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ROTOR was an elaborate air defence radar system built by the British Government in the early 1950s to counter possible attack by Soviet bombers. In order to get it operational as quickly as possible, it was initially made up primarily of WWII-era systems, notably the original Chain Home radars for the early warning role, and the AMES Type 7 for plotting and interception control. The system had a network of control stations, mostly built underground, and connected with an extensive telephone and telex network.
Work also began on a new microwave frequency radar to replace Chain Home in the 1957 time-frame. However, an experimental system known as Green Garlic was so successful that it began replacing Chain Home starting in 1954. In service, these proved so accurate that they could replace the Type 7 radars as well, and their greatly improved range meant that far fewer radars would be needed to provide coverage over the entire United Kingdom. This led to the Master Radar Stations that filled both early warning and ground controlled interception roles. The original ROTOR plans for 66 radars was repeatedly reduced, ultimately only requiring half that number of stations.
ROTOR called for the continual upgrading of the network over time, both the radars and the command and control systems. However, the introduction of the carcinotron radar jammer in the mid-1950s was a serious blow to these plans; a single aircraft carrying a carcinotron could jam the ROTOR radars so completely that they were rendered useless. At the same time, the introduction of the hydrogen bomb and ballistic missile greatly changed the nature of the strategic threat, and over time the idea of whole-country defense became untenable; the only way to defend against missile attacks was deterrence, and if that failed, interceptor aircraft would have no measurable effect on the eventual outcome.
ROTOR was initially replaced by a new network dedicated largely to defending the V-bomber force, but even this role was eventually abandoned. The only remaining role was to locate aircraft carrying jammers in order to keep the BMEWS radars free from interference and prevent a successful sneak attack. Such a system did not require the large number of radars nor the country-wide coverage. To reduce the cost of this much smaller network, studies on integrating the military radars with civilian air traffic control led to the Linesman/Mediator system of only five primary stations. The original ROTOR was replaced by Linesman in stages, starting in 1967.
A similar expedient system in the United States was the Lashup Radar Network.
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 rebuilt 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, 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 Regional Seats of Government or local authority wartime headquarters. In the mid-1960s the MRSs 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. They were later sold to private buyers, converted into museums (for example Hack Green) or transferred to the National Air Traffic Control Centre.
List of sites
|Site Name||Site Designator||Grid Reference||Site Purpose|
|Aird Uig||WIU||NB 047390||R10 CEW Type 80|
|Anstruther||FAT||NO 568808||R3 Type 80|
|Barnton Quarry||MHA||NT 203748||R4 SOC Caledonian Sector|
|Bawburgh||WRK||TG 165080||R4 SOC Eastern Sector|
|Bawdsey||PKD||TM 347388||R3 GCI(E)|
|Beachy Head||HEB||TV 590959||R1 CEW Type 80|
|Bempton||RMF||TA 192736||R1 CEW|
|Boulmer||EZS||NU 240125||R3 GCI Type 80|
|Box||XOB||ST 850690||SOC Southern Sector|
