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Thread: Air Delivery Letter Service

  1. #11
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    Herewith the document:

    RCAF Press Release dated 16 February 1945, drafted by F/L R.G. Anglin (Public Relations Officer):

    On the third day of the invasion of Northern Europe, a Hurricane took off from an airfield near London, swept across the Channel, and set down on an abbreviated landing strip on the beachhead within range of enemy gunfire. Out of a special compartment behind the cockpit, and out of the drop tanks under either wing which normally carry additional fuel, came bags of official mail and documents from SHAEF to Advance Headquarters.

    It was the first scheduled landing of an Allied aircraft on the continent, though the strip had already serviced fighters forced down to refuel. And it was the first “sortie” of the Air Delivery Letter Service which has since grown to a network of official airmail lines covering the western front and linking it with Britain.

    Today “ADLS” is a full-fledged airline on its own, operating dozens of Dakotas, Ansons, Hurricanes, Austers and Norseman. Some forty regularly scheduled flights a day are flown between Britain, Brussels, Paris and various ground and air headquarters behind the Belgian-Holland front where operate the First Canadian Army, the Second British Army, and the Second Tactical Air Force.

    ADLS has a reputation for flying when all other aircraft are grounded, and never has the air service been interrupted for more than 48 hours despite severe fog and storm conditions this winter.

    The men who fly the mail are responsible for this - pilots of the RCAF and RAF who have done their tours on fighters and bombers, or who have roamed the world with Transport Command. They are assigned to ADLS as a “change” tour, but they are constantly battling the most difficult weather conditions, at least three have lost their lives, and others have been chased by German fighters and shot up by flak.

    During the early days of the service, now an eight-month veteran, Hurricanes were used almost exclusively because their guns could ward off possible enemy attack. The speedy fighter craft would leave Britain with mail for delivery first at one, later at several bases in France, and collect and deliver much inter-base mail along the route. But all circuits began and ended at the home field near London.

    As the Allied armies broke through France into Belgium and Holland, the areas covered and the load carried increased greatly. An ADLS terminus was established at an airfield near Brussels and the England-and-return circuits were broken down into several routes.

    Great droning Dakotas and staunch but lightweight Ansons now shuttle back and forth between England and Brussels a dozen times a day - and late into the night. At the Belgian terminus they unload official mail already bagged for various army and air force destinations on the continent. Three hundred bags a day are handled in the small, square brick building that houses the hub of the ADLS circuit, manned by a handful of RAF airmen under F/O Fred Ridgeway of St. Helens, Lancashire.

    Ridgeway had two years as an admin officer at RAF training stations in Canada - 41 SFYS at Weyburn, Saskatchewan and 37 SFTS at Calgary - before he returned to England last March. He has never had any experience handling mail till he was assigned to a pre-invasion headquarters, where he enquired blankly, “What does ADLS stand for ?” Very few people knew much more about it, then, because ADLS was just another plan on paper. Fred and the others learned as they went along.

    The cross-Channel squadron, based in England, is commanded by S/L Robert A. Marsh of York, England. The continental network is operated from Brussels by a squadron commanded by S/L Rene Kitchen, DFC, from the Isle of Man, which consists of a flight of Austers and another of Hurricanes. These Austers, already well known as the eyes of the army artillery, when viewed close up as operated by ADLS are one of the most intriguing skypieces of the war.

    Go for a hop in any normal aircraft and the pilot takes off, climbs to a height of several thousand feet, sets course and descends only to land at his destination. An Auster just isn’t any normal aircraft.

    In the first place, it doesn’t “take off”. It takes a run and a jump at the air, then sidles about a bit at a height of 50 feet like a racehorse getting the feel of the track. A moment later the ADLS pilot pulls back the stick and goes soaring away to a great height - perhaps all of 200 feet - to get his bearings. He then dives right back to mother earth and scuttles along the resyt of his journey at anywhere from 20 to 80 feet, with fenceposts, telephone poles, trees and hilltops flashing past at 100 miles an hour.

    Yet such tactics, which would probably lose any civilian pilot his license in peacetime, make very good sense in these war-torn parts. For the Auster is a sky-going jeep which depends for its safety on one thing - keeping out of sight. Out of sight of enemy intruder planes which may dare the Allied “air blockade”. And out of sight of our own anti-aircraft batteries which, while theu wouldn’t for the world hurt a harmless little Auster, might well mistake it for a buzzbomb or something else unfriendly, as it skims along through low cloud and mist.

    The prevailing winter weather on the continent, and the necessity for getting official dispatches through in spite of almost anything, is another reason why ADLS Austers have developed hedgehopping to a fine art. These motorized grasshoppers skip back and forth between points seldom more than 100 miles apart. If a heavy blanket of cloud lays a two or three hundred foot ceiling over the whole area, there is no sense trying to climb above it, only to go through the dangerous business at destination of trying to pick the right spot and come down through the murk. Instead, they just scoot along underneath, and if it gets impossible even for an Auster, they simply put down in the nearest farmer’s field or even a convenient stretch of open roadway. For an Auster’s chief ace in the hole is that it can land anywhere.

    The other factor which takes the seeming risks out of this gravity-teasing technique is that the pilots are stolid types with usually a tour or two on Mitchells or Bostons behind them. After safely completing many operational trips into Hitler-land they have no intention of risking an ignominious end behind our own lines in one of these powered box-kites. They quickly adapt their mode of flying to make the most of the Auster’s peculiar talents and fulfill the urgent schedules of the Air Delivery Letter Service - but always allowing themselves a healthy margin of safety.

    Since it’s got to be done, there’s no denying that the pilots, like F/O Gord Hollingshead of Meath Park, Saskatchewan, near Prince Albert, get quite a kick out of such cross-country, or roller-coaster, flying.

    “The so-and-so’s” exclaims Hollingshead as he suddenly spots gun flashes off the starboard wingtip, and promptly kicks up the Auster’s tail til it loses practocally all its hundred-foot altitude and skims its wheels low across some Dutch farmer’s brush patch.

    “They are probably shooting at something above the clouds but that won’t make us feel any better if we got in the way.” He does a deck-level bank and dodges away from there at what may well be less than sea level, these being notably low countries.

    As the Auster seems about to chew its way right through a looming stand of young timber he lightly lifts the nose so that the aircraft zooms up and over and down the other side, and you can fairly hear the screams of the midway sirens at the Canadian National Exhibition and the barker bellowing about the death-defying thrills of the roller coaster. Maybe you don’t actually hear it, but that feeling in the pit of your stomach is no mere reasonable facsimile.

    Hollingshead has been flicked-at three times by flak, and has developed an understandably vivid mental chart on which every battery is clearly pinpointed. Three skips, four hops and less than an hour out of Brussels, he does a circuit roughly a circumference of a barrel hoop, over the Auster landing strip at First Canadian Army Headquarters. If the circuit were any wider he would probably lose sight of the “field” entirely, for it consists of a 100-yard strip of rusty steel-mesh matting about as wide as the road in front of your house. A moment later, after foiling a gusty cross-wind which seems to take the brown-camouflaged Auster for a stray leaf left over from autumn, the plane taxies up to the tarpaper covered shack which is control tower, admin building and maintenance hangar.

    The Luftwaffe’s flash-in-the-pan “invasion” of the liberated areas on New Year’s Day provided a couple of interesting entries for the ADLS logbooks. One Canadian pilot was stooging northwards across Holland on that peaceful winter morning when the air about him was abruptly filled with streamlined silver shapes flashing past in the opposite direction. “Hm - the Spits must have been out early to be coming back already” he mused before he got a proper look at them. Then, simultaneously, black crosses started to dance before his eyes, one of the bandits let loose with a cannon burst directly at the inoffensive Auster, and the airmailman sideslipped for terra firma. A convenient open space came up to receive the little plane, whereupon the pilot jumped out and raced for the nearest house, one of the raiders pausing long enough to chase him and pepper his sheltering place.

    Meanwhile, another RCAF pilot, F/O John Stevenson of Toronto was heading for the ADLS terminus near Brussels, but the angry swarm of Messerschmitts and Focke Wulfs beat him to it. That usually hospitable home base was clearly no place to settle down on just then, so Steve ducked into Brussels and spent the next few minutes dodging in and out among the higher buildings, and generally trying to look like one of the pigeons that operate from the gold-edged spire of the Hotel de Ville.

    ADLS Austers can consequently be forgiven if they shy like Old Dobbin encountering his first horseless carriage, when they run into a pack of homing Spits or Tiffies. Certainly they continue to hug Mother Earth with unabashed affection as they scuttle on their rounds, bringing Dutch and Belgian folk to the windows beneath their red-tiled roofs to smile and wave. And - believe it - if he knew the language, the pilot could often lip-read their greetings.

    Boss of the Auster flight ever since its inception a few months ago is an RAF pilot with over half-a-hundred bomb runs in Bostons and Mitchells in his personal logbook, F/L Frank Emmett of Parkstone, Cross Lane, Congleton, Cheshire. His opposite number on the Hurricane flight, F/L Rex Simpson of London, England, did his operational stint in the Middle East on Hurries. He and F/L Harry Aitken of Kirkaldy, Scotland (inevitably nick-named “Max” but no relation to the Beaverbrook clan) are two of the pilots who shared in the very beginning of the ADLS service in beachhead days. Before that, Aitken was a Spitfire pilot with an RAF squadron in Italy.

    As previously noted, the Hurricanes were chosen to launch the Air Delivery Letter Service because of their speed and their four 20-millimetre cannon, a particular comfort when they were winging in and out of Normandy last June. Yet neither then nor since have the Hurricanes been “bounced” by enemy aircraft, except for one bullet hole which appeared mysteriously in a wing surface, origin unknown. For their job, too, is to get the mail through, and like the Austers they play it safe and stick reasonably close to ground level. But that involves other very real hazards where the terrain is not as flat as in Belgium and Holland. Two ADLS Hurricane pilots were killed when they crashed among the 2,000-foot hills around Dijon, in France, when rain clouds blotted out these miniature but treacherous peaks. Still a third Hurricane vanished into the channel, nor was the pilot rescued.

    During January and February this year the Hurricane pilots were having it easy, for a change, flying the Brussels-Paris route. Mail between London and Paris is flown direct, by Ansons, so the Hurricane flight operating from Brussels has had to carry only mail between Paris and the various air and army Headquarters in the British sector.

    U.S. pilots share the run from Brussels into the American sector. They fly the Canadian-built Norseman, which was originated for bush flying tasks in Canada’s north country and takes naturally to the informal but persistent technique of aerial communication on the western front.

    But when the big Allied drive into Germany gets underway the Hurri pilots expect they will once again be pioneering the front line routes, supplying a vital link between main headquarters and advanced field commands. Meanwhile, between flights, they lounge in comfort in a bright and warm little semi-dugout on a Belgian airfield while, neaby, maintenance crews keep their planes in the best of flying trim. But they well remember the long weeks last summer and fall when the little matter of keeping airborne between continental points was strictly up to the pilots themselves.

    “We were nobody’s baby, on this side,” one of the pilots recalled. “There were no servicing facilities laid-on for us, and we had to beg help wherever we could. For a time we could not even get petrol in Paris. A pilot flying to Paris from one of our other calling points, where we could refuel, would tank up before leaving; then he would set down at any field between, where he thought he could beg a little petrol, so as to arrive in Paris with enough left for the next pilot to fly the plane back !”

    Urgent military messages and dispatches, a Canadian airman’s request for repatriation after three years’ overseas service, and official forms arranging Blighty leave for a hundred foxhole-weary British soldiers . . . all these and hundreds of other matters of vast or personal import are dealt with speedily and dependably in the 300 bags of official mail flown the length and breadth of France, Belgium, Holland and across the channel to Britain each day, thanks to ADLS.

    This story, when passed by field censors, will go into an envelope marked “ADLS”, into a red-and-white striped mailbag labelled in large letters. “PRESS”, and into an aircraft of the Air Delivery Letter Service, to be whisked away to London. For, in addition to its vital job of flying official mail, ADLS carries the dispatches of hundreds of war correspondents and public relations officers from every sector of the front back to the newspapers and press wire services in Britain and thence on to the world.

    ADLS Hurricanes flew some of the earliest dispatches from the beachhead. Since then, while direct radio and wire transmission from the continent has improved to the point where it can handle all immediate operational copy, the flow of feature and background material from this most thoroughly covered of all wars has also increased immedately.

    And here, too, ASLS - grown in eight months from a few fledgling Hurricanes to a whole fleet of sky couriers - is doing a tremendous job in helping to keep the world informed.
    Last edited by HughAHalliday; 25th September 2019 at 11:14. Reason: spelling

  2. #12
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    Something to add from the ground crew perspective:

    RCAF Press Release No.9030 dated 1 March 1945, drafted by F/L R.G. Anglin (Public Relations Officer) reads:

    Brussels: Mother hen to a flock of sky-going chicks is Sergeant Albert Burns of 12 Whitmore Place, Newcastle-on-Tyne. Burns is boss mechanic on a flight of Austers based in Belgium which fly official dispatches to and from points in Belgium and Holland as part of the Air Delivery Letter Service.

    Austers are those aerial jeeps, tiny monoplanes famed as the “eyes of the artillery” but also used for many other valuable purposes. They are a light and simply constructed type of aircraft compared to many operational planes but they have plenty of their own maintenance troubles - or rather Sergeant Burns has the trouble.

    “To keep out of the way of larger aircraft on our field, the Austers don’t use the runway but take off and land on the grass at the edge of the field”, the Sergeant explains. “Bits of stone get picked up in the slipstream, or are flung up by the wheels and punch holes in the fabric. We are always checking and patching.

    “During winter the field got rutted and frozen, and the Austers took quite a bouncing as they taxied about, which is hard on airframes.”

    Official mail is a vital part of western front communications and the Austers must keep to schedule; they fly in almost any weather, and there are few idle days in which servicing crews can work on them. So sufficient spare kites are provided in order that Sergeant Burns and his RAF erks can keep them rotating, and always have enough serviceable to maintain a daily schedule of some dozen return trips.

    Now and then a fluke accident causes more headaches. “The roof of our hangar was leaking and we didn’t find out immediately because there is a plaster ceiling beneath the gable,” Burns exclaimed ruefully. “Then one day - plop - great amounts of plaster fell onto one of the aircraft in the hangar, punching the wing full of holes.”

    Sergeant Burns did a year’s tour in Canada, at the Service Flying Training School at Estevan, Saskatchewan, nor has he lost touch with Canada on his current assignment for there are several RCAF pilots in the flight, and Canadian units nearby. “When I came to the continent I was working on operational aircraft at a repair unit, and at times that was a lot more interesting - but oh well”, says the Sarge, with a philosophical shrug as he scowls his worrisome brood of green-and-khaki Austers.

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