Home   Genealogy   Forums   Search   Contact
MHO Home
MHO Home
 17th Century
 18th Century
 19th Century
 American Civil War
 World War I
 World War II
 20th - 21st Century

 Write for MHO
 Search MHO
 Civil War Genealogy Database
 Privacy Policy

WWII Articles
USS North Carolina vs Bismarck
Operation Compass
Book Review: APc-48
Agent 110: An American Spymaster
Rudolf Hess/Tancred Borenius
Soviet Rifle Corps of WWII
The Morality of Okinawa
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School
Operation Dragoon and Invasion of Southern France
Battle of Buna-Gona
The Silent Service and the Turkey Shoot
Published works on WWII OOB for land forces
Flying Tiger, Hidden Eagle
SAARF – Special Allied Airborne Recon Force
Force at la Difensa
Sabotaging Hitler’s Heavy Water
Soviet Offensive in the Arctic
The Failure of Strategic Bombing
Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Strategic Culture of the IJN
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
Lodge Act Soldier
The Fate of the Kido Butai
Air Recon in WWII
Turning East: Hitler's only option
Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
The Battleship USS Oregon
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
Jewish Resistance in WWII
Battle for Seaports
Banzai Attack on Attu
End of the Battle of the Java Sea
Texas National Guard in WWII
How Arnhem was Lost
Saga of Ormoc Bay
Silent Service of the Pacific
USS Wahoo
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
Confucian Martial Culture
Operation Market Garden
Legacy of WWII Sub Veterans
Lausdell Crossroads
Kasserine Pass
Arnhem Startline
Bushido: Valor of Deceit
British Offensive Operations
Sir Winston Churchill
American Stubbornness at Rimling
The OSS in Greece
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Breaking Seelow Heights
The Rape of Nanking
Small Battle: Big Implications
Harris Class APA's
Aerial Defense of East Indies
Why the Bulge Didn't Break
American Forces in WWII
Shadow Warriors
Battle of Surigao Strait
Panzer Brigades
Adolf Eichmann
Interview of a WWII Veteran
Failure and Destruction
Winter Warfare
Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
Was Hitler right to invade Russia?
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
Surface Actions of World War II
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
Japan's Monster Sub
Popski's Private Army
The Soviet Formula for Success
Japan's TA Operation
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Barbarossa: Strategic Miscalculation
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Failure of Operation Barbarossa
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
Good Grief Sir, We're in Trier!
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
How Hitler Could Have Won
The Battle of Midway
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Rulers of the World: Hitler Youth
Breakout From the Hedgerows
Memories of D-Day
Motivation of the Einsatzgruppen
Pearl Harbor and Midway
Amphibious Assaults during WWII
The 9th SS Panzer Division
The Warsaw Uprising
Sea Lion vs. Overlord
Maginot Line
Battle of Bastogne
Battle of the Barents Sea
Anzio: The Allies' Greatest Blunder
US Army in WWII
Battle of Mers-el-Kebir
Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst
The Wilhelm Gustloff Disaster
The 88th Infantry in Italy

Paul Renard Articles
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School

Recommended Reading

A Radar History of World War II: Technical and Military Imperatives

The Invention That Changed the World: How a Small Group of Radar Pioneers Won the Second World War and Launched a Technological Revolution
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School: August to September, 1941
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School: August to September, 1941
by Paul Renard

In the Wilds of Ontario

U.S. Navy Aircraft Radioman First Class (ARM1/c) William C. “Willie” Fuchs (1919- ) crossed the border into Canada on 12 August 1941 and rode the busy wartime rails across western Ontario to Goderich along Lake Huron with a group of fellow sailors who had just completed a radar course at the Naval Research Laboratory Radio Materiel School (NRL RMS). Leaving the grain freighters of the town’s small harbor and its train station behind, he climbed aboard a bus for the final thirteen miles of his journey along the twisting Maitland River through a flat landscape of remote farms and small woodlots. At the end of his trip was the newly opened Royal Air Force (RAF) No. 31 Radio School (RS) outside of Clinton—a top secret facility reflecting Great Britain’s determination to continue the struggle against the Axis regardless of the outcome of battles in Europe.

