DETECTION AND RANGING
There’s nothing like an overcast sky, a flurry of snow and the mention of radar to get my juices flowing. So it was that my father and I braced a vicious east coast breeze to visit Bawdsey yesterday to take a look at the Radar Group’s Magic Ear exhibition.
The exhibition, which is on every Sunday and Bank Holiday, explains the development of radar technology. In February 1936, Bawdsey Manor was purchased by the Ministry of Defence to further research the discovery by Robert Watson Watt and Arnold Wilkins that aircraft up to eight miles away could be detected using radio waves. By the outbreak of World War II in 1939, four 360 foot transmitter towers and four 250 foot lattice receiving masts had been built and aircraft could be detected at a distance of 140 miles. Later, a system of simultaneous readings from five Chain Home stations – Bawdsey, Great Bromley, High St , Dunkirk and Swingate – enabled the accurate trajectory plotting of the German V2 rockets that were being used to bomb London.
The exhibition is comprehensive but I am never going to understand complex radar technology in a thousand years. It was its location that made us visit – the desolate nuclear-age surroundings, the Transmitter Block with its sub-station switch gear, the giant Receiver and Transmitter Towers and Bloodhound missiles that towered over the beach towards Cold War enemies, and the subterranean reserves which would have kicked in had the overland blocks been hit.
Alas, we were a little disappointed. The towers and missiles have long been removed, and the peripheral underground buildings are still closed to the public. We were not allowed to see what lies beneath the ground these days at Bawdsey, but it seems a good excuse to direct you towards the Subterranea Britannica website, which contains photos of these secret sites. Perhaps these reveal / conceal the ineluctable mysteries of the coastline better than the reality.