Monday, 30 January 2012

Luftwaffe in colours - Ju 88, He 111, do 17 and Bf 110


Found on youtube, this clip shows Junkers Ju 88, Heinkel He 111, Dornier Do 17 and Bf 110 in action, omstly in the Mediterranean.

  • 00:34 - The Ju 88 seems to belong to KG 26, although the quality of the clip doesn't allow to see the emblem clearly
  • 00:55  - Ju 88 "9K+BP" of 6./KG 51 (Source: John Weal, Ju 88 Kampfgeschwader on the Russian Front)
  • 01:50 - Bf 110 of Zerstorergeschwader ZG 26
  • 02:04 - Bf-110 taking off passing over an Italian Savoia Marchetti S. 82
  • 02: 11 What the hell is the man on the fuselage doing?!

Friday, 27 January 2012

B-29 emergency landings

Missions over Japan were dangerous, as this B-29s demonstrate

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Handley Page Halifax: the forgotten bomber

The Handley page Halifax was the first four-engined heavy bomber to enter service in the RAF, carrying out its first raid on the night of 11-12 March 1941.
The Halifax was overshadowed, for its entire career, by the Avro Lancaster. Air Marshal Harris, the commander of the Bomber Command, always favoured the Lancaster for its ability to carry a higher bomb load. 
Nevertheless, final variants of the Halifax had lower loss rates than the Lanc, offered their crew higher chances of survival when hit, and could perform many other roles besides stategic bombing. The Halifax was, in fact, used by No. 100 Group for electronic warfare, and by the SOE to parachute agents over enenmy territory.
These missions involved dangerous flight deep into the Reich and it eastern territories: in one of such missions, a Halifax of No. 138 Sqn dropped nine agents over Czech Republic on 28 December 1942. On 27 May 1942, these men attacked the car on which Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Protector of Bohemia and Moravia and one of the planners of the Final Solution, killing him.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Messerschmitt Bf-110 G versions


In 1941, the Messerchmitt design team started to study new versions of the Bf-110, in order to upgrade it and adapt it to new operational standards. The best way to give the Zerstorer a new life was to mount new more powerful engines, which were indentified in the form of the DB 605 B-1. The new creation of Daimler Benz had weight and size almost equal to the DB 601, but could guarantee 1.475 hp at takeoff and 1.355 hp at 5,700 m. 

The pre-production series G-0 was followed by the G-1, which was however soon cancelled. The first version to enter service was the G-2, which could operate both as a Zerstorer or as a Jabo (fighter bomber), thanks to the Rustsatze modification kits. The Bf 110 G-2 was introduced in May 1942: it was in many aspects similar to the F-4 version, with tail rudders increased in size, stronger landing gear and a mazimum loading weight of 8.290 kg. Defensive armament was increased with the adoption of a twin 7,9 mm MG 81Z, while the fixed guns consisted of four 7,92 mm MG 17 e two 20mm MG 151, loaded with 300 and 350 rounds respectively. It was possibile to add under the fuselage two ETC500 bomb racks, or a single WT pod with two 20mm guns.  Under the wings,  two further bomb racks  or two 300 litres auxiliary tanks could be accomodated.

Using the G-2/R1 Rustsatze kit, it was even possibile to mount a 37mm BK 3,7 gun, manned by the gunner and loaded with 60 rounds. The weapon had a muzzle velocity of 1.170 m/s and could destroy a bomber with a single shot, but was also considerably heavy and reduced speed and service ceiling.
In 1943 it was finally recognized that the 7,9 mm were useless against four-engined heavy bomber, thus they were substituted in the Rustsatze G-2/R3 with a couple of MK 108 30 mm cannons, 135 round each. The G-2/R4 went even further, combining the R1 and R3: the 37 mm BK 3,7 plus the two 30 mm MK 108.

