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A most northerly War

Far in the north of Scotland is Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the UK mainland. At

58° 40′ 21″ N latitude and 3° 22′ 31″ W longtitude it is further north than Moscow and parts of Alaska, and 1o latitudefurther north than the most northerly point of the Danish mainland, Skagen.

Ordnance Survey Land Ranger map LR12 OS Grid Ref: ND204766.  Located at the western end of the tempestuous Pentland Firth, overlooking the Orkney Islands, with a watching brief over the entrance to the natural anchorage of Scapa Flow, scene of the scuttling of the four battleships and four light cruisers of the German fleet in WWI, the bases at Dunnet Head and Burifa Hill played an important part in coastal defences during WWII.

Burifa Hill is a mile south west of Dunnet Head with magnificent views over Dunnet Bay to Thurso.  There are remains of the installation, as mentioned below, but is less visited than Dunnet Head due to its relative inaccessibility.  That is to say, the vehicular access is by 4×4 only.

The Dunnet and Castletown areas became home for thousands of servicemen and women during WWII. The “Gee” station at Burifa Hill and the radar station at Dunnet Head played  important roles in the UK´s coastal defences, and at Castletown, one of four WWII airfields in Caithness (the others being at Dounreay, Skitten and Wick) the extensive site  brought many changes to the area.  For the servicemen and women, one cannot imagine arriving in this remote spot after travelling long hours from crowded southern England.  The wild scenery, the wide open spaces, the small settlements – all would have been a surprise to the troops – as they are to any newcomer to the area.

“Gee” was a radio navigational aid developed to help Bomber Command navigate and find its targets over a blacked-out Germany at night. There were several ground stations linked together which, by the transmission of carefully timed radio signals, produced a grid (hence the name: Gee for grid) of signals from which a navigator could determine the aircraft’s position. The main pulse would be sent by a Master Station and this would trigger transmissions from Slave Stations and the resulting grid made it possible to navigate very accurately to a range of about 300 miles.

A number of Gee chains were built in Britain, to cover various areas of Occupied Europe. One of these was the Northern Gee Chain of which Burifa Hill was the Master. There were Slave Stations at Scousburgh in Shetland, Windyhead Hill near Fraserburgh and Sango near Cape Wrath. There was also a Monitor Station and this too was at Burifa Hill. The Northern Gee Chain became operational in late 1941 and remained in use until March 1946.

The Northern Gee Chain was used to great effect in hundreds of operations throughout its operational lifetime. These included assisting with minelaying operations carried out in the North Sea and Baltic Sea during September and October 1943. One particular operation which is mentioned in the records of Burifa Hill is of interest. The Chain gave a “very exceptional performance” on the night of 3/4 September 1943 when its signals were used by a Bomber Command force of 316 Avro Lancasters in a raid on Berlin at a distance of 620 miles from Burifa Hill. This is a quite remarkable distance, being more than double the normal range for Gee reception.  Source:  Ian Brown, Historical Radar Archive.

 

The operations centres at Dunnet Head and Burifa Hill were originally constructed and commissioned by the  Royal Navy. In 1939 a scheme was devised by Vice-Admiral Sir James Somerville, Director of Anti-Submarine Weapons and Devices, to set up radar stations to cover the Fair Isle Channel against U-boats passing through the channel to or from the Atlantic. In the spring of 1940 this scheme was extended to the north of Shetland and to the Pentland Firth. The six stations, known as Admiralty Experimental Stations, in this scheme were located at Sumburgh, Fair Isle (two stations), Saxavord, South Ronaldsay and Dunnet Head and were operated by the Royal Navy.

Dunnet Head, Admiralty Experimental Station No. 6, was the last to be constructed, work beginning in the summer of 1940 on high ground just to the south of the lighthouse. Like the others, Dunnet Head was a Coast Defence U-boat (C.D.U.) station, the naval version of the R.A.F.’s Chain Home Low (C.H.L.) radar which formed part of the early warning network round the coasts of Britain. The C.D.U. radar was able to track shipping and surfaced submarines to a distance of a few miles and could also detect aircraft at ranges of 100 miles or more, depending on the height of the aircraft. When erected, the station at Dunnet Head consisted of two separate huts, one for the transmitter and one for the receiver, with the aerial arrays mounted on gantries which straddled each hut. The aerial arrays were of the ‘bedstead’ type, so called because of their resemblance to mattresses. These aerial arrays were turned by hand, using upturned bicycle frames, with a chain running from the bike up through the roof to the aerial frame above. Following several months of construction work, A.E.S. 6 at Dunnet Head became operational in December 1940.  The naval chapter in the story of Dunnet Head came to an end in October 1943 when the station was transferred to the Royal Air Force, being operated by them until the station closed down.

