Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Significant Milestone Achieved - Sincere Gratitude to the Readers of the Arnhem Jim Blog

I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the readers of the Arnhem Jim blog, both long-term established and new alike. In March of 2011 my oldest son suggested that I initiate a blog page in order to convey some of my interests in military history, unique personal experiences, and, most importantly as a way of keeping the dendrites actively engaged. The results, given the nature of the subject matter presented, were not anticipated.

My objectives were to keep the content as apolitical and non-controversial as possible (single exception being the planning/execution of Operation Market Garden), to operate on a completely non-profit basis (since recently modified due to need to assist older family member), fully acknowledge information/imagery sources, and to try and present extremely esoteric subject matter in an interesting, reasonably professional multi-media format. Obviously, all within the limited confines of my own technical knowledge and capabilities, albeit my skill sets have increased (another personal benefit).

The blog recently has achieved a significant goal, that being over a half a million hits in a six-year span, but even more importantly that interest has come from all 50 of the United States of America, and 192 (now up to 195) other nations and autonomous governing entities, all over the world. Although not a totally coincident set, it is curious to note that there are 193 member states currently seated in the United Nations. It is generally accepted that there are 196 acknowledged nations in the world. It has proven to be a major geography lesson.

As has been previously mentioned in other pages of this blog I am particularly appreciative of the 66 readers who have taken the time and effort to officially register as “Followers” of the blog. Although it has become increasing challenging to develop subject matter for new articles, I will strive to maintain material of continuing unique character and interest to the reader. Anyone who would like more information on a given subject, or even a totally new subject, please don't hesitate to leave a note in the "Comments" window of any page. Once again, my most gracious and sincere thanks to all of you.

Slàinte Mhòr! Slàinte! (Gaelic for Great good health! Health! A traditional Scottish toast)
Arnhem Jim 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Forgotten at Market Garden - RAF Fighter Control Officers and Radar Operators - Arnhem 1944

The last thing this author wants to do is detract or diminish from the extended and in-depth research that has been conducted by the members of the Association of RAF Fighter Control Officers. But I would like to acknowledge their efforts, and provide increased visibility to military historians, and others who may be interested, in one of the most obscure and unrecognized pair of units which fought and died during the Battle of Arnhem. I would further like to express gratitude for the use of their materials, with the hope that this extended exposure will in some small way expand the recognition these gallant men so richly deserve. In addition the advanced level of technology, and the technical skills involved, are intriguing for this period in history. Remember at the time we are still talking vacuum tubes (aka valves) as an essential component of electronics, and the cavity magnetron was the critical fundamental element of early radar systems.

I have personally studied the battle for over five decades, and have amassed an extensive library including not only reference books, but copies of original source documentation including operational orders, cargo lists, and after-action reports. None of this information made mention of the units. It was not until last year that I came across a briefing paper on the units, and the role they played in the battle. The units are even more obscure than the ”Phantom” unit which operated during the battle.

Their official RAF designation was No. 6080 LWU (Light Warning Unit) and No. 6341 LWU. In the beginning of September 1944 they were transferred from No. 60 Group RAF to No. 38 Group RAF, with specific attachment to Headquarters, First Allied Airborne Corps. Their primary mission was to provide forward ground-based control of close tactical air support of RAF fighter and fighter bomber assets to the airborne troops once on the ground. Truly the first forward tactical air controllers

Quoting from an excerpt of  “The Arnhem Fighter Control Story”:

“The radar equipment selected for the operation was once again the Type 6 radar system. This highly mobile equipment could be housed in a tent or a van sized vehicle. It had a maximum range of 50 miles and was equipped with a range height display and a Plan Position Indicator (PPI) display that meant that it could be used to control fighter aircraft. It had been produced for two main purposes; first, to provide radar cover rapidly in situations where it was not possible to deploy the larger mobile long-range systems and, secondly, to provide low-level forward coverage for larger mobile radar units. Number 60 Group put in place a rapid programme of training and two Light Warning Units (LWU) designated Numbers 6341 and 6080 were formed under the command of Squadron Leaders Wheeler and Coxon respectively. Wing Commander Laurance Brown MBE was appointed as the force commander. Wing Commander Brown was a highly experienced radar officer and controller who had been in the thick of the action during the blitz as a GCI controller and took part in every major amphibious operation in the war including landing on Gold Beach on D day; he was mentioned in despatches three times."

