Abandoned Radar Bases: 10 Defunct Early Warning Systems & Monitoring Stations

Explore the historic abandoned radar bases and early warning systems of World War Two and the Cold War (Image: Peter Pearson; abandoned radar bases and crumbling early warning systems)

It’s often said that the best offense is a great defence. Early warning systems can mean the difference between life or death, and in conflicts like World War Two and the Cold War, home defence and reliable intercept radars were the backbone of military operations. Indeed, had it not been for the development of radar, the UK may well have lost the Battle of Britain and succumbed to Nazi invasion. But as enduring conflicts finally reach their end and new challenges arise, so too does technology advance to the extent that a proven, reliable early warning system is soon outdated. This article examines a series of abandoned radar bases across the world, rendered obsolete by the passing decades and relentless technological innovation.

Abandoned North Concord Radar Station, Vermont

North-Concord-Radar-Station-Vermont (Image: Aryk Tomlinson)

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 eastern seaboard of the United States, and specifically, to provide early detection of any enemy aircraft encroaching on US airspace during the Cold War.

While the now abandoned radar station was operational, it was home to around 174 military and civilian personnel; the complex included a small housing community that was used by the families manning the defunct base. But North Concord Radar Station was still under construction when it was closed in 1963. At the time of its decommissioning, a giant antenna was still in the process of being built.

North-Concord-Radar-Station-Vermont-2 (Image: Aryk Tomlinson)

While the abandoned early warning system’s first priority might once have been to keep an eye out for Soviet planes, it’s sensors ended up picking up something 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 reportedly saw something strange in the sky. After stopping their car, they allegedly found themselves 35 miles away. Several hours had passed, they claimed, in the blink of an eye.

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 had made contact with us. And part of the evidence to corroborate their stories supposedly came from local air force bases – including North Concord.

North-Concord-Radar-Station-Vermont-3 (Image: Aryk Tomlinson)

According to reports often cited along with both believers and disbelievers of the Hills, the North Concord Radar Base reported picking up a contact on radar about seven hours before the Hills claim they were abducted. It’s since been claimed that the high-flying, slow-moving blip was probably a weather balloon. But the very recording of the event by the North Concord early warning system would for some firmly cement the abandoned radar base’s place in the annals of alien mythology.

Abandoned Radar Antenna at Camp Hero, Montauk, New York

camp-hero-montauk (Image: Nojo13, public domain)

Today, part of the former Montauk Air Force Station is a national park known as Camp Hero, and the giant abandoned radar antenna that looms over the forest is on the National Register of Historic Places. Camp Hero sprawls over 415 acres. Its relatively peaceful atmosphere now makes it hard to imagine a time when it was on the front-line of military defence.

During World War Two, New York was considered a likely invasion point for Axis forces (in early times the threat came from British ships). The fort – which already had a long military history dating back to the Revolutionary War and as an assembly point for Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders – was established in 1942 by the US Army as a major defensive base on the eastern seaboard, named Camp Hero.

During the 1950s, the camp became the site of the 773rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. The site’s now abandoned early warning system eventually became a part of NORAD, but it was closed on July 1, 1980. But that wasn’t the end of its notoriety.

camp-hero-montauk-2 (Image: Transpoman, cc-sa-3.0)

In 1992, a writer named Preston B. Nichols released a book called The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time, in which he claimed the decommissioned military base had once been the site of a series of shady scientific experiments. Nichols claimed that various attempts had been made to create rifts in the space-time continuum, experiment with mind control, invisibility, time travel, and interactions with alien races – specifically, a group of creatures he called Reptoids.

While some people report ongoing strange happenings there, like the persistence of technical difficulties that impact phones and cameras, what’s far more earthly but no less unsettling are the signs that are still posted around the area. While it’s said to be safe for visitors, phone numbers are still provided for people to call if they happen across old shell casings and the like. Other signs warn of possible unexploded ordnance. Nevertheless, Camp Hero State Park and its abandoned radar station offer an intriguing insight into the area’s military history.

Klamath River Radar Station B-17, California

Klamath-River-Radar-Station-B-17 (Image: Jet Lowe, public domain)

During World War Two, there was no doubt 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, because these abandoned early warning stations are more discrete than others featured here.

Nestled in the Redwood National Park in California is an unassuming collection of structures. There’s an abandoned farmhouse with a double privy and a barn, boarded up and left to the elements. Passing hikers would have little reason to think that they’re anything but what they seem. Of course, they’re not decaying agricultural structures at all. They’re the remains of a clandestine military radar outpost.

Klamath-River-Radar-Station-B-17-2 (Image: Clinton Steeds, cc-4.0)

Known as the Klamath River Radar Station and code named Trinidad, the buildings were designed specifically to conceal what was inside them. The farmhouse actually hides the power station that ran the complex and ensured its self-sufficiency, while the barn hid the operations building. It took a crew of 35 people to man the now abandoned radar station. During the years it was operational, they lived in a nearby town.

At the height of the Second World War, the site was one in a series of 65 similar early warning stations (72 had been planned) tasked with protecting the Pacific Coast. In 1944, the radar station remained in use for a few more years as a base for air-sea rescue operations. Once on private land, it’s now a part of the National Park system. Those who stumble across it cannot access the abandoned radar base, and those who don’t know its incredible story probably wouldn’t give the dilapidated buildings a second glance anyway. Their cover as a derelict farmhouse and barns conceals their true former purpose even today.

Abandoned Cold War Radar Dishes at RAF Stenigot, UK

stenigot-radar-dishes-abandoned (Image: Urban Spaceman, cc-nc-nd-4.0)

Many eerie reminders of wartime conflicts dot the British countryside. One of the more notable can be found amid the fields of Lincolnshire: the abandoned remains of RAF Stenigot and its defunct radar dishes. The station was built in 1938 as part of the UK’s innovative Chain Home radar network, which along with the Observer Corps provided advanced warning of incoming enemy aircraft, and famously proving its worth during the Battle of Britain. The long abandoned radar base originally sprawled over 15 hectares, and was protected by eight pillboxes and a chain-link fence.

Several 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 eerie forgotten structures are the abandoned radar dishes that were added in 1959, at the height of the Cold War. In RAF Stenigot’s operational days, the high security facility was closely guarded. Todat, however, the giant dishes that comprised the now abandoned early warning system lie partially disassembled, quietly dumped in the fields of the former base.

abandoned-radar-dishes (Image: Colin Park, cc-sa-4.0)

During the Cold War, RAF Stenigot had been charged with the detection of fast jets infiltrating British airspace and the UK area of interest. Signals were beamed from one location to the next through the lower atmosphere. There were 20 such early warning stations in operation across Britain during that tense time. Many now remain an eerie reminder of the Soviet threat that once loomed across Europe.

The US Coastal Warning Towers

Coastal-warning-display-tower (Images: US Coast Guard; unc.edu)

Before radar and radio communications, early warning systems were far more primitive. 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 nighttime 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. (Read also: Navigation Markers: 7 Defunct Daymarks & Beacons.)

Coastal-warning-display-tower-2 (Images: unc.edu)

This rudimentary early warning system was only abandoned officially in 1989, despite the fact that radio had long ago taken over broadcasting the same warnings as the lights and flags from the towers. Many structures were still used at the time, and some of the abandoned early warning towers can still be seen along the coastline today.

The tower at Southport, North Carolina has been completely restored in memory of Jessie Taylor, who manned the tower for 62 years, from 1900 until her death in 1962. Other defunct towers are scattered across the eastern seaboard. There’s one in New Haven, Connecticut. Another still stands at Providence, Rhode Island. Others, however, were destroyed after they fell obsolete.

Abandoned White Alice Communications System (WACS)

white-alice-wacs-abandoned (Image: Christen Bouffard, cc-nc-sa-4.0)

The White Alice Communications System was a massive undertaking. Conceived in the 1950s, the vast early warning system was a series of 25 individual stations across Alaska that allowed for not only the detection of enemy incursion and the relay of messages throughout the chain, but for the mobilisation of armed interceptor aircraft. Deemed fully operational on March 26, 1958, the WACS was officially obsolete by 1979.

white-alice-wacs-abandoned-2 (Image: Rob Stapleton, public domain)

Simply manning the early warning bases was a monumental challenge that brought together more than 800 people from 17 companies to run different parts of the relay. This meant that there was more to the project than just building the massive scatter dishes that bounced information off the Earth’s atmosphere. It also demanded that far more mundane but no less important tasks such as clearing roads and housing workers be carried out.

White Alice was also responsible for helping improve other types of communications throughout the networking, including the telephone. Ironically, it was satellite communications that helped render the now abandoned radar base obsolete. But according to the popular story, White Alice wasn’t going willingly.

white-alice-wacs-abandoned-3 (Image: Christen Bouffard, cc-nc-sa-4.0)

The White Alice early warning system was abandoned in the summer of 1978. It’s said that when the switch was thrown and the relay was shut down, there was a pause, and then the entire system booted up again. For a brief moment technicians thought that White Alice was here to stay, and it was only then that they remembered the seeon to be abandoned early warning system had a reset capacity.

You may be wondering why it was called White Alice? There are several different stories, but no one knows for sure. It’s been suggested that WACS was named for an actress named Alice White, or that “White” simply referred to the colour that surrounded the northern bases. It’s also suggested that Alice stands for Alaska Integrated Communications and Electronics. But strangely, nobody really knows the official reason behind the name.

white-alice-wacs-abandoned-4 (Image: US Army Corps of Engineers, public domain)

Now, most of the decommissioned White Alice Communications System sites have been destroyed. There was some concern over the environmental damage that the abandoned radar stations may cause, and many were completely dismantled. Not helped by the remoteness of the locations or by the aforementioned environmental hazards, demolition of the sites cost nearly as much as it did to build them in the first place.

Abanbdoned Acoustic Mirrors at Denge, England

abandoned-acoustic-mirrors-denge-2 (Image: Paul Russon, cc-sa-4.0)

Sitting in the Kent countryside is a bizarre sight – long disused, strangely futuristic and incredibly archaic at the same time, these awesome Sound Mirrors were once used as a monitoring system to detect enemy 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.

abandoned-acoustic-mirrors-denge-3 (Image: GanMed64, cc-4.0)

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 defences were manned.

But with the development of better technology and faster aircraft, the massive concrete radar dishes began to fall out of use. It became increasingly difficult for the early warning mirrors to detect faster planes, 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.

abandoned-acoustic-mirrors-denge-4 (Image: GanMed64, cc-4.0)

Now, the abandoned early warning system is protected by English Heritage as a national monument. Funds have been raised to preserve the historic Denge sound mirrors, and tours take visitors up close to these outdated yet wonderfully retro-futuristic monuments.

The Ruins of RCAF Beaverbank Early Warning System, Canada

rcaf-station-beaverbank-abandoned (Image: unknown, via militarybruce.com)

Officially, little happens today at the abandoned radar station at Beaverbank. But according to paranormal investigators, it’s not entirely empty. The disused Cold War early warning station opened in 1950, and its position on county’s eastern shore made it a crucial feature of Canada’s defence network. Throughout the ’50s, an attack on Canadian soil by Soviet aircraft was considered a genuine threat – and manning Beaverbank was a high priority.

It remained a high priority for only a short time, though, and the facility closed in 1964. Technology had already advanced to a point beyond the capabilities of Beaverbank, and the soon to be abandoned radar base was considered to be surplus to requirements. It was briefly examined for the new home of the Naval Radio Station Albro Lake, but didn’t make the cut. Beaverbank was eventually turned into a concrete plant, but that, too, didn’t last.

rcaf-station-beaverbank-abandoned-2 (Image: via waymarking.com)

Today, only the vast concrete operations building still stands. The remainder of the abandoned radar early warning station was demolished in 2004. But the site isn’t without its eerie stories.

