Chapter Two


In the 1930’s, Edward Lewis – a stockbroker – purchased a gramophone manufacturing company. He then decided to make and supply recorded music, changing the company name to the Decca Record Company.

As mentioned in Chapter 1, during WW2 Decca was approached to manufacture the hyperbolic radio navigational aid that became the ‘Navigator’, which in turn led to the creation of the Decca Navigator Company, with Harvey Schwartz as its Managing Director. After WW2, Group Captain Fennessy joined the Navigator Company as joint Managing Director.

Photo of Sir Edward Lewis

Decca Radar grew out of the Decca Navigator Company with Sir Edward Lewis financing its start-up. In 1949 a small team of engineers was recruited for the Navigator Company to begin work on designing a Marine Radar aimed at the commercial market. The following year Decca Radar was formed with Group Captain (later Sir Edward) Fennessy as Managing Director.

Group Captain Sir Edward Fennessy CBE, FIEE, FRIN. - Was born in London in 1912 and educated at the Grammar School at Forest Gate. After graduating from Queen Mary College, London, he first worked for STC (Standard Telephone and Cables) before joining the Air Ministry. In 1938 he joined Sir Robert Watson-Watt's Air Ministry research team at Bawdsey Manor and was Civilian Duty Officer at the Bawdsey CH station when the war started. In 1940 he joined the RAFVR. By 1944, he was a Wing Commander and was entrusted with the preparation of a master plan for installing and operating the navigating, path finding and bombing system for the D-Day landing, including GEE and Obee. For this work he was awarded an OBE in 1944.

Photo of Group Captain Sir Edward Fennessy

In 1965 the Plessey Company purchased the ‘Heavy Radar’ and Display Groups of Decca Radar and their activities merged with the Liverpool Based Automation Division of Plessey, the new company then becoming known as Plessey Radar.

The Plessey Automation products complimented those of Decca Radar, as they brought to the enterprise design and manufacturing of computer systems, electronic data displays, message switching systems (including for GCHQ), London’s road traffic control systems, touch wire displays, cryptography and the major ‘Linesman’ software and project management group.

Photo of Sir John Clark

Plessey was under the chairmanship of John Clark (later Sir John) succeeding his father Alan, with his brother, Michael, as managing director. Sir John, an ambitious and forceful Chief Executive, presided over a rapid expansion of Plessey in the early post war years. In parallel, Arnold Weinstock (later to become Barron Weinstock of Bowden) had taken over the reins of the General Electric Company. In 1985 GEC launched a £1.2 billion bid for the Plessey Company but this was rejected by the Monopolies Commission. A further bid in 1988 was also disallowed but in 1989 GEC and Siemens (of Germany) made a £2 billion joint bid for Plessey. The Clark brothers then, albeit reluctantly, accepted the offer. The impact of this take-over was that Plessey Radar became part of the Siemens Group while the Plessey Displays Division (at Addlestone Surrey) became part of GEC, causing complications for the systems aspects of the radar business.

Prior to the take-over Plessey had been organised into a number of businesses, each operating independently but reporting financially to a main board. In 1976, to simplify the company structure, a number of related Plessey businesses (i.e. Plessey Avionics, Plessey Marine, Plessey Services, Plessey Defence Systems, Plessey Airfields and Plessey Radar) were combined into a single group and given the name Plessey Electronic Systems Limited (PESL). This still left the large Plessey Telecommunications Group and a number of smaller businesses operating independently.

The decision at GEC to concentrate on ‘Telecommunications’ rather than Defence, which had been the more profitable side of the GEC business, proved first of all to be bad news for Plessey Radar at Addlestone, Surrey and subsequently for GEC itself. ‘Addlestone’ incorporated Plessey Services and the Display and Data Processing Division. October 18th, 1991, saw ninety-five redundancies announced among the Addlestone staff, followed by a further one hundred and fifty on April 25th1992, and another sixty-five on July 8th that year. GEC/Marconi ceased to trade in March 1998 and the activities at Addlestone, that were once Plessey, were finally at an end.

