Whilst they might not capture the imagination the same way as a mighty battleship does, the coastal forces of the Royal Navy still played a key role in the war at sea. They harried enemy convoys and protected our own, assisted in raids on docks, and even landed secret agents onto the continent. Later they took their war further afield, operating in waters as far-flung as the Mediterranean and even the Far East. This book takes a closer look at one of the most potent classes of the coastal forces, the Motor Torpedo Boat.
Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Osprey (18 Jun 2003)
Authors: Angus Konstam, Tony Bryan (illustrator)
Ø Background: Pre-war development
Ø Thornycroft and British Power Boat
Ø Other British MTB designs
Ø Lend-Lease production
Construction and Operation
Ø MTBs in action
MTBs listed by pennant number
Colour plate commentary
The pre-war ancestry of World War Two British MTBs can be traced directly back to Thornycroft designs of the First World War. However the first ever vessel to be officially designated as an MTB was built by the British Power Boat Company in 1935.
In the early 1930s Vosper began building fast pleasure craft, which became the basis for later MTB designs. Interestingly many MTBs were converted to pleasure craft in the post-war years, and indeed many of them are still running today (see the British Military Powerboat Trust website
for a few of them).
Full details of the development of the various types of boat are given, along with comprehensive numbering information, which includes highlights of which vessels were conversions from MGBs. The story of Lend-Lease boats is given, and relates an interesting tale of how RN Admiralty inspectors looked over some ELCO boats being built in the USA and tried to have various modifications removed, such as an electric fridge, galley stove and bunks – requesting that they be replaced with the items in use at the time by the RN. The fact that the current items (no fridge, a dangerous paraffin stove, and hammocks) were all inferior to the proposed upgrade did not seem to occur to the inspection team! This attitude was still alive and well only a few years ago; officials insisted that RN accommodation in the Fort Class RFAs should be downgraded, as it was far more comfortable than that being provided in RN ships at the time… This has led to the ridiculous state of affairs that RFA personnel in the same ship live in much better conditions than their RN shipmates. Fortunately we all get the same food, which is usually excellent :-)
Propulsion. A few early boats were fitted with Isotta-Frashini Italian marine engines, however the supply of these understandably dried up somewhat when Mussolini formed his Axis with Germany. Subsequent boats were fitted with a variety of engines, including designs from Sterling, Scott-Napier, Rolls-Royce and Packard; these were continually refined through the war, with all boats capable of achieving 30+ knots – the fastest could attain a still impressive 47 knots! The boats also carried auxiliary engines for “silent” running, enabling them to stalk their prey under cover of darkness and gain the optimum position for an attack before crash-starting their main engines.
Armament. The very earliest boats launched their torpedoes from a stern chute – this required a rapidly executed turn by the launch boat in order to avoid being sunk by their own fish… Later boats acquired the more conventional tubes mounted along the outer edges of their upper decks. Whilst 21” weapons were generally preferred for their greater punch, they also carried a significant weight penalty and so 18” torpedoes were often fitted instead. As the war progressed boats became more and more heavily armed, adding machine guns and other weapons up to 40mm Bofors cannon or 6-pound quick-fire guns. Depth charges were also carried for dropping in the path of enemy vessels on a shallow setting.
A short section describes the tactics deployed by MTB flotillas. The preferred RN modus operandi was for MTBs to lie in wait for their targets, running on auxiliary engines only. When a coastal convoy or other suitable target came into range they would then crash-start the main engines (doing so any earlier would of course warn the enemy through the horrendous noise that the engines put out), run in to attack, and then withdraw at speed to meet up with a covering force of MTBs. All this taking place at 30-40 knots, more often than not at night. Exhilarating, and I dare say pretty scary stuff! As you can imagine these small vessels attracted their fair share of flamboyant characters, and it was not unheard of for captains to order their crews to press home attacks with whatever weapons they could muster and fitted the bill – even hand grenades were used, which gives a good indication of the ranges these short, sharp battles were fought at – the maritime equivalent of hand-to-hand combat.
A table of specifications is also provided, covering all MTBS including those from the British Power Boat Company, Vosper, Thornycroft, Elco, White and Higgins, as well as CMBs (Coastal Motor Boats). All MTBs lost are listed, with details of place, date and circumstances. Finally there is a complete list of all boats built by pennant number.
Throughout the book you will find many interesting and detailed reference photos, that will provide an absolute gold mine of information and ideas for the model-maker, as well as several full colour plates depicting both scenes of MTBs in action and hull profiles.
Overall this book provides a useful potted history of these often-overlooked vessels, alongside a wealth of reference material that will prove invaluable to the modeller. Available at a keen price the book is excellent value for money and comes very highly recommended.
This note is made by the MSW Editor, with notes from the reviewer with the help of a well know Author, who has a great amount of knowledge on this particular area of Naval Warfare: Al Ross, who with John Lambert, are the Authors of Conway's Allied Coastal Forces , Volumes I and II
Without wanting to start a war between Publishers, Authors and MSW, I have decided that this information bellow, should be presented to the member /user / costumer, so that all details are included, and a choice can be made.
Since I wrote this review I've been contacted by MSW member Al Ross, who as you will know is a great authority on Allied Coastal Forces, with several highly-regarded books to his credit. Al highlighted to me that this book does actually contain numerous factual errors - he drew the publisher's attention to this, with no result.
I still thinks it's a good little volume and provides a useful reference for us, but clearly I must add the caveat that some of the info in it should be cross-checked against other sources before being taken as gospel. Here are the mistakes that Al kindly identified, there may well be more...
On pp 19-20 Konstam talks about ex PT88, 90-94 (MTB 419-424) as being 77' ELCOs (which they were not), then as being 78' Higgins (which they were). The photo caption at the top of p.19 identifies the boat as a 70' ELCO; it's a 77' boat. Only the 77' ELCOs mounted the single Vickers MKV turret on the centerline of the trunk cabin. The 70' boats initially had two DeWandre turrets abeam each other at this location.
Continuing on p.19, Konstam identifies PT5-8 as Higgins boats. PT5-6 were, but 7-8 were built by the Philadelphia Navy Yard. He also identifies both 7 and 8 as aluminium; 8 was, 7 was wood. This information can easily found in readily-available credible published sources like Friedman's US Small Combatants. "