AHC: Peerless Air Ministry

Using mortar bomb casings was basically because they were available and in mass production. what is required was a multi setting fuse (or three fuses) impact, time delay, movement. Having a container of say 90 bombs with 30 of each fuse type and different delay timings makes for a much more disruptive package,
 
11. 16 The Winter war in the Atlantic and the Mediterainian

The agreement with the Admiralty that aircraft on convoy protection patrols would come under direct Naval control seemed to be working well, to the point that when a new Atlantic Command headquarters was set up in Liverpool in late 1940 it had a permeant staff from Maritime Command attached and exercised direct control of all Maritime Command sorties, be they convoy patrols, anti U-boat sorties or plain maritime reconnaissance missions, all were to be undertaken at the Navies behest. The success of the airborne intervention in the western approaches since the start of hostilities and the movement of the main convoy routes to the north of Irland had shifted the centre of focus for the U-boats further out into the Atlantic and further north. This had not only resulted in the establishment of bases on Iceland but also the fevered expansion of airbases in Northern Ireland and the west of Scotland. Using these new bases and the new VLRMPA coming into service the gap in aircover between Iceland and the UK was being rapidly closed. This too would push the U-boats further west out into mid Atlantic where currently Maritime Command did not have the resources to provide convoys with continuous air cover. The expansion of Gander in Newfoundland as an airbase for both lLRMPA and as a ferry flight staging point was well under way . Three of the four concrete runways had been completed and the last would be finished in the next ‘construction season’ . The longest runways were just under one mile and the shortest around three quarters of mile. These could hand le the current generation of aircraft. Further north at Goose bay in Labrador a site had been found for another airfield. Priority work on this would commence with the start of the 1941 building season and to facilitate this materials plant and manpower was being mobilised. Her the longest runway was planned to extend to one and a quarter miles in length to accommodate the next generation of large aircraft. When complete some time in 1941 these two Northern bases in conjunction with Iceland would provide continues aircover for convoys on the northern route.

The German U-boats had adopted a new tactic as the winter nights grew longer. This was to trail the convoy on the surface by day and form what they called a ‘Wolf Pack’, which would then make a coordinated series of attacks whilst remaining on the surface, only submerging if detected and attacked, As autumn turned into the full Atlantic winter, by using these tactics the U-boats were inflicting untenable losses on the merchant fleet.



The only counter to this was to increase as quickly as possible the duration and extent of air cover, However it was not just the U-boats that were praying on the all important convoys. From their bases in western France the Luftwaffe were now causing serious losses, whilst the Ju88 and He 111 were confined by their lack of range to Western approaches and the Bay of Biscay the big four engine Fw, 200 had no such limitation and could maraud far out into the Atlantic. How to counter this aircraft was causing much angst in both the Admiralty and the AM. In the Admiralty the first response was to reassign more of the AMC (auxiliary merchant Carriers) to convoy protection rather than the anti raider cruiser groups. This unfortunately would not enable every convoy to have an attendant auxiliary carrier but it was a start and the MAC (merchant aircraft carrier) program was given raised priority to accelerate the availability of more convoy escort carriers. Maritime Commands response was t request long range fighters so that the FW 200 could be intercepted over the bay of Biscay. Giving the LRMPA heavier armament so as to enable them to engage the FW 200 Condors was also being proposes. Blackburn had suggested that at least two forward firing 20mm cannon could be added to the Blacburn B20 Buccaneer , one either side of the bombaimers position and the forward entrance hatch. A trials aircraft was being modified with all haste. With the big Stirling the move had been to remove the forward turret to improve the aerodynamics and hence the range. The advent of the Condor now made the RAF reconsider that reversing that decision.

Much Pressure was taken of Maritime Command when in early November the first fast convoy with an attached AMC resulted in the carriers Martlet fighters shooting down three FW 200 in five days. Though several subsequent convoys had to sail without an attached AMC the FW 200 had been far more circumspect in their approach to a convoy. Also the aggressive flying of the Stirlings and Buccaneers though resulting in damage to two Stirlings and the ditching of a Buccaneer had also done much to thwart the efforts of the Luftwaffe to shadow the convoys.

