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Royal Naval Torpedo Factories

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Two Royal Naval Torpedo Factories (RNTF) were established in Scotland. The first, c. 1910 at Greenock, and the second at Alexandria, in 1936, which was eventually to take over all manufacturing, after Greenock had become dedicated to research and development by 1947.

Greenock factory

Former torpedo factory building, FunWorld Leisure Ltd, 2007
Former torpedo factory building
FunWorld Leisure Ltd
© Thomas Nugent

At the beginning of the 20th century, British torpedo manufacturing was spread over a number of locations; the Royal Gun Factory (RGF) at Woolwich, and the factories of Robert Whitehead at Fiume (Austria), Weymouth Bay and Portland harbour, which had been established in the 1860s.[1]

Following a Government decision to centralise torpedo production, the Admiralty issued a compulsory purchase order in 1907, for part of the land between the Esplanade and Battery Park in Greenock, to be used for the construction of the Clyde Torpedo Factory, which was designed to be principal centre of torpedo manufacture in Britain. The factory was built on ground to the west of the old coastal battery at Fort Matilda, which had been levelled using material excavated during construction of the tunnel which emerges at Fort Matilda railway station. Offices for the new factory were located in the Navy Buildings, which were constructed on the site of the old battery. Royal Naval Torpedo Factory (RNTF) Greenock opened between 1910 and 1912, employing 700 workers who had been transferred from Woolwich. The precise opening date is unclear, as some records refer to 1910 as the year construction commenced, giving 1912 as the opening date. However, memories of those who were there at the time say there was an influx of Woolwichers to Greenock in Autumn 1910 so records establishing this as the opening date are certainly accurate.

Information available from the National Archives also lacks a precise date, with records relating to the Conditions of Transfer of Staff on the transfer of the torpedo factory to Greenock, and torpedo range to Loch Long, being dated between 1908 and 1911 [2].

Prior to World War I, Britain's main torpedo production was of the RGF Mk VII and the Whitehead Weymouth Mk I, both 18 inch weapons, as was the RNTF Mk VIII, a submarine launched weapon and the first type to be produced at Greenock from 1913.

Former torpedo factory building, Buchanan’s, Gibbs and Millions, sweet factory, 2007
Former torpedo factory building
Buchanan’s, Gibbs and Millions
sweet factory
© Thomas Nugent

The factory began by carrying out both the design and manufacture of torpedoes, which were tested in Loch Long, but during the World War II, concentrated only on manufacturing torpedoes.

To meet the increased demands of re-armament in 1936, the Admiralty increased output by taking over the unused Argyll factory in Alexandria for torpedo production. This allowed the Torpedo Experiment and Design Department to be formed at Greenock, which became a separate facility in 1943, the Torpedo Experimental Establishment (TEE) Greenock, controlled by the Superintendent, Torpedo Experiment and Design (STED). By 1947, all production had been moved to Alexandria, which took over as RNTF, and TEE expanded to cover all aspects of torpedo research, excluding launch gear. TEE was closed in 1959, when all torpedo research, development and design were concentrated at the newly formed Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment (AUWE), Portland.

During the 1960s, the Greenock factory took part in Project Chevaline, a top secret project intended to improve the survivability of Britain's Polaris missile against anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems. Completion of work on this final project in 1969 also marked the the closure of the Greenock factory, and the transfer of its remaining work to Weymouth.

Navy Buildings still exist, although not in the original 1910 building, and are now occupied by HMS Dalriada, a training centre for the Royal Navy Reserve (RNR), and are home to the local branch offices of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

During the 1980s, the central area was demolished to make way for residential development, while the western end was developed as Fort Matilda industrial estate, which still contains a number of original RNTF buildings.

In 2006, the remaining RNTF buildings were assigned listed building status by Historic Scotland.

Greenock suffered badly during the World War II, and its anchorage at the tail of the bank became a base for the Home Fleet as well as being one of the main assembly points for Atlantic convoys. On April 30, 1940, the French Vauquelin class destroyer Maillé Brézé blew up off Greenock, with heavy loss of life following an accident involving her own torpedoes. 25 of her crew were killed, and sabotage was suspected at the time.

While the factory was being built, Greenock Corporation was given the task of providing housing for the incoming workers. Someone who had visited the north of England made a comment to the effect that the English did not live in tenements, so two roads of red brick terraced houses were constructed, later replaced in the 1960s. The original houses did not meet the aspirations of the incoming southerners, so the Reservoir, Rodney and Grenville Road areas of Gourock were developed with a mix of houses more to their tastes.

Alexandria factory

In 1936, the Admiralty needed additional production in order to meet the country's re-armament programme, and took over the unused Argyll Factory in Alexandria. This was soon followed by the need to expand existing output from RNTF Greenock, to meet the growing demand of World War II. By 1943, this requirement had increased to such an extent that all manufacture was moved from Greenock to Alexandria, which then become the sole RNTF, leaving Greenock to be used as an experimentation and design establishment. The move was completed in 1947, and the new RNTF continued to produce torpedoes until the 1950s.

National Archive summary

The following summary provides some additional information to the above notes:

The earliest work on torpedoes took place towards the end of the 19th century at the Royal Gun Factory, Woolwich. By the mid-1930's design and some production were established at the RN Torpedo Factory (RNTF), Greenock, while other production to Admiralty designs was carried out commercially, notably by the Whitehead Torpedo Company at Weymouth.

In 1937, as re-armament proceeded, a factory was purchased at Alexandria, Dunbartonshire, to expand production. For the early part of the War of 1939-1945 the organisation coped with requirements, but in 1943 the urgent need to expand development led to the creation of a separate entity, the Torpedo Experimental Establishment (TEE), at Greenock on part of the factory site. This was controlled by the Superintendent, Torpedo Experiment and Design (STED). By degrees production was moved to the Alexandria factory which then became RNTF, a process completed by 1947, thus allowing TEE to expand considerably, so that it eventually covered all aspects of torpedo technology, except launching gear. In 1959, however, TEE closed and torpedo research, development and design were concentrated at the newly formed Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment (AUWE) at Portland. AUWE became the Admiralty Research Establishment (ARE), Portland, in 1984.


1 The Heritage Coast: Deadly Weapons Retrieved March 30, 2010.

2 Conditions of Transfer, National Archives

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