Britain Pulled Out All The Stops To Expose Nazi Germany's New Radar System

May 3, 2020 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: World War IIRadarIntelligenceEspionageMilitary

Britain Pulled Out All The Stops To Expose Nazi Germany's New Radar System

The Bruneval Raid was crucial to gathering information on a new and dangerous German radar system.

Even if these communications specialists were not frontline veterans, they quickly opened fire on Lieutenant Peter Naumoff and his 20 men who had established a defensive line to prevent them from attacking Frost and his troops at Lone House. Frost’s prisoner revealed the Germans had picked up the incoming planes on radar just before they disgorged the paratroopers.

Worried that there might not be sufficient time to dismantle Henry before hostile reinforcements arrived, Lieutenant Dennis Vernon pulled out his camera and commenced taking pictures of the set but had to stop because the flash bulbs drew enemy fire. Sergeant Charles Cox started sketching the radar, and when he finished his drawing he composed a written description of it. Then he and Vernon used screwdrivers and a crowbar to force the set loose from its base while doing as little damage to it as possible.

By this point the fighting around Lone House was growing in intensity and becoming confused as Germans and Britons closed with each other. So far, however, only one commando had been killed. Frost noted to his dismay that the shooting from the direction of the beach, his escape route, was particularly intense.

Captain John Ross’s 10-man section was assigned to the center of the donnybrook as a reserve to rush wherever they were most needed, but he and his men were pinned down by heavy machine-gun fire from the southeast. This was the sector supposed to have been secured by Charteris and his men, but with them missing there was no one to hamper the defenders.

By this time Frost and his section had collected most of the radar, loaded it onto a two-wheel dolly, and were cautiously moving toward the beach. Naumoff and his men, who had withdrawn from the vicinity of Rectangle, joined them. As they reached the wide gully leading to the shore, Naumoff made it over the edge, but the Germans in a casemate on the gully’s north side saw him as he reached the rim.

They were ready when Frost and his radartoting squad arrived. The defenders fired a long burst, and Sgt. Maj. C.S.M. Strachan screamed as three bullets tore into his midsection. At this point Ross bellowed up from below. “Don’t come down! The beach is not taken yet!”

The Germans from Rectangle reached and briefly occupied Lone House, but true to their inclinations as noncombat communications men they quickly withdrew to Rectangle. After bandaging Strachan and giving him a morphine injection, Frost and his men stumbled down the icy path to the beach. By then Naumoff had reached the bottom of the slope, and as he and Ross’s men prepared to rush the German machine-gun nest they were astounded to hear shooting and shouts from the southeast. The voices had Scottish accents! Charteris and his 20 men had zeroed in on the sounds of combat from their off-target landing spot outside L’Enfer and double-timed it to the combat zone. Their unexpected appearance behind the defenders panicked the Germans into abandoning their position.

Charteris’s appearance had thoroughly confused and frightened the Germans who occupied Lone House after Frost and his men had left it. As the missing commandos began shooting their way into the engagement, the defenders overestimated the number of soldiers they were facing and fled to Rectangle. At one point during Charteris’s run, a German soldier had mistaken the Scots for his own people and joined their file. The Scotsmen had to stop and silently bayonet him.

Charteris’s charge, by pure coincidence, came at the same time as Naumoff’s from the other side of the valley. Charteris’s, Naumoff’s, and Ross’s sections stampeded onto the beach as the Germans manning the machine-gun nest, understandably thinking they were under a coordinated assault from multiple directions, took to their heels. Sergeant Jimmy Sharp managed to capture a German telephonist, tell him he was taking a trip “nach England,” and marched him to the beach.

“God Bless the Ruddy Navy!”

Ross’s two radiomen could not raise the landing craft on their wireless, so he had two of his sappers activate an experimental radio beacon that had a companion set in one of the landing craft. Frost then had Ross fire a green flare from the north end of the beach, and then another from the south end.

By now it was 2:35 am and the weather was closing in, but fortunately for the raiders the Royal Navy crews had seen white flares fired by the Germans as well as Ross’s green flares and had already closed to just 300 yards offshore.

Frost, despairing after the unsuccessful attempts to contact the Navy and receiving reports of headlights approaching from the east and southeast, had positioned his men in a defensive perimeter with their backs to the sea. He suddenly heard one of his men bellow, “Sir, the boats are coming in! God bless the ruddy Navy!” The landing craft bore down on the shore as their Bren gunners swept the cliff top with automatic fire. It took until 3:30 to load his men, his wounded, the two who had been killed, the prisoners, and their priceless Wurzburg onto the vessels.

Frost was last to board, hoping in vain that six missing men might show up at the last moment. Long after the commandos had departed, two of the MIAs used their radio to contact the small convoy headed west at full speed. They were two of Charteris’s wireless operators who had gotten lost and reached the beach too late. They were told to try to reach Switzerland or Spain.

After the raiders returned to Britain and the press trumpeted their exploits, the war-battered Allies took heart in a success while around the world the Axis powers seemed unstoppable. The English Nazi and propagandist Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) derisively described Frost and his commandos in his nightly radio broadcast as a mere “handful of redskins.”

Some felt the British themselves were somehow castigating their heroes when the 120-man squad received a total of just six medals for their magnificent exploit. Yet the high command was actually acting out of regard for the soldiers’ future well-being. There was still obviously a lot of war ahead, and if any of these men should be captured by the Nazis they likely would be executed in retaliation for stealing the Wurzburg, unless the Germans never learned their identities.

British technicians from the Telecommunications Research Establishment quickly went to work on the captured Bruneval equipment and noted that the lowest serial number on any of the device’s parts was 40,144 and the highest was 41,093. Jones accurately calculated that 100 Wurzburg sets were being manufactured per month. Testing of the apparatus also revealed that it was immune to standard radio jamming.

The alternative was a system both sides independently discovered and used extensively. By dumping clouds of reflective ribbons cut to the precise length of the radar wavelengths, bombers created multitudes of false echoes on radar sets tracking them. By mid-1942 the Luftwaffe in occupied Europe, realizing it was lagging in radar technology, was already thinking defensively.

Identified by the Allied code-name Window, this metal-strip strategy was effective. While the Germans still tried to perfect the system, the RAF was already modifying its own radar system to see through the enemy’s attempts to jam radar with this method. With the Luftwaffe increasingly overburdened, it could spare fewer resources for research and never caught up with the Allies’ proliferating radar technology.

This article first appeared at the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikipedia.