Royal Air Force Memorial, Embankment, London

London has many stunning memorials and monuments scattered about its streets and gardens. The Royal Air Force memorial is just one of many visited over recent months.

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The Royal Air Force memorial stands on the Embankment overlooking the Thames.

The Royal Air Force memorial is located on the banks of London’s River Thames, between Embankment and Westminster tube stations.

Overlooking the river, it was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, sculpted by William Reid Dick, and  completed on 13th July 1923.

The memorial consists of a bronze globe on which stands a gilded eagle with its wings spread as if about to take off. The main tapering column is of Portland stone and this forms the official Royal Air Force memorial.

The initial idea for a memorial was raised by Maj.Gen.J.M.Salmond, in a letter to the Air Ministry on 27th November 1918. Following this a committee was set up and discussions continued around the raising of funds and more importantly, how it should be spent. The leads in this committee were Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard and Lord Hugh Cecil. Eventually, on 21st January 1920, an appeal was launched with an article in the Times newspaper and the money gradually gathered.

There then followed many discussions about a suitable location for the memorial and eventually, the current location was agreed and permission given for its erection. The Architect, Sir Reginald Blomfield, decided upon William Reid Dick as the sculptor, plans were drawn up and building work started.

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A Bronze gilded Eagle stands as if about to fly.

It wasn’t until 16th July 1923, that the memorial would be both finished and unveiled. In the presence of Sir Hugh Trenchard, and many other dignitaries, the Prince of Wales gave a moving speech highlighting the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in this new form of warfare.

Following the Second World War, further inscriptions were added and the updated memorial unveiled by Lord Trenchard on Battle of Britain Sunday, 15th September 1946. The tradition of placing a pilot’s brevet shaped wreath at its base has continued ever since.

There are a number of inscriptions around the column and base, each one referring to the dedication and loss of the men and women from the entire British commonwealth who gave their lives in both World Wars.

Even on a wet winters day, this is a stunning memorial and a beautiful tribute to those brave people.

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The Eagle looks across the Thames to the London Eye,

For more information about its history go to the RAF Benevolent Fund website here. A pdf is available.

Other major memorials appear in the blog here and for specific airfield memorials here.

As Heard on the BBC: RAF Kings Cliffe – Time is Running Out!

We recently published a post highlighting the proposed development of the former RAF Kings Cliffe airfield (Trail 6), and in particular the Glenn Miller Memorial located at Jack’s Green, which is part of Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire, England (post 6/1/15).

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The memorial and hangar base where Maj. Glenn Miller played his last hangar concert on 3rd October 1944.

The proposal, by the land owner/developer, Philip Ashton-Jones, states that a ‘caravan site’ with access and associated buildings would be built on part of the former airfield. This outlined plan includes the location of the memorial on the hangar base where Maj. Glenn Miller performed his final hangar concert (3rd October 1944) before his mysterious disappearance over the English Channel in December that year.

Whilst promoting the issue, Marcella, contacted John Griff at BBC Northants, who in turn asked for an interview on the Stuart Linnell Breakfast Show. Living in the U.S., this would prove interesting as there is a time difference of 5 hours. However, a suitable time was agreed and arrangements made for a pre-recorded rather than live interview.

The proposal has, unsurprisingly, been met with resistance from the local community. Some of the issues include: impact on local property and the current roads around Kings Cliffe which pass a quarry and lead to the back of Kings Cliffe village. The roads are very narrow, and unsuitable for high levels of traffic. The area is relatively high up and gives great views of the surrounding countryside, a reason why it is used by walkers, horse riders, cyclists etc. Furthermore, there is a wide range of wildlife including a herd of  deer that roam freely through the forest – it is indeed an idyllic area of pristine and natural beauty.

Of course there is the NIMBY aspect, no one wants a holiday village in their back garden. There are fears of ‘development creep’ and damage to the local finely balanced ecosystem. To Aviation Trails, it is not only the environment, but it the future of the Glenn Miller Memorial that is at stake, as are the remains of the airfield where so many brave young men, who gave the ultimate sacrifice, flew from during the Second World War.

