Ye Olde England Tours is Hiring!

Most of you will know that I run a small tours company based in London. We do a large number of walking tours in London itself along with plenty of day trip car based tours to places of interest such as Bath, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and similar places.

Thankfully business has been good and we’re now in the position to hire people, hence my very out of character posting for the day.

If you or anyone else know someone who might be interested, please let me know!

 

Ye Olde England Tours is expanding and we need additional guides!

We are looking for Freelance guides for both walking tours in London and car-based day trips from London to destinations generally in S.E. England.

Full training is provided along with generous rates of pay.

Experience is not essential but being friendly and trust-worthy is.

Contact us today and discover what it’s like to love your job!

 

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Language by the numbers

Following on from my mini-series of posts on the English language, I was contacted by a reader who thought we might all be interested by this great graphic all about languages.

I hope that you like it as much as I do!

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Humphrey Repton and the Bloomsbury Squares

One of my favourite areas of London and one which I have written on previously is  Bloomsbury.  Once the area was full of grand achitectural squares with lush green gardens as their centre piece.  Even today, the area retains an air of quiet, gentle elegance though wartime bombing and construction have taken their toll on some areas there are still numerous beautiful garden squares most notably Russell, Bedford, Tavistock and Fitzroy.

Despite being in the very heart of London, most overseas visitors will hardly have entered Bloomsbury with the British Museum being the only major attraction and that being on the edge of the district and few if any of them will know what part of London the British Museum is in.

If there has to be one relatively well visited garden square then it is Russell Square, a large public space with circular walkways and criss-crossing, meandering paths that was restored to its original shape in 2002. It stands as the crowning urban legacy of the Suffolk-born designer now widely regarded as a visionary: the 18th-century landscape gardener Humphry Repton, who died 200 years ago and whose legacy is currently being celebrated at Woburn Abbey, home of the Russell family whose forebears are responsible for these very first suburbs of London, albeit about 25-30 miles from the current outskirts of the city

Russell Square is perhaps my favourite London square due to its size and scale. It is a sensitive piece of landscaping, with the statue of the Duke of Bedford on the edge of the square in a little apse, where it can be seen and which on looks on down one of the many gorgeous Bloomsbury streets.

Bedford Square

Bedford Square

Fans of the country houses and stately homes of England will associate Repton’s name with rolling acreage and endless vistas. And it is true many of the 400 commissions he took during a 30-year career were to design the land around aristocratic family seats, including grounds at Betchworth House in Surrey, Longleat, Brighton’s Royal Pavilion, Tatton Park and at Woburn Abbey.

But Repton also brought green flashes into the heart of London. In fact his influence is behind the ordered lawns and flower beds now emblematic of the capital around the world. “epton brought nature into the city. It has been said that “He wanted order in a layout, but he wanted variety within that sense of order, or he felt it would be boring. He wanted to allow people to spend time as they moved through a square”.

Lord John Russell first employed Repton to work on the grounds of his Woburn Abbey house in Bedfordshire,  before his brother continued development of the Bloomsbury estate, bringing in the same designer.

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Russell Square in autumn

The Bloomsbury area was ripe for development because it was close to the City yet looked straight out on open fields to the north, with views up to the hills of Highgate and Hampstead. Repton’s square gardens had areas to sit, with wandering, gravel pathways and areas where children could play. He wanted them to be places for relaxed play. They were tamed versions of the natural world.

Pushing against a romantic trend for faux wilderness, Repton brought back terraces, gravel walks and flower beds with ornamental or themed planting around the house and gave birth to the modern suburban garden.

In London a new elite fashion for walking and entertaining in squares was mocked by the press, as Edward Walford noted in 1878 in his book Old And New London, writing: “It is said that the Duchess of Bedford sent out cards to her guests, inviting them to ‘take tea and walk in the fields’; and sarcastic persons remarked, that it was expected that syllabubs would soon be milked in Berkeley Square, around the statue of his Majesty.”

Repton was born in 1752, the son of a wealthy Bury St Edmunds tax collector, and was sent to the Netherlands to learn Dutch and prepare for a commercial career. By 1773 he was married and in business in Norwich. But it did not suit him.

