Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Getting Clear Away

Just before 1730 on Sunday the 17th of March 1918 Lt Edwin Arnold Clear banked his SE.5a through the skies above Crevecoeur.  The patrol he was part of, from 84 Squadron, had suddenly become engaged with some nine enemy aircraft. Below him Lt Clear could see a Fokker Dr.I closing on his patrol leader. Lt Clear angled his plane down and dived on the Fokker. The German seeing Lt Clear’s aircraft coming down on him made a sharp turn to its port side, directly towards a cloud bank. Coming round the clouds at the same time, the other way was, an Albatross D.V, and both German aircraft collided. Lt Clear was awarded the credit for both aircraft and they brought his tally up to five, making him an ace. 

First World War dogfight.... Or is it? It is one of a series of faked pictures. Would you like to know more?

Lt Clear had spent most of the war as a vehicle mechanic in Egypt, before volunteering for the Royal Flying Corp in April 1917. He was commissioned in September, and dispatched to France and 84 Squadron in October. All his career had been on SE.5a’s. His first confirmed victory was a German Observation plane in January, which he shot down in flames. By the war’s end Lt Clear would get twelve kills, with the last on the 28th of May. The following month he was pulled from combat patrols and sent to work as an instructor in the UK. He was awarded a Military Cross for his service, and the number of kills he had obtained, although the MC was awarded sometime after his 7th kill at the end of March 1918. 

Random First world War SE.5a picture.

Shortly after the end of the war Lt Clear decided to show off and flew under a bridge. As this sort of showboating was strongly discouraged in the RAF Lt Clear was duly arrested and sent for Court Martial. He promptly escaped, and found himself at RAF Shotwick, in North Wales, where he saw an SE.5a, which he promptly stole, he decided to flee to Ireland. He flew for several hours before alighting on an island, only to find he was on the Isle of Man. Upon learning of his mistake, he decided to continue to Ireland, however, before he left, he gave an impromptu aerobatics display for the locals. Halfway through the SE.5a’s engine cut out, and he crashed. 

Replica Se.5a during filming for the film Richthofen & Brown

Lt Clear survived, largely unharmed and was arrested by the authorities. He was back at his original airbase of RAF Poulton shortly afterwards. From his escape to return he had been AWOL for five days. He was Court Martialled two months later in July. He pleaded not guilty to the original charge of low flying, but did plead guilty to stealing the SE.5a. In a remarkable turn his punishment was limited to loss of seniority, and his pay being docked for the price of the SE.5a.

In September 1919 the wounds sustained during his crash caused him to drop from the active list into the RAF Reserve, where he would remain until 1935. Ill health caused him to slowly drift down the fitness scales until in 1935 he left the RAF Reserve. This was caused not only by his wounds, but also as his mental situation deteriorated. Suffering from mental problems he was eventually admitted to the Bethlem Royal Hospital where he stayed for many years. Interestingly, in 1939, while still listed as a patient housed at the hospital, he was holding down a job as a railways clerk.

During his life he married once, and had two children, although how they fit into the above story is not immediately obvious. Edwin Clear died on the 15 February 1960 at St Pancras Hospital (some sources give his death as 21st Feb in Barnet). 


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Outrageous Behaviour

 At 1030 on Saturday the 23rd of January 1909, a 17 year old office worker got out of a chauffeured car, carrying a heavy bag of money. Inside the bag was some £80, these were the wages for the factory that he was now standing outside of. He saw a worker in the factory, a huge hulking man known only as ‘Elephant’ waiting for him with another male. Then the other man pulled a gun, starting a remarkable chain of events.

A few weeks ago, I was talking about Police Hangers, in it I mentioned that the last time one was issued was at the Tottenham Outrage. The armed robbery mentioned above is the first step of the Outrage, and it’s such a remarkable story I felt it deserved its own article.
A word of note: In several places I give values in Pounds Sterling, to the modern eyes these values look tiny. To give a scale of what we’re talking about, £10 in 1909 is worth about £1,221 today. 

The Schnurmann Rubber Factory. The front gate where the car halted to let the Office boy out can be seen.


Anyway, back to the gates of the factory. The premises were the Schnurmann Rubber Factory on Chestnut Road, Tottenham. The 17 year old office boy had been sent out in the owners car to collect the weeks wages from the bank, as they always did. The two men who held up the wages upon their return to the factory were Paul Helfeld and Jacob Lepidus, a pair of Latvian Jews who were fighting for the cause of the Communists against the Tsar. Both had been in Paris previously, with Lepidus’ brother, who was a well-known terrorist. Right up until he had blown himself up with his own bomb, whilst en-route to blow up the Prime Minister of France. The French obviously took a dim view of this, and started a crackdown, so the two villains felt it wise to get outside of the French authorities reach and headed to the United Kingdom. They ended up in Scotland, then moved to London after a year. Both took employment, Helfeld at the Schnurmann Rubber Factory. Upon employment he refused to give his details and so was nicknamed Elephant due to his size.

After he had opened the gate, and the car started to drive forward, the criminals grabbed the 17-year-old and tried to separate him from the bag of money. However, the boy put up a struggle, and the chauffeur stopped the car leapt out and entered the fray. The three of them struggled, and eventually Lepidus was holding the bag triumphantly. The chauffeur then started to move towards Lepidus when Helfeld drew his pistol and fired several rounds at near point-blank range at the chauffeur. All the shots hit his coat apart from one bullet, which grazed the man’s abdomen, but he was otherwise unharmed. Startled, the chauffeur halted and the two Latvians began to flee along the road. 

Tottenham Police station. The Rubber factory would have been on the road that you can see to the left of the picture.


However, the criminals had, somehow, failed to consider one important fact. Directly opposite the Schnurmann Rubber Factory was a large building called the ‘Tottenham Police station’. Yes, the criminals had conducted a robbery directly outside the local nick. Alerted by the gunfire two constables immediately raced out of the station, unarmed, but set off in pursuit of the two perpetrators. At this time a spirited member of the public jumped Lepidus, and there was a brief wrestling match which Lepidus ended by shooting the member of the public four times, at point blank range. Two of the rounds went through the man’s cap, another missed and one glanced off his collar bone. More people joined the chase, some policemen, both on and off duty, many on foot, but some on commandeered bicycles. Only one of these officers was armed, he had borrowed a pistol from a member of the public and had little ammunition and no training. Soon the chauffer from the factory had caught up in his car, he slowed to allow one of the two original constables to board, while the other remained on foot.


Weapons recovered after the event. Top is a Browning in .32 cal, and the bottom is a Bergmann 1894 model in 6.5mm. The large picture of a male with a moustache next to the Browning's pistol grip is one of the original police constables, PC William Tyler.

Unable to outdistance the car which quickly caught up with the robbers, after several turns, on Mitchley Road, both villains turned and fired at the pursuing car. As usual they used a lot of ammunition, but this time they managed to hit and wound both the chauffer and the constable. Unfortunately, their wild fire resulted in the death of a 10 year old boy who was hit in the chest. There is some confusion on what happens next, some sources claim a 2nd car tried to run the robbers over but missed and crashed, others that the factory’s car crashed or was otherwise damaged by hits to its radiator. Either way the forces of law and order no longer had access to automobiles.

As the criminals continued to flee, the 2nd of the original constables (PC Tyler) took a short cut and ended up ahead of the pair of armed robbers. Unarmed, he approached the two Latvians and was heard to say ‘Come on; give in, the game's up.’ at which point Helfeld shot him once. The round hit the constable in the head, and he was mortally wounded.

