Telecommunications Flying Unit, Defford



Telecommunications Flying Unit, Defford
TFU Defford


Neil Ramsey's account of his time at the Telecommunications Flying Unit, Defford, Worcester. The unit was divided into a defensive and an offensive section and because of his experience he was posted to the bomber section.
Various aircraft were fitted with radar equipment for testing and evaluating. He discusses several incidents and accidents involving his and other aircraft.




Temporal Coverage



Two typewritten sheets


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[inserted] [underlined] PETER BOGGIS [/underlined] [/inserted]
[inserted] PLEASE RETURN TO:- [/inserted]
[inserted] Exe. 3. [/inserted]
[underlined] T.F.U DEFFORD. [/underlined]
In January I943 [sic] I was posted to Telecommunications Flying Unit, Defford near Worcester. This was the sharp end of the Telecommunications Research Establishment at Malvern, known briefly as T.R.E., where all the various radar devices for the R.A.F. were thought up in pursuance of the war and tested out by the flying unit at Defford. T.R.E. moved from Swanage on the South coast after the Bruneval raid had captured large chunks of the German Wurtzberg their early warning radar system, and it was thought they might retaliate. Malvern Boys Public School was taken over and T.R.E. moved in with their equipment and scientists, known as Boffins, some well known names among them including Bernard Lovell later Sir Bernard of Joddrell Bank fame.
T.F.U. Defford consisted of two wings, Defensive (Fighters etc) and Offensive (Bombers and Coastal Command), and being a Bomber type I was posted to the latter: THIS ACCOUNT DEALS ONLY WITH this wing.
We had a variety of aircraft including the Lancaster Mks. I, II, III, Halifax Mks. I, II, Stirling Mks. I, III, Wellington Mks. Ic, II, III, Blenheim Mk. IV, Hudson, Mosquito and a few others, and the pilots were expected to fly all of these. We had no dual – just a demonstation [sic] circuit and Pilots Notes – so were a bit vulnerable if anything went wrong. Fortunately emergencies were rather rare and accidents few. The Boffins flew on most of our flights as well as Specialist Navigation Officers and occasionally Signals Officers. A lot of the testing was on H2S and warning devices for air gunners, airborne search radar for Coastal Command. We also did early trials on G.C.A. and equipment for lacating [sic] dinghies – one pilot earning himself a well-merited A.F.C. by volunteering to parachute at night in midwinter into the Irish Sea.
Security at Defford was very tight and R.A.F. Police were everywhere: aircrew needed special passes signed by the Station Commander to enter the aircraft, and aircraft were not permitted to land elsewhere or stay away overnight without his authority. On one occasion I had to fly a Lancaster to Wyton for the A.O.C. 8 Group to carry out some tests on a new stabilised H2S. Air Commodore Bennett, as he then was, flew the aircraft himself with me as a passenger and the Group Navigation Officer working the radar. After an hour’s flying over Nottingham and Leicester (for some reason these two cities were usually the targets for H2S testing – probably a good picture on the screen) Bennett landed and he and the navigator seemed pleased with the project. As there was a party in the Mess that night and I had done a tour of ops previously at Wyton I boldly asked the A.O.C. if he wouln’t [sic] loke [sic] to do further testing the next day. After all if you don’t ask . . . . . He might well have said Yes, bring the aircraft back to-morrow, and that would have served me right. But instead he said “I presume you want to go to the party?” and when I replied Yes I did he went to the nearest telephone and spoke to the C.O. at Defford and told him he was very pleased with the equipment and would like to try it out again the next day, and he would accept responsibility for the aircraft staying overnight. Then he turned to me and said “There you are Boggis, enjoy your evening. 0900 hours take-off, don’t be late.” A pretty reasonable gesture I thought.
While on the subject of security I must mention an incident involing [sic] the U.S.A.A.F. By the end of I943 [sic] we had two Flying Fortresses attached to Defford, equipped with H2S and flown by their own crews. Supposedly they were subject to the same security regulations as we were. When the Americans started up their Pathfinder Force they threw an Inaugaral [sic] party at Alconbury and several of us went from Defford, but not allowed to fly there we went by car. Imagine our surprise on arrival to see both the Defford BI9’s [sic] on the airfield, complete with their radar domes for all to see. Then walking along a corridor in one of the buildings we passed the skipper of one of these BI9’s [sic] with an American nurse on his arm. Someone asked him where his navigator was and he said “Down at the radar section” (few people knew the Americans had radar in those days). The nurse said “Gee, you got radar here,” and he replied “Sure, Honey.” But to his credit he told here he couldn’t show her it.
Later we discovered that the Americans had filled these two aircraft with nurses
[page break]
from their hospital near Malvern and flown them up to Alconbury. Goodness knows how they smuggled them onto the base at Defford, let alone into the aircraft!
One of our pilots had an unfortunate accident: half way down the runway on [inserted] [circled 1] [/inserted] take-off he found he had got ‘George’ in, tried to overpower it but was not successful and ended up going through the fence that surrounded Station Headquarters and came to rest outside the Station Commander’s Office. No one was injured and the aircraft was only slightly damaged, repairable on Unit.
The C.O. rushed out of his office and into the aircraft, grabbed [inserted] [circled 2] [/inserted] the first person he saw, who happened to be a civilian Boffin and shouted at him “What happened?” and this fellow, despite being a bit shaken, replied with commendable sang-froid “I don’t know: why don’t you ask the Pilot?” The outcome was that the pilot in due course was sent to the Brighton Disciplinary Course for two weeks, which we all took a very dim view of, especially as he had been an acting Squadron Leader in Bomber Command with a DSO and DFC. He came back from it none the worse for wear with horrific stories of what went on there, and amazingly without too much bitterness. These Discip courses, I feel, were never intended for this sort of thing and I don’t think would have happened in Bomber Command: but Defford was not in Bommber [sic] Command and these things were viewed differently on non-operational stations. We were always rather apprehensive in case we did something silly like a taxying accident. Sure enough an incident did occur to me: I was taxying a Stirling to the hangar when the brakes failed and although I quickly switched all engines off the aircraft slowly rolled down the gently slope to the hangar doors. Visions of Brighton loomed large before me, particularly as the propellor boss of one engine just touched the hangar door. The dent on the boss was insignificant and luck was on my side as the engineering Officer who saw the incident quickly had the boss replaced and we thought no one would be any the wiser. But people talk of course and several days later the acting C.O. of [inserted] [circled 3] [/inserted] my Wing sent for me and asked why I had not reported this incident and that I should consider myself lucky that I was not up before the Station Commander. However he said he was not going to pursue it further and that was the end of the matter. Sad to say he died heroically a year later when shot down flying a Stirling at Arnhem.
Flying back on one occasion from an experimental sortie I thought I would see how A [sic] Lancaster would cope, firstly on two engines, and then on one engine. I was flying at 20,000 ft and with two fans feathered the aircraft could just maintain height (this was the Merlin engine type): with three feathered I had to put it into a gentle glide path to keep up the airspeed. I was most impressed with the performance. What the Boffins thought of some of our antics I can’t imagine, but I reckon they were pretty long suffering. Here’s how a fellow aircrew member saw my little experiment at the time.
[underlined] Peter Boggis. [/underlined]
[inserted] [underlined] DECEMBER 1992 [/underlined] [/inserted]
[inserted] [circled 1] Brian Smithers.
[circled 2] Group Capt. King.
[circled 3]. Squadron Leader Gilliard. [/inserted]



Peter Boggis, “Telecommunications Flying Unit, Defford,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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