Muir Adair – notes from another conversation (September 2007)

Peter Best writes: In September 2007, I returned to Canada, and once again met with Muir Adair.  Whilst some of his recollections duplicate our conversation earlier in the year, there is sufficient new material to justify recording the interview here verbatim.

 

General

How is D+1 coming along and beyond?

Done and handed to Peter.

Why Chris Muir?

It is a nom de plume for Muir because whilst he was working in the Government and Police Authorities he felt it was not a good idea to draw attention to himself writing autobiographical books at the same time as his name was appearing on official reports.

Did you come back to UK with 15082 or did they come back later?

As far as Muir knows, 15082 did not go into Germany and they came back as a complete unit for decommissioning in November or December 1944.

 

Section A

Jock Reid

When did you first meet him?

August 1943.  Jock was one of the originals that set up 15082.

Was he there from the beginning?

Yes.

Can you describe what he was like?

He fitted in very well.  He was technically very good and one of the originals.  He was short and easy to work with.  He had full combined ops training and passed easily despite his size.  Although he did not answer directly to Muir, Muir found him to be a popular and important member of 15082.

Was he there until the end?

Yes

Did you know he was at Belsen?

No Muir did not, but when 15082 disbanded in November 1944 they were all re-assigned to different units and it is quite possible that Jock was assigned to a unit which liberated Belsen.

 

Section B

Replacement Vehicles

Can you recall when the replacements arrived?

No.

Did you recall that some were also drowned out?

No.

Were men drowned?

No

Note:  Muir recalls working on the type 15 radar set that was salvaged from the beach and those which were undamaged.  A number had shrapnel damage and they tried to get this equipment working, but he cannot recall when the replacement vehicles arrived specifically, although he was aware that replacements were provided in the days after the D-Day landings.

 

Section C

People – these photographs were a set of 8 copied from Jock Reid’s private collection.

Can you identify any of these people and recall their names?

Muir was unable to recall the names of any of those in the photographs, although he certainly recognised a number of the faces.  Peter left copies of the 8 photographs.

Can you recall Reuben Eckershall?

Yes, he was an equivalent rank to Muir and at the time was a Flight Sergeant.  Eckershall was the Flight Sergeant responsible for GCI 15081 and to the best of Muir’s knowledge there were at least 3 GCI units that were trained at the same time –

15081

15082

15083

In addition there was 15072 which subsequently was placed under the umbrella of 21 BDS and maybe others as well, Muir cannot recall.   Eckershall was a technician and had also been trained through combined ops.  Muir recalls that they attended some training courses together.  However, there were no Sergeants’ Messes where they could have circulated and got to know one another and as there were so many courses they did not have a lot to do with one another.

Muir remembers Eckershall to be a competent and good operator, but cannot remember much more about him.  Muir has always been somewhat surprised as to why Eckershall was at D-Day and assumes that he was a late draught into 21 BDS as were so many others.

Muir also remembers that he was not much of a mixer – i.e. quiet, shy and kept himself to himself.  Muir also recalls that he thinks that 15081 had continued with the allied advance into Germany and that Bill Firby was drafted to 15081 after the notorious Paris incident!!

Can he give more knowledge on Highfield – what was he like?

Muir only knew him by sight.  He does remember that he was a bit more easy going than some officers and this might have been because he was a former Flight Officer who had been wounded and subsequently transferred to Radar when his flying had become restricted by his injury.

 

Section D

15082 Training

Can you describe in more detail the training – Radar or all other skills?

Muir describes the training as being very thorough.  It was expected that they would all know about GCI radar and for the majority of the training it was in combined operational skills.  They had to attend many varying courses and Muir recalls being on courses in convoy leadership, motorcycle riding, flying, landing craft, weapon training and commando training.  Different courses were selected for different members of the group and it was only around April 1944 that they first began training for real on the equipment that they were going to be using on the landings.  This means that nearly 6 months was spent on combined ops training.

Once the decision had been taken that Advanced GCI would be necessary when the European front was opened it was known that the radar would have to be close to the front line and hence close to the fighting.  In order that the men would have sufficient training, it was deemed that combined ops training would be necessary to ensure that the men would have a chance of being independent and resourceful.  Each GCI unit was supposed to be able to operate for at least 10 days completely independently of any supplies or communications as necessary and the training was extremely thorough being only one level below commando training.

