Category: Hampshire

OTD: Spitfire Maiden Flight

On this day in March 1936 one of the most iconic World War 2 era fighter aircraft took to the skies in Southampton. The aircraft,  prototype Supermarine Spitfire K5054, was the first of over 22000 aircraft that would be a firm favourite of pilots, aircraft buffs, small boys with notebooks, old men who fought in wars and even German pilots who tried to outfly this thoroughbred aircraft. 

There is so much to say about the Spitfire that it could take ages and  reams of paper to catalogue, and even then some stuff would be left out. Southampton is really the home town of the Spitfire, and the manufacturers Supermarine, would be plunged into fame as they built the aircraft that helped to win the Battle of Britain. There are a few places in Southampton that celebrate the birth of the legendary aircraft and I catalogued some of then in a post that I created way back in 2013  and since then I can safely say I have added a few Spit sightings to my collection, although have yet to see one in flight!  The most obvious reference to the Spitfire in Southampton is the sculpture of the original K5054 that may be found on a roundabout at Southampton Airport. Formerly Eastleigh Aerodrome, it was the site of the first flight of the aircraft in March 1936.

 

At the nearby Solent Sky Museum in Southampton there was only one example of the real aircraft, a MK24 (PK683), was one of twenty seven converted from MK22’s. It would have been powered by a Rolls Royce Griffon engine.

 
 Interestingly enough, the museum also houses Supermarine S6A.
My next close encounter of the Spitfire kind happened at the RAF Museum in Cosford where they have the MKI (K9942) on display, and it is the oldest surviving example of its type in the world.
The Spitfire in the image below is quite an  interesting one too, as it was the end result of a TV Program called James May’s Toy Stories. In this particular episode James May and his helpers successfully constructed a 1-1 replica of an Airfix model of a Spitfire. The pieces were built out of fibreglass but unfortunately the fibreglass pieces couldn’t support their own weight without internal supports, which were added to ensure it would be strong enough so that it did not collapse.  I saw the show 2 years ago and it was fascinating viewing. I just wish I had taken a better look at the plane at the time. 
My next Spitfire was found in London at the Imperial War Museum.  This particular lady is a MK 1a that was built at Southampton in 1939 and  was issued to No. 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford in April 1940. You can read her story at the IWM page dedicated to her.
My next Spitfire is not really a Spitfire. It is a reproduction that goes around to war related events and it appears as if she is based on the aircraft that Johnnie Johnson flew (MKIX EN398). More information on the “Spitfire Experience” may be found on their website. 

And yes, the engine did run while I was there and it was awesome. Unfortunately it did not run at full power, but it was really something to experience.

There is also a Spitfire at the London Science Museum  and she is a MK1a and is serial P9444, a Battle of Britain veteran. Unfortunately lighting in that gallery is poor so decent pics of the aircraft are really difficult to get. The Spitfire is also in close proximity to the Supermarine S.6B, serial S1595, that won the Schneider cup in 1931. The S.6B was designed by Reginald Mitchell, the Spitfire’s father. 
One more Spitfire that I wish to mention is not in the United Kingdom but back home in South Africa at the “War Museum” in Johannesburg. I remember seeing this silver machine when I visited the museum way back when I was in primary school and drooling over her back then. The Museum’s Supermarine Spitfire Mark FVIII was a high altitude version with extended wingtips and was fitted with a tropical air filter on the carburettor for operation in hot and dusty climates. This aircraft was built in 1942 and came to South Africa at the direct request of Field Marshall Smuts for a special exhibition in 1944. Unfortunately she is very difficult to photograph because you cannot get far away enough from her and of course the stupid regulations about taking photographs in the museum. 
And that more or less concludes my Spitfire collection for now, I do want to close off with an image that I found amongst some junk from a friend of mine that he must have taken when he was doing his National Service. I stand corrected but I think this aircraft was “Evelyn”, sadly she left South Africa in the 80’s, and was  exported to the USA, purchased by Rolls Royce and donated to a museum in Brazil.
She was Spitfire HF. IXe MA793, and was restored in South Africa.  Unfortunately the museum where she is has closed but it appears as if she is well looked after and will be part of a new museum to be built. 
And that concludes my small tribute to the Spitfire.  Had we known back then how rare these aircraft would one day become it is possible that more would have been saved, but alas there are only so many Spits left in the world, and not too many of these are in a flying condition.  And while the aircraft is still famous today we must spare a thought for those who fought in the air in them, and the men and women that built them and kept them flying, as well as those who continued to improve the basic aircraft. RJ Mitchell would have been very surprised had he known much his iconic design would become famous throughout the world.  Without his design the world may just be a different place altogether.
 
DRW © 2020. Created 05/06 March 20020

Farewell Oriana

*Update: 16/08/2019.*

Today Oriana sailed from Southampton under her new name “Piano Land”. Stripped of her new P&O corporate branding she headed off to an uncertain future in China. It is possible she will be very successful in her new role and only time will tell. Fair weather and safe seas for your future Oriana. You will not be forgotten.  

The images below are all courtesy of Steve Carrett and are used with permission. 

Destored and with her new name on her bows, Oriana is ready to leave

Aurora is berthed behind Oriana as she makes ready to sail

That last glimpse of a great ship

Steve Carrett shot this video of her departure.

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* end update*

Ships are strange things, they  are sometimes regarded with fondness by those who sail in them, and there are plenty of examples of that affection. I am sure that nobody really gives a hoot about a mass produced airliner, but a classic ship is a whole different ball game.  Sadly this month sees the withdrawal of one of the few remaining classic cruise ships left. It was announced that the Oriana was to be withdrawn and had been sold for service in China in August.

What makes her special is that she was built as a replacement for the legendary Canberra and incorporates aspects of her design in her structure.  While she does not have the wonderful curves of the Great White Whale, she was a worthy successor, becoming more popular each year and building up a legendary following.

Canberra in Durban

The logic behind her disposal is a puzzling one, and there are a few possible scenarios: she could be mechanically troublesome, she does not fit in with the Carnival Cruises group “image”, she is getting on in years (she was launched on 30 June 1994), there are not enough balcony cabins in her, etc. We are not privy to these decisions, but we sure as heck can condemn them. 

My own association with the ship dates from 1997 when I undertook a short hop from Durban to Cape Town on her and I was also able to work on her as a baggage handler back in 2013. It was never fun to work on board her when doing baggage because you literally worked yourself to a standstill. 

A VOYAGE ON THE ORIANA.
 22-03-97 to 24-03-97. Durban-Cape Town

The announcement that Canberra would be replaced by a new ship was greeted with much dismay by everybody. The concept vessel shown to the media was criticised as being too much like a wedding cake and too little like Canberra. She was built by Joseph Meyer of Papenburg, Germany and entered service in 1995. Soon it was announced that this ship, known as Oriana, would be calling in Durban during her 1997 world cruise. The time had come for us to sail again. I was one of the first South Africans to book the short Durban to Cape Town trip, I phoned as the voyage was made available. Needless to say I took what I could get! The berth that I chose was a shared 4 berth inside cabin. This berth was guaranteed but I would only know my cabin number once the ship arrived, something that would play in my favour once she was in Durban.

Then it was time to wait and watch the exchange rate. The ship was due in Durban on 22 March, arriving in Cape Town on 24 March, a short 1 day and two night hop. By now Rudi had booked as well and we started counting the days.

Postcard view of the Oriana shortly after she entered service

As the sailing grew closer I decided that I would return to Durban on Symphony just for fun and went ahead and booked that as well. Now I had two ships to look forward to and an empty bank account.

Early in the morning, on Friday the 21st we departed on the long drive to Durban. Howard was at the helm and for once we made the trip down in daylight! The problem was that the grotty weather was coming too and we hit the usual rain at Van Reenen and all the way to Durban. Duly arriving we headed off for lunch on board the 40000 ton container ship, MSC Samia. before dropping Rudi and his girl friend off at their sleeping place. The rest of us made for the tug Jannie Oelofsen where we would be spending the night. There were not too many movements on the go and yet they were all very interesting.
 
