Sunday, 26 February 2012

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang "Jumpin Jacques" 44-72035 in super P-51 display video!

A lovely air show display at Old Warden during 2011 by the Hangar 11 collection's North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang "Jumpin Jacques" 44-72035. Built at North American's Inglewood facility in California and accepted by the USAAF on December 21 1944 as 44-72035 she was originally earmarked for service with the Eighth Air Force in England but this was quickly changed to Project Number 91037R, indicating service in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations. 44-72035 is an orginal 'Red Tail' -  assigned to the 332nd FG, "The Tuskegee Airmen". She entered combat with the 15th Air Force around March 1945 serving out the last few months of the war on escort and ground attack sweeps over Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. She still carries the battle scars to this day, with bullet repairs in several places on the fuselage. As an original "Tuskegee" fighter and now part of the Hangar 11 collection based at North Weald,  she is a rare thoroughbred and much welcomed on the UK and European Air show scene.

Tachikawa 92 - Japanese experimental transport aircraft, (Picarella, Stratus)

Spent yesterday afternoon browsing this utterly fascinating and absorbing new 250-page A-4 hardback book from Stratus/MMP. Giuseppe 'Joe' Picarella, a technical artist on the staff of Flight International and consultant to the RAF Museum (Hendon), has assembled this fine survey of a little known area of aviation knowledge - Japanese transports and operations during the Pacific War.

My interest in Japanese aircraft of the Pacific War was fueled back in the early 1970's by a library copy of René J. Francillon's ground-breaking Putnam "Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War". But as Francillon himself admits in the Foreword to Giuseppe Picarella's new work on Japanese Transports published by Stratus, his reputation has long since been usurped in this field by the work of researchers like Picarella. Indeed Picarella's new work contains information and photos of types that Francillon had no idea even existed, such as the Tachikawa 92, a developmental transport type aimed more or less squarely at the post-war civil market of which one prototype was constructed.

The book is divided into a number of chapters such as Army and Navy transport aircraft, paratroops and special forces and assault and transport gliders. Chapter 4, of 25 pages, covers Army transports and includes details of types such as the Tachikawa Ki-77 & Ki-74, a lovely section on the Ki-92 as well as the Mitsubishi Ki-97, Kokusai Ki-105 "Otori", Tachikawa Ki-110, Kokusai Ki-111, Tachikawa Ki-114 and Ki-120.  Chapter 5 deals with the navy experimental transports, specifically the Nippi L7P1, Kawanishi H11K1-L "Soku", Kawanishi K-60, K-120, K-200 and Showa L2D5.

These two chapters are the heart of the work and the sections I found most fascinating. They include the best ever coverage of and photographic material devoted to the Tachikawa Ki-92 and this type has pride of place on the book jacket/cover. The research on and the hunt for photographs of the Tachikawa 92 is ably recounted. The image posted fom a vet's album on below is just one of the four or five of this type that appear in the book - and no longer the only photo of this type known a claimed all over the net!

My copy was a slightly damaged example from the amazon warehouse and was a steal at just £13 - normal RRP is a still-pretty-reasonable £29, although have it on offer currently at just £19..

Tachikawa Ki-92

Saturday, 25 February 2012

350th Fighter Squadron F-16s at Florennes, Belgium, Wednesday 22 February

Here are a few pics from a day's spotting at Florennes, Belgium, last week, 22 February. Pics by Nico Charpentier. The 350th Squadron is a fighter squadron in the Air Component of the Belgian Armed Forces. It is part of the 2nd Tactical Wing and operates F-16 Fighting Falcons. It was formed during the Second World War as No. 350 (Belgian) Squadron, prior to disbanding and reforming in Belgium in 1946. Click on the image to see a larger view..

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Yak 9 and Yak 3 - best fighters of WW II ?

