Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Imposter's Bad Luck

Shortly after 1100 on the 14th of September 1914, Captain Noel Grant was peering through his binoculars at a vessel on the horizon. The vessel the British captain was staring at was carrying the Cunard Line's colour scheme, and was identified as the RMS Carmania, and she was making steam away from him.
RMS Carmania
Cpt Grant had reported aboard his ship, one of Cunard Line's passenger liners at the outbreak of the First World War. His ship had been equipped with eight 4.7" guns and dispatched from Liverpool to the South Atlantic to patrol the South American coast looking for merchant raiders. Cpt Grant had suspected that there was just such a commerce raider operating from Trindade Island, but all he had found was another of Cunard Line’s ships... There was only one problem, Cpt Grant was standing on the bridge of the RMS Carmania. Whomever the imposter was, she wasn't who she claimed to be. This was further reinforced by the fact she was making steam away from him, possibly to escape, possibly to gain manoeuvring room without the risk of finding the island in the way.
The imposter was actually the German ship SMS Cap Trafalgar. Entering service in April she was considered to be one of the most ornate and grandest cruise liners afloat. However, this lavishness had not been extended to her engines. The engines were triple expansion steam type, while the RMS Carmania had steam turbines. Despite being about 800 GRT heavier, the British ship was slightly faster.
Interior of the SMS Cap Trafalgar
The SMS Cap Trafalgar had departed Germany on a route that included Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. On the outbreak of war she had reached Buenos Aires. She then sailed to Trindade Island where she met the gunboat SMS Eber. The Eber had transferred its guns and a portion of its crew to turn the SMS Cap Trafalgar into Hilfskreuzer B. This refit had added two 4.1" guns and six 1-pounder pom-pom guns (other sources say it was six Hotchkiss revolver cannons), along with removing one of her funnels and gaining a new paint scheme which made her look almost exactly like the RMS Carmania.
SMS Cap Trafalagar with SMS Eber alongside on Trindade Island
Under the command of Capitan Wirth, she began her first cruise. This sortie resulted in no successes against the teeming shipping off the Brazilian coast, so Hilfskreuzer B returned to her base for more coal on the 13th September. A day later the real RMS Carmania broke the horizon and the German ship scrambled to get away.
After a short pursuit the German realised he couldn't escape the turbines of the British ship, and he turned sharply to starboard, and came about and begun to close. At around 8,500 yards the RMS Carmania opened fire, the German responded immediately, both ships missed. While the ships might well have been carrying naval grade guns, they lacked the aiming infrastructure and control gear that a normal warship would use. Shells were brought to the guns by hand, from stores in the cabins nearby. Equally they lacked the armour plate of a warship.
RMS Carmania's engine room
As the two ships sedately turned blazing away at each other the pom-pom guns of the German ship seemed to be the most effective. Easier to aim and score hits with, on a normal warship the effect would have been minimal, on the unarmoured and unprotected RMS Carmania the shots would sail straight through the structure of the ship.

At first both ships tried to sweep the decks clear of their opponents. Then the first real round impacted, the RMS Carmania managed to score a hit on the Hilfskreuzer B with one of her 4.7" guns. This caused the ornate German interior to burst into flames and started a small list to starboard. Shortly afterwards a German shell hit a stateroom forward of the RMS Carmania's bridge, and destroyed a water main. The stateroom burst into flames, with no water to fight the fire it quickly spread. The fire became so fierce it spread to the bridge and caused the captain and his command crew to have to abandon the area and fight the ship from an improvised bridge in the aft of the ship.
RMS Carmania's bridge after the fire.
Emboldened by their success the Germans continued their barrage of fire on the upper decks hoping to disable the crew of the guns, or even dismount the weapons. The British changed tactics and began to fire directly at the water line. Even without gun directors and range finders the huge wall of the Hilfskreuzer B's sides soon became riddled with shot, she began to take on water, and her list became worse. Even so the damage to the RMS Carmania was terrible, she too was listing, and with several raging fires. After about 90 minutes the two titanic ships separated, turning away from each other. The Hilfskreuzer B began to send distress signals, which were soon answered by German colliers from Trindade Island. The RMS Carmania steamed away, the day after she was barely afloat and luckily, she met a British cruiser.
 Meanwhile the Hilfskreuzer B was done for, as the list worsened she began to launch lifeboats and the crew abandoned ship. The German support ships managed to pull most of the men from the Atlantic. The Germans took the stranded sailors to Buenos Aires, where they were interred for the course of the war. Exact casualties for the German side are unknown, with estimates between 16-51 killed. The British lost just nine killed.

The RMS Carmania was repaired and continued patrolling around Portugal, until she was assigned to the Gallipoli campaign. She then was used as a troop ship, one of her final acts in service was returning Canadian soldiers to their home. Then she returned to her peace time job of cruise ship. Finally, in 1932 she was sold for scrap.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Last Mission of the Excalibur

Born in June 1921, Cyril Joe Barton was educated in Surrey. When he reached the age of 16 he was accepted as an apprentice draughtsman at the Parnall Aircraft factory in London. This meant that he was in a reserved occupation at the outbreak of the Second World War. Barton endured the Blitz, still working at the Parnall factory, helping to build the trainer aircraft that company produced. In 1941, at the age of 19, he resigned from his reserved occupation, and joined the RAF Reserve. He was formally enlisted to the RAF in April 1941.
Cyril Joe Barton
Training pilots in the UK was tricky. At any moment a brand-new pilot could stumble into a German and the weather was mostly uncooperative. In addition, as an operational theatre the skies were quite crowded with friendly aircraft. Thus, the UK found overseas locations to train the pilots. One of these schemes was based in the US and was called the Arnold Scheme. Leading Aircraftman Barton arrived in the US on the 17th of January 1942 and took his first flight on the 19th. Barton graduated as a Sergeant Pilot in November, by March 1943 he was back in the UK and part of a series of training squadrons flying Whitley's.

In late July he had his first operational sortie, as a second pilot on a Halifax heading to Hamburg, a trip he repeated shortly afterwards. In August he first got his hands on a Halifax himself, but remained on operations as a second pilot.
Between then and March 1944 Barton rose through the ranks to Pilot Officer, and made nineteen sorties, four of which were to Berlin. On one mission his aircraft was shot up by flak and got lost in cloud, however, PO Barton made several attempts to locate and bomb the target. On another mission the aircraft was once again holed by flack and had to make an emergency landing.
At 2214, 30th March 1944, PO Barton's Halifax bomber, named Excalibur, took off from the ill-named RAF Burn. His target for tonight was Nuremberg as part of the Battle of Berlin. 794 other aircraft were involved in the raid, 572 Lancaster's, 213 Halifax's and a small number of pathfinder Mosquito's. This was to be one of Bomber Command's worst ever nights with 95 aircraft failing to return. Excalibur's flight was largely uneventful until they were just 70 miles from the target.
At that point a Ju 88 night-fighter made an attack on Excalibur. The first burst destroyed the intercom. Almost immediately a Me 410 joined in the attack. Repeated salvoes from the fighters ripped into the aircraft. One of these hits destroyed the power supplies to the turrets meaning the crew couldn't fight back, another burst damaged one of the engines, others ripped into the wings.
During the shouted confusion, trying to relay orders, one of PO Barton's commands was misinterpreted and the navigator, flight engineer and bombardier bailed out.

PO Barton had a choice, continue ploughing onto the target, or turn for home. He knew that over the target the burning city below him would silhouette his plane, and any night fighter could find them. Equally his plane was utterly defenceless.
Despite this he carried on to the target, his damaged engine vibrating all the time, slowly getting worse.
A picture showing that the risk of silhouetting was very real. Here a damaged Avro Lancaster has dropped below the height of the bomber stream over Hanover in 1943.
The vibration in Excalibur's damaged engine peaked and then the propeller ripped itself apart. To make matters worse the fuel tanks on the other wing had been badly holed and had leaked all their fuel out, starving the engines on one side of the plane.

Now with only one engine, no defences, half a crew, and a badly damaged aircraft PO Barton finished his trip to the target and turned for home. But how to find home? He had no navigator. Equally, the navigator would guide aircraft around danger zones such as flak hotspots, and here he was deep in Germany surrounded by several of these danger areas.

By dead reckoning PO Barton managed to navigate his way out of Germany. This was made harder by a strong head wind. He also successfully avoided the flak and enemy fighters, all with only one engine. It took him nearly five and a half hours. In the first rays of dawn the crew could see the coast of England ahead. Remarkably they had arrived back in the UK just 90 miles from their home base.

As Excalibur crossed the coast, the last engine began to splutter, a clear indication it was nearly out of fuel. The plane was too low to be abandoned, so PO Barton ordered his crew to crash positions, and began to cast about for a landing site, all the while losing altitude. PO Barton saw that they were heading towards Ryhope Colliery, near Durham. At the time the colliery was surrounded by the houses and schools of the miner’s families. PO Barton wrestled his aircraft over a row of cottages, when the last engine spluttered and died. In the silence Excalibur dipped towards the end house, just clipping it, as she ploughed onwards the rear fuselage with the three crewmen in side it, became detached and skidded to a halt. All three crewmen survived. The forward section carried on its rampage, at some point a local miner heading to work was hit by debris from the plane and killed. PO Barton was rescued from the plane alive, but did not survive his injuries, and died before reaching hospital.
Excalibur's tail section, when it came to rest, with the three surviving crew inside.
For his actions Cyril Joe Barton was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Image credits:
ww2today.com, ww2aircraft.net, aircrewremembered.com, vcgca.org and www.bombercommandmuseum.ca

