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St Boniface Down & Radar Station,

Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Please treat the area with respect. This is on National Trust and private land.  Should you wish to visit, please keep to the footpath. It is the highest point on the Island. Please do NOT leave the public footpath and respect the site.

The site today - the NATS radar station and the site of the old chain home wartime radar post that was a central part of the air defence of Great Britain.  This was 'Ventnor Radar' of Battle of Britain fame.  The Dakota  impacted  at the foot of one of the old bunkers forming  the base of the famous aerial arrays used during the War. Most of the wreckage came to rest much further up the hill at the very highest point on the island straddling one of the internal roads on the RAF site.  You can just make out the bunkers between the two right hand towers - this is the crash location. The original wartime chain home radar towers were removed in 1957 although the site remained an operational radar station.

The final resting place of the wreckage is on private land and access must be with the land owner's permission. There is nothing of the plane left  - the site was left untouched for a long time. Then every last scrap of wreckage was cleared away by the authorities.  

There is no reason to visit the actual spot although you can locate the impact point by walking around the seaward side of the site perimeter fence. There are some signs of the initial impact lower down the hill below the path.

Apart from different style concrete fence posts and a shallow depression below the footpath there is nothing to indicate the tragedy that took place on this spot.

This illustration shows Ventnor Chain Home radar station about 1945.

Although the towers were no longer standing in 1963 they had only recently been taken down. Previous to this accident, a mail plane had collided with one of the towers and crashed, again in fog.  The Channel Airways crash occurred adjacent to the far set of masts and the wreck came to rest straddling the perimeter track to the left of the public road .

During the war the radar station was a vital link in the defence of Great Britain.  It enabled the RAF to locate incoming bombing raids and determine the height and number of aircraft. This enabled British controllers to vector fighters to intercept the raids when they approached.  The alternative would have been to have standing patrols flying all day and night which would have put an impossible strain on resources.  As it was there were nearly always fighters ready to intercept raids because they could be dispatched in time to meet the attackers and directed to them rather than having to search a vast area of sky.

The Germans realised that radar was a fundamental part of the British defences and tried desperately to destroy the sites early in the Battle of Britain.  Being the furthest outpost, Ventnor was singled out and heavily attacked.  The Nazi  bombers did succeed in putting it out of action for a short time by dive bombing, but mobile stations were quickly moved into the area to fill the gap.  As the transmitters were not damaged, although the receivers were, the decision was made to keep sending out radar pulses.  As the Germans did not fully appreciate how our system worked, they  decided that despite the apparent damage they had failed to achieve the desired results because the station appeared to be still ‘on the air’ and gave up further attacks on British Radar.  This simple deception had a major effect on the outcome of the Battle.

In fact Radar was only part of an integrated information system that fed details from various sources including the Royal Observer Corps, Chain Home and Chain Home Low radar systems and  various other sources.  It was the combination of details that enabled fighter controllers to build up a detailed picture of the situation and to send just sufficient forces to deter the attackers.   By husbanding  resources and placing the minimum number of British fighters at the best location for defence ( usually ! ) rather than having to commit huge numbers to face every possible threat, Fighter Command  was able to survive against much greater opposing numbers.

Ventnor Radar - about 1945

Picture courtesy of ‘NATS’ - this particular illustration was pinned up in the Station Manager’s Office at Ventnor Radar for many years !