Category Archives: Aviation

Books for Christmas (3)

I thought it might be nice if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying them second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with some very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price, again, if you shop around.

First of all, the book that explains all the hidden meanings in two of the great masterpieces of children’s literature. Why do hatters go mad? Which one of their pets did Victorian children often keep in a teapot? where did the Cheshire Cat get its grin?

It’s “The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner. An indispensable guide to two of the world’s most influential books:

And here, a great follow-up to “Annotated Alice”, the book that is, in my opinion, the best biography of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. It’s by Morton N Cohen, and you can pick up this very large book for quite a low price if you buy second hand and choose carefully.

I previously mentioned a book about the cricketers killed in World War Two and here is the much larger book about the cricketers killed in the previous conflict. It was amazing to see just how many upper class men had only ever played two or three games of first class cricket, but, equally, how many of them had a brother, or even two brothers who were also killed in the war. What a slaughter of decent men that dreadful war was:

As the Titanic was sinking, the lights of another ship were seen, right on the horizon. This ship, though, did not sail over to help. The press decided the ship was the Californian and then made the life of its captain a living hell. And that was completely without justification according to “The Titanic and the Californian” by Thomas B. Williams and Rob Kamps. A gripping read:

It’s not that long since the centenary of the Great War, when a great many books were published about that appallingly wasteful conflict. Being a teacher of nearly forty years’ standing, I was attracted by the books written about its effects on a number of English public schools. Apparently at Nottingham High School where I worked, the school flag was almost permanently at half mast. And that was far from unique. Such exclusive private schools provided the majority of the junior officers, Second Lieutenants, Lieutenants and Captains. The first two of those three finished with a casualty rate as bad as Bomber Command in WW2. Here are the four I enjoyed most. The first one is from Uppingham School whose website is here

The second one is Oundle. Again, you can see for yourself the school’s website which is here

The third book was of Magdalen College School in Oxford with its Headmaster, Mr Brownrigg. Here is its website.

The last one was of a Yorkshire school called Wakefield Grammar. Here is its website.

Personally, I thought that Wakefield was the best of the four books, because it contained a lot of interesting details of life at the school at the time. Magdalen was possibly the most poignant, although Uppingham, of course, was the school of the three friends of Vera Brittain, and feature in her book, “Testament of Youth”.

The next book is “Slaughter on the Somme 1 July 1916: The Complete War Diaries of the British Army’s Worst Day” by Martin Mace and John Grehan. This is definitely a book that can be picked up a lot cheaper than its full list price. The book consists largely of the reports of the worst day ever for the British army, written for the most part  by junior officers, who tended to tell the true version of events in plain language. What they recorded is quite simply astonishing. And the best sentence ? “It was apparent that matters were not progressing quite as favourably as had been anticipated.” Understatement or what?  57,470 casualties on the day, of which 19,240 men were killed. And in the entire three and a half month battle, around 420,000 British and Empire men perished.

I have always been fascinated by DH Lawrence, who seems to have been “a most peculiar man”. Of the next four books, I have not read a single one, but I can’t wait to get started. The first is “A MEMOIR OF D. H. LAWRENCE: \’THE BETRAYAL” by GH Neville. Neville used to travel by train to Nottingham High School with the fourteen year old Lawrence.

Later in life, Lawrence was to steal away the wife of a university professor at Nottingham, Dr Ernest Weekley. Her maiden name was Frieda von Richthofen, but she then became, eventually, Frieda Lawrence. So far, I have bought “Genius for Living:  a Biography of Frieda Lawrence” by Janet Byrne which may help me understand the behaviour of this very strange woman.

A modern day professor at Nottingham University, John Worthen, has gone as far as to write a novel about that shocking love triangle back in Nottingham in 1912. I am looking forward to seeing how he portrays some extraordinary events.

An outstanding aviation book is “Darwin Spitfires”, a book by a local teacher, Anthony Cooper, about the use of RAF and RAAF fighters against the attacks on Darwin by the Japanese. This one I have already read, and it is a marvellous eye-opener of a book, not to be missed:

“Fire from the Sky: Surviving the Kamikaze Threat” is a study by the American author, Robert C. Stern, of the phenomenon of the Kamikaze attacks on American and Australian ships. It is a superbly detailed book with a very interesting comparison of the kamikaze and the islamist suicide bomber.

I was surprised to find that the next book was still possible to get hold of as it seems to be so local in its concerns. That point of view is somewhat incorrect though, because the book is really about any one of twenty or thirty counties where there were airbases during WW2. It is a very honest book, and if the behaviour of the locals is disgraceful, then the author is not slow to tell us about it. A little gem.

