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Herbert Hall
 
 

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Employment

A personal memoir of the Second World War

By Herbert (Henry) P. Hall

(Continued - 3)

It was while I was at Dover that Hitler started the invasion of the Low Countries and the real fighting war on land for the Allies commenced. However, I was posted away from Dover just before the retreat from Dunkirk so I missed seeing much of the rescue operation of the Allied Armies by the fleets of small boats about which there are many tales written. I was also pleased not to be at Dover later that year when the Germans installed their long range runs and lobbed shells periodically on to all the Dover defences.

By this time I had been progressively promoted through the lower ranks of the RAF and after a week' s additional technical training at the Radio School at Yatesbury, it was with Corporal's stripes that I was sent on 28 May 1940 to the radar station at Worth Matravers, near Swanage on the Dorset coast. Here living conditions were more comfortable and instead of the rather sparse wooden barrack rooms of Dover, I like others of our unit was billeted at Swanage in private hotels, where in more peaceful days holiday makers were accommodated during the season. There were still a few people holidaying but movements were progressively restricted and beaches put out of bounds because of the barbed wire barriers and land minefields rapidly being extended around the English coast as a defence against the possibility of invasion by the Germans.

Worth Matravers radar station was also sited on high ground in order to increase the effective range and it was common for the operators there to monitor the movements of the German bombers taking off from their bases on the Cherbourg peninsular exactly due south from us, form up into their groups and head towards their targets in Britain. We were able to give accurate plotting information to the sector and group command centres which scrambled the necessary RAF fighters and have them deployed in just the right place for successful interception. Thus it was possible for the RAF to muster its limited defence capacity to meet the German onslaught effectively, and to eventually win the Battle of Britain during those summer months of 1940. Many were the times I used to watch the aerial battles raging overhead as the German aircraft tried to penetrate our defences.

Of course it was not long before the enemy realised the significance of the clusters of radio masts all along the coast and they started to bomb these too. At Worth Matravers we had a few half-hearted attacks but little or no damage was done to either our equipment or that of several other stations on the south coast. Standby equipments of all types were kept in active reserve, and the buildings themselves were heavily constructed of reinforced concrete and additionally protected by sandbag roofs and walls against such an eventuality. The main damage was to the masts and towers supporting the aerial systems, but they too had been so well designed and built that only direct hits would put them completely out of action.

By the end of October the Germans realised the expense of daylight bombing raids and switched to night attacks, and they devised some very clever and sophisticated navigational radio systems to enable them to bomb their targets with considerable accuracy until British scientists evolved ways of jamming their radio signals and even misdirecting them!

In November I again received my marching orders and with promotion to Sergeant I was now senior wireless mechanic of a new small radar unit no.265 M.R.U. which was to become one of the first mobile, or transportable radar stations to be devised. Three such units were being assembled at a factory in South London, and I and my companion mechanics spent about three weeks learning how the equipment worked and was put together. We were told we were to go overseas but the destination was secret. We had a pretty good idea where we would be heading when we were given yellow fever inoculations as this disease was only endemic in West Africa. And so it turned out, and our destination of Freetown in the colony of Sierra Leone was confirmed once we were at sea in one of those huge convoys organised in those latter days of 1940. Ours was code named WS.5A.

My unit, together with many other thousands servicemen spent Christmas somewhere in the cold North Atlantic, and the early morning seasonal excitement was considerably enhanced when our convoy was attached by a German naval battle group headed by the cruiser "Hipper".


 

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ęCopyright 2000 - 2002 Dick Barrett

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