AA Radar Telescope from HMS Gloucester

DSCN2346This is a style of telescope that is not normally a collector’s item, because it’s pretty difficult (normally) to do anything with them. This telescope belongs to the categories of: military equipment, heavy and bullet proof, un-damageable, gun-sights and range-finders. But the history of this one is why it’s so interesting.

As described on Ebay it is a Gunsight Elbow Telescope AA Radar L6 A1, which was one of four such telescopes in service on HMS Gloucester, a Royal Navy Type 42 Destroyer. This was offered for sale when HMS Gloucester was decommissioned in Portsmouth in 2011. The wooden box which holds this scope identifies it as 6650-99-965-3364, and on the outside of the lid it is marked as belonging to the “Aft 909”, presumably the location and the ID of the radar antenna.

DSCN2348The telescope itself is painted a grey colour, and labelled as Telescope Elbow AA Radar L4 A1, with the (presumably NATO) number 6650-99-962-6007. It has a 2” / 50mm OD main tube, with an objective aperture of 18-19mm: at the other end of the 12.5” / 32cm barrel, the diameter increases to 60mm where there are mounting slots/grooves to attach it to the radar aerial. The eyepiece is on the side, at 90 degrees to the optical axis, as you might expect from an elbow telescope. Focus is via a knurled knob on the rear end of the main barrel. So far it has not been dismantled.

The view through the telescope is good, although it offers quite a wide field of view, and limited magnification, compared to any other telescope. In the centre of the view there is a square measurement grid, showing two squares of angle off the centre line of view, one marked 10’ and the other 20’. Presumably these markings are minutes of arc, where 60 minutes is one degree – this seems to work out OK in measuring the observed thickness of a lamp-post at a distance. The eyepiece has a soft rubber cover.

DSCN2351Also in the box is a separate push-on lens (Lens L1 A1, 6650-99-965-3365) to cover the objective, in a black housing, labelled “V.I.Y. for targets 25ft to 28ft”. It enables focussing the system on objects closer to the observer.

HMS Gloucester

The Destroyer HMS Gloucester was built by Vosper Thorneycroft in Southampton, and launched in November 1982: after commissioning in 1985 she served in the Royal Navy as D96, alongside the other 13 Type 42 Destroyers of this class. Two of these were lost in the South Atlantic, fighting to regain the Falklands – these were HMS Sheffield and HMS Coventry. After decommissioning, Gloucester was finally towed out of Portsmouth harbour on 22 September 2015, to be taken to a scrapyard in Turkey.

HMS Gloucester being towed to the Turkish scrapyard

HMS Gloucester towed to the Turkish scrapyard

HMS Gloucester achieved distinction in the First Gulf War, in 1991, serving with the Task Force in the Persian Gulf. A previous HMS Gloucester, the Light Cruiser launched in 1937 and eventually sunk in the Mediterranean in 1941, had earned the name “Fighting G”, after ‘heavy service’ in those early years of WW2. The nickname was earned by the later HMS Gloucester primarily from the coalition task force US partners in the Persian Gulf, after the downing of an Iraqi Silkworm missile by a Sea Dart missile.

The entry in Wikipedia gives a useful outline of her full naval career:



Gloucester served in the Gulf War in 1991 under the command of Commander (later Rear Admiral) Philip Wilcocks where her most notable action was the firing of a salvo shot of Sea Dart missiles to shoot an Iraqi Silkworm missile that was threatening the US battleship USS Missouri and allied minehunters; the first successful missile versus missile engagement at sea in combat by any Navy. The ship also survived attacks from two naval mines and conducted numerous boardings using her boarding party consisting of Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel. The ship’s Lynx helicopter also engaged seven Iraqi warships. She spent the longest period upthreat of any coalition warship. As a result of her endeavours, her captain (Commander Philip Wilcocks) and flight commander (Lt Cdr David Livingstone) were decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross; the operations officer and flight observer were both mentioned in Despatches. After this service Gloucester was rebranded with her nickname of “The Fighting G”.

In August 2010, Gloucester also intercepted and arrested the yacht Tortuga in the Caribbean, which was attempting to smuggle £4million worth of cocaine. This was during HMS Gloucester’s voyage out to the Falkland Islands, where she was deployed from August 2010 to early 2011.

What was the purpose?


HMS Gloucester (www.royalnavy.mod.uk)

What is the function of a telescope on a modern (1985 vintage) radar antenna? If you know please tell me!

By the description the radar is an anti-aircraft radar, ie presumably controlling a missile battery to launch the missile with a lock onto the right target being selected for tracking by the radar. Whether the initial radar target acquisition is intended to be confirmed visually by the operator looking through the telescope, (putting the target inside the graticule, if that is the right word) is unknown, maybe someone can tell me, but it seems the most logical duty for an Elbow Telescope on top of an AA Radar.

