Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Daily Mail Headlines To Which The Answer Is Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Britain could have "crushed Germany within three years" if RAF had not REJECTED inventor's plans for world's first jet fighter.

Let's suppose the RAF had a jet engine powered fighter in 1939/40. It would be unable to use the basic French airfields that were unsuitable for the Spitfire. Bumpy grass fields are equally bad for foreign object ingestion into intakes as for manoeuvring with a narrow track undercarriage. Neither would there be an effective radar plus command and control, ie Dowding System, of managing the fighters. If decent runways had been available they would still have had to fly patrols, using up fuel more quickly than even Spitfires and Hurricanes and, more importantly, engine hours. The range of the Gloster Meteor Mk III of 1944 was about 500 miles, or say 40 minutes endurance with 5 minutes of combat. In addition, the Battle of France was a land campaign so the airfields and super secret jet fighters would have been overrun and captured by the German Panzers. So Germany would have got the advanced technology. As Stalin said "Quantity has its own quality".

What use would jet fighters have been combatting the u-boats? How many minutes would a jet engine last in the abrasive atmosphere of the Western Desert with all that sand? Wouldn't jet fighters have been just as poorly commanded in the Malayan Campaign as their piston engined counterparts, even if they could cope with the heat and humidity? Yet more advanced technology would have been captured, this time by Japanese soldiers on bicycles.

What Britain needed was a decent tank with HE as well as AP ammunition, a long range escort fighter, Hurricane and Spitfire fighter-bombers, plenty of anti-submarine frigates, the navigational ability to locate a target four hundred miles away without getting lost even in daylight (Bomber Command complacently entered the war without any radar or radio research to improve on dead-reckoning). A Very Long Range maritime patrol aircraft would have been useful. But no single weapon could have wonder the war on its own. Ultra intelligence was probably the only asset that certainly shortened the war. Otherwise, it was the willingness of the Soviets to lose millions of people fighting a war of intensive and extensive attrition with Germany on the Eastern Front that won the Great Patriotic and World Wars.

The bare truth is that Sir Frank Whittle's idea was off the edge of the envelope. People were justifiably wary of punting public funds around the time of the depression when money was tight on something that nine times out of ten wouldn't work properly. We have the advantage of hindsight, the easy knowledge that suck, squeeze, bang, blow is so simple that it must work. Most of the private sector was sceptical as well.

Imagine if the Air Ministry had picked Whittle's idea up and accorded it super-priority. Which British aero-engine company would have had the capability and capacity to develop the jet engine any quicker? Bristols were having trouble with their sleeve-valve Perseus, Taurus and Hercules engines and couldn't manage to put the Centaurus into production until the end of the war, despite it being slated for entry in 1941 aircraft. Rolls-Royce had to abandon the Vulture and Peregrine in order to concentrate on the Merlin and Griffon. Napiers ( bought by English Electric in 1942) spent most of the rest war trying to make their Sabre reliable, but they never fully cured the problems and high maintenance workload. Hence the RAF ditched Sabre-engined aircraft as soon as possible after the war ended.

Reading the Daily Mail readers' comments the blame is due entirely to civil servants and politicians. If only private enterprise had been allowed  free rein... Actually Rolls-Royce and Rover (yes, the car company!) wanted free rein in order to get the technology and squash Whittle's Power Jets company. They achieved this in 1944 when Whittle naively suggested that all jet engine development should be nationalised for the war effort. (Whittle, like many geniuses, had a blind spot in the practical application of his intellect and was a socialist - yet was never nabbed by the Communist spies when he was up at Cambridge doing his Tripos in the thirties - he was married). He put the idea to Sir Stafford Cripps (Kay Burley's old regiment) who agreed that only Power Jets should be nationalised - thereby securing all the useful knowledge and much cheaper than buying out  the vastly bigger Rolls-Royce and Bristols as well. Whittle stopped being a socialist after that, although it was also a master class in capitalism. 

But the one uncorrected howler in the Daily Mail article that  raised my blood pressure is the assertion that the AVA (Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt) or Aerodynamic Research Establishment at Goettingen (aerofoil sections?)  was the German equivalent of Boeing.  Er, they manufacture aircraft. The closest equivalent to the AVA is the Royal Aeronautical Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough or NACA at Hampton, VA.

I've given up reading the Daily Mail's aircraft articles until they appoint an aviation correspondent. Someone like the late Sqn Ldr Bill Waterton who knows the difference between a pitot tube and a jet pipe. Knowledge of Kenny Katatonia or whoever is not required.


Thud said...

A great have a stiff drink and a rest.

Edward Spalton said...

Particularly good to acknowledge the overwhelming importance of the Russian front to the winning of the war. Of course, the Russian people would have been spared much of their tremendous suffering if they had a halfway decent government instead of the monstrous Stalin, who not only disbelieved the intelligence reports of German preparations for invasion but had shot most officers over the rank of colonel before the war started. Still they recovered with incredible bravery and endurance.

Brian said...

Indeed, it was amazing that the Soviets did so well against the Japanese in the battles of Khalkhin Gol in 1939 which meant the Japanese directed their expansion southwards thus enabling the Soviets to concentrate on their western borders. I don't hold to the "Suvorov" theory that the Soviets were caught out by Barbarbarosso whilst preparing their own invasion of Germany. Instead they were moving their defence lines forward because of the land they had stolen from Poland. Stalin may have been getting rid of dead wood in his usual psychopathic way.

Jim Baxter said...

Quantity having its own quality is right. The argument bears comparison to the over-engineered German tanks - great in principle but too far ahead of the then capacity to support and maintain them in the field, unlike the T34.