During its operational lifetime, Dunnet Head plotted a number of enemy aircraft in the Orkney area as well as those over South Shetland and the Fair Isle passage, the latter generally meteorological reconnaissance aircraft flying out into the North Atlantic. In addition, tracks of some 35,000 friendly aircraft were plotted by the station during the three years it was operated by the Royal Navy.

In the early years of WWII, Canadians overseas served in RAF squadrons and were catered for by British cooks.  Number 6 RCAF Group, commonly known as the Canadian Bomber Command, was formed in England in December 1942. The catering function was performed by an RAF Catering Officer and this caused problems for the largely Canadian personnel. Traditionally the British had four meals a day, namely breakfast, dinner, tea and supper. Tea was in fact a meal served about 1700 and supper was more like a snack served around 2000. The Canadians were not in favour of this system and, furthermore, preferred different foodstuffs than those favoured by the British. A study was undertaken by the Canadian Catering Officer with a view to setting up a Canadian catering system for the Canadian personnel. In 1944, 12 female Catering Officers were sent to England to manage the four main bases and 12 smaller stations of 6 RCAF Bomber Group and to provide menus more in line with the Canadian palate. Given severe problems with ration availability including coffee meat and fresh milk, they accomplished all and more than would have been expected. After WWII, in Jan, 1949,  the ration scale  was revised to allow greater flexibility in menu planning.

 

At RAF Castletown, Dunnet Head and Burifa Hill, as undoubtedly in other areas, service rations were supplemented by local fresh produce, and a barter system with the local farmers was prevalent in the area.  RAF Castletown even had its own station “garden” which boasted 800 lettuces, and some 6000 onions and leeks. The Officers’ Mess also kept lobster pots in the bay. Source: http://www.forces.gc.ca

 

On “liberty weekends” the troops were taken into Thurso where they dined at the Royal Hotel, and the officers billeted at the Dunnet Hotel seemed to dine well, especially at Xmas when it was reported that at RAF Burifa Hill, the Xmas menu of 1944 boasted “Roast turkey á la Poulter, stuffing au Royal Hotel, Peat Bog pork, peas, sprouts, pickles, spuds, Xmas pud, mince pies and coffee  Table decorations by Trees Ltd. , branches everywhere except Caithness.”

 

The social life improved as the War progressed – there were cinemas at the base of Burifa Hill and at RAF Castletown, each station had its own concert party and put on productions, and there were sports days and outings to keep up morale.

The bases were decommissioned immediately after the War with local firms being involved in dismantling some of the buildings.  The most prominent one which remains is the operations block on Dunnet Head itself – poised on the extreme summit of the Head, it is a point of interest of visitors who, according to a recent survey carried out by the Dunnet Head Educational Trust, would like to see interpretation of the site, and information about the history of the installation.

 

 

Tina Irving has been writing articles for many years for the Spanish and UK press.  Her work has been published in The Lady, Country Walking, Sentinella, Euro Weekly, the Grapevine, Market Place and the John o Groats Journal to mention just a few.


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Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 World War 2 Facts No Comments

Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman: The Most Notorious Double Agent of World War II by Ben Macintyre

There are so many heroes (and cads and villains) in our history. If there was anyone with the qualities of all three, it could only be Eddie Chapman. He was basically a British conman, who asked the German if he could work for them (because he was in their custody), and they readily agreed. He was taken to France where the trainers taught him the latest spying techniques. He soaked in all the knowledge like a good student. Both the British and the Germans were worried that the other country had a superior spy network; Eddie Chapman took advantage of the situation.

Returned For a Top Secret Mission

 

Eddie Chapman returned to London for a top secret mission, but the parachute jump was bungled, forcing him to turn to the nearest policeman and thus began his career as a double agent. It doesn’t happen often that the same story inspires two writers at the same (for two books). Basically, he was just a professional criminal who worked as a double agent for both Germans and the British. The spy drama of his life is a classic one where everything present in the spying world existed, complete with beautiful blondes, cyanide capsules, invisible inks and secret codes. His life was full of adventures and it seemed he craved for more.

Vanished For the Next Six Years

 

In the beginning of his career, Eddie Chapman was thrown out of the British Army (absent without leave) and then he started pursuing a flashy lifestyle with an element of glamour in it. One crime led to another and his crimes caught up with him in 1939, when Scotland Yard zeroed in on him. He was on a holiday with Betty on island of Jersey, when he saw the police approaching. He jumped through a glass window and Betty was unable to see him for the next six years.

