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The RAF's Ill Fated Turbinlite Nightfighting Operation

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The RAF's Ill Fated Turbinlite Nightfighting Operation

Old 4th May 2021, 17:26
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The RAF's Ill Fated Turbinlite Nightfighting Operation

79 years ago tonight RAF Stirling R9313 took off from Marham for a "Nickel" operation involving the dropping of 654000 leaflets over Vichy France. On the way back the Stirling was mistaken for a FW Condor by the new RAF night fighting operation (codenamed Turbinlite) and was promptly shot down.

The operation consisted of a modified Havoc (with a big searchlight in the nose) and a night fighting Hurricane both of which were based at Tangmere. The idea was that the Havoc would identify and then illuminate the target which the Hurricane would shoot down. It appears that the Stirling, which crashed near Lurgashall in Sussex, was this operation's only "success" and it was soon abandoned thereafter.

Thankfully, all the Stirling crew survived and were taken to Tangmere (rather foolishly as it turned out) as "there was a near riot" when the two crews met in the mess!

Virtually the same Stirling crew was shot down again (in another Stirling W7530)on 20/21st June 1942 over Holland on the way back from Emden - this time by a German night fighter. Sadly, on this occasion, 3 of the crew (of 8) were killed - the youngest only 19. My father was the navigator on both Stirlings and he ended up in Stalag Luft 3 with the second pilot Des Plunkett who had a big role in the Great Escape. Tonight the local Dutch would have been commemorating the loss of W7530 as part of Dutch Remembrance, but the ceremony has been cancelled for the second year running due to COVID. I hope to make the 80th Anniversary.
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Old 4th May 2021, 21:49
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Most interesting. We will remember them. Incidentally I believe Coastal Command also used these searchlights but soon discovered that they were only best deployed at the very last minute in commencing an attack on a U Boat.
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Old 5th May 2021, 01:48
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Turbinlite wasn't a code name, it was the name of the searchlight.
It wasn't successful but it wasn't worth persevering with to improve matters as better radar-equipped night fighters came along and removed the need.

The searchlight Coastal Command used was the Leigh Light.
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Old 5th May 2021, 02:31
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Yes, the unfortunate crew were in No. 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron, the crew who had shot them down - was the C.O. My father was in Flight 1455 based at Tangmere and was there the night it happened. In his book, my father recalled that he and his pilot had been out for a meal at a pub in Chichester (mostly liquid as they were marking a promotion) and they returned about 01:00.

I met George Evans (the CO’s Navigator), whom I knew had been on night flying and the following brief conversation took place:
George (on seeing me): “We got one!”
(this could only mean one thing - he and the CO had shot down a German bomber. So in my inebriated state I greeted this wonderful news enthusiastically and with the obvious question)
“What was it George?”
George: (lugubriously) “It was a Stirling!”
I have no recollection of my reply.


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Old 5th May 2021, 14:42
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That's amazing - have sent you a PM as keen to learn more!
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Old 6th May 2021, 11:15
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There was a school of thought that suggested it better to use the radar to get guns on the target than just to light it up. It must have offered potential for the Havoc and fighters to collide as well.
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Old 6th May 2021, 23:05
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Thanks STUF have emailed.
Yes, the risk of collision was high but the limiting factors to the brainwave were, my father said:
  1. If you turned on the light and the target was not there, you would never find it by 'waving the nose around like a torch in dark room'
  2. The Havoc was slow and lumbering and the 48 batteries 'literally' weighed a ton! - hence no guns.
  3. The light was exceedingly bright BUT the batteries could only supply 120 seconds of it - then you had to go home.
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