Monday, 14 August 2017

R.J. Mitchell: Steam Revisited

Locomotive No.6 at Calshot, 1921 -1945
In my recent book I wrote that Mitchell’s Type 224 design was powered by a Rolls-Royce Goshawk evaporatively cooled engine – using  a new system, whereby the water in the engine was kept under pressure by pumps, allowing it to heat to 150 Celsius and then the superheated water was released to turn to steam in a suitable container, with sides exposed to the airflow – where it would condense, to be returned to the engine. Type 224 first flew in 1934 but it was found that the returning coolant water would often turn into steam again, the pump would cease to operate, and plumes of steam would be seen escaping from wing tip vents.
      This no doubt produced unwelcome memories in Mitchell of his apprenticeship at the locomotive works of  Kerr, Stuart and Co. but at least he must have had other, earlier memories (though possibly not nostalgic ones– see my Chapter One) of his time at the Fenton works during his frequent visits to the naval flying boat base at Calshot:  there, a narrow gauge loco ran between the base and the Eaglehurst camp, built to accommodate the ground staff and aircraft crews who worked at RNAS Calshot. (See photo above). Although it was not one of at least fifty Wren class engines built at Fenton whilst he was an apprentice there, this loco, built by Andrew Barclay & Co. Ltd., Kilmarnock, was of a very similar type. The photo below, courtesy of Talyllyn Railway Archives, gives a more close-up view of the locomotive in its earlier days.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Spitfires for Malta

HMS Eagle
In my recent book I wrote that the reputation of Mitchell’s fighter was further enhanced by the eventual lifting of the siege of Malta. In early 1941, the Luftwaffe had had to take over the action from the Italians and so reinforcements of Spitfires had to be flown in from H.M.S. Eagle (they did not have the range to go directly from Gibraltar). Eventually, sufficient numbers of Spitfires, better organized ground support and the deployment of many experienced pilots, led by the October of 1942 to the lifting of the siege and even to a developing offensive strategy from the island. The Spitfire was once again seen as the significant factor in another British ‘backs-to-the-wall’ campaign.

 Since completing this book, I have come across the following anecdote which gives an insight into the sort of desperate measures that wartime emergencies often required and which lay behind the successful lifting of the seige of Malta:

 “Ronnie [Fl Lt Ronnie West DFC & bar] had arrived on Malta after flying off with the first batch of Spitfires, from the carrier HMS Eagle, joining 249 Squadron. He told us that as the Spitfires only had flaps which were either fully up or fully down – no half or partial flaps as with bombers – they had to overcome the problem of really needing partial flap when taking off from a carrier. They achieved this by selecting flaps ‘down’ prior to take-off, then inserting bits of wood which were held in position whilst flaps were selected ‘up’. Thus partial flap was achieved. Once height was made, flaps were selected ‘down’, which released the bits of wood, then ‘up’ again before flying on to Malta.” (From Spitfire Offensive by Wing Commander R.W.F. Sampson, OBE, DFC & bar and N.Franks).

[On 11 Aug, 1942, Eagle was hit by four torpedoes from U-73 while escorting a convoy to Malta; 169 crew were lost; 927 were rescued]