Document-16.    


BOBHSOC

The inspiration for this section is from Peter Flint's book
DOWDING - HEADQUARTERS AND FIGHTER COMMAND
for his study of AVM Lord Hugh Dowding and Fighter Commands HQat Bentley Priory

 
Battle of Britain - 1940 
 
Dowding & Bentley Priory
.
"TO HIM, THE PEOPLE OF BRITAIN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE FREE WORLDOWE LARGELY THE WAY OF LIFE AND THE LIBERTIES THEY ENJOY TODAY"
the closing words on Dowdings statue
Whenever we think of the Battle of Britain, our thoughts turn to FighterCommand, if we thought of Fighter Command, our thoughts would then turnto Air Chief Marshal Lord Hugh Dowding, and if we thought of Hugh Dowdingwe would then think of the nerve centre of Fighter Command, Bentley Priory.

It was in July 1936, that during a complete reorganisation of the RoyalAir Force, the task of creating an all new section fell to Air MarshalSir Hugh Caswell Tremenhere Dowding KCB. This section was to be known asFighter Command. Dowding had had an impecible career that had originatedin 1900 as an Army Subaltern with the Royal Garrison Artillery and it continuedwith the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. He had commandedFighting Area in the earlier Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) organisationin 1929-30 and thereafter for six years he was employed as Air Member forResearch and Development on the Air Council. He was a man who had faithin the Radio Direction Finding(RDF) later to become known as Radar of whichhe had great influence on its future development.

Dowding was a man of strong character with a mind capable of deepthought and foresight, and had very positive views on how his new Commandand the air defence system should develop. He was of a naturally reservednature with a disinclination towards most forms of socialising; his semminglyhumorless, often grumpy image portrayed to those not of close aquaintance,plus a facility of quick acid comment, gave him enemies and a reputationfor being difficult. He sought the favour of no-one. From his early servicedays the nickname 'Stuffy' endured.
Peter Flint Dowding and Headquarters Fighter Command pp2

Dowding was given Bentley Priory as his headquarters. It was to be thenerve centre of Fighter Command. It was back in March 1926 that the RoyalAir Force aquired a rather dilapidated house and land in Stanmore thatis now known as Bentley Priory. On 26 May it became Headquarters of InlandArea that administered a number of air force home establishments and wasunder the command of Air Vice-marshal Tom Webb-Bowen CB, CMG. But beforethis, the 'Priory' had an interesting, yet chequered history. Originally,a rather insignificant small house that was owned by a Mr James Duberlyit had been renovated, with the addition of many additional rooms thatgreatly increased its size, and became a highly prestigious country estatein the possession of The Hon James John Hamilton. In 1789 as 9th Earl andFirst Marquess of Abercorn, he engaged the services of architect Sir JohnSloane to carry out massive extensions to the house and buildings at considerablecost. Later, it was owned by builder Sir John Kelp and when a Mr FrederickGordon took over the elegant buildings and land it was turned into a luxuriousprivate hotel. Before much of the property was sold off it had been usedas a private boarding school for young ladies before the Royal Air Forceaquired it in 1936.

Prior to the official installation of Fighter Command at BentleyPriory, discussions were taking place on the functions of a Command HeadquartersOperations Room would be expected to fulfil. On 10 June Dowding attendeda high level meeting held to lay down the basic requirement for the roomand its associated communications. It was concluded that all intelligenceon aircraft in flight supplied by the various observation sources, includingRadar, should be transmitted through the most direct channels to GroupHeadquarters and Sector airfields. It was thought that it might be necessaryfor the long-range readings from the proposed Radar stations on the coastto be initially transmitted direct to Bentley Priory and plotted on a largemap there; maps at Groups or Sectors would basically show only the Group'sarea of responsibility. Reports from Secret Services sources and enemyradio interceptions would normally be of a strategic nature and, as suchwould be passed on to Fighter Command and not directly to Groups. The Admiraltyshould have a direct link with the air defence system through Fighter Command.
Peter Flint Dowding and Headquarters Fighter Command pp2-3

Prior to moving into Bentley Priory, Dowding lived and conducted hisaffairs from his home at Wimbledon Hill in the south west of London, andit was from here that he oulined his plans for setting up an OperationsRoom at the 'Priory'.
In July 1936 Dowding made his first visit to Bentley Priory, HQ ofthe newly created Fighter Command. Bently Priory was an old gothic houseon a hill to the extreme north-west of London. It was typical of this idiosyncraticman that instead of arranging the ceremony that would normally take place,he arrived at nine-o'clock in the morning unannounced and all alone. Theguard was extremely reluctant to let him through the gate but after inspectinghis papers, he handed him over to the most senior man there, a sergeantfrom the Orderly Room. The two men wandered through the grounds and thenthrough the empty rooms. Selecting a room with a southerly view, Dowdingasked the sergeant to put his name on the door, thanked him and left.
Len Deighton Fighter p40
"The Ball Room seems to be most suitable for the purpose although this of course may not be desirable as a permanent location owing to the fact the Priory is extremely conspicious from the air and the rooms wouldbe very difficult to render gas proof. I do, however, wish to make a startimmeadiately so that the delay in the production of my permannt OperationsRoom may be reduced to a minimum and only by immediate experiment can bedetermined the requirements necessary for the purpose"
Peter Flint Dowding and Headquarters Fighter Command pp4

