BY RICHARD MADDOX
WARS ARE OFTEN FOUGHT BY GLAMOUROUS PEOPLE AND MACHINES.
They are always won by ordinary people and mundane things – like boots and ball-bearings (also known as roller bearings).
Searching IWM Collections online – as usual for something totally different – I came across the image below of a British De Havilland ‘Mosquito’.
This type of aircraft was well known as the ‘Wooden Wonder’ (the construction process used much plywood) and variants served with the RAF and Royal Navy as day and night fighters, fast light bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. It also served with the air arms of many foreign countries.
This however is an example flying with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Fast Freight Flight, taking off from RAF Leuchars in Scotland on a night flight to Sweden.
The BOAC’s Fast Freight Flight had an interesting and somewhat secretive history, being for passenger and freight service (as well as ‘courier flights’) to and from neutral Sweden.
These flights were ostensibly civilian operations using crews of the Merchant Air Service, many of whom had previously served in the RAF to deliver a passenger and freight service.
But the aircraft on these flights – civilianised military types such as Hudsons, Liberators and Whitleys with the aircraft’s civil registration painted large on the fuselage, upper and lower wings complete with red, white and blue underlining – flew such people and things as diverse as diplomats, intelligence agents and evading British servicemen and of course ball-bearings (1) (2).
Sweden (as a neutral country and perfectly entitled to do so) was also trading with Germany and supplying them with… ball-bearings.
And of course ball-bearings were so vital to the war economy that the US Army Air Force attacked a ball-bearing factory at Schweinfurt in southern Germany from bases in England twice in 1943, enduring high losses of both machines and men.
Although Sweden was neutral, Norway had been occupied by Germany since June 1940 and although the BOAC flights were marked as civilian aircraft they were still from a country at war with Germany and legitimate targets
Luftwaffe aircraft based in Norway were a constant danger and because of this the BOAC aircraft often flew in bad weather as this could hide them. But it didn’t always work out that way.
On 17 August 1943 the aircraft pictured above crashed near Easter Balloch in Scotland shortly after take-off, having apparently suffered an instrument malfunction (3) (4). Both crew members – Captain Louis Armstrong Wilkins (5) and his radio operator/navigator Harold Beaumont (6) – were killed.
The aircraft was missing until it was found by a gamekeeper on 8 September 1943.
It was the airline’s first Mosquito loss.
I was struck by the ‘Illuminated by a Chance light’ reference in the IWM caption and found that Chance Brothers Glassworks innovated and made a variety of glass products ranging from lighthouse optics (7) through rolled plate glass for shop fronts, to cathode ray tubes, laboratory and medical glass products, dinning ware and even souvenir ash trays and the like.
Chance Lights runway illuminators were positioned to guide approaching pilots to the threshold and the end of the runway (6).
SOURCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION