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Thread: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

  1. #11
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    Apr 2017
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    Default Re: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

    re: "would beacons be viable during WW2"

    See, eg

    Air Defence of Great Britain Vol I Growth of Fighter Command
    Referring to the outbreak of war 1939, p67
    "In the fifteen fighter sectors a Direction Finding system that
    enabled fighters to "home" on to their bases, had been set up, but
    a further refinement, which made it possible for a sector commander
    to control his squadrons from the ground, had been provided in two
    sectors only. Thirty-one D/F stations had still to be provided for
    this purpose; meantime the majority of the fighter force relied on
    intercepting by means of the less satisfactory method of Dead
    reckoning navigation."

    and slightly later

    Signals Vol VIII Aircraft Radio
    See Ch17 Beam Approach Beacon System p452 ff
    BABS: introduced from early 1941, the first setup using an IFF-type beacon.

    As for light beacons, like airfield lights, turned on or off at will as need (eg "intruders") dictated, as Chisholm, a Beaufighter pilot, described.
    See, eg, RAF Historical Society Journal 17A
    6, Second World War
    "Dependence on dead reckoning and astro, when the conditions permitted, was not always
    adequate. Over the UK one useful visual aid was provided by the flashing beacons, or lighthouses..."

    Hence the RAF (War) Aviation maps, all editions with all beacon types marked.
    Last edited by Don Clark; 21st September 2023 at 04:14.
    Toujours propos

  2. #12
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    Nov 2007
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    Default Re: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

    There were MF (medium frequency), HF (high frequency) and VHF (very high frequency) direction finding stations across the UK during the war. These were not of assistance to enemy aircraft as they required an aircraft to send a radio signal and their location would then be radioed to them after their position had been triangulated. MF and HF tended to be used by Bomber and Coastal Command and HF and later VHF by Fighter Command, although there was some overlap. There were other radio aids, such as Gee which from 1942 would be used for navigating home. Most airfields also had Fixer stations which acted as beacons for aircraft to home on. There were a wide range of navigational aids, but I'm not aware of any complete list of these.

  3. The Following User Says Thank You to Ian Brown For This Useful Post:

    Don Clark (21st September 2023)

  4. #13
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    North Vancouver, BC
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    Default Re: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

    According to the 6-Group End-of-war ORB summary, GEE was used extensively returning to base:

    "By the aid of GEE lattice Lines, a scheme was worked out by the Group Senior Flying Control Officer and approved by Navigation and Air Staff whereby aircraft, returning from either operational or training missions could home along specified GEE lines to "fix" positions. At these points, the aircraft would turn on to that Gee line which would permit them to let down in safety at pre-arranged speeds and rates of descent to break cloud over their own bases. In a like fashion, schemes were worked out at Base Headquarters levels (and consolidated by Group) to ensure safety from collision during climbs through cloud after operational take-offs. Similar plans, particularly as regards Gee Homing Procedures, were consolidated for all groups by Headquarters, Bomber Command.

    Last edited by JDCAVE; 22nd September 2023 at 15:10. Reason: accuracy with text in original source document

  5. #14
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    Default Re: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

    Jim, Ian,

    Thank you both for posting, very interesting, Ill see if I can find anything in the 4 Group files Ive copied from The National Archives.

    Thanks again

  6. #15
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    Default Re: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

    Postscript: Flashing Beacons UK

    Again confirming the RAF use of flashing beacons for airfield location in the UK in WW2, and hence again confirming the RAF 1:500,000 RAF Edition: Aviation Map of Great Britain sheets that show these beacons.

    Sean Feast, in Master Bombers: The Experiences of a Pathfinder Squadron at War, 1942–1945 (Grub Street 2008) gave a vivid history of 582 Squadron, with much material direct from the men.

    Pilot F/Lt Bertram Ray "Roy" Pengilley recalled a 10 July 1944 raid on a flying bomb depot in France, which he was very lucky to survive, wounded.
    The account records his relief, after a difficult return flight, at sighting the beacon for Little Staughton, flashing the airfield id letters LS.

    Here's the passage, much of it in Roy's own words

    Image in my own webspace, for a fewdays at least.
    Last edited by Don Clark; 21st October 2023 at 00:28.
    Toujours propos

  7. #16
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    Default Re: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

    More on flashing airfield beacons, UK, WW2

    I hope that members may be interested to read more on WW2 flashing light beacons.

    With due respect to Lyffe in #10 above, his doubts about my posts ("Mm, would beacons be viable during WW2?") and his mistaken view that the RAF Historical Soc article on Navigation "does not mention beacons" (it does, p56, see my #11 above), I think need full rebuttal from reliable citable sources, for historical accuracy and possible future reference.