Part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Program (BCATP), No. 31 Radio School opened on 20 July 1941 and was ready to begin radar design and maintenance classes for an initial group of 133 U.S. Navy and Army personnel and a few RAF trainees on August 16. Clinton was chosen for its remoteness to preserve secrecy, and because of its rolling countryside and proximity to a large body of water—conditions similar to those of southeast Britain. Its remote location in an insular farming community had two advantages: a lack of distractions for the trainees, and the unlikeliness of encounters with Axis espionage agents.[1] The first class session lasted just under a month, concluding on 13 September. U.S. students consisted of 25 naval officers, 72 Navy enlisted men, and 36 Army enlisted men.[2]

ARM1/c Fuchs was among the first group of U.S. sailors and soldiers chosen to learn the latest technical advances in what the British called Radio Direction Finding (RDF)—known in the U.S. as radar. Prior training at the NRL in Washington, DC had increased his self-taught knowledge of radio physics and mathematics, and following that course he and a part of his class were immersed in the theory and circuitry of American radar systems. At No.31 Radio School, Fuchs and his classmates would be introduced to the technologies and structure of Britain’s Chain Home air defense radar that had helped to win the Battle of Britain, but the primary focus of the school’s initial class was Aircraft Interception (AI) and particularly on the latest developments in aircraft-mounted radar.[3]

RAF No. 31’s dissemination of information about the technical workings and operational use of radar was an early and important tool in bringing the war to a successful conclusion. Willie Fuchs and his classmates were the vanguard of thousands of Allied sailors, soldiers, and airmen who translated technical insight and expertise taught at No. 31 into victory.

BCATP and the Aerodrome of Democracy

Only a year old, the BCATP had ramped up quickly to support the war effort. In December 1939, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan committed the RAF, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force to two critical strategic goals: provision of air training fields that were similar to those in the United Kingdom but beyond the reach of Germany or Japan, and creation of a uniform training system that allowed for pooling of Commonwealth air personnel.[4]

Canada was chosen as the primary location for the BCATP because of its wide open spaces suitable for flight and navigation training, clement weather, readily available supplies of fuel, proximity to U.S. industrial facilities, lack of threats from Commonwealth enemies, and its central location between the two main theaters of war. Canadian Prime Minister King’s government agreed to operate BCATP bases, and pick up a large proportion of the costs. Seeking to avoid the bloodbath of World War I, King also used the BCATP as a way of keeping Canadians productively contributing at home during the war, and reached an agreement with the British that air training would be Canada’s main wartime effort.

The BCATP began with three initial training schools, thirteen elementary flying schools, sixteen service flying training schools, ten air observer schools, ten bombing and gunnery schools, two air navigation schools. Four wireless schools including RAF No. 31 were planned. On 29 April 1940, No. 1 Initial Training School saw the first group of 221 trainees. One hundred of them were selected for pilot training and sent to 15 different flying clubs across Canada for elementary of instruction, and 39 received their wings—only to discover that they would be transitioned to flight instructors for incoming classes.[5]

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, the BCATP was criticized for diverting pilots who were desperately needed by the RAF. However, rather than closing or delaying the program, it was expanded with an eye toward the future of air combat and the great expansion of aircraft production capability that was underway in the U.S. Construction crews worked round-the-clock and new schools appeared seemingly overnight. As ARMc/1 Fuchs discovered, trainees often found facilities that were unfinished and understaffed. However, by the end of 1941 BCATP pilot output more than doubled original projections, and it was on target for the 50,000 aircrew that the program had promised per year. As proclaimed by President Roosevelt, Canada had become the aerodrome of democracy.[6]

By late 1943, over 100,000 administrative personnel operated 107 schools and 184 other supporting units at 231 locations across Canada.[7] By March 1945 when the BCATP essentially ended, it had graduated 131,553 personnel including 49,808 pilots, 29,963 observers and navigators, 14,996 air gunners, 18,496 wireless-operator air gunners, 15,673 bombardiers, 1,913 flight engineers and 704 naval air gunners.[8]

