Thursday, 29 December 2011

Battle of Britain - Spitfire vs Stukas

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Another scene from the famous film "Battle of Britain", showing Spitfire scrambling to intercept Stukas and defending radar comlexes on the Dover coast.
One of the British pilots is the famous Michael Caine.

Monday, 26 December 2011

The 168 women who flew the Spitfire in WW2

The Air Transport Auxiliary was the branch of RAF who carried out the task of delivering aicraft from factories to the frontline. Most of its pilot were women. . .

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Monday, 19 December 2011

Torpedoes Away! - Luftwaffe bombers attacking British convoy in the Mediterranean

Ju 88s attacking convoy in the Mediterranean, September 1943.
A funny German shepard tried to get on board.
CURIOSITY: the aircraft launching the torpedo at 1:44 is actually an Italian S.79

Hawker Typhoon combat footage

Saturday, 10 December 2011




Friday, 25 November 2011

Today in WW2: The sinking of British Battleship HMS Barham

HMS Barham was a 29,150-tons battleships, launched in 1914, armed with 8 Mk I 15 inch guns and manned by a crew of around 1100 men.

At the end of 1940, she joined the Mediterranean Fleet, fighting in the Battle of Matapan in March 1941. On 25 November 1941, at 4:25 pm, she was covering attacks on an Italian convoy, together with HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Valiant and eight destroyers. The battleship was hit by three torpedoes, fired from U-331, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Hans-dietrich von Tiesenhausen. The German U-boat had closed and fired from less than 750 yards, thus giving no time for evasive action. The torpedoes closely together, causing what was a single combined explosion. Barham rolled over to port, its magazines exploeded and she quickly sank, taking with her 862 seamen.
The sinking of the HMS Barham was caught on camera. The film was kept secret until 1945. After its release, it became one of the most iconic images of WW2, and it has been shown in many documentaries and films.

Hans-Dietrich von Tiesenhausen

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Battle of Convoy PQ 15

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PQ 15 was an Arctic convoy which sailed from Iceland in late April 1942, delivering supplies to the Soviet Union. 
After the invasion of the USSR in 1941, Winston Churchill decided to give the Russians all the help the British could guarantee, and therefore dedicated convoys were created to carry war material to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. The conditions under which the warships and the merchants were to operate were very hard:  summer and winter routes were dangerously close to enemy bases in occupied Norway, where U-boats, surface ships and aicraft were stationed and active. The winter months were characterized by appalling weather, extreme cold and low visibility. The summer months were instead charaterized by continual daylight of the Arctic summer, which made the ships extremely vulnerable to warships and bombers.
Winter and summer Arctic routes. Source:

PQ 15 consisted of 25 merchant vessels, escorted by the Close Escort group led by Captain Harvey Crombie aboard HMS Bramble, together with two other mineweepers, four trawlers, four destroyers and the anti-aircraft ship HMS Ulster Queen.
The convoy was supported by two other groups: the Cruiser Cover force of Rear Admiral Burrough, with the cruisers HMS London, HMS Nigeria and two destroyers, and the Distant Cover Force led by Admiral John Tovey, which comprised the battleships HMS King George V and USS Washington, the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious, the heavy cruisers USS Tuscaloosa and Wichita, the light cruiser HMS Kenya and 10 destoyers.

The convoy sailed from Reykjavik, Iceland, on 26 April 1942. On 28 April, the Luftwaffe sighted the ships, approximately 250 nautical miles SW of Bear Island. Despite having being discovered, the convoy didn't meet any opposition for two days, as the attention of German air and sea forces was focused on the reciprocal convoy QP11, which was returning home from the Soviet Union. The inbound convoy was attacked by torpedo aircraft but none of the ships were hit.
In Commander Crombie's report, we come to know that, after crossing QP11, PQ 15 started being constantly shadowed, by BV 138 seaplanes and by the omnipresent Fw 200 Condors.

The bow of HMS King George V after colliding with HMS Punjabi
Nothing happened until 1 May, when the Distant Cover Force was steaming surrounded by thick fog: in low visibility, HMS King George V and the destroyer HMS Punjabi collided: the latter, which had manouvred to avoid mines,  was cut in two and sank with the loss of 49 seamen, while the battleships suffered heavy damage to her bow, being forced to return home.  

On 2 May, in position 073° 01' N 017°32' E, HMS Seagull and the Norwegian cruiser St Albans obtained an ASDIC contact and carried out an attack on an enemy submarine. When the vessel was force to surface and fired, it was discovered that she was the Polish submarine Jastrzab (also cited as P551). Five crewmen had been killed (including the British liason officer) and six injured. The causes of the incident are, still today, a matter of controversy.

On 2 May at 23:37, in the half light of the Arctic summer night, the convoy was attacked in position 073° N 019°40' E by enemy torpedo bombers. They were six Heinkel He 111 of I./KG 26, which came in low on the starboard bow of the convoy. One of the Heinkels was hit and crashed in flames just ahead of the ships. The others passed through the protective screen and launched their torpedoes, passing low over the vessels. While leaving the scene, another Heinkel was badly hit and considered destroyed, although it was not seen crashing.

