Purpose of this blog

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

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Bombs Gone

 In the darkness of the very early morning of the 24th of January 1961, the crew of the USAF KC-135 Stratotanker peered astern of their aircraft. Below them was a B-52G being flown by Major Walter Scott Tulloch. This particular B-52 was part of Operation Coverall. The operation was to test the logistics of keeping a large number of bombers airborne as part of the nuclear alert system. Maj. Tulloch’s plane had launched, with three pilots on board, in the early morning of the previous day. 


The B-52 slipped into position below the KC-135. In the belly of the tanker the boom operator began to guide the refuelling arm towards the opening on the B-52’s roof to top up her tanks. At that point the boom operator noticed a streak of liquid flowing back from the B-52’s right wing. Maj. Tulloch’s plane was directed out over the coast, and into a holding pattern. It was to await there until most of the fuel had leaked out. This would reduce the risk of fire during the emergency landing.  

A short while after reaching the holding pattern it was noticed that the leak was worsening, and the B-52 was ordered to land immediately. Maj. Tulloch set his course for his home base of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and started to descend. The B-52G was heavily modified from the original design, with the aim to extend the range. This meant that the wings now contained fuel tanks. The addition of the fuel tanks meant that the wing suffered 60% more stress than earlier models. This meant that there was more wing fatigue. At 10,000ft on the approach the pilots lost control as the aircraft became unstable. After attempting to regain control Maj. Tulloch ordered the crew to bail out, which happened about 1,000ft lower. Of the eight-man crew, six bailed out successfully, and two died in the subsequent crash. One of the five that got out of the aircraft was killed on landing in his parachute. As the plane fell the right wing collapsed completely, and the plane began to spin as it broke up. About 10-12 seconds after the crew bailed the plane impacted the ground in a large fireball.  

In those fateful seconds as the plane disintegrated while spinning two objects were ejected. These were its payload of two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs. The first weapon was soon discovered, as its parachute had deployed, and it had drifted to ground like it should have done. The parachute had caught in a tree and kept it upright and easy to identify. The other bomb’s parachute had failed to deploy, and it had hurtled down and smashed into the soft ground, digging itself 18ft into the ground. 

The first bomb discovered.

Lieutenant Jack ReVelle and nine other technicians were called in in a hurry to defuse the bombs. The speed with which they were deployed was signified by the fact that at least for the first day or so no rations had been laid on. At the first bomb they found that of the four safeties on the bomb to prevent detonation three had trigged, and it was only the fact that the arm safe switch had not been set that meant the bomb had failed to detonate. In reality, two of the safeties would have been expected to fail, as the act of being dropped from a bomber meant there was a very similar profile to falling from a bomber, that was breaking up. Equally, the fourth safety did not work in the air. However, the bomb was still largely intact and had not detonated, and so attention turned to the hole where the second bomb had fallen. 

The second bomb, in the pit dug around it.

Battling snow, rain freezing temperatures and a high ground water level the USAF technicians dug a pit to the bomb. After days of searching they found the arm safe switch. Lt ReVelle let out a sigh of relief at the news they had found the switch. That was until the man who had found it said the switch was armed. Indeed, as before, all the three other safeties were also armed. The bomb should have gone off. The bomb, by any measure should have detonated, shattering the area with its 3.8 megaton blast. There was still a risk that could happen, as no-one knew why the bomb had failed to detonate. The bomb was dragged out of the pit and the crews worked to remove the ninety-two detonators that would start the detonation by compressing the nuclear core. Once this was done the wreckage was recovered. However, some parts of the bomb, including radiological elements were still lost and presumed still buried at the site.

Unsurprisingly this incident caused quite some considerable concern in the US government and the USAF and prompted several reviews and overalls of both weapon safety and arming and the B-52G. For example, 1964 the B-52G was modified with strengthened wings. Oddly, a part of the concern was the fact the bomb should have gone off but failed. The concern being that if the US was dropping dud bombs on Soviet targets the sites would not be blown up. The Mark 39 was withdrawn from service in 1966, presumably being replaced by more reliable (and safe) weapons. 


