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Posted on Aug 21, 2007 in Carlo D'Este, Front Page Features

Air Chief Marshall Sir Harry Broadhurst

By Carlo D'Este

While in North Africa, Broadhurst acquired a captured German Fiesler Storch observation aircraft and had it sent back to England and painted bright yellow, with RAF markings.

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In March 1944, he was posted back to England during the buildup for Operation Overlord, the cross-Channel invasion of France on June 6. As the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) the 83d Group, his unit was to provide direct tactical air support for the Second British Army in Normandy.

Relations between Broadhurst and the Second Army commander, Lt. Gen. Miles Dempsey were previously not good as a result of misunderstandings during the Sicily campaign over coordination for air support between Dempsey’s staff and Broadhurst’s staff. Montgomery however, never lost faith in Broadhurst and on at least one occasion severely rebuked Dempsey after hearing the airmen’s side. When he became Dempsey’s chief airman, Broadhurst was naturally apprehensive, but whatever differences that had existed in the Mediterranean were soon forgotten. “We never made a move without talking to each other,” Broadhurst told me in a 1980 interview.

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Nevertheless, there was considerable bad feeling at the highest level on the part of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder (Air C-in-C, in the Middle East, and Deputy Supreme Commander to Eisenhower in Northwest Europe in 1944-45) and Coningham, the commander of the 2d Tactical Air Force – the unit that provided tactical air support in Northwest Europe to Montgomery’s 21 Army Group. Tedder and Coningham had no use for Montgomery (a tale for another time) and Broadhurst sometimes found himself in the middle. He has recounted an example of the bad feeling that existed in Normandy. On one occasion, Tedder greeted him with the acid comment: “How’s your bloody Army friend today?” a reference to Montgomery. Broadhurst replied: “Well, what do you expect him to be, my enemy? It’s difficult enough when he’s supposed to be friendly,” and walked angrily away from Tedder, who did not take Broadhurst’s insubordination personally. (4)

During a massive night bombing raid of Caen in early July 1944, Broadhurst elected to observe the aerial fireworks from his Storch aircraft. He invited Dempsey to accompany him. As they flew over the battlefield, the aircraft became a prime target of both German and friendly gunners on the ground and began taking heavy fire. Broadhurst realized he had to land at once or be shot down. “So I dived for the ground and by the time we got down to the ground there were all these chaps machine-gunning us as well. Everybody was shooting at us . . . We landed in a cornfield. [Friendly] troops came rushing across headed by a captain and I said to Dempsey, for heaven’s sake, get out and wear your red hat! [worn by all general officers]. If I get out in my blue uniform they’ll shoot us. Well, he got out and waved his hat, looking the bloody fool. This Canadian came up and said, ‘I demand your identify card!’ Bimbo Dempsey said: ‘Don’t be a bloody fool, I’m your commanding general.’ We had been hit eleven times.’ Broadhurst said he could fly the plane and he would get Dempsey back to his command post. Dempsey had seen quite enough and said: “I’m going with this chap!” It was the last time Miles Dempsey ever flew with Harry Broadhurst. (5) The end of Broadhurst’s days flying the Storch “as his personal means of transport came to a somewhat ignominious end in early 1945 when he suffered an engine failure on taking off from Evere (France). Trying to land the aircraft on the nearest available area, the roof of a hanger, his efforts were dashed when the roof collapsed, the hanger having previously been gutted by fire, resulting in the destruction of the Storch.  Fortunately when the crowd of officers who had been seeing their AOC off arrived on the scene they found Harry Broadhurst uninjured and standing next to the aircraft.” (6) This was neither the first nor the last time that Broadhurst survived an aviation-related accident. When it came to flying he lived a charmed life.

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After the war, Broadhurst remained in the RAF and rose to the rank of Air Chief Marshal, retiring in 1976 after a career spanning fifty years. Along the way he was Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command and in 1959 commanded NATO’s Allied Air Forces Central Europe. In his retirement years he was associated with the aviation industry. Harry Broadhurst died in 1995. His obituary in The (London) Independent hailed “One of the great ‘fighting airmen’ of the RAF and an outstanding exponent of the tactical use of air power,” and noted that his free-ranging spirit found “its outlet in sailing his seven-ton Bermuda cutter from Chichester Harbour,” to far-flung ports of call. (7)

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6 Comments

  1. I was at RAF Bruggen Germany in Sept 1960 when Broady
    visited. He was to meet Aircrew in the Officers’ Mess Ante Room
    but was boycotted by all the navigators in protest at the Vulcan
    crash in Oct 1956 at London Airport when he took the co-pilots
    seat at the end of the record breaking flight from Australia. Only
    the pilot and co-pilot survived! No action was taken against
    them.

    Jim M.

  2. Sir I had the honour to serve under Sir Harry Broadhurst when he was AOC at Kenley in Surrey in 1946 to 1947 and can assure you that he still had the Fiesler Storch spotter plane so it must have been repairable after his misshap with a hanger roof.

    Norman 2290362

    • Sir, do you remember the colors of the Storch?
      Was it still yellow or did it wear RAF standard colors?

  3. Air Marshall coning ham believed in close air support to the army, indeed was one of the original exponents of the creed. Relationship with monty was volatile because he believed that monty changed his plans during a battle without informing the royl air force. He was promoted to the 2nd tactical airforce command to make ready for overlord.

  4. Expose’ of the cover up of 4 RAF aircrew deaths. The true reason for the crash of RAF Vulcan XA897 at London Airport in 1956

    On the morning of the Vulcan’s return flight from Australia, the weather at Heathrow was atrocious with extremely poor visibility. The RAF Vulcan aircraft was not equipped to use the Civil Instrument Landing Systems installed at Heathrow airport. Additionally, Squadron Leader Howard, the official pilot had no experience of carrying out a GCA (ground control approach) landing in a Vulcan

    The Air Ministry had already diverted other aircraft and considered that a Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) was not possible. He was not given any voice agreement to try a landing.
    I, as the senior NCO i/c of the Signals Centre staff at Bomber Command H.Q High Wycombe was ordered to send a Class A diversion order to Squadron Leader Howard, this was acknowledged by the Vulcan’s electronics officer Sqdn Ldr Gamble but the aircraft made no attempt to divert.
    At about 1300 a further Class A diversion order was transmitted and again it was received, acknowledged and ignored. Just minutes before the aircraft attempted to land I was ordered to send a further Class A diversion order, this was also acknowledged but again the pilots ignored the order.

    When we heard that it had crashed killing the four rear cabin crew members whilst the pilots ejected and survived. We were all horrified. All of those present loudly condemned Broadhurst for his total lack of thought for his crew.

    Immediately we were ordered that there was to be no mention of the incident and it was not to be discussed with anyone outside HQ. I was so incensed that I ‘phoned the newspapers.
    I was then threatened with a Court Martial and a 50 year Security D notice was issued which disallowed any reporting of the true facts.
    At the House of Commons court of enquiry into the crash, when asked why the aircraft wasn’t diverted, their was no actual resonce. No mention was made that it had received 3 diversion orders.

    Maurice R Hamlin Ex RAF Air signaller 1943 – 1964

  5. Hi and thanks for the website.
    I found the post by Mr. Hamlin to be very informative in fact the entire article to be really curious. Let me explain, October 1956 I was a 16 year old boy at RAF Cosford and getting ready for graduation (passing out) was too occupied with things and broke (short of money) to have taken any real interest outside Cosford including the Vulcan crash. In fact I only learned of it about 10 years ago.

    I left the RAF June 25-1963 (from my discharge certificate) and I seem to remember our C in C Sir Harald being replace a few weeks before my discharge? I also have memories of a Vulcan 2 crashing with Sir Harold at Heath Row a few weeks before that. It was on the return leg of a record breaking flight from Nairobi. I get most confused when I read from a number of websites that Sir Harold had left the RAF 2 years before me. This Vulcan crash in 1963 was one of my motives for leaving the RAF! Are you able to make any sense or have a comment on the above?

    I wonder if I have formed a conspiracy theory or am I paranoid? Has the history between 1960 and 1965 been redacted, hidden on Google or simply covered with the sands of time? A prof at Queen’s stated he would no longer accept quotes from Google or wiki since anyone can change it.

    When I browse around my former UK MP Rt Hon Richard Wood representing Bridlington and Holderness was not listed as having held the post of Secretary to the Air Ministry or whatever. I think he got that job after a pair of meat-boxes (Gloucester Meteor) from Driffield put a few cannon shells into Bridlington sea front about 1958 or so. I guess some aircrew were frustrated with the end of conscription and essentially a big reduction in RAF size and job loss. The guilty parties were not found. I remember my dad and uncles rubbing that into me and one of my fellow airmen telling me not to visit Bridlington in uniform.

    More vexing still I can find no record of Lord Home ordering the RAF hand over all its bases in Australia to the Australians three days before the general election in 1964. I wonder how that mild radio active cloud over Melbourne came to be? It is not even mentioned in Lord Home’s book “The way the wind blows”. I can even remember Harold Wilson’s 1964 campaign “Labor will bring the RAF under control” winning my vote.

    On my memories side I was on a display technology seminar at U of Milwaukee about 1985 and met a fellow ex boy and I mentioned my disillusion with AVM George Cross AOC B3 group 1962/63 and he told me that B3 group had bad luck with its AOCs and that AVM Johnson (wing co Johnny Johnson fighter wing fame) had taken early retirement. It seems the grape vine source had him replacing the crew chief on lone ranger to SAC HQ Offutt for target training, debarking and re embarking at Goose after enjoying the Salmon fishing. It seems the Vulcan aircrew had a technical problem more than they could resolve without the crew chief resulting in the AVM’s premature retirement. There is in fact a gap in the list of AOCs B3 group. AVM George Cross (the apps at Halton called him “Cross Awkward George”) his Commodore was ordered with immediate effect to take command of B3 temporary acting. Maybe my memories are not totally false. I can remember being inspected as part of a Guard of Honor by both of these Gent’s and it was most uncomfortable with George who behaved like an ex Halton CA who had failed to grow up but all was fine with AVM Johnson.

    I really should be sorry for these senior and courageous people who were really pilots, born to fly and flied to live being stuck with a senior management sort of job with only flying expertise and no real management training and one really big manpower problem. Like the station careers officer told me the RAF was set up for conscription and could not possibly work without it. This high level stuff can not be handed off to the Flight’s Sargent or WO and there was no HR department to help out or maybe they got rid of it.

    All I can think of it’s like my CV, include the good stuff and skip over the not so good as best I can. A prof at Queens stated “I’m not accepting any work from my students based on Google as it can be posted by anyone and not verified”. Just like this post! I still have the question, was there a Vulcan crash with Sir Harold in 1963 or was I dreaming?

    Regards Ian.

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