Stories

On this page we publish interesting stories that we have gleaned from researching our historic archive.

THE BRUNEVAL RAID

In 1942 British Forces raided Bruneval in Northern France and captured parts of a radar installed there. They were evaluated at the Telecommunications Research Environment (TRE) on the South Coast and  we believe later brought to Malvern. MRATHS would like to locate these parts. Do you know where they are now? Bruneval Parts.

On 8th January 1942, the head of Combined Operations, Mountbatten, contacted Major General Boy Browning, commanding the Airborne Division, and Group Captain Sir Nigel Norman, commander of the newly formed troop carrying 38 Wing RAF. The training of troops and aircrews could be completed by the end of February, which coincided with the conditions necessary for the operation – a full moon for visibility and a rising tide to allow the landing craft to manoeuvre in shallow water. Possible dates were between the nights of 22nd/23rd and 25th/26th February or a delay of a month would be incurred. The weather precluded launching the raid on the scheduled dates and Operation BITING was dispatched on 27th/28th February, outside the optimum conditions, but delaying a month was unthinkable for security reasons.

BITING was a true combined operation, involving all three services. A company of parachute infantry was supplemented by a section of Royal Engineers, a RAF radar technician and a German speaking interpreter. They were dropped close to the Bruneval radar site by RAF Whitleys. Having seized the key components of the Würzburg, the raiders were evacuated from the beach at Bruneval by Royal Navy landing craft and returned to Britain aboard them and motor gun boats covered by French and British destroyers and RAF fighters.

The operation was planned by HQ Combined Operations. Command was delegated to CinC Portsmouth, Admiral Sir William Milbourne James. The components were commanded by:

  • Naval forces – Commander Frederick N Cook Royal Australian Navy.
  • Parachute landing force – Major John D Frost.
  • Air forces – Group Captain Sir Nigel Norman.

The forces involved were:

Naval

  • HMS Prins Albert (Lieutenant Commander H B Peate RNR) – mother ship carrying 8 landing craft.
  • 14th Flotilla (Lieutenant Commander W G Everett RN) – 5 Motor Gun Boats.
  • 12 Commando – 32 soldiers to provide covering fire from the landing craft during the evacuation.
  • Royal Army Medical Corps – officer and 20 soldiers to treat casualties on return.
  • Destroyers – 4 Free French and 2 British escorts.

Parachute Landing Force

  • C Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion supplemented with men from other companies and Battalion HQ.
  • Section, 1st Parachute Field Squadron RE.
  • RAF radar technician.
  • Interpreter.

Air Forces

  • 51 Squadron RAF (Wing Commander P C Pickard RAF)
  • 12 Whitley bombers as jump aircraft.

Bomber Command diversionary operations prior to raid. Special reconnaissance missions. Fighter Command diversionary mission during raid. Spitfire cover on return sea journey by 11 Group.
The dismantling party returned with the receiver, receiver amplifier, modulator (timing control), transmitter and antenna element. Only the display equipment (cathode ray tube) was left behind due to lack of time. R V Jones and his team spent an afternoon with a Luftwaffe radar operator prisoner, surrounded by the recovered equipment before it went for detailed technical examination. They learned the Freya warned the Würzburg by telephone to switch on and look on a particular bearing, as Würzburg could only scan an arc of 5 degrees. The Würzburg operator turned the dish with a handle and tilted it until maximum response from the target was gained. Range, bearing and altitude was passed to a plotting centre.

There were both system and technology implications from these parts. Don Preist in a letter to Bill Penley in November 2002 stated that after he had a look and “admired the German craftsmanship” they were taken to RAE at Farnborough where they identified a weakness in the design that enabled the RAF to jam the Wurzburg Radars in the Ruhr Valley.

The recovered parts may still be languishing in a dark corner of a laboratory somewhere in the UK and it would be great to find them.

There are details of some of the staff that participated in BITING.

Once the raid was completed it was not long before it was realised that the enemy could conduct a similar raid on the UK which had all its radar research in establishments on the South Coast. This initiated the move of TRE the radar research establishment to Malvern well any from any coast line.

TRE EVACUATED TO MALVERN COLLEGE

The TRE was relocated from Swanage to Malvern College on orders from the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, to allow classified research on Radar to continue undetected. The work undertaken at Malvern was top secret. Radar was being developed for use by all three armed forces during World War II and was a major factor in the Allies winning of the War.

Malvern College was relocated to Harrow School in London during this time. The irony of moving pupils to a more dangerous location was not lost on parents but the falling roll at Harrow (because of the danger the location presented) enabled them to offer Malvern College a very acceptable refuge. The pupils returned to a much changed town in 1946 after the war. 258 Old Malvernians were killed in World War II.

This period of scientific and technological innovation in Malvern has had a major impact on today’s technologies that are now commonly employed in both military and civilian systems. The list is long and includes: air traffic control, radar meteorology, radio astronomy and satellite communication.  Their technologies evidence discoveries in the science of new materials (this led to Liquid Crystal Displays, LCD), PIR sensors, X-Ray detectors in CAT scanners, and the growth of pure silicon used in semiconductor electronics and the Touch Screen is a development that arose through research in air traffic control systems. There was such a presence of highly qualified scientific and military personnel working in the town in the 1990s, that in Malvern there was believed to have been the greatest concentration of science PhDs in the UK, including at Oxford and Cambridge.

The Malvern area remains known for excellence in scientific research and now has a Science Park that encourages companies researching cybernetics to work here, in Malvern, in close proximity to QinetiQ and GCHQ. Malvern is also home to many successful spin-off companies arising from former government research.

[1] ‘Bruneval’. © Paul Oldfield. Pen and Sword 2013. ISBN 9781781590676 © Paul Oldfield

 

2 thoughts on “Stories

  1. Arthur Jarman

    I was wondering whether you could help me find out more about the role of the Malvern establishment in the events following the events in April of 1966 when a Yakovlev 28P crashed into Stösensee in the British sector of occupied Berlin. I was intrigued when I first came upon it in 2003 but it doesn’t seem to be of much interest elsewhere.

    In December 2003 the Telegraph and other newspapers carried the story about the crashed FIREBAR and the British efforts to gain key technical information about the engines and the radar it carried. These 2003 reports however, were different in many fundamental respects from the account in this month’s edition of “Aeroplane”. Which parts were taken to the UK rather than being examined in Germany? Did the examination really help in countering Soviet equipment?

    I think this is an archetypal story of the Cold War. It is interesting politically, technically, militarily, and historically and even socially. If you can help me in any way I should be most grateful.

    Reply
    1. Ron Henry

      Dear Mr Jarman

      Your email has remained unanswered because no MRATHS committee member had any knowledge whatsoever of what you wrote about. My eye has now fallen on it and I’m one of the very, very few surviving ex-RRE staff who was involved – albeit peripherally, in my case. I’ve always been aviation-fixated and have also been an ‘Aeroplane’ reader since Issue 1.

      I joined RRE in Sep 1960, aged 17 1/2, as a very junior member of the scientific staff. I spent a couple of fairly uninspiring yrs in Guided Weapons Dept and then got myself transferred to Airborne Radar Dept. My senior boss was Gerry Steer who had a team of about 8. He had joined the establishment during WW2 and was well known in the airborne interception radar (AI) world. In the mid-50s he had been the project officer on the AI MK 20 programme and had also overseen its adaptation into a tail warning radar when an improved TWR was needed for the Vulcan and Victor – hence the radar’s codename ‘Red Steer’. It went into the Mk 1As.

      ISTR that it was a Thursday or Friday when the Firebar went into the lake. At tea break Gerry said that he’d been told that he would be having a long working weekend in Berlin! On his return a few days later he told me and my contemporaray, Noel, that we would have to move, straightaway, out of our small lab-cum-office. Two or 3 not-very-large wooden packing cases very soon arrived and were taken into the room. From that time, it became a behind-closed-door operation/investigation on which I remember only 2 people working. One was a senior member of the team and the other was one of his contemporaries from a nearby team. There may have been occasional visitors from elsewhere in the dept and also from ‘outside’ – it’s all a long time ago. I’d be very surprised indeed if there weren’t some ‘voyeurs’ from RAF TechIntAir.

      I remember well the departure of the ‘loot’. It had been put back into the cases which were nailed closed and carried outside to a waiting RAF van which was crewed by two regular RAF policemen – both armed! Total overkill, I’ve always thought. Noel and I then got our room back. It was fairly untidy with a good deal of wood-straw packing material strewn about. Noel and I searched the room thoroughly to see if anything had been left behind. I found a short length of EHT (ie high voltage) cable, a valve base (I mean a radio valve of the glass tube type), a small, broken-off, piece of an aluminium casting, and some small lumps of dried Stosensee mud. I kept these items for many years. That was the end of the story. It was never jointly discussed by the team.

      R&D for airframes, engines and aircraft radios was assigned to RAE Farnborough and it’s my personal conviction that components from those Firebar systems would have been investigated there. Tech reports on all of the investigations would certainly have been written but were undoubtedly classified ‘Top Secret’ and are most unlikely ever to be released into the public domain (pd). I did come across published material which is likely to be floating around somewhere in the pd. You may know of the RAF flight safety magazine ‘Air Clues’? It used to be available at RRE. Sometime after the Berlin Wall had ‘fallen down’ I found an article, written by an ex-RAF Gatow guy, about the Firebar. I remember it included mention of Gerry Steer’s name. I did take a copy of it, but it’s disappeared – I must try to get another copy.

      You asked which parts were examined in UK rather than Germany, and did the examination really help in countering Soviet equipment? The a/c wreck temporarily became UK property by ending up in the Brit Sector, so it became ‘ours’ to investigate. I think that secure UK-owned facilities in West Germany to make a good scientific investigation and analysis of anything recovered would be nil. I can be fairly confident that it was parts of the -28Ps AI system which came to Malvern. Yes, in my opinion, it would have helped counter Soviet equipment.

      I don’t have the Aeroplane article to hand, but I remember that it did get one thing wrong by bringing Pershore airfield into its story. The two main RRE sites were located in Malvern; Pershore airfield, 22 miles away, was the Aircraft Department. Its functions were to support flight ops and maintenance and modification of RRE’s fleet of aircraft (40 a/c when it opened in Sep 1957, and less than 20 when it closed in 1977). Although there was a Radar Labs building at Pershore, it was mainly used by contractors’ teams and very little experimental work was done there. The Firebar parts certainly never went to the airfield.

      If you are interested in finding out what was achieved with RRE’s large fleet of Canberras, I can thoroughly recommend ‘Black Box Canberras’ by Dave Forster 😉

      Your sincerely

      Ron Henry

      Reply

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