Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Barnton Quarry may open to the public in 2019

A favourite of those with an interest in the history of the Cold War (and Edinburgh’s vandals), the bunker located in Barnton Quarry is moving closer to completion of its restoration and refurbishment, with a broad date of 2019 being given as its opening date as an attraction.

There may, of course, have been stories we’ve missed, but the last time we spotted something newsworthy was back in 2013: Barnton Quarry bunker to be developed as partner to Scotland’s Secret Bunker at Anstruther.

We won’t go over the story again, you can read this article about the bunker’s history.

An article published by The Scotsman in July 2017 repeated the story, adding that the bunker is expected to open to the public in 2019.

Edinburgh’s secret nuclear bunker prepares to open its doors

There’s possibly a bit of ‘journalistic leeway’ in The Scotsman’s use of ‘prepares to open its doors’, which might tend to suggest someone is about to open them in a few days, or maybe weeks – but TWO YEARS is perhaps stretching this use of the description.

Barnton Quarry

Barnton Quarry – Courtesy of Subterranea Britannica

July 18, 2017 Posted by | Cold War, World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

Dolly bird Barbie was a spy who even had her own little Enigma machine

I chanced across this little gem about Barbie and her typewriter, and thought was something that was probably little known, and worth sharing with those who like secrets.

Barbie was first given a purely mechanical typewriter, but was later upgraded to an electronic version manufactured in Slovenia (by Methano) and supplied by Mattel. But the E-118 (preceded by the E-115, E-116, and E-117) had a secret, a built-in cryptographic capability which allowed secret messages to be encrypted and decrypted, and used an alphabetic substitution cipher.

All used a simple daisy wheel printer made of plastic parts, with two solenoids and a motor. A small PCB contained the electronic at the centre of the unit, with a microcontroller bonded directly to the PCB to save money. Although this was redesigned over time, the crypto feature seems to be common to all.

There were actually 4 built-in cipher modes, each activated by entering a special key sequence on the keyboard, explained only in the original documentation. Access was by pressing SHIFT and LOCK in combination with specific keys. While keyboard layouts vary between countries, and therefore the characters on the keys, the physical position or location of the keys on the keyboard which needed to be pressed did not change.

In use, the user simply activates one of the 4 secret modes, types in their message, and the encrypted message is printed on the paper.

To decode the message, the recipient activates the corresponding decoding mode, and when they type in the encrypted message as received, the plain text message should be printed on the paper.

The encryption method is a simple character substitution, where a given character is always replaced by the same substitute character from a table. The 4 modes are provided through the inclusion of 4 different substitution tables within the typewriter’s programming.

A number of different versions of these typewriters were made, so it could be sold worldwide.  English, German and French keyboard layouts are known. It seems that text written on the French version cannot be decoded on a British version suggestion different versions are not compatible. Perhaps they use different sets of substitution tables.

For more details and examples of this intriguing toy, see the entry at:

Crypto Museum

Below is an E-117 (found on Pinterest, with no attribution).

Barbie E-117 encrypted typewriter

Barbie E-117 encrypted typewriter

My apologies to those who appreciate the difference between encoding and encryption.

While I try to make the distinction, when working from source material that uses the terms interchangeably, it simply takes too long to revise everything and correct it while keeping things consistent.

At its simplest:

  • encoding only requires an algorithm, and is typically done to allow data transmission
  • encryption requires an algorithm and a key, and is done for privacy

While both may make a message unreadable, the former can be recovered as the method will be public, so there is no secrecy.

The latter can only be recovered by the holder of the key.

The difference probably doesn’t matter to anyone not involved, and can be traced back to things like references to the codebreakers of places such as Bletchley Park, when such distinctions were not made.

March 1, 2017 Posted by | Civilian, Cold War, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

The last Vulcan display at Prestwick also had a hint of drama

I couldn’t make it to the display at Ayr, but it seems the real action took place at Prestwick, as I just learnt from this video I spotted.

