How the RAF made use of Bolt Head and the Cottage Hotel
According to the official memorial plaque in the Bolt Head (Bolberry Down) car park:
RAF Bolt Head was built as a satellite station to Exeter. It had two Sommerfeld track runways 2700ft long, which were later extended to 3600ft and 4200ft. These consisted of coconut matting laid on the fields with metal grids on top. The station was originally used for fighters of 10 and 11 Group to escort bombers. The clifftop site allowed fighters the maximum range for these sorties into France. Later, in the build up to D Day, Spitfires and Typhoons by day and Mosquitoes and Beaufighters by night, used the station for raids across the Channel. It was also a base for Air Sea Rescue using Lysanders, Spitfires and Walruses. At first the personnel were under canvas but as the war progressed facilities improved with huts and hangars being built
At the same time as the new Bolt Head aerodrome was being set up, a rather more secret operation was under way as a new Radar station took shape at nearby Bolt Tail as part of the Air Ministry's efforts to protect Britain from air attack. Pioneered by Robert Watson-Watt, the "father of Radar", Chain Home was the codename for the ring of coastal Early Warning radar stations built around Britain before and during the Second World War.
Also known as AMES (Air Ministry Experimental Stations) and GCI (Ground Control Interception) stations, the system of networked radar stations linked to a command communication centre to mobilise defences was essentially the world's first integrated air defence system. Data about enemy aircraft movements ("plots") received through the network of receiver masts around the coast – including RAF Bolt Tail – were picked up by Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) operators based in the GCIs, relayed by phone to HQ Fighter Command where it was collated and passed to both the central map plotters and the four regional RAF group controls. They in turn passed the data to their Sector Operation centres, which controlled the fighter airfields such as RAF Bolt Head. Information collected in this way was also shared with other defence units such the Royal Navy, Army anti-aircraft gun sites and RAF barrage balloon operations, as well as the civil authorities so that appropriate Air Raid precautions could be taken. AMES/GCI radar stations proved invaluable to Britain's defences during the Second World War, allowing the RAF to focus its limited resources where they were most likely to reap benefits against the Luftwaffe. By 1945 there were over 100 such radar sites dotted around the British coastline.
1941 saw the installation of both a Type 1 Chain Home Radar station and, later, a Type 2 Chain Home Low radar station at Bolt Tail.
After 1943 a Chain Home Extra Low (moveable) radar station – known as K166 – was also based at nearby Start Point. Such was the secrecy surrounding AMES at this time, only RAF personnel actually working on the radar sites knew how the system worked and they were strictly forbidden from sharing this information, even with non-AMES RAF colleagues.
As the RAF's operations grew – the airfields, hangars, radar masts and the GCI station – Hope Cove found itself host to many new faces. Many airmen were billeted with local families whilst the officers were more fortunate as the RAF requisitioned the Cottage Hotel for their accommodation! One such officer was Squadron Leader Harry Maurice Allen, who was stationed here as GCI Controller between June 1942 and May 1943. Along with other RAF officers, Maurice lived at the Cottage Hotel, whilst his wife, Gwendoline, stayed in the village with a Swiss lady called Anna Bourner who took in lodgers at her home, Greystones. In the summer of 1942, Maurice's sons, Guy (8) and John (6) also joined the family in Hope Cove.
Sadly, Maurice was killed in action the following year. Following practice exercises off the coast of Algeria he was sent to southern Sicily as part of Operation Husky. He died on Gela beach, killed by a landmine, alongside Flight Lieutenant John William Gray-King on 10th July 1943. Both men were officers in the RAF's 15051 AMES mobile radar unit which had gone ashore with the US Seventh Army to set up GCI radar stations on the island to help protect the Allied forces. The successful capture of Sicily in the summer of 1943 proved to be a turning point in the Second World War; by September Mussolini had fallen and Italy had surrendered.
Maurice is remembered on the RAF World War Two memorial in Valetta, Malta, and by his sons, Guy and John, and the rest of the family some of whom still live in the Kingsbridge area.