Friday, 20 January 2012

East Lothian`s Royal Observer Corps Part 1; WW2




During WW2 the skies of the UK and its coastline was watched by the eyes of members of The Royal Observer Corps as well as the developing Radar for approaching enemy aircraft.
The Observer Corps (Royal was added in 1942) was formed in 1938 throughout the UK and isles.
The South East Scotland Group had around 30 or 40 posts controlled from the main central command post at Galashiels.
Here in East Lothian there were the following posts;

North Berwick,
Athelstaneford,
Aberlady,
Dunbar,
Innerwick,
Garvald,
Humbie,
Tranent,

The posts of the ROC were usually organised into small groups of 3 and would triangulate to pinpoint fixtures and monitoring.
Here in East Lothian North Berwick (post A1), Athelstaneford (post A2) and Aberlady (post A3) formed a single cluster.
Dunbar (post Bl), Innerwick (post B2) and Garvald (post B3) another.
Humbie and Tranent formed a separate cluster with posts outside of East Lothian.

To monitor aircraft observer`s used a simple and effective mechanical tracking device. Where the approximate height of an aircraft is known it becomes possible, by using a horizontal bearing and a vertical angle taken from a known point, to calculate the approximate position of that aircraft using a mechanical sighting `Micklethwait` height adjuster positioned over a post instrument plotter consisting of a map grid...



Setting the instrument with the aircraft's approximate height the observer would then align a sighting bar with the aircraft.
This bar was mechanically connected to a vertical pointer which would indicate the approximate position of the aircraft on the map grid.
Observer`s would report the map coordinates, height, time, sector clock code and number of aircraft for each sighting to the aircraft Plotters located at the Centre Group Headquarters in Galashiels where a plotter was used on a map (The small flags you saw on map tables in war rooms)...



Some of the Observation Posts were simple canvas structure`s...



Others were Brick buildings with a half roofed half viewing parapet like this one on Gullane hill (Aberlady Group) with a nearby Air Raid shelter which also was beside an anti Aircraft battery. The shelter was knocked down in the 1990`s as it became unsafe...



3 posts survive today in East Lothian which can be seen, North Berwick Post (A1) on North Berwick Law...





And here is a pic from WW2 of a troop carrier on NB Law during its operation!...



Another is the Innerwick Post (B2) overlooking Skateraw...







And at Humbie Post is an Orlit (concrete section) post though I'm not sure if this is pre or post 1945?...





Coastal Radar From Northumberland, and then Drone Hill on Berwickshire`s Coldingham Moor along with radar across the Firth of Forth Esuary in Fife would be first to pick up German Aircraft approaching across the North Sea from occupied Norway.
Once in visual view the Observer`s would visually identify and track them.
The observer`s also had to be quick to ID by sight and sound our own fighters too...
RAF Spitfire over the East Lothian coast flying form RAF Drem here in East Lothian...



Remember there could also be incoming allied Bombers returning from raids over occupied Europe or that had got lost in foul weather.
If a bomb run over occupied Europe was aborted due to foul weather which could result in unnecessary civilian life being bombed then the formations were split up returning to various Airfields to reduce the chance of mid air collisions.
Many of the air crashes over the UK of allied planes were returning planes lost in bad weather and flying low to try to get a visual sighting. an example is the B17 Flying Fortress crash on the Cheviot summit.
If the Observers could ID them and notify HQ who then radio`d the Anti Aircraft Gun battery's then hopefully they wouldn't be shot down by there own Guns.
So the Observer`s role was as vital as the Radar Stations.
A system of colours of flares fired by approaching friendly aircraft was developed which helped notify the Observer`s and the Anti Aircraft gun crews along the coast which probably helped save aircrews lives.

The East Lothian group were the first group to plot enemy aircraft over Great Britain in WW2 on the 16 October 1939 when a Heinkel He 111 on a reconnaissance mission over the Firth of Forth was tracked...



Then again they would help track and monitor the attack of Royal Navy shipping in the Firth of Forth by Junkers Ju 88s of KG 30...



Twelve days later the East Lothian observer`s again saw action as they tracked the combat which resulted in the shooting down of the Heinkel He 111 which crashed at Longnewton Farm, near Humbie near the location of Humbie post J1. The pilots coat and other artifacts are in the National Air Museum here at East Fortune...


The Royal Observer Corps would provide an important roll during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940 alongside all other Ground Units in the fight going on above over the skies of Britain,
The ROC were credited by Churchill and also the RAF Air Chief-Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding for their vital role during WW2.

The Royal Observer Corps was stood-down on 12 May 1945.
The corps was then reactivated in January 1947 with the unavoidable Cold War developing. Then in 1957 as we entered the Jet Age the aircraft reporting role was abandoned and the Corps then manned blast proof underground posts from which if we were under nuclear attack the posts would monitor the size of explosion, then the prevailing winds and so the areas which would be affected by fallout could be evacuated by this information being sent from posts to central controls.
At the end of the Cold War in the early 1990`s, the ROC was completely disbanded in March 1992.

You can read more information here on the Royal Observer Corps

In Part 2 i will list East Lothians part played during the Cold War Years and the sites of the ROC Underground Bunker Posts and there functions and locations in East Lothian...A time of Clandestine cloak and dagger warfare...



4 comments:

  1. Still reading but can't comment unless I get in there 1st.

    Boy you've been a busy boy with all these gtreat posts. I need a lie down after all this!!!!

    catch-up soon maybe???

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  2. Hi Al, i decided to scrap the other blog due to lack of time to post and transferring posts over to here and have all in one place again, search back for reasons etc...

    yes to a pint and blether soon! -:)

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  3. Hi,

    Great blog, just a few corrections though. During the Battle of Britain they were still the 'Observer Corps', and they became "Royal" in April 1941 (not 1942) as reward for service in the BoB.

    The Cold War posts and group controls of the ROC stood down in September 1991, however the Nuclear Reporting Cells continued until 1995, only then was the ROC completely stood down. I should point out we were stood down, not disbanded. Those of us that have copies of our service records noted that we were never officially discharged!

    This is still an excellent account of the Corps' work during WWII, I really enjoyed reading through it. =)

    Justyn
    Former Obs 4 Group/15 Post ROC. ;-)

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  4. Fantastic site. Thanks for all the WW2 pics and info. Thanks too for the pics of the homeland - I'm getting homesick. Keep riding, yours aye.

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