RAF Centenary 1918–2018

This came to me from The Churchill Centre, as it may have to some of you, by Robert Courts

The Mall leading from Buckingham Palace to Admiralty Arch is alive with red, white, and blue. Union Jacks combined with sky-blue RAF ensigns hang from every lamppost. The centenary celebration of the first air force to become a fully independent branch of any nation’s military is underway in London.

On the roof terrace above the House of Commons, the first aircraft appear: a lumbering phalanx of Chinooks, the distinctive rumble from their double rotors beating off the office blocks below. Next come the big stars passing the London Eye, roaring behind the scaffold-clad Elizabeth Tower, and zipping around the Foreign Office and Treasury buildings with their proudly displayed RAF station flags. The audience audibly gasps at the music of nine Rolls-Royce Merlin and Griffon engines powering the Lancaster, Spitfires, and Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The national DNA stirs within every watching person.

The flypast slowly speeds up. The heavy transports from West Oxfordshire’s RAF Brize Norton lead the secretive intelligence aircraft from the old Bomber County of Lincolnshire before the brand new Anglo-American F-35s roar in to lead the centrepiece: twenty-two Typhoons—the backbone of the RAF’s modern fleet—forming a “100” figure in the sky. And as a finale, the world-famous Red Arrows slide in effortless formation across the grey sky, trailing red, white, and blue smoke as they go.

In Parliament Square, Whitehall, and Trafalgar Square, tens of thousands of people wear RAF roundel rosettes while their eyes search skyward. They clutch the augmented reality app to “collect” aircraft types as they appear. The iPhone app illustrates how far the RAF’s aviation has come. On Horseguards Parade, the RAF have brought a selection of their most famous aircraft for public display. The first—the BE2c, a canvas and wood contraption—is a world away from the digitally inter-connected, supersonic F-35s and Typhoons. Yet these radically different types of machine are separated by only 100 years.

For the RAF personnel of today, flying the plane is a basic skill compared with operating the mission systems on their complicated aircraft and that more akin to operating their iPhones than the “seat of the pants,” stick-and-rudder flight of the First World War.

In just a century, the Royal Air Force has gone from experimental novelty to the heart of British national identity. It has policed an Empire, taken help to the victims of natural disasters worldwide, flown a nuclear deterrent, fought for victory above the trenches, taken the fight to the enemy when no-one else could, and, in the long, hot summer of 1940, saved a nation and the free world before being justly immortalised by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Few may be fewer now than once they were, but they still lead the world, and have a richly-deserved place in the centre of Britain’s national life.

Robert Courts is Member of Parliament for Whitney.

I would have given much to be standing in, say, Trafalgar Square that day. Not least because the music of the Merlin speaks at a very deep level to one’s soul. Think of that, standing in the square honoring one of the greatest heroes of the English Speaking people, while honoring some of the bravest of them, the renowned “Few”.

Mr. Courts gives an accurate, albeit short history of the RAF, little point to adding to it in a general post. But the RAF (especially, but not only) epitomizes the toughness, the doughtiness, dare I say the pluck, of the British forces. It is one of the base causes of the modern world and needs to be more honored.

Part of the reason that this came through to us from The Churchill Centre is, of course, his speech which memorialized the RAF in the Battle of Britain:

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power. On no part of the Royal Air Force does the weight of the war fall more heavily than on the daylight bombers who will play an invaluable part in the case of invasion and whose unflinching zeal it has been necessary in the meanwhile on numerous occasions to restrain…

All true, and perhaps understated, here was the first check on Hitler’s designs, which led him in his hubris to take on the Soviet Union, thus leading to his regimes ignominious end.

The last paragraph of that speech spoke of another matter, one that foretold the future

…Some months ago we came to the conclusion that the interests of the United States and of the British Empire both required that the United States should have facilities for the naval and air defence of the Western Hemisphere against the attack of a Nazi power… We had therefore decided spontaneously, and without being asked or offered any inducement, to inform the Government of the United States that we would be glad to place such defence facilities at their disposal by leasing suitable sites in our Transatlantic possessions for their greater security against the unmeasured dangers of the future.… His Majesty’s Government are entirely willing to accord defence facilities to the United States on a 99 years’ leasehold basis… Undoubtedly this process means that these two great organisations of the English-speaking democracies, the British Empire and the United States, will have to be somewhat mixed up together in some of their affairs for mutual and general advantage. For my own part, looking out upon the future, I do not view the process with any misgivings. I could not stop it if I wished; no one can stop it. Like the Mississippi, it just keeps rolling along. Let it roll. Let it roll on full flood, inexorable, irresistible, benignant, to broader lands and better days

So it has proved, to the benefit of all the world, and that too was on display as the RAF flew over London the other day. Leading the current day warriors in their Typhoons, was the future, in the Anglo-American F35, the aircraft that is the future of air power in all the English speaking world. Unless I miss my guess, the F-35s were from the first squadron of Lightning IIs in the RAF, No 617 Squadron, the justly famed Dambusters. It is fitting that it should make its first ceremonial appearance leading the oldest air force in the world.

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The Mighty Endeavor

My traditional post for June 6th, seen most years…

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prologue:

Seventy-four years ago, night before last a Royal Air Force Group Captain delivered a weather briefing to an obscure American general. The general had an operation planned and the weather was very iffy. But, that general, who was a staff major in 1940 said, “OK, let’s go”

And so after planning and deception efforts reaching back to before Pearl Harbor, an operation was launched. It would invade France’s Normandy peninsula. Its name was OVERLORD.

It was a huge risk, and there was no ‘Plan B’. If it failed, obviously that general’s career would end, his name was Eisenhower, by the way, so would his boss’s General Marshall, and probably his boss Franklin Roosevelt, for this was 1944, and it was an election year. The Prime Minister, and government, of the United Kingdom, would fall.

But the real damage was none of these, these were individual men, and their fate, while important, was not critical. What was critical was that Central and Western Europe would become the prize of the war between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. This was the very last chance for freedom in and of the west.

And so, in one of history’s momentous decisions, GEN Eisenhower said, “OK, let’s go”.

For planning purposes, everything had been planned to happen so many days before or after the day of execution, which up till that time had always been called “D-Day”. It never would be again. Because it was a singular operation, unlike anything seen before, and never seen again.

Prelude

Starting at about 0200 on Tuesday, the sixth of June, 1944, forever afterward known as D-Day, the United States 82d Airborne Division, and the 101st Airborne Division, the British 6th Airborne Division, the Canadian 1st Parachute Battalion, and other attached units parachuted into Normandy, more than 13,000 paratroopers. carried by 925 C-47 aircraft. The drops were badly scattered by winds and flak but eventually, the units were able to consolidate and achieve their objectives. They also demonstrated how disruptive “little groups of paratroopers” can be to an enemy. They were joined later in the day by another 4000 glider-borne troops.

Shortly after 0630, the American 2d Ranger Battalion landed at Pointe de Hoc to begin their epic, and costly battle to take the bluffs, which held 6 German 155 mm guns.

The Main Event

U.S. Army troops wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944, although planned for the morning of 5 June, but delayed one day due to weather in France.

Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha, and Utah, are now names which will live forever in the iconography of freemen, but on 6 June 1944, they were merely code names, for the five beaches. At early dawn Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey gave the order to launch the invasion, I like to think that he actually used the traditional naval command, “Land the Landing Party”. If so, what a landing party: From the United States: 1st Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 29th Infantry Division. From the British Army: 3rd British Infantry Division,  50th British Infantry Division. From the Canadian Army the  3rd Canadian Infantry Division. They were supported by 12,000 aircraft under Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, coming from the 8th United States Army Air Force, the 9th United States Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force’s 2d Tactical Air Force. The invasion fleet consisted of over 6,300 vessels ranging from battleships like the USS Texas to LCVPs that could land a squad of infantry.

It was a very near run event, as the current was high, the water was choppy, and the Germans had been reinforced. 12 Medals of Honor were won this day, including one by Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., (awarded posthumously) as well as a Victoria Cross. But the lodgment was secured and 11 months later Nazi Germany surrendered.

They went into battle with a prayer from America led by the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

This is not meant to be a history of the operation, that would take several bookshelves and has been done, my purpose here is to commemorate these men and show how their achievement has altered history.

Aftermath

Most of you know the rough outlines of the story, the British stalled trying to take Caen. In fairness, the British could not afford to take casualties, remember they had lost almost an entire generation merely 26 years earlier. The Americans attacked into the bocage country of Normandy, which the American Army, as always designed for movement, found very difficult. The best explanation may well be that of “an irresistible force meeting an immovable object”.  Eventually, the force triumphed and 3d United States Army debouched onto the plains of France, stopping only when they ran out of gas in the approaches to Germany. As we have said, 11 months later, Nazi Germany surrendered.

