Alan Turnbull’s
Secret Bases
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An entertaining guide to using
Internet-based research tools
OS maps, aerial photos and Google Earth
to reveal the UK's "hidden"
MoD facilities and military sites
Featuring covert spy bases,
underground bunkers and more
The website that causedbut with a Twist in the Tale
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Page last updated:
9th October 2014
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"Secret Base" locations revealed - Part 3 of 5

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Government Pipelines and Storage System (GPSS)

PermalinkIn a very controversial planning application submitted to North Somerset Council in June 2009, major expansion of Bristol International Airport is proposed. As well as new terminal buildings and associated car parking improvements, a plan to resite the main aviation fuel depot is a key part of the submitted plans.

The existing above ground fuel storage facility next to the runways is to be decommissioned and a new underground fuel tank farm is to be constructed at the north west corner of the perimeter near Downside village. But rather alarmingly, the new jet fuel depot is to be sited in close proximity to both the public car parks AND a proposed hotel development!

Bristol International Airport expansion
Bird's Eye view (looking south) of
Bristol International Airport's 2009 expansion proposals
(north west corner at Downside village)
including a new underground aviation fuel depot alongside a hotel development
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
Bristol International Airport expansion
Plans for Bristol International Airport's 2009 expansion proposals
showing a new underground aviation fuel depot alongside a hotel development


All of the major RAF and USAF airbases around the UK, together with key installations such as AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield, are connected to large oil refineries around the coastline using a massive network of underground high pressure pipelines and Petroleum Storage Depots (PSD), referred to as the Government Pipelines and Storage System (GPSS). For safety reasons, the locations of these pipelines are marked with identification posts which look rather like bird feeding tables with brightly coloured roofs (as pictured further below).

The GPSS also connects into various commercial pipeline systems maintained by the likes of Esso, Conoco, TotalFinaElf, etc. and the network is fully described on a public website:-

Suspicious flurry of MoD GPSS planning applications exploiting legal loophole

Rather interestingly, in December 2006 there was a suspicious flurry of rather hurried MoD planning applications to various UK councils for special "deemed consent" approval, apparently exploiting a legal loophole. This sudden rush was because from 7th December 2006, these GPSS depots were no longer exempt, through Crown Immunity, from planning laws relating to the storage and transportation of hazardous substances.

Local residents, living within a few hundred yards of the depots, suspected that the way was being paved for future full commercial fuel distribution operations. However, they had no problems with the previously well-established use of these sites by pipeline for maintaining strategic military infrastructure.

The MoD applications tried to claim prior full scale depot usage by not only pipeline but also road and rail in the legal "establishing period", 12 months previous to December 2006. The residents, with their obvious local knowledge of daily movements, realised that the MoD was exaggerating these claims of full prior use in order to rush through the "deemed consent".

In most cases, the depots were only ever regularly served by underground pipeline and road usage was only for occasional maintenance access. In one instance a depot's disused rail branch had actually been permanently removed from the adjacent main line by track engineers back in 2004!

Whilst some timid council officials in South Gloucestershire were all too ready to speedily comply with the MoD's last-minute requests, others in North Somerset met with a surprisingly well-organised campaign of formal objections led by an action group, whose members even commissioned a firm of planning law experts for assistance.

It was noted that the Christmas 2006 holiday period had been used to great cynical effect, denying interested parties their chance of consultation, especially as the planning decisions could be taken after just 14 days following receipt of the applications.

However, one particularly attentive council planning officer in South Norfolk immediately threw out an application as invalid, after spotting the legal loophole trick, insisting the application was re-submitted in the correct manner!

He told the MoD, "The ability to apply for Deemed Hazardous Substance Consent was restricted to a time period of 12 months from the regulations coming into effect. This 'establishment period' expired on 20th October 1999. I can find no provision in the legislation which exempts Crown Land from this limitation".

Question raised in Parliament – application thrown-out

In a very interesting development, just days after I published this news exclusive here, a brief but intriguing question was raised in Parliament on 7th March 2007, concerning the first North Somerset planning application listed further below.

It was directed at Adam Ingram, MP (Labour) and Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence, by Dr. Liam Fox, MP (Conservative), the local Member of Parliament for Woodspring, North Somerset and who just happens to be the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence!

Dr. Fox: "To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what refined hydrocarbon liquids were received at Flax Bourton oil storage depot in the 12 months to December 2006".

Mr. Ingram: "No refined petroleum products were received at the Flax Bourton depot for the purposes of storage over the 12 months to December 2006. Small quantities of product were, however, brought onto the site for local consumption during that period".

In other key developments, it seemed that Flax Bourton Parish Council was ready for a fight with North Somerset Council and the MoD. Eventually by 13th June 2007, after a protracted battle, the Flax Bourton deemed consent application was treated as withdrawn because it was clearly invalid due to the various errors and exaggerations in the paperwork. The MoD were told by North Somerset Council's legal experts to make a fresh accurate application in full for "express consent", not using the "deemed consent" trick.

By 20th June 2007, a fresh application to this effect had been made by the Secretary of State for Defence himself! But after seeking expert opinion, the Flax Bourton councillors reckoned this application was invalid too. They urged North Somerset Council to reject again ... which indeed they did on 18th July 2007!

Then in early August 2007, the MoD made a third attempt and submitted a full hazardous substances planning application for, effectively, a brand new fuel storage depot to be constructed on site, thereby finally admitting the Flax Bourton facility had been derelict all along!

The residents became even more suspicious that commercial fuel operations based at Flax Bourton were being planned, following on from Q8's major development of Bristol Aviation Fuel Terminal at Portbury Docks announced in June 2006.

Have a look at all of the evidence on the local government websites, many of which also contain some fascinating extremely detailed technical drawings.Now read on throughout this section to discover the precise "secret" locations to which those planning applications refer ... and many, many more!

One key "secret" aviation fuel pipeline was catapulted very much into the public domain in March 2000, when some "Bertie Bodger" workmen sliced through it in a small village on the edge of the Peak District, just 10 miles to the south east of my home town and near my regular weekend watering holes in the town of Whaley Bridge , High Peak.

The residents living around Yeardsley Lane in Furness Vale , just north of Whaley Bridge, were all evacuated to the village hall and the presence of BBC camera crews from Manchester, providing a live feed to the local news programme, ensured that the "secret" pipeline was then known about by the whole of the north west of England at least!

The Furness Vale GPSS pipeline marker post (pictured below in 2005) is at the top of Yeardsley Lane, a hill which rises out of the village centre south west towards Yeardsley Hall. On the other side of the lane, the information plate can be found with details of an emergency contact number.

SGE - Serco Gulf Engineering
Note the triangular logo (right) on the plate reading "SGE". That refers to Serco Gulf Engineering – the name of the company which manages and maintains many of these GPSS depots. Other names to look out for are Unipen (and the parent company Penspen), Babcock Infrastructure and the land agents Fisher German.

Another more serious incident happened in May 1998 in Patchway, Bristol.
For the full details, including a Bird's Eye aerial photo, read on!

GPSS pipeline marker post at Yeardsley Lane, Furness Vale, High Peak
GPSS pipeline marker post at Yeardsley Lane, Furness Vale, High Peak
GPSS pipeline marker information plate at Yeardsley Lane, Furness Vale, High Peak
GPSS pipeline marker information plate at Furness Vale
and some of the houses that were evacuated in March 2000
GPSS pipeline marker information plate at Yeardsley Lane, Furness Vale, High Peak
GPSS pipeline information plate showing emergency contact details
The Furness Vale underground pipeline, described above, operates at 1100 psi pressure and forms part of the key GPSS network running west - east between the PSD at Backford near Chester, just south of the giant oil refinery at Stanlow , Ellesmere Port and the PSDs at Rawcliffe Bridge and Killingholme on Humberside. The Backford GPSS site is referred to by locals as the Civil Reserve Depot and there's also an old abandoned neighbouring PSD known as Butter Hill which is next door to Chester Zoo.

Still in Cheshire, you can find an old GPSS depot alongside the main Manchester to Crewe train line near to where it passes the world famous Jodrell Bank Radio Astronomy Telescope. The Goostrey PSD is beyond the train station towards the neighbouring village of Twemlow Green, but it was listed for disposal by the MoD in 2007. Previously it has also been used for the commercial supply of aviation fuel from Stanlow to Manchester International Airport via Backford.

