Report - - RAF Ventnor ROTOR Bunker - Isle of Wight - 1992-2016 | Underground Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - RAF Ventnor ROTOR Bunker - Isle of Wight - 1992-2016


Regular User
“From Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent”
Winston Churchhill, March 1946

Towards the end of the second world war the leaders of America, Britain and the USSR - Allies against the defeted Nazi menace - met on the coast of the Black Sea to negotiate new borders across the continent of Europe. For the most part, the countries of Eastern Europe - those liberated by the Soviet Union, were brought under the totalitarian control of the communist parties with Western Europe maintaining democratic, and capitalist governance.

It was thought that peace would preside over Europe for at least a decade but during the following months the divisions between East and West quickly defined themselves and the Western leaders became increasingly suspicious of Stalin’s expansionist policies. Former allies had become foes. Churchill’s famous 1946 speech in Missouri was the first public use of the phrase ‘Iron Curtain’ and the following year US President Harry Truman committed to suppressing the communist expansion with the ‘Truman Doctrine’.

The Cold War was in full swing.

Throughout the Second World War, the main threat to Britain was invasion, but with the bombing of Hiroshima by nuclear means on the 6th of July 1945 the landscape of warfare was dramatically redrawn.

By 1949 the USSR had detonated its first atomic bomb and Britain now faced a new threat, that of nuclear weapons with the power to cause immediate devastation and leave millions dead and infrastructure debilitated.

The perceived threat was from Russian bombers carrying a nuclear payload; Near the end of World War Two some American B-29 Superfortress long range bombers had made an emergency landing in Siberia and the Russians had reverse engineered the aircraft. The TU-4 was brought into production.

The 1949 Cherry Report highlighted the risks of an air assault from the East by the TU-4 aircraft carrying freefall atomic weapons.
The report recommended a rapid redesign and improvement of the United Kingdom’s air defence systems under the program name ROTOR (Rehabilitation Of The Old Radars).

Wayne Cocroft and Roger Thomas' 'Cold War. Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1946-1989' (ISBN: 9781873592816) gives an exceptional overview of the conflict.

Operation ROTOR

At the end of WW2 the British Chain Home radar system had begun to be disassembled. Of the 200 plus stations only 36 remained on a skeleton staff.
Stage one of the ROTOR plan was to re-equip some of these stations with improved versions of equipment used in the War, codenamed Green Garlic.

RAF Ventnor was one of these sites and building commenced in 1951.
A Type 80 radar was to be positioned above ground and an underground control center to the R1 design was built and operational by 1956.

The depth of the excavation was 60 feet at it's deepest to allow for the PDU pit, where a Kelvin Hughes Photographic Display Unit sat projecting moving data from the radar onto a plotting table in the operations room above.

15000 cubic meters of concrete were pored in the construction of the 12 foot thick concrete walls and 10 foot thick floor. The bunker was waterproofed with asphalt and this was protected by brickwork and concrete slabs.

Nick McCamley's 'Cold War Secret Nuclear Bunkers' (ISBN: 8601404459801) and Nick Catford's 'Cold War Bunkers' (ISBN: 9780856440525) have a huge amount of information on the defence systems built at this time.

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Site plan showing bunker from RAF archives


Plan showing an identical R1 installation at Beachy Head

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A CAD model of the Type 80 merged with a modern drone shot, how the radar would have looked in 1956.

Technology rapidly expanded and with the new Linesman radar system the need for ROTOR protection became defunct. In 1959 the radar was redundant and the site passed to the Civil Aviation Authority for aircraft monitoring.

Although it had a short life the radar system and bunker exemplifies the exceptional minds and engineering prowess of the British at this time.
It still remained as a testament to the ingenuity in the face of threat that the empire had.

The CAA had no use for the underground facility and it was passed to the Isle of Wight County Council for use as a Wartime Headquarters and emergency planning locale, where the counties response to war or a disaster would be coordinated.

Duncan Campbell's 'War Plan Uk' (ISBN: 0091506719) is a tome of information on civil defence planning at this time and is highly recommended.

The bunker was decommissioned by the council in 1991, and sealed in 1994.

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Cap picture in '99 - stolen from sub brit, credit to Kevin Hasler

After a few enquiries I discovered that the council had the bunker photographed shortly after decommissioning. The photographs were taken by Dave Bryan, the Isle of Wight Councils Print Unit Manager for Lt Col Ian Appleton in August 1992.

And I managed to get a cd of the photos.


Many thanks to those two people for having the foresight to document it - These haven't been published in full before and I hope they don't mind the images being used here.

The Zone

My interest, and connection with the bunker is very deep. I’ve traveled the world and put myself in some very crazy situations due to my love for exploring forgotten locations and investigating the history hidden within them - and I have this small patch of earth that first piqued my interest to thank for that.

When I was young life was all about the party and the old Chain Home radar site on St Boniface Downs was the ideal location for our hedonistic raves. Generators and Turbosound speakers, dark Drum and Bass the nastiest Techno converged with great friends in the 5 room semi buried Receiver block on top of the downs. Far from the worries and dramas of early 20’s life.​

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One day a friend and I, fascinated by our rave destination, decided to investigate the rumours we had heard of further underground rooms.
This was back in the first decade of the century and information was harder to come by; rumours of a 3 story underground hospital, with lifts intact abound.
The search was unguided and in the beginning fruitless, until on one late night trip to investigate these rumours we found a hole.


Another group of intrepid islanders had cracked the bounty, and when we returned from exploring the jack hammered hole, pulling our bodies though the small gap, we met them, and firm, lasting friendships were made.

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The bunker was sealed when the council became aware.
The debris from the type 80 modulator building and later CAA radars piled on top of the emergency exit cap until it collapsed in a tangled mess of concrete and iron steps.

But I was hooked on the vibe and the history. In the zone.

We are now many years later, our techniques and understanding of documenting places have progressed and minds moved on to other locations.

But another couple of Islanders had got the bug. The need to crack the code and found, with such commitment and ingenuity, another way to access the bunker.

They’d asked for information and we’d given all we had; not expecting the councils efforts to seal to be minimal we were sceptical but they had the DRIVE.

Overlays of the bunker onto google earth images were a game changer and after a few digging sessions the guys hit GOLD.

Or 1950’s concrete as it happened to be.

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Regular User
You would enter the bunker through the Guardhouse.


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Go down the stairs in the back room.



There was a winch to load heavy equipment.


Next you would enter the long sloping corridor.



It turns 90 degrees to the left.



The old gun racks are still in place.


And there is some old switch gear.


In a room to the side is 'R1 Distro West' Where power for the radar would come in.






After leaving this room you come to the blast doors.




From here you turn a corner into the main corridor.



Looking behind you.


There is a sign next to the fire reel on the wall.


There was a telephone exchange unit in the corridor too.


To the right is the Signals Room.



Some documents are still on the table.


And on the wall.


Beside you was a cabinet to protect equipment from Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse and some telecoms gear.


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Regular User
Next to the Signals Room is the Signals Office.



There is a small box room next door.


In it there is a telegraph PSU and some Government documentation.



All the paperwork here is really mouldy and falling apart.



There are also some signs on the wall.


Leaving this room there is a 'guest book'.
People must have got in just after it was decommissioned, before the concrete cap was buried.


Back to the main corridor.


On the other side is Administration and Operations.


On the floor there are some old pamphlets.


Moving on to the next room.
The WB1400 receiver on the right would give the 4 minute warning of nuclear attack.


On another wall was a board to tally casualties and homeless, and another to show allocated resources during a disaster.




On the glass window to your side the Isle of Wight is etched into the glass.
It is hard to make out on camera.


There are a few rooms that lead off from this one.
The flooded PDU pit is below you.
During the Council years these would house advisors to the council team.
Previously one of the rooms would have been the operations room where the plotting table showed data from the RADAR.







There are some light switches on the wall.


And one of the maps is lying around.


Crossing the corridor again, you are in the washrooms .


And next to those the canteen.


This connects to the kitchen and servery.


There are some old keys under the counter.


Above the kitchen and toilets is a storage area. You have to climb a ladder to reach it.

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Regular User

Back down the ladder and into the corridor again.


Turning right. Originally this was the air con plant room, but it's been partitioned for dormitories.






But I guess they just used it for storage in the end.


Back in the corridor.


Lets look at the switch room.







Leaving the rooms that lead off from the corridor now. The mould is mad.


We go through some more blast doors.


The council fitted a generator in a room to the left, before that it held cooling equipment.
Empty now.


Next this there is 'R1 Distro East'.
As well as electrical equipment the air filtration system sits in this room.



Opposite this is the pump room and sump, where grey water would be pumped to a gravel trap above.


Straight ahead is the staircase to the emergency exit.




We were so, so careful with the place. Selected visitors only got ‘the tour’ and the love of the zone was hopefully spread.

And after? We thought long and hard. About the possibilities of draining the flooded room, preserving the place, trying to get it listed.

Discussions - and disagreements, happened about how and where to share.

But in the end we just covered it back over. Hid our tracks with many seeds and left it to its future. To decay, to flood, perhaps to be explored again.

A huge amount of love goes out to all the guys involved in this.
The online chats, the meals at spoons, the late night digging, the archive trips.
It’s all memories I’ll cherish, and will lead to many more adventures in the future.

For more information on the workings of the bunker and radar there is Don Adams' site, www.ventnorradar.co.uk
This guy obviously loves the place as much as we do; the research and archival he has put in is outstanding.

Nick has made a short documentary that looks at the site as a whole here:



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28DL Regular User
Regular User
Wow. Reports don't get better than that. Superb. Great history and the old decom pictures really add to the context. Really enjoyed reading that.

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