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The Royal Observer Corps - Cold War films

Tocsin, I didn´t realise that an observer would have to exit the bunker following a nuclear strike.

What was the one minute delay for? Was it to avoid the heat and blast effects of the strike, or to give time for the photographic papers to develop? Were the papers intended to give a picture of the airburst?

If there were subsequent strikes, would the No. 3 observer have to go outside again?

The process is shown in the film at the point linked below:

 


Tocsin, I didn´t realise that an observer would have to exit the bunker following a nuclear strike.

What was the one minute delay for? Was it to avoid the heat and blast effects of the strike, or to give time for the photographic papers to develop? Were the papers intended to give a picture of the airburst?

If there were subsequent strikes, would the No. 3 observer have to go outside again?
[/QUOTE]
The photographic papers were known as cassettes as they had a plastic cover with a grid marking on them, so that the photographic paper effectively came pre-gridded. The GZI cassettes had to be changed 60 seconds after every TOCSIN shout (basically every bang) and every 8 to 10 hours after that due to exposure to normal light. (My second post, DUR/35, was next to a road and car headlights would leave black marks over the cassette paper.) Presumably the 60 seconds thing was to give the Russians a chance to launch a second missile whose sole aim was to bump off the No. 3 Observer. Incidentally the roles on a post changed every 8 hours so that everyone got a go at being No.1, No.2 and No.3. regardless of rank.

I visited the headquarters bunker in York 3 years ago and ended up giving the guide a guided tour of the off limits areas. (I served in the Durham and Coventry headquarters bunker, so directly to the north and south of York Group. My only connection with York Group was a brief fling with an Obs(W) based there and attendance at a Group dinner and dance as her guest in 1990.) The guide spent quite a long time explaining decontamination procedures for changing the GZI cassettes every 8 hours and then turned white when I explained the 60 second rule. My first post, DUR/45, is on their plotting table. I was quite chuffed at that.
 
The process is shown in the film at the point linked below:

Now that deserves an old.

At least Southampton gets wiped out so it isn't all bad. That film was made in the days when the Soviets were still using bombers so the chances of survival were greater.

Two things stick out. The Observer going out to repair the line - many posts had above ground telephone lines, which always seemed a bit daft to me, especially since only master posts had radios. And secondly, the flooding through the air vent. Posts did not have air filtration systems so had to carry out air changes every 8 hours regardless of the radiation outside. In the late 80s about a dozen posts were fitted with hand cranked air filters, fitted at the vent where the water enters in this film. I saw one when I visited AYR/55 Joppa in 1989 (being me I was seeing a young Obs(W) on that post at the time.) This was meant to be rolled out to the whole Corps but the Russians jacked it in before then.
 

tocsin

Old-Salt
Tocsin, I didn´t realise that an observer would have to exit the bunker following a nuclear strike.

What was the one minute delay for? Was it to avoid the heat and blast effects of the strike, or to give time for the photographic papers to develop? Were the papers intended to give a picture of the airburst?

If there were subsequent strikes, would the No. 3 observer have to go outside again?

Good stuff from Ex Observer again, but the 1 minute delay is due to the types of radiation from a nuclear burst, not to give the Russkies an opportunity to get No. 3 with a well-timed second shot :)

As the bomb explodes, apart from blast, thermal and electro-magnetic energy, there is a huge burst of radiation, largely high-energy neutrons (the sort that neutron bombs were designed to maximise). Only a while later do the fission products, which stick to dust and debris, arrive as fallout. The main aim of the 1 minute delay was to avoid the immediate nuclear radiation effects.

The purpose of the GZI paper is to give the bearing and elevation of the bomb burst 'spot'. Reports from three or more Posts would allow HQ to triangulate the exact position of the burst and calculate the bomb's size and potential fallout plume, allowing warnings to military and government customers, and fallout warnings to the surviving public...

So, yes, the GZI papers would be needed for subsequent strikes. An interesting discussion would I guess ensue in the post or between the Post and HQ, relating to Russian H-Bomb roulette and the intensity of fallout!
 

Stan_Deesey

Swinger
Thanks for the information ex-observers, and thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

I´ve watched the first part of that film, with the observer collecting the GZI papers, and relaying the information on to HQ. I was just surprised that you would send someone out of the hole with no protection, and no means to decontaminate him/her back in the bunker. I had always had the impression that you would have sealed yourselves inside the post from the time the balloon went up until the time it was safe to come out again.

What would have been the procedure if the observer didn´t return? Was there one, or would you just have accepted that he/she wasn´t coming back down? Was there any way that someone on top of the bunker could communicate with the observers down below, (other than shouting down the airshaft)?
 

tocsin

Old-Salt
Thanks for the information ex-observers, and thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

I´ve watched the first part of that film, with the observer collecting the GZI papers, and relaying the information on to HQ. I was just surprised that you would send someone out of the hole with no protection, and no means to decontaminate him/her back in the bunker. I had always had the impression that you would have sealed yourselves inside the post from the time the balloon went up until the time it was safe to come out again.

