- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Frank Penver
- Location of story:
- Gopshall Hall Twycross
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 September 2003
Gopshall Hall, Twycross, was an incredibly lonely place and current students impressed new intakes with this, greeting them in the drive by swinging from the trees and making simian noises. Here I had my first introduction to an actual equipment, a G.L.(Gun Laying) MkII A.A. (anti-aircraft) system with transmitter (Tx) and receiver(Rx)/display in separate trailer cabins. We were highly impressed with security for it was circled with a double layer of barbed wire and armed guards. Mk1* was met occasionally but in my time it had already given way and memory does not come to the front to describe differences. Being used to seeing radios with a maximum of 9 valves it was an enormous shock to my system and a feeling of near despair to be shown equipment with about 66 (? that figure seems to stick in my mind).The course was to me, immensely interesting. Given that, the final exam was no problem.
The GL transmitter was a pair of air blown triodes operating at 5 Kvolts whose modulator was a blocking oscillator operated at about 1500 c/s, later wobbulated to avoid jamming and whose pulse of about 1S duration was determined by the blocking oscillator grid capacitor. The short duty cycle put the real power limitation (about 0.25 Mwatt) on the space charge of the filaments. The Lecher line tuning was push pull and was bent into a circle so that a shorting bar could be rotated from the front of the cabinet. Both the transmitter and Receiver/Display Unit were mounted in cabins which were rotatable on the travelling trailer chassis. A pillar came up from the floor with bicycle pedals hand operated. The chain went down the pillar to the cabin turning gear. The Mark of the equipment seemed to be determined more by the presentation of the received signal. The Rx allowed the use of straight Ally Pally TV RF receivers tuned to around 60MHz followed by an IF at 15MHz. All the RF & IF valves seemed to have been EF50 pentodes the type which subsequently flooded the surplus market after the war. In a surrounding metal can they carried their own screening and had screw on retaining rings.
I believe I remember 5 aerials with the highest having a reflector which could be shorted at the centre. With an otherwise 180 deg uncertainty, the change of signal strength (with and without reflector) allowed the right polarity of direction to be determined. The four operational aerials were horizontal dipoles in a flat vertical array mounted on outriggers turning with the cabin and had a narrower beam (about 20 degrees) than a simple dipole. The array had a vertical lobe pattern complicated by the ground reflection. Signal balance (upper and lower) was effected by means of a cam operated goniometer between upper and lower aerials so that maximum signal from the target was obtained at the correct azimuth setting. I don't think the system was much good until Bedford of Cossor came up with the "Bedford Bastard". It was so obviously a late addition being bolted onto the front of the display unit and a scandalous rumour circulating at the time, said it was conceived overnight in an alcoholic haze. Still, very much better and we actually started shooting down planes. Until then ack-ack had been more of a frightener than a threat.
There were two 5" display tubes, bearing and elevation. The time base was a pure exponential charge on a capacitor of a voltage nearly equating the tube supply and the equally large X shift potential required to bring the spot back centrally was obtained from a massive handwound, oil filled exponential-law potentiometer about the size of a small car engine. The TB was left exponential since the law was accurately predictable and repeatable. Range was measured from the hand operated rev. counter which turned the exponential X shift pot. I cannot remember a time when all data was not sent automatically to the predictor via mag slips (Selsyns*) and certainly later in the war the guns were laid via mag slips and oil motors by the predictor.
* Trade name for a rotary device with a three phase field. The rotary pick up coil of the transmitter version passes on a signal whose phase is an indication of the position of the rotor. The receiver is an indicator that sets itself to a position where, by cancellation with the transmitted signal there is no residual flux giving torque to the rotor. Or it may have been a control to the oil motors which turned a transmitter until the signals cancelled (cant remember)
Memory is dodgy with many things we must remember that for me, all this was 50 years ago and there is uncertainty about what precisely, Bedford (Cossor's Ch.Eng) came up with but I seem to remember a common shutter rotating over the two CRT's, presumably to blank out fly back, stationary spots and the tube not under consideration. It would help if I could remember which power supplies were floating. I cant believe that the TB and the range pot output just went to the X plates. To have put the X plates at a potential massively different to the rest of the CRT would have produced focusing and brightness problems. I have given thought to the problem and now believe the supply was isolated, heavily insulated and fed only the TB capacitor and range potentiometer. The same motor that operated the blanking(?) disc also switched aerial outputs and rotated the aerial lobe by phase switching and putting a small shift voltage in turn on each of the four X plates. This gave a split image on each of the tubes. Bearing was established by rotating the cabin using the hand operated pedals until the split bearing signals matched for amplitude and also was the split elevation signals using the cam operated goniometer. The control of the latter was a linear handle rotation and had additionally, a shaft protruding from the side of the cabin which could mount a telescope used to sight a balloon carrying a reflector when the station was being calibrated. To ensure best standardisation of ground effect on the aerials, sites of a semi permanent nature had a mattress of wire netting mounted on short stakes over the area of the site about 50yds in diameter unbroken except for a walkway to the cabins. Oddly enough, security has remained pretty firm over the years and in spite of reading every book on Radar that I could lay my hands on I have never found reference to Bedford`s achievement.
After Gopsall Hall, I was posted to an Ordnance Depot at Old Dalby in the Midlands near Nottingham which was receiving equipment of all kinds from the manufacturers, modifying it up to date and despatching it where required round the world. It had a REME base workshops of which the radar part was about 40 strong. It will be appreciated that security was very strong on radar and although factories were making and testing assemblies, no civilian company seemed to be putting them together and testing them as complete stations. This then for security, was our function, and we became the last part of a production line. In spite of no instruction (I don't know who could have given it) we were given handbooks which had to be locked in the company safe until actually required, so we were able to muddle through.
