Crisis Hunter – The Last flight of Joe Kennedy Jr

Exactly 70 years on, a new book re-opens the events of August 1944 when US Navy pilot Joe Kennedy Jr, older brother of future US President John F. Kennedy, was killed over the Suffolk countryside in a top secret mission pioneering drone aircraft for the first time. In this new short book, Kennedy-era researcher Paul Elgood, who uncovered the long forgotten story of JFK’s visit to Birch Grove shortly before his 1963 assassination, recounts these wartime events and journeys to the site of the tragedy, finding the last scattered remains of the long lost plane.

Crisis HunterHigh expectations were placed on the first born son of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. In the wake of his support for the pre-war policy of appeasement, Joseph P. Kennedy knew he would never be President. He seamlessly transferred his ambition to his children, anointing the oldest, Joe Jr, as his proxy for the White House. Joe Jr was living the Ivy League life of the east coast social elite until the call to England interrupted his idyllic lifestyle as President Roosevelt appointed the elder Kennedy to be his ambassador to England. Joseph Sr placed huge pressure on Joe Jr, instilling his Irish American insecurities on his son to always compete and win. In peace and war, Joe Jr’s pursuit of excellence propelled him forward. War hero was the next expectation place on him.

Tour of Duty

After two tours of duty in war-weary England, Joe Jr had flown enough combat missions to make him eligible to return home, his war over. Instead, Joe volunteered to stay in England, taking on even greater risks piloting dangerous missions to target Hitler’s devastating V-bombing campaign, in an operation named Aphrodite. By August 1944, he stepped forward to co-pilot the launch of a top secret, perhaps near suicidal drone bombing mission. Departing from RAF Fersfield in Suffolk, the flight went badly wrong and the plane exploded shortly after take-off. The crew’s bodies were never found. Eyewitnesses described two explosions and a huge ball of fire with debris scattered for at least a mile.

A magnificent example

However, mystery surrounded the mission Joe Jr gave his life for and it took decades for details to be declassified. Even the official letters to his powerful father gave little detail away. Writing years later, his brother Senator Ted Kennedy recalled: “After completing his required twenty-five combat missions and earning his right to return home, Joe had volunteered for a mission so dangerous that some of his ground crew pleaded with him not to go. Along with a co-pilot, he was to take off in an experimental drone loaded with high explosives and pilot it on a trajectory toward a target…Whatever the cause, the drone had exploded into a fireball just minutes before the pilots were due to bail out.”

Joseph Patrick KennedyThe word hero is often overused, but in Joe Jr’s case it is entirely justified. The Commander of the US Navy wrote to Joseph Sr (pictured) to console the distraught parents, telling them “to be very proud of your son for his courage, his devotion to duty, and the magnificent example he has set for the rest of us”. The Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal were awarded for “extraordinary heroism”, but were in reality little consolation to the father for losing his first son. Joe Jr’s likely place in Congress and the Senate were taken by his brother, John F. Kennedy, who went onto fulfil their father’s dream in 1960 to see a Kennedy win the White House. A thousand days later he too was killed in the line of duty, and by 1968 Bobby, the third brother had fallen. About Joe, JFK himself wrote “I’m only trying to fill his shoesIf anything happened to me tomorrow, Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, our younger brother Teddy would take over.”

It is now seventy years since the events of August 1944. Sightings of the wreckage of the plane were last recorded in the late seventies. Yet during the intervening years the remains of the drone aircraft have been relatively undisturbed as they lay scattered across remote woodland in the Suffolk countryside, remaining a well-kept local secret. No full survey of the site, has since been undertaken.

“It is hard to believe it all happened seventy years ago now”, said one crew member stationed at the same airbase as Joe Jr. Senator Ted Kennedy recalled the tragedy as “a wound that does not heal”. Today, except to those in his family and the few surviving veterans, the sacrifice of what took place in August 1944 is near forgotten.

Crisis Hunter: The Last flight of Joe Kennedy Jr by Paul Elgood, published by Columbia Point, is available on Amazon and other outlets. Paul is on Twitter as @palmeirasquare.

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Robert Capa – a summary

‘If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.’

Considered one of the greatest war photographers, Robert Capa’s images, especially those taken during the Spanish Civil War and the D-Day landings, are among the iconic images of the twentieth century.

Robert CapaBorn Andre Friedmann in Budapest on 22 October 1913, Robert Capa had, by the age of eighteen, turned into a political radical, opposed to the authoritarian rule of Hungarian regent, Miklós Horthy. In 1931, Friedmann was arrested and imprisoned by Hungary’s secret police. On his release, after only a few months, he moved to Berlin where he studied journalism and political science while working part time as a dark room apprentice. In 1933, alarmed by the rise of Nazism, Friedmann, who was Jewish, moved to Paris.

Famous American photographer

Two years later, while in Paris, Friedmann met Gerta Pohorylle, a German Jew who had also fled Hitler’s Germany. Together they worked as photojournalists, fell in love and, in an attempt to make their work more commercially appealing, pretended they both worked for the famous American photographer, Robert Capa. Friedmann took the photos, Pohorylle hawked them to the news agencies and credit was given to the fictional Robert Capa. (The name ‘Capa’ was chosen as homage to the American film director, Frank Capra.)

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Spies, intrigue and afternoon tea: St Ermin’s Hotel and the Secret Intelligence Service

What were the Secret Intelligence Service and Churchill up to in Caxton Hall, Caxton Street and Westminster in London during the 1930s?

Every street in London has a story to tell. Some stories might be as simple as a birth or a death, a lasting legacy originating from someone coming into the world or someone leaving. The blue plaques which adorn many London buildings will happily point you in the direction of these important locations. But there is another type of London history. There are locations around the city which are wrapped in intrigue. Homes and hotels which have altered the course of the country’s history with little to no fanfare. While it might be important to know where an old poet breathed his last, those with a historical interest might be fascinated to discover the history which hides within some of the subtler city walls.

St Ermin's HotelIn terms of threats to the country, there were few which were more feared than the Nazis. The waging of the Second World War was a caustic and exhausting campaign, fought in the fields of France, in the skies above the city, on sea, sand and snow. But it was also the birth of modern spying. The war was a global concern, but the heart of the British effort was born in a clandestine series of locations in West London. Caxton Hall, Caxton Street and Westminster saw the arrival of British spying, and the creation of the vaunted SIS.

The birth of spies

Espionage in the British Isles has its roots in the end of the Victorian era. The Secret Service Bureau was established in 1909 with the intent of evaluating the capabilities of the German Navy. This service became formalised and evolved as the First World War began to take hold, with the branch devoted to foreign investigations becoming known as MI6. Although the service achieved middling results, it was able to collect a great deal of intelligence in neutral countries.

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The Birth of the Modern Bicycle‏

It’s easy to take the modern bicycle for granted. It’s simple, relatively cheap, and has been around from childhood on. Despite that, the modern bike has only been around for about 120 years. Before that, things were very different.

How was the modern bicycle born? And what happened to old-fashioned bikes with large wheels? The birth of the modern bicycle actually says a lot about how technology can drive huge changes in our lives.

Bicycles Have Been Around For A While

Though we can trace the modern bicycle to the 1890s, bikes have been around for a while. Surprisingly, the older they are, the more familiar they appear.

BoneshakerCommonly known as velocipedes or bone-shakers, bikes have been documented from the 1820s on. They looked similar to normal modern bikes, but with hard metal or wooden wheels and, typically, wooden frames. That was the problem. The form of the bicycle was safe and well-calibrated, but inflexible frames and tough wheels made riding them extremely painful. If you’ve ever ridden on two flat tires, you’ll know the feeling. The problems were only exacerbated by poor infrastructure, unlike the silky smooth concrete we ride on today. Like anything, mainstream adoption depended on ease and comfort. Old bikes had neither, but that was about to change.

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Harry S Truman – a brief summary

From Missouri farming stock, Harry S. Truman was at one time the least popular US president on record, yet is now regarded as one of the twentieth century’s more successful leaders. Truman never went to university, the last US President not to have done so. Nonetheless he was a widely read and largely self-taught man, modest in his demeanour and habits.

