Posts Tagged ‘RAF’

Bastion of the Air

September 4, 2018

The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit in our lifetime. — Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary, 3 August 1914

An exhibition at The Collection, an arts cum museum complex, looking at Lincoln in World War One.

England was vulnerable, airships launched by the German Navy, dropping bombs on England, were untouchable, at too high an altitude to be reached by the existing British warplanes.

The next generation of planes could fly at higher altitude, and used incendiary bullets.

British aircraft were operated by the Army and the Navy. These were amalgamated to create the Royal Air Force.

Lincoln had three manufacturing plants, these were crucial to the war effort, and Lincoln became one of the centres of not only aircraft manufacture, but also of the engines and the bombs.

Lincoln was where at Fosters, the WWI tank was developed and built.

These engineering factories have long gone, in their place sheds on the inner-bypass selling worthless consumer junk, tacky chain coffee shops. Where once there was highly skilled well paid jobs, now temporary, part time, zero hours work.

Within the exhibition clothes, black and white film of the period, paintings (though no date or information on the artists), medals (including the Victoria Cross and German Iron Cross).

The first VC to be awarded was to a pilot William Leef Robinson for shooting down a Zeppelin airship.

Surprising no mention of the airship disaster at Washingborough. An airship was spotted, passengers rushed to one side of the Washingborough Ferry crossing the River Witham causing it to collapse.

The night before, a Zeppelin bombed Washingborough, mistaking for Lincoln. The Zeppelin was following a train, and may have thought it was Lincoln when the train stopped.

St John’s Church in Washingborough has unique Zeppelin Memorial Window put in by the Rector William Burland.

Note: No pictures thanks to copyright mafia.

If visiting the exhibition, visit the Tourist Information Centre in Castle Hill at the top of Steep Hill and pick up a 20% off voucher.

Also worth a visit, International Bomber Command Centre and the Museum of Lincolnshire Life.

Coffee at Stokes at The Collection is not recommended. There are better coffee shops nearby, Base Camp on Steep Hill, Madame Waffle in the High Street and Coffee Aroma in Guildhall (through The Stonebow), all within a few minutes walk.

Lunch at Dambusters Inn

January 5, 2013
Dambusters Inn

Dambusters Inn

Dambusters Inn in the Lincolnshire village of Scampton is not a pub for its food, it is a pub for WWII memorabilia relating to the RAF and in particular Dambusters 617 Squadron.

From Lincoln, take the A15, then A1500, then B1398 into Scampton.

Usually B roads are little winding country lanes. B1398 into Scampton is not, it is a wide road as though a major trunk road. Odd as Scampton is a little tiny village. I can only think it is so wide, as it skirts the back of RAF Scampton, and maybe it is to give rapid access to the base in an emergency.

As you come off the escarpment and wind your way down to Scampton, fantastic views across the Trent Valley. Also visible are lakes that look like flooded quarries or gravel pits, but aerial pictures reveal to be resevoirs.

Dambusters Inn is on the right as you come into the village.

The pub is not old, but as you step over the threshold you step back in time. It is as though you have entered a very old pub during the Second World War.

In the entrance porch, WWII relics either side. Walk in, and an airman’s jacket and scarf hanging up.

In one bar, a Lancaster bomber instrument panel (not a Lancaster cockpit as has been reported elsewhere). Original maps of the Dambuster raid, photos of dams before and after, logbook for Guy Gibson (replica not original), flying gear behind a glass, framed old newspapers, on a wall display of medals and who awarded to (a pity no guide to what the medals were or what awarded for), an open fire.

The pub is very much a small museum with a very enthusiastic landlord maintaining it. Clearly a labour of love.

Behind the pub what looked like a vegetable garden gone to rack and ruin. Strange no garden with seating, beyond the garden a paddock. There was outside seating but this was at the front in the car park.

A good choice of local real ales on the bar, and Anzac biscuits and Dambuster cheese.

Attractive and friendly girl behind the bar, who also doubled as waitress.

This is not a pub for food. Scampi and chips was ok, better than a chain pub, but not great. Haddock and chips, the haddock was not good, either because the skin had not been removed or it was not fresh and going off. Far far better fish n chips at Elite the other side of Lincoln.

There is nothing to see in Scampton, other than the village church, and it was closed. In the churchyard graves of killed servicemen.

