Chapter One







The driving force and primary author of this book, Ron Burr, has entered his tenth decade. He worked in radar during the Second World War, subsequently joining Decca Radar, where he was Chief Engineer at the time Decca set up the radar design and manufacturing facility on the Isle of Wight. Having seen at first hand the enormous achievements attained and the advances in technology made during his lifetime, he strongly believes that an historical account should exist of the systems designed and manufactured by the company. The record would include the impact of advances in technology and would trace the changes in corporate structures and locations.

It is also a landmark time for publishing this book. Some seventy years since the concept of radar was established, sixty years since Decca Radar was registered as a company to design and manufacture radar systems (1949-2009) and fifty years since the factory at Cowes, Isle of Wight, was established.

As a step towards gathering the support needed to prepare such a history, a reunion was arranged for as many of the company’s original design engineers and operations staff that could be traced, this included those that transferred from Surrey to the Isle of Wight and those that were recruited on the Island at that time. There were two reunions during 2008 at which the photographs in this chapter were taken. Since then a considerable amount of data and pictures have been received and specific text prepared, thereby turning this book into a reality.

During the compilation process a number of the contributors have sadly passed away. Their contribution is gratefully acknowledged.

‘The Decca Legacy’ is published as a lasting tribute to the talent, ingenuity and application of all the people engaged in this radar systems business, from the founding of Decca Radar in 1949 to the present day.

The corporate names and locations have changed due to takeovers, mergers and joint ventures, but the skill and character of the workforce and the high quality and performance of the products remain a testament to what has been, and can be, achieved in the United Kingdom.

The author hopes that this legacy will encourage current and future generations to continue this success.

Some Historical Notes to the book, expanding on the detail of this introduction, are given in Appendix 1.


Regrettably much of the material made available to the book compilers has, for space reasons, not found its way into the final text. It may be that supplements can be brought together at some future date, as many anecdotal reports of interest and humour are in existence. Also, we consider the good fortune that so many of us had in being part of a team that for ‘a working lifetime’ could continue to produce state-of-the-art radar designs, almost on a monthly basis. Of the seventy years of radar, the enterprise initiated by Decca has lived for sixty years and the establishment at Somerton/Cowes has enjoyed fifty of them.

Whatever the immediate radar needs, or the condition of the U.K.’s economy, such a forward thinking enterprise as described on these pages should be sponsored and promoted, to maintain the highest of standards in research and design of radar systems.

Appendix 2 contains a brief account of the U.K. Radar Defence Network that was established under the code name ROTOR. It straddled the last days of World War 2 and the immediate post war period. Following the issue of the U.K. Government publication ‘The Cherry Report’, a ‘ROTOR Replacement Programme’ was initiated by the British Government under the code names LINESMAN and MEDIATOR

The use of technical jargon has, as far as is possible, been avoided. Where some technical content is included in a description of specific equipment it has been kept simple and only included in order to explain the operational reasons for undertaking the development programme and give an indication of the performance achieved. The reader, throughout the book will find many nouns that may need an explanation, but these should be taken as names given to the relevant product or development project. The number of sales obtained and end locations of the products may be mentioned in the respective text, but are more comprehensively covered in Appendix 3.



Prior to the Second World War (WW2), the Decca Company was a leading producer of recorded music and record players. Later it also went on to produce TV and Radio sets. During WW2 the Company was approached by the Ministry of Defence to manufacture a low frequency hyperbolic navigational aid which was to be used for the ‘D’ Day landings. The successful conclusion of this task led to the creation of the Decca Navigator Company, which went on to supply ‘Decca Navigator Chains’ which were widely used across the world for marine and aviation navigation. The Decca Radar Company was created in 1948/9 out of the Navigator Company to address an increasing demand for marine radars.

The Plessey origins go back even further, to 1917. Plessey became a supplier of parts to the major producers of radio. For example, in 1930 it manufactured complete radios such as the Marconiphone, widely sold by the Marconi Company. Post war, Plessey was a major manufacture of TV sets that were re-labelled for other companies to sell under their own labels. During WW2 the Plessey ‘parts’ business was very successful and went on to supply ‘assemblies’ to the MOD, mainly for inclusion in radios for the RAF. Later, it became a manufacturer of complete systems and developed a wider range of products.


In the late 1940’s there were many factors that created what proved to be a very large and rewarding market place. Radar had come into its own during WW2. It had proved to be an immensely useful tool in the detection of objects distant from the radar itself and it was able to give distance and bearing of those objects. It had proved that it could detect ships at sea and approaching aircraft, thus providing the basic information for both defence and attack.

At the end of WW2 some of these equipments, all designed for military purposes, were seen to have benefits for civil use, such as at airfields for air traffic control. An example of this was at Heathrow, the new London airport, where two MEW (Metric Early Warning) radars for area detection and control, plus a Type 13 Heightfinder for a limited amount of height information were deployed. Also fitted at Heathrow was a PAR (Precision Approach Radar) to guide aircraft onto the runway in adverse weather conditions. Thus in the mid to late 1940’s the market was new. Shipping lines were acknowledging the benefit of radar. As shipping was, at the time, the main method of transferring goods and passengers from one place to another and as there was no established radar supplier, the market was wide open for development. Decca took full advantage of this situation to become the leading supplier of marine radars.

There was a similar situation for air transport, both military and civil operations. A few radars were used for air traffic operations, but there was a growing need for assistance to aircraft in the final stages of flight. A market therefore opened-up for airfield radars. One of the opportunities for Decca came from an RAF staff requirement for an airfield approach aid. Adapting some of the marine radar parts, a new radar was conceived which was to be successful for both military and civil use. There was a growing tourist trade as people were beginning to travel for pleasure. New aircraft and new airfields were being created. The skies were getting busier. Thus there was a need for both ‘Approach Control’ and ‘Area’ Detection/Control of aircraft. As nothing existed to meet that need, again there was a wide-open world market, which Decca was most successful in addressing. There were also complimentary world markets evolving for Naval Radars for various purposes, along with meteorological and military radars.

The market remained buoyant for many years but eventually (in the 1980/90’s) suffered from saturation effects and reduced demand. A reducing demand for new equipments continued, but in many cases original equipments were still providing a good service long after the end of their targeted life. Fewer airfields were being opened and indeed many, particularly military, were being closed, consequently making available serviceable equipments for sale on the second-hand market.

One of Decca Radars great assets during the major expansion of markets was access to the world- wide Agency and Service Network, originally set up for the support of the Navigator stations. (See page 16). This meant that they had more people on the spot that could address local needs and develop invaluable sales openings. There were also three Decca Radar and Navigator Companies set up in Sweden, Norway and South Africa. The world wide sales of radar and associated products and systems ensured the development of a substantial logistical support business, including a world renowned Training Centre, at Cowes, Isle of Wight, where customers had thousands of their key staff trained, and through which lifetime contacts were established.


At one time, there were a considerable number of companies addressing the radar market. Competition for Decca Radar came from British Companies as well as those from overseas. British companies included Marconi, BTH (British Thomson Houston), Cossor, Metropolitan Vickers, Kelvin Hughes, Ultra, Ferranti and STC (Standard Telephones and Cables). Overseas competition came from the USA in the form of Westinghouse, Raytheon, Texas Instruments, Cardion, Gilfillan and Federal. From France came Thomson CSF, from Germany, Telefunken and SEL (Standard Electrik Lorenz), from Holland came Phillips/HSA (Hollandse Signaal Apparatten) and products from Italy’s Selenia/Alenia and from Czechoslovakia, Tesla.

Most nations of the world were open to trading with British companies, but there was one exception and that was the USA where normally ‘buy American’ was the policy. However, their Drug Enforcement Agency did make an exception, when they bought a transportable version of the Watchman ‘T’ radar system. They considered and then proved that its operational performance and reliability far exceeded any competitor’s equipment!


It is amazing that radar remains an almost perfect tool. Providing near hemispherical, long- range detection of non-cooperative targets, under a wide range of operating and environmental conditions with usable accuracies in range, azimuth and elevation. No other technologies comes close and radar as a technique has survived through several generations of TV technology, that of the mobile phone and seemingly will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

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