Earlier this month Mr Steve and I spent a very pleasant few days basing ourselves in the historic town of Shrewsbury to explore the neighbouring border towns of England and Wales together with various castles, battlefields and museums, one of which included RAF Cosford, part of the RAF Museums which includes the collection of historic aircraft held at RAF Hendon in London. (see link below)
I had visited the collection held in Hendon several times previously and know it to be the premier collection it has become with many rare examples of military aircraft from the history of the RAF and from around the world on display, but this was my first visit to the other part of the collection held at Cosford in the West Midlands and I was very pleasantly surprised to see the extent of this collection which compliments that held at Hendon very well, helping to fill the gaps of the other.
What follows is by no means a total overview of the aircraft and exhibits on display but attempts to give an impression of its extent and include those that caught my eye from an historical and in some cases an equally personal perspective.
I have long held an interest in military aircraft and flying in general from boyhood, joining the air cadets in my teens, where I gained my first experiences of flying, later going on to become a private pilot, completing my training at the local Exeter Flying club, based at Exeter Airport.
That personal perspective also includes my mum's wartime experiences as a young WAAF plotter in WWII having regaled me of tales of her square bashing in a winter seaside Morecambe in 1943 and of hearing the RAF pilots over the plotting room speakers that she had helped vector to their targets engaged in mortal combat somewhere over South West England or the English Channel.
That interest has complimented my wider passion for historical wargaming and has given me a more intuitive insight into the application of military aviation when applied to our hobby.
Only this year, I was able to complete my Target for Tonight bomber campaign recreating the exploits of Bomber Command in the Battle of Berlin and it was a lot of fun running those games and sharing the campaign system with other like minds and it is visits to collections such as Cosford that really feed the imagination and excites the mind to producing those kind of games.
The museum is situated on the airfield at Cosford with the majority of the collection under cover in three massive hangars but with several outside on the grass approaches around the large car parking area, some looking a little forlorn for this mistreatment, with much weathered and faded paintwork.
|Hawker Siddeley Dominie T.1 designed by de Havilland as a small business airliner, it was in service with the RAF for 46 years up to 2011 as a flying classroom for navigation and other rear crew training.|
|A De Havilland Heron (left) used for VIP transport with the Queen's Flight, RAF, entering service in 1955, next to a Percival Pembroke (right) introduced into the RAF in 1953 to replace the vintage Avro Anson for light transport duties.|
The World Wars and Between Wars
One of the first exhibit cabinets on entering the first hangar at Cosford is this interesting selection of items pertaining to Bomber Command's war in WWII with a bomb sight, target camera, 'window' aluminium foil strips and information leaflets dropped over German cities during the Phoney War.
My Mum was a WAAF plotter having volunteered in 1943 and passed the selection tests for either radar or plotting, choosing to don the headphones and grab the croupier instead of peering into a cathode ray tube. She recounted her experiences for the BBC recorded accounts on the fiftieth anniversary of the end of WWII as a public record of those who served the country in WWII and I did a post about her recollections in the link below.
|Flight Lieutenant Ian Gleed points to his unique panel mascot on his Hurricane whilst serving with No.87 Squadron in 1940, based at Exeter during the Battle of Britain.|
|Bristol F.2B fighter D8096 of the Shuttleworth Trust, powered by the Sunbeam Arab I engine seen above.|
|The de Havilland Tiger Moth T6296, a development of the Gypsy Moth, provided the majority of RAF pilots with their first elementary flying training and were vital in turning out a consistent supply of new pilots throughout WWII|
|Gladiator N2308 HP-B pictured at Roborough and operational from August to December 1940, when 247 Squadron were then reequipped with faster Hurricanes, better able to intercept the faster German bombers.|
|The 1938 pattern Irvin flying jacket worn by Wing Commander James Nicolson, was an item widely issued and worn by RAF aircrew during WWII.|
|Medal bar of Wing Commander James Nicolson 1939-45 from left to right Victoria Cross (replica), Distinguished Flying Cross, 1939-45 Star with Battle of Britain clasp, Aircrew Europe Star, Burma Star, 1939-45 Defence Medal, 1939-45 War Medal.|
|Hurricane IIC LF738 - This later version of the Battle of Britain Hurricane I saw action in Europe, North Africa and the Far East where it was principally used for ground attack|
|Hawker Hurricane Mark Is of No. 85 Squadron RAF in France at readiness at Lille-Seclin. In the foreground, two ground crew wait by a trolley-accumulator to start the engine.|
|Boulton Paul Mk1 Defiant night fighter N1671 of No. 307 Polish Squadron operating in the final months of the Battle of Britain as the first blitz night raid attacks started.|
The Defiant turret fighter proved to be another theoretical concept that was found severely wanting when used in its designed for day time roll, proving too heavy and unmanoeuvrable when in combat with the Me109, but with its relegation to night fighter duties, like the twin-engine concept heavy fighter, the Me110 developed by the Germans, similarly moved from daytime to night time operations proved to be a useful stopgap plane until more useful types such as the Beaufighter and later Mosquito were available in numbers.
Once relieved of night duties and with its turret removed the Defiant would go on to serve as a useful target tow tug for preparing fighter pilots to contest the air with much more formidable types.
|Nine real Mosquitos were acquired in 1964 to make the film 633 Squadron five of which were used for the flying sequences|
|Various gun armaments used by RAF fighter types from .303 inch machine-guns to the larger cannons|
|The Molins 6-Pounder gun was fitted to a Mosquito Mk FB XVIII and named the Tsetse Mosquito with its 'increased bite'. No.248 squadron would go on to operate from Cornwall out into the Atlantic attacking U-boats|
|The unique auto loading feed mechanism for the 6-pounder shells developed by Molins|
|A U-boat dives under attack from a 248 Squadron Tsetse Mosquito|
|Earlier version of the Anson in flying condition and seen in typical wartime trim|
|The Anson continued to serve the RAF through to 1968, with this particular example retired to museum duties in 1963|
|Captured Mistel combination with added RAF roundels|
This particular FW190 was intended for a Mistel (Mistletoe) combination, that consisted of an unmanned bomber, such as the Ju88 seen above, with the entire nose section filled with high explosive, with the idea that the fighter pilot would fly the whole combination to the target, disengage the bomber to allow it to fall onto it and hopefully destroy it, whilst the fighter returned home!
|Messerschmitt Bf109 G-2 - This particular aircraft 'Black 6' was abandoned by the Germans near Tobruk in the retreat from El Alamein in 1942. It was later used by the RAF in flight testing and trials work under its new management.|
|Gran Sasso Raid, with Skorzeny Commando's escorting Mussolini to his awaiting Storch.|
The invention of the jet engine simultaneously in Germany and Great Britain heralded a step change in military and eventually civilian flight, and the Germans were first to use jet fighters operationally with the introduction of the Messerschmitt Me 262 used against high flying RAF reconnaissance Mosquito aircraft.
As well as the start of the jet age, WWII saw the dawn of rocket technology with the ballistic and intercontinental missile that were the technologies that would put a man on the moon and herald the era of the cruise missile.
With Nazi Germany leading this march into the future of modern warfare and reeling under the blows inflicted by the Allied bombing campaign, it was natural that the first of these 'Vengeance Weapons' would be aimed at Britain with the first V1 doodlebugs droning their way into south east England soon after D-Day, to be followed in the autumn by the V2 seen below.
|This particular rocket, mounted on its transporter unit known as a Meilerwagen was built after WWII by German technicians working for the British forces. The graphite control vanes are visible that provided the guidance system.|
In the summer of 2012 Carolyn and I stayed near to Dieppe in Northern France and visited one of the preserved V1 launch sites in woodland, close to the town.
In the pictures you can see the preserved launch ramp, together with a mocked up V1, one of the rusting tractors used for delivering the rockets to the ramps from the protected blast bunkers and close by the operational control bunker for overseeing the launch.
My paternal grandparents were forced to leave London and move to Devon during the height of the V1 offensive in 1944 and I well remember they and my parents describing the effect of hearing these missiles overhead and the dread caused by the cut out of the motor that heralded the crash to earth and massive explosion.
