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Engineers of Yesterday - A fitting tribute


At this time of year we remember the fallen of all the wars both past and present , and traditionally this covers the soldiers, sailors and airmen , but perhaps we should also remember all the Engineers who worked long hours in dangerous situations to produce the equipment the servicemen so desperately needed.

Spitfire Mk2a -- Only flying example to have fought in the Battle of Britain

Spitfire Mk2a -- Only flying example to have fought in the Battle of Britain

The following is just an example of the incredible design and manufacturing effort that took place during the Second World War and it’s a testament to their work that after 70 years lost in an Irish peat bog a Browning .303 machine gun from a Spitfire that crashed in the Irish Republic in 1941 was restored to working order and actually fired.

Browning .303 Machine Gun

Browning .303 Machine Gun

The aircraft in question was flown by Roland 'Bud' Wolfe an American flying a British Spitfire on an Atlantic convoy sortie when he experienced engine failure and bailed out. The plane crashed into a hillside and was claimed by the boggy ground. 'Bud' has bailed out successfully but his troubles were only just beginning as upon landing he was arrested and interned at the Currah (the Irish Republic was neutral)
He subsequently escaped and returned to his airfield (RAF Eglinton , now City of Derry Airport) in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately a full scale diplomatic incident had blown up over the whole affair and he was arrested by the British authorities and held for 10 days while negotiations took place to resolve the situation, he was eventually returned to the Republic where he was interned again until 1943 when he escaped and joined the USAF as the US had now joined the war effort.
He survived the war and went on to serve in Korea and Vietnam before retiring as a Lt. Col, he passed away in 1994 at the age of 76.

Fast forward 70 years and in June this year the wreckage of his aircraft was finally discovered in Moneydarragh, Co Donegal after numerous different attempts over the years. All six Browning .303 machine guns and large quantities of ammunition were recovered. The guns were cleaned and checked and a complete gun was assembled from the best parts of the six recovered, the only modern part used was the ammunition as the reuse of the recovered rounds was felt to be too risky.

The recovery and restoration have been filmed and will be the subject of a BBC series on military archaeology.

The fact that the gun was capable of being restored to 'as new' condition is a testament to the designers and manufacturers efforts all those years ago.

How do you think the equipment you design will last the ravages of time?

I hope you found this blog informative & useful , I welcome your comments either below or via twitter @peterjfrancis 

Mechanical & Thermal Consultant, CFD & FEA , mechanical design, electronics hacker , IoT hacker, pilot - full size and RC , motorcyclist

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February 1, 2021 08:35

Nice article Peter
As a post script to your interesting account of the Browning machine guns, my understanding, is that Supermarine (Vickers) had a lot of trouble with jamming of the rounds in the delivery trays etc. Someone suggested contacting Molins, a company manufacturing cigarette making machines, within days Molins had sorted out the problems! A good example of sideway thinking, and the Spitfire could use its 6 or 8 machine guns to good effect!!

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