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Subject: ‘World War 2’

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Max Manus – leader of the Norwegian Resistance movement

Posted in Espionage, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Monday, 17 March 2014

This edited article about World War Two first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 591 published on 12 May 1973.

Max Manus,  picture, image, illustration
Max Manus, head of the resistance movement, parachutes back into Norway by Graham Coton

On a beautiful spring day in 1945, an open car drove through the main streets of Oslo. In it sat King Haakon of Norway, and the Crown Princess Martha, happily acknowledging the cheers of the people celebrating with their king the capitulation of the German forces in Norway. In the car sat another man with sandy hair and dressed in uniform. No one who watched the car going by needed telling that this man was Max Manus, which was hardly surprising as he was Norway’s most renowned hero of the resistance, who had spent five years of his life fighting the Nazis to such devastating effect that they had come to live in terror of him.

That he was there to take part in the peace celebrations was something of a miracle. As far back as 1941, he had been tracked down and arrested in his flat by the Norwegian statspolitti, the tools of the Nazis, who had taken the two guns he had carried, and then held him down while they searched the flat. The grenades and documents they found were damning evidence against him. Nothing, it seemed, could save him now from the torture chamber and a shameful death, probably by strangulation.

But his captors had been too sure of themselves. Carried away by their discoveries in the flat, they released their hold on their prisoner, in order to cluster around their leader who was examining the papers he had found. Taking advantage of the situation, Max had raced across the room and had dived through the window pane, crashing on to the pavement two floors below.

He woke up in hospital, just in time to hear the doctor saying to the statspolitti that there was no point in them taking away the prisoner to be shot, as his back was broken. The statspolitti left, promising to return later.

Happily, the doctor had been lying to gain a reprieve for his patient. Outside, waiting friends bundled him into a car, and raced off into the night. Seconds later, the statspolitti arrived.

Soon afterwards, Max was ordered to make his way to London to take part in a sabotage course. Travelling by skis across Norway into neutral Sweden, he eventually reached London, where he was trained in the use of high explosives.

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Giuseppe Maniscalco walked from Ethiopia to South Africa

Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about Giuseppe Maniscalco first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 590 published on 5 May 1973.

Rhinoceros,  picture, image, illustration
Hooves thundering on the hard ground, the rhinoceros charged at Maniscalco

As the bullets splattered into the windscreen and the lorry swerved violently along the dusty road Giuseppe Maniscalco threw open the door and jumped for his life. As he was rolling wildly down the sun-baked slope his hand instinctively grabbed a small bush to stop his descent.

Glancing up he saw the lorry plunge into the ravine but of the Abyssinian bandits who had fired the shots there was no sign. For over four long hours Giuseppe lay motionless, too frightened to move in case the assassins spotted him.

Lying where he had fallen he pondered over his next move. There were no prospects in Asmara, 300 miles to the north, from whence he had travelled. And Addis Ababa, a few miles from where he lay, was no place for an Italian in wartime. He decided that the Kordofan in Sudan would be his destination. There he could hide until the war had finished. With the daunting prospect of several hundred miles of hot, hostile territory ahead of him Giuseppe set out on his long walk.

Within a few days his throat was parched, his feet were blistered, his body soaked in sweat. The sun beat down relentlessly. Some villagers had told him there would be water on his proposed route – but he found none. Luckily for Giuseppe he eventually found water and a tribe of friendly natives who provided food and rest in their humble villages for this strange, unshaven traveller.

One day, after several weeks of weary travel, two men approached him stating that their chief had heard there was a white man in the area and wished to meet him. It would have meant death to refuse the ‘invitation’ so he reluctantly accompanied the men to their village to meet Chief Oman.

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In 1940 Leopold III surrendered to the Germans and lost his honour

Posted in Historical articles, History, Invasions, Royalty, World War 2 on Saturday, 8 March 2014

This edited article about Leopold III, King of the Belgians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.

Leopold III,  picture, image, illustration
Leopold III, King of the Belgians

In the bitter spring of 1940, as the grim grey-uniformed German Army pushed through Northern Europe, one man made a decision that was for years afterwards, to divide a nation.

At 4 a.m. on May 28, half a million Belgian soldiers laid down their arms and surrendered to the advancing Germans. This they did not on the orders of their generals, nor on instructions from their political leaders, but at the bidding of their handsome king, Leopold the Third.

Leopold’s instructions to his countrymen – who had fought bravely and acquitted themselves well – were given after a last desperate attempt by his Ministers to make him change is mind.

The king was adamant. He saw no further use in resistance. He told M. Spaak (then Foreign Minister): “I shall stay here whatever happens. I shall ask them (the Germans) to let me live in a castle in Belgium.”

The news that the Belgian Army had stopped fighting stunned and angered the allies. Tempers, already inflamed by the passions of war, were now inflamed in turn by hatred directed at Leopold. At 8 a.m. on the morning of May 28 M. Reynaud, the Prime Minister of France, broadcast to the French people and spoke in terms of contempt of the Belgian king.

The Belgian Prime Minister, M. Piertot, denied the right of Leopold to give a surrender order without the consent of the government.

The Germans were jubilant. “Under the impression of the devastating effect of the German arms the King of the Belgians has decided to put an end to further useless resistance,” screamed the Goebbels propaganda machine.

In London Winston Churchill sucked gravely upon the inevitable cigar and exhorted the allies to greater efforts. Meanwhile the German armies swept on into France, only the Channel separating them from Britain, and Belgium was occupied and out of the war.

Why had Leopold surrendered? Was he a hero or a traitor? Had the Germans made him promises? Since that day in 1940 the arguments have raged and some, but not all, of the questions have been answered.

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Stirling’s Raiders were officially called L Detachment S.A.S.

Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about the Second World War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 584 published on 24 March 1973.

Stirling's Raiders,  picture, image, illustration
David Stirling leads 'Stirling's Raiders' against German and Italian air forces in North Africa by Graham Coton

Hobbling on his crutches, the 6 ft. 6 in. Scottish subaltern presented himself at the main entrance of Middle East Headquarters in Cairo one July morning in 1941, only to be told that no one could enter without a pass. He moved away, waited until the sentries were busy with the occupants of a staff car, then left his crutches against a tree and slipped through a break in the barbed wire. “Stop that man!” roared one of the sentries, but by that time David Stirling, Scots Guards, attached to No. 8 Commando, had disappeared through the front door of H. Q.

Moving as fast as his back and leg injuries would allow – he had been in a parachute accident – he found a door marked Adjutant General and marched in. The major within not only told him to clear out, but reminded him that they had met before when Stirling had slept through his lectures on tactics!

So Stirling decided to aim higher and gatecrashed General Ritchie, Deputy Chief-of-Staff, Middle East, who liked the look of his unexpected guest and asked what he wanted. It turned out that the lame lieutenant wanted to destroy the German and Italian air forces on the ground!

Stirling had become convinced that as modern war was now so mobile, small groups operating behind enemy lines and destroying planes, ammunition dumps, repair shops and vehicles could achieve more than most air attacks. Ritchie liked the idea and summoned in his assistant, who turned out to be the fuming major that Stirling had just left. The major hoped he could arrest the young upstart, but instead found himself being ordered to help him. Ritchie passed Stirling’s plans on to the Commander-in-Chief, General Auchinleck, who liked them so much that he ordered the giant Scot to recruit six officers and 60 men and set up a training camp.

He collected his volunteers and soon proved his point by two “attacks” on an R.A.F. base and a naval vessel, using dummy bombs and then ringing up the next day to ask for them back! One of his men, Lieutenant Jock Lewes, invented a combined explosive and incendiary bomb for their raids, a time bomb which weighed under a pound, but could knock out a plane. A single soldier could carry 24 of them.

Stirling’s men were known as L Detachment S.A.S. – Special Air Service – which would make the Germans think that there were British parachute troops in the North African desert.

Even David Stirling’s quick brain did not at once stumble on the right method of transport for his men. Their first operation used planes to get them near their target and then the men dropped by parachute, but the raid failed because too many men failed to rendezvous after the drop. So it was decided to team up with the Long Range Desert Group, a reconnaissance unit, who could take them by truck exactly where they wanted to go and pick them up again after their raids.

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Hitler could not crush Tito and the Yugoslavian partisans

Posted in Communism, Historical articles, History, Politics, World War 2 on Monday, 3 March 2014

This edited article about World War Two first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 576 published on 27 January 1973.

Yugoslavian partisans,  picture, image, illustration
Yugoslavian partisans disrupt the German occupation by Graham Coton

The sky was too blue, too clear. The sun, gleaming off the mountain rock, floodlit the scene too well.

Anxiously, Tito scanned the line of men straggling out across the narrow makeshift bridge, Some were crawling, some hobbling and some limping. Others were staggering under the weight of comrades so weak from wounds, so ravaged by typhus that they had to be carried across. All were only too easy to be pinpointed from the air.

Too often, Tito had seen what happened when the sky smiled and the sun shone.

The first warning would be the soulless drone of approaching aircraft. Then would come the glint of wings angling into view around the mountainside. And then, bombs would spatter the length of the bridge, splintering the planks, singeing the ropes to threads and sending men spinning down into the river that heaved and rushed far below.

Tito, tough and determined though he was, had wept to see them tossing along in the waters of the Neratva like so much useless flotsam. It was an ignominious and wasteful end for fighters who had followed him through long months of hardship, hunger and bone-freezing cold.

“Operation Punishment,” as Hitler had called it, was proving punishing indeed.

This was the name the Nazi Fuhrer had given to the invasion he never meant to mount.

In the spring of 1941, Hitler’s plans centred on his coming attack on Russia. Though Yugoslavia, a neutral country, would lie on the south-eastern flank of his invasion force, this hardly seemed dangerous, for it was surrounded by Nazi allies. In this context, Hitler thought that a simple pact would prove sufficient safeguard, and when Yugoslavian ministers signed one in Vienna, Hitler believed he could put Yugoslavia out of his mind.

He was able to do so for less than twenty-four hours.

The Yugoslav people were appalled and affronted by what their government had done. On 27th March, 1941, the day after the signatories had crept back shamefaced from Vienna, a group of air force officers seized power and thousands of people marched through Belgrade brandishing the Yugoslav flag and shouting the defiant slogan “Better War than Pact – Better Grave than Slave!”

Insane with rage at this insult to his pride and the threat to his policy. Hitler postponed the invasion of Russia and ordered that Yugoslavia should be destroyed and dismembered.

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An RAF raid which broke open the jail at Amiens

Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Saturday, 1 March 2014

This edited article about World War Two first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 575 published on 20 January 1973.

Raid on Amiens jail,  picture, image, illustration
Group Captain Charles Pickard led the raid to free many imprisoned members of the Resistance, by Wilf Hardy

A blanket of snow covered northern France. Behind the grim walls of Amiens jail, 700 or so prisoners were trying unsuccessfully to keep themselves warm.

Many of the prisoners were under sentence of death, for they were men and women of the French Resistance, the secret civilian army which had refused to surrender to the Germans when they conquered and occupied France in 1940. Ever since then, their numbers had grown steadily and they had waged a deadly guerrilla war of ambush and sabotage against their conquerors. But, inevitably, many Resistance heroes and heroines had been caught, which was why the jail at Amiens was so full.

The Allied invasion to liberate France and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe was now only a few months away, for this bleak, snowy day was 18th February, 1944, but the chances of the prisoners’ survival seemed slim. Many of them had been tortured by the Gestapo, the hated German secret police, and some were due to die within 48 hours. Others were destined for the horrors of concentration camps and a later, even more terrible death in a gas chamber.

Yet on that dismal February morning an incredible piece of news was circulating through the jail – the Royal Air Force was going to make a low-level attack on the prison walls and blast a hole in them. Then, in the ensuing confusion, the prisoners could escape. Yet even if this rumour was true, could any planes get through a snowstorm which showed no sign of letting up? Surely it would be sheer suicide to attempt it?

Back in Britain the weather was also bad, so bad that there was talk of the raid being called off. Nineteen de Havilland Mosquitoes were standing by for the raid, which was to be led by one of the R.A.F.’s finest pilots, Group Captain Pickard, D.S.O. and two bars, D.F.C. Under him were six Mosquitoes from 21 Squadron, R.A.F., six from 487 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force, and six from 464 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, also a photographic reconnaissance plane.

The Mosquito was one of the wonder planes of the Second World War. It had originally been designed as a light bomber, but had become famous as a first-rate fighter-bomber, a long-range fighter, a reconnaissance aircraft, and as a “Pathfinder,” flying daringly low to drop flares to guide oncoming heavy bombers.

It carried a bomb load of 4,000 lbs., and a crew of two, a pilot and a navigator / bomb-aimer. It had a top speed of around 400 mph and could outstrip most German planes, and it was built of wood, which not only made it easier to manufacture, but also saved valuable metal. Added to this, it was a beautiful plane and – more important – very successful indeed!

Pickard’s men knew their target well, for they had all studied it from a plaster of Paris model which showed what the jail would look like to them from four miles away and at a height of 1,500 feet. The 500 lb. delayed action bombs which they would be carrying had to be dropped from a very low altitude, so timing was absolutely vital. The jail walls were three feet thick and 20 feet high, and some of the bombs were destined for the barracks where the German guards lived.

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De Gaulle choreographs his triumph during the Liberation

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Friday, 28 February 2014

This edited article about the Liberation of Paris first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 574 published on 13 January 1973.

Charles de Gaulle in Paris 1944,  picture, image, illustration
Charles de Gaulle takes his Victory Walk down the Champs Elysses during the liberation of Paris, by Graham Coton

The Champs Elysees was crammed with people pressed breathlessly together in one great cheering mass. The more agile had climbed the lamp-posts and clung there waving, shouting yelling greetings to a tall, lank man most of them had never seen before.

He moved slowly in a small group that could only trickle through the crush while all round him, his name was chanted out and echoed from pavement to pavement: “De Gaulle! De Gaulle! De Gaulle!

During World War Two, if any name had a meaning for Parisians and Frenchmen everywhere, it was this one.

For four years, it was a name to be whispered in bistros and cafes, with one’s eyes always wary to detect the approach of a Nazi uniform. It was a name to strain one’s ears for, while huddling round radios turned down to near-inaudibility in case some sharp-eared German should know illicit Allied broadcasts were being heard.

By 26th August, 1944, the day General Charles de Gaulle walked in triumph down the most famous street in Paris, the need for secrecy and watchfulness had come to an end. But its marks were still starkly apparent on the faces and in the eyes of the Parisians.

They had the gauntness and pallor of those who had known years of food shortages, empty grates and freezing hours spent queueing for the simplest of human wants. The smiles and laughter of new-found freedom failed to dim the sadness in eyes that had seen sons and husbands carried off to forced labour camps, or hostages snatched in the streets and slaughtered in a burst of rifle fire.

Scenes and experiences like this were not unique to Paris, of course. They were repeated in towns and cities all over Nazi-occupied Europe. However, for Parisians, Nazi domination held a special disgrace.

On 14th June 1940, their famous city had been yielded to the Germans without a fight. And the next four years had seen dozens of men and women openly collaborating with the invader and accepting from him the comforts denied to those who were less perfidious.

This was an affront which had to be avenged; for the honour of France, a compelling ideal to the French, had been smirched and sullied.

The spirit of vengeance was particularly strong in those who actively resisted the Germans, wrecking cars, sniping at soldiers, blowing up railway lines, cutting telephone wires.

Others resisted more passively, but with no less conviction. They sheltered fugitives from German labour gangs, scrawled insults on walls, ignored faults in arms produced for German forces, and even jabbed dirty thumbs into a German officer’s soup while serving in a restaurant.

