Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Musical Postcards: My Brother's Keeper

My Brother's Keeper, a superb 10 piece funk band from Grosse Pointe, MI, cover the Commodores' 1977 classic, Brick House, at the The Mix, Seattle.  "Concert for Victor's Victory" was a benefit for 7-year-old Victor who is fighting bravely against a rare form of brain tumor known as DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma). Donations to help Victor can be made through Paypal at the Concert for Victor's Victory page on Facebook.  The excellent Skip Barnes, owner of my former Mini Cooper is on bass (after a decade of correspondence, it was great to finally meet you, Skip)  -sadly I don't know the names of the other band members.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Gone to The Wild Side

Not a Perfect Day for the rest of us...!

P.S. The media reaction to Mr Reed's death has been interesting. Yesterday he was pretty much the lead story on every US and UK news site that I visited. There's also been a deluge of eulogies and it would appear Mr Reed is up for sainthood in some circles. And there's also a lot of rubbish being written by, I suspect, music critics who were born a long time after the Beatles broke up.  One statement I read  was that he'd "changed the musical landscape".  Harrumph! What nonsense! What he did do was help to keep a gritty lo-fi form of rock going in the face of complex (and sometimes, dare I say it, pretentious) music from prog bands; his forte was dark, poetic, lyrics that equalled or exceeded those of Jim Morrison or the emerging Bruce Springsteen. His genius was to combine his words with exciting but simple musical arrangements. Nirvana, The Smiths, Sheryl Crowe, U2 and any number of punk/indie bands owe him a debt of gratitude.  Musical minimalism and gritty storytelling will forever be his trademark. One of his best quotes is: "One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords, and you're into jazz." Indeed!

RIP, Mr Reed.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Morihiko "Mark" Murashige 1945-2013

Mark Murashige, 6th Dan, at the USAF Western Region Summer Camp, 1998 (uke, Bobby Angotti). Photo from San Diego Aikikai Calendar, 2001

I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Mark Murashige Sensei. Mark (who always seemed a little self-conscious when addressed as "Sensei") was one of my instructors at San Diego Aikikai where I trained for nearly five years in the late eighties and early nineties.  SDA was then the dojo of the  formidable Kazuo Chiba (8th Dan, Shihan): Murashige Sensei was second-in-command.  He was one of my all time favourite martial arts instructors, regardless of discipline. His teaching style was  informal, almost to a fault, in an environment that is notoriously rigid and etiquette-laden. He was also very funny and naturally put students at ease.  Needless to say, his classes were well-attended and very popular.  His interpretation of aikido was unique and devastatingly effective. He liked to use clever but practical, uncomplicated, short-range, techniques that reminded me a little of Krav Marga or even Wing Chun. If anyone ever doubted the utility of aikido as a means of self-defense, they only had to attend one of  Mark's classes to get the record put straight!  He wasn't a big man but his technique was brilliant:  I'm told that as he got older and his strength diminished, his technique continued to improve and his aikido became extraordinarily powerful but never invoked brute force.

Mark's obituary will be written and published by others elsewhere although a compelling interview with him can be found here. My intention is simply to pay tribute to a remarkable teacher and an individual who gave me an interesting and enduring perspective of aikido.

RIP, Mark-San  -I will remember you fondly.

Monday, October 14, 2013

War Stories: The Sword that Ended World War II

Pilot Officer Eaton, photographed here on the occasion of his "going solo"  in a North American Aviation AT-6 Harvard trainer.  He was 19 at the time

I didn't plan it but I seem to be on a roll with World War II articles of late. As I've mentioned before, blogging is a rather opportunistic process and seems to take on a life of its own as copy material emerges (often out of the woodwork). So I'm going to continue with the WWII theme for awhile as several interesting stories have come to light. 

Back in July, a particularly interesting anecdote was told to me by my Uncle, Doulas Eaton.  It's even more fascinating as it involves Japanese swords  -items in which I've had more than a passing interest.  Now Uncle Doug is a spry 90-year-old: he's fit as a fiddle, potters around in his Sussex garden and goes swimming nearly every day during the summer.  He's almost pathological calm, analytical and deliberate.  When he was younger, he used to transport his family around in/on a BSA motorbike and sidecar -a vehicle that I used to lust after when I was a teenager (heck, I still think motorcycle/sidecar combos are great!). He rode the bike in all weathers and to protect himself against the elements used to wear a sheepskin-lined RAF flying jacket and leggings. Overall a very cool gentleman; and this brings me to the main story...

