Northwood

Fleet Weather Centre – Northwood

To introduce the Fleet Weather Centre at Northwood it is necessary to go a little further back in time to explain where it came from. The Admiralty Forecast Section was set up in the Citadel under Whitehall at the onset of World War 2 to provide forecasts for the Western Fleet and those ships in Home Waters. In the early 1960’s a new section was set up alongside AFS, namely Anti-Submarine Warfare Environmental Prediction System (ASWEPS) and the forerunner of the Oceanographic Section.

After twenty five years in the capital, in June 1967, AFS transferred to Northwood, then RAF Northwood and HQ Coastal Command RAF, where it took on the title of Western Fleet Weather Centre. This was followed on 3 October of the same year by the recently renamed Oceanographic Forecast Section. Their working accommodation, unlike WFWC, was not underground but in two, some say three, WW2 vintage caravans/ lorries situated on the car park/parade ground at Northwood. A rather inauspicious start to complement their new and rather grand title!

The reasoning behind the move being that CinCWF had recently moved his HQ from Portsmouth to Northwood and it made economic sense to co-locate key sections of his command and also made for easier communication as NATO and some US organisations were located at Northwood. With a major development of underground offices this was considered to be a timely move. More Changes were afoot as in 1969 the Royal Navy took over and RAF Northwood became HMS Warrior, then in 1971 CinCWF Became CinCFleet meaning that Western was dropped from the Met section title and it became Fleet Weather Centre. The change of name came with the closing of the Far East station meaning that the western designation was no longer relevant.

The original WFWC was situated ‘down the hole’ in the admirals corridor – grey linoleum on the floor until the CinC’s offices were reached when it became blue carpet; in the meantime the ‘poor relations’ continued to work in their caravans, one of which was reputed to have been used by Montgomery in the desert, unsubstantiated as there is no documentary proof. All these offices were small, cramped and badly over-crowded. Everyone remember them as being noisy and with no air conditioning meaning that watch members were working in sub-tropical temperatures.

© John Notley

To celebrate its new title, a new met office was constructed in 1971. This was situated further down the hole and was much bigger and better – it actually had space ‘to swing a cat’! The whole office had been purpose built with brand new equipment, making for a much pleasanter working environment. It was in that same year that the oceanography section relinquished their caravans and moved into the new CinC’s building aka the ‘Lego Palace’.

Originally the weather centre was staffed by naval ratings and senior rates with the wrens being employed even further down the hole under one wren senior rate, in a separate met office linked to the then newly introduced Polaris boats. Mixed watches were to come along at a very much later date.

© Colin Brenchley

© Colin Brenchley

It goes without saying that this was not to be the last make over, or indeed, move undertaken by FWOC. Very early computers had been in use by the oceanographic section of the weather centre since the mid 1970’s and in 1982 plans were implemented to expand the weather centre again, this time over two floors, still down the hole. The upper floor was to accommodate all the data handling and communications equipment, whilst the lower floor was to become a very spacious forecasting area. All this was to complement a brand new automated direct computer link with the Met Office, then situated at Bracknell. Although certain parts of the oceanographic section had, over the years, gradually been moving underground, it was in 1986 that the weather centre had a fully integrated Metoc capability.

Far from being the last make over; as more equipment became less cumbersome not to say more computer dominated there was need for fewer ratings and wrens as many of their jobs were taken over by machines. This meant there was more space available and the height of luxury – a carpet was laid in the centre. In 2005 another makeover took place as the old FWOC became JMOC and other services started to work alongside the RN.

CHRONOLOGY

1939 – Admiralty Forecast Section in the citadel at Whitehall

1962 – PASWEPS, later ASWEPS formed next door to AFS

    June 1967 – Admiralty Forecast Section moved to Northwood and

became Western Fleet Weather Centre

   October 1967 – ASWEPS moved to Northwood and became Western

Fleet Oceanographic Centre

1971 – WFOC moved into CinCFleet main building

1971 – WFWC moved from Admiral’s corridor to new offices

further down the hole and renamed Fleet Weather Centre

1982 – Union of Met and Oc to become METOC

    June 1996 – PJHQ Northwood became operational

2003 – METOC branch integrated into HM branch

2005 – FWOC gets its latest make over

2006 – Proposal for joint met office at Northwood

    October 2008 – FWOC becomes JOMOC

Bibliography

How the Weather Fared at Northwood – GWC June 2008

Various Directorate Newsletters

Triton Newsletters – published by HMTG since 2005