When Hitler unleashed his V1 and V2 rockets on Great Britain in 1944, it was the first military attack on the British civilian population without invasion.
Innocent families were wiped out without mercy and terror gripped the nation.
Churchill and the Crossbow Committee knew that widespread panic would soon ensue, because the British public were becoming increasingly anxious about the Nazis superior technology, which was destroying their lives.
But through important intelligence from Bomber Command, Naval commandos, the French and Dutch Resistances in Europe, and the precise plotting of V rocket activity in the Filter Room of Fighter Command through air reconnaissance, a Top Secret plan was formed to dive-bomb V rocket installations with Mark IX and Mark XVI Spitfires.
Craig Cabell is the writer and historian responsible for bringing Operation Big Ben to world attention.
He has studied the original documentation since its release from the National Archive in 2004 and interviewed veterans who took part in the operation, such as Flight Lieutenant Raymond Baxter.
Cabell's initial research resulted in many accolades and now resides in the 602 'City of Glasgow' Squadron Museum.But now, for the first time, Cabell has put together the whole story of Operation Big Ben, showing the work of the Crossbow Committee, intelligence Commandos under the orders of Commander Ian Fleming, the French and Dutch Resistances, and the brave men who flew the Spitfires of 124, 229, 303, 453, 602 and 603 squadrons. For the sake of accuracy and attention to detail, this book concentrates on the day-to-day activity of Spitfires during Operation Big Ben and the work of the various strands of British intelligence before and during it.
In this book Operation Big Ben is separated from Operation Crossbow, (the anti-V1 operation) to show how the British government stepped up its urgency to counter the V2 threat.
Although some of the detail could be considered repetitious in places (many cuts of non-operational flying have been made from the histories of each squadron in order to keep the flow of the book thought-provoking and interesting), the focus is on accuracy.
The author has noted that in other publications that touch on Operation Big Ben, specific activity has not been documented correctly.
This is because squadron histories haven't been cross-referenced in the past.Each squadron history in this book, mentions the work of other Big Ben squadrons (to report on the filtering of intelligence, escort work for other larger operations, or the details of the weather conditions experienced and the plight of the Dutch people during the harsh winter of 1944-45) to create a fuller and more visual picture of what happened. It is appreciated that aviation historians and enthusiasts alike will analyse this volume for the details of the Spitfires used.
In a nutshell, Mark IXF Spitfires started Operation Big Ben.
These had elliptical wings to begin with and then progressed to clipped-wing (pin-pointing exact dates has not always been possible).
The Mark XVI became the cream of the crop for the most important squadrons (602, 603 and to a lesser degree 303; with 602 being the first to have them, followed by 303), Mark V's were used for training purposes.
For dive-bombing purposes, two 250 lb bombs were used under each wing for balance, with a 500 lb bomb under the fuselage.Occasionally just the 500 lb bomb was carried, sometime just the two 250 lb bombs, depending on how far they had to fly inland or the difficulty of the job in-hand (the greater weight the more fuel used).
Version 5 roundel was used and Operation Big Ben insignia on either side of the fuselage.