"Well, the gunners are busy firing guns, but I ‘m looking for the aircraft and putting my radar on it and then I’m waiting for them to drop the bombs on me. So it’s kind of nerve-wracking."
I was a [Royal] Canadian Naval officer seconded to the Royal Navy. This is kind of interesting, and a lot of people don’t know it. The Royal Navy, in the first year-and-a-half of the war, had gone very heavily in the mine warfare, and when bombers came along, when the Germans unleashed their bomber fleets, all their technical officers were in other areas so they were desperate for people who could figure out what to do about this radar. So they sent an appeal to Canada, and 50 Canadian graduate students like me, went over, over a period of a year or so, and we were trained as radar officers.
So when I was out in the Eastern Med [Mediterranean], I was the radar officer to the admiral and the only radar officer in the fleet at that time. Then the other ships came out and all the radar officers on the ships were Canadians because the Brits [British people] had absolutely run out of university people. They’d used them in mine warfare in other areas. And a visiting admiral came, and I don’t remember whether he accosted me or whether I was told to present myself to him, but anyway, he came to speak to me and I said yes sir, no sir in the proper way and then I introduced another chap there, I introduced him to the admiral. Well, he was the first British radar officer who had come out to the Middle East. Up to that point, it was all Canadians because the Brits had absolutely run out of people.
Well radar was exciting and brand new. It’s electromagnetic, of course, and enabled you to locate an aircraft or a group of aircraft and to follow it over a reasonable distance of several miles so they could see the aircraft coming in, the raids coming in, and they could track them. Now, it’s a little difficult to do it while they are bombing you because, in those days, the antennas and things were outside.
And I was a radar officer in Malta. Everybody’s in the tunnels except me and the gunners. Well, the gunners are busy firing guns, but I ‘m looking for the aircraft and putting my radar on it and then I’m waiting for them to drop the bombs on me. So it’s kind of nerve-wracking.
It was a battle against a superior air force and a great deal of the battle was from the ground because the enemy aircraft was extremely important and they wanted to demolish the defences of Malta and I guess occupy it, I don’t know. But they wanted to get rid of it because Malta is right at the bottleneck in the Mediterranean, so if you could reduce Malta, then you would destroy all the connections back and forth.
So, everybody is in the shelters except the gunners and they are so busy firing the guns that they don’t even notice the bombs and the radar officers, who are out there standing with binoculars looking at these buggers and trying to estimate where they’re going, and trying to keep their radar, which is very primitive at this time, keep their radar antennas pointing in the right direction.
You just have to be a fatalist. I never expected to survive.