A Desperate Measure

“Now they stand again under the same shadow, and with a tense feeling that this time the storm is about to break. But there is calm, courage, and stoicism…”[9]

Radar’s development had begun over a decade before Fuchs’ arrival at No. 31, and touched most of the major world powers before he arrived at the gates of the school. By 1941, all of the major powers fighting or soon to be involved in the world war had developed at least a minimal radar capability, due in large measure to the lack of secrecy in radio and direction finding experimentation during the preceding 20 years. Technical journals in the U.S., France, and Germany carried detailed stories about both long wave and higher frequency communication. Building on the experiments of Robert Watson-Watt and others during the 1920’s, Britain was a technical leader in radar research, but far more important, had developed a sophisticated defense system around the technology.[10]

All radar systems operated on similar principles—a directional radio wave was generated and broadcast toward a potential target, which then reflected the wave back to the radar set’s receiver. Both Britain and the U.S. had developed effective radars before the war, but had moved down different operational paths. As Fuchs encountered at the NRL, much of the American radar effort was theoretical and focused on the scientific foundations of the technology. Britain, however, fully integrated radar into its national air defense system while the U.S. lagged behind. In addition, the British had made significant strides in designing microwave radar with better capabilities than the high frequency radars that were the American mainstay. Both were working on designs and prototypes for airborne interception and sea search systems, and No. 31 Radio School came into existence at just the right time to support all of these efforts.[11]

Outside of the English-speaking democracies, there were striking variations in the technical and operational environments from country to country. German radars were superior in capability to equivalent British systems, but when the war began in 1939, the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe had only a few radar sets, and most were not integrated into air defense, surface search, or artillery targeting systems.[12] Radar was a low priority in the anemic Japanese industrial economy, and operationally lagged behind most of the other major combatants.[13] The Soviet Union entered the war with the least mature radar capabilities of all the combatants due to purges and mismanagement.[14] The Western powers were much more successful in turning scientific theory into prototype development, industrial production, and operational deployment. Churchill and Roosevelt demonstrated far greater prescience and commitment to radar technology than Hitler, Hideki Tojo, or Stalin.[15]

In April 1940, seven months of phony war exploded into active conflict in Western Europe. The downfall of France and ignominious ejection of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk destroyed the certainties of the embattled democracies—that France was undefeatable, that the fixed fortifications of the Maginot Line would hold the German Wehrmacht at bay, and that Britain may lose a battle but always win the war. Great Britain stood alone against Hitler and faced the likelihood of national extinction under the bombs of the Luftwaffe. As German troops gathered at French ports and prepared for the invasion of Britain, the British took a bold and desperate step to preserve the world from Nazism—sharing its most secret military technologies with the still-neutral United States and key members of the British Commonwealth.

In August and September 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain, Sir Henry Tizard, one of Churchill’s key scientific advisors and chairman of the U.K. Aeronautical Research Committee, led a delegation of Britain’s top scientists to Canada and the U.S. to provide information and prototypes of advanced technologies that were helping the RAF win the air war and prepare for future victory. These included a much needed cornucopia of designs for gas turbines, atomic research, metallic alloys, jet engines, gun sights, underwater detection (SONAR), and rocketry technologies—along with the very latest advances in radar. They brought blueprints, diagrams, schematics, and descriptions of their radar in action, along with one of the first twelve multicavity magnetron tubes that would lead to better than triple quality improvements beyond the Chain Home (CH) radars that were already deployed, extending the range and capabilities of existing radar sets. In return, the U.S. provided Britain with advanced electronic designs such as duplexer circuitry that allowed a single antenna to serve as both transmitter and receiver, reducing the size and complexity of radars in the field.[16]

Over the following weeks, engineers and scientists from the NRL and Britain shared information and insights about radar in one of the strongest examples ever of international communication and trust. Since U.S. radar technology was not far behind Britain’s, the most important result of the meetings was to convince American generals and admirals that radar could be integrated into existing operational platforms and processes—such as the British air defense system performing well during the Battle of Britain—and that it was a tool that the U.S. must have and use. American politicians and scientists were surprised by the commitment that Britain had made to radar with over 500 development engineers who were employed in the British program, dwarfing the NRL radar staff of fewer than 20. There was a clear need for better trained U.S. personnel, and RAF No. 31 was one of the tools envisioned for sharing technical information at a very detailed level.[18]