From the takeover Plessey Radar, on the Isle of Wight and at Chessington, became part of the Siemens Company and was renamed Siemens-Plessey Radar Ltd. In 1990, a further change in the name led to the Company being known as Siemens Plessey Systems. This followed a merger with the ex Plessey assets at Christchurch that had also been taken over by Siemens. Siemens Plessey Radar and Siemens Plessey Systems were always part of the Siemens radar business (Siemens A.G., Defence Electronics) at Unterschleissheim near Munich in Germany and never part of the Siemens U.K. Company.

By 1996 the Siemens Corporation’s main board in Germany had decided to leave the military market, which it had acquired as part of the 1989 take-over, this was achieved by moving the civil air traffic control activities into a Siemens and Thomson CSF ‘joint venture’ company and selling the military activities to BAE.

In 1998 Siemens transferred their majority shareholding of the joint venture company to Thomson CSF (a French Government sponsored company) whereupon the ATC product range was rationalised, there being duplication. This resulted in the Watchman Solid State S-band radar being replaced by the Thomson ‘STAR’ radar, a move that has to be regarded as an enterprise low point, as the WATCHMAN ‘S’ equipment had been put in service and was in successful operation well ahead of the STAR radar. However, this happens in the international take-over culture, when national technology assets are not protected.

The employees of the ATC business at Cowes were transferred, partly to the Radar Company’s Headquarters at Oakcroft Road, Chessington, but mainly to Ferndown in Dorset. This part of the company’s name being changed to ‘THALES’. There then followed a steady reduction in THALES/TCSF staff numbers, which eventually led to the closing of the Chessington and Ferndown sites. The small number of personnel remaining with the company at Chessington were moved to Davis Road, Chessington, where they combined with staff from Racal, the company that had previously taken over Decca’s Marine Radar activities, and itself an enterprise that had also been taken over by Thomson CSF. The Defence Naval businesses remained at Cowes.

After Siemens had sold its UK military business to British Aerospace, the ex-Siemens businesses were merged with BAE’s existing SEMA (Naval Combat Systems) business, based at New Malden, Surrey (BAEDSL).

GEC, wanting to concentrate on Communications and its Dot. Com. based enterprise sold their defence electronics businesses (Marconi) to BAE and re-branded itself ‘Marconi’. The merged BAE Systems and GEC assets were also re-branded as BAE Systems.

Prior to the sale of GEC Companies to BAE Systems, GEC had reached agreement to form a joint venture with Alenia (part of the Italian Finmeccania Group) to be called Alenia Marconi Systems. This arrangement had to continue and it was decided that the part of the old BAE Systems DSL business that had synergy with the new Alenia Marconi business would merge to form a new systems company. This included the Cowes based radar business, parts of the systems business at Christchurch and the ex SEMA Naval Combat Systems business at New Malden. In preparation for the merger a new company was formed and was named BAE Systems CARS (Combat And Radar Systems). Alenia Marconi Systems and CARS merged and the new company was called ‘AMS’. At a later date BAE Systems and Finmeccania concluded their arrangement and dissolved the partnership. The UK assets of AMS, with the exception of what was left of the ATC radar business that traded as AMS (ATM Division) were formed into a new company that would be known as BAE Systems (Integrated Systems Technology) ‘INSYTE’. The ATM business, along with several other BAE equipment businesses, was taken into a new Italian Company SELEX. The Cowes based radar business is as of today part of the BAE Systems INSYTE business.

Prior to the GEC - Siemens take-over of Plessey Radar there were some 1,300 employees at Cowes, where 300 were design staff and the remainder typically employed in manufacturing, testing, quality assurance, logistics, training and administration. The total number of BAE Systems INSYTE staff at Cowes in 2009 numbered approximately 400. A similar level of reduction also occurred in the ‘old rival’ Marconi Radar (now part of the INSYTE family). Both now have a much reduced military radar market to address and the growth of the international satellite and computer industries, along with the ‘Peace Dividend’, has materially impacted on the scope of the radar industry.

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