Tag Archives: Avro Lancaster

Strathallan…………the lost air museum (2)

Last time we looked at just a few of the aircraft which my friend, Bill, and myself saw on our visit to Strathallan Air Museum, near Auchterader, in the mid-1970s. Strathallan, if you remember, was the aircraft museum which eventually went bankrupt and all of the aircraft were disposed of in one way or another. A look at the map shows why, in pre-motorway days, very few visitors came to see the aircraft:

One of the most easily identifiable aircraft at Strathallan  was their de Havilland Comet, the world’s first jet airliner, which made its maiden flight on July 27th 1949.

Here’s my photograph, taken with a plastic camera whose controls for light were “bright” and “dull” :

And here’s a de Havilland Comet, by a much better photographer, which I found on the internet. On second thoughts, though, perhaps that may be a model. If so, it’s a really good one :

Of course, it’s a model ! But what are the other articles on this 1950s table? Is that the pilot’s map?

The Strathallan Comet (XK655) was eventually broken up for scrap metal, and in 1995 its nose was sold to Gatwick Airport for display purposes on the Spectators Terrace. Not a fate I myself would care to share. Here it is:

On an internet forum I found “G-ORDY” who said that XK655 was built for BOAC as the first Comet Mark 2, G-AMXA. It was eventually converted into “a Comet 2R, an aircraft of electronic intelligence gathering (ELINT) configuration, by Marshalls of Cambridge, and flew with 51 Squadron from Wyton. The forward fuselage of XK655 is now in the Al Mahatta Museum, located at the old Sharjah airport, UAE, and is restored in BOAC colours.”

There was another de Havilland aircraft at Strathallan. This was a De Havilland DH-98 Mosquito TT35, “TT” standing for “target tug”. Here’s my photograph:

And here it is in a much better photograph which I found on the internet:

In the RAF, the Strathallan aircraft had a serial number of RS712 and had featured as one of the bombers in the film “633 Squadron” and the later film “Mosquito Squadron”. The aircraft is currently displayed at the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, in Wisconsin, as RS712 and EG-F, the aircraft flown by Group Captain P.C.Pickard during the attack on Amiens prison in 1944:

I have actually already written very briefly about the book featured above, in a post called “Books for Christmas 1”.  I said:

“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.”

Here’s Strathallan’s Grumman Avenger, a TBM-3W2 of the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Koninklijke Marine. Here’s my photograph:

And here’s a much better photograph, of an Avenger in a much better state of repair:

When the museum closed, the Dutch aircraft went back to the USA and is now registered as N452HA at Hickory Air Museum, a private museum in North Carolina whose proud boast is that they never charge a penny for entrance.
The only other aircraft I can remember seeing at Strathallan was the RS3, built in 1945 at the Reid and Sigrist factory at Desford, some seven miles from Leicester:

It was designed as a small, twin engined trainer, although the RAF showed little interest. In 1948 it was adapted for prone-pilot experiments, with a lengthened, glazed nose, and a set of controls for another pilot who lay on his stomach. Here’s a better photograph from the internet:

The RS3 flew in this form in June 1951, and eventually went to the Institute of Aviation Medicine at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.

When I went to Strathallan, there may have been some other aircraft there which today, just over fifty years later, I have simply forgotten. It all depends on which year I went to the museum and in which year certain aircraft were sold off. The aircraft which I can no longer recall were an Avro Anson, an Avro Lancaster, a Supermarine Spitfire and a Westland Lysander. To be honest, had they been there during my visit, I do think I would probably have taken some  photographs.

This picture from the Internet was the closest I got to the ex-Strathallan Lancaster, KB976 and GB-BCOH. It is currently held at Polk City, Florida:

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (11)

Let’s recap this sad, sad, tale. And I’ve also found out one or two important new facts, and I’ve found a good number of new details. So don’t just dismiss it. Take a walk 80 years back into the past…..