In the year after Tizard’s visit, the U.S. inched closer to a war with Germany while trying to avoid conflict with the Japanese in the Pacific—at the same time the Japanese Navy was planning its attack on Pearl Harbor—while Britain’s situation had changed dramatically. Although still under pressure from the Blitz and heavily engaged in North Africa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June reduced air attacks on British industry and cities. Nazi troops were advancing on Moscow but the Soviet Union continued to fight. The introduction of convoys, better antisubmarine tactics, and U.S. escorts had improved if not resolved the dire situation in the Atlantic, and the imminent threat of starvation had receded. However, Britain’s chance of survival was still tenuous, and measures such as the dispersion of key technical assets via facilities like No. 31 Radio School to the far side of the Atlantic were a prudent recognition that the war could still be lost.[19]

No. 31 Radio School Launches

No. 31 came into being with the typical dynamic of wartime—do as little as possible for as long as possible, and then create a crash effort to immediately hit a goal. The focus of No. 31 was unusual. While it would be a major training center for Commonwealth personnel, it would also officially include U.S. soldiers and sailors who represented a country that was legally neutral, but in fact was all but a committed combatant.

In early July, the British High Commissioner and the Canadian Dominion Office had reached an agreement on U.S. reimbursement for No. 31 training: no charge for rent, instruction, or rations, but the U.S. Army and Navy would be responsible for paying their own personnel. At the same time, the RAF sponsors were concerned that the August program would have to be cancelled because no one knew exactly where the demonstration radar equipment was at the time. For the course to be successful, the students would need hands-on training on units similar to those they would encounter operationally but capable of simulating radar signals, be able to fix and modify equipment that was likely to burn out or be damaged in the field, and learn to interpret the array of blips, lines, and waves that indicated the presence of the enemy. As of 11 July 1941, [20]

Regret unable to give precise details of deficiencies. F/Lt. Iliffe obtained equipment from various sources and only he knows the deficiencies. We believe 75% of requirements were met and deficiencies consisted mainly of test gear and airbourne equipment. Echelon sailing direct and can be expected 3 repeat 3 days before arrive date five.[21]

RAF Flight Lieutenant Iliffe had an unenviable task. He was busily scavenging English RAF facilities for both training equipment and basic electronic and mechanical components, attempting to pry late model electronics out of the hands of fellow RAF officers, and pack and ship everything to Canada in time for the first class. He was trying to find equipment missing in shipment, repair broken transformers and tubes, and verify that his cargoes were safely crossing the submarine-infested Atlantic. The variety of the general supplies and the sorry state of the training equipment on Iliffe’s list suggested future problems for the students at No. 31 RS.

Training Equipment [22]

-CH Mk I by Dynatron – obsolescent, simulates 4 tracks of aircraft, gives range and D/F but not height or IFF

-CH Mk II by Dynatron – 4 tracks, gives height and IFF, range and D/F.

-Control Unit Type 39 – mechanical to provide independently controlled track.

-GCI Interception Unit – prototype, mechanical to provide independently controlled track.

-CHL Mk I – obsolescent, simulates 1 raid, unsatisfactory

-CHL Mk II – prototype, 4 raids tracked, not satisfactory

-GCI Mk 1 – prototype, interception training

-AI Mk III – obsolescent, one screen for elevation and another for azimuth

-AI Mk I – obsolescent, experimental

-AI Mk II – obsolescent

-AI Mk V – prototype nearly complete

-ASV Mk I – obsolescent

-ASV Mk II – prototype, provides 2 echoes
General Electronic Supplies [23]

