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Radar first appeared on the Holderness coast with the arrival of a mobile CHL (Chain Home Low) at Out Newton (the site is now currently in the North Sea due to coastal erosion).
This mobile radar was transferred to a permanent CHL site at Dimlington (now within the gas terminal perimeter). Later, a CHEL (Chain Home Extra Low), was sited at nearby Easington; both of these radars were part of the early warning Chain Home extension.
The first Ground Control radar in the area was a mobile GCI (Code No. 09G) located at Hampston Hill, just outside Beverley after June 1941. Hampston Hill was part of 13 Group Fighter Command at Kenton Bar and was in Church Fenton Fighter Sector with adjoining sectors at Catterick and Kirton Lindsey. This progressed to an AMES Type 8C intermediate/transportable and was planned to be upgraded to be a GCI Type 7.
However this was abandoned in favour of a better location at Sunk Island just outside Patrington village. Here an AMES Type 8C intermediate/transportable was installed until the final Type 7 GCI was completed alongside it dubbed a ‘Happidrome’ this large brick built control centre contained integral machine and plant rooms along with a stepped (auditorium) operations room with an adjacent standby set house and was operational by February 1943 retaining the code No. 09G.
In 1947, the Happidrome was extended and took on the role of Northern SOC (Sector Operations Centre) until the purpose built Northern SOC opened at Shipton in 1953. From the end of WW2 until 1947 the new Sector was made up of two Sectors, Yorkshire Sector at Church Fenton and Newcastle Sector at the old WW2 13 Group Ops. Room at Kenton Bar.
However, by the late 40’s, plans were well advanced for a new national radar system and as Patrington was designated as one of the new sites, work had already commenced on building a large domestic camp at Patrington Haven just half a mile from the Happidrome operations building.
The camp was later to expand into a major site able to accommodate up to 350 personnel. It was supported by a canteen, medical centre, chapel, cinema and timber hutted accommodation for the single staff with brick build housing for the married quarters, officers and commanding officer.
By this time a stationing at Patrington had become a sought after posting as the camp was one of the first to be fully installed with central heating to all the huts and buildings. The heating was run underground at the site from a central boiler house, unlike the majority of such camps where the heating pipes were run above the surface on supports with heavily insulated pipe work. (RAF Sopley is a good example of this surface pipe work).
1951 saw a start made on the new technical site at Holmpton just three miles from Patrington and although initially planned as a new GCI station, it was very quickly to incorporate other radars.
The original plan had been to build a small underground R2 facility (bunker) at Easington on the site of the former coastal radar providing a new CHEL; this would in turn report to a new GCI Station at Sunk Island housed in an R3 (bunker) on the site of the former Happidrome.
However, after land surveys were carried out the cliff top at Easington was considered too fragile to support a new bunker and the site at Sunk Island was too wet to permit such an excavation. (The name Sunk Island should have alerted the surveyors).
Plans were then revised and after additional consideration was given to the escalating cost, the decision was made to combine both the proposed installations at Holmpton, located exactly three miles between Easington and Sunk Island. The advantage of the Holmpton site was its being some 85ft above sea level, very dry, and providing a high vantage point over all the surrounding countryside.
Work started at Holmpton in 1952 although the first surveys had been undertaken in 1951. The construction involved digging a massive hole in the ground, in this case exactly 100ft and then layering it with a 20ft shale infill for the foundations bed.
On top of this 10ft of concrete on a pitch and brick lining to form the lower outer shell of the bunker. The outer shell was also reinforced with 1inch thick tungsten rods spaced about 2ft apart with an additional steel mesh framework.
On top of this the bunker was provided with two floors accounting for an internal height of 22ft. Above this a steel shuttered fabrication to form the ceiling and then the outer shell of 10ft of concrete. Finally a brick and pitch outer lining covered with the earth infill to the surface.
Construction took about 18 months with the site undergoing testing during late 1953, becoming fully operational in 1954.