Having been successfully employed at D-day, there was severe disappointment when at a meeting at Bentley Priory on 15 September 1944 they were advised by a “representative” (not further identified) of the First Allied Airborne Army that their services, providing transportable ground based radar, would not be required for the operation. Fortunately Wing Commander Brown was able to have a meeting with LtGen Frederick "Boy" Browning, OC 1st Allied Airborne Army the next day, 16 September, and in one of his sounder moments Browning reversed the decision. Although the precise timing is not known to this author, at some point intelligence was gained that the Luftwaffe had stationed Junkers Ju88C-6 "Owl" night fighters in the immediate Arnhem area (probably at Deelen airfield, north of Arnhem), certainly contributing to that decision.

Within an unbelievable short span of time unit personnel were able to modify and prepare their equipment as payloads distributed in four Airspeed AS51 Horsa gliders. Each unit was split into two loads which can be broadly categorized as the receiver and display equipment in one load and the transmitter and aerial in the other load; unit personnel were split between their two gliders.

In all fairness Appendix 9 of the definitive book Glider Pilots at Arnhem is the Air Load Manifest Operation MARKET- Second Lift. It lists No.s 6341 and 6080 Light Warning Units, RAF in Horsa Chalk No. 5000-5003 (four gliders), and shows gliders 5000 and 5003 aborted. To the best of this author's knowledge this is the only mention in any book of the existence of the unit and the fate of the gliders carrying their equipment.

Continuing from the “The Arnhem Fighter Control Story”:

“The first lift from Harwell on the 17th went well with 25 (Editorial note: actually 38) gliders assigned to transport the First Airborne Corps headquarters and Wing Commander Brown was on this lift. Brown's glider landed safely but he had apparently forgotten his sleeping bag and decided to retrieve it. On his way to do this the DZ was strafed by an Me 109 and Brown was hit. He died of his wounds on the 18th September and is buried in the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. Brown was arguably the most successful interception controller of the war.

As dawn broke on the 18th at RAF Harwell the airfield was covered in thick fog and nothing could move until late morning. Numbers 6080 and 6341 LWUs with a total of five officers including a USAAC 1st Lieutenant from the 9th Army Air Corps and 19 other ranks were to be carried in four Horsha gliders chalk marked 5000 to 5003. With sufficient visibility by 1200 hours the lift started and first combination airborne was chalk 5001 with Staff Sergeant John Kennedy as first pilot and Sergeant 'Wag' Watson as co-pilot. The 'tug' was a Stirling of Number 570 Squadron flown by Flying Officer Spafford RCAF. The formation join up was complicated and Spafford's combination being the first to take off had to fly straight ahead to allow other combinations from Harwell to formate. The Harwell formation then flew to a main rendezvous at which they joined the main attack force. The main formation comprised three streams of aircraft and gliders on the left of the formation and slightly lower flew combinations of Halifaxes towing Horsas, Halifaxes towing Hamilcars and some Dakotas not towing. To the right there were numerous Dakotas towing Wacos some of them actually towing two Waco gliders. In the centre stream in which the LWUs were flying there were Halifaxes towing Hamilcars and Stirlings towing Horsas. It was a truly impressive sight.

