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’Fly’ with the Dambusters at the RAF Museum

’Stills’ from the new virtual reality experience at the RAF Museum.

A NEW virtual reality (VR) display centring on the legendary Dambusters raid opened at the RAF Museum London on 15 March. Called Dambusters: Immersive Histories, it has been created by a company called All Seeing Eye, and took around 15 months to develop and construct.

The display makes use of highquality audio-visual VR headsets, along with a vest that contains motion pads that vibrates to replicate the throbbing of the Lancaster’s Rolls-Royce Merlins, and flak explosions. Visitors can take their virtual places in the forward fuselage of Guy Gibson’s aircraft as it attacks the Möhne Dam in May 1943. Two people can experience the VR flight simultaneously, with one sitting in the radio operator’s position, the other in the navigator’s. The impressive VR covers 360- degrees in all directions, so ‘crew members’ can look around and focus on which elements they choose during the ten-minute ‘flight’. (The flak coming at the aircraft and the dam breaking are particularly impressive.) They listen to communications between the crew as the mission progresses – the words spoken have been painstakingly researched to ensure accuracy.

All Seeing Eye’s associate creative director Olie Kay said: “This experience isn’t about explaining all the facts of the mission. It’s about exploring the human story of the real people who were on the aircraft and communicating an authentic sense of place of what it may have been like to be there.”

Dambusters: Immersive Histories can be found close to the museum’s combat veteran Lancaster in the Bomber Command Hall. Tickets for the experience cost £10 per person and can bought from the RAFM’s website:

Gurkha Battalion to be Re-formed

THE 3rd Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles (3RGR) are to re-form with recruiting beginning in 2019. A statement from Armed Forces Minister, Mark Lancaster, confirmed the re-established 3rd Battalion will become a Specialised Infantry Battalion, one of five such battalions set out in accordance with the 2015 Defence Review.

Today’s Royal Gurkha Rifles is a prestigious and highly regarded infantry unit that has its roots in four historical regiments formed between 1815 and 1902. The regiment is the fighting arm of the Brigade of Gurkhas, a 204-year-old formation that incorporates signals and other support assets as well as the current infantry battalions. The brigade and its precursor units have 89 battle honours dating back to the late 1700s and Gurkhas have been the proud recipients of 26 Victoria Crosses.

In 1994 the four historic regiments were amalgamated into three battalions. Currently, 1st Battalion is based in Kent and fulfils the air assault role, while Brunei-based 2nd Battalion serves as light-role infantry. The 3rd Battalion – which was based in Hong Kong as part of British Forces Overseas Hong Kong – was folded into 2nd Battalion prior to the handover of that territory to China. Selection for the Gurkhas – recruited from Nepal – is highly competitive, with intake into the army and numbers of applications at record highs last year. According to the Forces Network, of 10,000 applicants last year, 580 were invited back for further assessment for just 400 places – though this was a 25% increase on the 2018 intake. According to the MOD, the Gurkha pass rate through basic training is 100%, an absolute indicator of skill and dedication.

Last July, the MOD announced that the Gurkhas would consider recruiting women and, if they meet the same tough physical requirements, the first female applicants could be training by 2020 and will reportedly first join 3RGR. With the re-forming of the battalion, prospective recruits of both genders could enjoy promotion, specialist opportunities, and increased availability of full-length 24-year careers in the British Army.

Such interest in army careers is unique to the Gurkha battalions with recruitment in the rest of the British Army remaining in decline. Enrolment targets have not been met since 2012 despite encouraging moves that have included removing UK residency requirements for Commonwealth applicants, opening all roles in the rest of the British Army to female soldiers, and a recruitment drive targeting so-called ‘phone zombies’ and ‘snowflakes’. The controversial campaign, led to a doubling of applications and a five-year high of 9,700 monthly applicants in January 2019.

As a Specialist Infantry Battalion, 3RGR will enable the British Army to better counter terrorism, deter threats and build stability. In the same announcement, Mark Lancaster also stated additional engineer and signals squadrons will be established in Gurkha battalions, to further the brigade’s capabilities.

Final Farewell for Tornado

The Tornado GR.4’s final operational landing.
Onlookers at Marham watch the final Tornado flight.
The disbandment parade for IX(B) and 31 Squadrons.

