PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 12/10/2020

Wrens pioneer synthetic environment training

Everybody’s favourite WW2 Naval war correspondant, AJ McWhinnie, author of many marvellous articles on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, dropped this tantalising detail in an article for the Liverpool Herald:

AJ McWhinne on Wren-powered VR for anti-aircraft gun training. "Wren operators show the film, which darts across the domed screen.

Which tickled me immensely, seeing as how my day-job is software-dev using VR, mixed/augmented reality for analysis, training & simulation, and wargaming. It’s always nice to know that the things you do have always been done by women, even if the boys would like to make you think otherwise. Like the women who wrote and (literally) knitted the moon lander OS, and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper who among other trivial things like inventing compilers, coined the term “bug” after finding one in her computer:

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper's logbook: "first actual example of bug found" and moth selotaped in.

And then, would you beleive it, I found photographs, while hunting-up evidence of the Bombay Tactical Unit.

Just as the WRINS have fitted into the life and routine of other Naval Specialist Schools, they have also become an integral part of the Naval Gunnery Training Establishment, HMIS Himalaya.

Secretarial duties, assisting Instructors in preparing syllabae, arranging courses, and correcting confidential books and publications of modern theories of Gunnery were taken over by the WRINS when men of the RIN were urgently required for War Service afloat. 

Besides doing office work they also assisted in the actual training of officers and ratings in Gunnery tactics. Theoretical lectures on Aircraft Recognition, High Angle Firing, Ship Recognition, etc were taught with the aid of cinema strips and some of the girls worked the projectors as qualified cinema operators. This was a highly specialised job needing a background knowledge of Electricity and Sound but they soon studied and mastered the technicalities and became proficient in their duties.

Gunnery in its practical aspects was taught at the High-Angle or Anti-Aircraft School which is also a part of the Training Establishment. This is India’s most modern naval school of anti-aircraft training.

Here potential Gunners practised firing at target-towing aircraft and WRINS were employed on Radio Telephones, passing messages to aircraft from control positions and passing orders to gun crews to carry out different forms of drill.

Apart from these jobs WRINS of HMIS Himalaya carried out ordinance duties. They stripped complicated close range weapons and assembled them again after cleaning and maintenance, thus keeping the condition of the arms at the high level of efficiency which is essential for accurate firing and good results.

WRINS and How They Served

This passage in particular delighted me:

They worked the complex precision machines which calculate the speed, range, angle of sight and height of ‘enemy’ aircraft and predict their future movements. This information is transmitted down to the guns by means of electrical transmission units and pointers. When the practices were over the errors in ‘time lag’ and ‘aim-off’ were analysed by the WRIN assistants and later explained to the classes.

Because fire control computers need MEN! WRINS!

But back to the Wren-powered VR:

A RIN rating aims the gun at the dome. Next to him two WRINS operate the projection apparatus.
A WRIN assisting to work an AA training device similar to a 35mm cinema projector. This requires a sure eye and delicate touch. [WRINS and How They Served]

This was the apparatus the charming McWhinnie paragraph described, and I thought I’d go a-hunting for this RCNVR Lt. For about two-and-a-half seconds I was disappointed to find McWhinnie fallible; the Lt was not Canadian, nor had any RCN connections I could find. But frankly who cares WHEN NOW I HAVE VIDEO !!?

Let me introduce to you The Dome anti-aircraft trainer, conceived by Henry Stephens, RN in WW1 and RNVR in WW2. Forty of these devices were built, at sites including HMS Excellent, Portsmouth, HMIS Himalaya, Karachi, and RAF Langham…were the concrete dome has been restored and was the star turn of the BBC One documentary The Dome: A Secret of World War Two in 2015.

You can read the technical specification by Lt Cdr Stephens here. Modern day CAVE and VR synthetic training does not look so different.

And here’s a WAAF operating the RAF Leuchars dome anti-aircraft teacher, because at PAXsims we have both kinds of diversity: Navy and Air Force ;-)

FILM AND PHOTOGRAPHY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (CH 18567) Training films: A member of the Royal Air Force Regiment under instruction in a dome anti-aircraft teacher at RAF Leuchars where a WAAF projects the film of the targets. IWM

Read more about the Derby House Principles for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming (training & simulation) here.

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