Another depot in the Cheshire countryside, on the same Stanlow to Manchester Airport line, can be found amongst the old Holford Moss brine extraction fields at Plumley , in a secure compound near to Cheadle Farm. In fact, the Ministry of Defence owns Cheadle Farm and it is rented out to the tenant cattle farmer who supplies posh restaurants and hotels with his Traditional Farmhouse Beef.

The branch to Backford from Stanlow also uses a storage depot near the oil refineries. But which one? There are obviously numerous ones around the Ellesmere Port area. Look around Eastham Docks near Bromborough on the Wirral peninsula and you'll find an underground tank farm hidden away behind the club house for Eastham Golf Course on Ferry Road and tucked in next to the Carlett Park campus for Wirral Metropolitan College!

Half way along the Backford to Rawcliffe Bridge GPSS line, just over the Pennine Hills south west of Barnsley in South Yorkshire, you'll find Blackmoor PSD , between the villages of Oxspring and Thurgoland.

Other key fuel storage depots, this time on the main north - south GPSS route on the east side of the country between Rawcliffe Bridge and AWE Aldermaston, can be found at Walkeringham, just south of Misterton near Doncaster in South Yorkshire and at Sandy in Bedfordshire.

The fuel depot at Sandy sits very uneasily next door to "The Lodge" - the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)! But what else of interest is in this area? You'll be amazed! Read on into the next section! A westward branch from Sandy PSD takes the GPSS system towards the old USAF base at Upper Heyford, using a depot at Islip , Oxfordshire which sits alongside the train station.

A branch line once ran into the depot but is no longer visible. Indeed, the depot itself is hidden not only from OS 1:50000 and 1:25000 scale maps, but also MAGIC's 1:10000 data!

Part way along the north-south Misterton to Sandy pipeline, take a look alongside the old Grantham Canal between the villages of Barkstone-le-Vale and Redmile in the Vale of Belvoir, where the three counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire all meet. There are two GPSS depots north and south of the canal. The northern one is actually further split into two by the canal route and the parts are connected by overhead pipeline.

This was a WWII storage and supply depot and the main entrance is situated behind the site of the disused Redmile and Belvoir train station. The wartime depot would have been served by a branch line into sidings here. Take a look at Redmile's community archive website for a wartime photo from 1944, showing local residents manning a fleet of fuel tankers at the depot.

Another GPSS depot further south along the main eastern backbone between Rawcliffe and Sandy shows up very nicely on Google Earth. It is actually marked on all OS maps, is unsurprisingly labelled "Depot" at 1:10000 scale and the site has a very interesting history.

Take a look at the Sawtry fuel depot , just south east of the Cambridgeshire town and on the eastern side of Junction 15 of the A1(M) on a minor road out towards Woodwalton. It is close to the old USAF airbase at Alconbury and the field containing the high security compound provided the location for a WWII Prisoner of War Camp.

The GPSS pipeline at Sandy also branches eastwards to Saffron Walden in Essex, to a depot hidden behind the town's hospital. The system then extends north east to another depot, this time on an industrial estate close to the town centre of Thetford , Norfolk. The network extends even further to yet another depot alongside the A11 just west of Norwich, at the village of Hethersett .

The latter two depots serve the numerous airbases in East Anglia, including famously the key USAF bases at Lakenheath and Mildenhall and of course, Norwich Airport.

The GPSS network via Sandy and Thetford actually also extends east and south east, respectively, to another depot (now disused) just north west of Ipswich, Suffolk, alongside the A14 dual carriageway at Great Blakenham, near Claydon . The former depot is next to the proposed £350m SnOasis winter sports and holiday resort due to open in 2009.

From here the GPSS network goes on to the former twin USAF bases at Bentwaters and Woodbridge on the other side of Ipswich and close to Rendlesham Forest - all too well known to UFO conspiracy theorists. In December 2005, the Bentwaters base was the scene of even more bizarre events - it was the filming location for Channel 4's hilarious spoof space shuttle programme, "Space Cadets" in 2005 and also Derren Brown's Apocalypse in 2012. The full details are further below in a special section!

Two other good examples of Defence Fuel Storage Depots can be spotted near Kelmarsh in Northamptonshire and at Bremhill Bridge close to Purton near Swindon, Wiltshire. They are missing from OS 1:50000 and 1:25000 maps, but a further investigation at 1:10000 scale, using the Government's own MAGIC website, reveals that coy label "Depot" again. The Bremhill Bridge depot is pictured further below in a special Bird's Eye view from Windows Live Local.

The Kelmarsh depot is part of the same network as the Misterton and Sandy storage bases and is right on the path of the Midshires Way and Brampton Valley Way walking routes. Further research involving 19th century maps reveals that the depot was built on the site of the old Kelmarsh Station which served the dismantled train line, now providing the path of the walking routes.

Consider the old WWII bomber base at RAF Chelveston in Northamptonshire. More recently, it has been used as a huge communications mast farm by the MoD. However, if you look very closely just south east of what was the main runway, you can spot the old fuel link connected into the Kelmarsh – Sandy GPSS line.

GPSS pipeline at RAF Chelveston
GPSS pipeline connection between Sandy and Kelmarsh depots
at the old WWII bomber base – RAF Chelveston
GPSS pipeline at RAF Chelveston
GPSS pipeline depot at RAF Chelveston
The Purton storage depot was built on top of some old railway sidings (note the main line running alongside) and can be clearly viewed from the road running over Bremhill Bridge itself. It feeds the airbases at RAF Fairford and RAF Brize Norton via a northern branch from the main east-west GPSS line, using a T-junction depot at Calne , down Wenhill Lane running south west of the town centre.

That main GPSS line at Calne actually runs west from AWE Aldermaston towards the refineries at Avonmouth on the Bristol Channel. Two key depots can be spotted just north and south of the M5 motorway at Berwick Wood and Hallen, close to the BAe Systems airfield at Filton. The Hallen depot is actually split over three sites to the south , east and north of Haw Wood.

Two other obscure GPSS depots can be found in Wiltshire, which up until 2006 were listed on the MoD's Sensitive Sites Register. A valve compound can be spotted near Littlecott in a field next to a farmhouse on the minor road between Hilmarton and Bushton, north of Calne. The Littlecott GPSS valve depot provides the spur connecting the GPSS line from Calne across to the underground fuel bowsers at the south eastern corner of RAF Lyneham near the village of Goatacre.

If you travel east from Marlborough on the main A4 over the border into Berkshire towards Hungerford, you'll be familiar with the huge Savernake Forest to the south. But consider a track leading north towards Puthall Farm and the earthworks for the medieval village of Henset. Alongside the farm track and behind Puthall Cottages you'll find the GPSS Puthall Farm pumping station for the main line running towards AWE Aldermaston.

Just like the Furness Vale, High Peak accident in March 2000 described earlier, in a major incident in May 1998 the GPSS pipeline between the depots at Calne in Wiltshire and Berwick Wood, Avonmouth was damaged by workmen who had actually been contracted to perform maintenance on a valve.

In the 1998 event, an underground pipeline was ruptured within a secure compound (which houses a BT telephone exchange and an electricity substation) on Gloucester Road, Patchway, Bristol, illustrated below in a Bird's Eye aerial photo from Windows Live Local. It is near to the Aztec West business park, Filton Airfield and also the old Rolls-Royce East Works aero engine test bed facility on Gipsy Patch Lane. The compound is also right next door to Patchway High School and the Star Service Station – a Texaco petrol station.

Even though the aviation fuel pipeline wasn't operating at full pumping pressure at the time, it still resulted in land contamination by escaping kerosene. This caused adjacent properties to be flooded with fuel, leading to families being evacuated from their homes in an emergency clean-up operation involving removal of contaminated soil to a landfill site.

In a special magazine feature in February 2000, the Environmental Health Journal (EHJ) – since relaunched as the Environmental Health Practitioner (EHP) – described the event and the ensuing remedial operation, detailing lessons to be learned.
The May 1998 MoD fuel pipeline rupture location at Patchway, Bristol
Bird's Eye view (looking west) of the May 1998 MoD fuel pipeline rupture location (marked red)
at the BT Telephone Exchange secure compound, next to the Texaco petrol station (right, north)
Gloucester Road, Patchway, Bristol
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
The GPSS network in the south west around Avonmouth near Bristol also extends to two other key storage depots at Redcliffe Bay (also spelt Redcliff) near Portishead and Flax Bourton near Nailsea.

The Redcliffe Bay depot sits between the Portishead to Clevedon Coastal Path and an old caravan park, which has now been replaced with the exclusive Charlcombe Heights housing development.

Meanwhile, the Flax Bourton depot (pictured further below in another special Bird's Eye view) is only a couple of miles north of Bristol International Airport. Flax Bourton was also a Ministry of Supply facility during WWII and you can spot the old Tyntesfield Sidings branch from the main train line running past. The track forming the branch into the depot was only removed by engineers in 2004.

Study very carefully the Bird's Eye photo of the Hethersett GPSS depot in Norfolk and you can spot another disused special train branch line running through a locked gate. There's even a passenger train running along the main line right on cue!

As already hinted at earlier in my special Google Maps implementation, just north east of AWE Aldermaston, around Padworth Common, you can spot a cluster of no less than four GPSS depots (pictured further below). One of them (on the eastern side of the aerial photo) is the main depot run by Serco Gulf and Babcock Engineering. The other three are located to the north , south and south west of Padworth village.

The Padworth GPSS depots are not apparent on normal OS Landranger 1:50000 mapping but switching to 1:25000 scale reveals the tell-tale underground tank farms. Further investigation at 1:10000 scale , using the Government's MAGIC website, shows those handy "depot" labels. Getmapping's aerial photo data strips away all the annoying foliage and razor wire fencing that gets in the way on the ground!

The GPSS network centred around AWE Aldermaston, utilising all the depots at Padworth, also extends eastwards towards the refineries on the Isle Of Grain stopping off on the way via a storage depot alongside the River Thames in Surrey at Walton near to Sunbury Lock. Another branch south from Padworth connects the system to the refineries near Southampton using a depot at Hamble , on Satchell Lane next to the exclusive Neptune Yacht Marina.

Half way along that southern branch between Padworth and Hamble, you can find the old WWII RAF strategic fuel reserve depot built into the hillside at Micheldever Station between Basingstoke and Winchester in Hampshire. The former presence of this huge underground fuel reservoir (pictured further below in an exclusive Pilot's Eye View) may go some way to explaining the sudden strange "kink" in the route of the A303 dual carriageway, which would have run right over the top otherwise!

Up in Scotland, there are just two key GPSS depots serving the strategic airbases north of the border. RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss are supplied by a storage depot at Inverness , as is the city's own airport. The depot is on the north tip of the Longman Industrial Estate, in the shadow of the majestic Kessock Bridge carrying the A9 over the Moray Firth and next to the new Inverness Caledonian Thistle Football Stadium.

Meanwhile, RAF Leuchars near St. Andrews is a short golf ball putt from a GPSS depot near the Tay Bridge at Dundee. It can be found at Linkswood near Tayport.

Down at the far south west of the UK, a GPSS depot can be found at Falmouth in Cornwall, which serves Newquay Airport and RAF St. Mawgan.

The whole of the MoD's GPSS network is controlled from the Defence Fuels Group at West Moors near Wimborne, Dorset. It is a tri-service fuel storage, distribution and training centre, designated the Defence School of Petroleum and also known as the Defence Petroleum Centre. It is the place where all those planning applications originated in December 2006, discussed at the start of this section in my exclusive news story!

Check out all these special links to Windows Live Local, showing close-up Bird's Eye views of GPSS depots and also the location of the Patchway, Bristol GPSS pipeline incident in May 1998:-

GPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at BackfordGPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at Rawcliffe BridgeGPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at Killingholme
GPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at MistertonGPSSGPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at Sawtry
GPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at Bremhill Bridge, PurtonGPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at KelmarshGPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at Sandy
Aerial view of GPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depots
Clockwise from top left:
Backford, Chester; Rawcliffe Bridge, Humberside; Killingholme, Humberside; Sawtry, Cambridgeshire;
Sandy, Bedfordshire; Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire; Purton, Wiltshire; Misterton, South Yorkshire
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
Aerial view of four GPSS depots at Padworth Common
Aerial view of four GPSS depots at Padworth Common
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
GPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at Bremhill Bridge, Purton, Wiltshire
Bird's Eye view of GPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at Bremhill Bridge, Purton, Wiltshire
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
GPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at Flax Bourton, Nailsea near Bristol
Bird's Eye view of GPSS Defence Fuel Storage Depot at Flax Bourton, Nailsea near Bristol
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
GPSS Depot branch line at Hethersett, Norfolk
Bird's Eye view of train branch line into GPSS Depot at Hethersett, Norfolk
The depot land will be disposed of by MoD at auction in Summer 2009
as a result of the RAF Coltishall closure – which it served
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
Micheldever Station RAF Fuel Reserve Depot
Pilot's Eye view: Looking north east over the RAF Fuel Reserve Depot
built into the hillside at Micheldever Station, Hampshire
Click for more Pilot's Eye Views of Secret Bases

RAF UNITER Hardened Communications Bunkers

PermalinkA Defence Estates document published on the Internet in early 2006 revealed that a hardened, blast-proof, above-ground communications bunker adjoining the Rawcliffe Bridge GPSS depot (discussed in the previous section above) was being put up for sale by the MoD. It was built in 1992 and had formerly played a vital role providing secure voice and data links in the UK's Defence Fixed Telecommunications System (DFTS) network called UNITER, designed by Marconi.
The decommissioned UNITER Building is hidden away at the far west end of the Rawcliffe Bridge GPSS Depot and comes complete with numerous emergency back-up generators.

It is situated in a secure compound at the end of the ironically named Gossips Wood Road and is shown clearly on the 1:10000 scale map from MAGIC. It is also pictured further below, by kind permission of Defence Estates / MoD.

The Rawcliffe bunker was successfully sold at a London auction in December 2006 for £149,000. Just a few days after that sale, I was able to exclusively reveal on this website that the mystery purchaser was Cerberus Security and Monitoring Systems Limited, whose headquarters are in the Leeds, West Yorkshire suburb of Wortley, near the city's prison at Armley.

The company gets its name from the creature in Greek Mythology – the fierce guard dog with three heads, the faithful servant to Hades and guardian of his Underworld empire. Cerberus holds contracts with commercial and domestic customers. It also supports several councils – including Leeds – with alarm and CCTV monitoring. Leeds City Council had previously run its security arrangements in-house under the name Redhall Security.

To back up the service, Cerberus provides key holding and alarm response with dedicated patrol officers. The Rawcliffe Bridge bunker is to be utilised to support the existing services provided and will eventually be the master operations and communications centre for the company.

Cerberus had originally considered an old MoD bunker next to Leeds / Bradford Airport. It is situated within a car compound belonging to industrial coatings contractors Austin Hayes Limited. A 1950s War Room in a semi-sunken bunker hidden among Government Buildings at Lawnswood, north of Leeds, was also a possibility.
Old MoD Bunker at Leeds / Bradford Airport
Bird's Eye view looking east across the old MoD Bunker (top centre)
at Austin Hayes car depot next to Leeds / Bradford Airport
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
Old War Room Bunker at Lawnswood, Leeds
Bird's Eye view looking west across the old 1950s War Room Bunker (upper right)
among the Government Buildings (lower left) at Lawnswood, Leeds
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
Another UNITER bunker, at the RAF Bampton Castle signals unit in Oxfordshire, was offered for sale at auction in July 2005. It wasn't snapped up on that occasion but was disposed of soon afterwards, apparently for £360,000. The whole site has now been transformed into several industrial units comprising Bampton Business Centre.

Think back to that GPSS depot at Sandy. Is there anything else of interest in the area? Well, across the road in a secure compound, there's the famous Sandy Heath TV Transmitter. But take another much closer look at the Sandy depot.

There's an additional intriguing secure compound within the depot itself, at the southern most end, well away from the main road and surrounded by camouflaging foliage! Yes, it's another UNITER military communications bunker, now decommissioned and awaiting sale at auction in 2007.

Another old UNITER building, which was in the same auctioneer's catalogue as the Rawcliffe bunker, can be spotted right next to the main road at the "disused airfield" (and army training area) at RAF Templeton near Tenby, South Wales. The Templeton bunker was sold at the December 2006 auction for £130,000. It was bought for use as secure equipment storage by oil fuel distributor KP Thomas and Son, whose depot is literally just across the road!

So now we know what we're looking for, can we find any more UNITER communications bunkers? Well, yes!

Try looking at the secure compound on the eastern side of the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury near Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Then pop over to Norfolk and another UNITER bunker can be found in its own enclave, partly camouflaged by surrounding foliage, just north of the peritrack at the western end of the runway at the former airbase at RAF Watton near Thetford.

Next, jump over to the south west and consider the old WWII airbase at RAF Dunkeswell near Honiton, Devon. This was the only US Navy Air Facility on UK soil during the war and in more recent times it has been used as a military training area for the Royal Marines. It is due for official disposal by the MoD in 2007.

The north west corner of the old airfield at Dunkeswell is a karting centre. Over on the south east side, you'll find countless businesses in industrial units. However, look closely at the compound hidden in those trees over on the north east side. Yes, another UNITER hardened communications bunker !

At large RAF airbases, UNITER bunkers can be very difficult to spot in amongst all the other densely packed hardened mission buildings.

Take a close look at the middle of the camp at RAF Benson near Wallingford in Oxfordshire. It is the home of the Joint Helicopter Command, providing front line support with numerous wings and squadrons. Scrutinise the many buildings on the eastern side of the runways, next to the security fence running alongside the minor road through the camp from the nearby village of Ewelme. Another UNITER building eventually emerges!

A couple of slightly easier examples to spot can be found at the military college at RAF Cranwell near Sleaford in Lincolnshire and at RAF Topcliffe near Thirsk in North Yorkshire. The Topcliffe UNITER bunker is actually within the area of the base known as Alanbrooke Barracks.

A fine example can be spotted at an old WWII RAF base which in the late 1950s and early 1960s, during the Cold War, was the home of Thor missiles. Take a look at a secure ring-fenced compound between the old runways at the south west end of RAF North Luffenham near Oakham, Rutland in Leicestershire! Another is at the southern tip of RAF Sealand's east camp at Queensferry in Deeside near Chester, in a special secure fenced-off area.

An unconfirmed possible contender for UNITER Bunker status can be located in the middle of RAF Stafford's Beaconside supply and maintenance depot. There is a huge microwave communications lattice tower immediately next to it, so it looks promising! More possible – but not definite – UNITER sites include RAF Valley on the Isle of Anglesey off the north west coast of Wales, RAF St. Mawgan in Cornwall and the legendary RAF Rudloe Manor in Corsham, Wiltshire – also the home of the famous Burlington Bunker underground city.

Remember the ultra sensitive defence establishment at the "disused airfield" at RAF Molesworth, Cambridgeshire? I revealed that the old airfield area is now a huge underground bunker complex, but there's an above ground hardened UNITER building too!

For a fine example in a handy location in West London (also on Google Earth at hi-res and a Bird's Eye view from Windows Live Local, further below), consider the eastern side of RAF Uxbridge close to Hillingdon Golf Club in Middlesex. Just a few yards away from the underground bunker entrance to the WWII Battle of Britain Fighter Operations Room, another UNITER above ground bunker stands proud in its own special fenced compound .

Next, head off for Scotland and consider Prestwick International Airport in Ayrshire. But concentrate on the military section on the northern side. The fortified area near the village of Monkton is the old Royal Navy shore establishment known as HMS Gannet and it is now a Sea King helicopter Search and Rescue (SAR) base. A special secure compound alongside the B739 Tarbolton Road at Brieryside Bridge protects yet another UNITER bunker, also available at hi-res on Google Earth! Since late 2007, it has been on a Bird's Eye too (further below)!

For a spectacular example, hop over to the other side of Scotland and "take the high road" north out of Dunfermline towards Powmill and Knock Hill. Next to the popular Knockhill Motor Racing Circuit, you'll find yet more suspicious clearings , this time at the western end of Blairadam Forest near Outh Muir hill and within what was Outhmuir Plantation at Lethans Muir near Loch Glow.

Outhmuir was cleared by the Forestry Commission and handed over to the MoD in March 1990. In its place, you'll now find a UNITER bunker plus two microwave communications lattice towers, which formed part of the supporting BOXER network, situated in three separate secure compounds (also further below)!

Finally, go even further north past the capital of the Scottish Highlands, the city of Inverness. Take a look near the ancient (but still very active) military camp at Fort George , on a headland jutting out into the Moray Firth past Inverness Airport.

Yes, another UNITER bunker can be found in its own enclosure on the edge of the rifle ranges, alongside the minor road out east towards the tiny settlement of Kirkton, complete with a microwave lattice tower nearby!

In early 2008, all three Scottish UNITER bunkers were put up for sale by the MoD. In March 2008, it was reported that Inverness company Self Storage 4U, based at the city's quayside, had been granted planning permission to change the use of land at Fort George for storage of huge containers. The next step is to convert the bunker interior for secure document storage. Check out these special links to Windows Live Local, showing extreme close-up aerial photos of the UNITER bunkers discussed above:-

UNITER Bunker at Rawcliffe Bridge GPSS Defence Fuel Depot
Decommissioned UNITER Bunker at Rawcliffe Bridge GPSS Defence Fuel Depot
Crown © Defence Estates / MoD – Reproduced by kind permission
RAF Uxbridge UNITER bunker
Bird's Eye view looking west across the RAF Uxbridge UNITER Bunker (right)
WWII Battle of Britain Operations Room bunker and memorial garden (bottom left)
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
HMS Gannet UNITER bunker
Bird's Eye view looking north across UNITER Bunker (right) at HMS Gannet (left)
Adjacent to Prestwick International Airport
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
UNITER Bunkers at RAF Templeton (left) and Rawcliffe Bridge GPSS Depot (right) in the auction catalogue
UNITER Bunkers at RAF Templeton (left) and Rawcliffe Bridge GPSS Depot (right)
listed in the December 2006 Andrew Scott Robertson auction catalogue
© Andrew Scott Robertson
Fort George UNITER bunker - beforeFort George UNITER bunker - after
Fort George UNITER Bunker site acquired by Self Storage 4U, Inverness in 2008
Before compound clearance (left) and after (right)
Photos – © Angus Leadley-Brown
RAF Dunkeswell
Pilot's Eye view: Looking west across RAF Dunkeswell
but what's that hiding in the bushes?
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Uniter Building at RAF Dunkeswell
Pilot's Eye view: RAF Dunkeswell's UNITER Bunker
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Buncefield Fuel Depot Explosion and Fire - December 2005

PermalinkIn an apparently accidental incident involving the electrical ignition of a large vapour leak, between 6.00 am and 6.30 am on Sunday 11th December 2005, a series of massive explosions rocked the Buncefield Oil and Fuel Storage Depot at Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire. It sits right alongside Junction 8 of the M1 motorway north of London and is pictured below in a Windows Live Local Bird's Eye shot and an aerial photo from Getmapping, filmed before the incident. My graphic overlay in red shows the area of total destruction, with the adjacent blast-damaged industrial estate marked in yellow .

Rather than a part of the MoD-related GPSS network discussed earlier, the depot is a well known key commercial facility owned by a leading petroleum corporation and connected by pipelines into Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton Airports. The resulting fire was the largest known in peacetime Europe and was visible from space.

The official report into the incident has established that the vapour leak was caused by the overfilling of a tank due to a faulty automatic shut-off gauge. Casualties were thankfully minimised, because of the day of the week on which the incident happened. For further analysis, visit the website of the investigation team and the dedicated Wikipedia entry.

The latest aerial photography (shot in January 2006) showing the extent of the Buncefield site damage is pictured below by kind permission of The GeoInformation Group.
Buncefield Fuel Depot before incident
Bird's Eye view of Buncefield Oil & Fuel Depot, Hemel Hempstead before December 2005
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
Aerial view (before) of Buncefield Fuel Depot at Hemel Hempstead
Before: Aerial view in 1999 (wide) of
Buncefield Oil & Fuel Depot, Hemel Hempstead
Explosion and main destruction area is marked in red
Adjacent blast-damaged industrial estate is in yellow
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
Aerial view (after) of Buncefield Fuel Depot at Hemel Hempstead
After: Aerial view in 2006 (close-up) of
Buncefield Oil & Fuel Depot, Hemel Hempstead
Explosion and main destruction area is on the right
Adjacent blast-damaged industrial estate is on the left
Aerial photo data:
© The GeoInformation Group
Buncefield Fuel Depot after incident
Bird's Eye view of Buncefield Oil & Fuel Depot in 2006
Looking east, showing the clean-up operation
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA

Channel 4's "Derren Brown: Apocalypse" and "Space Cadets" at RAF Bentwaters

PermalinkThe Government Pipelines and Storage System (GPSS) network via Thetford, described earlier, extends south east to the former twin USAF bases at Bentwaters and Woodbridge near Ipswich, Suffolk and close to Rendlesham Forest - all too well known to UFO conspiracy theorists. In 2007, Woodbridge became the new home of the Army's 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault Brigade), when part of the abandoned airbase was converted into Rock Barracks in an £80 million redevelopment. My regular Pilot's Eye contributor was there to record the transformation (further below)!

Back in December 2005, "Space Cadets" - a Channel 4 reality game show from Endemol UK, the makers of Big Brother - was launched from a "Secret Base". But programme host Johnny Vaughan just couldn't stop himself teasing viewers with heavy hints like "a disused USAF/RAF airbase near Ipswich"!

According to the producers, it was "the most audacious, complicated and ambitious practical joke in television history". It persuaded contestants to believe they were training at STAR - the Space Tourism Agency of Russia - for a shuttle mission into near space, orbiting Earth and conducting bizarre experiments.

It was all filmed within the "Hush House" at Bentwaters - a stainless steel-lined and sound-proofed hangar-type structure at a remote corner of the site, formerly used in testing jet engines at full throttle. It comes complete with an exhaust muffler tunnel, terminating in a concrete blast deflector, both of which are real, not fake! Try taking an even closer look by using the 1:10000 scale map from the MAGIC website!

The cadets' training lecture rooms and accommodation units "in Russia" were really located in military barracks to the south of the Bentwaters airfield, hidden in a secret clearing on the edge of Rendlesham Forest. It is immediately adjacent to the former Weapons Storage Area (WSA)  –   (1:10000 map)   –  past which the cadets were escorted when they first arrived in "Space City".

The forest clearing is known as the Woodland Protected Dispersal Area   –   (1:10000 map)   –  once used for the parking of aircraft, spread out in a safe "dispersed" pattern so that the enemy could not destroy them all in one go. It also includes the Star Wars Building - formerly the HQ of the 510th Tactical Fighter Squadron - complete with strange concrete pyramid-like obelisks to provide blast protection, which regularly provided an atmospheric floodlit backdrop to host Johnny Vaughan's presentations to camera.

Also nearby is the secure FIDO area. Rather than a forest trail for walking dogs, FIDO (Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operations) was the wartime code name for a drastic method of literally burning off lingering fog from airfields using huge tanks   –   (1:10000 map)   –  full of aviation fuel and connected into the GPSS network. Could the resulting "fires in the sky" from such a test operation have contributed to the infamous December 1980 Rendlesham UFO incident?

Also in the forest clearing and not far from the FIDO tanks, you'll come across the K9 building - used for the guard dog handling section when the base was active. In 2006, another TV production used the Bentwaters facilities for filming. The K9 area was turned into BBC3's Dog Borstal - a controversial reality show featuring drastic military style training methods for unruly mutts and their hapless owners!

The STAR Mission Control for the Space Cadets shuttle launch was housed in the Wing Operations Centre (WOC)   –   (1:10000 map)   –  the old hardened command bunker of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, alongside the main runway and control tower at the north end of the base. The TV production team dressed it in Russian props, but in reality it is in the process of being turned into a Cold War Museum.

October 2012 – Derren Brown: Apocalypse on Channel 4

In October 2012, Derren Brown staged another of his psychological specials on Channel 4, this one called Apocalypse. The scenario was a catastrophic meteor collision with Earth, bringing with it a deadly space borne virus. A hapless volunteer was hypnotised into thinking he really was in the middle of a post-Apocalyptic hell surrounded by zombies. An average night out in the pubs of Ipswich? No, just another special effects extravaganza filmed at Bentwaters!

Capricorn One
Capricorn One
The use of Bentwaters for the filming of Space Cadets in 2005 prompted comparisons to the classic 1978 film Capricorn One in which NASA faked a manned mission to Mars by turning a disused US military base into a special effects TV studio (right).

But the astronauts wouldn't play ball and made their escape from the charade. They were hunted down by armed Government agents in black helicopters, while the US President prepared to attend their "memorial service" following a tragic, catastrophic "mission failure".

It was highly amusing that Channel 4 chose the 25th anniversary of the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident to stage their own spectacular hoax. The question is: was it by design or just coincidence?

More details on the base can be found on the website of Bentwaters Parks - the facilities company now running the whole site. Many pictures of the site, both when it was active and since closure, can be found on a website devoted to old USAF comrades who were once stationed at the twin bases of Bentwaters and Woodbridge. Even more fascinating pictures can be found on Location Works, the specialist website for TV and film location managers. You can also enjoy Pilot's Eye Views (further below) my regular expert contributor!

For more information on Hush Houses in general, visit the website of specialist aerospace noise suppression experts Cullum Detuners, who manufactured the Bentwaters installation.
Channel 4's Space Cadets in the Hush House at RAF Bentwaters
Channel 4's Space Cadets in the Hush House at RAF Bentwaters
© Channel 4 / Zeppotron / Endemol UK Productions
RAF Bentwaters
Pilot's Eye view: Looking north west over RAF Bentwaters
Hush House is in the centre foreground
Click for more Pilot's Eye Views of Secret Bases
RAF Bentwaters
Pilot's Eye view: Looking north west over RAF Bentwaters
Woodland Protected Dispersal Area with Star Wars Building (centre foreground)
and Weapons Storage Area (background)
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RAF Woodbridge
Pilot's Eye view: Looking south west over RAF Woodbridge in 2007
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RAF Woodbridge - Rock Barracks
Pilot's Eye view: Looking south west over RAF Woodbridge in 2007
Rock Barracks – the new home for the Army's 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault Brigade)
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Joint Warrior 2014 – Exercise "JW141"

PermalinkFrom 31st March 2014 to 11th April 2014 the UK military ran Exercise Joint Warrior JW 141 – the latest in the major regular multi-force exercises, formerly known as Neptune Warrior (NW).

JW 132 ran from 7th to 13th October 2013, JW 131 from 15th to 29th April 2013, JW 122 1st October 2012 to 11th October 2012, JW 121 15th April 2012 to 26th April 2012, JW 112 3rd October – 13th October 2011 and JW 111 28th March – 15th April 2011. Previous events took place between 4th – 15th October 2010 (JW 102) and 12th – 23rd April 2010 (JW 101). JW 092 and JW 091 were held between 5th – 23rd October 2009 and 11th – 21st May 2009.

"Joint Warrior" – providing joint collective training in a multi-threat environment for UK, NATO and Allied units and their staffs, to enable them to operate together in tactical formations as preparation for employment in a component of a Joint Combined Task Force.

The old Neptune Warrior exercise name was itself a re-branding of the earlier Joint Maritime Courses (JMC) which ran up to Summer 2005. In 2006, when there were three exercises per year, the third (NW 063) took place from 21st October 2006 through 4th November 2006. From 2007, they have been reduced to two every year and those Neptune Warrior events (NW 071 and NW 072) ran from 21st April 2007 through 5th May 2007 and 17th – 29th September 2007. The two 2008 events (JW 081 and JW 082) ran from 19th April – 2nd May 2008 and 4th – 17th October 2008.
  • BBC News – Neptune Warrior Exercise "NW 071" in 2007

    "In 1972, civil war broke out in Britannica, with the country splitting into five smaller nations. Brownia, Mustardia, Cyanica, Ginger and Emeraldia have endured 35 years of conflict. However, this strange parallel universe is not a work of science fiction but the scenario for the Royal Navy's Exercise Neptune Warrior. The latest instalment in the troubled history of this imaginary realm has been played out off the coast of Scotland."
  • BBC News – Russian planes caught spying on Neptune Warrior Exercise "NW 071" in 2007

    "Tornado F3 jets from RAF Leuchars in Fife were sent to intercept two Russian Bear Foxtrot aircraft spotted observing the Royal Navy exercise. The jets were scrambled after the foreign planes were detected by radar in the skies over the Outer Hebrides"
  • BBC News – Neptune Warrior Exercise "NW 063" in 2006

    "Warships were attacked by 'terrorists' (actually Royal Marine commandos) in small boats and on water skis, as they sailed from Faslane nuclear submarine base on the Clyde"
Her Majesty's Naval Base HMNB Clyde - Faslane nuclear submarine base
Her Majesty's Naval Base, HMNB Clyde
Faslane nuclear submarine base
Photo: the BBC's Coast series – © BBC
Cape Wrath Range Control, Faraid Head
Cape Wrath Range Control
Faraid Head, Durness
A regular key location for the Neptune Warrior operations is the Cape Wrath artillery range in the far north west of Scotland, which involves live bombing of Garvie Island ("An Garbh-eilean" in Gaelic) just off the Cape. It is the only location in Europe where aircraft can explode live 1000lb bombs and is therefore crucial in the final training of military pilots.

The Range Control building (right) – utilising an old ROTOR radar installation from the 1950s – is positioned at the northern tip of nearby Faraid Head, beyond the sand dunes of Balnakeil and alongside the beautiful beaches of Durness and Sango Bay.

In 1964, the former domestic camp for what was RAF Faraid Head was converted into the Balnakeil Craft Village - a hippy commune of artists which has actually evolved into a collection of small businesses with varying success. A visitor centre was established in 1982.

Cape Wrath Range Control at Faraid Head
Cape Wrath Range Control at Faraid Head
in use during an Operation Neptune Warrior exercise in 2005
Photo: the BBC's Coast series – © BBC
Cape Wrath Range Control on Faraid Head, Durness
Aerial view of Cape Wrath Range Control on Faraid Head, Durness
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA.2 jet attacks Garvie Island in an Operation Neptune Warrior exercise in 2005
Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA.2 jet attacks Garvie Island
in an Operation Neptune Warrior exercise in 2005
Photo: the BBC's Coast series – © BBC
Live bombing of Garvie Island in an Operation Neptune Warrior exercise in 2005
Live bombing of Garvie Island in an Operation Neptune Warrior exercise in 2005
Photo: the BBC's Coast series – © BBC

Secret Scotland and its islands – a guided tour

PermalinkOnce all the Atomic Weapons Establishment's nuclear warheads have been developed and assembled at Aldermaston and Burghfield, some of them are transported up to Scotland's Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD), for Faslane's Trident submarine fleet, at Coulport . Here, the hills of the beautiful west coast of Scotland hide massive bunkers in which the nuclear weapons are kept in specially controlled conditions.

Trident Missile Storage Bunkers!
They are loaded onto Faslane's submarines at a special jetty , just north of the main Coulport base, which until 2008 was only revealed in detail on the 1:25000 map . Take a look in even greater detail at 1:10000 scale and you'll see the Trident warhead storage bunkers in the hillside.

In December 2007, new hi-res aerial imagery was provided by Getmapping which covers the area. Check out my special implementation of Microsoft Virtual Earth (right), which allows you to zoom in close-up to the Trident Missile Storage Bunkers, warhead handling facilities and much more!

A large NATO underground conventional munitions store is carved out of the side of nearby Doune Hill at Glen Douglas , just north of the Faslane and Coulport depots. The massive base, which is only finally revealed in true detail on the OS 1:25000 scale map , extends south east from its connection into the world famous Glasgow to Oban/Mallaig scenic railway via Crianlarich.

A little further south west on the banks of Loch Long, you can find its associated munitions and explosives loading jetty at Glen Mallan (pictured further below, sometimes also referred to as "Glenmallan" - all one word), which was built in 1996. Note also, the NATO Oil Storage Depot down the coast, just north of Garelochhead.

RNAD CoulportRNAD Coulport
RNAD Coulport – Now you see it, now you don't!
Comparing OS mapping from 2008 (left) and 2007 (right)
Map images generated from the Get-a-map service with permission of Ordnance Survey
RFA Fort Austin at Glen Mallan jetty
Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort Austin berthed at Glen Mallan jetty
Her Majesty's Naval Base HMNB Rosyth
Abandoned Trident refitting yard (left) and old laid-up nuclear submarines (centre)
Click for more Secret Bases on Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Street View

Integrated Weapons Complexes (IWC)

PermalinkA large Defence Munitions (DM) centre can be found south west of Glasgow at Beith in Ayrshire. This site was originally developed in 1943 as a conventional munitions store for the Royal Navy. Nowadays, it processes and stores Spearfish, Storm Shadow, Tomahawk and Brimstone missiles.

On the Firth of Forth near Dunfermline, the large RNAD Crombie can be found, just along the coast from Her Majesty's Naval Base at Rosyth . In the Google Maps image of HMNB Rosyth (above) note the laid-up decommissioned nuclear submarines in the non-tidal basin and also the abandoned Trident refitting yard which was never finished, as the contract went to HMNB Devonport in Plymouth, England in a controversial decision in 1993.

The Crombie base stores, processes and maintains missiles used on Tornado and Sea Harrier jets. Its jetty, built in 1989 for both NATO and UK use, sticks out 700 metres into the Firth.

In the aerial photos below, note the identical weapons processing buildings at all the Scottish sites - two at Beith. They are officially known as Integrated Weapons Complexes (IWC). Each one has four Weapons Assembly and Check Rooms (WACR) and a central Test Equipment House (TEH). Multiple weapons can be accommodated in each WACR, while tests are performed in sequence from the TEH.

IWC in Iraq
The IWCs incorporate sophisticated safety and monitoring equipment consisting of a set of control consoles linked to CCTV, audio, intercom and fire alarm systems. The consoles provide access control and can be used to isolate all energy sources from the weapons under test, to ensure that an unsafe fault condition cannot escalate into an explosive incident.

Looking at the images below, compare the Scottish IWCs with England's RNAD Ernesettle at Plymouth and the Google Earth and Windows Live Local extreme close-up shots of RNAD Gosport .

Imagine what a surprise it is to discover a British-designed IWC near Basra in Iraq! Sounds ridiculous? Look on Google Earth or just use my special implementation of Google Maps further below. Note how the design is identical to the UK IWCs (right, top). Then note how it has now been bombed-out (right, bottom)!

It was constructed as part of a rather shady UK-Iraq defence contract back in 1985. It was handled by London-based commercial company International Military Services (IMS) Limited, who just happened to be wholly-owned by the Ministry of Defence. The scandal was covered in great depth in Sir Richard Scott's report to Parliament in 1996, which included the infamous Matrix Churchill and Supergun affairs.

RNAD Gosport
RNAD CrombieRNAD Ernesettle
DM Beith - westDM Beith - east
Aerial views of identical Integrated Weapons Complexes (IWC)
at RNAD Gosport (top) and then clockwise from upper left:-
RNAD Crombie, RNAD Ernesettle, DM Beith (east) and DM Beith (west)
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
Integrated Weapons Complex (IWC) at RNAD Gosport
Bird's Eye view of an Integrated Weapons Complex (IWC) at RNAD Gosport
comprising four Weapons Assembly and Check Rooms (WACR)
and a central Test Equipment House (TEH)
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
Pilot's Eye view of RNAD Gosport
Pilot's Eye view of RNAD Gosport in August 2013
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Pilot's Eye view of RNAD Frater
Pilot's Eye view of RNAD Frater in August 2013
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Buildings plan of RNAD Gosport and RNAD Frater
Buildings plan of RNAD Gosport (left) and RNAD Frater (right)
showing missile workshops (cyan, left), explosives storage (orange, middle)
and missile laboratories (yellow, right)
with other non-explosives handling buildings in black, blue and brown (lower right)
Bombed-out British-designed Integrated Weapons Complex (IWC) at Basra, Iraq
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NATO Z-berths and POL depots

PermalinkIf you travel up to the far northern highlands of Scotland, you'll stumble across a NATO submarine base at Loch Ewe , just south of the tiny village of Aultbea. Loch Ewe, being a deep sea loch, enables submarines to approach the jetty without breaking the water surface too soon.

The jetty at Aultbea is designated a "Z-berth" and these are dotted all around the coast of the UK, to allow Britain's nuclear submarines to return home temporarily for servicing. There's even a Z-berth situated in the middle of Loch Ewe itself, marked by a buoy but not marked on any OS maps! Presumably, one hopes, it is marked on Royal Navy charts!

Another nuclear submarine Z-berth buoy is located off the Isle of Skye, in the middle of Broadford Bay , causing much anxiety to Broadford's residents who are rightly concerned about possible nuclear accidents.

The NATO Loch Ewe site at Aultbea and the neighbouring Naval Boom Defence Depot at Mellon Charles , have military significance dating back to WWII. The location of the Boom Defence Depot marks the start of the original protective netting which guarded the entrance to the loch. Nowadays, the Mellon Charles site is rumoured to be involved in the disposal of waste nuclear material from submarines returning from their tour of duty.

Part of the Loch Ewe submarine base is designated a POL Depot - Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants. The depot provides essential maintenance facilities for visiting warships. Two other NATO POL Depots, with former Z-berths, can be spotted at Campbeltown - principal town on the Kintyre peninsula - and at Loch Striven , where the mountains near Dunoon look across the beautiful Kyles of Bute.

Note how, by studying the aerial photos below, the NATO POL Depots look exactly the same as those GPSS Defence Fuel Depots discussed earlier!

NATO Loch Ewe POL Depot
NATO Loch Ewe Z-BerthBoom Defence Depot at Mellon Charles
Aerial views of NATO Loch Ewe Submarine Base
POL Depot (top),
Nuclear Submarine Z-berth (left) and Boom Defence Depot at Mellon Charles (right)
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
NATO Loch Ewe Z-berth jetty with Aultbea in the background
NATO Loch Ewe Z-berth jetty with Aultbea in the background
Looking west across NATO Loch Ewe Z-berth and POL tanks
Looking west across NATO Loch Ewe Z-berth and POL tanks
Naval Boom Defence Depot at Mellon Charles near Aultbea
Naval Boom Defence Depot at Mellon Charles near Aultbea
POL Depot with jetty (and former Z-berth) at Campbeltown Bay
Aerial view of POL Depot with jetty (and former Z-berth) at Campbeltown
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
POL Depot with jetty (and former Z-berth) at Loch Striven
Aerial view of POL Depot with jetty (and former Z-berth) at Loch Striven
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
Whilst still in the north west of Scotland, consider hopping over to the Outer Hebrides (more correctly now, in Gaelic, "Na h-eileanan an Iar" - literally "The Western Isles") and check out the old Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) bases on the Isle of South Uist.

Here, in this stunningly beautiful location, you'll find the QinetiQ Hebrides test ranges where missiles are fired over the Atlantic Ocean. The main test range location, referred to as the Range Head , is to be found just beyond the crofting township of Geirinis on South Uist's west coast.

Meanwhile, the Range Control unit is further inland to the south east, on top of the hill of Ruabhal. The hill is known to islanders as "Space City" due to the aerials and "golf ball" radome structures and all these sit rather incongruently just above a Roman Catholic iconic figure of Our Lady of the Isles.

Further tracking of the missile tests is carried out at the UK's most remote QinetiQ base on the island of St. Kilda (or Hirta), which is 50 miles north west of the Hebridean island of South Uist.

A little further north of the DERA ranges on South Uist, QinetiQ have a base within RAF Benbecula - a beautiful Atlantic beach location which I can confirm is one of the most highly desirable RAF locations in the UK!

QinetiQ also have a small base next door to Kyle of Lochalsh's train station on the west coast of Scotland - the gateway to the Isle of Skye. This site is designated BUTEC - the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre. This old DERA base carries out sonar electronics and torpedo weapons testing for the UK's submarine fleet. However, the main test range depot , from where all the sea trials are performed, can be found off the coast of the Applecross peninsula, overlooking the Isle of Rona.

The Spearfish missiles, which are processed and stored at DM Beith in Ayrshire, are tested not only on the BUTEC range but also on a similar range off the east coast of Andros Island in the Bahamas called AUTEC - the US Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Centre.Controversy has surrounded the BUTEC test range, as it has been alleged that a powerful Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) system has been trialled there on behalf of the Royal Navy. The system was banned in the US, as it had been shown to cause disorientation and mass strandings of whales and dolphins.

Perhaps the most controversial QinetiQ test range in Scotland, if not the whole UK, can be found at Dundrennan near Kirkcudbright. This vast, clearly marked "Danger Area" is used to test Depleted Uranium (DU) shells for battle tanks. More recently, the nearby Electromagnetic Launch Facility (EMLF) has been set-up to develop, evaluate and test the so-called "Super Gun" for the US Army.

Kyle of Lochalsh station (left) and QinetiQ BUTEC (right)
Aerial view of Kyle of Lochalsh station (left) and QinetiQ BUTEC (right)
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
QinetiQ BUTEC Kyle of Lochalsh with the Skye Bridge in the background
QinetiQ BUTEC Kyle of Lochalsh with the Skye Bridge in the background
QinetiQ BUTEC as seen from Kyleakin on Skye
QinetiQ BUTEC as seen from Kyleakin on Skye
QinetiQ BUTEC Rona Range Depot on the Applecross peninsula
QinetiQ BUTEC Rona Range Depot on the Applecross peninsula
QinetiQ BUTEC Rona Range Depot close-up
QinetiQ BUTEC Rona Range Depot close-up

Gamma Shine


Scottish nuclear plans go missing – July 2014

plus and

... but return just in time for the Scottish Independence Referendum – September 2014

The emergency planning and risk assessment reports for the Scottish Highlands, under the Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations (REPPIR), are called HIGHSAFE. They contain detailed plans of radioactivity decontamination shower areas for military personnel. These are situated at the main QinetiQ BUTEC base at Kyle of Lochalsh and also the Naval Boom Defence Depot at Mellon Charles, discussed above. They are to be used in the event of reactor accidents on visiting nuclear submarines at those Z-berths – a so-called "Gamma Shine" incident.

Local communities have supplies of Potassium Iodate tablets on standby for use in such emergencies. A sobering thought. Similarly, down on England's south coast, Southampton Council's website contains the corresponding reports (SOTONSAFE) for the Z-berth situated at the city's docks. Rather than a special jetty, the Z-berth at Southampton is merely a designation of berths 38 and 39 , which normally accommodate ocean going cruise liners. Portsmouth Council has its own corresponding PORTSAFE report and public advice booklet for the Naval Base Z-berth . Plymouth Council also has a report and an advice leaflet for the Z-berths at Devonport Naval Base and at the bright yellow mooring buoy in the middle of Plymouth Sound.

In March 2007, Dorset Council published its own advice leaflet and full plan documents, following an earlier Royal Navy announcement that an old Z-berth location was being re-activated at Portland Port near the holiday resort of Weymouth. Not one, but two Z-berths have been designated at the west and east jetties of the southern end of Portland Harbour at Fortuneswell on the Isle of Portland.

Throughout 2007, Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council in Liverpool started to prepare their own emergency plan for the proposed re-activation of the old Royal Navy Z-berth within the Royal Seaforth Dock . The documents have not made an appearance on Sefton Council's website, but they were published by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) as a result of a Freedom of Information request.

September 2014 – reinstated latest documents

The documents on the Scottish Highland Council website detail the emergency planning and risk assessments for the Broadford Bay and Loch Ewe Z-berths. Also covered in detail is the Royal Navy's and Rolls Royce's Vulcan Works, the Naval Reactor Test Establishment (NRTE, HMS Vulcan) . It is at the western end of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority's (UKAEA) site at Dounreay, close to one of my regular holiday locations at Thurso on Scotland's north coast.

At the NRTE, the nuclear cores and Rolls-Royce's engines that will drive the submarine fleet are tested at the MoD shore-based facility for several years, before going into service with the Royal Navy.

Rolls-Royce's own Neptune works – a similar test bed for nuclear reactor cores – can be found adjacent to their main manufacturing plant at Raynesway, Derby, back in England. The facility can be viewed in extreme close-up on Windows Live Local and you can clearly see that the site is ringed by triple security fencing.

The residents of Derby and even local politicians were blissfully unaware of the Raynesway plant's other clandestine and classified role – a highly enriched uranium processing facility – until a newspaper broke the story in 1999.

Incidentally, on either side of the town of Thurso, you can find the sites of two former US Naval Communications Stations (NAVCOMMSTA) at Forss (beyond the country hotel at Bridge of Forss) and at West Murkle , on top of Clardon Hill.

From the 1960s and 1970s, the sites provided key command and control signals for warships patrolling the North East Atlantic. They were only closed in the 1990s when the communications systems were changed. The old Forss base is being turned into a Business and Technology Park and also houses a wind energy farm.

UKAEA Dounreay, Thurso
Aerial view of UKAEA Dounreay, Thurso
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
NRTE - HMS Vulcan, west of UKAEA Dounreay, Thurso
Aerial view of NRTE - HMS Vulcan, west of UKAEA Dounreay, Thurso
Hover over the image above to annotate the aerial photo with building identifications!
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
HMS Vulcan
Pilot's Eye view: Looking south over the Naval Reactor Test Establishment (NRTE)
HMS Vulcan, Dounreay near Thurso, Caithness, North Scotland
© Crown Copyright – Photo reproduced by kind permission of MoD / Royal Navy

Click for more Pilot's Eye Views of Secret Bases
Naval Reactor Test Establishment (NRTE, HMS Vulcan) from the south
Naval Reactor Test Establishment (NRTE, HMS Vulcan) from the south
Buildings from left to right:
STF - Shore Test Facility; DSMP1 - Dounreay Submarine Prototype Reactor;
Electricity sub-station and PFR - Prototype Fast Reactor (on UKAEA Dounreay site)
Naval Reactor Test Establishment (NRTE, HMS Vulcan) from the west
Naval Reactor Test Establishment (NRTE, HMS Vulcan) from the west
Hover over the image above to annotate the aerial photo with building identifications!
Aerial photo
© MoD / Rolls-Royce / UKAEA / NRTE
UKAEA Dounreay (centre) and HMS Vulcan (right) from the west (with Forss Wind Energy Farm, left, in the distance)
UKAEA Dounreay (centre) and HMS Vulcan (right) from the west
(with Forss Wind Energy Farm, left, in the distance)
UKAEA Dounreay
UKAEA Dounreay from the south east
Photo: the BBC's Coast series – © BBC
UKAEA Dounreay
UKAEA Dounreay from the north west
Photo: the BBC's Coast series – © BBC
The old US Navy communications station at Forss
The old US Navy communications station at Forss, now a wind farm
Rolls-Royce Neptune reactor test facility
Aerial view of Rolls-Royce Nuclear Submarine Reactor Plant at Derby
Neptune Reactor Test Facility (north west) and manufacturing plant (south east)
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
Neptune Reactor Test Facility, Rolls-Royce Raynesway, Derby
Bird's Eye view of Neptune Reactor Test Facility at Rolls-Royce Raynesway, Derby
Aerial photo data: – © Microsoft Bing Maps
Aerial photo data: – © Blom ASA
The award for the RAF's most remote outpost must go to No. 91 Signals Unit whose members cling to the sheer cliffs of Shetland's northernmost island Unst at RAF Saxa Vord's Remote Radar Head (RRH).

This is a relic of the Cold War years, north of the village of Haroldswick, where you'll find the RAF's camp , housing the staff facilities for the radar site further north.

The base is within sight of the UK's most northerly point - Muckle Flugga lighthouse .

Another remote Cold War radar installation, in a stunning Scottish island location, can be found on the Atlantic west coast of the Hebridean Isle of Lewis, at Aird Uig on the northern tip of Gallan Head, which is completely fenced off.

This former home to the RAF's No. 81 Signals Unit is still in use today, although it is now a NATO communications facility.

The old RAF Aird Uig domestic camp is a shambolic deserted ruin, privately owned by various individuals since 1973. The current owners have converted one of the camp buildings into the Bonaventure French Restaurant, boasting London journalists and British Government Members of Parliament as dining guests!

Another Scottish NATO communications station can be spotted at the former WWII RAF airfield at Balado Bridge near Kinross in Perthshire. The RAF base was used to train Spitfire and Hurricane pilots during the Second World War. The distinctive white golf ball radome, tucked in amongst the poultry farms, can be seen in the distance over to the left as you drive north on the M90 motorway past Kinross service station.

In recent years, the neighbouring disused airfield has hosted the "T in the Park" pop and rock music festival. The NATO station was opened by HRH Princess Anne in 1985, but it was decommissioned in late 2006 after 21 years' service and is due to be sold for commercial development in 2007.

NATO comms radome at Balado Bridge, Kinross
Aerial view of the former NATO communications radome
at Balado Bridge, Kinross, Perthshire
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc

GCHQ Hawklaw


Most secretive and smallest UK spy base — it's in Scotland

From 1942 until 1988 when the site was abandoned by the MoD, the residents of rural Cupar in Fife, Scotland over near St. Andrews were blissfully unaware that at the end of what is little more than a farm track leading north out of the town, there was one of the most important (and smallest) signals intelligence stations in the UK. Even those locals who were aware of its existence thought it was merely used for long range transmissions to Navy ships.

Quite the opposite in fact. The tiny settlement of Hawklaw was chosen by the WWII naval intelligence commanders of the Composite Signals Organisation (CSO) within the Government Codes and Ciphers School (GC&CS) to site a station (CSOS, also designated Y-Station) for direction finding and interception to capture the German Enigma broadcasts and pass them onto Bletchley Park (Station-X) near Milton Keynes for codebreaking.

The site consisted of a wireless telegraphy building, an admin office and engineering garages with sheds. The original buildings (right) can still be seen in Getmapping imagery taken in Summer 2001 (below), but the aerials in the surrounding fields have long since gone.

A larger facility was also set up within the forest on Montreathmont Moor south of Brechin in Angus, between Forfar and Montrose. There are current proposals to develop a wind energy farm of turbines on this site. Additional outposts were operated by GCHQ from WWII until the end of the Cold War at the highland village of Brora in Sutherland and at Bowermadden near Bower, Wick in Caithness.

After the war, CSO and GC&CS became what we now know as Government Communications Headquarters and GCHQ Hawklaw carried on spying on transmissions from behind the Iron Curtain throughout the Cold War, enabling MI6 to listen in to Soviet Bloc agents and diplomatic communications from embassies. It also fed data back to the US spy headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA).

So sensitive was Hawklaw throughout its whole life, that it was only in 2007 that sketchy details of its functions were released by MoD historians. Very grainy pictures of telegraphy operators at controls within the main building were published – but their identities were still protected.

Ironically, in late 2008 when the original land owner applied to the local council to convert the site into numerous new homes, the planning file contained full details of the secret facility's purpose and history with plans, diagrams and photos in a key document. The planning application has received much opposition from locals and indeed the council itself, resulting in widespread publicity. The application has been rejected by the council once already and dismissed following formal appeal too. This is the latest attempt. Over sixty five years of top secrecy and now it's all over the internet!

GCHQ Hawklaw, Cupar, Fife
Aerial view of the former Composite Signals Organisation Station (CSOS)
GCHQ Hawklaw near Cupar, Fife
Aerial photo data:
© Getmapping plc
GCHQ Hawklaw
I Spy GCHQ Hawklaw on Google Street View
See on Google Street View

A photo tour of Scotland

If you've particularly enjoyed your trip "north of the border" above, then you might also like to take my photo tour of some of my favourite places by visiting my Scotland Page!

End of Part 3
Alan Turnbull
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