Monday, October 21, 2019

Suicide Squadron

Well...Had to use a long time delayed fuse on this posting as the Ladies in my life have dictated my location and activities for the next couple of weekends. This past weekend those dictates mandated a visit to my favorite National Park.

(No, Beans, Yosemite is #2, Yellowstone is #3. Haven't been to any in FL, so not on the list.)

We went to Big Bend. Yes...Again!

Turns out that MBD had only visited once. With a near tragic outcome. Visiting in Late May with a bunch of her girlfriends, they decided to go hiking on the Eastern Flats (AKA Desert). Seems they forgot my reminder that they needed a minimum of 1 gallon of water, per person, per day.

Fortunately, a group of recently commissioned Aggie Corps of Cadets, were behind them and managed to bring them back to civilization, and water, intact.

For some reason, I suddenly became more knowledgeable about certain things...like desert survival, to them.

ANYHOW, since SIL has never been to the park, and MBD has only been that one time we're returning. It's October, not May, we're going to hike the Chisos Basin and visit Santa Elena canyon, and only one day, visiting Ft Davis and McDonald Observatory on Sunday.

So I'm only bringing 8 gallons of water. If I don't respond to your comments this morning...Send Water!

Update: Water resupply unnecessary. All returned safely. After Action Report Next Week this time.

But, as I said, the weather has been pretty fallish lately. Some rain, but only enough to really settle the dust and keep me inside, so....videos.

 I discovered two that were pretty fascinating to me. Both were about the RAF's 617 Squadron. Now, Chanter Cognoscenti are going to quickly remember that 617 (pronounced Six-One-Seven, not Six-Seventeen, not sure why. Ask Sarge, he knows everything) are the "Dambusters".

 I first came to know their story via book and the movie, not sure which was first. It was when Dad was stationed at Webb. I mowed lawns for Pepsi and Cherry Pie money, and picked up a gig where I got to go to the Base Movie theater for free in exchange for mowing their lawn. That and the library were favorite haunts for my best friend Mike and I.

So when I saw this first video, I was intrigued.  It's part of a series on engineering and talks about how the attack on the dams was engineered.  It describes the process of figuring out how to destroy a dam in general, then engineering the bombs necessary to actually accomplish that.

I'm not trained in engineering, but I still found it educational.  YMMV.





And of course, once you watch one video on YouTube, all recommendations afterward are changed to reflect that video.

So, my eye was attracted to one entitled "What the Dambusters did next".   It is narrated by a retired RAF WSO (or whatever the RAF calls the backseater) who flew in GW-1 in a Tornado, was shot down and captured by Saddam's forces.  He tells an interesting story with some good footage and graphics to make the story a bit more understandable.   I'll embed the video, but it's over an hour long.  You might want to put a fresh pot of coffee on.  For those of you poor sods who have to go to work,  I'll run you through a short synopsis.

Having viewed the first video, I won't bore you with bouncing bomb stuff,  although having a very large bomb bounce off the water immediately (60 ft) below you several times had to be a wee bit sphincter tightening, no matter how fearless you may be.

The raid was lead by  Wing Commander Guy Gibson who, at the time, had over a hundred missions under his belt.  The "old man" as Wing Commanders are usually referred (behind their backs, of course) was 24 years old.  Yes, I re-read that a couple of times.  24!
Lancaster
Source

Another thing that I don't think I realized/remembered was the losses taken. Of the 19 Lancasters that launched, 8 were shot down with 53 aircrew killed and 3 taken prisoner.  Still 2 of the 3 dams attacked were destroyed and the last had minor damage.  Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross for the mission, and the squadron's reputation was established.  Unfortunately, Gibson will be killed later in the war, at age 26, with 170 combat missions under his belt. 

However, as my 4 star Army General and Former Roommate is fond of saying "Excellence is it's own punishment.",  the reputation must be maintained.

In September, the squadron is assigned to attack the Dortmund-Ems Canal.  The mission is planned to use a very similar attack profile as used against the dams.  But whereas, the dam mission (did I say that?)  profile had the bombers coming in over large lakes, thereby minimizing AAA (HISSSS!!), the canal didn't have that limitation.  Of the 8 bombers assigned, 5 were shot down, including Gibson's replacement.  Only very minimal damage was achieved in the attack.

So, in two raids, essentially the entire squadron has been shot down.  Most of the experienced aircrew have been lost and, at best , are POW's.  Morale is extremely low and there's discussion among themselves of being the "Suicide Squadron".

The new wing commander, Leonard Chesire, decides that the low level tactics being used regularly are counter-productive, and develops different tactics to identify and mark the target while minimizing exposure.  Essentially, he, himself, the wing commander,  will find the target and mark it with small incendiary bombs while the rest of the squadron is still approaching at altitude.  He tries this on a munitions factory in France, making several passes, to encourage the French civilians working there to take shelter before the attack commences.  The attack is a success.