Historical Consequences

But the invasion was a gamble, what would have happened if it failed? Undoubtedly, the Americans would have transferred whatever forces were left to the Mediterranean to be part of Operation Dragoon which landed in the south of France 2 weeks later. This could never have been a war winner though, the best it could have done is tied down some German forces from moving to the Eastern Front. So, the war in Europe would have ended with the Red Army conquering Germany, and who’s not to say they wouldn’t have come on through France as well. Simple prudence would seem to demand it, while the American emphasis would have been transferred to the war against Imperial Japan. The result is Europe from Portugal to the Urals, and from Lappland to Italy dominated by Moscow. But the Invasion succeeded due to the Valor of the English speaking peoples. There is a Churchill quote taken from his speech to the House of Commons on 18 May 1940 that comes to mind.

We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God’s good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old.

On Tuesday, 06 June 1944, the Americans and the Canadians, supported by the conquered people of Europe, in concert with the British Army, guarded primarily by the British Fleet, that promise was made good.

But it doesn’t end there either, for, without this successful invasion, the Soviets would have controlled all of Europe, and probably still would. Would Britain have survived, for that matter would North America? It’s not for us to know, neither is it a sure thing.

But certainly, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact would not have fallen as soon as 1990, thus making Europe from Portugal to the Urals and the North Pole to Sicily free.

As he often did, President Reagan said it better than anyone, when addressing those American Rangers we spoke of earlier, at the 40th anniversary of D-Day he said.

…The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe de Hoc.

These are the men who took the cliffs.

These are the champions who helped free a continent.

These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life…and left the vivid air signed with your honor….

This was the spirit that animated the entire force that conquered fascism, In the words of another great general, “They came, They saw, and They Conquered”. And so the lighted torch of freedom was maintained for another generation. But the struggle continues.

Through Adversity to the Stars

Well, in featuring our Easter series, we missed something yesterday. Yes, we missed April Fools Day, but that is not what I had in mind.

1 April 2018 was the centenary of the Royal Air Force. Almost the oldest air force in the world. Apparently, Finland’s is a  few months older, but was in a civil war at the time and had very few aircraft. Even then Britain Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service were formidable air forces. Here’s a bit about how it came about.

You have no doubt noticed that Britain consolidated the Navy and Army air services in forming the RAF, something America never did. In fact, to this day, we have three full-scale air forces: The US Air Force, the Navy’s air force, and the Marine’s air force. They all are multipurpose but have different emphases. USAF is ground-based, USN mostly carrier based, and USMC again mostly carrier based but geared toward air support of ground forces. But the US services are quite a lot bigger than Britain’s, and by the time the USAF was formed, in 1948, well, the various air services were far too entrenched and had much too much history for it to happen.

Then this, where the RAF saved Britain and the free world. If they had lost, it is highly unlikely that the war would have been won.

Churchill was never known for understatement, but truly he did when he said –

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

That is part of the story, the easy part, defending one’s home. But defending oneself does not win wars. Wars are won by destroying anything that supports the enemy’s war effort. And Britain did superbly at that. That it is still controversial is appalling, wars, especially existential wars for survival, are fought with any available weapon. Bomber command did nothing that the Wehrmacht did not do at Stalingrad or the Red Army at Berlin. This is a fairly non-biased story of that.

Like the 8th United States Army Air Force, Bomber Command took horrendous casualties but saved many British and American soldiers lives. Was it as effective as they hoped? No. Giulio Douhet was wrong. Wars are not won by air campaigns, they are won by men with rifles and bayonets. But many of those soldiers lived because of the men in the bombers. And we didn’t have to fight the third round, against the Soviet Union, because those same men went on to convince the Soviets that they would be destroyed, as the Germans had been.

And it continues, we saw an example in our own time when a British Vulcan bomber strike mission launched in England struck Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, disrupting the Argentinian command and control, easing the way for the ground forces to recover the island.

And now, a hundred years from its founding, the RAF is still looking to its future, as it too welcomes the F35 Lightning II into the inventory.

One of the things that caught my eye, that F35 on display bears the markings of one of the US Marine Corp squadrons (VMF). And that too is appropriate, since US Marine Corps wings will sometimes be assigned to Britain’s new carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, which looks like it will be second only in power to an American fleet carrier. And note this, the United Kingdom is the only power that the United States trusts enough to place entire units of our military under their command. Ever, this is the first time it has happened.

Congratulations to the Royal Air Force, and here’s to many more years of keeping the peace and fighting the wars of a free people.

The title is the accepted translation of the RAF motto.

And the final installment of our Easter series will come up at noon today.

 

Mossie Plans and Elite Wallpaper

Now, we don’t often get this lucky! And something completely different.

A priceless collection of technical and engineering designs for the World War II Mosquito aircraft has been discovered hidden in a factory days before its demolition. An engineer found more than 20,000 drawings on microfilm cards in the building at Hawarden Airfield in Broughton, near Chester on the Welsh side of the border with England. This is the only complete archive of Mosquito technical drawings known in the world, all of which were top secret classified material during and after the war. It includes plans for experimental models that never made it to the prototype stage, including one that would carry torpedoes to attack German battleships, a previously unknown photo-reconnaissance plane, and a “Mosquito Mk I, Tropics” model that featured a compartment in the rear fuselage for storing desert equipment. It’s a great stroke of luck that they were discovered by an engineer who had the knowledge to recognize what a massive historical treasure he had stumbled upon and saved it before the bulldozers came in to raze the old factory and everything inside of it.

There is nothing the British do not have. They have the geniuses, and we have the nincompoops.” His bitterness was informed by personal experience, as a Mosquito raid on a Berlin radio station where he had been scheduled to deliver a speech delayed him by more than an hour.

It was the remarkable wooden construction that shortened the aircraft’s lifespan so dreadfully. Plywood and balsa don’t last long, so while its metal contemporaries like the Spitfire survived for decades after the war, the Mosquitos degraded into nothingness. Production stopped in 1950 and any surviving stock was left to rot in storage. The last airworthy Mosquito in Britain crashed at an air show in 1996, killing both pilots. There are only three Mosquitos in the world today that can fly, one in Canada, the other two in the US.

The microfilm archive was donated to The People’s Mosquito, a charitable organization that seeks to rebuild a crashed Mosquito so that the aircraft that has been credibly described as “the plane that won the war” can fly again over England’s green and pleasant land. The technical drawings will allow them to reconstruct the plane to modern aviation safety standards while ensuring its historical accuracy.

The charity hopes to resurrect the remains of a Mosquito night fighter that crashed at RAF Coltishall, in February 1949, while serving with No 23 Sqn.

Ross Sharp, engineering director for the project, said: “As you can imagine, restoring an aircraft that is 70 years old presents several challenges, one of which is a lack of information on the building techniques, materials, fittings and specifications.”

“These plans enable us to glean a new level of understanding and connection with the brilliant designers who developed the world’s first, true, multi-role combat aircraft.” […]

[The People’s Mosquito chairman John] Lilley said: “No other aircraft has amassed such a remarkable combat record in so short a time, flying so many different types of mission and excelling in each one.

“Even today, it remains one of the world’s most successful multirole combat aircraft, and it was all British, made by men and women who only a few months earlier had been building furniture and mending pianos.”

Despite the great boost the discovery of the archive gives the project, they still have a long ways to go before restoration can begin. Money is the issue. The estimated cost of the restoration is £6 million and only a small portion of that has been raised. If you’d like to pitch in, the People’s Mosquito has some in its shop, with all kinds of perks and takes online donations.

Cache of WWII Mosquito plans found days before destruction

A most worthy cause, I think.

This is nearly as neat.

When Philip Schuyler (1733-1804) began building his estate near Albany, NY in 1761, he was determined to make it a suitable home for his growing family as well as for his stature as a gentleman of wealth and property.

Called The Pastures, the brick house was to be elegant and substantial in its Georgian symmetry, and sit grandly on eighty acres high on the hill overlooking the Hudson (or North) River so that visitors coming to Albany from New York City would be sure to see it first. Twenty-eight-year-old Philip wanted his house to be as impressive inside as it was commanding from the exterior, and while the house was being built, he combined a business trip to London with something of a decorating spending spree.

Unlike most 18thc wallpaper which was block-printed, or “stampt”, this paper was painted entirely by hand in tempera paint in shades of grey – en grisaille was the term – to mimic engraved prints. In fact, the entire scheme of the papers was an elaborate trompe l’oeil to represent framed paintings and cartouches, all custom designed for the walls and spaces they would occupy.

