Air Power Europe
Setting out on the Air Power Europe Staff Ride (SR) lead by Chf Tech Nik Elliot were 14 RAF Halton personnel. For many, this was the first time they had experienced a SR. The group set off in minibuses for the Channel Tunnel where we met our SME for the week, Dr Howard Tuck. We headed to our base, the city of Arnhem, Holland, The scene of particularly fierce fighting during Operation Market Garden (Op MG) in Sep 1944, the bridge at Arnhem and the other bridges that needed to be captured for Op MG to be a success would be the main focus for our SR. Op MG is the subject of the feature film “A Bridge too Far”.
Our first stand location was the road bridge at Nijmegen where Cpl Jim McInally briefed us on Op MG, breaking down the two elements of Market and Garden. He described the planning of Op MG and explained the key role of 30 Corps in the plan. Much debate ensued as to whether Op MG was “a bridge too far”. The next day saw us standing in the Wolfheze drop zone of Op MG. Sgt Tom O’Hara outlined the difficulties faced by British Airborne troops who were either dropped by parachute or flown in by glider at Arnhem. A discussion developed as to the viability of modern airborne troops, is there a requirement for such specialised forces?
FS Neil Buckingham told us how RAF Transport aircraft played a pivotal role in support of Op MG. Responsible for transporting Airborne Forces and re-supply operations, the RAF faced great difficulty in executing its mission. Fighting was intense and many drop zones were overrun by German forces, so supplies were often dropped to the enemy. We contrasted this with current operations where the RAF’s ability to resupply is crucial.
We moved on to Oosterbeek and Sgt Dave Whitelock explained how Flt Lt David Lord won his Victoria Cross. Dropping badly needed supplies his Dakota was hit twice by anti-aircraft fire. Even though his aircraft was on fire and likely to break up at any moment he dropped his supplies only to find two remained. Turning once again into intense enemy fire over the drop zone he dropped the last supplies before ordering his crew to bail out. Seconds later the aircraft crashed in flames killing Lord and all but one of his crew. The discussion moved on to current acts of bravery with FS Martin Lightfoot recounting how Flt Lt Michelle Goodman was awarded her DFC in Mar 08 flying a Merlin helicopter. Some lively debate resulted as to whether both hers and Lords actions were acts of bravery or just professional people doing their job. Should all of the crews be awarded medals as they all took part? The group then visited the Hartenstein Airborne Museum, Oosterbeek, dedicated to all the forces that took part in the battle for Arnhem. This proved an excellent resource for improving understanding of the events that took place in Sep 1944.
After travelling to Arnhem Bridge, FS Dave Stott explained the role of the British 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions in Op MG. They had the difficult role of holding the bridge until relieved by 30 Corps. Fierce fighting ensued around the bridge for several days and after 30 Corps failed to break through to them they were overrun. The day ended with a poignant visit to the airborne cemetery at Oosterbeek. This is the scene every year on Remembrance Day where local children still lay flowers on every grave in thanks for the Allies efforts in freeing Holland.
The next day we moved south to Overloon Military Museum, an incredible collection of military hardware. FS Andrew Smith led by recounting major airborne operations since WW2. It was concluded that there is a role for highly trained and skilled airborne troops but that they would likely be deployed by helicopter in modern operations. After an overnight stop Chf Tech Len Brettell presented a stand on the impact Bomber Command had during the later part of WW2. He explained the tactics of Bomber Command and the group discussed if there could ever be a return to the tactics of carpet bombing major cities to demoralise the civilian population. Does the use of current smart weapons and their ability to minimise collateral damage mean there could be no return to such tactics? We were now moving into the area of Belgium that was the scene of the Ardennes Offensive, or Battle of the Bulge as it is more commonly known. Chf Tech Mark Coxon explained how the offensive caught the Allies by surprise and how it was eventually repulsed. It was the last major offensive of the German army and arguably ended the ability of the Germans to defend their western borders. Throughout the fighting in the Battle of The Bulge, ordinary ‘tradesman’ were called upon to fight as Infantry. Chf Tech Paul Davies spoke about the RAF “Warfighter First” mantra. Is it really realistic to expect all RAF personnel to be infantiers when their primary role is to take air power to the battlefield? Cue another lively discussion!
The group travelled on to Bagneuz Crossroads, the scene of the capture of American troops. Sgt Steve Webster explained how the prisoners were taken to a nearby field, and along with other prisoners, machine gunned by SS troops. In all, 88 bodies were recovered a month later when the Allies re-took the area, many with single bullet wounds to the skull. The discussions turned to more recent massacres and how they are investigated and eventually punished. The penultimate element was an emotionally charged visit to the Menin Gate where we witnessed the last post and daily ceremony performed by the local fire brigade.
The final day saw us visiting La Coupole which was the site at which the infamous V weapons were developed as Hitler threatened to target Britain using what was the pre-cursor to space technology as the delivery mechanism.
Force Development for 2012
The Air Power Europe Staff Ride is just a sample of the Force Development activities that Military Training Sqn (MTS) provide for RAF Halton. For the start of 2012, MTS has produced a new Force Development directive and diary of activities for the forthcoming year that is available for sections to use. It includes all outputs provided by the Physical Education Flight, Stn Force Protection Flight, Learning Centre and Force Development and Training Flight and it is broken down into what MTS are delivering each month.
The MTS staff will be visiting sections throughout 2012 to discuss your training needs and ensure that great opportunities like the Air Power Europe Staff Ride (above) and the Stn Ski Exped Exercise FRENCH SKI (featured in Mainpoint) are known to your personnel as RAF Halton tries to ensure our One Team is fully prepared.
Developing our people is a management responsibility and MTS urge you to be proactive in planning your training by speaking to us at the earliest opportunity. The Force Development directive has been approved by the Stn Cdr and will be the core of all FD activity this year. For further details speak to any MTS personnel.