The Churchill Barriers are four causeways in the Orkney islands[1] with a total length of 2.3 kilometres (1.4 mi). They link the Orkney Mainland in the north to the island of South Ronaldsay via Burray[2] and the two smaller islands of Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm.

Churchill Barriers
Barrier 2 looking across to Glimps Holm from Lamb Holm in July 1995.
Coordinates58°53′34″N 2°53′47″W / 58.8929°N 2.8963°W / 58.8929; -2.8963 (Churchill Barrier 1), 58°52′55″N 2°54′10″W / 58.8820°N 2.9028°W / 58.8820; -2.9028 (Churchill Barrier 2), 58°52′15″N 2°54′52″W / 58.8708°N 2.9144°W / 58.8708; -2.9144 (Churchill Barrier 3), and 58°50′28″N 2°54′17″W / 58.8411°N 2.9047°W / 58.8411; -2.9047 (Churchill Barrier 4)
  • Motor vehicles
  • Cyclists
CrossesKirk Sound, Skerry Sound, Weddell Sound, Water Sound
LocaleOrkney Islands, Scotland
Official nameChurchill Barriers/Churchill Causeways
Maintained byMinistry of Defence (1945–2011)
Orkney Islands Council (2011–present)
Total length35,560 m (116,667 ft)
Constructed byBalfour Beatty
William Tawse & Co.
Opened12 May 1945

The barriers were built between May 1940 and September 1944, primarily as naval defences to protect the anchorage at Scapa Flow, but since 12 May 1945 they serve as road links between the islands.[3] The two southern barriers, Glimps Holm to Burray and Burray to South Ronaldsay, are Category A listed.[1][4][5]

History edit

The main quarry on Lamb Holm used by the Italian POWs, since flooded and converted into a fish farm. In the background at right is barrier no.2 between Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm

On 14 October 1939, the Royal Navy battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk at her moorings within the natural harbour of Scapa Flow,[6] by the German submarine U-47 under the command of Günther Prien. U-47 had entered Scapa Flow through Holm Sound, one of several eastern entrances to Scapa Flow.

The eastern passages were protected by measures including sunken block ships, booms and anti-submarine nets, but U-47 entered at night at high tide by navigating between the block ships.

To prevent further attacks, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill ordered the construction of permanent barriers.[2] Work began in May 1940 and the barriers were completed in September 1944 but were not officially opened until 12 May 1945,[7] four days after Victory in Europe Day.

Construction edit

The contract for building the barriers was awarded to Balfour Beatty, although part of the southernmost barrier (between Burray and South Ronaldsay) was sub-contracted to William Tawse & Co. The first Resident Superintending Civil Engineer was E K Adamson, succeeded in 1942 by G Gordon Nicol.

Preparatory work on the site began in May 1940, while experiments on models for the design were undertaken at Whitworth Engineering Laboratories at the University of Manchester.

The bases of the barriers were built from gabions enclosing 250,000 tonnes of broken rock, from quarries on Orkney. The gabions were dropped into place from overhead cableways into waters up to 18 metres (59 ft) deep. The bases were then covered with 66,000 locally cast concrete blocks in five-tonne and ten-tonne sizes. The five-tonne blocks were laid on the core, and the ten-tonne blocks were arranged on the sides in a random pattern to act as wave-breaks.

Labour edit

A project of this size required a substantial labour force, which peaked in 1943 at over 2,000.[8]

Much of the labour was provided by over 1,300 Italian prisoners of war[2] who had been captured in the desert war in North Africa; they were transported to Orkney from early 1942 onwards.

The prisoners were accommodated in three camps, 600 at Camp 60 on Little Holm and the remaining 700 at two camps on Burray.[9]

In 1943, those at Camp 60 built an ornate Italian Chapel, which still survives and has become a tourist attraction.[9]

Ecological impact edit

Research by the University of York published in 2012 showed significant changes to the ecology of the area, and that behind the barriers an eutrophic environment dominated due to the loss of the natural throughflow of water.[10]

Deterioration edit

In October 2011, the Orkney Islands Council took control of the barriers from the Ministry of Defence.[6] Since then, with increasingly erratic weather events and rising sea levels as a result of global climate change, the barriers have begun to deteriorate.[11] Of the four barriers, only Barrier No. 2, from Lamb Holm to Glimps Holm, is at high risk for needing to be replaced, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.[11][12][13] Replacing even one of the causeways is extremely unpopular in Orkney due to their historical significance. The council was as of February 2021 exploring options that would preserve all of the causeways.[11]

Gallery edit

Panoramic view of barriers 1, 2, and 3.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b "Orkney's 'Churchill Barriers' listed by Historic Environment Scotland". BBC News. 24 November 2016. Archived from the original on 30 September 2022. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "Race to save Churchill Barriers amid climate change threat to World War II causeways". 14 February 2021. Archived from the original on 14 February 2021. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  3. ^ Reardon, Terry (13 March 2016). "Scapa Flow: The Churchill Barriers". International Churchill Society. Finest Hour 171. p. 22. Archived from the original on 16 July 2016. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  4. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Churchill Barrier No 3, Glimps Holm to Burray... (LB52392)". Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  5. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Churchill Barrier No 4, Burray to South Ronaldsay... (LB52417)". Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Orkney energy hopes follow Churchill Barrier sale". BBC News. 31 October 2011. Archived from the original on 30 September 2022. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  7. ^ "75th anniversary of the official opening of the Churchill Barriers". The Orcadian Online. 12 May 2020. Archived from the original on 22 September 2021. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  8. ^ Fraser, Gemma. "Churchill Barriers to have new role taming the tide". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Archived from the original on 30 September 2022. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  9. ^ a b "The legacy of the Italian Chapel". 23 November 2009. Archived from the original on 13 December 2020. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  10. ^ Selby, Katherine Anne; Langdon, P. G. (June 2012). "The Impacts of The Churchill Barriers on the Coastal Environment". Scottish Geographical Journal. 128 (2). University of York: 100–118. Bibcode:2012ScGJ..128..100S. doi:10.1080/14702541.2012.716606. S2CID 128535250. Archived from the original on 3 January 2022. Retrieved 14 April 2022.
  11. ^ a b c McLaughlin, Martyn (14 February 2021). "Race to save Churchill Barriers amid climate change threat to World War II causeways". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 14 February 2021. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  12. ^ Scotland, Tammar (14 February 2021). "Urgent plea to save Churchill Barriers from climate change". The Herald. Archived from the original on 14 February 2021. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  13. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Churchill Barrier No. 2, Lamb Holm To Glimps Holm (112585)". Canmore. Retrieved 29 September 2021.

External links edit