An RAF veteran visited Bletchley Park on Thursday to dust off the top-secret equipment he used to help direct aircraft over the Normandy beaches in the days following the D-Day landings.
Ahead of the D-Day 70th Anniversary in June, Sergeant (Retd) Bernard Morgan, 90, saw the once-classified Type X machine at the heritage site and met his modern day equivalent, Flight Lieutenant Vikki Thorpe – an RAF Aerospace Battle Manager.
Sgt Morgan used the Type X machine to encrypt messages that told aircraft where they were needed for immediate action, before sending the coded messages back to Britain to be actioned. The RAF’s air superiority before, during and after D-Day was pivotal because it meant the Allied invasion could take place largely unchallenged by the Luftwaffe above, or by U-boats below.
The machines were large and heavy, requiring four men to carry them, and needed a lorry each to transport and power them.
Sgt Morgan, from Crewe, said: “I was a 20-year-old code and cipher operator in June 1944 and my unit was No. 83 Group Control Centre, part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force.
“The first three days after D-Day, 6 June, we were on a ship moored a few hundred yards off Gold Beach. We couldn’t start operating our equipment because the Army hadn’t advanced quite as far as they’d wanted to. Our equipment was so highly sensitive that we couldn’t risk it being captured by the enemy, otherwise everything on our unit would have to have been destroyed.
“Going ashore, I was very frightened, because you’d heard and seen all the gunfire from the beaches overnight and you did not know what to expect. Everyone was frightened, because you didn’t know what you were going into.
“When I look back on it, I feel very satisfied with my contribution towards the war effort, but it was only a small effort and the greatest honour must be given to the pilots. Flt Lt Thorpe’s job today sounds a lot more technical than a code and cipher operator’s role, and I’m sure there’s a lot more responsibility too! People like her are a credit to the Royal Air Force.
“It was excellent visiting Bletchley Park. Seeing the machine that I operated in 1944 brings back a lot of wartime memories, both good and bad.”
Sgt Morgan’s crucial work is still done today by specialist RAF Aerospace Battles Managers such as Flt Lt Thorpe, who use powerful, high-tech radars on the ground to give them a picture of all aircraft within UK airspace and can deploy to wherever they are needed across the globe.
There are three types of Aerospace Battle Manager; weapons specialists who direct combat aircraft in their fighting role, surveillance specialists who monitor the skies and space specialists, who look outside our atmosphere to warn of missiles and hostile intelligence-gathering satellites.
They are also ready to launch Typhoon jets at a moment’s notice to intercept unidentified aircraft, helping the RAF defend the UK 24/7, 364 days a year.
Flt Lt Thorpe, 27, from Solihull and a surveillance specialist, said: “Meeting Sgt Morgan was absolutely brilliant. It’s quite remarkable to hear the story of someone involved in D-Day from the person themselves, rather than a history channel - it was amazing.
“Hearing about his role was really interesting. While the equipment he used is radically different to what we use today, the processes are very much the same; it’s about making sure that air support is available to ground troops, and ensuring they can communicate with each other is still very much alive and something that we’re doing around the world today.”
Iain Standen, CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust, said: “It’s always an honour to welcome veterans to Bletchley Park and it was a delight to hear a first hand account from Sergeant (Retd) Morgan how Type X and similar machines were used in the field.
“His memories are unique and precious and a good example of the many stories we must capture while we can.”