Category: WWII

How do you get an RAF fighter to Berlin and back in 1943?

This week: U-Boat through Straits of Gibraltar Competition Winner and the new competition: How do you get an RAF fighter to Berlin and back in July 1943?

Sorry for the hiatus in the last week: first I had a bad cold and then my fridge-freezer broke two days ago! Anyway I’m back.

How do you get an RAF fighter to Berlin and back in July 1943?
Since my post about getting a U-boat through the Straits of Gibraltar was my most popular yet, here is a similar post. Let me explain the mission: you need a fighter small enough to fly down Unter den Linden (the equivalent of Oxford Street in Berlin), carrying 1000 lb bombs. The fighter needs to be able to negotiate the Brandenburg gate and fly low over the Reich Chancellery garden and still manage to land somewhere far enough from Berlin that the pilot can safely get back to England. There is only one RAF fighter that could do all this in 1943: the Hawker Hurricane II.

Hawker Hurricane_IIHere is an image of a Hawker Hurricane II.

However the range of the Hurricane II was only 650 miles: that would barely even reach Berlin from Norfolk, let alone get you back.

Short StirlingOf course the contemporary British heavy bombers could reach Berlin and the Lancaster and Stirling could each carry at least 10 tons of bombs that far. Shown here is Short Stirling.

If you have read my book Attack Hitler’s Bunker! or even read the synopsis you might have a clue how 700 Squadron does this for the daring mission in my book.

One possibility would be drop tanks: in 1943 the Germans had already used drop tanks on Stukas and were experimenting with them on Bf 109s. The Americans were also interested and about to introduce a drop tank on the P-47 Thunderbolt. A drop tank is a container attached to the bottom of either each wing or the fuselage which contains 200-500 gallons of fuel. This would extend the P-47 Thunderbolt’s range so that it could reach Berlin. However this wouldn’t actually become operational until September and the British had nothing similar at the time of the mission’s planning; July 1943.

Of course you have to think about lots of other variables and options:
1. Could you remove the guns to save weight?
2. Could you remove anything else to save even more weight?
3. Could you add bigger fuel tanks?
4. Could you use a different type of fuel?
5. Could you use a different type of engine?

P-47 Thunderbolt with Drop tanksShown here is a P-47 Thunderbolt carrying drop tanks.

How would you do it? Answers please by posting a comment here. Best answer gets a free eBook of December Radio when it is published this year.

U-Boat through Straits of Gibraltar Competition Winner
Daniel, the first to comment has won the competition and an Ebook of December Radio when it is published. Well done Daniel.

Apologies for the non-appearance of the guest post by Lifelongexplorer. Job commitments took precedence over blogging. Perhaps he will be able to post something soon.

How do you get a U-Boat through Gibraltar Straits in 1945?

Did you know the typical U-Boat torpedo was steam-driven and had a range of 12 Km?
Below in this post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book December Radio. This part is where a team of fantatical German nuclear scientists are being smuggled out of German held territory in a U-Boat. But I don’t want to give too much away…

I did have to think very hard about how even a very talented U-Boat captain would get through the Gibraltar Straits. Every trick seems to have been tried in the Hollywood movies like Torpedo Run, The Cruel Sea, and Run Silent, Run Deep. What is more, by 1945 the Royal Navy pretty much owned the Straits and no U-boat had got out through the Straits since 1942. They had got in, but not out.

Some of the usual techniques used are:

1. To fire either oil, debris or even a dead body out of the torpedo tubes so impersonating a stricken U-Boat in the hope that the destroyer above assumed you are sunk
2. To lie on the bottom and keep silent so that the enemy thinks you have gone. Sonar (sea-penetrating radar) was not very good during WWII and could not penetrate to depths beyond about 50-60 fathoms (300-400 feet).
3. To stay underneath the destroyer so that it mistook your sonar signal for its own
4. To use the currents; in WWII it was known that there was a cold-water current flowing out of the Straits and into the Atlantic. This was faster – about 5 knots at shallower depths of around 200 feet but it decreased in speed down to the deepest part of the channel at about 700 feet. Conversely, at shallower depths there was a warm-water current flowing in to the Mediterranean. This would probably have been the predominant current near to the land masses of Spain and Morocco where the depth was at its shallowest.

But I didn’t want to use any of these. The Straits are about 9 miles wide at their narrowest point. During even the late stages of WWII they didn’t have nets across the Straits to catch submarines but they did have patrolling submarines, aircraft, destroyers and plenty of mines. So how does my captain get the U-Boat through the Straits? I am looking for ideas which I can include in the book. Please comment below. The best answer will receive a free eBook of December Radio and a credit when it is published.

December Radio
Copyright © 2013 by Lazlo Ferran
All Rights Reserved.

The U-669 began to drift with the current. There were only small pools of water on the floors now so Carl was able to get his breath back. Fifteen minutes went by. Suddenly the tense silence in the Control Room was broken.
“I have activity,” said the sonar operator. “Bearing two-seventy nine degrees. Far away. At least ten thousand metres. Sounds like depth charges but I can’t be sure. One… two…. three… four… fading. Maybe more.”
“Yes! They fell for it!” Riddaker said, slapping the periscope column. “Helmsman. Hold her steady. How are we doing?”
“Three knots. Eastbound.
“Good. A bit slow though. Hm. Up ten fathoms!”
“Up ten fathoms!” echoed the Helmsman.
“You can go back to your bunk Sturmbannführer. Get some rest. I may need you later. And tell that lazy pilot – whassisname – Stengler to get his ass up here!”
Carl made his way, staggering from side to side, back to his bunk. He found Roth being sick in one of the bilges.
“Captain wants you. I think there’s a bit more water to be drained out,” Carl told Roth.
“Fuck Riddaker! Asshole!” If I have to look at another bucket on this stinking hell-hole of a basket-case crate!”
Carl smiled weakly and continued to his bunk. He had just enough strength to clamber into it before falling into a deep sleep.
He was woken six hours later by Roth. The short pilot handed him a black coffee.
“Now it’s your bloody turn.” Roth rested his head on the edge of Carl’s bunk. Carl could see Roth was breathing hard. Carl patted him on the shoulder. He sipped the coffee.
“Hey. Is this real coffee?”
“Yeah… Oh, by the way, the bloody Royal Navy figured out Riddaker’s trick. They are on to us. Expect some action.
“Thanks.”
Carl picked up the bucket dropped by Roth in the Control Room just as the explosion rocked the U-Boat.
“Enemy approached from astern. Estimated 34 knots, distance 1000 metres.”
“How deep is it here First Watch?”
The Lieutenant studied the char on a table.
“Forty fathoms. No more.”
“Damn! They will have us. Engines. Full power. Full ahead. Starboard twenty.
“But that will take us right into the central channel!” exclaimed the First Watch.”
“We have to make a run for it. It’s deeper there,” Riddaker replied pensively.
The Lieutenant, second in command on the submarine, hesitated for a moment before issuing the order.
“Full power – estimated eight knots,” the Helmsman replied.
“Down twenty!” commanded Riddaker.
“Down bubble. Twenty degrees.”
Carl hadn’t seen Schumann arrive but he was standing just inside the hatch of the Control Room. The scientist looked angry.
“I think you have a problem Captain!” he shouted at Riddaker.
“What is it Herr Schumann. I’m rather busy!”
“Hoffe is very ill. Fumes from the battery compartment. I think you have a leak.”
“Yes, well we’ll worry about that later.”
“And what’s in the central channel anyway? Do you realise those crates could be damaged?”
“Subs. The British have at least three submarines patrolling there. Still, it’s our best chance.”
“Well, I hope we make it or else your name is not going to be worth as much as your shirt button, let alone a medal in the Reich!”
“Don’t worry. I’ll get us through!” Riddaker looked like he had eaten something bad. Clearly the two men didn’t like each other.
Another explosion, this time much closer, rocked the submarine. Carl was thrown from his feet and water began rushing in through cracks in the submarine’s outer casing. Carl began bailing. Another, then yet another, explosion rocked the submarine.
“Lucky bastards!” Riddaker yelled.
The red lights went out for a few moments before the emergency power bus kicked in and they flickered back into life. Six more explosions followed before the submarine was beyond the reach of the depth charges.
By now everything was wet and the sound of moaning and women screaming echoed around the stricken submarine.
“God help us!” muttered Riddaker. “I can’t think! Can somebody shut those damned women up! And the men too for that matter! And get these leaks plugged! Level out. Hold at sixty fathoms.”

Blog: The Taste of First Blood

This week: Werewolves in Mauritius, Rewards for Reviews, Short Stirling aircraft recovery, Video Blog Tour

Werewolves in Mauritius
I often feel like a rabbit in the headlights when it comes to blog time. I simply haven’t prepared anything much and I am so busy, yet I want to give something to my readers and fans. This week it is a little easier because I came across this article on Werewolves in Mauritius. Actually it’s not the original recent article I was looking for – I heard of this phenomenon back in the summer – but the frequency of reports shows just how steeped in Werewolf culture Mauritius is.

Werewolves – or Loup Garou – the French equivalent word – inhabit the Mauritian subconscious like the sea and sun of this gorgeous island. They are said to prowl the streets and night, rape women and appear as naked men covered in oil. They are also said to be able to vanish at will but despite having such supernatural powers, they are not averse to a little high-tech gadgetry in their lives. The most recent spate of sighting this year included several eye-witness accounts of the Loup Garou carrying mobile phones and even talking on them!

I am fascinated by Vampire and werewolf… shall we call it culture, for now; I hate the terms mythology and legend. To me, vampires and werewolves are part of our very deepest emotions and views of the world. I believe man has had the idea of vampires and werewolves since he could visualise his own existence. Indeed I have been slowly developing a para-world that includes this as part of its fundamental structure. They may not be part of the physical world around us but their effect is.

I am equally fascinated by werewolves and I think they fit a similar niche in our inner-most thoughts. Shape-shifters or lycanthropes all, and welcome to my world if you believe. To this category we might also add the classic zombie – a creature which is also undead and loves the taste of human flesh. Their only real disadvantage is that they are rather impractically slow. I seriously doubt zombies of the classic Hollywood type could catch a hedge-hog, let alone a terrified human. Perhaps if we allow them a little more speed they too fit this category?

Whether you believe in the benevolent lycanthropes of early Medieval culture, or Jewish views of the seductive Lilith, or the predatory creatures of Hammer Horror, they fascinate most of us.

Getting back to Mauritius, of which I now have some knowledge, this island seems to regard werewolves as no more unusual than rain storm although they engender a much greater fear. A few things strike me about the Mauritian view:

1. The sightings are often most frequent just before, during or after a cyclone. Some claim (as quoted in the linked news report above) that these rumours are circulated by the government to deflect criticism away from their Prime Minister who claims a divine ability to stop Cyclones. If so, making the people even more terrified seems a bad tactic at a time of devastation.
2. Mauritius is not the only island subjected to tropical storms which has an endemic belief in this collection of supernatural beings. Haiti is regularly subjected to these storms and has some of the most fascinating zombie tales of all.
3. Mauritius is not the only former French colony to believe in these supernatural monsters – Haiti does too.
4. Mauritius is not the only Creole speaking community that believes in these creatures. Haiti does too.
5. Mautitius is not the only culture steeped in Voodoo that believes in these creatures. Haiti, and in fact most Caribbean islands do. Some of these use Creole too. Here is the Wikipedia page on Zombies in Haiti.

I think you probably see where I am going with this; rather than the standard view that fear of and belief in shape-changers and zombies comes from backward, third-world countries, are we looking at a belief culture that is being propagated from France – indeed the France of the middle ages?

I believe so. Furthermore, I speculate in my books, Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, and The Devil’s Own Dice, that these creatures are born of the clash of two great cultures – the European and the Eastern which met like great tectonic plates in the Balkans and forced belief systems like Catharism into being some time between the 6th and 10th Centuries.

I do believe whatever forces brought up vampires, werewolves and zombies from the very uttermost depths of our souls, are still acting as well-springs of secret desires and fears today. I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts?

Rewards for Reviews
I am reducing the price of Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate to £2.99 for Christmas but I still need more reviews. I also need reviews for my new book Attack Hitler’s Bunker! As you will see further down in this blog post, I am planning a Video Blog Tour for both books soon and more reviews would certainly help persuade more people to try them. So, if you submit a review of either book to Amazon in December or January I will give over my blog for one day to you to post about your book, cd or any other product (within reason!) I will also include you in my Video Blog Tours which will provide you with loads of traffic and plenty of material to post about in the form of interviews. Two things you probably don’t know about these two books:
1) There is a pass called Pas de Loup near Rennes-le-Château which I feature in The Devil’s Own Dice. To the best of my knowledge this translates as Wolf Pass. No idea why it has that name.
2) I knew the Hollywood Oscar Winner Cliff Robertson towards the end of his life through a brief correspondence. He was a very skilled pilot and owned a Spitfire for many years. He was partly the inspiration for Attack Hitler’s Bunker!

