Sunday, 30 October 2011

Lancaster dropping Windows over Germany

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.

If you like this video, please leave a comment here
You can also contact me at: