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RAF 100 And The Birth of Electronic Warfare

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Janine Harrington is a World War 2 historian, prolific author and probably the world’s leading expert on RAF No.100 (Bomber Support) Group, a top secret group compromising of 15 Squadrons of men and women and over 200 aircraft based on purpose-built airfields in Norfolk.

Aircraft were specially equipped with jamming and signals intercept equipment, with the main task of this Group being to identify and jam enemy aircraft. As Guardian Angels of the skies, they flew above the bombers, flying deep into the heart of Germany, later flying combined operations with the U.S.36th Electronic Warfare Squadron, 8th Air Force. The Group also worked with Bletchley Park, and carried and collected SOE Agents, as well as working with the Resistance. 

As a Founding Member, worldwide Secretary, and Editor of the RAF 100 Group Association magazine: ‘Confound & Destroy’, Janine very kindly took the time to speak to us about RAF 100 Group, what they did and her very personal connection with them.

Who were RAF 100 Group?

The story of RAF No.100 (Bomber Support) Group, its official title; goes back to the winter of 1942. Air battles over Germany had reached a critical point.  Losses were profound. There was a danger the Second World War would be lost unless something unique and innovative was found.

One year later, on November 8, 1943, this top-secret RAF No.100 (Bomber Support) Group was inaugurated under Bomber Command, giving birth to electronic warfare, changing the way war would be fought forever. Their first operation occurred in December, after which they continued operations until the end of the war in 1945. It was they who helped to bring the war to a successful and early conclusion, saving many thousands of lives.

4. Vic Vinnell (194x 300)One member of RAF 100 Group was Henry Victor Alexander Vinnell (‘Vic’) (see image right). He was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.  Before the war he was an assistant salesman in a grocery store, just an ordinary young man.

He volunteered for the RAF in December 1940, was awarded his flying wings in 1942, and in October 1943 was posted to RAF Wheaton Aston having previously been to the No.1 Radio School at Cranwell.

It was at RAF Wheaton Aston at the Christmas Eve 1943 dance that he met a young WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) named Nina, who was Secretary to Group Captain Browning. Very quickly, as would happen in war; they fell in love, writing a dozen letters a day to one another (Even though they were based at the same Camp!)

At the beginning of 1944, Vic was invited to London for an interview at the Home Office. Nina accompanied him. That evening, sharing dinner following the interview, Nina realised Vic had changed. She had the feeling something was going on, something secret he couldn't reveal - all he could say was that he was expecting a posting shortly.

A few weeks later, Vic was posted into 192 Squadron at RAF Foulsham in Norfolk - the lead Squadron of the top-secret RAF 100 Group! This Squadron went out in all weathers, flying night and day operations, working closely with Bletchley Park. It was on their information that operations were based.

What did RAF 100 Group Do?

Due to his radio related skills Vic had been handpicked (as were all members of RAF 100 Group) tasked with carrying out top-secret measures to try to turn the war around.

Those serving under RAF No.100 (Bomber Support) Group were a close-knit group of men and women, spread across airfields in Norfolk, separate to the main RAF who knew nothing at all about them, their work was so secret and vital.

They came from different backgrounds, Squadrons, and countries, flying Halifaxes, Fortresses, Liberators, Stirlings, Beaufighters, Wellingtons, and Mosquitoes. Vic’s Pilot was Jack Fisher, a Canadian, while Vic was a Navigator/Special Operator, responsible for manning experimental jamming equipment fitted in their aircraft.  Together, they flew Mosquito DK292 above bombers on raids, acting as their ‘Guardian Angels’.  Vic named his and Jack’s Mosquito ‘My Nina’.

Their primary task was to identify and jam enemy Radar, which had never been done before. This was the birth of electronic warfare.

Equipment used was experimental, developed by Boffins at TRE – the Telecommunications Research Establishment at Malvern. This was the main UK Research and Development Organisation for Radio Navigation, Radar, infra-red detection for heat-seeking missiles, and related work for the RAF both during WWII and the years that followed.

