Tag Archives: Bristol Beaufighter

Bomber Harris, not a happy man (5)

According to Roy Irons in his splendid book, “The Relentless Offensive: War and Bomber Command”, Arthur Harris hated the Short Stirling, but he reserved his finest vitriol for the Handley Page Halifax. Here’s a Mark I:

The Mark I had Merlins and a front turret but the Mark 2 had the Merlins and a different nose:

The Mark III has the familiar nose, but has a different tail and Bristol Hercules radial engines:

Harris was not alone though in his hostility towards the Halifax. It was well known fact that the Halifax could not lift its bombload up to 20,000 feet and that its range was too short to take any 0f the longer, more evasive routes as the Lancasters did. Per hundred tons of bombs dropped, the Lancaster lost only one third of the personnel who were killed in Halifaxes. Overall, three Halifaxes were lost to every two Lancasters and those two Lancasters dropped almost twice the weight of bombs dropped by the three Halifaxes.

Harris knew all of these basic facts about the Halifax but he also knew a great deal of other information which nobody else was given. Most of it came from the captured pilots of Junkers Ju88 nightfighters.  They reported that they “could normally approach our aircraft well within gun range and even up to fifty yards without apparently being seen at all”.

Here’s a Ju88 night fighter:

To prove the point, Harris borrowed a Bristol Beaufighter and its crew from 25 Squadron at RAF Wittering and had a Halifax bomber put to the test. The two crewmembers in the Beaufighter found that the Halifax bomber they were chasing had “inadequate exhaust dampers” which meant that the flames from the bomber’s engines were visible to the Beaufighter one and a half miles away. In contrast, the rear gunner of the Halifax could only see the Beaufighter if it was within 1100 yards, just over six tenths of a mile. And that was looking back in level flight. Harris found that the Halifax rear turret possessed “blindness in all directions, and especially downwards”. He stated that the turret was “80% angle iron and 20% scratched perspex”.

Only in 1944 did a turret which has the kind of visibility that is required become available. It was actually designed by Bomber Command themselves. This was the Rose turret, mentioned previously, which was designed, at the specific demands of Bomber Harris, by Air Vice Marshal Edward Rice.  Rice was one of the senior Bomber Command station commanders, and had travelled with Harris to visit Rose Brothers at the start of the project. He subsequently led No. 1 Group RAF. Here’s a Rose turret being fitted. Bigger, longer guns and no metal in the line of vision:

Harris called the Halifax “a deplorable aircraft” on more than one occasion. He thought that the aircraft and its dreadful Bristol Hercules engines were particularly well suited to each other and that these awful engines should be reserved exclusively for the Halifax, because “it’s useless anyway”. Harris despaired that:

“nothing whatever is being done to make this deplorable product worthy for war”.

Harris was no fool, though, and realised that:

“the two strongest motives of Englishmen in the aircraft industry are patriotic devotion and commercial gain. They will never think of new designs when more orders for the old ones are to be had. To obtain or maintain an order book, aircraft companies will promise anything”.

Occasionally, Harris put it more bluntly:

“Nothing will be done until Handley Page and his gang are kicked out, lock, stock and barrel.”

This could not be done though, and instead Handley Page continued to make Halifaxes and to sell them to the RAF, whose use of “this deplorable aircraft” was limited to attacking short range targets. The reason for this was that if the Halifax was abandoned, six months’ bomber production would have been lost, because all of the extra tools and facilities for producing Lancasters would have needed to be put into place.

Harris was convinced that the Bomber Command offensive was vital to winning the war. He had no patience whatsoever with any of the board members at either Handley Page or Shorts:

“Unless we can get the heavy bomber programme put right, we are sunk. We cannot do this by polite negotiation with these crooks and incompetents. In Russia it would long ago have been arranged with a gun, and to that extent, I am a fervid Communist.”

Just to make it 100% clear, the “crooks and incompetents” were Handley Page and his gang and Oswald Short and a good many others in his firm. And Harris wanted them all put against a wall and shot:

 

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (4)

Last time I was explaining the connection between the Short Sunderland flying boat and “Das Fliegende Schtachelschwein”, “The Flying Porcupine”:

I promised that I would show you the connection between this spiny porcine killer and Leslie Howard, a suave, sophisticated English actor, who used to boast that he “didn’t ever chase women but couldn’t always be bothered to run away from them”. Here he is in “Journey’s End”:

I recently watched an excellent documentary film about Howard. It was called “The Man who gave a Damn”:

The film was about the life, and particularly the death, of the famous film star, the actor who had played Ashley Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind” only two years before his death. Cue film extract:

Leslie Howard was English and he did not hesitate to stand up for the values of our country and those of our friends and allies. He did not hesitate to name and shame.

