Thursday, 31 December 2015
Tuesday, 29 December 2015
Tuesday, 22 December 2015
Book Review - When Britain Saved the West: The Story of 1940 by Robin Prior; completed 18 December 2015
Australian author Robin Prior has written a masterpiece. This book was one of Dr Gary Sheffield’s History Books of 2015 (BBC History Magazine); I couldn’t put it down it is an excellent read. This is not just the story of ‘Britain Alone’ that has often been re-told as it examines how Britain, under Churchill’s leadership stood against Nazism and for the concept of Liberal Democracy. The author defines ‘The West’ not in geographic terms but in conceptual ones as that ‘group of countries where the state seeks to uphold the rule of law and the values of the Enlightenment – political diversity, freedom of speech , tolerance of minorities; secular in outlook’ . By this definition then, in Europe only Britain remained as part of ‘The West’ by July of 1940 as every country in Europe, except Sweden and Switzerland, was either occupied by or allied to Nazi Germany. 1940 was also the year that Nazi Germany lost the War, as Richard J Evans points out in ‘The Third Reich at War’, when Germany failed to knock Britain out of the war – ‘she was doomed from that moment’. Evans described the Battle of Britain as the 1st major turning point of the War. This book is not just about the Battle of Britain, however, as Prior identifies a number of key crises, as well as the Battle of Britain, within that fateful year that threatened Britain’s existence as a state, it is not a general history of all the military events of 1940 so the Norwegian and N African Campaigns are left out.
Prior’s narrative commences with the Parliamentary Crisis that led to the deposition of Chamberlain for Churchill in May 1940 at a point when Chamberlain had in fact just won a No Confidence vote and remained as leader of the Conservative party, which had a large majority in Parliament. The author is scathing of Chamberlains’ lethargic prosecution of the war , a result either of his belief that a negotiated peace with Hitler was still possible or, according to Prior, that once war was engaged the German peple would overthrow the Nazis. Both possibilities show a fundamental ignorance of the nature of the enemy on Chamberlain’s behalf.
The Parliamentary crisis, in spite of the result of the No Confidence vote, was precipitated by the abject failure in Norway and the resulting collapse of support from the opposition benches (led by Atlee and Goodwood in particular and by Bevan the Trade Unionist) for the war as well as from within the Conservative Party ranks (led by factions linked to Eden and Beaverbrook). Churchill’s wide cross party appeal, his long-standing record of opposition to Nazism and his good relations with opposition and Trade Union Leaders, led to Chamberlain to resign as PM and recommend Churchill to the King on 10 May. Now Britain had a leader prepared to do whatever was necessary to win the war (including offering a permanent political union with France to keep her in the war, and after the French defeat to take the distasteful but ruthless decision to sink the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir (killing more than 1,200 men) to prevent it from falling into German hands).
Churchill’s accession was by no means smooth as the Parliamentary Crisis became the Cabinet Crisis. 10 May not only marked the accession of Churchill but also of the German attack kin the West. Not only did Churchill have to manage the war but he did not yet have a free political hand. With Chamberlain still leader of the Tories and the appeaser Lord Halifax still head of a powerful party faction these men had to be given War Cabinet posts at the expense of Eden and others who would have provided much needed backbone. To be inclusive Atlee and Goodwood had to come into the War cabinet to provide a national coalition to prosecute the war. Throughout the next few weeks Halifax in particular would work to undermine Churchill’s bellicosity by seeking Italian intervention for a negotiated peace. It was only firm leadership from Churchill and eventually the obvious intention of Italy of joining the war on the German side that defeated Halifax’s intent. Chamberlain’s death in November would eventually allow Churchill to get rid of Halifax but for now he would continue to be a thorn in the side.
The military defeat of the BEF and the later surrender of France is an oft told story but Prior makes a number of key observations that have been less well publicized. First among these was the intensity of the efforts that Churchill went to in order to keep France in the war. Although it is well known that Dowding refused to send additional fighters to France, Churchill committed far more than he needed to (and many French fighter ac were never committed). Prior shows, that contrary to common perception the BEF and supporting French Army immediately to its south fought determinedly and effectively though were left hanging by the collapse of the Belgians to the north that precipitated the retreat to Dunkirk and the evacuation. British commanders., particularly at Corps and Divisional level also performed well and it is a credit to the BEF commander, often maligned, and to the initiative of British Army leadership that Gort was willing to disobey Churchill (without repercussion) to order the retreat of the BEF to the coast , thereby saving it. An Army in being in Britain would later be a key piece of the jigsaw leading to the cancellation of Seelowe.
