Tag Archives: World War II

27 March 1942

North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell 40-2291 at Eglin Field, Florida, March 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

27 March 1942: After three weeks of intensive training at Eglin Field, Florida, twenty-two North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell twin-engine medium bombers of the 34th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 17th Bombardment Group (Medium), U.S. Army Air Force, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle, completed a two-day, low-level, transcontinental flight, and arrived at the Sacramento Air Depot, McClellan Field, California, for final modifications, repairs and maintenance before an upcoming secret mission: The Halsey-Doolittle Raid.

The B-25 had made its first flight 19 October 1940 with test pilot Vance Breese and engineer Roy Ferren in the cockpit. It was a mid-wing airplane with twin vertical tails and retractable tricycle landing gear. The first 8–10 production airplanes were built with a constant dihedral wing. Testing at Wright Field showed that the airplane had a slight tendency to “Dutch roll” so all B-25s after those were built with a “cranked” wing, using diehdral for the inner wing and anhedral in the wing outboard of the engines. This gave it the bomber’s characteristic “gull wing” appearance. The two vertical stabilizers were also increased in size.

A 34th Bombardment Squadron B-25B Mitchell bomber at Mid-Continent Airlines, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for modifications, January–February 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-25B Mitchell was operated by a crew of five: two pilots, a navigator, bombardier and radio operator/gunner.  It was 53 feet, 0 inch (16.154 meters) long with a wingspan of 67 feet, 7.7 inches (20.617 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 9 inches (4.801 meters). The The B-25B had an empty weight of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) and the maximum gross weight was 28,460 pounds (12,909 kilograms).

The B-25B was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.668 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 GR2600B665 (R-2600-9) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.9:1. The engines had a Normal Power rating of 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. These engines (also commonly called “Twin Cyclone”) drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic variable-pitch propellers through 16:9 gear reduction. The R-2600-9 was 5 feet, 3.1 inches (1.603 meters) long and 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,980 pounds (898 kilograms).

“On a low level training mission early in 1942 B-25 40-2297 would be airplane number 14 for the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo — This image was taken before the modification to the troublesome ventral turret. Pilot Major J.A. Hilger, Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Jack A. Sims, Navigator 2nd Lt. James H. Macie, Jr., Bombardier S/Sgt. Jacob Eierman, Engineer/Gunner S/Sgt. Edwin V. Bain” —HISTORYNET

The medium bomber had a maximum speed of 322 miles per hour (518 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and a service ceiling of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters).

It could carry a 3,000 pound (1,361 kilograms) bomb load 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers). Defensive armament consisted of a single Browning M2 .30-caliber machine gun mounted in the nose, two Browning M2 .50-caliber machine guns in a power dorsal turret, and two more .50s in a retractable ventral turret. (The lower turrets were removed from all of the Doolittle B-25s.)

North American Aviation, Inc., built 9,816 B-25s at Inglewood, California, and Kansas City, Kansas. 120 of these were B-25Bs.

North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers being assembled at the Kansas City bomber plant, October 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer, Office of War Information)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

24 March 1944

Stammlager Luft III prison in Province of East Silesia, World War II. (Muzeum Obózow Jenieckich W Żaganiu)
Stammlager Luft III prison in Province of East Silesia, World War II. (Muzeum Obózow Jenieckich W Żaganiu)

24 March 1944: At about 2230 hours, the first of 76 Allied prisoners of war interred at Stammlager Luft III (Stalag Luft III) began to escape through a 30-foot-deep (9 meters), 320-foot-long (98 meters) tunnel, code-named “Harry.”

The prison, located in East Silesia (now a part of Poland) was specially constructed to house captured Royal Air Force and other Allied airmen, and was controlled by the German air force, the Luftwaffe. Prior to this escape, the German captors had discovered at least 98 tunnels at the prison.

A drawing showing the proposed route of one of the escape tunnels, by wartime artist Ley Kenyon, a prisoner-of-war in Stalag Luft III at the time of the Great Escape in March 1944 [Picture: from the original drawings of Ley Kenyon 1943] (GOV.UK)
A drawing showing the proposed route of one of the escape tunnels, by wartime artist Ley Kenyon, a prisoner-of-war in Stalag Luft III at the time of the Great Escape in March 1944 [Picture: from the original drawings of Ley Kenyon 1943] (© Crown copyright)
The weather was the coldest in thirty years and five feet of snow lay on the ground. The last escapee left the tunnel at 0455, 25 March. Of the 76 prisoners who escaped, 73 were soon recaptured, and of those, 50 were murdered by the Gestapo.

Popularly known as “The Great Escape,” this was the subject of a 1950 book, The Great Escape, by Paul Brickhill, who was a POW at the prison. His book was adapted into a very popular motion picture, “The Great Escape,” in 1963.

