Winton Forum


Secret war in the Winton sky

As Winton queued for rations and stumbled its way through the wartime blackout a secret war was being fought in the skies above.

The main activity hinged on German use of a top secret radio beam system that was used to guide hundreds of bombers to their targets in England.

Luftwaffe pathfinder aircraft flew along the beam until it was crossed by other beams informing the pilot that he was approaching and then above his target.

The significance for Bournemouth was that in attacks on the English Midlands the main beam was transmitted from Cherbourg and in some instances crossed directly above Winton and Moordown.

The German bomber assault on the Midlands was launched in 1940 and called "Moonlight Sonata". Its most notorious victory was the blitzing and near destruction of the city of Coventry.

Tracking the beams

The main beam being transmitted from Cherbourg had two elements - the narrow 30 metre wide path that led to the target and a wider lower power "entry" beam" that stretched from the French Coast and ended approximately over the Bournemouth and Poole conurbation. The "entry beam" was meant to be easy for the bombers to find before they started to "ride" the much narrower main beam.

British experts rapidly realised that if they could pinpoint the exact position of the beam they would be able to work out the planned target and take necessary action. In practice this meant that Avro Anson aircraft became a familiar sight flying back and forth over North Bournemouth using special equipment to detect and intercept the beam.

Fortunately the German operators tended to turn the system on well before the raids were launched. This gave the RAF time to detect and trigger countermeasures.

Local people remember swarms of German bombers crossing the town on the nights of big raids on the Midlands. Many people specifically remember the November night when Coventry was attacked.

Guns on the streets

Part of the response was to move anti-aircraft guns under the expected path of the enemy aircraft. These mobile guns were kept hidden during the day and moved into position at night.

On several occasions they were dotted all along Wimborne Road and shrapnel rained down on the roofs of houses.

A very powerful searchlight was installed at Throop. Its object was to illuminate the bombers as they passed over.

Unfortunately the Germans sent in a lone fighter which dived down the search light beam and opened fire on it. The light unit was destroyed and its crew were killed.

Secret weapon

Radio transmitters were used to transmit jamming signals that confused the equipment on the German aircraft. And the boffins also tried out a new and unconventional form of anti-aircraft defence.

Residents around The Avenue and Muscliffe Lane woke up one morning to find several hundred yards of piano wire across the roofs of their houses. It was attached to grey spindles about the size of a paint can.

Nothing was ever said publicity about this secret experiment but it is believed the spindles were fired into the air, probably by a rocket or a device called a Holman Projector. The wire was intended to entangle the propellors of the enemy aircraft and bring them down.

It is not thought to have been a great success and was apparently never heard of again.