Biggles Goes to War

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Biggles Goes to War

Postby kylie_koyote » 24 May 2017, 20:05

I can't see that this book has its own thread already, so I've started one. I've got a question for all of you with better knowledge of English geography than I have.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 2:

Ten days later, shortly before ten o'clock in the morning, the three airmen were seated round a table in the dining-room at Southwick Airport; a fourth place had been laid, but as yet the chair was unoccupied. Biggles glanced at his wrist-watch.
'We are a minute or two on the early side,' he observed. 'I don't suppose Count Stanhauser will be late.' The airmen had only discovered their visitor's title after he had departed.
'This looks like him coming now,' said Ginger, who was looking through the window at the railway station in which an electric train had just come to a halt. 'Yes, there he is; he's coming across,' he concluded.


I couldn't find a "Southwick Airport" on Googlemaps, although I found a town of Southwick, which is on the southern coast, not far from Brighton. It does have a railway station, but it's quite far from their usual haunts around Brooklands.

Was there a "Southwick Airport" in the 1930s, or is WEJ perhaps fictionalizing Gatwick, so that it suits his purposes?
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Tommy Smith » 24 May 2017, 20:23

Interesting mention of an electric train.
This http://www.emus.co.uk/zone/southern/southern3.htm might narrow it down area wise.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby 266 » 24 May 2017, 22:47

An interesting conundrum. Southwick exists, and has an airfield, and a railway station. Questions: how close are the airfield and station? Not close. Certainly not visually close, as stated in the book. Second, did it have an electric train service? No, the electric suburban trains had reached Brighton in 1933, but Southwick is further west and I can't find any information on it having an electric service. (Corrections appreciated). Third, was it a suitable setting out point for an East Europe destination? No, not really. With fuel a critical consideration, they would have been far better leaving from an East Kent airfield, such as Dover. Another WEJ anomaly? Or did he just give a name to a fictional set of attributes?

To further confuse the issue, he moved about the time this book was written, to Reigate - between London and Gatwick, and on the electric train line to Brighton - adjacent to Southwick. Hmmm....
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Wanderer » 25 May 2017, 01:25

Just to complicate matters, Wikipedia lists no less than six town named Southwick in England, several in the south, and in "Bigglesverse" any could have had an airport and electric railway :-)
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby tiffinata » 25 May 2017, 02:33

Hmmmm. If we assume that it is a fictitious name, what airports might have had an electric rail line at the time, and that would have been a reasonable jumping off point at the time? Was there an airport that had been in the recent news as now being connected to electric rail?

I feel that fuel restrictions/availability would be taken into consideration only as a plot device. Some of his aircraft are able to fly impossible distances.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Tracer » 25 May 2017, 09:09

Might it have been Shoreham? It had two railway stops in my day - Shoreham and Shoreham by Sea - and still has the airfield albeit much restricted. I did most of my flying training there.

Further across, there's Redhill, near Reigate, which was busy in its day and still popular with private flyers.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Kismet » 25 May 2017, 11:41

The last paragraph in chapter two says:

'Ten minutes later the three 'Lances' took up formation over the aerodrome and, with Biggles leading, headed south east towards the channel.'

Does the direction they head (with a destination of Weisheim) help with their place of departure?
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby kylie_koyote » 25 May 2017, 12:57

Googlemaps gave me a place called "Hangen-Weisheim, Germany" when I typed in "Weisheim" - it's near Mannheim.

It's almost due southeast from London. Is that their destination, do you think?
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby kylie_koyote » 25 May 2017, 19:00

And now, to further muddy the waters, I took a look at the handy ruler tool in "Google Earth" and read this paragraph, that starts Chapter 3.

"For nearly five hours the three machines bored their way across Central Europe at a speed of nearly two hundred miles an hour over masses of billowy cumulus cloud that was rolling slowly in the same direction as they were traveling."

5 hours x 200 mph = 1,000 miles traveled. After which they would have certainly completely overshot Germany - not to mention Austria and the former Czechoslovakia - and nearly all of Hungary as well.

2402

Although WEJ says the word "nearly" twice in that sentence, so perhaps they didn't go quite that far...
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Kismet » 25 May 2017, 19:36

kylie_koyote wrote:And now, to further muddy the waters, I took a look at the handy ruler tool in "Google Earth" and read this paragraph, that starts Chapter 3.

"For nearly five hours the three machines bored their way across Central Europe at a speed of nearly two hundred miles an hour over masses of billowy cumulus cloud that was rolling slowly in the same direction as they were traveling."

5 hours x 200 mph = 1,000 miles traveled. After which they would have certainly completely overshot Germany - not to mention Austria and the former Czechoslovakia - and nearly all of Hungary as well.

2402

Although WEJ says the word "nearly" twice in that sentence, so perhaps they didn't go quite that far...


All I can suggest is a zigzag course to follow landmarks..... If they are travelling the same direction as the clouds, then they haven't even got a head wind to slow them down.

I noticed that line when I was checking the end of chapter two, but I didn't feel strong enough to check how far away Weisheim was, as I suspected we would be in the realms of WEJ geography rather than actual European distances.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Tommy Smith » 25 May 2017, 19:39

I'm going for Shoreham, it's vintage and right next to Southwick.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Frecks » 26 May 2017, 08:10

I think WEJ just made things up as he went along to give a good story line. I doubt if he checked distances very carefully. I suppose he thought as the stories were for youngsters rather than factual adult books it did not matter. It makes it very frustrating when you try to follow the journey on a map.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Tracer » 26 May 2017, 08:16

It might be that certain countries could not be directly overflown due to political considerations of the time. That still applies now, but obviously different countries.

Or, as you say, might just be WEJ in a hurry (head SE until you see the cathedral)
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby tiffinata » 17 Jun 2017, 12:59

That's a good point about 'no fly zones'.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby saladin » 18 Mar 2018, 00:16

This is one of my favourites. The geographical accuracy wasn't uppermost in my thinking, lol.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Fairblue » 18 Mar 2018, 00:20

saladin wrote:This is one of my favourites. The geographical accuracy wasn't uppermost in my thinking, lol.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. 8-)
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Tracer » 18 Mar 2018, 09:43

Biggles fans and geography teachers may not always have seen eye to eye.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby fredleander » 23 Mar 2018, 09:03

kylie_koyote wrote:And now, to further muddy the waters, I took a look at the handy ruler tool in "Google Earth" and read this paragraph, that starts Chapter 3.

"For nearly five hours the three machines bored their way across Central Europe at a speed of nearly two hundred miles an hour over masses of billowy cumulus cloud that was rolling slowly in the same direction as they were traveling."

5 hours x 200 mph = 1,000 miles traveled. After which they would have certainly completely overshot Germany - not to mention Austria and the former Czechoslovakia - and nearly all of Hungary as well.

2402

Although WEJ says the word "nearly" twice in that sentence, so perhaps they didn't go quite that far...


I pondered a little on this in another thread about Biggles book front pages. As I see it the "problem" here isn't really the distance flown but rather the speed with which it is supposedly flown - "nearly 200 mph.". This would be the "top speed" of any reasonably contemporary fighter types - Fury, Bulldog (a Gladiator could do it but that would be too modern even if it is pictured as such in some book illustrations) - whatever - and as such unrealistic for a long-range flight. If we, more realistically, say they flew with a speed of 120-150 mph., according to type, the distance flown is more plausible. Also if we couple this with the day's realistic flight profile, VFR. I suppose Biggles's out-dated fighters wouldn't have much of navigational aids, except a compass.

What is equally important to note is that his planes had "long-range" tanks installed. That makes a lot difference for the distance flown. So, flying somewhat slower, along a VFR route following rivers, cities, terrain formations and eventual lakes, 5 hours would be a reasonable flying time to reach a destination somewhere in the southern part of Germany.

What's more troubling is how they got from there to their final destination, "somewhere north-east of the Black Sea" (north-west would have made quite a difference) - without refuelling stops and flying a VFR route. If we say their destination was somewhere near Rostov in present-day Russia the great-circle distance would be approx. 1.350 miles. Still not impossible but somewhat unlikely, following Donau to the Black Sea and crossing over Crimea and the Azov Sea it would be even longer.

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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Frecks » 23 Mar 2018, 09:19

I think I am even more confused now :? I really cannot understand why WEJ did not study a map of Europe and calculate realistic speeds and fuel capacity before he wrote the books.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby fredleander » 23 Mar 2018, 09:27

Frecks wrote:I think I am even more confused now :? I really cannot understand why WEJ did not study a map of Europe and calculate realistic speeds and fuel capacity before he wrote the books.


Maybe Mr. Johns didn't know (swearing in the church..?..) the difference between east and west... ;) ...Moldavia would have been the ideal country destination. That is north-west of the Black Sea.

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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Frecks » 23 Mar 2018, 12:33

WEJ certainly got very confused in Black Peril.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Kismet » 23 Mar 2018, 14:50

I subscribe to the notion that WEJ was perpetually surprised by people (small boys in particular) fact checking his ideas and wanting them to be thoroughly accurate. Sometimes, perhaps it is better not to know but to accept what is on the page.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Frecks » 23 Mar 2018, 17:16

It all depends on whether WEJ just made things up to tie in with his ideas or if he made genuine mistakes.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Tracer » 23 Mar 2018, 18:16

Kismet wrote:I subscribe to the notion that WEJ was perpetually surprised by people (small boys in particular) fact checking his ideas and wanting them to be thoroughly accurate. Sometimes, perhaps it is better not to know but to accept what is on the page.



I agree - the 'suspension of disbelief' as Disney called it.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby fredleander » 23 Mar 2018, 18:50

In my opinion it's not important. But, it's cool to discuss.... :D ...

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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Spitfire666 » 23 Mar 2018, 19:58

Kismet wrote:I subscribe to the notion that WEJ was perpetually surprised by people (small boys in particular) fact checking his ideas and wanting them to be thoroughly accurate. Sometimes, perhaps it is better not to know but to accept what is on the page.

Absolutely, Kismet.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Kismet » 24 Mar 2018, 12:19

fredleander wrote:In my opinion it's not important. But, it's cool to discuss.... :D ...

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I love a good discussion....
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Fairblue » 24 Mar 2018, 12:40

Kismet wrote:
fredleander wrote:In my opinion it's not important. But, it's cool to discuss.... :D ...

Fred

I love a good discussion....

It’s not important. It certainly doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the books, but like Kismet, I enjoy a good discussion.
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Frecks » 24 Mar 2018, 12:49

It would be interesting to know if other authors of the same era got all their facts right. Did WEJ think as he was writing for children the actual factual details were not important or did a lot of authors just alter things for the sake of their plots? For example did Dorothy L. Sayers actually check all those train times, tides, distances etc. which were crucial to her plots? Were Agatha Christie's poisons real?
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Re: Biggles Goes to War

Postby Kismet » 24 Mar 2018, 13:01

Frecks wrote:It would be interesting to know if other authors of the same era got all their facts right. Did WEJ think as he was writing for children the actual factual details were not important or did a lot of authors just alter things for the sake of their plots? For example did Dorothy L. Sayers actually check all those train times, tides, distances etc. which were crucial to her plots? Were Agatha Christie's poisons real?


I think that I've read somewhere, that when Dorothy Sayers wrote Five Red Herrings she spent a lot of time checking all her facts and making sure her timetables were correct and that afterwards she thought that it had been detrimental to the story.
Certainly Agatha Christie had the character of the novelist Ariadne Oliver getting cross with people correcting her facts when inaccuracies were spotted in her stories as she felt that the inaccuracies were unimportant and too much checking got in the way of the story.
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