Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Exercise Joint Warrior JW 131 2013 starts soon

The twice yearly military exercises of Joint Warrior are due to begin in various area in and around Scotland, on land and sea, are due to begin soon, and always generate interest in those keen to pop out and grab some pics of the participants, usually as they gather in the Firth of Clyde, but also as they move around the country.

The exercises usually start with the maritime element in April, and the notification is given below.

The second part of the exercise will take place in October.

Joint Warrior (JW) 131, will take place from 15 until 29 April 2013 and will comprise of a programme of exercises conducted by land forces, warships, submarines and aircraft across the UK. The maritime element (15 until 25 April) is focussed in the offshore and coastal waters to the north east, north and north west of Scotland.

See the note issued by the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff…


JW112 Brief to FV Ferry – 20130301-JW131-Brief-for-fishing-vessels-and-ferries-U-SOSM.pdf  

The fun could be deemed to have started already, as Loch Striven has just seen some exercises have just taken place off the Isle of Bute:

Zak caught HMS Brocklesby on Wednesday, one of eight Hunt-class mine countermeasures vessels based in Portsmouth (launched in 1982 and commissioned 13 months later), which had been joined by  HMS Pembroke, a Sandown-class minehunter based at HMNB Clyde at Faslane, for an exercise with a Dassault jet in the area off Ardbeg and Port Bannatyne, where the sound of gunfire caught folk’s attention (seems the local paper went for a look, but was way behind ‘our’ favourite photographer):

Rafale vs minesweepers

Dassault Falcon 20E – G-FRAD vs minesweepers – © Zak – Click image for original

Smoky minesweeper

Smoky minesweeper – HMS Brocklesby – © Zak – Click image for original

Best part of a week behind SeSco, the media has finally woken up and mentioned JW!

More than 5,000 UK personnel are to take part in the largest military exercise in Europe this year, the MoD has said.

Exercise Joint Warrior will test their ability to work together with the forces of nine other countries.

It will take place across Scotland from 15 to 29 April and will involve 5,250 UK military personnel.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the exercise will ensure the forces are prepared “to meet any challenge”.

“They give us the chance to test the way the different services and different nations work together, something that is vital in a multilateral world,” he added.

The exercise will involve 13,000 military personnel in total, including forces from Sweden, Germany, Brazil and the US.

There will be an airborne assault and amphibious landings as well as training in counter-insurgency, counter-piracy and interstate war.

49 ships from various navies as well as up to 40 aircraft will be involved, including RAF Tornados and Typhoons.

The Royal Marine Commandos will make a landing at Barry Buddon training camp in Angus, near Dundee.

Further activities will take place near Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway, where all nearby residents have been informed and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) expects it will cause “no real disruption”.

Live ammunition will be used in certain exercises, on cleared ranges where it poses no risk.

Via UK deploying 5,250 personnel for Exercise Joint Warrior (April 11, 2013.)

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Maritime, military | , , , , , | 4 Comments

World War I era Peterhead lifeboat to be restored in Shetland after 100 years

Clinker built wooden boat

We don’t spot many stories arising from World War I, so it’s nice to see one which is accompanied by a tale of genuine good conduct and life saving.

We’re told that the steam drifter Ugie Brae was one of 16 Scottish vessels unfortunate enough to meet U-36 on 23 June, 1915, and be sunk some 35 miles off the Skerries. However, the crew of the German U-Boat allowed the crews time to launch their lifeboats and leave. One fisherman died a few days later, a result of a shrapnel wound, while ten men and one dog escaped from the Ugie Brae.

Their lifeboat was a 16-foot clinker built item, and was left where they landed – with some difficulty as they were exhausted and needed help to land – on the Skerries (a small archipelago about four miles north-east of Whalsay), where it was recycled and became a sheep shelter. Later still, a floor was added, and it was used to house accumulators used to power a radio.