As the pair of robbers approached the Tottenham Marshes they had to battle over a bridge in the face of a crowd, who had some armed support from a few duck hunters. However, they made it through the marshes, not without incident as they had disturbed a local football game, and the crowd and the two teams had set off in pursuit. There was a brief stand at a lock bridge, when the pursuing crowd was held at bay by a few volleys from the robbers, and one PC again borrowed a pistol from a member of the public, sneaked into a firing position, but the gun jammed and the PC was seen and injured by return fire. 

The Tram hijacked by the Criminals.

Tiring now the two robbers continued their flight, eventually hijacking a tram. Most of the passengers and the driver fled, however the conductor was taken hostage and forced to drive at gun point while the second criminal fired at pursuers from the top deck. The pursuers had also commandeered a tram, on the opposite track, and had it locked into reverse at full speed. Then another policeman appeared, mounted on a horse and buggy. The lone policeman was armed and drove the trap nimbly up to the fleeing hijacked tram and attempted to shoot the robbers. However, the rear gunner on the hijacked tram saw him coming and shot the horse, causing the buggy to overturn. The conductor warned the two robbers that the next turn would take them past another police station, so not wanting to kick over another hornets nest the two criminals abandoned the tram, and stole a milk cart by shooting the driver.

Another pair of policemen appeared in a car, and one of these officers were armed. The milk cart was moving at a glacial pace with one wheel locked. This was because Lepidus (who was driving) had forgotten to release the brake. The horse was soon exhausted from dragging the cart along, so the two robbers abandoned the milk cart. They took off on foot along the footpath of a nearby river. However, the path soon became impassable, and there was a 6ft fence locking them into a corner. Lepidus made it over the fence, but Helfeld was unable to climb. Surrounded, and about to be captured he put the gun to his head and shot himself. His accuracy was on par with the rest of the days shooting and he only injured himself, with the bullet travelling along his skull from one temple to the other. 

Oak Cottage, a name that implies something rather more grandiose today.

Lepidus managed to get inside a house called Oak Cottage, where he tried to lock the door, with a pair of children inside. However, the quick reactions of the police had one constable smash in a window and grab the children out, while three others barged through the front door. Lepidus then tried to hide in the chimney, however, was unable to fit so he bolted into a room where he tried to barricade himself. The three constables blasted their way into the room, one was using a double-barrelled shotgun, and in the hail of gunfire Lepidus managed to shoot himself in the head and died moments later. 

The bed where Lepidus shot himself. You can still see his Bergman pistol on the bed.

Helfeld remained in hospital, however his condition worsened as he contracted meningitis caused by the path of the bullet knocking bone fragments into his brain. He died 21 days after the outrage.

During the chase which had gone on for several hours, some 400 rounds of ammunition had been fired from the two robbers alone. The police and bystanders had fired more. The two robbers had caused 23 casualties, but only two were fatal. For those of you interested in treasure hunting, the bag of money was never recovered, except a small bag of silver that was found on Lepidus containing £5. 

The route of the outrage, somewhere along that route there's £75 in old coins...

The Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone, then pushed for a payment of £100 to the constable’s widow, after he had contributed £10 to it. 


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.


Image Credits & Sources:

walthamforestecho.co.uk, www.currybet.net and www.geograph.org.uk

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Boys Is Back

 Earlier in the week I found a document from Mid 1941 listing weapon and Ammunition production for British anti-tank weapons. As it included some oddities (such as the 18-pounder AP, or the 75mm SAP) I posted it up, at which point someone spotted the Boys ammunition entry.

The table:

A requirement of a whopping 11,000 guns and 9million rounds of ammunition. A requirement that was utterly missed. Well, I had some other stuff on that situation, and as I had nothing planned for today, here it is.

At the Start of 1943 Churchill starts to question why in the hell are we still producing Boys Rifle ammunition, especially when we have the PIAT. Surely we could cut production and save resources?

Nothing happens for a while, until a gentle reminder is sent out, stating it's been six weeks since the initial enquiry. Well he gets a situation update from the War Office, on the 2nd of February.