Harry S TrumanThe ‘S’ in Harry S Truman actually stood for nothing, for he had no middle name, but, following the example of Franklin D Roosevelt (D for Delano), Truman felt the additional S gave his name a degree of gravitas or respectability.

After a series of menial jobs and work on his father’s farm, Harry S Truman went to the Western Front in the First World War as a member of the Missouri National Guard. He had cheated his way through the sight test, so anxious was he to go. The war brought out the leader in Truman, who was a popular and successful artillery officer.

Senator

In 1919 he married Bess Wallace, also from Missouri. Various business ventures came to nothing and the Trumans fell into debt. It was only through the sponsorship of a local contact that Truman found his niche in public office. Tom Pendergast, a wealthy ‘fixer’ for the Democratic Party, was to secure Truman’s nomination for minor elected roles and, in 1934, as a senator for the state. By this time he had become a keen advocate of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, befriending the President’s close advisor Harry Hopkins.

Vice President

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The Sinking of the Lusitania – a summary

On the 7 May 1915, a German U-boat sunk the British luxury liner, the RMS Lusitania. 1,198 people lost their lives, including 128 Americans. Its sinking caused moral outrage both in Britain and in the US and led, ultimately, to the USA declaring war against Germany.

LusitaniaThe ‘Great War’ was still less than a year old. On 18 February 1915, in response to Great Britain’s blockade of Germany, the Germans announced that it would, in future, be operating a policy of ‘unrestricted submarine warfare’. In other words, German U-boats would actively seek out and attack enemy shipping within the war zone of British waters. Even ships displaying a neutral flag, they announced, would be at risk – the Germans being aware of the British habit of sailing under a neutral flag.

The Lusitania was certainly not the first victim of Germany’s new policy – on 28 March 1915, the British ship RMS Falaba was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat off the coast of southern Ireland. 104 people were killed, including one American. Continue reading

Joseph Goebbels – a summary

Paul Joseph Goebbels was the third of five children born to a Catholic family in Germany, on 29 October 1897. An educated and intelligent man, he swiftly rose through the ranks of the Nazi Party in the 1920s, ultimately becoming the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, and one of Hitler’s closest associates. A man of below average height, Goebbels was occasionally referred to as ‘the Poison Dwarf’ and was the force behind the indomitable National Socialist propaganda machine. As the Third Reich crumbled in the final days of World War Two, the Führer named Goebbels as the next Chancellor, a position he held for just one day.

Bild 183-L04035Rise to Prominence

Although of an eligible age to fight, Joseph Goebbels had a club foot that prevented him seeing action during World War One and gave him a permanent limp, facts he resented greatly throughout his life and endeavoured to disguise. He wrote a novel, and studied philosophy and literature and was awarded his doctorate from Heidelberg University in 1921.

Goebbels joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and after ascending to the rank of Gauleiter of Berlin within four years, he was appointed the party’s propaganda minister in 1929. He edited a weekly newspaper called Der Angriff (The Assault) and also drew attention to National Socialist principles through provocative speeches. In 1933, following Hitler’s assumption of power, he became the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.

In spite of his own club foot and diminutive stature, Goebbels ardently preached the physical superiority of the Aryan master race. With control over all media channels and cultural output in the Third Reich, Goebbels oversaw the dissemination of Nazi racial ideology to the masses; from celebrations of classical German culture and history, to warnings about the dangers that Jews and other supposedly subversive peoples posed to society.

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Oskar Schindler – a summary

Oskar Schindler was born into a German family in the Czech Sudetenland on 28 April 1908. He joined the Nazi Party at the age of 30, following the absorption of the Sudetenland into the Third Reich. Nearly forty years after his death, he is remembered as a ‘good Nazi’ who saved an estimated 1,200 Polish Jews from almost certain death in concentration camps during World War Two. His posthumous fame is largely due to the 1993 blockbuster film Schindler’s List.