The Horsa chalk mark 5000 with Staff Sergeant 'Lofty' Cummins as pilot and Sgt McInnes as co-pilot was carrying personnel and half the equipment of 6080 LWU and took off at 1208 hours; as it approached the turning point at 's-Hertogenbosch for the approach to the LZ the combination experienced heavy Anti-Aircract (Ack Ack) fire. The towing aircraft, which was a Stirling LK121 of 570 Squadron and piloted by Flt Sergeant Culling, was hit. Culling advised Cummins that they would have to slow down but shortly thereafter the Stirling reared up and spun into the ground from 3000 feet killing all on board. Cummins showing great presence of mind managed to cut the towline and landed heavily near the village of Hemmen some seven miles from the LZ and the wrong side of the Neder Rijn river. It was a quiet area and they were quickly surrounded by Dutch patriots all speaking good English who told them they were in German occupied territory. The radar equipment was destroyed by gunfire. The glider pilots and 6080 LWU personnel then headed on foot for Divisional HQ led by a Dutchman on a bicycle. All but Cummins crossed the Rhine by the Friel-Hevesdorp ferry and reached Oosterbeek. Although it is not clear why Cummins tried to cross the Nijmegen Bridge - the glider landed north of the river Waal - he was shot dead by a sniper in attempting to do so.

Loaded into the Horsa chalk number 5001 were personnel from 6341 LWU and half the radar equipment. Known to be on board were Flight Lieutenant Richardson and six other ranks; it is also believed that Squadron Leader Wheeler, OC 6341 LWU, may have been on board although he does not seem to have taken part in the command decisions that followed the landing but he was certainly not aboard the other 6341 LWU glider as will be seen later.

Glider 5001 also experienced heavy ack-ack fire but Staff Sergeant Kennedy was released at the right point and after pulling off to port in a climbing turn made a good approach under machine gun fire and managed to land the glider as briefed running up to the hedge on the LZ.
A dangerous situation had developed to the southern end of LZ-X where a strong German force infiltrated between two of the Border Regiment companies defending the LZ and was able to direct machine gun and other fire at landing gliders.

Horsa glider 5002 piloted by Staff Sergeant 'Teddy' Edwards with Sergeant Ferguson as his co-pilot was carrying personnel and equipment of 6080 LWU and was towed by a Stirling from 295 Squadron. The combination reached the cast off point without damage but during the approach to their designated landing spot 5002 was subjected to the same heavy machine gun fire experienced by 5001 and was set on fire before it landed. Edwards warned everybody on board to disembark as quickly as possible on landing and 'hit the deck'. The only immediate cover on landing was a field of Brussels Sprouts which the men made good use of. Even so, the co-pilot Sergeant Bill 'Fergie' Ferguson was wounded when a bullet travelled the length of his spine opening the flesh but fortunately not seriously damaging the bone. The glider and its load were completely destroyed by fire.

By this time there was still no sign of either Horsas 5000 or 5003 on the LZ both of which were carrying identical loads. By deduction it would appear that both were carrying receiver and display equipment; this assumption is based upon the fact that there is a Type 6 transmitter antenna on display at the Oosterbeek Airborne Museum that most probably came from Horsa 5002. It would appear that Flight Lieutenant Richardson - recorded as the senior RAF officer present - decided that it would be impossible to field a serviceable radar and so he decided to destroy the equipment on Horsa 5001 which was accomplished by Sten gun fire and explosives.
Horsa 5003 piloted by Staff Sergeant Harris with Sergeant Bosley as his co-pilot was being towed by a Stirling from 295 Squadron piloted by Flight Lieutenant Kingdom. The load was most probably the receiver and display equipment for 6341 LWU and there were six personnel from the unit on board. The combination encountered the heavy flak in the 's-Hertogenbosch area that had, as recounted earlier, claimed Stirling LK121 and its entire crew and resulted in Horsa 5000 landing seven miles from of the LZ. Horsa 5003 was hit and it appears that its tail was completely shot away from which there was no hope of recovery. The Stirling managed to cut the tow and the glider crashed one kilometre south of the station at Opheusden along the road to Doodeward – all on board were killed. The senior officer on board was Flight Lieutenant Tisshaw with five other ranks.

With no chance of becoming operational it was now a case of survival. Personnel from both 5001 and 5002, in the company of some airborne troops, made their way to Oosterbeck. However, after coming under fire en route the party became scattered. Lieutenant Davis, a USAAC controller who had probably been on Horsa 5002, 'acquired' a jeep and after collecting as many LWU personnel as possible made a dash for the Divisional HQ which had been set up at the Hartenstien Hotel. He then set them to work digging in behind the hotel; their timing was good because no sooner had they achieved a reasonable level of protection than the Germans launched a very fierce and intense mortar attack. Radios were the Achilles heels of the operation and the LWUs had lost all of theirs. The army radios did not work and during the mortar attack the US air support team's radio jeep, which was on loan to the Division, was damaged. The Americans sought help from the RAF to repair their radios and LAC Roffer Eden, a 31-year-old Wireless Mechanic with 6080 LWU, set about trying to salvage something. Shortly thereafter another mortar salvo rained down and Eden had his jugular vein severed. Despite a valiant attempt by Davis to apply first aid, Eden died later. At about the same time an 88mm round burst about 25 yards away and Flight Sergeant Lievense RCAF, the senior radar engineer with 6080 LWU, was hit three times in the back by shrapnel and he died of his wounds on 22nd September 1944.

Keen to engage the enemy on his own terms, Davis sought permission to lead a patrol of the remaining airmen but this was refused because they were not infantry trained. He then set about getting the men to dig their holes much deeper. This was a very sensible measure considering the ferocity of the mortar bombardment that seemed endless. Corporal Austin who had landed in Horsa 5000 was hit in the head, back and buttocks and was taken to a hospital that was in German hands.

Clearly not one to take no for an answer, Davis, who had infantry training, was allowed to go on patrol and by all accounts he performed very well indeed. However, during a mortar attack he was wounded in the foot and was then restricted to manning a window in the Hartenstein hotel.

Leading Aircraftman Eric Samwells was a twenty one year old radar operator with 6341 LWU and it appears that somehow he went on a patrol from which he did not return.

The Retreat
By the 25th September the defended perimeter around Oosterbeek had shrunk and there were only some 700 yards of frontage on the river in British hands. The order was given for a general retreat and some 2000 men escaped across the Rhine that night. Amongst them were Squadron Leaders Coxon and Wheeler, Flight Lieutenant Richardson and the wounded Lieutenant Davis. Staff Sergeant Edwards, the pilot of Horsa chalk no 5002 and Sergeant Watson, the co-pilot of Horsa chalk no 5001, also escaped. 

Although the LWUs never made an operational contribution the lessons learnt were put to good effect. New air transportable systems were devised as follows:

       Type 6 Mark IX. This LWS was mounted in a four-wheel drive truck with a trailer which carried the communications equipment. It could be carried in a Hamilcar glider and could be brought into action in 30 minutes after landing. Four of these units were produced.

       Type 6 Mark VIII. This was a light warning set which used an antenna that produced a range not dissimilar to a larger mobile radar unit. It was equipped with GCI cabins for control. It took four Dakota aircraft to deploy it and it could not realistically be brought into action in under 24 hours.

       Type 65. This was the most novel of the three systems which was known as 'Dinner Wagon'. It comprised an LWS Type 6 and an American AN TPS 3 LWS mounted in a Horsa with a special operations room incorporating additional displays and equipment for linking in landlines and radio telephony equipments. The best-known time achieved to bring this system into action after landing was 8 minutes. Two systems were constructed.

The unit to man and operate these systems was formed under 60 Group and received technical training from this group and number 38 group provided operational training. The unit came under the operational control of the 6th Airborne Division (personnel wore the divisional badge on their shoulder) and was commanded by a Wing Commander with three operational squadrons each comprising four officers and 34 other ranks.

In many of the numerous books on Operation Market Garden including the book written by Major General Urquhart (GOC 1st Airborne Division) no reference is made to the mobile radar force as part of the Order of Battle. Whilst RAF and Army Air Corps history rightly makes much of the truly valiant efforts of those transport, glider tug crews and gliders who delivered troops, supplies and gliders to Arnhem, they make no similar effort to honour the role of the airmen who landed to perform a vital air surveillance and control role and ultimately had to fight for survival alongside the airborne forces. They paid a very heavy price.

During World War two the Air Ministry actively discouraged the 'Ace' culture. However, the public liked heroes and battles in the air, and the Battle of Britain especially provided a body of such men and the RAF policy became more honoured in the breach than the observance.

However, radar and, more importantly, the role of the various RAF radar units was secret and the operational tasks undertaken by personnel from the Control and Reporting (C&R) (now the Aerospace Battle Management) organisation was subsumed within the Signals structure of the RAF. All this, coupled with the passage of time which buries so much, played against the operational achievements and contribution to victory of the C&R organisation being properly recognized and honoured and it also played against officers like Wing Commander Brown being recognized as 'Aces' in their own right. There are so many other controllers, operators, engineers and maintenance personnel who will never be recognised for what they did but bringing a fresh perspective of the achievements of the C&R organisation and rescuing the stories like Arnhem from the outer margins of history will, hopefully, go some way towards redressing matters. The fate of the LWU force personnel that were sent into Arnhem is known and it is summarised below.”

(Editorial note: There is a typographical error; the right hand column reading 6080 Light Warning Unit, should read 6341 Light Warning Unit.)

Again, it is with full recognition and sincerely expressed gratitude to the Association of RAF Fighter Control Officers, and their original pioneers, that this obscure corner of history can be told.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

An Abridged Field Guide to Regimental Ties - An Endangered Species

Having witnessed the rapid and broad demise of the custom of wearing of ties both in the United States, as well as abroad (the exception appearing to be news and sports broadcasters), this “curmudgeon” thought an article on the endangered species of British Regimental ties (at least here in the “colonies”) might prove both interesting and worthy of historical note as a future archive.

With full acknowledgement and gratitude to Simona Riva, here is an excerpt from a brief article she has written relating the evolution of the Regimental Tie:

                 “The striped tie enters the male wardrobe in the ‘20s, it was an immediate success as it introduced an idea of simplicity and naturalness: the stripes aren’t drawn but woven with different coloured threads. The stripes have an inclination of 45° exactly as the reverse of the jacket.

            In Britain, however, the striped tie has a particular story: here the regimental tie was born, precisely in the military environment in which each regiment had a specific tie and each brigade was represented by stripes of a certain color and width.

            In the time of peace people continued wearing their regiment tie and this tradition made British elegance famous in the world.

            In 1919 the Prince of Wales, the future Duke of Windsor (An editorial note: Also as Edward VIII, the King of Great Britain and the Commonwealth for about a year before abdicating), made his first official trip to the US and on that occasion wore a tie with red and blue stripes belonging to the Grenadier Guards, the regiment in which he served during the war. Immediately American journalists noticed him and the fashion of regimental ties exploded.

            Actually the stripes mean the membership not just of military regiments but also to prestigious clubs or colleges and universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. Wearing a tie with the colors of an institution to which you do not belong is still considered offensive and means bad manners in Britain.

            A feature to distinguish American ties (Repp stripe ties) from English ones (British  regimental ties) is the orientation of the stripes : as you can see from the image above, the original British regimental draw the stripes from left to right, unlike the American ones in which the lines descend from right to left. (An editorial observation, this is not universally true, as can be seen from the charts below.)

            By tradition it’s said that American people wanted to enjoy this accessory without offending English gentlemen and didn’t want to be accused of being rude; but there is another explanation: Americans craftsmen cut ties putting the right side of the fabric on the work surface and the reverse side facing towards them, in contrast to the usual practice, thus obtaining a tie with the rows oriented in the opposite direction.

            The ties that we can buy in Italy as in the rest of Europe, while not corresponding to the membership of any club or regiment, however, require adherence to a few simple style rules.

            When wearing the regimental tie?

            Traditionally reserved for informal occasions, it is perfect at the weekend if you attend clubs or sports clubs, but it is also indicated during the week for business meetings. To avoid, with rare exceptions, at an elegant evening dinner and absolutely prohibited for ceremonies.”

Although not comprehensive the following series of charts (with both acknowledgement and gratitude to Stephen Allen Menswear) depict an array of some of the most common regimental ties.