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Radio Caroline 1980s - History (9)

At the beginning of August 1989 there were rumours that some sort of direct action was being planned against the Ross Revenge, although on 16th August the Dutch authorities denied these stories. Despite this categorical statement by the Dutch authorities, the very next day police raided twenty premises in Holland and seven in Belgium, all owned or occupied by people suspected of being associated with the three offshore radio stations based on the Ross Revenge.

Meanwhile, in the North Sea on 17th August 1989 a British Coastguard vessel, Landward, circled the Ross Revenge a few times and took up position close to the radio ship. Later a member of the crew asked permission to board the Ross Revenge, but this was refused. A Dutch official on the Landward then informed crew members on the radio ship that the Radio 819 organisation on land had been raided and all people associated with the station arrested, including DJs and advertisers. He also asked the crew of the Ross Revenge to close down their transmitters.

The crew, confused and uncertain about what had really taken place on land, said they would discuss the request amongst themselves and give the Landward a decision later. Ultimately the crew decided that the Dutch nationals on board the Ross Revenge should leave the ship to try and find out what had really happened, while the English and American nationals would remain on board the radio ship.

Later in the afternoon the Landward returned to hear the crew's answer and were told that only Dutch personnel were prepared to leave the radio ship.

Officials on the Landward then said the plan had changed and everyone must now leave the Ross Revenge irrespective of nationality. The crew obviously would not agree to this and advised those on board the Landward that there was no point in discussing the matter further.

Suspecting that something dramatic was about to happen Radio Caroline's engineer, Peter Chicago, who was on shore leave, made his way back to the Ross Revenge later that night in a small dinghy. He took command of the ship and spent some hours hiding equipment and spare parts in various places on the Ross Revenge. He also decided that there should be no further contact with those on board the Landward.

During the morning of 18th August 1989 programmes on both Caroline 558 and Radio 819 continued as normal, but the first indication listeners to Caroline 558 had that all was not well came at 10.50am when three records, "Imagine", "Lady in Red", and a Loving Awareness track were played continuously as a coded indication to the station's land-based representatives that something was seriously wrong aboard or near the Ross Revenge. Throughout the morning DJ Neil Gates started announcing the station as "Radio Caroline" rather than "Caroline 558" and indicated that after midday Radio Caroline programmes would also be broadcast on 819kHz. The programmes of WMR on the shortwave transmitter were discontinued shortly after midday.

Later that evening  Radio Caroline announced that the DTI vessel, Landward, had been joined by a Dutch ship, the Volans, which had on board Dutch police, Dutch Radio Regulatory Department (Opsporings Controle Dienst - OCD) officials as well as some hired 'heavies'.

Separate programmes commenced again on Radio 819 the following morning, 19th August 1989, but consisted largely of continuous music, although one or two of the scheduled taped programmes were broadcast. Programmes on Caroline 558 continued as normal.  

The Landward advised over the ship-to-shore radio that a final decision must be made by the crew to leave the Ross Revenge by 12 noon. The crew on board the radio ship took no action to comply, but when the Volans was spotted coming out of the mist toward the radio ship Peter Chicago contacted North Foreland Radio asking for assistance from the Coastguards. His call was not acknowledged.

The Volans thenRaid on Ross Revenge drew alongside the Ross Revenge and an officer from the Dutch Water Police asked permission to come aboard and inspect the ship's registration papers. The request was repeatedly refused, but the police insisted that they had powers to ask for the ship's papers and that the Captain was obliged to produce them. Peter Chicago eventually told them the Ross Revenge was registered in Panama, but again refused to produce the registration documents.


After his fourth refusal the police forced their way on board, in the process punching and knocking Peter Chicago to the deck. Once on board they again asked to see the ship's registration papers and eventually, in the face of overwhelming force, Peter Chicago produced them. The police then stated that they had come to dismantle the transmitters and studios on board the Ross Revenge and asked for his co-operation to prevent unnecessary damage.  


The crew of the Ross Revenge were in no position to repel the 30-strong armed boarding party from the Volans, which itself was almost as large as the radio ship. Station Engineer and ship's 'Captain', Peter Chicago, did try to prevent some men boarding the Ross Revenge, but he was threatened with a gun and punched as was DJ Caroline Martin when she tried to bar the door of the transmitter room. The Dutch were accompanied by DTI officials from Britain, but they took no active part in  seizing or damaging the station's equipment.

While all this was going on listeners to both stations were kept informed by way of special announcements, but at 1.08pm both medium wave transmitters on the Ross Revenge fell silent and once again Radio Caroline had gone off the airwaves.

The raiders objective was to dismantle and seize everything on board the Ross Revenge which could be used by Radio 819, and this included items from the Radio Caroline operation as well - transmitters, aerial systems, studio equipment, records and tapes. Some items which were transferred to the Volans, including the fragile ceramic insulators and studio equipment, were smashed as they were thrown from the deck of the radio ship. The Ross Revenge's aerial array was cut from the masts and loaded on to the Volans, but the masts themselves were left relatively undamaged.


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The raid on the Ross Revenge, August 1989 (ships l - r) Landward, Volans, Ross Revenge


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Mail on Sunday

20th August 1989

News of the World

20th August 1989

Live footage of the boarding of the Ross Revenge on 19th August 1989.

(Recorded by the Dutch authorities involved in the raid)

1. Announcing arrival of the Dutch tug Volans

2. Announcement of boarding


3. Request to stop calling coastguard

4. Request for help


5. Boarders heading for studio


6. Request for help - all in studio


7. Finally cut off air by boarders

1 announcing arrival of Dutch tug 19.08.89.mp3 2 announcement of boarding 19.08.89.mp3 3 request to stop calling coastguard 19.08.89.mp3 4 request for help 19.08.89.mp3 5 boarders heading for the studio 19.08.89.mp3 6 further announcement - all in studio 19.08.89.mp3 7 cut off air 19.08.89.mp3

Edited extracts of events unfolding on board the Ross Revenge on 19th August 1989

Raiders board the Ross Revenge 19th August 1989

The raid on the Ross Revenge ,19th August 1989.

(Note this video lasts approximately 51 minutes)