Two views of SS Botavon
The attack was a success, as three ships were hit by torpedoes: SS Botavon, SS Jutland and SS Cape Corso: the latter blew up and rapidly sank, taking with her 50 of its 56 men (a partial casualty list is available here). Botavon settled down by her bows and was later sunk by gunfire from the escort ship HMS Badsworth. The escort vessel also picked up seamen from the Jutland, which was abandoned and then torpedoed and sank by U-251 at 00:14 hrs on 3 May.

The blow suffered by the convoy was heavy; three ships were lost with a considerable cost of lives and goods, and moreover the conditions of the Arctic summer night made the remaining merchant vessels exposed to more attacks. It was, in fact, difficult to see enemy aircraft, and the anti aircraft ship HMS Ulster Queen couldn't see the Heinkels as they had made their attack. This was highlighted in Captain Crombie's report:
The aircraft attacked in formation and it was disappointing that in spite of the fact that they came over and through the strongest part of the Screen of HM Ships Somali and Matchless it was not possible to break up the attack. [...]
The fact remains that HMS Bramble from the central position of the screen opened fire with her Oerlikon guns first, that if HM Ships Somali and Matchless had been a few seconds quicker on the trigger the attack might have been hampered a little and perhaps another aircraft brought down. But with the visibility prevailing, the lack of warning, the available gun power, and the resolution of the attack, I very much doubt whether loss of ships in the convoy could have been prevented. [Source:]
Before and during the attack from the air, it is possible that a U-boat shadowed and attacked PQ 15: signals were infact detected from the starboard bow of the convoy, and lookouts aboard HMS Leda saw a black shape disappearing when the aircraft attacked. HMS Somali was forced to alter course to avoid torpedoes, probably fired by that very same submarine. HMS Leda headed toward the black shape and dropped depth charges before loosing contact.

PQ 15 continued its course unmolested until 20:30 of 3 May, when enemy bombers where spotted. This time they were Ju 88s from KG 30. Two aircraft were seen, but more were heard above the merchants in the clouds, for an estimated six. The only vessel hit was the trawler Cape Palliser, who suffered minor damage from near misses. One of the Ju 88s was shot down.

The weather deteriorated and prevented the Germans to mount further air raids. The submarine threat was however still present: HMS Badsworth obtained a contact and dropped depth charges, reporting of having heard the submarine's blowing tanks, but nothing appeared on the surface and she couldn't confirm his kill. Two Russian destroyers joined the convoy at 10:24, 4 May. The weather worsened even more and a south east gale developped, bringing heavy snow. The appalling conditions provided excellent cover for the remaning part of the journey, and PQ 15 reach the Kola inlet at 22:00 on 5 May, without further losses. Of the 25 merchant vessels composing the convoy, 22 had safely reached their destination.

The entire operation was considerd a success, despite the difficult operational conditions. The long hours of daylight had exposed the convoy to air attacks, and the bad weather came as a relief for the vulnerable merchant vessels. It is interesting to note the the CAM ships didn't launched their Hurricanes, as it was intended to keep them for the final attack before the Kola inlet, where they could have landed on Russian soil.
Capitan Crombie wrote in his report:
The very long hours of daylight make the task of the submarine difficult provided the screen is active and offensive and a successful attack should only be possible by an experienced and resolute submarine. [. . .]
Both bombing aircraft and submarine attacks will have their successes but it should be possible to keep them low. The defence of a large convoy against torpedo attack is, however, a different problem and constitutes a serious menace.
Crombie finally gave credit to the excellent conduct of the merchant seamen:
I should like to record the excellent conduct of the convoy, the majority of which were American ships unused to convoy work. Their steadiness when the torpedo attack took place and leading ships, including the Commodore and Rear Commodore's ships were sunk, their speed of opening fire and their excellent station keeping made the task of the escorts very much easier. It was largely due to the good conduct and discipline of the convoy that twenty-two ships out of twenty-five arrive at Murmansk undamaged.

Friday, 4 November 2011

October 4th, 1940

4th October, the 87th day of the Battle of Britain, started with bad weather; mist, rain and poor visibility. During the month of September, the Luftwaffe suffered heavy losses in the large scale battles over Southern England, and therefore changed its policy, switching to night attack, the socalled Blitz, and sending small formations by day.

Daily operations had a brief start in early morning, when the Luftwaffe bombed indiscriminately in Kent, Surrey and East Anglia, without inflicting significant damage. At 11:00 a significant number of single enemy aircraft crossed the Channel, entering British airspace between Beachy Head and Dover and heading towards London. Crossings went on for all the daylight hours, and reached its peak at 15:00. The targets hit were Outer London, Kent, Surrey and Suffolk. 
The RAF fighters intercepted the enemy raiders, and at the and of the day two bombers were confirmed destroyed, three others were considered as probable and four as damaged. Fighter Command losses were of three fighters, with one pilot missing. By 17:00 enemy activity ceased, and all fighter squadrons were grounded due to deteriorating weather.

Night operations started at about 19:00, when radars detected a stream of enemy aircrafts coming from the Abbeville region. The raiders crossed the Channel in lines ahead spaced at 3 to 5 mile internals. Smaller formations were also detected passing from Baie de Seine to Shoreham. The Abbeville stream was used by the main bombing force, and an estimated 100 bombers passed over the route in two hours. Both streams had London as their target.

Between 21:00 and 23:00 further bombers headed for Southern England, with 50+ bombers entering the airspace over Southern England, eight of them heading toward the central zone, while the others dispersed over South West and North West London.

After 23:00 12 more bombers entered South East England with the usual route, and 16 others came from the Dutch Coast, entering the airspace between Cromer and Harwich.

The sky was clear by 1:00, but small activity recommenced and ten raiders from Dieppe headed directly to London and reached it by 2:45. This was the last air activity for the night, and by 03:30 the sky was clear again, and it remained so until the following morning.

At the end the operations, the Luftwaffe had sent at least 200 bombers in different waves over England. London was the main target, but the Kent region also sufferd considerably. Several factories were hit and damaged: The Fairey Aviation was hit at 23:55, with a hangar and several aircraft destroyed or damaged. Hawker's factory was hit by an HE bomb which caused a fire. Enfield Rolling Mills Cable Co was hit at 21:00 by HE bombs, which curtailed water supply and interrupted the production.
In London, the New Cross Telephonic Exchange was hit, railway traffic had to be stopped due to damages inflicted again at Enfield near Crews Hill Staion.

Luftwaffe bombers operated undisturbed for the entire night: bad weather prevented any interception, but even with good weather, the Bristol Blenheims and Bolton Paul Defiants used for night operations were unable to effectively intercept and engage the German bombers. The RAF was desperate to find a fast, well armed, powerful and radar equipped night fighter, which came in the form of the Bristol Beaufighter at the end  of that October.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

No. 219 Squadron

No. 219 Squadron was formed on 4 October 1939 at Catterick, equipped with Bristol Blenheim IF fighters. The unit's task was to protect  Northern coastal shipping and routes, but it was soon diverted to night operations. The Blenheim fighter version was however a disappointment, and the squadron couldn't effectively counter German raids for the first nine months of 1940.

On 15 August, the day of the only Luftwaffe large scale attack on Northern Britain, 219 Sqn flew to intercept the enemy bombers, but their Blenheim were to slow to catch the fast Ju 88s. In October, the squadron moved south tasked with the protection of London. The Luftwaffe had just started to mount heavy night raids on the capital, and there was a desperate need for nightfighters. The unit began operations and, at the same time, received its firsts Bristol Beaufighter Is. Based on the Beaufort torpedo bomber, the new fighter was a large, fast and well-armed heavy fighter: its four Hispano 20 mm cannnon and six 0.303-in machine guns  gave pilots a never experienced firepower. "B" flight of No.219 Squadron became the first unit to be declared operational on the "Beau" and on the night of 25 October 1940 Sgt Arthur Hodgkinson shot down a Dornier (Do 17 or DO 215), scoring the first of many night victories achieved by Beaufighter pilots.

Successful interceptions, however, were something of a rarity until the end of the 1941 winter. By that time, many RAF squadron were operational with radar-equipped Beaufighters, and the night defense system was now fully operational and effective. For almost two years, No. 219 remained in Southern England countering German night operations, scoring steadily against the enemy and producing a significant number of experienced pilots and aces, before returning to the North in June 1942.

In May 1943, the unit was sent to North Africa, operating from Bone, Tunisia, scoring its first African kill on 30 June. On 6 September, the squadron intercepted a raid on Bizerte, shooting down four Heinkel He 111s. In September the unit moved to Sicily, defending the newly-conquered island from Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe raids. In January 1944 the squadron returned to the Uk, joining the 2nd Tactical Air Force and converting onto the DeHavilland Mosquito. With the "Mossie", the squadron flew night intruder missions over France and the Low Countries, covered Normandy beaches the nights following the D-Day, and then moved to France in October 1944, where it remained until the end of the war.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Belly-landing Hawker Typhoon


