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RAF Pitreavie

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Pitreavie Castle, Subterranea Britannica
Pitreavie Castle
Courtesy of Subterranea Britannica

RAF Pitreavie was sited within Pitreavie Castle, an ancient castle located near Dunfermline, Fife, and dating back to the 17th century. Purchased as World War II began and converted for use as a wartime bunker, it remained in use after the war ended, and was upgraded for use during the Cold War, remaining in service as a major military headquarters until its final closure in 1996.

The castle had been bought by a wealthy mill owner in 1884, Henry Beveridge, who carried out extensive modifications to modernise the structure, adding windows to the ground floor, together with a portico leading to a new main entrance. His work extended to the grounds, which were also renovated with the addition of a water garden and a narrow gauge railway which ran from the house to the garden. Beveridge died in 1922, and the castle was sold to the Air Ministry in 1938 for £12,306 - said to be the equivalent of 60 years' wages for a working man of the time - as they had been looking for a site to establish a Coastal Command headquarters near Rosyth. A number of outbuildings were added to suit the castle's new function, including a concrete outbuilding housing kitchens, a bar and a dining room, and an underground bunker.

After the war, Pitreavie became the principal maritime control centre in Scotland, and would have been able to control all NATO forces operating between the North Sea and the North Pole. The facilities it possessed meant that it could function as a surveillance centre, and monitor the activities of Soviet ships and submarines in the North Sea. HMS Scotia, the headquarters unit of the RNR (Royal Naval Reserves), was also located at Pitreavie until it was closed.

The military section was closed in 1996, leaving the original listed castle building in place. The site was then cleared, with later buildings added during the castle's period as home to RAF Pitreavie being demolished. The final act was to demolish and seal the entrance to the underground facilities using explosives. Military activities formerly carried out at RAF Pitreavie were transferred to AMCC (Allied Maritime Component Command) Northwood, with other activities being dispersed.

A listed since January 12, 1971,[1] the castle has now been converted into luxury flats, and the surrounding area has been similarly developed as a private housing estate, McLean Gate, and the Carnegie Campus business park.

NATO communications bunker

Located to the northeast of the site was an above ground MoD/NATO communications bunker, described as having been similar in appearance to a UNITER building. Although this was part of Pitreavie, it was not connected by any of the underground passages.

The bunker was demolished during the 1990s, and recorded by the Dunfermline Press, complete with photographs, although we are unaware of the actual issue number.

The former location is known however, and shown by a marker on the map below.

Early summary of Pitreavie

A facility deep underneath Pitreavie Castle was the naval operations HQ responsible for all operations of the northern sector from the 1940s to 1996.

The bunker was modernised in the 1960s and was due for a refit in 1990s. However it fell to the cutbacks, along with Kinross naval yard, and was closed down in 1995/6. The equipment etc., was removed and the access to the bunker was demolished (blown up and sealed) in 1996 by the Royal Engineers, sealing for all time a wonderful underground labyrinth that would have been of great historical interest.

It had all the usual bunker interiors: ops rooms, well, observation galleries, comcen etc. Some photographs remain at the Imperial War Museum but are difficult to locate and show only the 1940s interiors.

The naval dockyard has been sold off, and Pitreavie Castle is being converted into a luxury hotel. There is a new development area and business park.

No external trace of the bunker remains apart from a grassed hump. There is absolutely no access available; it really was sealed for ever.

Dr James Fox. Last updated September 29, 1997.

Operational Summary of RAF Pitreavie

The date of construction of the underground headquarters at Pitreavie is unknown; it is understood to date from about 1937-8 in its original form but was apparently remodelled and enlarged (with extensive re-excavation) in about 1963 as part of the major review of RN and RAF headquarters and the basic structure of the headquarters dates from that period. Between that date and its closure in early 1996 the MHQ was the second most important naval headquarters in the UK, after the Fleet headquarters at Northwood, Middlesex (HMS Warrior). The associated Royal Naval Reserve unit, HMS Scotia (NT18SW 9.09) was commissioned in 1957.

