Barriers built by Italian prisoners of war to protect British ships from German U-boats will bring fibre-optic cables to remote parts of the Scottish islands.

Some of the most famous ship defences from the second world war are finding new life as conduits to connect some of Scotland’s remotest islands to 21st-century communications technology under the Digital Scotland broadband programme.

The Churchill Barriers were built by Italian prisoners of war and have since been used to underpin the A961 road that connects several of the Orkney Isles off Scotland’s northeast coast in the North Sea. Now, as part of a £146m investment backed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), they will also house BT’s main network cable that will connect the isles to superfast broadband.

Churchill Barrier

Photo by Bill C/Wikipedia Commons

The barrier causeways were built after the German U-boat submarine U-47 navigated a narrow underwater channel known as the Scapa Flow to perpetrate a surprise torpedo attack on the Brittish battleship HMS Royal Oak, killing more than 800 in the early morning hours of 14 October 1939. The barriers took until the end of the war to complete and have remained in place ever since.

The dig along the causeways will bring fiber-optic broadband first to the village of Burray, with St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay island expected to come online before Christmas 2015.

The HIE said that more than 4,700 homes and businesses on Mainland are already able to access the service, and the use of the Churchill Barriers will extend this by more than 500 properties.

The cable has thus far been run from Kirkwall to Holm, Burray and St Margaret’s Hope. The initiative will lay a further 28 km of undersea cable across the Bay of Tuquoy to Westray.

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