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Posted in Aviation, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Thursday, 13 June 2013
This edited article about the Second World War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 292 published on 19 August 1967.
RAF pilots during the Battle of Britain by Gerry Wood
Who said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”?
The answer is Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, 20 August, 1940.
The Second World War (1939-45) started so quietly that it became known as the ‘phoney war’, but in April and May, 1940, the situation changed dramatically. The Germans over-ran Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium, and launched a ‘blitzkrieg’ attack, with planes and tanks, which overwhelmed the French and British armies. Most of the British Expeditionary Force escaped to safety from Dunkirk: the French surrendered on 21st June.
Britain stood alone against a seemingly all-powerful Germany. Invasion appeared imminent.
The Germans held back for six weeks after France’s surrender and then launched heavy daylight air attacks to soften up Britain before invading her. Everything depended on the Royal Air Force, with its small number of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters.
The Battle of Britain, as it was called, began on 8th August, when convoys in the Channel were attacked; then, on 12th August, the German Air Force, the ‘Luftwaffe’, launched its all-out attack on the R.A.F. First they went for the aerodromes in an effort to destroy them and their planes, but their losses were enormous – 76 planes shot down on 15th August alone. By September, they shifted their assault to London, in an attempt to destroy British morale.
During September the battle reached its climax and by the end of the month it was won. Despite inferior numbers and heavy losses, the R.A.F. destroyed Hitler’s hopes. German losses were so heavy that daylight raids were abandoned and the risk of invasion became remote.
The night bombing, known as the ‘blitz’ began and continued into 1941, but the real Battle of Britain was over. It was won by heroic pilots from Britain and the Commonwealth, the fighter planes and the men who maintained them; and also by the British invention of radar, which gave early warning of the enemy’s approach.
It was the British people’s finest hour, as Churchill called it; but the fighter pilots were the saviours of Britain at this time.
Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 13 June 2013
This edited article about Samuel Franklin Cody originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 291 published on 12 August 1967.
Samuel Cody flew the first plane in Britain which used box-kite construction and was called The Flying Cathedral
On an October morning in 1907, Londoners were startled to hear the noise of a 50 h.p. petrol engine high above their heads. Looking up they beheld a strange sausage-shaped airship moving slowly in the direction of the Crystal Palace. It was Britain’s first military airship called the Nulli Secundus.
Piloted by Colonel Capper and Samuel Franklin Cody (who was largely responsible for the design of the airship), the Nulli Secundus had taken off from Farnborough for an aerial cruise to London. When they were over the city the two pioneer aviators found that a strong wind made it impossible to return to base. Cautiously they brought their craft down to the grounds of the Crystal Palace, but in the landing the wind caught it so that it was damaged and had to have its gasbag deflated.
The flight of the Nulli Secundus was an exciting and historic event, but to Samuel Cody it was just another step forward in his dream of air conquest. Born in the United States in 1862, he had come to Britain in 1896 where he became a naturalised Englishman. He was fascinated by the possibilities of flying and went to work at the Army’s Balloon and Box-kite Factory at Farnborough. Here he developed huge man-carrying kites which could be used as portable military observation posts.
Cody also worked on airships, but after the Wright Brothers’ successful flight with a heavier-than-air flying-machine he was determined to make an aeroplane.
Unlike the Wright Brothers, he did not know a great deal about mechanics. But he did have a wild enthusiasm which swept away obstacles. It was said of him that he was so impatient to get into the air he would make temporary repairs with string rather than lose time having his machine fitted properly.
On 22nd February, 1909, he became the first man to fly an aeroplane in Britain. It was a machine which he had built himself. Eight months later he became involved in the first air crash in this country when he was demonstrating his biplane to a crowd at Doncaster. Undaunted, he had his machine patched up and not long afterwards made a cross-country flight of 40 miles.
A. E. Berriman, one of Cody’s earliest passengers, wrote of the experience of flying with him: “The man and the machine were alike unique. There was an iron seat behind the pilot of the kind used in threshing machines. It was comfortable enough to sit on, but when we were going over the roughness of Laffan’s Plain it was extraordinary how seldom the seat would hit me in the right place . . . Once in the air how different it was – the extraordinary smoothness of motion and yet withal the feeling of firmness of this aerial support . . . Cody motioned me that I was to observe how responsive was his big machine, which he thereupon proceeded to sway about in the air. I must honestly confess that the real sense of enjoyment came afterwards on that occasion.”
