Main content

The secluded beach once used to test weapons of mass destruction

A remote Scottish shoreline was the location for secretive Cold War experiments.

The sparsely populated spaces of the Hebrides provided perfect cover for experiments

In 1952, just a few years after the start of the Cold War and less than a decade since the catastrophic atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a secret and potentially deadly military operation was carried out in the Hebrides.

As Nukes, Subs & Secrets reveals, the military was worried about the potential for an international ban on nuclear weapons and had begun developing biological weapons in their place — in breach of international protocols. These new weapons of mass destruction contained the bubonic plague.

A secluded beach on the Isle of Lewis was selected to host the project. Its location in the extreme north west of the British Isles offered the military space and privacy to carry out its top secret work.

Twenty miles north of the island's capital Stornoway, pontoons containing live guinea pigs and monkeys were moored a few hundred yards from the shoreline. Clouds of bubonic plague were exploded above them and the effects monitored. In total 3500 guinea pigs and 83 monkeys were exposed to testing.

The Hebridean experiment was short-lived. The then prime minister, Winston Churchill, felt the tests were too risky to the local population and the project was moved to a remote area of the Bahamas.

Discover more about Scotland's Cold War

The history and potential threat of the Trident missile system

Over two-thirds of Scotland's population live within 90 miles of the Faslane naval base.

Latest features from BBC Scotland