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Old P8 RAF compass restoration?

Article about: Good day. I was a Boy Scout years ago, and we cleaned out a bunch of old gear from the stores. During this exercise i found a box with what appeared to be a ships compass. It has moved with

  1. #1

    Default Old P8 RAF compass restoration?

    Good day.

    I was a Boy Scout years ago, and we cleaned out a bunch of old gear from the stores. During this exercise i found a box with what appeared to be a ships compass.
    It has moved with me over the years, and i never paid any attention to it till it literally fell on me a couple of days ago.

    I decided to do some research, since the internet has been invented in the intervening years.

    Surprise!!!!!!! it seems to be an aircraft compass of the Spitfire / Typhoon/ P51 vintage.

    I am in the aircraft maintenance business and originally wanted to use it to carry out compass swings on our aircraft, but it needs a lot of TLC.
    I also read that they used Radium for the dials back then, and dont really want to mess with potentially deadly stuff.

    Couple of questions.
    1: Where can I find any info on where the compass came from originally? where do I look for distinguishing marks or serial numbers?
    2: should I try to restore it? am i being stupid?
    3: The radium. Is it something I even want near my home? I have 2 small kids, is it safe?
    4: the com[passes in the aircraft I deal with have compass fluid in (slightly treated paraffin). did this compass have a fluid as a damper? if so what will work?

    I dont want to mess with something I cant finish so want as much info as I can get please.

    any advice will be appreciated.

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  3. #2


    I also have one of these compasses and I did a bit of research about potential danger, but I'm no expert. My understanding is the radium paint on the interior parts is often flaky and very dangerous if inhaled. If left alone, its unlikely to be very dangerous, so personally I wouldnt be taking this apart.

    We always like pictures on this forum so please feel free to show it.

  4. #3


    Some restorers paint over the radium with clear varnish. This seals it, stops it flaking and makes it safe... so I am told!
    Author of... 'Belfast Diaries: A Gunner In Northern Ireland'... 'A Tough Nut To Crack: Andersonstown.. Voices From 9 Battery Royal Artillery In Northern Ireland'... 'An Accrington Pal: The Diaries of Pte Jack Smallshaw, September 1914 To March 1919'.... 'A Salford Pal: Pte Thomas Jay.'

  5. #4


    If it is a P8 then I can see why you would want to use it as a "tool" of your trade especially as it is cased. It would lend itself nicely to being used dismounted.
    However, as I am sure you know from your work procedures, it will need to be calibrated and in good order. This means professional restoration rather than any kind of home job mainly for certification purposes.
    Unfortunately these are not totally uncommon and can be found in good order and cased for well under £200 (from memory). Professional restoration is likely to cost more than the compass is worth.

    As a piece of militaria/curio I would just brush the dust off and maybe wipe with a damp cloth and keep it as such. I definately would not start stripping it down. You would reduce the value as a collectible and there is also the radium hazard to consider.

    Pictures for reference would be appreciated.


    "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares more about than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature with no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

  6. #5


    When I worked at Tiger Aviation Inc. aircraft instrument overhaul shop in 1987. I overhauled a many of older aircraft wet compasses. We used mineral spirts that was put in a vacuum chamber and taken to 50,000+ feet of altitude or 3.5 inHG (Inches of mercury)on the manometer to take all the air out of the fluid. The stuff looked like it was boiling. Then I would submerge the compass in the fluid and chase all the air bubbles out and seal it. I even remagnetized the bars in it. We made one for compass row use and just revered the magnets to use the reading in reverse. I would see what you were seeing in the aircraft when I stood in front of the aircraft. To calibrate all you need is a compass row set up and adjust the E-W & N-S
    adjustments behind the little door on the front. They are also just magnets on a spiral cam.

    If using on the ground there is no need to remove all the oxygen out of the fluid.(No need for vacuum chamber) We did that because of the air escaping the fluid at altitude would cause bubbles in the compass.

    My proudest overhaul was Directional Gyro for a B-17. . The customer was the Confederate Air Force , Now called the Commemorative Air Force
    Semper Fi
    Last edited by AZPhil; 08-04-2019 at 07:24 PM.

  7. #6


    Hi, thanks for the info. I had a friend ( a dinkum genuine nuclear scientist) give me some info on the radium and its risks. I have 2 small kids in the house so i dont really want it around. She did say that the compass body will stop any radiation, and even if it didnt, it will take a week of sleeping with it on my chest to equal the exposure from eating a couple of babanas. But....... there is always a but.
    The radium powder is extremely dangerous to soft tissue, so breathing it in, in even minute quantities is dangerous. The powder is described in the literature to look exactly like what i have.

    Conclusion: i am going to keep it safely in the garage, occasionally look at it, and keep it original and unopened. There are some vintage aeries kicking around the airport. The guy across the taxiway has about 10 viper jet fighters that he is slowly restoring. I may sell it in a couple of years, and make it their problem.
    I will post some photos later tonight. First opportunity in 3 months.

    Have kids they said. Its fun...........

    Ps. How do i add photos? Aircraft mechanic, not computer literate.

  8. #7

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    Please use this method to upload photos, we do not allow the use of outside photo hosting sites here.
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    Searching for anything relating to, Anton Boos, 934 Stamm. Kp. Pz. Erz. Abt. 7, 3 Kompanie, Panzer-Regiment 2, 16th Panzer-Division (My father)

  11. #10


    I think i got it to work.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Old P8 RAF compass restoration?   Old P8 RAF compass restoration?  

    Old P8 RAF compass restoration?   Old P8 RAF compass restoration?  

    Old P8 RAF compass restoration?  

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