Radar Museum spots top secret frontline
PUBLISHED: 16:14 23 May 2011
Its one of the lowest points in Norfolk and a place has seen its fair share of history from the earliest days spotting incoming Nazi bombers to its top secret nuclear bunker. ROWAN MANTELL finds out more about RAF Neatishead Air Defence Radar Museum.
For decades it was so secret it was not marked on maps and its entrance was hidden beneath a guard-room disguised as a bungalow.
Down a staircase, specially designed to absorb the shock-waves from a bomb blast, lies a complex of underground rooms. From this bunker, built to survive a nuclear attack, the third world war might have been fought.
Through the Cold War decades when nuclear war was an ever-present threat, the staff at RAF Neatishead, near Horning, were at the front line.
From a bunker, built in the early 1950s beneath the north Norfolk air base, they scanned their screens for an enemy invasion.
These were the people who might have first spotted a nuclear attack and activated the famous four minute warning.
RAF Neatishead was at the front line of potential aerial warfare for more than 50 years. Its servicemen and women played a key role in the winning of the Second World War when its then new radar technology allowed enemy bombers to be tracked and RAF fighters called in to intercept them. But it wasn’t until the end of the Cold War meant that the secret story of Neatishead could finally be told.
Up at ground level the operations building which housed the radar equipment until 1993 was converted into a museum in 1994. The radar operations room moved down to the bunker for a decade.
But in 2004 the entire bunker was decommissioned and put up for sale. Today one of the few people who goes down regularly is Norwich chartered surveyor Bill Knight.
He is the agent for the West Midlands property company which now owns the bunker and is hoping to find an occupier.
“I do find it absolutely fascinating,” he said. “Obviously there is no natural light or windows but it’s not at all eerie. It feels more like the set of a James Bond movie, or being on a submarine. It’s absolutely massive with these huge blast doors. The whole thing was designed to withstand a nuclear bomb. Two hundred people could have lived down here.”
Another man who knows the bunker well is Doug Robb, manager of the Air Defence Radar Museum at RAF Neatishead. He was originally based here as senior warrant officer.
For four years he worked in the very building the museum now occupies, and then moved to the underground bunker
when the operations room was relocated.
“Even above ground, a radar operations room has no windows, so being underground made very little difference, you just get used to it,” he said.
In the atmospheric Cold War operations room it’s as if servicemen and women have only just left their seats – and will race back if the early warning system sounds to signal a nuclear attack...
t RAF Air Defence Radar Museum opening hours are from 10am-5pm with the final free guided tour setting off at 3pm, £5, £3.50 teenagers, £1.50 children, under-7s free, 016 2 631485, www.radarmuseum.co.uk