Our last movement was to a ship which seemed really decrepit, its lines could not reach the quayside and she was having engine problems. On arrival back at the tug jetty we found Ken Malcolm, who joined Neville and Clive Bush on the pilot boat while Howard and I hopped on to the tug. The pilot boat headed out to sea to drop off a pilot at Symphony and one at Oriana. Our tug was allocated to Oriana, and with the weather finally clearing, we awaited our first glimpse of this great ship. Symphony waddled in first, looking as great as ever but she was soon to be overwhelmed by what was astern of her.
Our first sight of Oriana was of a huge white ship which really was not attractive when foreshortened. However, once she was in view and had turned completely then only could we appreciate her. She was huge, dazzling white and perfectly trimmed onto her waterline. Equipped with three bow thrusters, twin screws, twin rudders and a stern thruster, she berthed herself while the tugs stood off in awe. As far as I remember she was the second biggest cruise ship to enter Durban (QE2 was the biggest)
 
Dropped off by the tug we quickly collected the guys and we headed for the ship. There was no doubt that she was big, she towered over everything in sight and made Symphony look like a toy. We headed down to the gangway where I attempted to get the guys on board as Rudi had not organised a ship visit. There was no luck in that department, however I was taken on board to get my cabin number and booked in as well. I now had a boarding pass and could come and go as I pleased. I got off again and we all went around to Symphony to look at her, alas there was no visit organised either. Time was passing, and the smell of food was rather urgent so I said my farewells to everybody and headed for my newest ship….
 
The entrance is on F deck where the reception desk and bottom of the 5 deck atrium is situated. The carpets are a light green colour and a fountain gurgles behind the staircase. One deck up are  the shops with the Peninsular restaurant midships and Oriental restaurant aft. The next deck has a spectacular wrap around promenade as well as the Pacific lounge, Lords Tavern, Harlequins lounge, the casino, Andersons with its club like atmosphere, and the really spectacular Theatre Royal. D deck houses the children’s playrooms, Chaplains Cinema, library, The Crichton complex and passenger cabins.
 
The next three decks are devoted solely to cabins with the Lido deck right on top of all of these. Here is found the conservatory where the buffet is served. The two pools are on this deck as well as the gym. The deck surrounding this area has a jogging track around the ship while the entrance to the Crows Nest is found forward. There are three sets of lifts in the ship and they all work!. The terrace pool is situated on the promenade deck aft and the view from the sun deck down to the stern where this pool is, is really spectacular. The massive buff funnel crowns the whole package and is easily recognisable for miles.
The images below were taken in 2013 with my cellphone and I make no excuses for quality.
Surprisingly enough, the ship, in-spite of its size is relatively simple to find your way around. My cabin was on E deck and the number two staircase was just around the corner. Inside, the cabin was small but neat. There were three other guys in the cabin, one of whom was on his sixth world cruise and who had been on since Southampton. There was a fridge, TV, mini-safe and every other amenity imaginable in that cabin. The missing porthole was not really a problem. Once on deck, I watched Symphony sail and as she passed I could almost look down her funnel. By the time we sailed it was late and the light was failing and it looked like rain was brewing again. The wind howled us off the decks and we all headed below. There was very little vibration or motion on board and it was very difficult to think that you were on board a ship.
Being such a big ship, there is never any feeling of crowds of people, in fact I wonder how full she really was? There was quite a bit to do on board, bars to visit, shops to ogle, movies to attend and of course food to scoff. I had eaten lunch at the conservatory and if it was any indication of the standard of service on board then we were really in for a treat. I was not disappointed as we sat down for supper in the Peninsular restaurant.
The service was brilliant with two very articulate and polite stewards catering for our every need. There was food galore, in fact too much food for one sitting as far as I am concerned. However it was dispatched with great gusto and we all retired that night feeling somewhat bloated. More food awaited us at breakfast, again in the conservatory. The place was so big that It never really was crowded and the queues were quite small.
Our next visit was to reception where we enquired whether it was possible to present our World Ship Society plaque to the master. After some phone calls we were told that we would be informed, so off we scuttled, meeting at the jacuzzi. We spent the morning eating ice cream in the jacuzzi with a howling wind around us. On arrival back at the cabin I discovered that our visit to the master was scheduled for 11H30 and it was 11H20 already. Needless to say I could not find Rudi and I had some quick explaining to do to the captain’s secretary. The visit was rescheduled for later that day and off we went for more food! Lunch over, we were introduced to the master and presented our plaque. I was also able to grab a pic from her bridge wing, and as you can see the weather was improving. 
Once we finished off there it was as if we had accomplished all that had to be done and the rest of the time I spent on a deck chair on that glorious promenade watching the sea go by. After all, isn’t that what sea travel is all about?
 
