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david leigh-smith
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On This Day…April 20th

April 20, 2019 · in Photo Collections · · 8 · 1.9K

Interesting day, April 20th. Some say it is a ‘cursed' day, a day when more than statistically normal amounts of tragedy occur. From the birth of Adolf Hitler to Columbine, to Deepwater Horizon (and that's just the last few years), many say ‘420' is a damned date. Enjoy your day, whatever you choose to do with it...

Apollo 16, the tenth manned mission in the U.S. Apollo space program, was the fifth mission to land on the Moon and the first to land in a lunar highlands area. The crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on April 27 (below, with the Ticonderoga in the background).

Commander: John W. Young – Fourth spaceflight

Command Module Pilot: T. Kenneth Mattingly Jr. – First spaceflight

Lunar Module Pilot: Charles M. Duke Jr. – First spaceflight

The Submarine HMS Graph (Ex-u-boat 570). 20th April 1943, Holy Loch, Scotland. The German submarine U-570 was captured and renamed HMS Graph in 1941 (photo below). Hudson aircraft forced the U-boat to surface and surrender.

German Waffen-SS General Walter Krüger with a Tiger I heavy tank and an anti-aircraft gun vehicle of the 2nd SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich', in Kharkov, Ukraine, 20th April, 1943.

Commander of VGS-1 squadron, Lieutenant Commander Lex L. Black making the 2,000th landing on the escort carrier USS Long Island (CVE-1) in a SOC-3A Seagull aircraft, 20th of April, 1942.

Bf 109K-4 aircraft in the factory in Nuremberg, April 1945.

USS Saint Paul (CA-73) off Wonsan, Kangwon Province, Korea, 20th April, 1951.

On the 20th April 1942, another attempt was made to fly in aircraft reinforcements to Malta, this time from the USS Wasp which had collected 47 Spitfires and their RAF pilots from Glasgow on the 13th April (see ‘...April 13th). As reported in that post, the pilots had no time to acclimatise to carrier life, including no practice take offs from a carrier deck at all.

Amongst the rookie carrier pilots was Pilot Officer Michael Le Bas (below), who recorded his first take off in his journal...

“The deck ofiicer began rotating his chequered flag and I pushed forward my throttle until I had maximum rpm. His flag then fell and I released the brakes and I pushed the throttle to emergency override to get the last ounce of power out of my Merlin.”

“The Spitfire picked up speed rapidly in its headlong charge down the deck but not rapidly enough. The ship's bows got closer and closer and still I had insufficient airspeed and suddenly – I was off the end.”

“With only 60 feet to play before I hit the water, I immediately retracted the undercarriage and eased forward on the stick to build up my speed. Down and down with the Spitfire until, about 15 feet above the waves, it reached flying speed and I was able to level out.”

“After what seemed an age but was in fact only a few seconds, my speed built up further and I was able to climb away. Nobody had told me about that in the briefing!”

Captured Russian T-50 now in Finnish service, April 20th, 1944.

Westland Whirlwind I in flight over England, April 20th, 1944.

1st Lt Louis Zamperini, bombardier of this B-24D Liberator 'Superman' peering through a hole in the aircraft from a 20mm shell taken over Nauru, April 20th, 1943; the photo was taken at Funafuti, Gilbert Islands.

Zamperini, an athlete at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, went on to record some of the most mind bending feats of human endurance after his B-24 ditched in the sea during a search and rescue mission.

He floated on a raft for 47 days (the reference to the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner, above, will not be lost to anyone who has read his book - or seen the movie, ‘Unbroken') before landing on Japanese held Marshall Islands, was tortured, medically experimented upon, and worked to near death several times.

Coming back to the US after ‘liberation', he struggled with unimaginable levels of PTSD until he was ‘saved' at a Billy Graham rally.

His family, on his death on July 2nd, 2014, wrote the following statement...

“Having overcome insurmountable odds at every turn in his life, Olympic runner and World War II hero Louis Zamperini has never broken down from a challenge.”

“He recently faced the greatest challenge of his life with a life-threatening case of pneumonia. After a 40-day-long battle for his life, he peacefully passed away in the presence of his entire family, leaving behind a legacy that has touched so many lives.”

“His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days.”

A hangar packed with wrecked Luftwaffe aircraft in Schmarbeck airfield, Germany, April 20th, 1945.

Reader reactions:
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3 additional images. Click to enlarge.

8 responses

  1. Being born on this date, I think it’s a pretty good day.

  2. Happy Birthday, Matt. I really hope you are having a great day however you spend it. (Just send a message to say you got to the end of it safely...)

    Will raise a glass in your honour later, my friend.


    • i too was born on this day...maybe you've got something there david...but somebody's got to be...

      • See, we’re on to something with this 420 stuff!

        Happy birthday, Bob!

  3. Couple of observations: the picture of Pilot Officer Michael Le Bas above is actually Flt Lt. Denis Barnham, and graces the cover of some versions of his book 'Malta Spitfire Pilot'. I also suspect his Spitfire should be colorised one of the many blues with which the Malta (where that pic was taken) Spitfires were repainted.

    Also, there appears to be 'potato masher' hand grenade being thrown in the picture of the captured Russian T-50, its shadow can be seen on the side of the turret.

    Also, the Westland Whirlwind--surely a contender for most attractive twin engined fighter--seems to lack its nose cannon.

    And finally, I appreciate your always interesting and rewarding selections.

  4. Hi Ryan. I was possibly a little less specific than I ought to have been - I believe the officer TALKING to the pilot in the photo is Michael Le Bas - I’m aware of the pilot being Barnham (great book, well worth a read for anyone interested in a pilots perspective of the Malta conflict).

    The catch on the T-50 is amazing, I could have looked at that photo all day and not spotted that. Ditto with the Whirlwind!

    Thanks, and appreciate the observations and thoughts.


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