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, November 29, 2020

Vickers Lifting

 On the 1st of July 1942 the first battle of El Alamein started. This was the moment when the 8th Army had to stop the Afrika Korp and their Italian allies from entering Egypt.  Over the next five days the Axis powers relentlessly attacked and were fought to a standstill. Early on the morning of the 10th the Australians launched a massive surprise attack on Tel el Eisa, which translates as Hill Of Jesus.  

Tel el Eisa.

Defending Tel el Eisa were the Italian Sabratha Division. On the morning of the 10th, at 0330 the Allies rolled out one of their huge bombardments. The Italian forces were raw recruits. The massive bombardment followed with an assault by the veteran Australians was only going to end one way. By about mid-day the Australians had captured 1,500 PoW and around 300 artillery pieces. More critically, the sudden collapse of the Italians had allowed to the Australians to overrun and capture a German electronic warfare unit. This was Signals Intercept Company 621 and was the Axis’ forces only such formation. At a stroke Rommel had lost every piece of electronic intelligence. So far in the war it had proven rather critical in forewarning the Axis forces of impending disasters, allowing them to mount a defence. Now it was gone. 

Tel el Eisa is now the location of the Italian North African war memorial.

With the hill in Australian hands they began to dig in as best they could, bringing up support weapons, such as their machine gun battalion, and prepared for the inevitable counterattack. In the afternoon the 15th Panzer Division and Italian Trieste Division mounted massed armour attacks on the Australians.

One soldier lying in his shallow slit trench watched as sixteen tanks approached. His name was Sergeant H Cockram, a garage owner from Eugowra in Australia. One of the attacking tanks ran over his slit trench, its track entering into the lip of the trench. By sheer luck, despite being fully under the tread only his water bottle and bayonet on his webbing were mangled. As the tank passed, Sgt Cockram leapt up and struck at the tank with a sticky grenade, only for the tank to drive away before he could pull the pin.

Elsewhere Sgt Augustus William Longhurst was manning his Vickers machine gun. Sgt Longhurst was from Parramatta and a former footballer. Earlier in the day he had chased a tank for 50 yards with a sticky grenade, before returning to his gun as the tank had gotten away. Now, with the mass of Axis armour approaching he had another chance. In the midst of the raging battle he noticed one particular tank causing considerable damage as it stood off and machine gunned an infantry position. Seeing he was on its blind side he grabbed another sticky grenade and charged. He successfully managed to catch the tank this time and the reports all agree that he hit the tank with it. What they mean by hitting the tank is up for debate. A sticky grenade needed to be smashed into the target tanks upper surfaces, then the pin pulled. At which point the soldier would have some five seconds to drop flat to avoid the explosion. When done right this was enough to crack a Tiger tanks roof armour.  

 Here we see how not to use a Sticky Bomb. The US soldier towards the end of the video throws the grenade. Even if it had stuck it would not have broken the armour.

It maybe that Sgt Longhurst threw the grenade, or he smashed the grenade on the side, or some other ineffective area as the tank was able to continue fighting for a short period.  

The Australians after capturing the position had also brought up a large number of anti-tank weapons, and got their supporting artillery sited ready for the counterattack. The tanks around Sgt Longhurst’s position were being smashed in rapid succession by these anti-tank guns. The Vickers machine guns from the MG battalion were taking a toll on the crews as they escaped. The tank Sgt Longhurst had attacked was suddenly under fire from an anti-tank gun, and it knocked a track off, which caused the Axis crew to bail out. Sgt Longhurst was, by now, back at his gun. He attempted to swing his Vickers gun about, but found the crew masked by a slight rise as they ran. Sgt Longhurst then reached down, and grasped the gun, with its tripod still attached, and lifted. All told this would have weighed in the order of 100lbs. He called upon one of the gun crew, a Private Selmes, to operate the trigger. While the Private held the trigger down Sgt Longhurst directed the bucking gun like a fire-hose and brought the fleeing crew under fire. The rounds were not accurate, but the spray of bullets landing around them caused the crew to surrender. 

 For his actions Sgt Longhurst was awarded the Military Medal. Maybe the authorities were waiting for him to return after the war, but it appears for some reason he was not presented with the decoration itself.  Sgt Longhurst would survive the North African desert, however, in April 1945 he was killed in action on Bougainville Island facing the Japanese. His medal was presented to his wife just after the war, possibly in 1947. 


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.


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