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TheBaron

Listening to the Solstice

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The night before the humiliations of a previous war were symbolically exorcised in a railway carriage at Compiègne, an Avro Anson took off from RAF Wyton and headed north. The crew of two consisted of a pilot, Flight Lt. (as he then was) H. E. Bufton, and a radio operator Cpl. Dennis Mackie - neither of whom had been briefed as to the true nature of their mission. What these two men achieved in the night sky on June 21st, 1940 (itself a culmination of intelligence efforts on the part of many unheralded individuals) was as critical to the war effort as the mission report was dry and undemonstrative:

 

'I. There is a narrow beam (approximately 400 to 500 yards
wide) passing through a position 1 mile south of Spalding,
having dots to the south and dashes to the north, on a bearing
of 104O(284OT).
2. The carrier frequency of the transmissions on the night of
21/22 June was 31.5 mc/s, modulatedat 1150 cycles andsimilar
to Lorenz characteristics.
3. There is a second beam having similar characteristics but
with dots to the north and dashes to the south synchronized

with thes outhern beam, apparently passing through a point 
near Beeston on a bearing lying between 60°+ and less than 104°.
'

 

In one of the earliest SIGINT missions, Bufton and Mackie had picked up signals emanating from German Knickebein radio transmitters used to guide Luftwaffe raids on Britain. The story is well known - not least to those of you like myself who can recall first hearing about it in William Woollard's memorable depiction of these events for the BBC-TV series The Secret War back in 1977 - yet the existing historical narrative of this flight remains largely the same one repeated over and over in print and electronic media with the same hackneyed phrases re-arranged. The best background narrative is the original one provided by R. V. Jones in his extraordinary memoir Most Secret War, whilst a good (and accessible!) technical description of the radio principles involved in this and later 'battle of the beams' technology is covered in a detailed series of articles by D. V. Pritchard in Ham Radio magazine, June-Oct 1989

 

Think about that June night for a moment: It was a Friday - the summer solstice of 1940, the remains of an Army had returned from Dunkirk at the start of the month and the continent was now closed-off. Invasion was expected and massed air raids a certainty. At all levels of civilian and military structures people were regrouping, fearing, training, imagining and researching ways to survive. We can't ourselves imagine what that slow realization of a 'total war' engulfing a nation must have felt like to wake up to each morning - and how each person would have been forced to confront it in individual ways.

 

It was during this period that Bufton and Mackie rose not knowing why into a summer sky, bathed in radio and starlight, methodically collecting and transforming the former into something tangible that helped to alter the course of events in ways that they could not themselves conceive. Breakfast in the mess the next morning was probably no different from the previous morning, and the one before that. Except that now between them they had helped to change the world.

 

I've long been fascinated by that flight and frustrated by the poor manner in which it has been recorded historically and so have tried to track down the exact aircraft flown by Bufton and Mackie that night in order to build it.

Not an easy proposition.

It is an Anson Mk.1, potentially one of three loaned from the  Boscombe Down to the Y-Service flying out of Wyton in June 1940. I have a copy of Michael Cumming's  Beam Bombers on order as @corsaircorp most kindly forwarded me an excerpt from it that @BS103 had been kind enough to dig out (isn't that always the way of things on here? Somebody knows something that somebody else passes on... 😁) From Ray Sturtivant's superb The Anson File I've cross referenced the airframes as follows:

 

  • L7967: SAN* / BATDU**, transferred to RCAF in March 1941
  • N9938: BATDU, transferred to RCAF in Dec 1940
  • N9945 BATDU/WIDU***, crashed Stechford, Birmingham Nov 1940.

 

*School of Air Navigation

**Beam Approach Training and Development Unit

*** Wireless Intelligence Development Unit.

 

All three aircraft then were in BATDU during their secondment from Boscombe to Wyton to be re-wired with Hallicrafters radios for these beam missions. My understanding is that on 30th Oct 1940 BATDU became WIDU, before in turn becoming 109 Squadron later in December 1940. 

 

That narrows it down to three aircraft, but which one were Bufton/Mackie flying the night of the 21st? At the moment I can find no record confirming a specific serial number - even delving into the likes of the RAF Historical Assocation yields no clue. I do have feelers out in the hope of contacting a member of Bufton's family to see if this is recorded in his log books but have heard nothing as of yet.

 

What I don't know at all either is what would be the likely aircraft code letter &etc. for an aircraft in BATDU in June 1940 - before it became WIDU - as I can find no record for either of these units.

Were they such short-lived (or secretive, given the nature of the missions) units that they weren't assigned individual codes?

Two of the aircraft appear to have gone straight to BATDU from the factory so must have had something on them?

 

Here's the kit:

41782459250_e83dc6e2da_c.jpg

According to Scalemates this is the 1974 boxing, the same version I made back then as a 9 year old.

The instructions are succinct and rich with the Proustian smell of a warm mid-seventies Saturday morning.

Have a sniff:

28702991467_bb871b6cf1_c.jpg

Extras I'm going to be using as some Eduard early RAF seatbelts, an Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah from Engines & Things, necessary as the original ones won't support a 'reveal':

29720285308_1ab18bb697_c.jpg

Some hefty grinding out needed there.

 

I can't wait to use the (typically gobsmacking) etch from Flightpath as well. It's not until you open the packet that you realize what super quality David's stuff really is, including four pages of detailed documentation! 

 

When I originally bought the kit secondhand I should have checked the contents closely as this was nestled inside it:

42686232625_b9d253870f_c.jpg

Both canopy and turret! That was a lovely surprise and will be used as Aeroclub are another of my favourite manufacturers.

For some reason there were additionally two of the original Airfix canopies in the box as well if anybody wants/needs them at all. :shrug:

 

So as it stands I'm going to build an Anson that I don't know either the serial number or aircraft codes for. Promising eh?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More than promising Tony, its likely to be fabulous

 

Looking forwards to this, even if Braddock wasn't involved

 

 

;)

 

👍

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An interesting project Tony which I look forward to watching you work your magic on!

Not wanting to muddy the waters further but Mk1 Ansons had 2 different canopies, the earlier ones had more of a rake than the later ones I don't know which your serials fall into.

 

    Roger

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10 minutes ago, perdu said:

Looking forwards to this, even if Braddock wasn't involved

If he wasn't then it must have been the only aircraft type he didn't fly! :laugh:

Glad to have you along as always Bill.

9 minutes ago, Hamden said:

An interesting project Tony which I look forward to watching you work your magic on!

Not wanting to muddy the waters further but Mk1 Ansons had 2 different canopies, the earlier ones had more of a rake than the later ones I don't know which your serials fall into.

Hi Rog. :thumbsup2:

Correct me if I'm wrong (anybody!) but up as far as 'L' are early sloped windscreen, after that late 'upright'? So one out of the three variables above would be different to the other two.

Note the '?' as I need to read the Sturtivant more closely to see if he mentions where the break occurs. 😁

 

 

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:Tasty: :Tasty: :Tasty: Definitely not my kind of aircraft, but with that background story....

 

You are  going to complete the Iron chicken first, aren't you?  :fight:. 😄

 

Ciao

 

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Looks interesting! :)

 

Håkan

 

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what an introduction!   Fabulous indeed.

 

I can't wait to learn more of this endeavor, which I am sure you will more than do justice to - and going on your past research, I dare say you'll be able to write the definitive history of this mission by the time you have finished

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Wonderful opening post Tony, this is another thread we'll be sticking around for the duration for (little T says hi, but as I'm posting on a tablet and them emoji thingies simply refuse to work, I can't include his portrait!)

 

Looking forward to this, both from the modelling viewpoint, and hopefully for all the info on faithful Annie and her sneaky beaky missions that will come to light.....!

 

Keith & t

 

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Hello Tony !

Really Grrreeeaaat introduction !!

My tiny Starlet must be fixed, first breakdown in 20 years, so my job day, plus fixing the car...

Modelling and researches suffer a lot since I'm on my knees..

But promise that I'll look forward, searching is a real game for me !

And I must confess that modelling is a way for me to "materialize" my nozy manners !!

So, I'll follow the thread and send any bits of history I can collect !

And even translate it if necessary ! I will also search for the "french" C-119 at dien Bien Phu for another thread !