So hurry up and get reviewing!

Short Stirling aircraft recovery
stirling
If you’ve been following my blog you will know that I write about, and am mad-keen on World War Two aircraft. I first came across the Short Stirling – the first British 4-engined bomber of WWII, when I made an Airfix model of it in my childhood. Since then I have often wanted to see a real one but there are no Short Stirlings left in the world. This seems a great shame to me. The Stirling Aircraft Society is doing its best to rectify this. Time is running out now for WWII aircraft wrecks that are viable restoration projects. After 70 years those left are mostly in the sea and too corroded to lift. The recent Dornier Do 17 lifted off the English coast may be one of the last that is raised. Let’s hope its not too late for the Stirling.

Imagine my surprise then when I saw a video on youtube showing a fairly intact example, dived on my a French team. I regularly scan the web for any news about Stirlings and hadn’t seen this. I watched it again and then immediately reported it to one of the senior members of The Stirling Aircraft Society. He told me he had seen it and tried to contact the divers but nobody had replied. Knowing how tricky it can be to communicate with youtube, I was determined to try and contact them myself. After a lot of googling and guess-work I found two email addresses and fired off two friendly emails. I received two enthusiastic replies and was able to put them in touch with the Society. Things are moving along now, with both teams working on identifying the aircraft so that the French Authorities can be contacted for permission to dive the wreck. I would be very happy if anything comes of this. Let’s hope so. If you want to watch the video, it’s here. The wreck is on its back but seems relatively intact and in shallow water. If you are interested in The Stirling Aircraft Society, they are here. As an interim measure the Society is attempting to build a replica of the forward fuselage section of a Stirling and you can read about it here. Short Stirlings feature heavily in my WWII action thriller Attack Hitler’s Bunker! Click on the menu item at the top of this page if you want to grab a copy!

Video Blog Tour
I am planning Video Blog Tours – or VBTs for both Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate and Attack Hitler’s Bunker! soon. This will hopefully be a series of interviews I do about these books with the questions set by other blogs talking about related subjects. So if you are blogging about Vampires, Werewolves, WWII, the Luftwaffe, RAF, Short Stirlings or allied bombers of WWII please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. I am now following a long list of such blogs so if I don’t hear from you, I will be in touch!

Questionnaire for Cliff Robertson – Cliff’s Response

This post has been copied from the original post on my old blog at http://writers-blog1.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/questionnaire-for-cliff-robertson.html. It would be a shame to loose it. Cliff was nice enough to reply by letter to a questionnaire I sent him about 633 Squadron. Below is my original letter. (Please note, Cliff did not answer all questions and here I have left the response blank.)

Note: Cliff died in 2011, but I have left the post in its original form.

Dear Mr Robertson,

633 Squadron is the film in which I first saw you and made me a fan of yours. Ever since then I have sought out any film with you in it and recently, at last, I managed to see Charly (which I have never seen scheduled in England on TV).

633 Squadron has always been a very popular movie in England: it was regularly shown on TV during my childhood and is my favourite film. Today I think the film has entered the national psyche and is even the subject of contemporary adverts. The theme music is one of the best-loved pieces of music here and for myself, I never tire of watching your performance as the laconic Roy Grant. I think, more than any other film (certainly on flying or war), it has come to represent the best, something fundamental, about the British character. Many fans would love to know more about the film and about your part: you only have to look at the posts on youtube alongside excerpts (illegal I am sure) of the movie to see how popular it is, and yet you have been almost silent on it. Please Cliff, would you be so kind as to try and find time to answer the following questions for your fans in England (I cannot speak for Wales, Ireland and Scotland but I am sure they feel the same).
A movie and aviation buff.

Cliff’s Response:

It was a joy to film the picture, although we were limited as to budget and time. I think under the circumstances that everyone connected. The picture did well with these limitations.

1. Did you get to fly in any of the Mosquitos during the filming (which incidentally was at Bovingdon, only 2 miles from my house at the time) and if so, did you manage to take the controls?
Cliff: My one great regret was not getting to fly the Mosquitos. The producers knew I was a pilot and were careful to keep me away from the controls for insurance reasons. All sadly understood.

2. What was it like working with the director, Walter Grauman? I understand he is a big fan of aeroplanes too.
Cliff: I enjoyed working with Walter Grauman. We shared a mutual appreciation and love for aviation – I being an active pilot and “Wally” Grauman having been a bombardier in World War II (in B-25s – LF). My piloting has all been post World War II, although I have had a long love affair with aviation all my life.

3. I think only a real pilot could pull off the scenes of dialogue by your character in the cockpit because of the understated movement which seems so realistic. Do you think your passion for flying and dedication to the part helped to lift the film from a B-movie to a classic?

4. I know you are a modest guy and might not find the last question so easy to answer so what are your memories of the other actors in the movie?
Cliff: As for the cast I think they were all first rate. A very congenial group of actors. All in all it was a good film to work on. Good cast, fine crew and happy memories.

5. Did you ever meet Steve McQueen, another actor and pilot?

6. Incidentally he filmed The War Lover at Bovingdon too. Would you have like to fly a B-17 or are you more interested in lighter aircraft?

7. I have seen 633 squadron at least ten times as I cannot resist watching both you and the Mosquitos. I have heard that it was filmed very briskly, that the English actors were paid by the day, and the higher-paid ones, for instance, were the ones who crashed during the raid (although I have never been able to make the number of shot-down planes add up during the attack on the fjord). Do you remember it being filmed quickly (if you remember the filming at all)?
Cliff: As to (the cast’s) payment which you enquired of, I know not any details.

8. Somehow the tension is as tight as any film I can think of, and watching it is like being on a rack: the tension just builds and builds. Is this down to taught direction, the subject, constraints of filming on a tight budget or something else?
Cliff: I agree with you the editing was excellent, tight and dramatic.

9. Having listened to your long (2 1/2 hours?) Archive interview on youtube, there were many questions left, hence this questionnaire. Another interviewee was Bill Shatner who, like you appeared in the The Twilight Zone, Outlaws and The United States Steel Hour. Have you ever worked with him and if not, are there any actors or parts you would love to have played with/played?

10. It seems a question of debate as to whether Roy Grant survives at the end of 633 Squadron – we would like to have your personal opinion on this?
Cliff: I did not particularly like the ending and so stated because there was an ambiguity as to whether Roy Grant lived or died. However that’s just my opinion. Walter Marrish, the producer is a fine gentleman and a delight to work with. He happily is still with us and lives in Beverly Hills.

See note at end on this matter – LF

11. One of my favourite scenes is the one where George Chakiris’ character, Erik is about to leave for Norway on the B-25 and is saying goodbye to both his sister (Maria Perschy) and Roy. He asks if Roy likes fishing and will he come with them when the war is over and Roy answers, “Yeah, I like to fish.” He sounds slightly lost, like a child which reveals Roy’s vulnerability (not that different to something in Charly). Was this something you consciously aimed for?
Cliff: As for Roy Grant, the role I played, I wanted to make him above all believable, if somewhat understood. But hopefully realistic.

12. Do you remember any of the local landmarks at Bovingdon? For instance did you visit The Swan pub at Ley Hill, which Clark Gable James Stewart and Glen Miller used to cycle out to while based at Bovingdon?

Thanks very much to Cliff for this. His letter seems to suggest that a telephone interview might allow him to give fuller answers so that is a possibility for the future.

Note on question 10. It’s worth noting that in the original book, Roy Grant is badly wounded but taken prisoner and survives the War.

Cliff’s website can be found here: http://www.cliffrobertson.info where he regularly posts about flying.

Thanks also to Stephen C Thompson, of Thompson Communications who put me in touch with Cliff and can be contacted here: http://www.thomcomm.net/contact.html

SA_CoverKindlepreviewsmallIf you are interested in aircraft, you might like one of my Wartime aviation novels.

Screaming Angels explores the causes of the MiG-15s superiority at the beginning of the Korean War and includes a chapter about the De Havilland Mosquito.

Attack Hitler’s Bunker! is about a raid using composite Hawker Hurricane and Short Stirling aircraft in a daring raid on Hitler’s Bunker in Berlin.

December Radio is about secret German technology during WW2 and features detail on Eugen Sanger’s Orbital Bomber, sometimes called the Amerika Bomber, which could skip along the Earth’s atmosphere to reach New York and reach Japan, making it the forerunner of the American Space Shuttle.

Explore these books under the main menu item Wartime (Aviation) Series.