Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Discussions on all (non-biographical) aspects of the Luftwaffe air units and general discussions on the Luftwaffe.
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Max
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Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Max » 26 Mar 2017 12:36

During World War Two, BBC News was broadcast to Nazi occupied Europe. Each news programme opened with a live broadcast of Big Ben tolling the hour - the magical sound of freedom.
Ingenious German physicists found a way to determine the weather conditions in London based on the tiny differences in the tone of the broadcast ding-dongs. This information offered invaluable help to the Luftwaffe. When the British Secret Service discovered this, they replaced the live broadcast with a set of recordings of the famous clock.
Has anyone ever heard this story before?

It is from that excellent book
Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind
By Yuval Noah Harari
Harvill Sacker 2014

I put this book as one of the best ever on the subject of human development.
The author is a master at distilling and connecting complex concepts and communicating them in the clearest and concise way.
10/10

For an excellent review
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/201 ... f-humanity
Don't forget my question
Greetings from the Wide Brown.

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Sheldrake
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Sheldrake » 26 Mar 2017 16:51

Max wrote:
During World War Two, BBC News was broadcast to Nazi occupied Europe. Each news programme opened with a live broadcast of Big Ben tolling the hour - the magical sound of freedom.
Ingenious German physicists found a way to determine the weather conditions in London based on the tiny differences in the tone of the broadcast ding-dongs. This information offered invaluable help to the Luftwaffe. When the British Secret Service discovered this, they replaced the live broadcast with a set of recordings of the famous clock.
Has anyone ever heard this story before?

It is from that excellent book
Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind
By Yuval Noah Harari
Harvill Sacker 2014

I put this book as one of the best ever on the subject of human development.
The author is a master at distilling and connecting complex concepts and communicating them in the clearest and concise way.
10/10

For an excellent review
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/201 ... f-humanity
Don't forget my question
I haven't heard of the story before, but I am very skeptical.

-

- Can you explain how this technology was supposed to work? Does the pitch of a bell really change measurably with atmospheric pressure? How would the Germans separate changes in tone due to atmospheric pressure from those due to the wireless apparatur?

- How do we know that the BBC only switched to recordings after finding out about this implausible plot? There are lots of good reasons for using a recording in preference to a live recording in wartime. They would not want to broadcast the sounds of AA guns, air raid sirens or falling bombs.

Why would the Germans assume that the BBC would broadcast the chimes of the great bell live? Lots of broadcasts in the WW2 media stuff in the media was faked.

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Max
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Max » 27 Mar 2017 00:17

You have listed many of the doubts I have that lead me to make the post in the first place.
I thought I would go for the easy option first.

In spite of my admiration for the book [ a must read ], this detail really stuck out as exaggerated.
It is not even essential to the main argument - just an aside to a piece on the invention of time recording devices.
I might have to read the book again with this objection in mind.

But the detail is very precise - he must have read it somewhere.
And of course, It may have really happened.

Cheers
Greetings from the Wide Brown.

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Sheldrake
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Sheldrake » 09 Apr 2017 22:03

Lots of conspiracy theories have precision and detail. It doesn't make them true.

Alanmccoubrey
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Alanmccoubrey » 10 Apr 2017 08:38

Why would the BBC go to all the trouble, in war time, of setting up a live link to Big Ben when their broadcasts weren't exactly in HiFi in the first place.
Alan

Knouterer
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Knouterer » 10 Apr 2017 12:38

Very unlikely story. The Germans had other and more reliable means of finding out about the weather, not just in London but much further west, north and south. The Luftwaffe had meteo flights (Wettererkundungsstaffel) which sent aircraft with all kinds of instruments far out over the Atlantic. Also, for a good part of the war the Germans were able to intercept and decrypt British Admiralty radio traffic, including weather reports. U-boats also could send weather info.
And they even had a weather station at Spitsbergen: https://www.landmarkscout.com/the-last- ... surrender/

The idea that German scientists were intently listening to determine whether Big Ben sounded perhaps a little bit "humid" or "foggy" strikes me as completely silly.
"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

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Max
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Max » 10 Apr 2017 13:00

Sheldrake wrote:Lots of conspiracy theories have precision and detail. It doesn't make them true.
Sheldrake
Lots of conspiracy theories have precision and detail. It doesn't make them untrue.

Next you will be saying that Big Ben wasn't sent crashing to the ground by Bolshevik rioters in 1926.
http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/broad ... d_knox.htm

I can see that I will have to contact Harari and ask for his sources for this story.

Cheers
Max

I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

- William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Greetings from the Wide Brown.

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Max
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Max » 10 Apr 2017 13:10

Knouterer wrote: Very unlikely story. The Germans had other and more reliable means of finding out about the weather, not just in London but much further west, north and south. The Luftwaffe had meteo flights (Wettererkundungsstaffel) which sent aircraft with all kinds of instruments far out over the Atlantic. Also, for a good part of the war the Germans were able to intercept and decrypt British Admiralty radio traffic, including weather reports. U-boats also could send weather info.
And they even had a weather station at Spitsbergen: https://www.landmarkscout.com/the-last- ... surrender/

The idea that German scientists were intently listening to determine whether Big Ben sounded perhaps a little bit "humid" or "foggy" strikes me as completely silly.
As I said above, I also have my doubts but, your facts not withstanding, I still find it hard to believe that Harari made it up.
More facts [ or at least an explanation from Harari] are needed.
Cheers
Greetings from the Wide Brown.

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Max
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Max » 10 Apr 2017 13:48

OK - I've written to Harari.
Perhaps we'll see what he says.
Greetings from the Wide Brown.

Doloh
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Doloh » 18 Apr 2018 07:01

So what was the outcome? Fake?

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Max
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Max » 18 Apr 2018 13:48

Doloh wrote:So what was the outcome? Fake?
No answer came the firm reply.

Disappointing :(
Greetings from the Wide Brown.

Alekosescu
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Alekosescu » 21 Aug 2018 13:11

It might have something to do with this: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/can-what ... ther-10788

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Max
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Max » 23 Aug 2018 01:41

Alekosescu wrote:
21 Aug 2018 13:11
It might have something to do with this: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/can-what ... ther-10788
Welcome to the Forum.


I still live in hope that Harari will answer the question.
Cheers
Greetings from the Wide Brown.

Larry D.
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Larry D. » 23 Aug 2018 14:31

Max wrote:
I still live in hope that Harari will answer the question.
Cheers
I hope you are not holding your breath, Max. A good third of those who post questions on the forum do not have the common courtesy to say a simple "thank you" after others bust their b*lls digging up answers for them. This is particularly irksome to those of my generation who had the practice of good manners drummed into us by our parents. It's a symptom of the times we live in today.

L.

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Max
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Re: Big Ben and the Luftwaffe

Post by Max » 13 Nov 2021 11:44

Three years later, some light on the subject.

https://airminded.org/2019/01/16/a-tall ... f-big-ben/
Greetings from the Wide Brown.

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