The following description of events is quoted from the video owner:

On the 5th of September I went across to Prestwick to watch the Scottish Airshow 2015. Primarily I wanted to see the Vulcan one last time before she’s retired in the next month or so.
Having arrived at the airport we waited for the Vulcan XH558 with great anticipation.
Once we saw him over Ayr my excitement grew even more.
He called up Prestwick tower to do a flyover the airfield , then make a right hand turn to then land on runway 30.
However after he made that turn things seemed to go wrong. Rather than report final he then did a second flyover , and started entering orbits to the north of the airfield.
After it became clear he was having a nosewheel gear issue , a Spitfire of the BBMF called up and asked if there was anyway he could help by giving the vulcan an inspection from underneath the aircraft.
Once they had determined the Vulcans speed the spitfire confirmed that his nosewheel was not extended fully and that there was nothing blocking it from locking into place.
Following this the Vulcan entered into some very aggressive yawing , both left and right in an attempt to free whatever was holding the nosewheel back from extending and locking.
After some time they were successful and initiated a landing.
We were all waiting with bated breath, not knowing whether or not it had indeed fully locked into place.
Thankfully the landing went well, and as you can hear at the end of the video was great relief that everything had gone so well.
Praise must also go to the Spitfire pilot for taking the initiative in helping the crew of the Vulcan resolve the issue.

That brings back memories of the Prestwick Air Show (at the airport then) which had the drama of a World War II aircraft suffering a similar stuck undercarriage, which refused to be bumped loose, and eventually had to be ditched and lost in the sea off Turnberry, which was chosen as the beat way to ensure no other damage, and safe recovery of the pilot.

Thank goodness the Vulcan trip to Scotland did not end in similar fashion – although I suspect they might have ultimately dumped fuel and done a belly landing with the larger aircraft. This is the procedure I’ve seen in the past, on American aircraft of the same size in recent years.

It seems the crew would have been aware of the problem before arriving back at the airport.

Looking at this recording of the full display, it includes views of the usual lowering and raising of the undercarriage for some of the passes, and while I can’t be categoric of the full sequence having been captured, it is clear that the nosewheel is not fully forward in any of the shots:

September 11, 2015 Posted by | Aviation, Cold War, military | , , | 2 Comments

2015 Prestwick air show will be last chance to see the Vulcan fly

Britain’s last remaining flying V bomber, the Avro Vulcan, will be making it’s farewell visit to Scotland at the 2015 Scottish Airshow on 5th and 6th September.

As seen last year (2014):

For those not aware, XH558 returned to the air a few years ago, but was always on borrowed time as its components were nearing the end of their rated lives, and once reached, there were no new parts or spares left that would be airworthy, so the aircraft’s flying days were always numbered.

September 5th and 6th really are the last days to ever see this aircraft in Scottish skies.

The organisers of the Scottish Airshow have secured this unique aircraft and it will fly at beach front Ayr on Saturday 5th September then land at Glasgow Prestwick Airport. It will be the highlight of the Sunday Aircraft Exhibition where members of the public will be able to see it for one last time and even get up close to take photographs or talk to the flight crew.

Check here for any updates or changes closer to the event:

Scottish Airshow – Prestwick/Ayr 5th & 6th September 2015 | The Scottish Airshow – Prestwick International Airport

See also the Vulcan’s own web site for other opportunities if you are travelling around the country:

Displays / Tours – Vulcan To The Sky

Click on the image below to see a gallery of Vulcan images from over the years, assembled by those nice people at Gizmodo:

Vulcan Farewell

Vulcan Farewell from Gizmodo

July 7, 2015 Posted by | Aviation, Cold War | , , , | Leave a comment

VHS versus Communism in Cold War Romania

One of those ‘gem’ stories from the days of the Cold War.

VHS vs. Communism

(Sorry, looks like WordPress doesn’t like embedding this video.)

Closest I ever got to anything remotely like this (and I’m not saying these were in way the same, just happening at the same time) was listening to the short-wave broadcasts from Radio Moscow (aimed at America), where they would ‘answer’ questions posted to the station, usually dispelling myths that the writers had of life in the USSR.

Had I been a bit older, I might have been smart enough to record some of those, just for the fun of being able to quote from them years later.

However, I seem to recall the ‘voice’ often began its answers with “Well, it’s really much the same here as in America” – but then again, they did get to pick and choose which questions they answered… and which they never.

