back to article 75 years ago, one Allied radar techie changed the course of WW2

Would you give up your comfy technical desk job to join a military raid into hostile territory? Would you jump at the chance to put your world-leading technical knowledge to use in the most extreme of circumstances, even if your own side was under orders to shoot you if you got captured? This was the choice that Jack …

  1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Pinch raid

    There was an interesting documentary on the tellybox a while ago. It posited that the Dieppe raid, despite looking like an invasion attempt, was a very large scale deception to cover an operation to steal some code book material. Such a large scale operation was justifiable, as it would allow the codebreakers at Bletchley Park to get a route back into some signals which had recently had their codes changed.

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Pinch raid

      I've just read 'Ian Fleming's Commandos' by Nicholas Rankin which tells how the 007 creator had a large part in setting up 30 Commando who's job was specifically to go in with the vanguard and acquire anything that might be of intelligence value. E.g. code books, cypher machines, plans, weapons, etc. etc. including on one occasion the entire German Navy historical archive! Their first raid was Dieppe so it was definitely their reason for being there. Worth a read if you can get a copy, more so for the Bond fan who wants to see where some of Fleming's ideas came from.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "I've just read 'Ian Fleming's Commandos' "

        Then you know that the 30 Intelligence Assault Unit was (re)activated in 2010.

        Thing is whose high tech kit are they looking to get their hands on?

        An Issis commanders Apple?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "I've just read 'Ian Fleming's Commandos' "

          I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. ;-)

          AC, obviously.

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

            "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. ;-)"


            The original 30AU targeted things like new radar units, code books and later, when Germany fell, jet engines, torpedoes, submarines and IIRC things like IR lighthouses to stop friendly naval shipping running aground during a landing.

            The UK just does not seem to be facing that sort of high tech aggressor at this time.

            Or does it?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    R V Jones

    There's a lot of interesting background to this in the book Most Secret War by Dr R. V. Jones who was head of scientific intelligence during the war.

    At one point Jones himself was under consideration to join the Bruneval raid as the technical expert. It was his lofty position that first caused the order to be issued about being shot by his own side if in danger of being captured. Of course, he didn't go on the raid but Jones maintained that because the order had been part of the operational planning the inertia of typical British military planners meant that the order was transferred to Cox for Bruneval and then became SOP for Dieppe and Nissenthal, despite it probably not being necessary

    Most Secret War sheds a lot of light on the scientific problems thrown up by WWII. Well worth a read.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: R V Jones

      Second recommendation for 'Most Secret War' - but also for the way things were dropped chaotically after the war ended... too many power games.

      Another one to try: 'Between Silk and Cyanide' by Leo Marks.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: R V Jones

        Thirded for 'Most Secret War'. It doesn't just shed light on the scientific and military problems, but also the deeply maddening political and bureaucratic power games being played out at that time.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: R V Jones

          His post war work at the University of Aberdeen was also very impressive.

          It's described in "Instruments & Experiences"

          He had developed machines capable of nm movements (in air) in the 1950's, along with sensors in the femtometre range using capacitance.

          Aberdeen was also at the time a world leader in single crystal growth methods.

          His later work included active laser stability control for ever more precise metrology.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: R V Jones

        Yes, 'Between Silk and Cyanide' is another good read.

        Apparently there is a new book due 15th Sep called 'A Most Secret War' which looks at the history of scientific intelligence. It seems to rely heavily on Jones' book (hence the title) along with access to his and other contemporary archives.

        Sounds promising enough to have put it on pre-order.

      3. ridley

        Re: R V Jones

        A long time ago the BBC made a documentary series "Secret War" which is well worth the effort of finding.

        (Still think the "Connections" series is worth a look too)

        1. OhFFS

          Re: R V Jones

          Been watching it recently...

          All seven episodes are on YouTube as "The Secret War".

          A couple of people have made playlists.

          1. ecofeco Silver badge

            Re: R V Jones

            Playlist also made. Thanks for the heads up.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: R V Jones

          It must be time for a second series of Connections.

      4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "'Between Silk and Cyanide' by Leo Marks."

        IIRC he was the SOE crypto expert (he also wrote the Times Crossword).

        His family owned the bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road described by Helen Hanff.

        His (anonymous) poem is the one used in the film "Carve her name with pride."

        Some of the SOE codes had keys that were poems. To avoid the Germans working out if they were being pulled from a book of poetry (and brute forcing any transmission they recorded) he made them up.

        Sounded like a bit of a character.

    2. TReko

      Re: R V Jones

      There is a TV series loosely based on RV Jones' book, Most Secret War.

      Some episodes are on YouTube.

      Robert Buderi's "The Invention that Changed the World" is also worth reading.

