The US nuclear submarine re-fitting base at the Holy Loch
The Holy Loch based US submarine refit facility
In autumn 1959, the US Government decided to provide forward servicing facilities for a submarine squadron to be based in the UK. Studies were carried out to determine the most suitable location for such a refit facility, leading to a final selection of the deep, sheltered access Holy Loch in July 1960. Following an approach to the British government, requesting permission to establish a refit site in the United Kingdom for Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarines, an agreement was negotiated which permitted the US to use the Holy Loch, on the Firth of Clyde, for the anchorage of a submarine tender, a large dry dock, and other supporting craft.
The number of submarines supported varied over the years however an indication of the scale of the operation can be seen in the number of patrols carried out. On April 2, 1987, a US submarine completed the 2,500th Ballistic Missile Deterrent Patrol to be carried out by the submarine fleet.
The facility expanded rapidly from 1961 as personnel gained experience and the number of supported submarines grew. But there was never a base at Holy Loch, instead, the US Navy facilities were integrated with the local community, with Sandbank and Dunoon providing shore facilities. In May 1962, the US Navy arranged for the old Ardnadam Hotel to be converted into an enlisted mens’ club, commissary and exchange. All personnel lived ashore, residing in rooms or homes rented from members of the local community. American children received their education in primary schools in Dunoon, Kirn, Sandbank and St Munn’s, then in Dunoon Grammar School when they were older. Americans became active participants in many community related events.
As tensions eased over the years, and the Cold War eventually came to an end with the demise of the Soviet Union, the closure of the base became inevitable, with the announcement being made February 6, 1991. In March 1992, the last US Navy ship, the submarine tender USS Simon Lake, sailed out of the Holy Loch, ending thirty one years of American presence in the area.
The Holy Loch – the aftermath
For thirty years, between 1961 and 1992, the Holy Loch was the location of a base for the U.S. Navy’s 14th Submarine Squadron. It was handed back to the MoD in June 1992.
During its time as an American base, a vast amount of waste, some of it toxic, was dumped into the loch, and was left on the seabed when the Americans departed.
In 1992, due to concerns from local residents in Sandbank, a team of marine scientists undertook an underwater camera survey to examine the amount of waste on the seabed. The survey revealed that levels of some elements, including nickel, zinc, cadmium and selenium were well above the national averages and there were about 60 drums filled with an unknown substance.
It was not until 1998, however, that work began to clean-up the waste as there were disagreements about whether the waste removed would pose a risk to local residents and marine life.
Tonnes of waste was slowly and systematically removed from the area of the former base between February 1998 and February 2001 at a cost of nearly £11million. The work was carried out by a contractor on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.
During the recovery process, an assortment of objects were found including propellers, cables, scaffold towers, wire reels and gas cylinders of acetylene, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. In total, over 2,700 tonnes of waste and debris was recovered from the site of the naval base and the MoD claimed that the vast majority of the site had been cleared. Responsibility for the Holy Loch was handed to Clydeport Authority in April 2002.
However, in August 2002, a number of local people complained that their boats were losing anchors because they were being caught on debris on the seabed. The MoD admitted that some debris, including shipwrecks and other non-hazardous objects had not been cleared. The cryptic justification provided by the Westminster government was that to do so would cause more harm than good to the natural habitat. So just what is sitting on the seabed on the Holy loch??? Extracted and modified – Fortress Scotland published by Scottish CND
Submarines being stacked for refitting on the Holy Loch
Submarine being raised onto te floating dock on the Holy Loch