RAF Barnton Quarry, 4 miles from the city centre of Edinburgh and buried deep under Corstorphine Hill, has a long association with the RAF which dates back to WWII when the site was selected for the construction of the Sector Operations Centre of the Turnhouse Sector of 13 Group Fighter Command.
After WWII, the UK government identified Russia as a key threat to national security and initiated a defence programme codenamed ‘ROTOR’. The ‘ROTOR’ plan called for 38 protected sites be built throughout the UK. Barnton Quarry was selected as the site for the RAF defence nerve centre for Scotland, the Sector Operation Centre.
In 1950, construction of the largest bunker design to leave the Ministry of Works drawing table before or since - the ‘R4’ type - was started on the floor of the former Dolerite quarry at Clermiston. By the end of 1951 the concrete sarcophagus was in place and thousands of tons of shale were being trucked in from Dalmeny to bury the bunker below the surface. In 1952, the site became fully operational.
Operating as the Sector Operations Centre for the Caledonian (Scottish) sector of RAF Fighter Command, the site was at the top of the radar command and control hierarchy, directing RAF fighter response to UK airspace intrusion by Russian long-range nuclear bombers. Nearly 400 staff at RAF Barnton Quarry protected the UK from nuclear attack from 1952 up until 1959.
The theme was very much command and control, with radar sites stretching from the very north of Scotland right down to Northumberland (including our other bunker/museum, Scotland’s Secret Bunker, RAF Troywood near Anstruther) reporting radar contacts to RAF Barnton Quarry via dedicated telephone lines, where the information was triangulated and subsequently plotted on huge map tables for RAF fighter commanders to view and make decisions regarding the fighter response.
The scale of the RAF operation here was astonishing; the central operations well is vast and exists over three floors deep underground. The bunker was specifically designed to withstand Russian attack. It's buried 100ft underground with walls of 10ft thick reinforced concrete, tank-metal blast doors, generators and a complex air conditioning and filtration system.
The site is of great historical importance as it is the largest, latest and only surviving example of this type of bunker in the world which retains the original ‘Dowding’ RAF three-level operations room. Sadly, the bunker has been neglected for many years and has suffered theft and fire damage. We plan to restore it exactly as it was under the RAF in 1952 and open the site as a museum so that visitors can experience it first-hand for themselves.
Our vision is to lever interactive technology to create rotating exhibits, all relevant to the teaching of RAF and Cold War history. The space we have on the site is huge, hence we plan reserve a chunk of our display space to invite guest exhibitors to display with the objective of providing new and interesting display topics for returning visitors. Additionally, we’re planning to create dedicated permanent displays to preserve the history of RAF 603 Squadron in the bunker which was home to the SOC from which it was commanded!
We've been working hard for the past eight years to recover the site. We're making great progress, but there is still a long way to go!
Volunteers are the lifeblood of what we're doing and we're very keen for volunteers to get involved in the project. Any help is appreciated! See our pinned post for details of how to get involved.