No Steel, No Bikes

Back after a few days of British and French adventures. I took some time off everything, including the family, (because my wife didn´t get time off in July) to visit friends and to do things I´ve wanted to do for ages, like visiting British plane museums and the WWI battlefields in France. I also saw a great number of old bikes; my guess is that my visit will net a handfull of further blog posts.

The “no bikes” part of the title is not quite right as the first photo shows my EB, but the whereabouts of the setting is tell-tale:

FbikeOne of our British friends told me that the Fairford Air Tattoo would be on right on the Saturday of my visit, and that he knew a place where we could be much closer to the action than official visitors with tickets. I agreed at once to go and have a look as this would be a welcome addition to my Cosford and Hendon visits. Our friend not only is a fervent cyclist but also has known his way around Fairford since when it still was an American air base. We cycled, an easy 50 kms, and so could escape all the temporary one way systems and other controls motorists were subject to on the day. BTW, we could have cleared the crash gate in a matter of seconds; I only leant my bike to the gate for the photo.

Being so close to the runway, when planes landed we thought we could touch their undercarriage wheels. It was great. That afternoon we saw the Red Arrows, the Patrouille de France, some other aerobatic teams and displays by Belgian, Swiss, Czech and British fighter planes, among others.

FREdAColour FRedAcolour2 FREdAFormThe French ended their show with this,

FPatrFHeartmaking it easy to forget that all of the show really is about giving the military a more colourful and sympathetic image. Flying skill is one thing, but a helicopter performance at the beginning of the show reminded me what it all really was about.

FhelicExplWhile I was fully aware of the fact that the world certainly would be better off without the necessity for all of the hardware displayed (there also were demonstrations by Eurofighters and modern US built warplanes), there is one thing I have to admire: The craftsmanship and ingenuity that goes into keeping 70 year old planes in the air. So when suddenly, among all the thundering noises of modern fighter planes, this veteran of the skies appeared,FLancappr there was the completely different sound of four Merlins to be heard – and my hopes of seeing a Lancaster in the air were fulfilled at long last. It was PA474, the last airworthy Lancaster in Europe (there is another one in Canada). It is kept by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight of the RAF for special occasions.

Accompanied by a Spitfire,


the Lancaster landed to take off again later in order to circle the airport a couple of times.

FLancLandFLancTxLastly, there was a C 47 stalwart too, giving only a fleeting appearance, but still.

FC47apprLater during my holidays my mixed feelings continued as I managed to pay short visits to both RAF Cosford and Hendon museums. Walking around Hendon is something not to be missed on any account when in London. The planes assembled there are just marvellous. Look at this Ju 88 for instance:

Ju88It´s as complete as it is because two of its crew of three were opposed to the Fascist régime of Germany and involved with the British Secret Service. After making their superiors wonder why they just were not able to shoot down any British bombers, they defected to the UK, managed not to be shot down by British air defense, delivered the most up to date German on-board Radar to the Allies, and even made BBC broadcasts about their deed. Germany could have done with more men like them.

The complete story can be read up on the RAF Museum website in the plane histories. What cannot be read up there is the ingenuity behind the BMW 801 aero engine units on the plane, but that´s a different story altogether.

Lastly, there is this plane, also at RAF Hendon.

LancWhat comes to mind about it, the Lancaster second on the list of the highest number of bombing sorties over Germany? The heroic crews it was flown by, volunteers all of them, the dedicated ground crew it had, the undoubted difference it made towards the outcome of the war – and the fact that it bombed every city in Germany I have lived in so far. It may have been the plane that destroyed my maternal grandmother´s house, who knows. But then it also took part in both Operation Exodus (Allied prisoners being flown out of Germany, starting even before hostilities had ended) and Operation Manna (thousands of flights supplying Dutch civilians with food during the April 1945 starvation). There´s no simple black and white, as usual.


One Comment

  1. Craig Montgomey
    Posted July 28, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’m surprised there was not a B17 flying overhead. Probably more difficult to keep something like that flying in Europe. One of my father’s friends was a front gunner in a Flying Fortress and flew all 25 missions. He had a large scar on his forearm I asked him about once. He told me it was a tattoo of a B17 with the name of his unit underneath. He got it before going on his first mission (at age 17). When the camp doctor saw the tattoo he gave my dad’s friend a shot of morphine and proceeded to cut around it and peel the thing off. Then the doctor simply said, “Get on your plane.” Name, rank, and serial number. That’s all you give your enemies. Ouch.

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