Ivan Keith Doncaster was born on October 17th 1923. His mother was Evelyn Mary Fell before she got married. His father was Raymond Doncaster, an engineer. Ray’s father was Sir Robert Doncaster, the founder and owner of the Sandiacre Screw Company, a huge firm, the enormous size of whose premises on Sandiacre’s Bradley Street reflected perfectly the size of the business:

Sir Robert arrived in Sandiacre, a small town of some 9,000 inhabitants, around the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1899 he was living at “The Grange” on Derby Road and by 1912, he was living at “The Chestnuts” on the same road. (Or, he had just changed the name of his house.)

Ray and Evelyn Doncaster, Keith’s parents, lived at “Shenstone” in Longmoor Lane which is just one section of an extremely long road which runs north to south,  across the middle of the town. It begins as Ilkeston Road, then Lenton Street, then Longmoor Lane as it passes under Brian Clough Way and then finally Petersham Road.  In the 1930s, houses in Longmoor Lane were so infrequent that house numbers were not necessary. The address given to the High School for young Keith, in 1933, therefore, did not include a house number. Just “Shenstone” would suffice. The house was actually the modern No 108, to the south of Brian Clough Way, almost on the brow of the hill as you travel southwards. And this detached house, set back from the road, is absolutely enormous. It was originally built for the founder of the family firm, Sir Robert Doncaster, and was set in its own grounds, with mature trees and lots of space in every direction. It is currently pebble dashed completely white and must contain many very large and lovely rooms. One quite fascinating detail that I found out was that the house’s garage has its own minor place in history. Protected by hundreds of sandbags, it operated as one of the ARP centres for nearby Sandiacre. The ARP (Air Raid Precautions) was set up in 1937 as an organisation to protect the civil population from the worst effects of the inevitable terror bombing by the Luftwaffe. This is the house:

Ray Doncaster, Keith’s father, served in the army during the First World War. When he returned home in 1919, Ray became Assistant Works Manager of his father’s company. In due course, he was promoted to Works Manager, eventually replacing his father as Managing Director. He retired during the 1960s. It does not take a fortune teller to work out that, had he lived, Ray Doncaster’s only son, Ivan Keith Doncaster, would himself eventually have succeeded to that position. Instead, Keith did not come back from his war and the company eventually just disappeared. How many hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs were lost when young Sergeant Doncaster’s Lancaster was shot down? Today, the area which was occupied by the Sandiacre Screw Company is easily traceable. It is the brownish area on this modern map, with Longmoor Lane to the west and the railway tracks to the right. The Orange Arrow marks the spot:

Nowadays, this area is home to an almost uncountable number of modern industrial units, small workshops,  places where a large lorry can be loaded, places where a large lorry can be unloaded,  places to have a broken windscreen replaced, places to rent storage space, places where they carry out autorepairs, distribution centres and supermarkets. But it’s a dead place:

Just here and there, occasionally, a vehicle drives past, a car drives into one of the unit’s car parks. A van sets off to deliver car parts to Bingham. A fork lift truck driver shouts a greeting across to his friend in a lorry. It is a huge area but it certainly does not support anywhere near the huge number of people that used to work for the Doncaster family:

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Here and there a few red brick buildings remain. And the occasional red brick wall:

They are all that is left of the Sandiacre Screw Company nowadays. Just one German bullet had such a huge effect. Initially on one 20 year old mid-upper gunner. And then the ripples spread wider, and affected a whole family. Then they touched on a whole factory and its workforce of so many hundreds of workers in a distant English town. And thirty years or so after that Lancaster plunged to earth, the workforce found they had no work, and ultimately, they had no factory.

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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 (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 (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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The Carvings in the Tower (5)

Robert Michael Gunther (line 5 of the picture below) was one of the young men who, in May 1940, had climbed up into the Tower of the High School and carved their names and their message on a window sill. When the group did this, they could have had no idea how the war would turn out, whether the Germans would cross the Channel and occupy the country, or whether the British forces would manage to fight them off :

Robert lived at a house called “The Haven” in Burton Joyce, a village which is to the north of Nottingham, on the River Trent. He entered the High School on April 24th 1924. Robert won Mr Player’s Prize for Arithmetic (Intermediate) in 1938 and passed his School Certificate in 1939, just a year before he carved his name and message on the stone window sill in the School Tower.

In the OTC, he became a Lance Corporal and then a Corporal in 1938. He won the Certificate ‘A’ prize in 1939 and soon became Company Quarter-Master Sergeant and then Company Sergeant Major. In 1940, he was the most efficient senior NCO and the Commander of the Most Efficient House Platoon. A School Prefect, Robert won his First XV Colours and Cap, and captained the school rugby XV in 1940-1941:

“An exceptionally good leader, he also has shown himself outstanding in all departures (sic) of forward play.”

Robert left the High School on Christmas Eve, 1940. He joined the RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) and by 1942 he was a member of the Fleet Air Arm. He was trained at HMS Kipanga in Kenya and then at HMS Ukussa in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He then joined 810 Squadron. The motto means “Like lightning from the sky”:

810 Squadron, Robert included, flew off the aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious:

At the end of the academic year, in July 1944, the Nottinghamian carried the following message:

“We regret to announce that the following Old Boys have recently been reported “Missing”, and we hope that good news of their safety will soon be received: RM Gunther (1934-40) and FL Corner (1932-39)”.

The Nottinghamian said that Bob Gunther had disappeared during a routine flight over the Indian Ocean in June 1944. In actual fact, he had been shot down while acting as observer in a Fairey Barracuda during a bombing raid on Port Blair in the Andaman Islands.

The Andaman Islands are here:

Here is Port Blair:

And here is a Fairey Barracuda, which could carry combinations of a torpedo, bombs or rockets :

Bob and his pilot, Basil Willington Aldwell, were missing for 15 months. But Bob was not dead. The brutal Japanese had him, and his pilot, in their tender care. From July 13th 1944-August 27th 1945, he was imprisoned at Ofuna near Tokyo before spending two days at Shenagawa. When released he spent a long, long, time in hospital, before he was able to return home. Here are two typical victims of what was, ultimately, Japanese racism:

At Christmas 1945, another notification was published in the Nottinghamian:

“Sub-lieutenant RM Gunther RNVR (1934-1940) who disappeared on an operational flight over the Indian Ocean, in June 1944, is reported safe and on his way home. No news had been heard of him for some 15 months, and we are delighted to know of his safety.”

The extraordinary story also appeared in the Nottingham Evening News:

“One of the first Nottingham people to get a cablegram announcing the release of prisoners of war in Japan is Mrs KL Gunther of 37 Staunton Drive, Sherwood, who today was one of the first in Nottingham to receive news that her only son was returning home. His telegram read “Safe in Allied hands. Hope to be home soon. Writing. Address letters and telegrams to Liberated POW, c/o Australian Army Base Post Office, Melbourne.”

Sub Lieutenant RN Gunther of the Fleet Air Arm had been liberated. He had survived the Pacific war, a theatre where it was only too easy to lose your life.

Frank Leonard Corner, the other name in the Nottinghamian magazine of Summer 1944, was not so lucky.

At 00:25 on June 7th 1944, operating as a flight engineer, he had taken off from RAF Metheringham in an Avro Lancaster Mark III of 106 Squadron. It carried the squadron letters “Z-NH” and had a serial number of NE150. “Z-Zebra” was tasked with attacking bridges near Caen in the immediate aftermath of D-Day. It carried 18 x 500 lb bombs in its capacious bomb bay. Bombing from 3,000 feet and lower, at around 03:00 hours, the Lancasters were hit very severely by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, where a worker at the railway yard remembers vividly how the German gunners celebrated the fact that they had shot down a bomber, which must surely have been “Z-Zebra”. Frank was just twenty years old when he died. His service number was 222039 and his parents had by now moved to Whiston near Rotherham in South Yorkshire.

Frank was the scorer for the school’s First XI cricket team in 1938. In the photograph below he sits cross legged in front of the team:

Three of that season’s cricketers were killed in the war, as well as the team scorer.

Boy No 4 on the front row, George Colin Brown, of the Second Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment, was killed in Normandy on July 8th 1944, as 7 Platoon helped to clear the village of Hérouville-Saint-Clair of Germans.

“We slowly crept forward across open fields. As we broke into a trot, the Germans came out of holes in the ground like rats and unleashed hell. Mortars rained down on us and machine gun bullets were flying everywhere. Ahead of me, my platoon commander, Lieutenant Brown and his batman were killed.”

George Colin Brown was just 24 years old when he died. He was a young man whose….

“fast in-swinging ‘yorker’ on the leg stump was so devastating on its day.”

Boy No 5 on the back row, Ian Leslie Wilkinson, was killed on January 31st 1944, after taking off on a routine training flight from RAF Tilstock in an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V of 81 OTU, serial number LA 765. They crashed about 30 miles away near Dilhorne, a tiny village in Staffordshire. Ian was 24 years old and he was training to be a bomber pilot.

Boy No 6 on the back row, John Richard Mason, was killed on Friday, April 16th 1943, near RCAF Station Assiniboia in southern Saskatchewan in Canada. Sergeant Mason, a Pilot Instructor, was instructing Trainee Pilot, Leading Aircraftman John Hugh Evans, when their Fairchild Cornell Mark I, serial number FJ654, crashed into the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

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Roy Cross, the world’s greatest artist

As a small boy of nine or ten, I was very keen on Airfix plastic kits. They came originally in see-through plastic bags with a folded piece of paper stapled over the open end of the bag. The instructions for making the kit were inside the folded paper.

The smallest Series 1 kits were one shilling and threepence, or perhaps one shilling and sixpence. Series Two were three shillings and Series Three were four shillings and sixpence. Series Four cost six shillings and Series Five seven shillings and sixpence. Series Six, of which for many years there was only one, the Short Sunderland, was twelve shillings and sixpence. At this time I used to get around two or three shillings pocket money per week. As life grew more sophisticated, Airfix decided to put most of their kits into boxes and to decorate them with illustrations of that particular aircraft in action. The absolute toppermost of the poppermost of the Airfix artists was a man called Roy Cross (born 1924). Let’s take a look at his talents as an artist.

After initially helping illustrate Eagle comic  Roy moved to Airfix in 1964 and started his career with the Dornier Do 217. Here is the box art:

Notice how he makes the Dornier’s opponents the Polish Air Force, something out of the ordinary. Below is the original drawing. Both illustrations featured on an auction website, where Roy’s first ever aircraft sketch was on sale for £790.

Let’s take a look at some more of Roy’s best work. Here’s a Series 1 Spitfire, with the plastic bag still in place and the model unmade.

Series 2 included the de Havilland Mosquito, the Fairey Battle and the Bristol Blenheim. This one is flown by the Free French Air Force. Roy’s work never seems to drop in standard:

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A Series 3 kit might have been the Junkers Ju-88 and Heinkel III. A bigger box allowed him to make his pictures more and more complex. Notice again how he makes the Heinkel’s opponents somebody out of the ordinary, in this case the Soviet Red Air Force:

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In Series 4 was the Vickers Wellington:

The mighty Avro Lancaster was in Series 5, as was the B-17 Flying Fortress. Notice how the very large box has enabled him to portray accurately the huge wingspan of both aircraft:

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Here’s the Short Sunderland:

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was of such a size that it probably was in Series 29. This box is big enough to portray a defensive “box” of B-29s, and a Japanese fighter:

