Warsaw Airlift I

American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft leaving Warsaw and heading East after air drops on September 18.
(Wisła river visible as well as Wilanów Palace gardens in upper left part of image).

Air routes used for the airlift.
Black: Allied flights from Italy.
Black broken line: Later egress routes used back to Italy.
Blue: USAAF route

The Warsaw Airlift of 1944 is one of the great unsung sagas of the Second World War. In theory it had three participants – the Soviets, Americans, and British. In reality, only the British and their partners made a significant contribution. Soviet warplanes, which had been flying over Warsaw in late July, disappeared from the skies after the outbreak of the Rising and failed to reappear for the best part of six weeks. American planes, which were supposed to fly out from England in August, did not manage to take off until mid-September, and then only once. As a result, it was RAF squadrons operating from Italy which assumed the overwhelming brunt of the missions. They did so at a juncture when RAF Bomber Command was regularly pounding targets on the Baltic coast not far from Warsaw. On two nights at the end of August, for example, nearly 200 Lancasters from Britain attacked Königsberg, suffering only 7.5 per cent losses.

Warsaw lay 1,311km (815 miles) from the RAF base at Brindisi in Apulia. The chosen route to Poland took the form of an elongated lozenge with Brindisi at the southern end and Warsaw at the northern tip. The planes took off in the evening over the Adriatic, crossed the Croatian coast in the last rays of the setting sun, overflew the Danube in Hungary in darkness, and climbed north-east over the Carpathians before approaching Warsaw from the east over Soviet-held territory. The return journey, which brought the fliers back to Brindisi in midmorning after twelve to fourteen hours in the air, was spent in large part over Germany and Austria. It descended from the Austrian Alps into full daylight over Italy.

The airmen faced manifold dangers. They had no fighter escort, and had nothing but their own guns to ward off German planes sent up in ground-controlled interception areas. They were fully visible crossing the Adriatic coast in both directions, and a Luftwaffe night-fighter training centre near Cracow presented a constant hazard. Visibility over Warsaw was severely limited by clouds of smoke, whilst their approach run, which was made at only 45 metres (150 feet) and at a mere 200kmh (125 mph), made them specially vulnerable to ground fire. Electric storms were a common summer occurrence over the Alps and Carpathians. Pilots frequently reported instances of St Elmo’s fire, when blue flames trailed from wingtips and propeller blades.

The aircraft most usually employed in the Warsaw Airlift was the Consolidated B24 Liberator. It had more speed and payload than the Boeing B17 Flying Fortress and a greater range than the Avro Lancaster. Its four Pratt and Whitney double-banked radial engines were boosted by a super-charger. They permitted a payload of 51/2 tons and a cruising speed of 210 mph. Fully loaded with 2,300 gallons of fuel and with twelve parachute-controlled containers in the bomb racks, take-off had to be undertaken overweight. The modern electronic equipment included a GEE box (a navigational radio-triangulation system) and a radio altimeter. Armament consisted of ten 0.5 in heavy machine guns. There was a crew of ten.

205 Group RAF in Italy, commanded by Maj.Gen. Durrant, consisted of five wings: three RAF and two South African Air Force. In the summer of 1944, the RAF’s 334 Special Operations Wing was attached to the newly formed ‘Balkan Airforce’, whose principal task was liaison with Yugoslavia. It included 148 and 624 Squadrons RAF, each equipped with fourteen Halifaxes, and the independent (Polish) 1586 Special Duties Flight with ten aircrews flying a mixture of Halifaxes and Liberators. 2 Wing of the SAAF consisted of 24, 31, and 34 Squadrons, all equipped with Liberators.

The first flight to Warsaw had been undertaken on 4–5 August by 1586 SDF accompanied by seven Halifaxes of 148 Squadron. It provided a grim warning of things to come. The orders mentioned drops in the Kampinos and Kabaty forests; and senior officers were unaware that four Polish crews had secretly volunteered to fly directly over Warsaw. On return, one Polish Liberator made a miraculous crash-landing on two engines with no undercarriage, stopping ten yards short of the sea. But five RAF planes were lost, and only two successful drops were made. Senior RAF commanders intervened, and flights were suspended.

At this point, the Warsaw Rising forced itself onto the agenda of Allied planners who were meeting at Naples to discuss the landings on the French Riviera:

The Polish Question was on [Churchill’s mind] as he contemplated the beauty of Naples Bay and the slopes of Vesuvius from his quarters at the Villa Rivalta . . . He was expecting Marshal Tito for discussions on the situation in Yugoslavia. It was 12 August, and Churchill must have sensed that Warsaw could expect no help from Moscow. He agreed with Field Marshal Smuts that the airlift was of little military value. Gen. Mark Clark of the US Fifth Army in Italy could not understand the reasoning of the Combined Chiefs in supporting the operation, and Churchill wondered whether the latest news from Warsaw could mean much in the long run. Nonetheless, he sent off another signal to Stalin . . .

Churchill discussed the matter again with Air Marshal Slessor. The RAF commander reiterated his conviction that the Russians would not drop supplies in Warsaw. The only feasible way to assist the AK adequately was for the US Eighth Airforce to fly the aircraft from Britain. The planes would have to land at Russian bases to refuel, as had been arranged for their bomber offensive. But the Polish appeal, of course, had been made to the British, not to the Americans. Churchill weighed the matter up carefully, knowing that the Russians would not help, and came to a painful decision. Help must be sent, he declared, even at the risk of heavy losses.

As a result, 205 Group was ordered to maintain a regular supply line to Warsaw. In actual fact, 1586 SDF, 148 and 178 Squadrons RAF, and 31 Squadron SAAF had already made several extra flights to Poland, presumably on their own account, or on their local commander’s responsibility. In all, they took off from Brindisi for Warsaw on 4, 8, 11–18, and 20–28 August, on a total of nineteen nights.

The supplies which reached the Home Army were not inconsiderable. Early in September, General Boor acknowledged receipt of 250 PIAT antitank weapons, 1,000 Sten guns, 19,000 grenades, and 2 million rounds of ammunition.

But the losses were horrendous. Air Marshal Slessor calculated that one bomber was lost for every ton of supplies delivered. The sacrifices of 1586 SDF were particularly severe. On 1 August they had just completed a tour of duty and were due for a period of rest. Only five aircraft and five air crews were available. By the end of the month, only of those five crews survived.

Appeals were equally directed to the USAAF, and the possibility of using high-flying American B-17 Flying Fortresses based in Ukraine was under discussion for several weeks. After many delays, an inter-Allied system code-named Frantic had begun to operate in June 1944, Stalin having been sweetened with the gift of a top-secret Norden bombsight. Using Poltava, Mirogrod and a nearby fighter base, massive fleets of up to 200 US planes were able to shuttle back and forward between the USSR and either Italy or Britain. On each leg, they dropped huge bomb-loads on pre-arranged targets in the Reich or in German-held territory. In July and August 1944, their main destinations were in Romania, though two were in Germany, and three were in German-occupied Poland.

A report about one of these flights appeared in The Times on 8 August:

Heavy bombers of the 8th Air Force from England have attacked a German aircraft plant at Rahmel, 10 miles NW of Gdynia in Poland, and have landed safely at American bases in the Soviet Union. The bombers were escorted throughout by P51 Mustangs . . . No airplane was lost . . . Today’s attack was the twentieth operation in which Eastern Command bases have figured.

The headline ran ‘Poland Bombed by U.S. Airforce’. It would have been read in conjunction with another piece immediately below headed ‘Furious Fighting in Warsaw: More Ground Gained by Patriots’. Ordinary readers must have drawn the obvious conclusion. If the Allies were bombing Gdynia, the bombing of German positions in Warsaw could not be far behind.

During these operations, the Americans frequently reported incidents of ‘friendly fire’. It was assumed that Soviet anti-aircraft gunners had standing orders to fire on any unauthorized flights. But that was only part of the explanation. On 15–16 June, Soviet Yak fighters had attacked two American F-5 reconnaissance planes, damaging one and destroying the other.

On 18 September 1944, a huge fleet of Flying Fortresses of the US 8th Army Air Force flew from Britain to supply Warsaw, and continued on to the Soviet base at Poltava. It was the first and last time that Western supplies reached Warsaw on this route. A later TASS report described the shuttle flight as ‘one of the largest ever to land in Russia.’ When the Flying Fortresses passed over Warsaw around 2 p.m., they certainly created a grand spectacle. They were accompanied by sixty fighter escorts. The sky was a perfect blue. The planes were in wide-spaced formation, flying at a great height ‘as if on parade’. The silver fuselages glinted in the sun. The engines left multistranded spirals of white vapour trails. A rhythmic roar shook the buildings far below, punctuated by the popping of AA guns. Suddenly, the sky was filled with a mass of multicoloured parachutes, slowly descending, swaying in the breeze. On either side of the barricades, German troops and insurgents watched in amazement. The American report was optimistic:

Three combat wings (110 B-17s) dispatched to drop supplies at Warsaw. Three a/c returned early. All formations dropped on Primary [target] visually. Approximately 1284 containers dropped with fair to excellent results. 105 a/c landed at Russian bases. Flak: moderate. E/A Opposition: nil. Claims: nil. Losses: 2 B-17s, cause unknown.

In reality, over 80 per cent of the 1,284 containers fell into German-controlled districts. There were no parachutists. And there were no more Frantic missions to Warsaw.

Meanwhile, the RAF flights from Italy continued. They had been grounded in early September by bad weather and by tests on a new bombsight that would be effective from a much higher altitude. Twenty aircraft were ready to take off from Amendola and Brindisi on 10 September:

A sense of duty kept the Polish crews going. They were an extraordinary collection of men of all types and ages . . . One flyer who came from Balkan Airforce HQ was RAF Air Commodore [Raiski]. . . . [He] had fought against the Bolsheviks as a young pilot in 1919[–20]. Now he was on the same flight as a Group, who had been deputy commander of the Polish Bomber Brigade in September 1939. They all shared the hazards of the Warsaw flights with a former airline pilot, an assistant professor of psychology from Warsaw University, a high school teacher, an Argentinian and a Canadian of Polish origin. One inexperienced navigator . . . was briefed for his first trip to Warsaw, neatly packed his few belongings, wrote a letter to his parents in Poland, drafted a will, took off, and never returned. One gunner on a Polish Liberator had been released from a maximum security prison at the outbreak of the war. On a homeward flight over the Balkans, he leaned out of a gun turret entrance, joking with the rest of the crew, and inadvertently touched the traversing switch. The turret swung round and broke his neck.

Throughout August, Churchill and to a lesser extent Roosevelt strove to persuade Stalin to give landing rights in the USSR to Allied flights heading for Warsaw. Stalin’s responses were uniformly hostile. Roosevelt’s interest was, at best, lukewarm. Churchill’s message to Moscow on 12 August was phrased in strong language:

We have practically no news from you, no information on the political situation, no advice and no instruction. Have you discussed in Moscow help for Warsaw? I repeat emphatically that without immediate support, consisting of drops of arms and ammunition, bombing of objectives held by the enemy, and air landing, our fight will collapse in a few days . . . I expect from you the greatest effort in this respect.

This was countered by the extraordinary dressing-down of the US Ambassador in Moscow mentioned earlier. But Churchill persisted. On the 18th, he told Eden to check out the technical feasibility of the overflights, and he appealed to Roosevelt for joint action. Their message to Stalin, which Roosevelt drafted, was deliberately mild in tone. It started: ‘We are thinking of world opinion’. And it ended, ‘The time element is of the greatest importance.’ It did not evoke a definite reply. What was worse, at the next round Roosevelt casually told Churchill: ‘I do not see what further steps we can take at the present time which promise results.’ Churchill was roused to undisguised anger. He proposed a draft message which commented less than diplomatically on Stalin’s earlier replies. ‘Our sympathies are aroused for these “almost unarmed people” whose special faith has led them to attack German tanks, guns and planes,’ he said; also ‘the [Warsaw] Rising was certainly called for repeatedly by Moscow Radio’; and ‘we propose to send the aircraft unless you directly forbid it.’ This time, the President refused to join in. September arrived; and the question of using the Frantic system was unresolved.

Air Marshal Slessor received orders that flights to Warsaw must not stop. So on 21/22 September, a mixed group of RAF and SAAF tried once more. This time, exceptionally, they all returned safely to base. But the cloud cover over Warsaw was so thick that the pilots could not find their targets. No confirmation of success was received. Then the dead-moon period set in. Flying was off. Slessor did not receive replacement aircraft.

The loss of an aircraft was always a dramatic event. In the last couple of months, the Varsovians had seen several crashes. One Liberator came down in the City Centre, killing the Canadian crew. Another came down in the lake in the Paderewski Park in Praga. The sole survivor was taken prisoner by the Soviets.

Yet the aircrews’ lonely ordeals were something which only they themselves could witness:

Capt. Erich Endler [SAAF] had used more fuel than his inexperienced crew had allowed for. He had made his drop, and was already over the northern border of Yugoslavia before he was aware of his dangerously low fuel level . . . There was no hope of putting a big aircraft down in the dark safely. There was nothing to do but to bail out, and the pilot gave the order. The co-pilot, Lt. Chapman and RAF Pilot Officer Crook jumped, landed safely, and fell into enemy hands. From the ground, they saw their aircraft, its engine dying, rapidly lose height and crash into the towering crags of the Alps.

Air force losses are calculated in various ways. But one calculation reckoned that 306 planes departed from Britain or Italy for Warsaw, and that forty-one were lost: two US, seventeen Polish, and twenty-two RAF and SAAF. Losses totalled 13.3 per cent. Losses on the run from Italy to Warsaw reached 31 out of 186 aircraft, or 16.7 per cent. This compares with the raid on Nuremberg on 30/31 March 1944, which is sometimes claimed to have been the RAF’s ‘darkest hour’, where losses totalled 11.8 per cent.

Allied aircraft dropped a total of 370 tons of supplies in the course of the two months of operations, but the airlift proved to be ineffective and could not provide sufficient supplies to sustain the Polish resistance, which finally succumbed on 2 October 1944. An estimated 360 airmen and forty-one British, Polish, South African and American aircraft were lost during the `Warsaw Airlift’.

 Soviet missions

Of course, one has to wonder whether Stalin ever saw one hundredth part of the mountains of paper that were addressed to him. But even if he did see these reports, it is difficult to imagine what possible use he could have made of them. For he had created a vast informational machine, which produced such an indigestible macédoine of fantasies, falsehood, and occasional facts that it was quite incapable of rendering a recognizable picture of outside reality. No one who read Telegin-style summaries could conceivably have been moved to recommend active support for ‘the Londoners’. For which reason, the last paragraph of the last page of Telegin’s report of 25 September was underlined by someone in Moscow in thick pencil:

Please give instructions on the following question. To what extent, in the coming days, is it a necessity to render assistance to the insurgents with arms, ammunition, and food-stuffs. The position of the insurgents is really acute, and they cannot reckon on any aid from anyone other than the Red Army. In order to supply the aid within maximum limits, it is necessary for the Front to release 500 tons of B-70 aviation fuel and 2,000 freight parachutes and to transport ex-enemy weapons from our central stores including rifles, machine-guns, and rocket-launchers . .