Then on the 24th of February the entire story comes out:

Yes, you are reading that right, we were producing 15 million rounds per year! Particularly perplexing when we had some 10 million rounds in stores, and were only using 2 million per year. I think in this case Churchill was right, perhaps we could stop production. Especially as we have the PIAT in service by this point.

Of course there are reports of the Boys kicking about and turning up in some odd places as a heavy Anti-material rifle, so the ammo stockpiles do make sense.


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Concrete Cows

The last couple of months have seen a handful of videos posted on YouTube about the Bison mobile pillbox. In these videos assorted commentators have laid into the Bison explaining how bad an Armoured Fighting Vehicle it was, one even suggested that it’d be ineffective against the Germans simply because they were Elite Germans. Well, I contend that the Bison was in fact an effective vehicle, in its role, and that the assorted individuals laying into it have failed to grasp what they’re looking at and are viewing it through the wrong lens. So let’s have a good rummage around into the history of the Bison, and it all starts during the First World War. 

Ambrose and Mathews


In the Great War both sides were chucking huge amounts of artillery at each other. Defensive positions need stout bunkers to resist the storm of fragments and conclusion of the shell explosions. The obvious answer was concrete, which would provide the strength needed for the field works. However, the logistics of erecting the shuttering, transporting the wet concrete and then pouring it into the shuttering, is time consuming, and would be all but impossible near the front line. The answer came from two Royal Engineers, John Goldwell Ambrose and Charles Bernard Mathews. They started working on precast concrete. This is a construction method where the concrete is poured into moulds, then when dry transported to the site for its use, where upon it can be quickly erected. In 1919 both men formed a new company called Concrete Limited. Its logo was a Bison. 

Concrete Ltd's logo, in later life after being acquired by another company and being renamed. The Bison logo however seems constant.

Fast forward to 1940, and the immediate aftermath of Dunkirk. In the intervening time the company has worked hard on developing new methods of precasting concrete, and even holds some patents on the matter. It’s not clear from the records if Ambrose is still part of the company, but Mathews is often cited as being involved in what happens next. Mathews set his company to work, and they created a prototype of a pillbox like structure on a truck. This was demonstrated to local military authorities, and some helpful advice was given about the design, which Mathews took to heart.  With the design finalised production began of a fleet of vehicles that all bore the name Bison, after the manufacturing company. 

I have my suspicion's this is actually the prototype Bison.

There seems to have been two types of Bison, although some commentators have assigned designations to the samples drawn from the pictures, it is unclear if there were any formal identification of the sub variants. It seems unlikely, as the concrete was placed on whatever vehicle was available, so each individual vehicle was different. The basic design difference was if the concrete bunker was a single unit or a split unit. In the single unit the cab was encased in its own concrete, while there was a separate bunker on the rear. The other type had a single bunker that covered both the cab and the truck bed.

The non-separated bunker version of a Bison

Production process was to take the donor vehicle, remove all the bodywork and excess weight and then erect shuttering around the areas to be concreted. Multiple layers of expanded steel were then placed inside the shuttering to help reinforce the concrete. Then the concrete was poured in. Once set, a precast roof was affixed. The donor chassis could literally be any heavy-duty truck. There are reports of a steam truck being modified, although this was done by removing the boilers and associated pipe work and leaving the chassis as a simple towed trailer.

