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HMS Spartiate

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HMS Spartiate was a World War II Royal Navy shore establishment based in the St Enoch Hotel, Glasgow. The hotel was located on the eastern side of St Enoch Square and formed the grand frontage of the St Enoch railway station. Both were demolished in 1986, to make way for the St Enoch shopping centre which opened in 1989.

History of the Spartiate name

A Spartiate was a male of Sparta with full citizenship, and the Spartiates were the elite warrior class of the rigidly hierarchical Spartan society. Use of the name by the Royal Navy dates back to the capture of a French vessel, originally Sparti, a 74 gun third rate ship of the line captured from the French at the Battle of the Nile (1798), which then fought at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) for the British. Captured ships were invariably pressed into service by their captors, and since sailors were generally superstitious, the name was retained. Naval tradition dictated that once a ship had been captured so too was the name, which would then be reused on new ships or shore establishments.

World War II

HMS Spartiate appears to have been responsible for security and safety on the River Clyde. While the headquarters was based in Glasgow, the patrols were based along the river, and this may account for reports which place HMS Spartiate at locations other than Glasgow, including Helensburgh.[1]

The River Clyde was of great importance during the war. Unlike the Thames and the south coast of England, it was at the extreme range of German bombers flying from Europe and suffered fewer attacks. HMS Spartiate, based at the St Enoch Hotel, was responsible for safety and security on the river from Port Glasgow, along the dredged channel, to the limit of navigation in Glasgow. The King George the Fifth Dock to the south of Govan was particularly important as a major terminal for military supplies.

The biggest danger to the Glasgow docks and shipyards was not bombing, but the danger of a ship or ships being sunk in the narrow dredged channel of the Clyde, and blocking it. The most likely cause of which would be a mine. To counter this threat, a string of mine watching posts, not more than a couple of hundred yards apart, were built all along the banks.

The Clyde River Patrol

Boats from the Clyde River Patrol, based at Renfrew Harbour, Bowling Harbour, Helensburgh, and Port Glasgow East Quay wet dock maintained a constant patrol in their sectors. They also acted as a fire watch on the river. The crews were generally drawn from local yachtsmen, with many operating as volunteers.

A large number of motorboats and motor yachts were commandeered or requisitioned to form the Clyde Small Boat Pool, and it was from this pool that larger and sturdier boats were selected for the Clyde River Patrol. Several motor yachts built by James A Silver of Rosneath [2] were used for this purpose. Being solidly constructed of hard woods they would take modifications such the addition of a heavy machine gun for anti-aircraft purposes.

There are no specific details regarding dates or locations, but a number of references have been noted in wartime reminiscences stating that the base was initially named HMS Orlando, and only became HMS Spartiate at some later stage of the war.[3][4]

Counter espionage operations

The Royal Navy requisitioned most of the St Enoch Hotel, and room 504 became the hub of the Clyde intelligence system. It was emptied and refurnished as an office, including a safe and camp bed, and its most important asset, a scrambler telephone with a direct line to the Admiralty in London.

The room was occupied by Lieutenant-Commander Edward Seagar, Staff Officer Intelligence. Seager was a dedicated man who spoke seven languages, and spent most of his time in the room for five years. He gathered scraps of information from all over the world from survivors; stories, interrogation of captured U-Boat crews, and similar sources. Most of the local undercover work was carried out by three waterfront business men, and it was from them that he heard of a Portuguese (neutral) seaman who had visited his family in Holland. This lead to the raid on the Philips Radio factory at Eindhoven, which totally wiped out production of radios for German tanks

HMS Spartiate II and HMS Tullichewan

The Spartiate name was used to identify a second facility. HMS Spartiate II was a training base for WRNS from 1942 to 1944, located at Tullichewan Castle Camp, Balloch, Loch Lomond.

An interesting observation has arisen from reading a number of wartime reminiscences, it seems that many WRENs from Tullichewan appear to have gone to Bletchley Park, the wartime decoding centre known as Station X.

Having completed its service as a training facility, the base was renamed HMS Tullichewan and was used as a holding base for Combined Operations personnel. Commissioned March 10, 1945 and paid off June 10, 1946.


1 At a Wren's Degaussing Station Retrieved May 06, 2011.

2 Silver Motor Yacht Association, War Service Records.

3 Online enquiry about HMS Spartiate, HMS Orlando

4 At a Wren's Degaussing Station Retrieved May 06, 2011.

  • A River Runs to War. John D Drummond. 1960.

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