Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Newsletter dated September 2012

Letters to the Editor

From Chris & Penny Morton

Not much new for the September newsletter, except our thanks to all who have replied to the pre-conference survey. It is heartening to receive so many provisional "yes" replies more than a year out from the event. Hope all will be able to come to Hobart, Tasmania's historic waterfront town, for this action-packed, exciting week.

We can't help you win the lottery, but Chris has had some encouraging news from QANTAS regarding assistance with incoming international airfares. More on that later.

Once again, besides "The Rainbow and the Rose", we recommend prospective delegates do their best to find a copy of "King of the Wilderness" by Christobel Mattingley or "Billy Vincent; Bush Pilot" by Guy Nicholson. Pre-conference reading will enhance your enjoyment of "The Rainbow Connection", 13th-18th October, 2013, giving you insight into some of our presenters.

Till next time

From Mike Blamey

Brabazon and propellors

Two interesting comments in the last news-letter which triggered off recollections of my own.

In 1960, I went to St Andrews University to read Engineering. Actually the Degree course was called Applied Science and had a very strong mathematical element. Which was irritating as mathematics was my weakest subject - I only scraped my A levels in maths at the second attempt. (The good part of that was that, between school and University I had to work for a year in an Engineering firm, Woods of Colchester, who made fans. Their trade name was Aerofoil and the fan blades were very similar in shape and structure - and presumably performance - to propellers and aircraft wings !) I realised during this time that my leanings were towards Engineering, not the pure sciences to which my school teachers had directed me !

As Engineering students, we were allocated the worst mathematics lecturers: but somehow we managed to pass. I do remember one lecturer (probably the most interesting thing he ever told us) describing having been 'drafted' after his graduation in mathematics in 1942/3 to the Bristol Aeroplane Company. He worked upon (a word I always use when I can as 'the Master' does the same) the calculations for the Brabazon. I paraphrase his lecture.

Of particular interest is what is termed the natural frequency of the structure. It would be annoying if the aircraft vibrated at a frequency similar to or excited by the forces that are generated on landing: there was the possibility of the structure literally shaking itself to pieces. The major masses (engines, landing gear, fuel tanks, etc) are considered at a series of point loads, joined (or separated!) by springs of an estimated torsional rigidity. Then some very 'hairy' mathematics is applied to produce a determinant (like Matrices but solvable) . In the case of the Brabazon, this was a 20 times 20. (Twenty rows and twenty columns] Impossible to solve by hand, and the need to do so long before any computing facility. The computing department seriously considered the following. They would get 400 Bristol school children. These were to be positioned in a hanger, each with a number -those in the terms of the determinant to be solved and in twenty rows and twenty columns. Row I would add their number to row 2. Row 1 can go home.

Everyone now turns through 90 degrees. We now have a 19 by 20. Same again: the new row 1 adds its number to Row 2 and row I goes home. Everyone turns through 90 degrees and repeats.

Eventually (after a lot of giggling and talking and mistakes) you arrive at a 4 by 4. Which can be solved. For some reason I seem to remember that natural frequencies were designated by the Greek letter 'lamda' - but is is so long ago, I may be wrong. Any Shutists who are better mathematicians than I, (probably all) please correct.

My aerodynamics lecturer also worked at Bristol. He was 'on' propeller design and quite a lot of his lectures involved such. He had a nasty habit of skirting over -in his notes- any areas of the syllabus that would form exam questions. We used to keep a watch as he was lecturing to see when he turned over two pages! It was a simple matter at the next tutorial for one of the class to say something like "could I borrow your notes sir, to make sure that I have got 'XXXX' right" and have a quick look through at the missed pages. I passed the exams!

Did I ever use this information in my career in textile machinery and processes ?

Certainly I used areodynamics. In synthetic yarn production we have a process known as interlacing. instead of twisting filaments to stop their natural tendency to 'spread' because of the static electricity generated when they pass over guides, we literally blow compressed air at them, through very small hollow 'needles' to 'interlace' the filaments. If the process is not operating properly, the inevitable response of factory operatives is to 'increase' the pressure of the air. This inevitably produced what is termed 'choking' conditions in the needles. A lot of noise, a lot of air wasted and no improvement in the process. Remembering my lecturer's comments and calculations of the similar conditions in the passage of gases through a turbine blade, I was able to calculate and demonstrate that it was reducing the pressure that would be most beneficial. (This must have been in one of the turned-pages that I spied upon !)

