The title “Universal Works in The Gathering Storm” was inspired by the first volume of Winston Churchill’s six part history of the Second World War, dealing with the years from 1919 until Britain’s declaration of war on Germany on Sunday 3 September 1939. In the “wilderness years” between his memorable times as First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill was elected as a back bench MP for Epping from 1924 and later worked on a biography of his ancestor, the first Duke of Marlborough. But after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933 – and then reformed the banned Luftwaffe from 1935 – Churchill became an increasingly committed opponent of Britain’s appeasement of European dictators.
While Winston Churchill was born the son of Lord Randolph and Lady Jennie Churchill in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, in 1874 : Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria, in 1889, the son of Alois Hitler, a minor customs official, and his wife Klara. Both men had military careers in their youth. Winston Churchill was a junior officer in the British army in India, Sudan and South Africa – where he was captured from and then escaped from the Boers – and later became an author and war correspondent. After a turbulent period in Vienna trying to establish himself as an artist, Adolf Hitler served with the Bavarian Reserve Infantry during the First World War as a messenger and won the Iron Cross. Missing the surrender of the German army in 1918 due to be being temporarily blinded in a gas attack and hospitalized. His bitterness at the capitulaiion of his beloved Germany shaped his subsequent political views.
The Versailles Treaty of 1919 – which sought to bring peace to Europe after the First World War – had been described by French General Ferdinand Foch as “..an armistice that will last for twenty years” as it left Germany united under a fragile new democratic government but saddled with unfeasably large reparation debts to France and Britain. Although “Weimar” Germany survived the violent political struggle and hyper inflation of the early 1920s, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 brought fresh unemployment and economic turmoil – during which time Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party was first democratically elected and then took absolute power.
Although initially praised at home for creating jobs through public works programmes and welcomed by many international leaders as a bulwark against Russian Communism, Hitler remained committed to avenging Germany’s humiliation by the Versailles Treaty and to unifying Europe’s German speaking peoples. In 1935 Germany gained both an official air force and introduced conscription to take its army beyond the 100 000 man limit imposed by Versailles. In 1936, while his Western neighbours were distracted by Italian dictator Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, Hitler marched 22 000 troops into Germany’s demilitarized Rhineland and also offered support to Spain’s Nationalist dictator Franco against his Communist backed Republican opponents. In 1938, Austria merged with Nazi Germany and Hitler demanded that Czechoslovakia – an independent nation only created after the First World War – cede to him the Sudetenland: the western part of the country characterised by both German speaking inhabitants and much of Czechoslovakia’s heavy industry.
In the face of these Nazi territorial demands Britain – still weakened by both its debts to the United States following the First World War and the economic Depression following the 1929 Wall Street Crash – lacked both the military capacity and public appetite for resistance. The same was true of France, and both democracies had tried to appease Mussolini’s actions in Abyssinia with the offer of land there. Similarly, the September 1938 Munich Agreement between Britain, France Italy and Germany – but not Czechoslovakia – ceded the Sudetenland to Germany. On his return to London – pictured above – British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was able to claim that he had won “Peace in our time”.
In 1939 however, Hitler – attracted by Czechoslovakia’s gold reserves and heavy industries with skilled workers – invaded the rest of the country and then, on 1 September 1939, invaded Poland: convinced that Britain and France would once again do nothing to stop him.
Unlike the Rhineland or Austria, there were no cheering crowds lining the streets of Prague to welcome the German Army. Hitler was no longer “occupying his own back yard” or simply unifying people of the same tongue but gaining resources and liebensraum for a Reich he believed would last for a thousand years.
On 3 October 1938 Winston Churchill said “England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war.”
When war did however arrive on 3 September 1939, Britain was not entirely unprepared. Since the revelation of the Luftwaffe in 1935, the post World War One Locust Years of the Royal Air Force as – in the main – an aerial colonial policeman – had been replaced with re-organisation and re-equipment. Just as new warships were being built in British yards and fresh tank designs being drawn and produced, the RAF was defining and enhancing its Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands – as depicted in this model presentation (above) – of “The Gathering Storm” on my Universal Works layout intended for the Cheltenham GWR Modeller’s Exhibition in October 2015.
In turn, re-armament would also help lift British heavy industry out of Depression and in so doing boost the fortunes of the “Big Four” railway companies. However, although increasing freight traffic helped the railways counter the threat from motor lorries on the roads, their steam motive power and labour intensive working practices had changed little since Victorian times and were to be stretched to the limit and worn out by the freight and military traffic of 1939-45.
In addition, much railway infrastructure was damaged by enemy bombardment and without the Marshall Aid from the USA given to rebuild French and German railways British Railways – Nationalised in 1948 -would have to wait for the 1950s and 60s for re-organisation and Modernisation. By this time road freight had blossomed with the availability of war surplus lorries and with an end to petrol rationing the demands of private car owners led to huge investment in a network of motorways – even more extensive than the autobahn system pioneered in Germany from 1933.
AIRCRAFT OF THE GATHERING STORM
After the introduction of the immensely successful series of Hawker Hart light bombers, Sydney Camm developed a similar fighter initially known as the Hornet, and powered by a 420 hp. in-line liquid cooled Rolls Royce F.XI engine, soon to be known as the Kestrel. Tests at Martelsham Heath proved beyond a doubt that the airplane was superior to the Bristol Bulldog, then entering service with the RAF in the early thirties. Even though it was a better performing aircraft, the Fury, as it was renamed to coincide with a newly adopted RAF policy of naming fighters with words beginning in “F”, went into only limited production, and initially equipped only the elite 1, 25, and 43 squadrons, which were considered the spearhead of the RAF’s fighter defense during the early and middle thirties. 43 Squadron – known as “The Fighting Cocks” after their initial equipment with the Gloster Gamecock – was the first RAF unit to receive the Hawker Fury in May 1931.
Later, a few Hawker Furies – still with a potential top speed of 200 mph – served with various training establishments. Another factor that prevented its widespread use, aside from economic conditions caused by the Great Depression, was the aircraft’s relatively high cost compared to the Bulldog. The Fury was a relatively small, single seat biplane armed with two .303 inch Vickers guns with 600 rounds per gun. Pilots were impressed with the aircraft’s rapid climb, high maximum speed, and impressive maneuverability. It was the last classic liquid-cooled engine fighter biplane in the RAF, with subsequent radial engined replacements including the Gloster Gauntlet and Gladiator. Only 118 Furies were produced for the RAF, but an additional 32 were exported. Notwithstanding the low production figures, the Fury will always be considered a classic fighter biplane.
Standard production Furies were exported to Yugoslavia, Norway, Persia, and Portugal. In addition, some Ex-RAF aircraft went to South Africa, where they were used against the Italians during World War II. Yugoslavia produced about 40 modified Furies with cantilever landing gear and more powerful engine, and some of these wound up with the Spanish Republicans, and when that war was over, the Spanish Franco government. Some ex-Yugoslav Furies were used be the Italians as fighter trainers with mixed markings. The Persian Furies had Pratt & Whitney Hornet radials, but these were later replaced by Bristol Mercury engines for added performance.
Camm’s last development of the Fury was the Nimrod, similar but with swept and extended wings and carrier arrester gear. By 1938 newer designs had started to encroach upon the small and nimble Hawker biplanes’ advantage but it still had an important place within the RAF. At the time of the Munich Crisis in 1938, when Europe once again looked set to descend into war, they received a coat of camouflage paint along with many other RAF types. This contrasted sharply with their previous all over silver colours but while war was averted for a short period, the storm clouds had gathered and would not depart.
Following his celebrated biplanes Sydney Camm designed the Hawker Hurricane as the World’s first eight-gun monoplane fighter capable of surpassing 300 mph in level flight with a full war load. The first prototype flew on 6 November 1935 and production examples began to equip 111 Squadron in January 1938. More Hawker Hurricanes were to be used in the Battle of Britain than any other RAF fighter type and their pilots claimed 75 % of all victories. The Hawker Hurricane continued in use until the end of World War II and its rugged design lent itself to the ground attack role with rockets, bombs and even 40mm tank-busting canon.
The first Gloster-built Hawker Hurricane appeared on 27 October 1939 and the 1 000 th example exactly a year later. A total of 2 750 Hurricanes were built by Glosters up to March 1942 with as many as five aircraft being completed each day.
Developed from the earlier Gloster Gauntlet, the Gloster Gladiator was both the last biplane fighter used by the RAF and also the first with a fully enclosed cockpit. First flown as the Gloster SS37 in September 1934, the Gladiator also featured cantilever landing gear and a two bladed fixed pitch propeller while the navalized Sea Gladiator also had catapult points, arrester hook and was fitted with a collapsible dinghy.
Export customers included Belgium, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Norway, China, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Egypt, Iraq and South Africa.
72 Squadron RAF was the first to equip with the type at Tangmere in February 1937. By September 1939, Gloster Gladiators were widely spread across the Mediterranean and Middle East.