On the night of 13 September 1944, Soviet aircraft commenced their own re-supply missions, dropping arms, medicines and food supplies. Initially these supplies were dropped in canisters without parachutes which lead to damage and loss of the contents – also, a large number of canisters fell into German hands. Over the following two weeks, the Soviet Air Forces flew 2,535 re-supply sorties with small bi-plane Polikarpov Po-2’s, delivering a total of 156 50-mm mortars, 505 anti-tank rifles, 1,478 sub-machine guns, 520 rifles, 669 carbines, 41,780 hand grenades, 37,216 mortar shells, over 3 million cartridges, 131.2 tons of food and 515 kg of medicine.

Warsaw Airlift II

‘Warsaw Return’ David Stiling (AGAvA)

Commission of a Halifax of 1586 Squadron based in Brindisi, Italy in August 1944.

No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight was first formed at RAF Derna, in Libya on 4 November 1943, equipped with a mix of Consolidated Liberator lll and Handley Page Halifax II/S special duties aircraft. After many months of flying support missions to Poland, first from Tunis in North Africa in December 1943, the Polish flight was transferred to Campo Casale near Brindisi, Italy. From there it flew operations over occupied Europe undertaking special duties including partisan supply drops and agent insertion.

When the Warsaw Uprising began on 1st August 1944, No:1586 Polish Flight had only 6 crews and 8 aircraft remaining. Most of the aircraft were battered and not suitable for long, dangerous missions and replacement Halifax’s ferried in by British crews from Algier were already in a bad shape. In addition, most of the crews were young and inexperienced, while the rest had almost completed their tour, sometimes even their second or third. Thus, when the time called for greatest effort to help the fighting in Warsaw, 1586 Flight was heavily depleted. The Battle of Warsaw would last 63 days and take a terrible toll of the Polish bomber crews.

Typical of future missions was the first mission in support of Warsaw when all of the available crews, seven in total, were tasked with a supply drop mission to Warsaw on the 4/5th August 1944. Taking off shortly before 20.00hrs on the 4th, a combined flight of three Liberators and eleven Halifax’s took off from Camp Casale near Brandisi. Seven of the aircraft were crewed by members of 1586 Special Duties Flight and as they headed for Warsaw, their orders were changed. Warsaw was extremely heavily defended by severe anti-aircraft artillery as well as an abundance of German night fighters. Therefore, orders were changed mid flight by Air Marshall John Slessor who ordered instead that their supplies be dropped to the Polish Home Army in Southern Poland 30km north of Krakow. However, four of the Polish crews decided to ignore the changed orders and continued to fly onto Warsaw. The need and desire to support Warsaw had tragic consequences with the loss of five Halifax’s shot down, another crash landing at Brandisi, all aircraft badly shot up and only three Polish bombers successfully dropping their loads.

As a result, Air Marshal Sir John Slessor suspended all the flights to Warsaw. Only after constant Polish protest did he change his decision before Polish crews recommenced supply mission to Warsaw.

Many of the flights had been ordered to carry out sortie’s regardless of weather conditions or the opposing enemy forces. Taking off at night, often in poor weather, flights took off and over the Yugoslav coast, fog would stretch from the ground to 6,000 feet. Without navigational aids and unable to get fixes from ground observation, navigation was often made by star ‘fixes’. In addition, heavy flak was often experienced over Yugoslavia and the Danube and especially after crossing the Carpathian mountains. Flying over Poland, enemy night fighters were a continual and lethal threat and accounted for many of the bombers. Those left would fly on, guided by the distant red glow over Warsaw where fires were blazing in every district of Warsaw, the only dark spots being areas occupied by the German forces. Descending, the bombers would make their approach at heights of 700ft. Everything would be smothered in smoke, through which the city flickered in ruddy, orange flames that lit up the night sky and illuminated the bombers. The enemy flak was so intense, the bombers would then descend as low as they could, often 70 or a 100 feet above ground, often having to dodge obstructions such as the Poniatowski Bridge in their desperation to avoid the flak. Losses were often catastrophic. Typical of these raids was one on the 20th August when a flight of Halifax’s attacked Warsaw at low level and only one returned with five others lost.

Those aircraft that got back to base were always more or less damaged by flak or fighters, and ground crews were greatly overworked. Taking off in the early evening, many of these flights lasted eleven hours and during the dramatic events supporting Warsaw, their efforts and those of the aircrew were nothing short of heroic with many ground crew working for 20 hours a day, struggling to keep as many a/c operational as possible. In August, there were 97 flights to Poland including 80 to Warsaw. Perhaps the biggest indicator of the sacrifice made by the Polish crews was the fact that few crews completed as many as three sorties over Warsaw and that only two crews survived the whole two months period.

My painting captures a moment when the clients Father, who was a Halifax wireless operator, met the sole surviving Halifax crew that returned from a mission to Poland as dawn broke. His Father spoke of greeting the crew as they stood on the runway at Brindisi as they described their harrowing experiences flying at low level avoiding the enemy night fighters and the constant, lethal flak on their long flight and the realisation that they had lost so many of their fellow crews.

Halifax B.Mk.II Series IA
Unit: 1586 Special Duty Flight, RAF
Serial: GR-V (JP180)
Crew: F/O Jan Dziedzic, F/S Henryk Golegiowsli, F/O Antoni Blazewski, P/O Stanislaw Kelybor, F/S Jerzy Koper, F/S Stefan Kulach, Sgt.Jozef Zubrzycki, F/O Stefan Czekolski. Campo Casale, April 1944. LAPG-built aircraft.
Liberator B.Mk.III (B-24D-20-CF)
Unit: 1586 (польское) Special Duties Flight, RAF
Serial: GR-T (BZ949, ex 42-64026)
On the night of 6th January 1944, while returning from a mission to Poland the aircraft hit a mountain at Villa Castello when attempting to land at Grottaglie in Italy. The whole crew of: F/Lt Witold Paszkiewicz, F/Lt Tadeusz Domaradzki, F/Sgt Zygmunt Dunski, F/Sgt Franciszek Olkiewicz, F/Sgt Stefan Magdziarek, Sgt Piotr Halick, Sgt Jozef Marchwicki and Sgt Julian Bucko was killed.
Liberator B.Mk.IV (B-24J-45-CF)
Unit: 1586 (польское) Special Duties Flight, RAF
Serial: GR-S (KG890, ex 44-10395)
Early July 1944. Crew of F/Lt Szostak. The aircraft had the ventnil and nose turrets removed (the latter replaced with the ‘greenhouse’ nose), and the factory-fitted Consolidated A-6a tail turret was replaced with a lighter Boulton-Paul one. 29 mission markings were applied under the cockpit. Although the aircraft was recorded in documents as the GR-S, it is difficult to see in available photos whether the aircraft letter was really applied on the side of the fuselage in the first days of August. The aircraft was shot down near Bochnia early in the morning on 15 August 1944 while returning from a supply drop mission to Warsaw, killing the entire crew: F/Lt Zbigniew Szostak, F/U Stanislaw Daniel, W/O Stanislaw Malczyk, W/O Tadeusz Dubowski, W/O Jozef Bielicki, F/Sgt Wincenty Rutkowski and F/Sgt Jozef Witek.

No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight

No. 1586 (Polish Special Duties) Flight was first formed at RAF Derna, in Libya on 4 November 1943, equipped with Handley Page Halifax II special duties aircraft. The origin of the unit was the remnants of 301(Polish) Squadron after disbandment by the Polish HQ due to lack of staff and trained crews. The remaining crews and aircraft formed C Flight of 138 Squadron, which was temporarily renamed as 301 Squadron Special Duties Flight, RAF, before becoming 1586 Flight. That’s why initially all Halifaxes bore NF code markings, later changed to the GR of 301 (Polish) RAF Sqn.

Missions flown by the flight included partisan supply drops and agent insertion, but also missions over the capital city Warsaw during the uprising of August 1944, with supplies for those brave citizens, who had taken up arms against the occupation.

The flight was disbanded on 7 November 1944 at RAF Brindisi to resume operations as No. 301 (Polish) Squadron, RAF.

The second main aircraft type used by the unit was the Liberator. There were three aircraft, directly converted for supply missions from Mk IIIs (American B-24D), and altogether some fifteen Mk VI and GR Mk VIs (B-24J in USA). Conversion included nose turret removal and adaptation of the B-24D nose glazing, more suitable for the drop observer. The glazing was, however, taller as the fuselage floor part of the J-variant’s nose section was positioned lower than in the D. This, in profile, is the most distinguishing difference between 1586 Flight Mk III and Mk VI Liberators, and causes much confusion and mistakes in models.


Pilots of 1586 Special Duties Flight, based at Brindisi, experience moments of hope and weeks of despair

The Warsaw Rising broke out on 1 August 1944, between four and five in the afternoon. For us, listening to the loudspeakers, the only vital question was: Warsaw is fighting – when do we fly to help them? . . . The announcer was finding it difficult to keep his voice properly calm and impersonal . . . I looked round: every face was set and stern. . . . We were to take off at midnight. Stan, my tail gunner, rapped out a curse, banging the table with his fist and went out, slamming the door. Of course our flight was unimportant. Just as everything not taking place in Warsaw was unimportant.

20 August 1944

We had been ordered to carry out the sortie regardless of weather conditions. So, though the met. forecast was exceptionally despondent, we took off . . . Sure enough, right from the Yugoslav coast fog stretched from the ground to 6,000 feet. Fog was hardly the word for it – water vapour or steam would be more appropriate. We had no ground-based navigational aid; I tried map reading . . . but we finally flew on solely with star ‘fixes’.

We had similar weather all the way until over Poland we saw a Jerry fighter shoot down one of our Halifaxes. (There had been a lot of flak over Yugoslavia and the Danube.) We pushed on and got a decent ‘fix’ by the time we reached the Pilitsa River. After that we flew on guided by the distant glow . . .

We dropped to some 700 feet, got through a very dense barrage [near Sluzhev] over the Vistula. Fires were blazing in every district of Warsaw. The dark spots were places occupied by the Jerries. Everything was smothered in smoke through which ruddy-orange flames flickered. It was terrible and must have been hell for everybody down there.

The German flak was the hottest I have ever been through, so we got down to just 70 or 100 feet . . . The flicks in the Praga and Mokotov suburbs kept us constantly lit up – there was nothing we would do about it. We nearly hit the Poniatovski Bridge as we cracked along the Vistula: the pilot hopped over it by the skin of his teeth.

Our reception point was Krashinski Square. So, when we passed the [Kerbeds] iron-girder bridge, we turned sharp to port and made ready for the run-in. The whole southern side of the Square was blazing and wind was blowing the smoke south, much to our satisfaction. We dropped the containers and knew we had made a good job.

It was time to clear out. The pilot came down still lower, keeping an eye for steeples and high buildings. The cabin was full of smoke, which got into our eyes and made them smart. We could feel the heat . . . We ripped along the railway line leading west [to Prushkov and Skiernievitse]. Some flak from an anti-aircraft train tried to hit us, so we let go some bursts. We had a breathing space until flicks near Bohnia picked us up again, and the flak got uncomfortably close. We passed over the crashed bomber in the foothills, which was now burning itself out. (Five Halifaxes that had taken off with us never returned.) The Home Army people signaled that a supply was received on Krashinski Square at the time we noted in our logbook. So we knew that at least our flight had not been in vain.

2 October 1944

As we were climbing out of our bombers one day after an op., an aircraftman came up and told me [the news]. Stanley was just behind me. He’s what you’d call a Warsaw cockney with all a cockney’s affection for his city. He stopped short and dumped his ’chute on the ground. He just stood there, turning his head from side to side helplessly . . . He shuffled off without a word. Later, he came up to me in the Ops. Room as I was studying the maps. His eyes were sunken and lifeless. ‘Sir, what’s the use?’ he asked in a hoarse, unfamiliar voice. ‘What’s the use, sir?’ He pressed his face against the [window] and looked out through the panes where the drops of mist were trickling down like tears..

Navigator Alan McIntosh

‘For the RAF and SAAF squadrons of No. 205 Group operating from bases in the Foggian Plain, the call to assist the Balkan Air Force squadrons came out of the blue.’.

In the forenoon of 13 August, 205 Group air crews were told that a maximum effort was to be flown against an unknown target that night. 2,300 gallons of fuel were to be taken on by each aircraft, and would be topped up for extreme range at Brindisi where the operational briefing would take place. Normally the fuel load for a target in northern Austria used around 1,800 gallons.

The target only became known at Brindisi, when, on entering the briefing room, the aircrews sighted a wall covered with international modified polyconic maps, extending from floor to ceiling. A red line extended from Brindisi at the bottom to Warsaw at the top. A sobering revelation for those about to go out into the night.

The briefing officer was Lieutenant George Z. His briefing was a model: compelling, honest, accurate, comprehensive, in a situation in which the aircrews needed to know the political, military, and tactical situation of the Polish Home Army in Warsaw; the German army in Warsaw; the Red Army sitting on its hands across the Vistula at Praga; and the advance of the Red Front.

For accuracy, a low-level drop was essential: height not above 500 feet, speed not above 150 m.p.h. Target maps and photographs were available. Three aligning points (Mokotov in the south, the Old City in the centre, and the Citadel in the north) were given. Take-off time for 178 Squadron was 19:45; estimated time on target 01:30. The twilight was critical for returning aircraft, which would have little chance of survival in daylight over enemy territory extending from Albania to the Baltic Sea.

At the start of the operation in support of the Warsaw Uprising, RAF aircrews were issued with blood chits. They were silk with a Union Jack on the obverse and something along the lines of ‘This chap is a British officer. Return him in good shape and in working order and you will be rewarded’ – on the reverse side, the same in Russian. Since for the Warsaw operations we were briefed to give nothing other than number, rank, and name, if we fell into Russian hands (the same as if captured by the Germans) the blood chits were ominous rather than comforting. After difficult, protracted high-level negotiations, the Russians agreed to allow a free passage route over Russian-held territory; for specifically agreed missions.

Warsaw was burning: not in the manner of fire storms which British and Polish Bomber Command aircrews remember, but as a great city in which a land battle to destruction is going on. Approaching at low altitude in the darkness, it was as if the city was covered by an inverted fish-bowl inside which the night was a dull red. Individual fires and gun flashes showed up as bright sparks; flak streamed across the area or burst above the dome amidst the coning searchlight. Inside the red dome, aircraft were seen in silhouette against the fiery city as they made their low-level dropping run.

That night, 13/14 August, over Warsaw, my crew sighted a four-engined aircraft, lower than our own, silhouetted against the fires of the city. It was in a nose-down attitude as if coming in to land, very low, and engaged in a gun battle with a German light flak battery and a nearby searchlight. It could only be one of the Halifax aircraft of 1586 (Polish) Special Duties Flight flown from Brindisi five and a half hours earlier. Almost certainly the aircraft had already dropped its load of arms and ammunition and its crew was now joining the land battle while they still had something left to give. Such was the spirit of the Polish aviators who flew in support of the Warsaw Uprising.

On my crew’s last sortie to Warsaw (night of 10/11 September 1944) we were engaged by Russian AA fire and Russian night fighters along much of the two-and-a-half hour route. Disenchanted by this, our South African pilots and Australian navigator, at about 12,000 feet and outside gun-range from Lublin, rapidly decided that if we survived the drop on Warsaw and were fated to be shot down on the way home, it would be by the enemy and not by our Russian ‘friends’. On climbing away from Warsaw, therefore we followed the direct route through enemy territory, rather than putting our Russian blood chits to the test. Some crews of our force were not so lucky.

With the benefit of hindsight, one wonders what our masters knew (and how much they chose to tell) about our Russian ‘Allies’.

