Martin-Baker and Warrant Officer Ron Guthrie

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Warrant Officer Ron Guthrie.

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Return of the Meteor jets, Kimpo, Korea. Oil on hardboard, 1953 by Ivor Hele. 77 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force flew Meteors in Korea in 1952 and 1953. [AWM ART40304]

With air combats developing at altitudes of over 30,000 feet, it was inevitable that the Korean War should see new records set for high-altitude parachute escapes. An air battle fought on 29 August, 1951, between Gloster Meteor Mk 8s of No 77 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, and Chinese MiG-15s saw the highest recorded baleout to date. On this day, eight Meteors were detailed to escort B-29s and another eight to carry out a diversionary sweep north of Sinanju. At 11.20 the latter flight, led by Squadron Leader Wilson, spotted six MiGs at 40,000 feet over Chongju, 5,000 feet higher than themselves. Keeping the enemy in sight Wilson manoeuvred his formation up-sun, but as he did so two more MiGs appeared a few thousand feet below. Wilson decided to attack and went into a dive followed by his number two, Flying Officer Woodroffe. As the two Meteors levelled out, however, Woodroffe’s aircraft suddenly flicked into a spin (an unpleasant tendency of the Meteor 8, caused by the effects of compressibility, if the aircraft exceeded 0.8M at altitude) and dropped away; the pilot managed to recover several thousand feet lower down, but now Wilson had no one to cover his tail. As he began his approach to attack, a MiG jumped him out of the sun, unnoticed in the 30-degree blind spot caused by the dural structure at the rear of the Meteor’s cockpit. The first warning Wilson had of the danger was when cannon shells passed over his wing; he immediately put his aircraft into a maximum-rate turn in a bid to shake off his pursuer. He was rescued by Flight Lieutenant Cedric Wilson and Flying Officer Ken Blight, who spotted his predicament and drove the MiG away – but not before cannon shells had shot away Sqn Ldr Wilson’s port aileron and punched a three-foot hole in his port wing, puncturing a fuel tank. Despite the damage Wilson reached base safely, touching down at 30 knots above normal landing speed.

Meanwhile, a fierce air battle had developed over Chongju as the other Meteors were hotly engaged by thirty MiGs. The weight of the attack fell on ‘Dog’ section, led by Flt Lt Geoff Thornton, who saw the MiGs coming down and ordered his section to break as soon as the enemy opened fire. Flying in the number four position was Warrant Officer Ron Guthrie, a veteran of fourteen previous Meteor sorties over Korea, and as he broke hard to port his aircraft was hit by cannon shells aft of the cockpit, destroying his radio equipment. Two of Guthrie’s attackers passed in front of him and he got one in his sights, loosing off a burst of 20mm cannon fire, but before he had time to observe any result he came under attack again, and this time the Meteor went out of control.

As the Meteor passed through 38,000 feet in a rolling dive, with the Machmeter showing 0.84, Guthrie ejected. The Martin-Baker seat worked perfectly and Guthrie sat upright in it as it descended through the stratosphere. It was like sitting in an armchair, with the world unfolding at his feet, and the situation might almost have been pleasant had it not been for the fact that he was falling into enemy territory and that his oxygen mask had been ripped away on ejection. Fortunately, it was still attached to the emergency supply and he managed to get it back on, finding to his relief that the oxygen was still flowing.

Guthrie now had a decision to make. The air temperature at that altitude was minus 50 degrees C and he was wearing only a lightweight summer flying suit. If he jettisoned his seat and opened his canopy at this stage, there was would be a very real danger of frostbite. On the other hand, altitude would give him an advantage: he might be able to steer his parachute clear of the North Korean coastline and make a touchdown in the sea, where he would have a good chance of being picked up by friendly forces. He decided to take the risk. Unfastening his harness, he kicked the seat away and pulled the ripcord.

His parachute opened at 35,000 feet. From that height he could see the curvature of the earth, and the whole panorama of the Korean peninsula spread out below him. The air grew warmer as he continued his descent, but now he realised with dismay that a westerly wind was blowing him inland, and that despite his best efforts to control the direction of his parachute he was not going to reach the coast. Twenty-eight minutes after ejecting, having survived the attentions of some enemy troops who fired at him in the latter stages of his descent, he landed in a paddy field and was quickly surrounded. It was the beginning of a two-year captivity. At that time, Guthrie’s was the highest ejection on record. He had also experienced the longest parachute descent, and it was the first time that a Martin-Baker seat had saved a pilot’s life in combat.

It was soon apparent that the Meteor was no match for the MiG-15, and it was soon reassigned to the ground attack role, which it performed well, leaving the F-86 Sabres to tangle with the MiGs in the stratosphere. Ground attack work in Korea was difficult and dangerous; quite apart from the nature of the terrain, targets were usually well defended. If an aircraft was hit, the pilot had two choices: either he could bale out into enemy hands, or he could try to gain sufficient height to nurse his crippled aircraft back to friendly territory,where he could either bale out or attempt a crash landing.

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Manchukuo Aviation I

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Ki-9. Manchukuo National Military Force Air Corps, 1938-39. This trainer is Orange overall, with Black cowling, forward fuselage, undercarriage legs and wheel spats. MNMFAC roundels are applied in four wing positions, in (from top) Red, Blue, White, Black and Yellow. The fuselage script, indicating the donor of the aircraft, is in Black.

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Until just five years ago, Manchurians were little more than backward bandits squabbling over pieces of torn fiefdoms. Today, we operate our own air force against all the enemies of a modernized Manchukuo.

-Nobuhiro Uta, 1st Lieutenant, Doi ManshuTeikoku Kugun’

In 1640, Ming Dynasty control over China was falling apart. Widespread crop failures, followed by starvation on a scale too massive for government redress, and peasant revolts broke out to badly shake the nearly 300-year-old order. Taking advantage of these upheavals, Manchu raiders from the north approached the capital on May 26, 1644. Beijing was defended by an unfed, unpaid army unwilling to oppose the invaders, who entered its gates just as the last Ming emperor hung himself on a tree in the imperial garden.

The Manchus replaced his dynasty with their own, the Qing (or “clear”), that ruled until the early 20th century. Demise of the Manchurian imperium in 1912 had been preceded by decades of corruption, military defeats, and foreign exploitation, leading inevitably toward revolution. Organized society dissolved, as private armies fought each other for control during the so-called Warlord Era.

Observing this calamitous decline from afar were the Japanese. They knew that someone would eventually emerge from the chaos to unify the country, thereby fulfilling Napoleon’s dire warning about China being a sleeping giant that, once awakened, would terrify the world. In 1931, Japanese forces invaded Manchuria to extirpate its contentious warlords, restore some semblance of social order, and, most importantly to themselves, create a buffer state, rich in natural resources, between Japan and the USSR.

On February 18, 1932, Manchukuo was established with assistance from former Qing Dynasty officials, including Pu-Yi, “the last emperor.” Unlike Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1987 film of that name, the new “State of Manchuria” was not entirely a Japanese “puppet;’ or colony, although it had elements of both. Like most Asian monarchs of his time, including Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, Pu-Yi was mostly a figurehead: the nation’s symbolic personification. Real power lay in the hands of state council cabinet ministers, who belonged to the Xiehehui Kyowakai. This “Concordia Association” embodied the principles of Minzoku Kyowa, the “concord of nationalities;’ a pan-Asian ideology aimed at making Manchukuo into a multi-ethnic nation that would gradually replace the Japanese military with civilian control.

By granting different ethnic groups their communal rights and limited self-determination under a centralized state structure, a balance was created between federal power and minority rights, thereby avoiding the same kind of separatism that had undermined the Hapsburg’s Austro-Hungarian monarchy or Russia’s Czarist empire. Accordingly, emigres were allowed their own independent groups, which included a wide spectrum of agendas, from White Russian Fascists and Romanov monarchists, to Jews involved in several Zionist movements. Together with these diverse populations, Mongols, Hui Muslims, and Koreans, as well as native Manchu, Japanese settlers, and the majority of Chinese found workable representation in the Concordia Association that dispensed with former animosities.

Because the rights, needs, and traditions of each group were officially respected, religious liberty was guaranteed by law. Mongol lamas, Manchu shamans, Muslim ahongs, Buddhist monks, Russian Orthodox priests, Jewish rabbis, and Confucian moralists were equally supported by the state. Corporatist, anticommunist and anticapitalist, Minzoku Kyowa aimed at class collaboration by organizing people through religious, occupational, and ethnic communities. Manchukuo was intended to be the ideal and standard by which the rest of China was to be reconstituted.

Other similar states set up by the Japanese were the Mangjiang government for Inner Mongolia, the Reformed Government of the Republic, and the Provisional Government of the Republic for the eastern and northern areas of China, respectively. These last two were combined by 1940 in the Nanjing National Government headed by Wang Jingwei, perhaps the most brilliant Chinese statesman of the 20th century. After Sun Yat-sen’s death in 1925, as described in Chapter 13, Jingwei became the leader of the Kuomintang, China’s Nationalist Party, but was subsequently ousted by backstage intrigue to put Chiang Kai-shek in control.

Jingwei believed with the Japanese that China only avoided being a military, economic, and ideological threat to the outside world and itself, while preserving its culture from foreign influences, by a decentralized system of cooperative independence for the various provinces, with emphasis on their ethnic individuality. In this, the Japanese envisioned themselves as the power center of Asia’s Co-Prosperity Sphere. Heavy Japanese investment helped Manchukuo to become an industrial powerhouse, eventually outdistancing Japan itself in steel production.

Manchuria operated its first airline, the most modern in Asia outside Japan. Flying with the Manchukuo Air Transport Company were Junkers Ju.86s and Fokker Super Universals. The German Junkers was powered by a pair of Jumo 207B-3/V, 1,000-hp diesel engines, able to carry its 10 passengers nearly 1,000 miles above 30,000 feet, making it an ideal transport for China’s mountainous terrain.

The Dutch-designed Fokker F.18 Super Universal was actually produced in the United States during the late 1920s, later manufactured under license by Canadian Vickers and Nakajima in Japan. Chosen for its ruggedness, especially the reliability of its 450-hp Pratt and Whitney Wasp B engine in very cold conditions, a Super Universal known as the Virginia served in Richard E. Byrd’s 1928 Antarctic expedition. He additionally valued the conventional, eight-place, high-wing, cantilever monoplane for its 138-mph performance at 19,340 feet over 680 miles.

Even before the Manchukuo Air Transport Company was renamed “Manchukuo National Airways;’ the city of Changchun had likewise undergone a change to Xinjing, the “New Capital” of Manchukuo. The former whistle-stop town was transformed almost overnight into a beautiful, modern, and large city, the most culturally brilliant in China at the time. Manchukuo was officially recognized by 23 foreign governments from all the Axis powers and the USSR to El Salvador and the Holy See. The League of Nations denied Manchukuo’s legitimacy, however, prompting Japan’s withdrawal from that body in 1934, while the United States opposed any change in the international status quo “by force of arms;’ as stated by America’s Stimson Doctrine.

