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phil.c

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david lee

Hi Fitzee,

I absolutely imagine it was, and it is an insidious danger with many unpleasant side effects, as many mountain climbers will attest.

Cheers,

Dave.

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david lee

As I have talked a bit about Dolphins at high altitude, it is worth remembering, I think, that a good half of the Dolphins time was spent at low level ground strafing.

The Camel may well be the iconic ground attack type, but it was never alone in that costly duty---- SE's and everything else were used to great effect in the March 1918 offensive, and beyond. Indeed, 43 squadrons Strutters had performed this task with great effect as early as the Scarpe in May 1917 and one can trace even earlier antecedents than that.....

No intent to change the thrust of the debate here, just mentioning it as I do not want anyone to imagine I think that Dolphins were 'exclusive' high altitude fighters. The RFC/RAF were always an adjunct to the army,and as such were never exclusive.

Dave

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centurion

Some further evidence

1] Edward Packe's diary of World War 1 shows that DH4s were being equipped with oxygen in summer 1917

Aug 12th 1917. "Reach St. Omer at 6.30am, and go to Pool and see Waller. Go up with Waller in a D.H.4. and reach 18,000 (oxygen didn't work). After lunch posted to 32 Squadron. Tea in Cassel, arrive at Droglandt at about 7pm. Meet several friends"

Note I've seen a report that with the Siebe Gorman kit a flyer could report not receiving oxygen even when it was actually flowing.

2] From Flight

"When the Germans started their last big offensive in March, 1918, No. 25 Squadron moved to Villers Brittoneaux, on the Amiens-St. Quentin road. Other moves followed. In June the squadron received D.H.4's with Rolls-Royce Eagle 8 engines and a few D.H.9.A's with the 400-h.p. Liberty. It is recorded that the oxygen apparatus was not good, and the men suffered from the height at which they flew."

So we have at least 3 squadrons (25, 55 and 98) all using oxygen with varying degrees of success

3] Wing Commander J.E.Baldwin DSO OBE on "Experiences of bombing with the independent force in 1918" given to the 1st RAF staff college course, said re oxygen

"Oxygen is essential for personnel engaged on long distance high altitude bomb raids and its use must be made compulsory and not left to the discretion of the individual. It is recommended that some apparatus that gives a visible proof that oxygen is being delivered should be used in preference to one that does not. The Dreyer apparatus had a turbine which revolved as the oxygen was given off and this was visible to the individual using the apparatus, the Siebe Gorman had no such ocular proof; as a result the reported failures of the Siebe Gorman were greatly in excess of the Dreyer."

He goes on to indicate that at least some of these reports were caused by the aircrew suffering feelings of sickness etc because they thought the oxygen supply had failed rather than because it had.

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david lee

Some further evidence

1] Edward Packe's diary of World War 1 shows that DH4s were being equipped with oxygen in summer 1917

Aug 12th 1917. "Reach St. Omer at 6.30am, and go to Pool and see Waller. Go up with Waller in a D.H.4. and reach 18,000 (oxygen didn't work). After lunch posted to 32 Squadron. Tea in Cassel, arrive at Droglandt at about 7pm. Meet several friends"

Note I've seen a report that with the Siebe Gorman kit a flyer could report not receiving oxygen even when it was actually flowing.

2] From Flight

"When the Germans started their last big offensive in March, 1918, No. 25 Squadron moved to Villers Brittoneaux, on the Amiens-St. Quentin road. Other moves followed. In June the squadron received D.H.4's with Rolls-Royce Eagle 8 engines and a few D.H.9.A's with the 400-h.p. Liberty. It is recorded that the oxygen apparatus was not good, and the men suffered from the height at which they flew."

