Scaramanga gets a behind the scenes tour Inside the painstakingly restored Dundee secret bunker from the Cold War.
Scaramanga director, Carl, found a mysterious looking card on my desk from Gavin at 28th Group Observed. He had popped in and was looking for an old civil service / HMSO steel cabinet from 1970s / early 80s for project to fully restore a very secret former nuclear bunker in Dundee. Very different from the not-so-secret bunker across the river Tay in Fife. Luckily we had exactly what he wanted. We had bought most of the cupboards and fittings from Ladybank Post Office when it closed a couple of years ago and it had a lot of Victorian, Edwardian and mid-century vintage and industrial furniture including a metre high shelved cabinet.
Gavin asked if we would like a private tour of the secret bunker as a thanks for discounting the grey steel cabinet they had just bought.
Of course we would!
So a handful of us: Kelly, Marko, Emma and my kids: Ella (8) and Josh (10) arrived late one frosty evening in November. Not knowing what to expect we banged on the thick metal door of what looked like a small old concrete shed.
The steel blast proof door was opened by Steve, one of the volunteers. He took us through the decontamination chamber and down into the dark shaft into the bunker.
We were given a detailed tour and shown around the three levels. We saw a huge generator, air-purifiers and domintories. The highlights include the communications room where a pair of red ‘hotline telephones’ were kept. In the event of a nuclear attack the Area Commandant would use the phones to call local towns and villages who would then activate the 4-minute warning sirens found on top of notable public buildings like a townhalls or police stations. it would have alerted the public of the iminent arrival of nuclear bombs. It would be heard up to 10 miles away. Carl’s highlight was seeing our vintage filing cabinet!
Josh and Ella loved the main control room, which Gavin and th rest of 28 Group restored to as close as possible to the condition it would have been in in 1991 when the bunker was abandoned. It would have been packed with state-of-the-art computer technology and systems. With extra large perspex boards with a map of Scotland and brightly coloured images, notes and marking spread across the map – showing potential attack points. Josh and Ella also liked the retro 1970s kitchen and canteen, but that was because of the cake and hot chocolate!
One room is filled with white boards built in to a long blue desk – where bunker staff would write information relayed to them by smaller posts across Scotland
The massive 30ft (9.1m) deep headquarters was abandoned in 1991 – when the Soviet Union collapsed – and fell into disrepair over the next 14 years.
Until 26 years ago, the bunker would have been on the front line in the event of a nuclear attack on the UK, providing a place for 80 men and women ROC volunteers to measure nuclear blast waves and radioactive fallout. They would have been literally sealed into an air-tight underground complex. Civilian volunteers would have assessed and managed the devastating scale of nuclear Armageddon after a Soviet attack.
Between 1956 and 1965, the British government constructed 1,563 monitoring posts at a distance of 15 miles apart including the likes of Cupar, St Andrews and Arbroath. These were controlled by 31 larger HQ and control centres just like the Dundee bunker restored by 28 Observer Group HQ. Unfortunately only a few of the large centres remain and I suspect the location of many are secret or forgotten!
The Caledonian Headquarters, in Dundee, was capable of keeping 80 Royal Observer Corps (ROC) – a civilian defence organisation – alive for at least a month in the event of all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. They would have been tasked with collecting data from smaller monitoring stations scattered across Scotland. So secret was the Dundee nuclear bunker that nobody knew it existed. Even the houses a few metres away.
Several have been preserved by private individuals or charitable trusts like Gavin’s team. They have spent almost 15 years carefully bringing it back to life with incredible attention to detail. It is the only remaining Royal Observer Corps sector bunker left in original condition in the UK. Many others in Ayr, Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen have been demolished. The bunker has Geiger counters, and equipment essential for detecting nuclear blasts and the fallout as well as authentic uniforms from the time, medicines, and a four-minute warning system.
A big thanks to Gavin, Steve and the 28th Observer Group for our exclusive tour of the bunker. The Dundee nuclear bunker is not open to the public.
28th Observer Group can be contacted on Facebook. They may be able to organise private tours.