Amazing what leading from the front can do for morale.

However, weapons delivery technology is still primitive (by my 1980's and '90s experiences) so the squadron is used as the test bed for several new weapons.  The primary weapon of choice for the squadron were a12,000 lb bomb code named "Tallboy" and it's bigger brother the 22,000 lb bomb code named "Grand Slam".  These bombs were specifically designed to be gyrostabilised in flight.  These were effectively used against a heavily fortified U-Boat production facility as well as a hypervelocity cannon site being built to attack London.
Tallboy, Only 12000 lbs Source
Grand Slam Source

In September 1944, the squadron is ordered to attack the German Battleship Tirpitz which is being repaired in a Fjord in very northern Norway.  617 squadron takes off from Scotland, threads their way across Norway between radar stations, lands in the Soviet Union, refuels and attacks the Tirpitz on their way home, using Tallboy bombs.  The bombs score a hit rendering her unseaworthy,  so she is moved to another Fjord for larger repairs.

This Fjord is within range of the Lancasters from Scotland.  In conjunction with another squadron (Number IX), at least two Tallboy's hit the ship, one, dropped by an American, hits dead center, another, from IX squadron, also hits the ship .  The latter is the bomb officially credited with sinking the ship.  Those are the highlighted missions in the video.

Throughout the war, 617 Squadron flew 1599 sorties losing 32 Aircraft.

Post war, the squadron flew Avro Lincolns, the Canberra, the Vulcan, and the Tornado.


Avro Lincoln

English Electric Canberra

Vulcan

Panavia Tornado
 It is currently flying the F-35B.
Source for the Aircraft Pictures

Good on ya', Lads


So...if you've got an hour and change, this is actually pretty interesting.







38 comments:

  1. I learned about 617 from the cassette-tape version of “Dambusters” that my local library had. Why? I dunno, I was 12, and consuming every WWII book/resource they had?

    (Speaking of which, I’m looking for a book about wwii naval battles, it was fairly large dimensions, had plenty of pictures, and diagrams of the ship movements, with little red and blue ships...)

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    1. I did the same when I was that age. I think the Dewey Decimal number for WWII was 940 something. I know of lots of books that fit that description though.

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  2. Ya, seems that six-one-seven squadron did indeed experience the "excellence is it's own punishment" after the dam raid. Viewing the longer vid AFTER breakfast. Wonder what the Tallboys and Grand Slams did to the flying characteristics of the Lancasters? Oh, regarding the Tirptz I see the German knife maker Boker, is selling a knife made from steel from that ship, way out of my price range though. As for hydration I try to have aqua in the vehicle whenever leaving the homestead even in green Minnesota. Thumbs up for today's post juvat.

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    1. Never carried anything that big, but the handling characteristics of an F-4 with a 2000 lb GBU were noticeably different. The four G pull to toss the bomb at release made an 8000 lb assymetrical load change. Because the laser pod was on the left side of the jet, it was always nice, but not always done, to have the bomb loaded on that side also. The released weight made the jet want to turn right and did, no matter how much you anticipated it.

      Thanks

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    2. (Don McCollor)...I believe the old pictures show a Lancaster in flight with the wings perceptively bowed upwards carrying the weight of a Grand Slam...

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  3. I read a Barnes Wallis biography years and years ago. Judging by the prices on Amazon, I wish I still had it. (not sure which biography)
    Pretty good coverage of his achievements in this Wiki.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnes_Wallis

    PBS Nova did an episode on the bouncing bomb.
    https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/video/bombing-hitlers-dams/

    We visited Death Valley a few years ago and ran into heat issues almost immediately after leaving the car. Yes, it was summertime because that is when my schoolteacher wife could go on vacation, we were well hydrated, and wearing hydration packs.
    We stopped walking, returned to the car, and used chunks of ice from the cooler to literally, chill out.
    If we hadn't recognized the signs of heat stress, this could have had a bad outcome.

    I have to budget time for the longer video.

    Great post. Thank you.


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    1. Thanks, John. I think I read that book also. It is surprising how little it takes to get behind the power curve, isn't it? Fortunately, it was cool in the Chiso's basin, ~75, and about 90 and humid in the Santa Elena Canyon. We didn't have any issues...Fortunately.

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    2. Hindsight being 20/20, I realized later that we should have poured about half of the hydration bladder on the side of our clothing that was facing the hot breeze. The hot and dry air working on the wet clothing would have helped a lot.

      Like you and Uncle Skip said, take water with you even if you don't expect to need it.

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    3. The only air conditioning I had for the first 20 or so years of my life used that principle. Worked like a champ!

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  4. Nice post - I remember seeing the video and reading about the raid many years ago - was fascinating from a tactics point of view and an engineering perspective as well. Who knew that someone, who, as a small lad was skipping stones off a pond, would think, "hey, I bet we can use the same principles to deliver a big bigger of a bomb onto a dam!"

    And I have to ask - if 617 was pronounced 'six-one-seven', was IX pronounced 'eye-ex'?


    Glad the sortie to Big Bend was successfully completed without casualties - beautiful area of that "whole 'nother country" in which you live. I need to visit in the spring when all the desert plants are in bloom. The Ft. Davis area is also nice - is the CCC-built lodge and restaurant still in operation? But I realize there are still some folks w, especially from the coasts, who don't see the beauty in all that dry rock.

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    1. Tom, Thanks.

      Don't know 'bout IX, my betting is yes.

      If you are asking about the CCC built lodge and restaurant in the Chiso's basin. Recently remodeled, but yes it is. Brought back memories of my first visit. Unfortunately, due to turmoil at MBD's company, we had to cut the visit short and RTB early Sunday, so didn't make it to Ft Davis.

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  5. Pretty much don’t leave the house without a refillable water bottle or, at least, knowledge of where I will find water.
    Big Bend is on the radar for the next time MB and I take the southern route on a road trip.

    I saw the Dam Busters movie as a kid, back when technicolor was still a novelty.
    Read the book about the same time.
    I’m pretty sure it’s based on the screenplay, but since it is ong gone I can’t verify and my memory doesn’t serve me all that well any longer.

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    1. I think you'll like it Skip. Very (very, very) long "See 'em Comin'" distances. Stark terrain, Beautiful Mountains. One of the things I like is the drive up to the Chiso's basin. You've been driving through classic desert for a few hours, sand, a little grass, some yucca etc. Then you start climbing and it's more grass, more yucca. A little higher and it's juniper (cedar), then you come around one particular bend and it's trees the rest of the way up. I always find that fascinating.

      But...Bring Water! Even on a good day, if you break down, it could be a couple of hours before some one drives past. Some parts of the park even longer.

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  6. Great post Juvat. I'm personally old school regarding hydration. Water is vital, but if I'm going to be out and about it's important to know my limits intimately which means training well into dehydration from time to time. That's just me and it's NOT a recommendation. I'm a blithering idiot, but I also do my hard training with water readily available. It's good training weight at 8 pounds per gallon.

    There aren't a lot of words that adequately describe the valour of sacrifice of WWII aircrews. They are much more than names and numbers, but it's had to equate historical narratives with living, breathing human beings, and when you've put in the effort there's a lot of sadness and regret mixed in with the wonder and appreciation. I think some people tend to shy away from going there because it stings a bit. The Brits have always had a non-American take on spending lives. To me it seems a bit, I don't know, thoughtless and even uncaring. I don't think it's that exactly, but it's just a bit different from the American way. Perhaps it's just less touchy-feely, though you'd be hard pressed to find any U.S. fighting unit you could honestly describe as touchy-feely. An illustration of the difference might lie in two of the aircraft six one seven squadron flew, the Canberra and the Vulcan. Each had bang seats for the drivers but manual bale out schemes for the observers/navigators. We did it all or nothing. Take the A-3, for instance. No ejection seats in the Navy version and Ejection seats for all in the B-66/RB-66. Wouldn't have been a Bat-21 movie otherwise.

    IX Squadron is Nine Squadron, btw. Interestingly, 111 Squadron is Treble One Squadron.

    Nuff trivia, once again great post and I'll re-watch those videos instead of writing today. :)

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    1. I wonder if the Brit thought pattern was that the Pilots would stay with it until the rest of the crew got out, then being deeper into the problem needed the added ummph to get out. One would hope that's the reason anyhow. The stiff upper lip image takes a beating if the driver's leave before the drivee's. Just sayin'

      Thanks PA

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  7. The narrator, John Nichol, is quite an author himself and co “Tall End Charlie’s” about WW2 bomber aircrew as well as his own story “Tornado Down”
    https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/240/24068/tornado-down/9781405937573.html

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    1. Yeah, I liked the animation he had when talking to the various witnesses he had in the video. I think I'll check out those books. Thanks for the rec.

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  8. http://www.startribune.com/polish-authorities-mull-evacuation-after-wwii-bomb-found/560989932/
    not long ago less than 60 klicks from me there was at least one tallboy found
    it was presumably UXO from 1945 raid that sank the Lutzow
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_cruiser_Deutschland#Operations_in_the_Baltic

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    1. With that much explosive, I'm not sure 60 klicks is far enough. Be careful! :-)

      More to read. Thanks Pawel!

