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The Americans who flew unarmed Recce Spitfires into Germany

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Here's an interesting story about just one of the Americans who flew unarmed recconnaissance Spitfires into Germany during 1944, as preparatory work for D-Day.

The film-maker discovered quite a number of movie reels taken during this period by an American Doctor who was the photo recce Squadron doctor.

 

In one movie, a wheels-up crash landing is photographed by the Doctor. The movie makers found the pilot and showed him the movie footage, and the pilots response is pure amazement.

This pilot (John S Blyth) was a non-commissioned Sgt Pilot, who went on to become a Lt Colonel in the USAF. He did 51 missions over Germany in an unarmed recce Spitfire.

This American photo recce group took 3 million photos of Germany and provided a wealth of planning information for the D-Day invasion.

 

It's interesting to hear Blyth recount how the Spitfire was a better high altitude aircraft than the F-5 Lightning.

The F-5 had regular engine problems with the control valve for the turbo-supercharger freezing at high altitudes, thus causing engine failure.

 

SPITFIRE 944 - YouTube

 

14th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron | American Air Museum in Britain

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Great Video.

 

Enjoyed it.

 

I like his comment at the end. 'Every pilot should fly a Spitfire at least once'.

 

At 3.0 million per aircraft now, unfortunately I think Ill miss out.

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The Spitfire XI that John Blyth flew was a pretty impressive beast. A service ceiling of 44,000', a top speed of 422mph, and a range of 2000 miles, made it an incredible performer for that era.

 

What is truly staggering, is the work that went on, once the reconnaissance photos were developed.

The photographic interpretation, photo production and storage, the model making, and the range of work done by RAF Medmenham was truly staggering - and this group eventually employed over 3500 people, including many Americans.

I don't think too many people today really understand what these people did for advancing the war effort, and getting the upper hand over the Huns.

 

The Dambusters placed huge reliance on the models and photos of the Ruhr Dams, with the crews being told to, "look at these (photos and models) until your eyes stick out, and you've got every detail photographed on your mind. Then go away and draw them from memory, come back and check your drawings, correct them, then go away and draw them again, 'till you're perfect."

 

Spies In The Skies: How Aerial Surveillance Tipped The Balance Of WWII

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I think I would have preferred to fly an unarmed spitfire to an armed one.

It would be faster and more manoeuvrable, plus the fact that the fight part of fight or flight was not an option, would concentrate the mind on the job in hand.

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I think I would have preferred to fly an unarmed spitfire to an armed one.

It would be faster and more manoeuvrable, plus the fact that the fight part of fight or flight was not an option, would concentrate the mind on the job in hand.

The photographic Spitfires were a very different beast to the fighters; extra fuel tanks instead of guns and ammo. One reconnect. Spitfire pilot recalls being asked by other pilots where he'd been that day. When he said Berlin nobody believed him.

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The Spitfire XI that John Blyth flew was a pretty impressive beast. A service ceiling of 44,000', a top speed of 422mph, and a range of 2000 miles, made it an incredible performer for that era.

 

What is truly staggering, is the work that went on, once the reconnaissance photos were developed.

The photographic interpretation...

One of my uni. subjects was photogrammetry, a demanding, but fascinating discipline. Sure gave you an appreciation of the work these people did.

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If we could entertain a digression, we could look at the the role of Australian born Sidney Cotton in the field of photo reconnaissance during the Second World War. At the outbreak of the war photo reconnaissance based in Britain was conducted by a civilian organization headed by Cotton. It did not take too long before this responsibiltiy was assumed by the RAF, and whilst Cotton initially was involved it was not too long before Cotton's method of operation saw him promptly sidelined!

 

Jeff Quill, the Supermarine Test Pilot, details a number of overtures that were made to him to join the flight, which he always declined, but also outlined flights he conducted test flying the PR variants. Longitudinal stability quickly became an issue once the Spitfire became militiarized, and the need to cram as much fuel as possible on board made the PR variants even more tetchy.

 

Whilst most focus goes to the combat aspect of wartime aviation, their are many components of wartime aviation where not too many shots were fired, but their contribution was still significant.

 

Would love to see some coverage of the two Australian Sunderland squadrons that made such a contribution to Coastal Command. 10 Squadron must have a vast and interesting history.

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If we could entertain a digression, we could look at the the role of Australian born Sidney Cotton in the field of photo reconnaissance during the Second World War...

 

To digress even more, my favourite part of the TV doco about Syd. Cotton was when he gave a high-ranking Nazi a demo flight in his American twin. As they flew over Luftwaffe bases and other points of strategic interest, Syd flicked a switch which opened hidden panels and started cameras shooting.

He told the Nazi officer he was transferring fuel between tanks.

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Sidney Cotton: The Last Plane Out Of Berlin by Jeff Watson

 

A documentary was made The Last Plane Out of Berlin (TV Movie 2000) - IMDb about Cotton. Scenes representing Templehoff Airport were filmed at Camden Airport.

 

Dent Aviation looked after the airplane used. You can see the "Templehoff" sign on the back wall of Dent's hangar.

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Was it Fawcett Aviation ( Camden) I recall having a lot of Tigers for sale". I went there in the 60's when Bankstown was an all over field except for the runway deHav's used. Perhaps even it wasn't sealed then. Marshalls had a hangar full of interesting stuff.. Nev

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it's prompted me to start saving my pennies for a spitfire flight: 30 minutes for <3000 pounds. No problem. I just need to justify it to the minister.