The USAAF provide a grand spectacle

On 18 September something extraordinary happened; a large American air flotilla, the first we had seen since the fighting started, appeared overhead. The Flying Fortresses, over 100 planes, were flying at a very high altitude and were thus out of reach of the intense anti-aircraft fire. The countless specks which appeared behind them turned out to be parachutes. Ignoring the danger, people were coming out of the cellars and climbing the heaps of rubble to get a better view of the spectacle in the sky. Their faces beaming with hope and joy, they were embracing one another and crying with relief. As the multicoloured parachutes came closer, somebody shouted, ‘Our commandoes are landing!’ – but unfortunately he was wrong, they were supplies. Having dropped their cargo, the planes landed on the other side of the River Vistula, on Soviet-controlled territory. Since by now only a small part of the city remained under our control, three-quarters of the eighty tons of supplies dropped from such a great height fell into German hands. Had the help come a few weeks earlier, the outcome of the Rising might have been very different. Now it was too late.

Our daily paper, the Warsaw Courier, wrote: ‘Stalin had planned the total destruction of Warsaw a long time ago. A vibrant city with a long democratic tradition would have been a source of constant irritation in his vast totalitarian empire. Only when he saw Warsaw almost razed to the ground did Stalin decide to throw a few sackfuls of food to the dying few, an empty gesture designed to deceive world opinion.’

In his memoirs, General Boor colourfully presents the progress of this drop:

We had awaited the American air expedition with growing impatience. It had been announced and then retracted so many times because of unfavourable atmospheric conditions. At last during the night of 17th and 18th September the BBC announced that the expedition was imminent. We waited tensely for the morning broadcast. If it ended with the song ‘Just Another Mazurka’, the expedition was going to take off. If ‘The March of the Infantrymen’ was played out, we would meet with delay yet again.

This time, however, ‘Just Another Mazurka’ ended the broadcast and a radio message arrived immediately afterwards, informing us that we should expect the expedition between 11 and midday.

It was a sunny day with good weather. A clear sky.

Of course, the inhabitants of Warsaw knew nothing of the imminent help, so the sight of American aircraft flying overhead, appearing unexpectedly over the city, provoked indescribable joy. The bombers flew extremely high, leaving behind them a trail of white specks. They were parachutes.

The Germans opened a barrage of anti-aircraft fire, which, however, did not reach the machines.

Warsaw lived through moments of indescribable enthusiasm. Everyone except the ill and the injured poured out of the cellars. They deserted their basements, and teemed into streets and courtyards. They assumed from the start that this was the arrival of the Parachute Brigade. A soldier standing not far from me observed the sky through binoculars. Suddenly he shouted loudly:

‘Oh my God, the Germans are shooting them all!’

One of the officers tried to calm him down, explaining that they were not parachutists, but only containers with arms and supplies.

‘But I can see their legs waving in the air clearly through the binoculars,’ the soldier insisted.

No doubt, the Germans were under the same erroneous impression, because they alerted their units.

A German sentry watches the same event

Today, in our command post, we were treated to a scene that most of us have only witnessed in the newsreels. Around 13.55 a fleet of American and British planes appear, at a height of around 1,000 metres, parading at first in twos and threes. There must be about fifty to sixty of them (I get to forty-four and then lose count). There is a mass of them up there, as when a huge flock of birds takes to the wing. Then we realize that something is falling from the planes, it seems directly above us. Parachutes are opening! The alarm is raised and a clatter of gunfire begins. Some claim to have seen men, limbs and hands. So, it’s a paratrooper landing at last, like the one in the west? Most unlikely here. The ’chutes descend, and I see black ones, green, yellow, and white . . . Oh, they are supply pods!

. . . Inside the others is German ammunition. Oh, how decent they are. The Americans are bringing the supplies that we left in our haste in the west, and they are delivering it to us in Warsaw, by plane!

H. Stechbarth

MiG-17 in Vietnam

The MiGs encountered in Vietnam came in three varieties: models -17, -19, and -21. The MiG-17 has served in at least twenty fellow-traveling air forces around the world since its operational debut in 1953. It was probably the most numerous aircraft in the NVN inventory, for over half of all MiG kills were -17s.

NATO’s code name for the -17 was Fresco, but regardless of what it was called, it packed a potent battery: a 37-mm cannon and a pair of 23-mm guns in the nose, with the option of heat-seeking Atoll missiles. However, most -17s encountered over North Vietnam were straight cannoneers. Some—not all—were equipped with afterburning engines, rated at 7,500 pounds thrust in a 13,000-pound loaded airframe.

The -17’s distinctive high stabilizer was inherited from the Korean War vintage MiG-15, and in the era of infrared missiles, the Mikoyan configuration provided an unexpected benefit. From almost any angle above the MiG, that high stabilizer partially blocked the IR source, acting as a heat shield.

There were other advantages. With a wing area of some 277 square feet, the -17’s wing loading was only about 47 pounds per square foot. That meant unexcelled maneuverability. If the MiG pilot were half awake, there was just no way to turn with him. Consequently, American pilots fought the -17 in the vertical most of the time, using superior speed and acceleration to gain separation and outclimb the opposition, then coming back in “yo-yo” maneuvers. Crusaders could out-turn MiGs at high airspeeds, in much the same way that Grumman F6F Hellcats outmaneuvered nimble Japanese Mitsubishi Zeroes in the Pacific during World War II. Above 200 knots, the big Grumman’s superior control response remained effective, while the Mitsubishi’s ailerons became semirigid under heavy aerodynamic loads. It was the same over North Vietnam. The drawback was that most jet combats occur at airspeeds under Mach 1, and F-8s could not always rely upon favorable circumstances.

Furthermore, a missile hit or well-aimed burst on a MiG couldn’t guarantee a kill. One MiG killer, Lieutenant Commander Bobby Lee of VF-24, recalled, “For the first few years of the war we used an air-to-ground ammo combination (mostly high explosive) instead of air-to-air (armor piercing and high explosive mixed). With the former mixture we had a couple of gun engagements where the MiGs were damaged by hits in the wings and fuselage, but the HE would skin burst and not kill the engine or vital systems. The MiG is a very tough airplane.”

The MiG-19 was largely an also-ran in the North Vietnam air war. Never engaged in large numbers, it had generally better performance than the -17, but lacked some of the Fresco’s cut-and-thrust qualities. The main armament was cannon. Only ten MiG-19s were destroyed during the war (eight by the air force and two by the navy), and apparently Crusaders seldom tangled with them.


OKB Mikoyan-Gurevich had produced the USSR’s first jet fighter, the MiG-9, in 1946 using a conventional straight-winged airframe and engines based on German samples discovered when Soviet troops captured the BMW and Junkers Jumo factories in 1945. Two copied BMW 003 turbojets enabled the hastily produced fighter to reach 467 knots, carrying an enormous 57mm cannon and two 23mm guns in its nose. Production aircraft, with one 37mm and two 23mm guns (as in the MiG-17) were ordered immediately, but problems with the early jet soon became obvious.

At speeds above 270 knots it was impossible for the pilot to bail out as there was no ejection seat. When all three guns were fired at altitudes above 24,000ft, both engines usually surged and flamed out. The lack of airbrakes, cockpit pressurisation and engine fire-suppression equipment were also symptoms of Premier Josef Stalin’s desire to push the aircraft into service too quickly. Indeed, the MiG-9’s only real advantage over contemporary piston-engined designs was a higher top speed.

Typically for a Soviet design, a large number of prototypes were built around the basic MiG-9 to test two-seat configuration, different armament fits, nose-mounted radar, rocket power and, in 1947, one of the 25 Rolls-Royce Nene centrifugal turbojet engines sold to the USSR by a British Labour Party-sponsored trade delegation in 1946. Prior to the sale, Artem Mikoyan and engine designer Vladimir Klimov had actually visited England to study the engine. Considerably more advanced, and reliable, than the copied German turbojets that powered the MiG-9, the Nenes were swiftly reverse engineered for Soviet production as the RD-45 (later Klimov VK-1).

Ultimately, the Nene-powered MiG-9 was never completed, for OKB MikoyanGurevich had turned its attention to a far more exciting design by early 1946. The appearance of its MiG-15 in the skies over war torn Korea almost five years later was as big a shock to the air arms of the United Nations as the arrival of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero-sen had been to the Allies in the Pacific War in December 1941.

In March 1946 Stalin had challenged his aircraft designers to create a new fighter that was far in advance of the types produced immediately post-war, demanding an interceptor with a top speed of 620mph, a ceiling of 46,000ft and rough-field operating capability. The lack of a suitable engine was solved by the Nene copy, and the crucial, German-inspired, swept wing was chosen after wind-tunnel tests.

The MiG-9’s missing ejection seat, airbrakes and cockpit pressurisation were remedied and hydraulic boost was added for the first time to the ailerons in an otherwise mechanical flight control system. The detachable rear fuselage, inspired by Lockheed’s contemporary F-80 Shooting Star, gave quick access to the engine, while a clever gun tray (like the one subsequently fitted to the Hawker Hunter) housing all three weapons, and their ammunition, could be lowered on a built-in hoist. The choice of guns was, once again, a single N-37 37mm cannon with 40 rounds and two NS-23s 23mm cannons with 80 rounds apiece. Two 260-litre slipper-type drop tanks under the wings added enough fuel to give the MiG-15 a maximum overload range of 1,100 miles.

Like its predecessor, the new fighter was rushed into production and experimental sub-variants proliferated. One tested the faster-firing NR-23 cannon, while others had radar noses, twin seats (ultimately built as the MiG-15UTI, examples of which comprised almost half of the jet’s total 5,000+ production run), ground attack pylons for ordnance (MiG-15ISh) and the afterburning VK-1F engine that would subsequently be used in the MiG-17. During the Korean War, the improved MiG-15bis flown by Soviet, North Korean and Chinese pilots demonstrated superior climb and turn rates and a higher operational ceiling than the USAF’s F-86E Sabre. Against straight-winged types like the F-80, F-84, F9F and Meteor, the MiG had every advantage.

When aimed accurately (fortunately a fairly rare occurrence), its heavy, slow-firing cannon, designed to be used against bombers, could hit targets at longer range than the Sabre’s six 0.50-in. machine guns. Despite this, the much better trained USAF pilots, many of whom had World War II fighter experience to draw upon, used their more reliable and better-equipped fighters to score a kill/loss ratio of at least 4-to-1 against MiG-15 pilots.

The MiG-17, on which design work began in 1949, was intended to correct any problems revealed during the MiG-15’s combat debut. Production was delayed by the pressure to manufacture more MiG-15s for combat, and the new fighter did not enter service in the USSR until October 1952 – by which time the appreciably faster MiG-19 was on the verge of commencing flight testing. Referred to originally as the MiG-15bis45, the revised design changed the MiG-15’s 35-degree constant wing sweepback to a compound 45-degree angle (like the North American F-100 Super Sabre) up to the mid-span, and 42 degrees for the rest of the wing. This was called a “sickle” sweep, and it was less radical than the “crescent” wing used on the Handley Page Victor bomber, for example.

Like the MiG-15 “Fagot” (NATO reporting name), the new design was to be a lightweight, simple and reliable machine that would continue the tradition of the “samolyot-soldaht” (“soldier aircraft”). While using much of the MiG-15’s structure, the new design sought to remedy some of its shortcomings. The new wing improved the lift-to-drag ratio and overcame the MiG-15’s tendency to dip a wingtip unexpectedly at high speed because the structure was not stiff enough to maintain aerodynamic symmetry under high wing loads. Flight controls, avionics and armament remained virtually unchanged, but the tail section was altered, with a larger vertical tail and a 45-degree rather than 40-degree sweep to the horizontal surfaces.

The MiG-15bis45 (SI-1 prototype) crashed on March 17, 1950, probably as a result of “flutter” tearing off the horizontal tail. Aileron control reversal at high speed due to a lack of wing stiffness (a common problem in early swept-wing jets) was also discovered and remedied.

With so many changes to the MiG-15 design it was clear that a new designation was the summer of 1951. The fighter was ordered into production before those trials had been completed, and service evaluation began at Krymskaya air base, in Crimea, before year-end. Shortly afterwards it was given the NATO reporting name “Fresco-A”.

Soviet pilots found the aircraft stable, but slightly heavier on the controls than the MiG-15. The airbrakes from the latter soon proved to be too small, the undercarriage brakes inadequate and the elevator actuators underpowered. Test pilots also advocated a stability augmentation system as used in Western fighters, but none was available. However, pilots did get a safer ejection seat with a Martin-Baker style protective face curtain and leg restraints in 1953. A clear-vision canopy without the heavy rear frame was designed, but the cheaper option of a rear-view periscope was installed in production MiG-17Fs. After the capture of a USAF F-86A Sabre in 1951 in Korea, Soviet engineers copied its optical gunsight and gun ranging radar, which subsequently appeared as the ASP-4N gunsight and SRD-3 gun ranging radar in test-bed MiG-17s from October 1952. These systems were later introduced to production aircraft in modified form.

The most significant improvement came with the availability of the VK-1F afterburning engine, which was the first effective Soviet unit of its kind. The basic Nene-inspired VK-1A was at the limit of its development by 1951, and afterburning was the only way to increase the thrust output of the turbojet engine. In the MiG-17F (the “F” indicated “afterburning” in both engine and aircraft designations), a modified rear fuselage accommodated the convergent-divergent engine nozzle and the fuel system was modified.

Testing showed that the new engine made supersonic flight just about possible in a shallow dive. It also doubled the fighter’s rate of climb and made vertical manoeuvres during dogfights far easier to perform. It yielded little improvement in horizontal speed, however. Just short of Mach 1, the aircraft would suddenly pitch up and the available elevator stick forces were not enough to prevent this.

The need for an all-weather version of the MiG-17 meant that the second “Fresco-A” development aircraft (SP-2) was immediately used to test the “Korshun” radar in a bullet radome above the intake. From 1952 onwards, testing of the MiG-17P with an Izumrud RP-1M radar in place of the “Korshun” began, and this variant was eventually placed in production as the USSR’s first lightweight radar equipped interceptor – the “Fresco-B”. This was followed in May 1953 by the “Fresco-D” (MiG-17PF), which received the more powerful Izumrud RP-2 from December 1955. The installation of a search radar did not free the MiG-17PF from reliance upon Ground Control Interception (GCI), however.

Royal Navy Aviation in The Final Months of WWI

HMS Argus in November 1918, while preparing for the planned attack on the German High Sea Fleet in its harbours, with Sopwith T.1 torpedo-bombers on the flight deck. The ‘splinter’ paint scheme was designed to confuse enemy range-finders, but had the negative effect of making the ship more obvious.

HMS Argus’s hangar, looking aft from a point just aft of the forward lift. The aircraft are Sopwith T.1 torpedo-bombers, and the one to the left is on the after lift platform. By later standards the hangar looks high but narrow and cramped.

A Sopwith T.1 instructional airframe with a torpedo in place, showing why an axle fitted with hooks could not be inserted between the wheels. The T.1 was heavy enough not to need retaining gear when it came to rest on landing.

