Tuesday 12 March 2024

Sidney Cotton's Pirate War - revisited

A couple of years ago I ran a couple of posts on the piratical old rogue Sidney Cotton and his WW2 exploits in the famous Lockheed G-AFTL; and how it was returning to the UK to be refurbished.  Several of you said you enjoyed the tale.  But I hadn't updated the story for you: and now's the time.

I'm pleased to say the illustrious aircraft been restored to full flying glory (- in fact, possibly even 'better' than before because I can tell you the newly-installed interior is rather more sumptuous than it ever was).  Recently it's been a centrepiece in a big display at IWM Duxford, 'Spies in the Skies', on WW2 aerial reconnaissance.  I'm including the link here: it works right now but I suspect it'll be coming down in the near future as they draw stumps on the display.  But there will be other opportunities to see the Lockheed because it is flying perfectly well now. 

Also on offer from the IWM is this short film (click above) on the plane and a little of its history.  We need to be a bit cautious on the story, because Cotton was a serial liar - a shame, because the true story is riveting enough without his self-serving embellishments:  see those earlier blog posts.

On another aspect of the IWM display, they were also showing a short official film on Bomb Damage Assessment in WW2 - link here.  Different times:  the destruction of avowedly civilian targets being cheerfully discussed in the film would count as war crimes today.  O tempora, o mores ... 



dearieme said...

Bombs: whenever some prat complains about Dresden I point out that the Germans were still bombing London and Antwerp.

Anonymous said...

that's me, then, dm. They aimed at the city centre, not the suburbs where the industry was.

"Dresden, the seventh largest city in Germany and not much smaller than Manchester is also the largest unbombed builtup area the enemy has got. In the midst of winter with refugees pouring westward and troops to be rested, roofs are at a premium, not only to give shelter to workers, refugees, and troops alike, but to house the administrative services displaced from other areas. At one time well known for its china, Dresden has developed into an industrial city of first-class importance ... The intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most, behind an already partially collapsed front, to prevent the use of the city in the way of further advance, and incidentally to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do."

Anonymous said...

Churchill to Ismay, 28/3/45

"It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land ... The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing."

Anonymous said...

OT - "England Bans Use Of Puberty Blockers At Nation’s Gender-Identity Clinics"

While I strongly approve, I can't help wondering if this reflects Tory desperation. Is the dream one of Sir Keir on the six o'clock news, arguing passionately for your 13 year old daughter to be given testosterone?

Desperation like that - why not do a 180 degree about turn and announce a total stop to all immigration that's not for NHS employees?

dearieme said...

The Germans started the bombing of cities: we proved better at it. Tough!

Anonymous said...

AJP Taylor:

Before the war they listened to what Hitler said instead of looking at what he did. After the war they wanted to pin on him the guilt for everything which happened, regardless of the evidence. This is illustrated, for example; by the almost universal belief that Hitler started the indiscriminate bombing
of civilians, whereas it was started by the directors of British strategy, as some of the more honest among them have boasted. However, the record is there for anyone who wishes to use it, dispassionately analysed by Mr. Burton Klein.

Bill Quango MP said...

For the record, Hitler had bombed Warsaw in 3 large raids by 6th September 1939. The British war cabinet was refusing RAF bombers be allowed to bomb targets in Germany. As they were private property.
Leaflets were dropped instead.

AJP is a very old source. Richard Overy is the definitive modern bomber offensive historian.
He informs that the Luftwaffe attacks on Warsaw were against the Polish army defending the city outskirts. However bad weather, smoke from fires, navigation errors and all the other difficulties in fighting an air war that continued to plague operations on all sides until 1945, meant that the attack was widespread across the city. Causing considerable loss of civilian life.
The Luftwaffe in these raids was aiding the army to capture the city. The German army artillery was shelling the city. Causing far more damage and loss to civilians.

The Germans bragged about their terror bombing, even though it was largely accidental.

It should be noted Russia too had a strategic, very long range, city bombing airforce too. It was the loss of hundreds and hundreds of miles of territory in the opening weeks of the Barbarossa campaign that left their bombers without targets.

Anonymous said...

So Burton Klein was correct?

"The bomber will always get through", but you lose 55,000 of your brightest and bravest in the process.

Bill Quango MP said...

1930 the bomber would always get through.
1940, not so much.

Nick Drew said...

pre-WW2 air raid policy was predicated on two precedents that turned out to be misleading: WW1 German air raids on London & the East Coast; and the Spanish Civil War. The death toll per tonne of bombs dropped in both cases was pretty extreme

based on extrapolations from these, the authorities were planning on a quarter of a million casualties per week in London, when the anticipated blitz began: they were debating between ditching the bodies in the Thames at high tide, or the gravel pits around what are now the big reservoirs around LHR

of course, neither WW1 UK nor Spain had any protection - not fighters, not AA guns, not balloons, not radar, not air raid shelters, not Civil Defence, not blackouts, not taped-up windows (glass is mostly what kills), not serious pre-planning of any kind

by mid 1940, London did. Even then ...

And it's worth remembering that the V1 - precursor to today's UAVs / glide bombs, and wreaking serious havoc to housing & morale - didn't yield to much of the above defence matrix. Only taking them out at source really worked

Anonymous said...

And despite the casualty predictions, Chamberlain declared war. Impressive. How many of today's lot could see clearly enough to do that I wonder.

There was(is?) a story down a West London pub... that a former Luftwaffe flier who had settled sometime after the war and become a local would maintain if pushed that what saved London was not any defences as such, but that much of the time the Luftwaffe would turn up but simply couldn't see where to bomb because of the fogs back then.


jim said...

Speaking from a position of complete ignorance, how much original aluminium and ironmongery is left on these restored planes? Not that it really matters.

From my own experience old aluminium tends to corrode and crumble. Then taking things apart tends to cause damage which has to be repaired/patched up. Not that this takes away from the interest and derring do. Sounds a v expensive job.

In the early days planes a bit bigger would fly fancy radios and big tape recorders along the coast or borders of a n other. Others would lie up in a snowy tent near a border fence with a croc clip using the border fence as an antenna. Worked well in the days when the military still used teleprinters.

Nick Drew said...

Jim, the short answer is: quite a lot. And it was quite an expensive job. The plane had been refurbished several times over the years between when it was badly damaged in an air raid in 1940, and when it was brought back from the States to England 2 years ago.

At the risk of boring other readers I will try to condense a private account of the restoration I've been given, that's not in the public domain. When I get a moment.

Bloke in Callao said...

Yes please ND, I doubt any of us will be bored - fascinated more like.

Anonymous said...

OT, but when watching various military air movements off the UK coast on Flightradar24, I was surprised to see that the RAF Tornados were accompanied by various Dassault Falcons and Aero L159s belonging to this private US company.

We really are outsourcing everything.


Sobers said...

"We really are outsourcing everything."

Milo Mindbinder lives.....