He travelled to Ireland to work as private secretary to William Windham, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and made contacts he could call upon as an “improver of the landscape”.

In 1788 the 36-year-old put his skills on the market, aiming to fill the gap left by the death of Lancelot “Capability” Brown five years earlier.

Repton became renowned for his “red books”, folios of his drawings. Packed with maps and descriptions, they included a low-tech equivalent of the PowerPoint presentation: watercolours with overlays showing “before” and “after” views.

Map of Bloomsbury

Map of Bloomsbury

Repton outlined four key principles for good design in his book, Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. “First, it must display the natural beauties and hide the defects of every situation,” he wrote. “Secondly, it should give the appearance of extent and freedom by carefully disguising or hiding the boundary. Thirdly, it must studiously conceal every interference of art. However expensive by which the natural scenery is improved; making the whole appear the production of nature only; and fourthly, all objects of mere convenience or comfort, if incapable of being made ornamental, or of becoming proper parts of the general scenery, must be removed or concealed.”

For Hirst, the distinction with Capability Brown is evident in the way Repton introduced a decorative railing between the house and deer and sheep to “reassure” the aristocracy, where Brown used a sunken barrier, the ha-ha.

Towards the end of his life Repton feared his profession would “become extinct”. He died on 24 March 1818, and was buried at Aylsham, Norfolk.

“In every place I was consulted I found that I was gifted with a peculiar facility for seeing almost immediately the way in which it might be improved,” he wrote in his memoir.

There are 10 garden squares remaining in Bloomsbury but the entire district has a special feeling about.  Over the last few centuries is has garnered a reputation as being a hotbed of literature with writers as such as Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and many others such as the creator of Peter Pan, J M Barrie.

As well as being a hotbed for universities such as my own at SOAS, it has also attracted eccentrics such as Aleister Crowley who was titled the wickedest man in the world, political leaders such as Gandhi, suffragettes and forward thinking philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham.

If you’re coming to London and want to visit somewhere a bit artsy and away from the crowds then why not come on one of several of my tours that visit here such as Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes and of course my specific Bloomsbury Literary Walk.

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RAF Icons of the Jet-Age

Concluding my short series of blog posts on iconic RAF planes to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force we finally reach the period that most of us are best familiar with.  The age of the jet engine.

Frank Whittle invented the jet engine in 1930 though it was Germany that got the first jetfighters into action.  The very British jetfighter was the Vampire which first flew in 1943 though wasn’t brought into service until just after WW2.

There was a considerable period of overlap with the old-style propellor aeroplanes with the Spitfire for example seeing acive service until at least 1961 in some airforces.

There have been many RAF planes in the modern-era from Buccanneers, Tornados and right up to the present day Typhoon, however for me the most iconic planes of the jet-age are the Vulcan Bomber, Harrier Jumpjet.

The Vulcan bomber was part of a generation of jet planes which included the Valiant and the Victor.  Collectively known as V-Force.

All these planes were built before it was officially decided to build warplanes in co-operation with allied nations such as the USA and Germany to save on costs though nations such as France and Sweden seem to manage it ok.

Vulcan bomber

Vulcan bomber from the front as its rear is too huge to photograph.

Coming into service around 1954, the Avro Vulcan was a major player in the nuclear deterrent during the Cold War.  Thankfully it never quite saw action the way it was planned, if it had we might not have been round to gawp at it’s majesty today.

It did see action however near the end of its career with the Falklands War in 1982.  Following the Argentine invasion of the island, if Britain was to have a hope of successfully regain sovereignty then it would be necessary to put the airport at Port Stanley out of action so that the Royal Naval fleet would not be under quite as sustained an attack as it ended out being.

Numerous ideas were thought out, including audacious plans to have SAS teams go undercover in Argentina itself and blowing up their planes insitu before the SAS would make their escape to Chile.  That was seen as possibly escalating the conflict and so a daring plan was created for the bombing of the occupied airfield on the Falklands themselves.

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In what was to be known as Operation Blackbuck, a bombing raid would be made from the RAF base at Ascension Island to the Falklands.  A fleet of Vulcans and support aircraft were prepared.  Due to the huge distances involved and the weight of the bombs themselves an incredibly ingenious though complicated plan was drawn up where a vast number of planes would take off with most of them being used to refuel the lead bomber.   It can be best understood in the diagram below with the Vulcan itself being refulled 5 times in total.

It was also planned that when the runway was destroyed, the Argentines would switch on their radar installations which would allow for them to be targetting by missile strikes from other aircraft.

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With only minutes of fuel to spare and no guarantee that the Argentine airforce wouldn’t be waiting for them, the mission ended up being a complete success and to mind is probably the finest planned air-strike since since WW2 if not of all time.

 

Of course, bomber planes are slow and need defending and during the Falklands War, one of the main fighter planes was the iconic Harrier Jumpjet.  The Harrier itself was very well established by the time of the Falklands War, having come into service in 1969 though the variety to be used in the war was the sea-harrier and it had only been in service for two years. it was the very first plane in the world that could take off vertically, like a helicopter.

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If you don’t believe it, you can watch the video below for yourself.  In fact the Harrier could even fly backwards.

The 20 Sea-Harriers were vastly outnumbered against tried and proven supersonic jet aircraft but they shot down at least 39 planes between them and were instrumental in gaining the air-superiority needed for troops to be put on the ground to attack the Argentine army.

So that ends my quick look at some of the most iconic planes of the RAF during its first 100 years.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Flight has changed so much in the last 100 years, it is hard to imagine what warplanes will be like 100 years on.

It’s safe to say though that sometime in the next decade or two, unmanned planes such as this BAE Raptor plane will be flying important missions for the RAF but this time, the pilot will be operating it remotely, safe and sound from a large hanger in Lincolnshire.

 

 

 

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Lord North, the most unassuming man in a position of power ever!

One of the things I dislike most about the world is people who are boastful or prideful and this goes doubly for those who do so for very little reason whatsoever.

I always find if anyone has to boast about anything then they aren’t really anything special at all.  The very best people have no need to boast about anything or even mention any talent whatsoever.

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This also applies in areas like wealth where you can have someone as staggeringly rich as Prince Charles going around in clothes that are so old they have been stitched back together compared to someone moderately well-off, who feels the need to tell the world about their diamonds or fancy cars.

As someone with nothing to boast about whatsoever, it is easy for me to side with the unassuming people, but even I and most definitely Prince Charles who is famous for being hard-work behind the scenes, would have to take a bow to Prime Minister Lord North.

If you haven’t heard of Lord North then that might be because he is often seen as the black sheep of the Prime Miniseterial world who will forever have to bear the shame as being the Prime Minister in charge when the American colonies went their own way.

He might well, as Sir Winston Churchill said of someone else entirely, be a modest man with a lot to be modest about but Lord North for all his power and indeed failings was also both unassumingly modest and possessing a razor sharp wit.

It is recorded that one night at a operatic concert in Covent Garden he was asked by an acquaintance to identify a plain-looking lady in the box opposite him.  The Prime Minister cheerfully replied that this rather dowdy lady was actually his wife.

Somewhat taken aback, the mortified questioner attempted to get out of the hole he was digging by then continuing to say: “No, no, I meant the dreadful monster sitting next to her”. North’s reply was: “That, sir, is my daughter… we are considered to be three of the ugliest people in London”.

If only todays leaders could have half the wit and modesty of this man who was mostly likely the better of them all.  It is true that Lord North was perhaps not the most handsome man ever and it is perhaps fair if a little rude to label his wife as being somewhat lacklustre in appearance.

Frederick North, Lord North and amongst other things Prime Minister

Frederick North, Lord North and amongst other things Prime Minister

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Anne Speke (before 1741–1797), wife of Lord North.

The account of this hilarious event at the opera instantly was the talk of polite society in London and perhaps even more embarrassingly, Viscount Goderich who was also one of the lesser known Prime Ministers once related the story at a dinner party to the lady sat beside him.  After the punchline the lady replied “I know that story, I am Lord North’s wife”.

I bet that was an awkward moment!

I did try to find a painting of his ravishing daughter but alas I couldn’t find any but surely she couldn’t quite be descibed as a monster.

 

 

 

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Manfred Von Richthofen – The Red Baron

April 21st 2018 sees the 100 anniversary of the death of one of the most famous names not just in the history of air-combat but aviation generally. The Red Baron was the name given to Manfred von Richthofen, a German fighter pilot who was the deadliest flying ace of World War I. Along with some of his contemporaries such as Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke, the Red Baron didn’t just pioneer aerial tactics which are still studied today but during WW1 he becaeme what we might call a celebrity.

During a 19-month period between 1916 and 1918, the Prussian aristocrat shot down 80 Allied aircraft including one that had my relation Serjeant Reuel Dunn.   His utterly ruthless and skillful flying style was brought wider fame thanks to his legendary scarlet-coloured airplane.  Richthofen’s legend only grew after he took command of a German fighter wing known as the Flying Circus.  However even his brilliance couldn’t see him survive The Great War as his brilliant career in the skies ended in a dogfight over France  in April 1918.

The Red Baron

The Red Baron – Manfred Von Richtofen

Baron Manfred von Richthofen was born on May 2, 1892, into an affluent family of Prussian nobles in what is now Poland.  As befitting his status, he enjoyed a privileged upbringing and spent much of his childhood hunting and playing sports before he enrolled in military school at age 11. In 1911, after eight years as a cadet, Richthofen was commissioned an officer in the 1st Uhlan cavalry regiment of the Prussian army.

The bravery of Manfred von Richthofen became clear right from the start of World War I when his cavalry regiment saw action on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He received the Iron Cross for his courage under fire, but he later grew restless after his unit was consigned to supply duty as the stalemate on the Western Front got bogged down by endless trenchwarfare and cavalry charges began to be consigned to history.

That was never going to stop a man like Richthofen, desperate as he was to make an impression on the war he requested a transfer to the Imperial German Air Service, having told his commanding officer that he had not joined the military “to collect cheese and eggs.”

The request was granted, and by June 1915 the headstrong and ambitious young officer was serving as a backseat observer in a reconnaissance plane. 

Manfred von Richthofen spent the summer of 1915 as an aerial observer in Russia before being transferred back to the Western Front, where he earned his pilot’s licence. After honing his skills flying combat missions over France and Russia, he met the famed German flying ace Oswald Boelcke, who enlisted him in a new fighter squadron called Jasta 2.

Under Boelcke’s tutelage, Richthofen used his natural ability to grow into a formidable fighter pilot. He recorded his first confirmed aerial victory on September 17, 1916, by shooting down a British aircraft over France, and soon racked up four more kills which was needed to earn the title of “flying ace.”

By early 1917, Richthofen had downed 16 enemy planes and was Germany’s highest-scoring living pilot.  In recognition of his long succession of victories and likely an almost equally important morale boost for the Imperial German Command, he was presented with the Pour le Mérite, or “Blue Max,” Germany’s most illustrious military medal. 

In January 1917, Richthofen was placed in command of his own fighter squadron known as Jasta 11, which featured several talented pilots including his younger brother, Lothar von Richthofen.  It was now that he had his Albatros D.III fighter plane painted blood red and he cemented his place in history as the distinctive paint scheme gave rise to the immortal nickname “the Red Baron”.

The spring of 1917 proved to be Richthofen’s deadliest period in the cockpit. He shot down nearly two dozen Allied planes during what became known as “Bloody April” alone which took his tally to 52 overall; he was far and away the most brilliant and feared flier in the world.  In a time when victory in the war was becoming an increasingly distant prospect, Richthofen became a huge propaganda symbol in Germany, where he was lavished with military decorations and featured in numerous news articles and postcards. In the realm of public recognition, he was in some ways the German “Lawrence of Arabia”.