Earlier Accounts Were Not Complete

 

MI5 issued false identification papers to Eddie Chapman, and so did the Germans. He also published hi story titled The Eddie Chapman Story in 1954, but the version was heavily censored and the readers concluded he only worked for the Germans (the fact that he also worked for MI5 was completely ignored in The Eddie Chapman Story). The next edition of the book appeared in 1966, but even this was not the complete account of Eddie Chapman’s life. Eddie Chapman died in 1997, though he was not notorious anymore at that time. His file was declassified by the MI5 in 2001, and about 1700 pages of information came out in the public domain. Two journalists, Ben Macintyre and Nicholas Booth felt this was the chance to create a popular book, and two books were born.

The Psychology behind the Man

 

Ben Macintyre is graceful writer, as he writes clearly and presents a more fluent account of the life of Eddie Chapman. To some extent, he is also skeptical and is not taken in easily by Eddie Chapman’s words. Moreover, he is largely interested in the psychology of the man Eddie was and emotions he might have gone through.

The author Prasoon Kumar works for www.uRead.com which is the leading online bookstore that offers all the current and all time great titles at never before prices. Want to know more about Agent Zigzag? Grab your copy at huge discount only at http://www.uread.com/book/agent-zigzag-ben-macintyre/9781408811498


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Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 World War 2 Facts No Comments

The 10 Most Popular Movies of All Time – A Cheat Sheet

Are you a movie dunce? Do you not know your Corleone from your Kurosawa? Would you recognise a lightsaber if it hit you in the face? Well, don’t panic. To help you catch up on your movie knowledge here’s a crash course in the top 10 movies of all time, as voted by the readers of the Internet Movie Database. Careful, though… here be spoilers.

10. Star Wars IV: A New Hope

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away . . .

Luke Skywalker, farmhand and son of Darth Vader, is torn from his home when his aunt and uncle are murdered by Imperial Storm Troopers searching for the stolen plans to the Death Star, a space station with weaponry capable of destroying planets. Luke escapes with his two droids, Jedi Knight Obi Wan Kenobi, smuggler Han Solo and first mate Chewbacca.

After escaping Tatooine, the ragtag crew stumble upon the Death Star shortly after it has destroyed the planet Alderaan. Caught by its tractor beam, their ship is dragged in. While attempting to escape the Death Star the team rescue Princess Leia, held prisoner in the ships bowels. During the rescue Obi Wan sacrifices himself to allow the others to escape.

In a grand finale, Luke destroys the Death Star by firing a missile into a weak spot in the structure of the ship and Darth Vader, is cannoned off into the depths of space.

Quote: I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

Trivia: Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds and James Caan reportedly turned down the role of Han Solo.

9. Pulp Fiction

A movie whose various plotlines are far too intertwined to summarise in a paragraph or two, Pulp Fiction simply tells the story of a day in the life of a group of unusual people—two hitmen, the wife of a gangster, and a boxer who killed in the ring among others.

Edited to tie each story together, the movie often plays out of sequence—to the point where the final scene and the opening scene take place at the same time. Full of pop culture references and quotable lines, Pulp Fiction stays true to form as a Tarantino movie.

Quote: Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.

Trivia: Vincent Vega (John Travolta) is the brother of Vic Vega, also known as Mr Blonde, in Reservoir Dogs.

8. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Set during the US Civil War, the movie follows the three protagonists Blondie (The Good), Snake Eyes (The Bad) and Tuco (The Ugly) in their search for a hoard of gold stolen by bank robber Bill Carson. All three want 50% of the gold—resulting in a good old-fashioned standoff. Snake Eyes is shot dead, and the honorable Blondie allows Tuco his share of the booty.

Quote: You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.

Trivia: Clint Eastwood wore the same poncho for all three ‘Man With No Name’ movies—without washing it once.

7. Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List tells the true story of Oscar Schindler, a Nazi industrialist who becomes so moved by the plight of the Jewish people during World War II that he devotes himself to saving as many as he can. Even after rescuing over 1,100 Jews from the gas chamber, Schindler bemoans the fact that he could have saved more had he sacrificed everything he had.

Quote: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more.

Trivia: Steven Spielberg refused to take any pay for the film, claiming that it would feel like he was taking ‘blood money’.

6. The Seven Samurai

Regarded as Akira Kurosawa’s greatest film, the Seven Samurai tells the story of a terrorised village in war-torn 16th Century Japan. Constantly attacked by gangs of bandits, the residents enlist the services of seven ronin, or samurai without masters, to protect them.

Despite initial tensions between the villagers and the samurai, they together successfully defend the village against the bandits. However, their success comes at the cost of the lives of four samurai.

Quote: What’s the use of worrying about your beard when your head’s about to be taken?

Trivia: The three samurai whose characters survived the film were the first three to die in real life.

