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Tuesday 26 June 2012

WW 2 Galilean Binoculars

A completely frivolous post based on a pleasant find at a local antiques/emporium shop. I came across an unusual (to me anyway) small pair of binoculars in a leather case marked up as an old pair of military binoculars - 2.5 x 50 according to the case. The binoculars had the War Arrow so I took a chance and purchased them for £18.

On getting home a search on the Web revealed they were binoculars of the old Galilean design, manufactured in 1944 (the binoculars are not marked with a date or manufactures stamp, but the leather case had the traces of an old label, which when removed revealed the following: CAT No VF 2507 J.B.B 1944). The searches on the net would appear that military dealers are all claiming these are 'rare' binoculars issued to airborne forces - largely as far as I can ascertain based on one well circulated image - see below. Prices ranged from £125 - £200 plus!! Had I obtained a bargain!? I don't think so, I finally came across a reference suggesting they were widely issued to all Combined Operation type forces, although if you are lucky enough to come across a pair with Air Ministry Markings, I think these are quite rare. Also given the day I searched on the Web there were at least four for sale, this alone would suggest they are not that rare despite the ridiculous price tags some dealers are asking.

Above: Galilean 2.5 x 50 binoculars 

The binoculars cannot be altered at the bridge to suit particular faces. They are very compact and appear to be of a high build quality, the body being brass with Bakelite eye cups and focus wheel. 

Anyway I still wondered what use  any  military personnel could find for a pair of binoculars that only offered 2 1/2 times magnification. These particular Galilean binoculars were supposed to have been issued to paratroopers and pilots because of their light gathering capacity and compact size. As a general rule  the light gathering capacity of any binocular can be compared by dividing the magnification into the lens objective size. So for example a modern 8x32 gives a relative value of 4 (32/8) which would be as bright as a 10x40 but not as bright as a 10x50. So these Galilean should be very bright at 2.5x50 which gives a relative value of 20! - although I must admit I don't know if this principal can be directly compared with prism and Galilean designs of binoculars.

As well as being apparently bright these Galilean binoculars also boast a wide filed of view - 10 degrees. Most binoculars today can only offer between 5 - 8 degrees.

So my curiosity was now aroused - how would these binoculars perform? A test in daylight, comparing these with my 1941 pair of Taylor Hobson prism x6 binoculars, seemed a good idea! As suspected the low magnification seemed to offer only  a slightly better view than the naked eye - if I was an infantryman in 1944 I would have much rather  relied upon my Taylor Hobson's! The results of the test can be seen below.

Above: Galilean 2.5 x 50 Binoculars, 1944
Bottom: Taylor Hobson x6 Binoculars, 1941

Above: Top - 2.5 x 50 Galilean Binocular View
Bottom: Taylor Hobson x6 View

The above images show the wider field of view of the Galilean Binoculars but much clearer detail shown by the higher magnification of the Taylor Hobson's.

Next test was to compare the two at night (approx 10:30 pm).  The photo below shows the image of the pylon in darkness but it was too dark to repeat the 'through the lens images' as shown above. You will have to take my word for it - this is where the Galilean's really performed and is no doubt the reason they were supplied to Combined Op's forces. The performance in darkness was truly amazing. If I was an infantryman in 1944 often operating in darkness I would  much rather have relied upon the Galilean's!!

Conclusion - I don't think I paid £18 for a pair of binoculars worth £125 plus, but probably a fair price. But the real enjoyment is browsing around antique shops/emporiums and once in a while coming across such a gem  - certainly makes the day!

Bentwaters part 3 to follow shortly.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Bentwaters Airfield - Station 151: Part 2

This post is certainly not WW2 Defences! It will look at 92 Tactical Fighter Squadron - originally known as the 'Avengers', but later as the 'Skulls'.  

Above: The Skulls

The squadron was originally formed as 92nd Pursuit Squadron at Morris Field, North Carolina on Feb 9th, 1942 and equipped with Bell P-39's. It was re-designated 92nd Fighter Squadron on May 15th 1942 and continued to operate the P-39. it later flew the Bell P-38 Lightning, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. It was closed down on Dec 27th 1945.

