Category Archives: military

Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (4)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on DVD, of what were, supposedly,  more than 12,000  images of World War Two . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share some of these photographs with you, because a number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history.

Please be aware that these photographs do indeed capture moments in history. They portray the deeds of the Soviet Union, not the deeds of  present day Russia, a country run, like China and North Korea, on the mushroom method of management, although, of course, you can be sure that Putin’s suit will always remain spotless.

Today then , I’m going to look at the some of the pictures of children. Some were really quite cute, although they made no effort to disguise the fact that a war was going on:

In this picture, the war is a soldier, looking out of the window, making a call by field telephone :

Another photograph made the point that in the twenty or so years since the revolution in 1917, the Soviets had made enormous strides in improving living standards, particularly in the cities. Don’t miss the Demonic Phantom in the middle of the back row. Or perhaps she’s the KGB Milklady

But then, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and the Heinkels and the Dorniers rained death over Russian cities. This picture has done duty as being English boys watching the Battle of Britain, but the lack of clothing and the short, almost shaven haircuts, say to me “Western Russia”, a place of unending flat fields where Operation Barbarossa took place in absolutely splendid summer weather. Look at how the boys are amazed, fascinated, yet each one of them has a look of fear in their eyes.

Boys would play their part in the war. For Yuri Gagarin, the  cosmonaut, it was throwing caltrops on the road, pouring soil into tank batteries about to be recharged and mixing up the chemicals used for this job. No wonder! His school was burned down, his family were forced to live in a mud hut and two of his brothers went to Poland for slave labour. In this picture, the boys seem to be snipers of some sort, using enormous long barrelled rifles, or is the nearer one a machine gun?

Next comes a beautiful picture of three bewildered and possibly orphaned little children in front of what may well be the ruins of their house. In Yuri Gagarin’s village, some 27 houses were burnt down. Hitler’s plans for the Russians involved the complete eradication of all the Russian villages, towns and cities, and to have the population housed in large camps from which they would be able to cultivate the land for the Germans. As these slave labourers died off, German families would come east to farm the land as their own:

A similar picture but the little boy is clearly well aware of what has happened to their family, and he just can’t take any more:

This is an unknown Russian village with two more little children. Both the village and its population have been destroyed:

The Germans were not in the slightest bit interested in the Russian civilian population. How could they be when they had carried out the massacre at Babi Yar and killed 33,771 Jews in two days, and the Rumbula massacre in Latvia where around 25,000 Jews were murdered in two days? As the Holocaust moved forward, the Germans would expect to find and kill all the Jews of a small town in a single day.

Russians, and indeed, all Slavs, were merely “untermenschen”, sub-humans, to be killed as the mood took them. The exceptions were the higher echelons of the Communist Party, who were killed on sight.

Human beings, no matter what may have happened to them, will always want to talk to each other and discuss. Here is Grandad, with his three grandsons, talking to somebody they know, probably about the future and where they are going to live. The Wehrmacht would burn down houses just because they felt like it, which may be what has happened here:

PS

My records, which I was looking at last night, show that I published “An impossible Beatles Quiz (1….the Questions)” but that I did not ever publish the answers. For Quiz No 2, I did publish both the Questions and the Answers.

Does anybody out there remember?     

I clearly thought I had published both Questions and Answers for Quiz 1, but the WordPress list of “Published” seems to think otherwise! Indeed, it thinks different things about the subject every single time I do a search!

Please write any thoughts in the “Comments” section of this particular blog post if you can help. 

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Filed under History, military, Politics, Russia, Uncategorized, war crimes

The Sandiacre Screw Company (10)

The brave young men from the High School who died defending their country have left relatively little behind them. Sometimes we have a  few blurry photographs of school plays (the “woman” next to the teacher, and the boy in the middle of the very back row);

And sometimes we have a few blurry pictures of them in their uniforms:

We have some nice pieces of writing in the Nottinghamian magazine from Frank Corner and from John Walker. In the School Archives, John Grain’s school cricket blazer has hung on a hook there since 1936 and will hopefully continue to hang there until “towers cave in and walls collapse”. Whenever I saw it, I always thought that John could not possibly have imagined such a lonely fate for his blazer. No, he thought that one day in 1980. when he was 61 years old and a fat old man, he would come up to visit his old school and get them to dig out his old blazer and he’d then try it on. He’d say:

“Look! It almost fits me!”

And everybody would laugh and say:

“Why!  You can’t even get it over your shoulders! You must have grown a lot of muscles in the last forty five years! Perhaps the army made you fitter!”

And then he’d go back to his grandchildren and tell them where he’d been that day, and what it was like when he was at school.

We have a couple of Keith Doncaster’s poems.

In addition, we also have a lovely picture of the Officers Training Corps in 1937, with Keith on the left hand end of the very front row, looking extremely youthful and nowhere near his calendar age:

Keith Doncaster though, is the only casualty from the Second World War, of around 125 men, of whom we have a cinefilm. It was originally for sale on the internet but it can now be watched for free on BFI-Player, courtesy of the BFI, the British Film Institute. The four-minute film is silent and rather blurred, but everything is recognisable.

The title is “Shenstone and Longmoor Farm May-July 1943” but most of it clearly shows Keith in the garden of the family house in Sandiacre, relaxing on leave in the early summer of 1943.

Keith is in full, impeccable, RAF uniform, his hair shining with the traditional Brylcreem. He is a very slight young man, looking much younger than his actual age:

And then you can turn it into a close-up:

Then we see him walking towards the camera:

Then he’s on the lawn scratching the cat’s ears,:

He’s walking around the lawn, and then sitting down on a garden bench:

His sergeant’s stripes stand out in a pale grey world. What must be his father is there, wearing his office suit and smoking a cigarette:

A very old couple is there too. They could be Grandma and Grandad, but equally, they may well be the gardener and the cook:

There are shots of what must be Longmoor Farm with cows. One of them is very tame and Keith can scratch the back of its head and neck just like a dog:

Back at Sandiacre, the humans are still a mystery. Keith is with an elegantly dressed woman that may be his mother:

Certainly Dad is there, this time without the hat:

Back on the farm there is a herd of cows in a field, then two calves are let loose in a field to scamper and chase each other like two dogs:

But who are the two men? The cowmen? Alas, we will certainly never know:

And one of the stills I produced is quite lovely:

One more blog post, before Keith Doncaster fades back into history.

The home movie is available at

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-doncaster-shenstone-and-longmoor-farm-may-july-1943-1943-online

and of slightly lower standards of presentation, at

https://www.macearchive.org/films/doncaster-shenstone-and-longmoor-farm-may-july-1943

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Film & TV, History, military, Nottingham, The High School

The Sandiacre Screw Company (9)

There is a rather beautiful stained glass window to the memory of young Ivan Keith Doncaster in St Giles’ Church in Sandiacre in Derbyshire.

It has a wonderful representation of St George with his sword and shield. Notice how he is flying, totally in keeping with an RAF casualty :

Lower down, Lincoln Cathedral is included:

There is also a superb illustration of an airman kneeling in prayer under the Tree of Life. To the right is the badge of the RAF with “Per ardua ad astra” and the badge of 166 Squadron, with its bulldog and its motto of “Tenacity” :

In the Long Eaton Advertiser, in Keith’s obituary, the local newspaper said that he was “thoughtful, quiet and unassuming, with a great love of the land and the country people”.

On his gravestone, Keith’s parents had the following inscription:

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die”.

The wireless operator, Edward Ellis Jones, had slightly more direct feelings expressed:

“He gave his life that others might live. God bless him”

These sentiments are echoed by the words on the gravestone of Roy Elkington Ault, the bomb aimer:

“He died so that England might live”.

Similar feelings to these were expressed by Keith in his “Last letter”, the letter which is left behind, sealed, and may only be opened by parents or wife in the event of the writer’s death:

“These ops are what we have been training for, for many months. Now is our chance to make this earth a place for decent people to live in. I hope that the seven of us can flatten a large number of German homes as well as factories during our tour of ops. If I do have to go then I only hope that I can have a good chance to do some damage over there first. If that happens I shall die in the way that any Englishman would want to—fighting for his country.”

There are two more blog posts in the future to round off this tragic tale. And by the way, the pictures of those beautiful stained glass windows were originally put on the internet by “Berenice UK” in 2015.

Here’s Keith at the High School again:

Here he is in the RAF……..

And here he is at home as Sergeant Doncaster, mid-upper gunner…..

 

 

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What would you do ? (15) The Puzzle

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, a boys’ comic aimed, funnily enough, at boys. The comic was in existence for only 19 months of 1963-1964.

I bought it mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle called “What would you do ?”. Somebody was in what Ned Flanders calls “A dilly of a pickle” and you had to get him out of it.

Here’s the situation:

In case you can’t read it, I’ve enlarged the blue box which reads…….

The exact text is :

“Shoulder to shoulder the Roman soldiers stand tensed to face the thundering might of Hannibal’s elephants. But the Romans’ spears are of little use against the living battering-ram that sweeps down on them. Great gaps are torn in the tightly packed Roman ranks. Now Hannibal’s soldiers can follow through and rout the enemy. The Roman general, Scipio, knows that if he is to win future battles he must stop the elephants breaking his shield wall. What can he do?”

Your task is to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your ideas in the “Comments” section.

It certainly is a dilly of a pickle, although I wouldn’t depend too much on finding the answer in there!

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (8)

Ivan Keith Doncaster was lost on a raid on Kassel by 166 Squadron on October 22nd 1943.  He was the mid-upper gunner in  “Z-Zebra”, an Avro Lancaster Mk III with the squadron letters AS-Z and the serial number EE196…..

The morning after “Z-Zebra” had crashed, and most of the crew had been killed, including Keith Doncaster,  the flight engineer, Arthur Pilbeam, had the appalling task of identifying the four corpses which had so far been found. He thought that they all had been killed by the exploding bombload or had been unable to pull their ripcords after they jumped because they were unconscious.

I have been unable to identify any likely German pilot who might have pulled the trigger. When so many black painted aircraft were shot down in the pitch black, there were so many claims that hardly any of them can be verified:

Let’s take an example from the night of October 22nd-23rd 1943. Oberleutnant Hermann Bertram claimed a four engined aircraft “35 km N Kassel” at an altitude of 4,200 metres. How do we know if it was a Halifax or a Lancaster? Was he definitely “35 km N Kassel”? Did he see it crash? And so on.

Oberleutnant Bertram is not a liar. He is a young man who cannot possibly be 100% certain of what happened. And the same would apply to a very long list of night fighter pilots who might possibly have shot down “Z-Zebra”. These men claimed to have destroyed a Lancaster or a Halifax or a “4-mot flugzeug” and they mentioned Kassel in their claim. No doubt the list is incomplete:

Horst-Rüdiger Blume, Fritz Brandt, Franz Brinkhaus, Victor Emanuel, Leopold Fellerer, Erwin Glass, Ernst Haase, Alfred Heldt, Johannes Hiedlmayer, Werner Hoffmann, Horst John, Otto Kutzner, Hans Leickhardt, Richard Lofgen, Erich Metz, Manfred Meurer, Klaus Möller, Hans von Niebelschütz, Günther Nord, Heinz Oberheide, Ruprecht Panzer, Erhard Peters, Günther Radusch, Lothar Sachs, Josef Sallmütter, Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, Eduard Schröder, Helmuth Schulte, Paul Streuff, Gustav Tham, Kurt Welter, Gerhard Witt, Achim Wœste, Josef Wolfsberger and Fritz Yung.

And here are four of them:

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Eventually, all six of the crew of “Z-Zebra” were found. They were buried in Schwalenberg Cemetery on October 25th 1943. On September 18th 1947, they were all re-interred at Hanover War Cemetery. They occupy five graves that must be next to each other.

Keith Doncaster occupies Grave No 16.E.1, Edward Ellis Jones occupies Grave No 16.E.2, Roy Elkington Ault occupies Grave No 16.E.3, Victor George Deacon occupies Grave No 16.E.4 and Charles Neville Hammond occupies Grave No 16.E.5. The sole American, John Murray Walton, was reburied in the Ardennes American Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz in Belgium on an unrecorded date.

The Lancaster’s pilot, Charles Neville Hammond, received a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and self-sacrifice as he struggled to fly the stricken Lancaster straight and level so that its crew could all escape the burning aircraft.

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (7)

Six young men were killed in Keith Doncaster’s bomber, which was lost on a raid by 166 Squadron on Kassel on October 22nd 1943. Keith was the mid-upper gunner in  “Z-Zebra”, an Avro Lancaster Mk III with the squadron letters AS-Z and the serial number EE196. The fact that he was engaged in a raid on Kassel does actually establish a rather tenuous link with my own father, Fred Knifton, who, at the time, was with 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds. My Dad had been involved on the raid on Peenemünde in an effort to prevent the Germans developing the V1 and the V2. All of the participants, in all of their different briefing rooms, were told…..

“If you don’t destroy thr target tonight, you’ll have to go back the following night. And the the night after that and the next night, until the target is destroyed.”

Keith Doncaster’s raid on Kassel was a kind of a follow up to my Dad’s efforts. This time the bombers were after the Fieseler aircraft works which were heavily engaged with developing and manufacturing the guidance gear used to keep both the V1 and the V2 on the right track. And the raid was successful. Kassel was, to all intents and purposes, “flattened”.

The pilot of “Z-Zebra”was Charles Neville Hammond, the son of Thomas Neville Hammond and Doris Hammond from Llanrug in Caernarvonshire, and the husband of Mary Hammond of Odiham in Hampshire.  This is Llanrug, a quiet little town:

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Charles was 23 years old. He had begun his RAF career as a Leading Aircraftman before receiving an emergency commission. He had previously attended the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, a grammar school which numbered Paul McCartney and George Harrison among its old boys. What a school photograph this is:

The navigator was Master Sergeant John Murray Walton who was 21 years old. John was serving with the 12th Replacement Control Depot of the USAAF.  He was the son of an American couple, Melville R Walton and Mabel Walton although he was born in Ontario in Canada. He was a Canadian citizen by reason of his birth and an American citizen by reason of his parents’ nationality. John had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force but then, like thousands of others, he flew with the RAF. He was the navigator and one of the very few men in World War 2 with a Distinguished Flying Medal, an Air Medal and a Purple Heart:

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The bomb aimer was Roy Elkington Ault, the son of Reuben John Ault and Olive Eugenie Ault from Sidcup in Kent, although Roy was born in Stamford in Lincolnshire. He was 22 years old. He too, began as a Leading Aircraftman before receiving an emergency commission. Here’s Stamford, another quiet little town, with all the buildings of that warm yellow-orange colour:

The wireless operator was Edward Ellis Jones, the son of Evan Jones and Mary Ellen Jones. He was born at Ammanford, a tiny community in Carmarthenshire in South Wales. He was the husband of Margaret Jones who lived in Wembley in Middlesex. Edward was 32 years old. He had originally been a sergeant before receiving an emergency commission:

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Keith Doncaster, the mid-upper gunner, was 20 years and 5 days old.

The rear gunner was Victor George Deacon, the son of George Victor Deacon and Edith Elizabeth Deacon. Victor came from Brixton in Surrey. Here’s Brixton and a distinctive building Victor might have been familiar with:

Victor was 35 years old and his wife was Lilian Elizabeth Ruskin who lived in Long Eaton in Derbyshire. They had a son called James Deacon. Long Eaton is only three miles from Keith’s house in Sandiacre and Keith had been a member of the Long Eaton Air Training Corps. Did these two young men ever travel home together on leave? Did they visit each other’s families? Did Keith ever look wistfully at little James and wish that he had a son of his own? Long Eaton Air Training Corps are still in business today:

The flight engineer was the only survivor. He was Arthur Iden Pilbeam from Kent. His father, also called Arthur Iden Pilbeam, was a baker and lived at 66 St Mary’s Road in Tunbridge Wells, which I found on that all-seeing google application:

His mother was Mary Pilbeam and his wife was Irene Lilian Pilbeam née Abbott. After being captured, Arthur became Prisoner of War No 261472 at Sagan, then Belaria and finally at Mühlberg (Elbe). After the war he became a fruiterers’ manager and a member of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers. Arthur lived to a ripe old age, passing away in Chichester in Sussex at the age of 92. Good for him!

Keith’s aircraft had been shot down by a night-fighter, around sixty miles short of Kassel. It crashed at Brakelsiek, roughly 110 miles from Düsseldorf and to the NNW of Kassel. The only survivor, Arthur Pilbeam, has actually supplied an account of what happened. A night-fighter attacked without warning and one wing of the Lancaster burst into flames. The pilot struggled with his damaged controls to give everybody time to escape, but the stricken Lancaster went into a spin after one of the bombs exploded, hit by a cannon shell from the night-fighter. Seconds later, the whole aircraft blew up. Here’s a nice old building in Brakielsk:

 

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (6)

Keith Doncaster took off on his last mission with 166 Squadron at 18:12 hours on October 22nd 1943 from RAF Kirmington, 11 miles south west of Grimsby in Lincolnshire. Here’s what RAF Kirmington looks like today:

Keith was in “Z-Zebra”, an Avro Lancaster Mk III with the serial number EE196 and the squadron letters AS-Z . During the course of the war, because of the astonishing levels of bomber losses, nine different aircraft in 166 Squadron were to carry those letters of AS-Z, “Z-Zebra”. That means, over time, 63 different young men as crew, of whom a minimum of 54 would have experienced disaster of some kind, up to, and including, their own deaths.

There were also nine different aircraft for AS-E, “E-Edward”, (63 more young men’s lives risked) and for AS-F, “F-Freddy”, (63 more) and for AS-N, “N-Nuts”, (63 more) and for AS-S, “S-Sugar”, (63 more). Those five different letters, then, E, F, N, S and Z, accounted for 45 Lancaster bombers and 315 young men all put into extreme danger.

In an Avro Lancaster, if the aircraft was shot down, only one man of the seven crew, on average, escaped with his life. That makes 54 young men killed in the nine different aircraft which carried the letter “Z”. And overall, those five different letters, E, F, N, S and Z, accounted for 270 young men, all of them in all probability, killed.

The members of the crew all had a financial value and cost. The Head of Bomber Command was Arthur Harris, aka Bomber Harris, aka Butcher Harris (to his men). Harris always used to reckon that to train just one member of a Lancaster crew cost as much as sending six men to Oxford or Cambridge for three years. Whether that is true or not, we do know that the actual figure was £10,000, although the website did say that that total is expressed in 1943 prices. Allowing for inflation, in today’s money, the cost becomes £500,000 per man.  And the crews of those five different letters, E, F, N, S and Z, therefore, were trained at a cost of around £135,000,000.

 

That all created some startling casualty figures for Bomber Command. A total of 51% of all bomber crew were killed on operations, 12% were killed or wounded in non-operational accidents and 13% became prisoners of war.  Just 24% survived.

Those five letters, E, F, N, S and Z, also stood for enormous sums of money. In the early 1940s, Lancasters cost, in today’s money, around £2,000,000 each. Those 45 aircraft would therefore have cost £90,000,000. Here’s “Z-Zebra” and its crew, possibly with the members of the ground crew ho kept if flying…….
Never forget, though, that there is a difference between “cost” and “value”. Let’s look at two sentences……
“What is the cost of just one of those aircrew to the RAF?”
“What is the value of just one of those aircrew to his family?”
Here’s the crew of Z-Zebra, and, presumably, five of the ground crew who kept them flying……..

Tonight, the target was Kassel, a city to the northeast of Frankfurt. No satellites in those days meant that accurate weather forecasts were very rare and the bombers frequently encountered unforeseen meteorological difficulties.

And so it was on this occasion, when 569 bombers, including 322 Lancasters and 247 Halifaxes, set off for Kassel. Twenty of them encountered heavy rain, ice formed on the aircraft and they were forced to turn back. Other various problems forced 39 more bombers to turn back. Eventually, 444 aircraft arrived at the target, 78% of the original force.

Kassel was a prime target because of the Fieseler aircraft factory, the Henschel & Sohn factories producing Tiger tanks, an engine factory, a motor vehicle factory, and the headquarters of the organisation responsible for all railway and road construction in central Germany as well as two military headquarters and the regional supreme court. Kassel housed the headquarters of Military District 9 and the local satellite camp of Dachau provided slave labourers for the Henschel factories.

The 444 survivors from that original force dropped 2,000 tons of bombs and an amazing 460,000 incendiaries. Native speakers were used, broadcasting from special Lancasters, to give the German night fighter pilots incorrect orders over the radio or to countermand their previously given orders. A diversionary raid on Frankfurt, by 28 Lancasters and eight Mosquitoes caused further confusion.

The main target was marked exceptionally well and the bombs fell extremely accurately, creating a minor firestorm, made all the more severe when the main telephone exchange and the city’s water supply were put out of action.

4,349 blocks of flats containing 26,782 individual family flats were demolished. The bombers damaged 6,743 more blocks, containing 26,463 individual units. 120,000 people became homeless. There were 1,600 major fires and a thousand smaller ones. Overall, 160 industrial premises were flattened, along with 140 government buildings. At this time Henschel were manufacturing V-1 missiles, so this severe damage impacted hugely on the date of the first launchings against England. Two German spectators watch the spectacle :

Kassel was devastated and burned for seven more days. Casualties were dug out of the hot rubble for weeks. 5,600 people were killed and 3,300 just disappeared, cremated in the firestorm and its week long aftermath. After the previous raid of October 3rd-4th 1943, up to 90% of the city centre was now destroyed. There were only two more significant raids on Kassel during the rest of the war. One on the Henschel motor transport plant, and the RAF’s final farewell on March 8th-9th 1945. The RAF really had done an enormous amount of damage:

All of this success had its price though. That night, 241 men were killed as 25 Halifaxes and 18 Lancasters were destroyed. On the way to Kassel anti-aircraft fire accounted for three bombers, and night-fighters claimed a couple more. The anti-aircraft fire at Kassel, aided by 70 searchlights, brought down five more bombers. Searchlights could be a formidable opponent, especially if they had a cathedral to defend:

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The night-fighters then struck as they returned home. No 10 Squadron lost 21 men, with further losses from No 12 Squadron (eight men), 35 Squadron (two men), 49 Squadron (nine men), 50 Squadron (one man), 51 Squadron (seven men), 57 Squadron (ten men), 61 Squadron (six men), 76 Squadron (eight men), 77 Squadron (ten men), 78 Squadron (six men), 100 Squadron (five men), 102 Squadron (eight men), 103 Squadron (19 men), 158 Squadron (14 men), 166 Squadron (12 men), 207 Squadron (nine men), 408 Squadron (seven men), 419 Squadron (five men), 427 Squadron (26 men), 428 Squadron (one man), 429 Squadron (11 men), 431 Squadron (seven men), 434 Squadron (22 men) and 467 Squadron (seven men).

In addition to these 241 men killed, 71 became prisoners of war. This constituted a completely unsustainable loss rate of 7.6 %. In other words, at that rate, nobody would live to carry out more than fourteen missions.

Not many of the young men in this photograph will be over thirty:

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (5)

Young Keith Doncaster, whom we have met already four times, was a mid-upper gunner, who sat in a perspex dome half way along the bomber’s fuselage. He protected the aircraft from attacks originating from above the horizon, mostly diving attacks from the rear. His turret was rather like an upturned goldfish bowl and could become extremely hot on occasion. That occasion was quite rare, and cold, particularly at altitude and at night, was a far more frequent problem:

An ex-Lancaster gunner, Russell Margerison, listed the clothes he wore for each mission:

“Women’s silk stockings, woollen knee-caps, woollen long johns with sleeves and a high neck, a shirt, trousers, ordinary socks and over those, long woollen ones. Then a thick pullover, a battle-dress top, a heated suit, an outer suit of kapok, electrically heated slippers, fur-lined boots, silk gloves, heated long gloves, and leather gauntlets. And anti-freeze ointment on any exposed flesh.”

If the perspex was shot away, temperatures might drop to 60° below.

Margerison said that the gunners hardly ever fired their guns. If anybody spotted an enemy aircraft, they would shout: “Corkscrew port !!” or “Corkscrew starboard !!” and the supremely agile thirty ton bomber would embark on its famous twisting and turning manoeuvre which no German fighter could possibly keep up with, especially in darkness:

Keith would have been familiar with this life. Ruled by superstition, clothes were always put on in a set sequence and mascots such as lucky dolls or toys were always taken along. And there were “chop girls”, young ladies whose boyfriends kept getting killed and whom nobody would date any more, no matter how pretty they were. And then there was the constant hunt for fuel for the metal stove in the middle of an icy Nissen hut:

The crew were the most important people in Keith’s life. Outside these seven men, you were a fool to make other close friendships when life expectancy was six weeks with just four weeks for a rear gunner. Only your family counted for more than your crew:

Before D-Day, 65% of crew members were killed before they completed their “tour” of thirty missions. Each mission carried a 4% chance of being shot down. Overall, the casualty rate was around 45%, and eventually 55,573 men would be killed. The death rate in the US Eighth Air Force was considerably lower. This was because they wore their parachutes during missions. Those silken life savers were not stored away from the owner. And the Eighth Air Force flew in daylight when it was easier, theoretically, to get out of the plane:

 

 

 

 

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (4)

This is the fourth episode of the tragic story of Keith Doncaster, whose grandfather and father owned the huge “Sandiacre Screw Company.”  Keith was an Old Nottinghamian, but after leaving the High School on July 30th 1940, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, immediately after his 17th birthday. The RAFVR was the usual way to apply for aircrew entry to the RAF. Keith would have sworn an oath of allegiance to become a member of the RAFVR. The oath was very like the oath sworn today:

“I, Ivan Keith Doncaster, swear by Almighty God  that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George VI, His Heirs and Successors, and that I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, in Person, Crown and Dignity against all enemies, and will observe and obey all orders of His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, and of the air officers and officers set over me. So help me God.”

And then he could wear an RAFVR silver badge to indicate his status. There were two distinct types of badge on the internet. This one is a lapel badge:

And this one isn’t. Is it to hold your tie in place? :

There was a wait of varying length before volunteers were able to begin aircrew training. In the meantime, Keith took part in farm work, helping a local farmer.

He probably continued with his ATC attendance, proudly wearing his silver badge on his lapel. Here’s the Long Eaton ATC today:

Once he was eighteen in 1941, Keith finally made it into the RAF. He would not be a pilot, as most boys dreamed of being. Instead, Keith joined 166 Squadron as a mid-upper gunner in an Avro Lancaster:

The squadron used both Mark I and Mark III Lancasters which were apparently indistinguishable externally. The Mark III had Merlin engines built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit in Michigan in the United States.

At the Lancaster factory the aircraft were constructed in the normal way and either type of engine was fitted according to availability, although they were never mixed on the same aircraft. Eventually, 3,425 Mark Is were constructed and 3,469 Mark IIIs or Mark Xs, the latter aircraft being constructed in Canada. The engines’ performance was hardly different, although the Packard Merlin was more likely to overheat on take-off and landing, which meant that training units used it less frequently. The propeller blades were Hamilton Standard or Nash Kelvinator made “paddle blade” types. Mark Is had de Havilland “needle blade” propellers. Here are some “paddle blade” types :

And here are some “needle blade” propellers:

The Lancaster was still the same. That huge, huge bomb bay, thirty three feet long and completely uninterrupted, capable of accommodating 4,000lb, 8,000 lb or 12,000 lb blockbuster bombs. Or perhaps fourteen x 1,000 lb bombs. General Purpose or High Explosive. Instant explosion or with a wait of six days.

Or perhaps Monsieur would prefer 3,304 incendiaries this evening?

It was a Devil’s Menu where  Satanic Chefs could choose exactly what kind of disaster they would like to produce. And each combination had its own codeword: “Arson”. “Abnormal”. “Cookie”, “Plumduff”, “Gardening”. “No-ball”. “Piece”. “Plumduff Plus”, “Usual”.

What “a lovely way to spend an evening”, as the hit song of the day used to say…..

 

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

Shaka Zulu (3)

Last time, I finished by mentioning how the regiments of the Zulu army were distinguished by differently coloured shields and the number of marks on them. Shields might be brown, white or black and might have black spots, brown spots, white spots or no spots at all. Here’s a display in a South African museum:

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It occurred quite frequently that the Zulus would use the captured shields of their enemies as a ruse, causing confusion or even panic among the ranks of their adversaries. Chaka actually owned his own army’s warshields, the isihlangu, and they were handed out only in times of war. Men were punished for losing them.