66 Stems 3/8 x 2 ½
4 T. dipoles
4 T. reflectors
8 R. dipoles
8 R reflectors
300’ copper wire 200 lb.
4 R. relays std. fitted
25 saddles concentric
50 screws ¾ No. 6
8 Nuts, washers, bolts 3/8 x 4 ½
4 Nuts, washers, bolts ¼ x 2 ½
2 brackets angle
2 cable BA12ALH 135’
2 cable Do. 60’
1 gross saddles conduit
2 gross screws ¾ No. 6
4 gross washers, bolts 3/8 x 4”…
1 lb. plastic compound
6 brackets type A
12 insulators Type 43
12 Stems Type 1
2 switches STC. 50 v. boxed
100 ft. copper 100 lb. wire …

While radar was conceptually simple (send a radio signal out, observe a reflection back), it was the end product of highly complex scientific and industrial processes that were in their infancy. The list above, ranging from the mundane to the incomprehensible, tells a story of wartime shortages, general unpreparedness at No. 31, and the difficulties of moving a new technology into an operational state under military and time pressures.

Most of the critical decisions to support U.S. participation were hashed out in a series of meetings, cables and telephone calls to and from Canada, Britain, and the United States. The syllabus for the first class solidified at the last minute. As late as 12 August the curriculum was unsettled, and Wing Commander Cocks, No. 31 commandant, did not receive confirmation from the U.S. War Department that training could proceed until a phone call on 14 August. Even at that late date, the suitability of the course syllabus was under discussion, and the inability of the RAF to provide instructors limited the first class size. Between 9 July and 14 August 1941, much of Iliff’s equipment arrived in Canada and made it to a local warehouse—where it sat unused during the first class—so nearly all presentations to Fuchs’ group were theoretical and schematic, with very little hands-on practice.[24]

Drinking from the Radar Fire Hose

For many of the enlisted U.S. students like Willie Fuchs, the course of study at RAF No. 31 was a continuation of training in basic electronics, radio, and nascent American radar technology at Army and Navy labs. Fuchs’ skills with radio repair and operation had made him a candidate for the NRL’s Radio Materiel School in 1940, even though he only had two-plus years of seniority and the normal requirements were ten to twelve years. At NRL, radiomen received instructions in radio theory in the morning and worked in the laboratory in the afternoon, assisting engineers to build and test new equipment. Fuchs joined NRL RMS Class 33 at Bellevue (Anacostia) in Washington, DC on 6 December 1940 along with 172 other sailors, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines. Class 33 was twice the size of previous classes and condensed the normal two year program into six months. After 40 students were unable to successfully navigate the dreaded “intermediate” exams, 132 graduated and earned their RMS “ticket.” With this important qualification in hand, Fuchs was briefly assigned to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard, but within a few weeks was unexpectedly on his way to Canada for radar training. Unlike Fuchs, for many of the U.S. students who would pass through No. 31, preparation at RMS was insufficient.[25]

RDF Syllabus – 16 August to 13 September 1941 [26]
Week 1
Pulse Technique – Schronisation – Range
D/F Methods
Cathode Ray Tubes
Time Bases
Square Wave Technique
Multivibrator Circuits
DC Restoration
General Description of Ground Station
General Description of ASV Installation
General Description of A.I Installation
Week 2
Block diagram ASV Installation
Power Supply and Voltage Regulation
Squegging Oscillator
Details and Setting up of Transmitter
Indicator Circuit details
Setting up the Time Base
Receiver Circuit RF Section
Receiver Output Circuit
Cathode Followers and DC Restoration
Long Range Installation
Circuit details of LRASV Receiver
Indicator Circuit
Week 3
Block diagram AI Installation Mk 4
Modulator Circuit
Anode Pulse Production
Indicator circuit – Brilliance Modulation
Pulse Suppression
Receiver Circuit details
Pilot Indicator Technique
Indicator Circuits
Strobing Technique
Strobe pulse production
Pulse Suppression and Setting up Procedure
Week 4
Layout/Block Diagram of Ground Station
General description M.B. 2
General description RF 7
IFF Installation and responses
Circuit and Setting up Procedure
Beacons for AI and ASV
CCI Station Layout and Block diagram
PPI Technique
Revision ASV and later developments
Revision AI and later developments
Question Paper
Final Discussion

