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The Invergordon Archive

West Harbour
The Invergordon Archive
West Harbour

A postcard showing the West Harbour looking towards the Sutors.
The date is a guess. Clues to the correct date may lay in the identification of the lifeboat tied up on the pier opposite and what is going on at the Admiralty Pier. Also, what are the people doing on the right hand pier who have clearly just disembarked from a boat?
Picture added on 12 September 2004
This picture is in the following groups
RAF Marine Craft
Hello - this brings back lots of memories, spent most of my childhood on this pier and around about it. The boat on the outside is from MacDonald Ferries of Balblair and it used to run between Balblair slipway and the West Harbour. MacDonald ferries now operate work boats for the oil industry. The two boats at the next pier are work boats and the Admirality looks like their is a grain and a pipe boat in as there are lorrys heading down the pier. Date I would Imagine late 70s.
Added by MM on 05 January 2005
The motor boats tied up at the pier belonged to the RAF camp at Alness. They were used for rescue purposes. It was said that their engines were actually aircraft engines so as to provide plenty of power. The RAF had a number of these boats and kept them tied up at buoys outside the harbour in the 1950s.
Added by anon on 05 January 2005
The RAF boats were used to ferry out the crews of the rescue launches which were moored on the
Black-Isle side of the firth, to the west of Balblair ferry slip. The rescue launches had merlin engines.
Added by anon on 08 January 2005
If I remember correctly, the engines were Rolls Royce Merlins which - someone correct me if I am wrong - were in Spitfires?
Added by Pat Swanson on 20 May 2005
At the Centre Pier it looks like the Kieve owned by JP Knight/Caledonian Towage with a beaver boat alongside.
At the steps on the West Pier we see Mac Donald Ferries Mitchell ** 'Gannet' with HMAFV Motor Tender and Range Safety Launch inside. Another HMAFV MT lies alongside the wall.
There appears to be a ship at the BA pier, putting the date 1970 or later.
The people on the pier have probably just come ashore from the Balblair ferry 'Gannet'.
Added by Ronald Stewart on 28 September 2005
The "boats" shown are actually 1640 a RANGE SAFTEY LAUNCH (RSL), powered by 2 Rolls Royce C6 Diesels, 43 feet long capable of 18 knots flat out. The other 2 are Marine tenders (MT) 3320 & 3305, 24 Feet, powered by Perkins marine diesel capable of about 10 knots (with luck and a following sea). The RAF had many other types 63 Pinnace (1300 series) MK2 RTTL (RESCUE TARGET TOWING LAUNCH), 68 Feet, powered by 2 Rolls Royce Sea Griffin (Shackleton) engines - used aviation fuel (AVGAS) - top speed around 40 knots (2772e, an experimental version did 52.7 knots on one occasion). Around 1970 the Spitfire class arrived - all steel - 78 feet, powered by 2 x Rolls Royce 1000 hp - capable of 22knots. 7 of these were operated by the RAF: Spitfire, Sunderland, Stirling, Halifax, Hampden, Hurricane & Lancaster. The biggest were the Seal class, 2 based at Alness: HMAFV Seal and HMAFV Seagull - 120 feet, crew of 18, 20 knots. It was my great fortune to have served with the RAF as a crewman from 1975 to the closure in 1986.
Added by Mike BUDD on 05 July 2007
Most of the RAF boats moored inside the harbour were used to ferry aircrew out to the seaplanes. The rescue boats were painted bright orange or yellow on the upper decks. Some of the larger ones had gun turrets on the upper decks. Don’t know when this picture was taken but I know that during the war that shed stretched almost the full length of the pier, and the rescue crews etc used to have accommodation in these sheds. Some of the seaplanes were also moored on the Invergordon side too. The inner harbour was jam-packed with RAF boats and for years afterwards the sea bed seeped oil at every tide - could be still does.
Anonymous comment added on 05 July 2007
Mike Budd is correct in all he says - the vessel 1640 is a range safety launch. I remember it well. At quite a young age I was nearly crushed between it and a high speed rescue launch when I mistimed the waves in attempting to change from one vessel to another. Only the quick wittedness of the Cox'n of 1640, backing away sharpish, saved me from serious injury or worse. Happy days. In the bay at that time was at least one Mark 1 H.S.L. which was indeed driven by two Rolls-Royce sea griffons. But Mike has said it all and there is nothing for me to add. Not sure of the year - I offer 1966 as a complete guess. Mike, maybe we served together.