Sir Hugh had pondered for some time whether there was a political possibility of getting air bases on the Azores, as their location in the Atlantic Ocean would provide a critical degree of air cover for the convoys both crossing the Atlantic and heading south to both the cape and Mediterranean. This was an idea he would continue to push with Sir Hugh, knowing the political difficulties of Portuguese Neutrality in the war, However due to their longstanding historical alliances with the British there might be a way this could be resolved.



Important convoys had been run not only across the Atlantic but also down to West Africa and the Cape. Also the attack on Taranto on mid November had put half the Italian battle ships out of action but appeared to do little to alter the strategic balance as shown by the disruption of the next ‘Club Run’ to deliver Hurricane fighters to Malta. The presence of a force of Italian Battle Ships and Heavy Cruisers had left the RN with a dilemma, with the carrier decks blocked by The RAF Hurricane a strike against the Italian warships could not be launched and whilst the Italian Fleet was at sea it was not safe for the carriers to approach Malta to launch the Hurricanes on their long delivery flight. A Compromise was reached when ASV equipped Wellingtons out of Malta tracked the Italian Fleet and the carriers advanced to the very edge of the Hurricanes range before launching them. Of the sixty four hurricanes flown off no less than twelve ran out of fuel but the fifty two that made it were a very valuable and timely reinforcement for the island. Of the Twelve Pilots who diched two were logged as missing believed killed, three were captured when picked up by Italian Naval units and the remaining seven were recovered to Malta by RN and local ships.
 
Excellent stuff so Costal Command's got more resources devoted to it and earlier too. With bases in Newfoundland and Iceland that can shrink the Black Hole down quite a bit and hopefully reduce losses of Merchants and increase losses for the U-Boats. From the sounds of it the Bay of Biscay might become a bit of a hot warzone for both sides, the RAF's now got the long-range fighters to contest it with Reapers and I would assume the Beaufighters getting in on it too.

The Med update was a bit confusing, was the club run done after Taranto or before? If done after there would probably be no active BB's to worry about and the RN could see off an italian cruiser force. But either way, 52 additional Hurricanes for the defence of Malta will make any visits there by the RA or Luftwaffe far more painful.
 
As in OTl the Operation 'white' club run was done just after Taranto and yes the remains if the Italian fleet did sortie. This resulted in the Hurricanes being launched at extreme range and most if them having to ditch OTL short of Malta. ITL due to the Navy losing fewer carriers and there being more Hurricanes available the operation is much bigger. Therefore so is the escort and the effort to provide LRMRA to track Italian naval activity. For this reason ITL no attempt is made to launch an airstrike against the Italian Naval units. It is a matter of risk and benefit, with the safe reinforcement for Malta's fighter force outweighing any possibility of damaging some of the remaining Italian battle ships and heavy cruisers.
 
11. 17 To give the Army wings



Despite the deepening winter before the end of November Sir Hugh had organised a visit to what was now being called ‘The Central Landing Establishment’ at Ringway airfield near Manchester. As CAS Sir Hugh thought it of great importance that he should visit this newest branch of the British Armed forces as soon as possible. As he saw it his visit had two main functions, One, was as a fact finding mission, so that he could see for himself not only the progress made so far but also asses the problems that the new service was facing, secondly, His visit was to demonstrate the commitment of the RAF to the needs of the Airborne Forces and to show that the new service was being taken seriously by the AM.