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Battle of Forrest Damp

At Roermond two rivers join, these are the Maas and the Roer. In 1945 this was the tip of an area called the Roer Triangle. The two rivers formed the left and right sides of the triangle. On the 14th of January the British launched operation Blackcock to clear this area on the Holland-German border, by the time the operation was completed some two weeks later, it would have seen some truly fierce fighting.
At around 0300, on the 21st of January 1945, the 5th battalion, Kings Own Scottish Borders moved out. Their objective was the German town of Waldfeucht. This was winter in central Europe so it was bitterly cold, with three inches of snow on the ground. The 5th KOSB had a company of men leading the way, while the rest of the force moved either in Kangaroo's or carriers. There were some Sherman's from the 13/18th Hussars along for the operation as well. The lead company found a few mines, which it removed, however little other resistance was encountered. Soon the force had seized the town. The town was deserted, with no German forces in place. The population would emerge from their cellars briefly and kept asking about what time it was, or were glancing nervously at time pieces. From this behaviour the British concluded that a German attack was imminent, and they thought first light was the most likely time for this. In a rush the battalion began to get ready for action. Two six pounders were brought forward to cover the north and west sides of the town. After they had been unlimbered and roughly sited work began to dig the guns in. This was severely hampered by the frozen ground. No real progress had been made on these fighting pits when the first rays of sunlight appeared at dawn, filtering through the mist.
The ideal dug in situation for a 6-pounder in winter. The 5KOSB ones were far from this, and standing out in the open.
The spreading light revealed several large box shapes lurching through the mist, towards the town. It was a full-blown German counter attack, fifteen assault guns lead by two Tigers from Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 301, with infantry from either the 175 or 183rd infantry.
The British asked for their Sherman's to engage the Tigers, whom were sitting targets out in the open. The British tanks refused to show themselves, knowing what the outcome would be. The two 6-pounders, still exposed in the open began to fire. A blazing firefight soon ensued, slowly one by one the crews of the guns were killed or wounded. At one gun Private Archibald Moore, who was acting as a loader, stepped forward and took over when the gun commander was wounded. With small arms rounds sparkling off the gun shield Pvt Moore directed his gun to fire at one of the Tigers.
The anti-tank battery's commanding officer, Captain Robert Hunter took control of the other gun. Cpt Hunter's first shot stopped the Tiger by wrecking its tracks. He continued to pour fire into the tank until it burned.
The two knocked out Tigers at Waldfeucht.
By now the Germans were about 100 yards away from the two 6-pounders pouring small arms fire and grenades at them. Cpt Hunter was wounded by this storm of fire. By now there were only five men serving both guns, one of which was the wounded Cpt Hunter. Together both guns turned their attention on the last remaining Tiger and began to fire as fast as they could. Soon it began to burn.
Men of 5KOSB posing with one of the knocked out Tigers
Pvt Moore then grabbed a Bren gun from beside a dead soldier and opened fire upon the nearby infantry and the fleeing Tiger crew.

On the east side, at the same time, another Tiger had launched an attack with supporting infantry. Here there were no plucky 6-pounders to stop the beast. Four Sherman's were destroyed trying to stop it, which might account for the reluctance of the tank commanders to engage the pair of Tigers. Bitter fighting ensued as the Germans reached the outskirts of the town and began to push through.
The Tiger as it ground down the street blasting into buildings at point blank range ran into two men, a platoon commander named Gideon Scott and his PIAT gunner Pvt Kirkpatrick. The first round failed to detonate and bounced off the Tiger’s armour. Scott began to re-load the PIAT. Another round was fired at the Tiger but missed. The shots had alerted the Tiger crew to the danger, and a hail of gunfire was directed towards the British defenders position. Scott was wounded in the hand.

Scott was born with deformities in both hands. These had nearly prevented him from enlisting in 1939, until he had challenged the recruiters to allow him to fire a rifle, which they were concerned he would have been unable to handle. Scott had shot in competitions for his college at Bisley and was quite a proficient shot. Having proven himself able to shoot he was enlisted.

As they re-loaded for a third shot, Scott saw a wounded soldier lying directly in the path of the giant Tiger, and who would soon be crushed by the 70 tons of tank. Scott leapt up from his position and raced out into the street, despite having already gained the Tiger’s complete attention and his position being the focus of its full firepower. He reached the wounded soldier, and with the ground shaking from the Tiger’s roar he dragged the wounded man into cover with bullets whistling about him.

The Tiger led the advance through the town with infantry storming into its wake. It approached the building chosen as the HQ, Cpt Ravenscroft and his batman begun to lob grenades out of the windows onto the Germans below, until they were captured.
British troops in Waldfeucht
By now it was late afternoon. The Germans had reached the town square, which had become no-man’s land between the two forces. The Tiger claimed a Sherman, four more were knocked out by Panzerfausts in the fighting around the square. The situation was looking bleak, with the Germans now in control of 75% of the town. However, 4th KOSB had arrived and were pushing into the Germans flank. This began to relive the pressure on the 5th KOSB. It still took until midnight to fully evict the Germans. The final Tiger was found stuck in an arch over the road and was destroyed in place.

The battle had raged for eighteen hours. Cpt Hunter was awarded a Military Cross, he remained in the reserves after the war finishing with the rank of Colonel. After the war he ran a company that was the first to produce muesli in the UK. He died in March 2016. Pvt Moore was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal and survived the war. 
Cpt Hunter
Scott was awarded a Military Cross, and survived the war dying in 1999. When his children asked him what he had done to win the award Scott replied 'it was for once being first in the queue for the Naafi!'