I would just havin 36 hours in a day… That will be brilliant ! Sooo 9 years old in 1974 , I was 11 at that time:unsure::unsure:

36 minutes ago, keefr22 said:

Wonderful opening post Tony, this is another thread we'll be sticking around for the duration for (little T says hi, but as I'm posting on a tablet and them emoji thingies simply refuse to work, I can't include his portrait!)

 

Looking forward to this, both from the modelling viewpoint, and hopefully for all the info on faithful Annie and her sneaky beaky missions that will come to light.....!

 

Keith & t

 

Hi Keith

Say hello to little T from my Dogocirator !! :rofl2:

She love ice cream "Straciatella"

Sincerely !

 

Triple Karmeliet… Ok

Blue Chimay… Ok

Maredsous cheese blocks … Ok

Let's start Faithfull Annie Baronized !!

Will be yummmy !!

Sincerely.

CC

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6 hours ago, corsaircorp said:

Triple Karmeliet… Ok

Blue Chimay… Ok

Maredsous cheese blocks … Ok

You and I definitely gotta meet, some time... :beer::rofl:

 

Ciao

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Attention on full beam [sorry]

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13 hours ago, giemme said:

You are  going to complete the Iron chicken first, aren't you?  :fight:. 😄

To coin a double-negative: 'I wouldn't dare not to Giorgio'! 😊

Rest assured that I'm incapable of working on more than one aircraft at a time so the IC will be done before any parts are stuck here - this is a placeholder currently to help me build up research.

Not working at all today though as we've family arriving over from London and hopefully having a big Indian lunch outside if the weather holds. 

11 hours ago, Azgaron said:

Looks interesting!

Thanks Håkan. :thumbsup2:

The elusive nature of this subject-aircraft has intrigued me like any puzzle would!

11 hours ago, hendie said:

what an introduction!   Fabulous indeed.

 

I can't wait to learn more of this endeavor, which I am sure you will more than do justice to - and going on your past research, I dare say you'll be able to write the definitive history of this mission by the time you have finished

Appreciate that hendie and will endeavour not to disappoint! :thumbsup2:

I've said it before but: 'No captain modeller can do very wrong if he places his ship kit alongside that of the enemy historical evidence.'

The hard part of course is puzzling out where reliable evidence is and what it might mean. 🕵️‍♂️

11 hours ago, keefr22 said:

Wonderful opening post Tony, this is another thread we'll be sticking around for the duration for (little T says hi, but as I'm posting on a tablet and them emoji thingies simply refuse to work, I can't include his portrait!)

 

Looking forward to this, both from the modelling viewpoint, and hopefully for all the info on faithful Annie and her sneaky beaky missions that will come to light.....!

Yourself and 'le T petit' are welcome as always Don Keithote!

Despite their utility, I frequently find my tablet a nightmare to write with on sites like this: jabbing at a screen with a finger to write is too reminiscent a performance of the finger-pointing fury of social media to be a comfortable process for me. When it's quiet I try and use the 'Voice' function to dictate entries as if talking with people, which feels more like, well, like we should be with each other.

10 hours ago, corsaircorp said:

So, I'll follow the thread and send any bits of history I can collect !

And even translate it if necessary !

Ey-oop CC: you're a pal for saying that. 👨‍🏫 Thanks!

 

Being educated in the English comprehensive system of the late 70s means - regrettably - that my language skills are limited to making unrealistic demands of people abroad on holiday; loudly demanding access to the beach no matter how far inland one might be or insisting upon unworkable trade deals - that sort of thing.

10 hours ago, corsaircorp said:

Sooo 9 years old in 1974 , I was 11 at that time

We are that 'Golden Generation'! :rofl:

4 hours ago, giemme said:

You and I definitely gotta meet, some time... :beer::rofl:

Get a (bar) room you two.... :laugh:

3 hours ago, Ex-FAAWAFU said:

Attention on full beam [sorry]

No apology necessary for you Crisp - that won't be the worst pun to show up on this thread you can be sure!

Btw - I hope you're getting settled in on the new job Ok? Sad not to see more of your exquisite work on here, yet glad as to the reason why. :nodding:

 

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34 minutes ago, TheBaron said:

loudly demanding access to the beach no matter how far inland one might be or insisting upon unworkable trade deals - that sort of thing.