The BBC broadcast both sides of the debate, including an interview with the landowner/developer, Mr. Philip Ashton-Jones, who slipped into admitting it was not caravans but 55 ‘luxury lodges’ that are being proposed. This was one of several ‘suspicious’ actions, along with the time at which the planning application was made public (i.e. prior to the Christmas holiday when the planning offices were closed), that caused some concern. This action reduced the amount of time objectors had to raise their concerns.

We feel these issues and the memorial in particular, are an important part of our shared British and American history. RAF Kings Cliffe comes from an era that changed the world, and Maj. Glenn Miller was a man whose musical talents helped shape and develop popular music for years to come.

These ancient forests are now delicate ecosystems, the memorials, rapidly disappearing monuments to past generations and Anglo-American heritage. Both need protection from permanent and sustained damage.

The BBC site has the various interviews available through their website, (links are valid for 30 days from the 9th February 2015 – but may be available on archives). They are for entire shows, but we have noted the timings of the relevant parts.

The BBC news website article can be found here.

A facebook page here, anyone can access this.

The radio interview with Marcella can be found here at 1:39:20

The interview with Ian Sharpe and Mr Philip Ashton-Jones can be found here at 2:39:15

A further report from the site can be found here on the John Griff show at 1:15:30

A big thanks also goes to my good friend, Kevin Fleckner, who wrote in support of the memorial.

As an additional note, there is also talk of development on the nearby RAF Deenethorpe site, another Northampton historical site likely to disappear. See the BBC report here.

Andy Laing and Marcella Beaudreau

Diary of a Luftwaffe pilot

A recent visit to an antiques shop, led to the purchase of two books, one detailing the events of the Battle of Britain, the second included short diary entries of Luftwaffe pilots. Sadly, not many Luftwaffe diaries exist today, all but a few being destroyed in case they fell into enemy hands! As a result, records are sketchy, few and far between.

Some of these Luftwaffe entries refer to the Battle of Britain.  I tried to make a comparison, maybe one entry would refer to the other – sadly they were not sufficiently detailed enough to be certain. This aside, I was intrigued to see the Germans portrayed their part in the battle and how they might compare in terms of recounts.

After the fall of France, the Germans built up strong groups of fighters, transports and bombers in readiness for the coming invasion of Great Britain. Five main groups (Luftflotte ‘air fleets’ similar to the RAF groups) operated across the German empire. Covering the eastern borders were Luftflotte 1 and 4, to the north in Norway and Denmark was the newly formed Luftflotte 5 and in Belgium and France , Luftflotte 2 and 3 respectively.Total servicable aircraft facing Britain amounted to 3,157.

Jagdgeschwader 3 (fighter ‘wing’ made up of 3 Gruppen*1 and 1 Stab) normally stationed on the eastern front, had been brought in to bolster numbers in Luftflotte 2 and were now based at Samer not far from Boulogne. Commanded by Hauptmann Hans von Hahn*2 (himself a German Luftwaffe ace and recipient of the Knight’s Cross), Luftflotte 2 were able to field 23 Messerschmitt Bf 109Es at the start of September.

The mid part of September had been dogged by poor weather, on the 12th 13th and 14th, the Luftwaffe launched only small raids and reconnaissance missions with minimal numbers of aircraft. Many fighter pilots were given the luxury of rest periods some even taking in local sites.

One of the biggest days of the Battle of Britain, now celebrated as Battle of Britain day, was Sunday 15th September 1940. It saw a major change in Luftwaffe policies. The weather was misty but promised to improve, and the Germans saw this as an opportunity to bring a severe blow to London and the RAF; this would be the ultimate prelude to invasion.

The Unit war diary for 1 Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 3, September 15th 1940*3, reads:

12:00.

Escort (by 12 aircraft) Do 17s against London. Oblt Keller shot down the Spitfire, Leutnant Rohwer a Hurricane. Fw Wollmer dived into the channel; the impact was seen by Lt Springer. This crash appears not to have been caused by enemy action. After a long dive Wollmer’s machine rolled a quarter turn into a vertical dive and he did not succeed in bailing out. A motorboat detached from a German convoy near Cap Gris Nez and went to the scene of the crash.

15:10.

