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RAF Aird Uig

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RAF Aird Uig was a radio and radar station established at Aird Uig, Gallan Head on Lewis.

The site formed part of NATO's early-warning system which monitored the area for Soviet submarines and aircraft, and was one of three new Centimetric Early Warning (CEW) stations, the others being at RAF Faraid Head and RAF Saxa Vord.

History

Local history via Gallan Head Community Trust

During the 1950s, when the Cold War was gaining pace, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) identified Gallan Head, just to the north of Aird Uig, as a suitable site for a communications and surveillance centre which had a clear view to the north of Scotland (and Britain). An RAF camp was built there and served as home to servicemen for more than 20 years, creating employment and bringing money into the community. Its presence was considered to be good for the area, and there was considerable disappointment when the camp closed in 1974.

The abandoned camp was subject to a private sale in 1975, but became disused and derelict. However, in the 1980s some of the camp and other buildings were sold to private individuals, leading to others being attracted to the area from the mainland. Aird became the largest township in Uig, which helped to support and sustain local services for a time, but this did not last, and with little to keep them there, young people born there tended to leave.

While the operational part of RAF Aird Uig had remained in use after the closure of the camp, all activities ceased in 2010.

In 2014, the MoD announced it would be placing all the land all around Aird Uig on the open market.[1]

The community trust noted two documents released as declassified:

  1. Experimental Minefields off Gallan Head [2]
  2. Gallan Head Radio signal dated 29 September 1942 [3]

Station history

We are grateful to our friends at Subterranea Britannica for permission to reproduce the following details.

The original source has photographs and detailed maps of the site, not copied here, which can be referred to there.

Technical

Aird Uig
Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
OS Grid Ref: NB047390

The final stage of the ROTOR Programme (Rotor 3) was to provide radar cover for the north and west of the British Isles which were still exposed to attack and to give low and surface level cover over the Atlantic, the absence of which prevented effective action against low flying enemy aircraft. Three new Centimetric Early Warning (CEW) stations were to be built at Aird Uig, Faraid Head and Saxa Vord equipped with Type 80 Mk 2 and Type 13 radars . The new CEW operations buildings were to be above ground, heavily built and designated R10, similar in internal layout to the underground R1 bunker.

ROTOR 3 included five new Chain Home Extra Low (CHEL) stations equipped with Stage 1 radar equipment to enable detection and tracking of low flying aircraft. (Stage 1 comprised Type 7 Early Warning [E/W] GCI, Type 14 E/W search radar E/W or FC [CEW station], Type 13 H/F and a Type 15 [mobile Type 7]) The proposed stations were at Kilchiaran, Murlough Bay (demolished), Prestatyn, Snaefell and West Myne (not built). These were to be heavily built operations blocks, designated R11; the above ground version of an R2 bunker.

Two new GCI stations were also proposed as part of the ROTOR 3 programme, each equipped with a Type 80 radar and R8 prefabricated operations block. One at Ballywooden (Killard Point) in Northern Ireland and the other at Wick on the Scottish east coast. It is unclear if Wick was ever built.

It was hoped that The ROTOR 3 programme would be complete by 1957 and all technical aspects were classified as 'Super Priority'.

By the target completion date of August 1955 some ROTOR stations had already closed down and the introduction of the 'Comprehensive Radar Station' as part of the '1958' plan had no place for Aird Uig and the station closed in 1964.

RAF Aird Uig was fitted with one Marconi Type 13 height finder, one Type 14 and a Decca Type 80 early warning radar with a US IFF aerial mounted on it. The Type 80 was the four motored variant that was only installed across the top of Scotland where weather conditions were very harsh. Four 40HP motors were fitted instead of the usual two.

At Aird Uig the weather was so bad that occasionally the aerial was stopped by the wind despite this extra power. In these conditions it was considered too dangerous to take a vehicle to the operations site after two vehicles had been blown off the road with the new watch having to make their way on foot from the domestic camp at Aird Uig village.

By 1959 the Type 14 had been taken out of use although it was stll operable. Both the Type 13 and Type 14 radars were mounted on plinths, the Type 80 was mounted in a steel gantry straddling the modulator building.

Altghough the operations block had been designed to take a Kelvin Hughes projector, this was never fitted. Instead the pit was covered over with floor boarding with brass pull up handles. In the large well beneath, accessed by a staircase, the station stored some of its bulk emergency rations.

The station however remained in RAF hands as a communications centre and through the 1990's it was home to 81 Signals Unit, the RAF's high frequency communications specialists. At the same time, the station also housed a low frequency transmitter providing RAF maritime low frequency communications. Following the transfer of this service to the Defence Communications Services Agency (DCSA) facility at Crimmond, near Fraserburgh in 2000, the 81 Signals Unit detachment became redundant and the personnel returned to their base in Kinloss. Following their departure the 618 foot low frequency radio mast was dismantled.

