The Anonymous Widower

The Bombing Of Dresden

I could not leave Dresden without commenting on the Bombing of Dresden by the Allies in World War II.

Some feel it was a war crime and many say it was justified. This is the first paragraph in the Wikipedia section describing the background to the bombing.

Early in 1945, after the German offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge had been exhausted — including the disastrous attack by the Luftwaffe on New Year’s Day involving elements of eleven combat wings of the Luftwaffe’s day fighter force — and after the Red Army had launched their Silesian Offensives into pre-war German territory, theGerman army was retreating on all fronts, but still resisting strongly. On 8 February 1945, the Red Army crossed the Oder River, with positions just 70 km from Berlin. As theEastern and Western Fronts were getting closer, the Western Allies started to consider how they might aid the Soviets with the use of the strategic bomber force. They planned to bomb Berlin and several other eastern cities in conjunction with the Soviet advance—to cause confusion among German troops and refugees, and hamper German reinforcement from the west.

It is a sensible argument, but I feel that decisions earlier in the War meant that to cause the required confusion, they had no alternative.

Churchill and others were also worried about what the Russians would do with the territory they captured. And he was right, as their colonisation and subjugation of Eastern Europe happened and it was something of which no-one can be proud.

In some ways it’s a pity that the German leaders in 1944, didn’t know how close we were to perfecting the atom bomb. But if they had,would the likes of Hitler ever surrendered? I doubt it! When you’re dealing with the really mad, all logic goes out of the window.

So could there have been an alternative to the bombing of Dresden and Leipzig?

What my father had been involved with in the war, I know not! But he was a passionate believer in the abilities of the de Havilland Mosquito. My father was well-connected in some way to John Grimston, who later became the 6th Earl of Veralem. In the 1950s and 1960s, Grimston’s company, Enfield Rolling Mills, was my father’s biggest customer. I know he was well-connected because when I needed a vacation job, my father rang the Earl and called in a favour, which got me three months extremely useful work in the Electronics Laboratory. My father did move in some unusual circles before and during the war. At one time, he was even working at the League of Nations in Geneva.

I have just read the section in Wikipedia about the Inception of the Mosquito. To say it was a struggle to get de Havilland’s wooden design accepted and then built would be an understatement. My father and others have said that there was scepticism in the Air Ministry about sending out crews to bomb Germany in a bomber with no defensive armament, which was built out of ply and balsa wood and stuck together with glue.

You have to remember that together the RAF and the USAAF lost hundreds of thousands of crew bombing Germany with four-engine heavy bombers. So was it the right policy?

One of my late friends, was a Mosquito pilot, who flew the aircraft in the RAF in the late 1940s. Several times we discussed the bombing of Germany in the 1070s. He had flown many types of aircraft, but in his view nothing compared with the amazing Mossie. The only flying problem, was an engine failure on take-off, which as a pilot with several hundred hours on a Cessna 340A, I know is a serious problem on any piston-engined twin. Luckily it never happened to either of us!

It is useful to compare the performance of a Mosquito to a B-17 Flying Fortress.

The following words are taken from the Bomber section in Wikipedia for the Mosquito.

In April 1943 it was decided to convert a B Mk IV to carry a 4,000 lb (1,812 kg), thin-cased high explosive bomb (nicknamed “Cookie”). The conversion, including modified bomb bay suspension arrangements, bulged bomb bay doors and fairings, was relatively straightforward, and 54 B.IVs were subsequently modified and distributed to squadrons of RAF Bomber Command’s Light Night Striking Force. 27 B Mk IVs were later converted for special operations with the Highball anti-shipping weapon, and were used by 618 Squadron, formed in April 1943 specifically to use this weapon. A B Mk IV, DK290 was initially used as a trials aircraft for the bomb, followed byDZ471,530 and 533.[108] The B Mk IV had a maximum speed of 380 mph (610 km/h), a cruising speed of 265 mph (426 km/h), ceiling of 34,000 ft (10,000 m), a range of 2,040 nmi (3,780 km), and a climb rate of 2,500 ft per minute (762 m)

And the Flying Fortress had a maximum speed of 287 mph, a cruise speed of 182 mph and a range of 1,738 miles with a 6,000 bomb load. In addition it needed a crew of ten, as against the Mosquito’s crew of just two.

I have seen statistics that Mosquito bombers could sometimes do two trips to Germany in one night with different crews and that they had the highest safe return rate of any Allied bombers.

So why did we not use Mosquitos to bomb Germany?

The statistics and according to my friend, the crews, were in favour, it’s just that those that made the decisions weren’t!

If we had been using a substantial number of Mosquitos, then a totally different strategy would have evolved, as the Allied Air Forces wouldn’t have lost so many experienced crew and the number of bombing raids would have increased and would have been of a much higher accuracy.

A serious mathematical analysis may or may not have been done since the war, but if it has been, it could have given surprising results.

This strategy could have meant that the destruction of Dresden and Leipzig might not have happened. If nothing else Mosquitos could almost have reached the German lines on the Eastern Front to support the Russians, from bases in South Eastern England.

As an aside here, after having visited Dresden, I have seen how the historic centre is all along the River Elbe, with the railway, which surely was an important target to disrupt traffic and cause confusion behind German lines, slightly further away from the river. As any pilot, who has flown at night by the light of the moon as I have, will tell you, rivers stand out like nothing else and it would have been very easy to find the historic centre of the city to drop bombs.

So I feel strongly, that the crude, misplaced philosophy of four-engined heavy bombers contributed to the destruction of Dresden. There were raids for which these bombers were ideal, like the destruction of dams, U-boat pens and V-missile sites, but carpet-bombing cities was not one of them!

To sum up, I have also heard arguments from former Mosquito pilots like my friend, and others, that properly used Mosquitos could have shortened the war by several months.

June 15, 2015 Posted by | World | , , , | 1 Comment

An Amazing Tale

The remarkable story of the wartime exploits of Ken Gatward was flagged up in The Times today. This is his obituary from the Independent.

His raid on Paris was the classic idea to wind up the Nazis.

I am reminded of the Mosquitos that after bombing Germany used to go through the streets of Dutch cities at tree-top heights, whilst the Dutch threw their hats in the air and cheered. Whilst visiting Ballast Needham in Amstelveen, I got talking about it with one of their engineers.  He said his father had told him about the amazing sight and noise as they echoed through the houses.

So,etimes these days, we seem to have lost sight of the maxim told me by an old Colonel – In case of war, burn all rule books.

November 28, 2012 Posted by | World | , , | 2 Comments

Where’s The Mosquito?

The extraordinary obituary of Ted Sismore in the Telegraph is also a catalogue of the amazing exploits of the most versatile aircraft of the Second World War; the de Havilland Mosquito. The Times describes the Mosquito as Britain’s first multi-role combat aircraft, but some of its exploits weren’t actually in combat. The aircraft flew in US Air Force colours to perform high-altitude weather research and also as an airliner to bring valuable cargoes, as varied as ball bearings, the physicist Neils Bohr and Marshall Zhukov across the North Sea to the UK.

In 1962, Queen Elizabeth awarded the Order of Merit to the Mosquito’s designer; Sir Geoffrey de Havilland. He is the only aircraft designer to receive the award, which is a personal gift of the sovereign.

So as we come to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, it would be fitting that one of de Havilland’s wooden wonders should be in the fly-past to mark the event. But it won’t be as there are no flyable examples left in the UK. The non-flying prototype sits in splendour at the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre in the hangar where it was built.

But then the RAF had no policy on the preservation of historic aircraft.

April 6, 2012 Posted by | Transport, World | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ball Bearings, The Mosquito Airliner and The Gay Viking

This story from Coast last night was fascinating, as it told the story of how the British ran the German blockade of Sweden during the Second World War to obtain essential supplies of ball bearings and other advanced technology.

I have been fascinated by the Mosquito, de Havilland’s Wooden Wonder, since I was a child and after reading the definitive book on the aircraft about thirty years ago, I realised just what a superb aircraft it was. Last night, they showed rare film of Mosquito airliners of BOAC, running the blockade to Sweden to obtain the ball bearings.

But they could not carry very much, although they were successful despite being unarmed.The airliners had a pressurised cabin, so they could go very high and remember that at the time the Mosquito was one of the fastest aircraft in the world. So they relied on height and speed for defence.

This was where the Gay Viking and her siblings came in. They were fast motor gun boats, built by Camper and Nicholsons, who are more well-known for their yachts for the rich and famous. They could bring in forty tons of cargo. The trips are described on Gay Viking’s page in Wikipedia.

July 18, 2011 Posted by | World | , , | 6 Comments

Was It Right To Bomb Germany As We Did in the Second World War?

I have felt for a long time that the bombing of German cities by the RAF and the USAAF was rather a pointless exercise driven more by vengeance and revenge than any strategic purpose to defeat the Nazis.

