Category Archives: Bomber Command

In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Three)

There must have been many people out there who thought that we were not going to publish any more volumes about the Old Nottinghamians of all ages who sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom between 1939-1948.

But, while Covid-19 seized the world in its deadly grip, our work continued, albeit at a slower pace. And all those efforts have now ended with the publication of the third volume, detailing 24 of the High School’s casualties in World War II. Don’t think, incidentally, that we were running out of steam and had nothing to say. All five volumes have been deliberately constructed to contain the same amount of material as all of the others. And that material is all of the same quality.

This volume, therefore, portrays the families of these valiant young men, their houses, their years at school with Masters very different from those of today, their boyhood hobbies, their sporting triumphs and where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. And all this is spiced with countless tales of the living Nottingham of yesteryear, a city so different from that of today. And as I have said before, “No tale is left untold. No anecdote is ignored.” Here are the teachers that many of them knew;

And as well, of course, you will find all the details of the conflicts in which they fought and how they met their deaths, the details of which were for the most part completely unknown until I carried out my groundbreaking research.

These were men who died on the Lancastria in the biggest naval disaster in British history or in the Channel Dash or in the Battle of the East coast when the Esk, the Express and the Ivanhoe all struck mines. Some died flying in Handley Page Hampdens, or Fairy Barracudas, or Hawker Hurricanes, or Avro Lancasters or Grumman Wildcats or even a North American O-47B. One casualty was murdered by a German agent who sabotaged the single engine of his army observation aircraft. One was shot by the occupant of a Japanese staff car who was attempting to run the gauntlet of “A” Company’s roadblock. One was the only son of the owner of a huge business that supported a small local town, employing thousands. When the owner retired, the factory had to close. He had no son to replace him. His son lay in a cemetery in Hanover after his aircraft was shot down. Thousands of jobs were lost. And all because of a few cannon shells from a German nightfighter. The work of a few split seconds.

They died in the Bay of Biscay, the Channel, the North Sea, Ceylon, Eire, Germany, Ijsselstein, Kuching, Normandy, Singapore, Tennessee. None of them knew that they were going to die for our freedoms. And certainly none of them knew where or when.

But they gave their lives without hesitation. And they do not deserve to be forgotten. That is why this book exists, and so does Volume One, and Volume Two and in due course, so will Volumes Four and Five.

We should never forget this little boy (right), playing the part of Madame Rémy, and killed in Normandy not long after D-Day:

We should not forget this rugby player, either, killed in a collision with a Vickers Wellington bomber.

We should not forget this young member of the Officers Training Corps (front row, on the left). A mid-upper gunner, he was killed in his Lancaster as he bombed Kassel, the home of at least one satellite camp of Dachau concentration camp:

We should not forget this young miscreant, either, mentioned in the Prefects’ Book for “Saturday, October 20th 1934. “Fletcher was beaten – well beaten.” By June 23rd 1944, though, he was dead, killed with twelve others when two Lancasters collided above their Lincolnshire base. He wanted to have a chicken farm after the war. Not a lot to ask for, but he didn’t get it:

We should not forget the Captain of the School, killed when HMS Express hit a German mine:

We should not forget the son of the US Consul in Nottingham, the highest ranked Old Nottinghamian killed in the war:

And we should not forget any of the others, wherever they may turn up. Killed by the Japanese in Singapore :

Killed in a road block firefight in Burma:

And this little boy, still years from being shot down on his 66th operational flight  by Helmut Rose, in his Bf109, German ace and holder of the Iron Cross First Class. And yes, that is the little boy’s Hawker Hurricane:

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The First XV player, proud of his fancy jacket:

A young man tricked into having to dress up as a young woman in “Twelfth Night”:

Two years later, getting a part  as “Jean, a veritable Hercules….a convincing rural chauffeur”, in “Dr Knock”. Except that all of your friends think that you have got the part of the village idiot:

And a very frightened village idiot at that.

 

Please note:

All three of the titles published in this series so far are on sale with both Amazon and Lulu.  All royalties will be given to two British forces charities, and if this is important to you, you will prefer to buy from Lulu. This will generate a lot more revenue.

For example,

If Volume 3 is bought through Amazon at full price, the charities will get £1.23 from each sale.
If Volume 3 is bought through Lulu, that rises to £9.48.

Incidentally, if you see the price of the book quoted in dollars, don’t worry. The people at Lulu periodically correct it to pounds sterling, but it then seems to revert to dollars after a few days, although nobody seems to know why.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, cricket, Football, History, military, Nottingham, The High School, the Japanese, Writing

Len Dorricott (3)

Last time, I was talking to you about Len Dorricott, who had flown a large number of missions as the navigator in one of the most famous Avro Lancasters of World War Two,  AR-G, G for George, of 460 Squadron of the RAAF. The vast majority of what you read, though, was written not by myself, but by Len’s wife, Rosemary. And meeting her future husband, apparently, was not Rosemary’s first encounter with the Avro Lancaster and the men who flew them.

She had actually had a much earlier connection with Lancaster aircrew. Here she recalls her childhood, and in particular the wonderful sights and sounds which were there at the end of her garden:

“Rosemary Dorricott : Childhood Memories Aged Nine

We stood in the garden in silence—and waited as dusk grew near—then the heavy throbbing of engines broke into the tranquillity of a summer’s night:

It was wartime—a time of austerity and uncertainty but the beautiful summer’s air belied the horrors of what war could bring!

Those heavy engines roared over our heads.

It was hard to believe those beautiful, graceful machines could be the bearers of destruction—but that was war and the means of our salvation!!

We thought of those young men going into the unknown whose mission it was to successfully accomplish the task they so bravely took on ! We counted each majestic machine, heavy with their bomb load and said a prayer for each one—and then the summer’s night returned to its tranquil peacefulness, as if there had been no disruption !!

It was dawn before we heard the first sounds of aircraft returning.

The sounds had changed—some with spluttering engines as they limped home.

Large gaps appearing in the order of their flight—and we knew, as we counted them back—that some would not return !!!

Dedicated to the Lancaster bomber

Bomber Command

World War Two 1939-1945

* * *

Over seventy years later, I stood on the tarmac at Coningsby with my veteran air crew husband. Bomber Command Memorial Occasions have taken a great part of his life recently, and he is now receiving great recognition for what he and his fellow RAF bomber crews did during the war, much deserved, and, not because of all this, I love and cherish him for the man he is — My Len ! !

Rosemary

                                                        August 2014”

One final detail that I feel I should pass on is that G for George is probably the most widely recognised Lancaster among ordinary people and certainly among little boys over the age of fifty.

G for George was, of course, the first Lancaster that you could make a plastic model of, when Airfix  brought out their 1-72 scale kit. It was originally, I seem to remember, in a box , or perhaps with a fold-over card top that kept all the little bits of the kit safe in their plastic bag. I think it was a Series 5 kit, price 7/6, or 37½ pence.

Here is is the fold-over card top which had a transparent plastic bag full of parts stapled to it:

And then came the artwork of Roy Cross, when the kits were sold in large, sturdy cardboard boxes:

I’ve always thought that Cross’s work should have been turned into prints on good quality paper, suitable for framing.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History

Len Dorricott (2)

As I pointed out in my previous blog post about Len Dorricott, although Bomber Command’ casualties continued at an absolutely dreadful level, many men, thank God, lived to tell the tale. Indeed, Len Dorricott, the navigator of the famous “G for George” of 460 Squadron, was to live to the ripe old age of 91.

His wife, Rosemary, described him thus:

“Len, my husband

A quiet man, a gifted man who performed courageous acts during the Second World War. Hardly more than a child, he trained and volunteered for the RAF and so started his adventures through life. Bomber Command took men of great bravery for the mammoth tasks they undertook and Len was one of them, gaining a DFM for his courage.

This determination remained with him throughout his life. In later years, he gained a degree in Engineering (M.T.Mch.E) and was principal engineer specialising in the performance of gas turbines.

He had enormous artistic gifts in photography, particularly the Bromoil branch of this. He lectured and judged. He demonstrated his favourite Bromoils as well as other forms of photography and exhibited profusely. Many an accolade he received for these feats.”

