Tag Archives: Spitfire

What would you do ? (12) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

And here is the puzzle:

And as we turn quickly to page two, we find out that:

“There is only one thing the fighter pilot can do. Sweeping down out of his dive he flies alongside the V.I., maintaining the same speed. Then, he gently manoeuvres his wing-tip under the wingtip of the deadly bomb. With a gentle pull on his stick, he turns his plane away, his wing whipping the V.1. over. Its delicate gyro-compass thrown off-course, the bomb hurtles earthward, to explode harmlessly in open countryside.”

So now you know!!

The people who throw around their accusations  about Bomber Command, aiming them chiefly at Bomber Harris, as if he was the Number One in the RAF rather than someone subject to a whole chain of superior officers and politicians, they forget both the V-1 and the V-2, which were pilotless and aimed only in the most general of terms. The V-1s were all aimed at Target 42, London, and more precisely, Tower Bridge. They never hit Tower Bridge or even got particularly close. V-2s were even more random and indiscriminate. In efforts ordered personally by Hitler to blow up the bridge over the Rhine at Remagen, no V-2 got within 900 yards but they did hit Cologne (still German at the time).

The statistics are not very precise but 22,880 V-1s were fired at targets in England (8,892) and Belgium (11,988). Around 4,000 V-2s were launched at targets in England (c 1,400) and Belgium (2,342). The main target in Belgium was the port of Antwerp. Hitler was determined to deny its use to the Allies. Overall,  V-weapons killed approximately 18,000 people in England and Belgium. Nearly all of them were  civilians.

Here’s a V-1 and a Spitfire playing nicely:

And here’s a V2 setting off to annihilate as many civilians as possible in London. It was designed by SS Sturmbannführer Werner von Braun, soon to be an American citizen and certainly not a war criminal responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of slave workers, most of them Russian or East European, particularly Poles. Hopefully though, like the Führer, he loved his dog:

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Filed under Aviation, Criminology, History, Humour, military, Science, war crimes

The Supermarine Walrus (4)

Last time, we looked at how practically no provisions whatsoever were made in 1940 to rescue RAF fighter pilots who were forced to bale out over the sea:

“A passing ship is bound to pick them up, and pretty damn speedily at that, don’t you know, what ? what?”

During the Battle of Britain, Flight Lieutenant RF Aitken of the RNZAF was so disturbed by the death rates among his fellow fighter pilots that he actually “borrowed” a Supermarine Walrus flying boat from the Fleet Air Arm. During this period of grotesque complacency on the part of the RAF top brass, Flight Lieutenant Aitken,  despite working single handed, managed to rescue thirty five British and German flyers from The Cruel Sea during the summer of 1940.

The situation though, did not really improve. Twelve hundred British airmen went “into the drink” between February 1941-August 1941. Of these 444 were picked up by the British. 78 were picked up by the German Seenotdienst and 678 were not picked up by anybody whatsoever and they all died. Every single one. It was lucky that their training cost so little.

At official levels, it was only on August 22nd 1940 that an emergency meeting was held under the chairmanship of Air Marshal Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris to explore the shortcomings of air sea rescue provision.

And thus, from September 1941 onwards, the Air Sea Rescue Directorate became functional and gradually the RAF began to use the Supermarine Walrus more widely from coastal land bases as an Air Sea Rescue aircraft.

By the end of the war things had improved out of all recognition. The RAF now possessed not eighteen but 600 high speed rescue launches and numerous squadrons of specialist aircraft.

Even so, results were nowhere near 100%.

Many crews did not ever rescue anybody in all their years looking for stranded airmen. Some never found even a single dinghy. Worse still, some only ever found empty dinghies.

Some crews only ever found corpses, men frozen stiff with the cold, dead from exposure or any of the other conditions likely to occur in a dinghy which, for some reason best known to the top brass, did not have a covering of any kind and was completely open to the elements.

