Geek Heaven in Dorset

My wife Susan is a highly engaged Twitter user and finds all kinds of interesting articles being tweeted, some of which she forwards to me in email.  I am not a highly engaged Twitter user, so email is always a good way to find me.  We spent a couple of very pleasant vacations in Dorset before I moved to the USA. We did the Hardy sites and tours, visited the Dorchester Museum and Maiden Castle, all those things.  When Susan found a picture of a Hurricane being exhibited at the Borough Gardens in Dorchester in 1943 I took a quick glance and more or less filed it away, thinking “Second line Hurricane, 1943, armament removed, I wonder what the serial number is, I’ll have a look sometime.”

Yes, It’s a Hurricane. But which one? From Dorset Museum’s Twitter Feed: @DorsetMuseum Dorchester’s Borough Gardens is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year! From our archive is this image of a Hawker Hurricane Fighter in the gardens taken by a Mr. Collins during the “Wings For Victory Week” which was a national fund raising event in 1943

That time came fairly quickly.  I discovered the photo is a little more puzzling than at first sight.  I can’t make out the rest of the serial number from the scanned photo the museum tweeted, so looked for features to give some clue as to what production mark it was.  And that’s where the fun started.  

Keen eyed readers and viewers may assume like me, that given the C and C1 style roundels that this is a Hurricane IIc with the wing cannons removed and faired over.  That’s what I thought.  But there is precious little evidence of that removal.  It’s a bit too neat.  Then I looked at the nose.  What struck me was that there is no oil-deflector ring on the cowling behind the propeller spinner.  I have just read a huge article on the Web about the various propellers and spinners fitted to Hurricanes. Thus bewildered I can say I have no idea which kind of propeller and spinner is fitted (although my personal guess is Rotol), but there is no oil deflector ring.

This detail alone suggests that this may be an older Hurricane which has been out to grass for a longer time than previously imagined.  The real kicker for me is the wireless antenna post behind the cockpit canopy.  It’s not one of the angular blade type antennae you see on most of the later Hurricanes and Spitfires. It’s stocky and squared off. That rang a bell somewhere in the subconscious, so I went and looked at Francis K. Mason’s authoritative book on the Hurricane and lo, he said in a comment on another picture, that the stubby squared-off wireless antenna post was a common feature of the first production “L” serialled Mark I Hurricanes.  Really?  Could it be this is a very early Hurricane taking part in a Wings for Victory exhibition in 1943?   This was exciting, so I set to work on trying to match the visible digits of the serial number with the list in his book and one of my highly arcane and beloved reference works, Bruce Robertson’s British Military Aircraft Serials 1911-1971.  And that’s where my research came unstuck.

The only visible portion of the serial number are two digits, and their position within the serial number is open to question.  If this is an early Hurricane, its 5-character Air Ministry serial number will be formatted “A0000” rather than the later format “AA000”  

As in all the best puzzles, someone is standing in front of the tail of the aircraft concealing another digit, perhaps two.  All we therefore see are the digits “25” and what may be the front edge of a 7 or a 3.   The first production batch of 600 Hurricanes were in the serial range L1547-2146,  so even allowing that the missing digit is a 7 there is no possibility that the combination “257” appears anywhere in that production batch. The Dorchester example can’t be one of those.  

Not to lose heart, the next production batch of 300 Hurricanes were in the serial range N2318-2729 so it’s possible that the serial is N257x.

The next production batch of 500 Mark 1 Hurricanes were built by Gloster Aircraft used serials in the range P2535-3264.  Robertson notes that aircraft up to P2681 had a wooden, fixed pitch, two-bladed Watts propeller – after 2681 they were fitted with Rotol propellers.    If the Dorchester Hurricane was P257x it may have been originally endowed with a Watts propeller and converted later in life.

There are no contenders in the rest of the P, R,  T (Canadian), V and W serial combinations so the remaining possibility for the single letter / four digit combination is Z2308-4018 – a massive order for 1000 Hurricanes Mark IIA . IIB and IIC from Hawker.  Z257x is therefore a feasible identity, occurring as it does in the range Z2560-2594. I need to cross check what marks these 30 aircraft were, simply because the oil deflector ring was seen as early as the summer of 1940 on operational Hurricanes and clearly this aircraft doesn’t have one.  It’s quite possible that this could be a later Hurricane with a serial in the BN, BP or later ranges, but by this time I’m certain none of them would have omitted the oil deflector ring and certainly none would have had that short stumpy wireless antenna post.

Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc PZ865 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight seen in July 2005 in the markings of the Czechoslovak night fighter ace Karel Kuttelwascher. Note that where the (red) propeller spinner meets the nose there is a flared ring of metal to defect any leaking oil from the propeller hub away from the windscreen of the aircraft. Notice the size and shape of the radio antenna mast behind the cockpiy, which is slightly longer and pointed in comparison to the Dorchester Hurricane. Photo by Kogo GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

This little exercise in delving around reference books and pictures on the Web always amuses me.  I am quite aware I could be barking up the wrong tree completely.   I think what I must do is email someone at the Dorset Museum and ask them nicely if they can have a look at the original print and see if any more of the serial number is visible. Especially whatever lies aft of the Sky band on the tail.  

Meopham Redux

At least two people realized that Tuesday July 21st 2020 will mark the 90th Anniversary of the Meopham Air Disaster / Meopham Air Crash. One of those is me. I thought about it a few weeks ago and completely forgot.

The other is Samuel (Sam) Supple from BBC South-East who emailed me this week and said “It’s the 90th Anniversary of the Meopham Air crash next week and I just read your blog article – I’m going to do a piece for BBC News and can I interview you?”

A blurry picture of G-AAZK at Meopham, July 1930 from
https://www.baaa-acro.com/crash/crash-junkers-f13ge-meopham-6-killed

I am stunned to find I wrote that blog article in February 2015. I am also stunned to find how little I actually put in the article. I’ve been collating information on and about the crash ever since my parents told me about it when I was quite young. You may or may not know but my great-grandfather Lewis Powell (1884 – 1956) was one of two village policemen in Meopham (apparently reporting to Sergeant Charles Eve, based in Cobham) at the time of the crash.

Pathe news footage of the aftermath of the crash
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaMUpRpUkZA

As we know, the aircraft involved was Junkers F.13ge G-AAZK, Werk Nr 2052 named Bartgeier. Built in 1929, the aircraft had only flown about 100 hours since new. It had been registered in the UK on 26 May, 1930 and received its Certificate of Airworthiness on June 4th.  

Despite the appearance of being the property of an airline, G-AAZK seemingly was owned by its pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel George Lockhart Piercy Henderson. Henderson loaned the aircraft to the Walcot Air Line to operate a charter flight between Le Touquet and Croydon, picking up a society party who had spent the weekend at Berck. The flight was the third round trip that day. First Henderson had flown his wife from Le Touquet to Croydon. He returned to France for four more passengers, and after they had disembarked in England had gone back again for the remaining four. It was on the final leg, at 2:35 pm, flying at at an altitude of about 1000 feet, above Meopham, when witnesses reported a rumbling noise and that the aircraft emerged from a cloud and then broke apart in mid-air.

All but one of the occupants were thrown from the aircraft and fell into an orchard.  The fuselage and one wing of the aircraft fell close to a bungalow, (see the picture at the top of the page) while the other wing was found a mile away. The tail was found 300 yards from the crash site in a field. The engine fell into the drive of an unoccupied house, just missing a gardener working nearby.  

Screenshot from the Pathe News film on YouTube, showing the tail of G-AAZK found some distance from the major portions of the wreckage and attracting the attention of the local populace. Notice how shiny the metal is, and also notice that half the port (left) tailplane is missing. This has not been removed by souvenir hunters – this was the first structural failure which triggered a number of others, notably the separation of the tail from the aircraft, causing a violent downward pitch which may have thrown the passengers through the roof of the aircraft.

The co-pilot, Charles Shearing, was pulled from the wreckage and carried inside the bungalow. Shearing died soon afterwards.

Screenshot from the Pathe News film on YouTube showing the engine of G-AAZK with what seems to be some of the nose structure attached, having fallen in the driveway of a house in Meopham on July 21st 1930

Family history holds it that my great grandfather was told to gather up the personal effects which had been scattered widely at the time of the crash and keep them at his cottage in Meopham. It is alleged that some items of jewellery were never recovered. Similarly the Air Ministry investigative team reported that some pieces of the wreckage had been taken by souvenir hunters.

The passengers who died were certainly an aristocratic group.

