Monday, September 25, 2017

Redemption won.....and lost

If Google is accurate, (doubtful), this is my 20th post on Air Force Medal of Honor Recipients.  Which probably means that I've discussed close to 30 of them.  Many of the Dual Recipient posts were flying bombers at their time in the sun, although a pair of them received them for ground actions in WWII.

It has struck me in doing the research, how "normal" these guys were.  As a rule, they weren't gung-ho super hero types that you might expect to see from the movies.  Rather they were normal folks trying to do their job the best they could,  finish it and return home to their lives and loved ones.

However, something occurred while they were doing their job that transcended their long term desires and reset their immediate priorities, with the concurrent cost of many of their lives.

But, normal people also have faults and flaws that they may or may not be able to control for any lengthy period of time.

One of these people appears to be Sgt Maynard Smith.

Sgt Smith was born in Michigan to an upper middle class family.  The family was comparatively wealthy and as such, Sgt Smith didn't have many responsibilities.  He married young and had a child.  Things didn't work out and the marriage ended quickly. Sgt Smith was 31.

As WWII started, Sgt Smith was working the rules trying to avoid the draft when he came in front of a Judge for failure to pay child support.  The Judge gave him the usual choice BITD.  Prison or the Army.

He chose the Army, specifically Aerial Gunnery, primarily because that was an automatic promotion to NCO with its increased pay, and it wasn't the infantry.

However, he didn't fit in very well.  Apparently, he didn't like taking orders especially when they were issued by people younger and, in his mind, less intellectual than he.

So, lets just say he didn't fit in real well.

He makes it through gunnery school and is assigned to the 432nd Bomb Squadron 306th Bomb Group, a B-17 unit in 8th Air Force as a ball turret gunner.

A lengthy video, but a lot of information I had no prior knowledge about the B-17 and its gunners.

At 5'3", he fit one of the key requirements of the position, fitting into the turret.
X marks the spot for the hatch.  For reference I wear a size 10 shoe.
So, our Hero is in theater and trained to do an extremely important, dangerous job with a command that is taking enormous casualties.  

Because of his attitude, antics and personality, no one wants to fly with him.  The B-17 crews were very tight knit and had to rely on each other implicitly.  No one has confidence that Sgt Smith will pull his weight.

However, as I said, enormous casualties brought him to his day in the crucible.  May 1st,1943, the 306th will be part of an 80 bomber attack on the submarine pens at Saint Nazarre France.  The bombers will take off and head west and come into France from the Atlantic, minimizing their time over land.  Saint Nazarre had earned the nickname "Flak City"

This will be Sgt Smith's first mission.

Takeoff is smooth, however the rendezvous does not go well and only 20 aircraft are in the formation as they approach the target area.  Sgt Smith and the rest of the crew are in their battle positions as the attack begins.

The 20 bombers reach the release point with little problem and the bombs are dropped.  The egress plan is to turn west again proceed feet wet, then turn north over the Atlantic and proceed home.

For whatever reason, the lead navigator makes a mistake and turns them back east too early.  Shortly thereafter, they see land off to the east, so they drop down to 2000 feet as they cross the coastline.

Of France.

Right over the well defended harbor of Brest.  Intense flak starts to burst around them and they are also attacked by FW-190s.  

The bomber is hit several times as they turn northward and is now on fire.

It has also experienced hydraulic failure, rendering the ball turret inoperable.  Sgt Smith manages to get it into the specific conditions where the hatch will open (which was quite often not possible thus trapping the gunner inside), exits into the fuselage.  There he notices that the aircraft is on fire, in both the radio compartment forward as well as the waist gun positions aft.

The radioman panics and bails out, as do the waist gunners.  No sign of them was ever found.  Sgt Smith begins fighting the fire with the on board fire extinguishers when he notices the tail gunner is injured and trying to make it forward through the flames.  Sgt Smith gets him to, relative, safety and administers emergency first aid for a bullet wound through the lungs.  

Sometime, during this episode, bullets start flying again as another FW-190 attacks.  Sgt Smith mans one of the waist guns and starts firing back, transferring to the other gun as the fighter passes.  At some point, during these repeated attacks the fire has gotten so bad that holes have burned through the floor and ammunition is beginning to explode.  