This book, with almost 900 pages and so many heavily reduced second hand copies around, has been described as a bargain door stop but that is a tad cruel.  Indeed, “The Right of the Line: The Role of the RAF in World War Two” by John Terraine is a wonderful reference book about the RAF with every facet of their war explained and examined. Definitely a book to be dipped into, it is a valuable encyclopedia about the events and intentions of the RAF in the Second World War.

So there we are. The best part of forty or fifty suggestions about what to buy the boring old fart in your family for Christmas. And all of them recommended by a fully paid up boring old fart of a blog post writer.

I can even offer you an insurance policy. If all else fails, then buy him a box set. How about this tumultuous tale of a chemistry teacher gone wrong ? Very, very, wrong…..

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, cricket, History, Literature, military, Nottingham, Pacific Theatre, The High School, the Japanese, Writing

What would you do ? (7) The Solution

Here’s the emergency from last time:

And here’s the situation:

So, twenty seconds have already passed, and it’s already a dilly of a space pickle.

The space craft is still floating helplessly after the failure of the atomic motors. The crew have their space suits but they have had very little time to start the repairs to the motors before the alarm suddenly goes off. An extremely large meteorite is approaching them at ten miles a second. The time remaining before impact is less than forty seconds and decisive action is required.

What can the crew do ?

Well, page 2 of “Boys’ World” says that the correct solution is:

“There is only one thing they can do. They re-open both doors of the port airlock, allowing all the air to rush out of the ship. The rushing air acts like a rocket jet in the vacuum of space, and propels the ship away from the meteorite. Later the ship can be re-pressurised from their emergency air cylinders. “

And just to prove it, here’s the slightly blurry page of the comic:

“Why”, said the nine year old Ridley Scott. “What an amazing idea. When I’m a famous Hollywood director, I shall make use of it.”

“Stop daydreaming”, said his mother. “Have you done your paper round, Ridley? And have you done your English homework? That story about that woman on that space rocket?”

One intriguing thought is that Ridley Scott is known to have been a subscriber to “Eagle” comic. Did he used to read “Boys’ World” as well?

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Filed under Aviation, Humour, Literature, Personal, Science, Writing

What would you do ? (7) The Puzzle

“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:

The blue box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the blue box enlarged:

So, a dilly of a space pickle. The space craft floats helplessly after the atomic motors have failed. The crew are in space suits but they have very little time to start the necessary repairs before the ship’s alarm goes off. An extremely large meteorite is coming towards them at ten miles a second. The time left before impact is less than sixty seconds and counting.

What can the crew do ??????

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Literature, Personal, Writing

Books for Christmas (2)

I thought it might be nice if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying them second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with some very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price, again, if you shop around.

The first book is quite unusual since it is an attack by a German writer on the dastardly deeds of Bomber Command, and presumably, by extension , on the American Eighth Air Force. Jörg Friedrich obviously remembers very well Dresden, Hamburg, Darmstadt, Wurzburg, Pforzheim and so on. He seems to have forgotten the people who invented the indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians at places such as London and even York Minster in WW1, and then Guernica, Rotterdam, Warsaw and so on. And there are some factual errors.

Overall the book reminds me of the verdict of a German friend of mine about the generation before his own:

“They start a war and then moan about losing it.”

Even so, “The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945” by Jörg Friedrich and Allison Brown is quite an intriguing book. Some of the things he says made me quite angry but perhaps because many of them are things that I have worried about myself, but loyally continued to defend.

A nice contrast is the book by two German academics, Sonke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, entitled “Soldaten”.  They examine the dreadful, appalling things done by ordinary Germans in World War Two, and then look at whether the Americans in Vietnam or Iraq could have done the same. A really good book, which does not leave you feeling too good about your own morality.

In my previous selection, the best book was either “Subsmash” or “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”. In this second selection, the book we should all read and take in is “Soldaten”:

It’s quite a contrast with our next book, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by DH Lawrence. There are a lot of different editions of this masterpiece, and I would recommend the one which has a preface or introduction by Doris Lessing. Do NOT be tempted by an edition “with extra new added pornography”. In any case, the book is also about WW1 and about the disappearing English landscape.

As you can see, the cover of the best edition has the gamekeeper putting his trousers back on, or, more likely, taking them off yet again.

Perhaps even better to read are Lawrence’s “Selected Stories”. You get 400 pages of his best short stories, including my own particular favourite “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”.

Next on the list is “Black and British: A Forgotten History” by David Olusoga. This book should be a compulsory read in every secondary school in England. How much really interesting history has been hidden away because of prejudice? Black Africans on Hadrian’s Wall, a black man killed by a white mob in Liverpool and the fight to abolish slavery, among many other long avoided stories.

Four books I haven’t read yet, although I’m certainly looking forward to them. Firstly, “Lend-Lease And Soviet Aviation in the Second World War” by Vladimir Kotelnikov. I have looked at the pictures of the P-39s and P-40s with red stars on them, and the Short Stirling, but I haven’t read the text yet. If it’s as good as the illustrations, it will be brilliant.

I haven’t read this book either, although I have read the companion volume about cricketers killed in World War One. It’s “The Coming Storm: Test and First Class Cricketers Killed in World War II” by Nigel McCrery. I have no reason to believe that this book will be anything other than extremely well researched and an interesting read.

Next book in the “In Tray” is  “Mettle and Pasture”, the story of the Second Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment during WW2, written by Gary J Weight. I am hoping it will be a great read. It has certainly got some excellent reviews on amazon.co.uk.

The last book in the “In Tray” is called “Luftwaffe over America” by Manfred Griehl. The author examines the Germans’ very real plans to bomb the eastern seaboard of the United States during the Second World War,  using their Me 264s, Ju 290s and 390s and the Ta 400 from Focke Wulf. As a little boy, I was always intrigued by the fact that, on a trial flight, a Ju 290 supposedly got within ten miles of New York.

That’s all for now. Third and final part next time.

 

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Filed under Africa, Aviation, Bomber Command, cricket, Criminology, History, Literature, military, Politics, Russia, war crimes, Writing

Books for Christmas (1)

I thought it might be helpful if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured here are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying the books second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with certain very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price. Again, you need to shop around.

First up to the plate, is “The Bayeux Tapestry: Story of the Norman Conquest, 1066” by Norman Denny and Josephine Filmer-Sankey. This book came out for the 900th anniversary in 1966 and was meant primarily for schools. It contains every single square inch of the tapestry in full colour. Many modern books leave out what they consider to be the boring bits, or reproduce them in black and white:

Next is “Conscientious Objectors of the First World War: A Determined Resistance” by Ann Kramer. Conscientious objectors, or “Conchies”, usually refuse to fight in their country’s wars because of religious reasons. This book completely changed my mind about them. I always thought that conchies were, deep down, just cowards, no different from the people who find spurious medical problems to avoid risking their lives, and are happy to let others do the fighting. I was wrong. Many of these people were a lot braver than the men already in the armed forces, and most of them were treated abominably, with their hearings not even being conducted according to the law. Here it is:

This is “Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British And Commonwealth Military Intervention In The Russian Civil War, 1918-20” by Damien Wright. So far, I’ve read 100 pages out of 500 but it’s a really interesting book . Who would ever have thought that the First World War extended into 1920? Or that British, Canadian and French troops fought for Murmansk, with Japanese and Italians present as observers?

These next three books are superb. Absolutely wonderful. “Brendon Chase” is about some boys who go off to the woods to live like Robin Hood. “The Little Grey Men” are the last four gnomes  in England, and in the sequel, “Down the Bright Stream “, one of them goes missing and the remaining three must find him. Superb books for children from eight to ninety-eight:

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There are lots of books about the Battle of Britain. Here are my two favourites. Roger Hall’s book is fifty years old and you will probably need to search carefully at either abebooks, amazon or bookfinder. George Wellum’s book is very skilfully written  :

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A famous incident of the air war is investigated in this book by Jean-Pierre Ducellier. Its title is “The Amiens Raid: Secrets Revealed: The Truth Behind the Legend of Operation Jericho” and Ducellier has spent the majority of his adult life attempting to put the evidence together into a coherent whole. And his solution is not a lot like the official version:

“Sisters in Arms: The Women Who Flew in World War II ” is a book by Helena Page Schrader. It details the women who were recruited in both Great Britain and the United States to fly aircraft. The treatment they received was amazingly different, with the ATA praised to the skies and the American women being much less fortunate in what happened to them. There  is a series of reviews here. How surprising that many of the American reviewers, especially Loren Tompkins, are not at all pleased when the USA’s treatment of their women flyers is shown to be infinitely inferior to that of the RAF and the women of the ATA, so they just limit themselves to slinging the maximum amount of mud at the book and its author. Only two American reviewers are accurate, namely Brenda Ledford and Kythera A. Grunge:

Our next book is, in my opinion, absolutely outstanding. It’s “Subsmash: The Mysterious Disappearance of HM Submarine Affray”  by Alan Gallop. The book is just superb. Anybody would enjoy reading it, whether or not you like military matters. It refers back to the disappearance of a state-of-the-art British submarine in 1950, the Affray, and the subsequent extensive search.  No official explanation for the disaster has ever been forthcoming, and the submarine is still down there, its crew still sealed inside, lying on the seabed near the Channel Islands.

During the search a number of strange things happened. The strangest was the massive object found on the bottom by sonar. It was too big to be the Affray and the search continued elsewhere. Several days later, attempts were made to establish what the object was, but by then it had disappeared.  Another strange event was that the wife of a submarine skipper claimed to have seen a ghost in a dripping wet submarine officer’s uniform telling her the location of the sunken sub. The position he gave later turned out to be correct.

The next book is also top of its particular category. The author is Tony Redding and the book is called “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”.  The first city to be attacked in that final phase was Dresden in February 1945  and then came Pforzheim. Both cities until then had been relatively unscathed. During these attacks, though, the destruction unleashed by Bomber Command was apocalyptic. The author examines what happened from virtually every point of view, the bomber crews, the defenders, the occupying forces, everybody, even the German civilians who murdered RAF crews and then buried them like dead animals. I don’t have the time to read many books twice, but I shall be making an exception for this particular one. It is superb:

The last word of this first list is perhaps linked more directly  to Christmas itself. It is a book with two stories in it, both of which are told in picture form like a graphic novel. The book is “Classic Bible Stories: Jesus – The Road of Courage/Mark the Youngest Disciple”. The title says it all…the life of Jesus and then the life of Mark, who was also, of course, the writer of one of the Gospels.  The book could not have had a more perfect pedigree. The idea was thought up by Marcus Morris, an English vicar who invented the comic “Eagle”, itself meant as a Christian magazine for young people. The first story was drawn by Frank Hampson, generally thought to be the very best comic artist in England, if not the world, at the time. Frank’s lifetime ambition as a devout Christian, had always been to participate in this venture. The text of both stories was written by Chad Varah, the founder of The Samaritans organisation.

I have read all of these books and they are all well worth your time and money. I have no connection with any of them, beyond a copy of each one in my bookcase.

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, Literature, military, Politics, Russia, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

A nasty German in Woodville, Part Two, the True Facts

The Luftwaffe’s Gruppe III./KG.4, full name 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 arrived at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands in the middle of January 1941. They would be there until July 31st when they left for the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front:

During the first part of their stay, in one of the hardest winters for years, they spent a lot of time training and then taking part in planned air raids on the cities and ports of Great Britain. They were flying twin engined Heinkel He-111H version bombers, “hard to start greenhouses”, which scared the bejesus out of the locals who lived near the airfield. They were all loaded to the maximum limits with explosives and fuel, and on quite a few occasions, seemed to struggle to climb over the locals’ houses in this birthplace of Mata Hari:

On Tuesday, June 24th 1941 the pilot of one of the Heinkel He-111Hs, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz, took off at 23.00 hours, tasked with laying mines in the Mersey Estuary near Liverpool. With him was a crew of three men, Stabsfeldwebel H Glkowski, Obergefreiter Friedrich Ertzinger, the Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, and Feldwebel W Köller.

At 02.30 hrs, somewhere between the Wash and Liverpool, the Heinkel was intercepted on radar and then attacked by a Bristol Beaufighter of 25 Squadron, based at RAF Wittering, squadron codes ZK:

The Beaufighter was flown by Pilot Officer DW Thompson, with Pilot Officer LD Britain acting as the airborne interception radar operator (A1). Pilot Officer Britain picked up the Heinkel almost half way between Sheffield and Nottingham just under approximately 20,000 feet up, and stalked the twin engined bomber for a quarter of an hour. Slowly, slowly, the Beaufighter crew crept up on their prey and then opened fire with their four 20 mm Hispano cannons. Here they are, under the nose of the aircraft. There were also six .303in machine guns, two in the port wing and four in the starboard wing. This made it the most heavily armed British fighter of the war, with a total of ten guns:

The RAF night fighter scored many hits on the hapless Heinkel. The cannon shells and machine gun bullets hit home with the same impact in energy terms as a broadside from a Royal Navy destroyer. The Heinkel’s starboard engine dissolved into flames and stopped working. A few minutes later, the bomber’s undercarriage fell out of its engine nacelles, increasing the plane’s drag enormously:

Immediately the bomber began to lose height rapidly, and as they plunged down to 1,000 feet, the pilot, Oberleutnant Schwartz, gave the order to the crew to bale out. Sadly, by the time he baled out himself, the aircraft was too low and his parachute failed to deploy. Schwartz was killed but his three colleagues, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller all escaped safely.