Samuel Franklin Cody crashed to his death on Laffan’s Plain on 7th August, 1913.
Posted in Aviation, Disasters, Exploration, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Friday, 7 June 2013
This edited article about Umberto Nobile originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 284 published on 24 June 1967.
Commander Umberto Nobile and the survivors of the crashed airship Italia were trapped on the polar icecap
Through the blinding snowstorm the airship Italia battled on its way back to Spitsbergen after flying over the North Pole.
For 24 hours the Italia had travelled at about 24 m.p.h. at a height of 500 ft. above the ice-littered water of the Arctic sea. Now her commander, General Umberto Nobile, realised his craft was partly out of control. The elevator wheel refused to move.
“Stop the engines,” he ordered.
The doomed airship was approaching North East Land when the engines were restarted. The weather had begun to clear and Nobile and his men strained their eyes through the gondola windows for a glimpse of land.
“It’s no good, General,” cried the helmsman suddenly. “She’s down by the stern . . . and descending.”
Realising he could not avoid a crash, the General ordered the helmsman to steer towards a large sheet of sea ice. Then the engines were switched off to reduce the impact.
With a groan of tortured metal, the airship struck the floe. The main cabin was detached with the shock and left lying on the ice. The gas envelope, freed of so much weight, lurched into the air again and vanished, taking with it the rear cabin in which were six men. They were never heard of again.
Of the ten men left in the crashed gondola, one died soon afterwards. The rest prepared to eke out their provisions until help could arrive. They had radio equipment and every hour a distress message was tapped out.
When the Italia failed to return, a massive international search was begun. One of the men who joined the search by air was the famous Norwegian explorer Amundsen. After setting out from Tromso, he kept in radio contact for a while, then there was silence. Somewhere in the frozen Arctic his aircraft had crashed.
The Italia disaster had occurred on 24th May, 1928. On 3rd June, a Russian radio “ham” picked up a distress call by accident. On 23rd June, a Swedish aeroplane found the camp of Nobile and his men, and managed to land on the ice close to them. The General was flown out, the other survivors were rescued by the Russian ice-breaker Krassin.
Umberto Nobile was born on 21st January, 1885, at Lauro, Avellino, in Italy.
He was promoted to the rank of General in 1926, and that year flew to the North Pole with Amundsen in the airship Norge.
It had now become his ambition to take an Italian air expedition to the Pole. His plans were fulfilled when the Italia left for the Arctic under his command. In her he made several successful polar flights before the crash on the return to the Spitsbergen base.
Posted in Adventure, Aviation, Disasters, Geology on Monday, 3 June 2013
This edited article about aviation disaster originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 276 published on 29 April 1967.
The little Cessna monoplane, with two occupants, was flying low when the engine cut out suddenly and the pilot had no option but to crash-land. So shattering was the impact that the crippled plane bounced and bumped for some distance over the rough ground before coming to a halt.
Its pilot, gravely injured, was trapped in the wreckage. His passenger, less seriously hurt, got out dazed and shaken, to find that he could only limp about. His senses were swimming, but he took in the fact that the engine had been wrenched from its mountings and that petrol was pouring from a fractured feed pipe. Mercifully, there was no fire.
Though they had escaped that horror, the plight of the two men was grim. They had taken off from Barter an hour before, bound for Port Barrow, had strayed off-course and had crashed on a bleak expanse of Alaskan tundra, about two miles from the Canning River.
There could be little hope of rescue from that remote Arctic zone. They had filed no flight plan. No one would be likely to miss them for 10 days at least, and they had a poor chance of surviving as long as that.
Nor was there the slightest chance of their being spotted from the air. Fairbanks, the nearest regular touch-down point for airliners, lay more than 300 miles to the south. Their radio had been shattered in the crash.
Had either man been capable of taking stock, they might have said that only a miracle could save them. And, as it happened, a miracle did.
They had been in agony for some hours when they were half roused by a sound which gradually penetrated their stunned senses.
“A chopper!” gasped the passenger to the half-conscious pilot.
And a chopper it was – a helicopter – approaching from the south.
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Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, World War 1 on Friday, 31 May 2013
This edited article about Manfred von Richthofen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 275 published on 22 April 1967.