As one of our members knows well, I am presently trying to distil my experience and experiences in textiles etc into several books: written, I hope in the style of Shute. My colleague knows, because he is very kindly helping with the editing. I am driven in this by my deep admiration for the Master: who did (so I was told just before she died in 2000 by my mother) visit our house in 1941, ask to see me -asleep and 6 months old- and hold me. What an inspiration for any budding author.

Best wishes to all Shutists

From Bill Levy

A timeless tribute to aging gracefully - and what hats can do for a woman !

From David Henshall

I've been in contact with John Anderson for some time now regarding a presentation that I'm working on 'Beyond the Black Rock' (a play on the title of Beyond the Black Stump; The Black Rock is a navigational buoy just outside Yarmouth Harbour on the Isle of Wight, one of Shute's 'favourite' locations). As I explained to John, I'm very much a local lad, born and raised on the Hamble where my father worked, mainly for fairey's at Hamble Point. My father was a keen oberver of local engineering history, with a particular interest in the works of Nevil Shute. I've his notes, to which I have added a great deal of my own research and the result is the lecture 'Beyond the Black Rock' which will chart the influences of the Hampshire Basin and Solent on the life and writings of NSN.

My notes now contain some interesting new developments..... firstly, an identity for the 'man who was Charles Simon' (Most Secret) and even more interesting, some insight into the lady who Shute used as the model for Rosemary Long (In the Wet). But the real excitement for me is that I may have an insight into an all new interpretation of some of Shute's early writings, driven in part by the new understanding in the part the area around Hamble and the Solent played on Shute.

Beyond the Black Rock will get it's debut in Hamble this autumn, but has already been booked for other sailing clubs for evenings on through the winter 'evening lecture' season.

I've been very lucky in many ways, as I've found a number of Shute's old colleagues and contemporaries (I would be careful about calling them friends - some had less than cheerful recollections of the man) and will be including their memories into my work. It is my plan to capture the best of these as audio/video histories that I'll pass on to the foundation.

In RFAW, when the JU-188 first appears over the Solent, Shute tells how it is engaged by a gun battery located 'between Newtown and Yarmouth'.

Well, this is the location of that Battery. It was quite an important site and ended up equipped with radar, 3.7" guns and 40mm Bofors (I'm told by locals that the flas slab set into the ground was a mounting for one of the Bofors). Shute had been over on the Island for trials of the rocket grapnel at the White Cliffs in Alum bay (very useful as they are a rarity in the UK - inland facing cliff faces) that in the case of the White cliffs were a 'dead ringer' for the location at Pointe de la Hoc, assaulted early on D Day by the US Rangers. Shute has also been in the Hamstead area as it was, like the cliffs, an inland facing shoreline that could be used with little fear of being spied on.

This must have been an important factor for the D Day planners; the pas de Calais is not noted for it's rock faces, if it was seen that they were looking at cliff face assaults it might have given credibility to the idea that Normandy was really the intended site for the invasion.

However - as an aside, Shute could also get things wrong too! In 'Whatever happened to the Corbetts' he talks about them being allowed to progress westwards through the anti submarine barrier after leaving Yarmouth. In the end, the barrier was not, as expected, at the Hurst Narrows but instead ran between Hamstead point and the Sowley Sluice on the mainland ( a short section of this still remains with it's outer extremity marked by a flashing red light) - most of the remainder having been blown up by army underwater demolition teams in teh early 1980s after a spat with the Crown Estates over who put could what on the seabed below the low water mark!

From Steve King

For Trustee From the Toolroom fans (it's my favorite book):

This youtube video shows building a miniature V-12 engine, in about the same scale as the miniature engines in TFTT, including machining the crankshaft. It helps me to better relate to what I read about such projects in TFTT.

From Richard Wynn

I wonder if this would be worth sharing? It's an account of one of my late father-in-law's incidents in his time as an RAF Bomber Command pilot, and it closely resembles the narrative in Shute's Pastoral when two aircraft are trying to land simultaneously.

Taken from a letter from John Pocock, presumably to the RAF Association? Written approximately 1996.

Recently I bought a small book entitled "Lucky B 24" which described the airborne anti-radar operations of 223 Squadron during the Second World War.