Mike Sargeant, wireless operator on marine craft for a short time in my career.
Added by Mike Sargeant on 20 August 2007
When did the sheds get removed, also the fuel tanks?
Added by Gordon Will on 26 February 2010
I served at Invergordon from 1955 until 1958 at that same pier. At that time we had RTTLs 2679, 2744, later 2557 all powered by 3 Napier Sea Lion engines. Finally 2757, the type fitted with Rolls-Royce Griffons was delivered. I actually went from Alness by train to Southampton with an officer, Peter Edwards, to collect the vessel and bring it up the east coast to Invergordon in Jan 1958. I was the first fitter on the craft. I am writing a book about my memories of Alness and Invergordon; it should be out in a couple of months. I remember Ted the ferryman who had an old boat to do the Cromarty ferry run. There were also 4 civilians attached to the RAF boats at Invergordon: Chippy Smith, George and Chris who were deckhands and my old mate Jeff Wilkie who was a fitter. Happy days!
Added by Brian Mutton (Queensland, Australia) on 14 April 2010
Hello Brian! I would love to have your book once its available. You were from Cornwall if my memory serves me well, does my sister get a mention?

Added by Bill Geddes on 14 April 2010
Hi lamb chop - that’s my Dad's name for you! Like my brother, would love to read it - your book. I now live in NZ. Let me know how much and where to send for it. Great to hear you are alive and well.
Added by Audrey Geddes on 30 April 2010
This pic brought back some distant memories for me!
On an aside, I wonder, can anyone recall one or possibly two old buses bearing reg numbers "RAF"? These were not military but I thought something to do with the RAF boats. The engines in some of those boats sounded fantastic to primary school age boys like me then!
Added by David Fleming on 15 March 2011
I remember a bus in the RAF colour that used to go between the base and the camp in Alness.
Anonymous comment added on 15 March 2011
If anyone is interested in reading more about the RAF Rescue Launches based at Invergordon during the period 1954-end of 1958, please order the book called "Waves of Nostalgia".
It deals with life at Alness/Invergordon on the RAF launches. I was a fitter (engineer) aboard the boats which I loved.
I write of my experiences, trips to Lerwick in the Shetlands, the people and life in the RAF in Alness and Invergordon; I also played rugby for the Ross Sutherland club for a while.
The book will be available by the end of this month, (March 2011) from Catseye Press, www.catseyepress.co.uk. Phone orders: 01692582292.
Thanks to the Invergordon Archive and the local people for all your help with this book; it has been fun writing it.
Added by Brian Mutton on 15 March 2011
Good luck with the book Brian! I remember the truck which took RAF personnel back and forth was called "The Garry" (or something like that!). Does anyone know why?
Added by Bill Geddes on 16 March 2011
In answer to Bill's question above, as far as I know, Gharry, or Ghari in an Indian language, means a “horse drawn carriage which was for hire”. The servicemen or possibly civil servants stationed in India adopted the word for any form of transport I think. I put that info in the book for interest.
Added by Brian Mutton on 18 March 2011
Hi Brian, good to see your comments here. I will certainly be buying your book and look forward to reading it. Hope you and your family are all well.
Added by Rosalie Graham (Samaroo) on 26 March 2011
Spent 8 years on the RAF launches. I have very happy memories spent on 2747 in the far east. I always remember the pier where they used to refuel at Invergordon. (By the way, did you get my E mail ,Gordon?)
Added by I. Macphail on 03 April 2011
Can anyone answer Gordon’s question re the removal of the sheds on the RAF pier. Practically all the inner harbour was crammed with the different RAF boats. The air sea rescue boats used to be tied up at the end of the pier - that was the ones with the gun turrets on them. Looking at the picture again the sheds are also gone from the middle pier.
Added by Doug Will on 11 April 2011
A bit of a guess from memory, but I think the sheds were removed around 1960/61 and the wooden piled parts of the west and centre piers demolished not so long after.
Added by Ronald Stewart on 12 April 2011
I think you are right about the sheds on the west harbour Ronald, but I think the wooden piled parts of the middle pier were quite a bit later but, also in my case, it is just from memory. I left Invergordon in 1964 and I am sure some of the old wooden parts of the centre pier were still in place. I came back on holiday in July 1965 and seem to remember that the centre pier was different at then, the wooden parts having been removed.