However, a century of exposure has left the old boat in poor condition, but it is to be saved, and will be fully restored by local boat builders Robbie Tait and Jack Duncan in the boat shed at Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick. Dr Ian Tait, curator of Shetland Museum, explained:

“Time and the weather have, however, taken its toll and the condition of the boat had deteriorated badly. Shetland Amenity Trust was therefore approached by the Skerries community to see if ways could be found to save this historic part of Skerries heritage. It was agreed that, if the Skerries folk arranged for the boat to be transported to Lerwick, then the Shetland Museum and Archives carpenters would undertake the restoration work.”

He added: “Once restored, the lifeboat will be returned to Skerries and it will be reinstated in its landmark position as a boatie-hoose again.”

Via: WWI Shetland lifeboat to be restored – Heritage –

You can see pics of the work here: Historic lifeboat to be restored | Shetland News

A second lifeboat landed, from the Uffa, but did not survive its time exposed to the weather.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Maritime, military, World War I | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bomber Command veterans receive Bomber Command clasp award

Bomber Command clasp

Bomber Command clasp – Crown Copyright via Royal Navy

I decided to write a separate post regarding the final award of the Bomber Command clasp to veterans of Bomber Command today, as the event was largely overshadowed by the many reports which covered the equally significant award of the Arctic Convoy medal, but then went on to mention the Bomber Command clasp as a footnote to their main content, while some even failed to mention it at all.

I could say more, but this is most certainly not the occasion.

Rather, just be glad that recognition has come at the individual level after a long wait, and follows the recently completed, and similarly long overdue Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London.

The Prime Minister David Cameron ended nearly 70 years of waiting for two groups of Second World War veterans, as he presented the first Arctic Star medals and Bomber Command clasps in two separate ceremonies on Tuesday.

Mr Cameron praised the veterans, apologised for their long wait for recognition and spoke of the sacrifices made by both groups.

More than 3,000 seamen died over four years from 1941 on missions to keep open supply lines to Soviet ports, travelling what Winston Churchill dubbed the “worst journey in the world”.

The Prime Minister also described how 55,000 of the 125,000 people who joined Bomber Command lost their lives.

Doug Radcliffe, secretary of the Bomber Command Association, said: “It is an honour to be here, and to have enjoyed a life and been lucky enough to survive.

“It means so much, not so much to the lucky ones like us who enjoyed 60, 70 years of life and family, but those who lost everything.”

Via Video: Bomber Command veteran welcomes ‘late honour’

Also Scots veteran Eddie Grenfell first to receive Arctic Star medal | Dundee & Tayside | News | STV

And Convoy veterans given first Arctic Star medals


March 19, 2013 Posted by | Aviation, military, World War II | , , | Leave a comment

Arctic Convoy veterans finally receive Arctic Star medal

Arctic Star medal

Arctic Star medal – Crown Copyright via Royal Navy

It’s a little unfortunate that almost every story relating to the presentation of the Arctic Star medal to veterans of the Arctic Convoys is accompanied by some reference or other to their 70-year fight to have their efforts recognised in this way. However, it is also probably fair to include that reference, since it also pays tribute to their tenacity over that period, and the efforts of those who supported them.

We haven’t been able to do much, but we have been able to mention the convoys and their preparation at Loch Ewe, prior to departure on what was described as “The worst journey in the World”, and where efforts are still ongoing to create a permanent museum to the convoys and the men who made them possible. Loch Ewe is also the place where a dwindling number of veterans assemble to mark the convoys each year, with as few as 40 being expected to make the trip there in 2013.

An exhibition is currently on show in Edinburgh Castle’s War Museum, Arctic Convoys: 1941-45, running from May 24, 2013 until March of 2014: Exhibition to give front-row seat on ‘worst journey in the world’ taken by Arctic convoys

There is even a distinctly Scottish connection to this award, as it seems that the veteran behind the medal campaign is a Scot originating from Montrose:

The leading figure behind the campaign to award the Arctic Star medal has had his award presented at a special ceremony.