  3. TechnicianJack

    In 1942, a 22 year old was sent to another country to capture enemy equipment under enemy fire knowing he would be shot by his bodyguard if he was captured, managed to work out how the system roughly worked by looking at it and thought outside the box to alter its operation so it could be detected and successfully analysed remotely.

    22 year olds today seem to cry and hide in a safe space if you don't identify them with their correct made up gender pronoun. What a world we live in.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      22yr olds today

      22 year olds today seem to cry and hide in a safe space if you don't identify them with their correct made up gender pronoun. What a world we live in.

      A.K.A. The 'cotton wool generation'.

      My grandkids think that of the tales I tell them about my childhood are fiction. Then I show them the photos taken on a pre-ww2 Box Brownie and later an Instamatic.

      We did things 'because we could' especially in the summer hols.

      Three of us cycled the 20+ miles to Adhown Forest one day to play 'poo sticks' at the home of the game. Then we rode home in time for tea.

      Sounds like something out of an Enid Blyton story...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 22yr olds today

        I remember as a lad going out with my friends and cycling to Bury and Rochdale from central Manchester in the summer holidays. We were after the detonators in the rail depots which is more Edith Nesbit to be fair. You can't beat playing with explosives.

        In retrospect I was a stupid kid but yes, kids these days have no idea.

        1. Dave Bell

          Re: 22yr olds today

          Yes, there have been some big changes.

          Can we really blame the kids for them?

          Should we judge them by how the group might live up to the examples set by a very few really exceptional people?

      2. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Re: 22yr olds today

        Three of us cycled the 20+ miles to Adhown Forest one day to play 'poo sticks' at the home of the game. Then we rode home in time for tea.

        Ew! "Pooh sticks", if you please.

        1. OnlyMortal

          Re: 22yr olds today

          He meant what he wrote :-)

      3. Lars Silver badge

        Re: 22yr olds today

        There are some nice clips about 22yr olds in France entering the WWI happily singing,

        I really hope our 22yr olds have more sense in their heads. It's also good to remember it was the fairly old farts who started the war (every war).

        As for the sentence "Robert Watson-Watt, widely regarded today as the father of radar" I would mend it to "..regarded today mainly by the British as...." or simply "Robert Watson-Watt a British radar pioneer".

        Reading about the radar in the Wiki we find that the story starts:

        "As early as 1886, German physicist Heinrich Hertz showed that radio waves could be reflected from solid objects. In 1895, Alexander Popov, a physics instructor at the Imperial Russian Navy school in Kronstadt, developed an apparatus using a coherer tube for detecting distant lightning strikes." .......

        "the German inventor Christian Hülsmeyer was the first to use radio waves to detect "the presence of distant metallic objects".

        And "The term RADAR was coined in 1940 by the United States Navy as an acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging".

        And "Before the Second World War, researchers in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, and the United States, independently and in great secrecy, developed technologies that led to the modern version of radar. "

        And, as always those who have absolutely no experience of war are more obsessed with it than anybody else.

        1. Steve Evans

          Re: 22yr olds today

          How about:

          Robert Watson-Watt, widely regarded today as the father of a radar system that was actually useful for something more than casual amusement?

          There are plenty of historical instances where someone has been about 5 seconds of thought away from a huge breakthrough, but then wandered off for a smoke/tea break.

    2. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Yoof today

      Mr T. Jack, you might have said similar things about the 22 years olds in the 1930s. I think we would be surprised to find out what 22 year olds would do if push came to shove. I would rather have a world where 22 years olds could be special snowflakes than they died on cold beaches in a war. I am thinking of the Canadian troops that went with Nissenthall.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yoof today

        A little patronising don't you think?

        Do you think kids were any different in the 50's 60's and 70 when sent to Vietnam / Korea.

        Think the kids of most "stable" parts of the middle east (such as Syria) were super-tough nuts? How about Ukranian kids?

        As pointed out, many of the 22 year old pre-war will not have been the tough nuts you make out, especially those in the USA who were living a quite comfortable lifestyle compared to the Europeans.

        However, when it comes to fighting for your beliefs (be that freedoms, religious doctrines or family life), a lot of "softie" kids will do what's required.

        I regard myself along those that are happy we are worried about gender alignment, rather than if my entire family are going to slaughtered in cold blood.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yoof today

        I would rather have a world where 22 years olds could be special snowflakes than they died on cold beaches in a war.

        You do realise that the only way the 22 year old snowflakes can exist today is because the the 22 year olds of the 30s and 40s helped to make the world a place where that is possible.

        If we had had to rely on todays snowflake then the world would be a much darker place now.

        1. Alien8n

          Re: Yoof today

          You are aware that these "snowflakes" as you term them are even now fighting in the armed forces and facing prejudice from the top of the armed forces down. And that's before you look at the prejudice and bigotry they have to suffer from the general public in most cases. If I was ever unfortunate enough to be drafted at my age I'd be far happier to be drafted into a company of men and women who feel their assigned birth gender is wrong than a company of whinging chavs who's idea of bravery is beating up old ladies for their bingo money, but only when they're with their mates as most of them would be too scared to tackle a toddler without backup.

          Downvote to your heart's content, I'd rather see myself downvoted for speaking up than be a small minded, prejudiced asshole who still thinks it's the 1980's.

          1. Chris G Silver badge

            Re: Yoof today

            Back in the 70s we had a 2nd Lieutenant, 19 years old and looked and sounded like a prime candidate for Upper class twit of the year. Roll on a couple of years and he was a 1st Lieutenant and about to get married, so we took him out for a curry as a part of his stag do.

            Some local lads started taking the piss, thi gs got heated enough for us to step outside whereupon the lieutenant pushed us back and told us ' in the field or anywhere else he was responsible for us, then promptly floored the gobbiest pisstaker. Everything went silent after that as without his boots on he probably didn't top 9 stone.

            Turned out he was quite a keen boxer at his public school.

            Don't judge people by appearances judge them by their actions when they need to act.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Yoof today

              The novel/film "Virgin Soldiers" gives a bitter/sweet illustration of what it was like for ordinary young men to be conscripted in peacetime - and then end up fighting insurgents in the Malaysian jungle.

              1. Stevie Silver badge

                Re: Yoof today

                There is a school of thought that Hitler was empowered in his curious Anglophile stance by a 1930s Cambridge University debate in which it was resolved that "this house would not answer the call to war" (paraphrase). Apocryphal, maybe, but resonant with the perenial American equivalent in which there is always a popular uprising waiting to happen as soon as troops invade (I'm told the meme goes back as far as the war of 1812).

                I imagine aome of those applauding the debate teams were soon flying Hurricanes, storming beaches or facing fown Rommel like everyone else and with just as much gusto.

                Here in the USA I am bewildered by the attitude that one can disenfranchise a large sector of the young people in the country then expect them to become enthusiastic soldiers in the next war.

                Tell young people they aren't real Americans and don't belong often enough and when the chips are down the middle fingers are likely to come up.

                Why do I say this?

                Happened on a larger scale when the Rome reneged on the deal to make closely allied Italian cities "Roman" rather than "Italian".

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yoof today

          Rubbish - generations have always decried the 'weakness' of the following generation, and complained that they are soft and we were so much tougher. And time after time the young generation have stood up when they had to and done what had to be done. Look at recent history - the young soldiers who fought in Helmand weren't 'snowflakes' any more than the aesthetes of Oxford in the 1930s who a few years later were slogging through the Western desert. And sadly when grumpy old men next decide that the best way to keep themselves in brandy by a warm fire is to send men off to kill and be killed, it will be the 'snowflakes' who pick up their guns and do their duty.

          Meanwhile thank god for the enthusiasm and passion of youth reminding us that some things, like freedom, and tolerance and not being Nazis are actually worth fighting for.

        3. samzeman

          Re: Yoof today

          Wanting to get away from the youth who have their own gender pronouns is also wanting to go to a safe space, friend. Safe spaces are actually good things, because being safe is a good thing. Living standards today are so, so much better than back then, and that is a bottom line good thing. No caveats. If our culture gets softer, and less /elite/ and /demanding/ it's a good thing. The more we can just let people exist (How does other people's pronouns affect you anyway?) the better a society we'll be.

        4. DuchessofDukeStreet

          Re: Yoof today

          I'd need to do more searching that I have time for, but if you look into the records of the Mass Observation project, you'll discover that in the late 30's, as the government planned for war, the expectation was that there would be a massive intake of the population into the lunatic asylums as they would unable to cope with the psychological horror of war and aerial bombing.

          Not just the "youth" but the entire population was deemed to be incapable of coping, being too soft and weak to cope with modern war. That would be the generations that we now laud as being so resilient, as to brand their great-grandchildren as snowflakes.

          When I were a lad....

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Yoof today

            "[...] but if you look into the records of the Mass Observation project, [..]"

            The rosy picture of civilian reactions during the war was later corrected to contain more downbeat elements. The blackout gave many opportunities for crimes against people and property. The Black Market also made some people relatively rich.

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yoof today

          You haven't been out in Portsmouth at night lately have you?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yoof today

        22? More like 19.

    3. hmv Silver badge

      And that's not a good thing?

      And you may well find today's 22-year olds just as capable if push comes to shove.

      1. not.known@this.address Silver badge

        Given how stressed they get when someone says something they disagree with or Farcebook or Twatter go down for a short time, I don't hold out much hope for a 'Red Dawn'-style reaction if the sh*t hits the fan.