Inside the abandoned operations building is the so-called ‘red room’ which, according to legend, is lit by a brilliant light with no discernible source at night. The building is certainly reputed to have its ghosts. During construction one of the workers was electrocuted and died on site. Several others allegedly died while the concrete foundations for the buildings were being poured. Another was crushed by a concrete wall, and a murder took place there in the 1970s. While the living no longer man the abandoned radar base, some say the dead still remain.

Abandoned Radar Array at Duga-3, Chernobyl

duga-3-abandoned (Image: Erik Meijerink, cc-nd-4.0)

The massive Duga-3 abandoned radar array is a surreal site on the landscape of Ukraine, as if standing guard over the haunting Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Some 1,000 square miles were impacted by that fateful event at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and standing deep in the restricted area is the epic defunct early warning system that was itself off-limits until 2013. The Duga-3 radar array was active from 1976 to 1989, and its presence was unmistakable from miles around. Known as the Russian Woodpecker, it sent out a distinctive – and maddening – tapping sound that echoed over and over.

abandoned-duga-3-2 (Image: Erik Meijerink)

The giant Cold War early warning installation was designed to detect incoming missiles by bouncing a signal off the Earth’s ionosphere. The frequency was easily picked up by other countries, however, as it violated the then internationally accepted regulations covering what signals could be broadcast on what frequencies.

abandoned-duga-3-3 (Image: Erik Meijerink)

From a distance, the giant radar structure looks like a great wall towering over the trees. In more recent years thrill-seekers have used it for BASE-jumping, and many of those visitors have commented on Duga-3’s eerie man-made beauty. A staggering 150 meters tall and 150 meters wide, the abandoned radar installation weighs about 14,000 tons, its entire surface made up of metal ‘wings’ for sending and receiving information.

abandoned-duga-3-4 (Image: Erik Meijerink)

When it was active, the distinct pecking noise – which arguably sounded more like gunfire than a bird – formed the basis of one rumour after another. Some accused the Soviet Union of attempting to use mind control, or claimed that the so-called Russian Woodpecker was in some way interfering with weather patterns. Now, the abandoned Duga-3 is much less mysterious; there’s even a staircase that tourists can use to climb up it.

Teufelsberg, Germany

Teufelsberg-Germany-abandoned (Image: Jochen Jansen, cc-sa-3.0)

Today, the Teufelsberg is the highest point in West Berlin. That’s a little misleading, though, as the hill is artificial. Once the site of a Nazi training school designed by Albert Speer, after the fall of the Third Reich the school was buried beneath a mound of rubble. Women from across Berlin spent countless days gathering debris by the truckload; they became known as “rubble women”, and in the end they had collected enough to bury the school beneath the destroyed remains of many of Berlin’s shattered buildings.

Teufelsberg-Germany-abandoned-2 (Image: parkinpants, cc-sa-3.0)

On top of the rubble was built a spy base known as Field Station Berlin. From its vantage point, British and American intelligence agencies had the perfect place to sit and listen for Soviet communications. The listening station 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 antenna actively scanning for incoming aircraft. Instead, the facility – the ruins of which can still be seen today – was a different kind of radar – it was meant for intercepting communications.

Teufelsberg-Germany-abandoned-3 (Image: Liam Davies, cc-nc-nd-4.0)

The sensitive field station was privatised in 1996, but its secrets are still highly classified – and will be until about 2022. The abandoned spy base is open for visitors, as long as they take part in an official guided tour of the facility. But the years of emptiness haven’t been kind to the abandoned listening station, and the signs of vandalism and the elements are plain to see amid the derelict ruins of the Teufelsberg facility.

Teufelsberg-Germany-abandoned-4 (Image: Liam Davies, cc-nc-nd-4.0)

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About the author: Debra Kelly



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