Coldingham at War
RAF Crosslaw was Home to 617 Signals Unit and was a Chain Home Extra Low (C.H.E.L) Radar Station equipped with a Type 14 Radar and a R2 underground operations bunker.
It was operational from 16th April 1953 to the 31st August 1956.
RAF Crosslaw was a C.H.E.L site equipped with a R2 underground operations block and was handed over to the RAF on the 6th January 1953 from Marconi with Air Commodore R.L Phillips, C.B.E, A.M.I.E.E in attendance with other representatives from the Air Ministry, HQ Fighter Command, HQ 12 Group, HQ 90 Group and the Sector Operations Centre at Barton Quarry.
Operations did not commence until the 16th April 1953 under the command of Flight Lieutenant J.C.F Williams, some five days after the main body of the operational staff had been accommodated in the new station domestic buildings some 2 miles to the South East in the village of Coldingham. Prior to this date the Unit had taken part in two Caledonian Sector Exercises.
The first of these exercises was conducted on the evenings of the 9th and 10th of March 1953. Radar operators were supplied by RAF Macmerry an airfield some 39 miles to the North West where they were temporarily accommodated while the domestic site had been under construction. Squadron Leader Marshall was detached from RAF Barton Quarry (Caledonian Sector Operations Centre) to provide controller duties. During these exercises, interceptions were carried out from the track telling room within the R2 operations complex, due to the unavailability of consoles in the purpose built controllers cabin. A temporary remote control V.H.F control installation was on loan from the G.P.O which consisted of a microphone, amplifier and loud speaker this was installed into the track telling room and allowed the controller to communicate with aircraft under Crosslaw control.
Figure 1: In order to provide communication between the controllers in the R2 bunker at RAF Crosslaw and the intercepting aircraft, two VHF/UHF multi-channel radio transmitter and receiver blocks were built at remote sites. The photo here is of the receiver site which exists off the Dowlaw Road some 2.50 miles to the North West of the Operations Site. The receiver Site still has its 60 feet wooden aerial standing alongside and is one of only two that are still extant. The other one being at the ROTOR site at Ventnor Isle Of Wight. Photo By J M Briscoe 2010
Although no interceptions were made until the latter part of the exercise, the effort in installing the equipment was deemed a success in the training it provided to the controller and operators manning it. The second exercise the Unit was involved in was a reporting exercise and took place on the 29th March 1953. Once again operators were once gain brought in from RAF Macmerry to conduct operations within the R2 complex. The O.R.B stated that once again the installation proved satisfactory throughout the duration of the exercise, but some difficulty was experienced with the Type 14 M ark VI picking up “Sea Clutter” which made plotting inshore more difficult for the operators. To further exasperate this further faults were experienced on the G.P.O telling and liaison lines back to the Sector Operations Centre at Barton Quarry. The exercise was finally curtailed at midday on the 29th March due to bad weather, and the results of the exercise were annotated within the O.R.B as unsatisfactory. From the 16th April 1953 the Unit commenced operations as a permanent part of the Caledonian Sector organisation. The O.R.B states that the equipment worked well and during the first week of active operations a total of 208 tracks were reported with the average of 9.56 plots per track. Total operating time for the week was 29 hours and 51 minutes.
On the 19th April 1953 the Unit took part in its first exercise using personnel recently posted in. During this R.O.C exercise 90 tracks were told from 801 plots and average of 8.9 plots per track. Details derived from the O.R.B stated that the early operational use of the Unit that the radar a Type 14 was exceptionally good, there being no Blind Spots or Sectors within their area of responsibility. Operators had reported responses from the Type 14 radar were being detected in excess of 20,000ft at some considerable distance with no drop in radar performance at low-level, an exceptional performance for a C.H.E.L Unit. On the 27th April 1953 an Oxford aircraft from RAF Leuchars made a calibration run against the Unit on a bearing of 360 degrees at 60 miles range and at a height of 500ft. The aircraft then carried out another run on a reciprocal heading to the previous run at a height of 1000ft. The records say that during these runs the aircraft was seen at all times and proved the radar was performing correctly.
