XT-Craft Midget Submarine Wrecks, Aberlady

The northerly wreck

The northerly wreck

Date

20 December 2015

Location

Gullane Sands, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian
NT 45184 81436; 56.02266°N, 2.88099°W

Information

In Aberlady Bay – which, incidentally, was designated in 1952 as the UK’s first Local Nature Reserve – rest the wrecks of two World War II midget submarines 1 km out from the Mean High Water line on the intertidal flats of Gullane Sands. In May 1946 these two XT-Craft – training versions of the X-Craft submarine – were moored one each 100 paces to the north and to the south of a set of five concrete anti-tank blocks (four forming a base with the fifth placed on top) positioned close to the low tide mark. Two aircraft – a Supermarine Seafire (the folding-wing, aircraft-carrier version of the Spitfire) and a de Havilland Mosquito then used the mini submarines floating at high tide as targets in a trial on the effects on X-Craft hulls of 20mm cannon shells. The wrecks of the two vessels were subsequently left abandoned in situ.

Built by Vickers-Armstrong, the X-Craft submarine was 15 metres long and was manned by a crew of four. The midget submarine was designed specifically for use in the 1943 attacks, codenamed Operation Source, on the German fleet in Norwegian fjords. The German Bismarck-class battleship Tirpitz was put out of action for at least six months after sustaining damage from demolition charges placed below her by two X-Craft. (The Tirpitz finally met her end the following year when she took two direct hits from Lancaster bombers.)

Further Reading

X-craft: Aberlady Bay, Firth Of Forth (Historic Environment Scotland);
Operation Source (Wikipedia)

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Fan Bay Sound Mirrors

No. 1 Sound Mirror, Fan Bay

No. 1 Sound Mirror, Fan Bay

Date

26 October 2016

Location

Fan Bay, Dover, Kent
TR 35221 42799; 51.13611°N, 1.36095°E

Information

Concrete sound mirrors were developed in Britain to provide early warning of approaching aircraft. The dish-shaped acoustic reflectors focused sound waves to a point in front of the mirror where a microphone would be placed, or an operator equipped with a stethoscope would be positioned. The technology became obsolete in the 1930s with the advent of radar.

The two 4.5 metre World War I sound mirrors at Fan Bay, the site of which had been filled in in the 1970s, were excavated by the National Trust as part of its restoration of Fan Bay Deep Shelter. An archaeological dig took place in 2014 to find the mirrors and 600 tonnes of spoil was removed to uncover the devices. The guided tour of Fan Bay Deep Shelter includes an opportunity to view the sound mirrors at close quarters.

Further Reading

Sound Mirrors;
Fan Bay Deep Shelter;
First World War ‘sound mirrors’ restored on White Cliffs of Dover (Centenary News)

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Dover Castle

Inside the Keep, or Great Tower, built by Henry II c 1181-88

Inside the Keep, or Great Tower, built by Henry II c 1181-88

Date

25 October 2016

Location

Dover, Kent
TR 32666 41886; 51.12896°N, 1.32391°E

Information

Dover Castle – the largest in England – is a Grade I listed building and is owned by English Heritage. Its strategically important location on a clifftop overlooking Dover Strait in the English Channel was the site of an Iron Age hillfort. A lighthouse – the oldest still surviving in the UK – was also built there by the Romans in the 2nd century. Much of the existing castle was built by Henry II in the 12th century. Major additions were built at the end of the 18th century during the Napoleonic Wars and a network of tunnels beneath the clifftop were excavated to serve as barracks to house the extra troops stationed there at that time. During World War II the tunnels housed an underground hospital and a command centre, from where Vice-Admiral Ramsay led Operation Dynamo to rescue British and French troops stranded at Dunkirk.

Further Reading

Dover Castle (Wikipedia);
Dover Castle (English Heritage);
More posts in the Dover series

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Weeping Window, Perth

Weeping Window, Black Watch Castle and Museum

Weeping Window, Black Watch Castle and Museum

Date

22 August 2016

Location

The Black Watch Castle and Museum, Perth
NO 11438 24358; 56.40311°N, 3.43659°W

Information

The ceramic-poppy art installation Weeping Window, created by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper as part of the 2014 Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London, was on display at The Black Watch Castle and Museum in Perth from 30 June until 25 September 2016.

The Black Watch was formed as an infantry regiment in 1881 and since 2006 has been a battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. During the First World War almost 9,000 soldiers of the Black watch lost their lives and a further 20,000 were wounded.

Perth’s Balhousie Castle, which dates back to the 12th century, became the home of the Black Watch’s regimental headquarters and museum during a re-organisation of the Army in the 1960s. An appeal was launched in 2008 to purchase and develop the castle as a permanent home for the museum and redevelopment started in 2012 with the museum re-opening in 2013.