HMS Edinburgh firing a Sea Dart missile (navynews.co.uk) Today (13-04-2012) HMS Edinburgh conducted the final Sea Dart Missile firing at the North Eastern Scottish range of Benbecula. The Ship fired five missiles, three single missiles and a two missile salvo at an Unmanned Drone target. This is the last time the 30 year old Missile system will be fired as it is due to be replaced by the new Sea Viper system fitted to the new Type 45 Destroyers.

HMS Edinburgh firing a Sea Dart missile (navynews.co.uk)

The Sea Dart missile required a separate radar illumination of the target to lock-on, and be guided to the target: Sea Dart firings where the missile was launched unguided were not successful. HMS Sheffield tried to disrupt their fatal attack by Exocet missiles by launching an unguided Sea Dart. In the action in the Gulf over the SilkWorm missile attack, the USS Jarrett guided missile Frigate launched a close-in defense missile system, in auto-engagement mode, which then (unfortunately) locked onto the defensive chaff already launched by the Missouri, and missed the missile. The Sea Dart salvo launched by HMS Gloucester was already locked onto the Iranian missile, presumably by the pre-launch lock – maybe achieved with the help of one of these four Elbow telescope systems on board.


The OOW telescope for RD Graham’s Rough Passage!

The Coombes OOW telescope, and the eyepiece lenses+carriers

The Coombes OOW telescope, and the eyepiece lenses+carriers 

This telescope was quoted previously in the story describing the dozen or so ‘Officer of the Watch’  telescopes in the collection. The photo shows the main working parts, all mounted in the single draw tube, in two lens cartridges or carriers.

There were quite a few instrument makers based in Devonport and the Plymouth area – one for example was W.C.Cox: this single draw telescope was labelled as made by “J.Coombes, Nautical Instrument Maker, Devonport”. This company is not listed in Gloria Clifton’s Directory, but that only covers makers active before the year 1850, and the telescope is a classic ‘Officer of the Watch’ design, as made by many different people: it probably dates from the 1930s, maybe even later.

DSCN2332J.Coombes is quoted in reference material as ‘an optical and instrument supplier to the Admiralty from the mid 19th Century onwards’, so it is possible he did build the telescope, and was not just a re-seller. Coombes sextants are often quoted, and there is one in the National Maritime Museum. Nevertheless it is a good quality telescope, and even if only branded by Coombes it could have been made by one of the other OOW makers building for Naval personnel and the Navy, like Cooke, Troughton and Simms.

Cox & Coombes watch

Cox & Coombes watch

However, the link to W.C.Cox in Devonport could be closer than might have been imagined, as Cox was listed at 87 Fore Street, Devonport in 1851 (by Gloria Clifton), and other instruments made by Coombes are seen to quote his address as 87 Fore Street too (on optical instruments such as some Pince-nez, produced between 1900-1920). An advert from the Victorian era quotes Coombes as established since 1805, and then retailing from 87 Fore Street. Even better, a silver watch hallmarked for 1887 of ‘Deck Watch quality’ is recorded as having the makers name of “Cox and Coombes” (www.antiquewatchstore.com).


Closed up the telescope is 44.5cms long (17.5”), and focused it is 58cms (23”). The sunshade does not pull out (as yet), because of damage on the objective end, presumably sustained falling about on a yacht. The OD is 40mm at the eyepiece ring, and maybe 38 at the objective. This oversized diameter at the eyepiece is reflected in the excessive lens mount diameter at the end of the first draw, which struggles to pass through the thread inside the barrel. Of interest here though, this lens carrier and its lens are the only parts identified by a number, 6905: this does not occur anywhere else. It gives rise to the question as to whether this could be a later replacement? The single draw and end fittings on the barrel are nicely silvered. The leather cover on the barrel is glued in place, and is a very thin skin.

DSCN2333All the lenses and carriers are in perfect condition, but there is no pin in the eyepiece metal cover to move it across the lens, and no objective cap/cover. The objective mounting ring is badly dented on one side, trapping the sunshade, so the lens will not unscrew. It could be a criticism of the design that the sunshade retracts behind the position of the objective lens ring, not protecting the latter. [But on other telescope models this sunshade edge can be very sharp, when it does stick out].

The owner: RD Graham

51XDBM9ZV5L._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_The owner is identified by the engraving on the shoulder on the main barrel of the telescope, as RD Graham. In 1934, RD Graham decided to sail the Atlantic single handed, from the UK (Falmouth) to Labrador, in his 30 foot 7 ton cutter Emanuel. He made the crossing safely, despite having no self steering gear, in 24 days, between Mizzen Head and St John’s in Newfoundland. I am not sure if this was the first single handed crossing of the Atlantic by sail, but the journey was much discussed, particularly as to whether it was an irresponsible act, or showed a spirit of true adventure. So it sounds like he set the scene to encourage single handed yachtsmen everywhere, at least!

The story of his journey, and his eventual return via Bermuda and the Azores (with a colleague), after suffering from some form of blood poisoning, is recorded in his book, titled “Rough Passage”. A copy of the book, 2nd edition, came with the telescope, from someone in Warrington, Cheshire, via Ebay – it was purchased in 2004. Naturally I read through the whole account, but nowhere could I find any reference to the use of a telescope to aid this journey, so it is uncertain whether the scope pre-dates the voyage, or was acquired on his return.

Graham’s daughter Helen (Tew) also was an adventurous sailor, and made other single handed voyages, even in her 80s. Helen died in 2004.

WW1 “Officer of the Watch” telescope

The centre scope is the Haselfoot!

The centre scope is the Haselfoot!

The April 2014 posting describing around a dozen “Officer of the Watch” telescopes (on this website) mentioned two further stories that would be told eventually. The first, shown below, is about Captain Haselfoot, and his telescope. The story below started from the account provided by the seller on Ebay, and this triggered me to do some further digging in the archives: it was originally written for a local display to commemorate the start of WW1 in the Alresford Community Centre and in the local library museum display cabinet last September, to show off some older military equipment to school kids and others!

WW1 “Officer of the Watch” naval telescope

This telescope is believed to have been used by Captain Francis E.B. Haselfoot, DSO, particularly on board HMS Attentive during the bombardment of the Belgian coast in April 1918, known as the Zeebrugge Raid. Attentive was an Adventure-class scout cruiser, built for the Royal Navy in 1904 by the Armstrong Whitworth yards at Elswick, Tyne and Wear. In WW1, Attentive was part of the Dover patrol. Attentive was 2640 tons and capable of 25 knots, with 9x 4” guns and multiple torpedo tubes.

HMS Attentive

HMS Attentive

This style of “Officer of the Watch” type telescope was used widely in the Royal Navy during and immediately after WW1. This model was made by Ross of London and has the serial number 31334: it is inscribed with the name: ‘F.E.B.Haselfoot RN’. Subsequent to manufacture it has been bound with leather and finished at both ends with a ‘Turks Head’ type serving.

Captain Francis E.B. Haselfoot DSO was an officer in the Dover patrol in WW1 and then retired to the reserve on 13th March 1929. He was awarded the DSO with the following commendation, as quoted in the London Gazette on 23 July 1918:

Lieut.-Cdr. Francis E. B. Haselfoot, R.N.

DSO awarded for “Surveying duties on the staff of the Vice-Admiral Commanding, Dover Patrol, and did invaluable work during the past few months in connection with this operation and the bombardments of the Belgian Coast generally, having frequently been under fire. On the night of the 22nd-23rd April 1918 he rendered valuable services on board Attentive.

Haselfoot was also awarded ‘The Order of the Crown’ by Belgium.

Further reports after WW1:

Captain Haselfoot again appears in the press after the war when in command of HMS Kellet, a Hunt class Minesweeper and survey ship. During a survey off the Norfolk coast he and one of his officers sighted a “Large Sea Serpent”. The account said:

In August 1923 a survey ship, HMS Kellett, was taking observations off the Norfolk coast, when Captain F E B Haselfoot and the navigator Lt Cdr R M Southern observed something strange. Captain Haselfoot later wrote:

“The time was about 9am. It was a summer day and the weather was calm and clear. I am not sure whether the sun was actually shining. I then observed rising out of the water about 200 yards from the ship, a long, serpentine neck, projecting from six or seven feet above the water. I observed this neck rising out of the water twice, and it remained up, in each case, for four or five seconds. Viewing with the naked eye only, I could not make out precisely what the head was like.”

……Obviously he did not get to his telescope fast enough!

The Telescope itself

After polishing!

After polishing!

This is an Officer of the Watch style telescope, much used, and therefore repaired, presumably to hold it together after significant damage. Early in WW1, in September 1915, Attentive in the Dover patrol was in action off Ostend: there she was one of the first ever ships to come under attack from the air, and suffered some bomb hits, but we do not know if Cdr Haselfoot was on board at that time.

Sunshade also covered with the leather and knotting

Sunshade also covered with the leather and knotting

The telescope barrel, to hold it together presumably, is tightly covered from the far tip of the sunshade back to the eyepiece end of the barrel in a tight brown leather cladding, neatly sewn along the seam, and with Turk’s Head type string knotting around the circumference at each end.

The barrel under this cover does appear to be severely pitted, maybe corroded, and so very lumpy. This covering prevents any dismantling of the scope, which is unfortunate as the far end of the single draw has a retaining nut, probably holding the lens carriage, which is obviously loose, so the draw is only just still held in place!

The single draw is plated silver or chrome, and engraved Ross London No 31334, and F.E.B.Haselfoot RN. On the picture below it can be seen that it needed a good polish when received. Overall length is 23” open, 17” closed. The objective diameter is 1.25”, and some damage can be seen on the outer edge of the objective holder, with a chip out of one of the lens pair as a result.

This one cost me £85 on Ebay in January 2011, and it is Accession number 147.

As received

……As received