50 YEARS SINCE US NAVY ARRIVAL
Last Updated on Friday, 11 March 2011 15:34 Written by Gordon Neish Friday, 04 March 2011 15:10
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In 1961 the Yanks arrived – changing Dunoon and Cowal forever.
Site One, on the Holy Loch, was designed to provide servicing facilities for the USA’s first SSBN (nuclear-powered, ballistic nuclear missile-carrying submarines) squadron in the UK.
Holy Loch was the only such base outside US waters and was strategically necessary because of the Polaris Missile’s limited range.
On March 3, 1961, Submarine Squadron (SUBRON) 14 arrived at Holy Loch – and so did the CND protesters.
The depot ship USS Proteus had been built in California in 1941 and saw service in the closing stages of the Pacific War. During 1959-61 she was converted to be the first Polaris submarine tender, by cutting her apart and inserting a 44-foot section amidships –where missiles would be serviced.
The Americans suggested that Proteus arrive on Saturday March 4. The British authorities pointed out that a Saturday would allow the a large number of demonstrators to go to Dunoon, and persuaded the US Navy to bring it forward by a day.
Still the protesters came, although without the outcome they had hoped for.
The Navy's greatest concern was demonstrations by canoeists. Authorities had got wind of an audacious plan to form a barrier of canoes and dinghies, barring access to the loch.
In the end only three canoes and one dinghy appeared. The dinghy capsized and its crew was rescued (and arrested). One of the canoes became waterlogged and the occupant was taken ashore. Three people in the two other canoes stoically maintained their passive resistance and were brought ashore on stretchers.
Proteus’ passage was not impeded.
The first submarine, USS Patrick Henry, arrived on the Clyde on March 8 for a major refit.
The number of submarines being supported by SUBRON 14 varied over the years, but the protests continued.
Contemporary local police reports, compiled by Sgt McColville of the Admiralty Constabulary at Rosyth, demonstrated the changing social atitudes if the 1960s.
An extract: “There was some difficulty in ascertaining the sex of some of the demonstrators. The female element sported masculine clothes and haircuts whereas a large number of the apparent male side had coiffures with tight seated trousers. Since all had been shouting their voices had husky tones.
“No doubt the civil police sexed them by names.”
Proteus remained at Holy Loch until January 1963 when she was relieved by USS Hunley.
Other tenders based off Sandbank included USS Canopus, USS Holland and USS Simon Lake.
On March 6, 1992 the last US Navy ship – Simon Lake - sailed out of the Holy Loch, signalling the end of 31 years of American presence in the Dunoon area.
A tragic footnote is that Laurel Clark, who worked at the base between 1989 and 1992 went on to become one of the astronauts flying in the space shuttle Columbia – which broke up on re-entry to earth’s atmosphere early in 2003 killing all of the crew.
* An authorative piece on the American presence on the Holy Loch, by Brian Lavery for the National Maritime Museum, can be found HERE.