Squadron Leader Thomas Gresham Kirby-Green, RAF, and Flight Lieutenant Gordon Arthur Kidder, RCAF, were murdered by Gestapo agents near Zlín, Moravia, 29 March 1944. (Geheime Staatspolizei)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

23 March 1912–16 June 1977

Wernher von Braun, Director, Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA)
Dr. Wernher von Braun, Director, Marshall Space Flight Center, 1 May 1964. (NASA)

23 March 1912: Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun, rocket engineer, was born at Wyrzysk, Province of Posen, in the German Empire, in what is now Poland. He was the second of three children of Magnus Alexander Maximillian von Braun, head of the Posen provincial government, and Emmy von Quistorp.

Wernher von Braun originally wanted to be a musician and composer, having learned to play the cello and piano at an early age. After reading a speculative book on space flight, though, his interests shifted.

In 1929, the 17-year-old von Braun joined Verein für Raumshiffahrt, the German rocketry association. He worked with Hermann Oberth in testing liquid-fueled rockets, based on successful rockets designed by Dr. Robert H. Goddard in the United States.

Rudolf Nebel (left) and Wernher von Braun with small liquid-fueled rockets, circa 1930. (Unattributed)
Rudolf Nebel (left) and Wernher von Braun with small liquid-fueled rockets, circa 1930. (Unattributed)

Von Braun graduated from Technische Hochschule Berlin in 1932, with a degree in mechanical engineering (Diplom-Ingenieur). Two years later, he received a doctorate in physics (Dr. phil.) at Friederich-Wilhelm University of Berlin. He also studied at ETH Zürich.

In Germany before World War II, Dr.-Ing. von Braun worked on the problems of liquid-fueled rockets and developed the Aggregat series of rockets, including the A4, which would become known as the V-2 (Vegeltungswaffe 2) military rocket. The German Army’s Ordnance Department gave von Braun a grant to further study liquid-fueled rockets, which he pursued at an artillery range at Kummersdorf, just south of Berlin. As rocketry work expanded, the tests were eventually moved to the Peenemünde Military Test Site on the island of Usedom on the Baltic coast, where von Braun was technical director under Colonel Dr. Ing. Walter R. Dornberger.

Wernher von Braun with a number of German officers at Peenemunde, March 1941. (Left to right) Oberst Dr. Walter Dornberger, General Friederich Olbricht, Major Heinz Brandt, von Braun; others not identified. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1978-Anh.024-03/CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Wernher von Braun with a number of German officers at Peenemünde, March 1941. (Left to right) Colonel Dr. Ing. Walter Dornberger (partially out of frame), General der Infanterie Friederich Olbricht*, Major Heinz Brandt, Prof. Dr. von Braun; others not identified. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1978-Anh.024-03/CC-BY-SA 3.0) [*General Olbricht developed Operation Valkyrie, the plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime.]
Aggregat 4 prototype (probably V-3) ready for launch at Prüfstand VII, August 1942. (Bundesarchiv)

The first successful launch of the A4 took place 3 October 1942. By the end of World War II, Nazi Germany had launched more than 3,200 V-2 rockets against Belgium, England, France and The Netherlands.

As World War II in Europe came to a close and the collapse of Nazi Germany was imminent, von Braun had to choose between being captured by the Soviet Red Army or by the Allies. He surrendered to the 324th Infantry Regiment, 44th Infantry Division, United States Army in the Bavarian Alps, 2 May 1945.

Dornberger, Herber Axter, von Braun and Hans Lindenberg, 3 May 1945. (U.S. Army)
Major-General Dr. Ing. Walter R. Dornberger; Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Axster, Dornberger’s chief of staff; Prof. Dr.-Ing. Wernher von Braun (with left arm in cast); and Hans Lindenberg, chief propulsion engineer; at Reutte, Austria, 3 May 1945. (Technician 5th Class Louis Weintraub, U.S. Army)

Under Operation Paperclip, Wernher von Braun and many other scientists, engineers and technicians were brought to the United States to work with the U.S. Army’s ballistic missile program at Fort Bliss, Texas, White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, and the Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama.

Sufficient parts and materiel and been transferred from Germany to construct more than one hundred V-2 rockets for testing at White Sands. Over a five year period, there were 67 successful launches, but it is considered that as much knowledge was gained from failures as successes.

Dr. von Braun with V-2 rocket compnents in Texas, circa 1945. (Unattributed)
Dr. von Braun with V-2 rocket components at White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, 1 November 1946. (Thomas D. McAvoy)

In 1950, von Braun and his team were sent to Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama, where they worked on more advanced rockets. The first production rocket was the short-range ballistic missile, the SSM-A-14 Redstone, which was later designated PGM-11. This rocket was capable of carrying a 3.8 megaton W39 warhead approximately 200 miles (322 kilometers) The first Redstone was launched at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 20 August 1953. Modified Redstone MRLV rockets were used to launch the first Mercury spacecraft with NASA astronauts Alan Shepherd and Gus Grissom. Von Braun later worked on the U.S. Army’s Jupiter-A intermediate range ballistic missile. A modified Jupiter-C was used to launch Explorer 1, the United States’ first satellite.

Explorer 1 launch, Launch Complex 26A, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 1 February 1958, 03:48:00 UTC. (NASA)
Mercury-Redstone 4 (Liberty Bell 7) launch at Pad 5, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 12 20 36 UTC, 21 July 1961. (NASA)

Wernher von Braun travelled to Germany in 1947 to marry his cousin, Maria Luise von Quistorp, and then returned to the United States. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America in 1955.

The von Braun family, circa 1955 (U.S. Army)
Prof. Dr. von Braun with his family, circa 1957. Left to right, Maria Luise von Braun, Margrit Cécile von Braun, Dr. von Braun and Iris Careen von Braun. (U.S. Army)

In 1960 von Braun and hist team were transferred from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to NASA’s new Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal. He was now able to pursue his original interest, manned flight into space. Work proceeded on the Saturn rocket series, which were intended to lift heavy payloads into Earth orbit. This resulted in the Saturn A, Saturn B and the Saturn C series, ultimately becoming the Saturn V moon rocket.

With the Apollo Program coming to an end, Dr. von Braun left NASA in 1972. A year later, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Wernher von Braun died of pancreatic cancer, 17 June 1977 at the age of 65 years.

Apollo 4 Saturn V (AS-501) on the launch pad at sunset, the evening before launch, 8 November 1967. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

21 March 1943

Cornelia Clark Fort, with a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell trainer. (U.S. Air Force)
Cornelia Clark Fort with a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell trainer. (U.S. Air Force)

21 March 1943: Cornelia Clark Fort, a pilot in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (the WAFS), was ferrying a new Vultee BT-13A Valiant basic trainer, serial number 42-42432, from the airplane factory at Downey, California, to an airfield in Texas. She was leading a flight of five BT-13s with the others being flown by inexperienced military pilots.

The left wing of Fort’s airplane was struck from behind by another airplane, BT-13A 42-42450, flown by Flight Officer Frank E. Stamme, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. Frank Stamme had approximately 250 flight hours. Apparently trying to impress Miss Fort, Stamme attempted to perform a barrel roll around her airplane, but struck her wing.

Fort’s BT-13 crashed approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Merkel, Texas, and Cornelia Fort was killed. Her body was found in the wreckage of the airplane. The canopy latches were still fastened.

Cornelia Clark Fort was the first female pilot killed while on active military duty. She was 24 years old. Miss Fort was buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennesee.

Frank Edward Stamme, Jr., was born in Illinois, 3 January 1920. He was the first of four children of Frank Edward Stamme, a machinist, and Bertha Catherine Peters Stamme. He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps at San Francisco, California, 5 November 1941. Stamme was released from military service 16 January 1947. He died 19 February 1987.

Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)
Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)

Cornelia Clark Fort was born into an affluent family in Nashville, Tennessee, 5 February 1919, the fourth of five children of Dr. Rufus Elijah Fort and Louise Clark Fort. Her father was a prominent surgeon who co-founded the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The family lived at Fortland, an estate east of Nashville. Cornelia attended the Ward-Belmont School in Nashville, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, New York, in 1939.

After taking a flight with a friend, Jack Caldwell, in January 1940, she pursued an interest in aviation, starting flight lessons the following day.  She had earned her pilot certificate and flight instructor certificate by June 1940, which made her the first woman to become an instructor at Nashville. With the Civilian Pilot Training Program, she first went to Fort Collins, Colorado, where she taught for about three months, then went on to Honolulu.

Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)
Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, all civilian aircraft were grounded. Cornelia Fort was able to return to the mainland United States in early 1942. In September she was one of the first 25 women accepted into the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Miss Fort was assigned to the 6th Ferrying Group based at Long Beach, California.

Air & Space/Smithsonian quoted from a letter written by Fort in a January 2012 article:

“I dearly loved the airports, little and big. I loved the sky and the airplanes, and yet, best of all I loved the flying. . . I was happiest in the sky at dawn when the quietness of the air was like a caress, when the noon sun beat down, and at dusk when the sky was drenched with the fading light.”

—Cornelia Clark Fort, 1942.

Cornelia Clark Fort’s military identification card. (Nashville Public Library)

The Vultee BT-13A Valiant was an all-metal, two-place, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet (12.802 meters) and height of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters). It had an empty weight of 3,375 pounds (1,531 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,496 pounds (2,039 kilograms).

The BT-13A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985-21, R-985-25, or R-985-27, nine-cylinder radial engine. These engines had a compression ratio of 6:1, with Normal Power ratings from 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at Sea Level to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., and 440 horsepower to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for Takeoff. They were direct-drive engines which turned a two-bladed variable-pitch propeller. The –21, –25 and –27 engines were 3 feet, 6.38 inches (1.076 meters) long, 3 feet, 9.75 inches (1.162 meters) in diameter and weighed from 648 to 685 pounds (294–311 kilograms).

The BT-13A had a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 21,650 feet (6,599 meters) and range was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

Vultee built 9,525 BT-13 and BT-15 Valiant basic trainers between 1940 and 1945. Of these, 7,037 were the BT-13A and SNV-1 variant. By the end of World War II, the Vultee Valiant was considered obsolete and was replaced in U.S. service by the North American AT-6 Texan.

Vultee BT-13A Valiant 42-43130, the same type aircraft flown by Cornelia Fort and Frank Stamme, 21 March 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather