2003-09-06 – D.J. WATKINS DFC, CdeG. Obit.

Des WATKINS,
(Desmond John)
08-Nov-1921 to 06-Sep-2003

Desmond Watkins was born in Llwyn-y-pia in the Rhondda Valley on the 8th. November 1921 to Daisy Watkins (nee Knight) & her husband Jim who had served from 1914-19 with The Gloucestershire Regiment experiencing the horrors of the First War in the trenches, including Somme, Ypres, Paschendale, Mons & Gallipoli, as an ‘Old Contemptible’.

Jim Watkins went on to cross Afghanistsn via Kabul to The North West Frontier, where he served with The Indian Army, before his repatriation to Britain via the discharge port of Deolali (known in military slang as  Doolally for its large Military Sanitorium).

Desmond was the younger brother of Kenneth, who had later served, during the 1939-45 war in R.E.M.E. specialising in tank recovery in Europe.

Des fought in Spitfires in the 1939-45 war, after aircrew and pilot training in Rhodesia, he was awarded The Distinguished Flying Cross for his gallantry in the air, with 11 ½ enemy aircraft shot down and over 186 enemy trains and transport vehicles destroyed personally. For his leadership and gallantry with 350 Belgian Squadron, he was awarded one of Belgium’s highest gallantry awards – The Croix de Guerre and later the accolade of a Palme to that award.

Des carried out one tour in defence of Scappa Flow and another in the air defence curtain defending The South of England against the V1 & V2 rockets.

132Sqn FIRST OVER GERMANY 27-04-44 01
On the 26th. April 1944, with Squadron Leader Geoffrey Page and others, Desmond took part in the first Spitfire sortie over Germany, participating in the destruction of a Junkers 34, 4 trains and 3 gliders and also the serious damage of 4 factories!

In the closing days of the war whilst flying from Anson strips at the front Des was involved in the relief and clear up of the horrors as Bergen-Belsen, for further details CLICK HERE, and immediately after the war he was involved in an allied project filming and photographing areas of Continental Europe to record damage and configuration.

After a brief break from the Royal Air Force after the war, spent in India as B.O.A.C.’s operations manager and then the Middle East Desmond rejoined the R.A.F. and became one of Britain’s first jet aircraft instructors; on aircraft like the Meteors and Vampires at CFS and RAF Valley..

Desmond’s log books read almost like a history of flight with entries including Tiger Moths, Chipmunk, Harvard, Provost, Spitfire, Typhoon, Pembroke, Shackleton, Comet, Britannia, Vulcan & Hunter. Des’s Aircrew Medal carries the France & Germany bar and his General Service Medal carries the Malaya bar for his service during the Malayan conflict against Communist insurgency, where he remained until after Merdeka, the independence of Malaysia. Des Watkins’ service to his country, The Commonwealth and our future freedom, both as a pilot and a serving Officer, is unarguable, in the very many parts of the world where he served.

In 1965 he took early retirement, having been invited to run the charitably maintained West Highland School of Adventure (WHSA). During the next 14 years Desmond, who was most ably assisted by his wife Winifred; whom he had married as a young WAAF in the thick of war, in October 1943, which would have made this October their 60th. Anniversary; built the school to being a huge success in its field. Its service to youth, in its time, was unique.

Des was of tireless energy and great skill with youth from all walks of life. The school, driven forward by Des & Win, was immensely valued by individual parents, industrial management in many fields, Social Work Departments and the Chief Constables of almost every force in Britain. The perceptive, accurate and incisive in depth assessments produced on every student were immensely valued as career guides and in helping the more than 5,000 young people who passed through the school under Des & Win’s guidance.

In 1979 The Applecross Charitable Trust was formed and they were invited to take over the running and management of this new Charity.

This required a new range of skills: negotiations with industry, local authorities, government establishments and the individual tenants of the huge estate that formed the backbone source of income to the Trust. In the ten years of their management and administrative control the Charity’s income from its Estate was increased by a factor of eight augmenting its capability to donate greater sums to a broad spectrum of deserving Charitable causes. During this period Des also accepted the invitation to be the General Secretary of a National Charity whose President, Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon was pleased to frequently comment on the excellence of his service to Her Charity.

When a Youth Charity was set up in the very difficult St. Pauls area of Bristol he became a founder Trustee and rose to this new challenge by doubling its financial resources and continuing his close involvement long after retirement age.

In retirement both Des and Wyn took up a responsible role actively working for S.S.A.F.A. helping others less fortunate than they and although their ability to give of their time diminished their enthusiast remained and Des was still participating into his 80th. year.

Desmond was a man who had travelled widely and with his diverse experience and incisive intellect he could have forged a notable career for himself in almost any walk of life. Instead he chose a life of service, first in the Royal Air Force in war and in defending peace and his country and subsequently with his service to youth through charities he promoted the values his life and the country he loved stood for.

Then even when he had earned his retirement so laudably he continued to serve.

Desmond John Watkins died with great dignity after a short illness passing out of this life peacefully with his wife at his side and son Greg in attendance during the evening of Saturday the 6th. of September in the very caring MacMillan Unit of Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, having seen his remaining brother Alan, his granddaughter Kate, Win’s sister Gladys and her son Brian and Greg’s partner Lee in the days when he knew his end was nigh.
(Picture and biography from Greg Lance Watkins, son of Des Watkins)

Des’ War Claims Were:

18/04/1945
1/4 FW-190 Damaged ground
Wittenberg area

18/04/1945
1 Ju-188 Destroyed on the ground
Wittenberg area

20/04/1945
1 FW-190
Combat Report

20/04/1945
1 FW-190 Damaged
Berlin

24/04/1945
1/2 He-111
Combat Report

30/04/1945
1 FW-190
Schweriner See area

30/04/1945
1 FW-190
Schweriner See area

30/04/1945
1/3 FW-190
Schweriner See area

30/04/1945
1 FW-190 Damaged on the ground
Schweriner See area

30/04/1945
1 FW-190 Damaged
Schweriner See area

02/05/1945
1/4 Ar-234
Hohn Airfield

WATKINS, Desmond John, P/O (188502, RAFVR*) – No.350 Squadron – Distinguished Flying Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 24 July 1945:

“Pilot Officer Watkins is now on his second tour of operations. He has destroyed four enemy aircraft in the air, one on the ground, and damaged one. He has also destroyed or damaged at least 56 enemy transport vehicles, frequently encountering heavy anti-aircraft fire. He has at all times set a high example to his fellow pilots”

26/04/1944      1/4 Ju-34                                         12m S Düren
01/07/1944      1 Me-109 Damaged                           20-30m SE Caen
18/04/1945      1/4 FW-190 Damaged ground             Wittenberg area
18/04/1945      1 Ju-188 Destroyed on the ground      Wittenberg area
20/04/1945      1 FW-190            Combat Report
24/04/1945      1/2 He-111          Combat Report
30/04/1945      1 FW-190                                         Schweriner See area
30/04/1945      1 FW-190                                         Schweriner See area
30/04/1945      1/3 FW-190                                      Schweriner See area
30/04/1945      1 FW-190 Damaged on the ground     Schweriner See area
02/05/1945      1/4 Ar-234                                      Hohn Airfield

In Context With Life:
The events in this blog had an effect on every aspect of my early life and long into my adult life.

The experience of being born to parents with memories of the poverty of soup kitchens, I was born immediately after their traumatic involvement in World War Two.

My life was founded in that early insecurity, in the aftermath of the war years when, ‘Make do and Mend’, ‘Dig for Victory’, Careless Talk Costs Lives’, ‘Come into the Factories’. – all these slogans were used and later the ‘V for Victory’ sign was adopted.

I remember, well no I was frequently reminded, the average weekly spending on food was £1.14s1d, rent was 10s10d; clothes 9s 4d; fuel and light 6s 5d. Though not understanding all the implications of war for many years, the tensions of war was never the less pervasive.

Although born after the end of the War – Rationing, shortages and saving, and the guilt that went with it, were all part of my upbringing.

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The Spitfire

What Fatal Flaws did
The Spitfire have?

SPITFIRE 01

“Fatal” meaning “deadly.” I was friends with the late Jeffrey Quill, the top Spitfire test pilot through most of its development who flew and fine-tuned all 52 variants and while he acknowledged many of the Spitfires “shortcomings”…

…her vulnerability and even frailty, complexity and expense, terrible landing gear, horrible fuel capacity, initially under-gunned and its on-going altitude issues, he saw most of these factors as “trade-offs” R.J. Mitchell made as there are always trade-offs in any design, and I in general agree.

But *many* Spitfire pilots did die in her because of these and other “issues.”

Here’s a few:

There were 52 (!) different Marks of Spitfire. It was constantly in development from 1936 till 1949, and it grew from 1,030 to an incredible 2,375 HP with the Griffon-powered versions, from 362 to 439 mph, and reach altitudes from 32,000 to 43,000 feet, so any discussion of its “weaknesses” has to be a bit broad, as much of the directions the Spitfire went by R. J. Mitchell were conscious and deliberate choices but…

Yes, there were flaws in the design and Spitfire pilots died because of them, so here’s a few…

1. The liquid-cooled Merlin’s cooling system, esp. with double radiators in the bottom of its wings, its after cooler system and oil/oil cooler system were all very vulnerable to enemy fire, esp. from behind and below, one of the #1 reasons for Spitfire loses.

2. Its Rolls Royce Merlin was a bit busy and took more maintenance man-hours than similar inline V—12s. It was significantly harder to work on, maintenance-wise for the crews, as its parts were buried deep inside the tiny fighter, making it difficult to reach-lots of wasted taking-off and putting-back-on time. The tight tolerances of the Merlin made it a poor carrier-based engine that needed total replacements every 200 hours from the over-revving and vibration/pounding of carrier landings, entirely different than the huge, brutal, reliable-as-an-anvil, loose-tolerances of the American-made air-cooled Pratt & Whitneys.

3. It was very small and lightly built, and simply couldn’t take the pounding of German 20–30mm HE MINE cannon hits. As a Seafire, carrier based aircraft, it was too small and lightly built and couldn’t take the slamming of carrier operations. It needed significantly more maintenance than comparable American Hellcats, Wildcats or Corsairs. Another top reason for Spitfire losses.

4. It was complicated, slow and expensive to build, esp, the elliptical wing. A single Spitfire Mark V took 13,000 man hours to build and at the height of wartime production, Spitfires were being built at 6 every day. A Bf 109G took 4,000 hours to build and a significantly more intricate and complicated P-47 with electric dive flaps, electric gauges, and a turbo-supercharged engine took 9,100 hours.

5. Its beautiful elliptical wing didn’t always allow significant internal fuel and ammo for its cannons or the ability to externally carry significant ordnance/drop tanks.

6. Its terribly narrow landing gear “geometry” caused many crashes on taxiing, take offs and esp landings on grass fields or carriers and the Seafires were particularly hard hit killing/injuring many aviators.

7. It had early carb starvation problems in negative G dives, unfortunately during the crucial Battle of Britain, a few pilots died because of this flaw.

8. Early models were under gunned, and lacked suffiencent ammo for the 20mm Hispano’s.

9. It had terrible range from low internal fuel storage and because of its small/slight build, could not carry adequate external fuel/drop tanks, limiting it to air-to-air and taking away bomber escort and ground attack roles. (The ground attack role was also compromised by #1 above, as like most liquid-cooled fighters, couldn’t take the pounding of anti-aircraft cannons.) Some question the fuel tank placement just in front of the pilot ala F4U, but this wasn’t a huge concern, as it turns out, many aircraft choosing to place the tank *under* the pilot.

10. It was never a great high altitude fighter, limited to most of its Marks to under 37,000 feet where the Bf 109 G could perform at 39,000 feet, P-51 could perform at 42,000 and the P-47 at 43,000 feet.

11. A very good Diver, and its frame could take a stress from a dive…but only so far and would then instantly and un-expectantly break apart, affecting the pilot’s confidence in the really fast dives. But it was mostly a good “vertical-plane fighter” but early Spitfires had difficulty with control in the dive, which was largely solved on later variants by replacing the fabric covered control surfaces with all metal ones, but it took a year, July ’41 beef it happened. Early Spits also suffered from wing fatigue, limiting their dive mach number. Early-mid Spits were limited in the dive for other reasons, including the rev limit on the Merlin was 3000 rpm, as over 3000 would severely shorten its life. 3,150 was permitted but for only 20 seconds, so underdeveloped prop pitch control and range limited their diving speeds till the mid-Marks, but the Spitfire V had a major dive problem develop around 1942 caused by weight and Center of Gravity shift that was eventually solved via bob weights. But once the bugs had been sorted out, she was a good “Boom and Zoomer”

12. As for the Roll it performed well, equal or better through most of its life to the Bf 109 but far poorer than the fabulous Fw190. There were problems but over time changes were made, wings were clipped, and NACA 868 reports shows a Spitfire roll rate peaking at 200 mph, at 150°/sec for a clipped wing version and 105°/sec for full wing version. But again, there were corrections to the ailerons throughout the war. Some spitfires were modified by changing the wings from the original elliptical shape to a “clipped” planform that ended abruptly at a somewhat shorter span. This sacrificed some turning performance, but it made the wings much stiffer and therefore improved roll rate.

It was a tremendous aircraft, one of my favourites, (and to my artist’s eye, likely the most beautiful of all WWII aircraft), but it had a number of “weaknesses,” I suppose, most connected to her small size and light build and affected her versatility.

The Spitfire was very fast, quick, agile, manoeuvrable, with a good (but not great) rate of climb. To achieve that it had to be, by design, light, small, narrow/aerodynamic, very slightly built, with a thin wing, and a bit fragile, perhaps, compared to other stronger fighters. It was also difficult and expensive to build: costing roughly $63,000 US when a P-51 was $51,000.

So to take on those 11 issues:

1. The liquid-cooled Merlin’s cooling system, esp. with double radiators in the bottom of its wings, its after cooler system and oil/oil cooler system were all very vulnerable to enemy fire, esp. from behind and below.

One of the problems with the Spitfire’s vulnerabilities is it’s liquid-cooled Rolls Royce Merlin V-1650 inline engine.

(Above: Spitfire’s coolant system which took up about 1/3rd of the aircraft: two radiators, coolant hoses and fittings, water pump, coolant/header tank, were all totally unarmored, and just like your family car, one tiny piece of high velocity metal as small as a fingernail clipping, could piece the coolant system and within a few minutes the coolant ouldbe expelled under pressure of the water pump, the tight-toleranced, liquid-cooled engine was now an air-cooled engine, the engine would overheat, pieces would expand and seize and your Spitfire was now a brick.)

(Above: Showing the vulnerability of both sister aircraft, liquid-coolant radiators…on the bottom of the aircraft, THE most vulnerable place from fire from behind and below.)

(Above: It had two radiators in the wings, and top Grumman test pilot “Corky” Meyer wrote: “It’s highly visible engine oil and coolant systems under the wings were very vulnerable to aerial and ground attacks.”)

Here’s what the P-51 designer Ed Schmued said about the vulnerability of his own Merlin-powered P-51, that applies equally to the Spitfire:

“335 F-51D Mustangs were lost in the Korean War, with 264 pilots killed or missing. Of these losses, 172 fell to enemy ground fire, ten to enemy jet fighters, with forty-four missing and unaccounted for, and the remainder to accidents. “Unfortunately, the P-51 was a high-altitude fighter. [In Korea] it was used in ground support work, which is absolutely hopeless, because a .30-caliber bullet can rip a hole in the radiator and you fly two more minutes before your engine freezes up. Flying a P-51 in ground support was almost a suicide mission. It is unfortunate that the airplane had been used for ground support, but in the Korean conflict we were short of airplanes and anything had to do. This was the reason for using the P-51 in low-level operations.”-Ed Schmued, P-51 designer,”-MUSTANG IN KOREA-Weapons and warfare.

MUSTANG IN KOREA
Lt A.E. Helseth, a young American U.S. Air Force pilot with barely 200 hours of Mustang flight time in his logbook, was flying in a section of Republic of Korea Air Force F-51s led by Major Dean He…

And here’s what “Corky” Meyer, Grumman’s top test pilot in WWII/Korea and America’s top civilian test pilot of all time said on evaluating the P-51s (B/D/H) he tested:

“…Its other far worse vice was its vulnerability when shot at from the rear. The engine-cooling radiator was located in the belly of the aft fuselage and was an easy target, which could be quickly fatal to the engine’s combat life. Note: The air-cooled radials of the P-47s, Hellcats, and all of the other of the radial-engined powered aircraft had no liquid coolant engine-stopping vulnerability and their oil coolers were usually buried safely behind the engine. Many unfortunate P-51 and P-38 pilots had to bail out over enemy territory because of this drawback and spent the rest of the war In very inhospitable German stalags (prisons.) The P-51D had the greatest model production run of 7,956 aircraft. Its major vulnerability to enemy ground and aerial gunfire was from its oil and engine coolant radiators located in the aft fuselage.”-’”Corky” Meyer’s Flight Journal: A Test Pilot’s Tales of Dodging Disasters-Just In Time.’ Pages 159–160, 2006, Specialty Press.

(Above: Very similar to the P-51, the Spitfire’s coolant and after coolant systems and radiators and incredibly vulnerable to rear and lower fire. This was one of the main reasons for Spitfire losses in the war.)

A real Spitfire weakness is the vulnerability of the twin radiators being hit from the rear/beneath. So many P-51s were destroyed this way that when the new P-51H was developed, the oil cooler was moved from inside the belly scoop to in front of the oil tank ahead of the firewall, deep within the aircraft. This also eliminated the vulnerable oil lines that ran from the engine to the old location in the scoop. The oil was now cooled by a heat exhanger mounted next to the engine intercooler. Unfortunately when the P-51s were sent o Korea, they sent the old D models with the vulnerable radiator scoops in the belly and the H’s never saw combat. The Mustangs then took heavy losses in Korea from ground attack that Ed Schmued so regretted.)

2. Its Rolls Royce Merlin was a bit busy and took more maintenance man-hours than similar liquid-cooled inline V-12s.

The Allison V-1710 V-12, for instance, had aprox. 7,000 parts vs the Merlin’s aprox. 11,000 parts, and both made pretty comparable HP, although the number of *moving* parts are more equal.

In the USAAF Statistical Digest…

USAF STATISTICS
USAF STATISTICS SINCE 1945 While the USAF Statistical Digests and Summaries are not AF History publications, the information they contain is valuable and often requested by researchers.  The statistical data has been collected, compiled and produced since 1945 by the Comptroller of the Air Force. Earlier Digests contained a wealth of information about the USAF. Some include organization charts, leadership lists, lineage of commands, installation maps, chronologies, etc. Be aware that categories of statistics may change, as well as the starting date of the fiscal years. Categories may be dropped, added, combined with others and may vary in methods of calculation throughout the years. Many of the electronic files were produced by manually cutting apart and scanning existing documents. Quality varies. AF Historical Support Division does not have a Digest/Summary for all years. 2013 is the last year that the Statistical Digest was published.

…Specifically:

https://media.defense.gov/2011/Mar/31/2001330134/-1/-1/0/AFD-110331-045.pdf

and:

https://media.defense.gov/2011/Mar/31/2001330135/-1/-1/0/AFD-110331-049.pdf

…the numbers showed that the average man-hours expended per major engine overhauls in continental US-based maintenance depots from July 1943 through August 1945 on a monthly basis, showed the Packard Merlin V-1650 required an average of 320.2 man-hours per overhaul with a high of 592 hours and a low of 190hours.

And During the same period the Allison V-1710 required an average of 191.5 man-hours per overhaul with a high of 376 hours and a low of 117 hours.

(Above: A factory worker makes the final adjustments to the Supercharger, which is now ready to be fitted to the engine at this factory.)

The Merlins used on the Seafires were battered and overworked in the initial extra boost/revs need to help get airborne and the continued pounding of all carrier operations. The Merlin wore out quickly by over revving and 3000 rpm was the red line with 3150 allowed for only 20 seconds. The Seafire engines needed complete, 100% replacing after only 200 flying hours. The Merlin, jewel of an engine that it was, (and I’ve seen that personally having had the chance to personally get my hands greasy on a Merlin out of a P-40F work, and involved with the restorations/installations of two additional P-51s and their Packard Merlins,) but I also had the chance to help maintain a P&W R-2800 in a friends F4U that, while not such a pretty jewel, seemed infinitely tougher and hardier.

3. It was very small and lightly built, and simply couldn’t take the pounding of German 20–30mm HE MINE cannon hits.

(Above: It was seven feet shorter than a P-47, and empty weight of 5000 lbs was almost half that of the 10,000 lb P-47, and its gross weight of 6600 abs compared to the P-47 at 17,500 lbs. BIG is GOOD! BIG means redundancy of vital systems, steel, steel and more steel to stop German cannon shells, and the strength to taking any kind of pounding, not have your wings tear away I dives, and the strength to carry a decent payload r external fuel.)

And another trade-off to this design, and there are always trade-offs, was that it simply could not stand 20–30mm cannon hits from the German guns, it was too small and weak to carry a lot of internal or external fuel, 20mm ammo and a decent bomb load.

German thin-skinned 20mm and 30mm cannon shells with “MINE” capabilities, i.e. very high explosive, could rip open Allied aircraft like a can opener:

(Above: Modern 20mm HE shell vs .50 caliber, but you get the idea…)

(Above: Some Allied and esp. German ammunition.)

A1: U.S. .50 cal BMG (12.7 MM) and .30 cal (7.62 mm) Light Machine Gun Rounds, (Not too dissimilar to the British .303.)

The Germans relied on these caliber cannons/shells:

E: 20mm from the Oerlikon MG FF.

F: 20mm Mauser from the MG151/20 – The excellent replacement to the MG FF and became the primary aircraft weapon for the Luftwaffe from about 1942 to 1944,

G: 30mm from the Mk 108- Although having a lower ballistic performance so it was like tossing softballs, the gun was relatively light and compact. Fighters could carry two or in the case of the Me 262, even four MK 108s.

(Above: 30mm Mk 108. Short barrelled, low velocity but very hard hitting.)

You get hit by an “F” or a “G” and you don’t have “problems,” you’ve got “Trouble.” Be afraid, be very afraid. P-47s, and dual/multi-engined craft like Mosquitos, P-38s and bombers could take a couple of hits and still get home…not a Spitfire.

Please watch these two very brief clips of tests the RAF did firing a German Mk 108 30mm with HE Mine-Geschoss shells against a Spitfire to prove my point. Holy SH*T!!!:

(Above/below: RAF Test of the Rheinmetall‑Borsig MK 108 30 mm destructive power [Colorized] vs a Spitfire.)

(Above: Bye!)

(Above: Art Sager and his damaged Spit. Hurricanes, Spits, Bf 109s and P-51s could shake off machine-gun bullets but cannon fire wasn’t so easy…)

The Spitfire is very slender, of very light build and relatively fragile, although its stressed-skin structure was a huge step up from the Hurricane’s. But one good cannon hit and its “Adios muchachos.” )

(Above: A single German 30mm HE shell hit this P-47′s wing. Steel, steel and more steel. She made it home. Go back and watch the same 30mm shell test blowing the wing and then the tail right off the Spitfire.)

(Above: Likely a German 30mm HE shell hit this P-51D’s tail.)

(Above/below: Some early-war German 20mm cannon hits. The German HE shells were to get far more destructive as the war progressed.)

Addressing…

4. It was complicated and expensive to build, esp, the elliptical wing, AND…

5. Its beautiful elliptical wing didn’t always allow significant internal fuel and ammo for its cannons or the ability to externally carry significant ordnance.

AND…

8. Early models were under gunned, and lacked sufficient ammo for their 20mm Hispano’s.

All at once…

But, #4:

(Above and images below: A quick, fun gallery of Spitfire manufacture. Castle Bromwich factory, Birmingham. Spitfires were expensive, difficult and slow to manufacture. Tommy Shelby and Aunt Polly (RIP) are working on a scheme in the back office.)

(Above/below: same photo of Birmingham factory, one colorised for comparison.)

(Above/Below: Perhaps I’m just a jaded, mechanised American, but doesn’t some of these images of Spitfire manufacture look a little…disorganised? Like a “Chinese Fire Drill?”

(Above/Below: For comparison: P-51 Mustang manufacturing line. One was made every two hours. Corelli Barnett, in Audit of War, famously wrote a Mark V Spitfire took 13,000 man-hours to build, and at the height of wartime production, Spitfires were being built at 6 every day, 186 in a month. The North American plant in Inglewood, Ca, once churned out 571 P-51s in a month. I go into this in detail here:

How long did it take to build the P-51 Mustang fighter?

A Bf 109G took 4,000 hours to build, a double-boomed P-38 took 9,600 hours, a B-25 bomber took 10,700 hours and a significantly more complicated P-47 with electric dive flaps, electric gauges, and a turbo-supercharged engine took 9,100 hours.

(Above: Spitfire pilot “flat-hatting.” Guess who’s grounded tomorrow?)

Let’s all about that big, beautiful but thin and complicated Spitfire elliptical wing. When you think “Spitfire” you think of two things, a Rolls Royce Merlin and that elliptical wing that R.J. Mitchell put everything he had learned working on the high speed Schneider trophy-winning aircraft into the Spit.

(It’s elliptical wing was so complicated and expensive that basically only a few aircraft in WWII had others, including: The He 111, the Japanese “Val,” the Italian Reggiane 2000, the Hawker Tempest and the P-47 Thunderbolt. The P-47, though huge and seemingly lacking slippery aerodynamics, actually had an incredibly efficient drag coefficient of .0217, second only to the P-51D’s and P-63A King­cobra’s .0176.)

The reasoning for the elliptical wing was simple: the design called for a shape which needed to be thin to avoid creating too much drag, but it had to be thick enough to house the retractable undercarriage, armament, and ammunition. It was decided that an elliptical planform was the most efficient aerodynamic shape for an untwisted wing, leading to the lowest amount of induced drag.

This wing shape was, however, difficult to manufacture. By the end of the war, engineers had come up with several wing planforms that were nearly as efficient as the elliptical wing, but were much easier to manufacture.

Being so complicated and comprising so many individual parts, Spitfire wings took up a major portion of the time and expense the Spitfire’s manufacture. Definitely a problem.

Some spitfires were modified by changing the wings from the original elliptical shape to a “clipped” planform that ended abruptly at a somewhat shorter span. This sacrificed some turning performance, but it made the wings much stiffer and therefore improved roll rate.

The Merlin-powered Spitfires used four different wing types, A through to D which had the same dimensions and plan but different internal arrangements of armament and fuel tanks. After introducing the Griffon, Supermarine recognized the need for a completely revised laminar-flow wing to facilitate even higher speeds made possible by this powerful engine. Starting with production Spitfire Mk 21, this wing became standard for post-war variants of this famous fighter.

(Above: Part for why the Spitfire was so expensive/difficult to built: the complicated wing spars.)

The majority of the day fighter Spitfires from the Mk I through Mk XVIII used four basic wing types, A, B, C and E, but for “a “weakness,” I’ll just look at the early A and B types that didn’t allow enough firepower…

A type

The original wing design, the basic structure of which was unchanged until the arrival of C type wing in 1942. The only armament able to be carried was eight .303-calibre Browning machine guns with 300 rounds per gun.

Each .303 was roughly 1/2 the fire power of a Browning M2 .50 caliber, so it had the equivalent of four .50s. As discovered with the first American P-51Bs with only four .50s, just not enough firepower.

Towards the end of 1940 the fabric covered ailerons were replaced by ones covered in light-alloy.

(Above: General arrangement of the Type A wing. You can see the outlines of the eight .303s, each with only 300 rds per gun, that frankly were not enough firepower, serious weakness in the early Spitfires.)

B type

This was the A type wing modified to now carry 20mm Hispano cannons. One type of armament could be fitted, comprising two 20 mm-calibre Hispano Mk II cannon, fed from drum magazines with the capacity of 60 rounds/gun, and four .303 Browning machine guns with 350 rounds per gun.

Each 20mm Hispano had roughly the firepower of three Browning M2 .50s, so this was the equivalent of eight .50s, but the 20mm ammo was very low with only 6 seconds of fire, total.

The alloy covered ailerons were standardised on this wing type.

(Above: General arrangement of the Type B wing. You can see the outlines of the four .303s, each with 350 rds per gun, and the two 20mm Hispano’s, now very decent firepower, but again, only 6 seconds of shooting for the 20mm.)

6. Its terribly narrow landing gear “geometry” caused many crashes on taxiing, take offs and esp landings, and the Seafires were particularly hard hit.

Another weakness of the Spitfire, and a big one was her very narrow landing gear. Not as terrible as the criminally insane “geometry” of the Bf 109 that caused thousands of taxiing, take-off and esp..landing accidents that killed or injured thousands of young pilots, mostly in the last year of the war with the very green German pilots with little experience and training dealing with the chronic problems of the 109s fragile and poorly designed landing gear, all to keep Willy Messerschmidt’s (admittedly) beautiful wing. Tragic and stupid.

(Below: The Spitfire was similar in design but not quite so narrow, and with its tires firmer and more directly placed on the landing surface, gave it an edge:)

(Below: As the war was in it its final year and German fighter pilot training fell off to almost nothing because of fuel and teacher shortages, thousands of green pilots in hopped-up Bf 109Gs and Ks crashed and often died esp. on landings. The Bf 109 had always been twitchy and you learned to land with your foot always touching the left pedal and ready to counter act a ground loop. There were possibly as many as 11,000 take-off, taxiing and esp. landing accidents in the Bf 109s almost decade of service. Willy Messerschmitt knew of the flaw and was desperately confronted by his design team but chose not to fix it, to keep his incredible wing, condemning thousands of 109s to crash and thousands of German boys to death or injury. Here’s the even more fatally narrow/poor Bf 109’s gear with the tires on their edges:)

(Below: Now here’s the brilliant Fw 190 gear, similar to the P-51 and P-47, with tires firming on the ground:)

“Corky” Meyer was sent to London immediately after V-E Day to extensively interview Focke Wulf designer, Kurt Tank. They were both outstanding test pilots and got along well. “Corky” said Tank didn’t necessarily have a lot of admiration for Willy Messerschmidt, and specifically berated him for the criminally insane “geometry” of the Bf 109’s horribly narrow landing gear that lead to over 10,000 take-off, taxiing and mostly landing crashes during its decade-long service, esp. the last year with green boys, untrained/unaccustomed to the Bf 109’s “eccentricities” and penchant for ground looping at the best of times, made even worse with the new hot-rodded G and K versions, known for torque surges on landing.)

Top Spitfire test pilot Jeffrey Quill spoke to me about the Spitfire’s tough landing gear, esp. in the Seafire version on unforgiving carrier decks and the work he and Capt. Eric Browns did on the Seafire’s gear. A successful Seafire deck landing/capture needed a “three-point” landing. If the fighter hit the deck on just its main wheels, it would bounce over the arrester wires and go into the crash barrier.

(Above: Seafire crash landing aboard escort carrier HMS Stalker. Seafires were terrible carrier aircraft for 1000 reasons.)

Ongoing attempts were made to mitigate its landing weaknesses: In March 1943 all Seafire Mk IB and IIC aircraft received modifications to their arrester hook to increase its load from 7000lbs to 10,500lbs. In August that year the strengthening of the arrester “A” frame and fittings was initiated.

(Above: Seafire crash. I believe you can see under the tail on the left a severed landing gear almost taking out a deck crewman.)

A major discovery of these trials was that arrester wires needed to be correctly tensioned to avoid the tail of the Seafire rising after capture, which – in turn – caused the propeller to make contact with the deck.

“As regards the speed of the (early) Seafire, the added weight of strengthening the fuselage to take the heavy arrester hook had reduced this quite considerably and indeed it was far from being the famous fast Spitfire from which it was derived. — FAA pilot, Henry “Hank” Adlam: The Disastrous Fall and `Triumphant Rise of the Fleet Air Arm from 1912 to 1945

The Seafires were notoriously hard to land on a heaving deck, esp. with the very poor and narrow landing gear. The Royal Fleet Air arm had terrible losses till they could be sorted out and their aviators taught better landing technics, mostly taught by top Spitfire test pilot, Jeffrey Quill. 1,620 Seafires were built but it was a poor carrier aircraft, in many respects similar to the F4U Corsair, in destroying more aircraft in operations losses and killing more aviators than in combat by a wide margin. The Seafire had the same problem as other Spitfires as because of its low internal fuel storage, it had a vey short operation range for CAP.)

(Above: French Seafire crash on the carrier L’Arromanches. To quote the pencil written note on the back side of the photo “Aircraft ended its course in the net and as usual pilot escaped uninjured”. Photo taken by my grandfather during a mission to Indochina. – Photo taken at Sea [OFF AIRPORT] in International Airspace in 1948.”)

Three aircraft and the escort carrier HMS Ravager were allocated to an urgent program of testing in an effort to identify problems and develop improved landing techniques. In November 1943, test pilot Lieutenant Eric Brown found himself behind the stick of a Seafire.

(Above: A Supermarine Seafire hits the barrier on HMS INDEFATIGABLE after returning from a strike on the Japanese oil refinery at Pangkalan Brandan, Sumatra.)

His orders: Put the Seafires through a rigorous program of testing “until something broke”.

This he did: He wrote-off two of the machines. His testing program involved landing at incrementally lower speeds and heights, as well as experimenting with different approach techniques.

The main undercarriage legs were strengthened and extensive landing trials conducted aboard HMS Pretoria Castile in February 1944 and HMS Indefatigable in March to find ways to eliminate Seafire’s tendency for arrester-hook bounce.

A major discovery of these trials was that arrester wires needed to be correctly tensioned to avoid the tail of the Seafire rising after capture, which – in turn – caused the propeller to make contact with the deck.

Combined with improved training, this fleet carrier’s Seafire attrition rate fell to acceptable levels.

7. It had early carb starvation problems in negative G dives.

One of the Merlin’s drawbacks however, was its carburetted air-fuel delivery. It was calculated that the lower temperature in the carburettor would provide a denser air and fuel mixture and therefore more power over a fuel injected system, but this came a cost of continuous fuel supply. If a Merlin powered aircraft nosed down into a steep dive, the Negative G force…

g-force – Wikipedia
Term for accelerations felt as weight and measurable by accelerometers This article is about effects of long acceleration. For transient acceleration, see Shock (mechanics) . In straight and level flight, lift ( L ) equals weight ( W ). In a steady level banked turn of 60°, lift equals double the weight ( L = 2 W ). The pilot experiences 2 g and a doubled weight. The steeper the bank, the greater the g-forces. This top-fuel dragster can accelerate from zero to 160 kilometres per hour (99 mph) in 0.86 seconds. This is a horizontal acceleration of 5.3 g. Combining this with the vertical g-force in the stationary case using the Pythagorean theorem yields a g-force of 5.4 g. The gravitational force equivalent , or, more commonly, g-force , is a measurement of the type of force per unit mass – typically acceleration – that causes a perception of weight , with a g-force of 1 g (not gram in mass measurement) equal to the conventional value of gravitational acceleration on Earth, g , of about 9.8 m/s 2 . [1] Since g-forces indirectly produce weight, any g-force can be described as a “weight per unit mass” (see the synonym specific weight ). When the g-force is produced by the surface of one object being pushed by the surface of another object, the reaction force to this push produces an equal and opposite weight for every unit of an object’s [ which? ] mass. The types of forces involved are transmitted through objects by interior mechanical stresses. Gravitational acceleration (except certain electromagnetic force influences) is the cause of an object’s acceleration in relation to free fall . [2] [3] The g-force experienced by an object is due to the vector sum of all non-gravitational and non-electromagnetic forces acting on an object’s freedom to move. In practice, as noted, these are surface-contact forces between objects. Such forces cause stresses and strains on objects, since they must be transmitted from an object surface. Because of these strains, large g-forces may be destructive. Gravity acting alone does not produce a g-force, even though g-forces are expressed in multiples of the free-fall acceleration of standard gravity. Thus, the standard gravitational force at the Earth’s surface produces g-force only indirectly, as a result of resistance to it by mechanical forces. It is these mechanical forces that actually produce the g-force on a mass. For example, a force of 1 g on an object sitting on the Earth’s surface is caused by the mechanical force exerted in the upward direction by the ground , keeping the object from going into free fall. The upward contact force from the ground ensures that an object at rest on the Earth’s surface is accelerating relative to the free-fall condition. (Free fall is the path that the object would follow when falling freely toward the Earth’s center). Stress inside the object is ensured from the fact that the ground contact forces are transmitted only from the point of contact with the ground. Objects allowed t

…would temporarily starve the engine of fuel and cut it off.

This was partly solved with ‘Miss Shilling’s orifice’, named after its designer, which attempted to reduce the fuel rich mixture and maintain engine power. Further solutions were added, but the problem was never completely solved.

German aircraft like the Bf 109 were fuel injected, meaning they produced power at any orientation. They would often exploit this weakness in aircraft like the Spitfire by simply nosing down to avoid an attack.

Check out the simple but brilliant fix here:

Miss Shilling’s orifice – Wikipedia
Fuel flow restrictor retro-fitted to Merlin engines The Rolls-Royce Merlin engine originally came with a direct carburettor, prone to cut-out due to fuel flooding in negative G. Miss Shilling’s orifice was a very simple technical device made to counter engine cut-out in early Spitfire and Hurricane fighter aeroplanes during the Battle of Britain . While it was officially called the R.A.E. restrictor , it was referred to under various names, such as Miss Tilly’s diaphragm or the Tilly orifice in reference to its inventor, Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling . Engine cut-out problems [ edit ] Gun camera view of a Spitfire firing at an He 111 bomber. A sudden loss of power caused by a slight downward pitch of the nose could be fatal in such a situation. Early versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine came equipped with an SU carburettor . When an aeroplane equipped with such an engine performed a negative G force manoeuvre (pitching the nose hard down), fuel was forced up to the top of the carburettor’s float chamber rather than down into the engine, leading to loss of power. If the negative G continued, fuel collecting in the float chamber would force the float to the floor of the chamber. Since this float controlled the needle valve that regulated fuel intake, the carburettor would flood and drown the supercharger with an over-rich mixture. The consequent rich mixture cut-out would shut down the engine completely. [1] During the Battles of France and Britain , the German fighters had fuel injected engines and therefore did not suffer from this problem as the injection pumps kept the fuel at a constant pressure. The German pilots could exploit this by pitching steeply forward while opening the throttle, a manoeuvre that the pursuing British would be unable to emulate. The British countermeasure, a half roll so the aircraft would only be subjected to positive G as it followed German aircraft into a dive, could take enough time to let the enemy escape. The Tilly orifice [ edit ] Complaints from pilots over engine cut-out during dives and brief inverted flight led to a concentrated search for a solution. Engine manufacturers Rolls-Royce produced an improved carburettor, but this failed in testing. It was Beatrice ‘Tilly’ Shilling , an engineer working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough , who came up with a simple device which could be fitted without taking the aircraft out of service. She designed a thimble-shaped brass flow restrictor (later refined to a flat washer) with precisely calculated dimensions to allow just enough fuel flow for maximum engine power. It came in two versions, one for 12 psi manifold pressure and another for the 15 psi achieved by supercharged units. [2] While not completely solving the problem, the restrictor, along with modifications to the needle valve, permitted pilots to perform quick negative G manoeuvres without loss of engine power. This improvement removed the RAF’s Rolls-Royce Merlin -powered fighters’ drawbac

8. Look under 4 and 5…

9. It had terrible range from low internal fuel storage and because if its small/slight build, could nt carry adequate external fuel’drop tanks, limiting it to air-to-air anf taking away bomber escort and ground attack. (The ground attack role was also compromised by #1 above, as like most liquid-cooled fighters, couldn’t take the pounding of anti-aircraft cannons.)

TheSpitfire had extremely short legs. Its low internal fuel capacity, 85 gallons, compared with:

P-38J 410 gal

P-47D-20 305 gal

F4U-1 351 gal

P-51D 269 gal

(And each of these was later designed to carry much more internal drop tanks,) limited its ability and wouldn’t let it fly very far or fight for very long, a huge weakness throughout the war. This greatly limited its radius of action for bomber support or lan-range fighter sweeps once the action had moved away from England and the Continent. The Spitfire and Bf109 had been designed to meet the requirements of the time (pre war), that is, as short-range interceptors, and had never been imagined as having to fly great distances on, for example, escort missions. Whereas the P-51, from the outset, was designed with range and endurance in mind, which even then, was improved as the needs dictated.

Being short on fuel, the Spitfire’s major drawback beside bomber escort, was in the fighter-comber/ground attack role, due to its low weight of ordnance or fuel-carrying capability.

Modifications were made to the late Mk V series to carry one centerline 500 lb bomb or a 170 gallon drop tank. In the 5,665 Mk IXs built, the bomb load was finally increased to 1,000 lbs. (For comparison a P-47 can carry 3000 lbs and a F4U Corsair can carry 4000 lbs of bombs/rockets.)

(Above: Modified Mk V w/two wing bombs.)

Several later models carried six wing racks for 5-inch HVAR rockets. This limited external stores armament list remained the same until after the Mk XVI model ended wartime production.

(Above: Six wing racks for 5-inch HVAR rockets.)

(Above/Below: Spitfire Mk IX MK210 with metal drop tanks during tests in USA)

Early Seafires could remain on station for only 45 minutes under combat conditions. The Sea Hurricane was barely better, offering only one hour CAP patrols. The Martlet (Grumman F4F Wildcat) could stay on station for 2 hours 15 minutes, while the Fulmar averaged 2 hours.

As a result, the Seafire was initially reserved for defensive missions: The longer-ranged Martlets and Fulmars maintained the CAP, while the Seafire filled its sibling’s interceptor role – sitting on the deck ready to leap into action once the first radar reports started rolling in.

So the Royal Fleet Air Arm guys near Malta improvised a RAF-style “slipper” drop tank fitted to the belly of some Seafires:

“We found that it could hold 90 gallons of 100 octane fuel. This was more than the Spitfire carried in its internal tanks. A closer study of the jettison arrangements showed that a Bowden cable release in the cockpit let go the lifting ring — stressed to three tons breaking strain — in the top surface of the tank. The tank then slid backwards onto two lugs sticking out two inches from the fuselage underside. The nose of the tank then dropped and the airflow forced it downwards and clear of the fuselage underside. The slightest skid, we thought, and the whole thing would come clear of the two lugs, slide back and hit the tail. However , the Spits would now have a range of 400 miles and would allow a fly-off to Malta well before we got to ‘bomb alley’.”-Commander ‘Mike’ Crosley.

The Seafire was not a good carrier aircraft, too lightly built, too fragile to take carrier landings/poundings and the Merlin was not a good carrier engine and needed replacing every 200 hours, easily twice as often as land-based Spitfires, from the extra boost stresses and over revving of take-offs, and the pounding/jarring/vibration of carrier landings and operations.

She flew like an Arabian stallion compared to the heavier, workhorse feel of the American fighters, but she was too “short-legged” in the fighter-bomber, ground attack and escort bomber roles. This severely hurt her overall performance, versatility and standing with other WWII fighters.

10. It was never a great high altitude fighter, limited to most of its Marks to under 37,000 feet where the Bf 109 G could perform at 39,000 feet, P-51 could perform at 42,000 and the P-47 at 43,000 feet.

This called for two principal modifications, the introduction of a pressurized cabin and the use of a Merlin suitably rated for higher altitude. The first version of the Spitfire so equipped, was the Mark VI derived directly from the Mark VB, as a result of work on pressure cabins at the Royal Aircraft Establishment and Supermarine during 1940-41. At the R.A.E., a Prototype was fitted with a Merlin 47 (the high rated version of the Merlin 45 with 1,415 HP, with a Marshall compressor, “blower”, to presurize the cockpit,) with a four-blade Rotol propeller with Jablo blades and a pressurized cabin, the Mk VI was capable of reaching 39,200 ft.

(Above: Spitfire VI, not just to get parity with the Bf 109s but also to go after high-flying German bombers.)

The production Spitfire VI also had an increase in wing area to improve controllability at high altitudes, the wing being of pointed planform with a span of 40 ft. 2 in. The pressure cabin was contained between the bulkheads fore and aft of the cockpit, and a special non-sliding hood was fitted to simplify the sealing problem. A Marshall blower provided a cabin differential of 2 lb./s. in., reducing apparent altitude from 40,000 feet to 28,000 feet. In other respects including armament the Spitfire VI was similar to the Mark VB.8

The Spitfire VII (Type 351)…

(Above: Spitfire prototype Mk VII.)

…was a more extensive re-design for high-altitude work, and was the first of the Spitfire series intended to make use of the two speed Merlin 60 series of engines. These two-stage engines were coupled with a re-designed cooling system which showed itself in the enlarged air intake under the port wing matching that to starboard. The wing outline remained similar to that of the Spitfire VI, but the ailerons were reduced in span. The chord and area of the rudder were increased and the elevator horn balance was extended. Structural changes were made to the fuselage to take the increased engine loads and a double-glaze sliding hood was fitted to the cockpit. The retractable tail wheel first developed for the Spitfire III, was applied in production for the first time on the Mark VII and the universal C -type wing was employed. Maximum speed jumped by 44 mph to 408 mph and normal loaded weight climbed to 7,875 lbs.

Eventually 43,000 feet was reached, on par with the P-51 and P-47 and superior to all German aircraft including the Fw 190D, but too little too late, as msot f the war it had struggled literally under the Bf 109s.

And as for…

11. A very good Diver and…

12. As for the Roll, I pretty much answered these in the beginning.

Thanks for taking the time. I have to thank and acknowledge three dear departed friends and mentors for the majority of these insights and knowledge:

“Corky” Meyer who was was Grumman’s top test pilot through WWII/Korea and beyond,

Gunther Rall, top German ace, who knew the Spitfire well from close acquaintance during the Battle of Britain,

and Jeffrey Quill, the top Spitfire test pilot and combat pilot. I coincidentally just answered this yesterday about Mr. Quill:

Who was the best Spitfire pilot?
For an informed opinion see:

MEMORIES YOU May Enjoy ;-)

Hi,

I have just come across this clip by Norman Tebbit (Lord Tebbit) of his days flying #Meteors posted on You Tube 27-Feb-2017:

My Father (Des Watkins)  also flew The Gloucester Meteor and also the de Havilland Vampire:

I well remember as a small boy watching my father taxi & rotate into a near vertical climb until he disapeared as a dot into a crystal blue sky from RAF Valley where he was ta trainer for, as I recall, CFS and also doing a certain amount of test flying for the RAF. The power dive out of the sun & high speed Barrel Role over the runway was impressive.

Just as I remember the prolonged & massive howl & boom as a wing of Avro Vulcans took off directly over our Quarters in Singapore in 1957 as an 11 year old!

Memories!!!
Regards,
Greg_L-W.

BELSEN & The Death Camps.

BELSEN & The Death Camps
 
Hi,
 
it gives me no pleasure including this article regarding the relief of Belsen with my Father’s obituary/diaries, but it was a very real part of his life right until its end as he woke frequently every week of his life, for its last 60 years, as he woke with nightmares of his experiences one of the worst was Bergen Belsen.
 

Bergen-Belsen where the Nazi final solution was in action for two years and slaughtered an accurately documented 70,000+ inmates.

As a front line fighter squadron he, with his fellow pilots, flew from Anson strips just behind the front line and on arrival at Belsen they went to the camp where they set to to help the plight of the victims and clear the horrors of the German killing spree!

One of the first actions was to drive into the town of Belsen where the people clearly knew wxactly what was happening at the camp just up the road, they rounded up the local council and the fit and set them to work stripping the houses in the town of linen, blankets and clothing which they took to the camp and distributed to the inmates.

DJW BELSEN uncertain
I have reason to believe this could be Desmond John Watkins, my father, as he was at Belsen at that time

They also set the fit and active townsfolk to the task of cleaning up the camp.

For the young men of the RAF not only were they carrying out their duties as pilots but also working to try to make life survivable for the inmates of the horrors of the camp.

In documenting the survivors, and helping them, it was agreed not to have eye engagement to grant them some dignity. On one occasion my Father was unable to maintain this as taking the date of birth of one victim her date of birth was the same as my Mother’s and when he looked up at the naked, emaciated woman with her shaven head and gaunt and haunted eyes he remembered that face to his death.

Were this camp just a single example perhaps it could be forgiven and overlooked but when you consider there were some 1,600+ such camps CLICK HERE this was a hatred that was all pervading and endemic in Germany where treachery, torture and contempt for life was all too clear – a chauvenism that was only stopped by extreme measures that forced even the civilian populations’ involvement as with Dresden and the firebombing of Hamburg & Hannover, without which the war could well have dragged on.

 
Let us not forget that in Britain we had such worker villages as Port Sunlight and Cadbury whilst in Germany I.G. Faben also had a workers’ village ‘Auschwitz’ – the aim was similar but the ethos very horrifically different!

The man who stumbled on HELL: 

His place in history has never been revealed. But a just published memoir by an SAS officer recounts how he uncovered the horrors of Belsen

  • Lieutenant John Randall thought iron gates led to a grand country house
  • Then he saw figures, dressed in rags, shuffling from a hut
  • Trying not to retch at the smell, Randall addressed the prisoners
  • Afterwards he noticed the emaciated corpses locked in hideous embraces
  • The camp contained 50,000 prisoners, most of all near death

Suffering: Lt John Randall uncovered the horrors of Belsen

Suffering: Lt John Randall uncovered the horrors of Belsen

When Lieutenant John Randall first saw the iron gates, he thought they were the entrance to a grand country house. Beyond them led a track that curved into a dark wood of pines and silver birch. Intrigued, Randall ordered his corporal to turn the Jeep to the left.
The safer option would have been to have driven on, but the winged dagger badge on his beret meant that Randall was not that type of man. The regimental motto of the SAS is ‘Who Dares Wins’, and what the 25-year-old dared to do that day would stay with him for the rest of his life.
As the two men headed into the woods, Randall sensed danger, and drew his pistol from his holster. The Jeep drove through the trees, then emerged into the brightness of a vast clearing in which stood numerous ranks of one-storey wooden huts.
Randall saw the SS guards first. Normally, he would have shot those wearing the dreaded uniform on sight, but these men seemed to pose no threat that April morning. Instead, they merely stared at the two SAS men.
Randall’s attention was drawn to something else, the like of which he had never seen. Emerging from the huts was a shuffling group of figures, some of whom were dressed in rags, while others were naked. Their bodies were skeletal, their skin yellow. Rising from them was a hubbub of noise, as they pleaded for the SAS men to help them.
Doing his best not to retch at the smell, Randall stood and addressed the prisoners.
He told them that he was simply the very tip of the Allied advance, and that he would shortly be followed by those who would be able to help.

Although he was not to know it at the time, one of those he spoke to was a 15-year-old Hungarian Jew called Mady Goldgruber.
She had spotted the Jeep through the filthy window of her hut, and despite being extremely weak, had managed to stagger outside.
After spending years in a series of Nazi camps — including Auschwitz — Mady regarded the arrival of these two British soldiers as a miracle.

 
Aftermath: During the liberation of Belsen in April 1945. S.S. guards were forced to remove the bodies of their victims into lorries on their way to be buried
Aftermath: During the liberation of Belsen in April 1945. S.S. guards were forced to remove the bodies of their victims into lorries on their way to be buried

Before the desperate men, women and children could grab them, the corporal drove off, pulling up some yards away in front of what Randall initially thought was a vast potato patch.
This, though, was no vegetable garden. All that was sown here was death, hundreds of emaciated, naked corpses, locked together in hideous embraces.
On that day — April 15, 1945 — John Randall made history, as he became the first Allied soldier to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany. The compound contained more than 50,000 prisoners, nearly all of whom were near to death. Around them lay the corpses of a further 13,000 — proof, if it were needed, of the utter barbarism of the Nazi regime.
Most accounts of Belsen focus on the work of a British officer called Brigadier Llewellyn Glyn Hughes and he has become most closely associated with the liberation of the camp.
Arriving shortly after Randall, it was Glyn Hughes who, as senior medical officer, had the immense responsibility of tending to the sick and cleaning up the camp.
However, as a new book reveals, it was Randall — now 94 years old — who was the first Allied soldier to enter what was undeniably a living hell.

Although he was an officer in the SAS, nothing could have prepared him for what he saw that day. He had been fighting in Europe since parachuting into France in July 1944, during which time he had served as a radio operator alongside the French Resistance.

 
Starved: Emaciated allied prisoners of war are released at Belsen after their colleagues stormed the camp
Starved: Emaciated allied prisoners of war are released at Belsen after their colleagues stormed the camp

Together with his driver, Cpl Brown, Randall had also seen action. Early one morning in August, the two had driven into a small village near Epernay in the Champagne region, where they saw a firing squad of SS men lined up.
In front of them, standing against the wall of a church, were six French civilians in blindfolds, all of whom were clearly about to be shot. Randall knew that he had to act quickly, and his elite training kicked in.
He stood up, and took hold of the powerful Vickers machine gun that was mounted on the Jeep. He pulled the trigger, and scores of heavy .50 calibre rounds tore into the SS men. Within a few seconds, the Germans lay either dead or dying.
Today, Randall is modest about the fact that he saved so many French lives in a single, courageous action. When interviewed about the episode, all he says is: ‘We had the satisfaction of eliminating the German patrol.’
It is that modest reticence that has seen Randall described as the ‘last gentleman of the SAS’, and indeed, the epithet fits, even if it may disgruntle other SAS officers and troopers.

 
Cramped: Female inmates at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, many of them sick and dying of typhus and starvation, wait inside a barrack in 1945
Cramped: Female inmates at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, many of them sick and dying of typhus and starvation, wait inside a barrack in 1945

However, when Randall arrived at Belsen, he had to summon all his self-control to deal with those who ran the concentration camp.
Those Germans who remained were a minimum staff, but among them was the commandant, Josef Kramer, and Irma Grese, who was in charge of the female prisoners. Kramer had the nerve to approach Randall and to introduce himself and the blonde Grese with a chilling half-smile.
‘To our astonishment he offered us a guided tour of the camp,’ Randall recalled many years later. ‘We followed them. We pushed open the door of one of the huts and were overpowered by the stench.
‘Emaciated figures peered out at us, in fear and surprise, from the rows of bunks. Lying among them, on the same bunks, were dead bodies.’
By now, Randall and his driver had been joined by two other SAS men — Major John Tonkin, and the battle-hardened Sergeant-Major Reg Seekings. As the British left one of the huts, they saw one of the guards beating up a prisoner — the type of event that had taken place every day for the past five years of the camp’s existence.
The German had finally picked the wrong day to do it. A furious Seekings asked permission from Major Tonkin to teach the guard a lesson. Permission was granted. ‘So Reg went over and hit the guard in the face,’ Randall recalled. ‘He got up and was then knocked out by another punch to the head.’

Conditions: Inmates of the camp near Hannover had to carry the emaciated bodies of others while hundreds lay on the floor, dead
Conditions: Inmates of the camp near Hannover had to carry the emaciated bodies of others while hundreds lay on the floor, dead

After that, Kramer and Grese were put immediately under arrest. Both were hanged that December, after a trial that shocked the world when it exposed the depths of sadism to which the Nazis had sunk. Witnesses testified to the fact that Grese — nicknamed the ‘Beast of Belsen’ — had even whipped women to death.
Randall left Belsen after only an hour. His reconnaissance mission was still not complete, and it was clear that neither he nor Cpl Brown had the ability to help the prisoners. Not only was there a terrible risk of catching typhus, but the prisoners needed specialist medical care.
That came soon enough, along with two British journalists, one of whom was Richard Dimbleby — father of David and Jonathan.
It was Dimbleby’s harrowing report — which the BBC initially refused to broadcast because executives could not believe the scenes that he described — that brought the attention of the world to the savagery of Belsen.
‘This day at Belsen was the most horrible day of my life,’ Dimbleby reported. ‘I saw it all — furnaces where thousands have been burned alive. The pit — 15ft deep — as big as a tennis court, piled to the top at one end with naked bodies.

Allied soldiers were greeted with a sea of bodies and mass graves as they arrived to liberate the camp in 1945
Allied soldiers were greeted with a sea of bodies and mass graves as they arrived to liberate the camp in 1945

‘The British bulldozers — digging a new pit for the hundreds of bodies lying all over the camp days after death. The dark huts, piled with human filth in which the dead and dying are lying together.’
Randall’s war would end when he was fortunate enough to witness Montgomery taking the German surrender, but that short time in Belsen would stay with him for ever.
In particular, the awful smell seemed to linger. ‘The stench was horrific,’ Randall said. ‘It was a mixture of rotting flesh and excrement — a smell that I couldn’t get rid of for weeks. I would wake in the night with this ghastly smell in my nose.’
After leaving the Army, Randall tried to put Belsen behind him. He married, had two children, ran a very successful business consultancy, and then became senior course director at the Institute  of Marketing.
However, nearly ten years ago, he was interviewed for a newspaper about his experiences to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Belsen. For a 75-year-old woman called Mady Gerrard living in Wales, the article struck a deep chord, as did the accompanying photograph of the young Lieutenant Randall.

Horrifying: Some of the dead were piled up in rows in the forest on the outskirts of the camp
Horrifying: Some of the dead were piled up in rows in the forest on the outskirts of the camp

‘I screamed,’ Mady recalled, ‘because in front of my eyes was the face that I had been carrying around in my head for 60 years.’
Mady Gerrard was, of course, Mady Goldgruber. She had survived the war, and had created a new life for herself as a clothes designer in the  U.S. and Britain.
She immediately wrote a letter to Randall, and a few days later,  he called her at home. ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ Mady shouted down the phone. ‘I cannot believe that I am talking with the man who basically saved my life!’
Six decades after their first encounter, John and Mady met in somewhat different circumstances when they had lunch at the Special Forces Club in London. They chatted for three hours.
Typically, John came across as the complete gentleman, and Mady even said to him: ‘You not only turned out to be the most important man in my life, but as a bonus you are a very nice person, too!’
When Mady wrote a book about her life, John wrote the foreword.
In it, he assured readers that nothing could compare to ‘the actual experience of seeing with my own eyes the true horror of the situation at Belsen’.