|Buchan||GBU||NK 113408||R3 GCI Type 80|
|Calvo||CAL||NY 144545||R8 GCI|
|Charmy Down||CHA||ST 768702||R8 GCI|
|Chenies||HAM||TQ 015997||R8 GCI|
|Cold Hesledon||IDW||NZ 417468||R1 CEW/CHEL|
|Comberton||COB||SO 968461||R8 GCI|
|Crosslaw||HCV||NT 880680||R2 CHEL|
|Danby Beacon||NZ 732097||CH|
|Douglas Wood||NO 488415||CH|
|Drone Hill||NT 845665||CH|
|Dunkirk||TDE||TR 076595||CH Type 80|
|Fairlight||GWB||TQ 862113||R2 CHEL(A)|
|Faraid Head||RAI||NC 389714||R10 CEW Type 80|
|Foreness||WJW||TR 385710||R2 CHEL|
|Gailes||FUL||NS 327361||R8 GCI Type 80|
|Goldsborough||JEX||NZ 830138||R2 CHEL(A)|
|Hack Green||HAK||SJ 647483||R6 GCI|
|Hartland Point||HAT||SS 237277||R8 GCI|
|Hayscastle Cross||CHX||SM 920256||CH Type 80|
|High Street||TM 411720||CH|
|Hill Head||NJ 947616||CH|
|Holmpton||VQJ||TA 367225||R3 GCI(B) Type 80|
|Hope Cove||HOP||SX 716374||R6 GCI|
|Hopton||TOH||TM 540990||R2 CHEL(B)|
|Inverbervie||LGZ||NO 841734||R1 CEW|
|Kelvedon Hatch||XSL||TQ 561995||R4 SOC Metropolitan Sector|
|Kilchiaran||ECK||NR 207616||R11 CHEL|
|Killard Point||IJ 605435||R8 GCI Type 80|
|Langtoft||LAT||TF 155129||R6 GCI Type 80|
|Longley Lane||LOA||SD 541365||SOC Western Sector|
|Murlough Bay||URB||ID 213407||R11 CHEL|
|Neatishead||BWP||TG 346184||R3 GCI|
|Portland||NIB||SY 696735||R1 CEW|
|Prestatyn||SYP||SJ 079819||R11 CHEL|
|Sandwich (Ash)||YTM||TR 303574||R3 GCI Type 80|
|Saxa Vord||AXA||HP 629165||R10 CEW Type 80|
|Scarinish||FLY||NM 032456||R8 GCI Type 80|
|School Hill||HSL||NO 908982||CH|
|Seaton Snook||DYR||NZ 519280||R3 GCI Type 80|
|Shipton||KFY||SE 542618||R4 SOC Northern Sector|
|Skendleby||UPI||TF 438709||R3 GCI|
|Snaefell||MOI||SC 397869||R11 CHEL|
|Sopley||AVO||SZ 163977||R3 GCI Type 80|
|St Annes||SAN||SD 348303||R8 GCI|
|St Margarets||AGC||TR 370451||R1 CEW|
|St Twynnells||TWY||SR 944976||R6 GCI Type 80|
|Staxton Wold||TA 023778||CH|
|Stoke Holy Cross||TG 257028||CH|
|Treleaver||TEL||SW 766174||R6 GCI(B) Type 80|
|Trewan Sands||TES||SH 322754||R8 GCI|
|Trimingham||QLE||TG 290385||R1 CEW Type 80 CHEL|
|Truleigh Hill||SNG||TQ 224109||R2 CHEL|
|Ventnor||OJC||SZ 565784||CH R1 CEW Type 80|
|Wartling||ZUN||TQ 662088||R3 GCI Type 80|
|West Beckham||TG 142389||CH|
|West Myne||ZEM||SS 928486||R11 CHEL|
|West Prawle||SX 771374||CH|
|Wick||IKA||ND 326537||R8 GCI|
The sites today
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. Today it is the home of an RAF TPS 77 RRH (remote radar head).
RAF Boulmer is a working RAF building, which is housed in an ex-"ROTOR" R3 RAF Boulmer ('EZS') GCI R3 ROTOR Radar Station & Control and Reporting Centre in the UK Air Surveillance and Control System.
In terms of current condition, the ROTOR sites vary from demolished to intact.
For example, West Myne in Somerset was the last ROTOR 3 CHEL site. It was completed in 1957 after the introduction of the Type 80 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.
Many of the buildings have been re-purposed since being active as ROTOR sites. An example is the Bawburgh R4 SOC which was re-purposed as SRHQ4.1 and then RGHQ4.1 to suit the evolving needs of government. The building is intact, but it has been significantly reconfigured since its use as a ROTOR SOC, notably with the addition of an extra floor and the flooring-over of the original R4 operations well.
- "RAF Staxton Wold". RAF. Royal Air Force. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
- Watching the Skies, Jack Gough, HMSO 1993, ISBN 0117727237
- Cold War: Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1946-89, Cocroft, Thomas and Barnwell, English Heritage 2003, ISBN 1873592817