An operation type with the peaceful and domestic sounding name of “Gardening” still came with the same threats and menace the operations over the industrial centers of Europe brought to the bomber crews. Even the terms used to describe the aspects of this type of operation would sound like some adventure into an English garden rather then the dangerous assignments out above the waters around the European coasts. Terms such as “the vegetables were planted in a row” …” in the allotted garden patch”… “sown one vegetable” … can all be found in squadron operational accounts which actually were describing the precarious duty of mining the harbours or narrow passages used for enemy shipping.
There were a series of different mines which could be dropped by aircraft. Weighting in at up to 2,000 pounds and carrying at least 1,000 pounds of explosive they were dropped by parachute following the blips on the Gee screens as a guide to their placement. The weather, enemy aircraft patrols as well as flak from both land based units and flak ships were all placed in the areas to deter the laying of mines in waters important for enemy ship’s to pass through.
North Sea or Bay of Biscay weather was always a force to be dealt with. Although it could protect the bombers from being easily sighted by enemy fighters, icing and storms could bring an aircraft down just as any enemy fire could. And yet another battle was going on in the sky. One that could not be seen with the naked eye. What in modern terms would be called electronic counter measures was being felt by both sides. Night fighters with radar to find the bombers and bombers with anti-radar devices fought to out do each other and win control of at least the night skies.
One such device which the RAF had developed to aide in detecting fighters coming in from behind without being seen by the bomber's tail gunner was Monica. A small almost arrow shaped metal device found just under the tail gunner's turret connected to a device inside the aircraft. What appeared to be a good idea which did work to some extent early in it’s career proved to have two large problems. The first being that when used in a large formation of bombers; it would be confused by all the objects it could “see” causing many false readings and uncomfortable moments for crews who didn’t know if it was false or a ME-110 sneaking up on them. Although by far it’s worst fault was that the Luftwaffe had developed a device to attach to their SN-2 radar designated as FuG227 Flensburg which could use the signal sent out by Monica to zero in on the aircraft using it. The device was a secret from the RAF until about July of 1944. When the use of the FuG227 was finally understood by the British, “Bomber” Harris ordered all the Monika units removed from the bombers.
An interesting story, maybe true or not, revolves around how the RAF finally come into possession of the FuG227. A Luftwaffe version of "Wrong Way" Corrigan happened to land by mistake at RAF Woodbridge. The Luftwaffe crew were taken prisoner by what must have been a completely surprised RAF sergeant who only had a Very pistol. The aircraft was equipped with the FuG227 and other electronic devices that shocked the RAF.
The “Gardening” could not be done properly without the accuracy of a good navigation system. The patterns in which the mines were “planted in a row” was a precise art. Both to be able cover an area fully with the least amount of mines but also so There was a known path to penetrate the field by friendly forces. Three ground stations in England sent out synchronised radio beams. The signals showed up on a circular screen in the aircraft’s navigator’s area were he could work out his position.
Gee was not the only navigation system to be used. H2S provided the operator with a series of rough images on a screen. The H2S device hung under the aircraft in a blister shaped housing which enclosed a rotating dish. It worked best on targets on or near water. The images of water would setup a dark image while land reflections showed up as a bright image and built up areas caused a reflection of even brighter than the reflection of just normal terrain. H2S had one major fault which again was not known to the RAF. The Luftwaffe had delevloped a device which like FuG227, but in this case gave away the position of aircraft using the H2S system. Altough not as accurate as FuG227 the FuG350 made it an easy task of locating the main bomber streams and the PPF aircraft.
Gardening Part 2 will focus on the human element, the loss of airmen.