboy  programmes we used to watch on TV at that time, I suspect that I came very close to believing that Jeff was a member of some obscure tribe of English Red Indians who lived in the Black Hills of Manchester:

The best example of what might be termed false or mistaken memory is the card showing a player called Cliff Holton. My recollection as an adult is that as a child I was fascinated by the strange colour of Holton’s shirt. He played for Northampton Town whose shirts were an unusual purple-very dark violet-maroony colour. But now, with the help of ebay, I have discovered that Chix only ever portrayed Holton as an Arsenal player, with an ordinary red Arsenal shirt. So, for what it’s worth, here’s Cliff Holton, that well known Arsenal centre forward. Let’s be generous to an eight year old, though. Perhaps some of the cards had a more purple tinge than others, especially when it came to those hooped socks:

Other distant images that have stayed with me include a few from a series of bubble gum cards which were rather snappily entitled “WHO-Z-AT STAR ?” . One card was of a young actor called Edmund Purdom, the star of “an adventure show” I used to watch entitled “Sword of Freedom”. It was not particularly popular in the industrial East Midlands of England. I suspect that it may have been too heavy handed an allegory of the Cold War and the Dirty Repressive Commies. The tights clad hero was “a maverick freedom fighter, prepared to die for his belief in a free society.” He was busy fighting “the tyrant who exercises control over 16th century Florence, the tyrannical Duke de Medici “.

Where I lived, within easy walking distance of at least half a dozen coal and clay mines it was pretty difficult to identify with “a city of poets and painters, wealth and marvels”. What I did like, though, was our hero’s rapier which looked as if the baddies were being stabbed by a yard long toothpick.

Here he is!

The same series provided a card depicting Conrad Phillips in the lead role of “William Tell”, complete with his rather strange sheepskin coat and crossbow. As a small child, I always felt rather unsettled because he never seemed to have proper sleeves in his coat, and I used to worry that he would catch cold, up there in those Swiss mountains:

Another card in the same series depicted Willoughby Goddard, who portrayed the gigantic Gessler, the villainous Austrian ruler of Switzerland. I was fascinated by the piece of information on the back of the card that when he went by airliner, he always had to buy three tickets for three seats to avoid crushing other passengers. At that time there was an incident in one episode that I didn’t understand at the time. William Tell had Gessler at his mercy, but let him go free. Tell’s little son asked his sheepskin clad Dad why he hadn’t got rid of the evil Gessler once and for all. Tell replied that there was a risk that if they ever killed Gessler, the Austrians might send somebody who was competent and then the Swiss would be in trouble:

Two puzzles to finish with. Which member of our family persuaded us all to watch “The Four Just Men”? an English TV series which was allocated its own card in the WHO-Z-AT STAR ?” collection.

How can the plot have been any more complicated ? The Four Just Men were Richard Conte, Dan Dailey, Jack Hawkins and Vittorio De Sica. Except for Jack Hawkins, I have no idea which one was which :

There were five assistants for the Four Just Men, played by Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore in Goldfinger), Lisa Gastoni, Andrew Keir (Professor Quatermass), Robert Rietti and June Thorburn :

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The list of guest stars in the series, though,  was simply amazing :

Judi Dench, Alan Bates, Leonard Sachs (Manuel), Patrick Troughton (Dr Who), Donald Pleasence (Blofeld), Richard Johnson, Ronald Howard (son of Leslie), Basil Dignam, Roger Delgado (The Master in Dr Who), Charles Gray (another Blofeld) and Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock) :

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Next time, the pictures I remember from my comics.

Meanwhile, fill the lonely hours with………..

