Tag Archives: Royal Canadian Air Force

Two Old Nottinghamian brothers fighting fascism (2)

Last time, John Jackson mentioned his brother, Robert Jackson, who was a member of No 418 “City of Edmonton” Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying the American twin-engined Douglas Boston Mk IIIs. He was based at RAF Debden, around 34 miles north-east of London. They flew “Intruder sorties” into occupied Europe at night, and at low level to avoid the German radar. Their purpose was to destroy German aircraft, as they took off or came back to land. Sometimes, these were German night fighters, returning from operations over England. More important, though, were the attacks on German bombers as they returned from bombing England. The other main activity were “Ranger sorties”, when they would shoot up either enemy airfields, factories, power stations or shipping. Above all, they tried to destroy as many locomotives and as much rolling stock as possible:

The Bostons went deep into enemy territory, although they did not carry their own radar. They used the naked eye, fortified with an hourly consumption of carrots. 418 Squadron also spent a great deal of time dropping propaganda leaflets on occupied countries such as Belgium, France and Holland.

The Douglas Boston Mark III had extensive armour protection and large fuel tanks for longer range. Its speed was well in excess of 300 mph and fighter versions came closer to 400 mph. 418 Squadron flew a development of the Mark III called the Mark III Intruder, with specialised adaptations on the exhausts to mask the flame effects of the engines at night. They carried four 20mm cannon in a ventral pack under the central portion of the aircraft’s fuselage, and a bomb load of up to two thousand pounds.

The Bostons were painted completely matt black, an unusual paint scheme in the RAF. Squadron letters were in matt red. 418 Squadron was an élite outfit in the RCAF. They carried out more missions than anybody else, both by day and by night, they shot down more German aircraft than anybody else, both by day and by night, and they destroyed more aircraft on the ground than anybody else.

The squadron motto was in Inuit, the single word “Piyautailili” or “Defend Unto Death”:

They trained hard to master flying at low level at night, although it was far from easy. Casualty rates became extremely high in 1942. Aircraft were lost on February 24th, March 9th (two), March 26th and 29th, April 1st (two), 12th and 27th (two), May 17th and 20th (two), July 9th, August 1st, 2nd, 17th, 21st, 28th, October 19th, November 8th and 18th, December 1st and 5th. 24 aircraft in total, with potentially, 72 men killed.

During the winter of 1942-1943, the main problem was that, operating now from RAF Bradwell, they were penetrating deeper and deeper into Germany, much further than ever before. When they left England, conditions might be acceptable, but six hours later, there could be thick fog or ice or snow. They might be short of fuel as they looked for an airfield. There were lots of accidents and lots of casualties.

Bradwell Bay was the only fighter base to be equipped with FIDO, a method of allowing aircraft to land during periods of persistent, thick fog.

A pipeline either side of the runway had burner jets placed equal distances apart along its entire length. Petrol was pumped in and ignited. The subsequent flames would evaporate the fog droplets sufficiently for any aircraft waiting to land to see the runway:

FIDO was usually employed at bomber stations. Here it is, being lit. Mind your eyebrows:

The cost of training a seven man crew, was very much more than 100,000 gallons of petrol per hour. “Bomber” Harris always said that it was cheaper to send twelve men to Oxford or Cambridge for three years than to train a Lancaster crew:

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, military, Nottingham, The High School

The finest fighter of World War II

The P-51 Mustang was the most successful and most significant single-seat fighter of World War Two. It was initially designed for the British RAF and the most amazing fact is that from the moment the chief designer, James Kindelberger, sharpened his pencil to start work, to the moment the prototype roared off down the runway, was only 119 days.

That early prototype certainly showed promise, and so did all the subsequent A-36 Apaches, although they clearly had serious limitations at altitude.

And then, at Hucknall Aerodrome, just five miles from where my trusty computer now sits, with yours truly at the controls, the senior liaison test pilot with Rolls-Royce. a New Zealander named Ronnie Harker, earned his best ever pay rise of one pound a week (just over one and a half dollars). Ronnie thought up the scheme to put a British Rolls Royce Merlin 61 engine into the underpowered North American Mustang. This was the same engine as the Spitfire IX, and it cured all the problems the aircraft was having over 15,000 feet and gave its newly invented Laminar Flow Wing the chance to shine. Here is that huge Merlin:

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And poor Ronnie Harker. I suppose that for the rest of his life people must have introduced him at parties by saying, “Have you met Ronnie, the man who put the Merlin in the Mustang?”  You can read a much more detailed story via this link.  The article is called “The Cadillac of the Skies” Here’s the Hendon Mustang from a slightly unusual angle:

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A second great leap forward for the aircraft was the fitting of the drop tanks which permitted Mustangs to fly and fight all the way to Berlin and back. The appearance of this superb fighter over the Brandenburg Gate sounded the death knell of the Third Reich, because in trying to fight off the B-17s and the B-24s, the Luftwaffe would slowly but surely be destroyed by the P-51 escort fighters. In 1944, for example, P-51 Mustangs would shoot down 6,039 German dayfighters.  That left the Germans with hardly any experienced pilots, considerably fewer defensive aircraft and a big, big problem.

Here’s the view after descending the stairs:

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This particular example of a P-51 was constructed at Inglewood in California in 1945. It began in USAAF Air Training Command before, in 1950, being transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force. It then had an enormously long history of toing and froing until it reached Hendon in 2003, where it was finally painted as the Mustang belonging to Captain Donald R Emerson of the 336th Fighter Squadron  based at Debden, in Essex. Here is Donald’s nose art:

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Captain Emerson was killed by ground fire on Christmas Day 1944, as he flew over Belgium on the very last of his 89 missions. He had scored 4½ victories in the air, plus 3½ on the ground. He is buried at Margrattan in Holland.

It says everything about the Mustang that over fifteen or so minutes, I was unable to take a photograph without somebody in shot. There was a constant, steady stream of admirers, with a good few photographers:

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And married couples:

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And my wife and daughter:

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It is impossible to waste your time if you are looking at a Mustang:

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As John Keats so rightly put it in a poem he wrote on his visit to the RAF Hendon Museum in 1818 :

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Canada, History