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Loch Fyne – by John Dibblee, then Captain of the Royal Artillery

This is a light-hearted anecdote from part of John Dibblee's wartime experience. I have added some maps from Open Street Mapping.

Map showing head of Loch Fyne During World War 2, I was in a small group of Gunner officers, posted to Inverary in western Scotland. Inverary is at the head of Loch Fyne, a deep and very narrow sea Loch, and is a port accessible to very large vessels; they just needed steering gear able to turn them round in a small space. It was the headquarters of Combined Operations, a formation consisting of R.N and Army ships and units planning landings on enemy territory. The job of our group was to liaise with ships' gunner officers to bring fire on targets ashore that were beyond their field of vision.

Now you'll need a map of south west Scotland, showing Loch Fyne and Inverary on as large a scale as you can find. A book of motoring maps will do, although the whole length of Loch Fyne is on two separate pages. No worry, the one showing Inverary and several miles downstream is the one you want. On the right hand bank going downstream there is a road bordering the loch. After several miles the road turns sharp right (inland) and makes a loop of about 4 miles before returning to lochside at the village of Furnace. The reason is the terrain, which is densely wooded and rises to around 500 metres (1500ft. plus).

End of introduction, now for the story:

From the loch, the entire right hand hillside looks high and densely wooded, the only landmark visible being a white cosy looking cottage on the lochside at the point where the road turns inland. After we had been at Invereray for a few months, the powers-that-be decided that various little used parts of the UK should become ranges, where the services could practice with live ammunition. The bit of steep wooded hillside bordering Loch Fyne and the inland road would be a good place where ships using the loch could try out their guns, so it became a ships' gunnery range.. For some time nobody appeared to want to do this, until suddenly a Polish Destroyer appeared at Inverary. This was actually an ordinary R.N. destroyer but with a Polish Captain and a wholly Polish crew, who had escaped from their country before its occupation in 1940. They were mad keen to fight Germans, but if none were available, just to let all their guns off. So the Navy handed them over to us and I was ordered to tell them where to shoot.

Map showing position of InverarayI didn't know whether the Captain or anyone else spoke any English (he had hardly any) or whether I could get over any Gunner or Naval technical gunnery terms (this proved impossible). I decided that I'd ask him to steam very slowly down the loch and then point out the lochside cottage and direct his fire well to the left of it. All in vain. No sooner had I got on board and met the Captain, he seized me by the hand and then shouted out an order in Polish, which was obviously "FULL STEAM AHEAD !!". The ship trembled and shot off down the loch with both banks starting to fly past us at increasing speed. I could see the sweet little cottage coming up very fast on our right. I thought if I could point it out and then get through to the Captain that it was a guiding point and that he should point well to its left that was all I could do, but directly I pointed at the cottage he shouted what was obviously "FIRE !!!" The whole armoury, every gun on the destroyer, was about to loose off at that poor, sweet little cottage simultaneously. I screamed "STOP!!" in every language I could think of using every possible gesture likely to be internationally understood.

He did stop it, by which time we were well beyond the range boundary. The loch was too narrow for him to turn round so we had to go right out into the firth before we could return, by which time the period he had been allotted for firing had expired. I wasn't popular with the Captain and all his company on that journey back.