Mail on Sunday ‘reveals’ the Machrihanish Cold War nuclear bomb store

B2 spirit - public domain

It has been known for some time that, during the Cold War, the RAF Airbase at Machrihanish in Kintyre was used as a store for American nuclear weapons.

The unusually long runway at the base – part of which is now the civil airport at Campbeltown, the vague rumours about the area fuelled by high level security and, later, a markedly high volume of UFO reports from the Kintyre peninsula led to Machrihanish being christened, worldwide, as ‘the UK’s Area 51′.

The original Area 51, in America, in the Nevada Desert at Groom Lake, has only had its existence even admitted by the CIA in August this year, 2013. They say that it was used for testing Cold War U2 spy planes – which will certainly have been the case. Whether it was used for even more secret purposes, as the conspiracy theorists hold, may never be known.

Area 51 was the location for the famous ‘Roswell’ story – that a downed alien spacecraft was/is held and studied in the facility; and that post mortems were carried out on its crew.

At Campbeltown in Kintyre, here in Argyll, the former RAF airbase which was the subject of yesterday’s Mail on Sunday ‘revelation’ is now owned by the community’s Machrihanish Airbase Community Company [MACC]. They lease the runway and the terminal facilities to Highlands and Islands Airports Limited, operator of the civil airport; and are developing plans for the rest of the base they own, to support community sustainability.

In 2014 the area will host the inaugural Scottish Tarmack Rally, organised by Dunfermline Car Club – with the identified circuit’s potential already causing a lot of excitement in the petrol-head fraternity – and others, including For Argyll.

Back in the Cold War, there was a mysterious unit of US Navy Seals based at Machrihanish. Their presence was known but their purpose has never been explained.

The ‘UK’s Area 51′ stories included all sorts of speculation abut the ‘Gaydon Hangar’ at the airfield, alongside reports of ‘an underground city’.

Some years ago – during MACC’S prolonged effort to purchase the site from the Ministry of Defence when they decided to dispose of it, we were told by a defence insider – and published – that American nuclear depth charges had been stored in silos at RAF Machrihanish during the Cold War.

This might well explain the source of the secret ‘underground city’ tales.

Yesterday’s [15th December 2013] Mail on Sunday story does reveal the specifics of the agreement that permitted these weapons to be secretly stored at Machrihanish.

It was a top secret deal between then UK Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan and America’s now legendary President, John F Kennedy, during his brief term of office before assassination fifty years ago on 22nd November 1963.

NATO was the Stage Manager, with its Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic putting continual pressure on the UK to agree. Not that MacMilllan was unwilling. His concern was with the political consequences of public discovery of the agreement – and of the presence of the nuclear weapons.

To subvert this possibility, the successful plan was to recognise that there would be local and possibly wider queries, suspicions and rumours but to admit nothing and to say nothing.

But this story is not new.

For Argyll remains the only source to have been able to date to assert publicly that nuclear weapons were indeed held at Machrihanish, and to have been able to identify nuclear depth charges as, at least, amongst the weapons held there in silos.

We noted at the time that the MoD had not bothered even to sweep the Machrihanish site for radioactivity before putting it on the market; nor had it bothered to consult the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency [SEPA], which knew nothing at all of this particular activity at the former RAF base .

Radio active safety in the Cold War days was pretty casual. Some residents in South Kintyre talk of realising now that what they saw being tossed around in a fairly cavalier manner at the naval jetty at Kildalloig on Campbeltown Loch during the Cold War period in question, carried the yellow toxic symbol.

In those more innocent days and in a remote part of Argyll, nobody was that interested and of the few that were mildly curious, few asked any questions.

Postscript: The Campbeltown airbase, with its ultra long runway was a facility for secret testing new USA military aircraft in development  – and the remote west of Scotland airspace – and saw the testing of America’s B-2 Spirit bomber, pictured top – the so-called Stealth bomber. Its unique shape is seen in many of the sketches drawn by those claiming UFO sightings at the time in the Kintyre and west coast area – and dismissed as nutters.

Note: The image of the Stealth bomber above is in the public domain.

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12 Responses to Mail on Sunday ‘reveals’ the Machrihanish Cold War nuclear bomb store

  1. What a severe economic loss to Kintyre the closure of the base was with the consequences still being felt .
    The pain is lessened by knowing that millions of people found freedom from repressive communist regimes with the fall off the iron curtain , a fact rarely mentioned by the BBC .
    The presence of USA Navy Seals was not ‘mysterious’ as they trained quite openly on and off the base .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 6

        • I’ve never felt repressed by Westminster, but maybe I’m a lucky one.

          I wonder why the Yes campaign do not ask more people to describe the last time they felt repressed by Westminster – and watch them run a mile! lol

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

          • Or the no campaign on why an increase in poverty and food banks is not repressive or nuclear weapons is preferable to social care.

            As usual Jamie the I am all right brigade do not feel put upon be it the bedroom tax……….
            …… You are happy to accept your place ..tug the forelock

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

          • see my post elsewhere H20 – do you think spending £2m on a Gaelic dictionary is better than helping alleviate poverty and need for foodbanks? The millions being spent on a referendum that will not even change anything for YEARS is preferable to helping people now.

            The hundreds of millions being spent on a new Forth crossing to help those rich people with cars. I could go on.

            Your arguement is completely flawed because if you take it to it’s logical conclusion, you and your type would therefore stop spending money on anything that does not directly alleviate poverty…good luck with that. It suits you to attack defence spending, becuase you in your cosy world think it’s not needed. Well, take a look at history and you migt realise that sadly one day, there may be a need. It’s ot called nuclear ‘deterrent’ for nothing. Do you understand the concept behind it? And why NATO support it?

            I doubt you do.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

          • Talking of ‘Gaelic’ and ‘Spending’, I’m very impressed by the spiffy new big multi lingual road signs at the Cairnbaan road end on the recently improved section of the A816.
            I’m fascinated by the council (this isn’t a trunk road) spending priorities – money for this (when what’s been needed here for decades is a crash barrier) and no money for repairing the diabolical surface of the bus route through Furnace village. ‘All fur coat and no knickers’ is apparently not just applicable to Glasgow city council. How do you say that in Gaelic?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. Many years ago (1983) Scottish CND published a small book Fortress Scotland which has some very useful information on sites in Scotland. Most is very accurate though they tended to get a bit paranoid, thinking every TA drill hall was some sort of secret base.

    It says that at that time there were 300 RAF maintenance personnel for the RAF air-dropped anti-submarine weapons.

    Also 20 American personnel of the Naval Aviation Weapons Facility Detachment for maintenance of the Nuclear Depth Bombs used by the US Navy, RAF as well Dutch and Germans.

    20 personnel of the US Naval Mobile Mine Assembly Group, Detachment Two.

    US Naval Special Warfare Unit 2 – SEALs.

    RAF Police School

    Some years a friend told me of a flight he had in a Nimrod and they started out by going to Machrihanhish where they did a ‘touch and go’, pretending to collect their ‘special’ weapons.

    There has been lots of hype about the length of the runway, it was the longest in Scotland but there are quite a number of other long ones around the UK. Presumably there is plenty of cheap land there so easy to build a long one.

    There was a lot of talk about secret aircraft being tested there but I have never been convinced. I remember a discussion about it years ago and one person writing that he was on the fire crew there and they would have been the first to know if anything strange landing. My suspicion was that someone overheard the crew of one of the Aurora that used to go there during the various exercises and jumped to the wrong conclusion – it is a maritime reconnaissance aircraft. I can imagine that if the crew realised it was being mistaken for some secret aircraft then they would enjoy winding the person up!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  3. Machrihanish is not in the Nevada Desert, and it is unlikely that any unusual aircraft could use the runway – at least in daylight – without the risk of being spotted by outsiders. You mention the casual handling of dangerous items. Well, if you want detail on that then get yourself a copy of Eric Schlosser’s ” Command and Control “, which revolves around one particular hair-raising accident with a Titan missile ( a dropped spanner set it off ), and a whole background of deficient safety systems. Both with us and the Soviets. A policy of Mutually Assured Destruction indeed, and it’s only by sheer luck that we are still able to laugh at it – in a morbid sort of way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

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