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.


Jimmy E said...

In the book Tugs and gliders to Arnhem published by Dutchman Arie-Jan van Hees (2002). There is a part about The RAF light Warning units p142-148 part of it accounts of the glider pilots Sgt Morris Herridge who landed in Groesbeek relating how he heard that Wing commander Brown was killed. S/Sgt Edwards pilot of C/N 5002, S/Sgt John Kennedy pilot glider 5001. Als a photo of glider 5000 (I have an other photo of this glider taken by Dutch) after landing near Hemmen. Two other glider landed near. Lt Davis was passenger of 5000 together with Sqdr Ldr Coxon and 4 RAF men. He ordered,cpl Austin to take care of the destruction of the equiptment. The crew and passengers of the 3 glider came together with aid of the resistance, went to Driel ferry. One of the, english speaking, Dutch guides mentions in about 17 soldiers, 2 motorcycles 2 little battle cars (never seen jeeps before) with trailers. They captured near Driel some German (Polish conscripted) soldiers. These were locked up in a jail in Driel (later these soldiers met the Polish paratroopers and seemed to have joined the allied Polish armed forces, not unusual several Polish paratroopers had served with the Germans in N-Africa))Non of the equiptment displayed in the Hartenstein museum comes from the battle. Big part came from Britain after the war and antenna part was found in storage in the Dutch army museum. There is no information how it ended up there. The Dutch did not used this after the war. There was also a article written for the sociaty friends of the airborne museum. An article about the 3 pre-maturely landed gliders with quotes from Lt Davis and Coxton's after action reports. An article about the RAF light warning units. And an article about the book Tugs and gliders to Arnhem. S/Sgt Cummings crossed the rhine with the others. He got killed /died on 22 of september his field grave front of Hotel Tafelberg Oosterbeek.

Jimmy E said...

I found in volume 1 of The after the battle Operation Market-Garden then and now (After the battle magazine publication)at page 315 there are 2 photographs of glider 5000 after landing between Zetten and Indoornik. According to the book the glider pilots were S/Sgt Bernard Cumminsand Sgt Jim McInnes A-sqdr.Radar team passengers Sdr Ldr H Coxon, Sgt Lievense,Cpl A. Austin, LAC men RJ Eden and D Foster of no 6080Unit,American Lt Bruce E Davis US 306th Fighter control squadron. chalk no5003 was hit by FLAKand crashed south of Opheasden,killing everyone aboard. Chalk No 5002 was hit by incendiary fire as it landed on LZ'X'and although the occupants managed to get out, it burned out completely.Chalk No 5001 landed safely.....finding no one to help.. the crew destroyed the now-useless load with an axe and by placing explosive charges among it.

Arnhemjim said...

Hello Jimmy E.,
Good to hear from you again in your past two recent posts. Hope you enjoyed a Great Christmas, and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year. Sincere thanks once again for your amplifying and enlighting research, that's what I hoped this blog would be all about. Only wish that there could be more participants as knowledgeable and interested as you are. Have reached the point where my 'polder-lands' of information are about drained, so your contributions are greatly appreciated.

Corrineb said...

My great uncle was Semon Lievense who died on Sept 22, 1944. I am trying to gather up as much info as I can about him. I have quite a bit, but are there some good places you can point me to about him or what specifically he did over there. Any info is appreciated. Thanks. Corrine Bakun My grandmother Mary Lievense was Semon's sister.

Arnhemjim said...

Hello Ms. Bakum,
Sincere thanks for your interest in the Arnhem Jim Blog. Unfortunately I don’t have any unique sources of information regarding the two Light Warning Units and your great uncle specifically. Probably like yourself, my sources are limited to my library and the Internet. Suggest that if you use as a search engine, and the search terms of RAF LWU 6080 and 6341, there are quite a few sites available. You and your family have every right to be extremely proud of your great uncle Flt/Sgt. Simon Lievense.
Kindest regards,
Arnhem Jim

Corrineb said...

Thank you very much for the lead. I will do that.

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