I forgot I had a Pinterest Account – thanks Sam! Passengers and Crew aboard G-AAZK on July 21st 1930 L-R Mrs Sigrid Loeffler; Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 3rd Marquess of Dufferin and Ava; Sir Edward Ward Bt. The smallest picture is Viscountess Ednam (formerly Lady Rosemary Sutherland-Leveson-Gower). Then Lt. Colonel George Henderson, Pilot, and on the right I assume this is Charles Shearing, Co-Pilot. Given the passage of time I can’t believe that any of the portraits are not in the Public Domain

Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood (Lord Dufferin) was born on 26 February 1875 in Ottawa, during his father’s term as Governor General of Canada. He joined the 9th Lancers as a second lieutenant on 11 August 1897 and served with his regiment during the Second Boer War from 1899 to 1901. He retired from the Army in 1913 with the rank of Captain, but rejoined his old regiment following the outbreak of the First World War. He was seriously wounded when serving on the Western Front in October 1914. He subsequently transferred to the Grenadier Guards and was again seriously wounded in the autumn of 1915 having returned to duty for only three days. He served as a staff captain in the Guards Division in 1916 and was seconded to the Machine Gun Corps as an instructor in 1918. After the war he was president of the Ulster Ex-Servicemen’s Association. Lord Dufferin’s eldest brother Archibald, Earl of Ava, had been killed in action at Waggon Hill in the Boer War in January 1900, while his other brother, Lord Basil Blackwood, was killed attacking German trenches in July 1917. Lord Dufferin was elected to the Senate of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1921, where he served as Speaker from 1921 to 1930. He was sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland on 16 September 1921 and of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland on 12 December 1922. He was an RNVR (Royal Naval Reserve) aide-de-camp to King George V and was appointed Vice-Admiral of Ulster by the King in 1923.

Captain Sir Edward Simons Ward, 2nd Baronet Ward of Wilbraham Place was born on 1 July 1882. He was the son of Colonel Sir Edward Willis Duncan Ward GBE KCB KCVO (1853 – 1928), 1st Baronet. and Florence Caroline Simons. Colonel Ward (1st Baronet) was a career British Army officer and de facto founder of the (Royal) Army Service Corps. He also served as Permanent Secretary of the War Office. Edward was educated at Eton College and married Lois Jefferson on 29 April 1908 at  the Royal Military Chapel, St James Park (Guards’ Chapel) in London. They were divorced in 1916. Having apparently lived in British Columbia for some time, the Wards returned to England and Edward fought in the First World War, as a Captain in the Grenadier Guards and was wounded in action. After his death at Meopham, Captain Ward was succeeded in the baronetcy by his younger brother, Melvill Willis Ward (1885–1973), as the 3rd Baronet. The title became extinct on Melvil Ward’s death.

The story of Lady Rosemary Millicent Sutherland-Leveson-Gower (1893-1930) is one of the great “what if?” stories in recent British history. Lady Rosemary was the daughter of Millicent Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, The Duchess of Sutherland (1867 – 1955) who was a British society hostess, social reformer, author, editor, journalist, and playwright, often using the pen name Erskine Gower. The Curious Life of Rosemary Leveson-Gower describes how, when working as a volunteer nurse on the Western Front, presumably in one of the field hospitals organized by her mother. Lady Rosemary was particularly concerned about a shell-shocked young officer, who, when he regained his speech (“he pointed at Rosemary and said darling“) turned out to be none other than Edward, Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne. Edward and Rosemary fell very much in love and were romantically attached for some time, but apparently George V put a stop to any thoughts of the marriage simply because there were too many skeletons in Sutherland-Leveson-Gower family closet. There were suggestions of alcoholism, gambling, and perhaps worst of all (in George V’s view) Lady Millicent’s unfortunate cycle of marriage and divorce. One can only speculate how British History might have changed if Rosemary Sutherland-Leveson-Gower had married Edward and become Queen Rosemary to Edward VIII?

Lieutenant-Colonel George Lockhart Piercy Henderson (1888-1930) while not aristocratic is an interesting and possibly neglected character in British aviation history. More about him in another blog article

It is suggested that the loss of so many members of the aristocracy in one accident prompted the British Government to launch an extensive investigation into the cause of the crash. The report of the inquiry into the accident was made public, the first time in the United Kingdom that an accident report was published. Whether this was the result of Establishment or political pressure is a matter for conjecture.

The final report (issued in January 1931) concluded the cause of the crash to be the “failure of the tailplane under severe buffeting from air eddies produced by the centre section of certain low-wing monoplanes when the aircraft approaches the stalling attitude”. This was the first time that the term “buffeting” had been used in such an investigation. The report further stated that the aircraft, flying in clouds, may have been thrown into an unusual attitude. This resulted in buffeting of the tailplane, causing the port tailplane to fail, and that the aircraft then entered a dive.

It is said the four German experts from Junkers disagreed and blamed pilot error.

The crash and its aftermath generated a small number of technical reports, all of which are probably still in the collections of the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri. I looked at them some years ago when I worked there. Both the Russian and American research papers mention the accident to G-AAZK at Meopham in July 1930.

