|Alec B. Craven
by Caitlin Dandrow
My grandfather, Alec Bernard Craven, was a British
citizen who joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II when
Britain’s involvement began in 1939. I interviewed my grandmother
about my grandfather, because my grandfather died years ago when I was
still a small child. It was interesting to find out these kinds
of facts about him because I never had the chance to get to know him as
a young adult, and my grandmother said that he did not like to speak
about the war.
My grandfather, Alec, was born in York, Yorkshire,
England in 1923 and was the oldest of three siblings. He was the
only child in the family to actually fight in the war. He joined
the RAF when he was 17-years-old, which was under the minimum
enlistment age of 18. Because of the terrible attacks on his
country, he misrepresented his age, saying he was 18 to get admitted,
and because the government was so desperate for soldiers, they gladly
accepted any help they could receive. He wanted to be a pilot, but due
to a problem with his eyesight he couldn’t, and ended up becoming
a navigator on a Lancaster bombing plane in the Royal Air Force.
This is the beggining of the acceptance letter my grandfather received
from the Royal Air Force.
Britain Joins the War
The Germans knew that to successfully invade Britain
they needed to control the air. In 1940, Germany began air raids
against British ports and RAF bases to prepare a path for a German
invasion, having already taken over most of Europe, including France
and Poland. My grandfather and others of the RAF were tasked with
pivotal protection of the British people from German attacks on
Britain. However, at that time my grandfather could only serve his
country as a cadet in training to become a navigator. Germany
underestimated Britain and sent the Luftwaffe to bomb England’s
cities, which caused pandemonium because England was not prepared for
war. Germany hoped to cross the English Channel from France and invade
England. The planes and pilots in the German air force severely
outnumbered the RAF. Because of this, the Germans planned on
tricking the RAF, into mobilizing in one area so the Luftwaffe could
easily shoot down most of the RAF pilots and ease the invasion over the
Channel. England had a better defense than anticipated and was
able to hold off the German invasion. Later, for 57 nights straight,
starting in September 1940, there was a bombardment of bombing attacks
directed at London and other cities, which was followed by
“intermittent raids” until April 1941.
The People’s Solidarity
In World War II, the British people had
amazing solidarity and unity and everyone helped in some way, whether
it be with manufacturing airplanes and munitions for the pilots, or
recycling the materials for re-use. Everyone joined the war effort and
worked together because their country was being attacked, effecting the
poor in the city street to royalty in Buckingham Palace. It was the
duty of the city children to go to foster homes in areas of the country
that weren’t being attacked, so as to ensure the survival of
England’s next generation while their parents did their jobs to
ensure England’s survival. It was considered the responsibility
of the people who were living in places not being bombed, such as rural
areas, to make temporary adoptions, and take care of the children for
the entirety of their stay.
While my grandfather lived in York, although it was not an area hit
hard by the German bombs, he had strong feelings of nationalism that
caused him to enlist as a soldier and become a member of the air
force. He started out as a cadet, then became an airman and
eventually became a warrant officer in the RAF. Many people
wanted to become members of the RAF and be able to take an active role
in fighting the Germans directly, however few actually qualified for
this elite service. My grandfather took a test to become a
navigator due to his failed attempt to become a pilot, and was put on
duty immediately rather than being a member of the reserves for a
training period like most people who did qualify for these positions
were supposed to do. Because of his high test scores he went
right into active duty. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was pivotal to
the victory the British had against the Germans when they attacked in
1940. The RAF helped support the soldiers on land and sea with their
aircrafts. They would fly across enemy territory and drop bombs, as
well as to scatter propaganda posters to make Germany look weak.
Women’s Involvement and Use of Radar
The women, although not allowed to become soldiers,
became involved in the fighting and supporting the RAF by taking jobs
men vacated to continue the war effort, working in factories and also
joining groups such as the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).
This group helped the RAF, and Britain as a whole, by using radar
systems all across the country to locate enemy planes and estimating
the number of fighters in that area, and communicating their results and
directions to the pilots via radio. The RAF also used Direction Finding or D/F radio
stations to keep track of their own fighters and help them navigate, as
well as to inform pilots of incoming raids of enemy planes. My
grandfather, as a navigator on a Lancaster bombing plane, would radio
headquarters and other planes, and by using radar would help his crew
navigate and reach their destination in one piece.
|This is the chain of who reported information (mainly using
radio) to whom in the RAF, which affected the battle tactics of the
pilots and land soldiers.
Fighting Against All Odds
The Royal Air Force was the underdog. The Germans
were considered to have one of the strongest air forces in the world.
The Royal Air Force had a small number of fighters, which could have
been a fatal flaw in the war. They also had few planes, which were
often destroyed during the battles and often lost at sea. Their air
tactics included having their planes be wing to wing, leaving little
room for maneuverability, and easy targets for their enemies to shoot
down. With the help of radar systems, however, they had somewhat of an
advantage because it would inform the pilots of where their enemies
were and in what multitude. The RAF picked up ideas by studying the
fighting tactics that the German fighters used, and changed their
battle tactics to better suit their flying. One thing they did was
spread out while flying, and soon enough they were taking down vast
numbers of enemy airplanes and swiftly defeating the Germans. The
British and Germans had dogfights in the air, and both were amazingly
capable air fighters; the RAF managed to have amazing victories in the
battles of World War II.
Here's a newspaper clip belonging to my grandfather of the Lancaster.
My grandfather fought as an RAF navigator from the
time of Germany’s attempted invasion of England until the end of
the war. One fight he lived through was the Battle of Britain, which
began in June 30, 1940 and ended in April 1941. The RAF joined the
battle on August 8, 1940, the fate of England’s independence
resting on their shoulders. The Germans’ Luftwaffe planes were
superior to most others, and the RAF’s use of Hurricanes,
Sweepers, Lancasters, and Spitfire planes helped them to fight
back. As the war continued, my grandfather flew with the RAF on
nightly bombing sorties on Germany and occasionally Italy, and by the
end of the war he had gone on 97 runs. The RAF began bombing at night
after Germany started to, because Germany was wary of the skill of the
RAF pilots. Because of this, the British began blackouts,
where they turned out all of the lights so the Germans couldn’t
see where to bomb people from their planes. While asking my grandmother
about my grandfather she said, “You’d get in a plane, and
not know if you were going to come back or not. One night he was riding
his bike from town and fell in a ditch during a blackout. He hurt his
wrist and wasn’t allowed to fly that night. The rest of his crew
died that night.” Even though his crew dying during that sortie
devastated him, he continued to fight in the war with a new
group. My grandparents had been foreign pen pals since
Junior High School, and they wrote a lot during the war. I asked
my grandmother if he wrote or spoke much of the war, or about fighting
the Luftwaffe and she said, “occasionally he would say something,
but some of the flights were pretty awful. It must have been
horrible seeing your friends get shot down. The pilots just
couldn’t seem to be able to talk about it, it was so bad.”
This is a map of what British pilots had to fly across
when thy went to bomb the Germans on nightly raids.
Through the use of radar, penetration of German codes, and using their
strengths such as plane speed to their advantage, Britain managed to
win the battle. By cracking codes, the RAF was able to catch the
Germans off guard and shoot down their forces before they could cause
more damage. England united and didn’t buckle under the pressure,
learning how to build planes faster, and how to fly better in order to
survive. England managed to hold off Germany until the American
infusion of troops could help end the war. After the war, England
was still in tatters. My grandmother met my grandfather for the
first time at the end of the war and they were quickly
engaged. Having sailed ten weeks from New York to
Southampton, England in 1946 to marry my grandfather, she was able to
see what England looked like after the war. She described it as
“the most God awful mess I have ever seen.”
A photo of the Lancaster.
The RAF was pivotal in winning the war and
demolishing the Luftwaffe. Without the RAF, England might have lost.
The British were victorious in the war due to their solidarity and
tenacity as a country. The war had a lasting effect on the
soldiers. With my grandfather and his bombing crew, while
theywere incredibly close with other members of their squad during the
war, they did not tend to stay in touch after the war, because it was
so terrible and for many soldiers this had a really long-term impact on
their lives. Humorously, my grandmother told me,
“your grandfather and I got married after the war, in 1946. The
members of the Royal Air Force would rush to get ready whenever they
heard the sound of bombs. Even weeks after we were married, every time
there was a thump he was always up and running.”
This is a photo of the soldiers who successfully became navigators
and graduated, each one labeled by last name. My grandfather is
the third man from the left in the second row.
“Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia”. Merriam Webster’s, Incorporated. Springfield. 2000. 234.
Col. Gurney, Gene. “The War In The Air: World War II”. Bonanza Books. New York. 1983. 78, 106, 131.
Mosley, Leonard. “The Battle of Britain: World War II”.
Time Life Books. Alexandria. 1977.
Dr. Bellamy, Chris. “The Battle of Britain”. BBC news. Oct.
7 2005. Jan. 11 2000.
“The Battle of Britain – Home Page”. DeltaWeb
International Ltd. Dec. 16 2005. 2004.
“The Battle of Britain – Home Page”. DeltaWeb
International Ltd. Dec. 16 2005. 2004.