Willie McKnight - Canada's first ace

William Lidstone McKnight was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on 18 November 1918 and grew up in Calgary. The son of a buyer for a grocery company and of a mother who died circa in the 1920s, Willie was a boy with a rebellious personality. After his high school dipoloma he entered the medical school at the University of Alberta but due to his cockiness was almost expelled from the faculty. In February 1939 an RAF recrutiting commission toured Canadian universities; seeking for adventure and trying to leave behind a turbulent love story with a girl named Marian, he enlisted as fighter pilot. He started his flight training in England at No. 6 Flying Training School (FTS), Little Rissington,, Bourton-on-the-Water, Cheltenham
Once again his ebullient personality caused him many problems: he was confined to his barracks at least twice, and he and a classmate (unknown name), were put on open arrest for "being perpetrators of a riot".
When the war broke out in September 1939, fighter cadets were hurriedly qualified as fighter pilot, even if many of them still lacked adequate experience. McKnight was posted to No. 242 Squadron, a unit with many Canadians in its ranks. The squadron didn't see action during the Phoney War, and spent almost five crucial months training for combat operations. The squadron was declared operational on 24 March, 1940.
On 14 May 1940, McKnight began operations over France. Six pilots were initially sent to France to act as reinforcements for No. 605 and 615 Sqns during the final days of the Blitzkrieg; the rapidly advancing panzer divisions forced the unit to change three airfields in six days. On 19 May, McKnight scored his first kill over Cambrai, when his flight of four Hurricanes was attacked by a superior force of Bf 109s. Flying as "tail-end Charlie", he skillfully went into a steep climbing turn which brought him on the tail of one of the diving Germans, thus scoring the squadron's first victory over France.
On May 21, the No. 242 Squadron was pulled back from the frontline and its pilot were given a seven days leave which was cancelled two days later when the British Expeditionary Force was forced to retreat around Dunkirk.
The situation was extremely dangerous, so much that the squadron was forced to operate from French airfields during daylight and to retreat at RAF Manston during nights. Willie McKnight flew during the fierce battles over Dunkirk's shores,  becoming an ace in 48 hours between 31 May and June, when No.242 claimed 13 enemy aircrafts. McKnight was credited with two Bf 110s and a Bf 109 on the 31st, and two Ju 87s the following day.
By 7 June, when the unit covered the evacuation of BEF troops from Biscay ports, McKnight had reached 10 kills, becoming the unit's top scores, followed by his friend-rival Stan Turner, 7 kills.
In the few weeks of the Battle of France he lost twenty-seven pounds and suffered from sleep deprivations and stomach problems. Despite his sickness he found time to have a brief affair with a young French girl who was on the run from the now threatened Paris:
This girl and I, took a flat in Nantes and had a hell of a time for about two weeks. . . I tried to smuggle the girl back on one of our bombing planes but one of the few big noises left in France caught me and raised a merry hell. It was too bed because she was certainly one first class femme - she had been to university and was a modiste until the Hun started toward Paris when she had to evacuate and then I ran into her. (Ralph, Wayne. Aces, Warriors and Wingmen: The Firsthand Accounts of Canada's Fighter Pilots in the Second World War)
After the fightings, McKnight was admitted to hospital in July 1940 for a rest.
Having lost 11 pilots over France, No. 242 Sqn needed to be reassembled and was thus given a new commader, the famous legless Douglas Bader. he quickly whipped the unit back into shape and selected new flight commanders. He quickly noticed McKnihgt skills and selected him as his wingman. In his post-war biograhpy "Reach for the Sky", Bader recalled that McKnight was tipically Canadian: fearless and aggressive. He also recalled had a taste for romantic music, and used to play and replay his collection of Bing Crosby records at the officers' mess.
No. 242 Sqn was assigned to No. 12 Group. In the early phases of the Battle of Britain, the area of the Midlands, which the air group was tasked to protect, received few attacks, but at the end of August the squadron moved to RAF Duxford and was soon involved in action, when on the 30th intercepted He 111s escorted by Bf 109s and 110s. Sqn Ldr Bader scored two kills and his wingman McKnight claimed two Bf 110s and one He 111.
McKnight scored again on 9 September when Bader coordinated three squadrons into a single unit putting into practices his concept of "Big Wing". Despite claiming two kills on that day McKnight's Hurricane was badly damaged and he made it back to base with one aileron shot away. Another two kills came on 18 September, and on 5 November the Canadian scored his last kill hitting a Bf 109 and forcing the pilot (Fw Scheidt, JG 26) to bail out.
During the fightings of the Battle of Britain, McKnight's merits were recognized with a Distinguished Flying Cross on 30 August, and a Bar added in September.
By the end of 1940, P/O McKnight had claimed 17 kills, plus 2 shared and three unconfirmed. To give details of these kills is difficult, as sources are contradicting: a possible list of kills is the following. Please note that it is a personal reconstruction created using different bibliographical sources.

  • 19 May, 1940: Bf 109
  • 28 May, 1940: Bf 109
  • 29 May, 1940: Bf 109 (plus 1 unconfirmed)
  • 29 May, 1940: Do 17
  • 31 May, 1940: Bf 110
  • 31 May, 1940: Bf 110
  • 31 May, 1940: Bf 109
  • 1 June,   1940: Ju-87
  • 1 June,   1940: Ju-87 (plus 2 unconfirmed)
  • 30 Aug,  1940: Bf 110
  • 30 Aug,  1940: Bf 110
  • 30 Aug,  1940: He 111
  • 9 Sept,   1940: unidentified 
  • 9 Sept,   1940: unidentified
  • 18 Sept, 1940: Do 17, plus a shared Ju 88
  • 5 Nov,   1940: Bf 109
By the beginning of 1941, the RAF chose to carry out offensive operations across the Channel, initiating a series of missions nicknamed Circuses and Rhubarbs. Circuses were flown by small bomber formations with strong fighter escort, while the latter were undertaken by pairs of fighters. The damage inflicted to the enemy was modest, and even worse a heavy price was paid for these useless missions when many skilled and experienced pilots were lost for no results.
The first Circus was flown on 12 January, 1941 by No. 242 Sqn, led by McKnight's friend,  Flt Lt Stan Turner. Two days later it was Willie's turn, when together with Turner himself and Sqn Ldr Bader the unit flew its first Rhubarb mission.The Hurricanes headed for France at low altitudes a ran into German E-boats, attacking them. McKnight was flying in P2961/LE-A with wingman Marvin Brown: the pair was fired by accurate anti-aircraft fire. Brown made it back to base, while McKnight went missing. The circumstances of his death are still uncertain today, neither his plane or his body hves never been found.
Some recent sources claim that McKnight might have been shot down by Fw. Helmut Brugelmann of 8./JG 26, but the majority of scholars seems to agree that the Canadian ace was downed by Flak. He died at the age of 22.
Flying Officer Willie McKnight has no known grave; his name is inscribed on the Runnymede War Memorial, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey, Uk.

