Site Records

Site Name: RAF Wartling ('ZUN') R3 GCI ROTOR Radar Station

East Sussex

Help Save Wartling ROTOR Bunker - Make A Donation

Help Save Wartling ROTOR Bunker - Make A Donation

Sub Brit is currently trying to repair major leaks in the derelict Wartling ROTOR Bunker. Left unchecked, the bunker will slowly fill with water, destroying another of these rare Cold War survivors. The work is done by volunteers and is entirely funded by donations.

If the Wartling project becomes over-subscribed then I am happy for my donation to be added to Sub Brit general funds and used in other ways to protect our underground heritage.

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.

WW2 Type 7 GCI radar

The GCI station was established in three stages: 'mobile', 'intermediate transportable' and 'final'. Early stations (from 1940) had equipment on wheeled caravans and temporary wooden hutting; these were replaced by intermediate stations which had the aerial arrays mounted above and below a wooden gantry, with operations carried out from wooden huts.

Final stations, built from 1942, had brick operations blocks, known as 'Happidromes'.

These stations had a single Type 7 rotating aerial array with the transmitter and receiver housed in a well underneath. The happidrome became fully operational at Wartling in July 1943.

It is recorded that a total of 380 German V1 'doodlebug' flying bombs were tracked and destroyed following interception by RAF Wartling personnel.

By December 1945, RAF Pevensey had been taken off line and was described as 'caretaking' (Air 25/686 Appendix A). The GCI station at Wartling remained operational and by 1947 was one of the few remaining GCI stations in the south of England and its Happidrome had been suitably enlarged to enable the station to fulfill this role.

Reporting room in a GCI Happidrome

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

  • 1 Remote Type 7 Mk III above an R7 well with a T79 IFF
  • 1 Type 11 (M) Mk VII
  • 3 Type 13 MK VII mounted on 9' high concrete plinths
  • 2 Type 13 Mk VI mounted on 12' high concrete plinths
  • 1 Type 14 Mk VIII on a 25' gantry
  • 1 Type 14 Mk IX on a plinth
  • 1 Type 14 Mk 9 mounted on a 25' gantry
  • 1 Type 54 Mk 3 mounted on a 200' tower

For further information and pictures of RAF Wartling click here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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Last updated 21st September 2004

© 2004 Subterranea Britannica