Y service

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The "Y" service was a network of British signals intelligence collection sites, the Y-stations. The service was established during the First World War and used again during the Second World War.[1] The sites were operated by a range of agencies including the Army, Navy and RAF, and the Foreign Office (MI6 and MI5). The General Post Office and the Marconi Company provided some receiving stations, ashore and afloat. There were more than 600 receiving sets in use at Y-stations during the Second World War.[2]


Arkley View, 1943

The "Y" name derived from Wireless Interception (WI).[3] The stations tended to be one of two types, for intercepting the signals and for identifying where they were coming from. Sometimes both functions were operated at the same site, with the direction finding (D/F) hut being a few hundred metres from the main interception building to minimise interference. The sites collected radio traffic which was then either analysed locally or, if encrypted, passed for processing initially to the Admiralty Room 40 in London and then during World War II to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire.[4]

In the Second World War a large house called "Arkley View" on the outskirts of Barnet (now part of the London Borough of Barnet) acted as a data collection centre, where traffic was collated and passed to Bletchley Park; it also housed a Y station.[5] Much of the traffic intercepted by the Y stations was recorded by hand and sent to Bletchley by motorcycle couriers, and later by teleprinter over Post Office landlines.[6] Many amateur radio operators supported the work of the Y stations, being enrolled as "Voluntary Interceptors".[7]

The term was also used for similar stations attached to the India outpost of the Intelligence Corps, the Wireless Experimental Centre (WEC) outside Delhi.[8]

Direction-finding Y stations[edit]

Specially constructed Y stations undertook high-frequency direction finding (D/F) of wireless transmissions. This became particularly important in the Battle of the Atlantic where locating U-boats was vital. Admiral Dönitz told his commanders that they could not be located if they limited their wireless transmissions to under 30 seconds, but skilled D/F operators were able to locate the origin of their signals in as few as six seconds.[9]

The design of land-based D/F stations preferred by the Allies during the Second World War was the U-Adcock system, where a small operators' hut was surrounded by four 10 ft-high (3.0 m) vertical aerial poles, usually placed at the points of the compass. Aerial feeders ran underground, surfaced in the centre of the hut and were connected to a direction finding goniometer and a wireless receiver, that allowed the bearing of the signal source to be measured. In the UK some operators were located in an underground metal tank. These stations were usually in remote places, often in the middle of farmers' fields. Traces of Second World War D/F stations can be seen as circles in the fields surrounding the village of Goonhavern in Cornwall.[10]

Y station sites in Britain[edit]

The National HRO communication receiver was extensively used by the RSS and Y service


  1. ^ "Radio Intelligence Developments". antiqueradios.com.
  2. ^ a b Kenyon 2019, p. 24.
  3. ^ McKay, Sinclair (2012). The Secret Listeners. London, UK: Aurum Press Ltd. ISBN 978-1-78131-079-3.
  4. ^ "Teleprinter Building, Bletchley Park". Pastscape. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  5. ^ Pidgeon, Geoffrey (2003). "15. Box 25: The RSS and Hanslope". The Secret Wireless War: The Story of MI6 Communications 1939–1945. UPSO. pp. 103–118. ISBN 1-84375-252-2. OCLC 56715513.
  6. ^ Nicholls, J., (2000) England Needs You: The Story of Beaumanor Y Station World War II Cheam, published by Joan Nicholls
  7. ^ R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL (December 2013). "The Secret Listeners of 'Box 25, Barnet'". Popular Communications. 32 (4). CQ Communications, Inc: 22–26. ISSN 0733-3315.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Aldrich, Richard James (2000), Intelligence and the War Against Japan: Britain, America and the Politics of Secret Service, Cambridge University Press
  9. ^ "Listening to the enemy" (PDF). Ventnor and District Local History Society. Retrieved 12 February 2024.
  10. ^ The operators huts can still be seen in the centre of the circles.
  11. ^ "The National Archives – Piece details HW 50/82". Retrieved 10 May 2008.
  12. ^ "Brora Intercept Y Station Operations Building". Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  13. ^ "Gilnahirk Y Station". Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  14. ^ "Hawklaw Intercept Y Listening Station". Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  15. ^ "HMS Forest Moor is Decommissioned". Navy News. 17 November 2003. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  16. ^ Fry, Helen (2007). The King's Most Loyal Enemy Aliens: Germans Who Fought for Britain in the Second World War: Sidney Goldburg. History Press. ISBN 978-0-7509-4700-8. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  17. ^ "The Old Rectory, Claypit Street, Whitchurch". Exploring Shropshire's History. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  18. ^ Government Wireless Station, Higher Wincombe Farm, Donhead St. Mary (Report). 1950. F14/428/25 – via The National Archives. Held at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre
  19. ^ Friedman, William F. (11–20 August 1943). Report on E operations at BP (Report). Government Code and Cypher School: Directorate: Second World War Policy Papers. HW 14/85 – via The National Archives.
  20. ^ "Pat Davies, née Owtram" (PDF). Bletchley Park Trust. p. 3. Retrieved 19 July 2023.
  21. ^ "Tribute to D-Day veteran Len Davidge who died in Winchester". Hampshire Chronicle. 28 January 2021. Retrieved 15 January 2023.


Further reading[edit]

  • Macksey, Kenneth (2003). The Searchers: Radio Intercept in Two World Wars. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-36545-9.

External links[edit]