Comically nicknamed a ‘Happidrome’ by the Airmen during the 1940’s, GCI RAF Radar Station Ripperston is just one mile from Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. The ‘Happidrome’ has been a part of our home since we moved here in 1998. The Set House, the first building in the photo below, was the standby generator building supplying the former Radar Station at St Brides in Pembrokeshire.
Love Life! Love Pembrokeshire!
That was our first motto when we moved here to the tip of St Brides Bay in Pembrokeshire, nearly 20 years ago. It still is!
We also love everything about history and art and so, because the HAPPIDROME is a fully incorporated part of our home, we decided to give it the care and attention it deserved. We adopted the Set House building name to call our website Set House Arts and you can see a pictorial tale of our endeavours by clicking on:.
Alternatively, you can read on here to learn about the:
WWII History of what was a TOP SECRET, WWII GCI Radar Station, RAF Ripperston
O.S. Grid Ref: SM 81893 11101
GCI Radar Station
1941 – 1946
1946 – 1958 Station on Standby at State of Readiness
Sqd. Ldr. H.M. Allen 1941-1942
Sqd. Ldr. John Kemp 1942 – 1943
Sqd. Ldr. M. Shearn 1943 – 1944
Sqd. Ldr. P.L. Teichman-Derville 1944
Sqd. Ldr. G. K. Green 1944 – 1945
Sqd. Ldr.W. Garrett 1945 – 1946
Sqd. Ldr. W.R.Tope 1946
With the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Nazi Germany on the 3rd September 1939 and WWII began. From September 1939, there followed a period of approximately 8 months which was named the “Phoney War”. It ended on the 10th May 1940 when Nazi Germany attacked and invaded France and the Low Countries; within weeks the prospects of the allies were grave; the collapse of France was followed by the mass evacuation of over 300,000 of the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) from the beaches of Dunkirk. All that stood between Nazi occupied Europe and the United Kingdom, was the English Channel, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
Operation Sealion was Nazi Germany’s code name for the planned invasion of the United Kingdom, with their first objective being to knock out and destroy the Royal Air Force, an objective which became the ‘Battle of Britain’. The Battle of Britain was fought from the 10th July 1940 until the 31st October 1940 by which time the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) had failed. One of the prime reasons for the Luftwaffe’s failure to destroy the Royal Air Force was the use of Radar and a complex defence system built around this new technology called the ‘Dowding System’. The ‘Dowding System’ was named after Fighter Command’s Commander-in-Chief Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding. The system brought together radar technology, ground defences and fighter aircraft to become a unified system of defence which gave the R.A.F., who were heavily outnumbered in aircraft, a critical advantage over the Luftwaffe. The Air ministry organised the defence of Britain into four geographical areas called “Groups”.
- 10 Group under the command of Air Vice-Marshal Sir Quinton Brand, covering south-west England and Wales.
- 11 Group under Air Vice-Marshall Keith Park, covering London and the south-east.
- 12 Group under Air Vice-Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory, covering the Midlands, East Anglia and parts of northern England.
- 13 Group under Air Vice-Marshall Richard Saul, covering the rest of northern England, the South of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
These groups were further divided into sectors with the main airfield within the sector being named the “Sector Station”. Further information about the sector station relevant to RAF Ripperston will be discussed in a later paragraph.
The Chain Home Radar System was the code name for the ring of coastal early warning radar stations built by the R.A.F. before and during WWII to detect and track aircraft. It was the first early warning radar network in the world. The system was somewhat limited in that it could only detect aircraft as they were approaching the coast and not once they were over land, past the antennas. Furthermore, the Luftwaffe discovered that if they flew low, they would not be detected. This prompted the development of the Chain Home Low System. However, there were still gaps in coverage, particularly in South West Wales and the Pembroke Dock areas. As the book, ‘Pembrokeshire Under Fire’ by Bill Richards describes, there was severe destruction of the town itself, loss of life and a huge conflagration; “The Great Tanks Fire”. On Monday 19th August 1940, at around 3:15 in the afternoon, three Junkers Ju88 bombers flew up Milford Haven waterway and released fire bombs resulting in a direct hit on a tank holding 12,000 gallons of oil. This quickly spread to eleven adjacent storage tanks. The fire raged for over 18 days with 22 fire brigades in attendance and 600 fire men of which there were five fatalities. The ability of the Luftwaffe to make these raids was much to do with Nazi Germany now occupying air fields in Northern France and Brittany such that South West England and South Wales were extremely vulnerable to attack. Moreover, the Luftwaffe having effectively lost the Battle of Britain had switched to night time bombing of the United Kingdom’s cities. This period was known as the Blitz, during which, Hitler endeavoured to bomb Britain into submission.