The Unit took part in a D.R.W exercise on the 30th April, in which a response was passed to the S.O.C at a range of 115 miles with an estimated strength of 9 plus, and reported as possibly window. The response was later confirmed as Window by Barton Quarry. Though quantity was not known the OC commented in the O.R.B that the responses had no adverse on the operational efficiency of the Unit. During the exercise a total of 38 tracks were told with an average of 22.65 plots per track. The Unit became unserviceable on the 2nd May 1953 due to a technical fault and continued to be unserviceable until the 18th June 1953.The ORB recorded no specialised activity during this period and this period was used as a warming up period in preparation for “Exercise Momentum” which was to take place between the dates 14th – 23rd August 1953. Post analysis of the Units involvement in this exercise appeared to be satisfactory with all members of the operational teams gaining valuable operational experience and their enthusiasm and commendable energy being documented within the Units record book. The Units operational hours for the month of August totalled 225 hours.
The month of September proved a busy period for the Unit with three exercises planned:
The exercises provided invaluable training for the operational and engineering staff at Crosslaw and allowed them to sharpen operational and technical skills honed during the early work up phase of the Units operational status. Sector command at Barton Quarry took an avid interest in the Units capability and dispatched various staff to the Unit to evaluate operational effectiveness throughout September. Total hours for the month of September were not exhaustive despite the high temp of operations and totalled 272 hours and 14 minutes. Although the Units strength grew steadily throughout the summer months the OC commented within the ORB that there were some deficits within certain trades. The current Officer strength remained at two with Flight Lieutenant J.C.F Williams (O.C) and Flight Lieutenant A Goldstraw (Ops Supervisor).
Flight Lieutenant Williams wrote to Sector Command at Barton Quarry to complain at the inadequacy of the accommodation at the new domestic site. The new buildings being incapable of housing the established Unit’s personnel strength without overcrowding. All domestic site buildings were finally completed by the contractor on 4th September 1953 and were officially handed over to the RAF which eased the overcrowding situation.
During the month of October 1953 a 24 hour watch was maintained within the R2 operations complex in support of “Ex Mariner” with operators reporting all maritime movements to Naval Headquarters. This was not without its difficulties as the operations supervisor reported that their counterparts at Naval Headquarters were not operating on a 24 hour basis. October saw a big decrease in the operational availability of the Unit with only 186 and 15 mins being recorded. The Unit was declared unserviceable to Sector HQ on the 8th, 28th and 31st October for a total of 17 hours and 38 mins with the Type 14 radar earmarked as the cause. A servicing team from Marconi arrived at the Unit on the 15th October to carry out maintenance and modifications for a total 3 hours and 12.
Figure 2: Type 14 Radar at RAF Hartland Point in c.1982. Crosslaw was fitted with a similar Type 14. Photo from the RAF Air Defence Museum Neatishead
The OC reported continuing problems with the domestic accommodation throughout October with defects in roof beams drying and cracking and falling plaster falling around hot water pipes. There was two additions to the officer establishment with Flt Lt Fenwick posted in from Middle Wallop on the 5th October and Plt Off O’Dwyer from Lichfield on the 22nd October taking the established strength to 4.
Figure 3: Aerial View of RAF Crosslaw Domestic Site c.1980s. All traces of the former RAF presence at this site have now gone apart from the Married Quarters on the A1107 outside the Caravan Park. Photo by Crosslaw Caravan Park.
