Purpose of this blog

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

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!

 Want to get your name in print? See the following link for how:


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:

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Eyes have It

Thanks to Ed Francis for helping me on this one.

Often British tanks will sport a pair of eyes painted on them. This tradition is done so the tank may see where it is going, and its enemies, in addition it will help ward off evil spirits. Invariably these eyes are of female shape, as in the British language tanks are female (Stan, take note!). One might ask where this tradition came from. 

There is a story that a prominent and very successful Chinese business man named Eu Tong Sen bought a Mk.IV male for the British war effort, paying a sum of £6,000 for it. This was presented to the British Army and as part of the propaganda value, it was suggested that the tank be given a pair of Chinese eyes. There was considerable lethargy to this idea and by the time permission had been granted the tank had already been shipped to France. However it is suggested that this happened later on in the Mk.IV's life, and the Chinese eyes have another source.
The explanation is that the eyes were painted on by members of the Chinese Labour Corps. These were Chinese men recruited to act as labourers behind the lines in France. This would free up British nationals to fight in the trenches. At the time this scheme was drawn up China was neutral.
Despite being behind the lines they were still within range of the Germans and often subjected to air raids and long-range artillery fire; some 2,000 CLC members were killed in France.
CLC members at work
There were other hostile feelings directed towards the men of the CLC. The British trade unions lobbied the Government and first prevented the CLC from being introduced to mainland UK, and then prevented those in France from taking up skilled trades. The Government bowed to this pressure, lest the trade unions call for strikes and generally disrupt the war effort, which they had the power to do at the time. This was something they would do in the opening years of the Second World War, when the unions tried to disrupt the war effort against Germany because Hitler was allied to Stalin, and Stalin was such a nice person who cared about the working man.
Luckily the Royal Tank Corps was much more progressive than the Trade Unions, and happily employed CLC members in skilled trades such as mechanics and riveters.
CLC members repairing a British tank.

So there you have it. Why British tanks are female, and why they can see you!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

What is in a Name?

Creating a code name for a project is tricky. You want something that is easy to remember but doesn't give away what the project is. On a few occasions during the Second World War British Intelligence had a code name of a German project and managed to work out roughly what the project was. Such a case was the German Y-Gerät, also known by the code name Wotan. This was a device to guide bombers onto targets at night, a single beam was sent out, and then when a Luftwaffe bomber picked up the beam a frequency modulator received the signal and immediately sent it back to a ground station. This enabled the ground station to calculate the distance the bomber was from the transmitter. If you know the radio beam's direction and know the distance the bomber is along the beam you can pretty accurately guide the bomber to the target.
The British learnt of the new project and obtained the name Wotan from signal intercepts. Asking German literature specialists, they discovered that Wotan was a one-eyed god from mythology. From this and the context of the messages they deduced the nature of the device, i.e. a single beam radio direction system for night bombing. Other spying efforts had provided the work by German scientists which could be applied to this system and so Britain developed a counter measure before the system was even in use.
Alexandria Palace
The counter measure was to intercept the signal with a British aircraft, and then forward it to Alexandria Palace, where a disused and very powerful BBC radio transmitter was residing. This, by sheer luck, used exactly the same frequency as Wotan.

On the first night Wotan was used Alexandria Palace began to transmit. This was done at a low signal power so that the Germans would not realise they were being toyed with. The signal from the German aircraft merged with the Alexandria Palace signal, which significantly changed the signal and introduced a massive error in the output of the ground station’s calculations. This threw the bombers wildly off course and caused considerable arguments between the ground station and the Luftwaffe, each blaming the other for the errors. Each night the power of Alexandria Palace was increased until it utterly blanketed the Wotan system. At this point the Germans realised it had failed and retired the device.

To avoid incidents like the above happening to them, the British Ministry of Supply who were responsible for procurement of new projects decided upon a codenaming system that couldn't be guessed at. The name was a randomly selected colour followed by a noun. These codenames were called Rainbow Codes. Two such examples include items like Green Mace and Blue Peacock.
Green Mace
Green Mace was a 5" water cooled, drum fed AA gun that could be aimed and fired by one man. Loading from twin drums the weapon had a rate of fire of around 96 rounds per minute!
Blue Peacock, without chickens.
Blue Peacock on the other hand was 10 kiloton nuclear mine that could be pre-placed in strategic locations in Germany and then switched on just before retreating in the face of the invading Russian Army. Some eight days later the mine would explode.
Of course, one problem was the weather. It can get cold in Germany during the winter, and the cold would seep into the mine and break the electronics. Thus, the British decided to include a selection of live chickens in the bomb casing. These would be sealed inside with enough food and water for a week, their body heat would keep the bomb warm enough to function.

