Category Archives: Aviation

Fred meets a Flying Circus

My Dad, Fred, spent nearly all of his life in South Derbyshire. In the sunny summers and snowy winters after the First World War, his home was at Number 39, Hartshorne Lane, Woodville. “Holmgarth” was the last house in the village as you went down the road towards the neighbouring village of Hartshorne. Here it is today:

After Fred’s house, further down the hill, there were a couple of large houses near a small lake on the left. They were just a few yards beyond the massive blue brick railway bridge which carried the passenger railway line from Woodville Station towards Swadlincote. A half mile or so further on was the old Saxon village of Hartshorne. Hartshorne Lane itself was made of gravel, and there was so little traffic that it was perfectly possible to play football or cricket all day long without any interruption whatsoever. Boys regularly knocked their cricket stumps into the surface of the road.

Indeed, the whole area was still so countrified, that one day in the late 1920s, a seven year old Fred saw a stray cow walking around in the front garden of the house, and rushed to tell his mother. She was busy with her housework, and just told him that he was being silly and telling lies. Eventually, though, she looked out of the kitchen window and she too noticed the cow which had by now made its way around the house to the kitchen garden. She was very startled and cried out in genuine fear. Young Fred, though, thought that this was a good example of somebody getting their just desserts. Here is young Fred with his bike but just look at the empty field behind him. It used to belong to a farming family called Startin. Nowadays, their field is completely covered in houses:

One sunny summer’s day in the 1930s, perhaps in 1935, an aircraft came in to land in Startin’s field at the back of Fred’s house in Hartshorne Lane. It was an Airspeed AS4 Ferry, a medium sized biplane, and was registered as G-ACBT. It had even featured in a special painting in an aviation magazine:

The aircraft belonged to the famous Flying Circus of Sir Alan Cobham, although it had previously been owned by the popular author, Neville Shute. He had used it as a ferry aircraft in southern Scotland and Northern Ireland. Here’s one of the photographs which were taken of this extraordinary event. The three people are, I think, Fred, the pilot and the mechanic :

Sir Alan Cobham was one of the foremost proponents of the virtues of flying, and with his support for the National Aviation Day, he gave enormous publicity to British aircraft and to the still relatively young RAF. Here he is:

An excited young Fred talked to the pilot while the mechanic went off to find some fuel for the aircraft from a local garage. When he returned, they refuelled the plane and then took Fred for a short flight around the local area.

This adventure, amazing by the Health and Safety standards of the present day, was to inspire Fred, years later, to join the RAF.

Ironically, the year when Fred joined the RAF, 1941, saw G-ACBT being finally dismantled at the scrapyard, in the absence of any potential buyers for this sturdy old aircraft.

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Filed under Aviation, History, Personal

A strange photograph (3)

In 2009, we were on our annual holiday in Cornwall, staying in a cottage near Penzance.  Here is Penzance, the last town in England and still plagued by pirates. Look for the sun tanned arrow:

On ‎August ‎17th , ‏‎around half past eleven in the morning, we arrived at Men an Tol, one of the most famous landmarks in this part of the world. Here’s  its location, right out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by other megalithic sites and lots of place names in Cornish. Look for the orange arrow again:

Men an Tol is a megalithic monument, supposedly, and we set off along the rough path out to the moors:

It was a nice day, lots of heather in bloom:

Standing stones are so plentiful in Cornwall that farmers even used them to build dry stone walls:

Here is a decidedly average photograph of the monument we were going to see. It  is a uniquely arranged Stone Age structure, although I have always felt that if it is uniquely arranged, that may be a negative feature rather than a positive one:

Here’s a better one:

Just for scale, the stones are perhaps three or four feet tall. I didn’t dare try to crawl through the hole, for obvious reasons.
There were a number of buzzards circling in the blue sky. This is a Common Buzzard:

The birds were all little dots high in the sky but I took some photographs, thinking that I could perhaps blow them up later on.
It must have been a couple of months later, as I worked my way through far too many mediocre photographs of our holiday that I noticed something a little out of the ordinary. Here is a full size photograph and the buzzards are still just tiny dots. Note the bracken though, because that will prove where I took all the photographs:

Here it is blown up. There are three buzzards in shot and the bracken is still there. Notice the tiny white cloud because that will reappear.

