Battle of the Beams

Electronic warfare conflict in the Second World War / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Battle of the Beams was a period early in the Second World War when bombers of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) used a number of increasingly accurate systems of radio navigation for night bombing in the United Kingdom. British scientific intelligence at the Air Ministry fought back with a variety of their own increasingly effective means, involving jamming and deception signals. The period ended when the Wehrmacht moved their forces to the East in May 1941, in preparation for the attack on the Soviet Union.[1]

The idea of beam radio navigation was developed during the 1930s, initially as a blind landing aid. The basic concept is to produce two directional radio signals that are aimed slightly to the left and right of a runway's midline. Radio operators in the aircraft listen for these signals and determine which of the two beams they are flying in. This is normally accomplished by sending Morse code signals into the two beams, to identify right and left.

For bombing, the Luftwaffe built huge versions of the antennas to provide much greater accuracy at long range, named Knickebein and X-Gerät. These were used during the early stages of "The Blitz" with great effect, in one case laying a strip of bombs down the centerline of a factory deep in England. Tipped off about the system's operation by pre-war military intelligence, the British responded by sending their own Morse code signals so that the aircraft believed they were always properly centred in the beam while they flew wildly off course. The Germans became convinced the British had somehow learned to bend radio signals.

When the problem became widespread, the Germans introduced a new system that worked on different principles, the Y-Gerät. Having guessed the nature of this system from a passing mention, the British had already deployed countermeasures that rendered the system useless almost as soon as it was used. The Germans eventually abandoned the entire concept of radio navigation over the UK, concluding the British would continue to successfully jam it.

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