Thursday, May 19, 2022

They Also Serve

WAAF radar operator Denise Miley plotting aircraft on a cathode ray tube in the Receiver Room at Bawdsey 'Chain Home' station,
May 1945.

Imperial War Museum
Flying Officer Reginald Morley was on his bicycle heading back to his station. He had spent an enjoyable evening with his WAAF¹ friend, Assistant Section Leader Janice Worthington. Their nights off had coincided so they had the rare chance to spend some time together.

He had met her a fortnight ago during a briefing where the pilots of Morley's squadron had had the chance to tour one of the Chain Home radar facilities, where Worthington worked. The two had hit it off and had become good friends. Morley worried that he was becoming far too attached to her. With the war and his being on ops nearly everyday, he didn't want to burden her with the thought of loss. He could tell she really cared about him.

Facing the Huns didn't bother him, hurting her in any way did. He needed to think this through carefully.

He arrived at the gate to his station to be greeted by the sentry with, "Weather's supposed to be good tomorrow Sir. The WingCo² wants everyone to get a good night's sleep, the mess is closed up tight, as is the Officer's Club.

"Right-o Corp, I'm off to bed anyway, sunrise isn't that far away."

Flieger Hans Decker was flying with the Gruppenkommandeur³ this morning, Oberstleutnant Erich Furtwängler. His regular pilot, Feldwebel Ernst Wolfram was in hospital, a nasty tear in his side which had taken multiple stitches to close. The doctors wanted him to rest for at least a couple of weeks.

Though nervous flying with a new pilot, Furtwängler was a superb "stick," he made the big Ju 87 dance. Decker thought that it made Wolfram seem almost ham-handed at the controls.

The target today were the strange aerials along the English coast. Intelligence reports varied as to what they were, the Geschwader's Ic was convinced that the aerials had something to do with the British early warning system, something he called Funkmessgerät⁴. Apparently one could detect large metal objects by bouncing radio beams off of them. To Decker it sounded like black magic.

"Janice?" Flight Lieutenant Bill Hansen spoke as he laid his hand on Worthington's shoulder.


"I'm going over to the mess hut, care for anything? A tin of biscuits perhaps, tea?" He had removed his hand from her shoulder, not wanting to give the much younger WAAF the wrong impression. Hansen was in his fifties and had been recalled to active service due to his experience in planning air operations in the Great War. He had wanted to be a pilot but his eyesight was bad enough to disqualify him.

Truth be told, he loved the task of determining the path and target of incoming raids. It was a game to him. Much more exciting than determining how many aircraft carrying how many bombs would be needed to destroy a target. Looking back on things, those raids were pinpricks compared to the tempo of operations in modern war.

"Biscuits would be nice Sir, a cuppa perhaps?"

"Ladies, anything for you?" Hansen asked the other women in the Receiving Room, most of whom had just come on duty.

No one wanted anything so he moved off. Stepping outside he couldn't help but notice what a glorious day it was. The sun was coming up, seeming to rise from the waters of the Channel and lighting the sky with a glorious rose-like hue on what few clouds there were in the sky.

As he took a deep breath and sighed at the simple pleasures of life, he turned to head to the mess hut. A voice from the door to the hut containing the Receiving Room stopped him dead in his tracks. "Better come back in, Sir. Looks like a big raid forming up over the Cotentin."

Sighing once more, Hansen went back in, tea and biscuits would have to wait.

Oberstleutnant Furtwängler transmitted over the radio, "Coast in sight. All echelons get ready. Adler⁵ flight, clear?"

The commander of the Messerschmitt escort radioed back, "Sky is clear, no enemy in sight. Waidmanns Heil!⁶"

As the target, a group of huts near the base of one of the tall aerials slipped into the window of the floor of the aircraft, Furtwängler pushed the aircraft into a dive approaching ninety degrees. Decker felt as if he'd left his stomach at the altitude the Ju 87 had tipped over into its attack. But it was a thrill he never tired of.

Decker felt the aircraft lighten as its bombload was released, then he felt the crushing weight of gravity as they pulled out of their dive. He could barely hold his head up, he nearly died of fright as he saw one of the tall aerials pass close aboard. How on earth had the pilot missed that?

Morley had the gear up on his Hurricane nearly as quickly as they had left the ground. The warning of the raid had come in very late and his squadron was scrambling for altitude. The men knew that they were too late to stop the raid, but they could possibly catch the Germans on their trip home. A dead German was a German who couldn't bomb England again.

"Morbid thought for such a pretty day," Morley muttered aloud as he checked that his wingmen were still with him. They were, though young Hawkins was again having trouble keeping up.

"Blue Three, close it up laddie."


He was a good lad, but a very green pilot, this was his first op.

Hansen slowly regained consciousness, his head ached and his ears were ringing. One bomb had hit very close to the hut. He looked around, the Receiving Room was a shambles. He could hear someone crying dimly through the ringing in his ears, he also saw that at least two of the girls in the hut were on the floor, and not moving.

"Sir, sir, all you all right?" Hansen became aware of someone shaking him. He turned and looked into the eyes of Janice Worthington, her face was bloody and her uniform was torn.

He shook his head and immediately regretted it, "I'm fine Janice, I'm fine. Are we still on the air?"

"No sir, the generator room took a direct hit. We have no power at all, the screens are all dark and the phones are dead." Janice drew a sleeve over her face. "Sir."

"What is it Janice?" With the young woman's help, Hansen managed to regain his feet.

"Martha and Jane, Sir."

"What about them?"

"I think they're dead Sir."

"Damn it." was all he could say.

The Hurricanes arrived far too late to even intercept the raid as it moved away over the Channel. It was discovered later that an inexperienced controller had vectored the closest squadron in the air in the wrong direction, Morley's squadron was too late getting into the air to do anything at all.

As his element circled, he looked down and recognized the target. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as he realized that was Janice's station below. Three buildings were destroyed, a fourth, the mess hut he thought, was on fire. Dear Lord, he prayed that she was all right.

After the day's operations were complete, Morley received word that Janice's station was offline completely, for the moment there was a gap in coverage along their part of the coast. Orders were for them to take off before the sun rose and patrol that gap.

Word was also received that the station had suffered twelve dead and upwards of thirty wounded. No word on names though. Morley spent a very sleepless night, wondering. He resolved that, should Janice still live, he would tell her how he felt about her. Perhaps even ask her to marry, but he had to wait.

He had never prayed so hard in his life.

¹ In the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, an Assistant Section Leader is the equivalent of a Corporal. (More info here.)
² Short for Wing Commander.
³ Gruppenkommandeur is a Luftwaffe position (not rank), that is the equivalent of a commander of a group or wing in other air forces. A Gruppenkommandeur usually has the rank of Major or Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel), and commands a Gruppe, which is a sub-unit of a Geschwader. A Gruppe usually consists of three or four Staffeln (each of which is commanded by a Staffelkapitän). (Source)
⁴ Literally "radio meter," an older term for radar (German)
⁵ Eagle (German)
⁶ A traditional German hunting greeting, which hunters would say wishing each other luck in their search for game.


  1. Waidmanns Heil
    Wish for good hunting. :-)
    You make me smarter with each segment Sarge.

    A little romance in the plot, eh? In such violent times the passion of relationship with the fairer of the 2 genders is amplified by the desire to propagate the species can’t but be included.
    Then you tie in the geekness history of the first application of radar. Radio meter black magic indeed. Wars do catapult invention and technical advances.

    Which damage could be worse. The destruction of the tower or the outbuildings for control of the radio tower. Either way it’s a pity for the lassies “manning” the controls.


    1. The Germans didn't go after the huts where the equipment was located and where the people operating the system were as these were all above ground. The Germans didn't think that the British would be that stupid and assumed the important facilities were underground. But the British were indeed, not that smart in the matter of where the buildings were.

      Those aerials were nearly impossible to bring down.

    2. Okay, so experience is a teacher. Like the man is the head of the house and pedestrians have the right of way and both are safe as long as they don’t try and prove it.

      Franknbean the grasshopper

  2. A great many people will experience Total War soon and for the next four and a half years. You've got a good yarn going here Sarge.

    1. And things are going to go from bad to worse in that time.

  3. The RAF had truck mounted emergency RDF sets that could be brought in, and plugged into the antennas, until repairs could be made. But this is easy in the war, and they would be few and far between.

    1. Never enough to go around when you need them. But they were more prevalent than you might think, they had a bunch destroyed in France and a number of them were abandoned at Dunkirk,

    2. Holy cow! Coulda been a real find for the Luftwaffe.

    3. It was, but the German radar systems were already pretty good, those used in their Himmelbett (night fighter control) system were even better than the British system.

  4. Replies
    1. I didn't even notice that until you mentioned it.

  5. I have always been extremely impressed by the WAAFs that ran the Chain Home sets. They were using A scopes and they had to determine what was " grass ", and what was Jerry. ALL HAIL THE WAAFS, they did more than their share of saving the world!

  6. I know we haven't reached that part of the war yet, but I was pondering this.
    In the late Pacific, when raids were returning to the carriers, they would be met by " Tomcats ", fighters that would meet the returning raid, and deal with any " rats " trying to sneak in with the returnees. I know the RAF night bombers came home on their own, not in formations, but did the Eight send out Tomcats to check out returning formations?

    1. They did send out fresh escorts for returning bombing raids, especially early in the war before the P-51 was available in numbers.

  7. Closer to home for me Sarge. One of my Great Aunts was in the Women's Air Corp and another a Nurse (obviously later, of course). Nicest ladies you would ever meet. For my Great Aunt in the WAC, she apparently was a navigator (I had no idea until her funeral).

    And yes, we probably put off lots of things for the stupidest of reasons, potential embarrassment.

    1. I've always been a big believer in "strike now, while the iron is hot." Of course, I'm not easily embarrassed and have the social graces of a wart hog, so there's that ...

      But yes, you're right. Cool about your Great Aunt.

  8. A humanizing conundrum, Sarge; it's always the consideration in wartime; forego intimacy to "spare" someone or grab what you can as you may. Not easy decisions; but as VDH has written " Decisions in war are not between good and bad but between bad and worse".
    Boat Guy

  9. Race on the Edge of Time by David Fisher, is a good recounting of the Chain Home story, including Dowding's slip into madness, and the treachery of Leigh-Mallory.

    1. Leigh-Mallory (spit), what a thorough-going bastard.

  10. The other day I was thinking of Doolittle's raid early in the war (April 1942) on Japan, my understanding was it shook Japan. I wondered how we would have reacted to an air raid on NYC or LA.
    We were lucky here in the US, they war in England was real for everyone ....
    Good story once again!

    1. It shook the Japanese government, the people probably not as much. Göring was a bit stunned when the British bombed Berlin. Famous (and true) story of him saying, "If they ever bomb Berlin, you can call me Meyer." And yes, they did.

      The British were indeed on the front lines.

    2. Dad was Army-AirForce (MSGT?) then AF 1LT, lead the search - rescue - survive program in the Yukon/ NWT/ Alaska; Mom was USN (NOT the Waves!) LT (frocked as LTC) in charge of the LYNK training in Texas.

      "Do you know who I am, Missy?" the Admiral boiled at her, charging at her with his downcheck. "Yes, Sir. You're the Admiral who is 692 feet under water 283 miles from your destination. We'll open early for YOU tomorrow at 0530 so you can show us you do know how to fly and navigate by noon and then catch up with those who can. I suggest you avoid the O-Club tonight and skip breakfast, SIR!"

      He ate breakfast. Messy decision. Passed, barely.

    3. Link trainers provided an inestimable advantage to our pilots. Good on "Missy" for standing her ground and adhewing to standards.
      Boat Guy

    4. When I was a kid, there were several strange men who stopped by to visit Mom (and Dad); they were Navy aviators who told stories of their being "lost in the clouds" and hearing her voice in their mind guiding them to safety then, just as she had in their training. Some of my earliest memories.

  11. I remember a similar scene from "The Battle of Britain" movie. Southern England was pretty much "All In". As pretty much all of Germany would be in a relatively short time. Still liking the story, Sarge. Keep it up.

  12. Crusty Old TV Tech here. Excellent next chapter. CHAIN HOME, Low and High. The first early warning radar system IIRC, and it did its job despite the limitations of the 1930's technology available to the Brits. Stone knives and bearskins indeed. Mondschein Sonate and Knickebein next.

    1. The early tech was primitive, but effective.

    2. As others said that did remind me of the scene in battle of Britain. I’m trying to remember what the technology was called but I read the excellent book on Churchill by Eric Larson during the first year of his office PM.

      The Germans had some kind of beam that always took them right to the target in Britain and it took the British quite a while to figure out what it was.

      I think after the battle of Britain the Stukas didn’t last too long did they? They were easy prey for the fighters

    3. The Stukas were withdrawn from the Battle shortly after the Kanalkampf but they soldiered on until the end of the war in the East.

    4. Crusty Old TV Tech here. The first system was Knickebein (Croocked Leg), and operated around 30 MHz. The second was X-Gerat, then followed by Y-Gerat (clever naming, eh?). The whole thing was retrospectively called the Battle of the Beams. We studied it a bit at Keesler AFB Comm school, at least when I was there in the early 80's.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.