Sgt Smith starts jettisoning the exploding ammunition through the holes whilst alternating between firing at the persistent Focke Wulf and fighting the fire.  At some point, the Focke Wulf RTBs.

Sgt Smith returns to fighting the fires, eventually running out of fire extinguishers.  At that point, according to the official report, he wraps himself in fire retardant cloth and starts beating the fire out.  According to his side of the story, he used an unconventional internally carried personal liquid to help extinguish the fire.

In ANY case, the fire is extinguished and the Pilot, Lt Johnson, who is on his 25th and final mission (and, having reportedly said as they dropped their bombs and started heading for home "My that was easier than expected" thereby jinxing the whole operation) lands the badly crippled bomber at the first available base, which upon landing and stopping breaks into two at the point in the fuselage where the Sgt Smith had put out the fire.
The large hole is where the Radio room was.  There were over 3500 holes in the bomber all told.

All on board survived, the only fatalities were the three crewmen who had bailed out.

Lt Johnson recommended Sgt Smith for the Medal of Honor.  This was approved by FDR as it included several firsts.  It was the first Medal of Honor presented to a living airman since one was presented to General Doolittle.  It was the first Medal of Honor presented to an Airman in the ETO and it was the first Medal of Honor presented to an enlisted airman.

The ceremony was scheduled and Secretary of War Frank Stimson would be presenting the Medal to Sgt Smith.  However,  a few days before the ceremony, Sgt Smith, having reverted to his usual ways, had missed a mission briefing resulting in his having to be replaced on the plane.  He was given two weeks KP as punishment.

The ceremony is about to begin, but no recipient to be seen.  Somebody at the last minute remembers the KP and rounds him up.
Fresh off KP and receiving our nation's highest honor

Sgt Smith flies 4 more times before grounding himself for "battle fatigue".  According to the above video, this was not unusual, especially for ball turret gunners.  He is relieved from duty, reduced in rank to PFC and finishes the war behind a desk.

Post war, he relished the role of "hero", and in 1952, in a bid to win an election stages a suicide attempt rescue.  His accomplice, the ex-wife of a friend who was down on her luck and needed the $500 bucks he offered, climbs out on the 6th floor ledge of the YWCA in Washington.  

Sgt. Smith climbs out and "talks" her down.  The press immediately ramps up the "War Hero saves despondent Women" meme and his popularity is on the rise.  However, on questioning the women and asking Sgt Smith why he was in the building, the story falls apart and he is charge and convicted of filing a false report.

Sic transit gloria mundi

Sgt Smith's Citation: *
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty.
The aircraft of which Sgt. Smith was a gunner was subjected to intense enemy antiaircraft fire and determined fighter airplane attacks while returning from a mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe on 1 May 1943. The airplane was hit several times by antiaircraft fire and cannon shells of the fighter airplanes, 2 of the crew were seriously wounded, the aircraft's oxygen system shot out, and several vital control cables severed when intense fires were ignited simultaneously in the radio compartment and waist sections.
The situation became so acute that 3 of the crew bailed out into the comparative safety of the sea. Sgt. Smith, then on his first combat mission, elected to fight the fire by himself, administered first aid to the wounded tail gunner, manned the waist guns, and fought the intense flames alternately. The escaping oxygen fanned the fire to such intense heat that the ammunition in the radio compartment began to explode, the radio, gun mount, and camera were melted, and the compartment completely gutted.
Sgt. Smith threw the exploding ammunition overboard, fought the fire until all the firefighting aids were exhausted, manned the workable guns until the enemy fighters were driven away, further administered first aid to his wounded comrade, and then by wrapping himself in protecting cloth, completely extinguished the fire by hand.
This soldier's gallantry in action, undaunted bravery, and loyalty to his aircraft and fellow crewmembers, without regard for his own personal safety, is an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces."

