Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Fly Bite

Early in the day, on the 25th of March 1944, Flying Officer Douglas Jackson Turner and his co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Des Curtis were sitting in the cockpit of their Mosquito Tsetse, on the runway of RAF Predannack. Over the preceding three weeks they had been involved in multiple gun fights with shipping in the Bay of Biscay. Mostly these had involved gun battles with surfaced U-boats and their escorts. At this time the Germans were having difficulty getting U-boats into the Atlantic, so they had started escorting U-boats with light warships brimmed with AA weapons to try and discourage Allied air power. 

F/O Turner had been born in Wellingborough and worked as a constable in Essex Constabulary before the war, before joining the RAF in 1941. FLt Curtis was a Bank Clerk from Caterham, until he too had joined the RAF in 1941, when he turned 18.

At 0905 F/O Turner revved his engines and hurtled along the runway. Once he had enough speed, he stayed on the runway aiming for a group of Irish labours who were working on extending the runway. At the last moment as they dived out of the way of the speeding Mosquito F/O Turner pulled up. There was a long-standing disagreement between the RAF personnel and the labourers. The workmen were getting paid danger money to work on the runway and were thus getting paid more than the aircrew who were flying out to be shot at. F/O Turner linked up with five further Mosquito’s, one of which was a Tsetse.

The flight loitered along at just 40ft above the sea. Their mission was to find and attack another U-boat. Radio intelligence had detected a U-boat launching, and this information had been passed to the RAF who sent the strike package out to sink it before it got away. By doing this the British knew roughly where the U-boat would be and could intercept it. 

As the flight entered the search area, they climbed up to 1,500 feet, having avoided the German radar. They spotted the U-boat, turned and began to dive. As they screamed down on the gaggle of ships, a U-boat and two minesweepers, the German craft put up a hail of gunfire. One of the escorting Mosquito’s hosed down the submarine silencing the AA guns. F/O Turner lined up his Molins 6-pounder and began to fire. The heavyweight weapon managed to fire and cycle five times during the dive hurling out armour piercing rounds. The Tsetse soared over the U-boat at about 300ft, chased by AA fire from the minesweepers. The flight of Mosquito’s hurtled away all undamaged and returned to base. 

U-976, which had been the target of the attack was not so lucky. F/O Turner had aimed his shots at the sea, just beside the U-boat. Several of the shells had punched holes in the pressure hull, below the waterline and she was beginning to take on water. The crew, led by Kapitänleutnant Raimund Tiesler, fought to save her, however, she sunk after about 20 minutes. Only four of the fifty-three crew were killed during the attack, the others were all recovered by the minesweepers. 

The busy month would continue for F/O Turner, when two days later himself as part of a flight of eight Mosquito’s would encounter two U-boats escorted by nine warships. This was so close inshore German land-based AA joined in as well. One of the U-boats, U-960 was damaged in the subsequent attack, but so were most of the Mosquitos.  For this, and other actions over the period both F/O Turner and FLt Curtis were awarded DFC’s in April. They would go on to fly around about 72 missions in total before the end of the war.

After the war Turner carried on flying for a while, before retiring and becoming a landlord. He died in May 2008. Curtis is still alive, and in 1994 he wrote to a German historian asking if he had any details about the crews of the U-boats he had attacked. Much to his surprise the historian said he was close friends with Tiesler and offered to pass on a letter. The two men became good friends, until Tiesler’s death in February 2000.


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:

www.thesun.co.uk, www.grahamtall.co.uk, www.history.navy.mil, ww2aircraft.net and www.ibiblio.org

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Fortress Koepenick

 On 13th February 1849 a lowly shoemaker living in Tilsit, in Prussia, met his brand-new son. The son’s name was Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt, and he would have one the speediest rises through the ranks of the Imperial German Army. However, Voigt’s early years were somewhat less auspicious. At the age of 14 he was arrested and convicted for theft, and subsequently imprisoned for two weeks. Upon his release he found he had been expelled from school. Thus, with no other option open to him he learned the trade of a shoemaker from his father. Although he had a trade, he continued his criminal enterprise catching multiple sentences for theft, forgery and burglary. His final sentence was for a failed attempt at a cashier’s office, for which he received a sentence of 15 years. 

Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt, taken in 1906

He was released the day before his 57th birthday in 1906. He then moved in with his sister in Berlin and obtained a job at a local shoemaking factory. However, his attempt at going straight would not last, as the local police soon began to harass him due to being an ex-convict, and eventually expelled him from Berlin on the 24th of August. It was at this point Voigt started his rise through the army’s rank structure. As he had been expelled from Berlin, he had to quit his job, and told everyone he was heading to Hamburg. However, in reality he stayed in Berlin. He then visited several second-hand shops purchasing parts of a Prussian captain’s uniform. Once he had a complete uniform, he began to approach German soldiers and test the effect he had on them whilst wearing it. In stereotypical Prussian fashion the soldiers leapt to obey his every command. This testing lasted until October when Voigt had refined his role enough that he felt confident of his disguise. 

Voigt's officer uniform.

On the 16th of October Voigt marched towards the barracks in the town of Tegel. He halted a group of four soldiers and a NCO and took command of the detachment, relieving the NCO and dismissing him. He then gathered another six soldiers from a nearby shooting range. Now leading ten armed soldiers he marched them to the station and onto a train, which took them to the town of Köpenick. Once there Voigt and the soldiers moved to the town hall. He informed the soldiers that the Mayor Georg Langerhans and the City Treasurer von Wiltberg were accused of fraudulent book keeping. With the might of the army behind him, he also obtained support of the local police, ordering them to stop all telephone calls at the local exchange for an hour but otherwise to keep out of politics and look to local law and order. 

Mayor Georg Langerhans

Then Voigt led the soldiers into the town hall, and the mayor’s office. When Voigt arrested the Mayor, Langerhans demanded to see his warrant. Voight pointed to the soldiers, with bayoneted rifles and said ‘There is my authority!’

Voigt then sized the city’s funds, some 4,002 marks and 37 pfennigs. He did issue a receipt for the money, signed in the name of the jail warden he had been imprisoned under for the previous 15 years. He then had the soldiers commandeer two carriages, into which the two detained officials were placed, along with an armed guard in the form of some of the soldiers. The guards were told to deliver the men to the Royal Guardhouse in Berlin. The remaining soldiers were ordered to secure the offices of the mayor. Voight then simply left with the money, headed back to the train station and changed into civilian clothes.

Unsurprisingly the military authorities were furious (although it is claimed the Kaiser was amused, as was the general public). Voigt was arrested on the 16th of October and sentenced on the 1st of December to just four years in prison. However, the Kaiser pardoned him in 1908. Voigt capitalised on his fame, with books, signing events and even wax work models in museums. In 1910 he moved to Luxembourg where he took up his old trade of shoemaker for a couple of years before buying a house and retiring. He would die in 1922. 

Voigt's grave at Cimetière Notre-Dame in Luxembourg

Now, there is a reason for me telling you this story, other than it’s a damn funny story, and that is this incident became famous for the embarrassment of the German military. So much so that in 1943 when the Luftwaffe embarrassed itself Voigt’s exploits would be referenced by none other than Herman Goering. 

Düren, albeit after a Bomber Command attack in 1944

In early October 1943 the USAAF launched its infamous Schweinfurt raid. This caused a certain amount of alarm in the German officials, so that when on the 20th of October the USAAF launched a raid on a small town on the border of Germany and France called Düren, there were reports of the American bombers heading deeper into the Reich. It has been suggested this report was due to radar returns from window expended during the raid. The assumption from the Luftwaffe was that the Düren bombing was a feint, and there was another mass-formation heading towards Schweinfurt again. Thus, German fighters were scrambled and vectored in. Like the Battle of Barking Creek and the Battle of Los Angeles, the fighters were picked up by the ground radar, and this caused them to be mistaken for enemy aircraft. So further fighters were dispatched, and lo and behold the enemy formation grew in size, resulting in more fighters being scrambled, and so on. When many hours later the mistake was discovered, and the Luftwaffe had scrambled most of its squadrons, Goering sent a telegram to everyone involved (including himself, as he had taken direct command and ordered the scrambling of many of the fighter squadrons himself) congratulating them for the defence of Fortress Koepenick, a direct reference to Voigt's escapade. 


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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Sunday, November 21, 2021


 What I find interesting, and I’m not sure if I’ve said it before, is how Britain studied the effects of German bombing conducted during the Blitz on contemporary life and structures. They quickly discovered the Germans were dropping too small bombs. This meant that even when the Germans did land a stick of bombs in the right place, it had minimal effect and the infrastructure was soon back in operation. This was quickly seen as a worry, as the British bombing efforts were all but identical to the German ones. It was quite sensible to assume that their bombing efforts were as effective on the Axis as the Germans were against the UK. Thus, the British went away and worked out what would work, so that when they started bombing the Germans, they did it properly. As Bomber Harris said, ‘They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind’. This was very literally true. This study work, of course, covered incendiary bombs. 

Testing of German 1kg incendiary bombs. Top picture is at 15 seconds after ignition, bottom is at 45 seconds.

