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Project Nassau

Page history last edited by Ian Gillis 1 month ago Saved with comment





Input by John Brown

In October 1959, after having set up a demonstration system at Rivenhall for the NATO Norwegian project, Peter Max, Chief of the Systems Group, called me in to his office, and briefed me on a new requirement for an air defence system for South Africa. The political sensitivities of the time required that the project was highly secret. Peter sketched out the operational requirements  and asked me to undertake the task of writing the Company’s proposal. An input to the system would be a GW system (Thunderbird) being produced by English Electric, Stevenage; Peter and I liaised with them, and agreed the technical interface. I later passed the draft proposal to him and subsequently he flew out to South Africa in 1960, and following a great deal of discussion with the MoD in Pretoria, which changed some of the system arrangements, he returned to Chelmsford with an ITP (instruction to proceed) for about £3M.

Incidentally, I can recall that after having briefed Dr Straker, the Divisional Manager, Peter called me in to his office to tell me about his visit, and the changes to the our original proposal;  he was still chuckling from Dr Straker's groan, who had himself only just returned from Helsinki with a major order for defence radar: ''I don't know how we're going to cope with your new business on top of what we have got already!’’.

As I then became busy with the NATO system design the work was picked up by John Gorton, our Military System Chief, and in 1961 Alec Stewart was tasked with the South African system, which was now called Project NASSAU, and detailed work started in 1962. That really was a golden era for Radar Division.


Entry by Ian Gillis:



"Nassau" has nothing to do with the Bahamas. In Cape Town the "Castle of Good Hope" is a pentagonal fortification with sides named "Leerdam", followed in clockwise order by "Buuren", "Catzenellenbogen", "Nassau" and "Oranje" - all titles of Willem, Prince of Orange. This South African project was named after the fourth side - fortunately "Catzenellenbogen" was not chosen! The roundel of the South African Air Force is based on the distinctive shape of the castle plan.


No1SRSThe initial Marconi contribution to Project Nassau was a Mobile Operations Vehicle which led to Project Nassau Phases I and II, a static sector control system comprising three control and reporting stations (SRS1, 2 & 3) and a sector control centre (NADS) each with an S247 surveillance and an S244 height-finder. The SCC had a redundant Myriad computer system with two 32K (24-bit word) Myriads for intercept control and weapon assessment, an 8K for inter-trace marking and a 4K for auto-follow, each SRS had a Myriad. The system design phase during the sixties was handled by Alec Stewart's Systems Section of Military & Naval Projects Group which dealt with non-MOD, non-NATO military business. Cyril Froggatt was the project chief systems engineer, supported by Bill Whale, Ian Gillis, Gordon Cutler, Robin Bandy, Roger Marshallsay, Robin Bandy and Jim Hogan.


The project was a turnkey contract so there was extensive liaison on the buildings and underground bunkers with the civil consultants and the suppliers of ancillary communications equipment.


In those days the rôle of the systems engineer was essentially one of "customer's friend" - ensuring that the project specifications that we wrote met his operational specifications - that we helped to draft. The hardware design was one of listing standard production hardware, designing its interconnection in principle and passing it to installation design at Church Green to design the cabling and racking - most equipment was in the form of standard 15 3/8" rack-mounting panels. However many of the display console housings and control panels were relatively complex designs which were drawn by the installation drawing office at Church Green. Installation Design personnel at Church Green working on Nassau were Tom Bainbridge and initially Jim Hogan who later moved to Systems, the Installation Drawing Office people I remember were Tony Desmond, Alan Butt, Bernard Watkinson, Bill Raistrick, Gordon Watts, Alan Thorogood, Tony Fewell, Roy Lye and Johnny Hibble.


If the systems engineer encountered a function that couldn't be handled by existing standard equipment, then a specification in accordance with commercial procedure K239 was raised for the development. The dreaded unknown "software" was treated in the same way - fortunately we acquired Gordon Cutler who was fluent in software and Myriad User Code and could talk to "the programmers" - including Derek Laws and Peter Bain.


As the installation phase ramped up it was realised that Norman Faulkner and his installation team needed instant local support so Gordon Cutler and I were posted to site for a year or so, supported by the local Project Manager Derek Corbett and shorter visits from specialists. Later on I was the local man at the spectacularly-situated station in the Drakensberg mountains at Mariepskop during overall flight trials. It was good to see the system work as intended.



Currently Mariepskop hosts an AR-3D surveillance radar which feeds a sector control centre on the lowveld. The above picture shows the AR3-D at extreme left. The S247 surveillance antenna used to be above the nearby flat-roofed building and the HF200 height-finder used to be atop the cylindrical concrete tower in the background. (Photo Tom van der Meulen on Mariepskop Lovers Facebook Group.)


Entry by Peter Bain

As I understood it, Nassau Phase 1 provided the original above-ground sites at Devon, Mariepskop, Mafeking & Ellisras. This included the radars, height-finders, PPIs, teleprinter based text displays, & a TAC based D&DH system.

The MOVs were a later contract between Phase 1 & Phase 2. It was a Myriad based mobile D&DH system.

The Phase 1 consoles were moved to the satellite sites in Phase 2. The teleprinters were replaced by VDUs post Phase 2.


Entry by Cyril Froggatt

I was involved in "Project Nassau" from its inception pretty well to its end, and after much attempting to "access my archive memory data base" (i.e scratching my head) plus digging through old papers, have come up with a reasonably accurate story of the various phases.