Some of his Bromoils are on the Internet. Here is “Grayfriars in winter” :

“The Glory Hole” :

“Encounter” :

and “The Stepping Stones”

“Len did not stay that adventurous teenager he was in Bomber Command !! Like all of us, old age has seen him take a more peaceful and restful existence with cryptic crosswords and his love of books. His weekly visits to the camera club and Friday lunchtime visits to the Dambusters Public House in Scampton with his great pal, Richard.”

When the time came, his wife has described Len’s funeral.

“Len’s funeral was a celebration of his life, the crematorium filled to over flowing with a lovely service by the vicar and a reading of the Australian prayer dedicated to all 460 Squadron personnel who had passed away. Len was attached to this squadron and the plane he flew many ops in is now housed in the Canberra War Museum in Australia gifted to them by our government after the war.”

“It was a very moving service and afterwards we made our way to the Dambusters Inn and RAF Museum where those who could make it were treated to a hot buffet and an exhibition of Len’s prints. This public house is in Scampton, home of the famous Dambuster squadron and today’s Red Arrows. At 4.15 pm the landlord of this inn arranged for two of the Red Arrows team to do a flypast (they were practicing anyway) and they finished with the pass for fallen heroes—a fitting end to the wonderful life of my husband Len.”

“The family flowers only were in the form of the 460 badge “Strike and return” and donations made to the IBBC Trust (IBBC is the International Bomber Command Centre).”

“The funeral ended to the strains of Nimrod as he went on his way, we thought a fitting finale to his life

until the Red Arrows !!

It was a day to commemorate those airmen who flew on their missions during the war.

Coningsby is the home of today’s Royal Air Force and also the base for Bomber Command’s Memorial Flight, the City of Lincoln Lancaster together with the Hurricane and Spitfire.”

These were joined by the only other flying Lancaster that had come all the way over from Canada to tour this country and the day was made more special as the two Lancs sat side by side on the tarmac:

We were gathered there together with many fellow veteran airmen, to receive their well deserved clasps in recognition of their service by bomber command.

The summer weather had been lovely and we hoped that this would continue for the special day — but the British summer lived up to its reputation — and the heavens opened — so the planned flight of the two veteran aircraft was unable to take place —they still sat side by side on the tarmac !!

Seated in front of them were the veteran airmen one by one they were called to receive their clasps, a short synopsis was made of the war exploits of each one – then they were photographed in front of the planes ­ those who could stood —others in wheel chairs !!!

We were able to talk to and meet the crews of the two Lancs — a very great honour — and it was so moving to see the light in the eyes of those old airmen, some infirm — but that sparkle of adventure was still there !!

It was a privilege and an honour to share this day with them. A day that I will treasure and remember for the rest of my days !!

Rosemary CW Dorricott

                                                                          wife of Flight Lieutenant Leonard William Dorricott DFM

August 8th 2014

This may be the prayer that Rosemary mentioned.

Almighty and all-present Power,

Short is the prayer I make to Thee.

I do not ask in battle hour

For any shield to cover me.

The vast unalterable way

From which the stars do not depart,

May not be turned aside to stay

The bullet flying to my heart.

I ask no help to strike my foe,

I seek no petty victory here.

The enemy I hate, I know

To Thee is also dear

But this I pray:

Be at my side

when death is drawing through the sky,

Almighty God, Who also died,

Teach me the way that I should die.

Entitled, “An Airman’s Prayer ”, it was written by Hugh Brodie who was posted missing on June 3rd 1942 after the Wellington bomber in which he was the observer failed to return from a raid on Essen.

 

 

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Len Dorricott (1)

My wife’s hobby is photography and she specialises in a particular photographic printmaking process called “Bromoil”.

