WWII RAAF Radar Station 208 (former) | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


WWII RAAF Radar Station 208 (former)

Item details

Name of item: WWII RAAF Radar Station 208 (former)
Other name/s: Mine Camp, Signal Hill, Radar Hill
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Defence
Category: Defence Radar Station
Location: Lat: -33.1336450145 Long: 151.6357867600
Primary address: , Catherine Hill Bay, NSW 2281
Local govt. area: Lake Macquarie
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Bahtabah
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT3 DP1016670
PART LOT6 DP1180181
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
 Catherine Hill BayLake Macquarie  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The former RAAF Radar Station 208 at Catherine Hill Bay, comprising remains of the RAAF radar installation is significant as a rare example of NSW's participation in the WWII network of air warning radar, established in strategic locations along Australia's coast during World War II. It is one of nine ACO radar stations established on mainland Australia using British imported ACO radar and the only remaining site of the two established in NSW.

Its location and siting on an elevated coastal area amongst dense bushland demonstrates Australia's response to the threat of invasion and the importance placed on protecting the industrial centres along NSW coastline during WWII.

The site has potential to yield further information about Australian coastal defence efforts during WWII and the use and development of radar technology.

It has historical associations with the introduction, use and development of radar technology in Australia which is regarded as one of the greatest contributions of Australian science to the war effort (Mellor 1958). The wartime development of radar in Australia became a key element in the shift towards government sponsored applied scientific research (MacLeod 1999) and the gradual independence of Australian science (Mellor 1958). After the war, radar became a celebrated achievement of science in Australia (MacLeod 1999).
Date significance updated: 17 May 05
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Directorate of Works for the Air Ministry, Britain
Builder/Maker: Allied Works Council
Construction years: 1942-1943
Physical description: The former Radar Station 208 site has a north and south arrangement with principal structures replicated in each sector. There are two arrangements of four concrete footings that originally supported 44 metre timber aerial towers. The footings are arranged in a square pattern with remnant steel supports protruding from each block. Two concrete above ground igloo shaped bunkers remain, each with a square turret on the seaward side. The footings and bunkers are symmetrically placed across an east-west axis. The bunkers have remnants of electrical fittings and recessed areas on the internal walls and concrete slab floors and an egress on the eastern walls. The southern area has a remnant rectangular shaped concrete support for the tower ladder rising several centimetres above the ground surface. The northern area has a remnant concrete stair structure of approximately half a metre high with three steps and the outer rim concrete remains of a depressed circular structure.

A two metre safety fence, erected in the 1990's, is located on the northern and eastern boundary and isolates the footings and other above surface remains in the northern section. The eastern side of the northern bunker is one and a half metres from the cliff edge.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The southern sector arrangement of footings is well preserved and obscured by dense regrowth vegetation. The northern sector footings shows a greater level of deterioration with exposure to coastal conditions.

The concrete bunkers have been subject to graffiti and fire but remain in good condition. There is some evidence of concrete cancer to the buildings in the form of exposed reinforcing where minor concrete spalling has occurred.
Date condition updated:07 Feb 06
Current use: Disused. Future planning strategies for integrated recreational space.
Former use: Open cut mining


Historical notes: The British Committee of Imperial Defence first shared their technical radar knowledge with Australian, New Zealand, South African and Canadian scientist in a top secret meeting in London in February 1939 (McLeod 1999). It was anticipated that these commonwealth nations would launch their own research and use the new technology for defence developments (Bowen 1987). In August 1939, just weeks before the outbreak of war, the Australian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research approved the creation of the Radiophysics Laboratory Board concealed in the University of Sydney (Minnett in McLeod 1999).

In May 1941 Wing Commander Albert George Pither was put in charge of RAAF's radar operations. Pither was in Britain, studying radar when the technology was put to use during the Battle of Britain in 1940. He developed a plan to surround Australia with a 'home chain' of radar stations based on his experience in Britain. On the 7th November 1941, one month before the attack on Pearl Harbour, the RAAF were given full responsibility for Australia's early warning radar operations (Fielder-Gill in MacLeod 1999) and adopted Pither's radar defence plans.

The delays that Australia experienced in acquiring radar equipment spurred an innovative period of radar development by Australia's scientists. In 1941 Britain was the only supplier of radar equipment. The tyranny of distance, competing demands and lack of material resources (Simmonds & Smith 1995) meant that Australia would not receive its first shipment of radar equipment until the middle of 1942. As a result, key modifications and electrical engineering solutions developed by Australia's scientists led to the creation of the Australian 'Air Warning' (AW) radar. The AW employed an innovative switching circuit developed by Dr Joseph Pawsey of the Radiophysics Laboratory and aerials engineered by J.G Worledge at the Eveleigh Annexe of the NSW Railways. By the time the ACO radar was installed at Catherine Hill Bay, features of its design had already been superseded by the Australian AW radar, especially its conspicuous twin towers. The AW design included replacement of the cumbersome towers with a single aerial that rapidly switched between transmitting and receiving.