Image credits:
ww2today.com, businessinsider.com, crimsonaudio.net and telegraph.co.uk

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Short Service Spit

John Dunlop-Urie was born in October 1915 in Glasgow, where he grew up. He worked in his father’s bakery. In 1935 aged 20 he joined No 602 'City of Glasgow' Squadron. This was an auxiliary squadron, so part of the RAF Reserve. At the time Dunlop-Urie joined the squadron was flying Hawker Harts. Just before the outbreak of war, in August John Dunlop-Urie, along with 602 squadron was moved to active status and became a full time RAF fighter pilot. By now 602 Squadron was equipped with Mk.I Spitfires, and was part of 13 Group covering the North of the United Kingdom. Near the Isle of May on 22nd December 1939 Flight Lieutenant Dunlop-Urie and Hector MacLean shot down a HE-111 that was on a mine laying mission.
John Dunlop-Urie
Until the middle of 1940 602 Squadron remained as part of 13 Group. By August 1940 it had been transferred to 11 Group, and into the face of the German onslaught. On the 18th the Luftwaffe decided to unleash the largest strike of Stuka's to date. Just over 100 of the gull winged dive bombers headed for the south coast. Above them loitered about 150 ME-109's. In response 34 Spitfires and 31 Hurricanes were scrambled to intercept, 602 Squadron was one of the units scrambled.
 Fl Lt Dunlop-Urie raced towards his plane. However, it was unavailable and undergoing maintenance. As the sound of Merlins revving up filled the air and drowned out the scramble bell, Fl Lt Dunlop-Urie cast about for a plane he could use.

Parked in a corner, was a brand new Spitfire Mk.I that had been delivered just two hours ago. It had officially been signed onto the Squadrons roll for just a few minutes, barely long enough to let the ground crew arm and fuel her. Fl Lt Dunlop-Urie commandeered the aircraft and shortly was thundering into the sky with the rest of his squadron.

The perfectly clear blue sky was soon filled with dark specs ahead, the Hurricanes had managed to make contact with the Stuka's. Stuka's with a fighter on their tail would dive, this was an extremely difficult target for the British pilots as any attempt to follow the Stuka would leave them over shooting, as they would be unable to reduce their speed due to lacking air brakes. Fl Lt Dunlop-Urie made five passes on Stuka's, each time they would stagger in to a dive and as far as he could tell he had missed. He had expended all his ammunition in these passes and achieved nothing, so he set course for home.
Behind him the Stuka's dropped their bombs and turned for home as well. However, now they were at very low altitude and unable to dive any more. Instead they had to rely on their own guns for defence. In a gaggle they flew towards France, if one Stuka found itself with a British fighter behind him, he would accelerate to the lead of the formation, this would place the fighter in a perfect spot for his colleagues to shoot at the British plane. A large part of the Me-109 force was nowhere to be seen, they had gotten distracted shooting at barrage balloons nearby.

As he headed to his base at Westhampnett Airfield, Fl Lt Dunlop-Urie glanced in his rear view mirror and saw another plane behind him, on his first glance he thought it was another Spitfire heading back to base. Seconds later the nose and wing roots began to flash. It was one of the missing ME-109's. The rounds hit Fl Lt Dunlop-Urie's plane causing significant damage and lightly wounding him. The ME-109 then broke off its attack and headed away, possibly low on ammo due to the previous actions.
At Westhampnett Fl Lt Dunlop-Urie stated to bring his plane into land. It was more of a controlled crash, the planes back had been broken, it was missing one wheel and had no flaps. It was written off, in total this Spitfire had been with the Squadron for around 25 minutes and claimed the title of shortest serving Spitfire.
The impacts on Dunlop-Urie's spitfire.
The reverse side showing the shrapnel penetrations.
Fl Lt Dunlop-Urie recovered quickly and was able to keep fighting in the Battle of Britain. In 1941 he commanded 151 Wing when it was based in Russia. He was demobbed from the RAF in 1945 as a Wing Commander, and a year later re-joined the RAF Auxiliary.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Gift of a Tank

This article was suggested by James Panganiban a couple of weeks ago. If you have any suggestions, feel free to make them, although I don't guarantee I'll do them. I'm always looking for good stories to write about.
 As night fell on the 9th of June 1944, Major Noel Cowley was in his hull down Sherman on point 103 in Normandy. The Rest of C Squadron, 24th Lancers, were hiding in the bushes and what cover they could find. The dark green shapes were just black blobs against the black trees and bushes. Off in the distance some flames and smoke issued from the village of St Pierre. The town was occupied by unseen members of the Durham Light Infantry. Beyond them were the German held lands, and the tanks of Panzer Lehr. From their position C Squadron was to cover the DLI overnight.
A 24th Lancers Sherman driving past a knocked out Panther.
The Germans were well known for launching local counter attacks to recover lost ground, and St Pierre would be no exception, as dawn broke Panzer Lehr stormed towards the town.  C Squadron rose and addressed the Germans as best they could. An organisational oddity of the 24th Lancers was that they grouped all their Fireflies into a single troop. The Panzer Lehr assault threw the DLI out of St Pierre. However, with the other two squadrons of the 24th Lancers, and the Sherwood Rangers advancing to back them up the DLI stormed and recaptured the town during the day.
A 24th Lancers Firefly. The 24th placed all their Fireflies in a single troop, as was technically how they were organised on the official tables of organisation. It's just in other regiments Fireflies were always split up between troops.
 This bitter fighting caused several casualties, one of the first that morning was Maj Cowley, who had been hit in the head by shrapnel in the opening fight. Some sources say this was from an 88mm, but such sources are unreliable, as every German gun was an 88....
The wound had been to Maj Cowley's head, after his initial first aid the medic at the forward station had this to say about his condition:

“He is sleeping so quietly, I sometimes think he is dead. I have put him on a stretcher by a ditch so I can tip him in if necessary."

Maj Cowley however survived. He was evacuated to the UK where he spent three months in hospital. After rehabilitation he was declared unfit for overseas active deployments, and begun a series of staff roles within the Royal Armoured Corp.

Cowley had been born in Twickenham in 1912, and had enlisted in the army aged nineteen in 1931, and obtained a commission in 1938. It is unsurprising then that after the war he remained within the army. In 1947 he served in BAOR until 1953, where upon he returned to the UK and took a year's course of study on Slavonic and East European Studies. Cowley was given a position as a military attaché at the UK's legation in Budapest. Thus in 1955 an experienced tank officer, and his family crossed the Iron Curtain and took up a position in what would soon see the full military might of the Soviet Union.
On October the 23rd mass protests against the Communist puppet regime began. At the Radio Budapest building the Hungarian Secret police, the AVH, occupied the building. A large crowd outside began to issue demands, where upon shots were fired. Word of this reached Cowley who was attending a function in full dress uniform. He calmly returned home, changed clothes, picked up his pistol and disappeared into the night to observe events.
The Hungarian flag with the Communist coat of arms cut out was the symbol of the Revoloution.
The next day the Soviets deployed their armed forces, including their latest tank, the T-54, into Budapest. Fighting and skirmishing soon broke out. On the 25th a full-scale massacre of a crowd of protesters took place outside the Parliament building. Cowley, who was present, said it was started by the Soviet tankers, whom he attributed most of the gun fire to.
As the fighting intensified it was found, with some irony considering the source of the name, that the T-54's were rather vulnerable to Molotov Cocktails. Thus, several wrecked and damaged T-54's were littering the city outside of Soviet control. Cowley was able to visit and inspect these top-secret machines with his driver. The driver was a local called László Regéczy-Nagy, whom had been a tank crewman up until his capture by the British in 1945.

On the 28th of October a cease fire was announced, and the Soviets were able to withdraw. Some suggest that during this period Cowley gave some advice to the new Hungarian government's defence minister on how to deploy their forces. Equally at one point during this period a fully functional T-54 was driven onto embassy grounds for a period, where upon it was given a hasty study, before being returned to the Soviets.
It is often claimed that this incident, and fear of the Soviet tank gave rise to the 105mm L7. This is inaccurate. The L7 Development program started before this incident, and the development was driven by the British assessment of the T-54 having 120-130mm of frontal armour. With only 100mm of armour the 20pdr Mk.3 APDS could penetrate a T-54 from about 1400-1500m. The British usually wanted their tank guns to defeat enemy MBT's from 2000-4000m. Equally the British usually started work on their next generation of Anti-tank gun just as soon as the current one had entered service. This tradition started to break down a bit with the 20Pdr as the British first looked at a 4.5" gun, Then the L1 120mm, and finally the 183mm L4, while the 20pdr was in service.
Therefore the idea of the T-54 in general, might have had an influence of the start of the L7 program, but it is wrong to say that this incident is the sole cause for the L7.
Not a T-54, but definitely knocked out by the rebels.
The Soviets of course returned in full strength and crushed the Hungarian revolutionaries. Cowley and his family were evicted after being accused of supplying the revolutionaries with arms, and László Regéczy-Nagy was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the same crimes. Where they obtained these weapon stocks from was never made clear.

Noel Cowley died in January 2010, and László Regéczy-Nagy is still alive.

Image credits:
latimesblogs.latimes.com and telegraph.co.uk

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Real Little Nellie

These last few weeks I've been putting the finishing touches to my next book. This includes editing out stuff that just doesn't fit. Rather than bin it completely I decided to stick it up here for a weekend article.

At the bottom of this article is also a competition to get your name in print and help me out with the book.

The following was taken from a section about light tanks and Project Prodigal.

As an unrelated but interesting note, there was another paper talking about utilising the airspace immediately above the ground, although not part of Project Prodigal it bears mentioning, mainly because it may have been the seed that started the Director of Royal Armoured Corp (DRAC) thinking of Project Prodigal. On the 4th of April 1952, some six to eight months before DRAC ordered work started on the small heavily armoured tank, a paper was forwarded to DRAC. It talked of a cheap armoured helicopter that could be used to attack enemy forces, and most critically, as it was able to attack from above it would bypass a tank’s heaviest armour. A helicopter performing the attack role was not something that had not previously been envisioned.

