During the Second World War Black Down was used as a bombing decoy site, part of a national programme to decoy German bombers away from towns and cities. Colonel Turner, who planned these top secret operations, was based with his prop makers at Shepperton Studios. They used special effects to simulate Bristol at night.
Bomb-proof bunkers housed generators and control switches that enabled the RAF crew who staffed the site, to simulate an inadequately blacked-out city. At first the site was fitted with decoy lighting. There may also have been decoy railway signals and an arrangement to mimic the glow from a steam engine’s fire box. The lighting was concentrated in six clusters corresponding to six target sites in Bristol including Canons Marsh and Temple Meads Station. But they all lay about 16 miles from Bristol, spread across Black Down between Tynings Farm and Burrington Combe.
Soon after, as the German bombing techniques changed, fires fuelled by creosote were used to simulate the incendiary bombs dropped to mark the target for further waves of bombers. These were called special fires and given the code name Starfish. Black Down was one of 12 Starfish sites around Bristol and one of 800 nationwide. All that remains to be seen today of this decoy town on Black Down are the 3 bunkers, one of which can be found at the Tynings Farm entrance to Black Down.
To the South of Black Down near Tynings Farm lie the remains of a Z Battery which was a Second World War anti-aircraft rocket launching site used to provide anti-aircraft gun fire over the decoy town to add to its authenticity.
Caring for Black Down
The bunker which housed the generators is suffering from erosion from both people and ponies. The bunkers are gated to prevent damage to the interiors and by keeping off the bunkers and viewing them from ground level only, will help to reduce the damage to these Scheduled Monuments.
Things To Do
Why not download the New Black Down War Walk leaflet and go and discover the history on the hill or listen to the personal stories of those who were involved with starfish in some way? There are also 6 fact sheets about Starfish and WWII on Black Down to download in our resource centre. The children of Blagdon Primary School have visited the site and made a short film all about Starfish. The mixture of live action and animation, designed and produce by the pupils, includes previously unpublished material.