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S259 Radar Anecdotes

Page history last edited by Ian Gillis 1 month, 1 week ago


A Pair of S259 Anecdotes from John Dell

Some years ago I was contacted by a David Eade who was writing a book about Wattisham. He was after anecdotes about the base. I sent him these two, the first one of which ended up in his book "RAF Wattisham - A Pictorial History" (ISBN 10: 0946958602 ISBN 13: 9780946958603)

"Hercules No Go" (1985)


There was a "secret squirrel" organisation based on the far side of the airfield that was at various times known as 1ACC, then TSSU/USST, then 144SU. Among the tasks it undertook was the deployment of a small fleet of mobile S259 (Type 95) radars, each of which could be towed into the back of a Hercules transport aircraft, to be flown anywhere in the world.

The team had been on the verge of being disbanded in 1982, but performed brilliantly in the Falklands war, enabling strategic radar cover to be established at Ascension and then in the Falklands itself. The AOC of Strike Command was known to be very fond of this team because of the good show they had put up in those difficult days.

On the eve of the AOC's inspection in 1985, a Hercules of the Royal Danish Air Force was visiting Wattisham. Someone had the bright idea of using the Hercules to lay on a display of the tactical withdrawal, under enemy fire, of one of these radars. There was no time for a dress-rehearsal, everything was expected to go OK. So, on inspection day itself, the AOC and other visitors found themselves watching from a wooden dais as one of these radars was packed together while thunderflashes went off around it. The radar was hitched to the back of a Land-Rover with the intention of running it up inside the Hercules, which was waiting, engines running, to taxi down the runway and simulate a take-off and getaway. All went well until the radar was run up the loading ramp of the Hercules; it would not go in! They ran it up and down the ramp four times in all; loading it into the back of a Hercules was something the team had done numerous times and they just could not understand why it would not go in. It turned out that internal fitments of a Royal Danish Air Force Hercules were such that the fuselage was some 4 inches narrower than an RAF Hercules; it was simply too narrow to accept the radar!
There were a lot of red faces, heaven knows what the visiting Danes thought of the episode.

"Sooty" (1983)

At this "Secret Squirrel" establishment, in 1983 known as TSSU/USST (It stood for Tinsmith-Slewc Support Unit /UKADGE Software Support Team; are you any the wiser?) was a small establishment where new technicians for the S259 Radars could be trained.

The Chief Instructor had a very novel way of making sure his students remembered their lessons; he had two glove puppets, a big Rod Hull "Emu" and a little "Sooty". The Emu would rap the hands of any student who was dozing off with a ruler and Sooty would trace out the current and signal paths on the huge circuit diagrams the students had to memorise. It may sound eccentric but it was certainly effective and most technicians who went through that training remember that instructor as one of the most able teachers that they ever came across.

The cabin that held the little S259 radar was very cramped and, when it came to practical demonstrations, there was barely room for three people inside. One day, this instructor was giving a demonstration of how to adjust a setting inside the radar cabinet. The student was making a bad job of it, so the instructor took the screwdriver off him with the words "Sooty could do better than that!". So the glove puppet was given the screwdriver and promptly disappeared into the innards of the transmitter to do the adjustment.

Just then the other student looked up and saw, framed in the doorway, the figure of AOC Strike Command, come to have a stroll around what was now one of his favourite units after its success in the Falklands war. The student stood to attention (as much as was possible in the low, cramped cabin) and nudged the other student who looked up, saw the AOC and did the same. Then they nudged the instructor, who promptly stood to attention, but with his hand still inside the transmitter cabinet.

Then slowly the head of Sooty appeared around the door of the cabinet; as if seeing the AOC, the puppet dropped the screwdriver and also stood to attention! The AOC just stared, then broke into a huge grin and walked away laughing…

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