How to use a Bison, and here is where the aforementioned commentators have gotten it wrong. It is not an Armoured Fighting Vehicle. What it is, is a mobile pillbox, and defensive position. Imagine, if you will, you are in charge of a German Fallschirmjager force. You are planning to capture a British airfield. You have airborne reconnaissance that details the locations of all the bunkers and strong points. You start your planning, detailing units to capture set objectives, maybe even using gliders in a coup de main on a particularly stubborn position. The day of the operation arrives, and you land, but all the bunkers have moved! Now the bunker you have to capture is 150 yards away across flat open ground, and there’s blistering rate of rifle fire coming from it. You have at best, an anti-tank rifle which has absolutely no effect on this behemoth. Furthermore, even if you do knock it out by some miracle, it’s several tons of wreckage, quite possibly sitting in the middle of the landing zone which you have no way of moving, and your reinforcements are about to start landing. I wonder whom will win, several tons of concrete and steel, or a JU52 ploughing into it at 100mph. The Bison is literally a movable speed bump designed to throw a spanner in the works of any plan to capture airfields. It never was intended to be an Armoured Fighting Vehicle. 

An entire heard of Bison's ready to sweep the Germans in to the sea in a stampede! These are the other, seemingly more common type of Bison, with the separate flatbed bunker. If you look on the front of all the vehicles, it clearly says the name Bison.

That said there is an entry in the war diary of the 40th Royal Tank Regiment, which lists a party collecting seven Bisons from Concrete Limited at Stourton Works in Leeds on the 5th of October 1940. It is not clear if these were for the unit’s use, or if the drivers were acting as ferry troops. It should be noted that at the time the 40th RTR owned precisely two tanks, one cruiser and a light for training purposes. The use of Bison to allow crews experience of driving heavy vehicles was not a bad one. What happened next to those seven Bison is not recorded, but they were not shipped out with the unit, and are never mentioned in the war diary again.

The vast majority of Bison’s would have served during the invasion scare at assorted locations, most likely airfields. Their fate is largely not recorded, and then simply disappear. We do, however, have enough detail to piece together, in part at least, the story of one Bison. 

A pair of Bisons? This picture was taken at RAF Speke.

In Lincolnshire, about eleven miles southeast from Lincoln is RAF Digby. A Bison was fitted to a 1915 Leyland box van. This van was originally owned and used as a furniture removals van by a company in Sleaford, before being enlisted and going off to get its concrete uniform. She was then posted to the RAF airfield, not too far from her home.  As the war progressed the need for local defence diminished, and the Army Transport Corps were detailed to remove it to a site in Yorkshire for long term storage. However, like many Bison’s the sheer weight of the conversion had all but wrecked the automotive parts. Interestingly, as the van had solid rubber tyres, they would have held up quite well. As the hulk could not be moved any great distance, it was dragged to the A15 road, where it served as a bunker to cover the road block the Home Guard had set up there.  On the 3rd of December 1944 the Home Guard were stood down. Again, the Bison was unwanted, and simply shoved into a copse of trees at Quarington Lane End, where she was abandoned. Over the following years she was slowly stripped of parts and vandalised. Eventually she found a new lease of life as the chassis, shed of the concrete burden, was used as a farm trailer. The concrete additions were left dumped in the copse, and children were often found playing on the remains. In early 1991 the remains were recovered by two local historical preservation societies, and the concrete parts are now resting at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre. 


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.


Image Credits & Sources:

www.warwheels.net and www.forterra.co.uk

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Now That's Riot Control

 Recently I've been volunteering with a local Police museum. This has gotten me interested in some of the early policing stuff, so today I'm going to have a look at something that is always a controversial subject, arming the Police. Of course, we'll be doing it in a historical style, and there's some interesting turns, like the attempt to make the existing technology less lethal and improve safety.

The first UK Police forces were formed in the final years of the 18th century, their jurisdiction was the Thames River, and were in part privately funded. From the start, these forces were armed with swords to help protect the shipping trade.

In the 1820s when the land-based Police were formed swords were provided. These were similar to the later swords but had a squared-off hilt. You will see these swords termed either ‘cutlasses’ or ‘hangers’, both names mean the same thing, but cutlass is used for this type of sword in a maritime sense and hanger on land. 

Police in Bristol in 1877 practising their sword drill. Note the several individuals out of uniform? I suspect these may be Special Constables, who were members of the local population recruited as needed, a bit like the sheriff deputising people in the Wild West.