So we have at least 3 squadrons (25, 55 and 98) all using oxygen with varying degrees of success

3] Wing Commander J.E.Baldwin DSO OBE on "Experiences of bombing with the independent force in 1918" given to the 1st RAF staff college course, said re oxygen

"Oxygen is essential for personnel engaged on long distance high altitude bomb raids and its use must be made compulsory and not left to the discretion of the individual. It is recommended that some apparatus that gives a visible proof that oxygen is being delivered should be used in preference to one that does not. The Dreyer apparatus had a turbine which revolved as the oxygen was given off and this was visible to the individual using the apparatus, the Siebe Gorman had no such ocular proof; as a result the reported failures of the Siebe Gorman were greatly in excess of the Dreyer."

He goes on to indicate that at least some of these reports were caused by the aircrew suffering feelings of sickness etc because they thought the oxygen supply had failed rather than because it had.

Glad we finally agree on something Centurion--I fully agree with your 'evidence'---well, I would as it supports what I have all along said, it was used, but with equivocal results---to say the least, which is rather my point.. I originally mentioned the IAF----which started operations in that same June.

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centurion

Glad we finally agree on something Centurion--I fully agree with your 'evidence'---well, I would as it supports what I have all along said, it was used, but with equivocal results---to say the least, which is rather my point.. I originally mentioned the IAF----which started operations in that same June.

No you didn't you said it was experimented with - tried our whereas it was in use for more than a year.

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centurion

Glad we finally agree on something Centurion--I fully agree with your 'evidence'---well, I would as it supports what I have all along said, it was used, but with equivocal results---to say the least.

From The US Air Service Medical Manual 1918

There is one British squadron which has used the Dreyer oxygen apparatus since January, 1917 a recent report from the British front states that this squadron has been performing six times the amount of work of any other similar squadron which is not supplied with oxygen.

Equivocal?

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david lee

And there was me thinking we had reached a reasonable consensus---silly trusting me..... so we will go on then.

Quote-

" who did not have much success with it, often resorting to just breathing oxygen through a tube coming from the canister---see 'Independant Force' by Keith Rennles (page 9)"

My first post.

And every quote either you, or anyone else has offered, including myself points inexorably to--

a) limited use operationally with very limited success. This is exactly what my first post claims-----"who did not have much success with it..."

b)Very late war use at that---very late indeed, weeks only for your Snipe quote, and weeks at the end of that war amounts to a hugely atypical scenario-----you might just as well say parachutes were in use by the Germans in aeroplanes in WW1. They were not, they were in use-----fraught with deadly danger again for the 'pioneers ' who took to them in extremis for a short period at the end of the war------ and the rate of fatalities using them points to that 'learning curve' of technology ---a hiatus in fact---between desire and reality.

"(oxygen didn't work). "---"It is recorded that the oxygen apparatus was not good"---are just two of your own quotes today for heavens sake!.

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david lee

From The US Air Service Medical Manual 1918

There is one British squadron which has used the Dreyer oxygen apparatus since January, 1917 a recent report from the British front states that this squadron has been performing six times the amount of work of any other similar squadron which is not supplied with oxygen.

Equivocal?

Then one has to be in awe of the huge success of that 'one squadron'---yet the utter failure of the squadrons like 55, 99, 104 and 110---or do you know a lot more than Keith Rennles, and if so, you ought to publish, like him.

"Six times" the amount of work..... That sounds remarkable. It sounds, in fact, too good to be true.

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david lee

Hate to repeat my own posts but--

".......As Glenn Sweeting has stated in his superb book, COMBAT FLYING EQUIPMENT, the problem of providing adequate oxygen breathing systems for military aviators in the First World War simply was too great for the amount of time available to devise a suitable system: "…it simply challenged the state of the art and came up short."

As a final note on First World War military oxygen breathing systems, it should be remarked that the systems devised in that extraordinarily compressed early "learning curve period" were not completely adequate, being given to failure and prone to faulty operation, which not infrequently resulted in a loss of both machines and men when the systems failed at higher than normal altitude. Had the war continued on into 1919 and beyond, there is little doubt that improvements would have resulted in far better systems reliability that existed at war's end."

which I think encapsulates my position quite superbly, magically six times better than any other squadrons included. What on earth Trenchard or Salmond would have made of that bit of hyperbole I can only guess. However, I pity the poor crews, who were, presumably, working six times harder----just how could that be done I have to ask myself--------and admit that I just don't know...... and all of this in Jan. 1917------almost two years before anyone else was trying to get it to work correctly---two years, that one squadron, and that a super six times better than any other one, was soldiering on superbly-----damned indecent of them not to pass on the 'secret' of there success.

