Battle of the Atlantic and Arctic Convoy Commemorations – 9 May

The Battle of the Atlantic, the longest continuous military campaign in World War II, is being commemorated in a series of events marking the 70th anniversary of the climax of the battle, May 1943, when Germany’s submarine fleet suffered heavy losses in the Atlantic. Over the course of the battle, thousands of merchant ships and tens of thousands of lives were lost. Three Royal Navy warships arrived in London before a special evensong service at St Paul’s. HMS Illustrious docked on the Thames at Greenwich on Wednesday, following the arrival of HMS Blyth and HMS Edinburgh, the latter going alongside museum ship HMS Belfast. Organisers have planned fly-pasts, memorial services and parades to honour those who lost their lives.

HMS Edinburgh alongside  HMS Belfast

HMS Edinburgh alongside HMS Belfast

 

On 9 May at 19:00 BST, a flypast took place over Greenwich and ‘Lusty’ and followed the Thames to overfly IWM ship HMS Belfast. The Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Swordfish LS326 – which operated from Biggin Hill – led a Navy Lynx, two Sea Kings and a Merlin in atrocious conditions.

Navy flypast approaching HMS Belfast

Navy flypast approaching HMS Belfast

Navy flypast approaching Tower Bridge

Navy flypast approaching Tower Bridge

Navy flypast over London

Navy flypast over London

A surprise addition (to myself anyway) was a tail-end Charlie in the form of  Plane Sailing’s Catalina from IWM Duxford – a highly appropriate addition.

Plane Sailing's Catalina overhead HMS Belfast

Plane Sailing’s Catalina overhead HMS Belfast

Belfast is a veteran of the Arctic Convoys and was also a focal point on the day for events commemorating the relationship between the Allies and Russia. Titled Victory Day London, a gala performance by The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra in The Hay’s Galleria commemorated the extraordinary contribution made by British and Russian sailors in the treacherous Convoys of 1941-1945.

Orchestra in the Hay's Galleria

Orchestra in the Hay’s Galleria

Veterans sharing stories

Veterans sharing stories

This special, free to attend concert featured one of the world’s great orchestras – conducted by Benjamin Pope – playing popular classics, culminating with the epic Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture accompanied by live ‘cannons’ from HMS Belfast.

Belfast's part in the orchestration

Belfast’s part in the orchestration

 

The delegation of Russian veterans visiting London includes: Yuri Kopytov and Georgiy Evtyukov from Arkhangelsk; Dmitry Dubman, Valentin Soldatov, Alexander Lochagin, Vladimir Pozhornyakov, Boris Davydov and Nikolai Imchuk from Moscow. Eugene Kasevin, founder of Victory Day London, said: “We urge the continuity of the remembrance of the important historical role of the Arctic Convoys in the Second World War, so that the present and future generations know about the joint struggle of the Russian and the British people against the fascist invaders, and remember the courage and heroism of their ancestors.”

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A Musical Tribute to the Few – 17 August 2013 – previewed

Robin J Brooks, publicity contact for the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, paints the story: ‘To the people of Kent Sunday August 18, 1940 was like any other Sunday since the war had started. Some were at Church, some were cooking a Sunday lunch whilst others were walking in the glorious August sunshine. What was different was that across the English Channel, preparations were being made by the Luftwaffe for a fierce assault on the airfields of No. 11 Group, Fighter Command.

At Biggin Hill, a key sector airfield, Nos. 32 and 610 (County of Chester) Squadrons were at readiness awaiting the call to scramble. The former squadron flew the Hawker Hurricane whilst the latter the Supermarine Spitfire. The first mass raid came shortly after midday with Biggin Hill one of the main targets. 32 Squadron were the first to be scrambled followed by 610 minutes later. A short distance away Kenley, Croydon and West Malling were also subject to ferocious raids causing loss of life and many injuries. By the evening, Biggin squadrons had lost five Hurricanes destroyed with two damaged together with two Spitfires damaged. There were injuries but no loss of life.

August 18, 1940 became known as ‘the hardest day’ for together with the attacks on other No.11 Group airfields, the evening saw 100 German and 136 British aircraft destroyed or damaged.’

Former Spitfire pilot Warrant Officer Maurice Macey visited BHHH on Friday 22 March to help publicise a new event, titled ‘A Musical Tribute to the Few’.

W/O Maurice Macey

W/O Maurice Macey

Maurice, 89, from Eastbourne, Sussex, flew his 41 Squadron Spitfire during D-Day in 1944. He was shot down in France and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. However, when he was repatriated to RAF Duxford, Cambs, Maurice was signed up to fly a Spitfire in the first ever flypast over London, which was led by Squadron Leader,Douglas Bader. Maurice couldn’t be restrained from climbing up into one of BHHH’s Mk IX Spitfires!

W/O Maurice Macey

W/O Maurice Macey

Biggin Hill is to commemorate that momentous day on Saturday August 17 2013 with a spectacular concert. The Biggin Hill Heritage Hangars ‘A Musical Salute to the Few’ will feature music by the RAF Central Band interlinked with flying by all of the aircraft in the collection. Colin Hitchins, formally the organiser of the Biggin Hill Air Fair said “This unique event gives us the opportunity to celebrate what Churchill called ‘ his few’ and Dowding called ‘his chicks’ together with the many groundcrews who laboured under adverse conditions”.

Squadron Leader Andy Pawsey, creative director of the event and historian said “To have the opportunity to tell the story at the most famous of all the Battle of Britain fighter stations is an incredible privilege. The event will appeal to everyone who has respect for ‘Britain’s Finest Hour’”.

Further news and ticket details are available here: http://www.synergyeventsuk.com/tickets/buy-online

The event will take place around the still extant wartime E pen which gave protection to the fighter aircraft whilst on the ground, and will include video screens, lighting and role play to accompany the orchestration and flying displays, with actor and pilot Martin Shaw (The Professionals, Judge John Deed) providing some of the commentary.

BHHH own a number of warbirds including Spitfire Mk IX TA805 which is titled ‘Spirit of Kent’ – often referred to as ‘The Kent Spitfire’ – and which will be part of the event. It is seen here undergoing winter maintenance:

The Kent Spitfire

The Kent Spitfire