The Anonymous Widower

Memorials On The Liverpool Pier Head

Liverpool is proud of its maritime heritage and the Pier Head on the Mersey is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site called the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City.

When Celia and I met in Liverpool in the 1960s, it was a simpler place, where we would walk to take the ferry across the Mersey.

These pictures show the Pier Head today.

I’d never realised that the road across the Pier Head, had been named Canada Boulevard in honour of Canadians, who lost their lives in the Battle of the Atlantic or the war against German U-boats.

Shown in the pictures is the memorial to Captain Johnnie Walker, one of the leading British commanders in the battle.

The scale of the battle is shown by the fact that according to Wikipedia the Allies lost over 70,000 sailors, 3,500 merchant ships and 175 warships, whereas the Germans lost 30,000 sailors and 783 submarines.

One thing that wasn’t there in the 1960s is the canal that links the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to the Stanley Dock, so narrow-boats can visit the city centre.

August 23, 2015 Posted by | World | , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Don’t Fight Wars Like That Anymore!

There is an obituary in The Times today of John Campbell, who won a Military Cross and Bar, whilst serving in Popski’s Private Army, which was officially the No 1 Demolition Squadron and a unit of British Special Forces in World War II.

I grew up just after the Second World War and just as newspapers today, use the actions of C-list celebrities, in those days, Sunday papers like the Express and Dispatch, were full of tales of derring-do, as the Nazis and the Japanese were eventually defeated.

As my next door neighbour, a sometime Colonel in the Engineers, once said, there’s only one rule in the British Army – In case of War, ignore the rule books.

Vladimir Peniakoff or Popski wrote them.

We probably can’t do what he did these days, when we’re trying to curb the atrocities of groups like Islamic State, but I’m sure he’d have had an innovative solution.

This paragraph from the Wikipedia entry for the PPA is informative.

PPA was unusual in that all officer recruits reverted to lieutenant on joining, and other ranks reverted to private. The unit was run quite informally: there was no saluting and no drill, officers and men messed together, every man was expected to know what to do and get on with it, and there was only one punishment for failure of any kind: immediate Return To Unit. It was also efficient, having an unusually small headquarters.

Isn’t that how you’d run a company to develop new technology?

August 18, 2015 Posted by | World | , | Leave a comment

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 | , , , | Leave a comment

Valletta – A Fortified City

Valletta is a city of fortifications.

I took these pictures as I walked in a loop from the bus station, past St. John’s Co Cathedral past Fort St. Elmo and then back along the road overlooking the Grand Harbour. I trhen took a lift to the Upper Barrakka Gardens for views of the Grand Harbour

Sadly the National War Museum in Fort St. Elmo is closed at the present time.

I will return to Valletta again.

January 28, 2015 Posted by | World | , | Leave a comment

Another Famous Belgian

Read this article on the BBC web site, entitled Adrian Carton de Wiart: The unkillable soldier. His Wikipedia article says this.

He served in the Boer War, First World War, and Second World War; was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; survived two plane crashes; tunnelled out of a POW camp; and bit off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. Describing his experiences in World War I, he wrote, “Frankly I had enjoyed the war.”

He eventually died peacefully at 83.

 

 

January 6, 2015 Posted by | World | , , , , | Leave a comment

My New All-Purpose Shopping Bag

I bought this stringbag for £2.95 and when I go out, it fits neatly in my shoulder bag or pocket.

My New All-Purpose Shopping Bag

My New All-Purpose Shopping Bag

Isn’t a stringbag the most useful of bags? After all it did lend its name to that most mighty of the Royal Navy’s attack aircraft; the Fairey Swordfish, which was called the stringbag on account of its ability to carry virtually anything to its target. Wikipedia has a full explanation.

The Swordfish is almost unique amongst military aircraft for two reasons.

Several aircraft types were built to replace it in service and it out-served them all.

In some attacks, it pressed the attack home successfully, because it flew slower than the low limit of the gun-aiming computer of the ship being attacked. The Germans hadn’t believed that an attacking aircraft would be as slow as a Swordfish.

But this unusual biplane did carry out one of the most unlikely battle successes of the Royal Navy, by attacking the Italian fleet at anchor in the Battle of Taranto. The lesson was not lost on the Japanese, who inspected the port after the attack. But the Americans, who must have known what happened at Taranto, did nothing to change their thinking.

December 27, 2014 Posted by | World | , , , | Leave a comment

Is This The Last Pill Box In London?

When I went to Wimbledon to trace the Goblin Extension, I noticed that perched on Fulham Railway Bridge was a Second World War pill box.

So I just had to go back and investigate, by taking a trip to Putney Bridge station.

I think this type of defensive structure is pretty rare in London these days.

Note though how Putney Bridge station is on the Fulham side of the river, by a bridge with that name.

Was this all done to confuse invaders, so they didn’t know whether they were coming or going, so they could be picked off easily from the pill box.

Probably not, as the naming was I suspect a cunning plan to confuse those South of the river, if they should venture into the North.

 

 

August 7, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Pilot With More Lives Than A Cat’s Home

I watched the documentary entitled Britain’s Greatest Pilot: The Extraordinary Story of Captain Winkle Brown on BBC2 last night.

The title says his story has been extraordinary and never a truer use has been made of the word. His Wikipedia  entry reads like something penned by W E Johns.

He flew a total of 487 different aircraft types and made a record of no less than 2047 landings on aircraft carriers.

If his flying exploits weren’t enough, as he was a fluent German speaker, he interrogated some of the worst Nazi war criminals.

In the documentary last night he was still bright as a button at ninety-five.

If ever there was a program that everybody should see, then this is the one. This link is to the copy on iPlayer.

June 2, 2014 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

Dating A Building In Berlin

I saw this next to my hotel in Berlin.

Dating A Building In Berlin

Dating A Building In Berlin

I can’t say I’ve seen anything so honest elsewhere giving the date of a building.

April 30, 2014 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

Four Memorials In Warsaw

Warsaw has a sorry history in the last hundred years. I took the tram to slightly outside the city centre to visit these four.

Sadly the Museum of the History of Polish Jews was closed as it was Tuesday.

The links to the appropriate Wikipedia pages follow.

1. Monument to the Fallen and Murdered in the East

2. Monument to the Ghetto Heroes

3. Umschlagplatz

4. Willy Brandt Monument

 

 

 

April 29, 2014 Posted by | World | , , , , | Leave a comment