Ruined Spy Bases: 10 Abandoned Radar & Early Warning Stations of the World
By Debra Kelly, Urban Ghosts Media, 2 December 2014.
By Debra Kelly, Urban Ghosts Media, 2 December 2014.
It’s often said that the best offense is a great defense. Early warning systems can mean the difference between life or death, and in conflicts like the Cold War and World War Two, home defense was the backbone of military operations. No matter which side you’re on, one of the first priorities has been keeping your home territory safe. But when conflicts end and technology advances, many older radar stations have become obsolete and abandoned.
10. The North Concord Radar Station, Vermont, USA
High up on Vermont’s East Mountain sits the North Concord Radar Station. Built in 1955 and decommissioned in 1963, the base was originally established to help monitor activity over the United States’ eastern seaboard, and specifically, to provide early detection of any enemy aircraft that might be encroaching over US airspace during the Cold War.
While it was operational, it was home to about 174 military and civilian personnel; the complex included a small housing community that was used by the families manning the station. It was still under construction when it was closed in 1963 - at the time of its decommissioning, a massive antenna was still in the process of being built.
While the radar station’s first priority might have been looking for Soviet planes, they ended up finding something much, much more bizarre.
In 1961, Betty and Barney Hill were heading to Portsmouth, New Hampshire after vacationing. Just outside of Indian Head, New Hampshire, they saw something strange in the sky. After stopping their car, they were suddenly 35 miles away and several hours had passed.
The Hills were at the centre of one of the most famous alien abduction stories in history, with many supporters of the idea of extraterrestrial visits citing their testimony as proof that aliens have been making contact with us. And part of the evidence to corroborate their stories comes from local Air Force Bases - including North Concord.
According to reports often sited along with both believers and disbelievers of the Hills, the North Concord Radar Base reported picking up something on their radar about seven hours before the Hills claim they were abducted. Theorists claim that the high-flying, slow-moving blip was probably a weather balloon, but the recording of the event puts this abandoned station firmly in alien lore.
9. Camp Hero, Montauk, New York, USA
Image: Nojo13, public domain
Today, Camp Hero is a national park and the giant radar installation that looms over the forest is on the National Register of Historic Places. It sprawls over 415 acres, and its relatively peaceful atmosphere now makes it hard to imagine the time when it was more military than picturesque.
During World War Two, New York was considered a highly likely point for Axis intrusion. The fort, which already had a long military history dating back to its service as cannon practice during the Revolutionary War and as assembly point for Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, was named Camp Hero and established as a major defensive base on the eastern seaboard.
During the 1950s, the camp became the site of the 773rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. The early warning site eventually became a part of NORAD, but it was closed on July 1, 1980. That wasn’t the end of its notoriety, though.
In 1992, a writer named Preston B. Nichols released a book called “The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time,” in which he reported that the military base had once been the site of some pretty shady scientific experiences. He stated that there had been a number of attempts at messing about with things that it’s generally agreed that people just shouldn’t mess about with - like rifts in the space-time continuum, mind control, invisibility, time travel, and interactions with alien races - specifically, with a group of creatures he called Reptoids.
While many people report there are still some shady goings-on there, like the persistence of technical difficulties that impact phones and cameras, what’s more earthly but no less creepy is some of the signs that are still posted around the area. While it’s said it’s perfectly safe for visitors, there are still numbers people are asked to call if they happen across suspicious casings or shells, along with other signs warning of the possibility unexploded ammunition. No matter what you believe, it’s an eerie and beautiful place.
8. Klamath River Radar Station B-17, California, USA
Image: Jet Lowe, public domain
During World War Two, there were no doubts about the importance of securing the Pacific Coast of the United States. Some of the remnants of structures built to warn of impending attack can still be seen…provided you know what you’re looking for.
Sitting in the Redwood National Park in California is a rather unassuming set of structures. There’s a farmhouse with a double privy and a barn, abandoned, boarded up and left to the elements. Hikers that walk by them would have absolutely no reason to think that they’re anything but what they seem…only, they’re not actually agricultural structures at all - they’re a disguised military outpost.
Known as the Klamath River Radar Station and code named Trinidad, the buildings were designed specifically to hide what’s inside them. The farmhouse actually hides the power station that ran the complex and insured its self-sufficiency, while the barn hid the operations building. It took a crew of 35 people to man the station; during the years it was operational, they lived in a nearby town.
At the height of the war, the site was one in a series of 65 similar stations (72 were slated to be built) that were tasked with protecting the Pacific Coast. In 1944, the station remained in operation for a few more years as a base for air-sea rescue radar and operations. Once on private land, it’s now a part of the National Park system. Those who stumble across it won’t be able to get inside, and those who don’t know the incredible story behind the building probably wouldn’t give it a second glance, still thinking it’s just an old, abandoned farmhouse.
7. Cold War Radar Dishes at RAF Stenigot, England
Eerie reminders of wartime conflicts dot the English countryside. Sitting in the fields of Lincolnshire are the abandoned remains of the RAF radar station at Stenigot; it was originally built in 1938 as one in a chain of radar relay stations, constructed to provide an early warning system of incoming aerial attacks on British soil. The base originally sprawled over 15 hectares, and was protected by eight pillboxes and a chain-link fence.
Several of the pillboxes are still there, along with an air raid shelter, several receiver towers, a guard room and a water tower. Now only covering about 5.5 hectares, the site’s most monumentally eerie abandoned structures are ones that were added later in its lifetime. The dishes were added in 1959, updating the early warning system for the Cold War. While the base was operational, it was surrounded by some pretty frightening high-security systems; now, however, the dishes have been partially disassembled and left in the fields as a stark contrast to the peaceful rural landscape.
One of the main purposes for the entire base was specifically for the detection of fast-flying jets over English airspace. Signals were beamed from one location to the next through the lowest levels of the atmosphere. There were 20 such stations established across Britain at the height of the Cold War; now, they remain an eerie reminder of the threat that once loomed across Europe.
6. The U.S. Coastal Warning Towers
Before radar and radio communications, warning systems were much, much different. In 1898, President William McKinley ordered the implementation of a weather warning system for ships. Towers were built along the eastern coastline, known as Coastal Warning Display Towers. The towers used a combination of flags for daytime warnings and lights for night-time warnings; for example, a single pennant flying meant that conditions had been deemed dangerous for small craft, while two square, red flags with a black dot in the centre meant there was a hurricane warning.
The warning system was only discontinued officially in 1989, even though radio had long ago taken over broadcasting the same warnings as the lights and flags from the tower did. Many of the towers were still in use, and many of the abandoned towers still remain along the coastline today.
The Southport, North Carolina tower has been completely restored in honour of the memory of Jessie Taylor. Taylor manned the tower for 62 years - from 1900 until her death in 1962. Other towers are scattered across the seaboard; there’s one in New Haven, Connecticut, and one still stands in Providence, Rhode Island. Many of the towers were destroyed when they became obsolete.
5. The White Alice Communications System (WACS)
The White Alice Communications System was a massive undertaking. Conceived in the 1950s, the system was a series of 25 individual stations across Alaska that allowed for not only the detection of enemy presence and the relay of messages throughout the line but for the mobilization of defensive aircraft. Deemed fully operational on March 26, 1958, the WACS was officially obsolete by 1979.
Image: Rob Stapleton, public domain
Making sure the sites were manned was a monumental challenge that brought together more than 800 people from throughout 17 different companies to run different parts of the relay. That meant there was more to the project than just building the massive scatter relays that bounced information off the Earth’s atmosphere, it also meant everything from keeping the roads clear and functional to housing workers.
The WACS was also responsible for helping improve other types of communications throughout the networking, including the telephone. Ironically, it was satellite communications that helped render it obsolete, but according to the popular story, White Alice wasn’t going to go willingly.
The White Alice system was shut down in the summer of 1978. According to the story, when the switch was thrown and the relay was shut down, there was a pause, and the entire thing booted up again. While there was a moment that the technicians thought that White Alice wasn’t going to go away, they only then remember that the system had a reset capacity.
Why was the system called White Alice? There’s a couple of different stories, but no one knows for sure. It’s been suggested that it was named for an actress named Alice White, or that “White” simply referred to the colour that surrounded all the bases. It’s also suggested that Alice stands for the Alaska Integrated Communications and Electronics, but - strangely - no one really knows why it got the name.
Image: US Army Corps of Engineers, public domain
Now, most of the White Alice sites have been destroyed. There was a considerable amount of concern over the environmental damage that the sites had the potential to do, and many were completely dismantled. Not helped by the remoteness of the locations or by the aforementioned environmental concerns, the demolishing of the sites cost nearly as much as the price tag for building them in the first place.
4. Acoustic Mirrors at Denge, England
Sitting in the Kent countryside is a bizarre sight - abandoned, futuristic and incredibly archaic at the same time, the Sound Mirrors were once used as a monitoring system to detect aircraft approaching British shores. Also known as Listening Ears, Acoustic Mirrors and Concrete Dishes, the massive concave structures were designed to pick up the sound of approaching craft and magnify it into a microphone positioned at the centre.
They range in size from 20 feet to 200 feet, and were built between 1928 and 1930. The sound waves captured by the massive dishes were relayed through microphones and finally through a stethoscope that was manned around the clock by a human listener. When something was detected, alarms were sounded and anti-aircraft defenses were manned.
With the development of better technology and faster planes, the concrete ears began to fall out of use. It was more difficult to detect faster craft, and eventually it was next to impossible to distinguish between aircraft and sea-bound vessels. Radar was developed in 1935, putting an end to the usefulness of the dishes.
Now, they’re protected by English Heritage as a national monument. Funds have been raised to preserve the dishes, and tours can get visitors up close to these massively out-dated yet beautifully futuristic monuments.
3. RCAF Beaverbank, Canada
Image: unknown, via militarybruce.com
Officially, the radar station at Beaverbank is abandoned. According to paranormal investigators, though, it’s not entirely empty.
The station opened in 1950, and its position on Canada’s eastern shore made it a crucial feature of the military’s defense grid. Throughout the decade, it was considered that an attack on Canadian soil by Soviet aircraft was likely - and manning Beaverbank was a high priority.
It remained a high priority for only a short time, though, and was closed in 1964. Technology had already advanced to a point beyond what had been built at Beaverbank, and it was decided that the facility was no longer needed. It was briefly looked at for the new home of the Naval Radio Station Albro Lake, but didn’t make the cut. It was eventually turned into a concrete plant, but that, too, was ultimately abandoned.
Image: via waymarking.com
Today, it’s only the operations building that still stands - the rest was demolished in 2004. But the site isn’t without its eerie stories.
Located in the abandoned operations building is the so-called “red room.” According to legend, the room is lit by a brilliant light with no discernible source at night. The building is reputed to be the source of several hauntings; when the radar base was being first built, one of the construction workers was electrocuted and died on site, while several others died while the concrete foundations for the buildings were being poured. Another was crushed by a concrete wall, and it was also the site of a 1970s murder. While the living no longer man the station, it’s said that the dead still remain.
2. Duga-3, Chernobyl
The Duga-3 radio transmitter is a surreal site, seeming to stand guard over Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone. There’s 1,000 square miles that were impacted by that fateful day for the nuclear power plant, and standing the in off-limits, restricted area is the massive military installation - itself extremely off-limits until 2013.
The Duga-3 was active from 1976 to 1989, and its presence was unmistakable - even miles and miles away. Called the Russian Woodpecker, it sent out a distinctive - and maddening - tapping sound that echoed over and over and over…
The idea behind the installation was that it was designed to detect incoming missiles by bouncing a signal off the Earth’s ionosphere. The frequency was easily picked up by other countries, though, as it violated what were then internationally accepted regulations on what signals could be broadcast on what frequencies.
From a distance, the massive structure looks like a giant wall towering over the trees. Brave intruders have used it for BASE-jumping, commenting on its eerie sort of man-made beauty. A staggering 150 meters tall and 150 meters wide, it weighs about 14,000 tons. The entire surface is made up of metal “wings” for sending and receiving information.
When it was active, the distinct pecking noise - which arguably sounded more like gunfire than a bird - was the centre of rumour after rumour. Some accused the Soviets of attempting to use mind control, or that it was in some way interfering with weather patterns. Now, the Duga-3 is much less mysterious; there’s a staircase that tourists can use to climb up it.
1. Teufelsberg, Germany
Today, Teufelsberg is the highest mountain in Berlin. That’s a little misleading, though, as the mountain is artificial. Once the site of a Nazi training school designed by Albert Speer, after the fall of the Nazi regime the school was buried beneath rubble. Women from across Berlin spent countless days gathering debris and rubble by the truckload; the women became known as “rubble women,” and in the end they had collected enough to bury the school beneath the debris that was all that was left of many of Berlin’s war-era buildings.
On top of the rubble was built Field Station Berlin. From its vantage point, British and American intelligence agencies had the perfect place to sit and listen for Soviet communications. The base wasn’t like many other defensive installations that sprang up across the United States and Britain during the Cold War; there was no actual radar that was busy listening for incoming aircraft. Instead, the equipment, whose remnants can still be seen today was a different kind of radar - it was meant for intercepting communications.
The field station was privatized in 1996, but the secrets it contains are still classified - and will be until about 2022. The site is open for visitors, as long as they take part in a guided, guarded tour of the facility. The years of abandonment haven’t been kind to the facility, as there’s considerable wear and tear from vandalism over the years.
[Source: Urban Ghosts Media. Edited.]