Air Force News – Official opening of the International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) – 12 April 2018

piotr-forkasiewicz-aviation-illustration-finalroute (1)

The International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) in Lincoln, England will be officially opened today, as part of an ongoing series of RAF 100 commemorative events.

IBCC logo

The IBCC is an interpretation centre and memorial to the service of RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War, located on Canwick Hill, overlooking Lincoln in England.

International Bomber Command Centre

Lincoln was chosen as the site for the IBCC because over a third of all RAF Bomber Command stations (27) were based in the county during the Second World War earning Lincolnshire the nickname of the ‘Bomber County’. The IBCC consists of three major parts.

IBCC 3

The Spire Memorial and Walls of Names, erected in 2015, reflects the connection to the Lincoln Cathedral, the first major landmark that many Bomber crews saw when returning from their nightime missions. The Spire is based on the dimensions of the wingspan of a Lancaster bomber, being 31 metres (102 ft) tall and 5 metres (16 ft) wide at its base, making it the tallest War Memorial in the United Kingdom. The Spire is encircled by walls carrying the names of 57,871 men and women who gave their lives whilst serving in or supporting RAF Bomber Command. It is the only place in the world where all these losses are memorialised.

IBCC 2

The Chadwick Centre, named after Roy Chadwick who designed the Lancaster Bomber, includes an education suite, interactive exhibition , reference library and research room.

IBCC 4

The Peace Gardens include a Memorial Avenue, with geo-located trees for each of the 27 Lincolnshire stations, an International Garden with planting beds representing the 5 continents and 62 nations involved with the Command, and an amphitheatre for outdoor education.

You can find out more about the Centre here: http://internationalbcc.co.uk/

On this day – The Battle of the Ruhr begins – 5 March 1943

S Sugar 467 Squadron RAAF

On this day 75 years ago the Battle of the Ruhr began, a five month campaign of strategic bombing during the Second World War against the heavily defended Ruhr Valley, the industrial heart of Nazi Germany.

The campaign bombed 26 major Combined Bomber Offensive targets including the Krupp armament works at Essen, the Nordstern synthetic oil plant at Gelsenkirchen and the Rheinmetal–Borsig plant in Düsseldorf.

Bomber Command Badge

The British bomber force that took part came from RAF Bomber Command and consisted mainly of the twin-engined Vickers Wellington medium bomber and the four-engined Short Stirling, Handley Page Halifax (a famous example ‘Friday the 13th‘ from 158 Squadron RAF is shown below) and Avro Lancaster.

 

Friday the 13th

RAF Bomber Command operations were conducted at night with the use of newly developed navigational and blind bombing aids like Oboe, H2S and Gee. The force was also supported by the newly formed 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group RAF (under the command of Australian Air Commodore Don Bennett DSO) to mark the route and aiming points to guide the main Bomber force to the target.

8 Group RAF

The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) was responsible for the daylight bombing campaign and used two 4-engined bomber aircraft, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (shown below) and Consolidated B-24 Liberator.

B-17-5

The German defence consisted of anti-aircraft artillery (also called “flak”) and day and night fighters. The Kammhuber Line (a section of which is shown below) used radar to identify Allied bombers and then controllers directed day and night fighters onto the bomber stream.

Kammhuber_Line_Map_-_Agent_Tegal

During the battle RAF Bomber Command estimated that 70% of the aircraft lost were due to German fighters. British aircrew called the area ‘Happy Valley’ or the ‘Valley of no Return’.

piotr-forkasiewicz-battle-of-berlin-04

The Battle of the Ruhr severely disrupted German industry with steel production falling by 200,000 tons, leading to the armaments industry facing a 400,000 ton shortfall. This disruption resulted in the Zulieferungskrise, or sub-components crisis, with monthly armaments production failing to increase between July 1943 and March 1944.

Bomber Command Memorial

RAF Bomber Command losses during the Battle of the Ruhr were estimated at 4.7% over the 43 attacks with 18,506 sorties flown. Some 5,000 aircrew were lost. In 2012 the Queen unveiled the RAF Bomber Command Memorial (shown above) on Piccadilly at Green Park in Central London. It commemorates the sacrifice of 55,573 aircrew from Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Czechoslovakia, Poland and other countries of the Commonwealth who lost their lives during the war serving in Bomber Command.

One of my favourite military artists is Piotr Forkasiewicz with some of his imagery shown above. You can see his portfolio of work and purchase prints here: http://peterfor.com/albums/31856

You can find out more about Australian aircrew’s experiences in the Battle of the Ruhr here: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E213

You can find out more about the Bomber Command Memorial here: https://www.rafbf.org/bomber-command-memorial

On this day – The loss of HMAS Yarra (U77) – 4 March 1942

HMAS Yarra Canberra Times 14 March 1942

On this day in 1942, HMAS Yarra (U-77) was lost defending a small allied convoy south of Java against overwhelming odds.

A ‘Grimsby class’ sloop, HMAS Yarra was launched at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, in March 1935 and commissioned the following January. Displacing more than 1,000 tons, she was over 80 metres long with a beam of 11 metres and armed with three 4-inch anti aircraft guns, four 3-pounder guns, a quadruple .5-inch anti aircraft machine-gun, and depth charges. She had a top speed of 16.5 knots and a complement of 151.

HMAS Yarra‘s initial war service was in Australian waters, on patrol and escort duties. In August 1940 she left for the Middle East. In April 1941 she escorted a convoy from Bombay to the Persian Gulf followed by service again in the Mediterranean in November-December 1941.

With the outbreak of war with Japan, HMAS Yarra left the Mediterranean for now Indonesian waters, arriving in January 1942. She carried out escort and patrol duties, including the successful rescue of over 1,800 survivors from the troopship Empress of Asia, which was sunk along with many other ships in the convoy BM 12 off the southwest coast of Singapore.

On 27 February 1942 orders were given to clear all remaining allied ships from Batavia (now Jakarta). At about midnight HMAS Yarra and another sloop HMIS Jumna sailed escorting a convoy to Tjilatjap.

HMAS Yarra II

Arriving off Tjilatjap (modern day Cilacap) at 11am on 2 March 1942, the ships were warned not to enter harbour. HMAS Yarra was ordered to take the convoy, which consisted of the depot ship Anking, the tanker Francol and the motor minesweeper MMS 51, to Fremantle in Western Australia while HMIS Jumna sailed for Colombo. No time was to be lost, as powerful Japanese naval forces were known to be operating in the waters south of Java.

Steaming south east at an average speed of 8.5 knots, HMAS Yarra and her convoy made steady progress during the night of 2-3 March 1942.  The following morning two lifeboats were sighted and HMAS Yarra picked up survivors of the Dutch merchant ship Parigi, which had been sunk by the Japanese two days earlier.

At 6.30am on 4 March 1942, the lookout in HMAS Yarra sighted a Japanese heavy cruiser squadron to the north-east consisting of the IJS Atago (pictured below), IJS Takao and IJS Maya, each armed with ten 8-inch guns, and two destroyers.

IJS Atago

Immediately the commander of HMAS Yarra, Lieutenant Commander Robert Rankin (pictured below) made a sighting report, ordered the convoy to scatter and, placed his ship between them and the enemy, laying smoke and preparing to engage.

Robert Rankin

HMAS Yarra was out-gunned and out-ranged. Against such odds her task was hopeless, yet she kept fighting even as her convoy was overwhelmed and sunk, ship by ship.

Anking received many hits before sinking 10 minutes later. By that time HMAS Yarra was also on fire and listing heavily to port. MMS 51 was on fire and sunk by close range automatic gunfire from one of the Japanese cruisers. The Francol was also hit many times but still remained afloat, finally sinking at about 7.30am. HMAS Yarra, shattered by numerous hits, was the last to go.

HMAS Yarra 2

Soon after 8.00am, Lt Cdr Rankin ordered abandon ship. Minutes later he was killed when an 8-inch salvo hit the bridge. HMAS Yarra‘s end, which came after close-range shelling by the two Japanese destroyers, was witnessed by 34 survivors on two rafts.

HMAS Yarra Ships Crest

After sinking HMAS Yarra the Japanese cruisers made off to the north-east, picking up one boatload of survivors from Francol as they departed. A collection of boats, rafts and floats was left scattered over a wide area. Before dusk a passing Dutch vessel, Tawali, rescued 57 officers and men from Anking. However, in spite of frantic signals, she failed to sight two Carley floats containing 14 men from MMS 51. For the next two and a half days they drifted about until picked up by the Dutch steamer Tjimanjoek on 7 March.

Meanwhile Yarra’s men, their numbers sadly reduced by wounds, exposure, and thirst, continued to drift helplessly. On 9 March, 13 of the sloop’s ratings were picked up by the Dutch submarine KlL. Of HMAS Yarra‘s complement of 151, 138 (including the Captain and all of the officers) were killed in the action or died subsequently on the liferafts.