Whether active or passive in their resistance, they all derived inspiration from Charles de Gaulle, even though he was nothing more than a voice beamed over radio waves from London.

On 18th June, 1940, in his first broadcast, this obscure army officer who came to embody the spirit of Free France, told his captive people, “The flame of French resistance is not extinguished, and it will not be extinguished.”

It never was, though its vigour was muted at times when Resistance leaders were arrested and killed.

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“A miracle of deliverance” – the epic story of Dunkirk

Posted in Boats, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 2 on Thursday, 27 February 2014

This edited article about Dunkirk first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 572 published on 30 December 1972.

Dunkirk,  picture, image, illustration
Escape from Dunkirk by Graham Coton

The armada of small boats was on its way to France to save the British Army. There were almost a thousand of them, yachts, pleasure steamers, fishing trawlers, barges, tugs, cabin-cruisers, towed lifeboats and motor boats, and they had come from ports and tidal rivers all along the East and South Coasts to rendezvous in selected harbours and get their orders from the Navy.

They set off before dawn on May 30, 1940, from Ramsgate, Dover, Margate, Portsmouth, Folkestone and other places best known for jolly holidays by the sea, not the grim realities of war. It was a gallant little fleet, manned by every sort of sailor from ex-Navy men to weekend yachtsmen. There were 60-year-olds and teenagers and men of every age in between, some of them dressed in true seaman fashion, others in suits, raincoats and a wide variety of headgear.

Few of the boats had accurate charts, fewer still had much in the way of medical supplies, or experience of sailing far out at sea. And not many could boast any armaments. The Deal beach-boat “Dumpling” with a skipper of 70, had been built in Napoleon’s time! But every sailor in that strange but magnificent fleet was determined and ready for anything. Hardened naval men, watching from destroyers as the little ships went by, were sometimes almost moved to tears at the gallant sight.

The part-time sailors needed every scrap of gallantry that they could muster as they approached the beaches of Dunkirk and its harbour, once a bustling port, now a raging inferno. The full impact of the nightmare was soon grimly apparent. It was a nightmare that had really started at dawn just 20 days before, when the Second World War, which, on land at least, had become something of a joke, suddenly and violently came to life.

The war had begun in September 1939 and, after the initial German conquest of Poland, had settled down into stalemate, with the French and British behind the heavily fortified “impregnable” Maginot Line staring at the Germans behind their Siegfried Line. So little happened, except at sea, that the war was dubbed the Phoney War! Even the German conquest of Norway in the spring of 1940 did not alert the Allies. Yet the danger had been seen by a few British and French military thinkers.

These few were not convinced that the British Expeditionary Force 390,000 strong, was, as was officially claimed, “as well if not better equipped than any other similar army.” Actually, it had inferior tanks and mostly inferior guns, and many of the soldiers were undertrained. As for the French, though their army was bigger than the Germans’, it was riddled with defeatism and its leaders were rooted in the past. Most British and French generals failed to realise what their German opposite numbers knew – that in modern war air power and mobile, powerful tanks were destined to play major not minor roles.

They were soon to find out. And, to make things worse, the much-vaunted concrete masterpiece, the Maginot Line, did not even extend to the sea. All the Germans had to do was to invade Holland and Belgium and strike at France at the same time, and this they did on May 10, 1940, by land and air. The result was one of the most brilliant campaigns in history.

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Captain Langsdorff scuttled the Graf Spee and shot himself

Posted in Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 2 on Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This edited article about the Second World War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 568 published on 2 December 1972.

Graf Spee,  picture, image, illustration
The Admiral Graf Spee blew up after her crew had been ferried to the Tacoma, by John S Smith

It was a warm evening in a South American port, with crowds lining the quay watching a ship preparing to leave. A scene that is repeated thousands of times every year in harbours all over the world. But, this time it was different. The ship that was about to leave was the pride of Adolf Hitler’s reconstituted German Navy, the pocket battleship called the Admiral Graf Spee.

