Blind-flying duel over southern England
23rd May 1942: Airborne radar gives the RAF the edge as they intercept Luftwaffe intruders in murky weather
The Luftwaffe continued to make hit and run 'nuisance raids' over Britain, and the RAF continued to develop the means to respond to them. When it became apparent that they were taking advantage of unseasonably bad weather to creep over the south coast in thick mist and low cloud, the night fighters were brought into action early to deal with them.
John 'Cats Eyes' Cunningham was already developing a reputation as an skilled night fighter pilot. British propaganda credited him with especially good night vision - hence the nickname - but this was largely a ruse to cover up the effectiveness of airborne radar which was now giving the night fighters a particular advantage.
Flying with Cunningham was navigator observer / radar operator C.F. Rawnsley. His post war memoir1 was to include a long description of the two and a half hour battle that took place in the late afternoon gloom of 23rd May 1942:
At four o’clock in the afternoon we scraped off after them into the drizzle and set course for Swanage. The earth was gone in a flash, and we were alone in the centre of a ball of white emptiness. Only the needles of the instruments of the blind-flying panel could tell us what was happening: air speed, height, rate of climb, altitude, direction. Without them we were anywhere and nowhere, and we had to believe them or perish. We were still, floating motionless in a void, going neither up nor down, until we looked at the instruments.