England During World War Two

A Royal Air Force Lockheed Hudson Mk VI (AE626) of the Middle East Communications Flight flying over the Egyptian pyramids, 1942. (Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)

 

Two soldiers of the Royal Military Police with Anna, a four-year-old Austrian girl with whose family the men were billeted, in the Klagenfurt area of occupied Austria, May 1945. (Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)

comments Charles McCain: since the Third Reich had given few people any choice about anything (Austria had been annexed by 3rd Reich) Anglo-American soldiers were billeted families whether they liked it or not and sometimes troops kicked the Germans out of their home. Payback is a bitch.

Men of the Airborne Division adjust their harnesses alongside an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley ‘PX-G’ of No. 295 Squadron RAF, October 1942. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

Men of the Royal Navy play cards on board the submarine HMS Tribune, 1942. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

Sergeant R Gregory photographs Driver A Hardman during a tour of the Acropolis in Athens, October 1944. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

HMS Howe passes through the Suez Canal on her way to join the British Pacific Fleet, 14 July 1944. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

A signaller operates an Aldis lamp on board a British warship, 1942. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

WRNS officers are shown the sights of Quebec by a member of the Canadian Mounted Police Force after the first Quebec Conference, 23 August 1943. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

Churchill tanks of A and B Squadrons, 43rd Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, 33rd Brigade negotiate obstacles during training, October 1942. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

Armourers of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) re-arm a Hawker Hurricane aircraft at the Fleet Air Arm airfield at Yeovilton, Somerset, 2 September 1943. (Courtesy Imperial War Museum)

Members of the ATS operate the height and range finder at an anti-aircraft gun site, December 1942. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

A Classic Plane Used in Air Sea Rescue

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PBY_Catalina_landing

PBY Catalina landing at NAS Jacksonville during WWII.

(official US Navy photo)

PB stands for “Patrol Bomber” and Y is the designation assigned to the manufacturer: Consolidated Aircraft. The PBY Catalina was the most widely used amphibious aircraft in World War Two. Manufactured in the US, many planes went via Lend-Lease to our allies.

While the US Navy called it the PBY, the British called it the Catalina and the Canadians called it the Canso. You often see this in aircraft names in World War Two. Our Allies would call planes received from Lend-Lease a different name than Americans used.

 

The Failure of Royal Navy Aircraft in World War Two

supermarine seafire


A Supermarine Seafire landing on board HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, February 1943. This was the naval version of the famed Spitfire.

During the First World War, the British Navy developed a highly successful naval air force called the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS). This entity designed and built naval aircraft to be catapulted from surface ships. Toward the end of the war, a flight deck was added to a RN battlecruiser and the first landing of an aircraft on a ship took place. RNAS trained its own pilots and maintenance crews all of whom were regular Royal Navy officers and other ranks.

After the war, the Royal Navy lost control of their aviation to the Royal Air Force. Part of its brief was to provide the Royal Navy with suitable aircraft and to train aircrew and maintenance crews. This system did not work well and led to absurbdities such as Royal Navy commanders given a sub-lieutenant’s rank in the RAF while they did their pilot or observer training and being treated as such. Additionally, the Royal Air Force, like the US Army Air Force, was controlled by “Bomber Barons.”

These men were only interested in building up their strategic bombing forces and they ignored the the highly specialized aircraft requirements of the Royal Navy. This resulted in a lack of aircraft designed  to be used on aircraft carriers and dramatically reduced the effectiveness of the British naval aviation. Only when the the US came into the war did the RN slowly begin to acquire planes built to withstand the rigor of carrier operations.

As a substitute in the first years of the war, the British Admiralty pressed into carrier service the Seafire, a hastily cobbled together carrier plane created by making slight modifications to the famous RAF Spitfire. Unfortunately, the Spitfire was never desgined to operate from an aircraft carrier. Since the Seafire was nothing but a Spitfire with a few design changes, this was less than a successful solution. That the Spitfire was difficult to fly only added to the problems.

 

 

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A Supermarine Seafire nosed over on the flight deck of HMS SMITER after a landing accident, 1944. Official Royal Navy photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

 

Because of this, two less-than-ideal-things often happened: the landing gear couldn’t take the strain and collapsed. This caused the Seafire to skid on its belly down the steel flight deck which bent the propeller. Second, given the desgin of the Spitfire/Seafire, the aircraft had a tendency to nose forward a bit on landing. On an aircraft carrier, this also caused the propeller to hit the steel deck and bent the propeller.

Machinists on British carriers did not have the ability to fix propellers so badly damaged. Hence, they had to replace them and RN aircraft carriers using Seafires would go through fifty or a hundred replacement propellers in a handful of days when on active operations.

In his memoirs, Admiral of the Fleet Philip Vian, commanding Allied aircraft carriers covering Allied landings off Salerno,  wrote that one exasperated aircraft carrier captain had eight inches sawed of the propeller blades of all his Seafires. This dramatically reduced the number of bent propellers which increased operational readiness dramtically and had no effect on the performance of the aircraft.

Landing on an aircraft aircraft has been described by naval pilots as a “controlled crash.” The deck is so short in relation to a landing strip on the ground that the objective is to get the plane on the deck of the carrier as soon as you can so the arresting wires will catch the tail hook and jerk the plane to a halt.

There were a series of arresting wires, as many as nine on World War Two carriers, so the odds were good that your tailhook would catch one of them. When landing you approached the aircraft carrier from astern and were guided into landing by the “batsman,” (in Royal Navy parlance), an experienced naval aviator with a luminous paddle in each hand.

This was a tricky business. You had to come in low and slow enough to get your plane on the deck of the carrier as soon as you could without crashing into the stern. Trying to do this in a heavy sea with the stern rising and falling required exquisite timing. In bad weather the bow and stern could be rising or falling as much as forty feet in less than a minute.

While the RN regained controlled of naval aviation in 1937, the reformed RNAS, then re-named as the Fleet Air Arm (FAA), never came up to par with the aviation units of either the US Navy or Japanese Navy. Making this more insufferable, it was the Royal Navy which had invented carrier aviation.

The residual anger over their treatment by the RAF in the interwar years, caused a contentious relationship between the RN and the RAF throughout the 1939-1945 war. That RAF pilots did not excel in ship recognition and attacked almost every ship they came across, including RN ships, did not help ameliorate the strain between the services. Neither did the RN response which was to open fire on any aircraft.

The Royal Navy was well aware of the problems with the Seafire but used it because they had no choice until more US planes built for operating of aircraft carriers became available to the British.

 

Margaret Bourke-White’s Photos of US Bombers

This collection of images come from a Life Magazine retrospective about Margaret Bourke-White’s photography and includes the following note:

“To photograph Bomber Command, Life sent photographer Margaret Bourke-White to the headquarters of Brigadier general Ira. C. Eaker, commander in chief of Bomber Command, and to one of the secret airfields from which the Flying Fortresses operate… Miss Bourke-White’s pictures arrived in the US just when the Bomber Command was making its biggest sorties. Flying Fortresses roared out over the Channel and attacked German industries in the Lille region. Another group of six Fortresses a few days before dropped 600lb. bombs directly on the German airfield at St. Omer, France. On the way home they were attached by 35 crack Nazi pursuits. When the brief fight was over, at least 13 Germans were plunging earthward and the six Fortresses were sailing on. Another time a Fortress came back to England with one motor shot away, one disabled, a third missing badly, and with 12 cannon holes and 2,000 machine-gun holes in the fuselage. Still other squadrons of Fortresses scored better than 70 percent hits in their first two weeks of bombing operations over Europe. “Fantastic accuracy,” said the British.

Bomber Command was ready. It was confident that although still small, it would grow and grow, and as it grew, the intensity and terribleness of the attack on Germany would grow with it, until he skies of Europe would be blacked and its earth furrowed with American bombs.”

Bourke-White, one of Life magazine’s original four staff photographers, was America’s first accredited woman photographer during WWII, and the first authorized to fly on a combat mission. For decades she covered conflicts, civil wars, humanitarian crises, and natural disasters. She documented segregation in the American South, was the last person to interview Gandhi before he was assassinated, was one of the first photographers to document the liberation of Nazi death camps and survived a torpedo attack while traveling by ship to North Africa in 1943 and was briefly married to the American writer Erskine Caldwell (God’s Little Acre, Tobacco Road). Widely recognized as one of the greatest photojournalists of the 20th century, she died in 1971. She was 67 years old.

I encourage you to explore more of her work.

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White with the US Bomber Command in England, 1942.

World War II in Color: American Bombers and Their Crews, 1942

Working on a bomber’s ball-turret during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber crew member with stuffed good-luck charm during World War II, England, 1942.

Working on an American bomber, England, 1942.

American bomber crew member during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber and crew during World War II, England, 1942.

Loading bombs on an American bomber during World War II, England, 1942.

American bomber during World War II, England, 1942.

[Source and Images: Life Magazine.]