At the start of World War II total air power on the strategic British-held island of Malta consisted of four Gloster Gladiators. These were packed in crates and left at Kalafrana flying boat base on the island by the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious that left to join the Norwegian campaign. In fact there were enough parts to make up eight biplanes but the Royal Navy wanted four back to join the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle. The remaining four were assembled. Three were to be used operationally with one kept in reserve. Flying Officer John Waters named the operational Gladiators “Faith”, “Hope” and “Charity”.
Their first scramble came at 0649 on 11 June 1940 when 10 Italian Savoia Marchetti 79 bombers attacked Malta’s Grand Harbour, although on the seventh Fascist raid of that day a Gladiator was able to shoot down a Macchi 200 fighter – the slower biplanes being more manoeuvrable than their foes. Three bladed propellers rather than the standard two bladed components were fitted to improve the rate of climb although excessive use of superchargers to rapidly gain altitude led to blown pistons on the Bristol Mercury radial engines. As a result, the three Gladiators were fitted with similar powerplants from Bristol Blenheim bombers and fought on for 17 days without relief, fooling Italian intelligence into thinking that Malta had a substantial air defence force. Sea Gladiator N5531 had been assigned to 802 Naval Air Squadron from June 1939 to January 1940 and was named “Hope” as part of the Hal Far Flight on 19 April 1940. She was destroyed in an air raid on 4 February 1941
Entering service with 48 Squadron Coastal Command on 6 March 1936, the “Annies” – as anti-submarine aircraft with turrets or as trainers and transports without – were to serve the Royal Air Force for 32 years, a record only broken by the half century plus stint of the English Electric Canberra. Equipping ten Coastal Command squadrons at the outbreak of war in 1939, the Avro Anson bore most of the responsibility for shipping protection until more modern aircraft – such as the Lockheed Hudson – came along. During this period the Anson proved itself a doughty warrior in dealing with faster and more heavily armed German aircraft which attacked unarmed British fishing vessels. One of Wilfred Hardy’s pictures depicts a typical such engagement and shows two Heinkel 115 seaplanes which had been harassing trawlers themselves being harassed by an Anson of 206 Squadron, with one German aircraft being sent into the sea and the other on fire and running for home. The first war attack on a U-boat was made by an Avro Anson, while three of these machines routed nine Messerschmitt 109s at Dunkirk and created one more “Annie” legend.
From 1941 onwards Avro Ansons were used mainly for training aircrew, including some pilots. They also undertook Air-Sea Rescue, ferry and communication work. A well-loved aeroplane which saved many lives, the Avro Anson reached a production figure of 11 020 aircraft.
The Fairey Battle was designed to met Air Ministry specification P27/32 for a Hawker Hart light bomber replacement capable of carrying two crew and a 1 000 lb bomb load for 1 000 miles at 200 mph. First flown on 10 March 1936, the Fairey Battle carried the pilot and air gunner/ radio operator in a long “glasshouse” cockpit and a bomb aimer/ observer in a prone position in the bottom of the fuselage. The Battle had very limited defensive armament, carrying one 0.303″ Browning machine gun on a mounting in the back of the cockpit.
On 20 September 1939 a Fairey Battle of 88 Squadron shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 – the first RAF kill of the war. However, during 1940 the Battle was to prove incredibly vulnerable when attacked by German fighters.
Just how vulnerable the Battle was would become tragically clear after the start of the German Blitzkrieg in the West. Battles would make desperate low level attacks on the advancing German troops. This reduced its vulnerability to German fighters but massively increased the numbers being shot down by anti-aircraft – and even small arms – fire.
Like the German Stuka, the Battle could only safely operate in areas where it was protected by local air superiority. Unlike the Stuka, it was almost never to operate under such conditions.
HANDLEY PAGE HAMPDEN
The Handley Page Hampden was the last of the twin engined bombers to go into Royal Air Force service prior to the Second World War. Together with the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and Vickers Wellington, the Handley page Hampden bore the brunt of the early raids on Germany. Although the design – with a similar format to the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 – showed promise, the Hampden lacked adequate defensive armament and bomb load and in September 1942 transferred from RAF Bomber Command (led by Cheltenham born Marshal of the Air Force Sir Arthur Harris) to Coastal Command as a torpedo bomber. More than half of the Hampdens built were assembled by English Electric at Samlesbury, with 80 Hampdens rolling off the production line at its peak in 1944.
