Category Archives: Aviation

The Battle of Britain (5)

Last time I mentioned the name of “Watty” Watson who was the High School’s only member of Churchill’s famous “Few” that I have discovered so far. I did find one other Old Nottinghamian who was in Fighter Command during the period of the Battle of Britain, but he did not fly the legendary Spitfire, yet another picture of which I just cannot resist:

Instead, Flying Officer Walker flew the Bristol Blenheim Mark I which was desperately pressed into service as a night fighter:

While he was at school, “Watty” had been a keen rugby player for the First XV:

He was a keen member of the Second XI at cricket:

Most of all, he loved the Officers Training Corps:

As you look at the photograph the boy on the left is “Higgs” and the boy on the right is “MacKirdy”. The three behind, left to right, are JMT Saunders, Burley and MJ Dodds, as far as we know.

Eventually, “Watty” was promoted to Drum Major, every boy’s dream, having your own drum. Having your own leopard skin wasn’t bad either:

And in close up:

But if you have a big drum, then you’ve got to bang it, bang it loud and march like a maniac:

What’s that quotation?

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

So “Watty” gave up his drum and his leopard skin, but he was eventually given something he liked a whole lot better:

Here he is, in close up:

“Watty” gave his life for this country’s freedom on November 28th 1940. He was “Blue Two” and he was just 19 years of age.

If you ever want to put some flowers on his grave, “Watty” is buried in the Nottingham Southern Cemetery on Wilford Hill, off the A60 Loughborough Road,  in Section  M.24, Grave 74. We all owe him, and his colleagues, one hell of a debt.

 

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The Battle of Britain (4)

The Battle of Britain was Nazi Germany’s first defeat. It was brought about by the famous “Few”.

In the picture above the pilots are running towards their Hurricanes, formidable fighters which claimed 60% of the Luftwaffe aircraft shot down. Here is the most beautiful aircraft ever built:

Even as a little boy, I was fascinated by that magic sounding colour for the underneath of a Spitfire, “duck egg blue”.

I used to teach at Nottingham High School. Two of our Old Boys fought, and died, in the Battle of Britain.

One of them was Arthur Roy Watson. He was born in Basford, a district in the north of Nottingham. Originally the family lived at 193 College Street in Long Eaton, a suburb to the west of Nottingham. College Street runs roughly north to south in Long Eaton. Here is his house, now divided into two semi-detached houses:

College Street’s southern end is on Derby Road more or less opposite Trent College where a propeller from Albert Ball’s aircraft is on display in the library and the original cross from his grave in France is kept in the college chapel:

Did young Arthur ever go to see these important relics? Did they inspire him?  I have already written about the famous World War One fighter ace and the various escapades he found himself involved in. Here he is in his days at Trent College, after his expulsion from Nottingham High School and the King’s School, Grantham:

After living in Long Eaton, the Watson family then moved to 48 Carisbrooke Drive, a leafy suburban road that overlooks the old High School playing fields at Mapperley Park:

His friends in the squadron called him “Watty”, “Rex” or “Doc” because that made him “Doctor Watson”. Here he is standing by his Spitfire. He was just 19 when he was killed:

 

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The Battle of Britain (3)

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There is no better person to tell the story of the Battle of Britain that the greatest ever Englishman, Sir Winston Churchill:

“The Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science” :

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“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

He produced a second speech which gave us another memorable phrase:

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

“All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power.”

We actually know exactly how that phrase “Never in the field….” came about.

On August 20th 1940 Churchill was travelling in a car with Major General Hastings Ismay to give a speech about the Battle of Britain in the House of Commons. Churchill was reading the speech out aloud to Ismay and it was originally “Never in the history of mankind have so many owed so much to so few”. Ismay interrupted him and said “What about Jesus and his disciples?” Churchill concurred and immediately changed it to its present form “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”.