A great number of Rainbow Codes existed, and new ones are being discovered all the time. Just the other day a friend of mine, Ed Francis, pointed me at a new codename I'd never heard of before, this one was called Red Planet.

Red Planet was a project to develop an infantry anti-tank weapon. The requirements for it were to enable the weapon to destroy or render inoperable a tank armoured with 152mm sloped at 64 degrees. It needed to be able to achieve a 75% hit chance against a stationary 7.5-inch square target at 500 yards, with a rate of fire of ten aimed rounds per minute. Maximum weight for the launcher was to be 25lbs, with a launcher and three rounds coming in at a maximum of 60lbs.
When work began in December 1949 the perceived outlook was entirely negative, as the requirements were considered too technically demanding. Initial work was carried out with a 5" warhead, however after two years this was abandoned in favour of a 4.5" warhead. 
The Red Planet Rocket
Part of the discussions over the calibre of the warhead were down to trials held in the spring of 1951. Here a competing design called Red Biddy was seen as more viable at 5" calibre. Thus, it was decided later that year to keep working on a 4.5" Red Planet in case the Red Biddy project failed. This lasted until 1953 when the financial situation in the UK meant that only one platoon level rocket solution could be pursued and Red Biddy was selected as the preferred option.
Several fuses were tested, the most advanced of these was one which was an electrical crush fuse. The electrical power was provided by a condenser which was hooked in to the firing circuit, and when the system was charged by hand the condenser would store the power.
Cross section of the warhead

The final weapon had a five foot long launcher and a good chance of hitting the target at 300 yards. In part this was down to the speed of the rocket which was around 600 fps. Penetration could be as high as 17" depending on fuse type, although the crush fuse mentioned above only had penetration of 15.7". Penetration of the required target was achieved with about 3" overmatch.

From 1953 to 1955 several smaller trials were held on the launcher, until in 1956 a trial was held where some 220 rounds were fired, five each at varying temperatures and ranges, with the maximum range being 300 yards. After this trial two of the observers used the launcher on the shoulder to fire 19 rounds. It was found that ear buds were needed to avoid ringing in the ears after the shots.
This launching rig was used to test the recoil of the launcher. You can at least see the tube (with rocket in it) and so gain an idea what the launcher would have looked like.
Here we had a weapon system that meet the requirements, and was entirely viable, but what happened to it? Well, in keeping with the traditions of British weapon development, we wound the project up and forgot all about it.

Ed Francis sent me a picture of another Rainbow Code missile, he said it was codenamed Pink Hippo.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

At the War's End

At 0900 on the 19th of April 1945 the Chief of Leipzig's fire department scrambled through the rubble of his home city. To either side crouched men and soldiers of the Volkssturm and the remnants of the German armed forces, clutching at their weapons. In total the defenders consisted of just over 1000 fighting men. The core was the 107th Infantry Regiment, strengthened by Luftwaffe flak units, the usual grab bag of German remnants and some Volkssturm. There was a force of about 3,000 police, however the commander of the police forces had been desperately trying to surrender the city to prevent its destruction. He especially objected to the use of Volkssturm, describing their deployment as tantamount to murder.
For the last few days the city had been cut off, and for the last 24 hours the US Army had been assaulting the city. Through determination and fierce fighting the Americans had been held from the town's centre and its town hall.
Now the Chief of the fire department carried a dire warning to the remains of the government. He had been sent by the Americans demanding a surrender. If the defenders refused to give up in the specified time period of 20 minutes, then they would be obliterated by massed artillery, which would be followed up by a division strength assault, with attached flame throwers. Realizing it was over, that the ill-supplied exhausted men could not hold the Americans out the remains of the city government surrendered. In the next few minutes while the word of the surrender was carried to the assaulting forces, many of the officials took their own lives, some accompanied by their families.
Col Poncet
The city’s military commander, Colonel Hans von Poncet, however decided to fight on. He along with around 150 men, with enough food and supplies for several weeks, had dug themselves into the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. This was the monument to the Battle of the Nations, where in 1813 an alliance of states had stood up to the French Dictator Napoleon, and defeated him, hastening his fall from power. The battle was fought between some 650,00 men over several weeks. The Völkerschlachtdenkmal was built from thick granite slabs, and resembled nothing so much as a bunker.
The Völkerschlachtdenkmal
Initially the US tried to blast Col. Poncet and his soldiers out with 8" artillery. These shells had almost no effect on the massive granite construction, with some shells being described as 'bouncing off'. The scale of destruction open to the US forces were further limited by the presence of seventeen POW's captured earlier in a failed armoured push the day before. A long siege and bloody fighting were on the cards at this German last stand.
Then a young Captain stepped forward. His name was Hans Trefousse. Born in Frankfurt in 1921 he had moved to the US in 1936. He was serving as an integrator and translator in the US Army. He asked permission to try to negotiate the positions surrender.
At 1500 Cpt Trefousse, a German POW with a white flag and the battalion’s executive officer approached the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. Outside of the monuments gift shop they met with three German officers, including Col Poncet.

There's no chance to win. The war is lost. It's wise to give up now and save men."
"I have orders from the Fuhrer in person never to surrender." was the reply.

While the negotiations continued Col Poncet did agree to a cease fire to allow US forces to recover any wounded in the area.
After two hours the negotiating team had managed to convince Col Poncet to continue the talking inside the monument and the group moved inside.

In the early hours of the 20th Cpt Trefousse passed a message onto Col Poncet, that if he exited the monument then he would be allowed to surrender. If his men follow, one at a time, they too would be taken prisoner. Col Poncet agreed, and at 0200 exited the Völkerschlachtdenkmal.
A US soldier standing inside the Völkerschlachtdenkmal
However there was a problem, the message had been miscommunicated, and the offer had only applied to Col Poncet, not the rest of his force. If they surrendered, they were to be held temporarily inside the monument. Cpt Trefousse attempted to negotiate the change to these terms of surrender, however one man insisted on the original deal. To sweeten the deal Cpt Trefousse offered 48 hours leave to the officers should they accept. The reluctant soldier still insisted and was allowed to exit as a captive. Some fifteen officers were smuggled out of the monument for their promised leave period, and two days later all returned, apart from one who sent an apologetic note explaining the cause of his absence.

Image Credits:
warfarehistorynetwork.com and english.leipzig.de

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Forgotten Tanks Supplement

 Edit: I've just been informed that there is some question to the first part of this article, that the tank was a demonstration piece of stupid ideas from Europe. In which case that throws the whole premise I make into question. Although the translation suggests that it is Propaganda to deride Europeans, which in turn could mean that they based the piece of their own design but scaled up, in which case the idea I present would be accurate.
The counter claim is made here, by Aizenns.

Now you see the problems with research and history! But to be fair, this area is rather more of a mess of myth and half facts than any German Panzer46 stuff!

With my book out this week I felt it was a good idea to include something that came to light too late to include in the book. In the book I make the case that the Type 97 Heavy Tank entered service to some limited degree. The only bit of evidence we lack is unfortunately the clinching proof,  a photograph.
Well between my book being finalised and its release the following two pictures were found by Seon Eun Ae. The captions say they are of a 100 ton heavy tank at a armaments exposition in 1941.

Obviously they are not the most clear pictures. But I contend enough detail is visible to say these are the Type 97 Heavy Tank, or more accurately an upscaled model of the Type 97 used as a demonstration piece.

For those who have not seen the Type 97 I will use one of the sketches my artist drew when mocking out the full piece of artwork we used in the book. It came from the original Japanese plans, if you're curious about the source. If you want to see the final product, you can buy it my book here (Kindle version will be along in about a month due to problems during conversion).

Look at the first picture, the clearer one from the rear. A spoked idler wheel, large box suspension covers, cylindrical turret and an box exhaust on the roof of the rear hull. All match up perfectly with what can be on the Type 97 Heavy Tank. Equally when we look at the front view the hull plates are roughly the same position, and there;s even a machine gun visible in the correct location. As this image is  bit harder to comprehend what I'm talking about I threw this together.
The colours match up on both sides. So Red is glacis plate, Green is the drivers position and blue the machine gun.
There is one obvious difference, between the glacis plate and the drivers hood there would be a section of roof, which is missing from the sketch. This I feel is slightly minor when you compare everything else. Also take into account the differences between a mock up or model and an actual vehicle. Equally, as we're about to see plans do change between actual produced vehicle and the drawings I found.

The other thing I am happy to report about my book, it appears to have answered a question. My Thanks to Hunter12396 over at Tanks Encyclopedia for pointing this out to me. Here we have a mysterious Japanese light amphibious tank at the Kokopo War Museum in Papua New Guinea.

There's even some shots of it during testing:
No one knew anything about the tank, apart from a designation of 'Type 94 prototype' until my book came out. In it one of the mystery tanks, that were detailed in the UK archives, was a Kawasaki Type 94 amphibious tank. This bares more than a passing resemblance to this tank, however there are differences in the lay out of the superstructure and some slight differences in the pontoons.
On the above picture you can see the drivers position is offset to the right. On the plans the position is more central and slightly more sloped. The Pontoons are thinner as well, although this might be an artefact of the faded plans. I would suggest we're in fact looking at different stages of development. With the plans coming first, however when the prototype was built it was modified to the configuration you see above due to technical reasons.