Calgary's McKnight Boulevar, near the airport, is named after him.
Today, McKnight is famous through modellers and SIM players for his personal nose art, representing a human skeleton image which held a sickle in its hands, painted on both sides of his cockpit.

Halliday, Hugh. The Tumbling Sky. Stittsville, Ontario: Canada's Wings, 1978
Holmes, Tony. Hurricane Aces 1939 - 1940. London: Osprey Publishing. 1998
Ralph, Wayne. Aces, Warriors and Wingmen: The Firsthand Accounts of Canada's Fighter Pilots in the Second World War. Toronto: Wiley, 2005.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Hurricane tank buster in the desert, with 40mm guns.

When the Hawker Hurricane was not suitable anymore for the fighter role, it was diverted to ground-attack operations and thus became the Hurribomber. Two 40mm Vickers S guns were fitted under each wing; based on the naval 2 pdr Pom-Pom, the S gun was a long-recoil weapon, initially designed as a defensive gun for the Vickers Wellington. It was soon realized that guns was the ideal weapon for anti-tank operations. The first unit to operate the specially modified Hurricane IID was No. 6 Sqn. They served in North Africa from mid-1942, achieving considerable success, scoring hits on 147 tanks, 48 of which destroyed, plus almost 200 other vehicles. Although letal, the tank-buster Hurricanes were also extremely vulnerable, since the extraweight rendered them slower and less manouvrable.

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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Schrage Musik

Peter Spoden was born on 8 November 1921 at Borken. He started his operational career with 6./NJG 5, being posted to this unit on 1 June 1943. Spoden scored his first victory less then two months later, when on the night of 17/18 August he shot down a Lancaster, part of a RAF formation attacking Peenemunde. In March 1944, after having scored nine victories, Spoden was transferre to Stabstaffel of III./NJG 5, where he remained unitl surrendering to American troops at Schleissheim. His score was of 24 kills, all achieved at night. After the war, Peter Spoden worked as a commercial pilot for Lufthansa. In this TV interview, the German explains and shows how the Schrage Musik technique was used agains British bombers.

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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Junkers Ju 188

The Junkers Ju 188 was a high-performance bomber, designed as an improvement of the famous Junker JU 88, with better payload and performances. The aircraft was manned by a 5-men crew, and had a wingspan of 22 m , wing area of 56 , lenght of 15 m and loaded weight of 14,500 kg. and loaded weight of 14,500 kg.
The engines were two BMW 801 G-2, which could guarantee a maximum speed of 499 km/h and a service ceiling of 9,500 m. The Ju 188 was armed with one 20 mm MG 151 cannon and three 13 mm MG 131 machine guns. The maximum bombload was of 3,000 kg.

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Monday, 26 September 2011

Give me a squadron of Spitfires

During the Battle of Britain, Generalfeldmarschall Hermann Göring organized a meeting with fighter units commanders. Annoyed by the fact the Luftwaffe still hadn't defeated the Royal Air Force and secured air superiority over Great Britain, Goring had violent discussion with Germany's most famous aces and commanders, including Werner Molders and Adolf Galland. The supreme commander of the Luftwaffe asked his his pilots what they needed to win the battle. Molders requested more powerful engines for the Bf-109. Gallanda replied: "I should like an outfit of Spitfires". 
This famous episode is depicted in the film Battle of Britain. German actors Hein Riess and Manfred Reddemann play respectively Goring and Galland.

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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Battle of Britain - Opening Scene

Battle of Britain is a 1969 film, produced by Harry Saltzaman and S. Benjamin Fitz and directed by Guy Hamilton. The film narrates the story of the aerial battles over Great Britain in the summer of 1940, when the Luftwaffe tried to gain air supremacy to allow the Wermacht invading the British Isles.The movie is famous for its spectacuar flying sequences and for historical accuracy. The production stars many international artists in the cast and, for the first time, German characters were portrayed by German-speaking actors, rather than Anglophones. Lawrence Olivier, Trevor Howard, Michael Caine, Robert Shaw and Edward Fox are just a few of the stars who worked in the film, and contributed to make Battle of Britain one of the most beautiful war movies ever produced.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Morane Saulnier MS-406 on patrol

The M.S 406 was a French fighter built by Morane Saulnier. At the time of the German invasion of France in May 1940, it was, numerically, the most important fighter in the Armée de l'Air. The fighter was sturdy and highly manouvrable, but was also under-powered and lacked enough speed and service ceiling to effectively face the Messerschmitt Bf-109E. The M.S. 406 was also used by the Finnish, with more success, and by the Swiss Air Force, were it occasionally intercepted aircrafts who were violating Swiss airspace.

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Friday, 29 July 2011

Jagdgeschwader JG 53 pilots in the Mediterranean

In this very interesting footage you could see many features of the air war over Malta. You will see JG 53pilots relaxing and having fun before their mission. Then a search and rescue mission is launched, with a Dornier Do-24 looking  for a pilot who was forced to ditch in the sea off Sicily. In the final part you will see a mission over Malta, with gun camera footages and low passes over the airbase. Major Gunther von Maltzahn and Generalfeldlmarschal Albert Kesserling are clearly recognizable in the film.


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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

German Newsreel: Blohm und Voss Bv 138 in combat

Blohm und Voss Bv 138s, of an unnamed Luftwaffe units in Norway, filmed during routine operations over the Barents Sea and the North Atlantic.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Osprey Luftwaffe Sturmgruppen

Osprey Luftwaffe Sturmgruppen is the 20th title of the Aviation Elite Units series, telling the story of heavily armed anti-bomber units in 1944-45.

If you have ever wanted to know the truth about the "storm troopers" of the Jagdwaffe, here is your book. Osprey Luftwaffe Sturmgruppen is the 20th title of the Aviation Elite Units series, and it chronicles the desperate struggle of the lUFTWAFFE anti-bomber dedicated branch, who tried to counter the mighy USAAF heavy bombers in 1944-45. After the war, many legends misunderstooded the real activies of the Sturm pilots, creating the false myth of Nazi Kamikaze units, full of fanatic airmen. This book draws light about the real stories of Sturmgruppen pilots, and their specially modified and heavily armed Fw-190s.

Osprey Luftwaffe Sturmgruppen is written by John Weal, the company primary historian for German and Axis forces. Thanks to his superior knowledge of the matter, he reveals us the story of this small elite force, made of volounteers only, trained to attack bomber formations from the front and the rear in tight arrowhead formations. Armed with 30mm cannon and extra armour plates, the Sturm Fw-190s were the most heavily armed fighters encountered by the 8th Air Force over Germany, and could deliver devastating blow to B-17 and B-24 formations. This book consists of the following chapters:
  • Origin
  • Growing Desperation
  • Sturmgruppen
  • Bloody Baptism
  • Annihilation
  • Appendices

Thanks to its 128 pages, first-hand accounts, rare archive photographs and more than 40 color profiles, this Osprey title is the ultimate book on Luftwaffe Sturmgruppen. All you have ever wanted to know about this elite units it is now available. You could finally discover the truth, and know how deadly and dangerous was to fly over the Reich in the final years of the war, when both the Jagdwaffe and the 8th Air Force suffered horrific losses and lost thousands of young brave men.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Focke Wulf Fw 200 Condor

Very nice german newsreels showing Fw 200 Condor routine patrols over the North Atlantic in 1941, the aircraft probably belongs to KG 40.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Osprey Hurricane Aces 1941-45

Osprey Hurricane Aces 1941-45 is the 57th title of the Aircraft of the Aces series, focusing on the Hawker Hurricane.

Hurricane Aces 1941-45 is the second volume of the Osprey series Aircraft of the Aces focused on the Hawker Hurricane. After having covered the first two years of the war in his previous book, author Andrew Thomas provides a fascinating, detailed and well documented work about units and pilots who flew the Hawker fighter in Western Europe, the Mediterranean, South East Asia and even the Atlantic Ocean.

This Osprey book consists of 96 pages, with more than a hundred b/w pictures and 40 beautiful color profiles. You could read about great pilots such as Karel Kuttelwascher, Vernon Woodward, Peter Townsend an Marmaduke "Pat" Pattle, the RAF top scorer of the entire war. Despite being inferior to its opponents from 1941 onward, the Hurricane proved to be an effective horse mount for ground attack operations, and scored a significant number of victories against more sophisticated and powerful aircrafts. Hurricane Aces 1941-45 is divided into seven chapters: 

  • Prologue
  • Offence and defence
  • Mediterranean Battles
  • Above the desert
  • Jungle fighters
  • Epilogue
  • Appendices

The fighter saw widespread use throughout the whole conlict, in many different theatres, and was flown by airmen from all countries: you will read the stories of the British and Commonwealth pilots, as well as the Polish, Czechs, French and Russian aces who fought against the Luftwaffe in Europe, the Regia Aeronautica in the Mediterranean and the Japanese Army Air Force in Burma and India. Thanks to Andrew Thomas's knowledge of the subject, and to the high experience and quality of Osprey Publishing, Hurricane Aces 1941-45 is a must-have for any aviation enthusiast.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Italian Newsreel - Macchi C.202 in action

First kills for the Macchi 202 Folgore over Malta CLICK HERE

Friday, 24 June 2011

Memphis Belle

Memphis Belle is a 1990 film directed by Michael Caton-Jones and written by Monte Merrick. The film is a fictionalization of the 1943 documentary Memphis Belle: the story of a flying fortress, about the 25th and last combat mission of an 8th Air Force B-17. The film stars Matthew Modine, Billy Zane and inctroduces Harry Connick Jr. in his screen debut.

The Memphis Belle's final target is Bremen, one of the most heavily defended German towns. The 10-men crew joins their group fellows for their mission. For the first part of their journey, they'll be escorted by friendly fighters, but twhen they'll ran out of fuel, the B-17s will have to fight the Luftwaffe on their own. The formation is repeatedly attacked by  Bf-109 and Fw-190 squadrons, loosing many bombers, including the leading aircraft. The Memphis Belle then guides the bombing group to hit the target but is badly damaged. Three out of four engines have been hit, and a large portion of the tail fin has been teared away.