When I think of days as a youngster dropping through access trapdoors to the beams underneath either to fish or just scramble around it was just incredible. The Health and Safety Executive would have a field day nowadays but I cannot remember anyone falling in or being hurt.
Added by Graham MacKenzie on 12 April 2011
Hi Brian, look forward to reading your book.
Added by Audrey Geddes on 13 April 2011
Some further information has come to light regarding the vessels in the picture. The Beaver boat alongside the 'Kieve' in the harbour was named 'Kelty', both vessels owned by Caledonian Towage, although the latter was renamed 'Heron' and is now operated by MacDonald Ferries. The Mitchell 31 named 'Gannet' in the centre foreground came into service with MacDonald Ferries in 1974.
The pipe boat at the dockyard pier looks like one of the Zapata Marine sisters Royal Service or Regal Service. Royal Service came on the scene in 1976 and her sister the year later.
Picture date best estimate 1976/77.
Added by Ronald Stewart on 16 April 2011
This photo has prompted quite a few replies and comments about the RAF launches which has been very interesting. The latest contact I have had is from the daughter of a former civilian working with the RAF at Invergordon; thanks Anne Wilkie for getting in touch! Her father, Jeff Wilkie was a very good friend whom I remember well. The book, Waves of Nostalgia is unfortunately not available from Catseye Press, www.catseyepress.co.uk. as reported in March 2011. I have another printer from whom the book will be available shortly; the gestation period of getting a book published seems to be almost as long as that of an elephant! Sorry folks!
Added by Brian Mutton on 16 May 2011
re Grahams comment about nobody falling in I can remember one boy who had been fishing under the middle pier who fell in and was drowned cant remember his name but they lived next door to Buckie Two men who were on the Raf pier dived in but were too late in getting him out as he was drowned by the time they swam to him.We used to do a lot of fishing from the middlr pier either from the pontoon or the landing steps on the inner side of the pier using hand lines Some who could afford rods fished on the outer side and their main catch was flatties
Added by Doug Will on 16 May 2011
Never knew about that Doug (must have been before my time !!!) Very tragic and makes you think how easy it would have been, one slip and you were gone - thinking back there was such a lattice of uprights and cross members it is unlikely that anyone falling in would have a clean drop into the water - high chance of hitting a beam on the way down.
I well remember fishing from the landing steps you describe also from the eastern end of the middle pier and occasionally from the "stone arm" at high tide. Happy days and unfortunately not available to todays youngsters but as I mentioned earlier no doubt Health and Safety issues would probably prohibit it.
I remember huge shoals of mackerel occasionally coming in to shallow water between the stone arm and the small area of sandy beach on the eastern side of the middle pier. This would be directly in front of where the Port Authority offices now stand.
Added by Graham MacKenzie on 17 May 2011
Hi Doug, Graham, I too remember the fishing used hand-lines and sinkers. Graham the Mackerel came in on season and were usually accompanied by porpoise. It was quite a sight to see. I wonder does it still occur?
Added by Harry O'Neill on 19 May 2011
Does anyone remember the herring fleet coming in to fish the firth. They were dark boats with colured sails or did I just see a picture of it somewhere?
Added by Liz Taylor nee Askew on 02 June 2011
You may feel you are getting on a bit Liz but you are definitely not that old ! I have seen the pictures - sailing boats with dark red or brown sails but I think they were photos coloured in at a later date. If you are that old then that is bad news for me !!!
Added by Graham MacKenzie on 02 June 2011
That's the ones Graham. I remember my mother saying that's the herring boats in the firth though and no you are still older than me!

Added by Liz Taylor nee Askew on 02 June 2011
Hi Brian, glad to hear your alive and well. Remember this picture very well, although it's all changed now. They were the good old days with lots of happy times. Look forward to reading your book.
Added by Ann Thompson nee Macleod on 18 August 2011
Enjoyed your book Brian, had a few good laughs. I was sorry when it came to an end, pleased you have had a full and happy life.
Added by Audrey on 19 August 2011
Thanks to all who have commented on the book, glad you enjoyed it. Further copies are available from me, please just send me an email if you want one. The printing company is very slack about sending them out so it would be quicker to get one direct.
Added by Brian Mutton on 31 August 2011
Hi a lovely photo.
RSL 1640 was based at R.A.F. Mount Morrison at PEEL in the Isle of Man from 1955 onwards. My father was a crewman on 1640 until 1959 or 1960.