Still, Manchukuo experienced rapid economic growth and progress in its social systems. Manchurian cities were modernized, and an efficient and extensive railway system was constructed. A modern public educational system developed, including 12,000 primary schools, 200 middle schools, 140 teacher preparatory schools, and 50 technical and professional colleges for its 600,000 pupils and 25,000 teachers. There were additionally 1,600 private schools; 150 missionary schools; and, in the city of Harbin, 25 Russian schools. By 1940, of Manchukuo’s 40,233,950 inhabitants, 837,000 were Japanese, and plans were already afoot to increase emigration by 5 million persons over the next 16 years, in the partial relief of Japan’s overpopulation crisis.

Bordering as Manchukuo did the Russian frontier, the necessity for self-defense was apparent. In February 1937, an air force, the Dai Manshu Teikoku Kugun, was formed. To begin, 30 officers were selected from the Imperial Army for training with Japan’s Kwantung Army at Harbin. By late summer, their first unit was established at the Xinjing airfield under the command of 1st Lieutenant Nobuhiro Uta. His taskto make something of the fledgling service-was daunting, because he had only a single aircraft at his disposal, a World War I-era biplane.

The Nieuport-Delage Ni-D.29 had made its prototype debut in August 1918 and looked every bit its age with its open cockpit and fixed tail skid. Even then, the French-built pursuit aeroplane did not pass muster, because it could not achieve altitude requirements. The Ni-D.29 received a new lease on life when, stripped of its cumbersome military baggage and its Gnome 9N rotary engine replaced by a 300-hp HispanoSuiza 8Fb V-8, it won eight speed records, including the Coupe Deutsche and Gordon Bennet Trophies of 1919 and 1920, respectively.

Nieuport-Delage executives cashed in on the aircraft’s new prestige by making it a lucrative export to Belgium, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Argentina, Japan, and Thailand. Their swift model saw action in North Africa, dropping 20-pound antipersonnel bombs on native insurgents unhappy with French and Spanish colonialism. By 1937, the old double-decker’s top speed of 146 mph and 360-mile range made it something of a relic, but Lieutenant Uta made good use of its forgiving handling characteristics in the training of his novice aviators.

Appeals to Japan resulted in more modern aircraft for the nascent Dai Manshu Teikoku Kugun. First to arrive were examples of a Kawasaki KDA-2 reconnaissance biplane. It had been designed specifically for the Imperial Japanese Army by Richard Vogt, an aero engineer from Germany’s renowned Dornier Flugzeugewerke. Following successful trials, the KDA-2 entered production with Kawasaki as “Type-88-1, in 1929. Its unequal span wings and slim, angular fuselage married to a 600-hp BMW VI engine provided a respectable range of 800 miles at 31,000 feet.

The aircraft’s remarkable stability and rugged construction lent itself well to the light-bomber role when fitted with 441 pounds of bombs. Lieutenant Uta’s men also received the Nakajima Type 91, until recently replaced by the Kawasaki Type 95, Japan’s leading fighter. The parasol monoplane’s Bristol Jupiter VII, 9-cylinder radial engine was rated at 520 hp, allowing a service ceiling of 29,500 feet and 186-mph maximum speed. Twin 7.7-mm machine-guns synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc were standard for the time.

In July 1938, Soviet troops violated the 78-year-old Treaty of Peking between Russia and China by establishing their common Manchurian border, a move that alarmed the Japanese, suspicious of Stalin’s plans for a Communist China. On the 15th, Japan’s attache in Moscow called for the withdrawal of newly arrived Red Army forces from a strategic area between the Shachaofeng and Changkufeng Hills west of Lake Khasan, near Vladivostok. His demand was rejected because, he was told, 1860’s Treaty of Peking was invalid, having been signed by “Czarist criminals”2 Soon after, he learned that the Soviets had relocated the original 19th century demarcation markers to make their territorial claims appear legitimate.

Japan answered this deception on the 29th by launching its 19th Division and several Manchukuo units at the Red Army’s 39th Rifle Corps, without success. Although the Nakajima fighter planes stayed behind for homeland defense, the Manchurians used their Kawasaki reconnaissance aircraft to scout Russian weak spots without being detected. Based on photographic information made available by the high-flying biplanes, the Japanese renewed their offensive on July 31, this time expelling the enemy from Changkufeng Hill in a nighttime attack. Beginning on the morning of August 2, General Vasily Blyukher, commanding the Far Eastern Front, ordered a massive, relentless, week-long artillery barrage that drove the Japanese and Manchurians back across the border. Hostilities ceased on August 11, when a peace brokered by the United States came into effect, and Soviet occupation of the compromised Manchurian border was affirmed.

Far from being honored as the victor of the short-lived campaign, General Blyukher was arrested by Stalin’s political police and executed for having suffered higher casualties than the enemy. Russian dead amounted to 792, plus 2,752 wounded, compared with 525 Japanese and Manchurians killed, 913 wounded.

Although the Changkufeng Incident, or Battle of Khasan, as it is still sometimes known, was a Japanese defeat, it afforded the young Dai Manshu Teikoku Kugun its first operational experiences. More were to come in less than a year during another, far more serious frontier dispute with the USSR, when Manchukuoan horse soldiers drove off a cavalry unit of the Mongolian People’s Republic that had crossed into Manchuria across the Khalkha River, near the village of Nomohan on May 11, 1939.

Forty-eight hours later, they returned in numbers too great to be removed by the Manchurians alone. The next day, Lieutenant-Colonel Yaozo Azuma, leading a reconnaissance regiment of the 23rd Division, supported by the 64th Regiment of the same division, forced out the Mongols. They returned yet again later that month, but as the Japanese moved to expel them, Azuma’s forces were surrounded and decimated by overwhelming numbers of the Red Army on May 28; his men suffered 63 percent casualties.

One day short of a month later, Japan’s 2nd Air Brigade, in conjunction with the Manchurian Air Force, staged a massive raid on the Red Air Force base at Tamsak-Bulak in Mongolia. Numerous Soviet aircraft were caught on the ground before they could get airborne, and those that did were mostly shot down. Manchukuoan-flown Nakajimas came in low to strafe the airfields, setting fuel dumps ablaze and holing bombers parked out in the open, defying intense and accurate ground fire. Dai Manshu Teikoku Kugun fighters suppressed enemy opposition for the arrival almost immediately thereafter of their comrades flying Kawasaki Ki-32s. Just previous to the attack on Mongolia, these more modern light-bombers replaced the Manchurians’ Kawasaki Army Type 88/KDA-2 biplanes. Code named “Mary” by the Americans, the Ki-32 carried 990 pounds of bombs used by DMTK airmen to virtually obliterate the Soviet air base. The Red Air Force defenders of Tamsak-Bulak suffered heavy damage, with more than twice as many Russian warplanes than Japanese-Manchurian lost.

Manchukuo Aviation II

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The effective strike had been ordered by Kwantung Army commanders without permission from Imperial Japanese Army headquarters in Tokyo, which grounded any further air raids. Henceforward, the battlefield situation went from bad to worse for the Japanese, who were decimated by waves of heavy armor attacks against which they had little defense, and forced to accept an armistice on August 31.

The very next day, Germany’s invasion of Poland precipitated World War II, an event that promised greater significance than the Nomohan Incident. Soviet forces halted at the Manchurian border, as Stalin concluded a neutrality agreement with Japan, then turned his attention to Europe. Fearing an inevitable resumption of hostilities in the uncertain future, the Japanese began seriously outfitting more Manchukuoan squadrons.

In July 1940, Japan’s Air Defense Headquarters worked in conjunction with the Dai Manshu Teikoku Kugun’s 1st Air Unit at Xinjing. At first, only Japanese pilots and ground crews served in Air Defense, but Manchus underwent specialized flight training soon after. A flight school was established on August 30, 1940, in Fengtien to teach both military and civilian pilots. The following January, some 100 cadets, unused to strict discipline and incited by Communist agent provocateurs, murdered their instructors, then fled Manchukuo.

By 1941, the Dai Manshu Teikoku Kugun’s 1st Air Unit at Xinjing had 5 Japanese and 6 Manchurian officers, 14 NCOs of similarly mixed backgrounds, and about 90 pilots. They were joined by a 2nd Air Unit at Fengtien, a 3rd Air Unit Ordnance Depot of 15 Japanese and 30 Chinese officers from the National Government of China Air Force at Harbin, the Aircraft Arsenal Air Unit (supply), and the Tongliao Independent Air Unit Flying School, which increased the following year to three squadrons. In September and October 1942, the school was issued more than 20 training aircraft. These included the Tachikawa Ki-9, a two-place biplane rigged for blind-flying with a folding hood over the rear cockpit for the student. Powered by a 350-hp Hitachi Ha-13a radial engine, the Spruce, as it was known to the Americans, topped 149 mph, making the Ki-9 a respectable intermediate trainer. Staff officer transport versions featured a glazed canopy.

Another Tachikawa was fitted was a 510-hp Hitachi Ha-13, a nine-cylinder, radial engine, that gave the advanced biplane an outstanding maximum speed of 216 mph. Air Ministry officials were so impressed with its performance, the Ki-55 was occasionally fitted with a single, fixed forward-firing 7.7mm machine-gun to serve as a fighter the Allies called Ida.

The Tongliao Independent Air Unit Flying School was also sent several examples of the Mansyu Ki-79 for advanced training. More immediately significant, the Dai Manshu Teikoku Kugun received its first modern warplanes. These were the Nakajima Ki-27 and Kawasaki Ki-32, known in the West, respectively, as Nate and Mary. The former, as some indication of Japanese regard for the Manchukuo Air Force, was Japan’s premiere fighter at the time, and had been selected for production primarily for its outstanding handling characteristics, by virtue of which it rapidly assumed ascendancy over all other pursuit aircraft in Chinese skies.

K-27s were superior to their Red Air Force opponents at 1938s Battle of Khasan but roughly handled one year later during the Nomohan Incident by Polikarpov 1-16 Ratas able to outrun them by 12 mph. A weaker airframe additionally prevented the Nakajima from holding up under stress during high-speed maneuvers, allowing the faster, sturdier, if more unwieldy Soviet monoplane to escape in a dive the Japanese warplane could not follow. Moreover, the Ki-27 lacked pilot armor protection or self-sealing fuel tanks, and the 7.7-mm rounds spat by its twin Type 89 machine-guns were weak. Fortunately for the Japanese, Nate was replaced as their leading fighter by Mitsubishi’s more famous and altogether superior A6M Zero in time for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Dai Manchu Teikoku Kugun received fewer numbers of Kawasaki’s Ki-32. Vulnerable to flak and a sitting duck for enemy interceptors, the sluggish, low-wing monoplane with its non-retractable, drag-inducing landing gear, would have been butchered in any confrontation with the Red Air Force. Instead, an 850-hp Kawasaki Ha-9-llb liquid-cooled, V-12 engine enabled the tough, reliable light-bomber to deliver its 990pound payload over a 1,220-mile range, rendering Mary ideally suited for the antipartisan role to which she was assigned. In the hands of Manchurian pilots, her interdiction of distant enemy truck convoys and supply concentrations often came as an unpleasant surprise for both Communist and Nationalist opponents.