In the club she goes to, a few years ago, she met a gentleman who had stepped right out of the pages of history:

Here he is, busy Bromoiling:

This pleasant old gentleman was called Len Dorricott and he had been a navigator in Bomber Command during World War II:

He had flown with 576 Squadron, 61 Squadron, 81 Squadron and 460 Squadron who were members of the RAAF. The latter squadron’s losses were almost unbelievable. 1018 aircrew (589 of whom were Australian) were killed and 181 aircraft were destroyed. Here’s their badge:

With them, Len flew 29 missions, a substantial number of them in the famous G for George, the Lancaster which in 1945 was flown to Australia by an all-RAAF crew of Bomber Command veterans and is now preserved at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra:

Here are the three squadron letters, just in case you think that in the photograph above, it’s AB-C :

G-George flew 90 missions over hostile territory, but this famous aircraft did not ever lose a single member of its crew, even though thirty of them were eventually killed in other aircraft:

When he was with 576 Squadron, Len Dorricott also flew in Operation Manna in May 1945, He went from RAF Fiskerton to the Netherlands where he dropped bread and other food to the starving Dutch population:

Len said later:

“It began as just another mission but it turned into something very special. The fact that it was daylight and we were flying so low meant we literally had a bird’s-eye view. I saw a German soldier, walking in the street with his rifle over his shoulder, looking up at us. The best thing of all was seeing the people on rooftops waving at us with anything they could. It was a marvellous feeling, the best thing I did in the war. I will always feel proud of that.”

Len lived to be 91 years old.

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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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A nice German in Woodville

I have been friends with Chris since we went to Woodville Junior School when we were seven years old, almost sixty years of friendship:

He recently told me the following story. It fits in so well with my previous two posts on this subject of Germans and/or Nazis in Woodville that I would like to include it here. I have kept to Chris’ original words:

“A few years ago my mother told me the story of an event during the Second World War.

One day she came home from work to find a German Prisoner of War in the living-room drinking tea.

My grandfather introduced him as “Gerard”. I imagine his name was actually Gerhardt. My grandfather had met Gerhardt walking up the railway line from Ensor’s brickyard where apparently he was working. (I was not aware that POWs could be required to work for what was to them the enemy but your blog entry confirms that they did.)

“Gerhardt was on his way to Woodville Tollgate to wait for the transport back to the camp, which I think was near Etwall, and given that he had almost two hours to wait, my grandfather invited him in for tea. My mother was horrified since she thought that it was probably illegal to have an enemy POW in the house  – fraternising with the enemy and all that.”

“It transpired that Gerhardt’s ‘plane had been shot down; he and most of the crew bailed out before it crashed. From what I gather, Gerhardt was a reluctant combatant and was quite relieved to be hors de combat. He obviously spoke English, since none of my family spoke German, so he must have been relatively well-educated.”

In any event, Gerhardt finished his tea and went on his way. They never saw him again.

I wish my mother had told me this story years ago because I would have tried to find Gerhardt and see what happened to him subsequently.”

It is by no means beyond the realms of possibility that Chris might have found Gerhardt. If he was born between 1910-1920, he may have lasted beyond the Year 2000. My own Dad was in the RAF in 1941, around twenty years old, and he lasted until 2003 when he died aged 80.

Ensor’s brickworks is long gone, but here is the Victorian nineteenth century map of the area :

The railway whose course Gerhardt was following runs from bottom left to top right and Ensor’s Pool Works is just to the south of the middle of the railway. Gerhardt would have been walking to the north east along the railway.

My friends and I all played in that extremely dangerous industrial area from, say 1962-1968, although by then the Pool Works had been demolished. We did play on the majestic slopes of “Milk Hill” though, which was an enormous pile of clay, made from, I presume, several million tons of the sticky stuff. You can see “Milk Hill” in the middle of the right hand side of the map. And we went down into the clay pit as well, which was even more dangerous, because of the lakes of wet clay with a deceptive thin dry crust on top. And if there was one “air shaft”, there would have been more. Still, just like many boys, and indeed fully grown men, (if there is such a thing) “Danger is my middle name”.

At the middle of the top of the map is “Jack i’ th’ Holes” which is a very strange name and, to me, has supernatural connotations, Jack very often referring to Satan himself.

On the map the seven  little  circles in the Pool Works are circular kilns. Here is a picture taken in the Pool Works showing some of them. When he left school, my Dad, Fred, aged then only thirteen or fourteen, worked as a junior in the offices at Ensor’s Pool Works. He is standing to the right of the man with the shovel. Notice how two men have climbed one of the kilns to be in the photograph :

In later years, Fred was not the only person to be disgusted that Freckleton, the son of the business’ owner, was to remain at home throughout the Second World War, hiding his cowardice behind the spurious claim that his job was a reserved occupation. It wasn’t.

Some time before the outbreak of the war, Fred was to witness an incident when a workman, for some unknown reason, had hit Freckleton hard in the face, and knocked him backwards into a puddle. Freckleton was drenched with muddy water and his magnificent suit was ruined.

Needless to say, the workman was dismissed on the spot, and, given the connections which existed between factory owners at this time and were renewed every time there was a Freemasons’ meeting, he was unable to find work anywhere in South Derbyshire ever again.

Incidentally, I did a little research about the location of the Prisoner of War camp, and found that there were a number in the area, along the side of the River Trent, where digging tunnels was more likely to result in death by drowning than freedom. Sites included the Weston Camp in Weston-on-Trent (top right), but the likeliest site for Gerhardt, in my opinion, was the section of Weston Camp in King’s Newton. Here’s the Orange Arrow, Herr Orange Pfeil, released early for good behaviour. Woodville is bottom left:

It’s funny looking at that map, which is perhaps ten miles square. I spent all of my life until I was eighteen in Woodville, yet I’ve never ever been to Twyford or Ingleby or King’s Newton or Newbold or Coleorton or Heath End. I was once on a bus going through Peggs Green, and it was so countrified that when an old lady that the driver expected to be at the bus stop wasn’t there to catch the bus, he went and knocked on her door to tell her to hurry up, or he’d have to leave her.

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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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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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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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Bomber Harris, not a happy man (7)

Mainly because Harris was in charge only of Bomber Command and not of any of the various other civil service departments that he dealt with, there were continued and repeated failures to produce a variety of the equipment which was needed to fight the war effectively. In his book, “The Relentless Offensive” by Roy Irons, he discusses the most important examples of the many failures by the Ministry of Supply:

As we have seen, they included the aluminised bomb, the 0·50 machine gun, the cluster bomb and the high proportion of ordinary bombs which failed to explode on contact with the target. Such failures were so frequent, that Harris said that a huge number of the civil service departments should all have the motto “Non possumus”  (“We can’t do that.”).

The most basic problem was that the proportion of warriors “at the sharp end” continued to decline throughout the war, as an increasingly large number of fairly useless and largely impotent civil service departments exerted their enormous influence on events. As the author says:

“The tail, in Bomber Command’s war, was wagging the dog, and often forgetting the dog altogether in its own day to day programme.”

Just look at the contrast between the American “Can-do” and the English “Non possumus”. In the USA, the prototype for the P-51 fighter was produced one day early,  after only 119 days. Imagine that. Somebody sharpens his pencil to start working on the design of a new aircraft, and 17 weeks later, it’s off down the runway on its maiden flight:

For the 0·50 machine gun, the British Civil Service Armament Department gave an estimate of 15 years before it could be brought into use. And the cluster bombs of fifty or a hundred 4lb incendiaries, in actual fact, never did appear. If they had, Bomber Command might have been able to fulfil the macabre prophecy of Albert Speer, “The Nice Nazi”, after the firestorm had destroyed Hamburg in July 1945:

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

Hamburg was devastated by the inadvertent creation of a fire storm, the first ever produced by the RAF:

There were to be only two more. They were, if my memory serves me well, Dresden and Darmstadt. Who knows to what extent the war might have been shortened had Harris had access to cluster bombs of incendiaries? How many fewer casualties would the RAF  have had? And how many fewer Germans overall would have died? And where would Stalin’s hordes have got to? Minsk?

Perhaps even more deplorable was the frequency with which British bombs failed to detonate. Around 20% of bombs were “flat strikes”, which means that they quite simply didn’t go off. For most of them, it was because, as they fell, their fins were supposed to make them spin, and this spinning would arm the bombs so that they would explode on contact with the ground. Except that very often, far too often, no spin meant no bang ! Presumably these are the hundreds of “unexploded bombs” which are still found on a regular basis all over Germany on a regular basis:

Every time the Germans try to construct an urban motorway or lay the foundations for a skyscraper of some kind, they seem to unearth a few more. And the tragedy is, of course, that these WW2 duds are still continuing to kill or maim the completely innocent and enormously brave young Germans who are tasked with defusing them.

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