*Formatting assistance courtesy  of  Mike AKA Proof


Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Blast From the Past

Your Humble Scribe and one of his favorite birds, the SE-5a.
So there was this Friday Flyby I did back in October of 2013. For some reason it became a favorite place for spammers to leave their bogus, idiotic comments. The hits on that post grew to over 5,000. Cool right?

No. Bloody annoying.

The latest batch of spam comments all seem to start out, "I could not resist commenting..."

Try harder next time you scum bastards. Do spammers piss me off? You betcha. Why they comment on older posts is an approach whose logic eludes me. To get me to chase their bogus links? I'm far too canny for that.

As all posts are moderated when they hit the ripe old age of 7 days, only I see their stupid comments. And they are taken out and shot pretty damned quickly I can tell you.

Stupid spammers.

Anyhoo, I decided that it was time for another re-run Sunday. Why, you ask? Well, there are multiple reasons. One is that I want to share some of my older stuff with the new crowd. A lot of you weren't here 3 or 4 years ago and I don't expect you to chase the older posts. So, as a public service of course, I will, from time to time, post a re-run. As Tuna has pointed out, I give the old posts a new intro so at least there is some original writing included with the re-runs.

Such as my rant/whine/lament about spam commenters above. (A pox on their houses.)

Also, it's hard some days coming up with new material. This week has been rather tough on the old brain box, what with work and a frustrating inability to get a good night's sleep. And third, I must confess, I am inordinately lazy at times. Incorrigible I am.

Anyhoo. I really liked that old Friday Flyby but I had to send it back to draft status. Which did cut down on the spam. At least on that post. Trust me, they've found other posts to leave their dung on. Bastards.

The opening photo might give you a hint as to the subject of that old Flyby, which I resurrect here. World War I in the air, specifically the men who flew for the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. You don't hear a lot about them, but they had some outstanding pilots and some very sweet machines later in the war. This post was too special, to me at any rate, to stay in the back room, as it were.

So here we go...

B Flight RFC No 7 Squadron 1918

The Raid on Haubourdin Airfield
Steven Heyen
The British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was the primary air arm of the United Kingdom during World War One. The other air arm was the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) belonging, obviously, to the Royal Navy. This was, mind you, before there was such a thing as an aircraft carrier.

On the first of April 1918, the RFC and the RNAS merged to create the Royal Air Force (RAF) which we are familiar with from World War Two and, of course, down to today. Both services (pre-April 1918) produced a number of outstanding aviators from throughout the British Commonwealth. Here are some of my favorites.

Air Marshal William Avery "Billy" Bishop
Victoria Cross
72 Aerial Victories

1894 - 1956
The top scoring RFC pilot was, oddly enough, Canadian.

From Wikipedia:
In November 1916 after receiving his wings, Bishop was attached to No. 37 Squadron RFC at Sutton's Farm, Essex flying the BE.2c. Bishop disliked the flying at night over London, searching for German airships, and he soon requested a transfer to France.

On 17 March 1917, Bishop arrived at 60 Squadron at Filescamp Farm near Arras, where he flew the Nieuport 17 fighter. At that time, the average life expectancy of a new pilot in that sector was 11 days, and German aces were shooting down British aircraft 5 to 1. Bishop's first patrol on 22 March was less than successful. He had trouble controlling his run-down aircraft, was nearly shot down by anti-aircraft fire, and became separated from his group. On 24 March, after crash landing his aircraft during a practice flight in front of General John Higgins, Bishop was ordered to return to flight school at Upavon. But before he could leave, Major Alan Scott, new commander of 60 Squadron, convinced Higgins to let him stay until a replacement arrived. The next day Bishop claimed his first victory when his was one of four Nieuports that engaged three Albatros D.III Scouts near St Leger. Bishop shot down and mortally wounded a Leutnant Theiller, (although Shores (1991) has 12-kill ace Theiller as being killed vs 70 Squadron Sopwiths on 24 March; therefore this claim does not match with known losses) but his engine failed in the process. He landed in No Man's Land 300 yards from the German front line. After running to the Allied trenches, Bishop spent the night on the ground in a rainstorm. There Bishop wrote a letter home, starting:"I am writing this from a dugout 300 yards from our front line, after the most exciting adventure of my life." General Higgins personally congratulated Bishop, and rescinded his order to return to flight school. On 30 March 1917, Bishop was named a flight commander. The next day he scored his second victory. Bishop, in addition to the usual patrols with his squadron comrades, soon flew many unofficial "lone-wolf" missions deep into enemy territory, with the blessing of Major Scott. As a result, his total of enemy aircraft shot down increased rapidly. On 8 April he scored his fifth victory and became an ace. To celebrate, Bishop's mechanic painted the aircraft's nose blue, the mark of an ace. Former 60 Squadron member Captain Albert Ball, at that time the Empire's highest scoring ace, had had a red spinner fitted.

