Tag Archives: World War II

Commemorative Fireworks Display for the Dambusters 70th Anniversary

Dambuster

The 16/17th May 2013 was the 70th anniversary of Operation Chastise.

Operation Chastise was a World War II top secret mission carried out on the night of 16/17th May 1943 by the 617 Squadron who were also known as ‘The Dambusters’.

They were known as the Dambusters as their mission during World War II was to use specially-developed ‘bouncing-bombs’ to attack the dams which provided power and water to the Ruhr valley in Germany, which was the main industrial area of Germany.

On Saturday 18th May 2013 Knights of Fire Fireworks put on a fireworks display at the 617 Squadrons Association’s dinner to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Operation Chastise. Included in the audience were two veterans who took part in the Dambusters mission in 1943. The display was an overwhelming success and was described as a ‘fantastic and fitting tribute to the Dambusters’.

The fireworks display was held at Petwood Hotel in Lincolnshire which was used as the 617 Squadron’s Officers’ mess from 1943 to 1945.

Please see below for a video of the fireworks display.

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dambusters memorial

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Victory Day Fireworks 2013

Праздничный салют на Днепре в честь дня Победы! Было недолго, но очень красиво! Стреляли с баржи, как обычно, на воде. Victory Day fireworks. Photo by my wife @juliabelch. #victory #day #firework #fire #light #night #river #holiday #shot #instamood #insta

Sometimes I ponder the rationale behind using fireworks in celebration of winning wars or other political and religious fighting but it is very much the done thing nowadays. Think 4th July – the American War of Independence – the war with England for independence, Bonfire Night – religious fighting, Victory Day in Russia – the end of WWII and they are all celebrated with fireworks.

In some respects, it is challenging the explosive power of bombs and artillery and changing them into something truly beautiful.

Yesterday evening, for example, the skies over Moscow were alight with the sights, sounds and aromas of fireworks as the people of Russia celebrated Victory Day in the heart of Russia. The public holiday is in recognition of the eventual overthrowing of Hitler’s Nazi regime and the end of World War II.

Whilst the UK lost over 450 thousand lives which were around 10% of the population of the UK and its colonies which at the time stood at just over 47 million, the Soviet Union lost a staggering 43.3 million lives, 27 million of which were serving in the armed forces.

In the years between the signing of the treaty and today, the celebration of Victory Day has come and gone a few times. However, when the enigmatic Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999, he wanted to promote celebration and pride of the efforts of the people who lost their lives fighting for freedom. His belief being along the same lines as our own ‘lest they be forgotten’ ethos but instead of the usual sombre military marches and laying of wreaths, they should be able to accommodate both accept that the war was hard-fought but ultimately good won out.

This year saw the usual military parade followed by a huge fireworks display. The fireworks were being fired from 14 different locations across the city and for 15 minutes all eyes were trained to the clear skies as they were filled with breathtaking colour explosions incorporating any number of different effects.

Mr Putin’s address to the gathered Russian Military forces and dignitaries was really touching:

“We will do everything, everything in order that no-one ever dare unleash war again. They will not threaten our children, our homes, our land. We will do everything to enforce safety in Russia. Glory to this nation of victors. Happy Victory Day. Glory to Russia’

It is clear that at least while ever Mr Putin remains at the helm, we can expect celebrations, parades and of course beautiful fireworks in recognition of the loves and lives lost in the name of war.

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Machines of War – Catherine Wheel of Doom

A ten foot tall rocket-propelled Catherine wheel designed by the British Military during World War II in preparation for the D-Day landings, “The Panjandrum” or more formally “The Great Panjandrum” was one of the more experimental machines of war to be built by the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (DMWD).

I know you are now thinking “that’s a made up name for a made up invention by a made up military department.” But it’s true. Some things are just too bizarre to be made up.

Invented by the ingenious Sub Lieutenant Nevil Shute, The Panjandrum was basic in design, two enormous wooden wheels, ten feet in diameter with steel treads a foot wide and joined by a central drum fitted with the explosive payload. Simple. Rockets would be attached all around each wheel and when lit. The 1800 kg “bomb on wheels” would reach speeds up to 97km/h. This speed coupled with the massive weight of the device would allow it to power through any obstacle that stood in its path.

The idea was that the Panjandrum could be used to smash through the Germans coastal defences on the Atlantic Wall. The plan was to use landing craft to get as close as possible before some brave soldier lit the fuse and watched the mammoth Catherine wheel roll towards the German wall with over a tonne of explosives on board. Hopefully this would breach the wall and the allied soldiers could do the rest.

The interesting name “Great Panjandrum” was chosen by Shute as a reference to Samuel Foote’s poem of the same name, in particular the closing line “till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots”.

The day of the test was described in detail by Brian Johnson, for the BBC documentary Secret War:
“At first all went well. Panjandrum rolled into the sea and began to head for the shore, the Brass Hats watching through binoculars from the top of a pebble ridge […] Then a clamp gave: first one, then two more rockets broke free: Panjandrum began to lurch ominously. It hit a line of small craters in the sand and began to turn to starboard, careering towards Klemantaski, who, viewing events through a telescopic lens, misjudged the distance and continued filming. Hearing the approaching roar he looked up from his viewfinder to see Panjandrum, shedding live rockets in all directions, heading straight for him. As he ran for his life, he glimpsed the assembled admirals and generals diving for cover behind the pebble ridge into barbed-wire entanglements. Panjandrum was now heading back to the sea but crashed on to the sand where it disintegrated in violent explosions, rockets tearing across the beach at great speed.”

This was one of the more successful tests that the Panjandrum was put through. Needless to say this “fiery wheel of random doom” was never used in combat. It just could not be guaranteed whose side would be hurt the most. It seems on the surface that this was just a really terrible – and amusing – idea that didn’t quite take off. There may, however, be more to this than meets the eye.

It has been suggested by some that whole thing was staged by the British Army as part of Operation Fortitude – A top-secret government project whose duty was misinformation, supplying the Germans with false intelligence. The ruse was to make the Nazi’s believe that the attack would come at the heavily fortified defences around the Pas-de-Calais instead of the real target, the beaches of Normandy. In particular, the total lack of security surrounding the tests themselves is cited as proof that the Allies wished German spies to know about the project.

Whether a genuine invention, or a crazy plan to throw the Germans off course, The Great Panjandrum is undoubtedly one of the biggest and funniest Catherine wheels ever made.

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