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Civil Defence

The Home Guard or Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) was formed in 1940 when there was a real risk that Hitler might invade Britain. The men that served in the Home Guard were all volunteers and were mostly those that were too old (over the age of 40) or too young (under the age of 18) to serve in the forces. They became known as 'Dad's Army'.  The men were issued with a uniform and an armband with the letters LDV to show that they were members of the Home Guard. Members of the public were asked to donate any rifles, pistols or shotguns that they might have to provide the Home Guard with weapons. Those that were not provided with weapons made makeshift weapons from pieces of pipe or knives.

Most of the men had full time jobs and trained in the evenings. As well as preparing themselves to be ready to fight off a German invasion, the Home Guard also guarded buildings that had been bombed to prevent looting, helped to clear bomb damage, helped to rescue those trapped after an air raid, guarded factories and airfields, captured German airmen that had been shot down and set up roadblocks to check people's identity cards.  Scotland’s importance in the British defensive system should never be under-estimated. In the coastal areas particularly, a number of defences still survive, though many have already been lost. These features, such as gun-emplacements, anti-tank blocks and pill-boxes, were often considered as unsightly, or of little importance, and have been consequently destroyed.

Coastal Defences of North East Scotland
The man responsible for the Coastal defences in the north east of Scotland during World War 2 was Chief Royal Engineer G.A.Mitchel. (1896-1964). During World War 1 he served with the Royal Engineers as a 2nd Lieutenant, based in Palestine, Belgium and England.  During the inter war years, he was in the Territorial Army and at the start of World War 2 he was called up and made CRE (Chief Royal Engineer) for the 9th Highland Division.  It had been noted that during 1938, that the Graf Zepplin photographed the north east Scottish coast in great detail in preparation for a possible future invasion.  Other German aircraft had also been seen photographing the coast around north east Scotland.  Mitchell thought it highly likely that this area would be an ideal site for a beach landing invasion force by the German army, due to its sandy beaches and good communications.  Mitchell was made responsible for defences from River Forth up to Wick. He was a local man and he knew local contractors and the lie of the land. He said: “We must make some effort to show the Germans that we are erecting some form of defences.” Important things were “concrete blocks, tubular scaffolding poles and pill boxes”, these were the main lines of defence. Everyone was asked to help with the anti-invasion preparations: when soldiers attempted to erect glider traps onto the Royal and Ancient Golf Course at St. Andrews, the local committee initially were against it, but soon agreed to do so. 

The spigot mortar was extremely heavy (around 350lbs) and normally had a multi-legged portable mounting. It is said it needed a crew of six to move it.  The weapon would fire 20lb high-explosive mortar bombs, which were propelled by black powder. It had an effective range of 100 metres in its anti-tank role and up to 450 metres when firing a lighter anti -personnel bomb.  It had one major drawback. When the warhead hit its target, the fins would often fly backwards with the resulting danger of injury to the firing crew.  The spigot mortar, or Blacker Bombard, was rejected by the regular army but saw service with Home Guard and airfield protection units from 1941-1944.

Pillboxes
There are numerous types of pillboxes remaining in the north east of Scotland. Many were the type 24; consisting of 6 sides and several gun-loops with one entrance at the back, normally with a ricochet wall inside. These were most commonly used on the beach defences defending easily accessible beaches and positioned within eyesight of each other.  Other varieties of pillbox were erected all over the north east of Scotland, in Tank Blocks.  The pillboxes were often linked together by anti-tank blocks and rolls of barbed wire. The tank blocks were mostly of a simple 3 foot cube, reinforced concrete often with random stones set in the top as camouflage. The tank blocks were built in situ, as the builders moved along the beach constructing these structures, local school children took great pride in scratching their names into the still wet concrete.    Post war these constructions were a source of war game play for children and or casual Latrines - it was never wise to go inside a pill box. There were several on Aberdeen's Links.

Mine Fields
There were many mine fields laid out on the sandy beaches, placed by the Royal Engineers. Unfortunately, accidental mine explosions were responsible for several civilian fatalities along the coast, as well as a number of farm animals that wandered onto the mines by accident.

Barbed Wire
Was laid out in 3 rolls in a triangular shape, 2 rolls on the bottom and one along the top. The remnants of rusty barbed wire has stained the sand dunes brown in numerous areas along the coast.  The occasional springy steel stanchion with loops for twisted barbed wire would project from rocks into which they had been grouted.

