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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Weather Forecasting


green_acorn
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As a relatively recent amateur researcher and former (Australian) soldier, I have been struck by the lack of apparent discussion on weather forecasting and its influence on decision making in WW1, both in the academic literature and here on the board. I do realise that weather prediction was not a well developed science, but the process of collating weather observations and presenting them on synoptic charts were known and could, with the historic knowledge of the seasons, have been used to make short term observations/predictions of how the weather would affect operations in the coming days.

I do appreciate that operations could not be stopped and started as "quickly" as they were even 30 years later on the eve of D-Day, but ...........?

What thoughts Pals?

chers,

Chris H

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Hello Chris H - I think the following could be of use to you. If you do a search for

National Meteorological Library and Archive which is in Exeter Devon they may be able to help

or advise you. It is a bit far for you to take a bus, but an e.mail should get a response.

Best wishes

Old Jack

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Anyone studying the war will be immediately struck by how many battles were postponed due to weather. The night before Loos is well recorded as Haig and his Met Officer debated whether the gas should be used or not. Passchendaele is mainly a tale of woe due to adverse weather. I think the affects of the weather are universally accepted as critical. The weather is an ever present factor but the weather in itself does not lend itself to discussion except between experts. We do have one celebrated Met Officer on the forum, that I know of, although I believe he has added " retd." to his list of achievements. I doubt if there are enough of his colleagues to encourage much discussion.

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Jack and Tom,

Thank you. When I wrote the message I was thinking of Third Ypres, noting of course that weather was only one of the myriad of factors, and I was thinking about our centuries old knowledge that in NW Europe, sumer is the campaigning season. I do agree weather often stopped battles, when it had been raining for a few days, or the wind and rain made conditions unsuitable for gas, so clearly there was the ability to stall operations until conditions were better. I also found reference on the NASA site and found that it wasn't until 1922 that mathematical formulae were developed to make weather predictions, for six hours into the future.

As you point out Tom, there probably aren't enough people in the meteorogical profession with related interest in military history who visit he forum to encourage much discussion. The subject may also appear somewhat esoteric for academic discourse by military historians who tend to look more at the "traditional" military history aspects. But it would be interesting to see members with the appropriate knowledge and experience apply weather "templates" over many events of the war.

Regards,

Chris

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Reluctantly putting head above parapet!

Although by most standards I was a weather expert, and although by some standards I am a 'British Army in the Great War' expert, I cannot combine the two threads to be of much use for 1914-1918.

Short-term 24, perhaps 48 hour, predictions were possible and attempted, but with a degree of error which would attract derision these days. One Allied advantage was being to windward [usually] of the battlefield, making our western observations useful to us, and unavailable to the enemy.

These days, Met. is an integral part of 'Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield' whereby climatology is allied to soil moisture content, 'going' and lots of other factors when an operation is planned, and then actual forecasts issued with increasing accuracy from about D minus 10 days. Thus, superior weather skills become a weapon.

When the Wall came down we discovered just how poor the Eastbloc Met. services were, in addition to being disadvantaged for data from the [usually] windward direction.

In a NATO context, the [british] Met. Office was pre-eminent for skill and results, and set the NATO standard. Many NATO countries sent their people to our college to train.

I know ..... I was there!

[and a jolly good pension, index-linked, too]

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Grumpy,

I like your new avatar, how much time spent on the boards? Thank you for your contribution, I am glad you stuck your head around the corner. NASA says at NASA history of weather forecasting that the work of British mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson (1881-1953) and the development of the radiosonde in the 20's was important. As a you mention and as a former int pest NCO/WO for twenty odd years, geography, topography, hydrography, climatology, seasons, climate and weather were always important, even in the pre "IPB" days of the "Analysis of the Area of Operations". I just rarely see much mention, if any, of weather in the operational plans and reports and have become somewhat more interested in the subject since scanning "Grasping Gallipoli" and two American texts, "Topography and Strategy in War" (D.W. Johnson, Henry Holt and co, New York, 1917) and "Battlefields of the Word War" (D.W. Johnson, American Geographical Society, 1921).

