Bruneval Raid, 27/28 February 1942

I always love it when all sorts of research threads link up unexpectedly. Last Sunday, I went to Goodrich, near Ross-on-Wye, for a talk about a radar aid called H2S and the tragic crash which killed its inventor, Alan Blumlein. I have put the details on the RAF Pathfinders Archive website this morning: Blumlein Crash. H2S was critical to Pathfinder navigational accuracy.

One of the interesting facts mentioned in the talk was that the Telecommunications Research Establishment, which was critical to the war effort, was relocated to Malvern College in 1942 after it was realised that the Germans could pull off the same feat as the British in the Bruneval raid and capture personnel and equipment in the radar development programme.

I had come across the Bruneval raid in my research into British parachutists nine years ago, in connection with my two books on Anthony Cotterell. The raid — only the second British airborne assault of the war — was a complete success, not only tactically but from the public relations angle. The commander, Major John Frost, later to become very famous for being Commanding Officer at the bridge at Arnhem, was fêted after his return, and was awarded the Military Cross. He himself was under no illusions about the significance of the raid, referring to it in his autobiography as ‘a mere flea-bite’, but he knew that it had the most immense effect in lifting British morale. This was at a particularly low ebb due to the catastrophic loss of Singapore and the humiliating escape of German battleships up the Channel.

So, to get to the point. Yesterday, a book I had just bought arrived in the post, It is called EVIDENCE IN CAMERA: The Story of Photographic Intelligence in World War II; it was published in 1957, and was written by Constance Babington Smith who had worked in PI. I had imagined that this book was going to be dry as dust and only useful for reference, but in fact it is brilliantly written and engrossing. It contains, amongst many other fascinating things, a description of how, using reconnaissance photographs, the radar site at Bruneval was identified near an isolated house near the edge of high cliffs on the French coastline (pp.169-172). Constance includes the famous photograph of the installation in her book. Whilst it may appear obvious to us today from this particular enhanced photograph that radar equipment was involved, the ability to detect the site from amongst many hundreds of thousands of other reconnaissance photographs is astonishing. I highly recommend this book. I will include a couple of further items from it on another post.

bruneval raid

 

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