Uncle Doug's flying gear originated from the days when he was a pilot for the Royal Air Force in the dark days of WWII. After his basic training (carried out in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA) he was assigned to fly twin engined C-47 transport aircraft. This was not exactly to his liking as he (like most other aspiring pilots) wanted to fly fighters and had done very well in gunnery school.  Having completed his multi-engine training at RAF Windrush he was then assigned to all sorts of dangerous overseas missions. Notably resupplying General Wingate's Chindit special forces in Burma. These operations involved flying over the jungle at 50 feet and rolling the supplies out of the rear of the aircraft (no parachutes). The job was incredibly dangerous as the terrain was badly mapped and aircraft quite often ploughed into uncharted mountains at the end of their supply drop. Others were shot down by small arms fire as well as Japanese fighters. A pretty responsible job for a young man only just in his twenties, to say the least!

A Douglas Aircraft Company C-47 Skytrain or Dakota (RAF designation) of the type flown by my Uncle. Over 10,000 were produced. It proved to be an incredibly versatile and reliable design and many are still in service today

Uncle Doug was fortunate to come through the war unscathed. He continued to fly for the RAF for several years after hostilities ceased but one of his most notable missions came at the very end of WWII. By late April, 1945, Hitler had committed suicide and Germany capitulated. V-E (Victory in Europe) was declared on 8th May. However Japan fought on for several more months  and only ceased fighting  after the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August. Two formal surrender ceremonies were conducted. The first was to General McArthur on the USS Missouri in Tokyo bay on 2nd September, 1945. The second was on 12th September in Singapore to the Supreme Allied Commander of the South East Asia Theatre, Lord Louis Mountbatten. The notice of surrender was received from General Itagaki Seishiro. However Gen. Seishiro was representing the Japanese Supreme Commander of the Japanese Imperial Forces (Southern Region), Field Marshall Count Aisarchi Terauchi.  Field Marshall Terauchi had suffered a stroke and was too ill to attend the proceedings. However he did surrender privately to Mountbatten on 30th September in Saigon. On that occasion, Terauchi, being from a Samurai family, surrendered his ancestral swords which were transported from Japan for the occasion.   

Field Marshall Count Aisarchi Terauchi, Supreme Commander, Japanese Imperial Forces, Southern Region. He suffered a stroke on receiving the news that Burma had fallen
Lord Mountbatten receiving the articles of surrender  from General Seishiro in Singapore, September 12th, 1945. Field Marshall Terauchi surrendered his swords privately to Lord Mountbatten two weeks later in Saigon
This is the sword that was given to George VI by Lord Mountbatten and dates from c1420. Photo from the Royal Collection Trust

Terauchi's two surrendered swords were remarkable. The first was a made by the swordsmith, Yasutsugu, in the Echizen province of northern Japan in the 16th century (Muromachi period).  Mountbatten gave this sword to his brother, Robert, 3rd Marquess of Milford Haven, who later passed it down to his son, Lord Ivar Mountbatten who in turn loaned it to the Royal Marines as a permanent exhibit. The weapon is known as "the Mountbatten Sword" and is displayed at the Commando Training Centre Officers' Mess.

The second sword was crafted by the smith, Osafune Yasamitsu, in Bizen province, c1420 (mid-Kamakura period). It is a masterpiece and has gorgeous fittings known as koshirae. The lacquered scabbard, or saya, is also a work of art. I've seen the weapon described as a short sword or wakizashi although available photographs suggest it is a longer katana. Lord Mountbatten sent this sword to King George VI in London: after its arrival in Britain, King George put it on public display at Windsor Castle where it can be seen to this day. At least two other swords were surrendered although the details are less clear (at least to this writer) and were given to the senior commanders of the other two services.

And so it came about that 22-year-old Flight Sergeant/Acting Warrant Officer Douglas Eaton flew from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and then on to Rangoon, Burma with with the swords that symbolized  the end of World War II in the hold of his Dakota. (At Rangoon they were transferred to another aircraft and flown to London by a different aircrew.)  A great story indeed and a nice one to have in the family archives. Well done Uncle Doug!