In order to counter the night bombing raids, a new generation of Radar was developed and adapted for the Dowding Defence System. A requirement was identified for control radar to aid the fighter interception of enemy aircraft. The Air Ministry’s design criteria were such that the new stations would be introduced in three phases, the first ones having full mobility. These first mobile units were called AMES (Air Ministry Experimental Stations) and the first station to be set up using these criteria was RAF Sopley, on Christmas Day 1940, in Hampshire. Other stations followed and R.A.F. Ripperston opened as a mobile G.C.I. (Ground Control Intercept) Radar Station in July 1941. It became operational as of 1800 hrs on the 10th September 1941 and on the 27th of that month, Sqd. Ldr. H.M. Allen assumed command.
Second Lt. Stephen W. DeBlois, U.S. Engineers Signal Corps., who was stationed at Ripperston for 6-9 months 1942 – 1943, takes up the story. The following are notes from his dictations; his memoirs, which we were kindly given by his daughter.
“We were located in a field of maybe about five or six miles west of Haverfordwest and the site were on a level field quite high and was oriented towards the coast. The field was heavily dominated by sheep which turned out to be a great nuisance. Our equipment was lined up in a single file much the same as a circus parade. The first vehicle in the line was the Antenna Van which was a vertically rotating antenna and was propelled by a bicycle mechanism which one of the airman would keep going and directing it by means of a telephone connection back to the Operations Van. The purpose of lining up everything in a single file was to keep the radar shadow to an absolute minimum. When the antenna looked back along the line the return would produce ground clutter to a point where it saw nothing. Next in line was the Operations Van which housed all the equipment for the radar and radio equipment plus the controller and the other 76 Wing personnel. Next in line was the Lister diesel generator which furnished all the power for the station. A truck with all the equipment stores and spares plus a vehicle behind that and finally at the very end was the antenna for the wireless telephone. The latter was necessary because the controller had to talk by wireless with the pilot in the night fighter. The Lister diesel generator was interesting because it was hand started and was a brute of a thing. The handle was sufficiently long so two or three men could turn the crank to get it started. Once it got going it was left that way and was very reliable. A telephone line was fed in so as to get the information from our operations vehicle back to the sector operations centre.
Located quite some distance from the parade line of our vehicles was a hastily erected Nissan hut which provided offices for the Commanding Officers, a mess room for the personnel, a first-aid room and then the restrooms. The four controllers had rooms where they slept and were not billeted in the village. In the Operations Vehicle the radar and radio equipment was all mounted at the front of the van and in the back was desks which housed the two cathode-ray oscilloscopes and a third position for the telephone operator. The controller sat on the right and his display was a PPI or Plan Position Indicator, cathode-ray oscilloscope. Above this equipment was clear Perspex like board which had a map of our sector on it so that when an aircraft was seen on the scope it could be identified as being in a certain square. Next to the controller typically there was a W.A.A.F Sergeant who sat in front of an x-y display cathode-ray scope. In this case the transmitting beam was on the right going vertically upward and then on the horizontal scale which was distance there was the ground clutter or a series of little ups and downs along the path. When a radar signal was received it would be a spike that would appear vertically and its position from the extreme right-hand side measured the distance it was from the station. The WAAF Sergeant who sat at this position had a switch which she could move back and forth to various arrays of the antenna and by so doing there would be two spikes and from the difference in heights of the two spikes she would determine altitude of the aircraft. The third position at the desk was for the telephone operator and she had an open wire line with the operation headquarters. If there were any enemy aircraft in or near our area, it would be advised from Group Command and likewise we would report back what we were seeing and doing. The equipment was in operation 22 hours a day, a two hour shutdown or off the air for maintenance and training and adjusting the equipment.
All personnel at this stage were billeted in Broad Haven with the W.A.A.F.s in Little Haven.”
