War, Planes and Noise

Lancasters, Poppies, and Noise

This is a belated Remembrance Day post. My heart goes out to all those who died or were wounded in past wars, and in current wars, and to their families. War is an absolute horror that we need to find a way to end, forever.

Earlier this year I wrote a post about noise in combat and its effect on the participants and observers. One aspect of war, albeit a lesser horror than the other aspects, is the horror and impact of the noise that goes along with it. I think most of us have no idea how loud war is. Explosions, bombings, tanks, screaming, gun fire – they generate a cacophony that adds to the overall madness.

Today’s post is about one aspect of war noise. The other day, my wife sent me a video of Rick Mercer flying in a Lancaster bomber. In the video, the pilot suggests that Rick take his ear protection off as the plane gets ready to take off, to hear how loud the plane is. Rick does, and in the footage you get a real sense of the noise level. (And that is just one Lancaster.)

lancaster2lancaster 1

Later one of pilots tells Rick that in WWII, huge numbers of Lancasters flew from England to bomb Germany. He tells Rick that people on the ground below could feel the sound of the planes. Why? Because they were flying 700 – 800 planes at a time. He says that the convoys were 10 miles wide and 30 miles long! (Can you imagine how loud that would be? And if you were in Germany when those bombers arrived, how terrifying that noise would be? Not to mention the tons of bombs that would be falling on you.) In total 364,514 operational sorties were flown, 1,030,500 tons of bombs were dropped and 8,325 aircraft lost in action. Bomber Command crews also suffered a high casualty rate: 55,573 were killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4 percent death rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became prisoners of war. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Bomber_Command ). I have no idea how many German casualities there were, either combatants or civilians. War, categorically, is a nightmare, at the time and afterwards. Which is why we have Remembrance Day, I hope – to remember the horror so we can work on not repeating it. (Though we are not doing so well with that goal. )

Back to the issue of noise and these planes. Watch Rick’s video here.

Here you can watch a video that gives you a better sense of the noise level, albeit from only one Lancaster.

Here is another video of a Lancaster starting up and taxiing. (Turn your computer volume up high to get a better sense of how loud it is.) Or watch/listen to this one.

The videos are amazing to watch. But stop for a minute. None of the people who worked (i.e. mechanics) on those planes, or flew those planes (i.e. pilots, gunners, navigators, bombers), had ear protection. And they worked on these planes for the duration of the war – six years for many of them. And if you were flying inside the plane, it was an empty metal body, with no sound proofing from the noise of the four massive Rolls-Royce engines. I would guess that ALL of those veterans developed hearing problems, if not complete deafness, from that work. (In fact, in Canada, the fastest way to get veteran benefits is to be able to show that your hearing was affected during your years of service.)

Now, imagine being on the ground in eastern England when 700 – 800 of these things took off!

So my point today? To remind all of us of the horrors of war, and to highlight a small but significant aspect of that horror – the immediate and long term impact of the massive noise levels that go with war.

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