I started to try and look at the buzzards by blowing the picture up a little more. The little white puff of cloud is still there:

I immediately noticed something strange off to the right so I blew it up yet again. The white puff of cloud provides continuity of evidence:

What on earth is that? I blew it up again :

And again:

And this is the best I could do. I used “unsharp mask” on it this time:

I do not know what this object was. At the time I did not even know it was there.  It may have been an inflatable balloon or something from a pop concert or a festival of some kind, but that really is clutching at straws. No events like that happened in the area during our stay there. And it must have been quite big. A buzzard’s wingspan is around five feet and it is certainly bigger than that. I have never seen a children’s balloon that big. You could argue that it was a lot closer than the buzzards. But surely then I would have noticed it. Sooooo….by definition, it must have been a UFO. I just wish I’d seen it!

Incidentally. I have done very little with Photoshop to these pictures. They have been cropped, resized and may have had their brilliance and contrast levels changed to make the images clearer. These photographs are completely honest, in other words.

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Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature

the Messerschmitt Me 262 at Hendon

My visit to the RAF Museum at Hendon was a long while ago now, almost eight years, but a lot of the aircraft are still fresh in my memory.
One of my favourites was the Messerschmitt Me 262A-2a, the first jet fighter to experience actual combat:

The aircraft was impossible to photograph all in one go:

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Work on the aircraft started in 1938 and proceeded at a leisurely pace.  It made its first flight under jet power in 1942:

Before that it was tested with a propeller:

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When the two jet engines were fitted, the scientists continued with the tail wheel but found that there was a high chance of fuel sloshing backwards by reason of gravity and then catching fire. After that they changed to a nose wheel:

Perhaps the most famous thing ever said about the aircraft was by the charismatic fighter pilot Adolf Galland, who took the new jet fighter  for a spin one morning. When he returned he gave his verdict:

“What an aircraft! It was as though the Angels were pushing!”

In December 1943, though, Hitler, in his infinite wisdom, decided that the Me 262 should be manufactured as a fighter bomber so that it could oppose the Allied forces when they carried out their inevitable invasion in, as he thought, the Pas-de-Calais area of northern France. Nobody on the design team seems to have agreed with him. but it still pushed back the operational début of the new fighter until July 1944.
The “Schwalbe” (Swallow) or Sturmvogel (“Storm Bird”) had a top speed of 559 mph and it was far faster and far more advanced than any Allied fighter:

In actual fact though, the Me 262 had very little real impact on the war. The factories built 1,400 aircraft but for various reasons only 200 were operational at any given time. They destroyed as many as 450 Allied aircraft but around 100 Me 262s were shot down, mainly by Mosquitoes and Mustangs.

The problems were many. Because of the activities of Bomber Command, engines were in short supply and this meant only 28 aircraft were delivered in June 1944, 59 in July, and just 20 in August. Those were not the only difficulties caused by the 24 hour bombing of the Reich and the Allies’ near total air superiority. The Me 262 frequently had to be built in what have been called “low-profile production facilities”, some of them in surprising places such as clearings in the forest.
Even the transportation of the raw materials and the parts for the aircraft was extremely hazardous with Allied aircraft always looking for trains to beat up.  Furthermore, the continual presence of Allied fighters  made it virtually impossible to train pilots in safety. There was just nowhere quiet for them to learn to fly such a radically different aircraft. And above all, the jet engines themselves were of dubious quality. They lasted only 50 hours and suffered from a continual lack of the rare metals needed to make the basic steel extremely heat resistant:

The engines used in the Gloster Meteor would last around 125 hours with an overhaul required after 60 hours. Sir Frank Whittle said that :

“it was in the quality of high temperature materials that the difference between German and British engines was most marked”.

The Americans, of course, were keen to take on board the wonderful shape of the Me 262. Even the lines of the Boeing 737 recall the Me 262 from twenty years before:

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Science

Victor Comic and me (5)

On the front and back covers, Victor would always have the story of a brave man, or a number of brave men. I can well remember this edition of Victor, Number 25, arriving at our house. It tells the story of the courageous South African, John Nettleton VC, who led a brave daytime attack on the MAN Diesel works in Augsburg. Seven of the Lancasters were shot down, and at least 37 men were killed:

The drawings are seldom completely regular in Victor. The top of the next row is often visible in the frame above.

