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My first posting after my Telegraphist training, at RAF Cosford in 1965-66, was HQBC RAF High Wycombe.

I felt very privileged to be posted to such a historic station and the communications centre (Commcen) work, down in 'the hole', encompassed every type of system I had been taught, and more!

I used to frequently visit the Operations Centre, as described by Sqdn Ldr Colin H. Taylor (RAF Ret'd.) in your first article Bomber Command - Capturing Cold War Memories. I remember asking why there was a safe in the middle of an empty floor. It was explained that this contained the details of targets for any nuclear strike by the V Bomber force and would be opened by the Operations Officer in the case of a real threat. The key for this safe was not held by the senior operations officer but by his deputy. E.G. the senior Ops Officer may be a Sqdn Ldr, the key would be held by a Flt Lt. This made sense in that if the senior officer began to panic and lost his reasoning the junior officer could not order him to hand over the key. The above scenario meant that the junior officer could be ordered to hand over the key if it were he that 'lost it'.

Sqdn Ldr (ret'd,) Taylor eluded to, but did not mention by name, Exercise Mickey Finn.

How this affected us up in the commcen is that the WT (Wireless Telegraphy, Morse Code) Racal RA17 radio receivers were banked in two's with a single operator manning both of them. There were three sets of these double banked receivers.

When the Bomber Controller's voice came over the Tannoy, which was heard at every Bomber Command station in the Kingdom, saying "This is the Bomber Controller. Exercise Mickey Finn, Scramble - Scramble - Scramble" (Even now, 44 years later, a chill goes through my body just typing those words) EVERY aircraft belonging to Bomber Command took to the air within, I believe, 15 minutes. Bomber Command did not only have the V Bomber force, they had transport aircraft as well, Varsity's and the like.

This is apart from the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) V Bombers which were airborne within 4 minutes from the Scramble announcement.

At the announcement all Telegraphists, working in the Teleprinter part of the communications centre, would immediately drop what they were doing and move to the Radio Room so that all RA17's had an operator.

All aircraft had to send an 'Airborne + Aircraft ID' message within seconds of becoming airborne and we are probably talking about a couple of hundred aircraft, a lot of messages for 6 WT operators and a Voice Operator on the VHF/UHF radio, assisted by 'runners' to take the airborne messages from the operator to the lamson tube to send the messages to the Operations Room. These Lamson's are Pneumatic Tubes used for sending messages, or money in some large department stores, to different departments. The Tubes in the HQBC Commcen were to various sections from the General Office and Stores to Intelligence and, of course, Operations.

Exercise Mickey Finn would build for about 3 months with exercise messages about border skirmishes between the USSR and China escalating as time went on until the exercise, effectively World War III. was launched by the Bomber Controller.

15 MINUTES INTO THE EXERCISE I remember the Operations Officer coming into the Commcen to inform us that "I'm awfully sorry chaps but we are all dead" !

We would then place pre-prepared notices on all terminal printers and radio receivers with "NOT TO BE USED FOR EXERCISE TRAFFIC", so normal operational and administration traffic would carry on but we could not accept exercise traffic as all stations would have been informed that HQBC was out of operation after receiving a very close strike by a Soviet nuclear missile.

Scary stuff, and even more so when we knew that the general public really had no idea how real the threat was, or how close it came to being real. It was only our possession of an effective Nuclear Strike Force, with the V Bombers, that prevented the USSR carrying out it's threatened attacks.

HQBC changed it's identity, to HQSTC Strike Command, in April 1968 and I am proud to be one of the very last serving members of Bomber Command as I left for my first overseas posting (Masirah) in July 1968.

N.B. Watch out in the early scenes of the James Bond film Dr. No. The Radio Receivers being used in the Secret Service radio room are RA17's, identical to those used by the RAF world-wide, and mentioned above.


© David J. Rose (Cpl. RAF. Retd.)