Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Down the Boozer

Bomber Command's war was an odd one. During the Second World War it was more a battle of electronics and counter measures than of guns and performance. The British bombers flew at night simply because it was hard to find them, yet if the Germans used electronics to find the bombers they could attack and were likely to succeed in shooting down the target. So the Germans used radar to find their targets. But radar would turn out to be a double-edged sword. There was one problem with the state of electronic warfare of the age, how do you find out what frequencies the enemy are using?

Well the RAF hatched a cunning plan. A lone Wellington bomber would fly about above Germany, waiting to be attacked, and when she was attacked, this Wellington could simply record the frequencies used, and the British would have learned a vital piece of information they could use as a weapon. There was of course the slight problem with the Wellington surviving.
Nevertheless, on 2nd of December 1942, a Wellington Ic, serial DV819, aircraft registration DT-G, took off from Grandsen Lodge airfield to join in the bomber stream that was heading towards Frankfurt. On board was not the usual payload of bombs, but Pilot Officer Harold Graham Jordan, and his specialist electronic equipment for picking up radar signals. The idea was that the plane should operate from the coast of France to near Frankfurt. This was the 18th time this mission had been flown, all previous missions had not yielded the results needed. At about 0430 as she neared Mainz DV819 separated from the bomber stream and began to head north, at 14000 feet, trying to bait an enemy night fighter into attacking her.

Less than a minute later PO Jordan's equipment began to flicker into life, with a very faint signal. PO Jordan announced over the intercom that these seemed likely to be the signals that were to be investigated, and that the crew should expect a night fighter attack.
 Imagine that warning, you are very much on your own, over Germany, in the pitch dark, and you've been warned that at any second an enemy fighter will come steaming out of the darkness illuminated by its cannons blazing, which would result in your death. The impact of enemy fire is likely to be your first warning as well.
Minutes later, as PO Jordan stared at his equipment the signal strength began to grow, and became stronger indicating that the enemy fighter was closing. All PO Jordan was able to do was issue the same warning again.

Getting the information back to base was critical, so a coded signal stating what the frequency of the enemy airborne radar probably was, was prepared to be sent. Hopefully it would reach England. But transmitting over enemy territory would defiantly give one's position away, even if the night fighter had not detected them. But they transmitted the message anyway.

At about 0442 DV819 changed course again, heading for home. By this point PO Jordan's receiving equipment was being overwhelmed with the signals from the enemy radar. This meant without a doubt that the transmitter was very very close. PO Jordan issued his warning that an attack could come at any second. Before he finished speaking the German cannon shells ripped into the fuselage, the first rounds hitting PO Jordan. The rear gunner saw a Ju 88 hurtle past and began to give warnings of its approach, this allowed the pilot (Pilot Officer Paulton) to throw the bomber in to corkscrew turns to avoid the attacks. The gunner also brought his turret into play and began to fire back. After about 1000 rounds the turret was hit, rendering it useless and the gunner was wounded in the shoulder.

In the centre of DV819, PO Jordan was in pain after being hit in the arm, despite this he transmitted a message to base confirming the previously suspected frequency as being the correct one. Despite his wounds he continued to take readings of various aspects of the signal, noting them down and working his equipment. As he studied his equipment PO Jordan realised he was able to tell which side the enemy fighter was on, and so began to relay this information to the pilot allowing him to make the correct manoeuvres to avoid the German. He continued to do this even after another pass from the German hit him in the jaw.

Then the front turret gunner (named Grant, however his rank is not given) was hit and wounded. The wireless operator went to free him from the turret, but as he moved forward a cannon shell exploded between his legs, which badly wounded him, he managed to get back to his duty station however. Jordan was hit for a third time, this time in the eyes. Now blinded he was unable to operate his equipment. He had no intercom, as it had been blasted by enemy fire, so couldn't call for help. He groped and scrambled forward where he found PO Barry, the navigator, and led him back to the electronic equipment. There he tried to give him a cash course on how to operate the vital electronics, all the while under enemy fire, in a severely damaged bomber with no means of defence.
To give you an idea of how badly damaged DV819 was, one engine was set at maximum boost power, while the other engine had no throttle. Both engines were spluttering and running irregularly.  The starboard control surfaces were jammed, she was leaking fuel and both hydraulics and instrumentation such as the air speed indicator were not working. 

PO Barry was unable to grasp the advanced electronics and PO Jordan had to give up his attempt to get him to work it. By now the Wellington had been in so many corkscrew manoeuvres to avoid the attacker they had dropped down to just 500 feet. Luckily at this point the Ju 88 gave up its attack. 

Slowly DV819 climbed, managing to stagger up to 5000 feet. Meanwhile the wounded wireless operator continued to continuously transmit his signal of what the frequency was, as he had not received the acknowledgement. At last at 0505 the acknowledgement arrived and the plane could fall silent. On her current course DV819 would come close to Dunkirk, and she had to fly low to avoid enemy searchlights. Over the channel she flew higher again. After reaching England PO Paulton announced that they had no chance of landing so would await daylight and then ditch the aircraft. He offered to let anybody who so wished to bail out first. The wireless operator who realised his leg wounds would prevent him from swimming and evacuating a sinking aircraft opted to jump. He was given all of PO Jordan's log books, containing their vital recordings and jumped out near Ramsgate, making a safe landing where he and his papers were recovered safely. 
DV819 ditched off the coast at Deal, as the crew began to scramble out their automatic life raft inflated, however it had been shot full of holes. The crew desperately tried to pinch the holes closed but it was futile, and the wounded crew scrambled off the sinking life raft and back onto the bomber. Some five minutes later a rowing boat approached and rescued them. 

The information recovered from this sortie allowed the RAF to develop a device called BOOZER (boozer being slang for a pub). In its first version (Mk.I, sometimes called Yellow BOOZER) it warned the pilot if their plane was being painted by night fighter radars, and lit up a small yellow lamp. The idea was the pilot would then fly away from the signal. However, it never worked properly, due to various faults and was often turned off.
The captured Ju88, note the British markings.
In May 1943 a Ju 88 night fighter was tasked with intercepting the usual BOAC flight to Sweden (flown by Mosquito's in civilian liveries because a military aircraft would be naughty and violate Sweden's neutrality). Of the three crew two were ardent anti-Nazi's and they decided to defect. They reported an engine fire, flew low to the sea and dropped three life rafts to give the impression the plane had crashed. One of the crew had to hold the third prisoner at gunpoint as he wasn't in on this defection attempt.
Yellow BOOZER display.
As the Ju 88 approached England two Spitfires flown by an American (Flt Arthur Ford) and a Canadian (Sgt B Scamen), were vectored in for the intercept. As they approached the Ju 88 dropped its landing gear, waggled its wings and fired off flares. From there it was escorted to Dyce airfield. This aircraft is the one currently stored at the RAF Museum in Cosford. With this aircraft and its all-important radar, the flaws of Yellow BOOZER were discovered. This lead to a Mk.III version of BOOZER, also known as Red BOOZER. It retained a now working yellow lamp warning for air intercept radars, but also included a red one that would warn if ground radar picked up the plane. A dull red glow for fighter control radar and a bright red one for flak control radar. BOOZER seems to have been used throughout the rest of the war.

Image credits:
www.hinckleypastpresent.org, www.theworldwars.net and spitfirespares.co.uk