The V1 was arguably the first cruise missile and the first to be used for mass bombardment. The first rocket was launched on the 13th June 1944 and fell on Swanscombe in Kent, and the last one fell on Orpington in Kent on 27th March 1945, with 6,725 being launched at Britain, with 2,340 hitting London and killing 5,475 people, mainly civilians and injuring another 16,000.
|V1 having its wing tipped by an intercepting Spitfire|
The casualty count might have been much higher had it not been for the air defence system using high speed fighters to attack the bombs in the air or tip their wings under the V1 to crash it prematurely over open ground, the introduction of proximity fuses to antiaircraft gun batteries that proved very effective and the blackout of news back to Germany of where the bombs had actually landed, by the help of the press feeding false information that caused German launch crews to alter the settings based on these false reports and causing many bombs to overshoot and undershoot London, thus landing in the more rural outskirts of the city.
These tactics and an aggressive offensive in the air and on land to destroy the launch sites and drive them further away from the British mainland helped to minimise the threat only to be replaced later by the V2.
As well as the Vengeance Weapons, Germany developed several tactical systems, with the first anti-shipping missiles being a notable addition to its technologically advanced arsenal.
|An Heinkel III bomber demonstrates the dropping of its Hs293|
|HMS Egret on anti U-boat patrol was the first ship to be attacked and sunk with the Hs293|
in the Bay of Biscay on 27th August 1943, this after HMS Bideford had been
hit by a similar weapon on 25th August but with the bomb failing to explode.
Post WWII and Cold WarThe fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9th November 1989 marked the end of the Soviet Union and its Communist empire that had since the end of the Second World War in 1945 and up until then been a constant threat to the free democracies of the world, forcing billions to be spent on military commitments to maintain the threat of mutual destruction should a cold war have ever have turned hot.
This was the world that I and my generation of 'baby-boomers' inherited from perhaps the greatest generation that had defeated Hitler and the Axis allies of Japan and Italy and that bequeathed an era of NATO, fast jets and nuclear weapons and taxes designed to pay for our way of life and its security as well as paying off the national debt incurred from the massive borrowings that financed the winning of WWII.
|Air Training Corps 1408 Dorking Squadron, circa 1974-75, Cadet Jones awarded 'Most Promising Cadet' (The RAF Phantom Jet) trophy. Note cadets, even in the late 1970's, were still wearing Battledress (BD) or No. 5 Uniform.|
It feels very strange to see the vehicles of my youth now consigned to the museum hall and to be living with generations of younger folks who have little concept of the threat of mass nuclear destruction that reached its climax with the Cuba Crisis of 1961 and, as we later found out, the trigger twitching that occurred in the mid to late eighties as the Soviet edifice started to crumble, and I can now appreciate more clearly how my parents generation must have felt seeing the vehicles of their youth similarly consigned, whilst rubbing shoulders with us youngsters of their time, with little concept of the sacrifices made by the generations that had fought the two world wars of the twentieth century.
The aircraft and vehicles held in the Cosford collection provide a concise snapshot across the period from 1945 to 1989 and with some of them now appearing in the much more contemporary military conflict in Ukraine, sadly a reflection perhaps of a lot of unfinished business as the regimes of the Russian Federation, China, North Korea and perhaps even Iran start to feel the pressure of greater global liberty spread by the internet.
At first glance the aircraft below, sitting with the WWII collection of aircraft might appear to be the mighty four engine Avro Lancaster of Bomber Command that spearheaded the RAF night bombing offensive, however after a closer inspection and its lack of gun turrets reveals the plane to be the Cold War version of its illustrious predecessor, the Avro Lincoln, produced at a time when austerity Britain was being told to prepare to face the new threat to the world, the Soviet Union, as Churchill announced an 'Iron Curtain' had been drawn across Europe.
|Avro Lincoln B2 was the replacement for the Avro Lancaster in 1945 seeing service with the RAF until 1963 when it was retired in favour of the jet powered, nuclear armed, V-bomber force.|
|The Lincoln would lead to further developments that saw the long range maritime patrol version or Shackleton, and seeing Avro turn to civilian designs such as the Avro Tudor.|
|The Avro Lincoln would play an early part in the Cold War using its carrying capacity for supplying Berliners with food and fuel in the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 instead of delivering bombs.|
The Cold War started to 'gear up' with Stalin's blockade of Berlin that was undone by the Berlin airlift from June 1948 to May 1949, but the cold war was to soon turn a lot hotter as the period of 'war by proxy', that would come to dominate the era, got going in Korea.
