Category Archives: History

The Mosquito at Hendon (2)

Last time, I wrote about the De Havilland Mosquito at the RAF Museum at Hendon. This individual is painted as a Mosquito B.35, TJ138, in 98 Squadron markings, reflecting the squadron’s time spent at Celle in Lower Saxony, flying Mosquitoes during the occupation of West Germany from 1945-1951:

The squadron badge is Cerberus, the 3 Headed guardian of Hell because, quoting the RAF website:

“This squadron claims to have barred the way (front and rear) during the German retreat in 1918 and so considered Cerberus, as the watchdog of Hades, a suitable badge.”

I don’t understand that to be honest, but if the RAF are happy with it, then so am I.

And I’ve never known what that ridge along the fuselage was for:

Such slim, sleek lines:

A bit closer. You can see why Mosquito crews had to be careful of these propellers. They are so close to the fuselage:

Here’s the bomb bay:

And even closer up:

The Mosquito was capable of carrying 4,000 lbs of bombs. Best of all, it had an uninterrupted bomb bay, with no struts or barriers to prevent the aircraft from carrying a 4,000lb Cookie. That meant that two Mosquitoes and the four men in them could carry the same as a B-17 with 10 men. A Lancaster carried 14,000lb with 7 men, the only heavy bomber capable of outdoing the Mosquito in this kind of contest.

Here’s one of the two very powerful Merlin engines. Behind it, something so modern and so boring that nobody would want to fly it:

Did you spot the mystery item behind the Mosquito on the left? My guess is that it is part of the lighting system or perhaps a flying Stealth Lawnmower invisible to radar.

Here’s where the bombardier sat. The next time you watch “633 Squadron”, notice how the inaccurate swines have painted over the Perspex in a vain effort to disguise a bomber pure and simple as a fighter bomber with four cannons:

It’s so shocking and so obvious when you look at it:

One thing you can be sure of though. This particular Mosquito was not in “633 Squadron”, surely the only flying Mosquito in the world that was not used. Perhaps it was an economy measure. The owners of all those different Mosquitoes did charge a whopping £2 a day to rent one.

The last photograph shows two people (not with me) and three other aircraft. One is Japanese and if it’s not a Kawasaki Ki 100 then I don’t know what it is. The World War I aircraft top right, I really don’t know what that is, either. I’ve just forgotten. Perhaps an SE5?

The aircraft on the left has the distinctive tail of the Fokker DVII and guess what? It is one!

 

A note to say that my hand is now capable of a little light typing so I have managed to catch up on my replies to all the kind comments you made on my previous six blog posts. From now on, it should be back to normal, although I am well aware that operations go in pairs, and it will only be a matter of time until the right hand needs a full service.

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, History

Look at that fat bloke, Stan (1)

Please don’t look at this forthcoming series of blog posts and just think “I don’t like football” and then go on your merry way. All of these blog posts are about much more than football. In particular they concern the eternal battle between sporting genius and cream cakes. Go on, give it a go….

There is one football match that I wish I had seen. It took place just a few months after I was born. It was England v Hungary, played on a cold, dull, misty afternoon on November 25th 1953 at Wembley Stadium in London. This game would later be called the “Game of the Century”:

Kick off was at 2.15 pm because there were no floodlights. Hungary were the greatest team the world had ever known. They were Olympic champions and were undefeated since 1950. In fact, they would go on to register 42 victories, 7 draws and just one defeat, which came  in the World Cup Final against West Germany in 1954. Between that World Cup Final and February 1956, the “Mighty Magyars” played 19 more games, with 16 victories, 3 draws and no defeats.

A final record then of played 72, won 61, drew 10 and one defeat. The Hungarian Uprising against their Soviet guests and protectors brought the team to an end in 1956.

The Hungarians played the revolutionary 4-2-4 system, and their team that grey misty day was Grosics, Buzansky, Lantos, Lorant, Zakarias, Bozsik, Budai, Czibor, Puskás, Hidegkuti, and Kocsis.

In England they became known as the “Mighty Magyars” and elsewhere as “The Golden Team”. In Hungary they were the Aranycsapat.

Ferenc Puskás, nicknamed by the Hungarians “Öcsi” and by the English ‘the Galloping Major’, was their star player and he would go on to finish with 83 goals in 84 internationals and 514 goals in 529 matches.

