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Loch Long Torpedo Range

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Loch Long Torpedo Range c. 1920 Courtesy of Helensburgh Heritage
Loch Long Torpedo Range c. 1920

The Loch Long Torpedo Range operated on the loch from 1912 to 1986. The abandoned Admiralty buildings, pier, and slipway remained on the west shore of the loch, opposite the village of Arrochar, until 2007, when demolition of the site began, and it was also subject to destruction by fire.

Originally an Admiralty facility, the range became the Royal Naval Torpedo Testing Station and Range, later referred to as both the Loch Long Torpedo Range, and the Arrochar Torpedo Range.

Activity at the range reached a peak during World War II, with more than 12,000 torpedoes being fired down the loch in 1944.

Early history

Torpedoes had already been in use for some years before the Loch Long range was proposed, since at least 1866 in the self-propelled style now generally described by the term, and since around 1800 (and even much earlier) to describe any type of secret, or hidden explosive device.

The Argyllshire Standard and The Herald of August 1907 carried articles about plans to set up such a range, and concern of its monopolising the loch, prompting the local County Council to lodge an objection to the range, not assisted by the long summer recess enjoyed by Parliament. Concerns expressed included potential damage to passing vessels, disruption to local fishing, and tourist reluctance to visit such an area. An enquiry was to be held to allow dissenters to give voice to their opposition. The enquiry did not find in favour of the objectors, as the history of the range indicates that the contract was awarded to McAlpine, who began work in 1908, and the RNTR (Royal Navy Torpedo Range) was handed the range over to the Royal Navy in 1912.

In 1915, Augusto Alfredo Roggen was executed at the Tower of London, by men of the 3rd Battalion, Scots Guards, after having been found guilty of spying on the range during World War I.

Range operation

Loch Long Torpedo Testing Station, 2006
RN Torpedo Testing Station 2006
© Michael Mason

This 2006 picture was accompanied by the following text:

The former torpedo testing facility at the head of Loch Long. It was decommissioned in 1980 (sic) and, as of 2006, is lying empty. Torpedoes were fired up Loch Long from tubes in the two spaces in the photograph without the cross-bracing. A boat stood by to recover the (unarmed) torpedoes where they were returned for analysis. The shed to the right and the main part of the building have tracks where torpedoes were stored and worked on. Hoists on the first floor lowered the torpedoes into the tubes. The control room at the top looking straight down the loch housed a camera. Behind the control room, above the loading shed, is office accommodation. The rest of the facility included housing and workshops but these have been sold off. (Photograph taken from a boat).

Test firing was carried out from submarines, from torpedo tubes built beneath the pier of the test facility, or from a modified vessel, similar to a Clyde Puffer, equipped with two underwater torpedo tubes fitted beneath the bow. This vessel, believed to be the MV Sarepta, is said have been built in Germany and been taken from there either during, or after, World War II. When not in use, this vessel was moored off the Gamble Steps in Gourock, near the present day ferry terminal and pier.

A line of floating targets was moored in the loch, in line with the pier, forming a series of observation platforms. Torpedoes under test were intended to run under these targets, rather than strike them, to check that they were running straight and true. Testing is said to have included wire-guided torpedoes which spooled out a control wire as they ran, but locals tell of regular misses, and of test subjects occasionally leaving the water. It is clear that some test samples were lost or abandoned, as the rusting remains of a battery powered torpedo lay on the shore south of Ardgarten for many years.

Torpedoes under test were constructed without warheads, and designed to float to the surface on completion of their test run. Recovery is said to have been by an ex-RAF rescue craft, the Fulmar, which had a low freeboard (the distance from the waterline to the upper deck level, measured at the lowest point where water can enter) which made the operation easier. During the period 1945-1946, several launches designated TRV (Torpedo Recovery Vessel) were moored in the vicinity of the pier.

Testing ended after an explosion at another range, involving the same torpedo type then being evaluated at Loch Long, but was not the sole reason for the range's closure. The range, together with its surroundings, was best suited to straight-running, shallow depth torpedoes, and the increasing use of more advanced designs, capable of running deeper, and using wire guidance to home in on a target, meant it was no longer able to test the latest designs, and was closed.

The remains of three cottages can be found to the west of the road leading to main buildings, and are based on a wooden frame with metal cladding. Believed to date from the 1940s, these were probably used by staff employed at the station.

Torpedo testing was also carried out in the large water tank facilities of the Admiralty Research Laboratory, in nearby Glen Fruin.

The range was also used to set up or range torpedoes fired from vessels such as destroyers. One such vessel was HMS Zambesi, one of eight Z-Class destroyers constructed during World War II, and which which visited the range for this purpose in 1944, prior to joining the home fleet at Scapa Flow following completion of commissioning. Trials would have established the setting for the fins on her torpedoes to ensure they ran straight and true. Two quad tubes on the destroyer each carried four 21-inch torpedoes, and could be turned to be released the weapons from either side of the vessel. On the range, the warheads would be removed, and replaced by an orange coloured buoyancy head of identical size, after which the torpedoes could then be fired along the range, recovered, and adjustments made to trim their course.

RN Torpedo Testing Station, 2006
RN Torpedo Testing Station 2006
© Alistair Sinclair

Loch Long is also reported to have been used for trials utilising Shocking Ships, vessels used to assess the effects of underwater explosions, further reported to have been continued by the barges STV01 and STV02 of the Admiralty Naval Construction Research Establishment (NCRE) based at Rosyth Naval Dockyard.

The area has become a popular diving site, where divers can be seen throughout the year. The loch contains a number of interesting diving locations, including a number of test torpedoes, as not all returned to the surface as intended once their test run had completed.

Demolition and fire of June and July 2007

After the fire, 2007
After the fire 2007
© Steve Partridge

The demolition of the site was a chance discovery, as we passed in September 2007, and were a fortunate to obtain photographs of the remains before the site was cleared. The demolition work was found to have begun in June, but at 11:45 on Sunday, July 29, 2007, the range buildings were found to have caught fire, and three appliances from Arrochar, Garelochhead, and Lochgoilhead attended a call timed at 13:00. The blaze was brought under control by 15:30, and final damping down completed by 19:00, with the fire fighters clearing the site by 20:00. No indication was given as to the cause of the blaze.

A report from March 2008 states that the site has not yet been cleared, and large parts remain to be demolished.

A visit in 2011 showed that much of the pier building was still standing although demolition is continuing.

Resort development announced in 2013

In January 2013, the media carried a short news item which reported that the site of the torpedo testing station near Arrochar was to be transformed into a Ł70 million five-star resort, following approval by the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority of the developer's plans.[1]

210 construction jobs were promised, together with 300 jobs in the 130-bed hotel to be built there.

The plans also include a 250-berth marina on the loch, and a restaurant to be created by Sir Terence Conran.

Photographs

March 2007

The view from Arrochar, 2007, Fox
The view from Arrochar
Control Room, 2007, Fox
Control Room
Site buildings, 2007, Fox
Site buildings
Accommodation cottage, 2007, Fox
Accommodation cottage


September 2007

Demolition site. Note the small torpedo propeller within the gate, 2007, Fox
Demolition site. Note the small
torpedo propeller within the gate
Fire damaged Control Room awaiting final demolition, 2007, Fox
Fire damaged Control Room
awaiting final demolition


Refereences

1 Ben Arthur Resort Retrieved February 04, 2013.

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