Unlike many of World War I’s top pilots, who prided themselves on their white-knuckle acrobatics, Richthofen was a conservative and calculating tactician. Preferring to avoid unnecessary risks, he typically fought in formation and relied on the aid of his wingmen to ambush his enemies by diving at them from above. To mark his growing kill count, he commissioned a German jeweler to make a collection of small silver cups bearing the date of each of his aerial victories.

In June 1917, Richthofen was promoted to leader of his own four-squadron fighter wing. Officially called Jagdgeschwader I, the unit became known in the press as “the Flying Circus” due to its brightly painted aircraft and swift movement to hotspots along the battlefront. Later that summer, it was outfitted with the Fokker Dr.1 triplane, the distinctive, three-winged machine that would become Richthofen’s most famous aircraft.

Even a man as brilliant as Richthofen couldn’t endure the deadly skies over Europe with a series of close calls and he suffered his first serious war wound on July 6, 1917, when he sustained a fractured skull after being grazed by a bullet during a dogfight with British aircraft.

Despite returning to duty with his Flying Circus just a few weeks later, he never fully recovered from the injury and complained of frequent headaches.  It has been speculated that Richthofen began to suffer from what we know now as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; the strain of daily combat and sending so many young men to their deaths whilst always having to be on the look out for that one plane that might catch him off-guard.  The casualty rate was so high in the air that many pilots didn’t even bother to get to know the knew fliers who replaced fallen comrades because it just wasn’t worth the effort as most wouldn’t make it past their first few missions.

Perhaps it was in such a state of mind that was eventually to become Richthofens undoing when he took his final flight  on April 21, 1918.  As happened countless times in the past, his Flying Circus engaged a group of British planes over Vaux-sur-Somme in France. As Richthofen swooped low in pursuit of an enemy fighter, he came under attack from Australian machine gunners on the ground and a plane piloted by Canadian ace Arthur Roy Brown.

The death of the Red Baron

Hot Pursuit by John Ketchell (Sopworth Camel) at the Historic War Art website

During the exchange of fire, Richthofen was struck in the torso by a bullet and died after crash-landing in a field. Brown got official credit for the victory, but debate continues over whether he or the Australian infantrymen fired the fatal shot.

He survived long enough to tell the first Allied troops on the scene “Kaput” before he died.  Despite being on the side of the enemy, allied soldiers held him in great respect.

His body lay in state for a day in an airport hangar. Hundreds of Allied soldiers filed by to pay their respects before a full military funeral for Richthofen was arranged and he was buried in a village cemetery near Amiens the next day.  Six airmen, who all shared the rank of captain with von Richtofen, were his pallbearers and 14 Australian soldiers acted as his guard of honour firing a salute and reversed arms as a sign of respect. Allied squadrons that were stationed near by left memorial wreaths emblazoned with the words “To Our Gallant and Worthy Foe”.

The 25-year-old German ace had ruled the skies for a little over two years but his 80 confirmed aerial victories were not to be surpassed and this combined with the  much debated moments that led to his death and his legend as the fearsome Red Baron ensured that he lingered in the popular consciousness long after the war ended.   Now his remains lie in a family plot in southern Germany but for those in the U.K. it is possible to see his good luck mascot in the RAF Hendon museum, in the shape of a little blue dog.

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You can see my video I did on a filming trip with  he Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Don’t forget my WW1 Concise History book, Lest We Forget… the CWGC don’t use just anyone!

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WW2 icons of the RAF

Following on from my RAF100 post the Sopwih Camel and WW1

By 1940 the awesome might of Hitler’s Luftwaffe had been displayed in the lightning blitzkrieg offensive that annexed France in six weeks. In the aftermath the British had managed to rescue more than 300,000 troops from Dunkirk with a hastily cobbled together flotilla during May and June 1940. Then the country braced itself for the inevitable Nazi aerial onslaught and invasion.

The Royal Navy ruled the waves and the German fleet was no match for it but the man in charge of the Luftwaffe, Goring, believed that the Luftwaffe would be able to take care of the Royal Navy or at least keep it contained.  This would allow the German navy to mount an invasion along the southern coast of England.