It must be said that, as with all Special Operators, Vic never really knew the impact of equipment he was using. He simply carried out instructions as to how to use it. Before each mission he took orders from Bletchley Park, who debriefed him when they returned. The equipment could be modified based on what they learned, before being reinstalled for the next operation.

It was a continuous game of cat and mouse, each side developing measure and countermeasure.

What is your connection with RAF 100 Group?

3. Nina Chessall (246x 300)My connection to the story of RAF 100 Group is a very personal one – Nina (image right) was my mother, Vic her beloved fiancé.

She and Vic had planned to marry in December 1944. All wedding plans were in place and booked for their next leave together – but on the night of 26th/27th November 1944 Vic and Jack flying Mosquito DK292 disappeared on a mission.

I grew up with my mother’s unworn wedding dress in the wardrobe.  At 9pm every evening, the hour they pledged to marry one another, she would sit alone, silent and still, tears rolling down her face as she remembered what she lost. 

When my mother tried to discover what happened to Vic, she kept coming up against a brick wall.  Everyone who joined RAF 100 Group had signed the Official Secrets Act. Many of their documents, especially those of 192, the lead Squadron; remain classified under a 100 Year Rule.

A year after Vic's death, she wrote an article in memory of her lost love. It was published in the Daily Express. The following day, she began receiving many letters from across the world from people who resonated with her story.

Over a period of ten years, Mum and I researched Vic’s life, who he was, where he came from, what his work involved. Then, to mark the 60th Anniversary of Vic’s disappearance, we brought together all we knew, including the hundreds of letters written and shared between them. This culminated in the first book I wrote about RAF 100 Group. Titled: ‘Nina & Vic, a World War II Love Story’, I have recently expanded and had it republished under: ‘A Wing & A Prayer’.

Can you tell us about books you have written on RAF 100 Group?

RAF100-Book -2I have written 30 books in total and over the past 20 years edited the RAF 100 Group Association magazine ‘Confound & Destroy’, which goes out to all Veterans and their families worldwide.

(Many of Janine's books are available on Amazon)

My mother and I became founding members of the RAF 100 Group Association and it was with much joy and love Mum received many letters written to her from those who had known and served alongside Vic and Jack during wartime. This includes Phil James MBE, their best friend, who also served in 192 Squadron and was there when they left for an operation from which they never returned.

Phil and I retain a close connection because of his past today. As with all Veterans, he is valued and loved, one of our many worldwide Kindred Spirit Family. I made a promise to these Veterans that one day I would write a book that included all of them, as a means of giving them a voice - their secrets and stories told in their own words, with the history of a very Special and Secret Group which makes them legends today.

Too many had already taken their secrets to the grave. It was time to recognise the debt we owe. In 2015 Austin Macauley published my book: ‘RAF 100 Group – Kindred Spirits: Voices of RAF & USAAF on secret Norfolk Airfields during World War Two’. It was a promise fulfilled and tells the stories of brave boys forged in the fire of war, who became men working secretly to successfully turn the tide of war.

When the book came out, I received many letters from wives and wartime sweethearts of some of these men telling me I was wrong, their loved one had been a Groundsman, not a Navigator or Pilot. I had to gently tell them that this book contained the actual testimony of their husband or fiancé, they had in truth, been flying deep into the heart of enemy territory, but forbidden to tell. They also wanted to keep loved ones at home from knowing too much and worrying about them.

It remains my privilege and pleasure to continue to call Veterans and their families ‘Kindred Spirits’, and to write their stories to widen the awareness of all they did in wartime, given they received neither recognition nor reward. My most recent book is entitled: ‘RAF 100 Group – Reasons to Remember’, published in 2018 to commemorate 75 years since the Group came into being, and all lives lost.

Is there anything we should’ve mentioned?

Do you have any thoughts, comments or views on RAF 100 Group or World War 2 aviation in general?

Is there anything you think we should have mentioned?

If there is get in touch and let us know – you can also do it on Facebook or Twitter.


By Alastair Baker at 10 Aug 2020, 00:00 AM