In a farmer’s field at Tehidy Barton stands the roofless shell of a concrete building. It is hard to believe today that this was once the control hub for all flying activity west of Exeter as this was the RAF Fighter Command 10 Group Sector Operations Room. Information from the RAF Sector Stations at Portreath, Perranporth, Predannack and St Eval combined with radar plots from the Chain Home Radar Stations at RAF Drytree, RAF Carnanton and RAF Downderry saw the controllers guide the fighter aircraft to the hostile targets that approached and crossed the Cornish coast. It soon became apparent that the facilities were inadequate, but they had been a vast improvement on the previous ones which were in a room above a baker’s shop in Redruth!
The Sector Operations Room became operational on Sunday 11th May 1941 and continued in use for two years. On Wednesday 1st September 1943 the new Operations Room at the top of Tregea Hill was opened at 2330 hours. After almost two years in agricultural surroundings at Tehidy Barton, Portreath Operations, after a hectic moving day, transferred its activities to the newly completed building of the
now familiar ‘gin palace’ type. At 2330 hours the change over was made without a hitch, and the watch in the old Operations Room suddenly found itself cut off from the outside world. At 2331 hours all services in the new building were fully operational including Cyphers, Teleprinters and Met.
There are some amazing stories to be told of actions controlled from Tehidy Barton but one of my favourite incidents hails from the summer of 1942.
There was an unusual arrival at Tehidy Barton during the night of Sunday 7th/Monday 8th June 1942. The airman on guard was reported as saying, “Please sir, a dripping Mullet 32 is at the door. Shall I let him in?” It proved to be Pilot Officer Harvey. At last light a Beaufighter aircraft of 600 Squadron from Predannack flown by P/O Albert Brenton Harvey, a resident of Falmouth who ran a tobacconist shop in
the town, with Observer F/O Bernard Wicksteed, a journalist for the Daily Express in peace time, were engaged on convoy patrol coming down the coast from Hartland Point when they sighted a Heinkel 111 flying at sea level about to attack the convoy. P/O Harvey attacked, and in spite of the fact his starboard engine was set on fire, pressed home his attack and set fire to the port engine of the Heinkel 111. This
plane was later confirmed as a Junkers 88 and confirmed as destroyed. It had lost an engine and plunged into the sea.
The Junkers 88 D5 No 1748 from the Third Flight of long range Reconnaissance Group 123 from Lannion aerodrome was piloted by Oberleutenant Wolfgang Baumung with crew members Camillo Kleeman (Navigator), Friedrich Fug (Wireless Operator) and Otto Maier (Air Gunner). They were all killed. Only the bodies of Baumung and Fug were ever found, Fug being found in the sea off Land’s End on 15th June.
The Beaufighter, also crippled, ditched into the sea, cartwheeling into the waves off the north coast. Both crew members managed to extricate themselves (the first to succeed in doing so from a Beaufighter). F/O Wicksteed was trapped in the fuselage and only managed to free himself when the aircraft hit the seabed thirty feet down. P/O Harvey assisted his observer into his own dinghy, which, by swimming, he pushed towards the coast seven miles away for an hour. He then became exhausted and climbed onto the dinghy himself. After being afloat for five hours and being approximately 200 yards from the shore, the dinghy capsized and they lost contact with each other. P/O Harvey swam ashore, scaled the cliff at Bassett Cove, Portreath in pitch darkness and walked to the Operations Room at
Tehidy Barton. P/O Harvey was granted access and organised a search party consisting of Royal Marines from the AA Camp at Carvannel and some local civilians for his observer, who was soon found.
Len Harvey, as he was known by his family, was flown back to Predannack. He then cycled twenty miles home to Falmouth and was serving in his shop by late Monday afternoon. His comment in his Pilot’s Log Book was “Got a little wet.” P/O Harvey was awarded the DSO and his observer F/O Wicksteed the DFC for their bravery and resilience.
More details on the Operations Room can be found in my eBook RAF Portreath War Diary: The Base, The Village & and Neighbourhood During World War Two.
As we enter a new year that bodes to bring hardship and challenge, may we face the events that come our way with the bravery and resilience displayed by that wartime generation who got on with doing the job to achieve victory and bring us peace and freedom.