Why part of Consolidated Ops?

See above.

How many GCI Units had such training?

Muir believes there were originally 3 x GCIs with type 25 equipment.  He believes that 15072 did not have the type 25 equipment but was this type 15(?).  In addition there were some MSU units that also undertook the training at the same time as Muir and there was a changing but quite large number of RAF personnel that had combined ops training.  One thing Muir noted was that for some reason 15082 did not have a permanent Technical Officer attached to it whereas 15072 (a smaller unit) did have a Technical Officer.  15082 seemed to survive with temporary Technical Officers.  During the landings the Technical Officer for 15082 was the Pole, Effenberger.

Did he meet or discuss with any other GCI Groups?

No, although at different courses he met different people who were from GCIs.

Did Muir apply to join or was he asked?

Muir had applied twice before to see whether he could become a pilot but on both occasions he was unsuccessful.  One of these times when he volunteered was when he was posted to Northern Ireland.  He cannot remember finally whether he volunteered or was eventually posted but this was after he had GCI experience whilst posted to Borth in Wales.  He suspects it may have been a posting.

Was 15082 one of the first?

15082 was one of the original 3.

Did they train with their own equipment or pool equipment?

As previously said, in the first six months the training was all specific to non-radar activities and they did not need other equipment because they were all specialists by then.

When did they receive their actual equipment vehicles?

March or April 1944, and at Renscombe Down, near Swanage. After all the training together and familiarising them with the equipment they first moved to an RAF base where they worked as a Shadow to a GCI.  After they had some training there they moved on to relieve another GCI land based system to build up their experience and skills.  Muir cannot remember where these bases were but they were in Southern England. This was likely mock exercises but it was with the full type 25 equipment.

 

Section E

Orders, Maps and Landings

Did Muir keep any maps or orders?

No.  They were not allowed to keep them as they were Top Secret.

Can he recall Camp D2?

Not really.  It was guarded and full of Americans, and there was no opportunity of leaving the camp.  They had been in very small camps before, but this had higher security and was more enclosed.  They were only there for a few days, but during that time they had a feeling of being locked in.

Can he describe the drive from D2 to Portland?

No, other than it being a very slow drive with many stops to allow the vehicles to cool down (as they were water-proofed and prone to overheating as a result), Muir cannot really remember the journey from camp D2 to Portland.

Can he describe the landing craft and people?

No.  He cannot remember a great deal about them, except that on his landing craft there were at least two officers, one of whom was Ned Hitchcock and it was an American-crewed boat.  He recalls that there was no galley or mess room and they slept underneath their vehicles.  He remembers the crossing being rough and that he was suffering from sea sickness, as were most of the men.

Can he recall one landing craft crashing into another?

No.

When called in, who gave the order?

Muir cannot remember who gave the order for them to come in for the second time in the afternoon.  He has a feeling that the Coxswain knew where they were, and did not get a feeling that they were lost or had missed their bearings.  The five landing craft with 21 BDS were in close contact with one another and were always circling close together, so that the five craft were basically together when they were ordered in a second time.  He does not remember whether it was the American Skipper of the landing craft or who it was who gave the order.  However, he does remember that the Coxswain shouted “He has to be crazy” when they were ordered to go in to land.  Muir remembers this as he was standing close to the Coxswain and it may explain that the order to land where they did was not taken by those on the landing craft.

When the door of the landing craft was lowered, he could not believe what was happening.  Their lorry was able to drive some distance from the landing craft but drove into an unobserved deeper part of the beach where the lorry stalled.  As the tide was coming in they knew it would be increasingly swamped, but Ned Hitchcock had seen a winch on a lorry with a cable on the beach and said he was going to get a wire from the lorry, pull it back and attach it to the lorry and get them to winch their truck ashore.  He gave Muir the camera which had been lent to him by 60 Group and waded ashore to get the wire.  Whilst Ned was wading ashore and getting the wire, the tide rose higher, filling the cab and forcing Muir to evacuate the lorry and attempt to swim ashore.  (Muir cannot recall Ned coming back to the lorry but Ned, at subsequent meetings told Muir that he did come back and did not find Muir in the cab – a mystery!)

