Putting aside stuffing our faces with turkey, chocolates and mince pies for one day, Ross and I ventured to Cambridge to visit the Imperial War Museum Duxford. Following a long train journey we eventually arrived just before opening time. We started our tour in the maintenance hangar, which as some of you may have seen in our video was a little light on aircraft on this occasion…
Thankfully they left two though, one was the Heinkel He 162 A-2 Salamander, a German jet fighter produced during the final throws of WW2 which was rapidly developed, going from concept design to first test flight within 90 days. It was produced cheaply with the intention to be flown by members of the Hitlerjugend. And the other plane on display, which needs no introduction, was a replica of the much beloved British Supermarine Spitfire.
With the sun out and a good crowd showing, we decided to head on up to the Land Warfare Museum at the other end of the former air base to try to beat the rush.
Strolling to the other end of the site to explore the Land Warfare Museum, we passed a number of the original hangars, including the control tower as well as an old Harvard (AT-6) which was parked up beside the runway waiting to be fuelled before a busy day of flying.
After drawling for half an hour having watched the old Harvard take off and fly about a bit (with both Ross and I no doubt wishing we could be the ones sat enjoying a flight in it) we entered the Land Warfare part of the Museum. It was a really impressive display, packed to the rafters with a wide array of historical weapons, tanks and vehicles from a whole range of different time periods, as well as number of remarkable battle panoramas.
What follows are a few of my personal highlights from within the LWM…
It was great to see this original British Grant Tank which was used by Monty during the Battle of El Alamein. The 37mm gun barrel (bottom left) is in fact wooden, the original was replaced to make space for further comms equipment. Also on display is a few of the original caravans and bedroom quarters used by Montgomery during the war, interestingly these weren’t of Allied origin, they were confiscated by the British from their previous owners during the desert campaign (from Rommel and also an Italian General respectively).
I was also really impressed by the sheer scale and size of some of the tanks, the likes of the Russian Joseph Stalin and German Jagdpanther Tanks are both colossal. It was also intriguing to see a German Goliath Demolition Vehicle, designed to be remotely driven it was packed with up to 80 KGs of explosives to be guided onto an enemy installation before being remotely detonated.
Ross also finally learnt what a German Tiger Tank looked like when we got up close to this remarkable replica of a Mark I which was used in the film Saving Private Ryan. The Tiger Tank with its crew of 5 was first deployed in 1942, weighing not far off 60 tonnes, with up to 120mm of armour at certain points and an 88mm main gun it understandably would go on to strike fear into the hearts of many an Allied soldier that came up against this gigantic weapon.
Before breaking for lunch, as it was already fast approaching 1.00 p.m., Ross and I managed to get a spot of filming in for the day’s vlog of our trip.
Breaking for a bite to eat, we sat just outside Wing Co, where we got to enjoy the remarkable view of the original control tower and runway. We were very lucky with the weather on our visit, as I know having spoken with a couple of you who were wishing to make the trip to Duxford later that week that the weather sadly took a turn for the worse.
Re-energised and with our bellies full, Ross decided to go and film the time-lapse sequence of the vlog whilst the sun was still out, so I wondered off to explore and discovered a couple of interesting sites just behind the American Air Museum which is soon to re-open.
The first was that of a replica of the German V-1 Flying Bomb (or as Goebbels coined the Vengeance Weapon). Utilised by the Germans late in the war, these weapons were launched against Britain in the hope of helping to strike fear and help turn the tide of the war back in Germany’s favour. Over 10,000 of these Revenge Weapons were fired on Britain, many were shot down by Anti-Aircraft Guns and fighter pilots, but almost 3000 got through, killing over 20,000 people in Britain. Interestingly the launch pad it is on is actually original, made up from various sections that were recovered from Europe and brought back to Duxford for examination.
There was also this very moving artistic memorial tribute to all those USAAF airmen that died during the Second World War whilst flying from UK bases. It was staggering the numbers, and very hard to try and capture the full length of the memorial which curves and stretches on all the way down the hill.
Reconvening, we ventured into the Conservation Hangar to see some of the impressive work that the IWM Team does in restoring historical aircraft. The hangar was chocked full of different aircraft and parts at various stages of work and re-development. A couple unsurprisingly caught my attention, a CASA 2.111B (the Spanish version of the German Heinkel He 111) which actually appeared in the opening scenes of the Battle of Britain film, there was also the forward fuselage section of a Handley Page Halifax four engine British WW2 heavy bomber.
From here it was onto the Battle of Britain Hangar, which was a personal highlight of mine, I am currently reading Tom Neil’s terrific book Scramble about his experience as a fighter pilot during the Second World War. I was consequently very keen to see a former B.O.B. veteran in the form of the Messerschmitt Bf 109E which is stationed at Duxford. This aircraft fought in the battle for domination to gain control of the skies over Britain during the summer of 1940, shooting down 5 British aircraft before suffering engine failure during combat and crash landing in Sussex on 30th September.
There were also a load of other interesting Battle of Britain related relics on show including the remains of a Heinkel tail fin and engine, as well as a number of examples of the counter measures that Britain used in defence to counter this threat, the Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, Barrage Balloons, an Anderson Shelter dugout and and some of the equipment used by the Observation Corps.
From the Battle of Britain Hangar, we moved onto our final destination of the day, the two other maintenance hangars which were full of aircraft. It was interesting to learn that this first hangar we entered, which contained around 10+ historical aircraft, including a North American TF-51D Mustang, is apparently all owned by one family.
However it was the next hangar in particular that both Ross and I had been particularly keen to see when we planned our visit to IWM Duxford, as it is home to a very special aircraft and a movie star. Sally B starred in the movie Memphis Belle, is the last surviving Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in Europe that is still flyable / airworthy thanks to the hard work of both the IWM team and also the Sally B supporters club.
Used by the U.S. Eighth Air Force during the bomber offensive against Germany in the Second World War, the four engined B-17 Flying Fortress was one of America’s main bombers for this period. Capable of a top speed of over 300 mph, a normal bomb load of around 6000 lbs, it was designed for high altitude bombing and due to the U.S. doctrine of daylight bombing, its ten man crew had to frequently rely on its 13 Browning machine guns and weight of numbers for defence against the Luftwaffe.
All in all we had a terrific day, we met some great people that worked there and would just like to say thank you to Sam on the Events Team, who was kind enough to chat with us about a few of the exhibits. We certainly cannot wait to get back there soon, examine the American Air Museum when it re-opens in February, see the Airborne Exhibit which we sadly ran out of time to see as well as enjoy one or two of the Air Shows during 2016. Hopefully we will meet a few of you during one of our visits to this truly fantastic museum!
Coming up soon on the blog, we will be looking ahead to our trip to Berlin and discussing exactly where we plan to visit. Ross and I would love to hear your suggestions.