Thursday, May 28, 2009

May Book of the Month

A History of the Battle of Britain
By Michael Korda
Harper 2009

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much
owed by so many to so few."
Churchill, 20 August 1940, House of Commons.

Few moments in British history are so firmly fixed in the people’s minds as the summer of 1940 when fewer than 2000 young fighter pilots stood between Hitler and the victory that seemed within his grasp. Britain, alone, “courageous, defiant, and without allies defeated a more powerful and warlike enemy in the nick of time.” And, so, Michael Korda begins his history about this fascinating military victory that is still commemorated annually on September 15 as Battle of Britain Day.

Like the defeat of the Spanish Armada and Trafalgar it is deeply etched into the British mind as a moment of supreme danger to the Empire. Korda, in spite of the academic pressures for historians to write revisionist tomes that glamorize or diminish according to their own inclinations, will have none of this. In WITH WINGS LIKE EAGLES, Korda gives a straightforward account of the intense political and military intrigue in the run up to the War that led to the formation of Fighter Command.

Click here to buy or rent a DVD:
Moviefone: Battle of Britain, the 1969 movie, and see a synopsis and two more posters.

During the 1930’s there was much debate about the mission of air forces in all of the countries that were soon to be at war. These forces were young and were largely commanded by WWI pilots used to open cockpits, no ground control, and blindly flying the skies looking for the enemy. However, the technology was developing that would put an end to such aerial combat in spite of the ‘old bulls’ traditional attitudes about individual gallantry. Closed cockpits were deemed unsuitable until pilots became convinced that 300 mph wind shear would be damaging to more than their combed hair.

In addition, Korda notes the general feeling among all that “The bomber will always get through” and that created a desire for each country to increase bombers over fighters. This seems to be an early and fledging use of the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) that was developed fully during the Cold War. An attack on one will make certain the destruction of the other: Knowing that, neither will attack as both will face annihilation. Today’s nuclear doctrine of MAD is still relevant among the countries of the world possessing such weapons. Though strained, many attribute our long stretch of time without international world wars among Nations to this very strategy of nuclear deterrence.

Korda now turns his attention to Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding who becomes the central focus of WINGS; “To him the people of Britain and of the free world owe largely the way of life and the liberties that they enjoy today.” He, almost alone, understood that without modern fighters Britain might lose the war the moment it began. Enemy bombers could get through and wreak great physical and psychological damage; but, Britain could not deter such an attack by destroying, in turn, the aggressor’s homeland with its present bomber force. The distances were too great, the forces too small, and the technology too primitive. To save Britain Dowding surmised that the enemy must be destroyed enroute. Thus began his great personal effort to change the thinking of the military and political establishment to produce a modern fighter force in order to protect the homeland.

With much difficulty Dowding’s vision of the “big picture’ to defeat Germany became the reality called Fighter Command. Modern fighters, all weather concrete runways, radar sites, radio communications, hardened communication lines, observers, the integration of women as key players, central control, and much more were developed during the 1930’s.

As Korda notes, Dowding’s vision was to inflict a constant and unacceptable rate of loss upon the Luftwaffe through control of the air battle from Fighter Command Headquarters. The idea of overlapping radar sites to pick up enemy planes over the continent as a first line of defense to control the air battle was a daring and untried concept that caused bitter controversy for Dowding among his critics. Dowding intended to bluff the Germans by never revealing his hand and then bleed them to death. Luckily for Britain, they listened to this uncommunicative, but argumentative leader when it came to things that mattered to him, for they also mattered to all.

A fledgling fighter pilot, Geoffrey Wellum, who was not yet nineteen years old, posted straight to an operational squadron, having never seen a fighter, given a few hours of flying a Spitfire, and then met his baptism of fire. Wellum writes of this in almost poetic style as he describes the incident; and, Korda notes the “…description…as being about as good as words get in describing the indescribable”. Wellum fought through the Battle, won a DFC, had 100 sorties over France, and ended up fighting on the besieged island of Malta. Wellum summed up mortal air combat as remembering a simple, uncomplicated golden rule: “Never, never fly straight and level for more than twenty seconds. If you do, you’ll die.” A lesson learned mostly by those who survived.

On August 15, 1940 the Luftwaffe sent over a 1000 planes to bomb England in an attempt to completely destroy Britain’s capability to thwart a German invasion planned for September. Korda describes how Dowding’s strategy for Fighter Command had worked seamlessly as ordinary young Britons, just out of flight school, flew sortie after sortie until they could no longer count the number of take offs or the number of the enemy they had shot down. Crowds watched from the streets as the air battles took place out of sound but not out of sight not knowing the outcome. Civilian life went on as usual as the young men fought and died thousands of feet above in the sky. It was an eerie sight and time.

August 15 was to be one of the most critical days of the War; but at its end it was a British victory and a victory for Dowding. Churchill commented in his memoirs, “We must regard the generalship here shown as an example of genius in the art of war.” However, for both sides the hardest and most brutal fighting was still to come.

