Archive for the ‘Aviation’ Category

A few days ago I called in on the Aviation Preservation Society (APSS) workshops down at East Fortune in East Lothian, naturally enough people were a little bit down regarding the death of their Patron Captain Eric (Winkle) Brown, one of our finest ever aviators.

I spoke to APSS members about the Sopwith Strutter project and the news is very encouraging, the work is picking up pace rapidly and they’re waiting the arrival of the special wing tension wires from the Wiremill in Musselburgh. Once these arrive and a suitable work space is found the aircraft will be assembled for inspection. Once it has been passed the aircraft can then be covered with fabric, not the original Irish linen, but a modern more durable alternative.


APSS replica MGs

Replica Machine Guns

The apprentices at McTaggart Scott Engineering are currently hard at work manufacturing a Scarfe ring  for the rear cockpit onto which will be mounted the magnificent Lewis Gun replica made by APSS member John Guy, who also made the magnificent Vickers gun which will sit up front in front of the lucky pilot.

The beating heart of the aircraft, the Rotec radial engine, all the way from ‘Down Under’ is ready to be installed and looks very impressive indeed. I filmed a short video with Ken Sharp and Mike Harper who gave me a run down of the progress.

So keep your eyes on the East Lothian sky later this year, you never know what you might see.



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First blood to the RAF.

Monday 16th October, 1939 2.30pm it’s a quiet Autumn afternoon over the Lothians, the Second World War was in it’s infancy, Scotland was still untouched by the carnage that had already seen Poland fall to Nazi Germany.

This was about to change, a flight of 9 German Junkers 88 bombers flew out from their base at Sylt on the northern most tip of German and headed over the North Sea and towards their target, the Royal Navy on the Firth of Forth.

The bombers somehow managed to evade detection, and they were only spotted as they flew up the river. An anti-aircraft battery was drilling with practice rounds and hastily reloaded with live ammunition. Their firing alerted other units and ships along the estuary.

The Luftwaffe were to sink HMS Hood if she was at anchor in the river. As it turns out she was not, several ships were in dock but the bombers were under strict instructions not to bomb them at anchor in dock to avoid civilian casualties.

Jock Kerr from Dalkeith

Jock Kerr from Dalkeith

Instead they turned their attention to the ships lying at anchor including the Cruiser HMS Southampton and the Tribal class destroyer HMS Mohawk, who’s crew included Dalkeith man ,Able Seamen Jock Kerr.  I had the pleasure of meeting Jock in the late 70’s when we worked at Rowntree’s in Edinburgh.

They were totally unprepared and the first warning of attack came as lookouts sounded the ‘Action Stations’ alarm. All hands scrambled to their positions, Jock made his way to B gun deck, the upper deck and to his horror saw a Ju88 bearing down on the ship, bomb doors open, ready to attack.

The German aircraft dropped two bombs, Jock recalled in later life that he could still see them “clear as day” , big and black,falling through the air and striking the water either side of the ship.  Although they did not hit the ship they showered her with huge chunks of shrapnel and caused terrible casualties, 16 men were killed and 44 wounded. Jock looked down from his position and described is as “horrible, there was blood and guts everywhere.” He remained very critical of the lack of warning about the attack to his dying day and felt they could have fought off the attack with adequate warning.


Their job done and now under heavy fire the Germans turned for home but got separated, 602 City of Glasgow Squadron was already in the air, and 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron were scrambled to intercept them. Both Squadrons were Auxiliaries (Reservists) and equipped with brand new Spitfires, they were desperate to engage the enemy and put them to the test.

Pilot Officer Pat Gifford 603 Squadron

Pilot Officer Pat Gifford 603 Squadron

Barely in the air 603’s Spitfires bounced three Ju88s at 4000 feet scattering them in all directions, the Spitfires latched on to one of the aircraft and chased it inland, reports from the Dalkeith Advertiser of the time describe how they arrived over Bonnyrigg without warning, (no sirens had sounded) the peace was shattered by the roar of engines and a blast of machine gun fire from the pursuing Spitfires sending spent cartridges down on to Bonnyrigg High Street.

