Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment, Portland

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Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment
United Kingdom
Establishment overview
Formed 1959
Preceding Establishment
  • Admiralty Gunnery Establishment
Dissolved 1984
Superseding agency
Type Establishment
The entrance of the establishment, as seen in 2014.

The Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Southwell, known as AUWE(S), was an admiralty research establishment on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. It was built across Barrow Hill in Portland's southern-most village Southwell, in 1949-52, working alongside AUWE(N) establishment at East Weares, they remain infamous for espionage infiltration. The establishments closed in 1995, along with Portland's naval base, with Southwell's site becoming the Southwell Business Park in 1997.


The establishment as it remains today, now the Southwell Business Park.

To further research carried out at Portland for the Admiralty, a new Admiralty Gunnery Establishment was built at Portland, between 1949-52.[1][2][3]

In 1959 the AGE site became the Underwater Weapons Establishment, leading to the creation of the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment (AUWE) in 1960.[4] This amalgamation mean that all the research into underwater weapons was moved to Portland, including work with the highest security classification at the height of the Cold War.[5] Throughout its working life, the establishment worked alongside another in Portland dockyard, and both became responsible for the design, development and testing of underwater weapon and detection systems.[4]

In 1961 the two establishments were the centre of worldwide attention, after the discovery of espionage infiltration, this became infamously known as the Portland Spy Ring, a Soviet spy ring that operated in England from the late 1950s till 1961 when the core of the network were arrested by the British security services. It is one of the most famous examples of the use of illegal residents — spies who operate in a foreign country but without the cover of their embassy.

The establishment can be clearly seen on the skyline from various parts of Portland, particularly from the South West Coast Path which runs around the edge of the establishment.

In 1984 the AUWE became part of the Admiralty Research Agency (ARE) when all naval research came under the same direction and this in turn became part of the joint service Defence Research Agency (DRA) in 1991,[1] at the end of the Cold War, an announcement was made that both the navy base and the research establishments were to close in 1995. The buildings were left empty,[5] until the site was sold in 1997, and became the Southwell Business Park.[5]


  1. ^ a b "The Jurassic Coast - Underwater Research". Retrieved 2014-07-17. 
  2. ^ Legg, Rodney (1999). Portland Encyclopaedia. Dorset Publishing Company. p. 5. ISBN 978-0948699566. 
  3. ^ "Southwell Business Park". Retrieved 2014-07-17. 
  4. ^ a b "Admiralty and Ministry of Defence: Underwater Weapons Establishment, later Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment: Reports and Technical Notes". 
  5. ^ a b c "A Portland Success Story | Dorset Life - The Dorset Magazine". Dorset Life. Retrieved 2014-07-17. 

Coordinates: 50°32′37″N 2°27′14″W / 50.54356°N 2.45381°W / 50.54356; -2.45381