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Chapter 6 - RAF Hope Cove and RAF Sopley

Training commenced at RAF Hope Cove, Fighter Control Course (No 76), in October 1957, using Type 7 and 14 radars. The operations block was a wartime "Happidrome" (39) an above ground structure that was often shrouded in sea mist. The best description I can find of a "Happidrome" appears in the 7th issue of the C&R Bulletin published in October of 1964. There were apparently two generations of the device, an "Intermediary" which I believe to have been the forerunner of the "Finals", which in turn became known as the "Happidrome". These were used for the updating of convoys in 1940 in order to conform with a system utilising radars at Sopley. I quote from a C&R Bulletin from 1945 ".....a provisional design having been settled, six new convoys, production models, were on the way. At the same time, for improving the low cover six transportables with 35ft gantries had been put in hand. These were the fellows that used gantries with the 35ft aerial above and a 10ft aerial below, with power turning. The gantries were mounted on concrete slabs and a new vehicle, a control cabin for the power turning was added to the convoy. We never discovered who thought of calling these transportable". There is a further insight into where the name "Happidrome" in the Royal Air Force Air Defence Radar museum Newsletter No 21 dated October 1999. I quote, "During the war there was a comedy radio programme about an imaginary variety theatre called the "Happidrome". The first show was broadcast on 9 Feb 41 and featured as manager, "Mr Lovejoy" played by the Arcadian Follies star Harry Korris, with Ramsbottom as stage manager played by Cecil Frederick and the useless call boy, "Enoch" played by Robbie Vincent. The show ran for 52 weeks, closing on 8 Feb 42. It was brought back for two further series in 1943 and 1947. It concerned a variety theatre where everything went wrong and nobody seemed to know what was going on. It was not long before those in the know about RDF realised the similarities between the radio programme and the new Final GCI installations, and the brick operations buildings were dubbed Happidromes. Today's equivalent would appear to be Faulty Towers, but who would dare to suggest that any RAF station equated to that wonderful TV establishment? Certainly not me.

The description goes on to give the locations of many of the sites including, Langtoft, Hack Green, Comberton, Avebury, Wrafton, Hampston Hill, St Quivox, Dirleton, Northstead and believe it or not Neatishead! The report records pertinently, " Not all of these operations had customers, but those that did shot them down."

In 1958 the School was honoured when Her Majesty, The Queen, authorised the SFC crest. The crest depicts a Pointer dog superimposed on the torch of learning and has the motto "Disce ut Dirigas" which translates as "Learn in order you may guide." (40) On 18 May 58 there was a further gigantic step forward when the first course for Fighter Controllers including SNCOs commenced at Hope Cove.

Apart from the above, little of importance appears to have taken place during the very short stay at Hope Cove except perhaps we should note the nominal role for 83 Fighter Controllers Course:

Sgts MacNeill JH

Kemp DR

Johnson AW

Moore K

Riddock WC

Hunter A

Galbraith A

Wetherell I

I trust some of those names will ring bells with many readers of this history. Certainly "Lofty" Wetherell should be remembered by students who attended the School at RAF Bawdsey for the adept use of the clipboard as an instrument of chastisement!

A quote from the Hope Cove unit report for Nov 57, described " Exercise "Iron Bar" which was held against the USAF B47s (41). Fourteen targets were seen by this unit and all were intercepted by Hunters (42) of RAF Chivenor, which were controlled by the instructional staff of RAF Hope Cove."

This happy event was followed by yet another change in policy and, as Hope Cove closed, the School was moved to RAF Sopley on 31 October 1958.

The facilities at RAF Sopley were much more modern. The main radar was the centimetric Type 80 (43) and the operations block was an underground R3 bunker. (44). As with Middle Wallop the School at Sopley was destined to remain open for only a short period; it was disbanded on 18 April 1960. The last course to be trained at Sopley was Course (No 100) which was completed on 18 Mar 60. Two reasons are put forward to explain the disbandment. In 1957 a Duncan Sandys (45) White Paper concluded that the days of the manned bomber and fighter were over and that the United Kingdom's defence would rest purely on the employment of guided missiles. With no need for fighters, it followed there was no longer a role for controllers. A forecast that turned out to be a touch inaccurate! Secondly, during 1959, a committee was set up to look at the manning of the Branch. They concluded that it was far too over-manned and that there was no requirement to train any more controllers. As a consequence of these two events the School closed down. Had the Fighter Control Branch been over-manned, it would, indeed, have been a first! The Branch therefore trimmed itself down through natural wastage of personnel. Two years later, during 1961/62 a new committee was convened, to re - examine the manning of the FC Branch. They quickly realised that the 1959 study had completely omitted to include the Branch's overseas establishment. In reality, therefore, the Branch was in a desperate manning plight. It might be interesting to discover what effect the omission of the fighter controllers posted overseas might have today? Hands up all who think it would make little or no difference!

An interesting entry from the Sopley records of March 1960 stated, "All training equipment, material and records which might be of value, should the School re-open at some future date, are being put in safe custody." In the event, the School was re-established in great haste as the School of Control and Reporting, another name change, at RAF Bawdsey, in January 1964 and was housed in one of Watson-Watts original laboratories. The rationale behind the closure of the School in the late 50s and early 60s was undeniably questionable. The effect of that decision, however, had a pronounced and lasting effect. At no time since the early 60s has the Branch been in manning balance.

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