Winter 1942. A platoon of RAF personnel prepare for a long night in a brick and concrete bunker by the side of Percy Rigg on Great Ayton Moor. During the day they have been maintaining an extensive system of ditches and tanks on the moor below filling them with oily rags and fuel. Covering an area of about four acres, when lit they would resemble a burning town that would hopefully attract the attention of German bombers.
The industries of Teesside were a target for German bombing raids as were other towns and cities throughout the country. In August Middlesbrough Railway station had been hit. With the increased use of incendiary bombs a network of decoy sites was established around each town. They were called Special Fires, or ‘SF’, later to become Operation Starfish. When the first bombs were dropped on area the decoys were electrically ignited to trick subsequent bomber waves into dropping their load on the unpopulated moors. The recipe was quite sophisticated. As well as simple oily rags, diesel and paraffin were released onto coke or coal followed by water. This caused a virtual explosion of fire and steam, looking like a burning town. Other sites within the Teesside Starfish were at Osmotherley, Errington, Sneaton and Newton Bewley.
Once alight the men on Great Ayton Moor, would retire to the bunker and hope that if the German planes were indeed tricked into dropping their bombs their aim was good. The fires a mere few hundred yards away. I don’t suppose the bunker would take a direct hit. Nationwide it is said the decoy sites saved 2,500 lives although there is no evidence of any bombs actually being dropped on Great Ayton Moor. But if you do come across a tubular shaped metal object take care, it could be an unexploded bomb.