RAF Hopton opened on 11th July 1940 as one of the network of Chain Home radar stations around the country. Hopton was a Chain Home Low (CHL) station using Type 13 Mk2, Type 25 and Type 54 radar installations. The site utilised a 200 foot mast (PRO Ref Air 25/681) which was sited on the east coast half a mile south of Hopton On Sea. A duplicate CHL radar installation on a low gantry was sited in the middle of the hutted domestic camp to the north.
After the war, the site was chosen to participate in the ROTOR programme mounting a single Type 54 CHEL Mk2 radar installation controlled from an underground single level R2 bunker. Construction work was completed in September 1952 but handing over to the RAF was delayed for 6 months following a fire in the air conditioning plant in January 1953.
Within a few years, it was realised that the ROTOR network, as it stood,was inadequate. With the coming of the H bomb in 1955, the rapid development of ‘Green Garlic’ (AMES Type 80) and the arrival of high speed bombers, ‘RAF Hopton’ was deemed redundant before the end of the decade.
According to War Plan UK the site was used as a Civil Defence Centre in the 1960’s but there is little confirmation of this.
A document at Suffolk Archives (Control Chain 1962) reports that a ‘former RAF Radar Station near Lowestoft’ is being converted into a Sub Regional Control. Suffolk’s Civil Defence Records however do not list it and it is known that the ROTOR bunker at Goldsborough in Yorkshire was considered as a Sub Regional Control but rejected as it was too big. The County Control is listed as being in County Hall, Ipswich (co-located with Ipswich Borough Control) with county sub-controls at Lowestoft and the Guildhall, Bury St. Edmunds.
The site was eventually sold to a local farmer but during the next 15 years it remained derelict and a regular haunt for local vandals and Hell’s Angels. By 1984 the entrance guardhouse (bungalow) was little more than a shell having lost its distinctive roof but the bunker below was still open, badly fire damaged and dangerous. Eventually access to the bunker was sealed with concrete when one of the Hells Angels was killed after falling off the stairs.
In 1988 a large plot of farmland, which included the former ROTOR station was compulsorily purchased by the Ministry of Defence as it was required as a Ready Platform (along with Trimingham and Weybourne) for the UKADGE Series II (Upgraded Air Defence Ground Environment) Radar System controlled from RAF Neatishead.
Both at Trimingham & Hopton the mounds were removed and the sites shaved to the concrete roof of the bunker. This was then built up with the ready platform on top of a new grassed mound. Ramps were then made to allow vehicle access to the top surface, on which the remote radars would be sited. The ROTOR guardhouse was beyond repair and was demolished and the area cleared. When visited late in 1988 a huge pit had been excavated approximately 100 yards X 40 yards. The original R2 bunker probably remains intact below ground.
With the construction complete the new radar installation was moved onto the site before the perimeter fence was completed, during this period it was manned 24 hours a day. The chain link fence initially had barbed wire on top but later, sections of the barbed wire were removed as they proved to be a cause of “beam-steering” problems for the radar.
RAF Hopton remained operational until April 1997 utilising a Type 93 radar system. In May 1997 this was moved to Trimingham as the Marconi Type 91 that had been there was sold to the Turkish Ministry of Defence. The Type 93 is still operational feeding data back to Neatishead but it’s future is uncertain.
Hopton remained in MOD hands until January 2000 when the 11 acre site was offered for sale by private treaty. Although officially the site had been on care and maintenance since 1997 it was rarely inspected and once again attracted the local vandals who completely wrecked the new accommodation block built a few yards to the west of the original guardhouse in 1988.
Eventually the site was sold to a private purchaser who has now renovated the prefabricated accommodation block and turned it into a private house where he now lives. The new owner is keen to discover more about the history of the site and has probed the ground around his house to try and ascertain whether the access tunnel to the R2 bunker can be found, as yet he has only found ‘a void’. If the tunnel can be found it should still give access to the bunker itself.
In 2007 it was revealed that the existing seawall adjacent to the site is now in poor condition and is expected to fail in the near future. Under the current Shore Management Plan it will not be replaced and subsequent erosion may start to expose the structure of the bunker within a few years.
A Royal Observer Corps underground post still exists at the southern end of the compound( see ROC post ‘Hopton'). The ventilation shaft has been demolished but all other surface features remain intact. The hatch has been removed and the shaft capped with concrete.
