Tag Archives: Royal Air Force

Deal signed for armed forces new boots

The MOD ann0unced yesterday that it had just signed a new contract for the supply of new boots for servicemen in the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force. The contract, worth £80m, will provide servicemen with a new range of brown combat boots. The name of the succesful contractor has not been divulged, but according to the pictures from the MOD it seems to be HAIX, a german company.Troops will have the choice of five different types of footwear:

  • Desert Combat, to be worn by on-foot troops, undergoing high levels of operations in heat of up to 40 degrees (such as Afghanistan)
  • Desert Patrol, as above but designed for mounted troops, such as drivers and armoured troops
  • Temperate Combat, for wear by dismounted troops in temperate climates (such as North West Europe)
  • Patrol, as above but to be worn by mounted troops
  • Cold Wet Weather, for dismounted troops in temperatures down to minus twenty degrees (for example the Falklands)

Each of the five types of boot come in two different styles – what styles these are the MOD have not announced – and in two different widths, so for the first time women can choose a boot that fits them more closely.The new boots were chosen after trials involving 2,000 personnel in Kenya, Cyprus, Canada and the UK.

In the pictures supplied by the MOD the Temperate Brown Boots in particular look very much like the hill walking boots you might buy from a brand such as Brasher. Black boots will still be work by ‘non-camouflage’ units, such as much of the Royal Navy and the RAF, and with full dress uniform – eg the Guards Regiments when on ceremonial duties in London. 

The history of combat boots is actually a pretty interesting one. Of course, soldiers operate on their feet. And on your feet you wear shoes (or boots!). If your boots aren’t good enough, you can’t move. And even in the twenty first century, and army that can’t move on its feet isn’t much good to anyone.

For years troops had worn hobnailed boots, or ammunition boots. With the advent of technology, and in particular the growth of outdoor pursuits such as hill walking, more advanced boots gradually became available.

Yet, in the Falklands troops actually suffered cases of trench foot, as the DMS boots then in use were completely unsuitable to fighting in cold and wet conditions. One supposes that having fought much of the last 50 years in places like North West Europe, Northern Ireland and potentially against the Warsaw pact, boots designed to fight in extremely hot or extremely cold places were not a priority. The DMS even still had toecaps. Initially there for reinforcement, they were beloved of Sergeant Majors as they were ideal for bulling – that is, polishing to a mirror-like state. British soldiers even took their regular fitness runs in DMS boots for many years, until someone inevitably realised that running long distances in unsuitable boots caused injuries.

After the Falklands the MOD introduced BCH – Boots, Combat, High – boots in a very simialkr fashion to those worn by practically every other NATO army for some time. A reliable source once told me all about these famous British Army boots that used to melt in the heat – as seen during exercises in Oman in 2001. I’m not sure about what exactly happened, but it sounds as if the MOD tried to upgrade the boots issued to the forces, but in going for the cheapest option – and potentially buying British – ended up buying a sub-standard product that didn’t do what it needed to do. SA80 mk1, anyone?

With the Army fighting two medium-intensity wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, attention has turned once again to finding a style of boot that is comfortable, durable and can work in different climates. At one stage in the Iraq and Afghan deployments it was well known that troops were purchasing their own boots from companies such as Meindl, Lowa or Altberg. Obviously this situation is pretty ridiculous and led to the MOD putting out a tender in 2011, resulting in todays announcement.

In terms of most military equipment, I am of a functional mind – first and foremost, get something that does the job, and well. Buying sub-standard usually ends up costing more in the long run. And ceremonial considerations such as what they look like should come a distant second to operational matters.

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Bomber Command Memorial unveiled

Avro Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memori...

Avro Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at Royal International Air Tattoo 2005. . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, unveiled the new memorial to the RAF’s Bomber Command of World War Two. The memorial, in London’s Green Park, contains a centrepiece statue of Bomber crewmembers, surrounded by a Portland Stone structure. Part of the roof is constructed from metal rescued from a crashed Halifax Bomber, recovered in Belgium.

The ceremony was attended by many veterans of Bomber Command, who of course are now well  into their 80′s and 90′s. The event was also marked by an RAF Flypast, including the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight‘s Lancaster Bomber – the only surviving flying Lancaster in Britain – dropping thousands of Poppies.

Several years ago I wrote about the injustices that Bomber Command and its veterans have suffered since the end of the Second World War. While the few of the Battle of Britain have been feted, the history of the many of Bomber Command has been largely hushed up out of political expediency.

After the end of the war, the fear of images of wrecked german cities such as Dresden led the authorities – Winston Churchill among them – to unofficially cover-up the role of Bomber Command during the Second World War. Yet more than 55,000 men of Bomber Command were killed on operations – thats around half of all who flew in Bombers. Bomber Command suffered higher losses than any other comparable Command in the British armed forces during the whole war. And while the Battle of Britain raged for several months during the summer and early Autumn of 1940, Bombing raids on Germany and occupied Europe took place from September 1939 until April 1945, only weeks before the end of the war.

I’ve always felt very strongly about the perils of post-modernist history. In a sense, those of us who did not live through the traumatic period 1939 to 1945 should not be able to understand completely what it was like for young men to go up into the skies of Europe night after night as they did. We can’t. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t at least try to form a grasp on what they experienced. And even more so, we shouldn’t try and airbrush parts of history just because they seem slightly unpalatable in the present – we are robbing future generations of their heritage.

I suppose a modern comparison would be the role of the British Army in Northern Ireland. As Ken Wharton‘s books have so eloquently shown us, the role of the British squaddie was a thankless task. Cast into a no-win situation, the British Army was effectively a sitting target for the various bands of terrorists and lawless thugs in the province. Although the British Army in Northern Ireland was often called an occupying force by the nationalist communities, it is usually conveniently forgotten that the Army was deployed to keep the pease after loyalists began targeting nationalists. No violence, no Army.

Yet as soon as the peace process gathered momentum, the role of the Army became marginalised. Instead, current affairs in Northern Ireland revolve around former hard-liners such as Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley, people who, in their own ways, did much to whip up and perpetuate the firestorm that the Army found itself in. Remembering he role of the Army would of course be embarassing to an ex IRA commander turned politician, so for the present, at least, it is consigned to the shadows.

It’s marvellous to see such a fine memorial being unveiled to the thousands of young men of Bomber Command, and I’m sure that it will become a well-known landmark in London.

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The British Field Marshals 1736-1997 by T.A. Heathcote

This is one of those books that I read through, cover to cover, within hours of opening. There’s something almost holy about the British Field Marshal. Even more so since the 1995 Betts report recommended that senior officers should not be appointed to Field Marshal, Admiral of the Fleet or Marshal of the Royal Air Force, except in special circumstances. The feeling is that the Field Marshal is now a thing of history, and indeed there are very few surviving holders of this high rank alive. Added to this, Field Marshals never retire, and are on the active list for life. Anyone promoted to the top of the tree, and awarded the Prince Regent-designed Baton, is in exalted company indeed. Of the 138 men to hold the rank, there are some fine names indeed to consider – Wellington, Roberts, Kitchener, French, Haig, Plumer, Allenby, Robertson, Birdwood, Smuts, Gort, Wavell, Brooke, Alexander, Montgomery, Wilson, Auchinleck and Slim.

The interesting thing is, that Field Marshal as a rank has never been a condition, or benefit, or serving in a particular appointment. There were points in both the First and Second World Wars when the Chief of the Imperial General Staff  – the head of the British Army – was a General, while theatre commanders – technically subordinates – were Field Marshals. The rank can often be awarded by Royal approval, as it was to Haig in 1916 and Montgomery in 1944. It has also been awarded on an honorary level to 22 British and Foreign Monarchs, Royal Consorts of officers of commonwealth or Allied Armies – one of them being Marshal Foch, and also a certain Emperor Hirohito.

I was particularly interested to read the analysis of what arms Field Marshals came from. As someone who has critiqued the armed forces for the background of their leaders, I was intrigued to see how the Army fared. And it’s rather interesting. 20 Field Marshals came from the Cavalry, 4 from Armour, 10 from Artillery, 5 Engineers, 18 Foot Guards, 48 Line Infantry (including 8 scottish, 14 Rifles or Light Infantry and 1 Gurkha), and 11 from the old Indian Army. The schools attended by Field Marshals is also an interesting appendix -  15 for Eton, 3 from Charterhouse, 3 from Marlborough, 4 from Wellington, 6 Westminster, 5 from Winchester and 2 from Harrow.

The individual entries about each Field Marshal are informative, but concise as you would expect from a Biographical Dictionary. I particularly enjoyed reading about some of the older, lesser known Field Marshals pre-Wellington. We often think that the Iron Duke was the first Field Marshal. After he captured Marshal Jourdan’s Baton at Vitoria, the Prince Regent promised to send him the Baton of a British Field Marshal in return. No such Baton existed, however, so one had to be hastily designed!

It is of course a shame that we no longer, generally speaking, appoint Field Marshals. As much as the historian in me would love to see the Baton awarded more regularly, the realist in me acknowledges that our armed forces are so small, and the nature of warfare is so different nowadays, that it is perhaps not appropriate to automatically promote officers to the rank, when it is largely symbolic. If in the future we found ourselves in a mass-mobilisation war and generals were again commanding large forces in action, then by all means bring it back. But the clue is in the title – ‘Field Marshal’, he who marshal’s the field of battle. Is a Field Marshal’s place in Whitehall, in peacetime?

Funnily enough, a matter of days ago it was announced that General Lord Guthrie – Chief of the Defence Staff 1997-2001,  the last CDS not to be promoted to the highest level and the provider of the foreword for this book – was being made a Field Marshal in the Queens Birthday Honours. Also awarded the rank, along with Admiral of the Fleet and Marshal of the Royal Air Force, was Prince Charles. Illustrating succinctly how Field Marshals can be appointed after a lifetime of service, or as an honour.

The British Field Marshals 1736-1997 is published by Pen and Sword

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Another Aircraft Carrier U-turn

Artist depiction of the Queen Elizabeth-class,...

Artist depiction of the Queen Elizabeth-class, two of which are under construction for the Royal Navy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m several days late in reporting this one, but earlier in the week it emerged that the current governing coalition is planning to perform a u-turn and introduce both Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers into service. Previously, it had planned to mothball one. Both will enter service with the Royal Navy once completed, as was originally planned by the previous Labour Government.

The mothball option emerged in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which also opted to purchase conventional ‘cat and trap’ versions of the joint strike fighter rather than the vertical version -a decision that was also reversed earlier this year. Yet another defence u-turn raises questions about the coalitions judgement – whilst changing your mind is nothing to be ashamed of if the situation demands it, that decision makers have got so many things wrong in the first place is worrying. If decisions about acquiring equipment appear to be unsound, how much confidence can we – or more importantly our servicemen – have about the decision making when it comes to commiting troops?

I have always been a firm believer that there is no point in having just one of anything in defence terms. If you only have one aircraft carrier, it can only be fully operational half of the time. At best. And if you feel that you can do without it 6 months of the year, do you really need it that other 6 months? The French have had all kinds of trouble with their carrier Charles de Gaulle, and whenever she’s in port, the French have no other carrier. The Falklands – and the Royal Navy’s recent operational tempo – shows that to have one ship effective at any one time, you need at least one, preferably two more in refit or working up. One suspects that the current era of no strike carriers was prompted by the RAF trying to prove that we do not need them at all. That philosophy has clearly proved to be unsound, with carrier-borne air cover proving to be effective – militarily and financially – over Libya.

According to Defence sources, the first Carrier – Queen Elizabeth – should be undergoing sea trials by 2017. Sections being constructed in shipyards around Britain are currently being assembled in Scotland. Both ships will be based in Portsmouth, and extensive work is going on in Pompey to configure jetties and supporting infrastructure to take them. Seeing them steam into Portsmouth for the first time is bound to be an impressive sight. They are perhaps overkill for out financial means nowadays, and probably bigger than we really need militarily, but on the flip side, it is difficult to overestimate what an impact a 60,000 ton flat top could project.

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Missing Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research Enquiry Service 1939-1952 by Stuart Hadaway

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has ever shed such light on something that I have worked on in the past. I’ve written about plenty of men – particularly airmen – who were lost during the Second World War – and reading about the work of the Missing Research Enquiry Service has helped me gain a much better understanding of the process involved in tracing missing men during and after the war. I guess it’s one of those things that we don’t tend to think about too much, but how did we get from the height of the war, with thousands of men being lost in action – many of fate unknown – to the neatly-kept Commonwealth War Cemeteries and Memorials to the Missing of today?

As the war was ongoing, the RAF maintained a Casualty Branch that dealt with information about men lost - either killed, taken prisoner or missing – over enemy territory. This involved collating intelligence – in some cases from the enemy via the Red Cross – to maintain personnel records, and inform next of kin. Many bereaved relatives of course received a terse Government Service telegram. But it is the fate of those thousands of missing airmen that concerns us most in this book. Early in the war it was recognised that the RAF’s apparatus for tracing missing airmen was inadequate – hence the birth of the Missing Research Section in 1941. Collecting and collating intelligence reports from a variety of sources, this information provided a basis for post-war inquiries.

With the liberation of Europe ongoing, in December 1944 the MRS was expanded into the Missing Research and Enquiry Service, and small teams were sent to France and then the rest of Europe to gradually seek the missing men. Initially the MRES consisted of only 14 men, which was soon found to be nowhere near enough. With 42,000 men missing in Europe alone, this was quite some task.

One thing that really struck me is how few people were working in this field, and dealing with so many cases. And it was extensive work – travelling, working on intelligence, talking to locals, and being present at exhumations. It certainly wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. Thousands of men were lost over thousands of square miles of Europe, let alone other continents such as South East Asia, which posed problems all of its own.

The manner in which some men were identified is quite intriguing. For the most part, RAF identity discs perished quickly in soil, so identification was left to items such as uniforms, rings, or even paperwork that had survived stuffed in pockets. It was detective work of the highest order, which in some respects a historian of war casualties can both sympathise with and admire.

I think especially of men such as Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy DFC and Flight Sergeant Francis Compton DFM, men who were shot down over occupied Europe and must have gone through the process of having their crash sites and burial locations being traced and identified by the MRES.

This is a fascinating book, full of anecdotes. As I mentioned in my introduction, I can’t remember the last time I learnt so much from one book about a subject I knew very little about, and a subject that I should know a lot about at that. It certainly adds to my grasp of researching ‘missing’ airmen, and adds a vital puzzle to understanding their stories.

Missing Believed Killed is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Bombing, Book of the Week, Remembrance, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized, World War Two

Falklands 30 – the Black Buck Vulcan raids

 Falkland Islands, Stanley Airport, Black Buck ...

Thirty years ago one of the RAF’s most incredible ever bombing raids took place over the South Atlantic. The Black Buck Vulcan raids were long-range operations against Argentine targets on the occupied Falkland Islands.

One of the problems facing any attacking force is that of gaining air superiority. Without it, the enemy can bomb and landing operations at will. Even so, when the task force did land at San Carlos it only had a minimum of air superiority, and still lost two ships sunk. Early on it was identified that the Argentines could attempt to operate fast, high performance jets such as the Mirage from Stanley airfield.