        With most schools now teaching that competition is bad and that striving for mediocrity is to be applauded (you can't tell someone they are not as good as or are better than everybody else at something - you might hurt someone's feelings), I would rate the chances of anybody having a clue beyond 'look it up on wikipedia' as not very high either.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Still, you are a bit out of date - recalling Daily Fail type moaning of the 70's perhaps

    4. phuzz Silver badge

      Try telling a 22 year-old who just got back from their posting in Afghanistan that they're a special snowflake and see how far that gets you. In fact, someone I grew up with got a Queen's Commendation for Bravery at twenty two, for refusing to leave her comrades despite being wounded by an RPG.

      The fact the more kids don't have the 'opportunity' to go to war like their grand parents did is a good thing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I find it fascinating that the youth today have a hard time with comprehension.

        Obviously those who signed up and hold the line for the rest aren't snowflakes.

        Our Soldiers, Police officers, Firemen etc aren't the ones plagued with snowbanks of flakes.

        We're talking about those who can't even get up to look for work, believe in reparations and have the time to worry about emotional issues instead of how to find their next meal. We have a hard time finding good hires here since they can barely be counted on to look up from their smartphones and believe in the strangest things.

    5. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      22 year olds today seem to cry and hide in a safe space if you don't identify them with their correct made up gender pronoun. What a world we live in.

      You could have maybe had a valid debating point relating to "kids today don't know how lucky they are" etc.

      If you look at the way they some whine on google-play about having to pay for things, you would see you could also maybe have had a debating point about a lot of today's youth being freeloaders.

      You may also have had a debating point about them some of them being over sensitive.

      But no, you wasted your opportunity with your homophobic rant. I certainly don't understand a lot of this identity stuff, but I know it's not something people enter into lightly - especially when closed minded uncaring fools like you can't wait to mock them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Not forgetting that Alan Turing was homosexual. Where would we have been if he hadn't been allowed to flourish? I'm sure the authorities at the time knew but turned a blind eye.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      My mum, age 22, joined up in 1942 and at the end of the war, was supervising a room full of crypto techs as a WAVES Lieutenant (jg). She was part of OP-20-G, the US codebreaking operation on Nebraska Av in DC. She went on, briefly, to work at CIA.

      Her working life ended when she had me in 1954.

      We, her children, knew some of this. When my son joined the Army and got his security clearance, I had a bit of fun. One of the questions they asked him was if any of his family had ever had a security clearance. He asked us, and I supplied my mum and dad's names, DOB and SSN. Dad was career CIA.

      My son said the interviewer did mention that he did not very often see a married couple with high level, broad access clearances. Greatest generation, indeed. Although, you never know what you are capable of until it is asked of you.

      1. PhilipN Silver badge

        Greatest generation

        An acquaintance of my grandfather left Uppingham in 1913 and bought (or possibly a gift from well-to-do emigre Jewish parents) an Open Torpedo. All of 16 hp. Could have gone on to live the life of Riley.

        Instead one year later war broke out and he joined up.

        One year after that - 2015 - he was commissioned and sent to the Front.

        Three years later - three years!! - he succumbed to wounds from an action for which he was awarded the M.C. Age 22.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A similar thing happened to me. When I joined up, my security interview was easy once they saw what my dad did.

        I'd like to think things may have changed after the Walker spy case.

    7. Adam 1

      "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers."

      -Socrates (469–399 B.C.)

      /Now get off my lawn

      1. I3N


        /Now get your drone out of my airspace

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Kids today!

        Now, when I were a lad...........

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You know that he never said this right?

        This will be taken as accurate after a thousand more repeat (re-tweets).

        1. Adam 1

          I don't know. Socrates is all Greek to me.

          /Sorry, I'll grab my toga*

          *which you'll no doubt point is Roman rather than Greek.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Hats off

    War is terrible, and it does terrible things to people. However, it also makes some people shine beyond what they could have achieved in a normal, peaceful life.

    I have only respect for anyone who has been under fire in battle, and I have the utmost respect for anyone who, under such conditions, manages to rise above the gut-wrenching fear and risk their own life to do the right thing.

    Mr Nissenthal, today I bow to your memory, and to your "bodyguards" who gave their lives for some information.

  5. Pen-y-gors Silver badge


    we could sell some of the technology we captured then to the US Navy?

  6. Hollerithevo Silver badge

    As a Canadian

    I note that Canadians were often given the dirty jobs. Dieppe, then Juno beach on D-Day, and facing one of the most ferocious Panzer groups a couple of days later, then slogging through the polders of the Netherlands while the Yanks got to bowl through Paris.