Muir had a terrible time getting ashore as he was not a strong swimmer and practically drowned with the weight of all the equipment he was carrying.  He did not see Ned again until D+1 and was exhausted by the time he was able to touch ground again, having drifted some 600 yards to the east of the original landing site.

Afterwards, what did Muir think about where they landed?

There was very little opportunity to think clearly about what had happened and no discussion took place for several days.  Even then there was a sense of survival and getting on with their job, rather than thinking about why or what had happened.  Even now he has not really considered what had gone wrong or not.  They were soldiers, not officers.

Was his landing craft just for type 11 equipment?

Yes.

Does Muir recall being shot at due to uniform?

No.  Not due to the uniform, because he had picked up a US jacket at the same time as he picked up weapons.

When did they change into US kit and later back to RAF?

They had a real mixture.  Some US and some RAF.   In theory they were supposed to change back to RAF uniform as soon as possible.  However, he recalls that some of the American uniform was much better than the RAF and they all had various bits and pieces of mixed uniform for some time.  Ultimately the CO insisted that they change back into all RAF equipment and uniform, but he does not think that this was until early July.  Even then various bits of American stuff was used and worn.  He particularly recalls Sgt Spears who was responsible (among other things) for the kitchen and under his direction on the night of D-Day +1 his men managed to prepare, cook and serve a hot meal for the remnants of 21 BDS.  He was a great fixer and took care of the whole unit to make sure that they were as comfortable and well provided for as possible.  Spears was an RAF regular.

Would Muir be able to pinpoint on a map where he met others from 15082?

No.

 

Notes:

1. Muir recalled that one of the most exciting but also tense times was when they were in Paris because they were very close to the Germans and he wonders whether they should have been quite as close to the front line as they actually were.  To illustrate this: whilst they were setting up at the Longchamp Horse Racing Track they had to destroy their orders as it was feared the Germans were about to counter-attack as they were still very close by.

As an aside Muir recalls that when they did get an order they had little to do because there was very little or no enemy aircraft activity and it was not long before they moved on from Paris.

2. Muir also recalls that when 15082 returned to the UK he was partly responsible for decommissioning the equipment.  He remembers that they went to an air force base somewhere in the South of England, but he cannot recall where, and at a satellite airfield they were tasked with decommissioning all of the equipment.  He recalls that this airfield had previously been a front line air field but now they were had become something of an R&R camp.

Muir recalls that by this stage the equipment they had was deemed to be class “C“ stores which was in the expendable category.  This meant that when the equipment was issued the military forces did not expect it to come back.  As a result when they tried to return this equipment no-one wanted it!!  He recalls that a great mound was thrown away with the aid of the Royal Engineers and a big hole!

Muir is trying to remember where this de-commissioning took place and it might come to him.

After they had returned to England many of the 15082 gang were subsequently ordered to join other GCI units.  Muir’s next posting was to the North of Scotland.

3. Muir believed that at least 2 of the mobile GCI original units remained in Europe and ended up in Germany, and these were 15081 and 15072.

4. Muir also recalled that when they received their equipment it was in March or April 1944, but even right up to departure various new pieces of equipment were being added.  He recalls that this came from 60 Group (Norman Best’s Group and the Technical Development Group of the Air Force) and as technology advanced new pieces of equipment were developed.  Muir commented that not all of them worked… but remembers particularly anti-window equipment was developed which was to try and differentiate between a real enemy aircraft and window which had been tracked.  This was a double-echo system which one differentiated between real enemy aircrafts and dummy echoes.

5. Muir posed 2 questions to Peter:

The first was concerning a name which has cropped up a couple of times – Flight Officer Pine.  Muir asked Peter where he fitted in; this is because Muir has a vague memory that he may have been the Officer Controller for 15082 and was wondering whether Peter could confirm this.

Also Muir had recalled the name of HT Elgood who he recalls was in 15082 and was a Radar mechanic, but did not know anything further and Muir would be interested to know if Peter could find out anything.