Puskás became an Olympic champion in 1952 and he would eventually finish his career with an Olympic Gold Medal from 1952, a runners-up medal in the World Cup in 1954, where he was named the tournament’s best player, three European Cups, (1959, 1960, 1966), 5 Hungarian championships and 5 Spanish championships with Real Madrid, as well as 8 top individual scoring honours.

Puskás, however, was a martyr to Hungarian cream cakes, and always looked a little on the chubby side.

Legend has it that before the two teams kicked off in the “Match of the Century”, one of the England players, none of whom had ever heard of Puskás, said to Stanley Mortenson, “Look at that fat bloke, Stan, he won’t give us any trouble.”

He was wrong. Hungary won 6-3 to inflict England’s first ever defeat on home soil. Puskás scored one of the sport’s legendary goals, avoiding the carthorse tackle of Billy Wright by dragging the ball back with the sole of his boot before tucking it into the roof of the net.

And English coaches realised that as far as the continentals were concerned, it was as if Hungary were from another planet. Indeed, if you watch the match on a DVD you will see that in the first half Puskás scores a goal which the Dutch referee disallows for offside. In actual fact, it is onside by about two yards so the result might have well have been 7-3. That would have spoilt things for Hungarian speakers, because 6-3 in Hungarian is “Hat harom” and the phrase has now passed into the Hungarian language. Just google “Hat harom” and see how many things turn up…unfortunately all in Hungarian:

One of the best journalists to write about the match was Geoffrey Green of The Times . He famously described England as “strangers in a strange world.” His description of one of Puskás’ goals has passed into legend. It is, in fact, the goal that I described above:

“Centre half Billy Wright rushed across to tackle him, but Puskás pulled the ball out of his path as the defender barged past like a fire engine going to the wrong fire”.

The following year, 1954, foolish England went to Budapest to see if they could repeat Hungary’s shock victory. In fact, they lost by 7-1, still now their biggest defeat. Puskás only scored two. “They were such a wonderful side” said Sir Tom Finney who played in the match.

Let’s finish by torturing myself. Here’s the ticket to the game I bought 60 years too late. Alas, the old Wembley has now been demolished and you would struggle to find the South Terrace seating, let alone Row 3 Seat 41. But that doesn’t stop this ticket being the best 10/6 you could have spent in the history of sport:

One final point I would like to make is that I had a minor operation on my hand recently and for that reason I will not be able to reply to any of your comments in the immediate future. If you do want to make a comment, by all means please do so, but I will not be able to write any replies until after December 6th as a minimum. After this date, with luck, I should be back in business.

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Filed under Football, History, Humour, Personal

In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command (2)

When I wrote the first part of my review of the book “In for a Penny, In for a Pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command” written by Howard Hewer, I had never written a book review before, so I suppose I can now say “Welcome to my second book review”.

Last time I mentioned how the author talked about his experiences in the RAF in Britain, but how he was then transferred to the Middle East, bombing the Germans and Italians with Vickers Wellingtons:

In actual fact the Wellington was probably the best bomber used in this theatre of war in the early years. At least they weren’t using these Bristol Bombays as bombers:

And they weren’t forced to use these biplanes as bombers, for want of any aircraft at all (which did actually happen!):

Howard Heyer describes how the anticolonial attitudes encountered in England continued in the Middle East when he is posted to RAF Kabrit near the Suez Canal:

At Kabrit, the Station Commander lived in a “sumptuous two storey permanent house”. The officers were all billeted in nice wooden houses next to the Officers’ Mess but the sergeants lived elsewhere, in the desert, sleeping on straw mattresses in tents outside the camp. The single shower was just a pipe with no showerhead and the water was heated by the sunshine. The food wasn’t very good either with the buns at Christmas dinner containing not caraway seeds but weevils, regarded by the rather cynical diners as a valuable source of protein. Here is the author, in the middle of the crew of five:

When the time came for introductions, the commander of the base, Squadron Leader B, singled the two Canadians out from the rest and said:

“I see that two of you are Canadians. I’ll tell you right now that if we have any trouble with you, it’s the high jump for both of you.”

Howard is flying combat missions at such long range that they need to land their aircraft at airstrips in the desert both on the way to the target and on the way back. That doesn’t prevent the station commander, who doesn’t fly in combat, stopping his car as he drives past Howard and telling him off for having a button which is not shined properly. Such attitudes eventually lead to a mutiny.

On January 29th 1942, Squadron Leader B had a notice put up ordering:

“All aircrew are to report, properly dressed, to the Station Warrant Officer’s Office at 1300 hours”.

