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The World War II Photo of the Week
for 14 October 2002


The Gremlins Did It ...

   This fanciful photo montage shows what a pair of gremlins would look like wreaking havoc in the cockpit of a U.S. plane (the pilot could not see them, as they were invisible!). Gremlins were alleged to be mischievous, elf-like beings that were the "real" cause of engine trouble and other mechanical difficulties. WW II aircrew were telling stories about them as early as 1940, and Roald Dahl, an ex-RAF-pilot, wrote "The Gremlins," a fairy tale about the hazards of combat flying, in 1942. The book was first serialized in Cosmopolitan, and published a year later (Dahl later claimed that he coined the name). Certainly a British manifestation [the first gremlins were allegedly encountered by photoreconnaisance units (PRUs), who flew at very high altitudes], the following RAF ditty (which comes to us courtesy John Laming) says it all:

This is the tale of the Gremlins
As told by the PRU
At Benson and Wick and St Eval-
And believe me, you slobs, it's true.

When you're seven miles up in the heavens,
(That's a hell of a lonely spot)
And it's fifty degrees below zero,
Which isn't exactly hot.

When you're frozen blue like your Spitfire,
And your scared a Mosquito pink.
When you're thousands of miles from nowhere,
And there's nothing below but the drink.

It's then that you'll see the Gremlins,
Green and gamboge and gold,
Male and female and neuter,
Gremlins both young and old.

It's no good trying to dodge them,
The lessons you learnt on the Link
Won't help you evade a Gremlin,
Though you boost and you dive and you jink.

White ones will wiggle your wing tips,
Male ones will muddle your maps,
Green ones will guzzle your glycol,
Females will flutter your flaps.

Pink ones will perch on your perspex,
And dance pirouettes on your prop,
There's a spherical middle-aged Gremlin,
Who'll spin on your stick like a top.

They'll freeze up your camera shutters,
They'll bite through your aileron wires,
They'll bend and they'll break and they'll batter,
They'll insert toasting forks into your tyres.

And that is the tale of the Gremlins,
As told by the PRU,
(P)retty (R)uddy (U)nlikely to many,
But a fact, none the less, to the few.

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