LISTENING STATIONS UNITED KINGDOM

 

Over the next few months I hope to list some of the principal past and present ‘Listening Stations’ in the UK and attempt to give a short potted history of the station. During WWII and up until 1964 when they were taken over by GCHQ these stations were operated by their appropriate ministries, The Admiralty, The War Office and the Air Ministry.

 

ENGLAND.

BEAUMANOR HALL, Leicestershire.

A British Army listening station charged with intercepting  German and Italian military wireless traffic during WWII then passing these intercepts to Bletchley Park by motor cycle despatch rider for decryption and analysis  Post WWII, with the onset of the ‘Cold War’ it remained in operation, its main interest being transmissions emanating from the Warsaw Pact countries. At this time, the service personnel, mainly female wartime members of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) due for demob were replaced by civilian staff. Beaumanor Hall finally closed down in 1970 when the staff (operators) were finally dispersed to other Y stations and the Hall was bought by the Leicestershire County Council.  

BLETCHLEY PARK, Buckinghamshire.

Known to many as Station X this is where much of the wireless traffic intercepted at Y stations throughout the UK ended up for analysis and processing through the system responsible for breaking the Enigma codes in WWII. The station was run by the GC&CS (Government Code and Cypher School), the forerunner of what we now know as GCHQ. Bletchley Park was only for a short time a wireless intercept station as such. It soon became obvious that the long wire antenna arrays stretching from the radio room in the mansion house itself were capable of attracting unwelcome questions as to their purpose. Because of this the intercept capability was moved elsewhere but not very far away from the park. The principle function of  the park, the decryption and analysis of intercepted wireless traffic continued in the mansion house and the surrounding huts. Following the end of the war Bletchley Park became the main training school (CTS) for civilian Special (intercept) Operators with a great many such operators from Britain's armed forces attending a number of specialist courses there. It ceased this function in 1985 when the school moved to Culmhead in Somerset. In 1992 the site was declared a conservation area and the Bletchley Park Trust was formed to preserve the site as a Sigint museum, opened to visitors in 1993.

 

RAF CHEADLE Staffordshire

 The wireless intercept station at CHEADLE in Staffordshire was set up in 1937 by Wing Commander W G Swanborough RAF and he was to remain the Commanding Officer there throughout WWII. Following the end of the war all existing civilian sigint stations were being run by their respective Ministries, The Admiralty, The War Office and The Air Ministry. This situation remained until 1964 when they were all taken over by GCHQ and Wing Commander Swanborough, by then an Air Ministry civilian employee, became the first GCHQ civilian officer in charge of the Cheadle intercept station. He was to retire shortly afterwards having served a record of 37 years in charge of a station. 

 Located in a large country manor house close to the hamlet of Hammersley Hays in the beautiful Stafforshire countryside. This fine building, known to some, as it still is to this day, as Woodhead Hall was, during WWII, one of the principal ‘Y’ stations in the UK involved in intercepting mainly Morse code traffic of the Long-Range German Air Force and feeding it to Bletchley Park. Following the end of the war it continued to operate in its sigint role, monitoring and analysing Soviet military communications traffic. During this time a lot of young airmen wireless operators, many of them doing their National Service and billeted in huts a short walk across the fields from the hall were being trained as Special (intercept) Operators and would spend some time on live intercepts in the hall as part of their training. It continued in its sigint role intercepting and analysing Soviet military communications traffic until its closure in 1995 finally being sold into private ownership in 1997.