    See also Ypres etc in WWI. The WWI memorial to the Canadian dead is surrounded by trees: the trees of Canada planted there so the air above their heads is filled with the scent of home.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: As a Canadian

      [...]trees of Canada planted there so the air above their heads is filled with the scent of home.

      That really is rather lovely

      1. Gobhicks

        Re: As a Canadian

        You are Sergeant Wilson and I claim my £5.

    2. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: As a Canadian

      The USAians got Omaha beach at D-day. I don't think it was fun for anyone.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: As a Canadian

        Omaha was a horrible location, but the naval component also buggered things up. The rocket-launcher barges were wrongly positioned, so the barage fell short of the beach. Leaving the obstacles intact. Plus the amphibious tanks were launched too far from the beach, and most of them sank. They could really have done with something armoured to hide behind, when dealing with those machinegun positions. That would have made the casualties less hideous. Which is one reason why the other beaches were comparatively easier, with fewer casualties.

        Even with all the practise, doing complex combined-arms right is difficult. And out of the five beaches, that was the one they screwed up. I guess that's why they call the guys on the ground "the poor bloody infantry".

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: As a Canadian

          "The rocket-launcher barges were wrongly positioned, [...]"

          Author William Golding was in charge of a rocket launching craft on D-Day. At a later assault in the Netherlands he has described the horror of realising that many of the other rocket launchers had held off from going too close to the shore. They were actually bombarding their own landing troops rather than the enemy positions.

          Those experiences coloured his writing after the war.

        2. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: As a Canadian

          'Omaha was a horrible location, but the naval component also buggered things up. The rocket-launcher barges were wrongly positioned, so the barage fell short of the beach.'

          There was also, I believe, an issue in the opposite direction as the air bombardment had to be done using RADAR as there was too much cloud cover for visual aiming. Consequently most of their ordinance fell long as they delayed release to make sure they didn't hit the men on the beach, and so mostly missed the bunkers they were aiming for.

    3. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: As a Canadian

      the trees of Canada planted there so the air above their heads is filled with the scent of home.

      Excuse me, but the room has just become very dusty.

      1. Billy Whiz

        Re: As a Canadian

        I was fortunate enough to attend the Dieppe raid 75th anniversay memorial in Newhaven (The boats for the Dieppe raid left from Newhaven, East Sussex) a couple of weekends ago.

        One of the last Canadian veterans who was on the raid in 1942 attended and insisted on getting up from his wheelchair to walk across the lawn in front of the Canadian War Memorial to place a wreath at its base. He stood back to salute his comrades, upright and smart as a Guardsman. He then turned to offer a salute to the Defence Attaches fron Canada and the USA (there were 50 US Rangers on the Dieppe raid) and the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex before being helped back to his wheelchair by family and friends.

        It was incredibly moving and even amongst the grizzled old soldiers and sailors there were many sniffles and watery eyes, and I'm not too proud to admit I was one of them.

    4. Richard 81

      Re: As a Canadian

      British forces were pretty lucky at the landings, but both British and Canadian forces had a hell of a job taking Caen. Monty always like to give troops under his command the worst jobs.

      As for Ypres, that was nasty all round. Looking at the causality records in WWI, you can always spot the times when a regiment has been rotated into the Ypres salient: the casualty rate always increases ten-fold.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: As a Canadian

        Monty went out of his way at Caen to try and avoid casualties - mainly by using aircraft and artillery.

        Hence the reason that many criticize Monty's performances at being slow and steady or even hesitant.

        1. jason 7 Silver badge

          Re: As a Canadian

          "Hence the reason that many criticize Monty's performances at being slow and steady or even hesitant."

          Well in Monty's defence he had Patton going hell for leather in the opposite direction towards him. Patton had been advised to slow things down but was just show-boating as per usual. Last thing you want is blue on blue action. I don't blame him for taking it steady, someone had to.

          At the end of the day...they got the job done.

      2. GrumpyKiwi

        Re: As a Canadian

        Monty's ego and desire to be "first over the Rhine" caused him to completely ignore the advice from the Admiralty that Antwerp was utterly useless unless he also took the approaches. Instead of ordering them captured from the very weak German forces at the time, he had them charge hell for leather towards the German border. The Germans recognised this and reinforced the approaches and it took months to capture them.

        Meanwhile, Antwerp was useless even though it had been captured with the docks intact. The allied forces were on the end of a very long supply line from Normandy via trucks and as a result were out of fuel and munitions and stuck on the German border. Antwerp operating would have meant one of the biggest ports in Europe could be used to deliver munitions etc. to forces faster and in much greater volume.

        This two month delay in getting Antwerp opened gave the Germans time enough to reorganise their forces (hence the victory in Market Garden) and allowed them enough time to kick off the Battle of the Bulge.