During 1943, the Bf-110 saw an unexpected second life as day fighter. The 8th Air Force launched its full scale daylight strategic offensive, sending huge formation of unescorted bombers against the Reich. The Luftwaffe High Command decided to reincorporate the Zerstorergeschwader into to Defence of the Reich ranks; it was thought that the Bf-110 could well support, with its heavy guns and long range, the Bf 109 and Fw 190 units. No less than eight Zerstorergeschwader participated in anti-bomber operations, namely:
  • I. and II./ZG 1
  • I., II., III./ZG 26
  • I., II, III./ZG 76
This units fought with courage and skills, so much that the Bf-110 became known as Pulk Zerstorer, meaning "bomber formation destroyer". They were armed with combinations of 20mm, 30mm, 37mm guns plus two or four WGr 21 rockets and destroyed many B-17s and B-24s.
From January 1944, however, the introduction of the P-51 Mustang meant that the bombers were now escorted for their entire journery to and from Germany. As it had been proved four years earlier during the Battle of Britain, the Bf-110 couldn't survive agaist single-engined fighters. Losses rose quickly, and within June 1944 the Zerstorerwaffe was disbanded, its crew sent to fighter units and its aircraft passed to the Nachtjagd.

The nightfighter units had been using the Bf-110 from 1941 as their main interceptor. For these reasons, the G-4 was the first version designed and produced for nighfighting duties. Aircraft started to reach operational units in the summer of 1942, but engine problems prevented the version to be widely operational until the following year. The G-4 was armed as the G-2, and was also equipped with radar systems such as the FuG 202 Liechtenstein and the FuG 221, able to intercept British Monica radar emissions.
Bf-110 G-4 of NJG 1
Nightfighting Rustsatze included the G-4/U7 with the GM-1 booster and the G-4/U8 long range version, fitted with two 900 litres auxiliary tanks.
From mid-1944 onwards, the Luftwaffe decided to standardize the production onto the G-4/R3, armed with two forward-firing 20 mm cannons and two 30 mm ones, plus the optional Schrage Musik installation usually mounted behind the cockpit.
This latter weapon gave to nightfighter pilots the chance to attack British bombers from below, were they were most vulnerable as they lacked ventral guns.

The end of 1943 also saw the introduction of the FuG 220 Liecthenstein SN-2 which operated of a longer-wavelenght of 90 MhZ, less affected by electronic jamming. This version, however, required bigger antennas and had a minimum range of 500 metres. For this reasons, it was necessary to mount the Liechtenstein C-1 antenna on the nose, with its full set of four masts. As a consequence, dragg and weight rose alarmingly, reducing speed of 50 km/h (30 mph). Technological improvements allowed to produce  SN-2 versions with a lower minimum range, therefore removing the big UHF C-1 antennas.

This improvements led to the final night version, the G-4c, which was used until the end of the war and became the favourite mount of many night fighter aces.

Despite being a failure as pure fighter, the Bf-110 had a second carrier as a night fighter and was one of the few aicraft produced for the entire duration of the conflict. 6,170 Bf-110 were produced, and three survived until today. They are located at:
  • RAF Musem, London - Bf-110 G-4 nighfighter
  • Deutches Technikmusem in Berlin
  • Private museum of Helsingoer, Denmark

Bf-110 G-2 of 4./ZG 1 at Trapani, Sicily

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Armstrong Whithworth Whitley

The Armstrong Whithworth Whitley was a twin-engined bomber which entered service in 1937. When the war broke out, in September 1939, seven squadrons were equipped with the aircraft. They were the first to saw action, as they flew over Germany in the first night of war dropping leaflets. The Whitley had been specifically desingned as a night bomber, therefore didn't take part in most of the daylight raids of 1939, which saw horrific losses for the Wellington and Hampden squadrons. In the first three years of war, the Whitley flew almost 9,000 operations against the enemy, dropping 9,845 tons of bombs and losing 269 aircraft. In 1942, the Bomber Command passed it Whitleys to other branches of the RAF. Most of them were given to paratroopers and glider towing training units, while a small part went to the Coastal Command. On 17 July 1942, a Whitley sunk the German U-boat U-751

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Arctic Convoy PQ 16: The Battle

The Arctic convoy PQ 16 consisted of 35 merchant vessels: 21 of them were American, 8 British, 4 Soviet, 1 Dutch and 1 Panamanian. Close escort was provided by destroyers HMS Ashanti, HMS Volunteer, HMS Achates, HMS Martin, ORP Garland, the anti-aicraft ship Alynbak, four Flower class corvettes, one minesweeper, four trawlers and the CAM ship Empire Lawrence. The officer in charge was Commodre H.G Gale, aboard Ocean Voice.

Due to the threat of German surface vessels, PQ 16 was covered by two support groups: the first was a Cruiser Cover Force comprising the cruisers HMS Nigeria, HMS Liverpool , HMS NorfolkKent and the destroyers HMS Onslow, Oribi and Marne, commanded by R. Admiral Burrough; the second support group was the Distant Cover Force, comprising the carrier HMS Victorious, the battleships USS Washington and HMS Duke of York, the cruisers USS Wichita and HMS London, and 13 destroyers.