You can see my dedicated post to Our Finest Hour and The Battle of Britain

The only thing standing between Hitler and a successful invasion of these isles was the RAF and as such Goring ordered the total destruction of Britain’s air force. Over the following weeks the outnumbered British pilots, along with Czechs, Poles and volunteers from Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia and Barbados held the Germans at bay and inflicted crippling losses on the Luftwaffe.  For a time it was a very touch and go victory, we were out of pilots, planes and materials and if the Germans hadn’t have switched tactics it is widely though the RAF would have been out of the war just a day or two later.

Spitfire P7350, flies alongside Hurricane LF363.

Spitfire P7350, flies alongside Hurricane LF363.

The ferocity of the RAF gave the Germans no indication that they were so close to victory and so Hitler decided to change tactics and initiated the Blitz.  Britains cities were about to be blasted to oblivion but it meant that militarily if not yet ready for victory would never be defeated.

There were a number of factors that contributed to Britain’s greatest victory, such as superior radar, having a home advantage meaning our pilots were more rested, and strategic confusion on the German side.

Yet one of the decisive factors was the Spitfire and its Rolls Royce Merlin engine, which meant the aircraft was more agile than anything the Third Reich could put into the sky.

Ultimately what prevented Britain becoming a province in the Nazi empire was the bravery and determination the young pilots who faced down the most devastating air force the world had seen.

Winston Churchill poignantly expressed the magnitude of the RAF’s victory when said:

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

In the little over two decades since its formation, the RAF had evolved from an adjunct of the army and navy into the saviour of the nation.

Although there may have been other minor air battles, from WW1 all the way up to British and American air battles over Iraq in the 21st century it can really be said that the Battle of Britain was the only major battle decided in the air.  It was the only aerial battle comparable to the huge battles of old with troops and cavalry that decided the fate of nations and empires.

The First World War aircraft such as the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 had a top speed of 130mph by the time of the second world war the Spitfire more than doubled that at 360mph.

 

Another factor in our victory was that the Luftwaffe only had 5 or 10 minutes to actually fight with us after crossing the Channel.  It is always the case that people defending their home-land have added motivation over invaders and there are several occassions of RAF pilots getting shot down or crash landing and then high-tailing it to the nearest airbase and taking back to the skies to get into the very same battle they had crashed out of.  As figures in the German High-Command noted, with spirit like that, how could they win?

Though the RAF had countless varieties of planes in use during WW2, the obvious icons of this era are two fighter planes in the shape of the Spitfire and Hurricane and also the Lancaster Bomber.

It was the Spitfire and Hurricane that were the stalwarts of defence in the Battle of Britain.  I’m probably about the youngest person in Britain who grew up being able to recognise the different engine sounds of the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster as I lived on route where they would practice for ceremonial flights over London.  There is absolutely nothing like the sound of a Spitfire and the video below shows why it is so beloved.

 

The video below shows a Spitfire flying about 8 feet above a very shocked TV presenter. A bit of strong language ensues when they have to duck!

 

The Lancaster Bomber was the most famous RAF bomber plane of the Second World War.  It wasn’t fast and maneurverable like a fighter, it was slow and lumbering and its only purpose was to drop bombs over Germany.

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A Lancaster Bomber

 

Probably the most famous mission flown by the Lancasters was the audacious Dambusters mission to destroy dams that powered large German industrial complexes.  These dams were in heavily defended mountainous areas and in an era before missiles, it would be an impossible job to fly over the dam and drop a few bombs and hope for the best.

Instead, inventor Barnes Wallis came up with the idea that if you could drop a bomb at precisely the right height and speed and drop it spinning then it would bounce along the surface of the lake like a skipping stone and if precisely right, impact upon the dam and explode.

It wasn’t much more than a suicide mission and worthy of much more of a blog post than these few words.    Immortalised in the classic Dambusters film, it was so a deadly and improbable mission you can see below on the video how it inspired George Lucas and the final attack on the Death Star in Star Wars.

 

Below is a clip of two Lancasters conducting a memorial flight over Derwent Reservoir.

 

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