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No 8 Group Coventry

CROCA (Ashbourne Section) visits in June and July 2000


Ashbourne Section - Two visits in June

In June, the Section made two very different visits. The first of these was organised through Severn Trent plc to the Derwent Dam in Derbyshire. Most readers will not need to be reminded that the Dam was used during the Second World War by the Dambusters Squadron for low level flying and aiming practice, in preparation for the raids on dams in Germany. Derwent Dam was chosen since it bore a close resemblance to one of the targets, the Mohne Dam.

After meeting our guide at the nearby Visitors' Centre, we drove up to the West Tower of the dam. As we crossed the short walkway, we were able to see the two memorials to the members of 617 Squadron, erected during the 1990's. Inside the tower, we looked round the impressive Dambusters' Exhibition which has been assembled through the initiatives of a Sheffied businessman, Vic Hallam. It includes photographs, models, a bouncing bomb replica, miscellaneous equipment, uniforms etc. Another display in the tower tells the history and construction of the dams (Derwent is one of three - the other two are Howden, started early in the twentieth century and Ladybower - not completed until after 1945). The construction of Howden and Derwent took many years and a self-contained community, complete with school and hospital was set up to house the workers and their families. All traces of this disappeared with the dams' completion.

From the exhibition, we descended down over two hundred steps to the base of the tower to one of the valve chambers and were also able to emerge on to a small platform at the base of the dam. On re-entering, we went along the tunnel which stretches the length of the dam (over three hundred metres) to the East Tower and its valve chamber. The tunnel is just over six feet tall but very narrow so one-way traffic was necessary !

Our second visit also took us into the Peak District and, again, had German connections -this time, a relic of the post-war partition of Germany.

When East Germany (the DDR) was set up, it was cut off to a very large extent from Western materials and know-how. The authorities realised the need for affordable private transport and so issued orders for the development of a people's car along the lines of Hitler's "Beetle". It had to be simple, reliable, cheap, economical and carry a family of four and their luggage. The result was the Trabant with a transverse two cylinder two stroke engine and a 'composite' body made from compressed wood cellulose and wool fibres bonded with epoxy resin and compressed. Strange as it may seem, this recipe produced a very durable car body material.

But what's the connection with the Peak District ? Following German re-unification, many former DDR residents switched to more sophisticated vehicles but the Trabant has achieved something of a cult status amongst enthusiasts. One of the largest (if not the largest) private collections is in the hands of Graham Goodall at Middleton by Youlgreave. Graham is an ex-member of Ashover ROC Post and runs Trabant UK so, if you feel like buying a car with a difference, he is the man to see.

Our visit started with a detailed look at four representative specimens. The first, the original 1960 model, has a 600cc 20 BHP engine; by 1962, the engine had been bored out to 900cc, developing 26 BHP. Simple they certainly were with the fuel tank under the bonnet so that gravity feed meant no petrol pump and later models had separate coils and points for each cylinder so that if one failed, you could limp home on one cylinder.The engine itself has only five moving parts. Graham's 1962 model has a novel accessory - what appears to be a roof rack turns out to be a roof tent. A ladder swings down the rear of the car, a tent quickly erected on top and you spend the night a few feet off the ground.

By 1989, the body shape had been updated but the basic mechanics were still the same. Then the wall came down and one outcome was the Trabant 1.1, the 1989 model powered by a VW Polo engine; as you might imaginem the change in performance was somewhat dramatic. Graham's version is finished in an unusual metallic finish with the front half of the car orange, the rear blue !

After a wander round the ranks of parked cars - there must be sixty or more - we were taken to see his rare exhibit which is under cover. This is an original East German Border Patrol Kubelwagen, based on the standard Trabant. It looks something like a larger version of the Mini-Moke, with canvas top and sides, finished of course in khaki with the DDR symbol on the side. One interesting feature is the additional petrol tank under the bonnet which was used in conjunction with a petrol burning heater to keep the guards warm when they were parked without the engine running. Graham bought this complete with DDR army uniform and de-activated gun so makes quite a stir when he appears at shows with the vehicle.

Before we left, we saw one more unusual army vehicle - a six wheel drive, multi-fuel, eight litre covered lorry bought in 1962 for the East German Military Ordnance Survey Department. It soon became surplus to requirements as mapping by satellite became the norm and, when Graham bought it last year and drove it back to the UK, it only had two thousand five hundred miles on the clock. So, if you don't fancy a Trabby but want a real off-roader for Sainsbury's carpark, Graham would be happy to negotiate a price (but I can't guarantee that there'll be a discount for ROCA Members !) Jon Layne


In October 1957, the launch by the USSR of Sputnik I gave due warning to the Western Allies of the Eastern Bloc's potential to launch a missile attack on Europe and the USA. Consequently, by 1964, a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) had been constructed with Sites 1 and 2 at Thule in Greenland and Clear in Alaska and BMEWS 3 at Fylingdales on the North Yorkshire Moors.

The three massive "Golf Balls" became a familiar sight to holiday makers in the area; each one had a diameter of some 84 feet and housed a steerable radar scanner weighing about 112 tons. When members of 8 Group ROC visited Fylingdales in the 1980's, we were able to see these scanners and the impressive and rapid way in which they could lock on to any object in space which needed to be investigated. It has to be remembered that the path of any incoming missile had to be distinguished from the the paths of the many bits of space debris which were out there. This situation still applies today; the current catalogue of known objects is over 24000, ranging from complete space stations to discarded gloves and screwdrivers.

By the mid 1980's, it was realised that the system needed updating; although the Fylingdales radar had seen 28 years service, with only 13 hours unscheduled unserviceability, maintenance was becoming more difficult and more expensive. Moreover, with the growth of missile capabilities in other countries, the need for a wider radar cover was also recognised. It was decided to replace the steerable scanners with a "Solid State Phased Radar" or SSPAR which meant dismantling the "Golf Balls" and replacing them with a 120 feet high truncated pyramid with three faces . The irony of this was that when the "Golf Balls" had been erected in the 1960's, there had been major outcries about them being a blot on the landscape; now, there were moves to have them given listed building status to keep them as a permanent feature. Unfortunately, they had to go.

Ashbourne Section had been trying for some time to arrange another visit and, this year, our patience paid off. Unfortunately, the visit had to take place in the evening which made it difficult in view of the distance for some members to participate but a group of seventeen was assembled. We were particularly pleased that our former GC and DGC - Leslie Mitton and Mike Rose were there, together with Bill Deuchar (ex 15 Post and Seaborne) and Peggy Evans (also ex 15 Post) and Roger Pedley and Dave Taylor from 16 Group.

We assembled in the car park just off the Pickering-Whitby road and were soon checked on, first by the RAF Police, then by OC OPS, Squadron Leader Miller-Jones, who was our guide for the visit. A coach then arrived to take us to the guard room where we were issued with swipe-cards to admit us to the Pyramid. Our briefing took place in an impressive lecture theatre, OC OPS illustrating his talk with a computer controlled slide show on a massive back-projection screen (we found out later that you could also view Sky TV on it !). Then, after a coffee break, we were taken onto one of the floors directly behind one of the faces of the Pyramid. Each face has some 2560 fixed aerials, each pushing out 340 Watts of microwave energy (a total for the Pyramid of 2.5 Megawatts). The beam from each face can be sent in any desired direction by phasing the signal to individual aerials - this means that no moving parts are required and so reliability is improved. In view of the heat generated, there is a complex system of pipes to circulate cooling water to the arrays.

After that, our final point of call was the Control Room where teams of five personnel - each consisting of one Flight Lieutenant (Crew Commander) and four NCOs - maintain a twenty four hour watch. The main functions today are keeping tabs on the bits of space debris and on the function of the many satellites in orbit. This means, for example, that the Armed Services or commercial companies can obtain information as to when any of their activities will be free from space surveillance. The team on duty during our visit was a distinguished one. In 1999, it was the first non-American team to win the international space surveillance competition in the USA; this year, it was the first team to win for two years in succession.

Much of the monitoring is done automatically but, in addition, lists of priority objects are issued which are subject to specific scrutiny. In the event of of a "rogue object" being detected, the Crew Commander has to check within 60 seconds that there have been no human errors, no outside influences such as interference and no equipment problems. If the event is seen as "valid", then a warning is issued simultaneously to the UK and USA Command Centres. The set-up at Fylingdales is the only SSPAR system in the world with a full 360 degree cover. It has a range of some 3000 miles and can track 800 separate objects simultaneously.

We all came away knowing that, despite the distances involved, the visit had certainly been very worthwhile and it had been a great privilege to see inside what to most passers-by is a mysterious concrete edifice in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors.

Jon Layne Ashbourne Section CROCA (with thanks to Squadron Leader Miller-Jones (OC OPS) and other personnel involved at RAF Fylingdales and acknowledgements to information contained in the RAF Fylingdales Visitors' Information Booklet)

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