Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

The Tizard Mission followed a visit to MAEE at RAF Helensburgh

The Tizard Mission has come to be regarded as one of the most significant events of World War II.

In summary, the mission saw a group of British military officers and scientists headed by Sir Henry Tizard secretly travel to the US and Canada in September 1940, beginning one of the least known but potentially most important missions of World War II in an unparalleled collaboration in science and technology.

Their goal was to convey a number of technical innovations to the US in order to secure assistance in maintaining the war effort.

The collection of ideas, blueprints, and prototypes they carried was probably some of the most valuable material ever taken to American, inside a briefcase (almost lost in a London taxi at the start of the journey – the driver apparently left without his passenger). In particular, the cavity magnetron was not only instrumental in the Allied victory, but also became the foundation of an enduring scientific relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States.

The briefcase contained all Britain’s military secrets, with blueprints and circuit diagrams for rockets, explosives, superchargers, gyroscopic gunsights, submarine detection devices, self-sealing fuel tanks, and information that would lead to the jet engine and the atomic bomb.

Research into the secret MAEE (Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment) at RAF Helensburgh has discovered the visit there by Tizard and other involved in the mission, as told by our friend Eye on Millig.

The story begins:

A VISIT to the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at RAF Helensburgh in 1940 by Sir Henry Tizard was a prelude to what is said by historians to be the most important secret mission of World War Two.

A team of six headed by Sir Henry went to America with a black box of secrets. With him were two of the world’s experts in radar, Dr Robert Watson-Watt and 24 year-old genius Edward Taffy Bowen.

Tizard was a former military pilot and chair of the Aeronautical Research Council, and previously headed a Government air defence committee to explore the possibility of a death ray.

He enlisted Watson-Watt, who did not favour the concept but instead developed radar as a way of detecting approaching enemy aircraft, and was responsible for the chain of radar stations that played such an important role during the Battle of Britain.

The Tizard Mission took secret documents to the USA for safe keeping following the fall of France and possible invasion. The contents were to be shared with the Americans.

Tizard invited Watson-Watt and Bowen to form part of the delegation because of his earlier work with the two scientists. Bowen was made personally responsible for the box during its journey to Washington.

Retired Merseyside newspaper editor Robin Bird — author of two books about MAEE — tells me: “Now it can be revealed that Sir Henry, Watson-Watt and Bowen were at RAF Helensburgh shortly before the Tizard Mission.

“They are listed among eight VIP visitors at the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment regarding developments in ‘experimental warfare’.

“In hindsight this was a significant visit. MAEE was involved with trials of the new ASV long range air to surface radar, Bowen having conducted the first trial using ASV radar to detect submarines in December 1939.

“MAEE adapted it for use by Coastal Command Sunderlands and lend-lease Catalinas, and airborne ASV radar proved to be a major weapon in the ultimate defeat of Germany’s U-Boats.

“What exactly the meeting at Helensburgh was about we will never know. No doubt ASV radar was on the agenda — and possibly developments in anti-submarine warfare.

“The fact that we know Tizard, Watson-Watt and Bowen were at Helensburgh is down to a contemporary report on MAEE at the National Archives in Kew, London.

“It merely states the names of official visitors to RAF Helensburgh for discussions about possible developments in war requirements. I recently had the opportunity to inspect it.”

Via: Eye on Millig: The top-secret mission that began at RAF Helensburgh

The full story of the visit to Helensburgh can be read at the link given above.

MAEE Badge

MAEE Badge

May 30, 2017 Posted by | World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

Military Museum Scotland has arrived

It’s almost exactly a year since I first heard of Military Museum Scotland, a project hoping to deliver a permanent museum to all aspect of Scottish military history.

The project came from Mobile Military Museum, which visited schools and events with its displays, but saw the need for a more permanent facility.

That has now arrived, and been in existence for some 11 weeks now, and reported to be progressing well.

It is a hands on museum where visitors get to handle most of the artefacts (they are not locked away in glass cases) and has both indoor and outdoor displays, a café, gift shop, and wheelchair access.

Military Museum Scotland’s aims are primarily education, covering Scottish military history from World War I to the present day. 95% of the displays are open, so most artefacts can be handled.

Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 – 16.00 (Mondays are reserved for booked school visits). The museum is also available for private evening bookings, and offers a drop in centre for military veterans.