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alex revell

Just a small point, possibly of interest, possibly not. In Mike O'Connors' excellent Airfields and Airmen of the Channel Coast - one of his fine series thoroughly recommended - he states that although little remained of a Gotha brought down by AA on September 25 1917 and given the number G74, 'much interest centred around ancillary fittings, and the oxygen set,air speed indicator, part of the bomb sight apparatus,battery and petrol cocks were sent to London for further investigation.'

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david lee

Just a small point, possibly of interest, possibly not. In Mike O'Connors' excellent Airfields and Airmen of the Channel Coast - one of his fine series thoroughly recommended - he states that although little remained of a Gotha brought down by AA on September 25 1917 and given the number G74, 'much interest centred around ancillary fittings, and the oxygen set,air speed indicator, part of the bomb sight apparatus,battery and petrol cocks were sent to London for further investigation.'

Hi Alex,

In Peter Kilduff's excellent 'Germany's First Air Force 1914-18' on page 75 there is a caption to a photo. showing the filling of oxygen cylinders with a Gotha in the background belonging to KG3----The caption reads---

" Preparing a Gotha GV for a high altitude flight, ground crewmen of KG3 pour liquid oxygen into special containers to vapourize the chemical as an aid to breathing. Valves on the side of each container regulated the flow of oxygen into rubber bladders. To use the oxygen, the aircrew sucked on a breathing tube attached to the regulator valve."

On page 76 another photograph shows a close up of the nose gunner in the Gotha GV, who actually has such a tube clenched in his mouth.

It therefore seems that German use was, as I said in my very first post (3) somewhat earlier than British use------but, as in 1918 when British bomber crews were frustrated by the incessant failures of the masks---and resorted to just sucking it through rubber tubing----the Germans, at least in KG3, were no better off in late '17.

Cheers,

Dave.

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centurion

Thought it useful to put some narrative together

Oxygen in British use

In the beginning

Oxygen was first used as an aid to aviation in 1874,with disastrous consequences, when the French balloonist Tissandier attempted to break the altitude record recently set by British aeronauts. His balloon Zenith was equipped with oxygen. This system used a mouth piece gripped in the teeth, very similar to that used by the Germans in WW1. However the Germans used a liquid oxygen system (see below) and Tissandier was using gaseous oxygen. This type of mouth piece does not work well with gaseous oxygen. Tissandier’s companions were Dr Croce-Spinelli and Captain Sivel of the French Navy. At altitude (over 20,000 feet) all three passed out and were unable to grip the air pieces. Only Tissandier recovered consciousness as the balloon descended, the others died. In its time this caused the sort of shock that the early Space Shuttle disaster generated. “Up there” was recognised as a highly dangerous place. This led to a catch 22 situation, to achieve high altitude it was necessary to have an effective oxygen system, to have an effective oxygen system required knowledge of hypoxia, to have knowledge of hypoxia required experiments at high altitude.

It was not until 1894 when 20 years had passed that another attempt was made to use oxygen for high altitude flight. Herman Von Schrötter, an Austrian physiologist designed an oxygen mask – the world’s first. This was used with compressed gaseous oxygen by the meteorologist Artur Berson to allow him to reach an altitude of over 30,000 feet and establish a new record.

The first man to use an oxygen mask in an heavier than air aircraft was the Frenchman George Lagagneux in 1913 who got a Nieuport up over 20,000 ft

Two systems

In WW1 two basic systems were used. Germany used liquid oxygen, the Allies used compressed gaseous oxygen. The former is in essence a simpler system usually with breathing through the same sort of mouthpiece that Tissandier used connected directly to a liquid oxygen flask, this caused burning and sore lips, throats and lungs and was also difficult to use when the aircraftman wanted to move around (as an air gunner would). The Gaseous Oxygen systems were more complex and required a mask (the pipe mouthpiece doesn’t work well and some accounts of this being used by Allied aircrew may be a confusion with German photos). The cylinders were more likely to explode if hit by bullets. They were however easier to use when moving or when the aircraft was being thrown around in combat.

British use – bombing and recce

In the early years of the war aircraft simply did not operate at heights that needed oxygen systems. However this changed. One of the initial pressures was the development of high altitude photo reconnaissance carried out from altitudes where an oxygen supply would be absolutely essential. The first British squadron to carry out such missions was no. 27, initially with Martinsyde G102 Elephants and then D.H.4s. They became the first RFC squadron to begin to use oxygen on operational missions and appear to have been a source of advice to other squadrons who adopted it (accounts of No 55’s history record them using no 27 to check that their installations were correct).

The introduction of the D.H.4 in 1916 provided the British with a bomber and reconnaissance aircraft capable of operating consistently at heights above which aircrew could not function effectively without oxygen. There is evidence that no 25 squadron’s D.H.4s were fitted with oxygen. Edward Packe's diary of World War 1 describes being taken up by a 25 squadron pilot in a D.H.4 equipped with oxygen. Flight also contains a reference to the squadron being equipped with oxygen

No. 55 Squadron was certainly operating with oxygen at least from June 1917. There are entries in the squadron history and Maurice Baring on the RFC HQ staff confirms this in his diary. On July 4th 1917 the staff paid a visit to No. 55 and Baring records “At No. 55 Squadron we learnt that the oxygen apparatus for pilots is not turned on till a height of 5,000 feet is reached, and then it makes the throat dry.” Dryness of throat still afflicts regular uses of pure oxygen to this day, it is regarded as better than the alternative of doing without oxygen.

No. 57 also used oxygen. Its squadron history records “In May 1917, the squadron began to convert to Rolls-Royce Eagle-engined DH4s and in June, on completion of its conversion training, moved up into the Ypres sector and started long-distance reconnaissance, bombing and photography. In July oxygen-breathing apparatus and negative-lens bombsights were fitted to all aircraft and thereafter both bombing and photography improved.”

It wasn’t only D.H.4s so equipped. No. 98 Squadron equipped with D.H.9s also used it to allow them to get above 18,000 feet and away from the German fighters. Lt Frederick Charles Wilton, DFC a Dh9 pilot with the squadron specifically mentions it in his letters back to South Africa before May 1918 An account of a bombing raid on Frankfurt by D.H.9 equipped No 110 squadron in Sept 1918 includes the following passages “The weather dawned fine on the morning of 25 September, and thirteen available crews from ‘B’ and ‘C’ Flights were called to undertake a previously ordered raid on Frankfurt. After standing around for some time while their aircraft were warmed up and bombs were loaded, the crews clambered in, started their engines and adjusted their oxygen masks. The latter would be required later, because of the great altitude that the bomber formation flew at.”

“At 16000 feet the pilots turned on their aircraft’s oxygen supply, and shortly afterwards the formation were met by an accurate anti-aircraft barrage as they crossed into German territory just west of Blâmont.”

So we have at least six British bomber and recce squadrons between the first part of 1917 and the end of the war regularly using oxygen for operational missions. The demand for oxygen was growing. As Cross and Cockade describe “with the introduction of higher performance aircraft from 1917 onwards an increasing amount of compressed breathing oxygen was required – ultimately reaching 25,000 cubic ft per day. The installation of an electrolytic plant at Arques addressed this need – as well as allowing a further increase in hydrogen production.”

So much for the bombers and reconnaissance aircraft but what of the fighters?

The fighters – slow progress.

The first recorded use of oxygen in a British fighter was in early 1917 when Roderic Dallas took a Sopwith Triplane equipped with an oxygen system up over 20,000 ft (and suffered from oxygen intoxication as a result). However thereafter little was done in part at least because of resistance from the pilots themselves. Reasons appear to include:

  • A feeling amongst some pilots that oxygen was a soft option
  • Worries about exploding oxygen tanks (after ground trials firing on one)
  • Lack of adequate capacity in tanks small enough to fit in the cockpit
  • The quality of the oxygen available (bomber pilots reported that it had an unpleasant oily taste).

However the senior command eventually decided that oxygen was a necessity for fighters if high altitude German aircraft were to be dealt with. The official specification for the Sopwith Snipe included provision for both oxygen and voice wireless. A new oxygen mask incorporating a microphone and intended for use in conjunction with a headphone fitted flying helmet was issued (it’s shown in the diagram included in a couple of earlier posts). Instructions as to its use were included in AMWO 726 put out in July 1918. Oxygen equipped Snipe were reaching operational squadrons before the end of the war.

The A.l(a) Specification drawn up by the Air Board in 1917 was for a fighter equipped with oxygen and capable of operating at high altitude. Three aircraft manufactures responded with the BAT Bantam, the Sopwith Snail and the Westland Wagtail of which a number of prototypes of each were delivered. Unfortunately the specification also included the ABC Wasp radial engine which contained serious design flaws. By the time this was realised and alternative engines found the war had ended and production was cancelled.

It was also determined that the operational ceiling of the Bristol Fighter could be almost doubled by providing the crew with oxygen and this was done in some cases before the end of the War (The Australian squadrons possibly leading the way).

However it must be said that the fighters lagged well behind the bombers in the use of oxygen and this continued well after 1918. It wasn’t until the introduction of the Hawker Fury that its use in a British fighter became commonplace.

Some technical and production matters.

The use of compressed gaseous oxygen is best done with a face mask and a regulator. It is possible to use it with just a tube and a trickle of gas (as with nose tube in modern medicine) but for normal breathing this is less than optimal. Unless there is some mechanism to control it a pressure based system (such as one gets with compressed gas) delivers whether the user is inhaling (and needs it) or exhaling (and doesn’t) so that half the oxygen is wasted. The two British systems in use in WW1 incorporated masks with regulators. The basic liquid oxygen system (used by the Germans) which uses gas boiling off the liquid relies on the user sucking in the oxygen, as and when they need it, through a pipe stem.

Two systems were used by British aircrew. The first introduced was the Haldane designed system built by Seibe Gorman and this was followed by the Dreyer designed system built by the De Lestang Company in Paris. Haldane’s design used a bladder as a regulator much as was used by anaesthetists for many years. This delivered a lungful to a user when he inhaled and filled up when he was exhaling. However the amount of gas a bladder would hold will vary with altitude and the Haldane design required constant manual adjustment. The mask was a cone of rubberised fabric with vents on the side to allow the release of exhaled air. When installed on a D.H.4 gas cylinders were fitted under the fuselage and served both the pilot and observer. The Haldane system had no easily observable indication that it was still delivering oxygen and this resulted in many cases of aircrew reporting failure even when it was working correctly. There also appear to have been problems with the pipes to the cylinders unless care was taken in their installation and maintenance.

The Dreyer system used a barometrically controlled regulator and had both a flow indicator and an oxygen remaining gauge. There was a separate cylinder for pilot and observer thus simplifying the tubing.

Britain and France decided to standardise on the Dreyer System sometime in mid 1917 as did the Americans a little later. However the design was difficult to mass produce and De Lestang experienced difficulty in meeting demand. This may explain why both systems remained in use up to the end of the war. The Americans decided to reengineer the Dreyer system for mass production but were only beginning to produce the modified version in any quantity by the last months of the war. With the availability of a mass produced version it would have replaced the Haldane system.

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RobL

Many thanks Centurion - i'll try and post up my quotes regarding oxygen on Bomber/Recce ops later (found a couple of new ones in the past week too)

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RobL

Some references i've typed up this afternoon;

From ‘The Chronicles of 55 Squadron RFC and RAF in the Great War’

From section entitled July, 1917;

“Now that high-altitude solo reconnaissances were of frequent occurrence, oxygen breathing apparatus was fitted to machines, and, though opinions at the time as to the real usefulness of this additional “gadget”, it proved that ultimately the pilot and observer who dispensed with it felt the effects of altitude flying very much more than they who had consistently used it, and also that the former were liable to a sudden breakdown, possibly in the air.”

From Air Publication AP388, a post-WW1 book;

“Aero Oxygen Breathing Mask, Mark I (the mask shown in the drawing and photograph of the 27 Squadron DH4 crew) – the mask (now obsolete) is approximately conical in form (see Fig. 75), consisting of an outer surface of rubbered fabric lined with sheet rubber and edged with chenille and velvet; elastic straps are provided for retaining the mask in position on the face. A hemispherical aluminium cup, forming the apex of the mask, is provided with louvers for the admission and exhalation of air and a delivery tube for oxygen.

A strip of lead-tin alloy, covered with velvet or other approved material, is inserted on the inside of the top of the fabric mask to ensure a close fit over the nose.

The weight of the breathing mask, complete with 9 ft of flexible tube and two rubber connections, is 1 lb.”

From ‘British Air Forces 1914-1918 (2)’ from the Osprey Military Men-at-Arms series;

“The respiratory problem of breathing enough oxygen at altitude due to the decrease in atmospheric pressure was known before the First World War, but the effects of oxygen starvation were little understood. As the operational ceilings of aircraft rose the problem was soon encountered, though solutions for small scout aircraft were beyond the technology of the day. The first RFC oxygen equipment introduced in 1917 was designed by the Siebe-Gorman Company and designated the Aero Oxygen Breathing Mask Mk 1. It was a cone of rubberised fabric, sealed with an edge of chenille and velvet, and lined in sheet rubber with an aluminium cup at its apex. The cup was fitted with louvers and an inlet tube and the mask was retained by elastic straps round the head and from the bridge of the nose over the head. Oxygen from high-pressure cylinders flowed through a regulator by narrow bore rubber tubing. On de Havilland DH4 bombers the cylinders were carried beneath the fuselage.

Another mask, probably the one manufactured by the Dunhill flying clothing company, was issued with a radio telephony helmet. The latter, made in very dark brown leather, was fitted with lace-up telephone holders and attachment points for an oxygen mask, which was also made of leather, fur-lined and with an aluminium nose cup capable of being fitted with a microphone. This ensemble seems to be the equipment referred to in AMWO 726 of 25 July 1918 and was therefore definitely in use before the war ended. A very similar helmet, though usually fitted with a throat microphone, was used in large Handley Page V/1500 machines fitted with inter-communication facilities between the crew positions. These aircraft did not become operational during the war, however.”

From ‘Bomber Pilot 1916-1918’ by CPO Bartlett of 5N Squadron RNAS

Excerpt from March 19th, 1918;

“Anywhere there it is and we have a day off, thanks to the weather. After lunch the CO, Jobling and I drove into Amiens, stopping at Villers Brettoneux on the way to take particulars of 27 Squadron’s oxygen apparatus, which was explained to us by George Chester”. No mention is made again but then CPO Bartlett left 205 Squadron on 3rd April 1918

From ‘Airco – the Aircraft Manufacturing Company’ by Mick Davis;

Excerpt from the DH4 chapter and section ‘Service with the RNAS on the Channel Coast’;

“(Referring to 2N Squadron undertaking long reconnaissances) The DH4’s were modified accordingly. Photographic machines usually operated at altitudes of over 18,000ft (5,500m), at which heights oxygen equipment was a necessary fitting; this involved mounting an oxygen cylinder under the fuselage, with crews using simply, perforated rubber pipes to inhale an oxygen/air mixture.”

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scuber1122

Hi - I stumbled on this thread as I have an interest in LT Gerald William Phelps Riley - his papers are on FMP and under special qualifications it is noted that he 'invented the oxygen mask for high level flying'

I would be interested to know if he is the pilot wearing the mask in the two photos on this thread.

It appears that he re-joined the RAF in 1941 and his commission was 'terminated' in 1942. He is shown as MBE but I am struggling to find the LG entry.

regards Bob

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