My Dad, Fred, used to tell me many tales of his years in the RAF. He served in Bomber Command, and, as I grew older, stimulated perhaps by the increased interest generally in the Second World War, I made great efforts to find out the exact details of where he had served and what exactly he had done. This proved quite a challenge. Here he is with a few of his unduly optimistic friends during basic training:
I do know that Fred served with 103 Squadron, probably in late 1943 and/or early 1944. This was the time of the Battle of Berlin which lasted from November 1943 to March 1944. My Dad did not take part in this titanic, and ultimately losing, struggle where 2,690 aircrew were killed in action and nearly a thousand became Prisoners of War. Bomber losses ran at 5.8% which is generally considered unsustainable. Crew morale was extremely low because of these huge casualties over “The Big City” as it was called, and luckily for him, Fred was never asked to bomb Berlin. Fred considered this to be the sole reason that he survived the war.
Here is the badge of 103 Squadron. The motto means “Don’t touch me”:
Fred spent his time with 103 Squadron at RAF Elsham Wolds which is between Scunthorpe and Grimsby, two places neither of which have ever been described as the Paris of the North, shall we say? Indeed, at the end of the conflict, one of my Dad’s great resentments, whatever he achieved against such a mad and bad enemy as the Germans were at that time, was that, like all the young men of Bomber Command, he knew damn well that they had all been forced to waste the best years of their lives, all of their youth, not pursuing pretty young girls at the village dance, but sitting in a Nissen hut in the middle of nowhere, feeling freezing cold and scared to death of a dangerous and precarious future. Fred’s twenty-first birthday, for example, had been celebrated, or rather, not celebrated, on a lonely, cold airfield in the middle of nowhere, far from his family. A definition which certainly would fit Elsham Wolds.
Here is Elsham Wolds on June 26th 1943, seen from about 10,000 feet up. Look for the three runways forming a huge triangle in the middle of the photo, and, on the right, five of the many circular dispersal points where the Lancaster bombers would wait impatiently for night to fall :
Today, very little remains of RAF Elsham Wolds. A major road, the A15, has been built more or less right through the middle of it, and on top of the majority of one runway. There is a single hangar left, apparently a J-type. Look for the orange arrow, pointing to the hangar:
It’s a funny feeling, though, to see a wartime building that your Dad would have known and no doubt loved when he was just nineteen or twenty years of age:
Here I have made gallant attempts to match up the aerial photograph of RAF Elsham Wolds in 1943 with the present countryside. The orange arrow still marks the J-type hangar. One runway has obviously disappeared under the A15. On the Ordnance Survey Map look for the number “78” and then the irregularly shaped four sided area to the left of it. It is bordered with yellow minor roads. You may be able to pick this distinctive shape out on the 1943 photograph:
This is half of the runway which, on the Ordnance Survey map, has the radio mast symbol on it. The buildings have something to do with the Severn Trent Water Authority, but were seemed to be unoccupied during our visit:
This is the runway which runs more or less west to east, if you refer back to the Ordnance Survey map. It has now become a dumping ground for builders’ rubble:
This is the Perimeter Track, or “Peri-track” running toward the start of the runway. When they set off on a mission, all the bombers would taxi slowly along the “Peri-track” to the start of whichever runway they were using that night:
The laws of trespass are quite different in England to many countries. Here, more or less, you can go wherever you want, provided you leave when you are asked to. Only too easy then, to take a Volvo saloon off the road, over ten yards of gravel, on to the old “Peri-track” and then round and off to the start of the runway. Here is where the bombers waited to take off:
Unfortunately, some idiot vandal builder has built a metal fence to stop me attempting a proper take-off so I have to stop the car and just drink in the scenery:
Nevertheless, let’s give it a go!
And I certainly knew what to do in my Lancaster. Accelerate as hard as possible. Keep your eye on the speed. When it reaches 130 mph, a gentle dab on the brakes and then, lift off. You’re on your way. Seriously though, it was good to think that I might have been doing exactly what Dear Old Dad had done 60 plus years ago. In a Lancaster, of course, not a Volvo:
Earl was born in 1917, the son of Arthur John Graham and Gertrude Graham. He was the husband of Regina Graham, of Preston, Ontario, Canada:
Earl Graham, aged just twenty eight, was serving on board H.M.C.S. Teme (K 458) not far off Land’s End, in position 50º07’N, 05º45’W. At 08.22 hours on March 29th 1945, just six or seven weeks from the end of the conflict, the warship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-315. The Teme was hit in the stern and the rear sixty feet of the ship was blown off.
Three sailors were blown into the sea by the explosion, and poor Earl Williams was killed outright. The Teme might well have been thought, perhaps, an unlucky ship. It had already been the apparently jinxed victim of a significant collision, when an aircraft carrier struck her amidships in the Bay of Biscay in June 1944. The Teme only just avoided being sliced completely in half:
The “Teme” had been escorting the convoy BTC-111 off Land’s End. The Canadian warship had been “sweeping” to the rear of the convoy of merchant ships when it was attacked. Debris was flung some fifty feet into the air, and one man, later ascertained to be the unfortunate Earl Williams, was blown from the quarter deck up onto the after gun deck. He died moments later from his injuries. The three other seamen were never seen again, although they were initially posted as “missing in action”.
My internet researches have revealed their names as Gordon Walter Bolin, Thomas Joseph Hackett and Robert Everett Rowe. Thomas Hackett’s body was eventually found and his remains are buried in Falmouth Cemetery in Cornwall. Gordon Bolin and Robert Rowe, sadly, were never found, and their supreme sacrifice is commemorated on the Halifax Memorial, along with 2,842 others.
On this occasion, it took twelve hours to tow the mortally stricken “Teme” to Falmouth in Cornwall but the ship was so badly damaged that it was declared a Constructive Total Loss (CTL). A legal definition of the latter is…
“Insured property that has been abandoned because its actual total loss appears to be unavoidable, or because it could not be preserved or repaired without an expenditure which would exceed its value.”
The submarine surrendered at Trondheim, Norway on May 9th 1945. The craft was declared unseaworthy. and cut up for scrap on site in Norway in March 1947. I have been unable to trace any photographs of the U-315, but here is another Type VIIC U-Boat, the U-995, currently on display at the Laboe Naval Memorial near Kiel. Do not fail to click on the link to the German website, and make sure that you try the Panorama views. They are guaranteed to scare you (top of the tower) or make you very seasick indeed. Just look for the three yellow-orange circles on the photograph:
The U-315 did not suffer a single casualty throughout its fifteen month career, and sank only two ships, the Teme and the Empire Kingsley, a merchant vessel of just under 7,000 tons:
I would highly recommend this website about U-Boats. It has a vast database of the more than 80,000 people who were in the crews of ships attacked by U-boats, as well as the most astounding detail about the U-boats themselves. I was also strongly attracted by the “U-boat of the Day” feature (bottom left).
Wandering around Penzance Cemetery looking for the graves of three Luftwaffe bomber crew members, I soon found the War Graves Section of the cemetery.
Of the 110 identified casualties, two stood out from the rest for very different reasons. The first is a war grave of an extremely strange and unusual political background, coupled with a puzzling discrepancy over dates.
According to his grave, Sapper William Ormerod (1903548) of the 661st General Construction Company of the Royal Engineers died on June 17th 1941.
William was born in Manchester and had lived in London. As Sapper Ormerod, he was a British Volunteer in the Winter War of 1939-1940 and was killed in action fighting against the Soviet Red Army in Finland.
Sapper Ormerod was initially buried in Karelia, but at some point his remains were returned to England. This lengthy delay is presumably the reason that the date of death on his grave in Penzance is listed as June 17th 1941, when there is much evidence to support the idea that he was actually killed in the previous year. But neither is a death date of June 17th 1940 particularly likely either, given that the Winter War ended with the Peace of Moscow, a treaty which was signed on March 12th 1940. Perhaps Sapper Ormerod was initially injured in combat, and then died of his wounds.
The Soviet Union, of course, were our allies for the vast majority of the Second World War. Before Hitler’s surprise attack on Russia, however, the Soviets, having signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in August 1939, the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, were considered by the British to be an ally of Nazi Germany.
For this reason, when the Soviets attacked Finland on November 30th 1939, the gallant Finns were considered to be our allies. Presumably, this was the reason that men such as Sapper William Ormerod went out there to fight and in some cases, to make the supreme sacrifice. The great ironies of war were re-established, of course on June 22nd 1941, Operation Barbarossa, when Hitler attacked his erstwhile ally. The Soviet Union then immediately ceased to be a bunch of Commies and became our true and most wonderful of friends. The gallant little Finns became our treacherous, despicable enemies. Too late alas, for William Ormerod.
A second war grave in Penzance Cemetery is unusual for a very different reason. It is the grave of John Ostrich.
John was a member of the Merchant Navy and served as a Mess Room Boy. He was aged only fourteen years and 344 days old at the time of his death. John was the son of Louis and Nancy Ostrich of Canton in Cardiff, and was a member of the crew of the S.S. Margo, a cargo ship registered in Cardiff, with a weight of 1,412 tons.
John was killed on March 8th 1941. This account comes from a Merchant Navy Message Board and was written by a guest who signed in with the name of “SIF9HD8”. I hope he will not mind my quoting his words…
“On the afternoon of the March 8, 1941, sailing in the English Channel, the Margo came under attack from three German aircraft who proceeded to rake the ship with machine gun, cannon fire and bombs. Although no bombs or explosives hit the Margo, the ship was violently shaken by the concussion of the near misses and her hull and superstructure were pierced by cannon and machine gun fire. Crew members returned fire with small calibre weapons onboard the Margo, and in the process hit one of the aircraft, which was subsequently seen to break off the attack and black smoke was observed coming from the starboard engine. The remaining aircraft continued their attacks for several more minutes, which was eventually broken off and the aircraft disappeared over the horizon. While assessing the ship’s damage, it was found four crew had suffered various injuries and the young Mess Room Boy lay dead. A course was then set for Penzance to land the wounded and the dead”.
“Archie Richards, a former serviceman with the Royal Navy, who notified the local; newspaper, “The Cornishman” of the grave, said: “I don’t want this to be a competition for who has the youngest war dead. I just want to let people know that a 14-year-old died for his country and lies here.” His final resting place is sited across a path from other war graves, meaning John Ostrich is separated from fallen comrades . Mr Richards added: “I also hope that maybe a family member might come across this and want to visit the grave”.
For years, the Royal Navy Association had held a service at the war memorial in Penzance cemetery and members had wondered about this boy. Recent government acknowledgement now allows Merchant Navy veterans to stand alongside armed forces personnel and their efforts and achievements in time of war have been recognised as an important part in winning the war.”
After doing my researches on the German Dornier Do. 217E bomber which was shot down in St.Just in western Cornwall, I tried very hard to find the graves of the crew. It seemed likely to me that, whatever side they might have been on in the conflict, they had probably been interred a very, very long way from their homes and families. After failing to find their graves in the two cemeteries at St.Just, I visited the cemetery at Penzance.
The dead crew members of the Dornier bomber were not in that particular cemetery either, but I did find a great many other graves from the Second World War.
And at the time, I was forcibly struck by two things. First of all, the majority of the dead were from ships, completely unlike, for example, the cemetery where my father is buried in South Derbyshire. Here more or less all the war casualties are from the Army or possibly, the RAF. Secondly, I became very aware of the discrepancy between what we do and say on Armistice Day, and what dreadful fates have befallen the people who are buried in these graves. We all wear our poppies, and dutifully pledge that “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” yet I am very sure that we don’t, despite all our best intentions.