The new technical site was an integral part of the ‘ROTOR’ Radar programme and started life as a combined GCI and CHEL station therefore replacing the functions of the old sites at Out Newton and Sunk Island.
Holmpton was equipped with a Type 54 CHEL radar mounted on top of a 200ft tower and various height finder radars. The main control radar was remotely located about a mile from Holmpton at Hollym and this comprised a Remote Type 7 Mk IV radar along with its small underground machine room, a Type 79 IFF Mk 10 and sub station.
The remaining radars were all located on the technical site in close proximity to the ‘R3’ technical block.
The principal GCI radar, the Type 7 was also normally on the technical site but exceptionally, due to local conditions had to be sited remotely; up to 2000 yards from the technical site. These Type 7 Mk IV’s, when sited remotely, required a Type 79 IFF facility to be co-located.
Standby set houses (power house) were originally to be sited on the domestic camp or occasionally at a separate remote site. Some were finally located on the technical site. All electricity cables in the vicinity had to be buried to avoid the risk of interference.
In addition to this and again due to possible interference problems the site required both a radio transmitting and receiving station located remotely. The transmitting station at Holmpton was a new build located near to the standby set house and the receiving site has been demolished.
Once the new technical site was up and running and fully tested the old WWII radar antenna were then dismantled with the Happidrome remaining at Sunk Island although in very poor condition. (Sunk Island is still a part of the Crown Estate).
North of Holmpton at Bempton (40 miles up the coast) the radar station located there (housed in an R1 bunker) operated as a CEW (centimetric early warning) station and was a remote station under the command of Holmpton.Note: In the majority of cases throughout the ROTOR programme the stations operated in clusters. A GCI station at the centre with a CEW and CHEL station at two remote sites about 30 miles apart. In some cases such as Holmpton two of the sites were combined at the main location. On 1.9.1957 control of the station passed from 13 Group to 12 Group, when operators were sent to Bempton and Trimingham to train on the new Type 80 radar.
By 1958 the installation of a Type 80 (long range) radar was completed. This upgrade also called for the closure of the remote Type 7 site which was initially kept as back up to the Type 80, although this was not removed until quite a few years later. To augment the improved reporting time of the Type 80 radar the original twin level operations room at Holmpton was closed and a new Radar Operations Room was built at the opposite end of the bunker, incorporating a PDU radar projection plotting table along with a Kelvin Hughes Projection System installed on the lower floor directly underneath the PDU table.
For a while both the new and old operations rooms ran together but in 1961 during a further major upgrade the whole station at Holmpton closed for 9 months between 16.1.1961 - 12.10.1961 for a major refit of technical equipment and the entire staff moved on a temporary basis to the remote station at Bempton. Completion of this upgrade saw the closing of the site at Bempton in 1961 (retained on care and maintenance) and with the re-opening of Holmpton the site now incorporated the additional functions of a CEW station.
Following on from Rotor, the 1958 Signals Plan, amended in 1960 saw Holmpton upgraded to a Master Radar Station reporting to the main MCC (Master Control Centre) at Bawburgh in the old Eastern SOC R4 underground control centre. However this scheme was abandoned in favour of an unprotected MCC at West Drayton and the new Linesman/Mediator scheme which integrated RAF and Civil Air Traffic Control was introduced to significantly reduce costs. Holmpton now reported to the UK Air Defence Operations Centre (ADOC) at Bentley Priory.
1961 saw a new role for Holmpton as part of the Bloodhound missile system. Initially this was via a digital data link to North Cotes Bloodhound Tactical Control Centre.
By 1962 The Type 82 radar associated with the Tactical Control Centres was increasingly unreliable with poor range and it was badly affected by adverse weather. It was decided to allocate the data directly from MRS radars to the TCC’s. The Type 82 became redundant with data provided by an improved Type 80.
New Ericsson Totes were installed in the MRS at Holmpton & Bawdsey with the northern bloodhound sites allocated to Holmpton MRS and the southern sites to Bawdsey MRS. In the event of problems with the MRS radars the Type 82’s were still held in reserve at each TCC. However, this plan was short lived and within two years it was decommissioned, eventually seeing the demise of the Bloodhound system which was abandoned between 1964 - 1970.