Project Nassau was a large multi-radar air defence system covering the northern half of the Republic of South Africa (NADS – Northern Air Defence Sector). It consisted of a "Master Station", three "Satellite Radar Stations" and two "Mobile Operations Vehicles (MOV)". The MOV's were capable of being patched to either the static radar heads or to the existing mobile radar convoy sensors.

The project was broadly divided into two phases:-


Comprised a Master Station equipped with a S247 S & L band long range surveillance radar with a co-mounted IFF antenna, a S244 height-finder, an 18-display fixed coil system with inter-console marking (S2010), a Kelvin Hughes large-screen projector and IFF Mk10 interrogation facilities. A fighter interception system was also installed using a Marconi TAC computer which received inputs from the display systems, at both the Master Station and the satellites, and output interception commands to teleprinters at the various control positions (at master and satellite stations).

VHF ground-to-air and UHF ground-to-ground link facilities were also provided plus an extensive internal and external telephone installation. Power was provided by an on-site power station and all equipment was installed in above-ground prefab type buildings.

The three Satellite stations were provided with identical radar head equipment, except for the height-finder where an updated Type 13 was installed. The display system was pretty well the same as at the Master Station (but with only 10 display consoles and without the Kelvin Hughes projector), as was the power, communications and buildings.

Modifications were also made to the two existing mobile radar convoys, which were made up of high- and low-looking Type 14 S-band surveillance radars with a Type 13 height-finder and a three-console rotating coil display system. The displays were replaced with a fixed coil system.


Phase II of the Nassau project was mainly concerned with updating the display and data handling systems at the Master and satellite stations, the construction of a large three-storey underground bunker (complete with power supplies) and installing the new D & DH in the bunker plus the provision of a second height-finder (a Marconi S269).

The updated D & DH system (S3002?) virtually replaced the old, mainly manual one, with a much more automated scheme based on four Myriad computers at the Master station and one at each satellite. Plot extraction with auto tracking and sophisticated threat assessment, interception control and simulation facilities were available. A total of 24 marked display consoles/work stations were provided, some of which contained tabular displays for the display of tote and intercept information and CCTV monitors for weather data. The overall capacity of the system was in the order of 60 selected tracks and 14 simultaneous interceptions.

UHF G/A communications were added and the whole internal telephone system virtually replaced.


Two MOV's were provided, each containing a Myriad computer, D & DH equipment similar to the static system and 3 display consoles.

For further detail see The Project Nassau Mobile Operations Vehicle by Alan Matthews. 


Marconi were involved in a number of projects which where more or less associated with Project Nassau:-

Project ARUP – fitting of "squintless feeds" and S2018/S2019 diversity transmitters to the Master Station S247 surveillance radar.

Project Octave – the integration of SSR data from an on-site Plessey radar into the Master Station D & DH system and carrying out fight trials to prove its overall viability.

Provision of a transportable Operations container (a Locus 16 driven system with three display consoles providing tracking, threat assessment and intercept control facilities). This was integrated into a low-looking S Band transportable convoy supplied by ESD (the successor to Marconi South Africa). Marconi (or ex-Marconi) personnel were responsible for demonstrating the overall operational viability, including flight trials, of the convoy.


The complete project ran for a period of around ten years and was, in the majority of cases, organised as a "Turnkey Project" with Marconi as Prime Contractor. Quite a pleasant modus operandi was established almost from the start whereby the South African Air force would produce an outline specification, discuss it with Marconi South Africa and ourselves and together a detailed "Technical Specification" would be written (some people commented that a fair amount of the system design was produced in the "White Horse" at Great Baddow!).

Some of the people involved in Phase I:-
Alec Stewart, Jack Mayhew, Bill Whale, Cyril Froggatt, Gordon Hunter, Jim Hogan, Chris Peabody, Roger Patrick, Martin Davidson.

Phase II:-
Alec Stewart, Derek Corbet, Norman Faulkner, Ian Young, Jim Hogan, Ian Gillis, Cyril Froggatt, Ben Bingley, Roger Marshallsay, John Mumford, Peter Bain, Gordon Cutler, Don Bloomfield, Tom Bainbridge, Roger Patrick, Bob Donaldson, Brian Lewis.

Alec Stewart, Clive Gildersleeve, Alan Matthews, Cyril Froggatt, Peter Bain, Bob Donaldson, Brian Lewis.


Input from notes by A F Mayhew

1962 - Project Manager - others involved were Len Firmin, Alec Stewart, David Simmons (MD MSA), Peter Max

1965 - Phase I completed

1967 - Phase II contract signed

1972 - Phase II handed over


Related web sites

Contemporary satirical view by Ian Gillis.

Photos of the 1SRS Mariepskop site.

Photos of the 3SRS Mafeking (Mafikeng) site

A Page for the Marconi-SAAF Tactical Military Radar

The Mariepskop Pass - a video of the drive up and down, including the Klaserie waterfall.

Voetspore in Suid-Afrika - a video of a tour starting at Mariepskop and continuing to the Blyde River Canyon and Dullstroom.

Mariepskop 50 years on




Comments (3)

Ian Gillis said

at 2:41 pm on Feb 14, 2016

Page checked

Jan Venter. said

at 1:02 pm on Oct 24, 2018

Project Octave: The Plessey IFF was replaced by the Monopulse Messenger System, S470,and is still in use.

Jan Venter. said

at 1:49 pm on Feb 22, 2019

The Marconi S470 MSSR antenna is visable on the Mariepskop photo above, just to the right of the flat top building

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