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Little Sai Wan passes from RAF control to GCHQ


Britain's sigint effort in Hong Kong dated back to the inter-war period when its main listening station was located on Stonecutter's Island. After the Second World War the main focus of activity was an RAF listening station at Little Sai Wan (above) operated by 367 Signals Unit. In the early 1960s, the gradual end of National Service meant that it was becoming harder for the armed services to staff their large 'Y service' organisations. Hitherto, each new intake of conscripts had been combed for those with exotic language skills or language aptitude. In 1962, a review by Sir Gerald Templer recommended the civilianisation of many of these posts and their transfer to GCHQ. As part of this process, Little Sai Wan became a civilian listening station in 1964. Throughout the 1960s the sigint effort in Hong Kong was conducted jointly with Australia who provided both Chinese and Vietnamese speakers.

The commander of the station, Ken Sly, has written an excellent memoir - A Horse Grows Horns (Sid Harta, 2006) - which recounts many episodes. This includes the failing efforts of his fellow officer, Peter George, to become profficient in Chinese. Peter George told Ken Sly that his future was nevertheless assured because he had written novel. Ken Sly was not initially persuaded, but the novel turned out to be "Red Alert: Two Hours to Doom" - the basis for the Stanley Kubrick Film "Dr Strangelove". Kubrick bought the film rights for a handsome price and also commissioned Peter George to write the first draft of the screen play.  

More recently, Keith Scott, Geoffrey Russell and Reginal Hunt and have written a collective memoir of the RAF effort in Hong Kong called Mandarin Blue: RAF Chinese Linguists - 1951 to 1962 - and the Cold War ISBN 9780956023506