Bishop's no-hold-barred style of flying always had him "at the front of the pack," leading his pilots into battle over hostile territory. Bishop soon realized that this could eventually see him shot down; after one patrol, a mechanic counted 210 bullet holes in his aircraft. His new method of using the surprise attack proved successful; he claimed 12 aircraft in April alone, winning the Military Cross and a promotion to Captain for his participation at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The successes of Bishop and his blue-nosed aircraft were noticed on the German side, and they began referring to him as "Hell's Handmaiden". Ernst Udet called him "the greatest English scouting ace" and one Jasta had a bounty on his head.

On 30 April, Bishop survived an encounter with Jasta 11 and Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron. In May, Bishop won the Distinguished Service Order for shooting down two aircraft while being attacked by four others.

On 2 June 1917, Bishop flew a solo mission behind enemy lines to attack a German-held aerodrome, where he claimed that he shot down three aircraft that were taking off to attack him and destroyed several more on the ground. For this feat, he was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), although it has been suggested that he may have embellished his success. His VC was one of two awarded in violation of the warrant requiring witnesses (the other being the Unknown Soldier), and since the German records have been lost and the archived papers relating to the VC were lost as well, there is no way of confirming whether there were any witnesses. It seemed to be common practice at this time to allow Bishop to claim victories without requiring confirmation or verification from other witnesses.

In July, 60 Squadron received new Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s, a faster more powerful aircraft with better pilot visibility. In August 1917 Bishop passed the late Albert Ball in victories to become (temporarily) the highest scoring ace in the RFC and the third top ace of WW1, second only to René Fonck and third to the Red Baron. Soon after he was informed he had won the Victoria Cross for his June attack on the German aerodrome.
Billy Bishop in the Cockpit of His SE-5a

Air Vice Marshal Raymond Collishaw
61 Aerial Victories
1893 - 1976
The man tied for second place on the aces list for the Commonwealth is, again Canadian.

From Wikipedia:
Air Vice Marshal Raymond Collishaw CB, DSO & Bar, OBE, DSC, DFC, RAF (22 November 1893 – 28 September 1976) was a distinguished Canadian fighter pilot, squadron leader, and commanding officer who served in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and later the Royal Air Force. He was the highest scoring RNAS flying ace and the second highest scoring Canadian pilot of the First World War. He was noted as a great leader in the air, leading many of his own formations into battle. As a member of the RAF during the Second World War, he commanded No. 204 Group (which later became the Desert Air Force) in North Africa.
Collishaw's first recorded victory came while he was flying escort on the Wing's first large-scale raid into Germany, on October 12th, 1916. The raid was against the Mauser Rifle Factory at Oberndorf, Germany. The bombers had nearly reached their target when they were attacked by six German Fokkers. Collishaw got into position to allow his observer to fire on one, and he evidently damaged it. Lt. Collishaw then turned, gained height, and fired a burst with the front gun. The Fokker dived out of control, and, according to the British crews, crashed to the ground, a total wreck. According to the German authorities, they lost no aircraft during the engagement, but it was not unheard of for combatants to attribute their losses to accident rather than enemy action.

Major Edward "Mick" Mannock
Victoria Cross
61 Aerial Victories
1887 - 1918
Killed in Action at 31 Years Old
From Wikipedia:
Major Edward Corringham "Mick" Mannock VC DSO MC (24 May 1887 – 26 July 1918) was a British First World War flying ace. Mannock was probably born in Ireland, but of English and Scottish parentage.
Mannock went into combat on the Western Front on three separate combat tours. Although initially a social misfit suspected of cowardice in his first assignment to 40 Squadron, he began to accumulate victories. He took on the highly hazardous task of balloon busting for his first aerial victory, and by dogged concentration on his gunnery skills, tallied 15 victories by the end of his first combat tour.
After two months back in England, he returned to France as a Flight Commander in the fledgling 74 Squadron. He amassed 36 more victories between 12 April and 17 June 1918. He also gained a reputation for ruthless hatred of his German adversaries, delighting in burning them to death. He became phobic about burning to death in midair. The stresses of combat began to tell on him. He also became ill with a lingering case of influenza. When ordered home on leave in June, he wept.

He returned as Officer Commanding of 85 Squadron in July 1918; he would score nine more victories that month. By now, his phobias had spread to include excessive tidiness. He also had presentiments of his coming end. Just days after warning fellow ace George McElroy about the deadly hazards of flying low into ground fire, Mannock did just that on 26 July 1918. His fighter plane was set on fire, and he was killed in action. 
He was one of the world's first theorists of aviation tactics, and was renowned for his prudent but aggressive leadership in the air. By the time he rose to command of 85 Squadron, his subordinates boasted that he never lost a wingman.

Mannock won the Military Cross twice, was one of the rare three-time winners of the Distinguished Service Order, and would be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. He is regarded as one of the greatest fighter pilots of the war.

Major Mannock

Sopwith Camel

Sopwith Triplane

Major James Thomas Byford "Mac" McCudden
Victoria Cross
58 Aerial Victories
1895 - 1918
Dead at 23 Years Old
From Wikipedia:
James Thomas Byford McCudden VC, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar, MM (28 March 1895 – 9 July 1918) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valor in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. With his six British medals and one French one, McCudden received more medals for gallantry than any other airman of British nationality serving in the First World War. He was also one of the longest serving, having joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1913. McCudden's story is all the more remarkable as he rose through the RFC ranks (from Air Mechanic to Major) during the war to become one of the most decorated and honored soldiers of the conflict. At his death he had amassed 57 victories, making him the seventh highest scoring ace of World War I.

He was killed in a simple accident, of a type more typical of beginner pilots than someone of his experience and proven skill.
McCudden was one of the first truly 'professional' airmen, who applied a scientific approach to air combat. McCudden took great pains over his guns, aircraft, and tactics, dismissing choices of last resort such as deliberately crashing a plane into the enemy.

Using his knowledge as a mechanic, he tuned his aircraft to give it an additional 4000 ft altitude ceiling. This resulted in him specialising in carefully stalking high altitude reconnaissance aircraft, leading to an unsurpassed total of captured enemy aircraft (21 fell within Allied lines). Some of these stalking techniques are described in McCudden's autobiography, entitled "Flying Fury - Five Years In the RFC".

Captain Albert Ball
Victoria Cross
44 Aerial Victories
1896 - 1917
Killed in Action at 20 Years Old

Captain Ball's Nieuport 17

From Wikipedia:
On the evening of 7 May 1917, near Douai, 11 British aircraft from No. 56 Squadron led by Ball in an S.E.5 encountered German fighters from Jasta 11. A running dogfight in deteriorating visibility resulted, and the aircraft became scattered. Cecil Arthur Lewis, a participant in this fight, described it in his memoir Sagittarius Rising. Ball was last seen by fellow pilots pursuing the red Albatros D.III of the Red Baron's younger brother, Lothar von Richthofen, who eventually landed near Annoeullin with a punctured fuel tank. Cyril Crowe observed Ball flying into a dark thundercloud. A German pilot officer on the ground, Lieutenant Hailer, then saw Ball's plane falling upside-down from the bottom of the cloud, at an altitude of 200 feet (61 m), with a dead prop. Brothers Franz and Carl Hailer and the other two men in their party were from a German reconnaissance unit, Flieger-Abteilung A292. Franz Hailer noted, "It was leaving a cloud of black smoke ... caused by oil leaking into the cylinders." The engine had to be inverted for this to happen. The Hispano engine was known to flood its inlet manifold with fuel when upside down and then quit running. Franz Hailer and his three companions hurried to the crash site. Ball was already dead when they arrived. The four German airmen agreed that the crashed craft had suffered no battle damage. No bullet wounds were found on Ball's body, even though Hailer went through Ball's clothing to find identification. Hailer also took Ball to a field hospital. A German doctor subsequently described a broken back and a crushed chest, along with fractured limbs.