In June 1941, the German Army swept into Russia. Caught by surprise, Russia's Air Force was largely destroyed on the ground and in the air. Alexander Yakovlev moved his design and manufacturing facilities east of the Ural Mountains and began production of the Yak-9 in 1942. Eventually 16,769 Yak-9 models were built, more than any other aircraft in the Russian Air Force. The Yak-9 was designed for mass production and durability. Due to shortages in Russia, it incorporated a minimum of scarce strategic materials. They were designed to outnumber the enemy, not for technical superiority. While not necessarily out-classing the Fw 190 or even the increasingly obsolescent Bf 109 in its early incarnations, Yakovlev's piston-engined fighters were good fighters in numbers, durable, manoeuvrable, fast, light, capable of absorbing a lot of battle damage and still getting home. The 'T' -tank-destroyer- variant armed with a 37mm cannon packed decent firepower. And appearing during the summer of 1944 the Yak 3 was one of the lightest, fastest most agile fighters of WW II  - " perhaps only the Spitfire could rival this machine for manoeuvrability "  ( Gordon and Khazanov ). The Fw 190s and Bf 109s were hard-pressed to keep up with the Yak -3 and Jagdwaffe pilots were expressly forbidden from engaging the  Yak 3 below certain altitudes. If it had one weakness the wooden Yak 3 offered little protection to its pilot. Even so, 7-victory ace Francois de Geoffre chose not to open his French-language memoir of flying and fighting with the Normandie Niemen with a description of this supreme dogfighter's air combat capabilities - his sortie flown on 23 September 1944 was a successful low-level high speed strafing of Gumbinnen rail station - the first incursion deep into German territory by the Regiment;

 " pushing the throttle wide open, and tucked in alongside side each other, our flight of four Yak-3s accelerated down the track and were rapidly airborne. We didn't climb but stayed low. At more than 500 km/h our deadly excursion through West Prussia was underway - 40 minutes of hurdling trees, roads, and villages, leaving our ear-shattering calling cards - the awesome fireworks of four cannon and eight machine guns.."

Here Mark Jeffries flies the Yak 3 at Legends 2008. And some nice high-res still shots from Legends 2010 by Nico - cheers!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

B-29 Superfortress 'Top Secret' - 509th Composite Group ( Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Colour image taken by 393rd Bomb Squadron, 509th Composite Group, armament Officer  Jack Wright and currently offered in this Ebay auction by Robert Krauss, historian of the 509th Composite Group, which dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This B-29 'Top Secret' was one of 15 B-29's that Paul Tibbets ordered using the code word "Silverplate" which gave him unlimited power for anything he needed. The crew of V-72 "Top Secret" flew both atomic missions, utilizing two different B-29's. The crew flew as the Hiroshima standby B-29 leaving before the Enola Gay and stationed on Iwo Jima  in case the Enola Gay malfunctioned. If it did, the bomb would have been transferred to the waiting B-29 and the Enola Gay Crew would have flown the standby B-29 to Hiroshima. This crew flew the advance weather recon B-29 to Nagasaki before the bomb was dropped to report the weather to the B-29 "Bockscar". This photo has been hand signed by the navigator Jack Widowsky and the Flight Engineer, George Cohen..

This image is published in Robert Krauss' history of the 509th. Krauss' book is a complete history of the 509th Composite Group, the WWII Army Air corps unit that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, from their formation in 1944 to their return home to the United States in December 1945. The book contains over 125 personal stories from veterans of the unit as well as over 800 illustrations and an 8 page colour section of the nose art of the B-29s. Photos of all crews, all missions and the history of each plane is detailed in the book, as well as a complete roster of all men in the unit.

Boeing B-29 Superfortress nose art from the Korean War

Boeing B-29 Superfortress nose art from the Korean War.

1. "Mission Inn" was a B-29 assigned to the 22nd Bomb Group, which was based at March AFB, California. The crew named her in honor of the Mission Inn, a favorite hang out for USAF personnel back in the day that was located in nearby Riverside. It served in Korea from July-October 1950 when the 22nd forward deployed to Kadena AFB, Okinawa during the height of the Pusan Perimeter crisis.

2. "Toddlin' Turtle" belonged to the 22nd Bomb Group as well and saw combat in Korea at the same time as Mission Inn. Photo was taken on Okinawa.

3. "Lake Success Express" (44-69980) flew originally with the 92nd Bomb Group as "Deal Me In." It was later transfered to the 98th Bomb Group, where it saw combat in Korea. It was destroyed at Tinker Air Force base on August 8, 1954.

