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US Navy Base 18

the northern barrageThe US Navy entered the First World War in 1917 and set about assembling and laying mines between Orkney and Norway in a hugely ambitious project known as the Northern Barrage.

In October 2019, the Inverness Local History Forum presented a comprehensive one-day conference about the Northern Barrage and the US Navy Bases that were created in Inverness and Invergordon. Supported by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the conference featured talks and displays from several groups including Alness Heritage Society, Invergordon Museum, Groam House Museum, Petty & Ardersier Community Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland and Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands.

The information presented has been collated into the Forum's latest publication, The Northern Barrage: The Fence Across the North Sea in WWI, which is now available. See here for the list of stockists.

The book features over 240 photographs, and below we present a selection from the Inverness Base 18 section that provides an idea of the extent of the complex that was erected where the Carse Industrial Estate is now.

 

Captain Reginald Belknap (1871-1959)
Captain Reginald Belknap (1871-1959)
Commander of US Mine Squadron One.
Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss (1861-1948)
Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss (1861-1948)
Mine Force Commander based in Inverness.
US flag raised on 9 February 1917
US flag raised on 9 February 1917
US headquarters was the former residence of the Glen Albyn Distillery Manager.
The Stars and Stripes over the Base 18 headquarters
The Stars and Stripes over the Base 18 headquarters
The Distillery Manager’s house on Telford Street.
The Base 18 barracks
The Base 18 barracks
The distillery granaries were converted into dormitories, accommodating
1,000 men.
The former Muirtown Hotel was the Sick Bay
The former Muirtown Hotel was the Sick Bay
90 Telford Street is one of only two buildings used by the US Navy in Inverness which still survives.
Outside Base 18 headquarters
Outside Base 18 headquarters
The Mine Force commander Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss and his staff.
Commander and staff in 1918
Commander and staff in 1918
Capt Murfin, Rear Admiral Strauss, Lt Smither, Lt Newhall and Commander Grow.
Base 18 Mine Assembly Sheds from the perimeter
Base 18 Mine Assembly Sheds from the perimeter
The area, including the distillery property, was enclosed by a seven foot high, 3,200 yard long fence.
Merkinch School garden became a large railway siding
Merkinch School garden became a large railway siding
Assembled mines are loaded for transfer in the field next to Merkinch School running along Carse Road.
Delivery of mine sinkers
Delivery of mine sinkers
The Assembly Shed where the mines were examined and tested.
Unloading unassembled mine case spheres
Unloading unassembled mine case spheres
The mine spheres were nicknamed 'eggs'.
Unassembled mine case spheres in storage
Unassembled mine case spheres in storage
The 'eggs' were stored separately until they were assembled onto the sinkers.
Moving the mine cases
Moving the mine cases
The spheres were wheeled from the bulk store to the Assembly Shed.
Testing the firing mechanism
Testing the firing mechanism
Preserving the secrecy of this mechanism was paramount.
Assembling the mines
Assembling the mines
The two components were joined together in the Assembly Shed.
Ready for deployment
Ready for deployment
Assembled mines and anchors in the Ready Issue Store.
View between the Mine Storage Shed and the Mine Assembly Shed
View between the Mine Storage Shed and the Mine Assembly Shed
Completed mines from the Assembly Sheds on the left were either sent direct to the ships, or stored in the Ready Issue Buildings on the right.
Ready for dispatch to the quay
Ready for dispatch to the quay
Loading the assembled mines into the railway cars.
Base 18 railway engine
Base 18 railway engine
Trainload of mines ready for transportation to the quay and the waiting mine lighters.
Loading mines for transportation
Loading mines for transportation
The lighters were moored in the Muirtown Basin alongside Glen Albyn Distillery.
Mines were loaded into barges at Muirtown Quay
Mines were loaded into barges at Muirtown Quay
The mines were taken through the Muirtown Basin and the sea locks of the canal into the Inverness Firth, where they were shipped on board mine layers.
USS Black Hawk moored between Avoch and Munlochy Bay
USS Black Hawk moored between Avoch and Munlochy Bay
Sporting a dazzle camouflage pattern (called razzle dazzle in the US), she served as the Mine Force flagship and repair ship.
Laying the mine barrage
Laying the mine barrage
Protected by the guns of accompanying warships.
The USS Housatonic
The USS Housatonic
Under Capt Greenslade she planted 8,539 mines on the North Sea Barrage.
The US navy men were made welcome
The US navy men were made welcome
Couples enjoying a walk through the Ness Islands.
Enjoying R & R
Enjoying R & R
A couple walk through the Ness Islands.
The Mine Force concert party
The Mine Force concert party
They performed at the YMCA Eagle Hut on the Strand in London, the show including local girls from Inverness who danced and sang.
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