The army is renowned for the stupidity of some of the things it does but apart from a weeks detachment on loan to an AA Regiment modifying their GL's for shipment to Madagascar (May 42), this was the last I ever saw of a GL MkII or any AA station so our GL course was practically wasted time. Some centrimetric radar with 2 paraboloids of about 3' dia of Canadian manufacture (MkIII probably 3cm) was coming through and seen just before I left Old Dalby. I have since come to understand without verification that the receiver dipole was off-centre and rotated such that its lobe was rotated in a circle obviously ideal for AA work. However I was told that I had been selected to go on the Tizard Commission to America as a mechanic to service and repair where necessary the equipment that was going with them but this posting was baulked by my colonel. I felt at the time this was to keep know-how within the unit but it could have been that he had forewarning that we were going to assemble and test centrimetric stuff for Coast Artillery, which is what happened 3 months later.
The equipment we then started assembling was Naval 10cm microwave about which we had been taught nothing. It was 271P in small numbers initially and then 271Q. Memory says the difference was that the latter totally eliminated coax cable which was terribly lossy and the route from the transmitter with its branch through a TR (transmit/receive) cell to the receiver, was waveguide all the way up to the single 6' paraboloid dish. Two bits of bent wire about 1" long protruded into the dish from the back as monitor pickup aerials. These went to a thermocouple whose d.c. output was read on a meter on the front panel but was not in itself a measure of transmitter power. I remember a problem of keeping the reading down (because of now increased high powers involved) tying these aerials into knots to diminish their performance.The overall equipment performance was judged from the height of local permanent echoes. The waveguide was about 2.5x 10cm and became a circular waveguide for the rotating joint. Since the Germans had no waveguide technology and it would have been well-nigh impossible anyway for the 50cm which is the lowest they could achieve they had to use coaxial cable which limited aerial rotation to 360deg. as on Freya. The Rx pickup crossed the waveguide and a 2.5x10 cm ashtray sliding in the waveguide (Adjustable) became the reflector. The "Bed-of-Violets" from memory, was a string of 4.7Mohm across the charge capacitor in the transmitter as a bleeder for safety.
We had been building 271 sets at Old Dalby for some time before some organiser at HQ or Records realised that none of our little team has ever had a centrimetric course. Common-sense said this should be at No.1 Radio Mechanics School so off we duly went. Trouble was none of the staff there had any knowledge or experience of it. They had a system delivered for a week and it was assembled but had not yet been switched on. The teaching staff were apologetic and explained that both they and us students were going to have to learn about it together as best we could. There was a great deal of relief on their part when they learned that we students from Old Dalby knew a fair bit about it already having been assembling and testing them for some months already. Our roles were therefore switched and we set our own final exam paper in which I did so well knowing all the answers beforehand that I was trade test upgraded Class I Coast Artillery which at least increased my Army pay by about 50%.
We had not been back at Old Dalby for long before I was asked to construct a prototype with the paraboloid in a lantern (impregnated wood and Perspex), test it, disassemble and take a detachment to Beachy Head to reassemble it there and get it operational, but was allowed to go home on leave first on the understanding that if the equipment arrived at Beachy Head in my absence I would return immediately. In the middle of the week I returned back with Syb from the pictures to find a telegram recalling me. At Old Dalby I found the recall was not for Beachy head but to go to some foreign part and I was immediately returned home on leave for the rest of the week and I was to call it embarkation leave. The issue of tropical kit suggested Burma and the Far East but we hadn't been on the boat for long before we knew it was West Africa, Freetown to be precise.
At No3. West African Base Workshops in the grounds of Wilberforce Girls School we enjoyed really good food (after U.K.rations) since it was also the home of a Cookery School. There we learned our objective was to install a 10cm gunlaying equipment (new to us since our experience was only with the surface watching 271 types. The Coast Artillery Regt. was very civilised (they had 2 tennis courts which I was free to use when I could find a partner) and occupied the buildings built for Frank Buck when he filmed "Bring-em Back Alive", a documentary about capturing animals for Zoos. Sierra Leone is the home of the leopard (Leopard-men are a secret Society) and also the gorilla. The Coast Artillery Unit had 2x9.2" guns overlooking Lumley Beach and guarding the entrance to the harbour. They had a (trailer-mounted) 271P equipment which was used for surface watching and our posting was to install in a newly built pillbox a Coast Artillery Gun laying equipment based on 271Q but with a very sophisticated display Unit of which we had no experience. This was on its way and since the 271P already had its own mechanics we would not be required until the CA GL arrived. In the meanwhile, the base workshops would find us odd jobs. One of these was changing all the .1Fd capacitors in the Type 18 infantry radios used by the Sierra Leone Infantry (ruined by the damp) Another was preparing a disc recording lorry touring round the tribes to cut message discs for the SL Infantry lads in Burma. My own responsibility was the maintenance of electronic gear at the two hospitals, including the X ray equipment. This continued for six months for we were told that our station had been sunk on the way out. I just felt thankful we did not travel with it.
When it did arrive we moved to the CA Regiment and took over the maintenance also of the 271P as well as the installation of the CA, the mechanics tour was over and they did not bother to replace them since the unused staff were to hand. Not for long during the wait, one was moved to the Gambia and another boarded home with mental breakdown brought on by a "Dear John" letter. I was able to soldier on alone since there were two REME instrument mechanics to handle the magslips who were a great help in spite of knowing nothing about the radar. The Regiment's Master Gunner was also a real king, the kind of bloke around which a unit operates like a Swiss watch. With the advice of a real expert at the heavy stuff (like dismounting 9.2" guns) and with unlimited native labour all on 1/6d a day, moving 7 tons of aerial turning gear on to the roof of the pillbox was a doddle.
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