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Thread: Wireless Operator, Lancaster

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    Default Wireless Operator, Lancaster

    Some random notes.

    I had a chat with dad's Navigator yesterday and we talked about the wireless operator. He mentioned that the W/Op had an "extension" cord that allowed him to take a position in the "astro hatch" to look for a/c above, enemy or otherwise. He said the W/Op spent most of his time there. The combat report for KB.721 Blaney Crew on November 4, 1944. "The wireless operator observed rear gunner score hits on enemy a/c.
    https://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/o...92/923?r=0&s=3
    Otherwise he would listen for messages. He would pass a message on paper on to the navigator on windspeeds and directions. I notice that in all crew photos, the W/OP was wearing shoes rather than flying boots. I remember reading somewhere that the only "hot" position in a lancaster was the W/Op position, as that was where the heat was distributed.

    Jim
    Last edited by JDCAVE; 7th October 2020 at 20:13.

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    Default Re: Wireless Operator, Lancaster

    Hello Jim, A now 'late' friend and colleague of mine was a wartime Lancaster W/Op and he mentioned the ability to reach the astrodome thanks to an extension cord.
    He also said that he usually flew in Battle Dress as the heating outlet was right next to his position, making it too hot for him to wear anything more substantial.
    Regards,
    Tom

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    Default Re: Wireless Operator, Lancaster

    Jim, sounds as though you are talking about the "Fire Controller" role, which was often undertaken by the Observer (later navigator), and I think remained relevant until the end of the war. This role was standard in Coastal as well as Bomber Commands.
    David D

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    Default Re: Wireless Operator, Lancaster

    Thanks very much Tom for your confirmation of the W/Op position at the Astro hatch and also the heat at the W/Op station. David, I hadnít heard of the fire controllerís station and the role of the W/Op in control of the gunners.

    Jim

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    Default Re: Wireless Operator, Lancaster

    Jim, the "fire controller" role was probably evolved after it became apparent that armed RAF bombers could not "fight their way" out of sticky situations in daylight over Europe, and this also possibly had some relevance to bombing raids carried out on full moon nights too, although will not push this idea any further here. By 1942/43, with 2 Group on the offensive over Europe flying their Venturas, Bostons, Mosquitos and Mitchells (and withdrawal of the hapless Blenheims), fairly elaborate counter tactics were evolved, hopefully to improve their chances of survival, but in the end it was escort fighters which provided the best defence. I have a full set of instructions dated May 1943 which provide the tactics developed for use by the Ventura formations, but I do not think these were particularly successful. They reminded me a bit of the RAF Fighter Command "set-piece" tactics for attacking enemy bomber formations very early in WW2, when the three aircraft Section was still in vogue; these tactics were also over elaborate and had to be abandoned with the introduction of the new, four-aircraft section. Nevertheless, a variation of the fire-controller bomber defence was developed for the benefit of heavy (4-engined) bombers with some success, although the corkscrew manoeuvre was also introduced to complement this. However the tactic of sending the Nav or W/Opr to man the astrodome for fire control purposes was fairly widespread in Coastal and Bomber Commands later in the war. The idea was that the man at the astrodome, after receiving additional training, acted as the flexible link between the rear gunners, and the pilot, attempting to catch the attacking fighters off-guard and by issuing verbal instructions to the pilot to jink this way or that at critical moments, that the fighters might be caught by return fire. This all off top of my head, but I imagine that many Board members here will be familiar with these tactics.
    David D

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    Default Re: Wireless Operator, Lancaster

    Jim, as an afterthought, it would have been perfectly logical for the W/Opr of a Lancaster to man the astrodome for fire-control purposes, as a good proportion of wireless operators were trained as air gunners as well as their prime job of operating their wireless sets (except when under fighter attack!) Likewise, Observers (as trained up to about mid-1942, when the Observer trade was displaced by the straight Navigator) were also cross-trained as Air Gunners, so either trade were equally capable of sizing up the tactical situation from the vantage point of the astrodome, and giving good advice to the pilot up front (who could not see much of anything to the rear) so that the gunners might be given opportunities to hit their attackers.
    David D

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    Default Re: Wireless Operator, Lancaster

    Or maybe simply having an extra pair of eyes on the lookout in times of imminent danger, with the ability to co-ordinate things between gunners and pilot, was found to be a useful 'role' for someone to have and it just evolved that way? 50% more vigilance than just having the M/UG and RG.

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    Default Re: Wireless Operator, Lancaster

    Indeed, that was the reason that my friend gave for the majority of his visits to the astrodome, he was sometimes asked to help provide a lookout when fighters were expected, or known to be in the vicinity. The extension cable enabled him to stay with the rest of the crew via the intercom. He mentioned doing this on a least one daylight raid.

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    Default Re: Wireless Operator, Lancaster

    Thanks. All of this makes sense, if the WOP is not pressed for monitoring WT. Dad did not discuss the role of the WOP during combat but he did talk about regularly banking and jinking in areas with fighter activity.

    Jim

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