With a great deal of work by the RAF and RCAF, and some good fortune, much of what was required to begin training fell into place. When the U.S. students arrived, they were quickly introduced to subjects that included the theory, operation and maintenance of several early warning land based, ship borne and airborne radars. The course began with a description of the RAF Chain Home system that had played an important role during the Battle of Britain, its basic circuitry, and a definition of its components: multivibration, cathode ray tubes, wave squaring, and DC restoration—technical capabilities that allowed the broadcast and reception of radar signals that indicated aircraft direction and altitude. They were soon deeply involved in the full four week curriculum that had been a point of contention between the U.S. and Canada militaries.

The daily training plan called for demonstrations and exercises in the Main Laboratory, limited hands-on breadboard work in Main Demonstration Laboratory where the students wired up components of a radar system, inspection of ground equipment from Britain, and demonstrations and exercises in specialized AI and ASV labs where they practiced searching for aircraft in flight and vessels at sea. RAF Flight Officer Naylor was Fuchs’ primary instructor, although other No. 31 faculty with technical specializations occasionally worked with his group.

By 3 September 1941, a critical problem became apparent—many of the U.S. students were not prepared to understand the material presented in the classroom and laboratories. The majority of officers had insufficient radio background since they were mostly pilots with little knowledge of advanced radio. Among the enlisted men, 25% were evaluated as “excellent material and capable of maintenance on Airborne equipment” including Fuchs; 50% were likely to eventually become “competent radio mechanics;” and 25% were “completely unsuitable for the course.” Part of their poor performance was a difference in pedagogical approach between U.S. and U.K. classrooms. Students were expected to copy circuit diagrams into their notebooks from a single classroom chart, and many had difficulty with creating useful drawings. This was resolved in later courses by providing mimeographs of the diagrams. The large number of students also strained the laboratories and practical exercises—too many trainees per unit made it hard for anyone to study the few radar sets that had arrived from Britain and were finally working.[27]

By the course’s halfway mark, Wing Commander Cocks and the No. 31 instructors had become increasingly concerned about the abilities of the students. While none of the Navy trainees were “unsuitable for training,” four of the Army enlisted personnel were struggling. To avoid this problem in the future, the school put a “must pass” policy in place. On the first weekly exam, students had to achieve a score of at least 35 percent. Any score less than 40 percent on the second week’s exam would trigger dismissal. They also instituted a pre-course qualifying exam to cover basic radio concepts and knowledge.[28]

In spite of these problems, or because of the lack of practical radar experience of American participants, the U.S. Army and Navy were very interested in future course offerings if Canada would agree to support them. The U.S. evaluated the program as an “immense benefit to their respective services from the point of view of fitting and operating RDF equipment and that they would welcome any continuity of training facilities which Clinton could provide.” However, the U.S. War Department wanted a change in focus of the course since the Army was primarily interested in Air Interception while the Navy wanted more attention paid to ASV and IFF. Future class groups during 1941and 1942 would reflect these differing interests with smaller, specialized student contingents and either an Army or Navy focus, while introducing all students to IFF.[29]

The growing concern about Japanese intentions and the increased production of radar equipment in the U.S. and Canada raised the need for instructors at No. 31, and some of the students who were already there were a ready source for qualified teachers. J.C. “Jake” Farrar, a 1931 enlistee and winner of the first communication competition at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in 1935, was one of a group of six radiomen from RMS 33 selected from the first No. 31 class to remain at Clinton as instructors. Fuchs recalled Farrar as “one of the really smart people from RMS” and excellent instructor material. Five other instructor-selectees from later No. 31 class sessions had also been part of RMS 33, indicating the growing sophistication of U.S. radio and radar capabilities and NRL training.[30]

A coordination conference on 3 September 1941 sorted out many of the start-up pains of the school. The No. 31 commander, senior instructors, and representatives from the U.S. military resolved syllabus and subject matter issues, the length of the course, what to do with unsuitable trainees, translation of British slang to American terminology, orientation issues, and student-to-instructor ratios. A key decision was to segregate students who were unable to keep up with the pace of the course so that they did not impede the other trainees.[31]

