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Chapter 5 - RAF Middle Wallop

The S of C&R did in fact re-open at Middle Wallop on 1 Feb 48 and the first Fighter Controllers Course (No 9) commenced on 2 March 1948 using Spitfire Mk16s and Oxfords for live training. The UK Control and Reporting system still consisted of a large proportion of the units which existed at the end of World War II, with a considerable number being overseas; a far cry from today's situation. Radars in front line service ranged from the ageing Chain Home (CH) equipment, through metric static radars such as the Type 7, to centimetric Type 14 search radar (25) the latter eventually incorporated a "look high, look low" facility whereby on the first sweep it would paint the air picture and on the second would scan the surface, a particularly useful attribute when conducting range firing, and used extensively at RAF Hartland Point in Devon for many years. The main height finder of the period was the Type 13 (26) and still in service was the Type11 Chain Home Low (CHL) (27) and the Type 54 Chain Home Extra Low (CHEL) (28), a distinctive piece of equipment as it stood atop a 200ft tower and was frequently used to assist the coastguard with the search for lost shipping or vessels in distress. The only mobile radar was the Type 15 (29), a metric radar that was transported in several containers and was used as the main question provider for Promotion Examinations for airmen. A typical question: "You are detached with a Type 15 radar to a site at 54 degrees 30 minutes north, 1 degree 50 minutes west. Describe the method you would use to construct a video map mask displaying GEOREF for the PPI console?" GEOREF, standing for geographical reference system, had replaced all other grids for use in fighter control, i.e. the National Grid and Military Cassini. GEOREF is based roughly on latitude and longitude but with its point of origin being the 180-degree meridian at the South Pole as opposed to the point of origin of Lat and Long being the Point where the Greenwich meridian meets the equator. All answers to the question posed above on a postcard to OC SFC!

Track production from the many and diverse inputs available were demanding tasks. So it is hardly surprising that the "R" in "C&R" was the prerogative of specialist SNCOs called Radar Supervisors. These were made up of Radar operators who were promoted to become supervisors and who were trained at Bawdsey along with the radar operators and fighter plotters, the former Clerk SD plotters, both of whom were also trained at Yatesbury. The importance of the position can best be demonstrated by the fact that it was once held by no other than Air Commodore Joan Hopkins WRAF (Retd) when she was a SNCO. Control was the responsibility of the Interception Controllers but to qualify they also had to demonstrate an adequate capability in "Filtering". Both Radar Supervisors and Controllers were supported by airmen and airwomen of the Fighter Plotter and Radar Operator trade groups, later to become Air Defence Operators and, eventually, the Aerospace System Operators of today.

It can be seen that the Middle Wallop School had a considerable task in supporting the front line and to do this it was divided into two main areas. "A" Site consisted of a mobile radar convoy containing a Type 15, Type 14 and Type 13, situated on the edge of the airfield and occupied with interception control practical training. "B" Site was located in the old Sector Operations Room off the airfield in the village of Middle Wallop and which was comprised of a mock Filter Centre and lecture rooms wherein Radar Supervisors and Fighter Plotters were trained. This area was also used for the theoretical aspects and track production work in the training of the Interception Controllers. Most instructors at the school were "converts" from other Branches (mainly aircrew), as was a large element of the student population. The majority, however, were National Servicemen who, in the early years, attended the course as airmen. Successful graduation from the School as Interception Controllers enabled these cadets to savour the delights of the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU) wherein the rigours of initial airman training ("square bashing") were repeated, only more so. At a later stage, OCTU was attended first and National Servicemen arrived at the School as Acting Pilot Officers. The Oct 53 records highlight an unusual occurrence, "Twenty three officer cadets of No 35 Fighter Control Course were commissioned on this station, on completion of their course. This is the first occasion on which this action has been taken by the station." These students had commenced training on 23 Aug 53.

Foreign nationals trained at Middle Wallop included students from Norway, India, Belgium and France; some British Army personnel were also trained. Subjects covered by visiting lecturers included titles such as, "Royal Observer Corps", "Night Fighter Ops", "VHF Signals Organisation", "Radio Counter Measures", "High Speed Interceptions" and "AA Defence", and visits included the stations at Sopley, Westcliff, The Verne, Ringstead, HMS Dryad and 11 Gp. As was usual throughout most of the history of the School, instructors were used in the support of other units during major exercises. This tradition is still practised today, in addition to the School's standby Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) role.

Aircraft used for live training included, Austers (30), Oxfords (31) and Spitfires (32). The Oxfords were solely for the use of FCC&RS; almost the role of No 100Sqn today.

Fighter Control life at Middle Wallop established a routine and challenges which, in many ways continue to this day. The early training, because of the alien nature of the subject matter and the lack of a frame of reference against which it could be understood, mostly bewildered new entrants to the RAF. However, notwithstanding their better background knowledge, the "converts" from other branches did not fare much better and in the end it was the existence or otherwise of aptitude that dictated success or failure. It may surprise many of the modern day controllers, who believe they invented everything new under the sun, that the first 3 ship bat-and-ball sorties were first introduced in Jan 51 at the S of C&R to provide up to 50% more intercepts.

In Feb 52 Fighter Plotter training moved from Bawdsey to Middle Wallop S of C&R. Later in the same month Middle Wallop, including the S of C&R, was transferred from 11 Gp control to 81 Gp and on 20 Jun 53 the radar supervisor training moved from Bawdsey to Middle Wallop and became the third Sqn of the S of C&R.

Until May 1953, Practice Interception (PI) flying was undertaken by the Oxfords and Spitfires based at Middle Wallop. Thereafter, Balliols (33) of No 228 Sqn, (fondly remembered by latter day controllers as the Phantom OCU sqn), replaced the Oxfords. Pilots of these aircraft were a mixed bunch. Some of them were frustrated ex-wartime pilots who hailed from Poland and Czechoslovakia and woe betide any student controller who upset them others were of the home grown variety. One of the joys of being collocated meant any disputes were quickly ironed out. It was also essential to obtain the full support of the staff airwomen and airmen radar operators and fighter plotters, otherwise training exercises could collapse in utter chaos.

With PI aircraft departing from Middle Wallop, both students and instructors had considerable difficulty in acquiring aircraft on the metric Type 15 radar. For the uninitiated, the Type 15 produced radar responses on the controller's display (34) that covered an arc of some 10 degrees and were about 2 miles thick! There was inadequate processing to assist the controller in identification and accuracy of interceptions.. Extensive permanent echoes from ground clutter swamped the aircraft responses and the slow speed of the Oxfords merely exacerbated the controller's problems and led to much frustration. Graduation onto the centimetric Type 14 and Spitfires elicited many a sigh of relief. Most frustrating of all were the electro-mechanical devices used to produce simulated responses on the Plan Position Indicator (PPI), known to staff and students as 'crabs' because of the blips unpredictable, involuntary jumps sideways which always seemed to happen in the closing stages of an interception (an early form of "Viffing"?) At RAF Madalena in Malta, for instance, if the controller allowed the simulated responses to close within 15 miles of Luqa airport they would land themselves automatically! The undoubted highlight of the course for impressionable students was the "Bomber Affiliation" exercises when Spitfires were used to intercept the lumbering Lincoln Bombers (35).

Whilst the Type 15 gave students palpitations, for most of them the Track Production Filter Table exercises were a positive ordeal. Simulated plots rapidly arrived at the table from CH sites, swiftly followed by Type 7 radar plots requiring correlation with those derived from CH. All the time, however, under one's elbow, and therefore invariably unnoticed, plots from short range and low-level centimetric radars were being deposited on the table and also required incorporation into the recognised air picture. If satisfactory relations had previously been established with the WRAF plotters around the table, surreptitious prompts were received. The later routine of commissioning cadets before attendance at the School made such liaisons more difficult and could, arguably, have contributed to a lowering of the pass rate! All these events had to be achieved under the eagle eye of the petite but redoubtable Sgt Beaulieu, WRAF. She ruled the Ops Room with a rod of iron and apparently led U/T Controllers around by their headset leads. Certainly the Track Production exercises engendered in some Interception Controllers a healthy respect for the expertise of the Radar Supervisors.

To complete this snapshot of the School at Middle Wallop, a few words on course visits to operational C&R stations might be appropriate. No 19 Course was held in the period September to December 1951. This period was before the post-war upgrade of the C&R system that did not commence until 1953 under the Rotor Plan. The sites visited were therefore largely as they had been at the end of the war. The students were taken to view Wartling GCI station in Sussex where the operations and radars were situated in the marshes between Pevensey and Bexhill; the main radar was the Type 7. Two other units visited were the satellite CHL site at Fairlight Glen near Hastings and Ringstead CH in Weymouth Bay. However, the most intriguing visit of all was to the Verne CHEL site located in HM Prison, Portland (36). Indeed, when one proud National Serviceman informed a prison officer that the RAF visitors were all to become officers, he received the reply, "Don't worry, we have a wing commander in here already!" Apparently, he was an ex-accountant who liked to gamble on the horses.

After a particularly successful couple of courses the unit report for May 1951 had the following entry, "The Station Commander is a little perturbed concerning the continued success of all pupils and the possibility of hampering the Fighter Control Branch with Controllers who may not be temperamentally suitable for controlling duties".......... (the OC School does a neat sidestep).......... "Here it must be emphasised that all courses are 'basic' and the responsibility of passing a controller as operational does not lie with the School but with the controller's Sector might well be that an advanced course, perhaps after six months of passing the basic course, may be the correct answer." What a novel idea!

In response to a plea for anecdotes in the FCA Bulletin I received the following input from a retired Wg Cdr; I quote verbatim:

"Feb - Apr No. 40 Course Middle Wallop. (34 "courses" in RAF, mostly A2 passes but this was my only B2). One of a bunch of 'senior' Flt Lts converting to FC and therefore rivals to more junior instructors. One expert, decorated navigator was given a poor result for Nav. and Met! CO was Wg Cdr Trollope and after final lecture on Friday, we all lined up in cars with a starter (white hanky) to return to our loved ones when the Senior Instructor said we could go! We "all" flew in the Balliol a/c which were used for our PI training. Went on to become the senior (and therefore, most passed over for promotion, Wg Cdr in FC Branch!). 42 years service (9yrs GD Air; 33 GD/FC!). Positively the worst course I have ever attended! But I enjoyed most of my 42 yrs 1944 to 1986 and am still practising to become a civilian!" The letter was dated 31 Mar 98 and signed by Don Cameron with the following annotation.........( Wg Cdr (ret'd) 190444. President of the Champion Branch of the RAFA).

Ah well, you can't win them all! Perhaps if the good Wg Cdr were to try again he would find it a far more pleasant experience at RAF Boulmer.

In 1956 the Radar Supervisor element of the School transferred to RAF Bawdsey and 1957 saw radical changes in organisational policy which led to the decision to transfer RAF Middle Wallop to the Army Air Corps. After the completion of Fighter Control course (No 75), the School of Control and Reporting was disestablished on 30 September 1957 and was split into two separate units. The former Fighter Control Squadron was transferred to RAF Hope Cove near Salcombe on the South Devon coast and was renamed the SFC. The Fighter Plotting Squadron remained at Middle Wallop until March 1958 when its function was transferred to the new School of Air Defence Operating at RAF Compton Bassett in Wiltshire. At this stage Radar Operators (ADO Trade Group 12) were also trained at RAF Compton Bassett with only Radar Filterers and servicing tradesmen being trained at Yatesbury and Bawdsey. Compton Bassett also operated as a radio School.

Continue to the next part of the history ......