Of interest within the O.R.B is that reference is made that fighter control personnel were still being detached from the former G.C.I station at Dirleton to provide cover for night flying duties. The station at Dirleton 15G had various radar types including a type 7, which was a final G.C.I. version consisting of a large fixed aerial with equipment in an underground well below; a type 8, mobile G.C.I. and a type 21 which was a development of the G.C.I. comprising type 13 (height finder) and 14 (accurate detection, giving range and bearing radars operating in conjunction. The type 21 thus provided three dimensional information, range and bearing and also height. During its operational life it worked closely with the night fighter Units from Charterhall and Drem. The G.C.I closed down in 1946 but the site was used for training purposes until 1954. Although some of features identified include the stance for a Type 13 height finding radar, the foundations of the administration block and a guard dog enclosure. The main Happidrome structure has been converted into a private dwelling and retains some of its original features. Some of the associated structures with the station also survive. These include a second IFF cubicle and the stance for a Type 7 radar aerial, and a Stanton air raid shelter.
The month of November was a quiet period for the Unit with the only event of note was a visit of a calibration party to carry out calibration of the Type 14 radar on the weekend of the 17th - 18th November 1953. This was carried out by 2 Meteors from151 Squadron at nearby RAF Leuchars. December saw a change over in personnel with two W.R.A.F officers posted in Plt Off V C Church as radar supervisor and Fg Off Smith taken over as Unit adjutant. The Unit still suffered with maintenance issues throughout the month and stats show that the Unit was operational for only 140 hours.
January 1954 started off with the Unit involved reporting exercises on the 18th, 24th, 25th and 28th of January the operators recorded the fact Canberra’s were used and the Type 14 radar was unable to detect them as they were flying too high for them to be reported. Unit operational hours were recorded at 87 hours and 52 mins in which a total of 457 tracks were initiated and 6,227 plots, an average of 15.5 plots per track. The type 14 was recorded unserviceable on the 14th January due to a leak in the trigger Unit.
February saw the Unit stood down from the 22nd February until the 11th March during the Western Sector exercise taking part in that period. Five operators from Crosslaw were attached to Eastern Sector Operations Centre at Bawburgh and five operators to the Northern Sector Operations Centre at Shipton. The personnel that remained at Crosslaw carried operational and trade training. March saw the Unit taking part in exercises, starting with an Anti-aircraft exercise on the 14th, D.R.W exercise on the 28th and culminating in Exercise “March Hare” on the 28th March. During this period the Unit reported a total of 14,503 plots averaging 28.76 plots per track. The Unit recorded a total of 214.50 hours.
On the 1st August 1954 the parenting of the Unit was taken over by the G.C.I (R3) at Boulmer from RAF Macmerry. On the 11th September an A.O.C inspection was carried by the Officer Commanding RAF Boulmer. In November 1954 the Unit title changed from RAF Crosslaw to No. 617 Signals Unit (Crosslaw). Information from the O.R.B for the latter part of 1954 is minimal to say the least and the only ones of note are the Units status change.
January 1955 saw the Unit pass 1220 tracks giving a monthly average of 11.7 plots per track. On the 6th January the control cabin the R2 was manned Flt Lt Hurpet and Warrant Officer Willes from 157 Signals Unit at RAF Gailes with the assistance of crews from Crosslaw. They achieved only 12 interceptions due to the deteriorating weather in the area, and no further interceptions were carried out and the Flt Lt and Warrant Officer returned to RAF Gailes. On Thursday the 13th January Fg Off Burden and Warrant Officer Brescott were attached from RAF Gailes to the Unit to provide a controlling function which did not take place due to a power outage. When power was restored later that day equipment within the Control cabin was found to be unserviceable and remained so until the 20th January. The two controllers returned to RAF Gailes on the 18th January.
The Unit successfully took part in 2 “Happy Valley” exercises on the 11th and 14th January, with a D.R.W exercise and exercise “Kingpin” also taking place during the month. The Unit was visited by 3 controllers from the G.C.I Unit at RAF Boulmer on the 28th of January.
February saw the Unit pass 1326 tracks with an average of 10.59 plots per track. On Thursday 3rd February the Unit took part in a reporting exercise, however the S.O.C at Barton Quarry decided that the control cabin would be required. Fg Off Luke was detached to the Unit from Barton Quarry to enable the controlling function to be carried out, but before he got settled in the exercise was cancelled due to bad weather in the area. The Unit suffered a number of un-serviceability’s over the period due to an E.H.I tripping and a replacement of a magnetron. A total of 4hours and 50 mins operational hours were lost due to these events. Engineering staff were prevented from carrying out engineering work due the Unit being cut off due to deep snow and the motor transport was unable to get through. Because of the vital importance of the repairs Unit personnel battled the elements and eventually reached the technical site by foot.
During the April of 1955 the Unit passed 1322 tracks with an average of 9.90 plots per track. The Unit participated in exercise “Skyhigh” on the 29-30 April, with the first phase being cancelled once again due to inclement weather affecting the exercise area. The Unit was non-operational from the 12th-21st April due to the modification of the air conditioning plant within the R2. There were no more entries of significance within the O.R.B for the month of April. In May the Unit was involved in exercise “Summex Able” and accurate information was passed to the C.F.P on the Naval convoy that passed through the Units area of reasonability.
In June 1955 the Unit passed a total of 1995 tracks with a monthly average of 12.22 plots per track. The Unit welcomed 2 new Officers that were posted in a Plt Off Marshall from RAF Middle Wallop and Fg Off Folros from Cold Hesledon to carry out Radar Supervisor duties. On the 1st June 1955 the Unit commenced a permanent day operational commitment. In the month of July the Unit participated in exercise “Yukon Jake” on the 23rd July with Flt Lt Flt Badcock being appointed temporary Commanding officer in lieu of Flt Lt J.C.F Williams going on leave. On the 15th July the Unit came under the functional administration and technical control of Headquarters No 13 Group. The Unit also managed to receive a grant from Headquarters Fighter Command central funds of £550 for a hard tennis court on the domestic site.
The month of September saw the Unit involved in exercise “Beware” which was carried out in 3 phases from the 23rd – 27th September. The Commanding Officer commentated that the Unit had worked efficiently during the exercise from a technical standpoint, but this was not extended in any way operationally. The level of activity was far too low to assess the behaviour and efficiency of operations in conditions of continuous stress. On the 12th September Air Officer Commanding 13 Group (Air Vice Marshall W.G Cheshire) arrived by helicopter to carry out his formal inspection of the Unit before moving out to inspect RAF Drone Hill.
Exercise “Creep” also took place in the Month of September to test the ability of Crosslaw and the other Units within 12 and 13 Groups to implement their security and anti-sabotage plans. This exercise was run alongside exercise “Beware” and members of the RAF Regiment played the part of potential saboteurs. The would be saboteurs were ineffective as the failed to locate Units technical site. Instead the saboteurs turned their attention to the domestic site, which had not been reinforced with additional guards. Teams from No 1 RAF Police District were also unable to gain access to the Units domestic and technical sites, and an extract from their exercise report stated “Crosslaw once again lived up to its name of having probably the best security in the district”.
November 1955 saw the Unit pass a total of 2,385 tracks to the C.F.P giving a monthly average 10.34 plots per track. The Unit participated in exercise “Running Tide” on the 12th October and was supported by the attachment of two fighter controllers from G.C.I Anstruther to man the control cabin. On the 19th October a ground defence exercise (Exercise “Knockout”) was carried out at Crosslaw with a detachment of the Kings Own Scottish Border Regiment that were stationed at Berwick. The object of the exercise was to practice procedures in the event of the Unit come under prolonged attack. This was achieved by deploying another detachment of the KOSB as an attacking force while utilising the attached KOSB personnel as a guarding force under direction of the commanding officer at Crosslaw. Flt Williams commented within the O.R.B that the defence force successfully countered any of the assaults perpetrated by the attacking force. Sunday 23rd October saw the Unit visited by 5 Officers and 16 airmen from No 3603 Fighter Control Unit Edinburgh.
There was no major activity on the Unit for the rest of 1955 and Unit personnel were stood down by HQ 13 Group from the 24th – 27th December for Christmas holidays.
Figure 4: No 3603 Fighter Control Unit Crest. The F.C.U was a frequent visitor to the technical site at Crosslaw.The O.R.B stated that No 3603 F.C.U Edinburgh (Barton Quarry) arrived on the technical site on the 29th January 1956 to carry out training within the control cabin.
January 1956 started off very quietly with the Unit passing 1072 tracks to the C.F.P giving a monthly average of 16.63 plots per track. No 3603 F.C.U Edinburgh arrived on the technical site on the 29th January to carry out training within the control cabin. During the month of February 13 personnel from Crosslaw undertook a liaison visit to the C.F.P Caledonian Sector at Barton Quarry. Nothing of any major significance took place for the following months until the 14th May 1956, when a change of command took place. Flt Lt J.C.F Williams handed over command of the Unit to Flt Lt G.W Bonfield (M.B.E), with Flt Lt Williams being posted to Far East Air Force (F.E.A.F).
On the 1st of July Crosslaw took on parenting responsibilities for RAF Drone Hill which had been placed on Care and Maintenance and maintained a C & M party at Dronehill to carry out associated duties in respect of this task. The Unit was closed down from the 8th – 22nd of July for overhaul of the air-conditioning plant within the bunker. At this time the operations room and the control cabin were updated with Type 60A display consoles. On the 17th July 1956 saw the Unit being inspected by Air Vice Marshall W.G Cheshire C.B, C.B.E. The A.O.C arrived at the Unit by road and was met by the Commanding Officer and subsequently inspected the guard of honour on the parade ground. A.V.M Cheshire then carried his inspection of the domestic and technical sites before departing by helicopter to RAF Longbenton.
On the 31st August 1956 at 17:00hrs No 617 Signals Unit RAF Crosslaw received notification from HQ 13 Group that is was to adopt an “Operational Readiness” status. This was the final entry in Operational Records Book (O.R.B).The Unit had been in continuous operations since standing up in 16th April 1953.
By 1957 the Air Staff were examining the need for all C.H.E.L stations. The fate of the operational readiness site at Crosslaw was sealed, in the main, by the success of the stage 1A radars (Green Garlic, or AMES Type 80 Mk's 1-3) and the reorganisation of Plan Ahead, the site was disposed of sometime in the 1960s. The R2 guardhouse was sold off and has now been converted into a very attractive dwelling. The stairway down into the bunker has been incorporated into the house as a 'den' but has been blocked a few yards down the sloping tunnel into the bunker. When the bunker was inspected in c.2005 by Subbrit it was flooded almost up to the den at the bottom of the stairwell. This water was subsequently pumped out and a full photographic survey made. Since this visit the bunker continues to flood and further visits are not possible.
Although the technical site became unusable, the domestic site, located nearby, continued to be used and was turned into a holiday camp using some of the existing buildings and hard standings for caravans. Due to the construction of the ROTOR domestic sites the buildings needed constant maintenance and there construction contained banned building materials such as asbestos. A decision was made in the late 1980s to demolish the remaining ROTOR buildings and replace them with concrete hard standings for mobile homes and new clubhouse replacing the former cookhouse/NAAFI. Viewing the site now any person would not know that during the 1950s that the site was home to some 100 RAF personnel.
The Crosslaw bunker renovation involved the water tanks in the attic being removed and made into two bedrooms and the basement entrance to the bunker being their tv room. The interior of this private house baring no resemblance to its former use as a guardroom. The only drawback is that the Civil Aviation Authority still maintain a VOR site in the garden and to the left of the radar site is the Crosslaw ROC post.
An RAF post-war oblique air photograph is available of Crosslaw (13/4/1954) radar station from the E. Visible are the main control buildings and the Type 14 radar. A copy slide of RAF post-war aerial photograph is available from RCAHMS
RAF Crosslaw sortie P SOP RAF 136, frame no.18