Category Archives: Aviation

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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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Film & TV, History, Personal

Hedgecoe and Bamford : the Final Chapter

Last year, on February 7th, I published a post called “Hedgecoe and Bamford : Death in the Night”.

The post was about two young heroes of 151 Squadron who were flying a Mosquito night fighter of No. 85 Squadron over Kent, during the night of March 24th-25th 1944. The pilot was Flying Officer Edward Richard Hedgecoe (34) and the radar operator was Flight Lieutenant Norman Llewellyn Bamford (25). They were both experienced marksmen, with Hedgecoe having claimed eight victims and Bamford taking part in the destruction of ten enemy machines:

I described the rather quirky events of that night when they found an apparent Junkers Ju 188,

The rather infrequently encountered German aircraft was weaving violently from side to side. They approached to within a hundred yards and then let it have a burst of cannon fire. What happened next is in my blog post from February 7th 2018.

The rest of my blog post then concerned the eventual deaths of Messrs Hedgecoe and Bamford, the final fate of whom I could merely make a best guess at. They perished on January 1st 1945 but I quite simply did not know the circumstances.

I was delighted, therefore, some nineteen months later, to receive a comment about the eventual fate of the two men. The comment came from Denis Sharp.

Denis provided a very long and detailed account of the two airmen, so good in fact that I thought it ought to be better showcased than the ordinary run-of-the-mill comment.

Please be aware therefore, that these are not my words but a recent reply to an old blog post of mine from Denis Sharp:

“The loss of this aircraft from former RAF Hunsdon is well known to myself, as an historian for the airfield I can give you this small additional piece of the story.
In its heyday it was a Mosquito night fighter station, many famous squadrons were based here from 1941 to 1945, and one of the RAF’s most famous low level attacks took place from this deserted abandoned airfield. This was the low level attack on the German run prison at Amiens in France in February 1944, one of the most charismatic airmen of that period, Group Captain P.E Pickard lost his life along with his navigator Flt Lt Alan Broadley on that raid, also lost was Flt Lt Dick Sampson, the navigator from a second aircraft that was also bought down.

Let’s go back over seventy years to the 31st of December 1944, two replacement Mosquito aircrew reported for duty with 151 Squadron at this airfield. Squadron Leader Edward Hedgecoe DFC and Bar, and his Navigator Flying Officer Norman Llewellyn Bamford DFC and Bar. Both were both posted in from the Fighter Interception Unit where they had been resting from operational combat sorties. At the FIU they had helped train inexperienced night fighter aircrew as well as developing tactics and equipment. They were sent to join 151 Squadron at Hunsdon as replacements, both were both very experienced airmen who had each earned the DFC and Bar in combat prior to joining the FIU from 85 Squadron some months earlier.

On New Year’s Day, Monday the 1st January 1945, Squadron Leader Hedgecoe and Flying Officer Bamford found themselves on the duty roster for operations that night, a mere two days after arriving at Hunsdon. 151 Squadron were a Mosquito night fighter squadron and regularly flew patrols over German held territory on the continent in an effort to shoot down German night bombers and Luftwaffe night fighters that were taking a toll of RAF heavy bombers.

Sometime in the early afternoon on the 1st January 1945, the pair climbed into their Mosquito, a Mk30 NF bearing the serial number NT253, to carry out a routine air test prior to further rest before flying later that night. The test was to establish if all the aircraft’s systems were working correctly, after the flight the acceptance form ‘700’ would be signed by the pilot and the aircraft would be then fit for operations, the fuel tanks would be topped off and all would be ready for the pair to use when their allotted time for flight arrived later that night.

The weather that day was not that good but flying had been cleared and aircraft had been allotted to cover various Night fighter and Intruder operations to Luftwaffe airfields on the Continent. The wind was from the south west and Hedgecoe and Bamford set off on the secondary runway for their twenty minute test flight that involved a circuit or two of the airfield before making their approach to the northern end of the same runway. While on this approach and at a height of about 300ft, the Mosquito stalled a wing, a known trait of the aircraft at low airspeed, and spun into the ground just 450 yards short of the concrete runway. Being fully loaded with fuel and made of wood, the Mosquito burned fiercely. Both Squadron Leader Hedgecoe and Flying Officer Bamford died in the wreckage.”

So now, thanks to Denis Sharp, we know the last, sad, part of the story.

If you want to hear more from Denis, here is the link to his website .

