The Last Flight of Halifax JB837
25/26th May 1943
Glossary of Terms


Fitted to the first bombers in August 1941 (similar to the German Knickebein system) Gee (short for 'Grid') was a radio navigation system which allowed an aircraft to fix its position within a few hundred yards at distances up to 350 miles away. It was accurate and independent of weather conditions.

Gee stations, one master and two or three slaves, transmitted timed radio pulses which were received within the aircraft on an oscilloscope display, and knowing the difference in reception times of the different pulses, the relative distance from the master and slaves could be plotted on a navigation chart in the aircraft.

Because the pulses were transmitted in all directions, German defenses would know that an attack was imminent, but could not know where the individual bombers were because of the passive nature of the system.

Gee also helped aircraft to find their way back to base, but it was limited because it could be jammed by enemy radio. The RAF estimated that within six months GEE would be useless because of German jamming and pressed ahead with development of OBOE


H2S was the first airborne ground scanning radar. It was able to identify objects on the ground at night and in all weathers, and because it was not dependent on radio signals transmitted from home territory, could be used outside the range of aids such as Gee or Oboe.

The crude early sets allowed the navigator to identify coastlines, and major ground features such as rivers and built-up areas. Unlike Gee, H2S was an 'active' system, which operated by sending out radar pulses and detecting the reflections, allowing German night fighters to track and home in on the signal source.


A ground controlled blind-bombing device which was remarkably accurate, and proved to be the most accurate form of blind bombing used in World War II. The first Oboe operations took place 20/21 December 1942.

It took its name from a radar pulse which sounded like a musical instrument.

Radar pulses were sent from two ground stations in England called 'Cat' and 'Mouse' while a transponder in the aircraft transmitted the signals back to the ground stations after a short delay. The time taken from the signal being sent and returned could determine the distance of the aircraft. Cat was used to guide the aircraft, and Mouse was used to indicate the bomb release point.

Oboe was a line-of-sight system, so because of the curvature of the earth, Oboe-equipped aircraft could only operate within a relatively short distance of 'Cat' and 'Mouse'. The higher an aircraft could fly, the further its useful range would be. Oboe sets tended therefore to be fitted into Mosquitoes or Lancasters of the Pathfinder Force which had a high altitude ceiling.

Predicted Flak

Flak guns were designed as anti-aircraft weapons. The word is derived from the German FLugAbwehrKanone or 'aircraft defence cannon'.

Their accuracy was improved enormously when associated with a Wurzburg radar which detected the height, speed and direction of the enemy aircraft, so that the flak was directed to where the aircraft was predicted to be when the shell exploded.

Tour of Duty

For most of the war, Bomber Command expected a man selected for aircrew duty to complete a tour of thirty operations, then after a recuperative break, undertake a second tour of a further twenty operations. After that, men could be transferred to training duties or volunteer to continue combat operations.

Remarkably, some men did volunteer to continue. The chance of a bomber crew surviving fifty operational flights depended on the casualty rate, as shown below:

Casualty Rate
Survival Rate
% Aircraft lost on mission
% chance of completing a Tour Of Duty

In May 1943, the average Casualty Rate was over 4.7%, an attrition rate that, if it had continued, meant there was only a 10% chance that a bomber crew would survive a Tour of Duty.[4]

The Chances of a Bomber Crew surviving 30 and 50 operational sorties by Casualty Rate


German Words & Abbreviations

Bergungskommando: Rescue Team
Bordfunker: Radio Operator (Aircrew)
Bordschutze: Air Gunner
Dunkel Nachtjagd: "Dark Night Fighting" where German fighters were scrambled, assembled at various beacons, and directed towards an incoming bomber stream.
Geschwader: Air Wing - the highest tactical as opposed to operational command. The Geschwader normally consisted of three (later four) Gruppen.
Gruppe (plural Gruppen): Group, led by a Gruppenkommandeur or Kommandeur, a post held by an aircrew member whose rank would usually be a Major or Hauptmann. He had his own operational and administrative Gruppenstab and flew combat missions with his Stabsschwarm, usually of 3 - 4 aircraft. Under his command there were 3 or 4 Staffeln (Squadrons).
Gruppenstab: Group Staff
JG: Jagdgeschwader (Fighter Wing)
JGr: Jagd-gruppe (Fighter Group)
NJG: Nachtjagdgeschwader (Night Fighter Wing)
Schwarm: Section of 4 aircraft
Stabsschwarm: Flight of a Group Leader
Staffel (plural Staffeln): Squadron of between 12 and 16 aircraft
Zestörer: 'Destroyer'

German Ranks and their Equivalents [3]

Generalfeldmarschall Marshal of the RAF General (five star)
Generaloberst Air Chief Marshal General (four star)
General der Flieger Air Marshal Lieutenant-General
Generalleutnant Air Vice-Marshal Major-General
Generalmajor Air Commodore Brigadier-General
Oberst Group Captain Colonel
Oberstleutnant Wing Commander Lieutenant-Colonel
Major Squadron Leader Major
Hauptmann Flight Lieutenant Captain
Oberfeldwebel Flight Sergeant Master Sergeant
Feldwebel Sergeant Sergeant
Unteroffizier Corporal Corporal
Obergefreiter Leading Aircraftsman Private 1st Class
Gefreiter Aircraftsman Private
Flieger Aircraftsman 2nd Class Private