When Manchukuo came within range of USAAF heavy bombers, the Japanese 2nd Air Army assumed direction of the Dai Manshu Teikoku, augmenting it with the 104th Sentai (“Group”), plus the 25th and 81st Dokuritsu Chutai (“Squadron”). These units were equipped with the Kawasaki Ki-45, known appropriately as the Toryu, or “Dragon Slayer;” for the many American Superfortresses it claimed since four night-fighter sentais were established to defend the home islands in autumn 1944. One sentai alone scored 8 “kills” during their first engagement with B-29s, going on to destroy another 150.

Reorganization comprised the new Fangfu Air Corps of Manchu pilots manning 120 fighters, mostly Nakajima Ki-27s. With their service ceiling of 32,940 feet, they could not even approach incoming waves of B-29s operating 660 feet higher. More powerful 710-hp Ha-lb, nine cylinder, radial engines were installed to carry the Nates just above the Superfortresses’ operational altitude and boosted maximum speed to nearly 300 mph, but that was still 65 mph slower than the strategic bombers. Even if the old fighters were able to maneuver into firing position, their twin, 7.7-mm machine-guns were outmatched by-per B-29-10,12.7-mm Browning machine-guns firing from remotely controlled turrets.

Yet, odds against the defenders were not as hopeless as they appeared. The Superforts were unable to open their bomb bay doors above cruising speed at 220 mph, giving the Nates a temporary nearly 80-mph speed advantage. But the huge silvery enemy’s real Achilles’ heel was his oxidized aluminum skin, which was prone to fire in the worst way, consuming the entire aircraft, fore and aft. Japanese and Manchu pilots found that hits of even their puny, 7.7-mm rounds just about anywhere along the frame of a B-29 could sometimes set it entirely alight. But getting close enough to do so was made extremely hazardous by combined defensive fire thrown up by the Superfortresses, and many would-be interceptors paid with their lives before they could get within range of their own guns.

B-29s first struck Manchuria three years to the day of Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor. Their anniversary raid was not coincidental but deliberately timed to encourage the more than 1,600 American prisoners of war incarcerated near Mukden. The mission’s tactical objective was destruction of the city’s aircraft factories.

Of the original 108 Superforts that set out with the XX Bomber Command, no less than 17 were forced to drop out, due to unforeseen problems caused by extremely low temperatures. Inside and outside surfaces of canopies iced over, and the big warplanes struggled, not always successfully, to gain altitude in the thin air. These worsening conditions forced another 10 B-29s to haphazardly jettison their payloads over a railroad yard long before reaching Mukden, utterly missing this secondary target, before banking away for home base. When the remaining 80 Superfortresses arrived over the city, flight crews found it entirely obscured by a heavy smokescreen. Undeterred, they unloosed their combined 800 tons of bombs, which fell mostly within residential districts, killing about 1,000 civilians, injuring several thousand more. The primary targeted aircraft factories escaped unscathed.

USAAF commanders had anticipated no enemy interdiction, regarding the Manchukuoan Air Force as nothing more than a propaganda joke, while all Japanese fighters were believed to have been recalled to defend the home islands. But the Americans were to be deceived as much about opposition over Manchuria, as they had been concerning its climate conditions.

As they approached Mukden, Sergeant Shinobu Ikeda of the 25th Dokuritsu Chutai attacked one of the monstrous bombers from behind with his Kawasaki interceptor. Before he could draw a bead on the B-29, a stream of .50-inch caliber rounds found and shattered his canopy and set his right engine alight. Wounded in a damaged airplane on fire and spinning toward the ground, Ikeda eventually regained control of the Dragon Slayer, climbed back on one engine after the same target, and deliberately collided with its tail section. The Superfortress nosed over into a steep dive from which only one gunner parachuted to safety. Like the other 10 men aboard the big bomber, Ikeda perished in the collision.

Another Japanese pilot died when the B-29 he rammed with his Nakajima was consumed in a terrific explosion that fortuitously ejected a pair of surviving crew members uninjured into space. Two more Superforts fell under conventional attacks, one each shot down by Japanese and Manchurian pilots. Three B-29s, trailing debris and smoke, escaped the combat zone, but were so badly damaged they had to be written off. For the Superfortresses’ first raid against Manchukuo, they missed all their targets, losing 7 aircraft and 44 crew members for 1 Japanese and 2 Manchurians killed in action.

Fourteen days later, 40 of the survivors returned to inaccurately and ineffectually raid Mukden, veiled once more under its obscuring smokescreen. Eighty-eight tons of high explosive intended for the earlier targeted aircraft factory yet again fell wide of the mark. This time, a Manchurian Air Force pilot, 1st Lieutenant Sono-o Kasuga, crashed his Nakajima fighter into one of the Superfortresses, which exploded for the loss of its entire crew. Another B-29 was similarly destroyed by 2nd Lieutenant Tahei Matsumoto, a Japanese pilot serving with the Dai Manshu Teikoku Kugun.

To oppose both December raids on Mukden, the Japanese and Manchurians lost 7 pilots and planes against 12 American bombers destroyed with 121 men killed and captured. Instead of taking heart at the appearance of USAAF warplanes high overhead, Allied POWS had watched in horror, as one Superfortress after another tumbled out of the sky in flames. Pilots of the Dai Manshu Teikoku Kugun, together with their Japanese comrades in the 104th Sentai and the 25th and 81st Dokuritsu Chutai, achieved a real defensive victory, when, following the December 21 raid, XX Bomber Command terminated all further operations against Mukden as too costly for the negligible results achieved.

Thereafter, the war shifted away from Manchuria and virtual peacetime conditions prevailed there throughout most of 1945. By late summer, however, a buildup of Soviet forces along the Mongolian border made invasion from that quarter evident, and Manchukuo Air Force personnel underwent intensive training for ground-attacking armored vehicles. Between the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force and Dai Manshu Teikoku Kugun, they were able to muster 1,800 aircraft, mostly trainers and obsolete types fit only for self-destruct missions.

Just 50 Nakajima fighters were on hand, without, however, enough fuel to operate them all against the 5,368 Red Air Force warplanes they faced. Manchukuo’s Defense Force comprised 40,000 troops in 8 divisions, insufficiently supplied and poorly equipped. Supporting them were more than 600,000 men in the Imperial Japanese Kwantung Army, but they, too, were threadbare. Their armor consisted of 1,215 light tanks and armored cars, together with 6,700 mostly light field pieces, opposed by 5,556 Red Army heavy tanks and 28,000 artillery.

On the morning of August 9, one-and-a-half-million Russian and Mongolian troops inundated the Manchurian border. Impossibly outnumbered, both the Manchukuo Defense Force and Kwantung Army melted away. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, a revisionist historian at the University of California (Santa Barbara), has shown that this Red Army offensive, not the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prompted Japan’s capitulation.’ Japanese leaders knew that the Red Army juggernaut would not stop with the easy conquest of Manchukuo, but roll on into Japan itself.

Indeed, Stalin was ready to implement the invasion of Hokkaido long before U.S. commanders intended to put their forces ashore at Kyushu. Despite Emperor Hirohito’s broadcast surrender on August 15, the Soviets refused to halt their offensive, sweeping across northeastern China into Korea, coming to a halt at the 38th Parallel, where they met their American allies. It was also the place where the next war would erupt just five years later, in Korea.

Meanwhile, occupied Manchukuo was handed over to Mao Zedong, who, after a bloody purge of the country’s intellectual and propertyowning classes, used Manchuria as a headquarters for his ultimately victorious revolution.

The Twins of USAAF Bombing

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B-17 Flying Fortress

On 28 July 1935 the Model 299 flew for the first time: just over three weeks later it was flown non-stop to Wright Field, Ohio, to be handed over for official test and evaluation. The 2,100-mile (3 380-km) flight had been made at an average speed of 252 mph (406 km/h), a most impressive performance which augured well for the future. The elation of the Boeing company was understandable, especially with confirmation that initial trials were progressing well. On 30 October 1935 hopes were dashed with the news that the prototype had crashed on take-off. Subsequent investigation was to prove that the attempt to take-off had been made with the controls locked, and in view of the satisfactory testing prior to this accident, the USAAC decided on the procurement of 13 YB-17s (later Y1B-17s), plus one example for static testing.

The prototype (X13372) which had crashed at Wright Field was powered by four 750 hp (559 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1690-E Hornet radial engines. The cantilever monoplane wings were in a low-wing configuration, the wing section at the root so thick that it was equal to half the diameter of the circular-section fuselage; and wide-span trailing-edge flaps were provided to help reduce take-off and landing speeds. Landing gear was of the electrically retractable tailwheel type. Armament comprised five machine-guns, and a maximum bomb load of 4,800 lbs (2177 kg) could be carried in the fuselage bomb bay.

The initial Y1B-17 (36-149) flew for the first time on 2 December 1936, and differed from the prototype by having 930-hp (694-kW) Wright GR-1820-39 Cyclone radials, accommodation for a crew of nine, and minor changes in detail. Twelve were delivered between January and August 1937, equipping the USAAC’s 2nd Bombardment Group at Langley Field, Virginia. The thirteenth aircraft went to Wright Field for further tests and after one of the Y1B-17s survived without damage the turbulence of a violent storm, it was decided that the static test example would, instead, be completed as an operational aircraft. Designated Y1B-17A, this aircraft (37-369) was provided with 1,000 hp (746 kW) GR-1820-51 engines each fitted with a Moss/ General Electric turbocharger (supercharger powered by a turbine driven by exhaust gases). It flew for the first time on 29 April 1938, and subsequent testing by the USAAC gave convincing proof of the superiority of the turbocharged engine over those which were normally aspirated, and such engines were to become standard on all future versions of the Fortress.

The utilisation of the Y1B-17s, designated B-17 in service with the 2nd Bombardment Group, did little to improve relations between the US Army and US Navy. When three of the force were used to stage an ‘interception’ of the Italian liner Rex some 750 miles (1207 km) out in the Atlantic, to demonstrate that the USAAC was more than capable of defending the nation’s coastline, it sparked a row which dispersed the air power disciples from General Headquarters Air Force (GHQAF) to other commands, where they were remote from each other and potential influential supporters. Orders for additional B-17s had to be reduced after it had been underlined by Major General Stanley D. Embrick that … “the military superiority of a B-17 over the two or three smaller aircraft which could be procured with the same funds has yet to be established.” This helps explain why, despite the growing war clouds in Europe, the USAAC had less than 30 B-17s when Hitler’s forces invaded Poland on 1 September 1939.

The order for Y1B-17s was followed by a contract for 39 B-17Bs, more or less identical to the Y1B-17A prototype with turbocharged engines. The first of these flew on 27 June 1939, and all had been delivered by March 1940. In 1939 the B-17C was ordered, the first of the 38 on contract making its first flight on 21 July 1940. They differed by having 1,200 hp (895 kW) R-1820-65 engines, and by an increase from five to seven machine guns.