6. Muir commented several times that, as they were one of the first GCIs to be put together, in many ways they had the pick of the technical pool and manpower available within the radar community.  They had some excellent technical guys including one person who he remembers had come from the BBC and whose job was to build radio transmitters for the BBC World Service all over the world. This was one of the reasons why Muir was always unsure as to why they were deemed to have needed extra people just before D-Day because they already had such natural talent within their ranks combined with six months’ Combined Ops training.  When they came to actually using their equipment they had few problems and in the main it worked extremely well and was reliable all through the campaign.  He did understand that 15072 had more problems than they had had, and it may explain why Norman Best and Ned Hitchcock spent more time with other GCIs than they did with 15082 and why Muir does not recall both people other than Ned’s actual experience with Muir at D-Day.

Muir recalls that the one issue that they had was concerning the Selsyn (these motors kept aerials in proper synchromesh) and this was fixed by the Corporal from the BBC.

7. Peter asked whether GCI should be considered to be offensive or defensive.  Muir considered the question for a while before answering that he believed they should be considered as both.  GCI is primarily there to provide the necessary tools to intercept incoming enemy aircraft which would imply defensive.  However, the ability to control fighters, in particular to take enemy targets could also be described as offensive, and they worked in co-operation with the Army.

8. Muir informed Peter that he is still in contact with Reg Haig who was the Technical Officer of 15072.  This gentleman who was injured when his vehicle ran over a land mine in the early days of the Normandy campaign and is living in Canada, does not wish to be contacted by Peter relating to the D-Day research.  However, Muir feels he may be prepared to answer any specific questions which were put to him (by Peter via Muir), but he cannot recall either Norman Best or Ned Hitchcock.

 

Copies of Photographs

Muir passed on 4 photographs to Peter.  These photos appear on this website.

1. A group photograph of some of the Radar Operators of 15082.  Muir cannot recall the names of all of the people, but believes the second on the left was the Radar Operator who was injured close to where Muir landed on the beach and who subsequently died.  He was one of several that made up one watch (see Muir’s Appendix A below)

Also interesting to note is that the Combined Operations badge which was worn by all of the crew.

2. The money that the RAF gave to the men as ‘Invasion Francs’ and these were used for several months after the invasion.

3. Muir’s medals including the Croix de Guerre.

4. Ned and Joan Hitchcock.

 

Appendix A

There tends to be some confusion concerning rank and responsibility functions for G15082 and other military units of a similar type.  This obviously is my fault as, for instance, if I said “Sgt Spears had the domestic site up and running”, I meant that his men, under his direction, had “the domestic site up and running”.  For instance, Sgt Spears was NOT cook but one of his responsibilities included the kitchen.

Perhaps to clear the mud a bit more I could compare our unit with an equivalent one in business.  The analogy is not actually strictly correct but it might suffice for clarification.

Business G15082
President Commanding Officer
Office Manager Sergeant Orderly Room: correspondence, records, reports, pay.
Production Manager Sergeant, Operations: Plotting and tracking of aircraft, communication with other units.  Monitoring air activity.
Plant Manager Sergeant, GD (General Duties): Domestic site – living, sleeping, security, general discipline, transport.
Service Manager Flight Sergeant, Technical: Operational effectiveness of technical equipment at all times – telephones, radar, generators, aerials
Being senior NCO of G15082 also had the responsibility of tying the whole bundle together.

A Sergeant had one or more corporals, each one of which was responsible for a working function – e.g. Sgt. Operations had a corporal in charge of each watch (a watch was a shift on active duty).  Technicians worked around the clock as well; thus there were two or more watches every 24 hours, of both operators and technicians.  The picture I gave you on this visit was of one watch of operators.  Controllers were all commissioned officers and their job was to analyze the plots and other information of aircraft provided by the operators and, being in voice contact with night fighter pilots, order vectors and other pertinent action directing the pilots towards enemy aircraft.  Some controllers were so good with the equipment we had by 1944 that enemy aircraft were sometimes contacted visually by a pilot without the use of on-board radar.

Other units might operate differently.  For instance, many had permanent on-strength Technical Officers which altered the responsibilities of the Technical Sergeant considerably.  On larger radar CH stations there were often a full complement of commissioned officers – e.g. 2i/c, transport, adjutant, etc, etc.

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