Summers were always different when we were in our schools. The long vacation of about one and half months gave a multitude of opportunities for areas to explore over and above the studies we had. Swimming and cycling were always on the list to splash about in the Southern Avenue lakes to quell the heat at Calcutta. However, nothing came close to the books and comics that we used to gorge on.
Among all the books, one favorite of mine was the “Commando” classics, which provided illustrated stories of war, and valor during the second world war. It depicted extraordinary stories of fighting men, women, and machines. Singularly, I picked up the liking for the aircraft that featured in these comic books. These comics provided a different dimension to history and made it so very interesting. Right after the lunch, into an hour reading the Commando comic war story, the overwhelming urge to sip a coffee or tea around afternoon consumed me just as the pilots did when they returned to the base.
I emulated the lifestyle of the pilots of those incredible flying machines and life seemed so picture perfect. I looked up at the blue sky with fluffy clouds and thought about the dogfights, the swooping dives of the fighters coming in low, and attacking the bomber formation that flew over the English channel or Europe. I think I have lost the count of how many times I simulated attacking enemy planes as a fighter pilot.
Today’s aircraft are very different machines with modern day avionics compared to the ones we will explore. The planes which were built about seventy to eighty years back were very basic; engineers did the remarkable job of putting together reliable planes that became even more famous due to exemplary pilot skills.
I have picked up eighteen of those extremely popular aircraft that always got mentioned in the Commando war stories. I have drawn each aircraft, using a felt pen and shaded each with a pencil. I hope you enjoy the compilation as we will fly back into the history by about eighty years.
Let us soar the skies together as we will whizz over the English, European and briefly over the Japanese countrysides.
Did you hear the crackle of the radio? …“Cleared for takeoff runway zero-two, Charlie two-zero”
Avro Lancaster: Among the great aircraft of Second World War, Lancaster bomber got its immortality for its outstanding record with the Royal Air Force and the allied operations for the period, 1940 to 1945. It was the mainstay bomber used by the air force to bomb the Ruhr dams in Germany as part of its hazardous raids in the night. After the war, it served till the 1950s’ as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
It was called the ‘Lanc’. To fight the Germans and Italian conquests of Abyssinia, these aircraft could carry 8000 to 12000 pounds of bombs. Powered by four Rolls Royce Merlin engines, could fly at a speed of 565 km/hr and was equipped with .303 browning machine guns within turrets that were at the front, rear and mid-top over the fuselage.
B29 Superfortress: This aircraft would be ever remembered for deploying the two atomic bombs, “Little Boy” at Hiroshima and “Fat body” at Nagasaki on 6 Aug 1945 and 9th August 1945. The B29 which was used for the Little boy was called Enola Gay and the one which dropped at Nagasaki was called “Bockscar”. Used by the allied extensively for the Pacific operations, against Japan from bases in India, China and Marianna. Its operational ceiling was as high as 32000 feet and traveled at about 560 km/hr.
B29 was powered by four Wright R-3350-23 Duplex-Cyclone turbo supercharged radial engines.
DC47 Dakota: One of the most rugged planes ever built. Famous for short take-off and landing operations, especially in inhospitable areas of rugged terrain and jungle. Provided air supply crucial links in places like Burma, New Guinea. DC-47s were flown to airlift supplies to the American forces fighting in Bastogne.
It became famous for its participation in military aviation, for flying “The Hump” from India into China. It was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90C Twin Wasp 14 cylinder radial engines and flew at a speed of about 260 km/hr at 27000 feet.
Catalina Flying Boat: The aircraft can be categorized as hydroplane, and could be used as a medium strategic bomber, or as a torpedo bomber. It could land on water as well on the solid flat ground as it had tucked in wheels. It was equipped with 12.7 mm M2 Browning machine guns for its firepower. Two Pratt & Whitney R1830-92 14-cylinder “Twin Wasp” radial, air-cooled engines, helped the plane to achieve a maximum speed of 259 km/h. It was capable of reaching 4,420 meters of operational ceiling.
During World War Two, Catalina saw application in over water patrolling, search and rescue, hunting submarines, and anti-shipping activities.
DH Mosquito Dive Bomber: One of the great aircraft ever made. Built mainly of moulded plywood to get a nickname of “Wooden wonder”. Extremely powerful two Rolls Royce Merlin engines powered this aircraft which pushed it to 370 miles/hr.
It served the air force as a bomber, torpedo bomber, night fighter, and photo-reconnaissance observer. Speed and agility were two of its decisive features which the pilots used to gain control over the enemy.
Focke Wolf 190: Maneuverability, and extreme versatility made this German low-wing monoplane most revered for a couple of years by the British and allied pilots. It was powered by a BMW air-cooled radial engine. It saw active service until late 1941. Carried a heavy armament of two 7.9 mm machine guns in the engine cowling, two 20-mm cannons on the wing roots, and two 20-mm cannons at mid-wing.
The Fw 190 became the formidable air-to-air fighter of the mid-war period. Its reign was stopped when the Spitfire IX was introduced in July 1942; however, continued its dominance for another year. Had a top speed of about 660 km per hour and reached a ceiling of 35,000 feet.
The fighter’s powerful cannon weapon system made it a potent bomber destroyer. Focke Wolfe attacked and broke the integrity of B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bomber defensive formations several times and sent them back.
Fieseler Storch: “Storch” was famous for short take-off and landing and was primarily used for reconnaissance sorties. German Nazis deployed it as a contact aircraft in the Luftwaffe. The main feature was its fixed leading edge slats, extensive fowler flaps and downward ailerons. Because of its extended landing gear which gave the Stork brilliant rough field capability.
The engine was a 240 horsepower Argus, in-line configuration. The plane made history when the Nazis rescued the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini when he was captured by Italian troops. The aircraft had a maximum speed of 100 miles/hr.
Hawker Hurricane: The Hurricane was a combination of having a biplane structure and a monoplane layout. Steel tube construction braced the fuselage. The Hurricane was not as superior to the then contemporary fighters but was rugged, very reliable and easy to build. The Battle of Britain was fought with Hurricanes alone.
The models became ground attack aircraft because they were not as good as fighters. It had a crew of one, churned 1280 hp through its Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Attained a top speed of 550 km/hr and had 12 machine guns, 7.7 mm each.
Heinkel HE 111: Among the main bombers that Germany put to service, the Heinkel He 111 was one of many used by the Germans during the Blitz during the night. Heinkel 111 was first flown by Lufthansa. It carried about 10 passengers in its civilian garb. The military variant of the Heinkel 111 carried 1700 kgs of bombs, and later on, power was increased to carry over 2000 kg of bombs.
This aircraft during the Battle of Britain, fell as easy targets to Hurricanes and Spitfires as part of the bomber formation. Later on, the aircraft was used as a torpedo-carrier, a glider tug. On the Russian front, the 111 acted as a transport plane – especially in the Battle of Stalingrad. It had two Jumo 211F-1/2 liquid-cooled inverted V12 which generated 1300 to 130 hp. Could fly at 440 km/hr at 21,350 feet. Weapons included seven 7.92 mm MG 15 or MG 81 machine guns.
Junkers Ju 52: Remember the movie “Where Eagles Dare” by author Alistair Maclean. The movie’s first shot over the mountains shows an approaching Junkers Ju-52, also called “Iron Annie” or “Aunty Ju”. The aircraft was a tri-motor transport and carried troops, dropped paratroops from the 1930’s and 40’s. It helped the German war effort in transporting Wehrmacht soldiers of the Sixth Army who fought at Stalingrad in Russia. It was made of corrugated aluminium, Duralumin that although looked weird but was very effective for practical purposes.
The Ju-52 was the mainstay of Lufthansa and few other airlines world over like, Swissair in the 1930’s, and Luftwaffe (German Air Force) used them against the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939. It helped German air force extensively and was used as a bomber during the World War Two (1939 to 1945). A top speed of 265 km/hr at 11,500 feet was provided by three BMW VII aU V12 engines, spewing out 680 hp.
Ju 87 Stuka: The piercing shriek of the Stuka dive bombers terrorized the people of London during the battle of Britain. Germans used it heavily as a ground-attack and support aircraft. Ace pilots knew how to use the Stukas to its full potential. They hit their targets. The name ‘Stuka’ is a short form of ‘Sturzkampfflugzeug‘ which means ‘dive bomber‘, but it was seriously good at it.
Stukas were very effective during the blitzkrieg that Germany had launched. These planes came in a sharp V dive, dropped their bombs and flew away at 120 degrees. Powered by one Junkers Jumo 211 DA inverted V, engine giving it 1200 hp. It could fly at 240 miles to an hour at a height of 13500 feet.
Messerschmitt BF 109: The Messerschmitt BF 109 was Germany’s front line single-seat fighter plane during World War II. Developed in the 1930’s to fill the gap of a well-rounded fighter/interceptor, it incorporated all of the features that would be way ahead for World War II. An all-metal monoplane with a fully enclosed canopy, the Bf 109 was continuously upgraded as technology advanced and it’s roles increased in the skies of Germany and Europe.
The Messerschmitt BF 109 was widely produced and operated for two decades even after World War II concluded. It gave a brilliant fight to the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the allied forces. It had a firing mechanism which was synchronized with the nose-mounted propeller so that bullets could pass through the revolving blades. Is n’t that astonishing? Power came from a Daimler-Benz DB 605A-1 liquid-cooled inverted V12, giving it 1,455 hp. Top speed of 640 km/hr could be achieved at a ceiling of 21,000 feet.
