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CHAPTER 66

Being a wickie at St. Catherine's Lighthouse on the Isle of Wight had its good points, Benjamin thought. His wife Edith and daughter Judith aided him in his work, so it became a family endeavor. Also the light- house grounds doubled as a meteorological outstation. During daylight, the Margolies family sent hourly reports of temperature, humidity, cloud height, cloud formation, wind direction, and wind force to the Meteorological Office in London by Teletype. This allowed Benjamin the satisfaction of working within his chosen field.

When Benjamin was paid his salary a small amount of petrol was deliv- ered to power the engine that turned the lighthouse shaft. He was nev- er tempted to divert a portion of this petrol to his motorcar, as he had none, but he did have to keep an eye out for neighbors who did.

On weekday mornings Judith trudged up from Undercliff to the village of Niton for her primary school, and sometimes her mother accompanied her when she needed to attend to shopping. At sunset on Friday, when it was Shabbat, Benjamin and his family ceased from all their labors and remained indoors.

On rare occasions Benjamin took his family by ferry and bus on such modest holidays as they could afford. One time they went to the beau- tiful Lake District in the northwest of the country, camping in the high, treeless hills called fells that qualified as mountains in Eng- land.

The Isle of Wight lay within the English Channel, and the English Channel was the chief arena of contest between the United Kingdom and Germany in 1940. That is not to say the Margolies family would have been entirely safe if they had moved closer to the Lake District.

The Luftwaffe had a clear advantage when it came to the quality of their aircraft, but with the new Chain Home Radio Direction Finding systems providing early warning of attacks, RAF pilots could rest un- til scrambled, use less fuel, and put less wear on their own aircraft.

As the Luftwaffe began to take heavy losses in bombers and fighter cover they tried attacking some of the Chain Home stations, including one that was constructed near to St. Catherine's Lighthouse. The Mar- golies family was unharmed but they had their first taste of the War. Towers constructed with an open lattice structure are practically im- mune to blasts. The few antennas the Germans did manage to topple were repaired within days while operators from nearby dummy stations broad- casted signals to make the enemy believe no harm was done at all.

The Luftwaffe tried flying lower and approaching England below the sight line of Chain Home stations but the British used smaller systems intended to direct gunfire against ships in the Channel and German losses continued to mount at an unacceptable rate. Eventually the Luftwaffe accepted they would be spotted electronically and switched to night raids, thinking the RAF's fighters could not see them in ac- tual combat. The British quickly produced even smaller systems for planes that rapidly ended German night bombing over England.

The Luftwaffe lost nearly two thousand planes and Hitler was forced to shelf his invasion plans indefinitely. In hindsight Hitler's 'Opera- tion Sea Lion' was never realistic. Even if Germany had obtained a lasting command of the air, Britain still had an unmatched Navy.

The United Kingdom shifted emphasis from air defense to air offense, but during the course of 1941 it became clear to Bomber Command that nighttime navigation to the correct target was a serious issue. In 1942 an electronic guidance system called Clarinet was developed. Clarinet used two highly directional radio beams, one transmitting Morse code dots and the other one transmitting dashes, to be received by a single bomber flying point in the wave to minimize the chance of the Germans reverse-engineering the system from a downed plane.

The night bombers flew out from England on a straight line along the radio dots, and when the lead plane encountered the strongest part of the radio dashes from another angle it dropped a load of marker flares. Then the whole bomber wave dropped their bombs on the flares.

Concrete was transparent to the Clarinet frequency. So an antenna was constructed inside Benjamin's lighthouse mounted to the central shaft. That way the structure of the lighthouse would hide the antenna and the Germans, it was thought, would never suspect a thing. Periodically a targeting order came to Benjamin Margolies over the same Teletype he used to transmit his weather information to London. The message gave him a precise angle to position the antenna, a duration and start time, and whether he was to transmit dots or dashes.

The Margolies family was kept busy throughout 1943 as the RAF focused their bombing campaign on Hamburg and the industry centered in the Ruhr valley. The next year a large number of American, Australian, En Zed, and Canadian troops were transported to the south of England.

They trained with Tommies in preparation for the invasion of France. To ensure their success a tower of deception was assembled that the world had never seen before nor since. False plans were even planted on a corpse that was allowed to wash up on a French beach. A world of false radio traffic was created and maintained to let the German High Command conclude that US Army General G. S. Patton was gearing up to lead the entire force over the narrowest part of the Channel where Dover could be seen from Calais. The Germans knew it was the smart move.

Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay, in overall command of the invasion, left absolutely nothing to chance. On June 4, 1944, just before D-Day, Sir Ramsay actually took time to visit St. Catherine's lighthouse. The weather was quite murky and wet so he cut his inspection short. Benja- min showed Ramsay the room where the Teletype and Clarinet transmitter were installed. Ramsay thanked Benjamin personally for his service to the King, and Benjamin, for his part, considered it prudent not to mention the assistance he received from Edith and Judith.

The Admiral seemed to be captivated by a wall chart and asked BenPBmin to identify it.

"That's my moving five-day weather forecast for Undercliff, sir. That would be this stretch where the lighthouse is located. We are in a rain-shadow, you know. And also a fog-shadow. the weather here is not nearly as immoderate as it is for the Overners."

After the War it was Benjamin who coined the word microclimate.

He led the Admiral into the white octagonal tower to inspect the Clarinet antenna and took him spiraling up the ninety-four steps to the top. Benjamin showed Sir Ramsay where the huge crystal lens had been chipped by a 1943 air raid. They could see thirty nautical miles out to sea. The whole English Channel was roiling with whitecaps kicked up from high winds which threatened to derail the immanent in- vasion.

"And you do this weather forecasting as a sort of hobby?"

"Perhaps more than just a hobby, Admiral Sir Ramsay. I'm trained as a meteorologist, and I'm a damn fine one, if you don't mind me carrying my own chair. But it's wartime now, and I'm a wickie for the duration. Now I know we've all got to pull together to stop Jerry, sir, and I'm sure other professional men are in the same predicament as myself, but all the same, one must use the skills one has been trained to use, or one's mind gets in a bit of a rut."

"I see," said Ramsay.

"It's not the purely sterile pursuit you might imagine it to be, Admi- ral Sir. By a strange fluke of geography and wind and water currents, the weather here at the lighthouse has a very high correlation with the weather directly across the Channel on the coast of France. I've checked it for years, sir, in every season, and the match occurs more than eighty percent of the time, well outside the realm of coinci- dence. I intend to publish a paper about this after the war."

"Is that so? Remarkable! And what do you forecast for Undercliff?"

"A twenty-four hour break in this miserable weather, partly cloudy, winds drop to five knots. Then on the afternoon of the sixth of June we return to the same pattern. Everywhere else along the English Chan- nel there will be fog and rain and winds gusting to thirty knots."

Admiral Sir Ramsay was elated. Eisenhower's chief meteorologist had predicted the same short break in the weather using B-17 aircraft far out over the Atlantic to gather the data. General Montgomery was will- ing to take the risk, but Ramsay and Ike were still cautious.

Allied Intelligence said General Erwin Rommel, master of the Atlantic Wall, wasn't even presently in France, a sign the Germans were antici- pating at least a week of bad weather. But now a doughnut hole in that weather was confirmed by a second, entirely unexpected source. Sir Ramsay had moved over to General Montgomery's camp and was ready to give the nod on the invasion. It might be enough to convince Eisenhow- er, the Supreme Allied Commander, to launch the massive invasion of France just as the Germans were letting down their guard.

The Admiral asked, "Does the strange correlation of weather between Undercliff and the French coast hold for the Pas-De-Calais?"

"Alas, no, I'm afraid that predicting the weather for Dover and Calais is a puzzle, and my reports to the Weather Office are but one piece."

The Admiral sighed, suddenly reluctant to proceed. There was one final duty Benjamin Margolies could perform for England, and it saddened the Admiral to deceive the man, but there was no choice. It was, in fact, the chief reason for his visit. He said, "Then it is time to reveal the real purpose of my visit here, and why I have attended to this myself rather than send a staffer. What I'm about to tell you has the highest possible classification. You cannot mention a word of it even to your family."

"I understand, sir."

"Mr. Margolies, the following three weeks will be very lively ones for you, I'm afraid. You might be aware that much of southern England has become one large armed camp containing millions of troops from several countries, and all their supplies. As we get closer to the moment of the Allied invasion across the Strait of Dover, which is set for the final week of June, you will find that your Clarinet task orders will be coming in at a much greater rate than ever before."

"Nightly rather than weekly, then, sir?"

"Twice nightly, I'm afraid. We will soon be bombing the potential land- ing areas continuously, day and night, and you'll need to get such sleep as you can when it is light. I wanted to tell you this, Mr. Mar- golies, so when it happens you do not imagine things have gone terri- bly amiss."

"I understand what I must do, sir," said Benjamin Margolies. "Perfect- ly."

So after a brisk shake of their hands they descended the spiraling steps mounted inside the structure of St. Catherine's lighthouse and were parted, but Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay felt thoroughly soiled.

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