Rankin crest

In commemoration of Lieutenant Commander Rankin’s leadership commanding HMAS Yarra (II), the sixth and final Collins class submarine (commissioned in 2003) was named in his honour (HMAS Rankin (SSG-78) is pictured below).

HMAS Rankin at Beuaty Point TAS

On the 4th of March 2014, the then Governor General of Australia, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce AO, CVO presented the current HMAS Yarra (IV) with the Unit Citation for Gallantry (UCG) (insignia shown below) in commemoration of the loss of her predecessor.

Unit Citation for Gallantry

You can find out more about HMAS Yarra (II) here: http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-yarra-ii

You can find out more about HMAS Rankin here: http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-rankin

You can find out more about the presentation of the Citation here: http://news.navy.gov.au/en/Mar2014/Events/890/Brave-crew-recognised-for-extraordinary-acts-of-gallantry-in-1942.htm#.WlLvzFWWbIU

On this day – The Battle of the Sunda Strait – 28 February 1942

HMAS Perth Sunda Strait.JPG

The naval Battle of the Sunda Strait began on this day 76 years ago.

Sunda Strait lies between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. On the night of 28 February-1 March 1942 it was the location for a fierce naval battle between the Australian modified Leander class light cruiser HMAS Perth (shown above during the battle) and the American Northampton class heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA-30), and a numerically superior Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) task force.

Following the disatrous Battle of the Java Sea the day before, late on 28 February 1942, USS Houston and HMAS Perth received orders to sail through Sunda Strait to Tjilatjap, on the south coast of Java.  They departed without any escort at 7pm under the command of Captain Hector Waller (shown below), the Commanding Officer of HMAS Perth.

Hec Waller

At 10pm that night the Japanese invasion convoy of over 50 transports was entering Bantam Bay near the north west tip of Java. The convoy was escorted by the 5th Destroyer Flotilla (8 destroyers) and 7th Cruiser Division (3 cruisers).

USS-Houston-And-HMAS-Perth-Stood-Tall-At-the-Battle-Of-Sunda-Strait-1

 

At 11.15pm the Japanese destroyer IJS Fubuki sighted the allied Cruisers halfway across Bantam Bay. In the ferocious action that followed both HMAS Perth and USS Houston (shown below) were sunk with the loss of 1,071 sailors lives. Japanese losses were two Transports and a minesweeper.

USS Houston Sunda Strait

The Captains of both Allied ships were among those lost. Captain Albert Rooks of USS Houston was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

You can find out more about HMAS Perth II here: http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-perth-ii

You can find out more about USS Houston here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Houston_(CA-30)

Famous Squadrons – 450 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) – ‘The Desert Harassers’

450 Sqn RAAF Operation Bowler

450 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was formed on 16 February 1941 at RAAF Williamtown near Newcastle in New South Wales as the first Australian squadron established under Article XV of the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS).

450 Sqn Kittyhawks

Nicknamed the ‘Desert Harassers’, the Squadron was one of the most famous RAAF units of the Second World War and derived its nickname from taunts made by the German propaganda broadcaster ‘Lord Haw Haw’ who, during the squadron’s operations in the Western Desert branded it a band of “Australian mercenaries whose harassing tactics were easily beaten off by the Luftwaffe”.

450 Sqn crest

Motto: ‘Harass’

Battle Honours: 10

  • South-East Europe 1942-1945
  • Egypt and Libya 1940-1943
  • El Alamein
  • El Hamma
  • North Africa 1942-1943
  • Sicily 1943
  • Italy 1943-1945
  • Gustav Line
  • Gothic Line
  • Syria 1941

450 Sqn Bombing up a Fighter Bomber

450 Squadron’s war ended with the surrender of German forces in Italy on 2 May 1945. It was disbanded at Lavarino in Italy on 20 August 1945.

450 Sqn Plaque

The 450 Squadron ‘number plate’ was inadvertently given to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) after the Second World War. Although Canadian squadrons were numbered from 400 to 449 during the war, an unusual twist of history resulted in the number 450 being allocated to a Canadian heavy transport squadron. Nevertheless, Canada received permission to adopt the number and 450 Heavy Transport Helicopter Squadron was formed at RCAF Station St. Hubert, Quebec on March 29, 1968. Whilst the Squadron inherited the 450 number plate it did not inherit the above Battle Honours.

You can find out more about the 450 Sqn RAAF Assocation here: http://www.450squadronraaf.org.au/

On this day – German forces surrender to the Russians at Stalingrad – 2 February 1943

Stalingrad Von Paulus Surrenders

On 2 February 1943 the remaining German forces defending Stalingrad surrendered, ending one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War.

It was a pivotal victory for the Soviets who, after two years of being pushed back by Nazi forces, turned the tide and changed the course of the war in eastern Europe.

Two years previously, in June 1941, the Nazi’s unilaterally terminated the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and launched Operation ‘Barbarossa’ invading eastern Poland. They advanced deep into Soviet territory and occupied some of the most economically important regions of the Soviet Union including Ukraine, and inflicted heavy casualties on Russian forces.

The German offensive stalled in the Battle of Moscow and the subsequent Soviet winter offensive in December 1941 pushed German forces back.  The winter of 1941-42 proved to be the coldest of the twentieth century with temperatures as low as -45 degrees centigrade (-49 degrees F).

In June 1942 the Germans launched a second major offensive in the east aimed at the industrial city of Stalingrad and the oil rich Caucasus. Like in their earlier offensive in 1941, German forces advanced quickly and entered the city of Stalingrad in September 1942 having destroyed most of the city with aerial bombing and artillery bombardment.

German advance to Stalingrad

In November 1942 the Russians launched a major counteroffensive, Operation ‘Uranus’ which encircled the 250,000 men of General Friedrich Paulus’s German 6th Army. Over the next two months the encircled German forces faced bitter winter conditions and starvation. In January 1943 the Soviets offered General Paulus the opportunity to surrender, which Hitler refused to accept.

Stalingrad map

On 30 January 1943, a day before the German surrender, Hitler promoted Paulus to the rank of Field Marshal, as in German history no previous Field Marshal had surrendered to the enemy.

Stalingrad September 1943

By the time of the surrender of the remaining German forces defending the city on 2 February 1943, only 91,000 soldiers of the German 6th Army remained. Following the end of the war, only 5,000 of those men returned alive from Soviet prisoner of war camps. In captivity General Paulus became a vocal critic of the Nazi’s and settled in East Germany after the war.

Today you can visit modern day Volgograd and see the massive 85 metre tall statue of ‘The Motherland Calls’ on the hill at Mamayev Kurgan overlooking the city. The statue was unveiled in 1967 to commemorate the battle and at the time was the largest statue in the world. It remains the tallest statue in Europe and the tallest statue of a woman in the world.

Stalingrad Memorial 2

You can find out more about ‘The Motherland Calls’ statue here: https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Attraction_Review-g298537-d5770796-Reviews-The_Motherland_Calls_Sculpture-Volgograd_Volgograd_Oblast_Southern_District.html

 

 

On this day – Queen Victoria approves the introduction of the Victoria Cross (VC) awarded for gallantry ‘in the face of the enemy’ – 29 January 1856

Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross, Britain’s (and some Commonwealth countries) highest award for gallantry for members of the Armed Forces, was officially constituted by warrant on this day in 1856.

Since that time the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients. Only 15 medals have been awarded since the Second World War.

As of 2018, there are six (6) living recipients of the Victoria Cross, three (3) living recipients of the Victoria Cross for Australia and one (1) living recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand. They are:

  • Flight Lieutenant John Cruickshank VC, 210 Sqn RAF (awarded  for his actions in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1944)
  • Sergeant Bill Speakman VC, Black Watch attached to King’s Own Scottish Borderers (awarded for his actions in Korea in 1951)
  • Captain Rambahadur Limbu, VC, MVO, 2nd Battalion, 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles (awarded for his actions in Borneo in 1965)
  • Warrant Officer Class 2 Keith Payne VC, AM, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (awarded for his actions in South Vietnam in 1969)
  • Corporal Willie Apiata VC, New Zealand Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2004
  • Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry, VC, CNG, 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (awarded for his actions in Iraq in 2005)
  • Corporal Mark Donaldson VC, Australian Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2008)
  • Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, Australian Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010)
  • Corporal Dan Keighran VC, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010)
  • Corporal Joshua Leakey VC (shown below), 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2015)

Joshua Leakey VC

The largest collections of VCs in the world are held by the Ashcroft Collection in Britain (established in 1986) which now contains 210 medals and the Australian War Memorial, which has 69 medals on public display.

You can find out more about the Ashcroft Collection here: http://www.lordashcroftmedals.com/

You can find out more about the AWM collection here: https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/vic_cross