Without Stanley airfield, the Argentine Air Force had to operate from bases on the mainland. As such, aircraft patrolling over the Falklands or on missions were at the very limit of their range, had to be refuelled on their journey, and had limited potential for payloads and dogfighting. If, however, Stanley airfield could be used, their time on station could be improved considerably.

The RAF’s Vulcan fleet was on the verge of retirement. Designed and built by Avro as nuclear bombers during the early Cold War, although the Royal Navy had taken over the core nuclear deterrent role, hardly anyone in the Vulcan fleet had even practised conventional bombing. Immediately that the Stanley airfield problem became apparent, the Vulcan fleet began practising air-to-air refuelling (their likely operating base would be Ascension Island, still thousands of miles from the Falklands), conventional bombing and avoiding the Argentines known anti-aircraft missiles, particularly Roland and Tiger Cat, and Rheinmetal anti-aircraft cannons.

Beginning on the night of 30 April and 1 May 1982, Vulcan Bombers of 44 Squadron RAF launched ultra long range bombing raids on Argentine targets on the occupied Falkland Islands. After the first aircraft intended for the raid – XM598 piloted by Squadron Leader John Reeve -developed a fault with the rubber seal on its canopy window, XM607 piloted by Flight Lieutenant Martin Withers took over. Vulcan 607 was refulled an incredible SEVEN times during the southbound journey, from Victor Tankers flying out of Ascension Island.

21 1,000lb bombs were dropped, on a track bisecting the runway at an angle of 35 degrees – calculated to ensure that at least one, and possibly two bombs would crater the runway. Reconaissance photographs appear to suggest that at least one bomb did hole the runway, and the others fell in the vicinity of the airfield. It has been suggested by some that the Argentines created fake craters on the airfield, in order to mislead British intelligence. Whether the craters were fake or not, no fast jets attempted to fly out of Stanley – only lower performance types such as the C-130 Hercules. Of course, it may be that the Argentines had never intended to fly Mirages out of Stanley anyway. If that is the case, then they were making a grave error. Even so, British planners had no way of knowing this.

I’m really in two minds about the legacy of the Black Buck raids. That it was a remarkable feat is beyond question. As a morale boosting raid, it still sounds great today. The statistics speak for themselves – the longest bombing raid in history at the  time. It would have taken 11 Sea Harriers to deliver the same payload of bombs. But notably, it was also the RAF’s only real headline involvement in the Falklands War. Ever keen to promote itself, did the junior service push for the raids to avoid missing out on the party and the potential feel-good factor afterwards? Not to mention that a succesful, high profile role in any way is usually a good bargaining chip when it comes to the usual post-war rethinking of defence policy.

But, was it worth it? Well, to assess whether it was worth it, we have to substantiate what effect it had. This is where things get slightly tricky. I’m yet to be convinced, either way, whether the runway at Stanley airfield was damaged or not. And, if so, to what extent. The problem is that so much rides on the legact of Black Buck, that records – including aerial photographs and eyewitness reports – have been variously interpreted to fit whatever argument various parties have seen fit. Of course, it suits the RAF to argue that Black Buck was succesful. Any organisation that, reportedly, moved Australia on the map to suit its argument, is not going to be too bothered about misleading people. We also have to recognise the vast resources expended in the mission – in that sense, did the raids represent good value militarily? Were the Argentines going to operare Mirages out of Stanley? Even if they had, would it have made a big difference? A lot of interconnecting ifs and buts.

As much as I find Rowland White’s Vulcan 607 a ripping yarn, and a triumph of British ingenuity and application, in terms of the purely military value of Black Buck, I think the compelling case is yet to be made. Historically, do they deserve to stand up against the Dams raid, the Tirpitz raid or Peenemunde, for example? Whilst undoubtedly a heroic effort of stamina and skill, the Black Buck raids had a lot less flak flying at them for the duration of the journey compared to the average Lancaster pilot over the Ruhr in 1943 and much more modern technology at hand. And, it has to be said, something of a higher chance of survival too.

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Sergeants Eric and Ronald Osgood

Out of the blue I received an email the other day from a gentleman who had noticed an unusual gravestone in Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth. It commemorates two brothers serving in the RAF who were killed on the same day in 1940, and are buried in a joint grave.

Sergeant Eric Edwin Heaton Osgood (20) and Sergeant Ronald Arthur Osgood (22) both died on 17 July 1940. Their parents were Albert and Elizabeth Osgood, of Widley.

The ever-reliable Gerry at the Portsmouth Cemeteries Office informs me that the two brothers were killed in an air crash at RAF Sealand, a training and maintenance base in Scotland. And according to the burial registers their parents were living at Beaconsfield Road in Cosham.

I have emailed the RAF Museum, who hold records of all RAF aircraft crashes. Hopefully we can find out a bit more about the Osgood brothers. I must confess I had no idea about them, although I have previously written about the Venables brothers who were also killed in the same air crash in September 1945.

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Bomber Boys by Ewan and Colin Mcgregor on BBC1

I really enjoyed Bomber Boys, which was on BBC1 on Sunday Evening. The programme showed Ewen McGregor’s brother Colin - a former RAF pilot who flew with 617 Squadron – learning to fly the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight‘s Lancaster, the only flying Lanc in Britain and one of only two left flying in the world. First McGregor learnt to fly a C-47 Dakota, a classic aircraft that was perhaps as much of a war-winner as the Lancaster and the Spitfire, but has never quite attracted the same glamour. He then progressed to taking the controls of the Lancaster.