Here’s a Mosquito crash  site today:

 

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Filed under Aviation, History

the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk at Hendon

On July 22nd 2010, we visited the RAF Museum at Hendon. I took a great number of photographs and these few show the Curtiss Kittyhawk IV.

First  a general view of the aircraft, taken from the rear, as the museum is very, very, full. The peculiar colours are because of the strange Jacques Cousteau type lighting which is supposed to prevent deterioration of the original paint from the 1940s. They originally found some thirteen P-40s abandoned in the New Guinea jungle in 1974 but I suppose you can’t be too careful! Incidentally that was the same operation that retrieved the RAAF Beaufort I depicted a little while back:

Here’s a second view of the Hendon P-40 with perhaps a little bit less of the “Under the Sea” effect and a lot more of that strange deep purple light made famous by the Aviator Formerly Known as Prince. Here’s a very slightly different view of the P-40. And by the way, I don’t know why the question mark is there:

And here, incidentally, is that Bristol Beaufort, with the link to read about it:

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One of the most interesting things about this plane is its name. Manufactured by Curtiss-Wright of Buffalo, New York, the largest aviation company in the USA during the 1930s, the P-40D and subsequent models was called the Kittyhawk by the RAF, the RAAF, the RCAF and the RNZAF as well as the South African Air Force. It was used extensively in North Africa:

The earlier P-40A, P-40B, and P-40C models were called Tomahawks. I have no idea whatsoever why, other than a sneaking feeling that it was just to confuse everybody who wasn’t aware of the story. The Kittyhawk had a more powerful engine and if you like aircraft engines, you can read a tale involving substandard or defective aircraft engines for military use, conspiracy, false testimony, gross irregularities, neglect of duty, troublemakers and a general court martial via this link. Amazingly, the paragraph you need is called “”Defective engines sold to U.S. military in World War II. It was apparently such a big story at the time that Arthur Miller wrote a play about it.

These two pictures show the most famous thing about so many P-40s and Kittyhawks. The shark’s mouth nose art:

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On a P-40, the first people to use this design seem to have been the Chinese Nationalist Air Force although they seem to have thought that they were using a big cat, insofar as they were dubbed “The Flying Tigers”. They were still the most famous of the Shark’s Mouth aircraft though:

So just treat yourself to a little bit of the film “The Flying Tigers”. John Wayne at his very best:

In this film, “The Duke” actually speaks Chinese. Two words, “Ding Hao”.

In case you don’t know, “Ding Hao” means good luck, or good day or very good or fantastic and so on. Not as universally applicable a word as “Mao” in “The Deer Hunter” but not bad. It’s quite impressive when one single word is an entire language:

 

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Filed under Aviation, History

The problems with researching World War Two (1)

During my researches of the High School’s war casualties, I soon encountered one, huge, huge, problem. This was the fact that somebody at the High School, a pupil or a member of staff, might have exactly the same name as a casualty listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website, but beyond that, there was nothing else to link them together, or to keep them firmly apart. No date of birth. No date of death. No parents’ names. No place where they had lived. Nothing.

The reason for this strange state of affairs is that in the huge number of names listed on the CWGC website there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of casualties which provide no extra details at all which would allow any definite links to be made. In particular, no date of birth is ever listed.

I have always presumed that this has happened because, when the new recruit filled in the paperwork early in his military career, there was some kind of option which allowed him to preserve his privacy in this way.

To take a completely random example, Sergeant Leonard Thompson in the RAF was killed on Wednesday, September 16, 1942 and his sacrifice is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial near London. And there are no more details than that provided about Leonard, no date of birth, no age, no parents’ names, no town of origin, and no town of residence, absolutely nothing. So if there is a Leonard Thompson in the School Register, of an age to be in the Royal Air Force, there is no definite way of linking the two together, unless you find it mentioned in another book or on another website elsewhere (something which I have not yet done in five years of research).

This is all there is to link Leonard to anybody else:

Certainly, photographic evidence is of little value. Are these the same person? The little bugler boy at the High School:

And the rear gunner on an Avro Lancaster bomber (front row, right) ?

Let’s take another completely random example. In the School Register, Boy No 4959, John Taylor, is an orphan and has no parents listed. Only Mrs AM Cooke is recorded as a “Father or next Friend”. She is most probably a relative of one of John’s parents and is now the adult legally responsible for John Taylor’s welfare. Clearly, the original Mr Taylor has passed away and so too, probably, has Mrs Taylor.

