Battlefield French Coast - Bruneval, Paul Oldfield

Battlefield French Coast - Bruneval, Paul Oldfield

In the years just before the outbreak of the Second World War Britain and Germany independently developed radar technology. Only after the outbreak of war did each country realise that their rival also had the technology, and from then on a scientific war was waged as each side developed more advanced and more accurate radar technology (eventually won by the Allies with a combination of a British innovation and American development and production).

The Bruneval Raid was mounted to capture the key components of the German Würzburg radar, a new radar set that was more accurate but with less range than the earlier Freya system. A lightly defended Würzburg radar station was detected by photographic reconnaissance above the sea cliffs at Bruneval and Mountbatten's Combined Operation was given the task of raiding the site. The entire radar set was too large to take, so the idea was to remove key components, photograph the rest, and ideally capture one of the radar operators.

This was a classic combined operation, using all three services. The RAF provided the PR aircraft and the transport aircraft. The Army provided the paratroops that carried out the raid. The Navy provided the ships used to extract the raiders from the beaches below the cliffs. All three services had to work together for the raid to succeed, and likewise Oldfield has had to cover all three services to tell the story of the raid.

The book places the raid in its scientific context, starting with a brief history of radar developments in Britain and Germany, and the line of reasoning and evidence that suggested the existence of an unknown German radar set - the Würzburg set. This is a fascinating detective story, with Enigma decrypts from the Balkans providing evidence for the effective range of the new radar, and thus the probable size of dish and radar frequency.

We then move on to a account of the planning and training involving the preparing for the raid, followed by a detailed look at the raid itself, supported by an excellent collection of maps and photographs. I've seen plenty of pictures of the radar site and the now-demolished house behind it, but the pictures of the impressive cliffs and the ravines used to reach the beach were new to me and gave a good idea of how difficult the escape was. There is also a good selection of the actual wartime research pictures - the pre-war postcard that gave an idea of how steep the beach was, the PR photos that showed the radar sets or the photos taken during the raid.

The result is the definitive account of this successful raid, one of the most impressive in a year of raids.

1 - Development of Radar
2 - Genesis of the Raid
3 - Intelligence
4 - Planning
5 - Assembling the Force
6 - Training & Preparations
7 - Insertion by Parachute
8 - The Battle
9 - Extraction by Sea & Return
10 - Results of the Raid
11 - Aftermath
12 - A Tour of the Bruneval Battlefield

1 - Battle of the Beams
2 - Photographic Reconnaissance Unit
3 - Kammhuber Line
4 - Sources
5 - Parachute Force Nominal Roll
6 - Useful Information

Author: Paul Oldfield
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 198
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2013

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