HMS Vernon Helensburgh
HMS Vernon was a Royal Navy shore establishment which became associated with Helensburgh during World War II following its dispersal around the country after its Portsmouth base became a target for German bombers.
The name of HMS Vernon bears a long and varied history dating back to 1781, when it was first associated with an armed ship, and this story is beyond our scope. Our interest in HMS Vernon lies with the torpedo school established in 1876, which remained in commission until April 1, 1996, and in particular the period in which part of its operation was dispersed to Helensburgh during World War II.
During World War I, the school had concentrated on torpedo trails and training, and been involved with the research and development of anti-submarine devices, and training in their use.
During World War II, HMS Vernon become responsible for mine disposal and mine countermeasures. Personnel from the school were responsible for rendering safe and recovering the first German magnetic mine (Type GA) at Shoeburyness on November 24, 1939, and were awarded the first Royal Naval decorations of the war. Portsmouth was a relatively easy target for the Luftwaffe, and suffered heavy air raids, one of which resulted in the destruction of the school's Dido Building and the loss of 100 lives, triggering the dispersal of HMS Vernon to various sites around the country including Brighton, Havant, Purbrook, West Leigh, Stokes Bay, Hove, Dartmouth/Brixham, Port Edgar, Edinburgh, and Helensburgh.
Sections of HMS Vernon dispersed to Helensburgh appear to have been established in two of the large houses which were once the property of wealthy owners.
Cairndhu House was requisitioned in September 1940, and handed back in 1947.
Ardencaple Castle was requisitioned during the war, but never returned. Instead, all but one square section tower of was demolished in 1957 to make way for naval housing being built for HMNB Clyde, the naval base as Faslane.
Further accounts of the move are unclear, and it seems that one of the houses was designated HMS Revlis. A motor launch of the same name was used in degaussing operations carried out in the Firth of Clyde.
According to one account, Vernon or Revlis was in control of all degaussing operations on the firth:
Ardencaple Castle and Cairndhu house were first taken over in September 1940 as an outstation of HMS Vernon (the Portsmouth base which was the home of mines and torpedo expertise) being the main de-gaussing establishment for the Clyde. It became an independent command on 22 June 1942 and assigned the name Revlis (which was the name of a motor yacht employed at Helensburgh). It remained in use until February 1947.
HMS Vernon is also reported to have operated from the former steamer pier at Innellan. This pier saw its busiest time during the boom period of the Victorian steamers which operated on the Clyde, being extended in 1901, but closed in 1972 due to lack of use and disrepair, and finally demolished during the 1990s.
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