The Secret Ships

A hidden piece of history that a rare few will know about lies hidden in the three once Western Isles car ferries...

Clansman at Brodick

Hebrides leaving Ardrossan

Columba passing the Cloch

The Columba , Clansman and Hebrides were built for The Secretary of State for Scotland and bareboat chartered to David MacBrayne Ltd being registered at Leith until 1972 when it was changed to Glasgow. All three ships had very elaborate guillotine doors which closed off the main car deck aft of the hoist. Every external doorway and vent had a heavy duty water / air tight door even the galley garbage hatch had a heavy hatch which could be closed and dogged. On the prom deck as part of the engineers accom were two decontamination rooms which consisted of a heavy steel watertight door on the out side, elaborate shower equipment which would look more at home in Sellafield and a steel inner door giving access to the internal accommodation. The three 1964 sisters all had a "citadel" and "pre-wetting" system fitted. Basically all upper deck doors and other openings were fitted with gas tight seals and there was the facility to increase the air pressure inside the enclosed spaces when these openings were hermetically sealed to prevent the ingress of contamination (Nuclear, Biological or Chemical). Hence everyone inside the ship (in the Citadel) would be protected from fallout. The outside decks had a system of water pipes running all round the ship, with sprinklers. The idea was that if the ship sailed through an area of nuclear contamination the sprinklers would spray water all over the outside of the ship and wash away any contamination. Fortunately the systems were never put to the test for real. These ships were built to Government account at the height of the Cold War. There was a lot of speculation as to their use in times of hostilities but the instruction was that they would be given over to the Military Authorities. As for the Columba this equipment was kept up to standard until her sale to Hebridean Island Cruises.

Clansman at Scrabster

Hebrides in Oban Bay

Columba near Lochboisdale

Text Thanks To Colin Gillies, John Newth & Iain Robertson.

Feature Updated:

All content © 2001 - 2021 Ships of CalMac unless otherwise stated.


Ships of CalMac is a free resource funded by its creators.

  • SoC Forum