Monday, September 9, 2013

Death by Moonlight: Bomber Command

     I have for a long time wanted to write about this documentary as it is a sobering yet moving tribute to those who fought and died in the skies above Europe and England. When it first aired, it was not received evenly by all who viewed it. The opinions expressed ranged from praise to its openness and respect with which it covered the subject to that of displeasure in how the airmen were portrayed as near victims to a senseless horror.

     I am among those who feel praise for the work. I found that it respectfully portrayed the men who flew [many to their deaths] as human. They were in fact so human that during their time in service as well as the years that followed, they felt joy, sadness, pride, fear, patriotism, and remorse. While the war was necessary and just, it was no less costly in both body and spirit. God bless those that have given us all that we have today for we can never truly repay them.

 

Friday, September 7, 2012

RCAF on the Water


     In May of 1940, the Royal Canadian Air Force Marine Section had begun a testing program centered around a lone 40-foot armoured target boat as designed by the British Power Boat Company. This was the beginnings of the RCAF's expansion into the sea-going service and its fleet of "glamour boats". By July of the same year, a second and much larger boat at 70-feet was accepted for testing off of Canadian shores. The 70-foot boats were constructed with exotic African mahogany wood, 1,350 horsepower Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, and had a top speed of 45 knots.

40-foot armoured target boat

70-foot high speed launch

     Upon completion of the testing and trials, a total of 12 ATBs and 6 HSLs were ordered from both British and Canadian manufacturers. These 18 boats were supplemented by a further 12, 71-foot motor torpedo boats acquired as surplus from the United States Navy. Of the six HSLs, two were assigned to Eastern Air Command, Nova Scotia, and four went to Western Air Command, Vancouver. While the HSLs were equipped with a limited anti-submarine capability in the form depth charge racks, they were never used in aggression against any enemy vessels. They were after all,  procured to serve in the role of sea rescue.

     As the war ended in 1945, the ex-U.S. Navy MTBs were returned as these were lend-lease items. The HSLs continued their service in the RCAF, and were not decommissioned until 1952.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Gauntlet to Overlord

 

      Gauntlet to Overlord: The Story of the Canadian Army by Ross Munro. First Published in 1945, twice in 1946, and once more in 1972 by The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited. It contains 477 pages of text, 17 b &w photographs, and three maps. Average resale value is approximately $15.00.

Chapters include:
I - Introduction
II - The Storm Gathers
III - The Lightning Strikes
IV - The Struggle on the Beach-Head
V - The Battle for Caen
VI - The Push to Falaise
VII - Triumph at Turn - On the Seine
VIII - Return to Dieppe
IX - Channel Port Blitz
X - The Polders Battle - Into Germany
XI - England and the Long Wait
XII - Arctic Foray
XIII - Dieppe - Key to Invasion
XIV - Detour via North Africa
XV - Sicily's Thirty-Eight Days
XVI - From Reggio to the Po

     Ross Munro has authored a wonderful primer to the Canadian Army, and its experiences in the middle and later half of the second world war. While 477 pages may seem a bit large for what I am calling primer, that is because the book is more than a primer, but definitely not as detailed and burdensome as an official history. The text reads smoothly, as does any primer. Munro's writing style is a true pleasure to read much unlike many of today's historians. He does not bog the reader down by jumping back and forth with names, unit designations, and locations. All of which can make for labored reading.

     Gauntlet to Overlord is a balanced read that is willing to provide both praise for the hard fighting Canadian Army and yet be honest about political in-fighting and leadership challenges. Munro is well suited to write on the Dieppe raid of 1942 as he was one of three correspondents personally present. It is unfortunate that many books can become lost in the larger index of available works as brought about with time, especially those that are so enjoyable a read. Without reservation, I recommend the book to both those who particularly enjoy Canadian history as well as those who are simply wanting to read something other than the usual U.S. or British subjects.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bombs Gone!


     Radio traffic recordings are an excellent primary source for the study history. Through the static and the feedback, you can hear the voices of the past tell you what war is really like. At times, radio chatter can be hard to decipher as both radios and recording equipment are subject to multiple means interference. Even with today's military radios, you have to listen with intent as transmission oftentimes come through "weak and unreadable". There are two types of recordings, those between external stations and those internal to a crew. Bomber crew, internal communications can be especially interesting as you hear official crew procedures mixed with informal conversations.

     This below recording can be quite difficult to understand. At the bottom of the post, I have written the dialogue as best I can. You will still want to listen to the recording multiple times. The background is filled with the constant roaring of engines, FLAK explosions, and what is likely the bomber stream's own ordnance detonating below them. I recommend using headphones on a medium volume as it will allow for the best clarity. With the use of headphones, the full intensity of the dialogue can be appreciated. One last listening tip, by stopping all other personal distractions, surfing, painting, or even reading the dialogue, you are sure to get goosebumps whether it is your first time listening or your twentieth.


     The first exchanges are of a near miss with a Halifax as the Bomb Aimer (Curly) calls out "Look out Red, dive port, dive!" This is followed by more evasive actions and another near miss. The Pilot (called both Red and Skipper) expresses his apprehensions as he says, "I sure don't like this orbiting." The need for orbiting of the target becomes evident as Curly informs Red "O.K., the bomb sight is working now." After these exchanges, the navigator (Mac) provides flight azimuth corrections to Red. There is more conversation both procedural and informal.

     During the bomb run, Curly expresses his amazement as he says, "Look at the fires." The bomb run is completed as "Bomb doors closed" is announced. This is when the tension increases still higher. German FLAK becomes deadly close and Curly calls out frantic directional changes. The engines roar louder and louder; the pilot takes strong evasive actions. The danger is then compounded by the probing of enemy searchlights. Searchlights are legendary for the fear they induced and Curly can be heard saying, "Just keep us clear of those searchlights Red. Anything but that!" The aircraft is nearly caught in a cone coming from port, and the immediacy in Curly's voice is overwhelming.

     The closing of the recording becomes highly inaudible which is unfortunate after such a harrowing moment with the FLAK and searchlights. The recording then ends leaving the listener to ponder just how the return to home could have gone. Was the plane flyable after landing? were there any onboard casualties? Just how many more missions did these young men have to experience before they could stand down? Since it is a recording taken from within the aircraft, the mission must have ended with a return to England and a somewhat successful landing.


Dialogue:
 
Unknown Crew Member:  Halifax...garbled...port.
 
Bomb Aimer:  Look out, Red. Dive port, dive!
 
Pilot:  What was it?
 
Bomb Aimer:  Halifax, I think. Boy that's the closest I ever want to come to a collision. Look out, Red! Another aircraft is closing fast!
 
Pilot:  Okay, I see it. I sure don't like this orbiting. It could be a nice quiet target area anytime.
 
Bomb Aimer:  Okay Red, the bomb sight's working now.
 
Pilot:  Good.
 
Navigator:  Red, turn onto zero three five degrees in two minutes.
 
Pilot:  Okay, Mac.
 
Bomb Aimer:  Bombs fused. Bombs selected.
 
Pilot:  Boy, it's good to be back in the bomber stream again with all of us going the same way.
 
Bomb Aimer:  Boy, you can say that again.
 
Pilot:  Bomb sight working okay, Curly?
 
Bomb Aimer:  Yeah, like a million, Red. Target sighted. And how the boys making a mess of it! Look at the fires!
 
Pilot:  Okay, Curly. Take over.
 
Bomb Aimer:  Okay, Skipper. Left, left.Steady. Bomb doors open.
 
Pilot:  Bomb doors open.
 
Bomb Aimer:  Steady. Left, left. Steady. Bombs gone.
 
Navigator:  Garbled...target, three zero three, three zero three, magnetic.
 
Pilot:  Okay, Mac. Three zero three magnetic.
 
Bomb Aimer:  Bomb racks check, Red. No hang-ups. bomb doors closed.
 
Pilot:  Bomb doors closed.
 
Bomb Aimer:  Don't you know the FLAK's getting bad.
 
Unknown Crew Member:  Garbled...to starboard!
 
Pilot:  Okay, I see it.
 
Bomb Aimer:  Come to port, Red! Come to Starboard, Red! Garbled!
 
Unknown Crew Member:  Garbled...they've got us! Garbled...are right on!
 
Bomb Aimer:  Just keep us clear of those searchlights, Red! Anything but that! Searchlight coming this way from port, Red! Look out, Red! They're starting to scare me! It's getting close!
 
Pilot:  Garbled!
 
Bomb Aimer:  Garbled!
 
Pilot:  Garbled...find out!
 
Bomb Aimer:  Garbled!
 
Unknown Crew Member:  Skipper...garbled...today.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Colours of the Navy in World War II


     As a painter of wargaming miniatures and the occasional scale model, references for colour and scheme are invaluable. Proper colours for uniforms and accouterments is something that can only be left to the eye of the beholder. The human eye and personal interpretation must make decisions of hue, value, and chroma as we chose paint to represent varied material compositions and the dyes that colour them. With painted wood and steel objects, the process of comparison is much easier for the substrate is constant.

     Enough with the colour choice theory, and on to the meat of this post! A number of years back I had purchased a number of GHQ brand 1/2400 scale World War II naval miniatures for the pure joy of ownership, and perhaps their eventual use in an engagement or two! There seemed to be two options for painting; one easy, one not so easy. White Ensign Models, under their Colourcoats line of enamel paints, has purposely formulated colours for finishing naval models which would have been the quick solution. The problem for me was the medium; enamel. I am neither fond of the smell nor the clean-up required when using such paints. My next, and more obvious choice, was to stick with my tried and true Vallejo brand acrylics. Vallejo offers three lines of acrylic paints from which to choose to accomplish brush painting; Model Color, Game Color, and Panzer Aces.

     Vallejo, like every other brand is not all sunshine and rainbows. Different colours within the ranges provide stronger or weaker levels of performance. Regardless of this issue, Vallejo is the product line I decided on a long time ago for all of my hobby usage. My next requirement was for accurate original paint colour. Ink printed images and artwork simply would not do, so I went to the best source for the naval modeler; Snyder and Short Enterprises. Their series of paint chips is an unbeatable means of validating colour match, and while expensive, their purchase was well justified.


     I proceeded to make my own Vallejo paint chip sets by first spray painting with flat black a series of ice lolly sticks. This step was important as it gave me an equal starting colour as my models would have. Once the paints were applied in numerical order, I followed up with a coat of Testors aerosol Dullcote. This again was to ensure a quality comparison as Dullcote will darken the covered paint. Now that both sets of paint chips were on hand, the final determinations could be made.

     This is still not the end to the project. As of recently, I have come across an unattributed .pdf file on the Internet in connection with the International Plastic Modelers Society/South West Area Modelers of Plastic's. A fellow hobby enthusiast had conducted the very same project with obviously the same goals of creating a sound cross reference. I have tried to find the gentleman's name, but have had no successes. I would like to provide him credit as is due. His published conclusions provided me an opportunity to compare notes, and see just how calibrated my eyes might be.

     To be honest we had plenty of agreed matches, which was great news. There were a few I disagreed with, and a few I found to be corrections to my own thinking. Below is the current record of findings as I believe them to be. It is not complete for there are still a few colours that would require an unknown mix to duplicate. Do not fear, for these are little used colours (if ever), and will not inhibit the wargamer/modeler from reproducing excellently finished models. If at a later time I can conclude the formulas to these informational blanks, I will be sure to edit this post.


How to read the listing:
Royal Navy paint code: product line* Vallejo product position code; (mix ratio)

* VGC - Vallejo Game Color; VMC - Vallejo Model Color; VPA - Vallejo Panzer Aces

MS 1: VMC 48
MS 2: VMC 162
MS 3: VPA 338
MS 4: VPA 345
MS 4a: VPA 329 + VPA 330; (2:1)
507 A: VMC 105
507 B: VMC 59
507 C: VMC 154
B5: VMC 60
B6: VMC 153 + VMC 63; (1:1)
PB 10: VMC 51
Western Approaches Blue: VMC 108 + VMC 2; (2:1)
Western Approaches Green: VGC 205 + VMC 2; (2:1)
Mountbatten Pink, Light: VMC 60 + VMC 33; (1:1)
Mountbatten Pink, Dark: VMC 59 + VMC 35; (1:1)
G5: VMC 168
G10: VMC 166
G20: VPA 326 + VMC 2; (3:1)
G45: VPA 345
B15: VMC 58
B20: VMC 157
B30: VPA 338
B55: VPA 324
Black: VMC 169
White: VMC 5
Corticene: VMC 138
Semtex (early war): VMC 5 + VPA 344; (1:1)
Semtex (late war): VMC 83
Pink: VMC 38 + VMC 4; (1:1)
Dark Brown: VMC 148
Stone: VMC 134
Berwick Blue: no known match
Dark Blue: no known match
Buff: no known match
Light Green: no known match

Friday, August 10, 2012

R.C.A.F. Overseas

     Between the years 1944 and 1949, the Royal Canadian Air Force authorized the publishing of a three volume work that is the R.C.A.F. Overseas.




     The books themselves, while of historical value, and produced by the RCAF Historical Section cannot be deemed true official histories of the RCAF's wartime service. The reason is thus, they were subject to censorship rules which obscured important details such as squadron identities and geographical locations. While this is a blow to what could have otherwise been a pivotal work, it does not completely destroy their value as history in general.

     Combined  these books encompass 1,451 pages of text, notes, tables, photographs, and indexes. Unfortunately, the books have long since been out of print, and can be difficult to find in above-average condition. In 2008, the Directorate of History and Heritage first made them available as free downloads in .pdf format. While the books do not command as near as high a price as the Army's Official Histories, the opportunity to access the texts for free is most generous. The below book titles link directly to their corresponding files for reading, downloading, or printing.




Friday, August 3, 2012

Sea Cadets

     As a youth, I was a member of the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps which is the American cousin to the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets and the British Royal Navy Sea Cadets. All three are founding members of the International Sea Cadet Association. It was through this program of adventuring and institutional learning that I refined my values in hard work, dedication, cause, and comradeship. One does not often see their own growth and development in real time, but as we reflect back, it becomes more obvious which events helped shape us.

     While searching through YouTube for videos on the Royal Navy, I stumbled across a great recruiting video that was released in 1941 by The Ministry of Information. It is titled Sea Cadets with Bernard Miles. As with many wartime informational films, the actors are overly rigid, but the topic is important, and the supporting footage is top notch!
     Unfortunately, the video I had originally posted is no longer available on YouTube. I have since replaced it with a recruiting video containing an equally important message, albeit produced in a more modern setting.  


     While not currently a volunteer for the Sea Cadets, I do make a monthly payroll deduction to the program. Yes, I put my money where my mouth is! I encourage all who have a little salt in their blood to consider doing the same. Or, perhaps if your life's schedule will allow, take it one step further and become a volunteer. The earlier embedded links will take you to their parent organization's websites to help you learn more about these important youth programs.