It’s official: the Poles run Britain

Moving house, office, animals and sundries and then rebuilding them at the other end simply wouldn’t have happened were it not for our local Polish community. All offers of tea or coffee have been met with a flat refusal (“No! We’re working! We’re not English!”) and everything’s happened twice as fast and for half the cost that anyone in their right mind would have expected.

As a result, this particular scene from The Battle of Britain has not been far from anyone’s thoughts around here lately…

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RAF Museum raises the last Dornier Do17

Well, they said that they’d do it and now they’ve done it. The RAF Museum has raised the last Dornier Do17 on Earth from its resting place on the Goodwin Sands.

The last of Goering's 'flying pencil' bombers breaks the surface of the English Channel

The last ‘flying pencil’ bomber breaks free of the English Channel

There were setbacks and dramas during the lift period, but the corroded and barnacled hulk was lifted almost complete after almost 73 years lying under the rampant tides of the Channel. The tyres were still inflated and there was still grease in the propeller gear, but one could divine a certain sense of disappointment among the attendant media that this was all that they were going to see.

Bringing home the booty: the Dornier under tow

Bringing home the booty: the Dornier under tow

Now the Museum’s job is to stabilise the metalwork before it can go on display, unrestored, for future generations to marvel at.

José Froilán González

There was something about José Froilán González which seemed indestructible… making the announcement of his passing this weekend, even at the ripe age of 90, something of a shock. Known as the ‘Pampas Bull’ by the British press and ‘El Cabezón’ (fathead), by his countrymen, he was the Argentine star who claimed Enzo Ferrari’s first Grand Prix victory as a constructor enjoyed tremendous affection from fans both in his prime and in his latter years.

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

Rotund and ready-smiling, González was born in the city of Arrecifes and was a keen athlete in his youth – whose competitiveness was somewhat at odds with his naturally chunky frame. At 10 years of age he got himself behind the wheel of a car and this produced an even bigger thrill, so he contrived to find ways to drive vehicles of all shapes and sizes from that moment on.

Racing duly followed, at the age of 24, when he embarked on some of the great cross-country events of the era. He took a typically South American approach by using a pseudonym to avoid his family finding out about his antics – although they did, despite his best efforts. His father then helped González establish a trucking business – no doubt hoping that this would occupy him too fully to go racing – but although it was successful, the whole operation was duly sold after a couple of years in order to pay for a Maserati 4CL with which to make his international debut in Buenos Aires.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari's first Formula One win

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari’s first Formula One win

González clearly had talent and this earned him sponsorship from the Argentine government of Juan Peron – just like his older rival from national road races, Juan Manuel Fangio – which took him to Europe in 1950. Once again his talent was clear and he was signed up by Enzo Ferrari – although with some reservations from the Old Man about the state of high anxiety that González would work himself into before a race.

On July 14th 1951, fate decreed that it was González who would enter the record books as the first man to drive a Ferrari to victory in a Grand Prix, when he mastered a race-long battle with Fangio’s Alfa Romeo 158 to win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He drove out of his skin that day, hurling the big unblown V12 around with all his might to hold the waspish supercharged Alfetta at bay in what was undoubtedly his finest Grand Prix performance.

There was no onward momentum from that first victory, however, in what fast became the ‘Fangio era’. He would win at Silverstone with Ferrari once again in 1954, the year when he also anchored the Scuderia’s victory at Le Mans with Maurice Trintignant, but spent the majority of his European racing days as a journeyman. González not only drove for Ferrari but also Maserati, BRM and Tony Vandervell’s Thinwall operation – the British teams usually in non-championship events such as Goodwood meetings.

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the BRM at Goodwood

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the mighty V16 BRM at Goodwood

González returned to live in Argentina before the start of the 1955 season, establishing a successful car dealership business. He did not often choose to hark back to his racing days, but when he did he was always cheerful and grateful – if somewhat bemused – by the affection in which he was held by fans of the sport from thousands of miles away. He will be missed.

 

Malta’s Spitfires – revealed at last?