The Heinkel crashed close to the buildings of Edwards Farm in Lullington, a sleepy little village in South Derbyshire, some six miles south west of Woodville. This satellite view shows just how countrified Lullington still is even nowadays, eighty years after the event :

As soon as the Heinkel hit the ground, its bombs immediately exploded, scattering pieces of the plane over an area of some fifteen acres. The Home Guard would later find the tail mounted MG 17 machine gun. The aircraft had also been fitted with two external PVC 1006 bomb racks to increase its weapon carrying capacity.

The three surviving members of the crew, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller, landed in fields belonging to Edwards Farm. They were immediately captured and taken prisoner by two Home Guard men, Jack and Geoff Edwards, the brothers who owned the farm where the wreckage of the plane fell :

Ultimately the German aviators were taken to the Police Station at Woodville Tollgate to be locked up until the army could come and pick them up later that day. Here’s the Police Station again:

And what happened to the rest of the men involved ?

On July 31st 1941 the entire 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 was sent to the Eastern Front. It was a lovely place to walk the dog :

Poor Oberleutnant Schwartz received a full military funeral at Fradley Church near the cathedral city of Lichfield on June 27th 1941. He was buried in the lovely English churchyard around the church. Here’s the church:

And here’s his grave :

In recent years, at the Battle of Britain service in September, an officer of the Luftwaffe based at 16 M.U. Stafford has laid a wreath on the grave of the pilot, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz. Everybody was very happy to see this, and evinced the hope that it would continue for many years to come.

A number of years after the end of the war, in 1979, Friedrich Ertzinger, the Heinkel’s Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, visited Edwards Farm where he was given a wonderful reception by the two Edwards brothers. These visits continued for a number of years, and all three men enjoyed themselves enormously.

Pilot Officer LD Britain survived the war. You may remember that he was the airborne interception radar operator in the successful Beaufighter.

Pilot Officer David William Thompson, a mere 22 years old and the pilot of that successful Beaufighter, did not survive the conflict. Indeed, when he shot down that Heinkel over Lullington, he had only fourteen more days to live. On July 8th 1941, piloting a Bristol Beaufighter If, serial number, T4629, for an unknown reason, he plunged into the ground near Wittering. His airborne interception radar operator, Flight Sergeant Richard George Crossman, was also killed instantly.

David William Thompson was the son of the Reverend Hamlet George Thompson and of Dora Muriel Thompson (née Watney), of Little Munden Rectory in Hertfordshire. David was buried in Wittering (All Saints) Churchyard.

Richard George Crossman was the son of Richard Berkley Crossman and Clara Priscilla Crossman and the husband of Mary Crossman, who all hailed from Watford. Richard is buried in Watford Cemetery:

His grave bears the inscription “Cherished memories, loved by all who knew him”.

 

 

 

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The finest fighter of World War II

The P-51 Mustang was the most successful and most significant single-seat fighter of World War Two. It was initially designed for the British RAF and the most amazing fact is that from the moment the chief designer, James Kindelberger, sharpened his pencil to start work, to the moment the prototype roared off down the runway, was only 119 days.

That early prototype certainly showed promise, and so did all the subsequent A-36 Apaches, although they clearly had serious limitations at altitude.

And then, at Hucknall Aerodrome, just five miles from where my trusty computer now sits, with yours truly at the controls, the senior liaison test pilot with Rolls-Royce. a New Zealander named Ronnie Harker, earned his best ever pay rise of one pound a week (just over one and a half dollars). Ronnie thought up the scheme to put a British Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engine into the underpowered North American Mustang. This was the same engine as the Spitfire IX, and it cured all the problems the aircraft was having over 15,000 feet and gave its newly invented Laminar Flow Wing the chance to shine. Here is that huge Merlin:

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And poor Ronnie Harker. I suppose that for the rest of his life people must have introduced him at parties by saying, “Have you met Ronnie, the man who put the Merlin in the Mustang?”  You can read a much more detailed story via this link.  The article is called “The Cadillac of the Skies” Here’s the Hendon Mustang from a slightly unusual angle:

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A second great leap forward for the aircraft was the fitting of the drop tanks which permitted Mustangs to fly and fight all the way to Berlin and back. The appearance of this superb fighter over the Brandenburg Gate sounded the death knell of the Third Reich, because in trying to fight off the B-17s and the B-24s, the Luftwaffe would slowly but surely be destroyed by the P-51 escort fighters. In 1944, for example, P-51 Mustangs would shoot down 6,039 German dayfighters.  That left the Germans with hardly any experienced pilots, considerably fewer defensive aircraft and a big, big problem.

Here’s the view after descending the stairs:

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This particular example of a P-51 was constructed at Inglewood in California in 1945. It began in USAAF Air Training Command before, in 1950, being transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force. It then had an enormously long history of toing and froing until it reached Hendon in 2003, where it was finally painted as the Mustang belonging to Captain Donald R Emerson of the 336th Fighter Squadron  based at Debden, in Essex. Here is Donald’s nose art:

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Captain Emerson was killed by ground fire on Christmas Day 1944, as he flew over Belgium on the very last of his 89 missions. He had scored 4½ victories in the air, plus 3½ on the ground. He is buried at Margrattan in Holland.

It says everything about the Mustang that over fifteen or so minutes, I was unable to take a photograph without somebody in shot. There was a constant, steady stream of admirers, with a good few photographers:

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And married couples:

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And my wife and daughter:

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It is impossible to waste your time if you are looking at a Mustang:

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As John Keats so rightly put it in a poem he wrote on his visit to the RAF Hendon Museum in 1818 :

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A nasty German in Woodville, Part One, the Legend

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England.

Derby was the home of an important Rolls Royce factory which made Merlin engines, the powerplant used by important World War Two aircraft such as the Spitfire, the Hurricane, the Mosquito and the Lancaster :

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Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, steps were taken to protect this important Derby factory from enemy air attack. Immediate measures included the installation of a large calibre ex-naval gun on the western side of Hartshorne Lane, on some grassland near the public footpath, just beyond the site where the Dominoes public house was to be built shortly after the end of the war. Look for the Orange Arrow, my hearties!! :

This naval gun, probably taken from a scrapped old battleship, was extremely powerful and extremely noisy. Every time it was fired in practice, it made all the cups rattle on their holders in the pantry at my grandparents’ house, “Holmgarth”, at No 39,  Hartshorne Lane, some half a mile away :

One evening, probably in the second half of 1940 or early 1941, a lone Heinkel III bomber was caught in the searchlights over Derby. This spectacular event was the signal for the Hartshorne gun to fire its one and only shot in anger of the entire war :

Needless to say, the shot was a successful one and the bomber was duly brought down. Later in the evening, the Home Guard was to capture the pilot, who had descended by parachute from his stricken craft. Another slightly different version of the story relates how the pilot was dragged semi-conscious from the wreckage of his aeroplane:

The pilot was subsequently brought to Hartshorne and then marched up the hill to the Police Station at Woodville Tollgate. He did not speak any English but seemed happy to rave loudly to himself in German. This gentleman was seen by the locals as being a typically arrogant Nazi, who believed that the war was already won. He was even smoking the Player’s cigarettes which had been captured in such large quantities at Dunkirk in June 1940. I couldn’t find a picture of this particular gentleman in Woodville, but the world at this time was not particularly short of arrogant Nazis:

The pilot was locked in a police cell overnight. This may well have been to his benefit, as the mood of the angry passers-by as he had been brought up Hartshorne Lane had largely been in favour of lynching him. Indeed, the crowd’s evident hostility had done much to quieten the pilot’s rantings on the long slow walk up to the police station.

Here’s the police station, in Edwardian sepia. If you look to the right of the police station, (which is right in the middle of the picture), there is a very tall chimney which is now long demolished but which, then, was the chimney of the Outram’s factory which made sinks, wash-basins, toilets and such. To the right of that chimney is a very stout looking house with two chimney stacks. The further one of those two is the chimney stack for my Mum and Dad’s house, “Clare Cottage, built 1890”, They lived there from 1949-2000 and 1949-2003 respectively.

So what? you may ask. Well, I know that with a little bit of luck, my instructions will be followed by a lady from India, a gentleman from Australia, my American friends from coast to coast, and citizens, perhaps, of other countries across the globe, as well as my valued readers in this country. I wonder what the newly married couple would have thought of that, when they moved in to what was then a semi-derelict house,  more than seventy years ago. People across the whole world looking at their chimney stack :

At the time the Heinkel was shot down, Fred, as a young man of some seventeen or eighteen years of age, was still awaiting his chance to go into the RAF. He had therefore in the interim become a young member of the local Home Guard, or L.D.V. (the Local Defence Volunteers, or as Fred always interpreted the initials, “Look, Duck and Vanish”). Neither the Hartshorne Home Guard or the Woodville Home Guard ever had as many rifles as these mean looking killers, though:

This episode, before he went away into the armed forces, was in actual fact the only time that Fred was ever destined to meet a Nazi in person. Indeed, in later years, Fred was to say that this was the most dangerous moment he was to experience in terms of being directly face to face with the enemy. The even greater irony was that the very real threat of violence inherent in the situation was provided exclusively by the English civilians, and not by the Luftwaffe pilot himself.

Conceivably, this particular Heinkel bomber was the same one which was later to be put on display in nearby Burton-on-Trent in an effort to raise funds for the war. I have been unable to trace an exact date for this occurrence, other than the fact that, with the decreasing frequency of Luftwaffe raids on England, it was more likely to have occurred sooner rather than later during the conflict.

I was told this story about the naval gun more than once by my Dad, Fred. It seemed so far fetched that I began to think that he was suffering from false memories. I thought that perhaps my Dad had confused 1940 or 1941 with a very famous episode of the comedy “Dad’s Army”. But he hadn’t. Fifty or so years after I first met him, my oldest friend revealed that his mother, as a young girl, had been in that crowd at Woodville Police Station and had seen the arrogant Nazi smoking our Player’s Cigarettes.

Any excuse for a bit of Dad’s Army:

That moment has won more than one award as the funniest moment ever on BBC TV.

 

 

 

 

 

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the Supermarine Southampton at Hendon

You don’t always expect to see a flying boat in a museum in London, but the RAF Museum at Hendon has, among many other seaplanes, a Supermarine Southampton, a type which, between the two wars, was an extremely successful aircraft in Royal Air Force service:

The Southampton was designed by the famous R J Mitchell and it immediately brought Mitchell’s name to the fore as an aircraft designer. At the same time, it also gave Supermarine an enormous amount of publicity, affording a much greater chance that their later designs might be approved:

The first 18 examples of the Mark I were made completely of wood. They were delivered in August 1925. The RAF, however, was now beginning to express a growing preference for metal aircraft and when the Mark IIs were delivered, they were made entirely of metal. They were much preferred to the older wooden Southamptons which, from 1929 onwards, were all gradually converted to have metal hulls:


The aircraft was amazingly durable and reliable and each one had an average service life of around eleven years. One source of their fame was a series of long distance formation flights to many different parts of the world. In 1927-1928, the “Far East Flight” travelled from Felixstowe to the Mediterranean and then on to India and Singapore, a total of some 27,000 miles:

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The museum aircraft is a Mark I, N9899, from the very first ever batch of Mark Is which were numbered N9896-N9901. It was used by No.480 (Coastal Reconnaissance) Flight at Calshot in Hampshire. Here’s a general view. Not many aircraft have a ladder. At least, not on the outside.:

On September 7th 1925 the crew had an engine failure just off Wicklow Head in Ireland and had to be towed more than one hundred miles over the sea to Belfast Lough by HMS Calliope. On November 23rd 1928 N9899 was one of three Southamptons moored near Portland when it broke loose from its moorings in a gale and crashed violently into a breakwater. Only its engines were salvageable. In 1929 it was purchased privately so that its fuselage could be used as a houseboat, one of five flying boats to suffer such a fate at this time. N9899 then seems to have been towed to Felixstowe where it remained until the RAF bought it back and began a restoration scheme in the late 1960s.

What struck me about the aircraft was its vast collection of amazing old fashioned rivets and apparently heavy ironwork. Here is a closer view of the hull, revealing just how many rivets are holding the aircraft together. I haven’t bothered to count, but I bet there must be the best part of a couple of thousand. It’s a good job Mitchell’s most famous design, the Spitfire, was not too much like a Southampton!:

Notice the beautiful flowing lines of that tight, superbly graceful, bottom, or perhaps “hull” would be a better word. The museum still has that purple light to stop excessive fading of fragile old colours. I would think that aviation experts will see in the Southampton much of the design that Mitchell took forward to the Walrus.

This photograph shows a view from the rear, with the squadron letters of QN. I have the distinct feeling that every one of those silver metal panels might have a few rivets. The section around the gun turret, above the roundel, certainly does:

Here’s my final view, with the wheels used to bring the aircraft into the museum still in situ. They are not part of the aircraft because the Southampton was a flying boat, rather than an amphibian like the Consolidated PBY Catalina, which had its own undercarriage:

Notice behind the Southampton a Lockheed Hudson of the Royal Australian Air Force. Can you spot the kangaroo? Here’s a better view:

The Japanese used the Southampton as well as the RAF. Here’s a photograph of a modern day Polish construction kit:

I think that “IJNAF” stands for “Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force” (or something very like it.)