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The Battle of Britain (2)

Deep in the bowels of the RAF Museum at Hendon is the Battle of Britain section where the lighting is of a strange purple colour so that delicate ancient paint is not faded by direct sunlight. That’s an extra excuse for these rather weird photographs. First of all, the baddies, with that old favourite, the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, an aircraft used in the blitzkrieg to dive bomb defenceless refugees:

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Here’s a Heinkel He111 which was all right as a bomber but which didn’t carry a particularly significant bomb load. Even so, it performed well at Guernica, Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places as the Germans invented the much criticised concept of “area bombing”.

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The fighters were the Messerschmitt Bf110, a rather slow aircraft for daylight use which would eventually finish up having to be escorted by better performing fighters:

This is the Junkers Ju 88, a twin engined and very versatile aircraft which was arguably, a competent Bristol Blenheim or a poor man’s De Havilland Mosquito:

Last and certainly not least is the famous Messerschmitt Bf 109, a decent fighter, but an aging design which was prepared in response to a Reichsluftfahrtministerium specification of 1933. Bf 109s couldn’t carry enough fuel to fight for very long over Southern England. And a Spitfire, in theory, could always escape them by turning tightly inside them:

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The Bf 109 at Hendon does not really allow you to stand back and get a decent general photograph. Here is one I found on the Internet. It certainly is a stunning photograph:

The Hendon individual is a Bf 109E-3 and it may have been painted as a yellow nosed member of Jagdgeschwader JG26, “The Abbeville Boys”. There must have been a little plaque in front of it, but I can’t remember what it said. Its detailed history can be accessed here.

And in the blue corner…….the Supermarine Spitfire. Here’s my effort at a picture:

As one writer said,

“It was one of the most beautiful aircraft ever conceived with elegant, flowing lines that make it look perfect from every angle.”

And the most stunning Spitfire ever was the Mark I or Ia or the Mark IIa.

This gallery of photographs comes from the Internet. With a little bit of luck, you should be able to see what I mean about a beautiful aircraft:

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And there’s also a Hawker Hurricane, an aircraft which, as we all know, shot down more German aircraft in the Battle of Britain than the Spitfire. The scores were roughly 60% to 40%. The Hurricane was a design which looked backwards to its biplane ancestors, especially the Hawker Fury:

On the plus side the Hurricane was a lot easier to repair than its cooler cousin, the Spitfire. It was easier to make as well, 10,300 man hours rather than 15,200 for the Spitfire. And easier to make meant cheaper, of course. Here are my unworthy efforts:

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And now some proper photographs:

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And next time, the Old Nottinghamians make an appearance.

 

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The Battle of Britain (1)

We visited RAF Hendon on July 22nd 2010. It seems an age ago. Hendon is a fantastic museum, easy to get to from the M1 and FREE ENTRY. What is there not to like?

The first few photographs show the display outside the museum. One is a Hurricane and the other is a Spitfire. I’ll leave you to work out which is which. Here’s an aircraft with a cannon in each wing which, I think, means that it cannot have been a Battle of Britain participant:

Here’s another view of the very first aircraft:

And the second aircraft again… This is as close as I get to that weirdo artistic sort of photograph:

Here’s the last picture of aircraft No 1 and 3:

And here’s a free clue to the identity of this aircraft. American readers…”Sorry!”

And here’s aircraft No 2 and 4 again:

Well, the odd numbers are the Hawker Hurricane and the even numbers are the Supermarine Spitfire, originally called the Supermarine Shrew. The way to tell them apart is that the Hurricane, or “Harry Kane” to give you the answer to the clue, has one huge radiator under the fuselage and the Spitfire always has two smaller ones, one under each wing.

It was months after our visit that I found out that both aircraft outside the museum were counterfeit. Made of plastic, apparently. The museum people don’t make that particularly obvious. I suspect that they’re scared that they’ll be killed in the crush of middle aged men who all want one for the front lawn.
The Spitfire was, of course, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell who worked for Supermarine Aviation of Southampton. Here he is:

Many Germans could not separate RJ Mitchell from the man who played him in the film, Leslie Howard. Here’s Leslie Howard:

They could be identical twins, couldn’t they?

