Wednesday 26 April 2023

new from Lela Presse - Luftwaffe over Belgium and Stukas in the Blitzkrieg


"La Luftwaffe en Belgique"  Part II  by Jean-Louis Roba and Peter Taghon.  The second installment of the Roba/Taghon story of the Luftwaffe in Belgian skies. Daily activities in diary format covering both day fighters and night operations.

BA  #104    " Stukas dans la Blitzkrieg " Part 1 

The story of the Stuka units over Poland and Scandinavia, while the last eight pages are devoted to the dates 10 and 11 May in the West. (97 pages, photos, maps profile artworks, 13 euros 50)

Avions magazine #252  - features the second part of 'Fw 190 in the Med 1942-43' and 'Dornier night fighters' Part I. The continuing Ukraine war coverage details the combats for Snake Island. I don't always agree with author Christophe Cony's stance on Ukraine's share of responsibility for Putin's illegal invasion but 'Avions' provides easily the best coverage anywhere of the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine..

Much more on  the website. Click on the image below to go there now!

Tuesday 25 April 2023

No 1 Squadron Hurricanes in France 1939-40 - Sqn Leader 'Bull' Halahan and 'blue 109s'



During late 1939 No. 1 Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader Patrick J. H. ‘Bull’ Halahan. While airmen from all over the Empire served in 1 Sqd,  the Irish squadron leader earned a certain notoriety. Patrick Halahan, a Dubliner, nicknamed ‘Bull’ - apparently because of his sturdy broad-shouldered physique - had what might then have been referred to as a 'strong character'. He spoke with a thick Irish accent and according to one account, " his language was colorful and down-to-earth. " As part of 67 Wing, 1 Squadron was sent to France during October 1939 along with No. 73 squadron as part of the air component of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) assigned to escort and protect the BEF's Fairey Battle bomber and recce machines. No. 1 Squadron was to settle in at the airfield at Vassincourt (Champagne-Ardennes region), while No. 73 Squadron under Squadron Leader Brian W. ‘Red’ Knox was stationed at Rouvres. The field at Vassincourt was perched above the small village of Neuville where No 1 squadron’s pilots were quartered in private lodgings. It was, according to the pilots, a ‘real hole’. Squadron Leader Halahan soon had good cause to call upon the services of the new French interpreter assigned to the unit - a certain Jean Demozay. With Jean’s help the pilots were able to establish their ‘mess’ in the local town hall, rather than utilize the ancient and run down buildings on the airfield. This was the first real contact between the two men and their paths would subsequently cross on several more occasions.

'Bull' was soon embroiled in struggles with RAF command. This became evident when he insisted on back armour being installed in the Hurricane. The authorities believed this would disrupt the aircraft's centre of gravity, but Halahan took the armour from a Fairey Battle bomber and had it installed. It was soon apparent that it did not affect the Hurricane’s handling. He demanded – against regulations – that the convergence distance for the eight machine guns be reduced to short range, which increased the effectiveness of the Hurricanes. 

Pilots of No 1 Squadron at Vassincourt show off one of their Hurricanes to Mr Mahmoud Abu Fath, a member of the Egyptian Parliament, January 1940. Looking at the camera is Flying Officer Billy Drake, who became a 20-kill ace and survived the war.

Below; Thierry Dekker artwork of No. 1 Sqd Hurricane Mk 1. s/n L1679 'JX-G' of F/O Paul Richey, Vassincourt, May 1940. Note the French-style rudder stripes. Note the aircraft is fitted with a reflector gun sight. The photo also appears to show aluminium or blue lower surfaces (rear fuselage) - as Richey put it in his account ; " all German aircraft were difficult for us to see from below as they were painted duck-egg blue. Our  [..aircraft ] stood out like chequer-boards. Not without a struggle 'Bull' had our machines painted blue underneath, a colour subsequently adopted for all RAF fighters..."

As noted by Richey in his memoir 'Fighter Pilot' 'Bull' also filed a report regarding the lower surface colours of RAF fighters which was forwarded to AASF HQ and dated May 7, 1940 and had originated from test flying a captured Bf 109 against Hurricanes on May 2, 1940 at Orleans. S/Ldr Halahan wrote:

" ..during these tests one point became abundantly clear, namely that the 109, due to its better under camouflage, was very much more difficult to spot from underneath than was the Hurricane. This gives the 109 a definite tactical advantage, namely when they are below us they can spot us at long distance, which we when below them find most difficult. As in all our combats initial surprise is the ideal at which we aim, I strongly recommend the undersides of Hurricanes be painted a duck egg blue, the roundels remaining the same, as it is the contrast between the black and the white only which is noticeable from below.."