 

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Filed under Film & TV, Football, History, Humour, Personal

Kamikaze (1)

Ever since I was a little boy, I have always wondered about kamikaze pilots. The whole idea just seemed so unnatural to me, even crazy. When I saw a copy of “Fire from the Sky” by Robert C Stern, therefore, I bought it straightaway. Lots of pages, lots of text and lots of pictures. What was there not to like? And besides, I really wanted to know what the explanation was for this strange phenomenon:

Apparently, what it all boils down to is that:

“Japan has a particular, and some might call peculiar, predilection for the tragic or failed hero. They are admired for their sincerity and loyalty even when their causes were met with failure and their goals could be considered traitorous. Above all else, those heroes adhered to their ideals, especially in the face of their own destruction.”

Japan’s tradition of the tragic hero goes right back to the fourth century and Prince Yamato Takeru. But after him come a whole series of legendary and historic failed heroes, stretching down the centuries. They included Yorozu, Arima no Miko, Sugawara no Michizane, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, Kusunoki Masashige, Amakusa Shiro, Oshio Heihachiro, and Saigo Takamori. Here’s Amakusa Shiro:

“The traditions of these men led in the modern age to the World War II kamikaze fighters—an unprecedented development in modern warfare which for most countries would have been unimaginable.”

As a boy, of course, I was tickled pink as we used to say then, that there were actually “ex-kamikaze pilots” who could be interviewed on our grainy black and white TV sets. Author Robert Stern, though, explains it all beautifully for us. So…….. how  could you be on TV as an “ex-kamikaze pilot” ? For two reasons. No 1, you couldn’t find a suitable target and came back. No 2, mechanical failure of some kind.

The Japanese had in many ways already road tested the idea of kamikaze with their “banzai” charge. When soldiers were cornered and faced certain defeat, out they would come, heedless of their own safety and shouting “Tennoheika banzai!!” (Long live the Emperor”). The first banzai charge was on Attu on May 29 1943, with others on Saipan and Okinawa. In this way, their honourable death in battle was guaranteed.

Here’s a banzai charge before:

And after:

In 1944, the Americans were advancing into the Philippines, an act which would cut Japan off from the sources of its raw materials. What could be done? After “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, only 35 aircraft had returned to Japan.

By confronting the Americans in the ordinary way, the Japanese were losing the war by some margin.  Something radical needed to be done. Perhaps the banzai charge could be developed into the kamikaze attack. At a meeting of his officers, Vice Admiral Onishi Takijiro floated the idea of pilots flying their aircraft directly into enemy vessels at the cost of their own lives. Every single one of his 23 officers immediately agreed with the idea and volunteered for duty. It didn’t take long to organise:

Author Robert Stern, states that two possible kamikazes on October 24 1944 were not the first, but just a case of an already doomed aircraft being plunged into a ship, an act called “jibaku” by the Japanese. In this case, the ships were the Sonoma and the LCI(L) 1065. This abbreviation means “Landing Craft Infantry (Large)”. They were both struck by bombers, a Betty and a Sally respectively.

Japanese aircraft were given code names by the Allies. Here’s a Betty. This particular aircraft has the surrender markings of a green cross on a white background on it:

And here’s a Sally:

The following day, October 25th 1944 provided the first genuine kamikaze hit, which came on the USS Santee, CVE 29. CVE stands for “escort carrier or escort aircraft carrier”. It was hit by a “Zeke” or Mitsubishi Zero, probably piloted by PO1C Kato. Here’s a Zeke kamikaze-ing:

Kamikaze, incidentally, means “divine wind”. I’ve been troubled by that on occasion, too.  Next time, “Getting the best out of your two 250lb bombs”.

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Filed under Aviation, History, Pacific Theatre, the Japanese

What would you do ? (8) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

And here is the yellow box enlarged:

And that answer on page 2 was:

“A referee is completely in charge of what is happening in the ring. No one else has the authority to stop a fight. A second may show his wish to have the bout brought to an end by throwing in the towel. But the referee need not take any notice of the gesture. In this case, the referee simply kicked the towel out of the ring—and Harry went on to win.”

So there you are. I wouldn’t have thought that such a fundamental rule of boxing has been changed in the last forty years, but perhaps somebody out there knows better……..

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Filed under Personal, Writing