The CAM ship Empire Lawrence
The Germans first had suspects of an incoming convoy when, in early May, agents in Canada reported the gathering of shipping in Canadian harbours. It was estimated that the convoy would have reached Iceland to form up, leaving for Murmansk from the 17th onward. Confirmation of this suspects occured when the Fw 200 Condor units first sighted the British portion of the convoy on its way to Iceland, and then spotted  the Distant Cover Force, correctly identifying the carrier and the battleships.

After reaching Iceland, the convoy sailed from Hvalfjord on 21 May. At this time of the year, the convoy would operate under particular conditions: due to the perpetual daylight of the Arctic summer, in fact, it was easier to spot and prevent U-boat attacks, but the daylight conditions also left the convoys more exposed to aerial detection and bombing.

The Luftwaffe planned several aerial reconnaisance sorties, but due to persistent banks of clouds and fogs, it was only on 25 May that PQ 16 was spotted by a FW-200, 120 miles east of Jan Mayen island. That same evening, the Luftwaffe mounted the first of a five-day series of attacks.
Units involved were KG 26 with its torpedo-armed Heinkel He 111s, and III./KG 30 with bomb-carrying Ju 88s. The Heinkels weren't successful, loosing one of their aircraft to a Hurricane launched by a CAM ship. The Ju-88 damaged one merchant vessel, the 5,127 ton Carlton, which was towed back to Iceland.

All attacks were repulsed on the 26th, but the 6,191 ton Syros was torpedoed and sunk by U-703. On 27 May, the air attacks began to break through: now southwest of Bear island, the convoy was attacked by several waves of German bombers, KG 30 alone mounting more than 100 sorties that day. First to be hit were the Russian Starshy Bolshevik and the ORP Garland, which were damaged but managed to stay afloat. The second wave of bombers hit the Alamar and the Mormacsul, 5,689 and 5.481 tons respectively, which both sank. The CAM ship Empire Lawrence was then hit by three Ju-88s, followed by a fourth in space of minutes, and sunk.
Other two ships were hit: the Empire Purcell (7,049 tons) blew up at around 20:00 hrs, while the City of Joliet was damaged and sank the following morning.
While the Junkers were wreaking havoc of the convoy, a gaggle of He 111s of KG 26 approached the vessels at low altitudes and sank the Lowther Castle with two torpedoes.
Ju 88s of II./KG 30 photographed over Norway, 1943

The following day, 28 May, the convoy was joined by three Soviet destroyers and four minesweepers, giving the amount of firepower needed to drove off subsequent attacks.
PQ 16 split up on the 29th, six ships heading for Archangel, while the rest of the convoy for Murmansk. The Ju 88s attacked again on the 30th, but this time they couldn't score any hits, and actually lost two of their numbers. According to John Weal, the Russian ace Boris Safonov (26 kills) scored at least one victory, before disappearing without trace. 

Further attacks were carried out after the convoy reached port. On 1 June KG 30 attacked the unloading merchants and dropped mines around Murmank, sinking the 5,685 ton Steel Worker.

In total, the Luftwaffe sank 8 ships, plus one damaged which was forced to turn home. The lost ships were:

  • Alamar 
  • CAM Empire Lawrence 
  • Empire Purcell 
  • Mormacsul 
  • City of Joliet 
  • Lowther Castle
  • Syros
  • Steel Worker 
The Lowther Castle was sunk by He 111s. The Spyros by U-703. All the other merchant vessels were sunk by bombs (or mines) launched by Ju 88s of KG 30.

In the book Luftwaffe anti-shipping units 1942-45, a Royan Navy report on German attacks can be found:
Bombing attacks: The Naval Authorities attributes the successes during the period of most intensive operations fom 11.15 to 21.30 hours on 27 May chiefly to the fact that the weather at the time was cluds but not completely overcast. The Junkers Ju 88 pressed home their attacks during this period to a much greater extent that when the sky was cloudless or completely overcast. The aircraft are reported to have dived at 60 degrees to a height of about 1000 feet before releasing their bombs of which they are reported to have carred four.
Torpedo attacks: The operations by torpedo-carrying aircraft do not appear to have been very successful. The aircraft approached flying low and released their torpedoes at about 10 feet. There is little information on ranges but it is known that the only hit obtained was the result of random shots from 400 yards and that, in general, the attacks were not pressed home. 

Chriss Goss, Luftwaffe anti-shipping units 1942-45, Luftwaffe Colours, 2006
John Weal, Junkers Ju 88 Kampfgeschwader on the Russian Front, Osprey Publishing, 2010

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Heinkel 111 strafing American Troops - from the movie "Patton"


A Kette of Heinkel He-111s strafing American soldiers and vehicles during the Tunisian campaign. Although there are severel inconsistencies in this clip, namely:

  • The Heinkels are carrying out a daylight strafing run instead of dropping bombs
  • The Swastikas on the tail are too big
  • It is unlikely that POWs were held next to a Luftwaffe airfiels, separated only by a fence
It is still a nice clip which give us the chance to see He-111 in flight. Curiously, the Spanish-built Heinkels are one of the most filmed aicraft, since they were also extensively used for the 1969 film Battle of Britain.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Vickers Wellington - The hard times


The Vickers Wellington was the first RAF bomber to fly combat missions over Germany. During the first three painful years of war, it represented the best the Bomber Command could deploy to attack the enemy. During the autumn and winter of 1939, the Wellingtons were sent to attack targets in daylight operations, and suffered devastating losses. Operations were quickly diverted on night attacks and, until the four-engined Halifax and Lancaster bombers were available in good  numbers, the Wellington carried out the majority of night attacks against German mainland.
Even if this is clearly a propaganda film, it's a good chance to admire the Wellington in flight, and to have glimpse of life aboard it.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Where Eagles Dare - Intro - Junkers Ju 52

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The opening scene of the famous film Where Eagles Dare, with the beautiful images of a Junkers JU 52 fyling over the Alps and sporting a state of the art winter camouflage.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Il-2 Sturmovik attacking German column

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This clip is taken from a movie I've seen on satellite, broadcasted by a Polish tv channel. I don't honestly know the movie's title, and obviously I don't understand a word of is said. Nevertheless, images are quite interesting, it's a chance to see the Il-2 in a motion picture.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Macchis over the Steppe - The Macchi C.200 Saetta on the Eastern Front

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When the Wermacht stormed over Russian soil on 22 June 1941, the opening day of Operation Barbarossa, the other states of the Axis powers promptly declared war on the Soviet Union. Many of the Eastern nations such as Bulgaria, Hungary and Rumania had long-lasting rivalries and territorial claims against the Russian. However, Germany's main ally in Europe, Italy, had joined the the war in June 1940, and had since then been heavily involved in the Mediterranean War. Despite not having particular political and territorial claims in the East, and not enough resources for a two-front war, Mussolini decided to send an expeditionary corp, the CSIR (Corpo di Spedizione Italiana in Russia). The air component of this army was constituted of the 22° Gruppo Caccia (Fighter Group), and the 61° Gruppo Osservazione Aerea (Aerial Reconaissance Group).

369° Squadriglia, Krivoi-Rog, Septtember 1941
The 22° Gruppo was equipped with the Macchi C.200 Saetta (Thunderbolt), distributed among 4 Squadrons (Squadriglie): 359th, 362nd, 369th and 371st. The fighters arrived in Tudora (nort of Rumania) in early August 1941, commanded by Maggiore (Major) Giovanni Borzoni. They were quickly deployed at Krivoi-Rog, along the river Dniepr, to back Axis forces advancing in Southern USSR. There, they started to mount offensive operations, tipically low-level attacks on Russian columns and vehicles, occasionally escorting German bomber and recce aicraft. In their first battle against the enemy, the unit claimed six SB-2 bombers and two I-16 fighters shot down. During the first months of combat, clashes with Soviet fighters didn't cause much problems, as the most common opponent was the Polikarpov I-16, which the Italians had already encountered during the Spanish Civil War. 

The most feared enemies were the omni-present flak and the harsh Russian winter. If the pilots could rely on the C.200's air-cooled radial engine and all-metal construncion, which made it ideally suited for ground-attack operations, nothing could be done against "General Winter". Engines had to be pre-heated before being ingnited, landing gears often iced, and the open cockpits rendered the pilots' tasks even more difficult . Despite these challenging conditions, operations continued for the whole November and December, reaching their peak on 28 December, when nine aircraft - six of them I-16 fighters - were shot down with no loss.

In January 1942, appalling weather prevented any activity, and it was only on 5 February that operations could restart, with a strafing mission against the airfield of Krasnjy Liman. On the 24th and 28th of the same month, two air battles occurred, resulting in four I-16s downed without losses. Between 5 March and 3 May, 21° Gruppo was part of the Nahkampffuhrer Stalino, escorting Ju-87 and carrying out free hunt as well as strafing sorties

Macchis of the 386° Squadriglia, 1942
The Gruppo carried on air operations until 4 May, when it was replaced by the 21° Gruppo, (356th, 382nd, 361st and 386th Squadriglie).
The newly arrived unit was sent to the frontline right after its arrive, and participated in the Second Battle of Kharkov, receiving official recognition and praise from the commander of the 17th Army, for the effective and daring low-level attacks in the Slavyansk area.

The German offensive in late spring 1942 smashed several Soviet armies, and Axis forces advanced deep into enemy territory, as they had done the year before. The Italian units moved to Stalino and then to Voroscilovgrad, south of the river Donetz. The Macchis were now asked to fly more escort missions, and losses raised, since the Russian had started to equip frontline units with better fighters. 
On 27 July, two squadrons were detached to Borvenkovo, covering the crossing of the river Don near Izyum. For the entire summer, the units were detached wherever they were needed, moving to Tazinskaja, then to Oblivskaja, Millerovo, again Voroscilovgrad, Kantamirovka and Starobelsk.

C.200s being refuelled, unidentified unit
The information on the last part of 1942 is scarce, but it can be clearly assumed that, in the 12 months of operations, the 22° and 21° had flown 2,557 offensive sorties, so divided:
  • 1,310 strafing missions
  • 511 bombing attacks
  • 1,938 escorts
At the end of this 12 months of combat, the Macchi C.200 had obtained a remarkable kill to loss ratio of 88 to 15. The top scorer where Captain Germano La Fera and Giovanni Vercellin, with 13 kills each.

In January 1943, the Soviet Uran offensive, which destroyed the 6th German Army at Stalingrad, and the desperate situation in North Africa, where Axis forces were on the verge of collapsing, forced the Italian High Command to call back its forces in Russia. 21° Gruppo flew its last sortie on 17 January: four days later, it retreated to Stalino and then headed back to Italy, leaving behind 15 unserviceable Macchis.

Today, one Macchi C.200 Saetta is displayed at the Italian Air Force Museum in Vigna di Valle, Rome, with the colours of the 369° Squadriglia. 
Critical Sources:

Courage Alone, Chris Dunning, Hikoki Publication, 1998

Italian Aces of World War 2, Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, Osprey Publishing, 2000

Monday, 2 January 2012

39h FS - Photo collection

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This is just a collection of pictures depicting aicraft or pilot of 39th FS. All pictures are taken from the net, no  copywright violation is intended 

Robert Faurot's P-400

Rare clip of a Fokker G-1

The Fokker G-1 was a twin-engined heavy fighter operated by the Royal Dutch Air Force. The aircraft was manned by a pilot and a gunner/observer, housed in the central nacelle, and was armed with eight forward-firing 7.7mm (0.303) and a single rear-firing gun of the same caliber.
The aircraft was intended fot the role "air cruiser", which in the same years was also the inspiration for the Bf-110 Zerstorer. The concept was to join in a single plane the speed of a single-engine fighter and the long range of a bomber, thus creating an aicraft capable of penetrating deep inside enemy airspace, without a fighter escort, and also able to fight back enemy fighters.

On 10 May 1940, when the German launched the Blitzkrieg against France and the Low Countries, 23 G-1s were on service in Dutch squadrons. Around 20 aircraft were destroyed on the ground, so a previous order of fighters for the Spanish Air Force was confiscated, and two units, 4th JaVa and 3rd JaVa fought against the odds, strafing advancing german columns and attacking enemy aicraft. Source are rare and innacurate, but some of them claims the Fokker G-1 might have shot down 10-15 enemies.

Several G-1s were captured by the Germans and tested. On 5 May 1941 Hidde Leegstra, a Fokker test pilot, and Pier Vos, a member of the company's board, managed to escape with their fighter to England while on a test flight. Their aircraft survived the wat, but was unfortunatelly scrapped in 1945.

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Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy 2012

Thanks to all the 17.764 visitors who saw us in these months, thanks a lot!