DuCane's War

Coastal Motor Torpedo Boats in WW2

The invention of the Torpedo in 1866 by Robert Whitehead, changed the character of naval warfare forever and caused three new types of craft to be created; These were Torpedo Boats, Destroyers (firing torpedoes from both sides of the ship) and Submarines (probably the most successful vessel of WW2). Torpedo boats first became significant in the First World War, but it was not until 1919 that the true worth of these craft was appreciated by the Admiralty, when in July, Lt. Agar in CMB 4 sank a Russian Cruiser. CMB 4 was a 40 ft coastal motorboat and carried a single torpedo. Agar was awarded the VC. Chief Motor Mechanic Beeley RNVR was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

A month later, six 55ft CMBs each carrying two torpedoes, attacked the Russian Fleet. Two Battleships were hit and a submarine depot ship sunk.. This action earned a second VC. These CMBs were lightly built and unable to operate in rough conditions away from bases or mother ships, their top speed was 45 knots (approx 53mph).
Enthusiasm for this fledging Coastal Force was short lived, in 1926 the last base and training centre at Osea Island was closed.

In 1936, Peter DuCane (pictured right) and the Vosper Company began to build at their own expense a prototype Motor Torpedo Boat, which after two years of extensive evaluation was taken over by the Royal Navy, she was powered by three of the worlds greatest engines the 1,000 hp Isotta Fraschini, eighteen cylinder, ‘W’ format giving the craft the fastest speed of any coastal craft of WW2. Her number MTBIO2.

During the war, over 500 of the ‘short’ MTBs were supplied to the Royal Navy, the majority of which were the Vosper 71 or 73ft designs. These were built by Vosper themselves and, under licence by many other boatyards in the UK and USA, including; Berthon Boat Company, Camper and Nicholson, Morgan Giles, Thornycroft and The Annapolis Boat Company.

Short MTBs of Coastal Forces played a valuable role in the Second World War, both in attack and defence. Very few now survive but astonishingly the first of the 500 is now the only fully operationally Sea going MTB left. MTB 102 stationed at Lowestoft on the East Coast.

What made DuCane jump the gun, decide that WW2 was on its way, and build this great fighting boat and forerunner of 500 more?

Here are a few of the News Clippings of the day from November 1936
to September 1937
100,000 clash with Fascists in East End of London.
Hitler and Mussolini recognise Franco’s Govt.
Anthony Eden warns Germany, Britain will fight to protect Belgium.
Japan recognises the Italian occupation of Abyssinia.
5,000 Germans land at Cadiz to join Franco’s rebels.
Hitler guarantees the neutrality of Belgium and Holland.
Hitler bans Germans from receiving the Nobel Prize.
In London, the German Ambassador Von Ribbentrop greets King George with the Nazi salute.
Mussolini tells Jews, uphold fascism or leave.
The Nazis close all catholic schools
Japan attacks China.
Ban on Political marches in East End.
Japanese occupy Peking.
Nazis expel TIMES Correspondent.
Buchenwold Concentration camp opens.
Hitler and Mussolini meet at floodlit rally in Berlin.
Hitler “dreams of greater living space” – Sept 28th 1937

One could ask, why didn’t the Admiralty see what DuCane saw?

John Scopes