The Ju88 weaved and turned it’s way back towards the coastline in an attempt to shake off the Spitfires, but to no avail. Taking it in turns to attack they poured hundreds of .303 rounds into her unit Pilot Officer Pat Gifford administered the ‘coup de grace’. The German bomber plunged towards the sea about 4 miles from Port Seton, a local fishing boat saw it go in and picked up the survivors. Pat Gifford is officially credited with shooting down the first enemy aircraft in WW2 in UK airspace but it was a close run thing.

602 City of Glasgow Squadron engaged the Germans at much the same time and attacked them over Fife. Flt Lt George Pinkerton and Archie McKellar pounced on the Ju88 piloted by Hauptmann Helmut Pohle, he was at a grave disadvantage, during his diving attack on the ships at anchor, he had lost his canopy, leaving the crew exposed to the elements.

Attack after attack came in until Pohle lost control, crashing into the sea off Crail, almost hitting a small ship. Pohle was the only survivor, the other three crew were killed.

602 Squadron (City of Glasgow)

602 Squadron (City of Glasgow)

To this day 602 and 603 Squadrons maintain a healthy rivalry as to who shot down the first German. Pat Gifford was shot down and killed during the Battle of France in 1940.

The surviving Germans were taken to Edinburgh Castle until they recovered from their wounds, then sent to a POW camp. Their crewmates were buried with full military honours in Joppa Cemetery, Edinburgh, they were re-interned post war in the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase, England.

Luftwaffe crew members funeral at Joppa

Luftwaffe crew members funeral at Joppa

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William Currie was born in 1913 in Cockpen, a very small village, near to Newtongrange. In 1939 he married and settled in Newtongrange, living with his wife at 41 Eighth Street. When war was declared William was called up and joined the RAF, following his training he was promoted to Leading Aircraftman and sent to 228 Squadron, Coastal Command which flew Short Sunderland flying boats on Convoy protection. In 1942 the Squadron moved to Oban on the west coast of Scotland to patrol the North West approaches.

Sunderland Flying boat in wartime camoflague

Sunderland Flying boat in wartime camoflague

In August, 1942 a mysterious and tragic accident occurred when a Sunderland on a classified mission to Iceland crashed into a mountain in the extreme north of Scotland killing all onboard, bar the rear gunner who was thrown clear on impact inside the tail unit. Amongst the dead was the Duke of Kent, the first member of the Royal Family to die on active service for nearly 500 years.

The reason the aircraft was on it’s way to Iceland has never been revealed and many alternative theories exist including that Rudolf Hess was on board and the aircraft going to Sweden. What ever the reason there was great interest in the accident.

Two weeks later on, the 5th of September, 1942 Sunderland W4032 took off from Oban on a convoy protection mission, onboard were were 10 crew and a journalist Fred NanCarrow from the Glasgow Herald, much has been made of NanCarrow’s presence and some say he was investigating the death of the Duke of Kent. NanCarrow was mad keen on aircraft and had only recently written a book celebrating the work of 602 City of Glasgow Squadron, his family stated he wanted to join the RAF but was rejected as unsuitable.

After several hours at sea the giant flying boat turned around for home, but it became apparent that there was insufficient fuel to make it back to Oban. The Pilot Flying Officer F J Fife of the Royal Canadian Air Force decided there was no other option than to put down in the water, on the face of it not a major problem for a flying boat, and take on more fuel. At 8.40pm the Sunderland set down in Vane Bay but hit a rock which ripped the bottom out of the aircraft causing it to start sinking.

An SOS signal was sent out and in response the Tobermory lifeboat set out to assist the airmen, however on reaching the last known position of the Sunderland, all that was found was clothing floating on the surface.

A full scale search was launched and an RAF Hudson spotted a dinghy with one man in it off the north coast of Coll. The lifeboat was directed in, however when it got there the only people still alive were Flying Officer M E Russell, the co-pilot and Flight Sgt R B H Scroggs. The Pilot Mr Fife, William Henderson and William Currie were recovered from the water having drowned, the bodies of Charles Castle (Gunner), Victor Ames (Flt Sgt), Kenneth Page (Gunner), Edward Cowan (Radio operator) were recovered later on having died of exposure.


The massive cockpit of a Sunderland designed for cross Continent flying

The bodies of Pilot Officer Robert Hicks and Fred NanCarrow were never recovered.

The men are buried the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.



William Currie was buried with full military honours in Newbattle Cemetery.

Although he is remembered on Bonnyrigg war memorial, he is not recorded on Newtongrange War memorial despite  living in the village and being married to a woman from Newtongrange. He is another man unfortunately missed out  in putting the names on the memorial some 50 odd years after his death.

I feel he is entitled to a place on the memorial.

The crew of Sunderland W4032


FRAME, ROBERT HICKS Rank:Pilot OfficerService No:J/10326Date of Death:05/09/1942Age:27Regiment/Service:Royal Canadian Air Force 228 Sqdn. Panel ReferencePanel 100.MemorialRUNNYMEDE MEMORIAL Additional Information:

Son of David and Evelyn Frame, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.


CASTLE, CHARLES FREDERICK Rank:SergeantTrade:Air Gnr.Service No:1386747Date of Death:05/09/1942Age:27Regiment/Service:Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 228 Sqdn. Grave ReferencePlot N. Row G. Class B. Grave 22.CemeteryTWICKENHAM CEMETERY Additional Information:

Son of William John and Maud Castle, of Hounslow.

Ham and eggs in the galley of a Sunderland.

Ham and eggs in the galley of a Sunderland.


HENDERSON, WILLIAM HENRY Rank:Flight SergeantTrade:Air Gnr.Service No:638920Date of Death:05/09/1942Age:20Regiment/Service:Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 228 Sqdn. Grave ReferencePlot D. Grave 38C.CemeteryCHEPSTOW CEMETERY Additional Information:

Son of Robert William Henderson and Ada Mary Henderson, of Chepstow


CURRIE, WILLIAM Rank:Leading AircraftmanService No:990932Date of Death:05/09/1942Age:28Regiment/Service:Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 228 Sqdn. Grave ReferenceSec. H. Grave 316.CemeteryNEWBATTLE CEMETERY Additional Information:

Son of William and Nellie Greenfield Currie; husband of Mary Currie, of Newtongrange.


AMES, VICTOR ETHELBERT Rank:Flight SergeantService No:905470Date of Death:05/09/1942Age:26Regiment/Service:Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 228 Sqdn. Grave ReferencePlot X.M. Grave 143.CemeteryCANTERBURY CEMETERY, KENT Additional Information:

Son of Llewellyn Herbert Spencer Ames and Esther Ames; husband of Dorothy May Ames, of Canterbury.


BARBER, KENNETH PAGE Rank:Flight SergeantTrade:Air Gnr.Service No:572527Date of Death:05/09/1942Age:20Regiment/Service:Royal Air Force 228 Sqdn. Grave ReferenceCon. Sec. Grave 3915.CemeteryWESTON-SUPER-MARE CEMETERY Additional Information:

Son of Hugh Alister Barber and Nell Page Barber, of Weston-super-Mare.


COWAN, EDWARD Rank:SergeantTrade:W.Op./Air Gnr.Service No:1255347Date of Death:05/09/1942Age:21Regiment/Service:Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 228 Sqdn. Grave ReferenceSec. I. Grave 16.CemeteryOBAN (PENNYFUIR) CEMETERY Additional Information:

Son of Braham and Eva May Allcroft Cowan, of Aldershot, Hampshire.