More info at the following links:

Military Museum Scotland – VisitScotland

Mobile Military Museum – Twitter

Ex-soldier inspired by father’s wartime bravery launches Military Museum Scotland – Sunday Post

Military museum opened in West Lothian by son of war hero – Daily Record

They don’t have a web site, but are on Facebook – you’ll have to look for them there.

And here’s their pic of the sign at the door:

Military Museum Scotland Sign

Military Museum Scotland Sign

Details

Legion Hall, Louis Braille Avenue,
Linburn Centre,
Wilkieston,
West Lothian,
EH27 8EJ

Tel: 07799565243

email: milmussco@aol.co.uk

May 21, 2017 Posted by | military, World War I, World War II | , | Leave a comment

Dolly bird Barbie was a spy who even had her own little Enigma machine

I chanced across this little gem about Barbie and her typewriter, and thought was something that was probably little known, and worth sharing with those who like secrets.

Barbie was first given a purely mechanical typewriter, but was later upgraded to an electronic version manufactured in Slovenia (by Methano) and supplied by Mattel. But the E-118 (preceded by the E-115, E-116, and E-117) had a secret, a built-in cryptographic capability which allowed secret messages to be encrypted and decrypted, and used an alphabetic substitution cipher.

All used a simple daisy wheel printer made of plastic parts, with two solenoids and a motor. A small PCB contained the electronic at the centre of the unit, with a microcontroller bonded directly to the PCB to save money. Although this was redesigned over time, the crypto feature seems to be common to all.

There were actually 4 built-in cipher modes, each activated by entering a special key sequence on the keyboard, explained only in the original documentation. Access was by pressing SHIFT and LOCK in combination with specific keys. While keyboard layouts vary between countries, and therefore the characters on the keys, the physical position or location of the keys on the keyboard which needed to be pressed did not change.

In use, the user simply activates one of the 4 secret modes, types in their message, and the encrypted message is printed on the paper.

To decode the message, the recipient activates the corresponding decoding mode, and when they type in the encrypted message as received, the plain text message should be printed on the paper.

The encryption method is a simple character substitution, where a given character is always replaced by the same substitute character from a table. The 4 modes are provided through the inclusion of 4 different substitution tables within the typewriter’s programming.

A number of different versions of these typewriters were made, so it could be sold worldwide.  English, German and French keyboard layouts are known. It seems that text written on the French version cannot be decoded on a British version suggestion different versions are not compatible. Perhaps they use different sets of substitution tables.

For more details and examples of this intriguing toy, see the entry at:

Crypto Museum

Below is an E-117 (found on Pinterest, with no attribution).

Barbie E-117 encrypted typewriter

Barbie E-117 encrypted typewriter

My apologies to those who appreciate the difference between encoding and encryption.

While I try to make the distinction, when working from source material that uses the terms interchangeably, it simply takes too long to revise everything and correct it while keeping things consistent.

At its simplest:

  • encoding only requires an algorithm, and is typically done to allow data transmission
  • encryption requires an algorithm and a key, and is done for privacy

While both may make a message unreadable, the former can be recovered as the method will be public, so there is no secrecy.

The latter can only be recovered by the holder of the key.

The difference probably doesn’t matter to anyone not involved, and can be traced back to things like references to the codebreakers of places such as Bletchley Park, when such distinctions were not made.

March 1, 2017 Posted by | Civilian, Cold War, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

How I was (not) totally ignored by The Telegraph and Twitter

TelegraphWW2

TelegraphWW2 Twitter account

I’m suffering a double dose of disappointment at the moment.

I usually find most web sites I drop a note advising of problems with their content at least offer the courtesy of an acknowledgement, and even the odd ‘Thank You for bothering’. But complete ignorance is unusual.

I used to look forward to seeing archive material from The Telegraph, tweeted to their account as depicted in the attached graphic, but a while ago I realised I was getting nothing more than a daily dose of trash news via dozens of daily tweets from this account.

I’ve spent the past week trying to do the ‘Right Thing’, and replied to every tweet they sent, asking then to explain the connection between current daily news trivia and World War II.

No response or acknowledgement whatsoever – not even ‘Get Lost!’

At the same time, I’ve used Twitter’s own ‘Report’ option to alert them to the fact that The Telegraph is tweeting material unrelated to the account, and is also spamming (by repeating most of the tweets at least once).

Twitter doesn’t offer any feedback for reported material, but the account is still present and continuing the same abuse almost 2 weeks after I started reporting it.

I’ve also emailed The Telegraph’s digital services department a number of times, with each email creating a unique automated case – none of which have yet produced the courtesy of a reply from the department.