Incredibly, the B-17 limps back home, but coudn't low is right landing gear. Low on fuel, they crew is forced to land anyway. The gunners desperatly try to manually low the wheel. At the very first moment, the wheel comes down, and the Memphis Belle lands bouncing over the wheel. The battered bomber stop on the grassfield, groundcrewmen and officers reach the aircraft to celebrate the flyers, who are kissing the ground and celebrating their comeback home.

Memphis Belle, air clash scene


Friday, 17 June 2011

Liberators of the Atlantic - Coastal Command B-24 Liberator units

In 1940, the RAF purchased 20 Consolidated B-24 A - serial numbers 40-2349 to 40-2368 - under the name of Liberators B. I. The aircrafts were dellivered from  mid 1941 and sent to Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, where they were intensively tested. They were declared unsuitable for combat operations over Europe, given the lack of self-sealing fuel tanks, poor defensive armament and weak performances.

The Liberator had, however, some important characteristics which could be very useful: its long range and heavy bomb load made it an ideal maritime patrol aircraft. They were passed to the Coastal Command, who was desperately looking for long range patrollers to counter the German U-boats
Liberator after conversion with airborne radar mounted
An extensive conversion programm started, installing ASV MK II radars and Leigh Light searchlights. Some aircrafts were given a pack of four 20mm-cannons under the fuselage, while some others were equipped with 3 ich (76mm) rockets under each wing.
The first unit to receive the Liberator GR I was No.120 Sqn, operating from Northern Ireland. The deployment of the four-engine bomber had great effects in the Battle of the Atlantic;  the Coastal Command reconnaisssance force almost doubled its range capabilities and, for the first time in the war, it was possible to cover part of the mid-Atlantic gap. For almost an entire year, No. 120 Sqn was the only unit capable of supply air cover for convoys in the previous uncovered area.
To further increase the aircraft range, armour and gun turrets were sacrificed in order to save weight and carry extra fuel; the new version was renamed VLR (Very Long Range) The Leigh Leight searchlight gave the Liberator the capability to hunt U-boats also by night, where they had been safe and undisturbed for almost three years.

In the final months on 1942, four U-boats were sunk by No.120 Sqn and the more recently-equipped No. 224 Sqn.
The US Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force also started to operate VLR Liberators on the other side of the Atlantic, and by mid-1943 they started to fly from the Azores too.
The sudden and decisive turning of the Battle of the Atlantic in May 1943 was given to many factors, and the long range cover given by the Liberators was one of the msot important.
At the end of the war, the B-24/Liberator VLR was credited with 72 sinkings (full or shared), making it the most succesfull aircrafts against the U-boats.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The story of U-625

The U-625 was a Type VIIC U-boat laid down in July 1941 at the Blohm und Voss yard in Hamburg, launched in April 1942 and commissioned on 4 June 1942, under the command of Oberleutenant zu See Hans Benker, later promoted Kapitan zur See. The submarine spent four months training with 8. Unterseebooflotille before being posted to 3. Unterseebootflotille on 1 October 1942.
The U-boat started its first war patrol on 4 November, heading North towards the convoy routes between Norway and the Spitsbergen. On 6 November U-625's men claimed their first kill torpedoing the 5,445 ton British merchant Chulmleigh, which had already been damaged the previous day by a Ju-88 of II./KG 30.
According to (great website!), Chulmleigh's crewmen abandoned their ship and landed on an isolated part of Spitzbergen, and were not rescued until 4 January. Only 13 of the 58 men abord survived.

At 22:24 the same day, U-625 torpedoed and sank the 7,455 ton Empire Sky, en route from Archangel to Hull, via Reykjavik. No one of the 41 crewmen survived.
The vessel scored no hits until 23 November, when the 5,581 ton British merchant Goolistan was hit at 00.56, then hit again by a second torpedo at 01.18, sinking at 01.45. The ship was part of Convoy QP-15, which had departed Archangel on 17 November,
The U-boat returned to Narvik on 29 November, after 26 days at sea in which she sank 18,751 tons of shipping. Commander Benker and his men departed Narvik on 30 December 1942 for their second war patrol which turned out to be uneventuful. The same was for the third, fourth and fifth patrol up to June 1943.
U-625 sixth patrol started on 12 July 1943, the vessel heading north-east towards Soviet waters for minelaying operations. On the of 25 July, the 557 ton Soviet trawler T-904 struck a mine and sunk with ten men lost.
The U-boat returned to Soviet waters for its seventh patrol during which she again laid mines, two of which sunk the salvage vessel ASO-1 Skhval. Out of 52 crewmen only 5 survived.
The 8th patrol was uneventful. On 15 November 1943 U-625 departed Trondheim for its 9th war patrol. On 2 January 1944, in the Bay of Biscay, the vessel was attacked by a Leight Light equipped Liberator of No. 224 Sdn. The U-boat opened fire and damaged the aircraft with hits at the port side, wounding the radio operator, and then began to crash dive. Kapitan Benker cancelled the order so that he and another sailor could recover the Naxos wire, but the order was not recognised and the submarine continued to dive; Benker and the other crewmen were lost at sea.
Oberleutnant Kurt Sureth took over in command and the vessel safely reached Brest on 6 January 1944. On 29 February U-625, now under the command of Oberleutnant Siegfired Straub, it sailed from the French port for its tenth and final patrol.
On 10 May, 1944, she was caught on the surface by a Coastal Command Sunderland. U-625 mounted a spirited defense, damaging the enemy flying boat , but was hit by four depth-charges. The U-boat submerged but was forced to reach the surface in severe troubles, and finally flashed the message "FINE BOMBISH"  [sic] to the Sunderland. All crewmen safely get on lifeboats and dinghies, but they were never rescued. Unfortunately, all the 53 crewmen were lost in a storm on the following night.


German U-Boat Losses During World War II. Niestle, Axel, 1999.

Sunderland vs U-boat

On 10 March 1944, Short Sunderland MK. III, EK591/U of No. 422 Sqn (Canadian) took off from Castle Archdale in Northern Ireland to cover convoy SC 154. The convoy's destination was Liverpool: it consisted of 28 merchantmen plus nine LSTs (Landing Ship Tank), and had departed Halifax on 28 February.
The Sunderland was flown by WO W. F. Morton: he and his crew were on their first operational patrol over the North Atlantic, and were assisted by two experienced officers. Flight Lieutenat A. Omerod acted as Second Navigator, with the task of judging the crewmen's navigation skills, while Flight Lieutenant Sid Butler was aboard with the task of judging the general performance of the novice team. He was, in effect, in command of the flying boat.
The Sunderland took off at 11.25 (circa) and was on its way to its assigned area three and-a-half hours later when a U-boat was spotted off the port side. Flt Lt Butler took over in command and approached the enemy vessel turning to port and reducing eight. The U-boat choose not to submerge but to stay and fight with its anti-aircraft guns. That's were the new orders for all U-boat commanders caught on the surface by enemy aircrafts: it was considered that submarines were more likely to be lost while submerging and unable to defend themselves rather than fight with 20mm and 37mm AA guns.
The wactics had succesfully worked out earlier that same day, when U-625 together with U-741 had shot down Vickers Wellington HF 311, No. 407 Sq (Canadian).

The Sunderland was approaching when the Germans opened fire from about five miles and started to zig-zag. Flt Lt Butler took the aircraft to within one mile from the U-boat, descended to 400 feet and tried to get into position for an attack. The Sunderland opened fire too, the flying boat and the submarine furiously shooting at each other. As Butler moved around the vessel the Germans also circled around and for about ten minutes the EK591/U was unable to attack.
Given the spirited defense mounted by the Germans, Butler realised that it was impossible to positionate perfectly for an attack, so decided to take his chance and dived, levelling the Sunderland at 50 feet above the water. Approaching at 400 yard the flying boat was welcomed by intense Flak fire and the hull was damaged below the waterline. A description of this dramatic moments is given by aircraft gunner Joe Nespor, and  pilot Sid Butler:
Once in full view of the sub, two .5-inch in the nose opened fire. All guns on the U-boat were immediately silenced. Just as the aircraft was approaching the U-boat, a German gunner ran towards the gun, pulled the trigger on a 20mm cannon and the aircraft was hit on the nose. His timing was perfect as we could not depress our guns enough to reach him".
I have a distinct memory of a tall figure in a grey sweater - who was probably the gunner responsible for the damage our aircraft sustained in the last stages of the attack - leaving his guns at the last possible moment and diving for the conning tower as we passed overhead. A brave man indeed .  [Britain at War, April 2010, p. 29] 
Passing over the U-boat, the Sunderland released six 250lb depth-charges, set for detonation at twenty-five feet: they hit the U-boat, one on entering the water on the starboard side and three on the port side, exploding slightly astern of the conning tower.

Flt Lt Butler circled the submarine to check the damage inflicted: for almost three minutes nothing happened, but then the U-boat appeared in difficulty, slowly submerging. The vessel re-surfaced another three minutes later, even more in trouble.
Butler continued to circle over the scene while the crewmen transmitted over the R/T calling for the attention of any Allied aircraft of warship in position to respond and reach the area. The signal was received by another Sunderland of 423 Squadron who headed towards Butler's position.
While Butler and his men were waiting for their comrades to arrive, they took a quick check at the damage inflicted by the U-boat guns. A two-and-a-half inches wide hole had been opened on the keel together with  dozens of smaller holes. The crew carried out temporary repairs, with cover material for the bigger holes, and chewing gum for the smaller ones!

For nearly a hour and a half EK591/U circled over the vessel, then the U-boat crew flashed a visual sign to Sunderland: "FINE BOMBISH"[sic].  At this point the Germans began to abandon ship in dinghies.
U-625 sank at 17.40, in position 52° 35′20° 19′ W. The entire crew get safely into the dighies and life boats, but unfortunately no one survived.  They were all lost in a storm the next night.

Minutes later the U-boat disappeared, Sunderland C of 423 RCAF Sqn reach Butler's position, allowing him and his crew to head form home. They finally landed at Castle Archdale at 23.31.

Flight Lieutenant Butler received the DFC for his succesfull attack on U-boat U-625. 

Sunderland EK591/U photographed the day following the attack on U-625

Britain at War, April 2010,