FOUR DECADES of service came to an end on 14 March as the final Tornado GR.4 flight took place at RAF Marham.

The single-aircraft flypast was completed by Squadron Leaders Ian Dornan and Stephen Beardmore as part of the disbandment parade held the same day at the Tonka’s home base.

More than 850 guests assembled in one of Marham’s hangars as the last two GR.4 units, IX(B) and 31 Squadrons, participated in the ceremony, led by Wing Commander Kevin Gatland, Chief of Staff of the Tornado GR Force HQ. The reviewing officer was Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier. ACM Hillier also presented Operation Shader medals, without clasp, to 12 GR.4 ground crew. The new award, approved by HM The Queen in February, is bestowed on personnel assessed as making a significant and direct operational contribution but operating outside the Joint Operational Area.

He said: “Today is a time to rightly recognise the truly exceptional achievements of the people who have been the Tornado Force.

We reflect on the courage, skill, commitment and sadly sometimes sacrifice of those who have been at the heart of the Tornado story, from The disbandment parade for IX(B) and 31 Squadrons. (SAC JOSHUA DINES/CROWN COPYRIGHT) its inception through to the present day. All have played their part to the full in the success story that is Tornado.”

Following the flypast, Sqn Ldrs Dornan and Beardmore said: “It was an honour and a privilege to be the crew to fly this iconic jet for the very last time and the fact that we have been able to conduct these flypasts is testament to the hard work that has been put in by the engineers to ensure the jets were serviceable… It was quite emotional knowing that we would be landing this amazing aircraft for the very last time.” They added: “The skies over Norfolk and the UK are going to be a lot emptier without her”

First used in live operations during the First Gulf War, Tornado has completed 40 years of RAF service. Following that first combat deployment, the pace of operations has been almost continuous with 185,603 hours on operations logged between 1990 and January 2018. The GR.4 variant was adopted from the mid-1990s, and served over Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. In March 2011 GR.4s flew against targets inside Libya, flying 3,000 miles from RAF Marham, in what was described as the longest-range bombing mission conducted by the RAF since the Falklands.

The GR.4s final deployment, Operation Shader, began in August 2014 with every member of the Tornado force completing four detachments and each Tornado engineer spending an average of 365 days supporting Shader.

No.IX(B) Squadron will transfer to Typhoon in April 2019, while 31 Squadron will re-form as a Protector Squadron in 2024.

Squadron Leader Dick Churchill 1920-2019

Richard ‘Dick’ Churchill during his RAF career.

THE LAST of the great escapers, Richard ‘Dick’ Churchill died on 13 February, aged 99. He joined the RAF in August 1938, being assigned to 144 Squadron the following year. He flew Handley Page Hampden bombers with the unit, but was shot down by a nightfighter over the Netherlands on 2 September 1940.

Taken prisoner, he was incarcerated in Stalag Luft I, but was transferred to Stalag Luft III in April 1942. He was instrumental in plans for the mass breakout from the latter camp in March 1944, being a key member of the team that dug the main tunnel. He escaped on the night of 24 March 1944, and headed for Czechoslovakia, but the harsh weather conditions and German search parties made the going extremely difficult. He was recaptured on 27 March and ultimately returned to Stalag Luft III. He was one of the lucky ones – 50 of the other escapees were murdered by the Gestapo on Hitler’s orders.

Dick Churchill remained in captivity until liberated in May 1945. He returned to the UK and left the RAF the following year for a long and successful career in business. After retiring he moved to Devon.

Chief of the Air Staff Sir Stephen Hillier said on social media that he was: “Saddened to hear the news of the passing of Richard ‘Dick’ Churchill, RAF bomber pilot and tunneller who became the last survivor of ‘the Great Escape’ from Stalag Luft III. An inspiration to all and whose story will be told for centuries.”

Revamped Army Flying Museum Nearly Ready

General view of the overhauled museum on 15 March.
Several of the aircraft exhibits have been plinth mounted, allowing for more objects to be displayed.

