The group of buildings that make up this radar station can be found in a field on the Yorkshire Coast about one mile south-east of Ravenscar. Access to the site is by way of the Cinder Track dismantled railway line, or the Cleveland Way cliff-top footpath.
During World War II radio waves pulsing from this site helped detect invading German ships and aircraft. The station was built in late 1940 and was one of a chain, known as Coastal Defence Chain Home Low, built around Britain’s coast. It enabled operators to see enemy craft approaching that were otherwise invisible to the naked eye.
Radar was invented by the British just before the war started and played a vital role in defending the country. Radar meant the British could find and attack intruders before they were attacked themselves and prevented the loss of many pilots and aircraft because attacks could be pinpointed more accurately. Earlier stations were crucial during the 1940 Battle of Britain and helped the RAF defeat the much larger German Luftwaffe.
Radar works in a similar way to the technique used by bats to navigate. A series of pulses (radio waves) are transmitted from an aerial. These bounce off objects (such as ships or aircraft) and return to a special receiver. By rotating the transmitter and receiver the height and length of the waves bounced back can be measured. This would have helped determine the direction of the enemy craft, their height and an idea of how many were approaching. The movements of the approaching craft were shown on screens inside one of the buildings. Ravenscar was a short-range station meaning that it was able to detect craft flying very close to the sea. This prevented the Germans being able to approach at low level below the sight of the radar, a problem with earlier Chain Home radar stations. The main craft detected by the station would have been mine-laying sea-planes and German invasion forces.
The shells of two groups of buildings can still be seen and these follow the standard plan for radar buildings built across the UK. The main ‘business’ part of the site was the cluster of buildings that are near to the cliff edge. These included the fuel store, engine house (which housed the generator), communications hut and the transmitter and receiver block. The ‘living’ part of the site was located further up the field and included accommodation for the station crew.
The concrete remains of many other coastal radar stations were uncared for or destroyed after World War II ended. Ravenscar radar station became part of the National Trust estate in 1986 and today their historic value and significance is more appreciated. The site is now specially protected as an ancient monument.
Bent Rigg Coastguard Lookout
This lookout station was one of several similar structures built along this coastline to observe the busy shipping lanes during peacetime and to detect enemy vessels in the Second World War. Built around 1935, it was designated as an Auxiliary Coastguard Watch station, then as War Watch Station between 1939 and 1945. The lookout could send messages by telephone to the buildings west of this site, which were using Type 2 Static Radar equipment. In 1942 the site was taken over by 73 wing RAF which installed a type 52 Radar system.
Last records of the building being used by the coastguards were in 1972. The building was renovated in 1999 by the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Heritage Coast Project, a partnership of local authorities and government organisations which is responsible for the management of the beautiful undeveloped coastline between Scarborough and Saltburn.
The Communications Hut
Imagine, it’s 8am, you’ve been working for nearly 5 hours, you see bright blips on your radar screen. What do you do next?
It’s difficult now to realise how amazing the invention of radar was during the second world war. Until Robert Watson-Watt developed radar in the mid-thirties, there had been no way of knowing if enemy planes were approaching our shores, until those aircraft could be seen or heard.
1935, Bawdsey Manor, Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast: Robert Watson-Watt, his assistant Arnold Wilkins and fellow engineer Edward Bowen led a small team in a series of undercover experiments to prove radar could detect the range of an aircraft. This showed the Air Ministry that radar defence could be invaluable in the event of war. By 1939 it had been developed into the Chain Home early detection system.
After WWII, technology advanced again. Ravenscar was replaced by RAF Fylingdales radar base and early warning system which is still in place a few miles inland on the North York Moors.
The Engine House / Standby Set House
Imagine, it’s 3am, the power flickers on and off and suddenly everything goes dark. What do you do next?
To function, the radar station required connection to the mains power supply and telephone system plus access to a water source. This building contained a generator to provide an emergency back-up power supply for the Tx/Rx block in case the mains supply failed.
On the floor there remains the outline of the machine bed which supported the generator. There are vents in the walls which let air circulate. The openings are at different heights on the inside and outside of the building, probably designed to give protection from explosions if the station was attacked.
The following is an excerpt from the memoirs of Leading Aircraftwoman Betty Chadwick, posted at various CH/CHL radar stations in 1942:
This Radar site was a Combined Operations one situated on the very top of the cliffs quite near to the impressive castle facing the North Sea and from which we had a good view of the Fame Islands and also just further north Lindisfarne or Holy Island. The Army had gun emplacements along the coast and of course the RAF speaks for itself. It was a very lively mixed group with plenty of activity both night and day – convoys to the northern passage and fighters and bombers coming over from Norway and Denmark to attack the convoys and onward inland for selected targets. The importance of this Radar site for early warning was invaluable.
The Fuel Store
Imagine, it’s midnight, you’re filling up a billycan and a shout goes out that an enemy aircraft has been detected. What do you do next?
Inside are brick supports for the fuel tank. Picture the explosion and damage caused if the fuel store had been hit by enemy artillery. It stands separately to the Engine House and other buildings to minimise the risk of fire spreading.
Structures within radar station complexes were often camouflaged to avoid detection. In the open terrain of this site, the buildings would have been easily visible from the air and the nearby railway line. Though no evidence still exists, it is possible attempts were made to conceal them. Rumour has it that farmers were paid to graze their sheep near the buildings in order to fool enemy airborne surveillance missions into thinking they were farm buildings.
The Scarborough to Whitby railway line operated until 1965. It may well have been used to bring personnel and supplies, including fuel, to the radar station.
The Transmitter / Receiver Block
Imagine, it’s 11pm, you’ve just started your watch, sharp blips appear onscreen, friend or foe? What do you do next?
Acting with speed and accuracy was essential. Information via radar was plotted using equipment in the Tx/Rx block. Coordinates from several local stations were telephoned to a filter room, collated and corrected then sent on to a Fighter Command Group waiting to scramble squadrons to intercept enemy aircraft.
Radar sends out a very short pulse of radio signal to bounce off aircraft. Timing the ‘echo’ then multiplying this by the speed of light, (the speed radio waves travel) shows how far away a plane is.
This building is made of reinforced concrete and brick. The remains of some ‘blast shutters’ are still visible inside the windows. This shows that the radar station was under threat of attack.
Look at these walking guides
Three very good paperbacks from the Amazon Cicerone store. There are many others to choose from. Although I make up my own walking routes, I regularly look at these guides for inspiration.