This was, of course, extremely expensive, and as much a sign of Philip’s deep pockets as his taste. The wallpaper he ordered featured romantically scenic landscapes by the Italian painter Paolo Panini, and was called “Ruins of Rome.” The “Ruins of Rome” wallpaper was so rare and costly that there are only two examples of it known to survive in America: in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead, MA, and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, which has installed the paper taken from the now-demolished Rensselaerwyck, the home of Stephen Van Rensselaer II, also near Albany. (Yet all status and expense is a matter of degrees; the scenic wallpaper was inspired by aristocratic rooms like this one from Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire, UK, which features real Panini paintings in gilded, carved frames and Genoese cut velvet on the walls.)

Not bad for the colonies though, I reckon. From Recreating the 18thc “Ruins of Rome” Wallpaper in the Schuyler Mansion

The Mighty Endeavor

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prologue:

Seventy-three years ago, night before last a Royal Air Force Group Captain delivered a weather briefing to an obscure American general. The general had an operation planned and the weather was very iffy. But, that general, who was a staff major in 1940 said, “OK, let’s go”

And so after planning and deception efforts reaching back to before Pearl Harbor, an operation was launched. It would invade France’s Normandy peninsula. It’s name was OVERLORD.

It was a huge risk, and there was no ‘Plan B’. If it failed, obviously that general’s career would end, his name was Eisenhower, by the way, so would his boss’s General Marshall, and probably his boss Franklin Roosevelt, for this was 1944, and it was an election year. The Prime Minister, and government, of the United Kingdom would fall.

But the real damage was none of these, these were individual men, and their fate, while important, was not critical. What was critical was that Central and Western Europe would become the prize of the war between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. This was the very last chance for freedom in and of the west.

And so, in one of history’s momentous decisions GEN Eisenhower said, “OK, let’s go”.

For planning purposes, everything had been planned to happen so many days before or after the day of execution, which up till that time had always been called “D-Day”. It never would be again. Because it was a singular operation, unlike anything seen before, and never seen again.

Prelude

Starting at about 0200 on Tuesday, the sixth of June, 1944, forever afterward known as D-Day, the United States 82d Airborne Division, and the 101st Airborne Division, the British 6th Airborne Division, the Canadian 1st Parachute Battalion, and other attached units parachuted into Normandy, more than 13,000 paratroopers. carried by 925 C-47 aircraft. The drops were badly scattered by winds and flak but eventually the units were able to consolidate and achieve their objectives. They also demonstrated how disruptive “little groups of paratroopers” can be to an enemy. They were joined later in the day by another 4000 glider-borne troops.

Shortly after 0630 the American 2d Ranger Battalion landed at Pointe de Hoc to begin their epic, and costly battle to take the bluffs, which held 6 German 155 mm guns.

The Main Event

U.S. Army troops wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944, although planned for the morning of 5 June, but delayed one day due to weather in France.

Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha, and Utah, are now names which will live for ever in the iconography of freemen, but on 6 June 1944 the were merely code names, for the five beaches. At early dawn Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey, gave the order to launch the invasion, I like to think that he actually used the traditional naval command, “Land the Landing Party”. If so, what a landing party: From the United States: 1st Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 29th Infantry Division. From the British Army: 3rd British Infantry Division,  50th British Infantry Division. From the Canadian Army the  3rd Canadian Infantry Division. They were supported by 12,000 aircraft under Air Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, coming from the 8th United States Army Air Force, the 9th United States Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force’s 2d Tactical Air Force. The invasion fleet consisted of over 6,300 vessel ranging from battleships like the USS Texas to LCVPs that could land a squad of infantry.

It was a very near run event, as the current was high, the water was choppy, and the Germans had been reinforced. 12 Medals of Honor were won this day, including one by Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., (awarded posthumously) as well as a Victoria Cross. But the lodgment was secured and 11 months later Nazi Germany surrendered.

They went into battle with a prayer from America led by the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.*

This is not meant to be a history of the operation, that would take several bookshelves and has been done, my purpose here is to commemorate these men and show how their achievement has altered history.

Aftermath

Most of you know the rough outlines of the story, the British stalled trying to take Caen. In fairness, the British could not afford to take casualties, remember they had lost almost an entire generation merely 26 years earlier. The Americans attacked into the bocage country of Normandy, which the American Army, as always designed for movement, found very difficult. The best explanation may well be that of “an irresistible force meeting an immovable object”.  Eventually, the force triumphed and 3d United States Army debouched onto the plains of France, stopping only when they ran out of gas in the approaches to Germany. As we have said, 11 months later, Nazi Germany surrendered.

