Isle of Portland is a limestone tied island. 6 kilometres long and 2.4 Kilometres wide in the English Channel . Portland is 8 kilometres south of the resort of Weymouth form the southern most point of the county of Dorset. A barrier beach over which runs the a354 road connects to chesil beach and the mainland. The population is 12,400.
Portland is the central part of the Jurassic coast and a world heritage site Dorset and east Devon coast, important for its geology and land forms. Portland stone famous for its use in British and world architecture including St. Paul’s cathedral.
Sir Christopher Wren the architect and member of parliament for nearby Weymouth used 6 million tons of white Portland stone to rebuild parts of London after the great fire of London 1666. Well known St. Paul’s cathedral , Eastern front of Buckingham palace. After the First World War a quarry was opened by the crown estate to provide the cenotaph in Whitehall a and half a million gravestones forward cemeteries and after the Second World War hundreds of thousands of gravestones were hewn for soldiers who had fallen on the western front.
Portland harbour is between Portland and Weymouth and is one of the largest man made harbours in the world. The harbour was made by the building of stone breakwaters between 1848-1905. From its conception it was a royal naval base and played prominent roles during the first and Second World War . Ships of the Royal Navy and NATO countries worked up and exercised in its waters until 1995. The harbour is now a civilian port and a popular recreational area. And used for the 2012 Olympics.
At the start of the First World War, HMS Hood was sunk in the passage between the southern breakwaters to protect the harbour from torpedo and submarine attacks. During the Second World War Portland was the target of heavy bombing,although most war ships had moved north as Portland was within enemy striking range across the channel. Portland was a major embarkation point for allied forces on D Day in 1944.
Early helicopters were stationed at Portland. In 1946-1948 and in 1959 a shallow tidal flat The Mere , was in-filled and sports field taken to form a heliport . The station was formerly commissioned as HMS osprey, which then became the largest and busiest military helicopter station in Europe. The base was gradually improved with additional landing areas and one of England’s shortest runways , at 229 metres.
The naval base closed after the Cold War in 1995 and the Royal Navy station closed in 1999. Although the runway remains in use for Her majesty coastguard search and rescue flights as MRCC.