At Dunkirk, Prior’s major criticism is for the performance of the RAF whose fighters should have been able to establish air superiority over the beaches as its fighter bases were much closer to the battlefield than were the Luftwaffe’s. Dowding’s failure to provide air superiority over Dunkirk when he easily could have done so concludes Prior, put the evacuation at unnecessary risk and his parsimony was not justified.
A large part of the book now examines the Invasion threat and the Battle of Britain in its key phases including through the Blitz in the winter of 1940/41. Prior forensically examines the probability of success of any German Invasion and concludes categorically that any invasion would have been defeated, although he is very clear in reminding us that the Britons of 1940 could not see that as they were not in possession of the facts as we are today.
The Army in being, rescued from Dunkirk is a key factor in his calculations but the major determinants of his conclusions are the strength of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Prior concludes that RN, despite losses at Dunkirk, was always more than capable of intervening in any German invasion and that the removal of ships from Channel Ports to prevent further losses to the Luftwaffe was no more than an inconvenience.
For the RAF, Prior concludes that the Battle of Britain was not as close a run thing as is commonly perceived. At all times during the battle Dowding kept a large part of his force in reserve or supporting roles and the Germans, despite knowing the function of RDF, did not appreciate how it fed into the integrated C2 system of the command nor the importance of the Sector Airfields. This is not to say that AVM Park was not under extreme pressure. From his perspective the Battle was indeed a close run thing as his forces were limited and his Sector stations were those under attack but Prior highlights a note made by Dowding on one of Park’s despatches that Park was being, understandably, unduly pessimistic. Throughout the Battle the RAF maintained Air Superiority and Prior makes a convincing case that they never looked like losing it.
Of course the Battle did not end in 1940 but continued in the Night Blitz of British cities into May 1941 which is where the author now takes us. Night defence against the Luftwaffe was ineffective this early in the war and the civilian population suffered an unprecedented (to that time) attack as a result. Prior contends that he argues that the German bombing of London was always planned and not triggered as a result of RAF raids on Berlin the intention being to force Britain to conclude a disadvantageous peace. The attacks killed 40 000 people which is a lot but as it only represented 0.14% of the population of London in military terms this was insignificant. London, just as Berlin was later to prove, was just too big a target for the attacking capabilities of the Luftwaffe (never designed as a strategic force). Whilst the Blitz was indeed an ordeal for the civilians of Britiain in was never going to knock the country out of the war. German successes against the likes of Coventry, Liverpool and Glasgow were not followed up which allowed damaged manufacturing and port facilities to recover. Indeed Prior’s key points of the Blitz period are that the Luftwaffe was not equal to its task in either equipment or planning.
Throughout the book, Roosevelt’s presence is felt, initially through the attempts to engage Italian support for a peace settlement (Halifax) and then through Churchill’s increasingly strident appeals for support – not to save just Britain but Liberal Democracy. True he did allow Britain to purchase weapons form the US (initially for hard cash) but he only introduced ‘Lend/Lease’ once Britain appeared to be running out of Dollars. In return the US received Gold Bullion and a number of territories whilst US industry was bolstered by British orders for materiel. Prior presents the US as almost asset stripping Britain whilst Britain is standing up for all the values espoused by the Great Republic. In evidence, Prior presents a draft of one of Churchill’s letters the Roosevelt that seems to show Churchill in the same light! In the end Prior is no fan of Roosevelt who he contends did his best to stay out of the war even in the face of 70% of US public opinion (and his own Cabinet’s resolve) to get involved. He even concludes that it was Hitler (by unnecessarily declaring war on the USA) rather than Roosevelt who ensured that the USA would come fully to Britain’s aid.
The Hero of this book is undoubtedly Churchill. In seeing the war as a Manichean struggle between good and evil of ‘Christian Civilisation’ against Nazism he was the right man at the right time. The book concludes with part of the ‘Few’ speech that almost brought me to tears. It shows that Churchill was really fighting not just for Britain but for the values of ‘the West’, the vision that this speech shows when Britain was not only prepared to stand alone but saw herself as part of a much greater concept makes todays Little Englanders in the Conservative party, and the appeasers of the left seem as pygmies against the colossus that led the country in 1940:
“… our willingness at the darkest hour in French history to conclude a union of common citizenship in this struggle. However matters may go in France or with the French Government, or other French Governments, we in this Island and in the British Empire will never lose our sense of comradeship with the French people. If we are now called upon to endure what they have been suffering, we shall emulate their courage, and if final victory rewards our toils they shall share the gains, aye, and freedom shall be restored to all. We abate nothing of our just demands; not one jot or tittle do we recede. Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians have joined their causes to our own. All these shall be restored.
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."
Prior’s conclusions are that Britain, and therefore Liberalism, was saved through Churchill’s leadership, the determination and skill of the BEF and its leaders and the power of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. In retrospect he sees that Britain could only have been defeated in 1940 had she chosen to have given up (as Halifax and some appeasers still proposed in the Cabinet crisis in May). One may not agree with all of the author’s conclusions but one should definitely read this book. It is Brilliant.
Tuesday, 17 November 2015
The Adventure Game - A Cameraman's Tales from Films at the Edge a talk by Keith Partridge at Aboyne Community Centre 14 November 2015
Eilidh Scobie, the driving force behind Aboyne Stravaigers (and much else that goes on in Aboyne) had arranged for Adventure Cameraman Keith Partridge to give a talk about his career at the Aboyne community centre last Saturday. Shamelessly I invited myself to stay the night with Martin McGregor so we could attend and also enjoy a post-match drink.
Martin is a fine cook and he provided Keith and several others of us with dinner before Keith’s talk so it was nice to meet the ‘star’ (who proved to be a very fine dinner companion) before the show. The Adventure Game, Keith explained was to be called ‘Going to the Office’ but with a new book out he thought the title needed changing. Having said that, it clearly came across that Keith thinks himself extremely fortunate that his ‘Office’ is truly the Great Outdoors.
Keith is best known for filming Joe Simpson’s epic tale ‘Touching the Void’ buthis talk, to an audience of around 150, took us through how, as a lad with no A levels growing up in the not particularly renowned mountaineering area of Norfolk he came to be one of a small band of film Cameramen to have carried a camera to the summit of Everest. His talk, supported by Slides and videa, was in 2 parts each of around an hour. The 1st half covered how he had got into filming and Mountaineering and his BBC apprenticeship before becoming a freelance. Expeditions covered here included Caving in PNG, climbing and searching for poisonous wildlife in the Amazon and most spectacularly the filming of Humpback Whales rising up amongst Kayaks off Northern Canada.
The second part of the talk built to a crescendo from the foundations set in part 1. Taking us through the epic filming of a 16 yr old hunting foxes in Mongolia with his personally trained Golden Eagle we moved onto the filming of ‘Touching the Void’ and to me the even more impressive filming shown from ‘The Beckoning Silence’ that recalled the 1936 Eiger north face Disaster resulted in the death of five climbers who were avalanched whilst crossing the Hinterstossier Traverse. This looked like a particularly challenging piece of filming, though Keith would explain a couple of the tricks of the trade to me after the show. The climax of the talk was Keith’s 2012 filming of Kenton Cool’s Everest summit expedition to place a 1924 Olympic gold medal (presented to the 1922 Everest team) on the summit. Keith’s story of the expedition was gripping and I can only say that the filming from the summit at 0530 in the morning was stunning.
After the talk it was great to talk to Keith in more detail about his adventures and tricks of the trade. For this opportunity I must thank Jacqui and Duncan who invited us all back to their house for grub and a beer (or two) and Eilidh for bringing Keith along. Of course particular thanks to Martin for providing a free B&B service and to Keith for being a great sport and staying up late to chat with us mere mortals. Keith you are a gentleman
Needless to say I bought Keith’s book for more info see:
Monday, 12 October 2015
I’m not sure why I was looking at Bush Pilot training courses about a year ago, probably I was just bored on a Friday afternoon. In any case I suppose the reason is now irrelevant as history shows that I found the ‘Sky Africa’ website (http://skyafrica.com/what-we-do/bush-pilot-training/ ) and thought that here was something fun that I could try, particularly given the strength of Sterling vs the South African Rand. Here was a real adventure holiday on a different continent where I could improve my flying skill, learn new trick as see some fantastic wildlife. I mentioned the course to Alex Guild and he agreed to join me for the trip. My intention was to fly the Cessna 182 but due to this being unavailable I chose the Cessna 172 ZS-OHK as my mount for the trip; Alex would fly a Pa28-235 ZS-DYX which would have a 100hp more than my 172.
We took the KLM flight from Aberdeen to Schipol and then onwards to Johannesburg on 22 September arriving at OR Tambo International at 2200. Sky Africa had booked us into the Birchwood Hotel complex (rather pleasant) which is near the airport and it was just 200 Rand (£9) to get a taxi to the hotel where our 1st priority was a couple of beers. A text from Sky Africa sent to Alex told us that Clemens Maly would collect us at 0900 and take us to Brakpan for the start of our course. We would be in the hotel for 2 nights before flying to Kunkuru on the 25 September.
Next morning, Clemens duly collected us; we were to find out later in the week that he was also an excellent pilot as well as a taxi driver! It would be Clemens who would do most of the airfield briefing, with Tony Kent going over Forced and Precautionary Landings the notes of which are below
- Brakpan 122.7
- Springs 122.4
- JHB ATIS 126.2
- JHB INFO 119.5
- Safety Comm Equivalent 124.8
- Low Level 124.8
- Unmanned Airfield 124.8
- GF Areas 124.2
- Chat 123.4
- All Ccts to EAST - RW 36 Rt Hand Cct; 18 LH
- AF Height 5300ft
- Cct Height 700ft AGL on JHB QNH
- Mag Var 18.5W
- All departures and arrivals 6000ft on JHB QNH
- Must be SSR equipped
- No manned tower
- All comms ac to ac 122.7
- Flight test - East Rand Trg Area
- Departures to East (Jan Smuts Dam) or South (Ergo Slimes Dam) Only
- RW 18 climb to 6000ft and route dct to Eastern Side of ERGO
- RW 36 Rt turn to downwind 6000ft off down
- RW 36 RH Cct to Downwind then route dct Jan Smuts Dam
- RW 18 LH Cct to Downwind then route Dct Jan Smuts Dam
- Call inbound at ERGO on 122.7 aim for hangers remain clear of 36 Final
- Call Inbound on 122.7 at Jan Smuts Dam after handover form JHB Info (119.5)
Intentions (e.g East Rand Trg Area)
No Semi Circular Rule - instead North Track 7500ft; South 7000ft; Unable 6500ft or below
CAA Regs 2011
Min Heights over Built Up Areas or Open Air Assy (200+ ppl) 1000ft Vertically 2000 ft Horizontally except T/O and Landing
- <1000 ft agl clear of ground and cloud
- >1000 ft agl viz >5k 2000ft horizantally and 500 ft vertical separation from cloud
- No VFR on top
- Flight above 3/8 or more prohibited
- IMC Extremely dangerous without weather radar
- Instruments Required - Magnetic Compass; Accurate timepiece; Altimeter ; ASI
- Engine Start
- Check Oil Px
- Mixture Rich
- RPM 2000
- Carb Heat Check
- Lean gently until max RPM
- Rich slightly approx 3 full turns
- Long Ground Run
- Feels Uncomfortable
- DON'T PANIC
- You Have Runway - USE IT
- Use Ground Effect
- Fallow Field
- Reaped Field
- Planted Field
- Ploughed Field
- Open Field
Day 2 - 24 September
Friday 25 September
Saturday 26 SeptemberAfter a good night’s sleep, interrupted only by roaring of the Lodge’s resident Lions, I awoke at 0600. Oddly this roaring was not that disturbing to my sleep, perhaps it being a natural sound it did not keep me unduly awake or perhaps my lodge was further from the Lion enclosure than that of the others meant it wasn’t as loud for me as for the others! After a fine breakfast we drove up to the strip for a soft field take off on 23 . Flap to 20 and stick right back , once airborne unstall the wing and keep nose just off the runway, flap 10 and allow to accelerate in ground effect at 65kts gently climb away. This one was a good one. From now on most touch and goes would be short field (0 flap until 55kts then 10 flap , rotate accelerate in ground effect to 70 kts and climb away at 65. All future take offs from Kunkuru would be soft field though the last one would be somewhat twitchy as we hit turbulence on take-off – more later
Mabalingwe is a game reserve and the landing strip is the access road to the reserve. The road is only 5 metres wide and would be the narrowest we would land on all week. OHK was the 1st to arrive (EGP had already gone on ahead) so it was our job to stop the traffic by flying low over the gatehouses at each end of the strip. There is only one way in and out of Mabalingwe so I landed uphill on 04 (not that the runway had any markings!) and taxied to the end of the road to await the arrival of the 2 Pa28s. These duly landed and we all then took off, in reverse order downhill on 22 and set course for Thabazimbi.
Sunday 27 September
Monday 28 September
Tuesday 29 SeptemberToday was a day off but and although there was plenty of time to relax today we were not idle. After breakfast at 0700 we piled into the Landcruiser to follow the farmhands to watch the feeding of the prize Buffalo, a couple of herds of which were kept on the farm. Buffalo are one of the so-called big five (the others are Lion; Leopard; Hippo and Rhino) that are labelled as the most dangerous animals to hunters. On the way back to the lodge we saw a large male baboon. Sadly these are not welcomed on the farm as they attack the prize animals so they are often shot – though none of us were armed.
Tonight at dinner a Violin Spider crawled up the side of the table leg. This, one of only 3 really poisonous spiders in South Africa, was captured in a glass by Glen who then released it away from the lodges. The bite of this spider causes severe tissue necrosis so Glen was being more humane than I would have expected of him
Wednesday 30 SeptOn this morning’s soft field take-off I applied all of the correct techniques but OHK did not want to climb and we struggled away at just 55kts over the trees. Both Glen and I were mystified by the lack of performance and could only conclude that we had been affected by turbulence (today was the only one with any wind - this was to get up to Northerly gusts of over 30kts in the next couple of hours).
Well that was us. We would have a night at the Birchwood and another Geronimo Burger at Highflyerz for dinner. Glen had kindly agreed to pick us up in the morning where we would find a fully fuelled and serviced OHK for our trip to the Kruger.
Total flying for the day 2hrs 12 minsThursday
1 OctoberToday we were off to the Kapama River Lodge in the Kruger National Park. This was the only lodge with spare rooms that Jana could find so it was expensive (for Africa) but it was superbly opulent! All food was included and there was a structured programme, including an 0500 wake up call for the morning game drive but I’m getting ahead of myself.
First we had to get away from Brakpan and OHK wasn’t quite ready when we got there. Our earlier high oil temperature readings had caused Bernard (the Engineering Manager ) an overnight headache and he had had the gauge replaced by an electronic ine which was still being fitted as we arrived. Alex and I decided that I would fly the leg to Hoetsprit and Alex would fly the return leg.
Kapama had sent out a ranger to collect us and we were soon on the way to the lodge. Our ranger gave us the best tip of the day – ‘have your camera out and always switched on’. Even on the way to the lodge we had great views of Giraffe just wandering on the road. We were greeted at the lodge and given the low-down (meal times; Ranger’s name; Time of the Game Drive and Dinner etc) most efficiently before booking in and shown to our extremely opulent rooms.
Dinner was back at the Lodge where we ate with the others in Chanee’s care a feast that included Butternut soup; impala pie and ice cream as well as a very good S African Wine. Eventually we retired late after a couple of beers in the bar.
Friday 2 October0500 the phone rings. ‘Good morning sir its time to get up’. Bleary eyed I quickly showered, gave Alex a shout and we headed to the dining area where coffee, tea and fruit juices were being served along with croissants and muffins (breakfast would be at 0900 after our morning game drive). Once again Chanee took us under her wing and we once again went in search of game. We never found a leopard but this morning we were lucky enough to see a pride of lionesses within 10 feet of us. Apparently the animals see the Landcruiser and its passengers as one big animal and not as lunch – step off the vehicle however and you’re in a whole heap of trouble!
Breakfast was served after the game drive and was, like all the food excellent. We had a couple of extra coffees but for us our time at the Kruger was over and at 1100 we were on our way back to the airport. This time Alex was the pilot so I did the navigation and radios. Our route out was slightly different than the one in as we followed the Olliphant River as far Groblersdal. Here we were able to offer support to Jo’burg ATC by relaying a radio message to an ac inbound to Middleburg. Alex landed at Brakpan at 1430 and our African adventure was over. All there was left to do was to get back to Highflyerz for a Geronimo Burger, lots of Windhoek and Some live music. It was a great pleasure to have the company of Clemens that evening as he arrived to say cheerio and somehow we ended up drinking Whisky and proceeding downstairs to the nightclub.
Saturday 3 October
C172 ZS-OHK – P1 Self; Safety Pilot Glen Price
C152 ZS-EGP – P1 Heyo; Safety Pilot Dr Philip
Pa28-235 ZS-DYX – P1 Alex Guild; Safety Pilot Tony Kent; Pax Ken
Pa28-235 ZS-FHA – P1 Dan; Safety Pilot Clemens Maly; Pax Jan and Bea
Many thanks to Sky Africa for a wonderful trip and in particular to Glen for his perseverance and good humour putting up with me.
Check out the Flipagram I made at https://flipagram.com/f/i5RbYrBh2I