I was not very good at making the kits, as I would be the first to confess. With biplanes such as the Roland Walfisch of World War I or the Handley Page HP 42, the 1930s airliner, I was hopeless at gluing the top wing to the bottom one and soon there were gluey fingerprints all over the place:

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Quite a rare kit in my experience was the de Havilland DH.88 which won the race from England to Australia in 1934 with an official time of 70 hours 54 minutes 18 seconds. The raw plastic for it was bright red. I am not wholly sure if Roy Cross did this artwork. The kit may have appeared pre-1964:

There are some kits that I would like to have made but never did.  There was the Mitsubishi “Dinah” which was reckoned to be the most aerodynamically perfect aircraft of World War II. This is one of Roy’s very best pieces of work in my opinion:

The Spitfires defending Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia certainly couldn’t catch the Dinahs that flew high above them day after day.

The second kit I yearned for was the Angel Interceptor used in the TV series “Captain Scarlet”. That too, was a fairly rare kit during my modelling years:

I can’t bring this post to an end without showing you the last few masterpieces by Roy Cross. They are the B-25 Mitchell, with a choice of either a glazed or a solid nose:

Here’s the Aichi “Val”, looking for all the world like a Stuka that’s put on a lot of weight:

The Westland Whirlwind was a very advanced concept for 1938. It was one of the fastest combat aircraft in the world and with four Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20 mm autocannon in its nose, the most heavily armed. Prolonged problems with the Peregrine engines delayed everything and few Whirlwinds were built……only 116 in actual fact:

And let’s not forget the Blohm und Voss Bv 141 reconnaissance aircraft, one of the few aeroplanes ever to have had an asymmetrical structure. And yes, it flew very well, but was never produced in numbers because of the shortage of the engines of choice.

One last detail I found out about Roy Cross. He was apparently highly amused by the modern practice of taking his artwork, but photoshopping out any explosions and burning aircraft in case they upset anybody and reminded them what most of these aircraft were designed to do.

If you want to see more of Roy Cross’ art, then, please, use google images to sort out some pictures of other aircraft whose boxes he decorated. Roy may not be a famous artist, but his images of planes are irrevocably etched for ever in the memories of so many men of my age.

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Poems in “The Nottinghamian” 1922-1946 (4)

The author of the following poem which appeared in the Nottinghamian of December 1940 was Robert Norman Walters of VI Classics. Robert was the son of a “Master Fruiterer” and lived at 159 Cinder Hill Road in Bulwell. He was in the High School from 1930-1941. The winter of 1940-1941 was legendary for its severity and was excellent practice for anybody thinking of taking a winter break in Stalingrad a couple of years later.

SNOW

Snow shall fall and ice

Shall bind the lane in slithering shields

Of white and whitish blue.

Winds shall blow and howl and roar

And tiles shall fall.

Wood shall burst and split

Like statues known of old.

Rivers may cease to run

When snow shall whirl and swirl

And formless roofs gleam white.

Yet when this comes,

Let our strong, deep affections

Unfrozen, freeze not.

But with winter seen afar

Retain the burning heat

Of mid-June’s torrid air.

Robert left to go to Jesus College, Cambridge to study Classics. In the section of his poem :

“Winds shall blow and howl and roar

And tiles shall fall.

Wood shall burst and split

Like statues known of old.

Rivers may cease to run”

Robert has come remarkably near the words of Wace, who was possibly Robert Wace, a Norman poet, born in Jersey and brought up in mainland Normandy.

Wace was the first author to speak of the Round Table and the Court of King Arthur :

“Eventually

All things decline

Everything falters, dies and ends

Towers cave in, walls collapse

Roses wither, horses stumble

Cloth grows old, men expire

Iron rusts and timber rots away

Nothing made by hand will last.

I say and will say that I am

Wace from the Island of Jersey”

Wace lived, approximately, from 1100-1180.

James Theodore Lester was the son of a Leather Factor & Manufacturer who lived at 42 Bedale Road in Sherwood and then at Castleton House at 5 Castle Avenue in Arnold. The poem occasionally struggles for a rhyme, but the last verse is lovely.

