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Thread: Fighter Command Rhubarbs 1941-43

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    Default Fighter Command Rhubarbs 1941-43

    Good evening all.

    Just a couple of quick questions re Rhubarb operations undertaken by RAF FC during 1941-43.

    1. Was the general tactic after takeoff to leave the English coast at 0', set a direct course for where you wanted to cross the coast, climb at best speed just before reaching the coast in order to cross it at about 4000'? From there spend up to about 20 minutes looking for trains and MT to shoot up/bomb whilst looking out for enemy fighters then dive for the coast and head back across the Channel?

    2. Does the term '3/4 astern' when referring to the direction of an attacking aircraft mean that it is coming in from the port rear quarter btw 7 and 8 o'clock?

    3. Does anyone of a way of finding out what the weather conditions were on a given day during WW2 on the Channel front?

    4. Does anyone know of a good map, and where a copy can be obtained, that shows the Dutch, Belgian and French coasts along the English Channel. Simialrly for the South of England and the Channel Islands.

    Thank you all in advance for your help.

    Paul

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    I'll have a first go at this but as a general point I don't think you can generalise about these questions.

    Do you have access to the ORBs for the Whirlwind squadrons? I am assuming you don't because it would be a surprise that you cannot find some of the answers to your questions in those documents. There is a thread elsewhere here which says that all the AIR27 ORBs are to be made available from National Archives in digitized form by the summer.

    From my experience of using ORBs I would say it is almost always the case that they record some kind of description of the weather conditions for any operation and sometimes they are quite detailed. The weather conditions for low level operations were quite critical because those ops were usually cancelled in very clear conditions they were only flown when there was some degree of cloud cover. Sometimes sqns flew a weather recce first by sending out 1/2 a/c across the Channel to check the conditions towards the French coast.

    I would say that "3/4 astern" probably means starboard 4 or 5 o'clock as well as port 7 or 8 o'clock but more common language is rear port/starboard quarter.

    Steve

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    Thank you for your reply Stephen.

    I agree with you that we (I) need to be very careful about generalised answers to the questions I have asked.

    My reason for doing so was see what techniques the Spitfire, Hurricane and Typhoon squadrons used on these types of operations. I've only looked at those undertaken by 137 and 263 Squadrons with their Whirlwinds. Given that they were twin engined I thought they might have done things slightly differently.

    I have transcripts of both squadrons ORBs and also some combat reports. They do provide a brief description of the weather encountered by the pilots and is of a help for their operations but not for providing information about what other nearby squadrons were facing along another part of the Channel coast. Hence my request.

    Also thanks for your answer re 3/4 astern, it was what I thought the answer would be but it has added another layer of complexity to the combat I'm trying to unravel.

    Paul

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    Hey Paul only my mother calls me Stephen!

    I think the hard answer is that to find the weather details you want you would have to look in the ORBs for the other sqns operating on the day. I have not come across an overall weather forecast for the Channel or the European coast but that does not mean it is not there somewhere. If you Google on "historic weather chart" or "historic weather forecast" then you do get some helpful hits but I guess you need to be a meteorologist to interpret the info. I am pretty sure that there is at least one person who visits this board regularly who is interested in the history of the RAF meteorological service so it might be worth posting another question with a more obvious title "Weather forecasts for Northern France in 1942" to attract his attention.

    I think pilots operating over Northern France usually had a 1:250,000 or 1:500,000 map. I know somebody who bought an original on eBay a couple of years ago. Do you know about this site http://www.echodelta.net/mbs/eng-welcome.php ?

    The lists of Rhubarb targets issued by Fighter Command are to be found in the Appendices of the Fighter Command ORB in AIR 24. They may also be found in the ORBs for 10, 11 or 12 Groups.

    Steve

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    Hi Steve

    Thanks heaps for your thoughts and suggestions as they will definitely provide me a starting place from which I can dig up more of the information I need.

    The website you've mentioned I'm not familiar with and will look into later today.

    Have agreat week.

    Paul

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    Hi Paul

    I think 10 Group’s original operational instruction of 08/08/41 for “Mandolin” Ops (later renamed “Rhubarb” across all Groups) might give you some pointers. A couple of partial quotes: “As aircraft will be operating in small numbers the main factor in this operation and selecting targets is the safety of the fighters; thus particular attention must be paid both to cloud cover and the likelihood of the pilot readily locating the target on coming through the clouds without making himself vulnerable by prolonged search.” and “ . . .raids are only to be undertaken when in conditions when there is sufficient cloud cover to allow the fighters to make their flights to and from the target area in or above cloud and also enable the pilot to rapidly regain cloud cover after having carried out his attack. Cloud conditions must include a minimum of 2,000 feet of clear air between the ground level of the target and the cloud base; thus targets selected on high ground will require a correspondingly higher cloud base.”
    I don’t sense that these basic principles changed much between ’41 and ’43 and you’ll be well aware that the 263 Sqn. ORB contains many instances of Rhubarbs abandoned either because of absence of cloud cover or the presence of cloud down to the deck. I’m not sure there was any difference in approach between the Whirlwinds and single-engine types other than, as a very short-ranged aircraft, the Whirlwind was restricted to targets closer to base than Hurricanes or long-range Spitfires. The list of target types that could and could not be attacked, and under what circumstances, was revised from time to time
    As for targets: Steve has given some pointers to what’s in AIR 24 and the Group ORBs at the PRO. There was a Gazetteer of Rhubarb targets with numerous appendices – one for each target type. So, for example, you’ll find John van Schaick of 137 Sqn, in his personal report of 31/10.42 referring to a target as “App.VIII/3” i.e Target No. 3 in Appendix 8 “Hutted Camps” – in this case a BEF-built camp near Camiers. These appendices contain a brief description of the target, lat and long, map location and usually the most recent photographic cover of the target. Unfortunately this is a very patchy record group. A search for “Rhubarb” in AIR 40 will be a start, but there are other fragments in AIR16, 24 and elsewhere.
    Hope this helps

    Niall

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    Hi Niall

    Thank you so much for this, the files you have referenced are ones that I was not aware of but hoped existed, and will now, when time permits, follow up.

    Paul

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