The next morning it was up early to watch the approach to Cape Town. We passed Cape Point around 06H30 but there were clouds around everything and we could not see very much. We entered Cape Town harbour about 08H30, the tugs were spraying water and on the quayside a band played stirring nautical type tunes.
This time Oriana had lines on the tugs and she did not berth herself. A mediocre crowd awaited us as we slowly started our disembarkation. Once off the ship I met up with my lift and we went to drop my luggage before heading out to town. The ship dominated everything and we could see that huge funnel for miles.
That night in cold weather the Oriana took her leave, sailing slowly past us as we stood at the quayside, her lights were all burning and the funnel glowed in the spotlights. As she dropped the pilot I could see the tiered decks that overlooked the terrace pool. I had stood there not too long ago, now it was over and Oriana was on her way home. I had another ship to catch the next day, but would anything ever compare? somehow I doubted it. The Symphony may be a great ship, but she is not in the same league as Oriana was.
Southampton 2013.
I saw Oriana many times in Southampton, and the biggest difference that I saw was a “ducktail” that had been added to her stern. It did not enhance her looks at all and you could see it was an afterthought. I worked baggage on her one day and snuck away at lunch time and took the pics you see above. It was like visiting an old friend, she was familiar, but not as familiar. I never thought that I would see her leaving P&O at such a young age and I really hoped that one day I would be able to do another short voyage on her. My shipwatch entry for Oriana may be found here.  
 
Farewell Oriana, long may you still be with us and may you care for those who sail in you the way you always did. Safe harbours and fair weather in your voyages. You will be missed. 
 
 

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DRW © 2019. Created 25/07/2019. Updated 17/08/2019.  Last sailing images courtesy of Steve Carrett. 

Remember the Mendi

HMT Mendi (21/02/1917)

On 21 February 1917, South Africa lost some 607 African volunteers en route to the battlefields of France when their troopship; HMT Mendi, was in a collision with the SS Darro off St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight. The resulting death toll was high; of the 802 SANLC troops on board some 607 men of the South African contingent perished, as did 30 members of her crew.  The 4230 GRT Mendi (Official number 120875), was owned by the British & African Steam Navigation Company Limited. which was part of Elder, Dempster and Company. She was 370 ft long with a beam of 46 ft and was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow. She was fitted with triple expansion steam engines that gave her a maximum speed of 13 knots.

Model of the SS Mendi by Buddy Bacon, in Simonstown Naval Museum. Used with permission.

On 10 April 2013, while I was in Southampton I decided to visit Hollybrook Cemetery and the Hollybrook Memorial to the missing. 
 

 
This particular memorial at Hollybrook commemorates by name almost 1900 servicemen and women of the Commonwealth land and air forces whose graves are not known, many of whom were lost in transports, torpedoed or mined in home waters. The memorial also bears the names of those who were lost or buried at sea or who died at home but whose bodies could not be recovered for burial.  
 
Sadly, all that is left of their lives is their names on a plaque. And I think that in this case, there is a small piece of England that is uniquely South African. They were men that came from the tip of Africa, to participate as non combatants in a war that they knew nothing about, and they died far from their homes, never reaching their destination, but remaining here, far from the sunshine that was now fading as I took my last few photographs. But if I do think about it, these men were never really forgotten, their families remembered them, and their comrades, but they too have passed on, and  that duty has been passed on to us, a generation of ex-servicemen who also served their country. 
 
However, in a shocking newspaper article on the 17th of February it was revealed that “The department of military veterans has withdrawn support for an “imperial” commemoration of a World War 1 shipping disaster in which 646 mainly black South Africans died” 
A retired senior military officer this week described the department’s decision as “abominable and a disgrace”. He said: “This means no military band or guards in fact no formal military presence at a memorial for South Africans who died on service in war.”
(Article in the Sunday Times 17 February 2019 Front page.) 
 
The stance has drawn severe criticism from veterans and organisations, and sadly the Mendi is once again just a porn in a game called political correctness and white washing of history. 
 

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

We Will Remember Them.


DRW © 2019 – 2020. Created 18/02/2019.