For the beginning of this momentous story we have to go back four months from the day of the incident – back to August 21st, 1939. The port of Wilhelmshaven saw the departure of the most lethal weapon in the German naval arsenal. The Graf Spee was a unique class of warship. With her 11-inch guns and heavy armour, she could out-range and out-gun any English vessel able to match her speed of nearly 30 knots. And, with that sort of speed, she could out-run any of the English battleships that might threaten her and try to engage her in battle.

The mission of the Graf Spee, and her Captain, Hans Langsdorff, was to harry and destroy Allied shipping, wherever in the world they might be encountered. With her own free-ranging support vessel – the Altmark – to keep her armed and provisioned, and to look after her prisoners, the Graf Spee was an immensely dangerous lone wolf of the seas.

Between the 12th September, when she first entered the shipping lanes of the South Atlantic, and the 13th December, she captured and sank nine merchant vessels. It is worth keeping in mind that during these operations not one Allied seaman lost his life – a remarkable humanitarian achievement by Captain Langsdorff.

It was on 13th December, off the coast of Uruguay, that destiny caught up with the lean grey shape of the Graf Spee. The Admiralty had known for weeks that at least one, and possibly two, German surface raiders were loose. A light cruiser squadron, under the command of the brilliant strategist Commodore Harwood, were off the South American coast, attempting a difficult intercept operation. Harwood had guessed that the captain of the German ship would try one last attack in that area. It was to be that stroke of genius that was to doom the Graf Spee.

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America court-martialled her most visionary military patriot

Posted in America, Aviation, Ships, Weapons, World War 1, World War 2 on Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This edited article about America first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 566 published on 18 November 1972.

William Mitchell in WW1,  picture, image, illustration
William Mitchell and the bombers of World War I by Graham Coton

The ex-German submarine, U-117, could be seen lying at anchor as the mist rose off the calm waters beyond the Virginian coastline. Near the sub – but not too near – were ships of the United States Atlantic Fleet, and on the decks of one of them, the Henderson, were Congressmen, Government officials, admirals, generals and observers from foreign countries, all staring at the once-sinister sub.

Suddenly, everyone looked skywards. The best American bombers, fragile and out-of-date, were heading for their target. For the first time, aircraft were going to try to sink a ship. Actually, there were four targets, only one of which was to be attacked that June day in 1921. The others, due for later assaults, included the “unsinkable” veteran of the Battle of Jutland, the battleship Ostfriesland.

The planes were led by Brigadier-General William Mitchell who had had the “ridiculous” idea that ships without air cover could be sunk by planes. Service chiefs thought him mad, though he was a war hero and was now Assistant Chief of Military Aviation of the U.S. Army, and therefore a man to whom they had to listen. But now they were lined up to enjoy his anticipated downfall.

Instead, in a matter of minutes, twelve small bombs had sent the U-boat to the bottom. But this great moment in the history of warfare was dismissed by one admiral with a sneering, “It proves nothing. Our guns could have sunk it in half the time!”

This was the beginning of a saga which resulted in the greatest prophet in the story of military flying being court-martialled and disgraced, and then to die shortly before his theories were proved right in the most dramatic way imaginable.

“Billy” Mitchell had joined the army in 1898. Later, he met the Wright Brothers, who, in 1903, achieved the first manned, powered flight, and he became keenly interested in flying. In the First World War, which the U.S.A. entered in 1917, he was the first American to fly over enemy lines.

He had an uncanny vision of the shape of aerial warfare to come, visualising a whole division of soldiers being dropped by parachute from 1,200 bombers. In fact, he was 20 years ahead of his time.

Yet even if his advanced ideas could not be put into practice, the air attacks he organised were great successes. But he ended the war convinced that the U.S. Army Air Force had been betrayed. Despite huge sums granted it, only 196 planes, many of them “flying coffins,” had reached France by the end of the war.

More urgent was the future. After several years of campaigning which did not even convince the brighter brass hats, he at last got permission for his demonstration.

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