The visit started in the morning with Sir Hugh and his party being greeted by the officer commanding the RAF Contingent, shaking hands with Wing Commander Louis Arbon Strange, DSO, DFC and Bar. Sir Hugh congratulated Louis on the recent award of a bar to his Great war DFC , this bar was awarded for flying a damaged and unarmed Hurricane (an aircraft type he had never flown before) back to the UK as France fell. Wing Commander Strange then introduced the senior RAF officers of the school before the party set of to the airfield to watch a demonstration parachute drop. For this every single instructor, qualified officers and parachute troopers were required which was explained to Sir Hugh on the way. Shortly after they arrived at the air field perimeter the sound of aircraft engines began to fill the air. The lead aircraft came as a surprise to Sir Hugh, as the familiar shape of a big four engine Armstrong Whitworth Ensign hove into view. Wing commander Strange turned to Sir Hugh and stated that 'yes this was the same aircraft used by Fighter Command to ferry ground crews during the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain' but Sir Keith Parks had released it to the new Landing School for trials just a couple of weeks earlier. As it swept across the airfield the first of the Paratroopers were seen to jump from the portside rear door, By the time twenty two parachutes were open the aircraft had covered the full length of the field, the next aircraft was another surprise as the Armstrong Whitworth W23 prototype hove into sight, again the Wing Commander turned to Sir Hugh and stated that this had been acquired from Air Refuelling limited by 'means unknown' some weeks earlier. Twenty two more parachutes blossomed behind this aircraft. Next came three Armstrong Whitleys flying in close formation. From these aircraft came a total of thirty more paratroopers in this case appearing through a hole in the fuselage floor previously occupied by a ventral turret. The Last flight of three aircraft were De Haviland Flamingos. From each of these aircraft twelve parachutists depended having exited from the portside door. As the last plane flew out of sight the paratroopers were observed as they gathered up their parachutes. An Officer detached himself from the assembling troops and doubled over to the watching VIPs. Snapping to attention he threw up a smart salute to Sir Hugh and was introduced as Lieutenant Colonel Rock the Commanding Officer of the British Airborne force. In a brief conversation Colonel Rock welcomed Sir Hugh and at the same time excused himself from not greeting him at his arrival by stating that it was important that he jump with his men and he hoped that Sir Hugh had found the spectacle of interest. Sir Hugh's reply was not recorded though it had been noted earlier during the demonstration drop that Sir Hugh was making frequent asides to his ADC, who was then making notes in a small Filofax.

With all the introductions completed Colonel Rock led the party over to the two training hangers. Here Sir Hugh was able to observe the training regime in progress. The various types of apparatus were explained to him and their use demonstrated. Further demonstrations were given of troops using the various aircraft fuselage mock-ups to practice exiting the aircraft. The use of the Whitley bomber mock up with it’s hole in the floor clearly showed to Sir Hugh the innate unsuitability of this method of egress from aircraft for the rapid deployment of fully equipped paratroopers. The morning finished with a general tour of the rest of the base facilities ending at the officers mess where lunch was served.

Sitting with Lieutenant Colonel Rock to one side and Wing Commander Strang the other Sir Hugh was seen to spend most of the time listening whilst he lunched. As the meal ended Rock announced that all officers were to assemble in the Lecture Hall immediately. Where Sir Hugh would address them.

The gist of Sir Hugh's short address was that the progress they had made so far was impressive but it was obvious that they needed a lot of special equipment and time to learn to use it. Like the RAF two decades earlier as a completely new force the Airborne would have to forge their own identity, Traditions and ethos. He finished by saying that as the CAS he pledged his full support to their endeavours.

Later Back in the Wing Commanders office Sir Hugh, Strang and Rock, with the ADC still taking notes, spent the afternoon discussing the future requirements of the Airborne force. Sir Hugh was quick to point out how slow the current aircraft dropping methods were at delivering paratroops and how dispersed their landings would be. Looking at a Battalion establishment of around eight hundred all ranks, then to drop them would take around twenty Ensigns, or Forty W23’s and the best part of eighty Whitleys or Flamingos. Discussing this, Sir Hugh had ventured that ideal aircraft would be a W23 type but with doors both sides capable of delivering a stick of twenty four men in the same drop area that a Flamingo could deliver twelve would be advantageous.

This capacity was about the same as the DC4 that was being touted in some circles for purchase from America but would have the advantage of dropping it’s paratroops with half the linear dispersal.

Turning to air landing troops in gliders Sir Hugh saw the advantage in that a single glider gave in the depositing of a group of soldiers with their heavy arms as a concentrated group. To deliver a Battalion size force would require about thirty gliders of the intermediates size as in the X29/40 specification and of course thirty tugs and crews to tow them. Additionally a few larger gliders would need to be allocated to provide transport for essential supplies on the landing field.

Sir Hugh could see that the amount of RAF resources that would be required to support even a single Brigade size force of around five thousand men as demanded by Churchill would be a major commitment and would mean robbing Peter to Pay Paul. In that there was not the capacity as yet to supply the aircrew or aircraft needed to fill all the tasks the RAF was being tasked to do. Ultimately this allocation of resources would be primarily a political one taken by the Prime Minister and the War Cabinate. Sir Hugh’s immediate task was to have plans in place to fulfil whatever options the Government pursued and to be able to give informed counsel to help guide those decisions
 

Driftless

Donor
Some tough allocation for production choices ahead.... But, at least there are viable options from a purely technical standpoint.

