ALLIED REWARDS LIKELY FROM RADAR STATION RAID

London, England February 27, 1942

Under the cover of darkness on this date in 1942, over 100 British para­troopers kicked off Opera­tion Biting when they para­chuted into Nazi-occu­pied Nor­mandy close to a Ger­man radar sta­tion in the tiny vil­lage of La Poterie-Cap-d’An­tifer, 12 miles north of the large French har­bor of Le Havre. A num­ber of what were in­ferred to be ground radar instal­la­tions had been iden­ti­fied by the Royal Air Force during aerial recon­nais­sance in 1941, but their exact pur­pose and, of course, the nature of the equipment housed inside were yet unknown.

On landing, the para­troopers quickly over­came the lone sen­try guarding the Wuerz­burg radar array, dis­assembled the dish an­ten­na as a near­by enemy pill­box fired on them, removed and packed im­por­tant com­po­nents, and left for the near­by beach at Brune­val. (The com­mando-type raid is some­times known as Opera­tion Brune­val.) From the beach six Royal Navy landing craft took the raiders and their booty, including one Ger­man radar tech­nician, back to Eng­land where the tech­no­logy could be studied and counter­measures designed and im­ple­mented to neu­tral­ize its effec­tive­ness. That was when Brit­ish scien­tists dis­covered that all Ger­man ground-based radar sta­tions oper­ated on a small num­ber of fre­quen­cies, and that the radar sta­tions could be easily jammed by air-dropping alu­mi­num strips (vari­ously called “win­dow” or “snow­flake”), thereby swamping an operator’s radar screen with multiple returns.

Oper­a­tion Gomor­rah, the huge and devas­tating Allied bombing raids on the North German port of Ham­burg in late July/­early August 1943 suc­ceeded in part by using this re­flecting chaff. Even though Ger­mans had pio­neered its use—chaff was known as “Duep­pel” in Ger­man—they did nothing to pre­pare them­selves for its use by the enemy. The month before Gomor­rah, after a Brit­ish photo inter­preter had iden­ti­fied a stack of Wuerz­burg dish anten­nas in a manu­fac­turing yard in Fried­richs­hafen on Lake Con­stance (South­ern Ger­many), Prime Minister Winston Chur­chill ordered the RAF to bomb the site. Not­with­standing suc­cess­ful Allied counter­measures and the 1943 aerial as­sault on the sus­pected pro­duc­tion facility, some 4,000 Wuerz­burg stations found their way into Wehrmacht service starting in 1941.





German Ground-Based Wuerzburg Radar Equipment

Wuerzburg radar array, Bruneval, France, December 1941 Wuerzburg radar apparatus installed in occupied France, 1943

Left: RAF photo-reconnaissance picture of the Wuerzburg radar array (dark round object left in photo) adjacent to the Bruneval villa, Normandy coast, December 1941.

Right: Wuerzburg radar apparatus installed near the English Channel, occupied France, 1943. The February 1942 Brune­val raid provided Brit­ish in­tel­ligence with a close-up view of the new Ger­man air defense radars: their vital com­ponents, how the radar equip­ment was used, and on what fre­quen­cies the radar operated, all of which were cru­cial if Allied long-range bombers and fighter air­craft were to operate effectively over Nazi-occupied Europe.

RAF Avro Lancaster dropping chaff over Germany Effect of chaff on the display of a Giant Wuerzburg radar scope

Left: An RAF Avro Lancaster dropping metallic chaff (the crescent-shaped white cloud in the left of the picture) to inter­fere with anti­air­craft batteries during a thousand-bomber stream over Essen, Germany. No date.

Right: The effect of chaff on the display of a Giant Wuerz­burg radar scope. The effect of jamming appears in the left “jagged” half of the cir­cu­lar ring, con­trasting with the normal “smooth” (un­jammed) display on the right half of the circle, with a real target at the 3 o’clock posi­tion. On the jammed left side, the real target “blip” would have been indistinguishable from the chaff.

Military Radar: A Fascinating History


WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on Amazon.com. The ebook contains a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site. Featuring inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to different dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.
WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on Amazon.com. Con­taining a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site, the ebook brings the story of this tumul­tu­ous era to life in a com­pelling, author­i­ta­tive, and suc­cinct man­ner. Fea­turing inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to dif­fer­ent dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.