Commander Eddie Grenfell, now 93, was too ill to travel to main presentation in London so his award was instead presented in Hampshire.

Mr Grenfell was born in Montrose, Scotland, but left at the age of 16 when he joined the Royal Navy and made Portsmouth his home.

He has lobbied tirelessly for 16 years for the medal to be created and was the first veteran to receive the star.

After the decision was made last December to award the star, the government was urged to act quickly because of the advancing age and ill-health of Mr Grenfell as well as other veterans.

Mr Grenfell was only released from hospital three weeks ago where he had been since last October.

He has suffered a heart attack and two cardiac arrests but managed to build up enough strength to attend Tuesday’s ceremony.

The chief of the defence staff general Sir David Richards attended the special event at the Mayor’s Parlour at Portsmouth Guildhall, Hampshire, to award Mr Grenfell.

The head of the UK armed forces had personally requested to attend the event to recognise Mr Grenfell’s lobbying efforts as well as his service on four of the Arctic convoys to Russia.

Mr Grenfell’s campaign gained massive popular support with a petition of 42,000 signatures being handed to Downing Street in 2004 as well as gaining support from local MPs.

Via Scots veteran Eddie Grenfell first to receive Arctic Star medal | Dundee & Tayside | News | STV

Also Convoy veterans given first Arctic Star medals

And Video: Bomber Command veteran welcomes ‘late honour’

March 19, 2013 Posted by | military, Naval, World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

The secret cow stampede of Eilean Mor and the World War II spies

The tiny island of Eilean Mor (Mòr) in the Scottish Hebrides gets a mention in the book by Ben Macintyre, Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (Crown, 2012).

You can see the page here, and this is the relevant section:

When six cows stampeded on the tiny island of Eilean Mor in the Scottish Hebrides, this was immediately ascribed to secret enemy activity. That the spies were invisible was merely proof of how fiendishly clever they were at disguising themselves. Even pigeons were suspect, since it was widely believed that enemy agents had secret caches of homing pigeons around the country that they used to send messages back to Germany.

Cow spy

Innocent cow, or spy giveaway?

While this may be easily dismissed as mere paranoia, it would be unfair to do so without reflecting on what was happening at the time, and had gone before.

It seems that in World War I, more than 100,000 carrier pigeons carried important messages, saving many lives.

And in World War II, British Intelligence used more than 250,00 pigeons, and Macintyre claims that Flight Lieutenant Richard Melville Walker (who worked for MI5), was convinced “that Nazi pigeons were … pouring into Britain, by parachute, high-speed motor launch, and by U-boat.” Such was the anti-avian frenzy of the time that “Some experts claimed to be able to identify a pigeon with a German ‘accent.’”

And there were other used that they served, saving the lives of aircrews when their normal means of communication (radios) were rendered useless. See the story of Winkie, the pigeon that saved the lives of a downed bomber crew, and won the firs Dicken medal.

February 19, 2013 Posted by | military, World War I, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

New exhibition to mark 100 years of the Montrose Air Station

RFC roundel

On 26 February, 1913, The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) set up its first air station, at Montrose.

A special exhibition will open during February 2013 to mark the start of celebrations to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Britain’s first operational military airfield at the air station. It would become one of the main training centre for Britain’s pilots during both World War I and World War II, as well as one of the main operational stations during those conflicts.

On 23 February, 2013, Montrose’s Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines will open to the public in a ceremony led by by Councillor Helen Oswald, the Provost of Angus, who will be accompanied by RAF airmen from 2 Squadron – the first squadron to be based at Montrose.

Dr Dan Paton, curator of Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre, said the exhibition would include several of the fascinating artefacts from the station’s proud history.

He explained: “The exhibition also features several items that have been loaned to us especially for the occasion, such as Winkie the Pigeon, who is normally a resident at Dundee’s McManus Art Gallery and Museum.

“During the Second World War, caged pigeons would often be carried in planes so they could fetch help if anything went wrong. Winkie was in a bomber flying from Leuchars when it was hit by enemy fire and went down in the North Sea. On release from her cage, Winkie flew to Broughty Ferry, where she raised the alarm and the crew were saved. In recognition of her bravery, Winkie was awarded the Dicken Medal and, after she died, her body was preserved so future generations would remember her.”

The exhibition will also feature a diorama providing a miniature 3D aerial view of Montrose Air Station as it was in 1940 and the cross from a grave in France of a British pilot who trained at Montrose and was killed in action in 1917.

Via Montrose military airfield to celebrate 100 years – Heritage –

Winkie the pigeon – first recipient of Dicken Medal

The story about Winkie is actually somewhat more impressive than the above summary suggests:

Winkie was a blue chequered hen bird that had been carried on board a Beaufort bomber which had been forced to ditch in the North Sea, after completing a raid in Norway. Such pigeons were often carried on missions in case something went wrong.

Unable to radio their position – somewhere around 100 miles from home – the crew released their pigeon in the hope that she would be able to fly home to her loft in Broughty Ferry, and alert their colleagues in the air base at RAF Leuchars of their predicament.  Winkie made it home, after flying 120 miles, and was discovered exhausted and covered in oil by owner George Ross who immediately informed the air base.

But, more remarkable was the fact that Winkie  was not carrying a specific message. RAF personnel were able to calculate the position of the downed aircraft using the time difference between the plane’s ditching and the arrival of the bird – taking into account the wind direction and even the impact of the oil on her feathers to her flight speed.

A rescue mission was launched and the men were found within 15 minutes – there can be little doubt that the crew would have died without the bird’s effort.

Winkie became the first recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal.

Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre

Opening Times:

The Air Station is open from April 1st until September 30th, Wednesday to Saturday, 10am – 4pm.

Open Sundays all year round from 12pm to 4pm. Other times by arrangement.

Entry via Broomfield Industrial Estate, follow tourist ‘brown’ signs.

Admission fee applies – check web site for current fees.

Follow A92 to the North end of Montrose and turn into Broomfield Road following the Tourist Signs, then turn left into the Industrial Estate, continue down this road until you reach a bend in the road and you will find Montrose Air Station on the left hand side.

Via Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre

Displays Displays and exhibits at the centre

The museum has been growing steadily over the years, and is well worth the time it takes to explore.

February 13, 2013 Posted by | Aviation, military, World War I, World War II | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Loch Long Torpedo Range lost to development

Loch Long torpedo ruin

Loch Long torpedo station ruin

The historic Loch Long Torpedo Range, which operated on the loch from 1912 to 1986, and has been subject to the various attentions of vandals, arson attacks, and even a failed demolition, has finally had its fate sealed with the news that The Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority is doing its usual upstanding job of retaining the original nature of the park area, and has approved the development of a large resort on the site.

I remain singularly unimpressed by much of what this supposedly protective authority has done since it arrived, and have seen the area change more, and become more modern and commercial, with more rules and regulations than seem necessary.

But that’s just my impression – I’m probably wrong.

In January 2013, the media carried a short news item which reported that the site of the torpedo testing station near Arrochar was to be transformed into a £70 million five-star resort, following approval by the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority of the Ben Arthur Resort developer’s plans.

210 construction jobs were promised, together with 300 jobs in the 130-bed hotel to be built there.

The plans also include a 250-berth marina on the loch, and a restaurant to be created by Sir Terence Conran.

The once quiet corner of the loch may not be so quiet if the resort is a success, as it has its own helipad (I’m a fan of helicopters, as long as they’re in the right place – I recall the disturbance they used to cause on Rothesay’s pier some years ago, when a service was tried there for a while. This was the equivalent of landing in the middle of the town.)