AFTER MONTHS of hard work, the interior of the Army Flying Museum is in the home straight of a £2.59m makeover that is set to transform the visitor experience. The Middle Wallop, Hampshirebased centre is due to reopen in April with new exhibits, better lighting, a host of interactives and audio visual displays. Delivery of the project has been undertaken by a combination of volunteers and contractors, with one of the major tasks being to redisplay the aircraft collection, led by volunteer engineers.

Army Flying Museum curator Susan Lindsay, said: “The history of army flying is interesting, it’s dynamic, it relates to events all over the world, it’s got some great personal stories associated with it, and we’ve got a really good collection to help us tell that story. In terms of interpretation we will be providing information panels for general visitors, but we’ll also be having touch-sensitive screens which will display a wealth of material from our archives.

“We represent a unit that is very active and still writing history to this very day and it’s important for us to tell that story right up to date. And, therefore, for our operations from 1950s onwards, we will have new graphic panels, screens showing footage, showcases with new objects being brought out, and we’re running an exciting oral history project whereby we’re gathering reminiscences from members of the army aviation community. One of the things we’re particularly excited about is a brand new immersive audio visual presentation that tells the story of the attack helicopter, it will bring that story to light in a dynamic way.”

The museum will reopen to the public at 10am on Monday 1 April.

War Poster Exhibition Set to Open

Two of the best known Abram Games posters: the post-war ‘Army, the Worthwhile Job’
The 1941 ‘Join the ATS

A MAJOR new exhibition of wartime posters by Abram Games is opening at the National Army Museum in London on 6 April. Called The Art of Persuasion, the display features more than 100 posters he created during his employment as the official war poster artist for the Public Relations Department at the War Office from 1941 until 1945. The exhibition explores how his Jewish refugee heritage, experiences as a soldier and the turbulent politics of wartime Britain shaped the career of a man who continues to influence design industry professionals today.

Abram’s daughter, Naomi Games, said on behalf of the family: “We are delighted that our father’s war work will be exhibited at the National Army Museum. He was proud to be a Londoner and a member of the British Army. It is fitting that the work of the only ever war poster artist is exhibited at the museum.”

The exhibition will include posters from the museum’s collection alongside loans from the estate of Abram Games. His painting smock and palette, airbrush and school report will be displayed alongside the sealed pattern of his cap badge design for the Royal Armoured Corps and his iconic posters Join the ATS, Your Talk May Kill Your Comrades and Your Britain Fight For It Now, among others. It will also incorporate interviews discussing Games’ legacy with: renowned graphic artist, Alan Kitching; executive creative producer of the current British Army recruitment campaign, Adam Kean; and author and lecturer at Central Saint Martins, Monika Parrinder.

Justin Maciejewski, director of the National Army Museum, commented: “The work of Abram Games as a graphic designer and British soldier in support of the causes of freedom and social justice during the Second World War is remarkable and inspiring. We are proud to be showing the full body of his work as the army’s poster designer.”

Spitfire ‘Full Tally’ for Duxford Warbird Pilot

Cliff Spink (left) with the owner of Spitfire VIIIc ‘MT928’, Maxi Gainza.

WELL-KNOWN AND highly experienced display pilot Cliff Spink has realised a personal ambition – to fly an example of every mark of single-seat Supermarine Spitfire that is airworthy today, writes Col Pope. This was achieved recently at Duxford when Cliff piloted Germany-based HF VIIIc ‘MT928’ (D-FEUR), thanks to the generosity of its owner, Maxi Gainza.

Following a half-hour local type familiarisation sortie with a run and break landing, Cliff was ecstatic to have the ‘full set’ in his logbooks. It is believed he is the only present-day Spitfire pilot in the world to have flown every currently available mark of singleseat Spitfire and, in addition, he has also flown a number of the Tr.9 two-seat trainer variant.

After his sortie, former RAF pilot Cliff commented: “I have been lucky enough to have flown different variants in some of the marks – a, b, c, LF and high and low back, clipped and full wing, but I haven’t flown Seafires… but hell, they were for the navy!”

Honours for Veterans Starts D-Day75 Countdown

John Nicholls, Charles Kavanagh, Patrick Reardon and Denis Haley.

FOUR ROYAL Navy veterans have received France’s highest honour, the Légion d’honneur, on board the London icon HMS Belfast.

