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,