By December 1941 a prototype of the Australia designed AW radar system was ready for production. The radar equipment was manufactured by The Gramophone Company at Homebush which produced 100 units by the end of WWII (Simmonds & Smith 2002). The AW radar was a robust and light weight system that proved useful for the conditions of the war in the Pacific.

In 1941 the Joint Planning Committee of the armed forces agreed that the limited supply of radar equipment in Australia was to be utilised for the protection of the vital industrial region of Newcastle - Sydney - Port Kembla (Minnett et al. in MacLeod 1999). At that time, the Newcastle region was an important focal area for coal mining, steelworks and associated heavy industry. The region was also vitally important as Australia's principal centre for the manufacture of armaments needed for the war effort and the Port of Newcastle was considered vulnerable to air and seaborne enemy attack.

In November 1941 Air Force Officers including Wing Commander Pither, made a reconnaissance flight of the Newcastle - Sydney - Port Kembla coastal strip. In January 1942 the air warning defence began in the Newcastle region with the establishment of a radar station at Shepherd's Hill followed by the installation of the Australian designed AW radar at Tomaree in April of that year. The ACO radar installation at Mine Camp was to be the third permanent radar station within the Newcastle region (Bale 1995).

The British made Advanced Chain Overseas (ACO) radar installations were distinguished by robust towers capable of withstanding hurricanes in the Far East. These radar installations were regarded as sophisticated, complex and at the time, very expensive at an estimated cost of 21,000 Pounds. It took several months to construct and calibrate an ACO radar system and the sheer size of the transmitter and receiver towers made them difficult to camouflage (Simmonds & Smith 1995).

The ACO radar used a floodlighting type wave system capable of simultaneously scanning a wide area to detect enemy approaches (Mellor 1958). The sophisticated electronics were the second generation of British CH type of radar, operating in the HF band. The electronics contained panels and features not otherwise seen in other types or deemed to be necessary in the Pacific during the war (Simmonds & Smith 1995).

Radar Station 208:

Radar Station 208 at Catherine Hill Bay was one of nine ACO radar installations on mainland Australia. The War Cabinet had originally intended to have 32 units to implement the plan for Australia's radar station chain, but this became difficult to achieve and later unnecessary after significant events that changed the course of the war (Simmonds & Smith 1995). The ACO radar equipment sent to Australia was originally intended for other territories such as Malaya and Singapore but diverted after Japanese invasion of these countries (Simmonds & Smith 1995).

Radar Station 208 was sited on a ridge 93m above sea level amongst dense woodland overlooking the ocean. The transmitter and receiver towers were over 44 metres in height and spaced 100metres apart to ensure that radio pulses were received as echoes and not confused with transmissions. The floodlight system of the ACO radars required a high volume of electrical power sourced from power mains with backup generator located in a smaller dedicated bunker. Bombproof bunkers, meant to be underground, housed the electronics for transmitter and receiver, each console weighing two tonnes.

According to RAAF records, "No. 208 RDF Station formed to establishment No. HD 318 of Mine Camp, NSW on 10th February 1943 under the control of H.Q. Eastern Area. The purpose of the unit is, by means of Radio Direction Finding to locate and promulgate advice of enemy and other aircraft approaching to locality of the station".

At its establishment it had a total of 41 personnel consisting of 1 RAAF Officer, 1 WAAAF Officer, 14 RAAF and 25 WAAAF, the personnel levels peaked in May 1943 with a total of 54. The radar Operators were from the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force. The radar Mechanics were from the Royal Australian Air Force. The unit also included guards, cooks and other trades. The Operators communicated plotted data to the Fighter Unit in Newcastle by land line or radio telephone.

The radar Operator monitored aircraft activity from an eleven inch cathode ray tube screen. Using the goniometre consisting of switches and controls of the direction and height finding components, the operator would alter the screen and make comparisons to decipher the direction, elevation and distance of the aircraft. The radar mechanics were required to regularly climb the radar towers to service relay switches and aerials.

The ACO, a fixed radar station, had some advantages over others with its quick height finding capabilities and ability to monitor aircraft movements up to 200 miles (Simmonds & Smith 1995). Radar Station 208 also served Rathmines RAAF Seaplane Base monitoring movements of Catalina's. Plotted data was communicated to the command centre, Fighter Station No 2 located 26km north of the installation.