Dowding went to say that in the centre of the Ball Room would be themain Operations Room Table that would be covered by a huge map that wouldcover from Edinburgh in the north to the French coast, and from the borderof Wales in the west to the east of Belgium. A viewing gallery would berequired along the North and West sides of the Ball Room so that it wouldbe possible to observe the various movements that would be displayed onthe map below. Also, teleprinters would have to be installed, and thesewould be placed in the Rotunda.

An intricate telephone and communication system would have to be installed.What was happening around the British coastline would be clearly displayedon the huge map that occupied the ballroom. Reports from the long-distanceradar could possibly be received direct, and then relayed to the GroupsHeadquarters. Any Intelligence information would most certainly be receivedfirst at Bentley Priory and then circulated to groups and military offices.Finally, all movements of enemy and friendly bombers would be tracked anddisplayed on the map, but possibly for reasons of not making the mapboardto complicated and messy, friendly fighter movements would not be shown.A series of lights would be installed on one of the walls, and these wouldindicate as to the state of readiness of fighter groups.

"To me, an LAC, Air Chief Marshal Dowding lived in a different world.His personal clerk was one Corporal Custance and when he went on leaveI had the privilege of being his 'stand-in'. Apart from being called uponto take down pages of of shorthand upon highly secret fighter defence matters,I have little recollection of the Air Chief Marshal, except that he wasstern but kind. Of the other Officers, in those days 95% were of the GeneralDuties Branch and all were pilots, each having to perform a number of flyinghours per year.
The pre-1939 RAF Officer was most emphatically an Officer and agentleman and , as such, had Service and social obligations. The more seniorones were ex RFC or RNAS. The only time we saw any of our Officers in uniformwas when they were going on a Staff visit, Armistice Day, Kings Birthdayor other such occasion; normal;ly they came to work in lounge suits. HeadquartersUnits were not commanded by a Commanding Officer but by a Camp Commandantand ours was one Flight Lieutenant Gearing.
Looking back, I can only say that at Bentley Priory we were an extremelyhappy set of people; I cannot recall any unpleasant words or deeds. Esprit-de--Corpsand morale were of the highest order. In the very stable and civilisedconduct of affairs in the United Kingdom at that time security was almostunnecessary, but there was always a Duty Staff Officer, a Duty Clerk, DutySignals Personnel and an Air Ministry civilian policeman or two on duty.
LAC Jim Griffiths on Bentley Priory. Dowding and HeadquatersFighter Command/Peter Flint pp3-4
The conservatory was removed at the outbreak of WWII
LeadingAircraftman Jim Griffiths went on to say that as an LAC his weekly paywas 31/6d of which a 10/6d of that was placed in a Post Office SavingsAccount. He enjoyed life at Bentley Priory, and he had many memorable timesplaying sports, the odd dance at the NAAFI and visits to theatres and pubs.Occasionally he received weekend leave which he spent mostly with his parentsalthough he did have a good relationship with his girlfriend. At BentleyPriory, he had his own room unlike other LAC's on station who had to livea barrack room lifestyle, and the food at Bentley was absolutly first class.There was an odd parade but there was also a lot of hard work that wasgenerally spread over long hours.

 

Work on the Experimental Operations Room was sufficiently advanced by11th December 1939, that Dowding wrote to the Air Ministry requesting theinstallation of GPO telephone lines. He also made mention of the intentionto limit the field of experiment to a single link up with No.11 (Fighter)Group, and in so doing, concentrating effort in developing and provinga prototype component of the future organisation.
Hugh Dowding in his role as Chairman of the Home Defence Committee'sSub Committee in May 1937, which was also the date of the creation of No.12Fighter Group, gave a lecture to members of the RAF Staff College on "FighterCommand in Home Defence". and when we look at the basis of Dowdings lecture,we are to find that his ideas and opinions were remarkably prophetic. 

