One was the biggest catastrophe in human history and the other was a lovable British situational comedy from the 1960s, we are of course speaking of World War II and Dad’s Army. In this extremely culturally specific article, we will pair combat aircraft of the Second World War with characters from Dad’s Army.
Capt. Mainwaring – Brewster Buffalo
Outdated, overconfident, not much use – and with a hot little dad bod, we are talking about the Brewster Buffalo. Like Mainwaring its bad reputation overshadowed the fact its pugnacious bravery when the chips were really down.
Good things about the Buffalo?
The Buffalo was the first modern fighter designed for carrier use, complete with a retractable undercarriage and all-metal construction. It had a very good range and excellent handling characteristics. It was unfairly dismissed despite proving incredibly effective in Finnish service. The early models, unencumbered by heavy armour, proved formidable over Finland, they were also pleasant to fly and proved popular with Finnish aircrew.
Bad things about the Buffalo?
It couldn’t handle a Mitsubishi Zero due to its inferior agility and speed. It also had inadequate armament, an absence of armour (in earlier variants) for the pilot and lacklustre high-altitude performance. That not enough? How about a tendency for engine overheating and poor cockpit controls.
Statistically the finest fighter of all time for the ratio of kills to airframes made – 509 made – 800+ kill/loss. In Finland, it had a kill loss ratio of 26/1 (in World War II this is second only to Finland’s G.50s) it is claimed that it destroyed 477 Soviet aircraft in combat for the loss of 19 buffalos. We’re not sure of Mr Mainwaring’s kill – loss ratio. The Buffalo also had some cool nicknames in Finnish, translating as ‘bustling Walter’ and the flying beer bottle.
Sergeant Wilson – Westland Lysander
Quiet, understated, old and still effective in a new role, Sgt Wilson is of course the Westland Lysander. Both character and machine shared an air of mystery. The Lysander was originally intended as an army co-operation aircraft, but today is famous for its covert work landing at night in remote locations in occupied Europe, supporting resistance fighters, dropping and retrieving agents. Wilosn
Quiet sophistication, though both Wilson and the Lysander appear old fashioned in the mannered conventional appearance they are both quietly sophisticated. The Lysander featured fully automatic wing slats and slotted flaps and a variable incidence tailplane, rather advanced stuff in 1936.
Scapegoated by Arthurs The Westland design, internally designated P. 8, was the work of Arthur Davenport under the direction of “Teddy” Petter. Petter would later blame Davenport for problems with the development of Wyvern carrier-borne attack aircraft. Wilon was often scapegoated by Mainwaring (played by an Arthur).
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Good things about the Lysander
Amazingly short take-off and landing, and a very low stall speed. Unlike its German counterpart, the skinny Storch, the Lysander can carry more – and you can drop a bomb.
If it meets any enemy fighters, it’s dead. Shockingly vulnerable, slow and badly armed. It suffered many losses in France – It cannot survive by day (unlike Wilson who could survive by day though like the Lysander saw a great deal of nocturnal action).
In September 1939, four squadrons were dispatched to France with the British Expeditionary Force to operate as artillery spotters and light bombers. By June 1940, more than two-thirds of the fleet had been lost.
Lance Corporal Jones – Gloster Gladiator
Looks older than it actually is, very manoeuvrable (Clive Dunn did his own stunts), used in the colonies: the Gloster Gladiator is a perfect match for Cpl Jones. Both served in South Africa. Whereas Dunn was a POW, the Gladiator was imprisoned in the Luftwaffe as a small number of ex Latvian and Lithuanian machines were pressed into service. Phoney war stories! The Gladiator took part in the phoney war – Jones had some phoney war stories.
As an aside, the South African pilot Marmaduke “Pat” Pattle was the top Gladiator ace with 15 victories with the type (he was also the top Hurricane pilot).
Both Jones and the Gladiator were in the wrong age, a biplane soldiering on into the monoplane age.
Good things about the Gladiator…
Good turn rate, good roll rate, good climb rate – lovely to fly.
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Slow, not well-armed (four 303s) – couldn’t catch bombers. If a clever man said, ‘I am going to build a big thing that will burn better and quicker than anything else in the world,’ and if he applied himself diligently to his task, he would probably finish up by building something very like a Gladiator.— Roald Dahl, “A Piece of Cake”, from the short story collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
Long careers – Portugal retired their aircraft in 1953. The Luftwaffe used captured Latvian Gladiators as glider tugs.
The Finnish Air Force was the last to use the Gloster biplane in combat. It was under Finnish insignia that the Gladiator achieved its last air victory. During the Continuation War, against the Soviets, Glosters supported the advance of the Karelian Army around Lake Ladoga. On 15 February 1943, 1st Lt Håkan Strömberg of LLv 16, during a reconnaissance mission along the Murmansk railway, between the White Sea and the Lake Onega, spotted, on Karkijarvi, a Soviet Polikarpov R-5 taking off. Stromberg dived on it and shot it down into the forest near its airfield with two bursts. This was the last confirmed victory in the Gladiator.
Private Pike – Westland Whirlwind
A slim overlooked immature fighter with a medical/engine condition. The young Pike is a match for the Westland Whirlwind. Pike is the son of Wilson, and the Whirlwind is from the same manufacturer as the Lysander, so is sorta the son of the Lysander.
Good things about the Whirlwind
Very fast at low level, extremely well-armed, great gun placement, great pilot view. Good armour. Easy to maintaine. On its debut, it was the heaviest armed fighter in the world with four 20-mm automatic cannon.
Bad things about the Whirlwind
Too late – if it had been available in the Battle of Britain it would have been spectacular. Short endurance. bad performance at altitude. Used an engine that was sidelined by its manufacturer Rolls-Royce show were busy with the Merlin. Limited to 3g in steep turns due to elevator issues. Too radical.
Weird or notable thing?
First British fighter designed from the start with autocannon.
Private Joe Walker – Fisher P-75 Eagle
Looks good, sleek American style, but is a huge scam. We must be talking about the Fisher P-75 Eagle. Both Walker and the Eagle love pinching (or recycling) things they’d found. The Eagle used the outer wing panels from the North American P-51 Mustang (and P-40), the tail assembly from the Douglas A-24 (SBD), and the undercarriage from the Vought F4U Corsair. Walker ‘found’ things and sold them on the black market.
What was good about the Eagle?
Very long-ranged and very fast escort fighter. Using commercial off the shelf parts of other aircraft was a smart move.
..and what was bad about the Eagle?
It was shit in almost every day: poor handling, dreadful tendency to spin and underwhelming performance later in its very short life. The Eagle was probably a case of fraud, it was made deliberately shit to avoid dragging General Motors into building B-29s; they did not want further government work as they were already overstretched.
Walker was played by actor James Beck. Sadly, like the Eagle, Beck died young. He died due to a combination of heart failure, renal failure and pancreatitis, aged 44.
Private Charles Godfrey MM
Let’s go with the Westland Wapiti (everyone’s a bloody Westland!). It was very old in World War II the Wapiti entered service in 1927 and the wings were actually lifted from the World War I DH.9 but was still operational during War World II. The actor who played Godfrey, Arnold Ridley, was wounded at the Somme (AND fought with the BEF in France in 1940) so both have WWI and WWII connections. The Wapiti is most famous for its civilian achievement of flying over Everest and Ridley was actually a very successful playwright in the ’30s, so both enjoyed civilian fame in the interwar period.
On the subject of old fighters, the oldest type to score an air-to-air kill was the Bristol Bulldog. Finnish Bulldog shot down two Tupolev SB bombers in 1939 and 1940. The Bulldog first flew in 1927.
Good things about the Wapiti? Unlike Godfrey it was very reliable and rugged.
Bad things about the Wapiti?
Really absurdly old, really absurdly slow and and very vulnerable.
Private Frazer – Yokosuka MXY-7 ‘Ohka’
An undertaker and a rocket-propelled flying coffin are a perfect match. Pilots of the air-launched Yokosuka MXY-7 ‘Ohka’ kamikaze rocket bomb were indeed “doomed”.
What was good about the ‘Ohka’?
It was very fast in the dive (575 mph terminal, and we mean terminal, velocity). It was also well armed with a
1,200 kg (2,600 lb) Ammonal warhead.
Bad things about the Okha?
Not effective as a weapon and the worst survival rate of any warplane for its luckless pilots. Four were successfully deployed. 56 were either destroyed with their ‘Betty’ parent aircraft or in making attacks.
Mainwaring’s wife: The Heinkel 113 fighter was never seen but often reported, likewise the mysteriously reclusive Elizabeth Mainwaring.
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(Oldest type to capture another aircraft: A Finnish Gloster Gamecock surprised an Ilyushin DB-3 being refuelled on the ground by a second DB-3. The attacking Gamecock caused the two crews to make good their escape in one of the aircraft leaving the secind to be picked up by Finnish forces. The Gamecock first flew in 1925.)