Did you know that during World War Two Ardrossan Harbour was requisitioned as a naval base and renamed HMS Fortitude?
In 1938, with the threat of war looming, the Admiralty began its preparations for mobilisation. It sent officers to review ports which could be turned into naval bases should war break out. Ardrossan was one of the ports chosen.
Captain Henry Francis Waight arrived in Ardrossan on 27th August 1939 to take up command of the Ardrossan Naval Base, named ‘HMS Fortitude’. Within a few days of war being declared the first minesweepers arrived at Ardrossan and quickly organised into a flotilla which would sweep the Clyde daily from Greenock to the Mull of Kintyre, along with anti-submarine patrols. A large minefield was set up from the coast of Ayr to the southernmost point of Arran with Gate Ships anchored at suitable positions controlling the entrance to the Clyde.
It was quickly decided that Ardrossan should become an Independent Naval Base resulting in increased clerical staff being drafted to Ardrossan. Castle Craig (now the Civic Centre on Glasgow Street) was requisitioned as a Royal Naval Barracks and quickly altered to provide accommodation. One wing of Castle Craig became accommodation for the Wrens stationed at HMS Fortitude.
The dockyards of Ardrossan, Irvine, Troon and Ayr were requisitioned for the building of trawlers and merchant ships and the refitting of ships. The Admiralty supplied additional equipment at Ardrossan and Troon, including generators, to make it possible to recharge submarine batteries during refit.
The Eglinton Dock was used to berth ships whose drafted crews had poor knowledge of seamanship. They received one week’s training in seamanship onboard the British Railway Steamer attached to HMS Fortitude and a further week’s training within the harbour on how to fire their guns.
A canteen was established on the top floor of Saltcoats Town Hall, staffed by the Women’s Voluntary Service and ladies from local Church organisations. Within the Town Hall, games, books and newspapers were also made available to the staff and crews along with a piano. The Town Hall acquired a reputation for providing good food, friendliness and a sense of a “Home away from Home”.
The Admiralty bought No. 1 South Crescent as a Sailor’s Rest. The furniture was supplied by both the North Ayrshire Agricultural Society and the Admiralty, but due to the Town Hall being such a success, the Sailor’s Rest ended up being used as accommodation for the watchkeepers of the Wireless Intelligence Offices.
The Regal Cinema was given over to Naval staff at the weekends and the Entertainments National Service Association held concert parties every second or third Sunday. The Eglinton Hotel’s lounge was used by Officers to entertain the E.N.S.A. parties.
Four companies of the Home Guard were established at Ardrossan Harbour. 1. The Harbour Company; 2. The Dockyard; 3. Shell Mex and 4. the Canning Company (at the Inches). The Ports of Irvine, Troon and Ayr also established a company of Home Guard each. The men from Irvine, Troon and Ayr joined the Ardrossan Companies once a week for rifle training at the “22 Rifle Range” with ammunition supplied by the Navy. (The rifle range was probably the battery range on North Shore near Loup Cottage.)