‘Beat Firebomb Fitz’ was a famous poster from the Blitz and featured the German B1E 1kg incendiary bomb. It has become a slightly iconic poster of the time. The principle behind it was that a small detonating charge would trigger a thermite warhead filler. This in turn would cause the body of the bomb, which was made from magnesium, to catch fire. Magnesium is very difficult to extinguish, indeed using water on a magnesium fire is a very bad idea. But despite this, Britain did not burn… but Germany would. 


The main weapon for the RAF for starting fires was the humble 4-pounder incendiary bomb. Now despite what I said earlier, this was in service from the start of the war. It worked on an identical principle to the German weapon, containing an igniting element and a magnesium body. But today very little is written of it, especially when compared to ‘Firebomb Fritz’s’ reputation. I would suggest that this in part is down to looks. The German weapon looks like a bomb, whereas the British 4-pounder weapon is a hexagon some 21 inches long, and about 1.67inches wide, and barely looks like a piece of ordinance. 

German civil defence personnel holding a 4-pounder to give an idea of the size.

In August 1940 it was realised that these incendiary bombs were using a colossal amount of magnesium. So, a study was begun to find parts of the bomb that could be changed from that precious and scarce metal to much more common (and cheap) cast iron. Even a small saving would pay big rewards due to the large number of bombs being constructed. This simplified bomb became the Mk.III weapon (the Mk.II was just alterations to the internal arrangements). At the same time the supply issues meant the British started looking at a bomb that was 2in shorter than standard. This would save about 0.25lbs per bomb, with the new bomb using 0.75lbs of magnesium.

During 1941 two major factors happened, first the Bomb was to be produced in the US. Changes to the design to allow improved manufacturer became the Mk.IV bomb, which was subsequently mass produced. The other change was in how the bomb was tested. 

Colour shot of a surviving 4-pounder Mk.IV at the IWM.

In October the task of assessing how incendiary bombs would work was passed to the Road Research Laboratory. Their solution was to build a German style house roof, including attic floor. They managed to obtain copies of German house construction styles and copied it to the letter, even going so far as to obtain supplies of German roofing tiles (Bibeschwanz and Ludovici tiles, in case you’re wondering). The mechanics of incendiary bombs suggest that the ideal effect of a bomb is to penetrate the roof tiles, then the attic floor boards before igniting in the structure below. So, this was tested by the expedient of the RRL converting a 2-inch mortar to fire the bombs at the test target. Different impact velocities could be obtained due to an alterable gas check, made from brass, at the base of the mortar. To keep the hexagonal bomb straight in the round tube several guide lugs were added at the muzzle end. One point in these tests were that similar US tests, held at the Standard Oil Company, were getting very different results. There was an investigation, and despite the comparison identifying several different factors between the two test targets (such as tile overlap, rafter spacing and the like) and these being standardised to the British model the divergence of results continued.

In the middle of 1942, the shortened version of the 4-pounder bomb which had begun development in 1940 finally made it to testing. Those experiments showed that the incendiary effect was not lowered by the reduction in magnesium. In the middle of 1942, another suggestion was for the bomb design to have a spring-loaded pop-out tail, so when loaded into a bomber it would only be 8in long, with the tail deploying when the bomb was dropped. Both bombs were tested against the RRL’s German roof target, and one critical point was discovered. As the bombs were lighter their impact energy was lower. Thus in turn they failed to penetrate the target. This lack of effect doomed both projects, with them being cancelled in 1943.

So far, we’ve just focused on the 4-pounder’s incendiary effect. However, from before the war it was recognised that one way to improve the effectiveness of the bomb was to incorporate explosives with a time delay to hamper firefighting efforts. Thus in 1939, after a few months of development starting in 1938, ‘Type E’ bombs were produced. For those following such things the nomenclature was the ‘type’ of bomb would come after the Mk number, so for example ‘4-pounder, Mk.IV.E’. These incorporated a small gunpowder charge in the body of the bomb and would detonate between 1 minute and 56 seconds to 4 minutes after impact. It produced a fairly paltry explosive effect but was deemed acceptable.

The Germans did something very similar with some of their incendiary bombs, so the British learned and in December 1940 started looking at using a high explosive charge. For this weapon they added a canister at the rear of the tail with a small HE charge (later models would have a nose filled with explosive). These would be ‘Type X’. The tail-based container was also switchable to chemical weapons if needed, with the idea that this would prove much more effective at deterring fire fighters. What followed was a lot of bureaucratic backwards and forwards between the Ordnance Board and other departments within the government. The problems of supply of the explosive, and construction were causing a bit of a circular development, with one party changing the design to fix a flaw and causing follow on problems. This continued until 1941, when it was decided to see if such an addition had a useful effect. 

