Near the start of November, a group of our veterans had a trip out on MGB81 in Portsmouth Harbour. Read on to find out more about this vessel and our time on the water!
The only fully restored and operational example of a Royal Navy Coastal Forces MGB which saw active service in World War II is MGB-81. She (and her sister craft) were built by an enterprising man called Hubert Scott-Paine who ran the British Power Boat Company in Hythe. Launched in 1942, she saw much active service throughout the following years, including at the Normandy landings. Now, she’s safely moored in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and recently hosted a visit from our VOS group on a bright and unusually warm November’s day.
In WWII, the Coastal Forces operated as follows (with great thanks to Wikipedia):
World War II Operations
Royal Navy Coastal Forces craft operated mainly in the English Channel and North Sea waters. They were also based in Malta, the Adriatic and collecting secret agents off the Norwegian coastline. They were used at the St. Nazaire Raid and the Dieppe Raid as well as an attack on Japanese landing craft in Kowloon Harbour, Hong Kong.
By 1944 Coastal Forces numbered 3,000 officers and 22,000 ratings. Altogether there were 2,000 British Coastal Forces craft. Affectionately known as the Royal Navy’s “little ships”, they fought over 900 actions and sank around 400 enemy vessels, including 48 E-boats and 32 midget submarines. They fired 1,169 torpedoes, shot down 32 enemy aircraft and carried out many mine laying operations. 170 of the “little ships” were sunk or otherwise destroyed.
Post-World War II
After World War II, the RN re-designated all its motor torpedo boats (MTBs) and motor gun boats (MGBs) as “fast patrol boats”. The Brave-Class fast patrol boats were the last craft to be built for the Coastal Forces, and the Coastal Forces were disbanded as a separate unit and their last base, HMS Hornet, in Gosport, decommissioned in 1956.
So, here we were, on the Saturday betwixt Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, getting a brief taste of how life was for the Coastal Forces men serving on MGBs in WW II. Sometimes skimming over and then, as we turned into the wind, battering our way through the Solent, which had previously looked so calm and placid. Getting up to speeds in excess of 30 knots, even the calmest waters hold out against this craft of wood and steel. She was however, still leaving all surrounding vessels in her wake but how on earth the gunners could aim and fire with any accuracy as the boats bounced so crazily along the water is a mystery to me!
MGB 81 is a 71.5ft Motor Gun Boat and when built, she was among the fastest boats of her type in the world and capable of speeds in excess of 42 knots. As I said above, she is unique as she is the only restored and operational example of a Royal Navy Coastal Forces MGB which saw active service in WW II. As a result of the restoration techniques used, she retains most of her original performance capabilities but is stronger, lighter and requires less maintenance. The men on board are as devoted and well-motivated as their kind usually are and were delighted to share their enthusiasm with us.
The crew (down to three from what would have been 14 when operational) clearly enjoy their duties and another day in the office for them, regardless of what day of the week it may be, is nothing but great fun! We enjoyed it too and I for one would go out again anytime given the opportunity. So thanks to VOS for providing that opportunity this time and thanks to Griff, the Lead Volunteer on the day. Much appreciated!
(Written by C. Kimber)
If you’d like to go out on this or a different historic vessel, come on a sailing voyage, go on an accessible motorboat instead of a yacht, or join any of our other activities on and off the water, join our community!
If you’re a veteran from the UK Armed Forces or the Merchant Navy (from any time of service) or a partner to one, VOS would love for you to join our community. We are here to offer our support: call us on 02392 731 767, visit an upcoming drop-in, or email email@example.com.
VOS is immensely grateful to the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust and the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity, as without their support and funding we would not be able to provide activities such as this one.