Operation by nine aircraft to escort He 111s against London. At 1,500m there was almost total cloud cover. Over the Thames estuary and to the north of London there were gaps in the cloud. During the flight in there was contact with Spitfires. The bombers flew in loose formation to the north of London. Strong and accurate flak. The Spitfires came from above, fired, and dived away. Hauptmann von Hahn shot down the Spitfire, Lt Rohwer probably destroyed a Hurricane. During an attack by Spitfires Oberleutnant Reumschuessel became separated from his wing-man, Obfw Olejnik, and has not returned (this aircraft crashed near Charing, Kent; the pilot bailed out and was taken prisoner). After he was separated from the formation Obfw Hessel was heard on the radio, but he failed to return (this aircraft crash near Tenterdon; The pilot bailed out was taken prisoner). Obfw Buchholz’s aircraft was hit in the cooling system and forced down in the Channel. Oblt Keller made contact with the rescue aircraft nearby, which picked up Buchholz. He had injuries and was taken to the military hospital a Boulogne. The body of Lt Kloiber has been washed ashore near St. Cecile, and buried. Lt Meckel and two Feldwebeln attended the funeral. During the last few days news has been received from the Red Cross in Geneva that Oblt Tiedmann, Oblt Rau, Oblt Loidolt, Lt Landry (these last two wounded) and Obfw Lamskemper have been captured by the British”.

 An interesting read, if only there were more!

Notes:

*1 The singular is ‘Gruppe‘ and each Gruppen operated with three Gruppe. Each Gruppe would operate from one airfield but moved as a Gruppen.

*2 Hauptmann Hans von Hahn more infomration can be found at http://www.luftwaffe.cz/hahn3.html or http://falkeeins.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/hans-von-hahn-and-his-stab-ijg-3.html

*3 The Luftwaffe Data Book, Dr. Alfred Price (1977) Greenhill Publications pg196-197

Sgt. Archibald Mathies, USAAF, RAF Polebrook (Medal Of Honour)

Staff Sgt. Archibald Mathies (U.S. Air Force file photo)*1

Born in the Scottish town of Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire, on the 3rd June 1918, Archibald (Archie) Mathies was to become a Second World War hero. He was awarded the Medal of Honour (MOH) for his actions whilst at RAF Polebrook (USAAF Station 110) in Northamptonshire, England.

It would be on the 20th February 1944, shortly after arriving at Polebrook, that he would earn this honour but his life would be dramatically cut short.

Not long after his birth in Scotland, Mathies moved with his family to the United States, to a small town in Western Pennsylvania called Finleyville, in Washington County.

After leaving school, he began work in a local coal mine. The work was hard, and the pay was low; Mathies was not inspired. Then, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, as many other brave young American men did, he joined the Army, enlisting in Pittsburgh on the 30th December 1940. Mathies would transition through a number of stations and training centres before finally completing a course in aerial gunnery on the 22nd March 1943. His last U.S. posting was to the 796th Bombardment Squadron at Alexandria, Louisiana for operational training duties flying B-17s. He would leave here on the 8th December 1943 bound for England and the European Theatre of Operations.

Mathies arrived in the U.K. eight days later. His initial assignment was with the Eighth Air Force Replacement Depot, before being attached to the 1st Replacement and Training Squadron. On the 19th January 1944, he received his first and only operational squadron posting; the 510th Bomb Squadron, 351st Bomb Group, based at RAF Polebrook, as an engineer/gunner. Promotion was swift, and on 17th February 1944, probably following his first mission, Mathies was awarded the rank of Staff Sergeant.

A few days later, on 20th February 1944, the allies began the enormous aerial campaign known as ‘Big Week’. During this short period a massive number of aircraft would attack targets deep in the heart of Nazi Germany. One of the first, (Mission 226) would see a total of 417 aircraft fly from airfields across England. From RAF Polebrook, 39 B-17s took off to attack Leipzig. In the lead planes were Maj. Leonard B. Roper (s/n O-734101 ) of the 510th BS forming the high group, and Maj. James T. Stewart (s/n O-659405) of the 508th BS, leading the low group.

