11th November 1940. OBOE.

The wartime scientist Professor R.V. Jones later said of Oboe that it was the most precise bombing system of the war. It was so secret that aircrews only knew of it as a new and secret method to find targets.

Tonight in 1940 Frank Metcalfe, later Wing Commander, was struggling home from an attack on the marshalling yards at Hamm where he had been taking part in the hazardous business of attacking the barges assembling in Channel ports for invasion.

However his Bristol Blenheim bomber fell into the sea before it reached its base at Bodney in Norfolk. His air gunner had been killed by anti-aircraft fire but he and his navigator successfully launched their dinghy and were picked up by the destroyer Vega.


Oboe showing top ‘Mouse’ Station at Cromer and bottom ‘Cat’ at Dover, pin-pointing Essen.

Then ship was hit by a mine and had to be towed into Harwich.

Metcalfe survived to become in August 1944 operational controller at Don Bennett’s Pathfinder Group HQ of the Oboe Blind-Bombing Beam System– named as its pitch sounded like the musical instrument.

Ground-controlled Oboe enabled Pathfinder Mosquitoes, which preceded Main Force heavy bombers, to drop coloured flares and markers with pin-point accuracy at low level over the targets.

It was an accuracy particularly important in attacks on industrial sites, the  ‘V’-weapon sites and anti-invasion defences.

The problem of pinpointing targets accurately had been solved by the ‘boffins’ at the secret Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE), the home of radar and information technology housed at Malvern College.

It was back in February 1941 when the Air Ministry became concerned about Scientific Intelligence’s discovery that the Germans were bomb-aiming using their ‘Knickebein’ system.(1)

But Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris as deputy Chief of Air Staff, wasn’t enamoured as he wrote: ‘Are we not tending to lose our sense of proportion over these German beams. I could go further and say that they are not really useful… long may the Bosche beam upon us’!

Harris resisted to the utmost the creation of the new ‘elite’ Pathfinder Force and fought every attempt to transfer the attentions of Bomber Command from area to precision bombing.


Despite this by October 1942 a newly formed 109 Squadron was equipped with high-flying planes using beams whereby Oboe transmitted pulses to a two-man de Havilland Mosquito in dots and dashes, from 2 stations-designated ‘Cat and Mouse’, 100 miles apart.

The point where the signals merged marked the moment for bomb release, even in nil visibility. 

As Oboe developed it was possible to bomb targets deeper into Germany, which later included Dresden where ‘carpet bombing’ was used for the last time.


(1) 1st February 1941.

Ref: Daily Telegraph. Obituary. 14 March 2002.

Ref: amazonbooks/Pathfinders Pic.

Ref: googleimages/Map Pic.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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