Years later, when the Zulus were fighting the Boers,  Bongoza, a General in the Zulu army of King Dingane, even showed his men how to hide behind their shields and pretend to be grazing cattle.

Funnily enough, that was actually the only innovative idea that I came across that did not come from Chaka, the most brilliant military thinker ever in  sub-Saharan Africa. I found this coloured version of what is usually a black and white illustration of him on the internet:

Chaka was the one, for example, who changed his men’s diet, having them consume a fairly constant mixture of beef and cereal porridge. The existence of a new, fitter, stronger, army, would, of course, ultimately create more wars, but at the same time it would allow free access to further supplies of beef and cereals from the territories of the conquered tribes.

I don’t know if this dietary régime really did keep the Zulus leaner, fitter and more able to march long distances but that was the widely held belief among non-Zulus in Natal and Zululand in the 19th century. The problem, of course, was that the Zulus themselves left no written accounts and that all we have to go on are the accounts of one or two white traders such as Francis Farewell and Henry Fynn. And any books written by men who merely want to make money, of course, tend to exaggerate, just to make even more money.

For that reason, we shall never know for certain just how bloodthirsty and crazy Chaka was after his mother, Nandi, died on October 10th 1827. Did he really order every Zulu mother-to-be to be executed? Did he really seek out more than 7,000 people who were not sufficiently grief stricken and have them all killed? And even more crazily, did he really have every cow with a calf to be killed so that their offspring would all know exactly what it felt like when your mother died?

Only written records from an unbiased source can tell us such things. We are, for the same reason, still unsure about how far a Zulu regiment, an impi, could  run in a day. In 1879 the whites firmly believed that the answer to that question was FIFTY miles. It is even quoted in the film “Zulu”.

South African historian, John Laband, however, thought the idea was ridiculous. He gave 12 miles per day as the absolute maximum with only nine miles per day as the normal distance.
A very similar example would be the use of sandals by Zulu warriors. In the absence of written records, it has been handed down over the years that in order to toughen his warriors’ feet, Chaka had them stop wearing sandals and then any who refused were executed. Nowadays, we just don’t know if that is true or false.

Modern Zulus, especially the politicians, wear spotless, bright, white trainers. Their followers  frequently wear very brightly coloured jeans and carry golf umbrellas :

Some other aspects of bygone Zulu life we do know about through photographs. Across the world, many kings wear crowns. Zulu kings were slightly different and we have photographs from the nineteenth century to prove it. Here is King Cetshwayo:

He is wearing an “isiCoco”, an emblem of rank in pre-colonial days, meaning variously “the king”, “married man” or “warrior”, depending on the person wearing it. It was originally made from a mixture of beeswax, charcoal and snake skin, the latter being a symbol of African royalty and kingship. Warriors would wear leopard skin, because that was the animal they usually hunted. Nowadays, the isiCoco is made more easily, perhaps, by twisting a fibre ring into the hair. The ring has been covered in charcoal and gum and then polished with beeswax.

One final Zulu speciality weapon was the “knobkerrie”, a type of club with a large knob at one end. It can be thrown at the enemy like a javelin, or at animals while out hunting, or it can be used to club an enemy at close quarters. Sometimes it was used in stick fights as young boys practiced their combat techniques. In the Zulu language, it is called an “iwisa” and nowadays is not considered a weapon.

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I have always been fascinated by the Zulus. As a little boy, I was an avid reader of books by H Rider Haggard. It began when “Allan Quartermain” was given to me as a Christmas present, and then I bought “King Solomon’s Mines” and “She” with my pocket money. I was entranced by the heroic Zulu warrior, Umslopogaas, who appears in “Allan Quartermain” and in its sequel “Nada the Lily” a book unique in the nineteenth century in that all of its characters are black. Absolutely remarkable for that era.

I even tried to learn some Zulu phrases, but I never really had the chance to use the phrase “Kill the white wizards” so I soon forgot it. In actual fact, the only one I do still remember is “Amba gachlé ” which means “Go in peace”. Not a bad phrase to be the only one you know.

Here’s Umslopogaas :

 

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Filed under Africa, History, Humour, Literature, military, Politics