 

:rofl2: :rofl2: :rofl2:

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2 hours ago, TheBaron said:

 

We are that 'Golden Generation'! :rofl:

Get a (bar) room you two.... :laugh:

No apology necessary for you Crisp - that won't be the worst pun to show up on this thread you can be sure!

Btw - I hope you're getting settled in on the new job Ok? Sad not to see more of your exquisite work on here, yet glad as to the reason why. :nodding:

 

Hello Tony,

So, you did'nt try modelling CC's way ?? Multiple multiple builds at once ??? :rofl2:

Now, it help my multi task brain to stay alert !! :whistle:

Golden Generation for sure, lucky enough to meet some veterans at the corner of almost each and any pub...

I learned a lot that way...

Look, I played in a Panther when I was 10, today the tank is welded over....

The last from the baby boom... at least !

 

So Giorgio, let's have an appointment at SMW 2019 ???

Or if you come in our tiny, partly italian country ???

That will be funny !

Sincerely.

CC

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2 hours ago, TheBaron said:

I hope you're getting settled in on the new job Ok? Sad not to see more of your exquisite work on here, yet glad as to the reason why. :nodding:

Settling in well, though still in mid-handover, so it’s all a bit like drinking from a firehose.

 

Modelling hiatus purely temporary; I will be living in London 3 nights per week, and plan to take some tools etc up there.  Seaking not in a state to transport around the country, so that stays at home.  

 

Most likely candidate for London work is a new subject, namely Peter Hall’s exquisite 1/350 Ikara Leander [Atlantic Models], to be built as HMS Dido, my first steamer (as a 19-year-old Midshipman in 1979).

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1 hour ago, Ex-FAAWAFU said:

to be built as HMS Dido, my first steamer

 

Were your ships still sail powered before that one then Crisp...?! :whistle: :) :coat:

 

Keith

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Great choice for a project. Most Secret War really triggered my interest in electronic warfare, it's a wonderful account.

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A wonderful breakthrough to report on confirming the Anson, but first, over the the Foreign Correspondents' desk:

On 7/24/2018 at 1:06 PM, corsaircorp said:

So, you did'nt try modelling CC's way ??

That's only possible for a CC to do surely? The rest of us would simply end up being pinned to the ground by Velociraptdog or falling asleep after a few too many glugs of Karmeliet. Or both simultaneously! :laugh:

On 7/24/2018 at 1:06 PM, corsaircorp said:

Look, I played in a Panther when I was 10, today the tank is welded over....

'They'll never allow this - someone might get hurt.'

Said no tank designer ever....

On 7/24/2018 at 1:24 PM, Ex-FAAWAFU said:

Settling in well, though still in mid-handover, so it’s all a bit like drinking from a firehose.

That's good to hear Crisp, despite the stresses of acclimatization. :thumbsup2:

On 7/24/2018 at 1:24 PM, Ex-FAAWAFU said:

Peter Hall’s exquisite 1/350 Ikara Leander [Atlantic Models], to be built as HMS Dido

You'll know well my lubber-ish ways but the Leanders have always been one of my favourite vessels on account of  that raised fo'c'sle and rake of bow being simply too dashing for words. Be delighted to follow such a build!

On 7/24/2018 at 2:27 PM, keefr22 said:

Were your ships still sail powered before that one then Crisp...?! :whistle: :) :coat:

I believe that the massed coracles of the Welsh Home Fleet were capable of delivering the enemy a nasty kick in the bulwarks too!

On 7/24/2018 at 8:20 PM, Cookenbacher said:

Fascinating.

It gets better Cookie! (see below)

On 7/24/2018 at 8:32 PM, amblypygid said:

Most Secret War really triggered my interest in electronic warfare,

That's one of those leading statements Chris that makes one wonder what you've been up to subsequently! :evil_laugh:

 

You're right about the series being a wonderful account. Television of such calm authority has long since evaporated. 

 

 

Now. To matters Ansonian.

 

Over on the Iron Chicken thread I'd mentioned about a possible breakthrough in identifying the correct aircraft involved in first identifying the Knickebein beam.