Back then, I’d have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about Romania. In fact, growing up during the Cold War, I didn’t really think much about global thermonuclear war.

During the 1980s in Communist Romania, a young translator became an unlikely voice of freedom, illicitly dubbing thousands of foreign films distributed on VHS tapes, turning B-movie stars into heroes.

Via ‘VHS vs. Communism’ – NYTimes.com

All the dialogue on these movies was dubbed into Romanian in a husky, high-pitched woman’s voice. Throughout my childhood, these films provided a glimpse into the forbidden West, resplendent with blue jeans, Coke and skyscrapers. As Hollywood movies became ubiquitous through the black market, this voice became one of the most recognizable in Romania. Yet no one knew who she was.

After the 1989 revolution I learned the true story, which I present here in this Op-Doc video. In 1985, Irina Margareta Nistor, a young translator at the national television station, met a mysterious entrepreneur. He was smuggling, copying and distributing movies on VHS tapes. This was the beginning of a working relationship that lasted more than a decade. In all, Ms. Nistor says she dubbed more than 3,000 different films. Thanks to her, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Lee became popular heroes in Romania.

In a time when the Romanian state controlled every aspect of its citizens’ lives — including food, heat, transportation and information — people found a way to escape and resist the state’s far-reaching hand, through the power of movies.

By Ilinca Calugareanu, a London-based Romanian documentary filmmaker.

February 22, 2014 Posted by | Cold War | , | Leave a comment

Last Nimrod named after the Duke of Edinburgh

After following the demise of the Nimrod replacement project, and then the withdrawal of the last operational Nimrod aircraft from their base in the north of Scotland, I thought all had been scrapped or disposed of in some less than desirable way.

I was, therefore, pleased to read that the last surviving Nimrod aircraft from RAF Kinloss – saved from the scrapheap after the fleet was withdrawn from service – had been formally named ‘Duke of Edinburgh’.

The XV244, which had flown out of the Scottish base since 1970 before the reconnaissance planes were disbanded in 2010, was purchased by a charitable organisation called Morayvia, set up to establish an aerospace centre in the north of Scotland.

A naming ceremony was hosted at Kinloss Barracks today and will now preserve a Royal connection to Moray’s aviation history.

Prince Philip, a supporter of a Scottish aviation museum, agreed to allow his name and heraldic standard to be displayed on the aircraft that Morayvia hopes will become the showpiece attraction in a future visitor centre.

The XV24 has a long and distinguished flying career, entering service with the RAF on November 6, 1970, as the eighth Nimrod to be delivered to the base. It was involved in numerous rescue operations, including the Piper Alpha disaster, and flew thousands of hours during its service.

Morayvia formed in July 2011 to save the last Nimrod in Moray from being scrapped when the Kinloss base was shut by the Ministry of Defence in 2010.

Granted charitable status by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator in January 2012, the group

purchased XV244 from the Disposal Servces Agency in February.

Funds were raised from donations made by BAE Systems, Thales, Ultra, Rolls-Royce, and The Maritime Air Trust, as well as from individual Morayvia members.

The group also secured the front 40ft of Nimrod XV240, the former gate guardian, with a view to it forming a mobile exhibit to generate interest and income for its centre.

In 2013, the group were loaned 2 further cockpits, a Jet Provost T4 and Vampire T11, also on trailers and again attended a number of events to raise funds and awareness, venturing as far afield as RAF Waddington.

Via Last RAF Kinloss Nimrod named ‘Duke of Edinburgh’ – The Scotsman

The Nimrod was Britain’s maritime reconnaissance aircraft for some 40 years, but the aircraft flew for the last time almost four years ago, then plans to replace the type were scrapped under the UK Government’s strategic defence review, as were the aircraft being developed.

The Morayvia project is now hoping XV244 will take pride of place in its plans for a museum of flight in Moray. A temporary site has been leased from the council on the grounds of an old school, but the groups aim to secure a permanent site.

Morayvia charity given royal seal of approval in Nimrod ceremony | Aberdeen & North | News | STV

See also:

Homepage | morayvia.org.uk – Moray’s Aerospace Experience

I had a hunt for a royalty/copyright free image of the original, but came up empty, so this is an MR2 captured at Duxford in 2004. I have a liking for aircraft with their engines hidden in the wing root (as opposed to the more convenient pylon), and this version has more attractive inlets than the later MR4 variant, being elliptical rather than round.

January 15, 2014 Posted by | Aviation, Cold War, military, Transport | , , , , | Leave a comment

Inverbervie Cold War Radar Station up for sale again

Last placed on the market back in 2010, Inverbervie CEW Radar Station is up for sale again.

Few details are given in the news stories relating to the offer, and when we checked the agent’s web site and searched it for details, the property was not listed – in fact, it only came up with one house for sale when we asked it for all properties in Scotland with no other criteria.

Back in 2010, offers over £250,000 were being sought.

Our summary notes:

In 1953, a Centimetric Early Warning (CEW) radar station was built on the headland. Five radar systems were installed to provided coverage of the North Sea and north coast of Scotland, and give advance warning of the approach of any potential threats.

In 1968, the station was taken over by the US Navy, and operated in conjunction with the major monitoring station based at RAF Edzell, a little over 10 miles to the west. Edzell closed in 1977, followed by Inverbervie in 1978.

The facility lay unused for the next six years, until 1984, when it was designated Reserve Headquarters for Group Headquarters and Sector Control at Craigiebarns, Dundee.

The station was finally closed and withdrawn from service in 1993.

The bunker lay unused for a further six years, purchased by the current (2007) owner in 1999.

Information recorded by RCAHMS identifies aerial photographs of the location dating from 1954, 1957, 1967, and 1973, all of which show a small T shaped building on the headland, set within an area if approximately 40 m x 20 m, assumed to be the roof of an underground structure, with related structures nearby. The underground structure is further described as lying beneath what appears to be a cottage, but is actually part of the structure’s domestic infrastructure, such as water tanks. The entrance to the underground facility is reported to be protected by a blast door, with the interior provided with artificial lighting and ventilation. While being locally rumoured to date from the 1930s, the installation is recorded as having been built in 1952, with further work carried out in the 1960s when the mezzanine floor was added.

More details and some interior shots can be found on our Wiki page.

Inverbervie CEW Guardhouse

Inverbervie CEW Guardhouse 2001 © Nick Catford

As always, our thanks to Subterranea Britannica for permission to reproduce their material.

June 28, 2013 Posted by | Cold War, military | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Barnton Quarry bunker to be developed as partner to Scotland’s Secret Bunker at Anstruther

It’s been a little while since I spotted the last news about developments at Barnton Quarry, and I held off mentioning the story in case there might be more given away in the media, but after a couple of items, there doesn’t seem to have been anything to add.

The bunker at Barnton was acquired by the owner of Scotland’s Secret Bunker way back in 2005, but due to the condition of the interior, and the money needed to clean it out and restore it, little happened until 2009, when a survey was carried out.

This was a sad story, as the bunker had been broken into on a number of occasions, used and abused by ravers, and then be devastated by fires, first in August 1991, and then again in May 1993. It’s pathetic to think that those who did the damage were so easily amused, and had nothing better to do to fulfil their sad lives than spray ‘tags’ on any available surface. Same behaviour as dogs peeing on lampposts and walls to mark their territory.

The most dangerous aspect of this had been the amount of asbestos liberated into the air, meaning that access became so hazardous even the vandal had decided to give the place a wide berth.

Fast forward to the start of 2013, and in February The Scotsman carried a lengthy article on the bunker at Barnton: Queen’s Edinburgh nuclear bunker to open as museum – Latest news – Scotsman.com, describing its past, and revealing the plans to open the site as a museum, similar to Scotland’s Secret Bunker at Troywood near Anstruther on the Fife coast.

Missing from this account was any indication of when the new attraction might open its doors.

This arrived in April, when STV carried a much shorter story about the bunker: Edinburgh underground bunker to be opened up to visitors | News | Edinburgh | STV, but added the important detail of a 3-year plan for completion of the new project, meaning that we could see this attraction open in 2016.

Probably the most intriguing point about this is the point made by the chap behind the project, as it is one of the closest facilities of the type to any sort of population centre, making it a little easier to get to, and enjoy a visit.

Assuming they manage to get it looking as good as Troywood, and they will have to collect a load of equipment to get it refurbished and looking remotely original, then it will be a great day out.

A visit to the bunker at Anstruther can easily eat up a day, especially if the whole bunker is explored in detail, and all the films on offer in the small theatre are viewed.

You can read, and see, more of the bunker (and others) in Nick Catford’s book Subterranean Britain: Cold War Bunkers which was also featured by The Scotsman a couple of years ago: Barnton bunker a hot spot in the Cold War – News – Scotsman.com

May 11, 2013 Posted by | Cold War | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Retired Soviet officer belated rewards for averting nuclear war

I have mentioned Stanislav Petrov before, and if you do not know who he is, you should, and be grateful he was ever born.

If you thought the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 was worrying, then think again.

1983 was a lot more worrying – and a lot less publicised, until a further ten years had passed, and the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed the record to become available in 1993.

See some background reading here: Dead Hand the Soviet Union Doomsday Machine toured – SeSco

For decades, men in bunkers watched their screens and warning lights every hour of every day, waiting for the Cold War to go nuclear.

This was the situation just after midnight on September 26th, 1983.

Stanislav Petrov was the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the Soviet Union’s early warning radar system in a bunker near Moscow.

Then it happened.

“When I first saw the alert message, I got up from my chair. All my subordinates were confused, so I started shouting orders at them to avoid panic. I knew my decision would have a lot of consequences,” Petrov recalls.

The radar was showing a single missile inbound from the United States.

Now the race was on: was it real or a computer error? His boss accepted over the phone it was a likely fault. But as soon as he hung up…

“The siren went off for a second time. Giant blood-red letters appeared on our main screen, saying START. It said that four more missiles had been launched,” Petrov continues.

To Petrov, it did not add up. Any attack by the US would have been all-out to try and cripple a Soviet response. But if they were real, he had only 30 minutes to tell his superiors before the warheads hit.

“My cozy armchair felt like a red hot frying pan and my legs went limp. I felt like I couldn’t even stand up. That’s how nervous I was when I was taking this decision,” Petrov says.

Petrov stuck to his decision, broke a Soviet military rule by not telling his superiors, and was proved right. There were no missiles.

He never had the authority to press the button himself, but how close had the world come to nuclear war?

“At that time it seemed that our country was surrounded by enemies, but was strong enough to retaliate. The Soviet Union and the USA were too strong, and our countries had too many conflicts of interest in various parts of the world,” military analyst Vladimir Evseev says.

Another day the world almost ended — RT

He has received little recognition or reward – he might even have been ‘disappeared’ for not following orders without question.

His superiors were not happy about his failure to follow procedure, and unquestioningly forward the information from the launch detectors.

Stanislav Petrov Averts a Worldwide Nuclear War – Bright Star Sound

Now, in February 2012:

Most people become heroes for doing things. Stanislav Petrov became one through having the courage to do nothing – in the face of a potential nuclear threat.

­The retired Russian Lieutenant Colonel has picked up a major humanitarian accolade, the German Media Prize, for preventing possible catastrophic all-out conflict. The previous recipients of the award include Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, and the Dalai Lama.

Retired Soviet officer rewarded for averting nuclear war — RT

February 27, 2012 Posted by | Cold War | , , , | Leave a comment

Cultybraggan Cold War bunker sold for data storage use

It’s almost a year to the day since we reported Former Cold War Regional Government Headquarters in Crieff goes up for sale.

The BBC reports that “The complex went on the market nine months ago” – which means someone there can’t count, since we referred to its own story of the sale dated January 28, 2011.

Oh well, not my problem, I’m not paying their wages. Oh – wait a minute – I pay my TV license, so that means I do.

Anyway, the bunker has been sold to Lincoln-based communications firm GCI Com Group Ltd, and will be used to store confidential computer files.