  1. Accident Investigation Sub-Committee: Accident to the Aeroplane G-AAZK at Meopham, Kent, on 21st July, 1930. R. & M. No. 1360, HMSO 1931
  2. Abdrashitov, G., Tail Buffeting, NACA TM-1041, February 1943 (Translated from Russian. Report 395 from the Central Aero-Hydromechanical Institute, Moscow, 1939).
  3. White, J. A. and Hood, M. J.: Wing-Fuselage Interference, Tail buffeting and Flow about the Tail of a Low Wing Monoplane, NACA Report 482, 1933.
  4. Hood, M. J. and White, J. A.: Full Scale Wind Tunnel Research on Tail Buffeting and Wing-Fuselage Interference of a Low Wing Monoplane, NACA TN-460, 1933.

And then, as we love these things, I found the image below, only today. In the front row are the four passengers of G-AAZK standing in front of the ill-fated aircraft. Col Piers Legh is hidden behind Mrs. Loeffler – Mrs Legh is the lady not wearing fur in the middle of the picture, partly hidden behind the two other ladies.

Meopham Air Disaster; Sir Edward Ward Hon. Walter Piers Legh Mrs Henrik Loeffler Hon Mrs Piers Legh Viscountess Ednam And The Marquess Of Dufferin And Ava (l-r) Pictured Minutes Before Ill Fated Flight From Le Touquet. Col Piers Legh And His Wife Did [not travel] Stock Image by Associated Newspapers for editorial use, Jul 23, 1930 (Shutterstock Social Share)

Grant, O Lord, to all who are bereaved the spirit of faith and courage, that they may have strength to meet the days to come with steadfastness and patience; not sorrowing as those without hope, but in thankful remembrance of your great goodness, and in the joyful expectation of eternal life with those they love.  (Book of Common Prayer)

Grey, Green, and Happy

I could have sworn I had read in the history of 9 Squadron (pardon me, IX (B) Squadron) that it was going to be disbanded along with 31 Squadron on the retirement of the Tornado in March 2019, and was going to re-equip at some vague time with pilotless aircraft like the MQ-9 Reaper. Maybe that was in Wikipedia, which may account for my muddy thinking. [later – 31 Squadron will get the Reaper in about 2024. XIII, 54(R) and 39 Squadrons have it now. XIII / 13 Squadron is ex-Tornado as is 31]

IX (B) Squadron past and present. Tornado GR.4 ZG775 and Typhoon FGR.4 ZJ924 and ZJ 935 somewhere in the vicinity of RAF Lossiemouth (Royal Air Force)

This picture makes me happy on several levels. It also shows how out of touch I am with Defence policy in the UK but that’s another matter. The photo shows two Eurofighter Typhoons of IX (B) Squadron flying in formation with the beautifully painted Tornado GR.4 ZG775 in its IX (B) Squadron retirement scheme.

Imagine my surprise when searching for Tornado paint schemes (see the earlier blog post) that a well known search engine asked if I was looking for an image of a 9 Squadron Typhoon. I had to look. And lo and behold.

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier taking inspection at RAF Lossiemouth earlier this year. And what’s that in the background? Green bat, WS Squadron codes. Could it be? Yes it could. IX (B) Squadron Typhoon, probably ZJ924 (RAF Official Picture)

To paraphrase a chunk of Wikipedia – No. IX (B) Squadron formally re-equipped as an aggressor and air defence squadron operating Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 1 aircraft on 1 April 2019, continuing in unbroken service upon retirement of the Panavia / BAe Systems Tornado.

Well that was interesting. Apparently somebody had an idea not to retire the Tranche 1 Typhoons, but to establish two new squadrons and use them in the aggressor / QRA (fighter, for old school pupils) role while the other squadrons continue in the Fighter-bomber role or whatever they call it now. Not only this, but a second squadron will use the remaining Tranche 1 aircraft at Lossiemouth and this I understand may be 12 Squadon’s latest incarnation.

I just saw an article from a UK newspaper (with thanks to my lovely sister for showing me the clipping) that things were going to be getting a little more noisy at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire, which is the home of 100 Squadron’s “aggressor” Hawks. There are some exercises coming up, the newspaper said. If the Hawks from Leeming and the Typhoons from Lossiemouth are ganging up over the East Coast of the UK I can see how this might happen. It’s funny how all these old Lancaster squadrons are coming back as 21st Century aggressors.

In a not unrelated matter, I can now stop worrying about the paint I sprayed on my very small scale Typhoon models being too light in comparison with the Tornados. See the evidence. 🙂

ZG776 and ZJ924 showing shades of grey. (Royal Air Force)