Here is the next frame, thumbs up, and everybody happy to set off on their desperate mission:

The bombers flew low and this is emphasised by the old cliché of horses being frightened. Sometimes, hats are blown off, but not today:

The agility of the fighters compared to the bombers is often emphasised by the different angles at which the two aircraft are flying. The sinister nature of the German fighter pilot is underlined by his lack of kindly eyes. Instead his evil eyes are masked by his goggles. Nobody in the RAF ever covers his eyes with his goggles:

In real life, operations like this one were always costly in lives. And a bomber pilot could take more than two years to train and it was an extremely expensive process. The story, though, makes the reader feel better by mentioning heavy German losses among the fighter pilots. That ignores, however, the fact that each bomber had seven men in it, and on average, when there was a terminal situation in a Lancaster, fewer than two of that seven would survive. And the fighter pilot, if he were shot down, would parachute down onto German soil. With luck, he could be back flying only three or four hours later:

This is the worst bit of a raid, flying straight and level just before the bombs were dropped:

This type of attack seldom had great effects and the effects it did have were seldom long lasting. The American bombing of the ball bearing works at Schweinfurt and of the oil wells at Ploesti in Rumania would fall into this category and people still argue about the Dambusters raid:

A thousand feet is not very high. And one or two of those Lancasters at the back seem to be morphing into B-24 Liberators:

It would have been one hell of a long way back, with, presumably, all of the German fighters knowing that the surviving Lancasters would be coming past any time soon:

And now came the question which is always asked around the time when the bombers are scheduled to arrive back at base. “How many are left?”

The British and the Americans always seemed to overestimate vastly the effect of their bombs on these specialised missions, especially early on in the conflict. Investigations after the war revealed that at Augsburg only 8 machine tools were destroyed out of 2,700. Of 558 cranes, just 5 were destroyed:

What cannot be denied is the bravery of every single crewman and the huge effect that this raid had on morale. Nettleton toured widely, addressing meetings both in Britain and in North America. Here is a news film of the time about the raid:

John Nettleton was killed on his way back from Turin after a bombing raid on July 13th 1943. Luftwaffe fighters were scrambled as the returning bombers passed over Brittany in the early hours of daylight. It is believed that an Fw190 shot his Lancaster down over the sea. Nettleton’s body has never been found. Much to my amazement, the Nettleton School in Braeside, Harare, in Zimbabwe, still exists. I need to be less cynical.

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

A young German dies (1)

Death in war is very strange.  As kindly old Uncle Joe Stalin used to say, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” He would frequently ease his constantly untroubled conscience with wise old peasant maxims like that one.

The Russian means “Glory to the Great Stalin!”

Let’s just take a look at a million deaths and a single death.

This account isn’t quite a million deaths but it makes a good contribution to the overall total. These are the statistics about a single night during the Second World War. They are taken from “The Bomber Command War Diaries and Operational Reference Book 1939 to 1945” by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt.” This is one of the best, if not the best, reference work about the activities of Bomber Command. It is not in the slightest bit gung-ho. It is factual and leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind. And it relates the death toll both in the air and on the ground.

“April 22-23, 1944.  Düsseldorf bombed by 596 aircraft….323 Lancasters, 254 Halifaxes, 19 Mosquitoes.  29 aircraft… 16 Halifaxes and 13 Lancasters were lost, 4.9% of the force.”

In those 29 bombers, a minimum of 134 men were killed.

“2150 tons of bombs were dropped in this heavy attack which caused much destruction but also allowed the German night fighter force to penetrate the bomber stream. Widespread damage was caused on the ground. Among the statistics in the local report are: 56 large industrial premises hit, of which seven were completely destroyed, more than 2000 houses destroyed or badly damaged”:

“Casualties recorded by 2 PM on April 25th were 883 people killed, 593 injured and 403 still to be dug out of wrecked buildings ; at least three quarters of this last figure would have been dead.”

For my single death, I will go to the programmes of Norm Christie, one of my very favourite presenters of historical programmes on TV:

Christie always presents the Canadian point of view, which is very often different, and may well be a lot less favourable to the British ruling classes than, say, the BBC one.  One of his best programmes contained a portrayal of Arthur Currie, the leader of the Canadian forces in World War One and a man from very humble origins. He changed the face of warfare at the time. I realised that Norm Christie would have some interesting ideas when he contrasted a photograph of Haig’s Generals with one of Currie. Do you see what makes Currie a man apart?

