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Chapter 10 - Controllers Training School Heliopolis

Perhaps a little less well known than the UK seats of learning for Fighter Controllers in the early days, were two other Schools, the first of which was formed on 10 Aug 42 at Heliopolis, an airfield close to and North East of Cairo in Egypt. Sqn Ldr R H Scott was the Commanding Officer and Sqn Ldr V F Cottrell (author's note: I found 3 different spellings for the Sqn Ldr in the F540, I guessed at this one!) was posted in for the duty of Controlling Instructor. I include a copy of the programme of instruction for the inaugural course:

Programme - Course 1A

MONDAY

Aug 10 0830-0900 Opening remarks. S/Ldr Scott

0900-1100 Fighter Operations Organisation S/Ldr Cottrell

1100-1300 RDF advantages and limitation F/LWhitford

1700-2000 Visit to 232 AMES

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TUESDAY

Aug 11 0900-1100 Signals Organisation F/Lt Finn

1100-1300 Preliminary talk on GCI S/Ldr Scott 1700-2000 Visit to 846 AMES

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WEDNESDAY

Aug 12 0900-1100 R/T Procedures S/Ldr Cottrell

1100-1300 Air and Sea Rescue F/Lt Powell

1700-2000 Visit to 22 Sector Ops

and VHF TX and RX Tenders

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THURSDAY

Aug 13 0900-1100 Further talk on GCI S/Ldr Scott

1100-1300 Guns and Searchlights Maj Vivian

1700-2000 Visit to GOR GL etc

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FRIDAY

Aug 14 0900-1000 Controllers Problems S/Ldr Cottrell

1000-1100 Aircraft Performance W/Cdr Leathars

1100-1300 Visit to Heliopolis Aerodrome

viewing, Spitfires, Hurricanes,

and Beaufighters.

1800-1930 Further remarks of RDF and F/Lt Whitford

Filter Room procedures.

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SATURDAY

Aug 15 0900-1030 Air Formation Signals and

Communications in Egypt Maj Penn

1100-1230 A/1 (?) and ASV Instructional Film Cancelled

1730-2000 Signals Security S/Ldr McGoogan

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It will be of interest to all those ever involved in re-writing syllabuses that by the next course (2A), two weeks later, lectures on the following had been included:

Controlling Technique, Plotting, Quarter Approaches, Interception games (?!),

Beam approaches, Navigation Theory, Bow approaches and Head-ons. Also of interest, by 11 Sep 42, 1hr 15min was given over to "Controllers Problems". On 26 Nov 42 the Heliopolis F540 reported, "A difficulty has been the lack of suitable transport for the visits to various AME stations, which form part of the training programme. A bus is to be constructed for this purpose", oh yeah!

Over the years students have been tasked with researching and presenting short lectures on Air Defence or associated subjects. The value of this has been a topic of hot debate, particularly amongst the students! Nothing we do today, however, compares with the relatively ruthless procedure adopted in 1942.

 

A selection of subjects was produced then the following procedure applied:

a. The decision as to who will speak on which of the subjects will be made immediately before each talk as follows:

b. There will be a box containing all the subjects written on slips of paper, a second with the names of all students on the course written in black ink and a third box with the names of the attendees written in red.

c. The name drawn in black ink will be that of the officer responsible for speaking on the subject drawn at the same time, whilst the name in red will be that of a student who must take over if the first one proves unable to cope with the subject. If the "black" officer succeeds in giving his lecture, the "red" officer will give his comments upon it for a further five minutes." But what happened if both the "black" officer and the "red" officer failed?

It was not until Apr 43, however, that the F540 reported ".......it has been decided to inaugurate practical instruction with course 1B to commence on May 17 1943"........good decision!

Also that month, "As many pilots as possible were introduced to the workings of GCI. Genuine interest and assurance were promoted in all cases in its accuracy. One crew, which had worked on GCI previously, acknowledged that they never knew how much they could do in helping the Controller......." (current aircrew please note!).

Further problems with aptitude and selection affected the Middle East School just as in the UK. In Mar 44 - Heliopolis reported, "............in the period under review two airmen were returned to their unit as unsuitable by reason of slowness of thought or unsuitability of temperament..........representations were made to Air Headquarters Eastern Med that a careful selection as to type and mentality should be made before nominating officers or airmen for the Controllers Course, since it must inevitably mean that vacancies are wasted when unsuitable candidates are sent."

Sexism reared its ugly head in Heliopolis in July's F540. "On the 4th July ten WAAFs arrived to replace airmen. They had a fortnight's intensive training and now show a surprising aptitude for the work."

In Jan 43 students from all three Services attended the Heliopolis course. The policy of liaison and co-operation, which was one of the School's primary aims, was furthered by the inclusion on the courses of officers from the VIIIth and IXth Fighter Command of the American Army Air Corps.

Mar 43 saw a change in Commanding Officer when Wg Cdr A M Campbell assumed command, vice Wg Cdr R H Scott, who was posted to AHQ ADEM. Wg Cdr Campbell's was a short term occupation of the post as Wg Cdr R S Mudie replaced Campbell in Jul 43. However, Sqn Ldr, now A/Wg Cdr, Cottrell was posted back to command the Unit on 21 Aug 43 but was in turn replaced, almost immediately on 26 Aug 43 by Wg Cdr RC Love. Sadly, Sqn Ldr Cottrell's posting and acting rank of Wg Cdr was cancelled. Things were so much simpler then! But, wait for it, on 8 Sep 1943 Wg Cdr Love was posted to No 33 SOR and Sqn Ldr Cottrell assumed command. They cleverly avoided giving him acting Wg Cdr rank! Cottrell remained in command until 11 Apr 44 whereupon Wg Cdr J E Herbert assumed command. The F540, stated categorically, "The change of command does not involve any direct change in policy." As if to reinforce this assertion, on 1 Oct 44 a signal was received from Air Headquarters, Eastern Mediterranean instructing the School to close!

Continue to the next chapter ......