The Spitfire’s wing was of an innovative shape at the time. I didn’t know though, that there was a good deal of input from Beverley Strahan Shenstone, a Canadian engineer. Here he is. He isn’t in the film. The British  always seem to have kept Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders well out of their films:

Beverley Shenstone studied in Germany under Hugo Junkers and Alexander Lippisch. I found this out in a marvellous book I read recently called “Secret Wings of World War II” by Lance Cole. Here it is. It’s an excellent book:

To quote the author:

“By 1932, Shenstone had authored several papers stemming from his German studies…he was soon employed by RJ Mitchell, Shenstone was the man who within four years had shaped the Spitfire’s ellipsoid wing, its wing fillet and many of its aerodynamic design features.”

A wing fillet is the smooth curve between the fuselage and the wing. It improves air flow. It isn’t particularly obvious in the plastic Spitfire above but there will be a Spitfire Mark I appearing soon and it’s a lot more obvious on that aircraft.

Hugo Junkers was beyond the cutting edge of aircraft design in 1945. This is his Junkers Ju 287 bomber with forward pointing wings. And yes, it flew perfectly:

Even in the 1930s, his designs were astounding. Swept back wings with propellers:

 And a flying wing, the J 1000 Super Duck:

Alexander Lippisch was even better than Hugo Junkers. Here he is:

His first aircraft was not very good:

But after that, by the standards of 1940, WOW!

 The Americans are still flying around in his thoughts and ideas:

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the Gloster Meteor at Hendon (2)

Last time I was talking about my visit to RAF Hendon where I saw the Messerschmitt Me 262, and I also saw the first RAF jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor F8. I ended the post by saying what the Meteor’s good points were:

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Set against the positives of the Meteor, though, is its dreadful safety record which soon led to the new jet fighter being called “The Meatbox”.

Almost 900 were lost by the RAF, the peak year being 1953 with 145 crashes:

Factors to blame were apparently poor brakes, the landing gear, completely different flying characteristics from piston engined aircraft, a flight endurance of less than 60 minutes which caused pilots to run out of fuel and lots of difficulties when only one engine was working. Even with two engines, response times were very sluggish. To add to the list, when pilots in those days were taught how to fly on one engine, the other engine was switched off completely so, to quote the forum where I found it, “you had no chance if you fouled it up”. The aircraft also apparently had a nasty habit of diving straight into the ground when any flap or the undercarriage was lowered when the wing mounted airbrakes were out. There were no ejection seats in early aircraft and it was therefore very difficult to bale out of, although it was extremely easy to hit the tail on the way out. The foreign air forces had the same kind of difficulties. Here is a Belgian crash:

According to one account I found, the Coroner at Darlington actually subpoenaed the commander of the local base to make him come and explain the steadily increasing size of the RAF section of the municipal cemetery. No problem for the commander. All he needed to do was to invoke the Official Secrets Act and it was problem solved. At least one student pilot on every course was being killed. No 74 Squadron had three killed in as many months:

In “The Meteor Boys” by Steve Bond there is an account by a prospective young pilot of his going on a course to learn to fly Meteors at RAF Driffield. He went to a funeral on his first Thursday and then to another the following Monday, and a third on the following Thursday.
In foreign service in the Netherlands, the Meteor was the second most dangerous jet aircraft they ever had with almost 36 crashes in every 100,000 hours of flying. (And the winner is…… the F-84 Thunderjet with almost 56 crashes per 100K hours):


Perhaps we should put these figures for the Meteor in RAF service in context, though. One forum I came across said that in 1953 the RAF lost 486 aircraft with 334 fatalities. The other years of the 1950s are believed to be 1950 : 380 aircraft lost and 238 fatalities, 1951 : 490 aircraft lost and 280 fatalities, 1952 : 507 aircraft lost and 318 fatalities, 1954 : 452 aircraft lost and 283 fatalities, 1955 : 305 aircraft lost and 182 fatalities, 1956 : 270 aircraft lost and 150 fatalities, 1957 : 233 aircraft lost and 139 fatalities, 1958 : 128 aircraft lost and 87 fatalities and 1959 : 102 aircraft lost and 59 fatalities

If my trusty calculator is correct, that makes 3,353 aircraft lost and 2,070 young men killed. My quick mental arithmetic says that you had, therefore, a 61.73575902177% chance of a premature death if anything went wrong with your 1950s RAF aircraft.

