Posts

🎧 TYPHOONS AND THE EFFECT OF AIR POWER

Audio from Chalke Valley History Festival 2019.

Paul Beaver discusses with John Buckley and Paul Stoddart, the importance of that unsung hero of WWII, the rocket firing Hawker Typhoon.

WINKLE AND THE JETS

Audio from Chalke Valley History Festival 2018.
Always fearless, sometimes impetuous, Captain Eric Brown, better known as Winkle, was an early jet and rocket fighter pioneer. Unusual in being a naval pilot, his experience in immediate post-war Germany and at the Royal Aircraft Establishment has passed into legend. His biographer Paul Beaver separates reality from the myth and legend, shining a new light on Winkle’s exploits.

Paul Beaver talks about our Air Show!

Paul Beaver, CVHF Air Show commentator talks about what we can expect this weekend at the Air Show.

Paul Beaver – Air Show from Chalke Valley History Trust on Vimeo.

Dunkirk Ace – the first Spitfire pilot to win his spurs

Stanford TuckBob Stanford Tuck was every inch the fighter pilot as if ordered up from Central Casting; brave, good-looking, a crack shot and a superb aviator. The London boy who did not excel at school and nearly made the Merchant Navy his career, was to become the first Spitfire Ace in May 1940 in the skies above northern France.

Tuck combined excellent flying skills with being a superb shot. He had grown up with shotguns and game shooting, and practiced with clays regularly throughout his service career with Fighter Command. When moved to the Hurricane-equipped No 257 Squadron, he set up a clay pigeon shoot at the squadron dispersal at RAF Coltishall. But that was six months after Dunkirk.

In May 1940, Tuck was transferred from No 65 Squadron at RAF Duxford to No 92 Squadron at RAF Croydon in Kent. During his two years at Duxford, he had proved his fighting and leadership skills making him an ideal choice for the junior flight commander slot.

Paul Beaver - history hub planesAs the Battle of France hotted-up and the Allied armies were thrown back towards the North Sea and Channel coasts, the Commander-in-Chief of RAF Fighter Command released Spitfires to operate over the Continent. Tuck led a section of Spitfires to escort Winston Churchill in one of his attempts to rally the forlorn French government in Paris; it was the first time that Spitfire fighters – as opposed to the still secret high altitude photo-reconnaissance variants – had ‘overnighted’ overseas.

Tuck’s big chance to demonstrate his training in a dogfight came on 23 May, somewhere in the vicinity of Dunkirk, which was not yet the centre of that great military evacuation for which the seaport is now famous, but it was still the centre of aerial action. The Luftwaffe was attempting to deny reinforcements to the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force and the Channel ports were prime targets.

Tuck clay-pigeon shooting (RAFM)On 23 May, British ground forces were ordered to evacuate Arras, the main communications hub in that part of France. The British commander, General the Lord Gort wanted to concentrate his forces to protect the ports of embarkation such as Boulogne which was already under assault from the German Second Panzer Division. It was against this background that standing patrols were launched from airfields in Kent and Surrey to interdict the Luftwaffe operations then supporting the Panzer assault.

Tuck opened his score with three conclusive and witnessed victories against the Luftwaffe with three Messerschmitt Bf 109s downed on 23rd May followed by two Dornier bombers the next day.

The Spitfire had first met the German fighter some 10 days before so both sides were still feeling their way in the development of fighter tactics. Unlike, Fighter Command, however, many German pilots had the advantage of previous service the Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War. That lack of experience did not seem to affect Tuck’s fighting spirit.

Tuck’s career literally took off. Not only was he the first Spitfire ace but he had rapidly moved up the promotion ladder within No 92 Squadron, taking over as the senior flight commander and then assuming command when Squadron Leader  Phillip Sanders  was reported missing. Tuck was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 11 June.

Fighter Command’s commander-in-chief, Air Chief Marshal Dowding saw Tuck’s potential and promoted him to acting Squadron Leader and gave him a Hurricane squadron at RAF Coltishall in Norfolk to command. Despite being shot down and imprisoned in German-occupied Poland, Tuck finished the war with 27 enemy aircraft destroyed. After a brief spell in the post-war Royal Air Force, he left the service and became a mushroom farmer.


