Sometime early in 1944, 218 Squadron stopped bombing and started training for a highly secret operation called GLIMMER, which Bas helped to plan, and whose purpose was to divert German attention from the invasion fleet that was to invade France in June. The operation was carried out on the night of June 5-6. The G-H bombers flew low, in tight circles, dropping WINDOW as they moved slowly out over the English Channel. In conjunction with boats below them that carried specially designed radar transponders, they appeared to the German radars to be a fleet of ships. While the real invasion fleet was moving out toward Normandy, the fake invasion fleet of G-H bombers was moving out toward the Pas de Calais, 200 miles to the east. The ruse was successful, and the strong German forces in the Pas de Calais did not move to Normandy in time to stop the invasion. While Bas was training the crews, he said nothing about it to his friends at the ORS. We knew only that he was out at the squadrons doing something useful. Even when GLIMMER was over and the invasion had succeeded, Bas never spoke about it. My boss, Reuben Smeed, was a man of considerable wisdom. One day at Bomber Command, he said, “In this business, you have a choice. Either you get something done or you get the credit for it, but not both.” Bas’s work was a fine example of Smeed’s dictum. He made his choice, and he got something done. In later life he became a famous plasma physicist and ran the Joint European Torus, the main fusion program of the European Union.
The one time that I did something practically useful for Bomber Command was in spring 1944, when Smeed sent me to make accurate measurements of the brightness of the night sky as a function of time, angle, and altitude. The measurements would be used by our route planners to minimize the exposure of bombers to the long summer twilight over Germany. I went to an airfield at the village of Shawbury in Shropshire and flew for several nights in an old Hudson aircraft, unheated and unpressurized. The pilot flew back and forth on a prescribed course at various altitudes, while I took readings of sky brightness through an open window with an antiquated photometer, starting soon after sunset and ending when the sun was 18 degrees below the horizon. I was surprised to find that I could function quite well without oxygen at 20,000 feet. I shared this job with J. F. Cox, a Belgian professor who was caught in England when Hitler overran Belgium in 1940. Cox and I took turns doing the measurements. My flights were uneventful, but on the last of Cox’s flights, both of the Hudson’s engines failed, and the pilot decided to bail out. Cox also bailed out and came to earth still carrying the photometer. He broke an ankle but saved the device. In later years, he became rector of the Free University in Brussels.
After the War, Smeed worked for the British government on road traffic problems and then taught at University College London, where he was the first professor of traffic studies. He applied the methods of operational research to traffic problems all over the world and designed intelligent traffic-light control systems to optimize the flow of traffic through cities. Smeed had a fatalistic view of traffic flow. He said that the average speed of traffic in central London would always be nine miles per hour, because that is the minimum speed that people will tolerate. Intelligent use of traffic lights might increase the number of cars on the roads but would not increase their speed. As soon as the traffic flowed faster, more drivers would come to slow it down.
Smaller design teams can now prototype and deploy faster.