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Thread: Fire Controller?

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    Default Fire Controller?

    Hi,
    On re-checking my copy of 12sqdn ORB Feb 42 for an answer to an earlier posting, i have come across an entry for 12/2/42 when the squadron was involved in ops against the German Fleet in the North Sea. Wellington W5397, captained by P/O R.H. Buchanan had an extra crewman, P/O C.N. Wells, who is listed as 'Fire Controller'. Now i'm assuming this does not have any connection with fire as in flames, so could he be directing the attack in some way?
    tia.......Alan.

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    Alan,
    Is the target of the operation specified? Perhaps a reference to Operations FULLER or CHANNEL STOP? If so, I am guessing that the flight was in the afternoon or early evening and was targeting the German heavy ships that made the (by now successful) Channel Dash on that day, in which case you may have found an aircraft assigned to spotting for an aborted Royal Navy action.

    Bruce

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    Alan,

    As I understand it the Fire Controller from his lookout through the astrodome controls/co-ordinates pilot and gunners in the event of his aircraft being attacked by other aircraft.

    This entry from the Official History of the RNZAF helps to explain:

    Ayson's aircraft, cruising over the mouth of the channel, was attacked by from six to nine Zekes and a running fight ensued. Flying Officer Aldridge,3 the wireless operator/air-gunner, who was acting as fire controller, was wounded at the height of the action and Warrant Officer Williams, DFM,4 the navigator, took over. Skilful piloting, combined with efficient fire control and accurate gunnery, resulted in three enemy aircraft being shot down and two possibly destroyed, while the Ventura, although extensively damaged, got safely back to base.

    Errol

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    Hi Bruce,
    The aircraft concerned was one of seven 12sqdn a/c that took off approx 15.00-15-30hrs, in the Summaries it states 'against German battle cruisers' in the Details of Work, Prinz Eugen is mentioned as target, with bombs falling 15yds in front of the bow.
    W5397, with the fire controller on board, was also loaded with 8x500lb GP Bombs, but could not locate target, brought bombs back.
    Alan
    Last edited by AlanW; 21st July 2009 at 08:58.

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    Well my luck is good today: it looks like Errol has the right answer, but Alan has found something that I was going to look for.

    Alan, I am gathering information about some aspects of Operation FULLER, and your 12 Sq Wellington is interesting. There were so many RAF units involved, it helps to know of events like this. I will look at that ORB, thanks.

    Errol, thanks for straightening that out, I wasn't aware that the 'Fire Controller' job existed in 1942, and assumed this was one of the aircraft that I had heard of which carried Naval Observers.

    Thanks,
    Bruce

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    Errol/Bruce,
    Thanks to both of you for clearing that one up. Bruce, unless you already have the ORB, would you like scans for this operation.
    Alan.

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    Alan,

    If that's no trouble, yes please.

    PM sent includes email detail.

    Many thanks,
    Bruce

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    An earlier example from my records:

    "On the 23rd of July 1941, 103 Squadron dispatched a number of Wellingtons to the Sussex fighter airfield at Tangmere. Each Sqn 103 aircraft was armed with 6 x 500lb Armour Piercing bombs, and would attack the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as part of a larger force of aircraft drawn from across the Command. Taking off at 1100 hours the next day, six aircraft from 103, led by Squadron Leader Lane in R1588 (with Wing Commander Lowe, the Squadron Commanding Officer on board), set course for Brest. On board Lane's aircraft Fg Off 'Robbie' Roberts acted as the Wireless Operator and formation Fire Controller. Operating this relatively new and untried role, Robert's job was to co-ordinate the defensive fire of all of the Squadron Air Gunners."

    Rgds

    Jonny

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    I have always believed that the "Fire controller" task was undertaken by a "normal" crew member (usually the Observer or Navigator, or W/Opr A/G should the Observer be incapacitated, as in Errol's example aboard an RNZAF PV-1 Ventura. As the Observer was a trained air gunner he would have as good an appreciation as anybody else on board to give directions to his captain. So am quite pleased to see an earlier example in this thread described as a "Formation fire controller", which sounds like an interesting idea, and carried out by a specific supernumerary crew member too. It is my own belief (founded on very little information really) that Fire Controller's were only of any great use on daylight operations, as the system demanded that somebody other than the actual gunners actually having a reasonably clear view of all participants in any action, which is why the astrodome was usually employed by the controller; British bombers of the era tended to be peculiarly bereft of such viewpoints. Although I would never say that a Fire Controller had no use on night operations, it is hard to see how he could provide much useful information to his captain, and I presume that he would have to use some type of darkened goggles to be able to retain some degree of night vision, but then how were the gunners able to retain their vision employing tracer ammunition? This could be an interesting topic in itself! Can anybody out there inform us of the problems of retaining a degree of night vision?
    David D

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    Whoops! I see that I did not read Jonny's post properly; his "Formation Fire Controller" was NOT a supernumerary crew member, but a normal W/Opr (and hence also an air gunner, as the RAF did not employ "straight" W/Oprs as aircrew in 1942.
    David D

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