5. Casablanca

Hiding out in Casablanca, Morocco during World War II, exiled American and former freedom fighter Rick Blaine passes the time running a popular nightspot. Blaine’s tedium is interrupted when Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo arrives with his beautiful wife Ilsa—Blaine’s ex-lover.

Blaine holds the key to Laszlo’s safe passage out of the country, and Ilsa offers herself to him in exchange for her husband’s safety. Blaine faces the choice of sacrificing Laszlo to win back Ilsa, but in the end decides to do the honorable thing…

Quote: If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Trivia: The line ‘Here’s lookin’ at you, kid’ was voted the 5th most well known movie line in history by the American Film Institute.

4. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The third and final instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King offers an epic finale to Frodo’s quest (thousands of extras took part in the filming to add to the drama). Finally arriving at Mt. Doom, Frodo is overcome by exhaustion and the stress of bearing the Ring. Helped by Sam, Frodo manages to make his way into the volcano.

At the last moment he finds himself unable to throw the Ring into the magma, choosing instead to wear it. Gollum, surviving Frodo’s earlier attempt on his life, attacks Frodo and bites off his finger, removing the ring. Losing his grip, Gollum falls into the pit along with the Ring, breaking its hold over Frodo and killing Sauron.

With Sauron’s death his army is destroyed, just in time to save the army of Men, poised to fight to the death at the gates of Mordor.

Quote: Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you… but I can carry you.

Trivia: The Return of the King used over seven times the number of special effects shots used in an average movie.

3. The Godfather: Part II

Split between two timelines, the second instalment of The Godfather trilogy follows Don Vito Corleone through his adolescence in Sicily and New York during the early 20th Century, and later his rise to power as a Mafia Don. It also returns to a point a few years after the conclusion of the first movie, with Michael Corleone running the family interests following his father’s death.

After learning that his brother Fredo has betrayed the family, Michael must order his execution.

Quote: I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!

Trivia: Robert de Niro won an Oscar for his portrayal of a young Vito Corleone. De Niro and Marlon Brando are the only actors to win Oscars for the portrayal of the same character.

2. The Shawshank Redemption

Based on a novella by Steven King, The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a successful banker wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover. Given two life sentences, Dufresne is sent to the maximum security Shawshank Prison where he befriends Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, a lifer who helps him adjust to prison life.

Over the next twenty years their friendship grows while Andy has a positive effect on the inmates, helping to establish a prison library and education system. Unfortunately, the mean-spirited and criminal warden beats down Andy’s spirit until he finally escapes through a tunnel that took him two decades to dig.

In a final act of revenge Andy exposes the warden’s crimes, driving him to suicide to avoid being sent to prison. Red is later released on parole, and tracks down Andy to a beach in Mexico.

Quote: Get busy living, or get busy dying.

Trivia: The mugshots of Morgan Freeman as a young man are actually pictures of his real life son, Alfonso.

1. The Godfather

Adapted from Mario Puzo’s seminal Mafia novel, the first instalment of The Godfather trilogy sees Don Vito Corleone, head of the Corleone crime family, struggle with the realities of a changing world. When he refuses to work with drug dealer Virgil Sollozzo in a scheme to push heroin in New York, he falls foul of Sollozzo’s backers the Tattaglia family.

When Vito is wounded in an attempted assassination his son Michael—previously determined to have nothing to do with the family business—volunteers to kill Sollozzo. Following the execution Michael is sent to Sicily to hide out until it is safe to return. After Michael’s brother Sonny is executed by the rival Barzini family, Michael safely returns and takes his place as the head of the family in time to see Vito Corleone die of a heart attack. In revenge for the attacks on his family Michael arranges for the murder of the heads of the other families, to take place during the baptism ceremony of his nephew.

Following the baptism Michael orders the execution of the father of the baptised child—and his own brother in-law—Carlo Rizzi, in retribution for Carlo’s role in setting up Sonny’s death. The movie ends with the widow, Michael’s sister Connie, suspecting that Michael was involved in Carlo’s death.

Quote: I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Trivia: Sofia Coppola, the director’s daughter, played the baby baptised at the end of the movie. She returned to play the role of Michael’s daughter Mary in The Godfather: Part III).

So there you have it. If you’ve been paying attention you should now have just enough knowledge of the top ten movies of all time to bluff your way through a conversation with a movie buff. These bare bones won’t take you far, though, so I suggest you set aside some time, get a big bucket of popcorn, sit back and enjoy the best of Hollywood. You won’t be disappointed.

James Shenton is a freelance writer and cinema buff whose work can often be found gracing the pages of industry journals and entertainment portals.

You can find more of his work at the Internet’s best movie downloads site, http://www.EliteMovieDownloads.com.


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Monday, November 22nd, 2010 World War 2 Timeline No Comments

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