Over the life of Holmpton technological developments saw the removal of the majority of the early Plessey and GEC radars and their replacement with new equipment from the United States (AN/FPS6).
The original modified signals plan was for the R3 to be upgraded and a linked R14 bunker built to house the equipment rooms and air conditioning plant. A new R6 bunker was to be built on the disused WW2 Chain Home site at Staxton Wold for a Type 84 radar.
A Type 85 radar mounted on an R14 technical block was later due to be built at Holmpton with addition of a second Type 84 despite the close proximity to Staxton Wold.
However in 1964/5 it was decided to install the Type 84 and Type 85 radars at Staxton Wold with Holmpton acting as the control centre with the R3 linked by microwave and landline to Staxton Wold, thereby obviating the need to build the R14 and R6 and saving money.
Staxton Wold which is just outside Scarborough and about 50 miles north of Holmpton was a more suitable location for the radars because of its high vantage point. (Had the installation at Staxton actually been carried out at Holmpton, there is every chance that Holmpton would still be operational today).
The end result was the scaled down plan to provide the additional radars at Staxton Wold. Firstly in 1964 a Type 84 was installed, this was an improved version of the Type 80 at Holmpton. Although planned for the same time this was followed in about 1968 by a Type 85, one of the most powerful radars ever built and requiring a huge R12 technical building to house all the apparatus to support the radar, which weighed so much that it required a electro-hydraulic system to operate it.
Due to the threat of wide band noise jamming of ground radar by airborne Carcinotron jammers some form of countermeasures became essential. In March 1960 a new Passive Defence radar was established under the codename ‘Project Winkle’; the PDR could determine the position of a large number of jammers simultaneously. In trials four aircraft were used with the Type 80 radar. A horn aerial and the bulk of the PDR equipment was at the trials site at Bard Hill in Norfolk with a beamed aerial at Bempton (this accounts for the rather strange concrete foundations at the site which still remain to this day).
There were two microwave link relays to Holmpton and Skendleby to cover the 100 mile hop. A static noise source was provided at the old chain home radar station at Stenigot (in effect as stationary target).
Following the trials the production PDR was due to be installed at Holmpton but in the event it was installed above an R17 building at Staxton Wold under the control of the Holmpton Operations Centre'
The provision of the remote site at Staxton Wold required the construction of a new telephone exchange building at Holmpton which in turn supported a microwave tower of 180ft providing a link between the two sites. This brought with it a number of technical difficulties and at the onset the microwave link proved to be a major operational problem. Eventually this transmission problem was resolved with the signal being relayed from another tower located at RAF Kirton Lindsey which in turn provided a more direct ‘line of sight’ to Staxton Wold.
As noted earlier this was a very fluid period in planning. The planning behind all these developments and changes was that Holmpton was to be the operational command centre for both its own functions and those of Staxton Wold, eventually resulting in Holmpton becoming an MCRS (Master Comprehensive Radar Station) One of just 5 major hubs running the much improved UK air defence radar system.
During the mid to late 60’s and early 70’s the inside of the bunker at Holmpton underwent further major changes. To facilitate the running of the remote station at Staxton Wold, the entire old twin level operations room at Holmpton was demolished to make way for a giant ‘machine hall’ this accommodated all the computer systems and relay systems that linked the two sites together and also connected into the UK radar network.
The original galleries, control cabins and ‘tote’ were completely removed along with the internal dividing walls and a new raised deck was provided over the former ‘ops floor’ with additional ventilation ducting installed below to support the control systems. At the southern end of the old ‘ops’ area was floored over to provide storage space for spares and equipment and below this a new set of rooms were constructed to provide office space for the engineering team. A stairwell was then inserted to provide access between the new levels.
Whilst the rest of the Air Defence Radar system was coping with the introduction of the new Linesman/Mediator system an experimental control called ‘Fire Brigade’ was trialed at Holmpton. Designed to track and intercept incoming enemy fighters automatically it proved a failure as it was only able to perform a simultaneous intercept for 12 fighters and was therefore very limited in its scope. The demise of the Fire Brigade in 1972 saw Holmpton reverting to Linesman/Mediator, conforming to the rest of the Air Defence system.
However the Linesman system was doomed from the start with poor co-operation between the two main manufacturers and a totally inadequate budget due to the politics of the day.
After a few years of literally ‘making do’ Linesman was eventually replaced in the 1980’s by the UKADGE (United Kingdom Air Defence Ground Environment) system which then went on during the 90’s to provide the United Kingdom Air Defence Ground Environment Improved System II, which in turn leads on to the systems of today currently being upgraded (2006) to provide the UK with one of the most sophisticated radar reporting systems in the world, the UK Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS) which provides the Recognised Air Picture (RAP).
Today the only remaining part of the massive computer centre once housed at Holmpton is a door panel with the label ‘Linesman Link’ still in place.
Holmpton itself remained operational until 1974 when it was put on care and maintenance as the UK Air defence network was reduced to just 3 Sector stations, Buchan, Boulmer and Neatishead. Staxton Wold became a stand alone air defence unit with a control cabin ‘Wendy House’ added on the top floor of the R12. It reported direct to Boulmer Sector station and the Air Defence Data Centre at West Drayton thus finally removing the need for the control centre at RAF Holmpton.
The domestic camp at Patrington Haven closed in 1975 and was retained on care until 1980. It then started to deteriorate and was eventually sold off in 1985.
Sadly the buildings had become worse for wear and the majority were demolished to make way for a new leisure park and caravan site. The married quarters were sold off to the local authority for housing and the officers houses were sold privately.
Up to 1974 the whole installation had been known as RAF Patrington (Between January 1956 - December 1958 the combined site was titled ‘336 Signals Unit’, the SU title being in common with all other radar stations at the time.The Unit badge to this effect was approved by the Herald of Arms in January 1958 and presented at the annual AOC’s inspection on 22.5.1958. The establishment was again titled RAF Patrington on 1.1.1959), but with the closure of the camp and the technical site being some three miles distant, the name of the site was finally changed to RAF Holmpton in 1984.
Between 1974 and 1984 the technical site was used as a training facility for radar engineers, but restructuring changes in the RAF now called for a new command and control centre for RAF Support Command so 1984 saw the start of an £18 million refit of the technical site.
This was completed in 1989 and went on to become the new National Wartime Command Centre for RAF Support Command. RAFSCOC.
This massive refit saw the removal of all the old radar buildings and the complete refurbishment of the underground facility. Much of the internal layout was changed and new plant and ventilation systems were installed.
On the lower level the refit included the complete removal of both the old computer centre and the PDU radar operations area to provide new operational, administrative and living accommodation for staff, as for the first time in its history the site would be required to provide protected accommodation for up to 100 staff for a period of around 30 days.
A new Support Command Operations Room was provided in the ‘pit’ previously occupied by the PDU projection system and the allocation offices for Support Command were located alongside in what had previously been the north end of the former computer centre. A new communications centre COMCEN was then added to provide frame, switchboard and radio rooms.
Part of the former computer centre were then converted into the new Tactical Operations Command Centre TOCC (retained) combining use of the main hall, together with the former engineering offices and now floored over upper part of the former ops room.. The old telephone exchange was removed to provide a male dormitory and space for the new emergency water supply tanks. A locker room and store were added, and although it was proposed to refit the former radar machine room as a cinema although this part of the project did not proceed.
On the upper level a new Kitchen and laundry were installed along with an Officers Mess and a new staff canteen. A female dormitory was provided and additional senior staff bedrooms were built, together with a new office, bedroom and situation room for the Commanding Officer. A briefing room was provided together with a medical/hospital facility and a new armoury. At the same time an operations area was provided for the Royal Observer Corps and this later went on to become an ROC/NBC control. The upper level of the PDU operations room was then completely re-floored closing over the original PDU well to provide additional dormitory space. The WC’s were refurbished and new shower rooms were installed.
On the surface a new power station was constructed and the former Telephone Exchange building for the link to Staxton Wold was converted to provide a training room for the Royal Observer Corps and a new dormitory for the Army along with WC’s a rest room and a kitchen.
Sadly the Support Command use was to be a short lived plan as 1991 saw the ending of the ‘Cold War’ and from this point onwards there was simply no requirement for such a command facility. With further internal re-organisation of the RAF, Support Command was absorbed into the new PTC (personnel and training command) at RAF Innsworth and so the newly completed facility at Holmpton closed in 1992.
Between 1992 and 1995 the newly refurbished facility was used for specialist training by the RAF Regiment and the RAF Police with the station parented by RAF Leconfield. Then in 1995 further extensive work was carried out to adapt the site for use as an experimental operations centre which remained active until year 2000, finally moving onto care and maintenance by AQUMEN Defence now parented by RAF Digby.
On the 10th February 2003 management of RAF Holmpton was handed over by RAF Digby to HIPPO (Holmpton Initiative Project Planning Office) an independent finance initiative. The current 10 year plan is to restore the site and fully upgrade it to provide a permanent exhibition of the stations life between 1951 and the present day. Original plans to also include an archive facility have since changed with the archive being purchased by Subterranea Britannica in 2007 (The UK’s foremost society of things underground) as they will be able to provide much wider public access to this historic material.
Possibly the single most important part of this project to date has been the opening up of the building for public tours, and it is hoped that once completed the project will provide a full restoration of the sites history covering each period of its development: 1953 to 1974 Radar Operations - 1974 to 1984, Engineering Training - 1984 to 1991, Support Command - 1991 to 1995, RAF Regiment & RAF Police Training - 1995 to 2000 Experimental Operations Centre, 2000 - 2003 Care & Maintenance Aquemen Defence.
Since 1953 over 15,000 personnel (both military and civilian) have served at this site, through its 25 years of radar, 9 years with RAF Support Command and 20 years of training facilities. Although RAF Holmpton still remains a part of the Defence Estate it is now managed and financed by the private sector at no cost to the MOD or taxpayer. However, it remains fully maintained and in the event of a national emergency, it would only take a short time to bring it back up to speed should it be required to serve again.
In February 2006 the restoration of the PDU Radar Operations Centre was completed and the Royal Observer Corps OPS/NBC centre has also been restored. This was in fact the very last unit of the ROC to survive after its official ‘standing down’ and the unit remained at Holmpton right up to 1997. It is therefore a fitting tribute to the work of the Corps.
The Project at Holmpton is currently ongoing and 2007 has seen the opening to visitors of the former Radar Office and Computer Hall which during the 1960’s and 70’s expanded through the area originally taken up by the 1950’s two level operations room. 2008 will bring the opening of the fully restored 1960’s teleprinter and message centre rooms with vintage equipment kindly donated by RAF Rudloe, and 2008 will also see major alterations and improvements to the existing exhibitions. At the completion of HIPPO’s finance initiative and the formal handing over of the site at a dedication ceremony to the newly formed ‘Royal Air Force Holmpton Preservation Society’ which will then become responsible for the preservation of the site as part of our Cold War Heritage.
- RAF Holmpton Archive
- National Archive files: Avia 7/440 Air 33/4 Air 20/196 Air 29/141 Avia 15/8 Air 24/525 Air 20/1006 Air 20/1484 Air 33/4 Air 2/7348 Air 16/277 Air 16 /387 Avia 7/258 Air 2/3272 Air 2/7439 Avia 7/1141 Avia 7/256 Avia 53/301 Air 20/1521 Avia 15/218 Air 2/3004 Air 2/7151 Air 20/2270 Avia 7/945 Air 20/1536 Air 20/2268 Avia 6/17522
- Bob Jenner
- Keith Ward