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HMS Fortitude

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During World War II, Ardrossan harbour was taken over by the Admiralty, and named HMS Fortitiude. The facilities offered by the deep water harbour meant it was a significant location in terms of shipbuilding, oil refining, and railway engineering. Passenger services were suspended for the duration, but some ferries still continued to sail from nearby Fairlie.

Accounts of the time indicate that there were some 700 men employed at the harbour, with 25 new ships built, including minesweepers and boom defence vessels. A large number of vessels were repaired or refitted at the facility, said to include 49 submarines, 31 destroyers, 10 frigates, and 8 corvettes, plus another 359 Admiralty vessels and 288 Merchant ships.

Despite the potential target value of HMS Fortitude, the Shell-Mex refinery adjacent to the harbour, nearby Montfode Fuel Depot, and even the Nobel explosives factory along the coast at Ardeer, other than a single, ineffective, raid on the latter, there were never any air raids on the harbour or town.

It was however to witness a major sea disaster, on March 27, 1943, when an explosion on board the aircraft carrier HMS Dasher resulted in her immediate sinking in the waters between Ardrossan and Brodick, with the loss of 329 lives, from a crew of 528.

The shipyards returned to civilian operation after the war, however demand for their services was in decline, and although they survived into the 1980s, by the 1990s many of the the former docks had been infilled, and the land built on.

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