In August 1944 Radar Station 208 ceased to be a 24 hour operation and personnel numbers were steadily reduced until January 1947 when it was disbanded.

Electronic Equipment:

The transmitter was a British MB3 model which put out 250Kw of power at 42.5 MHz. The frequency was in the VHF band which would later become a common use in television transmission. However, in 1942 this short wavelength was unfamiliar technology. The transmitter aerial system was in two parts set at different heights to enable height finding using the floodlit system. Each part had four elements to cover four sectors of 120 degrees.

The receiver was a British RF7 (receiver fixed location) model built in four vertical racks held in a frame of 2 x 2 x 0.6metres. The receiver detected radio echoes from all directions simultaneously. The receiver compared the strength of the echo from within a radius to identify the direction from which a signal was originating. The receiver had two parts on the tower plus crossed dipoles used for the height finding of an aircraft by comparing the echoes from the higher and lower sections on the tower.

As the towers did not rotate like those commonly used in other radar models, the ACO radar installation required fourteen switches on the receiver tower and more on the transmitter . These had to be constantly relayed from on to off, lower to higher and to between different directions. The switches were controlled by the radar operator from the radar console located within the bunker.

The Towers:

The towers were built to the design of the Directorate of Works for the Air Ministry in Britain by the Allied Works Council. The complex timber towers were prefabricated in Sydney from Australian oak supplied by the Sydney timber firm of A.E.Willis & Sons. The timber towers were fixed to steel members set in four concrete footings and placed in a north and south alignment. The complex arrangement of the structure was designed to withstand hurricanes and took a dozen men ten weeks to construct (Simmonds pers. Comm.).

Bunkers (Above Ground):

An igloo shaped above ground bunker was located close to each of the aerial towers. The bunkers were made of concrete and built to British design for withstanding bomb blasts. The bunker located in the northern part of the site housed equipment for the receiver radar equipment and the southern bunker housed the transmitter equipment. Each bunker contains a small passage leading to a turret at the coastal side of the structure. The passage and turret indicates that these bunkers were intended for underground installation, however were constructed above ground at Radar Station 208.

Associated Defence Units:

The development of the Radar Station required the involvement of several defence units prior to reaching operational stage. The complex timber towers were prefabricated by Civil Construction Corps in Sydney and built to the design of the Directorate of Works for the Air Ministry in Britain by the Allied Works Council. The site construction was carried out by the Allied Works Council. Specialist RAAF and British RAF personnel installed and calibrated electrical and radar equipment (Simmonds & Smith 1995).

Trained personnel for radar operations were a scarce resource and Britain sent an RAF installation party to assist the RAAF in the erection of the imported British ACO radar equipment. Many Australian industries were affected by a shortage of physicists during the war with the introduction of radar enticing many physicists to abandon their degree courses to obtain training in radar for the RAAF (Mellor 1958).


The roles carried out by personnel at many of the radar stations in Australian were delineated by gender with airmen serving as mechanics and airwomen serving as operators. Recruitment of Women's Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF) radar operators began in May 1942 after the success of WAAF radar operators in Britain (Simmonds & Smith 1995).

The Australian government were initially unwilling to permit women in the armed services during WWII. However, RAAF's new Chief of Air Staff, Sir Charles Burnett was familiar with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in Britain and persuaded the government to adopt the same approach in Australia.

The WAAAF came into existence in February 1941 amidst some controversy and resentment. Women in uniform was a new concept for the Australian armed forces and they were not readily accepted. Airmen believed that the presence of airwomen signalled the transfer of men to remote and dangerous places. The Minister for Air, Arthur Drakeford accepted the WAAAF but was reluctant to allow female officers into traditional male occupations. Controversy was also aired in the Australian media over equitable pay and allowances for WAAAF personnel (Thomson 1991). Initially, WAAAF personnel were recruited for menial tasks such as wireless operators, teleprinter operators and cipher clerks.

The role of 'Operator R.D.F' became available to the WAAAF in October 1941 on the recommendation of Sir Charles Burnett . In making this decision Minister Drakeford insisted that living quarters of radar stations must be strictly segregated, accommodation must not be substandard and the location should not pose a risk from enemy attack (Dellit 2000). He was also concerned about possible immorality and refused several of the proposed sites because of their isolation (Thomson 1991). In August 1942 Minister Drakeford agreed to eight of twenty five locations becoming WAAAF radar stations meaning the operators would be women.

