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The Invergordon Archive

RAF Launches in the West Harbour
The Invergordon Archive
RAF Launches in the West Harbour

The two small RAF Launches that were moored in the West Harbour many moons ago.
Picture added on 04 June 2005
This picture is in the following groups
RAF Marine Craft
Left hand vessel known as a Range Safety Launch RSL 1651; RSL 1655 was also stationed at Invergordon at times.
Right hand vessel was a Motor tender MT3304, used to ferry crews out to larger HM Air Force Vessels on moorings on south side of Firth near the Balblair Ferry Slipway.
Added by Ronald Stewart on 27 September 2005
I served on both these vessels from 1968 when I first went to Alness, I served 2 terms of duty there and enjoyed both of them, I also spent a year in Bahrain and a year on Gan.
Added by Dave Stewart (Jock) on 11 April 2012
I was stationed at Alness after my return from Malta between 1967 and 1970. At that time we had a detachment at Lossiemouth operating an RSL for the Royal Navy. The RSL was 1655 which was at Lossiemouth in the three years I was there. At times we would take 1655 to Alness for major overhauls and bring back 1651 for a couple of weeks. 1655 under the engineering skills of Sgt. Brummy King and Sgt. Ted Whyles could attain a speed of 25 knots. Most of us at Lossiemouth were married and had been sent on the detachment because the Navy gave us married quarters up on Hythe Hill Lossiemouth. An RSL had originally been loaned to RNAS Lossiemouth. She was crewed by sailors who unfortunately ran it aground twice on rocks outside Lossiemouth Harbour. After the second grounding the RAF detached an RSL from Alness complete with RAF crews (2) to operate it.
Added by Mike Hymer (Sparks) on 29 June 2012
Worked on both of these craft when I was on what we were known as 'The West Harbour Party'. The old Operations Room, from where the Cpl Coxswain kept watch from when the RSL wasn't being used, was on the land side of the old harbour, and there was an old wooden hut just above where the RSL and the 24ft Marine Tenders were moored. The hut was used as a Crew Room, and was where we could shelter whilst alongside if the weather was a bit rough.
If the larger RAF Vessels were not alongside their berth on the Admiralty Pier, and were not out at sea, then they were usually moored to mooring buoys a few hundred yards to the west of West Harbour, and the Marine Tender was then used to ferry the crews and other items out and back as required. At times the weather was quite rough and I remember on many an occasion getting soaked through whilst acting as the coxswain of the 24ft MT, as there was only a small canvas screen in front of where the craft was steered from. Also when there going to be a very low Spring tide was going to be very low, plus at the weekend when the larger vessels were at the Admiralty Pier then the RSL was normally taken out under tow by the MT and moored to one of the buoys, as the depth of water alongside the West harbour berth, seen in the photo, would see the RSL resting on the mud, with only the Marine Tender having just enough water to enter and leave the narrow entrance. Yes those were the days, and summer usually saw many young females in summer dress coming down to watch the RAF men on the boats in the small harbour that is now out of bounds to those who do not have a small vessel in it, as the area is now part of a Off-Shore Oil-Rig repair and supply facility owned by the Cromarty Firth Harbour Board.
Added by David L Wilkinson on 26 October 2014
Just to clarify the location of the mooring buoys. Latterly these were indeed a few hundred yards west of the West Harbour when the steel hulled HMAFVs were in service, but prior to that period the RTTLs were on moorings just west of the ferry slip at Balblair. This can be seen on picture #1522 of 2745 approaching the mooring near Balblair.
Does anyone remember the day the MT was holed forward by ice when returning from the moorings at the Balblair side?
Added by Ronald Stewart on 26 October 2014
I served on the RSL, I think it was 67/68. I remember being winched up to a whirlwind at sea when I was volounteered by the skipper. The crew was half RAF half Navy; we went to Alness a few times.
Added by Joseph Kenny on 21 July 2015
I don't remember the MT being holed by ice when the moorings were at the southern side of the firth, but when on crew of the GSP 1391 in 1971-72 we went out to do a Target Towing Detail one night and there was ice all the way from the Admiralty Pier to just outside the Souters, and we were the only craft moving so left a ice free lane to which we followed back on our return.
3304 was almost sunk one night when HMAFV Seal was returning from an evening detail, and going to moor to her buoy as the Admiralty Pier berth was occupied by a small coaster. Flt Lt G Bell was the captain of Seal that night and he ran me down whilst I was engaged in taking the bow line to the buoy, and was out of his direct view under the flare of the bows, unfortunately the Seal had too much way on her and the anchor on Seal caught hold of the starboard aft cleat of the MT and slew the MT across the bow. To stop from being forced under and sunk I had to put the throttle full ahead and swung hard to starboard and as I came free I then saw the mooring buoy only a few feet ahead and hit it a glancing blow with the port bow that punched one of the planks in just above the waterline when the MT was unloaded. Fortunately Flt/Lt Bell on seeing as to what had happened, and me expecting to be charged for the damage, accepted that he was ultimately responsible for the incident for approaching the buoy too fast and organised for the MT to be repaired in West Harbour by the Boatwright the next morning.
At least some officers would accept that they also made mistakes, and I learnt never to get caught like that again when helping one of the Seal Class to moor to a buoy.
Added by David L Wilkinson on 21 July 2015
Re the moorings near Balblair I remember them well as a young boy and it was always a treat to see these launches when they came into the West Harbour. I have often wondered what the reason for the Balblair Moorings was, it seemed to be a bit out of the way and a strange location ... anyone know?
Added by Graham MacKenzie on 21 July 2015
From what I was told about the moorings being over the other side of the Firth it was something to do with there not being many people over that side who fancied swimming out and trying to get on the smaller craft to see what they could 'Borrow', and it was only when the larger Seal Class arrived, which were harder to get on unless a boarding ladder was inadvertently left over the port side, that the distance to ferry the larger number of crew could take quite some amount of time, that the moorings where then transferred near to West Harbour, though when the weather was a bit rough going out to either take out or bring back their crews meant the men usually got quite wet, as their was only a small canvas cover stopping water coming over the bow, whilst there were Pram like canvas covers for the men in the back to shelter under.
Added by David L Wilkinson on 18 April 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, InvergordonWest Harbour