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ROTOR was a huge and elaborate air defence radar system built by the British Government in the early 1950s to counter possible attack by Soviet bombers. The system was built up primarily of war-era radar systems, and was used only briefly before being eventually replaced by the more modern Linesman/Mediator system.
UK radar operations were wound down late in the war, and by the time the war ended were already largely unused. It was assumed that another war was at least ten years away, and the need for any improvements in the cobbled-together system seemed remote.
Thinking changed dramatically in 1949 with the Soviet test of their first atom bomb. It was known that the Soviets had made exact copies of the B-29 Superfortress as the Tu-4 Bull, and these aircraft had the performance needed to reach the UK with a nuclear payload. Studying the problem, the 1949 Cherry Report suggested that the 170 existing Royal Air Force radar stations be reduced to 66 sites and the electronics extensively upgraded.
Most of the new network would be made up of 28 re-built Chain Home systems, while the rest were taken from the existing selection of Chain Home Low, Chain Home Extra Low and the various Ground-controlled interception (GCI) radars that had formerly served special purposes. This was, in part, a stop-gap measure anticipating the availability of the dramatically improved Type 80 Green Garlic radar which would replace the various early warning radars with a single system of much greater performance. Interception guidance would still be handled by existing systems in either case.
All of the radars were to be improved in terms of siting with the addition of hardened control bunkers to protect the operators from a conventional attack. On the east coast, the coast toward which a Soviet attack would be most likely, the bunkers were underground in the 'R' series (R1, R2, R3 and R4 etc.), while those on the western side of the UK were generally semi-sunken hardened structures ('R6') or above ground 'Secco' type huts (Hartland Point etc.). The R-series bunkers themselves were otherwise similar, featuring 10-foot-thick (3.0 m) concrete walls with all equipment, operations generators and air conditioning located inside.
Additionally, ROTOR re-arranged the existing RAF Fighter Command structure into six "Sector Operational Commands" (SOC) with their own command bunkers (three level 'R4' protected accommodation). Only four of these were built. Additional "Anti-Aircraft Operations Rooms" were built to coordinate the British Army's AA defences in the same overall system. The entire network of bunkers, radars, fighter control and command centres used up 350,000 tons of concrete, 20,000 tons of steel and thousands of miles of telephone and telex connections.
The work was mainly carried out by the Marconi Wireless and Telegraph Company in several phases, called ROTOR 1, ROTOR 2 and ROTOR 3.
As the anticipated Type 80 "Green Garlic" radar started testing shortly after ROTOR came online, it became clear that it could fill both early warning and interception guidance from a single site. This dramatically decreased the complexity of the ROTOR system, which otherwise required sightings from the early warning radars to be telephoned to the fighter control GCI stations for local plotting. By concentrating all of this complexity at a single site the total number of operators was greatly reduced.
As a result of the introduction of the Type 80 (Green Garlic), many of the existing ROTOR sites were rationalized into Master Radar Stations (MRS), while the rest were made redundant, some only two years after opening, and all of the AAOR sites were closed. A few of these were re-used for government department ('RSG's) and local authority wartime headquarters. In the mid-1960s the MRS's themselves were replaced with a new system called Linesman/Mediator.
Until the end of the Cold War many of the sites were retained by the government but now have been sold off to private buyers or converted into museums (for example 'RAF Hack Green') and some transferred to the National Air Traffic Control Centre.
Sector Operation Control centres
List of ROTOR Sites
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Sector Operations Centres
From Sub Brit website
- Scottish Sector: R4 SOC at Barnton Quarry
- Northern Sector: R4 SOC at Shipton
- Eastern Sector: R4 SOC at Bawburgh
- Metropolitan Sector: R4 SOC at Kelvedon Hatch
- Southern Sector: SOC at Box
- Western Sector: SOC at Langley Lane
ROTOR Radar Sites
This links to modern aerial site photographs  of both 'retained' Chain Home & ROTOR sites. Note there now may be nothing visible of the original site on the ground and only crop marks visible from the air.
RAF Staxton Wold is the only Chain Home site still used as a military radar site but with no remains of the CH station on site after being rebuilt for Linesman / Mediator in 1964.
Note: A number of ROTOR sites had very short operational lives, sometimes less than 1 year and thus don't appear on many maps. Example: West Myne  in Somerset was the last ROTOR 3 CHEL site. It was completed / tested in 1957 after the introduction of the T80 radar and after many ROTOR stations had already closed. The site was within Exmoor National Park and its creation was strenuously opposed by the National Trust who lost no time in obliterating the site immediately after closure.
List of ROTOR SITES.
- Aird Uig
- Beachy Head
- Cold Hesleden
- Faraid Head
- Hack Green
- Hartland Point
- Hope Cove
- Killard Point
- Saxa Vord
- Seaton Snook
- St Annes
- St Margaret's Bay
- St Twynnells
- Truleigh Hill
- Watching the Skies, Jack Gough, HMSO 1993, ISBN 0117727237