Site Records

Site Name: Wattisham Mk. 2 Bloodhound Missile Site

Wattisham Airfield
OS Grid Ref: TL035525

Sub Brit site visit 25th July 2006

[Source: Nick Catford]

Even before it had entered service the limitations of the Bloodhound Mark 1 were recognised. The main problem was the possibility of jamming of the Type 83 radar and the inability to deploy the missile to other locations.

To overcome these constraints, the Bloodhound Mark II was developed with trails beginning at RAF North Coates in October 1963 and at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire in 1964.

Although similar in appearance, the Mark II was a more versatile system with a major improvement to the target illuminating radar which was far less susceptible to jamming. The missile was given a larger warhead and had the ability to engage aircraft at higher and lower altitudes. The more powerful ramjet engines also gave it a greater range. The Mark II was capable of intercepting targets at heights of between 150ft and 65,000ft. It had a maximum range of around 115 miles with a minimum impact range at low level of 6.9 miles and a maximum impact range at high level of 86.25 miles. As in the earlier version, the missile was kept on track by a receiver dish in the nose cone that picked up a reflected signal from the target aircraft. But commands could also be issued from the launch control post during flight. Detonation was controlled by a proximity fuse. To overcome the problem of deployment the Mark II was a modular system which could either be permanently mounted on the launcher or operate as a mobile installation.

Photo:Bloodhound Mark II's at Wattisham
Photo by John Smith from Rob's Aircraft Picture Library web site

The first site to be developed solely for Bloodhound Mark II was on the east side of West Raynham in Norfolk with trials beginning in the summer of 1964. The missile squadron at West Raynham remained until September 1970 when it was moved to West Germany, but West Raynham was retained as a service centre and was known as the Bloodhound Support Unit. In the meantime, the units at North Coates and Woodhall Spa were also moved overseas and the stations closed.

In 1975, 85 Squadron was redeployed from West Germany to West Raynham, which became the headquarters of the Bloodhound Force in the 1980's incorporating the existing Bloodhound Support Unit.

Subsidiary flights were later based at North Coates and Bawdsey in March 1976 and July 1979 respectively.

Photo:Recent aerial view of the Bloodhound site at Wattisham. The bottom half of the picture is the WW2 bomb dump. Click here to see captions.

In 1983, with the stationing of Rapier units in West Germany, the air defences of the United Kingdom were strengthened by the redeployment of 25 Squadron's Bloodhound Missiles at three airfields in East Anglia; Barkston Heath, Wyton & Wattisham.

Type 86 radar on 30' steel tower - click
The three sites were chosen to ensure that the engagement zone of each missile station overlapped; none of the stations had any previous association with Bloodhound. In common with the existing Bloodhound stations no standarised layout was imposed at the three new sites, although there was a common range of purpose built facilities. Missiles were placed in groups of six, on eight sided pads linked by servicing tracks, while the arming sheds were steel-framed, clad in corrugated sheeting and surrounded by earthwork revetments. Other buildings were brick, and included picket posts next to the entrances, flight headquarters buildings and generator buildings.

In place of the Type 87 Scorpion radar deployed at the earlier Mark II sites, the three new stations used a mobile Ferranti Type 86 Indigo Corkscrew/Firelight radar sets which, to avoid ground clutter, were placed on top of 30ft steel towers.

Photo:One of the two radar towers at Wattisham. The building in the foreground is the radar maintenance workshop. The station headquarters with the
adjacent fire station can be seen in the background.
Photo by Nick Catford

Warning of an incoming raid would be obtained from the Southern Sector Operations Centre at RAF Neatishead, using information from its long-range Type 84 or Type 85 radar.

A surface-to-air missile allocator would assign a target to a missile flight operations room, where it was allocated to a missile section's engagement controller in one of the launch control posts (LCP). The engagement controller would then begin to track the target using Type 86 or Type 87 target illuminating radar (TIR) and the associated missiles would automatically move to face the target.

Once the reflected signal from the target was strong enough the computer would flash the `free to fire' message on a screen and the engagement controller would be authorised to fire.

The constant upgrading of Bloodhound meant that even at the end of the 1980's it was still regarded as an effective air defence system. To prolong its life into the mid 1990's its missiles, support equipment and installations were once again modernised.

Type 86 Radar - click to enlarge

Photo:Two Bloodhound launch pads
Photo by Nick Catford

With the end of the cold war bringing a reduction in the threat to the United Kingdom the government announced in February 1990 that although Bloodhound continued to give useful service, it was becoming more difficult to maintain. At that time there were no plans to withdraw the missile from service immediately. However, to ensure more cost-effective management it was decided to concentrate the Bloodhound force at only two locations; RAF West Raynham and RAF Wattisham. The system was consequently withdrawn from RAF North Coates in April 1990, RAF Bawdsey in May 1990, RAF Barkston Heath in June 1990 and RAF Wyton in July 1990. It was intended that Bloodhound should remain at Wattisham and West Raynham until 1995, but in early 1991 it was announced that the Bloodhound Force was to be stood down and the squadron was disbanded on 1 July that year.

Click here for further information and pictures of the Wattisham bloodhound site

[Source: Nick Catford]

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Last updated 10th August 2006

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