There does not seem to be any apparent provision to provide any sort of memorial or reference to the torpedo range or its history in the plan, but I confess to not reading it in minute detail. Something like that should be easy to find… if it exists.

You can go straight to the 76-page brochure produced by the developer by following this link:

Brochure « Ben Arthur Resort

There are some interesting stories associated with the torpedo range, such as the execution in 1915 of a spy caught there during World War I, and his subsequent incarceration and execution in the Tower of London:

Secret Scotland – Loch Long Spy Executed

January 31, 2013 Posted by | Lost, military, Naval, World War I, World War II | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Info sought on wartime flame throwing tanks tested in Scotland

Another pic with no real details I was asked if I could help with, or had any more details of the subject.

Although I’ve got quite a few books for referencing Scotland’s past, it’s now obvious from recent questions which I have been asked that these don’t wander into the area of wartime activities. I never really thought about it before, but they all refer to civilian life, or more general history and heritage subjects. Even thinking back to the time when I was picking these up, I don’t recall seeing any that covered any sort of World War II activity in Scotland anyway, or I’m sure I would have been picking them up as well.

According to the source, this pic shows tests of flame throwing equipment mounted on a vehicle known as a ‘Universal Carrier’, and was taken in Scotland in March 1942.

I had a quick look online for info on the vehicle, and it seems that the British Army’s Universal Carrier was the most produced armoured fighting vehicle in history, one of a family of light armoured tracked vehicles built by Vickers-Armstrong, with something like 113,000 being produced between 1934 and 1960, both in the UK, and abroad.

The Universal Carrier is also incorrectly often referred to as the Bren Gun Carrier, but this was just one of the many jobs it performed, as carriers were used for transporting personnel and equipment (mostly support weapons), or as machine gun platforms. And other tasks, going by the pic that raised the question.

Note the exposed fuel tanks for the flame thrower mounted at the rear of the carrier. Together with the lack of armour and open construction of the carrier, this suggest this variation of the carrier was something to be used in cleaning-up operations, rather than in any sort of battle.

Flame throwing vehicle

Flame throwing vehicle said to be under test somewhere in Scotland in March 1942

January 9, 2013 Posted by | military, World War II | , , | 2 Comments

Exhibition to give front-row seat on ‘worst journey in the world’ taken by Arctic convoys

Ship steaming at seaVeterans of the notorious Arctic Convoys from Scotland to the former Soviet Union are to be honoured with a major exhibition being held in Edinburgh, and beginning in 2013.

Edinburgh Castle’s War Museum will be staging the first major display in Scotland dedicated to the 3,000 men who lost their lives on the convoys from 1941 and 1945.

Rarely seen photographs, uniforms, diaries, letters and other personal possessions from veterans will be going on display for almost a year at the attraction.

Plans for the exhibition have been revealed just weeks after it was confirmed that veterans of the Arctic Convoys would finally get military medals following a lengthy campaign to see them recognised.

The supplies and ammunition they transported were vital to the war effort, as German forces had completely blockaded any access by land.

The operation was launched to help ensure vital supplies could get through to the ports of Murmansk and Archangel after Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, to ensure that the Nazis would remain occupied on the Eastern Front.

But they were dubbed the “suicide missions” by many of those who served on them, as the convoys had to run the gauntlet of submarine, air and battleship attacks in harsh sub-zero conditions through the Arctic Ocean.

Then prime minister Winston Churchill admitted the mission to keep the supply lines of munitions, tanks, lorries, fuel and food open was “the worst journey in the world”.

Of the 78 convoys from the UK and Iceland over that period, 19 departed from Loch Ewe, in Wester Ross, in the north-west Highlands, with others leaving from Oban and the Clyde.

About 20,000 Royal Navy and merchant navy sailors were involved in the missions to transport almost four million tonnes of supplies, with 16 warships and 85 merchant vessels being lost throughout the campaign.

via Exhibition gives front-row seat on ‘worst journey in the world’ taken by Arctic convoy – Scotland –

The exhibition, Arctic Convoys: 1941-45, is due to run from May 24, 2013 until March of 2014.

Material has been gathered from numerous sources, including private collections, loans from the Imperial War Museum, and museums in Russia. The exhibition will also include recordings of personal testimonies from surviving veterans of the convoys. It is often forgotten that many of those who took part in the convoys were not actually in the Royal Navy, but were simply merchant seamen or fisherman who had been called up for duty.

Those involved with efforts to establish a permanent museum to the Arctic Convoys, to be located in Loch Ewe, where many of the convoys formed and departed from, have also helped with contributions to the Edinburgh exhibition.

Jacky Brookes, manager of the Russian Arctic Convoys Museum Project in Loch Ewe, said: “We’re delighted the exhibition is happening and hope it will help raise the profile of getting a permanent museum”

We have had occasion to mention the museum project at Loch Ewe before:

Ross-shire museum call for Arctic Convoy veterans

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Maritime, military, Naval, Transport, World War II | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The face of disgust, Jose Paulo Da Silveri

There may be some occasions where a bit of publicity or protest is order…

Remembrance Day events are clearly NOT one such occasions.

The as-yet unnamed creep, and coward, picture below decided it would be a good idea to hide his face and skateboard through the events being held to mark Remembrance Day in Bristol.

Hidden by his mask and wearing horns, he was described as being dressed in a pink frilly corset and striped stocking.

After he gatecrashed the march through the town, police tackled him as members of the crowd shouted their disgust at him.

He tried to get away, but was outnumbered. A witness said he put up a lot of resistance and they had to use quite some force to restrain him, and that people were shouting “rip his head off”.

After being arrested on suspicion of an offence, Avon and Somerset officer stood guard around him, as a number of people from the crowd were threatening to attack him.

Guess he was lucky they did not have to leave him… as they went for a tea-break.

Later, Jose Paulo Da Silveria, 38, was charged under the Public Order Act, police said.

An Avon and Somerset Police spokeswoman said: ‘Police arrested a 38-year-old man at the Remembrance Sunday service in Bristol city centre.

‘He was taken into custody.

Jose Paulo Da Silveria has been charged under the Public Order Act and will appear at Bristol

Magistrates’ Court on December 4.’

As he was bundled into a police car yesterday, officers had to forcefully remove several males who approached him and shouted obscenities and ‘death’s too good for you’.

The face of disgust

The face of disgust, Jose Paulo Da Silveri – pic from Daily Mail as per original copyright

Via: Has he no respect? Disgraceful moment man dressed as devil gatecrashed Remembrance Day service on a skateboard | Mail Online


Skateboarding devil in tutu charged with disrupting Remembrance Day march

Remembrance Day: Skateboarding ‘devil’ arrested by police after gatecrashing parade – Mirror Online

Poppy Burning has also become an issue

See this story which appeared around the same time, and has raised similar emotions, especially after earlier poppy burning events:

‘Free speech’ row after man is ARRESTED for posting image of a burning Poppy on his Facebook page on Remembrance Sunday – Capitalbay Information Portal

A teenager who drunkenly posted a picture of himself burning a poppy on Facebook was in police custody last night.

Officers arrested Linford House after they received a complaint about the image that was published in the early hours of Remembrance Sunday.

When police called at his parents’ home that evening, the 19-year-old had already taken down the image on a friend’s advice..

A man, named locally as Linford House (pictured right), 19, was arrested yesterday after the image (left) appeared online. The words on the right image have been written on by a third party, who posted it online

It showed a cigarette lighter with a flame catching light to the bottom of a poppy, allegedly with the words: ‘How about that you squadey [sic] ****s’.

The student was questioned by detectives for several hours yesterday afternoon and last night he was still in custody facing a second night behind bars.

November 12, 2012 Posted by | Civilian, Maritime, military, Naval, World War I, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment


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