Tag Archives: Flying Porcupine

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:

severn trent

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 (5)

Last time we were looking at how the English film star, Leslie Howard, was killed when the aircraft he was in, a DC-3 Dakota, was shot down over the Bay of Biscay, by the Luftwaffe.

That Dakota, though, was actually completely unarmed and it was no match whatsoever for a single Junkers Ju88, let alone a group of eight of them. As well as being unarmed, it was also registered in a neutral country (the Netherlands) and flying from a neutral country (Portugal) to England.

Nobody took very much notice of this at the time, but, because of these seemingly innocuous details, the entire episode therefore crossed the line of human decency and became a war crime. Here’s the DC-3 in question. Note the Dutch flag, with the prominent orange:

In the immediate aftermath of the DC-3’s failure to arrive in Bristol, the British sent out a Short Sunderland GR3 flying boat to look for it on the following day (June 2nd 1943):

The aircraft carried the serial number EJ134 and it was piloted by the brave Australians of 461 Squadron. The crew was James (Jim) Collier Amiss (Second Pilot), Wilbur James Dowling (First Pilot), Alfred Eric Fuller (First Wireless Operator / Air Gunner), Ray Marston Goode (Tail Gunner), Albert Lane (Third Wireless Operator / Air Gunner), Edward Charles Ernest Miles (First Flight Engineer), Harold Arthur Miller (Second Wireless Operator / Air Gunner), Kenneth McDonald Simpson(Navigator), Philip Kelvin Turner (Second Flight Engineer), Colin Braidwood Walker (Captain) and Louis Stanley Watson (Rigger).

The flying boat found nothing whatsoever on the surface of the sea, no wreckage at all. What they did find though, were surely the very same eight Ju88C-6s that Leslie Howard had already met, at more or less the very same place where they had met them. Sunderland EJ134 and its crew then won their place in aviation legend. In a prolonged battle, the flying boat lost one engine and its tail turret. Messrs Dowling, Goode, Miller, Simpson and Walker were all injured and poor Ted Miles, one of the two side gunners and just 27 years old, was killed. The battling Aussies did manage, though, to shoot down three of the eight German fighters:

Of the other five, only two made it all the way back to Bordeaux. The other three were presumed to have crashed into the waves as they were never heard of again. Six out of eight shot down. That should teach them not to attack unarmed airliners flying from neutral countries. The now shot to pieces and extremely battered Sunderland EJ134 made it the 350 miles back to western Cornwall, not to Penzance, but only as far as a beach on the south Cornish coast, at Praa Sands:

The fierce Atlantic waves, however, ultimately smashed it to smithereens:

Young Ted Miles, just 27 years old, was buried at Pembroke Dock Military Cemetery joining 72 more casualties, 40 from World War I and 32 from World War II, including five Australians. On his grave his parents had written:

“There is no death: our stars go down to rise upon some fairer shore”.

The family came from Brixton in London. Ted’s parents were Edward Charles Miles and Florence Mabel Miles. His young wife was Frances Margaret Miles.

Around eight weeks later, virtually the same 461 Squadron crew was lost without trace out on patrol over the Bay of Biscay on Friday, August 13th 1943 in a Short Sunderland Mk III, serial number DV968. The last message that they transmitted was that they were being attacked by six Ju88s. The victory was claimed by Leutnant Artur Schröder so this particular incident may not have been exclusively carried out by members of the original eight, especially as Schröder was in 13 / KG40, not V/KG 40:

The men from EJ134 who were killed in DV968 were Wilbur James Dowling (34), Alfred Eric Fuller (20), Ray Marston Goode (34), Albert Lane (27), Harold Arthur Miller (23), Kenneth McDonald Simpson (28), Philip Kelvin Turner (26) and Louis Stanley Watson (25). The new members of the crew who died were David Taylor Galt (28), James Charles Grainger (24) and Charles Douglas Leslie (Les) Longson (20). Not flying that day were James (Jim) Collier Amiss and Colin Braidwood Walker from the original “Flying Porcupine”, Sunderland EJ134. Both men would survive the war and go home to Australia. Hopefully, they lived out very long and happy lives. Perhaps they followed a sports team:

Or perhaps they preferred the beach:

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (2)

