Site 3. Type 24 Machine Gun Pillbox

The viewpoint overlooking Keiss Harbour was one of a number of Type 24 pillboxes built round Sinclair’s Bay during 1940 when fear of an invasion from Nazi-occupied Norway was seen as a very real possibility.

In June 1940 Britain was in a precarious position having abandoned most of its equipment at Dunkirk which included tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery and rifles. Expecting an invasion at any time, Britain had little with which to defend itself. Its desperate answer was the pillbox.

A pillbox is a small, solidly built bunker from which gunfire could be brought to bear on an attacking force while giving some protection to the occupants from enemy fire. They were rarely sited in isolation and were normally a component of a wider scheme of defences.

Royal Engineer officers at FW3 (Section 3 of the Directorate of Fortifications and Works) of the War Office produced some basic designs for 10 types of pillbox. These were given ‘Type’ numbers from 22 to 28A hence the designation of FW3/24 or simply Type 24.

Caithness At War - Pillbox mini sign (7)

The Royal Engineer commanders of individual army commands also produced variants of the standard designs for use in their own areas. This was the case with Scottish Command who produced their own version of the Type 24 pillbox, drawing No. CEScC 2893 (Commander Engineers Scottish Command). This had much larger embrasures (splayed gun ports), a gun table around the inside, and no internal anti-ricochet wall. They were constructed to Scottish Command’s 1940 ‘bullet proof’ specification which required a thickness of 15 inches (38cm) for the walls and 12 inch (30cm) for the roofs. This design was used at several locations round Wick, Sinclair’s Bay and Thurso.

The Type 24 pillbox has a slightly squashed hexagonal plan with five embrasures for firing through. It was intended for the Vickers Heavy Machine Gun or infantry Light Machine Guns such as the Bren or Lewis gun. Two small embrasures in the rear wall were for close defence with rifles or pistols.

These pillboxes were constructed about every 400 yards (360m) round Sinclair’s Bay from Keiss Castle to Noss Head. The centre section was omitted as the height of the dunes was considered a sufficient obstacle.

Manned Pillbox at Sinclair's Bay
Manned Pillbox at Sinclair’s Bay