Paul Beaver in Spitfire sep14Paul Beaver is an aviation historian and pilot who will be speaking on “Dunkirk – the misunderstood triumph of Air Power” at the Chalke Valley History Festival on Sunday, 28th June 2015. His latest book, “Spitfire People”, the result of a talk at Chalke Valley last year, goes on sale from 18th June.

How wartime communities bought Spitfires

SpitfiresWiltshire Moonraker and Sarum & South Wilts – how wartime communities bought Spitfires.

Even in 1940, the Spitfire had celebratory status. Communities and individuals around the British Isles and across the Dominions and Empire were thinking of new ways to collect money and entice their friends to part with their hard-earned savings to buy a Spitfire.

The Spitfire Fund, as a nationwide enterprise was the brainchild of Lord Beaverbrook, Churchill’s friend and political ally in whom the Prime Minister had entrusted the production of military aircraft, especially Spitfires. Churchill realised that producing fighters would be a key part of Britain’s survival.

So enthused were contributors, they funded more than 1500 Spitfires, dubbed ‘Gifts of War’ and donated to the Royal Air Force. The efforts of individuals or community groups were to see a Spitfire painted up with a presentational caption just below the cockpit, telling with the world that the aeroplane had been ‘bought’ by the contributors to the fund.

In six weeks, the Salisbury & Winchester Journal reported that over £6,000 had been collected by the communities of West Wiltshire to buy a Spitfire. Today, £6,000 is the equivalent of about £700,000; a real achievement for a rural community with no large conurbations or industrial enterprises.

The ‘South Wiltshire Spitfire Fund’, based in Salisbury and administered by The Journal, raised over £114 in a single September weekend by displaying a Luftwaffe Dornier Do 17 bomber in the Market Square. Local people were charged thrupence (3d) a time to see it. Part of this bomber is still preserved and displayed in the Museum of Army Flying at Middle Wallop, the wartime base from which Spitfires flew in pursuit of German bombers and probably bought this Dornier down only a few miles from the Hampshire airfield.

Back at Salisbury, little boys spent the weekend trying to find souvenirs. Several will admit today to taking pieces as small as screws despite the watchful eyes of the Home Guard drafted in to protect the bomber.

That weekend more than 9,000 people paid to see the bomber, many coming back several times; perhaps to stand and wonder at their first sight of the enemy or perhaps to rejoice that there was one fewer enemy bomber in British skies.

The result of the fund-raising was an appropriately named Spitfire Mark IA – ‘Sarum & South Wilts’. So on 2 July 1941, serial number P8137 began its operational service with No 234 Squadron just down the road at Middle Wallop.

Sadly, its career was very short even by 1941 standards. The Spitfire and its pilot, Sergeant Ivan Pearce RAFVR were lost just a week later on a sortie over the English Channel to engage German fighters over the Cherbourg peninsula; no trace of aeroplane nor pilot was ever found.

A local Wiltshire Spitfire which lasted slightly longer was the one ‘bought’ by West Wiltshire’s fundraising. More than £8,000, including £3,000 from the people of the market-town of Trowbridge was collected in September 1940. Ironically, Trowbridge was about to become a hub of the dispersed Spitfire production programme after Luftwaffe bombers destroyed the Supermarine works at Southampton.

Moonraker Spitfires‘Wiltshire Moonraker’ was the name selected for the West Wiltshire Spitfire Fund. It was completed as a more powerful Mark VB, given the serial number W3312 handed over by Supermarine to the Royal Air Force on 6 June 1941.

The ‘Moonraker’ served with great distinction with No 92 (East India) Squadron based at RAF Biggin Hill, probably the most famous Battle of Britain fighter station. It became the favoured fighter of the squadron’s boss, Squadron Leader James Rankin.

It was damaged in combat, repaired and returned to Fighter Command, ending up with No 65 Squadron at RAF Eastchurch in Kent. On this unit it flew sorties over Occupied France but on 3 September 1942,  in the hands of Pilot Officer N R MacQueen it suffered engine failure, probably through combat. Its Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 engine stopped and the Spitfire crashed into the Channel on 3 September 1942. MacQueen baled out but downed before a rescue craft could reach him.

The last of 1500 presentational Spitfire was delivered to the Royal Air Force in 1945 and quite appropriately named ‘Winston Churchill’. 


paul-beaver

Paul Beaver is an experienced vintage aeroplane pilot who will be speaking on “Spitfire – people, places, politics, production” at the Chalke Valley History Festival on Sunday, 29th June 2014.