The B-17C was the first version of this bomber to be supplied to the RAF in Great Britain, which designated the 20 examples received in early 1941 as Fortress I. Equipping No. 90 Squadron, they were used operationally for the first time on 8 July 1941 when aircraft launched a high-altitude (30,000 ft / 9145 m) attack on Wilhelmshaven. In the 26 attacks made on German targets during the next two months the Fortress Is proved unsatisfactory, although there was American criticism of the way in which they had been deployed. Nonetheless, their use in daylight over German territory had proved that their operating altitude was an inadequate defence in itself, and so they needed more formidable defensive armament, for Messerschmitt Bf 109E and 109F fighters had little difficulty in intercepting them at heights of up to 32,000 ft (9750 m). Until improvements in the Fortress were made, or means found of deploying them more effectively, they were withdrawn from operations over Europe.

With the end of 1941 drawing near, the USA was soon to become involved in World War 11, initially in the Pacific theatre, but following the containment of the initial explosion of Japanese expansion it was decided that the Allies would first concentrate their efforts on bringing about a speedy conclusion of the war in Europe. Thus, large numbers of B-17s which otherwise would have found employment in the Far East were instead to equip the USAAF’s 5th Air Force in Britain. Those allocated to serve with the Anglo-American Northwest African Air Forces were later to become part of the US 15th Air Force.

In 1940 Boeing received an order for 42 B-17Ds. These differed little from the B-17C, but as a result of early reports of combat conditions in Europe were provided with self-sealing tanks and additional armour for protection of the crew, and these were delivered during 1941. The B-17E which followed was the first version to benefit from the RAF’s operational experience with its Fortress Is. A major redesign provided a much larger tail unit to improve stability at high altitude, and to overcome the criticism of inadequate defence 13 machine-guns were mounted in one manual and two power-operated turrets, radio compartment, waist stations and in the nose. Of the 512 of this version built under two contracts, the first flew on 5 September 1941. B-17Es were the first to serve with the 8th Air Force in Europe, with deliveries beginning in July 1942. They were used operationally for the first time by the 97th Bombardment Group, 12 aircraft being detailed for a daylight attack on Rouen on 17 August, with fighter escort provided by RAF Supermarine Spitfires.

The B-17F, of which the first flew on 30 May 1942, was the first version to be built in large numbers. Boeing produced 2,300 at Seattle, and further construction of 1,105 came from Douglas (605) and Lockheed Vega (500). Major changes included a redesigned nose, and strengthened landing gear to cater for a higher gross weight. Other changes included increased fuel capacity, the introduction of additional armour, provision of external bomb racks beneath the inner wings and, on late production aircraft, the introduction of R-1820-97 engines.

The B-17Es and B-17Fs became used extensively by the 8th Air Force in Europe, but in two major operations against German strategic targets, on 17 August and 14 October 1943, a total of 120 aircraft were lost. Clearly the Fortresses could not mount an adequate defence, no matter how cleverly devised was the box formation in which they flew. The hard truth was that without adequate long-range fighter escort they were very vulnerable to attack during mass daylight operations. Many of the losses were attributed to head-on attack, and the final major production version was planned to offset this shortcoming.

B-24 Liberator

During late 1938, the U.S. Army Air Corps saw a need for additional heavy bombardment aircraft and approached Consolidated Aircraft to supplement B-17 Flying Fortress production by Boeing, Douglas, and Vega. When Consolidated president Reuben Fleet was approached, he stated that his company could build a better airplane. Consolidated began design of its Model 32 in January 1939.

By coincidence, Reuben Fleet had been approached by David R. Davis in 1937 to discuss wing-design theory. Not an aerodynamicist, Fleet insisted on having his chief engineer, Isaac Machlin “Mac” Laddon, and aerodynamicist George S. Schairer listen to the proposal. Extensive testing of the design in Cal Tech’s Guggenheim wind tunnel proved Davis’s concept to be far better than expected. The result was a high aspect- ratio wing that offered excellent long-range cruise characteristics. This wing that was applied to the design of the Model 32, which became the B-24 Liberator.

The B-24 was powered by four Pratt and Whitney R-1820 engines. It had an 8,800-pound bombload, a service ceiling of 28,000 feet, a cruising speed of 215 mph, and a range of 2,100 miles. Manned by a crew of 10, the B-24H thru B-24J models mounted 10 .50-caliber machine guns for defensive armament.

The B-24 was a stablemate of the B-17 in the European theater during World War II; however, its vulnerability to battle damage and dissimilar performance compared to the B-17 led Brigadier General Curtis E. LeMay, then commander of the 3d Air Division, to remove the Liberators completely in favor of B-17s. The result was that the 1st and 3d ADs were equipped with B-17s and the 2d AD with only B-24s.

The first raid on the Ploesti oil fields was flown by 13 B-24s from the Halverson Provisional Group on the night of 11/12 June 1942, marking the first Allied heavy bombardment mission against Fortress Europe. On 1 August 1943, the famed Ploesti raid was flown under Operation TIDAL WAVE with a force of 177 B-24s from five bomb groups (three of which were loaned from the Eighth Air Force in Europe).

In the Mediterranean theater of operations, B-24s far outnumbered B-17s. Of the 21 heavy bombardment groups in the Mediterranean late in the war, 15 were equipped with B-24s. The airplanes performed well on the long-range missions deep into Germany and Austria. B-24s did far better in the Pacific theater. The missions were long, over water, with no mountainous obstacles as were encountered in the European and Mediterranean theaters, and enemy resistance was not as intense.

B-24s were also modified for specialized roles as Ferrets, photoreconnaissance platforms, fuel tankers, clandestine operations, and radio/radar jamming.

The B-24 was built in greater numbers than any other U.S. combat aircraft. A total of 19,257 B-24s,RAF Liberators, C-87 transports, and Navy PB4Y-2 Privateers were built at two Consolidated plants as well as Douglas (Tulsa), North American (Fort Worth), and Ford (Detroit). Ford produced 6,792 complete aircraft and another 1,893 knockdown kits that were shipped by road to other plants for assembly and completion.

There is no question that the Boeing B-17 had better press-and a better name- than the Consolidated B-24. “Flying Fortress” evoked a vision of impregnability, while “Liberator” was much more abstract. The B-17 was indeed more of a fortress than was the B-24, but their respective crews defended their aircraft with passion-and in the case of the B-24, with a dash of derring-do attitude.

The B-17 was the older design, conceived by Boeing in 1934, with the first 13 planes delivered to what was then the Army Air Corps in 1938. Consolidated Aircraft Corporation-the 1923 successor to the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company-birthed the B-24 in 1939 as the next generation heavy bomber to supplant the Boeing XB-15, Douglas XB-19 and B-17.

The Lib was faster: 215 mph cruising speed for the B-24J, for example, versus 182 for the B- 17C. The Lib’s gracefully tapered 100-foot Davis airfoil wing (compared to the B-17’s 103-foot-span barn door of a wing) made the difference. The Lib had a larger bomb bay and a somewhat longer range. So it flew faster, farther and carried more bombs than the B-17. I trained on both the B-24 and the B-17 at the aerial gunnery school in Tyndall, Fla. Like my classmates, I fervently hoped to be assigned to B-17s. They were reputedly able to withstand punishment that would down a Lib. That reputation was substantiated by battle damage photos of B- 17s riddled by flak and fighter fire that had still managed to return to base. Not many photos of similarly damaged but surviving B-24s showed up. The Libs didn’t have that big low-aspect-ratio wing to sustain lift after serious aerodynamic damage. Also, enemy fighter pilots had discovered that a concentrated burst into the cross-feed fuel tines between the B-24’s shoulder high wing roots could be fatal.

On the liberator’s plus side, its tricycle landing gear made taxiing, takeoff and landing easier than the B-17’s conventional tailwheel configuration. The B-24 pilot’s seat was more comfortable too, with its six-way adjustments. A peculiar B-17 drawback was its parking brake control, accessible only to the co-pilot.

With some minor variants, the two bombers had comparable armament: nose turrets (beginning on the B-17 with the G model’s chin turret), top and ball turrets and waist window guns. The tail armament differed: a fully revolving power turret in the B-24, a less mobile turret in the B-17. The B-24’s ball turret retracted fully into the fuselage until it was lowered for action. The B-17’s ball turret rode about three-fourths permanently extended. For a belly landing, the gunner was helped out of his position, after which the ball was jettisoned.

In the event of ditching, there was no contest. That low B-17 wing could serve as a temporary pontoon while the crew scrambled into life rafts. The B-24’s high wing put the fuselage underwater- often badly damaged. Crew members, if they escaped at all, had to swim out.

The B-24, with its big slab-sided fuselage, said one contemporary pilot, “looked like a truck, hauled big loads like a truck and flew like a truck.” As a B-24 passed overhead in plain view, though, it was apparent that the fuselage was narrower, and that long, tapered wing lent the Liberator a deceptive gracefulness. Though more than 19,000 B- 24s were built-more than any other American wartime aircraft-the older, slower but tougher Fortress got the press glory.

In the final analysis, there is no real way to determine if either the B-24 or the B-17 was truly superior. But, the record of the two types indicates that, of the two, the Liberator design was more versatile and considerably more advanced than that of the Flying Fortress. The combat records of both types contradict the assertions that aircrews flying B-17s were “safer” than those in B-24s. The argument as to which was the best can never be settled. As long as there are still two surviving heavy- bomber veterans, one from each type, the B-17 veteran will believe his airplane was best, while the B-24 vet will know better.

MR T A TERSON AND THE HOLE IN HIS GARDEN

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WWI RFC Vickers FB5 Gun Bus two seat pusher fighter. The classic WW1 counter to the ‘Fokker Scourge’

Christmas 1914 is famous as the one when enemy soldiers climbed out of their trenches for a game of football, but it should also be famous as the first time that an aircraft designed as a fighter went into action. It was on the home front, too.

After only a few months of war, everyone recognised the notion of fighter aircraft as a separate type, ideally single-seater, fast, nippy, that could outmanoeuvre slower, less nimble enemies and give them the deadly burst. Two years previously, the Admiralty commission to Vickers to come up with a fighting aircraft had not quite resulted in that ideal because, with no other choice that they could see, the designers had gone with a two-seater pusher format.

The FB5 is usually thought to have been the first British aeroplane purpose-made to carry a gun, but there are other candidates. Sopwith produced a Gun-Carrying Seaplane, also a pusher, which was delivered to the Naval Wing sometime in the summer of 1913 with a .303 machine gun in the front cockpit; but it was not highly regarded, and neither were the gunless versions. Avro designed a twin-engined seaplane gun-carrier that was not delivered. One example of the land-based derivative of the Sopwith, the 80mph Sopwith Type 806 Gunbus (first flight October 1914), was briefly in France with the RNAS in February 1915 but there is no record of any action.

That the Vickers FB5 was the result of the first fighter-aircraft commission cannot be doubted, as the others surely came along after the Admiralty started the idea, and the ultimate distinction of the first incident of a designated fighter aircraft flying at the enemy also belongs with the Vickers FB5.

It came about because the Germans decided to bomb mainland Britain. They chose 24 December 1914 for the first unfriendly bomb ever to be dropped on British soil, and not by a Zeppelin, as everyone expected, but by hand from an aeroplane.

British soil’ were the right words on that Christmas Eve morning. At about 11am, one German craft dropped (or threw, as they usually termed it) one bomb into the vegetable garden of Mr T A Terson of Dover, making a hole ten feet wide and four feet deep, breaking windows in several nearby houses and scattering Brussels sprouts and winter cabbages everywhere. A man up a tree in the garden next door was blown from it but landed softly in some bushes. A young chap, a solicitor’s son called Mowll, said he was 25 yards away talking to a friend when the bomb exploded, covering him and friend in earth.

The identity of the raider is open to some question. One source firmly suggests a navy float-plane, a Friedrichshafen FF29; civilian eye-witness accounts state equally firmly it was a Taube, looking ‘like a big seagull’. In any case, it dropped its load and flew away.

Next day, Christmas Day, another raider invaded Britain, again identified in one report as a Friedrichshafen FF29 but described from the ground as an Albatros. It was spotted near Sheerness but disappeared into the clouds and fog, to emerge between Purfleet and Erith, well up the Thames, beyond where the Dartford crossing now is, triggering anti-aircraft fire from pom-pom guns on roofs and the scrambling of three RFC aircraft. This was it; the first use of a fighter.

An aerial battle of sorts ensued, as the German crew fled with only their rifle and pistols to protect them, pursued by the home team, at least one of which, according to the papers, had ‘a quick-firing gun’.

That was the Vickers Gunbus, which had taken off from Joyce Green aerodrome at Dartford.

Whichever German aircraft it was, the FF29 or the Albatros, top speed was about the same at around 60mph (95kph). The FB5 Gunbus was a little faster and it caught the German up, got near enough to fire, but fame and glory were denied. The gun jammed.

More British machines were reported as gaining on the German as it flew down the Thames, on the way dropping two bombs on Cliffe, a village on the Hoo peninsula overlooking the Thames marshes. This lightened the load but, if it was a last-minute attempt on a useful target such as the cement works there, it missed.

By the time the quarry and the hunters were past Southend, the mist and cloud had intervened and the excitement was over.

The first Vickers FB5 in France was delivered to No. 2 Squadron of the RFC in February 1915. The Gunbus was better than anything the Germans had but there were only a few, fifty or sixty arrived during the whole year, so you could not say that the Entente exactly had air supremacy, even in the short few months before the Germans’ secret weapon suddenly appeared. After that, for another short time, the Gunbus remained the best the Entente had, if not good enough.

Fighter ace Major Fred Powell of 5 Squadron, or, more accurately, his observer Air Mechanic Shaw, presumably co-opted for the ride, shot down and destroyed one German aircraft confirmed in the FB5 and one more driven down. He had six more victories unconfirmed before he moved on to the Royal Aircraft Factory FE8 (90mph single-seater) to finish with six definites and nine possibles. Big scores were not made in Farman-style pushers.

Meanwhile, the RFC had got around to forming the first squadron officially designated for fighting, but No. 11 Squadron didn’t arrive in France, at St Omer, until July 1915. It was not just the first fighter squadron; it was the first RFC squadron to be fully equipped from the start with aircraft all of one type, the FB5 Gunbus, which was still a fearsome opponent for those Germans flying the 60mph Albatros B1 and B2, the similarly slow Aviatik B1, Taube, LVG B1 and the later C models of Albatros and Aviatik.

It was an FB5 that carried Lieutenant Gilbert Insall to a Victoria Cross and a victory over an Aviatik biplane, probably a B2.

From The London Gazette, December 22 1915, this is Insall’s citation:

For most conspicuous bravery, skill and determination, on 7 November 1915, in France. He was patrolling in a Vickers Fighting Machine, with First Class Air Mechanic T. H. Donald as gunner, when a German machine was sighted, pursued, and attacked near Achiet.

The German pilot led the Vickers machine over a rocket battery, but with great skill Lieutenant Insall dived and got to close range, when Donald fired a drum of cartridges into the German machine, stopping its engine. The German pilot then dived through a cloud, followed by Lieutenant Insall. Fire was again opened, and the German machine was brought down heavily in a ploughed field 4 miles south-east of Arras.

On seeing the Germans scramble out of their machine and prepare to fire, Lieutenant Insall dived to 500 feet, thus enabling Donald to open heavy fire on them. The Germans then fled, one helping the other, who was apparently wounded. Other Germans then commenced heavy fire, but in spite of this, Lieutenant Insall turned again, and an incendiary bomb was dropped on the German machine, which was last seen wreathed in smoke. Lieutenant Insall then headed west in order to get back over the German trenches, but as he was at only 2,000 feet altitude he dived across them for greater speed, Donald firing into the trenches as he passed over.

The German fire, however, damaged the petrol tank, and, with great coolness, Lieutenant Insall landed under cover of a wood 500 yards inside our lines. The Germans fired some 150 shells at our machine on the ground, but without causing material damage. Much damage had, however, been caused by rifle fire, but during the night it was repaired behind screened lights, and at dawn Lieutenant Insall flew his machine home with First Class Air Mechanic T. H. Donald as a passenger.

Donald was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the other-ranks equivalent of the DSO, some recognition of his own coolness while repairing, at night, under shell fire, the machine his pilot had flown much too close to the trenches and, we must assume, during the decidedly hairy take-off next morning.

Before he could tot up enough victims to be classed as an ace, Insall was shot down again, wounded, taken prisoner, escaped at the third attempt, and served as a Group Captain in the Second World War.

Griffon at Sea – Seafire F.45/46/47 Part I

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The Seafire F.45 was the Fleet Air Arm equivalent of the Spitfire F.21 and was powered by a Griffon 61 driving a five-blade Rotol propeller. As the wings had not been modified in any way from those of the RAF machine, this variant did not feature wing folding. Armament comprised four 20 mm Hispano cannon, the first Seafire to be so equipped.

Admiralty interest in a navalised version of the Spitfire F.21 resulted in the issue of Specification N.7/44, the end product of which was regarded very much as an interim type, pending development of a more advanced variant with laminar flow wing (this was a proposed version of the Spitfire 23 which was subsequently abandoned). The prototype Seafire F.45 was a converted Spitfire 21 (TM379), the main modifications comprising the fitting of a sting-type arrester hook, which increased overall length to 33 ft 4 in, and the incorporation of a guard for the tailwheel. Due to its non-folding wings and the strong swing on take off as a result of the extra power of the Griffon 61, the Seafire 45 tended to be flown from shore based establishments only, although a number were fitted with a Griffon 85 and six-bladed contra-rotating propeller which eliminated the swing on take off due to engine torque.

The handling section in Pilot’s Notes for the Seafire 45 fitted with a Griffon 61 warned that the aircraft was likely to be nose-heavy during taxying, extreme care having to be taken when applying the brakes to avoid nosing over. Concentration was also required on take off as the use of high power levels not only caused a pronounced swing to the right, but the aircraft was also likely to crab in the initial stages of the take off run and tyre wear when operating from runways could be severe. A boost setting of +7 lbs/sq.in was found to be quite adequate for take off, with full power being selected when safely airborne. After take off the wheels could be braked and the undercarriage retracted, however, any failure of the gear to retract was likely to lead to excessive engine temperatures as the airflow to the underwing radiators and oil cooler was likely to be interrupted.

Once in the air and in the climb the recommended speed was 150 kts IAS up to 25,000 ft, reducing speed by 3 knots for every 1,000 ft gained thereafter. Normally during a combat climb the supercharger would change into high gear automatically at around 11,000 ft, however, the maximum rate of climb could be obtained manually by delaying the changeover until boost had dropped to +6¼ lbs/sq.in. Some deterioration in longitudinal stability was noted when climbing at low airspeeds, otherwise stability about all axes was satisfactory. Control forces throughout the speed range were generally light, movements in pitch and yaw being assisted by elevator and rudder trimmers which were very effective in operation. This sensitivity could be a problem during high speed dives as any sudden application of rudder or its associated trimmer was likely to cause the aircraft to skid violently. When diving, the aircraft also tended to become increasingly tail heavy as speed was increased and it was recommended that it should be trimmed into the dive. The elevator trimmer could be used to assist recovery but this had to be handled with care as it was very effective and there was a distinct possibility that excessive accelerations could result.

Stalling speed at a typical service load with engine off and flaps and undercarriage up was 80 kts IAS (85 kts IAS when fully loaded) and 72 kts IAS (76 kts IAS fully loaded) with flaps and undercarriage down. The stall was preceded by airframe buffet which became noticeable 5–10 knots before the stall with aileron snatch in the latter stages. At the stall either wing was liable to go down followed by the nose, but recovery was immediate if the back pressure on the control column was relaxed. Intentional spinning was prohibited but the aircraft usually responded to normal recovery action. All normal aerobatic manoeuvres could be performed except flick rolls and sustained inverted flying. The recommended entry speed for a loop was 320–340 kts IAS and upward rolls could be carried out from an initial speed of 360–400 kts IAS.

When approaching to land the recommended speed with engine on and flaps down was 85 kts IAS increasing to 90 kts IAS with flaps up. With the engine off 10–15 kts IAS had to be added. If the aircraft was at light weight with ammunition expended and minimal fuel, 5 knots could be reduced from the above speeds. For deck landing the recommended final approach speed was 75 kts IAS, a considerably improved view of the deck being obtained if a curved approach was made. During the approach the aircraft was subject to a number of trim changes as its configuration was changed. When the undercarriage was lowered a nose down trim change occurred, the opposite occurring when the flaps were lowered. A nose up trim change also occurred when the radiator shutters were opened. Landing was straightforward, the only possible problem occurring when a missed approach resulted in a go around situation. It was important not to select full power when close to the stall due to a strong tendency to roll and turn to the right. At low airspeeds even full opposite aileron and rudder would be insufficient to counteract this effect and control could well be lost.

Development of the later Spitfires to incorporate a Griffon 87 engine with contra-rotating propellers was potentially of more importance in a naval environment, the close confines of an aircraft carrier leaving little room for error. The absence of torque effects with such an installation was a clear benefit and trials soon commenced at A&AEE to assess the aircraft’s suitability for deck operations. Having already been tested with a Griffon 61 and a five-blade propeller, the prototype Seafire F.45 TM379 was returned to Boscombe Down in June 1945 with a Griffon 87 and a six-blade Rotol contra-prop. Certain aspects of its control surfaces were non-standard and the fabric-covered elevator was not modified to current Spitfire F.21 standards in that the alteration to the horn balance and the trimmer tab gearing had not been made. The fabric-covered rudder had a revised trimmer tab which was split into two parts and splayed 1.6 in at the trailing edge, this also being thickened to about 0.25 in. Above and below the trimmer tab there were fixed split tabs. The ailerons and balance tabs were metal-covered and were fitted with piano-type hinges on the bottom surface.