What would have been the procedure if the observer didn´t return? Was there one, or would you just have accepted that he/she wasn´t coming back down? Was there any way that someone on top of the bunker could communicate with the observers down below, (other than shouting down the airshaft)?

Good questions.

We did have issue anorak and overtrousers (for RAF personnel, Geltex, anyone? :) ), but the aim was to get up and down before the fallout arrived - after the immediate radiation from the burst, it could be several minutes to hours before the fallout, that would require decontamination drills, arrived. Indeed for an airburst, the fallout would be insignificant, in wartime standards.

There was also what was called a mobile monitoring task, where HQ would detail us to go out with a portable radiation meter to take readings over a specified route. This would be done after fallout arrival and after deposition was complete, and hopefully when the rate had decayed to a 'reasonable' level. That task would require decontamination - leave the outer wear up top and do our best to remove obvious dust and stuff. No respirators, no fuller's earth or other decon kit, but there was a sump at the bottom of the shaft for an impromptu cold shower...

Shouting down the Post shaft in case of trouble was the way to go, and where better to be than underground in these circumstances, so unlikely to run away after the contretemps had kicked off?

How families were looked after, and the way the two other teams (posts had a full strength of 10 personnel) were used, was a whole other issue...
 
Watching the film I did like the fact that nuclear weapons have been used but it was the Maroon signal rockets that sent the old ladies scuttling inside the houses.


A very informative thread.
 
The Forewarned is Forearmed film that the OP posted on page one of this thread was made in 1991. The stand down of the Observer Corps was announced while filming was taking place, so you won´t get a more up-to-date contemporary film about the ROC than that one.
I'd forgotten that the very first post had Sound an Alarm as a link. Drink has been taken since I read all those years ago!
 
the way the two other teams (posts had a full strength of 10 personnel) were used, was a whole other issue...
Presumably you'd stag on in threes from Transition to War until the first mushroom. Then those on stag would battle with those off stag to prevent them gaining access.

That raises an issue. I presume that the rations were meant to last for 3 weeks after the first bang. Prior to the big bang, did each team have to bring their own sandwiches and promise not to nick stuff out of the ration packs? Or were you put on the ration strength of the RAF and have ration packs dropped off?

Also, pre-bang, did you stag on for 8 hours or 12 hours?
 

tocsin

Old-Salt
Presumably you'd stag on in threes from Transition to War until the first mushroom. Then those on stag would battle with those off stag to prevent them gaining access.

That raises an issue. I presume that the rations were meant to last for 3 weeks after the first bang. Prior to the big bang, did each team have to bring their own sandwiches and promise not to nick stuff out of the ration packs? Or were you put on the ration strength of the RAF and have ration packs dropped off?

Also, pre-bang, did you stag on for 8 hours or 12 hours?

Yes, during transition to war the posts (and HQs) were manned on a shift basis. The Head Observer of the post (Chief Observer rank) was responsible for managing the rota, and shift lengths depended on manning available. Where a post was significantly understrength, the Group Officer i/c of a couple of clusters of posts (about six usually) would have to shuffle people around.

Feeding was on a bring your own basis, just as with exercises, though I suspect a bit more would be brought in under TTW. The jerrycans of water were rotated on a regular basis (hauling those up the shaft was always fun).

The unanswered question was what to do about families. This was left to self-help, and where there was a strong local (and out of immediate target areas) focus, the plan was to find one or two locations where people and supplies could be gathered, and shelter improved, all under the guidance of those observers not on shift. Recuiting a village pub landlord with substantial cellarage was always a good idea. :) This issue was in my opinion the biggest gap in planning, and would only have been addressed properly at a later stage than optimum...

@gaijin - hope that answers sufficiently!
 
I was HQ and we had bedrooms with bunk beds etc. Generators and so on. For weekend exercises the WRVS would come in and cook for us.
 

tocsin

Old-Salt
I was HQ and we had bedrooms with bunk beds etc. Generators and so on. For weekend exercises the WRVS would come in and cook for us.

One of the biggest demoralisers on exercise in a post was the things we overheard from those on the 'post boards' at HQ talking about "how hot it is" or "looking forward to a nice cuppa". The post internal temperature was consistent - varying between 48 and 52 degrees F throughout the year... after a few hours downstairs our body temperature felt borderline hypothermic!

Every area had it's issues and I always encouraged people to see how the other half lived, wherever possible having an exchange between Post and HQ during exercises. When young and foolish, I did three shifts back-to-back from Post to HQ to Post during an INTEX, including carting people about!
 
so joining the RAF was a natural step up, waited on in comfort
The choice was RAF or army, how difficult could it have been even at 17 years old?
 

tocsin

Old-Salt
The choice was RAF or army, how difficult could it have been even at 17 years old?

Without breaking PERSEC too much, I have my Grandad's WW1 medals (Somme, 'luckily' lost a leg) and Dad's WW2 (Dunkirk, off the beaches, war disablement pension).

Army, Navy or RAF - hmm, at 17 years old also, let me think... I'll have a light blue uniform, please! And, yes I do have a few clankers to put together with them when I finally give up :)
 

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