 The hangers were only to be issued when two Justices agreed they should be, mainly for the protection of the constable. The Cutlass could only be worn at night, or when serious civil unrest was expected, although Specials were not allowed to be armed with them.

One such example is the story of Parish Constable James Beech in Staffordshire. On the evening of Thursday, the 4th of August 1843, Constable Beech arrived at the house of John Vaughan, the gamekeeper for Apedale Hall. About 2230 Vaughan and Beech left to patrol the grounds looking for Poachers. About 0200 the next morning a pair of servants at the hall were woken by a voice yelling ‘Murder!’. Upon investigation, they found Vaughan, collapsed in a road and covered with blood. Loading him into a chair they carried him to his house and a surgeon was summoned. Others were woken and a search was carried out for Constable Beech. His was found at the site of the attack, along with the stock of a firearm and its gun-lock. Although the best efforts of the surgeon were applied, Constable Beech was dead, he had been stabbed with his own cutlass. Three men were arrested, including one who had offered threats of violence to Vaughan previously. Two of these men, Benjamin Spilsbury and James Oakes, would be convicted of Wilful Murder, and thus were either hanged, or more likely transported to Australia.


Close up of the safety, on a partially drawn hanger.the button on the hilt is pushed by your thumb. It is attached to the bar of metal that turns into a hook. When the sword is fully in the scabbard, the hook (or maybe latch?) is tucked under the brass end piece of the scabbard, and held there by the spring. To draw the sword you use your right hand to grab the handle, then use your right thumb to press the button which withdraws the latch allowing you to draw freely.

Because of similar incidents happening to constables, and prison wardens who were also equipped with the same style of hanger, a new pattern was brought out around the 1860s. This had a safety catch that locked the hanger into the scabbard and could be released by pressing a spring-loaded button with the thumb on your right hand. The sword was worn on the left-hand side, which meant that the button faced into the constable’s body giving it an increased layer of protection against being drawn by an assailant.


Some of the museums swords. The top one is the standard Police hanger, with the blade similar to the one dating back to the 1820's. You can clearly see how they reduce in length but increase in curve. Equally, I think the latest one has a steel, not brass, hand guard, which would presumably be to make it cheaper.

The interesting thing about the Police hangers is that they are said to be unsharpened. Most swords are mechanically sharpened after manufacture. However, the Police hangers are said to have not been. This, in turn, means they would be less lethal than a normal sword. As you can see from the examples on display there are several different patterns, that become shorter and more curved. This may be down to the increasing curve being better for slashing. Slashing wounds could be considered to be less lethal than stabbing ones. Thus, by increasing the curve of the sword you obtain more effective slashing attacks, but do not increase the lethality of stabbing ones, which are consequently harder to do.


The last recorded use of a Police hanger was during the Tottenham Outrage of 1909, when during the hue and cry against the two armed robbers and the running gunfight and tram/car/foot/cart chase between the Police and offenders. Police hangers were issued, although not used due to the presence of the large number of firearms.



Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.


Image Credits & Sources:

For a bit more on Police hangers see this website.


Sunday, July 25, 2021

Intelegence Files

 We're going to have a quick one today, straight from the archives.

A few years ago I got hold of an intelligence assessment on captured Soviet and Chinese equipment from the National Archives. This written after a team from the UK toured South Vietnam looking at all the shiny kit that had been captured from the NVA and Chinese. This team evaluated every aspect of the captured equipment, even measuring armour hardness.

They studied a T-54, Type 59 and T-54(M), as well as a light tanks, M1967 APC's and several other guns. In interests of keeping this manageable, I've uploaded only the tanks segment, which covers the three MBT's. Even this 'brief' segment is about 65 pages long, and includes plenty of pictures of the crew positions and the like. So I have put it into a zip file, which can be downloaded here.

As well as the above picture that came from the file (there are others), here's some samples:

Anyway, I hope that's of interest/use to someone. Next week I have something a little different planned, I just need to get down to a museum to get some pictures, which I'll do on Tuesday hopefully.


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Historical Duxford

Waaay back in 2014 I visited Duxford and took some pictures, I figured that those would make a nice quick article. 

Note: This was back before IWM Lambeth got trashed in its 'reimagining', and a lot of the cool exhibits got moved to Duxford. I mean what do I know about museums, silly me I'd have loads of exhibits that you can get up close too, but apparently I'm wrong and what the public want is for you to remove a floor, and replace it with five exhibits. A V-2, a press 4x4, the remains of an IED, the Nery Gun and tucked away at the back a T-34, hidden behind the stairs almost like its an embarrassment. Espcially when you compare the current IWM to what it used to be like.

Here's the old one:

To the right of the camera are loads of tanks and the guns etc. and here's the modern one:

The good news is that with all the exhibits being shuffled off to Duxford the modern Duxford is vastly more exciting and excellent. Anyway, enough of my ramblings...

One of the better parts was the land warfare hall. They've got a nice battle scene, with some good little twists.

The T-34 is depicted as part of a convoy driving along a road. The road heads between several ruined houses, and disappears down the street, depicted by a giant Street fighting picture on the far wall. The T-34 commander is pointing to a wrecked house off to the side, when you get round to the other side of the house you see that there's a German soldier pressed up against the wall getting ready to ambush the convoy. Another little one which very few people notice is the building behind the T-34 in that picture, if you look at the upstairs window there's a German with a Panzerfaust.

Elsewhere in the museum, and utterly unacknowledged by most is Coastal Motor Boat 4:

I try to point this out to everyone who visits simply because of this story. It's a VC winner like the Nery gun, but its hardly ever mentioned.

Elsewhere we also have this interesting vehicle:

Again, it's often overlooked. most people just assume it's some kind of command vehicle and ignore it, but it's much more interesting than that. It's a SPR-1, which is a GT-MU carrier adapted to carry jamming equipment. Once while watching it drive around the arena at Duxford the commentator suggested it could be used to trigger fuses in some artillery rounds as they were fired overhead.

Some of the other exhibits on display back then:

This Sherman is also something we've visited before.

Anyway, next week we have something a bit different.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Liberating a U-boat

 On the 7th of July, 1943, U-468 slipped out of the U-boat pens at La Pallice, and departed on her third patrol. Morale amongst the crew was particularly low. Over recent weeks the crew had heard of repeated losses and very few boats returning from patrol. To the extent the crews were beginning to call the submarine arm ‘Totenkommando’ or ‘Hundsmord’, which translates to ‘suicide squadron’ and ‘dog's death’. In addition, the crew of U-468 had been experiencing bad luck on their previous patrols.

U-468 at sea.

Her first patrol had seemed to start off well, until she was subjected to a heavy depth charge attack that kept her submerged for a prolonged time, and her stern became too heavy taking on a downwards angle while at a depth of about 190m. She eventually resurfaced and found a British tanker called SS Empire Light that had been previously damaged by another U-boat’s torpedo. The SS Empire Light had become separated and would seem to have been easy prey for the U-468, however, it still took some five torpedoes to score a hit on the tanker. The Empire Light’s crew then abandoned ship. After a while as the ship had not sunk the crew prepared to re-board, resulting in the U-468 firing a sixth and final torpedo, which sent the Empire Light to the bottom. After the U-468 returned to base the crew were not given a full leave period, with just thirteen days between arrival and departure. The next patrol was even worse. Spotted early on by Allied aircraft the U-468 was subjected to a severe hunt by surface and air units that forced her to spend about a day and a half submerged whilst the aircraft and later a destroyer prosecuted the hunt for her. She finally managed to escape but had suffered some damage and thus returned to base for repairs.

Now, U-468 was departing on her third patrol. The captain had been drilling her crew extensively in AA work, however, to avoid having to test out his crew’s skills the captain took the boat down the coast of France and Spain to avoid crossing the Bay of Biscay, which was rapidly becoming a killing zone for the Allied anti-submarine efforts.

By the 11th of August U-468 was off the coast of Dakar, so far, the patrol had been quiet, only one small steamer had been found. As it was brightly lit, the crew had exchanged challenges with her, only to find that she was a Swiss ship and thus neutral. 

B-24 from 220 Squadron

At about 0945 U-468 was travelling on the surface when a B-24 Liberator was sighted at 6,000 yards. This was from No. 200 Squadron from the RAF and was flown by the New Zealand pilot Flying Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg. The Liberator was manoeuvring to set up its attack run. By this stage in the war the U-boat crews knew that it was better to try and fight the enemy aircraft, than to dive and try to hide. So, the two single barrelled 20mm’s on the U-boat began to fire. Astoundingly the accurate 20mm fire scored a hit, and the rear of the plane became a fireball enveloping the tail entirely. Instead of breaking off F/O Trigg continued to press home his attack. With no deflection the German gunners could hardly miss. Battered by 20mm, soon the Liberator entered range of the two MG81 machine guns also mounted on the conning tower, and these joined in the hammering of the Liberator. Tracer from the gunfire was seen to punch through the Liberator and carry on, all the while the fire continued to rage and spread. 

F/O Trigg

F/O Trigg’s attack run was from the port side of U-468, and it was perfectly flown, with the Liberator crossing just aft of the conning tower, at a height of 50ft. The German gunners could see their rounds bursting in the Liberators gaping bomb bay, in which several depth charges hung. As the Liberator soared over, she released a string of six depth charges. Two of these charges landed within 6ft of the U-boat, bracketing her. In the spray of water exploding the Captain of the U-boat lost sight of the Liberator, spinning around he saw the fireball slam into the water a short distance away, at which point a loud explosion occurred. There were no survivors from the Liberators crew.

Onboard U-468 the shockwaves had caused devastation. Most of the machinery was ripped from its mountings. There were several serious water leaks and U-468 was settling in the water. The radio was utterly destroyed, and one of the fuel tanks had split flooding some 65 gallons of diesel into the submarine. The rear torpedo tube had fractured and a 2in wide stream of water was flooding in, but worse was to come. Water was entering the battery compartment, which caused a cloud of chlorine to fill the submarine. Choking men tried to evacuate but the damage and the gas meant it was difficult, if not impossible. U-468 sunk in about ten minutes.

Just under half the crew, some 20 men, managed to jump overboard, many were likely gun crews, but some were suffering chlorine poisoning as they had tried and failed to get their lifebelts. As the men thrashed in the sea most were taken by drowning, sharks and barracuda. After half-an-hour one of the few survivors found a dinghy that had been thrown clear of the F/O Trigg’s aircraft when it exploded. Remarkably this was unpunctured, and still had its inflation bottle attached. After triggering the bottle some seven survivors were able to clamber onto the life raft.

Later in the day a Sunderland appeared in the skies above the life raft and dropped a supply canister to the survivors. The next day HMS Clarkia arrived at the location after being directed to them by Allied air and rescued the Germans. 

U-boat POW's being landed, including the crew of U-468.

The U-boat captain recommended that F/O Trigg be decorated. Based solely on the testimony of the seven German survivors F/O Trigg was awarded the Victoria Cross. This is the only time in the history of the VC that it was awarded based only on the account of the enemies. Some of you might be thinking what about Lt-Cmdr Roope (HMS Glowworm) or Sgt Durrant (St Nazaire raid). Both of those actions were recommended by German personnel, but there were surviving Allied witnesses to support the German recommendation. In F/O Trigg's case there were no Allied witness.


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Image Credits & Sources:

Full transcript of U-468's crew interrogation can be found here.