This war fought by the United Nations, itself a body created in the fire of WWII and representing the free nations of the world, saw the first incarnation of the new weaponry that would build on that encountered in the latter stages of WWII with fast jets making propeller driven equivalents obsolete.
|The MiG 15, in service from 1949-1970, with one Kimov VK-1 jet engine delivering 5955lbs of thrust and a maximum speed of 688mph, and with an armament of one 37mm N-37 cannon and two 37mm NR-23 cannon|
MiG fighter jets would dominate the Soviet Cold War arsenal and the principle all-weather single seat interceptor fighter, post 1960 would be the MiG 21, with more being built than any other type, and with Soviet, Chinese, Indian and Czechoslovakian production estimated at 13,500 aircraft.
|The MiG 21 was used by fifty-six air forces, took part in thirty wars and at the height of its service use outnumbered any other type of individual warplane.|
Air to air guided missiles became the next major development in Cold War air fighting, although the experience of Phantom pilots in the Vietnam War would reveal that such missiles needing range to allow them to lock on to their target didn't negate the need for the additional cannon or gun armament to back them up when the ranges got closer and when the old dogfighting skills of an earlier age were then required.
Before the Royal Navy assumed command of the UK's nuclear deterrent with the introduction of the Polaris missile armed submarine fleet able to cruise the worlds oceans undetected and ready to strike back in response to any nuclear attack on the homeland, the nation's nuclear response through the 1950's until then was based upon the V-Bomber fleet of aircraft, later replaced in the early 1960's by the Blue Streak land based ballistic missile system, which given its vulnerability to a first strike in such a small country like the UK was only ever likely to be a stop-gap measure.
The V-bomber force itself was made obsolete by the improvements in Soviet air defence capability and by the 1970's it became increasingly obvious that such a force was very unlikely to penetrate Soviet airspace; that saw the Valiant retired due to stresses in the airframe and particularly the wings, the Victor relegated to fuel tanker work and the Vulcan maintained as a heavy bomber with nuclear Blue-Steel stand off capability.
|A Victor fuel tanker from 55 Squadron that supported the Vulcan's in Operation Black Buck|
The last hurrah of the V-bomber force would be in the Falklands War in 1982 with Operation Black Buck when Vulcan aircraft from 44, 51 and 101 Squadrons took part in a series of raids, seven in total, supported by Victor fuel tankers from 55 Squadron staged from Ascension Island in the Atlantic to bomb the Port Stanley Airport, the longest range bombing attacks at that time, flying some 6,600 nautical miles in a round trip of sixteen hours.
|Vickers Valiant B1 XD818 - Vickers Valiants armed with conventional bombs attacked Egyptian airfields during the Suez Crisis in 1956|
|Above the Valiant can be seen the tail area of another aircraft in Bomber Command's Cold War inventory, the Short Brothers Canberra XH171, this one a PR9 (Photo Reconnaissance) and these aircraft were in service with the RAF from 1951 to 2006|
As well as the offensive and defensive capabilities developed by the Royal Air Force since its creation under Lord Trenchard on the 1st April 1918, air transport has been another significant capability which with the development of heavier and more powerful types of aircraft has enabled the projection of British power around the globe to manage and protect the nation and its allies interests.
|The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota ZA947 demonstrating an airborne drop for the D-Day 75 Anniversary flypast over Normandy.|
The Douglas DC3 Skytrain, seen below, or Dakota as it became know in RAF circles was perhaps the first real contender for this role, that developed alongside the British Army Airborne Forces created in the wake of German para-troop successes in the first years of the Second World War, designed to fill the need for a purpose built transport making use of the original civilian aircraft design, that first flew December 17th 1936, as the Germans had done with the Junkers JU52.
