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History Of The Bunker

A Short History of 13 Group Headquarters

“Non Cramben Sed Carnem” – 13 Group Motto accepted 20 June 1942. “The motto meaning ‘Not Cabbage But Meat’ (the words ‘we want’ are implied) is intended to convey the same idea as the Russian Marshall Budenny’s war cry ‘We are not vegetarians’.”

In the run up to World War II the national air defence system was being modernised by Air Chief Marshal Sir H.C.T. Dowding who led the Royal Air Force Fighter command. He was to challenge the assumption that “the bomber will always get through” and devised a complex system that integrated new radar technology, human observations, air raid plotting and the radio control of aircraft. Highly skilled personnel operated a new system of processes which managed intricate and extensive communications across large areas. The whole of British airspace was divided between four groups:

  • 10 Group covering Wales and the West Country;
  • 11 Group covering the Southeast of England;
  • 12 Group covering the Midlands and East Anglia;
  • 13 Group covering the North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland

 

Each group needed a headquarters.

In 1937 Newcastle was identified as a possible location for the 13 Group Headquarters. A large number of telephone and signaling circuits would be required. The Kenton Bar site was at a crossroads and must have seemed attractive.

The next year it was purchased by the Air Ministry for ‘offices’ with some resistance as the Council-owned land had been allocated for housing.

From maps of the time the local area was very different from today. The Kenton Bar site appears to have been open farmland, and the Blakelaw site a quarry. As part of the secrecy of the headquarters the maps continued to show no change as the sites developed.

A temporary headquarters was situated above ground whilst the underground bunker was constructed and its specialist equipment prepared. No. 13 Group became fully operational 1st August 1939 when the Royal Observer Corps Units and radar stations were placed under the command of the Air Vice-Marshal R.E. Saul D.F.C.

The new underground Operations Room became operational at 2359 hours on the night of 13th March 1940. The area controlled by 13 Group was, in general,   relatively calm during the Battle of Britain as the main conflict focused on the South and East. However, just five months after the bunker becoming operational and just over one month in to the Battle of Britain, on 15th August 1940 a major attempt was made by the Luftwaffe’s Norwegian air bases to break through the northern defences. The strategy used a diversion of seaplanes approaching Scotland at the same time as bombing raids with a wide spread of targets headed towards the north east of England. Would the Dowding Defence system prove successful?

See a timeline of the events 15th August 1940

 

In 1943 the role of the bunker changed as the skies became quieter. 13 Group was disbanded and the site was downgraded to a Sector Operations Room for 12 Group. The last large raid by German aircraft was recorded in March 1945, with the 26 enemy fighter-bombers totaling more than all the enemy aircraft detected in the previous 12 months.

After WWII the site was placed on the redundant list and used for offices by the Ministry of Agriculture with many of the associated above-ground buildings demolished.

Following the Civil Defence Act, 1948 the bunkers was used as a Regional War Room with the purpose of directing Civil Defence in the aftermath of conventional or atomic attack. It was the only regional war room of this period to occupy an existing building rather than be purpose built with ready and waiting secure communication links and thick concrete walls. It continued in this role well into the 1960’s.

By 2003 the site was being used by a number of government departments including Inland Revenue, the Driving Standards Authority and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.