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Cairnryan and the Fight Against Nazi Germany
Scottish village important in World War II
Liam Bailey (wordsworth)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-12-15 11:38 (KST)   
Loch Ryan. Two land masses meeting in the distance encircle the water.
©2006 Liam Bailey

Loch Ryan (map) is a sea loch in southwest Scotland, an enclave off the North Atlantic and the North Channel. You may never have heard of the small village of Cairnryan that stands on its eastern shore.

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Even if you live in the U.K. or another part of Scotland it may mean nothing to you, but Cairnryan's 50 homes at most and not much else means it isn't something to get upset about.

The main A77 road, which runs into it is the only reason many people are ever in Cairnryan, and the A77 takes them straight back out. The only notable thing about the village now is its length, at a mile long it is one of Scotland's longest.

Loch Ryan and Cairnryan are probably known by more people in Ireland than Scotland. This is because the high speed ferries docking in Cairnryan and Stranraer provide the fastest crossing from Northern Ireland.

During World War II however, Loch Ryan and Cairnryan were important to everyone in Britain, but again, not too many people knew this...

Cairnryan around 1940 courtesy of Steve Murray
©2006 Steve Murray
The Ministry of Defence began building a great port in Cairnryan in 1941 as a secret back up for the west coast's larger facilities on the Mersey and the Clyde. This was just in case these two large ports were incapacitated by bombing.

Cairnryan Military port 1944 courtesy of Scots at War Trust
©2006 Scots at War Trust
Military port no. 2 was completed in 1943 and railway tracks were built linking it with the rest of the British rail network. It consisted of two gigantic piers, the North Deep and the South Deep, providing 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) of quayside and 33 feet (10 meters) of water between them at low tide.

The main ports on the Mersey and the Clyde were never crippled, so Cairnryan port was never used to its full potential. Nevertheless it played an important role in the British war effort.

In 1941 the British mainland was experiencing shortages of everyday commodities; in particular milk was getting increasingly scarce. The War Transport Ministry and the Ministry of Food decided between them that the best course of action was to transport milk from Northern Ireland via the port of Larne to Stranraer port, on Loch Ryan's south coast, just 6 miles -- by road -- from Cairnryan.

On top of troop movements and other war transport, Stranraer's single pier struggled to cope with the milk traffic. The newly completed Cairnryan port shared the milk run from winter 1943 to winter 1949.

The runs stopped because of a revolution in milk transport. For the first time in the winter of 1949-50, the milk was not carried in individual milk churns, loaded and unloaded by hand. Instead it was transported in road tankers on the new Stranraer-Larne "ro-ro" ferry, the Princess Victoria, an old milk run vessel. The deck was strengthened for its new purpose in May 1949.

The Princess Victoria sank in 1953, hours after leaving Stranraer port and the mouth of Loch Ryan. My Mum's brother, Uncle Ben was among the 130 people killed. The ship was just a few miles from reaching its destination. Forty-four people survived, none of them women or children.

Cairnryan military port was not the only big thing to happen on Loch Ryan in the early forties.

Stranraer was a rural area with little chance of Nazi bombardment. This and the enclave of Loch Ryan made Stranraer port ideal for Churchill's departure to the U.S in a Boeing flying boat in June 1942. This was the British prime minister's second U.S. visit of the war.

After 1942 the port saw the arrival of many U.S. troops in preparation for the D-Day invasion of Europe.

The huge concrete mulberry harbors or Beetles used in the Normandy landings were also constructed and tested in the pile construction yard alongside Military Port no. 2. They were then towed and re-built at the landing sites for re-supplying the troops in the lengthy operation.

Cairnryan closed as a military port in 1960 and the dedicated railway line was lifted soon after. But that wasn't the end of exciting and historically important events in this sleepy Scottish village. Ship breaking became the main industry of the port and many prestigious Royal Navy ships were broken up there.

My Dad worked with the ship breakers for years and soon I will tell you all about the many historic vessels broken up at Cairnryan and other notable happenings.
This article will appear on my blog War Pages
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Liam Bailey

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