Tag Archives: Royal Air Force

29 April 1945

Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster Princess Patricia of No. 514 Squadron at RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, UK, being loaded with food for Operation Manna, 29 April 1945, (Pilot Officer Penfold, Royal Air Force official photographer)
Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster “Princess Patricia” of No. 514 Squadron at RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, England, being loaded with food for Operation Manna, 29 April 1945. (Pilot Officer Penfold, Royal Air Force Official Photographer/Imperial War Museum)
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster heavy bomber drops food packages over The Netherlands.
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster heavy bomber drops food packages over The Netherlands.

29 April 1945: With the defeat of Nazi Germany imminent, millions of Dutch citizens were still under the control of the occupying German army. Food was very scarce. The Allies tried to negotiate a cease fire so that American and British airplanes could fly into The Netherlands and drop food to the people.

The truce had not yet been agreed to by Germany, but on 29 April, Operations Manna and Chowhound began.

The first night, to test the feasibility of the project, two Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster four-engine long range heavy bombers of No. 101 Squadron—Bad Penny, crewed by Canadians, and a second ship flown by an Australian crew—were loaded with food at RAF Ludford Magna and flew into The Netherlands at barely 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground.

To drop the food they simply opened the bomb bay doors and the bags and packages fell to the starving people below.

A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster drops bundles of food in The Netherlands during Operation Manna, 1945. (International Bomber Command Center)

With Flight Sergeant Robert Fairful Upcott, D.F.M., Royal Canadian Air Force, [service number R187858] leading with Bad Penny, the two Lancasters ¹ dropped their food on the Racetrack Duindigt at Wassernaar, near The Hague, then returned along the same corridor they had flown on the way in. At 2:00 p.m. that afternoon, another 200 Lancasters followed.

Flight crew of Avro Lancaster, “Bad Penny.” Standing, left to right: Wireless Operator Stan Jones; Flight Engineer John Corner; Aircraft Commander, Flight Sergeant Robert F. Upcott,D.F.M.; and Navigator Bill Walton. Kneeling, Aerial Gunner Bill Demo; Mid-Upper Gunner Ossie Blower; and Bomb Aimer Bill Gray. (Canadian Historical Aircraft Association)

Over the next ten days, approximately 11,000 tons (9,979 Metric tons) of food were dropped by Royal Air Force Lancasters and U.S. Army Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress bombers.

A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster drops food packages from its bomb bay while flying at very low level over The Netherlands during Operation Manna.
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster drops food packages from its bomb bay while flying at very low level over The Netherlands during Operation Manna.

¹ The second Lancaster was commanded by Flight Officer P.G.L. Collett, Royal Australian Air Force (A424149).

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 April 1968

Flt-Lt. Pollock flies his Hawker Hunter through the Tower Bridge, 5 April 1968. Illustration by Flight Artworks.

Friday, 5 April 1968: Flight Lieutenant Alan Richard Pollock, No. 1 Squadron, Royal Air Force, based at RAF West Raynham, southwest of Fakenham, Norfolk, was leading a flight of four Hawker Hunter FGA.9 close air support fighters. Pollock described the weather:

“Over London the weather was still one of those rare perfect 8/8 Gordon’s crystal, gin clear days when all the colours shout out brightly.”

Pollock broke away from the formation and flew toward London.

FLIGHT International reported:

Hunter to Tower—Under

     An RAF Hunter few through the Tower Bridge, London, in a down-river direction just after noon last Friday, April 5. The Hunter, carrying underwing tanks, was glimpsed momentarily from Flight‘s offices in a descending, mushing turn until lost to sight behind United Africa House. Previous flights through Tower Bridge—never in a jet, and never so fast—have invariably been made in an up-river direction.

     The MoD was investigating as we closed for press; the supposition was that the aircraft was an FGA.9 of 1 or 54 Squadrons, which comprise the close-support wing at RAF West Raynham. The station refused comment, but flying was taking place that day. Visibility was excellent. Some authorities attributed the incident to widespread resentment that the RAF had been deprived of a ceremonial fly-past on the 50th anniversary day, April 1. The Red Arrows were expecting to make this fly-past last month, but permission was presumably denied. A Ministry of Defence spokesman to whom we were referred at press time by the duty officer at RAF West Raynham, was not then able to reveal the name of the pilot.

