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  RAF Mere / Mere Branston No 3 DF Station / 661 Signals Unit

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Updated: 7 Dec 12

Opened: possibly as early as 1919/20, reportedly intercept and DF station by 1927.

The site is known as the Waddington site for 63 Wireless Intercept Unit.

1947. Y Service Outstation to Cheadle, in Northern Signals Area subordinated to 9 Group.

1 Apr 1949. Transferred from Northern to Central Sigs Area.

1 Nov 1951. No 3 Direction Finding (DF) DF Station renamed No 661 Signals Unit.

In 1955 661 SU at Mere, Branston, was parent to Maxey HF/DF site.

31 Oct 1957. MF/DF Site at RAF Mere Branston is reduced to inactive status and parenting and admin control transfered to RAF Digby in No 90 Gp from Cheadle. 661 Signals Unit is disbanded.

12 Feb 1962. RAF Mere Branston reduced to inactive status.

Closed: 11 May 1967. Site of RAF Mere Branston is disposed of; RAF Digby is relieved of parenting.

Reference is made in an article by Terry Hancock, author of Bomber County, on the lincsavsoc website to ’The Searchers’ by Kenneth Macksey, a history of the Y Service, which states that the first RAF Y station was opened at Waddington around 1919/20. Terry postulates that this could refer either to RAF Mere, as RAF Waddington itself was closed from 1919-26, or alternatively that initially the Waddington site was employed in 1919 due to it being the only disused Great War airfield to retain its buildings. Its subsequent re-opening to flying in 1926 would then have necessitated the re-siting of the DF antenna arrays to a more flight ops-friendly location nearby, such as the Mere site.

According to AIR 40/2650 an RAF Waddington 'Y' site operated at Mere Branston, east of Waddington, as an INT/DF site, opening in 1927. This served as the RAF's Central Intercept Station, logging Morse code messages. It was staffed by a Warrant Officer and twelve morse ops accommodated in wooden huts. Between 1936 and 1937 four associated D/F stations had been constructed at Montrose, Maidstone, Lydford and Waddington. The actual sites of the Lincolnshire intercept station and the D/F station - which may be the same - are not stated in this record.

Sir Arthur Bonsall, the Director GCHQ 1973-78, commented on the RAF’s Y Service before WWII, making specific reference to Waddington/Mere's contribution to understanding how the Luftwaffe was being covertly rebuilt:

"There had been pre-war arguments in Whitehall about the role of GC&CS,
but it was eventually agreed that it should concentrate on cipher breaking and translation. The Air Ministry got off to a good start in their war preparations. Their small station at Waddington began to hear bomber aircraft on training exercises before Germany admitted that they were ignoring their obligation under the Versailles Treaty not to create an air force. These training communications were en clair and were designed to resemble those of civil aircraft. Counting the number of aircraft callsigns used in this traffic produced information about the number of aircraft under training and was presumably included in the information that was leaked to Churchill before the war.
"

In 1937, probably before September, Waddington reported it was having interference issues caused by the increasing numbers of aircraft flying in the vicinity - in particular the 'Forced Landing Grounds' used by 2FTS at RAF Digby. Consequently the RAF opened a new Central Intercept Station 65 miles to the west at Woodhead Hall, Cheadle. However, reception on the principle Luftwaffe frequency of 348 kHz was found to be very poor. Therefore Waddington's Mere facility remained as a temporary intercept station until the problem was overcome. The intercept aerials were then dismantled and the D/F facility was recalibrated. In 1938 there were just three military Y stations, one for each service, at Fort Bridgewoods, Flowerdown and Waddington (East Mere).) The intercept function moved to Cheadle in 1938.

Elsewhere in Lincolnshire there was also a Home Defence Unit monitoring station reporting to Bletchley Park at Ingoldmels. There were three types of station - DF - Direction Finding, HDU - Home Defence Unit, Int - Intercept. 'Y' may be a corruption of WI, short for wireless intercept.

Wartime documents lists a 63 Wireless Intercept (WI) Unit station - a Home Defence Unit - as RAF Waddington, under the Northern Command, stating map reference F476835, apparently in the War Office Wartime Cassini reference system.

RAF Mere Branston, also possibly known as Branston Y Station, functioned as an MF/DF (Medium Frequency Direction Finder) site during the 1940s and 1950s. It is not clear whether it performed additional signals functions during or after the war, most notably as a 'Y Station'. Its functioning unit was Number 3 Direction Finding Station, later renamed in 1951 to 661 Signals Unit.

The MF/DF site at RAF Mere Branston was reduced to inactive status in Oct 1957, with parenting and admin control transfered to RAF Digby. This occurred 2 1/2 years after the signals era began at Digby with the arrival and declaration of operational status of 399 Signals Unit.

Two buildings remain at the site.

The personnel stationed here may have been billeted at East Mere House.

location of RAF Caistor in relation to Lincolnshire - click here for full-size map showing all station locations

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