Scottish bases 'helpless' in face of Soviet attack

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A MOCK Soviet air attack left UK defence chiefs with faces redder than a Kremlin banner, declassified documents have revealed.

The bungled Nato exercise took place at the height of the Cold War and simulated a Soviet fighter plane attack on key Scottish and UK sites. But vast areas of the country failed to notice the "invaders" and would have been helpless in the face of a genuine attack.

The files, compiled by the UK Warning and Monitoring Organisation (UKWMO) and stamped "Secret", give an inside account into Exercise Wintex, which took place on March 14, 1977. The Government documents, at the Scottish National Archives in Edinburgh, state:

"Conventional attacks were made against a selection of point targets including ground environment sites, airfields, ports, bridges, supply depots and oil refineries."

A code red national air attack warning was issued and staff were told to prepare to track a "low-level hostile threat".

The files, passed on to the Scottish Home and Health Department, reveal that key locations, including RAF bases and radar installations at Rosyth, Buchan, Leuchars, Kinloss, Benbecula and Saxa Vord on Shetland came under simulated fire.

Those manning the defence radars would not have known whether the approaching planes were friendly or not.

The report concludes: "During the exercise no attack warnings were received or generated for Fife, Borders or Dumfries and Galloway." A number of English and Welsh counties also "apparently remained unwarned" after civil defence workers failed to raise the alarm.

Those coordinating the exercise also lost contact with RAF Buchan in Aberdeenshire for a number of hours.

The files state that many regional command offices failed to cope with the sheer amount of information, which made assessing the potential threat "progressively impracticable".

Unsurprisingly, those evaluating the drill reports concluded it had been "a very disappointing exercise". They stated that a failure of communication gear at RAF Buchan "was very frustrating for the warning liaison officers". They also said that "poor reception" made it hard to transmit information through special emergency channels.

In a letter of June 24, 1977, to the Scottish Office, Cliff Bromage, of the UK Directorate of Telecommunications, said: "I doubt whether any system can be devised, which will in peacetime, prevent a recurrence of these problems."

Exercise Wintex was not the last Cold War drill fiasco. On November 2, 1983, Nato's Able Archer, a European war game, had the Soviets bracing to launch their nuclear arsenal, before it became clear that is was just a training exercise. The mix-up led to closer US-Soviet communication.