Tag Archives: Coastal Command

Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (4)

We have been looking at the poetry of Anthony Richardson. His second book of poetry was “These – Our Children”, published in 1943. I think it’s his best work and I have found quite a few poems in it to show you:

The copy I bought, again for just a few pounds, had an inscription inside it. It reads, in a very shaky old man’s handwriting, rather like my own: “For Jean Eve from Charlie on the 30th anniversary of our Wedding. Jan. 20 1944”:

The first poem I selected is called “Aerodrome Landscape” and is exactly that…a portrayal of the empty flat landscape of a bomber base. Only a few words of vocabulary need explaining:

An armadillo I had never heard of, but Wikipedia says that it is

“an extemporised armoured fighting vehicle produced in Britain during the invasion crisis of 1940-1941. Based on a number of standard lorry (truck) chassis, it comprised a wooden fighting compartment protected by a layer of gravel and a driver’s cab protected by mild steel plates. Armadillos were used by the RAF Regiment to protect aerodromes and by the Home Guard.”

A primrose is a yellow flower that often appears in late winter.

As regards any technical terms, the perimeter-roadway is the concrete track that runs 360° around every airbase. Each bomber was left, when not in use, on its own “dispersal” point, often shaped like a frying pan, which was connected to the “peri-track” by a short concrete road. Bofors guns were used to defend airfields against German aircraft attacks. A Hudson is a two engined light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. Wrack is seaweed that is placed on the shore by the waves, so presumably, “sky-wrack” is clouds, driven across the sky by the wind.

The same book, “These – Our Children”, contains “Aftermath”, which could equally well have been titled “Epitaph”.

The full title of the poem is “AFTERMATH (For Mac and his crew)”. It makes reference to a dead aircrew who are buried in Kristiansand, at least one of them being Scottish, or at the very least, having the Scottish name of “Mac Something”.

In today’s day and age, it is easy to trace to whom these details refer. Kristiansand is on the Skagerrak and is the fifth largest city in Norway. It lies, more or less, at the country’s southernmost tip. The Kristiansand Civil Cemetery has only twelve war casualties, just one of them being possibly “Mac”. This was Charles Peter Hope Maclaren, aged only twenty and killed on April 21st 1941. He was the pilot of an aircraft of 107 Squadron and came from Peebles, which is in the Scottish Borders region in southern Scotland. On the base of his grave is inscribed “His brave companions Sergeants Hannah and King have no known grave”:

The three men were in a Blenheim IV, Z5795, of 107 Squadron, RAF, of Leuchars in Fifeshire, operating as part of 18 Group. They took off at 1800 to perform a reconnaissance of the Norwegian coast. The Blenheim was piloted by Pilot Officer Maclaren, but they were shot down by enemy fighters and crashed into the sea. The pilot’s body was later washed ashore at Flekkero near Kristiansand, but no trace of his two comrades was ever found and their sacrifice is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. 107 Squadron was normally part of Bomber Command but was on detachment to Coastal Command in early 1941.

Sergeant Anthony James Hannah was the observer. He was a New Zealander of only twenty and he was on his twelfth operation. The third member of the crew was Douglas Stevenson Hutcheon King, whose service number was 751304 but I could find nothing further about him, I’m afraid.

In the poem, Richardson introduces huge amounts of poetic licence. He talks as if Maclaren came from Dundee rather than Peebles. The Usk is a river, but strangely, in Wales. Fifeshire is a county near Dundee:

The question posed at the end, of course, is that if the dead men can still call to him “across two hundred miles of sea”. then how is it that they cannot “clasp our hands” across the thin veil between life and death?
I have spent the last six years researching the war casualties of the Old Nottinghamians, and a good many more, and this particular Blenheim is quite the most God-forsaken, long forgotten, aircraft, I have ever come across. Only one grave and two men lost for ever. No exact details of their mission, no exact details of who shot them down or how it happened. Nothing at all on the CWGC website about the two men who were never found. No ages. No parental details. No town of origin mentioned. The only detail I found out is that Mac was buried by some good Germans, who gave him a magnificent funeral with full military honours:

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (7)

Last time I related how the crews of two Sunderland flying boats, having spent the entire war without seeing a single U-boat, found two German submarines on their way to surrender and sank both of them. I used two pictures borrowed from the Internet. One was a beautiful painting:

And the second was a genuine black and white photograph:

The Coastal Command airmen that Fred had met in the pub, probably in north Scotland, explained to him that they sank the two U-boats because they had spent so many hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of their young lives out on dreary patrols over the cold grey waters of the Atlantic. They had risked their lives in the pursuit of an enemy that they had never ever seen, as he hid in the cold grey metal waters of the Atlantic and emerged only at night. In similar fashion, Fred himself had never ever seen a German aircraft in combat during any of his nineteen missions. And even if they never saw a submarine, flying for ten hours over the cold grey featureless ocean is not without its dangers:

 

Most of all, these young men knew that they had wasted their youth, the best years of their lives, pursuing not pretty young girls at the village dance, but elusive submarines in the featureless cold grey seascape of the Atlantic Ocean. And it was revenge for this irreparable loss of their youth that they sought. If the RAF lads had a six or seven year gap in their young lives, then the Germans, who had now started their second major global war in twenty years, would not be allowed to have the rest of their own lives, certainly if the RAF had anything to do with it:

Sinking a U-boat which was on its way to surrender, after the end of hostilities,  was, of course, a war crime.

“Thou shalt not kill” the Good Book says, although the original words of the Torah, “לֹא תִּרְצָח”, should really be translated as “Thou shalt not murder” rather than our rather wishy washy “Thou shalt not kill”. And this was indubitably murder, so it was a war crime, although in many ways it was an understandable one.

It was the waste of so many years of their short lives that had finally got to them. Fred himself very much resented the years that he had spent “stuck in a Nissen hut in the middle of nowhere.” He was stationed at one stage at Elsham Wolds which was not a particularly beautiful or interesting place. It must have provoked great boredom and frustration among the hundreds, if not thousands of young men who were all forced to be there. Here’s the old runway, with its present-day green half and its grey half:

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Yet despite their boredom and their frustration, these young men would all have felt raw naked fear for much of the time. They knew that they were laying their own young lives on the line pretty much every single day.

My Dad told me that the only things that got him into that Lancaster were the fear of being thought a coward, and the fact that the crew all depended on each other and were all in it together:

Because of his never ending fear, like thousands of other combattants, Fred also despised the comfortable lives of many of the older people in the area where he was born and where he spent the majority of his leaves. They lived out their humdrum existences without any risk whatsoever, while young men in their early twenties were killed in large numbers every time there was a raid. The contempt Fred felt was, of course, just a measure of his own fear, at the possibility of having to fly over burning Berlin, or some other heavily defended Bomber Command target:

Having joined the RAF as a volunteer on September 29th 1941 at the age of nineteen, Fred expected to return home in May 1945. Alas, he wasted yet more time after the end of the war.

Fred was eventually discharged from the RAF well after the date when his favourite team, Derby County, whom he followed for more than seventy years, won the FA Cup for the only time in their history. Fred missed the game as he was “busy, doing nothing” with the RAF:

Fred eventually left the Second World War on November 19th 1946, after just over five years. Not much in a lifetime of over eighty years, but as he himself was never slow to explain in later life, these were potentially “the best years of my life”.

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (6)

My father Fred, during his spell in the RAF from 1941-1946 had relatively little direct contact with the pilots and crews of the huge Short Sunderland flying boats of Coastal Command:

He was certainly well aware though, that, because their patrols were of such long duration, these planes were extremely well appointed. They actually had galleys on board, where members of the crew could make cups of tea, or other hot beverages, or cook themselves proper meals. No luxuries like those of the Sunderland were ever afforded to the crews of the much more Spartan four engined heavy bombers such as the Lancaster or the Halifax.

The huge flying boat even had a number of bunks, where the crew could have a sleep if they were feeling particularly weary. And the Sunderland was so incredibly spacious. Here is the pilot on his way to the Library and the Sun Deck:

Enough room to swing a Catalina round ! Well almost.

My Dad was used to the Lancaster which was very much a tight fit for everyone:

The biggest problem was the main spar:

From 1952 onwards the French Aéronavale had eighty ex-RAAF Lancasters. How on earth did they get on, carrying out searches of the Atlantic Ocean which lasted ten hours or longer ?

It’s difficult to imagine waitress service in a Lancaster. In a Sunderland, the difficulty would merely have been finding the waitress as she wandered through the built in wardrobes:


One thing that Fred did discover, however, was what happened at the end of the war, when the U-boats came in to British ports to surrender. The cessation of hostilities was not quite as clear cut, black and white, as it should have been, and neither was it always carried out in as civilised a fashion as might have been hoped. The members of two Sunderland crews told him, for example, how they had found U-boats sailing along on the surface, on their way to surrender in the nearest British port, possibly in the River Foyle bound for Derry-Londonderry or in the Firth of Firth-Forth making their way to the naval base at Rosyth.

