Back to Trail Four – Wigtown to Stranraer

Cairnryan Military Port

During World War 2, the country needed a ‘spare’ deep water port on the west coast in case the Clyde in Glasgow or the Mersey in Liverpool became unusable due to enemy action. Loch Ryan was ideal, and Number 2 Military Port was built on its northern shore at Cairnryan between 1941 and 1943.

There were three piers, the main ones being the North Deep and South Deep, and a total of 1.5 miles of quayside. There was also a railway network which connected to the main line at Stranraer. Thankfully, the port was never needed for its original purpose as the other ports remained open throughout the war. However Cairnryan was still an important site as one of the main points for American troop ships to dock.

Cairnryan Military Port


Image credit – Imperial War Museum collection

At the end of the war, the German U-boat fleet surrendered and was docked here and at Lishally in Ireland. The winter of 1945/1946 saw these feared submarines, which had sent so many ships to the bottom, towed out into deep water and sunk – this was called Operation Deadllight.

The mulberry harbours tested at Garlieston were partly built here, with four of the ‘whales’ built in 1943. These formed the bridge which rested on the ‘beetles’ to be seen on the shore at Garlieston.

The site remained a military port into the 1960’s, when two of the piers were dismantled. The third was used for shipbreaking, and several Royal Navy vessels fell to the scrap man’s torch here, including the Ark Royal.

Today, the remains of the third pier remain visible – it is very unsafe, so please don’t try to walk along it. The deep water port is now a very busy port with daily sailings to Ireland.


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