In the First World War, the bravest and most spectacular pilot to fly against the Allies was Baron Manfred von Richthofen, who was known on both sides of the Western Front as the “Red Knight of Germany”. When Richthofen wrote a book on his experiences in 1917, he revealed that one of the men for whom he had the greatest admiration was an English airman named Captain Albert Ball, V.C. Captain Ball had shot down 40 German planes before he was killed in action.
This admiration for an enemy was typical of Richthofen. To him, aerial warfare was some sort of game which had very little to do with the appalling misery suffered by millions of men in the muddy trenches far below.
Born 2nd May, 1892, at Schweidnitz in Germany, Richthofen’s short life was devoted to flying. When he enlisted in the German Air Force after the outbreak of war in 1914, he soon showed his uncanny skill as a pilot. His instructors said he had been born to fly: as soon as he began his operational duties it was clear that he had been born to fight as well. By the time he was 25 years of age he had claimed 20 victims. Then, in February, 1917, he took command of the 11th Chasing Squadron which earned the nickname of “Richthofen’s Flying Circus”. It contained Germany’s top pilots, including a man called Hermann Goering who was in later years to become the head of Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
During the next 14 months the “Red Knight of Germany” shot down Allied planes at the rate of one a week. Then, on 21st April, 1918, Richthofen met the same fate as his English hero Captain Ball. Somewhere near the Somme battlefield, his aircraft was hit, and he died in the blazing, twisted wreckage. During his career as a fighter pilot, it was estimated that he had destroyed 80 Allied planes.
Posted in America, Aviation, Engineering, Historical articles, Ships, Weapons on Tuesday, 28 May 2013
This edited article about U.S.S. Enterprise originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 270 published on 18 March 1967.
On 24th September, 1960, the largest and most powerful ship ever built was launched. She was the United States ship Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the world.
With an overall length of 1,102 feet, a beam of 133 feet across the hull and 252 feet across the flight deck, and a flight deck area of four and a half acres, the 85,800-ton Enterprise is the largest moving structure ever built by man.
Eight pressurised water-cooled nuclear reactors power this atomic giant through a four-shaft arrangement of geared steam turbines which develop 300,000 shaft horse-power and make her one of the world’s swiftest ships. Enterprise can race through the sea at her maximum speed of 35 knots without regard to the conserving of fuel, thus improving her offensive and defensive capabilities. She has an almost unlimited cruising range (equivalent to 20 times around the world), and is capable of steaming for five years without refuelling.
With nuclear propulsion, Enterprise requires no funnels or air intakes. The absence of smoke stacks and boiler air intakes reduces the vulnerability of the power plant to battle damage.
Enterprise is equipped with two twin launchers for ‘Terrier’ ship-to-air guided missiles and four steam-driven catapults for the 100 aircraft she carries. She has accommodation for 414 officers and 4,260 men.
Posted in Adventure, Aviation, Disasters, Geography, Historical articles on Tuesday, 28 May 2013
This edited article about treasure seekers originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 269 published on 11 March 1967.
Jimmy Angel accidentally discovered Angel Falls while searching for gold
Until 1930, very few people had ever heard of Auyan-Tepui, a mountain deep in the Venezuelan jungle. Certainly, American bush pilot Jimmy Angelo had never heard of it until one day in a cafe in Panama when a grizzled old prospector showed him a fistful of gold nuggets.
Auyan-Tepui is a strange, forbidding mountain, feared even by the native Indian tribes to whom its name means only one thing – the Devil Mountain. Nothing on earth, not even the promise of a fabulous treasure that is known to exist there, will make them undertake the journey through thick, deadly, snake-filled forests and across torrential mountain streams containing poisonous fish, to its mist-shrouded summit.
Apart from the hazards in getting to it, the mountain is believed to lay a curse on anybody who tries to steal its treasure . . .
Rob MacLintock, the prospector, was the first man who had ever reached the top of this mountain. He had been taken there twenty years earlier by an Indian witch-doctor on the condition that he would not steal any of the gold nuggets that lay strewn about on the plateau.
MacLintock, however, had managed to pocket a few of them and now he wanted Jimmy to fly him back to recover the treasure of Auyan-Tepui.
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Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Historical articles, Technology on Friday, 24 May 2013
This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 267 published on 25 February 1967.