Bell OH-13 most famous for its medivac role in Korea. However one pilot did, if I remember right strap a pair of .30 cal MG's to his craft and fire them by pulling on a cable.
The paper also talked about using technology in a new way, for the most curious thing about this helicopter was it did not have a piston engine. Instead of an engine to power its rotors, the tip of each rotor held either a ram or pulse jet. Which would turn the rotors like a giant Catherine wheel. These were fed from self-sealing, jettisonable fuel tanks carried on the outside of the fuselage. The pipework for these ran through the rotor hub and along each blade. As the tanks were droppable and self-sealing if one was hit by small arms it could just be dumped. The reason for using this form of propulsion was because it allowed removal of the engine, which freed up a large amount of weight and made the helicopter vastly more compact. This compactness allowed the helicopter to be armoured, another novel feature in rotary aircraft design. At this time the British army had selected the Westland Scout for liaison and reconnaissance roles, and this armoured helicopter should be seen in comparison to such a vehicle.
Westland scout armed with ATGM's in 1978.
The armour protection on the helicopter was, the paper suggested, to be proof against all small arms from horizontal all the way down to the vertical, and it was desirable to be proof against .50 cal heavy machine gun fire from horizontal down to about 45 degrees. From calculating the weight, the author of the paper suggested two possible schemes for the armour layout. 11mm protection everywhere, or 23mm on the front through the required 45 degrees and 8mm elsewhere. The armoured box for the pilot would, of course, cut down vision, something a pilot would need for flying, so the paper suggested a folding upper portion of the armour, that would allow the pilot to fly unbuttoned. Then as he approached the point to launch his attack he could close up. To close up it was suggested a mechanical takeoff, powered by the rotator hub's movement could be provided. The rotors were not armoured but would need to be designed to retain structural integrity if hit. Even the rotor hub was to be armoured and would contain fuel valves that would cut the supply of fuel if it exceeded a certain amount of flow, which would indicate that the fuel line had been hit.
When closed up the pilot, who entered through a rear door and sat on a seat with a radio and emergency fuel supply below it, would use a pair of episcopes. The limit of downward vision for these would denote the depression of the weapons, mounted equally on either side of the fuselage. These would consist of machine guns and 2.36" bazookas. The weapon mounts could depress downwards but were otherwise fixed in line with of the aircraft. This would allow the pilot to hover over enemy tanks and infantry and attack them from above, negating any advantage of armour or cover they might have. In return, as the machine was utterly proof against small arms fire, the pilot need not worry about enemy fire. Even at this early stage of thinking the threat posed by dedicated anti-aircraft weapons was realised, and the paper talks of the pilot flying as close to the ground as possible.

Sketch of the suggested armoured attack helicopter.
The helicopter used its fuel supply fast. The total endurance of the craft was about thirty minutes. The reserve tank provided another five minutes of flight but was protected, unlike the main fuel. This allowed the pilot time to get to safety should he be stripped of all his other fuel. Because of the fuel limits the deployment and tactical use of these novel machines were considered. A squadron would consist of about twenty-five craft. With a base section that could do repairs and such forth, which would be located outside of the immediate area of battle. A forward arming and refuelling point would be sited just behind the front line. At the front line a series of forward observers to locate targets for missions. Helicopters at the base would be moved forward, towed by, or even carried on the roofs of trucks. When they reached the forward base, they would be manned and flown direct to the target area located by the observers and carry out their strike, then return either to be moved back to the base or re-armed and fuelled for further missions. The paper also suggested that a tank could carry one of these machines on its rear deck, so that should an action occur that required action they could immediately take off and strike the target before returning to a base. Then at the next re-supply of the tank formation, the helicopters could be replaced by fresh craft. It was also suggested to use these craft for reconnaissance if unarmed. If fitted with a self-starter, such as cordite charges, the helicopter could take up and hold an observation point on a hill, and relay information back to its base, then if threatened just fire up its jets and flee any attack.
The reason why this whole idea was not taken up was the usual problem of costs. The paper author had not considered financial issues. He had stated that the design would be 'relatively cheap'. However, experts in the field when shown the idea described the concept as 'certainly interesting though far from technically practicable in an acceptable simple or cheap form.'
Nine years later, in 1961, and then again in 1962, when the RAC had a sudden revival in interest in light one-man aircraft, a prototype equipment was displayed at the RAC conferences. In the notes, it was listed as the Wallis autogiro. It was intended to be a one-man flying scooter able to move about for liaison and reconnaissance. The vehicle could be driven on roads or take to the skies as needed. The suggestion was that a controller for a guided missile could be mounted. The same model of autogiro shot to fame in 1967, as 'Little Nellie' from the James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

Stick a Malkara, or god forbid a Orange William guidance unit to it and you can sort of see what they were thinking.

Competition Time!

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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Bombing Canyon

On 28th of March 1967 a flight of Blackburn Buccaneers lifted into the sky from RNAS Lossiemouth, their internal bays were loaded with 1,000lbs bombs, and they were the opening strike package on a ship. This was possibly the only time the RAF and Fleet Air Arm had conducted live anti-shipping strikes since the end of the Second World War. Their target lay between the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall. It was the super tanker Torrey Canyon.
Bomb being prepared for the Buccaneers
The Torrey Canyon had been on route from Kuwait to Milford Haven in Wales. Lacking detailed charts of the route, on the 18th of March the Torrey Canyon had found herself on a collision course with a fishing fleet. There was a disagreement between the ships master and the crew about the exact location of the ship. When this argument had been settled, there was even more confusion about if the tanker was on auto-pilot or not. Eventually, and fatefully, the Torrey Canyon began her turn. With a juddering grinding crash the tanker ran aground on the Seven Stones. The sharp rocks had ripped open fourteen of the eighteen oil tanks and ripped open the bottom plating of the pump rooms. The Torrey Canyon immediately transmitted a request for help, which was soon answered.
The Torrey Canyon spitted on the rocks.
A Dutch salvage tug had been dispatched from Mounts Bay, a further two were sent along with specialists and equipment that were flown from Holland to the UK. From there these specialists were winched using helicopters onto the deck of the aground tanker. Most of the tankers 36 crew had been evacuated apart from four people, including the ships master. The aim of the salvage operation was to re-seal the holes so that the tanker could be pumped free of water and floated off the stones.