Malcolm Cullen kindly supplied me with a wonderful anecdote regarding Ripperston personal in a news paper article about a resident in Little Haven who refused to billet two W.A.A.F.s. It is a fascinating and amusing read. VICAR SHUTS DOOR ON W.A.A.F.’s
As discussed earlier, the defence of the United Kingdom was divided between four Groups; Ripperston came under ‘10 Group’, which covered south-west England and Wales. The Headquarters of ‘10 Group’ was located at Rudloe Manor near Bath and was housed in three buildings; the Operations Room, the Filter Room and the Communication Centre. R.A.F. Ripperston came under the direct control of Rudloe Manor with the main Sector Station being R.A.F. Fairwood Common wherein No. 125 (Newfoundland) Squadron of Bristol Beaufighters (Night-fighters) would later be stationed. All air activity within ‘10 Group’s’ area, whether from Radar, Royal Observer Call or other intelligence, was passed directly to Rudloe Manor’s Filter Room, within which this huge quantity of intelligence was filtered before it was passed onto the Operations Room. This procedure was described in Eileen Younghusband’s book “One Women’s War”.
“after having joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air-force ( WAAF) in 1941 at the age of 19, I was trained and Commissioned as an assistant section officer and later promoted to section officer in 1942. I was posted to 10 Group Fighter Command at RAF Rudloe Manor where I was deployed as a filterer officer. In this post, I was responsible for assessing the information gathered from the Chain Home and GCI Radar Stations, estimating the position, height and number of enemy aircraft, and then giving the air raid warnings. These teams had a matter of seconds to calculate accurately the whereabouts of both friendly and enemy aircraft. This information was passed on to the Operations Room who would then alert the relevant Sector Air Stations who, in turn, would alert the appropriate G.C.I. Radar Station.”
The resulting GCI radar station’s operations’ room then had direct control and worked, in real time, with the pilot and the GCI Chief Controller. Intercepting fighter aircraft were then vectored to within a few miles of the approaching enemy aircraft, which were known as Bogeys. It was at this point that the vectored fighter aircraft’s own radar became effective, would be able to pick up the enemy aircraft’s position and close in until a visual sighting of the bogey was secured.
An interesting ‘Combat Report’ regarding an interception by RAF Ripperston, can be viewed here by clicking on the link above.
In 1984 Sqd. Ldr. John Kemp (Retd.) in correspondence with Malcolm Cullen of Marloes added the following information about Ripperston. In 1942–43 the station had a compliment of approximately 50 personnel.
R.C.A.F. (Royal Canadian Air Force) Personnel
U.S.Army Engineers Signal Corps. Personnel
Free Fighting French Personnel.
The station operated 24/7 with a 3 watch system. The mobile/intermediate radar system had an approximate 45 mile range / radius. Work started on the new Type 7 radar chamber along with the foundations for the Operations Room and Admin. Wing in July 1942.
Significant historical information regarding RAF Ripperston was also given to me by Chris Morshead, former curator of Air Defence Radar Museum Neatishead
“After Ripperston was initially set up as a mobile GCI unit in 1941, it evolved into an intermediate site during which time some of the vehicles, including the Operations Van, would have been replaced by Nissan Huts. At some time during the later part of 1942 or early 1943, Ripperston was designated to be one of the first 9 ‘Final’ GCI Sites. As such, it was due to become operational as a ‘Final’ site, on 16th Jan 43, as a sister site to RAF Neatishead which had itself become Operational in its “Final” guise in Dec 1942.”
From the records I have amassed so far, although RAF Ripperston remained fully operational as an intermediate site throughout this period, it would appear that the operational status of being classified as a ‘Final’ GCI station was delayed until later in 1943.
Ripperston operated as a ‘Final’ GCI Station for the remainder of the War. In March 1950 it was decided that Ripperston would become one of the Phase II ROTOR Radar Stations and, by Dec 1950, it had reverted to being in a State of Readiness, pending its upgrade.
The next period of time was complicated, with many decisions being made and then changed. In sequence, the following changes were planned then adjusted.
Initially, after further rationalisation in Feb 1951, it was decided not to upgrade Ripperston. Instead, it was decided that RAF St. Twynells would be used as part of ROTOR and would receive a ‘remoted signal’ from RAF Ripperston. All that would remain at RAF Ripperston was the Type 7 Radar, its underground bunker housing the Transmitter and Receiver and limited accommodation for people on Duty. It was intended that all operations would then be controlled from RAF St. Twynells. This plan was confirmed at a site conference at RAF St Twynells in Aug 1951.
- However, by 1952, new Type 80 Radar was being developed. It had an expected range of over 200 miles, and, once in place, would make a number of ROTOR Stations redundant, RAF St Twynells (and thus RAF Ripperston) being amongst them.
