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Early Centimetric Ground Radars - A Personal Reminiscence

The QO routine carried on throughout the Diver campaign, and was used as a time for the modifications to the IF bandwidth and the second detector diodes: it was of course even more important than usual that the stations were fully efficient, and that they were back on the air at 1800 hours. We were frantically busy for several months, and it was difficult to avoid the temptation to stay in the operations room until midnight or so to see any divers that might appear on the PPI. At a distance of nearly fifty years, only two incidents stand out in memory: as it happens, both were at Benacre, which, for several reasons, was my favourite station.

In the first case, we were doing a QO, including the IF modifications. We had managed to procure a spare IF chassis, modify it and pre-align it to the required bandwidth. It remained only to substitute this amplifier for the unmodified one from the station and complete the alignment with the head amplifier. Since the output stage of the head amplifier and the input stage of the main amplifier were interdependent, this could only be done with the two amplifiers connected together. At about 1600 hours, with only two hours to go to our deadline, in walked Wing Commander Scott-Taggart, the senior Technical Officer from Wing HO. Needless to say, I broke off from what I was doing, greeted him politely (even deferentially) and explained that, against a tight time-scale, we were engaged on the final alignment of the two amplifiers, having changed the station's amplifier for a modified and pre-aligned one. His only response was to demand to see the relevant Form 1497, on which any change or modification should have immediately been entered. Alas, we had neglected to make any entry, a cardinal sin in his eyes. I was duly reprimanded at some length, but finally allowed to get back to work: even a Wing Commander could see that there was still quite a lot to do, and only an hour or so left to do it in. By great good fortune, the Divers duly appeared soon after darkness, and Benacre reported them that night before any other station. This must have been a geographical accident, since Benacre, a long waveguide station, was intrinsically less powerful than its neighbours, as explained earlier. The Wing Commander was well pleased, and almost forgave us our trespasses over the Form 1497.

Certainly, to watch a Diver attack on a PPI was an unusual, not to say eerie, experience. One first saw a number of tracks, slow moving and at near-maximum range, perhaps 80 or 90 km. After 10km or so, each track split into two, of which the slower returned on a reciprocal course while the other continued on the same path, but now much more quickly. (The laden Heinkel bomber could only do about 250 km/h, whereas the V1 travelled at 500-600 km/h, that is, faster than most contemporary fighters). There was some discussion at the time as to whether the launch point was determined by the maximum range of the missile or by the fact that the enemy knew the extent of the radar cover and was determined not to encroach too far into it. (The range to central London from a launch point 80 km due East of Benacre is almost the same as that from the ground launchers in the Pas de Calais).

On another occasion, a battery of anti-aircraft guns, complete with its auto-tracking radar, was deployed in the field adjacent to the Benacre radar. Divers duly appeared, and were tracked as usual, except that now the plots were also passed directly to the adjacent battery. At first, it seemed that the missiles would pass directly overhead, and everyone who could be spared rushed outside to view the engagement. Alas, the PPI, on which the scale was 20cm to 100km, had misled us, and the Vls passed a couple of kilometres to the south. The guns did not fire, presumably because their radar, which had a 4o beamwidth and conical scanning(12), could not track at so low an angle. Only when the excitement had subsided did it occur to us to wonder what might have happened if the guns had achieved a hit at short range. The guns, and their crew, were protected by a sandbag wall and by steel helmets; by comparison, a Nissen hut seemed a rather fragile refuge.

There was one final twist to the Diver story. At Christmas, 1944, I was at Wing HO, now located at Boston Spa: it was my first Christmas spent in the RAE, since over the two previous Christmases I had been at Yatesbury, and had therefore been at home for the festival. On Christmas Day, according to protocol, the officers served dinner to the other ranks: my task, as it turned out, was to serve the waitresses from the Officer's Mess. They could not refrain, in the spirit of the day, from a good deal of comment and advice on my deficiencies as a waiter.

Fortunately for the light-hearted tone of that meal, we did not know that on Christmas Eve, the enemy had air-launched fifty Vls, aimed, by their account, at Manchester. Only one of these landed within the city limits, six more within 15km and eleven more within 25 km. 28 people were killed and 38 badly injured in Oldham(14). The distance from Manchester to the east coast is about 160km, and these Vls must presumably have travelled about 200 km from launch, putting most of British industry within range. Again, there was a suspicion that the enemy knew that only centimetre stations could track their attacks and that there were few such stations in the north of England. In fact, between the Wash and the border, there were only five stations: at Skendleby (Lincolnshire), at Dimlington (Spurn Head), at Bempton (Flamborough Head) at Goldsborough (N. of Whitby) and Cleadon (S. Shields). I had worked on all these stations at one time or another, although less frequently than on the Suffolk and Norfolk stations.


 

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ęCopyright 2000 - 2002 Dick Barrett

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