A little-known chapter in the history of Pairc - secret World War Two military tests - is to be commemorated by the Pairc Historical Society at a ceremony later this month.
A commemorative memorial to the naval personnel who tested crewed torpedo boats in Loch Erisort in 1942 will be unveiled on Saturday, June 24, at Ravenspoint by Lord Geidt, a military scholar and former diplomat, who also acted at former Prime Minister Boris Johnson's ethics advisor.
Known as Charioteers, the naval divers had the unenviable task of testing out a new secret underwater weapon called the Chariot, later dubbed the human torpedo or midget submarine.
It was essentially a torpedo deployed by divers from a submarine. The Chariot torpedoes were 22 feet long (6.8 metres) and carried a 600 lbs warhead. The Charioteers sat astride the torpedo, one steered, and the other’s job was to attach the timer-controlled warhead to the enemy ship’s hull.
After completing their mission, the Charioteers would return to their submarine, sitting at periscope depth, waiting for them.
As well as attacking enemy shipping, Chariots were also used to check the suitability of landing beaches for the invasion of Sicily. This involved ensuring the seabed was flat enough for tanks disembarking from the landing craft.
A group of Loch Erisort Charioteers. Back row, left to right: Stoker Petty Officer C.E.T. Warren, Lieutenant D.C. Evans, Lt. C.E. Bonnell, Lt. A. Moreton Front row: Corporal J. Allandar, Sergeant D. Craig, Able Seaman J. Brown Photo from : Above us the Waves: The Story of Midget Submarines and Human Torpedoes by C.E.T. Warren and James Benson, published by Pen & Sword Military Classics.
Loch Erisort was one of the sites where the official development of the Chariot began in April 1942. The trialling was led by two senior Royal Navy submarine service officers Commander Geoffrey Sladen DSO, DSC and Lieutenant Commander William Richmond “Tiny” Fell, CMG, CBE, DSC.
Crew training was initially based on HMS Titania at Gosport before switching to Loch Erisort.
The training base, officially known as Port D, was located at Keose and was established in early 1942. HMS Titania anchored in Loch Erisort between Garyvard and Keose.
On board was a small group of volunteers from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. A landing stage was constructed at Keose for them.
Activities at the training base were classified as secret and only revealed on a need-to-know basis. When training switched elsewhere, Port D was dismantled in September 1943.
The training at Loch Erisort was dangerous, with at least one fatality. Volunteers suffered nasal damage, sinus problems, and burst eardrums. Others reported episodes of unconsciousness, convulsions and toxic poisoning due to the oxygen rebreather apparatus.
The tests at Loch Erisort led to the production of the Chariot Mark 1 later that year. The battery-powered torpedo boat was capable of 3.5 knots at top speed, fully laden, and weighed 1.6 tonnes. The maximum diving depth was 27 metres (89 feet).
Thirty-four Mark 1 Chariots were made before the Chariot Mark 2 replaced it in 1944. The new design was bigger, faster and could carry an explosive payload twice that of the Mark 1.
The first ever Chariot mission was in occupied Norway in October 1942. Two Chariots were transported aboard a fishing boat to attack the German battleship Tirpitz then anchored in Trondheim. To avoid detection by the Germans, the unmanned Chariots were towed behind the fishing boat part of the way. However, they worked loose in bad weather and were lost.
After this unsuccessful mission, the Chariots were used in conjunction with submarines and fastened to the hull.
Despite early setbacks, the Chariots proved their worth in 1943 by sinking an Italian cruiser in Palermo harbour and severely damaging an Italian troop ship.
In 1994 a post-Armistice joint British and Italian operation was launched to prevent the German military from taking control of two Italian cruisers. One of the cruisers, the Bolzano, was sunk.
Later the same year, two crews on Mark 2 Chariots sank two ships in the Japanese-occupied harbour at Phuket, Thailand (then Siam). It became known as “the only completely successful British Chariot operation.”
Main image credit: Beadell, S J (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer.
The picture shows a Chariot underway at Rothesay.