    So, in addition to the mid-1944 Master Bombers narrative, #15 above, I've now revisited Roderick Chisholm's Cover of Darkness. Having been so long away from Service flying from his 1930s AuxAF experience, Chisholm started pilot training afresh soon after return to the UK in early 1940. He describes the intensities, difficulties and dangers of flying training with great candour.

    Having completed his flying training at 3 SFTS c Jun 1940, without an OTU course (not at all uncommon at the time) F/O Chisholm was posted to his old Aux AF unit, No 604 Squadron, on 22 Jun 1940. Then at Northolt, by July they were based at Middle Wallop. Here he is, not long after joining the Squadron, on his first night cross-country, 7 July 1940 in Blenheim I L8681 with Sgt Stewart as crew.

    "My first night cross-country came some time after
    leaving the F.T.S. It was very short, unpremeditated
    and, although a good enough story afterwards, very
    frightening. I was to do 'circuits and bumps', and be-
    cause there were several of us doing the same thing I
    was kept waiting, signalling for permission to land but
    ignored, for about half an hour. I was anything but
    composed, and when a turn proved too much for the
    directional gyro, which spun, I also lost my sense of

    At last I was given a 'green', but the dim pattern of
    aerodrome lights made little sense by this time, and
    my approach to land was not aligned with the flare-
    path, whose direction I understood too late. I had to
    go round again. The wheels and flaps on a Blenheim
    came up rather slowly, and by the time I was ready
    to start a circuit I knew that I was several miles from
    the aerodrome; but I could not picture my position,
    and the lights which I could see did nothing but con-
    fuse me. I was flustered, and the situation suddenly
    got out of hand. I did not know where I was; there-
    fore I was lost. A feeling of panic came over me, and
    I could not think of anything except getting down
    somehow on to terra firma. It must be this paralysis
    that causes the inexplicable night-flying accidents. It
    took a great effort for common sense to overcome this
    one instinct, which seemed still to work, to return to
    earth as soon as possible; but slowly this happened and
    item by item things were checked. What height?
    What speed? Climbing or diving? Where was I likely
    to be? Each of these checks, usually done instinctively
    and instantaneously, now needed a special effort.

    I was too low; I must climb so that I could see the
    beacons. I climbed unsteadily to two thousand feet.
    Bit by bit the crisis passed and confidence returned.
    The night was clear and I knew I could not be far
    from base. It was only necessary to keep my head.
    This is what was then going through my mind;
    this is the shameful performance of the uninitiated:
    "There's a beacon—what's it flashing?—dot some-
    thing, missed it—climbing too steeply—must level out
    -now where's that beacon again?—get the beacon
    paper—(it's too flimsy)—where's the torch?—mustn't
    get flustered again—there's plenty of time—climbing
    again—must level out—Andover V L , Wallop D A —
    now where's the beacon?—there it is—think clearly,
    read it slowly—looks like a V then L , that's certain—
    read it again—there it goes again: it's Andover—
    about 240 degrees for Wallop—settle down, align the
    gyro—steady—lights ahead—a beacon—flashing D A
    —that's Wallop—this is simple—I could go on, I'd
    like to go on now—this will be a joke to-morrow."

    I believe that experiences like these were common
    enough; I suspect that most pilots have, at one time,
    felt what I felt."
    Source: Roderick A Chisholm CBE DSO DFC+Bar Cover of Darkness (Chatto & Windus 1953) OCR transcript from scanned pdf (pp30-32).
    And 604 Squadron Operations Record Book
    Summary Of Events Form 540 Jun 1940
    Record of Events Form 541 July 1940

    Albeit both written some time after the events, these two participant accounts from mid 1940 and mid 1944 are consistent in recording the nature and value of the flashing airfield beacon system.
    Last edited by Don Clark; 22nd October 2023 at 03:03.
    Toujours propos

  8. #17
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    Jul 2013
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    Default Re: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

    Just to add to Don's excellent posts about airfield beacons.
    And just to clarify that the 'Pundit Light' beacon was mobile on a trailer,during wartime it was not actually on the airfield - they were positioned a few miles away from the airfield and night flying crews would be briefed on the current position/distance from the airfield so that they could navigate 'home'.

  9. #18
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    SW Wiltshire
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    Default Re: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

    Hi Daz,

    Apologies, I've been away longer than expected for various reasons, but have now had chance to look through the research I did a while back. The 'bible' for beacons, radio aids etc is A.P.3024 Flying Control, whilst the detail, evolving throughout the war, is in C.D.260, aka Notices to Airmen (or, more correctly, Navigational & Flying Notices, RAF). There was an Air Safety branch at the Air Ministry, with A.S.4 responsible for lighting aids to flying safety and navigation.

    A.P.3024 also details radio aids to navigation, including HF/DF, MF/DF, Radio Track Guides, radio Squeakers to warn of balloon barrages, and procedures for transmitting Wilmott weather warnings. However, details below relate to lighting aids, as per the original question.

    From A.P.3024:

    Section 4 - Description and Procedure for use of Flying Control Lighting Aids

    Visual Navigation Aids

    Aerial Lighthouses

    3. Aerial lighthouses operate throughout the periods of darkness from fixed sites, the exact positions of which are given to aircrews, who are then able to fix their position accurately by visual means. Aerial lighthouses show single letter morse characteristics in white which are visible throughout 360 degrees in azimuth, and from horizontal to approximately 80 degrees in the vertical plane. The range in clear visibility is approximately 60 miles. Occasionally substitute lights have been used which may give a whitish-green or red characteristic [...]
    4. The scheduled operation of aerial lighthouses is laid down in S.D.214, a copy of which is to be held in every Flying Control Tower.

    Landmark Beacons

    5. Landmark beacons are, at present, always associated with an airfield. They flash a two-letter characteristic in red, which, in clear visibility can be seen approximately thirty miles. Normally, a single site is selected, between two and five miles from the airfield, but under special circumstances they may operate from a site on or adjacent to the airfield. [A.P.3024 Section 7 includes an appendix with a list of UK airfields and their two letter codes - it includes Old Sarum and Zeals, so seems to be comprehensive.]


    7. (i) Landmark beacons may be used as a check of position by aircrews who will be briefed as to characteristics likely to be seen up to fifty miles on either side of the track they are expected to make good.


    Coastal Lighthouses

    8. (i) Certain coastal lighthouses have been made available by the Admiralty which can be illuminated to assist pilots of aircraft in emergency.


    Air Navigation Obstruction Lights

    9. Obstructions over 200 feet in height above ground level, which are situated over two miles from the perimeter of an airfield, are known as air navigation instructions. In certain cases, it may be desirable to illuminate such obstructions by night, and also be day in conditions of poor visibility. [All such obstructions were detailed 'periodically' in C.D260. The copy I have is 85/43 (i.e. 1943) - there are a lot of handwritten references to subsequent additions and revisions throughout 1944/45. The 85/43 list includes e.g. Ely and Lincoln Cathedrals, but not Norwich or Salisbury, which would presumably have been added later. Lighting was fixed at 200' intervals and at the top. The policy was that 'south and east of a line Middlesbrough/Northolt/Christchurch such lights were only switched on if there was an operational need. North and west of the line the lights were to be on at night unless ordered to douse due to enemy activity.]
    My copy of A.P.3024 doesn't mention the 'Granite' system, introduced after the landing disasters of December 16/17th 1943 (it's in an undated amendment in the National Archives file). This was simply the use of ROC posts near areas of high ground, equipped with powerful red flares for use on nights when visibility was poor. The routine was for them to track aircraft straying near to high ground and to light flares to warn them away if they came too close. The aircrews were briefed to turn onto the reciprocal as the simplest way of regaining safety. A.P.3024 also doesn't mention the Occult system. This used white lights at known locations to flash a single characteristic. I've never found a good description of Occults, other than that their purpose was to help with routeing aircraft along prescribed lanes.

    Other lighting aids for navigation include 'Canopies' and 'Sandra' - searchlights used as a cone over an airfield to assist with homing, or over the three airfields in a Base to define the 'great circuit'.

    Tee Emm included an 'advert' in the January 1944 edition referencing all the aids mentioned above. I will post it if someone lets my know how to log in to the gallery. The banner with the promised details isn't showing!

    All the best,


  10. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Richard For This Useful Post:

    Don Clark (22nd October 2023),Ian Brown (25th October 2023)

  11. #19
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    Apr 2017
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    Default Re: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

    For Daz #1 original query:
    "Is anyone aware of a list or map of navigational beacons in the U.K. in 1944?
    I believe that airfields would have had pundit beacons, but would there have been other similar beacons elsewhere to aid navigation."

    1. The RAF Lincolnshire site has an accessible and fairly full summary, sourced, covering
    Pundit Beacon and Aerial Lighthouse use at
    The source this interesting site page (though itself rather disparately sourced, an interesting read): (from

    2. Not my preferred ref, but wikipedia does have a List of former RAF stations piece
    where the British Isles table (the first table) includes Pundit Beacon codes by station

    No dates as such for Beacon codes: dates relate to Station opening date...
    Sourced, but whether complete UK coverage cannot say.

    More like what Daz was originally hoping to see, perhaps?
    Last edited by Don Clark; 6th November 2023 at 05:35.
    Toujours propos

  12. #20
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    Default Re: Locations of navigational beacons 1944

    I have a document which lists the "Pundit" Peace Characteristics, a two-letter code, for all the aerodromes south of the line 54 40’N, who are in possession of a Pundit on 1 Sep 43. Happy to entertain inquiries. Regards, Terry

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