In the last few months of the war, aviation had become a weapon to be taken seriously, rather than the annoyance it had been at the beginning. We have already seen how both land planes and flying boats were extensively used in the antisubmarine campaign. The British had also steadily increased the number of aircraft with the Grand Fleet by fitting platforms to turrets from which aircraft could be flown off, but not recovered. By the close of the war, the Grand Fleet when it put to sea could actually put up an air umbrella—on a one time basis—of approximately 110 aircraft. These were used for scouting and defensive missions. But what of actually carrying war to the enemy? Beatty, influenced by air-minded officers in the Grand Fleet such as Captain Richmond, had this in mind in August 1917 when he proposed at a conference with the First Sea Lord in the Queen Elizabeth that a dawn attack by Sopwith T.1 Cuckoo torpedo planes be used to strike the High Sea Fleet in its German bases. There would be 121 torpedo planes, flown in flights of forty, which would be transported to within range by carriers. The torpedo planes might be accompanied by long-range H.12 (“Large America”) flying boats, operating independently from the carriers from their bases in England.117 In the absence of suitable carriers, Beatty suggested using eight merchant vessels fitted with flying-off platforms. Unfortunately the material to execute a plan like this was not available in 1917. The Admiralty also claimed the torpedo-carrying aircraft, the Sopwith Cuckoo, would not be available in quantity until the following summer—in fact only a little more than ninety had been delivered by the time of the armistice—the torpedo it could carry too small, and the tactics for torpedo attacks on warships still unpracticed to justify diverting badly needed merchant ships and dockyard facilities for conversion work. The dawn attack by torpedo aircraft would have to wait until the technical means were available.

There had been air raids with seaplanes launched by seaplane carriers earlier in the war in both the North Sea and the Black Sea. The results had been meager; the weight and drag of floats imposed performance penalties on seaplanes and the process of launching and recovering them in the open sea was difficult, particularly in North Sea conditions. The British worked doggedly at launching land aircraft from ships and the much more difficult task of recovering them. There is no space to describe this fascinating story here, but by the summer of 1918 they were close to introducing true aircraft carriers. The battle cruiser Furious had originally been designed as one of Fisher’s light battle cruisers for the Baltic project. She had been something of a freak with a primary armament of only two 18-inch guns. The design was altered and Furious joined the fleet as a fast seaplane carrier in the summer of 1917 with the forward 18-inch turret replaced by a flight platform. She originally embarked five Sopwith Pups and three Short 184 seaplanes. On 2 August 1917 a Sopwith Pup flown by Squadron Commander E. H. Dunning landed on board, the first time an aircraft had landed onto a moving ship. Dunning succeeded with a second attempt, but on the third trial on 7 August, his engine stalled, the aircraft was blown over the side, and he was killed. Between November and March, the Furious went through another conversion, and the after turret was also replaced by a flight deck and hangar with fore and aft elevators for aircraft. Unfortunately, the experiments at landing aircraft proved to be a failure because of eddies and air currents caused by the midships superstructure and funnels. After the war the Furious was reconstructed as a true aircraft carrier with a long flight deck, but in the summer of 1918 she could launch her complement of approximately sixteen aircraft but not recover them. Land aircraft still had to ditch when they rejoined the carrier after an operation.

The Vindictive was another carrier under construction. She was actually a converted light cruiser, originally named the Cavendish but renamed in honor of the cruiser expended in the Zeebrugge-Ostend raids. The Vindictive was fitted with a hangar, flying-off deck forward, and flying-on deck aft. She was designed to carry six reconnaissance aircraft and has been described as a miniature Furious, but did not join the fleet until the closing days of the war.

The Argus was the most interesting and potentially the most useful of the carriers under construction in the summer of 1918. She was originally laid down in June 1914 as the Lloyd Sabaudo liner Conte Rosso, but construction halted after the beginning of the war. The ship was acquired by the Admiralty in 1916 for conversion into a seaplane carrier. The work went slowly, hampered by repeated design changes in what was still a very experimental field. The Argus was eventually completed with a flush deck unobstructed by superstructure or funnels as well as a pilothouse charthouse that could be lowered during flying operations. She did not commission until September 1918, but soon completed a series of successful takeoffs and landings with Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters. She was capable of carrying 20–21 aircraft. In October she embarked a squadron of Sopwith T.1 Cuckoo torpedo planes that were to be used to attack the High Sea Fleet in Wilhelmshaven. The squadron pilots were still gaining experience in carrier operations when the war ended a few weeks later.

The carrier operations actually carried out in the summer of 1918 were far more modest than Beatty had wanted, although they are not without interest. The Furious played a prominent role. The carrier would proceed to the edge of the Helgoland Bight minefields and launch reconnaissance aircraft. The British hoped to trap a Zeppelin, and on one occasion, 17 June, she was bombed twice by German seaplanes. The Furious launched two Sopwith Camels, but they failed to catch the first attackers and had to ditch. The Furious launched another pair of Camels to counter a second German attack, and a German seaplane was forced down. The British decided to attack the Zeppelins in their base at Tondern, and at dawn on 19 July, after earlier attacks had been aborted because of weather, the Furious launched two flights of Sopwith Camels—seven aircraft—each carrying two 50-pound bombs. The Furious was screened by the First Light Cruiser Squadron, with a division of the First Battle Squadron and the Seventh Light Cruiser Squadron out in support. She was approximately 80 miles northwest of the German base. The British succeeded in destroying one of the sheds, along with Zeppelins L.54 and L.60. One Camel had been forced down by engine trouble before reaching the target, three had to land in Denmark, one pilot was drowned, and two made it back to their ships to be picked up by a destroyer after ditching. The raid was the first conducted by land planes flown off a carrier and was the most successful carrier launched operation of the war.

The Grand Fleet and Harwich Force carried aircraft for defensive purposes, particularly against Zeppelins, which shadowed British squadrons on their sweeps. Naturally the pilots would have to ditch after each operation. In the North Sea on 21 August 1917 the light cruiser Yarmouth launched a Sopwith Pup flown by Lieutenant B. A. Smart, who shot down Zeppelin L.23. This success led to a number of light cruisers being fitted with flying-off platforms on their turrets. There was another variation: destroyers towed lighters carrying flying boats and then experimented with land planes. On 11 August 1918, a Sopwith Camel took off from a lighter towed by the destroyer Redoubt of the Harwich Force, and the pilot, Lieutenant S. D. Culley, succeeded in shooting down Zeppelin L.53 off Terschelling.

Culley’s victory occurred shortly after a stunning success by German seaplanes during the same operation. Tyrwhitt with four light cruisers and thirteen destroyers of the Harwich Force was on a reconnaissance sweep of the southwestern exits of the Helgoland Bight minefields. Three of the destroyers towed lighters carrying flying boats, and two towed lighters with aircraft, one of them Culley’s. When the British reached a point approximately 25 miles northwest of the island of Vlieland, six shallow-draft coastal motorboats armed with torpedoes were detached to cross the minefields and proceed to the mouth of the Ems with orders to attack any German minesweepers or their supporting forces they encountered. The CMBs should have had air cover, but there was no wind that morning, and the flying boats were unable to take off.

The CMBs kept about a mile outside of Dutch territorial waters and had just passed Terschelling when they were attacked by six, later increased to eight (German sources say nine), German aircraft of the Kampstaffel V and Kampstaffel I from the Borkum naval air station. A running battle developed as the flotilla closed up to concentrate the fire of their Lewis guns and continued eastward at 30 knots for about half an hour, the airplanes dropping a few bombs but relying mostly on their machine guns. The Germans gained the advantage when the CMBs turned to the west to rejoin the Harwich Force when they were abeam of Ameland lighthouse. The German aircraft now had the sun behind them. Four (German sources say five) more German aircraft from Kampfstaffel Norderney joined the fight, and the CMBs were riddled as they ran out of ammunition or their guns jammed. The German aircraft were all seaplanes, either the older Friedrichshafen FF.49C or the more modern Brandenburg W.12 and W.29. The CMBs managed to shoot down one of the Brandenburg W.29s, but eventually all but CMB.41 were dead in the water. Three CMBs were sunk, CMB.41 managed to reach the Dutch shore, and two others, crippled, drifted into Dutch territorial waters and were towed to port by a Dutch torpedo boat.

An entire naval force had been eliminated by aircraft the same morning that a reconnaissance Zeppelin had been destroyed by a plane launched by a naval force. The actions on 11 August gave a striking demonstration of the new dimension in naval warfare. At the same time, the Argus was nearing completion and there were plans for an air attack on the German fleet. The carrier-launched attack never took place before the war ended, but the development of the Argus along with the events of 11 August pointed the way toward the future course of naval warfare to those who paid attention.

Cessna A-37 Dragonfly

The first A-37B at Edwards AFB in 1968. Of the 577 A-37Bs built, 134 were delivered to the USAF and served in frontline units until 1975. The final examples were retired from USAFRES and ANG service in 1992.

The Dragonfly served the USAF until the early 1990s, including use in the Forward Air Control role as the OA-37B.This OA-37B from the Illinois ANG was taking part in Exercise Granadero I in May 1984 when photographed

The last image of the A 37 belongs to the Uruguayan Air Force not to the Peruvian Air Force.

The US Air Force’s decision to evaluate the suitability of an armed version of the T-37 Tweet jet trainer for light attack/counter insurgency work was a fruitful one, as the resulting A-37 saw widespread active service in Vietnam where it was well suited to the type of conflict fought there.

In 1962 the USAF’s Special Air Warfare centre began evaluating two T-37Bs to test the type’s suitability for the counter insurgency (COIN) role. After initial testing the two T-37Bs were modified to YAT-37D standard (first flight October 22 1963) and fitted with two 10.7kN (2400lb) General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojets. Testing proved positive but initially nothing came of the concept until the Vietnam War intensified. In 1966 the USAF contracted Cessna to convert 39 T-37Bs to light attack A-37A Dragonfly standard. Apart from the GE turbojets, the A-37As introduced eight underwing hardpoints, extra fuel capacity in wingtip tanks, armour protection, attack avionics, larger wheels and tyres and an internal 7.62mm minigun.

Twenty-five A-37As were successfully evaluated in operational conditions in Vietnam from mid-1967, these aircraft were later transferred to full operational service, and were passed to the South Vietnamese AF in 1970.

The success of the A-37A led to the definitive A-37B, with uprated engines, an inflight refuelling probe and increased internal fuel capacity, while the airframe was stressed for 6g rather than 5g. In all 577 A-37Bs were delivered to the USAF and export customers between May 1968 and 1975. A-37Bs saw widespread service with the US and South Vietnamese air forces during the Vietnam War, and captured examples even saw brief service with the North Vietnamese air force during the closing stages of that conflict.

During the Vietnam War the Dragonfly had the distinction of serving on both sides. Over 250 A-37Bs were supplied to the VNAF, but despite some desperate rearguard battles during the withdrawal to Saigon in 1975, many aircraft were abandoned at their bases with some being used in missions against the South. By the end of hostilities the North Vietnamese had seized 95 A-37Bs and spares. These were pressed into regular service and again saw action in the conflicts between Vietnam and Cambodia in the mid-to late 1970s.

The USAF fitted 130 A-37Bs as OA-37Bs with avionics for forward air control work, although the last of these was retired in 1992. Ex USAF A-37 and OA-37s serve widely in South America.

In July 1967 new A-37As began entering service with the 604th Air Commando Squadron at England AFB in Louisiana and a month later, under a program known as “Combat Dragon,” deployed to Bein Hoa AB in South Vietnam where they began 90 days of combat evaluations. When the program drew to a close, the A-37As had completed over 4,000 combat sorties without a single loss due to enemy action. The A-37B made it debut with the 4410th Combat Crew Training Wing during early 1968 to initiate training of Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) personnel and later joined regular USAF Tactical Air Command units.

The 604th Air Commando Squadron formed at England AFB and took delivery of its new aircraft. Once training was complete, two dozen airframes were airlifted to Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam, for trials known as `Combat Dragon’. From August 1967 thousands of sorties, day and night, were flown with the aircraft carrying iron bombs, snake-eye bombs, cluster bomb units, unguided rockets and napalm, usually with two extra fuel tanks under each wing. The airframe was praised for its size, speed, manoeuvrability and stability, which enabled accurate weapons delivery. A high level of sorties (10,000) was flown in nine months, aided by an impressive serviceability rate of over 85%. On the downside, despite the ability to be flown `on-station’ with one engine shut down, fuel load and endurance were criticised, together with high control forces during the attack phase.

Remarkably no A-37’s were recorded as lost due to enemy fire during the Vietnam conflict however two were lost due to complications on landing.

In 1967 the USAF ordered an improved A-37B variant with a contract for 57 aircraft quickly increasing to 127, primarily for the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) where it would replace the Skyraider. The prototype was ready by September 1967 and deliveries commenced the following May. By September 1969 the order had increased to 366 aircraft. The A-37B aircraft were all new-builds with additional structural strengthening which helped increase the aircraft limits to +6G/-2G. Other significant improvements included additional armour, seal-sealing fuel tanks, new de-icing system, cockpit and avionics upgrade, external refuelling probe and an onboard engine start system. A number of changes were also made to the controls: experience had shown that the rudder and elevator control runs – grouped together due to its trainer heritage – were particularly vulnerable to enemy fire. These were separated and the elevator runs replicated to provide some measure of redundancy. As gross weight had increased to 14,000lbs, double that of the original T-37, uprated GE J85 engines were installed with 2,850lbs/thrust each. The undercarriage was also upgraded to support the airframe.

A total of 254 A-37Bs were subsequently transferred to the VNAF, 95 of which fell into Communist hands when South Vietnam fell in early 1975. In 1975, all USAF A-37Bs were assigned to one USAF Reserve unit, the 434th Tactical Fight Wing at Grissom AFB, Indiana, and two Air National Guard units, the 174th Tactical Fighter Group in New York and the 175th TFG in Maryland. In USAFRES and ANG service, the aircraft were used in the forward air control role and re-designated OA- 37Bs, the final examples being retired in 1992 when they were replaced by Fairchild OA-10As. Under MAP, A-37Bs were given to Peru (36), Chile (34), Columbia (26), Ecuador (12), Uruguay(8), Honduras (15), Guatemala (13), and El Salvador (18), and some of these reportedly remain in service today.

“Black May” – Biscay Bay in May 1943 Part I

‘Caught on the Surface’.  The sinking of U-461 by RAAF Sunderland “U” of 461 Squadron RAAF, in the Bay of Biscay in July 1943.  [As depicted by aviation artist Robert Taylor.]

Wooding, Neil; Halifax GR MkII Ser 1A JP296 of 58 Sqdn Coastal Command; Yorkshire Air Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/halifax-gr-mkii-ser-1a-jp296-of-58-sqdn-coastal-command-116235

Halifax GR MkII Ser 1A JP296 of 58 Sqdn Coastal Command

Neil Wooding (b.1936)

It is not known whether forty-seven-year-old American economist Stephen Raushenbush had ever seen a submarine or a bomber before he was suddenly posted to London in December 1942 to help develop a new battle plan for the Bay of Biscay. Military tactics were not something in which he had had any great interest since 1917–1919, when he and most of his graduating class at Amherst College went to France with the American Expeditionary Force, he to serve as a volunteer ambulance driver. Though in that capacity he pursued his famous father’s compassionate ideals, he did not follow the Reverend Walter Raushenbush (1861–1918), a leading exponent of the Social Gospel, into the Baptist ministry. Instead, after the Armistice, he studied economics at the University of Rennes in France, worked in the oil industry in Mexico and Venezuela, researched coal and power issues in New York City, taught at Dartmouth College, and served for eight years as advisor on public utilities to the governor of Pennsylvania, while taking time out in 1934–1936 to be chief investigator for the Special U.S. Senate Committee that inquired into the munitions industry. In his spare time he wrote seven books, ranging in subject matter from The Anthracite Question (1923) to The March of Fascism (1939).

