New Zealand RAF Hero Known As the “Defender of London” During the Battle of Britain, part one

 

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“The Defender of London”

Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park

Park was Air Officer commanding the most vital of Fighter Command’s four operational areas, No. 11 Group, which covered south-east England. Park had the hardest of jobs, assessing which attacks posed the most danger and which could be safely ignored. He was careful to commit his squadrons in ones and twos, ensuring enough units remained in reserve to meet subsequent raids. These tactics were effective, but meant the RAF fighters were usually outnumbered in combat. He is seen here later in the war when he became Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Middle East Command. (photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

11 Group was  the critical group command out of the four groups in Fighter Command (10,11,12 & 13). Park had to constantly, and I mean constantly, decide in just a few minutes, seconds even, whether a German raid picked up by RAF radar stations and volunteer observers was real or a diversionary raid designed to draw his fighters away from London or ambush them with a huge number of German fighters.

Writes historian David Wragg in the RAF Handbook:

“…the Luftwaffe would be across the Channel in just six minutes and be over the first of Fighter Command’s 11 Group airfields in south-east England in a quarter of an hour, and while German aircraft would be picked up by radar as they massed over the French coast, it took four minutes for information from the radar stations to reach the airfields and thirteen minutes for a Spitfire to reach 20,000 feet.” 

Air Chief Marshal (as he later became) Sir Keith Park RAF (15 June 1892 – 6 February 1975) was actually a New Zealander. Like many young men in the Empire he answered the call to serve in the British forces in World War One. He first joined the artillery and fought mainly on the Western Front. In 1916 he joined what was then called the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and remained in the new service, renamed after the war as the Royal Air Force.

 

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Replica of Sir Keith Park’s personal Hawker Hurricane on display at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland.

www.motat.org.nz/

(Photo taken in 2007 and released into the public by the author.)

According to historian Stephen Bungay in The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain, Park first served in the RFC as an artillery observer which makes sense given his background, and later transferred to fighters. He was credited with shooting down 14 German planes. Park was also shot down twice.

Sir Hugh “Stuffy” Dowding, Air Office Commanding Fighter Command, was a difficult person to get along with at the best of times and one intolerant of incompetence and stupidity of which there was much in the RAF and especially the Air Ministry. It was Dowding who recognized Park’s talents. After serving for several years as Dowding’s Chief Staff Officer, Dowding appointed Park to command 11 Group, which he knew would be the most critical group command when war came.

Says historian Stephen Bungay, “he was uniquely qualified for the job”.

 

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Uniform and medals of Sir Keith Park

GCB KBE MC* DFC

Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Military Cross & Bar, Distinguished Flying Cross. Legion of Merit (USA), Croix de guerre (France).

 

The Royal Navy and the Evacuation of British Troops from Crete – Part 2

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British Troops Fight a Desperate Rearguard Action in Greece While Falling Back to the Coast

Bundesarchiv photo showing New Zealand and British troops who were compelled to surrender during the bungled effort to stop the German invasion of Greece. This is April 1941. When the general retreat of British and Commonwealth troops began, units tried desperately to reach the coast so they could be taken off by the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, thousands were captured by the Germans.

When British and Greek troops failed to hold Greece against the German invasion, the Royal Navy had to evacuate tens of thousands of British and Commonwealth troops from open beaches off the Greek mainland. As you might imagine, this is a lot more difficult to do than board troops off of docks and piers. While ports were certainly in operation, they were under fierce air attack by the Germans. Plus the British troops often could not get through to a Greek port. They could only get to the coast itself. As in Lord Nelson’s day, many of the soldiers had to be taken off the beaches by Royal Navy cutters which were large boats rowed by a crew of eight to ten.

The Royal Navy was not able to rescue them all as the above photograph testifies. Many of the soldiers were British and Commonwealth troops from New Zealand and Australia. Many British and American generals believed that aside from the elite British units such as the Brigade of Guards, British Commonwealth troops fought better and harder than the average British division conscripted for the war. As these evacuations continued with the Commonwealth troops putting up a stronger fight than the British divisions, there was widespread fear in the upper ranks of the British Government and military that British infantry did not want to fight.

Nazi Germany’s Attack on Greece – The map above will give you an idea of how the British Army retreated down the Greek mainland and subsequently were lifted off to Egypt or Crete.

[Images courtesy of World War 2 Today and Wikipedia.]

A Place I Want To Live But Never Will: Muriwai Beach in New Zealand

I love Muriwai Beach in New Zealand. And who wouldn’t? If it were practical for me to live there part-time, I think I would give it a try.

Early morning surfers on Muriwai Beach. 20 February 2010

Since this is public land it is regulated by the Government of New Zealand which does not allow the consumption of alcohol within the large nature preserve of Muriwai Beach. That makes it even more appealing. True, I was a reprobate when I was a youth and I got drunk a lot but I lived in New Orleans and got drunk in bars where one is supposed to get drunk. I don’t want my repose to be interrupted by a bunch of drunks of any age. How peaceful this must be.

This magnificent beach is 60 km long and apparently is a favorite of bird watchers and surfers.

To correct, I should add that the Muriwai Beach preserve isn’t public land per se but part of the Crown Estate of New Zealand, that is land held in trust for New Zealand by the English Crown. New Zealand is a former English colony as you know and part of the British Commonwealth and Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is also the Queen of New Zealand. She, and other English monarchs, are represented in the country by a Governor-General, who as the representative of the crown, is the official head of state. (The same goes for Australia, Canada and other countries.)

Governors-General are chosen in some fashion by the individual countries and the Queen then appoints them. She doesn’t actually pick them herself.

Muruwai Beach (11 January 2005)

Advisedly I should first visit New Zealand and Muriwai Beach before setting up quarters there. I’ve never been to either place and probably never will. New Zealand is a long, long way away. It’s not near anything. Most of us Americans think it is sort of an island suburb of Australia but I’ve learned from talking with various Kiwis in the last year that it isn’t. In fact, it’s something like one thousand kilometers from Australia and it’s a four hour flight.

Besides, it is true that as one gets older you get a bit set in your ways. You want things a certain way and having had a traumatic early life, I am always seeking as much stability in life I can find, which isn’t much.

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia, The Chicken Keeper, and Wikimedia.]

The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 15

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US Marines from New Zealand storm ashore at Guadalcanal in the first Allied counter-offensive of the Pacific war. More than 7,000 Marines died there.

Almost as important as fire power, the US Marines had truly outstanding small unit leadership with most junior officers and NCOs being veterans of the Pacific campaign against the Japanese which had only ended just over four years previous. These men made a critical difference in calmly reassuring their young Marines in the firing line, often by crawling from foxhole to foxhole during a battle as well as participating fully in driving off the Chinese.

Pfc. Kyle Keller, a mortarman with Company C, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, adjusts the elevation and deflection on an M224 60mm lightweight company mortar system here Dec. 8. Proper adjustments are critical to the accuracy of the weapon. The mortar team participated in a 10-day urban training exercise to prepare for an upcoming deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Scott Schmidt)

Another critical factor, the Marines (and other Western forces) had over the Chinese was a superior command and control system. Firepower doesn’t do much good if people aren’t shooting at the right targets or don’t know how to zero in their artillery or mortars.

[Source: Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea, 1950 by Martin Russ. Images courtesy of the US Embassy to New Zealand & Samoa and the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force Website.]