Flying in the number three ship of the lower Squadron, in B-17 (42-31763) ‘Ten Horsepower‘ was: Pilot: Clarry Nelson, Co-Pilot: Roland Bartley, Navigator: Walter Truemper, Engineer / Top Turret Gunner: Archie Mathies, Bombardier: Joe Martin, Radio Operator: Joe Rex, Ball Turret Gunner: Carl Moore, Waist Gunner: Tom Sowell, Waist Gunner: Russ Robinson, and Tail Gunner: Magnus Hagbo.

A B-17 believed to be “Ten Horsepower” (TU-A, serial number 42-31763) taken prior to its crash”2.

On approaching the target, the formation was hit hard by fighters and flak, who would attack the formation for over an hour, hitting many aircraft in the subsequent melee. Ten Horsepower, was targeted repeatedly receiving many hits from 20mm cannon shells. In these attacks the co-pilot was killed and the pilot knocked unconscious from his wounds. Fearing the bomber was doomed, the bombardier jettisoned the bombs and then bailed out, later being captured by the Germans and becoming a prisoner of war. The remaining crew remained with the B-17 which soon began a deathly spiral toward the ground.

Mathies and the navigator (Walter Truemper) would eventually take over control of the aircraft and nurse it back to England. Once over their base at RAF Polebrook, the crew were instructed to bail out but both Mathies and Truemper refused to leave the injured pilot. After deliberation, they were given permission to try to land, the remaining two crew members prepared themselves for a heavy landing.

The first two attempts had to be aborted, but on the third attempt, as they approached the airfield, the aircraft struck the ground, killing all three crew members onboard.

The crash was a severe blow for the base, both air and ground crews were devastated. On returning from the mission, five other aircraft (42-38028, 42-38005, 42-39760, 42-39853 and 42-6151). were forced to land at nearby Glatton (Conington) only a short distance away.

This was only Mathies’ second mission and sadly, his last.

For his bravery, Mathies was awarded the Medal of Honour; his name now appears on page 280 of the St. Paul’s Cathedral Roll of Honour. Also, as a dedication to him, one of the temporary lodging units at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling is named after him, as is the Airman Leadership School at RAF Feltwell,  and the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Keesler AFB, Mississippi. In addition, the bridge on Truemper Drive crossing Military Highway at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; the USCIS Dallas District Office and the Mathies Coal Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are all named in his honour.

Archibald Mathies  citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy in connection with a bombing mission over enemy-occupied Europe on 20 February 1944. The aircraft on which Sgt. Mathies was serving as engineer and ball turret gunner was attacked by a squadron of enemy fighters with the result that the copilot was killed outright, the pilot wounded and rendered unconscious, the radio operator wounded and the plane severely damaged. Nevertheless, Sgt. Mathies and other members of the crew managed to right the plane and fly it back to their home station, where they contacted the control tower and reported the situation. Sgt. Mathies and the navigator volunteered to attempt to land the plane. Other members of the crew were ordered to jump, leaving Sgt. Mathies and the navigator aboard. After observing the distressed aircraft from another plane, Sgt. Mathies’ commanding officer decided the damaged plane could not be landed by the inexperienced crew and ordered them to abandon it and parachute to safety. Demonstrating unsurpassed courage and heroism, Sgt. Mathies and the navigator replied that the pilot was still alive but could not be moved and they would not desert him. They were then told to attempt a landing. After two unsuccessful efforts, the plane crashed into an open field in a third attempt to land. Sgt. Mathies, the navigator, and the wounded pilot were killed“.*3

Mathies was truly a brave and dedicated man, who in the face of adversity, refused to leave his wounded pilot and friend. Daring to land a badly damaged aircraft, he sadly lost his life showing both great courage and determination.

The crew of ‘Ten Horsepower‘ were:

Pilot: Clarry Nelson,
Co-Pilot: Roland Bartley,
Navigator: Walter Truemper
Engineer / Top Turret Gunner: Archie Mathies
Bombardier: Joe Martin (POW)
Radio Operator: Joe Rex,
Ball Turret Gunner: Carl Moore,
Waist Gunner: Tom Sowell,
Waist Gunner: Russ Robinson,
Tail Gunner: Magnus Hagbo

Notes:

*1 Photo from Malmstrom Air Force Base website.

*2 Photo IWM Freeman Collection FRE 4725

*3 Citation taken from: US Army Centre for Military History website.