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M.J.B. Scanlan


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Chain Home Radar - A Personal Reminiscence

Security also extended to control of entry onto the technical site (the living quarters were usually some miles away, and relatively easy of access). The technical site, half a kilometre or more in diameter, was surrounded by a so-called 'unscalable' steel fence, 2 metres high, in which the only gap was the gate and guard room. Every authenticated visitor, including the watch personnel as they arrived for duty, was given the watchword for the day, without which the doors of the transmitter hall or operations room should not be opened. Of course, this system was a challenge to some senior visitors, who were wont to try to bluff their way in by announcing themselves by their (very senior) rank, or as 'G.P.O.'. A particular offender in this respect was the Senior Technical Officer, one Wing Commander Scott-Taggart, who had achieved considerable fame in the l920s by designing DIY domestic receivers under titles such as the JS-Tl (a one valve receiver), JS-T2 etc. If he succeeded in bluffing his way in, the door-opener (usually the most junior of the watch) was invariably put on a charge. He felt justified in these tactics, no doubt, by the need to emphasize security, but it did not take long for the news to get around and for the doors to remain firmly shut unless the password was given.

Inside the 'unscalable' fence, each building was protected by a barbed wire apron about 3m high and thick, complete except for a narrow access gap. Early in 1943, after the Bruneval raid on a German 'Wurzburg' radar station, concern was felt about a possible reprisal raid on a British station. Accordingly, some men (including the author) were sent on courses of weapon training etc., by which it was hoped that a station could hold out for an hour or two, until help could arrive. This was a ridiculous hope, as was proved in a night exercise when a half dozen of us, opposed by the alerted military might of the station, penetrated to the door of the operations room without detection. A dozen paratroopers, operating without warning, would certainly have done much more.

By far the most serious risk to the safety of personnel was that of electrical shock. To guard against this, all dangerous areas were closed off by doors, the keys of which must be withdrawn and used to enable the equipment in question to be switched on. Needless to say, this precaution proved too onerous in practice: after all, the equipment must be accessible and switched on if faults were to be found. Therefore, dummy keys were always available, presumably, since the keys were of an unusual pattern, with the connivance of the authorities. The transmitter was of course the main danger, and in particular, the main EHT smoothing condenser; at 2 uF, and charged to its working voltage of 35kV, this demanded the utmost respect, and was provided with its own 'earthing stick, that is, a metal chain, earthed at one end. The other end, held on a long insulating wand, could be held to touch danger points, so connecting them to earth.

The only other serious danger was in climbing the towers, especially the transmitter towers. This had to be done from time to time as part of routine maintenance; although it could be an unpleasant task, accomplished without a safety belt, no serious accidents were ever reported to my knowledge. In the gales and mists of Ottercops Moss (the site was 300 m above sea level), one climbed slowly and held on very tightly!

Training for Radar

Formal training for technical officers destined for service in ground radar took place at a 14-week course at one or other of the RAFs wireless schools. The course covered all ground radar (CHL and GCI, as well as CH) and was very intensive - eight hours a day, six days a week. There were formal lectures on the theory of the system, and on the operation of each unusual circuit, for example, the time-base. These were supplemented by practical sessions of familiarization with the layout of the equipment, and of fault finding: here the instructor would simulate a fault and the trainees be expected to diagnose it. Here also we learnt the distilled wisdom of the experienced serviceman: always keep one hand in your pocket', 'resistors go open-circuit, capacitors go short-circuit', and so on.

It could not be expected that everything would be covered, and the main CH transmitter (the T.3026) was left out, although the much less complex mobile transmitter was included. Such omissions were no doubt necessary and carefully calculated, but it was disconcerting to arrive at Ottercops Moss never having seen the transmitters. Fortunately, I was privileged in having access to the handbooks, and in being able to haunt the quarterly overhaul party.

Radar mechanics were poorly served on the whole: if they arrived at a station with unfamiliar equipment, there was much less time or opportunity for them to learn. Since they were so few and their work more technical than that of the operators, there was no formal training on the station as there was for operators. The unfortunate mechanic must pick up what he could from the maintenance manual, and from watching those with more experience.

Operators, on the other hand, were well cared for: if on a four-watch system, there was some 'free' time, and this was used for training by a WAAF supervisor or senior NCO, or on occasion by the technical officer. The theory was of course much simpler than for a mechanic, and could be taught without classified documents: nevertheless, no notes could be taken. Regular trade tests were held, so that it was possible to progress by two or three stages relatively quickly. Alas, no such easy progression was available to mechanics.


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Constructed by Dick Barrett

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ęCopyright 2000 Dick Barrett

The right of Dick Barrett to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.