His last pre-World War II position, beginning in 1939, was with the U.S. Department of the Interior as chief of the Branch of Planning and Research in the Division of Power. He was described at that period of his life as a reserved but friendly person; he wore a mustache and smoked a pipe; though a registered Republican, he expressed political views that were liberal and progressive. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he took a leave of absence from Interior to serve as a civilian economist and statistician in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in the Navy Department. From there, in late 1942, he was plucked by Captain Thorvald A. Solberg, U.S.N., Head of the Navy Technical Station, Office of the U.S. Naval Attaché (Alusna), London, to undertake air operations planning for the Bay of Biscay.

In the U.K., Raushenbush quickly familiarized himself with the attack opportunities in the Bay as well as with Coastal Command’s disappointing success rate there. Since June 1942 Coastal had flown about 7,000 hours and lost aircraft at a rate of about sixteen for every U-boat sunk in the Bay. Since October only twenty-two air attacks had been mounted on the estimated 290 boats that had passed through the Bay. The effort was out of all proportion to the meager results obtained. Raushenbush then set about studying the hardware. Near Glasgow on the Clyde he examined the Type VIIC U-570, captured in August 1941 and renamed H.M.S. Graph, and learned her operating characteristics, paying special attention to the boat’s capacity for remaining submerged (36–41 hours) and the time required on the surface for fully charging her batteries (6.77–7.77 hours).

At various Coastal bases he studied the type of aircraft that were being flown on Bay patrols and took fascinated notice of new centimetric radar equipment that was just then becoming available for airborne use. At both Whitehall and Northwood he availed himself of the vast operations research data that had been accumulated by Professors Blackett and Williams and their scientific teams, whom Raushenbush found “tired and exhausted from too many seven day weeks.” From Williams in particular, who had continued Bay Offensive studies at Coastal during the year following Blackett’s departure for other ASW challenges at the Admiralty, and who was later quoted by Blackett as saying that while his scholarly specialty was quantum theory, he “found the subtle intricacies of the U-boat war of comparable intellectual interest,” the American economist drew generous guidance and support.4 In the end, not surprisingly, plans put forward to Churchill’s A.U. Committee by Raushenbush and Williams would bear a certain resemblance in conception, if not in details.

When he thought he understood the basic problems that the Bay presented, Raushenbush devoted himself to intense deskwork studies and statistical tables. His roommate at Alusna, Commander Oscar A. de Lima, U.S.N.R., remembered the economist’s “endless days and nights of complicated computations,” though the endless period was just over a month. Raushenbush’s interests were most closely focused on the new availability of “Most Secret” 10-centimeter airborne radar, for which the Germans had no search receiver (G.S.R.). According to a report submitted on 22 December by radar pioneer Watson Watt, the Kriegsmarine would probably not figure out the wavelength, develop an answering G.S.R., and install it in the majority of their boats before “two or three months at the most” after first use of the Allied equipment.

“There was great promise in this situation,” Raushenbush wrote privately in 1948. “The danger in it was that the new weapon might (like tanks in 1916) be used in too small numbers, with too small effect, and that the Germans would consequently be given ample notice of the new weapon before it could be used against them with telling effect, and would be ready for it.” He anguished, he wrote, over the possibility that a centimetric radar installation would first be used in an area such as the Mediterranean or the European mainland, where it might be captured and compromised. As it happened, a few Io-centimeter sets were flown by Coastal aircraft out of Gibraltar in February before their use in the Bay. And Raushenbush’s worst-case scenario—though it is not known that he was aware of it at the time—unfolded on 2 February when an RAF Bomber Command Stirling bomber equipped with centimetric radar went down at night near Rotterdam. The radar set was Type H2S, in which the radar pulses were used in a “look-down” mode for picking out coastlines, lakes, waterways, and (less successfully) cities.

Coastal had forcefully opposed that use of 10-centimeter radar prior to its use in the Bay precisely because capture of the equipment, which seemed likely, would ruin Coastal’s chances of obtaining surprise in the Biscay transit area. But Bomber Command spoke louder, claiming that for the success of the night-bombing campaign over Germany—always the overriding imperative in the Prime Minister’s mind—the bombers desperately needed H2S as a navigational aid. Churchill gave approval for the new radar’s use over enemy territory beginning in January, with, as Coastal feared, predictable results. Though the Stirling’s radar equipment was badly damaged, German technicians were able to reassemble the Rotterdam Gerät, as they called it, at the Telefunken laboratories in Berlin. By chance, the device was badly damaged a second time in an RAF bombing raid. Again, it was reconstructed, this time in a bombproof bunker. After flight-testing the magnetron valve equipment, the technicians realized that the Allies had achieved a major technological breakthrough, and, where the maritime war was concerned, had leapfrogged the Fu.MB (Metox). News of the disclosure was passed at once to BdU, where on 5 March the Dönitz/Godt war diary reported a confirming incident at sea and ruminated on the Rotterdam Gerät.

U-333 [Oblt.z.S. Werner Schwaff] was attacked by enemy aircraft at night without previous radar [detection by Fu.MB] in BF 5897. Slight damage, aircraft was shot down in flames.… [The aircraft was L/L Wellington “B” of No. 172 Squadron, which had just begun Bay patrols with ASV Mark III.] The enemy is working on carrier waves outside the frequency range of the present Fu.MB receivers. The shooting down over Holland of an enemy aircraft apparently carrying an apparatus with a frequency of 9.7 centimeters is the only indication at present of this possibility.

The secret was out, and it appeared likely that the Germans would now neutralize the centimetric wavelength in the same way that Metox had neutralized the metric. But the Telefunken Company experienced problems in replicating parts of the Allied equipment, and administrative muddles further checked what was to have been a crash program to develop a new G.S.R., with the result, astonishingly, that an effective detector called Naxos-U was not shipped to the U-boats until October, far later than the two or three months predicted by Watson Watt, and long after the issue in the Atlantic had been decided.

Raushenbush began his calculations with a review of U-boat performance figures. The optimum (as against maximum) speed surfaced for charging batteries was 12 knots. The optimum speed for running submerged was 1.75 knots. The average battery capacity on entering the 200-mile-deep transit channel was 51 miles submerged, after which a U-boat had to surface for maximum recharge for a period of 6.77 to 7.77 hours, during which it would travel 81 to 93 miles. After another 51 miles submerged, it would have to surface for charging at least once again, briefly, until completing the 200 miles (assuming a direct course) in a total traverse time of 76.37 hours.

Thus, a U-boat in transit would be on the surface and vulnerable to air attack for at least one lengthy period. Any attempt to remain underwater beyond 41 hours would exhaust the air supply, although a boat could surface for 5 to 10 minutes to ventilate. A surfaced U-boat forced to dive by aircraft would later have to charge for approximately seven minutes to compensate for the 100 ampere hours used in one cycle of crash-diving and resurfacing. Since the average density of boats in the transit area at any given time was 15.8 boats, that number together would be exposed from 1,280 to 1,470 miles during their passage. Raushenbush calculated that there would be a density of one surfaced boat per 3,800 square miles.

On the air side, Raushenbush called for an additional 160 long-range aircraft, all equipped with ASV Mark III and many with Leigh Lights, to make up a total force of 260 aircraft. Such a large, coordinated force, trained to capitalize on the Allied advantage of centimetric radar, could be expected to make 7.5 sorties per aircraft per month, to make 1.8 attacks on each of 150 U-boats entering the transit channel each month, to make a minimum of twenty-five kills per month, and to cause damage to a further thirty-four boats. Over the projected 120 operational days of this effort, 100 boats would be destroyed and 136 damaged, thus “paralyzing” the U-boat fleet and throwing it on the defensive. The damaged boats would play their role in the paralysis effect by jamming and overloading the Biscay repair bases.

There were two critical factors in the Raushenbush Plan: (1) the attack program must be put into effect promptly, before the enemy devised a centimetric search receiver; and (2) the attacking force must be sufficiently large from the outset; “no small driblets” of additional aircraft would make the plan work. On the second point he elaborated that a law of increasing returns could be developed to show that up to a certain point, a large but still less than adequate force would produce only minor results; but that once enlarged to and beyond a certain critical mass, the effectiveness of that force was in high progression. He concluded:

The morale of the remaining U-boat fleet may be broken by such an effort. If in four months (May-August 1943 inclusive) 100 U-boats are killed, and 136 damaged, and every one is attacked 1.8 times in transit, the U-boat fleet based on Biscay would have lost about 36 per cent of its numbers and the crews of an additional 136 would have been shaken up. The unkilled 175 U-boats may thereby be so broken in morale as to impair their effectiveness greatly.

Raushenbush went on to suggest crew “mutiny” as a possibility, which was going somewhat over the top; the suggestion probably showed the degree to which his views were shaped by British associates, among whom the morale war seems to have been a preoccupation. One suspects, knowing how U-boat crews put out to sea unflinchingly in 1945, when certain to near-certain destruction faced every boat, that infidelity to duty in the U-Bootwaffe was never a consideration.

The Raushenbush Plan was endorsed by Captain Solberg, and, upon his recommendation, by Admiral Harold R. Stark, U.S.N., Commander, United States Naval Forces in Europe, who had it printed up for presentation to the Prime Minister’s A.U. Committee on 24 March. In the meantime, it received strong support from the operations research team at the Admiralty, though those politically savvy people knew that the Plan would not fly unless it passed the inspection of Churchill’s personal science advisor, Professor Lindemann, now Lord Cherwell. Accordingly, Professors Blackett and Williams (the latter now also with the Admiralty) joined Raushenbush to form a special committee under the chairmanship of Sir Stafford Cripps, Minister of Aircraft Production and vice-chair of the A.U. Committee, for the purpose of bringing Cherwell into camp. In that endeavor they were not entirely unsuccessful.

Cherwell was at first dismissive of the Raushenbush Plan as “based upon somewhat speculative foundations,” calling it “unduly optimistic.” Without directly challenging any of the American’s numbers or calculations, he rejected the “largely theoretical” proposals in the Plan as diverging from prior practical experience in the Bay, where the dividends had been very few. Furthermore, he argued, the presumed advantage of 10-centimeter radar would be overcome “very easily” by a new German search receiver; and the probability that the enemy would sprinkle the Bay with radio decoys seemed to have been treated “rather lightly” by Raushenbush. It would be better, Cherwell said, to devote aircraft resources to the more fruitful duty of protecting menaced convoys. In fact, better still would be the allocation of Coastal Command aircraft to the bombing of German cities, which “must have more immediate effect on the course of the war in 1943.” All that said, however, Cherwell did allow that it could be an “interesting experiment” to give the Raushenbush advocates a free run to see how they fared.

Two other events transpired before the plan devised by the U.S. Naval Attache’s one-man Bay research branch was formally presented. First, the Admiralty produced its own similar plan for the Bay. Second, a trial of the two plans was flown by Coastal Command from 6 to 15 February under the code name Operation Gondola. Although authorship of the Admiralty’s plan was credited to Blackett, he suggested in a eulogy of Williams (who died in 1945) that the calculations had been done by Williams during the winter of 1942–1943, when “he worked out in great detail the best methods of conducting such an offensive by a balanced force of day and night aircraft equipped with the latest forms of 10 cm. radar.”

Williams (or Blackett) shared the plan with Raushenbush, who drew up a one-page summary of comparisons and differences between the two sets of numbers. Both plans called for a total force of 260 heavy aircraft. Where Raushenbush estimated that the force required 160 additional aircraft, Williams estimated 190. Where Raushenbush envisioned a four-month offensive, Williams called for a full year’s endurance of effort. Both plans anticipated 150 U-boat transits a month in the Bay during spring 1943 (which proved to be too high). The average number of sorties per aircraft per month were approximately the same, as were the ratios of sightings to attacks, attacks to kills, and attacks to damaged U-boats. Where Raushenbush predicted twenty-five kills per month and thirty-four boats damaged, Williams anticipated twenty-two kills and twenty-two damaged.’

The nine-day Gondola trial did not exactly replicate either plan, since the aircraft of only three of the sixteen squadrons participating in whole or in part were equipped with 10-centimeter radar: these were United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Liberator Squadrons Nos. 1, 2, and 224. Altogether, 136 individual aircraft, including L/L Wellingtons and L/L Catalinas, took part in standard patrols that “fanned” southward over the Inner Bay (East), where during the operational period forty U-boats traversed the area, and the Outer Bay (West), where thirty-eight boats transited. Eighteen sightings resulted (only two initiated by centimetric radar), leading to seven attacks. One U-boat was believed sunk by Liberator “T” of No. 2 Squadron, but a recent NHB/MOD reassessment finds that the U-boat attacked, U-752 (Kptlt. Karl-Ernst Schröter), escaped serious injury. Still, the numbers, particularly those of sightings, and of the reduced flying hours required to make them, seemed provisionally to validate the Raushenbush/Admiralty Plans, taking into account the fact that most aircraft, as noted, were not equipped with centimetric radar. After the end of the operation there was a marked drop in the ratio of sightings to flying hours, back to the former low level.

In early March, to Coastal’s great regret, U.S. Admiral King requested the transfer of two USAAF Liberator squadrons from St Eval in Cornwall to Morocco. Air Marshal Slessor stated that their crews had shown “intense energy and enthusiasm” in the anti-U-boat war, and “were just getting into their stride.” The loss of these centimetric-equipped aircraft as well as No. 405 Halifax Squadron, which had to be returned to Bomber Command, was a blow to both the Raushenbush and Admiralty Plans. Nonetheless, with the aircraft remaining, including this time the newly operational No. 172 Squadron of centimetric-equipped L/L Wellingtons, another combat trial in the Bay called Operation Enclose was laid on by Coastal for dusk 20 to dawn 28 March.

Curiously, as will be shown below, this was at just the time that Coastal was officially denigrating the Bay Offensive as an uneconomical use of Coastal assets; and indeed, it was on the 22nd that Air Marshal Slessor sent his Note to the A.U. Committee recommending that the Bay be consigned to the condition of a “residuary legatee.” Yet Peyton Ward tells us that his naval liaison staff at Northwood made the suggestion for a new trial and that Slessor supported it. (This was not the last example of Slessor’s paradoxical behavior.) In P. W.’s conception, the Gondola patrol fan (so-called because it spread out slightly to the east and west below the south England and Welsh bases) should be replaced by a single patrol “ribbon” 140 miles wide running north and south across the Bay between longitudes 7° and 10½° W. The width of the ribbon represented the probable maximum distance traveled by a U-boat in 24 hours regardless of the ratio of the time spent surfaced or submerged. The scheme called for aircraft to form a constant stream passing south into the ribbon as far as 44½° N and returning on nearly reciprocal courses. P. W. and his staff added a fillip to the nighttime flights that was calculated to sow uncertainty and carelessness among the U-boat crews: in addition to the 10-centimeter pulses, aircraft still fitted with metric equipment should send the old familiar metric pulses.