The road back into Lincoln A15 is an old Roman road. It runs dead straight with Lincoln Cathedral dead straight ahead. Ignore all road signs, keep going straight ahead, you will eventually reach Newport Arch, the Roman gateway to Lindum Colonia. If you go through the arch, you are in Bailgate. An interesting area to explore. Or turn left, follow the roads around until coming back on oneself, will find yourself around the back of Lincoln Cathedral. The road is a no access, parking limited to 30 minutes. Just sufficient time for afternoon tea in the Lincoln Cathedral tea shop and quick look at the cloisters.

For an itinerary may also wish to visit:

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is located at RAF Coningsby. At Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is a Lancaster that can power up its engines and taxi, but not fly. There are plans to get it flying by 2014. Petwood Hotel was the former Officers Mess for Dambusters 617 Squadron, one of the bars is maintained as it was during WWII. RAF Scampton, where 617 Squadron was formed, is now the base for the world famous Red Arrows.

The Blue Bell Inn, a very old roadside inn at Tattershall Thorpe, serves excellent food and a good choice of real ales. Apart being an interesting old inn and serving excellent food, another reason for visiting the Blue Bell Inn, is that on the ceiling of the old bar are signatures of members of the 617 Squadron.

I am surprised no enterprising person has produced a small booklet on these sites, available at all the sites, that could later be expanded into a book, though the pages linked to from here will give all the required information for visitors, bar actually visiting the sites.

Based at RAF Scampton, a few miles north of Lincoln, 617 Squadron, led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, was specially formed to handle the Dambusters raid. All the crews were hand-picked for the squadron.

A specially modified Avro Lancaster was needed for the raids. The bomb was slung below the plane. On approach to the target, the bomb spun up to 500rpm. This backwards spin caused the bomb to bounce, on hitting the wall of the dam, the backwards spin would pull it down the wall of the dam into the base of the dam. A hydrostatic fuse was set for 30ft, and failing that, a delayed detonation.

Details of the bouncing bomb and its release mechanism were kept secret until 1974.

After the raids the Germans managed to recover one of the bouncing bombs that had not exploded. They carried out their own work using the bombs, but had to abandon their trials as the bombs had a nasty habit of catching up with and destroying the release aircraft.

The bombs had to be dropped from an exact height of 60ft. Barometric altimeters were not sufficiently accurate. Spotlights were aimed at an angle at the ground. When the two spots on the water merged into one, the aircraft would be at an exact height of 60ft.

617 Squadron practised their bombing raids on Derwent Water. Such was the delicacy of the operation that not even the crews knew what their final target would be. A rumour was spread that it would be the German battleship Tirpitz, holed up in a Norwegian fjord. Ironic, in that later in the war, Tirpitz was bombed by 617 Squadron.

The Lancasters used in the raid, had their armour removed to reduce the weight.

The attack, code name Operation Chastise, on the night of the 17th of May 1943, was in three waves.

2013 sees the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters bombing raid.

Not a good idea to mess with the RAF …

June 5, 2012


Conversation overheard on the VHF Guard (emergency) frequency 121.5 MHz while flying from Europe to Dubai ..

Iranian Air Defence Site: ‘Unknown aircraft you are in Iranian airspace. Identify yourself.’

Aircraft: ‘This is a British aircraft. I am in Iraqi airspace.’

Air Defence Site: ‘You are in Iranian airspace. If you do not depart our airspace we will launch interceptor aircraft!’

Aircraft: ‘This is a Royal Air Force GR4 Tornado fighter. Send ’em up, I’ll wait!’

Air Defence Site: ( …. total silence)

Guest of honour at RAF Strike Command High Wycombe

January 10, 2012
Officer's Mess laid for Bomber Command Dinner

Officer's Mess laid for Bomber Command Dinner

Group Captain Adrian Hill did me the honour by not only extending an invitation but also taking me to RAF High Wycombe to attend as a guest at the Bomber Command Dinner night on 10 June 2010. This was the RAF headquarters of Bomber Command when Sir Arthur Harris BT CCB OBE was Chief of Bomber Command and I served under him as a Flight Engineer on Avro Lancasters at RAF East Kirkby in Lincolnshire.

Adrian picked me up from home, his wife had kindly supplied us with sandwiches, home-made quiche and a drink which we enjoyed on the way during a stop on the Watford bypass.

We arrived at High Wycombe three hours later.

On arrival Adrian showed me my room, a pleasant comfortable room next to the Officer’s Mess, and said he would pick me up at 6-30 for drinks, then we would get dressed for dinner in the Officer’s Mess.

I took the opportunity to have a wander round.

At the entrance I found three busts: Sgt John Hannah VC, Acting Flight Lieutenant Roderick Alistair Learoyd VC and Acting Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC DSO DFC. By the side was a beautiful Grandfather Clock.

I looked into the Officer’s Mess which was being laid for dinner. Hanging from the ceiling magnificent chandeliers.

A lady stopped me. I assumed she was one of the waitresses.

To my surprise she said: You are Warrant Officer Harry Parkins, and I know all about your war record on Lancaster bombers.

Somewhat stunned, I asked her how did she know?

She shook my hand and introduced herself as Squadron Leader Natalie Beck, RAF Intelligence. Then putting her finger to her nose and laughing said that’s why I am in RAF Intelligence.

We had a brief chat about my war-time experience and she told me she was helping out to get ready for this evening’s dinner.

I then continued to wander around the building, admiring the paintings and silverware and taking pictures.

As promised, Adrian Hill collected me at 6-30 for drinks outside the Mess and introduced me to some of his fellow officers, many of whom were high ranking officers. All were very friendly and wanted to know all about me, although they already seemed to know something about me.

I told them of how I met my wife Mavis on VE Day, of our two children and of our youngest son who sadly died of encephalitis at a young age, a viral infection of he brain.

Match Made at Stonebow

After several drinks, we went off to change for dinner. Once dressed, we were met at the entrance to the Mess by the Ensemble of the Central Band of the RAF with Adrian once again introducing me to high ranking officers.

The Mess was wonderful, the tables decorated with highly polished silver trophies. From the ceiling hung magnificent chandeliers.

I was seated with Adrian to my right, who kindly explained all the Mess traditions and procedures as the evening progressed. To my left was a delightful young lady, Flight Lieutenant Suzanne Atkins, who was excellent company.

The dinner, drinks and wines were based on a wartime menu, and all were excellent. In between each course, a high ranking officer gave a talk on three RAF VCs.

Flying Officer Leslie Manser VC
Acting Squadron Leader Ian Willoughby Bazalgette VC DFC
Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire, VC, OM, DSO and Two Bars, DFC

The band played God Save the Queen whilst we stood for a toast with a full glass of Cockburns Fine Ruby Port.

Camp coffee came with Bomber Command special mints with the Lancaster printed on the wrappers.

I kept my table napkin, in fact I did not use it. It was folded and decorated to look like an RAF jacket.

Air Vice Marshall Kurth then got up and announced we have an interesting guest here this evening. I looked around, thinking maybe a member of the Royal family had just arrived. He continued, the name is Warrant Officer retired Flight Engineer Harry Parkins. This was his introduction to a speech on my war record: 39 operations, mid-air collision in a Lancaster and a crash landing in a Sterling. He then went on to say that I held the record for the longest duration bombing raid in a Lancaster, flying from East Kirkby in Lincolnshire via Italy to fool the Germans, then up to Munich, then back to Lincolnshire, a bombing raid of 10 hours 25 minutes.

Mid Air Survival
The Longest Lancaster Operation – 10 Hours 25 Minutes

The room went quiet. Then 180 officers stood and gave me a standing ovation of around two minutes.

I did not know what to do or say as it was not expected and I was too moved to say anything. I simply said it was a fine tribute to my great British, New Zealand and Australian crew.

It was then time to retire to the bar. More drinks and many questions from the friendly high ranking officers.

By 2am in the early hours of the morning I was well and truly ready for bed but Adrian called me over and held up a glass of champagne from Flight Lieutenant Atkins, with a word of congratulations.

It was a fantastic night that Adrian had arranged for me. I felt like someone famous, just for doing what we had been trained to do for our country. I would like to give thanks to all the friendly officers I met, whose names I cannot remember, but here is a few:

Air Marshall S Bryant CBE MA BA
Wing Commander Steve Dharamraj
Squadron Leader Natalie Beck
Air Vice Marshal Kurth
Flight Lieutenant Suzanne Atkins (who gave me a card with a lovely letter)

Next morning, a full breakfast with Adrian and few of his fellow officers A wander around the gardens. Then at 1230 a good lunch ready for the drive home.

A very special thanks to Group Captain Adrian Hill for arranging everything and for such a wonderful two days.

– 1891679 W/O Harry Parkins retired

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