4. Chief Spokane was another former 92nd Bomb Group B-29 that ended up in the 98th in time to see combat over Korea. 44-61825.

5. "Sheeza Goer!" belonged to that oldest of Pacific-based heavy bombardment groups, the 19th. Flying from Guam, this Superfort saw action over Korea in 1950. Her ultimate fate is unknown. 45-21716.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Normandie Niemen Groupe de Chasse 3 - 'French Eagles, Soviet Heroes' - Jean Tulasne, Yak 3, Yak 9

Replica of Normandie Niemen ace Marcel Lefèvre's mount, Yak 9 '14 Le Père Magloire' exhibited outside the now defunct "Normandie" museum at Les Andelys on the Seine. Lefèvre was one of the leading aces of the "Neu-Neu" and originally from Les Andelys - the emblem celebrates his links with Normandy, "Le Père Magloire" being a particularly well known brand of Calvados apple Brandy. Pictures by Martin Bull 

The French documentary on the Normandie Niemen, above, opens with footage of the pilots returning home to France. They flew into Le Bourget, Paris on 20 June 1945 to the clamour of a huge crowd of well-wishers. The film concludes with an interview with veteran NN ace Roland de la Poype.

Unfortunately there is little in English on the history of the French volunteer fighter unit that fought in Russia alongside the Soviets. John D. Clarke's book 'French Eagles, Soviet Heroes' is unfortunately a terrible read. It is essentially a (very poor) translation of the unit's service journal and as such is written in a very dry style - disappointingly there is little to be gleaned on the men themselves; the pilot's careers or their service history. However if you can read French then memoirs and histories abound.

During 1942 the Free French leader Charles de Gaulle, enjoying limited freedom of action in London, set in motion a variety of initiatives to preserve France's 'honour' and 'influence' alongside the Americans and British. One of these initiatives was the opening of negotiations with the Russians with the aim of sending an escadrille of French pilots to fight alongside the Soviet Air force on the Eastern Front. On 1 September 1942, the Groupe de Chasse III or 3rd Fighter Group 'Normandie' was created under its first operational CO Jean Tulasne. Tulasne's career highlighted the dilemma that many French pilots faced after June 1940. As one of them put it; " it was not so much a question of doing one's duty, but actually knowing what one's duty was.."

Tulasne had initially gone to the Middle East with GC I/7 (Rayak, Bekaa valley, Syria) in early 1940 and had taken no part in the French campaign. Although his wife and young child were in France, Tulasne was determined to continue fighting - with the RAF if possible - following the French armistice with the Germans. He had seized his chance on 5 December 1940. Airborne from Rayak at the controls of MS 406 No. 819 he headed for British-controlled Palestine. Officially reported lost at sea by the Vichy authorities, he was promoted to the rank of Commandant during February 1941 by the Free French, assuming command of GC 1 Alsace in September 1941. Tasked with setting up the third Free French fighter Group destined to fight on the Russian front, Tulasne was entrusted with training the first volunteers, pilots such as Albert Littolff, Préziosi, Derville. The trials and tribulations involved with establishing his new command were enormous - not unnaturally the RAF were unwilling to allow the French pilots that they had trained and assembled in No.340 (Free French) Squadron to depart overnight for the Soviet Union. The journey to reach the Soviet Union followed a tortuous route via north Africa and the Middle East for those Free French pilots based in the UK. Among their number was Roland de la Poype who had flown some sixty sorties as Paddy Finucane's wingman in 602 Squadron. It was with no little apprehension that the first 'Normandie' pilots boarded the three Dakotas in Teheran (Iran) that would fly them to Russia during November 1942. Tulasne related some of his fears;

" what concerned me the most is not so much the thought of aerial combat with the Germans on the Russian front, but how we would cope with the uncertain conditions in Russia, the vastness of the country, the cold. We didn't know the regime, the people or the language. In addition our men came from a variety of backgrounds and were lacking a homogenous flying training programme. What sort of technical assistance would we enjoy? Not least of our problems was that we knew nothing of the aircraft the Russians flew..."

