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Dunnet Head Radar Station

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Station buildings, 2008
Station buildings
© Jonathan Billinger

Dunnet Head Radar Station was a World War II radar station located on the peninsula of Dunnet Head, Caithness, on the extreme north coast of Scotland. The site lies adjacent to Easter Head, the most northerly point of mainland Great Britain (which is not the more popularly quoted John o'Groats).

Burifa Hill Gee Station was located in the top of the hill of the same name, less than one mile to the south.

Dunnet Head was the site of Admiralty Experimental Station No 6, the last of a series of six centimetric early warning (CEW) stations commissioned to defend the Fair Isle Channel against U-Boats. The stations were designated as Coastal Defence U-Boat (CDU), and were tasked with detecting both surface vessels and low flying aircraft out to a range of approximately 100 miles.

Chain Home Low operations block, believed pd by age
Typical Chain Home Low
Operations Block

The six Admiralty Experimental Stations stations included were:

  1. Fair Isle 1 - Ward Hill Radar Station Fair Isle
  2. Fair Isle 2 -
  3. South Ronaldsay - Ward Hill Radar Station South Ronaldsay
  4. 4 Saxavord - http://www.subbrit.org.uk/rsg/sites/s/saxa_vord/index.html
  5. Sumburgh -
  6. 6 Dunnet Head - this page

It seems that the Navy referred to Saxa Vord as Saxavord, and this spelling is found in most Navy references and can indicate the source of such material if it is not identified. The RAF appears to have consistently referred to Saxa Vord.

, 2005
Dunnet Head radar station seen
behind the ROC monitoring post
© J M Briscoe
Buildings, post and trig point, 2007
Buildings, ROC post
and trig point
© Chris Downer

Site visit by Subterranea Britannica

We are grateful to our friends at Subterranea Britannica for permission to reproduce the following details.

SiteName: Dunnet Head Coast Defence U-Boat (CDU) Radar Station
Dunnet Head, Caithness, Scotland
OS Grid Ref: ND204766

In late 1939 a scheme was proposed by Vice-Admiral Sir James Somerville to set up radar stations to cover the Fair Isle Channel against U-boats passing through the channel to or from the Atlantic; Somerville was appointed Director of Anti-Submarine Weapons and Devices in January 1940. In the spring of 1940 this scheme was extended to the north of Shetland and to the Pentland Firth. The six stations, known as Admiralty Experimental Stations, in this scheme were located at Sumburgh, Fair Isle (two stations), Saxavord, South Ronaldsay and Dunnet Head and were operated by the Royal Navy.

Dunnet Head, Admiralty Experimental Station No. 6, was the last to be constructed, work beginning in the summer of 1940 on high ground just to the south of the lighthouse. Like the others, Dunnet Head was a Coast Defence U-boat (C.D.U.) station, the naval version of the R.A.F.'s Chain Home Low (C.H.L.) radar which formed part of the early warning network round the coasts of Britain. The C.D.U. radar was able to track shipping and surfaced submarines to a distance of a few miles and could also detect aircraft at ranges of 100 miles or more, depending on the height of the aircraft. When erected, the station at Dunnet Head consisted of two separate huts, one for the transmitter and one for the receiver, with the aerial arrays mounted on gantries which straddled each hut. The aerial arrays were of the 'bedstead' type, so called because of their resemblance to mattresses. These aerial arrays were turned by hand, using a purpose built crank and gearbox in the manner of a bicycle with a chain running up through the roof to the aerial frame above. Following several months of construction work, A.E.S. 6 at Dunnet Head became operational in December 1940.

Operations Block with Gantry on the left hand, 2003
Operations Block with Gantry on
the left hand
© Nick Catford

With developments in radar technology it eventually became possible to transmit and receive using a single aerial array and this method of operation was carried out at Dunnet Head from May 1942. However, further improvements continued and a move into a single brick building with a single aerial array on a gantry and power-turned aerial took place in December 1942.

The naval chapter in the story of Dunnet Head came to an end in October 1943 when the station transferred to the Royal Air Force when it was designated Station 49B under 70 Wing RAF, being operated by them until the station closed down.

The radar station is described as 'caretaking' by the end of the war with its future also described as 'caretaking'.

The station had three radars, an AMES Type 2, 10cm AMES Type 30 (A CD1 Mk3 issued only to Admiralty stations) and a Type57 (AMES 14 Mk2 [T]).

During its operational lifetime, Dunnet Head plotted a number of enemy aircraft in the Orkney area as well as those over South Shetland and the Fair Isle passage, the latter generally meteorological reconnaissance of aircraft flying out into the North Atlantic.

In addition, tracks of some 35,000 friendly aircraft were plotted by the station during the three years it was operated by the Royal Navy.

Site interpretation by Nick Catford:

Dunnet Head is a public open space with free access to the radar buildings most of which are open. Five buildings remain on the site together with the underground Barrock Royal Observer Corps post built in 1959. The largest building is the operations block with four concrete bases at the western end which were the mountings for the 35' high gantry.

A short distance to the west is the power house and behind it the stand-by set house. The station was never connected to the mains supply so both these buildings would have housed a diesel generator. The stand-by set house has an open area to one side surrounded by a blast wall. The fuel tanks might have been located here.

South west of the operations block, at the end of a track is a building with double wooden doors that was obviously designed to house a vehicle so this was probably an MT shed. Close by a small building with a blast protected entrance was the IFF cubicle. The term IFF derives from the words 'Identification Friend or Foe. IFF allowed a radar operator to identify friendly aircraft. A transponder was fitted in the aircraft that responded to the signal from the radar station causing an udentifiable variation on the radar screen in the radar staion.

© Subterranea Britannica [1] [2]


1 Dunnet Head Coast Defence U-Boat (CDU) Radar Station

2 Dunnet Head Coast Defence U-Boat (CDU) Radar Station, site interpretation and pictures.

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Aerial views



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