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HMNB Clyde

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HMNB Clyde, Faslane, 2003
HMNB Clyde, Faslane
© paul birrel

HMNB Clyde, Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde, is located at Faslane on the upper east shore of the Gare Loch and provides the service and support facilities for Britain's Trident missile programme.

The base maintains the he Vanguard Class SSBN (Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear) submarine which provides the United Kingdom's strategic nuclear deterrent. The first Vanguard class submarine, HMS Vanguard, was launched in 1993 carrying Trident II D5 missiles, followed by Vengeance, Victorious, and Vigilant in 1998, which completed the fleet of four.

Royal Naval Armament Depot (RNAD) Coulport RNAD Coulport provides the weapons storage facility for HMNB Clyde, where the nuclear weapons are removed and stored from the submarines prior to their maintenance works, and refitted afterwards, on completion of the work. As a result, Faslane and Coulport are amongst the most protected sites in the country.

HMS Neptune is a shore facility based at Faslane, and deals with all aspects of accommodation, food, stores and similar.

The base took possession of the former Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) depot at Rhu, which serves as a press and visitor reception centre.

HMS Resolution at Faslane, 1978
HMS Resolution at Faslane in 1978
© Dr Neil Clifton

The Royal Navy has been involved with Faslane and the Gare Loch since World War I, when the steam-driven submarine K.13 was lost off Rhu in January 1917. The Faslane site was acquired by the Ministry of War and Transport in 1940, providing an alternative to the heavily bombed Greenock and Port Glasgow facilities on the Clyde. The base was also said to have been constructed in tandem with Cairnryan to the south west, as reserve capacity in the event that enemy action closed or destroyed ports such as Liverpool to the south east. During World War II the naval presence in the area intensified, with submarines operating from floating depot ships based at the Holy Loch, Rothesay, and Campbeltown.

HMS Neptune

The designation of HMS Neptune has changed over the years, and this has led to considerable debate over its significance and relation to HMNB Clyde.

In order to try and resolve this issue - which has attracted a number of opinions from sources with varying degrees of authority, SeSco contacted the Royal Naval Museum in the hope that a definitive answer could be obtained as of 2009. The follow reply was received:

According to sources in our collections here HMS Neptune was the original name of Faslane Naval Base. All of it.

Back in history a bit (1937) was a Submarine depot ship called HMS Maidstone during World War II. She usually supplied and maintained between 3-7 submarines and was moved as need dictated, Mediterranean, Freetown, Scapa Flow, Gibraltar ending up in Hong Kong at the end of war with the Pacific Campaign. After the war she was moved to the Home Fleet and underwent a refit in between 1958 - 1962 before sent to Faslane to relieve the depot ship HMS Adamant which had been stationed there.

HMS Neptune was established as an independent command in June 1966. In December 1967 the duties that HMS Maidstone performed (supply and accommodation) moved ashore and came under the remit of HMS Neptune. This is the origin of the involvement with the Royal Naval Supply and Transport Service which you mention in your email. The ship, HMS Maidstone then went to Rosyth, then Belfast as an accommodation and prison ship before being sold in 1978.

HMS Neptune functioned as the base of 3rd Submarine Flotilla from 1967 onward to be joined by the 10th Submarine Flotilla 1967-1993 (Polaris) and for submariner training 1974 - 1993. The 1st Submarine Flotilla was attached there in January 1994.

When the Rosyth Naval Base closed in 1994 the remaining naval facilities and the senior staff (Flag officers) moved to HMS Neptune which became Naval Base Faslane April 1995, the new name to encompass the floating navy and the submariner aspects. It has been renamed since to HMNB Clyde. I quote the current MOD website

"Responsibility for the day-to-day management of the functions of HM Naval Base Clyde is vested in Naval Base Commander Clyde (NBC) /Deputy FOSNNI (Flag Officer Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland), who is also Commodore HMS Neptune and Authorisee of the Nuclear Site"

From this it appears that HMS Neptune still exists as part of HMNB Clyde, and it sounds very much like it is now the barracks/accomodation (sic) and personnel functions according to this article.[1]

I hope that this information is of assistance to you.

The Last Resort letters

Amongst the nuclear nation, Britain is unique in operating a system which allows the prime minister to communicate their decision regarding retaliation in the event of their death in a nuclear attack - the Letter of Last Resort. The system has been in place since the days when Edward Heath was prime minister, and the Polaris missile was at sea.

Beginning with Edward Heath, every prime minister has received two briefings at the start of their tenure. The first is delivered by the chief of the defence staff, and describes in detail what the missile system can do. The second is from the cabinet secretary, and deals with the choices to be made in the event of their death. Following these briefings, the prime minster then writes four signed documents in longhand, one for a safe in each submarine, containing their sealed decision in the event that the country is a nuclear wasteland, and they are dead.

At the end of the premiership the letters are destroyed unopened by the cabinet office, so their precise contents are unknown, but they are believed to contain about four options:

  • Retaliate
  • Don't retaliate
  • Submarine commander to use his own judgement
  • Place yourself under US or Australian command if possible


Submarine K.13 (or K-13) was laid down in October, 1915, at Fairfield's yard in Govan, and carried a crew of five officers and 53 ratings.

On her final acceptance dive on January 29, 1917, the crew reported flooding of the boiler compartment and, despite blowing main ballast, the vessel sank in 50 feet of water with the loss of 31 men. Additional crew had been carried on board for the trials, and 49 personnel were released two days later, when divers cut into the area forward of the boiler room, where they had managed to survive. The submarine was subsequently recovered on March 15, and divers later reported finding the boiler room ventilators to be open, and the engine room hatch insecure.

Fairfield's repaired the damaged submarine, which was recommissioned as K.22, but the yard did not build any more submarines after the completion of K.14.

Following the K.13 incident, no submarines has subsequently carried the number 13.

2017 New account of incident

On 1 February 2017, the Helensburgh Advertiser published the first part of a two part account of the tragedy, describing it as "a fascinating new account has been found by Rhu man Alan Dundas", from a copy of Lithgow Group magazine of Winter 1952. [2]

The first part ended with a line indicating "To be continued next week", but this had not appeared after more than two weeks.

Centenary ceremony remembers 32 dead in 2017

On 29 January 2017, a memorial ceremony was held at Faslane to mark the centenary of the tragedy in which 32 men had died.

It was noted that this incident led to one of the first successful submarine rescues when a further 48 were saved.[3]

2017 Announcement that all RN submarines will be based at HMNB Clyde

In February 2017, then Defence Secretary Sit Michael Fallon made a number of announcement about the base.

Approval for the building of a new £3.6 million submarine school which will provide academic and technical training for all RN personnel entering the submarine service from 2022. The school will support the current Astute hunter killer submarines, as well as training for the new Dreadnought nuclear deterrent boats, which provide the UK with a continuous nuclear deterrent from the early 2030s. Work to begin later the same year, as soon as the final design is approved.

Basing of all eleven RN submarines there from 2020, part of a £1.3 billion investment to make the Clyde Britainís submarine hub.

The changes meant numbers at the base were expected to rise by 1,400 from 6,800 to 8,200 as additional jobs are created.[4][5]


The Gare Loch, 1989, Fox
The Gare Loch 1989
Faslane under construction, Jan 1989, Fox
Faslane under construction, Jan 1989
Faslane under construction, Jan 1989, Fox
Faslane under construction, Jan 1989


1 Regeneration of Navy base's accommodation moves forward

2 Eye on Millig - New K.13 tragedy account found. Part one of two (From Helensburgh Advertiser) Retrieved 16 February 2017.

3 Ceremony remembers 32 deaths in WW1 Faslane sub sinking - BBC News Retrieved 29 January 2017.

4 Clyde to house entire UK fleet of submarines (From HeraldScotland) Retrieved 16 February 2017.

5 Approval for Faslane submarine training school - The Scotsman Retrieved 16 February 2017.

  • Shipping Wonders of the World No 21, 30 June, 1936. K.13 article.

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