They immediately attacked and sank both of the submarines with all hands. Here goes the first one:

And here goes the second one:

Was this a war crime? We’ll look at that next time.

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George Norman Hancock, Old Nottinghamian and RAF (2)

Last time, we saw how George Norman Hancock sat the Army Entrance Examination and was placed second in the Order of Merit for the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell in Lincolnshire. There were six successful candidates:

AFR Bennett (Harrow County School), GN Hancock (Nottingham High School), K Gray (Leeds Grammar School), TL Moseley (Tamworth Grammar School), GAV Knyvett (Malvern College) and JAP Owen (St Bees School, Cumberland).

These were six optimistic young men, the brightest and the best, who would dedicate their lives to the Royal Air Force and their country. Some of them would lose those lives for ever.

Wing Commander Albert Frank Reuben Bennett worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. He was killed on Wednesday, July 1, 1942 at the age of 29.

Wing Commander Thomas Lawton Moseley was with 228 Squadron when he was killed on August 25th 1942 at the age of 29. He was in the same Short Sunderland flying boat in which the Duke of Kent was killed:

As for K Gray of Leeds Grammar School, I found three Kenneth Grays who were all killed but they were members of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, so, unless he left the RAF and then returned to it, I am not sure that this particular K Gray is very likely to be any of them. On the other hand, he may well be.

I first found George’s name in the RAF list for 1933 when on July 15th 1933, he was appointed to a permanent commission as a Pilot in the General Duties Branch of the RAF. In 1938-1940 he was recorded as Flight Lieutenant GN Hancock with the date July 14th 1938 after his name. This corresponds, presumably, to the date when his rank of Flight Lieutenant began. In June 1938 he qualified as a Special Signals Officer and for the rest of his life, he was to work in this area of the service. He would always be engaged in flying an aircraft rather than a desk.
Interestingly, he soon became an Experimental Signals Officer at the Aeroplane And Armament Experimental Establishment, which was originally located on the east coast, at Martlesham Heath near Woodbridge in Suffolk. When the war broke out, it was moved to the less vulnerable site of RAF Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.  Boeing B-17s were frequently used in research of the electronic variety. This one was specifically part of the AAEE:


The next time we meet George is in the “Flight” edition of April 13th 1939 when Flight Lieutenant GN Hancock became Squadron Leader GN Hancock with effect from April 1st 1939. On April 24th 1939, George was transferred to the Technical Branch from General Duties.
George’s name also cropped up in the King’s Birthday Honours for 1944, which celebrated the official birthday of King George VI. He was listed as Group Captain GN Hancock, “Mentioned in Despatches”, this time for his work with Coastal Command.
In 1946, George was awarded the CBE in the New Year’s Honours List as senior Signals Officer of the entire RAF. He must have also been promoted, if only temporarily, to the rank of Group Captain.

On November 1st 1947 George relinquished his temporary rank of Group Captain to become a Wing Commander (substantive). On July 1st 1953, he reverted to being a permanent Group Captain because on October 6th 1953, he was transferred to the General Duties Branch, retaining his rank…Group Captain GN HANCOCK, CBE, MIEE (seniority 1st July 1951).
I’ve not found the second abbreviation yet, but it possibly means “Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers”. He certainly joined the Institution as a university graduate in 1940 and by 1942, he was an Associate Member, and ten years later, a full Member. At the time of his death, George was also the proud holder of two prestigious diplomas. One was the AMIEE and the other was the AMI Radio Engineers. One was “Associate Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers” and the other was, presumably, “Associate Member of the Institution of Radio Engineers”.

George’s obituary lists the various jobs he did in the RAF and they certainly make a long and impressive list. He was the Chief Signals Officer in Coastal Command, the Senior Staff Officer at the Air Traffic Headquarters at Uxbridge, and the Command Signals Officer with the British Air Force of Occupation in Germany. At the time of his death on March 31st 1954, he was working with the Ministry of Supply as the Senior Air Force Representative to the Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics in the Ministry of Supply. Here is an early Bloodhound anti-aircraft missile:

To carry out all of these important posts, George needed immense dedication to the cause, and he had it in abundance, being committed both to the Royal Air Force and to his profession as a telecommunication engineer. He was known universally and affectionately by his nickname of “Hank”. His friends loved his courage and his jovial optimism. His work colleagues had great respect for his plainly expressed opinions and his dogged persistence in working away at things and overcoming any problems. Indeed, his obituary writer thought that George’s character was the very reason that he was always called “Hank”.

“This bestowal of a nickname gave an accurate measure of the esteem in which he was held by his colleagues.”

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Victor Comic and me (4)

This time in Victor, it’s Coastal Command. Patrolling the Ocean Blue in their aircraft and bombing U-boats. Until the German anti aircraft gunners take a hand….

And that single event, that single exploding shell, seems to put a very abrupt end to all of the crew’s sentiments about peace on earth which might be talked about in church on a Sunday morning . We are moved on very quickly from love for our fellow man to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth! And what about the words of the world’s most misspelled holy man, Gandhi? An eye for an eye and the whole world is blind?  All those lovely thoughts are completely knocked on the head. Literally. Vengeance is the order of the day. Just listen to what he says…..

And the next frame asks some very pertinent questions about staffing levels in the wartime RAF.

If we don’t need a bomb-aimer, then why did we bring one?

He could have been at home, spending his afternoon with his stamp album and his hinges, sticking in that German set with ships on, rather than bombing the real thing….

Aircraft recognition anyone? Well, it’s a Consolidated PBY Catalina, dropping old oil drums on a U-boat…..

No real man likes a hand placed tenderly on his shoulder, even if he’s wounded.

Leave me alone and go and look after Jack, we’ve all been very worried about him…..

I’ve spent my whole life being a facetious commentator on life.

In actual fact, I am a great admirer of Victor comic and even as an adult, I can see lots of positive teachings within its heavily serrated pages.

Soooooo…it will be a Victor true story with no facetiousness whatsoever next time. Well, only a teeny weeny bit.

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Attack the Tirpitz!! In a Halifax??

You are so lucky! You are going to see three photographs of a relatively rare aircraft, a Halifax Mark II, taken in the almost funereal gloom of the RAF Museum at Hendon. I apologise for the quality but in their efforts to preserve the original paint on the aircraft, the museum lights are kept very low indeed. For this particular aircraft, do not be put off by the fact that it seems apparently to have grown two enormous circular fins in the middle of its back. That is an Indian Air Force B-24 Liberator:

this one

The Halifax was the second British four-engined bomber to enter service in World War Two but it became the first to bomb Germany during a raid on Hamburg on the night of March 12th-13th 1941. Subsequent increasing losses on operations over Germany caused Halifax bombers to be used on less hazardous targets from September 1943.

The Halifax made over 75,000 bombing sorties and dropped almost a quarter of a million tons of bombs on Germany.

The Halifax continued in service with Coastal and Transport Commands after the war and the last operational flight was made by a Coastal Command aircraft in March 1952 from Gibraltar.
This s a Halifax B Mk II, Series I, with the serial number W1048. It was built by English Electric in 1942 at their factory near Samlesbury near Preston in Lancashire as part of a contract for 200 Halifaxes. This a similar aeroplane:

halifax_5

On March 27th 1942 it joined 102 Squadron at Dalton in North Yorkshire as “DY-S”.  The squadron was in the process of converting from the old Whitley Mark Vs
On April 9th 1942, six aircraft from 102 Squadron were exchanged with six aircraft from 35 Squadron because they were fitted with Gee radio navigation aid and could not be risked on a raid beyond the range of Gee stations  W1048 now became “TL-S” of 35 Squadron.
On April 15th the aircraft was taken on a training flight around Filey Bay followed by some low level practice bombing at Strenshall. Just over a week later, it  flew with ten other Halifaxes to RAF Kinloss in Scotland as an advance base for the raid on the German battleship, the Tirpitz.
It took off on April 27th 1942 at 2030 hours, the bomber’s first operational mission. “DY-S” was the  seventh of eleven bombers to depart and it was never heard of again. Until, that is, it was restored to the RAF Museum at Hendon;

