Royal Observer Corps. Seaborne.

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Trux, Jun 25, 2018.

  1. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Royal Observer Corps.
    Pen and Sword Publishing.
    Based on file Air 41/11.

    The Air Commander in Chief, Allied Expeditionary Air Force proposed that trained observers from the Royal Observer Corps should be deployed on merchant vessels taking part in Overlord/Neptune. This would improve the standard of aircraft recognition and ensure better control of anti aircraft fire. Unfortunately previous combined operations had seen numerous casualties to allied aircraft as a result of fire from nervous shipping.

    A meeting was held at the Air Ministry on April 5th 1944. The Admiralty agreed in principle that trained observers should be employed but were concerned that it would be difficult to accommodate additional personnel on already overcrowded ships. They wished to limit the deployment to those of the 30 Landing Ships Infantry and 90 MT ships in which accommodation was available. The US Navy was also agreeable in principle and also wanted some 300 trained observers for deployment on their ships.

    Observers were to be deployed only on Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships. These were the larger ships which carried anti aircraft guns and gunners. Their role was to be that of advisors to the master on aircraft recognition.

    ROC personnel were offered either a one month or two month initial period of service and were to be naval auxiliaries with the rank of Petty Officer or Chief Petty Officer. They were to continue wearing their ROC uniform but with the addition of shoulder flash with the word ‘Seaborne, and a naval armband. They were to be known as Aircraft Identifiers and come under the Naval Discipline Act as Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship personnel. Both full time and part time members of the ROC could volunteer but part time members needed permission from their employers. Female members were not eligible but these were usually plotters rather than observers.

    Initially volunteers went to the Royal Bath Hotel, Bournemouth, which was to be the ROC Depot. They were then medically examined and enrolled in the navy. The first batch of 300 reported on May 8th and a second batch of 300 on May 15th.

    Advanced aircraft recognition training was provided and this included a specially arranged series of fly ins by aircraft likely to be encountered over the beaches. The volunteers stood on the cliff top while aircraft circled over the sea, flying along the line of the beach and finally approaching head on. Aircraft types included three captured German types, a FW190, a Ju88 and a ME109. These were flown in groups of other aircraft with which they might be confused. There were then lectures, films and models shown in different lighting conditions and from different angles.

    Finally there was a test which was new at that time. Thirty aircraft had to be identified after seeing them on film shots lasting from several seconds down to one second, and showing aircraft in different parts of the screen and at different angles. Those passing then had a two days course on naval matters before being given the rank of DEMS PO(AI) or Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship Petty Officer (Aircraft Identifier).

    Two ROC observers were assigned to each vessel and they were only to identify aircraft and confirm to the gunnery officer whether they were hostile of friendly. The vessels normal lookouts were responsible for watching for aircraft.

    The RAF were pleased with the performance of the observers and said that there no reported cases of merchant ships firing on friendly aircraft. Naval shipping, especially smaller craft, did fire on friendly aircraft however.

    A personal note.
    In the late 1950s the recognition test was standard and consisted of flash training with images of aircraft been shown for fractions of a second. One young observer taking the test had a perfect score and received a prize. It was not entered in his record since he did not have the required length of service and took the test using an older observer’s identity card. Security was not that good. (All right. I cannot tell a lie. It was I.)

  2. Ahah, Mike, you cunning flibustier!

    So your quick and accurate eye for details, as testified by the quality of your models of the Trux era, not to mention your countless great posts here, dates from looong ago.

    But now you have sown the seed of doubt about your real identity: maybe you never gave the ID card back and you are not Mike Simpson after all, but some disgruntled ROC Observer wannabe actually named, what, John Trux?

    4jonboy and Trux like this.
  3. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    OK Sherlock Sabarly. Its a fair cop. You've got me bang to rights and other humorous mock cockney phrases.

  4. "An aircraft recognition/identification leaflet entitled 'Scale silhouettes, photographs and oddentifications of well known British, American and German first - line aeroplanes.', reprinted from 'The Aeroplane' and 'The Aeroplane Spotter' . As the titles states, it has photographs of the aircraft, silhouettes (from the front, side and beneath) and cartoons which exagerate each type's distinguishing features ('oddentification'). Date produced is probably around 1942-1943. They were designed to train Royal Observer Corps observers, but were not official testing documents."


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  5. After much elbow-twisting and palm-greasing in high places that I am not at liberty to divulge, I finally obtained for Mike the recognition he deserves, notwithstanding his somewhat unorthodox application:
    Mike's ROC Certificate as it should have been.jpg
    (only slightly doctored) source

    or was it the Advanced Test (or whatever the next level was called)? If so this too can be arranged (for a small fee).

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  6. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    I shall download it, print it, frame it and treasure it for ever. I have no momentoes of those days. Everything had to be returned. I never saw the certificate but did get the prize money.

    Fortunately you have not mentioned my real post and group, 20 November 1, or I would be in trouble under the Official Secrets Act, which I signed and which has no expiry date.


    Similar pictures were used in the 'Seaborne' tests but they combined parts of more than one aircraft.
  7. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    I seem to remember that the standard ROC cards contained silhouettes like those on the attached page, (from a 1943 publication). I got quite good at aircraft recognition - no certs or medals issued.
    Roy Martin, goffer for the West Lulworth ROC, aged seven in 1943

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jun 27, 2018
  8. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    The standard flash cards were still silhouettes in 1960. All Observers had a full set which was kept up to date.
    After that time The ROC changed its role and concentrated on nuclear monitoring and Civil Defence control. We had a nuclear shelter and monitoring equipment to fix the location and size of a nuclear explosion and to monitor fallout. As well as secure land lines we had a VHF wireless which gave better communications than police or other organisations.

    Best part of being a member were the visits to RAF airfields where they arranged an air show and free flights in service aircraft, usually Ansons but others as well. I flew in an Anson and a Meteor Night Fighter. Then the weeks summer camp at an airfield. Bit different to wartime I imagine.

  9. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Mike ,

    As I said I was only seven in 1943, so I don't remember much. I was always willing to take my grandfather's sandwiches up to the look-out, then I was allowed to spend time with the cards. As you can imagine the watch always kept a lookout for a staff car arriving, if it did I would 'fade away'.
    I was fortunate in several ways, including being at a p[lace called Chickerell on 4 June, and seeing all the troops making their way to Weymouth and Portland. The strange thing is that I remember most of them being black; by the time they embarked on the following day the photos show them as white! On 6 June we were back at Lulworth watching the gliders being towed to France, mostly two at a time, if my memory is correct.

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  11. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    My old bunker.
    RSG: Sites: Winchester
    Well, I say bunker. Quite a bit was overground, which seemed foolish.
    Not that I minded. Was mostly in it for the beer afterwards.
    No recollection of aircraft ID at all (though there were a lot of plane spotters), all FSMs, AWDREY & BPI.

    It is weird seeing this stuff on the web, though. As despite the organisation's slightly shambolic & underfunded tone, it still always felt just a little secret. The Russians were coming, so best not to share.
  12. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    While writing about Seaborne Observers something struck me: did the Germans ever paint three white bands on the wings of their aircraft, after they realised that Allied aircraft were marked in this way?

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