The Germans credited Richthofen with shooting down Ball; however there is some doubt as to what happened, especially as Richthofen's claim was for a Sopwith Triplane, not an S.E.5, which was a biplane. Given the amount of propaganda the German high command generated touting the younger Richthofen, a high-level decision may have been taken to attribute Ball's death to him. It is probable that Ball was not shot down at all, but had become disoriented and lost control during his final combat, the victim of a form of temporary vertigo that has claimed other pilots. Ball's squadron harbored hopes that he was a prisoner of war, and the British government officially listed him as "missing" on 18 May. There was much speculation in the press; in France, the Havas news agency reported: "Albert Ball, the star of aviators ... has been missing since the 7th May. Is he a prisoner or has he been killed? If he is dead, he died fighting for his forty-fifth victory." It was only at the end of the month that the Germans dropped messages behind Allied lines announcing that Ball was dead, and had been buried in Annoeullin with full military honours two days after he crashed. Over the grave of the man they dubbed "the English Richthofen", the Germans erected a cross bearing the inscription In Luftkampf gefallen für sein Vaterland Engl. Flieger Hauptmann Albert Ball, Royal Flying Corps ("Fallen in air combat for his fatherland English pilot Captain Albert Ball").

Ball's death was reported worldwide in the press. He was lauded as the "wonder boy of the Flying Corps" in Britain's Weekly Dispatch, the "'Ace' of English 'Aces'" in Portugal, the "heroe aviador" in South America, and the "super-airman" in France. On 7 June 1917, the London Gazette announced that he had received the Croix de Chevalier, Legion d'Honneur from the French government. The following day, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions from 25 April to 6 May 1917. On 10 June 1917, a memorial service was held for Ball in the centre of Nottingham at St Mary's Church, with large crowds paying tribute as the procession of mourners passed by. Among those attending were Ball's father Albert, Sr. and brother Cyril, now also a pilot in the RFC; his mother Harriett, overwhelmed with grief, was not present. Ball was posthumously promoted to captain on 15 June. His Victoria Cross was presented to his parents by King George V on 22 July 1917. The following year he was awarded a special medal by the Aero Club of America.
In 1918, Walter A. Briscoe and H. Russell Stannard released a seminal biography, Captain Ball VC, reprinting many of Ball's letters and prefaced with encomiums by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, and Major General Sir Hugh Trenchard. Lloyd George wrote that "What he says in one of his letters, 'I hate this game, but it is the only thing one must do just now', represents, I believe, the conviction of those vast armies who, realising what is at stake, have risked all and endured all that liberty may be saved". Haig spoke of Ball's "unrivalled courage" and his "example and incentive to those who have taken up his work". In Trenchard's opinion, Ball had "a wonderfully well-balanced brain, and his loss to the Flying Corps was the greatest loss it could sustain at that time".

In the book proper, Briscoe and Stannard quote Ball's most notable opponent, Manfred von Richthofen. The Red Baron, who believed in his younger brother's victory award, considered Ball "by far the best English flying man". Elsewhere in the book, an unidentified Royal Flying Corps pilot who flew with Ball in his last engagement, was quoted as saying, "I see they have given him the V.C. Of course he won it a dozen times over—the whole squadron knows that." The authors themselves described the story of Ball's life as that of "a young knight of gentle manner who learnt to fly and to kill at a time when all the world was killing ... saddened by the great tragedy that had come into the world and made him a terrible instrument of Death".
Captain Ball is one of my favorite aces, I had a model of his SE-5A as a young boy. That aircraft has always been a favorite. (Yes, Pungo has one, see below.)

