I slipped the Sultry Bonds of Earth

This sonnet by John Magee, written in September 1941, about his experience in flying a Spitfire will forever epitomise for me the elegant and sleek lines of that iconic plane.  At 80 years old on 5th March 2016, it has certainly aged gracefully. Of the 20,351 built only 55 are still flying today. To celebrate its diamond anniversary milestone, aerial photographer John Dibbs and wordsmith Tony Holmes have created an epic & fitting tribute to the Supermarine Spitfire. 

These legends of WW2 and the Battle of Britain in particular are captured by John Didds in pin-sharp pictures using only a hand-held camera. John Dibbs took years of being flown to within 15 feet of these planes to capture the stunning pictures below. 

This is tribute both to the enduring beauty of the plane and to the skill and experience of John Dibbs.

Main picture: AR614 tears through the sky over the white cliffs of Dover

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Lt Freddie Zeelie – In Memoriam

During my National Service training in 1972, I was assigned to Charlie Company 3 SAI based in Oudshoorn. Unlike most platoons, our platoon leader was a more experienced and professional Lieutenant. Lt Freddie Zeelie was different not because he was a PF Officer but because he displayed more wisdom and insight whilst treating us like adults unlike the other National Service Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers. This must never imply that he was soft on us. No siree! WE HAD TO BE THE BEST PLATOON. To achieve that, he worked us harder than any CF officer but without the bullsh*t.

Main picture: Lt Zeelie circled in the bottom left with me circled on the top right hand side.

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Beaches of D-Day: Images of June 1944 versus June 2016

Seventy two years after the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy in France, are the places in these iconic images still recognisable today? Surprisingly most locations can still be identified 72 after that momentous and pivotal day.

Four years ago, Nigel and I traipsed across some of these beaches and cliffs. Standing at the German gun emplacements on Omaha Beach, one wonders how anybody could have survived the landing on this exposed beach.

Main picture: The sounds of Nazi jackboots have been replaced with the slap of sandals on the tar

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The Sins of our Fathers

What does one feel about one’s parent if one’s father is culpable of some heinous crime? Is it denial or loathing? It can never be both or even some adulterated commingled version. Whenever the latter occurs, ones protestations in support of one’s parent become self-serving, irrational and tenuous whilst never addressing the real issue at hand. Such is the case with Horst von Wächter, son of Baron Otto Gustav von Wächter, Governor of Galicia during WW2. 

How does Horst today at 77 years of age, reconcile his vision of a loving father with that of a monster who was responsible for the deaths of at least 100,000 Jews? 

This is the tale of convoluted denial against all the evidence to the contrary. 

Main picture: Horst Von Wachter, Philippe Sands and Niklas Frank behind the scenes of My Nazi Legacy  Continue reading

Will the HE-115 Float Plane ever grace the Skies again?

Of all the war planes of WW2, the HE-115, a twin-engine three-seater float plane, did not make a huge contribution. In total only 138 were ever built of which 6 were sold to the Norwegians before the Germans invaded them and twelve were sold to the Swedish. Nonetheless I am extremely critical of the decision that most surviving planes which were deemed obsolete, were merely sold as scrap rather than trying to preserve a large number of copies of them. Even the venerable Lancaster bomber suffered this ignominious fate resulting in there being only one copy still in flying condition today.

After finding another wrecked HE-115 in 2013, that makes a total of three available for restoration and perhaps flight? What is the prognosis of at least one HE-115 flying again? 

Main picture: HE-115 recovered from Hafrsfjord in Norway on 12th June 2012

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Survival against Exceptional Odds

A week ago my blog “Landing without an Elevator or Rudder” showcased a South African example of a miraculous escape when an airforce Dakota was almost downed by a Soviet SAM-7 anti-aircraft missile. This week’s example relates to a US Airforce B-17 Bomber which had accidently been rammed by a German fighter over Tunis harbour. To say that their air crews changes of survival were negligible is an understatement. Yet they did.

This is their story.

Main picture: A crippled B-17

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Twelve Days in the Summer of 1588

During those few days, the ultimate fate of England would be sealed. If the Armada of King Phillip II of Spain prevailed over the fleet of Queen Elizabeth I of England, then the future primacy of Spain as a world super power would be indisputable. Apart from Elizabeth’s head & England independence but also at stake was the future America as a Spanish colony as would South Africa.

Why were the British able to prevail against a superior force?

Main picture:  An engraving of the route of the Armada

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Landing with no Rudder or Elevator

Essentially this feat is akin to driving without a steering wheel. All wars produce incredible stories of people or machines surviving the most horrendous damage. So it was with this South African Air Force Dakota in May 1986. WW2 produced many such examples; the most notable was that of a B17 returning from a bombing mission over Europe. This story originally appeared on the SA Military History website but I would like to share it.

 Main picture: A most graphic picture of the Dakota’s non existent rudder and shattered elevators

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Demyansk: The Template for Hitler’s Disaster at Stalingrad

In many ways, the Demyansk Pocket [German: Festung Demjansk or Kessel von Demjansk] was the forerunner of what was to occur later in 1942 except that in the latter instance, the outcome was tragic. Hitler, the Commander of the German Wehrmacht, had drawn the wrong conclusions from this action. The consequences of Stalingrad were immense: the elimination of Germany’s strategic initiative in the war forever.

Main picture: Like Napoeon’s forces before them, the Germans during the winter of 1941/1942 literally freeze to death in inappropriate clothing.

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An Innovative Method of Clearing Land Mines

Princess Diana would have endorsed this method of clearing mines if she were still alive. Initially the only way to clear land mines fields was by hand using bayonets. The hand held mine detector came next. This meant certain death to the Engineer slowly advancing through a mine field into the emplaced machine guns. After countless deaths, more mechanised methods were adopted such as the flail tank where chains were mounted on rotating drums on an armoured vehicle. Many other techniques have subsequently been employed such as pushing rollers or using dogs. Recently a brand new technique with African origins has been developed. Tell me whether you endorse this method.

Main picture: The African pouched rat hard at work sniffing out mines

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