“When I was six”

“When I was six I’d play at boats

And build a fort with many moats

Which I’d replenish with my pail

And put my little boats to sail.

 

 

Round and round and round they’d go

Till the water ceased to flow.

Then back home I would repair

And sit upon my rocking chair.

 

When it was time to go to bed,

Upon the pillow I’d put my head,

And think and dream of things I’d done,

And call the day a happy one.

 

We’ve already seen Frank Alan Underwood of 51 Charnock Avenue in Wollaton Park with his poem ““Evacuated”. This poem is a lot deeper and a lot more chilling. It was published in April 1943.

THE MIRROR

The dead man lay upon his bed

In the pause at dawn ere the Soul had fled,

And the Lamp burned dim as the East glowed red.

The Soul rose as the man had done

For twenty years at the beck of the sun:

But as yet it knew not that Death had won.

Then still as man and not aware

It looked in the mirror to brush its hair

–Looked in the mirror and found nothing there.

Ivan Keith Doncaster wrote a poem in The Nottinghamian in March 1937 which was pretty good:

 

THE FISHPOND

There’s a fishpond in our garden,

Not very big or wide ;

But fish just love to dart about,

Among the rocks inside.

And if you sit there on the bank,

You’ll see a sudden flash—

A big fat frog has just dived in,

And made a dreadful splash.

 

The frightened fish swim swiftly round

In search of safe retreat,

The frog looks at the golden line,

And croaks his sad defeat.

When ice seals up our gold-fish pond,

Neath winter’s frozen spell ;

We just catch golden gleams below,

To tell us all is well.

 

In summer when the fountain plays,

And sends forth silver rain,

The fish all frolic in great glee,

As cooling showers they gain.

 

We feed the fish with large ant eggs,

And when the days are warm

They jump to catch the flitting flies

Which o’er the pond do swarm.

 

Some happy moments there we spend,

Watching the fish at play ;

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter too,

They move in swift array.

 

Ivan Keith Doncaster only lived from 1923-1944 but he had already succeeded in the previous year in writing the most beautiful piece of poetry by any High School boy, bar none. It summarises how much we love our oh-so-beautiful lives, yet all the time are well aware of the price we will all one day pay as the distant bells toll our inevitable doom.

Keith paid his price in the mid-upper turret of a Lancaster over the German city of Kassel on October 22nd 1943, five days after his 20th birthday.

This poem appeared in April 1936 and had Keith lived, he would have been a great poet. He has a masterful touch and is capable of the most astonishing subtlety.

GATHERING SHELLS

“Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.”

I have read that poem literally hundreds of times and I do not even begin to tire of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, Literature, My Garden, My House, Nottingham, Personal, The High School, Wildlife and Nature

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

Bomber Harris, not a happy man (3)

As I mentioned in my two previous blog posts, Roy Irons’ book “The Relentless Offensive: War and Bomber Command” is one of the most informative I have ever read about the RAF’s bombing offensive over Germany, and the man from Southern Rhodesia in charge of it, Arthur Harris:

In the early years of the conflict, of course, the biggest problem faced by the RAF was that most fundamental of questions, namely whether the somewhat second rate aircraft of Bomber Command were actually hitting their targets in Germany:

An early attempt to find out the answer to that rather basic question was the Butt report, which examined night bombing by the RAF in as much detail as possible, and produced its rather disappointing conclusion in early August 1941.

The Butt Report discovered, for example, that most bombs dropped at night did not fall within five miles of their target. At the same time, though, the huge losses of aircraft and aircrew during daylight raids in 1939-1940 meant that the RAF could not possibly switch to that approach as a method of bombing the enemy with any claim to accuracy.

The only solution, therefore, was to continue with bombing at night, but, instead of worrying about civilian casualties, to pursue the Luftwaffe’s own tactic of bombing a whole area, rather than a specific target. Churchill and his war cabinet immediately ordered this change in policy from specific targets such as a factory or a railway junction, to the general bombing of an entire part of a city or town.

