RAF Stoke Holy Cross Radar Station

In 2019, CA was commissioned to record part of a reasonably well-preserved ‘Chain Home’ early warning radar station, located just south of Norwich.

Chain Home was a pioneering network of radar stations constructed prior to, and during, the Second World War. An experiment in 1935 proved conclusively that it was possible to detect aircraft by radio. The experiment worked by ‘illuminating’ the sky with radio waves whereby sufficient energy would be reflected from an aircraft to permit detection on the ground via a receiver. After further research, funding was provided for the construction of a ‘chain’ of early warning stations along the east coast of Britain using the new radar technology. These stations became the first radar to be organised into a complete air defence system used in wartime operations.

A key component of each station was a pair of ‘buried reserves’, which comprised underground bunkers and associated surface features containing a set of duplicated backup equipment, intended for use if the principal transmitting or receiving sites were attacked and put out of action.

Reconstruction of Transmitting Buried Reserve, by Jon Bennett
Reconstruction of Transmitting Buried Reserve

Our task was to record the visible, above ground remains of the ‘transmitting’ buried reserve at Stoke Holy Cross Radar Station, which required the identification of many non-descript concrete features scattered amongst the encroaching vegetation. Luckily, Chain Home stations all follow a fairly standard form and further research allowed the identification of most of these features. These included ventilation shafts (see photo below left), a holdfort for a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, concrete plinths for the steel transmitting tower, and heavy concrete access hatches -(see photo below right) for the underground reserve itself, including their steel rollers and rails. Although the underground reserve is presently unsafe to enter, the positions of the above ground features were such that the layout of the reserve could be reliably determined by comparing the site with other, better preserved examples at stations around the country.

Ultimately, the Chain Home network was supplanted by superior technology, but the important role that these stations played during the Second World War, and the increasing scarcity of their most significant features, is being recognised through appropriate statutory protection.

Richard Hardy

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