During the war of 1914-
THE smallest naval vessels that have passed through the ordeal of battle are coastal motor-
They must not be confused with the motor launches, or M.L.s, the larger and slower craft used for anti-
Considerable attention has been given by various naval Powers to these motor torpedo boats. One report credits the speed of new boats owned by a Mediterranean country as eighty knots, but this is considered an exaggeration. A speed on trial of fifty-
The motor torpedo boat is a development of the steam torpedo boat that was superseded by the torpedo boat destroyer. The coastal motor-
The C.M.B. is a boat similar to the fast racing motor-
There were many intricate technical problems to be overcome before the C.M.B. came into being. One of the most serious troubles was the difficulty of carrying and discharging the torpedo. Early in the summer of 1915. Thornycroft’s submitted to the British Admiralty designs for a type of motor torpedo boat to carry a torpedo in a dropping gear. Shortly afterwards three young officers, Lieutenants Hampden, Bremner and Arison, of the Harwich Force, told Thornycroft’s that they had been advocating high-
They wanted a boat whose weight, including the torpedo, would not exceed that of the 30-
picket boats was designed for a 14-
The theory was tested by torpedo specialists from the Vernon with an experimental boat that was not exceptionally fast. The experts held that the theory was practicable provided the boat had a speed of over thirty knots.
In January 1916 the Admiralty approved the design and ordered twelve C.M.B.s, insisting on the greatest secrecy, so that the enemy would be taken by surprise. The engines were specially designed and the torpedo gear and fittings built at Thornycroft’s works at Basingstoke (Hants). The boats were built on an island in the Thames without exciting unwelcome curiosity in interested quarters. Three boats were ready in April 1916, and the South-
The first boats were 40 feet long and carried one 18-
It was a strenuous training, learning to handle boats in the dark at over thirty knots, to discharge torpedoes and swerve out of their way, to perform complicated manoeuvres and avoid sister boats. The twenty-
Those who served on the Western Front in the winter of 1916-
Lieut. Childers was the yachtsman whose book, The Riddle of the Sands, written in the guise of a novel, had attracted much public attention. It unveiled the secret of German attempts before the war to embark and disembark landing parties of troops and to tow boats full of soldiers. Lieut. Childers was a splendid yachtsman and his name is honoured by yachtsmen of all nations. His exceptional knowledge of the German coast led to his appointment as navigator to the tiny force.
During the first few months only one officer, Lieut. Anson, was hit by a machine-
Important experiments were then being made with a larger type for attacking submarines. This second type of boat was 55 feet long and had a speed of forty knots, compared with the thirty-
The larger boat carried two torpedoes, or one torpedo and four depth charges. Later, a still larger type of 70-
After the successful trials of the first 55-
AFTER ZEEBRUGGE. Coastal motor-
Among the early operations of the Dunkirk boats was an action fought off the Belgian coast in March 1917. It was reported that the German destroyers had slipped their cables and had gone outside Ostend and Zeebrugge during an air raid. Four C.M.B.s, under the command of Lieut. W. N. T. Beckett, with the destroyer Falcon in support, went out in weather that was troublesome to the tiny craft. The C.M.B.s found four German destroyers at anchor and attacked with torpedoes. They hit one of the enemy and turned to escape. Lieut. Beckett was in trouble with a broken exhaust, and his boat was full of fumes and gas, but Lieut. Harrison fared worse. The engines of Lieut. Harrison’s boat failed, and for five minutes she lay in the glare of a destroyer’s searchlights under heavy fire, while the motor mechanic toiled to restart the engines. He succeeded, and the boats returned to Dunkirk with their crews exhausted but triumphant.
The Germans sent nine destroyers and six large torpedo boats on the night of March 21, 1918, to bombard the French coast. The attack was to synchronize with the great German offensive by land. British and French vessels had cleared out of Dunkirk Harbour to avoid an air raid. The Germans intended to shell the coast for half an hour, but the British and French destroyers slipped their cables and attacked, putting the German vessels to flight in ten minutes and inflicting loss. Only one coastal motor boat was available, C.M.B 20, and she steered for Ostend, hoping to get in a blow when the enemy made for that harbour. Lieut. Willett saw five destroyers and pressed on to within 600 yards before he fired. His torpedo hit the fourth destroyer. He did not see the result, for he turned and put up a smoke screen to hide himself from the terrific fire of the enemy.
During the raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend in 1918, the C.M.B.s played an important part. With the motor launches they had to put up smoke screens, show the way in for the block-
Safety in Speed
Thebe were two raids. The first took place at Zeebrugge and Ostend in the early hours of St. George’s Day, April 23. The second raid was on Ostend in the early hours of May 10. Sir Roger Keyes (then Vice-
At Zeebrugge nine C.M.B.s were detailed to attack the Mole and the enemy vessels inside it, and eight for smoke screens and rescue work. Directly the boats ran in close to lay the smoke screen, they came under a heavy fire. Their speed and small size saved them, although shells sank many smoke floats and a change in the wind prevented the smoke screen from being as effective as intended.
ON TRIAL. A 55-
One boat was late. She had fouled her propellers on the outward voyage and was towed into Dover. When the propellers had been cleared, she went to Zeebrugge and joined the smoke-
Within the Mole C.M.B. 5 torpedoed a destroyer, hitting her below the forward searchlight and extinguishing it. C.M.B. 7 torpedoed a destroyer alongside the Mole and C.M.B 32 A fired a torpedo at the Brussels, Captain Fryatt’s former ship.
At Ostend the first raid was not effective. The Germans had shifted a buoy, and the two blockships went aground. During the combined operations the only casualties among the C.M.B. personnel were six wounded.
During the second raid on Ostend in May, C.M.B 25 escorted the Vindictive close up to the harbour entrance with a smoke screen, assisted her with guiding lights, torpedoed the piers, and opened up with Lewis guns on the enemy machine guns. Her commander was wounded and her acting chief motor mechanic was killed, but the C.M.B.’s second-
Later, in August, 1918, the coastal motor-
Because of their high speed and light draught the C.M.B.s were employed to lay mines. They had to pass over enemy minefields, where an ordinary mine-
After the Armistice of 1918 the base at Dunkirk was closed and the boats at the British bases were handed over to maintenance parties. But the work of the C.M.B.s was not over. Six 40-
Two steamers were fitted as carriers, and the C.M.B.s were kept at sea ready to attack the Bolshevist Fleet. They caused a number of vessels to surrender by exploding depth charges near them, although the choppy water made conditions difficult for the high-
The effective Lewis-
Every boat was equipped with six Lewis-
Long distances were covered by the motor boats -
The Oleg was anchored outside Kronstadt in Petrograd Bay, with a screen of four destroyers. Attacking at dawn with the 40-
The Gauntlet of Guns
This brilliant stroke made the Admiralty decide to send eight 55-
Photographs taken from aeroplanes showed the positions of the ships, and a plan of operations was prepared. An air raid was timed to coincide with the attack by the C.M.B.s. Eight boats, 86 BD, 72 A, 79 A, 31 BD, 88 BD, 24 A, 62 BD, and the 40-
At about this time Lieut. Agar in C.M.B. 4 arrived with the remaining boats. Lieut. Napier, in 24 A, fired a torpedo at the flotilla leader anchored outside the harbour, but his boat was afterwards sunk.
Lieut. Brade, in 62 BD, arrived at the harbour, after 88 BD and 31 BD had left, although 79 A was still inside, disabled. No sooner had 62 BD entered than she, also, was disabled. The two crippled boats were got outside by heroic efforts. Lieut. Agar, in C.M.B. 4, waited outside the harbour to torpedo any ship that came out.
On their way out the boats had to run the gauntlet of the guns and searchlights of the forts.
The action was the most brilliant ever fought by C.M.B.s. Two battleships and a submarine depot ship were sunk and other enemy ships were damaged. The C.M.B. losses were slight in comparison with the damage that they inflicted on the enemy vessels.
AN INTERESTING RELIC of the Allied campaign in Russia. Coastal Motor-
[From part 17, published 2 June 1936]
“The Navy Goes to Work” on this website.