Category Archives: Aviation

Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (6)

My father Fred, during his spell in the RAF from 1941-1946 had relatively little direct contact with the pilots and crews of the huge Short Sunderland flying boats of Coastal Command:

He was certainly well aware though, that, because their patrols were of such long duration, these planes were extremely well appointed. They actually had galleys on board, where members of the crew could make cups of tea, or other hot beverages, or cook themselves proper meals. No luxuries like those of the Sunderland were ever afforded to the crews of the much more Spartan four engined heavy bombers such as the Lancaster or the Halifax.

The huge flying boat even had a number of bunks, where the crew could have a sleep if they were feeling particularly weary. And the Sunderland was so incredibly spacious. Here is the pilot on his way to the Library and the Sun Deck:

Enough room to swing a Catalina round ! Well almost.

My Dad was used to the Lancaster which was very much a tight fit for everyone:

The biggest problem was the main spar:

From 1952 onwards the French Aéronavale had eighty ex-RAAF Lancasters. How on earth did they get on, carrying out searches of the Atlantic Ocean which lasted ten hours or longer ?

It’s difficult to imagine waitress service in a Lancaster. In a Sunderland, the difficulty would merely have been finding the waitress as she wandered through the built in wardrobes:


One thing that Fred did discover, however, was what happened at the end of the war, when the U-boats came in to British ports to surrender. The cessation of hostilities was not quite as clear cut, black and white, as it should have been, and neither was it always carried out in as civilised a fashion as might have been hoped. The members of two Sunderland crews told him, for example, how they had found U-boats sailing along on the surface, on their way to surrender in the nearest British port, possibly in the River Foyle bound for Derry-Londonderry or in the Firth of Firth-Forth making their way to the naval base at Rosyth.

They immediately attacked and sank both of the submarines with all hands. Here goes the first one:

And here goes the second one:

Was this a war crime? We’ll look at that next time.

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (5)

Last time we were looking at how the English film star, Leslie Howard, was killed when the aircraft he was in, a DC-3 Dakota, was shot down over the Bay of Biscay, by the Luftwaffe.

That Dakota, though, was actually completely unarmed and it was no match whatsoever for a single Junkers Ju88, let alone a group of eight of them. As well as being unarmed, it was also registered in a neutral country (the Netherlands) and flying from a neutral country (Portugal) to England.

Nobody took very much notice of this at the time, but, because of these seemingly innocuous details, the entire episode therefore crossed the line of human decency and became a war crime. Here’s the DC-3 in question. Note the Dutch flag, with the prominent orange:

In the immediate aftermath of the DC-3’s failure to arrive in Bristol, the British sent out a Short Sunderland GR3 flying boat to look for it on the following day (June 2nd 1943):

The aircraft carried the serial number EJ134 and it was piloted by the brave Australians of 461 Squadron. The crew was James (Jim) Collier Amiss (Second Pilot), Wilbur James Dowling (First Pilot), Alfred Eric Fuller (First Wireless Operator / Air Gunner), Ray Marston Goode (Tail Gunner), Albert Lane (Third Wireless Operator / Air Gunner), Edward Charles Ernest Miles (First Flight Engineer), Harold Arthur Miller (Second Wireless Operator / Air Gunner), Kenneth McDonald Simpson(Navigator), Philip Kelvin Turner (Second Flight Engineer), Colin Braidwood Walker (Captain) and Louis Stanley Watson (Rigger).

The flying boat found nothing whatsoever on the surface of the sea, no wreckage at all. What they did find though, were surely the very same eight Ju88C-6s that Leslie Howard had already met, at more or less the very same place where they had met them. Sunderland EJ134 and its crew then won their place in aviation legend. In a prolonged battle, the flying boat lost one engine and its tail turret. Messrs Dowling, Goode, Miller, Simpson and Walker were all injured and poor Ted Miles, one of the two side gunners and just 27 years old, was killed. The battling Aussies did manage, though, to shoot down three of the eight German fighters:

Of the other five, only two made it all the way back to Bordeaux. The other three were presumed to have crashed into the waves as they were never heard of again. Six out of eight shot down. That should teach them not to attack unarmed airliners flying from neutral countries. The now shot to pieces and extremely battered Sunderland EJ134 made it the 350 miles back to western Cornwall, not to Penzance, but only as far as a beach on the south Cornish coast, at Praa Sands:

The fierce Atlantic waves, however, ultimately smashed it to smithereens:

Young Ted Miles, just 27 years old, was buried at Pembroke Dock Military Cemetery joining 72 more casualties, 40 from World War I and 32 from World War II, including five Australians. On his grave his parents had written:

“There is no death: our stars go down to rise upon some fairer shore”.

The family came from Brixton in London. Ted’s parents were Edward Charles Miles and Florence Mabel Miles. His young wife was Frances Margaret Miles.

Around eight weeks later, virtually the same 461 Squadron crew was lost without trace out on patrol over the Bay of Biscay on Friday, August 13th 1943 in a Short Sunderland Mk III, serial number DV968. The last message that they transmitted was that they were being attacked by six Ju88s. The victory was claimed by Leutnant Artur Schröder so this particular incident may not have been exclusively carried out by members of the original eight, especially as Schröder was in 13 / KG40, not V/KG 40:

The men from EJ134 who were killed in DV968 were Wilbur James Dowling (34), Alfred Eric Fuller (20), Ray Marston Goode (34), Albert Lane (27), Harold Arthur Miller (23), Kenneth McDonald Simpson (28), Philip Kelvin Turner (26) and Louis Stanley Watson (25). The new members of the crew who died were David Taylor Galt (28), James Charles Grainger (24) and Charles Douglas Leslie (Les) Longson (20). Not flying that day were James (Jim) Collier Amiss and Colin Braidwood Walker from the original “Flying Porcupine”, Sunderland EJ134. Both men would survive the war and go home to Australia. Hopefully, they lived out very long and happy lives. Perhaps they followed a sports team:

Or perhaps they preferred the beach:

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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.

 

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (3)

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

This thorny porcine epithet comes from an aircraft which was based at Invergordon in north east Scotland in 1940. My story will be based primarily on the work of John Robertson in 2010. I had never heard any explanation of the nickname and it is a tale of heroism well worth telling and re-telling, believe me.

The particular Sunderland was N9046. It belonged to 204 Squadron and its squadron letters were KG-F. Here it is, although it seems to lack the KG-F:

The crew left their northern Scottish base on April 3rd 1940, tasked with carrying out a ten hours protection patrol, looking after a convoy bound for Norway. There was absolutely no sign of the enemy, until two Junkers Ju88s, probably from II./Kampfgeschwader 30, appeared at low altitude over the water, seemingly having arrived from a base in southern Norway, or perhaps in Denmark. Here is a nice Junkers Ju88 in full-ish colour:

And here’s the Airfix kit box:

Seeing the Sunderland, one of the two Ju 88s made a head on attack but the Sunderland’s front turret opened up and the two Junkers aircraft seemed to take flight into the leaden clouds. Here’s that front turret again, with its rather light .303 guns.:

Four more Junkers then attempted to attack the ships but they were driven off by the convoy’s various defences. Less than a quarter of an hour later, six Junker Ju88s came in, four of them almost certainly Ju88A-4s. Two of them came for the Sunderland which went right down to the water to make itself a more difficult target. That didn’t stop the Germans who both attacked fiercely, but the flying boat’s gunners drove them off and they eventually fled.

The situation had now become dramatic enough for it to form the basis of a modern computer game:

The other four Ju88s, having already released their bombs, then made a line astern attack on the Sunderland but the rear gunner, Corporal William Gray Lillie, with his slightly heavier 0.5 machine guns sent the first one spiralling in flames into the cold, cold waters of the North Sea. Ignore the trees. It’s actually seaweed:

Corporal Lillie blasted the second German in his port engine which was soon pothering black oily smoke and flames. The German pilot left for his land base in Norway, uncertain if he would reach it with only one engine performing properly. In actual fact, he was forced to crash land in the as yet unoccupied northern section of Norway where the crew were forced to set their aircraft on fire before being arrested and interned.

