The RAF start blind bombing with ‘Oboe’

Aircraft Navigation and Guidance: The most precise bomber guidance system during the war was called OBOE and was used mostly by De Havilland Mosquitos of RAF Bomber Command. Photo shows: A diagram illustrating Bomber Command's use of OBOE.

Aircraft Navigation and Guidance: The most precise bomber guidance system during the war was called OBOE and was used mostly by De Havilland Mosquitos of RAF Bomber Command. Photo shows: A diagram illustrating Bomber Command’s use of OBOE.

Oblique aerial photograph taken from a Lockheed Hudson of No. 279 Squadron RAF showing High Speed Launch HSL 130 from Yarmouth, rescuing the crew of a Handley Page Halifax from their dinghy in the English Channel. They had been forced to ditch after their aircraft incurred damage from anti-aircraft fire while raiding Essen, Germany.Undated.

Oblique aerial photograph taken from a Lockheed Hudson of No. 279 Squadron RAF showing High Speed Launch HSL 130 from Yarmouth, rescuing the crew of a Handley Page Halifax from their dinghy in the English Channel. They had been forced to ditch after their aircraft incurred damage from anti-aircraft fire while raiding Essen, Germany.
Undated.

For the first half of the war the RAF struggled with the accuracy of its bombing and target marking. Surveys suggested that a large proportion of bombs were not coming within miles of the target.

Late in 1942 RAF Bomber Command established the ‘Path Finder’ Force led by D.C.T. Bennett. It was a controversial move, resisted by some who felt that there was no need for an elite group of navigators who would mark the target for the main force of heavy bombers. Their early operations did not suggest that such specialisation would make a great deal of difference.

Then technology intervened. The OBOE navigation aid was to produce incredibly accurate target position information. The aircraft flew along a radius guided by a signal transmitted by one of the two participating ground stations – the tone changed if they flew too far inside the circle or too far outside it. Then as they flew over the target a second signal, from the other ground station, indicated the intersection with the radius that marked the target. It was a system that was not only very accurate but also very hard to jam.

In the early trials of OBOE the Belgium resistance was recruited to monitor the accuracy of the bombing of a trial target which, exceptionally, they had been told about in advance. They not only watched the bombing but paced out the distance between the bomb craters for their report.

This was a system that could only be operated by a few aircraft out of the whole bomber force. The Path Finder Force suddenly came into its own:

The losses on heavies in the early days of the Path Finder Force started off rather badly. ln our first month, August, 1942, we averaged 9.1 per cent lost. This was a rate which we obviously could not maintain if we had any hope of retaining sufficient experienced crews to do the job properly. Fortunately, this unhappy state of affairs did not continue after we began to settle down and become effective in our tactics and our planning.

Thus in September the rate dropped to 3.1 per cent for the heavies, and in October 2.6 per cent. It fluctuated thereafter between 1.5 and 4.5 per cent, and this was a rate which we could stand without catastrophic results.

Reverting to Oboe, a very historic occasion was a particular sky-marking raid on Essen. This took place on 9th January 1943. The C.-in-C. detailed a moderate little force of Lancasters to bomb on sky-markers, and all went well. There was complete solid cloud cover below, unlike the better conditions which had prevailed on the other sky-marking raids already carried out.

Thus it was quite clear to those on the ground that the most valuable target in Germany, Krupps works at Essen, was being hit by a blind bombing method.

Hitler immediately called a meeting, at which he himself personally took part, and apparently he was most violent in his denial that such a thing was possible. He insisted that there must have been breaks in the cloud so that the R.A.F. could see the targets. His various experts advised him otherwise, but apparently he was furious at the thought.

All this we discovered after the end of the war, when German records of the meeting became available. Oboe had not only shattered the targets of Germany, but had also shattered German morale, it continued the process for the rest of the war, and was probably the most effective single instrument of warfare in our entire armoury.

It is interesting to note that the members of the public of Great Britain and the Commonwealth probably have no idea of the existence of Oboe, and have certainly never heard of Reeves, who invented it with the able assistance of Dr F.E. Jones, and a small team of enthusiastic ‘boffins’.

MacMullen, Bufton, Slim Somerville and the rest of the boys in the Oboe squadrons got their D.S.O.s and their D.F.C.s by the sheer weight of their obvious bravery on operations. The inventor of the equipment, however, got precisely nothing. What a grateful and gracious country we live in!

See D.C.T. Bennet: Pathfinder

The damaged fuselage and mid-upper turret of Avro Lancaster B Mark I, R5700 'ZN-G', of No. 106 Squadron RAF based at Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, after crash-landing at Hardwick, Norfolk, following an attack by a German fighter over Essen. R5700, was among 60 aircraft taking part in one of the first "Oboe" raids on Essen, on the night of 13/14 January 1943, when it was twice attacked by a Focke Wulf Fw 190 "Wilde Sau" night-fighter shortly after bombing the target. The aircraft was severely damaged, the rear gunner was badly wounded and the mid-upper gunner, Sergeant J B Hood, was killed, but the pilot, Sergeant P N Reed, managed to fly the crippled bomber as far as the USAAF base at Hardwick before executing a successful crash-landing. Three weeks later, Sergeant Reed and his crew failed to return from a raid on Hamburg.

The damaged fuselage and mid-upper turret of Avro Lancaster B Mark I, R5700 ‘ZN-G’, of No. 106 Squadron RAF based at Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, after crash-landing at Hardwick, Norfolk, following an attack by a German fighter over Essen. R5700, was among 60 aircraft taking part in one of the first “Oboe” raids on Essen, on the night of 13/14 January 1943, when it was twice attacked by a Focke Wulf Fw 190 “Wilde Sau” night-fighter shortly after bombing the target. The aircraft was severely damaged, the rear gunner was badly wounded and the mid-upper gunner, Sergeant J B Hood, was killed, but the pilot, Sergeant P N Reed, managed to fly the crippled bomber as far as the USAAF base at Hardwick before executing a successful crash-landing. Three weeks later, Sergeant Reed and his crew failed to return from a raid on Hamburg.

Another view of Lancaster R5700 'ZN-G', of No. 106 Squadron RAF.

Another view of Lancaster R5700 ‘ZN-G’, of No. 106 Squadron RAF.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chuck Halverson January 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Fascinating…..I never knew…

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