In 1941 Hartland Point was a naval VHF intercept station for the ‘Y service’, a feeder service for the Enigma operation at Bletchley Park. The ‘Y service’ was jointly operated by the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Airforce, Foreign Office, Metropolitan Police and the GPO; together they formed the intercept service for the ‘Y service’ which supplied all the intercept material for Bletchley Park. In 1941 an evacuation plan of coastal wireless stations (Naval or RAF VHF intercept stations) was introduced to remove the stations in their entirety with their equipment in the event of an invasion to protect the Enigma operation.
In the early years of the war an Army Coast Defence Mk IV radar installation was established at Hartland Point. This was taken over by the RAF on 7th June 1942 as a CHL (Chain Home Low) radar station designated 19A under the control of 78 Wing. By and by the end of the war a Type 31 and Type 52 radar had also been added to the CHL Type 2. During WW2 there were other military installations in the vicinity at Hartland Quay and Morthoe although it is not known what they were.
After the war the station was retained on care and maintenance until the early 1950’s when it was reactivated as part of the post war ROTOR programme as a GCI (Ground Control Intercept) radar station.
RAF Hartland Point (code HAT) was built as part of the first stage of the ROTOR Plan which was itself divided into four phases. Phase 1 was the re-establishment of 28 WW2 Chain Home radar stations. 13 were brought up to a fully operational state while the remaining 15 were brought up to a ‘readiness’ state. These stations would have required some notice before they were fully operational.
Phase 2 was the construction and installation of 14 new underground Centimetric Early Warning (CEW) and Chain Home Extra Low (CHEL) stations. Phase 3 was the construction and installation of 11 new underground GCI stations Phase 4 was the construction of 14 new semi-submerged or above ground GCI stations. These were generally (but not always) located on the west side of the country where the perceived threat of attack was not so great and to save on cost protected underground accommodation was therefore not provided.
Phase 4 comprised of five R6 semi submerged protected stations and nine less substantial R8 stations. Being on the west side of the country the radar station at Hartland Point was provided with a prefabricated R8 structure built of four parallel ranges of prefabricated SECO (wood fibre and asbestos panels) hutting with a two level operations room. The building would have offered no protection from any kind of attack. Of the nine R8’s built, RAF Chenies was the only station to be fully operational; all the others were ‘readiness’. The other R8 technical blocks were at Calvo, Charmy Down, Comberton, Gailes, Scaranish, St. Anne’s and Trewan Sands.
Two further R8’s were later built at Killard Point (Ballywooden/Bishopscourt) in Northern Ireland and Wick in Scotland as part of the Rotor 3 programme. The target date for completion of Hartland Point was 18th December 1952 but there were delays.
RAF Hartland Point was renamed 405 Signals Unit on 12th June 1953. By 30th August 1953 the first two phases of the ROTOR programme were finished and Phase 3 buildings were complete with the installation well advanced. By this date the fourteen Phase 4 technical blocks which comprised five semi-sunken R6 structures and nine prefabricated R8 structures were nearing completion with technical installation expected to be finished by early 1954.
The following radars were installed at Hartland Point: Type 11 (Mobile) Mk VII, two Type 13 Mk IV, two Type 13 Mk VII, Type 14 Mk VIII and Type 14 Mk IX. The search radar was a Type 14; there was no Type 80 radar.
The WW2 CHL radar at Hartland Point was sited on the cliff edge in the north west corner of the later Rotor station, the building was demolished to make space for the ROTOR radar heads in the 1950’s.
During WW2, RAF Hartland Point did not have its own domestic camp with personnel being billeted in local houses and at the Chain Home radar station at Northam Burrows chain home station. A purpose built hutted domestic camp and married quarters was provided during the rotor period at Rosedown, 3 1⁄2 miles south east of the technical site (SS27332424). In order to provide communication between the controllers in the R8 bunker at RAF Hartland Point and the intercepting aircraft, two VHF/UHF multi-channel radio transmitter and receiver blocks were built at remote sites half a mile apart at Baxworthy Corner, four miles south east of the technical site. The transmitter block was at SS28992220 and the receiver block at SS28622276.
The ROTOR station at Hartland Point was short lived closing as an RAF GCI radar station in 1958 prior to ‘The 1958 Plan’, the successor to the Rotor Plan. However a GCI team remained at the station which was retained as the range safety radar station for the Bude firing ranges and the air to air refueling range in the Bristol Channel. The station continued to function for this purpose until the 1980’s.
Some time after 1971 the station reverted back to its original name of RAF Hartland Point. In 1971⁄2 there was a proposal to site a Type 84 radar at Hartland Point or at Winkleigh in Devon for civil air traffic control as part of Linesman/Mediator scheme but this was later cancelled.
A nuclear reporting cell covering military sites in the far south west (Culdrose and St. Mawgan) was located at Hartland point; in c.1975 the NRC was relocated to the disused at Truro ROC Group control. In 1980 it was proposed to put an early warning radar station (control and reporting post) at Hartland point however Portreath was chosen instead. If this scheme had gone ahead at Hartland Point the new radar would have been mobile as was early radar at Portreath and the R8 would have been refurbished for administration. The station finally closed in 1987 and after lying derelict for some years all the buildings were eventually demolished. A CAA radar is now located at Hartland Point linked to Swanwick.
RAF HARTLAND POINT TODAY
Although all the buildings at Hartland Point have been cleared there is still evidence of the former radar station to be seen on common land which is freely accessible..
The concrete base of the R8 technical building can still be seen in a hollow below the current CAA radar. It is still possible to make out the position of the internal partition walls and at one end of the building a concrete engine bed survives.
The base of the standby set house with another engine bed can be seen nearby together with a pile of concrete fence posts from the former compound.
On the hill above is the base of one of the radar plinths with steps leading up to its former entrance, this would have been for a Type 13 radar. Two sets of concrete gantry bases for the Type13 and 14 radars can also be seen in the undergrowth.
At Baxworthy Corner the VHF/UHF transmitter buildings are still extant. Transmitter and receiver blocks come in two sizes designated ‘small’ and ‘large’; those at Hartland Point were small. As built, the transmitter building comprised the transmitter hall, mechanical and electrical room, store, workshop, staff room and toilet with a 90’ wooden aerial tower alongside. The tower has gone but the transmitter building and the standby set house both survive in a derelict condition. Some wiring and switchgear remains as does an Elsan chemical toilet. The receiver building has been demolished and no evidence remains on the site.
At Rosedown the married quarters are now in private occupation with houses with Officers’ accommodation at the east end of the main east - west road and married airmen’s’ accommodation at the other end. Two huts survive in original condition, one is currently used by the ATC maintaining an RAF interest at the domestic site while the other close to the entrance to the camp is gutted and fire damaged; this was probably originally the station headquarters. Two further huts have been refurbished, one is now the coastguard station. The 10 bay brick MT (Mechanical Transport) shed also survives in a derelict but sound condition.
- PRO Refs: WO199/640 & 647, Air25/687 & Air29/2929
- RAF Air Defence Radar Museum
- Bob Jenner
- Keith Ward
- Dr. James Fox
- John Harris