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By Lew Ranger
Lew Ranger was a pilot with 3 Squadron during 1945. He flew Mustangs in the campaign in Italy and Yugoslavia. Well after the war was over, he, like many other airmen in similar circumstance, became aware of certain health problems. He commenced a formal appeal to the Australian Repatriation authorities for medical assistance by way of entitlements. The approach failed. Undaunted, Lew researched the situation. This letter was his next attempt for justice ...
Extract from a letter from Lewis R. Ranger to RAAF Association Pension Application officers, dated 28 Feb 1994:
Firstly, I must express my disagreement with the Repatriation determination equating dive-bombing in 1945 with "flying at high or variable altitudes" and therefore claiming that this branch of service flying would not effect the heart, or presumably cause other health problems.
Accordingly, I have prepared a simple report on dive-bombing as experienced by fellow pilots and I during my time with 3 Squadron in Italy.
I believe that exposure to petrol, glycol and exhaust fumes unavoidably inhaled whilst flying single-engine aircraft in 1943, 1944, and 1945 were real health problem, and the habit of inhaling pure oxygen on operational sorties may have contributed to our health problems but it is the stresses incurred during dive-bombing that are to blame in the main.
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The use of this form of air to ground attack became general prior to WW2 because an aiming device (bombsight) was not available which would enable the pilot of a single-engine aircraft to predict the trajectory of a bomb to a target which was obscured by the engine before him when flying straight and level.
During the Spanish Civil War, German mercenaries experimented with dive-bombing attacks, and this resulted in the production of the Stuka specialist dive-bomber which was very successful in the early years of WW2, despite being somewhat cumbersome and not very fast. It was a success because:
1. It had large air-brakes (wing flaps) which enabled it to dive at very steep angles at slow airspeeds, allowing accuracy in aiming the aircraft at the target because the standard fighter's reflector sight could be used.
2. The slower speeds meant the amount of 'G' experienced when pulling out of the dive after release of the bomb-load was quite low, enabling the pilot to remain conscious and better enabled to control the machine.
3. Anti-aircraft defence was out-dated in Spain, as it was later in the Middle East and Russia, and in North Africa fighter planes initially were outdated also so that the Stuka had little real opposition.
With the appearance of modern, fast and well-armed fighter planes in Europe and North Africa such as the Hurricane, Spitfire, Tomahawk and Kittyhawk, the Luftwaffe began to lose control of the air, and the Stuka slowly became obsolete. The Desert Forces were in need of air-to-ground attack airplanes to attack Rommel's Afrika Corps men and machines, but to be able to defend themselves against the ME109 fighters of the Luftwaffe which were increasing in numbers and causing serious losses.
Experiments with Hurricanes and Kittyhawks fitted to carry one bomb commenced, and being successful, two or three bombs were carried and so the fighter-bomber concept became a realityand 3 Squadron was so successful in these operations that they continued as a fighter-bomber squadron through the Italian campaign until the end of the war.
Enemy flak (anti-aircraft defences) improved dramatically as they began to lose control of the air, forcing our pilots to attack at higher speeds and at angles of up to 90 degrees from horizontal to reduce the risk of being hit by their fire.
This naturally increased the degree of 'G' to which the pilot was subjected when pulling out of the bomb dive and also increased the period of unconsciousness resulting from G-LOC.
Gravity-loss of consciousness, G-LOC in RAAF medical terms, is caused by blood moving from the upper parts of the body and the brain in particular, on pulling out of the dive, and the degree of effect is governed by the speed attained plus the angle of attack.
A Kittyhawk which cruised at 225mph (360kph) could reach over 475 kph when diving from 5,000 feet or more above ground level, and the Mustangs of 3 Squadron in 1944/1945 cruised at 400kph, reaching 600kph in their dive from between 6,000 and 10,000 feet carrying a 2,000 pound (910kg) bomb load.
Despite the great stress and blackout periods from which pilots suffered during these dive-bombing attacks, there appears to be no evidence of awareness on the part of RAF/RAAF medical staff of the problem during WW2, and it was only on the advent of jet aeroplanes that the Anti-G body suit became an essential part of a fighter pilot's attire. This suit restricted the sudden draining of blood from the head to the torso, allowing the pilot to remain conscious under high degrees of 'G' and maintain control of the plane.
Experiments by both RAF and Luftwaffe medics on pilots flying in a prone position to overcome excessive G were not successful, pilots suffering fatigue in the position, but their tests indicates the concern with the problem of G which arose post-war. (Ref. Capt.E. Brown "Wings on my Sleeve" P130 and RAF Transonic Research).
Post-mortems could not be conducted under active service conditions, naturally, and even if it had been possible, it would be a magnificent achievement to conduct a productive autopsy on the remains of a pilot who had hit the ground in his aircraft at a speed of 400 plus kph.
There is no doubt that a report on such a loss would state that the pilot ‘failed to recover from his bomb dive’ and ‘is presumed to be hit by enemy fire’, or similar.
It is just as likely that a report could have read 'presumed loss the result of G-Loc’ or, alternatively ‘presumed loss due to heart failure resulting from excessive stress', and in the light of knowledge now available, both presumptions are likely to be correct.
Many survivors of WW2 flying duties must have incurred damage which was not obvious as a result of their duties, and none more so than fighter-bomber pilots engaged in dive-bombing, and despite vast advancements in medical knowledge, we still lose men and machines without a positive explanation.
You have more recent instances of Hornet losses … in particular the one which took off in North Australia and flew with the pilot apparently dead at the controls until fuel was exhausted.
The report on aerobatic pilots blacking out for an average of 15 seconds and staying 'out' for up to 30 seconds seems hard to believe. I consistently was 'out' for 3 or 4 seconds, I believe, maybe a fraction longer, but I do not feel that I could have survived if G-Loc was extended further.
One can only imagine what problems could have been avoided if, for example, E.C.G.'s had been available, or even compulsory, on discharge from the RAAF!
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Happily, Lew eventually received assistance ... but more through his own efforts and perseverance than from outside help.
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