Arriving in Ivanovo -north east of Moscow- from North Africa the first 13 'Normandie' pilots started training on the Yak-1 fighter aircraft - Tulasne had selected this type over the Hurricane and the P-39, the latter type not having enjoyed a very good press in the UK. This choice of aircraft was seen by some as a gesture towards the Soviets, but the Yak 1 was a highly manoeuvrable little cannon-armed fighter that suited the Gallic temperament (according to Chris Ehrengardt) and one that the 'Normandie' would not regret. The French pilots were soon impressing their Soviet hosts with their airmanhip and acrobatic prowess as ace Roland de la Poype explains in the video above (at 02:30, still image below). Louis Delfino in particular, last commander of the Normandie Niemen was flying figures never before seen in the Yak (in particular an 'outside loop')

First victorious sortie was flown on 5 April 1943, an escort mission for Pe-2s bombers of the 261st Regiment. Pilots Albert Préziosi and Albert Durand, airborne from Polotniani-Zavod, south-west of Moscow, achieved each downed a Fw 190 in the region of Loudinovo..

Over the next two years, the notoriety of the 'Normandie' group grew quickly. They were to become not only the most highly decorated French fighter unit of the war but the second highest scoring fighter air group of the Soviet Air Force. The Normandie fought the Luftwaffe on over 800 separate occasions.  Joseph Risso described a combat with eight Fw 190s on 13 October 1943 near Lenino, 20 km north of Gorki;

".. we had crossed the front lines at altitude when we spotted two La-5 fighters in difficulty being harried by about five or six Fw 190s. We dove on them straight away. Flying top cover I was the last to wing over and head down. I saw one of the Fw 190s leave the La-5s and slide in behind a Yak which immediately pulled up into a chandelle, with the Focke Wulf still snapping at his heels. I had only to pull back on the stick a little to come in on the German's tail and snap out a brief burst. I saw his prop judder to a stop. The Fw 190 fell away and went down. On my return my victory was confirmed - the Fw 190 had been seen to auger in. When I related what had happened, Roland de la Poype said to me ; ' it was me in the Yak. I put him on a plate for you, how about we share that one ?' I agreed readily - a half share each.."

Line-up of Normadie aces seen in October 1943, from the left, Marcel Albert, Roland de La Poype, Marcel Lefèvre and Joseph Risso

GC 3 'Normandie' played an active role during the Battle of Kursk that summer, now flying their first Yak -9s. Commandant Tulasne himself claimed a Bf 110 on 15 July and a Fw 190 on 16 July before being shot down and killed the following day on his second sortie escorting IL 2s over the Znamenskaia sector. His successor was Pierre Pouyade who enjoyed the soubriquet 'Le Loup des Steppes' - 'the wolf of the Steppes'. Losses were to grow during the hard fighting on the central Russian front during 1943 with Pouyade obliged to leave for North Africa on a recruiting mission during October 1943. A second wave of Normandie volunteers arrived in Russia during January 1944, one of whom was Roger Sauvage. His post-war memoir "Un du Normandie-Niémen" is a classic of the genre.

During 1944 Stalin was to honour the Normandie by adding 'Niemen' to their title in recognition for the help they rendered the Soviet Army in crossing this river. One of the first Allied fighter units to operate from occupied German territory, the 'Normandie-Niemen' clashed with JG51 Mölders in the huge air battles over Konigsberg in March 1945. By the war's end and over 5,000 sorties flown, the Group had achieved some 273 confirmed victories and another 36 probables before their triumphal return to Le Bourget, Paris on 20 June 1945.  Forty-two of the squadron's pilots were killed and 30 reached ace status. Four of its pilots, Marcel Albert, Marcel Lefèvre, Jacques André and Roland de La Poype, became Heroes of the Soviet Union.

Above; Robert Marchi at the controls of his Yak and below;  Yak 3 in Normandie-Niemen colours exhibited at the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, Le Bourget.

Featured post

Victor B.2 XL513 & XL 512 carrying Blue Steel - ebay photo find #57

An original Ministry of Defence photograph of Handley Page Victor B.2 XL513 equipped with a Blue Steel Missile. Note the four Vulcans on...