Document-14.    


BOBHSOC


High Frequency Direction Finding
The Radar Stations and the Observer Corps were fine for the purpose of detecting and tracking hostile aircraft coming in from across the English Channel, but to make the detection system work and function properly the it was essential for the Sector Controllers to have an accurate assessment as to the position of their own fighter aircraft. Without knowing where their aircraft were it would have been impossible to vector them to another combat area or where their aircraft were to in relation to any current attack.

One of the early methods of friendly aircraft detection was being experimented as early as February 1939. A.F.Wilkins and a R.H.A.Carter, scientists at Bawdsey were busy testing apparatus that they had built in an effort to display a different sort of blip on the CRT screens so that the filter rooms could tell if a detected aircraft was one of theirs, or if it was an enemy aircraft. During one of the official tests in March 1939, the operators at Bawdsey, busy checking their screens suddenly picked up an unusual and strange blip on the screens. Instead of the small round blip that was usually displayed, this one was brighter and the shape was elongated. They had picked up the experimental aircraft that was fitted with a new device and they tracked it for many minutes.

The information was immeadiately sent to Bentley Priory Filter Room and it was classified as a confirmed detection of a friendly aircraft. One of those present at 'Bentley" was Lord Chatfield who was Minister for Co-ordination of Defence who exclaimed that this was a great step forward and that radio detection was about to be perfected. ACM Hugh Dowding was also aware of the contribution that IFF could make in aircraft detection, and by early 1940 with the Battle of Barking Creek in which two Hurricanes of 56 Squadron were accidently shot down by Spitfires of 74 Squadron was still fresh in his mind, he was pushing for such an apparatus where he could know the position of all friendly aircraft.

IFF worked reasonably well but it did have its failings. In dogfights it became impossible to distinguish one aircraft from another. Many times friendly aircraft were not able to be detected while at time they were easily seen.

In practice, the IFF system was later to be found to be not totally reliable, and accurate aircraft identification remained founded on the judgement made at Filter Rooms, where information about aircraft movements of home forces was available.
Peter Flint Dowding & Headquarters Fighter Command p173 Airlife.

A later method that was introduced was the use of HF/DF, High Frequency Direction Finding to give it its correct name, but to most it was known as "Pip-squeak" the code name given to the apparatus. All British fighters were equipped with a TR9D transmitter receiver. This was the only contact that a pilot had with ground control, although its main drawback was that it was limited to a range of only 40 - 45 miles (64 - 72Km) at about 15,000 feet (4,545m) although under perfect weather conditions this range could be extended further. The unit had two channels. One channel was used for the purpose of voice communication with Sector Control to which the aircraft was attached. Each squadron had its own frequency and always operated with this setting. The other channel was set on a common frequency to all squadrons and was unsuitable for voice communication. It was this channel that was known as "Pip-squeak".

As soon as this channel was selected, the transmitter sounded a shrill fourteen second whistle at about 1,000 cycles, which was received by the Sector Controller.

Automatic periodic DF transmissions from aircraft were achieved by "pip-squeak" (named for the cartoon characters of the day). It automatically switched on the HF transmitter in the aircraft for 14 seconds every minute. A clock in the control room showed (from four coloured sections) which aircraft should be transmitting (by a hand rotating once a minute).
Each of four aircraft had its position plotted once a minute and navigation was not necessary. If one forgot to switch on, the controller would say 'Is your cockerel crowing?' cockerel being the code word for Pip-squeak.
The DF system and radar were the keys to all the interceptions made and meant that it was unnecessary to fly standing patrols (which were impossible anyway). The HF/DF bands were overcrowded and distorted so a VHF (Very High Frequency) Radio Telephony (RT) set with a range of 100 miles was needed.
Alas, the TR (Transmitter Receiver)1143 was not forthcoming in time and the Battle of Britain was fought largely on HF with the old crystal controlled TR9 with which I was still battling as late as 1943!

By September 1940 only 16 day fighter squadrons had VHF.
Doug Tidy HF/DF Operator 74 Squadron

A sector had three direction finding (D/F) stations that formed a triangle with each corner being approximately thirty miles apart and each being connected by a land line to the stations Fixer Room. Here, on a small map table, the D/F stations were marked and were surrounded by a compass rose. As each of the D/F stations received its bearing from "Pip-squeak" a plotter at the map table could then take a line, with a humble piece of string from each D/F station on the map, and when that station reported the direction from which it picked up the aircraft's signal, the operator of the string aligned it with that direction. Thus, when the three strings were aligned in unison, where they crossed was the position of the aircraft. [1]
Calculating quickly the compass course on which to send the fighter squadrons for accurate interception proved a vexing problem. Not only were pages of trigonometry consulted but a number of small computers were built to assist the calculation. Until one day, watching an exercise, an exasperated Wing Commander said he could judge the interception course by eye alone. He was immediately challenged to do so by the irritated boffins. He picked up the microphone that connected the Operations Room with the fighter pilots and gave them courses, until two RAF formations taking part in the exercise met in a perfect interception.

The Wing Commander's judgment was greeted by amazed disbelief. Asked to explain how he did it, he said it was a process of imagining an isosceles triangle, with the fighters and bombers at each base corner -- interception would take place at the summit. He gave the course accordingly. It was a rough calculation but quite good enough to become standard procedure. The most common discrepancy, due to the superior speed of the fighters, was no real problem. The fighters were ordered to orbit until the bombers arrived.
Len Deighton Fighter 1977 Pluriform Publishing

[1] Peter Flint Dowding and Headquarters Fighter Command 1966 Airlife p33

The Battle of Britain - 1940 website Battle of Britain Historical Society 2007