I especially enjoyed the insightful contributions of Bomber Command veterans. Of course, so few of those very young men actually survived the war. Bomber Command had the highest loss rate of any comparable command in the British armed forces during the second world war. I think that their views and remeniscences were very interesting, and it is increasingly important that their recollections of everyday life are remembered. It’s not just their memories of flying and fighting that are important, but also of drinking in pubs, life on airbases and chasing WAAFs, and things like that, that really matter. In that sense the McGregors looked at the social history aspect of Bomber Command more than any other programme I have seen. The McGregors also looked at other aspects of the campaign, such as the Germans raid on Coventry in 1940, the Butt report on bombing accuracy, and the raids on Hamburg and Dresden. They also looked at the bombing from the perspective of the German population.

My research into Portsmouth airmen shows just how history has slanted views. Hundreds of young men from Portsmouth were killed with Bomber Command. And they were young men, mostly in their early twenties and some in their late teens. Most of them have never even driven a car, but some found themselves piloting big, heavy Bombers on marathon missions over occupied Europe – often two or three times a week. It’s impossible to describe what a strain this must have placed on these young men – flying for up to ten hours at a time, facing imeasurable dangers of flak, night fighters and the threat of accidents. The rate of attrition in aircraft and crews was, in retrospect, terrifying.

Yet for some unknown reason, the Bomber Boys have never quite attracted the attention of Fighter Command. Compared to the hundreds of Portsmouth men who fought and died in the Bomber Offensive, only ONE was killed flying with Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. Puts things into perspective doesn’t it? I cannot help but think that this is down to two historical developments. Firstly, after the end of the war the strategic bombing of civilian targets became distinctly unfashionable. Even before the end of the war Churchill was distancing himself from the historical legacy of the bombers. Secondly, the RAF being the RAF, it has always done self-promotion very well. And since the Second World War, it has suited far more to play up the Battle of Britain rather than the Bombers Offensive. And thus when we think of the RAF, we think of the dashing young public schoolboy, pre-war regulars of Fighter Command, rather than the diverse, international and unsung men of Bomber Command.

This was a brilliant programme, very well thought out and blending history with remeniscence. I also found it very moving and inspiring, and made me think of such brave Portsmouth bomber men as Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy, Flight Sergeant Francis Compton, and Flight Lieutenant’s Guy and Arthur Venables. Reading their operational records at the National Archives was a sobering reminder of just what an incredible ordeal they endured.

Bomber Boys is available to watch on BBC iplayer (UK only)

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Refighting the Falklands War (2012): The Air War

The Eurofighter Typhoon is capable of supercru...

Image via Wikipedia

Now, in the past I have been among the RAF’s fiercest critics. I am most definitely not anti-air, as I think history has shown that handled properly it can win you wars. But what I am not a fan of is the RAF’s culture when it comes to inter-service rivalries, being something of a self-preservation society. The RAF’s top brass will think nothing of destroying land or sea defence capabilities, if it can salvage something for itself. A ‘junior service’ complex, you might say. And as we have seen with Libya, the RAF’s PR Department is the most active participant in any war. Great if you have wings, but not if you are interested in ‘UK Defence’ overall.

But the RAF provides the most potent element of the Falklands Garrison’s tripwire. Like Malta during the Second World War, the fate of the Falkland Islands in any future conflict is likely to depend on a handful of aircraft – the four Eurofighter Typhoons based at RAF Mount Pleasant. Of course, I am not privy to defence planning, but I would expect that with such a small flight and obviously a limited number of airframes, we would be doing well to have two of them in the air at any one time.

The redeeming factor, however, is the manner in which Argentine air assets have  stood still since 1982. Their Air Force and Navy are flying virtually exactly the same aircraft, even to the point of not having replaced their significant losses during the 1982 war. If the Mirages et al struggled against the Sea Harrier, I really wouldn’t fancy their chances againt the Typhoons. The Typhoons, flown by pilots who in all likelihood have recent battle experience (albeit of ground attack), would probably account for a fair few Argentine aircraft. Their job would be to prevent the Argentines landing on the Islands, or at the very least to severely delay them in doing so. The Argentines would probably be looking to land by air, given their lack of amphibious vessels. In order to do so they would need to overwhelm the air defences at Mount Pleasant, and capture the runways intact in order to fly in troops. One would hope – and expect – that RAF Mount Pleasant would have under the runway demolition charges in the event of a capitulation.

The only offensive aircraft that the Task Force could expect to face are:

  • 21 Mirages of various, eldery types (including Israeli copies)
  • 24 Pucaras (ancient, turbo-prop aircraft)
  • 11 Super Etendards (operational status dubious)
  • 36 or 16 Fightinghawks (update of the old Skyhawk, number uncertain)

Compare those numbers to the 70+ aircraft that the Argentines lost in 1982 (total of all types). Then consider how many of them are actually serviceable, how many pilots they actually have, how experienced they are, and what weapons the Argentines actually have available for use. Suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a bad picture after all.

With the air bridge from the UK to Mount Pleasant via Ascension, reinforcements could be flown in relatively quickly – one guesses that that is the idea with building an air base on the Islands. It saves on basing large forces there permanently, but enables you to fly in reinforcements quickly. These could include extra Typhoons and Tornados for Air Defence – nominally the RAF has 83 Typhoons and 136 Tornados. There would be a requirement for Globemasters, Tristars and Hercules to set up an air bridge, along with tankers for air-to-air refuelling. A ‘wishlist’ for reinforcing the Falklands at short notice by air would probably look something like this – infantry (battalion size initially), air defence (Fighters and Rapier), transport helicopters and Apaches. Whether we have enough long range transport aircraft to effect such an airbridge, I cannot know.

If the islands were lost, then Ascension Island would into play as a vital air hub. Unlike in 1982, the RAF posseses Sentry E3-D. They have a range of around 4,000 nautical miles, so whilst they might not reach the Falklands, they could cover a large part of the South Atlantic. With the demise of Nimrod maritime reconnaisance is a bit of a gap, although the Raytheon Sentinel has a range of some 5,800 miles. Hence early warning and control might be greatly enhanced upon 1982. This should have a knock-on effect for air defence, target acquisition and command and control, in the absence of carrier-borne air cover.

With the demise of not only the Sea Harrier but also the Harrier GR’s, any task force would be fighting without its own fixed wing, carrier based aviation. The Sea Harriers were credited with playing a large part in winning the war in 1982. It is frequently assumed that we could not even contemplate another war without carrier-based air cover. Some suggest that the Type 45 Destroyers with their advanced radar and missile systems could effectively provide this cover, but the proof of this pudding is only really in the eating. Who knows how naval exercises have been playing out?

One significant improvement on 1982, is the ability to operate Army Air Corps Apaches from onboard ships. I identified how useful this might be in my 2009 series, and their usefulness was shown in the recent Libya conflict. A handful of Apaches on something like HMS Ocean would be incredibly useful, for providing firepower support to ground troops, shooting up bunkers, troop concentrations and the like. I’m not sure how much the concept has been explored, but they could also have an anti-surface role, as US helicopters did during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980′s.

Any task force could expect to face less aircraft than it did in 1982, and certainly nothing which would give it any headaches. With the ratio of force that the Argentine Air Force has to offer, one cannot help but think that just one aircraft carrier with a strike wing of Harriers would do the job nicely.

ADDENDUM

A Twitter follower has rightly pointed out that the Argentine Air Force also possesses a number of A-4AR Fightinghawks, a update of the A-4 Skyhawk using avionics from the F-16 Fighting Falcon. 36 were delivered, but various sources state that only 16 are currently active. Any more information on these numbers would be useful.

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Foreign war graves in Chichester Cemetery

Regular readers will know I have developed something of an interest in war dead and war graves, be it from a particular space dotted around the world, from a particular nation, or in a particular place. Equally, regular readers will know that some six months ago I made the quantum leap from Paulsgrove (if you don’t know, wikipedia it) to Chichester (ditto, and compare).

Anyway, I digress. Yesterday while walking to Lidl to go and do the shopping, I stumbled upon Chichester’s Portfield Cemetery. And a very interesting stumble it was too. Like 99% of municipal cemeteries it has its fair share of war graves. Apart from a few dotted around the cemetery, most of the war graves are collected into three beautifully tended plots – separate plots for WW1 and WW2 protestant graves, and a separate one for Roman Catholic burials. But here’s the interesting bit – there are 13 foreign (ie, non commonwealth) WW2 burials – 7 Czech, 4 Polish and 2 German. The Poles and Germans are RC burials, but the Czechs are split between  protestant and RC.

What I find really interesting, is that every nationality has its own shape and format for CWGC gravestones – UK and commonwealth are rectangular with a shallow curved top; polish have a more pronounced, pointy-curved top; Czech have a very interesting angular design; whilst German have a more straight, perpendicular look to them.

Obviously at the moment I have my hands full with looking into Australians buried in Portsmouth and Portsmouth’s WW1 dead, but at some point in the non-too distant future I am going to start taking a look at the foreign war graves in Chichester. My hunch is that many of them must be airman, with important WW2 air bases nearby at Westhampnett and Tangmere.

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Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mike Spick

I guess it’s always going to be a dilemma. What kind of book do you take with you to the Hospital to read while your other half is having a camera put somewhere unpleasant? Topiary? Chess? micro nutrients in the reef aquarium? All very tempting, but in the end I went with Luftwaffe Fighter Aces.

And very interesting it was too. What startled me most is the high number of kills that the Luftwaffe’s top aces had – over 200 in many cases. Whereas in the western allies – RAF, USAAF for example – any pilot who shot down 5 or more enemy aircraft was considered an ace. The RAF’s leading ace, Pat Pattle, accounted for 51 enemy aircraft. The difference is partly that German Jagdwaffe pilots spent a lot more of the war in combat, from Poland in 1939 onwards, but also that many of them were in action in Russia during Barbarossa, when the hordes of poorly trained, poorly equipped Russian fighters provided rich pickings. Erich Hartmann might have shot down an incredible 352 enemy aircraft, but all but seven were Russian. Men such as Adolf Galland and Werner Molders, renowned as among the greatest, actually scored very low compared to some of their compatriots.

The book is structured chronologically, looking at the development of the Luftwaffe, the Spanish Civil War as a proving ground, the early campaigns, the Battle of Britain, Barbarossa, North Africa, and then the Allied Bomber Offensive later in the war. Spick has looked admirably at the technical issues, the tactics involved (including some nice diagrams of dogfighting maneouvres), and woven into the narrative details of the careers of some of the Luftwaffe’s greatest pilots. Also of note are the considerable political problems that the Luftwaffe had to overcome, not the least the interference of the Fuhrer, and the refusal of Goring to accept that air combat had changed since he was in action over the Western Front in 1918.

Two Luftwaffe aces I have a particular interest in are Helmut Wick and Hans Wolfgang Schnauffer. Helmut Wick is believed to have shot down Flight Sergeant Hubert Adair in his Hurricane over Portsmouth on 5 November 1940. Wick is also believed to have shot down Flying Officer James Tillett near Fareham on the same day. Wick himself was killed on 28 November 1940, when he was shot down over the English Channel. He had claimed 56 victories – low in the context of the war, but very succesful considering most were gained within a year of flying, and were against the RAF rather then the Red Army Air Force.

Hans Wonfgang Schnauffer is renowned as the Luftwaffe’s greatest night fighter pilot, with 121 victories. This is even more incredible, when we consider that he only began flying in June 1942, straight from flight training school. Schnauffer shot down the Halifax Bomber of 35 Squadron, in which Sergeant Francis Compton was a tail gunner. On the night of 29 June 1943, Schnauffer intercepted Halifax HR812 over Belgium.

Luftwaffe Fighter Aces is published by Pen and Sword

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Shoreham Airshow 2011

After giving it a miss last year, three generations of Daly’s made a return to Shoreham Airshow yesterday. There was so much to see, I do apologise if I forget anything. We missed the first couple of displays stuck in traffic on the A27 – I believe it was a glider display.

The Consolidated Catalina is a real special aircraft that I was very pleased to see. A flying boat not dis-similar to the Short Sunderland, the Catalina played a vital role during the Second World War in reconnaisance, transport, and in all manner of maritime roles. It’s not an aircraft that you see too often.

There was a very minimal representation from the RAF this year – only training aircraft in the Hawk, the Tutor and the Tucano. I’m actually quite a fan of the Hawk, a nippy little jet. The RAF also provided one of their distinctive yellow Search and Rescue Sea Kings, which marked the 70th anniversary of RAF Search and Rescue by giving a demonstration of winching, from an RNLI RIB on a trailer on the runway.

I might be biased, but the Parachute Regiment Red Devils Parachute Display team are easily the best around. In fact, I’m not sure why other Regiments are allowed to waste time and money having parachute display teams. They always land on a sixpence.

The Great War display is always very interesting, evocative of the magnificent men in their flying machines. It’s incredible that these such basic airframes fly like they do. Something that occured to me is how similar the Sopwith Camel is to the Fairey Swordfish, which was present this year. The little ‘Stringbag’ was obsolete at the start of the war in 1939, but still managed to cripple the Bismarck in 1941.

My Grandad and myself were pondering which has a more evocative sound and sight – the B17 Flying Fortress or the Avro Lancaster, both of which displayed at Shoreham this year. We came to the conclusion that the Lancaster is like a solid, dependable truck, while the B17 is like a Humvee – big and bold, but with some bling too.

Some of the most interesting aircraft are some of the lesser known jets – the Hawker Hunter and the De Havilland Vampire are fantastic aircraft, and look and sound beautiful.

The centrepiece of every Shoreham airshow is the Battle of Britain style airfield scramble. We are quite fortunate to see this, where every year a couple of Messerschmitt’s blitz the aerodrome, before the Spitfires and Hurricanes get up and chase them off. It is great to see, with the pyrotechnics, and Dads Army firing on the sidelines, but when you go every year, I can’t help wonder if I’m the only person who knows exactly what is going to happen and when. But then again, if they didn’t do it, you would feel let down!

Shoreham always has plenty of aerobatic teams. The Yakovlevs, flying Russian WW2 vintage aircraft, the SWIP team, the Blades, and the Breitling wingwalkers (young ladies who have to be seen to be believed!).

After the Vulcan had to pull out at the last minute with fuel tank problems, the organisers obviously had to find something unique to close the show. Step forward Christian Moullec. This frenchman’s act really is unique. A conservationist, Moullec raises birds (Geese or Cranes) from hatching, and trains them to fly along with him, in his microlight. It is a fantastic spectacle.

It did feel like there wasn’t quite as much at this years show as there has been in the past. The Red Arrows have never been allowed to make a ful display at Shoreham, apparently due to aviation rules and the proximity of air routes out of Gatwick. It is sad that the British Armed Forces could not provide more display aircraft, but then again they are probably all busy in Afghanistan or Libya. It is a shame, because seeing a Typhoon or an Apache at an airshow could be the thing that recruits a pilot of the future.

It is wonderful that the Shoreham Airshow takes place every year, and raises money for the RAF Associations appeal. Remember, unlike many free airshows, Shoreham is a charity event raising for a good cause. It would be nice to see something different sometimes – about 75% of the prgramme is the same most years, which obviously if you go each year, is a bit repetitive. But then again, I’ve never organised an airshow, and it can’t be an easy thing to do, so hats off to the guys at Shoreham!

(whisper it quietly, but lets just say I believe there might be an airshow a lot closer to Portsmouth sometime soon… I can’t reveal my sources, but fingers crossed eh!)

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Filed under airshow, event, Royal Air Force, Vulcan Bomber, World War One, World War Two

Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging

I’ve just got back from a nice day at Shoreham Airshow. But rather than write a report right now, I would like to pay tribute to Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging RAF.

Flt Lt Egging, 33, was killed when his Hawk crashed on the way back to Bournemouth Airport after the Red Arrows display at the Bournemouth Airshow earlier today. I’m sure I don’t need to say anything too much about how awesome the Red Arrows are – in many people’s minds the best military air display team in the world.

Footage suggests that Flt Lt Egging, a Harrier pilot who had served in Afghanistan, crashed after attempting to steer his plane away from houses. The MOD have not confirmed but it is believed that his Hawk jet suffered a malfunction.

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Apaches and HMS Ocean and Libya

Apache Attack Helicopter Takes Off from HMS Ocean

Image by Defence Images via Flickr

So, the Government have announced that Army Air Corps Apache’s will be joining the fray in Libya, along with French Tigers.

A couple of things spring to mind here. Firstly, it adds to suspicions that the COUGAR Task Group exercising around Cyprus were sent to the region to possibly work up for action in Libya. Even if not, a half-decent task force is at least nearby, a la First Flotilla at Gibraltar in 1982.

Secondly, that the use of Apaches from a Helicopter Carrier undermines the SDSR. Has it occured to anyone else that flying close air support, vertical flight aircraft from a Royal Navy flat top was discounted less than a year ago?

And finally… note that the Aircraft are ARMY, flying off a NAVY vessel. The ship can get in as close as it wants, anti-air and anti-ship defence pending, and the Apaches are there for giving close support to the anti-Gadaffi forces. No RAF involvement at all. Interesting to hear what the RAF PR department make of that one.

Interestingly, only days later there was a high-profile press release about the RAF getting ‘bunker-busting’ bombs for use in Libya. All the analysis seems to be, however, that the inability of the rebels to take the offensive to Gadaffi is their lack of heavy weapons on the battlefield. Something I can imagine the Apaches helping with a lot. Shame we can only put in three of them – imagine a full Squadron…

PS – any speculation about whether a certain well-known Apache pilot is out there?….

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Busy time in naval news circles

British crewmen lift a Royal Air Force British...

Harriers on Illustrious - maybe not a thing of the past

It’s been a very busy few days in naval news circles.

Firstly, the BBC reported that the bill for the CVF/QE class Aircraft Carrier project has rised by another billion pounds to nearly £7bn. And according to the reports, it still seems uncertain exactly whether one or two – or any – of the aircraft carriers will be fitted to operate jet aircraft. BBC Business Editor Robert Peston offers an explanation here. My take? Costs rises in big projects are always described as ‘just one of those things’, but when its the public purse thats carrying the can, is that good enough?

Secondly, last Thursday the Portsmouth News carried an exclusive report from un-named senior naval sources that HMS Illustrious is being equipped to operate Harriers. Is it possible that the crisis in Libya, and the RAF’s unconfirmed plea for an Aircraft Carrier have forced a very tacit u-turn from the Coalition Government?Originally Illustrious was going in for a ‘regular’ refit as a strike carrier. Then we were told that she was being fitted out as a Helicopter Carrier to fill in for HMS Ocean while she is in refit, and now the possibility of her being a strike carrier again is floated out. As we discussed here recently, it does not take much to turn a helicopter carrier into a harrier carrier – higher grade paint, plus of course spares and armaments. And crucially Illustrious still has her ski ramp. The Harriers themselves have not been scrapped, and are in storage at RAF Cottesmore. Apparently it would take around two months for them to be regenerated a fit state for operations. It seems like a sensible step to me, but of course a sensible step would have been to keep Ark Royal in the first place.

Finally, the recent issue of Warship: International Fleet Review is good value as usual. A healthy dose of deserved spite directed at the Coalition Government and the Strategic Defence Review, and plenty of sound editorial on how events in Libya and the Arab world have undermined the Defence Review only a matter of weeks after it was published. For me, the big question is, if the current Government can get its Defence Policy so wrong, do we trust them to ever get it right at all? How did the Government allow themselves to be hoodwinked so badly by the RAF? If only some of our politicians had a grasp of history – they would have known that the RAF ‘moved’ Australia on the map to suit their arguments, and apparently won the air war in the Falklands singlehandedly.

Also in Warship IFR, there are some interesting opinions – believable, in my view – that the Defence Review was soft on the RAF thanks to underhand lobbying and bad advice from light blue quarters, and also as a sop to the then Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, who was asked to step down as soon as the review was completed. Having read a lot of the thinking from the current CDS, General Sir David Richards, I doubt very much whether he would have wanted the RAF to remain as it has, with most of its expensive toys retained. How did anyone think it was a good idea to have a Defence Review steered by a senior officer who then left, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces?

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