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HMS Varbel II

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Ardtarig - HMS Varbell II, 2009
Ardtarig - HMS Varbell II
© John Ferguson

HMS Varbel II was a shore facility established at Ardtaraig, at the northern end of Loch Striven, about eight miles (12 km) northwest of Dunoon, on the eastern shore of the loch, half a mile (1 km) from the head of the loch, and a similar distance southwest of Loch Tarsan.

According to a note recorded by RCAHMS, Ardtaraig had originally been a farmhouse, which was later extended by Greig, Fairbairn and MacNiven c.1910 to become an Edwardian shooting lodge.

Varbel II was a secondary base connected to HMS Varbel, a shore facility which had been commissioned at Port Bannatyne on the Isle of Bute in September 1942, which served as the shore base for the X-Craft, midget submarines of the 12th Flotilla.

Ardtarig boat house and slipway, 2009
Ardtarig boat house and slipway
© John Ferguson

A boat house and concrete slipway lie on the shore below the house. This may be a wartime artefact, as it appears to be much more substantial than a farmhouse or lodge would require for small boats. Such installed to assist with handling of boats and other craft at the time.

From reading various accounts written by those posted to Varbel II, it seems to have been a school of navigation, where the officers were trained in the skills needed to pilot a craft at sea.

A second pattern has also emerged from the accounts of WRENs posted to the facility, possibly arising from the secret nature of the X-Craft. Many of them appear to have subsequently been posted to Bletchley Park, which was the top secret code-breaking centre during World War II. They may have been posted there because they proved to be trustworthy, or possibly to ensure that once they left Varbell II, were kept inside an organisation where secrecy was enforced at the highest level.

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