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Lions Among Radarmen

By Roy Inkster as told to Norm Emmott .... Air Force Magazine, 1987.

I was a radarman with 433 squadron at Skipton-on-Swale and with 427 Squadron at Croft and Leeming during WW II. Radar was a vitally important factor in winning the air war, and according to historians gave the British the edge in blunting the Luftwaffe in the battle of Britain.

Later with airborne radar, bombers and coastal aircraft depended completely for their effectiveness on accurate navigation and it was the airborne radar that provided the positioning information for the navigators. Gee positioning sets and H2S airborne radar were especially valuable.

The ground technicians who install and maintained the radar had their moments of excitement and panic. One such moment occurred at Leeming in Yorkshire, when two radar technicians were working on an H2S set installed in a parked Halifax aircraft. Needing power, they ran wires to a gasoline fueled generator in a nearby hut. The technical problem had almost been solved when the generator stopped. "Out of petrol," one of the men said, and proceeded to check the fuel level with a cigarette lighter.

There was a woosh and flame engulfed the generator. That was bad enough but sitting in the hut was a bomb. The generator was awkward and heavy but when the two men looked at the bomb they suddenly acquired superhuman strength and bundled the generator outdoors, flames and all. When they had put out the fire they found they could hardly lift the generator, never mind carrying it out of the hut on the dead run - the bomb ignored the incident.

At Croft my mate and I were busy placing detonators in the IFF ( Identification Friend or Foe, very secret and if the aircraft went down the set was supposed to be destroyed) sets which created a signal which enable British ground radar station to identify our own aircraft. After an operation, a plug connecting the detonator circuit of the IFF and Gee set was moved and stored away until just before the next operational flight. Just before the air crew boarded for the next operation, a team of radar mechanics would dash to each aircraft, check to ensure there were no short circuits, and then check each position where dual switches had to be pushed together to activate the detonators. When the circuits have been proven, the plugs were inserted and test lights inserted into the detonator circuit.

One man would say " ready " and the other would push the switches to make sure the lights went on - after that the plug would be installed. I said "Are you ready?", expecting the test light to be installed. When the answer came "ready", I pushed the buttons. Unfortunately the detonators and not the test light were online. The IFF set promptly blew up, leaving it looking very pregnant.

Fortunately, I knew that the radar section had squirreled away a spare IFF set from crashed aircraft. We hurriedly installed it, soldered new plugs to replace the one destroyed, and tested it - very carefully. Nobody was the wiser and the IFF worked just fine.

This story is from the Volume I, No. 1 issue of ROAR.