Site Name: RAF Sopley ('AVO') R3 GCI ROTOR Station
OS Grid Ref: SZ162978
RSG site visit 23rd May 2000
[Source: Nick Catford]
In January 1958, with the expansion of the Air Traffic Control system in the UK, a Squadron Leader, the officer commanding the Air Traffic Control Research Unit (ATCRU) and several controllers arrived at Sopley to set up an ATCRU Area Radar Service covering the Home Counties, the Midlands, South Wales and the West Country and Southern Radar was formally established on 1 April 1959.
Photo:The Southern Radar 'ops' room was located in the former PDU room
In 1958, the School of Fighter Control moved from Hope
Cove to Sopley together with a Special Tasks Cabin, to look after
both the military and civil research and development requirements
and also to afford control facilities for fighter interception practice
for RAF Chivenor; it was collocated with the ATC unit.
a)Assistance to Air Traffic Control Centres
in the control of emergency incidents
15 Signals Unit comprised 1 Squadron Leader, 3 Flight Lieutenants, 3 Flying Officers/Flight Lieutenants, 1 Warrant Officer, 3 Flight Sergeants, 3 Corporal clerks, 11 Aircraftsmen clerks. The unit was parented by RAF Sopley
In July 1959, the Air Defence reporting element of the Unit moved to RAF Wartling releasing extra radar facilities for the ATCRU use and on 1 November 1959 the ATCRU took over from Air Defence the responsibility for the Special Tasks cell.
The civil area control course had been at the civil School of Air Traffic Control at Hurn since the 1950's. With the growth in the use of radar by ATC, two new problems arose - firstly the civil school had too few simulator positions to cope with the number of students to be trained and secondly there was a need to improve civil/military understanding. As it was so close to Hurn, it was decided to use spare capacity on the military courses at Sopley to help solve both problems.
In about 1975/76 the bunker was occupied by a Royal
Signals unit from Signals Research and Development Establishment at
Christchurch. The bunker was reported to have been extensively rewired
at the time and at some cost. The local rumour was that it was an
elint (electronic intelligence) lodger unit formerly located within
SRDE that wasn't going to relocate to Malvern in 1980 with the rest
of the establishment. There were no additional aerials other than
base-to-vehicle local VHF type aerials.
The 1980 Bournemouth Borough War Plan shows Sopley as
an Army Headquarters. The bunker was taken over by a unit from 2 Signals
Brigade from UK Land Forces at Wilton and it underwent a major refit.
A new central operations area was constructed. A new floor was inserted
into the old two level operations room with supporting pillars below,
this was at the same level as the upper floor of the R3; the upper
space was divided into two new rooms.
Photo:The original two level ROTOR ops room now converted into an ops room for UK Land Forces. The two concrete pillars support the new ceiling that was inserted to create two new rooms above. The lower cabins with windows overlooking the ops room have been retained.
Photo by Dr. James Fox/John Harris from Sub Brit collection
The ceiling height of the lower floor of the ops room was still quite high as it incorporated the height of the 8' high cableway (includes 1' thick floors) that existed between the floors of the R3 and the true floor of the R3 which is 4' below the normal corridor and room level.
The tote was removed but its supporting framework was
utilised as foundations for broad gallery extending over the operations
floor. The original stairs at the left end of the gallery were retained,
while a new stairway was provided at the other end parallel with the
Layout of new operations room for UK Land Forces
The original control cabins overlooking the ops floor were also kept. The single cabin across the right end of the room was unaltered. The next cabin, the first along the room's length was also unchanged, except for an internal partition wall, with a doorway, put across the width of the room. The central open fronted projection room had a window filling the space above the counter and a new door above the existing steps. The remaining cabin had a new door inserted in the previously glazed front, leading to a new set of steps directly in front of the original entrance steps.
The floor of the ops room was fitted with a series of booths and low partitions, providing separate work areas. A lot of the structural changes were in an unfinished state, with a primer paint finish.
Once this was completed UKLF no longer needed Sopley and it was put into the disposal process eventually being sold.
As a consequence of the promt construction of a new
HQ at Wilton, the project to refurbish Sopley was not completed and
some rooms were not fully decorated and finished. However the site
was regularly used for training and exercises mainly involving overnight
accommodation and using mobile and field communications; it was not
a popular posting. The COMCEN and computer systems were all fully
installed and operational and if there had been an emergency at this
time the facility could have been used operationally. This use ceased
at the end of the cold war.
Click here to continue the history of RAF Sopley
[Source: Nick Catford]
Last updated 7th September 2006
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