As you also mention accurate prediction of weather is a weapon of war, I imagine many bemoan the loss of secrecy with the advent of the internet and publicly accessible satellite maps.

cheers,

Chris H

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The National Weather Service in the U.S. traces its origin to Brig. Gen. Albert J. Myer, founder of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. After the Civil War Myer established Signal Corps weather observation stations at multiple locations around the U.S. which at set times several times a day telegraphed their observations to Washington DC. Weather forecasts called "probabilities" based upon educated guesses made from these observations were then published. Around 1900 the army recommended that its Signal Corps get out of the weather forecasting business because it was not then considered to be a core army mission.

Click here for more information about Myer.

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Weather recce flights were introduced in 1918 - mainly obsolete aircraft (such as the Be12) flown by heavy bomber pilots in their' time off' Not sure exactly what they did, probably similar to the met flight Gladiators of WW2 (and I'm equally ignorant of exactly how they functioned as well).

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green acorn, you could do worse than check out "Passchendaele in Perspective" and Chapter 10 thereof: The Flanders Battleground and the Weather in 1917. This goes into some detail about the methods and statistics used to analyse and predict the weather prior to and during 3rd Ypres.

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I think the Germans refered to their weathermen as 'tree frogs'! (I suppose they are a weather-aware species...?)

Ian

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green acorn, you could do worse than check out "Passchendaele in Perspective" and Chapter 10 thereof: The Flanders Battleground and the Weather in 1917. This goes into some detail about the methods and statistics used to analyse and predict the weather prior to and during 3rd Ypres.

Rob,

I shall do that,

cheers,

Chris H

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  • 7 months later...

Good day Gentlemen, a new boy to this forum but a fairly recently (2001) retired meteorologist. I've obviously only recently found the forum, so I've come to this pretty late, but I might be able to help with the many questions posed in this thread as I have an interest in untold met stories - and that has led me to WW1.

Firstly regarding literature about WW1 meteorology I can give you four papers that might be of interest, if you request scans of them they should receive pretty prompt attention, but I'd suggest you ask for either a scan or copy. The address you need is metlib@metoffice.gov.uk, quote the title, author and relevant publication:

1. "The Meteorological Office and the First World War" by E Gold; Meteorological Magazine, 1955, Vol 84, pp 173-178 (Gold was in command of the Meteorological Section RE at GHQ).

2. "Meteorology during and after the War" by Col H G Lyons; Journal of Royal Society of Arts, 1919, Vol 67, pages 167-180 (Lyons was not a meteorologist by training, but after the war he briefly became the Director of the Met Office)

3. "The work of the Royal Engineers in the European War, 1914-1918. Part 4, Section 5, Meteorological Section". Royal Engineers Journal, Vol 31, No 6, pp 321-333 (published in 1920)

4. "Memoirs of an Army meteorologist" by H Cotton. This is pretty long and is split into 6 parts

Part 1 appeared in the Meteorological Magazine (aka Met Mag), 1979, Vol 108, pp241-247

Part 2 - Met Mag, 1979, Vol 106, pp 276-285

Part 3 - Met mag, 1979, Vol 108, pp 341-347

Part 4 - Met Mag, 1980, Vol 109, pp 22-26

Part 5 - Met Mag, 1980, Vol 109, pp 56-63

Part 6 - Met Mag, 1980, Vol 109, pp 90-95

As you see they are fairly lengthy so I'd suggest you don't ask for them at the same time, but between them they should give some background.

Meteor Flight is my particular area of interest as I'm writing a biography of the officer who was CO from May 1918 to end of May 1919., Capt C K M Douglas.

Meteor(ological) Flight was formed at Berck (south of Calais) during the first week of February 1918. It had two pilots Lts Marden (first CO) and Sessions, and its task was to make twice daily ascents to obtain temperatures up to 14000 ft. Meteor Flight was attached to the RFC Communications Flight and operated with Armstrong Whitworth FK8s and DH9s. Data obtained during ascents were passed to GHQ to be included in the Meteor messages. There was a little more to it than that but I think that should suffice.

Before that, from about mid-1916 (I think) temperatures for Meteor messages were obtained from a kite balloon used for meteorological purposes and flown to between 4000 and 5000 ft. My knowledge on this is a bit hazy but I know the balloon continued to fly until the end of the war. An account of flying in a met kite balloon is given in Part 3 of Cotton's memoirs.

I appreciate this is rather a long time after the last previous message on this thread, but I hope it helps.

Brian

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Brian,

Thank you for the detailed response, I shall get my friendly librarians to chase those down.

Cheers,

Chris

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.

Meteor(ological) Flight was formed at Berck (south of Calais) during the first week of February 1918. It had two pilots Lts Marden (first CO) and Sessions, and its task was to make twice daily ascents to obtain temperatures up to 14000 ft. Meteor Flight was attached to the RFC Communications Flight and operated with Armstrong Whitworth FK8s and DH9s. Data obtained during ascents were passed to GHQ to be included in the Meteor messages. There was a little more to it than that but I think that should suffice.

This would seem to be in addition to the weather flights that the Independent Air Force (the WW1 equiv of Bomber Command) carried out using obsolete single seaters such as the Be12 (as I've mentioned earlier). At least one HP o/400 pilot doing one of these flights was bounced by German fighters and was lucky to get away.

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I'd be interested to know your source Centurion as I've done a pretty extensive search in the NA and have found only one Meteorological Flight that existed at the end of WW1, and that was the one a Berck. Ray Sturtivant's excellent "The Royal Air Force Flying Training and Support Units" also only lists the Berck Meteorological Flight.

A Meteorological Flight was a discrete, but very small, unit tasked with making vertical ascents over its base airfield, gathering temperature data up to 14000 ft - a Meteorological Flight did NOT fly met reconnaissance sorties.

There was a proposal to establish a Meteorological Flight with the Independent Force, but Trenchard was very much against it, and in the end the idea was abandoned (National Archive file AIR1/113/204/5/1904).

One of the big problems encountered by the Independent Force was one of navigation and to this end it was decided to increase the size of the Berck Meteorological Flight in order to study this problem. The CO, Capt Douglas, was detached to the Experimental Station at Martlesham Heath at the beginning of November 1918 to be briefed on the matter and undergo practical training. By the time he returned at the end of the month the Armistice had been signed and the Independent Force had started disbanding (same file as above).

I suspect you are confusing meteorological flights with Meteorological Flights. A meteorological flight was simply that - a flight to gather data on met conditions along a route or over an area, whereas, as I've described, a Met Flight was a unit.

During WW2 a Meteorological Flight (1409) was established to fly PAMPA sorties - these were very high level, deep penetration, met reconnaissance sorties into enemy territory during the afternoon preceding a raid. Initially Spitfires, stripped of all extraneous weight (including armament) and with modified engines were used for the task, but were soon replaced by Mosquitoes. Speed and height were their defence. They never flew the route planned for the bombers, nor did they fly to the target - operating at great heights meant the weather near a target could be observed without going anywhere near to it.

From my reading of operations by the IF in WW1 the main defence en route to the target was height and surprise; the aircraft involved crossing the front at between 8000 and 12000 ft and still climbing - thus making it very difficult for defending fighters to reach them. If the target was known to the enemy then fighters could be launched ahead of the bombers, but often the route included a dog leg. Admittedly the fighters could intercept on the return leg, but that was after the target was attacked.

I can't see the logic of using a BE12, so lacking in manouvrability that it was soon withdrawn from the front line in 1916/17 and only remained in service as a trainer or anti-submarine aircraft. Not only that there are the logistics - if a met reconnaissance was flown to the target, a round trip that could take in excess of four hours, the element of surprise would have be lost allowing the defending fighters to be airborne before the bombers arrived.

I'm not saying it didn't happen, but it seems most peculiar if we are talking about operations far behind the front.

Brian

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I'd be interested to know your source Centurion as I've done a pretty extensive search in the NA

I'm not saying it didn't happen, but it seems most peculiar if we are talking about operations far behind the front.

Brian

It is described in Darkness Shall Cover Me - the memoirs of an HP o/400 pilot. He mentions flying these missions himself.

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Who is the author - I've had no success with Google?

I'm interested as I'm compiling a history of the RAF Met Flights and this could provide some background information.

Brian

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Brian,

From Worldcat:

Darkness shall cover me. by Humphrey Wynn

Type: Book : Biography : Fiction; English

Publisher: Airlife, 1989.

Editions: 2 Editions

ISBN: 185310065X : 9781853100659

Cheers,

Chris

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