Loch Striven is a sea loch which lies west of the the Firth of Clyde, north of the Isle of Bute, and east of the Cowal peninsula. The loch has good sea access and has been used as a sheltered anchorage where surplus vessels can be safely laid up.
The loch has also been used for training and testing in times of conflict. During World War II, the loch was used for the training of the X-Craft midget submarine crews - the loch was similar to the fjord in which the German battleship Tirpitz was moored. It was also used for tests of Highball, a smaller version of the Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb, Upkeep, used to destroy the Ruhr dams in 1943.
Loch Striven ferry
Loch Striven is also the name of a small ferry operated by Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac).
MV Loch Striven is one of a series of small ferries which can carry about 200 passengers and 12 car at 9 knots. At the time of writing (2011), the ferry operates on the Sconser - Raasay route, between the islands of Raasay and Skye. The vessel can operate on other routes and serve as a relief ferry when their dedicated vessels are undergoing maintenance or repair, and often carries out this service on the Colintraive - Rhubodach route.
Loch Striven POL depot
A Scottish NATO POL depot (SNPD) is sited on the south east shore of the loch, and was formerly known simply as a POL (Petroleum, Oil and Lubricant) depot. The depot and its jetty lie just north of the site of the abandoned Ardyne Point Yard. The depot's storage tanks are built into the hillside above, having been landscaped to minimise their visual impact on the surrounding area. In 2010 an area to the south of the POL which was once occupied by 4 Dorran (sectional precast concrete) staff bungalows was cleared and laid out as the POL Emergency Rendezvous Point which includes a helicopter landing area.
The Dangerous Substances in Harbour Areas Regulations (1987) limits the amount of munitions which may be stored on board a vessel while the jetty is in use. In 1999, this limit was increased to 110,000 kilogrammes.
Loch Striven Z-Berth
The depot has a number of mooring points adjacent to the jetty, and the site is designated as a Z-Berth, where nuclear vessels are permitted to moor.
An obstruction reported in Loch Striven has been identified as a boom defence net. "9 September 1952. The boom defence net is marked by dan buoy to aid removal", Hydrographic Office, 1995.
HMS Templar was a T-Class submarine built by Vickers Armstrong of Barrow-in-Furness. Laid down on December 21, 1941, launched on October 26, 1942 and commissioned February 15, 1942. HMS Templar saw service in the far east, carrying out torpedo attacks on Japanese vessels and laying mines in the Strait of Malacca.
In 1954, the submarine was towed to Loch Striven, and sunk in the loch for use as a target. Salvaged on December 4, 1958, the submarine finally arrived at Troon on July 19, 1959, to be scrapped.
Bouncing Bomb Tests
Barnes Wallis, an engineer with Vickers Armstrong, came up with the idea of a bouncing bomb that would skip across the water like a skimming stone and then sink alongside the target before exploding at a set depth. The initial design, known as Upkeep, was intended for attacking dams in Germany and was successfully deployed in the famous Dambusters raid, later made into a successful film of the same name.
The system also had possibilities against battleships such as the Tirpitz, which was then holed up in a Norwegian fiord. Battleships were encased in a considerable thickness of armour plating, and when moored were surrounded by anti-torpedo nets. However, the plating thickness at the bottom of the hull was much thinner, and therefore much more vulnerable. Attacking aircraft could drop bouncing bombs further from the target, and could then turn away more easily. A smaller, lighter bomb capable of being carried by a smaller, lighter and faster aircraft was required, and it was the testing of these Highball bombs that was mostly carried out in Loch Striven in Argyllshire. There would be carried by Mosquito fighter bombers of 618 Squadron based at RAF Turnberry in Ayrshire.
The Highball bomb was around 3 feet (915 mm) in diameter, weighing 1,200 lbs (600 kg) and described as spherical, although it had flattened sides. The bombs used in the tests contained no explosives and are generally described as being made of steel filled with concrete. However, we have received so far unconfirmed information that some were made of wood, or filled with wood, sawdust and glue by CE Morris Furniture of Glasgow. Prior to launch the bombs were spun up by the opening of an air duct under the aircraft, after which they had to be dropped at a set speed, altitude, and precise distance from the target. Once the design of the bombs had been perfected the rest of the flights were used for crew training, as the precision required to get the bombs to sink beside the target, but not hit it, was immense. If a bomb did hit the target it usually became dented, and this could affect the underwater dynamics, and it would not explode under the ship. Highballs were often referred to as Naval Stores which is assumed to be naval slang but could have been a code name.
The old French World War I battleship Courbet was chosen as the target ship and moored in the loch with a set of nets underneath, intended to catch the bombs so that they could be recovered easily. However, the depth of water she was initially moored in, and the size of the nets used meant that few were recoverable, and she was moved to shallower water where larger catch nets were deployed. The bombs had a white stripe painted on the side, and the tests were filmed by the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment based at Helensburgh, which then interpreted the films using the white stripe to calculate the speed of rotation.
The number of bombs used in the tests is unknown, nor how many were recovered. Estimates of bombs used vary between 100 and 200.
Ultimately, it was decided to attack the Tirpitz using midget submarines, X-Craft (also tested and crews trained in Loch Striven), rather than Highball. Training and testing continued throughout the war, and it was later decided to deploy the bombs against Japanese capital ships. A new target ship, another outdated World War I battleship, the British HMS Malaya, was used. Her plating was so thin that she was seriously damaged just by errant bombs hitting her hull. A mess deck was flooded, and it was reported that she developed a serious list. Although the aircraft crews were sent to the Far East, it was again decided not to use the bouncing bomb, despite all the time and effort that had been expended into making it a viable option.
An initial dive in May 2010 was carried out to assess bottom conditions and visibility. Between Monday 12th and Saturday 17th July 2010 a series of 12 dives were made in the loch ranging from 30msw to 60msw using specialist breathing mixes to combat the effects of nitrogen narcosis and prolonged decompression requirements, to allow the divers to safely search for the Highball Bouncing Bombs from the Barnes-Wallis tests carried out during WWII. The project was initiated by Dr. Iain Murray of Dundee University. The diving was carried out by members of the Archaeological Divers Association which is a non-profit division of The Underwater Science Group and lead by the Managing Director, Ted Crosbie. The other divers were Phil Grigg, Rob Cromey-Hawke, Jez Armitage and Lindsay Brown. The Danish shipping company, Maersk donated £1,200 towards the dive.
Following upon a side sonar scan of the Loch bottom several areas were selected for a diving survey. Initial results were disappointing as nothing was found. However, on the Friday the divers came across a length of very heavy chain lying on the bottom and followed it to one end where they came across a huge anchor. They retraced their path and came across the first Highball lying alongside the chain. It showed little or no weed growth or accretion. As they followed the chain further they found a further 7 Highballs also in good condition although 2 were dented presumably from hitting the target vessel. At least one bomb had remnants of the white stripe still visible.
The following was received from Ted Crosbie along with the linked video clips from the dive when the bombs were discovered.
In May 2010, a pre-project dive was conducted in Loch Striven to examine bottom composition and visibility and from that point the project was given the go ahead in July as planned. Divers who had completed underwater archaeological training with the Archaeological Divers Association and who had the required skills for operating at the planned depths were then selected and the team of five divers headed into the waters to start their initial reconnaissance search on the 13th July 2010. The dive team consisted of: Ted Crosbie (Dive Supervisor), Phil Grigg, Rob Cromey-Hawke, Jez Armitage and Lindsay Brown, and diving continued until Saturday 17th July 2010.
In total, 12 dives were made in the loch ranging from 30msw to 60msw using specialist breathing mixes to combat the effects of nitrogen narcosis and prolonged decompression requirements, to allow the divers to safely search for the Highball Bouncing Bombs. The team also used a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) donated by Sheerwater Marine Services Ltd and logistical support was provided by the Professional Diving Academy in Dunoon. All boat diving operations were conducted with the indefatigable support of Richard Home, a local fisherman (W151 Ashleigh M). Plans are now underway to complete an additional two-week survey, “Project 8-ball” at the beginning of September (2010) using state of the art electronic closed circuit rebreathers; thus allowing additional time on the seabed to map the entire site for insertion into the Historic Environment Record for both Scotland and Great Britain. Team members will be using high definition photography and videography; photomosaics and three dimensional site recording software. Upon completion of an holistic survey of the site, including its environmental impact, there are additional future plans to recover some of the Highballs for conservation and restoration and placement at Brooklands Museum in Surrey as there are currently no living records from the Loch Striven test site.
The project, in the majority, was funded by the parent company Underwater Science Ltd, and received additional funds from the Maersk Shipping Company and BAE Systems Ltd, which originally built and filled the Highballs. The project was supported by Peter Blacker, who owns the Glen Striven Estate adjacent to where the Highballs were found, as well as the Barnes Wallis Trust. Diving support services were provided by Phil Grigg Technical Diving.
There are some HD video clips for media purposes, which are available for download at:
Clip 1: Anchor and Diver This 44 second clip shows the ROV and Rob diving near the Admiralty anchor that was found standing 3 metres proud of the seabed in 30msw. The sheer size of the chain link can be seen, with each link being approximately 40 centimetres in length. Video captured by Phil Grigg.
Clip 2: Highball This 27 second clip shows Rob diving over the 3rd Highball found along the anchor chain at a depth of 35msw. Video captured by Phil Grigg.
The team plan to return in two months to continue their survey work to locate and plot the positions of further Highballs and other archaeologically interesting wreckage . Ted Crosbie forecasts that it could take up to 2 years to complete the task and to include an obstruction shown on sailing charts. This had been thought to be a pile of anti-submarine nets but the sonar scan suggests a wreck, possibly a chariot or an X-Craft mini submarine.
Finally it is hoped to raise one or more of the bombs for display in Museums, one will be presented to the Brooklands Museum in Surrey where the Barnes Wallis collection is held. If more are raised then they will be placed in local museums. It is worth noting that at present there are no complete Highballs on display anywhere.
During May 2011, it was announced that the Glenstriven estate in Argyll, where the bomb drop tests were carried out, was to placed on the market. The tests were described as part of a news item about the sale:
Mr Blacker said he had always been aware of the estate’s connection to one of the most important chapters in the history of the Second World War.
Last summer, a team from Dundee University visited the estate and found 14 test bombs still lying at the bottom of the loch. There are also still black marks on the rocks by the loch from the tar burned to create a smokescreen to hide the tests.
A member of the Berry family, who owned the estate at the time of the tests and were the only people allowed to stay in the area, told Mr Blacker of the secrecy surrounding the operation.
He said: “The security people came into the main house at Glenstriven and moved all the family to the back of the house, shut the curtains and the bombers would come down the loch.”
Loch Striven was chosen because the landscape resembled the area of Germany where the bombs were to be dropped. The practice bombs were made from concrete and aimed at an old ship in the middle of the loch.
After the success of the tests, the bombs were used in the famous Dambuster attacks in Germany.
Two dams were destroyed by the RAF’s 617 Squadron in Operation Chastise in one night in 1943.
This summer, the team from Dundee University plans to return to Glenstriven and try to recover the sunken bombs. Mr Blacker has been promised one as a souvenir.
- Estate where Dambusters tested bombs up for sale - Herald Scotland. May 26, 2011.
Vessel lay up
The lead time between ordering a large ship, its design, build, and final delivery can be considerable. Years can pass, during which economic conditions can deteriorate, and markets can disappear. Nestor and Gastor were two refrigerated LNG (liquefied natural gas) carriers completed during 1976 and 1977, intended to transport LNG from Algeria or Nigeria. The discovery of North Sea oil/gas in 1969, followed by the start of production on 1975, effectively rendered the tankers redundant, and they were laid up in the loch the with only a skeleton crew on board, They remained there until 1991, when Shell purchased them to transport LNG from Nigeria. Prior to undertaking the sea journey to France, the tankers were taken to the pier at Inverkip Power Station, where engineers reactivated the vessels and restored them to safe operation for the trip.
In the 11th November 2011 edition of the Dunoon Observer in the 20 YEARS AGO column an item,"Ghosts leaving" appeared:-
" The twin 'ghost ships' of Loch Striven - giant gas tankers, the Castor (stet) and Nestor - were to be recommissioned after lying dormant in the Loch for 14 years. After a refurbishment by Shell UK, the Bermudan registered ships were to be used to transport liquefied natural gas between new gas fields off Nigeria and Europe and the USA. The 274 metre-long vessels were to be re-named the LNG Lagos and LNG Port Harcourt."
Other vessels which have been anchored in the loch include: Canadian Bridge, Diane, Lanistes, Linnea, Liparus, Mobil Astral, Mobil Daylight, Orenda, Tantalus, and Yorkshire. Two large oil tankers built by Harland & Wolff, Belfast, were also laid up in the loch for almost 20 years, having been taken there on completion of their trials.
2009 container ship lay up
Lay up returned to the loch in 2009, when the worldwide recession rendered many container ships surplus, and the Danish shipping company Maersk arranged with Clydeport - the body responsible for the navigable channel, lighting, buoys, and the provision of harbour facilities for shipping and commerce in the Clyde - to moor a number of it ships in the loch until conditions improved. The first two ships arrived in June 2009, and were moored alongside one another, bow to stern, beginning a raft to which further ships could be added. The raft forms a more stable structure and was completed a few weeks later, allowing a small crew to manage the vessels it contains, six in this case, and permit them to share services such as electricity, minimising the amount of support equipment - such as generators - needed to maintain the vessels in good condition.
The raft was created almost halfway into the loch, in the waters west of Inverchaolain. Although the area is lightly populated, some residents were reported to take exception to this use of the loch, claiming it was an inappropriate use of a beauty spot, with the words NO SHIPS being carved into the hillside overlooking the loch - the residents claim this did no damage as it was merely cut into the grass using a strimmer - while another claimed that the presence of the ships ruined her marriage, which had been planned to take place in Inverchaolain Church. Others claim they cannot sleep and their lives are ruined due to the noise and light emanating from the raft. It was suggested that they should have been consulted by Clydeport in advance of the operation, and been awarded compensation.
In order from left to right, Maersk Brooklyn (absent from the five ship picture), Bentonville, and Baltimore lie to the outside of the final six ship raft, while Sealand Performance, Beaumont, and Boston lie toward the inside, towards Inverchaolain. Performance is a container ship belonging to Maersk Sealand, the American arm of the company, and dates from 1985.
In December 2009, Maersk gave residents from the surrounding area the opportunity to visit the raft, tour the laid up ships, and meet the captain and crew responsible for maintaining them during their cold lay up.
On May 21, 2010, with the assistance of five tugs, Sealand Performance was extracted from the raft and towed away up river. It is understood that plans to scrap the vessel have been put on hold, as the gradual recovery from the global recession that rendered her obsolete means her operating characteristics make her economic on the route between the Far East and the US. Because the Far East is a net exporter, this means containers will travel there empty, thereby making no revenue, and return to the US fully loaded, and generating income to pay for the trip. Sealand Performance's older design makes her viable for this route, compared to later ships with larger engines. However, she is still expected to be scrapped when the market recovers further, and changes the economics of the route once again.
On the same theme, it seems that the remaining five container ships in the raft will soon follow Sealand Performance and leave the loch, to be re-engineered with smaller engines to make them more economic in the prevailing transport market.
Vessels moored in Loch Striven during 1986
3 ⇑ MV Loch Striven | CMAL | Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd Retrieved December 04, 2011.
5 ⇑ Estate where Dambusters tested bombs up for sale - Herald Scotland | News | Home News. May 26, 2011 Retrieved 05 June 2011.
- Ardtarig House Photograph
- BBC People's War reference to Loch and X-Craft
- Scottish CND description
- Isle of Bute during WW2 - its involvements with Loch Striven and HMS Varbel and HMS Varbel II.
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