Gibraltar Operation Tracer – Stay Behind Cave

Jim Crone, Dr Bruce Cooper and Pete Jackson

November 2006

Click here for general information about Operation Tracer

Click here for details of Stay Behind Cave discovered in 1996

Click here for a detailed account of the November 2006 meeting with Dr Cooper

The photographs below were taken during Dr Coopers return to Gibraltar in October 2008. Please read the press release opposite.

Dr Cooper with Martin Nuza and Jim Crone

Dr Cooper with Martin Nuza at the entrance of Stay Behind Cave

Dr Cooper and daughter Ann meeting Commander British Forces Gibraltar, Commodore Matt Parr

Dr Cooper aboard Gibraltar Squadron patrol boat

Dr Cooper recognises himself in archive WW2 photograph

Dr Cooper appears at the extreme right of the photograph dressed in white surgical gown

We would like to hear from anyone who may have further information about Operation Tracer, the people involved or construction workers who helped build the secret rooms.

Gibraltar’s infamous Stay Behind Cave or Operation Tracer to give it its proper name was one of the best kept secrets of WW2. In the event of Gibraltar being captured by German forces, six men would have been sealed into a secret chamber in which they would have been expected to survive and observe the activities of the Germans for a period of one year or more.

In December 1996 Stay Behind Cave was discovered in Gibraltar but unfortunately there was no information or accounts of anyone associated with construction or indeed the mission. These individuals remained as elusive as the chamber itself. However in November 2006 Jim Crone from discovergibraltar.com and Sergeant Major Pete Jackson MBE, senior tunnel guide with the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, had the immense privilege of meeting possibly the only member of Operation Tracer still alive. Jim and Pete travelled to meet Dr. W. A. Bruce Cooper at his home in England.

Dr Cooper (92 years) provided a fabulous opportunity to shed light on Tracer with his direct involvement in the mission as a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). Despite fading memories, both Pete, Jim and others present at the meeting listened while Dr Cooper recalled stories about his colleagues, his training, and his feelings about such an incredible task. His exceptional career in the RNVR was discussed including his voluntary service on board hospital ship SS Uganda during the Falklands War at the age of 67.

Dr Coopers description of Stay Behind Cave was in some ways different to the actual layout of the chambers, however he did admit to having difficulty in remembering the fine detail of his experiences over 60 years ago.

It became apparent that arrangements should be made to bring Dr Cooper to Gibraltar, this happened on the 15th October 2008, details of the visit can be read in the press release further down this page.

Rumours about a secret chamber in Gibraltar have persisted since the war and many people devoted considerable amounts of their time to exploring Gibraltar’s existing tunnels, caves and sheer cliffs in the hope of finding it. On the 26th December 1996 the Gibraltar Caving Group discovered a sophisticated secret complex hidden close to Lord Airey’s Battery at the top of the southern end of the Rock. The discovery happened when the group encountered a strong gust of wind in a tunnel. Further searching led them to carefully break through a wall into chambers which had never been used and had remained sealed for over fifty years. The rooms were without doubt intended for use in Operation Tracer, and became affectionately known as Stay Behind Cave. In September 1998, a Mr Dennis Woods returned to Gibraltar for the first time in over fifty years and made himself known as having been involved in the construction of this facility (known in his day as Braithwaite’s Cave on account of the Commanding Officer’s name). Confirmation was thus given as to the authenticity of this unique site. During Mr Dennis Woods 1998 visit he is reputed to have said “there where two other teams working in Gibraltar but this one was the main one”. This stirred up interest in the possibility a second secret chamber was yet to be discovered.

Mr Dennis Woods 1998

There is a sketch of another chamber in our research files, it originated from an MI6 source. Further information has come from a former GCHQ telegraphist which suggests that tandem Operation Tracer units operated during the Suez crisis, so this may also have been the case in Gibraltar.

PRESS RELEASE – October 2008

Veteran returns to “Stay Behind Cave” after 66 years.

Dr Bruce Cooper, 94 years old, Surgeon Lieutenant (Retired) Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, returned to Gibraltar on the 15th October 2008 and was able to confirm that Gibraltar’s infamous “Stay Behind Cave” was indeed the secret chamber from which he and five other men would have spied on Germans if Gibraltar had been captured during the second world war. Dr Cooper is the only living member of the top secret operation code named Tracer.

The visit to Gibraltar was organised by documentary film Producer Martin Nuza (Gold Productions Studios) with the assistance of Jim Crone (discovergibraltar.com) as part of Mr Nuza’s latest film project specifically about Operation Tracer. This follows on from Mr Nuza’s successful documentary about Hitler’s plan to capture Gibraltar named “Operation Felix” which was filmed earlier this year.

The Rock Hotel became home once again for Dr Cooper as it had been sixty six years before in 1942 when he first arrived during the second world war. This brought back many memories which helped the intensive interview sessions in which Dr Cooper explained to the cameras of Gold Productions Studios his memories of this top secret operation.

The MOD in Gibraltar greeted Dr Cooper and his family with open arms by organising a number of events which included a trip on board a Gibraltar Squadron patrol boat, a visit to his old surgery at the Naval dockyard plus a personal interview with Commodore Matt Parr Commander British Forces Gibraltar.

During a particular tour of the second world war tunnels hosted by Mr Richard Desoiza, Dr Cooper surprised everyone when he recognised himself in one of the archive military photographs on display at the entrance to the tunnel system. Another highlight of the visit was Dr Coopers attendance as a special guest at the annual Battle of Trafalgar ceremony at Trafalgar Cemetery. After the service he said “I feel very overwhelmed and I wish to thank everybody who have been so kind to me”.

The main event of the week was a visit to “Stay Behind Cave” which was a hidden chamber constructed for Operation Tracer back in 1941. The plan was for six men to be sealed into the secret chamber if Gibraltar was captured by the Germans. There would be no way out and anyone who died within the chamber would have to be embalmed and cemented into the walls. The volunteers comprising two doctors, three signalmen and an executive officer, would spy on the Germans from two vantage points, one looking due east over the Mediterranean and the other over the harbour. They were expected to send radio messages about German activity back to GCHQ. Many complex considerations where made during the construction and planning of the mission, these included enough provisions to keep them alive for one year and a pedal bicycle which would have been used to charge the batteries via a dynamo and adequate water and waste disposal.

Dr Cooper and his family were escorted to the site by a team lead by the Director of the Gibraltar Museum as well as Sergeant Major Pete Jackson the senior tunnel guide with the Royal Gibraltar Regiment. The group travelled through a number of chambers and small tunnels to reach the entrance of “Stay Behind Cave”. Dr. Cooper was placed in a wheelchair for his own comfort and safety as the journey had to be made by torch light. Martin Nuza filmed the event and captured the moment when Dr. Cooper stood up from the wheelchair and peered into the entrance of “Stay Behind Cave” saying “Yes, I remember this, yes indeed!”. Consideration was then given to whether or not Dr. Cooper could or should proceed into the main chamber but given his age and mobility it was decided not to proceed through the tight entrance, however his family were able to enter and were given a detailed tour by Pete Jackson and Darren Fa from the Gibraltar Museum. Dr. Coopers family were amazed by what they saw and moved by the fact that their father had been part of it all.

Dr. Coopers identification of the entrance to “Stay Behind Cave” has been greeted with great relief by local historians, and rumours which have existed for many years that an alternative secret chamber exists can now be disregarded until more substantial evidence comes along.

“I am very excited about having met Dr Cooper personally during the course of the week long visit and heard about operation Tracer from his own lips, a man who felt he would have been shot if the Germans had discovered them spying. The same man who sat next to German officers for coffee in the nearby Spanish towns of La Linea and San Roque during the war, and who saw action as early as 1939 on board the destroyer HMS Versatile. A true hero of which we should all be grateful for the sacrifice he was prepared to undertake if Operation Felix had gone ahead as planned.” Explained Mr. Nuza.

When Mr. Nuza organised Dr Cooper’s visit to Gibraltar with the assistance of Jim Crone of discovergibraltar.com, they hoped that Dr Cooper’s memory would still be okay taking into consideration his 93 years of age, but they soon realised during the course of the interviews that the age was no problem and Dr Cooper soon revealed many very interesting pieces of information about himself, the second world war, operation Tracer and also the Falklands campaign in which he was also a medical officer on board the hospital ship SS Uganda. Dr Cooper was able to dispel some myths and rumours surrounding Operation Tracer and Mr Nuza will reveal these in the forthcoming documentary.

More information will be posted on this website when the documentary is complete.

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