History - Gunners

(A.T.S. Remembered)

As a consequence of bringing women under military law in April 1941 it became possible to create Mixed Anti Aircraft Batteries of the Royal Artillery. General Sir Frederick Pyle who was the Commander in Chief of Air Defence G.B.was very active in the creation of the Mixed Anti Aircraft Batteries. The Government was very keen to emphasise that these women would not 'pull the trigger' as it was felt it would not be acceptable for 'life givers to be life takers'.

A.T.S. were soon deployed to the Royal Artillery (R.A.) to make up Mixed Batteries. They took over some of the tasks that men were already doing to find enemy aircraft and control the direction the gun(s) would fire in. First of all they were sent to training camps to learn the instruments they were to use. They were then selected to go to specific R.A. Batteries - once allocated the whole gun laying team was sent to practice camp to learn how to work together, before being deployed to their Battery position. Some women went to permanent camps and some became mobile so that they could replace Batteries who were moving for various reasons at very short notice. When the V1s were being sent across the channel many of the Batteries moved to what was known as 'doodlebug alley'. The Batteries were moved to temporary sites to cover a dense area on the south east coast of the country where most of the V1 rockets were coming across. Many of the Batteries were accommodated in tents with no permanent water or washing facilities. Added to this, they were firing almost constantly for hours on end, trying to knock the very fast rockets out of the sky.

A.T.S. were trained to use several pieces of equipment. The 'spotter' telescope or T.I., the height and range finder, predictors, sound detectors and radar.

  • Telescopic Identification (T.I.) - this instrument consisted of two sets of eye pieces at either end of a bar, which sat on top of a tripod. By looking into the eye pieces, A.T.S. 'spotters' could locate an enemy aircraft and call the range and bearing for the height and range finders to pin point and more accurately define the location of the aircraft.One of the great skills of the 'spotters' was in the identification of aircraft and they had relentless training in order to ensure that they correctly spotted friend from foe.
 T.I. Operators
  • Height and Range Finder - the height and range finder was more sophisticated, being two telescopes in a long base tube. Different types were used, but the Barr & Stroud instrument was 18 feet long. Again the operators used eye pieces to look through and pin point the aircraft - taking height and range and sending this on to the predictor. The U.B.7 in the picture was the one preferred by many operators and was much smaller than the Barr & Stroud.
Height and Range Finder
  • Predictor - the information from the height and range finder was sent over to the predictor. The predictor was an instrument that was used to calculate how far in front of an aircraft the gun would have to fire in order to explode close enough to the aircraft to knock it off course, using the information from the height and range finder and the speed. A.T.S. members would look into the eye pieces and see a small image of the aircraft, they would then turn dials to keep that image in place and once they were 'on target' the information was automatically fed to the guns. There were two main types of predictor used, the Sperry and the Vickers. The picture on the right is of a Sperry, which was an American made instrument.

Various different types of sound detector were used and these were basically large cones of different shapes and sizes attached to a moveable chassis. The sounds the cones picked up were electronically enhanced and this enabled the operators to alert the rest of the team to the possible location of enemy aircraft.

Once radar was on the scene, this was used to find the height and range of aircraft, but the information was still sent to the predictor to control the aim of the gun. More details about radar will be added to this site in the near future.

Another instrument that was used by A.T.S was the kinetheodolite. This was only used at practice camps but this was based on the theories of cinema and theodolites combined. The operators would film mixed battery detachments firing at drones on the practice camps. The films were taken back in the evening to the camp headquarters and the operators would use the measurements taken, together with the film to work out how close to target each team was firing. This enabled teams to adjust their procedures in order to become more accurate. The work of the kinetheodolite operators was very mathematical and only those who were very good in this subject were able to cope with the calculations that had to be made each day. One problem that was experienced during hostilities was the problem of maintenance of the instruments. They were German made and it was obviously very difficult to go and ask for spares!

Z Rockets were also fired by R.A. Batteries including the mixed batteries, and again the instruments described above were used to control and aim the rockets as they were fired.

The predictor could be classed as a mechanical computer which, with the other instruments mentioned was operated by women in order to control the guns of the heavy ack ack batteries. In this sense there is a very fine line between stating these ladies did not fire the guns and the work they actually did. To all sense and purpose, the operators of today are considered to 'press the button' even though they are doing this remotely by computer control. It was rather deceitful of the Government of World War 2 to state that women 'did not pull the trigger' when they knew jolly well that what they did was as close as you could possibly get to actually firing the guns.

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