During the trial TM379 was loaded to a typical service take off weight of 9,385 lbs. Ground handling tests showed that the aircraft could be held against the chocks without the tail lifting up to an engine boost pressure of +1 lb/sq.in. Compared with the single rotating propeller with which the aircraft was fitted on its last visit, there was no tendency to swing or for one wheel to lift during the take off run. There appeared to be improved thrust in the early stages of the run, but otherwise the take off characteristics were normal for the type. To evaluate the stall, the aircraft was trimmed in the glide at 80 mph IAS with flaps and undercarriage down, the speed then being gradually reduced. At speeds below 80 mph IAS a vibration of small magnitude was noticed which had not been apparent when the aircraft had been tested previously. This was not considered serious, however, and the stall occurred at 66 mph IAS, with a normal recovery.

The contra-prop installation on TM379 came into its own on the approach to land and during a baulked landing. Directional changes of trim with speed and power, and the pitching associated with yaw, were very small, which was in marked contrast to the findings of the test when the aircraft was fitted with a normal five-bladed propeller. The rudder appeared to be a little heavier, but this was considered to be an improvement. Some difficulty was experienced in keeping the approach speed down and it was felt that more drag would be advantangeous when in the landing configuration. Baulked landings in particular showed a significant improvement as large power changes merely led to a small directional trim change which was easily controlled by the pilot. As the fitting of contra-rotating propellers had consideraby improved the aircraft’s handling characteristics, especially during take off and landing, A&AEE were able to approve the installation for carrier operation without any restriction. Spinning trials were carried out in September 1945 using TM383, its behaviour being typical of other Spitfire/Seafire aircraft with normal recovery characteristics.

Towards the end of 1945 a more comprehensive handling trial was carried out at Boscombe Down using Seafire F.45 LA446 so that clearance could be given for the service to conduct intensive flying trials. This aircraft was also fitted with a six-blade contra-rotating propeller (Griffon 85) but at the time of test it was limited by the manufacturers to a maximum speed of 403 mph IAS (350 knots) due to concern about directional instability at higher speeds. The results of qualitative testing showed the aircraft to be pleasant and easy to fly and without any serious fault up to the limiting speed.

Although the advantages of the contra-prop installation were mainly apparent when in the air, it was also noted that ground handling was very much better than the Seafire F.45 fitted with the normal five-bladed propeller. As the rudder was more effective, the brakes did not have to be used as much which made taxying much easier. With the throttle open, the rudder centred rapidly when freed. The tendency for the tail to lift on opening the throttle was no different from previous Seafire F.45s. For take off, the rudder and elevator trimmers could be set to neutral and the whole process was extremely simple as there was no swing and the rudder could be held fixed in the central position.

The aircraft was then climbed at 170 mph IAS with 2,600 rpm and +9 lbs/sq.in boost, the elevator trimmer being set to 1½ divisions nose up, with the rudder trimmer an eighth of a turn forward of neutral. When the speed was displaced by +/-10 mph and the control column released, a slow damped oscillation of small amplitude was set up. Rudder centring from small displacements was good, but there was a slight tendency to overbalance at larger displacements when the aircraft was kept laterally level by applying opposite aileron. From full starboard displacement the rudder centred slowly on release, but from full port displacement there was little or no tendency to centralise.

At a fast cruise speed of 270 mph IAS at 25,000 ft with the engine set to 2,400 rpm and +7 lbs/sq.in boost, the trimmer settings were–rudder neutral and elevator ½ division nose up. In this condition static longitudinal stability (stick free) was positive, a speed displacement of +/-10 mph requiring the application of a moderate push or pull force on the control column. On release of the stick after such a displacement the aircraft returned slowly to its trimmed speed, never taking more than two cycles to return. When the rudder was freed after displacement and the wings were held level by ailerons, a fast oscillation ensued which damped out in about six cycles. All the controls were moderately light and responsive inducing powerful roll, but no pitch with yaw. Use of rudder gave accurate turns in both directions with the ailerons held fixed, but turns made with ailerons only resulted in slight slipping in.

From the pilot’s viewpoint the ailerons appeared to float up about a quarter of an inch at the trailing edge in level flight. Rate of roll was extremely high and the ailerons were described as being very light and crisp. On previous tests with the Seafire F.45 pilots had criticised excessively high static friction in the aileron circuits. Although this was considerably reduced on LA446 it was still higher than the recommended value and the ailerons did not centre when displaced and freed. At 35,000 ft, with the engine operating at 2,400 rpm and +2 lbs/sq.in boost, the longitudinal stability was satisfactory and directional stability appeared to be substantially the same as at 25,000 ft.

The aircraft was also dived up to the limiting speed of 403 mph IAS with trim and engine controls set as for fast cruise. There was no change of directional trim of any note, but a push force of around 20 lb was required on the control column. The controls were fairly light and positive, the rudder centring rapidly after being freed following a displacement. At no point did any unpleasant characteristics become apparent and on release of the stick the maximum reading measured on the accelerometer was 3g. A slight swing to starboard was noticed when the throttle was closed at the maximum speed attained, but this was easily counteracted by a very small rudder movement.

At the opposite end of the speed range, with power off and the elevator trimmer wheel fully back (flaps and undercarriage up), the aircraft was put into a glide with the control column free at 106 mph IAS. When displaced +/-10 mph from the trimmed speed, the aircraft returned to this speed with a slow damped oscillation on release of the control column. Directionally the contra-prop F.45 appeared to be no different from normal Griffon-Seafires but when the control column was displaced laterally and released, a lateral oscillation commenced, together with oscillation of the ailerons, which showed no sign of damping out. In circumstances when the control column was held, rather than released, these oscillations were not present. Neither were they present during power off glides at 92 mph IAS with the flaps and undercarriage down. Pilots also reported that longitudinal stability was slightly better in this configuration.

Stalls were carried out which showed that at a take off weight of 9,510 lbs and with a typical service CG loading, LA446 stalled at 88 mph IAS with flaps and undercarriage up and 78 mph IAS with flaps and undercarriage down. The characteristics at the stall were virtually identical to a standard Seafire F.45. To simulate a baulked landing, the aircraft was put into a glide with power off, flaps and undercarriage down, radiator flaps closed, elevator trimmer fully back and the rudder trimmer neutral. The engine was then opened up to full power and a climb was made at 140 mph IAS. No directional change of trim was encountered and the longitudinal change was counteracted by a push force on the control column estimated at 25 lb.

Landings with power off were straightforward. When landing from a powered approach pilots found that this was much easier to perform as any amount of power could be added to adjust the rate of descent without incurring strong changes in directional trim. In view of this it was considered that the contra-prop Seafire F.45 had vastly improved deck landing characteristics, although it still suffered from a poor forward view and a tendency to float. In certain conditions of visibility dark segments were visible in the propeller disc at low engine speeds but this did not worsen the forward view to any extent.

Although it did much to develop the engine/propeller combination of the ultimate Seafire, the F.47, the only F.45’s to serve with the Fleet Air Arm were fitted with a Griffon 61 and five-bladed propeller. Only fifty were produced at the Vickers-Armstrong factory at Castle Bromwich, some of these aircraft seeing service with Nos. 771 and 778 Squadrons at Ford from October 1946. The penultimate Seafire was the F.46 which was of low-back configuration (unlike the F.45) and was essentially similar to the Spitfire F.22. Early aircraft tended to have the original empennage, whereas later machines had the Spiteful-type tail. Most examples of this variant were powered by a Griffon 61 with a five-blade propeller, although a few were fitted with a Griffon 87 and contra-props. Production was once again centred on Castle Bromwich but only twenty-four were to be produced, a few being designated FR.46 following the installation of an F.24 oblique camera. The Seafire F.46 entered service in early 1947 with No.781 Squadron at Lee-on-Solent and the variant also flew with No.1832 Squadron at Culham until retired in 1952.

The last of the Spitfire/Seafire line was the Seafire F.47, the first of which (PS944) was taken into the air for its maiden flight on 25 April 1946. As much of the development work had already been carried out on the contra-prop versions of the Seafire F.45 and F.46, there was no prototype as such and PS944 was followed by another thirteen aircraft in the same serial batch (PS945–PS957). Subsequent batches were VP427–VP465, VP471–VP495 and VR961–VR971. The aircraft in the PS batch were powered by a Griffon 87 but those machines that followed were fitted with a Griffon 88 which had a Rolls-Royce developed fuel injection and transfer pump instead of the Bendix-Stromberg induction-injection carburettor used on previous versions of the Griffon engine. Although this had the effect of adding 70 lbs to all-up weight, a significant advantage was gained in that power was maintained under all conditions of ‘g’. Wing folding was incorporated in the Seafire F.47, consisting of a single break point outboard of the cannon installation.

In December 1946 a deck landing assessment was carried out at Boscombe Down using PS944, the main aim of which was to determine the rate of descent and touchdown speed. Apart from the provision of wing folding, the Seafire F.47 differed from the F.46 seen previously in that it had a redesigned air intake in an elongated duct under the nose, long stroke, anti-rebound oleo struts and flaps of increased chord. All the control surfaces and trimmers were metal-covered. Each aileron had a balance tab and a trimmer tab was fitted to the port and starboard sides of the elevator. The rudder was fitted with a combined trimmer and anti-balance tab. The latter was approximately 18 in long and was split about 7 in from the lower end, the upper part being displaced 15.25 degrees from the lower part of the tab. A 6½ lb inertia weight was fitted in the elevator control circuit which exerted a moment of +66 lb/ins about the elevator hinge with the elevator neutral and fuselage datum horizontal.

In a series of simulated deck landings on a runway, made with and without the aid of a batsman, it was considered that the best approach speed was 81 mph IAS (70 knots). The engine conditions for an approach at this speed were -4½ lbs/sq.in with the propeller set to fully fine, these resulting in a steady rate of descent of around 600 ft/min. On closing the throttle just prior to touchdown (normally on the batsman’s signal) the aircraft sank in a three-point attitude. During testing of the Seafire F.46 a certain amount of nose drop had been apparent when the throttle was closed but this was not experienced with the F.47. In the case of a misjudged, engine off approach, if power had to be fed in to avoid an undershoot developing, a slight nose-down trim change occurred requiring a light pull force. Directional and lateral changes of trim were negligible.

In the case of a baulked landing the engine could be opened up to 2,600 rpm and +9 lbs/sq.in boost with little difficulty following an approach at the above speed. On retracting the undercarriage there was a very slight nose-up change of trim requiring a push force of 1–2 lbs to hold, however, the trim change when raising the flaps at 115 mph IAS was in the opposite sense and needed a pull force of 7–10 lbs to maintain the aircraft’s correct climbing attitude. This nose-down change of trim was most marked when the flaps were moving from the ‘take off’ to the ‘up’ position, the trim change when they were being raised from ‘landing’ to ‘take off’ being small and easily held. It was discovered, however, that a climb out with the flaps in the ‘take off’ position held no problems so that if another circuit had to be made after being given the ‘wave off’, the flaps need not be fully retracted.

Other approach speeds were attempted for a comparative assessment. At a speed of 86 mph IAS (75 knots) the aircraft tended to touch down slightly main wheels first, but with the long stroke oleo undercarriage there was little or no bounce. At 75 mph IAS (65 knots) the approach was rather uncomfortable due to aileron twitching and buffeting as the aircraft was getting close to the stall. At this speed a relatively large amount of power had to be maintained to prevent an excessively large rate of descent.

Rates of descent and (true) touchdown speeds were measured during a series of simulated deck landings controlled by a batsman, the engine being cut on his signal when the aircraft was very near to the ground. From an approach speed of 81 mph IAS the rates of descent on touchdown varied somewhat up to a maximum of 7.2 ft/sec. The average true touchdown speed was 93½ mph thus giving a correction to indicated values of 12½ mph. An investigation was also made on the effect of engine power on the rate of descent by measuring height against time at various boost pressures (flaps and undercarriage down). The results obtained varied from a rate of descent of 8½ ft/sec at -4 lbs/sq.in boost to 29 ft/sec with the engine off.

The recommended approach speed of 81 mph IAS for Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landings (ADDLs) on the Seafire F.47 compared favourably with that of 86–92 mph IAS for the Seafire F.46 and was most likely due to the increase in flap area on the F.47. The latter was also easier to land in a three-point attitude due to the fact that the nose did not drop when the throttle was closed. One aspect of the Seafire F.47’s landing performance that became apparent after the Boscombe Down trial was that although 81 mph IAS was a satisfactory approach speed during ADDLs, for actual deck landings on an aircraft carrier it was best to increase approach speed to 92 mph IAS (80 knots). The reason for this was subject to some conjecture, but Service Trial Unit pilots were adamant that the higher figure produced a more controllable touchdown during actual deck landings.

Griffon at Sea – Seafire F.45/46/47 Part II

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Following its deck landing assessment PS944 was retained by A&AEE for further handling trials which showed that attitudes were beginning to change within the testing establishments. The aircraft was evaluated at a loaded weight of 10,394 lbs and was subject to limiting speeds based upon a Mach number of 0.77. At the beginning of the trial, however, the limit was at the higher figure of 0.85M, but continuing tests using a Spitfire F.22 highlighted a violent and rapid pitching or ‘porpoising’ at a true Mach number of 0.77 (0.82 indicated) and so this lower figure was imposed. At 25–30,000 ft 0.77M represented an indicated airspeed of 345 mph (300 knots) rising to 520 mph (450 knots) at 5–10,000 ft. The reason for the test was to obtain sufficient knowledge of handling characteristics to decide whether the aircraft could be cleared for service use in what was now a post-war environment. The Seafire F.47 was put through a variety of manoeuvres including stalls, dives, baulked landings and a full range of aerobatic manoeuvres including loops, half rolls off the top of loops, rolls and climbing rolls.

Ground handling was straightforward and the aircraft was easily controlled in cross winds of up to 10 knots. The brakes were effective and the engine could be opened up to 2,800 rpm with +8 lbs/sq.in boost without them slipping. This power setting was also the maximum in which the aircraft could be run up against the chocks without the tail lifting. Turns on the ground could be made in calm air without brakes by application of rudder and bursts of power up to zero boost. Take off was easily accomplished using a power setting of 2,750 rpm and +12 lbs/sq.in boost and the rate of climb was good. It was during the climb, however, that the first criticism of the aircraft was made which showed that handling characteristics that had been deemed acceptable during the war would be coming in for much tighter scrutiny in the future.

When trimmed into the climb at 180 mph IAS (156 knots) the aircraft showed neutral longitudinal stability (stick free) and if disturbed it tended to diverge either to a dive or a stall. At the higher speed of 200 mph IAS (174 knots) the stability became positive but the post-war requirements were for an aircraft to have positive stability at all speeds. In all other conditions of flight the Seafire F.47 had excellent longitudinal stability, particularly on the glide with the flaps and undercarriage down. Certain aspects of the aircraft’s directional stability were also remarked upon. Generally the degree of directional stability was good and when the rudder was displaced and then released in any trimmed condition of flight the aircraft quickly returned to straight flight. However, during flat turns that introduced sideslip, the rudder tended to overbalance so that the rudder control force did not increase progressively as the angle of sideslip was increased up to the maximum obtainable. Again this was outside the current requirements and was considered to be unsatisfactory.

Dives were carried out in both ‘out of trim’ and ‘in trim’ conditions. With the aircraft trimmed to fly level at 300 mph IAS (260 knots) with climbing power at 12,000 ft, the speed was increased in a dive to 525 mph IAS (455 knots) at 5,000 ft when a push force of 30 lb on the stick and a left foot force of 15 lb on the rudder pedal was required to maintain the dive and keep the aircraft straight. On release of the stick in this dive the aircraft recovered with an accelerometer reading of 4.1g. The aircraft was also dived in trim from 20,000 ft to 7,000 ft up to 525 mph IAS. The foot force needed on the rudder pedal to generate 5 degrees of sideslip as measured on the directional gyro was measured at 50 lb and a pull force on the stick of 45 lb was needed to recover from the dive with an accelerometer reading of 4g. Stick force per ‘g’ at 20,000 ft was 2½ lbs/g at a speed of 325 mph IAS (282 knots), rising to 15 lbs/g at 430 mph IAS (374 knots). These figures were also not in accordance with the recommended values, being outside the upper and lower limits as laid down in the requirements of the time. As the Seafire F.47 was likely to be a first-line fighter for some time to come and would probably be flown by relatively inexperienced pilots in the event of a national emergency, A&AEE felt that it should be made to comply fully with the requirements, particularly with regard to its deficiencies in relation to longitudinal stability and the inconsistent forces that were encountered during use of the rudder.

The problems that the later versions of the Spitfire/Seafire had encountered during testing at high Mach numbers caused considerable concern at A&AEE and the rapid imposition of a flight restriction limiting high speed flight to a True Mach Number (TMN) of 0.77. High speed dives in a Spitfire F.22 had resulted in an extremely uncomfortable pitching motion setting in at 0.77 TMN (0.82 IMN or 420–430 mph IAS at 20,000 ft). Supermarine produced a modification (Seafire mod 971) to increase the critical Mach number and this took the form of 9 in of angle strip which were mounted above and below the trailing edge of each side of the elevator. The total depth of the angle was about 0.75 in. PS944 was tested at Boscombe Down without modification to ascertain the limiting Mach number and it was then sent to the manufacturers to have the strips fitted.

In its pre-modification state, PS944 showed a slight fore-and-aft oscillation at a TMN of 0.78-0.79 (0.83-0.83 IMN), however, this became violent with just a slight increase of speed, the top of the control column then moving 3–4 in forwards and backwards. After returning from Supermarine PS944 was tested with the angle strips in place at a normal service take off load, with full internal fuel tanks and wing combat tanks. The rear fuselage tank was used in the climb so that at the commencement of the dive, CG was approximately 7.5 in aft of datum (this represented the forward CG limit of the Seafire F.47). During the dive an auto observer recorded height and airspeed.

In the second set of dives with the modified elevators the aircraft behaved normally up to a TMN of 0.82 at 25,000 ft (0.87 IMN), the only trim change being a slight nose-down tendency which was easily trimmed out. With a slight increase in Mach number the ailerons snatched sharply and the aircraft started to roll to port. This was restrained by the ailerons which were effective, but without any appreciable increase in Mach number the aircraft started a pitching motion that rapidly became violent. A brief handling check was made to ascertain the modified aircraft’s handling at 5,000 ft with a full service load and the CG at 9.4 in aft of datum (the aftmost acceptable CG for the type). A qualitative assessment at moderate Mach numbers and at low speed showed the aircraft to have handling that was virtually unchanged from the unmodified case with no loss of stability. As the modification raised the maximum Mach number without any apparent deterioration in general handling characteristics, A&AEE recommended that mod 971 be applied retrospectively to all Seafire F.47 aircraft and that for modified aircraft the limiting speeds should be raised and based on a true Mach number of 0.81.

Following the criticism of the Seafire F.47 as regards a) its neutral longitudinal stability at the best climb speed, b) the variable foot loads experienced during sideslips and c) unacceptable stick force per ‘g’, Supermarine attempted to improve the situation by fitting a larger inertia weight of 15½ lbs to the elevator circuit of PS952. This produced a moment of +143 lb/ins about the elevator hinge (the corresponding figures for the standard weight were 6½ lbs and +66 lb/ins). In addition a spring tab was fitted to the starboard side of the elevator immediately outboard of the trimmer tab. These two modifications were intended to improve items (a) and (c) above, however, despite attempts to remedy item (b), it was eventually decided that the only way this aspect of directional control could be improved was for the fin to be re-modelled to include a dorsal fillet. As this would have required extensive modification work, the Seafire F.47’s inadequacy as regards rudder control had to be accepted, albeit reluctantly. PS952 was delivered to Boscombe Down in September 1948 but unfortunately it had not been tested prior to modification to compare it with PS944. Because of this the results of the subsequent trial were somewhat speculative in certain areas as it was quite possible that PS952 in its unmodified state was slightly less stable than PS944 had been [throughout its service life, the Seafire F.47 was inevitably made to carry more weight which tended to reduce longitudinal stability].

The outcome of the trial was extremely disappointing as the larger inertia weight and modified elevator gave no appreciable improvement in longitudinal stability on the climb at the best climbing speed compared with PS944, indeed there appeared to be some deterioration in longitudinal handling in various other respects. Even when using fuel from the rear tank first (as was normal practice) no improvement was apparent and the aircraft was difficult to trim acurately during climbs at any altitude. There was some improvement, however, in the stick force per ‘g’ characteristics, but at high altitudes and at aft CG, stick force per ‘g’ was still too low at low speeds and too high at high speeds. The eventual conclusion from the trial was that the advantages of the modifications, such as they were, did not warrant action being taken, particularly since production of the type was drawing to a close. [In view of the recent modification to the elevators to improve the Seafire F.47’s limiting Mach number, several dives were carried out in PS952 to evaluate its handling at high IMN. Despite the fact that mod 971 had been incorporated on the aircraft, the porpoising started at only 0.82 IMN (0.78 TMN) or slightly earlier than on PS944 before it was modified].

One A&AEE trial that did proceed more or less to plan was an investigation into the spinning characteristics of the Seafire F.47 at take off weights up to 10,885 lbs. In this condition wing combat tanks were carried (during tests at two lower weights they were not) and fuel in the rear tanks was used up during the climb to height to maintain CG as far as possible at 9.4 in aft of datum. As the trial took place in February 1948, mod 971 had been incorporated in the trials aircraft (PS944). In each spin the aircraft was allowed to make two complete turns (this was visually assessed by the pilot) before standard recovery action was taken consisting of the application of full opposite rudder, a pause, and then forward stick.

In general, the Seafire F.47 was reluctant to enter a spin, full pro-spin controls being required both before and during the spin, indeed pilots gained the impression that even a relaxation of the controls would have been sufficient encouragement for the aircraft to begin its recovery. There was no tendency for the aircraft to depart into a spin in the other direction after recovery and when it was flick rolled into a spin from a stalled turn entry there was no sign at any stage of an inverted spin being the result. Once the Seafire F.47 had settled down into the spin, the rate of rotation was fast with a steep nose-down attitude, although the longitudinal pitching that had been apparent on previous Seafire variants was still present. There was also a certain amount of lateral wallowing and both of these characteristics were accentuated with altitude. Spins to the right and left were similar, except that the aircraft was prone to dropping its port wing at the stall entry which meant that a spin to the left was entered rather more readily than one to the right.

With the wing combat tanks fitted two spins were made in each direction from 30,000 ft following straight stalls (engine off) and from stalls off turns. The entries into the turns were made at approximately 208 mph IAS (180 knots) and the stick was eased back until the aircraft stalled, the throttle then being closed. Entry to the spin was by a flick roll which was followed by a steep fast spin with considerable longitudinal pitching and lateral wallowing, with buffet being felt from the tail surfaces. From the straight stall the entry was slow and flat but after about half a turn the spin got faster and steeper, again with pitching and wallowing. The amount of height lost from the commencement of the spin to the achievement of full recovery was of the order of 6,000 ft [recovery from spins at reduced take off weight from 15,000 ft was in the order of 3–4,000 ft].

Towards the end of its development life the later Spitfire/Seafire variants carried significantly more fuel than the early aircraft and the Seafire F.47 was no exception. The main internal fuel tanks mounted forward of the cockpit held a total of 85 gallons which were supplemented by a rear fuselage tank of 33 gallons and two leading edge tanks with a combined total of 36 gallons. In addition, two underwing combat tanks could be carried, each holding 22½ gallons, and the aircraft was also capable of accommodating a 90-gallon overload tank on the fuselage centreline. Total fuel capacity was thus 289 gallons, sufficient for a range of around 1,000 miles. With full fuel and a full warload the Seafire F.47 weighed a prodigious 12,450 lbs, although it was capable of even more than this as it was cleared for gentle flying when overloaded to 12,900 lbs. At the latter weight wing loading was 52.95 lbs/sq.ft which compared with a wing loading of only 24.5 lbs/sq.ft on Spitfire I K9793 which had been the subject of trials at Boscombe Down in 1939. With such significant weight growth it was necessary to re-test the Seafire F.47 and in March 1949 VP463 was delivered to A&AEE for handling trials with and without the 90-gallon ‘airship type’ drop tank.

VP463 was flown at various loadings as follows–Loading 1–10,825 lbs (no external stores but combat tanks fitted); Loading 2–11,590 lbs (as loading 1 plus 90-gallon tank); Loading 3–12,645 lbs (as loading 1 plus 90-gallon tank and two 500-lb smoke bombs); Loading 4–12,035 lbs (as loading 1 plus 90-gallon tank and eight 60-lb rocket projectiles, but less combat tanks). The controls of the aircraft were standard Seafire F.47 and included 9.25 in of angle above and below the trailing edge of each half of the elevator. The inertia weight in the elevator control circuit was of 6½ lbs. Preliminary trials were carried out with no external stores (except for the combat tanks which were a standard fit) but these showed that the aircraft’s handling characteristics were very much worse in several respects than those of PS944 which had been used to clear the Seafire F.47 for service use. The trials were continued, however, so that any serious adverse features resulting from the carriage of the 90-gallon drop tank might be brought to light at an early stage.

Without external stores (loading 1) VP463 was climbed between 3,000 ft and 10,000 ft at the recommended climbing speed of 172 mph IAS (150 knots) at the maximum permissible climb power of 2,600 rpm and +9 lbs/sq.in boost. Accurate trimming was found to be very difficult but after doing so, when the stick was released, the aircraft diverged rapidly in either direction. Other speeds were then tried and the aircraft continued to be statically unstable (stick free) up to nearly 230 mph IAS (200 knots). After trimming in level flight at 270 mph IAS (235 knots) at 10,000 ft, normal turns were made with the speed constant at 252 mph IAS (220 knots). During turns in either direction, a very small pull force (estimated at 2 lb) was required for turns of 2g, while zero stick force was required for 3g turns.

From trimmed level flight at 20,000 ft with maximum climb power set, the aircraft was dived to a speed of 515 mph IAS (450 knots) at 5,000 ft. A push force of about 30 lb was required to maintain this speed and on release of the stick the aircraft recovered at 4–5g. In similar dives to 460 mph IAS the aircraft had to be restrained at 5½g after the stick had been released. Approximate measurements of the stick forces in pullouts at 5,000 ft from trimmed dives gave very low figures up to about 460 mph IAS (3–4 lb for a 3g accelerometer reading). At higher speeds the forces required in similar pullouts were rather higher. At speeds up to about 345 mph IAS (300 knots) the aircraft tightened into the pullout above approximately 3g. Overall, pilot’s impressions at this loading were that the aircraft was most unpleasant to fly, especially in bumpy weather, and that constant concentration would be needed, particularly when flying in cloud or at night.

At loading 2 with the 90-gallon tank in place VP463 exhibited longitudinal characteristics in the climb similar to the clean configuration case. The divergence in pitch was most marked after speed had been decreased by 23 mph IAS (20 knots) by pulling the control column sharply back and releasing. In this case the aircraft stalled after just two seconds. Flat turns were made to port and starboard at the best climbing speed by applying rudder and keeping the wings level with aileron. In each direction the foot force increased progressively to about three-quarter travel when it was rated as being heavy. At greater travel, however, the force suddenly lightened and the rudder overbalanced, a heavy foot load being required to unlock the rudder [rudder locking in flat turns was a known feature of the Seafire F.47; Supermarine had tried several modifications, but without success]. Both out-of-trim and in-trim dives were similar to loading 1 but on one occasion during an out-of-trim dive the acceleration built up so quickly on pulling out from the dive that 5½g was recorded before the pilot could apply a restraining force.

The aircraft was also tested in the glide at 110 mph IAS (95 knots) with undercarriage and flaps down. Accurate trimming was found to be relatively easy, the elevator trim setting being 1.3 divisions nose up. Speed was adjusted by approximately 17 mph IAS (15 knots) above and below the trimmed speed and in both situations the aircraft returned slowly to its orginal speed. In this condition, however, flat turns did not lead to rudder overbalance, neither was there any tendency for foot loads to vary. During stalls with undercarriage and flaps up, slight elevator buffet began at 110 mph IAS and increased down to the stall. Slight aileron twitching was also felt just before and at the stall, which occurred at 98 mph IAS (85 knots) and on occasions the ailerons could also snatch vigorously. Stalling characteristics were similar with undercarriage and flaps down, the stall occurring at 86 mph IAS (75 knots). Just before the stall there was marked snatching of the ailerons after which the port wing dropped followed by the nose. In both cases recovery was straightforward on easing the control column forward and applying opposite rudder when stalling in the landing configuration. Paradoxically, when the same tests as noted above were carried out at loadings 3 and 4, the aircraft’s handling characteristics actually showed a slight improvement, although stability on the climb was still negative.

The conclusions to the Boscombe Down report on VP463 highlighted the deterioration in longitudinal stability compared to that of PS944. At a CG only 0.1 in forward of the aft limit, PS944 had approximately neutral static stability (stick free) on the climb at normal climbing speed, whereas at a more forward CG VP463 became neutrally stable only at a speed 46 mph IAS (40 knots) higher. It was also emphasised that the longitudinal characteristics of PS944 at the time of its test were regarded by A&AEE as marginal. In comparing the two aircraft it was noted that the static friction of the elevator circuit of VP463 was approximately double that of PS944 (5–6 lbs against 3 lbs) and it was considered that this would lead to a reduction of stick free stability. Because of the basic defects in handling characteristics it was difficult to assess accurately the effect of the 90-gallon tank on handling. The main deficiencies of VP463 were summarised as follows

a. The aircraft was statically unstable stick free on the climb at the normal climbing speed; pilots considered the behaviour to be unpleasant and potentially dangerous.

b. Zero stick force was required to maintain 3g turns at 10,000 ft.

c. High normal accelerations were liable to develop on release of the stick in out-of-trim dives.

d. The aircraft tightened into the pullout beyond 3g accelerometer reading at speeds up to about 345 mph IAS (300 knots) at 10,000 ft (stick force per g values, based on tests at 3g, were low up to 460 mph IAS).

A&AEE were aware, via Supermarine, that other production Seafire F.47s were showing similar unsatisfactory characteristics so an improvement was clearly essential for all service aircraft. VP463 was later tested with a larger inertia weight in the elevator circuit and although this appeared to bring its longitudinal handling characteristics into line with those of PS944, as already noted, the experience with PS952 showed that this was not a complete cure for the aircraft’s instability in pitch.

In Fleet Air Arm service most Seafire F.47s were converted to the fighter-reconnaissance role as the FR.47. Two electrically-heated F.24 cameras (one vertical and one oblique) were mounted in the rear fuselage. The aperture for the vertical camera had a spring-loaded flap for protection against debris being thrown up when on the ground. Total production of the Seafire F.47 amounted to 89 which were built at South Marston. Serial batches were PS944-PS957, VP427-VP465, VP471-495, VR961-VR971.

While the Seafire F.47 continued to cause problems at Boscombe Down, it was taken on charge by No.804 Squadron at Ford in February 1948 and later saw active service in Malaya and Korea with No.800 Squadron aboard HMS Triumph. Following operations against communist terrorist targets in Malaya from October 1949 until February 1950, HMS Triumph was in Japanese waters when the communist forces of North Korea crossed over the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950, an action which led to conflict in the area for the next three years. Together with No.827 Squadron (Firefly I), the Seafire F.47s of No.800 Squadron carried out the first naval air strikes of the war on 3 July when rocket attacks were made on the airfield at Haeju. Further strikes were launched over the coming weeks together with Combat Air Patrols and other patrols on the lookout for enemy submarines. One aircraft (VP473) was lost on 28 July when it was shot down in error by a USAF B-29 Superfortress, however, the pilot baled out and was picked up by a US destroyer.

Further strikes saw the Seafires sink a number of small vessels during operations to blockade ports on the west coast of Korea, together with attacks on railway targets near Mokpo using rockets and 20 mm cannon. By mid September the Seafires were beginning to show signs of wear and tear with several aircraft having to be taken off operations due to damage to the external skin caused by over-stressing. With more modern equipment being sent to Korea in the shape of the Hawker Sea Furies of No.807 Squadron, the decision was taken to retire the Seafire F.47 from active service. The type continued to be used by No.1833 Squadron at Bramcote before being supplanted by the Sea Fury in 1954.