Site Records

Site Name: Area Combined Headquarters Chatham & HMS Wildfire
(C in C Nore, RN & AOC No. 16 Group, RAF Coastal Command)

Cumberland Road
Chatham, Kent
OS Grid Ref: TQ771693

Sub Brit site visit 16th February 2008

[Source: Bob Jenner]

After the closure of the ACHQ and before the re-opening of the now Local Command HQ (LCHQ) in 1964 the plotting room was altered by the addition of three extra cabins. These were cantilevered above the existing three requiring the re-arrangement of stairs. Another addition was the provision of mains water services and sewage. This entailed the construction of a new chamber adjacent to the southern entrance to hold a large water tank, below this a sump was built with sewage ejection equipment enabling the toilets opposite to be connected to the mains and four extra toilets to be provided within the new room. The other two sets of toilets (each of two cubicles) situated beside the two ventilation plant rooms remained as chemical toilets as originally fitted.

Other changes involved the layout and size of the various rooms and corridors with partitions being moved and rooms enlarged, however the room numbering still ended at number 59, although on the original layout rooms 19 and 20 were not reconciled and this is the case with the current layout, domestic rooms, lavatories and plant were not included in this total (however, one plant room door does have the number 75 on it)

HMS Wildfire

The name Wildfire has long been associated with the Chatham area, the first six ships of the name being sailing warships. The name shifted ashore to the RN Barracks, Sheerness when it moved into an ex stores building in February 1854. This building became a Gunnery School in 1892. Sheerness then became a Naval Depot in 1908 but had closed by 1922. Wildfire was re-commissioned as a boys training establishment in1937. All boys training was transferred to the Isle of Man for the duration of the war. Used for accommodation during the war it amalgamated with HMS Vector to become Radar Plotter Training School in 1947. This school closed in 1949 when the function was transferred to HMS Dryad at Portsmouth and HMS Harrier at Kete in Pembrokeshire. From 1954 until 14th October 1959 Wildfire was the Sheerness Accommodation Centre.

During 1958 the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) was absorbed into the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR). Among the new shore service roles for the RNR were the RNR HQ Units working in Maritime HQ's at the Major Ports. In 1963 the RNR established such a unit in the recently closed ACHQ at Chatham, being commissioned as HMS Wildfire on 10th September 1964.

Photo:Room 46, Teleprinter Room during the RNR 'Wildfire' period, looking towards the MSO (Room 47)

'Evening Colours' the flag lowering ceremony taking place at the main surface entry building. The flags are, to the right, the 'White Ensign', flag of the Royal Navy and to the left the flag of the Flag Officer, Medway. the flag of St. George with 2 red balls in the outer corners.

The function of the unit was to provide a trained and stable staff for plotting and communications duties in the Flag Officer, Medway’s operational headquarters now entitled Local Command Head Quarters (LCHQ) in time of war. Ratings were training in both of these trades, in addition Officers specialised in Naval Control of Shipping (NCS), Mine Counter Measure (MCM) and Intelligence duties. With the closure of Chatham as a naval base in 1983 the requirement for the HQ Unit ceased, with the resultant vacation and closure of the LCHQ and the tunnels.

If the RNR was to remain in the Chatham area a new site and a new function had to be found. The role was to be that of a Communications Training Centre (CTC) and the site selected was the then vacant Collingwood Block in nearby Khyber Road. This small complex of buildings began life at the beginning of the 20th century as the Royal Naval Detention Quarters, Chatham. (Naval Prison). This was closed in 1931 when all naval detention was

transferred to Portsmouth. In 1932 the naval Mechanical Training Establishment (MTE) for Artificer training moved into the vacant premises and was named Fisguard Block. Collingwood Block was added at the same time. The whole lies directly over the large elaborate system of air raid shelters built for the naval barracks just before WW2 and referred to earlier. Air vents serving these shelters still appear at various locations in the area. By 1960 all Artificer training moved to Plymouth and the MTE became the Dockyard Technical College until July 1971 when this too closed.

Now called ‘Medway CTC’-HMS Wildfire, the new HQ opened in December 1983 and was formally commissioned in October 1984. In 1988 yet another change of function took place, the unit now training Operations HQ staff. The latest change took place in 2000 when the name “HMS Wildfire” was transferred to the RNR unit at Northwood in northwest London to serve the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) and the Medway unit became the Chatham Division of the London RNR. HMS President.

The Wildfire site has been on the ‘must do’ list for a long time. The recent acquisition of the Sub Brit Collection which contains a set of photographs of Wildfire, taken in July 1987, brought the subject to the fore. A casual reconnaissance of the area revealed a large active building site. Enquiry to the contractors led to the site owners, Mid Kent College, whose campus occupied the former Chatham Naval Barrack (HMS Pembroke) site. A need to extend the College and to provide student accommodation has resulted in the development of the area overlaying ‘Wildfire’ between Khyber Road and Cumberland Road. Following the granting of Planning Permission the College cut open a moat door to ‘Wildfire’ in August 2007 to conduct a pre-building survey. The door was resealed on completion.

At this time the College gave serious consideration to the possible utilisation of the HQ but all options proved to be prohibitively

Staff plotting on the main Plot and wall chart

Photo:The Central Plotting Room at HMS Wildfire in February 2008. This well demonstrates the curved structure of the room as seen through the upper cabin windows and the false ceiling over the plotting area. The extent of the overhang of the later cabins is well illustrated. Despite the shabby derelict appearance of the room there is little structural damage. Note the
charring on the edge of the plotting table
Photo by Nick Catford

Flag Officer Medway leaving HMS Wildfire along the steeply sloping main entrance tunnel
expensive. The present plan is to block the two moat entrances, each with a very large concrete block faced with brickwork matching the moat wall, this would ensure future access, albeit with the use of a large crane. The southern or main entrance has had the entrance building demolished and the tunnel blocked with building concrete and rubble. The two ventilation shafts have been capped with two large concrete slabs, semi-buried and landscaped over. The area over ‘Wildfire’ will be a large car park whilst the new accommodation blocks will be to the west towards Khyber Road. To the
north a new footbridge will cross the moat, giving direct access via a new staircase to the College. The remainder of the site will be landscaped and an open space/park created.

Click here to continue the story of the Area Combined Headquarters Chatham & HMS Wildfire

[Source: Bob Jenner]

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