The Enigma of Backbone Essay

The Enigma of Backbone Essay

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The Enigma of Backbone The enigma of Backbone has been with us for over 30 years since Peter
Laurie first referred to the use of microwave relay towers in his 1967
Sunday Times article on civil defence. Three years later he expanded
the article into the groundbreaking "Beneath The City Streets" in
which he says "The GPO planned a chain of concrete towers code-named
Backbone which linked the 3 major cities, as well as having
connections with the air-defence chain". Unfortunately, whilst
mentioning a role for Backbone in both civil defence and air defence
he assumed that the system linked "secret sites", a belief founded on
the mistaken, but perhaps understandable assumption that the civil
defence sites the government said it would provide existed but because
they could not be seen they must be secret. Unfortunately, we now know
they they could not be seen because they did not actually exist. Later
editions of the book largely dropped the idea of Backbone as part of a
communications network for "secret sites" but continued to maintain,
correctly, that it had some military function.

Writing some 10 years later Duncan Campbell gave us some more details
in "War Plan UK" saying that Backbone had been conceived in 1954 for a
wartime role but with a peacetime one of feeding international
communications into the US listening base at Menwith Hill. Both
authors mentioned that microwave systems like Backbone would be less

... middle of paper ...

...he only other concrete towers are
post-Backbone ones in cities - London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds
and Bristol, or in the case of Tolsford Hill high on the North Downs
near Folkestone. They would all be very visible to many people and
this adds to the impression that the difference structures were
dictated simply by appearance with aesthetics overruling function.

Although Backbone is frequently mentioned in PRO files on home defence
in the late 1950s it is hardly mentioned at all in the 1960s. It seems
that the original Backbone stations became absorbed into a much larger
microwave network and reports speak of "completion of the system which
began with Backbone" and "stations supplementing Backbone". Files
which give details of pre-and post-strike communications from the end
of the 1960s do not mention it at all.

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