 

 

 

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Bomber Harris, not a happy man (8)

In his book, “The Relentless Offensive”, Roy Irons does not forget to discuss at great length, the huge losses of both aircraft and aircrew suffered by Bomber Command:

Even on night raids, bombers were shot down in great numbers, both by flak and by nightfighters such as the Junkers Ju88:

In part, this was because aircraft such as the Whitley, the Hampden, the Blenheim, the Manchester, the Stirling and the Halifax were to a greater or a lesser extent, just not up to the job. The Lancaster, in contrast, was an outstanding aircraft, although even the “Lanc”, despite being the bomber of choice of the vast majority of Bomber Command aircrew, was itself still shot down in large numbers.

Casualties, in actual fact, were enormous.

In the First Phase of the bomber war, the Battle of the Ruhr (March 1st to July 1943), Bomber Command lost 1,038 aircraft, some 4.3% of their total strength.

In the Second Phase, the Battle of Hamburg (July 24th-August 3rd 1943) 139 aircraft were lost.

Unlike the First Phase, however, the Second Phase was a total victory for the RAF. Some forty thousand Germans were killed and a million fled the city. As Albert Speer realised:

“Six more like that and all war production will come to a total halt.”

The Third Phase was the Battle of Berlin (August  1943–March 31st 1944). Bomber Command lost 1,778 aircraft as Harris’ promise “to wreck Berlin from end to end” went terribly, terribly, wrong.

During these three phases, 396 days had passed, and 2,955 bombers had been lost. There were seven men in each one of them and on average no more than two ever escaped alive.

The problems were, as we have already said, that the bombers, on very single one of those 396 days, had had defend themselves with rifle calibre bullets. Secondly, escort fighters at night were almost completely unknown. The ranges of every single RAF fighter except one were largely inadequate , and in any case the Mosquito night fighter was way too fast to fly alongside four engined bombers:

To these two factors can be added the ten thousand plus anti aircraft guns  protecting the Reich. The majority of those guns were the deadly “8.8 cm Flak”, known universally to the hundreds of thousands of people involved in operating them as the “Acht-acht” (“eight-eight”).

Overall, though, Harris was right. Bombing worked. It destroyed both factories and living accommodation and at the same time, it kept hundreds of thousands of people tied up, busy defending Germany. Were it not for Bomber Command, those hundreds of thousands of people, and their ten thousand plus anti aircraft guns, would have been on the Eastern Front, knocking over T-34 tanks, and putting a brake on those huge Soviet advances into the Reich.

And that’s without counting the actual damage the bombers did. Albert Speer, for example, stated that through the activities of the RAF a minimum of 35% of tank production had been lost and 31% of aircraft production and 42% of lorry production.

Over the course of the conflict, though, it must be admitted that the war-winning aircraft of Bomber Command had actually been found to be “pitifully vulnerable”.

During the very rough total of 2000 days of war, Bomber Command had lost the equivalent of four heavy bombers on every single one of them:

The people who decided the tactics, with the notable exception of Harris, had initially attached far too much attention to the old doctrine that “the bomber will always get through”, a war-cry which dated back as far as the distant days of the Spanish Civil War when the Legión Cóndor had invented area bombing by its carefully planned attack on Guernica:

Perhaps Bomber Command losses might have been cut if they had taken a leaf out of Fighter Command’s book. The top fighter pilots always turned themselves into fabulous marksmen by one means or another. Constant shooting practice, they found, was a good method to try. This method was “completely ignored in the training of bomber gunners” and the top brass actually suggested that the standards of gunners’ eyesight should be lowered, because of the shortage of gunners.
The net result was that Bomber Command did not shoot down too many enemy fighters. As the author, Roy Irons, states, the air war in the West won by the 0.5 calibre guns of the P-51s and the B-17s. In 1944, the Luftwaffe lost 914 night fighters, mainly to Bomber Command. In the same period of time, 6,039 dayfighters were shot down by P-51 Mustangs.
Here’s the Luftwaffe’s cutting edge night fighter, the Heinkel He219, with a fantastic array of radar  aerials.

And finally, if you enjoy discovering more irreverent truths about Bomber Command’s war, you might enjoy “Britain 1939-1945: The economic cost of strategic bombing” by John T Fahey. It is available on line here although it may take a long time to load.

There is a very interesting discussion about the book here.

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