Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

Dunfermline, Mhq Pitreavie, Underground Headquarters

Military Headquarters (20th Century)

Site Name Dunfermline, Mhq Pitreavie, Underground Headquarters

Classification Military Headquarters (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Raf Pitreavie Castle

Canmore ID 107064

Site Number NT18SW 9.06

NGR NT 11719 84828

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2019.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Fife
  • Parish Dunfermline
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District Dunfermline
  • Former County Fife

Archaeology Notes

NT18SW 9.06 1172 8483

The date of construction of the underground headquarters at Pitreavie is unknown; it is understood to date from about 1937-8 in its original form but was apparently remodelled and enlarged (with extensive re-excavation) in about 1963 as part of the major review of RN and RAF headquarters and the basic structure of the headquarters dates from that period. Between that date and its closure in early 1996 the MHQ was the second most important naval headquarters in the UK, after the Fleet headquarters at Northwood, Middlesex (HMS Warrior). The associated Royal Naval Reserve unit, HMS Scotia (NT18SW 9.09) was commissioned in 1957.

As constituted in the 1960's, it was a joint RN/RAF headquarters, most tasks being carried out by 'dark blue' and 'light blue' officers in co-operation. After the mid-1970's, it became more thoroughly navalised, with a corresponding reduction in RAF representation, but it remained an RAF establishment for administrative purposes under the title RAF Pitreavie Castle. Some married quarters (NT18SW 9.14) were provided, but most personnel were accommodated at HMS Cochrane (Rosyth) or RAF Turnhouse (NT17SE 70). Only minimum manning was provided for the headquarters, augmentation by reservists of the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Auxiliary Air Force being necessary in war, exercises and some routine operations.

The functions of the headquarters were as follows:

Administrative: offices of the senior RN and RAF officers in Scotland, Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland (FOSNI) having offices in A block (NT18SW 9.07) and Air Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland (AOSNI) having offices in the castle (NT18SW 9.00).

Communications: the headquarters housed major communications facilities for both RN and RAF users which handled relay traffic for users other than those in the building.

Search and Rescue (SAR): the SAR cell (under the title of Rescue Co-ordination Centre Edinburgh) controlled RN and RAF aircraft participating in rescues over both land and sea in Scotland, Northern Ireland and most of England.

Operational (peace): control of RN warships and auxiliaries (but not submarines) and RAF maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) in designated waters around Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England for purposes of training, exercises and routine operations. The headquarters was not, however, concerned with the operation of RAF aircraft not involved in maritime or rescue operations.

Operational (war): control of NATO warships and auxiliaries (but not submarines) and MPA in designated waters around (and to the N of) Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England for purposes of defending the home base, protecting merchant shipping and containing the Soviet naval (principally submarine) threat.

Training: Pitreavie was the headquarters normally used for the control of training exercises (JMC exercises) conducted (often on a large scale) as part of the qualification process for staff officers graduating from the (RN/RAF) Joint Maritime Operations Tactical School (JMOTS) at RAF Turnhouse.

Additionally, Pitreavie could, if required, take over the functions of the higher-level headquarters at Northwood, involving a wider area of geographical responsibility, increased contact with the political leadership, co-ordination of submarines, and (after 1970) the control of the UK strategic deterrent (Polaris).

The headquarters itself was essentially an underground building, the flat roof being occupied by tennis courts and having ventilation ducts and three escape tunnels (including the main access tunnel) around the sides. It was normally entered from the N down the main passage which gave access to the main operations room, where formal briefings were held and the main business of the headquarters was conducted by the (RN) Duty Staff Officer (DSO) under the Staff Officer Operations (SOO). Essentially this was a broad room with a deep well around which the constitution, disposition, capabilities and location of 'friendly', 'co-operating' and 'enemy' forces were displayed on the grand overall plot (GOP) map and related wall totes and displays. Subsidiary cells on the same floor provided advice to the command on specialist subjects, most notably Intelligence, Naval Control of (merchant) Shipping, Security and Home Defence, Logistics, Mine Counter Measures, and Submarine liaison. Although computer-based systems were introduced after about 1982, the headquarters remained essentially 'manual' until it closed and the walls of each of these cells were liberally festooned with maps, charts, stateboards and totes, each of them regularly updated in felt-pen or grease-pencil (chinagraph).

The communications facility (commcen) and related offices occupied much of the E side, while a sick bay (near the entrance) and a small galley (in the SW corner) provided essential services. Large numbers of wire-mesh bunks in the corridors provided 'hot-bunking' accommodation and up to two complete watches of staff could be 'locked-down' for an indefinite (but uncomfortable) period. Beneath these spaces there was a lower floor which housed workshop and maintenance services, rest rooms and additional computer and communications facilities, and provided additional sleeping space. The plant room (also near the entrance) provided air conditioning (mainly cooling) and housed emergency generators.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Headquarters complex was only provided with a wire-fenced perimeter in about 1988, the only security protection being provided by the sentry at the 'Pithead' checkpoint prior to that date.

Information from Lieutenant Commander RJC Mowat RNR, 27 September 1996.

Architecture Notes

See NT18SW 9.00 Pitreavie Castle

Archaeology Notes - for list of related sites


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions