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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
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Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Strange War

In 1891 family of Dorset farmers welcomed a new son into the world. His name was Louis Strange. Educated at St Edward's school he joined its yeomanry regiment. During manoeuvres with this unit, in 1912, at the age of 21, Louis saw something in the air. It was the British airship Beta 1. Imagine if you will the idea of never having seen anything larger than a bird in the air, then seeing a 31 meter long airship hanging in the sky, and the effect such an imposing bulk would have had. Later in the exercise he saw a few of the Royal Flying Corps aircraft puttering about above the troops. From this point onwards Louis decided he was going to fly. By October 1913 Strange had managed to qualify for the RFC, and in April 1914 he was listed as one of only five pilots to be members of the "upside down club", which was pilots who had flown a loop. Just a few months later the First World War broke out and Strange was posted to France.
Louis Strange
Strange was one of the first pilots to up gun his aircraft by mounting a Lewis gun on it. However his first attempt at using it was utterly unsuccessful. Three enemy aircraft were flying at 5000 feet, and his plane loaded with the extra weight of the gun was unable to climb to meet them. This mounting was Strange’s idea, and he soon came up with another, a type of incendiary bomb filled with petrol, which he used against a column of Germans on the 28th of August. Strange continued to work on his inventions, next came a strap that when worn by the observer allowed the observer to stand up and fire a machine gun through a much increased arc. Equally a machine gun was dangled from a crossbar fitted under the upper wing of his Avro 504. The standing observer could then point the gun in any direction, even directly behind. So armed Strange and his observer forced down a German Aviatik, on 22nd of November, who made a safe landing. Strange then tried fitting a bomb chute to his plane, the idea being that small bombs could be dropped with more accuracy. On the first operation a live bomb jammed in the chute. Strange conducted an emergency landing in a corn field, with a live bomb sticking out the bottom of the chute. By a stroke of luck the rough landing ripped the fuse and detonator from the bomb without triggering it.
In February 1915 Strange was promoted to Captain, and sent to 6 Squadron, and had a new plane to fly a Bristol BE.2c. His first mission was with another new bombing aid, a set of racks slung under his plane carrying several bombs. At a height of 46 meters he came barrelling towards Courtrai railway station. Around it were a large number of Germans soldiers, who sent up a storm of rifle fire. Cpt Strange's low level bombing raid knocked the station out of service for three days and caused 75 casualties, for which he won a Military Cross.
Cpt Lanoe Hawker
 While Louis was able to come up with ideas he wasn't an mechanically minded or an engineer. However while at 6 Squadron he met someone who was. Cpt Lanoe Hawker was a officer of the Royal Engineers who had been attached to the RFC. Hawker's previous claims to fame was an attack on a German airship shed with hand grenades. During which he had used a barrage balloon to shield him from ground fire while he made repeated attacks lobbing mills bombs at the Zeppelins. Later on Cpt Hawker was wounded in the foot. He refused to be grounded until the major battle he was fighting over had finished and had to be carried to and from his aircraft for each sortie.
So we have two very inventive minds, and one of whom is a dedicated engineer, faced with lots of problems. For example one of Cpt Hawkers later, joint, inventions was the double deck Lewis gun drum, which at a stroke doubled the amount of firepower the Lewis gun had. Lewis guns were the subject of this pairs next invention. Between them they created a mount which placed the Lewis gun beside the cockpit at an angle, allowing the pilots to fire forward(ish) and even aim to an extent.
 

On the tenth of May 1915, Cpt Strange took his Martinsyde S1 up, fitted with one of the Forward facing Lewis guns. The S1 was a horrible plane unreliable and underpowered, to the extent the total number built was only 60. During his patrol he spotted an Aviatik two seater and launched an attack on the German. After several passes Cpt Strange's drum was empty, and he reached up to change the drum. However the drum was jammed, having become cross threaded. Gripping the stick between his knees, Cpt Strange placed both hands on the drum he gave it a good hard twist, at which point the S1 stalled, flipped upside down and dove for the ground.
Cpt Strange was now hanging from the Lewis gun drum in a dive from 8500 feet, and hoping that the drum hadn't been loosened. Cpt Strange began to kick wildly trying to regain his cockpit as he did so his flailing legs smashed all the instruments. Suddenly he had a foot over the edge of the cockpit. Hauling his body towards the cockpit he felt the stick between his legs again, and managed to flip the craft upright, allowing him to clamber into the cockpit. Taking it under full control Cpt Strange pulled up and levelled off just a few hundred feet above the ground. His commanding officer was later to complain about Cpt Strange's actions causing unnecessary damage. The Germans were also reportedly unhappy, as they claimed him as shot down, and spent the whole day frantically searching the area for his crashed plane.
Cpt Hawker's Bristol Scout C, with the experimental mounting.
 On the 25th of July Cpt’s Strange and Hawker hatched a new plan. Louis was to fly along as a decoy, and await to be attacked. Meanwhile Cpt Hawker would loiter with intent In a Bristol Scout C, fitted with a forward firing Lewis gun. Then, when the Germans attacked Strange, Hawker could get the drop on them. During the next sortie, three Germans attacked Strange, and Hawker shot all three down. This feet won Hawker the Victoria cross.
Hawker would not survive the War however. In 1916 he met Von Richthofen. Despite the Germans superior plane Hawker led him on a merry dance for some time, until he began to run low on fuel. Von Richthofen had fired some 900 odd bullets at Hawker and his guns were running hot. As Hawker tried to break off Von Richthofen fired another burst, but his guns jammed. The final bullet of the burst hit Hawker in the head killing him instantly.
Strange was promoted through the ranks after a spell in the UK he returned to the front and finished the war commanding a wing of Aircraft. In-between the wars he settled on a farm, for a period. Or was otherwise involved in small aircraft companies.
Strange in RAF uniform
Strange returned to service for the Second World War. At the time he was aged 49, but was sent to the RAF's only transport squadron. They were immediately sent to France to the aerodrome at Merville. Their mission there was to retrieve what equipment and planes they could from the abandoned airfield. During the few hours they were there they managed to get two Hurricanes flying again, and promptly stuck unhorsed RAF pilots in them to get them back to the UK. Then a Soldier from the Durham Light Infantry sprinted onto the airfield. He had been a lookout at the nearby church steeple. He reported that the Germans were about 500 yards away and about to arrive. The remains of the squadron evacuated, apart from Strange. There was a single battered hurricane left. It was flyable, technically. But was missing minor things such as all its guns and instruments. There was also the minor point that Strange had never ever flown in a Hurricane.
Strange got it off the ground before the Germans arrived, and set course for home. He had to climb to 8000 feet near St, Omer when fired upon by AA fire. The AA fire had however attracted the attention of a nearby flight of Germans, who dived on Strange. The first aircraft made a pass, with a burst of gunfire which surprised Strange who had been engrossed in trying to learn how to fly this new craft. The next five Germans overshot his plane all missing. Strange took the only course he could, he dove. He flew so low he described it as "flying along the main street and through the chateau front door", however the Germans stuck with him, each trying to hit him with a burst of fire. Ducking over the Chateau, he followed a wooded valley twisting and turning as he went with the contours of the valley, the pack of Germans snapping at his heels. Suddenly a band of sand dunes flashed past him and he was over the Sea, with no cover. Strange spotted a British warship and turned towards it. The pack of Germans right on his tail. Luckily the Warship saw what was happening and put up a barrage of flak, which scattered the German pursuit. From there Strange made it back to the UK safely.
Louis showing off another invention, a jet powered grass drying machine on a farm in Dorset.
After this escapade Strange was then sent to setup the Central Landing School, which trained parachute landings, by war's end this school would train some 60,000 pupils from the RAF and Army on how to land in a parachute, this total included a number of the Para's dropped during D-day. However Strange was busy elsewhere, inventing, testing, and creating a school for CAM ship pilots.
Stranges' final wartime activities were to run several of the airfields in the Normandy Bridgehead, before being posted to SHAEF before demobbing in 1945. Louis Strange died on 15 November 1966 in Poole, Dorset.

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