Orford Ness' military history began in 1913, when the Central Flying School’s Experimental Flying Section took ownership of part of the peninsula. Experiments with parachutes, camouflage and aircraft evaluation. German POWs were kept at the site during WWI - and helped to build the flood defenses.
Early Radar Research - Orford Ness Beacon
In 1929, Orford Ness was chosen as the site for early British explorations into the then-recent field of radar. While contemporary national myth credits British boffins with the invention of radar, the principles had been well understood almost since the inception of radio and the Germans had begun to explore the practical possibilities of radar several years ahead of the British. The beacon established at the site was a simple radio installation that looked something like a sail-less windmill (which still stands today).
Within a few years, the tests conducted at Orford Ness gave the British the theoretical and practical background necessary to construct the network of radar-directed air defence that would prove so critical during the RAF's battle with the Luftwaffe in WWII.
Atomic Weapons Research Establishment
In 1950, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment was created to coordinate Britain's efforts in nuclear warfare and took control of the Orford Ness site, which became a testing ground for building design that could withstand nuclear blasts. Officially, no fissile nuclear material was ever detonated at the site, but explosive tests were certainly carried out to test the functional performance of distinctive 'pagoda' shaped buildings - some of which remain standing to this day.
A lighthouse on the peninsula is often cited as the cause of the lights and alleged UFO encounter at nearby Rendlesham Forest in December 1980.