The Abandoned Target Towers of Luce Bay, Scotland

Abandoned 1930s target bases on Luce Bay bombing range. (Image: James T M Towill. Abandoned 1930s target bases on Luce Bay bombing range)

It was once an important fishery, but in more recent times the wide sweep of Luce Bay – in Wigtownshire, Scotland – has been used as a bombing range by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence operating from the former RAF West Freugh airfield nearby. Nowadays, the range is run by defence giant Qinetiq, which uses Luce Bay for the test and evaluation of bombs and air-to-surface missiles. But punctuating the sands at low tide are a series of unusual structures that echo an earlier period in the location’s military history.

Ruined concrete and metal target tower in Luce Bay. (Image: James T M Towill. Ruined concrete and metal target tower in Luce Bay)

A bombing range was established at Luce Bay during the 1930s to train RAF aircrew in the art of weapons delivery. The most notable structures on the range were two clusters of metal-covered concrete towers, three in each cluster, that formed a solid tripod base for a large triangular target. Eight decades after the Luce Bay range was established, these intriguing cone-like structures (pictured) continue to dominate the landscape.

The Luce Bay bombing range near MOD West Freugh is still in use, now operated by Qinetiq, but the 1930s target bases stand long disused. (Image: James T M Towill. The disused Luce Bay target bases date to c. 1937)

A.T. Murchie writes in The RAF In Galloway 1910-2000: “The two Luce Bay targets were erected in 1937 by the contractors who had constructed the airfield. They were situated at the shallow northern end of the bay, built on the sandy sea bed offshore, but above the low water mark.”

(Image: James T M Towill)

The author adds: “Considerable difficulty was found in ensuring the stability of the three conical supports required to carry each triangular target platform which had to be above sea level in all conditions. Eventually, foundations were taken to a depth of 30 feet, no easy task working between tides using the limited construction material then available.”

(Image: James T M Towill)

Though the Luce Bay bombing range is still used by Qinetiq, operating from what is now known as MOD West Freugh, the disused 1930s target towers have been abandoned for years. This series of photographs reveals their condition; lonely sentinels from a pre-war era when Britain’s very survival hung in the balance.

(Image: James T M Towill)

The Luce Bay bombing range was used by the Royal Air Force over the 60 year period from the 1930s to the 1990s. During that time, ordnance dropped from aircraft was reportedly retrieved by an old minesweeper based at Drummore on the Rhins of Galloway.

(Image: James T M Towill)

In the years since, the firing range has been operated by Qinetiq, part of the former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence. Access to Luce Bay is restricted while the range is in use.

Related: Ashley Walk Bombing Range: Explore the Ruins of a Secret World War Two Test Site


About the author: Tom





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