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Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII

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JBagley
Coventry
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1 of 15  Mon 13th Feb 2017 1:35pm  
Member: Joined Jan 2014  Total posts:11

In 1941 (or possibly ‘42) an attempt was made to camouflage large bodies of water that were being used by the Luftwaffe as navigation aids. These were often visible at great distances particularly on moonlight nights - RAF crews raiding Kiel could spot the Elbe river 50 miles away and test flights found that Liverpool docks were visible from 35 miles. The project was handed to the Admiralties' Department of Miscellaneous Weapon Development or DMWD – known as the "Wheezers and Dodgers". Lt Commander Duncan Bruce, AFW Coulson and FD Richardson came up with blend of coal dust and fuel oil which when sprayed over relatively calm water would cling to the surface creating a dark, non-reflecting surface. Application was by a high pressure jet apparatus but was very messy, the men and vessels becoming coated with a slimy layer of coal dust. A hundred pounds of the mixture was enough to cover an acre of water It was first tried on River Thames but was defeated by tide, wind and current - housewives downstream also began to complain bitterly of dirty washing! Application was thus limited to sheltered dockside and waterways. One such that was tried was the Coventry canal, which was being used as a landmark by German bombers heading for Birmingham. This was more successful, even at ground level the canal now appeared indistinguishable from an asphalt road. So successful that in 1942 an old gentleman and dog on their evening stroll had to be rescued from drowning by nearby soldiers after mistaking the canal for road. German use of precision radio beam systems, such as Knickebein and X-Gerat, (used for “Moonlight Sonata”, the November raid on Coventry) meant that disguising these large bodies of water became less important and the attempt seems to have been quietly dropped. The Coventry Canal after application of the camouflage Original copyright of photo : The IWM The story appears in Masquerade. The amazing camouflage deceptions of World War II, by Seymour Reit, published London 1979.
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
Not Local
Bedworth
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2 of 15  Tue 14th Feb 2017 9:06pm  
Member: Joined Feb 2014  Total posts:175

An old friend of mine, sadly long departed, used to tell the tale of his old boss Mr Turner who during the war years lived in St. Nicholas Street very close to the canal basin. Apparently Mr Turner had the job of covering the canal basin with a wooden framework covered in canvas so that the German bombers could not see it. He did this whenever there was an air raid warning.
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
Kaga simpson
Peacehaven, East Sussex
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3 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 10:28am  
Member: Joined Sep 2014  Total posts:1644

Not Local, we viewed all these things as closing the barn door, after the horse had bolted, after they had bombed and emptied the canal at Sutton Stop. How far could they cover the canal, between London and 'Brum' with the boats working as well? There was lots of rumours about ideas to fool the enemy, and some worked perfectly. But the canal?
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
Norman Conquest
Allesley
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4 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 11:16am  
Member: Joined Oct 2014  Total posts:856

I have heard many times that the lake at Coombe Abbey was drained so that enemy aircraft wouldn't be able to find Coventry. If true the ploy certainly didn't work. I would like to see any newspaper reports or photographs of this event. It didn't happen. I believe that most of these stories are just fiction. I also have heard about covering the Coventry basin with canvas when the siren sounded. I certainly wouldn't like to be the guy who had to do this, as the enemy aircraft would often be overhead very shortly after the siren sounded.
Just old and knackered

Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
walrus
cheshire
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5 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 11:43am  
Member: Joined Dec 2011  Total posts:203

There were many daft ideas suggested during both great wars .Usually these came from self formed committees of well connected people . My particular favourite , a retired admiral suggested stationing rowing boats around our coastline to counter the u-boat threat .One man would row while the other was equipped with a bag and a hammer to break the glass of the periscope .It's not what you know but who you know .
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
JBagley
Coventry
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Thread starter
6 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 11:59am  
Member: Joined Jan 2014  Total posts:11

As bizarre as it sounds this was actually tried. It is mentioned in several published works on WW2 Camouflage and Deception techniques and the original reports are held by the National Archives: HO186/1334: Camouflage of Water Surfaces: Summary of Experiments and Conclusions by the R&E Dept., dated 5th Sept 1940, and HO186/1985: Techinical Sub Committee 32: Camouflage of Water Surfaces by Means of Dust Films, circa May 1942. There is also mention of the draining of 'Binley Lake' - whether that refers to Coombe pool I don't know but I can't think of any other large bodies of water in that area that would be useful to German pilots.
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
Norman Conquest
Allesley
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7 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 3:10pm  
Member: Joined Oct 2014  Total posts:856