It must have been this kind of situation that provoked Prime Minister Winston Churchill to ask the Air Minister “Is the RAF training or killing its pilots?” The Air Minister told Churchill not to worry as these kind of figures were merely par for the course.
None of this takes away from the Meteor, though, the honour of being the first ever British jet fighter:

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My Dad came across a Gloster Meteor once:

“one day in late 1944, everybody was in the mess at Lossiemouth, eating their lunch and drinking their cups of tea. Suddenly the door was flung open, and a very excited young man came in shouting “Quick ! Quick ! Come outside and see this ! There’s a crate out here without any props ! ”

And sure enough, outside the mess hall, on the runway, stood one of the RAF’s first jet aircraft, a Gloster Meteor, a fighter plane which did not have any propellers. The mechanics could not believe that the strange aircraft would even be capable of flight. But then they realised…..

“ No more prop changes ! ”

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Fred joins the RAF (4)

We left Fred last time in Blackpool doing his basic training with Sergeant Parry. All of the RAF’s young volunteers were billeted in boarding houses which, in peacetime, would have accommodated holiday makers. Here are Fred and his friends:

And here is the section with Fred in it. It always reminds me of the RAF version of “Where’s Wally?”:

The boarding house landladies in Blackpool were paid for every recruit they took, but a substantial minority saw this as a fine opportunity to profiteer, accepting money for meals that were never to materialise in the quantities that the payments might have implied. Instead, these unscrupulous women either ate the food themselves, or, more frequently, sold it to their neighbours, who were themselves short of food because of rationing.

In the boarding house where Fred was billeted, thanks to their particular greedy grasping landlady, the individual portions served, were, at best, markedly small. One day, after Physical Training on the beach, Fred and his friend Jacques, came back early from their exercise.

Jacques was Fred’s best pal at this time. He was the son of a Yorkshire farmer, with the physical build, and indeed the appetite for food, to match his origins. Here is the group as a whole in a formal class photograph:

And here are Fred and Jacques as a close-up :

If you remember,  Fred and Jacques had come back early from their Physical Training on the beach. Fred went straight upstairs to wash and make sure he was properly dressed for the meal. Jacques, however, went immediately into the dining room where he found a whole ham, meant for twelve hungry young recruits, waiting in the centre of the table. Jacques, clearly accustomed to Yorkshire farmer sized servings, immediately presumed that the meat was for him and without further ado, he ate the lot.

The reaction of his colleagues when they eventually arrived from their afternoon’s exertions, has not been recorded for posterity, but at best, they were not very impressed.

One of the other men in Fred’s boarding house had  a knowledge both of chemistry and of the behaviour of dogs. One fine, sunny day he went down to the local chemist’s shop, and bought a very large quantity of aniseed concentrate which he then proceeded to dilute:

He took this magic potion and laid scent trails through the streets of Blackpool, all of which led back to the boarding house. He then continued the trails inside the building, entering through both the front and the back doors, leading up the stairs to the different floors, then onto the landings, into the bedrooms and into the bathrooms. In short, his aniseed trails reached every single square inch of the property. Aniseed is desperately attractive to dogs. Once they get the scent…

…off they go, like addicts to their next fix:

They just cannot resist that aniseedy smell:

The result was one glorious afternoon of revenge, as every dog in Blackpool, driven crazy by the overpowering and intoxicating scent of aniseed, arrived at the house and ran berserk, up and down the stairs, careering backwards and forwards along the landings, chasing in and out of the rooms, widdling, piddling and scent marking up every wall and in every recess and corner as they went.

Never make an enemy of the RAF.

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