Training of Submarine Crews at Tavay Island, Keose
by members of Kinloch Historical Society
Destined to play a key role in the D-Day landings were the Midget Submarines or X Craft whose daring crews, along with the crews of the "Chariot" Human Torpedoes, trained in considerable secrecy in Scotland. The depot ship was HMS Titania, "Tites" as she was known throughout the submarine service. In early 1942 Titania was sent north to establish the secret base "Port D" at Loch Erisort near Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. Training areas and shore bases included Loch Striven, the Kyles of Bute Hydropathic Hotel, named HMS Varbel, and Ardtaraig House, Varbel II.
In June 1942 the sixty strong group was moved to a permanent base, Port D, on Loch Erisort with the submarine HMS Titania. This was to coincide with the arrival of the first powered chariot. Built around a 21-in torpedo and fitted with a 600 lb warhead the 'Mark I Chariot' was capable of 2.9 knots for six hours and could safely operate at a depth of around twenty feet.
The training was tough, the stresses of diving and the unknown qualities of the chariots meant many men experienced unconsciousness and convulsions during their stint, the toxic depth of their oxygen based kit was around thirty feet. Lesser complaints such as burst eardrums and sinus problems were common. Training began with simple operation, moved on to navigation and endurance, then to cutting through anti-submarine and anti-torpedo nets set up by the Boom Defence Department, and finally target approach and attack. Setting and attaching the warhead proved specially troublesome.
In August the charioteers were moved to Base HHZ on Loch Cairnbawn, for training on larger, deeper and more heavily defended targets. One charioteer died during these exercises.