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The crew was Pilot Officer Don P MacIntyre who was 24 years old and came from Canada. The busy bee in the crew was Pilot Officer Ian Hewitt who was the observer, bomb aimer and navigator. He  later won a DFC. After the war, he moved to quieter pursuits and became a chartered accountant, dying peacefully at home in bed in June 2015, aged 94.
The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Vic Stevens and the first WOP/AG  was Sergeant Dave Perry
The mid upper gunner was another Canadian, Sergeant Pierre Blanchet.
The tail gunner was Sergeant Ron Wilson who in later life was to become a London cabby.
The aircraft was carrying four spherical mines of the Royal Navy type 19N. They each weighed a ton and their shape and size meant that the the bomb doors could not be closed.
The cunning plan was to roll the four mines down the steep mountainside into the gap between the ship and the shore.  They would then sink the ship because the underside was thinner and therefore more vulnerable.
At half past midnight, the eighth aircraft to attack, Don McIntyre followed by his friend Reg Lane set off to release their mines. McIntyre was first. As they had arranged, they descended to 200 feet but “DY-S” was hit by flak and too badly damaged to get back to Yorkshire or even to Sweden.
They were forced to land on the frozen surface of Lake Hoklingen, twenty five miles east of Trondheim.

Here is the starboard inner engine nowadays in the museum:

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Vic Stevens broke his ankle and was eventually taken to hospital by the Germans. The other six came into contact with the Ling, the Norwegian underground and were helped to Sweden. Ian Hewitt and Don McIntyre returned to England after a few weeks, and Dave Perry,  Pierre Blanchet and Ron Wilson after a year. By this time Ron Wilson had rented a flat, found a job and made a start on a new life.
The poor old Halifax sank through the ice in the southern corner of the lake just twelve hours after the crash.
In 1971 the remains were found by local divers and in September 1972 by the RAF Sub Aqua Club. Everything was still there except for the starboard outer engine and one or two bits and pieces taken by souvenir hunters in the past.

Here is a photograph which is admittedly very similar to one of the others. I am quite proud of it, though, because my Idiots’ Guide to Photoshop has enabled me to turn a pretty well completely black picture into something understandable. Slight tinges of red are apparently the chemical which inhibits any further deterioration in the fresh air. Do they make that for humans?

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By the end of June 1973, the Halifax had been retrieved from the lake, and after a lot of restoration, it was ready for the public by the end of 1982. Apparently a second Halifax from the same squadron and the same operation was discovered at the bottom of a nearby fjord in 2014. This exciting discovery was made by the Marine Technology Centre from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. The wreckage is around 600 feet down, and is thought to be W7656 and to contain the remains of Sergeants Evans and Columbine, the wireless operator/gunner and the navigator respectively. I do not know if this will make any difference to plans to raise the aircraft and to restore it.

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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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The Bristol Beaufort at Hendon

I went on a trip to RAF Hendon Museum a few years ago, and I would like 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 in  places is really quite dark, so that the daylight or bright artificial lights have no effect on the (poor quality) Second World War paint. This gives rise to a distinct purplish tone on many of the photographs. The museum is also very cramped, so try as I might, I could not get all of the aircraft into the shot at once.

This is a Bristol Beaufort, the only monoplane produced for the Royal Air Force that was designed from the start for general reconnaissance and as a torpedo bomber. It was named after the late and great Duke of Beaufort, whose very large ancestral home was near to the headquarters of the Bristol company.

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The prototype first flew on October 15th 1938 and Beauforts entered service with No.22 Squadron in November 1939. They were Coastal Command’s standard torpedo bomber until 1943 and also laid mines.

The Beaufort was very successful as a torpedo bomber, and saw action over the North Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic. In 1942, Beaufort squadrons were deployed to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean to meet a changing enemy threat. Malta-based aircraft were particularly successful in attacks on Axis shipping at a critical time in the war in North Africa.

Total Beaufort production was 1380, including 700 which were built in Australia.

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The Beaufort at Hendon was assembled from bits of various Australian aircraft found at Tadji Airstrip and West Sepik in Papua and New Guinea.  Five airframes were salvaged from these sites by Dr Charles “Bunny” Darby  in  1974  and as far as is known, significant bits of some 28 Beauforts are still there.
In October 1987, two Gate Guard Spitfire Mk XVIs were swapped for a P-40 Kittyhawk and a Beaufort. The latter eventually arrived at Hendon via a workshop in Hawkins, Texas and then Felixstowe and  Cardington in Bedfordshire.

To me, a Beaufort always looks like a half way between a Blenheim and a Beaufighter. Here is a proper photograph, purloined from my best friends at Google Images. I just didn’t want you to think that all Beauforts strongly resembled a very large twin engine blackcurrant:

bea

The best illustration of a Beaufort is, in fact, a model. There wasn’t an Airfix one, as far as I can remember, so perhaps this is a Frog kit or something even more exotic. I couldn’t find a good picture of a Beaufort in Australian colours:

beaufort

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