Gun Emplacements
Several concrete gun emplacements have survived, some of the most impressive of the remaining structures perhaps being those on the Moray coast. These contained two 6" gun emplacements, 3 engine rooms and 2 search light emplacements.  Searchlights were stationed at Castlehill Barracks Square 

Tank Walls
A 1 kilometer long tank wall was built across Newburgh sand dunes, consisting of a mound/ditch and a large steel pole scaffolding wall. Remains today are heavily corroded, but the outline is still visible.

Airfields
During World War 2 there were some 16 Airfields along the North East coast.  These were used for several different purposes, including Operational Training Units, Fighter Command, Bomber Command and Coastal Command and even some decoy airfields.  RAF Lossiemouth, still in use as a modern NATO airfield was one of the major airfields in the North of Scotland during World War 2. Lossiemouth was base for the bombing raids that eventually destroyed the German Battleship Tirpitz on 12th November 1944 using the famous “Tallboy” bombs designed by Barnes Wallis.

The Cowie Line
The Cowie Line consisted of a tank defence line constructed during WW2 along the River Cowie from Stonehaven into the neighbouring Grampian foothills. The Cowie Line was a bottle neck along the north east Scottish coast.  Assuming that a German invasion force had breached the coastal defences to the north, the invading force would have to travel south across the Cowie Line, where it was hoped a suitable resistance could be put up to give defending forces time to regroup. This defensive line consisted of artificially steepened hillslope bases and revetted embankments along the river and several pillboxes and tank block traps guarding the routes across the river.

Royal Observer Corps Posts
ROC posts often consisted of simply a tent or a wooden hut, with some of concrete a few of which remain today. These posts manned by volunteers were the ears of the Nation, listening to the skies for aircraft movement and plotting allied and enemy aircraft across the country. Over 40 ROC posts are recorded within the north east of Scotland. 

Auxillary Units
Members of the secretive Auxillary Units were recruited for their knowledge of the surrounding countryside and ability with firearms. Memories of one Auxillary Unit member:  He was a member of the Home Guard and volunteered for special duties, not knowing exactly what he was letting himself in for.  There were 5 or 6 men in the special unit, under the disguise of being Home Guard members. They were called the “Demolition Squad” but were really the framework of a resistance movement the latest of weapons and plastic explosives which were quite rare at this time.  The local farmer happened to discover this hide out in the wood and he was forced to sign the “Secrets Act” forbidding him to speak about such goings on.  None of his family knew of these happenings, but his wife had suspicions something was amiss. He went on courses to the Headquarters, which were located near Swindon, at least he thought they were the Headquarters, but of course he wasn’t told such things.  These units or “Demolition Squads” as they were called were mostly made up of farm workers, game keepers, poachers or people connected with rural life.  The village unit trained with other neighbouring village units. The unit members had to get special leave from their employers to attend courses and training which caused a lot of difficulties, as you could not give the proper reason. 

Commando Training
Commando Units and other troops were trained in the north east of Scotland for sorties on Norway. The following picture shows a group of Polish soldiers cross-country ski training in the Grampian Mountains.  The Cairngorm Mountains offered perhaps the most suitable terrain for cross country ski training. Numerous units were trained in mountain warfare in this region, based in a large training camp in Braemar (now a caravan site). 

Lumber Camps
The picture below is of a timber bridge across the River Dee built during WW2 by the Canadian Forestry Corps.  Canadian lumberjack volunteers were formed into the Canadian Forestry Corps and were posted in various locations around Grampian to fell timber.  They were often billeted in wooden hutted camps in various locations. The requirement for timber meant that parts of several ancient woodlands in Grampian were felled during the war.

Prisoner of War Camps
There were about 19 POW Camps based in the north east of Scotland.  There were several main camps with numerous satellite camps to take the overflow. There appears to be a general trend in the history of these camps; at the start of their use, they held mostly Italian POWs from the North Africa Campaigns.  Many Italian prisoners were lent out to the local farmers as a workforce, where in general they worked and behaved well.  Local farmers would often supplement the POWs rations with food from the farm.  One Italian prisoner who stole a bicycle from the farm where he was working, escaped duly to be recaptured soon after. The bicycle was never returned to the farmer.  Later in the war, German Prisoners started to fill up the campsites, who were also lent out to work on local farms. After the end of the war, a number of camps retained their German guests, as they were unwilling to return to their homeland, it having been captured by the Soviet Army.  One such camp was in the escarpment on the south side of the Dee opposite Ballater / Craigendarroch and was later used as adventure holiday camp site by the YMCA.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013