ME 262: The Messerschmitt Me 262, which had a nickname “Schwalbe”, which meant “Swallow” in German was the fastest and a very competent jet fighter plane of World War II, and it outran America’s great P-51 Mustang. It was a fallout of the V-1/V-2 bombs that Germany had launched to batter London. Had Messerschmitt Me 262 was deployed earlier on by Germany, the Allied forces would not have triumphed the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
The delay was due to the Junkers Jumo 004 jet engine that powered it did not reach production factories until the March of 1944. The real failure lied with the German Air Ministry, who realized the potential of the jet engine late. Over 1400 of them were built, but only about 300 were used. Two Junkers Jumo 004 B1 turbojets gave the plane a power of 1980 lbf and were capable of flying at 900 km/hr at a height of 38,000 feet.
Nakajima B5N2: The Nakajima B5N “Kate” was Imperial Japan’s standard torpedo bomber during the World War II. B5N was faster and more potent than its Allied counterparts, the TBD Devastator, Fairey Swordfish and the Fairey Albacore, it was fast losing out on speed and agility. This plane operated throughout the whole war, due to the delayed successor entry, the B6N.
The B5N achieved major victories at the battles of Coral Sea, Pearl Harbor, Santa Cruz Islands and Midway. It was usually a carrier-based aircraft and was occasionally used as a land-based bomber too. In the movie, “Pearl Harbor” the ship, USS Arizona was hit by a torpedo bomb dropped by a B5N, Kate. It had a maximum speed of 380 km/hr at 27,000 feet and was powered by one Nakajima Sakae 11 radial engine giving it about 1000 hp.
P38: The P-38 Lightning had twin booms and got its power from twin-engines, Allison V-1710-49/52 V-12 liquid-cooled turbocharged piston engines driving three-bladed metal propellers and was a daytime fighter of the war. It served both Europe and the Mediterranean, where it proved less successful. Although a small number operated out of Port Moresby by the end of November 1942. In 1943, the Lightning appeared in bigger numbers in the Pacific.
Eventually, about half of all P-38 pilots were deployed to the Pacific, primarily in the Southwest Pacific Area, due to its long range, high speed, and excellent high-altitude performance. Service ceiling was 25,000 feet and roared at about 640 km/hr.
P 51 Mustang:P-51 was America’s best fighter during the Second World War and Royal Air Force used it first. In late 1943, the US Army Air Force Eighth Air Force used P-51B fighters to escort bombers on bombing raids over Germany. P-51 Mustangs were used in both the Pacific and the European operations of Second World War. The “P” in P-51 stood for “Pursuit”. This was changed to “F” for “Fighter” later on. P-51D, recognizable by its bubble canopy had the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. The P-51D was equipped with six .50 calibre Browning machine guns
which held 1,880 rounds (400 rounds in each gun and 270 rounds in each outboard. The plane also had the capability to carry 10 “zero rail” rockets under each wing. Each plane could carry 1000 pounds of bombs. It had a speed of 440 miles to an hour and could fly 500 to 1000 miles with drop tanks.
Historical records say that 275 P-51 pilots shot down a total of 2116 enemy planes during the war period.
Spitfire: The most iconic fighter of the Royal Air Force in Second World War, the British Supermarine Spitfire saw action in all warfare. Saw formation in 1938, it was continually upgraded and improved through the course of the war with over 20,000 built. Best known for its elliptical wing design and role during the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire was loved by its pilots and became a symbol of the Royal Air Force. Few countries in the British Commonwealth flew the Spitfire till early 1960s.
Powered by one Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 Supercharged V12 engine, capable of generating 1,470 hp. Service ceiling was about 35,000 feet and could fly at about 380 miles to an hour. Its weapon system included, two 20 mm Hispano Mk.II cannon, four .303 Browning machine guns and also had the ability to carry two 240 pound bombs.
Vickers Wellington: The Vickers Wellington was a British bomber and was used as an anti-submarine aircraft by the Royal Air Force, RAAF, Fleet Air Arm, and Polish Air Force in WWII. Built extremely strong was capable of withstanding enemy fighter strafing battle damage.
The Vickers Wellington was the Royal Air Force’s most tactical bomber during the World War II and was the frontline British bomber for the ﬁrst half of the war. With a maximum speed of about 400 km/hr, it reached a service ceiling of 15000 to 15500 feet. The power came from two Bristol Pegasus MK XVIII radial engines which gave the aircraft of 1050 hp.
These aircraft made history under the controls of their pilots. Every time, I see these planes, mainly in the old books on aircraft, journals, they mesmerize me.
Do you feel the same? As if you are standing in a wide airfield and seeing these planes ploughing through the air to finish mission after mission.
It will be great to know how you felt after seeing this pictorial historical journey through time.