How much specific training was needed for the flight crews for parachute missions?
 

Driftless

Donor
I have not yet found any specific references regarding air crew training. The Glider Pilot Regiment training was very thorough and broad based.
I hadn't considered the glider implications. I can imagine there must have been some specialized training for the pilots of the tow-planes for the gliders too. That's not one of those "hook up the cable and away we go" kind of excursions.
 
I have not yet found any specific references regarding air crew training. The Glider Pilot Regiment training was very thorough and broad based.
Glider Pilot training was very tough. They had to endure what was basically SAS training and learn to fly. On the ground they were expected to be scouts for the Glider troops and be able to take on leadership roles if called on. They were special forces soldiers first and pilots second.
 
Earlier introduction of parachute formations are good, their aggressiveness will appeal to Churchill, and i'd never heard of the Armstrong Whitworth Ensign , it looks like a slightly earlier York. As always good stuff!
 
The forming of the Parachute Regiment is as OTL date wise, ITL the difference will be that they will not be sucking on the hind teat for the first two years of their existence. OTL the airborne force in 1940/41 was starved of aircraft and all other resources controlled by the RAF. I blame Porta again, if you cut him in half like a stick of rock the word you would find inside would be 'Trenchard'
 
The forming of the Parachute Regiment is as OTL date wise, ITL the difference will be that they will not be sucking on the hind teat for the first two years of their existence. OTL the airborne force in 1940/41 was starved of aircraft and all other resources controlled by the RAF. I blame Porta again, if you cut him in half like a stick of rock the word you would find inside would be 'Trenchard'
In 40, 31, 42 and even (arguably) 43 increasing the size of the Airborne Forces (whether Parachute or Glider delivered)
beyond a couple of battalions of elite raiders is a HUGE mistake for the British (both RAF and Army)!

For the RAF iTTL, it has to be behind
  • Maritime escort
  • Coastal Strike
  • Army Close Air Support
  • Airfield Fighter Defence
    and
  • its own Transport needs to support the above both at Home and in Wider Theaters
 
I will beg to differ slightly, ITL the size and growth of the British Airborne forces will follow OTL just the commitment of RAF resources will be larger. Those resources will also be used for strategic and tactical mobility!
 
I will beg to differ slightly, ITL the size and growth of the British Airborne forces will follow OTL just the commitment of RAF resources will be larger. Those resources will also be used for strategic and tactical mobility!
Authors choice of course

However, I stand by my assessment of the RAFs top priorities in late 40-late 42

As to Strategic mobility, for Britain in the same time frame that must be based on the sea.
  • Improving Military Sealift (i.e. material into a port friendly or captured)
  • an effective Fleet Train (for use where ports are not available)
  • increased Amphibious Capacity (both offshore and onto the beach)
    and even
  • Combat Engineers to repair improve or build infrastructure once established
will be of far more use than a large number of paras

As to tactical mobility, that was mostly a function of the mechanisation of land-based Army units.
In 1940 the British Army was already the most mechanised in the world
whatever the quality (or lack thereof) found in its individual designs and its tacticians.

Replacing its losses from France and improving the numbers, capacity and above all mechanical reliability is whats needed
(whether of the fighting vehicles or logistical units).

To these extents, Air Mobile units - at least large ones - should be well down the priority list for the Army too.
 
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The Tiger was so bad that Armstrong Siddeley's sister firm Armstrong Whitworth even dropped it from their Whitley in favour of the Merlin. Had it stayed in production no doubt this would have also happened with the Ensign
 
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I agree to an extent @AlanJWhite, the UK doesn't need an airborne force until 1943 and the RAF shouldn't divert significant resources into that yet. However strategic airlift is to a large extent dual purpose and more, better airlifters would be really useful in North Africa and the Med, especially re: Malta and the Greece campaign. With 20/20 foresight you would put the gliders on the backburner and spend the remainder of 1940 early '41 getting a solid design for a small and a large airlifter that will serve you for the rest of the war finalised and then get them into production ASAP. Send the early production run to the Med as soon as they come off the production lines and ramp up as fast as is practical. Keep your design teams working on refining your airfliters for the remainder of '41 as you incorporate battlefield and production line experience to make them better, cheaper aircraft. At the start of '42 you start on your glider program with the aim of getting something in production for a small scale test in the Invasion of Sicily. Then you really ramp up in preparation for June '44.
 
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