Post WWII would see this type of military transport aircraft get ever larger with much greater load carrying capacity, but the use of para-troops would give way to helicopter borne troops with additional support helicopter gunships that soon followed to provide close air support to the landed troops.
|Short Brothers Belfast of 53 Squadron at Farnborough in 1964, shows off its high mounted wing with four Rolls Royce Tyne turboprop engines and was the first aircraft to be designed to be fitted with a fully automatic blind landing system equipment. Given their size all ten Belfasts were named after legendary giants, hence Enceladus seen on the nose of XR371 seen above.|
As indicated, my early life included a growing interest in flying and the Cosford collection has examples of two aircraft that featured in my interest together with a model of another and it brought back memories for me seeing them.
The de Havilland Comet seen below, as well as representing another British first in aviation, being the first jet airliner for civilian use and heralding the start of modern global air transport we have today, has a special place in my own heart as it was the first aircraft I ever flew in when, as a callow youth, I managed to persuade my parents to fund my growing enthusiasm to fly by coughing up the money for me to go on a thirty minute air experience flight organised by my school to attend a Saturday morning flight on board a Dan Air Comet flying out from Gatwick and a quick spin over the Channel before returning to terra firma.
Another landmark aircraft in the flying career of 'yours truly' is another de Havilland type, the dear old Chipmunk seen below which is one of the longest serving RAF types and featured in my Air Training Corps flying opportunities as part of its duties as the main type used for air experience flight for cadets.
I have very happy memories of strapping on a WWII era seat parachute on a cold early Saturday morning at RAF Abingdon after a pre-flight briefing on how to abandon the aircraft in an emergency and the reminder that any 'puke' thrown up in the rear cockpit would no doubt congeal in the cables of the control system under the offending cadet's feet and would have to be cleaned up by the offending cadet when the aircraft landed, so better to use the sick bags provided.
However perhaps my happiest memory of flying in the Chipmunk was going up on a sunny summer evening flight during our camp at RAF Binbrook with the Station Commander captaining the aircraft and watching the Vulcan bombers of 617 'Dambusters' Squadron taking off and landing at RAF Scampton as we performed a few loops and turns out over the Lincolnshire Wolds below.
Finally my last 'rave from the grave' came when I saw this model of the Slingsby glider, another aircraft that influenced my early flying with the air cadets which included several flights in these wooden open cockpit gliders that had the cadet perched in the best seat, namely the one in the front, with the sound of the wind buzzing over the high wing as the ground winch took up the strain and hoisted the aircraft aloft, before the nose inevitably dropped at the top of the winch and the pilot behind pulled the toggle to release the hook under its nose.
|Another great love of my life, the Slingsby Cadet glider that has left an impression of RAF Tangmere that I have treasured aver since.|
All our flying was done at the old Battle of Britain forward air station at RAF Tangmere still, in the late seventies, sporting its original concrete blast-pen walls around the dispersal areas that would have protected the Hurricanes and Spitfires only some thirty-five years previously.
My abiding memory of one flight was being tapped on the shoulder by my enthusiastic pilot to see if I was up for beating up the airfield, to which I joyfully assented, that promptly saw the nose drop and found me staring almost vertically at Tangmere below with the noise of the airflow of the wing behind, building up to what seemed like a scream, or perhaps that was me!
We came hammering in over the downwind perimeter fence and levelled out low and fast past the outer blast pen walls to come barrelling in for an exhilarating landing, only to be partially matched in later years as I flew solo over Exeter bringing in my Cessna 152 low and fast, practicing making flapless approaches and landings doing circuits and bumps on summer Sundays.
As well as the collection of aircraft covering the Cold War era, the museum holds a small collection of military and civilian vehicles that captures the post WWII developments that take us up to the modern day.
World War II on land was the war of mobility restored to the battlefield after the imposition of machine guns that dominated no-mans land on the Western Front to be broken by the new British secret weapon, code named the Tank.
Tank warfare came of age in the Second World War as Britain had to relearn lessons she had forgotten during the interwar demobilisation that would lead to the gradual adoption of combined arms battle groups and tactics together with a gradual move away from cruiser tanks and infantry tanks to the main battle tank that was able to combine rapid mobility with heavy armour.
Sadly for the allies these lessons really only came to fruition in the closing days of WWII as the heavy German tanks became a rarity on the battlefield but came just in time to face down the Cold War threats of Soviet Russia and the growing threat of Communist China.
The first British main battle tank was the Centurion that finally brought together the big gun, medium to heavy armour, high power mobility combination that is the main battle tank today and would gain its first real battle honours against the Chinese in the Korean War, 1950 - 1953.