 

I'm now in a position to confirm that of the serial number of the aircraft concerned is definitely  N9945.

 

Over the past fortnight or so I've been lucky enough to correspond with Gp/Capt Bufton's son Sam, by email, and he has most kindly sent me scans of his father's log book for that period. To say that I feel humbled by Sam's willingness to share this information in such detail is an understatement.

 

There are a number of Special Duty flights recorded for that month (as you might imagine during such a busy period) but taking into account the other corroborating historical evidence regarding the timing of Cabinet meetings etc., the flight on the evening of 21st June 1940 is the one of interest. The log entry for this particular night contains information that I've not seen reproduced elsewhere - and seems in fact to expand the official historical record as follows:

 

The aircraft - N9945 - flew into Wyton at 18.10 hrs  on 21st and took off again at 22.05. The crew consisted of Flight Lt. Bufton in command, a Sgt.Tinkler as co-pilot, and 3 other crew listed.

 

- These last two points regarding the identity of the co-pilot and presence of three crew members do not seem to feature in any of  the accounts I've read - these most often just identifying Bufton and Mackey (as he is recorded in the log book) on their own.

- Mackey himself is not named on the flight of 21st but clearly IS by name (along with two other unidentified crew) on a Special Duty flight (one of the earlier unsuccessful attempts at locating the beams no doubt) on the previous night of 20th June, taking off at 22.40 hrs. It is a reasonable assumption in the circumstances I think that Mackey +2 on the 20th is the same as the +three crew listed for an identical flight on the 21st.

 

So. That's the mystery of the actual aircraft solved, which being an 'N' designation makes it - I believe - one of the later Mk.1s with the upright windscreen. (Whooppee! I get to use the Aeroclub replacement after all...) In fairness to Michael Cumming in his excellent Beam Bombers, he does explicitly identify N9945 as being converted to carry the Hallicrafters' radio on p.16, and later on p.17 refers to 'the Anson'. Frustratingly however, Cumming gives no evidence to support this assertion in the 'Sources' section of his book, so not until reading this fact for myself in Bufton's log book was I convinced.

 

As to the remaining mystery of what other squadron markings &etc. to use, Sam has indicated to me that there weren't any present on this aircraft at that time as this BATDU flight was not attached to a Squadron until December of that year. Given that in the airframe history given for N9945 by Ray Sturtivant she came straight from the factory to BATDU, this seems a reasonable basis on which to proceed with the design of the build. In either event N9945 was in a fatal crash (hitting a balloon cable) over Birmingham in November, the month before the formation of 109 Sqn.

 

This really gives me the confidence now to push ahead on this once the Iron Chicken's plumage has been decked-out.

 

One last thing: I'm deliberately not publishing the scans of the log book here: I've given Sam my willing assurance that I will respect the integrity of his family archive by not doing so.

 

:bye:

Tony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hello Dear Baron !

That's really great !! I'm very glad for you, it's a real pleasure to work with such a first hand information !!

Now you have almost all that you desired (About this Anson I mean…)

So, Let's see how Ann's son will entertain us !!

Sincerely.

Sober CC (as usual in fact) :guitar:

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1 hour ago, TheBaron said:

One last thing: I'm deliberately not publishing the scans of the log book here: I've given Sam my willing assurance that I will respect the integrity of his family archive by not doing so.

 

 

Quite right too, Tony, what a most generous thing it is for Mr. Bufton to have done in just sharing the info., let alone scanning his dad's logbook for you! (does he have any idea if there's any family relationship to 'our' @CedB Bufton?!) And what excellent info. it is!

 

Much as I'm enjoying the Chicken build, Faithfull Annie is much more my mug of char, so can't wait till you start on her!

 

K

 

 

 

 

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TheBaron, you really know how to hook your fish.  What an enticing story for a build project.  I shall follow this with bated breath.

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Primary sources!  Wow!  Hugely satisfying 

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The news on the Faithful Front is brilliant Tony

 

Standing by.

 

 

Such good news, we are seeing history written here

Thanks for sharing it with us

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9 hours ago, perdu said:

Such good news, we are seeing history written here

 

I see a book at the end of this...

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