Site Records

Site Name: RAF Bawdsey Chain Home Radar Station

Bawdsey Manor
Bawdsey Quay
OS Grid Ref: TM336380

Sub Brit site visit 13th April 2004

[Source: Nick Catford ]

Site featured on 2004 BBC Restoration WWW site

Bawdsey Manor was built in 1886 and enlarged in 1895 as the principal residence for Sir. Cuthbert Quilter.

Bawdsey Manor Estate as it appears today
During WW1 the grounds and stables were requisitioned by the Devonshire Regiment and having been returned to the Quilter family after the war the Bawdsey Manor Estate was selected as the site for a new research station for the development of radio direction finding in 1935.

The Treasury allocating one million pounds for the continuation of the research started at Orfordness. The Manor, estate buildings and 168 acres of land were sold to the Air Ministry in 1936 and Robert Watson Watt (a direct descendant of James Watt inventor of the steam engine) was appointed as Superintendent.

In January 1937 the RAF's Radio Direction Finding (RDF) training school was established there and the first Chain Home radar station was developed on the site, coming on line in May 1937.

Robert Watson Watt

In August a filter room was established to process data from two other recently opened Chain Home stations, the tracking information obtained being used for the deployment of fighter aircraft.

The station was fully operational by 24th September 1937 providing long range early warning for the southern North Sea and the Channel approaches, as well as radar coverage for coastal convoys.

Photo:Bawdsey Manor housed the Station Headquarters, WAAFS barracks and Officers' Mess
Photo by Nick Catford

As well as research for the Air Ministry, a War Department (army) Team was working on the development of gun-laying radar that would enable anti-aircraft guns to fire accurately with poor visibility. By 1939 acceptable gun-ranging equipment was in service with an accuracy of 25 yards at a range of 10 miles.

Another important area of research was the development of an 'Identification, Friend or Foe' (IFF) system allowing friendly aircraft to be differentiated from hostile planes. As a result of this research, aircraft were fitted with aerials incorporating motor-driven tuners that caused the reflected signal received by ground radar stations to vary in amplitude. Later models employed an electronic unit that detected the presence of friendly radar and then transmitted a coded signal causing the ground radar display to indicate a friendly aircraft

Bawdsey Quay. Wooden receiver towers in the
foreground, steel transmitter towers in the background

By Easter 1939 15 Chain Home stations were available for use around the coast and Chain Home went into a 24 hour watch system.

On the outbreak of war the Research Station staff were relocated to dispersed locations around the country. Bawdsey continued in the forefront of the expansion of the radar network with an AMES Type 2 Chain Home Low on a 200 foot platform on the southern (No 4 of 4) transmitter mast. (Each mast was 350' high) This was able to detect low flying aircraft and coastal shipping but not small vessels or low flying aircraft just above sea level.

Towards the end of 1941 Coastal Defence Radar (Army CD Mk IV) was established at Bawdsey. This installation was taken over by the RAF on 7th December 1942 making Bawdsey the only site in the UK with three types of radar (CH, CHL and CD) in operation. By August 1943 Coastal Defence was changed to an AMES Type 55 Chain Home Extra Low (CHEL); again this was mounted on a 200 foot platform on the northern (No 1) transmitter mast.

Photo:The receiver block at Bawdsey

In September 1944 Bawdsey began monitoring the launch of V2 rockets using specially developed Chain Home receivers codenamed 'Oswald'. Although there was no defence against the V2 once it had been launched Oswald was able to provide Bomber Command with the location of the launch sites which could then be attacked. Other CH stations equipped with Oswald were RAF Stoke Holy Cross, High Street, Great Bromley, Dunkirk & Swingate.

The run-down of radar stations started before the end of the war from a peak of 194 stations in 1944 with only 36 remaining by 1947 and only 29 of those were manned at full readiness. Bawdsey is listed as being operational with both CH and CHEL in 1948.

For further information and pictures RAF Bawdsey click here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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