Friday, 27 May 2016

Austin Robinson - World War One aviator - Part 4




 After leaving Killingholme Austin was posted to RNAS South Shields where, between July and October 1918, his duties involved testing flying boats for airworthiness and then delivering them to locations across the UK.

The first flying boat that Austin tested and delivered was N4240, a Felixstowe F3, which he flew south to RNAS Cattewater near Plymouth in Devon. 


 Short 184 flying boats on the Cattewater slipway (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/5)

His next delivery involved flying  Felixstowe Porte Baby, N9807 north to Houton Bay, which was the RNAS station for Scapa Flow in Orkney. These were extremely long delivery flights - the flight from South Shields to Cattewater could take over 8 hours - and Austin always had to stop to refuel - at Killingholme if going South or at Dundee if going north. 


 Felixstowe Porte Baby No. 9807 after it was wrecked in a gale at Catfirth (Austin Robinson Papers, loose photo in Box 131)
 
Interestingly Austin states that the flying boats that were being assembled at South Shields and that he was testing had, initially, been built at Preston - on the other side of the country in Lancashire! Although appearing at first to be rather improbable this was indeed the case and indicates the way in which aircraft at this time were being built.  Dick, Kerr & Co. - originally a builder of trams and electric trains - had been contracted by the government to build flying boats in their Strand Road works in Preston. They received flying boat hulls from nearby boat builders and then constructed the rest of the aircraft and assembled it. The wings would then be removed and the flying boat transported by road on a steam lorry to South Shields, a journey which took 3 days.

In October 1918 Austin was posted to the naval ferry pool in London and was involved in ferrying flying boats from the locations where they were being constructed - notably Hythe on Southampton Water and Cowes on the Isle of Wight - to Felixstowe and a variety of other RNAS stations. 

After the Armistice  Austin was sent to Rochester where he began testing flying boats built by Shorts and then delivering them to Felixstowe. He remained their until April 1919 and, in his words '... got to know Shorts very well indeed' (EAGR Papers 2/9/4). The Robinson archive contains a large number of photographs that he took while at Shorts - of flying boats being constructed, tested and launched. Many of these pictures provide fascinating insights into the construction of these early aircraft and also clearly indicate the importance of women in industry by this time. A selection of these photographs may be viewed on the Marshall Library web site.

Front of No. 3 erecting shed at Short Brothers, Rochester (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/6)


Short F3 flying boats under construction (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/6)

Some of the female workforce at Shorts posing on an F3  (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/6)

While at Rochester Austin worked closely with Short's chief test pilot John Lankester Parker to determine the airworthiness of the flying boats being produced there. Rejection of a particular aircraft was a serious matter as it would mean that Shorts would not get paid for it and this happened on one occasion when a Felixstowe F3 proved to be 'intolerably tail heavy' (EAGR Papers 2/9/4). The problem was referred to the aeronautical engineers at the Felixstowe Seaplane Experimental Station who suggested raising the entire tailplane by 4 inches and, once this was done, '... the boat was perfectly comfortable to fly' (EAGR Papers 2/9/4). Austin observed that 'It taught both of us a lot that we did not know about some of the more curious aspects of aircraft design' (EAGR Papers 2/9/4).

Austin's last flight as a flying boat pilot occurred in April 1919 when, on the suggestion of Oswald Short, he took his younger brother Christopher on a flight in N4033, a Felixstowe F3. The flight was uneventful and the following day he travelled to Cambridge to begin his studies as an undergraduate at Christ's.


   


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Mary Paley Group Study Room Launch 

by Clare Trowell & Sue Woods

On Friday 22nd April at 2.30pm The Marshall Library launched the new group study room for students. The Reading Room at the Marshall Library is a great silent study space for individual work and the Social Area is welcoming and relaxing but the Library was missing a sensible quiet study area for groups, so this was my first initiative as Librarian to create a useable group study space within the Marshall Library. 

It was a great event - attended by a good number of students and involved bunting and free cake in the Library Social Area, as well as a speech from me!! 

We decided to name the room after Mary Paley, the wife of Alfred Marshall - she was also the first female librarian and an accomplished economist and scholar in her own right. Sue Woods has written a short history of Mary's life:

In 1871 Mary was one of the first 5 women admitted to the University of Cambridge. She spent 3 years at Newnham College studying for the Moral Sciences Tripos. Mary and fellow student Amy Bulley were the first women to be allowed to take the men's tripos. 


Even though Mary passed all her exams, as a woman, she was not permitted to graduate. Mary was, however, invited to become the first woman lecturer in economics at Cambridge and she soon took over the teaching of economics from her former teacher, Alfred Marshall. In 1876 the couple become engaged and they were married the following year. From then on Mary devoted her life to Alfred, and became subservient to him, supporting him in his research and the publication of his work.
Together Mary and Alfred wrote "Economics of Industry", which was published in 1879 under both their names. Even though it was highly rated by Keynes and other leading economists of the day, Alfred disliked the book and allowed it to go out of print, without a murmur from Mary. We were fortunate enough to be able to borrow the first edition of the book from the University Library Rare Books department, complete with annotations by Mary herself.
When Alfred died in 1924 he left many of his books and donated much of his money to the library. Mary acted as a volunteer librarian and looked after the collection for nearly 20 years, until she retired at the age of 87. From 1925 until her death in 1944 she gave £250 annually to the library, and also bequeathed £10,000 to the University for the "development and increased usefulness of the Marshall Library". 

Throughout her life Mary enjoyed painting and produced a bound volume of watercolours, which was passed to the Library for safe keeping. We were also able to display Mary's book of watercolours in the new group study room at the Launch Event.
It was good to get such great feedback from the students about the standard of the new facilities at the launch. The room includes a managed desktop PC, a connection for a laptop as well as a flipchart, pens and magnets for group work.
The room is available to book online via the Marshall Library website (in the same way as Bloomberg & Datastream). The room is available for booking during library opening hours in term time but access to the room closes an hour before library closing time.
The room is bookable for groups of up to 5 for 1-2 hours at any one time and there are some basic ground rules which we ask you to abide by:

  • The Mary Paley Room is bookable by students for group work only and is not available for private study
  • The room may be booked for up to 2 hours (slots) at any one time
  • There will be a 15 minute grace period for each booking. After this time the booking will lapse and the slot may be offered to another group
  • Please make sure you leave the room as you found it
  • No food and drink is allowed in the Mary Paley Room
I really hope students find this new group study space at the Marshall Library useful and I welcome any feedback you may have. 

Clare









Tuesday, 12 April 2016


STATS & DATA MONTH AT THE MARSHALL LIBRARY

Stats & Data Month at the Marshall Library starts next week and runs until the 8th May- see our webpage: http://www.marshall.econ.cam.ac.uk/
There will be a new books display of textbooks supporting Faculty Software throughout the month in the Marshall Library Social Area.




We are also running DATA SESSIONS ON 25 APRIL
Sign up via Eventbrite for our UK Data Service session - with guest speaker: Deborah Wiltshire. Places still available at 11am http://bit.ly/24R15vr
and 12 noon http://bit.ly/1RRrcLK

You could also sign up for the Librarians' Session - "Show me the Data!" http://bit.ly/1pXjA1k
This session takes place at 2pm in the Keynes Room the same day run by Clare Trowell and Simon Frost.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Austin Robinson - World War One aviator - Part 3








Austin returned to RNAS Killingholme for operational training on flying boats in late September 1917. The seaplane base had grown considerably since its establishment in 1914 and this reflected the growing importance of its two major roles - defence against attacks by Zeppelins on East Coast ports and oil installation and defence against submarine attacks on Allied shipping in the North Sea. The threat posed by German submarines was particularly acute.  Earlier in 1917 Germany had resumed unrestricted submarine warfare with considerable success and, by March, twenty-five percent of all British bound shipping was being sunk. By the time Austin arrived back at Killingholme various anti-submarine countermeasures - particularly the introduction of convoys - were helping to reduce losses to U-boats but the allies were still losing over 300,000 tons of shipping per month. Austin was thus entering the conflict at a critical time and the urgent need for flying boat pilots meant that his operational training would be comparatively short. 

Aerial shot of RNAS Killingholme showing what was then the country's largest hangar (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/2)

Austin’s operational training lasted barely a month and involved local flights above the Humber estuary in an underpowered Curtis H-4 flying boat. He was not impressed with this aircraft describing it as ‘useless for serious operations’. (EAGR Papers 2/9/4)


The next aircraft flown by Austin was the Curtis H-12 Large America. This was the first really capable flying boat in RNAS service. It carried sufficient fuel for a patrol lasting 6 to 8 hours and a formidable armament of two 230lb bombs and four machine guns.




Felixstowe F.2A in US Navy markings pictured at Killingholme (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/1)


Austin flew his first operational mission on the 16th November when he took a Curtis H-12 flying boat on an anti-submarine patrol from Spurn Head to Flamburgh Head and then 50 miles out to sea and then back to Killingholme.

The purpose of these patrols was to locate and attack German U-boats during the vulnerable stage of their ten hour journey from their Belgian bases to their patrol areas in British coastal waters. Once U-boats were submerged they were virtually undetectable but during their voyage across the North Sea they tried to remain surfaced in order to conserve the power in their batteries. In the absence of radar it was still very difficult to locate U-boats and this is reflected by the fact that aircraft only accounted for 5 of the 140 German U-boats sunk during World War One. This is certainly confirmed by Austin's own operational experience. In the months that followed his initial operation he flew many more anti-submarine patrols but wrote later that "I never saw a German submarine on the surface, nor did I see an indubitable sign of one below the surface. But on various occasions I was called up by someone else who had seen signs of a submarine and dropped my bombs where there was some indication that there was a possible submarine". (EAGR Papers 2/9/4)

Factors other than aircraft - such as the convoy system, mines and hydrophones - certainly played a greater role in the defeat of the U-boat threat during World War One but the role of aircraft should not be underestimated. Austin's account shows that, although the location and destruction of U-boats was extremely difficult, it does seem likely that the presence of RNAS flying boats handicapped their operation by forcing them to submerge early and thus dramatically reduce their speed and efficiency.

 Convoy photographed by Austin while on anti-submarine patrol (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/3)

Another photo taken by Austin while on patrol, this time of a sinking merchantman. It may have been torpedoed but is more likely to have struck a mine. (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/3) 

 In addition Austin was also engaged in anti-Zeppelin patrols. In the absence of radar these were also extremely hard to locate and, once located, were often able to escape their attackers by rapidly ascending to higher altitude. This is what happened when Austin sighted a Zeppelin while on patrol in early 1918 while flying a Curtis H-12. Despite climbing to about 8,000 feet and firing "... off a good many rounds of explosive ammunition in the direction of the Zeppelin" it climbed much higher than Austin's aircraft was capable of reaching. (EAGR Papers 2/9/4) The improving efficiency of British air defences throughout 1916 and 1917 had forced the Germans to introduce new Zeppelins - 'height climbers' - capable of attaining altitudes in excess of 20,000 feet. Although this rendered them fairly safe from aerial attack it also imposed severe strain on their crews who were subjected to extreme cold and anoxia, and this made accurate navigation and bombing extremely difficult. Thus, although the flying boats of the RNAS rarely managed to destroy a Zeppelin they did succeed, as Austin's encounter demonstrates, in forcing them to operate at altitudes where thier effectiveness was substantially reduced.

Although the risks from enemy action were comparatively slight there can be no doubt that the long oversea patrols - some lasting up to eight hours - were estremely hazardous and imposed great strain on the pilots undertaking them. Aviation technology was still in its infancy and Austin notes that the flying boat engines were "... not completely reliable. There were various things that could perfectly easily go wrong". (EAGR Papers 2/9/4) Two particular problems noted by Austin were faulty engine magnitos and the fact that the aircraft themselves were not completely rigid and that this often caused fractures in the petrol pipes between the petrol tank and the engine. Either problem could cause an engine to fail which could result in the loss of an aircraft and its crew - Austin notes the "With one engine we could fly for five or ten miles losing height. We could not fly the whole way home". Faced with such a predicament pilots would be forced to land on the sea - if it was sufficiently calm - and try to make repairs.

"Some of us loved the sea" noted Austin, "some of us hated the sea and found it a great strain flying out of sight of land for eight hours or whatever it took to do one of the long patrols". (EAGR Papers 2/9/4) As a result several pilots apparently suffered nervous breakdowns under the contstant pressure of operational flying.
 

 Although Austin never saw a German submarine he took several photos of surfaced British craft. This is an extremely rare photo of  HMS C19 which was then part of the 3rd Flotilla with HMS Hebe at Immingham.  (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/2)
  
Austin's operational combat flights came to an end in July 1918 when RNAS Killingholme was handed over to the command of the United States Navy. American naval aviators now took on the task of maritime patrols over the North Sea using Curtis H-16 seaplanes.

For the rest of the war Austin's duties involved testing and delivery of newly built flying boats and it is this stage of his career that will be examined in the next blog in this series.