Spitfires fly beer support operations to France


Wars are waged by young men and young men (some of whom) like beer – a point that has not escaped the Chichester, England Henty and Constable Brewing Company. Immediately after the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, Henty and Constable offered free beer to the troops in France. It was their way of saying thank you, quenching the thirst of the British and Allied military, and doing their part in the war effort – not to mention recruiting future beer drinkers.

Unfortunately, the logistics were chaotic at the time. Men and supplies poured into France to fight the Nazis, and wounded personnel and damaged equipment were sent back to Britain. There was no obvious way to get beer across the English Channel to the fighting British and Allied troops and Air Force personnel.

Air Force flight and ground crews enjoy a beer just like any soldier. The brilliant and thirsty heads of the Royal Air Force (RAF), the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Polish and Norwegian squadrons in the RAF put their heads together to solve the problem. What if the free beer from southern England could be flown to France?

The RAF and RCAF squadrons flew as part of the Second Tactical Air Force. They initially flew from southeast England to harass Nazi troops and planes. After the invasion and when the invading Allied forces were successful and advanced further into France, the Tactical Air Force moved from England to temporary airfields called Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) in France. These temporary airfields were usually a runway made of square metal grids that took about a week to lay down. New ALGs continued to be built until existing Luftwaffe airfields were conquered.

But aircraft maintenance and official activities required Spitfires to return to England on a regular basis. Could RAF and RCAF Squadrons of the 2nd Tactical Air Force fly the beer from England to France after official visits to England?

The Royal Air Force’s bold, innovative, and thirsty ground crew adapted two Spitfires and a couple of Typhoon for the “beer runs”.

They first had to adjust the wing pylons of the Spitfire Mk IX so that the normal, additional fuel tanks could be filled with beer. The tanks were steam cleaned and prepared for beer. On the return flight from England to an Advanced Landing Ground, the pilot was encouraged to climb to 12,000 feet so that the beer would be chilled and ready to be consumed on arrival.

The beer came out cool, refreshing and tasted of aircraft gas. There was no indication that the beer was thrown away, but the steam cleaning did not help. Av fuel and beer is not a good combination.

Thirstyswagman (see above) wrote: “… a Spitfire from 416 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, was flown from England to the newly built Bazenville airfield, just three miles from Gold Beach. There was a drop tank full of beer under the hull, and although the tank was thoroughly steam cleaned, the beer unfortunately still tasted like gasoline. “

(In his book “Dancing in the Skies” the Icelandic RAF pilot Tony Jonsson, the only Icelandic ace in the RAF in WWII, described flying beer across the English Channel in a modified Spitfire.)

To be fair to American pilots, the Fw190 looks a bit like a Hawker Typhoon

According to Thirstyswagman (see above), Polish pilots and their No. 131 Wing (Polish) ground crew have found the problem of attaching two wooden beer kegs to the Spitfire Mk IX bomb racks. After researching the 303 RAF Squadron (Polish) and publishing their story, there is no doubt about the ingenuity of the Polish Air Force ground crews in exile.

In the late autumn of 1944 the beer began to flow through “normal channels”. The NAAFI Service (Navy, Army, Air Force Institutes) took over the transport and distribution and ended the canal flights.

One article suggested that UK Customs and Excise officials get involved and impose export taxes. This has not been confirmed.

As the troops advanced and the campaign continued, RCAF fighter pilots saw fewer and fewer Air Force aircraft. As such, Number 127 Wing, RCAF of the 2nd TAF, which comprised 403, 416 and 421 Squadrons, became more and more focused on vehicles; hinders troop movement and shoots up the enemy.

Photos used can be attributed to several sources, including Wikimedia

A full history of beer with Spitfires can be found at: https://www.thirstyswagman.com/thirsty-news/the-beer-bombers-flying-pubs-of-ww2/


About Mike Crayton

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