No. 19 Group stood down for a week beforehand in order to conserve energy for a seven-and-a-half day intensive effort. Then, at dusk on the 20th, 115 individual aircraft—10 cm.-equipped Liberators of USAAF No. 224 Squadron, 10cm. L/L Wellingtons, other Wellingtons, Halifaxes, Fortresses, Sunderlands, Whitleys, and one Catalina—began patrolling the ribbon. A week and twelve hours later, their expenditure of 1,300 flying hours had produced twenty-six sightings and fifteen attacks leading to the sinking of U-663 (Oblt.z.S. Hans-Jürgen Haupt) by Whitley “Q” of No. 10 Squadron Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.), and damage to U-332 (Oblt.z.S. Eberhard Hüttemann) by Wellington XII “T” of No. 172 Squadron. Since forty-one U-boats crossed the ribbon—the estimate having been forty-two—the significant numbers were one-half the Gondola hours per sighting and twice the ratio of sightings to U-boats on passage. Though those results were still not up to the Raushenbush/Admiralty projections, they were sufficiently promising that Coastal planners began scheduling Enclose II for April—at just the moment, it bears repeating, that AOC-in-C Slessor was proposing to concentrate his air resources on close cover of threatened convoys “at,” he said, “the expense of the Bay patrols.”

When sitting for its twelfth meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday 24 March in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, S.W.I, the A.U. Committee, with Churchill in the chair, found three Papers on their agenda. The first was a Note proposing the Raushenbush Plan, to which Admiral Stark, who since the previous meeting had been made a member of the Committee, was prepared to speak. The second was the Note by Marshal Slessor proposing emphasis of air cover for threatened convoys in preference to Bay patrols. And the third was a Memorandum by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. A. V. Alexander, M.P., and First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, urging that Bomber Command launch new heavy raids on the Biscay bases. Because both the U.S. proposal, which the Committee called the Stark Plan, and the Admiralty’s called for the diversion of bombers to the Bay or its bases, and the sense of the Committee was that for the moment those aircraft could only come from Bomber Command’s operations over Germany, it was decided to defer discussion of the three Papers until the next meeting and to invite the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur T. Harris, to present a Paper, if he wished, and to attend the meeting. Two days before that meeting, the Secretary of the War Cabinet, Sir Edward Bridges, circulated a Note specifying that only thirteen members directly concerned with the agenda Papers should attend. By the meeting date there were three additional Papers on the agenda: the invited response from Air Chief Marshal Harris; Cherwell’s comments on the Raushenbush document; and a new position paper from the Admiralty proposing the Blackett/Williams Plan while supporting the Stark Plan “for its striking and independent support of the Admiralty view.… ”

Not surprisingly, in the meeting of 31 March as in his Memorandum to the Committee (dated 29 March), Marshal Harris took aim at that section of the Admiralty’s latest document that called for the transfer of 190 long-range bombers from the bombing campaign over Germany to the Bay Offensive. The loss of so many aircraft, Harris contended, would mean calling off bomber operations against Germany for the next four months and throwing the whole brunt of fighting Germany upon the Soviet Union—points his Naval opposites no doubt thought exaggerations. The Minutes read: “He did not think it was fully realized what great damage was done by the attacks on U-boat construction yards and accessory factories. There was continuous confirmation that the U-boat construction programme was being considerably interfered with by these attacks and if they were stopped he was certain that the output of U-boats per month would increase.”

U-boat-successes against aircraft

“Black May” – Biscay Bay in May 1943 Part II

As for new attacks on the Biscay bases, which the Admiralty’s earlier Memorandum advocated, the U-boats and their essential services were sheltered under impenetrable concrete, Harris reminded the Committee, and the 10,000 tons dropped recently on the bases at Lorient and St.-Nazaire had, as the Admiralty themselves conceded, no appreciable effect on U-boat operations. (Slessor, too, was critical of the bombing, at this stage, of the Biscay bases, “which was actually quite useless and resulted merely in spoiling several nice old French towns.”) Chief of the Air Staff Portal spoke up in support of “Bomber” Harris, as he was known in the Force, saying of the U.S. Navy and Admiralty proposals that he deprecated the transfer of any of Harris’s bombers to Bay patrols on the strength of “a theoretical calculation.”

But the Bay Offensive had its own determined champions, including First Lord of the Admiralty A. V. Alexander, who pointed out that “without the Bay Offensive we cannot hope to kill sufficient U-boats to get the upper hand in the Battle of the Atlantic, whilst on the other hand it is believed that we can with an adequately equipped Bay offensive sink sufficient U-boats to destroy their morale.” Alexander announced that the Admiralty had revised downward their estimate of the number of additional long-range bombers required: from 190 to 175 if the U-boats possessed new 10cm detection gear, to 55 if they did not. The First Lord reminded the Committee that the enemy could run but he could not hide: “He cannot withdraw from the Bay.” First Sea Lord Pound expressed his conviction that “the provision of additional aircraft in the Bay of Biscay [was] an absolute necessity and not a luxury in the anti-U-boat campaign.” And U.S. Admiral Stark said that unless the Allies got the better of the U-boat, “we should be in a bad way.” By increasing the Bay patrols, he submitted, “we should be able, for the first time, to carry out an all-out offensive against the U-boats.”

Of course, the Prime Minister had the last word, and it was not favorable to the Bay proponents. With only limited forces, he said, it was not possible to devote the maximum number of aircraft to every theater. The distribution must be commensurate with the results obtained, and so far air cover over menaced convoys, as argued by Slessor, and the bombing campaign against Germany, as argued by Harris, were the most productive theaters for the effort and resources invested. Granting that “even if the Bay of Biscay patrols resulted in sinking only three or four U-boats a month and did not reach the higher figures mentioned in some of the Papers, this must be regarded as a very important object,” Churchill decided that aircraft for that purpose could not be supplied by denuding the essential missions of Coastal and Bomber Commands. Taking a cue from Averell Harriman’s suggestion that the Chiefs of Staff in Washington might find it possible to divert aircraft from other allocations to the Bay, the Prime Minister charged the Air Ministry and the Admiralty with the responsibility for consulting on an estimate of the balance of requirements that might be communicated to the U.S. Government. Oddly, the only Committee member to have his nose put out of joint by these proceedings was Slessor, one of the winners in the debate. Displaying what had all the earmarks of a fit of pique, he railed at the Admiralty for blindsiding him with the Williams Plan and its request for 190 additional first-line heavies, “without discussing it first with the man most directly concerned, namely myself.” Thirteen years later, he was still annoyed, writing in his autobiography: “I only received my copy of the paper the day before it was down for discussion, and went immediately to the First Sea Lord to tell him that I strongly disagreed with this method of tackling the problem, which I described as slide-rule strategy of the worst kind.… ” Slessor took satisfaction from recording that, “The Admiralty paper met with very little luck in the U-boat Committee the next day, where I remember one light-hearted Minister saying, ‘C’est magnifique, mats ce n’est pas la guerre!”

On 4 April he submitted to the A.U. Committee a set of counterarguments to the Williams Plan, explaining in his memoirs that “nothing could be more dangerously misleading than to imagine that you can forecast the result of a battle or decide the weapons necessary to use in it, by doing sums.” He went on to aver that, “The most important factors in any battle are the human factors of leadership, morale, courage and skill, which cannot be reduced to any mathematical formula”; which human factors, the reader will remember, Captain Gilbert Roberts had insisted to Commander Gretton were no longer enough in the Battle of the Atlantic. Taking on Williams’s operations research directly, Slessor wrote: “Summarizing my objections to the principle of strategy by slide rule, I urged that the problem should be tackled from a less scientific but more practical angle.”

It is hard to imagine a more tortured position for Slessor to have taken. It was the very science of O.R.S. that had made his angles practical, a fact that he himself recognized by the close working relationship to O.R.S. that he forged straightaway upon becoming AOC-in-C in the preceding month, and by the very science (and “sums”) he employed at length in his own Paper before the A.U. Committee on the threatened convoy-Bay patrol option.

Furthermore, in denigrating slide-rule strategy in his autobiography, he seems to have forgotten that in the foreword he wrote to Professor Waddington’s 1946 book, O.R. in World War 2, he praised “strategy by slide-rule” by name, and acknowledged that “No one who knows the true facts can have any doubt that a great deal of the credit for what is perhaps still not generally recognised as the resounding victory it was, namely the Battle of the Bay and the defeat of the U-boat in 1943, is due to men like Blackett, Williams, Larnder, Baughan, Easterfield and Waddington himself.” Raushenbush’s name he seems not to have known, although the name appears prominently in the Stark Plan, where he is identified as its author, and that was the Plan whose calculations Slessor acknowledged to the A.U. Committee near the end of May, as will be seen, as having been vindicated by events in the Bay.

Slessor’s letter to the A.U. Committee of 4 April was not taken up by that body. Instead, during the days that followed, Slessor was persuaded to make a complete volte-face. It may have been the Air Ministry or the Admiralty, or both, whose heavy hand wrought this singular reversal—the record does not say—but when the time came for the A.U. Committee to petition the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff for additional longrange bombers for the Bay, it was Slessor who was tapped to draft the document. With the fervor of a convert, brought to his new faith by either conviction or thumbscrew, Slessor gave the case for the Bay Offensive its most striking language yet. Signed by him, First Sea Lord Pound, and Admiral Stark, the telegram to Washington read, in part:

The one place where we can always be certain of finding U-boats is the Bay. Setting aside the relatively small proportion that pass into the Atlantic North-about [from German ports], the Bay is the trunk of the Atlantic U-boat menace, the roots being in the Biscay ports and the branches spreading far and wide, to the North Atlantic convoys, to the Caribbean, to the Eastern seaboard of North America, and to the sea lanes where the faster merchant ships sail without escorts.… It is a strategic problem which can only be solved by an appropriate deployment of our joint resources, designed to concentrate the necessary force at the decisive point in the battlefield of the Atlantic. We are aware that the United States, like Great Britain, has not enough aircraft to meet in full their many commitments and to afford really adequate protection to the coastal shipping on their long coast lines. But if we strike a decisive blow at the trunk in the Bay, the branches will wither.

In their telegram the three signers called the Bay “second only to the convoy routes” as a strategic priority in the Battle of the Atlantic. They noted that 150 “first-line” aircraft were already engaged in the Bay Offensive, and that thirty to forty longand medium-range aircraft could be added to the force through recall of a Leigh Light squadron from Gibraltar, new construction, and borrowing. These new figures led to a revision of the number of additional aircraft needed. Hence, to make up the 260-aircraft requirement stipulated in both the Stark and Admiralty Plans, Coastal sought from the U.S. Joint Chiefs six squadrons totaling seventy-two long-range anti-submarine aircraft, drawn, the signers underscored, “from the forces already allocated [at the Atlantic Convoy Conference in Washington the previous month] to the Atlantic theatre.” At that conference the U.S. side predicted that 217 aircraft of suitable type and equipment, including 56 VLR, would be available “in excess of’ immediate Atlantic requirements.

It was important, the signers added, that the squadrons be made available “at the earliest opportunity” so as to take advantage of the period when the U-boats were without a 10-centimeter search receiver. (The A.U. Committee Minutes of their 14 April meeting, which contain a first draft of this communication, indicate that the Committee backed the four-month offensive proposed in the Stark Plan as against the twelve-month offensive proposed by the Admiralty.) The six squadrons would be accommodated at bases in southwest England. A reinforcement on that scale, the signers believed, “might well have results decisive to the issue of the Battle of the Atlantic.”

But Washington’s reception of the British telegram was cool. While sympathetic to the plans for an intensive operation in the Bay, the Joint Chiefs responded on 1 May, they had to report, regrettably, that the aircraft that they had predicted to be “in excess of” immediate requirements did not and would not in fact exist. The number of ASW aircraft cited in the document produced by the Convoy Conference, Admiral King explained, was based on figures “the origin and accuracy of which could not be entirely vouched for and which apparently had raised hopes as to the availability of aircraft which facts did not now warrant.” This reply, appearing so casually dismissive of a formal Allied agreement, caused understandable resentment in England, where a new telegram was drafted asking, if the numbers produced by the U.S. to the Convoy Conference were in error, would the U.S. kindly send the correct figures as quickly as possible?

Another and longer interval ensued before King and the other Joint Chiefs replied, in part because these matters were not exactly in the foreground of King’s interests at the time, since he was then engaged in one of the most contentious interservice rows of the war over the question, Who would control American anti-submarine air squadrons, the Navy or the Army Air Force Anti-Submarine Command? Slessor, who would personally observe these bitter turf battles during a visit to the States in June, said later: “The whole atmosphere in Washington was poisoned by inter-service jealousy and suspicion.”

On a belief that the reader would not want to be wearied by a recital here of that tedious tangle of disputes, which resulted in the Army’s withdrawal from anti-submarine work in the fall of the year, we shall leave that to the parti-pris literature and say simply that, try as Slessor did, he never succeeded in obtaining the seventy-two aircraft requested for the Bay; and it was not until October (!) that he could count any appreciable number of reinforcements from the American side. In that month Coastal had three U.S. Army and one U.S. Naval operational squadrons based at Dunkeswell in Devonshire and two U.S. Naval squadrons that were still working up at St Eval. But by October, it must be recognized, the planned Second Bay Offensive was over, having been waged by the aircraft that Coastal already had in hand, and the crisis of the U-boat war had passed.

Before the telegrams began passing between London and Washington, and Army and Navy air interests began crossing swords across the Potomac River (though invited by the Army’s War Department in 1942 to occupy all of the second floor and part of another in the newly erected Pentagon, an invitation that Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox readily accepted, the Navy Bureau Chiefs, not wanting to live cheek by jowl with the Army or Army Air Forces, objected strongly to moving there, and would not do so until 1948), Coastal had mounted another Bay trial, Operation Enclose II, which ran from dusk on the 5th to dawn on the 13th of April. With fewer aircraft (86) than were used in the first Enclose (115), but with three more L/L Catalinas of No. 210 Squadron, the operation was positioned over the same ribbon of sea as before and with the same deceptive 1.5-meter A.S.V. flooding at night.

During the period, twenty-five U-boats transited the ribbon (as against twenty-eight estimated). The total of 980 flying hours produced eleven sightings, more of them at night than in daylight for the first time, and four attacks, leading to the nighttime sinking of U-376 (Kptlt. Friedrich Marks) by L/L Wellington “C” of 172 Squadron, and damage to U-465 (Kptlt. Heinz Wolf) by Catalina “M” of 210 Squadron Fewer aircraft and fewer flight hours had produced the same results as those achieved by the original Enclose. And other U-boat crews, having affected narrow escapes, no doubt experienced what Raushenbush called “sheer funk.”

With the demonstration of higher efficiency in the repeat of Enclose, it was decided, even before that operation was concluded, to launch a full-scale, long-term intensive patrol over a larger ribbon between 8½° and 12° W under the code name Operation Derange. A total of 131 individual aircraft, all that were available at the moment, though well below the 260 considered necessary by Raushenbush and Williams, were committed to the new operation, which was to begin at dawn on 13 April and to continue “until further notice.” Included in that number were three new squadrons, a rocm. L/L Wellington squadron, No. 407, an ordinary Wellington squadron, No. 311, and a Whitley squadron, No. 612.

Up to the end of April, eighty-one U-boats crossed the Derange ribbon, either inbound or outbound, and during that period a total of 2,593 day and night flying hours resulted in thirty-six sightings and twenty-two attacks. The percentage of sightings made to hours flown represented no improvement over Enclose II. But one kill was made and two outbound boats were so badly damaged that they were forced to return to Brest and St.-Nazaire, respectively. The 10cm.-equipped Liberator “D” of 224 Sqdn. dropped six D/Cs on the previously damaged U-332 (Hüttemann) 25 seconds after she had dived, sinking her, northwest of Cape Ortegal, Spain, on the morning of the 29th. Damaged were U-366 (Kptlt. Hans Hornkohl), depth-charged by L/L Wellington “R” of 172 Sqdn. on the night of the 26th; and U-437 (Oblt.z.S. Hermann Lamby), depth-charged by L/L Wellington “H” of 172 on the night of the 29th.