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And Norm Christie is not directly related to an officer involved in masterminding the carnage of the First World War. At least one regular television presenter can’t say that and I refuse to watch any programmes he has made. To be continued.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, France, History, Politics

Victor Comic and me (4)

This time in Victor, it’s Coastal Command. Patrolling the Ocean Blue in their aircraft and bombing U-boats. Until the German anti aircraft gunners take a hand….

And that single event, that single exploding shell, seems to put a very abrupt end to all of the crew’s sentiments about peace on earth which might be talked about in church on a Sunday morning . We are moved on very quickly from love for our fellow man to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth! And what about the words of the world’s most misspelled holy man, Gandhi? An eye for an eye and the whole world is blind?  All those lovely thoughts are completely knocked on the head. Literally. Vengeance is the order of the day. Just listen to what he says…..

And the next frame asks some very pertinent questions about staffing levels in the wartime RAF.

If we don’t need a bomb-aimer, then why did we bring one?

He could have been at home, spending his afternoon with his stamp album and his hinges, sticking in that German set with ships on, rather than bombing the real thing….

Aircraft recognition anyone? Well, it’s a Consolidated PBY Catalina, dropping old oil drums on a U-boat…..

No real man likes a hand placed tenderly on his shoulder, even if he’s wounded.

Leave me alone and go and look after Jack, we’ve all been very worried about him…..

I’ve spent my whole life being a facetious commentator on life.

In actual fact, I am a great admirer of Victor comic and even as an adult, I can see lots of positive teachings within its heavily serrated pages.

Soooooo…it will be a Victor true story with no facetiousness whatsoever next time. Well, only a teeny weeny bit.

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The End of the War in Europe and Church Gresley (5)

A few days after I finished writing this blog post, I was wandering across the Internet when I came across an auction webpage called “The Saleroom” which featured a copy of my programme but in much, much, better condition:

The programme had no autographs but did have some team changes written on it, in pencil, of course:

The first one revealed that the RAF goalkeeper may not have been Corporal Timms but “Hardwick England”

I have taken this to refer to Ken Hardwick who played for Rossington Colliery, Doncaster Rovers (308 appearances), Scunthorpe United (96 appearances) and Barrow (12 appearances). He never played for England but he did suffer one of the cruellest and shameful things ever experienced by a footballer. It occurred in a letter which he received out of the blue about an England appearance. In 1955, he was invited by the FA to play for England, but it was for the Under 23 team and George was, by then, 30 years old. Well, done the Football Association, always with their eye on the ball! Here’s Ken, in his younger days:

Alternatively, the best fit for “Hardwick England” might conceivably be George Hardwick of Middlesbrough and Oldham. He had 13 England caps, some as captain, but he was a left full back, rather than a goalkeeper. Here he is, on a cigarette card which he has autographed in later life:

It’s difficult to imagine, though, that Griffiths of Manchester City would not have changed position to accommodate somebody as important as George Hardwick, ex-Captain of England. Having said that, most professional outfield players would be able to play as goalkeeper in a charity game without too many problems. Perhaps George was just amused by the idea, so he had a go in the atmosphere of universal happiness that must have been in the air for all of that First Day of Peace in Europe.

In actual fact, George Hardwick was considered Middlesbrough’s greatest ever player and they have a statue of him outside their stadium:

Near “Thompson” something has been written and it appears to me to be “Hall Spurs”:

This may be Albert E B. Hall, an outside right, who, between 1935-1947, had appeared 81 times for Tottenham Hotspur, or Spurs, as they are better known by their fans, scoring 22 goals.

It may be Fred W. Hall who appeared 23 times  between 1944-1946.

It may be G Willie Hall, an inside right who managed 376 appearances, with 45 goals scored, between 1932-1944. He was actually a fairly local man, born in Newark in Nottinghamshire.

It may have been Jack Hall. This is the least likely because all of Jack’s 67 appearances between 1936-1946 came as a goalkeeper.

Overall though, this is a singular lesson in the value of including an initial!

Near ‘Chapman’ there is something written. If this programme was ever owned by a little boy, the little boyish handwriting says “lost 4-7” but this is far from definite in my mind. Other figures are written in near both Carter and Doherty but I really don’t know what they are:

What I need, of course, is a newspaper report, but that’s easier said than done!

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Derby County, Football, History, Personal