Site Records

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

East Sussex

Sub Brit site visit October 1987 & September 2004

[Source: Nick Catford]

During 1956/1957 a Decca Type 80 Mk. III search radar was installed, replacing the earlier Type 7. The Type 80 was developed in the early 1950's from an experimental design based on the Type 14 Mk VI under the project code name Green Garlic.

Almost overnight this radar made the ROTOR air defence system redundant. The Type 80 improved the range of the station considerably with a range of up to 320 miles compared to the 90 mile range of the Type 7; this instantly made some of the earlier equipment obsolete. Inside the R3, dramatic changes were also taking place. The large two storey operations room was superseded by a much smaller control room constructed on the top floor at the opposite end of the building.

Type 80 Radar

This included a 'well' in the floor for a photographic display unit (PDU) which allowed radar pictures to be projected up into a plotting table above.

Photo:Mounting for the plotting table above the Kelvin Hughes projector
Photo by Nick Catford

This apparatus was a Kelvin Hughes Photographic Projector; consisting of equipment that could record the radar image on 35 mm film, develop, fix and dry the image and then project it up on to the plotting table in the control room on the floor above. The displayed image was one minute behind real time. The PPI image from a high intensity cathode ray tube was projected on to the film through a focusing lens. Each revolution of the radar antenna took 15 seconds and it took this time to expose the film to a full revolution. At the end of the sweep, the frame would be moved on to be developed, whilst the next frame was exposed. When the frame moved on at the end of the next sweep the image was fixed, it then moved on again to be dried.

Finally the frame moved on once more where it was projected, via a mirror, to the underside of the frosted glass plotting table on the floor above. Meanwhile the next frame to be exposed has been following on through the process, so at the end of the next revolution this frame was projected, 15 seconds after its predecessor. As frame after frame was displayed on the map the plotters in the pit could place markers on the map to indicate friendly or hostile aircraft.

Photo:An R3 Intercept Cabin

Following the installations of the Type 80 the two Type 14 radars were dismantled and removed and a new Type 7 radar was installed following a fire in the WW2 Type 7 well. The Type 7 was kept in reserve in case of breakdown or maintenance of the Type 80.

These advances also reduced the number of radar stations required and as a result the Centimetric Early Warning (CEW) station at Beachy Head (located in an R1 single level operations building) became redundant with Wartling taking over its CEW function. RAF Beachy Head closed around May 1958. With the introduction of the Type 80 all the Rotor CEW stations closed, along with the three level Sector Operations Centres (SOC) with almost the entire ground reporting function being undertaken from the GCI sites.

In April 1958 the GCI at Wartling was upgraded to Master Radar Station (MRS) status and from that date was solely responsible for all UK air space south of the Thames to the border with French airspace. It also had direct links to other radar and command sites within the UK and in West Germany and France.

Further advances in radar technology brought about the installation of newer and higher powered radars in the 1960's. Of the six Master Radar Stations that existed along the east coast of Britain, all were to be refitted except Wartling. The early 1960's saw Wartling's importance reduce until finally its responsibility was taken over by Bawdsey MRS in Suffolk; the station closed on 3rd December 1964 and having been largely stripped out was placed on care and maintenance.

Photo:Lower floor intercept cabin. A clearly defined line along the wall, level with the top of the situation board clearly shows the bunker has been flooded up to this level.
Photo by Nick Catford

The entire radar complex was sold by the Property Services Agency, acting on behalf of the Ministry of Defence in 1976; ownership then passed to the Marquis of Abergavenny. The ROTOR guardhouse was sold separately and has now been converted and extended into an elegant gabled private house.

The guardhouse before house conversion
click to enlarge - Photo from Time Out Magazine (1980)

There is no longer a connection between the guardhouse and the underground bunker. The Type 80 modulator building remained derelict for many years but the empty shell was also converted into an unusual dwelling during the winter of 1995/6.

In order to provide communication between the controllers in the R3 bunker at RAF Wartling and the intercepting aircraft, two large VHF/UHF multi-channel radio transmitter and receiver blocks were built at remote sites.

This was done to stop interference and swamping of the radio signals by the radar arrays. The transmitter and receiver buildings for the original GCI station at Wartling were located near Herstmonceux Castle. Because of the close proximity of the Castle site to the new R3 bunker two new transmitter and receiver buildings were constructed at Hooe, 1.5 miles to the east of the technical site.

The transmitter building was at TQ69001040; this has now been converted into a private dwelling. The receiver building is at TQ68060972; there have been few external alterations to the building which still retains its steel window shutters. It is now used as a naturists' club house and has a public footpath running through the garden!

The WW2 GCI domestic camp was near Herstmonceux Castle but a new hutted camp was built at Barnhorne, close to the A259 Bexhill Road. Following the closure of RAF Wartling this became a Category C Prison; HMP Northeye. The camp also housed the standby set house for the radar station which was an electricity generating building designed to supply mains power to the R3 in the event of a mains failure.

Northeye Prison was seriously damaged by fire during prison riots in 1986; the prison was razed to the ground after rampaging inmates set fire to the main buildings. Northeye Prison remained empty for some years eventually closing in 1992 and the camp has now been refurbished as the United Arab Emirates Training Project Campus. The campus however still resembles a prison with a 20' high security fence. The only original buildings remaining from the ROTOR period is combined standby set house and boiler house.

Married Quarters at Barnhorne - click to enlarge
Photo by Nick Catford

The building is still in use as a boiler house for the training campus although all the boilers have been replaced.. The original generator has been removed and reinstalled in a new generator building along side where it acts as a standby generator for the campus. Some ROTOR switchgear still remains in the boiler house. Outside the prison perimeter the ROTOR married quarters estate still survives. The RAF houses that later accommodated the prison staff and their families but are now all in private occupation.

For further information and pictures of RAF Wartling click here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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Last updated 9th October 2003

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