In this section you will find information and photos of operational equipment used by the Observer Corps in the early aircraft spotting (pre-nuclear) role from 1925 to approx 1956.
The Observer Instrument was in use from the mid-1930’s to the mid-1950’s. The initial ‘model’ pre-war was nothing more than a simple pantograph and pointer which was slow and clunky to use. A much improved model manufactured by RB Pullin and Co was introduced in the mid-1930’s that was faster to use and mor e accurate. This new PI underwent various modifications, the main being the addition of a ‘micklethwait’ height corrector (named after Observer Micklethwait who invented it) in 1940 which vastly improved the height estimation of aircraft. The PI worked by manually tracking the aircraft through the ‘sight’ which moved a pointer indicating on the post chart the location of the aircraft in question. A canvas cover (AM ref No: 6E/306)was also provided for weather protection for the PI when not in use.
Posts were equipped with either a metal, non-collapsible, tripod, or a wooden and metal collapsible tripod. The collapsible tripod came with a canvas carry bag to store it in. When more permanent aircraft posts where built a fixed wooden mount was provided.
Mounted on top of the tripod/instrument mount was a circular chart made of either metal or bakelite with an area of 10 miles surrounding the post marked on it. It had nearby posts marked, as well as an orientation arrow pointing at a local landmark to enable quick setup. An additional inner circle was marked at the 5 mile distance from the post. This inner circle was known as the sound circle and was used for sound plotting at night, and in poor visibility. They were originally drawn using Cassini 1 inch/mile mapping.
Post were originally issued a crate in order to store the post telephone, post instrument, binoculars, chart table and other items
TELEPHONES/HEAD AND BREAST SET
Post were equipped with a simple hand-cranked GPO magneto telephone in order to contact Observer Centre. 2 different types existed, a pre-war version with more elaborate dovertailed woodwork and brass catches (AD163C), and a wartime economy version of simpler construction and plain steel hardware (AD1542). The telephone was operated with a head and breast set with speech being switched on and off by rotating the microphone towards or away from the operators mouth. A large copper earth rod was supplied to enable the set to be used in thunderstorms! The later version was also used very early in the underground posts in the cold war period before the introduction of the AD3460 teletalk.
BINOCULARS AND SUNGLASSES
Post were equipped with a pair of fixed focus binoculars, designation Air Ministry 6e/293. Also provided were a pair of anti-glare sunglasses to enable Observers to see planes against a bright sky.
For the Air Exercises of the pre-war years the Posts were issued with a small bell tent and a canvas wind screen (‘dodger’) was issued in the late 1930’s, but by the outbreak of WWII Posts had been issued with a wooden hut and given £5 with which to build an observation shelter.
RIFLE and REVOLVER
The issue of rifles to the ROC dates from May 1940. On 18th May the Commandant of the Observer Corps issued the following statement:
“The Commandant of the Observer Corps wishes to inform you he is taking steps to have certain Posts issued with rifles. For Groups in the firing line there were 2 rifles per Post and 100 rounds ammunition, Centres would have varied numbers rifles and where ever possible revolvers would be issued to Officers.”
By May 22nd 1940 the Observer Corps had become the first organisation to be armed after the Continental Invasion (Dunkirk) and it remained the only civilian organisation (apart from the Police) to carry firearms. The Observer Corps was armed long before the LDV (Later Home guard). The rifles were either the British designed and American made .303 Enfield Pattern 1914 (p14), the .30-06 Model 1917 (P17) or the Canadian Ross rifle. These rifles were of World War 1 vintage, and were issued in large numbers to members of the Home Front forces in the UK. Officers were issued the Webley Standard Service Revolver of the time. The rifles and revolvers were withdrawn during 1944.
The ROC were issued flare pistols around 1952 for the ‘Rats and Terriers’ exercises of the early and mid 1950’s. These were initially not stored at the posts but later (around 1954) were stored in special locked ammunition containers in the post-war concrete Orlit aircraft posts. The pistol issued was the No4 Mk1 pistol, which had seen service during the war years in various RAF aircraft. It is characterised by special locking ‘lugs’ around the barrel, and a large bore of 1.5inches. These were withdrawn around 1956.
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Unless stated otherwise all items are in TheTimeChamber personal collection