Added by Alan J Stone on 03 October 2011
78ft Rescue Target Towing Launches Mk3 (Spitfire Class) were powered by Paxman V8 Diesels, not Rolls Royce engines as mentioned earlier. They were named Her Majesty's Air Force Vessels and their allotted name, whereas the Mk2 Rescue target Towing Launches were only known by their number, not named.
I served at RAF Alness from April 1971 until 1981, with 2 postings abroad of just over 7 months before returning to Alness each time. I served on HMAFV Seagull, whose RAF number was 5001, and had to leave the crew in 1980 due to having been injured in an incident when the vessel was being moored alongside the inner western arm of the Admiralty Pier, where the larger HMAFV Seal and Seagull normally berthed, as they could be connected to shore power, water, and telephone points.
I had been a crewman aboard HMAFV Seal from September 1969 until mid March 1971,when Seal was based at RAF Portrush's 1105 Marine Craft Unit in Northern Ireland. When the base closed down in April 1971 I was then posted to 1100 MCU at RAF Alness. My trade in the RAF was Motor Boat Crew, and whilst at Alness I also helped crew the Range Safety Launches seen in West harbour, plus the 63ft General Service Pinnace 1391, which had the more powerful turbo-charged Rolls-Royce C6FLM diesel engines that gave them a top speed of around 20 knots, as against the normal type of diesel that gave the previous 1300 series a top speed of 13 knots. I was also given charge of one of the 24ft Marine Tenders that were numbered in the 3300 series, and was usually used to transfer crews of the other launches and vessels out to their moorings on the northern side of the Cromarty Firth after the mooring buoys were moved from the southern side near to the Balblair Ferry slipway.
I am now the Military Advisory at the Alness Heritage Centre, where a large number of archive is held on both RAF Alness and its various craft, plus a number of artefacts including my sea-going uniform and one of the types of compass used on some of these craft.
Added by David L Wilkinson on 14 December 2011
Can you please tell me what, if anything, has happened to the old Pier Hut where we as duty crew would do our overnght and week-end duties? I wonder if there is any form of commemorative plaque to mark its former use or is there anything on the old West Pier itself to record the RAF Air Sea Rescue or Marine Branch having been there for so many years? I am afraid it is too far for me to come from Australia and look for myself, much as I would really love to!
Added by Brian Mutton on 15 December 2011
Only RAF Vessels of 68ft upwards were allocated the title of being Her Majesty's Air Force Vessel, with the Mk II Rescue Target Towing Launches (RTTLs) having hull numbers as their name, with the numbers being in the 2700 series. Mk III RTTLs were 78ft and were named after WWII aircraft and classed as the Spitfire Class, with names such as Spitfire, Hurricane, Wellington, Lancaster etc. RAF Marine Craft under 68ft were known and called by their designation such as GSP (General Service Pinnace) and their hull numbers being in the 1300 Series. Range Safety Launches (RSLs) were also similarly known by their designation and their hull numbers were in the 1600 series, whilst Marine Tenders (MTs) were not normally fitted with radios were used for ferrying crews, equipment, light towing duties etc., in what were known as local harbour areas, in this case within the Cromarty Firth area only. The MTs had numbers in the 3300 series, and usually manned by a single Senior Aircraftman of the Motor Boat Crew trade group that had been seen to be fully capable of handling this type of craft in what were sometimes bad weather and the rough water conditions that sometimes occurred in the Cromarty Firth area. The small 24ft MTs were powered by a Perkins 4107 Marine Diesel engine and assisted the large 120ft Seal class vessels to moor to their buoys if they needed to do so for some reason that prevented them from going alongside their berth at the Admiralty Pier, such as if a commercial vessel was using it to unload or load their cargo there, or if the other Seal class vessel was due to sail when the other Seal class vessels crew might have been 'Stood Down', and therefore the alongside vessel needed to be able to leave the berth without having to move the other vessel first. All of the RAF Marine Craft, from the 42ft RSL upwards, were used to train RAF Aircrew in sea-survival, whilst vessels from the 63ft GSP upwards also towed targets for aircraft to attack, plus they could also recover air-dropped torpedoes and other equipment that might also be dropped, such as submarine detection buoys, plus the vessels also carried out sea-rescue and salvage work if required.
Added by David L Wilkinson on 16 December 2011
I crewed one of the only two launches in 1950/52 H.S.L. 2679; only other crafts, one Seaplane tender. one marine tender and fuel tender, only the tenders were moored in the inner harbour. One H.S.L. was moored in deep water nearer the Black Isle, whilst the other launch was on the slip at Alness. Only used the harbour for fuel at high tide.
Has any one else had the experience of standing at attention on a H.S.L. travelling at slow speed passing the twelve ships of the Royal Navy Home Fleet, saluting and being saluted by hundreds of officers, sailors and marines, and it was the same with each ship we passed, what a sight. I spent two happy years at Alness.
Added by Sam (Jobby) Nicol on 05 January 2012
I have just completed a working scale model of 1640 RSL. My late father started this back in 1970 but passed away. He served in Malta on 2625 and then later stationed at Boston Lincs (where I was born). I really enjoyed reading these comments and particularly enjoyed David L Wilkinson's comments. If anyone wants to pass any information about 1640 then please do. I have just completed a PowerPoint presentation of pictures of my late Father's boats, Pals etc and can share this with anyone who is interested. Roy
Added by Roy McCluskey on 09 January 2012
I understand RSL 1640 was actually the first RSL of that type, designed by Thornycrofts and built probably in 1953. There is a great deal of information on this type of craft, in particular about 1664 which can be found on the British Military Powerboat Trust (BMPT) website. More information about all aspects of the RAF Launches can be found on the website of the Air Sea Rescue/Marine Craft Section Club.
Added by Brian Mutton on 12 January 2012
I was pleased to see the comment from Ann Thompson (nee Macleod). I remember the times when we used to sit in my car, Steve Wood Ann and Christine listening to 'The Navy Lark' and 'Hancocks Half Hour' on an old portable radio which we had to hold up to windscreen level to get a reception! Brian and I ran a boat business here in Cornwall for some years and Steve Wood lives in the next village to me, we talk often about those happy times at Invergordon.
Added by Pete Ramsey on 25 June 2012
I have just been recommended to look at the Invergordon Archive by Pete Ramsey and am glad I have. Greetings to all.
Mike Moore RAF Alness 1957
Added by Michael Moore on 30 June 2012
A quick thank you to the Invergordon Archive for putting my posts on this site. Interestingly I have now been in contact with many people who either served or knew people who were stationed at Alness/Invergordon on the RAF Rescue launches over the years. Also, families and children of ex-serving members are also now in touch. It has become quite a family through your good offices! There are friends and aquaintances in England, Wales, Scotland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia as a result, many of whom have now read my book "Waves of Nostalgia". Thank you.
Added by Brian Mutton on 30 July 2012
Hi Brian, this is really goood news!!! It's so good to be in touch with people from the past. I knew your book would be successful. My four daughters and husbands and children have also read it and my granddaughters think that it must have been terrific to live in a town with "all those handsome airmen" Hmm!!!
Added by Rosalie Graham (Samaroo) on 31 July 2012
Comical now: Do any of you RAF types remember during the war when two little boys came down the pier to the hut where you were all lounging - they each were carrying two little bombs with wooden coverings. When they asked what you wanted doing with them you all disappeared shouting take them back where you found them. The two boys were a bit more careful on the return journey to the beach where they found them and then ran away. I have often wondered what type of bomb they were. Any suggestions?
Added by Doug Will on 31 July 2012
I'm laughing at Doug's post above - thinking what a palaver there would be if that happened today!!!
Added by JillianB on 18 August 2012
Jillian it caused quite a stir when we took the bombs down there, never saw RAF types move so fast. Never did find out what the bombs were.
Added by Doug Will on 23 August 2012
Doug, that is hilarious. I can just picture the scene!!!
Added by Rosalie Graham (Samaroo) on 25 August 2012
Write a book Douglas, it would be a best-seller.
Added by Harry O'Neill on 25 August 2012
I think the photo with R S L 1640 is mid 1970s as the larger G R P ferry boats did not come into service till about then 1978 or 79 I reckon, they first came to MT Batten and I was there in 1977 and we only had one which was different from that one it shook and shuddered when under way and was known as "Tupperware" Happy Days
Added by Robbie Cozens on 17 July 2014
Looking for scale drawings of Seal or Seagull; wish to build a model boat; know they exist as one of the crew allowed me to study them for a week. Any ideas where to obtain?
Added by Peter Smith on 06 September 2017
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RAF Marine Craft

Undergoing Speed Trials off InvergordonRTTL 2757 at InvergordonRTTL 2745 coming into the moorings at InvergordonRAF Rescue Launches at West Pier, InvergordonRAF Launches in the West Harbour