But was young High School boy, John Taylor, Boy No 4959 in the School Register, the same person as Private Taylor, 4748560, of the York and Lancaster Regiment? Or was he Able Seaman Taylor, D/JX 303159, in the Royal Navy? Or perhaps he was Engine Room Artificer 4th Class,  John Taylor, D/MX 75819. Or maybe Stoker 1st Class JohnTaylor,  P/KX 601918 ?

Or perhaps the High School’s John Taylor was Flight Sergeant Taylor, Service Number  1079856? Or was he Gunner John Taylor, 4385260 ? or Private John Taylor, 3909612 of the South Wales Borderers? Or Sapper John Taylor 1888052 of the Royal Engineers? Maybe  he was Gunner John Taylor, 941298, of the Royal Artillery ?

Back to Leonard Thompson. Another war casualty to bear the same name was Gunner Leonard Thompson. He was killed on Thursday, May 18, 1944 and he is buried in the Beach Head War Cemetery at Anzio in Italy. He was a member of the 92 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. There are no more details about him either. There is no age, no parents’ names, no town of origin, no town of residence, nothing. He might well be the Leonard Thompson in the School Register but then again, he might not. There is nothing definite to link him to the High School. Here is the beach at Anzio, as usual, full of Americans in their flashy, cheap tanks:

Still, at least it kept the Germans’ towels off the sunloungers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Nottingham, The High School, Writing

Vandalism in the School Archives? Or is it Art?

A few months ago, I went into the School Archives to photograph the School Lists. They are quite boring little booklets to be brutally honest, but they are very informative and record the names of all the members of all the forms in the School for every year. The oldest ones date from the late 1860s, but because I was researching the school’s casualties in World War II, I started my James Bond activities with 1892 and then went forwards as far as 1950. Just for the sake of argument, here’s one, with a particularly famous ex-pupil on it:

With all that information, it is actually a Victorian Excel Spreadsheet!

The only thing out of the ordinary that I found in 3.96 GB of School Lists was in the edition for 1941:

Once again, some young man was feeling the ‘Call of the Skies’:

Below the printers’ name, he had knocked out a couple of bombers;

Here’s the larger of the two bombers blown up as best I can:

It is called the 320 and has a range of 3,000 miles, with an endurance, I think he means, not ‘duration’, of 6 hours 8 minutes and a bomb load of 3,000lbs. It also has 8 machine guns. Looks a bit like a Blenheim with the nose of a Heinkel, the tail of an Airspeed Oxford perhaps and inline engines.

Here’s the smaller of the two bombers blown up as best I can:

It is called the 350 and has a range of 1,000 miles, with no armament. It looks a bit like a Blenheim with the nose of a Heinkel, the tail of an Airspeed Oxford perhaps and inline engines. Here’s one I prepared earlier:

I have also tried hard to blow up the first of the fighters:

It has one 1 inch cannon, in the propeller boss, by the look of it, and 8 machine guns.

The other fighter is rather Spitfire like:

It is called the 398 and has 4 cannon, 4 machine guns, an endurance of 5 hours and a range of 3,000 miles. I’m sorry to say that Maths was not necessarily this young man’s strong point! The German fighter has no names or specifications:

For me, it is mainly Focke Wulf Fw 190, but there is a little dash of Mitsubishi Zero in it as well perhaps.

I often think that we regret what we do not do far more than what we do do. When I was in the Sixth Form at Ashby-de-la-Zouch Boys’ Grammar School, we used to have French lessons in a smaller room because there were only 12 of us. One of the desks had a fantastic carving of a B-17 Flying Fortress, deep into the wood of the lid, with all the ailerons, all the machine guns and all the ventilation holes in the gun barrels. It was fabulous. This is the closest I can find on the Internet:Looking back at how much money the school had, I suspect it dated from  1943 rather than 1963 and the Airfix kit of that era:

My regret is that I did not find any way of preserving this work of art rather than it be thrown into a skip in the middle 70s.

Not much survives of the pupils in any school. And what does would have been classified as vandalism at the time. Such as this example from 1922:

or this one from 1942:

or this one from a young man who upset the High School more than he could ever imagine:

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Nottingham, Personal, The High School

My Book (3)

I am still quite proud of the fact that I have found out so much information about the vast majority of these young men. I feel that I have done them all justice and that I have done my very best to keep them in people’s memories, even as they seem to be receding further and further into the anonymous grey mists of time. Here is the School Rugby team in 1926-1927:

I have made great efforts to drag the complete ghost out of the past and to write not just about their fiery deaths but to try and unfold the full and energetic lives they led. It’s only too easy to see a name on a war memorial, to read that name and then to forget it, all in the same moment. For that reason I have tried to describe their families, their fathers, their mothers, their brothers and sisters. I have tried to find out what their father did as a job, where the family lived, in some cases occupying just one or two houses in their lifetime, in others half a dozen. What were their houses like? How might they have travelled to the High School? I have tracked their Forms, their teachers, what they did at School, how their exams went, what position they came in class and what prizes they won, all the things that would have been so important to them at the time. I have written about what their Form Masters were like and talked about their careers. This is Mr Kennard. He definitely took no prisoners:

I have tried to find out what sports our future heroes played:

What school plays they were in. The French farce of the 1920s, “Dr Knock”, perhaps? And which one of these boys became the war hero?:

Or perhaps a play with a chance to wear a lovely frock and a string of pearls? :

Which person collected stamps and who loved to make home movies? I have tried to identify other boys in their Forms who might have been their friends, even if that is just a case of saying who won the Form Prize and where they lived, what job their father did and so on. Here is a class of really small boys, eight and nine year olds, before the First World War:

The worst thing I could have done would have been to have written three thousand words about their death and thirty about their lives. So whatever I could find, I have included. Their sports, their hobbies, their jobs between school and the forces, and, if possible, what their abilities and talents were.
By doing this I revealed, even to myself, just how many different places have provided High School pupils over these years and just how many hundreds of different jobs their fathers have done, some of them long gone and requiring a search on the Internet.

At least one High School hero of Bomber Command had come straight from Waring & Gillow’s shop to fly his Lancaster. He apparently said one day in the shop that selling double beds and three piece suites was not a worthy job for a man when his country was at war, and off he went. Waring & Gillow sold luxury furniture of all kinds, and they appear to have made a lot themselves, because here is their factory. :


And when I have written about the boys’ streets and houses, some simple directions are usually included. Without them, which of us could ever locate Balfour Road or Conway Avenue or Derby Terrace or Florence Road? And many old streets have completely disappeared. This is a very different Forest Recreation Ground, only a few decades before the first of the World War Two casualties was born. Look at the windmills, and the race course for horses. It was one of the very few ever to be a figure-of-eight, in the hope of some juicy crashes:

It is, of course, the young readers who are my ultimate target audience. It would be a tragedy indeed if they were never to realise who died for their right not to be brainwashed, not to speak German as their first language, not to be slave labourers in a foreign land and to have the right to make their own decisions at all the different stages of their young lives. Freedom does not come cheap, and I’m not talking about money. The situation is perhaps best summed up by what one Old Nottinghamian war hero has inscribed on his grave:

HE GAVE THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL
HIS UNFINISHED LIFE.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Nottingham, Politics, The High School, Writing

Eagle Comic (5)

On the front cover, Eagle featured Dan Dare, the lantern jawed squeaky clean hero:

He could easily dominate the whole front page:

He was always helped, and occasionally hindered, by Digby, his rather podgy sidekick:

Presumably, he was named after an extremely obscure aircraft called the Digby, which was the name given to the Douglas B-18 Bolo in Canadian Air Force service. You can see this lost aircraft in action in the Powell and Pressburger film “49th Parallel” made in 1941 with Leslie Howard and Laurence Olivier. It’s a thriller well worth keeping an eye out for, and a film which portrays perfectly the repulsive attitudes of the Nazis:

Here’s another picture of Digby:

And, yes, he is using an electric hairdryer as a weapon:

I shouldn’t poke fun, though. Some of the science was years ahead of its time. Who else had heard of nuclear fusion in 1950?:

Dan Dare and Digby had their nemesis in the extraterrestrial figure of “The Mekon”:

Dan, Digby and the Mekon caused a revolution in the unchanging comic world of Weary Willie and Tired Tim. Issue N0 2 of Eagle came out on April 21st and the comic was on its way. Here’s the top half of that second issue:

And the bottom half of the same page:

Sometimes the price of the comic was rather strange. This issue cost 4½ old pence which even in the days of a pound made up of 240 pence was an unusual price. I can’t get enough of that eagle personally:

On the other hand, there was a 4½d  stamp at the time. Here’s a special one for National Nature Week:

The Eagle went from strength to strength, with its brightly coloured, vigorous art work…

It always had futuristic machines…

Here’s that orange caption:

There are occasional monsters…

And the Dan Dare stories always had lots of alien species. Was it this type of picture that inspired the bars and cafes of “Star Wars” ?

Why, they even had girls from time to time…

 

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Filed under Aviation, Film & TV, History, Literature, Personal, Science, Writing