Remember, I was brought up in London and many of my relatives experienced the bombing first hand. My grandfather’s premises close to the Barbican, where he worked as an engraver, were completely destroyed in the Blitz. Many of these people weren’t too bothered about the bombing as it just made them angry and anyway they survived. Others might have felt different, but most just felt that you had to deal with what happened and get on with life. Supposedly, one of the reasons for bombing civilians was to break their moral and hopefully get them to turn against the government.  I think that London and other British cities that were bombed showed that it didn’t work.  If anything it just stiffened their resolve to carry on.

Was it any different in Germany, when we bombed their cities? I’ve only met a couple of Germans, who endured the bombing from the RAF and the USAAF and they didn’t seem to react any differently  to the way we did. And they probably suffered a lot more.

But also remember that a 250,000 from both the RAF and the USAAF either died or went missing in the bombing of Germany. So in some ways we lost the trained personnel that we really needed to support the invasion.

 I also remember reading the history of the de Havilland Mosquito. Initially this superb design wasn’t really wanted by the RAF, as they felt who in his right mind would want to fly across to bomb Germany in an unarmed aircraft built out of ply and balsa wood. To them and the USAAF, a heavily armed four engined bomber would obviously be better. But statistics proved them wrong, as the Mosquito, which carried virtually the same bomb load as a B-17, but with a crew of two instead of ten, had a much higher return rate and much lower losses of crew. It was also much faster and could bomb Germany twice in one night.

In my view it should have been used strategically to take out German infrastructure, such as important factories and rail junctions. Wikipedia says this.

Mosquitos were widely used by the RAF Pathfinder Force, which marked targets for night-time strategic bombing. Despite an initially high loss rate, the Mosquito ended the war with the lowest losses of any aircraft in RAF Bomber Command service. Post war, the RAF found that when finally applied to bombing, in terms of useful damage done, the Mosquito had proved 4.95 times cheaper than the Avro Lancaster.

Yesterday, the obituary of Flight Lieutenant Don Nelson was published in the papers.

He was an RAF navigator, who helped to plan the destruction of German infrastructure in the run up to D-Day.

This is an extract from The Times.

In the spring of 1944 Bomber Command under its redoubtable but stubborn leader, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, was ordered to divert a proportion of its energies from the strategic bombing of Germany, of which Harris was the architect, to attacking targets in northern France and Belgium — railways, bridges, tunnels, marshalling yards — whose destruction would materially expedite the forthcoming Allied invasion of German-occupied Europe.

Although Harris dug his heels in against what he was convinced was a misuse of his strategic bomber force, a trial raid against a railway centre at Trappes, south west of Paris, in early March resulted in such spectacular destruction and dislocation of rail traffic that it became evident that a sustained assault by Bomber Command would be capable of virtually paralysing the German capacity to move troops against whatever beach heads the Allies might establish before, and not after, the projected invasion. This was a vital discovery. In spite of Harris’s protests his best bomber squadrons were from then until June 6, 1944, and afterwards, employed on this momentous interdiction work.

The Telegraph tells a very similar story.

Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I think we probably could have done better in our bombing campaign against Germany, by bombing infrastructure important to the war effort, rather than the general population.

We also never learn from the past, as if we look at Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, we continue to make the same mistakes we always do. Inevitably vengeance seems to get mixed up with the simple objective of defeating a vile and hideous regime and its leader.

June 16, 2011 Posted by | World | , , , , , | 5 Comments

Operation Crossbow

I’m just watching this fascinating program on BBC 2, about how we used photographic intelligence during the Second World War.

It is a program, that points to not only what we got right in fighting the Germans  and the Japanese but what we got wrong.

We certainly got photographic interpretation correct, as we were able to unlock the secrets of Pennemunde and the V-1. This led to Operation Crossbow itself, which helped to neutralise the weapons. As I said in an earlier post is our photographic interpretation as good today?

Most of the aerial photography was done by Spitfires, stripped of guns and painted blue, so they couldn’t be seen. But what surprised me that some were flown by American pilots and carried USAAF markings. I hasdn’t realised that Spitfires actually served in the USAAF.

Search the Internet and you’ll find two pages; Uncle Sam’s Spitfires and Spitfire 944.

The first describes how the USAAF had to use Spitfires in Europe because Lightnings and Airacobras were not suitable to be used as fighter escorts.

This is an except.

Uncle Sam’s Spitfires had written a little-known chapter in US fighter history. Though the USAAF used over 600 Spitfires during the war, the aircraft was never given a US designation, and little publicity was given to the exploits of the 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups – nothing like what they would get in the summer of 1944 during the wild air battles over Ploesti when they flew Mustangs. This is most likely a good example of the US military’s overall dislike of having to admit to using “NIH” (Not Invented Here) equipment.

In the end the Spitfires were replaced with Mustangs, which although they were an American aircraft, they were designed to an RAF specification and had a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine like the Spitfire. But did the Packard-built Merlins have Tilly Shillings Orifice?

The second is a film made about John S. Blyth, who was a USAAF pilot who flew the photo-reconnaissance Spitfires.  He appeared in the program.

There was also rare footage of the Mosquito being used as an airliner to bring equipment out of Sweden for the photo interpreters to use. There is very little about this use of de Havilland’s amazing aircraft, where it used nothing more than its speed to ferry important war materials and people to the UK from places like Sweden and Northern Russia.  In one case Marshall Zhukov was the passenger and as he had only two words of English, “Betty Grable”, these were to be used if he wanted anything in his cramped seat in the bomb bay.

Up until I saw the program tonight, I thought that the Mosquito had been the only British aircraft to wear USAAF markings, where it was used for weather research, as it could fly higher than any other aircraft.

They also showed pictures of Barnes Wallis’s Tallboy bomb, which was used with great effect against the sites.

I sometimes wonder if had the Americans used Tallboys and the later Grand Slams against Japan, then they might not have needed to resort to nuclear weapons.  After all in the B-29 Superfortress they had a bigger delivery aircraft than the Avro Lancaster.  They also modified the Tallboy to create the Tarzon, which was used in the Korean War, so they couldn’t have been totally against the technology.

May 15, 2011 Posted by | World | , | 2 Comments

Don’t be Conventional!

On the BBC tonight, they had a program about a pilot who in the Second World War used to insert and extract agents of the SOE into German-occupied territories. One of the aircraft they used was the remarkable Westland Lysander, which although it wasn’t too good at its original job of Army Co-operation, was a superb aircraft to sneak in and out under the noses of the Germans, due to its slow speed and superb STOL performance.

But then the Second World War had its fair share of what could be described as unconventional aircraft.

The Mosquito didn’t look unconventional, but who’d have thought that an unarmed bomber built out of wood, would have been so successful. It was just that because it was light, aerodynamically efficient and could carry the same bomb-load as a B17, it could get to its targets fast and return.  In fact Mosquitos often bombed Germany twice in one day. 

But the theory of the heavily-armed four-engined bomber prevailed and we lost 250,000 aircrew bombing the Nazis, as did the Americans. Mosquitos incidentally had a much higher return rate and it could also be argued that because they were so much more agile and fast, they could have hit strategic targets, like ball-bearing factories, morning, noon and night. So there was also a moral case for using de Havilland’s wooden wonder.

The Mosquito is probably the only Second World War aircraft, that has a legacy in modern designs.  Bombers these days are not armed and British ones haven’t been for some decades.  This is because de Havilland’s fast unarmed concept was shown to be so superior, to any armed one. But the biggest legacy is in the wings of Airbuses, which like the Mosquito are glued together, rather than riveted.  You can trace the technology back through Tridents and Comets to the Mosquito and before that to the Albatross.

Supermarine is well-known for the Spitfire, but another of its products was the distinctly unconventional Walrus, designed like the Spitfire by R. J. Mitchell. It was an amphibious aircraft that could be lauched and recovered from naval ships like cruisers and battleships, but it found its major use in picking up downed airmen out of the sea. This maritime-rescue role has been taken over  by helicopters, but perhaps the role could be handled better, by a modern fixed-wing aircraft of unconventional design. The Americans have experimented with using Lockheed Hercules and pick-up systems, but nothing sensible has emerged.

The Americans too had an unconventional amphibian, the Consolidated Catalina. Like the Mosquito, the Cat seemed to revel in every task thrown at it. But unlike the Mosquito, you can still see a few examples flying.

And then there is the Swordfish or Stringbag.  This aircraft was probably obselete when the war started, but  went on to sink large amounts of Axis shipping. The Swordfish also destroyed a large part of the Italian fleet at the Battle of Taranto.  Was this battle the blueprint for Pearl Harbor? The Japanese certainly gave what the Fleet Air Arm did with a handful of obselete bi-planes more than a cursory glance!

