RAF Neatishead R3 and R12 GCI ROTOR Sector Operations Centre, Norfolk

RAF Neatishead  is a Royal Air Force Remote Radar Head in the English county of Norfolk, East Anglia that was established during the Second World War. It consists of the main technical site and a number of remote such as RAF Trimingham.  RAF Neatishead was once a large RADAR Station that acted as a Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) for the South of the United Kingdom, it has since been reduced substantially and now maintains an remote RADAR head status. Its primary role of is to provide Radar, ground to air communications and data links coverage as part of the United Kingdom Air Surveillance and Control System (UKASACS). The site at RAF Neatishead reflects the development of RADAR over the last 60 years.  Surviving structures on the site include the R30 operations room (now a museum), a Type-84 radar and associated modulator building, an R3 underground operations block and guardroom, four radar plinths and the R12 radar equipment building.

RAF Neatishead opened in June 1941 as a Ground Control Intercept (GCI) Station as part of the Chain Home RADAR system set up during WW2.  Its development was typical of many stations of this type, which were developed to assist in the tracking and interception of hostile aircraft after they crossed the coast, particularly at night. The original Chain Home radar system was strung out along the coast and the tracks of enemy aircraft were lost as they headed inland. GCI stations were designed to counter this problem by tracking hostile aircraft as they passed inland and directing the local fighter squadrons to attack the intruders.

RAF Neatishead was typical of the first phases of the  Chain Home GCI radar stations, it was comprised of mobile caravans and wooden guard house, enclosed by a perimeter fence. Accommodation huts were added later for the troops. The second phase of building activity began in January 1942, when a timber operations hut (which survives in modified form), a timber ‘goalpost’ gantry to support a Type-8 radar and other ancillary structures were added. This phase is known as an ‘Intermediate GCI Station’. This was quickly followed by construction work for the last wartime phase, the Fixed GCI Station. It was one of 21 Final GCI Stations, and one of only 12 to be fully equipped with searchlight and fighter control. The main feature of this phase was the double storey, protected operations room or ‘Happidrome’, which was completed in July 1942. This building survives in modified form as the R30, now the RADAR Museum. The station became operational in its final wartime form in January 1943.

RAF Neatishead was retained after the end of the WW2 and as a result of the Cherry Report  which was an examination of Britain’s post-war air defence requirements, it was recommended that the Sector Operations Centres should be combined with a number of GCI stations. Alterations to accommodate this, including the extension of the wartime Happidrome, began at Neatishead in December 1948 and were completed by October 1950.

In the early 1950s, as part of the Rotor scheme to refurbish Britain’s radar defences, the R3 double level underground operations block was built.  As with other R3 Bunkers, it was accessed by staircase in a guardroom disguised as a ‘bungalow’. On the surface, new protected radar plinths were constructed and some distance away from the site, a standby generator building was built and resembled a church. By the late 1950s, as a result of a change in defence policy following the detonation of the Soviet H-bomb in 1953, the emphasis was moved towards implementing the so called ‘tripwire response’. As a result, air defences were scaled down with the primary role to protect the nuclear deterrent bases, as well as provide an early warning to aggression by the Warsaw Pact. In 1961, a new scheme known as ‘Linesman’ was approved to reconfigure Britain’s radar defences to respond to the new strategic demands and new technology. RAF Neatishead was just one of four stations where major rebuilding working took place as part of this scheme. Structures built in the early 1960s include the Type-84 and R17 modulator building, the Type-85 radar and R12 bunker, which housed its processing equipment.  Along side this, High Speed Aerials, HF 200 height finders and a new generator building were also built.

A major set back occurred in 1966 when the R3 operations block was gutted by fire. On the 16th of February, 1966, a fire broke out in the bunker and the station fire teams were unsuccessful in extinguishing the fire out and so civilian fire crews were called. 3 civilian firefighters lost their lives inside the bunker. Later that year, LAC Cheeseman was sentenced to 7 years for starting the arson and causing the deaths of the civilian firefighters.  The fire at RAF Neatishead lead to the reassessment of fires in underground structures.  The radars, however, continued in use sending their data to remote sites. RAF Neatishead regained its operational role again in 1972 when the Standby Early Warning and Control (SLEWC) centre was established in the wartime Happidrome, or R30, as it became known following refurbishment.

By the time the Linesman system was fully operational in the 1970s, NATO policy had moved to one of ‘flexible response’, whereby the reaction to any Soviet aggression would not immediately be met with massive nuclear retaliation, but might begin with a conventional phase to allow time for negotiation. The system designed to replace Linesman was known as Improved United Kingdom Ground Defence Environment (IUKADGE). In place of fixed radar, new mobile systems were developed which used sophisticated electronics to counter jamming in place of the massive power input required by the earlier system. These were supplemented by the use of inputs from air and seaborne radars. Operations centres were provided with refurbished hardened bunkers, as exemplified by the R3 bunker at Neatishead. This system finally became fully operational in 1992.

In April 2004 the decision was taken to substantially reduce activities at Neatishead, and by 2006, the base had been downgraded to Remote Radar Head (RRH) status, but the museum remains open. The gate guardian, a Phantom previously based at RAF Wattisham, was cut up for scrap in 2005 despite interest from the Radar Museum.

In October 2006 local media reported that a buyer had been found for the now disused section of the base. The 25 1/2 acres site was advertised again in January 2010, with an asking price of £4,000,000. In February 2013, the site appeared on eBay with a guide price of £2,500,000.

For details of the equipment, see here

Modified: 27th Dec 2017