FIFE, FREDERICK JAMES Rank:Flying OfficerTrade:PilotService No:J/4747Date of Death:05/09/1942Age:27Regiment/Service:Royal Canadian Air Force 228 (R.A.F.) Sqdn Grave ReferenceSec. I. Grave 17.CemeteryOBAN (PENNYFUIR) CEMETERY Additional Information:

Son of Frederick James Fife and Eleanor Anderson Fife, of Young’s Point, Ontario, Canada. B.A. Clerk in Holy Orders.


NANCARROW, FRED GEORGE Rank:ReporterDate of Death:05/09/1942Age:29Regiment/Service:War Correspondent The Glasgow Herald Panel ReferencePanel 292.MemorialRUNNYMEDE MEMORIAL Additional Information:

Son of Fred J. Nancarrow and Marie Nancarrow; husband of Frances Craig Nancarrow, of Goftfoot, Glasgow. Author of “Glasgow’s Fighter Squadron”.

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On the evening of Sunday 2nd April, 1916 the inhabitants of Edinburgh and Leith were subjected to small dose of the terror being endured by their menfolk on the Western Front and elsewhere.

Around 7pm an advanced warning was received by Edinburgh City Police warning of the possibilty of an air attack. Around three hours later confirmation was received and the Army warned the police and local authorities to take air raid action. The standard signal to alert the public was to dip the gas pressure to dim the house and street lighting. All regular and Special Constables were called out and placed on high alert for the expected raid.

Despite the warnings many people were out on the street, mainly out of idle curiosity as Edinburgh had never experienced an air raid before, in any case most people rightly preseumed that the Fleet anchored in the Forth was the target, not the city which had few military targets.

Zeppelin stone GrassmarketJust after 11pm an attempt was made to attack the ships at anchor but the fire from their guns and the glare of their searchlights drove the attackers off. Reports in the papers of the time state that there was a perfect ‘bomber’s moon’ however scientific data actually records that there was a new moon, the total opposite.

Put off by the heavy fire in the Forth the L14 and L20 lumbered their way inland toward Leith and the City of Edinburgh, despite warnings from the police many people were out in the street gauping at the massive machine as they drifted over the city.

Wonderment turned to fear as the Zeppelins proceeded to bomb the area for nearly half an hour.

In Leith a bomb struck a bonded warehouse starting a huge fire as the spirit stored fire caught fire. A number of bombs were dropped at random over Leith and one which landed on a railway siding killed a baby with it’s blast in a nearby house.

Moving into Edinburgh the first bomb, all of which were small and hand lauched, was dropped in East Clermont Street, ironically near the Dril Hall of the 9th Royal Scots, although there was no way it could be identified from the air.  The bomb landed on waste land destroying a large shed, and smashed dozens of windows.

The Zeppelin then steered over the Old Town and dropped it’s next bomb inLauriston Place where it struck a school wrecking the janitor’s house and again smashing dozens of windows. Another bomb, this time an incendiary, fell in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh but was quickly dealt with causing no damage.

Dr McLaren got a rude awakening when a high explosive bomg struck the roof of his house at 39 Lauriston Place, it destroyed the roof and part of the wall, but fortunately no one was injured.

The next bomb landed in the playground of George Watsons Colege, this appears to have been a bigger bomb and destroyed all the classrooms on the ground and first floor.

The Zeppelins then headed to the Southside where another bomb was dropped hitting the tenement block at number 183 Causewayside. The building was badly damaged and four people were taken to the Infirmary with injuries, a 71 year old woman died the next day apparently from shock. The Macadam laundry next door was heavily damaged as well.

The next bomb fell a few streets away in Marchmont Crescent, the bomb went straight through the roof to the ground floor of the building but failed to explode. Swinging away to the West End, a bomb was dropped in open ground near Belford Place, every window in the street was blown in. Another landed in the Water of Leith and damaged houses in Coltbridge Gardens.