Until Lieutenant William H. Fleming came to England, he was just an ordinary officer in the United States Air Force. He was not even a pilot, and had no particular desire to become a hero.
But in 1955, when he was stationed at RAF Station Bentwaters, in Suffolk, he risked his life several times to make flying jets just a little safer. He also became the first – and probably the last – man ever to drive a six-ton lorry at a speed well over 100 miles per hour!
It all started when an American Air Force F84F Thunderstreak jet fighter-bomber crashed through an arresting barrier which had been set up at the end of the runway to catch planes which could not stop. Something was very wrong with the design of the barrier because the heavy jet plane ploughed straight through the nylon webbing and steel cable stretched across the runway and failed to drag the 30 tons of battleship anchor chain behind it which would have brought it to a clanking but safe stop.
Within days, two more jets sailed right through the barrier in just the same way. In each case the jet was wrecked, but fortunately none of the pilots was hurt.
The commander of the American base, Colonel McElroy, held a secret conference with his senior officers. He told them he could not risk any more of his planes and pilots until the barrier had been cured of its faults. And quite obviously some tests would have to be made to discover what was going wrong.
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Posted in Aviation, Disasters, Exploration, Historical articles, History on Friday, 24 May 2013
This edited article about Polar exploration originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 266 published on 18 February 1967.
Salomon August Andree, the 19th Century Swedish explorer, who attempted to reach the North Pole by balloon in 1897
As the giant balloon rose perilously in the wind and disappeared into the northern sky, the three men in the basket stared aghast at a pile of ropes on the ground. The tugging of their vast sphere as it floated aloft had stripped away most of their guide lines.
So began one of the most incredible expeditions of all time, the attempt led by the courageous Swedish aeronaut Salomon August Andree to fly from Spitsbergen to the North Pole and back, a total of 1,500 treacherous miles.
It was dogged by bad luck from the start but the worst, by far, was yet to come.
“Don’t be disturbed if you hear nothing of us for, say, a year,” Andree had said as he took off with his companions in the icy gust of 11th July, 1897. Even the most optimistic of his friends had estimated that, should he reach the polar regions, he would have to winter there.
Andree was well aware of the dangers. But he also had tremendous confidence in the balloon and in the ingenious system he had devised to steer its course by means of sails and guide ropes, though two-thirds of the latter were now lying uselessly far below on the snow-covered plateau of Danes Island.
He had chosen to accompany him two countrymen in whose assistance he had great faith. Knut Fraenkel, a brilliant aerial engineer like himself, and Nils Strindberg, a young meteorological expert.
With them in the gondola-shaped basket they had enough supplies and equipment to last many frozen months.
Andree had calculated that he could attain an average speed of 17.5 m.p.h., which would carry him to the North Pole in about 43 hours. But within the first few of those hours, the hopes of the valiant three began to wane.
Using the guide ropes still intact, they struggled to maintain an even course in the shifting winds. Heavy mists now obscured the view beneath and on the afternoon of 12th July, the men felt a series of terrifying jolts. The basket was bumping and scraping on ice.
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Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about Amy Johnson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 251 published on 5 November 1966.
Miss Amy Johnson C.B.E.
Shortly before breakfast on the morning of 5th May, 1930, a small, green-and-silver Gypsy Moth biplane took off from Croydon Aerodrome. There were no big crowds to watch the event. The pilot, a young Yorkshire typist called Amy Johnson, was unknown to the public, and only her father and a few members of the London Aeroplane Club were there to wish her well on a daring trans-world flight.
As the heavily-laden little plane roared into the air at its second attempt, the men on the ground gave a ragged cheer. Amy was hoping to fly her plane, Jason, across the globe to Australia, and so become the first woman in the world to achieve such a feat. This was at a time when aviation was just struggling out of its infancy. To many people, the very idea of a woman flier seemed incredible, and from the beginning of her career Amy had found obstacle after obstacle placed in her path.
Amy was born in Hull, the daughter of a prosperous fish merchant, in July, 1904. Her family was prominent in local society, and she was brought up with every care and comfort.
When she was 16, Amy and her sister, Molly, went up on one of the ‘five-bob joy-rides’ which were the rage of the 1920s. The flight, however, was not the delight it promised to be.
“There was no sensation,” recalled Amy. “Just a lot of noise and wind, the smell of burnt oil and escaping petrol . . . I was almost cured of flying for ever.”
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