Above: Bell P-39

The squadron was re-formed on Oct 15th, 1946 and again flying the P-47. In early 1949 it received it's first jet aircraft, the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star. However it was soon issued with the F-86a Sabre in July 1949 and was re-designated as a Fighter-Interceptor Squadron.

Above: Top P-47 Thunderbolt.
Bottom: F-80 Shooting Start

On Sep 5th 1951 the Squadron was transferred to Britain, operating from Shepherds Grove and was under the operational control of 81st Fighter Interceptor Group.  Another re-designation saw it become the 92nd Fighter-bomber Squadron. It flew the Sabre until October 1954, when these were replaced with the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak.  The squadron relocated to RAF Manston on Mar 28th, 1955.

On Apr 30th 1958 the Squadron relocated to Bentwaters and later in the year was issued with the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo. On July 8th 1958 it was re-designated the 92nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, flying in a tactical  nuclear strike role.

Above: F-101 Voodoo

In 1966 the McDonnell Douglas F4-C Phantom replaced the Voodoo, and in Sept 1973 this was updated to the F4-D. In 1978 the Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II replaced the F-4D, the 92nd becoming the first USAFE (United States Air Force in Europe) to fly the A-10A. If flew the A-10A for the next 15 years, often transferring to a Forward Operating Location (FOL) at Leipheim in West Germany.

Above: Top image - F-4C Phantom
Second  and third Image: A-10A Warthog
Bottom Image: Warthog's outside Hardened Aircraft Shelters, Bentwaters.

On Mar 12th 1993 the squadron was deactivated and was the last squadron to leave Bentwaters. It was reactivated in 2000 at Kelly, Texas, as the 92nd Information Warfare Aggressor Squadron.

Above: Top and middle - some of the buildings used by 92nd TFS at Bentwaters
Bottom: Hardened Aircraft Shelter used by  92nd TFS at Bentwaters

Monday 18 June 2012

Bentwaters Airfield - Station 151. Part 1

Work started on this airfield in 1942, when it was known as Butley, as one of the sites to base the anticipated build up of the USAAF Eighth Air Force. Work was halted in 1943 due to labour shortages and when it recommenced in the summer of 1944 (when the airfield was now known as Bentwaters), there was no longer any need to find airfields for the Eighth Air Force. It was completed and then placed under 'Care and Maintenance'. Due to increasingly heavy daylight bombing raids mounted by Allied bombers in late 1944, which required a large Fighter escort, usually the American P-51 (Mustang), a Mustang Fighter Wing was established at Bentwaters.

The airfield continued to be used for four years after the end of the Second War and then was closed. In 1951 it was transferred to the USAF and subsequently became an important Cold War airfield, finally closing for good in 1993. Parts of it are now used as an industrial estate and to store agricultural produce.

It is possible to walk most of the perimeter when a lot of the Second War and Cold War infrastructure can be seen. The Open Day this Sunday also provided the opportunity for a bus trip around the site.

The above photo shows Bentwaters as it is today. The distinctive layout of Second War Airfields, an "A" shape, can clearly be seen. The area to the south west was a Cold War aircraft dispersal area, originally acquired from the Forestry Commission, the standings being hidden in mature plantations. However the 1987 gales blew most of the trees down so the areas is not as forested as it was in the 80's.

Above: The wide central runway. The bank to the right is as a result of a peculiar planning permission decision. In order to use the Aircraft Shelters for light industrial purposes, they had to be screened from the local population as they are considered to be an eyesore. However, most people probably would like to be able to see them! 

The following images are of some of the Cold War Hardened Aircraft Shelters, weapon-stores and other infrastructure. Some of the images were taken from a coach on the trip around the airfield, so apologies for their quality, while some were taken while walking the perimeter.

Above: Some images of the Hardened Aircraft Shelters. A guard post can be seen in front of the shelter in the first image. More images of these guard posts to follow in later blogs! Four of the original reinforced panel concrete doors on rail-mounted runners have been retained, with original squadron logos still visible. As the doors weighed 85 tons, most have been replaced with a more practical door! Last image shows American jets outside the Shelters.

Next three images (above)  show some of the briefing rooms for operations. In the top image, the two buildings in the background are briefing rooms, the brick built building for normal times while the concrete bomb proof building was to be used if hostilities had broken out. The second image again shows the two buildings, this time with a Hardened Aircraft Shelter in the foreground. Bottom image shows the two buildings only.

Lastly some images of some of the weapon-stores.

Image 1: Conventional weapon-stores with a Braithwaite water tower in the foreground. The poles were apparently to prevent helicopters etc from landing in the area and may have been strung with wires.
Image 2:  Braithwaite water tower with the weapon-stores in the background.
Image 3: Watch tower overlooking the weapons stores.
Image 4: The guard post at the entrance to the nuclear weapon-stores compound. 

Monday 11 June 2012

Anti-invasion Landscape of Minsmere South Levels

The 1/6th Lancs Fusiliers (42nd Division) took over the area Theberton - Sizewell from 9th Lancs Fusiliers in Jan 1941. The War Diary notes "as they [9th Lancs] had only one Company on the extreme left of the area, the area was almost entirely devoid of any defence whatsoever". The reason for this was probably the decision to flood Minsmere North Levels in June 1940, which made it impassable to tanks, although infantry could have moved inland along raised embankments and the New Cut bank. The New Cut bank was wired and mined. The pillbox built into the old chapel was presumably sited to cover the Sluice and the New Cut bank. In 1940  Minsmere beach and Levels were covered from the flanks only (Goose Hill, Sizewell in the south and Minsmere Cliffs on the right), although there were obstacles on the beach (tank blocks and minefields).

Above: Pillbox built into ruins of 13th Century Chapel

The 9th Lancs Fusiliers began work on defences immediately with working parties of up to 100 men. In this area, the War Diary describes the ground as:

"(a) A ridge of high ground in area LOWER ABBEY gradually sloping down to the line of the GROVE

(b) From the GROVE to the BEACHES the ground is very flat and comprises numerous small dykes. These dykes do not afford any serious obstacle even when in flood".

As it was planned to deny the beach to the enemy by the RAF and Royal Artillery and not by Infantry, the battalion sighted defences at the south end of The Grove and in the area of the north end of The Grove / Lower Abbey to be able to bring fire down onto the Levels. It was supported by Vickers machine guns from 4th Cheshires - these guns could sweep the Levels and dunes and a fixed line was set on the Sluice.The rear platoon was situated in the Eastbridge area.

Above: Top - the defence of Minsmere South Levels, Jan 1941. The rear anti-tank ditch and the mine crater were added later in 1941.
Middle - the landscape in 1945
Bottom: The high ground in Lower Abbey area which overlooks the Levels -  three platoon localities were sited in the area (at north end of the Grove, in the area of the Plantation and one in-between in Lower Abbey area).

The 1/6th Lancs Fusiliers were relieved by the 6th Royal Scots when 15th Division took over the defence of Suffolk in March 1941.

Two anti-tank ditches were dug on South Levels by mechanical excavator, both were the improvement of existing ditches to form an anti-tank obstacle. The ditch running from Goose Hill to the New cut was completed by 15th Division but I'm not sure if the ditch running from the rifle range to the Sluice was in place before.

Above: Anti-tank ditch at the south end, in front of Goose Hill. Created by improving existing drainage ditches.

On "Action Stations" the Sluice was to be raised, flooding the area south of the Sluice to an area west to the Grove and as far south as  Goose Hill.  The raising of the sluice was to be carried out by employees of the East Suffolk Rivers Catchment Board, Mr A Smith and Mr T Spindler. The local battalion commander was to provide an escort and ensure the Sluice was not interfered with. This was to be combined with blowing a mine crater in the bank of the New Cut. The mine may have been removed later - in 1943 a document states that it would take three weeks to flood the marshes by raising the sluice (local farmers were to be warned by the Home Guard giving them a chance to remove cattle).

Above: The anti-invasion landscape of Minsmere South Levels with anti-tank blocks on the dunes in the foreground.