One could be forgiven for thinking that the model making community was a tranquil oasis amid our turbulent world: a place for calm, reflective pursuit. Yet this is not so – indeed, the pursuit of accuracy can create more online mayhem, hair-pulling and name-calling than a busload of boozed-up celebrities accessing their Twitter accounts at the same time.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest causes of model making fracas is the question of what colours the Spitfires which valiantly defended Malta against unspeakable odds during World War 2 were painted. These aircraft hold a semi-mythical status not only for the deeds done 70 years ago but also for their allegedly unique paintwork – and now one brave soul, Brian Cauchi, has revealed the results of his 14-year research into the matter.

A great Spitfire riddle resolved? This new book offers an exhaustive trawl through the possible permutations.

Mr. Cauchi’s new book labours under the title Malta Spitfire Vs – 1942: Their Colours and Markings, which makes up for its lack of blockbuster appeal by delivering an accurate summary of the contents. Within we find forensic analysis of the many and various colour schemes captured in often poor quality photographs during the dark days of 1942, backed up with fragments of original paint from recovered wrecks and an array of accounts both firsthand and by respected historians on the subject.

The mystique of the Malta Spitfires stems from the fact that they have often been described as being blue – and a blue-painted Spitfire is far more exotic than the muddy tones of camouflage that typify its wartime history. The prospect of R.J. Mitchell’s timelessly beautiful fighter with its lines drenched in blue paint is one that has beguiled model makers for many years – and their interpretations have varied from mild to wild, thus sparking many a heated debate.

Why should we care about such minutiae? After all, the world has moved on and now we are preoccupied by reality TV shows and the Eurozone crisis and… oh, hold on. Let’s have another look at these Spitfires, shall we?

S&G didn’t make a bad stab at deciphering this one, according to Mr. Cauchi

Malta was beseiged from June 1940 until November 1942, standing alone in the centre of the Mediterranean with 1000 miles of open sea between it and friendly soil – while the massed ranks of Italy and Germany sat just 60 miles to the north in Sicily. Despite being only the size of the Isle of Wight, the strategic importance of Malta was absolute as it was from here that submarines, aircraft and ships were able to all-but sever the supply routes to Rommel’s Afrika Korps, and in so doing safeguard North Africa, the Suez Canal and the invaluable oil fields beyond.

As Sir Winston Churchill put it; Malta was the master key to the entire British Empire.

The Luftwaffe devastated the Island in January-May 1941 but when these forces were redirected to the invasion of Russia, Malta was soon back in action. As a result the Luftwaffe returned to the Mediterranean in the winter of 1941-42 with even greater strength and made the Island the most bombed place on Earth. At its peak, during March-April 1942, the tonnage of bombs dropped on Malta was greater than that dropped on London during all 12 months of the Blitz.

It was in March 1942 that the Spitfires finally arrived; replacing the few outdated Hawker Hurricanes that hadn’t been shot out of the sky or blown up on the ground. They came in small numbers and were quickly bombed out of existence but in the weeks ahead more deliveries followed and, despite continued losses on the ground, the Spitfires began to hold the Luftwaffe to account and blunt its furious assault – while the hope which these aircraft brought to the beleaguered Maltese was more valuable still.

Were they painted blue? Yes – more or less. The reason was that they were ordered with desert camouflage of sandy yellow tones which stood out like a sore thumb over the Mediterranean, while flying against enemy forces which outnumbered them by a ratio of more than ten to one. As a result the Island’s defenders took it upon themselves to paint the Spitfires in a more suitable scheme for the unique conditions in which they fought.

About as blue as it gets: a reasonable representation of a Malta Spitfire

Despite the unprepossessing title given to his work, Brain Cauchi’s book is beautifully laid out and his long years of painstaking research are brought to vivid life in the text, photos and colour profiles within. Ultimately there were almost as many different paint schemes worn by these celebrated Spitfires as there were aircraft themselves, because they were usually painted on an ad hoc basis under severe bombardment with whatever materials were to hand.

Even after all his hard work, Mr. Cauchi is at pains to point out that his hypotheses are still only the best guesses he can give in each case. It won’t end the grouchiness among modellers seeking to create an accurate Malta Spitfire but his book does bring some order to the chaos and gives non-modellers a much-needed insight into a story that is too often overlooked by the major historians of World War 2.

In 2005 a Hurricane and a Spitfire returned to Malta to commemorate 60 years since the end of the war in Europe – and both were painted to represent aircraft which flew from the Island. The Hurricane was spot-on but while the Spitfire was perhaps a touch too ‘Hollywood’ in recreating the mythical blue defenders it made for a stirring spectacle…