Tag Archives: Ministry of Supply

Bomber Harris, not a happy man (7)

Mainly because Harris was in charge only of Bomber Command and not of any of the various other civil service departments that he dealt with, there were continued and repeated failures to produce a variety of the equipment which was needed to fight the war effectively. In his book, “The Relentless Offensive” by Roy Irons, he discusses the most important examples of the many failures by the Ministry of Supply:

As we have seen, they included the aluminised bomb, the 0·50 machine gun, the cluster bomb and the high proportion of ordinary bombs which failed to explode on contact with the target. Such failures were so frequent, that Harris said that a huge number of the civil service departments should all have the motto “Non possumus”  (“We can’t do that.”).

The most basic problem was that the proportion of warriors “at the sharp end” continued to decline throughout the war, as an increasingly large number of fairly useless and largely impotent civil service departments exerted their enormous influence on events. As the author says:

“The tail, in Bomber Command’s war, was wagging the dog, and often forgetting the dog altogether in its own day to day programme.”

Just look at the contrast between the American “Can-do” and the English “Non possumus”. In the USA, the prototype for the P-51 fighter was produced one day early,  after only 119 days. Imagine that. Somebody sharpens his pencil to start working on the design of a new aircraft, and 17 weeks later, it’s off down the runway on its maiden flight:

For the 0·50 machine gun, the British Civil Service Armament Department gave an estimate of 15 years before it could be brought into use. And the cluster bombs of fifty or a hundred 4lb incendiaries, in actual fact, never did appear. If they had, Bomber Command might have been able to fulfil the macabre prophecy of Albert Speer, “The Nice Nazi”, after the firestorm had destroyed Hamburg in July 1945:

“Six more like that and all war production will come to a total halt.”

Hamburg was devastated by the inadvertent creation of a fire storm, the first ever produced by the RAF:

There were to be only two more. They were, if my memory serves me well, Dresden and Darmstadt. Who knows to what extent the war might have been shortened had Harris had access to cluster bombs of incendiaries? How many fewer casualties would the RAF  have had? And how many fewer Germans overall would have died? And where would Stalin’s hordes have got to? Minsk?

Perhaps even more deplorable was the frequency with which British bombs failed to detonate. Around 20% of bombs were “flat strikes”, which means that they quite simply didn’t go off. For most of them, it was because, as they fell, their fins were supposed to make them spin, and this spinning would arm the bombs so that they would explode on contact with the ground. Except that very often, far too often, no spin meant no bang ! Presumably these are the hundreds of “unexploded bombs” which are still found on a regular basis all over Germany on a regular basis:

Every time the Germans try to construct an urban motorway or lay the foundations for a skyscraper of some kind, they seem to unearth a few more. And the tragedy is, of course, that these WW2 duds are still continuing to kill or maim the completely innocent and enormously brave young Germans who are tasked with defusing them.

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George Norman Hancock, Old Nottinghamian (3)

As we saw last time, George Norman Hancock was killed on March 31st 1954. At the time 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. He was flying a Gloster Meteor F8 with the serial number WH312:

The first jet fighter built by the British, the Meteor would eventually be produced in the thousands and be used by at least 15 other countries. Its shape was not as impressive as the Messerschmitt Me 262 but it was relatively successful and state-of-the–art, until aircraft like the Mig-15 and the F-86 Sabre came along. As somebody once wrote, it was “not a sophisticated aircraft in its aerodynamics, but proved to be a successful combat fighter.” The Meteor had two Rolls-Royce Derwent turbojets and could reach 600 mph and 43,000 feet with a range of 600 miles. It was armed with four 20 mm Hispano cannons and could also carry various combinations of rockets on the wings:

Norman was flying a Meteor F8 which seems to have been a distinct improvement on the F4. It had a longer fuselage, carried more fuel and had an improved tail shape and an ejection seat as standard.

Norman had taken off at 14:30 from Farnborough for what is called a familiarisation flight, which means that he was just making sure that he could fly the plane and knew what it could do and what it couldn’t do. In case of problems, this is often carried out at altitude and apparently Norman had been flying around at about 36,000 feet without any dramas whatsoever. As he returned to land at Farnborough, though, he reported that one of the engines was acting up. Around 15:14, he radioed the Farnborough Control Tower with the words, “This is Wicker 98. Downwind on one” which means that one engine was now not working at all. “Wicker 98” was his call-sign. Apparently the Control Tower asked him if this was just a practice but when he replied in the negative, they scrambled all the crash and rescue vehicles out onto the runway.

As it drew close to Farnborough witnesses saw the Meteor, at first, flying apparently quite normally until it began to plunge down towards Runway 25. The Meteor’s port wing seemed to lose its lift because of the loss in power of the stricken engine and the aircraft began to descend inexorably towards 400 feet and lower. Poor George had lost power and he had therefore lost lift. A catastrophic combination.
The aircraft was now only just clearing the tree tops and then sank so close to the ground that George clipped the cowshed of Mytchett Farm at Frimley Green and then brushed the adjacent roof of a garage. The Meteor performed a cartwheel and hit the ground:

It exploded in a fireball of aviation fuel and broke up into thousands of pieces:

Poor George must have been killed in a split second and hopefully, he didn’t realise what was happening. In the fiery aftermath, both buildings and up to six vehicles were destroyed.

George’s will produced one or two interesting footnotes. At the time of his death, he was living at The Old Manor House, West End, Beeston. Beeston is to the south west of Nottingham and West End is between the Police Station on Chilwell Road and the Recreation Ground and Bandstand on Queens Road. The Old Manor House, is reckoned to be the oldest surviving house in Beeston. Nowadays, it is a Grade II listed building and is currently used as a dance studio:

George left £10,751 and his estate was administered by his sister Grace, who never married.

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Filed under Aviation, History, Nottingham, The High School