The Comrie Development Trust took ownership of the site containing the bunker back in 2007, as part of a community buy-out from the MoD for £350,000 . When the bunker was completed in 1990, it cost in the region of £30 million. When it went on sale, offers of around £400,000 were invited.

While the data centre itself will not really create any new jobs in the area – it is a technical facility full of hardware – it is seen as making the area  more attractive to investors, and has been described as bringing high-speed broadband to an area lacking such a resource. The lack of technology was given as one reason why local businesses have been held back to date.

Wayne Martin, chairman of GCI Com, said: “This will bring Comrie and the camp into the national spotlight for a best-in-breed hosting and disaster recovery centre, along with the camp benefiting from access to high-speed data that’s only really available in key cities within the UK.”

Via BBC News – Lincoln firm buys Cultybraggan nuclear bunker

Cultybraggan RGH

Cultybraggan RGH entrance in 2009 © Bill Clark

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Civilian, Cold War, military, World War II | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daylight savings bid fails to pass House of Commons

Crazy clockAs expected, the bill to allow a three-year trial into the actual – as opposed to imagined – effect of changing DST (daylight saving time) in the UK was scuppered, as the now well-used ploy of time-wasting was used to ensure it was not even formally considered.

The cynical might ask why, since the present form of this proposal has been drafted in such as way as to make it virtually unsupportable anyway – and the recent revival of calls for a referendum on Scottish independence provided an opportunity for that to be thrown into the mix, together with the various lies that some Scottish politicians propagated some years ago (sorry, I thought the links to the news stories about these were in here, but they’re buried in the Forum), when there was a concerted bid to torpedo the same idea when the first trial was conducted some years ago.

You really don’t have to do anything to make this idea sink now – I doubt there would ever be enough support to pass the idea of moving the clocks forward an hour BOTH in summer AND winter, meaning that they will be TWO hours ahead of where they are today during winter.

I actually remember the original trial, and I have even worked in a job where we had to be at our desks for 6 am (no, you won’t find me shovelling stuff around a farm). Getting up at 5 am is not really difficult – the so-called ‘problem’ has more to do with breaking out of the conventional 9-to-5 mindset we are brainwashed into accepting as ‘normality’.

If they did actually want this bill to pass one day – which they clearly never do – then all they would propose is ending the current practice of putting the clocks back an hour in autumn.

I don’t actually care about the morning, going to work or whatever… it’s always dark in winter (even the NFU has realised this, and apparently no longer vehemently opposed the idea of a change). But the evening is a different matter (you can finish early, and have things like half-days to enjoy), and come the end of October, as an ‘inside’ worker, this means that one day I can be happy going home with at least a little daylight to be seen around 5 pm, but overnight, find that I have weeks when I will probably not see any daylight at all, unless I get a pass to go out during the day.

Anyway, with the daft version of the bill now all but dead, I’m just mentioning it now, since it may be some time before the opportunity presents itself again.

For what it’s worth, I’ve stuck a little poll at the foot of this post.

A bid to move the clocks forward by an hour all year round failed in the House of Commons after the legislation ran out of time.

The Daylight Saving Bill would have commissioned a detailed study into the costs and benefits of moving the clocks forward to Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour in the winter and two in the summer, followed by a possible three-year trial.

Despite UK Government support for the study, the proposal faced opposition from a determined group of MPs who believed the extra hour of darkness in the morning would cause problems, particularly in the north of the country.

Daylight savings bid fails to pass House of Commons

The focused opposition saw the Daylight Saving Bill fail to make progress after a series of votes on Friday. Delays in the voting lobbies saw some divisions take longer than normal.

At the Bill’s report stage, Tory Christopher Chope MP said “the Achilles heel” of the legislation was that “it enables the United Kingdom Government to change the time zone in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”.

The Bill required the Government to “consult” Scottish and Welsh ministers and obtain the agreement of the Northern Irish first and deputy first ministers, but Mr Chope said that did not go far enough.

“We know that the Scottish Parliament and that MPs representing Scottish constituencies in this House do not support a change that would make winter mornings in Scotland even colder and darker than they are already,” he said.

via Daylight savings bid fails to pass House of Commons | Politics | STV News.

January 23, 2012 Posted by | Cold War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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