Ancient Monuments

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Whitelees Cottage, bombing decoy control bunker 230m north west of

A Scheduled Monument in Inverclyde Central, Inverclyde

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Latitude: 55.9229 / 55°55'22"N

Longitude: -4.7613 / 4°45'40"W

OS Eastings: 227557

OS Northings: 673419

OS Grid: NS275734

Mapcode National: GBR 0C.ZY1S

Mapcode Global: WH2MH.TDW9

Entry Name: Whitelees Cottage, bombing decoy control bunker 230m NW of

Scheduled Date: 25 March 2011

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12828

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: 20th Century Military and Related: Bombing decoy site

Location: Greenock

County: Inverclyde

Electoral Ward: Inverclyde Central

Traditional County: Renfrewshire


The monument comprises a brick and concrete-built roofed structure, the remains of a Second World War Naval, ST-type, decoy control shelter. The monument is located at 275m above sea level on high moorland around 2.8 km SW of the Clyde Estuary.

The shelter is a square building with a porch/covered entrance passage on the W corner. The sides of the main element measure around 3.5m in length. The porch, which has sloping sidewalls, extends down slope for 2.5m and is 1.7m wide. The structure is built of red brick and has a flat concrete roof. Above the entrance to the covered passage is a further slab of concrete set on edge. There is a roof hatch, accessed by iron rungs set into the NE interior wall, and a small vent hole in the SE wall. The shelter was constructed during early 1941 as part of a decoy site. A military construction designed to replicate burning buildings and infrastructure and draw away bombs from strategically important industrial and residential areas, it was used during night hours. It is likely that more ephemeral features relating to the decoy features themselves survive as buried remains within the area.

The area to be scheduled is square in plan centred on the visible remains to include an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The one-cell brick-wall structure with a reinforced concrete roof and covered entrance way is a typical form for a decoy control shelter. The roof hatch was designed to provide an emergency exit. Surviving Ministry of Defence plans indicate that most were intended to be protected from blast damage by an earth bund. It is not clear if this example once had such protection or whether local conditions influenced this omission. The shelter would have housed a telephone to receive orders to ignite and the switchgear to operate the decoy. Masses of electrical cables would have run from the shelter to the fire groups located at some distance from the shelter. Such sites needed constant maintenance and a staff of 24 personnel, including two electricians, would have staffed the decoy.

As a decoy site for a major port and industrial area the decoy was surveyed and constructed by the Admiralty and as such is termed a Naval SF decoy site. It appears that the Naval SF decoys were also built to include the newer QL-type system, designed to simulate the features of a town under blackout, and which did not begin to appear on other Starfish sites until later in 1941. This would have replicated such things as non-blacked out skylights and opening and closing doors. The shelter would have been located some distance from the special fire apparatus, in order to minimise blast damage from the bombs drawn to the decoy and also to keep clear of the hundreds of gallons of fuel needed to produce the SF decoy fires. In this instance the exact location of the actual decoy structures themselves is not yet known. A well-made road was needed to provide the fuel needed and a site some 1.1 km to the SE adjacent to the road at Burnhouse may be where the decoy fires were located.

The control shelter has the capacity to inform our knowledge of Second World War military architecture, in particular that of SF decoy site control shelters. It has the potential to further our understanding of how such structures were designed, used and located and how they were decommissioned as well as how they would have functioned in conjunction with other decoy site types, such as the QL. As an integral part of the development of camouflage and deception technology the shelter has the capacity to further our understanding of how such techniques of warfare were established and developed through the Second World War.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is located up in the high open moorland to the south of the industrial and urban areas along the Clyde. Greenock had become increasingly strategically important as the London Docks came under intense attack and supplies had to be rerouted. It was also a key naval anchorage and at this time became one of the busiest ports in the world. At the commencement of War World II the Air Ministry had formed a secret department to oversee ways to fool the German Luftwaffe bombers by using decoys and other means of deception. The monument formed part of a elaborate nationwide system of bombing decoy sites. The decoys were located close to prime targets, in this instance Greenock, and were intended to replicate these targets when seen from the air, thus drawing enemy bombers away from the real targets. This was one of the major deception plans of the Second World War. Britain had around 800 decoys in operation during the Second World War and it is estimated that of these 300 received hits. Calculations made by the Air Historical Branch estimate that over 2200 tonnes of bombs were drawn off onto decoy sites during the conflict.

There were a number of different types of decoy and variations devised. K and Q types were developed first and simulated military sites in daylight and at night respectively. Night decoys were further classified to QF for fire sites and QL for lighting sites. As the Blitz intensified in autumn and winter 1940, intelligence indicated that industrial areas were to be the focus of heavy raids and a new type of decoy was developed to protect civilian residential and industrial sites. This was partly a response to new intelligence enabling advance warning of which areas were to be targeted by the raids. These were Special Fire (SF) or 'Starfish' sites and were constructed in large open areas, in areas of known bomber approach. They were either civil or naval operated (usually where near ports) and typically at least two miles from any built up area. They consisted of different types of combustible feature such as braziers or fuel pools and were electrically ignited from a control blockhouse in advance of the commencement of a raid. Once alight enemy bombers were fooled into thinking this was the site of the target already ablaze. It was an established Luftwaffe technique that leading aircraft dropped incendiary devices onto targets thus marking them for successive waves of bombers. The decoys grew in sophistication with characteristics of urban and industrial fires and features faithfully replicated through the design of decoys to burn in different ways on the same site.

There are 59 examples of decoy site and or control bunkers and generators listed in the database of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The decoy sites are a small element in the extensive offensive and defensive military and civilian structures built to protect the Clyde ships and associated industrial areas. Decoy sites are a rare type of monument as relatively few were constructed and many were deliberately removed immediately after the cessation of hostilities or in more recent times. In most instances features relating to the ephemeral decoy structures are not now visible and the control shelter, as here, is the only visible remaining element of the site.

As part of a countrywide network, the control shelter has the capacity to add to our knowledge of a large-scale, centrally co-ordinated system of defence.

Associative characteristics

The monument is associated with the Second World War, a global conflict, and in particular the Greenock Blitz of 6 and 7 May 1941. This Luftwaffe raid targeted the many ships and ship yards as well as the civilian workforce in and around the town of Greenock. In total 280 people were killed and over 1200 injured, the majority of whom were civilians. The decoy site was ignited on the second night and accounts differ as to whether it succeeded in drawing bombs off target. Some eyewitness accounts talk of the hills above the town ablaze through diverted bombs.

The monument is also associated with Colonel Sir John Turner who was placed in charge of British decoy and deception schemes in 1939. Turner was born in 1881 and joined the Royal Corps of Engineers in 1900. Turner was a qualified pilot with extensive knowledge of airfield construction and infrastructure. In post his department was located at the Sound City Film Studios, Shepperton, where the deception techniques used in filming were learnt and adapted for use in wartime defence.

The monument retains the potential to inform our understanding of 20th-century warfare and the impact of the Second World War on the people and landscapes of Inverclyde and Scotland.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular the defence of the strategically important Clyde area during the Second World War. It is a rare site type as well as a rare survival that has the capacity to illustrate the techniques of military design and construction as well as the evolution of deception tactics. The monument demonstrates the ingenuity and resourcefulness of a society under attack and is a testament to the people that manned it and those that it helped to protect. Its loss or diminution would impede significantly our ability to understand the function, location and use of such monuments in Scotland as well as our knowledge of Second World War defensive tactics.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record the site as NS27SE 104.


Dobinson, C 2000, Fields of Deception: Britain's Bombing Decoys of World War II, English Heritage Methuen: London.

Gemmill, S, Osborne, B D and Armstrong, R 2005, The Clyde at War, Birlinn: Edinburgh.

Osborne, M 2004, Defending Britain: Twentieth-Century Military Structures in the Landscape, Tempus: Stroud.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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