Some of the victims of Zeppelin raid

Some of the victims of Zeppelin raid

The County Hotel in Lothian Road was struck destroying the roof an upper floors, remarkably only one man was hurt. Moving east over Princes Street Gardens the Zeppelin set it’s sights on Edinburgh Castle, the One O’Clock gun was allegedly fired at the Zeppelin with blank rounds, this would appear to be the stuff of urban myth and in reality it probably wasn’t fired. A bomb was dropped on the Castle Rock unsurprisingly doing no damage to the Castle but breaking a lot of windows on Castle Terrace.

Overflying the Castle brought the Zeppelin over the Grassmarket and on to the Southside, this is where the most damage and casualties were sustained. A bomb fell on the pavement outside the White Hart Hotel, four people were injured and one of them died. In Marshall Street a bomb hit the pavement outside a tenement block outside number 16, six people were killed and another 7 were injured.

A further bomb struck Haddon’s Court in Nicolson Street injuring three people. Moving away toward the King’s Park a Zeppelin dropped a series of bombs, the first of which struck the tenement at 69 St Leonards Hill killing a baby and injuring two adults.

Coming under machine gun fire from Arthur’s Seat the Zeppeling jettisoned the rest of it’s bombs in the park and turned away towards the North Sea.

And so ended the one and only raid on Edinburgh during the Great War. It caused public outcry and outrage, no doubt it also spread fear amongst the civilian population. No one was safe from the deadly grasp of total war.

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Pilot Officer Pat Gifford 603 Squadron

Pilot Officer Pat Gifford 603 Squadron

On 16th October, 1939 the air raid sirens sounded over Dalkeith and Newtongrange, this was no practice the unmistakable roar of Royal Royce Merlin engines could be heard and the offbeat throbbing of a German bomber’s engine.

An attack by Junkers 88s on the Royal Navy at Rosyth had gone badly wrong for the Germans, faced by an alley of fire from the static anti aircraft, the ships guns and then Spitfires from Drem (602 Squadron)  the attack had split up.

One of the JU88 was chased inland at high speed towards Dalkeith where it was bounced by Spitfires from 603 Squadron based at RAF Turnhouse, (Edinburgh Airport). The Squadron had just taken delivery of brand new Spitfires and were keen as mustard to try them out against the Luftwaffe.

They did not disappoint, one of the Pilots a Flt Lt Patrick Gifford from Castle Douglas, latched onto the JU88 and let rip with 8 .303 Browning machine guns, the noise was deafening and could be heard for miles around. Twisting and turning the JU88 headed back towards the sea and was shot down into the sea at Prestonpans followed by two more bombers.

Mr Gifford scored  the first enemy aircraft to be shot down over Great Britain since 1918, and the first RAF victory in the Second World War.

Last moments of a Ju88 caught in Spitfire's gun camera.

Last moments of a Ju88 caught in Spitfire’s gun camera.

Patrick Gifford was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and promoted to Squadron Leader, sadly for him his war was to end the following year leading his Hurricane Squadron in the Battle of France when he was shot in combat over Belgian airspace, his body was never found.

A nice story about Pat is that, for a sizeable bet, he drove a car from Castle Douglas to RAF Turnhouse, a distance of 95 miles (on country roads) and flew back to appear over the town in less than 2 hours. Pat must have been a hell of a driver as he made it with minutes to spare.

603 Squadron  Royal Auxilliary Air Force went on to have an outstanding war, Brian Cadbury DFC was one the top aces of the Battle of Britain. In 1943 the Squadron converted to Beaufighters and became the scourge of enemy ships in the Aegean and Med

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Sptfire_BW_603Picture this , it’s the 16th of October,1939, it’s a decent Autumn day.

Edinburgh is going about it’s business oblivious to the war sweeping continental Europe.  Suddenly this all changes, aircraft are heard roaring overhead, strangely the air raid sirens have not sounded.

To their horror and amazement, the good folks of Auld Reekie see Spitfires of 603 Squadron pursuing a Luftwaffe Ju88 at low level over the city with guns blazing. To add to the noise and confusion, Army AAA guns were firing at the aircraft as well. Explosion after explosion rung out and a number of people had their windows broken by the concussion wave of the shells, nose caps were found littering the area later.