Last time, I was showing you round what is probably the same aircraft in two different locations, that is, the Short Sunderland flying boat at Hendon and then at Duxford.  Just to remind ourselves, the Sunderland was a mighty war machine:

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The Sunderland had a panoply of weapons. Something for every occasion:

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There was also an astrodome for taking bearings from the stars, and ASV radar, visible above the cockpit area:

I saw just part of my first ever Sunderland on ‎February 14‎th 2008, ‏‎ at 11:24:44. And, as you might expect for that date, it was love at first sight. The aircraft was behind a Handley Page Hastings and below a Hawker Harrier, and it was terribly squashed in:

I had to wait until 2010 when I went to Hendon to see a Sunderland displayed a little more favourably, and in a much bigger and more open area:

This particular Sunderland you could go inside. Just look at the room. You could fly a model plane around inside it:

The walls have lots of useful instructions:

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Overall, the Germans were very wary, if not simply afraid, of the Sunderland flying boat. It was an extremely heavily armed aircraft and a formidable opponent. No wonder they called it the “Flying Porcupine”. Porcupines look old, they look rather fat and are rightly known as being grumpy, solitary and always just wanting to be left alone. OMG. How many of those boxes can I tick? And don’t say “All of them”. Here’s a real porcupine at Newquay Zoo in Cornwall. They eventually sold him to Bristol Zoo for “excessive grumpiness”  :

And here’s a wild one in the Golan Heights of Israel. A really rare sight:

Final thought. What is the German for “Flying Porcupine” ?

Why it’s “Das Fliegende Schtachelschwein”, a phrase which has proved particularly useful in my trips to the Fatherland, especially to Berlin Zoo which is conveniently close to the airport.

 

 

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (1)

One of the world’s most bewitching aircraft is the Sunderland flying boat. When I was a boy, I never did save up enough pocket money for the Airfix kit, although it was only fifty pence or so in the 1960s. I should have bought it then, though. They’re fifty pounds now!

The Short S.25 Sunderland was a flying boat patrol bomber operated not just by RAF Coastal Command but also by the RAAF, the RCAF, the SAAF, the RNoAF and the Marinha Portuguesa. The last one’s a bit of a give away, but did you get all of the rest? This one’s Australian:

The Sunderland was designed and built by Short Brothers of Belfast, and the cynic inside me says that it was the only decent aircraft of their own that they made during the war. This model of the aircraft was numbered the S.25 because it was a warplane but it was a direct descendant of the S.23 Empire flying boat, the flagship of Imperial Airways. Here it is, a beautiful aircraft:

The new aircraft S25 was very well designed for its purpose. The Sunderland had a wingspan of 112 feet, a length of 85 feet and a height of 32 feet. It was a big aeroplane! Even the stabilising floats on the wings were as big as a rowing boat or a small plane. Compare one of them with the man with a pram, and the Walrus behind them both:

A Sunderland had four Bristol Pegasus XVIII nine-cylinder radial engines which gave it a total of 4,260 horse power:

And those powerful Pegasus engines gave it a range of around 1800 miles at a cruising speed of 178 mph Don’t fly too fast when you’re doing maritime reconnaissance!

The S 25 Sunderland featured a hull even more aerodynamic and more advanced than that of the S23. You can see why it’s called a “Flying Boat”:

Here’s lengthways:

Here’s the nose end of that hull:

Weapons included machine guns in front and rear turrets. The front turret had rather weak 0.303 guns which could not always penetrate thick metal, but at least I got a good shot of it:

I even got a good shot of the three jokers who seemed to be making off with the plane from the Hendon museum, trying to push it backwards through the very large French windows:

Here’s some close-ups for the wanted posters:

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I didn’t get any good photographs of the rear turret but it had heavier 0.50 calibre machine guns. You can just about spot it among the bits of other aircraft. It’s slightly right of centre:

There was also a heavy machine gun firing from each of the beam hatches. You can just about see one poking out here:

The Sunderland made extensive use of bombs, aerial mines, and depth charges. Here are four which have been winched out ready to drop. Hopefully, they are dummies:

Here they are in close up.

The Vickers Wellington’s immensely  powerful Leigh Lights, designed to light up U-boats on the surface at night, were rarely, if ever, fitted to Sunderlands.

Next time, a look inside the mighty Sunderland.

 

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