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I flew a T9 out of Biggin Hill and would recommend it to every pilot

Put it on your bucket list and just do it!

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I flew a T9 out of Biggin Hill and would recommend it to every pilot

Put it on your bucket list and just do it!

so what was it like?

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My father-in-law flew Mosquitos for the PRU, though not Spitties. He took the first photos of Peenemunde, on the return from a reconnaissance flight from England down to North Africa and back around the top of Germany: 23 hours, mostly on one engine for economy. However, most of his service was done at low-level: '350 knots at 50 feet'.

 

Loading for the PRU aircraft was hairy, at best. The best cameras were large and very heavy. Cotton is memorised for ignoring a Supermarine dictate to NOT put a certain camera in the back of a Spittie as it was considered to be too heavy; my FIL was awarded a DFC for saving an experimental camera by landing his Mosquito at something like 180 kts, because he ran out of up elevator at lower than that. It broke his back.

 

I had as family friends two 10 Squadron pilots: Sir Richard Kingsland and Bill Riley, who operated the gliding school and glider sales for Blaniks and IS aircraft, at Tocumwal. Sir Richard's exploits are well known - totally 'hero' stuff'; Bill's are rather less well-known, but he was equally both a superb pilot and a total larrikan in the best Australian tradition. As is so typical of WWII flying personnel, very hard to get to recount any experiences. It was a job that they did; they survived, they did not glorify that. 10 Squadron had large losses.

 

The Sunderlands flying out of the UK were a formidable weapon, both against the U-boats and against German aircraft. Known by the Germans as 'the Flying Porcupine' because of the formidable firepower they bought to bear against attacking aircraft.

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My father-in-law flew Mosquitos for the PRU, though not Spitties. He took the first photos of Peenemunde, on the return from a reconnaissance flight from England down to North Africa and back around the top of Germany: 23 hours, mostly on one engine for economy...

Amazing stuff, Oscar. That trip alone deserves a book. More please.

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OK, I don't have more!, though I should correct that quote: I just checked it on the NLA's 'Trove' site (A BRIEF RECORD OF GREAT ADVENTURES - The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982) - 21 Apr 1945 0 ), and the correct figures are: 340 mph at 20 feet. (see: F/Lt. Ron Hosking). Like many others, he didn't want to talk about his wartime experiences (and was a somewhat difficult man at times to discuss much at all with, very reticent by nature). I believe - but cannot support this - that he was at least one of the youngest Wingco's in the RAAF.

 

I only found out about the Peenemunde flight from a large 'coffee-table' history of the Mosquito he had at home; when I was courting his daughter, I saw it, and being fascinated about Mosquitos even as a young kid, I asked him why, he simply said, ' I used to fly them, they were great'. So I looked up the index, and found a couple of paras on him and that flight; I still wonder what else he did that earned him the sobriquet of 'the redoubtable Ron Hosking' in the very much unemotional text.

 

That those particular photos are considered important can be seen from: RAF's wartime reconnaissance photos go online in new archive. The actual circumstances were somewhat prosaic; Ron was on the way home, saw the ramp structures, fired off some shots of them. It took the skills of the legendary Connie Babcock to interpret what was in the pictures.

 

I never did find out what other of his exploits were notable, but the idea of mostly ultra-low-level work suggests possibly the Nazi submarine pens in France, and possibly gathering intelligence for the Amiens prison raid. But I MUST state that this is pure speculation on my part.

 

As far as I know, the PRU Spitties were always used for high-altitude work; the Mozzies were fast enough to be able to do the low-level stuff and not be caught too often. The thought of being required (and delivering) missions that entailed weaving a Mozzie at below the tree-tops (and many buildings..) at 300 knots is something I simply cannot even imagine.

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Just imaging it today. A nineteen year-old flying a high performance, twin-engined aircraft, with a passenger, at crop-dusting heights over unfamiliar territory.

 

The explosion at CASA would make Krakatoa seem like a lark's fart.

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so what was it like?

A dream come true

It is noisy and rattles, but when that Merlin is run up on takeoff, you know you are in for a treat

I got to fly it as it is a dual control and it is as sensitive and smooth as everyone says

Flew along the thames valley and then back to Biggin Hill doing three victory rolls on the way

The whole flight from closing of cockpit canopy to leaving the aircraft was filmed from over my shoulder

I still watch it and am still in awe of the experience

I want to go back and do it again

I am proud to say that I have 30 minutes in G-BMSB in my logbook

Cheers

Bryon

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Seem to recall Wing Cdr Hughie Edwards and his mates flying 12 Blenheims so low on the Port of Essen bombing mission (Operation Wreckage) - in broad daylight - that they ended up with serious amounts of telegraph wires and power lines draped from the Blenheims wings.

They landed with wires still hanging from the wings. Hughie won a VC for the effort, but 4 Blenheims didn't make it back, due to ferocious AA fire. All the aircraft took serious hits, and Hughies aircraft was holed in no less than 20 places.

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A dream come true

It is noisy and rattles, but when that Merlin is run up on takeoff, you know you are in for a treat

I got to fly it as it is a dual control and it is as sensitive and smooth as everyone says

Flew along the thames valley and then back to Biggin Hill doing three victory rolls on the way

The whole flight from closing of cockpit canopy to leaving the aircraft was filmed from over my shoulder

I still watch it and am still in awe of the experience

I want to go back and do it again

I am proud to say that I have 30 minutes in G-BMSB in my logbook

Cheers

Bryon

 

You're a lucky man Bryon.

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