Bruneval Raid, 27/28 February 1942

Last Sunday, I went to Goodrich, near Ross-on-Wye, for a talk about the radar aid H2S and the tragic crash which killed its inventor, Alan Blumlein (see Blumlein Crash). H2S was critical to Pathfinder navigational accuracy.

One of the interesting facts mentioned in the talk was that the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE), which was a vital facet of the war effort, was relocated to Malvern College in 1942 after it had been realised that the Germans could pull off the same feat as the British in the Bruneval raid of 27/28 February 1942, when they captured personnel and equipment in the German radar programme.

I had come across the Bruneval raid in my research into British parachutists nine years earlier, in connection with my two books on Anthony Cotterell, Major Cotterell and Arnhem and This is War!. The Bruneval raid — only the second British airborne assault of the war — was a complete success, not only tactically but from the public relations angle. The commander, Major John Frost, later to become famous for being Commanding Officer at the bridge at Arnhem, was fêted after his return, and was awarded the Military Cross. He himself was under no illusions about the significance of the raid, referring to it in his autobiography as ‘a mere flea-bite’, but he knew that it had the most immense effect in lifting British morale. This was at a particularly low ebb due to the catastrophic loss of Singapore and the humiliating escape of German battleships up the Channel, see The RAF and the Channel Dash.

So, to get to the point … Yesterday, a book I had bought arrived in the post, It is called EVIDENCE IN CAMERA: The Story of Photographic Intelligence in World War II; it was published in 1957, and was written by Constance Babington Smith who had worked in Photographic Intelligence (PI). I had imagined that this book was going to be dry as dust and only useful for reference, but in fact it is brilliantly written and engrossing. It contains, amongst many other fascinating things, a description of how, using reconnaissance photographs, the radar site at Bruneval was identified near an isolated house near the edge of high cliffs on the French coastline (pp.169-172). Constance includes the famous photograph of the installation in her book. Whilst it may appear obvious to us today from the enhanced photograph, below, that radar equipment was involved, the ability to detect the site from amongst many hundreds of thousands of other reconnaissance photographs is astonishing. I highly recommend this book.


bruneval raid