The principal effect of the twenty-two Derange attacks in April, however, was to induce exasperation at BdU, where the Operations staff had grown weary of reports from Commanders during Enclose, Enclose II, and now Derange that despite their Fu.MB (Metox) gear, they were being surprised at night like deer in a car’s headlights. On 27 April, Admirals Donitz and Godt made a fateful decision, which they signaled to all Commanders. Standing War Order No. 483 was forthwith revised to require boats (1) to maintain maximum submergence at night through the Biscay transit area, and (2) to fight it out with aircraft on the surface in the daytime if surprised while charging batteries. This decision would lead to heavy U-boat losses during May and the summer months—twenty-six kills and seventeen U-boats damaged in ninety-seven days and nights—causing it to be called by historians “a major tactical error,” resulting from, as Slessor represented it, “the stupidity of the enemy.”

British aviation historian Alfred Price argues that in April only two out of a dozen anti-submarine squadrons in Air Vice Marshal Bromet’s No. 19 Group were fitted with both Leigh Light and 10-centimeter radar, and hence were not numerous enough to cause more than the loss of “a few U-boats to air attack without warning.” But in April the ratio of nighttime L/L-Iocm. hours flown inside the Enclose and Derange ribbons to nighttime hours flown by unequipped aircraft was 777 to 428, and L/L Wellingtons made seven night attacks without Metox warning between 26 and 29 April, resulting in two outbound U-boats seriously damaged, U-566 and U-437, which had to abort their departures.

No doubt this nighttime coverage got BdU’s attention, and the Dönitz/Godt duumvirate decided that placing their battery-charging boats on the surface at night under the sudden surveillance of searchlights was a more perilous course than was deploying them on the surface in daylight, when at least their lookouts had a reasonable chance of sighting the enemy’s approach in time to bring anti-aircraft armament to bear. They would then have both a warning and a defense, neither of which they had under the lights. Perhaps Dönitz and Godt were not as “stupid” as Slessor thought. They were simply wrong. If the plan was to surface during the daylight hours, then the U-boats should have been instructed to dive upon sighting aircraft. They did not have the firepower to fight back successfully. And one downside to maximum submergence, whether by day or by night, was greatly increased transit time, which translated into reduced opportunities to sink shipping.

In making the decision to spend the battery-charging hours on the surface in daylight, Dönitz and Godt likely were influenced by U-333’s flak success against a Wellington and U-338’s success in downing Halifax “B” of 502 Sqdn., both in March; and by U-79’s protracted machine-gun defense on 12 April that forced Liberator “M” of No. 86 Squadron to break off an attack—details of which BdU transmitted to all boats as an incentive. (Three L/L Wellingtons were unexplainedly lost in the Bay during April.) But these three successes, it turned out, were thin reeds on which to base so dangerous a general policy.

And so, on the cusp of May, the Battle of the Bay entered a phase that had not been predicted by either Raushenbush or Williams, a phase in which the secret use of 10-centimeter radar counted less than either boffin had anticipated, since the night had effectively been taken away from the equation.38 Though Bromet’s No. 19 Group maintained night patrols at about the same level from April through August, night sightings decreased sharply at the end of April and the battle from 1 May forward became mainly one of mano-a-mano combat in daylight, and let the metal fall where it may. The essential point that should not be lost here is: displaced by the German decision as the top-drawer weapon in the Bay, the Leigh-Lighters nonetheless had proved for a second time that they were the controlling threat. Even now, in a passive role as menace-in-being, by slowing the passage of U-boats through the Bay, they saved numerous merchant ships from torpedo-wrought deaths.

Bromet’s bombers were ready for this May battle. Based mostly in Devon, Cornwall, and South Wales, they had trained to near-perfect pitch, absorbing the lesson from O.R.S. in 1942 that it was not the weapon but the man that counted. And they had mastered the tactical doctrine long earned by O.R.S. calculations and combat experience. Foremost in anti-U-boat operations was sighting. Two lookouts, the doctrine held, must keep a continuous watch from ahead to 90° on either side of the aircraft, and to prevent errors through fatigue, they should be relieved every half hour.

An efficient A.S.V. watch must also be maintained, except that A.S.V. Mark II (metric) must not be used in daylight unless visibility was under three miles, or the aircraft was flying above heavy cloud, or the gear was required for navigational purposes. No restrictions were placed on A.S.V. Mark III (centimetric). To avoid eye fatigue, radar operators should be relieved every forty-five minutes. The optimum altitude for detecting and surprising a U-boat was judged to be 5,000 feet where there was no cloud or where cloud bases were above 5,000. When cloud density was not more than 5/Ioths and below 5,000, aircraft should patrol 500 to 1,000 feet above cloud tops. When clouds were more than 5/Ioths and below 5,000, aircraft should seek concealment by flying as near the cloud base as possible. When a sighting was made, altitude should be lost as quickly as possible in order to be no more than 300 to 500 feet off the deck when three-quarters of a mile to a mile from the target.

The pilot should make the decision as to whether flying an indirect course toward the target was required, either to provide time to get the bomb bay doors open (where aircraft were so equipped) or to avoid an increase of speed that would throw off the bomb intervalometer setting. (Squadron Leader Terence M. Bulloch, cited in chapter 3 for his successes—altogether in his career he would sight 28 U-boats, attack 19, sink 4, and severely damage 3, becoming the most decorated ASW pilot in Coastal—deviated from the rule of fast descent by stalking a sighted boat from cloud cover, and only when positioned to make an attack up or down the boat’s track at an angle of about 20° would he initiate his dive. Bulloch did not fly patrols in May, but spent the month instead testing a new rocket-propelled weapon, to be used in action for the first time on 23 May, at the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down.)

During the final stage of the run-in, aircraft should descend to 50 feet and deliver their attack as nearly as possible along the track of the U-boat, taking their point of aim according to the following data:

(1) The time from the release of a depth charge from 50 feet to detonation at the shallow setting (25 feet) is approximately 5 seconds (2 seconds in the air and 3 in the water).

(2) If the U/Boat is in process of crash-diving, her speed will be approximately 6 knots (10 feet per second). Therefore, if the U/Boat is attacked while some part of the hull is visible, the centre of the stick should be aimed 5 x 10 = 50 feet ahead of the conning tower (or its estimated position) at the time of release.

(If the conning tower is itself in sight, however, at the time of release, it is desirable to make this the aiming point, although theoretically the stick will then fall 50 feet behind it.)

(3) If the U/Boat has dived before the depth charges are released, the stick must be aimed a certain distance ahead of the swirl, the apex of which is made by the foremost end of the conning tower. This distance is, of course, that run by the submarine between its final disappearance and the time of detonation of the depth charges. Assuming that the speed of the U/Boat is 6 knots, the distances are as follows:

Time of Submersion: Distance to aim to release of DC’s ahead of swirl

5 sees.    100 ft.

10 sees.  150 ft.

15 sees.  200 ft.

20 sees.  250 ft.

25 sees.  300 ft.

30 sees. 350 ft.

(4) If the periscope only is sighted, the speed of the U/Boat will probably be only about 2 knots, i.e., 3.4 feet per second, hence the stick should be aimed 5 x 3.4 = 17 feet ahead of the periscope at the time of release.

NOTE: An additional allowance must always be made for the underwater travel of the depth charges (40 feet).

If the U-boat had just submerged, the approximate length of its diving swirl (100 feet) could be used as a yardstick for estimating the distance ahead that D/Cs should enter the water. It was unlikely that a D/C attack would be successful, however, if the U-boat had been submerged for more than 30 seconds, in which case baiting tactics might be employed: In these maneuvers, the aircraft set course from the position of the swirl to a distance of at least 30 miles and remained outside that range for not less than 30 minutes; then it returned to the same position, taking advantage of cloud, sun, or weather conditions for concealment, in the expectation that the U-boat would have surfaced again. When a surfaced U-boat used its flak against the aircraft—most boats were then equipped with one 20mm cannon and several machine guns on the bridge—the decision on how to respond rested with the aircraft Captain, but the Tactical Instruction made it clear what was expected of him: “He must remember that the primary reason for his existence is, for the time being, to kill U/Boats and that a U/Boat on the surface presents a much better chance of a kill than one submerged.”

The point was made that a U-boat’s bridge made a very unstable gun platform in any kind of sea and particularly if the sea was beam-on, and that even a large aircraft properly handled and using its forward guns presented a fleeting, dangerous, and difficult target. Aircraft Captains should therefore press home their attacks against enemy fire, preferably from dead ahead, “making full use of the front guns to kill the U/Boat’s gun crews or at least to keep their heads down.” (The U-boats, for their part, were instructed when under attack to keep the aircraft on a stern bearing in order to present a small target—though, ironically, this helped the aircraft to drop a D/C straddle up track—and to use all available flak and machine gun fire simultaneously. When the aircraft began its final run in, the U-boat should initiate evasive maneuvers at maximum speed using full helm. In cases where a strong cross-wind was blowing, the U-boat’s avoiding action should be to windward in order to take advantage of the aircraft’s drift sideways.)

Black May” – Biscay Bay in May 1943 Part III

Aircraft carrying six or fewer D/Cs on hunting patrols or sweeps, such as Derange, should drop the whole load in one stick; aircraft carrying more than six should drop sticks of six. Aircraft on convoy or other escort duty should drop sticks of four, leaving D/Cs for a possible second attack; this rule could be altered at the Captain’s discretion, for example when nearing his PLE or while returning to base. After carrying out an attack on a diving boat by day, the aircraft must drop a marker on or beside the swirl. By night the position must be marked by flame floats, usually two dropped at the same time as the D/Cs.

For purposes of assessment and so that every possible lesson could be learned from each attack, a complete and detailed record, for example, of the exact time lapse between submersion of a U-boat and the release of D/Cs, should be kept by members of the crew. “The story should be complete to the smallest detail and even facts which may appear irrelevant should be included.” Within twenty-four hours a connected account should be written down and read by the crew.

Not all of these rules were observed to the letter, as will be seen in the after-action reports that follow. Some pilots, following Terence Bulloch’s example, fudged the rules and had unorthodox successes. But in the main, Coastal’s tactical doctrine proved out not only in the Bay but also in the convoy routes. The mole, it turned out, had a lot to fear from the crow. At 2055 GMT on 30 April (all times that follow are GMT), L/L Wellington “N” of 172 Sqdn. lifted off from Chivenor in Devon, bound southwest to the Derange ribbon, where the cloud was 4/Ioths to 7/Ioths with bases at 2,000 feet, the sea moderate to rough, the air bumpy, and visibility 2–4 miles. At 0007 on 1 May, Pilot Flight Sergeant Peter W. Phillips was patrolling in the ribbon at 1,200 feet on course 168° when he obtained an S/E contact (Special Equipment, a code word for A.S.V. Mark III 10cm radar) bearing Green (starboard) 45°, range 6’½ miles. Phillips dived on the surfaced U-boat, which was proceeding inbound on a course of 132° at seven knots, and, after reaching 550 feet three-quarters of a mile from the target, he “struck” (switched on) the Leigh Light. The run-in was made on the U-boat’s port bow at 80° to track, while the Navigator, Sergeant H. A. Bate, fired about forty rounds from the front gun before it jammed, and at 0100 Phillips released six Mark XI Torpex D/Cs set to shallow depth and spaced 50 feet apart from a height of 75 feet. All were seen by the rear gunner to explode with blue flashes, two to port and four to starboard; Nos. 2 and 3 were thought to have been very close to the U-boat’s hull.

During the aircraft’s pass over the target a shudder was felt underneath, though no gun fire was observed. (An hour after the attack it was found that the hydraulic system had been damaged; not known until landing was that the port tire had been punctured.) Phillips made a 180° turn to port and, four minutes later, flew back over the attack position, which was marked by flame floats. Except for a patch of foam and bubbles, nothing could be seen, not even a diving swirl. After twelve more minutes in the vicinity, Phillips resumed patrol. At 0452 he and his five-man crew landed at the nearest base, Predannack in Cornwall. As they did so, the port landing gear collapsed, and the aircraft swung off the runway and slammed into a Nissen hut. Beyond scratches, the crew were not injured. The base Medical Officer pronounced them “very lucky.”

The U-boat they had attacked, U-415 (Oblt.z.S. Kurt Neide), returning from her first war cruise, was also very lucky. Damaged by Phillips’s D/Cs, she would be attacked twice more before the day was out. At 1136 she was visually sighted on the surface in visibility 15 miles, at 4435’N, 10°37’W, by Sunderland “M” of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) No. 461 Sqdn., flying on Derange. Bearing Green 30° at a range of 5–6 miles, the U-boat was estimated at 6 knots on a course of 100°. Seeing the aircraft approach, U—415 dived. Pilot Flight Lieutenant E. C. “Bertie” Smith, DFC, put the flying boat into a dive and attacked the swirl 18 seconds after submergence from the U-boat’s port beam, dropping four Mark XI D/Cs set shallow and spaced 200 feet apart from a height of 50–75 feet. The D/Cs straddled the U-boat’s line of advance 70–100 feet ahead of the apex of the swirl. No debris appeared, however. Smith took his aircraft off on baiting procedures and returned in cloud 29 minutes later, but again saw no evidence of damage where his sea marker had disappeared in rough seas.

U-415 had received a severe shaking but was still intact.43 At 1727 she was sighted for a third time, in position 44°13’N, 10°23’W, by Derange aircraft Whitley “E” of 612 Sqdn. The sea had moderated to a slight swell and visibility was still 15 miles. The U-boat was bearing 180°, distant 5 miles, at a fast speed, 15 knots, on course 090°. Pilot Flight Sergeant Norman Earnshaw descended from 3,000 feet, intending to attack from the U-boat’s port quarter at 20° to track. As he began his run in at about 150 knots, U-415 opened fire with 20mm cannon and light machine guns. Earnshaw’s release from 90 feet of six Mark XI D/Cs, set to shallow, spaced 200 feet apart, exploded 200 feet to starboard of the target, as the U-boat took hard evasive action in a tight turn.

Kicking rudder, Earnshaw set up for a second attack. Meanwhile, U-415 dived. In the second attack, made from the U-boat’s port beam at 90° to track, two D/Cs were released from 70 feet and exploded 28 seconds after submergence 300 feet ahead of the swirl. This time oil was seen. Earnshaw patrolled the scene for 40 minutes, then set course for base at Davidstow Moor in Cornwall. Further shaken, U-415 limped on to her base at Brest. At BdU, Donitz and Godt were relieved to learn of her safe arrival. Their war diary recorded: “U-415 was bombed three times … Despite much damage she was still able to dive.” The good luck that carried U-415 through May Day would stay with her until 14 July 1944, when she struck an RAF mine and sank in the Brest approaches.