As constituted in the 1960's, it was a joint RN/RAF headquarters, most tasks being carried out by 'dark blue' and 'light blue' officers in co-operation. After the mid-1970's, it became more thoroughly navalised, with a corresponding reduction in RAF representation, but it remained an RAF establishment for administrative purposes under the title RAF Pitreavie Castle. Some married quarters (NT18SW 9.14) were provided, but most personnel were accommodated at HMS Cochrane (Rosyth) or RAF Turnhouse (NT17SE 70). Only minimum manning was provided for the headquarters, augmentation by reservists of the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Auxiliary Air Force being necessary in war, exercises and some routine operations. The functions of the headquarters were as follows:

Administrative: offices of the senior RN and RAF officers in Scotland, Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland (FOSNI) having offices in A block (NT18SW 9.07) and Air Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland (AOSNI) having offices in the castle (NT18SW 9.00).

Communications: the headquarters housed major communications facilities for both RN and RAF users which handled relay traffic for users other than those in the building.

Search and Rescue (SAR): the SAR cell (under the title of Rescue Co-ordination Centre Edinburgh) controlled RN and RAF aircraft participating in rescues over both land and sea in Scotland, Northern Ireland and most of England.

Operational (peace): control of RN warships and auxiliaries (but not submarines) and RAF maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) in designated waters around Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England for purposes of training, exercises and routine operations. The headquarters was not, however, concerned with the operation of RAF aircraft not involved in maritime or rescue operations.

Operational (war): control of NATO warships and auxiliaries (but not submarines) and MPA in designated waters around (and to the N of) Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England for purposes of defending the home base, protecting merchant shipping and containing the Soviet naval (principally submarine) threat.

Training: Pitreavie was the headquarters normally used for the control of training exercises (JMC exercises) conducted (often on a large scale) as part of the qualification process for staff officers graduating from the (RN/RAF) Joint Maritime Operations Tactical School (JMOTS) at RAF Turnhouse.

Additionally, Pitreavie could, if required, take over the functions of the higher-level headquarters at Northwood, involving a wider area of geographical responsibility, increased contact with the political leadership, co-ordination of submarines, and (after 1970) the control of the UK strategic deterrent (Polaris).

The headquarters itself was essentially an underground building, the flat roof being occupied by tennis courts and having ventilation ducts and three escape tunnels (including the main access tunnel) around the sides. It was normally entered from the N down the main passage which gave access to the main operations room, where formal briefings were held and the main business of the headquarters was conducted by the (RN) Duty Staff Officer (DSO) under the Staff Officer Operations (SOO). Essentially this was a broad room with a deep well around which the constitution, disposition, capabilities and location of 'friendly', 'co-operating' and 'enemy' forces were displayed on the grand overall plot (GOP) map and related wall totes and displays. Subsidiary cells on the same floor provided advice to the command on specialist subjects, most notably Intelligence, Naval Control of (merchant) Shipping, Security and Home Defence, Logistics, Mine Counter Measures, and Submarine liaison. Although computer-based systems were introduced after about 1982, the headquarters remained essentially 'manual' until it closed and the walls of each of these cells were liberally festooned with maps, charts, stateboards and totes, each of them regularly updated in felt-pen or grease-pencil (chinagraph).

The communications facility (commcen) and related offices occupied much of the E side, while a sick bay (near the entrance) and a small galley (in the SW corner) provided essential services. Large numbers of wire-mesh bunks in the corridors provided 'hot-bunking' accommodation and up to two complete watches of staff could be 'locked-down' for an indefinite (but uncomfortable) period. Beneath these spaces there was a lower floor which housed workshop and maintenance services, rest rooms and additional computer and communications facilities, and provided additional sleeping space. The plant room (also near the entrance) provided air conditioning (mainly cooling) and housed emergency generators.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Headquarters complex was only provided with a wire-fenced perimeter in about 1988, the only security protection being provided by the sentry at the 'Pithead' checkpoint prior to that date.

