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Updated: 16 Sep 08

Q-sites for night-time deception

Q-sites operated at night and tried to lure the enemy with sets of lights arranged to look like a real operational airfield. Q sites especially were very successful, drawing about 450 attacks and accounting for about 5 per cent of ordnance delivered by the Luftwaffe. There were around 250 of Q sites, initially built on a simple concept of a T shape of lights. By 1941 the decoys had lights which were set out over a mile and a half of countryside. In general Q sites had a night-time staff of two who would check lighting before dusk and await nightfall in a shelter. They would have lights on low but would also have a manoeuvrable light which looked like the light of an aircraft to attract the attention of the enemy pilot. The pilot would, it was hoped, attack, and the decoy men in their shelter would manipulate the lighting display.

Night time decoy airfields presented fewer challenges than the K Sites. It was only necessary to simulate the forms of lighting normally used on an RAF airfield. Geographic criteria were similar to K sites but not constrained by a need for flat terrain, making selection easier. Hedges and crops offered no difficulties as lights were mounted on poles, and cables laid along hedges or buried below turf and ploughing depth.

Lighting varied during the course of the war to mirror changes at operational locations. At all times it was essential to maintain the credibility of the lighting paterns but not compromise friendly flight safety. To this end, certain lights were omitted and deliberately introduced to identify Q sites to friendly aircrew without being noticed by the enemy. This required constant briefing of crews.

Dummy lights were operated frequently, on average 20 hours per week, to draw attack at any time. They neded to be in operation prior to the arrival of enemy aircraft as the sudden switching on in full view was fatal. Therefore they would be switched on on a full dimmer and gradually brightened over a period of at least a minute.

Monlight and meteorolgical conditions were considerable. If the layout crossed bodies of water Q lighting could not be displayed in certain conditions, while in others they were not lit if the enemy could not observe them, eg cloud cover or fog.

The first Q Site was operational by the end of Jan 1940, growing to 20 by May, 42 by June and 79 by the end of 1940. Following the surrender of France airfields in the UK had to be protected and Q sites were added through to 1942. Expansion was forced to a halt with 170 Q-sites in Mar 1943 due to the sheer demands on space by airfields, factories, depots and training grounds.

By the end of 1943 the paucity of air attacks in the north-west led to a progesive closing down of sites in Northern Ireland, then Scotland, North-West England and then the Midlands and South-West. Eventually only 93 remained in the South and South-East and these too were made non-operational in sep 1944 following Op OVERLORD and cleared as conditions permitted.

The Q sites were to prove the most succesful in drawing enemy attack.

Night attacks on RAF stations vs on Q Sites
In 1940 90-174
To end Jun 1940 (end of main blitz) 304-322
To end of 1941 360-359
To end of May 1944 (end of night attacks) 434-443

There were almost the same number of attacks on the 170 Q sites as on the 500+ RAF Stations however some of these were undoubtedly sorties detailed originaly against towns and other civil targets. There were also few other operational decoys in the south-east during the height of the Blitz.

Both Q and QF sites were manned by RAF personnel posted to the target station. In the case of QF sites there were sometimes civilian depot personnel. Only sufficient manpower for a night's crew was added to the station establishment. They were trained by the CTD and passed on their knowledge to other personnel on the station with whom they alternated duties. Minor maintenance was undertaken by the local Works services, major by the area contractor.

On any given night only 2 or 3 men were on duty and they were located in a shelter half a mile on one side of the decoy.

Dummy aircraft were constructed from wood and though reliable were cumbersome and dificult to transport. Therefore lightweight canvas dummy Spitfire and Mustang were designed which could be rolled up into bags. However for larger aicraft, twin engined and over, canvas dummies were unpracticable.

Local control of Q sites rested with the best placed 24 hr ops room or ARP with a plotting table on which to record attacks. RAF stations usually controlled their own Q site but beyond this would become overwhelmed due to their own ongoing flight ops. A direct telephone line connected the parent station to its display site, which would operate if the station or area was attacked.

RAF Q and QF sites were controlled by the stations the decoys were protecting. The Q lighting was lit to suit the operations in progress on the parent airfield. QFs were not lit unles the parents station or its vacinity was attacked. A direct telephone line connected the parent station to its display site.

It was common for QL Sites to be combined with Starfish or QFs, and a large town or city such as Lincoln may be covered by a series of Starfish with or without QLs, and also QF and Ql sites, all under single control.

More accurate electronic navigation aids during the later phases of the war rendered these efforts less useful and the practice was abandoned progressively from 1942.

QF Sites

The QF sites provided controlled dummy fires 3-4 miles away from important and vulnerable non-flying RAF units, and could be lit when ordered by a Station Commander if and when his unit or environs were bombed.

19 QF sites were constructed, only 5 were ever lit and just 2 drew enemy attack. Fires were not operated unless there was a definite attack on the protected target, so as not to draw attention to its general area. Q site lights often drew attacks from single aircraft - QF fires drew considerable attack when lit.

RAF Folkingham was a Q-site for Spitalgate. During the day there were dummy planes and lots of activity. During the night it was a Q site that successfully attracted the Luftwaffe.

RAF Hemswell probably had a Q site at Caenby.

QF sites (possibly refering to quick-fire?) were a more active form of defence, conceived around the controlled burning of fires to suggest a burning target, again with the intention of seducing bombers.

Example decoys in Cumbria

Further reading

More on decoy sites 

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