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Braid Fell Bombing Range

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Braid Fell bombing range was a World War II bombing range established to the west of Braid Fell in Dumfries and Galloway, to the east of Cairnryan on the shores of Loch Ryan. The remains of the range still lie to the west of the single track road running between Innermessan and Penwhirn.

The northern end of the range was provided with full size dummy factory, which had to be rebuilt between exercises. No evidence of this structure remains, but the site it surrounded by numerous bomb craters of various sizes. A short distance to the west of this target two concentric gravel circles have been recorded in an area of peat, but have been lost beneath the surface.

Approximately half a mile (1 km) south of the dummy factory site a small concrete hut remains beside the road, near a large concrete arrow set into the ground to the west, and pointing towards the dummy factory.

The southern end of the range was equipped with a massive reinforced concrete target wall, close to another large concrete arrow set into the ground beside the road, and pointing towards the wall.

Braid Fell bomb disposal team

The RAF is reported to be involved in dealing with EODs (explosive ordnance device) which are still found in the area, which is also said to have been used as a munitions dump at some time in the past, with semi-permanent accommodation for the personnel dealing with the EODs having been installed adjacent to the old target wall.

In October 2010, it was announced that MoD plans to removed the disposal team from Braid Fell had been put on hold, pending review, after the local MP raised the issue of safety, and said that MoD figures for the preceding year had shown the discovery of 110 unexploded weapons, and that over 800 targets had been removed. showed that 110 unexploded weapons had been found on the site in the past year and more than 800 targets removed. However, and Mod spokesman said that the risk of anyone coming into contact with munitions on the site was now as low as reasonably practical.[1]

In March 2011, notice was given that the disposal team was being withdrawn, and replaced by an annual survey, with a team ready to deal with any finds. The final reason given for the removal of the four-man team is redeployment to Afghanistan, where the MoD said their skills were in 'high demand to protect troops from explosive devices', adding that, 'There are still two military bomb disposal teams in Scotland who work 24/7 to deal with any threats across the country'.[2]

Dummy target factory and craters

A bombing target, in the form of an area created to look like a factory, is reported to have been constructed on the western side of a minor road running through Braid Fell. The factory building has been described as having a flat roof, and requiring to be rebuilt after each exercise. Numerous squadrons would have used the range, but RCAHMS records including a note stating that 633 Squadron used this range, although no reference is given to support the claim. It may be worth noting that 633 Squadron is the name of a 1964 film which depicts the exploits of a fictional World War II British fighter-bomber squadron, and which was filmed in the Highlands, where the scenery matched the plot of the film.

All evidence of the target factory has been removed, with area reported to be fenced off, however much of the surrounding area can now be seen to be heavily marked by numerous bomb craters which have survived on the undeveloped land, and these range up to 20 metres in diameter, with at least 40 of significant size being easily seem, and many still deep enough to be water filled.

The bombing target is reported to visible on RAF aerial photographs taken in 1941, which show the dummy factory under construction and partially roofed.

The bombing target is later reported to be visible on RAF aerial photographs taken 1945, at which time the surrounding area is noted to be heavily marked with bomb craters.

Buried concentric gravel circles

Assumed to be connected with the bombing range, two concentric circles made up of granite chips and with an overall diameter of 34 metres are now lost to sight and reported to lie buried beneath a layer of peat.

The location given lies approximately 400 metres west of the dummy factory, and has been subject to peat cutting in later years, since the buried gravel circles were reported in 1986.

Building and marker arrow 1

range building, 2006
Range building
© Oliver Dixon

A small brick and concrete building (Range building 1) with a pitched roof, supported on the sloping hillside by concrete pillars, lies on the western side of a minor road running through Braid Fell. Described in modern reports as an animal shelter, the building style suggests it is of military origin, and would therefore have been connected to the adjacent bombing range. Reports indicate two small aluminium storage huts on the northwest face of Broad Fell, with another near the roadside.

Lying approximately 30 metres northwest of the building, a large concrete arrow (marker arrow 1) is set into the ground, aligned parallel to the road and pointing approximately from southwest to northeast.

The building and arrow are reported to have been visible on aerial photographs taken by the RAF in 1945, together with another small roofed structure on the eastern side of the road.

Target wall and marker arrow 2

Concrete target wall south face, 2006
Concrete target wall south face
© Oliver Dixon

A large steel reinforced concrete bombing target wall lies on the western side of a minor road running through Braid Fell.

The wall contains many holes, revealing the concrete reinforcement, with at least four being described as large, together with evidence of splinter damage, and past repairs. There is no concentration of bomb craters around this target wall, suggesting it was used as a target for aircraft guns and cannons.

On the south side of the wall are more recent buildings belonging to an RAF EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team involved in clearing World War II ordnance from the site. An earlier report from 1997 indicated that this work had been ongoing for some years was expected to continue until at least 2008. The range is also reported to have been used by the Bombing Trials Unit based at nearby RAF West Freugh, a modern day weapons and bombing range.

A modern barn occupies the ground to the south of the wall and the RAF buildings, and the western corner of the wall has also been used to mount what appears to be a vertical VHF antenna.

Approximately 50 metres south of the wall, and adjacent to the western edge of the road, a large concrete arrow (marker arrow 2) is set into the ground, pointing just west of north and towards the target wall.

The wall and arrow are reported to have been visible on aerial photographs taken by the RAF in 1945.

The wall is said to have been built during World War II as practice target for Operation Jericho, the raid on the Amiens Prison operated by the Gestapo in Copenhagen, when a flight of Mosquitoes blew out the walls and allowed hundred of prisoners to escape. There is no reference for this claim.

The raid on Amiens Prison is probably the single most famous raid undertaken by the Mosquito. The plan was to carry out a precision bombing raid limited only to certain buildings within the complex in order to provide an escape opportunity for the hundreds of prisoners being held there, including members of the French Resistance awaiting execution, and Allied personnel known to hold sensitive information. A message sneaked out of the prison revealed that the prisoners would rather risk death in the raid, than be tortured and executed by the Gestapo. The raid took place on February 18, 1944. 18 Mosquitos took part (four were lost, plus two Typhoon escorts), swooping down at well in excess of 300 miles an hour to a height of about 60 feet from the ground in order to precisely blow holes in the prison walls.

Operation Jericho

In 1943, Amiens Prison contained many members of the French Resistance, either captured by German forces, or after having been betrayed by collaborators working for the Gestapo, and the entire movement in the Amiens area was at risk. By December 1943, 12 Resistance members had been executed there, and it was learned that more than 100 others were due to be shot on February 19, 1944. Accurate details of the prison were sent to London, including descriptions of the layout, defences, and duty rosters. When two Allied intelligence officers were captured and sent to Amiens, a precision air attack was requested.

The prison was located beside a long straight road and surrounded by high walls, and it was known that the guards took their meals in a block adjacent to the main building, which meant that their meal time would be the best time to attack and eliminate them as a group. Weapons had to be carefully chosen to ensure the prison walls were breached and the doors blown open, to allow the prisoners to escape, but avoided destroying the actual building. About 700 prisoners were being held in Amiens, and some loss of life was inevitable during the air raid, but many of those detained had already been condemned to death, and the raid would at least give them an opportunity to escape.

The Mosquito bombers would accompanied by Hawker Typhoons.

On February 18, 1944, 18 Mosquito aircraft took off into poor weather as they could no longer afford to wait, only two hours before the deadline which would have seen the mission being scrubbed. Four Mosquitos lost contact with the formation and had to return to base, while another was forced to turn back with engine problems, leaving nine aircraft to carry out the main attack, with four in reserve.

The aircraft arrive on target at one minute past noon. A diversionary attack was launched on the local railway station, then the prison wall was attacked and successfully breached, followed by a direct hit on the block housing the guards. The aircraft were travelling at anything up to 300 mph and only 60 feet from the ground. The aircraft followed the road to the prison, and in later interviews, one pilot described seeing items such as street lights and people at windows from his cockpit as he sped toward his target.

Three Mosquitos and two Typhoons were lost in the raid, a total of three aircrew were killed, and three were captured.

87 prison occupants were killed, many of whom were Germans. 182 prisoners were recaptured, but 258 managed to escape, of whom 179 were common criminals, 29 were termed 'French politicals' (which usually meant they were Communist Party workers), and 50 were members of the French Resistance, some of whom had been convicted of committing terrorist acts against German soldiers or the local French population.. The diversionary attack on the railway station delayed German troops by two hours

Target wall north face, 2005
Target wall north face
© M Campbell
Barn and wall, 2006
Barn and wall
© Oliver Dixon
Concrete arrow, 2006
Concrete arrow
© Oliver Dixon


References

1 BBC News - Braid Fell bomb disposal team withdrawal reprieved Retrieved April 01, 2011.

2 BBC News - Braid Fell bomb disposal team withdrawn Retrieved April 01, 2011.

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