The poor people in those graves in Penzance Cemetery no longer have any life whatsoever, thanks to their decision to join up and serve their country. They hit a brick wall in time, sometimes known precisely down to the very minute, and then no more. And they weren’t anonymous. They all had their own lives just like we do now, with families, girlfriends, wives, beer to drink and Christmases to celebrate.
William R.Baxter was an Able Seaman on the Merchant Navy ship, the S.S.Scottish Musician which was a motor tanker of just under seven thousand tons, registered in London. The ship was to survive the war, but William R.Baxter was not.
On Friday April 18th 1941, the Scottish Musician was damaged by aircraft bombing at a position some three miles from St. Ann’s Head on a bearing of 205°. St. Ann’s Head is the extreme south western tip of Pembrokeshire in south west Wales.
William Baxter was the only casualty. He was just twenty one years of age. William was the son of Richard George Baxter and Ruth Baxter of Penzance and the husband of Beatrice Joy Baxter. The Scottish Musician was consequently further damaged on January 5th 1942 when she hit a mine at position 52° 16’ N, 01° 59’ E, which is near the port of Harwich in Suffolk in East Anglia. This resulted in the death of the twenty year old cabin boy, Albert Henry Jones. Albert is buried in Canada in the “Notre Dame des Neiges” Cemetery in Montréal. Ronald Norman Neale was an Ordinary Seaman. He served on board HMS Warwick which was an Admiralty ‘W’ class destroyer. Young Ronald was only twenty years of age when he was killed, on February 20th 1944. He was the unmarried son of James and Linaol Neale of Grove Park, London. On his grave, his grieving parents have had inscribed “Gone from us all, but always in our thoughts”, as Ronald no doubt was for the rest of their lives. On the day that I visited, there were flowers on his grave, conceivably from one of his aging siblings perhaps, or possibly his nephews or nieces.
HMS Warwick was itself only twenty seven years old, having been launched in 1917. As “D-25” she participated in both the First and Second World Wars, before she was torpedoed and sunk on the day that Ordinary Seaman Ronald Norman Neale was killed. From July to November 1943, she had been in the Bay of Biscay on anti-submarine duties, as part of the RAF Coastal Command offensive. In November she participated in Operation Alacrity, helping to set up and supply Allied air bases in the Azores.
Having returned to Britain in January 1944,, HMS Warwick was tasked with leading an escort group operating in the South Western Approaches, guarding merchant ships against surprise attacks by German E-boats. The destroyer was patrolling off Trevose Head just north of Newquay on Cornwall’s northern coast when she was torpedoed by the U-413. At the time, HMS Warwick was under the command of Commander Denys Rayner. The warship sank very quickly, in just a few minutes, with the loss of over half her crew.
The U-413 had been launched on January 15th 1942, and was commanded by Kapitänleutnant Gustav Poel, who, unlike the vast majority of German submariners, was to survive the war.
As well as the Warwick, the U-413 was an extremely successful submarine which sank five merchant ships amounting to a total tonnage of 36,885 tons. By August 20th 1944, the U-413 was commanded by the 26 year old Oberleutnant Dietrich Sachse.
On this summer’s day, though, the U-413 was sunk in the English Channel to the south of Brighton, by depth charges from the British escort destroyer HMS Wensleydale and the destroyers HMS Forester and HMS Vidette. Forty five members of the Kriegsmarine were killed, including the fresh faced young Captain. Only one member of the crew survived. His name is not recorded but it is thought unlikely to have been Ishmael. Oy vey!
“The raid caused a 34 per cent loss of production at Schweinfurt but this was soon made up for by surplus supplies from all over Germany The industry’s infrastructure, while vulnerable to a sustained campaign, was not vulnerable to destruction by a single raid.”
I quoted the casualty figures…
“230 bombers had taken part, and sixty of these were destroyed. Five hundred and fifty two men were killed in the air, and seven poor souls made it back home, but, alas, had already succumbed to their injuries. Twenty one men were badly wounded. Beyond the sixty B-17s shot down, between 55-95 further aircraft were badly damaged. Of these many were too severely damaged ever to be repaired.”
Despite these huge losses, the Eighth Air Force plan had always been to go back to Schweinfurt a second time. It was to take the best part of two months to rebuild their forces, but on October 14th 1943, the B-17s returned to attack the factories where, at the time, American wartime intelligence thought ball bearing production had been permanently reduced by up to a third.
This time, changes would be made. Instead of a two-pronged attack on the ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt aircraft works at Regensburg, the entire force would attack Schweinfurt alone.
Secondly, additional fighter escorts were added to protect the vulnerable bombers as much as was possible during both the outward and return journeys of the operation. Each of the three bomber wings, therefore, was to be escorted by multiple squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts. For an unknown reason, though, none of the P-47s were equipped with drop tanks, an important mistake which significantly limited their escort range. And one outfit of fighters previously allocated to the Flying Fortresses was given the job of acting as an escort to the 29 B-24 Liberator bombers on a diversionary mission to Emden.
At first, though, things went quite well. When the bombers were initially intercepted as they crossed the coast the P-47s succeeded in shooting down seven Bf 109s. But over the Netherlands the P-47s came to the end of their range and the B17s were left alone and virtually defenceless. Large numbers of Focke-Wulf FW 190s and Messerschmitt Bf 109s made repeated attacks exactly as they had done in August. The 305th Bomb Group lost 13 of its 16 B-17s in just a few minutes. Further into Germany, this second Schweinfurt Raid would soon follow the same pattern as the first one.
As well as single engined fighters, twin engined Messerschmitt Bf110s and Junkers Ju88s were encountered. They carried much heavier cannon.
This time, many more aircraft were armed with Werfer-Granate 21 rocket launchers, firing unguided stand-off rockets.
Here are two wonderful pictures from the Life Magazine of the day, showing the heroic efforts of the brave young Eighth Air Force gunners.
As in August, although the ball-bearing factories were badly hit, the mission did not achieve any long lasting effects. Ball bearing production was halted for around six weeks but these losses were again easily made up by the large stocks the Germans already had. After this second attack, all of the ball bearing facilities were dispersed from Schweinfurt across the whole of Germany to reduce the risk of their being bombed for a third time.
General “Hap” Arnold claimed that “Black Thursday” and its losses were just incidental, but daylight bomber raids deep into Germany without fighter escort were suspended until further notice. Cynics might well have asked just how many B-17s did the Eighth Air Force have left on strength anyway?
Long distance bombing raids would only recommence in February 1944 with the advent of Operation Argument, a series of missions later to be called the “Big Week”. By then, escorts were available in the form of P-51B Mustangs.
Arnold’s “incidental losses” on the second Schweinfurt raid were astounding. Of the 291 B-17s on the mission, 60 were shot down over enemy territory.
Another 17 bombers were damaged so heavily that they had to be scrapped. A further 121 B-17s were damaged to a greater or lesser extent and many of the crippled bombers would require a great deal of time and effort to repair them.
These B-17 losses represented more than 26% of the attacking force. The losses of aircrew were equally devastating, with 650 men killed out of 2,900, some 22% of the bomber crews. Certain units were hugely affected. The 306th Bomb Group lost 100 men, with 35 either killed in the air or died of wounds and 65 made Prisoners of War. The 305th Bomb Group lost 130 men with 36 killed outright. This constituted 87% of their complement.
My own father, Fred, even if he seems never to have had a great deal of contact with the Americans of the Eighth Air Force, always had enormous respect for their almost unbelievable bravery. Some thirty years after the war, as I returned from university, Fred was to accompany me, one dull autumn day, on a visit to the American Cemetery at Madingley near Cambridge.
How strange to think that these neatly kept graves may well have been the last resting place of some of the brave young airmen he had watched flying high above him in the frosty blue sky of East Anglia so many years previously.
If your navigational skills are up to it, this is Part One of a ten film series about the Schweinfurt raid.
In another blog post, I will look at what the Eighth Air Force did after the two disastrous raids on Schweinfurt, and how their airmen’s lives were saved, and arguably the Second World War was won, thanks to Ronnie Harker, a New Zealander who at the time was working at Hucknall in Nottinghamshire, just six miles to the north west of where I am sitting right now as I write the conclusion to this post.
I am sure that most people would understand the difference between “hot courage” and “cold courage”. During a robbery, the person who suddenly confronts the would-be robber and tries, as the English say, to “have a go” is showing hot courage. The same would be true of the person who tries to drag an unconscious victim out of a burning car crash. In the context of war, it may be the man who solves the sudden problem of an enemy tank by jumping onto the top of it and throwing a hand grenade in through the hatch.
All of these acts show great heroism, but as far as I am concerned, “cold courage” takes it all into a different dimension. “Cold courage” is the person who faces a painful terminal disease without losing his dignity. “Cold courage” is the person who sets off to walk along a highwire stretched hundreds of feet off the ground between two skyscrapers. “Cold courage” is the fireman who looks up at that staircase in the North or South Tower, and starts climbing, because he knows that it is his duty to try and save people, even if it may be at the expense of his own life. In the context of war, “cold courage” is the man who sits on his bunk for a whole afternoon, waiting for the chance to get into a bomber at nine o’clock and then fly off into the night skies over Germany, not only risking death, but knowing that, statistically, death is a very likely outcome. The only thing more difficult than doing this as far as I’m concerned, would be the chance to fly over Germany in broad daylight, when you have the opportunity to see exactly what is happening to everybody else, and may well happen to you.
Early on in the Second World War, the RAF tried to place their tiny bombs accurately on exclusively military targets during the hours of daylight when, theoretically, it should have been relatively easy to do so. The only problem was that the German fighters of the day were all easily capable of shooting down these poorly armed bombers without any real problems. Between May 10th-May 28th 1940, losses of the Bristol Blenheim bomber, for example, were almost unbelievable. (Search for “Known Individual Aircraft Records”)
For that reason, the RAF soon turned to night bombing. Equally swiftly, they found that it was virtually impossible to hit relatively small military targets with any accuracy at night. They would be better employed in bombing the areas of the city around the enemy factories, in an effort to kill or injure the workers who worked there. This new tactic carried out the directive that had been agreed on at the Casablanca Conference.
“Your Primary object will be the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial, and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.”
When the United States came into the war in Europe, effectively in 1942, their bombers were equipped with the famous Norden bombsight, which was supposedly capable of dropping a bomb into a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet up. Putting their faith into the bombing accuracy achievable with their marvellous bombsight, the Eighth Air Force ignored British advice that, because of the very high standards of Luftwaffe fighter pilots, bombing at night was the only sustainable method of carrying on the struggle against the Germans. The Americans, therefore, persisted with their daylight raids.
After a few months of daylight bombing, much of it over France rather than the Reich itself, the idea was mooted that enormous and significant damage could be inflicted by bombing the German factories which produced ball-bearings, as they were vitally important to the entire German war machine. Virtually every single military vehicle and aircraft depended on them. The Mighty Eighth, therefore, exactly a year to the day after their first gentle raid, Mission 1 on August 17, 1942 against the Sotteville Marshalling Yard at Rouen in France, decided to attack these important factories . This would be Mission 84, scheduled for August 17, 1943, a complex two-pronged attack on the ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt aircraft works at Regensburg. The raid would be the furthest penetration into German territory to date, some 800 miles from the coast. What happened is the most wonderful example of “cold courage” that anybody could wish to meet.
The greatest problem for the Eighth Air Force was that none of their own fighters, nor those of the RAF, had anywhere near the range required to escort the slow, heavily laden B-17s to their targets. The main defensive tactic, therefore, was to form up the Flying Fortress bombers into huge boxes, where, theoretically, every single aircraft could protect, and could be protected by, all the other aircraft.
This procedure took a very long time to organise with hundreds of bombers to be fitted into the formation. And this was the first problem: all this activity was completely visible to the German radar. I can remember my own father telling me how he had watched these brave young men get ready to go into battle…
“ On a number of occasions, Fred had stood on a long forgotten airfield in East Anglia and watched the American Eighth Air Force prepare to depart on a daylight raid over Germany. Their B-17 Flying Fortresses would circle seemingly for hours over their bases, as they slowly and precisely formed up into their famous defensive boxes, intricate arrangements of, perhaps, up to a thousand heavily armed bombers whose almost countless machine guns, in theory, were capable of offering covering fire to all of their fellow aircraft. Once the B-17s were ready, it was as if somebody blew a bugle unheard far below on the ground and all the bombers would then suddenly set off to war, tracing their gleaming contrails across the blue sky, eastwards in the sunshine towards the Third Reich.”
The Eighth Air Force raid caused a 34 per cent loss of production at Schweinfurt but this was soon made up for by surplus supplies of ball bearings from all over Germany. The industry’s infrastructure, while vulnerable to a sustained campaign, was not vulnerable to destruction by a single raid.
The Nazi Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer , later wrote that the Eighth Air Force’s major error was to attempt a second attack on Regensburg at the same time as the main attack on Schweinfurt, and not to continue with further raids on Schweinfurt after the first one.
Some of the B-17s were over Germany for a period in excess of two hours with no fighter protection whatsoever, and the Luftwaffe were quick to take advantage of the situation. Given the fact that they had picked them up on radar over East Anglia, the Germans were able to call up extra fighters from all of their bases, stretching from southern France to Norway in the north. Many fighters were able to expend their ammunition in massed attacks on the American bombers, land again for fresh supplies of fuel and weapons and then rejoin the battle.
The German fighters were well aware of the B-17s’ inadequate forward armament and their vulnerability to head-on attack. Against the 0.50 calibre Browning machine guns of the Flying Fortresses, the German fighters were all equipped with cannon which fired explosive shells. In theory, just one hit could bring down a bomber. Much longer ranged than the machine guns, this enabled the Germans to fly well out of the range of the B-17s’ machine guns and fire off short bursts of cannon shells at intervals. Some fighters carried sophisticated rocket weapons, including mortars propelled by rockets, all of them capable of wiping out a B-17 in just one shot.
Tales are also told of the Germans using either obsolete combat aircraft or training aircraft to fly high above the American formation and drop air-to-air bombs.
This account from Archie J.Old Junior, a thirty seven year old Texan, is quoted in “The Mighty Eighth” by Gerald Astor…
“The fighters were all over us. They really got interested in me. German fighters came up from every point of the compass after our fighters turned around. (Just before the German frontier). And they were already throwing flak at us when we were five to ten minutes away from the target.” (Some thirty or forty miles)
In “Eighth Air Force”, Donald L.Miller describes pretty much the same situation, once the P-47s had been forced to turn back…
“…a hailstorm of fighter assaults that continued almost all the way to the target. (Beirne Lay, Jr) wrote, “I knew that I was going to die, and so were a lot of others.”
Overall, American casualties were way beyond the sustainable. For Bomber Command that most basic of figures had been set at 4%. On this raid 230 bombers had taken part, and sixty of these were destroyed. A tiny number finished up in Switzerland, and “thanks to the luck and the skill of the RAF Air-Sea rescue teams”, everybody who went into the icy waters of the North Sea (yes, even in August) was rescued. Five hundred and fifty two men were killed in the air, and seven poor souls made it back home, but, alas, were to succumb to their injuries. Twenty one men were badly wounded.
Beyond the sixty B-17s shot down, between 55-95 further aircraft were badly damaged. Of these, many were too severely damaged ever to be repaired.
Of the fighter escort, two P-47s of the 56th Fighter Group were destroyed and so too were two Spitfires from the RAF. The fighters claimed more than 30 kills, but the gunners on the B-17s were very optimistic with their claim of 288 German fighters destroyed. After the war, Luftwaffe records showed just 27 aircraft had been lost.
The very biggest problem of daylight raids by the Eighth Air Force deep into enemy territory was the lack of adequate long-range fighter escort. Some of the Schweinfurt Flying Fortresses were over German-occupied territory for three hours and thirty minutes. Of this period of time, there was no fighter support whatsoever for two hours and ten minutes, which included all of the time spent over Germany itself.
By one of those extraordinary coincidences which are sometimes thrown up, the night of August 17th-18th 1943, saw the British RAF engaged in “Operation Hydra”, which turned out to be one of the more significant raids of the war. Using 324 Avro Lancasters, 218 Handley Page Halifaxes and 54 Short Stirlings, attacks were made on the V-Weapon rocket testing grounds at Peenemünde in the Baltic to the east of Denmark.
Clearly, rocket weapons of the calibre of the V-1 and the V-2 quite simply had to be destroyed, certainly with the Allies envisaging a landing on the coast of France within less than a year.
Indeed, the bomber crews were actually told at their briefings that unless they were successful that particular night, they would be going back to Peenemünde again on the 18th, the 19th, the 20th, and, indeed, they would keep returning until the target was completely destroyed. This certainly concentrated their minds enormously, and, with operations directed for the first time by a “Master Bomber”, namely Group Captain John Searby, the Commanding Officer of 83 Squadron, they achieved great success. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, himself said that the raid had cost the German efforts “six to eight weeks”, a figure agreed by the RAF who wrote in their official history that the attack “may well have caused a delay of two months.”
Although there were those who judged that the raid was “not effective”, an important figure, Chief Engineer Walther, was killed, but most significantly perhaps, so too was the hugely influential Doctor Walter Thiel who had provided the key ideas for the A4 rocket engine, later used to power the horrendous V-2 and indeed, in its developed form, NASA’s rockets into space.
The protection of the darkness was obvious in the casualty figures. Bomber Command lost 6.7% of their bombers and a total of 215 men were killed out of an approximate total of just over four thousand participants. Focke-Wulf Fw 190 night fighters claimed 29 of the 40 bombers shot down. Coincidentally again, the German night forces had employed for the first time ever, three twin engined Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters with the deadly combination of radar and Schräge Musik upward firing cannons.
To make their night fighters even more formidable, the Luftwaffe taught all their crews exactly where a Lancaster’s most vulnerable spots were…the enormous fuel tanks.
In another blog post, I will look at what the Eighth Air Force did next after the Schweinfurt raid, and their continuing “cold courage”, as they regrouped their strength after what must surely be considered, despite the immense resolution and extraordinary bravery of the Americans, one of the great catastrophes of the Allied air war.
Around ten or fifteen years ago, I was a teacher of Religious Studies as well as my main subject of French. We were studying the Afterlife, so, towards the end of, I think, the Christmas term, I asked the boys to write down for homework their own ghostly experience or a ghostly encounter that either their parents or anyone close to them had had. Here is a selection of the stories they came up with.
And, of course, yes, boys can tell lies just like everybody else, but by then I had taught this class for four months, seeing them for an hour and a half every week and I did not really think that anybody was lying. They may have been mistaken in their interpretation of events, but I’m sure they were sincere in what they thought was happening. This effort came from the parent, or even grandparent, of one of the pupils…
“My ghost story”
from Daniel J Furse who lived in the Old Manor House from 1956 to 1964.
“I bought the house from one of the printer Milward family and he told me that when he moved in there was a row of wire operated bells hanging in the passage by the kitchen, although they were all disconnected. Every now and then, at night, these bells would ring wildly. On investigation, no one was ever seen but the bells were all swinging on their springs!
Our own contribution was fairly mundane but baffling. In what was the dining room – next to the kitchen where there now appears to be a door, we had a very large Jacobean oak sideboard tight against the wall, and above it hung a picture. Sometimes, when coming down in the morning, we would find the picture neatly stowed under the sideboard, with the hook still in the wall, and the cord intact.”
I live in the Old Manor House in Lenton regularly referred to as haunted. We have some accounts of manifestations of the ghost in the past one of which I have quoted above. There is one room that is thought to be the “haunted” room. It was in this room that someone was so frightened by what they saw or heard that it caused the previous owners to have an exorcism in the house. We ourselves have had some strange experiences. We seem to have a “Visitor’s curse”. More often than can be explained, something has happened with our lighting, heating or kitchen appliances when a guest was either there or coming. Sometimes just one system fails, but the most dramatic was when a bar of spotlights fell down from the ceiling near some guests. Another time when we were expecting guests for Christmas, all lighting, heating and cooking appliances, including the Aga which runs on gas and the electric cooker which relies on electricity, refused to work.
Hopefully we can have a ghost- free Christmas this year!”
This was a very popular topic indeed with boys of fourteen and fifteen.
One young man told me the story of how he had seen a ghost when he met up with one of his friends who attended another school in, I think, Grantham. The boy went from Nottingham to spend the whole weekend as his friend lived quite a long way out in the Lincolnshire countryside. They stayed in the friend’s house which was very large with a very large garden. On the Friday evening, as soon as the visitor had unpacked, both boys went outside to see if they could see the phantom which the host had already explained could often be seen as it walked in the garden. The visitor from Nottingham was very excited that the garden was haunted and that he might actually see a real ghost.
The young man told me that as he stood there with his Lincolnshire friend in the early evening they saw not a sharply defined ghost, but a pale blue patch of mist or smoke, shaped like a human form. It moved across the end of the garden from right to left and by the time it reached the left-hand edge it was beginning to disappear.
Supposedly, it was the ghost of a Second World War Luftwaffe flier whose aircraft, a Heinkel III bomber had been shot down, and he had been killed.
Previously, I had been told about a slightly similar ghost by a now retired school technician called Frank. When he was young he used to live on the southern side of the Humber Estuary in Lincolnshire. Naturally, as a boy, he was keen to explore, and on one occasion he went with two of his friends out onto the salt marshes south of the estuary. He told me that there was a lookout tower right on the edge of the land, overlooking the waters of the estuary and of the North Sea. It had been put there for military purposes, probably either in the First or the Second World Wars. It was now in ruins but the shell of the brick built building was still there.
As the three boys made their way across the absolutely flat landscape, a saltmarsh covered in vegetation which was no more than four or five inches high, they suddenly saw a figure on the top of the tower.
Apparently an adult man, he stood there for a little while, and the boys watched him. I do not remember from the account whether he seemed aware that he was being watched, but I suspect that he did not. Anyway after five minutes or so, the figure leapt off the top of the tower which was at least twenty or thirty feet high, exactly as if he was doing a parachute jump or, as they always say, something silly. The three boys certainly thought so because they ran along the path which led to the building, to see if they could help what they presumed would be a fairly severely injured man. When they got there though, the place was completely deserted. Nobody was there.
What makes it so strange is that the landscape was such that he could not possibly have run away across either the saltmarsh or to the distant sandy beach without the boys seeing him. In any case it had not taken the boys long enough to get to the tower for him to have disappeared. He had not passed them on any of the paths which led across the marsh. They searched the tower but he was not there. They presumed therefore that he was a ghost of some kind. Later on, Frank explained that tales had been told of an occurrence just like this having been seen before in the very same location, but nobody had ever been able to explain what it was.
Two other stories were very scary indeed…..
“The crippled Ghost that learns to walk
Every so often when I lie awake in my bed at night and I leave the door open I see an old man in a brown wheel chair. He has grey hair and a mutilated face like it’s been taken off and jumbled about and then stuck back on.