The Test Aircraft (The Good the Bad and the Ugly)
Before any of the amazing aircraft featured in this collection were fit and able to take their place on the front line, someone had to come up with the idea and basic design of the test aircraft that, through testing and refinement, would lead to the thoroughbred machines they would become and I have lived enough years now to have seen these concept aircraft featured in various news articles of the time announcing the new next generation of combat aircraft, usually given a code name or number, until its adoption by the forces and given its final name; hence I remember the Panavia Tornado arriving on the scene in the early seventies and given the catchy title of MRCA or Multi Role Combat Aircraft which immediately made me think 'Jack of all trades, but master of none'.
|RAF Tornado GR4 - Photo: Corporal Mike Jones/MOD|
Some test beds lived up to my first impression of the MRCA, fortunately the Tornado turned out to be somewhat better than that, retiring from RAF duties in 2019 but serving remarkably well during the Gulf War of 1991 through to Afghanistan displaying its multi role capability throughout that stands in stark contrast to the aircraft below, the TSR2, which ironically it was designed to take the place of .
The British Ministry of Defence has an unenviable record when it comes to overspends on procurement of new major weapons systems probably only matched by other large government departments in their management of public funds. I have already alluded to the cancelled BAE Nimrod MRA4 Maritime Patrol Aircraft upgrade that was begun with a replacement request from the RAF in 1993 as a replacement for Nimrod MR2 and after a series of delays in development and cost overrun disputes was finally cancelled in 2010 and an estimated waste of 3.4 billion pounds of taxpayers money.
However Nimrod is by no means a unique debacle as that exemplified by the development of TSR2 otherwise known as the Tactical Strike Reconnaissance aircraft conceived in 1956 as a replacement for the aging Canberra.
Designed by BAC the TSR2 was intended to be able to deliver both conventional and nuclear weapons, able to penetrate well defended frontline areas at low altitudes and high speeds to attack high value targets in the rear areas as well as filling the fast reconnaissance role of the old Canberra.
Again cost overruns and inter-service squabbling over future defence needs conspired to force a government decision to scrap the project in 1965 with an estimated cost of some £1,700 million spent over fifteen years prior to the decision to order the American swing-wing FIIIK (featured above with the F111F) instead, an order that was subsequently cancelled in 1968 to eventually see the role intended for TSR2 covered by Phantom and Buccaneer types followed by the SEPECAT Jaguar in the mid 70's and finally the Panavia Tornado.
An interest in aircraft by any young boy often stimulates an interest in building model aircraft and I can say the painting and modelling skills I have developed and brought to historical wargaming began as a boy building Airfix kits in the main, but never quite to the standard on display in the models here.
Even to this day I love to admire the skill of expert model makers and often take time out at shows like Colours in Newbury where the local scale model makers display their talent and allow folks like me to grab ideas for getting my tabletop wargame models to look even better.
As mentioned, Airfix kits are where I first got started in modelling and the Spitfire was of course a favourite build and a kit I have built several times in the past, with the 1a Battle of Britain type still my favourite alongside its stablemate the Hurricane 1.
However I was blown away to discover the 1:1 full size Airfix Spitfire built by James May and friends in 2009 for a TV series celebrating one of Britain's best loved toys and with parts displayed in the hanger on their sprues before assembly and painting, although if I was to be a bit picky, those upper wing roundels would not do on any kit of mine, see picture below for reference.
|Now that's what you call an Airfix Spitfire!|
The collection at Cosford is a must see if you are the slightest bit interested in military aircraft and particularly types used by the RAF over the years since its formation in 1918 and together with those held at Hendon in London forms a very comprehensive collection that displays the history of the Royal Air Force and some of the enemy types it has encountered.
For me personally, it was such a thrill to be reminded of and reacquainted with aircraft I have a personal memory of, if a little sad at seeing them 'stuffed' and consigned to the display hall for future generations to marvel at and scoff at folks daring to fly such arcane contraptions.
Mr Steve and my adventure to the Welsh borders and Shropshire continues in this series of posts with the Wars of the Roses, English Civil War and the the history of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) regiment among other stuff - more anon.