        All in all, not the mark of the "strategic genius" that Monty liked to parade himself as. Indeed most of his "genius" can be attributed to him taking over the Eighth Army at the time when Bletchley Park had started having a great deal more success in cracking Enigma. Post war his time as Chief of Imperial Staff showed up just how out of depth he was.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: As a Canadian

          A large part of his success in the desert was due to him knowing Rommel's planned as supplied by Bletchley Park.

          On the other hand, his approach to leading his troops did a lot for morale, though he was standing on the shoulders of others who had already prepared the groundwork.

          1. Enarjay

            Re: As a Canadian

            The Ultra information often arrived some time after Monty had started his plans. In the case of Alam Halfa, it was at least two weeks late.

        2. graeme leggett

          Re: As a Canadian

          And once Antwerp was captured, the Germans launched V2 rockets at it - over 500 of them.

          And the Germans flooded the area.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As a Canadian

      The Canadians of WWI were volunteers and about half were born in Britain.

      The Canadians at Dieppe were also volunteers. They were inexperienced in actual combat, although having spent 1941 in UK in training had shown their ability and were among the best available. It was within the Canadian government power to no let them be used at Dieppe.

      Being the first real attempt at an opposed landing, Dieppe was always going to show up the problems inherent in such an activity.

    6. Sanguma Bronze badge

      Re: As a Canadian

      Ah, but that's nothing compared with the balls-up that was Gallipoli ... If you live in Australia or New Zealand, you never escape ANZAC. And then twenty-odd years later there was the nearly pointless Greek campaign and the defense of Crete, and after that the North African slog and the hard wet damp grind up through Italy (Mind you, North Africa was shared by the South Africans and several rather potent Indian regiments - if I've got the size of their units right? At least one group of Punjabi infantry on a train in Egypt almost scored a Messerschmitt 109 that thought to use them for target practice.)

      So I don't think the Canucks had it the worst. I don't know who could've!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: As a Canadian

        Hopefully, the enemy had it worse.

  7. Craig McGill 1

    Fantastic tale, well told

    More of this please El Reg! (And I second the RV Jones book - great read.)

  8. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    There's a good book called Bat 21

    On a similar vein, I read a book called Bat 21 many moons ago. Got filmed later, but they moved it from Korea to Vietnam in the film.

    The guy was a US jamming specialist, I think a colonel, and the only survivor of a crash. I think they were trying to deal with some particularly difficult air defences on a main supply route.

    Of course, he's now stuck there - and the rescue attempts are having to deal with the same stuff that just shot him down.

    At some point they stopped trying to rescue him, and decided the info in his head was too vital - so they carpet bombed his location in order to kill him instead. Which is nice...

    Spoiler alert:

    He survived and came up with a truly ingenious way of communicating his escape route to the Airforce over an unencrypted radio that the other side were also listening in on. Which meant they knew where he was and could give him air support when necessary, in order to get him to an extraction zone where they could get a helicopter in, without it being shot down.

    So he created a golf course. He could remember the holes from his favourite courses on various US bases - and so told them say the 3rd from a course at Pearl Harbour, then the 4th from one in California etc. Laid them out on his map to cover the right directions on the route he wanted to take - calling in airstrikes on targets he passed on the way - and they got a mate of his to draw up a similar map at their end and kept in touch with him as he went.

    He seemed surprisingly un-bitter about his own side deciding to kill him as well.

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: There's a good book called Bat 21

      When you understand the reasons for things even if their not in your personal best interests you find alot of people in bad situations can take It on the chin and accept that the greater good is more pressing than your personal safety.

      Unless it's completely pointless in which case I think it's permissible to somewhat miffed at your own side attempting to kill you.

    2. samzeman
      Paris Hilton

      Re: There's a good book called Bat 21

      It could be an ego boost to see that you were so essential to your side that they would try to kill you if you fell into enemy hands.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: There's a good book called Bat 21

        It could be an ego boost to see that you were so essential to your side that they would try to kill you if you fell into enemy hands.

        Hmmmm. I don't know about that. I like an ego-boost as much as the next man. But I think it'll be fine. 20 heavy bombers carpet-bombing my immediate surroundings seems like just a teensy bit too much of a boost to me...

    3. fnj

      Re: There's a good book called Bat 21

      Moved from Korea to Vietnam? I think you are confused. There is a book Bat-21, you can find it on Amazon, but it is the same true story from Vietnam, just like the movie.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: There's a good book called Bat 21


        Oooops! You're quite right.

        I wonder why I remembered that wrong? I read the book something like 25 years ago - and it's ages since I saw the film as well. I'll have to re-read it now.

  9. PeterRichard

    Minor Detail

    The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was involved in the Dieppe Raid, not the 1st.