Lancaster loaded with a bomb-load codenamed 'Usual'. This consisted of a 4,000lb 'cookie'. The idea was to create massive blast that would damage the roofs of German cities. The damage would weaken the roof structure so that when the 4-pounders impacted they would have a easier time penetrating into the structures.

Thus, London Fire Brigade was consulted on the effectiveness of such bombs, as they had encountered them in the shape of the German weapons dropped in the Blitz. The effectiveness of the bombs against both personnel and the chance to break hoses was considered.

LFB* raised several objections to the weapon. The foremost being that during a heavy night raid the crews were so busy that the presence of such bombs would not affect how they worked. It was also pointed out that such bombs would be almost invisible in the blackout conditions. Equally it was advised that if they did start to suffer several casualties, orders would be issued to stay clear of any suspected weapons for a period of time to give it a chance to detonate. As to the idea of breaking hoses, the hoses were put through such rough treatment during the course of normal operations that a few additional incidences of damage would be hardly noticed. With this information in hand, it was recommended to the Air Ministry that the idea be dropped. However, the RAF stated the requirement remained. They had a strategy of having 50% Type X bombs, and 50% normal weapons per bomb load. This would be continued until German fire crews were warned to stay away from the bombs for a period. At which point the loads could be switched to nearly 100% normal incendiaries, in the hope the Germans would stand back allowing these to develop into decent fires. 

Loading 4-pounders into a bomb bay one at a time would have taken huge number of man hours. So the bombs were loaded into 'Small Bomb Containers'. Here we see three partition versions, but they also came in two and four versions. Each partition can take twenty 4-pounders. For more detail.

In February 1942 the Air Ministry suddenly demanded 2,000 Type X bombs by 1st of March for a planned operation. These were manufactured with a 4.5-minute delay on the explosive. On the 28th of March 1942 234 bombers attacked the Port of Lübeck. 25,000 incendiaries were dropped and created the first Allied firestorm of the war. More were to follow, and most were powered by the humble looking grey hexagon.


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:



Sunday, October 24, 2021

They Don't like it Up 'em

Hello Historians, Sorry to have been so absent in content these last few weeks, but a lot has been going on. Due to that reason I've not got anything prepared, so today I'm going to have a quick chat about this picture:

We're obviously looking at a Home Guardsman, armed with a improvised pike made out of a length of steel tubing and a 1907 bayonet. You're all giggling and thinking of Dads Army aren't you? Stuff like 'wow, what good would that be in a modern fight?'

Well lets consider. First off, I like Dad's Army, its a good comedy. However it has tarnished the reputation of the Home Guard forever. Whenever you talk about the Home Guard you can see Dad's Army inserting itself into the conversation like a 400lb Gorilla. Indeed, it seems that any Home Guard related product has to include reference to the show to be accepted by the public. Images like the above, at first glance, seem to re-enforce the concepts laid out in that show. But look closer.

First off the Home Guard was filled with old men, right? Wrong. Average age of the Home Guard was 40, which looks about right for the bloke in the above picture. But what about the wider situation? Well here's F Platoon, 8th Essex Home Guard (chosen because the Corporal above is from the 8th Essex Home Guard battalion, although we don't know what platoon):

Looks to be a good collection of blokes in their 40s and 50s, doesn't it? Now consider what was happening 22 years previously to the Home Guard being formed. The First World War. If you look on the picture that started this rant you'll see the gentlemen's medal ribbons. This particular collection is known as 'Pip, Squeak & Wilfred'. They're the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the British Victory Medal. This clearly puts the bloke as having Served as a soldier in the BEF from the outbreak of the war. What happened next we don't know, but I would venture there's a good chance he picked up fair old whack of experience of fighting, and you've just given him a length of 55 inch pipe with a 17 inch bayonet on the end, and asked him to defend his home and wife.

I don't think people appreciate exactly how massive the 1907 Bayonet actually is. Here we see my 1907 (and my 1888 pattern) on my chair to give some kind of size comparison.

Now, before you continue mocking the concept of a croft pike, whom will he be up against? A German Fallschirmjager armed with a pistol until he can get to his weapon canister, and whose to say the local Home Guard might not get there first? Now I'm boo no means saying that leaving the Home Guardsman without a rifle is a good idea, it's not. But it's not as ridiculous as many suggest. Equally, as Essex is not in the front lines most at risk of invasion, so it makes a bit more sense when you consider that any Fallschirmjager carrying planes would have to have flown through the RAF first, which is not likely to be a pleasant experience. It also makes sense for Britain to issue weapons to those who are likely to be in the front line first, for example those on the south coast. 

Another picture of the Essex Home guard, from the same area as all the other pictures.


Finally I would argue that even Home Guard units quipped with Croft pikes were not entirely defenceless. Rifle and firearm ownership in the UK was much higher than it is today. Take for example the Cambridgeshire Home Guard. Eden's call to arms summoning the Home Guard was broadcast on the Tuesday. The same night a fully armed guard of ten men was posted on the local telephone exchange. That Guard was maintained until the Saturday when it was relieved by regular troops. 

And keep in mind, there is one part of Dad's Army they got right in the film. The scene in the police station, following Eden's address announcing the formation of the Home Guard. The sheer willingness of the population to step forward and do their duty. Originally it was expected that a total of 500,000 might join up. In reality, within seven days they had 250,000, and within two months 1.5 million people signed up. The Home Guard would go on to provide an active part of the defence of the UK, as well as assisting with Internal security, they also gave large amounts of manpower to assist in the Anti-air and coastal artillery roles.


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, October 3, 2021

Gleaming Sea

On the 24th of April 1916 the drifter Gleaner of the Seas was at anchor off Walcheren. She was a tiny ex-fishing vessel, only 91 tonnes, powered by a steam engine. Built in 1912 she had been taken into Royal Navy service in 1915. Her role, and that of her nine crew, was to tend the anti-submarine nets that made up part of the Dover Barrage. These nets had been installed just a year and a few months earlier in February 1915.  On that day in April the crew felt a sudden lurch and peering over the side saw the grey shape of a U-boat, SM UB-13, tangled up in their anchor cable. Even as they watched it managed to rip itself free and powered into the steel net. The skipper of the boat, Robert George Hurren, grabbed at the wooden haft of a harpoon and leapt to tackle the grey whale. 

This is not Gleaner of the Seas, however it is a drifter in RN service with a very similar size and role.

The ‘harpoon’ in this case was also known as a ‘Lance Bomb’.  This was essentially a shaft 39in long, with a large conical bomb strapped the end. This contained some seven pounds of amatol. It was designed by Marten Hale, owner of the Cotton Powder Company. The company produced about 1,000 such weapons during the First World War, at a cost of £4 each. The weapons were issued to Royal Navy drifters and auxiliaries, each ship would receive a bundle of staves containing ten shafts and a box which contained four warheads. They were married up on ship.

Surviving Lance bomb warhead, held at the IWM.

Hurren grabbed one of the Lance Bombs, stood at the side and aimed at the grey shape. He cast the bomb like a harpoon, and it struck the U-boat on the foredeck, causing the U-boat to sink to the bottom. Some sources say it was later sunk by explosive charges from a destroyer. It is likely that there is more to this tale, as Hurren was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts, but modern sources fail to mention the account in detail. 

Demonstrating the use of a Lance Bomb

Hurren and Gleaner of the Seas would not survive the war. On the 27th of October she was tending the nets as usual, when the Germans launched a raid to combat the Dover Barrage. Destroyers and torpedo boats swarmed the little ships that maintained the barrage and reaped a huge tally of sunken vessels. This included six drifters, of which Gleaner of the Seas was one. She was sunk by shellfire.


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, September 26, 2021

Discovery Jet

 It's not often I get to update you with good news about making a find, but today is one such time.

Earlier this week I was at MoD Kineton, where the army has their explosive ordnance disposal training school, which has a museum. Myself and my guide were going around, and I asked a question about 5-inch chemical rockets. So my guide said there was some chemical staff over here and led the way. He glanced at something and asked 'What's an "Jet, Anti-tank"?'.

Apparently, I got very excited at that point. You and me have encountered this before, but only in documentary form:


I've never seen a picture of one, indeed doubted I'd actually find a survivor. But here we are! It's only the tank, but it's resting on the attachment points for the straps:

Looks so innocent don't she? There would be 9l worth of Zyklon-B (Hydrogen Cyanide's more infamous name) in that tank. Now the question is 'how does this work?' First let me show you the other shots of it:

Now, we know that the HCN (the gasses shortened designation) was poured into the container. We also know it was fitted with a electrically fired cordite charge, as well as a pipe to the nozzle. I suspect that the screw bolt is the filling hole, and the bottom two attachment points are the cordite charge holder and the pope attachment point. 

Anyway, that's all we have time for today. My thanks to the EoD Museum for letting my get a good look at something that was so rare, and I never thought would have survived.

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