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    2. (Don McCollor)...at the Trinity test with a yield of about 21 KT, the VIP observers 32 km away came through fine without blast protection.

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    3. 18 miles? One can not be too careful. Just sayin'

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  9. My favorite, and Mrs. Andrew's All Time Home-Best-Favorite-#1 National Park is Smoky Mountains NatPark. Love it there. Cade's Cove is a special trip into the past, and once you get off the heavily traveled roads, it becomes a magical journey into the past. Plenty of walking, biking, hiking, driving. And oh, so beautiful. Prefer the Townsend (western) side rather than the Gatlinburg (northern) side. We rented a cabin one year on the northern side right after Christmas, for a whole week to encompass New Years, prepped for snow, but only got frost, it was wonderful. Miss that park. Always wanted to go when it snowed, or right after the deep parts of the park opened after the melt (Cade's Cove is closed to visitors when it snows.)

    Ah, but for the grace of God and a big win with Publishers' or Lotto, we'll just be able to see it in our minds. Oh, well, that's life.

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    1. Glad you did not need water or rescue. Good post.

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    2. I've never made it into that park. Traveled I-40 nearby a few times and always thought the scenery was pretty nice. Those trips were always late spring or summer and we were trying to get somewhere. To the Pentagon (that was a slower trip) and from the Pentagon (couldn't go fast enough), now that the fear and loathing has abated somewhat, might be worth a trip.

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    3. As are we, Beans, as are we. Thanks

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  10. As to the Dambusters...

    Always found their dam bomb sight to be one of the most intriguing uses of common sense in warfare ever. Nails and a board. How much simpler can you get.

    And the picture of the Tallboy answered another question that has always been itching in my mind. Tallboys and Grandslams tended to blow up above, proportionally, the explosive power of normal bombs. I mean, a normal 12klb bomb would not be as powerful as a Tallboy. And the answer is on the side of the bomb. Torpex. A more powerful explosive than standard bomb explosives, normally found in... torpedoes. Makes sense. Too much sense. This is England we're talking about. They're not supposed to make sense. These are the chaps that never developed an explosive round for the 2lb tank gun, and only grudgingly, because of US intervention, developed an HE round for the 6 pounder. And they really loved their 25 pound howitzer even though our 105mm was far superior in all aspects and they could have had them for basically free... And they go and do something sensible like use Torpex for megabombs to mega the bomb.

    Good post today.

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    1. I liked the way they achieved and maintained the proper altitude on the mission. Two spotlights mounted in the nose and tail. When there was only one spot on the ground, they were at the right height. Simple, but effective.

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  11. The dam busters is a fascinating tale from WWII. Giant brass ones they had.

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    1. Yeah, they did. But then, I've heard there were so many with them, there was a global brass shortage. Unfortunately, it seems to have abated (but not entirely) a bit lately.

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  12. also we must mention professor Wallis, the man who without firing a shot has probably costed Germany more money and resources than any other man alive in WW2...
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnes_Wallis
    Tall Boy and Grand Slam were the original Mothers of All bombs...

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    1. Yep, without an efficient, effective weapons, an accurate delivery systems, and brave warriors to deliver it, it becomes very difficult to win.

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  13. I've read the autobiography of Gibson which he wrote in 1944 before he was shot down during the same year. It was entitled Enemy Coast Ahead. Seems like an uncensored version was published in 2003 which included Gibson's views on fellow pilots and staff, air tactics and the deployment of Bomber Command. I think I need to reread this book but using the 2003 or 2019 edition.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enemy_Coast_Ahead

    Victor

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    1. Thanks for the update. Since I read the book when Sarge was a teenager and I was barely old enough to read, I think I probably read the censored version. Think I'll look for the new one.

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  14. Great post and history lesson. Wallis was a genius, and the Brits were smart enough to give him the approval to do what he needed to perfect the various bombs. 5th Air Force did that in the south Pacific in 1942, using regular bombs to sink ships with B-17s, B-25s, and A-20 Havocs. :-)

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    1. I've read several books recently about the war in the South Pacific. It definitely was a much different war than was fought in Central/Northern Pacific. Even more so than the war in Europe. I also discovered some interesting details that will be in a future post.

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  15. As an aside, today I learned that there were projects undertaken to carry Grand Slam bombs with B-29s... and there are photos of one airborne, with a Grand Slam externally mounted under each wing.

    (Modified like the Lancasters were, with changes to the bomb bays, the B29 was capable of carrying the T-12... which was basically the Grand Slam, only ‘Merica sized to 43,000lbs...)

    Ouch.

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    1. I wonder what the instant altitude gain was when that Bad Boy was pickled. Ouch, indeed!

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