Area bombing, of course, could be extremely effective. It flattened the factories of the Third Reich and it destroyed the homes of the workers who worked there:

A new leader was appointed at Bomber Command to implement Churchill’s policy and to develop the tactics and technology to carry out the task more effectively. That man was Sir Arthur Harris, commonly known as “Bomber” Harris by the press and often within the RAF as “Butcher”. Harris was the most forthright of men and he did not suffer fools gladly:

Harris’ brief was to kill Germans. Anybody or anything which impaired the RAF’s ability to do this, he would subject to a severe tongue lashing. Even his ordinary opinions were extremely forthright, although there is little to fault in his thoughts about the conflict and what we had to do:

“War. The only thing that matters is that you win. You bloody well win !”

Such directness was why Harris ended up so hated by so many of his upper class superiors. He was, though, adored by the men under him, the “Old Lags” as he called them. Harris committed the cardinal sin of telling a large number of people, particularly those who outranked him, just how useless they were.

We have already looked at the problem of dropping bombs by night on, for example, the Gelsenkirchen tank factory and destroying it completely, but causing no damage whatsoever to the Gelsenkirchen Tea and Coffee shop next door.

That dilly of a pickle was solved, eventually, not just by the introduction of area bombing, but by improvements in the RAF’s technology and by training navigators until they knew what they were doing:

At the same time, another major problem was that enormous numbers of bombers were being shot down, either by flak or by nightfighters. This in turn, deprived Bomber Command not only of an expensive aircraft, but of a trained pilot, a trained navigator, a trained bomb aimer and any number of trained gunners and so on:

 

Many of these problems came from the fact that all British bombers were defending themselves with 0·303 guns, that is to say, guns of exactly the same calibre as an ordinary soldier’s rifle. In the 1920s, a lecturer at the RAF Staff College showed perhaps just how confused thinking was on this subject. Try as I might, I can make no sense of what he said:

“The aircraft gun is not likely to be required to penetrate armour and a couple of 0·5 inch bullets in a pilot will incapacitate him as much as the fragment of a one and a half pound shell. On the other hand a 0·303 bullet has but little effect on any aeroplane.”

Strange arguments, but whatever point is being made here, it is clear that the enemy pilot was being viewed as the target of the bomber’s defensive fire rather than his aircraft. All that was needed to hurt him was a rifle bullet, so the 0·303 gun was chosen. Here are the three turrets of a Lancaster:

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The official explanation for keeping the 0·303 guns was that eight 0·5 cannons, firing deadly explosive shells, were too heavy to be carried and would compromise the Lancaster’s bombload. Furthermore, the weight of the stored ammunition for the cannons would always affect the centre of gravity of the aircraft. That latter point is ridiculous, of course, because, in his design of any future bomber, the designer would automatically make due allowance for the weight of the ammunition, including any changes in that weight as the ammunition was used.

Not connected with this book by Roy Irons are the almost irresistible stories of aircrew using their initiative to protect themselves. Somewhere I have read of turrets being taken from the B-24 Liberator and used as rear turrets on Lancasters. Somewhere else I am reasonably sure that I have heard of unofficial swaps between the turrets from Lancasters and the turrets from Vickers Wellingtons.

Whatever the truth of this, The  RAF did order 600 Rose turrets in June 1944. They were equipped with the two of the standard American defensive weapons used in the turrets of the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator:

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The weapon in question was the American light-barrel Browning ·50-calibre AN/M2 heavy machine gun. Four hundred turrets were completed by the end of the war although only a mere one hundred and eighty  were fitted. Typical of Harris’ remarks was his statement that:

“this turret was the only improvement made to the defensive armament of the RAF’s heavy bombers after 1942, and those responsible for turret design and production have displayed an extraordinary disregard for Bomber Command’s requirements”.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History