Historical Consequences

But the invasion was a gamble, what would have happened if it failed? Undoubtedly, the Americans would have transferred whatever forces were left to the Mediterranean to be part of Operation Dragoon which landed in the south of France 2 weeks later. This could never have been a war winner though, the best it could have done is tied down some German forces from moving to the Eastern Front. So, the war in Europe would have ended with the Red Army conquering Germany, and who’s not to say they wouldn’t have come on through France as well. Simple prudence would seem to demand it, while the American emphasis would have been transferred to the war against Imperial Japan. The result is Europe from Portugal to the Urals, and from Lappland to Italy dominated by Moscow. But the Invasion succeeded due to the Valor of the English speaking peoples. There is a Churchill quote taken from his speech to the House of Commons on 18 May 1940 that comes to mind.

We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God’s good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old.

On Tuesday, 06 June 1944, the Americans and the Canadians, supported by the conquered people of Europe, in concert with the British Army, guarded primarily by the British Fleet, that promise was made good.

But it doesn’t end there either, for without this successful invasion, the Soviets would have controlled all of Europe, and probably still would. Would Britain have survived, for that matter would North America? It’s not for us to know, neither is it a sure thing.

But certainly, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact would not have fallen as soon as 1990, thus making Europe from Portugal to the Urals and the North Pole to Sicily free.

As he often did, President Reagan said it better than anyone, when addressing those American Rangers we spoke of earlier, at the 40th anniversary of D-Day he said.

…The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe de Hoc.

These are the men who took the cliffs.

These are the champions who helped free a continent.

These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life…and left the vivid air signed with your honor….

This was the spirit that animated the entire force that conquered fascism, In the words of another great general, “They came, They saw, and They Conquered”. And so the lighted torch of freedom was maintained for another generation. But the struggle continues.

* I note, in passing, without comment, that President Obama opposed, and opposes, this prayer being placed on the World War II Monument in Washington D.C.

Ave atque Vale

Vulcan-Last-Touchdown

The Last Touchdown

One of those planes, an old friend who helped keep us free, and helped Maggie remind the Argies who they were messing with, made its last flight the other day.

She is a beautiful lady to watch, and if you haven’t seen footage of her at the airshows, or on the Port Stanley raid, look it up. There’s three still running and able to taxi, but the flying is past. But when you’re running out of riggers and fitters, that’s what happens. From WeaponsMan:

Even the name was over the hill: Avro, the company named for dawn-of-flight founder A.V. Roe, went the way of one firm after another: merged into a soulless, nationalized conglomerate in a series of Socialist-policy forced consolidations of the British aircraft industry. In the end, they wound up sending British aero engineering talent to Canada, and Canadian bungling (with the Canadian Avro company front and center) banked them off and down to the United States, where they were critical to the success of Apollo. The Avro Vulcan was the last of the line that began with spindly triplanes of bamboo and muslin and that rained terror and death from the night skies over Germany.

“If a single bomber gets through,” boasted Hermann Göring, today dismissed as a buffoon but a leading World War I ace, “you can call me Meier!” And a single bomber didn’t get through, but hundreds, and then a thousand — Handley-Pages and Vickers and, chief among them, Avros, every night the weather enabled flying, and some nights it really didn’t, and by day the Americans gave the repair crews and fire brigades no rest.

In the late 1940s, Britain was a nuclear power, and it had one of the world’s most powerful navies and a first-class air force. The British nuclear deterrent originally comprised a fleet of bombers, and for this purpose, three new airframes were designed, the “V-bombers,” the name redolent of V-E Day and referring to the plane’s names. Three airframes were chosen because the performance demands were so high that some of the engineering teams were taking great risks. One jet was a very conservative design (the Vickers Valiant), in case of failure of the two using radical wing planforms: the sickle-shaped “crescent wing” Handley Page Victor and the delta-winged Avro Vulcan. All three planes succeeded, but the performance of the Victor and Vulcan ensured a short life for the Valiant.

Source: Ave atque Vale: Flying Avro Vulcan | WeaponsMan

Vulcan-VX770

Over here we have a saying, that describes her well:

The Sound of Freedom

She’ll be missed.

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