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Operation Hardrock

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Operation Hardrock established St Kilda as an early warning radar outpost during the Cold War, and led to the building of a rocket tracking station on Hirta, which gradually evolved into an MoD Base for the South Uist Missile Range. Construction of the original installation was carried out by the RAF (5004 Airfield Construction Squadron), at the time home based at RAF Wellesbourne Mountford, Warwickshire), for the British Army over the two summers of 1957 and 1958, with over-wintering there by a skeleton RAF force. The Army provided sea transport to and from St Kilda, using ageing LCT (Landing Craft Tank) based at Marchwood, Southampton Water (a very long distance by sea). At the time, 76 Coy (LCT) RASC (which provided crews for the LCTs) was based at Southsea Castle, Portsmouth, and operated from the military port of Cairnryan on Loch Ryan. Transport operations only took place during the spring and summer as the LCTs had been de-mothballed after being laid up at the end of World War II, and their design was not suitable for use during the adverse sea conditions which could arise during autumn and winter.

On 6 October 1956, 76 Coy (LCT) RASC was formed with 7 vessels:

  • L4002 - AGHEILA
  • L4041 – ABBEVILLE
  • L4061 – AUDEMER
  • L4062 – AACHEN
  • L4097 – ANDALSNES
  • L4128 – AREZZO
  • L4164 – ARAKAN
  • L4086 – ARROMANCHES (Joined fleet in Sept 1958)

In order to cause minimal disturbance to the village and surrounding area, the base was established on glebe land - agricultural land in the control of the church - but this reasoning conflicted with the original construction plan, which called for demolition of the abandoned village to provide stone for road building. This plan was successfully opposed by representatives of The Nature Conservancy and the NTS (National Trust for Scotland) in 1957, and the village was saved. Instead, stone was obtained from a new quarry established in the area above Village Bay.

Since then, the MoD and the NTS have cooperated to make provision for the ending of the MoD lease. Where possible, all or part of the installation will be removed, with detailed recording being carried out of all features. Until then, the two are working together to remove redundant structures from the area, and minimise the visual impact of the remainder. Outwith the actual base itself, the major elements of the installation comprise:

  • Road – Single-track concrete road leading from the military base to the radar stations on top of Mullach Sgar and Mullach Mor.
  • Helicopter and landing craft landing place – Large concreted area near the beach.
  • Fuel tanks – Near the beach and partly concealed.
  • Water tank – The main freshwater reservoir for the island, painted green to blend in with its surrounding, but due to be removed and relocated underground.
  • Radar masts and associated buildings – Built on the barren hilltops of Mullach Sgar and Mullach Mor, where vegetation would be very slow to recolonise bare areas.
  • Gabion baskets – Coastal defences which result in erosion at their edges, and may lead to significant collapse if removed.
  • Ablutions block – Adjacent to the Factor’s House, and provides shower, washing and toilet facilities for work parties, visitors and campers. One of the last remaining structures from the early phase of the military base.
  • Quarry – Beside the road, half-way up the hill, it has potential for land fill but would be very difficult to fully reinstate.

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