The base on Gallan Head had been expected to close and there were plans to build a wind farm on the site but in 2003 these plans were put on hold following a decision by NATO to reactivate a radar monitoring operation at Aird Uig.

Work has been going on through 2003 to build a series of masts which will form part of NATO's radar monitoring of the Atlantic. There are 14 masts in all - two groups of six each with complex cabling and two larger structures.

© Subterranea Britannica[4]

Domestic

Aird Uig
Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
OS Grid Ref: NB047390

The 12 acre domestic camp was sited immediately to the north of Aird Uig village to the south of Gallan Head. There was a guardroom on the village side and the first building was the Station Headquarters. Other buildings included a medical block (Aird Uig did not have an MO, medical affairs were attended to by an orderly. Anything he could not attend to had to be sent by RAF ambulance to Stornoway hospital), stores and the NAAFI (Navy, Army & Air Forces Institute) shop.

The four houses standing to the left of the road running between the camp and the operations site were married quarters for AMWD (Air Minstry works dept), the civil staff that maintain fabric of site.

The only married quarters was a bungalow for the commanding officer on the east side of the domestic camp just above the cliff; this has now been demolished.

The domestic camp was sold to a private individual in March 1973 and since then has changed hands several times. Some of the accommodation blocks have been converted into housing and incorporated into the village, other blocks remain empty and disused.

One of the blocks has been converted into a restaurant and hotel and the fire station has been converted into a house.

The former rotor station is within a secure compound formed by fencing right across Gallan Head. The R10 operations block has been retained athough in recent years it has been reroofed and now bears little resemblance to the original structure. This was done some time after 1988. To the east of the operations block the stand-by set house remains largely unaltered and behind it the High Voltage Switch House also remains.

The Type 80 modulator building cannot be seen from outside the camp although a building of the correct size is shown at the rear of the site on the current 1:25,000 OS map.

© Subterranea Britannica[5]

Photographs

Photographs of the station and camp.[6]

Memoirs of a National Serviceman at RAF Aird Uig

This is a long read: Memoirs of a National Serviceman at RAF Aird Uig [7]

2017 Site bought by community trust

The site became available after the MoD declared it had no further interest in the area, and a plan was conceived to turn the site, which covers some 84 acres, into a major nature reserve.[8]

A ceilidh, celebratory bonfire, and torchlight procession were held at the end of January 2017 to mark the first year since the community buyout of the site by the Gallan Head Trust. The trust bought the site from the MoD with help of grant funding, and plans to turn it into a space observatory and marine research centre, The Cetus Observatory.[9][10]

Long term plans for site are to have the observatory serve as home to an Internet operated robotic telescope, small radio telescope, small radar, a solar telescope, planetarium, space exhibition, giant wide field binoculars for viewing cetaceans and birdlife, nature webcams, a café, educational facilities, and a small shop.

Together with partners SA Instrumentation and Stornoway Astronomical Society, the trust plans include the installation of a marine hydrophone to allow visitors to listen to whales, and the installation of a planetarium inside one of the former MoD buildings.

After this first year, the trust has been able to open Gallan Head to the public, having made the area and building safe.

A small visitor was also established in a house known as Gallan Beag, providing an information point and tea-room, while a circular path is to be established around the headland, with shelters to allow marine life to be observed, and star gazing to take place, taking advantage of the dark skies available due to the lack of light pollution in the area.

References

1 Aird Uig | Gallan Head Community Trust Retrieved 6 February 2017.

2 Experimental Minefields off Gallan Head | Gallan Head Community Trust - Experimental Minefields off Gallan Head Retrieved February 03, 2017.

3 Most Secret 29.9.1942 | Gallan Head Community Trust - Retrieved February 03, 2017.

4 Subterranea Britannica: Research Study Group: Sites: RAF Aird Uig R10 Rotor Radar Station - Technical site Retrieved February 03, 2017.

5 Subterranea Britannica: Research Study Group: Sites: RAF Aird Uig R10 Rotor Radar Station - Domestic site Retrieved February 03, 2017.

6 Subterranea Britannica: Research Study Group: Sites: RAF Aird Uig R10 Rotor Radar Station - Photographs Retrieved 6 February 2017.

7 Subterranea Britannica: Research Study Group: Sites: RAF Aird Uig R10 Rotor Radar Station - Memoirs of a National Serviceman at RAF Aird Uig Retrieved 6 February 2017.

8 Gallan Head Trust to take over Cold War station - BBC News Retrieved February 03, 2017.

9 Bonfire and ceilidh mark buyout of Cold War site on Lewis - BBC News Retrieved February 03, 2017.

10 Community buyout of Isle of Lewis Cold War surveillance station - The Scotsman Retrieved 6 February 2017.

External links


  1. Gallan Head Community Trust | Land, sea, and sky, a glimpse of universal magic Retrieved 6 February 2017.

Aerial views


Map

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