Ah well… shame.

At least I know I tried.

Two weeks of trying is enough – I don’t care now.

Update

After I started blogging about this in more public arenas, I suddenly got an email response (after almost 2 weeks), and the modern day news trivia being tweeted under the guise of WW2 archive material also stopped at the same time.

There have been no more of these modern tweets for more than 24 hours

The email said the digital folk at he Telegraph were aware of an issue, did not know how to fix it, but were working on it.

May 20, 2016 Posted by | World War II | , , | Leave a comment

Find wartime bombing sites in Aberdeenshire

Two Google maps showing areas where raids were carried out during World War II have been created using records from the time.

One map shows areas where bombing raids caused damage and can be found here, and shows all the known attacks from 26 June 1940, until the last raid on 21 April 1943.

Some of the areas affected are quite small, so it’s best to zoom in on any area of interest as the marker may not be visible when he map is zoomed out to cover a wide area.

The other shows areas where enemy aircraft carried out attacks, and can be found here, and shows those recorded in the Aberdeen County Register of Air Raids and Alarms from 1940 – 1944.

Via: Map charts WW2 bombing of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire

March 3, 2016 Posted by | council, military, World War II | , , , | 2 Comments

Dogs which helped derail Nazi nuclear weapons operations remembered

Be sure to watch the video included with the full report on this item (link is at the end), as it reveals that the dogs which were so carefully trained for the mission were ultimately destroyed after it was completed, ‘for security reasons’:

A team of 40 dogs which helped derail Nazi nuclear weapons operations have been remembered in a special ceremony.

The dogs were taken from America to train with troops on a Highlands country estate, for a mission which saw the Allies sabotage Nazi heavy water operations in Norway.

Sisters Nola Grant and Maureen Clark carried out a poignant ceremony at Glenfeshie Estate in Badenoch in tribute to the team.

In 1942 the sisters’ father Murray Clark was just sixteen when he trained with the dogs in Scotland.

Nola said: “He knew that it was a top secret mission. In leaving home, he could not tell anyone about it.”

The Norwegian operation was hailed as the most successful of its kind during the war and was immortalised in the 1965 movie The Heroes of Telemark.

Dogs which helped derail Nazi nuclear weapons operations remembered | Aberdeen & North | News.

Vemork Hydroelectric Plant 1935 by Anders Beer Wilse - Galleri Nor Tilvekstnummer

Vemork Hydroelectric Plant 1935 by Anders Beer Wilse – Galleri Nor Tilvekstnummer

Vemork Hydroelectric Plant at Rjukan, Norway in 1935 is seen above. In the front building, the Norsk Hydro hydrogen production plant, a Norwegian Special Operations Executive (SOE) team (Operation Gunnerside) blew up heavy water production cells on the night of 27/28 February 1943 in order to sabotage the efforts of the German nuclear energy project.

28th February 1943: Operation Gunnerside – the Telemark Raid

BBC Radio 4 also has a programme available online, which was made to mark the 60th anniversary of the raid:

BBC – Radio 4 – Telemark Heroes

March 24, 2015 Posted by | World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

New book tells the story of a World War II gunner

Those interested in World War II gun sites and batteries may be interested to know of a new publication we are aware of (having had an enquiry from the author some time back).

Far be it for me to try and better the description on the publisher’s site:

Armageddon Fed Up With This
A Gunner’s Tale
by Derek Nudd

In 1940 Eric Nudd, like millions of others, found himself unexpectedly in uniform – a raw conscript in a heavy anti-aircraft regiment. He grew over the next five years into a seasoned professional with the Normandy and North West European campaigns under his belt.

A previously unsuspected talent for maths took him from heaving shells to fire-control and then radar, giving him a ringside view of the manic wartime technology race. As a Fleet Street journalist, prolific letter-writer and occasional poet Eric published improvised news sheets from a succession of gun sites and dugouts.

Armageddon Fed Up With This – A Gunner’s Tale is told by a ‘civilian-in-uniform’ who was an acute observer and literate recorder of what he saw. His wry, sometimes scathing observations on the humour and idiocy of army life, and the military, political and cultural events of the time are set against the global cataclysm going on around him. The author, Derek Nudd, colours in the background for those of us lucky enough to have missed it.

Inspired by authors such as Cyril Demarne and Spike Milligan, Armageddon Fed Up With This provides a new perspective – from underneath – on the anti-aircraft forces who, for a while after the fall of France, were the only part of the army shooting back. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy historical and military biographies, and provide new insights for students of the period. The title was a contemporary joke.