On the 21st a large explosion ripped through the engine room. Although no one was killed by the blast it flung two people overboard. Immediately two sailors dived into the oil covered Atlantic and they rescued the two men. One was gravely wounded and as the tug he was recovered to began to race for the nearest port a doctor was requested. The doctor was winched onboard the tug and started work to save Captain H.B Stal. However, despite his best efforts Cpt Stal died as the tug entered Newlyn Harbour.
Work to save the ship was progressing, and soon she was afloat, with no list. However, she was still spitted on the rocks. The weather forecast however indicated that over the weekend the situation would deteriorate with force 7-8 gales. In the worsening weather several attempts to pull the Torrey Canyon off the rocks were tried over the weekend. It was found that the ships nose could be swung about, but the rocks were still running her through pinning her in place. With the waves battering her flank and breaking over her deck cracks were seen to be appearing in her fabric. Late on the Sunday she split in two, on the Monday the forepart broke again. It was at this point that the government, meeting in an emergency session at RNAS Culdrose decided to attack the ship. Their idea was to break the ship up and then set fire to the oil slick.
The Salvage tugs trying to pull the Torrey Canyon off the rocks.
After the initial Buccaneer attack Sea Vixens and RAF Hunters launched repeated attempts to set the ship on fire. Using high explosives and even on one occasion a salvo of rockets. Over the next two days some fires were set and a huge plume of smoke and flames rose up to 20,000ft. After the fire started on the Torrey Canyon the pilots had to dive into this pillar of smoke to drop their ordnance.
The Canyon on fire.
A new weapon to use against the oil slick was tried, ground crew took 45 gallon drums in which they mixed jet fuel with a thickening agent using a wand with holes drilled in it and connected to a compressed air bottle. This sludge was then loaded into drop tanks which the Hunters carried and dropped. This was called "liquefied petroleum jelly". Under no circumstances was it allowed to be called "Napalm" in an attempt to manage public relations. 

Disposing of the surplus petroleum jelly was done by using the simple expedient of dumping it in a pit and putting a small gunpowder charge with a long fuse in there too. On one airbase the fuse was lit, and the officer carrying out the task dropped the lit match into the jelly by mistake. Luckily for the officer the jelly took some time to become fully evolved.
On the 29th the ship finally sunk, however it left behind it a huge oil slick. The UK tried spraying the slick with chemicals to cause it to break up which made the ecological impact worse. At Guernsey the oil was sucked off the beaches into sewage tankers and dumped in a quarry.
The Guernsey quarry used as a dumping ground pictured in 2010.
As well as the environmental impact there was a financial one. At the time ships were considered separate entities in law. This meant that the ship could only be sued for the value of the ship. All that remained of the Torrey Canyon was one lifeboat worth $50.
However, there was a sister ship, the Lake Palourde owned by the same company. At first the French tried to chase her and board her to serve a writ, however the ship managed to escape. The Lake Palourde later arrived in Singapore. A young British lawyer managed to serve the writ by gaining access to the ship and nailing the writ to the main mast, and thus arrest the ship. The reason he was let onboard was because the crew thought he was a whiskey salesman.

Note: for a more in-depth read on the salvage operation see this webpage.

Image sources:
IWM.org, www.zeesleepvaart.com, BBC.co.uk and www.southampton.ac.uk

Sunday, December 2, 2018


At 1410 on the 15th of August 1944, a Mosquito Mk.XVI climbed into the afternoon sky from its airbase at San Severo. Piloting was Captain Salomon Pienaar, with his observer Lieutenant Archer Ronald Lockhart-Ross, from No.60 Squadron (SAAF). Cpt Pienaar had stood his plane in for another pilot who had suffered a bad cold which would have been debilitating under the 0.5lbs of air pressure the cabin was pressurised too. The other pilot who could have taken the mission was at the end of his tour and so was only deployed on the easiest of missions. Thus, Cpt Pienaar volunteered.
The Mosquito's destination was Germany. The MK.XVI mosquito was a photo reconnaissance version and had a large amount of fuel, but no weapons. After two and a half hours in the air the Mosquito had cleared the Alps and was approaching her target.
A 60 Squadron Mosquito, note the tail patten. We'll talk about that later. Colours are black and yellow.
As the Mosquito approached Liepheim airfield from the south at around 30,000ft she was doing about 220mph. Cpt Pienaar did a couple of shallow turns to check for enemy aircraft. Meanwhile Lt Lockhart-Ross was in position in the nose ready to take photographs of the airfield. Then Cpt Pienaar then pulled a 90-degree diving turn to bring his plane onto the correct line to obtain the best pictures of the experimental station below. This was done to confuse enemy fighters, which at the time had trouble getting up to intercept the Mosquitos. A sudden 90-degree change onto target would mean that any planes attempting to intercept would be left miles away allowing the Mossie to complete its photographic run in peace.
Liephiem airfield was one of the main production and testing centres for Messerschmitt, having been responsible for the production of ME321 gliders and ME323 transports.
As he levelled out over Liepheim he began to fly down the length of the airfield. Inside the Mosquito three cameras were whirring away, these had lens sizes of 6", 12" and a huge 36". The latter was for extreme detail and had to be flown dead straight otherwise it would blur.

 Lt Lockhart-Ross in the nose called out that he could see an enemy fighter taking off and it was moving extremely fast. Lt Lockhart-Ross soon lost sight of it, as it passed to the rear of the aircraft. However, Cpt Pienaar glanced in his rear-view mirror, and spotted a dot in the far distance. He glanced away for a moment, and then looked back. The enemy fighter was right on his tail and climbing slightly.
We now know the plane as one of the earliest Me 262's, it was painted silver. However, Cpt Pienaar had never seen such an aircraft before, he called it the "Jetbug".
Cpt Pienaar reacted immediately. He jammed the throttles wide open, dumped his drop tanks and banked to starboard. The Mosquito pilot sits on the port of the aircraft, and so turns in that direction are easier for the pilot to see, and so a Mosquito pilot was more likely to turn that way. The Me 262 had been expecting a port manoeuvre so most of the opening salvo hit the port wing, heavily damaging the flaps. The Me 262 tried to follow the Mosquito into the turn and landed another burst on the tail, including one round that failed to function and skimmed along the fuselage of the Mosquito, lodging in the main spar.
The Mosquito's left wing after a burst of 30mm. This is actually Cpt Pienaar's plane.
With the left aileron gone the left wing lost all lift and threw the plane into a spin. The G forces pinned Lt Lockhart-Ross in the nose and he was unable to exit. In addition, the spin had disconnected Lt Lockhart-Ross' oxygen pipe, so he was half unconscious. Cpt Pienaar was wrestling with his controls, plummeting at several hundred mph towards the ground. At just 19,000ft altitude Cpt Pienaar managed to recover out of the spin, despite his badly wounded aircraft with one engine locked into full power.
Heart pumping Cpt Pienaar started to collect his wits as he started to take stock. He had to put every control effort in to counteract the loss of lift on the left, the stick was all the way over to the right just to maintain level flight. This made right hand manoeuvres impossible. Lt Lockhart-Ross woozily clambered back into the cockpit and re-attached himself to the plane’s oxygen supply. He stood up using the astrodome to try and spot their attacker

He was just in time. The Me 262 was diving on the wounded Mosquito. Cpt Pienaar just released the controls, which threw the Mosquito into a violent manoeuvre. Over the next 40 minutes the Me 262 would make a further eleven attack runs. Five from astern, two head on, two quartering and two from the beam. Each time Cpt Pienaar was able to turn inside the attack and each burst of cannon fire missed. But each successful dodge meant that the Mosquito bleed speed and altitude. The engagements had started at 19,000ft, with the Mosquito doing 420mph. Now the Me 262 lined up for its final attack, from behind at 9,000ft, while the Mosquito was doing just 180mph.
Cpt Pienaar was cursing by now, he'd had the Me 262 bang to rights at least twice if only his Mosquito had been fitted with a gun. Knowing they were in trouble, he figured if they were going down, they might as well try to take the “Jetbug” out. As the Me 262 powered in from astern, Cpt Pienaar flipped his plane through a 180 degree turn and tried to ram it in a head on. The Me 262 pulled up slightly and rocketed over the Mosquito, narrowly missing it.
Cpt Pienaar saw his chance, just 1,000 feet below was a bank of cloud, and while the Me 262 was sorting itself out to turn around Cpt Pienaar dived into it. When next they saw the Me 262 it was a dot in the distance, streaking for its base.

The Mosquito wasn't safe yet as she still had to make it home. To get from Germany to Italy you need to cross the Alps. With one engine dangerously uncontrollable and damaged the Mosquito managed to clear the Alps by just 500ft. Even then their troubles were not over. Ahead of them lay a large German airfield named Udine. Cpt Pienaar later said it was considered the strongest German Airfield in Northern Italy and was generally avoided by all Allied airmen. The Mosquito couldn't turn, so avoiding it was out of the question. Cpt Pienaar put his plane on the deck and blasted across the airfield at about 100ft. As he thundered across the airfield, he could see the Germans scrambling for their AA emplacements. Some Germans just threw themselves flat as the Mosquito roared towards them. But he was gone before they could open fire on him.

Now over the Adriatic they spotted four dots in the distance, fighters. The fighters had seen them too and were closing to look them over. Enemy or friendly? US planes could still attack them, the 60 Squadron had gotten so fed up with US planes attacking their Mosquito's and then calling them ME-410's they had painted a barber stripe on the tail, photographed it, and sent it to all the US air bases with an explanatory note.

It was a flight of very welcome Spitfires. One stayed with the Mosquito to escort it back. Now came the tricky part of the mission, landing. Normally at this altitude a Mosquito would stall at around 126mph. But during the flight back Cpt Pienaar had experimented and found due to the damage he had a stall speed of about 193mph. In addition, he had no hydraulics, and thus no brakes or undercarriage. His only option was to come in at minimum speed, which he decided on as 195mph, and then at the last moment turn off the engine.There could be no fine manoeuvres to starboard, so keeping it level was entirely down to luck. Once the engines were cut they couldn't be restarted in the air either. As the Mosquito cleared the trees at the end of the runway Cpt Pienaar switched off his engines.
Lt Lockhart-Ross stands next to his damaged plane.
Mosquito NS520 skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust exactly five hours after taking off, landing at 1910. They had just seven minutes of fuel remaining. Both crew survived unharmed, and were awarded DFC's. They were able to bring back the first reports on the performance of the Me 262.

Image credits: