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24 September 2014
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Western Approaches - the part it played

Map room
The Royal Navy Map Room was the most important room in combined headquarters

Audio The role of Western Approaches
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Telephone answerer
The WRENs staffed Derby House.

" Well, this bunker played the biggest part of the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic.
It is the original building where the original battle was fought and won. It has been reconstructed exactly how it used to be.

Somewhere like this has to lie low for a minimum of 30 years anyway due to the Official Secrets Act. A lot of it was taken away by the Home Office obviously.

The desk was one of the first things you see and passes will have been shown and stamped etc.
There is a room where Sir Max Horton was, now that is absolutely brilliant. It is absolutely identical to the way it was, and people love that. And a lot of people do think they are only going down to see the map room as that is the focal point, you see it on the old films as well.

The central operations royal navy map room was perhaps the most important room in the combined head quarters. Every scrap of collected information passed through this room at one time or another and this information was relayed here both by telephone and messengers who were dispatched from the radio rooms, the telephone exchange, the teleprinter and decoding stations.

The entrance desk at Derby House.

I used to go into Derby House, which was Western Approaches, and they had all the charts with all the convoys and things there you know. It was horrible to see them taking off ships that had been bombed.

They were all numbered up on the boards. I wouldn’t say that you became accustomed to it but you sort of prayed for the ones that were still left, in the hope that they would get through.

On the massive wall charts to your right, the position of both convoys crossing the Atlantic and allied shipping could be plotted and these charts were constantly being updated. The actual charts displayed today were printed in 1941, and are the last remaining original set of wall charts for these head quarters."

A projector room was installed for Winston Churchill to watch secret war footage.

Winston Churchill was here quite a lot actually , he had a direct phoneline from here to Whitehall, which was his base.

We actually have his secret phonebox down stairs with his phone guarded outside the box and outside the room for the utmost protection.

A couple of people have said to me I thought I saw Winston Churchill outside but I thought no, I was imagining it and he was giving the victory sign, but we thought no that can’t be him, but of course that would have been him.

We’ve got a school room at the very end of the tour, with various artefacts including Mickey mouse gas masks, there is an Anderson shelter in there, a bombed out room. It wasn’t hit in the war, had it been it would have withstood a bomb attack at the time.

Entrance to the various rooms and buildings required a signed permit.

The strength of the building is in the walls, all sorts of different thickness up to 11 foot thick, because although Hitler did know of its existence he didn’t know exactly where it was.

That was one of the reasons Liverpool was so badly hit as I say he knew it was somewhere near the Waterfront so he thought if he bombed the whole area right down to Bootle he’d get it, but thankfully he didn’t.

RAF plotting room
RAF Plotting Room

The sadness from some of them, it brings it all back to them, you know, war is so futile, and what was it all about, what was it all for. And there is something on the wall actually which says everything in one line "They gave their tomorrows for our todays "

On the massive table in front of you the situation map would be located. On this chart enemy locations would be pinpointed. It is perhaps hard to imagine the removal of just one vessel indicator from this chart could represent the sinking of a single ship and the loss of up to one thousand lives.
The work of the plotters cannot be underestimated and shows the part of the vital role played by women in the headquarters."

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Battle of the Atlantic - from BBC History

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