Intent on their kill the Spitfires poured lead into the Junkers which in return was firing back with it’s machine guns. As the aircraft passed over Abercorn Terrace, Joe McLuskie a painter and decorator was up his ladder working away on a job, in seconds the aircraft had passed, Joseph lay at the foot of his ladder.

His mate Frank Flynn, found that he had been hit by a bullet in the stomach, and that he was still alive. Mr McLuskie was rushed to Leith Hospital an was reported to have passed away from his wounds, so there you have it, poor Frank McCluskie from Guthrie Street, Edinburgh was the first British civilian to die in the war.or was he? In fact despite reports of his death in the papers, he did not and was the recipient of compensation for his wounds, he is however thought to be the first UK casualty.

Officially it was stated that the bomber had struck the fateful blow, but in reality it could just as easy been one of the Spitfires.

As for the Ju88, it made it as far as the sea where it was seen streaming smoke and disappeared into cloud. Whilst not claimed it’s highly unlikely that he would have made it back over the North Sea to his base.

Mr McCluskie was not the only civilian hurt, a council workman on Ferry Road was hit by a MG bullet, but made a recovery,a number of women were slightly injured by falling shell fragments from the AAA shells.


Another record was set the same day when both 603 (City of Edinburgh) and 602 (City of Glasgow) both brought German aircraft down into the Firth of Forth, the first German aircraft shot down in UK airspace.

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In these austere times where miltary cutbacks are common place and we don’t have an aircraft carrier in the Royal Navy, or aircraft to put on the new one which is under construction, it’s hard to imagine a time when we had not one but a host of fleet carriers and assault carriers all capable of fixed wing operations.

Lest not forget that Britain led the way in carrier development with armoured steel decks, when everyone else used wood, the steam catapult invented in Scotland and the angled deck which allowed take off and landing at the same time, a huge advantage.

Around the globe the Royal Navy had a carrier in most seas, the Illustrious, the Eagle and the mighty Ark Royal to name but a few. I am under no illusions we will never see these days again and will be lucky to keep our place at the top table of navies.

Enough doom and gloom and time to view the aircraft that flew off the mighty flat tops.

Full Steam ahead into the wind. Ready to launch.

Full Steam ahead into the wind. Ready to launch.

Pilots eye view of final approach in perfect conditions

Pilots eye view of final approach in perfect conditions


Last of an era the awesome Sea Fury which fought Migs (and won) in Korea


Mock flight deck at RNAS Lee for practice aircraft handling

Deck landing practice on Illustrious. Aircraft Boulton Paul Bailliol trainer

Deck landing practice on Illustrious. Aircraft Boulton Paul Bailliol trainer

A flight of Anti Submarine Warfare Gannets of the coast of Northen Ireland

A flight of Anti Submarine Warfare Gannets of the coast of Northen Ireland

Blackburn Buccaneers and a Phantom at Lossiemouth

Blackburn Buccaneers and a Phantom at Lossiemouth

Supermarine Sea Hawk flying over HMS Eagle

Supermarine Sea Hawk flying over HMS Eagle

Phantom, with longer nose wheel, ready to lauch of Ark Royal

Phantom, with longer nose wheel, ready to lauch off Ark Royal

Westland Wyvern fleet bomber, unusual in that its a turboprop.

Westland Wyvern fleet bomber, unusual in that its a turboprop.

The twin boomed Sea Vixen which had a distinctive howl when it flew past.

The twin boomed Sea Vixen which had a distinctive howl when it flew past.

Finally - Massed aircraft of the Fllet Air Arm and a band from the Royal MArines at an open day. A fraction of the force at the time, many times what will be available in the future

Finally – Massed aircraft of the Fllet Air Arm and a band from the Royal Marines at an open day. A fraction of the force at the time, many times what will be available in the future

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