I have always thought unconventionally!  It has never done me any harm! Although it’s got me into a few scrapes.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | World | , , , | Leave a comment

The Rivetted Wing

This picture of the wing of the 747 shows the rivets that hold it together.

747 Wing

By the way, the upturned end of the wing is an aerodynamic device to increase efficiency.

If you are on Airbus as opposed to a Boeing, you’ll see differences. 

For a start the Airbus uses a different end to a wing in that they have more of a sideways delta at the end.

But the main difference is that Airbus glue their wings, whilst Boeing use rivets.

Glue?  You  might ask.

But they have doing it for years.  In fact the technology was first started by de Havilland and was applied very successfully to the Mosquito of World War II fame.  They then applied it to the Comet and Trident airliners before using it on all Airbus wings.

The advantage is that glue carries the loads between the parts of the wing continuously, whereas with rivets the stresses are carried only at points, which have been weakened by the rivet holes.  This means that it should be possible to have a lighter wing for the same strength with glue.

Some technologies may seem strange, but don’t know them if they work.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 1 Comment

The Kunstzaal Kleizkamp Raid

In the post on the Mosquito, I mentioned the raid on the Kunstzaal Kleizkamp Art Gallery in the Hague, which was being used to store the Dutch population records.

Whilst in Holland, I had some time to myself in The Hague so I tried to find out where it was.  Using Google from my laptop, I found this Dutch article in Wikipedia.  The reason I’d not been able to find this before was that the article is only in Dutch and Kleizkamp is spelt differently in that language, as Kleykamp. There does not appear to be any trace left of the gallery opposite the Peace Palace, which is one of The Hague’s most famous buildings.

The Peace Palace, The Hague

The Peace Palace, The Hague

The article says that the gallery was a white house opposite the palace.

All that is there now is an anonymous office block.

NICB Bank, The Hague

NICB Bank, The Hague

If you translate the Dutch articles, there was a certain amount of controversy about the raid.  Some said it should be done earlier and around sixty, mainly women, died when the building was bombed.  But it would appear that the RAF didn’t have the capability to do the raid before and that it was preferred to do the raid on a working day, when the filing cabinets were open.

October 16, 2009 Posted by | World | , , | 2 Comments

The Mosquito

The Times today has the obituary of John Smith-Carington, who was a Mosquito pilot in the Second World War.

I think that unusually, The Times may have the account in the obituary about the raid on The Hague slightly wrong, as they mention releasing prisoners.  Wikipedia, which again is not sometimes the best of sources says.

On 11 April 1944, after a request by Dutch resistance workers, six Mosquito FB VIs of No. 613 (City of Manchester) Squadron made a pinpoint daylight attack at rooftop height on the Kunstzaal Kleizkamp Art Gallery in The Hague, Netherlands, which was being used by the Gestapo to store the Dutch Central Population Registry. The first two aircraft dropped high explosive bombs, to “open up” the building, their bombs going in through the doors and windows. The other crews then dropped incendiary bombs, and the records were destroyed. Only persons in the building were killed – nearby civilians in a bread queue were unharmed.

This type of raid though was typical of the Mosquito.

One of my friends learned to fly on them just after the war and he said that getting them into the air was sometimes rather dangerous, but once they were at a safe height, they were a superb aeroplane. In the latter part of the war, they could strike with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel.

The Mosquito was summed up by Goring.

The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that?

But the real tragedy of the Mosquito is that we never built enough of them.  They were fast and could outrun every German fighter for most of the war and because of this, they could actually bomb Germany twice in one day.  They also delivered over half the weight of bombs as a Liberator or Flying Fortess for just a crew of two, with a much higher safe return rate.  Remember too, that the Allied Air Forces lost hundreds of thousands of aircrew bombing Europe with a rather dubious accuracy and a somewhat vengeful strategy.

Mosquitos could and should have very accurately bombed the places that really hurt the Nazis, day in and day out.  But the powers that be, felt that you don’t go to war in an unarmed wooden bomber.

They were wrong!

At least it was realised after the way.  Wikipedia again.

Despite an initially high loss rate, the Mosquito ended the war with the lowest losses of any aircraft in RAF Bomber Command service. Post war, the RAF found that when finally applied to bombing, in terms of useful damage done, the Mosquito had proved 4.95 times cheaper than the Lancaster; and they never specified a defensive gun on a bomber thereafter.

I have been to the de Havilland Museum just off the M25, where the prototype sits in splendour where it was built.

Go and see one of the finest aircraft ever built!

July 30, 2009 Posted by | News | , , , | 17 Comments