MOTIVE POWER OF THE GATHERING STORM
The side mounted 0-6-0 pannier tank design engines were a distinctive feature of the GWR, offering the ability to utilise the efficient Belpaire firebox while retaining access to the cylinders, rods and valve gear between the frames without a significant loss of water capacity. Developed from the older designs of saddle tank, many of which had been adapted with pannier tanks to accomodate new Belpaire boilers, a small number of GWR 57xx class locomotives sold to London Transport were the last steam locomotives to work ‘in service’ on the national railway network.
This model is of 8700, one of the last 57xx locomotives built with the original square cornered cab, painted in the 1930s green livery with the GWR’s shirtbutton monogram. A long-time Birmingham resident, 8700 (built to Lot 282 at Swindon in 1934) carried the shirtbutton logo for it’s entire working life with the GWR and BR, the monogram still being visible when the locomotive was scrapped at Swindon.
8700 was also remarkable for being built twice! The first 8700 was built by Beyer Peacock & Company as the first of a batch of 25 locomotives erected in Manchester to GWR Lot 273 (Order number 148, constructor’s number 6680) and completed in February 1931.
However, after initial allocation to Westbury, this locomotive was selected to trial the fitting of condenser gear to a 57xx pannier to allow these locomotives to travel over the Metropolitan Railway ‘widened lines’ with trains to Smithfield meat market. The trials were generally successful, but some design changes were incorporated, including increasing water capacity, for a sub-class of 10 locomotives, 9701-9710 completed late in 1933. Subsequently 8700 was rebuilt to match the ‘production’ locos and renumbered 9700. It was allocated to Paddington in 1947 and also on withdrawal in October 1963.
A new 8700 – as modelled here- was built at Swindon using the spare cab and fittings from the original 8700 and was completed in March 1934. Sent new to the GWR’s Birmingham shed at Tyseley, 8700 remained – apart from allocations to other sheds in the division – a Tyseley engine throughout its working life and was notable for retaining full 1930s GWR livery with the shirtbutton roundel long after Nationalisation. This second 8700 was withdrawn from service in February 1962 and sent to Swindon, where the locomotive was photographed outside the works, the 1930s GWR monogram proudly displayed on the pannier tanks, 14 years and two BR emblems after the ‘company’ was officially disolved. It seems possible that the second 8700 had not received a full repaint since she left Swindon 28 years earlier. The Great Western was clearly alive and well at Tyelsey!
Other locomotives for The Gathering Storm will be announced later.
WAGONS OF THE GATHERING STORM
Typical of inter War private owner coal wagons, Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 3259 of September 1906 shows Cambrian Mercantile Collieries fleet 114 to be a seven plank 10 ton wagon measuring 14′”5 x 6’11” x 4′ with white wall tyres, internal diagonal bracing, a tare weight of 5-18-2 and wooden solebars with G-Plates ( builder and owner ) either side of the brake gear V-hanger. The name YSTALYFERA also stretches from the N in CAMBRIAN to the C in COLLIERIES but this notwithstanding the shaded markings of this model are identical.
The italic writing on the right of the body reads “Proprieters – The Cambrian Mercantile Syndicate Ltd LONDON AND YSTALYFERA. However, the left reads “Empty to Cambrian Sidings YSTRADGYNLAIS GW Railway” rather than referring to the Neath and Brecon Railway as is the case in Photograph 3259. In fact the Neath and Brecon merged with the Great Western on 1 July 1922 but the Cambrian Mercantile Syndicate ceased trading in 1914. It could be argued, nonetheless, that wagon 114 was possibly kept on by new owners and simply rebadged for GW rather than Midland running and repainted otherwise as the need arose.
The Cambrian Mercantile Syndicate Ltd began operations at its small pit between the Neath & Brecon’s junction with the Midland Railway’s Swansea Vale line and Ystradgynlais in 1905. Both anthracite and steam coal was raised and the company’s entire wagon fleet was built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company. This comprised one hundred 10 ton wagons ordered in November 1905, 55 second hand 10 ton wagons ordered in November 1907, a further 100 new 10 ton wagons in 1909 and another 50 in 1912.
114 was part of the original batch of 10 ton wagons and retained the Gloucester RCW owners number 43546 along with the Midland registration 51690. In contrast, fleet number 277 from the 1909 batch was registered to run on Great Western metals from new and could be distinguished by angled rather than horizontal commode handles on the end door and a heavy wooden door stop on just one side. 114 is shown as new without any door stops. The 1909 batch of wagons continued to be delivered in 1910 and among them was wagon 550, which not only had two different livery combinations on a dark red background on each side but was a conversion of a Broad Gauge five plank wagon from the 1880s.