My Uncle's flight as "sword bearer". From Singapore to Rangoon (Burma) via Kuala Lumpur
My Uncle, Douglas Eaton, inspecting the garden back in June this year. He's a remarkable and very cool gentleman

Thursday, October 03, 2013

War Stories: Bristol Beaufighter Again

A rare colour picture of Beaufighters from RAF 272 squadron patrolling the Mediterrranean off the coast of Malta, c1943 (IWM photo via Bristol Beaufighter page, Facebook)

First I should warn any internet traveller that if you've arrived here expecting commentary about music, travel, rally driving or just plain old snarkiness you are going to be gravely disappointed. This particular article is pure, unashamed, anorakary, so unless you have an interest in the WWII-era military aviation, look away now.

Within 24 hours of me publishing my last piece on the remains of a crashed Bristol Beaufighter in Gusano, Italy, I was contacted by Ewan McArthur who runs Warbird Restoration Services, near Melbourne, Australia. Ewan could identify most of the parts that I'd photographed and provided illustrations from Beaufighter technical manuals. He also made a special journey to the Australian National Aviation Museum at Moorabbin to photograph one of the last remaining Beaufighters. So for those of you sad people who like this kind of thing, here's what I discovered...

Armoured Plate
This was perhaps the easiest part to identify and I'm pleased to say my instinct was accurate. It is indeed a piece of armour plate and protects the front of the cockpit. The hole in the middle is an inspection hatch  -see technical sheet below.

This part was identified with absolute certainty: it's a heavy steel armoured plate fitted in the nose to the pilot against incoming fire
The location of the plate is shown here in this technical sheet. The rectangular opening in the lower part is for an inspection plate (missing). The inspection panel is fitted to the main plate with Dzus fasteners

Machine Gun Mount
These rails turned out to be gun mounts as I had suspected. Without detailed measurements we can't be sure if they are for the fuselage 20mm cannon or the wing machine guns. I've put up the technical sheets for both. Given the position of the hopper or chute located between the two rails it is most likely that the are for the one of the six Browning .303 calibre machine guns: the hopper/chute for the cannon appears to be at the very end of the mounts.  The chute is for voiding the spent cartridges out of the bottom of the aircraft: the bottom photo shows the chute exits on the lower wing surface.

Gun mounting rails. Almost certainly for one of the eight wing-mounted .303 calibre Browning machine  guns. 
Technical schematic showing the locations of the Beaufighter's guns. The aircraft was fitted with four 20mm Hispano-Suiza cannon mounted in the fuselage and eight .303 calibre Browning machine guns in the wings (marked in yellow). The machine guns were fitted asymmetrically: four in the starboard wing and two in the port wing. The reason for this configuration was to balance out the weight of the landing light which was also mounted in the port wing.
This photographs shows the ammunition chute for spent cartridges. It is located approximately two feet from the right side of the structure (as shown in the upper photograph)  -for this reason it is unlikely to be one of the cannon mounts
Technical schematic of the 20mm cannon mountings. The chute for the spent cartridges is positioned at the end of the rails indicating that 'our' part is not a cannon mount
The spent cartridges are ejected into the chute and voided from the under surface of the wing.  Photo of the Beaufighter exhibit at the Australian National Aviation Mueseum, Moorabbin, Victoria, courtesy Ewan McArthur.
This panel is probably the inspection cover of the two machine guns located in the port wing.  The panel 's location can be seen in the top schematic in this series

Undercarriage Mechanism
This contraption is the upper part of the undercarriage mechanism. No equivocation here. I've indicated the location of the part on the technical sheet below. Ewan somehow managed to get a shot right up in the undercarriage (see bottom photo) -even the colour is the same.
This part is from the upper undercarriage mechanism. Its relationship  to the rest of the u/c is shown in the technical sheet below
Technical sheet of the complete Beaufighter undercarriage mechanism.  The section found at Gusano is indicated in yellow
Picture of the radius arm in position on the Moorabbin Beaufighter. Even the color is the same as  the parts from Gusano. Photo courtesy Ewan McArthur

Engine Nacelle Panel
Ewan confirmed that this panel is one from the engine nacelle structure. The detailed photos show fuel and oil hatches. The bottom picture in this series, again taken by Ewan McArthur, is of the nacelle of the Beau exhibit at the ANAM. The location of the Gusano Beau panel is indicated in yellow. The part has been flattened though  -either as a result of the crash or some individual trying to reshape for one reason or another.

This panel is part of the engine nacelle: it has smaller panels for fuel and oil (see below) -the whole structure seems to have been somewhat  -this might have happened in the crash or as a result of human activity afterwards i.e. it was rolled flat for salvage purposes
Clearly marked fuel hatch located on the panel above. I'm not quite sure about it's purpose, though, as fuel wouldn't be delivered through a cover that had to be unscrewed. I'll do some additional research on this...
I'm not quite sure if you can see this but in the centre of this small panel is the word "oil".  The same comment applies to this as "fuel" panel above: it's hard to believe that oil would be checked/changed via a panel that had to be unscrewed every time (Ewan can you help...?)
Here's the location of the panel on an intact aircraft: the Beau exhibit at the Moorabbin ANA museum.   Photograph courtesy of Ewan McArthur

Instrument Panel
I'd like to think that this piece of twisted aluminium is part of the instrument panel. Ewan kindly provided me with a brilliant photo of the Beau cockpit and my first impression was that its from the area indicated below. However there is some doubt. The metal is very thin and Ewan believes it could be part of the wing or even tail spar assembly. It's difficult to get a good ID when the specimens are so mangled.

We've been equivocating over this piece of twisted aluminum. My first thoughts were that it was part of an instrument panel (see below) it could be part of a wing or tail rib
As mentioned in the photo above, I was thinking that the piece of bent aluminium came from somewhere like here but now I'm not sure. In any case it's a great excuse to show a pic of the awesome cockpit of a Beau. Photo courtesy EwanMcArthur

Finale and Acknowledgements
Well I think that's enough for now and we have some closure on the identification of these parts. I should mention that a peculiar  thing happened in the process of writing this and the previous post about this aircraft. I started out thinking it would be an interesting vignette about my travels and a little bit of military aviation history. But as I wrote, fact checked, and dug up more information about this Beaufighter and its aircrew the story began to take on a life of its own. I became intensely interested in the not only in the history of this particular Beaufighter XIc of RAF 272 squadron but the personalities of Flight Sergeant John Horsford, DFM, 21 years old and born to John and Ellen Mary Horsford, Oundle, Northamptomshire and Warrant Officer John Crockatt Watson, 26, son of Thomas and Margaret Mary Watson of Jordanhill, Glasgow.  What was their mission that night (unfortunately we'll probably never know as the squadron records for that month are missing)? What were they like as individuals? Were they friends or was their relationship strictly professional?  What were the exact circumstances of their crash?  Where they strafing and did they hit their target? Did they suffer engine or other mechanical difficulties? Were they brought down by a lucky rifle shot from a German soldier? Did they have families and are there any surviving members (actually I'm still working on that one but so far with a conspicuous lack of success)?  In the end I started to feel I knew these young men. I'm certainly awed and humbled not only by the technical expertise needed to fly this complicated, powerful war machine (at 21, I could just about buy a bus ticket) but the responsibility of unleashing the hell of its formidable armament. Overall I feel privileged to play a small part in the story of this aircraft.

Update (2nd January 2014): since I wrote this post I've discovered this entry on the Aviation Safety Network's site.  The additional snippets of information are (i) that the aircraft's MSN (manufacturer's serial number) was NE639 and (ii) that on the night of the crash the plane was on a mission to engage shipping at Rapallo, near Genoa
RAF 272 Squadron insignia -an armoured knight, couped at the shoulders; motto "on, on". The squadron was disbanded in April 1945
Update (2nd January 2014): This photo was in the possession of the Air Crash Po Valley team. I assume it was found in the personal effects of the deceased aircrew. It was taken in 1944, when 272 Squadron was based in Alghero, Sardinia, and is the official photo of "B" flight.  John C. Watson is present in this photo (2nd row from front, 10th person from the left.  Watson's regular pilot partner, Flight Sergeant Allen Powell is immediately to the right as we look at the photo).  According to Allen Powell, Flight Sergeant Horsford is apparently not in the photo and was not in the B Flight when it was taken so it can be assumed that the picture was the property of John Watson
Lest we forget. The graves of the aircrew, John Horsford and John Watson are located in the remarkable Staglieno Cemetery, Genoa. The pictures are copyright and courtesy of The War Graves Photographic Project. If anybody has any information on their families please let me know

So once again I'd like to express my appreciation to Signor Pierlino Bergonzi, Professor Agostino Alberti and their colleagues of the Aircrash Po and Grupo Ricercatori Aerei Caduti teams and the Muzeo Della Resistenza, Sperongia, for making this experience possible. A special "thank you" goes to Ewan McArthur for contributing the technical sheets, photographs and his knowledge of the Beaufighter  -mate, if I'm ever back in Melbourne (and I probably will be) I'll look you up and buy you a pint or two.

Ewan McArthur at work: photo swiped without his permission (sorry, Ewan) from the Warbird Restoration Sevices site on Facebook