Ed Beer who worked at Hopton from 1995 - 1997 describes the site shortly after closure.
“Just inside the entrance gate is a small circular pillbox (still standing) and behind that the transformer for the domestic power supply. Beside the transformer was a portacabin that was used as a gym and close by more cabins that we used for cable and tent storage, these cabins had been moved from a local airfield where they were used as aircrew changing rooms.
To the right of the gate was a path leading past the fish pond and flagpole, standing orders read that the RAF standard would be raised at 0800 every day. At the far side of the car park is the accommodation block which included a fully fitted kitchen. Passing out of the end door onto a concrete hard standing, to your right used to stand the ‘Ops’ portacabin, to the front the technical “C” stores and to the left the engineering workshops.
Along the path running down the back of the building, straight across the tarmac up the path to the POL lockers, to your right is a concrete area which was part of the ROTOR site. As you walk on the path look at your feet because you are walking on the top of the passage into the ROTOR bunker. Back on the tarmac now, turn south , rising 20 feet is the radar hard standing installed in the early 90’s, it comes round in a loop. Going clockwise walk up the right hand side of the road, against the side is a 50cm concrete wall . The two 380KVA diesel generators capable of running the entire site in the field used to stand here . Up to the top of the hill, set into the ground are 2 sets of tie down points and two plastic centre markers. Here the radar trailers once stood, exposed with no radome. To your right is a sharp 70 degree slope with a set of galvanised stairs, on the left of these stairs is the cable run that used to house the flexible wave guide and coax. Down the stairs and you are standing in a court yard cut into the side of the mound, the equipment cabins once stood here, cables snaking across the concrete, the air conditioners whining away.”
SITE VISIT REPORT
The site was sold to a local businessman in 2000. He has refurbished the 1988 accommodation block and converted it into a house. He has also reopened the bunker by digging out the rubble from the old guardhouse which had been dumped into the stairwell and covered over.
We entered the tunnel just east of the old guardhouse using a ladder and after clambering over the remaining rubble infill we found ourselves in the access tunnel sloping gentle to the east. After 50 yards the tunnel curves round to the south for another 50 yards before levelling out. To the right is the cable shaft with it’s ladder still in place, this is blocked near the surface with a concrete cap, to the left the transformer room is empty. Beyond this point is the ‘Z’ bend into the bunker itself. The original steel blast doors have been removed but the heavy wooden doors beyond are still in place giving access to the main north - south spine corridor.
The floor of the corridor is safe for most of its length but where there are sections of wooden floor giving access to the cableways beneath there are holes, some have been covered over with boards while others are open. The bunker has been almost completely stripped of all equipment and fittings and was further wrecked in the 1970’s and 1980’s when it was open and a regular haunt for Hells Angels. There were several fires during this period and all the internal partition walls have gone as have the floorboards in all the rooms. Because of the fire and smoke damage the cladding is brittle and falls off the walls at the slightest touch; the bunker is very dry and riddled with asbestos.
The main operations rooms were on the left with doors from the corridor into three rooms. With the internal partition walls gone there is now one big wrecked shell, all that remains is the under floor trunking and the overhead lighting. At some point during the bunkers operational life the first door has been taken out of use and bricked up, the reason for this is unknown. At the end of the corridor on the left is the plant room with steps down into it. Again this has been completely stripped leaving just the concrete plinths.
On the right hand side of the spine corridor the first two doors led into two more radar rooms, the partition wall and floorboards have again been removed leaving an empty shell. Next on the right was a small store room where there would have been a ladder to the upper storage area above the rest rooms, the ladder has gone. The male and female toilets are still there although now wrecked. The two rest rooms have a solid floor and can be entered as can the small kitchen situated between them which still retains its cupboards, preparation surface and an extractor. The rest rooms are empty although the partition walls and serving hatches into the rest rooms are still in place.
The next room on the right was the GPO room which still retains some wooden racking for batteries and the final room on the right was the low voltage switchgear room, this is the only room retaining any original ‘equipment’. On the right hand side are racks of electrical switchgear with the remains of a floor standing cabinet on the left.
Those taking part in the visit were Nick Catford, Dan McKenzie, Mark Bennett, Jason Blackiston and Robin Ware.
- Bob Jenner
- Ray Watson
- Dr. James Fox
- Ed Beer