In July 1960 the Holy Loch was designated as ‘Site 1’, to provide forward servicing facilities for the USA’s first SSBN Squadron in the UK. It was the only such base outside US waters and was strategically vital because of the limited range of the Polaris missile.
Submarine Squadron 14 arrived there on 3 March 1961 followed by the USS Patrick Henry (SSBN 599) on 8 March 1961 for a major refit.
The number of submarines being supported by Squadron 14 varied over the years. On 2 April 1987 the 2500th Ballistic Missile Deterrent Patrol was completed by USS Mariano G Vallejo (SSBN 658).
The Submarine Tender USS Proteus (AS 19) arrived on 3 March 1961, with Squadron 14. She remained at Holy Loch until January 1963 when she was relieved by USS Hunley (AS 31). Other tenders providing support for the squadron and assigned submarines included USS Canopus (AS 34), USS Holland (AS 32) and USS Simon Lake (AS33). The USS Simon Lake was recognised in October 1988 as the best tender in the Atlantic Fleet with the award of the coveted ‘E’ for Efficiency.
The Dry Dock, USS Los Alamos (AFDB 7), was towed to Scotland in 1961 and assembled in six months. She went on to complete over 2800 fleet ballistic missile submarine docking operations.
The US Naval Support Activity had been established in 1961 under command of the US Naval Activities in London. It became a full command in its own right in October 1982. Its development was characterised by locating wherever constructing facilities were available within the boundaries of land already leased. When it closed, the Activity consisted of 42 facilities located at six separate locations and 342 leased houses for Navy personnel and their dependents.
In March 1986, Site One celebrated its 25th anniversary with ceremonies including the dedication of a Cairn, attended by Scottish and American friends.
However with the reduction in European tension after the end of the Cold War, it was announced on 6 February 1991 that the Holy Loch base would close. At a farewell party speakers included Admiral Jeremy Boorda, Commander in Chief of Naval Forces in Europe; and Vice Admiral Roger F Bacon, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, Undersea Warfare.
On 6 March 1992 the last US Navy ship – the familiar submarine tender USS Simon Lake – sailed out of the Holy Loch, ending thirty one years of America presence in the Dunoon area. The tradition of friendship and cooperation between the US Navy and the people of Dunoon which endured for 31 years is a cherished part of Site One’s history.
In the wake of the base were necessarily large-scale plans for environmental cleanup, beginning with Robertson’s Yard, which serviced some small American boats but latterly became a scrap heap. It was purchased by Argyll and the Islands Enterprise as part of a plan to spearhead the regeneration of the loch and the immediate area. A number of substantial tourism projects were also under construction within a year of the closure of the base, aiming to replace some of the revenue generation of the base in the area.
A sad postscript is that Laurel Clark, who worked at the base between 1989 and 1992 went on to become one of the astronauts flying in the doomed Columbia shuttle which broke up on re-entry to earth’s atmosphere early in 2003.