17. Cape Wrath, Sutherland. (NC 260 747)
The most north-westerly point on the British mainland is also an
8,400 acre Ministry of Defence weapons range and army exercise area.
Cape Wrath was first used as a weapons range in the 1930s but the
Ministry of Defence only bought the ranges in 2001. Norse for 'turning
point', Cape Wrath has the highest sea-cliffs on mainland Britain
which acted as a land-mark for sailors navigating around the coast
There are four main ranges in the Cape Wrath vicinity:
There is a Naval Gunfire Support Range of around 3,400 hectares,
covering the whole Cape Wrath area used for ship-to-shore bombardment.
Royal Navy and other NATO vessels use the range for the practice
firing of their 4.5 inch and 5 inch guns. The cliffs, which are
an important nesting ground for birds, rise to almost 1,000ft vertically
are used as ranging marks for the guns. The naval range is usually
used between four and eight times a year. In 2003, three American
warships from the Eisenhower Battle-group, the 9,600-ton cruisers
USS Anzio and Cape St George, and destroyer USS Mahan used the range
whilst they were en-route to the Mediterranean. The use of Cape
Wrath by US forces has generated controversy because the US Government
was forced to withdraw from using a similar range at Vieques in
Puerto Rico in May 2003 after accidentally killing security guards
on the range there and the discovery that Depleted Uranium munitions
had been test-fired there despite repeated assurances that they
The naval gunfire support range is used three times a year by the
navies from many NATO members and plays a central part in the Joint
Maritime Course (JMC),. Joint Maritime Courses are one of the largest
military exercises to occur regularly in the Northern Hemisphere.
Taking place three times a year, all three military services, air-force,
navy and army, are involved jointly (hence 'Joint' Maritime Course.)
The JMC is central to training of new recruits to the Royal Navy.
All RN recruits undergo their 'Tier 2' Operational Sea Training
during the Joint Maritime Course exercises, which take place off
the whole length of the West Coast of Scotland and ran out of Faslane.
During the JMC, the Cape Wrath firing range is used extensively
for Naval Gunfire Support. The JMC exercises can include up to 50
ships, 5 submarines and well over 100 aircraft and as a result are
bigger than most NATO exercises.
The final JMC of 2003 involved 27 naval vessels from 13 different
countries including Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, the
UK and the US. The first JMC of 2004 took place between February
23rd and March 4th. The majority of ships taking part in the final
JMC of 2003 came from the British and American navies, with the
destroyer HMS Glasgow, and the mine hunter HMS Inverness amongst
those involved. The JMC involved a number of exercises at sea and
in the air with over 50 different scenarios practiced, including
submarine manoeuvres. The exercise encompassed every aspect of warfare
training, which meant that live firing not only took place on the
naval range, but also on Garvie Island, where the RAF and the air
forces of America, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany
and Belgium flew over 800 sorties and dropped up to 1,000lb bombs.