Every member of aircrew had already “been on Ops” in the previous week and in some cases, the night before:

In such cases, men are supposed to have a whole day’s rest with no reporting anywhere. The fact that the Station Warrant Officer has the nickname, “Louie the Rat”, probably sums up the attitude of the 50 men who assembled. He told them to draw rifles for rifle drill. They told him that sergeants only carry side arms so they don’t do rifle drill. Louie then gave them the message from Squadron Leader B that the men were all slack and they all needed smartening up.

At the first command of “Order Arms”, an Australian gentleman told Louie a convenient place to stick his rifle and threw his gun to the floor. He was immediately placed under close arrest and marched off to the Guard Room followed by 50 or so angry sergeants of all nationalities who demanded to be placed under close arrest as well.

And the account goes on from there for another couple of pages. Again, something I have never heard of before, and, like the Cranwell Riot, unknown to Google as well. The book does have a good summary of the situation though, one which could have been applied to a good many RAF bomber squadrons during this period…

“…a long period of minor abuse and lack of caring, a condition of “negative leadership.”

And what’s “negative leadership”?

Well, it can perhaps be summed up in the words of the officer who welcomed the crews to RAF Marham, right at the beginning of the book…

“Well chaps, the glamour period is over. Casualties in this command have been high, and they are on the rise as we make more and more flights further into Germany. I must tell you then that many of you will not be with us a few weeks or a month from now. Good luck to you all.”

Unbelievably, this officer was outdone by the Squadron Medical Officer:

“I hope it doesn’t happen to any of you, but in the event that you find yourself trapped in a burning aircraft with no chance of escape, best to get things over with in a hurry. Lean directly over the flames, open your mouth and inhale strongly. The fire should scorch the lungs and cause almost instant death, much preferable to burning slowly. Well good luck chaps.”

The Bomber Command men, all volunteers, of course, and a huge proportion of them from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, still got on those planes and did their jobs, often at the expense of their lives. The book concludes on a more positive note:

“I have never considered myself a brave man. But I was put into the company of brave men, and I could not very well have let them down.
I don’t believe I did.”

And my overall verdict? It’s a book very well worth a look especially if you can pick up a copy with a bit of history!

One final point I would like to make is that I had a minor operation on my hand recently and for that reason I will not be able to reply to any of your comments in the immediate future. If you do want to make a comment, by all means please do so, but I will not be able to write any replies until after December 6th as a minimum. After this date, with luck, I should be back in business.

 

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

The Mosquito at Hendon (1)

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Amos.”

“Amos, who?”

“A Mosquito.”

Terrible, but according to my Dad, a genuine RAF joke from World War II. Well, I suppose they had to do something while they waited for colour television to be invented:

Of all the exciting aircraft of World War Two, the De Havilland Mosquito is perhaps the most exciting. This amazing aeroplane really was the result of thinking outside the box.

Give it powerful engines. Make it more or less entirely out of wood. It will be so fast that no enemy fighter will be able to catch it. It will be one of the few bombers of any era which was regularly unarmed. No surprise that it was nicknamed “The Wooden Wonder”:

And so it came to pass, although the Mosquito could not escape the rule which says that every fast aircraft ever built always has its speed reduced by being forced to carry something extra under its wings.

The very first Mosquitos made their début in May 1942 as daylight bombers. After that, they found work with the Pathfinder Force and performed many other tasks within Bomber Command.

The Mosquito was a great success as a night fighter and an intruder aircraft, as well as an anti-shipping strike aircraft. They were used for photographic reconnaissance at both low and high level by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force. Some Mosquitoes managed a huge number of missions, as their casualty rate was less than 0.5%.

We went to RAF Hendon in July 2010 and of course, they have a Mosquito there. According to their maze of a website, I eventually found out that TJ138 is a bomber variant, the Mosquito B 35, capable of a maximum speed of 422 mph and a cruising speed of 276 mph. I think only an Me262 jet would be able to catch that.

The B35 was the final mark of this amazing aircraft and it made its first test flight on March 12th 1945. This particular B35 was built in 1945 at Hatfield as part of a contract for 80 aircraft. It was never used in combat and indeed went into storage at No.27 MU Shawbury, Shropshire as early as August 28th 1945, with another period in storage from May 20th 1948. In October 1950, it was sent to Celle in West Germany with 98 Squadron, which means that TJ138 is the only Mosquito still in existence which actually served with a squadron. In 1953 it was converted into a target tug and eventually finished up flying THUM flights. A lovely acronym which means “Temperature and Humidity Flight”.

