15 Aug 2012
According to Wikipedia, Norman Franks is "an English writer who specialises in aviation books on the pilots and squadrons of World Wars I and II - apparently he has written over 120 books, SMHS Reporter has not authenticated this but has concluded that Mr Franks was more than qualified to address the Society on Coastal Command” the subject of our August talk!
When France fell, the ports in the Bay of Biscay became available for use by the U-boats, saving the long trip around the North of Scotland to their prey, the Atlantic convoys - and so began a series of measures and countermeasures as Coastal Command (CC), the Cinderella Service, came of age.
At the start of WW2 there were two challenges for CC in relation to U-boats. Firstly U-boats couldn't be seen, and secondly, there was no way of destroying them. The Royal Navy had depth charges, but these were notoriously unpredictable.
ASV was invented; Air to Surface Vessel radar on planes that could pick up vessels on the surface, even a conning tower. U-boats had to surface for air and to recharge their battery, being highly vulnerable when they did. The U-boats began to travel at night on the surface to avoid detection, thus the Leigh Light was invented, fixed under the aircraft's wing and guided in by the radar operator - the light came on and illuminated the boat allowing a set of four depth charges to be dropped straddling the vessel - at least one of which should be effective.
Then the U-boats took to travelling in groups - or packs. There were too many targets for a single plane and machine guns could be used from the deck to shoot down the CC aircraft which were vulnerable at 50ft, the height needed to ensure their weapons were effective. In response the RAF adopted the same tactic and travelled in packs too or a lone plane called in re-enforcements before attacking…and so it went on.
Mr Franks went on to describe that CC actually knew where 90% of the U-boats were. The U-boats radioed in their position once every three days and unbeknown to them Bletchley was intercepting the messages, though tactics had to be well thought out to deceive the Germans into thinking the positions of the boats were NOT known, otherwise they may have grown suspicious.
There was so much more to the talk, and if Wikipedia is accurate and Mr Franks has written all those books, the Reporter expects any one would make an excellent read!
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