The operations described were "spoof raids" carried out by aircraft dropping silver paper strips of various sizes which when picked up on German radar gave the impression of many aircraft approaching. If the main 1,000 bomber target was say the Ruhr, then spoof raids might be made on Hamburg and Berlin to confuse the Nazis and get their fighter control to split its force to cover all three targets. The few aircraft of the spoof targets turned back just before the target having kept the factory workers out of their beds and the anti-aircraft and other bodies short of sleep and some German fighters away from the 1,000 bombers. Spoof raids were also made when no 1,000 bombers were laid on because of bad weather or other reasons in order to keep the Germans on the hop and their fighter pilots from resting.

In addition to "Spoofs" there were anti-fighter operations where the Liberators and Fortresses of 223 Squadron flew with the main stream of the 1,000 bombers, they had several specialist wireless operators on board, who listened for German ground control telling their fighters where to go to intercept the bombers. The specialists, some German speakers, would give confusing instructions to the fighters telling them "Sorry that was wrong" and advise them to go to different heights and bearings. Sometimes the German fighter control used women to give instructions or played a certain tune before. their instructions, then we played a recording loudly over the frequency being used having different bearings and height, in men's and women's voices saying "go 060 , 090 , 075 etc., 10,000 ft, 15,000 ft, 8,000 ft, etc. This was very worrying for the German fighter pilot especially when he wanted homing instructions to get back to base when he was short of fuel and many instances were reported of them crashing as they did not know where to go.

Then there were the machines on board the 223 Squadron Liberators that put grass over the German radar screens making them difficult to operate.

Towards the end of the book was an item that read after the raid on 8th April 1945 on Hamburg "P.O. Pocock went into a hole while landing in extreme conditions". Being the Pocock involved it brought back vividly the details of that night and early morning.

My crew and I were briefed to do a spoof on Hamburg which went off well on a beautiful moonlit night and afterwards we crossed the North Sea to our own base in Norfolk. As we approached we saw that there was thick cover of low cloud and fog on the ground. Our navigation lights were not working and our radio was also out. There was no break in the cloud as far as we could see so we circled and when we were getting really worried one of the gunners spotted another aircraft, which we assumed was receiving instructions from our base to divert to a place with no fog, so we followed it to the north. A little later we saw the fog thinning and an airfield with runway lights but the fog was rolling in. We got into the circuit and approached to land when at about 300' the rear gunner said "Skipper there is an aircraft trying to land on top of us". Not surprising as we had no lights. So we turned out of the way climbed away and pulled up our undercarriage. On the second attempt to land the engineer told me that we may be getting short of fuel, then at about 500' the runway lights were switched off; it transpired that the Control Tower, not seeing our navigation lights did not know we were trying to land. Once again throttles open and we buzzed the tower to let them know we were there. Then there was the worry of how much fuel and when were the engines going to stop. After gaining height I held a conference and asked the crew if they wanted to jump as we pointed the aircraft out to sea on the autopilot. No-one wanted to jump.

Another approach and by this time the control tower had switched on the sodium lights that could be seen better in fog. From overhead looking down through 150' of fog one could see the lights well but as we approached into the last 150' looking along the fog there was just a white and orange glow and nothing could be seen of the ground or lights. Bearing in mind the saying that it is better to crash at the far end when going slowly than at the beginning of the runway going fast, I felt gingerly for the ground and eventually touched ground but on grass not on the runway. Braking hard we saw blue lights, the perimeter track, coming up. We went over the perimeter track at about 20-30 knots and the left undercarriage leg was torn off in a ditch, the port wing and engines hit the ground and the starboard engines were up in the air and ticking over.

We all left the aircraft in great haste, in case of fire, and left the engines running but when I was taking a roll call the engineer got back in and closed down the engines. After about 30 minutes the ambulances and fire engine appeared. I said "Where the hell have you been?" Their answer was that they had been lost in the fog. My main thoughts were of the mess and bed but when we arrived there we were told that there had been so many aircraft diverted there that there were no beds left. They gave us an armchair and blankets.

The next morning we saw that the Lord had been with us, we had landed and run between rows of Lancasters, fuelled and bombed up for a raid next morning.

From Richard Michalak

This is a 1949 documentary about Darwin, shot pretty well exactly when Shute was there.

I am assuming that its general appearance would pretty well double for Alice Springs at that time too.


I've just heard, that one of the readers of this newsletter, the author Richard Bach has crashed his plane last Friday. Richard I'm sure that I speak on behalf of all the readers of this newsletter, when I wish you a quick and full recovery.