Information from Lieutenant Commander RJC Mowat RNR, September 26, 1996.

The above quotations were retrieved during 2007, courtesy of our friends at Subterranea Britannica. Since then, a full visit report compete with detailed descriptions, period photographs, and layout plans had replaced these short summaries as of January 29, 2008, and this can be seen by following the Subterranea Britannica link given in the Links section below.

Report

We are grateful to our friends at Subterranea Britannica for permission to reproduce the following details. Please be sure to review the original reports at the links given below.

Site Name: Area Combined HQ Rosyth - Pitreavie Castle (Flag Officer, Rosyth, RN & AOC No 18 Group, RAF Coastal Command)

Castle Drive
Pitreavie
Fife
OS Grid Ref: NT117848

Sub Brit site visit: 26th June 2005 [Source: Bob Jenner]

Before the outbreak of WW 2 it was realised that protected accommodation would be required for certain vital headquarters.

As a result the RAF searched for a site for a Coastal Command Group HQ in the vicinity of Rosyth naval base. A rundown Scottish fortified house, Pitreavie Castle was found and subsequently purchased from the estate of Mr Henry Beverage for the princely sum of £12,306-00d to be the underground HQ for No 18 (Reconnaissance) Group, RAF Coastal Command.

Headquarters layout, Subterranea Britannica
Headquarters layout
Courtesy of Subterranea Britannica

On 14 April 1939 the Admiralty, desiring to move the Flag Officer, Rosyth ashore, approached the Air Ministry with a view to creating a permanent Area Combined HQ in the underground facilities currently being built. This was subsequently agreed with the RAF remaining as the lead service. The ACHQ was completed during 1941.

The now extended Castle provided accommodation for the Group HQ and the Air Officer, Commanding and a joint service Officers' Mess. The nearby stable block became a Sergeants' Mess whilst a large hutted camp sprung up for Officers, NCOís and other ranks/ratings (both male and female) sleeping needs.

The Air Officer, Commanding. (AOC) No 18 (Reconnaissance) Group was responsible for maritime operations from Flamborough Head in Yorkshire, round the north of Scotland, including the Orkney's and Shetland's to Gairloch on the west coast inclusive of the Hebrides, whilst the Flag Officer, Rosyth was responsible for naval operations from Wick, in Caithness down to Flamborough Head. The remaining part of 18 Groups area was the responsibility of the Admiral Commanding, Orkney's and Shetland's.

Teleprinter room, 1944 photocopy
Teleprinter room 1944
Courtesy of Subterranea Britannica

The underground HQ consisted of a square, 2 storied structure, 20 feet underground with a double concrete burster cap over the top floor, this outline can still be seen on the grass below the Castle today. There were two entrances to the complex entering on the top floor, one to the east for RAF personnel from Pitreavie Castle and one to the west from the Naval HQ block, an emergency exit is located on the lower floor. The central Operations Room on the top floor (38 feet x 28 feet) is 13 feet high and projects 3 feet above the rest of the block. A 3 foot high platform has 3 glass fronted cabins, one for each of the services along one wall. Apart from staff offices the majority of the accommodation is taken up by communications equipment for the RAF, Navy and GPO. The Army had very limited presence or space.

Following the end of WW 2 the Maritime HQ continued to function although the Flag Officer, Rosyth became the Flag Officer, Scotland.

In 1949 NATO was formed and both of the Naval and Air Commanders became double hated (sic )with NATO appointments.

In 1958 RNR HQ Unit formed at MHQ Pitreavie. The name HMS Scotia was adopted in 1960. During 1962 HMS Scotia moved out of the underground MHQ to an above ground building. On 15th May 1996 upon the closure of Pitreavie HMS Scotia relocated to new quarters within the nearby HMS Caledonia.

During 1962 both Flag Officer Scotland and Air Officer Scotland assumed responsibility for Northern Ireland and added NI to their respective titles.

On 30 April 1968 RAF Strike Command was created from Fighter and Bomber Commands at High Wycombe with Coastal Command becoming No 18 (Maritime) Group headquartered at Northwood outside London. The old No 18(R) Group now became the Northern Maritime Air Region; still at Pitreavie (the Southern Maritime Air Region was located at Mount Batten in Plymouth).

During this period the underground bunker underwent modernisation, but details of the extent of the improvements and whether it entailed any structural alterations are unknown.

By 1984, the RAF commitments at Pitreavie were reduced to housing the Rescue Co-ordination Centre a function at the HQ since WW 2, support for the AOSNI who was still located there, running the NATO Integrated Communications System Terminal and Relay Equipment (NICS TARE) The Navy continued to fulfill FOSNIís commitments and was resonsible for all Naval activities in the north of the country whilst Flag Officer Plymouth was responsible for the south, both being answerable to C in C Fleet at Northwood.

In 1993 a NATO review relieved the AOSNI of his NATO hat, whilst in June it was announced that the two RCCís, North at Pitreavie and South at Mount Wise/Mount Batten were to be combined at Pitreavie. In the event a new Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre (ARCC) was opened in 1994 at RAF Kinloss from where it is still currently operating.

The Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Service is currently a commitment of HM Coast Guard. with centres around the coast of the UK working in conjunction with the RNLI.

1994 saw FOSNI transfer his Flag to the Naval Base at Faslane and in December AOSNI moved to RAF Leuchars, with the closure of NICS TARE, now surplus to requirements, the end was inevitable, closing on the 1st February 1996 after 55 years of continuous service.

After being cleared, the site was sold, with the bunker having all entrances completely sealed and all surface traces (apart from a footprint) obliterated. The Castle had all of the RAF additions removed and has now been converted into several luxury apartments as has the adjacent Stable Block. Most of the HQ site has been given over to private housing (MacLean Gate) and the Carnegie Campus business park and an ornamental lake has been dug to the east of the bunker.

The site has apparently only the two buildings mentioned remaining although the road layout is still intact, assisting in locating the bunker, which with great regret was not entered.

A descriptive tour of the bunker is not possible because although we have an original layout plan, virtually no contemporary photographs are available to describe the contents and equipment in each room. Likewise, we know what some of the rooms looked like and were used for at the latest stages but we have no plan of the layout or of the modifications that have occurred during the life of the bunker.

Pitreavie Castle, 2005, Nick Catford
Pitreavie Castle
© Nick Catford

By the time Pitreavie had closed, it had changed out of all recognition to the original layout (see plan). What was the RN Signals Distribution office on the upper floor had become a Galley (Kitchen). The corridors were lined with folding bunks. Along the east upper corridor was now the Admirals sleeping cabin and the Main Signals Office with adjacent Comcen and Ships Radio Room. The main entrance lead to the Air Handling Plant Room, Emergency Generator Room (with three Lister Blackstone generators) and a Decontamination Suite on the upper level.

In the upper Ops room were booths for the Senior Officers and desks for the duty RN/RAF Staff Officers (Note there is no later Army presence). Also on this level was a Medical Centre complete with Dental facilities.

Some of the remaining offices on the top floor included an Intelligence Cell, Mine Counter Measures Cell, Submarine Liaison Cell, Logistics Cell, Submarine Cell with submarine emergency facilities and a Search and Rescue Cell.

All we know of the lower floor was the BT Frame Room, RN Systems Room, the RAF NICS TARE facilities, wash rooms and toilets and the emergency exit.

Sources:

  • PRO files: ADM/1119, ADM1/15756, Air 2/3582 Drawing 6214
  • Jim Crockett
  • Defence Estimates 1996
  • The Navy List HMSO (Various)
  • The RAF List HMSO (Various)
  • Defence of the UK HMSO
  • www.rafweb.org/Grp02.htm
© Subterranea Britannica: Research Study Group: Sites: Site Name: Pitreavie Castle Combined Headquarters.[2]

References

1 Listed Building Report, Pitreavie Castle

2 Subterranea Britannica: Research Study Group: Sites: Site Name: Pitreavie Castle Combined Headquarters

External links

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