Evaluation and coordination meetings were valuable, but the travel schedule took its toll on the program coordinators. After gathering on 29 July, 12 August, 3 September, and 8 October, and with conferences scheduled at Clinton on 5 Nov and 3 December, the administrative meeting schedule was exhausting and uneconomical. The Chief of Air Staff suggested replacing in-person meetings with phone calls and more cables. By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the school was running smoothly enough that these meetings became less frequent—and less urgent in the overall environment.[32]

Life at the School

The contrasts between classroom and living arrangements were stark. Away from the cutting-edge technical curriculum, life was primitive. Fuchs recalled his first two meals at RAF Clinton—“a small scoop of mashed potatoes with a small amount of cheese mixed in,” followed the next morning by “bacon that was so rare that the fat was still white.” He attributed the bad food to enmity between the British staff and the Canadians who supported the school—there appeared to be little love lost among them, and one result was food that was inedible even by wartime standards. However, a more likely explanation for the poor food was the frantic kickoff of the course and the inability of the wartime Canadian logistics system to respond quickly to a large influx of hungry servicemen. Coming from the U.S. where the bounties of peacetime were still available, the spartan mess hall was intolerable to them, and the senior U.S. officer-student “assertively” passed along the complaints of the American servicemen in what they called the food revolt—and meals were more edible after that.[33]

Barracks were equipped with unstacked bunks and the students had heat and were relatively comfortable. Some of the students anticipated the Canadian winter with misgivings—even in early fall, Clinton was chillier than the balmy States. Planning ahead, U.S. Lieutenant Dale Brown, the Army officer in charge at Clinton, requested “arctic type head-gear and warm gloves” for his service’s students. The Navy trainees had arrived with their winter coats and were unconcerned.[34]

Social life was in short supply. The heavy classroom schedule left little time for extracurricular activities, and remote, wartime Clinton had nothing to offer anyway. Fuchs recalled the base pub that was the center of evening activities revolving around “beer, darts, beer, and beer.” The students were allowed one liberty in Goderich, a town of 4,600 people, but found little to do—a short walk down the main street and then back on the bus to Clinton. Time at the school quickly settled into a routine: classroom, eating, studying, beer hall, sleeping—and repeat for a month.[35]

Security was tight at the base. Each student signed a security acknowledgement upon arrival warning him of the importance of the material being taught and the penalties for disclosing it. The RAF was particularly concerned about security violations if trainees were removed from the course. Each student’s notebook was a potential trove of information about frequencies and operational deployment of the latest British radars, and plans were made to collect and destroy the notebook of any student who failed—a significant task since 63 students were rejected between the start of the program and 5 November 1941. Officer notebook security was equally a problem. Each week, U.S. officer-students were required to send their notebooks back to the NRL in Washington so that their latest diagrams could be distributed to Navy and Army scientists. This involved a complicated process of travelling to a secure facility and transporting the books to the Canadian Air Attaché in Washington, who would then deliver them to the War Department. Eventually, a secure bag with a combination lock was provided at No. 31 to avoid the arduous wartime travel.[36]

After the First Class’ Graduation

In September 1941, the U.S. Navy was not ready for many of the first No. 31 graduates to work with radar due to low electronics production in the U.S. Some were temporarily sent to San Diego and encouraged to do whatever they wanted in electronics to keep their new skills sharp. Fuchs, for example, worked with a team studying blind radar-directed instrument landings by PBY flying boats. Slightly more than two months later, the attack on Pearl Harbor shook the Navy out of its lethargy, and the theory and skills learned at RAF No. 31 were an important part of the technical and operational insights applied to the war effort by Navy and Army radiomen.

Following graduation from No. 31, Fuchs was posted to Norfolk for advanced training in the latest U.S. radars. By February, 1942, he was at Ford Island on Oahu installing radar units in PBY search aircraft as one of a small unit of radar technicians under Lieutenant Commander Roy Jackson. Fuchs recalled working in a hanger that was badly damaged during the 7 December 1941 raid—while the walls were still standing, the roof had been blown off and much of their workspace was open to the sky. Radar had become a top priority, and his team was given carte blanche to requisition anything they needed to rapidly get airborne radar installed in the ramp-up to what would be the Battle of Midway. The contrast with peacetime sluggishness was astonishing—when they encountered a shortage of pneumatic tools, the team put in a request and had them from the West Coast within 24 hours. In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor raid, everyone understood the importance of radar and was fanatical about getting as much capability shipboard and airborne as soon as possible. The skills learned at No. 31 began to pay dividends as early as June 1942 when aircraft carrier ship-to-air and PBY-mounted surface search radars—installed in part by Fuchs and his teammates—gave advanced warning of Japanese raids and allowed innovative defensive measures at Midway.[37]

At No. 31, after twenty months of operation, the training agreement between Canada and the U.K. was fulfilled, and the British negotiated an end to their sponsorship. The school became a RCAF facility in July, 1943; its name was changed to No. 5 Radio School, and it continued operations with essentially the same curriculum—updated for advancing technology—and schedule throughout the war. By March 1945, No. 5 Radio School, Clinton had a staff of 478 all ranks with 627 students undergoing training. Over the course of the war, 2,345 Americans and 6,500 Canadians graduated from Clinton. Following victory over Germany and Japan, radar and advanced electronic training was still needed, and the school was renamed once again as RCAF No. 1 Radar and Communications School. Dramatic post-war changes in electronics and the onset of the Cold War kept the school in operation until August, 1971 when it moved to Kingston, Ontario where it survives as part of Canadian National Defense.[38]

No. 31 Radio School was important for three key reasons. First, it provided a technology backstop for the British when their national survival was still in question. By transferring knowledge to North America, they significantly increased the likelihood of eventual Allied victory—and the school contributed materially to the dissemination of this material. Second, by providing additional and sometimes conflicting insights into radar technology, the school moved U.S. technical and operational understanding of radar ahead at a time when the nation’s capability was going to be stressed even further by Japanese assaults. Finally, No. 31 served as a model of altruistic Allied cooperation. Britain, Canada, and the U.S. all gained immensely by their collaboration, and arguably shortened the war by sharing technology rather than competing. This cooperative spirit survived the collapse of the Axis and remains an important part of the close relationship among the countries today—a relationship forged by mutual threat and common goals.


During the war, Fuchs was promoted to Chief and then to Lieutenant. He remained in the Navy until 1947 when he resigned his active duty commission. Afterwards, he pursued a career as a civil servant and Naval Reservist with the Boston Naval Shipyard, the Bureau of Ships and lastly supporting the Navy Department’s Bureau of Aeronautics and the Deputy CNO for Air. He rose to the rank of Commander in the Naval Reserve and continued his work supporting Naval aviation until his retirement from government service in 1974. This began his second career at Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA), defining and setting international air traffic control communications standards. He served for a decade as Technical Director of RTCA beginning in 1975, and was Executive Director from 1985 until his retirement in 1989. He was a leader in defining standards for airborne radio communications, navigation and control systems and became known worldwide for his negotiations with foreign countries that set common communication frequencies and procedures for military and civil aviation.[39]

* * *

Show Footnotes and Bibliography

* * *
Copyright © 2016 Paul Renard

Written by Paul Renard. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Paul Renard at:

About the author:
Paul Renard, Ph.D. is a former faculty member at Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia campus in the Department of Human Development. Building on the experiences of a 40+ year business career, Paul started Renard Consulting, Inc. in 2004 to provide strategy and consulting services that focus on executive and organizational development, change management, and the implementation of modern management theory into organizations under siege by competitive forces. Paul’s research interests include the history of adult education with a focus on the U.S. military, the sociology and predictability of insurgencies, the implementation of technologies to enhance adult learning, and the importance of lifelong learning in executive career development. He is an avid military historian with publications that include With the XXV Corps on the Texas Border, 1865 in the Spring, 2008 issue of Military History of the West.

Published online: 03/20/2016.

* * *
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
© 2018, LLC Contact Brian Williams at: