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James Nicol, Last OCR at The Torpedo Range, ArrocharHome on the Range


The Passing of an Era 

  (by James Nicol the last OCR based at Arrochar. August 1987)

The Old Range BridgeHighlandman's Height


The Torpedo Range Arrochar - Early DaysIt is with a great deal of sadness that this article is being written to commemorate the closure of RNTR Arrochar. In the nostalgic sense, I am sure everyone who has been associated with the Range will feel a tinge of regret at the passing old place. Over the 74-year life of the Depot many characters, too numerous to mention, have come and gone. However, I feel I would be failing in my duty if I did not mention at least one or two names that will bring a smile and happy memory to those Range ‘old boys’ who remember them.

The First Range Lorry c1910George Dunnet who still lives locally in a Range house, is probably the oldest living ex Ranger at 85. George started in the Depot back in 1927 and apart from a short spell in Hong Kong prior to the outbreak of the Second World War; he worked at Arrochar until 1966. Tommy Kay started in 1955 and during his time 1913Tommy was employed as a diver recovering lost torpedoes and eventually put aside his flippers to become the Range Observer. Unfortunately, the racier stories relating to sights Tommy observed over the years in, on and about upper Loch Long – and I am not talking about Torpedo Runs – cannot be recorded in this journal for fear of upsetting the readers’ delicate sensibilities. Regretfully, neither time nor space allow me to catalogue all the characters, however, it would be remiss of me not to mention one more – Kenny Bell (Kenny F N Bell to his friends).

The initials refer to his endearing idiosyncrasy of prefixing the majority of his words with a selection from his lexicon of known and lesser known expletives, which must be emphasised never gave the slightest offence even to the most genteel among us.


Staff c 1912

Event Gathering 1976Tommy Kay Observing early 1980's  Kenny Bell 

Kenny started work at the Range in 1946 after being grounded as a Brylcream boy, and proudly became the second generation of the Bells to work at RNTR. Kenny’s father, Sandy was originally employed by McAlpine the builder in 1908 on the actual construction of the Range, and was subsequently employed on the torpedo recovery boats from when the Depot officially opened in 1912 until he retired in 1953. After forty years at the Depot, Kenny was scheduled to retire in January 1987. It is probably just as well the Depot closed at this point, as it is hard to imagine the place without him.

 Plan of The Torpedo Range, Arrochar

Torpedo Trace

Torpedo Trace


Range Staff including Nan ChapellRanging.Torpedo Wake

The very last torpedo to be ranged, at RNTR Arrochar, was fired on the 19th March 1986. This historic occasion ended a long and successful period of torpedo ranging at the Head of Loch Long stretching back over 74 years. However, as the current breed of electronic torpedoes have a very different in-water capability from those of the Mk8 torpedo, the Range cannot now provide the type of facilities required to conduct ranging of these more sophisticated weapons.

The RN Torpedo Range opened officially in April 1912, under the control of Chief Gunner (T) D J O’Meara, MBE RN, to support the manufacture and testing of torpedoes produced by the first RN Torpedo Factory, which opened in Greenock in 1910. Previous torpedoes within the Royal Navy Department were manufactured only at the Royal Navy Gun Factory, Woolwich, and ranged at Bincleaves near Weymouth. During the first 40 years, 18” Mk17 and 21” torpedoes of various Mks and designs were tested locally. The first 21”Mk8 was fired as an experimental weapon as long ago as 1934 and virtually the same torpedo is still in use today. The last 18” Mk17 torpedo was fired in 1955.


Checking Mark 8 TorpedosThe peak years at the Range occurred during Ammunition Workersthe Second World War. Amazingly, in 1944 approximately 12,565 torpedoes were fired down the Loch, which works out at an average of 48 runs per day, Monday to Friday.  On occasion as many as 62 torpedoes were fired in one day.  It was during these dark days that the ranging task was carried out by local men and women as part of the war effort. There were seven torpedo recovery boats working constantly to recover the fired torpedoes from the Loch. It was not unusual for torpedoes to be fired in the morning and turned around for firing in the afternoon.

During the war, development of the first British electric torpedo, the Mk11, began. This eventually resulted in the BIDDER torpedo, subsequently renamed the Mk20. The first production of the Mk20 was ranged in July 1956.  In 1959 the first GROG torpedo was fired, which was a further development of the Mk20, and eventually became known as the Mk23. The last Mk20 was fired in1966 and the last Mk23 fired in 1969. Various projects were developed in the post war years and although many of these failed to come into production, ONGAR proved successful. During the period 1960 to 1976 this torpedo, now known as the Mk24, was tested and ranged at Arrochar.  The most recent years have been spent almost exclusively ranging Mk8 torpedoes.

Torpedos TorpedosSubmarine at Arrochar

Long RangersToday’s sophisticated torpedoes are required to operate in much greater depths of water and they are also capable of being guided to their target. Upper Loch Long cannot provide the type of hydrographic environment needed to test these weapons and the Range is only suited for straight running torpedoes (although I have known a few Mk8s that have not run very straight on occasion).

There have been many an incident over the years which have became part of the folklore. The most interesting ones have invariably involved rough torpedoes, which have usually ended up going where they shouldn’t have.  One incident that is very fresh on my memory occurred in September 1983 when Mr Prichard, ex-DGST (N), fired an Mk8 Mod 4.  Unfortunately this torpedo decided to come full circle and narrowly missed the jetty, it then played pinball on the concrete pillars below the firing head and surfaced almost directly below the observing room. After a moments silence Mr Prichard queried whither this sort of thing occurred frequently. I am sure he felt that this particular run had been staged managed.  The direct consequence of this misadventure was the introduction of the Prichard slide valve, which has been subsequently been fitted to all our operational gyroscopes.


CustomerThe Torpedo Range Arrochar

Apart from ranging torpedoes, RNTR Arrochar have also directly been involved in the preparation and supply of torpedoes to the Fleet. In recent times war stock weapons were prepared and sent to RNAD Coulport for war heading and pistol ling.  This practise commitment involved HM Submarines coming alongside RNTR Arrochar jetty to conduct Discharge Weapon System Trials. On these occasions upward of 40 torpedoes were embarked. Approximately 18 torpedoes would be discharged in upper Loch Long, set to run for 1000yards, with the balance of the torpedoes being fired in Inchmarnock Waters.  Torpedoes required for the Submarine Commanders’ Course, previously known as the COQC, were supplied exclusively from RNTR Arrochar.

Normal Fleet practice weapons were also supplied to the local Squadrons and those boats on deployment from the south. 

RNAD Coulport will continue to support the Fleet with action and practise weapons until the Mk8 is phased out in the early 1990s.


The Range Staff 1986





The Range finally ceased torpedo work on the 30th November 1986, with the task transferring to RNAD Coulport. Mr Peter Gagg Superintendent RNAD Coulport officially closed the Depot on The 19th December 1986.


Sadly we have now come to the end of the RNTR Arrochar story. Never the less, the Depot can boast a proud record for meeting all its targets, right to the end, and for the reliability of the work and the weapons produced. These achievements should not be forgotten.


Article written by James Nicol the last OCR based at Arrochar.August 1987



Newspaper article about de-equiping the Range prior to it's closure

Article from the Helensburgh Advertiser 16th January 1987

Newspaper article stating They Torpedoed Themselves

Clipping from The Herald


Not everyone in the area was in favour of the construction of the Torpedo Range. Here is a clipping of a newspaper article published in the Herald in August 1907. It featured once more on the 8th August 2007 in a series of short articles of stories running in the paper 100 years ago.




The Range demolition commenced in June 2007

Demolition June 2007Demolition June 2007

The Range July 2007

See also The Heritage Trail - The Range


Here are some more pictures taken in 2009 showing the site in it's then dilapidated, semi demolished state:-


Here are some more pictures taken in April 2013 showing the site in the early stages of the construction of The Ben Arthur resort:-

For further details regarding the new Ben Arthur resort development please click HERE. or visit

See also The Heritage Trail - The Range