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21 September  
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1955: Britain claims Rockall
Britain has annexed a rocky islet 300 miles (483km) west of Scotland to stop the Soviets spying on missile tests, the Admiralty has announced.

The UK formally claimed uninhabited Rockall, which is just 70ft (21m) high, on 18 September at 1016 GMT.

Two Royal Marines and a civilian naturalist, led by Royal Navy officer Lieutenant Commander Desmond Scott, raised a Union flag on the island and cemented a plaque into the rock.

The islet is within reach of the planned guided missile range in the Hebrides and the British government feared foreign spies could use it as an observation post.

Difficult landing

Queen Elizabeth authorised the annexation on 14 September.

Her orders stated: "On arrival at Rockall you will effect a landing and hoist the Union flag on whatever spot appears most suitable or practicable and you will then take possession of the island on our behalf."

Survey ship HMS Vidal reached the rock on 15 September equipped with a helicopter for ferrying the men to the island, but high winds prevented them from landing for three days.

Lieutenant Commander Scott told the BBC the whole operation had gone without a hitch, but said the large helicopter had made the pilot's job difficult.

"The landing space on our flight deck is only 33 ft [10m] square and the rotor blades of the helicopter sweep an arc of 49 ft [15m] so he has to be very, very careful," he said.

"Despite all this there were no snags. The one landing he made he bounced and stuck - much to our relief."

The first person to set foot on Rockall since the British Navy landed in 1862 was Royal Marine Sergeant Brian Peel, an experienced rock climber.

Sergeant Peel climbed down to the waterline to collect seaweed and other specimens for naturalist James Fischer. The marine said the descent had been straightforward, but admitted he had misjudged the heavy Atlantic swell.

"I did not get up the rock in time and a wave went right over the top of me," he said.

"I had to grab a handful of seaweed, ram it in my mouth and get up the rock as fast as possible."

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The four men on Rockall
The four men raised a Union flag after landing on Rockall


In Context
The earliest recorded landing on Rockall was in 1810, by an officer called Basil Hall from the HMS Endymion.

Its exact position was first charted by Royal Navy surveyor Captain ATE Vidal in 1831.

In 1972 the Isle of Rockall Act was passed, which made the rock officially part of Inverness-shire, Scotland.

But the rights to any resources discovered on the ocean floor surrounding the island is disputed between Britain, Ireland, Denmark and Iceland.

Rockall is probably most famous for being an area in the BBC Radio Four's shipping forecast.

Stories From 21 Sep


 
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