Armageddon Fed Up With This – A Gunner’s Tale – Matador Non-Fiction – Derek Nudd

The book is now with the printer, and the publisher’s web site is taking advance orders with the offer of a 20% discount.

The book includes a first-hand account of gunsite life at Gourock, Airdrie and Kilcreggan over the winter of 1941-42.

Transcripts of the regiment’s war diary for that period can be freely downloaded from the author’s web site:

Derek Nudd – Author – Home

Armageddon Fed Up With This

Armageddon Fed Up With This
A Gunner’s Tale
by Derek Nudd

January 1, 2015 Posted by | World War II | , , | 2 Comments

Helensburgh submarine museum funding on council agenda

submarine

I’ve been watching out for mentions of the proposed submarine museum in Helensburgh, and waiting until something positive appears that suggests it is moving forward and will materialise one day.

I’ve jumped on earlier mentions of forthcoming project of a similar nature in the past, because I want information about their existence to be out there, as it might be spotted by somebody who matters, but so far, feel as if I am getting my fingers burnt, as they all seem to fizzle out.

I’m not going to mention any specific past project, in case I say something wrong, as I am not privy to any special knowledge, but on the other hand, do know that one or two of these projects are still being pursued, but perhaps by different people and/or in slightly different directions.

So, back to the submarine museum:

Funding to the tune of £140,000 is also expected to be released by councillors for the Scottish Submarine Trust specifically towards the development of The Submarine Museum in Helensburgh. The condition of the funding mean the cash must be split evenly and released in two instalments of £70,000 when the following milestones are achieved; proof of legal ownership of the building; and receipt of Listed Building Consent. The museum aims to tell the history of the Royal Navy’s Submarine Service will be told using new media and immersive 3D projected imagery and exhibits.

A 39 tonne ‘X’ Craft – or mini submarine – will be displayed as the centrepiece to the museum, which will also house an interactive electronic memorial in Remembrance of the 5,329 submariners who have given their lives in the Royal Navy Submarine Service.

The project, which aims to attract 10,000 visitors to the Burgh, is spearheaded by Visit Helensburgh.

The museum will be within the hall of the former St Columba’s Church, and the company will take formal ownership of the property on March 28 of this year.

Via: Submarine museum on today’s council agenda | Helensburgh & Lomond | News | Helensburgh Advertiser

May 14, 2014 Posted by | council, Maritime, military, Naval, World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

Web site dedicated to Bute at War returns to the Internet

Bute at War

Memorial web site returns

I was really pleased to see a media article which announced the return of a web site which had unfortunately evaporated due to unfortunate circumstances some years ago, and which I therefore thought had been lost forever, which would have been sad.

The site had been created as part of a much wider effort to mark the 60th anniversary of celebrations to mark V-Day on Bute. Considerable material was collected at the time, much of it not generally known, and a book was also published at the same time.

“Bute’s War”, a book by Jess Sandeman, who was a War veteran, former Chief WREN, and a long-time voluntary genealogist at the Bute Museum, was launched early in June 2005 to coincide with the island’s V-Day festivities. I was able to obtain a copy from the author, who ultimately passed away only a few years later, in August 2009.

Bute's War by Jess Sandeman 2005

Bute’s War

Circumstances, changes, and losses in the years following this event eventually saw the site disappear from the web, and my contacts were also lost, so I had no idea what happened to the content – fortunately, the person who actually organised it retained a copy, and the material is now back online.

There is a wealth of local information regarding the part the Isle of Bute played during the war – and it’s now so long since I saw the site I dare not try and summarise, rather just recommend it for a good trawl if you are at all interested in the area and its war time history:

Bute during World War II

See also: New website keeps Bute’s WW2 story alive – The Buteman

May 3, 2014 Posted by | Maritime, military, Naval, World War II | , , , , | 2 Comments

Britain From Above – Scotland’s Industrial Might at The Lighthouse 14 Feb – 27 Apr 2014

I only came across this exhibition a few days ago (but doubt I’ll be in Glasgow before it ends), and there’s still time to catch it at The Lighthouse in Glasgow’s Mitchell Lane, as it runs from 14 February to 27 April, 2014.

Drawing on many rare and previously unseen aerial images, this exhibition traces the histories of factories, shipyards, mills, ironworks and their surrounding communities over three decades, from 1919 to 1953. Industries are shown operating at peak and also in decline, as the ‘bird’s eye view’ tracks the impact of social, political and economic change on the urban fabric of Scotland, from the Great Depression to reconstruction in the aftermath of the Second World War. While many buildings are now gone, they live on in the memories of workers and their families – the economic powerhouse of the past is the heritage of today.

Via The Lighthouse – Glasgow : Visit : Exhibitions : Britain From Above – Scotland’s Industrial Might

There a bit of a coincidence with this, as I recently found a little shop selling assorted bric-à-brac (ok, junk) and other items, probably collected from house clearances and similar.

First time I passed, I noticed a dish full of mounted (but not framed) B&W pics of Glasgow. They looked to be largely industrial, but I didn’t have time to take a closer look.

Next time I was there, they had migrated to the wall, and I could see they originated from a well-known Scottish archive. I even recognised some of them, and knew where to download them (for personal use, of course.)

I thought they were just a single collection, but while discussing them, learned they were £2 each, or could be bought in sets for a reduced amount – and I didn’t ask any more.

I’m being deliberately vague, as I don’t want to make the guy in shop grumpy by affecting his sales (the prints are high quality and nicely mounted), not do I want to end up in the midst of some copyright nonsense involving the archive, which I know gets a little ‘nippy’ if it finds its material being used in a way it does not approve of.

April 26, 2014 Posted by | Civilian, photography, World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

Political church might sink Helensburgh Submarine Museum

While I’m not someone who nurtures any particular religious or political views, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the irony of seeing how the clergy often manage to turn a blind eye to the many thousands of dead that litter history thanks to the church and its assorted dabblings and favouritism with various political parties over the centuries. Yet it’s not slow to point at others.

I should have realised that things were going too smoothly when I noted the inclusion of the proposed Submarine Museum at Helensburgh (along with project at St Peter’s seminary) on the agenda of Argyll & Bute Council.

While the council ultimately voted in favour of awarding £140,000 to the project, it seems that not all is well – and anyone who ever reads about Argyll & Bute Council in the media will probably not be surprised that as soon as it was awarded… the problems began to arrive.

In this case, it seems that some are not satisfied with what is known about the Scottish Submarine Trust and its plans.

I’m not privy to the meeting, so can’t really comment, but it seems odd that councillors should feel confident enough to vote the award through if there was insufficient information to back up the application, or if the were concerns over those making the application. I also find the suggestion reported from one SNP Cllr Trail, who said the project has been pulled together ‘astonishingly quickly’ to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, a little hard to fathom. I have no time for the nonsensical games, but I’d find it hard to think I’d get any credibility by blaming events taking place in Helensburgh on them.

Here is Argyll & Bute Council’s Scottish Submarine Museum Evaluation of Funding Request

We’ll see. We can only watch and see if this descends into yet another fiasco.

What is perhaps a sadder and even more desperate clawing at straws in order to make some sort of point is the arrival of the church and its hypocritical opinion.

The museum has managed to secure premises in a former church hall in the town, although its initial – and ultimate – aim is to house its collection on Helensburgh pier. The latter appears to have been deferred for the moment, due to a lack of knowledge regarding council plans for the future of the pier.

However, Rev Fred Booth, who was the minister at St Columba for 23 years, upset about the hall being used to house ‘memorabilia of war’.

It’s not worth the hate mail I know would follow.

The same is true for the comments of the Rev Ian Miller, formerly of Bonhill Church, who successfully managed to twist this story into an opportunity to rail against Trident.

I was going to comment on the irony or hypocrisy of this thought on their part – then decided not to.

However, I will say I would have respected both of them if they had supported the museum, and worked toward ensuring it served as a memorial to those who lost their lives serving on submarines, as this is often overlooked, and has only recently seen a memorial raised in Dundee, at HMS Ambrose.

Via Row surfaces over planned Helensburgh submarine museum | Helensburgh & Lomond | News | Helensburgh Advertiser

Church razes Cold War relic

Thanks to the church, Scotland lost a potential artefact relating to the Cold War…

Ayr was the Royal Observer Corps’ No 25 Group HQ, in the UKWMO (United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation) Caledonian Sector. The owners of 25 Group ROC HQ at Ayr, who were the local church, decided they have no use for the building and that it should be demolished at the earliest opportunity to provide extra car parking space. What they really meant was that from their perspective, they could morally support the continued existence of the building.

Strange that their morals didn’t prevent them acquiring it in the first place, only to destroy it.

See AYR: ROC group HQ No 25

April 8, 2014 Posted by | World War II | , , | 1 Comment

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