6 RU - Louisbourg Radar Site

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6 RU - Louisbourg Radar Site (1942-1945) - A World War II Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Radar Station established in 1942. Located inland, 2 miles northwest of Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Initially assigned a Radar Detachment designation of 6 RD later changed to Radar Unit designation of RU.

Aerial photo, view looking west, of the Louisbourg radar complex - September 1942. Courtesy Department of National Defence.
Aerial photo, view looking west, of 6 RD Louisbourg Site, the remains of the Louisbourg radar complex as it appears today.
Aerial photo, view looking north of 6 RD Louisbourg Site, the remains of the Louisbourg radar complex as it appears today.

History

Part of the Harbor Defense of Sydney.

This chart illustrates the overlapping air defence radar coverage on the east coast of Canada by 1944.

The radar station was located on the Louisbourg Road (now Terra Nova Road), 2 miles from the town of Louisbourg, 10 miles from the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island, on property owned by the late John MacMillan.

Planning for radar stations on the East Coast of Canada had started in 1940. Siting had been completed, equipment ordered. The Louisbourg site was under construction before August, 1942, the Range and Direction Finding (RDF) equipment installation party arrived on 1 August 1942 and immediately started to work, hauling the RDF Equipment up to the station where it was unpacked and assembly began.

It was difficult to work on secret equipment with so many labourers around, but installation went ahead well, with the equipment partially functional by August 18, and assembly of the receiver and Thyratron on August 22. The Installation party was made up of Cpl. Skinner, LAC Woods, LAC Noel, LAC MacIntosh and P/O Marqus.

When they arrived, the buildings were hardly more than shells, having no windows, doors and in some cases no floors. The difficulty of digging in the very rocky ground made the erection of the buildings arduous and slow. This accounted for the arrival of the installation party before the completion of the buildings.

Initial equipment included the Chain Home Low-flying (CHL) early warning radar of British origin. This radar, with an approximate range of 100 miles, was designed to detect low flying aircraft and could also detect surface vessels under certain conditions. The station tracked planes over the Atlantic and at one time received a commendation for tracking one plane for 18 hours. The equipment was manned twenty-four hours a day, with four shifts of four to six men.

Commanding officers of the RCAF were: F/O BF Deshaw, P/O VJ Hawkeswood, P/O WH Noble, F/O SR Talbot, F/L JMG Dorais and F/O WJ McLaughlin.

The station was handed over to the permanent crew on August 21 / 22, 1942 in fully operational condition after just 15 days of very hard work. An account of the construction from RCAF Radar 1941-1945 (Royal Canadian Air Force Personnel on Radar in Canada During World War II), compiled by WW McLachlan:

On August 6th 1942, a group of us went to Sydney from Halifax by train and then to Louisbourg by truck. I arrived late as I had missed the train in Halifax. I went to make a phone call to Margaret Brittain thinking that the train left at 7:10 pm but it left at 6:50 pm so I had to take the next train. I arrived at Sydney RCAF base without a tie, I lost mine enroute, however a friendly security guard obtained one for me. I guess I took it off to sleep and it became misplaced.
The now famous "Fort" was unknown, at least to the general public, at that time. The town was small, and as I remember, had only one gravel road from one end to the other. The buildings were drab and unpainted, probably because of their proximity to the sea-side. Our station was at the far end of town, somewhere in the woods, but no mosquitoes thank goodness, as our abode was a windowless and doorless building under construction.
We slept on the floor with one blanket below and one on top, there were no bunks or mattresses, but we slept regardless of conditions, as we were so tired each night. F/L Robert L Margeson was our leader, he was from Berwick, Nova Scotia, and a graduate of the Nova Scotia Technical College, which is now part of Dalhousie University. He was a very fine gentleman to work for. Bob Tilbury, Skinner and another chap arrived from the USA to help us. They wore American uniforms as they had been in Panama by the canal to install the dozen Canadian radar sets produced by REL and shipped to the USA along with the RCAF radar technicians, to protect the Panama Canal.
We ate our meals at the Dun Donald Inn in downtown Louisbourg. The meals were great with plenty of home-cooked fresh fish and vegetables, but we each had to pay for them. We also had to take turns serving the tables and washing the tables. Apparently the local clergy had advised the young ladies of the area to beware of the 'boys in blue', and so were not employed as waitresses, or for that matter not visible to us. We however were so tired each night that we were not on the 'howl' and couldn't care less of their existence. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. We were paid for our expenses when we arrived at our home base Halifax Y Depot.
We had two trucks; one a half-ton pick-up, the other a two-ton stake body type. The trucks were used to haul the equipment from the guarded box cars to the station, as well as transporting the tired airmen to and fro. The job of installation required unloading the box cars, a piece at a time, on to the trucks. The heavy diesel electric sets, the radar receiver and transmitter, all under secrecy, the antenna gear and the gantry, had to be man-handled as we had nothing but block and tackle and youthful energy to move them. About ten of us worked from sun-up till dark every day. One of the difficult tasks was to inflate the truck tires which were deflated in order to allow the stake truck, loaded with gear, to pass under the wooden railway bridge which was situated between the box-cars and the station. The loaded truck was about two inches too high for it to pass so the choice was, lower the road bed or deflate the tires. The latter course was taken, but then we had to hand-pump the tires to the required pressure.
We set the diesel-electric units on their bases, bolted them down, checked the oil in the base, turned them over by hand, to ensure freedom of movement, put in some diesel fuel and gave them a general inspection. We than gased the pony-engine and after routine inspection and connection of the checked out battery, engaged the electric starter and ran the motor for a run in check. When all was well, or appeared to be, the clutch for the diesel was engaged and it was brought up to speed. The generator indicated the frequency and voltage of it's output and after running for a time, it was shut down. The same procedure was followed for the three units, and when the third unit was checked we closed the main switch which gave power and light to the station. We of course had to check the synchronizing lights between the two running lights, to provide for their parallel operation. They were synchronized on the dark of the lights, and when all had been checked, we shut two down.
The operation of the diesel units was closely monitored for some time, checking their temperature as well as possible oil leaks. The pony motors were of course shut down when the diesels fired. As a point of interest, the fuel consumption of each unit was about a gallon for a 24 hour period. When the radar transmitter and receiver were installed and the antenna with turning gear checked, we fired up each unit at that time. We adjusted the shorting bars and using a neon light, removed the standing waves, then checking and rechecking the operation, our job was complete.
When the permanent crew arrived on the 21st of August, we left the station in an operating condition. In just 15 days we had completed a monumental task and were sincerely thanked by the CO. We left on a sunny morning, which was fortunate as we drove in the back of the stake truck, with the sides now on, to Halifax. The trip was most interesting as we drove through rural Cape Breton, on gravel dusty roads, where poverty was quite apparent. There was little if any traffic, at least till we arrived at the ferry to the mainland. This was before the causeway was built. We were pleased to reach the Halifax "Y" Depot, our home until our next move, where many of us volunteered to go, Cape Bauld, Newfoundland.


Physical Plant

6 RD - Louisbourg Radar Site Plan sketch, circa 1943-44.

The station comprised of an administration building, housing the Orderly Room, a cook house and dining room, a guard house, H barracks with men sleeping on one side and a hospital and games room on the other side. The officers slept in one end of the Administration Building.

It was called No. 6 Radar Station and was attached to the RCAF station in Sydney, Nova Scotia. A ration run to Sydney was made each week for supplies. About 80 to 100 men were stationed at the complex in Louisbourg.

In the early days, as the heating equipment was not completed, men were moved to the Dundonald Inn and to private homes in town. Some of the married men brought their families to live with local families. A number of local women married RCAF men and moved away after the war.


Closure

Officially deactivated on 2 Sept 1945.


6 RU Louisbourg RS Major Equipment List
Radar

Current Status

Now on private land, the only remaining structure is the former combined Administration Building and Officer's Quarters. The foundations of the Operations Hut are visible, as is the outline of the Mess Hall. Little else remains.


Location: Louisbourg, Nova Scotia.

Maps & Images

Lat: 45.93213 Long: -60.00580

See Also:

Sources:

Links:

Visited: No


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