The Royal Navy at Rothesay

June 1940 saw the arrival of the submarine depot ship HMS Cyclops from Harwich and the 7th Submarine Flotilla previously based at Portland. This was primarily a training base with the operational submarines of the 3rd Flotilla based on the depot ship HMS Forth in the Holy Loch.

In September 1942 HMS Varbel was commissioned at Port Bannatyne (the Hydro) as the shore base for X craft midget submarines of the 12th Flotilla, a further base was established in Loch Striven as HMS Varbel II. Use was also made of the Bute Slip Dock yard at Ardmaleish Point.

HMS Bonaventure was completed as a depot ship for the X craft in January 1943, she moved temporarily to Loch Cairnbawn for the attack on the German battleship Tirpitz in August 1943 before taking the 14th Flotilla of X craft to the Far East in February 1945.

In December 1945 HMS Cyclops was replaced by HMS Forth from the Holy Loch with the 3rd Flotilla and in May 1947 HMS Montclare arrived. HMS Montclare remained until October 1954 when she in turn was replaced by HMS Adamant.

Amongst the post war submarines were Acheron, Aeneas, Alaric, Anchorite, Artful, Andrew, Auriga, Talent, Thule, Tireless, Token, Trespasser, Trump, Scotsman, Seneschal, Seraph and Subtle.

HMS Adamant moved with her submarines to Faslane on the Gareloch in October 1957 thus ending the permanent RN presence in Rothesay Bay.

As well as the depot ships several Admiralty Floating Docks (AFD) were at times based in Kames Bay - AFD 7 1941/43, AFD 20 1943/44, AFD 19 1956/1957, AFD 22 1947/56 - these were mainly used for docking submarines.

Kames Bay also saw a salvage exercise in 1964 when the submarine Scotsman was sunk then raised by the Admiralty lifting craft LC10 and LC11.

Post war, destroyers and frigates acting as target ships for submarines included HM Ships Offa, Onslow, Opportune, Onslaught, Orwell, Paladin, Termagant, Tenacious, Zambesi and Woodbridge Haven.

Support vessels were the diving vessel HMS Kingfisher, torpedo recovery vessel Dwarf and the water boat VWL3 which were based at Albert Pier.

Other visitors were the water boats Freshman and Crumbly; the fuel oil tankers Cedarol, Teakol, Black Ranger, Celery, Presto, Rowan and Eddyreef and the torpedo experimental vessels Sarepta and Whimbrel.

The Hydrogen Peroxide fuelled submarine HMS Explorer operated from the bay on her completion in 1956 with her tender Miner VIII and fuel carrier Spabeck.

Port Bannatyne also hosted the submarine attack teacher in a building on the opposite side of the bay to the village.

In 1947 HMS Mull of Kintyre was moored further out in the bay as the base ship for a series of explosion trials carried out in Loch Striven and lasting into 1950. These involved detonating charges close to the hull of a number of redundant cruisers, destroyers and submarines which then went to the breakers yard. The cruiser HMS Emerald had to be beached in Kames Bay and salvaged before being towed away.

Although the permanent naval presence ended in 1957 the mooring buoy in the bay still hosts frigates and submarines and the fuel depot constructed at the entrance to Loch Striven sees frequent visits from the large naval auxiliaries such as Fort George and Fort Victoria.

Brian Hargreaves January 2004,
a lifelong interest in the Royal Navy driven by holidays spent in my grandparents (Jenny and George Douglas) apartment in the Palace Building overlooking the pier and bay in the years from 1946 to 1957.

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