Two other attacks in the Bay were made on 1 May: At 0825, Halifax “C” of 502 Sqdn. dropped six D/Cs on a surfaced boat, and at 1015, Hampden “L” of 1404 Sqdn. released six on a surfaced boat. Initial contact was made by eye in each case. Return fire was not observed from either boat before it dived. There were no visible results from the attacks. Three daylight attacks on surfaced boats were made the next day, 2 May: by Sunderland “R” of 10 Sqdn. at 0810; by Hudson “W” of 269 Sqdn. at 1437; and by Whitley “G” of 612 Sqdn. at 1531. In the first and third attacks initial contact was by eye; in the second it was obtained by S/E. None of the boats was reported to have fought back.

The first kill in May was made at dusk that day by Flight Lieutenant “Bertie” Smith and his ten-man Australian crew in the same Sunderland “M” they had flown the day before (which deserves mention only because it should be noted that air crews frequently switched aircraft from day to day within a squadron). Smith was trolling in the Derange ribbon at 2,500 feet in the base of 6/Ioths cloud. Visibility was 10–12 miles. The darkening sea below was rough in 26-knot winds from 010°. At 1917, eyeballs sighted a U-boat on the surface bearing Red (port) 45°, range 10 miles. Smith estimated it to be traveling at 10–12 knots on an outbound course of 270°. He pushed forward his four engine throttles and climbed into cloud, where he turned to make his approach. At four miles from the target he dove from the cloud. On sighting the flying boat, the U-boat responded with flak and machinegun fire, and when Smith was down to 300 feet and ½ mile distant, the U-boat abruptly altered course to port. Smith was able to complete his run-in from the U-boat’s port beam at 90° to track, while RAF gunner Sergeant R. MacDonald swept the deck with fire from the bow turret. Just before release from an altitude of 50–70 feet, the U-boat gunners were seen scrambling for the conning tower hatch.

Four Mark XII D/Cs straddled the boat just aft of the tower, after which the boat described a tight circle, apparently out of control, then came to a gradual stop with a bad list to port. A large volume of brown vapor blew out from its stern and a white vapor plume rose about three feet from its port quarter. Then a heavy flow of oil was observed pouring from its port side. Meanwhile, Smith was making a climbing turn to 500 feet to set up a second attack, which he delivered at 75 feet with four D/Cs released from the target’s starboard bow at 15° to track, again straddling the tower. The now gravely wounded boat settled by its stern. The oil patch spread to 300 yards in diameter. Some fifteen crewmen were seen jumping into the water, where they waved frantically at the aircraft. Then, at 1940, the U-boat’s stern sank beneath the waves; its bow followed, reappearing twice briefly at an angle of 30°. The victim was U—465 (Kptlt. Heinz Wolf, 28 years old, from Emmerich/Rhein), on her third war patrol. Smith and crew remained in the area for 30 minutes, then, having reached PLE, returned with their victory photographs to base at Pembroke Dock in South Wales.

Two daylight attacks were made on 3 May against boats sighted on the surface in the Derange ribbon: by Sunderland “S” of 461 Sqdn., at 1044, and by Whitley “R” of 10 Sqdn. O.T.U. In the first instance, the initial contact was made by eye and four D/Cs were released 22 seconds after the U-boat had submerged. In the second, the contact was also made by eye, and five D/Cs (one having hung up) were released while the boat was still on the surface. There were no visible results in either case. On the next day, 4 May, Halifax “S” of 58 Sqdn. was on morning patrol, having lifted off at 0555 for the Derange area, where the seas were very rough under 7/Ioths-8/Ioths cloud, visibility 8–10 miles. At 1740, the crew made the visual sighting of a creamy wake, bearing Green 90°, which led to a surfaced U-boat, outbound from base at 6–8 knots on a course of 270°, distant 4–5 miles.

Pilot Flying Officer John M. Hartley turned to starboard, lost height rapidly, and approached out of the sun. At 1,400 yards the U-boat opened fire with what Hartley thought was an impressive amount of armament: “heavy guns” from the afterdeck, followed at 1,200 yards by “cannon at the front of the bridge,” and later by cannon on the forward deck and two pairs of machine guns on a stepped gun platform in front of the conning tower. He could see about fifteen of the boat’s crew, most of them manning the cannons and guns, but two men in black uniform and another in a white sweater, all wearing peaked caps, standing on the deck at the port side of the tower. Hartley ordered answering fire against the pugnacious boat, which scattered some of the men manning cannon and machine guns, the rest maintaining heavy and light flak.

By evasive action Hartley managed to prevent his four-engine Halifax from being hit by that fusillade, and at a quarter of a mile from target, he leveled out to release six Mark XI D/Cs from the U-boat’s port quarter at an angle of 60°-70° to track. The navigator firing the front gun saw one man on deck hit and fall overboard. Altitude at the time of release was a relatively high 200–400 feet. The rear gunner reported that the D/Cs straddled aft of the conning tower, two on the port quarter and four on the starboard beam. In addition, the gunner had fired 500 rounds at the tower and hull as the aircraft passed. But the U-boat submerged thirty seconds after the Halifax, turning back, caught sight of it again, and no damage was visible, only the usual D/C scum. Baiting procedure was followed, Hartley returning at 0910, but the marker could not be found. With PLE reached at 1000, the Halifax returned to base, landing at 1258. Subsequent assessment by NHB/MOD has identified the boat as U-/90, which suffered “slight damage,” nothing to prevent her continuing on Feindfahrt.

Three more attacks in the Bay were made later in the day: by Halifax “A” of 502 Sqdn. at 1920, by Catalina “J” of 202 Sqdn. at 2110, and by L/L Wellington “P” of 407 Sqdn. at 2309. In the first, initial contact was made by eye and six D/Cs were released on a surfaced U-boat. In the second, contact was also made by eye and five D/Cs (one hanging up) were dropped 37 seconds after submergence. In the third, contact was obtained by S/E and six D/Cs were dropped 10 seconds after submergence. No results were evident, but minor damage was done to U-405 (Korv. Kapt. Rolf-Heinrich Hopmann) by the Halifax, and the target of the Catalina was later assessed to be U-6oo (Kptlt. Bernard Zurmühlen).

Three daylight attacks were made on 7 May in the Derange area, the first two on diving boats by Wing Commander Wilfrid E. Oulton of 58 Sqdn. At 0656, just after dawn (Oulton forbade his crew to eat breakfast prior to a morning flight because it put “spots,” not U-boats, before the eyes), Oulton sighted a U-boat’s wake from the cockpit of Halifax “S,” dived on the target, and dropped six D/Cs over its swirl 10–15 seconds after the U-boat’s submergence. And at 1015, Oulton dived on another U-boat’s wake and released three D/Cs on the submerging boat while its conning tower was still visible. The first attack yielded no visible results. The second, now known to have been against the outbound U-214, badly wounded her Commander, Kptlt. Rup-precht Stock, and forced the boat back to her base at Brest. Oulton’s aircraft received machine-gun hits during the run in.

The third attack was made by Sunderland “W” of RAAF. 10 Sqdn. Flying on Derange, aircraft captain Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey G. Rossiter and his eleven-man crew had been airborne from Mount Batten in Cornwall since 0635 when, at 1023, they sighted a wake, then the conning tower, of an outbound U-boat on the starboard beam, distant 10 miles. As the flying boat turned to attack, the U-boat, now known to have been XJ—603 (Oblt.z.S. Rudolf Baltz), dived and disappeared, making attack inadvisable. Patrol was resumed at 2,000 feet just below 6/10ths cloud base, and at 1220 a fully surfaced U-boat was sighted through binoculars 17 miles away on the starboard bow, in position 47°06’N, 10°58’W. The sea state was moderate, the wind was 235° at twenty-six miles per hour, visibility was twenty miles. Rossiter estimated the U-boat to be making 12 knots on an outbound course of 280°. He made a climbing turn into cloud and broke out of it on course 225° with the still-surfaced U-boat four miles distant on the starboard bow.

As he pushed the elevator column forward into a dive, the U-boat altered course to starboard. Rossiter turned with it and ran in across track 60° on its starboard quarter, the nose gunner opening fire with 100 rounds at 800 yards range, scoring hits on the conning tower, where two men were seen. From a height of fifty feet Rossiter released four D/Cs that straddled the boat just forward of the tower, and the resulting explosion plumes completely obscured the boat. Before the explosions, as the aircraft passed, the tail gunner fired 600 rounds at the tower. Rossiter pushed hard left rudder and turned the ailerons for a quick return to the site. Setting up, he attacked a second time, from the U-boat’s port quarter at 45° to track, again releasing four D/Cs from fifty feet. The first D/C fell within twenty feet of the port side aft of the tower; the three remaining overshot.

The U-boat, plainly wounded, made several complete tight circles to starboard at 4–5 knots, trailing oil and gradually losing way. At 1300 it submerged slowly on course 090°, still putting out oil, and disappeared bows up four minutes later. By 1330 a crescent-shaped oil patch 250 yards in diameter and 500 yards in circumference covered the site. The Sunderland remained in the area for another hour and a half, then shaped course for home with its photographs, becoming waterborne at Mount Batten at 1655. Rossiter received the DFC for this action. The NHB/MOD assessment has identified the stricken U-boat as U-663 (Kptlt. Heinrich Schmid). Seriously damaged, she sank the next day with all hands, probably as the result of these injuries.

An eight-day drought in Bay attacks ensued, owing in great part to heavy pro-German weather that greatly restricted visibility. Then, on the 15th, with visibility improved to as much as 25 miles, there were six attacks in one day, all in sunlight, all resulting from visual sightings in the Derange ribbon. The first, by Liberator “O” of 224 Sqdn., was made at 0936 on a U-boat that had submerged 15 seconds before six D/Cs were released. The boat, now known to be U—168 (Kptlt. Helmuth Pich), which was returning from its first war cruise during which she participated in the Battle for ONS.5, was not damaged. The second attack, by Whitley “M” of 10 Sqdn. O.T.U., was delivered at 1127 against a boat that took five D/Cs (one hung up) on the surface. It has since been identified as U-648 and assessed as undamaged.

The third attack, again by Whitley “M,” at 1233, was directed at another surfaced boat, outbound from base, since identified as U-591 (Kptlt. Hansjürgen Zetzsche). Though the Whitley had only the one previously hung-up D/C to drop, which did no damage, the aircraft’s nose machine gun wounded the Commander and one crewman, forcing the boat’s return to base. The fourth attack, by Whitley “B” of 10 Sqdn. O.T.U., was made at 1314 on another outbound surfaced boat. The six D/Cs released caused slight damage to U-305 (Kptlt. Rudolf Bahr). The fifth attack, by Whitley “S” of 10 Sqdn. O.T.U., was delivered at 1403 against the outbound, surfaced U-211 (Oblt.z.S. Karl Hause), which was not damaged.

The sixth and final attack of the day took place at 1810 when the sun was low and there was a bright glare on the water. Pilot Wing Commander Wilfrid E. Oulton of 58 Sqdn. had lifted off in Halifax “M” from St Eval at 1208 and now was on a routine rectangular creeping line ahead patrol at position 45°28’N, 10°20’W, where he swept the sea below with Polaroid glasses. There was 1/10th cloud at 6,000 feet, the sea was moderate to rough, winds were 080° at twenty-four mph, visibility was 10–15 miles in haze. Ahead a V-shaped wake slowly emerged into view bearing Green 30° distant 10 miles. Realizing that he was up sun where he could stalk, Oulton let down gradually to 2,500 feet, and at four miles range sighted a U-boat on the surface, speed 10 knots on an inbound course of 070°. He circled to starboard and descended through 1,500 to begin the run in. At 1,000 yards the navigator opened fire with the nose gun and saw hits on both the conning tower and hull. At a height of 100–120 feet the Halifax released six D/Cs from the U-boat’s port quarter at 10° to track. After crossing, the rear gunner got off additional rounds at the tower and hull and watched for results of the explosions. He reported that two or more D/Cs at the end of the stick fell against the port side of the boat.

When the explosion plumes subsided and the boat could be seen again, the fore part of the hull appeared to lift; then, two to three seconds later, there was a “sudden jerk,” and the boat stood up on its stern in a completely vertical position with the bows above water. After Oulton completed a turn for a second attack, he could see a large light blue oil patch and “greenish white water” boiling around the upright 20 feet of bows. The victim’s condition was such, Oulton decided, that he could save his remaining D/Cs for another boat. Two minutes following the attack the U-boat’s last apparition of “gray with brown patches” slid beneath the waves. At 1827, Oulton set course on the homeward leg and was down at St Eval by 2125. The U-boat sunk was the returning U-266 (Kptlt. Rolf von Jessen), which had been Group Fink’s lead scorer in the Battle for ONS.552

With good weather holding, No. 19 Group had another full day on the 16th when five attacks were made in the Derange patrol area, all as the result of visual sightings. The first, by Whitley “E” of 10 Sqdn. O.T.U., was made at 1143 on a diving boat, since identified as U-648 (Oblt.z.S. Peter-Arthur Stahl), which was not damaged. The second attack, by Wellington “H” of 311 Sqdn. (Czech), was delivered at 1410 on a fully surfaced boat, since identified as U-662 (Kptlt. Heinrich Müller), which was not damaged. The third attack, by Liberator “M” of 224 Sqdn. at 1450, was against the same U-648 (Stahl) that Whitley “E” had attacked with six D/Cs three hours before. Now, attacked on the surface with six more D/Cs, the lucky boat escaped again with no damage. The fourth attack, by Liberator “E” of 224 Sqdn., was made at 1650 on a diving boat, which was the same U-662 (Müller) attacked by Wellington “H” two and a half hours before. This time the boat suffered minor damage. Another lucky boat. But, like U-648, she would be sunk within the year.

The killing attack of the day would come at dusk, 2007, when conditions were 1/10th cloud, bases 20,000 feet, sea moderate, wind 110° at 25 mph, and visibility 10 miles in haze. Halifax “R” of 58 Sqdn. made a visual sighting of a narrow brushstroke of a wake across the evening’s dark gray surface. The wake was on bearing Red 100°, distant 6–7 miles. Pilot Flight Officer A. J. W. “Tony” Birch immediately altered course to port. The U-boat, when seen, was on an outbound course of 270°, speed 10 knots. Realizing that he could not lose sufficient height in the distance given, Birch made an altitude-losing turn, keeping up sun of the U-boat, finally making his run in from due west of the target, out of the sun. Eventually seeing him, the U-boat dived. Birch’s six D/Cs dropped while the conning tower was still visible. Because of glare on the water, the rear gunner could not get an exact fix on the stick placement, although, according to the aircraft’s after-action report (Form 540), it was thought that one D/C fell 100 feet ahead of the swirl and the remainder in the swirl or wake.

When Birch circled back over the scene, he observed a patch of blue oil. Shortly afterwards, the mid-upper turret gunner sighted what appeared to be a body. Birch dropped a marker and flame floats, then at 2018 set course away on baiting tactics in company with Halifax “B,” which had been flying about five miles to the west and had witnessed the attack. When both aircraft returned from baiting, they found a large irregular-shaped patch of blue oil a quarter-to a half-mile in extent. Also seen nearby was a circling Sunderland (“T” of 10 Sqdn.), which reported by R/T that it had seen and photographed wreckage. Shortly afterwards, the Sunderland sighted two bodies and wood planking, although these did not show up in the photographs. Halifaxes “R” and “B,” having reached PLE, returned to base, where they sat down at 2345 and 2350. The U-boat was the Type XIV U—463 (Korv. Kapt. Leo Wolfbauer), one of Dönitz’s prized tanker boats, under way from Bordeaux on her fifth supply cruise. She was the first Milch Cow to be sunk. There were no survivors.