Site Name: RAF Wartling ('ZUN') R3 GCI ROTOR Radar Station
Sub Brit site visit October 1987 & September 2004
[Source: Nick Catford]
An East Coast Chain Home radar station was built on the Pevensey Levels (now Pylon Farm) in 1939; it was one of the original 20 Air Ministry Experimental Stations. Chain Home was at the forefront of a reporting network resulting in warning data being forwarded to the Fighter Command filter room at Bentley Priory where it was analysed and displayed on the Fighter Command operations table. The information was then told to the Fighter Group HQ's from where the controller allocated the raids to be intercepted from sector airfields and controlled by the sector operations centre during the day and the fledgling GCI radar stations during darkness
To compliment RAF Pevensey, a new GCI station, RAF Wartling, was built on the opposite side of the road, becoming operational in 1941. RAF Pevensey acted as an early warning station, detecting hostile aircraft. The station reported to the filter room at Bentley Priory and thence to 11 Group HQ at RAF Uxbridge (responsible for the SE corner of England) who would scramble the nearest aircraft for RAF Wartling to control. The Ground Controller working from his PPI (Plan Position Indicator) display screen would be able to talk directly to the pilots of the fighters they were controlling, giving them directions to intercept the enemy aircraft that were within the range of the aircraft's own intercept radar.
By 1950, the threat of the Atomic bomb had caused a serious rethink
in the organisation of air defence and a plan, codenamed ROTOR,
was instituted to replace many of the existing stations with new protected
underground operations rooms.
Cutaway drawing of an R3 GCI bunker
Drawn by Jason Blackiston
The R3 was never intended to survive a direct hit from a nuclear weapon but was designed to withstand a near miss from Russian pattern bombing with 2,200lb armour piercing high explosive bombs (BRAB) dropped from 35,000 feet. It was decided to rebuild the GCI station at Wartling underground with a new two level R3 operations building alongside the old Happidrome. Due to the location being barely above sea level, the trial test bores sunk to determine the site of the R3 indicated that the building would be liable to serious flooding if this location was chosen.
It would have been too expensive to overcome this problem so an alternative
site was found on higher ground with the Type
7 radar scanner remaining at the old site as this was more suited
for its performance. This radar was mounted above the underground operations
room designated as an R7. During construction of the new station, the
Happidrome remained fully operational and RAF
Pevensey was reactivated as one of 15 stations promoted to a 'readiness
chain home'. The station's radar was upgraded as part of the first phase
of the Rotor 1 programme.
Photo:The two level operations room in an R3 GCI Radar Station
Construction started over the winter of 1951/2 excavating the hole with a dragline shovel. The hole had to be large enough to accommodate the R3 structure, some 200' long by 120' wide on two levels. It was constructed as a box with walls, floor and ceiling in 10' thick concrete reinforced with tungsten rods every six inches throughout. The contractors were Trollope & Colls who had worked on other MOD sites. Shifts ran throughout the day and night and a regular convoy of trucks took away tons of earth, much of it going to the Crumbles in Eastbourne to reinstate pebble excavated areas.
Following completion of the structure the fitting out phase commenced
with skilled ladies employed by Marconi's W/T Company busy creating
the complex wiring loom for the new station. RAF Wartling was not completed
until 28th February 1955, two years behind schedule. It would appear
that there may have been serious problems with water seepage during
construction, which delayed completion. On this date it was handed over
to the RAF Signals Sections for four weeks 'running up' before becoming
fully operational on 28th March when RAF Wartling was transferred over
to the underground R3 operations building
Photo:The two level operations room at Wartling in 2004. Compare this to the picture above. The doorway in the bottom left is the same doorway shown on the right hand side of the picture above. The framework for the tote can be seen on the left with an intercept cabin in front and the projector room on the right. Another intercept cabin can be seen on the upper level on the right and above it the floodlights that lit the room.
Photo by Nick Catford
As built the following radars were fitted at RAF Wartling
For further information and pictures of RAF Wartling click here
[Source: Nick Catford]
Last updated 21st September 2004
© 2004 Subterranea Britannica