Above, Bull Halahan (CO) and Johnny Walker in front of 'L', still apparently with black/white undersides

Below; P/O Peter 'Boy' Mould of 1 Sqd is often credited with scoring the first RAF victory over France on Oct 30, 1939 in Hurricane L1842 coded 'T'. In fact he did not - a JGr. 152 Bf 109 D flown by Gfr. Joseph Scherm was shot down by return fire when attacking a Battle of No. 103 Sqd on September 27. Three weeks later a Hurricane coded 'T' was lost after a mid-air collision with a French H-75A. The Hurricane was flown by Sgt A.V. Clowes (of JX-B with wasp fame) and the photo shows Clowes alongside the machine - note the 'T'  - the serial 'JX' appears to have been overpainted, as was common practice at the time. While codes change in service of course this may well have been Mould's aircraft.

Loss report for P/O Mould, flying a replacement Hurri, coded "T" on May 10, 1940
Type: Hurricane Mk 1
Serial number: P2649, JX-T
Operation: Patrol
Damaged: 10/05/1940
P/O W.O. Mould - unhurt
Took off from Vassincourt. Hit by return fire from Do 17 engaged east of Rouvres 05.00 hrs. Returned with slight damage and punctured tyre. Aircraft damaged but repairable.

Another Irish pilot to benefit from Halahan’s leadership in 1 Sqd was John Ignatius Kilmartin from Dundalk, County Louth. ‘Killy’ claimed several aircraft destroyed during the Battle of France, including a Messerschmitt Bf 109 on 12 May 1940.  (claimed as a Heinkel He 112). On that same day, his leader, ‘Bull’ Halahan shot down a ‘real’ Bf 109 before being brought down himself. Luckily, he was unhurt and managed to return to his unit. He continued to lead them to numerous victories in the air until the exhausted Squadron was granted a return to Britain on 24 May. Both pilots became instructors at No. 5 Operational Training Unit at RAF Aston Down. Halahan became its commander, but Kilmartin was sent to RAF Tangmere to participate in the Battle of Britain, shooting down two aircraft in the first three days. 

Surprisingly the experienced Halahan was not involved in the Battle of Britain. In April 1941 he led a formation of 24 Hurricanes, taking off from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and flying to the besieged Malta, enabling the island to hold off Italian-German air attacks. However, in June 1941, he took responsibility for a riotous drinking spree of some of his men and was transferred to the Middle East. With his career stalled, he retired from the RAF in 1943. This, together with his absence from the Battle of Britain, may be the reason why he is largely forgotten. 

The memoirs of Richey and Drake, two direct witnesses suggest other reasons. For example, Halahan is described as  having a certain contempt for the French ally and made no secret of it according to the Francophile Richey. Drake describes him as an unwelcoming fellow who did not wish to have any ongoing contact with his men. He lived in a chateau or, although married, indulged in adultery with local girls (his Francophobia was therefore 'two-speed'). It is perhaps for his 'harsh' temperament ('Bull') and his various misdemeanours that led to his eclipse rather than for his 'non-participation' in the Battle of Britain.... 

Kilmartin had a much longer career, flying Typhoons and Thunderbolts and taking command of several units from Scotland to Sierra Leone and from Middle Wallop to Sumatra. After the war, Kilmartin stayed in the RAF and held several positions in NATO until 8th July 1958, when he retired as a Wing Commander.

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Monday 10 April 2023

out now! Luftwaffe fighters - Combat on all Fronts 2


" Mein Vater war selbst junger, wenig als Jagdflieger geschulter Pilot, der Gottseidank - wenn auch schwer verwundet - der Vernichtung entkommen ist und der mir wenig über diese Zeit erzählt hat. Durch die ausgiebige Schilderung gleichaltriger Flieger in diesem Buch habe ich einen tiefen Eindruck in die seelische Verfassung auch meines Vaters (jeder Flug gegen die USAF könnte der letzte sein) gewinnen können und Verständnis für ihn erhalten habe. Ein empfehlenswertes, auch mit Schulenglisch lesbares Buch. " 

 " My father was himself a young pilot with little training as on fighters, who, thank God, escaped death - albeit badly wounded - and who told me little about this time. Through the extensive descriptions of pilots of the same age in this book, I was able to gain a deep impression of my father's mental state (every flight against the USAF could have been his last) and gain understanding for him. A book that I recommend that can also be read with school-level English..."

 KW on

"... an excellent piece of work, a very welcome addition to my library..."  Johannes Matthews

" is great that you are able to bring to the English-speaking world many of these stories that otherwise we would be unaware of. It is a nice balance of narratives covering the entire war period that when read chronologically really imparts on the reader the opportunities and challenges the Luftwaffe and its men faced..."      David E. Brown