Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Demjansk Pocket (1942)

I covered the history of this pivotal WWII battle in an earlier entry (see link at the bottom of this narrative). So, I'm assuming that if you are reading this you have some familiarity with the monumental struggle that took place in and around Demjansk from Feb to April 1942.

German Cemetery - Korpova, Demjansk

Nowadays Demjansk is something of a back water. Located as it is, on the only piece of high ground in an area where the topography is one of swampy waterlogged forest crossed by the odd causeway - now metalled roads, in 1941/2 mainly tracks constructed out of lumber by military engineers. We travelled through what in 1942 was known as the Rumeshevo corridor hitting the high ground at Tsemenia which is 20 km North of Demjansk town. It is on this road that one can find the newly built Korpova German cemetery along with a much smaller original battlefield cemetery containing a handful of early casualties.

Memorial to the 1st Shock Army - Tsemena, Demjansk

We stayed at the only hotel in town - called, rather unimaginatively, 'the hotel'. I managed to secure the penthouse suite - a glorious cacophony of kitch furnishings and faulty utilities. Meals were available - one choice no matter whether breakfast, lunch or supper. There is no bar so myself and a couple of mates ventured into the only liquor store in town - the owner who had evidently only dealt with locals before was astonished.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Texan T6 and Focke Wulf FW 190 (Florida)

You might think that a two week holiday in Orlando, Florida is an unlikely scenario for discovering military history. But, as with so many other holiday destinations, there are rich pickings to be found with a little bit of imagination. It just takes a little research to find something to see and then find a way of dovetailing the excursion into an itinerary designed for family pleasures. The family had discerned that we would be visiting the Epcot Centre in Orlando but probably hadn't anticipated that I would be flying over this attraction in a 1943 T-6 trainer whilst they waited in a hanger for me to return!

Epcot, Orlando from the Air
Actually, we all had a fabulous time visiting the sites around Orlando. My guilty secret though is that the highlights included flying the T-6 and taking the controls for two 'loop the loops' in the clear blue Floridian sky. The T-6 was used as a trainer in WWII and is probably the nearest I will get to flying a Spitfire. And it was a fantastic experience.

The Author at the controls of a North American T-6

The old Kissimmee airfield is home to a few other fabulous vintage aircraft. For example the Mustang P-51 shown below. It is possible to fly the Mustang but the price was a little rich for me.

Mustang P51 ready for take off at Kissimmee

In the main hanger there is a WWII Focke Wulf FW190 undergoing restoration. The example in question was recovered from Norway where it was shot down on the 9th Feb 1945. A local group of enthusiasts intend to get it flying again. The sourcing of parts is proving to be a challenge but the team are confident that they will complete the project.

This half day out was a thrill and made a superb family holiday in Orlando just that little bit more special.