The Emalia Factory

Oskar SchindlerAn enterprising businessman, Oskar Schindler recognised the lucrative opportunities that war could present and took over an enamelware factory in Krakow in the autumn of 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War Two. This was within the Generalgouvernement area of Poland, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were forcibly resettled by occupying Nazi forces. Officially named the Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik, his factory became more commonly known as Emalia.

Anti-Semitic feeling and action in Poland escalated swiftly following the Nazi invasion. Mass shootings were carried out throughout the country and those Jews who survived the exodus from their homes were crowded into sealed ghettoes. Although Schindler remained a member of the Nazi Party, he became increasingly opposed to the violent persecution of Jews and by late 1942, 370 Jews from the Krakow ghetto were among the workers employed in his factory.

Besides enamelware, Schindler’s factory also manufactured ammunitions. As ammunitions were vital to the German war effort, Schindler argued that the Jews employed in Emalia were indispensable if high production levels were to be maintained, thus preventing their deportation to labour and extermination camps. He protected his workers while the Krakow ghetto was liquidated in March 1943 by allowing them to remain in the factory overnight and subsequently established his own sub-camp, so they would not be subjected to harsh forced labour in nearby Plaszow.

Averting Deportations

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Exercise Tiger – a summary

As D-Day approached, training intensified. Troops were told only what they needed to know; they certainly had no idea about when or where they’d be going into action. Troops trained embarking and disembarking from landing craft. (The flat-bottomed Landing Craft, Assault vessels (LCA) weighed ten tons each, could carry thirty-eight men and travel up to ten knots per hour, while the much larger Landing Ship, Tank, LST, carried three hundred men and sixty tanks. Both vessels could sail right onto a beach.)

Exercise TigerExercise Tiger

It was at one such training exercise, one that involved the use of live ammunition, that tragedy struck. 23,000 American troops, the entire invading force of Utah beach, and 300 vessels were rehearsing on Slapton Sands in South Devon on 27 and 28 April 1944 in an exercise codenamed Tiger designed to acclimatize troops as accurately as possible to what they could expect at Utah during the real thing, right down to a number of pretend dead bodies strewn around. Six villages in the area had seen the evacuation of their 3,000 inhabitants. They’d been told they would, one day, be allowed back. But when, no one knew.

30,000 acres of land around Slapton Sands, chosen because of its similarities to the intended target area of Utah beach, had been sealed off with barbed wire and sentries. On the 27th, during Exercise Tiger, poor communication resulted in a number of troops being fired upon by their own ships. (Pictured: US troops in training for the Normandy Landings.)

28 April 1944

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Jack the Ripper and the Suspect-Vacuum

In the autumn of 1888 a serial killer dubbed ‘Jack the Ripper’ killed and mutilated at least four prostitutes around Whitechapel, East London. He was never brought to justice and his true identity, to this day, remains unknown. These are the very basic facts, and most with an interest in the infamous Victorian killer will agree upon them. But bring any suspect into the proceedings and opinions will quickly be divided.

Jack the RipperThere exists in the Ripper case an inversely proportional relationship between the facts and the suspects: there are, in reality, very few facts, and, yet, a myriad of suspects. Because the culprit’s identity has remained a mystery for over a century and a quarter now, the case has attracted all manner of theories and theorists unto itself. It sits like a massive black hole, sucking in the impossible, the very unlikely and, only very occasionally, the plausible. Many people who fall inside this vacuum sponsor their chosen suspect with something akin to religious zeal: Mr Smith is the one true Ripper and all facts and evidence to the contrary be damned!

The ‘suspect-vacuum’

If you are new to the Ripper case – stay away from the event horizon! If you have just read one book on any single suspect and your mind is already made up, then I’m afraid it may already be too late for you: you’ve crossed over the border and you’ll find it impossible to get back out without seeking a second opinion! In all likelihood, if you read a second book on another Ripper suspect, you will see that the ‘facts’ you were fed in the first do not correlate with the latter. Repeat this several times and you’ll get several different sets of ‘facts’. At that point, if not beforehand, you should realise that something’s up – and that something are the authors’ royalties!

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