Further Reading

Weeping Window… by day (Liverpool);
Weeping Window… by night (Liverpool);
The Black Watch Castle and Museum

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Royal Observer Corps (ROC) Monitoring Post, Beddgelert

Air vent

Air vent

Date

14 June 2014
Location

Beddgelert

SH 58273 48683; 53.01661°N, 4.11418°W

Information

The Royal Observer Corps monitoring post at Beddgelert was in operation from 1963 to 1991. This was one of the posts in the North Wales cluster of the ROC’s Western Sector. The network of underground monitoring stations across the UK set up during the Cold War was manned by volunteers and was intended to provide information in the event of a nuclear attack.

Further Reading

Royal Observer Corps;
Royal Observer Corps – Observer Post;
Other posts in this series

 

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Torre del Río de la Miel

Torre del Río del la Miel

Torre del Río del la Miel

Date

24 April 2014
Location

Río de la Miel, Andalucía, Spain

36.75034094, -3.81188904

Information

A series of Martello towers situated on the cliff tops along the shores around Nerja formed part of a larger network of coastal defences in the Province of Málaga. These were built in the years following the Morisco rebellion of Alpujarras in 1567 — the final Islamic battle in Spain — when there was the danger of pirate attacks from North Africa. The remains of the tower at the Río de la Miel stand precariously on the low cliff between the secluded beaches Playa del Molino de Papel (named after the nearby former Paper Mill) and the Playa de las Alberquillas, 5.5 km east of Nerja.

 

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Scotland’s Secret Bunker

The entrance tunnel is 150 yards long with concrete walls 18 inches thick

The entrance tunnel is 150 yards long with concrete walls 18 inches thick

Date

27 August 2013
Location

Troy Wood, Fife

NO 56840 08893; 56.27052°N, 2.69848°W

Information

This Cold War-era underground facility in Fife, Scotland was built in 1951/52 and opened in 1953. The ‘R3 type’ bunker covers 24,000 sq ft on two levels 100 ft below ground and would have accommodated 300 personnel. The bunker was operated by the RAF until 1956. It later served until 1968 as the Regional Seat of Government, manned by the Civil Defence Corps. It was then designated as the Regional Government HQ until its closure in 1993. The base would have become the centre of government for Scotland in the event of a nuclear war.

Scotland’s Secret Bunker (Official website)

 

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Benglog Anti-tank Blocks

Anti-tank blocks, with Pen yr Ole Wen in the background

Anti-tank blocks, with Pen yr Ole Wen in the background

Date

1 June 2013
Location

Benglog, Nant Ffrancon

SH 64749 60410; 53.12364°N, 4.02264°W

Information

The anti-tank blocks and a spigot-mortar mount are located on the old coach road at the head of the Nant Ffrancon pass, close to the western end of Llyn Ogwen. These World War II anti-invasion defences formed part of Western Command’s network of stop lines in Wales.

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Benglog Pillbox, Llyn Ogwen

Pillbox, looking towards Foel Goch

Pillbox, looking towards Foel Goch

Date

1 June 2013
Location

Benglog, Nant Ffrancon

SH 64787 60576; 53.12514°N, 4.02214°W

Information

The pillbox is located close to the waterfalls on the Afon Ogwen at the head of the Nant Ffrancon pass, near the western end of Llyn Ogwen. The site was used previously as a sheep fold and the dry-stone structure has a thick interior lining of concrete. This position formed part of the network of World War II anti-invasion defences in the area.

Pill Box, Bethesda (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales)

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Pont Pen-y-benglog Spigot Mortar Mount

Steel boss

Steel boss – the pivot about which the mortar could rotate

Date

18 May 2013
Location

Pont Pen-y-benglog, Llyn Ogwen

SH 64914 60484; 53.12434°N, 4.02021°W

Information

With a conventional mortar, a tubular launcher fires the mortar bomb. In the case of a spigot mortar, however, a hollow tube in the projectile fits over a solid rod, or spigot, in the launcher. Featuring widely in British anti-invasion defences during World War II, the Blacker Bombard, or 29mm Spigot Mortar, was introduced in 1941. The mortar was equipped with both 20 lb anti-tank bombs and 14 lb anti-personnel bombs.

The spigot mortar emplacement at Pont Pen-y-benglog is situated close to the A5 road near its crossing of the Afon Ogwen and formed part of the stop-line defences in the area.

Spigot Mortar

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Llyn Ogwen Pillbox I

Pillbox, looking over Llyn Ogwen towards Tryfan

Pillbox, looking over Llyn Ogwen towards Tryfan

Date

18 May 2013
Location

Llyn Ogwen

SH 65486 60489; 53.12454°N, 4.01166°W

Information

With the fall of France and the defeat of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940, Germany, in the hope that Britain would surrender, made threats of imminent invasion. Turning the initial bluff into reality would, however, have taken a certain period of preparation, as Britain’s naval and air forces presented a formidable obstacle to mounting the threatened ground assault (codenamed Operation Sea Lion). Nonetheless, in the face of such threats, Britain undertook a major programme of constructing anti-invasion defences during 1940 and 1941. This involved building a network of coastal defences, backed up by a series of ‘stop lines’. Exploiting both natural and man-made barriers, such as rivers and railway cuttings, the stop lines were intended to slow down the advance inland of any invading force. The stop lines were reinforced with additional obstacles such as anti-tank blocks, barbed-wire entanglements, ditches and minefields, and were defended by gun emplacements and pillboxes.

The pillbox at Llyn Ogwen, protecting the A5 road, was part of Western Command’s network of stop lines in Wales, intended to defend against a possible German invasion coming via Ireland.

British anti-invasion preparations of the Second World War (Wikipedia)

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31 Maintenance Unit Depot, Rhiwlas

Concrete hut base, Rhiwlas 31 Maintenance Unit Depot

Concrete hut base, Rhiwlas 31 Maintenance Unit Depot (A)

Date

4 May 2013
Location

Rhiwlas, Gwynedd

(A) SH 57053 65347; 53.16598°N, 4.13977°W
(B) SH 57562 65182; 53.16463°N, 4.13209°W
(C) SH 57364 64918; 53.16221°N, 4.13493°W

Information

The explosives storage facility built by the Air Ministry at Rhiwlas was a sub unit of 31 Maintenance Unit Llanberis. The site, covering an area of approximately 60 hectares, comprised 25 timber-framed Laing huts. Following the collapse of part of the underground bomb store at Llanberis, 7,000 tons of explosives were re-located to the Rhiwlas depot in 1942. The site closed in 1953.

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Langdon Lights, Dover

Langdon Searchlight Battery

Langdon Searchlight Battery

Date

11 February 2013
Location

Langdon Bay, Dover, Kent

TR 34478 42483; 51.13358°N, 1.35014°E

Information

Langdon Lights were three wartime searchlight emplacements – of which two survive – near the foot of the chalk cliffs at Langdon Bay on the east side of Dover. Night-time maritime traffic entering the port could be monitored from the batteries under the illumination from the searchlights.

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Swingate Chain Home Station, Dover

Transmitter towers, now in use for BBC FM transmission

Transmitter towers, now in use for BBC FM transmission

Date

11 February 2013
Location

Swingate, Dover, Kent

TR 33591 43178; 51.14018°N, 1.33795°E

Information

The Chain Home system was a network of coastal early-warning radar stations initially set up before the start of World War II to detect approaching aircraft. Swingate, constructed from 1936 to 1938, was one of these stations. The facility originally had four 350-ft steel transmitter towers and four 240-ft wooden receiver towers. After the war all four wooden towers and one of the four steel transmitter towers were demolished. Of the three remaining towers, one was later replaced, one was taken down in 2010, and one still survives. The station now serves as a BBC FM radio transmission site.

Swingate Chain Home Station (Underground Kent);
Swingate transmitting station (Wikipedia)

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Western Heights, Dover

St Martin's Battery, first built in 1804 to provide additional protection for the harbour below

St Martin’s Battery (A), first built in 1804 to provide additional protection for the harbour below

Date

10-11 February 2013
Location

Dover, Kent

(A) TR 31450 40760; 51.11934°N, 1.30584°E
(B) TR 31562 41237; 51.12358°N, 1.30775°E
(C) TR 30718 40799; 51.11999°N, 1.29543°E
(D) TR 30451 40351; 51.11607°N, 1.29133°E

Information

The Western Heights is a complex of fortifications built on the high ground in the west of Dover to protect the port from attack from either land or sea. The site was developed in several phases. Firstly, simple earthworks were constructed at the end of the 18th century. Then, amidst fears of a Napoleonic invasion, work on more substantial fortifications took place from 1804. And, again owing to concerns over national security, the defences were further bolstered during the 1860s.

There are two main forts in the complex: the Drop Redoubt and the Citadel. The latter, having previously functioned as a Young Offenders’ Institution, is in use today as a detention centre (the Dover Immigration Removal Centre). Military use of the site ceased in the 1950s, after which the local council embarked upon a plan to raze the rest of the complex. Most of the barracks had already been demolished before protests over the loss of the historical assets put a stop to the destruction. Most of the site is now owned by English Heritage and in the 1990s restoration work was carried out on the Drop Redoubt and the Grand Shaft. The latter is a 19th-century triple spiral staircase sunk into the cliff in order to facilitate troop movements between barracks and coastal defensive positions. Ongoing restoration work is being undertaken by the Western Heights Preservation Society.

Western Heights, Dover (Subterranean History);
Dover Western Heights Preservation Society

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Abbot’s Cliff Acoustic Mirror

Acoustic Mirror, Abbot's Cliff

Acoustic Mirror, Abbot’s Cliff

Date

10 February 2013
Location

Abbot’s Cliff, Folkestone, Kent

TR 27188 38605; 51.10170°N, 1.24369°E

Information

Before the advent of radar, there was an experimental programme during the 1920s and 30s in which a number of concrete sound reflectors, in a variety of shapes, were built at coastal locations in order to provide early warning of approaching enemy aircraft. A microphone, placed at a focal point, was used to detect the sound waves arriving at and concentrated by the acoustic mirror. These concrete structures were in fixed positions and were spherical, rather than paraboloidal, reflectors. This meant that direction finding could be achieved by altering the position of the microphone rather than moving the mirror.

The acoustic mirror at Abbot’s Cliff is located on the cliff top almost midway between Folkestone and Dover.

Acoustic mirror (Wikipedia);
Abbot’s Cliff sound mirror (Andrew Grantham)

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Crail Airfield / Royal Naval Air Station HMS Jackdaw

Sign for Crail Raceway with the airfield control tower in the background

Date

1 November 2012
Location

Crail, East Neuk of Fife

NO 62452 09378; 56.27535°N, 2.60793°W

Information

The airfield at Crail was constructed in 1939 as Royal Naval Air Station HMS Jackdaw. It was built on the site of a First World War naval air base which had been demolished after its closure in 1919. HMS Jackdaw was the main Fleet Air Arm torpedo-warfare training base. Air operations came to an end in 1947 and the base was redesignated as HMS Bruce, a boys’ training facility. It later served as an Army Transit Camp, and during the 1950s the Joint Services School for Linguists was based at the station, teaching Russian to National Service conscripts. From 1960 the base was used as a pig farm and today parts of it are home to an industrial estate, a karting circuit and Crail Raceway — a motorsport venue featuring a drag strip and race track.

The Torpedo Attack Training Building houses a large painted plaster cyclorama supported on a timber frame. Above the cyclorama there is a gantry for lighting, which was used to simulate various daylight conditions, and a platform from which the image of a ship would be projected onto the cyclorama screen. Trainee torpedo-bomber pilots would sit in a high-level mock-up of a cockpit for target-acquisition drills using the facility.

Crail Airfield (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland);
Crail Airfield, Technical Area, Torpedo Attack Training Building (British Listed Buildings);
Crail Raceway

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Boot Hill, Crimea Pass

‘Boot Hill’ – a brown mound of the rusting remains of old boots

Date

22 September 2012
Location

Crimea Pass, Blaenau Ffestinog

SH 69911 48476; 53.01771°N, 3.94072°W

Information

The Crimea Pass on the A470 is a mountain pass between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Dolwyddelan and is over 1,200 ft above sea level. The road through the pass was opened in 1854 and it takes its name from the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) being waged at the time. Stone walls in the area are said to have been constructed by Russian prisoners of war from the conflict. There used to an inn at the top of the pass known as ‘The Crimea’.

At the side of the road about two miles north of Blaenau Ffestiniog lies a sterile, brown hummock of a somewhat surreal composition: rusting nails, lace-hole eyelets and heel irons from old boots.

There seem to be various accounts as to the origins of this strange mound. Miners’ boots? The results of disaffected World War I Commonwealth troops waiting to be shipped home burning their boots and caps in protest? According to Treasure Maps, the mound dates back to the World War II era, when Blaenau Ffestiniog’s Market Hall was commandeered as a boot repair factory.

Boot Hill (Treasure Maps)

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Royal Air Force Museum Cosford

Hawker Siddeley Dominie T.Mk.1 (XS709). Advanced navigation trainer for students going on to serve on fast front-line jets.

Date

29 August 2012
Location

Cosford, Shropshire

SJ 78821 05320; 52.64518°N, 2.31444°W

Information

RAF Cosford opened as a storage, maintenance and training base in 1938, and since 1979 has also been home to the Royal Air Force Museum. This aviation museum has two sites, the other one being in London. The National Cold War Exhibition opened at RAF Cosford in 2007.

Royal Air Force Museum Cosford;
RAF Cosford (Wikipedia)

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