Binley Lake, also known as Stoke Floods, lies behind Harry Shaw's bus park, top of Clifford Bridge Rd. I occasional fished it as a boy. I also fished Coombe during the war. To drain Coombe would be a mammoth task, especially removing, perhaps, a hundred tons of rotting fish. Just had a look at Binley Lake on Google Earth and it appears to be nowhere the size it once was.
Just old and knackered

Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
JBagley
Coventry
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Thread starter
8 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 3:31pm  
Member: Joined Jan 2014  Total posts:11

Thanks Norman, that does makes more sense than draining Coombe pool. Had not heard of Stoke Floods - wrong side of town for me!
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
Not Local
Bedworth
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9 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 5:16pm  
Member: Joined Feb 2014  Total posts:175

Kaga. The canal basin story does sound like closing the barn door etc. However the canal basin is a distinctive shape and could have been a good reference point for the navigator in an aircraft approaching from the east. Norman, I have no way of proving or disproving the story about the canvas cover. My old friend worked for Mr Turner from sometime in the late 1940's until well into the 1950's. I gather that during the war Mr Turner worked as a builder and was given that particular task because he lived right by the canal basin. It could well have been part of his Home Guard duties or a vague memory says he may have worked for the council. Mr Turner's post-war business was basically scrap reclamation - he and his men worked on the sites of the bombed factories cutting up twisted girders but saving straight ones for use in the reconstruction of the city. My friend told me that the factories they worked on were the ones which had been completely destroyed during the air raids. They also recovered scrap metal from factories and worked father afield recovering scrap metal from army lorries by setting fire to the wooden bodies. Edited by member, 15th Feb 2017 5:17 pm
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
Kaga simpson
Peacehaven, East Sussex
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10 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 5:22pm  
Member: Joined Sep 2014  Total posts:1644

We knew about most of these things during the war. The cardboard tanks, the bouncing bomb etc, almost everyone was in uniform, so it all came back to the people. My cousin was aircrew bomber command, as a boy he had lived in a wooden hut at the slough, he and I used to skim pebbles across the water, so he told me about a bouncing bomb long before it was used. Several forum members have mentioned about building bikes, so you can imagine the delight I had when given a fold up bike, told to strip it down, then re-assemble it and get used to it. You should have seen my mum's face when I first put my string vests into the wash when on leave one time. The war was all about new ideas, today I look around and think, I know where that came from. Am I boring you?
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
Not Local
Bedworth
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11 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 5:34pm  
Member: Joined Feb 2014  Total posts:175

Kaga, You have a big advantage over me in that your stories about the war are all firsthand where mine are often secondhand or in the case of the canal basin a thirdhand story. You should have kept the folding bike because they are now worth a fortune! I remember seeing them in the scrap yards in the 60's with the letters 'BSA' clearly cast into the chain wheel just to show the Germans where they were made. My father had a string vest.
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
coventry49
Devon
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12 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 8:37pm  
Member: Joined Jan 2015  Total posts:135

I know this comment isn't strictly about the Canal but may be of interest to younger members of the Forum. The rear of the factory visible on Quarry Field Lane (opposite London Road Cemetery) and on Mile Lane side had camouflage paint still visible in the 1980s. You could see the shape and colour of green hills. It was Rolls Royce then but would have been another firm during the war, perhaps Armstrong Siddeley?
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
Midland Red
Cherwell
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13 of 15  Wed 15th Feb 2017 9:12pm  
Moderator: Joined Jan 2010  Total posts:4300

There was also camouflage paint along the Bristol Siddeley factory wall on Quinton Road from Mile Lane towards the railway line
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
Slim
Coventry a bit
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14 of 15  Thu 16th Feb 2017 7:08am  
Member: Joined Mar 2013  Total posts:362

And camouflage paint on the large ugly brick factory building skirting the A45 at Ryton. I believe it was originally Rootes/Humber, then Chrysler, then it became Peugeot. It's all gone now of course, like most of the old English engineering and car industry. Some of the Massey's buildings at Banner Lane were also camouflaged with paint; another shadow factory. Some of the things that were tried might sound like daft ideas now, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Once in a while, an idea might just work. There's nothing to lose by trying.
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII
Wearethemods
Aberdeenshire
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15 of 15  Thu 16th Feb 2017 9:42am  
Member: Joined Jun 2013  Total posts:314

On 15th Feb 2017 8:37pm, coventry49 said: I know this comment isn't strictly about the Canal but may be of interest to younger members of the Forum. The rear of the factory visible on Quarry Field Lane (opposite London Road Cemetery) and on Mile Lane side had camouflage paint still visible in the 1980s. You could see the shape and colour of green hills. It was Rolls Royce then but would have been another firm during the war, perhaps Armstrong Siddeley?
Yes 49, Armstrong Siddeley Thumbs up
Camouflaging Coventry Canal in WWII

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