The first radar training for WAAAF personnel commenced in July 1942. Women were selected on the basis of vision, speech, education, intelligence and ability to calculate and use maps and plans. Training was conducted in segregated classes over four weeks at the Richmond RAAF Base.

Radar Installation and Maintenance Unit:

The RAAF Radar Installation and Maintenance Unit (RIMU) was established in June 1942 to provide specialist installation, calibration and maintenance support. The unit occupied the Presbyterian Ladies College at Croydon and a depot at Figtree Bridge and often made service visits to Radar Station 208.

Fighter Sector Units:

The RAAF established Fighter Sector Units to evaluate data generated by radar stations and issue commands directly to RAAF bases to respond as necessary. The fall of Singapore generated an urgency for the establishment of these control centres and in 1942 Fighter Sector No. 2 was established in the Newcastle suburb of New Lambton. Fighter Sector No. 2 occupied the New Lambton Public School. The fighter sector commenced 24 hour operations on the 29th March 1942 and directed the fighter planes at Williamtown Air Base. It received plotted data from Radar Station 208 and other regional radars stationed at Tomaree and Ash Island.

Associated sites - Mine Camp:

RAAF and WAAAF personnel of Radar Station 208 were stationed at a small township near Catherine Hill Bay below the radar station, which once served as a camp during the early mining period. The first shipment of coal from the area was made in 1873 by the New Wallsend Coal Company. Initially a shanty town served the miners but by the 1870's a miners settlement was established boasting 20 houses (Newcastle Herald 1987). The arrival of forty five WAAAF and RAAF personnel doubled the townships population which had one shop and a post office. Additional living quarters were erected for personnel that imitated the existing housing within the township for camouflage purposes.

Some civilians remained at Mine Camp village and, soon after the war, the Housing Commission of New South Wales acquired the RAAF property, yet numbers declined and the post office closed in 1952. In 1969 twelve dwellings remained. In 1969 twelve dwellings remained and soon after the Housing Commission of New South Wales acquired the property. In the 1980's the village was destroyed by bush fire.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Observing and looking out for enemy movements-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Second World War-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The remains of the former Radar Station 208 illustrates Australia's response to the imminent threat of invasion during WWII and the role of NSW in the defence of Australia. Its setting demonstrates the importance of NSW's industrial region and military efforts for its protection during the war.

It represents a distinct stage of the introduction of radar technology that led to innovative adaptation and advancement of radar technology by Australian scientists and engineers in NSW during WWII.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The former Radar Station 208 is of State significance for its association with the RAAF which were given responsibility for the nation's air warning defence operations during WWII and exservice RAAF and WAAAF personnel that served during WWII. It has strong associations with the role of women WAAAF who served as radar operators during WWII.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The technical integrity and aesthetic characteristics have been lost with the removal of associated electrical and timber fabric of the aerial towers. The siting of the above ground bunkers demonstrate an Australian adaptation.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The former Radar Station 208 is of State significance for its association with veteran groups and RAAF and WAAAF personnel that served during WWII.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
It has potential to yield further information about NSW during WWII and its role in the network of the nation's air warning defence during this period. It is a reminder of NSW's role in the introduction and development of radar technology during the war.
SHR Criteria f)
The former Radar Station 208 is the only intact example of a WWII ACO radar station in NSW. It was one of nine installations established in Australia during the war, and the only one remaining of the two located in NSW. The use and development of radar is an uncommon aspect of NSW's WWII history.
SHR Criteria g)
The former Radar Station 208 retains fabric of the original layout that demonstrates the characteristics of a WWII RAAF radar installation.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0175222 Jul 08 907273

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenBale, J1995Looking back to the beginning of RAAF Radar in Australia
Oral HistoryCharles Hammer2003(Oral history collected by Eric Manning)
WrittenCourtney Thompson2004(Oral history collected by Eric Manning)
Oral HistoryEd Simmonds2004(Oral History collected by Eric Manning)
WrittenEnvironmental Resources Management Australia2005Heritage Review of the WWII Radar Station located at Catherine Hill Bay
WrittenEric Manning2004Nomination submission
WrittenGraham Brooks & Associates2005Amendment to proposed SHR Listing Curtilage - RAAF Radar Station 208 , CHB
WrittenMinnett, H., Alexander, B., Cooper, B. & Porter H1999'Radar and the bombing of Darwin' (in Mcleod 1999)
WrittenNewcastle Herald1987Coal at Catherine Hill Bay since 1870's
Oral HistoryRober Coggins2004(Oral history collected by Eric Manning)
WrittenThomson, J A1991The WAAAF in Wartime Australia

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5054690
File number: H04/00379

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