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Closing the radar gap.

The RAF flew over 307,000 night sorties against Hitler during WWII and their encounters with the enemy in the hostile skies of Europe have become legend. While almost 8,000 crews were lost, most flew with a determination to avoid enemy fighters. But then there were a few crews like that of Ted Paulton of Windsor, Ontario, who flew out bombless each night trying to bait enemy night-fighters to attack their wayward Wellingtons.

Navigator Bill Barry remembers that enthusiasm ran high when the crew finished at an Operational Training Unit and the prospect of going on operations in a four-engined Halifax, Stirling or the new Lancaster loomed.


"Our hopes were shattered when we arrived at 1474 Flight, Gransden Lodge, Bedfordshire, to find only five Wellingtons," Barry said recently. The unit had six Wellingtons but one had been lost on operations a week earlier. "Another disconcerting bit of data gleaned from our observations was that there was no bomb dump," he added.

An interview with the Commanding Officer didn't help. They flew navigation and gunnery exercises but didn't have a clue as to the nature of their operations. When they asked other crews what it was all about, they got a shrug: "You'll know soon enough!"

Two weeks later, Paulton's crew were told they were going to Karlsruhe as part of a regular bombing operation. But instead of bombs, they carried a specially trained radar and radio technician who sat behind a lot of strange-looking telecommunications equipment which was installed on their Wellington. They were routed to Karlsruhe with the main bomber stream.


"It became clear that our task was the investigation of enemy radar and radio emissions over the target area," Barry said. "But the Special Operator did not enlighten us regarding what we hoped to receive or what we had received."

They did ten more ops with 1474 Flight -- then the only airborne unit doing radar and radio intelligence. Their flights took them to Bomber Command and Coastal Command targets as heavy secrecy hung over Gransden Lodge.

The war became an electronic chess game. According to Winston Churchill, by the end of 1942 the British knew how the German defence system worked and how to cope with it -- but a major gap existed in British knowledge of the Lichtenstein system used on night-fighters.

The RAF euphoria over the 1,000 aircraft raid on Cologne in May 1942, turned to bitterness and lowered morale as the enemy expanded its defence network and launched a new tactic. Freya radar stations picked up the bomber stream and then two Wurzburg stations came into play: one tracked a bomber -- usually a straggler -- while the other beamed a night-fighter onto it. The bombers were particularly vulnerable because the attacks, coming from below in cloud or darkness, were extremely difficult to spot. By late November 1942, the casualty rate was almost five per cent.

On one occasion, Ted Paulton's brother, a pilot with Coastal Command, visited Ted's station at Gransden Lodge and showed a curiosity in the five mysterious Wellingtons of the Radar Investigation Flight. When Al asked to visit his brother's aircraft, Ted waved him off, warning that: "If you're caught around that kite they'll probably shoot you!"


The Canadian crew included navigator Bill Barry of Delta, British Columbia; Wireless Air Gunner Bill Bigoray of Edmonton and gunners Ev Vachon of Quebec City and Fred Grant of Brockville, Ontario. After ten ops, P/O Harold Jorden was assigned as special operator and, on 2 December 1942, they were briefed for a raid on Frankfurt.

As if the ancient Wellington were not slow enough, Paulton's route was deliberately designed to make them fall behind the bomber stream. "This was to increase the likelihood of being attacked as soon as we left the main stream," Bill Barry explained. It worked!


Shortly after they left the bomber stream, Jordan monitored an enemy aircraft following them. The intercepted signals from the night-fighter told him it was transmitting on 492 megacycles and Bill Bigoray got the first message off to base.

"The Ju-88 closed in and opened his attack; Paulton threw the Wellington into violent evasive action. We lost the attacker momentarily but he was soon back with his cannon fire," Barry added.

As the aircraft plunged, Jordan yelled on the intercom for Bigoray to get off a second message. The special operator was hit in the left arm but continued to monitor the fighter whose second attack ripped the rear turret.

Ev Vachon was hit by shrapnel and the hydraulics which powered the turret were shot away. "I rotated the turret by hand and tried to keep the Ju-88 in sight. It was dive starboard go as we started down from 12,000 feet."


The Ju-88 shredded the Wimpy with another burst and this time Jordan was hit in the jaw. Bigoray continued to try to raise base until still another attack smashed the front turret. Grant was hit in the leg and trapped in a turret which wouldn't rotate. Bigoray started forward to help Grant. Jordan saw another attack coming from below on his screen and yelled for Paulton to dive. Part of the next burst hit Bigoray in the legs and, in the next attack, Jordan was hit in the eye.

Bill Barry pulled Grant from the useless turret while Vachon moved from the unserviceable rear turret to the astrodome where he opened a running commentary but was soon hit a second time. The attacks continued until the Wellington was down to 500 feet. Paulton managed to elude the Ju-88 by briefly turning back towards the target, but when Barry later gave him a course for home he knew he was flying a very fragile bird.

The pilot had no control over the engines because both throttles were either jammed or shot up. A hydraulic leak made turrets, flaps, brakes and undercarriage useless. Jordon had lost his right eye, Bigoray lost the use of both legs when a cannon shell exploded under his table, Vachon now had lost considerable blood from extensive shrapnel wounds and Grant had part of a cannon shell lodged in his leg.


By the time they reached the English coast, they had decided to ditch. But Bigoray didn't think he'd be able to abandon the ditched aircraft before it went under because he couldn't walk. He was pushed out over the water and his chute delivered him to Ramsgate.

At about 8 a.m. on 3 December, Frank Arnold and Roland Raines were paying out sprat nets off Kingsdown, England. About half a mile away a bomber crashed into the sea. The fishermen cast off the nets and raced towards the sinking bomber, not knowing whether it was British or German. Three of the crew were badly wounded and by the time they were all loaded into the little sprat boat it was floating at the gunwales.

In the hospital at Deal, Jordan asked Bill Barry to repeat the radar frequency and other characteristics of the night-fighter transmission three times. "Then he lost consciousness suddenly, as though it had been rehearsed," Barry today remembers.


The crew survived the mission although Jordan lost an eye and Bigoray was later killed. Jordan was awarded a DSO, Paulton and Barry were commissioned and given DFC's, Vachon and Bigoray were awarded the DFM, and Fred Grant was mentioned in dispatches.

Today, Bill Barry and Ev Vachon are the only survivors. It might be presumptuous to suggest that the information they brought back led to all future jamming devices, but it was a key element in broadening the information base. It was so important that the Prime Minister mentioned the operation in his memoir The Hinge of Fate.

Winston Churchill said, "On the night of 2 December 1942, an aircraft of 192 Squadron was presented as a decoy. It was attacked many times by an enemy night-fighter radiating the Lichtenstein transmissions. Nearly all the crew were hit. The special operator listening to the radiations was severely wounded in the head but continued to observe with accuracy. The wireless operator, though badly injured, was parachuted out of the aircraft over Ramsgate and survived with the precious observations. The rest of the crew flew the plane out to sea and alighted on the water because the machine was too badly damaged to land on an airfield. They were rescued by a boat from Deal.

The gap in our knowledge of the German night defences was closed."
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Author:Shannon, Norman
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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