Babcock celebrates VE Day 75

With a long history of supporting the Armed Forces, it may not come as a surprise that some present day Babcock sites have fascinating links to the allied war effort.

Victory in Europe (VE) Day on 8 May 2020 will mark 75 years since the end of World War II in Europe. Millions of people were able to take to the streets and celebrate the end of a conflict which had raged on for six years, causing unimaginable damage and destruction, and claiming the lives of an estimated 85 million military personnel and civilians.

VE Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made, and to celebrate the courage shown, by so many. As our friends and allies across the world come together to remember this dark period, we have also reflected on how Babcock and our partners were involved in the war effort.

Babcock International Group can trace its roots back to 1891 and the formation of Babcock & Wilcox Ltd. B&W specialised in producing heavy duty boilers for international customers, in locations including the UK, US, France, Germany, Australia and South Africa. During the second world war, B&W fabricated marine boilers for steam-powered combat and merchant ships. Pre-war boiler production averaged two to three boilers a week; at the end of the shipbuilding program, B&W produced about 30 boilers a week. In total, 4,100 of the 5,400 major vessels constructed for the war effort were equipped with B&W boilers.

Our Aviation sector currently operates alongside the RAF on airbases which played a pivotal role in the battle for the skies. RAF Cosford trained 70,000 airmen during World War II, in engine, armament and airframe maintenance trades. RAF Wittering was very active during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz in 1940–41. With many of the Luftwaffe raids during the Blitz taking place at night, Wittering-based squadrons were instrumental in the development of night combat techniques. During the war, the airfield was bombed five times, with aircraft from the station downing 151 Luftwaffe aeroplanes and 89 V-1 flying bombs.

In Marine, some of our key sites have a rich heritage of wartime contribution. Early in 1941, two ships instrumental in the sinking of the German battleship, Bismarck, were docked at the once Naval Dockyard at Rosyth for vital repair work. HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood were ordered to intercept the Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen which were sailing to the Atlantic to attack allied convoys. In the ensuing battle, HMS Hood was struck by German shells and sunk within 3 minutes, claiming the lives of all but three of the 1,421 crewmen. On May 26, the Bismarck was sighted and crippled by British aircraft and the HMS Prince of Wales, along with two other warships, descended on the vessel to sink her. By mid-morning the Bismarck was damaged beyond repair, and the order to scuttle was given. Only 116 of the 2,200-man crew survived.

Devonport also played an important role. As well as providing ships to take part in the Battle of the Atlantic and the D-Day Landings, it also continued to provide maintenance and refits to the fleet throughout the war. In order to help the war effort, women were employed for the first time as engineers at the dockyard.

In Nuclear, The Manufacturing Test and Assembly facility which offers manufacturing, component production, development, assembly and test facilities to the civil nuclear industry was once home to the first factory in the world built specifically for jet engine development and initial production. Located in Whetstone, Leicester, the wartime jet engine facility was sanctioned by the Government in October 1941 under the control and direction of Sir Frank Whittle, often known as the ‘Father of the jet age’. This development in jet engine technology at the site led to the Gloster Meteor, which became the first allied jet aircraft to fly operationally in World War II.

Our Land sector currently operates on British Army sites which made vital wartime contributions. At Warminster, tank regiments from both the UK and US resided at the barracks throughout the war, whilst the Central Ordnance Depot located in Donnington played a vital role in equipping the Army with the equipment it needed to fight across the globe.

Meanwhile, the Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME) in Chatham was badly damaged during German bombing in June 1940, which resulted in much of the training capability being temporarily relocated to Ripon until 1950. Despite being badly damaged, trades training continued at Chatham throughout the war. Today, the Chatham site is still integral to British Army training, and Babcock, as part of the Holdfast JV, provides over 140 different courses to the RSME, providing over 220,000 training days to 7,500 students each year.