Hugh Dowding first spoke about how a war would be most quickly lostand stated that this might possibly be caused by indiscriminate air attackson London and creating panic amongst its population. As an alternative,an immeadiate paralysis of the food supply would have exactly the sameeffect and that if the country could be secured against a quick decisionof this kind, then the only defeat could come from the slower process ofexhaustion of equipment, personel, food, raw materials, sea transport andother resources. He went on to state that the focal point of the machineryof Government and the main centre for the distribution of the countriesfood supplies would be London itself, and concluded that the most importanttask would therefore be the defence of London itself. The most importanttask therefore would be that defending London would be the most importanttask in the defence of Great Britain. Dowding went on to say, that if hewas the dictator, then first and foremost, he would destroy the enemy'sAir Force at his airfields, reserve storage depots and factories etc. 
Dowding continued: 
"There is another possibl;e form of attack which I think deservescloser study than it has received up to the present. I refer to the attackson our food and supply ships at sea.
He went on to say that the diversion of shipping away from the vulnerableareas of the Port of London and the Thames Estuary, to western ports bea matter of highest importance, his concern was the possiblity of attackson inland targets becoming unsustainable and that the bulk of offensivepower being turned to supply ships at sea. 
He went on: 
"It seems to me that our shipping will, broadly speaking, be asopen to submarine attack as it was in the last war and that it will nowhave to face the additional danger of attack from the air.
On attacks on London, Dowding said that the main dangers would be fire,bomb explosion and gas, and it would probably occur in that order. He consideredincendiary attacks on property, that would enable the enemy to utilisefor purposes of destruction be the greatest danger that the populationwould have to face, that a single bomber might distribute a thousand smallincendiary bombs, and with a dense population as the city of London a singlebomber could initiate something like a hundred small fires. 
"There is a serious danger that groups of individual fires, whichare not properly dealt with, will unite and cause conflagration which willbe beyond the control of any fire fighting organisation which we are likelyto be able to provide." he said. 
Remember, that this was a speech that Dowding gave in 1937. 
Based on the descriptive of the speech Dowding and HeadquatersFighter Command/Peter Flint pp11-12 

Dowding had a strong interest in radar, he believed that radar was tobe the eyes of Britains defence system. It is understandable then, thatit was of great importance to Dowding that he had direct communicationswith radar stations from Bentley Priory. Over the last few years radarhad improved by research and by trials. Dowding had faith in radar. 

It was at Orfordness in 1935 that radar had expanded to such a degreethat further accomodation was required. Land was purchased at Bawdsey Manornear Felixstowe on the Suffolk coast, and here although the research teamwas quite small, the quality, variety and inventiveness was remarkable.By April 1937, they were engaged in radar trials endevouring to locateaircraft flying on pre-arranged courses over the North Sea. The resultswere said to be confused and disappointing and Dowding thought that thegeneral standard of information was as yet unacceptable for his OperationsRooms. Nevertheless, by August the same year a plan for the constructionof coastal radar stations had already been aggreed.

*Radar stations were already in operation at Orfordness, Bawdsey andCanewdon, and two others at Great Bromley and Dunkirk had yet to be completed.But by August 1937 it was decided to go ahead with the whole chain, makingtwenty in all. The probable average cost of each of the new stations wouldbe:

Purchase of land  3,000 
Construction of towers  28,000 
Power, electrical distribution, stand-by-plant etc 8,000 
Operational buildings 3,000 
Roads, paths and fencing 5,000 
Quarters for two warders 1,200 
Contingencies 3,800 
Total = 52,000 

The fifteen additional stations would cost 780,000 
For more powerful apparatus for each of the 20 stations @ 16,000it would cost 320,000 in all. 
The total cost of the chain would be 1,305,000 
The annual operating cost was estimated at 174,000 
The Treasury gave sanction to the proposal on 13th August 1937

Dowding and Headquaters Fighter Command/Peter Flint p209Appendix 3

Chain Home Radar Masts
Eachof these would have four receiver masts that would be 250 feet high andfour transmitter masts with each one being 350 feet high. The reason forduplication was their vulnerability to air attack, and the likelihood thattransmissions would be interfered with or 'jammed' by the Germans. In theevent of a mast or its aerials being damaged, or operating frequency beingimpared, there were others that were ready to take over. To improve resultsthey would be sited close enough together to form a chain where each stationoversaw part of its neigbours detection area. 
In the photograph on the right, the transmitting masts can be seenon the left while the four on the right are the receiving masts that wereconstructed of wood to eliminate any stray reflections which may affectdirection finding and height reading. 

Radar was in the hands of both civilian scientsts and RAF Signals specialists,and after studying the results of the unsatisfactory trials in April 1937,Squadron Leader Raymond Hart was to become very influential in the studyof radar operations. With other members of the team they agreed that ifthe radar stations were sited close enough together, then there would bean overlap in their fields of observation, which this would make it possiblefor every part of the coast to be watched. Although the technique madethings complicated, it did require very careful handling and correlationof readings from two adjacent stations, but this method allowed the stationsto be linked like a chain along the coastline. The system was approved by Dowding who, from early in the peace had great faith in radar and progress was being made with correlated information from the radar stations being relayed directly to the Bentley Priory Filter Rooms.

Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding was to stay at Bentley Priory for the duration of the Battle of Britain and until he was relieved of his position as AOC Fighter Command. The 'Priory' was constantly in use throughout the rest of the war and today stands as a monument to the operations that were conducted there that finally led to victory in WWII.



The Battle of Britain - 1940website Battle of Britain Historical Society 2007