And to finish the first instalment, here’s a picture of this very Mosquito, TJ138, waiting patiently to go off on some more THUM flights:

One final point I would like to make is that I had a minor operation on my hand recently and for that reason I will not be able to reply to any of your comments in the immediate future. If you do want to make a comment, by all means please do so, but I will not be able to write any replies until after December 6th as a minimum. After this date, with luck, I should be back in business.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, History

In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command (1)

I haven’t written a book review before, but last week I was quite struck by this particular book, entitled “In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command” written by Howard Hewer. It is by no means a new book. My copy was published in 2000 and I bought a used copy from Abebooks. It was from a bookseller in Toledo, Ohio and the book had been a Library Copy from Greater Victoria Public Library at 735 Broughton St, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 3H2, Canada.

With used library books, especially foreign ones, I always spend time wondering where the book has been, who borrowed it, what their lives were like and so on. I was most intrigued to find a till receipt still inside, detailing the book’s being taken out at precisely 10.41 am on June 16th 2001. Who read it? Did they enjoy it? And most exciting, did they get it back to the library on time by June 30th?

The book tells the story of a young Canadian who joins up and then spends the war in the RAF, mainly in Europe and the Middle East. He is in Bomber Command where casualties, of course, were enormous. There are, really, any number of such books. Some are written to be exciting, some to be poignant and some as detailed historical records. This one is a little bit different and tells the story from the point of view of a Canadian:

I just did not realise that the British would drag innocent young blokes half a world away from their homes to do their fighting and then insult them for their pains…

“We encountered the ‘colonial label’ usually with some snide remark. We grew restive and increasingly rebellious.”

Their reactions were pretty easy-going though, compared to one group. The Aussies:

“erupted in a near riot and refused to appear on parade or in class…Things reached a climax one day in the mess hall. This day the food was particularly inedible and one Aussie grabbed his plate and flung it against the wall just as an RAF air commodore walked through the door…this was not an isolated incident”.

Indeed, he speaks of the Canadian involvement in the “Cranwell Riot”, calmed only by the intervention of Canadian diplomats and Canadian officers. This may be what is being referred to in “The Cream of the Crop: Canadian Aircrew 1939-1945” by Allan D English (page 120) but I haven’t read that book yet. I could find nothing about the episode on the Internet.

We visited Cranwell in May 2010. It was a dull rainy day but here is the main building:

The gates are typical architecture of the time:

They are decorated with the superb badge of the RAF:

I read a lot about the RAF in World War Two but this book presents so much that is new to me. One intriguing footnote tells of the author’s neighbour in 1995 who told him of a fairly amazing incident. The Irish, always pretty anti-English at that time, were supposedly allowing U-boats to refuel in Cork Harbour, so, in late 1942 or early 1943, the RAF sent a force of 8 Blenheims to bomb the harbour “most bombs purposely landing in the bay.”

Well, I’ve never heard this before, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Some 20,000 Irishmen from the Republic were in the British forces, but there were a good few who were very sinister in their activities. In his book, “Clouds of Fear”, Roger Hall alleges that more than one RAF flyer was killed by Irish parachute packers who deliberately sabotaged their parachutes. The men murdered this way included a young man from the High School but that is, as they say, a story for another day.

Bombing Cork, even Blenheims would have been safe from the Irish Air Corps, who used Lysanders:

And the Fairey Battle:

Going back to Howard Hewer’s book, when he was posted to the Middle East, I was really surprised to hear for the first time, of the practice in North Africa of bombing targets which were so far away that the aircraft had to refuel both on the way there and on the way back. The book discusses the conditions at these stopover sites “situated on dried up salt lakes…We carried our bomb load from base, and had to land fully and lethally loaded…we slept on the floor of the aircraft in winter, under the wings during the summer months…we were not issued with sleeping bags…” Presumably, the advent of B-24 Liberators would have helped to phase out these stopovers which were unavoidable with the Wellingtons:

The Liberator had a much better range. Here is one of the first that the RAF received:

Next time, I’ll carry on with Howard Hewer’s adventures in Egypt. There are many more stories about the RAF officers that I had never heard, but they all have that ring of truth.

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1937: The Clouds of War (3)

Imagine that it is the height of a glorious summer, in southern Derbyshire in 1937. My Dad, Fred Knifton is only 14. One day, with his friends, Jonty Brearley, Bernard Swift and John Varty, he sets off to cycle through the Anglo-Saxon village of Hartshorne, to explore the old Stone Age trackway of Green Lane. By the time they get there, it is the late afternoon of a glorious summer’s day.

Last time, we saw the arrival of PC Bstard on his bike who forbids the four Boy Scouts to camp on common land at the side of a public footpath several miles from the nearest house. Sadly the boys did not rise up and drive off this sad servant of the bourgeoisie but instead promised that they would leave before nightfall.

Their brightly burning campfire gleamed in the dusk:fire

The boys, still filled with their spirit of youthful adventure, sat happily around the dancing flames. They roasted the sausages they had brought wrapped in grease proof paper in their saddle bags:

imagesR7PN9JPS

They toasted bread which was nothing like the bread we are told to enjoy nowadays. They made cups of scalding hot tea. And then, as night grew so dark that they could hardly see either each other or the bats which flickered through the invisible branches of the barely visible trees, they packed up all their things into the panniers on their bicycles.  Slowly but purposefully they cycled back under the stars through the warm summer darkness to the continuing years of their lives.

Fred was to say many times afterwards, that all four of those happy boys went off to the Second World War, but only two were destined to survive that awful conflict. Bernard Swift and himself.

John Varty was killed in 1943 in Tunisia, fighting ferociously against Germans who claimed every single sand dune as their own.  Corporal Varty is buried somewhere out there. Somewhere on the road to Teboursouk. Somewhere where his mother and father never had the money to go. Somewhere where nobody with any sense would dare nowadays to go. A country where only the dead are beyond killing:

Jonty Brealey was killed on June 27th 1944, in some long forgotten episode in the aftermath of D-Day. He was buried, along with more than 4,000 others, in Bayeux Cemetery in Normandy. He died to liberate France but for the first 25 years of his life, I can’t imagine that he had ever seen a Frenchman. Or a German come to that.

When I was a little boy in the 1950s, my Granny and Grandad lived two houses up the road from the Brealeys.  Jonty’s father, whose first name was Alf, was by now an old man. He spent all of the day leaning over his front gate, saying hello to passers by and keeping his eyes open for people coming down the hill from the main bus stop on High Street. I thought as a child that he was looking for anybody who might come past, but I now realise as a man, that he was waiting patiently for just one special person who, alas, would never come.

 

 

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1937: The Clouds of War (2)

Last time, it was the height of summer, in southern Derbyshire in 1937. My Dad, Fred Knifton was only 14. One day, with his friends, Jonty Brearley, Bernard Swift and John Varty, he set off to cycle through the Anglo-Saxon village of Hartshorne, to explore the old Stone Age trackway of Green Lane. By the time they got there, it was the late afternoon on a glorious summer’s day.

Even in the 1970s, this was an isolated country area, far, far away from the hustle and bustle of so-called civilisation. In the late 1930s, it must have been even quieter. Nothing except for the gentle humming of the bees, the whirr of the swallows’ wings, the buzzing of the grasshoppers and colourful butterflies fluttering by. A very peaceful, idyllic and rural place indeed. The boys duly set up their canvas tent, taking care to position all of the many guy ropes carefully. They followed their Boy Scout training and carefully cut a piece of turf from the grass at the side of the track, before they started their camp fire.

The_Hadrian's_Wall_Path_follows_a_'green_lane

It was a warm, calm, summer’s evening. Bats scythed through the still warm air. Large white and grey moths fluttered where butterflies had fluttered during the day. There was one bright star. Or was it a planet? Then a second star. And then a third. The night grew darker. The stars formed into patterns. The Plough. The Milky Way. Sparks flew up from the fire and disappeared into the darkness:

fire

I once saw a poster which said:

“Everything is going so well. Everything is perfect. But don’t worry. Some bstard will come along and spoil it.”

On this occasion the idyll was interrupted by the arrival of the local police constable on his bicycle. In later years, Fred was to wonder just why he was up there a thousand miles from the nearest police station and three light years from the nearest house. Had they stumbled upon his still? Did he have a secret girlfriend? Or a secret boyfriend? Did he like following teenage boys out to isolated areas?

Anyway, he sportingly told the four boys that despite their status as Boy Scouts and Ovaltineys they would not, under any circumstances whatsoever, be allowed to camp there overnight, as there were many, many important laws and many, many important byelaws which completely forbade such evildoing.

He sportingly told the four boys too, that they could finish their meal, just this once, before they left and went home and did not ever come back there ever again, even as old men. If they did, they would finish up in the galleys.

Will they refuse to obey him? Will they rise up and slay this bourgeois lickspittle?

We’ll see next time.

 

 

 

 

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