- The planned upgrade to RAF St Twynells would still proceed, with a planned completion date of 1954, in order to ensure radar coverage over the SW Approaches/Bristol Channel, pending the rollout of the Type 80 programme. The link with RAF Ripperston remained to facilitate this although the exact status of RAF Ripperston is hard to establish as both sites would have been non-operational at this time. Certainly RAF St Twynells was out of service. Ripperston was likely to be still at a State of Readiness or maybe downgraded to a State of Care and Maintenance, pending the completion of RAF St Twynells’ upgrade.
- Further complications, however, brought about another change of plan. Problems with the supply of equipment meant that systems bound for RAF St Twynells were diverted to other sites, predominantly along the East Coast and, by 1955 only limited work was being undertaken at RAF St Twynells. The planned ‘in service’ date of the Type 80 Radar at RAF St Twynells was now slated for 1957, just two years away; added to which, the need for RAF St Twynells itself was now being questioned and in January 1956, work finally ground to a complete halt at RAF St Twynells.
- In Feb 1957, the Air Staff announced that only 12 Type 80 Radars would be rolled out pending the results of the “1958 Plan”. RAF St Twynells was not to be one of those and so, effectively, RAF St Twynells and, by implication RAF Ripperston, were, indeed, classified as redundant.
- Although the “1958 Plan” included potential for RAF St Twynells as a satellite Radar Station, the idea never progressed further and, apart from some GEE H work, the site was never further developed. It is believed that RAF Ripperston would have been fully decommissioned sometime late in 1958.”
After this period ended, the Ripperston site and land was handed back to the farm. The buildings were crudely converted into farm utilities with the former administration wing housing over 200 pigs. If you would like to read and view our
page, you will see details and photographs of how the site was returned, through an extensive programme of repairs and renewals, to its former glory.
Sources and acknowledgements, listed in chronological order of discovered history of RAF Ripperston – with my thanks to
- Unknown gentleman from midlands who whilst on holiday in Pembrokeshire knocked on my door circa summer early 2000’s. After a quick guided tour of the overgrown and dilapidated site, he told me that the buildings were of a former WWII Radar station. He also directed my thoughts towards investigation of the various internet Radar and Subbrit websites; we should really like him to get in touch, in order that we might thank him for his interest, should he read this.
- Chris Morshead, former curator of Air Defence Radar Museum Neatishead, bizarrely, my former station where I was in RAF service myself as a Radar Technician.
- Various files at the National Archive (Operations Record Book) 1943 to 1946, note that we are still trying to find the ORB’s from 1941 to 1943. Any information will be gladly appreciated.
- Steve Jones, Port Talbot author (Fallen Flyers) and historian.
- Malcolm Cullen of Marloes, local historian plus loan of his local WW2 photographic collection.
- Betsy Deblois, Rhode Is. USA, for supplying a transcript of her late Father’s memories of war time experiences, Second Lt. Steven W. DeBlois, U.S. Engineers Signal Corps. Who was stationed at RAF Ripperston from 1942 – 1943 and later served under General Eisenhower as his chief radar officer.
- Squadron Leader John Kemp (deceased) author (Off to War with “054”) who was the second Commanding Officer for RAF Ripperston 1942-1943.
- Pembrokeshire Under Fire by Bill Richards.
- T. Pearce author (Operation Wasservogel the Final Raid on Swansea)
- Subbrit.org information on RAF Sopley
- Imperial War Museum history on GCI Radar Stations
- Eileen Younghusbands book “One Women’s War”
- RAFFCA (Royal Air Force Fighter Control Association); Tim Willbond Gp Capt. Rtrd. and Grant Grafton Sqn Ldr Rtrd. for providing historical information of GCI Stations and flow charts on the “Dowding System”.
- Mike Dean Sqn Ldr Rtrd. for providing invaluable historical information regarding RAF Ripperston, helping to fill in the gaps in and our missing station records from 1941 to 1943 from alternative sources; 78 Wing and No. 125 Newfoundland Sqn. records from RAF Fairwood Common.
AND WITH THANKS
To all those generous and interested visitors who have contributed war time family artefacts thereby enhancing the 1940’s atmosphere.
Note: In order for appropriate editorial content, I have taken the liberty to pick out key points from all of the information that I have been donated and researched and then presented it in a chronological manner.
We are continually adding to this page as we gather more and more information from our visitors, many of whom have tales to tell.
PLEASE CONTACT US WITH ANY INFORMATION YOU HAVE, HOWEVER REMOVED YOU MIGHT THINK IT IS – (it might lead us further through more research).
THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST AND HELP
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