The Last Flight of Captain Ball
by Norman G. Arnold
WWI Postcard Illustration

Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park
20 Aerial Victories
1892 - 1975
Now you may think it odd that I finish this post with this gentleman. While 20 victories is nothing to sneeze at, it certainly isn't an overwhelming amount. But you see, Air Chief Marshal Park (for such is the rank he retired at) served in both World War I and World War II. Not that surprising, many senior officers served as junior officers in the Great War. But Sir Keith was not only an ace in the First World War but one could argue that this chap from New Zealand saved the United Kingdom in the Second World War.

For during the Battle of Britain, Sir Keith commanded No. 11 Group of RAF Fighter Command, the lads with responsibilities for this area of England - 

That's right, London and the area of England immediately across from France. Where the bulk of the Luftwaffe's attacks fell. That story was told here (and of course many other places as well, in books and in film).

He also commanded the air defenses of Malta during the bitter struggle for air superiority over that vital piece of real estate. So he was a hero in two world wars, very impressive accomplishments!

One of my heroes as well!
Air Chief Marshal Park during WWII
The Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross
The United Kingdom's Highest Military Decoration
Awarded for Valor in the "Face of the Enemy"
Equivalent to the Medal of Honor
Your Humble Scribe and one of his favorite aircraft, the SE-5A.
(At Pungo, of course!)

Saturday, September 23, 2017


Summer is over, the leaves up here in New England are starting to change color. Here in Little Rhody it will be a while before the color really sets in. If it does, it's not an every year kind of thing. Depends on the temperature, the amount of rain we had, and probably a bunch of other factors as well. I just try to enjoy it when it's here.

I enjoy Fall, the light has a different quality, almost a rosy hue. While the days here are still warm, the nights are beginning to be crisp.

The past couple of days we've been seeing a lot of wind and some rain as what used to be Hurricane Jose peters out over the Atlantic. "He" pretty much left us alone, other than the higher than normal winds and some rain, not really heavy, sort of a persistent drizzle. But that storm's presence out there might keep the next storm, Maria, away from us.

It's Friday evening as I write this, wet, gloomy, blustery winds, and rather chilly.

I thought a bit of Yeats was needed. And to think I didn't care for poetry in my youth. I guess you get more refined with age.
The Wild Swans at Coole
William Butler Yeats

'The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Cool Stuff

Screen capture from the video.
I'm exhausted, it's been a long, long week, so...

Yup, you get a video.

The scene in Saving Private Ryan where the troops go over the side of a landing craft into water over their heads is incredible. Watching them struggle with their equipment, some succeeding, some drowning before even getting ashore is harrowing.

The scene works just as it is, but of course Hollywood has to juice it up. They can't resist it. When the German machine gun rounds start ripping through the water and killing men, well, I had to throw the challenge flag.

Mythbusters had an episode where they showed what happened when even high powered rounds hit the water. They don't go far, when they're going from air to water they even break up. Yes, even the full metal jacketed rounds. (Great movie by the way. The Nuke got a lot of odd looks in high school when asked what her favorite movie was. "Full Metal Jacket! Get some!")

Ya know, there's a reason highway departments use safety barriers filled with water. Water is virtually incompressible and will absorb a lot of energy. Have you ever belly flopped into a pool? Hurts, doesn't it?

At any rate, I ran across this video by a guy who is wicked smart (own it, say it like you're from Boston), Destin does a lot of cool stuff on his YouTube channel SmarterEveryDay and this isn't the first of his videos I've watched. (I think I posted one of his videos before, I just don't remember when and quite honestly I'm too tired to look it up right now.)

This video is great, shooting a rifle underwater and filming the results with high speed cameras (I love high speed camera work). He also explains some of the science behind it. (Don't worry, you won't have to do any math, unless you really want to...)


Wicked cool!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Time Flies

From this, in 1936...
To this, in 1944.
From this, in 1939...
To this, in 1945.
Technology can progress at a pretty amazing pace. Wartime sometimes drives that, but what about these things?

IBM Personal Computer, 1981.
Acer Aspire Laptop Computer, 2012
I do remember my first IBM PC clone computer, it had a four color monitor, two 5 and a quarter inch floppy drives and, gasp, a 20 megabyte hard drive. Though I bought it used, for $1200, I was the envy of the guys at work.

Well, except for the guy who owned a Mac.

There's always that guy.

The space program is another example of the leaps and bounds technology can make in a free society.

Mercury-Redstone 4, in 1961
STS-129 Atlantis, in 2009
One of my favorite examples of the speed of technological development is comparing the latest and greatest aircraft from 1908, the year of my maternal grandmother's birth, to the latest and greatest bird in 2000, the year she died.

Wright Model A, first flight in 1908.
F-22 Raptor, first flight in 1997.
So when my grandmother was a child, aircraft were primitive, personal computers and space flight were unheard of, except perhaps in a Jules Verne novel! When she was in her fifties men had walked on the moon. Before she died many people had personal computers, they were practically as ubiquitous as a telephone or television.

She often commented at the changes she had seen in her lifetime.

Amazes me it does.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Whither Goethe?

Goethe in the Roman Campagna - Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (Source)
I had thought perhaps to write of philosophy today, not the classic guys and all that, more what I thought of all the great questions of the age.

But I am no philosopher. I am a simple man with simple tastes.

I also had thought to address the perceived lack of civility in our Nation these days. I've addressed that topic before (here and here) and Tuna addressed it pretty well yesterday, he doesn't post much but when he does it's well worth the wait. I will, no doubt, talk about civility, or the lack thereof, sometime again in the future. It's inevitable as once you start to get on in years, you start to repeat yourself.

And digress from time to time, like right now.

As is my wont, I like to start my posts with something pictorial, some days I know exactly what I want, other days I just stumble around the Internets until something (of a non-copyrighted nature, or close to it) presents itself.

Chasing the philosophy angle I searched on images of philosophers. 'Twas there that I stumbled across Goethe. (Well he was lying on that bench with his foot sticking out, I couldn't help but stumble.)

Now Goethe was something of a brilliant man. As a matter of fact, he...
was a German writer and statesman. His works include epic and lyric poetry; prose and verse dramas; memoirs; an autobiography; literary and aesthetic criticism; treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour; and four novels. In addition, numerous literary and scientific fragments, more than 10,000 letters, and nearly 3,000 drawings by him exist. (Source)
It struck me, thinking about the barbarism we seem to be sinking into, planet-wide, not just at home, though California seems eager to get there first, and thinking about philosophers, that one thing which is often said of Nazi Germany is that how could a nation such as that, a nation which produced Goethe and Beethoven, sink into such a state of barbarism.

State policy called for the deportation of all non-Germanic "stock" and the murder of all Jews, Gypsies, criminals, homosexuals, and the intelligentsia of all the countries the Nazis wanted for themselves. (Lebensraum and all that rot.)

Germany made the ultimate descent into barbarism, as did Soviet Russia, as did so many other totalitarian states. All eventually failed. Soon enough people will say "Enough!" and rise up against their oppressors. Usually though it takes the totalitarian state invading the wrong country and pissing off some other country before enough force is brought to bear to crush the totalitarians.

Until they rise again.

Speaking of the Nazis and their idiotic racial theories, I ran across this picture while researching my recent post about the Wehrmacht -

The ideal German soldier, ja?

Well, yes and no. The young man's name was Werner Goldberg. He had been selected as the poster boy for the Wehrmacht, his image appearing on recruiting posters for the German military. Until the Nazis discovered that his father had been born Jewish but had converted to Lutheranism in order to marry Werner's (future) mother.

Blond and blue-eyed though he was, he wasn't good enough for Hitler's sick racial philosophy.

Speaking of which, there is a lot of sick racial philosophy still alive in the world. Drives me to distraction it does. There is, let me be frank about this, no such thing as race. We are all one species with a multitude of climate adapted variations. No one more superior than the other, all equal in the eyes of our Creator.

There are a number of idiots running loose in the streets these days, hiding behind masks, spreading hate and discontent. I'm starting to believe it has nothing to do with Clinton losing the election. That's just an excuse.

I'm starting to wonder what the end goal of these miscreants is?

I doubt they even know.

But their masters do.

What a world we live in...