Category: On This Day

OTD: Argentina Invades The Falkland Islands

On this day: 2 April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. In response to the invasion the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with an Argentine surrender on 14 June, returning the islands to British control. In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders died during the hostilities. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falklands_War.

Unfortunately the sovereignty of the islands was never really sorted out and Argentina still maintains that they belong to Argentina, even going so far as referring to them as “Islas Malvinas“.

There were many memorable events during the conflict, and some that stand out are:  The sinking of the Belgrano, The Black Buck raids, Canberra and QE2 called up into service as troopships, the sinking of HMS Sheffield, HMS Ardent, HMS Antelope, HMS Coventry, RFA Sir Galahad, SS Atlantic Conveyor, The bravery of the ground forces and the success of the Hawker Harrier, the unpreparedness of the Falkands against invasion, and so many more. It makes for fascinating reading although very little appears to have been written from the Argentinean point of view.

There are many memorials to the Falkands war in the United Kingdom. Worth mentioning are:

National Memorial Arboretum:

The South Atlantic Campaign 1982.

Portsmouth:

Southampton:

Trinity Gardens, London:

There are quite a few resources on YouTube that deal with the Falklands too, and of course that memorable footage of the Canberra berthing in Southampton after the war. (Image opens in YouTube video).

The Canberra had a wonderful image in her one stair tower of her arrival home but sadly a good photo of the image was almost impossible to get.

The Falklands conflict happened the year after my national service and today the veterans of that war are also wearing their medals and realising that their experiences back then are forgotten so many years down the line, and some will ask themselves what was it all in aid of? The same is possibly true for those Argentinean conscripts that were sent to the Falklands on what was really a very poorly planned and futile exercise. It is the same question that we ask ourselves too.  General Leopoldo Galtieri did not expect the reaction that came from the United Kingdom, and neither did the rest of the world. Nobody thought that a naval task force would be up to the task, but they were very wrong. The Falklands conflict is just another war in a succession of small wars through the centuries, but sadly the lessons that were learnt have all been forgotten. 

DRW 2020. © Created 02/04/2020.

Updated: 03/04/2020 — 18:59

OTD: The Westdene Bus Disaster

On this day,  27 March 1985 it was supposed to be yet another school day for the pupils of Hoërskool Vorentoe, in fact it was supposed to be a normal day for the whole of South Africa, but the events surrounding the Westdene bus disaster changed all of that in a brief tragedy that will remain with us all forever.  It is one of those surrealistic moments in your life that somehow remains with you forever.  The day was subdued after that, even though that was not true at Westdene Dam where divers were frantically searching for bodies and parents were standing grief stricken, knowing that their son or daughter would not be coming home on that day. 

Westdene Dam. (1500x466)

Westdene Dam. (1500×466)

The actual cause of the disaster was never really pinned down to any singular factor; the driver  never really gave an adequate explanation, there was no mechanical fault with the bus, and the weather conditions were not poor. I seem to recall that he said another car had swerved, or he had blacked out. Faced with the imminent backlash and the trauma that he had gone through too, it was no wonder that no single cause was ever found.

I won’t delve into the disaster because I was not directly involved and do not know the facts, there are others more qualified to do that. It was one of those moments in South African history that has remained in our pysche since 1985.   

Those that died in the disaster are mostly buried in Westpark cemetery in a dedicated plot close to the main gate. It is a tragic place to visit because the sheer sale of the disaster is only experienced when you are faced with seeing all of the graves together. 

In 2011 I spent some time in Westpark photographing all of the graves, sadly they were all desecrated a long time ago and never restored. I spent time hunting down the graves in the general cemetery and they too had been desecrated. Nobody has even been able to explain why this happened, and who was responsible. It was a sad pilgrimage for me, trying to match headstones with names, and seeing those names in the registers made it just a bit harder. The funeral for all of the children was held on the same day, and a sad day it was for so many people.

It took until 2007 for a memorial to be erected to the victims,  and even this has had its fair share of controversy.  

In 2014 I revisited the graves while I was down in South Africa and photographed the small photographs that were on some of the graves, one day I will match faces to names and make my own records of the disaster a little more complete. 

There are two graves that stick out for me, the first is grave number 7, where two sisters are buried together (Reinette and Linda Du Plooy) , and the grave of Caroline Brown who is buried in the general part of the cemetery in a grave that was stripped of its name like so many others.  The vandalism of the graves was not random, it was targeted, somebody went out of their way to hunt down the graves and desecrate them

It is just over 30 years since the disaster, had it not happened some of those children would have been mothers or fathers today, they would have had families of their own, and just possibly their children would have attended that same school that they had attended so many years ago. There are a lot of what if’s associated with the Westdene Bus Disaster, it was all a matter of timing. catching a different bus, or sitting upstairs or downstairs was the difference between life of death.

There were a lot of heroes on 27 March 1985, but sadly there were too many victims. May They Rest in Peace 

Images of the graves are available on eggsa. I sincerely hope that one day they get restored. 

My own page about the memorial may be found at Allatsea

DRW © 2016-2020. Originally created 27/03/2016

Updated: 27/03/2020 — 19:52

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
Updated: 22/03/2020 — 10:39
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