Justabout Productions is to reveal one of the last secrets of World War 2 - the amazing weapon that wrecked Hitler's 'war machine' and paved the way for the D-Day landing. Birth of the Smart Bomber tells the story of OBOE, the most accurate bombing device until the days of the satellite. The film will be screened at 8 pm on Sunday 3 March in Channel 4's Secrets of the Dead strand.
We show how, early in WW2, many British bombers missed their target by miles. Facing defeat, the Government turned to the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE), whose work on radar had helped win the Battle of Britain. TRE (based for much of the war at Malvern College) gave the task to a brilliant, but unconventional, 'boffin'. Born a century ago on 10 March 1902, Alec Reeves had already devised Pulse Code Modulation, the basis for all modern digital communications and media. Later he led the team that created optical fibres. Reeves experimented with the occult and believed his work was guided by the great 19th century scientist Michael Faraday.
His solution was novel. Pilots would fly in an arc centred on a radio base station called the 'Cat', dropping their bombs when they reached a precise distance from a second station - the 'Mouse'. An audible tone told them if they were deviating from the correct track: someone said it sounded like an oboe and the name stuck. OBOE was so precise that a bomb dropped from 30,000 feet could land within 50 yards of its target. In March 1943, OBOE guided planes virtually destroyed the mighty Krupps Works at Essen which made most of Hitler's steel and weapons. On the eve of D-Day, OBOE demolished nine out of ten heavy guns that could have decimated the invading force. Reeves' invention had altered the course - and perhaps the outcome - of World War 2.
In our film we talk to the scientists, pilots and planners who put OBOE into action. We also set a top pilot with today's RAF two extraordinary tasks: to navigate a propeller-driven aircraft using only a map and watch (the resources available to airmen early in WW2) and to mount a 'bombing' mission directed by a specially built recreation of the OBOE system. The result? Dramatic proof of the effectiveness of a device invented 60 years ago.
We're grateful to all those who helped us make what we think is an exceptional programme - not least Frank Metcalfe who sadly died since we interviewed him.
Birth of the Smart Bomber has two personal links. George Phelps, father of Executive Producer Steve Phelps, worked on OBOE at Trimingham, while I am currently writing Alec Reeves' biography. The film was directed by David Barrie.
David Robertson Writer and Producer, Birth of the Smart Bomber
Tel 01684 573780
Fax 01684 573783
Narrator Piers Gibbon
Dubbing Mixer Richard Lambert
Online Editor Richard Everton
Film Researcher Steve Bergson
Music David Sinclair
Sound Lee Edwards
Camera Lawrence Gardner, Frédéric Fabré
Film Editor Ian Meller
Production Manager Justin Johnson
Associate Director Jonathan Dent
Assistant Producer John Ashton
Executive Producer Stephen Phelps
Written and Produced by David Robertson
Directed by David Barrie
A Justabout production for Channel 4 Television
Thanks to Malvern College, RAF Coltishall, RAF Holbeach
Archive: Imperial War Museum, Douglas Fisher