It moves towards me without using its hands to move the wheels at all. Then when it reaches the door it stops and stands up. It starts to walk towards me. At that point I turn away and face the wall and try to force myself to believe it’s not real, it’s not real.
Then when it reaches my bed, it reaches out to touch me. The reason I know this is because I see its shadow on the wall. But as soon as it touches my head it disappears and so does the wheelchair which disappears as soon as he gets out of it. The only other thing that is strange about the man is that he is extraordinarily long thin fingers and shoulder length white hair.”
This extraordinary tale is recounted more or less exactly as the boy wrote it down. I have not altered anything at all except to make the tense used the present tense, rather than a mixture of several different ones.
What would be really interesting would be to try and trace in the history of the house if there was anybody who ever lived there who had the long fingers and long white hair, perhaps of a musician, or the mutilated face and the wheelchair of, perhaps, a Great War victim. It is however, even with the Internet, extremely difficult to trace who has lived in any house, and what his job was, or the hardest thing of all, what he did during his life and what happened to him.
And the winner is…….
…….This very last final story, which was clearly connected with my preparations for Christmas with the class. It is dated November 4th 2005, and is entitled…
“The white man with no face”
Interview with my Dad: What size and age did the ghost appear to be?
He was a six-foot male…age impossible to say. But roughly did he look middle-aged or quite young?
He was oldish but that’s the most accurate description I could give. Did you contact any spiritualists or mediums about the ghost?
No I didn’t; it never crossed my mind. It didn’t really bother me personally, but I never thought to ask my wife whether she thought we should get somebody in to try and sort things out. What was the scariest thing about the ghost?
It would be that every time you were fast asleep, this ‘thing’ could be looking over you; I wasn’t frightened about it at all, but it didn’t do anything… just stared endlessly at you. If only I had ever seen the ghost and you hadn’t, would you believe me about it being ‘around’ or not? Would you look out for it?
I would believe you, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find something that could only be found if ‘it’ wanted to be. How did the ghost appear and what did it look like?
I was in deep sleep and there was a wind as if all the windows were open, and my shoulders felt cold like ice. Both your mum and I woke up basically at exactly the same time, and we saw ‘it’. All it did was just look down at us. I can’t remember the curtains blowing just a fairly strong wind, so the windows were definitely not open. My wife asked me: “Tell me what you just saw?” trying not to put any ideas into my head, and her expression when I replied, confirmed this was not a dream. We both looked away, and after a period of time I cannot remember, I eventually look back to see ‘it’ had vanished. Did you ever feel like you are being watched?
Well obviously you knew there was something around but you just had to ignore it. My wife at the time was so terrified; she nearly moved out of the house and lived with her parents for a short time. Did you ever stay on your own in the house?
Yes, of course, it didn’t bother me that much, it was your mum who was worried about it the most. However, this was one of the reasons why we eventually moved house. My mum has told me that for weeks she was terrified of the ghost reappearing, and too many times felt her shoulders turn ice cold even during the summer (just like when she first saw the ghost).
Apparently I saw the ghost on many occasions – more than my parents – and that I asked them “Who the white man in my room was” more than once. The ghost could communicate with “the living” as it asked me what my name was.
Chloe my sister regularly saw the ghost – which was obviously concerned my mom, and on one occasion she told my parents “a white man with no face keeps waking me up and then just staring at me”. At the time she wasn’t afraid of ‘it’ as she was too young to realise what was happening. Chloe can’t recall any of this but my parents remember it all too well.
In a recent blogpost, I told the often harrowing tale of how what appeared to be a small army of men descended on our hitherto tranquil house, and after a period of some four days, managed to install both a new central heating system and a multi-fuel stove. Most interesting, though, was the tiling revealed in the back bedroom, when the old radiator was taken off.
There was no trace of a fireplace ever having been behind this tiling and we were told that it appeared to be a practice exercise, perhaps carried out by a young apprentice, and placed on the bedroom wall in 1932 to echo the fireplace in exactly the same position one floor below. In the 1960s, we think, the house was given its first dose of central heating and the young man’s work from thirty years before was covered over and lost. Being a sentimental and nosey old fool, I always wonder about the ordinary working men and women who laboured for such brief moments in endless time and whose work may, paradoxically, then sometimes go on to last for so many years, long after the deaths of the people who made them. Working men are born, live their lives for good or bad, and when they are gone, they leave little trace behind them. And once their grandchildren pass on, those men are then banished for eternity to “Trace your Ancestry” websites, as just names on forms, too far back in history to connect with. Did this apprentice tiler go on to fight in the Second World War? Did he survive? And the man who gave him the job to do – had he come back from the Somme a mental wreck of what he had previously been?
Nearly ten years ago, I went to visit Lincoln Cathedral, which has a fascinating parallel to the tiling exercise, except this one is getting on for being a thousand years older. This early medieval practice exercise is for carving lots of little squares with decorative flowers in the middle. Even twelfth century boys will be boys, though, and instead of a flower, one bright spark has carved a bird’s nest, complete with baby birds.
On the right, somebody has carved one of the adults, arriving with a worm in its mouth.
And on the left, there is the other parent flying away, its beak empty, in search of more food for their hungry offspring.
Those inventive young men of the twelfth century, however, were not to realise that one day, a tower in the very cathedral that they had had the privilege of helping construct, was to play host to its very own parent birds, a pair of Peregrines.
They are not easy to film!
This is “Lincoln’s Falcons” by Mark Taylor
Not everything always goes to plan! This is called “Peregrine falcon chick saved after fall” and comes from the local newspaper, the Lincolnshire Echo.
Even more interesting, though, are the medieval man’s opinions of his bosses. Asked to carve decorative heads onto the rood-screen, the stone carvers have obediently done so, but at the same time, they have taken a golden opportunity to transform important people, such as their foremen, into cartoon figures, with big noses and stupid expressions. I cannot believe that these carved faces were unrecognisable to the stone carvers’ contemporaries.
Martin, always over eager, with his big fleshy lips…
Will with his big nose…
Jack, what a chubby little chap!
Greedy Tom with his pig’s ears…
Stupid Henry with his donkey’s ears…
Harry, turning into a mouse…
Walter. metamorphosing slowly into Satan, complete with horns…..
The priest with his buck teeth and drooling tongue…
Even the bishop looks as if he is about to explode, with either anger or constipation…
In the ancient castle nearby is the religious graffiti carved by bored guards during a long forgotten night around 1350 or 1400, as they waited to take the condemned man out to be hanged the next day…
Most of all though at Lincoln, I love this old ring, set into one of the internal walls of the cathedral. This is where Oliver Cromwell’s troops tethered their horses, when the Roundhead cavalry was stabled inside this lovely old cathedral during the English Civil War.
What a magnificent building.
For a short period in the Middle Ages, when the towers had their spires, it was the tallest structure in the world.
In 1948-1952, the then US Secretary of State, George Marshall, launched his famous Marshall Plan ($61 billion today) to help reenergise not just one, but sixteen different European countries. Money was even offered to the Soviet Union and its allies, but they refused it. Nearly sixty years later, Aghan corruption and waste have now pushed the price of reconstruction of that one single country to more than $62 billion, thus exceeding the amount the USA provided for Europe under the Marshall plan.
Despite all this cash spent in Afghanistan, the country remains in what appears to be almost permanent and insoluble political crisis and may well remain dependent on hand-outs for years to come, even though British and other foreign troops prepare to withdraw at the end of the year.
Development projects meant to provide Afghans with a sound structural foundation have cost American taxpayers $61.5 billion, but John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told Congress that…
“The majority of the projects seen were hampered by poor planning, shoddy construction, mechanical failures and inadequate oversight. Billions were spent on ill-fated agricultural and infrastructure projects that failed to take into account Afghanistan’s culture. More than £2 billion was spent on improving the Afghan police, yet tens of thousands of ghost officers collect their pay, but never turn up for work. Nearly half of the 747,000 firearms provided for Afghan security forces at a cost of £372 million have vanished. The annual cost of maintaining Afghans police and military is likely to be double what the country collects in tax revenue.”
Well, poor old Afghanistan.
What more help do they need?
What else do we have to give them?
Have we not given enough?
The whole situation is so very reminiscent of a previous involvement of the USA in Asia, now almost fifty years ago. This time, the American forces are helped by their many allies, but the situation is not so very different. They are fighting a frequently invisible foe, on behalf of people who may well not be worth fighting for.
It may not quite be a case of “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” but so often it seems like that…
The ranks of those who flew Lancasters with Bomber Command in the Second World War have, with the inevitable passage of time, thinned out somewhat, but the BBC has managed to put together the requisite crew of seven combat veterans. There were, therefore, a pilot, a flight engineer, a navigator, a bomb aimer, a wireless operator, a mid-upper gunner and a rear gunner…”tail-end Charlie”.
Every single man in Bomber Command was a proud volunteer. During the course of the war, they were to suffer 55,573 casualties from a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4% death rate). The average bomber usually lasted for fewer than ten sorties. Life expectancy for crew members could be as low as two weeks, the same as a soldier in the Battle of the Somme in the First World War. Of every hundred airmen who joined Bomber Command, forty five were to be killed outright, six would be badly wounded, eight were captured by the enemy, and only forty survived physically unscathed. From the men who were serving in Bomber Command on September 3rd 1939, only 10% made it through to the end of the war some six years later.
There was no knighthood for Bomber Command’s leader though, and no campaign medal for his “old lags”. In 1945, Roosevelt and Churchill had been asked by Stalin to destroy Dresden for him, and the two Western leaders were only too eager to demonstrate their ability to slaughter the enemy, be it German, or perhaps, even, one day, Russian. But when Bomber Command, as the best area bombers in the world, carried out this ghastly task, as they had been ordered to do , they then found themselves ostracised by those very same politicians, who now wanted to be popular as humanitarians, and to win elections after the end of the war.
It was eventually public subscription that finally paid for Bomber Command’s well-deserved memorial, fifty years or so too late, perhaps…
The “Lanc” was the greatest bomber ever made. It could fly at 300 m.p.h. and carry an enormous weight of bombs, with the more usual 4,000 pound “cookies” often bolted together to form either 8,000 or 12,000 pound “blockbuster”bombs. A Lancaster might carry hundreds of incendiaries, and some specially adapted aircraft could carry the 22,000 pound, ten ton “Grand Slam” bomb designed by Barnes Wallis.
What an enormous bomb bay….
The aircraft’s immense power came from four magicians, well, four Merlin engines to be more precise…
The Lancaster is a very large bomber; museums often struggle to fit them in, as here at Duxford
Best of all is the Lancaster in the RAF Museum at Hendon in north London (very easy to reach off the motorway)
Don’t miss the vain boast of Hermann Göring, painted on the nose of the bomber(with his name misspelt!).
The Reichsmarschall was also foolish enough to say that if any enemy plane did fly over the Reich, then , as the man in charge of the Luftwaffe, people could call him “Herr Müller”, a common Jewish name. Well, guess who had the last laugh?
Göring‘s medals too, are in the museum…
A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed visiting East Kirkby in Lincolnshire to see their Lancaster. The aircraft does not fly but is taxied around the airfield every day.
What a beautiful machine, painted here as “Just Jane”, a fictional character in the wartime newspaper, the Daily Mirror.
The force of the engines being warmed up is amazing…
Then it sets off around the very large field…
Before returning, eventually, back to its rightful place…
It’s just such a pity that there are so few Avro Lancasters left for us all to enjoy!