Rather imaginatively, the final two Ju88s then attempted to drop their bombs onto the Sunderland. They missed and finally cleared off home.

N9046 reached Scotland safely and had no problems until Wednesday,  December 11th 1940 when, riding at anchor in Sullom Voe in the Shetlands, it suddenly caught fire and was completely destroyed.

Here is brave Corporal Lillie:

Did he survive the war? Well, sadly, no. He was killed in combat on July 21st 1940, shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf109 of 8./JG77:

Corporal Lillie was the rear gunner in Sunderland N9028. They had been sent to Trondheim in Norway on a clandestine reconnaissance mission to check the submarine base and to see if the Gneisenau had left the port. Here it is:

Next time, I will show you how a suave English actor is connected to the Short Sunderland and, indeed, the Junkers Ju88.

 

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My New Book

We have just finished publishing my new book about the High School’s casualties in WW2. Here is the front cover:

And here is the blurb from the back cover:

In the Footsteps of the Valiant: The Lives and Deaths of the Forgotten Heroes of Nottingham High School (Vol.1).

This is the first volume of a series detailing the Old Nottinghamians of all ages who sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom during the Second World War. After nearly five years of ground breaking research, I have been able to add at least forty new names to the official casualty list. I have also uncovered details of the fates of almost all of these hundred and twenty casualties wherever they died, from Saskatchewan to Iran.

This is not, however, a book just about death. I also tell the stories of their lives: their families, where they used to live and their years at school with Masters very different from those of today. You will discover their boyhood hobbies and their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. Most of all, you will find all the details of the conflicts they fought in and how they met their deaths, the details of which were completely unknown until I carried out my groundbreaking research. And all this is spiced with countless tales of the living Nottingham of yesteryear, a city so different from that of today.

No tale is left untold. No anecdote ignored.

Now available for purchase through Lulu.com:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-knifton/in-the-footsteps-of-the-valiant-the-lives-and-deaths-of-the-forgotten-heroes-of-nottingham-high-school-volume-one/paperback/product-24309191.html

The book has 348 pages and is 24 x 19 cms in size (9½ inches x 7½ inches). Any profits will go to ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the RAF Benevolent Fund.

The title refers to “the Valiant” because for the last hundred years or so, the hymn sung in the very first assembly of the school year is that old favourite, “He who would valiant be”. The hymn was the only one ever written by John Bunyan, the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. Here are the words of the three verses. They don’t write them like that any more:

“He who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster
Let him in constancy follow the Master
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim

Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound – his strength the more is
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit
We know we at the end, shall life inherit
Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say
I’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim”

Here’s the video:

Apparently the boys back in the 1920s wanted to sing the original unexpurgated John Bunyan version, but were not allowed to. Verse 3 lines 1 and 2 used to be:

“Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,

Can daunt his spirit “

Verse 2 lines 5 and 6 used to be equally exciting with:

“No lion can him fright,

He’ll with a giant fight,”

You can read all about it here.

This hymn has nowadays become the Battle Hymn of the SAS.

One Old Nottinghamian was killed fighting with the SAS in the Mediterranean theatre. Another died at Arnhem:

And another in Iran:

Another in Burma:

Another in Egypt:

In Leicester:

In Greece:

And in Saskatchewan, Canada:

And now, after nearly five years of completely original and ground breaking research, at least forty new names can now be added to the old list of eighty.

And the hitherto unknown details of the fates of almost all of these hundred and twenty casualties have been discovered.

The full story is available here.

 

 

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (2)

Last time, I was showing you round what is probably the same aircraft in two different locations, that is, the Short Sunderland flying boat at Hendon and then at Duxford.  Just to remind ourselves, the Sunderland was a mighty war machine:

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The Sunderland had a panoply of weapons. Something for every occasion:

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There was also an astrodome for taking bearings from the stars, and ASV radar, visible above the cockpit area:

I saw just part of my first ever Sunderland on ‎February 14‎th 2008, ‏‎ at 11:24:44. And, as you might expect for that date, it was love at first sight. The aircraft was behind a Handley Page Hastings and below a Hawker Harrier, and it was terribly squashed in:

I had to wait until 2010 when I went to Hendon to see a Sunderland displayed a little more favourably, and in a much bigger and more open area:

This particular Sunderland you could go inside. Just look at the room. You could fly a model plane around inside it:

The walls have lots of useful instructions:

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Overall, the Germans were very wary, if not simply afraid, of the Sunderland flying boat. It was an extremely heavily armed aircraft and a formidable opponent. No wonder they called it the “Flying Porcupine”. Porcupines look old, they look rather fat and are rightly known as being grumpy, solitary and always just wanting to be left alone. OMG. How many of those boxes can I tick? And don’t say “All of them”. Here’s a real porcupine at Newquay Zoo in Cornwall. They eventually sold him to Bristol Zoo for “excessive grumpiness”  :

And here’s a wild one in the Golan Heights of Israel. A really rare sight:

Final thought. What is the German for “Flying Porcupine” ?

Why it’s “Das Fliegende Schtachelschwein”, a phrase which has proved particularly useful in my trips to the Fatherland, especially to Berlin Zoo which is conveniently close to the airport.

 

 

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (1)

One of the world’s most bewitching aircraft is the Sunderland flying boat. When I was a boy, I never did save up enough pocket money for the Airfix kit, although it was only fifty pence or so in the 1960s. I should have bought it then, though. They’re fifty pounds now!

The Short S.25 Sunderland was a flying boat patrol bomber operated not just by RAF Coastal Command but also by the RAAF, the RCAF, the SAAF, the RNoAF and the Marinha Portuguesa. The last one’s a bit of a give away, but did you get all of the rest? This one’s Australian:

The Sunderland was designed and built by Short Brothers of Belfast, and the cynic inside me says that it was the only decent aircraft of their own that they made during the war. This model of the aircraft was numbered the S.25 because it was a warplane but it was a direct descendant of the S.23 Empire flying boat, the flagship of Imperial Airways. Here it is, a beautiful aircraft:

The new aircraft S25 was very well designed for its purpose. The Sunderland had a wingspan of 112 feet, a length of 85 feet and a height of 32 feet. It was a big aeroplane! Even the stabilising floats on the wings were as big as a rowing boat or a small plane. Compare one of them with the man with a pram, and the Walrus behind them both:

A Sunderland had four Bristol Pegasus XVIII nine-cylinder radial engines which gave it a total of 4,260 horse power:

And those powerful Pegasus engines gave it a range of around 1800 miles at a cruising speed of 178 mph Don’t fly too fast when you’re doing maritime reconnaissance!

The S 25 Sunderland featured a hull even more aerodynamic and more advanced than that of the S23. You can see why it’s called a “Flying Boat”:

Here’s lengthways:

Here’s the nose end of that hull:

Weapons included machine guns in front and rear turrets. The front turret had rather weak 0.303 guns which could not always penetrate thick metal, but at least I got a good shot of it:

I even got a good shot of the three jokers who seemed to be making off with the plane from the Hendon museum, trying to push it backwards through the very large French windows:

Here’s some close-ups for the wanted posters:

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I didn’t get any good photographs of the rear turret but it had heavier 0.50 calibre machine guns. You can just about spot it among the bits of other aircraft. It’s slightly right of centre:

There was also a heavy machine gun firing from each of the beam hatches. You can just about see one poking out here:

The Sunderland made extensive use of bombs, aerial mines, and depth charges. Here are four which have been winched out ready to drop. Hopefully, they are dummies:

Here they are in close up.

The Vickers Wellington’s immensely  powerful Leigh Lights, designed to light up U-boats on the surface at night, were rarely, if ever, fitted to Sunderlands.

Next time, a look inside the mighty Sunderland.

 

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