In one of his films made after “Gone with the Wind”, he speaks of the Germans’ aims:

“Every day reveals the utter and desperate determination to smash us to bits, root and branch, to wipe out every trace of democracy.”

But we English and Americans are better than the Germans, as he says in “From the Four Corners” (1941) as he addresses troops from the USA who have just arrived in England:

“And so our fathers’ minds crept along and their ideas of justice and tolerance and the rights of man took shape in the sunlight and the smoke, sometimes standing still, sometimes even slipping back, but slowly broadening with the centuries. Some of those ideas are written down in the constitutions of our commonwealth and some are unwritten. We just try and carry them in our hearts and in our minds. Perhaps the men who came nearest to putting them into words were those Americans, many of them the sons of British pioneers, who, founding an independent nation, proclaimed:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Those words and that spirit were born and nourished here, and your fathers carried them to the ends of the earth. They are our inheritance from the past, our legacy to the future. That’s why you came here – to defend them.”

The documentary film was made by Derek Partridge, now an old man, whose young life was inadvertently saved by Leslie Howard. Here’s Derek:

On June 1st 1943 Derek and his brother were asked to give up their seats on an airliner travelling on the Lisbon-Bristol route, to allow Leslie Howard to get to a London film premiere on time. The two boys survived because they were not on the aircraft, a Dutch owned BOAC Douglas DC-3 Dakota, when it was shot down into the Atlantic Ocean. This war crime was carried out by eight Junkers Ju88C-6 fighters of Gruppe V / Kampfgeschwader 40. V/KG 40 was a heavy fighter unit which dated from 1942, when it was set up to intercept the bombers of RAF Coastal Command. It was the only long range maritime fighter unit the Luftwaffe ever had. The RAF answered them with firstly the Bristol Beaufighter and then the Mosquito. Here is a lovely shot of the aircraft of V/KG 40 in flight:

And here is a Bristol Beaufighter, a very powerful and well armed fighter:

In the immediate aftermath of these events, the British responded to the DC-3’s failure to arrive in Bristol by sending out a Short Sunderland GR3 flying boat to look for it on the following day. Here we go. Ein fliegende Schtachelschwein:

Don’t worry. He’ll sort ’em out.

 

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The Bristol Beaufighter at Hendon

I went on a trip to RAF Hendon Museum a few years ago, and I intend to share one or two of the more interesting aircraft with you over the months. Hopefully I will only be using my own photographs, so here are my excuses first. The Museum is really quite dark, so that the daylight or bright artificial lights have no effect on the (poor quality) Second World War paint. The museum is also very cramped, so try as I might, I could not get all of the aircraft into the shot at once.

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This particular aircraft is a Bristol Beaufighter Mk X. The Beaufighter flew for the first time on July 17th 1939 and the RAF received them in April of the following year. They were used as night fighters with airborne interception radar or, like this aircraft, as strike fighters, especially in Coastal Command. Armed with a combination of four cannons in the nose, machine guns, bombs, rockets or torpedoes, they were a formidable opponent. Production reached 5562 aircraft and they equipped 52 squadrons of the Royal Air Force:

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This particular example, RD253, BF-13 was built in October 1944 at Old Mixon in Weston-super-Mare. It has Bristol Hercules XVII engines and is one of a batch of 500 Mark Xs built there between September 1944-August 1945.

It is painted in Coastal Command colours of dark grey on the top, and underneath a much paler grey. The black and white stripes are there to undo all the work of the camouflage designers and painters in an effort to prevent friendly fire shooting the aircraft down. This could be a huge problem as one or two British anti-aircraft gunners apparently had Iron Crosses for five kills or more.

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This aircraft initially went to 19 Maintenance Unit at St Athan in Glamorgan on November 2nd 1944.
On March 7th 1945, it was sent to RAF Pershore in Worcestershire.

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Ten days later, on March 18th 1945,it was one of sixteen sent to Portela near Lisbon for use by the Portuguese Naval Air Arm, the Forcas Aereas da Armada. The aircraft was taken out of service in 1949 and then parked in the open in front of the Instituto Superior Tecnico.  It came to the Hendon Museum via South Africa, Bicester in Oxfordshire and  St Athan in Glamorgan, and was restored by 1968.

Overall, the Beaufighter strikes you as a very, very powerful and heavily armed aircraft. There must have been a lot of young men who really enjoyed the chance to fly it, armed to the teeth, with the sole aim of destroying anything belonging to the enemy that moved.

 

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