  10. tony2heads


    I suspect that - like Jack Nissenthal - a lot of the real heroes who made a difference in WW2 hardly got a mention (never mind a medal)

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

    Another good read

    I have now worn out my copy of 'Pipeline to Battle' which tells the tale of getting water to the troops in North Africa. One of those books you truly can't put down and as an engineer you get an appreciation of just how bad it must have been by some of the struggles to achieve what should be simple things.

    Amazingly it was first published in 1943

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Operational planners looked at the bloody, tactical disaster that had been Dieppe and remorselessly dissected it, hammering home each and every lesson that could be extracted."

    Unfortunately they still landed forces on the wrong beaches - which jeopardised the invasion by at best delaying the breakout. IIRC there were also problems waves sinking amphibious tanks that were supposed to support the troops on the beaches. See Omaha Beach.

    Someone once said that wars are won by the side that makes fewer mistakes.

  13. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    It adds a whole differnt meaning to the phrase "terminal security" does it not?

    Although the Americans did something like it with the Navajo based code they used.

    And probably not so much as an overtime bonus for it.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: It adds a whole differnt meaning to the phrase "terminal security" does it not?

      The codetalkers were genuine Navajo volunteers. Fighting for a country which had shown them nothing but treachery and discrimination. But they volunteered anyway. And a good read:

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: It adds a whole differnt meaning to the phrase "terminal security" does it not?

        FWIW: my uncle is the son of a Navajo codetalker, and himself a decorated veteran of both the US Marines and the DEA. He takes a certain amount of pride in the USA.

        (And me from Yorkshire :)

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "The codetalkers were genuine Navajo volunteers. "

        I never doubted they weren't, but I'm quite sure they realized, even if it was not spelt out, that their "bodyguards" last task was to protect the code and how it worked.

        You can't interrogate a corpse.

  14. peterb

    Shouldn't this be in 'On-Call'

    Surely we've all had occasions when our employer threatened to shoot us if things went bad.

  15. Paul 195

    Shot by both sides

    Couldn't help but think of this

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "changed the course of WW2"

    So how specifically this particular event changed the course of WW2? Wasn't Germany fate sealed after Stalingrad and the entire purpose of opening the West front was that the Red army stopped on Elba and not Dunkirk?

    1. pklausner

      Re: "changed the course of WW2"

      The Dieppe raid was before Stalingrad. But true, the Normandy invasion probably was also motivated by the wish to preempt Stalin.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "changed the course of WW2"

        Stalin was always pushing for the allies to have more skin in the game. Normandy was no picnic, but the eastern front was much worse.

        1. Enarjay

          Re: "changed the course of WW2"

          Wasn't Stalin the bloke that said that one death was a tragedy.....but a million was simply a statistics?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "changed the course of WW2"

      "stopped on Elba and not Dunkirk"

      No, you're thinking of Napoleon.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pipeline to Battle is available on Kindle for the Princely Sum of 97 pence.

    1. mrbawsaq

      And on iBooks for £0.49.

  18. Ugotta B. Kiddingme
    Thumb Up

    fascinating article

    more like that please!

  19. iwi

    My grandfather worked on RADAR in the 2nd world war. I was told that his family thought he was an idiot who couldn't spell radio. Amazing that any reference to RADAR was allowed through the censors in letters home.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A self-taught technical expert with thorough knowledge of hands-on electronic engineering and system capabilities alike..

    .. would have never gotten past HR's tick box process now.

    Sterling job.

  21. Bucky 2


    In spite of his heroism, Nissenthall was never given any official recognition for his part in the raid. None of the Canadians knew who he really was until 25 years later, when he turned up at a regimental reunion out of the blue.

    Some things never change.

  22. TheElder

    Something I cannot understand

    How is it possible that us humans can somehow allow a single person be directly responsible for death of millions of people? It is so easy to stop a person. Why didn't somebody, anybody just take out someone like Genghis Khan? He was responsible for killing uncountable millions of people.

    The concept of people being totally blind followers mystifies me. Now it is possible for a brainless idiot to kill much of the world population.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Something I cannot understand

      I have a theory that there's some combination of genes that gives people this unreasoning and uncritical acceptance of royalty (inherited or self-proclaimed) and gods. I don't seem to have it.

      I suspect it's something to do with being evolved similiarly to other primates, most of which have strongly defined 'bosses' leading the troop.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Something I cannot understand

        No, it's more a case of getting yourself into a position whereby your underlings realise they (a) are in a reasonably cushy position provided they toe the line and (b) the risk of failure and the certainty of losing everything if they mounted a coup that failed keeps everyone supporting the status quo. If the underlings' underlings have more or less the same imperatives then everything is stable, cf Kim Fatty the Third.

    2. ShadowDragon8685

      Re: Something I cannot understand

      > How is it possible that us humans can somehow allow a single person be directly responsible for death of millions of people? It is so easy to stop a person. Why didn't somebody, anybody just take out someone like Genghis Khan? He was responsible for killing uncountable millions of people.

      For the specific example of Temujin, I rather expect it was because he was surrounded by an army - a literal horde - of mongols for whom he was the bee's knees.

      Otherwise, think about it. When would you have "stopped" Adolf Hitler, hmmm? When he was still just some guy ranting his head off after being thrown in the clink for his ridiculous attempt to overthrow the government in an overgrown pub?

      Kind of an overreaction, don't you think? Looking at that buffon and thinking "This man is going to start WWII, I'd better get myself put in the same prison he's in so I can shank him and spend the rest of my life in jail/be executed on a murder rap, because That Guy is gonna start the shit."

      When he was a rising-star politician who was energizing vast and disenfranchised swathes of the base, and "taking him out" would definitely launch a massive wave of reprisals from him angry supporters, risking destabilizing everything? Better to just the ordinary mechanisms of politics take care of him, he'll fuck-up royal and they'll abandon him shortly, etc.

      Hindsight is 20/20, innit? As you're watching things go by, not so much - especially since, no matter how much YOU want him gone, you'd rather keep on living your life, and so would rather just wait because any day now, someone else who values the country more than their personal liberty and reputation will "take him out" for you.

  23. gandalfcn

    Gareth Corfield

    "communist Russia." Wrong. USSR. You sound like a Septic, because that is what they call Russia today, that or Soviet Russia.

    "RAF radio direction finding stations (RDF, the short-lived original term for radar)" Wrong, completely wrong. RDF is RDF and radar is radar. They existed side by side for decades.

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I really love the fact

    Not sure if this has already been said.

    I really love the fact that he was Jewish and shows they aren't just victims. It also shows this fascist / racist attitude is doomed to failure. We are all equal and capable of great things.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I really love the fact

      Totally agree with objective but that is far from fact.

      That we today know his "race" shows a racist attitude. Referring to peoples race in such a manner shows we still think there is more than one race. Race and racism is as important and integral part of our society and governments as it ever was.

      We are still racist and we certainly are not all equal. We, humans particularly those in Africa, Asia, and Europe are very far away from such a utopia. Though a lofty goal, the idea that we are all equal and in particular when it comes to race, has been rejected by the vast majority of people and leaders.

      If anything people and cultures/races are increasingly being pitted against each other with governments regularly making value judgements on which culture is best, or is even worthy of consideration, some cultures are told they do not exist or should willingly step aside if they do.

      But I think the most obvious refutation of "the fact" such fascist/racist attitude is doomed can be seen in the country those Canadians soldiers. The most obvious proof of the success of the fascist/racist attitude is Canada's ongoing and growing Apartheid system.

      Today, in the 21st century, being born Canadian isn't the measure of equality in the eyes of Canadian law, government, or society. It is race. Canada still abides by treaties from a time when slavery and racism was not only legal but often legally mandated. Those treaties were created in a time and by people who not only agreed that different races meant a different equality but that all future people would agree that a persons race should decide their place in society.

      Today those treaties are at the foundation of an Apartheid system that not only has Reserves where people of only one race are allowed to live but also decides a Canadians roles and responsibilities to the government and society.

      In Canada race decides a Canadians healthcare funding, educational opportunities, and job opportunities. Race also determines what laws apply, what taxes must be paid, what government programs are available, even the level of political representation. In Canada race is the determining factor and it is mandated by law at many levels in many situations. Access to many government programs are determined by race/culture and not just when it comes to Aboriginal people. The poison that is racism can be found in many many government programs, particularly those targeting cultures and peoples and that, as always, creates victims and victors.

      The idea that a Canadians race should decide such things was fought against by many Canadians in the past, including many of those fighting in WWII, and suggesting those attitudes are doomed to failure while their flourish in our own countries does IMO a disservice to those who fought and gave so much.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I really love the fact

      To the Thumbs down, which part do you disagree with?

  26. Airborne Cigar

    What about Nissenthal's own book?

    "Winning the Radar War"; Nissen, Jack with A.W. Cockerill; Robert Hale 1989

  27. Bluto Nash

    How did they manage any surprise?

    I mean the radio waves MUST have bounced off those big brass ones he was hauling around with him and lit up the screens like Christmas..

  28. Potemkine! Silver badge

    This, combined with the naivete of the Allied planners back in Britain, had left the Canadians exposed and vulnerable.

    I doubt it was naivete, it's because of politics and their chiefs' ego that Canadians were sacrified in this suicidal task. Mountbatten words were just a way to hide that fact and heal the Canadian wounds.

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