New P-38J Lighting model added to Heritage Centre displays.

A new 1.32 scale P-38J Lightning is added to the Heritage Centre displays this month, depicting Lt Lawrence ‘Scrappy’ Blumer’s P-38J aircraft, ‘Scrapiron’, in which he shot down five FW 190s in fifteen minutes, on 25th August 1944, making him an ‘Ace in a Day’. This is some shooting, given that the P-38 normally only carried 14 seconds of firing in the 20 mm cannon and 21 seconds in the four 0.5 inch machine guns if 300 rounds were loaded (or a maximum of 35 seconds, if each machine gun magazine was fully loaded with 500 rounds). Larry Blumer was well known in the Squadron for coming home with multiple holes in his aircraft, once totalling over a hundred in a single mission, from ground fire. On another occasion, he returned with 100 feet of barrage balloon wire hanging form a damaged wing tip. The “Censored” label was applied late in the war, when a station commander’s wife objected to the nude in his aircraft’s nose art.367th Fighter Group pilots have stated that some of them had the Crew Chief wire the cannon and machine guns to the single firing button, to bring the maximum weight of fire on any target aircraft. Once the cannon ceased firing, they knew that they had limited machine gun ammunition left.  In addition, when the ground crews discovered that the ammunition boxes were supplied from Lockheed’s Californa factory with false bottoms (as the original specification called for space for a maximum of 500 rounds), they tore out the lightweight spacer panels at the bottom and filled the magazines to capacity.The 19.5 inch wingspan 1.32 scale Revell kit (supplied with decals for ‘Arkansas Traveler’, Lt. Owen Fincher’s aircraft, another Stoney Cross Lightning) dates from 2003, but the moulding dates from 1970. In spite of its age, the moulding is representative of the best of its time, when compare with the modern (2004) Trumpeter moulding.

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A New Forest Walk around Holmsley South Airfield

FONFA Members and visitors to our website may be interested in a video made by Dave Ford, about the wartime Holmsley South Airfield site. It is an interesting commentary on what remains around the area today, 75 years after the busiest period of the airfield’s history. The link is at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja7-KgEsEp8

For historians, Dave Ford states that Operation Beggar/Turkey Buzzard had ‘high losses’. However, compared with several other experimental long range Halifax and Lancaster missions, the losses were relatively light in percntage terms. Considering that this was an entirely new mission, which had never been attempted before, out of the 32 Horsa gliders which left Holmsley South and travelled on via Portreath, Cornwall, with their Halifax tugs, 27 (84%) arrived in Tunisia safely. in time to participate in the invasion of Sicily.

The training involved 295 Sqn Halifaxes towing the Horsas on long missions around the coastline of Britain, to see whether it could be done.  However, during the training for the mission, four crashes killed thirteen men. On the mission itself, one Halifax and Horsa combination was shot down by a German long range Focke Wulf Condor patrol aircraft. Another Horsa snapped its tow rope and ditched, the crew being picked up by an Allied ship. Altogether, five Horsas and three Halifaxes were lost.

The Horsas were flow by three pilots, to prevent pilot fatigue, on the long mission. According to one of the Horsa pilots on the mission, whom I met several years ago, the flight from Cornwall to Tunisia took 14 hours in the air (3,200 miles), done in three ‘hops’. The reason why it was not repeated was that there was no longer an operational need. (Ed. Henry Goodall).

Farther north in the Forest, for those who would like to know more about the Ashley Walk practice bombing range, east of Fordingbridge, there is a video by James Brown, New Forest National Park Archaeologist, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib3ayeo3Ptw

 

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“Sopley in the Sixties” – A trip down memory lane – by Frankie Patterson

This summer, the Heritage Centre received a visit from a former WRAF (Women’s Royal Air Force) RADAR Operator, who was posted to RAF Sopley in the early 1960s, Frankie (Frances) Patterson. She kindly agreed to share her memories of her time at the Camp and has now written a personal account on her time there, which we are delighted to print in full below.                                                                                                                                       “Down the Hole”, where she worked, was in the huge underground bunker, on the north side of the Camp, where all the processing and display equipment for the RADAR covering the UK was situated. This was a major Air Traffic Control Training Centre throughout the early to mid 1960s.                                                                                                                                   Younger readers will be intrigued by her description of a life without mobile phones or computers, when a ‘posh frock’ cost more than a week’s wages (you could only afford one!), and a pint glass of ‘scrumpy’ (rough, strong cider) at the nearest pub, half a mile away across the fields, cost 7d (3.5p to today’s money).

Sopley in the Sixties – By Frances Patterson, nee Warboys

I was posted to Sopley in late October 1961, having completed a course on Air Traffic Control at RAF Shawbury. My companions and I found it odd to be posted to a Radar Unit when we had been trained to work in a Tower, and especially so when there were ADOs (Air Defence Operators) who were trained to work with radar in radar units. But such were the ways of the RAF. As it turned out, we didn’t know how lucky we were!

There were four of us, young (17), wet behind the ears and excited to be starting out in a new career. We were among the first regular service WRAFs to be stationed at Sopley, previously there had been Local Service girls who lived at home and travelled in to work. The Local Service branch was being closed down, and we came in to take their place. We didn’t really know them or mix with them, as we never considered them to be real Servicewomen. The men on the camp did not welcome us at all. They didn’t want us there and were very suspicious about us. However, in time they got used to us and stopped behaving like idiots.

So we arrived and were given our billet, 39/22, the second from the end on the left hand side. The WRAF quarters were on one side of the road and the men’s on the other. The quarters that were situated behind the dining hall were for Senior ranks and Officers, and also comprised the Sergeants Mess and Corporals Club. The Sick Bay was also situated there.

Each billet contained two rooms with four beds and two single rooms for more senior personnel. The ablutions, between the two four-bed rooms had baths, washbasins and toilets. Between each pair of billets there was a laundry room which had a washing machine and spin dryer, irons and ironing boards and drying racks. Each girl had a bed, a wardrobe, a bedside cabinet and a chair. It certainly doesn’t sound a lot, but we didn’t seem to notice. We had done our training together and had become friends before arriving, and settled in very happily.

The next big thing was going to work. We kept watches, which I liked, it suited me. Down the Hole. The first day you worked 8am till 12pm, and 5pm till 11pm. The second day it would be 12 till 5pm and then 11pm till 8am nest morning. Then a ‘sleeping off’ day. The two days were then repeated, and after that a 72 hour pass. I liked the watchkeeping rhythm and it meant that you were off when other people were at work, which I liked.

We would catch the transport outside the guard room (a full size RAF bus) and be taken to the hole, where we would be given a token (like coal miners do) on the way down, and hand it back as we left at the end of the watch. Personally I took to the work and enjoyed it, and once I had become competent enough (about a year) I liked to sit on Consul 1 where you coordinated all the traffic and wrote it up on a display board.

One of the other jobs I did was pretending to be an aircraft to help train new controllers. That was on the Mullard flight simulators, conveniently situated opposite the canteen. It made a change and it was quite good fun. This job was days, not watchkeeping, but it was only for a fairly brief period.

Social life was pretty good, as I recall. We used to go to the Carpenter’s Arms (the Chippy’s), which was a small local pub then, before the big restaurant extension had been built. We walked there across the field opposite the camp gates, which is pretty much a housing estate now, and I do remember it was absolutely pitch dark with no light whatever unless there was a moon. Everything was celebrated at the Chippy’s, and if you were penniless you could buy scrumpy for seven pence.

Around Christmas time 1962 I was on a night watch when one of the Controllers offered me a mug of tea. I refused and said I didn’t want one. “You’ll want this one” he said. It wasn’t tea. And nobody was flying except the odd American, because nobody had told them it was Christmas, apparently.

I remember that Christmas of 1962 very well. My friend and I had gone into Bournemouth to buy posh frocks for our Christmas dinner, and we each spent more than a weeks’ wages on them. Hers was royal blue, and I think of it whenever I hear the song “She wore blue velvet”. Mine was a deep crimson and I absolutely loved it. The night of the dinner it started to snow. Just a slight flurry of powdery flakes, and it looked so beautiful in the moonlight. But it didn’t stop. It went on and on relentlessly. It was, of course, the beginning of the now famous winter weather of 1962/63.

Before very many days had passed we had swapped our posh frocks for trousers and battledress and were taken out with shovels to dig out the unfortunate souls who had found themselves marooned in their cars unable to get through, some now completely submerged. They were taken back to camp and given bacon and eggs in the dining hall, and we got a tot of rum. Which we thoroughly deserved!

One of my other abiding memories is of coming in one night and finding one of my room mates standing on a chair wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown, and dark glasses, trying to light a cigarette from the light bulb. I don’t think that worked any better than the time she attempted to roast chestnuts on an upturned iron. Full marks for trying though!

In those long forgotten days before mobile phones, you had to join the queue for the phone box outside the guard room, it seems almost unbelievable now.

I did my fair share of jankers too, though I can’t remember what for. Probably getting in late. We had to be in camp by 2359, but it wasn’t unknown for people to get in through a gap in the perimeter fence. I remember polishing a piano, and turning up for parades at the guard room. On one occasion there was me, at 5′ 2”, and a stores person (male) who was about seven feet tall, and we were given the order Right Dress. Which was farcical.

There were love affairs, and there were marriages, and there was heartbreak from time to time. I am still friends with the girl with the blue dress, we’re both grandmothers now. My boyfriend from Sopley stayed in touch. He was a year older than me. Sadly he died last year.

Nobody who was ever posted to Sopley wanted to leave. Ever. It was the happiest posting imaginable and everybody loved it, without exception. However, our destiny was not ours to choose and we all went away to other adventures near and far. Eventually we were replaced by ADOs, which was logical, and we went our various ways to continue our lives.

But I do count myself one of the very fortunate few to have been stationed at RAF Sopley, and I always will.

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Model of 2nd Lt Harry Strahlendorf’s P-47 ‘Razorback’ Thunderbolt added to the Heritage Centre display

A new 1/48th scale model diorama has been added to the display cabinet describing an American pilot, 2nd Lt. Harry ‘Pop’ Strahlendorf, who was based at Bisterne Advanced Landing Ground with the 404th Fighter Squadron, during the D-Day period in 1944.His P-47 Thunderbolt was named ‘Eddie Nor II’ after his wife, Edna Lenore. The model diorama depicts a daily scene at the time, with the ground crew loading the ammunition bays and cleaning the guns in the wings, prior to a mission, as seen in this 1944 photo.    The Squadron moved from Bisterne to La Londe (US Airfield A-6, 1 mile north of St Mere Eglise in Normandy) on 23rd June 1944. At 0820 hrs on the following day, Harry was on his 48th combat mission, in company with six other pilots from the Squadron, attacking an anti-aircraft gun post on the outskirts of Cherbourg, when his aircraft was hit by a shell      burst, which blew off the aircraft’s tail.                                                                                               

The story of how the French hid his body from the Germans, then subsequently buried him next to the wrecked aircraft, and how his family discovered the details of what had happened, many years afterwards, is told in the Heritage Centre display, together with an American flag, flown from the Capitol, in Washington DC, in his honour, many years later. Fifty years after his death, the local people created a new park in his honour, in the city, and a memorial was unveiled marking the crash site; a sincere expression of the appreciation of the French people of Cherbourg, which is inscribed:

“TO THE MEMORY OF THE AMERICAN LIEUTENANT
HARRY W. STRAHLENDORF
PILOT OF THE 371st  FIGHTER GROUP, 404th SQUADRON
9TH U.S. AIR FORCE
KILLED IN ACTION DURING THE AERIAL ASSAULT

FOR THE LIBERATION OF CHERBOURG
JUNE 24, 1944”

He was known as ‘Pop’ in the Squadron, the ‘Grandfather’ among the pilots, as he was much older than most of the young pilots of the 404th, with whom he flew his 48 combat missions.

He was just 29 years old.

If you wish to know more about his story, there is a link at:                                                         https://371stfightergroup.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/a-summer-of-sacrifice-begins-remembering-harry-w-pop-strahlendorf/

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Christchurch P-47 ‘Razorback’ Thunderbolt added to the Heritage Centre models

A new P-47D ‘Razorback’ model has been added to the aircraft on display this month, in the Christchurch airfield section, representing the American aircraft based there in the Spring of 1944, in preparation for the D-Day invasion in June 1944. The pilot of this aircraft was Captain Charlie Mohrle, who passed away six years ago, at the age of 92. His aircraft was a P-47D-16-RE, serial number 42-76076, ‘Touch of Texas’.Charlie responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor, aged 21, by volunteering for the US Army Air Corps in February 1942. After completion of basic flight training, he was one of the original pilots assigned to the 510th Fighter Squadron, part of the 405th Fighter Group in South Carolina, which entered combat, based at Christchurch, from March to late June 1944. He completed 97 combat missions flying the P-47 and was a highly decorated pilot, his aircraft being named ‘Touch of Texas’, after his home State.            Among other recognition, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and 16 Air Medals. He flew over the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and his Squadron was personally recognised by General George S Patton, for its support of the US Third Army in France.                                                                                 FONFA member and Poole Vikings Model Club master modeller, Paul Moores, who knew Charlie in his later years, recalls an interesting tale that he told about the little red heart, painted on the port side of his aircraft.                                                                        On one occasion, Charlie was strafing a ground target, when his aircraft was hit by small arms fire. The bullet passed through the side of the cockpit and lodged in his parachute backpack, narrowly missing his left arm and hip. The hole was repaired by his ground crew with a small aluminium patch and the red heart painted over the patch.

American pilots were always of officer rank, whereas the RAF had Sergeant pilots as well.   As with all his fellow USAAF pilots, his crew chief allowed him to fly the aircraft, always exhorting Charlie to “take good care of my airplane”.

In addition to their eight 0.5 inch calibre machine guns, the Christchurch ‘Razorback’ P-47s were often equipped with two 500 lb bombs and a compressed paper fuel drop tank, as depicted on the model. This enabled them to range far and wide over the Normandy beachhead, in support of the advancing Allied ground troops.

For an interview with Charlie Mohrle and his descriptions of combat experience in 1944, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lo_irQ9bjzU&t=110s                                                  Charlie’s revelations and personal stories are inspirational, truly humbling, at times humorous, often poignant, but always told in the generous ‘matter of fact’ style of a true hero. We salute him.

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New models added to the Heritage Centre display

Two new models have been added to the displays in the Heritage Centre, this week. Together, they make up a Short Stirling Mk.IV and a Horsa Mk.I glider combination, a common sight in the New Forest skies in early 1944, during the training for D-Day in June 1944 and later in the year, for Operation Market Garden (Arnhem) and Operation Varsity (the Rhine crossing) in March 1945.                                                                                              The Stirling’s career as a bomber was limited by its original specification and the bomb bay design, which only allowed bombs of up to 2000 lb weight to be carried. In addition, with a maximum service ceiling was 16,500 ft, it was vulnerable to flak, but the thick wing, which contributed to this weakness, enabled pilots to out-turn the Ju88 and bf110 night fighters, which they encountered. Many missions were flown as low as 12,000 ft.The aircraft depicted is a 295 Squadron aircraft, ‘The Saint’, which was based at Holmsley South and in the run up to D-Day, at Hurn, as seen in the wartime photograph below.From 1943 onwards, it was realised that the aircraft would make en excellent glider tug. Mk.IIIs were converted to the Mk.IV, to be used with the Horsa and heavier Hamilcar gliders, flying from Holmsley South, Stoney Cross and Hurn and Christchurch.          Horsas were built of laminated wood, by furniture manufacturers, all over the country, before the parts were transported by road, to be assembled at Christchurch (and Brize Norton). Once assembled, they were towed off for pilot training at other airfields. Both aircraft were a vital part of New Forest operations in WWII and are rightly part of our proud local aviation history. The Airfix Stirling Mk.I/III and Italeri Horsa Mk.I models are 1/72nd scale 1970s period mouldings, which hold up well, considering their age. The Stirling kit was converted to a Mk.IV, by the removal of the nose and mid-upper gun turrets and adding scratch built glider towing apparatus.

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Battle of Britain pilot passes away hours after celebrating 100th birthday

Flight Lieutenant Archie McInnes has passed away just hours after celebrating his 100th birthday. His friend and biographer, Jonny Cracknell, tweeted that: “It is with a heavy heart and incredible sadness to advise the tragic news that Battle of Britain hero Archie McInnes sadly passed away last night, just hours after celebrating his 100th birthday amongst friends & family. An inspiration & hero of a man – rest in peace dear Archie’”.McInnes was born on the 31st of July 1919 and completed his training in August 1940. The historic combat missions which he flew during the Battle of Britain helped to prevent the German Luftwaffe from invading Britain. Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston said that Archie McInnes was “part of an extraordinary band of selfless aviators”, noting that “the bravery and sacrifice of Archie and ‘The Few’ should never be forgotten”. Winston Churchill shone light on those who fought in the Battle of Britain in a speech, saying of their sacrifices that: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”.

Of those Battle of Britain pilots, only five are alive today: Flight Lieutenant William Clark (100), Wing Commander Paul Farnes (101), Squadron Leader John Hart (102), Flying Officer John Hemingway (100) and Flight Lieutenant Maurice Mounsdon (100).

After the Battle of Britain ended, McInnes became part of a team which hunted for the German battleship The Bismarck. In 1941, McInnes provided cover for bombers in the North African campaign. McInnes continued to fly even after losing an arm when his plane was shot down, later altering a prosthetic arm to allow him to use a throttle and continue to fly aircraft.

He retired from the RAF in 1946 to live in a village near Cambridge with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. McInnes had returned to flying just last year, when he was a passenger in a two seat Spitfire.

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