  •  The Last Gentleman Of The SAS by John Randall and M J Trow is published by Mainstream at £17.99.
To view the original article CLICK HERE
 

Dirk Bogarde’s as yet another one of the first Allied officers in April 1945 to reach the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, gave yet another account of the horrors of Belsen which not only was my Father closely involved in at the time, but which should never be forogotten lest future generations become party to such evil ever again – sadly I do not doubt they will as it seems all too clear that the only thing mankind can be counted on to learn from history is that mankind does not learn from history!

Naturally Dirk Bogarde found Belsen to be an experience that had the most profound effect on him and about which he found it difficult to speak for many years afterward. A situation I well remember of my Father and others who witnessed these obscene actions of the Germans first hand!

Women survivors in Bergen-Belsen collecting their bread ration after their liberation, April 1945

“I think it was on the 13th of April – I’m not quite sure what the date was” [it was the 15th] “- in ’44” [sic, the camp was liberated on the 15th April 1945, and it was the 20th April 1945 when Bogarde made his visit] “when we opened up Belsen Camp, which was the first concentration camp any of us had seen, we didn’t even know what they were, we’d heard vague rumours that they were. I mean nothing could be worse than that. The gates were opened and then I realised that I was looking at Dante’s Inferno, I mean … I … I still haven’t seen anything as dreadful. And never will. And a girl came up who spoke English, because she recognised one of the badges, and she … her breasts were like, sort of, empty purses, she had no top on, and a pair of man’s pyjamas, you know, the prison pyjamas, and no hair. But I knew she was girl because of her breasts, which were empty. She was I suppose, oh I don’t know, twenty four, twenty five, and we talked, and she was, you know, so excited and thrilled, and all around us there were mountains of dead people, I mean mountains of them, and they were slushy, and they were slimy, so when you walked through them … or walked – you tried not to, but it was like …. well you just walked through them, and she … there was a very nice British MP, and he said ‘Don’t have any more, come away, come away sir, if you don’t mind, because they’ve all got typhoid and you’ll get it, you shouldn’t be here swanning-around’ and she saw in the back of the jeep, the unexpired portion of the daily ration, wrapped in a piece of the Daily Mirror, and she said could she have it, and he” [the MP] “said ‘Don’t give her food, because they eat it immediately and they die, within ten minutes’, but she didn’t want the food, she wanted the piece of Daily Mirror – she hadn’t seen newsprint for about eight years or five years, whatever it was she had been in the camp for. … she was Estonian. … that’s all she wanted. She gave me a big kiss, which was very moving. The corporal” [MP] “was out of his mind and I was just dragged off. I never saw her again, of course she died. I mean, I gather they all did. But, I can’t really describe it very well, I don’t really want to. I went through some of the huts and there were tiers and tiers of rotting people, but some of them who were alive underneath the rot, and were lifting their heads and trying …. …. trying to do the victory thing. That was the worst.”

 

 
A British Army bulldozer pushes bodies into a mass grave at Belsen. April 19, 1945

“After the war I always knew that nothing, nothing, could ever be as bad … … but nothing could frighten me any more, I mean, no man could frighten me any more, no Director … … nothing could be as bad as the war, or the things I saw in the war.”

The horror and revulsion at the cruelty and inhumanity that he witnessed still left him with a deep-seated hostility towards Germany; in the late-1980s he wrote that he would disembark from a lift rather than ride with a German of his generation. Nevertheless, three of Dirk Bogarde’s more memorable film roles were as Germans, one of them as a former SS officer in The Night Porter (1974).

Standing at a height of 6″ 3 this woman was one of the most brutal nazi guards..

Heta Bothe was her name, but through her reign of terror, she was given the name “Sadist of Stutthoff” like many other Nazis killing innocent people, was just a stress reliever or a sport.

Heta was born January 3 1921in Teteburg, Mecklenburg- Schwerin

At 17 she was a helper in her father’s woodshop. She did factory work and for a short time was a nurse in a hospital.

Like many young German girls at that time, she joined up with the “League of German girls “ one of 2 organizations that were created for girls the other was the league of German maidens. These groups were basically the female equivalent of the “Hitler Youth”

By 1943, the Nazis began drafting women because of the shortage of guards. The German word for this position, Aufseherin means female overseer or attendant.

The female guards were normally lower to the middle class.

This would be Herta’s first taste of power.. Ravenbruck was an all-female detention camp that held what were considered deplorable women as well as Jewish female prisoners. Ravenbruck was pure hell. There were 10, 000 women imprisoned there by the end of 1942 and by 1945 it had grown to a staggering 50, 000. these women came from 30 different countries.

After ravenbruck Herta took a 4 week course and went on to become an overseer at Stutthoff a camp outside the town of Danzig.

It was the first German concentration camp set up outside German borders started September 2 1939. It was also the last camp liberated by the Allies , on May 9 1945. About 65,000 Stutthof concentration camp prisoners and its subcamps died as a result of murder, starvation, epidemics, extreme labour conditions, brutal and forced evacuations, and a lack of medical attention.

January 21, 1945, the 24-year-old Bothe accompanied a death march of women prisoners from central Poland to Bergen Belson camp near Celle in northwestern It was not an extermination camp, rather a concentration camp where over 55,000 victims died from typhus, starvation, disease, beatings and other vicious maltreatments. Herta Bothe shared her personal “SS” living quarters at Belsen with fellow wardresses, Charlotte Klein and Gertrude Rheinholt.

Burying bodies at Belson C.C

At 81 Hertas could still recall in detail the punishment from the Allies.They were forced to bury dead prisoners. She complained that they were forbidden to wear gloves The skin of the dead peeled in sheets the body parts of the corpses fell off while being transported to the mass graves.These graves had been dug a few meters away from Belsen . Herta complained that she was in fear of contracting typhus, the bodies were contaminated. The dead weight of some prisoners with flesh still on their bones caused her to have backaches. After all burials were complete, the Belsen camp staff had mass-buried over 17,000 dead victims from within the camp

Herta was arrested and sent to prison in Celle.

Above Herta Bothe 1945 awaiting trial.

While on trial she was accused of being ruthless, her defense was that while she struck prisoners who stole or committed other infractions, she never used a weapon of any kind. She also claimed that she had never killed anyone under her charge.

A former prisoner claimed to have witnessed Bothe beat a Hungarian Jew named Éva to death with a wooden block. Eva had been caught eating potato peels in the kitchen .Another stated that he saw her shoot two prisoners for reasons he could not understand. She was known to carry a stick and took great pleasure in slapping it at prisoners while they carried heavy loads. It was said herta carried a pistol and used it for times of pleasure while terrorizing the inmates.She was said to have shot at them for personal enjoyment, as they scurried by her, attending to their camp chores

Despite the tyranny of her behavior , she was released early from prison on December 22 1951 as an act of leniency by the British government.She served 6 of her 10 year sentence.

Later in life at age 84 while iving in Germany under her married name ( Lange) an interview was granted. Herta became defensive when asked about her decision to be a concentration camp guard. She replied:

Did I make a mistake? No. The mistake was that it was a concentration camp, but I had to go to it, otherwise I would have been put into it myself. That was my mistake.

Herta’s actual death date is unclear. One source says March 2000 at 81 bit she gave an interview at age 84

One thing for sure is she doesn’t appear to have any remorse for her actions.

I include here a link to an outside source which provides the recorded experience of Richard Dimbleby when acting for The BBC, after the liberation when he was sent to Belsen to record his opinions of the camp for the BBC.

When he returned the BBC refused to broadcast it as they believed it was too extreme and fanciful and unacceptable as a documentary! Richard Dimbleby forced them to broadcast it or he would very publicly resign.
Here is his recorded description CLICK HERE

>2 MFPU at RAF Guttersloh Days C1964

>2 MFPU at RAF Guttersloh Days C1964

Greetings Greg L-W from a ‘ghost’ from the past.
You and I have met, some  50+ years ago at RAF Guttersloh.
Your father was my unit C/O at 2 MFPU.
I came across the blog that you have published regarding his career. Flt Lt D. Watkins, what can I say that can effectively sum up  all that we felt about your father?  To me, then a young 19-year old, away from home for the 1st time, he was the role model, that I desperately needed at that time in my life. Indeed, there have been times in my life, when in crisis, that I would have dearly loved to have been able to discuss my problems with him.  You could do that with your dad, I couldn’t with mine.
Naturally, as our C/O he was given the respect of his position and rank.  He was very fair, but firm. He put me on 3-days ‘jankers’ when others would have given me 14. Most of us were under 20, and all needed firmness, fairness and a lot of guidance. This he gave us, with equal measure, and in abundance.
Photo attached of:

Photograph by: Andy Story
 
an inspection of 2 MFPU, dated 22nd May 1964 RAF Guttersloh.  You will spot your father. I am located 4th from the left. The inspecting Air Marshall was ACO RAFG Dorrington thankfully passed me by without a 2nd look.
I would like to add a comment to the blog that you have published, but have so far been unable to do so. Can you help?
Incidentally, do you remember me, SAC Tom Race? I was the driver that took you to RAF Brugen or maybe Laarbruch. I can remember that you wore a very nice light sports jacket, that looked very smart.  Do you remember the Malcolm Club?  More to follow on that if you do.
With best wishes and kind memories,
Regards
Tom Race
email: immlaw1010@aol.com
tel: Redacted

 

Now living in Torquay.

WATKINS, Alan Edward – Born 21-Jan-1928 – Died 25-May-2011

WATKINS, Alan Edward – Born 21-Jan-1928 – Died 25-May-2011 
 
Alan Edward WATKINS
Born 21-Jan-1928 – Died 25-May-2011
 

Son of

Jim and Daisy Watkins
Younger Brother to

 

 

Kenneth Loraine and Desmond John
who have pre-deceased him.
 
 
 

Alan leaves

 

 

His Wife of 59 years, Brenda
&
Their Son Simon
 
The Eulogy Delivered by Simon Watkins
at
The Funeral of Alan Watkins on 10-June-2011
 
My Father was born in Pontypridd, South Wales, on the 21st January 1928, and moved to Yate in Gloucestershire, at the age of 2. He attended school at Chipping-Sodbury Grammar, where he met my Mother who he was destined to marry 7 years later.
 
At 18 he left school and with National Service to complete attended Army Officer Training at Aldershot, getting his pip at 21. 

 

In 1950 at 22, when both his brothers were working on Bahrain, Des running his own business marketing pumps and Ken working for BAPCo. at an oil facility on the island, he joined them, and worked there for 13 years. During that time he came back to England to marry my Mother, Brenda Corbett on 23-February-1952, and take her back with him to Bahrain. 
Ken & his wife Marjory (nee Dando)
 
Once my Mother was there, making Father more palatable, they met and became lifetime fast friends with Bob and Elizabeth Turnbull.
 
On returning to England in 1963, my Father and Mother, together with Bob and Elizabeth, started a hairdressing business in Darnley Road in Gravesend. Ultimately, in the economy and timing, the business proved unsustainable and the four pursued different careers.
 
My Father started at Barclay’s in 1968; where he worked for the next 35 years at a London branch, as head of the foreign department; until his retirement 18 years ago in 1993.
 
My Father enjoyed his retirement. He was able to spend more time with friends and family, and also to take up golf, which I know brought him both joy and frustration, although I can’t say in what ratio.

 

He had a deep interest in the classics. He could quote at length from poems and plays alike. He also enjoyed many classical composers, and I remember he would listen to them at length in the evening to “decompress” from life in London. His taste in music was not limited to the conventional classics; he enjoyed jazz and blues and had a collection with many of the greats.
 
My Father did not make friends easily, although the ones he did have lasted all his life. My Father was strongly loyal to both friends and family, and I believe he would have done anything had they called upon him in need. I think this can best be exemplified when my Grand Mother, Mabel Gill, was unable to live alone and in 1969 Father took her into our home. With the exception of holidays to other family members, Mabel lived with us until her death in 1994. I think you would all agree, not many men would have housed their Mother-in-Law for 25 years.
 
For recreation I know that above all things he enjoyed debate. Usually taking a devils-advocate position in what would first appear to be an indefensible argument. The more contentious and provocative the better. A particular favorite was that “there was no such thing as altruism”. That at the bottom of all human actions was self interest in one form or another.
This was symptomatic of an underlying cynicism that I think he was not always at ease with! 
 
He did however recognize this, and once confided in me “It’s unfortunate that I am a pessimist and yet still get disappointed when the worst happens, … seems rather self-defeating”. 
 
However, perhaps as some of the best humor is the darkest, it did make him bloody funny.
 
My Father was extremely athletic. He was Games Captain at school and set many track and field records. In fact, when my Mother and Father were invited back for an alumni dinner 12 years later, my Mother noted that one of his records was still standing, an impressive record in the long-jump, it would be interesting to see when that particular record fell. 
 
He was highly competitive and did very well at almost any sport he tried.
 
Ultimately he was the most formative influence in my life. The debate made me think. The humor helped me with friends and colleagues, and the cynicism prepared me for the world. 
 
I’m sure my Mother can correct me, although I think it was somewhere between the ages of 2 and 3 when I first learned the expression “whoever told you life was going to be fair?”.
 
 
Although never effusive, I know he loved me very much. 
 
In my early adulthood, I took to riding motorcycles. I loved riding them, I just wasn’t very good at it! Not being a parent myself, I can’t imagine what this did to my folks each time I went out. However, when I came to buy my first large motorcycle, I was unable to arrange the necessary finances, that was until he came with me and underwrote the loan – putting aside his fears for my love of riding.
 
Not always the most patient of men, he was when it counted. 
He taught me to drive and he did so without a raised word or an angry tone – although there was a certain amount of sarcasm.
 
He was very forgiving to me. 
On one occasion when I was 15, I was left in the family car in a supermarket car park – with the keys. In the infinite wisdom of youth, I thought I’d turn the car round. 
Events unfolded – – – – badly!
 
On facing my Father that night, he simply said “are you planning on doing that again?”. 
I replied “no”. 
To which he said “alright, lesson learned”.

 

He was my Dad. I miss him now and I know I always will.
 
Simon Watkins
10-June-2011
 
The Eulogy Delivered by Simon Watkins
at
The Funeral of Brenda Watkins (nee: Corbett) on …..
 

Brenda Watkins (Nee: Corbett) Born: C1928? Died: C2013?
WATKINS, Brenda 01

Sister of Olwen (now deceased) and Margaret. Wife of 59 years to Alan.

Evacuated from London during World War II to Chipping Sodbury where she attended the local Grammar school and met my father, Alan.

Mum’s first job was at the National Physical Laboratory where she essentially performed the function of a computer utilizing her first love – maths.

After marrying in February 1952 Mum joined my Father on Bahrain where he was working at an oil facility. At the time, and in that part of the world, women were very limited in what work they were allowed to perform. So it was serendipitous that Mum discovered her second great love as a teacher, albeit of English, to the local engineers. When Mum and Dad had returned to England, after a brief sojourn in a hairdressing business, Mum attended night school and attained her teaching diploma in Maths. She never looked back. Mum always said she was so fortunate to work at something she loved doing.

Over the next three decades Mum helped hundreds of young minds (both in school and through private tuition) to grasp the intricacies of a subject that few thought of fondly. Through a combination of fundamental comprehension and enthusiasm, she was able to convey difficult concepts in a way anyone could understand. I know that some of you here today have personally benefitted from her teaching abilities (and indeed, still her money!).

Socially, Mum loved entertaining, and frequently held dinner parties for 14 or more. And to the best of my knowledge, everyone survived. Unfortunately, over time, her culinary skills declined to the point where you didn’t know if the food would be raw or burnt or, somehow, both.

After retirement Mum and Dad travelled extensively, visiting Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Even after Mum had a series of heart attacks and was fitted with a pacemaker, she didn’t let it slow her down.

It had to be said Mum did have a fairly wide stubborn streak. If she had something to say, it was going to be said. She spoke her mind without regard for the consequences, and God help you if she thought you were pandering to her.

After my Father passed just over two years ago, Mum dealt with the loss amazingly well. She took on board the need to downsize and relocate. Once she had moved to her flat, with the great view of the river, she had a new lease on life. Although lamenting the loss of her driving privileges, she happily walked all over town, and was far more comfortable hopping on a bus than most. She made many new friends, some at the apartment building, some just by chatting to anyone she came across.

Mum didn’t let health issues slow her up. With the best will in the world, Mum was becoming increasingly cavalier with her personal health. I know this may come as a surprise to some of you, but Mum was a smoker. She pursued that passion with a sense of determination that most of us reserve for more mundane tasks like breathing. She also managed to combine , what to most of us would appear incongruous, a sweet tooth with type 1 diabetes, with unfortunately predictable results.

Although this is to commemorate Mum’s life, it has to be said that the biggest single positive impact on Mum’s life since my Father’s passing was from Emma, as Mum would say “her right arm”. Certainly becoming her best friend and enabling her to live on her own with dignity and autonomy. I cannot thank you enough.

She was a great mother and an outstanding teaching, and my life will be the poorer for her passing.

Simon Watkins
C2013

Simon Watkins

It was with great sorrow that I received a phone call on 09-Jan-2020, from Simon’s wife Paula to inform me, with great dignity and courage, that Simon had taken his own life on the 7th. January 2020 in Virginia, USA – presumably at their home.

Paula and I had a very personal conversation regarding the sad event, which it is HER right to make public or not. I hope a time will come when she feels it is appropriate to provide a eulogy / obituary to/for Simon, here on this site – the matter, I hope, will be resolved at some time in the future, when wounds are a little less raw.

I appreciate that it may well prove difficult for Paula to commit the facts to paper but I am also aware that it might prove cathartic for her and others.

Communication is not easy, as she remains in Virginia, where she and Simon had chosen to live out their lives, having both become American citizens. I hope we will have time together at some time in the future, as Simon was one of only 3 blood relatives I had left and he and Paula were  my close friends. My life is diminished by his sad death, an issue that is exacerbated by Paula’s distance – It is strange that rarely a day passes when they do not come to the fore in my mind!

WATKINS, Simon 01

I will always be indebted to Paula & Simon and the great courage of Brenda that just 6 days after Alan died on 25-May-2011 in Gravesend, the 3 of them did me the honour of making the journey to Chepstow to represent my family at Lee & I’s wedding, after over 25 years together – a wedding convened with some urgency as yet again I had been diagnosed as terminally ill, in the short term, with cancer!

MARRIAGE LICENSE 03

Against all the odds I am still here as we come up, just a few weeks before our 10th Wedding Anniversary – minded that I was born in 1946

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1941-02-27 YATE – PARNALLS – BOMBING OF

1941-02-27 YATE – PARNALLS – BOMBING OF

By: Des WATKINS

You will note that the letter has had the address removed by censors and also various words are redacted

14, Eggshill Lane,
Yate,
Nr. Bristol,
Gloucestershire,
GB

27th. Feb. 1941

Dear Ken,

Got your letter today, and with reference to the horn of mead old cock, you as near as damn it had a pint awaiting for you. I came within an ace of gracing the outer hall of Valhalla, I’m going to try to give you my impressions, and to tell you just what occurred. For censor’s benefit I’ll state here and now that nowhere in this letter will I make any reference to what Parnalls make or will I speak of production. You mentioned what they made in your letter Ken and got it censored.

It was 2.30 on a Thursday. Joyce, Olive and I and Bill Jenner were all leaning on the heating radiator talking when the sirens blew. We took no notice and just leisurely drew the curtains across the windows (anti blast precautions) suddenly there was an awfull Bop – Bop – Bop – Bop – Bop I bundled the girls under my table and dived in on top of them, Bill shot under his, just as I landed under the table the whole world split into bloody fragments. The floor heaved, the air was thick with glass and bricks, steel cabinets spun in the air like gossamer. My lungs hurt, my face stung as again and again the whole universe

PAGE 2:

Burst into scorching searing bloody madness. My table groaned under the pressure of the steel girders cabinets and debris the sickening stench of cordite filled the atmosphere. I clung around the girls like grim death, not to protect so much as to comfort my own reeling nerves. They were crying and Joyce kept wanting to get out and run, I held her there – Bill called encouragement at the top of his voice.Above the rumble and crash could be heard the scream scream scream of girls.Although I’ve been here only brief seconds a thousand impressions crowd my mind. The girls are whimpering. A man stumbles over the debris, he’s blood from head to foot Jesus its Smith our “Lie down you bloody fool, under the table you daft sod” that Bill shouting. But he took no notice, he bubbled blood and said “Laws is gone (Laws an ) “He’s dead” “Hes dead” “Hes dead” He scrabbled back the way he came – he must have been stunned on his feet.There’s bedlam all around us girls shrieking and men shouting. The main beam has sliced the steel cabinets in two. I feel outside of myself – remote, disinterested.

Bill is getting out, he stands up amid the falling debris, he scrabbles up a pile of loose stuff, an engine roars “He’s coming back for Christ’s sake get back Bill” I yelled it, but I was quite surprised

PAGE 3:

to hear my voice. The air trembled. My back and neck crawled as I waited for the awful thuds and rending crashes of more hell. We waited huddled for the world to split again. I reached out an arm and fished two tin hats under the table. Nothing came.Olive looks numbed, “Frightened” I ask, she nods dumbly.

Bill is getting out again. God what a mess. If those girls outside scream any more I must shout for quiet. They must stop screaming or my ears will burst. – They scream on.

“Quick Watty (that’s me) get ‘em out of there we’rre ablaze” that’s Bill shouting. I kick a wooden cabinet away from the end of the table – we wriggle out. My God the whole of one side is a roaring inferno. The whole building is a smoking shambles.

We scrabbled to the Main entrance or where it used to be. Bill has gone the other way.The girls legs just drag – they’re OK, but knocked silly. They’re big girls but they feel light as dolls, Everyone who can run is scrabbling madly over the mess. I’m not here really of course – that isn’t me walking down there – its – funny feeling as though you’re outside of yourself watching yourself from a distance. My God look at those Cost Office girls, ragged and bloody and powder blackened. They’re in heaps – all bloody and tangled.

PAGE 4:

Everyone is helping everyone, carrying, helping guiding. Here a man with bloody legs leans one with a bloody arm.

I can see Jotce and Olive standing shivering on the outside – I must have taken them out and come back in again, because I have a girl in my arms, there’s no muscular effort to carry her, shes a doll, a limp inert doll – but its not sawdust on her legs.

Someone must have taken her from me because I’m running up the tarmac, with the girls on each arm again, now.I went with them to Joyce’s house across the road, then I dashed home, said I was OK then dashed back. In 8 minutes from the first bomb. I was back. By now a delayed action has gone off and killed many would-be rescuers. The factory belches horror, the horror of little girls smoke blackened and crying, the horror of horrible injuries, the horror of faces all pain.

We who are OK take off our coats and wade into them – I take one of our fellows hes got another man’s brains streaming down his face – I wash him and find hes got a damaged arm, and cuts.Help me with “this one” says someone. I bend to lift a stretcher onto a lorry. But “this one” rolls his bandaged head, drums his feet under his blanket and dies. Leave him.

Oblt. Hermann Lohmann + He111 crew 
before bombing raid on Parnall Aircraft

PAGE 5:

A Heinkel IIIK dropped out of the low lying mist – visibility was almost nil. He dropped down 2 minutes after the siren with his canons blazing and dropped 8 bombs five went up and 3 didn’t one was delayed action. I find only the offices have suffered badly. Four 550lb. bombs into a space 150’ by 100’ subdivided by plasterboard walls. Almost a ton of searing, blasting, blinding, all destroying hell.

Not a soul had gone to shelter, they got it as they sat. Pretty little girls, jolly young men. All blood and rags, and dirt. Twenty two young draughtsmen alone, as many girls, making a total all round of 60 dead, and 150 injuries.

The end of the office block is Hawthorne’s (he wasn’t in it) next to it is ours, between it a lathe wall. The first bomb fell plumb on Hawthorne’s girder in the ceiling, turned off and burst in the shops some 20’ away from us, if it had richochetted the other way:—

A bomb fell on Works Orders, a bomb on Costs, one on The Drawing Office, the latter one delayed action. Which means 2 550lbers. Fell 15’ each side of me roughly and 2 within 70 odd feet.Only God knows how we got out alive. If that first one had hit that girder square it would have burst 10’ above our heads with a lathe wall to protect us.If he hadn’t cannoned us we should

PAGE 6:

Not have had time to get under the table, and if we hadn’t been cut to rags with glass, the other debris would have got us for cert.Two of our examiners got killed, 4 injured, besides Hawthorne, at first we thought he was to lose an eye, but now there is hope for it. One examiner got his head and shoulders cut off in our outer office.I could write a book on the miraculous escapes of others besides us, and the awfull injuries of others.How one of our fellows, saw a wall about to crash on him, just as it fell a cistern out of the girls’ lavatory blew over his nut, the bricks peppered on there like a tin hat. Hes in hospital with terrible bruises mind, but if it had hit his head it would have finished him. Hes very annoyed about it, he said he wouldn’t have minded one out of the mens’ bog, but one out of the girls’ he objected to.

The works nurse was dug out of debris after 45 minutes to give wonderful service at the clearing centre.How men refused treatment to severe cuts to enable those in pain to have full attention. How a man said when Bill pushed his handkerchief into a hole in his back – “I’ll see its washed and sent back – “ poor sod.Of mortuaries with pulverised remains.
Of a man beyond recognition but alive.Of the horrible discoveries they made after the fire had abated.

PAGE 7:

How Sarafian (*1) when he got home wept over the casualties.But above it all there lasts longest in my memory those awful moments under the table as the ‘world went bloody mad’. The Swish – Swish as they fell and the reverberating, ear splitting, head bursting, Bash! As they hit. With the rush of hot stifling air that burns the skin and bursts the lungs.

I went to Wick then as we had an office there, I went with Hawthorn, Bill and 2 others to headquarters to the official enquiry. I was officially thanked for getting the girls out, the cool way, the youngest member of staff had proved himself and so on and so forth – Bullshit. I was scared stiff same as the rest and what I did I did automatically and in any case I didn’t do anything – there was a lot of this back slapping mind but the big noise made a damned nuisance of himself over me.. This was at AID HQ. see. Just 2 big noises and we 5. Anyhow he treated us to a wonderful blowout.Well today is Saturday, 9 days ago the big blitz happened. Yesterday – Friday. I was in the exchange at the Canteen, with Tooth an examiner talking to 2 girls on the switchboard when a Red came through. The siren went – first since the blitz. We made to go – the girls leapt up and shut the door – made us stay.

Then the switchboard rang, and a message came through that a man had died of fright in the shelter – he had too, sheer

(*1) Doctor Sarafian’s medical practice was a family practice run entirely by his family from the right hand building at the Yate end of The Plain in Sodbury – he would have known many, if not all, of the victims.

PAGE 8:

Bloody fright – poor devil.

Then came an imminent danger signal, some 10 minutes later bugger me if I wasn’t lying on the floor going through it all again. Two frightened men, two frightened girls huddling in a heap in the corner – 2 telephone fellows came in and got on top of the heap of us as well. BASH. BASH. BASH.The bastards tipped another 8 bombs on us, I was 100yds. Away from it this time, but the terror was just as great. He raked the place with machine guns.Our guns answered – he got away with a piece shot out of his tail.I got up – Tooth and I raced down to the factory – more smoking ruins – 16 casualties, 5 dead. Jumping Jehosophat I’m bloody fed up with this. I was more scared this time – very very aware of my whole cringing (that spelt wrong) body. My hair bristled my guts crawled, and I couldn’t pull myself close enough to Betty – that’s the girl on the switchboard. Not that detatched feeling. Hawthorne and rest weren’t on the building this time only 5 AID. We got down the bottom of the tarmac in time to see the same cortage of mangled souls – smaller scale deaths but agonies to watch.

My nerves were awful last night. Bang Bang Bang, I had my tin hat and was half under the table before I realised it was the woman next

PAGE 9:

Door Knocking at the door.I shall be glad to get in the RAF for some peace. I’m OK today – theres a raid on now, but I don’t fancy his chances today, both times hes been the visibility has been nil.

I’m moving into an office in the end of a wrecked building Monday – all set for the next lot. There’s a sharp corner to go round to get to the shelters from this new office, I’m going to have a steep wooden banking put up, so I can negotiate it without dropping my speed down to less than 275mph. A man selling corks outside of Parnalls would do a brisk trade during air raids. Don’t worry about us Ken. I can take it, the family can take it, and so can Marge, but it is a bit of a bugger waiting for the next packet.

Your loving and thankful to be alive brother,
Des.

ALSO AVAILABLE AT:
GOOGLE DOC.

27 February 1941
This was the most serious, in terms of casualties, that Yate suffered.

At 14:36hrs. a single Heinkel He111 (G1+CC) of II/KG 27 piloted by Oberleutnant Herman Lohman dropped 7 x 250Kg. high explosive bombs on the Parnall factory.

A number of these bombs had delayed action fuses which exploded about 10 minutes after being dropped. These caused the majority of the casualties.

Oblt. Lohman flew over the target from the north and dropped the bombs from around 100 feet. The result of flying so low was that the aircraft was that Yate air defences hit the plane 15 times with their anti-aircraft fire.
Oblt. Lohman limped his Heinkel back to base at Bourges in France on a single engine.

There were 52 people killed in the raid including 3 people who were never identified.

The daed are remembered on a special memorial in St Mary’s Church in Yate. The Memorial was  erected by the Parnall Aircraft Company.

AMOS, Barbara
BARNES, Thomas Arthur
BATTEN, Edward Robert Edgar
BEGERNIE, Maurice Edwin
BOOTH, Maurice Hilary
BRUETON, Albert
BURR, George Alec
BUXTON, Kenneth Reginald
CURTIS, Cyril Frederick Tom
DAMSELL, Edward John Damsell
DAVIES, Edward Geoffrey Heir
DAVIS, William John
DAY, Ivy M.
DOYLE, Edith
DYSON, John Bernard
FRY, Frederick Purse
GUEST, Ronald Thomas
HATHAWAY, Charles Henry Thomas
HATHAWAY, Henry
HOLE, Herbert John
HOWLAND, Norman
HUGHES, Stanley Herbert
HUTCHINSON, Frederick William
JAMES, Ernest N.
JEFFERIES, Percy J.
LAURIE, Frederick Guy Selaurin
LAWLESS, Mary Monica
LAWS, Percy Jack
LUTON, Douglas Daniel Thomas
MILNER, Angus
MOORE, Thomas
MORRIS, James
NEWMAN, Rupert Maitland
ORTON, William James
PARKMAN, Betty Doreen
PHIPPS, Tom
REEVE, Kenneth
REEVES, John William
SHOREY, Douglas
SQUIRES, Robert Colin
STILL, Arthur Albert
TOVEY, Phyllis May
TOWNS, George
TUPIL, Eric
VOWLES, Prudence Pamela
WHITE, Alfred Percival
WHITE, Geoffrey Barton
WILLIAMS, Douglas Lloyd
WRIGHT, Walter James

A more comprehensive list of details of the dead can be found from page 69 onwards at: CLICK HERE

Further details of Parnalls of Yate can be found if you go to:
YATE ONLINE

ALSO:

The Bombing of Parnalls Aircraft Factory of Yate

Contributed by
brssouthglosproject
People in story:
Mrs Dorothy Wall
Location of story:
Yate, South Gloucestershire
Background to story:
Civilian
Article ID:
A3604097
Contributed on:
01 February 2005

    My parents were licensees of the Railway Hotel in Yate during the War and of course they were very busy because Parnalls had two lunch hours, one for the aircraft factory workers and one for the administrative workers. Parnalls had a canteen run by a gentleman who had been a catering officer for P and O cruise lines. Even so, there was only 45 minutes for the workers lunch break. so the hotel bar became very busy and there was also a market every week.     We had just closed, it must have been about 2 o’clock. The siren went off and immediately, before it had stopped, the bombs were dropping. It was a single aircraft. Some bombs dropped on the factory, but some dropped on a gunnery school which probably tested the gun turrets, a number of them were killed during the air-raid. In that first raid a number of factory workers were killed. The German aircraft came in so low that you could see the pilot, a large part of the factory was very badly damaged so they evacuated some departments and then scattered them where they could. The cider factory at Melksham was a dispersal point, one in the Keynsham area, Bath, Wickwar and also in Bristol. Coaches would pick the workers up every evening from Yate and take them to the different premises for the nightshifts and also dayshifts. Parts of the factory were still usable, the factory made gun turrets for bomber aircraft. On the next payday Parnalls set up a couple of tables in the car park and paid the wages from there.     The second time Parnalls was bombed, it was again by a lone plane, but by this time most of the production was elsewhere. The plane only had to follow the railway line to find the factory, which lay alongside the line at Yate. There were women working on the Production line at Parnalls all through the war.     Until the Second Front was opened there were always three or four long Red Cross carragies waiting in the siding at Yate until they were required.     Yate also had an engineering factory called Newmans and they made shell casings there; and there were women working there too, although it was realy far too heavy work for them.

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1945-05-13 GERMANY – Des to Ken

1945-05-13 GERMANY
By: Des WATKINS
Pilot Officer Watkins
350 Belgian Squadron
Royal Air Force
British Liberation Army.

Germany May 13th. 1945

Dear Ken,
I guess this is our first ‘Peace in Europe’ letter eh? Well as news goes that little bit about the capitulation was as good as any I’ve heard in a long time.

As a matter of interest Ken I lead the last sortie of the European War. I was up at Keil when the clock turned up eight oclock and as it ticked around to eight my controller called me up and said:
“Wars over chum, bugger off home” Boy did I fly careful!

I came home like I had a sack of eggs on board. I wound up with five destroyed Ken. Mostly F.W.190’s. That works out to one per head the family. That will learn the bastards to lob bombs at us!

What of the future Ken.

It looks like for the time being we’ll be ‘occupying’ these types doesn’t it. I’m facing a good year in the RAF yet, still at 25/- a day I’m not complaining. You’ll be out long before me of course. I’m wondering what my position is with Japan. I’m not over keen to start on the Nips yet. After a bit of a rest I’ll think about it, but right now I’m keen on a nice long leave with Wyn.

I’m flying over on the 16th. Ken, Wyn is meeting me at Croydon and after a Victory dinner in Town we’re slipping home, then off to the seaside for a week.

I’m hoping she will be out of the WAAF any day now. The policy is to release married WAAF as soon as possible. So I’m hoping to have a nice little civvy wife inside the next few months.I’ve saved a nice little sum of money Ken so I’m not too perturbed about the future, at least I can buy a good home for her as a start.

Are you going to take E.V.T. Ken? I’m going to occupy my spare time with it, might just as well, education has hurt no one to date.When do you get leave Ken? I’ll bet you’re dieing for it ain’t you? I can well imagine it.I applied to become an Allied Military governor I don’t know if I’ll get it of course. I want to do it.

I saw Belsen you see and I reckon I’d make a ‘lovely’ military governor in view of that.

Well Ken Drink me a toast, we’ll make it ‘skoll’ and not ‘Valhallah’ now.

Your loving brother,
Des

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