Denis Haley, 92, was a signalman on HMS Southward Ho, which towed parts of the Mulberry harbour to Arromanches. He remained in theatre until mid-July 1944. Charles Kavanagh, also 92, was an Able Seamen who helped land tanks on Sword beach on D-Day and subsequently shipped supplies to Omaha beach. Patrick Reardon, 93, was a Seaman on board HMS Sheffield. He volunteered to go ashore as a forward observer and landed on Omaha on D-Day. Lastly, John Nicholls, also 93, was a Leading Seaman who, on HMS Argonaut, fired on German batteries and later piloted landing craft from ship to shore.

HMS Belfast was the flagship of Bombardment Force E, and supported the invasion of Gold and Juno beaches by firing on German positions – including a battery at La Marefontaine. She covered the beachhead for 33 days, firing 4,000 6in and 1,000 4in shells in support of ground forces. The famous cruiser developed another connection with D-Day on 26 February of this year as her wardroom played host to the award presentation. French Ambassador, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson and Diane Lees, Director-General of IWM, were in attendance.

Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson said: “Today is a reminder of why this June we must show our special generation, that we will never forget the debt we owe for the peace and freedom we now enjoy. The French Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Jean- Pierre Jouyet, said: ‘‘It is a very great honour for me to be on board HMS Belfast, to express our country’s full appreciation and gratitude to soldiers who helped liberate France… At a time when Europe was dominated by a terrible dictatorship, France was able, from the first few hours of the war, to count on the support of its closest partner.

The commitment to the law and democratic principles on which our societies are based inspired a shared battle for freedom. Long live Franco-British friendship!’’

The ceremony took place with 100 days to go until D-Day75 on 6 June. The anniversary will be marked with an ambitious programme of events that’s being organised by the MOD working in conjunction with the Royal British Legion and Portsmouth City Council to stage events in Portsmouth and Normandy.

D-Day75 will involve military bands, flypasts and Royal Navy ships escorting a specially chartered ship which will carry D-Day veterans to various commemorations in Portsmouth and Normandy in June. Events include services at Bayeux’s cathedral and cemetery while across the Channel Portsmouth will be the focal point of commemorations and hosts the UK’s national event on 5 June. Meanwhile, IWM will highlight the roles its historic HMS Belfast, IWM Duxford, and Churchill War Room sites played in the pivotal campaign.

The French have been awarding the prestigious Légion d’honneur to D-Day veterans to recognise those who fought for France’s liberation with applications being processed by the MOD and the French government. More than 6,000 medals have been awarded since June 2014.

Wartime Heritage Protected in Southend

The pillbox’s Victorian wall frontage on Southend’s Eastern Esplanade.

VOLUNTEERS AT London Southend Airport have unearthed two rare cantilevered ‘Type 37’ Mushroom or Oakington round pillboxes, while a similar structure on the town’s seafront is set for preservation. Simon Murdoch reports.

The airport defences were used during the Second World War to defend RAF Rochford, as the modern facility was then known, and were recently found hidden in the deep undergrowth on land just north of the site.

Meanwhile, a concrete pillbox hidden by a red-brick wall on the Eastern Esplanade is being protected amid redevelopment of the area. It provided defenders with good views across the beach between other fortifications and the wall dates back to Victorian times.

The pillbox pair, designed and built by FC Construction for airfield defence, were discovered on a new £150m airport business park site. Work started on the complex in November and included extensive archaeological dig finds dating back to bronze and pre-historic Roman times. They will now be scheduled as national heritage historic monuments and form part of the green landscaping area within the site.

Their design allowed 360-degree views for all-round defence against aircraft or ground forces. The central cross-shaped pillar acts as an anti-ricochet wall. Weapons, typically machine guns, were mounted on a tubular rail which ran around the whole of the inside wall. The pillboxes were designed to have open fields of fire to be mutually supportive.

The historic wall and pillbox have been incorporated into the seafront development, with the structure visible to the left and front of the Premier Inn which now occupies the site, facing the sea.

The land was used after the war by British Gas, which built a large storage facility there.

Sherman Firefly in Tankfest First

Bastogne Barracks’ Firefly VC (foreground).

A SHERMAN VC ‘Firefly’ – a tank that has never appeared at Tankfest before – is to join two Soviet T-34-85s and one of only two running Japanese Type 95 Ha-Gó in the line-up of guest armour for Tankfest 2019. If you love military vehicles this annual event at The Tank Museum must surely be at the top of your bucket list.

Between 28-30 June 2019, Tankfest is expected to attract more than 20,000 people from all over the world. Already scheduled to appear over the three days are a number of rare Second World War guest vehicles.

The Sherman VC ‘Firefly’ was issued to British tank troops ahead of the Normandy invasion, initially to a ratio of one to three regular Shermans. It was a combination of the reliable US-built Sherman with the British 17Pdr gun providing superior anti-tank capability. Kindly lent by the Bastogne Barracks museum in Belgium, the example making the journey to Tankfest is marked up with the insignia of the Guards Armoured Division and features distinctive countershading on its gun barrel. This particular tank saw service with the British before being sold to the Belgian Army post-war.

On the Saturday and Sunday of the show there will be a full day of powerful arena displays. The British Army will be demonstrating a range of vehicles used on modern operations, including the mammoth Challenger 2 ‘Megatron’. The museum will also commemorate 80 years of the Royal Armoured Corps and the 75th anniversary of the D-Day with themed displays.

Away from the arena, the event sponsor World of Tanks will provide gaming stations, where visitors can win prizes. While inside the museum (admission to which is included in the Tankfest ticket) visitors will have a chance to see the Tiger Collection and the new Long After the Battle exhibition, which is due to open in April 2019.

Visitors can explore the Living History encampments and Traders Village, where there is a range of militaria, books, models and souvenirs on sale. Get autographs and photographs with your favourite vloggers and authors at Tank Museum and World of Tanks ‘Meet and Greets’.

Your ticket also acts as an annual pass to the museum, so you can visit again at your leisure for a full year. Make Tankfest a full weekend with block tickets, saving 20% on a three-day ticket and up to 15% on a two-day ticket. You can also guarantee a great view all day with a Grandstand Upgrade.

For more information, a full programme, and to book tickets see:

RCAF Retires Sea King After 50 Years

CH-124 Sea King 12417 repainted in the original 1960s colour scheme.

THE ROYAL Canadian Air Force has retired its last CH-124 Sea King helicopter after 55 years of service.

In an impressive ceremony at its HQ at Patricia Bay, Vancouver, British Columbia, 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron bade farewell to the veteran helicopter, with a parade and flypast. The squadron now flies the CH-148 Cyclone, while of the surviving Sea Kings, nine are destined for preservation.

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) ordered 41 Sea Kings in 1961, with the first delivered in 1963. The type’s debut operation was going to sea on the destroyer HMCS Assiniboine. The Canadians pioneered the landing of the large helicopters on small decks, using a hauldown winch known as the ‘beartrap.’ Thereafter, the Sea Kings operated with distinction – particularly in the Atlantic alongside the Royal Navy – monitoring Soviet submarines during the Cold War.

Sea King served on RCN ships around the world and the last deployment returned from Operation Reassurance in the Mediterranean in January 2018. The type was retired following the farewell flypast on 1 December, with Sea King 12417 participating while sporting its original 1960s colour scheme.

Historically, 443 ‘City of New Westminster’ Squadron was formed as 127 Fighter Squadron in 1942, operating Hurricanes along the east coast of Canada and Newfoundland. From 1944, the squadron moved to Britain, was redesignated 443 and converted to Spitfire Mk.Vs and Mk.IXs. Following the Allied armies as they advanced, it completed ground-attack sorties, but also reconnaissance and covering missions before converting to Mk.XVI Spitfires in early 1945, then post-war serving as a reserve unit.

After the amalgamation into the unified Canadian Armed Forces in 1968, the Sea Kings were formed into three former RCAF squadrons, 406 for training and 423 and 443 for operations – the latter moving to Patricia Bay to support Pacific-based ships. Conversion to the Cyclone began in 2018 and, in February 2019, 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron completed the first RCAF Cyclone ‘deployed’ operation, spending six months at sea and flying from the frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec.

A total of 15 CH-148s had been accepted by mid-2018; 28 are expected to enter service.