As Korda aptly states, those who flew in the Battle of Britain are forever remembered as “the Few.” The average age of a newly minted pilot was seventeen, with scant training, with a life expectancy in minutes; and, scarier to the veterans than the Germans were. It was about as intense a life as one could live. The Germans were making great efforts to destroy Fighter Command as Dowding’s “chicks” inflicted more and more destruction upon them. But, if Fighter Command survived, the Germans could not invade. And, so it was, modern British history for the ages in the making.

Churchill spoke to the Nation saying, “The effort of the Germans to secure daylight mastery of the air over England is of course the crux of the whole war.” Then, on September 15, came the decisive day of the Battle of Britain; and, many opine, the decisive day of the war. And, that became, forever, the day to be celebrated by the British as the Battle of Britain Day.

Korda does a marvelous bit of writing as he describes that day and “the Few” gloriously winning one of the four most crucial victories in British history. Amazingly, Dowding’s Fighter Command had never lost control of the air for even a single moment. To the wonder of the world, a personally remote military leader, sometimes reviled by his cohorts, and 2000 fighter pilots secured Britain’s freedom. In its time, it seemed a miracle.

With Wings Like Eagles will be quite interesting for C-133 crewmembers as we had several veterans in our early squadrons quite familiar with the European air battles. Also, for the WWII history buffs, Korda presents an unfettered analysis of this time in our lives when Britain stood alone against one of history’s most evil rulers in his quest for dominance of the European continent. Dowding’s unrelenting pursuit to implement his contested vision won the day. That in itself makes Wings a most enjoyable read. Kudos to Korda!

As a bonus, the 1969 movie, Battle of Britain, is available with marvelous flying scenes along with Dowding as technical director and Laurence Olivier playing him. I recommend it as an excellent depiction of these historic events and times as true to the story line. I had a very nostalgic evening viewing it after last seeing it almost 40 years ago. Click here to go to the Battle of Britain Historical Society homepage. Enjoy!

Richard Spencer
39th ATS, KDOV

Monday, May 25, 2009

We Remember! Thank you!

To those who gave all for our freedom,
and their families
.....especially our colleagues lost in 133's.....
we salute you!!

Appropriate story; author anonymous:

As I came out of the supermarket that sunny day, pushing my cart of groceries towards my car, I saw an old man with the hood of his car up and a lady sitting inside the car, with the door open. The old man was looking at the engine. I put my groceries away in my car and continued to watch the old gentleman from about twenty five feet away.

I saw a young man in his early twenties with a grocery bag in his arm, walking towards the old man. The old gentleman saw him coming too, and took a few steps towards him. I saw the old gentleman point to his open hood and say something. The young man put his grocery bag into what looked like a brand new Cadillac Escalade and then turn back to the old man and I heard him yell at the old gentleman saying, 'You shouldn't even be allowed to drive a car at your age.' And then with a wave of his hand, he got in his car and peeled rubber out of the parking lot.

I saw the old gentleman pull out his handkerchief and mop his brow as he went back to his car and again looked at the engine. He then went to his wife and spoke with her and appeared to tell her it would be okay. I had seen enough and I approached the old man. He saw me coming and stood straight and as I got near him I said, 'Looks like you're having a problem.' He smiled sheepishly and quietly nodded his head. 'I looked under the hood myself and knew that whatever the problem was, it was beyond me.'

Looking around I saw a gas station up the road and told the old man that I would be right back. I drove to the station and went inside and saw three attendants working on cars. I approached one of them and related the problem the old man had with his car and offered to pay them if they could follow me back down and help him.

The old man had pushed the heavy car under the shade of a tree and appeared to be comforting his wife. When he saw us, he straightened up and thanked me for my help. As the mechanics diagnosed the problem (overheated engine) I spoke with the old gentleman. When I shook hands with him earlier, he had noticed my Marine Corps ring and had commented about it, telling me that he had been a Marine too. I nodded and asked the usual question, 'What outfit did you serve with?'

He had mentioned that he served with the first Marine Division at Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. He had hit all the big ones and retired from the Corps after the war was over. As we talked we heard the car engine come on and saw the mechanics lower the hood. They came over to us as the old man reached for his wallet, but was stopped by me and I told him I would just put the bill on my AAA card.

He still reached for the wallet and handed me a card that I assumed had his name and address on it and I stuck it in my pocket. We all shook hands all around again and I said my goodbye's to his wife. I then told the two mechanics that I would follow them back up to the station.

Once at the station I told them that they had interrupted their own jobs to come along with me and help the old man. I said I wanted to pay for the help, but they refused to charge me. One of them pulled out a card from his pocket looking exactly like the card the old man had given to me. Both of the men told me then, that they were Marine Corps Reserves. Once again we shook hands all around and as I was leaving, one of them told me I should look at the card the old man had given to me. I said I would and drove off.

For some reason I had gone about two blocks when I pulled over and took the card out of my pocket and looked at it for a long, long time. The name of the old gentleman was on the card in golden leaf and under his name.......'Congressional Medal of Honor Society.'

I sat there motionless looking at the card and reading it over and over. I looked up from the card and smiled to no one but myself and marveled that on this day, four Marines had all come together, because one of us needed help. He was an old man all right, but it felt good to have stood next to greatness and courage and an honor to have been in his presence.

Remember, OLD men like him gave you FREEDOM for America.

Thanks to those who served and those who supported them. America is not at war. The U.S. Military is at war. America is at the mall.

If you don't stand behind our troops, PLEASE feel free to stand in front of them!

Remember, Freedom isn't "Free" -- thousands have paid the price so you can enjoy what you have today.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dog Fight for the Birds

Some of you might have already seen this on other nets. I got it from a friend of a friend who runs a 2,000 acre corn farm up around Barron, WI, not far from Oshkosh. He used to fly F4Es and F-16s for the Guard and participated in the first Gulf War. Submitted for your enjoyment, and as a reminder that there are other great, magnificent flyers around.


I went out to plant corn for a bit to finish a field before tomorrow morning and witnessed THE GREAT BATTLE.

A golden eagle - big bastard, about six foot wingspan - flew right in front of the tractor. It was being chased by three crows that were continually dive bombing it and pecking at it. The crows do this because the eagles rob their nests when they find them.

At any rate, the eagle banked hard right in one evasive maneuver, then landed in the field about 100 feet from the tractor. This eagle stood about 3 feet tall. The crows all landed too and took up positions around the eagle at 120 degrees apart, but kept their distance at about 20 feet from the big bird. The eagle would take a couple steps towards one of the crows and they'd hop backwards and forward to keep their distance. Then the reinforcements showed up!

I happened to spot the eagle's mate hurtling down out of the sky at what appeared to be approximately Mach 1.5. Just before impact the eagle on the ground took flight, and the three crows which were watching the grounded eagle, also took flight thinking they were going to get in some more pecking on the big bird. The first crow being targeted by the diving eagle never stood a snowball's chance in hell. There was a mid-air explosion of black feathers and that crow was done! The diving eagle then banked hard left in what had to be a 9G climbing turn, using the energy it had accumulated in the dive, and hit crow #2 less than two seconds later. Another crow dead!

The grounded eagle, which was now airborne and had an altitude advantage on the remaining crow, which was streaking eastward in full burner, made a short dive then banked hard right when the escaping crow tried to evade the hit. It didn't work - crow #3 bit the dust at about 20 feet altitude.

This aerial battle was better than any airshow I've been to, including the warbirds show at Oshkosh! The two eagles ripped the crows apart and ate them on the ground, and as I got closer and closer working my way across the field, I passed within 20 feet of one of them as it ate its catch. It stopped and looked at me as I went by and you could see in the look of that bird that it knew who's Boss Of The Sky. What a beautiful bird!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Those Russians just know how to design a good lookin' aircraft, don't they????
And it flies!!!!!!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chopper Loading

Here's a video both aviators and boaters should appreciate:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Agent Orange Legislation

Here is some proposed legislation in the House of Representatives that will be of interest to all aircrew who flew into Vietnam but were never stationed there. It changes the definition of Vietnam Service to make eligibility for Agent Orange benefits less difficult to obtain. HR2244, The Agent Orange Equity Act of 2009, was introduce by Rep Filner on 5 May 2009. It would clarify the legal presumption of exposure to Agent Orange for veterans who served in the vicinity of Vietnam. Currently, 38 US Code Section 1116, defines a Vietnam veteran as "a veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served in the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975." The Department of Veterans Affairs uses a conservative interpretation to mean "boots on the ground" which excludes most Navy and Air Force personnel who have Agent Orange related issues but who can not prove "boots on the ground." HR 2244 would clarify this section by redefining a Vietnam veteran as one who, during active military, naval or air service (a) served in the Republic of Vietnam (including the inland waterways, ports and harbors of such Republic, the waters offshore of such Republic and the airspace above such Republic) during the period January 9, 1962 - May 7, 1975: (b) served in Johnston Island during the period April 1, 1972 - September 30, 1977: or (c) received the Vietnam Service Medal of the Vietnam Campaign Medal. This is something important about which to contact your representative.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

C-133 TV program

Greg Sheffer, of Inversion Productions, is still working on a teaser of 3-5 minutes to promote the C-133 story to possible TV outlets. He will soon also have a website set up. All of the raw footage from the last flight of 61999 went to him. He is also looking for any other film or imagery or other material that might be useful. Anyone who has potential material should contact Greg at

Cal Taylor

Military News Blog

Here's a site that might be of interest to others.
Also, I was contacted by Raymond Foster, who invited me to list my book on That has been done and I let him know about the four books that I promote on the C-133 website. If there are other authors on the C-133 blog, you might want to contact him. HIs CV is at

Cal Taylor