Balmacara gun emplacements
The remains of Balmacara Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) gun battery, or station, are located along the north edge of Loch Alsh. During World War 2, its purpose was to protect the military camp and port from air attack by German planes.
Located to the west, at Kyle of Lochalsh, there was another gun battery called B1, the sister station to Balmacara, which was known as B2. Together, they defended the skies.
Today only the concrete bases which held the guns in place survive to testify to the important role such stations held in the defence of Britain.
Two types of gun
First designed and used in World War I, there were two types of anti-aircraft guns. Light anti-aircraft guns were suited to track and hit fast low flying planes. German bomber planes, however, flew at great heights, over 10,000 feet. To reach these planes the British needed powerful guns.
Records state that the guns placed at the Balmacara battery were the three inch type of Heavy Anti-Aircraft artillery. This was the standard type of gun used during World War I and was only replaced well into World War 2. The least powerful type of HAA, it still had an effective ceiling of 23,000 feet, meaning it could shoot artillery shells to this height.
Installing guns at Balmacara
It was not until October 1940 that Balmacara had guns installed at the station and could actively prevent an enemy attack.
In a meeting on June 11 1940, Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force Fighter Command, noted that there was a "difficulty finding additional guns for ports with so many competing requirements," War record EAB 82/13 DCOS (AA) Meeting 15 June 1940, referenced by C. Dobinson (2001) in AA Command.
Listed as a defence site but not armed, it was at this meeting that they decided that equipping Balmacara was a priority.
It became operational in October 1940, manned by the 51st Brigade of the 108th Regiment of the Royal Artillery. Two years later, the 113th Regiment of the same Brigade replaced them.
The soldiers would have lived in Nissen huts; metal, pre-made, portable huts placed beside the gun station.
The soldiers needed to hit a moving target at great heights. Each battery had its own height finder and predictor. These machines calculated where the plane should be, allowing the gunner to position and shoot with greater accuracy.
Flight paths of enemy planes, however, were still difficult to predict. The main success of anti-aircraft defences lay in putting enemy planes off their course by firing at them from the ground. This was termed jinking.
Aerial photography was a key tool for the military to develop a plan of attack and to keep an eye on the enemy.
Before World War 2, Theodore Rowhel pretended to be checking out new commercial air routes for the German airline, Lufthansa. Disguised in a civilian plane, with hidden cameras, he flew over and photographed the coastline of Scotland and England.
During the war, this became a standard duty of the Luftwaffe, the German military air force. To avoid detection by British fighter planes they usually flew at a height of 30,000 feet.
Today the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland holds copies of the wartime spy photographs of Scotland taken by the Luftwaffe.
Germany used these images for intelligence work. This included selecting targets to bomb, assessing bombing accuracy and identifying the location of anti-aircraft defences. Today they are a fascinating resource for investigating German military strategy.
A German spy plane photographed the military camp and port at Loch Alsh on 29 September 1940. The area was a potential target for German planes to bomb. Highlighted on the photograph was the location of Balmacara's sister anti-aircraft station (B1). Alongside Balmacara (B2) to the east, it was a threat to the success of any planned attack.
The exact location of Balmacara is grid reference NG 811 277.
For full access details see the Balmacara webpage. At the site, the blue trail, waymarked with blue signs, will take you along the route that passes the WWII remains. The trail is graded moderate and passes onto National Trust for Scotland ground. It is 2 miles long and takes approximately 1 hour 15 minutes.
All sites managed by Forestry and Land Scotland are open for you to explore. However, not all sites have paths or signage and some are a considerable distance from car parking. We recommend that visitors consult a detailed map and wear appropriate clothing.
Please follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and remember that historic sites should be treated with care and respect.