Old Nottinghamian, John Harold Gilbert Walker (1918-1942), died in this dreadful way. He was shot down in his Spitfire over St Omer, and four days later, the dinghy and his lifeless body were found, a mere eight miles south of Dungeness. John was only twenty three years of age and he had died of exposure waiting in vain to be rescued.

John’s remains were returned to his family in Nottingham and he was interred in the cemetery of St Leonard’s Church in Wollaton on May 19th 1942. If you’re ever out that way, go and put a few flowers on his grave.

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A nasty German in Woodville, Part One, the Legend

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England.

Derby was the home of an important Rolls Royce factory which made Merlin engines, the powerplant used by important World War Two aircraft such as the Spitfire, the Hurricane, the Mosquito and the Lancaster :

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Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, steps were taken to protect this important Derby factory from enemy air attack. Immediate measures included the installation of a large calibre ex-naval gun on the western side of Hartshorne Lane, on some grassland near the public footpath, just beyond the site where the Dominoes public house was to be built shortly after the end of the war. Look for the Orange Arrow, my hearties!! :

This naval gun, probably taken from a scrapped old battleship, was extremely powerful and extremely noisy. Every time it was fired in practice, it made all the cups rattle on their holders in the pantry at my grandparents’ house, “Holmgarth”, at No 39,  Hartshorne Lane, some half a mile away :

One evening, probably in the second half of 1940 or early 1941, a lone Heinkel III bomber was caught in the searchlights over Derby. This spectacular event was the signal for the Hartshorne gun to fire its one and only shot in anger of the entire war :

Needless to say, the shot was a successful one and the bomber was duly brought down. Later in the evening, the Home Guard was to capture the pilot, who had descended by parachute from his stricken craft. Another slightly different version of the story relates how the pilot was dragged semi-conscious from the wreckage of his aeroplane:

The pilot was subsequently brought to Hartshorne and then marched up the hill to the Police Station at Woodville Tollgate. He did not speak any English but seemed happy to rave loudly to himself in German. This gentleman was seen by the locals as being a typically arrogant Nazi, who believed that the war was already won. He was even smoking the Player’s cigarettes which had been captured in such large quantities at Dunkirk in June 1940. I couldn’t find a picture of this particular gentleman in Woodville, but the world at this time was not particularly short of arrogant Nazis:

The pilot was locked in a police cell overnight. This may well have been to his benefit, as the mood of the angry passers-by as he had been brought up Hartshorne Lane had largely been in favour of lynching him. Indeed, the crowd’s evident hostility had done much to quieten the pilot’s rantings on the long slow walk up to the police station.

Here’s the police station, in Edwardian sepia. If you look to the right of the police station, (which is right in the middle of the picture), there is a very tall chimney which is now long demolished but which, then, was the chimney of the Outram’s factory which made sinks, wash-basins, toilets and such. To the right of that chimney is a very stout looking house with two chimney stacks. The further one of those two is the chimney stack for my Mum and Dad’s house, “Clare Cottage, built 1890”, They lived there from 1949-2000 and 1949-2003 respectively.

So what? you may ask. Well, I know that with a little bit of luck, my instructions will be followed by a lady from India, a gentleman from Australia, my American friends from coast to coast, and citizens, perhaps, of other countries across the globe, as well as my valued readers in this country. I wonder what the newly married couple would have thought of that, when they moved in to what was then a semi-derelict house,  more than seventy years ago. People across the whole world looking at their chimney stack :

At the time the Heinkel was shot down, Fred, as a young man of some seventeen or eighteen years of age, was still awaiting his chance to go into the RAF. He had therefore in the interim become a young member of the local Home Guard, or L.D.V. (the Local Defence Volunteers, or as Fred always interpreted the initials, “Look, Duck and Vanish”). Neither the Hartshorne Home Guard or the Woodville Home Guard ever had as many rifles as these mean looking killers, though:

This episode, before he went away into the armed forces, was in actual fact the only time that Fred was ever destined to meet a Nazi in person. Indeed, in later years, Fred was to say that this was the most dangerous moment he was to experience in terms of being directly face to face with the enemy. The even greater irony was that the very real threat of violence inherent in the situation was provided exclusively by the English civilians, and not by the Luftwaffe pilot himself.

Conceivably, this particular Heinkel bomber was the same one which was later to be put on display in nearby Burton-on-Trent in an effort to raise funds for the war. I have been unable to trace an exact date for this occurrence, other than the fact that, with the decreasing frequency of Luftwaffe raids on England, it was more likely to have occurred sooner rather than later during the conflict.

I was told this story about the naval gun more than once by my Dad, Fred. It seemed so far fetched that I began to think that he was suffering from false memories. I thought that perhaps my Dad had confused 1940 or 1941 with a very famous episode of the comedy “Dad’s Army”. But he hadn’t. Fifty or so years after I first met him, my oldest friend revealed that his mother, as a young girl, had been in that crowd at Woodville Police Station and had seen the arrogant Nazi smoking our Player’s Cigarettes.

Any excuse for a bit of Dad’s Army:

That moment has won more than one award as the funniest moment ever on BBC TV.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Battle of Britain (1)

We visited RAF Hendon on July 22nd 2010. It seems an age ago. Hendon is a fantastic museum, easy to get to from the M1 and FREE ENTRY. What is there not to like?

The first few photographs show the display outside the museum. One is a Hurricane and the other is a Spitfire. I’ll leave you to work out which is which. Here’s an aircraft with a cannon in each wing which, I think, means that it cannot have been a Battle of Britain participant:

Here’s another view of the very first aircraft:

And the second aircraft again… This is as close as I get to that weirdo artistic sort of photograph:

Here’s the last picture of aircraft No 1 and 3:

And here’s a free clue to the identity of this aircraft. American readers…”Sorry!”

And here’s aircraft No 2 and 4 again:

Well, the odd numbers are the Hawker Hurricane and the even numbers are the Supermarine Spitfire, originally called the Supermarine Shrew. The way to tell them apart is that the Hurricane, or “Harry Kane” to give you the answer to the clue, has one huge radiator under the fuselage and the Spitfire always has two smaller ones, one under each wing.

It was months after our visit that I found out that both aircraft outside the museum were counterfeit. Made of plastic, apparently. The museum people don’t make that particularly obvious. I suspect that they’re scared that they’ll be killed in the crush of middle aged men who all want one for the front lawn.
The Spitfire was, of course, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell who worked for Supermarine Aviation of Southampton. Here he is:

Many Germans could not separate RJ Mitchell from the man who played him in the film, Leslie Howard. Here’s Leslie Howard:

They could be identical twins, couldn’t they?

The Spitfire’s wing was of an innovative shape at the time. I didn’t know though, that there was a good deal of input from Beverley Strahan Shenstone, a Canadian engineer. Here he is. He isn’t in the film. The British  always seem to have kept Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders well out of their films:

Beverley Shenstone studied in Germany under Hugo Junkers and Alexander Lippisch. I found this out in a marvellous book I read recently called “Secret Wings of World War II” by Lance Cole. Here it is. It’s an excellent book:

To quote the author:

“By 1932, Shenstone had authored several papers stemming from his German studies…he was soon employed by RJ Mitchell, Shenstone was the man who within four years had shaped the Spitfire’s ellipsoid wing, its wing fillet and many of its aerodynamic design features.”

A wing fillet is the smooth curve between the fuselage and the wing. It improves air flow. It isn’t particularly obvious in the plastic Spitfire above but there will be a Spitfire Mark I appearing soon and it’s a lot more obvious on that aircraft.

Hugo Junkers was beyond the cutting edge of aircraft design in 1945. This is his Junkers Ju 287 bomber with forward pointing wings. And yes, it flew perfectly:

Even in the 1930s, his designs were astounding. Swept back wings with propellers:

 And a flying wing, the J 1000 Super Duck:

Alexander Lippisch was even better than Hugo Junkers. Here he is:

His first aircraft was not very good:

But after that, by the standards of 1940, WOW!

 The Americans are still flying around in his thoughts and ideas:

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