Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

Cyril Hall – Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (Service Number 990275) – was not really a blood relation. In my childhood he was the third husband of my grandmother’s sister. He used to sit in the corner looking all “crusty”, having a cocktail and making a great art out of the smoking that eventually killed him. My grandmother’s sister has recently died and my Uncle was clearing out the house. He came across Cyril’s RAF logbook from the war and had a copy made for me. It was always vaguely thought that Cyril “flew Spitfires” during the war. In fact the logbook shows he did not – but he did fly in the Battle of Britain and was incredibly lucky to survive. He was in the thick of the battle and in far worse circumstances than the immortal “few” fighter pilots. In his case he was a member of a very small subset of the “few”.

The logbook opens with a note that he flew 631¾hours as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and Nav Radio Specialist (cover for Radar Operator) from May 28th 1940 up till April 1944. From the Record of Service in the back of the logbook plus some Internet research:

Cyril Hall flew in the Battle of Britain with 18 Squadron from May to August 1940 in the staggeringly underarmed, unarmoured and underpowered Blenheim IV. He joined the remains of 18 squadron as it evacuated out of France. He flew with the squadron from 26 May-12 June 1940 from Gatwick and 12 June-8 September 1940 from West Raynham. The squadron was tasked with attacking the German buildup for the invasion of the UK in the Channel Ports, France and the Low Countries. Casualty rates on these missions were routinely 50% losses and often approached 100% losses. He was lucky to survive and was truly one of “the few” of the UK bomber force that survived the Battle of Britain period.

From August to November 1940 he attended No 2 Electrical and Wireless School Yatesbury flying Dominies and training as a “Wireless Operator”. As he already was a W/O – this note was probably cover for Airborne Interception – later known as Radar.

November through December 1940 found him at 23 Squadron again in Blenheims in their role as Night Fighters with early Airborne Interception (Radar). The Blenheims tackled the German bombers through the winter of 1940-41. January to June 1941 he was with No 3 Reserve Squadron in Wick in Scotland. Primarily equipped with Hurricanes flying as night fighters – Cyril flew in Douglas Havoc twin engine “night fighters” equipped with Turbinlite. The Turbinlite was an immensely powerful searchlight carried in the aircraft nose that was used in an attempt to illuminate German bombers for the Hurricances to shoot down. The Havoc itself was unarmed as it was all it could do to carry the searchlight. It was not a very successful method of finding bombers and was replaced as soon as airborne radar was available in night fighters. At this time he would almost certainly have been part of the defences over Scotland trying to stave off the Blitz on the Clyde shipyards.

June to August 1941 saw him at 25 Squadron in Blenheims equipped with airborne radar – he would have been the operator in the back talking the pilot on to the target in the dark of night – though the RAF record of duty suggests they were engaged on convoy protection duty for much of the time. August to October 1941 he was back with No 3 Reserve squadron. I can’t specifically find their task at that time but probably training or training other operators. He spent two weeks in October 1941 with the Canadian 406 Squadron in Beaufighters in the night fighter role. October and November saw him back at No 3 Reserve.

He spent December 1941 with No 29 Squadron who were flying a mixture of Blenheim and Beaufighter night fighters as they converted over to Beaufighters. Then from Dec 1941 to June 1942 he was with No 3 Reserve Squadron again. Then from June to September 1942 he was with 54 Operational Training Unit in Beaufighters but it is not clear if as an instructor or under training. Given his next deployment – probably under training.

Then a whole year from September 1942 to August 1943 with 141 Squadron in Beaufighters. 141 had been equipped with the disastrous Defiant during the Battle of Britain and had been shot to pieces and when Cyril joined it had just been reformed – flying Beaufighter night fighters in Ayr in the defence of Scotland. He joined just after they were moved south to Tangmere which became its new base in June 1942 and Predannack in February 1943. In April 1943 it moved to Wittering, from where it began night intruder operations over German airfields in support of Bomber Command. A horribly dangerous task. British four engine bomber crews would shoot at anything with two engines – assuming it was a German night fighter. It might just as well be a Beaufighter. It was during this period on the 18th March 1943 that Cyril was promoted from Warrant Officer to Pilot Officer on Probation (emergency) and his service number was changed to 146289 in the “officer” series of numbers. (Promulgated – London Gazette 9th July 1943). He left the squadron a month before it got re-equipped with Mosquitos.

In August 1943 he was “rested” and rotated out to 53 then 54 then 52 Operational Training Units till May 1944. He was promoted Pilot Officer (Flying Officer on Probation) on 18th September 1943 (Promulgated – London Gazette 15th October 1943). He would have been instructing and like most of his contemporaries – they considered it more dangerous than actual missions and deadly boring.

To get out the OTU he volunteered as a pilot and from the 12th May to the 8th June he attended No 7 Elementary Flying School – Desford – for a Grading Course. He flew a total of 10.5 hours in a DeHavilland DH 82A Tiger Moth – mainly with a Sergeant Mortimer. It was two lessons a day sometimes three. Spin recovery was actively practiced on lessons 4, 11 and 13 (it is highlighted and underlined in the logbook). He soloed on his 15th lesson on the 8th day for a whole 10 minutes after 7 hours 45 minutes instruction. He actually had 4 lessons that day – including the solo. He passed the Grading Course on 6th June 1944.

Then on October 4th to a “War Course” at No 28 Elementary Flying Training School. October 6th he was flying again in a Tiger Moth. 19th October he was endorsed as knowing how to swing a propeller and he was also endorsed that he understood the petrol, oil, ignition and cooling systems. He flew through October – sometimes solo and the lessons were building on skills, adding emergencies, forced landings and side slipping. There were also plenty of practice spins – again underlined. He was 20 hour stage checked in November and on passing that – started on aerobatics and LOW FLYING (again underlined). By the end of November he had started work on Navigation away from the airfield. He also spent time in the LINK trainer (a mechanical simulator for instrument flying practice). December included more LOW FLYING, aerobatics and cross country trips. By the end of the year in 1944 he had amassed 43 hours of dual instruction, 24 hours solo time, 4 hours of night instruction and an hour solo at night.

In January 1945 he flew for the first week of the month and on the 8th January 1945 he was awarded his wings. 37.25 hours dual instruction, 32.05 hours solo time, 10.15 hours instrument time. Progress was “Average” and Special Faults to be watched was “Nil”. He was confirmed promoted to the rank of Flying Officer.

It looks like he was awarded two weeks leave because he did not report to Secondary Flying Training School No 17 – Cranwell till the end of January where he was introduced to the twin engined Airspeed Oxford. After just 6 days and 5 hours actual flying in the Oxford he demonstrated his cockpit drills to Warrant Officer Fisher and passed his presolo written exam. Then a few minutes later he soloed the Oxford on February 8th. He then carried on Flying 2 -3 times a day in the Oxford often solo till June 25th. He amassed 75.15 hours instruction and 65.30 hours solo in the Oxford and was passed out at “Proficient” on the 27th June 1945. The War in Europe had been over for 6 weeks. The war with Japan was still raging. He spent July at RAF Spitalgate – reason unknown before heading for No 21 Advanced Flying Unit at Wheaton Aston where he flew Oxfords again from August to September. But the tempo was much reduced. Sometimes a week would pass between flights. Then in October 1945 he spent a month at RAF Perton where he only flew 7 times in the month. These were his last flights with the RAF. He passed out from the Advanced Flying Unit course as a “Proficient” pilot and “Proficient” at making Standard Beam Approaches.

16 Spitfires flying over Duxford airfield - 70th Anniversary Battle of Britain Airshow

A passing comment from my niece in Scotland about “Spitfires on Radio 4″ – I recalled standing in London for the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain while Spitfires and Hurricanes flew up the Mall and over Buckingham Palace. Now it was the 70th anniversay – I’m planning on learning to fly – starting next week. I couldn’t resist and flipped over to the UK for the weekend of 4/5 Sept.

I was able to get two lessons at the airshow. One in a 1941 Tiger Moth primary trainer and a second aerobatics in a AJ6 Harvard advanced trainer. Hopefully these will whet my appetite for the haul through flying school that is coming up.

Here are some of my photosets from the Airshow at Duxford.

Duxford 1940

A composite of shots to illustrate my Saturday lesson in the 1941 Tiger Moth

A composite of shots to illustrate the Sunday aerobatic lesson in the Harvard

The RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

The Red Arrows!

The Aerostars!

The Scottish Aviation DeHavilland Dragon Rapide

P51-D Mustangs

B-17 Sally B / Memphis Belle

The Messerschmitt 109

The Hurricanes!

The reason for coming…. SPITFIRES!

To open the show the Red Arrows roared in from behind the crowd and did a near flawless display. The spare pilot on the ground giving the commentary and he patched in the radio at times so you could hear the calls the lead pilots were making “Roll left – NOW”, “Smoke on – NOW!”; “Formation Spitfire – NOW!” (A special formation for the day to represent the planform of a Spitfire), “BREAK!” Only the “Now’s” and “Break’s” were very short staccato squawks to get everybody moving at the same moment.

A Hawker Sea Fury and Grumman Bearcat represented the last of the propeller age. Two P51-D Mustangs flew a tight formation all over the sky – Then the B-17G bomber painted as “Sally B” on her port side and “Memphis Belle” on her starboard side (she is really the first but played the role of the second in the movie) flew a display and at one point the Mustangs joined to offer protection against marauding Germans – if there were any about. As the Mustangs stayed to finish the element the B-17 disappeared over the horizon. Just as the Mustangs were landing he reappeared – left wing low and both port engines trailing smoke – shot up and “Coming in on a wing and a prayer”. He made a slow pass across the crowd – “In memory of the Eighth Air Force” from the commentator. The 8th was based at Duxford from 1943 and their Memorial is also at Duxford. The B17 lifted his wing – turned off the smoke generators and landed.

From behind the crowd the Battle of Britain Memorial flight roared in low over the control tower – The Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire racing cross field in a tight formation before displaying the Lancaster and fighters separately – The Spitfire landed to join in later and the other two left.

Then from out of nowhere the flight line of Spitfires was attacked by a lone “Messerschmitt 109” (A post-war Spanish Hispano Buchon) which made three strafing runs before a section of four Hurricanes scrambled off the flight line to go after him. I have to say that at the end of the wheeling dogfight over the airfield I have an enhanced and enormous respect for the Hurricane pilots who in 1940 were told to “leave the fighters and attack the bombers” and who hoped that someone had remembered to send some Spitfires along to cover them from the German fighters. As they wheeled in a mock dogfight over the field they had to break to get the Me109 off their tails as he could zoom climb away out of trouble compared to them. It was a stunning display and when you counted them up – we had seen 5 of the 6 remaining airworthy Hurricanes in the UK in the past few minutes. The “Me109” disappeared and as three of the Hurricanes landed the fourth flew a series of victory rolls over the field. The number of movie buffs in the crowd who could be heard quietly chanting “Never fly a Victory Roll over my airfield again! Do you hear me?” was an amusing testament to one of Christopher Plummer’s lines in the Battle of Britain movie.

Some lovely classic “filler aircraft”, the “Scottish Airways” Dragon Rapide, more Harvards, A desperately slow but agile Gloucester Gladiator which was Britain’s front line defense till 1938 gracefully tumbled around showing how inadequate a defense it would have been if still in the front line in 1940. A DeHaviland Wasp, the “Aerostars” civilian display team of YAK-6′s bought from the Soviets, painted up and flown by airline pilots for fun; a PBY/Catalina amphibian. A Belgian F-16 pulling stall turns on reheat to represent the 32 Belgians who fought in the Battle of Britain – then the line of Spitfires all started firing up and the crowd was on its feet.

They all taxied off down to the end of the field. The Mk1a starting up last and cutting the corner on the others – its small oil cooler not being up to an extended period of ground running. Then “Squadron Scramble” – and all 16 roared off down the field till they flew off to the east – filling the sky with roaring Merlin and Griffon engines – and off over the horizon out of sight.

Then like the support act to a more popular band – an aerobatic tumble from a small Bucker Jungmeister and Jungmann for a few minutes while the commentator rambled on about it being built by the Germans for the Swiss Airforce in 1938 and blah blah blah…… It was a nice routine – but I don’t think anyone was really watching it. Everyone waited in anticipation. Churchill’s “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” speech was rebroadcast across the field. As it finished we were asked to rise for a minute’s silence for the fallen and as we did and with impeccable timing – four modern Hawk trainers from RAF 19 squadron – the first to be equipped with Spitfires in 1938 – flew slowly down the line in diamond formation – the lead broke for the heavens to represent the “missing man”.

Then the 16 Spitfires gently came in – split into four sections of four. As they flew off the end of the field the minutes was up and they pushed their throttles forward and hauled around to do it again – only this time roaring low and close and positively thrilling the crowd with their supercharger whines and growls and a serious beat up of the airfield.

Splitting into two teams of eight they then started wheeling around the field from opposite ends passing just in front of the crowd at 50ft and then wheeling around to do it again.

A pair split off and started to fly Cuban Eights on the line while the rest kept wheeling through – for over 10 minutes. Then as oil temperatures started to rise one by one they would break for the ground and fly the curved approach back down to the field. Finally there was one left – my Mk IX friend from the morning lesson – who flew a positively awesome aerobatic display over the crowd while those who had landed lined up on the taxiway on the flight line.

As the aerobatic came into land – the Spitfires taxied along the taxiway in line ahead – snaking along as the pilots kicked their rudders back and forth to see around their noses and not run into the guy ahead. The crowd was on its feet – clapping loudly in a typically British way (no whoops and cheers – but very enthusiastic). Good Weekend – aerobatics with the Spitfire being the completely unexpected, unplanned bonus.

No one would argue that in a publicly funded service – the public who fund it should come first. And I doubt if many would disagree that for foreigners like myself – who are not funding the site – our viewing should be funded by making me view advertising. All well and good to this point.

However the BBC News website has just made a major editorial error in the last week. The change is simple enough – if you view from an IP address identified as being outside the UK – the “Home Page” presented is “International” in editorial content. If your IP address is from inside the UK – you are presented with a “Home Page” that is a UK mix of Home and International news.

Setting aside the technical problems for UK viewers whose web access happens to be routed abroad – and so they miss their UK home page – the real problem is a loss of choice for International viewers. Because in the past you could choose to see the UK Home Page. But now – you cannot. Claims by the editorial team that “all the content is there” and a hastily introduced “UK” link within a day of the change following a wave of complaint running 95% against the change completely misses the point that many are making:

The point of visiting a national news site in this rich and vibrant Internet is to gain a sense of perspective and of the viewpoint of the country whose content you are viewing. By removing the choice of viewing the UK editorial content and emphasis – and replacing it with a bland International page the BBC News site has become as dumb as most of the other “International News” sites to be found on the web. The loss of the UK perspective means the BBC News has now failed two of its six public purposes set out in its charter:

  • Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities

  • Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK

The solution is simple enough – forget the International Page – just present the UK based home page

John Reith must be spinning in his grave.