FLIGHT International, Vol. 93, Number 3083, 11 April 1968, at Page 500, Column 3

Diagram of Tower Bridge, with dimensions. (Wikipedia)

. . . and the following week:

The Man Who Shot the Bridge

     The RAF pilot who flew a Hunter FGA.9 through Tower Bridge, London, on April 5 was no youthful prankster but a senior flight commander of 1 Sqn, RAF West Raynham, an Old Cranwellian, and the father of four children.

     He was Flt Lt Alan Richard Pollock, aged 32. He was named on Sunday, April 7, by MoD (Air) too late, owing to Easter press schedules, for mention in our last week’s story. Flt Lt Pollock was placed under close arrest on April 5 and released into open arrest on April 7. A board of inquiry was convened at West Raynham on April 8. An all-party motion signed by six MPs [Members of Parliament] was tabled in the Commons in his support but was ruled unacceptable.

     Whatever their views on the responsibility and possible consequences of flying a jet fighter through the 200ft-wide, 110ft-deep aperture framed by the towers, the bascules and the upper span of Tower Bridge, there is unanimity among pilots that it was a handsome piece of flying.

     Flt Lt Pollock was the first pilot to fly through the bridge in a downstream direction, following the gentle sinuousities of King’s Reach from the Waterloo Bend—and passing over Blackfriars’ two bridges (road and rail), Southwark Bridge, Cannon Street rail bridge, and London Bridge. After clearing the last he probably had little more than five seconds to align himself with the eye of the needle presented by Tower Bridge, retaining until the last fraction of a second the option of pulling up had he found the opening partly obstructed by abnormally high vehicles, by hanging cradles or by the bascules opening.

     It has been reported that Flt Lt Pollock peeled off from a formation returning from RAF Tangmere, where he had led four Hunters on display duties. This might have accounted for his choice of direction. The absence of pre-placed photographers, who always seem to have been around on previous Tower Bridge buzzings, seems to rule out premeditation. Another explanation of why he preferred the crane-lined Upper Pool downstream of Tower Bridge for his climb-out when all previous pilots have used it for the run in may have been to avoid climbing through the flight levels occupied by airliners on the approach to Heathrow had he made a westerly climb-out. He turned to port over the City.

     The RAF and civil authorities were tussling last week about whether Flt Lt Pollock should be court-martialled or tried in a civil court. His one-man fly-past was construed in and outside the RAF as an expression of resentment felt by many in the Service—including those now responsible for deciding his punishment—of the way the Royal Air Force is being treated by the Government. It may be that the last straw was the cancellation of the 50th anniversary fly-past over the capital on April 1. A fly-past planned in conjunction with the Lancaster House dinner with the Queen was cancelled at the last moment as “inappropriate.” A mid-day fly-past, seen by the maximum number of Londoners and visitors, would have been most “appropriate” on this occasion.

     Attitudes to the Tower Bridge exploit of past and present members of the RAF whom we have questioned vary from the very strongly censorious to the frankly admiring; but an unvarying theme was that some RAF protest was called for, without infringing flying discipline.

FLIGHT International, Volume 93, Number 3084, 18 April 1968 at Page 567, Columns 1 and 2

The Royal Air Force did not court-martial Flight Lieutenant Pollack. A medical board discharged him from the service. The Ministry of Defence announced that Pollack had been hospitalized with pneumonia, and that, “. . . if he were brought to trial it would probably have a damaging effect on his health, both immediately and in the long term.”

An oral history recording with Alan Pollack (32 minutes, 20 seconds) is available at the Imperial War Museum:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80027439

This was not the first time an airplane had flown through Tower Bridge. On 10 August 1912, Frank McLean (later, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Kennedy McLean, A.F.C.) flew his modified Short S.33 float plane, and, according to his obituary in The Times, 12 August 1955, “. . . created a record by flying up the Thames in a seaplane, passing between the upper and lower parts of Tower Bridge and under London Bridge without touching the water.”

Frank McLean flying through the Tower Bridge, 10 August 1912. (Clan Maclean)

Alan Pollock was flying a Hawker Hunter FGA.9, XF442, c/n S4/U/3318. It had been converted from a Hunter F.6 interceptor. The Hunter was a single-seat, single-engine, swept-wing jet fighter, which first entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1954. The FGA.9 ground attack variant was based on the Hunter F.6 interceptor.

Hawker Hunter FGA.9 XF511, photographed in 1974. This is the same type aircraft as that flown by Flight Lieutenant Pollack, 5 April 1968. (Mike Freer/Wikipedia)

The FGA.9 was 33 feet, 8 inches (10.262 meters) long with a wingspan of 45 feet, 10½ inches (13.983 meters) and height of 13 feet, 2 inches (4.013 meters). The wing area was 340 square feet (31.6 square meters). The wings were swept back 40° at ¼-chord, and had an angle of incidence of 1½°. There is noticeable anhedral. The FGA.9 had and empty weight of 13,010 pounds (5,901 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 18,000 pounds (8,165 kilograms).

The FGA.9 was powered by a single Rolls-Royce RA.28 Avon 207 engine. This was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 15-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The RA.28 was 10 feet, 3.0 inches (3.124 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,869 pounds (1,301 kilograms). It was rated at 10,050 pounds of thrust (44.7 Kilonewtons).

Hawker Hunter FGA.9 XF442 at RAF Lossiemouth, 1979. This is the airplane flown through Tower Bridge, 5 April 1968. (Peter Nicholson via Airport-Data.com)

The Hunter FGA.9 had a maximum speed of 702 miles per hour at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters)—0.97 Mach—and maximum range of 1,850 miles (2,977 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

The basic armament of the Hunter were four 30 mm ADEN autocannon installed in a removable gun pack, along with 150 rounds of ammunition per gun. The ADEN was a gas-operated revolver cannon, capable of firing 1,200–1,400 rounds per minute. The FGA.9 could also carry a 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms) bomb under each wing, twenty-four 3-inch rockets, or two rocket pods with thirty-seven 2-inch rockets, each, for ground attack.

Hawker produced 144 of the Hunter FGA.9 ground attack variant, with 12 modified from F.6 interceptors. Most of Hawker’s foreign sales were based on the FGA.9.

Hawker Hunter FGA.9 XF442 was transferred to the Fuerza Aérea de Chile, 24 April 1982, and assigned identification number J-742. It crashed near Antofagasta, in northern Chile, 20 May 1982.

Alan Pollock was recently interviewed for the Daily Mail:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5571423/RAF-veteran-pilot-82-relives-split-second-decision-fly-busy-Tower-Bridge.html

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 March 1945

Pilot Officer P. Martin's Avro Lancaster B Mk.I Special, PB996, YZ-C, releases the 22,000-pound Grand Slam earth-penetrating bomb over teh railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany, 19 March 1945. (Imperial War Museum)
Pilot Officer P. Martin’s Avro Lancaster B Mk.I Special, PB996, YZ-C, releases the 22,000-pound Grand Slam earth-penetrating bomb over the railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany, 19 March 1945. © IWM (CH 15735)
The Grand Slam bomb drops away from the No. 617 Squadron Lancaster B Mk.I Special, YZ-C, 19 March 1945. (Imperial War Museum)
The Grand Slam bomb drops away from the No. 617 Squadron Lancaster B Mk.I Special, YZ-C, 19 March 1945. © IWM (CH 15374)

19 March 1945: Modified Avro Lancaster B Mk.I Special heavy bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, attacked the railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany, using the 22,000 pound (9,979 kilogram) Grand Slam earth-penetrating bomb. The bomb had been first used just days before, 14 March, against another railway viaduct.

The Grand Slam bomb dropped by Flying Officer Martin's Avro Lancaster exploeds underneath the railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany. (Imperial War Museum)
The Grand Slam bomb dropped by Flying Officer Martin’s Avro Lancaster explodes underneath the railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany. Bomb craters from previous unsuccessful attacks are visible in this RAF photograph. © IWM (CH 15378)

The Grand Slam was the largest and heaviest aerial bomb used during World War II. It was designed by aircraft engineer Barnes Neville Wallis, and was scaled up from his earlier, smaller “Tallboy.” (Wallis also designed the “Upkeep” Special Mine used to attack hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley in 1943.)

Wallis’ idea was that a very heavy, supersonic bomb could penetrate deep into the earth and detonate, causing an “earthquake” which could destroy nearby heavily protected targets.

The Grand Slam bomb was 26 feet, 6 inches (8.077 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 3 feet, 6 inches (1.067 meters). When fully loaded with the explosive material, Torpex, the bomb weighed 22,000 pounds (9,979 kilograms). The bomb case was cast of steel at the Clyde Alloy and Steel Company, Galsgow, Scotland, then, after several days of cooling, machined to its precise shape. The casing made up approximately 60% of the bomb’s total weight.

A "Bomb, Medium Capacity, 22,000 Pounds, lifted by a crane at a Royal Air Force bomb dump. (Imperial War Museum)
A “Bomb, Medium Capacity, 22,000 Pounds”—the Grand Slam—lifted by a crane at a Royal Air Force bomb dump. © IWM (CH 15369)

The bomb case was filled with molten Torpex. Torpex was an explosive designed for torpedo warheads and depth charges. It was made up of approximately equal quantities of two other explosives, Research Department Formula X (RDX), 42%, and trinitrotoluol (TNT), 40%, mixed with 18% powdered aluminum and wax. The resulting combination was approximately 1.4 times more powerful than TNT alone. About one month was required for the explosive to cool after being poured into the bomb case.

Because of its size and weight, the only Allied bomber capable of carrying the Grand Slam was a specially modified Avro Lancaster B.I Special, flown by No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, “The Dambusters.”

Wallis intended for the Grand Slam to be dropped from very high altitudes so that during its fall, it would go supersonic. The bomb had large fins that caused it to rotate for stability. However, the bombers could not carry it to the planned release altitude, and it was typically dropped from approximately 9,000 feet (2,743 meters). Its very sleek design did allow it to come close to the speed of sound, however, and its stability made it a very accurate weapon. The bomb was capable of penetrating 20-foot-thick (6 meters) reinforced concrete roofs of submarine bases.

A Grand Slam bomb penetrated this reinforced concrete submarine pen. man at the top of the photograph gives scale. (Imperial War Museum)
A Grand Slam bomb penetrated the 7 meter (23 feet) thick roof this reinforced concrete submarine pen. The man at the top of the photograph gives scale. (Imperial War Museum)

Barnes Neville Wallis, Esq., M. Inst. C.E., F.R.Ae.S., Assistant Chief Designer Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd., was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Civil Division), by His Majesty, King George VI, 2 June 1943.

Sir Barnes Neville Wallis C.B.E., was knighted by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, 13 December 1968.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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John Edgar “Johnnie” Johnson (9 March 1915 – 30 January 2001)

Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, commanding No. 144 Wing, RAF Kenley, in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, EN398, 1943. (Imperial War Museum)

9 March 1915: Air Vice Marshal John Edgar (“Johnnie”) Johnson, CB, CBE, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, was born at Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire, England.

Johnson was the highest scoring Royal Air Force fighter pilot of World War II. He flew 515 sorties and scored 34 airplanes destroyed, 7 shared destroyed, 3 probables and 10 damaged. All of his victories were against fighters.

Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, commanding No. 144 (Canadian) Wing, sitting on the wing of his Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX (MK392, a Castle Bromley-built Spitfire) with his Labrador Retriever, Sally, at Bazenville, Normandy, 31 July 1944. (Pilot Officer Saidman, RAF Official Photographer/Imperial War Museum)
Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, commanding No. 144 (Canadian) Wing, sitting on the wing of his Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX (MK392, a Castle Bromley-built Spitfire) with his Labrador Retriever, Sally, at Bazenville, Normandy, 31 July 1944. (Pilot Officer Saidman, RAF Official Photographer/Imperial War Museum)
Air Vice Marshal John Edgar Johnson, Royal Air Force (Retired)
Air Vice Marshal John Edgar Johnson, CB, CBE, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force (Retired). (Dilip Sarkar MBE)
Sally with Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, Royal Air Force, Bazenville Lqnding Ground, Normandy, 31 July 1944. (Imperial War Museum)
JEjohnsonMedalSet
Medals awarded to Air Vice Marshal John Edgar Johnson, Royal Air Force.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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