It is commonly claimed that there are no Royal Navy vessels based in or present within Scottish waters, despite the presence of frigates, submarines, patrol vessels, other craft and a major Royal Navy base.
The claim centres around what appears to be a significant misunderstanding of what Royal Navy vessels actually do.
A recent and prominent example of this (which will be explored as the articles goes on) is from Alan Brown, Member of Parliament for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, and was asked during an Oral Answers to Questions session on Defence in the House of Commons, on the 26th November:
“If we look at the here and now, the Defence Committee report, ‘On Thin Ice: UK Defence in the Arctic,’ confirms that the UK should focus more on its operability and presence in the Arctic. Right now, there are currently no Royal Navy vessels in Scottish waters and no indication of any resources being applied. Should not the Minister be doing more to protect Scottish waters?”
Mark Lancaster, The Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, replied:
“Let us be clear, there are lots of Royal Navy vessels in United Kingdom waters and, of course, any implementation of a Scottish strategy would be done within the realms of a United Kingdom strategy. I am pleased to say that earlier this year, for example, I visited HMS Trenchant on ICEX, in which it was the first British submarine in over 10 years to serve under the ice. Only this year we have had Royal Marines training in Norway. That will continue year on year, and they are training US marines. I am quite comfortable, and I am grateful for the Defence Committee’s report, ‘On Thin Ice’ as a result of which our activity is increasing.”
What is actually stationed at HMNB Clyde?
HM Naval Base Clyde – commonly known as Faslane – is the Royal Navy’s main presence in Scotland. It is home to the core of the Submarine Service, including the nuclear armed submarines, the new generation of hunter-killer submarines and a number of other vessels of different types. Here’s a list of what’s based there.
Three Astute class SSNs, with a further 4 to follow.
- HMS Astute
- HMS Ambush
- HMS Artful
Seven Sandown class mine countermeasures vessels
- HMS Penzance
- HMS Pembroke
- HMS Grimsby
- HMS Bangor
- HMS Ramsey
- HMS Blyth
- HMS Shoreham
Three small Archer class patrol vessels belonging to the Faslane Patrol Boat Squadron
- HMS Tracker
- HMS Raider
- HMS Pursuer
Four of what the base is arguably known for, Vanguard class SSBNs.
- HMS Vanguard
- HMS Victorious
- HMS Vigilant
- HMS Vengeance
Do other UK vessels routinely sail in Scottish waters?
There’s a constant year round presence of Royal Navy frigates or Destroyers sailing through, exercising in or patrolling waters around Scotland.
Pictured below is a submarine and frigate engaged in a recent exercise near the Firth of Clyde, which is a common occurrence.
In fact, why not have a look for yourself? Note that some naval vessels may not be visible if they turn off the system that allows for them to show up on this real time map, however many are still visible and on the date of publication there were 10 Royal Navy and RFA vessels in and around Scotland, this can be verified by using historical data from the above source.
The west of Scotland being largely uninhabited and with Scottish waters being vast, the area presents itself as an ideal exercise ground.
— Dougie Coull Photography 🏴 🇪🇺 (@DougieCoullPics) May 5, 2019
Go on Twitter, go on a vessel tracking website any day of the week and you’ll see a stream of naval movements in and around Scottish waters.
Why are no frigates or destroyers based in Scotland?
The basing of a large surface warship, such as a Type 23 frigate, would make little sense not least due to the expensive logistics trail it would create but due to the fact that the vessels already based in Scotland (the aforementioned ships and submarines) are perfectly capable (if not more so) of dealing with the roles they are assigned from patrol duties to war-fighting. If the need ever materialised to station a major surface warship in Scotland, a handful are always within half a days sailing away.
So where does this claim come from?
It appears to originate back in 2014 when Alex Salmond said:
“The navy does not have a single major surface vessel based in Scotland. The largest protection vessels stationed in Scottish waters are those of the fisheries protection vessels run by the Scottish government. It is absurd for a nation with a coastline longer than India’s to have no major surface vessels. And it’s obscene for a nation of five million people to host weapons of mass destruction.”
This is a curious statement in my opinion and in my view, it seems to be tad disingenuous as many of the vessels based in Scotland are submarines and not “major surface vessels” as Alex Salmond was keen to stress but are smaller patrol vessels and submarines. Making a distinction like that ignores the most capable anti-surface warfare vessels in the British fleet, the nuclear powered (not armed) submarines.
Why would anyone, when discussing how well Scotland is defended, want to discount the submarines?
The claim has now evolved into something new, the claim that there are no surface vessels of any kind in Scottish waters.
Because of the absurd shame and exorbitant cost of nuclear weapons Scotland, which has a coastline longer than that of India has no surface ships to defend it. Thankfully #SNP19 voted unanimously today to scrap them and repurpose Faslane pic.twitter.com/Qgt0ZaHGCH
— Cllr Neil Gilbert (@Cllrneilgilbert) April 28, 2019
The claim has (as shown above) morphed into there simply being no surface vessels in Scotland of any kind, major or minor. The continued outrage this claim fosters appears to result from people not willing to do their own fact checking.
The claim that there are no surface vessels based in Scotland is false and to be frank, irrelevant. The nuclear submarines are primary anti-surface and anti-submarine platforms in the Royal Navy and Faslane hosts most of them.